Chapter 3 - The Rejected Daughter of Sin / "Child x Captive x Cacophonous"
A brief respite.
As soon as he stopped moving, Zenon threw three knives at him. He casually deflected two with his hand and left the third to Riko's movable armor protecting him.
"Hmm! Are you actually tired~? That's so rare!"
"Not my body, but if anything, I'm mentally tired. It feels like being forced to solve puzzles the whole time."
Pendragon shrugged and replied, looking at Ganon before him. She was covered in sweat, breathing slightly faster, but the precision of her movements remained unchanged. Slightly swaying, the sword tip waved back and forth.
"Houjyou... You've actually been training, haven't you? This isn't a level of skill achievable by someone who had neglected martial arts for years after deserting the Draconians."
"...Actually, I have been neglecting martial arts."
"Probably until recently? I also know that you have always been doing what you need to do, Onee-sama."
Saying that, Zenon took out new knives to hold between her fingers, preparing to throw them. Ganon glanced at her and sighed.
"Sigh... She was called Kokoro Pentangeli, right? After that incident with her, I started practicing a bit."
"Oh, that name sure brings back memories. I haven't heard from her for over six months already. Is she well? Or has she died?"
"Quite well, one could say."
The old friend was standing somewhere out of Zenon and Ganon's way when he spoke. Pendragon could not be certain but believed he was probably not lying. She was talented enough to be one of the «High Singles»—Since she was still alive, surely she would return to the dragon's path one day.
"So... After fighting Kokoro Pentangeli, did it make you remember something?"
"Remember... Remember something? Perhaps. Because I've neglected martial arts all this time, it felt surprisingly hard to perform when I picked up a sword again after so long. To be honest, the slightest misstep then and a irrevocable outcome might have resulted."
Between lethargic breaths, she continued:
"...Even though this sword style is clearly so utterly meaningless, the old man still taught it to me just in case. However—if that just-in-case really did arrive but I failed to do anything, now that would be truly meaningless... That's what occurred to me after the battle."
"Because now that Old Man Long is not around, you're the only one left who can use the Void Night Sword... Are you thinking it would be a shame to let it go to waste?"
"Roughly something like that."
Pendragon's lips curled in a grin while he simply thought to himself: "Honestly?" Indeed, it was one of the reasons, but he did not think that was all. He recalled the scenes he had seen many times in the past when she was learning the Void Night Sword from Long. He recalled her gaze at the time. The emotions in her gaze when she was looking at her master, who was old enough to be her father or even grandfather. Excitement, fear, admiration, a sense of mission to respond to his expectations, as well as—
(...Her taste for older men still hasn't changed, right? Oh my, what a shame.)
Well, whatever. No matter what the reason, now that she was seriously trying to stop him...
He decided to confirm again.
Seizing a gap in the conversation, Pendragon closed in with natural and smooth flowing motions. Ganon was completely unfazed by his sudden action. Controlling the timing of attacks was, in other words, "opportunity" which was within her realm of response.
"Granaury, shrink one millimeter."
The blade on the back of his right hand retracted slightly. Instantly, he could feel the blade's power growing more powerful. The shorter the distance to the enemy, the greater the power, this was Granaury's curse.
With multiplied power in Granaury's blade attached to his fist, Pendragon punched as hard as he could towards Ganon. She swiftly turned and made her body stumble clumsily as though she had snapped at the waist. But that clumsy movement was a uniquely correct choice for extending the time for which "instant death would occur unless this was done." The sword held in Ganon's hand was already making contact with Granaury. Considering the totality of Granaury's destructive power, it would not be surprising if that ordinary sword shattered instantly. However, through Ganon's meticulous shifting of her center of gravity and high-level techniques for inertial neutralization, Granaury was parried to the side as though sucked by her sword, drawn to a location different from where the attack was originally targeting—Achieving a similar effect as «Karma Speed» through pure skill alone.
Pendragon did not force a counterattack, allowing his fist to be deflected towards the ground. Then he deliberately allowed his fist to smash into the ground. The delivered impact caused the ground surface to explode. Amidst the cloud of dirt and dust, he made a flying kick. Riko's armor moved swiftly to reinforce his kick, increasing the armor's thickness to the point that the opponent might break their arm if she tried to block recklessly or attack his leg. However, Ganon evaded with a backflip, resulting in a fluttering of her skirt. Then the battle resumed.
"Haha~ Is that black lace? Nice panties. You've become a mature woman."
"Don't sneak a peek without permission. I'm charging you a fee now."
"No problem, I'll pay up. What forms of payment can I choose? ...Oh."
In the next second, a knife flew straight at his eyeball. After he dodged lightly, Zenon, the thrower of the knife, narrowed her eyes and glared at him, saying:
"How repulsive and nauseating, to hear comments about my family of such an obscene nature."
"As a businessman, I'm actually quite curious whether the price she demands is reasonable or not."
Zenon glared viciously at Gabriel. Pendragon laughed, his shoulders shaking lightly.
This felt so nostalgic.
Gabriel used to be ranked second in the Draconians. The Houjyou sisters, always following him loyally, were akin to his disciples. To be honest, starting way back—They were just like family.
But how far did this distinction extend? As Gabriel's best friend, best rival and competitor, what about Pendragon? After sparring with the sisters a few times as a way to pass time, he had started to chat with them like Gabriel. Despite their differences in power level, it was still a relationship allowing them to joke around with one another, spar and say whatever they wanted without reservation. The non-human ones also stood on the side, laughing together, frowning or pouting—Liz who used to be Gabriel's and Granaury who used to be Long's. The two of them were very similar in various ways. Deep friendship, birds of a feather—They were even alike in ways they should not. Hence, Liz's gaze remained focus on one person the whole time, whereas Granuary never stared.
Ahhh, perhaps it was not just the Houjyou sisters. In that space, perhaps there were brothers and sisters alike. Perhaps including himself, they were like a family—
(...It's all in the past, anyway. I can't keep reminiscing just because I miss it.)
Pendragon warned himself and shook his head lightly.
After a sigh, he renewed his focus on reality before his eyes.
"What should I say? I'm finally understanding what this is about. Using the earlier analogy, your dragonslayer sword won't kill me. You possess neither the intent nor the actual skill required to kill me. That's a fake trenchant blade, even if it carries the significance of being the one and only existence that can resist the strongest person."
"Kill you? Haha... Don't get alarmist on me, that goes without saying."
Sarcastically, exhaustedly, Ganon twisted the corners of her lips to say:
"Forget about killing, I am a goddess of healing, you know? Because I'm the school physician."
Pendragon laughed wryly in exasperation while whispering at the same time:
"Riko, concentrate on strengthening the springs on the legs. Prepare to jump."
"Tsk, no helping it..."
