Chapter 4 - He Who Is Cursed / "Her rebirth (x2)"
It turned out that Pakauki's prediction was correct.
A seaside road. Although one called it that, the road surface was not paved at all. It was just a bumpy path only used by local residents. One side was a rusted railing adjacent to the sea while the other side was a dense forest.
Just as the footsteps walking on this road halted, Haruaki's group dashed out from the forest.
"Sleif! Resistance is futile!"
Fear conjured her executioner's blade and swung the hatchet at the knight before her while she spoke. She looked like she had been spacing out for a moment just earlier, but now she seemed more energetic than before.
Wearing the visor-like helmet, Sleif had the rapier sheathed at her waist and the spear secured to her back, identical in appearance with last time. But currently—she was dragging a giant trunk, large enough to hold a person inside as well.
A surge of rage shot up in Haruaki's mind at the sight. He could not suppress his emotions anymore.
"No helping it, but please don't overexert yourself!"
Konoha transformed into a Japanese sword with a "poof" and Haruaki caught her. What a nostalgic feeling.
At this moment, Haruaki noticed Fear glancing sideways at him. Then her gaze shifted away from him to Kotetsu who was stepping forwards with a shake of his fingers.
"What? Have you words for me?"
Hearing Kotetsu's question, Fear said "...no" and shook her head lightly. Haruaki could hear her whisper extremely softly to herself:
"...Cow Tits is back safe and sound and looks like she's cast off some kind of burden compared to before. Also, there's Kotetsu who's about the same as me, or even better at fighting... I guess. Surely I don't need to worry after all—"
For merely an instant, her lips twisted in a wry grin then after that—
Fear sternly faced forward again with a shake of her silver hair.
"Anyway, we just need to put in everything we got! Let's go!"
"I don't need you to tell me that!"
With Fear in the lead, the three of them charged to attack. Sleif threw the trunk away brashly and swiftly drew out the rapier from its scabbard.
"Foolish to the extreme. You shall only repeat the same mistake."
"That's right~ It'd be too boring if the same mistake is repeated."
Pendragon commented leisurely from his role as the audience. Although Haruaki thought "in that case, why don't you help!?", saying anything at this point would be pointless. That being said, the audience was not limited to Pendragon, Riko sitting on his shoulder and Granaury beside him—
"Fear-san and everyone, do your best~"
For some reason, even Satsuko and Fourteen were present as well. They had apparently passed on another place's monitoring duties to lower ranking members, coming to watch like their boss. Haruaki really wished they would help out.
However, there was currently no luxury of attention to spare for what was happening behind them. Haruaki and Fear attacked Sleif together, but like last time, she used the rapier to block attacks in a slippery manner.
Un Izoey had already informed them that this was «Karma Speed»—a cursed rapier that could absorb speed then release the accumulated energy in the form of a giant slashing attack. Hence, a quick barrage of impetuous attacks would only enable the enemy to launch the counterattack technique sooner.
"Mmm! Haah—What's this? Too gentle, Wathes, you embodiments of repugnance."
"You're the one... who's more repugnant, right? After figuring out your secret, I have a rough idea now."
"Hmph. Truth be told, I shall be blunt. Your moaning is the result of pleasure."
"You're probably under a curse that makes you addicted to speed, right? The more you receive fast attacks, the more aroused you get, something like that?"
"This is nothing but a lowly Wathe—the counterattack technique developed by a weak and sickly nobleman simply by exploiting the opponent's speed at the cost of sacrificing his own strength, so as to guarantee a kill against his mortal enemy in duel. However, that first victory won by fanatical delusion caused the nobleman to acquire an obsession and sense of pleasure from speed... What a contemptible story!"
Sleif focused on defense and blocked all their attacks, slowly storing up the speed. However, this time was different from the previous in a number of ways. First of all, Haruaki was taking part in the battle. In other words, Konoha had transformed into a Japanese sword.
"Although the feeling during impacts were very odd, so it took me quite a while, want to try it?"
"...It's a bit late to ask, but will it really be okay?"
"Because I've moved beyond my former phase of wanting only to escape my past. I am myself, the me who loves Haruaki-kun dearly."
"Hey, now's not the time for saying this!"
"My apologies. However, I said what I did in order to cheer myself on. Since I'm going to do it, I have to take care so that her head doesn't get sliced off in the wake."
Konoha's tone of voice sounded like she was mischievously sticking her tongue out, but in the next instant, her voice turned cold and full of vigor, almost enough to freeze one's spine with terror.
This was undoubtedly her voice too. Inside herself, another voice of hers. Haruaki felt neither fear nor hesitation and simply listened to that carnivorous voice with trust.
This was not the Sword-Kill Counter that destroyed weapons utterly just by using the force from the enemy's attack. Instead, this was the True-Kill Counter that destroyed weapons by manifesting Muramasa's yaksha-like existence of pure sharpness. Since it did not require coordination with the enemy's attack, it had the advantage of being able to handle Sleif's style of pure defense. Although the attack had the drawback of possibly harming the enemy in its wake, Konoha was currently taking a minimum level of caution to avoid harming the enemy's life. Hence, even though it was inferior to the full-powered «Counter», this strike should be able to achieve 80% of the effect—
Drawn out, Konoha's white blade made contact with «Karma Speed». The Japanese sword's sleek blade, so frighteningly beautiful, versus the slender rapier. It seemed obvious which one was going to break, but—
The fact that Konoha's blade was visible was in itself an anomaly. Originally supposed to return to the scabbard instantly, she still remained in the process of being drawn. In other words—
Even the speed of Konoha's «True-Kill Counter» had been absorbed entirely by «Karma Speed». Then through the deprivation of speed, this blade-shattering attack had been neutralized.
"Mmm! Ah, haa, gufu ahhhh... Mmm, ah, eee—!"
Konoha groaned whereas Sleif's back shuddered violently after she moaned especially loudly and seductively. Konoha took this opportunity to retract her blade back into the black scabbard. Continuing to fight with the blade unsheathed seemed to be too risky in all respects. Ultimately on a fundamental level, Konoha still did not enjoy bloodshed and harming others.
"Ahhhh... Awe-inspiring as ever. Truth be told, I believe it would be best if Muramasa-sama stayed in that form all the time..."
"Hey, now isn't the time to get excited! But it looks like you're not the only one, that's all."
Fear lightly shoved Kotetsu in the back while his eyes were glazed over, meanwhile looking ahead.
Panting with drool dripping down a corner of her mouth in a trance, Sleif raised «Karma Speed» at the same time.
"Well... done. However, that move... definitely very fast. Thanks to that—"
"Looks like she's stored enough... Haruaki, what do we do!? Are you putting that into motion!?"
"To be honest, I don't want to at all, but damn it, I've no choice but to believe!"
In case Konoha's weapon destroying move failed, they still had a backup plan. If possible, they wanted to avoid using it because the effects were uncertain. Only a certain key figure had promoted the plan with great confidence. But instead of standing there, watching the giant slashing attack arrive, it was better to take a gamble.
Fear first went into action. To halt «Karma Speed»'s motion, she threw her hatchet forcefully.
"Mechanism No.27 grinding type, cog-wheel form: «Gear Wheel Trismegistus»—Curse Calling!"
While the hatchet halted after its speed was absorbed, she forcibly transformed it then ordered the interlocking gears to turn, trying to ensnare Sleif's rapier into the device. However—
"Naive! That is still speed!"
The turning of the gears—even the speed of the gears themselves was absorbed by «Karma Speed», halting the mechanism's operation. However, Haruaki was already dashing forward while Sleif was withdrawing her sword. He swung Konoha's metal scabbard but Sleif defended in time. Another slippery attack sensation. At the same time, Kotetsu attacked the sword with a tiger-clawed strike. Although the speed was absorbed, this was expected and Kotetsu took the opportunity to curl his fingers from the tiger claw and seize «Karma Speed»'s blade.
Hence, Konoha's metal scabbard and Kotetsu were both pinning down the rapier at the same time. Immediately, Kotetsu performed a flip while using the hand holding the rapier as support.
While holding the rapier, he forcefully performed a spinning kick. Although Fear had created the opportunity while Konoha was providing cover with the metal scabbard, Kotetsu was able to overpower the blade with pure strength while executing a powerful flying kick only because of his arm strength and determination. Once the kick landed, the battle should be decided. However—
Sleif ducked down in that instant and leaned back, dodging Kotetsu's flying kick in the air. Using her momentum from turning her body, she intended to pull out «Karma Speed»—
However, she had already lost balance completely.
And the trump card in their plan was not Kotetsu but the girl who had been hiding from the start in the adjacent forest, biding her time.
(Will this really work...!?)
Reflected in Haruaki's view was Kuroe, using her hair as a slingshot, shooting herself as the projectile, fling out from the forest behind Sleif.
