Chapter 6 - The Curse Known as a Wish; Its Final Fate / "The blade - It's (un)breakable."
She opened her eyes and woke up. Not because someone called her to get up nor because she recently learned how to use her cellphone's alarm function. It could have been the signs of the gradually brightening sky, transmitted through the paper sliding door—Or perhaps it was the blinking of the cellphone, its faint light piercing the room's darkness, informing her that a certain message had been received.
She opened her cellphone and tapped to operate it with her finger. A text message. Although there was no subject, the sender's name was enough to send her wide awake immediately. Hayakawa Chihaya.
The message was written in her characteristically rough tone of voice—
'Although I've personally served you pain already, there are still others who deserve to be hurt. So, I'll have to trouble you to do it in my place. If you dare fail and come back like a loser, I'll give you even more pain than last time. Prepare yourself.'
Fear recalled the pain from when Chihaya had delivered a slap to her cheek. She never expected to receive a text message from her with this kind of timing for Chihaya had been ignoring them ever since then. Could someone have told her today was the day of the showdown?
"But she's right. Yume... Because of me, Nirushaaki and the Commander—she lost her life. Although she was a member of the Draconians, it's still true that your friend died."
Just like the way she had slapped her, Chihaya surely wanted to hit those people too. Impossible to reason with, she was always driven by emotions.
Fear believed this was fine. And since Chihaya had asked her to do so, she had no reason to refused. Since Chihaya had asked for that pain on her cheek, that very painful strike, to be delivered for the enemy to savor as well.
"Yeah... Of course. I'll do it."
There were a number of reasons why Nirushaaki must be defeated. I'll just have to figure out my relationship with Cow Tits after that. Although there are more things to consider, I can leave them aside for now.
Furthermore, the choice of avoiding a face off against those people never existed in the first place. Even if she stayed at home, curled into a ball or paying with her eyes closed, nothing was going to be resolved. In that case—
"...Stepping up is the only option."
All sorts of doubts were still swirling inside her heart, impossible to dispel—
But she felt thankful for the clear motive in her heart. Namely, the ambiguous and abstract motive of teaching the enemy a harsh lesson on Chihaya's behalf, which was massive and unshakable nonetheless.
Fear got out of bed and clutched the Rubik's cube kept next to her pillow.
One. Next was the second one beside it.
Holding in her hand the toy cube inherited from Yume, Fear inexplicably found its sense of weight more firm and reliable than ever before.
Leaving the bedroom in the accessory dwelling, under the incredible colors of the pre-dawn sky, Kuroe walked to the outside staircase with quiet footsteps.
What should I pick for a punishment game? Kuroe wondered. For example, demanding that she spend a whole day ending all her sentences with weird verbal tics. Dressing her up in various costumes would be nice too. Like making her wear last time's Magical Scorching Girl outfit, or splendid costumes no one had ever seen before. I could also have her play games with me, whether analog or digital ones. Despite looking uninterested on first glance, she's actually quite competitive in personality and very fun. I can also have her help out at the beauty parlor, like tending shop in a weird outfit. After all, I've been closed for business recently all this time, having her give a little help shouldn't be too unreasonable. Then even if I ask her wear skimpy clothes offering faint glimpses of the goods, she can't complain, right...?
"Hmm, my dream is really growing bigger and bigger."
Precisely because she was cursed, she always wanted to watch happy things forever.
She had already decided to maintain this mentality as much as possible.
After coming to this home and understanding she could stay here...
"Does Kono-san still remember what happened that time? I guess... she's already forgotten?"
Murmuring softly, she looked up at the sky at the same time.
"Then I guess I must make you remember. If I can't use that sure thing of a fundoshi to bully you anymore, it'd be such a shame~"
She hoped she could continue watching happy things forever.
Without particular meaning, she decided it would be better to do more than less.
Hence, Kuroe lightly clapped her hands together and prayed to the sky with its incredible colors.
Standing at the entrance, Kirika was checking her appearance in the full length mirror. Out of considerations for ease of movement and economy in the event of damage, as well as the convenience of substitution—She decided to set off dressed in school uniform. Besides, having gotten caught up in many recent battles while in uniform, she already gave up and bought many sets beforehand. Even if one or two sets went out of commission, it was nothing of consequence.
"However... I guess being dressed in uniform does suit my style. It's my usual look."
She leaned forward slightly, bringing her face closer to the mirror. The usual hairstyle. Definitely washed her face. Although her eyes seemed a little intimidating and her expression was cold too, there was no helping it by this point. She made her decision and tried smiling—still sort of acceptable. Yes. When smiling, it was still acceptable...
"Ho... Absolutely ridiculous."
Pulling herself back, she saw her reflection smiling faintly with wryness. Now that was more like herself. No additional decorations, her standard look as usual. She believed it suited today very well.
Because for her, today was also an important day.
For the sake of coming to terms with her feelings, this day held absolutely inescapable significance.
"Well then, it's time to go."
With an appearance that suited her, in a mood that suited her, Kirika put on her shoes like going to school as usual, opening the front door without giving it a further thought.
To complete her confession.
Haruaki gently picked up her glasses on his desk and stroked the frame with his fingertips.
"If she gets her memory back... It's better to have glasses."
Wrapping the glasses in a handkerchief, he placed it in his pocket.
This was the final set of preparations. Everything else needed had already been done.
After surveying the room and confirming this fact, Haruaki nodded as though cheering himself on and turned around.
Nothing else could hinder his footsteps now.
"Ready to go?"
"Okay, time to leave~ We already decided where we're meeting up, right?"
After Haruaki converged with Fear and Kuroe, they left the house together. It took everything the could to suppress the impulse to run at full speed.
There was only one desired goal. This was the day for actualizing that goal.
Today, absolutely, he was going to bring Konoha back.
Thinking over this matter repeatedly while staring straight ahead, Haruaki started walking.
The enemy neither hid nor ran away. Identical to one week earlier, they faced off again in that mansion's garden.
One side was Haruaki, Fear, Kuroe and Kirika. As well as—unlike the previous occasion—Lilyhowell who was allied with them, carrying many swords on her back. Perhaps due to tension, she seemed even colder than usual, her entire body shrouded in an aura of unpleasant gloom. Haruaki could sense that she was casting her gloomy gaze upon him more frequently than usual. Was she worried whether he would be able to carry out the battle plan successfully?
The opposing lineup remained unchanged. Attired differently this time but giving off the same impression, Kotetsu was dressed in Wa Lolita fashion with a Shinsengumi haori worn on top. This was probably Kotetsu's only battle outfit. Just by having the haori added, Kotetsu's vigor felt different from usual, exuding airs of acute ferocity even surpassing past encounters. Another person was Konoha, still dressed precariously in the gorgeous kimono. Finally, barefooted, dressed in nothing but an American Indian shirt, holding a mask decorated with feathers, wearing a pair of swirly glasses that ill-suited her, there was Nirushaaki.
"Well then... I shall exhibit my true skills today. It would be best not to waste too much time on warmup exercises. After warming up, all that would be left is focusing on the main and proper event—"
"Perfect. Then let's settle this...!"
Fear declared. Hearing that, Konoha shrugged, unconvinced.
"Ha, such audacious words. Perhaps thou shalt flee at the first signs that the situation goeth against thy favor."
"What did you say!?"
"In any event... I have had enough of ye. Now that ye have arrived, then I shall serve as your opponents. As the saying goeth, ye can only try a saint's patience so far. Do not make the mistake of believing ye can retreat unscathed again."
While baring her teeth in a malicious grin, Konoha exuded a dark murderous intent from all over her body. Just as her master had mentioned about exhibiting her true skills, Konoha looked like she also intended to fight seriously. The other girl—correction, boy was the same. No, the displeasure and hostility in his eyes could not compare to Konoha's at all.
"Do you people really care that much about bringing Muramasa-sama back...!?"
"For us, the usual Kono-san is the true Kono-san."
"Shut up! Truth be told, a pathetic and rusted sword is utterly meaningless! It was no easy task transforming Muramasa-sama back to her old self. Transforming her into one who shares a collective existence with me! To think you want her to turn back into that kind of blunt sword—Your foolishness knows no bounds! I won't accept it no matter what!"
"How truly presumptuous in your beliefs. Absolutely ridiculous."
"Yeah. You're free to think what you like, but it's also our freedom to disagree. We're definitely going to bring the usual Konoha—even though I'm not able to do anything."
"Ha! Truth be told, you are clearly a man, but look how truly pathetic you."
Hearing Kotetsu's mockery, Haruaki quietly turned his gaze away. Of course, not being able to do anything was a lie. Even if mocked or ridiculed, Haruaki was fine with it provided he was able to accomplish his mission in the end.
Haruaki secretly glanced at Lilyhowell. She had long stopped looking so concerned about him and was now staring straight at Nirushaaki with eyes filled with dark willpower.
Of course, in order not to arouse suspicions on Nirushaaki's side, the «Toxic Sword Poison Ritter» that Haruaki was going to wield was still kept carried on Lilyhowell's back. During the instant when the opportunity arrived, Kuroe was going to use her hair to extract the sword together with its scabbard from Lilyhowell's back then throw it to Haruaki. They had practiced this step already.
But before that, Nirushaaki and the Japanese swords must be fully restrained first, even if only for an instant. To this end, Haruaki could only rely on Fear and the others to put in their best effort.
Nirushaaki then took off her glasses and put on her mask instead. Namely, the decorated mask that was connected to two other masks by a ring. Although there were super deformed elements on the masks that were extremely filled with tribal flavor, the current mask she was wearing seemed to be depicting an expression of anger.
Fear took out a Rubik's cube while taunting:
"I was thinking before, is it really okay for you to take off your glasses? It'll be problematic if you can't see in front of you, teacher."
"No need to worry. My poor vision originates from this mask's second curse—As long as I am wearing this mask, even without wearing glasses, my eyes can still function normally."
Having said that, Nirushaaki took a step forward, her left hand dangling naturally by her side.
"—Let us begin."
Waiting on hand by the side, Kotetsu took a leap, transforming into a Japanese sword to be held in her left hand. Likewise—
"Having said that I shall exhibit my true skills... Ha, this shall end in an instant."
Also transformed into a Japanese sword, Konoha was held in Nirushaaki's right hand.
Kotetsu in her left and Murmamasa in her right. Her naked body was clad in nothing except for the «Wounded Knee Massacre» garment that neutralized all attacks. Niruashaaki walked silently forward on her barefeet with their snow-white complexion. Invincible defense combined with the strongest dual wielded swords.
This was it—Nirushaaki's true skills currently. It was evidently her combat state with nothing held back.
Furthermore, the bizarre mask covering her face was not mere decoration, of course. Lilyhowell had mentioned that it seemed to be tool for self-augmentation...
Probably noticing Haruaki's gaze, Nirushaaki spoke while continuing to walk:
"«Ionyomott of the Past»... is this mask's name. This mask will absorb part of the strength of slain enemies, thereby supplying the wearer with the stored power—Its curse grants it the ability to raise overall arm strength, agility and endurance."
"Hmm, then it works like experience points in RPG systems? Like becoming stronger the more enemies you defeat...? That's so unfair."
Ignoring Kuroe's groaning remark, Nirshaaki said:
"To the strength obtained from the enemies I have defeated so far—let your strength be added now. You should feel honored!"
Then switching from stillness to action, Nirushaaki leaned forward and started sprinting all at once. Let alone a fusion of east and west, she was essentially a wild beast whose weapons and equipment were far too contradictory in style.
"Strength, strength! That's all you people talking about, it's making my ears grow calluses! Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator»—Curse Calling!"
Yelling out, Fear turned her Rubik's cube into a drill of torture in her hand.
At last, the battle commenced for taking Konoha back.
Probably due to the mask's powers, Nirushaaki's strength was astonishing. Even when Fear made a thrust of the drill combined with the speed of a sprint, it was easily deflected by a swing of Kotetsu. Fear could sense Kirika's belt and Kuroe's hair extending from her left and right to serve as cover. At the same time, she retreated for now to regroup—
While the «Tragic Black River» and Kuroe's hair were being severed, Fear could see Lilyhowell ahead. She was using «My Bloody Valentine» to engage Konoha on Nirushaaki's right. Then taking an opportunity to reach towards her back with her left hand, Lilyhowell drew out a dagger from the shortest sheath. Once drawn, she immediately let go. Fear was expecting her to throw it away, but the dagger remained unnaturally in midair. Then—
"Go forth... «Epetamu»!"
