Chapter 2 - Dragon Head Looming on the Horizon / "His birthday (II)"
The fleet on the sea stopped. However, a small boat appeared from among them and made a beeline towards Haruaki's group.
They watched as the boat advanced for quite a few minutes. Slowly, the boat buried its prow into beach before them. Strangers jumped out from the boat. First was a man with a young girl... Or rather, a man with a young girl "attached"?
A tall redheaded man. His well-built and brawny body did not even show an ounce of fat. Despite his massive size, the man's entire body was covered with extremely flexible muscles, displaying a physique that one would associate with an Olympic athlete's. Reminiscent of a lion, beneath his slightly long and unkempt hair was a manly face with deep-set features. Overall, he was a man who gave off a fierce and rugged impression.
Also, most striking of all was the petite girl, currently clinging to his muscular shoulder and arm using her limbs. Haruaki recalled that this style of doll used to be fashionable at one point, but of course, this girl was no doll. She moved. Clinging to the arm, she slowly climbed up, moving some distance—to the man's back. After reaching a piggyback posture, she climbed over the man's head and glared at everyone with vicious eyes. One could almost hear growling sounds. The girl was truly tiny in stature, dressed in an outfit that was almost all black, clinging tightly to the man while glaring at everyone—A girl whom one could not help but associate with the image of an imp.
The man advanced over the beach while slightly looking around without appearing to be searching for anything in particular. Then immediately, his gaze settled on a certain point.
"Oh... Ohhhhh~~! Yes yes, you're really here! You're Gabriel, right? I can't believe you're wearing such a cool-looking mask! Haha~ It's been so long!"
The man smiled and waved his hand while speaking cheerfully. Unexpectedly, just by smiling, that fierce face instantly felt like it had gained a boyish sense of friendliness.
Greatly surprised, Haruaki looked at the one whom this man had called out to. Namely, the one who had arrived at this beach not too long ago without saying anything, simply staring at the sea as though waiting for something—his own school's superintendent.
Then for some reason, the instant the mysterious man called out, Zenon and Ganon's shoulders shook while they were standing by the superintendent's side. However, the superintendent raised his hand lightly and stopped his two subordinates from taking some kind of action, then made something like a shrug and said:
"—You haven't changed at all, Max."
"Really? I can't feel it myself."
At this time, the boat's engine noise ended and another young woman descended onto the beach. She was dressed in loose clothing reminiscent of Chinese or Central Asian style with her hands inserted into the large sleeves of opposite sides. Despite the looseness of her garments, her extremely svelte figure was obvious from a single glance. As for a certain part of her body, its enormity could possibly surpass Konoha's. Perhaps out of habit, she kept her eyes almost closed, so it was difficult to read her emotions.
After seeing her, the shoulders of the superintendent and his aides shook again. But at this moment—
"Hey~ Superintendent, it's just you guys talking, we're totally lost here. Do you know these people?"
Fear was suspiciously eyeing the people who had arrived by boat and asked a question that could not be more natural.
"Yes, they are old friends."
The superintendent's answer was very simple. Zenon and Ganon did not interject. Haruaki took this opportunity to sweep his gaze around slightly. Like himself and Fear, Konoha, Kirika and Kuroe were watching the new arrivals warily. Shiraho and Chihaya was maintaining their group's outsider attitude as though going "none of our business." Then there was—
Kotetsu's entire body was screaming bloody murder while he glared viciously at the group before him. It was as though he could take action any time, as though he could attack in full force any time.
Haruaki did not know if the man had noticed Kotetsu's killing intent, but the guy grinned and said:
"Serve me a cup of tea first! Wow, is that your villa over there? You must have made bucket loads of money~"
Without waiting for the superintendent to answer, the man strode towards the villa with the girl still clinging to his back. The woman with almost closed eyes also followed them quietly.
The superintendent oriented his gas mask towards the sea for an instant. While walking past him, the man said:
"Relax, they're not going to move. I've given orders already."
"Then... Why did you bring that here?"
The man replied very readily.
"I just happened to bring it along. It just so happened. You could call it coincidence as well. If Nirushaaki were waiting for me, I would have hurried here alone, but since this objective had vanished, I used this rare chance to leisurely move the entire Dragon Island over."
"...That's why you took longer than what I was told? I was thinking you were definitely not coming."
Haruaki's group did not register any of the superintendent's words at all.
As soon as the man uttered that name—Haruaki and his companions instantly showed alarm on their faces, lowering their stances in preparation for combat. They were just like Kotetsu who had become filled with killing intent as soon as he saw them. Haruaki finally understood the meaning of Kotetsu's reaction.
Konoha readied a knifehand strike, intently staring at the trio without lowering her guard.
However, as though to restrain everyone's killing intent, the superintendent raised a hand lightly, roughly conveying the message: If the other side intended to fight, they would have made a move a long time ago, so please calm down for now.
Then still staring at the fleet across the sea, the superintendent spoke as though addressing Haruaki's group:
"Indeed—That there is precisely the Draconian's headquarters, the giant mobile fleet known as Dragon Island. Also—"
The superintendent turned to face forward, no longer looking at the sea. The woman with narrowed eyes happened to pass by him while following the man.
"Granaury, since you are by his side, that implies—"
"What a happy/sad reunion... It has been a long time. The situation is as you imagine."
The woman stopped walking for merely an instant, but still looked ahead with the side of her face towards the superintendent while replying in this strange verbal pattern. Then she bowed lightly and followed the man again.
The superintendent sighed then shifted his gaze again—towards the back of the man walking up to the villa.
"Although I've heard rumors... You really are the current Number One, Max."
The largest space on the ground floor of the villa was a living room with tall ceilings. At the center, on one of the sofas surrounding a table—there was no choice but to admit this—sat the following trio: the man who was allegedly the boss of the Draconians, the beauty with narrowed eyes who comported herself like a maidservant, as well as the girl clinging to the man's shoulder.
"Some of you probably don't know me, so I'll introduce myself. I am Maximilian Pendragon."
The man swept his gaze around and spoke with a fearless smile. The superintendent tilted his head slightly.
"You've added a surname you didn't have before, though I'm not surprised... Pendragon huh?"
"I was thinking I should add a surname, so I looked everywhere and chanced upon this name. It means something like dragon head, which I feel is appropriate, so I picked it. Not bad, right?"
"Of course! It's super cool!"
"Identical to certain historical figures, truly an arrogant/perfect name, Master."
"How contradictory your words as always... Anyway, it's definitely better than just Maximilian on its own."
The superintendent was sitting opposite the man while conversing with them. Zenon and Ganon were standing behind the superintendent's sofa as though protecting his back, bearing unprecedentedly serious expressions on their faces.
Meanwhile, Haruaki and others were leaning against the living room wall. Kuroe was sitting on a cushion she had pulled over on her own without asking. Haruaki really admired her laid back ways. Shiraho and Sovereignty were staying in the second floor hallway overlooking the living room. Chihaya and Isuzu were sitting in the middle of the staircase leading to the second floor. Compared to Shiraho's disinterest, Chihaya showed a faint glint of seriousness in her eyes. Finally, there was Honatsu who had his elbows leaning on the kitchen counter, watching the whole affair's developments with interest.
Pendragon suddenly looked at Haruaki's group that was glaring at them offensively, then smiled cheerfully again, as bright as sunshine, and said:
"Haha~ What nice spirit you have there. However... I'll make this clear first. I don't really want to fight you guys, Fear-in-Cube. Unless you insist, of course, which would be a different matter."
"Hmph! Don't want to fight? I seem to be hearing this a lot lately, but in fact, there wasn't a single time when things ended peacefully!"
"Trust me. Ultimately, what defeated Nirushaaki was the suicide attack executed by a certain someone from the Knights Dominion, right? Strictly speaking, you guys did not defeat her. As a result, it's not appropriate for Number One to step in to punish people who failed to defeat Number Two. I have to attend to matters of face too."
Next, Pendragon looked at Kotetsu whose shaking hand was in a tiger claw dangling by his side.
"You don't need to be so nervous... I'm not interested in you either, Kotetsu. Since Nirushaaki is no longer around, if you want to stay by another master's side to seek your own strength, do as you wish. If you couldn't care less about being strong or not in the first place, do as you wish too. I'm actually quite lenient on this issue."
"...I... am not..."
Kotetsu's words dried up mid-sentence. He bowed his head, looking like he did not know what to say.
That being said—Haruaki recalled what Pendragon had just said.
—Lenient? The leader of the organization that believed "curses existed for the sake of becoming stronger than everyone else" actually said "lenient"? Although Haruaki did not think Pendragon was lying, he still found it impossible to believe. What was his intention?
At this moment, the situation suddenly changed dramatically.
Someone who had been suppressing her emotions the whole time finally surpassed her limit.
This someone had no combat ability at all and did not even have a reason to be here, which was why no one paid attention to her movements.
The someone whom no one expected her to commit this unbelievable act of violence—
Namely, Hayakawa Chihaya.
Standing up from the staircase she had been sitting, with her lips pursed in a straight line, she strode across the living room. Advancing in a straight line without regard for anything else, to the point that one would mistakenly think she was heading to the kitchen for some juice.
However, instead of going to the kitchen, she stopped in front of the sofa.
Then drawing in a quick breath, she raised her arm at the same time—
The instant the sound of a slap striking someone's cheek was heard—
Pendragon's voice was heard with pressure enough to bring a shudder down Haruaki's spine.
These two sounds entered Haruaki's ears almost in superposition. During the same instant, a change occurred in the view ahead.
"Stop... Don't do anything, Riko and Granaury."
"B-But~ This girl hit you!"
"What a very crisp and clear sound, my uterus is hurting with excitement. Truly perfect/careless."