Centered around the legs, «Corpse Armor Rikongarowa»'s armor began to shift positions and rearrange itself. Through overlapping and rebounding, the armor strengthened the movements of the leg muscles. Then immediately, Pendragon jumped high up and backwards—
He landed on the roof of the Yachi house.
Gazing down at Ganon and the rest, he said:
"I guess by now, I've tired of playing with my old friends... There's really no more time to waste with you. You've also managed to fully achieve the task of buying time, right? I'll let you off this time. Dismissed."
They were ordinary humans after all without the supernatural powers of Wathes. In other words, Ganon and Zenon were physically unable to reach the roof in a single leap. He should have done this earlier—But he could not help immersing himself in the nostalgia of fighting them.
He was just about to jump again, intending to exit the house's premises in a single bound—
"Hey... Let's continue that cliched and embarrassing subject of the dragonslayer. If my sword cannot kill you—"
Those eyes of hers, looking up towards him—
They were filled with lethargy and drowsiness as always—However, they were also as sharp as fine needles.
"Max-kun, that's only because you aren't a dragon yet. Conversely... If you become a dragon, perhaps I will be able to kill you."
"Haha~ That would be more exciting. I'll look forward to it."
He did not look away.
After a long silence—
"...You still refuse to give up?"
"Of course. This is my only current goal. By obtaining Ningyouhara Kuroe, I will truly become the strongest dragon. That is what I live for and the way I've lived all this time—Having forsaken this way of life, you lot cannot stop me."
Finally, he saw wavering flash across the silent Ganon's eyes.
Pendragon applied force through his legs, breaking the Yachi house's roof underfoot as he took a leap.
Flying through midair, then came a feeling of descent.
Even if he were to become a true dragon, wings probably would not sprout out of his back.
He felt a bit disappointed about that.
In front of Zenon...
The older sister exhaled forcefully while her shoulders heaved up and down.
"Haha... Hear that? Zenon... Using his full power to make a young girl his property, to think that's the way to become a dragon? I knew it... It's too unseemly..."
Then her knees collapsed as though her legs suddenly lost strength.
"There, this is the least I could do."
While Zenon was rushing over in panic, the superintendent caught Ganon in his arms just as she was about to fall on the ground. Likewise, he was sighing beneath his gas mask.
"You should rest for a while. Right now... Even if you chase after him, it won't do any good."
"Yes~ ...Ahhh, honestly... So tired..."
At this moment, in a fluid manner that made one suspect how familiar she was with this, a long-haired woman (strictly speaking, perhaps "woman" was debatable) swiftly crawled out from under the eaves.
"I was being considerate by hiding and not get in your way, but it's time for me to enter the stage now. Although the living room is a wreck, the other parts of the house should be okay, so you can come in to rest."
"Thank you so much. Before that, the fallen knights here need to be taken care of first."
"Yes. As much as I don't want to involve others, I guess I must count on the help of some friends dealing in underground businesses~"
"I'll also use connections on my side."
Honatsu and the superintendent started to discuss how to clean up the aftermath. Zenon took Ganon from the superintendent's hands.
"Ow~ ...Even saying 'so tired' is tiring~ ...What should I do?"
"You can remain quiet and not say a single word. You can also go to sleep directly."
"Oh, really? Yay~ Today is a weekday, but I can skip work and take a nap, that's so awesome... Zzzzz..."
Ganon instantly leaned her entire weight on Zenon after closing her eyes and began to breathe smoothly and regularly.
She had been overexerting herself, probably. Facing off against the strongest man. Neither winning nor losing, a technique that relied excessively on deceit and obfuscation. Miraculously good fortune, combined with the opponent's complacence, carelessness, underestimation of his enemy... This result was obtained precisely by gathering all of these elements. This must not be forgotten.
While gazing at the face of her older sister sleeping as though in a coma, Zenon continued to ponder.
If she were to face him in battle next time...
Surely—The result was going to be different.
Haruaki felt his face shake on its own as though it were laughing.
"You... What are you talking about? It doesn't make any sense. You... created Fear?"
Behind the gates, the man sitting in the wheelchair—the Knights Dominion Lord who called himself Trinac Agana—nodded without smiling at all.
"Absolutely ridiculous. Fear was created during the time of the Inquisition—That's already centuries ago. Ordinary humans cannot possibly live that long. Or are you a Wathe?"
"Lowly and deplorable peasants! How dare you keep addressing our lord directly as 'you,' what utter insolence!"
Turning her helmet towards them, Sleif scolded but the Dominion Lord raised his hand lightly to stop her.
"Foolish action—They are merely ignorant children. No matter."
"...Yes, my lord."
Sleif nodded reluctantly. Then the Dominion Lord cast his gaze towards them again.
"I am no foolish Wathe. I am human."
While keeping Satsuko and Fourteen under watch, Konoha spoke:
"Fair enough. It is already surprising that a cursed tool could become a knight. I doubt if the organization could be established if even the leader were one as well. Since you are human, it means that what you just claimed, that you created Fear-san, was a lie after all? Ordinary humans cannot possibly live for multiple centuries."
"This is a curse."
Haruaki's group gasped in great surprise. Just by one sentence, the truth was conveyed.
The Dominion Lord turned his head lightly as though gesturing towards what was behind him.
Behind the wheelchair he was seated.
Planted upright was a rod-shaped object. It seemed familiar in appearance—
"«Dieu le veut» curses its owner with death as soon as one steps out of the defined territory. At the same time, so long as the owner remains within the territory, it will confer eternal longevity. It will force the owner to remain as the land's king forever."
Haruaki was rendered speechless. Indeed, given that type of curse—Everything then made sense. However, did this man truly accept that curse willingly to live all this time? Living all this time till now, without taking a step outside his territory, without aging at all?
—It really was true, Haruaki thought.
He could only believe.
...After seeing Fear's appearance—shaking with clattering, various components popping out from her body, her breaths sounding like suffocated sobbing and vomiting.
"Th-Then you really..."
"It was my foolish act from the past. In search of authority, wealth and fame, I created numerous objects at the orders of nobles. One of them—rather, the most abominable yet outstanding masterpiece I created using the most time, labor and skills—was Fear-in-Cube."
"B-But... Why did someone like you found an organization like the Knights Dominion...!?"
"Foolish question. My past self did not know this was a sin, but now I know. This is the answer."
Kirika groaned after asking her question. The Dominion Lord answered simply. Then drumming his fingertips on the wheelchair's armrest, he said:
"Things that knows only to hurt, injure, kill and violate human beings, should they exist? No, they should not. Because they are cursed. Only hurting, injuring, killing, violating human beings, should they exist? No, they should not. Because they will continue to hurt, injure, kill and violate human beings."
Fear groaned. She was listening even though she did not want to listen.
"What have my creations done? What did they represent? When I became old, when authority, wealth and fame were no longer useful, I finally understood the answers to these questions. Then I realized my sin—namely, the foolish behavior of spreading curses all over the world."