Furthermore, her hair was writhing at high speed, curling like a vortex—
Wrapping around her petite limbs.
"I invented this super finishing move through my own evolution, its name being..."
Then with a serious expression unlike usual, she yelled out the name of the move:
"This is Mode: «Kingdom Kiyomori»!"
In the next second, the hair wrapped around her arms and legs glowed. It was the same brightness that lit up momentarily during treatments. The light that Kuroe had emitted in the living room early this morning. Indeed, this was the move she was inventing and practicing at the time. Since it was giving off the same light as during treatment, one could infer that this move used the life force she had gathered from other people's hair.
According to Kuroe, this move enhanced the physical body's strength by delivering life force from the hair wrapped around the body, then used her hair to strengthen her own movements like wearing a powersuit.
Back in the beginning when they were coming up with a plan for dealing with Sleif if the ambush succeeded in encountering Sleif, Kuroe had offered this suggestion of hers. Everyone had personally confirmed the whole process with their own eyes until this step, but actually going through with the move would apparently consume a large amount of energy, so they were uncertain how much of an effect there would be in practice. What would happen? Haruaki really hoped it would turn out as Kuroe claimed—
Instantly, Kuroe vanished. Rather, she had simply taken a step forward instananeously. Simply because her speed was compressed like a flash, Haruaki's eyes had failed to keep up with her moving figure.
"Wow! This is way too fast...!"
Before Fear could finish moaning, Kuroe had already closed in behind Sleif who had lost her balance. Raising her arm, wrapped in glowing hair, she punched with speed faster than the naked eye could follow. The action itself was not well-trained, but the speed and strength were enough to shake the air.
Truly, this was almost like Hinai Elsie's «Clockwork Life»—an ability for total physical enhancement. That being said, Kuroe had mentioned that the effects only persisted for just a moment unlike Elsie's that could last up to four minutes.
But right now, reaching that level for just an instant would be enough already. Sleif had lost balance. While «Karma Speed» was restrained by Kotetsu and Konoha and only half drawn out with difficulty, Sleif totally could not react. If there was anything Sleif could do—
Probably a last ditch struggle. Keeping the unnatural kneeling posture with her body leaned back, Sleif moved her unoccupied left hand to block Kuroe's fist.
Truly futile resistance. No matter how small Kuroe's fist was, it could not possibly be blocked by a mere hand. A fist rivaling Hinai Elsie's would effortlessly crush her left palm—
But it did not.
Kuroe made a shocked sound then a loud crash was heard from the contact point between the fist and the palm as though two cars had collided head on. At the same time, Sleif finally freed her right hand's «Karma Speed» from their restraints. The instant the blade regained its freedom—
"—This is... karma!"
"Watch out, Haruaki-kun!"
After drawing out the rapier, Sleif raised it high and swung, producing a giant mass of slicing pressure. Due to swinging her sword forcibly in an unnatural posture, the slicing pressure was directly almost vertically upwards, but at such a close range, they could not possibly stay unaffected. With much difficulty, Haruaki used Konoha's blade to protect himself but was still blown back a large amount. Compared to attacking with definite aim, Sleif had apparently prioritized recovering her position.
Thanks to Konoha controlling his body, Haruaki managed to land safely in fall-breaking posture.
"...What about Kotetsu?"
"I am fine. Although that was a close call."
"Fear is okay, right?"
"Yeah. Rather, Kuroe, this isn't what you promised!"
"Oh my~ Seriously. I already succeeded in following the plan, but didn't expect a major miscalculation elsewhere..."
Probably failing in breaking her fall properly, Kuroe suddenly sat up from the ground. The light covering her entire body scattered and disappeared without trace, then—Just as she lifted up the right arm she had used to punch earlier, the hair wrapped around it fell apart.
All of the hair was cut.
"What a miscalculation. I didn't think she was not human, but one of our kind instead."
"Are you for real...!"
Haruaki groaned but there was no other answer. Capable of stopping that kind of attack from Kuroe with just a bare hand. Capable of slicing Kuroe's hair barehanded by mere contact. Like Konoha and Kotetsu, she possessed the trait of blades?
"How paradoxical and inexplicable. Clearly an existence like us, why would she become a knight...!?"
"Not paradoxical. Wathes giving off the stench of corpses are too contemptible and should not exist in this world. They should all be destroyed—myself included."
Beneath the helmet, her emotionless eyes were piercing them with her gaze. In the end, it only felt paradoxical and that there was a mistake somewhere. Her declaration made it sound like she desired suicide. A knight most unsuited to becoming a knight.
(Damn it, what now...?)
The plan had failed and must start over again. They needed to break through the rapier's defense again to defeat Sleif and rescue Kirika. But now that Kuroe was exposed as the trump card, the same tactics probably could not be used a second time. Kuroe also seemed unsteady like her stamina was exhausted, so the move was most likely impossible to use in succession. What to do—
Just at this time—
Sleif turned her head in surprise.
Haruaki looked back slightly to see someone, who had been motionless so far, walking over.
Pendragon. For some reason, his gaze was very harsh.
"Hey~? What are you doing? Aren't we just watching? I hate troublesome things!"
"Unexpected work would be truly a pain/worthy of doing, how bothersome."
It was unclear whether Pendragon heard those two, but he continued to turn his gaze with a solemn expression—For some reason, Haruaki felt that he had apparently glanced at Kuroe once.
But then Pendragon faced forward again and relaxed his expression somewhat unnaturally.
"Haha~ No, because it's really too boring if I just keep watching all the way. My entire body was starting to get impatient and restless, so I feel like it should be fine to make one move at least. Don't worry, I won't be using you two, so relax."
"Muu, that also feels quite annoying. Oh well, whatever..."
"Relieved/regretful. Well then, we shall standby here, Master."
Granaury halted her steps and watched her master from behind. Haruaki blinked and asked:
"Y-You're going to help? Why this sudden change of heart?"
"Hmm~ ...Compared to not having enough time to watch patiently, it's better to say I've tired of just watching. I also feel that it's time for things to end. So, you guys don't need to do anything."
"Hmph. This confidence is unbelievable. Then do as you like."
"Well then, show us your power."
At this moment, the Japanese sword in Haruaki's hand moved slightly as though looking at Kotetsu in puzzlement.
Kotetsu inhaled hard and used his sleeve to wipe sweat away. Relaxing his fingers that were tensed in the tiger claw stance, he shook his arm and adjusted his loosened sash—
Probably noticing their gaze, Kotetsu sighed again and said in a helpless voice:
"—Everything is over. Now that the Commander is making a move personally, a knight of that level has no chance of winning even though she is a Wathe. There is nothing we can help anymore."
Pendragon walked forward confidently while allowing Riko to continue sitting on his shoulder. Sleif readied «Karma Speed». The distance between them grew shorter and shorter. Sleif hesitated for only a few seconds but seeing no change in Pendragon's movements, she backed away greatly as though resolving herself—
"There we go."
Nevertheless, without looking like he had accelerated in particular, Pendragon somehow took a few great strides, inexplicably closing in on Sleif. He had not adjusted time like Nirushaaki—it was most likely purely the result of footwork. Simply because his level was too high, it appeared as though the steps in between had been skipped.
Pendragon slowly, truly slowly, extended his arm.
Sleif raised «Karma Speed» in a stance, groaning at the incomprehensible character who was attacking her. Even though she tried to pull back, Pendragon kept following her closely. The only thing that remained constant was his extending arm. Calmly without hurry. Even when Sleif turned around or jumped, their distance remained the same. As though stuck to her, Pendragon remained right next to her the whole time.
Then that gradually extending arm, with a frighteningly relaxed motion—in other words, using just the back of his hand to lightly push «Karma Speed»'s blade aside—he penetrated her defense. Immediately, as though touching a soap bubble, he reached Sleif's body with a gentle motion. Specifically, his hand reached the bulge on her chest.
"Hmm, on the slightly small side, but quite pretty, shape-wise. B cup, I'd say?"
"! You bastard...!"
Sleif groaned. Just as Riko was about to protest against his act of sexual harassment—
In that instant, Pendragon's body lowered slightly and shook once. At least that was what it looked like to Haruaki. It was truly a subtle shift in center of gravity. However, the displacement force produced from that motion was amplified instantaneously, transmitted through his arm, his palm then to Sleif's chest in contact—
As though struck by a dump truck, Sleif's body flew into the air while spinning rapidly. No, describing the collision as like a dump truck's was not enough. Like a kicked football, like a ruptured humanoid balloon, her body flew high up over the trees, disappearing on the far end of the nearby forest. Probably due to the intense spinning which caused the knot to loosen, the spear on her back flew out during the process, falling in the opposite direction—beyond the railing, down the seaside cliffs.
Looking at the forest where Sleif had flown, Pendragon said:
"Wow, she flew even farther than imagined... Oh right, she's not human so she's very light. And a B as well."
"That has nothing to do with anything!"
