Chapter 3 - The Darkness Known as the Knight; Its Significance / "The blade - It's two-faced."
Why was she here? She thought blankly to herself.
In front of her was a garden. The leaves of giant old trees, clothing hanging on laundry poles, weeds growing unchecked, everything was swaying under the light breeze. In a corner was a small storehouse with earthen walls, but apart from that, the garden was empty. No ponds with carp, nor stepping stones, nor stone lanterns, nor wash basins. Hence, the space was inexplicably wide open, to an excessive degree. Thinking to herself, she decided it would be best if the storehouse were to be demolished so that a detached accessory dwelling could be built.
The seat beneath her bottom was a cushion, while under it lay the wooden floorboards of the veranda. Next to the cushion was a cup of tea. Behind her was the unoccupied living room where inconceivable tools known as the 'television' and the 'radio' were kept inside. Times have truly changed—She thought to herself.
Why was she here?
"Here" could be interpreted as not only "this house" but also "this era."
An anachronistic sword, why was it here in this kind of place? She already knew a long time ago. Wars could no longer take place again. At least, there was no longer the type of battle where generals and soldiers would cross swords with one another on the ground.
Then why exist? With her purpose forsaken, why exist?
This peaceful country did not need weapons. This peaceful era did not need weapons. For self-defense, a kitchen knife would be sufficient. So long as the enemy was not wielding a sword, there was no need for her to be swung...
She casually took a sip of tea. Staring out into the unchanging garden, she murmured to herself.
This was not only the present circumstances but also the case all along.
Feeling tired of everything, that was why she had come to this home.
To be honest, she did not care about her curse at all. After all, curses were curses, nothing more than that, hence she believed in simply going with the flow. For her personally, this was on the same level as pondering the meaning of her existence and mulling over her past or present.
In any case, she wanted change. Even if had nothing to do with lifting the curse, it did not matter. Indeed, if there existed some other way of killing time at hand, she would not mind trying it out—
At this moment, a child's head emerged in the garden she was watching. Actually, it was just a head that had popped up from below her field of view.
He was probably planning on hiding under the veranda then secretly approaching to give her a fright, but of course, she had sensed his presence a long time ago. When she stared back intently at him without any reaction at all, he pouted slightly as though going "tsk~" But immediately, he recovered his vigor while maintaining his posture with his upper body leaning over the veranda.
"Hey hey, you're trying to remove what's called a curse, right? Do your best. Is there any way I can help?"
Then he said that to her. Although he was quite nervous on their first encounter, she had started living here a few days already and this child—Haruaki—had gotten quite used to her presence. He had started to attempt conversations with her in this familiar tone of voice. Putting aside the fact whether she was pleased with this or not.
"Hmph, I care not either way. 'Tis not decided whether I shall lift my curse or not."
"Eh~? Then why did you come here?"
"Because Honatsu pestered me for ages, claiming he would brew good tea for me to savor, I finally relented, unable to bear the nuisance. Moreover, that fellow finally went as far as to kneel and beg... Ha, fallen in love with me, he must have."
She deliberately ended with a joke. "Really~?" asked Haruaki with his head tilted. It was true, up until the part about kneeling.
"Certainly. Listen carefully, perhaps thou cannot understand yet, but all men love large busts. Thy mother—Honatsu's wife—surely must be the same."
Haruaki tilted his head again and answered: "Really~? I don't quite remember." According to Honatsu, his wife had divorced him immediately after giving birth to Haruaki. The veracity of Honatsu's words was uncertain, but assuming it were true, then indeed, Haruaki would not remember his mother's face or figure.
"When thou growest older, thou shalt pounce upon my bosom obsessively too. Or perhaps thou wishest to try now?"
"N-No, it's okay..."
Like an adult, he was shy. Seeing that, she grinned and placed her teacup on the side.
"In any case—concerned I am not regarding the curse. 'Twould be too bothersome to do something expressly for lifting the curse. Let nature taketh its course."
"But Dad said it's better to have curses lifted."
"What are curses, brat, dost thou know...?"
She grinned on purpose as she scrutinized Haruaki's face. An excellent opportunity, she thought.
"My curse—A desire to see fresh blood. It applieth to both mine owner and myself alike. Whether a noble-minded saint or gentlemen, no one can escape this impulse once they pick me up. Told you not hath Honatsu? Prior to coming to this place, I used to reside at a certain wealthy household."
"A rich man's home, in other words. The residence was several times bigger than this house. Expensive vases and hanging scrolls decorated the entire place—However, by the time I awakened, virtually all decorations were stained by fresh blood. Presumably because a long time had passed since I was last unsheathed, the curse had accumulated heavily."
"Wife, daughter, son, parents, servants, as well as a delivery man who visited by chance. A massacre. By the time the impulse subsided, probably regained his sanity suddenly my wielder did. Just as I was about to speak to that long-awaited owner, he had already raised me up and pierced his own throat. Then happened many things. Pondering what to do I was, when fellows called the police took me away and locked me into a dark space. Then Honatsu appeared—Yes, I need not recount the rest henceforth."
The kneeling affair was mentioned already. At the time, she was thinking, what a bizarre man.
"Understand, dost thou? This is myself, my curse. Murdering upon awakening, slumbering once weary, then awakening once more to murder. 'Tis what I have done repeatedly ever since the days of the Warring States..."
She narrowed her eyes and lowered her voice, releasing a heavy, murderous atmosphere—Thus she spoke. A cowardly human, clinging greedily to life, would probably go incontinent directly with this.
She thought: he would best go incontinent, best feel afraid. From her perspective, this boy was merely a bothersome little animal that kept loitering in her sight. However—
"I know, Dad told me before. Besides, I've seen many things already by now."
In front of the wild beast, that little animal smiled innocently instead.
Sure enough. It was the same as when she had threatened him the first time. Why—Why was he not afraid?
"Also, I've heard that I possess the kind of constitution that neutralizes the effects of curses through 'owning' the object. So you don't have to worry."
Honatsu had told her before. Even now, she was still partially unconvinced, but hearing Haruaki declare so firmly, perhaps it might be true after all.
Compared to this matter... Compared to this sort of matter—
She really doubted that this brat before her truly understood what curses were exactly. Neither did he comprehend how terrifying, shocking, ugly curses were. Or their dangers.
But at least right now, her current self here was able to kill humans with her bare hands, rather than a vague and intangible existence like a curse. A threat in reality. He ought to understand this point. But why was he not afraid? Why was he still able to smile?
This laid back child called Yachi Haruaki—What was going on?
She was struck by an inexplicable feeling. This feeling resembled unease, fear as well as agitation.
"Oh right, I know your name is Muramasa, but it'll be troublesome later if that's the whole thing. It sounds like a family name so just use it as a family name, I guess. Then you need to think of a given name. Have you thought of one? If not, let's think of one together. Yeah~ What kind of name would be nice...?"
While she was silent, Haruaki started the next conversation on his own, muttering by himself. Names were of no consequence at all.
Suddenly, a question entered her mind. Not about him but herself.
Currently, she was regarding this boy as her temporary owner, because Honatsu had hassled her nonstop, saying that this would prevent her curse from activating, which was why she reluctantly did as suggested. She still felt uninterested in this proposal. Something she found suspicious also remained deep-rooted in the bottom of her heart.