"Ohoh! A new toy!"
The Ainu dagger flew through the air autonomously, stabbing towards Nirushaaki. While Konoha was deflecting the dagger, Lilyhowell used her left hand again to draw the burning sword.
She was able to dual wield too—no, considering the dagger flying in the air, it could be described as triple wielding—to attack Nirushaaki. Fear was not going to lose to her either.
"Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern»!"
If only this supermassive spiked metal club could just smash everything, whether Kotetsu or Nirushaaki's arms and legs. Everything would come to an end once that was achieved. Then things would not need to get so complicated. Lilyhowell's battle plan was based on the assumption that Kotetsu and Konoha's combined defense was flawlessly perfect. But if Fear could break through their defense, there would be no problem. Then Haruaki would no need to sully his hands either.
"Truth be told, in contest of pure strength—This Kotetsu's blade absolutely cannot be shattered!"
The spiked metal club was blocked using one hand, but Fear did not give up and continued to exert pressure on the opponent. Probably trying to divert the enemy's attention as much as possible, the hair and belt kept extending, even though they were being sliced apart by Kotetsu's slicing aura that seemed to be distributed in the entire space.
"No improvement at all. Why won't you people understand that you can't defeat us? Truth be told, it is incomprehensible."
"I agree. You people should have gained a certain level of knowledge about me. Yes. Then since you already know, could it be that—?"
"Hahaha! Foolish, foolish, no matter what, too foolish! Clearly repeating the same result time and again, why can they not understand—Well then, I have seen that sword's critical weakness! Since it looketh quite scorching, allow me to liberate thee from thy suffering!"
Lilyhowell frantically withdrew her left arm while accompanied by the sound of something exploding violently, the flaming longsword she was originally holding in her left was shattered. As the flickering bright red flame sliced through the air for the last instant, the sword fell to the ground as ordinary pieces of iron.
"Oh my, I was thinking the aftershock could slice off a finger of thine. How sharp thy instincts are. Is it because thou hast seen it once before already?"
Without saying a word, Lilyhowell used her burned hand to clutch another sword. The golden «Calamitous Sword of Sigarsholm». Using terror as energy, it was the sword whose tip could extend and contract at will.
Mixed among «Epetamu»'s automatic attacks, Lilyhowell went on the offensive again. Fear also swung the spiked metal club with all her might. However, not only did Nirushaaki's defense hold up, she even started to counterattack. In order to exert force, Fear went too close to the enemy. Kotetsu's blade brushed past her shoulder, causing intense pain.
"Although the unpredictable movements are tricky, 'tis too light-weight after all. In that case, 'twould be like swatting a fly, using full strength—In this manner!"
Konoha's blade flashed towards «Epetamu» which was flying and circling in the air. «Epetamu» instantly shattered. Not only that, it was instantly imbued with opposite momentum, causing the fragments to fly away. Unknown whether it was aimed intentionally or not, the remains of «Epetamu» stabbed into Lilyhowell's arm. Although the wound was probably not deep, damage was still done.
Just as Lilyhowell threw down the dagger embedded in her arm, intending to retreat—
"Hey, the other side!"
«My Bloody Valentine», which Kirika had gone as far as severing her wrist in order to strengthen the sword's sharpness, was also destroyed by Konoha's counter. Perhaps reacting too slow ultimately, Lilyhowell gained another fresh wound on her arm. At this rate, she'll just keep retreating in defeat, what a pain—thinking that to herself, Fear said:
"Let's swap! I'll handle that side!"
She switched positions with Lilyhowell. Even Konoha's blade can't destroy the torture tools that are my emulated forms—Probably.
"Oh my, 'tis thee again?"
"Don't sound like you're tired of me!"
"But in actual fact, Muramasa probably is weary of you for real."
No longer facing Kotetsu, the option of smashing the weapon together with Nirushaaki's limbs was no longer available. Fear's only recourse was to get past Konoha's blade and accurately hack off an arm or a leg of Nirushaaki's, or circle around her to deliver a blow to her back—Fear had no idea if she was able to do any of that, but there was no choice but to try her best in spite of the odds.
Turning the Rubik's cube into a hatchet, Fear fought against Konoha wielded in Nirushaaki's hand. Unlike Haruaki, Nirushaaki possessed combat ability on her own. Konoha entrusted her body's active control to Nirushaaki while simply focusing on improving the quality of movement together with Kotetsu. Given the increase in power conferred by the mask combined with the physical assistance provided by the two swords—Fear felt that Nirushaaki's speed and strength was enough to rival Hinai Elsie's movements.
"Take this...! Damn Cow Tits..."
"Stop calling me that!"
"Like I'll listen to you! That's what I've always called you from the start! How can I change by this point!"
Indeed, starting with our first encounter. Starting from the time when you brought meat meat meat and potato stew. Why did I call you that? Of course it's because you've got a body shape that fits the name. It was also because it felt inexplicably infuriating how you could smile together with Haruaki so naturally. Just when I was wondering "Can I trust this guy?" A weird woman with huge boobs suddenly popped up and stole him away. Of course I'd get mad, it's totally natural. Even though I was still so ill at ease back then.
"Back then, your body also had that familiar presence of a curse. I could immediately tell that you're one of my kind. Sigh, to think that the first fellow cursed tool I meet would be you, looking back now, I really think it's utterly unfortunate..."
"Again, thou art grumbling and complaining about matters I have no memory of."
"So what!? But still remember!"
The hatchet and the sword collided. Why hasn't she remembered? Fear was greatly incensed. She's supposed to dislike me in turn. I'm supposed to see her agitated. So she's supposed to remember. I'm that important inside her heart, right?
Probably. It would be fine if that were probably the case.
In Fear's own heart in turn, so very much—
"A weapon whose gimmick is merely an extensible sword tip definitely cannot defeat this Kotetsu here!"
"In that case... «Gladiator's Zulfiqar»."
Lilyhowell drew out another sword to dual wield. That sword... was the signal.
In the real match, I intend to use this sword. In other words, as soon as this sword is drawn, it means that the operation will start. Please be prepared to coordinate at any time—That was what Lilyhowell had told them. She probably decided to draw the sword after switching opponents from Konoha to Kotetsu, thus resulting in a lower chance of weapon destruction.
It still arrived. As much as Fear was loathed to carry it out, but the instant for the operation still arrived, leaving her no choice.
Even now, she still had no idea if it was right to let Haruaki to sully his own hands, to let him experience the smell of blood and the touch of death directly. If that happened, would Haruaki get cursed? Such worries were in Fear's heart. Compared to the curses enveloping their bodies, this was closer to a kind of concept, a curse that marked the soul.
However, now that things had developed to this step, hesitation was forbidden. This pertained to Haruaki's life. Once the opportunity came, all she could do was cooperate with the plan. So long as Haruaki did not give up, all she could do was cooperate—
In Lilyhowell's hand was a curved sword of Middle Eastern style with no notable characteristics in appearance. Next, Lilyhowell made a thrust with the scimitar. Guarding Nirushaaki's left body, Kotetsu allowed the blade to slide past before parrying it away effortlessly—
Then Kotetsu groaned. Originally supposed to attack after parrying the scimitar, Kotetsu still remained in contact with the scimitar's blade. Although there was some slight shaking, only a gap of several millimeters appeared and Kotetsu could not pull away any further.
"This—I am getting clamped by something—!?"
Fear understood, having heard the explanation beforehand. That «Gladiator's Zulfiqar» was a sword that had a second, invisible blade existing parallel to the original blade.
It during a spectacle presented before a king. For the sake of his daughter who had been taken hostage by his opponent, the father, a gladiator, had no choice but to die, even without the opponent's sword stabbing anywhere fatal. Hence, from a dead angle where the king could not see, the gladiator pierced his own throat to commit suicide. As though there were a second sword, he was pierced to death by a sword that did not exist. That was the kind of sword the opponent possessed.
After understanding how the trick worked, Kotetsu attempted to retreat and draw out his blade, but he could not allowed to succeed.
"Let terror reside in this sword—«Calamitous Sword of Sigarsholm»!"
Lilyhowell extended the golden longsword's tip while closing in at the same time. Using it in concert with «Gladiator's Zulfiqar», she barely managed to prevent Kotetsu from escaping.
(Damn it! I've got no choice but to go...!)
Fear also prepared herself. Lilyhowell's method of restraint was completely putting her own life on the line. If Fear did not pin down Konoha, Lilyhowell was going to die in the next instant.
"Hmm~? Kotetsu seems to be—"
"Cow Tits, your opponent is me! I can see that you're getting full of yourself after breaking all these boring weapons, but you ain't gonna break me. But if I get crushed by your super heavy udders, it might be even more dangerous!"
"Oh? How shallow a taunt... But I shall play with thee!"
Konoha flew for a strike. Fear blocked with the hatchet. A clash between crossed blades was exactly what she needed.
"Mechanism No.27 grinding type, cog-wheel form: «Gear Wheel Trismegistus»—Curse Calling!"
In that instant, Fear quickly transformed the hatchet into a device composed from three interlocking gears. With lightning speed, she operated the geared device in full force, creaking and grating away as Konoha was dragged between the gears in mutual contact.
But ultimately, the sword could not be broken immediately. Not only that, this device's original purpose was for ensnaring victim's limbs then crushing them. Whether it was capable of keeping an extremely thin object like a sword restrained completely was still an unknown question. As a result, while Konoha was still struggling to break free, Fear used her unoccupied hand to fish out the other Rubik's cube, pressing it on top of «Gear Wheel Trismegistus».
"Dual Emulation—Mechanism No.3 severance type, descending form: «Guillotine»!"
Then she transformed it into the guillotine mechanism. In manner closer to pushing it down rather than letting it fall, she used the guillotine's thick blade to clamp down on the body of Konoha's blade. Fear then reached out to hold down the guillotine's blade with her own hand, preventing Konoha from escaping easily.
"Ha—I see, I see. Thou seemest to have altered thy manner of fighting slightly! However, this is nowhere near enough to break my blade!"
"There's totally... no need to break you at all!"
Preparations were ready. Fear restrained Konoha's movements desperately. In the corner of her eye, she could see her companions' black avatars suddenly moving rapidly as though they had been waiting a long time for this moment.
"Now is the time—«Tragic Black River»!"
"Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
In order to stay away from the slicing auras of the two immobilized swords, Kirika's belt and Kuroe's hair wrapped themselves around Nirushaaki's extremities. Shoulders, elbows, abdomen, waist and ankles.
"Oh? Even my body is restrained as well."
While Nirushaaki could be heard murmuring, one of Kuroe's bundles of hair took other action.
That bundle of hair reached towards the back of Lilyhowell while she was pinning Kotetsu down, suddenly extracting one of the swords there.
Then together with its scabbard, the sword was thrown to the back.
The sword flew in a parabolic trajectory. Only one person showed up at the spot it landed.
Because everything had happened for this one moment.
Neither a miracle nor a stroke of luck, this was preordained.
The timing was perfect.
Having started sprinting already, Haruaki ran over to the landing spot, firmly catching the flying sword in midair—
Shouting in a manner that did not suit him, he drew out the black blade from the scabbard.
Nirushaaki seemed to groan from beneath her mask. She really had not expected this development, right? It would be terrible if she had.
Kuroe and Kirika did not relax their restraints on Nirushaaki. Fear and Lilyhowell could still barely manage to contain the two swords they were responsible for. Only now. By this point, there was no turning back. There was no way to stop Haruaki anymore—!
Haruaki tossed the scabbard aside and sprinted even harder. Step by step, he was gradually approaching Nirushaaki head on.
One step, another step, yet another.
Although this felt like an eternity to Fear, this duration passed within the blink of an eye.
Then finally arriving in front of Nirushaaki, he—
In accordance with the practiced motion, he made a thrust with the sword towards the practiced location—
At the time—Haruaki was thinking, this will work!
Held in his hand was the weight he had already grown accustomed to through training, the shape he was already accustomed to. He was no longer affected by the sword's weight. There was no problem as long as he remained calm. Over these past few days, he had repeated the same action over and over again. Using this sword to thrust towards Nirushaaki's leg. That alone was enough. The target was also fully immobilized by Fear and the others. Hence he could not possibly miss. This will work...
On the other hand, the girls who were watching him—
Don't get cursed—Fear prayed. I wish the person named Yachi Haruaki won't get cursed.
I'll shoulder it—Kirika vowed. His hand will be equivalent to my own hand.
