Chapter 1 - The Nightmare Known as Her; Its Situation / "The blade - It's solitary."
After the school excursion ended, on that day when they returned home—
Ever since the day when Konoha had disappeared without warning, several days had already passed.
Haruaki's group had skipped school, searching tirelessly day and night the entire vicinity, but still came up with nothing. If there were any other way, they would have tried them all, but plagued by a lack of information, they soon ran out of options. Perhaps Konoha might suddenly show up at school—Carrying this last glimmer of baseless hope, Haruaki's group finally went to school, but of course, that school desk remained empty. Anyway, they could only explain to their classmates: "We all caught a flu earlier, but only Konoha hasn't recovered yet and she's resting at home."
After a tasteless dinner, it was evening in the usual living room—
Today, they had also invited Kirika over, deciding to have another discussion regardless.
Starting a while ago, Kirika had seemed quite hesitant about a certain matter, her gaze wandering unsteadily all over the ceiling. Without saying a word, Fear was chewing on rice crackers. Blankly, Kuroe was drinking tea from her cup.
Haruaki was staring intently at the object on the table.
The one and only clue.
After a carpet search for Konoha's whereabouts, they had discovered this in the forest behind the house—Konoha's glasses.
Her glasses had fallen there. What did it signify?
"Even at this kind of time... Rice crackers still remain tasty..."
Biting a rice cracker especially loudly, Fear went "Okay!" and using this chewing motion as a prompt, she made a forceful nod. Taking control of her dainty face which had been spacing out, she looked like she was forcing herself to regain vitality.
"Okay! Staying silent's not gonna help. Let's confirm the situation once more."
"Yes, organizing our information is very important."
Seeing the static living room starting to show movement, Kuroe seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
"After going out for groceries, Cow Tits went missing. She didn't come back and neither did she go to school. She didn't call to contact us at all either. So—Who's the last to see her?"
"Us... Also, regarding that... Fear-kun, Kuroe-kun."
As though trying to correct Haruaki, Kirika spoke up. Resting on her thigh, her hand was tightly clutching the hem of her uniform's skirt.
"All this time, I haven't been able to find a chance to say this, but I really must tell you all about this matter... It's about the situation during Konoha-kun's disappearance..."
Haruaki finally understood why Kirika had been acting unusual since a while ago. Surely, this must have weighed heavily on her mind, troubling her all this time. Then steeling her determination to tell Fear and Kuroe personally today, she had come over.
Clearly Haruaki himself had simply avoided thinking about that certain matter between her and him. Because it might be too heavy a burden for his mind, he simply kept it hidden in the depths of his heart. This was shameful self-preservation and also the worst kind of ignoring.
At the same time, after seeing her in this state, only then did Haruaki realize how little energy he had left to divert towards paying attention to the outside world. Normally, he would have noticed Kirika's troubles much earlier. Even if he stopped thinking about the matter, it did not mean she was doing the same. Only now did he discover how preoccupied he was to notice other people.
Haruaki exhaled, but this time, it was not an aimless sigh but like Fear's act of biting a rice cracker, a signal to renew his spirits and move forward.
Then to unravel Kirika's misunderstanding, so as to stop her from feeling too troubled by something that was not supposed to burden her conscience, Haruaki spoke:
"It's not like that, Class Rep. This has nothing to do with what happened at the time."
"I know for sure. After Konoha parted with us, something must have happened. Something must have happened that even Konoha herself did not expect. I believe this had nothing to do with the situation earlier. Otherwise—This pair of glasses wouldn't have fallen in the forest back there."
Haruaki deliberately tried to assert firmly. Perhaps his grounds were weak but he was certain it must have happened this way. This was absolutely nothing so simple as Konoha running away from home. Instead, she must have encountered something. Something that she could not avoid even if she tried to avoid.
Kirika still hesitated, but Fear nodded.
"Yeah. In other words, something happened in the forest where she dropped the glasses and Cow Tits was caught up in it?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"Hmm... This developments are resembling that Police 24 Hours show on television more and more... So, something must have happened in reality. If only there was some kind of clue."
"I saw on television once, a man killed and robbed his neighbor, but was discovered by the police because his lifestyle became rich all of a sudden. If someone did something to Cow Tits for a certain purpose, the result is probably visible by now. Has anything weird happened around us?"
Haruaki pondered this and that. Weird things. Changes. Were there any? Yes.
"I don't know if it's related or not—but Sagisaki-sensei suddenly stopped coming to school."
"Yeah. I originally thought she was just missing class and absent once or twice, but it looks like that Sugimura teacher will take over English class from now on. Did Sagisaki quit her job?"
"It does seem suspicious, but we can't be certain."
"Also, this is what I confirmed from Taizou."
Haruaki recalled the scene in the classroom and continued. Since that person attracted a lot of attention, her absence was easily noticed even if he did pay particular attention.
"Apparently, Un Izoey has taken leave from school starting the day before yesterday."
"Maybe the Lab Chief's Nation is up to something. Whether due to this reason or some other reason, they are currently investigating? But none of this can be confirmed."
"There's also a rumor saying it's just an unexpected flu. Consider this as just another possibility."
What exactly was the truth? Was Un Izoey involved in this incident in any way? Who knows. What about Sagisaki-sensei? Who knows. Had other changes appeared? Who knows. What was currently happening? How far should they go in skepticism? What should they do next...
Seconds, minutes of time flowed by without answers. Not long after, Haruaki discovered that the teapot was empty.
"I'll go brew another pot."
Saying that to Fear, Kirika and Kuroe, Haruaki went to the kitchen, taking the opportunity for a change of mood. Filling the pot with water and placing it on the gas stove, he waited quietly. Just as he was wondering blankly whether or not to prepare some snacks to go with the tea—
"Umm... May I assist you?"
"Oh Class Rep. Sure, of course."
Kirika had also come to the kitchen. Haruaki felt his heart rate speed up, but he believed he had responded naturally. Slightly timidly, Kirika leaned her upper torso into the kitchen from the doorway, seeming inexplicably awkward. But as soon as she heard Haruaki's answer, she smiled with relief.
Standing side by side, the two of them prepared tea and snacks. This was something they had done many times before already. Haruaki handed the spare apron to her just as usual. Nevertheless, why was he feeling nervous? Why did mere contact between fingertips cause his heart to pound and race uncontrollably?
Haruaki knew very clearly that certain things had to be said. Something he had ignored and set aside until now. Something very important, truly crucial, a certain matter whose answer he must speak only after careful consideration.
Haruaki gulped. If they were to discuss that matter, now was the only chance when Fear and Kuroe were both absent.
Quietly, Kirika spoke in a tone of voice that even felt gentle. She must have realized the subject from his demeanor. At least, Haruaki was certain that she was also thinking about this matter all along, which was why she could react so quickly.
The unexpectedly swift answer, together with its message, caused Haruaki to feel unsure how to proceed.
"Eh? Umm, by okay you mean...?"
Standing next to him, Kirika still continued to face the kitchen counter.
"Like I said, it's okay. You still have many other matters you should be thinking about—However, I hope you won't forget. I also hope you won't pretend it never happened. I don't intend to do that either. Once, Konoha-kun returns and all the issues are resolved... I will listen properly to your answer. That's all I can say."
By the time she finished, Kirika's voice was already so quiet it was barely audible, almost as though she were murmuring to herself. However, those were definitely the words she spoke from her lips, her own words. This was evidenced by the skillfully concealed trembling, trepidation and nervousness included in her voice.
"What exactly is your apology directed towards? Absolutely ridiculous."
"No, uh, basically... That..."
Haruaki did not have a clear idea either. Surely the apology had many kinds of meanings. He was unable to put everything into words. Besides, he did not even know if he should apology. He was... truly incompetent.
"How should I say it? Anyway... Can we keep things the same... for now?"
"Yes, we can, but you mustn't forget what I just said."
"I-I won't forget. Yeah, in any case—The same as before, the same as before. Okay!"
Haruaki was muttering "the same as before, the same as before" like some kind of incantation when Kirika suddenly asked a question. However, she still continued to face forward.
"...Is it very difficult?"
"Uh, yeah. Maybe because it's so sudden, I can't help but think, are you really serious, for example? There's a part that I haven't managed to digest completely, so it still feels a bit unreal. So it's very difficult to suddenly go back to the way things were, that's the kind of feeling—Haha, what am I saying..."