Sleif was knocked so far away that it was hard to muster motivation to find her. Pendragon simply scratched his head without showing any intention to move.
Held in Haruaki's hand, Konoha murmured in a tone as though gulping:
"The fa jin concept of explosive force generated at extremely close quarters huh... What truly experienced motions...!"
"The previous Commander was an expert in martial arts. This man apparently trained under the previous Commander's tutelage."
Kotetsu nodded and said:
"Since speed will be absorbed, the solution is to use speed that cannot be absorbed... Thus, it would suffice to decide the match in one strike by inflicting an attack that does not have speed. Easy to express in words, of course, but truth be told, it is not something that could be casually performed—"
"Hmm~ Due to the swaying, I was wondering if this was a dream, but it's reality, right? I never thought it'd end so easily~ Clearly I tried so hard too."
"Although it's unclear what happened to the enemy... Whatever, our main goal wasn't to kill her in the first place. Haruaki, go rescue Kirika!"
The group rushed over to the trunk that had remained where Sleif had abandoned it at her feet. Along the way, Haruaki hastily thanked Pendragon.
"Sorry, but I'm so grateful for your help! Thank you!"
"Oh sure... Don't worry about it."
Pendragon answered without even looking at Haruaki, narrowing his eyes again as though he was concerned about something. What his eyes were focused on, was it the forest where Sleif had disappeared into? Or—
Haruaki was a bit puzzled by the sight of Pendragon's expression, but to be honest, he had no thoughts to spare on the matter right now.
Hence, after expressing his thanks, within the few steps it took to reach the trunk, this trivial detail had already vanished completely from Haruaki's mind.
Fear was so impatient that she swung her hatchet directly to lop off the trunk's latch without even checking to see if it was locked or not. Haruaki frantically opened the trunk—then gasped.
Picking Kirika up in his arms, Haruaki pulled her body out from the trunk.
She was a tragic sight with her clothing tattered, almost in a half-naked state, her bondage suit exposed. There were no wounds on her body, due to the power of her curse. However—
Her gaze was extremely hollow.
She moved her lips slightly. It was unclear whether her half-open eyes recognized the people around her.
Having turned back to human form unnoticed and swiftly put on the clothing that Kotetsu had handed to her reverently, Konoha walked over and examined Kirika with a frown.
"Consciousness hazy... Oxygen deprivation..? But that's only natural after being locked up in such conditions..."
However, Fear felt that it was not the only reason. The emotions in Kirika's gaze appeared to be identical to what Fear had witnessed in the eyes of people standing before her in the past back when she was a tool of torture.
At this moment, Kirika parted her lips again. This time, her voice was slightly louder than before, just beyond a moan, delivering a sentence. A sentence that no one would want to hear.
"!? Class Rep, what are you talking about!?"
"I beg you... please... stop using me... to do that..."
"Kirika, pull yourself together!"
"Class Rep, it's fine now. We've already defeated that girl, so you don't need to worry anymore. Class Rep!"
Haruaki grabbed Kirika's shoulders and shook hard, but her gaze remained hollow.
"...Better off... simply dead... who will... take this off..."
Haruaki exerted more force. His voice carried anger. He was probably unable to accept this. Why was Kirika saying these things? Words that Fear absolutely did not want to hear. Words she did not want to hear from Kirika's lips.
Haruaki's eyes were narrowed in pain while he started to exert greater force through his arms.
Whether the kind of gaze he was showing or the violent therapy he was inflicting on Kirika, Fear did not want to see either.
Also... There was a simpler solution.
Hence, after Fear closed her eyes to calm herself—
"Here I go—!"
With a poker face, she crashed into Haruaki's back with all her might.
Haruaki could not have predicted her action, hence his body fell forward with Kirika still in his arms.
No helping it. Refusing to watch Haruaki hitting others, Fear could only come up with this kind of shock therapy. In other words, shock therapy through human skin contact. Haruaki could embrace her more tightly. Through body warmth and his sturdy chest, he could express his presence to Kirika more. No helping it, Fear would allow it just this one time—that was what she thought.
However, because Haruaki was too unguarded, the result went beyond what she was expecting.
After losing balance, while holding Kirika tightly in his arms, Haruaki's face also crashed towards her. At the same time, with inexplicable coincidence, Kirika received his face with the exact same body part.
In other words—
Haruaki's lips were pressed against Kirika's lips.
"Heeee!? Y-You... What are you doing—!?"
"Uwah, I guess this is shock therapy?"
Like the subject of a certain painting, Konoha was screaming with her hands squeezing her cheeks. Kuroe was whispering to herself, somewhat pleased.
Kuroe was right. Although the result had gone beyond Fear's expectations, at least the shock therapy of human skin contact was taking effect as predicted. Rather, an effect several times more potent than she predicted must have occurred. Since she had discovered Kirika's feelings a long time ago, she knew that this act performed by Haruaki would surely jolt her with massive shock.
Naturally, the impulse to pull these two apart also arose reflexively in her heart.
However, only in this instant did she suppress it.
Because the there was a reason. Pouting, Fear simply watched those two.
Those two's lips. Especially something inside Kirika's mouth seemed to move once inside Haruaki's mouth. Haruaki's eyes kept spinning, his entire body frozen.
"...Mmm... Mmm... Mmm...?"
In this manner, after some time passed...
Kirika blinked hard once then her eyes rotated left and right intensely, followed by another blink, then as though she finally grasped the current situation—
"P-Puhah!? Y-Yachi, Y-Y-Y-Y-Yachi!? W-What, w-w-w-w-what!?"
"No, you misunderstand! No! Umm!"
"Absolutely ridiculous, absolutely... absolutely ridiculous...!"
Kirika was flushed red in the face. Haruaki was still holding her by the shoulders. Konoha regained her senses.
"It's fine, waking up Ueno-san is fine! But Fear-san, I must protest against your methods, why did you do that!?"
"H-Hmph, like it matters..."
Indeed. It mattered not.
Arms crossed, Fear turned her face away and muttered in her own heart.
This was what one would call a necessary evil. Indeed, what just happened was an unfortunate accident beyond prediction. She did not wish to see it but at least it was better than Haruaki hitting Kirika. This could not be helped. Also, this was also a chance to emphasize the extent of her generosity and open-mindedness, so there was nothing bad about it. Emphasize to who? Who knew. Perhaps it was to God. Anyway, she did not mind.
Because, after returning home next, she was going to—
"I intend... to do something even more shocking..."
She simply murmured inside her mouth. Presumably her cheeks reddened as well.
Simply imagining it was making her very embarrassed.
In the end—
She was going to ignore the accident just now, because seeing as she was generous and open-minded enough to forgive Kirika for that moment of blissful embarrassment, the embarrassing behavior she intended to engage in next would surely be forgiven, right? She was not hogging benefits all to herself, so no one had the right to complain—In a certain sense, this could be considered advance payment for an indulgence in the classical sense.
Then Haruaki stared intently at Kirika in his arms. Her cheeks were blushing red. She had apparently recovered consciousness. However, there were some thing that must be said. At the bottom of his heart—There was anger.
From her upwards gaze, he could tell that she had noticed the anger in his heart.
"Please, never say... you want to die... or anything like that. Why did you..."
Kirika shook her head lightly.
"I must not say, and I don't want to say either..."
She looked like a scolded child. In fact, he was currently scolding her, reprimanding her. No matter what—He did not wnat her to give up her own life.
Even so, it was a fact that her warmth was currently held in his embrace. A pleasant temperature. Soft and tender skin.
"...Let's call us even, this time."
Still staring at her, Haruaki said:
"Me too—I also did something you found unforgivable, Class Rep. I did something for which I must apologize to you. So—"
"What is... that...?"
He could only reply honestly, for that was also his wish.
"So far, I've never seriously pondered this matter using your perspective from the bottom of my heart, Class Rep. I haven't tried to understand what feelings you were carrying in your heart while confessing to me. That was why I said something like 'hoping for the status quo'—That's what I want to apologize for. I'm sorry."
"...It's good... you understand."
Then after a long period of time, Kirika looked up and asked him:
"Then, umm, your answer...?"
"Yes, I will answer you. I-I..."
After putting his fearfully trembling throat under control...
"I probably... love you, Class Rep."
Kirika raised her head as though bouncing up. Haruaki could sense flustered reactions from Konoha and Fear behind him. However, Haruaki decided to ignore that side for now.
"You're both smart and pretty, if I try to imagine it, I'd also get a very happy feeling. Like what if we could have meals together, study together, go out to have fun together... But—"
Kirika's eyes were shrouded with unease.
Scratching his head, Haruaki then said:
"But for some reason, you're not the only person in the picture. Like Fear and Konoha are also present."