Supposing what the father and the son said were true. Her curse was "a desire to see fresh blood." If Haruaki being her owner could neutralize the curse's effects, then Haruaki would not be tormented by that desire.
This desire she harbored of "wanting to see fresh blood," where exactly did it go?
In a certain sense, this was also a kind of curse. A trait branded upon her body.
While being owned by the boy for which the curse would not activate, what might be the end result? Was her own desire erased together as well? Or was it—
"What kind of name do you like~? A classy one? Or a cool one? Hey, let's think together. You don't want a weird name, right?"
"...I care not either way..."
Repeating the words she had said who knew how many times today, she deliberately forgot all the thoughts in her mind.
A quiet garden. A light breeze caressing the veranda. A boy's voice, noisy but not to the point of ear-piercing. As long as she refrained from listening to the content, it sounded just like wind chimes.
Breathing out, she picked up the teacup by her side and brought it to her lips. Although it was thoroughly lukewarm, perhaps it suited the mild scenery currently before her eyes.
No helping it. Mild things were here to stay.
Hence, staying longer in this country was probably fine—She experienced a feeling akin to resignation surging ambiguously in her heart. What infuriated her was that the end result turned out exactly the same as Honatsu's invitation.
While sipping tea, she murmured softly:
"...Drinking cheap tea hither to the point of addiction, forsooth."
"Yachi, are you alright?"
"Haru, do you feel unwell anywhere?"
Haruaki suddenly sat up to find himself in his own room. Next to the futon was Fear, Kirika and Kuroe, all watching him with worried faces. For an instant, he had no idea what was going on.
"Uh, why is everyone... What happened to me...?"
"You... don't remember?"
Fear's voice sounded quite worried. What happened? —Haruaki spun his drowsy mind at full speed.
Finally, he remembered. He remembered everything that had happened so far.
Then he laughed out loud.
"Oh yeah...? Haha. Oh dear, seriously, what's up with Konoha? She punched me. How terrible and it was painful. Hahaha—Urgh!?"
Haruaki's breathing choked for a second. Fear first made an expression of surprise then her face darkened as she grabbed Haruaki's collar and pulled him towards her. Close enough for them to feel each other's breathing, she said:
"—Shameless brat, I understand how you feel, but come on, face reality."
Fear's eyes contained seriousness, anger, unease and fright. At the same time, she was desperately suppressing these emotions.
With Fear still grabbing his collar, Haruaki heard an inhaling sound and turned to look at the source. Kirika had a solemn expression—if anything, her face was livid with fright—and she said to him:
"Yachi, Fear-kun and Kuroe-kun have already told me what happened after I died. I'll be straight with you... You're only alive purely by chance. There is no possibility apart from that. Konoha is not infiltrating the enemy camp by feigning memory loss out of certain considerations. That is also not the reason why she used a fist against you instead of a knifehand strike."
On top of Kirika's thighs while she was sitting formally in seiza, her fists could be seen clenching tightly.
"With equal probability as getting punched, she really could have chopped you to death on the spot. Whether she was willing to listen to my plea, from her perspective, it really was nothing more than the difference between stepping forward with her right foot or her left foot first. Simply a whim, a moment's fancy, nothing more than pure chance..."
Kirika also drew her face up close to Haruaki. Something shiny could be seen faintly in the corners of her eyes.
Haruaki was thunderstruck. The world shook for a while as the dislocations in his sense of reality were realigned.
The current situation, as well as his own situation.
In a real sense, he finally understood.
"Ficchi and Kiririn are right. I understand you're very shocked, but we can't move forward unless you face reality as it is. If you die while day dreaming... It'd be throwing good money after the bad."
Haruaki slowly turned his head and looked at the three girls' faces, then exhaled forcefully.
"You're right. I'm sorry—and thank you all. Fear, Class Rep, Kuroe."
He bowed his head, conveying a will of "I'm okay now." The three girls exuded relief.
Making a wry smile completely different from the smile of escapism just now, Haruaki patted Fear's arm since she was still grabbing his collar.
Fear instantly went "muu" and pouted.
Then as though hiding her embarrassment, she pushed Haruaki towards his futon.
—It was already evening.
Holding a pack of rice crackers in one hand, Fear sat down on the veranda. Her reason for choosing the veranda was, of course, because Haruaki was already sitting there spacing out after waking up.
While chewing the first rice cracker she had taken out, she glanced sideways at Haruaki. Taking out a second rice cracker, she stood it upright.
"Want one? If it's just one, it's not like I can't share with you."
"The sun must be rising from the west. But I'll have to pass this time. Because my stomach is still throbbing with pain."
Haruaki answered while touching his belly. "Really?" Fear stuffed the second piece into her mouth. So tasty.
"Don't eat too much, it's almost time for dinner."
"I didn't eat lunch today so I'll have to compensate with rice crackers."
Considering their injuries, they would best stay still for today—Both Haruaki and Fear had received such orders. Hence, Kirika and Kuroe were currently preparing dinner in the kitchen.
They were currently alone together.
She was sitting on the same veranda as him, looking at the same garden as him, eating rice crackers.
The warmth of Haruaki beside her almost seemed to be transmitted through the veranda's floor. She could already admit—It felt very comfortable. Staying by Haruaki's side, silent like this, it felt inexplicably comfortable. Very blissful. She wanted this to continue forever.
Something was not quite the same.
Right now, only right now, she could not help but think this. Her heart was restless and ill at ease. A sense of anxiety was boycotting the blissful feeling from another side. Was it really okay for her to accept this kind of situation gladly? —This kind of guilty feeling.
Tsk! Fear mentally clicked her tongue. Seriously, what a dilemma.
Whether present or absent, that woman was always such an eyesore—
"Oh right, what happened to the people Lilyhowell gathered?"
"...I asked Kuroe to move out all the ones who could be moved. After first aid treatment, we left them at a safe place then called an ambulance. I don't know anything after that."
Once again, the focus of her thoughts shifted over from this topic to the question she had been pondering earlier. What exactly should they do? What should they do from here on?
Time continued to flow away silently. Only the crisp sound of chewing rice crackers was coming from her own mouth. She had already stopped counting how many she had eaten. Haruaki had stopped reminding her not to eat too much.
Just at this time, a phone's ringtone was heard. Haruaki took out his cellphone from his pocket.
"It's Un Izoey."
"Pick it up, pick it up. I want to listen too."
The two of them brought their heads together next to the flip phone. As a result, Fear's cheek was pressed against Haruaki's hand that was holding the phone. She felt a commotion in her heart but deliberately avoided thinking about it. Right now, the conversation was more important.
"Hello? What's up? Did you receive any new information?"
'—My reply: a report on the contrary.'
Fear could feel Haruaki's fingers quietly relaxing his grip on the phone.
"Then... What's the matter? Say, do you know what happened today?"
'My reply: yes. The basic situation is already known. This phone call's intent: simply an apology.'
"Apology? What do you mean by that, country girl? Be more clear."
Un Izoey seemed puzzled to hear Fear's voice but immediately steadied her mind and answered:
'About Muramasa Konoha's memory, there was one part I deliberately withheld. Not "losing memory" but phenomenon of "turning into her past self," I explain with this kind of explanation.'
"What's the difference?"
'In other words, impossible to recover. From the start, she does not possess the memories that are supposed to be retrieved. She did not forget. The current her is the person who never made memories together with you. Hence my statement... If it's simply talking to her, telling her old memories, or giving stimulation, these kinds of "usual methods," I can say with certainty that the probability of her regaining her memory approaches zero.'
