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—
In order to deceive herself about that feeling, she had thought to herself.
(I-Is he an idiot...?)
In order to rescue her from jumping off the tree, he had jumped without hesitation at all.
The gesture sounded very touching, but it was completely futile. Of course. An ordinary child could not possibly rescue her. They would simply get entangled and fall to the ground together. He was only going to serve as a human cushion to soften the impact—no, even becoming a cushion completely was not possible. In other words, it was no different from ordinary suicide by jumping off a building.
Too foolish—She could not help but think that.
She glanced at his face, whose eyes still seemed to be slightly open. He was still conscious?
At this time, she remembered. A possible reason why he would do this kind of thing.
"—Thou didst this for the contract? Because thou wanted to help me, thereby becoming a true master-servant relationship?"
However, the answer he gave in a tiny voice was not the one she was expecting.
"What is a... contract...?"
He had forgotten. She was stunned speechless.
But at the same time, she understood in the bottom of her heart.
He had forgotten. This was the answer. He had truly forgotten. More than likely—he had even forgotten she was a cursed tool.
(How utterly... foolish...!)
Even if he had forgotten, she still remembered. The promise made as a joke. An oath akin to playing games with words.
However much thou helpest me, I shall repay thee accordingly—She had certainly said that.
In that case, how should she repay this level of folly?
This folly of putting himself on the line to save her, for the sake of rescuing a cursed tool from an insignificant fall. Confronted with such massive folly, did she have anything to repay him—?
With his head bleeding, he moved his body slightly. The blood became even clearer in view.
She noticed the fluttering of her heart. This was not worry about whether he could be saved. Absolutely not.
Precisely because she harbored such lofty pride, she was unable to deceived herself regarding the thoughts in her heart.
Right now, I am...
Stirring under the effects of passion.
Originally forgotten, her headache reawakened. At the same time, she understood.
This was the unsettling answer to that unanswered question.
Even when in the possession of a human who was immune to curses, her cursed "nature" remained unchanged. The desire to see fresh blood did not disappear. She had been subconsciously sealing this desire away. But now, she had passed her limit. The headache was proof of that.
Wanting to leave this home was possibly due to this reason as well. As the desire to see blood increased, higher and higher, she subconsciously suppressed it, but unable to suppress it fully, it was manifesting in the form of a headache—Which was why her only choice was to leave this home.
"H-Haha, truly... shameful."
Holding her head, she felt an uncontrollable urge to laugh, so she laughed. At the same time, her lower abdomen ached from the color of his fresh blood, causing her to laugh.
Truly, shameful was the only apt description. Who? Of course her cursed self. After seeing the fresh blood of this kind of child, she was feeling aroused.
"Ha... Clearly I was the one who put forward the contract... How is this a proud sword...? How is this weary of chopping people? Seriously... simply a wild beast. A wild beast that is satisfied so long as there is food...!"
How ugly—She could not help but think.
She could feel so poignantly how pure he was and how filthy she was.
Truly—a total mismatch.
To the point that she felt ashamed.
(Well then... What exactly... ought I do...?)
Somewhere deep in her heart, she seemed to know the answer already.
After Satsuko and Un Izoey's groups departed the scene—
Haruaki and Konoha were gazing at each other. Currently, she had already picked up and wore the kimono she had dropped. Because it was only one piece of clothing, there was a sense of vulnerability but at least it was better than being naked.
For some reason, Haruaki could feel a very oppressive pressure coming from Konoha's eyes and could not look away.
"Although she deceived you into believing that sword was poisoned, Haruaki-kun, did you really have the resolve to kill Nirushaaki?"
Lying was not permitted. He answered honestly.
Konoha's eyes wavered for an instant, as though losing strength, as though she could cry any moment.
"Haruaki-kun... You must absolutely not be cursed. Because you are... our goal."
"I'm... not that special, okay."
"You are very special. Compared to us... you are absolutely not the same!"
Konoha added more pressure to her tone of voice then quietly looked down at her hand. The hand that had pierced Haruaki's shoulder.
"We... have sinned. The sin called a curse. We... are already cursed—all covered by curses, cursed all over..."
"Not only that! I-I also have this curse of an unattainable wish. Actually, I really, really, really want to lift this curse...!"