The girl originally clinging to Pendragon's back had instantly shifted her position. Right now, she was supporting herself with just her thighs clamped around his neck, extending her body through the air, her extended hand stopping just as she was about to grab Chihaya's throat.
The woman with narrowed eyes had pulled her hand out from her loose sleeve with lightning speed, thrusting it forward under her armpit. With her palm facing upwards, her sharp fingertips had also stopped just before they touched Chihaya's chest.
"I told them to stop because you are clearly an amateur. So... Why?"
Still sitting on the sofa, Pendragon looked up at Chihaya. His slightly reddened cheek stood as proof of Chihaya's crime.
The current atmosphere was tense. It was imperative not to make a reckless move. Haruaki had no choice but to watch silently with Fear and the others.
Just as Pendragon said, Chihaya was just an amateur. Despite the killing intent of warriors slowly brushing against her skin, despite her eyes glimmering with tears beneath her glasses, despite her trembling legs—
She still did not collapse on the spot.
As though putting on a brave face, she maintained her twisted expression of anger and said:
"I am... Hiwatari Yume's friend...!"
Pendragon narrowed his eyes.
"I heard that she was following your orders to come to my school. Then she died. So it can be said that she died because of you!"
"That's not right~ The actual killer was one of those guys from the Knights Dominion! By the way, don't go acting so familiar—Nyahhh!?"
"Shut up, Riko, or else things will get even more complicated. Granaury, you sit down too."
Pendragon grabbed the girl leaning forward from him—grabbing Riko's waist—and threw her sideways. With her thighs wrapped around his neck as a fulcrum, Riko spun half a circle then returned to his back using high-difficulty movements akin to pro wrestling or dance techniques. The woman named Granaury also silently returned to her seat on the sofa.
"—Yes, I sent her there. She died because of me... Perhaps you could say that."
"Not perhaps, it totally is the case!"
"But that was also the result of her choice. Even if it meant sacrificing herself, she still chose to save Fear-in-Cube."
From the corner of his eye, Haruaki seemed to catch a gasp. The silver-haired head was shaking slightly. Haruaki did not know what kind of face she was making, but she was probably reminiscing. Reminiscing that brave girl who was both her friend and her first underclassman.
Chihaya shook her head emotionally and rebutted Pendragon.
"How inane! Forcing her into that kind of desperate situation was really too meaningless! What 'becoming strong' nonsense, what a great big idiot!"
Probably unable to ignore these words, Riko was frowning with displeasure. Even so, Pendragon's voice remained very calm, to the point that one could describe it as even steadier than before.
"Yes, her death definitely resulted because I sent her there. I honestly concede this point. However... Her will to become strong is the one thing I ask that you do not disregard, please."
Pendragon lifted his head slightly. Not only his voice but even his gaze was very calm and deep. Under his stare, Chihaya retreated as though intimidated by his silent pressure.
"W-What do you mean by that...?"
"She was an orphan and not even Japanese in the first place. I happened to find her back when she was standing in shock amidst conflict, slaughter and chaos, then I happened to take her in and raised her. Why? It goes without saying—Naturally, because she was staring at me from under the corpses of her parents, her eyes told me she wanted to become strong."
"! ...That's to say... You count as her foster parent..."
Chihaya's voice stuttered and grew smaller and smaller, vanishing mid-sentence. Hearing her mumbling words, Pendragon first answered "that's actually quite a common situation for Draconians" before continuing:
"It's not a crime for the weak to seek strength, right? That's even more true for those who have thoroughly come to understand how weak they are. Sometimes, this even becomes a person's goal for living. To say "becoming strong is truly inane" to people like that, don't you find that very cruel?"
"I'm not going to ask for your approval, neither will I seek your understanding. However, at least don't reject the idea. Because that girl can't even reject your rejections anymore."
Chihaya looked down, grabbing her elbows as though hugging herself.
Then after spending a long time, she finally squeezed out a feeble voice to say:
"Then... I'm so sorry... But..."
Pendragon answered loudly without warning and nodded. Chihaya looked up in surprise.
"So, this topic ends here. And no matter how much more reasoning I bring up, from your perspective, the fact of your friend's death is not going to change. Hence, I can only say this—Sorry. Also... For being willing to be her friend, thank you."
More shockingly, after Pendragon said that—
He bowed his head.
Unbelievably, the leader of an organization was bowing his head to an ordinary high school girl who was just throwing a temper tantrum.
Haruaki's group stared wide-eyed in astonishment. Even as his companions, Riko and Granaury were also rendered speechless. Although Granaury's eyes remained almost closed, making it difficult to read her expression, she was exuding an aura of surprise.
Probably surprised by the excessively straightforward words, Chihaya could only blink repeatedly.
Pendragon slowly lifted his head and looked straight at Chihaya, then he smiled and said:
"By the way, that girl was really fortunate. It's not that easy to make a friend who'll get angry on your behalf. By the way... You're an awesome chick. It must've been tough for you, dealing with that overly excitable girl all the time. Just from that, I can tell you're a kind person."
"Whether the guts in hitting me or your fit looking body, both are great. That husky voice is quite sexy too. How about it? If you don't mind, let's be friends?"
"W-What are you talking about—I-I-I... I'm gonna hurt you! This time, I'll definitely hit with full force—"
Going red in the face, Chihaya wanted to raise her arm again. However—
"Stop stop stop~ Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, it would be too impolite to hit someone else's guest twice in a row~ So it's time to exit the stage. Excuse me~"
"Ah! Hold on... Isuzu!"
Creeping up quietly from behind, three smiling shrine maidens picked up Chihaya forcibly, transporting her upstairs like carrying a palanquin. Shiraho was probably going to handle the rest.
"Y-You bastard—! That bad habit appeared again!"
"Haha~ What does it matter? As the saying goes, all heroes are perverts."
"I can't believe you can shamelessly say that about yourself, how amazing/terrible."
Even if Chihaya were not taken away by force, Haruaki believed that her slap was not going to hit Pendragon again. That was because Riko had turned herself into a shield—That would be the nicer way to describe it, but actually, Riko had moved in front of Pendragon's face halfway through his proposal to grab him by the collar and shake him forwards and backwards.
Haruaki and his group exchanged glances with exhausted expressions before deciding to relax their tense shoulders.
Although they could not afford to be careless, at least they now understood this man a little. Through his interactions with Chihaya, they came to know certain things.
The Draconians' boss. The Commander. The superintendent's friend. Maximilian Pendragon.
At the very least, he was facing the concept of strength with seriousness. One could not feel twistedness or eccentricity from his attitude. The impression he gave could be considered rather honest and upfront.
But of course—the chances of that upfront honesty causing some kind of trouble could not be ruled out as zero yet.
"Purpose? Do you even need to ask? Of course I'm just here to see an old friend. Why else would I be here?"
This was Pendragon's answer to the question "by the way, what are you doing here?" The hosts could not think of anything to refute him, so in the end, they started to prepare tea and refreshments according to numbers present. Haruaki and the others sat down casually on the floor and received the cups.
"Oh, you're the younger of the Houjyou sisters, right? I haven't seen you for a long time too. Looks like you're still following that guy, but once you tire of him, feel free to come over to my side, I'll definitely satisfy—"
"Pray forgive my refusal."
"Ah, so loyal as always... Oh, the older sister is here too. How have you been lately?"
Ganon was lying on her side with her jaw's edge resting on one hand. The surprising thing was that she was not as lazy as claimed, from what Haruaki could see. In other words, it seemed like she was speaking without meaning it.
Pendragon grinned without making a sound. Then receiving the iced barley tea Zenono handed over, he took a sip before looking at the gas mask across him, the superintendent who was drinking through a straw.
"By the way, there's something I always wanted to say to you."
"What is it?"
"Basically—I can't believe you ran away while you're ahead! In the last ranking battle, you were second while I was third... I really resented you for that back then."
"Well—I'm truly sorry about that."
Haruaki was reminded. Christmas last year... The incident caused by Kokoro Pentangeli. In the process of resolving the incident, they had come to learn of the superintendent's past.
A former member of the Draconians. The cursed spear «Treason Piercer» whom he loved was destroyed, then he deserted. Ever since, the superintendent had worn a gas mask to hide the tattoo proving his former allegiance to the Draconians, meanwhile searching for a way to resurrect his beloved spear—
Probably in an attempt to diffuse the boring atmosphere, Fear deliberately ate rice crackers with loud crunching noises to go with her tea while saying:
"So you used to be rivals? Did you ever fight each other?"
"Yes. To be honest, I usually placed lower than him. Although he looks like an utterly broken man now, he used to be very amazing."
"Oh? Even though he's just a masked deviant now?"
"Even though he's just a masked deviant now."
"You guys are really..."
The superintendent shook his head lightly in exasperation then—
"But even though you usually placed lower than me, that was only because you hadn't found a weapon suitably matched to your own strength, right? You were using a different weapon every time I saw you, so losing was inevitable."
"Back then, yes, that's definitely correct."
"But... Things seem different now."
The superintendent crossed his hands together over the table and rested his chin on them while looking at the opposite sofa.
The girl moved slowly over Pendragon, straddled his neck then nimbly straightened her back and said:
"That's right! He finally found me! I'm his absolute guardian—"
"Oh, I still haven't made introductions. This is Riko who only became mine after you left."
"Hold on! Let me introduce myself with awesomeness at least! Say, declaring so clearly that I am 'yours,' umm, that's too direct, it's embarrassing!"
Riko rubbed her fingertips together in an old-fashioned way, twisting awkwardly. Haruaki already had a rough idea by now.
"So it's just as I thought? This girl is not human..."
Hearing Haruaki, Pendragon immediately grinned and nodded.
"You're correct. As for what she is... Hmm, since we've no intention of fighting, let's keep that unmentioned for now. You guys might feel like fighting if you were to find out, perhaps?"