"...That does seem to be the case, as much as I don't want to believe it."
Haruaki muttered quietly, mixed with sighs.
'Before your first contact with her, I was unable to explain. Umm... Because I was thinking this information might be wrong.'
"It's okay, you're just worrying about us. Also... I think we would find it hard to believe too unless we actually met her for real like that."
"But then what should we do? It's not like we can just leave her like that."
Fear recalled how Konoha had gone as far as to attack amateurs mercilessly. She looked very happy yet a little bored at the same time. In any case, she was not the Konoha whom Fear knew.
"Hmph, that girl who used to vomit at the sight of blood... is more... like her..."
"...Fear is right. So, Un Izoey, can you listen to my opinion?"
'My answer: yes.'
"Anyway, Konoha is very dangerous the way she is right now. So even if it's slightly coercive, I think we've no choice but to capture her by force. Then the problem is what comes after her capture. The mask the enemy used on Konoha—It's called «Bartolomey Oblivion», right? Does that tool have a reset function? If we can get our hands on that tool, maybe..."
'To be honest, that is unknown. I think further investigation is needed, but that used to belong to the Knights Dominion. Information too little, uncertain if answer can be obtained, I answer with this kind of answer.'
What an honest girl. Haruaki first closed his eyes, somewhat disappointed, then nodded lightly and said:
"—That's true, there will be things that even your side doesn't know. No matter what, we'll just have to assume there's a reset function for now and take action with that goal in mind..."
"Then to get that tool, I guess we have to defeat Nirushaaki. The problem is how to defeat her."
Fear narrowed her eyes and recalled that woman's appearance. An American Indian style shirt. Complete immunity to attacks. How could she be defeated? She also had two Japanese swords in her possession. Two demon blades with curses powerful enough for them to take human form. Furthermore—
"She's wearing that weird mask. What is it?"
'My answer: apology that this is unknown too. To begin with, Nirushaaki is an elusive being, just like her title the «Battle Demon». I investigated the Lab Chief's Nation's materials but still haven't found any information. I plan to continue investigating.'
Plan to continue. These words reminded Fear of something important.
"Oh right... You need to be quick. You can't keep dallying because we've got a time limit."
Haruaki's face tensed and looked sideways at Fear.
"They said that... The reason why they're staying there is because they summoned the Commander and are waiting for his arrival. I think they said it'll take a week roughly."
"I'm not interested in competitions of strength but seeing as he's the Commander, that guy must be the strongest of the Draconians, naturally. When Nirushaaki fights that guy, there's no guarantee that her weapons will survive intact. It won't be surprising even if they get broken during the fight."
Fear spoke inauspiciously without mincing her words. Or one could call it considering the worst possibility.
'My understanding: a solution must be found within a week, in other words, I give this kind of understanding.'
"—I'll think again carefully, what can be done during this time. I'm willing to do anything. Anything! If you come up with a plan, tell me."
Haruaki's tone of voice was resolute and emotional unlike his usual self. Fear found this new side quite curious but also felt unsettled. Then Haruaki narrowed his eyes as though thinking about something while muttering into the telephone receiver.
"Nirushaaki's faction is really dangerous. It'd be too dangerous to ask Sovereignty and Chihaya for help since they're not used to fighting. So, you... can't fight alongside us, right?"
After a pause, Un Izoey answered in a forced voice:
'My apology: I assert this is impossible. This time we can only provide information.'
He was simply asking, hence Haruaki was not too disappointed and nodded readily.
"Then please continue to gather information. Also, say hi to Amanda for us."
'Yes. She is next to me. She also asks me to say hi to you—What's the matter? I ask this kind of question.'
"What's the matter?"
'She pulled my skirt. Want me to look at that? That is... Hmm... I see.'
What happened? Fear and Haruaki exchanged looks, but that was not going to produce an answer.
"By the way, I still haven't asked. Where are you two right now?"
'My answer: we are currently at a location on surveillance, in other words the other person related to this incident, the abandoned building where Lilyhowell Kilmister is hiding. I explain this kind of explanation.'
Next, she returned to her usual tone of calmness and said something that Haruaki and Fear could not possibly listen calmly to:
'Another thing came up that should be reported to you. Lilyhowell Kilmister has kidnapped unrelated normal couple, currently taking them into abandoned building... What are your plans?'
She was no longer a noble knight. Haruaki understood this clearly since a while ago. Otherwise, she could not possibly have done what she did this morning—namely, getting unrelated humans involved.
This time, she was involving ordinary people again. Perhaps someone might be sacrificed. Once he learned of it, Haruaki could not refrain from intervening.
Besides, there was the matter that Un Izoey had discussed just now, about «Bartolomey Oblivion» that could possibly return Konoha to her original state. Since it used to belong to the Knights Dominion, Lilyhowell should understand that mask to a certain level. As soon as it occurred to them that she might be able to provide other useful information, so long as it is information that could be asked, they wanted to find out all of it.
Towards Lilyhowell's hiding place whose location was revealed by Un Izoey, in other words, an abandoned hotel in the countryside, Haruaki's group sprinted, sprinted, sprinted nonstop—
Haruaki felt anxious.
(What's this feeling...?)
He had a kind of feeling that this must be done.
However, he did not know why he thought that. There was only an impulse driving him nonstop.
Sprinting madly like this was for the sake of stopping Lilyhowell's acts of cruelty and in order to obtain information related to «Bartolomey Oblivion».
But ruling these two motivations aside, he still wanted to meet Lilyhowell—There was this kind of impulse.
While experiencing this impulse, Haruaki silently ran together with Fear and the others.
Towards a deserted corner in the countryside, far away from the town.
Towards ruins that gradually came into view as a dark shadow, standing upright and unmoving.
She was just doing what she ought to do. Nothing more.
Maintaining dark and calm emotions, Lilyhowell Kilmister looked down at the two guests.
Probably a party hall in the past, this wide open space was nothing more than a concrete floor now. Near the center, she had sat down the two guests then tied them to their chairs. The chairs were placed facing each other, separated by roughly a meter's distance. Due to the hall's spaciousness, these conditions probably made them feel even more uncomfortable.
"H-H-H-H-Help... Help! I beg you, I beg you, p-please don't... kill us!"
"Umm, if it's money... I'll pay... so please... just her, could you... umm...!"
Of course, allowing the chairs to face each other was for letting the two of them see each other, thereby provoking fearful feelings efficiently. Just the sight of each other in restraints was already making the couple shuddering all over in fright.
"One, there are no drawbacks to storing energy. Two, multiple options must be available at all times. That is all. Although it is ineffective in a frontal attack—the calamitous sword's power must be maintained..."
She stared silently at the the couple. The two of them were simply feeling terrified of this situation. Soon they were going to get used to it. She must do something new. What should she do—?
In any case, she stepped forward.
Without saying a word, she punched the man's face. Two punches, three punches, four punches. The wound inflicted on her shoulder by Muramasa was still hurting, but she had already performed first aid treatment. Ignoring it, she punched a fifth and sixth time.
"Guh! Gah... Ahhh... S-Stop it, I beg you... Have mercy on me, stop it!"
"Kyahhhh! This is terrible... Don't, stop... Stop it now!"