The instant just as Haruaki was forcing an awkward laugh—
Kirika quietly turned herself to face him squarely instead of facing the kitchen counter all this time. Looking up, she looked straight at him.
Her ponytail was swaying right before his eyes. An apron on top of her school uniform. Slightly blushing cheeks.
Exuding an aura of seriousness, she gazed sincerely at Haruaki.
"If... you still need evidence... to prove that I am very serious..."
However, her eyes carried slight shyness and determination.
Probably intentionally, she lifted her chin slightly and said:
"Right now, I could allow you to..."
For some reason, Haruaki found his gaze drawn to a certain part of her face. Due to a certain movement of her chin, unbelievably, he had no choice but to stare at that part. As though emphasizing their existence, slowly opening and closing to utter words, Kirika's pink lips—
Haruaki's throat moved on its own, gulping hard. Reading between the lines of what Kirika said, he could not help but imagine that scene, gulping again.
Just at this moment—
"Hey~ Haruaki, is the tea ready!? Don't forget to bring out new rice crackers too—!"
"Woahhhhh! R-Right, I have to brew the tea, brew the tea! Uh, umm... Yeah, I already know you're serious, Class Rep, so... Yeah, anyway, for now... let's keep things the same as before..."
The voice coming from the living room brought Haruaki forcefully back to reality. While speaking, he moved his hands again which had stopped without him noticing. Kirika also turned her face back in a most natural manner, simply saying:
Then she faced the kitchen counter again to prepare snacks. Returning to her initial state.
However, Haruaki still noticed.
The distance between their shoulders was no longer the same as before.
He was not sure whether they had grown closer or farther—He simply sensed a change, that was all.
At the same time, this distance definitely did not make him feel uncomfortable.
Hence, he decided to allow himself to think: the current state was fine.
—Very likely, undoubtedly, this was very cowardly.
Hence, with a fresh pot of tea, Haruaki returned to the living room—
To be honest, starting a long while ago, somewhere in the dark depths of his heart, Haruaki had already suspected something like this to happen, hence he was not especially surprised.
Just as he was pulling the sliding door on the kitchen side to enter the living room, Fear and the others suddenly stood up in alarm. But rather than towards Haruaki, they were looking in the opposite direction, towards the veranda leading to the garden.
Inside the dark garden, two figures were standing at the veranda's edge.
One figure was dark-skinned with gray-colored hair. The other was petite in stature with bandages wrapped around her face. Both of them were dressed in lab coats.
"My surprise: Disbelief at entering your house after getting lost? What a coincidence."
"Yes. It's been... A while..."
After Un Izoey made an incredible excuse with a fully serious face, Amanda Carlot next to her—the young girl who used to be known as Mummy Maker—bowed as a greeting. She seemed quite embarrassed, hiding slightly behind Un Izoey's back.
Fear sat down again slowly, placing the Rubik's cube in her hand onto the table. However, she did not move her hand away, keeping the cube under her palm as though trying to convey or display something to the two people in the garden. Then staring at them intently, she said:
"I've no idea if you two are involved in this incident, but you must know what's going on at least. Hurry and tell us."
"Fear-kun, I keep repeating this, the Lab Chief's Nation is not our ally. Even the incident during the school excursion turned out to be a scheme conducted by the Lab Chief's Nation. It's better not to trust them too much—As much as I'd really like to insist on that, sigh. There's too little information at the moment. It's totally not a situation where I could simply say 'shut up and get lost'..."
Kirika sighed while she spoke. Un Izoey nodded seriously, her gray hair shaking vertically.
"She is correct. We are not your allies. So I suggest suggestion of not saying anything in particular."
"What!? Then why are you two here? I'll curse you!"
"However—I add by giving explanation of current situation. Because we have lost our way and arrived her by chance, we are a little tired right now. Faced with tasty tea and round food, it is possible that the unknown we are currently investigating might slip out."
Another roundabout excuse, but surely they must have many difficulties given their standpoint.
Smiling wryly, Haruaki glanced at Amanda and said:
"Are you in agreement with your troublesome senior here?"
"...Yes, that's right. If relaxed, maybe, slip of tongue..."
"Haha, I get it. Understood!"
Although laughing in appearance, Haruaki felt unease and anticipation beginning to swirl in a vortex in his heart.
Surely, these two girls knew.
They knew what had happened to Konoha.
Where Konoha was right now, doing what.
If such information could be obtained—Naturally, it was nothing more than preparing two cups of tea, truly effortless.
Sharp, full of wildness and vigor—If a person's gaze possessed a blade's sharpness, simply by touching this gaze, simply getting seen by her, it felt as though he would be sliced in half.
A person bearing such a gaze.
He thought to himself that he should stand in the shadows of the corridor, peeking as his father brought her through the entryway.
At the time, she had shown an expression of overt displeasure. Her eyes were vicious to begin with. Now she even creased her face in a frown, furrowing her elegant brow, boldly sweeping her gaze back and forth to appraise the entryway.
"Hmph... Verily, 'tis a plain house. Too small to be worthy of welcoming one such as I, Honatsu."
"Please don't make comparisons with the mansions of those feudal lords in the past. In the current era, this house is already considered quite large."
The father replied. His appearance back then—Haruaki could not quite remember.
It was probably because he was staring intently at her, he thought.
Beyond shoulder length, her hair draped down freely without restraint. Her facial features were clearly so beautiful that it gave an impression of noble elegance, yet at the same time, there was this wild aura belonging to a carnivorous predator. Between her lips, he could catch a faint glimpse of sharp canines—Indeed, they were like those of a ferocious wild dog's. Back then, he had thought this to himself. Bearing unkempt fur, yet rather proud, extremely ferocious. If he were to make a move recklessly, he might end up devoured completely in an instant.
Her bare feet were wearing shoes similar to wooden clogs. A kimono was casually wrapped around her, the sash tied sloppily in an audacious manner. As though emphasizing how little she cared for trivial details, a large snow-white patch of her thigh was exposed near the overlapping portion of the hem. Her shoulders were also virtually naked while her upper body's clothing was merely hanging on a certain part of her anatomy.
"Nevertheless, compared to those dwellings akin to dog houses seen on the way here, this is slightly better."
Speaking with disinterest, she pulled at her collar to fan wind towards her chest. Rather, it was Haruaki who felt embarrassed to be observing.
But back then, his honest thoughts were—This person's boobs are so big.
"Ah~ Hey, let me make this clear first. There's a child here. As a matter of education, please pay attention."
"Oh? Thou art referring to 'that thing' which has been peeking in this direction from a while ago?"
Suddenly, his gaze met with those wild-looking eyes. She had apparently noticed his presence a long time ago. He could not help but back away in fright. She scoffed.
"What education art thou talking about, Honatsu? I only came here because I relented to thy excessive nagging. Thou hast no right to command me. Neither is there any reason for me to watch my ways—Speaking of education, ha! Why not allow me to rid this brat of his virginity? As an occasional snack, young boys are rather fun to play with."
"Give me a break. Haruaki is only nine."
His father said in exasperation, walking into the house from the concrete entryway. He placed his hand on Haruaki's head just as he passed by.
"Let me introduce her to you later. You two head over to the living room first. I'll go brew some tea."
After his father went to the kitchen, Haruaki looked back by chance to see her standing in the corridor behind him, having taken off her clogs without him noticing. Should he say hello? Despite thinking this, nervousness and shyness prevented him from speaking, causing him to totally miss the timing. In this manner, the two of them looked at each other quietly without speaking.
Amidst the silence, he suddenly remembered his father had said "You two head over to the living room first." It took him a few seconds before the meaning struck him. Turning around hastily, he pulled open the living room's sliding door and entered. He could hear her footsteps following slowly behind.
Before she came in, Haruaki grabbed the guest's cushion kept in a corner of the living room and added it to the side of the table. Just then, she entered at this time and swept her sharp gaze across the living room—
Rather than sitting on the cushion that Haruaki had just taken out, she crossed her legs and sat down on the head seat's cushion that was present to begin with. Although it was his father's seat, Haruaki decided it did not really matter.
How should he describe it? Because in terms of demeanor, Haruaki thought that compared to his father, her sitting there seemed even more matter-of-fact.
Carrying a tray, his father returned to the living room. Having waited while sitting obediently in his seat, only now did Haruaki exhale in relief. Since he had missed the timing, in the end, he remained silent all along.