Kirika's eyes drifted and she sighed. With her head lowered, she kept silent, but soon after—
"You're... right, that's obvious. I—"
"Oh~ Hold on, Class Rep. I'm not finished yet. Uh... From a more basic level, I actually don't quite understand what dating is about. How should I put this? If I were to date you, Class Rep... I'd end up thinking instead: 'Isn't it a bit late to ask?' Although it's quite weird expressed like this."
"How should I put this? You've stayed over at our house occasionally, right? We're together most of the time, fighting dangerous enemies, staying in dangerous places, working hard together to solve all kinds of mysteries. So, in my heart—you're already beyond the domain of whether to date you or not. Rather, you belong somewhere even deeper in my heart, impossible to cut out."
Kirika stared wide-eyed. Haruaki did not know what she meant and could only continue:
"Just like family. So, I can only imagine you together with Fear and Konoha—And that image makes me feel very happy. So—"
Although there were still many parts he did not understand...
Very clearly, from the bottom of his heart, what he desired was—
"I cannot accept life without you staying by my side."
He truly believed that.
"I know. About what counts as 'staying by my side'... Class Rep, you confessed your feelings to me because you want to clarify our relationship, because you want to know how, in what way. So, do you want to confirm this first then take the next step forward?"
Haruaki then smiled.
And said the words he had decided long ago.
"Come live together at our house, Class Rep."
Kirika's eyes widened and her mouth gaped, frozen.
"Naturally, I'd overjoyed if you moved in. Because I love you, Class Rep. I'd be very happy to be able to see you any time. Oh, but what I mean isn't that you must lift your curse! No, I do indeed hope you'll lift it, but that doesn't constitute any reason... Uh, how should I explain this? Anyway, that point is only secondary, no, of course it's very important too, uh~ But this fact won't count as minus element—"
Crap. After making the main points, as soon as he relaxed, his speech became broken and disorganized. Haruaki frantically tried to reorganize his thoughts and words, but—
"...Really? I think I get it now."
Kirika slowly blinked then whispered as though speaking for herself to hear:
"In the end—I was too bound by the act of confession itself. All I did was use the escapist excuse of 'at any rate' as a shield, but never have I considered what kind of ending would be best, in a very true sense... You're very right. Perhaps my confession wasn't healthy—Although it's absolutely ridiculous."
"Uh—in other words, I only said that because all I knew was my own situation. How willful of me, yes. Speaking willfully, I'd like to make that home an even happier place, which requires your presence, Class Rep. That's the truth. So, I hope you'll move in. That's all I can say at the moment."
Kirika's lips curled with a chuckle as though she could not endure any longer. While laughing, she said quietly:
"S-Seriously... absolutely ridiculous. Hoho! This is almost like a propo... But it's probably not. Haha..."
"Umm... Class Rep?"
Hearing Kirika answer so readily, Haruaki ended up having difficulty understanding, blinking at her instead. With her typical Kirika-like gaze, Kirika then said with some amusement:
"What I mean is, thanks for taking care of me, Yachi. You can't take it back now."
"I'm not going to take it back."
"Do know that I am a troublesome woman, with an inferiority complex and prone to jealousy. You'd better prepare yourself."
"...Please go easy on me."
Haruaki smiled wryly with his reply, prompting Kirika to go "oh my" and make a surprised look. Then as though noticing something, she turned her gaze.
"Hmm... I see now. Because it's the second person, that's why you're so calm?"
"Second person? ...Oh."
Haruaki also noticed where Kirika's gaze was directed. It was Konoha, with a haggard look on her face. As though asking about tomorrow's weather, Kirika said in a lively manner:
"So how are things progressing on your end, Konoha-kun?"
"Originally stalled earlier, but a new beginning has started successfully. We are no longer brother and sister."
Konoha shrugged helplessly. Hearing that, Kirika nodded.
"A new beginning huh... I guess it's the same for me too? I originally wanted a courageous sacrifice before running away, but looks like Yachi won't allow it. Since he wants me to struggle face to face, that suits me just fine."
"If only the finish line could come nearer."
The two girls nodded in understanding for some reason.
"Umm—Although many things have happened, I do hope we can get along like this from now on... W-Would it be agreeable with you two, may I ask?"
Haruaki naturally switched to polite language. The two girls looked at him and replied.
"I just want to tell you this: 'Please feel free to sneak into my bedroom at night!' I welcome your visits any time."
"What!? N-No, m-me too! Umm, if that's what you want, umm, I, too... don't intend to refuse! Although it's absolutely ridiculous!"
The subject of conversation was jumping ahead too rapidly! Haruaki instantly felt the world spin around him and looked around as though searching for help—
"Beauties throwing themselves at you! Possible to take shifts too! I really need to pay even more attention to make sure my camera's fully charged!" Kuroe yelled loudly whereas Kotetsu pouted and watched Konoha grudgingly. Fear's face convulsed while her eyebrows twitched. "Th-That's right, I don't care. I don't care at all. Too easy... Ha, ha, ha." Then she pinched her own elbow hard.
Naturally, it looked like he had no allies to rely on in his life from this point onwards.
"...By the way, what happened to Sleif?"
"After Pendragon sent her flying away like a ball, that's the last we saw of her. But she's apparently not human, so she probably survived."
"Hmm... What an absolutely ridiculous miscalculation. If only I realized sooner that she was a humanoid tool then I wouldn't have been caught by her. I only failed to escape because I didn't expect her to be able to chop my leg off barehanded."
"Probably some kind of blade like Konoha and Kotetsu, right?"
Kirika stretched her limbs that had been forced to bend in confinement earlier, breathing fresh air while conversing. Just that was enough to recover her original physical state. She had not suffered any severe injury requiring healing from«Gimestorante's Love» in the first place. Her inability to get up until now was only due to oxygen deprivation—as well as purely mental reasons.
After receiving treatment in both aspects, Kirika slowly stood up with assistance from Haruaki's hands. What a perk. However, the small sense of happiness was instantly destroyed.
"Hi, looks like things are over? How amazing~"
Her brother and Un Izoey were approaching slowly. She had just heard from the others about the rescue operation they had planned, so all she did for now was glare at him.
"Seeing you safe and sound is more important than anything, Kirika. Wonderful, wonderful."
"By the way—What are we going to do about the deal?"
Kirika could already answer instantly.
"Unneeded. Something was wrong with my brain earlier."
"Is that so? Well, it is your freedom to choose."
"...I have a question for you, Yamimagari Pakuaki."
"What is it, my dear little sister?"
Kirika poured her entire body's strength into her eyes, in order to see through all lies, in order to see through all deceit, in order to denounce all fraud.
"Asking us to steal that spear—What exactly do you want to do with it?"
"Eh? Of course to research it. See what kind of power it has, see what the curse is like, etc."
Pakuaki answered with a face of puzzlement. Kirika narrowed her eyes. She wanted to pursue the matter, she really wanted to pursue the matter—but right now, she could not disclose the specifics here. Suppose Pakuaki really was unaware, then it would be equivalent to telling him information. The terrifying objective that Sleif intended to accomplish. Using that spear's power—
Kirika exhaled and turned her gaze away, pretending there was nothing significant about the matter.
Apart from that, she was powerless to do anything.
But of course, for Pakuaki, this was not actually an unknown.
(Since I said I won't lie until Kirika was rescued... I guess it's currently fine now?)
Pakuaki simply smiled wryly in his heart.
Naturally, he had not lied either before the gathering. There really existed a method to remove «Gimestorante's Love» without killing her. Suppose she successfully fulfilled the promise, he intended to tell her.
However, that method involved all of the large number of Indulgence Disks existing in a certain place, using them to neutralize the curse. Hence, it was still unknown whether she would be willing to choose this method in practice.
In order to gather the power from each Indulgence Disk and inject it into «Gimestorante's Love», it would also be necessary to build suitable equipment inside the Lab Chief's Nation and perform calibrations. In other words, even if only temporarily, Kirika must return to the Lab Chief's Nation—Pakuaki did not think she would accept that.
(Only possible in theory, but in practice... Not necessarily. Like entering a state of suspended animation during the instant of removal, this seems quite likely to happen. Even if medical resuscitation systems were flawlessly prepared, chances of survival then would probably be fifty-fifty... Hmm, truly a great unknown.)
In order to improve chances, the absolute number of Indulgence Disks must be increased. However, this too was something that was impossible to actualize in practice. Because in this world, only thirty-two Indulgence Disks existed in the first place.
The thief Yachi Honatsu had gathered ten-odd Indulgence Disks from all over the world. Another ten-odd disks were already inserted into the cursed cube. Then there were the remaining few that could not be stolen no matter what. Although Pakuaki did not know whether it was one or two remaining, in any case, he speculated that this was the total inventory.
Hence, increasing numbers was not possible. As for how to extract Indulgence Disks from within the cursed cube, this was an unknown, whether to herself, to those of the Yachi house, or to him. Surely it was only known to one person. And the last remaining Indulgence Disk was most likely in the most difficult place in the world to obtain—
(Although both sides are similar.)