The man's nose kept bleeding nonstop. Her fist became soiled with fresh blood. Time to swap—Lilyhowell approached the woman this time, bringing her fist towards her—
"Don't... Don't... Don't!"
She did not hit women. Women were very frail. If assaulted, they would die very quickly. Although honestly speaking, Lilyhowell did not care at all, she still decided it would be better to draw out the woman's terror as much as possible before killing her.
Probably afraid of getting punched, the woman stuck out her trembling tongue and slurped as she licked the blood from her beloved boyfriend's nose. Whether it was because she felt unwell or because the blood itself was nauseating, the woman vomited violently. But Lilyhowell did not allow her to stop. Still emotionally calm, she tapped the woman's lower jaw with her fist, urging the woman to continue. The red tongue started moving again. A seductive tongue. A tongue that probably exchanged saliva between lovers on a regular basis.
Right, there was that method too.
Taking her saliva-moistened fist away from the woman's lips, Lilyhowell moved towards her chest instead and forcefully tore up her clothing.
Since even her underwear was torn, a white breast was exposed. Sexual arousal was generated instinctively. However, Lilyhowell suppressed desire using rationality. This was not simply sexual assault. Gripping forcefully, she groped, squeezed the tip, toying with it.
"Eeek... Ah, it hurts, stop it... What... are you doing...!?"
"I seem to be a lesbian."
The color of terror surfaced in the woman's eyes that were inexorably troubled to begin with. Now this was more like it. Lilyhowell allowed her fingers to slide towards the thigh underneath the skirt while moving upwards in search of the source, saying at the same time:
"Understood? That is why I could continue playing with you. I could play with you tirelessly. That said, just using fingers alone is probably not going to satisfy me. But I cannot bring myself to use a sword's hilt—Well then, is there a bottle somewhere nearby...?"
As Lilyhowell looked around as though in search of something, the woman probably figured out what she meant, twisting her body and starting to struggle.
"No, no, no no no! Stop it, please stop, I'm begging you—! I'll do anything, anything you want! Eeek, kyah, no, eeeeeeeek!"
The woman was so afraid that she seemed like she was about to get hyperventilation syndrome. Hoping for a chain reaction, Lilyhowell looked behind her—However, the man was limp and not moving, his swollen eyelids shut. Too much bleeding? Truly what a shame.
Lilyhowell left the woman. The tearful woman moaned as though feeling relieved. But it was too soon to relax. Next, Lilyhowell intended to use even more repulsive methods to gather terror.
Lilyhowell gripped the hilt of one of the swords sheathed on her back. This hilt was covered with black stains. After she drew the sword—
The sword was instantly enveloped in fire. Not just the blade but also the hilt, the entire sword was on fire. Naturally, the palm of Lilyhowell's hand, gripping the sword, was also burning. The unusual stench of scorched flesh. She deliberately ignored the pain.
"W-What? What's that..."
"This sword is named «ESP» for Endlion Self Punishment. However, the name is probably meaningless to you. What you want to know is probably how it is used. Of course, this is what I am going to do."
Lilyhowell pressed the back of the flaming red-hot blade against the neck of the limp and unmoving man.
"Eeeeeek! Stop it, hurry and stop——!"
"Kyah... Ahhh... Ahhhhhhhhh!"
"—He woke up."
Lilyhowell returned «ESP» to its scabbard. The flames disappeared. Looking at the couple, she found them gazing back at her with fearful eyes that conveyed a different meaning from before and dramatically more confused. They looked like they were watching an inexplicable monster.
Perfect, she thought. People who witnessed curses were all supposed to show these kinds of eyes.
However, the terror of curses had not ended yet. She must make them even more, much more terrified. Lilyhowell drew another sword from her back, one that had a slightly curved blade with a fair amount of thickness.
"This is the slaughtering blade «My Bloody Valentine». Its curse compels the user to chop flesh. The more it chops, the sharper the blade becomes. Although the flesh of livestock is better than nothing, of course, the best effect still comes from..."
She stopped mid-sentence in a profound manner, taking a step towards the couple.
"N-No way... Don't..."
"H-Help, I beg you, I beg you... Please, you must spare me, I beg you...!"
Who should she select? She originally wanted to start by chopping fingers off, but the woman was already incontinent from fright. Scaring her any further and her heart might stop beating. Then select the man first. He looked relatively more energetic. He also started begging for his life before the woman, how disagreeable. Then it was decided.
Having made her decision, Lilyhowell raised the slaughtering blade high—
Then she swifly turned around with a flash of the blade.
The dull sound of steel clashing resounded all around. Given that heavy and solid sensation, it was the feeling generated from the violent collision between her blade and the torture wheel flying from behind. A chain of cubes connected to the wheel—Ahead was the girl and her group, glaring at Lilyhowell.
Still calm and composed, Lilyhowell sighed softly.
"How troubling. These people are probably not afraid of curses."
After quietly murmuring "how troubling" in nonchalance as though encountering rain upon exiting a convenience store, Lilyhowell slightly lowered her still-gloomy gaze and said:
"How did you know of this place—No, I can guess. It must be the Lab Chief's Nation."
"How do you know?"
"In order to find out Nirushaaki's location, I made a deal with them and sold out confidential information from the Knights Dominion. I should have expected that from that point onwards, they would have complete knowledge of my movements."
"You sold out the Dominion's information...?"
Haruaki frowned. That kind of thing was possible? Of course not. Then the woman before his eyes here—
"—Right now, I am not taking action as a member of the Knights Dominion. My identity is simply Lilyhowell Kilmister. Well, they might be sending pursuers after me. After all, my methods were a little forceful... when I took these swords out from the Dominion's weapons vault..."
"I don't care about what's going on inside the Knights Dominion. Anyway, we can't allow your cruel acts to continue—Kuroe!"
Kuroe silently extended her hair and pulled the couple over along with the chairs they were tied to. Haruaki was expecting Lilyhowell to stop them, but she simply stood with her heavy cleaver of a sword without moving from her position.
"Eek... Eek... Eeeeeek!"
"Woah~ Keep still, you guys. But I don't think you'll listen even if I say that. You might get traumatized if you see more weird things, so I'd be happy if you could sleep for a while. Mode: «Sleeping Sadayoshi»!"
Probably strangled by their necks. the couple closed their eyes together and stopped moving. Although this treatment was a little forceful, there was no luxury of being considerate now. Haruaki could only hope for their forgiveness and understanding.
"What kind of knight are you? Your recent behavior is atrocious. Anyway, we'll capture you first!"
"This would—trouble me greatly."
"Like anyone cares about you! Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern»!"
Fear charged forward with the spiked metal club in hand.
"I'll cover you. She should be easier to deal with than a Japanese sword!"
Kirika extended the cursed belt. Seeing that, Lilyhowell said:
"I have no wish of exhausting «Sigarsholm»'s power. Against opponents like you, I shall use this slaughtering blade «My Bloody Valentine»—plus «ESP» along for the ride!"
Apart from the heavy blade that was in her hand to begin with, she also drew out a burning sword from her back. Her palm also seemed to be burning, but she only raised an eyebrow. She was probably suppressing the pain through sheer willpower.
Kirika groaned. The extended «Tragic Black River» had merely brushed past «ESP»'s blade but the belt's tip was already charred, resulting in the stench of burnt leather. Kirika frantically slapped «Tragic» against the ground, extinguishing the fire that was spreading upwards along the belt. Behind her, Kuroe made a "Oh crap! Too scary!" look after confirming the unconscious couple's condition. Presumably, she was worried that her hair would more than likely suffer the same fate.