Exuding an air of displeasure from her entire body, supporting her chin with her hand, elbow against the table, glaring into space with narrowed eyes, she spoke at this time:
"Hey, thou must have brought top-quality wine, hast thou not?"
Finding his seat claimed naturally by someone else, the father's face twitched once, but letting things go with an adult's generosity, he then sat down on an unoccupied cushion.
"Unfortunately, there's no alcohol at home, only tea, so let's have tea."
"Try it. I did say that I'll offer you delicious tea, right?"
The father pushed the teacup next to her hand, somewhat forcefully. She used the back of her hand to push it away in annoyance.
"I said no. 'Tis wine that I want to drink now."
"I used high-quality tea leaves, you know? It'll be a waste if you don't drink it."
"As if anyone shall heed thee."
"Don't say that, hurry and drink it."
Shoving back and forth, the two of them pushed the teacup relentlessly.
Finally, she clicked her tongue in agitation and grabbed the teacup from his father's hand in a manner akin to a slapping motion. Back then, Haruaki was amazed that the tea did not spill out in the process.
Seeing her bring the teacup gruffly to her lips, the father seemed to be saying "I won!" as the corners of his lips curled up. Then with a victorious smirk, he turned to look at Haruaki.
"Then it's time to explain to you. It's now time for self-introductions. This girl here—"
The father had only spoken halfway when she took the teacup away from her lips and frowned in a very angry manner.
"Hmph—Such accursed taste!"
Then without any hesitation, she threw the teacup at Haruaki's father in the manner of a shoulder throw.
Splashed with hot tea, the father rolled all over the living room floor in an exaggerated manner. She went "hmph" again, staring at his father as though watching a boring sideshow.
"Hoh! Hoh! Ohoff—! These tea leaves are very expensive, you know!?"
"Muu. Under such circumstances, dost thou still care about the value of tea leaves? For the very first time, I find thee to be quite an astounding fellow, possibly..."
Honestly speaking, Haruaki found her quite terrifying, saying such words calmly.
Despite having done such a thing, causing Haruaki's father to roll on the floor comically, she still showed eyes glimmering with the light of absolute boredom. Her eyes were still glimmering as though she had tired of everything.
For some reason, this bothered Haruaki greatly.
He also felt an impulse, no matter what, he wanted to talk to her.
Just as his father had said, it was currently time for self-introductions. Well then, I'll try to introduce myself.
"I-I'm Yachi Haruaki... Hi—Greetings."
Haruaki mustered his courage to talk to her. Due to nervousness, his words ended up quite weird.
Narrowing one eye to look at him with slight surprise, she then grinned like a carnivorous animal.
"Hoh—I have no intention of being fastidious with a brat's etiquette. Dispense with the polite speech. Thou art Honatsu's son, yes?"
Although hesitant, Haruaki still decided to follow her orders. Hence, he spoke in a normal tone of voice:
"Yeah, that's right."
"Art thou not afraid of me? Honesty is appreciated."
"...Yeah. I'm a bit afraid, but—"
How should he say it? Resting her chin against her hand, she was indifferently watching him stammering. After some hesitation, he finally said:
"—But I'm not totally afraid."
"Ha, what is this?"
She was probably expecting a more profound answer from Haruaki. The corners of her lips curled as though greatly surprised. Nevertheless, her mood did not seem to deteriorate as a result of this.
"However, thou art a very courageous brat simply for not turning incontinent in my very presence. Thou mayst serve as a partner to dispel my boredom. Well then, what shall we do to pass time... Amusement, amusement... Yes."
Seemingly coming up with something, her eyes narrowed mischievously.
Haruaki could see her pink tongue licking her lips.
"Brat, a question for thee, first of all—Hath thy foreskin retracted yet?"
Unable to understand what she was asking, Haruaki answered blankly in a daze. But in the next instant, his father suddenly got up from rolling around on the living room floor.
"H-Hold it! Hold it hold it hold it! This is too soon for you, daddy's not gonna permit it! Ohoh, I've always felt that this is a legendary declaration that I must use if an opportunity arises, but I never expected to use these words in this unexpected point in time!"
Picking up his father's remaining cup of tea, she threw it forcefully at him. The tea splashed out. Once again, Haruaki's father rolled madly on the floor.
"It's scalding me—! Man, I didn't even get to drink a sip!"
"Thou art worrying over a bizarre issue again... Be that as it may, is there not a saying, drink till thou soakst in it. Enjoy thyself well."
At this point, her face finally seemed to relax somewhat.
Nevertheless, the vibe she exuded still remained unchanged. Although her eyes were filled with wildness, there was this aura of boredom. Her eyes looked as though she were gazing upon something far beyond the horizon.
In his mind, Haruaki was able to admit...
He could recall the words he was unable to speak earlier.
Indeed, she was quite scary with her terrifying attitude and vigor. Nevertheless, that was not all.
The first time he saw her, for no particular reason, this thought had simply struck him.
What a scary-looking person.
However, at the same time, she also looked like a very lonely person.
Hence, he thought of a question that he felt compelled to ask.
"Umm, I've already said mine, but you haven't said yours yet."
"I mean... Your name."
"Ohoh." She seemed to be caught slightly unprepared. Still resting her chin on her hand, she straightened her back slightly. Then after pausing for a moment as though in deep thought—
"Muramasa is mine appellation."
She stared straight at Haruaki squarely. At this moment, the sneer on the corners of her lips began to change. Slowly, bit by bit, as though showing him on purpose, the curvature of her lips gradually increased. He could see her terrifying canines flash brightly. Her eyes looked like those belonging to a wild beast whose prey was right in front of it.
Then as though speaking for him to hear...
As though conveying the meaning of her words to him accurately without any misunderstanding...
She then spoke in a tone of voice, heavier and deeper than necessary:
"Verily, I have killed over a hundred brats of thy age."
Her evil expression was very terrifying.
Nevertheless, it was the same as he expected. He had already understood what existed in the depths of her heart.
Hence, Haruaki remembered answering something like this:
—I think a dream occurred to me. A very nostalgic dream.
Haruaki slowly sat up from his futon. Morning had yet to arrive. The bedroom was still shrouded in darkness. However, it was not pitch black due to the faint moonlight leaking in from outside the window.
By his pillow was something that quietly reflected the moon's cold blue light. A pair of round-rimmed glasses.
Haruaki stared at those glasses, mesmerized, meanwhile recalling Un Izoey and Amanda's explanations.
Simply stated—Konoha was abducted by the Draconian named Nirushaaki.
He had heard of this name earlier during the commotion at the welcoming festival for new students. She was ranked number two in the Draconians. The owner of the cursed Japanese sword, Nagasone Kotetsu, which they had encountered during the school excursion.
These two incidents were apparently related to the current situation. During the welcoming festival, that Draconian had stolen a tool belonging to the Knights Dominion, which was then used on Konoha. In order to use that tool, for the sake of reducing the curse's backlash accompanying its usage, the enemy needed the Indulgence Disk that Haruaki's group was competing against Kotetsu to obtain. Upon hearing about this, Fear's annoyance with the Lab Chief's Nation was lit up once more: "In the end, it's all you bastards' fault for taking the Indulgence Disk away!"
What was the effect of the tool used on Konoha?
What kind of power was so great that an Indulgence Disk was needed at all costs?
Also, why was Konoha unable to escape despite her powerful strength—
These answers were all related. This led to the one and only but unbelievable answer.
(Konoha lost... her memory...?)
It's okay, this is nothing. Haruaki persuaded himself. Just as he had been telling himself until he went to sleep, ever since he heard the explanation from Un Izoey and Amanda. Although it greatly resembled plot from manga, he himself had lost his memory once. This time, it had happened to Konoha, that's all. So there's no problem. This is nothing—
But imperceptibly, he was clenching his fist on top of his blanket. Shifting his gaze away from the two lenses that were silently receiving the moon's rays, he looked up. The desire to sleep was long gone by now.
After being informed by Un Izoey, they had learnt of Nirushaaki's current hiding spot.
Then there was only one thing to do.
Looking up, out of the window, Haruaki wondered if Konoha might be staring at the same pale moon.
As though vowing towards that curving, extraordinarily pristine, clear moon, he resolved himself.
They must rescue Konoha tomorrow.
Then, absolutely—They must bring her back to this home.
At the same time, Fear was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in her room while thinking.
(To think she lost her memory? That Cow Tits... Too careless of her.)