"Idiot, we're not like you guys. We don't care at all. So—is it the same for the one over there who looks like she could either be awake or asleep?"
"Correct/incorrect. I am like/unlike you."
Still expressionless, Granaury was still entirely sunk into the sofa, speaking incomprehensible words (but definitely awake). Fear cocked her head in puzzlement upon hearing her reply.
"Oh, every sentence of hers is a pain, so don't worry about it. Just go with the feeling. The feeling is good enough. Going straight to the point, yes, she is also my partner."
"Hmph... I get it now. So you used to keep losing to the superintendent because of the gap in weaponry, but after obtaining these two, you powered up greatly to become Number One, congratulations... Is that what happened?"
"Not necessarily. More precisely, I believe that before becoming Number One, all he obtained was her—the one called Riko-kun? That's all."
The superintendent sighed beneath his gas mask before continuing:
"Because she—Granaury—used to attend to the original Number One."
Once these words were heard, the tension in the air became slightly stronger. However, this did not come from Haruaki's friends but from those who knew about the past. While taking care not to provoke them, Konoha commented quietly:
"Since it's a ranking system, the top will eventually get replaced... That's only natural upon further thought. In other words, the superintendent knew her from before."
"Yes, but rather than me, the one who was truly close with her was—"
"—Liz and I were coincidentally/inevitably compatible. That was all."
Granaury's eyes remained almost closed, making it impossible to tell if she was gazing forward, murmuring softly. Liz. The «Treason Piercer». The one whom the superintendent was in love with.
"Hmm. So summing up, you defeated the previous boss and acquired all his rights?"
"Yeah... Defeated huh? To be more precise, I didn't have the luxury of going easy on him—So it's better to say I killed him."
"Is that so? I guess that's true..."
The superintendent sat back, looking up slightly towards the ceiling and muttered as though to himself:
"The former Number One, the Commander—He was just an elderly man who called himself Long, meaning dragon in Chinese. He was also the founder of the Draconians. As indicated by his name, he was most likely Chinese. Specializing in physical skills under the category of martial arts, his strength was something no one could imitate, also—"
"You can also tell from his own name, right? He was quite sloppy in picking names, which is something I must bring up. Whenever he took in babies, he would only prepare a first name. This was why everyone searched for a cooler name after they grew up."
"So you mean..."
Haruaki stopped mid-sentence, swallowing his words. Naming the babies he took in. Pendragon. His past—was just like Yume's? In other words, Pendragon had killed his own foster father—
"Speaking of which, I seem to recall him teaching you something, Onee-sama? 'The Void Night Sword requires exceptional talent.' How rare of him to make that kind of comment. Were you able to master it?"
"No, because I was too lazy..."
In fact, the instant she heard Pendragon say "I killed him," Ganon's eyes seemed slightly perturbed. Using this sloppy answer as a trigger, she returned to a full-body sense of laziness. No rather than laziness, perhaps it was closer to the emptiness of self-abandonment.
Ganon switched hands and leaned on her elbow, flipping herself to the other side and whispered:
"...Really? He died? I guess..."
These women's pasts, these men's pasts. Haruaki and his friends were not privy to them, but these pasts carried definite weight. Connections of the past. Bonds of the past.
The superintendent exhaled deeply.
"I always believed this day would arrive sooner or later. But to be honest... I still find it unbelievable. I'm not doubting your ability, Max, it's just that the Long whom I knew was so overwhelmingly powerful."
"There were two reasons. The first being—"
"Me! It's all thanks to this Riko-sama helping out this weakling!"
"Yes, well said. Good, good."
"H-Ho wow... So honest. I-If only you could be like this every time, seriously."
Riko suddenly poked her head out from his shoulder. Pendragon reached out and wrapped his arm around her head while stroking her hair and rubbing his face lightly against her cheek. Riko's face went bright red while she fidgeted bashfully.
"Second reason... It's just as you say, this day would come eventually. And that time was when it happened. Naturally, I can't defeat the Long whom you knew. However, he cannot remain forever as the one you knew—So that's what happened."
The superintendent nodded lightly in comprehension.
"In other words... Old age?"
"Frankly speaking, that's what I think at least. Even someone who used to wield such overwhelming power would grow old. No one can escape old age..."
Just as Pendragon finished speaking in a calm and quiet voice, Riko straightened herself and stepped on his shoulder, presumably unhappy that his hand had stopped moving.
"However—! As long as we're here, Maximilian will be so invincible that there's no need to care about something like that! Although it's unnecessary, even Granaury has also joined our side! Going as far as to absorb the power of the previous strongest fellow, being strongest, we are truly the strongest!"
Fear placed her glass on the floor, resulting in the sound of ice cubes colliding. Then looking sharply at Pendragon's group, she said:
"Ha! Strength, strength, strength... After saying so much, in the end, it looks like you guys are also obsessed with the concept of strength. I knew it, you guys can't be trusted. You're not plotting anything weird, are you?"
"Nope. Didn't I say just now? Right now, I've no intention of fighting you guys."
Pendragon looked up. From the second-floor hallway overlooking the living room, Chihaya was observing the situation below. She frantically pulled back out of sight. Grinning, Pendragon turned his face forward.
"Wasn't sending Yume to your school evidence enough? You guys already know the purpose, right?"
"I remember it was something called the 'Nest Parasitoid Plan'? Although there are still parts I don't understand... It's some kind of plan to steal my strength, right?"
"Indeed. Although the plan went to waste due to getting hijacked by Nirushaaki, the plan itself did not include anything about fighting your side. It was simply about planting someone by your side who idolized you and possibly might grow strong because she idolized you."
"After becoming Number One, there are things I only started understanding as a result of my position. Even with a desire to become strong, simply challenging others is useless. Certain types of strength cannot be obtained if all you do is that... Ideas of this sort."
Pendragon leaned his elbow on the sofa's backrest while looking at Fear with a calm expression. Fear pursed her lips hard and took on his gaze squarely as though trying to see through his true thoughts.
Haruaki could hear Kuroe and Kirika whispering softly.
"Hmm~ As expected of the boss, his calm and collectedness is not quite the same as the small potatoes... I guess I can say that?"
"Indeed, calm composure is probably a leader's necessary trait, but the issue here is what lies beneath his calm exterior. I hope it's not terrible and despicable desire like that of a certain organization's lab chief."
Haruaki's feelings were similar. Pendragon's way of thinking was not quite the same as the Draconians they had encountered so far. This should be quite certain. The issue was whether he could be trusted.
Haruaki really wanted to believe. Neither did he want any more trouble. Pendragon was not interested in them and did not intend to fight. Coming here was just to have a reunion with the superintendent. Haruaki hoped that this would be the case from start to finish.
If only this could conclude without any problems arising—
But of course, Haruaki's thought was ultimately an unobtainable wish.
Because even though it was unclear whether Pendragon's side was involved or not, in any case, something had to be done about—
The "ordinary" major incident, which happened in the next second.
"...Muu? It seems quite noisy outside."
"Did something happen?"
Fear's silver hair shook as she spoke. Zenon went across the living room and opened the large glass door facing the beach.
As befitting a villa's style, the glass door allowed them to walk directly to the beach from here. In other words, it connected them to the same space as all the other beachgoers.
Hence, riding upon the wind, the beachgoers' noisy commotion—
Horrifying words which were truly hard to ignore—were transmitted here.
—A phantom slasher had appeared.
"The timing is too perfect... You guys must be responsible!"
"No no no, I really have no idea."
While listening to the exchange between Fear and Pendragon, the group dashed to the beach first. Ganon, Shiraho, Sovereignty, Chihaya and the others stayed behind to watch the villa whereas the superintendent and Honatsu, who had remained silent all this time, followed.
Soon they found the source of the commotion. A crowd was gathered on an unpaved path made by tire tracks leading to a plaza near the beach for camping purposes. After pushing through the crowd of bystanders, they went up closer—
"Oh—My apologies but I'll be staying away for now. Kotetsu, you come with me too."
Konoha and Kotetsu gave up making their way to the center of the crowd, distancing themselves and looking away. In other words—At the center of the crowd, a man could be seen in beach pants along with reddish brown stains splattered on the soil.
Seeing a lifeguard standing by the victim, unsure what to do, Zenon and Kuroe went up with a first aid kit and declared they were willing to bandage the wounded man. Putting aside Kuroe who was dressed in a school swimsuit, Zenon was calm and composed, greatly inspiring others with a sense of security. The lifeguard kept nodding and agreed to let them help. Hence, holding the medical kit they had brought from the villa, they took out things like bandages to start treating the wounded victim. Of course, Kuroe secretly placed her own hair under the bandages.
"The wound is on the arm huh... Although the bleeding is serious, his life doesn't seem to be in danger. But this is truly an absolutely ridiculous situation."
"I'm relieved. What on earth happened..."
It was impossible to question the victim himself in the current circumstances, hence, Haruaki and the others first walked out of the crowd surrounding the man then told Konoha and Kotetsu, who were waiting on the side, that the man's life was not in danger.
Arms crossed, Fear glared viciously at the suspects and said:
"I'll say this again. The timing's too perfect. This wouldn't be your goal, would it?"
"I'll say this again too, I really have no idea. It'd be troublesome if you guys got the wrong idea, so I already gave orders that no one as to leave Dragon Island while I was here... But just in case, let me check. Riko, cellphone."
"Get it yourself~"
Despite saying that, she still reached out while clinging to his arm, rummaging through his pants pocket to take out his cellphone. Glancing at the fleet on the sea, Pendragon operated the phone and pressed it against his ear.
"Therese? You should have a good idea of our members' movements to a certain extent, right? Let me ask a question, did anyone act without permission after I came here?"
The other side answered something. "Yeah, I thought so." Pendragon spoke quietly and quickly hung up.