"As always, you're carrying many interesting weapons!"
Fear swung her spiked metal club to attack. Lilyhowell blocked using the slaughtering blade, then attacked with the flaming sword. Fear frowned at the hot air sweeping in front of her, but did not falter, instead pressing on the attack—
Full vigor. However... From Haruaki's view, both Fear and Lilyhowell's movements were not clean enough.
Upon further thought, it was only natural. The battle against Nirushaaki had taken place this morning. The date had not changed on the calendar. Fear had been trounced soundly by Konoha. Konoha's counter had also injured Lilyhowell's shoulder. Both of them had fought desperately against Nirushaaki. Their stamina could not have recovered fully yet.
However, the two of them were still fighting hard, opposing each other with indomitable wills. As though saying "it's fine as long as I extend the burning end," Kirika mobilized «Tragic» for support again.
It suddenly struck Haruaki—Was this the time to be doing this kind of thing? A sense of emptiness spontaneously rose up in his heart.
These two people in front of him, as well as the rest of them, did indeed harbor a certain kind of indomitable will, refusing to back down absolutely. But, that was...
Fear and Lilyhowell swung vigorously in a collision, causing them to fly back at the same time. After rolling several times on the floor, Fear slowly stood up. Glaring ahead, she said:
"Huff... Huff... You should give up and throw down your swords...!"
"This I cannot—"
Using the two cursed swords for support, Lilyhowell looked at them with her gloomy eyes while struggling to stand up.
"Those swords look like they're clearly cursed. Don't you guys reject cursed tools!? You're doing these cruel and inhumane things because of cursed tools, right!? Why, why won't you stop?"
"It goes without saying. Everything is for the sake of defeating Nirushaaki..."
Lilyhowell bit her lip hard while even stronger light appeared in her eyes of darkness.
"I have long forgotten the taboo of curses. Neither do I know what is meant by a knight's honor. Walking the orthodox path is completely meaningless. Indeed, no matter what happens to me, even if I must be cursed, I do not care..."
Yelled, with even elements of sorrow in her voice:
"In my current state... All that remains is only defeating Nirushaaki. Only avenging that child—These are the only goals!"
What could be felt from her was pure and genuine resolve.
Looking at her, dressed in disheveled clothing, yelling her resolve...
Certain thoughts flashed through Haruaki's mind.
He realized what was the impulse residing in a corner of his mind all this time, unable to articulate in word. The impulse that drove him to see Lilyhowell no matter what.
Directly and firmly—Haruaki readied his resolve as well.
Yelling, Haruaki rushed right in between Fear and Lilyhowell. Fear exclaimed in alarm:
"Idiot, what are you doing!? Hurry and stand down!"
He was not going to stand down. Lilyhowell was already trapped in the darkness known as vengeance but she still retained a final sense of ego. She had simply removed her limiter in choosing means to achieve her goal, rather than going insane completely. Hence, she was not going to do something so meaningless as kill him—Haruaki gambled on this.
His gamble paid off. Lilyhowell simply raised an eyebrow and stared at him.
"Our main goal is to rescue Konoha who's staying by Nirushaaki's side. And your goal is to defeat Nirushaaki. If that's all there is to it—"
Haruaki gulped and continued:
"We should be able to cooperate. Let's stop fighting each other now and join forces."
"W-What are you talking about, damn shameless brat!"
"Yachi! You are..."
"Oh~ Haru, you're really going out on a limb here."
Hearing Fear and the girls cry out, Haruaki still gazed intently at Lilyhowell. Likewise, she stared back intently at Haruaki as though trying to confirm the truth of his claim.
In other words—The possibility existed.
"Right now, you're abducting people or hiring people and instigating them so that you can power up the sword that extends using people's terror, right? Instead of strengthening a single sword's power, wouldn't chances of defeating Nirushaaki be higher if you obtained our power instead and fight on the same side?"
Lilyhowell still remained silent. However, she narrowed her eyes as though ponder a certain matter.
Haruaki still had matters to declare beforehand. The minimum conditions.
"I'll state the conditions. Of course, first of all, Konoha must not be killed. That sword was called the «Wathe Breaker», right? That said, it's apparently broken already. Second condition, you can't harm ordinary people. You mustn't use other people to feed the curses like you were doing just now. As long as you're willing to abide by the conditions I've stated, we will provide you with full support in the fight against Nirushaaki."
"It is not just the «Calamitous Sword of Sigarsholm»... For example, «My Bloody Valentine» here also requires the sacrifice of others to strengthen its power."
Lilyhowell waved the slaughtering blade lightly as she spoke. Haruaki shuddered inside but—
"However—One, provided that Nirushaaki can be killed, I will resort to any means necessary. Two, in terms of overall combat potential, joining forces with you does seem more favorable. Plus three, I have already thought up a plan to defeat her. That is all. So long as you are willing to assist in my battle plan and devote your efforts to carrying it out, this proposal is worth considering."
At this moment, Fear took a large step forward and pulled Haruaki's arm forcefully.
"Hold it right there, don't decide on your own! This woman is a member of the Knights Dominion! She can't be trusted at all. Hurry and recall what atrocities those people from the Knights Dominion have done so far!"
"Same here—I don't think this is a strategy we could recklessly commit to. Just now, she was planning to harm ordinary citizens, right? If you ask me whether this woman is trustworthy, all I can say is that it's an absolutely ridiculous question."
Kirika agreed with Fear's opinion. Their objections were very correct.
"I can understand why you can't agree so easily. Lilyhowell here was in the process of doing something very cruel. Once everything is over, I'd like to ask her to make amends, perhaps that might even break out in a conflict, but—I believe that there's something more important than that right now. Absolutely... Konoha must be retrieved."
"Also, have you all forgotten? There's only a week's time left. Once it's over, Konoha might go somewhere else to fight that Commander guy—And who knows what'll happen. There's no time to pick and choose now."
"Well... That might be true, but..."
Kirika turned her eyes in a pleading manner, shifting her gaze towards Kuroe. Unlike Kirika and Fear, she was smiling as though enlightened.
"Fair enough. I guess I'm neutral. But as someone who's been living in that home since the past, as someone who's been living together with Kono-san until now, if I really had to say it, my feelings are the same as Haru's. Since Haru made his decision, I will follow him."
"Even you, Kuroe-kun..."
"Seriously—I'm begging you, Fear and Class Rep."
Saying that, he stared directly at the two of them. Unable to argue against him, Fear was the first to sigh.
"So unfair. You saying this, knowing clearly we can't refuse, right?"
"N-No, I'm not..."
"The result is the same either way. Suppose we refused, then you might end up saying you'll assist her with Kuroe, just the two of you. Now honestly, that would be absolutely ridiculous. We're not going to let you two hang around someone who might betray you any time. In other words, we have no choice at all..."
"Hmph, even if you apologize, you have no intention of changing your mind, right? No helping it, anyway, I'll agree for now... But make no mistake, shameless brat, we don't quite approve of this. The current situation happened all because Cow Tits was too careless, so she has to be the one to take responsibility. I believe in going so far as to join forces with an enemy."
Facing another direction, Fear pouted as she grumbled quietly again and again.