The wrinkled face exhaled a sigh. Still unchanging in expression, his face was very calm.
"Hence, I vowed to use what little remained of my life to rectify my sin. To destroy all cursed tools in the world... In other words, Wathes. To gather and destroy all Wathes, regardless of whether they were created by my hand or not."
Then during his wanderings across the world, he presumably obtained «Dieu le veut». Gathering and destroying all Wathes in the world was undoubtedly beyond a single man's ability. Hence, he assembled like-minded comrades to create a "domain" to establish a organization whose sole goal was gathering and destroying Wathes—
Haruaki moved his stiff throat, only succeeding in forcing out dry laughter.
"Haha... Then several hundred years later, things turned out like this? The scale is too great, frankly speaking, it doesn't feel real to me at all. It's like listening to a fairy tale."
"—Precisely. The Knights Dominion was very weak in the beginning."
The Dominion Lord seemed to narrow his eyes slightly. He turned his gaze towards Sleif who was waiting on the side.
She looked up with her visored helmet to face the Dominion Lord's gaze.
"Through the long passage of time, although the quantity and quality of knights have changed—Only the Dominion's true nature has remained constant and unwavering."
The Dominion Lord's voice carried a slight increase in emphasis. Not due to anger or excitement, but it seemed more like he was ruminating his own words. The pressure exerted by his voice seemed to leave definite weight in the listener's heart.
"We of the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion will gather and destroy Wathes, whether past, present, or henceforth. This is undoubtedly true justice."
Haruaki glared at him and retorted:
"That's really something to decide on your own. I do happen to know what you guys have been doing till now. Honestly, it's impossible to agree that it's justice...!"
"No, considering the tragedies born from curses, there is no question that we are right. You people should know, shouldn't you? The foolish behavior brought by Wathes and the consequences of foolish behavior."
Of course he knew. The results caused by cursed tools were bizarre and terrifying, disrupting the lifes of the owners and the people around them. However...
Haruaki was also aware of what the Knights Dominion had been doing all this time.
Peavey Barowoi. The knight who used to be Aiko's owner. The knights who had appeared at the school's welcoming festival. Neto the Avenger. Lilyhowell Kilmister. They had a committed numerous atrocities that were utterly inhumane. Things were the same now as well, to think they would seize completely innocent students to serve as hostages...
"Even if curses did not exist in this world, people will still murder. But curses will affect curses. There is meaning in stopping these chain reactions, so as to reduce the total number of future deaths."
"But there are also those who are working hard to stop themselves from letting such things happen!"
"In the meantime, people still die. Truly naive optimism. Your—"
Lifting a finger, the Dominion Lord pointed at Haruaki.
As though pursuing the issue, as though condemning, as though accusing.
"Your fingers were only lost due to a curse left to roam free out of optimism, weren't they?"
Haruaki groaned and hid his left hand behind his right. He hid the amputation wound that was suddenly as painful as though struck by lightning because he had subconsciously clenched his fist tightly.
He really did not want to hear it from this man. What do you know? —Haruaki thought.
At the same time, a strange clattering of sounds were heard. Fear's body of steel was shaking genuinely, so dramatically that one could not help but wonder if she might scatter into pieces.
The words, coming from the man who allegedly created her in the past, also reached her ears. A gaze of pity and regret was cast upon her.
Probably due to hearing her cry out in pain, the Dominion Lord addressed Fear directly next:
"Fear-in-Cube, your existence is my greatest pain. Perhaps refusing to let anyone else take his precious belonging, that castle lord hid you during his downfall. You could not be found even after his execution, remaining missing over the long years—You are precisely the pinnacle of my folly and greatest taint."
Ahhh, what a great shock this produced. Her creator, a being akin to God to her. A reunion after centuries with someone akin to her father. The words uttered from his mouth were—
Unmistakably, rejecting her existence.
"Wait for me all you like. Once the Second Knights Dominion is completely established, I will surely gather and destroy you. This is my responsibility as your creator."
"Ahhh, ooh, ah... N-No, don't..."
Fear moaned to form words, trying to resist with her entire body and mind. However—
"Foolish opinion. You have no right to refuse. Since you are unable to understand, as the father who created you, I shall tell you in no uncertain terms—"
Don't say it, Haruaki thought, but he was unable to stop the Dominion Lord from continuing to speak. If the Dominion Lord was right in front of him, without the cold bars of the gate blocking him, no matter how many knights there were beside the Dominion Lord, even if it meant rushing in punching and kicking, Haruaki would still try to stop him.
However, those words were mercilessly delivered into Fear's constantly trembling ears.
"You should not have been born in this world."
Fear listened to her own screaming. A world without color. Her field of view shook, causing nausea. Her ears were ringing unpleasantly. However, only the voices nearby could be heard clearly. Including what she did not want to hear, and her own murmurs.
Sure enough, the fact of her existence itself, was it a mistake?
The fact she had thought she could do something, was it a mistake?
In the end, she was ultimately the cube created for torture and execution. These immoral uses were not meant to exist. But at least, it was true that someone had created her out of anticipation for making use of her functions. However, if the one who created her rejected her existence... Indeed, that meant that she was undoubtedly something that should not exist in the first place. It meant that before making use of her functions, the root of her being, the origin of all causality for her as a tool, should not have existed in the first place.
A mistake starting from the very first step. She had simply failed to realize it until now.
Not supposed to exist, not allowed to exist.
Should not... have been born in this world...
"Ahhhh, ah, ah...!"
Her consciousness was overflowing like hyperventilation. Her thoughts were out of control. About to breakdown. About to breakdown.
She did not want to look at anything, hear anything, or think anything anymore.
Hence, she was unable to resist the onslaught of the second wave.
No, instead, she accepted it willingly—
Her consciousness suddenly disconnected.
Fear's shuddering body suddenly stopped unnaturally. Silent. No moaning or screaming. Had she fainted?
Haruaki glared at the Dominion Lord furiously, clenching his fist hard.
The Dominion Lord only stared back at him with calm eyes of pity. However, Sleif swiftly stood up from her kneeling position, taking a step forward to come between Haruaki and the Dominion Lord. The iron bars, entwined with the cursed barbed wire, still stood before Haruaki's group. Even with throwing weapons in hand, it was probably impossible to hit him. Did she forbade even murderous gazes from reaching her master?
However, Sleif's action seemed to carry other significance. Haruaki noticed that her eyes beneath the helmet were not directly towards him but further back. Behind him, Satsuko was currently observing the Dominion Lord with interest while muttering quietly to herself.
"Hmm~ This is so deep. With advanced age, gentlemanliness equals or surpasses the Commander in every way... If his strength is also on the Commander's level, perhaps the secret to strength is about gentlemanliness. If Satsuko puts on a fake moustache, perhaps..."