Pakauki could only snicker in his heart. Then he changed his thoughts.
No matter what, contemplating these hypotheticals would not help. Currently, there were more practical matters that needed to be prioritized.
Pretending to turn his head unintentionally, Pakauaki scanned the area. That thing was apparently out of view.
He sighed "oh dear."
What a miscalculation. Despite giving himself the most probable spot on the map for Sleif to appear and assigning Haruaki's group with the second likely location, who could have predicted Sleif would appear at the second location instead? Reversing the order at the time was not lying. It was out of benevolence, wanting to take on the hardship of battle. Those were the calculations going through Pakuaki's mind.
(In any case—Some of the calculations deviated. Although it matters not to me whether Kirika still wants to continue the deal, but I really cannot give up on that spear so easily...)
In contrast to his true feelings, Pakuaki suddenly relaxed his face.
Then as inconspicuously as possible, nonchalantly, he—
"Uh... Then what happened to the spear in her possession? Just as I say to Kirika, I'm quite interested and would like to research it if possible. Is it still with the knight?"
"Oh~? No, I remember it flying towards the sea."
Pendragon absentmindedly motioned with his chin in the sea's direction then said as though he remembered something:
"Oh right, I think I saw Squishy-ko and Fourteen rush down to search for it just now. Because our teachings say: Your own Wathes are yours, while the Wathes of defeated enemies are also yours. Hey~ How's the search going~?"
Pendragon yelled down the cliff beside him. Although out of sight, Satsuko and Fourteen's voices came back. Satsuko's voice was still timid while the house that loved to clean and tidy replied in a gruff voice.
"Ehhhhhhhh, it turns out that it really is hard for someone so weak like Satsuko to even find a fallen spear~? Can't find it~ ...It almost seems like a voice is saying: 'Using those blind eyes of yours, you'll never find it no matter what! Whether the spear or the truth of this world!' Sob sob sob sob."
"This rocky area... Too messy. Seaweed. Empty cans. Plastic bags. Ugh! I so want to clean it up..."
At this moment, someone tugged Haruaki's sleeve, prompting him to look back and see Kirika bringing her face close to whisper:
"Yachi, that spear is very dangerous. It must be destroyed. Don't hand it over to anyone."
Because Kirika's tone of voice was too serious, Haruaki also lowered his voice to a whisper in return:
Kirika frowned then made a hesitant look before saying:
"...Even explaining it would be very inauspicious. All I can say is that it must absolutely be destroyed."
Since Kirika insisted so resolutely, Haruaki believed it must be the irrefutable truth. However, Satsuko and Fourteen had already started the search.
"So you mean we must find it before them? What if they found it first...?"
"Then negotiate with them to obtain that spear—Otherwise..."
Then there was no choice but to fight.
Kirika's eyes were telling him with no uncertainty at all. Haruaki could fully feel she was serious.
Next to them, Fear also seemed to have overheard their conversation.
"I don't quite get it, but since you're saying it like this, it must be true."
"Yes. We must find it first and destroy it."
"Since Muramasa-sama has said so."
"I will do my best too~ Although it's a pain after getting saltwater on hair, I have to redeem my honor now after my super finishing move failed!"
At this moment, looking towards the sea with a smile, Pakuaki raised his hand immediately and said:
"Looks like it's a lot of work. Then we must help out as well... Un Izoey, I'm counting on you. If you find it first, I'll reward you with 10%."
"My question: what kind of unknown is 10% reward of an object?"
"Naturally, it's the prioritized right to conduct research. But I guess you'll have to wait until we've investigated all unknowns before returning it back to you."
"...So normally speaking, this is what they call highway robbery?"
Un Izoey sighed then took a light leap over the asphalt. Naturally, no sound could be heard from her landing on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
"Guh! Everyone is operating on the silent understanding of early bird gets the worm? We have to hurry!"
Fear rushed forward in the forefront while the rest of Haruaki's group followed closely in haste. Haruaki was still hoping for Kirika to continue resting, but judging from the vibe she was giving, that would be an absolutely unacceptable suggestion.
Kirika's eyes were very serious. Completely unconcerned that her bondage suit was exposed in view, she looked for the spear. Haruaki could not help but feel quite unbelievable.
To make her so serious in wanting to destroy that spear—
What kind of power did it actually possess?
But in the end, after spending a lot of time searching, the spear still could not be found.
Towards the end, Fourteen started examining the seabed ahead of the rocky area using her ability to walk underwater. Seeing that, Un Izoey muttered "I'm an expert at catching sukunaki too, I can't lose" while jumping into the sea competitively. Unable to simply sit on the sidelines watching, Konoha sighed and leaped into the sea. "I-If Muramasa-sama jumps in—!" Kotetsu followed in resignation. Kuroe also searched the seabed with her hair. Hence in terms of numbers, Haruaki's side had the advantage, however—the spear still could not be found.
Sundown came and the whole area was virtually shrouded in the darkness of night. They began to use the process of elimination to reach a conclusion at the scene.
"After searching for so long, if it still can't be found..."
"The only possibility left is that it got washed somewhere far out. That spear looked like it was made of wood, so it's very possible."
"Hmm, I used my hair to search quite a broad range too. I can't possibly have missed it if it sank to the seabed. It's also impossible for both the diving expert and the underwater walking expert to have missed it."
Haruaki glanced at Kirika. She was gazing at the dark sea with concentration.
"—Yeah. I hope that's true."
Although still unsatisfied, she seemed to relax for now. After exhaling lightly, Kirika turned around and started walking after finding a path through the rocky area to return to the place on the road where they were earlier. Along the way, Pakuaki remarked with a face of disappointment: "Oh my oh my, I really wanted it." Totally drenched, Un Izoey replied: "I am truly sorry." The two of them also converged with Kirika. Naturally, Kirika neither looked at him nor spoke to him.
"Hawwwwwww, couldn't find it after all... Weak little Satsuko doesn't even have good luck."
"I want to sunbathe tomorrow. I want to dry every part of my body thoroughly...!"
Next, the depressed Satsuko with slumped shoulders and the silently fuming Fourteen also walked in the same direction back to the road.
Keeping some distance from the various factions, Haruaki's group advanced in a line. Fear suddenly spoke up:
"Oh right, I was thinking Sleif would come back after so much time passed, but she didn't appear."
"Perhaps her injuries were too severe? After all, she was sent flying so far away."
"Even if she returned... Hmm, if the spear was washed away by the sea, she won't be able to find it."
"I hope so."
Haruaki could still see worry from the side of Kirika's face. At this moment, he recalled something.
"By the way, Class Rep, what happened to the «Tragic Black River»?"
"Now that you mention it... She stole it when capturing me, I still haven't gotten it back."
Kirika raised her right arm and murmured as though going "I only remembered now that you mention it." However, she then exhalted and smiled:
"Nevertheless—anyway, it doesn't matter if it's gone."
"But you wouldn't give it to me when I asked you once."
"Th-The situation now... is quite different from back then. Absolutely ridiculous. But it does feel a bit unsettling to not have anything for self-defense. I'll just have to look through the storeroom at your house and see if there's anything suitable."
"I won't agree to anything whose curse is too strong..."
In any case, with that belt gone, Kirika would not need to be tormented by the curse compelling her to strangle others to death—which her only method to achieve was by self-abuse. This was probably the only thing worth celebrating. Then all that was left was for her bondage suit's curse to be gradually dispelled as long as she lived at that house. The ground's powers of purification ought to slowly erase her curse, bit by bit.
A staircase built on the cliff came into view. Near the railing above, the superintendent and Honatsu could be seen. They probably came to check out the situation. Pendragon and his companions were also standing on the side.
Leaning against the railing, Pendragon looked out at sea.
He looked neither bored, nor happy, nor displeased.
For some reason, his gaze—
Like telling of a new continent that must be visited, hidden beyond the far end of the ocean, shrouded in darkness, like staring intently as though to avoid missing a flash of light...
—Was filled with inexplicable solemnity.
Late that night...
Kirika could not possibly start living in the Yachi home immediately after all. Hence, she returned home after saying she would start packing her luggage. Proably due to using her super finishing move, Kuroe looked quite exhausted, apparently holing up in her room to sleep as soon as she finished taking a bath. Due to too many things happening today, Konoha, Kotetsu and Honatsu were probably asleep already.
—Hence, there was no one in the way.
Gulping, Fear looked at Haruaki whom she had called to her room.
Nervously, he was staring at her naked body—although in its cube form.
"I-Is this really okay? Fear..."
"Yeah, it's okay."
She had made her decision.
She recalled Haruaki's large-looking back when they were on the dueling ship.
"You have definitely... gained new power. Using the term that popped up at the time—That's the power related to 'Yachi House,' everyone's power."