"In the end, I'm agreeing passively... My opinion is basically the same as Fear-kun's. I believe that people from the Knights Dominion are very dangerous. If there is another way, we ought to choose another way instead—"
Kirika also spoke softly. Her gaze directed downwards, her face looked as though a million emotions were entangled in her heart.
"I know what you two are saying, but there's really no choice right now."
Haruaki felt anxious, thinking: why are these two saying such things? Of course, he knew very clearly there were risks. But compared to that, in this current situation, they should focus on thinking how to devote their full efforts towards rescuing Konoha, right? They should be more united, taking action for the single-minded goal of saving Konoha.
"I know, that's why I said I'm agreeing for now."
"Okay okay, now that both sides understand each other's view, more talking won't make any progress. Anyway, let's hear what the knight has to say, okay? Because she just mentioned 'battle plan.'"
Hearing Kuroe, Haruaki turned his gaze back to Lilyhowell.
"Indeed, a battle plan to defeat Nirushaaki."
While re-sheathing the burning sword and the slaughtering blade, in other words, showing her earnest intention to join forces with Haruaki's group, Lilyhowell spoke quietly:
"That «Wounded Knee Massacre», which renders all attacks ineffective. It actually has a weakness. And I know what that weakness is."
After roughly an hour, Fear's group returned to the abandoned hotel again. What they had been doing during that time was sending the couple to the hospital. Since the couple was still unconscious and their injuries were not severe, Fear and the others simply left them in a safe spot inside the hospital's confines then phoned to alert medical personnel.
Feeling like accomplices in a crime of abduction (in actual fact, perhaps it really was true), they returned to the vast and empty hall—Nevertheless Lilyhowell was not present. Did she run away? Fear thought for an instant but picked up movement when she perked her ears to listen, so she walked over to check things out.
In a corner of the hotel, at a place resembling a lounge, Lilyhowell was there. The wallpaper on the ceiling and walls were peeling off, a pitiful sight. But there were many sofas and tables remaining. Naturally, it was all covered with thick dust.
Lilyhowell was sitting on a sofa, bandaging her right hand, presumably treating the burns caused by that «ESP» sword.
"Hmph, if it hurts then just don't hold that sword, right?"
"The temperature of the flames at the hilt is lower than that of the blade, well within toleration."
It was useless no matter what you said to a lunatic. Fear simply shrugged in response. Haruaki spoke at this time:
"By the way, are you sure we shouldn't go somewhere else?"
"Yeah. Once those two people wake up, what if they point out this place and the police come—"
"One, I brought them here only after rendering them unconscious. Two, after awakening, all they could see was a space dominated by bare concrete. I doubt that they would have thoughts to spare on memorizing their surroundings. That is all. I conclude that the police will not investigate this place immediately."
"It'd better be true. Hmph, absolutely ridiculous..."
Lilyhowell seemed to have just finished bandaging. Seeing her make no signs to move, Fear and the rest exchanged glances, then sat down after patting away the dust on the sofa slightly. This produced a situation where they were sitting opposite to Lilyhowell across a table.
(How troubling, why do things always turn out like this...?)
Fear thought blankly. Her view had not changed at all. She did not want to cooperate with this woman, but if this was the only way, there was no helping it. That was all there was to it.
In other words, she only accepted the current situation because there was "no other way."
However—there was this impatient feeling in her heart that could not be explained completely by this.
Somehow, she felt that something was bothering her.
Tentatively, it could be attributed to wariness and distrust towards Lilyhowell that she ultimately could not dispel completely. However—The problem was... The problem lay with...
Not others but herself. She seemed to be doubting in her heart: Was this kind of reason really true?
Inexplicably, she felt deeply guilty about the presence of this doubt. Although she had no idea why, subconsciously, that was what it felt like.
She glanced beside her. Although hidden very skillfully, Kirika was also exuding the same sense of unease. Although it was only intuition, Fear felt that Kirika was feeling the exact same thing as her. Similarly confronted with a situation that could be accepted with logic, but impossible to feel at ease, yet doubting one's own reasons for feeling uneasy, hence not knowing what to do.
The reason for this unbelievable feeling of being bothered by the current circumstances, what exactly was it...?
"I will tell you directly what I know. First of all, Nirushaaki will die if her back is attacked."
" " "..." " "
Hearing Lilyhowell's first words, the entire group remained silent, exchanged glances then looked forward again to confirm that Lilyhowell's expression had not changed at all.
"Th-That's way too direct! At least start with an introduction, I'll curse you!"
"Hmm, I really wish you'd at least start by saying something like 'about the battle plan mentioned earlier...' If you suddenly say something so important, it almost went in one ear and out the other."
"Yes. But that really is simple to an absolutely ridiculous extent..."
"I-Is it for real?"
They exclaimed one after another. In contrast, Lilyhowell continued in a calm voice:
"Of course, no one has confirmed it. But this information should be quite accurate."
"The Lab Chief's Nation has not told about this. How do you know something that they don't?"
"The Knights Dominion first designated Nirushaaki as the «Knight Killer» and has been tracking her down ever since. Having a separate information network is only natural. That woman's equipment—The tip regarding this weakness is also the latest news on this information network."
Speaking of which, this was also what led to the welcoming festival incident. Fear recalled the girl who had gotten caught up in the affair and lost her life. She was both a trainee of the Draconians and definitely just a pure underclassman. Fear recalled the weight of the second Rubik's cube in her pocket. Her murderer was the knight Neto from the Knights Dominion. This was also one of the reasons why Fear was unable to trust the Knights Dominion.
"This information was not yet known back when we went to your school Suppose I actually faced off against Nirushaaki, together with Neto and the rest, I really have no idea what would have resulted. Perhaps like the numerous victims who fell to the «Knight Killer», not only would we have failed to enact vengeance but also end up slaughtered."
Lilyhowell's hands seemed to creak as she clenched them together in a fist. Did she recall something? Like Fear, did she recall something that made her angry?
"...Hmph. Come to think of it, you also deceived us back then. Who knows if your words are honest and trustworthy this time?"
Fear glared at her with the intent to restrain.
"I can only ask you to believe. The situation is different from that time—Currently, our goals are the same."
Although Fear was angry, things were not going to progress if all she did was show skepticism. Going "hmph" overtly again, Fear first emphasized her wariness.
"Back to the matter at hand. In other words, «Wounded Knee Massacre»'s curse-granted ability is neutralizing attacks inflicted from the front and the sides whereas its curse is that death results from any attack to the back no matter how minor. But because this tool originates from an American Indian surviving a rain of bullets during a massacre, acquiring its curse after that, consequently, it is expected to possess the trait of full immunity against bullets. Even gunfire shot from behind would probably not work."
"Then what about using my hair or firing arrows from bows primitively, for example?"
"It should work. But at the current stage, attacking her with bows and arrows is infinitely close to impossible. This is because the Japanese sword is suited to defending against arrows. Furthermore, she has two of them."
"Muu. Speaking of which, I remember Cow Tits mentioning before that her body would automatically intercept projectiles even without paying particular attention..."
"Then the remaining method is to circle around behind her and attack directly."
As soon as Kirika finished, Lilyhowell shook her head lightly.
"Ignoring instances when the difference in ability is huge, normally, it is extremely difficult to get around to a master's back. After all, neither Fear-in-Cube nor I were able to circle around to her back at all, even when attacking simultaneously."