But then, she thought, this was nothing special. Last time when «Narrow Narrow Abyss» had done certain things to Haruaki and caused him to lose his memory, the memories had recovered instantly after Fear destroyed Abyss without putting much thought into it. The situation now should be the same. Indeed, definitely so. But—
Fear noticed annoyingly complicated feelings in her heart, causing her to frown and turn over in bed. Was she worrying? Impossible. Why must she worry about that Cow Tits? Even if Cow Tits were gone, she would be completely fine with it. Although for the past three days, Haruaki and Kirika did seem to be acting quite strange—Fear was able to assert with certainty. Whether at home or at school, she had exhibited flawless perfection, showing no signs of mental wavering at all. A perfect woman as always.
Indeed, she could not care less even if that Cow Tits, what an eyesore, did not return. The same sentiments applied to the matter of rescuing Cow Tits. Even though Haruaki and the others looked like they wanted to save her immediately without waiting for morning to arrive, Fear thought that they were absolutely nuts. Not only was it necessary to consider the issues of physical energy and mental preparation, but there was also the fact that night would only tilt odds in the enemy's favor once they stepped into enemy territory. Furthermore, Un Izoey and Amanda had told them that the enemy seemed to show no signs of changing their base immediately, hence Haruaki's group finally decided to wait until morning before taking action.
Fear was not that motivated about tomorrow's task either. How should she put it? All she could say was that she was going there mainly to see that Cow Tits who was stupid enough to be abducted by the enemy. Also, she was fine with rescuing Cow Tits because it was necessary to gather this as shaming material, to be used in the future to tease or mock her. Getting saved by her and owing a favor, that Cow Tits would definitely find it humiliating as well. This was all there was to it.
(By the way...)
Fear suddenly pulled her thoughts back to the main topic, feeling concerned about the names that she had recalled, namely, that of Un Izoey and Amanda. They had claimed they were passing information along. Naturally, Fear was not going to be deceived by them again. Hence, she listened to them with skepticism. But judging from their attitudes, they did not seem like they were lying.
Simply organizing the information they had heard was already turning Fear's brain into a mess. But after calming down to think like this, Fear really found the whole affair full of mysteries. The Lab Chief's Nation had always manipulated things from behind the scenes so why did they come over to tell them information this time? Also, what did they mean by leaking information while claiming to be lost? Did their superiors, such as Yamimagari Pakuaki, know of this? If they knew, what exactly were they thinking? Un Izoey and Amanda had left before offering to extend a helping hand. What exactly was their purpose?
The more she thought about it, the more confused she got.
Were Un Izoey and Amanda actually their friends or enemies—?
Fear tossed and turned in bed for a long time, finally giving up. Because she realized.
Thinking back, the answer to this question had been ambiguous and unknown all along. Hence, by this point, no matter how much she pondered it, she could not possibly come up with an answer, so there was no choice but to go with the flow—
The Lab Chief's Room No.6—in other words, his habitat as a living creature—was still filled with knowns and unknowns. Haphazard piles of books, reference materials with densely written annotations, documents that had traces of burning for some reason. With these objects occupying the bookshelves, the floor and the desk's surface, all of the furniture had lost their original purpose of existence.
Amidst this scene, sitting on a chair, he kept his head down, reading a book, speaking in an amused manner. Perhaps it could be considered a miracle that the chair was still about to sustain a chair's function.
"So, have you two explained to them definitely?"
"My answer: yes. Appraising with self-appraisal, I have successfully transmitted the information, no more no less."
Across a twisted desk whose surface bulged upwards, Un Izoey answered.
"Excellent. But then, it can't be 'no more no less,' right? I've already said that you may tell them everything that's already known. At most, you could leave out information, but giving too much is impossible."
"My statement: regarding Lab Chief's trivial nitpicking, I am confused if I should say thanks or feel agitated."
"Woah! It feels like you're calling me a neurotic man in a roundabout way. How impressive."
While the two of them were conversing, Un Izoey saw something jump out suddenly from the corner of her eye. It was Amanda's hand while she was standing on the side. She had raised her hand, requesting to speak.
"Very well, Amanda-kun, please speak. I always greatly welcome questions in search of answers to the unknown."
"...Why? Forbid us. Direct. Assistance?"
Pakuaki raised an eyebrow as though saying "Oh?" Un Izoey first glanced at the white-haired girl's blank face as she stood beside her, then faced Pakuaki in front of her again. Un Izoey found this to be an excellent unknown to probe. She had originally intended to raise the same question at an opportune timing. Facing the leader of the organization whose goal was to understand everything about the world, there were many concerns and reservations as a subordinate. In this regard, Amanda's ability to ask directly without concern for the mood was probably because her time as a researcher was still short—As a side note, strictly speaking, Amanda was not staying here because she approved of the organization's ideology from the bottom of her heart. Hence, the sense of distance Amanda felt when confronting the Lab Chief was different from Un Izoey's.
"—Indeed that is unknown. I believe telling them all the information available to us is equivalent to assistance. But why forbid us from providing physical assistance, seems inconsistent? I question with this kind of question."
Finally, he looked up from his book and shrugged lightly.
"No no no, given that I delivered a present to these Draconians, naturally, I'd like to observe how they're going to make use of it without our interference. It would be tantamount to barging into the fitting room when someone's changing. That would be far too tasteless."
"Contradiction. Giving them, information, is that not, interference?"
"That's merely preparation in the preliminary stages of the experiment. Although this analogy might sound unpleasant, when researching how monkeys try to obtain the banana inside a box, you have to let the monkeys know the banana is in the box to begin with, right? This is essentially the same."
"Monkey... Kikinasu huh?"
"What we can do—what I permit you to do—is simply providing them with preliminary information that is conducive to observing them. I cannot allow you to assist them as actual combatants. How will the monkeys obtain the banana? Or will they give up without attempting, letting the banana rot? If you go help them, it would be equivalent to throwing saws into the mix and teaching the monkeys how to use them while I'm observing the scene with interest. Putting aside whether the saws would actually work, but that really cannot be considered a fair experiment."
In other words, to the Yachi faction, Un Izoey and Amanda were equivalent to saws.
But was that really the case? —Un Izoey wondered.
Regarding why she had doubts about not helping them directly, she believed it was not because they were classmates or reasons such as feeling duty-bound to return the many favors she owed to them. As a member of the Lab Chief's Nation, she understood the importance of observing them and was able to agree with virtually every word that Pakuaki had said.
However—She believed that the current situation was too dangerous.
Depending on circumstances, everything could come crashing to an end with this. Perhaps the inquisitive demon here might be able to accept it as an unknown result... But herself...
At this moment, she suddenly discovered that Pakuaki was watching her with great interest after shutting his book.
"We are probably not saws as rescue tools, but for survival knives as minimum necessity? —That appears to be what your face is saying."
How did he know? Un Izoey casually rubbed her cheeks, tilting her head slightly.
"...My answer: due to unable to see my face, I conclude it is unknown impossible to confirm."
"Haha, that's just my own subjective speculation, don't worry about it. I'd like to ask a question. Don't you trust them? In the past, they have defeated you, the strongest warrior of your tribe. To this date, they have prevailed over numerous formidable adversaries. Do you think that they will be defeated so easily?"
Hearing these words which seem to be challenging the tribe's pride, Un Izoey could only respond in this manner. Refusing to acknowledge their strength would be equivalent to denigrating herself as well as the power possessed by warriors of the tribe.
"I believe in them, but this opponent is a separate matter. What if—"
"Yes, it's not like I can't understand how you feel. So let me compensate you a little."
Pakuaki spoke without warning, meanwhile making a smile like a criminal who handed candy out to children and abducted them. The child gradually falling prey to abduction, Amanda, in other words, stared and asked in return:
"Or you could call it a reward. If you two are able to endure until the final result comes out, I will elucidate any single unknown of your choosing. Any unknown. If it is an unknown that I have yet to find out, I promise upon my honor that I will devote everything at my disposal to seek the answer and render the unknown known."
Un Izoey and Amanda glanced sideways at him then exchanged glances with each other. Even if Pakuaki said that... What should they do? That was the message included in their gazes.
Pakuaki grinned and then, as though testing something and also watching some kind of good show, he said:
"If you don't believe in them, then we don't need this sort of compensation at all—or if you don't have an unknown that you desire, I'm fine with it too."
The meaning of Amanda and Un Izoey's exchanged gazes began to change as a result the information conveyed by their eeys.