"I believe that power should be worth trusting in. At least I think so... There's no longer any need for me to charge and attack this way and that, thinking I need to protect everything by my own hands."
Her tone of voice suddenly grew gentle, because she realized it. No matter what was said verbally, this was without a doubt—
"...How willful of me. Although the power I can lend you will decrease, you can probably borrow from other places... In other words, asking to be spoiled... No, perhaps this can be called slacking off."
At this moment, Haruaki suddenly relaxed his expression then closed his eyes. Patting his drawn up knees, he puffed out his chest in an exaggerated manner.
"The lesson I learned this time is that you should speak out when it's the right moment for being willful!"
Opening one eye, he continued in a joking tone of voice:
"This is what Pops taught me, so if you want to complain, don't come to me, complain to him."
"Oh... That's right. Which is why I'm going to make a willful demand. However, this is ultimately your decision too. All you need to do is say 'no' and everything will be over. How's that?"
"I'm not going to say no."
"This is your birthday present from Honatsu."
"In that case, how I use it is my freedom, right?"
Fear exhaled. She felt happy that her willfulness was approved but it also troubled her.
However, she was already past the point of no return.
"In this form, I have neither arms nor fingers. In order to make this me, unable to do anything by myself, become even more powerless—I need your strength. I need your will."
Hence—after she quietly added these words...
She stared straight at him using the cube's eyes.
"Give me... Your birthday present. Using your will, insert it into my body."
He scratched his face in embarrassment.
"...How many in total?"
"Sixteen. Some of my slots were sealed to begin with, so this will leave one remaining."
"That's really quite a lot. I might not manage to be very gentle."
"Just put them in at your own pace. By this point, I'm not going to complain anymore..."
With only one opening left, it felt frustrating to be just short of completion, but thinking about it from a different perspective, it meant that she did not lose all combat ability irrevocably. Perhaps there was no need to overthink this.
Having clearly committed her resolve and determination, it ended up with Haruaki being the indecisive one, making her feel even more embarrassed.
Fear inhaled and said:
"Hey... Don't worry too much... Come over... You should also... get started...?"
Haruaki instantly groaned "guh" then leaned back.
He was blushing to his ears. Finally, as though steeling his resolve, he said:
"I-I know. I've prepared myself too so I'm sticking with you to the end!"
Her private part was filling up through his action.
"Mmm... Ah! ...Ah, ahhh, fuah..."
"D-Don't keep making weird noises! But I've been curious for a long time now, how does this feel...?"
Tight, slightly painful, leaving her breathless.
However, it was actually very pleasurable.
This was surely because you were the one doing it.
Her private part was filling up through his action.
"Hmm~ I should have improved a little, right?"
"The first time... Mmm! You were really... clumsy, y'know...?"
"What about now?"
"Hee, mmm ahhhhhh! N-No comment..."
As though having fun, he wiggled a half-inserted Indulgence Disk to stimulate her.
But the true answer had surely leaked already.
Her private part was filling up through his action.
"Thinking back carefully now, we've done this so many times already... It feels kind of nostalgic."
"Haa... I-I don't find it nostalgic at all, already forgotten."
Liar. She remembered many things.
His clumsy movements in the very beginning.
That day when his lips touched her.
This act, happening after sad incidents, after happy incidents.
Her private part was filling up through his action.
"Oh! ...Hee, mmm!"
"S-Sorry, my hand slipped!"
His slipping hand touched her crack, his fingernails brushing past the opening.
It felt like an electric current was passing through her entire body.
Ahhh. She should admit it.
Even without the Indulgence Disks, surely she longed for these hands.
She hoped for Haruaki to touch her most important spot.
Her private part was filling up through his action.
Her private part was filling up through his action.
Her private part was filling up through his action—
At the very end, she could not even think anymore.
Simply staring into Haruaki's face the whole time—
Making lame noises from the depths of her throat continuously.
...Then by the time she regained her senses, all the Indulgence Disks had been inserted into her body already.
"Huff... Huff... Huff..."
"It's over, good work... You tried very hard."
She could hear the sound of her own panting. She could feel Haruaki's hands assembling the parts and closing up her body. He was already used to this task. After cleaning up the aftermath rapidly, he turned his back to her in slight embarrassment.
"Okay, then I'll—"
"Don't you want to hear... my reactions?"
She interrupted him. Haruaki jumped in surprise.
"R-Reactions? Uh~ Well, what's the... feeling?"
"...Very painful. Also, very scary."
She could sense some nervousness from the sight of Haruaki's back. He probably noticed the trembling and tearfulness in her voice.
She was speaking the truth.
Both painful and scary.
"...I want after-sales service."
She turned back into human form.
Hugging Haruaki's body from behind...
She pushed him down.
Due to Haruaki's struggling, when the two of them hit the floor, their bodies were facing each other. However, she could not see his face. She was hugging him forcefully, tightly, tightly embracing him, burying her face into his neck, which was why she could not see his face.
Until just now, she had still been in cube form, so naturally, she was currently nude. Haruaki's body warmth was transmitting directly to her naked skin. Her entire body was feeling Haruaki's warmth.
"Seriously... painful and scary too. So... You must take responsibility... Make me feel better again..."
She exerted more force through the arms embracing him, shifting her center of gravity to her chest that was pressed against his body, pushing her nose hard against his neck.
For some reason, she could not hold herself back any longer.
Sticking out her tongue, she licked his neck. Haruaki made a very lame sound. She found it very cute and her heart filled with tender affection. Then feeling that licking was not enough, she bared her teeth slightly and tried to bite him gently. Haruaki's body shuddered intensely as a result.
"Wha... Fear, hey, what are you doing...?"
What was she doing?
What did she want to do?
These questions directed at herself were merely for confirmation, not out of confusion.
She had no intention to stop.
"I... am neither like Kirika... who's so smart."
"Nor like Cow Tits... having lived in this world for a very long time... I'm surely... just a child."
Thoughts from the bottom of her heart surged out.
She noticed. After discovering Kirika's feelings and listening to Konoha's confession, she noticed.
Long before that, always, always existing in her heart the whole time, those feelings.
However, only after embracing him like this was she firmly convinced that this fact must be conveyed through words—
"That's why I don't understand those complicated things... But I only look forward to the future."
She pushed herself up slightly...
...Shifting her face away from his neck.
She met gazes with Haruaki under her.
"I want this to go on forever."
"Even losing all my power, I still want to stay like this with you forever."
Skin to skin. Body warmth in contact. Smelling his odor. Sensing his flavor. Hearing his voice.
Staying with him—by his side.
"That's my only wish. I want to do this. It feels very unsettling after losing my power, but also very happy—right now I am infinitely close to the wish of my ideal, this is it. So, to prevent you from forgetting, I have to tell you first."
"Tell me... what...?"
"A sentence to stop you from forgetting, words that will always, always bind you. Lingering in your heart, my very private reason. Yeah, that's right, in other words, this is—"
She narrowed her eyes and declared:
"—to you who cannot be cursed, this is the one and only curse I can give you."
She could feel Haruaki holding his breath under her.
"Listen carefully, Haruaki. Don't forget..."
She said in almost a whisper.
At the same time, she slowly moved her face down.
"M-Me too, actually no less than those other girls, towards you, I really—"
Then she delivered the remainder of her words into his mouth directly.
Waking up in her room the following morning...
The first thing Fear did was use her Rubik's cube to check her own condition.
"Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator»..."
The emulated cube on the floor transformed while making tiny metallic impact noises. The drill that could not be more familiar. An object comprising a hard and solid handle with a rotatable spiral blade. A torture tool for gouging human flesh.
This was the only past self of hers remaining now.
She gripped the handle and tried swinging the tool, taking care not to carve a hole in the sliding door. The same weight as always. The same tactile sensation as always. This made her breathe a sigh of relief somewhat.
«A Hatchet of Lingchi», «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes», «Morgenstern» and all others... Although it was no longer possible to transform into other tools of torture and execution... Although it was no longer possible to make the emulated cube display those forms either—
She believed it was fine to have just the drill. It could be used for thrusting, swinging, throwing. Hence, there was no problem at all. Even if any problem arose in the future, there would always be a solution. What if there was no solution? As long as she asked Haruaki and the others for help, they would try their best to solve the problem. That was good enough.
Turning the «Human-Perforator» back into the Rubik's cube, Fear tried to stand up from her sitting posture on the tatami floor with calves bent against her outer thighs. However—
"Ugh, so painful..."
A certain part of her body was hurting. Stinging numbly. It was due to Haruaki's behavior the previous night.
"Seriously, damn Haruaki... He clearly could have been more gentle..."
She grumbled with cheeks slightly reddened and pouting lips. However, she felt that this pain was like proof of her courage. Although embarrassed, she did not feel ashamed. Puffing out her chest forcefully as though cheering for herself, she walked out of the room.
The living room was already filled with lively chatting as well as the lovely aroma of miso soup.