I've never seen Konoha this emotional before, Haruaki thought. The reason was definitely the hand she was staring at. The hand that had nearly taken his life, still with lingering traces of red right now.
"Although I don't quite understand everything, if you want to lift a curse, I'm willing to do anything to help. I've already said this before and I'll continue to say it. I will always stand by your side, all of you."
Despite Haruaki saying that, Konoha still hung her head for a while as though enduring something.
"I have done something irrevocable. This has brought me to realize once again how close I actually am to curses. I still remember the sensations on my hands, the taste of the blood splashing into my mouth, the screams entering my ears. I have no wish to know them at all. If only I could forget them, if only I could pretend none of that ever happened!"
Murmuring emphatically, her words instantly turned into a screaming tone of voice.
But then she continued quietly.
"Even so—They still won't disappear. These memories will hassle me incessantly, I will be helplessly crushed by them. No, I am thinking to myself, hurry and be crushed. This is my rightful punishment for excessively ugly sins. This is the malevolence I harbor towards myself. It's the curse I have cast upon myself. Already... I have no choice but to curse myself...!"
Haruaki felt that she seemed to be exerting force on her hand.
"...It's no good already. I can't... keep relying on what you said about standing by my side. Because I cannot forgive myself, to an uncontrollable extent. To pretend not to see, to suppress and endure—I absolutely cannot do that. So..."
Then she looked up with a smile resembling despair and resignation.
Meanwhile, she was giving off unusual vibes—
Raising her hand, she aimed her knife hand at her own neck.
"I want to... end all this—"
Seeing that, everyone gasped in surprise. No way. Impossible.
"Konoha-kun! Don't do something foolish!"
"Kono-san, hold on, wait first! Reconsider this!"
Rather than surprised, Fear seemed more angry than anything. Frowning intensely, she leaned forward.
"Cow Tits...! You great big dummy! What the heck are you thinking!?"
Fear was tightly clutching the chains of cubes extending from her palms. Because they were still being used to restrain the unconscious Kotetsu, she was unable to use the Rubik's cubes. She could only glare at Konoha and say:
"You are the first fellow cursed tool that I met—like a rival competitor. The sight of you pisses me off. Yeah, that's right, the sight of you pisses me off a lot. But exactly because of that, I want to win against you. That's why, in order not to lose to you, I'm trying hard to do beneficial things for people—"
Her words were probably failing to keep up with her changing emotions. At this time, Fear swallowed her voice back into the depths of her throat.
"But in spite of that... You want to run away on your own instead! You're going to give up first!?"
Fear screamed from her heart. Her intense emotions could be felt. The words of her true and definite feelings.
—But in spite of that... Even with Fear's words...
The swing of Konoha's hand, chopping at herself, still could not be stopped.
On the roof, she was looking at the night sky. A beautiful starry sky. Although visibility was low, she thought to herself, this sky of stars truly remains unchanged over hundreds of years. Just at this time—
"What are you doing~?"
A laid back voice. He poked his little head out towards the roof. He had probably prepared a ladder to come up here after discovering her.
He was still showing a face that rivaled his voice in silliness.
His head was wrapped in bandages.
"Thou hast clearly fallen from a height only recently. Yet thou art climbing up to this sort of place again. Art thou a fool?"
"It's not like I can fall from this roof. It's very wide here."
Clearly the roof was very wide, but for some reason, he was sitting tightly next to her. Then he looked up at the stars.
She sighed and murmured quietly. She also knew she was being incoherent.
"I desire the sight of fresh blood. 'Tis a curse even thou art helpless against."
Without feeling afraid, he gave a surprising response again.
While cocking his head, he extended his arm towards her.
"I see. Then do you want to try slicing me? Maybe the body of a person who can't be cursed might be different from an ordinary person's."
This was the final straw.
She could not suppress the urge to laugh. So this was what was meant by bursting with laughter.
"Haha... Haha... Hahaha! Kukukuku... Uhahahahahahaha!"
She could feel his surprised gaze. Twisting herself around, slapping the roof tiles repeatedly, she continued to laugh.
Too funny. So funny that she wanted to curse.