"My rule is that members are personally free to defy the Commander's orders. But of course, there's one condition—They must prepare themselves. For example, just like how Nirushaaki prepared for a duel against me."
He grinned proudly and said:
"So in my view, I'm actually hoping for someone to disobey, but unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case. None of my subordinates acted on their own."
Hearing that, the superintendent suddenly relaxed his tense shoulders and said:
"So, can you guarantee that this phantom slasher is absolutely unrelated to your side?"
"To be honest, there were a few members who had entered this country a while ago. Right now, there's one team who could have come to this area, but they have no reason to hurt people randomly. After all, the curse requires her to lock people up in order to replenish life force."
"No way, are you talking about Satsuko and Fourteen?"
"You know them? Their progress has kind of stalled lately, but they do have promising talent... Anyway, it's possible they might have come running nearby to greet me, so let me try calling. Let me see~ Ontenzaki, Ontenzaki... Huh? How can it not be here? Oh right, the name I put down was Squishy-ko instead. Despite being so tiny in size, I never thought her waist would be so—
"Ah! I can't believe you're recalling memories that you shouldn't!"
While Riko kept hammering his head, Pendragon took out the cellphone he was just about to put away, then tapped the buttons. He pressed the phone to his ear but the other side did not pick up instantly. After roughly ten seconds, finally—
"Hi, it's me. Where are you two?"
Pendragon's lips went "oh~" once he heard the other side's answer.
Then immediately, he took the cellphone away from his lips slightly and grinned suggestively at Haruaki's group.
"Bingo! They're apparently tailing the phantom slasher as we speak... What do we do?"
Leaving behind Kuroe and Zenon, who were treating the victim, as well as the superintendent and Honatsu, Haruaki and company began to run as fast as they could. The superintendent had stayed behind because once the ambulance called by the lifeguard arrived, the commotion was going to spread further, thus depending on the situation, certain strings may need to be pulled with regard to the authorities. As for Honatsu... No idea. He looked like he was trying to assist the superintendent but it was possible that he simply did not like running. No, before that, Haruaki had felt that Honatsu was keeping his distance from Pendragon and the Draconians the whole time, trying to avoid contact as much as possible—
Hearing Fear groan, Haruaki looked up to see a familiar petite figure ahead. Dressed in a sailor-style school uniform with a waist pouch and hair styled into buns as usual, it was Ontenzaki Satsuko.
"It's just ahead not too far away. Let's talk while walking."
The destination was apparently farther. The group slowed down temporarily before speeding up after Satsuko joined them.
The place they were running towards was somewhere in the mountains after taking a turn directly from the path where the slasher incident had taken place. With many trees surrounding them and a narrow asphalt path underfoot, rather than a road for vehicles, it seemed more like a walking trail for tourists to admire the scenery. As one would expect in summer, the sea was more popular than the mountains, right? Anyway, the place was completely deserted.
"Umm... H-Hello again, Commander."
"Hi, Squishy-ko. Are you squishy today too? If there's time later, perhaps we can have a bit of squishy-ing after so long."
"Y-Yes... If there's time... Sure..."
Satsuko looked down with her face red in embarrassment. Riko bared her fangs savagely again.
"I've never heard 'squishying' as a verb! What are you trying to do!? Something dirty? It must be something dirty, right!?"
Running alongside Haruaki, Konoha sighed in exasperation.
"These people are so noisy..."
"Agreed. We're approaching the phantom slasher, so I hope everyone could be slightly more quiet."
"I agree with the shameless brat too. Also, Satsuko."
"You two wouldn't be interested if this was just an ordinary phantom slasher, right? To start tailing without hesitation—Is it because you noticed it's someone involved in our circles?"
Hearing Fear say that, Satsuko smiled and replied:
"As expected of you, Fear-san, what an astute observation! Fourt was the one who said: 'There appears to be a presence from some kind of curse.' Then almost at the same time, we heard a scream and rushed over to have a look, then we saw someone injured and a very clearly suspicious person holding a weapon. It really was obvious from first sight that the perpetrator had attacked the victim with that weapon. And lately, Satsuko has been looking for a weapon, wondering if that weapon might be worth a try to see if it's usable~ So we chased—"
"Meaning that you intend to steal the weapon by seizing the right moment? Seriously, you're still incurable... By the way, are you that desperate for a weapon?"
"Yes, weak little Satsuko definitely still needs a weapon in order to become stronger~ Or rather, this is partially because of you guys, Fear-san~ After losing to you last time, you took away all of Satsuko's weapons and it's been hard to replace them with Wathes on the same level. Satsuko really had a tough time... Oh dear, however, it is evident that someone like Satsuko can't easily get a hold of good tools, what with poor luck, short height and being so weak, with a stout-waisted figure too."
Satsuko nodded seriously for one moment, pouted the next and went gloomy for another, a multitude of facial expressions changing rapidly. Fear went hmph.
"Who cares about you! So, what does that weird weapon look like?"
"Umm—Oh, rather than have someone like Satsuko explain, Satsuko thinks that it's faster if you see it for yourself. Looks like we're almost there too."
At this moment, a girl in a cape silently descended in front of them. Fourteen. She had probably been following the phantom slasher closely in Satsuko's place just now. Throwing a glance at the group, she said:
"Just around the corner, walking calmly and confidently."
"Yes! Don't let the culprit escape!"
Fear finally accelerated with momentum like a runaway car that was challenging a mountain peak, turning around the corner that Fourteen had indicated.
The right hand side was a concrete reinforced slope while the left hand side was a not particularly sturdy guardrail. Up ahead was the lower part of the slope where trees were growing. Visibility wa fairly open with the sparkling sea surface in view past the foliage.
The person walking along the center of this deserted path looked back without hurrying. Haruaki caught his breath while taking a gulp.
"The phantom slasher? Ha, definitely looking very weird."
Fear was right. There were two suspicious points at first glance. One was the spear in the person's hand. Without any particularly glamorous ornaments or design, it was a spear consisting of a straight shaft and a sharp tip. The person holding this spear was most likely female. One could not say for sure because the person's face was obscured behind a helmet resembling a visor, leaving only the cheeks and mouth visible—Naturally, this was the second suspicious point.
Apart from that, she was wearing clothing providing ease of movement, but it was no ordinary outfit because it definitely gave the impression that the wearer was dressed that way while conscious of "battle." It looked somewhat like armor, an outfit that was halfway between light armor and fabric-based clothing.
Turning her helmet towards them, she appeared to exhale.
"Fear-in-Cube huh... I found you a bit too quickly. That said, it was originally just a matter of time in the first place."
"To think you know my name, you are involved in this world as expected."
Fear frowned and muttered whereas Konoha yelled with a furrowed brow:
"Why are you hurting people like a phantom slasher!? Answer me!"
"I—have no obligation to answer."
"Either way, it must be related to some curse, right? Absolutely ridiculous. Also, allow me to confirm one matter—"
Saying that, Kirika glanced behind her. As could be expected of someone along the path of strength pursuit, Pendragon was not breathing hard at all. Shrugging his shoulder with Riko attached, he said:
"Let me clarify beforehand, I don't know her. She's not one of our members... Right?"
"Correct. Satsuko doesn't know that person."
"A single 'agreed' is enough to explain it all."
Pendragon threw the question at Satsuko and Fourteen who nodded readily. "I have never seen her either." Kotetsu testified as well. In that case—
"I'm quite bothered by that outfit that looks like armor. Speaking of armor, you'd think of knights. Are you from the Knights Dominion?"
Fear jumped to conclusions based on appearances without thinking, but unexpectedly, the other side admitted it readily.
"Indeed, I am part of the mission to sweep this world clean of all cursed tools."
"What bold words. Still, I wish you'd announce your name like a knight."
"It would be unpleasant enough to make me shudder and vomit nonstop if you lot were to call my name. However, a knight's etiquette must be upheld—just call me Sleif."
"Slave... huh? That's quite a lowly name for a knight."
"...Think whatever you want. Indeed it is so."
Due to the helmet covering her eyes like a visor, her expression could not be seen with only her cheeks and mouth visible. Just by looking at these parts of the face, one could tell that she was still calm and collected, although her lips had twisted in disgust just as claimed back when she said that hearing them call her name would displease her.
Her helmet moved slightly, thus indicating a shift in her gaze. After a period of time which felt like she was confirming something—
"The one over there... Maximilian Pendragon, I suppose...?"
"Haha~ Anyway, we're just here to watch and have no intention of taking part."
Almost at the same time as Sleif's murmuring, Pendragon explained, stuffing his hands into his pockets and swiftly retreating. Naturally, Riko, who was clinging to him, and Granaury stayed with him.
"Hmph, who knows how far you guys can be trusted... Kirika, anyway, I'm leaving Haruaki in your hands. Be careful."
"Don't go too crazy either, Fear!"
Fear did not respond. Staring at the opponent's spear warily, she took out her Rubik's cube from her parka's pocket and took a step forward.
"So, the one called Sleif, back to the question just now. I'll ask again, why are you hurting people?"
"Words coming from a calamity-spreading Wathe sure smell bad. The act of conversing is truly unpleasant. I shall answer only one more time—I have no obligation to answer you."
Haruaki saw Fear's face twitch then—
"Looks like there's no point in asking, after all, there can't be any respectable reason, right? I can't let you do weird things anymore, so you must be captured first! Also, whose mouth are you calling smelly? I'll curse you!"
"On the other hand, I don't really think she said that!"
As though declaring "I absolutely won't let you get away," Fear and Konoha both charged to close the distance.
"...No helping it..."
Sleif murmured. Just as Haruaki thought she was going to ready the spear in her hand, unexpectedly, she swiftly secured it behind her back. Instead, she drew a sword from a scabbard at her waist.