What will she say? Kuroe wondered. I really hope she won't lose her temper after coming back.
The only thing common to these four girls' thoughts was—Everything ends here.
However, only one person was thinking something completely different.
—Everything begins here. Lilyhowell thought.
Regarding what was to happen in the next instant, only she alone was predicting an outcome different from Fear and the girls.
According to the predicted plan, Yachi Haruaki was going to die now.
"So this sort of thing... is your hidden trump card?"
In Haruaki's view, Nirushaaki simply shook her head lightly. Despite having the weapons in both hands suppressed and her four limbs tied down, she could not be prevented from making this sort of minor movement.
In this manner, she rotated the masks on her head. More precisely, she rotated the ring that connected the three masks, switching over to a mask that had remained on the side of her head until now—
Rather than the mask emulating an angry visage, this one simulated a sad expression.
"«Rew of the Present»... This mask..."
Haruaki found it strange to hear Nirushaaki's voice coming from much further ahead than expected.
Not the place where he was about to stab with the poisoned sword.
Nor the place where Fear and the whole group had immobilized her—Instead, her voice came from several meters further ahead.
"Its curse grants the ability to instantaneously teleport to a location one has visited in the past."
Her shirt, mask and both swords were still equipped on her body.
Yet Nirushaaki was standing over there.
Only the hair and belt that had been restraining her just now remained in their original location.
Haruaki was shocked. Instantly, countless thoughts swirled around in his mind. How did this happen? This was not mentioned at all. This curse was way too powerful. To think it could grant instantaneous teleportation. Freed from restraints. They were had. Completely taken by surprise. What to do? What to do? What do do what to do what to—
During this time, Haruaki's body continued to rush forward, driven by the momentum of his sprinting, unable to stop for now. His body charged. His feet, kicking against the ground. Having lost its target, his body was hesitating, slightly falling forwards. He had two choices. One was to halt his steps and endure the reaction force, the second was—
She was right before his eyes. He was approaching her for real.
Indeed. A little more. Almost there.
All I need to do is touch Nirushaaki's body with this sword—Then Konoha can be rescued!
This thought compelled Haruaki's legs to advance, stopping was not an option. Mustering so much vigor that almost made him fall over, he forced his steps to advance.
"Haruaki? Wait, don't do it!" "Yachi!" "Haru, hurry and stop!"
He passed between Fear and Lilyhowell. As though restraining an invisible person, entangling space, the «Tragic Black River» and Kuroe's hair frantically moved at this moment, but Haruaki also managed to squeeze through the gap.
Just a little more. Just a little bit more!
Nirushaaki's figure became closer and closer. However, she remained completely still. Yes, I can touch—Just as this thought crossed Haruaki's mind...
"Since you are charging forth with a sword in hand, no matter how weak, you will be regarded as a warrior intending to fight."
Of course, she was staying completely still simply because standing there did not require any action yet.
Simply because the timing of action in her thoughts was far too different from the timing in his thoughts as an amateur.
"Wait... Stop right now, Cow Tits—!"
Fear's scream. A flash of light.
Both reached him at the same time.
A kind of feeling flowed through his body. Like getting eaten away or cut open. The feeling throbbed and jumped as though it were a living creature, causing stimulation as though all his muscles were exposed to light, suddenly making his brain go tense—Only after a moment's delay did Haruaki remember the name of this feeling.
It felt as though the frozen time was thrown into a violent vortex, then starting to spin rapidly. Muscles were convulsing, blood was flowing out. An unpleasant sensation under his sleeve. Before his eyes was the masked woman, musing "hmm" quietly. The Japanese sword in her hand, the Japanese sword which was supposed to have pierced his heart, was currently on the exterior side of his shoulder, pushed from its trajectory by the black sword in his hand. This was the cause of the laceration in his shoulder.
"Oh my. Such an amateur of a brat should not have been able to deflect my blade...?"
Indeed. Haruaki also expected her blade to stab into his heart, but for some reason, he raised his sword subconsciously and barely managed to alter the trajectory of Konoha's advance. Naturally, this was absolutely not because the opponent had shown mercy. This simply stemmed from the fact that he had controlled Konoha many times previously, entrusting his body to her to engage in battle, thus allowing him to guess the blade's trajectory through intuition. In actual fact, it could be called a miracle that he was able to deflect her with a sword. Even if he were asked to repeat the feat, it was uncertain whether he could do so or not.
"No matter. Ultimately just pointless struggling at death's door—Oh!"
Wielding the hatchet in her right and the drill in her left, Fear charged straight. Nirushaaki swiftly withdrew Konoha and blocked the attacks together with Kotetsu. The «Tragic Black River» and Kuroe's hair proceeded to extend over, but—
"I am still able to return to the past. «Rew of the Present»—«This spirit knows the present sitting over the past»."
Nirushaaki teleported instantaneously again, retreating. Then making use of the resulting distance, she effortlessly sliced through the hair and the belt.
While feeling his shoulder hurt more and more, Haruaki quietly turned his head.
Lilyhowell was standing in the same spot without moving. Then—
She whispered in a daze. How right she is, Haruaki thought. No one expected the mask to have that kind of ability. No one expected her to struggle free of the restraints so easily.
However, we still can't give up, right? We must think of another way, right?
Nevertheless, as if his thoughts could not be transmitted over...
For some reason, Lilyhowell remained unmoving—
What was unexpected to her was not Nirushaaki using the mask's powers to struggle free of the restraints.
Of course, it was the fact that Haruaki did not die.
Lilyhowell secretly bit her lip.
(What to do...?)
She had known the mask's ability from the very start but had simply withheld the information. Hence, she knew. Under normal combat conditions, touching Nirushaaki with a blade was absolutely impossible. In that case—
There was only one conclusion.
In order to wait until Nirushaaki lowered her guard...
In order to seize the chance for a surprise attack that could only happen once...
She could only continue to wait for the very instant when Yachi Haruaki was killed by Nirushaaki.
For a moment, the battle was stalled. Kuroe grumbled, a little at a loss for words:
"Combined with the mask for accumulating experience points, it feels quite unfair..."
"The mask is not that omnipotent. It can only return to locations within several minutes before the present."
"That's quite enough already. In principle, it's totally impossible to restrain you. And even your clothing and equipment moves with you... How absolutely ridiculous. Furthermore, no matter how I look at it, the remaining mask must possess a curse-granted ability of its own."
Kirika gnashed her teeth as she spoke. Nirushaaki shrugged slightly.
"Truly keen observation. This is the cursed mask set, the «Three Masks Passed Down by the Nadengpayaroo»—passed down the generations in a certain Asian tribe, a ritual artifact used to govern three spirits. The present, the past and the future. Taken collectively... This set of masks possesses the ability to see through the user's time."
She turned her head, changing the mask on her face. This time, it was the mask depicting a smiling expression.
"This is «Tutasgai of the Future»—«This spirit knows the future gazed at by the present». Its curse-granted ability is..."
Mid-sentence, Nirushaaki suddenly made a thrust with Kotetsu towards the side. Although it was pointless in terms of distance, she had taken action exactly when Fear had taken a step towards her while feigning inadvertency.
"You intend to circle around to my back while I am speaking, yes?"
"How do I know? Because this is its cursed ability. This mask of the future can see the future positions of every person within its field of vision—in other words, you could call it limited precognition. Although at most only a few minutes later."
Probably due to having been found out, Fear stopped moving and groaned with displeasure.
"Master, 'tis time for the chattering to end. Now that fresh blood is finally in sight, I am currently in a state of excitement."
"Truth be told, it is as she says—I would like to see more fresh blood, more."
"Very well. Time for the break to end."
Nirushaaki slowly stepped forward. The members of Haruaki's group entered respective stances in preparation for combat. What should they do?
"Let me summarize... There's the frontal combat mode which uses the experience gained from defeated enemies to raise her stats, there's the evasive mode allowing her to move to any recent position in the past, then there's the forewarning mode for getting a grasp on future enemy locations—In other words, the enemy can freely switch between using these three modes."
"Instantaneous teleportation means it's impossible to restrain her. Being able to learn future positions means it's impossible to circle around to her back. Even when fighting all-out, her physical stats can be raised... Is that it?"
"The usual pattern is probably to attack whenever she's switching masks..."
"But judging from what we've seen so far, she only takes an instant to switch masks. Let alone seizing the opening to attack, we could end up getting checkmated instead... Tsk. How absolutely ridiculous."
Kirika turned her gaze. Lilyhowell was still standing ahead not far away, still spacing out silently. Kirika clicked her tongue again.
"Although I've no idea if she suffered too great a shock, it's useless now. Fear-kun, what are we doing now?"
"I am not so kind that I would permit you to leisurely hold a strategy meeting now."
Nirushaaki sped up all at once.
"Haruaki! Stop acting recklessly! Just stand over there and stay still!"
Just as Fear was about to intercept her, Nirushaaki rapidly switched masks and disappeared from sight.
An instant later, she appeared before Haruaki.
"Moving to a past position—I hope you will not be so naive as believe that I would only use it for escaping. This move is also very useful for advancing!"
The spot where Nirushaaki appeared was along the straight line between Fear and Haruaki. In other words, behind Fear but in front of Haruaki. Fear forcefully spun herself around, swinging the hatchet and the drill. Haruaki instinctively jumped sideways. Kotetsu swept through empty space whereas Konoha clashed with Fear's tools of torture. Nirushaaki retreated again, as though reloading ammunition and swiftly rotated her masks. Then—
"Although it could be considered an extensible weapon, the attacks can be predicted to a certain extent from the main body's location."
She intercepted the spear of hair that Kuroe was stabbing from behind after nonchalantly circling over to her back. Then switching mask modes fluently, she traveled to a past position, appearing in front of Kirika. Kirika hastily extended the «Tragic Black River» while retreating but could not evade completely. Kotetsu left a cut on her upper arm. Only by tossing an execution stake was Fear able to barely stop Nirushaak from following up the attack on Kirika.
"Damn it! That mask is too troublesome. There should be limits on how weird curses can get...!"
"This mask was inherited by each generation of a clan tasked with a special mission. That clan served as chieftains, mystics for divining the past, oracles for predicting the future as well as shamans for knowing the present, they were warriors for protecting everything. In other words, beings equivalent to gods."
Nirushaaki swapped masks again with one shake of her head. This time she augmented her strength and attacked Fear.
"«Ionyomott of the Past»—«This spirit knows the past leading to the future»"
"Guh! Gods, you say...?"
"It is a type of concept. The wearer would ingest homemade narcotics, entering a state akin to drunkenness, answering when someone asked about the future, answering when someone asked about the present, answering when someone asked about the past. In the tribe, everything said by him as god was absolute. Even if what he said did not come true, action would be taken afterwards to turn his words into the truth. This made it equivalent to perfectly describing the present, past and future—Hence, this tool became the mask that knows everything."
Fear fought with all her strength while glaring viciously at the mask.
"Totally... nonsen... sical! After seeing it up close, I know it's also giving off a cursed smell just as ugly! The smell is totally disgusting!"
Using a momentary opening, Fear slid the drill over Kotetsu's blade, using the sliding trajectory directly to stab at Nirushaaki's abdomen. But of course, under «Wounded Knee Massacre»'s action, there was no effect at all. Not even a drop of blood was bled, simply piercing her body without resistance. This unusual sensation made Fear lose balance at little, allowing Nirushaaki the chance to counterattack.
"Of course it was cursed. The nightmares suffered by the owners after ingesting narcotics, the resentment from the defeated enemies and the people who suffered losses due to the god's predictions—They all cursed!"
Fear tried her best to block using the hatchet in her other hand. Nirushaaki and Fear forcefully bounced off each other as though exploding then readjusted their stances.
"Because it is a mask capable of seeing through everything, it carries a curse causing a slow loss of vision in the owner; because it is a mask capable of dialogue with spirits, it carries a curse that hungers for narcotic drugs. To be honest, compared to the rare abilities they confer, these curses are totally insignificant."
"Wrong. Curses are ultimately inauspicious. If you have to get them in exchange for strength, then you shouldn't consider cost-effectiveness anymore!"
Within Haruaki's view, a battle scene persisted, beyond what common sense could imagine.
Nirushaaki disappeared and reappeared, frequently switching between mask modes without leaving a single opening. After teleporting and delivering a strike she would then escape at high speed. Using prescience of future positions, she completely guarded her back against ambushes coming from behind. Even if an opening could be seized, she would then make an emergency escape to a former position.