This boy—surely, he must be standing in a place so far away from curses that he ought to be cursed. That sense of distance made her want to curse him. However, whether cursing others or getting cursed, both were probably equally natural things in his perspective. Just like pebbles facing the sun, he simply noted their presence.
"Fufu~... Mmmph... Fu... Heehaha..."
"Hmm... Are you someone who likes laughing?"
"Uku, no no no. 'Tis been a very long time since I last laughed in this manner. Several centuries ago."
She finally calmed down. While wiping tears of laughter from her face, she looked at his face from the side.
"Hey—Wouldst thou like us to form a true master-servant relationship? No, a relationship that surpasses that between masters and servants?"
Asking him was really too underhanded. Because clearly that was what she wanted.
She wanted to become one with him. She wanted to be surrounded by that kindness and strength that allowed him to laugh off curses. She wanted to let that happy foolishness belong to herself. She wanted the two of them to become one in all respects.
"Thou asked earlier what I was doing, yes? Thinking would be the answer. Then because of what happened earlier, I have prepared myself."
"What do you mean?"
She brought her face slightly closer to him.
"Let us establish a true contract. I shall lift my curse. In return—"
That was the time when she had truly made her decision.
Forming the core of her current self, a new meaning of existence.
To lift her curse.
To become an ordinary human.
To live together with him henceforth.
That was why the price she demanded from him in a whisper was exceedingly simple.
—Stay by her side, forever and ever.
Then Haruaki saw it.
Konoha had resolutely severed her hair by her own hand.
At the same time, tears burst out from Konoha's eyes. One drop, two drops. Rolling out one after another, the teardrops were countless.
"I... absolutely cannot forgive myself for hurting you, Haruaki-kun. However... I also cannot give up on these feelings. This extremely powerful curse, known as a wish that cannot be fulfilled. As quickly as possible, I want to lift this wish that leads to the future. Because if I have to continue enduring it, I might end up crushed by my curse from the past... the truth of my bloodstained hands..."
Her hair, her rolling tears, they all fell.
However, her eyes remained focused straight on Haruaki, never shifting away at any point.
"I know... This is only my willfulness. But my curse from the past, together with the curse I have brought upon myself now, they really make me very dangerous. Hence, I want to move forward, no longer being my past self... I want to overwrite my past self completely!"
Mixed with sounds of sobbing as though her throat was twitching—
"Like this... Cutting my hair... It's just a kind of psychological effect similar to comforting myself... But I still want to... be able to relax slightly more. I want to feel less burdened... by the weight that restrains my feet and the curses of past and present."
"I can't endure any longer. It's definitely to late if I have to lift my curse first, create a barrier to prevent myself from hurting others, then move forward. Therefore... I don't want to endure any longer...!"
Her voice continued, sounding like it was forced out. A voice that was trembling and hoarse but carrying incredible vigor at the same time.
"...I can only change into a new self, one that no longer needs to endure. I am currently being eaten away by an unprecedentedly powerful curse. In order to resist that curse, this is the only thing I can do. Although I know this is only my willfulness, I still want to do this...!"
Haruaki could not be sure if he fully understood what Konoha was talking about. But he wanted to understand. Because Konoha had never laid her emotions bare like this before.
"What are you enduring?"
"The ultimate goal... I want to lift... this curse of an unattainable wish. Namely... Namely, it's—"
Konoha's voice and expression collapsed in form completely, almost like a child's.
"I... love you, Haruaki-kun!"
In a sobbing voice, as though screaming, as though roaring, she confessed her feelings. Haruaki felt an impact as though the world had suddenly started shaking. Konoha continued to speak with her face crumpled:
"Whether as a woman towards a man, or as a sword towards its master! Either identity is fine! Although I don't want you to call me Kono-nee anymore, if you really want to say it, that's fine too. That's totally fine too! Nothing else matters, I just want to become one with you—To fulfill that promise, I want to stay forever by your side!"
Konoha took a step forward.
"I want to talk to you, Haruaki-kun, laughing together, drinking tea together, I wish you could touch me—"
Then she took another step.
"Because you're very oblivious, Haruaki-kun... I'll explain it even more bluntly! I want to... do many more things with you, Haruaki-kun. I wish you could hold my hand, I also wish you could touch my head. I also wish for you to praise me, to scold me, to take baths together with me, and also—"
Her shoulders shook particularly violently, apparently from clenching her fist forcefully.