"Yeah. Nirshaaki's own movement techniques are quite masterful too... Oh right, I haven't forgotten how you used me as bait back then! I demand apologies and compensation!"
Lilyhowell ignored her as though failing to hear at all. What a shameless woman.
"With Kotetsu and Muramasa, the difficulties would be multiplied. Whether in sword or human form, they will probably pay attention to Nirushaaki's back. In other words, an attack to the back is «Wounded Knee Massacre»'s greatest weakness, but consequently, the enemy will be guarding it securely."
"Th-Then what should we do? You have a battle plan to get around this predicament, right?"
"What did you say——!"
Fear yelled again in surprise, but Lilyhowell continued as though saying "do not misunderstand":
"More precisely, another weakness of hers should be attacked. Although it's perfectly logical, «Wounded Knee Massacre»'s protection does not extend to any part of the body its fabric does not cover. Hence, her limbs should be attacked."
"...This point is also simple to the point of absolute ridiculousness."
"Speaking of which, what's the point of saying all that about her back? A feint for your own amusement?"
"No. I am simply thinking that I ought to explain everything I know about «Wounded Knee Massacre» without holding back any information. Since we are fighting alongside, I should disclose all information first to avoid eliciting unnecessary wariness in your hearts."
"Hmph, if that's the case, say so earlier... But telling us everything is only expected, we're not going to lower our guard just because of something so trivial. Anyway, the battle plan you're proposing still has the same problem as before, right? In other words, Kotetsu and Cow Tits. This isn't easy at all. Besides, attacking a person's limbs is actually unexpectedly difficult. Especially if the enemy is experienced in battle."
Lilyhowell nodded lightly in agreement.
"Hence, all participants must be mobilized to seal off the enemy's movements first. Fear-in-Cube and I shall handle one Japanese sword each. Then using your hair and belt Wathes, immobilize Nirushaaki. Having done that, there should be at least an instant of opportunity to deliver a strike to her arm or leg."
"Hmm? Why not use the chance to stab her in the back with my hair?"
"After analyzing both sides' combat potential, the method I am proposing currently is the limit. Restricting her movement is probably impossible if any segment of the plan fails. Circling behind her or attacking her back after restraining her would be a little redundant and might be too late. An attack to a limb is already the limit."
"Hmph. Your combat potential analysis huh..."
"One, I have led «Knight Squads» many times in the past, which requires an accurate grasp of collective combat potential in order to devise tactics as squad leader. Two, I have already witness your methods of fighting a number of times, memorizing them. That is all. I am confident in the high degree of accuracy in my tactical analysis. But ultimately, all I can do ask you to believe."
At this point, Haruaki looked up.
"Hold on. In other words, while everyone is fighting together and Nirushaaki is successfully restrained, perhaps there's an instant when it's possible to create a chance to deliver one attack to her limb? But that by itself isn't going to change the situation, besides—"
Fear also realized it. There was a decisive hole in Lilyhowell's explanations, but she must be aware of it herself. Interrupting Haruaki, Lilyhowell said:
"So long as there is a method to end the match with one attack to an arm or a leg, there is no problem. This must be your concern...? Everyone is occupied with just barely restraining Nirushaaki and no one is left to attack her limb? The answer is simple."
Turning her face, Lilyhowell looked at the one who had posed the question.
Then with an expression filled with dark resolve, she announced:
"Yachi Haruaki, you are the key to this battle plan. You will personally end this battle."
At first, Fear totally failed to understand what Lilyhowell was talking about, but gradually, her mind began to comprehend that this woman had made an extremely ridiculous suggestion.
"Please explain what you mean by that."
Before Fear could speak, Haruaki questioned her swiftly. In an incredibly calm voice, with incredibly serious eyes. As though stunned, Fear suppressed her voice in her throat.
Lilyhowell turned her head lightly to gesture towards one of the scabbards on her back. A magnificently ornate scabbard of jet black.
"This is the «Toxic Sword Poison Ritter», a sword that delivers unavoidable toxins once the target is cut. In other words, even if just an arm or a leg, even if just a scratch, one strike is all it takes to seal victory."
"So scary~ But why didn't you use it so far if you've got such a powerful weapon?"
"The price is its powerful curse. As soon as the sword is unsheathed, the wielder is also poisoned and will die shortly."
The reason was very simple. Lilyhowell shifted her gaze away from the silent Kuroe and looked at Haruaki again.
"I took this sword out, prepared to die with my enemy in mutual annihilation, but I cannot guarantee I can land an attack on her before I collapse. Hence, this is a final resort for me when all else fails. Simply a gamble."
Haruaki's eyes remained serious as he spoke quietly:
"But for me—It's different."
"Indeed. You will not be cursed. It is said that curses do not activate once Wathes come into your possession. In that case, you shall be the one to use this sword. The enemy probably will not expect you to enter the fray to attack. It should catch them unprepared."
Feeling that Lilyhowell was moving the discussion without consultation, Fear could not help but interrupt.
"Hold it, there should be other ways, right? Like having me use the sword in Haruaki's stead, how's that? After all, I'm not human—"
"Once you take on human form, you possess human characteristics. Very likely, your kind will be poisoned too. The toxin formed from the curse will corrode your very existence itself."
Fear turned her gaze. Kuroe listened with a face showing unreadable thoughts whereas Kirika was showing a troubled expression. As though finding allies, Fear spoke again:
"B-But, letting Haruaki go to the frontlines is still too dangerous. He's a total amateur."
"Yes, it's absolutely ridiculous. The risk is far too high..."
"Yachi Haruaki will only swing this sword after Nirushaaki is restrained. The risk of a counterattack is virtually zero, at least for the first strike. It is for this purpose that Nirushaaki must be restrained."
Seeing Lilyhowell speak so calmly, Fear could not help but fly into a rage. She could feel a sense that Lilyhowell was taking Haruaki's risks too lightly, even dismissing them as completely unimportant.
"The risk is not zero! No one can predict what happens in a battle! Also..."
Fear realized in alarm and swallowed the words she originally wanted to say directly. These words were too heavy to speak aloud.
She had noticed early on. Although she did not know if it was intentional on Lilyhowell's part, Lilyhowell had not explained clearly the poisoned sword's potency. All she said was that victory would be sealed. Could these words actually mean—
(Yeah, that's right. I can't agree to this proposal without thinking.)
Even if it was to rescue Konoha.
That Haruaki, always with a laid back expression, calm and wizened—
Perhaps he would end up having to personally murder—
"Fear, Class Rep... It's okay. I'm willing to do it."
Although it was unclear whether he was aware of this possibility...
Haruaki spoke every word clearly with resolute eyes.
Fear and Kirika exchanged a glance for merely an instant then sighed lightly at the same time. That expression of his meant that nothing they say could dissuade him. Just like the look he made when deciding to join forces with Lilyhowell.
"Listen here. Using this sword does not need any circling around to her back. The simpler the steps required for victory, the better. I fear that Nirushaaki can only be restrained for an instant. Absolutely do not be greedy or attempt to make any redundant movements, leading to the plan's failure."
"So you're asking me to give up on attacking her back?"
"Indeed. Target a limb from the very start. However, swinging a sword as an amateur, you might not necessarily strike the spot you are aiming. In order to seize the one chance without error, you must undergo training. You must get used to this swords, weight, center of gravity, shape, how to maintain balance with your own strength, the feeling of swinging the sword, etc—"
"I am willing to do all that. But you are the only one who knows how to swing a sword. Will you teach me?"
