Chapter 1 - Nubowa Disappearing in the Steam
One afternoon, on the last day of the winter break, Haruaki was walking in the streets with Fear and Konoha while shivering from the chilly wind. They were simply going grocery shopping as usual, so Kuroe stayed back to watch the house. Haruaki could understand that Konoha was accompanying him to help carry the shopping, but he found it quite incredible for Fear to be crawling out of the kotatsu to follow him outdoors. He was thinking she would surely choose to stay behind with Kuroe to watch the house within its warm comfort.
Thinking over these things, Haruaki glanced at the silver-haired head beside him. Hence—
"Muu~ ...So cold! That's all!"
"Why are you suddenly complaining about the cold?"
Seeming a little displeased, Fear looked back at Haruaki.
"I just can't help but confirm again if there really is nothing besides the cold! Since we're done to the last day of the winter break, I only came out with you because it didn't seem right to spend all day under the kotatsu, doing nothing productive... It'd be nice if at least one amusing thing happens!"
"By this juncture, what are you talking about? We are simply going shopping for groceries. How could something amusing possibly happen?"
Konoha remarked in exasperation. The displeasure on Fear's face intensified.
"Hmph. To think you're satisfied with squandering precious time idly, I am filled with disbelief... But it's only natural that you can't understand. After all, considering a insensitive woman who normally keeps two shameless pieces of meat hanging there nonchalantly, it comes as no surprise that you are unable to understand my delicate feelings about enjoying the last moments of the vacation."
"Who is an insensitive woman!?"
"You, of course! You! Your dual meatbags are always annoyingly occupying our view. You've no idea how much displeasure and eye cancer they bring to Kuroe and I on a daily basis...! There's no woman more troubling and insensitive than you!"
Listening to the usual squabbling, Haruaki smiled faintly. Yes, after all, seeing as it was the final day of the precious winter break, spending it idly would be too much of a shame. This feeling was not impossible for him to understand.
"But something amusing isn't going to happen so easily, right?... But I guess it can't be helped, let's head over to check out the supermarket in front of the train station today. Consider it a stroll. It'll feel more refreshing than the one we always visit."
"Oh! That's a great idea. Just the fact we're visiting some place different from usual already makes me look forward to it. The supermarket might very well sell rice crackers I've never seen before!"
"That's enough to satisfy you...? On the other hand, I don't really mind. But since we're walking to a farther supermarket because of you, it's only fair that you carry a greater share of the groceries in exchange."
"No problem, that's totally trivial! Since it's decided, let's set off quickly! Rice crackers I've never seen before, wait for me—!"
Fear greatly quickened her pace. Haruaki and Konoha exchanged glances and smiled wryly.
"Sorry Konoha for adding to your troubles."
"Oh, I'm completely fine with it~ It is true that there's nothing to do if we return home too early. After all, we're just taking a stroll while going shopping. However, I do foresee that on the way back, that child will be yelling 'so boring!' with a face filled with discontent."
"It's very likely. Speaking of which, since so much happened during Christmas and New Year's, I actually find this winter break rather turbulent and eventful... Didn't she have enough fun already?"
"Very well said. In any case, let us focus on enjoying a leisurely stroll first."
As indicated by this dialogue, Haruaki and Konoha were following leisurely after Fear. No need to rush. Just enjoy the stroll. Indeed, it was nothing more than a decision to visit a supermarket different from the usual, a special situation could not possibly arise that easily—
That was what Haruaki originally believed.
Several minutes later, Haruaki, Konoha and Fear stopped walking. This was when turning a corner near the train station.
A girl with extremely striking characteristics was walking towards them from the opposite direction. Only after a few seconds did the girl notice them and stop. Then slightly tilting her head, she said:
"My thoughts: giving statement of what a coincidence. I greet with a greeting of happy new year."
"Un Izoey... Hmph. Too many things happened so I almost forgot, but you're still staying in this town, so running into you isn't that weird."
Fear grumbled with her arms crossed. Probably a reflexive reaction, Konoha slightly frowned upon seeing Un Izoey. However, she quickly shook her head with a light sigh, thereby relieving and dissipating the sense of tension she was about to exude.
Originating from Africa, Un Izoey was a member of the organization, «Lab Chief Yamimagari Pakuaki's Nation». Since her first appearance was as an adversary, reacting to her reflexively in wariness was only natural. Nevertheless, due to many things happening during Christmas, Haruaki's group had already reached a common understanding that she was not a bad person at heart.
"So, what are you doing?"
"My answer: preparations for living here from now on. Because many things need to be bought."
Un Izoey answered with her usual expressionless face. Fear went as far as to examine her from head to foot and said:
"That's right, things will get very busy starting tomorrow. I guess it's not strange for you to be out shopping... But I'm asking about something else."
"BA~SIC~ALLY~, what's with that appearance!?"
Dark-skinned complexion, gray-colored hair of uneven length, lab coat with her navel exposed, tribal skirt with slit offering glimpses of her thigh, and of course, bare feet at the bottom... She was dressed the same as always. However, there was something different from her usual appearance as well. First of all, she was holding a cloth-wrapped bundle in front of her chest, probably containing her shopping inside. But more concerning that that was—
"Umm, why... are you dirty all over?"
As though realizing only after Haruaki pointed it out, Un Izoey looked down at her body. She was very obviously dirty. Stuck to her skirt were what appeared to be fragments of paper, the lab coat was creased and stained, her gray hair was ruffled even more than usual, her face also had black stains resembling chimney ash.
"I don't suppose you were attacked again? I really don't want another commotion like last time."
"My answer: no. These are just ordinary stains, I explain with this kind of explanation."
"Ordinary stains huh...? But I'm glad you weren't attacked."
Looking at the unkempt Un Izoey, Fear cocked her head and muttered quietly. Haruaki suddenly realized that they were not the only people casting doubtful gazes at Un Izoey. He had almost forgotten but this place was close to the shopping street in front of the station. In other words, there were many pedestrians. This girl was already quite striking in appearance to begin with, but combined with her unnatural state of filthiness right now, she had become the center of attention. "What's with that person?" "She's barefooted, is she one of the homeless?" "An illegal immigrant, right? Should I call the police?" The voices of passersby could be heard automatically. Every time Fear and Konoha heard someone speak, they would glare angrily at the rude pedestrian and drive them away. However, the girl in question, Un Izoey herself, did not seem to mind at all.
"I am relieved, since you all understand, it is most fortunate. I take my leave."
Un Izoey bowed her head lightly to say goodbye. Just as she was about to start walking, Fear frantically called to her.
"Is there something?"
"Muu~ ...No, nothing at all, but even so... Do you live far from here?"
"My answer: quite some distance. Needs quite a walk."
"Really? Well... Hmm..."
What should we do? Fear made a troubled expression. She kept glancing at Un Izoey, looking as though she wanted to say something. While engaged in an internal argument with herself, passing pedestrians were eyeing Un Izoey rudely, prompting Fear to make threatening movements to vent her anger and drive them away. This repeated itself many times—
"Jeez, what the heck!? I'm very busy right now and this country girl isn't a display object... Oh, I was thinking you were someone else."
"Wah! It really is Fear-chan and you guys~! What are you doing here?"
The one who had called out to them was Sovereignty. She was currently employed as the superintendent's secretary's assistant-in-training. Often dressed as a maid, she was currently in casual clothing. Wearing pants, she was sporting a more boyish look while a friendly smile was hanging on her face as usual.
"Oh my, Sovereignty-san... Shiraho-san isn't accompanying you?"
"She's staying home because she caught a bit of a cold~ I'm out shopping today by myself."
"Really? This might very well be because she was forced to do too many things during New Year's... When you get home, please pass my apologies to her."
"Ahaha~ Got it! So... Uh, who might this be?"
Sovereignty finally noticed Un Izoey's existence and repeatedly blinked many times. Un Izoey also looked at Sovereignty in turn.
"...I recall: you are the «Sovereignty-Perfection-Doll». The Lab Chief and Sekaibashi Gabriel have both mentioned your existence to me. Already a known fact."
"Oh I remember now! Speaking of which, the superintendent and Zenon-san also told me. You'll be one of our school's students starting the third term, right? Uh, your name is U-Un~...?"
"My name: Un Izoey."
"Y-Yes, I'll remember it, of course! Un-chan, Un-chan!"
Sovereignty scratched her head and smiled courteously. Although it was none of his business, Haruaki remarked to himself that this nickname was like a tongue-twister.
"By the way, you're dirty all over. Are you okay?"
"My answer: no problem."
"Of course there's a problem! Since you're a girl, you must pay more attention to keeping your appearance presentable~ Today my horoscope said that my lucky action is 'treating others with kindness' so leave it to me! Be patient while I get on it, handkerchief, handkerchief~"
Sovereignty began to use her handkerchief to wipe Un Izoey's face. This action of hers seemed to serve as the final push to settle the internal struggle in Fear's heart.
"Hmm... Since Sovereignty wants to do this, it can't be helped. Yes, there's really no other choice. I'll help too."
While muttering these token words, Fear began to flutter and wave Un Izoey's lab coat. Sighing in exasperation, Konoha also joined. For an instant, Haruaki felt the impulse to help but as a boy, he decided that it was not quite appropriate for him to pull at a girl's skirt or clothing. Hence, he stood on the side to watch them for now.
"Hmm~ This is so hard to wipe clean. There's a limit to how much a handkerchief can do on its own..."
"Just wipe it roughly. I suggest this kind of suggestion."
Letting the girls do with her however they wished, Un Izoey spoke with vacant eyes. However, Sovereignty persisted without giving up, continuing with her task and saying: "That just won't do~" But in the end, she still could not manage to wipe all the stains from Un Izoey's face. "Muu~" Sovereignty's mouth curved upwards into a frown. After staring a while at the stains, Sovereignty finally looked up as though she was struck by an idea.
"Oh right! Hey hey, Haruaki-kun, are you guys free for the next while?"