However, instead of addressing Satsuko, Sleif was talking to her surroundings.
"Have you arrived? All humans and Wathes present are enemies. Wipe them out swiftly."
Alarm appeared on Satsuko's face while Fourteen yelled at the same time as the two of them jumped apart in opposite directions. By the time they realized, a number of similarly dressed people were present.
"A detachment... from the Knights Dominion?"
"Speaking of which, she was apparently calling them earlier. I almost forgot."
Haruaki asked quietly and Konoha closed in while answering him.
Of course, Haruaki did not remember their faces clearly, but he gathered the impression that this group was different from the knights who had attacked their home. Was that group still fighting Pendragon? Or had the battle concluded already?
"Satsuko, what's the next move?"
"Right~ Let's practice by watching a group fight. It's the first time after obtaining this «Karma Speed»."
"Understood. But what about them?"
"Let's save the main course to enjoy later. Also, Fear-san cannot fight right now."
Satsuko slowly blocked a knight's attack while looking at Haruaki's group with a smile. Konoha and Kotetsu were likewise intercepting the attacking knights while exchanging brief glances at the same time.
"Is there any point in fighting now, Muramasa-sama?"
"Of course not. The main gates cannot be broken through whereas the enemies are durable pawns. We should regroup."
Konoha and Kotetsu nodded lightly at each other then sent their opponents flying at the same time. Then without following up the attacks, they swiftly turned around.
"Let us retreat for now while leaving those two to handle them, Haruaki-kun!"
"Agreed. Fear-kun also looks very weird... There's no point staying here any longer."
Kirika agreed with Konoha and Kotetsu. However, Haruaki was unable to tear his gaze away from the people behind the gates.
The people who had taken the students hostage. The people who intended to completely destroy the Yachi house and this town. The people who rejected Fear's existence on a fundamental level.
Haruaki did not want to agree. He could not agree either. He still had many things he wanted to say, many rebuttals he wanted to offer—
"Tsk... Truth be told, you are man who can't read the situation. Time is of the essence!"
Kotetsu forcibly picked him up in his arms, loading him on his shoulder like a sack of rice.
"That is a bit forceful, but it can't be helped! Let's go!"
"Yes, I'll push Fear-kun!"
The group ran as fast as they could. The knights outside the gates seemed to rush the belligerent Satsuko and Fourteen all at once, leaving only a few to chase Haruaki and friends. Konoha fought and repelled them as necessary.
While on Kotetsu's shoulder, Haruaki saw the final moment.
Behind the gates, Sleif—as well as the Dominion Lord sitting in wheelchair.
They completely lacked the anxiety to hunt them down at all costs, simply showing calm composure.
Then Haruaki's group managed to escape the area in front of the school gates.
Haruaki did not want to know at all how many times they had been fleeing today.
A so-called secret room naturally referred to a room which others could not find, hence there was no better hiding place. Once hiding inside, it was very hard to be discovered. Although they still held and suppressed their breaths when sensing people outside the door, fortunately, no other people from the Knights Dominion came to the superintendent's office again after the knights had searched the room once.
Hence—Un Izoey finished what she had to do first.
In other words, the promise.
After Un Izoey finished her explanation, Kana and Taizou were sitting on the floor, their arms crossed, eyes closed, making this sort of humming sound. As for what emotions were occupying their hearts—That would be an unknown for Un Izoey.
She had already said what she needed to say.
Curses and cursed tools. The phenomenon of tools taking on human form after being excessively cursed. The various organizations knowing about curses. One of these organizations had now captured the school. As well as their goal—
Also the fact that there were a number of cursed tools at school in human form.
For the sake of lifting their curses, they had gathered in a certain place in this town.
Mincing no words, there were also Yachi Haruaki and Fear-in-Cube.
Un Izoey knew that the truth was not that easy to accept. When excessively huge unknowns were turned into knowns, people would feel shocked as though their world had changed. Rebuilding a new worldview in their minds would take quite a long time, of course.
However, she believed they would not go as far as to "not believe." Since there was no time for unnecessary explanations, she had asked for Isuzu's assistance to turn back into a bell in front of them before returning to human form again. Although this was a reckless solution, there was definitely nothing more convincing.
Just let them digest the information they were fed.
She could only do what was in her power. For the sake of breaking out of this predicament.
"So, what are we doing next? Just hide here the whole time?"
Chihaya was leaning her back against the wall, still dressed in gym clothes. She asked with her arms crossed. Standing by her side, Isuzu smiled at everyone.
"My answer: No. Listening to the conversation between knights, several unknown news became known."
"Oh? You found out something?"
Sovereignty suddenly leaned forward and asked.
"In other words, the person who performed the hypnosis is named Taciturn. Most likely the owner of that voice heard on the public announcement. Also, that woman is currently not inside the school."
"Did she go shopping? I really wish she could've taken us along."
Shiraho remarked sarcastically in her usual displeasure.
"No, the knights also said that this school is currently impossible to get in or out. Probably the power of the Wathe seen on the sports ground, which looks like barbed wire. With this—My question: why is this Taciturn woman outside the school? If an emergency came up, that woman will probably order the hypnotized students to harm themselves."
"You're saying if the silver-haired little girl broke the school wall and appeared, right...? In spite of that, the fact that she still went outside the school means—"
At this point, Chihaya frowned as though realizing something and said:
"It's possible to make hypnotic suggestions from outside the school too...?"
"Or she was outside all along. It is already known that the public announcement system is controlled from the broadcast room. Is there a way to remotely control the announcement system from far away to broadcast your voice?"
"Something like that... can be done in many ways. You can have someone holding a cellphone call her then just point the phone's speaker towards the mic in the broadcast room. But why exactly do it from outside the school?"
"This is still unknown. Maybe it's because of some kind of curse."
In any case, the current problem was—
Un Izoey took out her cellphone from her skirt pocket. There was still no signal.
Just by watching Un Izoey's action of confirming, Chihaya seemed to figure out something. Suddenly gasping, she said:
"As long as this Taciturn woman is still outside—This means that there's definitely some method inside the school to contact outside and vice versa, right? Some method that's unlike our cellphones whose signals are jammed."
"My answer: yes. I guessed the same, suggesting this kind of suggestion."
What excellent power of understanding despite clearly a younger age. If possible, Un Izoey really wanted to recruit Chihaya for the Lab Chief's Nation, but Ueno Kirika would probably kill her if she really did that, so she suppressed the thought.
So, if their guess was correct and the enemy side did have their own communications devices—
"I believe our next target is to contact the outside world again. Since the person able to control students with hypnosis, Taciturn, is not inside the school, taken with the fact that it is impossible to enter or exit the school right now, asking other people outside school to take care of her will be the fastest solution. I also thought about finding the signal jamming device to destroy it, but—"
"It's probably hard to find since things like that can be made very small in the modern age. So rather than finding the device, it's probably more practical to use the enemy's means of communications directly."