It turned into a feeling infinitely close to resignation.
Un Izoey lightly closed her eyes.
This was a tactful ultimatum. In other words, Pakuaki's message was:
If you are still members of the Lab Chief's Nation, prioritizing the quest for the unknown—
If you still intend to continue as members of the Lab Chief's Nation—Then obey.
On that day, he had also served as her opponent early in the morning.
"Kotetsu, what's the matter? 'Tis thy turn."
Due to staring at her face ahead all this time, he had completely failed to notice it was his turn. Glancing at the game of Japanese chess in progress, he pondered for a few seconds before moving one of the pieces.
"Ho, not a bad move."
"Hmm~" Resting her chin on her hand, she began to ponder her next move. Once again, Kotetsu pretended to be pondering the next chess moves while simultaneously glancing at her, his beloved and revered who shared the same owner as him, in other words, Muramasa. How peerlessly beautiful, yet unparalleled in sharpness at the same time. There was a joyful presence of fear. Simply the act of looking at her made him tremble nonstop. All his mind could think of were matters related to her—
(...No good. Truth be told, I must focus on the game.)
Kotetsu deliberately shifted his gaze away from her, meanwhile pondering the pieces' placement and observing the surroundings slightly.
This was the place that their group was using as their base of operations, a solitary detached house out in the countryside, surrounded by trees on all sides almost like a forest. Nevertheless, this was not one of those single-storied houses they were used to inhabiting, nor those modern mass-produced homes. Instead, it would be apt to describe it as a fortress, with a grand and stylish appearance like a castle's, a two-story house built in European style—in other words, a western mansion. After being built by a certain whimsical human, the place had been left abandoned for the long term. Hence, Kotetsu's master had apparently put things in order a little after coming to this country, allowing this venue to serve as a secret base.
Ornate pillars, gargoyles on the roof, a fountain with a statue of a half-naked maiden at its center. Everything was so grand and magnificent, but regrettably, things were also quite aged overall. Some of the walls and pillars were covered with vines and creepers while the grass in the garden was unkempt. To be precise, the non-operational fountain was more of a reservoir.
Kotetsu and Muramasa were seated at a set of chairs and table under a roof, on a terrace that offered a full view of the garden. The entire terrace was predominantly white, decorated with exquisite sculptures of flowers and other carvings. Presumably, it was meant for holding tea parties outdoors.
"Hmm, then I shall try this move."
"I see. Then I'll... move here."
"Ohoh! To think thou wouldst make such a move at this time!?"
Seeing Kotetsu move his piece, Muramasa suddenly slapped her thigh, leaning over the chessboard, looking down at the pieces with great interest—But Kotetsu was in no mood to look at the pieces at all.
"Hah, truly beyond mine expectations. Tarry a moment, I shall think further!"
"P-Please... take your time..."
As usual, Kotetsu was dressed in an adorable outfit he had bought to suit his preferences, a fusion of traditional Japanese and western fashion. Right now, he was not wearing the Shinsengumi haori bought last time in Kyoto. Precisely because it was his favorite, he only wore it on special occasions when he wanted to look particularly impressive. This was prescribed by the strict rules he had established in his heart.
On the other hand, Muramasa had been wearing the same kimono ever since arriving at this western mansion. Namely, the kimono that Kotetsu had bought under orders from her and the master. Naturally, this was also what she was wearing now.
Massive exposure of the bare shoulders. A garment simply hanging in front of a certain part of the chest. A casually tied sash. Legs crossed, she was sitting on a western-style white chair that did not quite suit her image. Due to leaning forward in this state of attire, combined with the up-and-down movement of her knees—How should one put it? There were many things flashing faintly in and out of view. Blushing red in the cheeks, Kotetsu squeezed his knees together tightly and averted his gaze.
"Okay, I know now! I must move the silver general! ...Hmm?"
Kotetsu was thinking he had acted unobtrusively, but she apparently noticed. Putting the chess piece down with a smack, Muramasa noted his appearance and said with a grin:
"Hey Kotetsu, I have made my move. 'Tis thy turn."
Despite saying that, she leaned forward even more than before, pushing forward a certain object that was about to spill out, resting it on the table. Then changing her cross-legged posture slowly to lift up one knee, she caused her kimono's hem to slide dangerously. A malevolent grin was hanging on her face—
Putting Kotetsu in a state of uncertainty regarding what he should do, Muramasa giggled as though she could not suppress her laughter anymore. Then she casually pulled the part of her kimono in front of her chest.
"Hahaha! Japanese chess is a type of war. What happeneth in war cannot be predicted. And unsettling the enemy is a type of strategy. Such is the case!"
"I-I am not unsettled..."
Embarrassed, Kotetsu did not dare make eye contact with her. Head bowed, he was just about to move his rook when Muramasa launched another surprise attack.
"Yes. Well then, how about a bath together tonight, shall we?"
Her surprise attack succeeded. In his confusion, the rook moved a space extra before stopping.
"—I admit defeat."
The surprise attack earlier did have a huge effect, but before that, Kotetsu was already on the losing side. As one would expect, he ended up losing.
"Kotetsu, thou art far too inexperienced."
"I am truly sorry. On the level of child's play, my meager knowledge extends little further than knowing how to move the pieces... I am not worthy to serve as your opponent, Muramasa-sama. I will study to improve myself."
Kotetsu apologized with his head bowed.
"Not to the extent of child's play. I had fun too... Speaking of child's play, there were occasions in the past when I was forced to play chess against mine owner's child. This is already a hundred times better than that."
Kotetsu suddenly narrowed his eyes—this time, truly unobtrusively—and started to sharpen his mind's sensitivity. Was this level of sharpness actually necessary?
"When... did that happen?"
"Hmm? Obviously prior to mine awakening this time... At least the Edo shogunate period, one would expect. That infuriating Tokugawa shogun... Hmm... of which generation?"
Kotetsu secretly sighed again. Currently, she had lost her memories from the most recent two hundred years. In other words, her latest memories should date back to the 1800s. Anything else was unacceptable. Kotetsu decided to confirm it again, slightly.
"By the way, do you like children, Muramasa-sama?"
"Absolutely detested. Brats make too much noise."
She replied instantly, meanwhile yawning as she gazed out into the wasteland of a garden. No change could be seen in her bored eyes. She did not look like she was hiding certain emotions in the depths of her eyes. Neither did she feel that something was amiss.
Kotetsu finally felt relieved. In other words—
"Truth be told, Nirushaaki-sama, she seems to have lost her memory."
"Fufu. It would be troubling to me otherwise."
The current location was a living room in the depths of the mansion. Despite the age of the carpet underfoot, it was evident that the original material was very high-class. In front of Kotetsu, Nirushaaki had sunk her entire self into the sofa, waving the glass in her hand.
"I nonchalantly brought up related terms to provoke her, but apparently did not cause any impetus for her memories to return."
Nirushaaki tilted the glass towards her mouth. However, its contents was neither wine, water nor juice. Instead, it was a drink she had concocted herself. The ingredients were still lying on the table, including protein packs, bottled supplements, a small bag containing some kind of powder, a sheet of tablets for a certain drug, opened capsules...
While chewing the solid substance mixed with the liquid in the glass, Nirushaaki asked:
"Kotetsu, are you getting along harmoniously with Muramasa?"
"How could it possibly not be harmonious?"
Kotetsu answered sincerely. She was the existence he had idolized over the long years. The existence of his dreams. Right now, she was the existence he looked forward to. Staying with her like this was going to confer him with greater power. It would raise his power many times over. He was very certain of that.
"Rather, I feel that we've been together since antiquity. I am convinced that this is the only way of living that ought to exist in the Three Thousand Realms of possibility. I can also assert that the current Nagasone Kotetsu Nyuudou Okisato will not lose to any enemy. This goes even more without saying for Muramasa-sama. She is a blade of slaughter even superior to me. Hence, what lies before us can only be a storm of blood. Trailing in our wake are devastated paths of vermilion. Nirushaaki-sama, with the two of us in your hands, you shall undoubtedly understand the concept of being the strongest."
"My, how exaggerated your words—Nevertheless, I am not displeased. I trust you two very much."
Of course, Kotetsu also swore loyalty to this master from the bottom of his heart. Scarce were the number of humans worthy of owning the two swords of Muramasa and Kotetsu simultaneously. Only a true master on a genuine single-minded quest for strength, an existence capable of providing the greatest battlefields for swords such as him.