"Eh? Yeah, I guess... We only walked all the way here so as to kill some time."
"Then it's perfect! I discovered a great place earlier when I was shopping and really wanted to go in for a look. Then let's go together!"
"I don't really get what you're talking about, but continuing to idle here would only attract people's stares... I don't mind at all. So, where are we going?"
Great question! Exuding an aura that seemed to say that, Sovereignty puffed out her chest and answered Fear's question.
"I'll say it directly... A public bath!"
The building looked like a relic that was somehow left behind by the passage of time. That said, neither was it made of wood nor was it covered in vines and creepers. Although not to the point of crumbling, the building was quite old and worn, a concrete structure with a long history. Neither small nor large, the building was equipped with a long chimney protruding from the top. With nothing attention-grabbing about it, simply stated, it was just "an ordinary bath house from the past." But these girls, who were seeing a public bath for the first time, probably found everything quite new and refreshing.
Fear looked up at the ♨ logo on the door curtain hanging in front of the establishment and went "wow~" in admiration.
"So this is a bath house!? I've seen them on television before. So they really do exist!"
"How nostalgic. There used to be many more of these."
"My question: asking what is a bath house. Truly an unknown."
"Ah~ Basically... a public bath. After paying, everyone can get a soak together in a giant tub."
"I see. The unknown is now known."
Un Izoey nodded repeatedly. Hailing from a faraway and foreign country, she was unclear on Japan's common knowledge, on a level rivaling Fear's.
Just at this time, a noise was heard from behind, the place opposite the bath house. Turning around, they found a shopkeeper emerging from behind an oden stall.
"Ohoh, isn't this Konoha-chan? You're all visiting the bath house?"
"Yes, mister oden seller. It's really been a while."
This is the shopkeeper who occasionally brought his stall to the shopping street—Konoha quietly explained to the rest of the group. She probably met him during her part-time job at the bookstore.
"Are you here for business today?"
"Yeah! This spot is pretty good for business, actually. Having some piping hot oden after a bath, followed by a hearty drink... Doesn't that feel great? If it's okay with you guys, Konoha-chan, come have a drink or two!"
"No... Umm... We're still minors and can't drink heartily yet..."
Konoha smiled tactfully and answered. Nodding lightly to express her apologies, she ended the conversation with the oden stall owner. Then in a slightly wistful tone of voice, she whispered: "A drink after a bath... That really does sound like quite a treat." However, Haruaki decided to pretend he had not heard her.
Then Sovereignty, her eyes glimmering brightly just like Fear's as they looked at the door curtain, took a bouncy step forward. Turning her head lightly, she looked back at Haruaki's group.
"So, let's go in and check it out? They probably rent out towels inside, right?"
"Hmm... Sounds like a plan. Konoha?"
"Yes, I have a feeling that a certain person who keeps whining 'so boring' will finally be happy. Also, having a leisurely bath on the last day to end the winter vacation might be a good idea after all."
"What? You're talking about me? But it's true, I've never experienced this activity before so I've no objections. Plus this place will allow us to scrub the stains off this girl, right? It's not like I want to have a good time with this country girl—This is more like finding a filthy stray cat on the side of the road and giving it a bath! Yes, stray cat, let's go!"
"...? I insist that I am not paruki..."
"Stop talking nonsense, go, go—!"
Pushing the puzzled Un Izoey, Fear and Sovereignty went through the door curtain and entered the bath house. Haruaki and Konoha also followed.
The instant they pushed open the glass door, they were struck by the fragrance of soap. As soon as they entered, they were presented with a resting area that resembled a lobby. The group took off their shoes at the limestone entryway and stepped into the resting area.
The lobby was quite spacious and appropriately equipped with vending machines, tables, coin-operated massage chairs and other facilities. Several customers were already sitting in the resting chairs and massage chairs, relaxing to their hearts' content.
"Hey hey Haruaki, where's that legendary thingy!?"
"Of course I'm talking about the coffee milk and the fruit-flavored milk! I heard that they're the most yummy drinks in the world, aren't they!?"
"You're getting ahead of yourself! They taste good after you finish taking a bath, of course!"
Fear was not the only one looking around the bath house inquisitively. Sovereignty and Un Izoey were also doing the same.
"Wow~ So nice, my body and mind are both relaxing~ I'm really looking forward to bathing with everyone!"
"Paying money specifically to bath with others... A bit hard to understand. Can this be considered a business? I doubtfully raise this doubt. What about during the summer...? If everyone jumps into the river for a bath, that does seem quite nice."
At the far end of the lobby, the entrances to two passageways were covered by a curtain each, red and blue respectively. Presumably, these passages led to the doors of the changing rooms. Between the two passageways was a protruding spot. In other words, flanked by the red and blue curtains, there was a service counter. Sitting on a chair, a figurine resembling an old woman... No, correction, a wrinkly old lady was sitting on the chair, not moving at all.
"Umm~ ...We have a total of four girls and one boy here... Excuse me?"
The figurine remained silent. Also, it was not possible to see if the old woman's eyes were opened or closed. Fortunately, the corner of her lips seemed to wiggle a little, otherwise, to be honest, Haruaki was beginning to suspect that the old woman had already passed away.
What kind of business lets an old woman, hard of hearing and with bad eyesight, to tend to customers—Just as Haruaki was thinking that, he examined the counter closely and instantly received the answer to his question. Placed on the counter was a receptacle resembling a mini offering box. On it was written a price list for the bath's entrance fee and towel rentals.
"Self service huh...? What a peaceful bath house this must be~"
Haruaki muttered quietly, counted out the bathing and towel fees for five people then tossed the money into the payment box. Then picking up the clean towels piled on the shelves next to the counter, everything was ready.
"Then let's take a bath first. Since we're here already, don't worry about the time and enjoy a good long soak."
"Yeah. No wait, Haruaki, I'll say this first, just in case... No peeking. I can tell that this is the kind of place where your shameless qualities shine best!"
"Seconded! In other words, I must raise levels to the maximum for both preventive and punitive measures against Haruaki-kun's immoral behavior. Just as a precaution, you would do best to prepare yourself well!"
Fear warily threw a vicious glare at Haruaki while Konoha smiled in a horrifying manner.
"I'm not going to peek, okay!? Jeez... Then I'll be going that way. Fear, don't make too much noise. Keep in mind that there are other customers around."
"Got it, sheesh, stop looking down on me! I'll curse you!"
It was probably okay to leave Un Izoey to the girls. Then I'll go ahead and enjoy a leisurely bath—Hence, Haruaki went through the curtain leading to the male bath.
In the instant he parted ways with Fear and the girls, he saw Sovereignty with her head tilted, murmuring to herself: "Oh, that's how it goes? So it turns out to be this kind of layout~..." Unable to figure out the meaning of her words, Haruaki did not take particular note of them.
Holding the rented bath towel in one hand, Fear passed through the red curtain to enter the changing room for the female bath. The fragrance of soap grew even stronger. Carrying a sense of cleanliness and refreshing coolness, it was a most nostalgic fragrance. This alone was enough to make Fear start feeling elated.
What was in the changing room? Fear looked all around, seeing the shelves where wicker baskets were arranged in rows, the sinks that came with large mirrors, electrical fans, hair dryers, paper cups and a drinking fountain. The little door in a corner probably belonged to the toilet.
"Hmm hmm, I see... So the clothes go into this basket once I take them off."
"Don't throw them around randomly, because other people need to use them."
"I've had enough of all this nagging from you and the shameless brat! There's clearly a girl here with even less common sense than me, so go remind her, okay!?"
What a long-winded and nagging woman—Fear pouted and removed her clothing one piece at a time.
"Personal belongings are placed here? I ask this kind of question."
"Indeed. Also, I shouldn't have to say this but you're not allowed to bring anything with you into there apart from your bath towel. Please leave all dangerous articles here. So long as you don't go out of line, we intend to get along with you peacefully."
"...Affirmative. I have no intention of being enemies with you at all."
Un Izoey nodded and placed the bundle of cloth in her arms into one of the wicker baskets, then began to strip. First she unbuttoned her navel-exposing lab coat, one button at a time. Despite the weather being this cold, she was wearing just this one article of clothing on her upper body? The dark-skinned bulging under her lab coat was exposed, exhibiting its abundant elasticity. At the same time, Konoha was also removing her clothing. As soon as her bra was unclasped, a certain body part, exhibiting abundant elasticity, also came into view—
"Damn it, you two, are you taunting the Ladylike Bosoms Alliance!? Speaking of dangerous articles, those things of yours are actually the most dangerous, too dangerous! Hurry and put them down, I'll hold on to them for you two! Or rather... Uh, dismantle them!"
"Don't mind that child's words. This is just someone sulking because they have no breasts."
The opposing faction's core leadership effortlessly dismissed Fear's protests with merely two sentences. So infuriating!
Immediately, Un Izoey proceeded to bend over and took off the bow-like elastic cord from her left toe, coiling it into a mass. Then with her tribal skirt taken off, the curves belonging to a pair of long, slender, beautiful, dark-skinned legs were revealed. Casually throwing her long skirt into a basket, this produced a crisp clink from the holster in her skirt that probably carried either darts or throwing knives. Finally, she pulled off her underwear that was extremely small in area, buried deeply between the cheeks of her buttocks. Separating it from her legs, her task of undressing was then complete.
Almost simultaneously, Fear also took off all her clothes.
"So, the bath is behind that glass door... Hmm? Sovereignty, what's with you?"
Fear turned her head to see that Sovereignty had not undressed. She looked quite hesitant and was acting awkwardly. But after hearing Fear's question, she seemed to be committing herself to some unknown decision. Laughing "ehehe," she said:
"Uh... I just remembered I've got a little something to do first!"
"Going to the toilet? If that's the case, I think the toilet is that door over there..."
"No, it's not the toilet—Anyway, don't mind me, you girls enter the bath first! Sorry!"