"Hmm... If that kind of device really exists, go ahead and try, but we won't be helping. Do you know what it looks like?"
Probably to kill time, Shiraho was combing Sovereignty's hair one moment and straightening out the wrinkles in her maid uniform the next, meanwhile answering indifferently.
"My answer: no. But I think it should not be very complicated."
"Please allow me to ask in fear and trepidation, why is that~?"
"In an emergency situation where orders need to be issued, which requires her to give the hostages hypnotic suggestions, threatening hostages becomes pointless if it takes too much time. It is pointless unless the communication device can be used easily and instantly, I guess this kind of guess."
"I see now~"
"Uh... Something like a special, modified cellphone should be enough, right? Since they prepared the signal jamming after all, all they need to do is set it up to avoid the interference."
Chihaya was speaking in a respectful tone of voice, because she was answering Shiraho as well. On the other hand, Shiraho simply responded coldly: "Oh~ I see."
"Uh... Then who will be holding that special cellphone thing? Someone of a higher position, I guess?"
"The knights just now said something about the three squad leaders being the actual ones to issue hypnosis commands. Also—there should be a detachment with a number of members sent out of the school. I really cannot believe they do not contact those teams at all. Based on that, the people holding means of communications should be higher ranked as expected. Although others might have them too, at least it is certain that targeting a knight squad leaders will not leave us emptyhanded."
"But... those people should be quite strong, right? Will it be okay?"
One could hardly blame Sovereignty for speaking with worry written all over her face. Speaking of knight squad leader rank, they would be on the same level of Lilyhowell. Judging from the fact that Sleif was conversing directly with the Dominion Lord on the sports ground, she might be one of them. In other words—even Un Izoey could not guarantee a victory. Although she was assuming a surprise attack, if the attack failed and the enemy called for reinforcements, the situation would only get more despairing.
Seeing Un Izoey's hesitation, Sovereignty went "Hmm~" and started to contemplate.
"Anyway, all we need is to get a hold of a cellphone carried by a powerful squad leader, right...? Hmm~ If we could come up with a perfect plan..."
After frowning for a while, she suddenly clapped her hands together.
She poked the cheek of Shiraho who was focused on removing dirt from the maid outfit's sleeves. Shiraho instantly said with a serious expression:
"I am not going to help, it's too troublesome. You are not allowed to help either, it's too dangerous."
"Eh~ But if this continues, we'll never get home, you know? And I was planning for us to cook curry together tonight."
"I wanna go home earlier to cook curry with you, Shiraho, then take a bath as usual and go to bed with my body all warm~ Umm... Don't you want that, Shiraho?"
Shiraho sighed deeply and said with a slight pout:
"Seriously... That's so unfair. Using such an adorable look on your face to ask me to indulge you, how could I possibly refuse... Can this be considered the husband ruling the roost?"
"...Fine. You're right, this is all for the sake of getting home earlier. Since things need to be done, let's do it."
"Yay~! Shiraho, thank you! That's why I love you so much~!"
Seeing Sovereignty hug Shiraho as hard as she could, Un Izoey relaxed her face.
Then Sovereignty gave a simple explanation of the plan she had thought of. Some parts needed adjustment—But it just might work.
"But please allow me to ask in fear and trepidation, do you know who is a knight squad leader~?"
Sleif instantly surfaced in Un Izoey's mind. But approaching her would incur too high a risk. Not only was she a Wathe but they had met once already, so something unpredictable could arise, hence they must target the other two leaders.
Naturally, Un Izoey had no idea what those two looked like, but—
"Although unknown, they can become known next."
"You're not planning on torture and interrogation, right?"
Chihaya said with a frown.
"That is the last resort. Interrogating a soldier to get information is faster, but I want to avoid a commotion as much as possible."
"Then what will you do?"
Un Izoey nodded and answered seriously:
"Observe. In a hunt, I can tell which is the alpha male in a pack of animals just from observation."
For some reason, Chihaya was sighing speechlessly.
Finding out by watching was the truth. The alpha males usually had bigger bodies or were followed by many females, so it was clear from a glance.
Although the situation this time was a little different, she should be able to find a way. "Strongest in the group" is something that naturally exuded into the air. The more tension released together, the more obvious it was.
"So, I will search for the squad leader alone first. I will only memorize the appearance first, which means I will hide while searching. This could take some time, up to a few hours depending on conditions. Please hide here quietly."
This mission must not be messed up by impatience. Caution was paramount.
Listening to Chihaya and the others acknowledge understanding one after another, Un Izoey walked to the secret room's exit—
"Uh~ Un-chan? You're going outside?"
"For real? It's very dangerous outside, right?"
Originally humming "hmm" nonstop, Kana and Taizou both looked up to gaze at her.
"No problem, I will pay attention to safety."
Kana and Taizou looked at each other after Un Izoey said that.
"Umm, to be honest, although everything is still beyond my understanding..."
"Yeah~ I've got so much to ask you right now, to confirm. But we can read the current atmosphere after all. What a man of the year needs most is the ability to read moods at all times!"
"Who the heck is the man of the year!? Don't call yourself that on your own!"
Kana smacked Taizou on the shoulder with the bottom of her palm. Then the two of them smiled shyly at the same time but with very serious eyes.
"Well, anyway, that's that. I just want to say one thing—Take care."
"Yeah, that's right, you be careful."
Un Izoey relaxed her expression and nodded lightly. She was very grateful for their genuine feelings of concern.
Then she turned around and resumed walking to the exit.
She did not forget to leave behind the important words:
"I'll be back."
Maximilian Pendragon halted his footsteps.
Staring at that scene, he cocked his head.
He had walked here simply to eliminate the possibility without getting his hopes up. Rather, one could say he had come here to confirm that nothing had happened. After ordering his subordinates to investigate, visiting this place that was found, then breaking and entering on his own, doing a quick search and rummage, then thinking "Where did she run off to?" before moving onto the next place—That was how he envisaged the process. Originally.
The sun was setting. The shopping street was quiet all around.
However, the Dan-no-ura beauty parlor in one corner there still had its lights on.
Stuck to the glass door in front of Pendragon was a notice reading "Appointments Only."
Clinging to his hand, Riko exchanged puzzled glances with Granaury on the side.
He walked inside.
It would be a stretch of flattery even if one were to call this place "not very big." Also, she was sitting on the innermost chair in the shop.
Talking on the phone. She threw a glance at Pendragon but still kept her cellphone against her ear.
"Yeah, so you guys will return home first? Got it. I heard that Ficchi was quite shocked... Haru, you must comfort her properly... Me? Well, I'm... Hmm, perfectly fine."
Then she hung up. Smiling sweetly, she stood up from her chair and bowed to the latest arrivals.
"Welcome, dear customer. I've been waiting for you a long time."