"I also want... to have relations with you, Haruaki-kun!"
"Of course... Haruaki-kun, I also want to have... your babies..."
By the time he regained his senses, Konoha's face was already before his eyes.
Eyes brimming with tears, glasses, lips, all approached him even closer—
Then on his own lips, he felt a very soft sensation.
It was anyone's guess how much time actually passed.
Only then did the soft sensation finally leave his lips.
"...This is... my new self from now on."
Konoha used both hands to hold his face in place by the cheeks, still keeping her face before his eyes. Although all covered in tears, her expression seemed refreshed as though all gloom had been swept away, it was Konoha's usual smiling face. Hence, what just happened made him feel even more embarrassed.
"Haruaki-kun, you said that you're willing to do anything to help if it's for lifting a curse, didn't you? Since you said so... You must prepare yourself. So, I am also counting on you regarding this curse of mine..."
Then she giggled.
Haruaki could only stare at her in shock. Suddenly, he felt all of his blood gathering towards his face. What was that just now? So it was basically that? Why? Although he understood, but why? What to do? Lips. Konoha's lips—
Haruaki felt a blow to the side. Fear had pounced, attacking him with a flying cross chop. She was also flushed red in the face, waving her hands meaninglessly with the chains of cubes attached.
"Too... T-T-T-T-T-T-T-Too shameless! Truly shameless to the extreme, this shamelessness! What are you thinking? I'll curse you both, I'll absolutely curse you both!"
"This is yet another mistake of a lifetime for me! After all, bringing a camera was definitely impossible given today's situation!"
As usual, Kuroe was speaking a tone of voice impossible to tell whether she was serious or not. But speaking of hysteria, it felt like Kirika was almost the same as Fear. Flushed red in the face, she was striding over, speaking incoherently in broken sentences for some reason.
"Konoha-kun! This is! Cheating, you! Stealing a march—A-Absolutely... Absolutely ridiculous! Truly, absolutely ridiculous!"
Looking at Kirika, Konoha smiled calmly in composure for some reason and even tilted her head mischievously.
"Even when you've clearly won the race for the face already, Ueno-san?"
Kirika backed away in shock. Haruaki was totally lost but apparently there was something that only the two girls knew.
"Y-You saw it huh..."
"I won't hold back anymore. Because we are in the same position now."
Konoha smiled while she spoke. Kirika sighed deeply, at a loss for words.
"Is that so? Hmm, you're right, that is the case... That's exactly the result I wanted. If we could compete openly, fair and square... That's right, it's not absolutely ridiculous..."
She was murmuring softly. Haruaki also began to understand the complicated relationship between the two girls.
That said, the biggest issue was apparently himself, the one stuck in the center of chaotic disputes.
"Muu... What's with the atmosphere in this shameless space...?"
Only Fear was pouting, her intently scrutinizing gaze moving back and forth over everyone.
Kotetsu suddenly woke up in alarm. He was currently being moved, carried on someone's back.
"You've woken up?"
The back of her head was in front of his eyes, her hair slightly shortened.
"What is going on—?"
"I am taking you back to my home."
"Truth be told... What nonsense are you spouting?"
He swiftly surveyed his surroundings. Yachi Haruaki, Fear-in-Cube, a doll and the girl in the leather bondage suit. All of them were walking together nearby. Although they glanced at him, none of them took particular action. If he wanted to escape, he should be able to. However—
"This is not nonsense, Kotetsu. You are like a younger brother to me. Hence—"
"...Well, borrowing the Draconians' style, allow me to tell you why I am this strong and powerful. There are many other reasons, but if I had to pick one, it is for you to witness personally with your own eyes the final fates for existences like us."
She turned her head to look at him sideways while speaking. Simply from the sight of her profile, Kotetsu understood. The person in front of him was her pathetic self he had seen in the beginning, yet at the same time, she was also the same person he had been living with for the past few days.
"Cursed swords such as us, how should we live in this era and how are we supposed to live on... You are also living in the current era. Even if you have been fixated on becoming stronger all this time, this matter can't possibly have never crossed your mind, right?"