"Sure... Okay. Then we'll go in first."
Leaving Sovereignty behind, Fear pulled the glass door open with a clack and entered the bath area. The interior was filled with steam and hot air. Fear also found the patter of her own footsteps on the floor quite pleasant and relaxing.
"Wow—It's just like what I saw on television, this is what a bath house is like! So big, so many taps, the tile patterns are so pretty and we've got the whole place to ourselves!"
"As said previously, don't make so much noise! It's highly likely that others will come in after us. And if you're too loud, the male side of the bath can hear it too!"
Fear completely ignored Konoha's reminders and continued advancing. Wooden buckets and bath stools were piled in a small hill. Why was there a mirror installed at each rinsing station? Hmm, how curious—just as Fear thought that, she heard a tragic scream of "Hyawah—!?" accompanied by the sounds of impacts from the changing room direction. Sovereignty's usual clumsiness had probably asserted itself again, causing her to fall over somewhere despite a lack of obstacles on the ground. Although Fear had no idea what happened to her, she really hoped that Sovereignty could join them as soon as possible.
"So, with no further delays, I'll confirm for myself what it's like to take a dip in this massive bath—"
"Hold on! You must rinse yourself first! There are also many other rules I have to tell you, such as not soaking your towel into the bath. Since we're bathing together, I will teach you bath house etiquette strictly. Opposition is not permitted...!"
"Muu~ This girl is such a pain."
"This is manners, so you must adhere to the rules! The same goes for you—Eh? What's the matter?"
At first, Un Izoey was also looking around with great curiosity, but now, she was staring intently at the spacious bath tub, not moving at all. Judging from her gaze, she seemed to be wary of something, keeping a certain distance without approaching the bath a single step further. What was going on? Just as Fear wondered, Un Izoey spoke up.
"So this is a bath house... We are supposed to take a dip in that pool-like place? A vast pool with steam rising—It reminds me of the Shikakinira cave in my homeland."
"Oh my, you have hot springs back in your homeland too? That's quite nice."
"My answer: assertion that it's not nice at all."
Still eyeing the bath warily, Un Izoey replied with a face that could not be more serious:
"...Rumors say that you'll die if you go near that place. Because poisonous gases surface once a while."
Immersed up to his shoulders in the spacious bath, Haruaki slowly exhaled "phew~" The mildly hot water, stimulating his skin, felt extremely comfortable.
"It's been so long since I last visited a bath house... Ah! This really allows me to relax my entire body..."
Apart from Haruaki, there were no other customers in the male bath, resulting in a situation where he could monopolize the entire place. Although he only ended up here as a result of all sorts of simultaneous coincidences, it turned out to be more leisurely and relaxing than expected. Haruaki wondered if he should be thanking Sovereignty and Un Izoey instead.
Just at this time, noises could be heard from the female side of the bath. Although he had already warned Fear not to be too loud, this bath house's structure was the same as others in the past—the top part of the separating wall between the male and female sides was hollow. Hence, hearing noises from the other side was only natural. However, he next heard Konoha say: "J-Just relax! You won't die!" This came totally out of the blue and made him extremely curious. What exactly was happening over on the female side of the bath?
At this moment, he heard the male bath's glass door grating as it was pulled open. Another customer was coming in apparently. Deciding it would be bad if he were mistaken for eavesdropping on the female bath, Haruaki pulled his gaze back away from the partitioning wall, closed his eyes, and focused on carefully savoring the hot water's temperature.
He could hear the new visitor using the rinsing facilities, pouring hot water into a wooden bucket. Then new waves were made in the bath tub where Haruaki was immersed.
"Uwah, so hot~ It hurts~"
"It'll be fine once you get used to it. Besides, it won't feel like a bath house unless it's this hot. Because Japanese people love to enjoy a good soak in hot water."
"Oh okay, I see now. Then I'll endure it... Ooh~ ...Ah, it feels like I'm slowly getting used to it. Yes, it's really very warm~"
"I only came here by pure chance, but this hot water turns out to be really great—Ah, hey!"
A powerful sense of dissonance suddenly pierced his mind. He had overlooked the matter because things had developed too naturally, but this was absolutely something that must not be ignored. Haruaki suddenly opened his eyes, trying to confirm the appearance of the other customer immersed in the hot water beside him. But wait, hold on, confirming would be bad as well, right? Hence, just as he was about to shut his eyes again with maximum haste—
"Ahaha~ Haruaki-kun, don't worry. I already transformed to a boy in the changing room."
Haruaki apprehensively confirmed the other person's appearance. The customer next to him was undoubtedly Sovereignty but his hair was shorter than just now and the bulging chest was gone. As for the lower body... Due to being soaked under the hot water, the actual details were not visible. This should be okay, probably.
"R-Really? I almost forgot you had a male mode because I seldom see you in that form."
The «Sovereignty-Perfection-Doll» would fall in love with its owner and was the doll created for that purpose. Furthermore, since the romantic partner could be either male or female, Sovereignty—required to fullfill its duties perfectly regardless of the owner's gender—possessed the function to control physical characteristics of both male and female bodies.
"Hmm~ I'm actually a boy quite frequently when I'm home. After all, with Shiraho—"
"No, hold on, I don't think it's appropriate for me to listen anymore! Please end this topic!"
Really? Sovereignty tilted her head in puzzlement. Only when that name was mentioned did Haruaki realize suddenly in alarm the kind of unknown consequences he was going to face if Shiraho—Sovereignty's lover—found out about the current situation. Haruaki shivered in fright after imagining: "From what I hear, you were bathing together with Sovereignty? You have apparently grown weary of living, human!" He had a feeling that things could develop into something this serious. Even though Sovereignty had transformed into a boy, Haruaki did not think Shiraho would let him off... But now that they were already immersed in the bath together, there was nothing he could do.
In any case, Sovereignty was definitely a boy right now. But... Since she was usually female for the most part, combined with the fact that her voice was virtually the same, possibly due to preconceived impressions, Haruaki felt completely uncomfortable. Trying not to look at Sovereignty as much as possible, he said:
"Putting that aside—Uh, why did you suddenly come running to this side? Oh, I'm not saying it's bad for you to be here, but I was expecting you to play and bath with Fear and the other girls."
"That's what I wanted to do in the beginning, but as you can see, if I went over to that side, Haruaki-kun, you'd be bathing all on your own, right? I was thinking that'd be lonely for you~ ... Umm... Maybe... Am I being a bother... to you?"
Sovereignty looked up slightly, glancing at Haruaki. His facial features were essentially identical to that of his female form, hence, Haruaki felt his own heart skip a beat suddenly.
"O-Of course not, I just said, right? There's definitely nothing bad. I should thank you instead... I guess, yes. Really, having a dip in such a big bath alone, it does feels quite a shame and lonely."
"I see, thank goodness. Then I can say that I've once again achieved today's lucky action of 'treating others with kindness.' Ehehe."
Her demure, smiling face was causing Haruaki's heart rate to instantly accelerate again. No, calm down. Sovereignty is male right now. There's no reason to blush or get nervous at all. I have to calm down!
It must be due to looking at Sovereignty. If I look away, there should be no problem. Haruaki focused his consciousness on the hot water while closing his eyes with the mindset of an ascetic monk in training. Hence, all that remained was Sovereignty's unhurried voice entering his ears.
"Hooh~ Soaking in such a huge bath, it feels like being tightly embraced in someone's bosom."
Haruaki's mind could not work properly. Stop, stop talking with such a girly voice.
"I'm also starting to get used to this temperature. This tingling feeling on my body, it's making me feel comfortable starting from the depths of my core..."
"Ahhh, I'm about to melt... This is getting too mcuh. Ah mmm... So nice..."
Crap. After closing his eyes, Haruaki was finding his imagination running away in weird directions. So I guess keeping my eyes slightly open might be better after all? Haruaki tried to raise his eyelids slightly...
He frantically closed his eyes again. For an instant, he saw something strange. No, an illusion. Surely the circuits in his brain had become abnormal due to hearing weird noises. That must be it. So I'll open my eyes again, this time, definitely—
"Mmm~ Public baths are truly the best~"
Sovereignty stretched comfortably. The hot water splashed slightly in front of her chest, producing waves of ripples.
"Not an illusion—! Hold on, it's popped out! Something has popped out!"
"Hmm? What's the matter?"
"I repeat—Y-Your chest has popped up!"
Haruaki frantically turned his back to her. The view was unclear due to the steam but there was no mistake. Two bulging masses were definitely floating above the hot water just now. Water droplets were sliding along the smooth curves. Why?
"Eh? ...Oh, you're right~ Ehehe, sorry. Because it felt too pleasurable, I guess it popped out on its own when I relax—"
"No, you don't need to explain, just deal with it quickly!"
"Uh... Down below... Oh, it's still a boy's, so there's no problem. Then it's just up here, yeah, yeah..."
Sovereignty was performing some kind of action, making waves in the bath water. Haruaki recalled her mentioning before that physical stimulation was needed to make the breasts shrink. So most likely, she was massaging—No, not allowed to imagine.
"I-I'm all warmed up already, so I'll go rinse myself first. Enjoy your dip as long you'd like."
Confronted with the prospects of hyperemia in various ways, Haruaki fled the bath.
She had never been to this kind of place.
Truly a venue of the "unknown."
In that case, it was necessary to turn the unknown into the already-known.
Un Izoey's hazy gaze swept across the area of the female bath. The place was filled with numerous trivial unknowns. Naturally, she knew how to use the showering facilities but somehow she felt that the shapes were not the same as what she had used previously. Using this equipment in the same manner should be okay, right? Whose soap was that on the floor? Did someone forgot to take theirs back? If not, did she need to pay to use it?
"Hey Cow Tits... Look, I can't believe she's looking around this much."
"How troubling. It looks like that child must be taught many things... No helping it. In any case, you should sit down here first. Before you enter the bath, wash off those stains on your body."