Dancing back and forth between existence and disappearance, she was completely like a ghost. That overwhelming arm strength was like that of a monster. The two unworn masks on the sides of her head formed protrusions, almost looking like the outlines of horns.
Was this the reason?
Haruaki remembered. About what others had called her. What Lilyhowell and others had called her.
An elusive demon of battle. An existence that simply thirsted for battle.
Confronting such an enemy, what was he able to do?
(Just now... I almost lost my life, even.)
He knew at least that much. However, for some reason, his hands still had strength. He was also able to ignore the pain on his shoulder. His body had not gone limp yet.
(I must step up. No matter what, I can't flee with my tail between my legs at a moment like this...!)
Apart from that, although he had no idea whether he could succeed or not...
Nevertheless, he still held a trump card that he had not told anyone about.
Haruaki adjusted his grip on the sword. Fear and the others were fighting desperately. The enemy was very strong to begin with and even had Konoha as a weapon. Together with the shirt that rendered all attacks ineffective, this left only the arms and legs as possible attack targets. This battle was absolutely not easy. As long as I can help cover them slightly—Just as Haruaki was searching for an advantageous position, trying to move surreptitiously—
"I already knew you were going to move there."
Nirushaaki suddenly changed the direction of her attack. Naturally, Haruaki had been avoiding her past positions all along, but there was nothing he could do if she predicted his movements and charged over. He watched as she came closer and closer.
"Allow me to confirm. After all, thou succeeded in blocking my blade once. Come come."
"Uh... Urgh... Guh...!"
Haruaki retreated while desperately using the «Toxic Sword Poison Ritter» to engage Konoha's blade. He could feel that she was holding back greatly. Otherwise, his skills as an amateur could not possibly have defended at all.
"Hmm, an amateur verily..."
"But his eyes intrigues me greatly. Those eyes have not lost hope."
"—Since Lilyhowell has not made a move, you should be able to handle them on your own. Kotetsu? Hold them off for now."
Haruaki could see Kotetsu appear behind Nirushaaki, totally naked, facing off against Fear and the others. This was quite a terrible situation. He was totally isolated from the group.
"Yachi, you must hang in there! We're going to rescue you straight away... «Tragic»!"
The three girls sprang into action simultaneously, but Kotetsu was no pushover. Brandishing his palms with curved fingers—in other words, tiger claws—he severed the belt, severed hair and blocked Fear's torture instruments.
"Truth be told, you are underestimating this Kotetsu. You would best recall the situation during the school excursion. Without Muramasa-sama's assistance, could you lot have defeated me?"
"Shut up! You're so in the way, get lost—!"
Fear's angry snarling and the sound of collisions between solid objects could be heard, but Haruaki no longer had the luxury to spare any attention towards that direction. Right in front of him was Nirushaaki and Konoha in her hand.
"Well, then since you have not abandoned hope, that sword apparently holds some sort of power. Probably a power that could reverse the situation in a single strike... For example, a cursed ability that could send me to my death or immobilize me from a mere scratch. It can produce electrical currents? Release flames? Spew poisonous fluids? Turn me into an idiot? Or something else?"
Haruaki was greatly shocked but tried hard not to let it show on his face.
"Shall I destroy it?"
"No. Once deprived of his last hope, perhaps this confrontation will end. I believe that would be too much of a shame. This boy stands before me with resolve, prepared for death. As a show of respect towards his determination, allow me to serve personally as his opponent."
"A man of such worth he is?"
"I have heard that this boy—Yachi Haruaki—possesses a constitution immune to curses. Although it would sound like some kind of fictional plot, perhaps he might be able to release a hidden power on the verge of death. To this end, he ought to be allowed to keep a sword in hand at least."
"Very well, since master hath spoken. I shall obey. Then please handle as appropriate."
Was Konoha the one moving the blade? Or was it Nirushaaki? It did not matter either way. Merciful attacks kept arriving. Haruaki desperately blocked, dodged and endured, but he could not endure everything. Every time he failed to block, Konoha's blade ran across his body again and again. He could feel a slippery liquid slowly covering his entire body. Difficult to move. Nausea. Simply breathing was causing certain wounds to throb with pain.
—The enemy was toying with him.
"Haruaki, Haruaki, Haruaki! Get lost, get lost, get lost, you—!"
"«Tragic», «Tragic», «Tragic Black River»!"
"Underestimating me, only aiming for the prize—Logic dictatest that such laxity cannot possibly defeat this Nagasone Kotetsu Nyuudou Okisato!"
Haruaki's field of vision was growing narrower and narrower. Was he bleeding too much? He could no longer tell which parts of his body were injured and which were not. However, the incredible thing was that he could still hear voices properly.
"Hmm. By this juncture, I am starting to feel baffled. By the way, what is it that you desire, enabling you to stand before me all this time?"
"Isn't it... obvious...? Return Konoha... to us..."
"Even if you kill me, your goal cannot be achieved. The one you knew no longer exists."
Impossible. Absolutely unacceptable. Indeed. Their original idea was...
Perhaps there was no need to tell the enemy specifically. But by now, Haruaki no longer had any spare effort to prevent his thoughts from rushing out of his mouth.
"We... know. It's called «Bartolomey Oblivion», right... The mask you used on Konoha. Since it can rewind memories... It must have the function to restore them..."
"Oh? I am not certain, but indeed, I cannot assert that no such function exists. Perhaps it might be possible to induce a memory recovery function."
See, I knew it! Haruaki felt sudden heat in the depths of his chest, almost seemingly accompanied by a small surge of strength.
Upon hearing what Nirushaaki said next—
"—That is all hypothetical assuming it had not yet turned into the remains of what used to be a mask."
The slight surge of strength instantly flowed in reverse. As the illusion of new hope was dispelled, even the last lingering strength in his body dissipated without trace together with the reverse flow. What had this woman said just now?
"Having accomplished its mission, that thing was no longer of use. If you succeed in defeating me, you can very well go ahead and confirm for yourself. It is kept in the trash can in the corner room on the second floor."
She did not appear to be lying at all. Haruaki had no choice but to believe that «Bartolomey Oblivion» was already destroyed, no matter how reluctant he was to admit it.
"Huff... Ah... Huff...!"
With that, the last ray of hope for retrieving Konoha's memory was lost.
Nirushaaki still did not stop attacking. Haruaki's entire body was covered repeatedly by a hot liquid.
Nevertheless, in spite of these conditions—Incredibly, his body still contained some slight strength.
Namely, the simple notion of "I can't flee from here." A baseless belief that "once I leave this place, everything will be over."
Relying on this single remaining reason to support his legs, he faced forward and continued to stand.
Despite the pain and aching spreading through his entire body and the gradually narrowing field of vision...
Despite signs that Konoha and Nirushaaki were beginning to grow tired of the simple act of toying with him...
"Seriously... Is he nothing more than a boy who cannot be cursed?"
"Apparently so. How boring—That said, his fresh blood is of excellent color, a welcome sight for the eyes. But 'tis his only merit."
Nirushaaki remarked in disappointment. Apart from disappointment, Konoha's voice carried sadistic glee as though she were toying with a small animal.
Haruaki stumbled, his legs unsteady. Even so, now was not yet time to fall.
Hence, he might as well smile.
"Oh my... Haha, I wouldn't be so sure if I were you. Perhaps I really do have a hidden power. Through that power, everything will be achieved smoothly. So, play with me a little longer..."
"Verily a bizarre brat. Out of the kindness of my heart, I have already avoided fatal injuries, but he ought to suffering unbearably. If thou wouldst beg me, I could serve thee instant liberation."
"These little injuries... are nothing..."
Using his hazy head, using his unsteady head, he looked at Konoha while simply moving his lips to say:
"Konoha, you should know too, right? I'm unexpectedly prone to getting hurt. So I'm already used to it. I've got many old scars on my body too. They're just not obvious, but if you look closely, there's actually a lot. The biggest one is... Right right, it's the wound on my head that time, isn't it? Do you still remember? Konoha..."
"Back when I was really just a child... It really came as a great shock..."
Indeed, he could still remember.
What happened back then.
Forever impossible to forget, his memories with Konoha—
The headache and discomfort still had not subsided.
Despite the cold wind blowing near the sky, it made no difference.
She was standing on the pinnacle of a giant tree growing in the garden, frowning at the discomfort shrouding her entire body, meanwhile gazing down at the scenery below. The Japanese house where she had lived for the past few weeks. The residence whose door plate read "Yachi."
Before I leave, I should have a look at this house's full view, she thought. Sad? No—This was merely something akin to a memento There was no additional meaning apart from that.
She originally intended to stand there briefly but had accidentally spaced out for too long, apparently. Clicking her tongue while looking down, she found a boy next to the tree's roots. He was looking up at her, cupping his hands to his mouth to project his voice.
"What are you doing~? Dad said to try as much as possible to avoid letting outside people see you, right~? If you stand in that kind of place, you'll be seen clearly..."
"I shall be going out."
She interrupted him, declaring in a commanding tone of voice. Almost looking straight down, she found him looking extremely small. His mouth was gaping while he stared, apparently unable to understand what she had said.
"Of course, 'tisn't going out for amusement. Rather, this implieth I shall not return to this house."
"I am not staying here out of some particular reason. In that case, 'tis just as possible that I leave for no particular reason—Besides, mine original intent was simply to try living here several weeks. In other words, I have merely grown weary of this place."
Her headache intensified. An unbearable discomfort was occupying the depths of her abdomen. She suppressed it desperately, preventing it from showing on her face. She knew the cause. Those of her kind would experience suffering when trying actively to leave their owner—as long as one was a tool rather than human, this was only natural.
But no matter. She was not going to let her pace get dragged down by something like this.
Somehow there was a feeling that her headache and discomfort stemmed from another reason, but she subconsciously suppressed it. In any case, she wanted to leave. That was all. She wanted to do it.
"W-Wait! Aren't you going to lift your curse?"
"Have I ever said anything of that sort? Thy father and thou art the only ones saying so."
"That's... umm... but—Hold up, could you wait first! Come down first!"
Seeing him plead so urgently, she found it ludicrous. Sneering coldly, she said:
"Ha. I have said that I am leaving. Wherefore must I stay? If thou wishest to stop me, thou shouldst climb up here."
Hence, he walked over to the giant tree and reached out with his tiny hands. He really started to climb the tree unaided. Quite astonished, she could only gaze down to watch him.
He desperately extended his short arms and legs, grabbing protruding branches or burrs on the tree trunk, climbing up bit by bit. That face of his was looking straight at her.
She looked downwards at him, unable to move. This tree was too tall for a child. There was no way he could climb up here, probably. He was going to fall sooner or later. Definitely fall. As expected, he lost balance. But at the last second, he caught another branch. A breath of relief. Whose breath of relief? He started climbing up again. He was willing to go so far just to stop her from leaving? Why? He could not possibly climb up here. Why? Why was he staring at her with those resolute eyes, as though he would never let go ever again once he caught her? Why did he continue to force his body to climb despite the sweat drenching his back? This was definitely no easy task for a child's muscles. She could see his arms and legs trembling. She could see the red of fresh blood seeping from scratches and cuts on his palms caused by burrs—
Something jumped in her heart. The persistent headache intensified. Nausea. Discomfort. Headache again. Her head felt like it was about to split open. Irritated. She felt incurably irritated. Whether towards the way his eyes looked or towards this headache.
During this time, he finally arrived at her feet. Poking his head forward, he smiled proudly as though saying "See? I climb up here"—
The headache further intensified. It was as though tectonic shifts were happening in her brain. Her sense of balance was suddenly disrupted. So painful. So tormenting. Pulverize it. Pulverize it. If it could eliminate this pain, she would rather abandon her head. So it would be best to pulverize it. It would be best to smash her head violently then pulverize it—!
She was able to steady her footing if she wanted. However, she did not want to do so.
Indeed. Even if she fell headfirst like this, she could not possibly die. Her skull could not possibly split open. After all, she was a cursed tool. She simply prayed, hoping this simple yet merciless impact could drown out the headache that was almost driving her insane.
She deliberately gave into her disrupted sense of balance, tossing her body into the air.
A sense of floating, followed by a feeling of falling.
Cure it. Cure it. Cure it. Cure it!
She closed her eyes and entrusted her body to gravity, simply praying for this matter.
Nevertheless, what she heard at this time was a voice she completely did not expect.