I trust you two very much—These simple words echoed in his heart, making him overjoyed.
At this moment, Nirushaaki slammed her emptied glass onto the table.
"Well then, breakfast is over. What next? I have nothing scheduled."
"In that case—"
Kotetsu was interrupted mid-sentence by a yell from afar.
"Hey—Kotetsu~! Master~! 'Tis too boring, are there any activities~!?"
"...Truth be told, Muramasa-sama also seems bored to death. Perhaps we could accompany her to do something together."
"Yes. As postprandial exercise, some slight sparring with her as usual would be nice."
Nirushaaki and Kotetsu walked over to the terrace. Muramasa was lazily entwining her limbs around the chair (leaving Kotetsu no choice but to blush and turn his gaze away), speaking in boredom:
"Oh, ye have arrived. Such utter boredom... Do something. Such as have Kotetsu perform a strip tease or the like."
"Naturally, because it seemeth amusing. Or else, master, order me to do something. As the owner, thou shouldst feel free to command me. Such as... ordering me to have Kotetsu perform a strip tease or the like."
"So I still have to strip after all!?"
"It would be amusing indeed, I agree—"
"...Please don't agree."
Kotetsu finally groaned but the master continued unfazed:
"But before that, I would like to have some postprandial exercise. Namely, sparring... no..."
Nirushaaki stopped mid-sentence unnaturally and looked up. Kotetsu and Muramasa had noticed a long time ago already.
In a corner of the neglected garden, there was a patch of bushes growing along the wall. If one were to go over this mansion's boundary wall to invade this place, then advance while concealed, this path would be the top choice. Amidst the patch of pitifully neglected bushes, something could be seen.
Muramasa's gaze was directed there. While smiling like a carnivorous predator, she said:
"Fufufu. Excellent, wonderful. Compared to playful sparring between comrades—It looketh like we can now play something much more amusing, a real game."
—Who is she?
These thoughts were running through Haruaki's mind. His gaze was directed towards a woman ahead. A woman with soft, sleek, fluttering hair beyond shoulder length. A woman dressed in a kimono on the verge of slipping off. This woman was currently chatting, joking around with Kotetsu who was an enemy to Haruaki's side. With neither wariness nor hostility, she gave off vibes as though Kotetsu was her trusted companion, interacting with the enemy in a most natural manner—
Who was she?
"Hey, shameless brat, you idiot! How many times have I told you? Crouch down lower!"
"Hmm~ Ficchi, this can't be helped. Haru doesn't seem to be in any mood to hide. Besides, the other side seems to have discovered us."
"Absolutely ridiculous... All we can do is walk out into the open now."
"Enough, Haruaki! Pull yourself together!"
Pushed from behind, Haruaki emerged with the three girls from the bushes where they were hiding, facing off against the group on the terrace across the neglected the garden. However, Haruaki's gaze was still directed towards—
A face that could not be more familiar, yet a certain person who seemed extremely unfamiliar.
No, that's not right. He recognized her. He recognized this person. The first time he saw her, she was dressed the same way. Although the aura she gave off was a little different, in terms of outward appearance, she was identical to right now.
Hence, yes, no mistake—She could only be Konoha.
But not the same. She was not the Konoha who was still by his side several days earlier. Not the Konoha who had gone on the school excursion together with everyone. Not the Konoha who had been living under the same roof until now, trying her best to lift her curse—
"Oh... Verily, such bizarre intruders. Only women and children."
Gazing at them as though for the first time yet speaking an a most familiar voice, the dissonance made Haruaki feel very conflicted.
His mind was spinning. The world lost its sense of reality. The dizzy feeling was surging from the interior of his body. This feeling was as though someone had injected a foul and vulgar movie into his brain, then played it coersively, forcing him to watch against his will. Something must have gone wrong—
The intense dissonance and disappointment was making his body lose balance. But just at this moment, he felt warmth from both his hands respectively, accompanied by a kind of soft sensation.
"Yachi, hang in there. I know this must a huge blow to you... But you must watch. Everything begins here."
On his right was Kirika. Staring straight ahead, she was holding his right hand firmly. Her hand had a concrete presence to it. On the other side, his left hand also felt a tiny hand.
"Hmph, I guess this is what they call skin contact therapy for putting people at ease. What a pain for others!"
For some reason, Fear was pouting as she spoke while holding his hand. At the same time, something soft and gentle was scratching his back and flank lightly.
"Then I'll also use recovery tickling play to help heal Haru's psychological damage. Next, all that's left is the adults-only version where you have to take off all your clothes... Haru, are you okay?"
Haruaki felt his vision's center of gravity stabilize suddenly. Forces from three directions were anchoring his consciousness in the real world.
"...Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks, everyone."
Kuroe answered cheerfully, probably a deliberate act, then withdrew her hair from Haruaki's body. Exerting slightly more pressure while she gripped his hand, Kirika stared ahead. Those eyes of hers, watching Konoha, narrowed for an instant.
"...No reaction after seeing this scene huh...? This is also... Ah, how absolutely ridiculous..."
After murmuring these words softly, Kirika gently released Haruaki's hand, slightly disappointed. On the other hand, Fear threw his hand away as though shaking him off, taking out her Rubik's cube instead.
"Damn Cow Tits... How dare you look at us with eyes like that. It's almost like..."
Thanks to everyone's support, Haruaki was able to steady his stance at least. Gulping, he firmed his spirit and stared directly at her—staring at the one who was watching them with belligerent and vigorous eyes as Fear had pointed out.
All he could do was... call out to her.
"Huh? What befell a tree's leaves?"
She simply tilted her head in puzzlement, surveying her surroundings casually, wondering where she could find a rare, withered tree. Seeing her attitude, Haruaki felt assaulted by something akin to a wave of nausea, but—
"That's your name, Konoha. Have you forgotten?"
"Never heard of it."
"H-Hurry and remember! You are Konoha! Staying in my house, you were living together with us! Look here, Fear and Class Rep are also classmates who go to school with us together!"
"As I have said, never heard of it."
She waved her hand in irritation and began to show signs of impatience. Nevertheless, Haruaki could not stop speaking.
"You... were only forced by a cursed tool's power to forget us. The real you isn't like this!"
"Kono-san. Kono-san, you're only being used."
"Indeed. This is all a conspiracy conducted by those standing around you right now. An absolutely ridiculous pretense, only for the sake of obtaining your power. You should hurry and remember."
"Cow Tits, you should be the same as us. Holding misgivings about your own power, then trying to lift your curse—"
Hearing Fear speaking, Konoha narrowed her eyes sharply and reacted.
"Cow Tits, didst thou say? Little lass... Clearly 'tis our first encounter, yet thou art addressing me rather impudently. Ha! I see now, witnessing thy flat appearance, I can understand, thou must be overwhelmed by jealousy towards my bosom, art thou not? Given thy washboard, 'tis impossible to satisfy yonder brat in the bedroom, isn't it?"
"Guh... W-What are you talking about!? What rubbish are you saying!? I-I'll curse you!"
Looking at it from a different perspective, this could be considered one of their usual conversations, but it was still different. It was merely similar on a superficial level. Most regrettably, there was something diametrically different on a decisive and fundamental level regarding their current conversation, compared to the usual exchanges in the living room.
Konoha grew increasingly impatient and scratched her head in an offhand manner, causing her bosom to wobble and almost spill out from her kimono. However, she made no effort to reach out and cover up.
"No matter what... I recognize ye not. Even if what ye say is true, my current self knoweth naught, hence 'tis completely meaningless."
"Besides—One of ye little lasses said just now. I am being used? Their objective is my power? ...So what?"
Konoha stopped scratching her head. With her face tilted to one side, she cast Haruaki's group a gaze of scorn and said:
"Elite weapons ought to be owned by elite humans. Humans seek evermore excellent tools whilst I seek evermore excellent wielders. In this regard, thou seemst to be nothing more than an ordinary brat. Why must one such as I become the possession of a human this weak?"
"No... That's wrong, you weren't like this to begin with—"
"My current master is worthy of my respect. Especially the master's bloodstained hands, reeking of battlefields and innards, bloodied even beneath the nails. Brat, if thou considerest thyself more suitable an owner... Waste no more words. All thou needst do is show me your power!"
Baring her teeth, she laughed, maliciously, joyfully, terrifyingly. Arching her back slightly, shifting her center of gravity forward, dangling her arms naturally—She entered a combat stance.