Muramasa sighed while placing a tool in front of a showering station. Next, she prepared another stool on the side and sat down on it. Then she waved to Un Izoey. Un Izoey obeyed. Under the shower, the mirror reflected her body's image. For a warrior of her tribe, her body was a little too slender.
"So, this is the shampoo and this is the body wash. Use it separately to wash your hair and your body."
"My question: they can be used freely?"
"Yes. This isn't provided for free, rather, it's already included in the entrance fee."
So that was how it was, another unknown resolved. Looking at the mirror, Un Izoey discovered that her face really was filthy from oily stains. Hence she first used the soapy water on her body to wash away the stains... Done. Then she washed her body. After using both hands to wash the breasts that had been gradually growing heavier lately, she noticed Fear-in-Cube, sitting on her left, staring at her intently.
"Don't mind me. This is my first time witnessing Cow Tits and you, in other words, the enemy camp, washing those weapons. At least allow me to scout out the enemy... I see now, the hand needs to reach down below, and even the inner side needs to be washed huh... Muu~ Hmph, what a pain! I knew it, those useless things only get in the way, so I suggest scrapping those weapons as quickly as possible! Disarm! Disarm!"
"Like I said, just ignore her."
"No, Cow Tits, you're the one who should pay more attention. What's with that move of yours!? I can't believe you're using one hand to lift it up while washing the inner side with the other hand... It's totally unbelievable! This maintenance is a complete pain in the ass! No matter how I look, I must say that weapons of my size are much more superior!"
"Putting aside whether yours are superior or not, I do agree that washing them is troublesome indeed. And they're heavy too."
"Muu! This confidence is so infuriating...!"
Un Izoey could not tell if these two girls' relationship was good or bad. Speaking of which, she could not understand what they were talking about at all. There were still so many unknowns in this world.
During this time, Un Izoey also finished rinsing her body and proceeded to wash her hair. Then in order to wash away the lather, she was about to push the switch at the shower, but—
"Hmm, my water stopped. What happened, the shower broke?"
Un Izoey was not the only one puzzled. Likewise, the girl with suds all over her silver hair was also tilting her head as well.
"The showers in the bath house are designed to stop supplying water after a certain time. This is to prevent people from wasting water."
"Muu, that's quite troublesome then. So I have to press again every time?"
Fear-in-Cube pouted then looked towards Un Izoey.
"Can't be helped. Let's do this by division of labor. Hey, you'll be in charge of pressing the switch while I'll help you rinse off the suds... Then in exchange, you'll help me rinse off the suds from my hair!"
Un Izoey kept pressing the shower switch repeatedly. Holding the showerhead's tube, the silver-haired girl circled over to her back and started to run one hand through Un Izoey's hair. The water temperature was just right. Her small, nimble hand was also manipulating Un Izoey's hair with just the right force. To be honest—It was very comfortable.
Next, they switched positions and it was Un Izoey's turn to rinse Fear-in-Cube's hair. How troubling. She had never washed another person's hair or body before and did not know how to fine-tune her force.
"Nyoh! That's doing it a bit too hard, you don't need to rub it so forcefully to wash it. Uh, that's too soft now."
"I'm really sorry because I'm not used to it. I apologize with this kind of apology."
While agonizing over how to fine-tune her strength, Un Izoey finished washing Fear's hair. Since this was the first time, perhaps there was no helping it, but Un Izoey hoped to do a better job next time, regardless whether there was going to be a next time or not.
"Phew~ You two are washed nice and clean now. So, next is a dip in the bath. The important thing to remember is not to let your towel dip into the bath, also—"
"The moment has finally arrived! Great! Since we're lucky enough to have such a wide space with no others, I'll show you two my magnificent swimming—"
"Of course, swimming is not allowed. Only little children who are inexperienced and have no common sense would do that."
"...Like I was going to do that. I'm gonna show you my magnificent form as a mature lady entering the bath. Feel free to be amazed by the artistry of my form, soaked in the bath!"
Dipped into the bath, Un Izoey found the water hot enough to make her body tingle all over. However, it was not unbearable. As her body gradually grew accustomed to the feeling, she could feel the sense of warmth seep into her muscles.
She could not help but exhale. So this was a bath house, a comfortable place that made people relax this much. Wonderful. Best of all, poisonous gases did not emerge from this place.
However, perhaps this feeling only resulted because she was not yet used to the experience. Did the two other girls fell just as comfortable? Hence, Un Izoey looked towards them—
Strangely enough, both of them were making somber faces. What happened? Were they unable to withstand the heat? No—both of them were gazing towards the same direction. Apparently, it was the sound coming from there that caused their expressions to darken. Un Izoey perked her ears to listen in as well.
"Ah! ...Haruaki-kun, you're so amazing... This feels great... Wow..."
From the other side of the wall, a certain person's androgynous voice could be heard faintly.
"S-Stop making weird noises, okay?"
"I can't help it, because it feels so nice..."
How did things come to this? Haruaki was currently facing Sovereignty's back.
Just now, he had fled the bath and was about to rinse himself. But Sovereignty ended up chasing after him. Insisting on thanking Haruaki for his regular care and attention, Sovereignty had scrubbed his back, refusing to take no for an answer. In that case, Haruaki had no choice but to scrub Sovereignty's back in return. It would be too rude to receive a back-scrubbing without returning the favor.
Driving Sovereignty's strange cries out from his mind, Haruaki moved his hands in total concentration. Applying body wash onto the smooth skin, he gently rubbed and spread it. The snow-white and delicate back, the slender shoulders, the back of the neck where hair was clinging, all of it seemed inexplicably seductive. Having clearly turned into a boy already, why did Sovereignty still possess such a beautiful back?
"Haruaki-kun, I don't mind if you go harder. Also, could you wash a little further down, okay~?"
"E-Even if you ask me to wash lower—"
Haruaki shifted his gaze slightly lower down Sovereignty's back. Ah, those soft buttocks, compressed slightly against the stool from the weight of sitting down, no, he's a boy, so there's no need to be concerned—
Just at this moment—
"Hey—! Damn you, shameless brat, what are you doing!? I'll curse you!"
The sudden roaring caused Haruaki to shudder. Sitting on his stool, he looked back to see Fear at the top of the wall separating the male and female baths, showing a vicious look on her face. She had probably jumped up and grabbed the wall's edge. Next, Konoha also peered out awkwardly from beside her—
But as soon as she witnessed the situation on the male side of the bath, she instantly smiled. It was the terrifying kind of smile that brought chills down one's spine.
"Looks like... You truly wish for me to mete out punishment of the highest level, Haruaki-kun."
"Hold on, you're all mistaken! This is really a misunderstanding!"
"Oh, it's you two, Fear-chan and Konoha-chan~? Sorry, I ran over to this side~"
"What do you mean, ran over to this side!? Sovereignty, what are you thinking!?"
"Wah! Fear-san, watch out...!"
Fear went as far as to lift her upper body and lean forward. Frantically, Konoha extended her arm horizontally to cover up Fear's chest to block Haruaki's view. Konoha breathed a sigh in relief. Meanwhile—
"Don't worry, I'm currently a boy! See!"
This time, it was Sovereignty's turn to stand up suddenly, turning towards the separating wall all at once. Haruaki also extended his arm horizontally in reflex, blocking Sovereignty's lower body from Fear and Konoha's view. Phew—Haruaki breathed a sigh of relief as well. For someone whose body could turn male or female at will, Sovereignty probably did not mind even if Fear and Konoha saw. But in terms of public decency, it would be quite bad in all sorts of ways after all.
Seeing Sovereignty standing legs astride in a dangerous posture, Fear blushed a little. However—
"I-It's true that your boobs are gone... But even if you've turned into a boy, there are things that I still can't accept! Anyway, no means no! You must come back to this side!"
"Indeed! To think you're having bath together with Haruaki-kun, just the two of you, that's too enviable... No, what on earth are you two doing!? I even heard weird cries!"
"Aha, we were just scrubbing each other's back very normally~ After all, it's a new year and I'd like to thank Haruaki-kun again for his everyday care and hope to continue getting along... Also, seeing as we're at a bath house for once, I was thinking that scrubbing his back would be the best method to express gratitude."
"Th-This does sound fair enough..."
Speaking of which, Sovereignty did seem to have said something similar back when scrubbing Haruaki's back. But compared to the words, the soft touch of Sovereignty's hands had left a deeper impression on Haruaki's memory.
Just at this moment, Haruaki heard a sudden noise from behind. It also sounded extremely close by.
"—My understanding: discovery of a means to convey 'let's get along together from now on.' Since this is the best method, regarding the experience of scrubbing each other's back, I conclude with the conclusion that I should try it out."
Something touched Haruaki's back with a thud. Un Izoey. Un Izoey's... Must be a foot, right? With extremely skillful and precisely controlled force, she was using her foot to scrub Haruaki's back. Why was she here? Did she jump over the wall?
"Even if I don't know how to adjust my hand's force, there should be no problem with my foot. I am thinking this kind of thought. This is like a massage."
"My demand: Please do not look back. After all, I am naked... Too embarrassing."
In a rare moment, Un Izoey sounded quite embarrassed, just as she had claimed. This girl, who always exposed her navel and her feet, actually had a sense of shame? —However, there was no time to be pondering such questions.
Without needing her to point out, Haruaki knew he must not look back. Absolutely forbidden to look back. Surely, she was standing behind him and since she was currently using her foot to scrub his back, it implied that she had one leg lifted up, in other words—One look behind and Haruaki would undoubted be confronted with a shocking sight.
"I-Immorality Blocker (Bath House Variant)!"
As Konoha swung her arm, the body wash flying from her struck Haruaki squarely in the eyes, depriving him of his sight. Immediately after, there were some thuds. In his hazy, tear-filled field of view, what looked like two flesh-colored objects had jumped down from the separating wall, but naturally, Haruaki did not see clearly.