He refused to answer. Instead, he asked a different question.
"Have you considered the possibility that I might avenge Nirushaaki-sama?"
"The way I see it, please be my guest if you're capable of doing that. However, you should already understand, yes? My current self is not quite the same as who I was until now."
She turned her head again. That glasses-wearing profile. Shining brightly between the gap—familiar eyes.
"Simply stated... Since you lost, just shut up and obey, Kotetsu."
"...Truth be told, that's so unfair. I really have no idea what attitude I should use to face you..."
"Any is fine. Both sides are still me."
"Guh... Such tyranny."
"I have decided to allow myself to think this: it's fine to be a little tyrannical towards a little brother. Please don't worry. A vacancy happened to open up for that position after a promotion."
Although completely lost—
No matter what, resistance was already pointless—Kotetsu resigned himself.
She was holding two Indulgence Disks in her hand. These were discovered together with «Bartolomey Oblivion»'s remains in the trash can after searching the western mansion using the information Nirushaaki had provided Haruaki. To Fear, these were items of the highest value. Having decided to collect Indulgence Disks actively, to think she would obtain two together this time, it was definitely a very happy occurrence. However, there were other things bothering her at the moment.
Playing with the Indulgence Disks in her hand, Fear chatted with Kuroe while paying attention to Haruaki walking in front.
"Ficchi, I think you suffered more injuries this time than usual. Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?"
"I'm totally fine, don't worry. At least in my current condition, I still don't need to depend on you who's so out of energy that white hair is appearing."
"It's not like my hair has turned all white, so I was thinking I could still spare a little life force~"
"Yeah, I guess I did suffer relatively more injuries this time, it's like I didn't perform very well in battle either, but that's—that's because I simply wasn't in best condition! Because there were too things going on in my mind, and basically, there's those eyesores waving before my eyes all the time, drawing my attention controllably, that's why my concentration kept getting interrupted!"
"...Yeah, me too, I guess it was the same for everyone. Just seeing Kono-san standing there in the enemy camp was enough to feel agitated. Overall, it was a very difficult battle to go all-out."
This kind of conversation continued for a while—
Finding the right moment, Fear lowered her voice and whispered to bring up the main topic.
"By the way, umm—basically that. Everyone... has kissed before...?"
"Oh my~ Kono-san's boldness really took me in for quite a shock~"
"Let me try asking, just in case, umm, Kuroe... Don't tell me you've kissed Haruaki too—"
"Speaking of which, yes. But it was just on the forehead."
"What!? I don't really get what kissing the forehead represents, but... Really...? N-No wait, I've done it too! Kissing is very normal, right? Yeah, although at the time, I was in the form of a cube."
In any case—Fear recalled how Konoha had shouted her feelings without any pretense at all.
That was what people called a confession, right? As intense as a storm. Requiring astounding energy, it felt like it was the biggest one-time event in a woman's life. But this was what Kana or someone said in the past.
Furthermore, that confession also seemed to have brought some kind of strange change to her.
As soon as she recalled the image of those two together, a strange phenomenon would happen for no reason.
A sharp pain in the depths of her heart.
Like feeling sad, like wanting to cry, like wanting to scream out—
It made her feel that way.
(Hmph, that damn Cow Tits... As expected, the shameless brat is the shameless brat too...)
The storm of Konoha's confession had blown tiny razor fragments, flying in the aftermath, stabbing into the depths of her unguarded heart—That was the kind of feeling.
Due to the razor fragments lingering behind, they probably were not going to disappear so easily. They were not something that would disappear with time.
A wound almost like a curse.
While walking, Fear pretended to cross her arms while secretly rubbing her chest.
If this wound had to be healed...
If these razor fragments stuck in the bottom of her heart had to be plucked out, what exactly should she do?
Adjusting her pace fluently, Kuroe walked over to Kirika's side.
"According to my predictions, aren't you also waiting for a reply, Kiririn?"
"Fufu—It's useless lying to you. Although I think I've said it before already."
Kirika admitted it readily, shrugged and said quietly:
"I have already conveyed my feelings to him concretely."
"Oho~ Nice. Then I guess I'll say this first. If you feel it's unfair—that would be fine too."
"What are you referring to?"