"...What are you planning?"
Pendragon looked around. He first suspected a trap, but there were no presences of people hiding.
Wearing an apron, Kuroe did not show any hostility or murderous intent. She was no different from usual.
"This mess of hair looks like it's really worth a cut~ Come come, please sit over here."
Kuroe spun the chair next to her hand once and waved to him. Unknown intent. Frowning, he looked at her.
"Oh~ Looks like we have a shy customer today~"
Kuroe walked over to him and even pulled him by the hand forcefully. Because she was too unguarded, too natural—Just as no one would feel afraid if they saw a baby reaching out to them, the idea of dodging did not enter his mind at all. He allowed the tiny hand to pull him and force him to sit on the beauty parlor chair. The seat cushion was quite soft. His reflection in the mirror showed his brow in a deep furrow.
"Hey... What's this about?"
"Oh! I know, you're planning to stand behind him and cut his throat like this with a razor, right!? Over my dead body, I won't let you succeed!"
"I'd fail as a hairstylist if I ever hurt my customers~ Oh, you two can't separate, right? Then it's fine to stay as you are. It might be a bit tight, so please hang in there~"
Including Riko who had moved to Pendragon's thigh, Kuroe wrapped the barber's cloth around Pendragon, covering Riko's head as well.
"I-I can't believe you're wrapping me tight with Maximilian together so forcefully... I-It feels different from usual. How to say this? Like umm, the smell of necks... Sniff sniff. Oh! No, you're digging your won grave here! Since I'm staying so close, even without turning into armor, you absolutely won't be able to hurt Maximilian—!"
Pendragon shifted his gaze slightly to look at the adjacent mirror, only to see the reflection of Granaury taking a seat on her own in the waiting area and start reading a magazine. She wouldn't be waiting for her turn to get a haircut, would she?
(So there's really no hostility...?)
Neither himself, Granaury or Riko thought there was any. Even if she had some kind of plan, under these circumstances, Riko definitely could protect his neck and back completely. Otherwise, she could instantly transform into armor to cover him too. Any false move from Kuroe and Granaury behind her was not going to stand back without doing anything. The chance of harming him was virtually zero.
"Although I've no idea what you want to do... I won't change my mind no matter what you do."
"Let's not talk about that. You're my customer right now. So, how do you want it cut? Just thinning it overall will do, right...? If I cut your hair too short, it'll lose that wild feel, so I won't change the length too much."
She picking up a handful of hair lightly, she said confidently. Pendragon did not know if she understood him. No matter how much strength or pressure he exerted, it felt like he was being blocked lightly—like punching a curtain, as futile as driving nails into bran—He recalled this kind of Japanese proverb.
"...Do as you like."
The snipping of scissors was heard. Whenever the scissors move left or right, Riko's threatening face would move left and right as well. Honestly, it was quite annoying but nothing could be done about it.
"So, let's chat for a bit~"
"This is your actual goal, right?"
"I don't have any goal. It's common for hairstylists and customers to chat."
"There are people who don't want to chat, right?"
"I am a professional, so I can tell from a single look who doesn't want to chat. In those cases, I will work away quietly. But... dear customer, you're not one of them~ You're giving off strong vibes of wanting to chat~"
He sighed again.
"Chat about what?"
"Anything. Just casual chatting will do~"
Casual chatting? This was the goal? He felt even more lost.
Listening to the scissors, he answered questions as necessary. Weather. This country's climate and customs.
Then—The subject somehow drifted to being about her, about him.
Likes. Dislikes. Past. Future. Birth. Memories. About Sekaibashi and his group. About them and Pendragon when they were still in the Draconians. About Yachi Haruaki and his friends. Her time spent in that home. About Riko and Granaury. Pendragon's entourage currently.
Kuroe was in charge of leading the conversation while Pendragon simply responded gruffly. However, she really was chatting like with a normal customer, giggling lightly, making amazed noises, asking questions as soon as they occurred to her. A special skill of conversation unique to people working in the service industry—Even though she was not human.
It felt unbelievable. The scissors' rhythmic sounds. His gradually lightening head.
Hearing some of the things she said, Pendragon almost burst out laughing and suddenly came to a realization.
He had not come here to laugh. He had not come here to chat.
He had come here to obtain her.
It felt like he was getting dragged into her pace.
"Hmm~ That's pretty much it. Want to get your hair washed?"
"I see. Then the haircut is done. This is what the back looks like. Wow~ So manly~"
Kuroe took out a folding mirror to let him check his hair on the back. He took a glance—No problems. Instead, it felt quite refreshing, quite comfortable.
He looked away from the mirror Kuroe was holding and stared at the large mirror directly in front of him.
Through the mirror, he made eye contact with her.
She snapped the folding mirror shut and smiled.
A smile as light as floating feathers.
"So... This pretty much... all I can do."
Pendragon felt a vague and unknown feeling in his heart. A sense of discomfort difficult to place. An unclear sense of anxiety. Ambiguous unease. If forced to articulate into words, it was something like this.
His pace was disrupted. Totally disrupted.
What to do—?
How could he recover?
—A redundant question.
No matter how tyrannical...
He deliberately acted according to his own style. That was his only choice.
He exhaled. Not only that, Riko apparently understood his thoughts from her position directly in front of his breath. Just as she suddenly narrowed her eyes—
"Are you happy now? No more games."
Pendragon pulled the barber's cloth from his neck, spun around and jumped behind the chair. During this time, Riko already transformed into armor. Expressionlessly, Granaury also jumped towards him from the side, turning into a sharp blade during the instant she flew through the air, merging with his right hand.
Landing silently, Pendragon reached out with his left hand at the same time and grabbed Kuroe's neck. Then he pinned her petite body against the floor at full force. Straddling her, he pointed the broken spear extending from the back of his right hand at her.
"You must leave with me, even if I must break all your limbs or tear you to pieces."
Her hair did not move. That was because she understood that taking action was pointless, he thought. Because the one before her was the man infinitely closest to being the strongest.
Implying all sorts of meanings, he said.
Hearing that, she closed her eyes lightly.
After a long time, she slowly opened them again—
As earlier, she smiled calmly.
At the same time, she agreed with him.
They stood there blankly in the garden.
Taking another look, it was truly a pitiful sight. The trees in the garden had lost more than half their branches and leaves. Although suffering meteor impacts, the ground was pockmarked with numerous craters. All over the place, there were dark red stains making Konoha and Kotetsu's faces grimace. There was also a faint and unpleasant stench. The veranda used for relaxation was all damaged as though bitten viciously by wild beasts. Trails of destruction not only extended into the adjacent corridor but all to way into the living room inside. Not just the tiles, even the roof's beams were heavily damaged. The entire house was probably going to flood if it rained.
It was already nighttime. The fuzzy scenery under the moonlight was already this bad. Once the sun came up, the full disaster would probably be seen even clearer, a sight that would instill despair and sighing in the viewer.