"That's dangerous! Don't kick back reflexively. This is for your own good, stay still!"
"...Sorry, it was because I felt a strong aura of murderous intent—Then why are you carrying me on your shoulder like a luggage?"
"Wawa, what's going on, what's going on?"
"Sovereignty secured! Time for a retreat—!"
Then Haruaki heard the sound of forceful kicks against the tiles, followed by a splash into a bath tub.
"That really stings. What the heck happened...?"
By the time Haruaki rinsed the body wash from his eyes and recovered his vision, the male bath was already devoid of any other people. From the female bath's direction, the voices of Fear and Konoha scolding Sovereignty and Un Izoey harshly could be heard.
Haruaki did not feel any sense of salvation at all, because after the bath, he was probably going to be facing a lecture a hundred times harsher than what he was hearing now (likely accompanied with physical punishment).
Soon after, Sovereignty climbed over the separating wall and returned to the male bath. He was still in his male body, but at Konoha or someone else's insistence, his body was wrapped in a bath towel. Rather than wrapped at the waist, the towel even covered his flat chest. In fact, Konoha and Fear did not want him to return, but there was no choice given that Sovereignty's clothes were on the male side after all, thus wrapping him up was the reluctant but only solution they came up with. After all, given the chest popping incident just now, doing things this way was actually only natural.
"Ooh~ They scolded me so harshly..."
"I'd really like to sympathize with you, but as soon as I imagine what's going to happen to me, I have no strength left for that. Anyway, I'm going for another rinse. Let me calm myself down first before going out..."
After harshly reprimanding Sovereignty, Fear and Konoha allowed him to return to the male bath. After all, it could not be helped that Sovereignty's clothes were in the male changing room. Since it would be bad if the boys exited the bath first and escaped, Fear and Konoha decided to leave the female bath as quickly as possible.
"Phew~ The bath was so comfortable, but the other stuff has totally exhausted me."
"Indeed. It was truly too immoral..."
"My apologies. I am very sorry. Because the top of the wall is open, I thought moving across was allowed."
"There's no way ordinary people can jump across to the other side in one leap, okay!"
While talking, they pulled the glass door open and entered the changing room. In that instant, the rear view of a long-haired person could be seen exiting the changing room to enter the lobby. Did that person leave because they were too loud? I'm so sorry about that... Fear thought to herself while wiping herself dry. Then walking over to the basket where her clothes were kept, she was just about to get dressed when—
She noticed Un Izoey freezing unnaturally in the middle of searching the basket beside her, staring into the basket with a shocked expression.
"...Nubowa is missing...!"
Fear cocked her head. This country girl still seemed unused to speaking Japanese and was always using weird tribal language.
"What does nubowa mean? No matter what it is, since you placed it in the basket, it can't possibly have gone missing. You should search again more carefully—Hmm?"
Fear cocked her head again in puzzlement. She stood on her toes and looked at her own basket while rummaging through the clothes nonstop, confirming the absence of what she was trying to find. No, it really was gone. What ought to be worn on her body was missing. Konoha was apparently confronted with the same situation.
"...! Hold on, how could... How could it be missing!? I clearly put it in—"
"Cow Tits, you too!?"
"Nubowa... Where did it go...?"
"Judging from those looks, the same goes for both of you...?"
"Yeah, this is serious now, very serious."
Fear and Konoha looked at each other and suddenly narrowed their eyes. This was a huge problem. Although exceedingly simple, it was absolutely a huge problem that could not be ignored. Indeed, simply stated—
"—The panties are missing."
Sighing, Haruaki and Sovereignty exited the male bath. As soon as the upcoming lecture came to mind, Haruaki felt inexorably depressed.
Haruaki dried himself with a towel in the changing room and put on his clothes again. Reaching towards his own basket, Sovereignty cried out "...Ah" lightly as though recalling something and looked up. Had Sovereignty forgotten to bring something?
What's wrong? —Just as Haruaki was about to ask, the toilet door in the changing room happened to open and a man walked out. A short, young man, roughly twenty-years-old, dressed in a a shirt and slim-fit pants. He must have come in while Haruaki and Sovereignty were in the bath.
Haruaki nodded lightly as a greeting, prompting the man to nod in return.
"Umm.. Excuse me, for this bath house, all I need to do is put money into the fee box, right? Because it's my first time here... The old lady attendant didn't respond no matter what I said to her. I'm very confused."
"Oh~ It's our first time here too, so I'm not too sure either... But putting money in should be okay, right? Or rather, I couldn't find any other way to pay."
"Really? Then it can't be helped. If I made a mistake, I'll just have to apologize next time I visit."
While the young man was scratching his head, someone forcefully pulled open the sturdy door separating the male changing room and the lobby.
"Emergency situation! Everyone gather out front—!"
"Uwah! Hey Fear, this is the male side, you know!? Don't open it!"
"Now isn't the time for saying things like that. Anyway, I am ordering everyone in the bath house to assemble in the lobby immediately!"
"Everyone... Including me? I was just about to go in the bath."
"Muu... A man? No, you have to assemble first as well!"
"Come on! Stop causing trouble for other customers. I'm sorry, please don't mind her. Go ahead and enter—"
"Damn you, shameless brat, this is an extremely emergency situation! There's an incident that must be resolved as quickly as possible!"
"Yes!" Fear nodded, arms crossed, vigorously puffing her chest out—but then she immediately held down her skirt as though remembering something. Then with an embarrassed and furious expression, she glared at Haruaki and said:
"In short... There's an underwear thief. Me, Cow Tits and country girl, our underwear has all been stolen!"
Commanded by Fear and the girls, all the other customers in the bath house were gathered in the lobby, a total of six. They were respectively the man Haruaki had met just now in the changing room, an aggressive-looking man and a fancy middle-aged woman who seemed to be acquainted with him, a scowling high school girl who was playing with her cellphone, as well as two women who appeared to be university students, putting on cosmetics using makeup mirrors. The two women were grumbling "seriously, what the heck." "Yeah, I'm going to be late for my part-time job." There were definitely a couple customers sitting on the massage chairs and the resting seating back when Haruaki's group first entered the bath house, but recalling who was who among these people was beyond their memory. The old lady tending to the bath house simply wriggled the corners of her lips, apparently unable to provide any useful testimony, hence they decided to just let her continue to sit in her chair. Ignoring her existence was probably not going to affect the investigation very much.
Having exited the bath house, Konoha returned with a solemn expression.
"I've asked the oden stall owner who has been opposite the bath house all this time. He said that no one has exited after we entered."
"I see. In other words, the culprit is among these people as expected!"
Fear nodded vigorously. For some reason, Sovereignty was looking very awkward and uncomfortable. Un Izoey said:
"To dare steal nubowa, truly unforgivable. My declaration: the culprit will pay the price accordingly...!"
Having entered combat state, her eyes swept a sharp glare over everyone present. Too scary. Haruaki worried if she would suddenly use her foot to draw out a knife from under her skirt. Speaking of which, her skirt's wide open slit also felt even more precarious than usual.
"H-Hey, I already understand the situation now. Calm down."
"My reply: giving objection that I cannot calm down. Nubowa has been stolen by unknown person. But that is a very sacred item...!"
Haruaki had never heard of sacred underwear. But Un Izoey was someone who kept her navel exposed at all times for a reason like the earth's energies, so this sort of thing could not be ruled out for certain.
Haruaki concurred with a stiff face and Un Izoey nodded seriously.
"My answer: precisely. In my tribe, it is sometimes passed down from parents to children. This might be an unknown that is difficult to understand for you, but it is believed that worshiping it every night will bring good luck. In the face of hazards such as fire, hurricanes or the attacks of other tribes, the nubowa must be taken away first."
"Worshiped every night...! What can I say? I-It's really surprising..."
"Hence, I absolutely cannot forgive someone who dares steal nubowa. This is a great crime where punishment by skinning, roasting, and being thrown into a nest of poisonous snakes is deserved. My determination: once the culprit is caught, I must make him suffer the consequences. This is already certain...!"
"P-Please show some mercy..."
Haruaki really hoped she was joking, but judging from her deathly cold gaze and atmosphere, it really did not seem like a joke. Now that was truly troubling. If necessary, he might have to ask Fear and Konoha to restrain her—But judging from the equally terrifying gaze they were using to sweep over the suspects, in all likelihood, they were going to help out instead. Sovereignty still seemed taken aback in fear of Un Izoey's intimidating aura, hunching her shoulders and crying out softly: "Ah... Awawa...!" She could not be counted on as reinforcements at all. In other words, ultimately, Haruaki probably had no choice but to risk his own safety to protect the culprit's life. Please, let's not come down to this.
While Haruaki was pondering this and that, Fear was also explaining the situation to the other customers. Then she glared viciously at the suspects again.
"I'll say this again... Since no one has left the premises, the culprit is someone here! Confess now before it's too late! But even if I say that, the lowly pervert probably isn't gonna admit the crime so readily. Did anyone see someone acting suspicious? Like seeing someone sneaking into the female bath, that kind of thing."
The two university girls first looked at each other then spoke without any interruption in applying their makeup:
"Sigh~ Such a pain. Like anyone would care about that."
"So true so true~ It's not like we'd keep staring at the female bath~"
Next, the seemingly obedient and honest high school girl also spoke up: "I've been busy texting. Right now, I'm at the critical stage when I'm deciding whether or not to break up with my boyfriend." The young man Haruaki had met in the male changing room shook his head and said: "I'm very sorry but I don't know anything either." The scary-looking man and the middle-aged lady suggested with annoyance: "Hurry and call the police so that we can all leave!"
"What's the point of calling the police!? If the culprit escapes while we're relaxed and calling the police, then takes the opportunity to do something to the loot... Ahhh, that's totally gross!"
"Agreed. We must personally punish this audacious pervert...!"