"A done deal. A week of training may be brief, but it will not be meaningless."
Fear clenched her fist tightly, pondering what she could do.
The situation seemed to be developing in a direction of no return. But perhaps this had been the case starting a while ago. Starting from the moment Konoha fell into the enemy's hands, it had been the case all along.
Haruaki was running along that path at maximum speed, staring straight ahead unerringly. No matter whether that path ran past cliffs or bottomless swamps, he advanced with reckless abandon. Too dangerous. Even if they warned him of cliffs or swamps, surely he would not halt his steps. In that case, no matter what emotions she felt in her heart, all she could do was follow him. She hoped that she would be able to reach out and pull him up just before he fell off a cliff or was devoured by a swamp.
"No helping it, I'll join the training as well. I must watch you to make sure you don't do anything funny."
"Yes. If anything happens to Yachi, we will punish you with everything at our disposal. Don't even think about it."
"So this'll be what's called a crash course. Feels quite rare~"
Fear stared directly at Haruaki. After noticing her gaze as well, he smiled. Seeing the same smile he usually displayed in the living room, Fear felt a particularly poignant heartache.
"I—haven't done anything. You're the one taking action. Why are you choosing risky means on purpose? You can spend a little more time to think up a better way."
Haruaki's eyes showed reminiscence before he answered:
"Yeah. It's because I feel that... My showing was far too poor this morning."
"Rescued by Class Rep, my legs shaking nonstop, punched flying by Konoha. She found me to be nothing more than a useless man."
Haruaki laughed slightly wryly. "Haha."
"That's why—I was thinking I must show Konoha my cool side. Once everything is over and she comes home, I can tell her I tried my best too, not just watching from the sidelines like a loser."
This great big idiot—Fear could only murmur in her mind.
At the same time, Kirika exhaled lightly next to her. Hence, Fear thought to herself that Kirika was probably uttering her usual catchphrase quietly in the bottom of her heart.
Amidst complete darkness...
In the depths of the abandoned hotel where even moonlight did not reach, this cramped venue appeared to be a linen room. Covered with a tattered blanket that was left there, Lilyhowell was sitting on the floor with knees drawn to her chest.
Nothing but silence all around. Apparently... The crash course was starting the next day. Those people had already gone home.
This could very well be the first time she had spoken so much ever since that day, Lilyhowell thought. That day. That day when they had invaded Taishyuu High. That day when Neto was defeated. Then—
She placed her hand lightly on the abdominal wound where she had been pierced on that day, the stitch scars remaining after she hired a black market doctor for treatment. Thanks to several months' worth of time, together with the life of the girl who had acted as her shield, pierced at the same time, Lilyhowell almost felt no more pain from the wound. However...
She felt that this was tantamount to forgetting, a contemptible act of oblivion.
Hence, she reached her hand beneath her shirt, stroking the wound with her fingertips. Slight pain reawakened. Prompted by this, the memories of that instant dominated her mind. Their overlapping bodies, the warmth of the abdomen, the hair of the back of her head waving before Lilyhowell's eyes. Fragrant strands of hair. When embracing her, burying her nose into there, smelling that fragrance, Lilyhowell had experienced bliss concretely. She originally thought this bliss would persist forever—
She pierced the wound with her fingertip. The density of the scenes that must not be forgotten instantly rose. At this time, she no longer had thoughts to spare on the taste. That girl's sorrowful scream. Those words conveying the wish to protect the knight before her, putting the worth of her own existence on the line. While listening to that, what had she felt?
With Nirushaaki in front of her, what had she felt?
(Admit it, Lilyhowell Kilmister.)
Confronted with the enemy's overwhelming strength...
Confronted with the enemy's overwhelming vigor...
(You! Felt it... Terror...!)
Cursing herself, she allowed her fingertip to go deeper. A sense of numbing pain. But that girl's pain was nowhere near this trivial.
Back then, she had betrayed Laurica.
Shamefully, she had betrayed Laurica who had believed her to be a true knight.
Surrounded by cramped darkness, Lilyhowell panted lightly as she withdrew her finger from under her clothing. She licked it to find the slight flavor of blood. This flavor also helped her to recall her abject state back then, sprawled on the ground.
(Having survived, there is only one remaining meaning to my existence. Namely, to avenge you... To atone for the terror I felt at the time. Hence, watch, Laurica. No matter what I do, no matter what means I take. Indeed, even if this body will be cursed—I will definitely kill Nirushaaki—!)
She could feel cold, black flames burning in the depths of her heart. The name nurturing such paradoxical flames must surely be vengeance. Frozen like the ice of permafrost, these flames were absolutely impossible to melt. But just like the flames of purgatory, all that they touched shall be incinerated until nothing remained.
(Soon. It will be soon...)
She closed her eyes lightly, pondering what was to come.
In order to kill Nirushaaki, preparations were progressing step by step. The assistance of Fear-in-Cube's faction, as well as the few lies she had told them—These two factors shall led her towards the one and only desired result.
However, Lilyhowell felt that one of the lies was truly insignificant. Nothing to do with her, it only concerned them. They had asked whether «Bartolomey Oblivion» possessed a reset function. Her answer: "No idea, because I only teamed up for the first time with Laurica on that mission." —However, those were teammates whom she had trusted with her life. Upon forming the knight squad, Lilyhowell had read their profiles at least.
In other words, she actually knew that the mask did not have a reset function at all.
Naturally, she had lied because she was worried they would lose their goal as a result and even give up fighting alongside her, turning to ponder other methods instead. She did not think she had done something bad. Uninterested, unconcerned. So long as her one and only objective could be achieved, it was enough.
Amidst hazy thoughts before descending into the realm of dreams, she pondered with interest. She was surely going to kill Nirushaaki. That woman shall die embracing the delusion known as strength—But after that, how was the situation going to develop?
There were probably two factors that would dominate the situation after Nirushaaki's death.
One, because no solution could be found, Muramasa's memory would remain unrecoverable even after Nirushaaki's death.
Two, if everything went according to her deductions—
By that time, Yachi Haruaki would already be dead.
Then the remaining development was going to be mutual slaughter.
Kotetsu and Muramasa seemed to respect their master's strength sincerely. They might very well adhere to the warrior's spirit of bushido and avenge their master. Even if not for revenge, they were probably going to continue fighting, in accordance with their traits as cursed tools, as swords and battle maniacs. For the sake of satisfying their curses—to view fresh blood, to drink fresh blood, they were going to continue fighting.
On the other hand, having lost Yachi Haruaki, Fear-in-Cube would probably retaliate without hesitation. Lilyhowell did not think she would be able to withstand the shock. Fear-in-Cube would probably fall into insantiy and retaliate, not stopping until she had killed everything in sight.
In other words, the end result would be limited to one out of two options.
Either the destruction of Muramasa and Kotetsu, or alternatively, the destruction of Fear-in-Cube.
Lilyhowell smiled for the first time in a long while. Precisely because she was surrounded by darkness without any outsiders, precisely because she was just about to succumb to dreams, only now could this smile of resignation surface. It was also possible that she was simply smiling within a dream and that her face had not even moved in reality.
No matter which result came to pass, it had nothing to do with her after killing Nirushaaki.
Because having accomplished this objective, she would most likely be dead already with extremely high probability.
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