She could not help but open her eyes. This time, she saw a scene that she completely did not expect as well. She saw a scene that could not possibly be witnessed.
For the sake of an inhuman object's insignificant fall...
Unbelievably, the child, who could not be more ordinary, had jumped into the air to save her.
...Then the result was as natural as one could expect.
She watched that scene silently without saying a word.
The soil of the garden dyed red. Bleeding from his head, he was lying there unmoving.
Back then, what she had felt was—
However, her answer was very brief.
Then she sliced with a cut slightly sharper than previously. As a result, a cut appeared on the boy's thigh, slightly deeper than the previous wound. As though losing all strength in an instant, he finally collapsed on his knees.
Ahead of Kotetsu behind her, the sorrowful screams of Fear-in-Cube and the other girls could be heard. Although these voices reached his ears, the meanings probably failed to be transmitted into his brain—Nirushaaki thought. Yachi Haruaki's eyes were looking dazed and out of focus. Clutching the black sword of unknown powers, his hand was also shaking. The sword's tip touched the ground and did not rise again.
Nirushaaki extended Muramasa in her hand right in front of him in his kneeling state.
"I believe this is enough. End this, shall we?"
"Master, thou art the one who started this. I have no objections."
Even if it had happened by chance, he probably could not block this sword again like just now. He no longer had the strength, to the point that even lifting the sword was impossible.
This is the end—certain in this belief, Nirushaaki was just about to thrust Muramasa into his heart when...
But just an instant before that could happen—
He was the first to move. He did not move his trembling arm. He did not move the hand that was holding the sword. Neither did he move his legs. Neither could he stand up. However, he could at least lean his body forward—
Even Nirushaaki could not but exclaim in surprise.
To think he would voluntarily press his shoulder against the tip of Muramasa's blade, causing Muramasa to pierce his flesh.
"Brat, what art thou doing...!?"
He did not respond to Muramasa's questioning. Bending his waist slightly, he leaned his body even more forward. Stabbed into his shoulder, the blade almost pierced all the way through. What was he doing? Was he mad? No wait—?
Nirushaaki instantly stepped on his hand that was holding the sword. Although she did not think that his trembling hand was capable of raising the sword, plus the fact he was wielding the sword in his right, the same side as the pierced shoulder, it was better to be safe than sorry.
—Now there was no problem. No matter what this boy's intentions, all that remained was...
At this moment, Nirushaaki suddenly noticed.
A certain object was currently slicing open his right arm and emerging from within.
This was his final hidden trump card.
"«Returning Kukri of Childbirth»...!"
This was the cursed knife that Kururi used to carry, cursed to burrow into the owner's flesh, slowly making its way towards the heart.
Thank you, Kururi—Haruaki whispered in his heart. I was reminded only thanks to your text message. This thing has been kept in the storeroom all this time, waiting for its curse to slowly dispel. I guess this is what people call 'in for a penny, in for a pound.' After all, since I've prepared myself to be cursed, I might as well try using everything that's available—
To be honest, using it almost made him frown, of course. This was originally Kururi's possession—Finally thrown by Bivorio, the knife had damaged Aiko's body. But Haruaki knew. Aiko was still alive. Waiting for the day to revive. Hence, this was not the murder weapon that had killed Aiko. Hence, at the last moment, he permitted himself to use it... Of course, he had also explained the situation to Aiko when taking away the knife from the storeroom, bowing respectfully before leaving. Although there was no response, he believed she was surely listening.
While he willingly endured the feeling of the curse and the pain of a foreign object bursting out of his flesh, these thoughts ran through his mind.
"I won't be cursed, but I can still make use of the curse's power. People who think I can't use them and get careless... surprisingly, they do exist for real...!"
In terms of actual time, it probably took merely a few seconds, but Haruaki spent what felt like an eternity for his body before the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth» appeared from his right arm. Then grabbing the knife with his left hand, he stabbed towards Nirushaaki's arm.
Any part of the body not covered by «Wounded Knee Massacre» could be pierced with the blade. Even if all he managed to do was injure her arm, it would not be totally meaningless. If he could immobilize one of her arms, many options would open up. The situation would also shift greatly to their advantage.
Extremely near. Nirushaaki's mask was the one simulating a smiling face... Probably guarding against Fear and the others behind her, she had been using the future prediction mode all this time. Was he going to make it if she immediately tried to switch to the evasive mode for returning to the past? Hard to say. But by this point already, all he could do was bite the bullet and go ahead. Go. I have to make it in time!
Then he stabbed the knife with its characteristically inward curving blade towards Nirushaaki's arm—
"Perhaps 'tis unnecessary meddling... But I am still putting a stop to this."
But Haruaki did not succeed.
Taking on human form, Konoha was standing next to him, gripping the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth»'s blade in her hand. Probably because her sword tip was originally stabbed into his shoulder, her other hand remained pierced in his flesh still in a knifehand posture.
"Hmm. No matter what, it is all futile."
Standing behind Konoha, Nirushaaki also raised her hand, intending to snatch the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth» away with her bare hand. Regardless whether she was going to succeed for real or not, she was undoubtedly calm and composed in attitude.
The shoulder where Konoha's knife hand was embedded was hurting greatly. She could probably slice deeper into the center of his body any time she wanted. She could probably kill him effortlessly.
Despite knowing that clearly, Haruaki still laughed.
"Wherefore art thou laughing? Clearly, thy final trump card, the one thou took such pains to prepare, hast gone to waste. Thou wishest to die? Or perhaps, laughing is the only thing thou canst do now?"
"It didn't... go to waste."
Following the motion of stabbing with the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth», Haruaki just managed to straighten his body that had been bent slightly at the waist. Compared to being toyed with one-sidedly just now, slight progress had been made.
"Because of this knife... I am now able to... see you in real life like this, not in your sword form—I have successfully made a step of progress. Compared to just now... much closer..."
There was a reason why it was necessary to pour all his effort into taking this step.
Also, talking to her in this form was also very important.
"What art thou talking about?"
Konoha frowned, stabbing her hand deeper. Haruaki felt so painful that it seemed like the depths of his body were being stirred, causing tears to flow. That said, tears had already flowed earlier. In other words, he was currently laughing and crying at the same time. How unsightly.
"Stop it, stop it stop it stop it! Cow Tits, unforgivable, I won't forgive you!"
"Get... out of the way—now—!"
"Haru! Run away, Haru!"
He could everyone's voices. Some kind of thunderous crash. Click click clack clack bang. What happened. Fear was making beast-like groans. He hoped Fear would not turn into her scary self again. Kirika's breathing was far too quick, almost like sobbing. This could very well be his first time hearing Kuroe speak in such an urgent voice.
However, engaged with the girls in battle, Kotetsu also expressed his relentless determination.
"Guh... Urgh... Ohhhhh—! I am also resolved to guard position as commanded! Truth be told, until I breathe my last dying breath, I shall not allow you to pass!"
Another deafening crash. The sound of clashing between Kotetsu and Fear's group.
Behind Konoha, Nirushaaki went "hmm" and turned her head slightly to look at them, as though watching a show. Haruaki felt very fortunate that Nirushaaki did not go over to interfere. She had also moved away her foot that had been stepping on his hand. However, with the poisoned sword barely hanging on the tip of his little finger, he was in no condition to swing it at tall. Neither was he able to lift it up.
With a laughing and crying expression, Haruaki simply gazed at Konoha—
Lilyhowell was staring blankly at the black sword hanging on Haruaki's hand—the sword she had explained to them as the «Toxic Sword Poison Ritter». Listening.
In order to save his life, Fear and the other girls were screaming hoarsely, pleading, roaring, struggling desperately. Listening to all this, Lilyhowell thought... Clearly he should just flee.
...Although Yachi Haruaki's death was an expected development.
However, under these kinds of circumstances, even if he tried to escape, it would make little difference to the result. Clearly if he begged for mercy pathetically and fled, he might be able to survive at least.
(But... to me, it is of no consequence.)
She stood there unmoving, suppressing her presence, biding her time. Rash action would render all her efforts naught.
Indeed, Yachi Haruaki had already served 80% of his purpose, just as could be gathered from Nirushaaki's words earlier. Making Nirushaaki believe that the sword possessed a cursed ability capable of deciding victory by inflicting a single scratch was of paramount importance. Making her believe that this was the Wathe's purpose.
Having achieved this objective, all that was left to do was wait.
Since Yachi Haruaki did not intend to escape, then the instant when he completed the final 20%—in other words, the instant for her to take action—
As expected, it could only be the instant of his death.
Seeing his crying and laughing expression, Konoha looked like she could not help but feel baffled. She went as far as to twist her knife hand, pierced in his shoulder, stimulating the wound while she spoke:
"Bizarre brat... Doth this not hurt?"
"Haha. As long as it grants my wish, pain is nothing. Compared to the pain of a wish that cannot come true, it doesn't hurt at all... But places that hurt will still hurt after all. In the end, the wish itself is pain, isn't it?"
Even Haruaki did not know what exactly he was talking about. However, his lips continued to speak as though there was no alternative. Konoha's hand twisted in his shoulder again. "Ahahah." Making a sound resembling both a cry and a laugh, he straightened his back. This apparently displeased Konoha, causing her to frown with eyes that showed her inability to comprehend the sight in front of her.
"See, this ought to be very painful, yes!? How incomprehensible. Try begging for thy life, brat!"
"Ahhh, the wish really is pain... Hey Konoha... Do excessively strong wishes count as curses?"
"Feeling it for real with my own body, I think I finally understand. Not just paying lip service, but feeling it for real. Behind this wish, that feeling of hopelessly resenting everything in the world, that's a curse. It must be like that... Yeah, this must be very lonely. Sad, painful, helpless—It's better not to have this feeling. I really want to dispel it. I really prefer not getting cursed in the first place. Come home. So, please. Konoha. Come home. Konoha—"
His mind finally started getting hazy. Perhaps he was speaking in broken fragments. His brain functions for deciding on these matters had already stopped working.
As though saying "you've said enough!", Konoha could be seen baring her fangs and snarling angrily:
"Stop addressing me with that unfamiliar name again and again! 'Tis most vexing, I have never heard of it!"
"No no no, you should know it, right? What are you talking about? Because..."
However, Haruaki only knew that she was speaking nonsense. That was why, amidst delusions of feeling like he was enveloped in the smell of blood, the smiling element in his expression deepened.
It was even tinged with a bit of pride.
"—That's the name I chose for you."
After the accident on the tree last time, as well as the conversation on the roof following that, several days passed—
"A-Are you okay..."
As repeated many times previously before, he went to make another round in the garden again, sighing. He reached out and tried to open the door, but it still could not be opened, probably barred from within with a rod.
The opening of this door is forbidden until I walk out on my own—Saying that, she had shut herself away in the storehouse. Several days had passed already. What on earth was she doing inside?
And he had so many things he wanted to report to her... He sighed again. She had not mentioned the specific number of days. A couple of days? Would it take several weeks? Even longer...?
Had he said something weird on the roof? He pondered. She was looking quite strange at the time. But he was glad that she was willing to stay in this home.
"I'm home~ It really breaks my heart to press the doorbell but have no one show up to greet me... Oh, Haruaki, you're over there? What are you doing?"
Having gone on a trip without saying a word as usual, his father happened to return at this time. Rustling as he rubbed his unkempt beard, he was tilting his head in puzzlement after seeing Haruaki pacing back and forth in front of the storehouse.
"Oh, you've returned, dad. Actually—"
Just as he was about to explain the whole story...
He heard the storehouse door open with a clack. He frantically looked back and was rendered speechless.
Naturally, the one standing there was her. But for some reason, she was giving off completely different vibes.
The airs of a solitary beast were totally withdrawn. Gone without trace was also the sharpness that felt as though it would slice him upon contact.
Cheerfully like a gentle older sister, she was smiling tenderly.
Haruaki shuddered and swiftly backed away. He neither felt horrified nor afraid. It was just that the sense of contradiction was too powerful. This gentle voice was too different from before. Clearly there was no change in appearance or actual voice, she was clearly herself, but the impression given was almost like a different person's.
He mustered his courage and called out in trepidation:
"Yes. Haruaki-kun, what is it?"
"No, I just wanted to ask you what happened? It feels like you're giving a totally different impression from before..."
"Yes, how should I put this...? A makeover. That's right. This is simply a makeover."
She inclined her head and smiled. A very warm and gentle smile. Haruaki felt dizzy. It'll probably take a while to get used to... He pressed his hand against his chest over the violently beating heart.