"Basically what I said earlier... roughly around Valentine's. Kono-san is always together with Haru in our home, Kiririn, but you're not. So there's a way to level the playing field in this area. Even with Kotecchan as the latest addition, we still have spare rooms at home."
After hearing Kuroe's suggestion—
"Well... what should I do..."
Kirika simply responded ambiguously.
Right now, that was all she could do.
"Oh my, things have ended peacefully. Wonderful, wonderful—Let's conclude with that."
"Lab Chief, can you follow up on your promise? I demand prize."
In the same Lab Chief's room as last time, Un Izoey and Amanda were facing Pakuaki.
This time, I really was just an observer, Un Izoey thought.
It felt like she still owed them many favors but was unable to return them.
Hence—this would serve as meager atonement.
She intended to ask the unknown that those girls would want to find out the most, rather than her own, as the prize for her adhering to the promise of staying behind the scenes at all times without intervening at all. She originally wanted to ask them directly but upon further thought, she realized there was no need to ask. She immediately understood the issue they cared about the most.
"Sure, please go ahead. Ask whatever you want. What kind of unknown would you like elucidated?"
Well then—Un Izoey spoke up and asked:
"—Can their curses be lifted?"
This was like a kind of concept, an unknown that could even be described as consolatory in nature. However, this should be what they needed to know the most. If the leader of the Lab Chief's Nation asserted the fact that their curses could be lifted, it would serve as powerful motivation, driving them forward to progress without hesitation. That said, there might be someone among them who might feel displeased towards the Lab Chief's guarantees.
As expected, Pakuaki answered assertively—
But the answer was completely opposite to what Un Izoey predicted.
"If your use of 'their' includes Fear-in-Cube..."
Pakauaki crossed his slender fingers as he held his hands together over his desk.
With an extremely amused smile on his face, he said:
"—Her curse is impossible to lift. Absolutely."
Haruaki's group finally returned to the Yachi residence.
However, Haruaki suddenly felt something was wrong. Because the front gate was unlocked.
"I did lock up when setting off... Could it be a burglar...?"
The group cautiously entered the premises, only to find that even the entrance was open.
"There's some kind of sound in the house. Be careful."
"This is... the television, right...? Hey Kotetsu, time for you to get down."
"I don't recall asking you to carry me on your back..."
The group tiptoed across the corridor and stopped temporarily in front of the living room. Then they exchanged glances. Coordinating their timing, then all at once&mdsah;
"Who is this—!?"
They charged into the living room. As expected, the person inside was a stranger Haruaki had never seen before, a beautiful woman of unknown age. Judging from her face and figure, she looked to be in her twenties or possibly thirties. At this time, Kirika's face suddenly showed great alarm.
"Yachi, that's her! The person I saw in front of this home last time!"
"What did you say!?"
"Uh... Hmm, anyway, now that you're all home, why don't you sit down first?"
Completely laid back, the mysterious woman patted a nearby seat cushion. As a side note, only now did they realize, not only was she watching television without consent, she had also brewed tea and even—
"Ahhhh! My precious Kyoto limited edition rice crackers that I hid away—! Th-This—Haruaki! She must be an ultimate villain, we have to defeat her right away! Then violate her so that she'll regret being born in this world! Attack!"
"Attack!? That's too dangerous! By the way, who exactly—are... you?"
Haruaki's voice grew tinier and tinier because he suddenly felt a sense of dissonance about that face. There was an inexplicable sense of kinship. Clearly he did not know her but he felt like he did.
She had unlocked the door naturally, entered the house and was watching television and drinking tea in a relaxed manner. Could she be someone whom he had never met, but used to visit this home in the past? For example—like before his birth.
With a crunch, she bit into a rice cracker she was holding ("Ah—!" Fear screamed again) and pressing her hand next to her mouth as though in shock, she fluttered her long lashes.
"You're asking who I am... no way, right? That really breaks my heart! Could you have forgotten me?"
Indeed. No way. Could it really be true?
This woman was his mother—
At this time, the woman suddenly extended her index finger and pointed at Haruaki's nose.
Then puffing her cheeks in a very deliberate manner to act cute, she said in a huff:
"I can't believe you forgot what your father looks like. What a terrible son you are, Haruaki!"
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