Fear and Konoha exchanged nods in agreement, confirming each other's level of seriousness. Then—
"Anyway, since no one saw anybody suspicious, we'll just have to check everyone one by one. Mainly the females."
"Hmm? Why the females? Normally, you'd suspect a man, right..."
"Right when we got out from the bath, we happened to spot a clearly suspicious figure fleeing the changing room frantically. We had yet to discover the crime at that point, so all we registered was a head of long hair... No matter what, visiting the changing room without entering the bath is way too unnatural. Consequently, that person is the prime suspect."
"I've seen it on television before. Bad men would use women accomplices to steal underwear or take voyeuristic shots of the female bath, so this could be a similar case."
Hearing Konoha and Fear's explanations, Haruaki secretly glanced at the customers present. All of the females had long hair and matched the description completely.
"So, first allow us to check your personal belongings. Our pan—A-Ahem, would definitely serve as the strongest evidence. Once we find them, no amount of denial will hold up."
"Such a pain~" "Don't you know what's called privacy rights?" The university girls pouted and grumbled in displeasure, but two other people reacted even more intensely than them. The intimidating man and the middle-aged woman.
"Do whatever you like, but I'm very busy! Hey, I'm leaving!"
"Yeah, like anyone's going to listen to you. I can't believe you're suspecting us. That's why I hate youngsters nowadays!"
The two of them turned around at once and walked towards the bath house's exit. However, in that instant, Haruaki saw a certain dark-skinned body move.
With instantaneous explosive power beyond normal humans, the brown silhouette jumped, skirt fluttering, easily flying over Haruaki's head (the instant he realized this, Haruaki frantically ducked), landing right in front of the departing fierce-looking man. Then the girl swiftly used her foot to draw out a knife from under her skirt in one flowing motion, spreading the skirt slit and raising a dark-skinned leg up high—Held between her toes, the knife was pressed firmly against the scary man's neck. The man froze like a statue. The other customers watched in stunned astonishment.
Maintaining her posture, Un Izoey brought her eyes, filled with cold, murderous intent, close to the man.
"My question: confirming if you are the culprit who stole nubowa? The first suspect to escape is too suspicious."
The scary man and the middle-aged woman went limp and sat down on the floor. Un Izoey's eyes seemed to be saying: "So, how should I dissect the prey next?" while gazing down at them. Her long leg was still raised high with the knife. The skirt on her thigh began to slide down due to gravity, further widening the slit—
"Hold on, your leg! Your leg—!"
Konoha swiftly moved in front of her to grab the hem of her skirt, then frantically covered up her thigh and something beneath.
"Think carefully before you act. You're lifting your leg too high!"
"...? I don't quite get what you mean, but I definitely thought before I acted. If they are guilty, they must pay the price...! Specifically, it starts with the blood letting."
"Awawawa~" Witnessing this scene, Sovereignty became even more afraid. There's no need to be that scared, right? Haruaki thought. However, this was apparently Sovereignty's first time seeing Un Izoey's battle mode, so there was no helping it.
"...C-Cough, uh, how should I say this...? Just as you all can see, that country girl is from a foreign land and peaceful Japan's common senses doesn't work on her. Of course, as long as we intervene, she can be stopped because we know her. But this girl is very unstable right now, so unfortunate accidents might happen under the current circumstances... Yeah. So my advice is don't make any reckless moves."
Fear spoke solemnly, probably seizing this rare opportunity to make use of Un Izoey's serious intimidation. That being said, it was totally a threat.
All the customers present were frozen. They were almost like unfortunate commoners who were taken hostage in a bank robbery.
Once everything is over, I hope no one calls the police to arrest us—Haruaki thought to himself while sighing deeply.
The customers proceeded to offer their full cooperation, just like bank employees commanded by bank robbers to open up the vault.
Fear's group checked everyone's personal belongings in succession. First they checked the females. The high school girl, the two university girls and the middle-aged woman. But no evidence could be uncovered in their belongings. "Hmm~" Fear inclined her head and looked at the remaining customers.
"Uh, me too?"
"Yeah, because accomplices are possible... Like a man ordering a woman to go steal panties. It's possible that the loot has been handed over already, so let us check."
"I don't mind... Please go ahead."
After asking the young man to open his bag, Haruaki and Fear peered into it at the same time. A single glance was enough to clear him of suspicion. The bag only contained a portable music player and a paperback book. Nothing else.
"What, you're only carrying this bit of stuff? Your pockets would have been enough... Where are your change of clothes?"
"I used to keep my music player in my pocket but ended up losing it. Since I'm also scared of dropping and breaking it, I've been keeping it in my bag recently. As for a change of clothes... I only decided on a whim to come in for a bath when passing by, that's why I didn't bring any."
"Then that's similar to us. Okay, next, that mister over there!"
The man with the scary face kept glancing at Un Izoey frequently while opening his Boston bag. Mixed in his change of clothes was cryptic information related to realtors and an envelope of cash.
"So shady, what is it for?"
"Work-related funds. There's nothing shady about it."
"My doubt: I ask if you are telling truth? If you dare lie..."
"—It's the truth!"
Un Izoey leaned forward and questioned, causing the man to straighten his back for some reason, answering respectfully. Apparently, the intimidating effects from the threat of bloodletting earlier still lingered.
"Hmm... So troubling, we failed to find anything! Where did the stuff go!?"
"Maybe the thief hid them. Let's try searching places like under the vending machine."
"Or—the thief might have hid them in a pocket, or even wearing it. Okay, Cow Tits, you'll be in charge of searching the lobby. Country girl and I will do body searches."
"Understood. So, Sovereignty-san, could you help out? Let's split up to search... Sovereignty-san?"
"Hueh? Oh... Uh... We need to search this place? Okay okay~ You can count on me~! Yes~ I will try my best in searching~ Something like that!"
Looking a bit distracted and worried, Sovereignty responded to Konoha with inexplicable excitement and began to look for the underwear. Since Haruaki could not help in the body searches, he joined the lobby search team.
As much as Fear and the girls frowned at the disgusting image of "the male accomplice putting on a pair of stolen panties," they still went as far as to pull open the top of their pants or to reach their hands to search the pockets of the young man and the scary-faced man. The young man simply smiled in embarrassment while the scary-faced man remained frozen towards Un Izoey's checking, like a frog under a snake's sights. Although it was none of his business, Haruaki could not help but worry, hoping that the middle-aged woman, unknown whether she was the man's wife or mistress, would not start despising the man as a result of this.
Next came the body searches for the ladies. Probably deciding that it would be inappropriate to conduct out in public view, Fear and Konoha took them to the female changing room while Haruaki, Sovereignty and Un Izoey basically finished checking the lobby. Fear and Konoha returned with sulking faces.
"How is it? We couldn't find anything."
"Nothing on our side either. We also took the opportunity to make a search of the female changing room but still found nothing... Where the heck did the stuff go? It's not like someone could have eaten it."
"Please don't say something so terrifying. But then again, I'd be really impressed if the culprit would go so far in such totally perverse behavior just to eliminate evidence..."
"Anyway, it's really nowhere to be found. Where on earth did it go?"
Although the culprit's identity remained elusive, Fear and the other girls' panties were undoubtedly missing. Since the culprit had not left, those objects must exist physically somewhere and could not have vanished like a puff of smoke. For an instant, Haruaki considered the possibility of the culprit throwing the loot outside, but there were no windows in the lobby and even the female changing room. Hence, the panties definitely still remained somewhere in the bath house.
"Muumuumuu... No, it's too soon for this to turn into an unsolved case. There are still places to check. Like the male changing room, for example."
"Would the thief deliberately hide stuff in the male changing room...? But there's nowhere else to search, so we might as well try it."
Haruaki decided to head to the male changing room with Fear. Konoha stayed in the lobby, saying: "I'll check this area once more in case something was missed." Both Sovereignty, who was helping out clumsily, and Un Izoey, who was preventing the suspects from escaping, stayed in the lobby as well.
Haruaki entered the changing room and briefly glanced all over. Naturally, nothing seemed unusual at first glance.
"The layout is similar to the girl's side... Okay, let's do a carpet search. Haruaki, you must search seriously."
While casually checking the wicker baskets, Haruaki saw in the corner of his eye that Fear was examining the gaps in between the shelves. Nothing. Nothing in this basket either. Naturally, there was nothing. If hiding something, one would probably choose a hiding spot that was harder to discover, such as—Just as Haruaki was thinking this...
Weird. His hand touched something soft. Drawing it out from the basket to have a look—
(It's appeared—! W-Why?)
Due to the little effort it took, Haruaki's mind was sent into turmoil instead. Looking at his hand, there was a small piece of white fabric. Just one. It felt extremely high-class to touch, thin and soft in texture, decorated with lace and quite mature in style. Not only that, it was very narrow and small in area. Rather than maturity, one could say that it actually exuded an air of sexy purity, who on earth would wear this type of underwear... No wait, now was not the time to be examining a pair of panties intently! Just at the instant when Haruaki was about to gather his chaotic thoughts—
"Muu! Oh right, I forgot to remind you about the most important thing!"
Hearing Fear's sudden yell, Haruaki's heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Reflexively, he scrunched up the pair of panties and stuffed it into his pocket together with his fist. Even he had no idea why he did that.
"W-What's the important thing, Fear?"
"Basically, hand any evidence over to me as soon as you discover it! If you dare take this chance to play with it, sniff it, put it over your head or hide it in your pocket—I will gladly hand your decapitated head over to the country girl!"
"H-Hahaha. How could I possibly... do something like that... Right? Hahaha."
"That laughter is clearly unnatural... Too suspicious!"
As Fear stared at him, Haruaki cursed his behavior from several seconds earlier then proceeded to be overcome with regret.
(Urghhh, what am I doing...!? Wrong, I clearly made the wrong choice—!)
Even though he was startled, why had he stuffed it into his pocket? Did he instinctively choose evasive action due to the guilt of holding female clothing in his hand? How he hoped that all men would react identically when encountering the same situation.