Hearing a moan, Haruaki instantly turned his head to look in its direction.
"Fear-kun, are you okay?"
On the cart pulled by Kirika, the cube looked like it was shaking slightly.
"A-Ah, I... Right, I...!"
Then she seemed to gasp.
She saw it too, right? Seeing it again, from the front, right?
Extending before their eyes was this home that could not be more familiar—Its unprecedented state of ruin.
Broken and intermittent exhalation, inhalation.
Then—After a while...
It was a very faint whisper, almost inaudible.
"This is also... my fault... right...?"
"Hey Fear...? What are you talking about—"
Just as he wanted to ask her, Fear asked him instead:
"...Sigh, Haruaki. Coming back here... Is it to rest...?"
"Yeah, that's right. After escaping the school, we hid nearby for a while first before finally deciding to return home to rest properly and strategize."
"Then... I'm sleeping. I want to return to my room..."
He really wanted to talk more with Fear. About things so far, about the future. About the Lord of the Knights Dominion—What that man had said.
However, Fear's voice sounded too feeble, making one wonder whether her body might shatter into pieces just from forcing her to talk.
"Oh... Then get some good rest. Also, don't let what that guy said get to you too much."
Something so matter-of-fact, he could only manage to convey one ten-thousandth of his worrying through words.
Fear answered "yeah" ambiguously.
"Then I'll take her inside directly."
Kirika pulled the cart into the main house. Just as Haruaki watched them from behind in a daze—
"Oh, I forgot to mention, the broken glass is dangerous, so be careful when walking around the house~ Because I started cleanup with the accessory dwelling first, the main house hasn't been tidied much at all."
"Right, did you guys check the mailbox? Is there 300 million yen inside?"
"What are you talking about?"
Honatsu was wearing an apron for cleaning, holding a broom, working on putting the garden in order. Although this was a futile endeavor.
Before Fear woke up, they had already chatted a bit with Honatsu and found out what had happened so far as well as what had taken place here after Haruaki and company escaped. Having rested for a while after their task of stalling Pendragon, the superintendent and the Houjyou sisters had run off somewhere again. Perhaps to check out the school's situation.
In any case, confronted with his father's carefree appearance and tone of voice, Haruaki felt his entire person suddenly relax.
Bending over on the spot, Haruaki sat down cross-legged directly on the soil. Seeing that, Honatsu also said: "Rest, rest!" and sat down beside him with his calves tucked against his thighs.
Side by side, they looked at the house again.
Some parts had changed in appearance, others remained the same.
Still, it was still home. Their home.
Whether the enemy would attack again—This uncertainty definitely existed. However, they still had no choice but to return here. Resting at a hotel or some other place, that somehow did not feel right.
Their shelter where they belonged—Sure enough, it was this place.
If this place were to be gone, it would be very sad. No, not just sad.
It would definitely be despair. As though all the important organs had been plucked out of the body, turning him into a shambling zombie unable to do anything.
That kind of outcome—That kind of outcome, he must absolutely—
Haruaki quietly applied force through his left hand, clenching his fist together with soil from the garden.
"Pops, I... will work my hardest. Although I don't know what I can do, I absolutely... cannot accept something like this...!"
"Yeah. A solution... must be found..."
Honatsu answered, staring at his own home intently in the same way.
That unprecedented expression of seriousness on his face was announcing that he was feeling the same as Haruaki.
Sitting on the boundary wall, Kotetsu watched the father and son pair.
Standing on the wall next to him, Konoha's sharp gaze was sweeping all around. Once attacked, a castle's defenses would weaken. Watching out for enemy attacks was their job.
During this time, Kirika walked out of the main house. Seeing the father and son sitting side by side, she took a seat somewhere off in the distance.
At this moment, Konoha said to Kotetsu beside her:
"Kotetsu, I will leave this place to you and go over to the other side of the house."
Her gaze was like a shining polished blade. He must respond to the trust implicit in her request. He was also very happy for the chance to respond to her trust.
But upon hearing his brief answer, she turned her gaze at him, as though trying to confirm something.
"I understand. Whether coming in from outside or coming out from inside, I shall not let even a mouse pass."
Konoha nodded lightly and exhaled at the same time. Mixed within the breath was slight exasperation.
"To be frank, I don't care at all... Just like how she ran away that time to jump into the sea or whatever. But I know very well that it would force Haruaki-kun to shoulder a heavy and unnecessary burden again... Yes, nothing can be predicted now. I don't want to let her cause even more trouble, that is all..."
She murmured softly. Kotetsu could not help but blurt out:
"—Even if she did not escape, but like that..."
Despite being so far away, outside earshot of the father and son sitting in the garden looking at the house as though admiring flowers, he still could not help but lower his voice and spoke his mind.
"...Perhaps her limit is fast approaching."
As a bystander, that was what he was forced to conclude. Losing too many things. Suffering too much damage. Rendered senseless by too many shocks.
Then—trying to exile herself because she could not withstand the pain.
"What are you planning to do?"
"I am planning nothing."
The temperature in her voice seemed to drop several degrees.
Then as though to match her cold tone...
Her next words were spoken as her past self whom Kotetsu loved and revered so much.
"I have not the slightest interest in taking care of a crying infant. 'Tis as futile as applying a drop of oil on rusted gears, by mine opinion. 'Tis as though a feeble mechanical trap, I could not even be bothered to care. In other words—"
In order to circle around to the other side of the house, she walked slowly on the wall.
Then she glanced at the main house.
It was the area around the room where the steel cube was sleeping. At the same time, she said:
"If she were to break here, it would mean everything ends too."
Kotetsu could see the side of her face as well as her eyes from the gaps of her glasses.
There was no emotion expressed at all.
Fear was standing in a dark room.
The sensation under her body felt like a futon. Kirika had laid it out when transporting her here. Kirika had remained silent without saying a word. In the end, she left the room after touching her corner lightly. Kirika was very gentle when putting her down.
However, she had no spare mental energy to thank Kirika for her kindness.
All she could do was think the whole time—What should be done?
She was cursed.
Indeed. Precisely because she was cursed, precisely because she was something cursed...
For centuries, that was why she had been pondering that question.
In other words—Should she not exist?
She recalled that man. The Lord of the Knights Dominion, Trinac Agana. In the far depths of her memories, there really seemed to be an alchemist standing next to the castle lord. Her—creator.
Throughout the long years, truly, these were long years, she had even forgotten his existence. She also wanted to forget. But under completely unexpected circumstances, she encountered him again. Even now, she still found it quite unbelievable.
Even that kind of man.
Even her own creator had asserted that her existence was a mistake and wanted to destroy her.
Expressed even more explicitly—
Having obtained eternal life from a cursed spear, that man had chosen to gather and destroy objects like her. In other words, that man was driven by willpower of such firm extent, with the conviction that his viewpoint was the absolute truth.