The blade was quite long but very slender, probably what one would call a rapier? A sword whose main purpose was for thrusts. It looked light and easy to control, but—
"Ha! Do you really think something like that can block attacks!? Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»!"
Fear raised the giant chopping blade up high and swung hard. Whether mass or volume, it far surpassed the enemy's weapon in these two aspects. Haruaki originally thought the result would be obvious enough but—
It stopped. With just a quiet "clang!", Sleif's rapier blocked Fear's executioner's blade. Sleif's movements were so light that even an observer like Haruaki found them bizarre. The expected heavy impact from Fear's motion seemed to have been entirely sucked into somewhere else—
"Why you little—!"
Fear renewed her spirits and raised her hatchet for a horizontal sweep. However, Sleif turned swiftly and pointing the tip down, used the rapier to block the attack. The hatchet was stopped again. The instant Fear clicked her tongue, Sleif had already withdrawn the rapier tip and retreated, proceeding to use unnaturally light movements to block Konoha's series of knifehand strikes.
"Hmm... What kind of blocking move is this? It feels truly disgusting on every impact...!"
"Disgusting? How dare you say that when you and your kind are disgusting existences... Hoo, hmm..."
Sleif began to make exhaling sounds once in a while, but due to the helmet covering her eyes, her expression still could not be read. She continued to use a slender and fragile sword to block Fear and Konoha's attacks.
"So... This is a cursed sword as well!?"
"Indeed, it is too unusual to have lasted this long without breaking. The feeling on impact is also very odd."
"Shut up, Wathes. You're rotting my ears."
Clink! Clonk! Clank! The impact sounds were faint and fragile, difficult to imagine from the crossing of blades between lethal weapons. The attacks were being blocked unnaturally. Despite the tough looking battle, Fear and Konoha did not give up.
"Ha! It's been so long since the last time I met a knight very much in the style of the Knights Dominion! Let me ask a question, do you have any connection to that woman—Lilyhowell? Are you chasing after her!?"
"Don't know. That woman is just a traitor."
"Just a traitor huh? That woman is dead, you know? Fighting Nirushaaki to a draw, she avenged her fallen comrades!"
"This I know, but it has nothing to do with me."
No connection to Lilyhowell? Haruaki was quite surprised. Given a knight from the Knights Dominion, he would have thought Lilyhowell would be the main reason. Then why had Sleif appeared here?
Just as Haruaki was thinking over these things, someone rapidly sped past him. Someone who could not hold back any longer.
Shoving Fear away, Kotetsu focused his center of gravity on his tiger claw and attacked Sleif. A straight line attack prioritizing power. However, his tiger claw did not surpass her rapier either. Kotetsu stepped back for now and clicked his tongue.
"—Muramasa-sama, pray allow me to assist you."
"Not a problem, but don't forget to spare her life."
The trio of Fear, Konoha and Kotetsu launched wave after wave of attacks. Sleif continued to retreat while taking care not to get hit, using light and nimble sword moves to block all attacks—But not once did she ever switch from defense to offense. What was she planning? Fear, Konoha and Kotetsu gradually became cautious.
Meanwhile, Sleif's weird breathing was getting increasingly frequent.
"Mmm... Ooh, kuh... Ha, ah...!"
After issuing a grunt of disdain, her breathing rhythm suddenly sped up, then as though reaching some kind of maximum, she panted especially loudly—By this point, her body finally gave some kind of reaction. A violent shake of her shoulders. Drool dripping from her slightly gaping mouth. Squeezing the inside of her thighs together.
"Guh, ah... This extent, should be enough..."
Instead of panicking from her body's reactions, she kicked the ground to back away greatly as though she had expected this from the start. But still, she was not able to secure enough distance to shake off Fear, Konoha and Kotetsu. The trio chased her relentlessly and closed in. For the first time, Sleif now showed a stance not for defense.
She raised the rapier in her hand lightly.
Although her opponents clearly had yet to enter the range of her rapier's tip, she swung downwards.
What was she doing? Haruaki's puzzlement only lasted an instant.
Even though the blade was not within range of the opponents, even though it looked like an empty swing...
It was still undoubtedly—An attack.
"W-What—!?" "Gah!" "Muramasa-sama!"
The unnaturalness of the situation was identical to how the rapier had blocked their attacks. The scene before them was contrary to "the natural conclusion based on expectations."
Unbelievably, what swung out from the rapier was a slashing mass, visible to the naked eye. It was like a spatial distortion imbued with sharpness, so large in scale and power that it was impossible to imagine that slender blade had released it. Like a large-caliber artillery shell, like a runaway train, the slashing mass flew towards Fear, Konoha and Kotetsu with powerful pressure.
Probably out of instinct, the trio instantly leaned close together and counterattacked the slicing pressure in full force. The executioner's blade, the knifehand strike, the tiger claw. Nevertheless, their power was still not enough to resist. The trio was sent flying in different directions.
(Oh no, hold on, it's even coming over here...!)
After the giant, overwhelming and tangible mass of slicing pressure knocked the trio away, it continued to fly in a straight line without slowing down, ripping apart the asphalt, chopping down trees on the roadside in its wake—
"No other way, I guess~ Here I go—!"
Then Haruaki saw it. Pendragon suddenly took a step forward and extended his arm. Still clinging to his arm, Riko poked her little head out in front of his fist and chopped the air with her hand as though joking around. This action alone was enough to produce a strange "smack!" as though distorting the space, whereupon the tangible slashing attack was deflected to the side. After sweeping past Haruaki's group, it smashed into the railing behind them and disappeared in the air above the seashore.
"Ah! I never thought it'd hurt so much! Damn~ Why do I have to do this kind of thing..."
Riko shook her fist with a frown on her tiny face. Pendragon stroked her head with his other hand.
"There there, this is called in for a penny, in for a pound. You did well, Riko."
"B-But you must praise me more. It's not like it'll make me happy, but, umm, it's out of the kindess of my heart so that your efforts don't go to waste! So, uh~ I permit you to stroke slightly harder!"
Ignoring the noise on Pendragon's side, the trio of Fear, Konoha and Kotetsu landed and rolled on the ground before looking in Haruaki's direction with shock.
"Haruaki, Kirika! Are you okay!?"
"Yeah, we're... Oh."
Haruaki suddenly noticed that his body had acted on its own accord to embrace Kirika beside him by the shoulders. Her body warmth. The fragrance of her hair.
But the instant she noticed, Kirika raised her hand and shoved Haruaki's body away lightly. After seeing her own hand's movements, Kirika's eyes wandered as though in shock. It looked like hers was a subconscious action as well.
Feeling a slight air of rejection, Haruaki was rendered speechless. For several seconds, the two of them could only stared into each other's eyes. He recalled what had happened before the current situation developed. Before Pendragon's side made their visit. His slip of the tongue under the parasol. Her feelings. What he must do, no matter what—
Kirika was the first to shift her gaze away. As though trying to hide the cause, she turned to face forward.
Looking at the asphalt ground that had been gouged and scraped violently with straight-line trail, Pendragon muttered quietly. Like a child who had found a new toy, he seemed excited, enjoying the moment.
"Haha~ What amazing power. But why didn't she use this move from the start? Does it require intense concentration? Or it needs to store up something first...? Hmm."
Meanwhile, Fear, Konoha and Kotetsu were staring with a frown at the source of the slicing.
Despite the three of them losing balance completely—the reason why the enemy had not followed up with further attacks was most likely because—
There were no remaining signs of anyone in front of them.
Night fell. The day when many things happened was also about to end.
Haruaki's group had returned to the Yachi residence, spending their time individually as they wished. After finishing dinner and doing the dishes, Haruaki walked to his room while thinking about the day's occurrences.
According to Kuroe who had treated and bandaged the victim together with Zenon, the man who had suffered the phantom slasher's assault was safely loaded onto an ambulance. His life was not in danger. Truly a big relief despite the misfortune.
In the end, the Draconians had not made any strange moves. After meeting up with the superintendent again, there was nothing important for now. Pendragon's next plans was apparently "time to gather back the other members living in this country, since it's a rare chance." In other words, they were going to remain on standby for a while at that sea. Haruaki also wondered, although they were staying on the sea far from the shore in an attempt to be inconspicuous, wouldn't they still be considered suspicious ships? But having heard that the Dragon Island essentially drifted through all the seas in the world, surely they must be quite adept at political maneuvering.
And after retrieving all members in this country—Who knew what would happen next.
"After Nirushaaki's death, the Number Two seat is now vacant. But it'd be too boring if the empty spot gets filled by ranking everyone up starting with Number Three. Might as well hold a tournament..."
While parting ways, Pendragon remarked with a childish look on his face, but—
"Who cares about you guys! Anyway, just hold it somewhere far away from us!"
Fear's response represented everyone. Although it was concerning, the conclusion at the current stage was that seeing as Pendragon had not done anything so far, there was nothing they could do about him.
(Sigh, if only this could continue with nothing else happening...)
After hearing that Pendragon was the Commander of the Draconians, Haruaki taken greatly by surprise but felt truly relieved that they had no need to fight at the moment. If possible, he wanted these peaceful times to continue forever. However, it was still unsettling that Sleif's whereabouts were unknown after her escape...
Then pulling open his room's sliding door, he found an unfamiliar object on his table. Tied with a ribbon, a box roughly the size of a lunchbox. Walking over for a closer look, he found a note under the box. Written on it were the words: "Happy Birthday! I gave it a lot of thought, but in the end, I decided to give you the birthday present first. How you use it is freely up to you, Haruaki, but feel free to consult me if you feel lost. Dad"—
Haruaki instantly felt all strength drain from his shoulders. Birthday present? How to use it was freely up to him? It wouldn't be cash inside, would it? He could not reject the possibility. After all, it came from that bastard Pops.