Haruaki felt his brain shaking again. Don't collpase—He reminded himself, recalling the warmth from Fear and Kirika's hands. But he was unable to stop his heart from crying out silently—Why? How!? She's Konoha. Despite clearly being Konoha, she's not Konoha. Why—
"Haruaki, are you okay?"
"You can space out all you want later. Cow Tits aside, those people around her are undoubtedly enemies. A known enemy and an unknown enemy. Stay on high alert!"
Hearing Fear, only then did Haruaki become aware of the two people standing by Konoha's side. However, this was perhaps just an kind of escape for him, unable to look at Konoha any longer.
One of the enemies was Kotetsu who gave off the same impression as during the school excursion. Although not identical to back then, Kotetsu was still dressed in a frilly Wa Lolita outfit. Hands curled into the form of tiger claws, Kotetsu was glaring with fangs bared at the intruders.
The other person was also someone they had seen before, yet never seen as well.
Relatively petite and skinny in build, she was dressed in a navy-blue tight skirt with a suit jacket. But instead of looking new and ironed, her suit was creased as though she had been sleeping in these clothes for many days. Rather than uncouth, conveying more of a upfront temperament of non-pretense, her hair was no longer tied up as in the past. Naturally curly, her wavy hair extended and meandered down her back like a small black snake. Her entire person gave of a presence of mature seductiveness and confident composure.
"Waste no more words, all that is required is a show of power, is that so...? Fufu, these are words that truly suit us."
"Hmm? Art thou praising me?"
"Yes. Truth be told, I agree with you completely."
"...So, you people can probably guess from my presence, but I shall let you see for your own eyes."
Despite her sharp gaze, the woman's facial features were rather child-like. Nevertheless, as soon as she fished out a pair of glasses with massive swirling lines on the lenses from her pocket and put them on—She turned completely into a face that Haruaki and everyone else used to see every day.
Haruaki's group all groaned spontaneously together.
"That used to be my name. As a side note, unlike that auxiliary from the Knights Dominion, this is the face I was born with."
"Tsk! Your manner of speaking and airs are totally different from before...!"
"I establish my personality through hypnosis akin to self-brainwashing. As a warrior intending to reach the dragon's side, one must be capable of such a trivial task, naturally. Any soldier heading out for the battlefield would be capable of this."
Using her fingertip to give the large swirly glasses an upwards push as though finding them in the way, she continued:
"I shall state clearly. My name is Nirushaaki. Ranked second of the Draconians. Corresponding part is the «Wings»."
Fear, Kirika and Kuroe entered battle stances, glaring at her with maximum wariness. Ranking second implied that she was stronger than any member of the Draconians they had encountered thus far, whether Satsuko, Fourteen, or Kokoro Pentangeli.
"Thank you for going out of your way to introduce yourself~ But we know already."
"Hoh... But then again, that is quite conceivable given you were able to find my hiding place. Do you know everything already?"
Nirushaaki spoke calmly. Biting his lip, Haruaki answered:
"There are many things we don't know...! Why did you do this!? Return Konoha to us!"
"I have already stated clearly. I do not recall ever being thy possession."
"Pay it no mind, Muramasa. Well then, Yachi Haruaki, I shall answer you on account of our former relationship as teacher and pupil. Our objective is very simple. It is simply something that all members of the Draconians would do very naturally."
"You people seek strength, which is why you need to get your hands on Konoha huh...? But that alone isn't an explanation. What are you doing here?"
"My reason for staying at this mansion is also very simple. After obtaining Muramasa, my preparations are complete. What needs to be done—namely, to reach the dragon's side—requires defeating the existence nearest to the dragon, so as to devour his flesh and blood. That is all. Simply stated, I must surpass the Commander."
Fear frowned and groaned.
"Commander... In other words, your boss?"
"Precisely. I have conveyed my intent and summoned the Commander to this place. We are currently waiting here."
"Because it is difficult for us to reach the Commander's side."
They called him over? Feeling puzzled, Haruaki muttered quietly, causing Nirushaaki to answer while moving her shoulders as though shrugging lightly. Then—
"The Commander's arrival will still take some time. Roughly a week, Kotetsu?"
"That is what I believe."
"Consequently, we are currently pondering how to pass time. As preparatory exercise before a crucial showdown, perhaps this arrives with perfect timing—"
Hence, when Nirushaaki and Kotetsu exchanged nods, then faced Haruaki's group again—
When she pushed her glasses and stared at them directly with her extremely sharp eyes—
Haruaki felt goosebumps all over his back. Feeling an invisible sense of pressure, he instantly sense the surrounding air change in nature. Fear and the girls also took defensive stances, greatly alarmed.
"Slow down, master. Confronted with such weak-looking opponents, if we were to mobilize in full force, this shall end in an instant, shall it not? 'Twould be rather lacking in amusement."
"Hmm? You do seem to make a fair point."
"Hence, could the current chance to play be yielded to me, the most bored one? Master, thou just ate, didst thou not? Exercising immediately would not be good for the body."
"That is precisely why I wish for postprandial exercise—But no matter. I shall leave things to you currently, but please exercise caution."
"Thou suggesteth I exercise caution to avoid striking too heavily, yes? Pray not intervene. The same goeth for Kotetsu."
"Eh? Umm, Muramasa-sama, I can also..."
"I can play with thee any time."
Contrary to Haruaki's wish and expectation, Konoha was the only one stepping forward.
There was not the slightest mercy in her aura. Like those two—those two in the enemy camp—an unambiguous atmosphere of conflict and violence was exuding from her shoulders. Step by step, she was approaching them.
Stop—Haruaki thought. Why must they fight Konoha? Why were their words unable to reach Konoha? Had she really... really forgotten them—?
"En garde! Well then—I shall commence!"
Konoha tilted herself forward all at once, accelerating towards them. The gorgeous kimono's hem fluttered as a result, exposing the majority of her thighs. Without resorting to any petty tricks, this was a straight-line attack intending to confirm their reactions.
"This fool... Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»!"
Fear transformed the Rubik's cube and blocked Konoha's barehanded strike, engaging in close quarters combat.
"Cow Tits...! Don't you recognize this? It's me!"
"Little lass, thou still persistest in addressing me with a displeasing name!"
"You've seen this weapon before, right!?"
"How ugly a sword... No, 'tis a hatchet? To think thou wouldst use such a thing to fight me, how ludicrous!"
Konoha stabbed with a knifehand strike from her other hand. Fear jumped back then devoted all her efforts in using the hatchet to blcok the series of attacks that followed immediately.
"Oh? Despite the ludicrous weapon, thy skills are sufficient to fight me on equal terms."
"Stop looking down on others! If you continue to make jokes, I'll have no choice but to show my true abilities!"
Watching from the sidelines, Haruaki could understand. Despite retorting with a brave face, Fear was actually fighting a tough battle. Every movement of hers was filled with hesitation, weighted down by doubt. In contrast, Konoha had not the slightest confusion. Like an uncaged beast, she was swinging her limbs freely and boldly without reservation. Just as she lowered her stance like a carnivorous predator, in the next second, she jumped up high like a ferocious bird of prey, then immediately leaning her body back like a scorpion to attack Fear.
"Kuha, how now how now!? Despite thy presumptuous words, thou movest sluggishly! Art thou holding back out of certain concerns?"
"And whose fault... do you think it is...!? Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern»!"
"Oh, a club!? To think 'twould be a transformable toy, what a delight. Regrettably, little lass, thy abilities are not so vaunted—Hmm!"
"«Tragic Black River»!"
"Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
To aid Fear, Kirika and Kuroe extended their belt and hair respectively, but Konoha simply spun around as though dancing, effortlessly severing the belt and the hair.
"Excellent excellent, stand strong united. Join forces all ye like to attack me... Hmm, is the brat over there refraining from action? Whatever, no matter."
Haruaki could feel nothing except his immobile legs. He was unable to move even though he wanted to, even though he could see Konoha displaying definite hostility towards Fear and attacking with definite intent to harm her, even though he could see Kirika and Kuroe working arduously, trying their best to hinder Konoha's movement.