"Oh~ Good morning, Ficchi. I was just thinking whether I should go wake up you."
"Umuu, good morning."
Not only Kuroe but everyone was here already. Konoha, Kotetsu, Honatsu, as well as—
"G-Good morning, Fear..."
She made eye contact with Haruaki who was currently placing breakfast plates on the table. Her heart inexplicably started to beat fast. Haruaki also blushed and froze.
"Hmm...? What is going on between you two? Your attitudes are weird... you know?"
Seeing Konoha frowning with a puzzled look, Fear was brought back to reality.
"N-Nothing much, just the same as usual, yeah."
After what had happened last night, it felt even more embarrassing. Whether conversing or looking at each other—Everything was making her heart pound with a feeling of exhilaration.
"Hmm? What is going on? Somehow, the atmosphere feels not quite the same."
Konoha and the others threw gazes of suspicion, but of course, what happened the night before was a secret between the two of them... At least at the current stage.
In order to hide things, Fear took her eyes off Haruaki.
"Anyway! What's for breakfast today? I'm starving!"
"Oh... Right, today's eggs were fried using the frying pan Fear gave me as a gift. That pan really is great to use."
"Very good, umuu. Continue to use that pan from now on and cook delicious~ things for me to eat. Let me eat to my heart's content! That's why I gave it to you as a present, this is an order!"
After speaking extremely rapidly, Fear sat herself down hard on her seat cushion. After looking at the dishes arranged neatly over the dining table, she could not help but relax her face.
Somehow, she felt that certain things were operating completely differently starting from today. A new frying pan. A new her. Days slightly more wonderful than yesterday were waiting ahead of her. She had this feeling.
However, just at this moment—
A cellphone rang loudly from Haruaki's pocket.
"I've never seen this number before... Who could it be? Hello?"
After Haruaki picked up the call, his face instantly froze.
Then after a period of time when it seemed like the other side was explaining certain things on their own—
Just as Haruaki frantically tried to speak, the other side hung up apparently. Haruaki immediately took the phone off his ear.
"Hey, who called...?"
Still with surprised and troubled expression, Haruaki repeated the exact words that had passed through his ear.
"'I found the spear. You guys come over and pick it up.'"
Haruaki and company made another unreasonable demand forcibly, asking the superintendent to mobilize his cabin cruiser again. The operator was still Zenon while Ganon was apparently rolling around at home today due to her usual disease of laziness. By the way, although Haruaki's group had no right to say anything either, was it okay for her to be absent from work, being the school physician and all?
Sitting on the cruiser making its way over the sea, Fear tilted her head.
"They most likely found the spear which happened to drift along a sea current, but didn't Satsuko and Fourteen want it too? Wouldn't they give it to their own side?"
"It's possible that the spear is not powerful as a weapon."
"Truth be told, that is very logical."
Even though it was a sudden notification, Kirika also hurried over. She nodded and said:
"Yes, that possibility exists. Because Sleif never took it out to use as a weapon."
However, Kirika did not show any signs of relief on her face. While gazing at the gradually approaching fleet, with an expression akin to praying, she whispered: "...It'd be great if they are still unaware of that. I hope things could end peacefully..."
"By the way~ How much does this cruiser cost? ...Oh~? Wow—Oh my! You definitely must have had underhanded dealings? Otherwise, how could you possibly buy something like this so easily!?"
"Honatsu-san, please give me a break. I do take a lot of pride in the fact that I am a respectable businessman."
"On the other hand, I don't really think respectable businessmen wear that kind of mask."
"Yeah yeah! In order to show off how respectable you are, I believe we must hold a beer party over the sea in this cruiser next time! Then catch some fresh fish to cook on the spot~"
"Nice idea! Let's eat sea bream and flounder live, odorigui style!"
Honatsu, Kuroe and the superintendent were chatting back and forth in leisure. No sense of tension—Haruaki sighed with a wry smile. That being said, a party on a boat did sound like a very fun idea.
Amidst the noise and bustle, the cabin cruiser reached the Draconians' stronghold. Like last time, they boarded the Dueling Ship Leviathan.
However, unlike last time, there were no tables or chairs set up on the vast deck.
There was only Pendragaon with Riko clinging to his back and Granaury standing still with eyes closed.
"Oh, you guys came."
"We're here. I heard you found the spear?"
Pendragon scratched his cheek in response to Fear's question.
Then he simply said:
"Oh sorry, that was a lie."
Fear stared wide-eyed, making a strange cry.
In contrast, Pendragon's face was very calm.
"Becuase I've found something I must obtain at all costs. Sorry, become mine."
His face was serious with a solemn expression.
Considering the content of his words, with sincerity almost like a marriage proposal—He stared at her.
"Max, hold on a sec. Isn't this too sudden of you? I hope you'll explain yourself."
"Explain? I think you can figure it out easily."
Hearing the superintendent, Pendragon exhaled.
"When that girl was fighting Sleif, she used an interesting move."
"Hmm~? You mean «Kingdom Kiyomori»?"
"Is that the name? The one injecting life force into your body using your hair, thereby amplifying your strength so much that it made you almost like a different person."
"...Indeed, she did use that move. Max, are you thinking of using that to increase your power?"
"No, that's not the principle here... But perhaps it's worth a thought if it's doable. The issue here is that she has powers of control which allow that to be possible. Qi, energy, life force, vitality, soul—Call it whatever you want, but anyway, she has the skills to manipulate these powers."
"What are you talking about!? And what does that have to do with you!?"
"Because I am who I am. You guys seem to have forgotten, but I am the Draconians' Number One. Seeking strength, hoping to become stronger than anyone. Right now, what occupies my mind is the only weakness in the man who used to be the strongest. And I cannot escape that weakness. If that weakness could be overcome, I should be able to truly become the strongest. To become a dragon. That's what I've always thought. Every day of my life was spent in search for this answer—"
Listening to this point, the superintendent shook his head with an alarmed realization.
"Used to be the strongest—You mean the previous Commander... Long?"
"That's right. Gabriel, I've said this before, haven't I? You know too why I could win, right?"
Haruaki had heard it mentioned as well.
Inside that villa, Pendragon had chatted about the past with the superintendent's group.
The reason why he was able to prevail against the extremely powerful former Commander who was almost impossible to defeat—
"—'Old age' huh?"
Haruaki could not help but whisper. Pendragon threw a glance at him.
"That's right. Hence, I have carved it upon my heart. This is a dragon's natural enemy. Dragons are not supposed to grow old."
"What!? In other words—?"
Hearing Fear's groan, Pendragon nodded and continued:
"As long as I have that girl's power, in other words, the power to manipulate life force, perhaps old age can be prevented."
"Wait... That's absolutely ridiculous. What about Fourteen? She also said her curse causes eternal youth!"
"That's only freezing the owner's outer appearance. It's kind of like the simulated anti-aging of cosmetic surgery. Squishy-ko's looks might remain unchanged for the next few decades but her internal health is probably a different matter. She'll probably age and die like a normal person."
Even after listening to the rebuttal from Kirika and her outstanding memory, Pendragon still remained unrelenting.
"What I seek is a body that knows no aging. The pinnacle of strength that remains unchanged as the pinnacle of strength forever. Now that would be true 'eternal youth'—For this purpose, I believe that I need you, Ningyouhara Kuroe. Aging is a flaw. I need to be able to overcome this flaw and that means I need you, who can replenish brand-new vitality any time."
Kuroe stared back at Pendragon's forceful gaze and exhaled.
"Basically, I'd like to ask just in case. What if I refused—?"
"I won't allow you to refuse. You are the only thing I lack, so I will do everything I can to make you mine."
"H-Hold on! Why, how, clearly you've shown no signs of wanting to fight us all along—"
"You must be mistaken. I am who I am. I'm missing the last piece of the puzzle and the only thing left to do is find the puzzle piece that fills the gap. Of course, things that don't fit are immediately obvious, it's possible to see at a glance that something is useless to me and I don't need to plunder greedily everywhere—But as soon as I see something whose shape seems to match perfectly, the situation becomes entirely different, right?"
"...Truly what a shame. When chatting here last time, I as thinking we could maintain this agreeable relationship."
Honatsu spoke in a lively tone of voice, but his gaze was very grim.
Pendragon grinned, showing his teeth.
"Sorry, what a short alliance it was, 'Yachi House.' But you guys probably know—"
Like a savage beast...
He bared his devouring fangs and said:
"I am the type of animal that kills everyone in anger when roused from slumber in its lair, the strongest beast in the world, the most used to having its own way in the world—the dragon. And I'm its head to boot. How could I possibly not be capricious?"
Fear's heart was pounding madly.
Why? Why did things turn out like this? Why?
With a trembling hand, she gripped the Rubik's cube. Her emulated form, with her last power remaining.
"All-out? Do I need to go all-out~?"
"Yes, I'm counting on you, Riko."