There were more words at the bottom: "P.S. I'll be away from home for a while with some things to do, but I really plan on coming back straight away this time. I'm sorry!"...
Ha! Haruaki laughed out loud. This again? After doing everything possible to make a mess of things, he vanished without a word at his own convenience again. There ought to be limits to irresponsibility. Speaking of which, due to Pendragon and Sleif's sudden appearances putting a wrench into things, Honatsu still owed them the explanation of why he became a woman. Thinking it was a perfect opportunity, Honatsu must have decided to ride the wave and leave things unexplained. How terrible. And he clearly promised them. Just let him go wherever he pleased. Indeed, don't come back ever again—
"Haruaki? Umm... Hmm~ Uh..."
"Fear? What's up? Did something happen?"
Haruaki looked back to see Fear fidgeting at the doorway. After he called to her, she seemed to steel her resolve and took a step into the room... But then she started fidgeting suspiciously again. She kept her hand behind her back all this time, probably holding something.
"No, umm, uh... Is it considered something...? Although I think it's better to do it while it's still today, but so much happened today already, so I thought it's better to wait until the mood has calmed down, to leave a better impression or something like that... Yeah, anyway, I'm here already but still very hesitant... I guess."
"I really don't get what you're trying to say."
"S-So, what are you doing? Are you currently bored out of your mind? Or are you very tired already from too much stuff happening today, so you don't feel like doing anything more?"
Fear asked while grinning unnaturally. Asking what he was doing—
Haruaki glanced at the box on the table, frowning. Given by the bastard Pops who had run off somewhere without keeping his promise, this whatever gift that might possibly be cash. Haruaki was in no mood to open it. To be frank, even looking at it made him annoyed.
Hence, Haruaki shoved the box to a corner of the table with the back of his hand, speaking at the same time:
"My exhaustion has increased thanks to that bastard Pops right now. Seriously, what present? It looks like he's gone off to who knows where again, although I think that's actually for the best."
"So that box is actually the present from Honatsu? Muu... Muumuu, really? I suppose. It's true that the current timing is a bit—"
"No... No no, nothing at all! There's nothing at all~ I just happened to be curious that Honatsu disappeared after eating dinner and right now, with perfect timing, the mystery is solved~ Something like that!"
Refusing to turn her back to Haruaki the whole time, Fear kept stepping back with her hand still hidden behind her. Hmm? Haruaki cocked his head when—
Just as Fear was trying to leave the room, she suddenly jumped. While attacking Fear's bottom with a violent shoving move from sumo wrestling, Kuroe made her appearance. Pushed back into the room, Fear looked at her in protest but Kuroe spoke with her usual gaze of blankness:
"This kind of thing must be given on the day after all. Once the day is past, the excitement of giving presents will recede a bit~ So to give Ficchi a push, let me give mine first. Here, Haru, happy birthday~ By the way, there's no cooling-off period for this, so no exchanges or refunds."
"O-Oh okay, thank... you...?"
Instead of bringing her hand out from her back, Kuroe used her hair to secure something behind her then handed it over to him. In any case, Haruaki accepted the gift first, but—
It was small enough to wrap one's arms around it in a hug, made of soft fabric and cotton, something like a plushie... or resembling a doll. Basically a doll of a super-deformed girl with long black hair. Petite in stature with blank, hazy eyes, indeed, it was precisely the one in front of his eyes—
"Isn't this you!?"
"Th-That's totally Kuroe—!"
Fear blinked in shock while staring at the doll. Kuroe nodded with satisfaction.
"Mmm-hmm, it's a specially made Kuroe-chan plushie. After pestering the owner of the crafts shop in the shopping district again and again, I really made this by myself, stitch by stitch. You must treasure it properly."
"...Uh... Hmm, sure... But what would I use this for..."
"You decide how to use it! You can use it for decoration or a body pillow during sleep, or even absolutely unmentionable things! Just treat it as the real me, to do whatever you want... Say, why are you turning the plushie over and trying to feel what's inside?"
"Uh, I'm checking to see if there are recording devices or pinhole cameras."
"Very regrettably, I had to reluctantly give up on those due to a lack of time and money."
"Could you please give that up forever! By the way... You didn't place your hair inside it based on a principle like "speaking of dolls, this is the way to do it," did you? If it suddenly moves in the middle of the night, it'd be super scary."
"Why are you looking away?"
Despite various worrying aspects, this was definitely something Kuroe had made for him personally with her time and effort. Despite the doll being an unexpected present very much in her style, Haruaki did not feel inconvenienced. While praying in his heart that the doll did not contain any horrifying mechanisms, he placed it on a bookshelf for now.
"So... Your turn, Ficchi."
Kuroe circled around to Fear's back and said as though pushing her:
"I'm going to reveal your embarrassing exploits if you don't give him the present~ Like the first present you picked before this one—"
"W-Wah—! I get it, I get it! Fine, I'm giving it to him! Oooh... Here!"
Now Haruaki finally understood what was the object Fear had been hiding behind her back all this time. Like Kuroe's, this was a birthday present for him.
Fear closed her eyes and forcefully brought the object to the front. Haruaki reflexively leaned back and asked:
"Oh, this is... a frying pan... right?"
"Yes, it's a frying pan."
A shining brand-new piece of kitchen equipment. In a color popular with the masses, it featured sleek lines despite the modest impression. Due to Fear holding the frying pan by the handle, Haruaki was thinking it would not have any packaging, of course, but for some reason—
"Tied on it... there's a bow."
"P-Presents are supposed to have bows, right!? Uh, in the beginning when I told the salesman it was a gift, he helped me wrap it up and tie a bow, but I didn't like the lumpy look which wasn't very cute. After trying different failed attempts with the shopkeeper, this is the final result—W-What now? Do you have any objections!?"
"Ufufu~ Ficchi is so cute~ I really wanna hug you tight~"
Kuroe stood on tiptoe and stroked the back of Fear's head. Thrusting the frying pan with the bow as though she were holding a hero's sword, Fear glared viciously at Haruaki.
Haruaki laughed and received the frying pan from Fear's hand.
"—Thank you. This looks like it'll be very handy."
"R-Really? Exceelent. Listen carefully, you must use this frying pan from now on and continue cooking delicious food for me! This was a gift prepared with these intentions. No cutting corners, got that?"
"Haha, I'll do my best."
"That's what I'm looking forward to as well. You also have to use the kitchen knife I gave you for Christmas... Oh right, Ficchi originally wanted to give you a kitchen knife as a present, but after buying it, she remembered I already gave one for Christmas, so she went pale and screamed: 'Now the present is repeated! I'm such an idiot! Uwahhhh what should I do!?' while twisting and rolling about one moment, crying and hammering my back during another. Ficchi really was unbelievably cute in her state of panic—"
"H-Hey—! You ended up tell the story after all, I'll curse you! That was just a tiny tiny mistake and I successfully got a refund, so it's totally fine! It was a bit close, but in the end, there's no problem!"
"Haha... But you don't have to be so serious. Even if I received a kitchen knife, I'd still use it with gratitude."
Haruaki spoke in a relaxed tone of voice but hearing that, Fear suddenly looked down. After a while—
"...Of course I'm serious."
"You... probably hate days like birthdays, right? You probably don't have any wonderful memories of them, right? But this is still a day to remember, isn't it? The significance here is definitely very important."
Haruaki looked into Fear's eyes. They were very sincere.
"Such as receiving presents like this, then when your birthday comes around next year again, you'll surely think back to the previous year's birthday, right? Recalling presents from that time, memories from that time. There are very few days that can leave behind memories for a year. So it must be the same for you. A day serving as a trigger to recall the past, for it to turn out to be your own day of birth, don't you find that kind of romantic?"
"Maybe... I guess."
Also, saying that, Fear relaxed her expression slightly.
"I definitely know the meaning of giving presents. A birthday present is for telling someone: thank you for being born in this world. Whether you or anyone else, this fact probably became taken for granted, so it was forgotten. But this is my first time celebrating a birthday, so I won't forget. I believe this is a very important and new experience."
Fear did not look away. Like an innocent child, like a forgiving and tender mother, she smiled and said:
"Haruaki, I am truly thankful from the bottom of my heart that you appeared here. I'm also very thankful that you were born on this day—"
Her expression was too gentle.
It ended up making Haruaki feel that she was reprimanding him: don't say things that make others sad. Like telling him: how could birthdays not be important? This is a day to remember that must be taken seriously, for it only takes place once a year.
Hence, feeling a little apologetic, Haruaki smiled in return at the same time and said:
"Although I find birthdays to be tricky affairs, I don't hate them. Yeah. Honestly... Thank you very much, Fear."
"R-Really? That's good to hear."
Then I'll be off—Fear turned around with her face bright red. As though in revenge, she also pushed the snickering Kuroe out by her back, preparing to leave the room. At this moment, Haruaki recalled something important and decided he'd better tell her.
"Oh by the way, it's possible you haven't realized yet..."
"You have a birthday too, it's in September."
Fear suddenly paused in her movements, turning her head back all at once with a doll-like motion.
"This is natural. Umm, perhaps too natural, to the point that I don't even feel sorry about deciding without telling you."
"W-When? W-Where did I get that kind of day—"
"Don't ask such a silly question. It's just like your reasoning earlier... The day you remember clearest from a year ago. For example, when you tasted rice crackers for the very first time in your life... Something like that."
The color of comprehension gradually crept onto Fear's face.
"Really... I also have... a birthday huh. Ehehe."
"Oh~ That's wonderful, Ficchi, we must have a grand celebration when that day comes!"
"Yes! Indeed—I'm really looking forward to it!"
Thus, Fear had a smile all over her face. Kuroe was smiling too.