His father was staring at her with uncharacteristic solemnity. Then presumably noticing him, she spoke:
"Ara, Honatsu-san is here too. Welcome home."
Still showing a solemn expression, the father said something that Haruaki could not quite understand.
"Mental suppression—absolute autosuggestion? Is this really okay?"
"Of course, because this is my own decision. Although this is merely a beginning after several days of overtime rushing, from now on, it will slowly, slowly reinforce... eventually to the extent that the curse will be reversed one day."
"I think it'll be a tough process too."
"As I have said, this is my own decision."
The father glanced at Haruaki's bandaged head then looked at her smile of gentleness and stubbornness. Sighing, he threw up his hands to surrender.
Although Haruaki could not quite understand their conversation, one particular word concerned him greatly so he asked:
"Hey... You mentioned curse just now, right? So you're really willing to lift your curse?"
Her answer was swift and concise. Then she said the following in an unhurried manner:
'I am already your possession, Haruaki-kun. In order to lift my curse as early as possible, I will devote my best effort."
Her eyes were gentle and forthright, serving as proof of the veracity of her words better than any rhetoric.
Very warm feelings were also spreading in the bottom of his heart. At this moment, he remembered.
"Oh right, then we need what I've been talking about since a while ago! A name for you!"
"Oh~ Now that you mention it, that's true. Haruaki-kun, this really is a wonderful idea. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Uh, I've basically looked up lots of info everywhere and racked my brain over it..."
He glanced at her. Still showing a gentle expression, she said:
"Please tell me."
"Because it was quite boring while waiting for you to come out of the storehouse, I ran over to the library and looked up a lot of stuff about Muramasa. Then in those materials, there was a story about how leaves floating down a river were sliced into halves just by touching the blade because Muramasa's blade is too sharp. So—"
He suddenly felt embarrassed, worrying what to do if she rejected the name, and started to speak rapidly.
Then bowing his head and glancing at her, he said the name.
"Konoha... How's that?"
Instantly, he could not see her face. That was because she knelt down and embraced him tightly. Hence, her gentle voice sounded next to his ear.
"Yes, it is very fitting. I am overjoyed..."
"Yes. Muramasa... Konoha? I believe this is a wonderful name. Although now that I think about it, I don't quite like this family name—"
"B-But family names shouldn't be changed, right?"
"—A fair... point. So long as I have a name given by you, Haruaki-kun, there should be no problem."
She smiled blissfully then released him. His father also nodded with satisfaction.
"Very good, the name is decided as well. Then please get along well from now on. Haruaki, although she looks like an older sister at first glance, she's also like a child in terms of common sense. Best of luck to both of you."
"An older sister. Oh right, Konoha-oneechan... Hmm, then I'll call you Kono-nee from now on!"
"Kono-nee... To think I'd even receive something like a nickname. Ufufu..."
Just at that moment, the father clapped his hands and began rummaging though his front pocket.
"Oh right, I almost forgot the most important thing. I went on a trip this time to get this thing. It'd be a total joke if I forgot to hand it to you."
"It's custom made. I asked a friend to make it specially. Yeah, here it is."
Hence, what the father took out from his breast pocket was—
"What a nuisance thou art! I have already said I have never heard of it before!"
Haruaki could feel his strength rapidly draining from his hand.
The «Returning Kukri of Childbirth» fell from his clutches, striking the ground with a thud.
With that, all was lost.
There was nothing more he could use.
(...Oh, it's over... Right?)
All that was left in his view was her face.
Konoha. Konoha. A nostalgic Konoha, her face in an expression akin to that of a noble wild dog. Beautiful yet terrifying, with eyes that looked very lonely at the same time.
All sorts of thoughts and feelings were overflowing in his heart.
Thoughts recalled in the past. Thoughts that had been recalled to this date. Always together. Together all this time. Really like a true older sister. Like family. A certain existence beyond that.
Starting from their encounter until now, too much time had already passed.
As expected, the images of her face surfacing in his mind were predominantly that of her calling "Haruaki-kun" with a smile.
(Even if I'm killed by Konoha... I don't... mind at all...)
But I really don't want to be killed by this Konoha who's wearing an expression like that of a stranger... Haruaki thought.
This kind of face as though she had never met him before. This kind of face as though she had never shared the experiences he was reminiscing to this date.
In the end, he still wanted to see her usual face.
(Oh, that's right.)
Because he recalled the memory of choosing Konoha as her name, it also prompted him to remember something else he had forgotten. Now was the perfect moment—He thought.
In a dream-like state but not a dream—
With strange, warm feelings in his heart, he gazed at the face of his housemate, his family, his childhood friend, his older sister, the one who had always been by his side, the person whom he believed they would always stay together.
While slightly moving his trembling arm at the same time...
During this time, Konoha's hand pushed harder. As though saying her patience had worn out, she applied greater force than before. In order to declare an end to it all, she twisted the blade deeper into his body, intending to wreck fatal destruction—Such force.
His mind preoccupied with thoughts of her before his eyes, Haruaki did not even feel the pain.
What time was it right now? Where was this again? He could no longer tell clearly.
"Konoha... Yeah, Kono-nee...? Whatever, I guess any name's fine. I... still remember our promise. We will always... forever—So you can't break the promise. Hurry... come back—"
Then he took out something from his pocket. His vision became excessively dark. But still, he desperately extended his hand that was stained red by a certain person's blood, extending that feeble and twitching hand—
If I'm going to be killed, better be that her, at least.
Better be her with the usual and familiar appearance.
Hence, he simply performed a simple action.
Then he smiled, apparently.
Thinking—Yeah, with this, that's the usual Konoha.
With all strength draining from his entire body, all words and thoughts lost meaning.
Finally, what he saw on Konoha's face was—
The nostalgic shine of transparency on the glasses his trembling hand had put on her face.
Nirushaaki watched this ending from behind her mask.
In her view was Konoha's naked back as well as Yachi Haruaki sprawled on the ground unmoving.
Sighing, Nirushaaki bent down slightly and picked up the knife with the bent blade, fallen on the ground—She recalled it was called the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth», right?
She took a step forward towards the naked back.
"What a shame. Truly what an unfortunate shame."
Then without waiting for an answer, while asking:
Nirushaaki stabbed the knife directly towards the back of Konoha's head.
Her reaction was very simple. She did not raise her hand that was covered in his blood.
She simply turned her head to look back.
Even so, the cursed knife's blade failed to harm her.
Blocked by the glasses on her face, it stopped.
Not only that, the blade even started to crack open gradually, as though it could not withstand the impact.
"...This knife is the one that shatters? This too, I shall ask you. Why?"
Behind the knife's glittering remains, falling as countless fragments—
Beneath those glasses—
A pair of tear-filled eyes were glaring viciously at her.
"This is my scabbard. This is something that my past self accepted as a part of my being. Hence, a blade of this level cannot possibly penetrate me—!"
What Honatsu presented was a pair of ordinary glasses.
She reached out to receive it. Instantly, there was an incredible feeling. Although the object in her hand was a pair of glasses, at the same time, it did not feel like glasses. Although there was clearly nothing unusual about its texture or appearance, she could feel that the material could not be generalized through ordinary means. Was it the smell that caused her to think that? Rather than entering through her nasal cavity, it was a smell that entered her brain directly. If anything, it was just like herself—
"That's your scabbard."
Hearing that, she looked up suddenly.
"I asked a friend to make a scabbard. This is the scabbard exclusive to you alone in the entire world. Something existing for you as a human as well as for you as a sword. Because it's custom made, it cost me quite a pretty penny."
"Yeah, there's a craftsman who's willing to forge one so long as I request it as a favor. I was originally worried you might think of it as meddling, but luckily, my efforts did not go to waste. Since you're willing to lift your curse, this thing should come in handy."
Just by intuition, she could tell that Honatsu was not lying.
Her curse was the desire to see fresh blood. In other words, it was strongly tied to the sense of vision. In that case, if the scabbard capable of suppressing the curse remained on her when she took on human form—Then it would be equivalent to an item covering the field of view, like glasses.
"A scabbard. Something capable of containing my blade..."
"That's right. However, its specialty is precisely the fact that a scabbard ultimately serves to contain rather than erase the blade, that's all. Don't get the wrong idea in this regard."
"...What do you mean?"
Haruaki tilted his head and asked his father. While stroking Haruaki's head, Honatsu directed his answer to her:
"Meaning that it's not good to reject your past self too much. You are Muramasa. Although that's going to change slowly henceforth, you are still Muramasa, no question about it."
"To the point that rotting away is the only option for a sword that rejects its existence as a sword—Is that what you mean?"
"Although this is a scabbard, I was told that it was forged with such sturdiness that it can be used as an unedged blade at the same time too. It also saves the effort of needing to attack with the back of the blade."
The more carefully she looked, the more she could feel that this was an top-quality scabbard forged by a craftsman. Holding it like this in her hand, there was no sense of dissonance. It simply carried the additional meaning of progress without rejecting her identity.
Hence, she could easily imagine it. After wearing this continuously for the long term, it really would become a part of her body. It would become a part of the new Muramasa who did not kill—
As soon as she understood this point, she no longer had any hesitation.
Lightly, she put the glasses on her face. It almost felt like she was not wearing any glasses. With extreme harmony, it became a part of her face, even to the point that she was not aware of its presence.
"Haruaki-kun, how is it?"
Smiling, she asked for his comment. He answered demurely in an adorable manner:
"Hmm... Kono-nee, it looks great on you!"
"Gah... Muramasa... -sama...!"
Retreating, Nirushaaki converged with Kotetsu. However, Fear did care at all about that. Single-mindedly, she ran over to the collapsed Haruaki. Please. Breathe.... Heart... Please!
She seemed to hear a feeble response. Fear was greatly surprised.
"I feel... super sleepy..."
Still sprawled, Haruaki muttered quietly towards the ground. His consciousness did not seem clear, but at least—He was alive!
"Coming! Full power to the max—Mode: «Satisfied Yorimori»!"
"I-I'll help stop the bleeding as well!"
Letting Haruaki lie down on his back, Kuroe and Kirika began to devote their full efforts towards treating Haruaki. Although there was a lot of bleeding, in the end, the most severe wound seemed to be the shoulder's. They could only count their blessings that fortunately, the wound had not expanded towards the center of the body and had not caused fatal harm to internal organs.
But the cause of this severe injury, the person who had carved open his flesh and blood—
Completely naked, she still had her right hand covered in Haruaki's blood, her face still covered in tears—Narrowed harshly beneath those glasses, her eyes were glaring at Kotetsu and Nirushaaki.
Looking at the side of her face, Fear asked:
"How did you manage to recover?"
Without looking at her, Konoha answered calmly.
"In the brief instant just before they erased my memory, I allowed my memories to retreat to this pair of glasses and deliberately dropped it by my feet. Part of it was a hint that if I were to wear these glasses again, this could serve as the impetus to receive the memories flowing back in reverse. Although I took a gamble, it was better than doing nothing."
"That kind of thing..."
"Feasible. This is my scabbard. Having worn it for years, it's already a part of me. Hence, it's possible to entrust memories to it, at least. I've never taken it off even when sleeping and bathing. I was thinking you'd at least realize this is a scabbard."
Listening to her calm tone of voice, Fear could not help but grip her hatchet tightly. However, she knew that Konoha said this intentionally. Right now, there were more important things to do than apologizing.
Kotetsu was watching Konoha with forlorn eyes. Without changing her expression, Konoha looked back at him.
"You have... turned back."
His words carried undeniable sorrow and disappointment. A voice that sounded like it was forced out. A twisted expression.
"How could things be so... cruel. Unforgivable. Truth be told, you bastards... you bastards are the ones... who are truly Muramasa-sama's curse!"
However, as soon as Nirushaaki touched his shoulder, he regained his sense and turned back to the way he was.
"Since the wish of sharing a collective existence cannot be actualized no matter what—At the very least, by my very own hands..."
Kotetsu transformed back into a Japanese sword, held in Nirushaaki's hand.
"Finally right at the very end, what unexpected hardship... But this is also a trial along the path to the dragon. This must be overcome."
The masked woman murmured thus. Meaning she did not intend to let them go.
The enemy had lost one weapon. But on our side—Fear shifted her gaze slightly. Haruaki was unable to move. Kuroe and Kirika were fully focused on treating him. To be honest, she was all covered in wounds too. In the battle so far, in attempting to break past Kotetsu's defense, she had already exhausted all her energy. Still able to move normally was Konoha—as well as Lilyhowell, standing there motionlessly, although Fear had no idea why she was not moving at all. But there was probaly no point in depending on her.