In any case, Fear's suspicious gaze had already locked onto him. Trying to find a chance to hide the incriminating evidence again would be quite challenging. No, he should simply hold his head high in righteous confidence and take it out, declaring loudly: "Oh my~ Because you startled me, I couldn't help but put it into my pocket!" Was Fear going to believe him? Don't be stupid.
Haruaki's brain spun at full speed, trying to find a solution to escape his predicament.
"Uh... Actually, I've wanted to go to the toilet for a while now. I'll take this chance to check the toilet area as well, so I'm leaving you in charge of this side."
In any case, Haruaki decided that blocking Fear's line of sight was of paramount priority. Rushing into the toilet with reckless abandon, he exhaled in relief. So, what now? Pretend he found the pair of panties in the washroom? In order not to be suspected, it would be best to hide it somewhere, then pretend to find it by chance and call Fear to come over—Very well, let's do that.
(So, what could be considered a natural hiding spot... Found one.)
The washroom also had a small sink. Below it was a cupboard that Haruaki decided to make use of. Opening the cupboard's door, he moved aside the toilet paper that filled the interior. While making space, he thought: finding panties is very good and all, but it was only one out of many pairs missing. The mystery still remained. Where were the others? And who was the culprit—?
"Weird, there seems to be something inside... Oh, this is...!"
As it turned out, in the depths of the cupboard, behind the small mountain of toilet paper—
Haruaki found the answer to the whole mystery.
Fear strode her way back to the lobby and tossed it—the long-haired wig—to the culprit as though saying "Catch!"
Namely, it was the young man whom Haruaki and Sovereignty had met in the changing room.
"We found it in the washroom. Not just this wig but also women's clothing and our underwear."
"The person who entered the male changing room after Fear and the others discovered the theft of their underwear... That's you, right?"
After Haruaki finished, the young man bit his lip and bowed his head. This reaction was equivalent to a confession.
"In other words, you initially disguised yourself as a woman to enter the bath, then changed your appearance after the crime, right..?"
Konoha narrowed her eyes and spoke softly. Fear nodded in response.
"Because we saw him the instant we were leaving the bath, he probably concluded that he won't be able to escape if we started chasing after him. And if he knew about the oden stall owner outside the bath house, he would be wary of the possibility of the stall owner pointing out which way the thief fled, making it even harder to escape, which is why he frantically entered the male changing room, took off his disguise and prepared to run away—That's probably how it went. The other customers were apparently focused on doing their own thing and this place's layout is such that you can move from the female side to the male side without disturbing the curtains by going through the counter. As long as you ignore the old lady who's tending to the shop, bend over and move through the counter, you should be able to enter the male bath easily without anyone seeing you."
"Yes—I understand now. From the start, he was planning to use this escape method in case something happened. Weren't this man's belongings unnaturally few? I believe that's because his bag originally carried male clothing. After changing into male attire in the washroom, he hid the female clothing he was originally wearing, which is why his bag became so empty."
The young man was cornered with nothing to say. The university girls whispered to themselves: "No way, seriously!?" "Despicable~" The high school girl also kept backing away, making eyes as though looking at something unclean. The scary-looking man and middle-aged woman seemed relieved, now that they were proven innocent. At the same time, they cast a glance of "It's all your fault!" to reprimand the young man.
Probably unable to withstand all this heavy pressure, the young man suddenly screamed:
"I-I don't know! I don't know anything, move out of the way, move out of the way—!"
Then he made a run for the bath house entrance.
He had probably lost his sense of reason after getting caught as the culprit, therefore forgetting an important memory. His choice of action was clearly a great mistake.
Indeed—After what had happened earlier, he should already know that a certain someone was not going to let him escape.
A dark-skinned figure rapidly blocked the young man's path.
"My condemnation: stealing nubowa is such a heavy crime—I declare the declaration that you will learn the lesson with your body!"
"H-Hold on, I beg you, absolutely not the knife—!"
Hearing Haruaki's pitiful plea, Un Izoey's brow twitched once. Then she lowered her leg that was about to rise. Probably thinking this was a good opening, the young man sped up, charging towards Un Izoey. Raising his fist, he intended to knock her down with reckless abandon and escape—However, as a warrior of the Lab Chief's Nation, Un Izoey could not possibly be defeated by this kind of amateur's attack.
With physical prowess beyond ordinary humans, she jumped up, dodging the young man's fist. While in midair, she extended her legs, clamping the young man's head between her thighs. Then arching her back while using the man's head as a pivot, she spun her own body like a pendulum—Making use of the man's running speed, using her legs to clamp his head directly, she threw the young man against the floor. Simply stated, this would be the Frankensteiner technique in professional wrestling, though it was unknown whether Un Izoey would know this name.
Slammed hard against the floor on his back, the young man's entire body went limp. Sitting astride his chest, Un Izoey calmly looked down at him.
But at this moment, she tilted her face slightly, going "...?", probably puzzled by the young man's state. However, Haruaki understood why. Surely Un Izoey was the only one who did not understand.
Konoha shook her head repeatedly, murmuring in exasperation:
"Of course it's great that she didn't draw her knife—Phew. But why did choose a technique as dangerous as the Frankensteiner given these circumstances...?"
Indeed, this move was too dangerous. Using her thighs to grip the enemy to perform a throw. Using leg techniques while wearing a skirt. Right now, she was straddling him in front of his face. She had yet to retrieve her underwear.
Hence, the young man's current state was only natural.
With an expression as though he had caught sight of heaven, the young man had fainted in utter bliss.
Back when they found the things the thief had hidden in the washroom, Fear yelled: "Anyway, the most urgent thing now is to punish the culprit! He must not be allowed to escape! Hurry up!" Then she frantically returned to the lobby, taking the only piece of evidence from the washroom that could be used to interrogate the culprit, namely, the wig. However, now that the culprit's escape was no longer a worry, the stolen articles could finally be retrieved. Although if possible, Haruaki really wished that Un Izoey could have retrieved her underwear before performing the Frankensteiner.
Going along to accompany the girls, Haruaki entered the male changing room. Only the three victims, Fear, Konoha and Un Izoey filed into the washroom. At this moment, Haruaki suddenly felt that he had forgotten something. What was it?
Just as he tilted his head in thought, the girls' voices could be heard from the washroom.
"Ah, it's really here! Thank goodness~ This pair was actually quite expensive..."
"This is mine. Oh my~ Then the remaining—string-like thing must be yours. Here."
"...My understanding: I get it now. So you were looking for these."
"...? Weren't you looking for this too?"
Fear and company talked while exiting the washroom. Immediately, Sovereignty, who was waiting beside Haruaki, suddenly became even more awkward and uncomfortable than before.
Leaving the changing room, Un Izoey looked at Fear with glazed eyes.
"My shame: I confess I completely failed to notice. Because totally preoccupied."
"Wha? What do you mean by that? Then what the heck were you looking for—"
"Very sorry but I report with report that case is not over. I haven't found nubowa yet."
Un Izoey's eyes turned sharp again, as though returning to her beginning state, giving off astounding pressure as she swept her gaze around, speaking softly:
"You all seem to have misunderstood. Nubowa is not underwear. In my tribe, it is like a home's guardian deity, I explain with this kind of explanation. Stones or animal bones that we feel a certain power from are treated as the symbol of the home and safeguarded accordingly. When moving house, a new nubowa must be prepared. After moving to this town, I've been looking and finally found one after great difficulty, just before coming to this place."
"Uh... In other words, apart from underwear, something else was stolen from you as well...?"
"Definitely. Since nubowa is not found yet, the case has not ended—"
Just as Un Izoey spoke with a determined tone of voice—
"I-I am so sorry—!"
Someone suddenly knelt down in prostration with lightning speed.
"Sovereignty!? W-Why did you suddenly kneel down?"
"Sorry, I never knew it was something so important...! I really didn't mean any harm! But after seeing it, I couldn't help myself—"
Sovereignty bowed her head in apology, pressing her forehead against the floor, apologizing with perfect Japanese kneeling form. What? What was going on? Indeed, Sovereignty had been acting strange since a while ago.
Un Izoey swiftly stood before Sovereignty.
"Hya... S-Sorry—! I'll do anything, please don't skin me alive—!"
"Where is nubowa? My demand: please lead the way."
"O-Okay, please follow me..."
Trembling in trepidation, Sovereignty entered the male bathroom through the glass door.
"Eh? It's here!?"
"Yes... Back when I was about to go find Haruaki-kun, I accidentally tripped in the female changing room and knocked a basket over. Then I found that thing... So I took it over to this side directly."
"But where did you put it?"
"Over there... When Haruaki-kun was taking a dip in the bath in the beginning, I lathered it up and immersed it in the water."
Sovereignty was pointing to a wash basin in a corner of the bathroom, containing a mixture of soap and water. Lathered and filled with suds, floating lightly on the surface was—
A dirty plush doll. It resembled a super deformed puppy, but honestly speaking, it was not that cute. Overall, it seemed a bit distorted with the head not properly secured. Young children would probably cry if they saw it in the middle of the night—It looked like a puppy version of the bizarre, cute bear doll that Ontenzaki Satsuko owned in the past. It could very well come from the same doll series.
"So it's this plush doll...? Sovereignty-san, why did you soak it in water?"
"Uh, it was even dirtier when I first saw it. That's why I wanted to wash it."
Un Izoey bowed slightly, staring at the wash basin with complete focus, looking as though she were hesitating over whether to rescue the plushie or not. Then staying in the same posture, she said softly:
"Because I found it in a garbage dump. My reaction: people in this country really throw away any and everything."
"Ah, so that's why you were filthy all over with slightly torn clothing when we ran into you just now. So you dove into the rubbish heap to save this little guy?"