Haruaki could not help but think, perhaps next year, he might no longer feel so troubled by his own birthday—
But at least this day today was not going to end so peacefully.
At this moment, noisy footsteps running across the corridor were heard.
Konoha poked her head into the room with a panicking expression. Fear put away her "ehehe" smiling face in alarm and pouted to disguise her embarrassment.
"S-Stop scaring people, damn Cow Tits, I'll curse you! What bad news?"
"On the television! The news just reported a phantom slasher!"
"It got on the news huh? Yeah, I don't blame them."
"The superintendent said he'd pull some strings around to prevent the incident from getting too big, but there's nothing to be surprised about it appearing on the news—"
"That's not the issue here!"
Konoha shook her head forcefully then immediately continued:
"Just today alone, there were four incidents! In other words... After we allowed her to escape, she seems to have committed three more slasher incidents elsewhere!"
Haruaki was rendered speechless. Fear stared sharply at Konoha.
"Were they all done the same way?"
"The report did not give any details about how the crimes were committed, but I fear they are the same. On the television, they said that what was common to all cases was that each victim was stabbed by a sharp object."
Fear gritted her teeth hard, her eyes filled with impatience.
"It really is that girl? I shouldn't have let her escape had I known. What the heck is she trying to do? And why—"
"Currently, her objective doesn't matter at all, right!? In any case, we cannot ignore these phantom slasher incidents. This puts everyone in town at risk. Who knows who else would become victims."
"Yeah, we have to stop her..."
While the trio stared at one another solemnly, a carefree musical tone contrary to the mood was heard. It was the doorbell. Who could it be this late? Puzzled, Haruaki still went to the front door.
"Coming coming~ I'm opening the door now... Oh it's you, Class Rep."
"Sorry... for bothering you this late."
Kirika appeared at the door. After a simple greeting, she presented a paper bag.
"It's nothing... important. Indeed—It's just because I haven't given you your birthday present yet. Just a small gift, an apron. It's got many pockets and prioritizes functionality, I think it's quite nice and it has a different color from the one at my home... No, I don't mean anything special, it's just a good apron that prioritizes functionality. The apron at your house is already very old and it's also because I borrow your apron frequently... This isn't anything expensive, so I'd be very happy if you're willing to accept it."
"Th-Thank you. So, putting this aside, Class Rep..."
Haruaki originally wanted to ask: "Are you okay?"
Kirika did not look right. Haruaki could not place his finger on it, but overall, she was not the usual Kirika. Expression, demeanor, voice, all was lacking in vitality, spirit and strength.
However, after hearing his voice, she looked up and showed a smile on her face.
A rather absentminded look.
Even so, her lips still squeezed out the shape of a smile.
"What's the... matter?"
Seeing that, Haruaki found himself inexplicably speechless.
Definitely something was not right. However, he did not know if he ought to ask. Why? Was it because of what happened during the day? Because he had run away from the answer? No, he did not think that was all to it. Although there was no evidence, he somehow felt that the reason was not limited to that—
"No, uh... Would you like to come inside? At least have a cup of tea—"
"Don't bother, it's already quite late. I really came over just to give you the present."
Then lightly saying "goodbye," she turned around and disappeared outside the door very readily, step by step.
Haruaki wanted to say something to her but could not find any words.
All he could do was silently watch as the darkness of the night swallowed her.
An hour or two prior to visiting the Yachi residence...
Kirika was lying face down on the sofa in her apartment, recalling what had happened during their battle against Sleif. She had pushed him away when he was trying to protect her—
(Why would I... do that...?)
Immediately, she recalled those words he had uttered.
—If only the status quo could be maintained forever.
Later, he had tried his best to mend the situation. He promised her he would answer her after thinking carefully. But those words, those words that had slipped out unintentionally, it was undeniable fact that those words had existed in his heart.
Only unease kept growing.
Was her confession going to be disregarded as not even a confession? Perhaps she was not even seen as a romantic prospect in the first place. Forced to feel this so concretely, it was very painful.
Defeat would not have mattered. But it would be too cruel if she were forbidden from standing on the battlefield at all.
Why? Because she had only been friends with him all along? Had their time together as friends been too long? Because unlike the case with the Japanese sword, they had not accumulated enough personal time together? Or perhaps—
"I knew it, this is... the cause huh...?"
Kirika turned herself over with her back lying on the sofa and pulled at her collar. The black leather bondage suit, «Gimestorante's Love». That inescapable contempt of hers was reflected on her retina.
She exhaled in self-mockery.
She did not want to think, but it was a fact that this thing existed here. It would be absolutely ridiculous if she were to dismiss the possibility. As least it was one of the possible reasons. It would be unnatural instead if she were to rule out that type of thinking. Hence—
"As expected, a woman who wears this kind of thing... is merely big trouble whose confession won't even be regarded as a confession—?"
Trembling, she murmured stiffly to herself.
Clearly she should believe in him. She really hated herself for saying such pessimistic words.
In the end, she still could not escape this cursed garment. A sense of despair, which could be considered all too familiar to her, surged in her heart again after a long period of absence. No matter when or where, this curse always restrained her. She had originally accepted this and also decided to carry it while moving forward, but—
She closed her eyes, without thinking anything, she simply said in her heart: How easy things would be if only someone could muster full force and rip this outfit apart together with her body. Absolutely ridiculous. Everything was so... absolutely ridiculous...
Just at this moment, her cellphone rang from the table on the side. Who was it? Them? She was just planning to drop off the birthday present later. Should she inform them first? But wouldn't it be better to go without warning for a sense of surprise? No, but right now, facing each other was a bit awkward, so it would be better not to make a big deal out of things—
These thoughts circled and crossed one another in Kirika's mind while she picked up the cellphone but was taken aback for a moment. Shown on the screen was a string of unfamiliar numbers. Who was it?
'Hi, it's been a while, Kirika. I would be very pleased if you could listen to me without hanging up on me.'
By the time she heard 'it's been,' Kirika's finger had already reached towards the power button reflexively. She wanted to vomit. The most hated man in the entire world. The man who had forced her to wear this cursed suit. Her own elder brother—Yamimagari Pakuaki.
The only reason why she had not hung up was purely because the muscles of her finger were acting abnormally for the moment. It was only because right now, she could not be bothered to press her thumb down swiftly, that was all.
In order to let the other side hear it, she sighed with displeasure at the receiver.
"...What business do you have?"
'You don't like to beat about the bush, right? Then I'll be upfront. I want to make you a deal.'
"A deal? Absolutely ridiculous. Listen carefully, I—"
'I expected you to say that, so let me first tell you what kind of reward you're in for. Based on that, you can decided whether or not you want to listen to me.'
For some reason, Pakuaki's voice sounded very gentle. How nauseating. There must be a problem with my brain. Absolutely ridiculous. I must be too exhausted if I think that. I have grown weak.
Given her current state, it was incurably correct.
At the worst possible timing, extremely correct.
Those words—like the whispers of the devil, that was why they burrowed unimpeded into...
The ears of she who had grown weak. The ears of she who was recalling despair.
Then they made her spine tremble intensely.
'Kirika, if I were to say... There exists a method to remove your «Gimestorante's Love» and without you dying, what would you do?'
Currently, having given the present to Haruaki, Kirika was rapidly making her way along the steets at night.
She was clenching her fist tightly and biting down hard on her teeth. She did not care even if she might shatter her teeth. After all, they would heal rapidly.
Her destination was not her own unit in the apartment building.
Instead, it was a deserted parking lot—She had agreed to meet someone there.
"My statement: honest words that I never expected you to come."
"...I also feel the same way, although this truly is absolutely ridiculous."
Appearing out of the darkness was the dark-skinned girl in the lab coat—Un Izoey. That man's subordinate.
Kirika glared at her and clenched her fist even harder.
"This is the last time. Undoubtedly the last time in my life. Only this once, one more time—I've decided to believe that guy's words."
This was absolutely not "trust." Kirika added in her mind. This was so-called credence, the act of believing and using... Simply using. Absolutely nothing more.
"No matter what, I only act according to orders, I clarify this clarification. About this operation, how much do you know already?"
"...Right now, the Lab Chief's Nation has very fortuitously obtained the location of the knight known as Sleif. The random slashings are suspected to be due to the curse of the spear in her possession. What I need to do is—"
Kirika narrowed her eyes while thinking back to what Pakuaki had said on the phone and continued:
"Namely, to bring that spear back to the Lab Chief's Nation for your side to research. While you are fighting that knight and diverting her attention, I will use «Tragic» to steal the spear from behind."
"Truly sufficient knowledge."
Looking at Un Izoey nodding with ambiguous eyes, Kirika clenched her fist again due to the sense of suffering she could not dispel. But this should not count as betrayal to them. Probably not—
Suppose she fought Sleif together with Fear's group instead of joining forces with Un Izoey... They too thought that the spear was the reason why Sleif was attacking people randomly and would most likely destroy the spear. That was the safest method, especially with Konoha's expertise in destroying weapons, it might even be easier than stealing.
If Kirika were to explain to Fear's group the entire truth, they might be willing to take action while prioritizing the stealing of the spear. However, Kirika could not heap extra trouble upon them while they were fighting Sleif when it was for her own personal reason. The ones facing the greatest hardship would be those girls fighting on the frontlines. Or him. Kirika believed that would be wrong. Since it was for herself, she should be the one facing hardship. When handing the spear over to Pakuaki, it was already enough for her to be the only one feeling guilty.
Probably sensing something from her expression, Un Izoey said:
"About this operation, I don't plan on leaking a single word to them. I promise this kind of promise."
"A promise huh? Absolutely ridiculous..."
Did this count as some sort of considerateness? To be honest, Kirika still did not quite get what Un Izoey was thinking. After glaring at her with hostility, Kirika asked:
"You... Are you standing on Yachi and the others' side?"