«Wounded Knee Massacre»'s power still stood in their way. Now that Haruaki had fallen, it was no longer possible to use the poisoned sword that was capable of deciding victory with a single blow to an arm or a leg. It was said that Nirushaaki would die from any attack landing on her back, but she possessed the mask capable of predicting future positions of people. Even if they wanted to tie her up or circle around to her back, Kuroe and Kirika must currently focus on treatment. Even if they could bind her successfully, she was also able to escape by moving to a past position. What a desperate crisis—
"All we can do is try to get around to her back, using our willpower. Or using willpower, try our best to hack off her arms and legs that the shirt doesn't cover."
This was totally not a plan but wishful thinking. Konoha probably understood too, but did not say a word. She simply chopped the air with her hand, shaking his blood off onto the ground.
Hence, just as Fear and Konoha were about to charge at Nirushaaki—
All that remained was how to proceed with the operation after his death.
However—Was that really it? She was unable to dispel this notion.
There were no other issues? Nothing else that could go wrong—?
(Nothing else was possible.)
Lilyhowell convinced herself. Her goal was simply to kill Nirushaaki. So long as this goal could be achieved, she had no scruples. That was all.
She could not help but think. Because it was too matter-of-fact, she had not put any thought into this so far, but at this time, she could not help but think. Perhaps because of that boy she had been watching so far, those words he had said to that girl just as the aura of death was silently approaching.
A wish. A synonym for her wish and goal. In other words, killing Nirushaaki.
Then... Then—What exactly was Laurica Shoegazer's wish?
Like these people here, she had a wish she prioritized over all pain. She must have. Then no matter how little time there was remaining, Lilyhowell had to know, having loved her once for certain.
Her... Her wish, what was it—?
A clatter was heard from behind. Fear looked back to see—
Lilyhowell was picking up the poisoned sword of black, the «Poison Ritter». Although Fear was startled to see her moving, she also felt surprise towards her action.
"H-Hey! That's the drawn blade, didn't you say that it's dangerous to hold the sword in that state! Poi... No, it'll curse you!"
Only at the last second did Fear remember that Nirushaaki and Kotetsu were also in earshot, so she hastily made her words more vague. Holding the unsheathed sword would poison the wielder. That was why Haruaki was the only one who could use it, right? But—
Lilyhowell answered. Her eyes seemed quite different from before. The dark determination remained unchanged but incredible calmness had also appeared among them.
"I should be the one with the most remaining stamina. Muramasa, Fear-in-Cube, even if just an instant, create an opportunity for me to deliver a blow to the enemy—Please."
Unbelievably, this woman from the Knights Dominion said please.
While Fear was feeling surprised again, Lilyhowell had already sprung into action first. Wielding the black sword, she charged forward. An instant was enough? But there was no time to think.
"Eh, and I was just thinking why she suddenly came back to life! Cow Tits, let's go!"
"Can we trust that person?"
"There's no time to think that much!"
As expected, Fear was still suffering from fatigue and could not move her body freely at will. Having just recovered her memories, Konoha also seemed to be having trouble connecting her brain to her body. Or perhaps, toying with Haruaki also depleted quite a lot of energy?
Only Lilyhowell, who had been resting all this time without moving, was brimming with energy, charging fiercely ahead almost recklessly.
"Tsk, I can't believe she's giving orders on her own, telling us to make an opening for her—"
Predicting the enemy's next move, Fear launched the stake of execution. When Nirushaaki halted her steps, Konoha attacked from the side, using her knife hand to engage Kotetsu for several rounds. Using this opportunity, Fear used her other Rubik's cube to attack from above Nirushaaki's head.
"Mechanism No.15 suspended type, caged form: «Highwayman's Coffin»—Curse Calling!"
"...«Rew of the Present»!"
To escape the descending metal cage, Nirushaaki shifted her position, appearing right in front of where Lilyhowell was running.
(She probably can't keep changing positions continuously. Hurry and do it...!)
But for some reason...
Lilyhowell's footwork was too naive. So naive that even a bystander could see it. Compared to the best timing for thrusting the poisoned sword, she took one extra step. Did she want to inflict the poison as quickly as possible out of impatience? Her action was too careless.
Naturally, Nirushaaki did not miss this chance.
"«Ionyomott of the Past»—«This spirit knows the past leading to the future»!"
She swiftly changed masks to switch to battle mode.
Then using her enhanced arm strength, she raised Kotetsu for a swing.
Accompanied by Lilyhowell's scream of pain—
Her arm, whose hand was still holding the «Toxic Sword Poison Ritter», spun as it flew through the air after being severed from her shoulder.
Pain. Intense pain. Suffering pain. Aching pain. Numbing pain. Phantom pain.
Amidst all this pain, Lilyhowell felt the right side of her body suddenly become lighter.
Then she recalled what the boy had said.
The pain of a wish that could not come true. Suffering that resembled a curse.
Indeed. Compared to that type of suffering, this pain was nothing.
Although everything had gone contrary to her initial predictions—There was still time to make corrections.
Precisely because of that—
This arm must be chopped off in this manner. An expert of Nirushaaki's level would definitely choose to chop her arm off as the most effective counterattack. Hence, Lilyhowell deliberately aimed for this timing and posture when stepping forward.
Then the final task was—
Fear watched the scene in shock.
With her right arm chopped off, Lilyhowell advanced unsteadily.
Nirushaaki did not move from her position. Hence, it looked as though Lilyhowell hugged Nirushaaki. With the opponent clearly struggling to approach her, yet the reason why Nirushaaki remained at her position was very obvious. Because there was no need to move.
Pierced through Lilyhowell's abdomen, Kotetsu's blade was protruding far out from her back.
"It is over, knight of the Knights Dominion."
For some reason, Lilyhowell laughed instead in a hoarse voice. While coughing blood from the depths of her throat.
"This is what Laurica experienced... back then..."
Using her trembling left hand, Lilyhowell reached behind her and drew out a sword. The white sword—Fear had forgotten its name—that Haruaki had used for training. However, Lilyhowell's hand could not possibly still have strength remaining. Simply pulling the sword out of its scabbard was already a miracle. Then holding the sword, the hand dangled powerlessly.
Nirushaaki originally intended to pull Kotetsu out from Lilyhowell's abdomen to handle the situation, but then gave off vibes like she had decided there was no need to do that—
In contrast—Lilyhowell was giving off vibes that said "everything needed to be done is now done."
Then she grinned.
"Laurica and I... have both experienced it now. If you were left out, it would be too unfair, right...?"
Instantly, Nirushaaki felt a chill instinctively.
After chopping off Lilyhowell's arm, she had immediately switched masks to «Tutasgai of the Future» in order to guard her back. Using semi-transparent images, this ability displayed the future positions of nearby people on her retina. Within this mask's time limit, at least within the next minute, no one could secretly get behind her. Fear-in-Cube, Muramasa, as well as the girls that were treating the boy, none of them were positioned somewhere that could ambush her back. A sniping attack from outside her sensing range? But bullets did not work to begin with.
Nevertheless, what was with this sense of chill?
Why did this woman laugh—?
Just as she was thinking these thoughts...
Nirushaaki felt a sword pierce deeply into her back.
Lilyhowell was still locked in a trembling embrace with her. Nirushaaki looked behind herself but there was not a single person there.
A certain object was holding the hilt of the black sword that had stabbed into her back—
It was only Lilyhowell's arm, which Nirushaaki had chopped off just earlier, shaking there while holding the sword.
Nirushaaki turned her face, intending to use «Rew of the Present» to escape, but failed to switch masks. For some reason, there was something wrong with her body. Her five senses had never experienced this before. Discomfort was rioting in the depths of her body.
"Hu, hu, haa!"
Both a laugh and a painful breath. The flying black sword had not only pierced Nirushaaki but also Lilyhowell who was hugging her tightly to seal off her movements. For Lilyhowell, this was a second penetration.
Although she did not understand the details in how it worked...
But this was basically what happened. Nirushaaki comprehended.
"From the very start, you intended to sacrifice your own life in exchange for mine—?"
She felt a pulsation inside her own body. How long ago was the last time she was aware of a pulsating existence within herself? Usually, this core of her existence did not even register in her awareness. Only after shaking irregularly did she discover for the first time.
Were the people she looked down upon in the past like this as well?
Warriors, knights, people close to the dragon, people far from the dragon, people seeking the unknown, people filled with familial love, people who knew about curses, as well as people who did not know about curses.
All of them were now slumbering eternally six feet under as ashen remains.
Each one of them must have felt this—the pulsation of termination.
Becoming someone who would never know this feeling to the very end was precisely the pinnacle of the journey she sought. Well then, now that she was experiencing this pulsation, she was no longer on that path.
Indeed—She was currently falling. Her entire body was instantly enveloped by a floating feeling, simply a few seconds' buffer before she headed off somewhere else.
If one fell down on a gentle hill, it would be possible to stand up again to continue climbing up. But if one fell from a sheer cliff, everything would end all at once. Namely, the higher one climbed, the deeper one would fall.
Ever since understanding this point, to this date she had always prepared herself while advancing with her eyes focused straight ahead.
Hence, right now, since this valorous opponent had successfully attacked her back for the first time by treating her own life as a disposable weapon...
The final fate guided by her resolve was obvious, requiring no explanation.
"...Lilyhowell Kilmister... Superb..."
Then fall, proudly.
Fall to the same place as them.
Taking on the same appearance as ashen remains.
In the end, does this imply that I am still quite far away from the pinnacle leading to the dragon? —Those were her final thoughts.
With a greatly refreshing feeling, she closed her eyes under the mask.
Taking on human form, Kotetsu forcibly appeared between Lilyhowell and Nirushaaki. His arm was now piercing Lilyhowell with a tiger-clawed hand. Shoving Lilyhowell aside without a further thought, he was just about to carry Nirushaaki's body, pierced in the back by the black sword, when—
On the other hand, Fear and the others had not forgotten what they needed to do. This opportunity absolutely must not be missed.
"Mechanism No.6 heated type, seat-included form: «Spanish Stool and Boots», Curse Calling!"
A steel chair appeared on the ground. Unlike the «German Interrogation Chair», this chair did not have spikes. That was because this instrument of torture was used to burn victims to death by heating the chair. The lower part of the chair was fitted with steel tubes for inserting the victim's feet. These were precisely the "boots"—capable of adjusting their volume to crush the bones of the feet. Water could also be poured into them to scald the feet alone. Similar tubes were also located near the hands, allowing the same treatment to be applied to the arms. If one had to describe them, those would be the "gloves."
"Also, Mechanism No.15 suspended type, caged form: «Highwayman's Coffin»!"
Not only summoning a chair with powerful restraining powers, but just in case, Fear also transformed her second emulated self, causing the steel cage to descend from midair. She was originally guarding against Kotetsu making an escape using pure brute force, but in hindsight, restraining Kotetsu turned out to be effortless seeing as he had turned his full attention towards Nirushaaki.
Using the chain of cubes, Fear controlled the positions of the "boots" and "gloves" on the chair. After ensnaring Kotetsu's hands and feet, she forced him to sit on the chair itself with a forceful pull. Accompanied by the metallic sounds, the "boots" and the "gloves" combined tightly with the chair. Then reducing their volumes, they began to constrict his hands and feet. At the same time, Fear allowed the birdcage with its hollowed bottom to descend from above, covering the chair. Then she even exerted pressure from above.
"Guh, ooh, ahhhhhhhhh!"
"So there, although I could flatten you like this—"
Just as Fear murmured softly, she saw a figure dash towards Kotetsu. After going "hmph," she maintained the current state for now.
"Hmph—however, I'll let your own kind decide on how you should be dealt with in the end."
Raising her hand in a knifehand posture, Konoha sprinted. She could see Kotetsu getting closer and closer in view, restrained by Fear's two tools of torture. Kotetsu was fully naked like Konoha. Bleeding all over his body, he was suffering the pain of weight and the oppression of sadism.
Right now, my eyes must be extremely cold, she thought. There were too many unforgivable things this time.
Then Konoha arrived before Kotetsu. There were gaps in the steel cage, so she could easily slip her hand inside. For an instant, time seemed to stop—
Her eyes met with Kotetsu's.
Probably prepared for his own death...