"Heh... Hehn. Jeez, since you asked me for a favor, there's no helping it! Okay, I'll hug you tight! Let's go, Maximilian!"
While clinging on his back, Riko wrapped her arms around his neck, embracing him tightly—
In the next second, her body vanished suddenly without a trace. Taking her place was—
"«Corpse Armor Rikongarowa»... That's this girl's true name."
Pendragon was clad in a set of milky-white armor. The armor was neither western nor Japanese in style. Although it was indeed full body armor covering the entire body except for the head, it gave off an impression of trendiness and elegance. Every piece seemed quite beautiful in design. Structurally, it imitated the scales of living organisms instead of prioritizing straight lines—Purely based on impressions, the armor was almost akin to scales.
However, there were very few identical components. Even their sizes were very varied. Many scale-like masses of white solid armor were combined together to form components, covering the entire the body. The most striking fact was that every piece of armor was moving.
As though searching for the best shape to serve as armor, as though making its own judgment calls on what parts needed overlapping layers for protection and where armor should be reduced for ease of movement, the armor was writhing irregularly like a living creature yet retaining an overall shape as armor.
"Precisely! Muramasa-sama, defense power goes without saying, but she can also enhance physical power. Please be careful!"
Kotetsu entered a combat stance while speaking. Weighed down by nervousness and wariness, his expression was very stiff. This was probably he knew the enemy's ability level better than anyone. Namely, that of the Commander of the Draconians.
"Should I enter the stage as well? Master?"
"It's not very fair for Riko to be the only one working, right? This is an order... Move out."
"How nostalgic, being subjected to tyrannical orders unilaterally like getting stabbed in the throat. How it truly stirs up revulsion/excitement from the bottom of my heart."
Eyes closed, standing by on the side, Granaury took a leap. Instantly, her appearance—
Changed into some kind of double-edged blade, appearing in Pendragon's right hand. Fear could only describe as some kind of double-edged blade. It was a thick blade with a sharp front tip. A knife? No—
"The spear upholding righteousness and loyalty, the «Granaury Spear», also known as the «Contradictory Spear Granaury»... I really don't want to see you in that form again."
Another person, the superintendent who was also familiar with the Draconians, spoke quietly.
"It looks quite different from what you know from before, all thanks to Riko."
"Hmph! I accommodate it as usual because I've no choice!"
The right arm portion of Pendragon's armor shifted noisily. After taking in the blade transformed from Granaury, it stabilized and remained fixed. Or rather, it should be described as merged. In terms of results, it looked like a blade extending forward from the back of the hand.
"Very well—Let's go. Do put in everything you've got. Unless you want to die!"
Hence, Pendragon sprang into action without engaging in more useless talk.
Finally, it was time for action.
Fear watched Konoha turn into a Japanese sword, held in Haruaki's hand. She saw Kotetsu charge forward as though casting hesitation aside. She saw Kuroe extend her hair. She saw Zenon retreating while protecting the superintendent. She saw Kirika extend her right arm where the «Tragic Black River» was missing before clicking her tongue.
Fear reflexively turned the Rubik's cube into the «Human-Perforator». Her only remaining... power.
Only this type of power was left.
"Ooh, ah, ahhhhhhhhhh!"
Fear intentionally made her mind blank then charged fiercely.
By the time she came back to her senses, Fear was collapsed on the floor.
All sense of time was lost. Pain coursed through her entire body. It felt as though an overwhelming storm had trampled her indescriminantly. It felt a bit like exhaustion. Her body complained of fatigue while her vision flickered. Her shoulder was buried into the deck. Kotetsu, collapsed on the floor, entered her view. Kirika had died. Back against the ship's edge, Zenon was limp and unmoving. Was the superintendent okay? He was not in sight. What about Kuroe? What about Haruaki?
Feeling something solid in her palm, all she could do was grip it tightly.
(Why—at this time of all times—)
She had always believed all she needed was this drill in her hand. Having this alone was enough to fight.
But only against this guy, only against Pendragon...
Simply being able to fight was totally not enough.
She understood the most fundamental fact.
Why did she seal up her power? Why did she believe this would be fine?
Right now, in front of Pendragon, only the injured Haruaki was standing—
Inside her blurry view, that despairing scene was easily shrouded by an even more despairing feeling.
The Japanese sword was grabbed by Pendragon's armored hand.
Together with Haruaki holding it, the sword was raised into the air.
"Don't... come over, Kuroe! ...You stay back...!"
Behind Haruaki was Kuroe whom he had apparently been protecting all this time. Kuroe wanted to extend her hair to fight back like a caged beast, but looked really weak. It seemed like no matter what she did, she would be powerless to stop what Pendragon was about to do to Haruaki—
Fear's breathing stopped. Her heart stopped.
Instinctively, she launched the «Human-Perforator» from her hand. However, Pendragon simply raised his left arm and swung, deflecting the drill before throwing a bored glance at her. Using the chain of cubes to pull the drill back, Fear fished out a second Rubik's cube, guided by her trembling spine. Another «Human-Perforator». But what could she do while holding these?
Feeling lost, she halted her movements.
Pendragon scoffed then turned his face forward. Instantly—
Konoha seized this opportunity to draw out her blade, thus leaving Pendragon to hold just the black scabbard. She hastily controlled Haruaki's now freed body, raising the blade for a slice—very likely, for just that one instant, for the sake of Haruaki's personal safety, she cast aside all taboo.
Pendragon swiftly tossed the scabbard away and blocked Konoha's blade using the back of his hand before grabbing the body of her blade again, suspending Haruaki in midair. This time—There was no escape.
"Although I bear you no grudge, this is for my goal. Don't hate me."
Then Pendragon pulled his left arm back like drawing a bow.
A crack tore open in the depths of Fear's heart.
She must save him. She must find a way.
She needed power. Right now, only power was everything. She needed the power to save Haruaki.
Simply using this one drill—No, that was wrong. Even if left with just one drill was fine. If things could not be changed, there was no helping it.
Oh right—Even so, all she needed was the power to defeat that guy.
Even if that cursed...
She thought: I don't care.
Awaken, myself. You're there, right?
That self of hers, filled with cursed power no less than anyone else's.
Knowing cruelty, abuse, sadism, masochism, pain, joy, excitement, climax, depravity, screaming, blood, flesh, bones, tears, death, life, bodily fluids, despair, sorrow, wailing, taboo, how to hurt people, how to kill people, how to destroy people, how to torment people, how to drive people insane, better than anyone, better than anything, that self of hers.
Right now, there was no choice but to rely on her.
This was the one and only way in order to not lose him.
Hence, hence, hence—
"Ah—ah, ah... Ha, ha, ha, ahahahaha, hahah..."
Thus, Fear allowed that familiar darkness to occupy her heart.
Faced with that sense of coldness, she felt her emotions calm down unbelievably—
At the same time, she lost consciousness completely.
—Then when she opened her eyes again...
She was lying sideways on the superintendent's cabin cruiser, totally drenched, holding a Rubik's cube in each hand.
There was a faint, weird smell.
She sat up to find an unbelievable scene reflected in the corner of her eye.
Unbelievably, that Dueling Ship Leviathan had split into two from its very center—It was gradually sinking. Although Fear had no idea who had done that and how, more than likely, it was because the ship was about to sink that she ended up totally drenched. And because everyone's foothold was destroyed, they managed barely to escape from that place. After all, she was not optimistic enough to think that they were able to defeat Pendragon.
She pulled her gaze back from the sea to the cabin cruiser.
Then she discovered the weird smell's true identity.
For an instant, she could not comprehend the situation before her eyes.
All the people supposed to be here were present. However—
Haruaki's eyes were shut, his entire body limp and unmoving. Like her, his was also drenched completely. Turned back into human form, Konoha was hugging him tightly as though warming his body—
Furthermore, Konoha was glaring in her direction with a horrifying gaze with true killing intent.
Because her gaze was truly too direct—
Fear instantly realized who had done that.
The smell's true identity—Its source was the familiar odor of blood.
Throb. Her heart contracted forcefully. Time stopped there and her heart stopped.
His injured body. Countless marks of red on his skin and flesh. The filthy and tattered clothing was akin to rags. Lying down as though sleeping, his sense of presence was so faint that one doubted if he truly existed. Ahhh, then, then—
As though as an act of escapism, Fear recalled memories that were not supposed to be remembered at this time. Her wish. Her desire. Always staying by his side. Using her gift of a frying pan to cook delicious food for her to eat.
This wish... Would it really come true?
Would he be able to use the frying pan she gave him as a present?
Ahead of her gaze, where she was staring—
The fingers on Haruaki's left hand—
Were fewer than the original, rightful number.
Who did it?
The answer was told by the gazes of everyone present, not just Konoha's.
Then after understanding everything, Fear—
For the very first time in her life, she cried her heart out like a child.
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