"My answer: I report the fact I don't know."
Un Izoey closed her eyes for an instant and gave that answer. Then immediately, she gazed intently at Kirika. Kirika suddenly felt that she could see some kind of emotion in Izoey's eyes that was different from usual. But it was very faint, too unclear, very difficult to articulate. Possibly confusion, possibly confoundment, possibly anxiety—and possibly... pity.
During this time, Un Izoey suddenly shifted her gaze away and muttered to herself towards the ground:
"...That reply... Definitely. If the Lab Chief said so, it must be true... What is going on? What an unknown. Cannot tell anyone—No, cannot ask anyone either—"
She definitely looked different from usual, as though bothered by something, but Kirika had no obligation to care.
"I want to end this sooner, let's go."
"My answer: yes."
The two of them started walking. As soon as Kirika relaxed her mind, many things surfaced in her thoughts, as though her body and mind were completely being controlled. About him. About the confession. About today. About the future. The curse covering her body. The deal with Pakuaki. Hence, she deliberately asked about unimportant things.
"What about Amanda?"
"Lab Chief's orders: resting today. Because she has been working nonstop lately."
Kirika was slightly concerned. Sleif belonged to the Knights Dominion while Amanda used to be a member of the Knights Dominion. Even if she was unable to fight, she should be able to contribute information, right?
(Pakuaki even gave explicit orders... Did he deliberately exclude Amanda from this operation...? It feels slightly unnatural. But it could be just coincidence, maybe I am overthinking things...)
Kirika pondered these matters while they advanced. Soon they arrived at the destination.
It was a multi-tenant building out in the suburbs. At four stories high, the building itself was not very big. With the shop tenants apparently already closed up with dark windows, the entire building was also quiet.
"Reports say the roof of this building."
Must be an observer other than Amanda? Un Izoey reported after making a call to confirm.
"Do you know the enemy's armaments? I inquire this kind of inquiry."
Normally, Kirika would reply "who knows, absolutely ridiculous!" without deigning to give another thought, but currently, she was planning to engage the enemy together with this girl's cooperation. There was no choice but to share information.
"From what I saw, there's that spear, although it's not used for combat, as well as a rapier which can release what one could call a powerful giant, tangible, slashing attack... Imagine it as a so-called wind blade phenomenon that has been amplified to cannon-class in power. On the other hand, it seems like it needs to accumulate energy first."
"I will take care of her before that. My policy, make declaration to fight with full power from the start. Since the spear is not used in battle, it is kept on her back?"
"Then when the enemy is fighting me, try to get around the back as much as possible to steal spear. If she leaves the spear on the side, then it's even easier."
"I'll try as much as possible to move without exposing myself. Just do everything you can to divert her attention."
After ending this quiet conversation that was like a strategy conference, the two of them went into action. Neither of them needed to use the stairs at all. After confirming there was no one watching, Kirika extended the «Tragic Black River» towards the roof. The roof did not seem to be fenced, so she randomly took hold of a corner and shortened the black leather belt to fly up. Holding onto either protruding window frames or pipes, Un Izoey silently scaled the wall like a monkey, climbing up to the roof nimbly via the outer wall using physical technique alone.
Un Izoey arrived first and suddenly landed on the roof.
"My name: Un Izoey of the Lab Chief's Nation. I introduce this kind of name. Prepare yourself."
"The Lab Chief's Nation. A dark organization that exploits contemptible ugliness. How stomach-churning."
Slightly later, Kirika quietly peeked out from the edge of the roof to observe the situation. Un Izoey was holding a knife between her toes while Sleif had drawn her rapier as before. The two of them quickly started to fight. The spear was on Sleif's back. As one would expect, the method of quietly stealing the spear while she left it on the side was not going to work.
Kirika did not reveal herself on the roof. Instead, she used «Tragic» to move sideways along the edge of the rectangular roof, towards the opposite corner from where Un Izoey had made her arrival. After successfully reaching the best position, Kirika peeked out again to observe the situation on the roof—
"My doubt: defense with unbelievable feeling when hit, I express this kind of comment."
"Huff! Mmm... You... are great. Unprecedented. This will end very soon."
"The end is still far, I answer with this kind of answer!"
Sleif used the rapier to block the high-speed attacks executed by Un Izoey's legs one after another, still making weird panting noises in the meantime.
Judging from Un Izoey's puzzled voice and the blade impacts that were clearly too quiet, one could tell that Sleif was using that incomprehensible impact absorption ability like during the daytime. Was that a power from a curse? Or was it Sleif's own ability?
In any case, preparations were in place. Sleif happened to have her back towards Kirika who could see the targeted spear. Just by using the «Tragic Black River» to grab the spear and extract it, the theft should be easily accomplished. The time since the fighting started was roughly half the duration of the battle against Fear and the others—In other words, Sleif probably could not use that move yet. There was no reason not to take action now.
With her arms and legs clinging onto the concrete edge, Kirika ascended the roof all at once, then immediately, she extended the «Tragic Black River» towards Sleif's back—But just at that moment...
"Ah! Huff! Oh, mmmguh!"
A convulsive sound. As though surpassing some kind of limit, Sleif's entire body kept trembling nonstop.
"Ha, ah... I said just now that this will end very soon. Correct as expected. It's enough already."
Then she pulled back immediately to create distance. Just like what she did against Fear and the others, Sleif swung her weapon without her opponent in range of the tip.
Impossible! Kirika could not believe this. Why was she already able to launch the attack?
"Are you the hunter of the Lab Chief's Nation? You're as fast as rumored, which is why this can be so fast."
"What are you saying? Truly an unknown... No, no way...!"
Un Izoey frowned in shock but as though saying "you won't get your way," she sped up to close in. However, Sleif calmly swung the rapier horizontally—
"Just like greedy and filthy rats, those of you who believe yourselves to be wise men, let me tell you as a substitute for rotten food... This sword is the «Karma Speed», which has already devoured your speed thoroughly!"
Instantly, Kirika was struck by a revelation. What the attack needed to accumulate. The defense that absorbed all force. Putting two and two together—So that rapier's power was absorbing the speed of enemy attacks, then releasing the accumulated energy? In that case, Un Izoey who was faster than anyone would surely be the most suitable nourishment for that sword.
But by this point, she could not stop «Tragic». Go. It's almost there. Hurry!
After Sleif swung the rapier sideways, it produced an astounding mass of slicing pressure. It was the powerful and gigantic phenomenon tearing through the air. To be honest, Kirika expected Un Izoey to die. The distance was too close.
However, Un Izoey instantly jumped up, using the knife between her toes as a shield in desperation, stabbing it towards the slashing attack—But something like that could not possibly oppose it. In a split-second decision, Un Izoey decided that this would be better than standing there to take on the attack with her body helplessly sliced into two. Fortunately, Un Izoey had placed herself in midair, thus she was blown away like a doll as though she were hugging the giant slashing attack. The knife shattered into scattering pieces. Her gray hair spun while fluttering. Judging from the trajectory she was blown away, there was no way she could land back on the roof, but Kirika could only trust in the feral girl's ability to survive crises.
The «Tragic Black River» reached Sleif's while she was releasing the attack, successfully extracting the spear from her back.
She cried out in shock while turning her visor-like helmet towards Kirika at the same time. It was too late. Also, the feral girl had left a final souvenir for Kirika.
While knocked into the air, Un Izoey swiftly curled up her body and reached towards her big toe. In the next second, she straightened herself as though her back and legs were sticks, fully extending the elastic bow that was wrapped around her big toe.
She shot in a split second.
To still be able to aim after getting blown into the air, what truly amazing marksmanship. Or perhaps, it was mere coincidence? In any case, the dart shot by Un Izoey from the air struck the rapier in Sleif's hand just as she was turning her head back, sending the sword flying.
Immediately, Un Izoey fell under the influence of gravity and Kirika could no longer see her. There were probably other buildings and trees in the area, so she was most likely going to survive. But putting that aside—
(...This will work.)
Kirika believed firmly. The enemy had let go of her weapon while she had grabbed the spear already. Next, all she needed to do was continue pulling the spear towards herself then swiftly jump down the roof to escape—
"You're not going to succeed—!"
Roaring with anger, Sleif dashed towards Kirika with speed akin to flying, her instantaneous acceleration enough to rival the «Tragic Black River»'s retraction rate. Truly impressive agility.
However, the opponent was unarmed. Even if she approached like this, she could only attack with a body slam at most. Even if Kirika fell down the building from the collision, she could escape through falling. No problem.
Just as Kirika gritted her teeth to brace herself for the incoming impact, staring at Sleif closing in on her—
Purely a single miscalculation made all her efforts gone to waste.
In order to confirm the situation first, Un Izoey returned to the building from just now.
Still expressionless, she looked around the roof. The place was so quiet that the earlier battle seemed like an illusion. There was not the slightest sound. Naturally, no one could be seen either.
However, there was an item sufficient to indicate that certain things had happened earlier.
No, could this be considered an item? It was hard to define.
Staring intently at that object, Un Izoey took out her cellphone. Barely managing to recall how to make calls from the contact list, she operated the cellphone and waited for the call to connect.
Meanwhile, she looked down at the object before her.
Indeed. Could a severed human leg actually be called an item?
The part of the body below the thigh. A clean and smooth slice. The crimson liquid splattered in the surroundings.
Flesh was slowly disappearing from the sliced surface as though melting away. Since the severed body part was left here without getting reattached, the main body had probably started growing a new leg from the cut in order to heal the wound. In other words, that suit had made the judgment call that the second leg here was redundant.
At this moment, the call connected.
'Yes yes, it's me. How did it go?'
Since she had not contacted Un Izoey, the scene at hand could only imply one result.
Un Izoey answered lightly:
"Failure. Also, it seems she was abducted."
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