His eyes looked as though he had lost his outer shell entirely, exposing certain emotions that were very weak and fragile.
"Muramasa... -sama, are you really... going to abandon me...?"
"I don't remember ever picking you up."
Konoha answered instantly with coldness. Without any hesitation, she reached her arm towards Kotetsu inside the cage.
Instead of a knifehand strike, she aimed the base of her palm towards his abdomen.
She had to sigh first before saying the following:
"However... You are the only fellow kindred that I know. You still owe me a game of Japanese chess..."
"M-Muramasa-sama, you still remember—"
Just as Kotetsu suddenly stared wide-eyed, she applied a full-strength impact with the base of her palm, rendering him unconscious.
Currently, Konoha had simply added the memories that were preserved in her glasses and did not lose her memories of the past few days. Consequently, towards these extremely recent memories of the past, she could not help but feel embarrassment and agitation that could not be dispelled.
She looked down at the unconscious Kotetsu. Destroying him was very simple. However—
Very concretely, as though it had happened yesterday, she recalled how she used to be like this in the past. Also because she had personally experienced how he was identical to her past self before she met Haruaki...
Hence, she concluded, as fellow swords, she was probably responsible for educating this child.
Kirika cooperated with Kuroe, desperately tending to Haruaki and applying treatment. As a result of their efforts, his consciousness seemed to improve somewhat in clarity. On the other hand, Kirika also believed that he would probably suffer less if he simply passed out instead.
In any case, she was greatly relieved. For a moment, she was worried if he might really suffer a mishap. Careful to avoid others noticing, Kirika secretly wiped away the liquid flowing from the corners of her eyes.
Kirika currently had him lying on her thighs, but was too preoccupied to spare any thoughts on taking advantage of the situation. The «Tragic Black River» was difficult to tear, so she could only rip her skirt and use the strips of fabric for stopping blood. As a result, almost all of her thighs were exposed. Although it was embarrassing, there was nothing she could do.
At this time, Haruaki's head began to move. He wanted to sit up.
"Oh~ Could you... take me over there...?"
"You must stay totally still... Although I'd like to say that, you're not going to listen, right? Absolutely ridiculous..."
Time was running out. Because she understood that, Kirika also decided to move.
Positioning her neck under Haruaki's arm, she supported him to stand up. Frozen in her pose of tying hair around Haruaki's last wound, Kuroe remained motionless as though her batteries were depleted. Only now did she regain her senses and straighten her back.
"Oh my. Uh~ You want to move?"
"Yeah... H-Hey Kuroe-kun, you've gained a few strands of white hair, you know?"
It was not Kirika's imagination. Among Kuroe's always flourishing and beautiful hair, one bundle of hair had turned snow white.
"Hoeh? Oh~ Although the technique is very simple, it's because I used life force directly. After all, I used as much life force as I could to an unprecedented degree. Yeah, I guess it's unavoidable."
"Kuroe... Thank you."
"Haru, you don't need to thank me. I'm only doing what I can. For recharging my energy, I really must work seriously starting tomorrow~"
Kuroe tried her best to speak in a cheerful voice, meanwhile standing up unsteadily.
Keeping the unconscious Kotetsu restrained in the torture instruments, Fear and Konoha also gathered towards the same location.
With two large holes opened in her abdomen and an entire right arm amputated, lying on the floor was—Lilyhowell.
"A poisoned sword huh... If there were something that convenient—no matter how strong the curse, even if it would rot my body with a single swing, how could I possibly not use it..."
Staring up at the sky, Lilyhowell murmured quietly with a contented expression.
"What exactly was that sword...?"
"That sword's real name is «Olius II», which forms a pair with the white sword «Alius» that you used for training. «Olius II»'s curse compels it to kill the wielder of Alius without fail. Under conditions when both swords are unsheathed as now, the phenomenon of «Olius II» flying towards the wielder of «Alius» would happen..."
"That's why... That sword instantly flew over when you drew out the white sword."
Saying that, Fear glanced at Nirushaaki's unmoving body. Nirushaaki was pierced by the sword from behind. But it was no ordinary blow, a product of «Wounded Knee Massacre»'s curse. Hence, she could no longer move. Compared to Lilyhowell who was pierced by two swords—she had lost a certain thing even earlier.
"Indeed... Just like what happened in the Saga of Asmund the Champion-Killer I mentioned. Luckily, none of you investigated it. Fufu..."
Lilyhowell continued to speak in broken fragments. Two magic swords had appeared in that saga. Alius and Olius were two metalsmiths who were ordered to present a sword each to the king. Resenting the king, Olius had presented an inferior sword and was ordered to forge another. He forged a second sword but placed a curse upon it. A curse that would kill the king's kin wielding the sword of Alius—
"You deceived us... from the very start."
"My goal was to make use of the curse hidden in this sword. Yachi Haruaki, it was only due to your desperate efforts that the lie of the poisoned sword gained credibility. Once that was achieved, Nirushaaki would lower her guard upon your death, even if only for an instant, also forgetting the existence of the sword used in the failed operation. When that moment arrives, I would have the chance to draw this «Alius» to summon «Olius II» towards her back..."
"Just for that, you used Yachi as bait, intending to sacrifice him as a pawn? Absolutely ridiculous."
Hearing that, Kirika could not help but comment. What an absolutely ridiculous strategy.
"Ho, but once the lie had gained credibility, using my own arm apparently... also barely succeeded as a substitute..."
Her voice grew quieter and quieter. Seeing Kuroe pluck a few strands of hair, Lilyhowell moved her trembling left hand sideways as though saying "not necessary."
As though joking, she smiled and said:
"Have you forgotten? I am... a knight of the Knights Dominion. What I hate most... are Wathes."
"In that case, why did you save me? You didn't need... to pick up this sword, right? You could have followed the initial plan and waited for my death—"
"Hmm... Yes. If I did nothing, you might have picked up the sword and stood up again. Then perhaps you would have lost your life. Just as I... predicted initially..."
"Then why didn't you do that?"
She had realized what Laurica's wish was.
Definitely, it was to become her knight. Strong, righteous, pure white, then existing together forever—as knights.
This would be only natural.
Hence, to compensate for her cowardice and defeat at Nirushaaki's hands... Wanting to avenge the slain Laurica... Then turning back to her former self as knight. If she were to achieve these objectives, Laurica would probably smile at her. She believed this was part of Laurica's wish.
However, to achieve her objectives, she could only think of one method.
Namely, this kind of foolish method, abandoning everything apart from the objectives.
In other words, indeed, she—
Because she was a knight, she could only make herself no longer a knight.
This contradiction was the first mistake.
Not just killing Nirushaaki but also including this matter, the fact that she was always a knight, that must have been Lauria's wish. That was the objective that she ought to be dedicating her full efforts towards achieving.
"Since I realized at the very end what I could do while I was still a knight—Of course... I had no choice but to do it."
They were not going to understand. However, she believed that was fine.
This was her own simple regret. Plunging headlong into the thrills of vengeance, losing sight of Laurica's wish.
"Laurica probably idolized me because I am a 'righteous knight.' When she was still young, I rescued her from unjust suffering. That was me. Nevertheless, at the very end... if I were to watch a child die without intervening—Now that would truly be unworthy of being called a knight..."
"I'm... no longer a child already..."
"Ho, children are the only ones who can say those words."
Till the very end, was she the knight that Laurica believed in?
By becoming a righteous knight, was she able to compensate her failure to protect Laurica?
"Yachi... Haruaki, you said... an excessively strong wish counts as a curse?"
"Eh? Did I...? I don't quite remember... I think so."
Amidst consciousness that was gradually growing hazy, within a field of view that was gradually closing up—
Lilyhowell Kilmister chuckled wryly at the sight of him scratching his head in puzzlement.
At the same time, she thought:
Although her standpoint was different from theirs...
At least there was no need to care that much at the end.
Since she had walked here, wanting to become a righteous knight...
Then like a righteous knight...
It was probably fine to throw them words that resembled a blessing for the future—
"In that case—My curse is hereby lifted now. Yes, lifting a curse... Truly what a comfortable and pleasant feeling..."
A world of silence persisted for quite a while.
However, footsteps then appeared. Two groups appeared, each consisting of a pair.
One pair was dressed in lab coats, a dark-skinned girl accompanied by a young girl wrapped in bandages.
The other pair was a petite girl with hair styled into buns together with a caped cursed house.
They had emerged almost simultaneously, approaching from opposite directions. As though surrounding Haruaki's group in the center, they both stopped walking almost simultaneously.
"My statement: I are here only for cleaning up and showing ourselves. I report this kind of truth."
"What a coincidence, Satsuko and Fourt are the same~ Then let's not interfere with each other this time."
The dialogue stopped there. Then as though unaware of each other, the two sides began to take action.
Satsuko and Fourteen walked over to Nirushaaki's corpse.
"To think even Nirushaaki-sama would also... Ah, sure enough, «Wounded Knee Massacre» is destroyed. The «Three Masks» still seem usable—"
"Fighting normally while using willpower to suppress a state of drug intoxication, that alone is already extraordinary. Constitution is probably a crucial factor as well. I believe that it is something only the esteemed «Wings» could control... You'd better give up."
"Okay okay. Then Kotetsu... Oh~ It's impossible to retrieve him too. Like a princess imprisoned in a cage. A-Also, fully naked for some reason. Hawawa, i-it feels too obscene, Satsuko's heart is pounding hard...!"
"Calm down. Anyway, we have not received orders compelling us to retrieve him by force. Let's call it a day after finishing what tasks are possible."
"Y-You're right. Fourt, I'm counting on you."
Under Fear and the others' slightly wary gazes, Fourt covered Nirushaaki's corpse using her cape. Then when she lifted the cape again, the corpse was gone. Probably stored inside her body—Just like what she did to Yume last time.
Fear could only glare at them sharply. Most likely noticing her gaze, after finishing their task, Satsuko smiled with subtle meaning at them.
"Hi~ Fear-san and the others. You've really achieved something extremely amazing. Who could have thought that even Nirushaaki-sama would meet defeat at your hands..."
"We didn't defeat her. If anyone—It was a knight who defeated her."
"But actually, we were watching from the sidelines the whole time, so we know that's not all. That's why Satsuko wants to say again, you've really achieved something extremely amazing. There are three reasons."
Satsuko raised three fingers towards them. Then bending her fingers one by one, she said:
"One, number two is dead. Two, the Commander is making his way here now. Three, the right to challenge is promoted by one level—That's all! See, do you begin to feel you've done something extremely amazing?"
"I can't stand this. It's totally got nothing to do with us."
Fear answered coldly, causing Satsuko to contract her shoulders sadly.
"Even if you don't think that way, but then again—Yeah, whatever. Then we'll take our leave today! Fourt, let's go."
Satsuko and Fourteen turned around to leave. Fear's group did not intend to chase after them. Neither did they have the energy to do so.
On the other hand, Un Izoey and Amanda were silently gazing down at Lilyhowell whose eyes were shut.
After a while, Un Izoey turned her gaze to the side and asked Amanda.
"...Have you seen her before?"
"Yes. Although, no direct cooperation before, she is very famous, hence, appearance is known..."
"Is that so? Then must be treated carefully."
Un Izoey murmured quietly then carried Lilyhowell on her back. Using the scabbards to lift the tips of swords, Amanda re-sheathed «Alius» and various other swords, then picked up Lilyhowell's arm.
The two of them did not speak much. Fear and the others simply watched their actions without saying a word.
But before they left, Un Izoey spoke up.
"...Really sorry this time."
"You don't need to apologize at all. Rather, you told us a lot of information, so it was really a great help."
Hearing Haruaki's reply, she continued to hang her head apologetically, simply waving her gray hair lightly.
Finally, Un Izoey exchanged glances with Amanda, then nodding at Fear's group to take her leave, she started walking. After a slight delay, Amanda also nodded the same way and followed Un Izoey.
The group saw them off silently. But after walking for a while, Un Izoey looked back and asked as though remembering something:
"Oh right, we can get prize."
Why did she suddenly say something incomprehensible? Fear and company simply tilted their heads but Un Izoey also did the same. After pondering for a moment, she finally said:
"For atonement—Let us do that. Right now, what is the unknown that you wish to know the most?"
Even after hearing this question, they still remained frozen like statues.
However, without looking at their expressions, she spoke by herself in comprehension:
"...My conclusion, understanding what a truly ridiculous question it is."
Then without looking back again, she departed with Amanda.
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