Un Izoey nodded in reply to Haruaki, then stared at the plushie in the wash basin again. Probably unable to endure her silence—
"Uh... I've repeated this many times but I really didn't know it was this important! Because the horoscope said that my lucky action today is 'treating others with kindness,' and also because it's like my friend, seeing how dirty it was, I couldn't ignore it—Umm, a-anyway, I'm truly sorry—!"
Sovereignty bowed her head and apologized again with contracted shoulders, then looked up apprehensively. However, Un Izoey continued to stare at the plushie only. Hence, Sovereignty turned her face awkwardly and asked again in trepidation:
"Uh... This is for expressing my apology..."
Originally in the wash basin, the plushie suddenly jumped out using its limbs that were made of cloth and took a deep bow towards Un Izoey. This was Sovereignty's ability to control dolls using her sovereign authority.
Un Izoey reacted strongly. Reaching out, she grabbed the plushie.
"Hyah! I-I was thinking this would make you happy, but it's no good after all? I'm so sorry for making it move without asking, did I make things worse—?"
"I forgive you."
Un Izoey hugged the plushie tightly against her chest. Her eyes, looking at the bizarre yet cute plushie, how should they be described? —Extremely happy.
"My judgment: I understand you only did it with good intentions for me. Only natural for a doll Wathe like you to worry about other dolls, cleaning it is out of goodwill, in fact, a lot of dirt and stains were cleaned off, in other words, it has become an even better nubowa now..."
Un Izoey nodded in affirmation while muttering as though talking to herself. Then immediately, she glanced at Sovereignty and said:
"...Then it can't move again?"
"Eh? No, provided I'm watching, it can move as long as you like—"
Held in Un Izoey's tight embrace, the plushie raised its arms to shake away water droplets as though doing a hurray gesture. Seeing that, Un Izoey hugged the plushie firmly. Although her expression looked blank on first glance, there was unconcealable jubilation in her eyes. She was apparently taken in by the plushie's charm. Haruaki never expected her to show a girly side in contrast to the cold warrior image she normally gave off.
"Oh my... Hmm, looks like this incident has drawn to a close. We clearly came here for just a bath, but I never thought it'd turn into this kind of commotion."
"Clearly before coming here, you were grublimg and complaining about wanting something amusing..."
"Cow Tits, you're very annoying!"
"Anyway, she's willing to forgive me, I'm so glad! ...I was worrying what I'd do if I really had to be skinned alive~..."
As tension drained from the mood, Haruaki still could not dispel the weird feeling in his heart. Starting earlier, he kept feeling that there was something important that he seemed to have forgotten—But he could not remember what.
Hmm... What exactly had he forgotten?
Casually leaving the thief without moving him, Haruaki's group left the bath house. This was because they did not really want to get involved with the local authorities. Furthermore, someone among the customers on scene was probably going to call the police anyway.
After leaving the bath house, it was still not time to go home. They had to complete their original objective, i.e. shopping. Due to Sovereignty and Un Izoey heading in the same direction for part of the way, they all traveled together for a while.
Un Izoey and Sovereignty were walking side by side in front of the trio of Haruaki, Fear and Konoha. The plush doll was standing on Un Izoey's palm, performing a strange dance under Sovereignty's smiling gaze from the side. In combination with the doll's own bizarre cuteness, those movements were so weird that young children would probably end up traumatized if they saw them in the middle of the night, but Un Izoey continued to gaze at the plushie with overwhelming joy in her eyes, nodding repeatedly in satisfaction.
"Isn't this scene unbelievable...? I never thought there'd come a time when she'd be walking together with us like this. My past self, back in the cultural festival, surely would have charged to attack her without hesitation."
"Perhaps. I honestly couldn't have foreseen things to have developed to the current state."
Fear whispered and Konoha quietly concurred. Looking at the two girls walking in front, Haruaki said:
"Yeah... But speaking of impossible to foresee, the same goes for you two as well. After Fear arrived, then we met Sovereignty and Shiraho—I wouldn't have expected things to end up like this at all. Nowadays with everyone gathered together, it's become perfectly natural and matter-of-fact, turning into the 'usual scene'... Whenever this crosses my mind, it feels very incredible."
"After some time... Will the current scene turn into a 'usual scene' as well?"
"Who knows. But wouldn't you like that to happen?"
Fear crossed her arms and went "hmph," turning her gaze away.
"I don't know. After all, that girl belongs to an opposing organization and Kirika has many past grievances with her. But she's about to become a student in the same school... As long as she doesn't pick fights for weird reasons, if I think of her as just a country girl who's studying in the same year—Hmm, there's no need to be hostile and nervously staying on guard against her, I guess, probably."
Fear muttered in a roundabout manner. Konoha also sighed and said:
"At least for today, I also feel that there doesn't seem to be a need to be too wary of her... To think she'd be so airheaded that she'd forget about her underwear and even performing leg techniques in that state, also making such a happy look while staring at the plush doll. It'll feel totally stupid to be staying on guard against someone like that—Or rather, starting tomorrow, she will be hanging nearby all the time, so who knows what's going to happen?"
No one knew what changes Un Izoey's arrival in their daily life was going to bring. Neither did they know if any changes were necessary. In the end, Haruaki smiled wryly to reach the following conclusion:
"Anyway... Let's just go with the flow. It's pointless to overthink things, so just do the same as usual."
They already knew that she was not a villain to the core. From now on, she was definitely going to be a student in the same school, spending their school days together. In that case, even if they might enter into conflict due to differences in ideology and standpoint, getting too hung up on this matter all the time would not help.
"Right, Fear, how do you feel about your first time at a bath house?"
"Ohoh, although so much happened, it was very fun! The bathtub was huge and the water was very hot, it feels different from home. I can relax my body and mind so it's really a great place! But the only drawback today was the presence of those eyesores from the enemy faction. Haruaki, did you know? I can't believe those girls have to lift those things up with one hand while using the other hand to wash the inner side. That's just a total pain. Seeing them like that, I finally understand that the saying 'better too big than too small' is totally wrong—"
"H-Hey—! Fear-san, what are you talking about!?"
"I'm just speaking the truth. Anyway, I want to visit next time with Kuroe. Although we went there as a natural development, I feel bad that we didn't include her in our bath house trip."
"Just invite her next time. She'll definitely join in without a moment's hesitation... Speaking of which, we've already used up a lot of time and we still need to get groceries before going home. I hope she won't complain about us being too slow."
Haruaki took out his cellphone from his pocket to check the time. Due to this action, a certain object in his pocket also fell out.
"Hey Haruaki, you dropped something."
"Hmm? Oh, you're right. But did I ever put this kind... of thing... in my pocket...? Ah...!"
Haruaki picked up the object that had fallen onto the street. Without thinking, he spread out the small piece of round fabric. Instantly, he remembered. He completely recalled the matter he had forgotten until now. Indeed, after discovering this in the male changing room, he originally wanted to hide it in the washroom first. But he ended up discovering the wig and forgot in their haste to apprehend the thief. But wait, why did this happen? If someone was still missing their panties, they would have brought it up, right? As much as Haruaki could not comprehend what was going on, he was in big trouble in any case. This was totally bad!
"Hey, shameless brat... Why do you have something like that in your pocket...?"
With twitching faces, Fear and Konoha approached step by step, intending to encircle him. Probably noticing their strange behavior, Sovereignty and Un Izoey looked back from their position walking ahead. Seeing the object in Haruaki's hand, Sovereignty cocked her head in a puzzled expression.
"Eh? That looks kind of familiar..."
Then she touched her bottom as though remembering something. After confirming a certain fact, she laughed "ehehe" in embarrassment and said:
"Uh... I'm sorry, but that's probably mine! I only noticed now but it looks like I forgot to put it on. Well, it's because I was in a fluster when exiting the bathroom..."
(You simply forgot—!? You should've noticed earlier! Besides, how is it possible to forget!?)
The final mystery was unraveled. This was simply a lost item completely unrelated to the incident, due to Sovereignty's usual airheadedness working its effects. Since Sovereignty was in female form to begin with, transforming into a boy only after entering the male side, leaving a female pair of underwear in the male changing room was not surprising.
"Th-That's great, I get it now. I understand this is Sovereignty's. But even if that's the case, I haven't done anything to be guilty about at all. It just so happened that I forgot to mention that I found this in the male changing room—"
"Oh I see... So you happen to have a habit of putting female underwear in your pocket as soon as you find them? And keeping quiet about it. I see, I see."
"If you pointed it out earlier, I would've realized instantly I wasn't wearing any... Umm... No way... It's just a possibility, but Haruaki-kun, you..."
Sovereignty went red in embarrassment, looking up to glance at Haruaki.
"Umm... You want... my panties...? If that's the case, I still have many other cute panties at home, so... You can have this pair... I don't mind..."
"You've gotten the wrong idea! As I've said already, this only happened because of an unfortunate series of coincidences!"
"No, don't say anything more, Haruaki. I understand. I understand very well."
"Indeed, you don't need to explain any further. There is nothing for you to worry about either."
Fear's hand slammed down on Haruaki's shoulder. Konoha's hand also slammed down on his other shoulder.
Then a strange creaking noise resulted.
"My shoulders are making weird noises I've never heard before! Ouch, it really hurts!"
"In other words, this is what happened. The culprits in the theft incident are not just the male pervert and Sovereignty... But there's a third thief too!"
"Don't worry, I have already thought up what punishment of the highest level ought to be carried out. What a shame, Haruaki-kun, that this will be your final memory for the winter vacation..."
"Wait, Konoha, what kind of memory are you forcing me to make!?"
Haruaki was firmly immobilized by Fear and Konoha. Looking around, he could only see Sovereignty still murmuring in awkward embarrassment: "Will Shiraho get mad? But if it's just one pair of panties..."
In addition, there was Un Izoey, nodding repeatedly with an impressed look on her face while hugging the plushie.
"My comment: everyone looks so happy, how wonderful. I already know this proverb from this country. I decided that now is the right time to say it. In other words—harmony is a virtue."
Translator's Notes and References
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