A dream-like feeling descended again. Was it because Konoha kept jumping around? The warmth of human skin contact therapy, which Fear and the others had transmitted to him definitely, was gradually absorbed by the coldness of the faded world surrounding them as well as the vacuum of a lifeless daydream. Naturally, the dream was a nightmare, a world beyond his reach. A movie whose plot made the audience anxious as though sitting on a pincushion. Legs immobilized, after losing warmth, he next began to tremble, of course. As though shuddering, shaking nonstop. He did not want to watch. Something must have gone wrong. Stop it now. Please, stop this now—
"Hmm, since three are the number of opponents, 'tis fine for me to go serious a little? I shall exercise caution to avoid ending things accidentally!"
However, the cruelty did not stop.
Konoha's speed went further up a level, rapidly switching between action and inaction. Just when she seemed like she stopped, she would move nimbly like a carnivorous plant without any warning with unpredictable timing. Feints and actual attacks were interspersed. Just as Haruaki saw Konoha launch dozens of direct attacks at the torture wheel that Fear had raised up high as a shield, in the next instant, she dropped down and suddenly stabbed with her knife hand from a dead angle. Fear retreated frantically, a slender trail of blood appearing on her thigh. Kirika and Kuroe extended their belt and hair to stop Konoha, but a sword's traits proved to be too much of an advantage. Imbuing her arms and legs with a sword's characteristics, she sliced through the belt and hair one after another. A bundle of Kuroe's hair flew past the vicinity of Konoha's face then brushed past the side of her mouth. Konoha grinned with savagery and bit down, severing the hair. "No way—" Kuroe groaned.
Konoha did not stop attacking Fear. Running, jumping, flying, walking, spinning, stopping, reclining, mocking, kneeling, laughing with delight, launching frontal assaults, attacking from dead angles, halting the offensive then immediately attacking again, speaking vulgarly, dancing gracefully, opening her jaws like a beast, groping while covering her bosom that might fly out of her kimono any time as though showing off to Fear—
In this manner...
Harming Fear's body.
Covering Fear's body with freshblood.
Although none of the wounds were critical, Fear was definitely not unharmed. Beginning to pant, her shoulders heaved up and down while she furrowed her brow as though in pain.
Fear only kept defending. Yes, indeed, even Fear was unable to attack proactively, despite displaying belligerent incompatibility in their usual interactions.
Nevertheless, Konoha was completely unconcerned, treating the girls as enemies encountered for the first time—attacking Fear mercilessly. So painful. This felt extremely painful to Haruaki.
(Hurry... Stop this... Stop this now...!)
But of course, the voice in Haruaki's heart could not reach anyone's ears.
Fear raised the spiked metal board of «Maranatha» to use as a shield but Konoha attacked as she pleased with slicing attacks from her arms and legs as though facing a soft sandbag, transmitting waves of impacts to Fear's petite body.
"There there there. Oh dear, who could have expected thee to be so durable? I was thinking thou wouldst break after a few times. To be this sturdy, even I can't help but feel sincerely impressed. Although if I were to use attack with my true sword, 'twould be a different matter—Yes. Well then, how about it? Let us have a pure contest of strength next."
Konoha spread her legs slightly and used both hands to grip the left and right sides of «Maranatha», then proceeding to lean her body weight forwards. Supporting «Maranatha» against her shoulder, Fear's face changed dramatically.
"Damn it, how dare you look down on me! I don't care... what's gonna happen...!"
"Hoho. 'Tis coming. But thou shouldst be able to endure further, yes?"
The two girls were pushing at each other with a spiked metal board between them. Although Konoha was gripping the board by the edges, clearly she was at a disadvantage with the spiked surface facing her. Compared to Fear who could push with all her body weight without reservation, Konoha's position was very disadvantageous.
Nevertheless, they were evenly matched at the moment. No, not exactly. The balance between them was gradually collapsing. Despite sneak attacks from behind, conducted by Kirika's «Tragic Black River» and Kuroe's hair, trying to create openings; despite the fact that Konoha simply shook her shoulders to sever the belt and the hair without a single glance—
Fear was gradually retreating instead.
"Ultimately, it boileth down to strength for settling the match. 'Twould be that, thou art too small after all."
"Guh! Th-This bitch...!"
Konoha grinned maliciously, licking her lips, gripping the spiked metal board's edges even harder.
Then maintaining this action, she forcefully straightened her back.
Leaning her head slightly backwards, then after storing energy—
"Especially... Thy flat chest, truly pitiful beyond limit! Thou wouldst do well to reincarnate in a new life, little lass with breasts of a child!"
Neither hesitating nor reducing her force—
Konoha performed a headbutt towards the metal board with countless giant spikes.
A sharp metallic clang thundered from the impact, resounding to the heavens.
Together with «Maranatha», Fear was sent flying. The spikes had failed to pierce Konoha's head. Without the slightest swelling on her forehead, Konoha jeered with delight from the bottom of her heart, coldly and mercilessly like a devil.
Fear collapsed on the ground, perhaps because her legs no longer had the strength to stand or the impact just now was too unexpected. Pinned down by the weight of «Maranatha», she turned in back into the Rubik's cube for now. At this moment, Konoha took a leap, causing her kimono's hem to flutter.
Then she landed on top of Fear who was lying on the ground. Using one foot to step on Fear's right hand that was holding the Rubik's cube, she pinned down Fear's left arm with her other foot. In other words, she was standing astride Fear. Maintaining this position, Konoha bent forward and wagged her finger ostentatiously before Fear's eyes. Her expression was split evenly between mockery and disappointment.
"What is this? How boring. All that vigor and pomp, yet such a pitiful showing in the end?"
Kirika and Kuroe's frantic rescues could not reach Fear. Fanning her hand as though the weather was hot, Konoha simply waved her her hand to effortlessly sever the belt and hair. The two girls extended their weapons again, attempting to pull Fear back to them, but all was futile in the face of Konoha's knife hand.
"Go ahead and use thy secret moves, if thou still posesseth any? At this rate, 'twould be utterly boring."
Despite panting heavily, Fear still did not take her eyes off Konoha. After Konoha questioned in return, Fear bit her lip for an instant before yelling one more time:
"Come on, put on some underwear at least! You abominable Cow Tits!"
Staring at Konoha's lower body while she stood astride her, Fear continued to scream and yell. "You're too shameless! So shameless that you even rival the shameless brat. Your existence itself is shameless!" As though deliberately ignoring the mood at hand, as though hoping someone else could read the mood, so as to give the answer she was hoping for.
But Konoha simply murmured softly:
"What, it appeareth that 'tis over... Well then, thou shalt be killed."
The disappointment on her face deepened. Her eyes showed absolute disinterest.
Haruaki knew that Konoha was serious.
Hence, he finally succeeded in making a sound. Although it was a lame, trembling voice, but at least it was better than silence. He believed this to be the case.
"W-Wait wait... Hold on! Hey Konoha, she's Fear. That's Fear!"
"The name of this lass? Hmm, I know now. But soon enough, this name shall be needed no longer."
"What are you talking about!? Stop it, stop it now... I'm begging you...!"
None of the words that Haruaki had forced out desperately were reaching her.
She was no longer looking at Haruaki, even to the point of losing awareness of him. As though treating him as a pebble on the roadside, she quietly murmured thoughtlessly to herself: "What a bizarre brat."
Pounding, Haruaki felt his heart beat violently. What should he do?
At this rate, Fear—
Fear was going to be—
KILLED. BY. KONOHA.
What a ludicrous arrangement of words. Finding the corners of his mouth twitching slightly, Haruaki very well might have laughed out for real. Impossible. This could not happen. Because it's Fear and Konoha. It's those two. Something must be mistaken. Definitely, definitely, definitely, definitely, definitely, definitely so. Right?
Nevertheless, this was reality.
As though drawing a bow, Konoha raised her knife hand up to her chest, the hand which was originally in front of Fear's face.
As though believing something, as though wanting to believe something, Fear stared straight at Konoha in front of her.
Then the bow was drawn to its limit.
The readied arrow, known as the knife hand, finally shot out—
Konoha's knife hand simply wavered once then remained still.
Making a sound of puzzlement, she no longer looked downwards at Fear. The same went for Kotetsu and Nirushaaki who were observing from the side. Same for Haruaki's group.
—Incomprehensible. Haruaki's group could not even comprehend whether they were surrounded by a crisis or not.
But the only thing certain was that the situation had changed.
Before they knew it...
New intruders had appeared in this mansion's garden.
Numbering at least ten of them.
Translator's Notes and References
- Tree's leaves: the name Konoha(このは), usually rendered in hiragana, can be interpreted as the kanji combination 木葉 where 木(kono) means tree and 葉(ha) means leaf/leaves.
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