In contrast, she—
Her invisible throat choked and convulsed.
It was really impossible to refute him and prove him wrong. Because—
His left hand. The smell of seawater. The odor of blood. Wet clothing. The number of missing fingers.
—She... had harmed Haruaki. This one point was indisputable truth.
As long as she was herself, this risk would continue to exist forever.
Her birth, this form of hers, the fact that she was a cube for torture and execution, impossible to change. Precisely because of that, that man had rejected her existence. After all, she was created with danger as a requirement, how could she possibly not be dangerous?
(What should... I do...?)
She needed the Indulgence Disks after all? The only countermeasure to suppress her mechanisms.
But her unease still could not be dispelled completely.
Having accepted Honatsu's gift, almost sealing up all her mechanisms, leaving only one.
In spite of that, in spite of this current state of hers, she had still harmed Haruaki.
Taking all this into account—Even if all Indulgence Disks were inserted, there was no guarantee that the madness in her heart would disappear, right?
No one knew what could happen. She definitely would not be able to conjure tools of torture, but even so, that was no guarantee against going berserk. If something like the incident on the ship happened again, she might want to kill the enemy before her, even if it meant hitting people barehanded, stealing other's weapons or biting with her teeth. Then in her mindless state, she might kill a certain precious person or tear apart a certain precious person's throat.
Although this was just imagination, she was quite convinced it could happen. As soon as she thought of the density of the darkness in her heart, as soon as she recalled how her creator had asserted she was a mistake and that her existence was steeped in sin...
Ahhh, I knew it.
The easiest and safest method.
The only choice left was disappearing herself—
"Fear-in-Cube, can we chat in whispers?"
Without warning, a certain person's quiet voice was heard in the dark room.
Fear's entire body tensed up. This was—Yamimagari Pakuaki's voice. However, there were no signs of anyone else in this room with all the lights off. Only sound was coming from somewhere.
"You guys were quite busy earlier, right? That's why I took the opportunity to enter the house for a bit, to install a two-way speaker in your room during the chaos. In other words, just in case... Although talking through a speaker without seeing each other's face is a bit rude, considering the current situation, I really can't believe optimistically that I can evade Muramasa and Kotetsu's surveillance to hold a secret conversation with you directly, so please forgive me. As long as we don't speak too loudly, they shouldn't notice."
"What is... your aim?"
"I told you, right? A chat in whispers. I've got something to tell just you."
"Just like what you did to Kirika... If you think you can trick me with some kind of weird deal and manipulate me to your whims—"
"The complete opposite. I want to stop you from abandoning all action. Because at this rate, it looks like you're giving up on doing anything. That'd be a bit boring."
Perhaps hearing her gasp, Pakuaki chuckled.
"What I want to tell you is very simple. The last Indulgence Disk is in your creator's hands."
"More precisely, it is inside Dainsleif—the magic sword he had obtained during his wanderings across the world—who then became the most ancient knight."
"Dain...? You mean Sleif?"
"Indeed. From her standpoint, it matters not what you guys want to call her."
Fear recalled the maiden knight who wore a visor-like helmet. If she was one of their kind—a cursed sword—having an Indulgence Disk install inside her would not be strange for sure.
"You... know what Indulgence Disks are?"
"Dear me, have you forgotten what kind of organization I'm the leader of? Unknowns—"
"Cut the crap and just tell me if you know."
Pakuaki exhaled as though speechlessly but continued without making a fuss:
"Indulgence Disks—You guys think it's "a device for lightening curses," right? But strictly speaking, they're not. That's just a secondary effect. They have another, original purpose."
"What is it?"
"Do you need to ask? Namely, to seal your mechanisms. Those things were originally limiters existing to restrict your actions."
She had already sensed this vaguely—a very long time ago.
Those slots of hers which were the perfect fit for Indulgence Disks, as well as the few Disks that were inside her from the start... There was a clear difference between her and other cursed tools where Indulgence Disks had been forcibly installed. The level of unity was also different. Among them, there was Aiko, a former member of the Knights Dominion, who also had a device installed to reduce curses while acting as a life collateral system to prevent betrayal—called Euthanasia, right?—Compared to that kind of forced mishmash, it was like the difference between heaven and earth.
"In other words.... Like me, the Indulgence Disks were created by that man too?"
"Indeed. To match your design of transforming into thirty-two mechanisms, he also made thirty-two limiters. But naturally, the customer ordered your creation because he wanted to use you, so after receiving the goods, he took out almost all of the Indulgence Disks. By the way, even I have no idea how to take out an Indulgence Disk and put it back in. Since it's related to your core and of a black box design, I don't think anything as convenient as an eject button would exist there. I'm guessing that only the Dominion Lord, Trinac Agana himself, has the know-how to make modifications."
Removal. Asking the enemy for a favor to remove them, in order to fight the enemy. Clearly scared of losing control, yet still wanting to liberate more combat abilities. What paradoxical behavior. Too ludicrous.
"The few that were kept inside you from the beginning... Perhaps those mechanisms were too unstable to use, or too dangerous, or just didn't match the customer's tastes. Anyway, I think they were sealed to prevent mechanisms from malfunctioning."
"Feeling regret for his past actions, he probably still had many Indulgence Disks on hand during his wanderings. This is the reason why many of the Knights Dominion's possessions have them installed. That being said, many of the Disks were lost outside throughout the years."
Probably because the explanation basically ended, Pakuaki's voice went silent for a while.
Indulgence Disks. Originally kept inside her, created for her, devices for sealing her mechanisms.
But conversely, it meant that the Indulgence Disks were not meant to lessen the curses branded upon her body by the numerous victims when she was used as a tool of torture and execution, right?
New unease. Unchanging unease.
"I understand that Indulgence Disks existed for my sake from the start. But so what? Even if all the Indulgence Disks were gathered and the last one inserted inside me to seal all the mechanisms, the curses surrounding me won't necessarily go away. I might turn to using my hands, teeth or nails to fight in a frenzy, then hurt someone important again—"
"Oh, you don't need to worry about that."
Pakuaki said with absolute confidence.
Without forcefulness, without seeming like he was lying, he spoke as though this was only natural.
Fear stared wide-eyed with her invisible eyes, looking up with her invisible face. The room was still all dark inside and she did not know where Pakuaki's speaker was installed.
Fear asked in a trembling voice:
Then he told her the reason.
Somehow, in a tone of voice that almost seemed to conjure the image of him giggling—
Fear made a hoarse sound from her throat. She laughed.
She could only laugh.
If she were in human form, the result might be different. Perhaps something might slide from the corner of her eye. A momentary impulse. However, surely, at least she was certain she would show a smile. Hence, she was aware that this was right.
Only one thing was certain.
If that were done, she would never hurt anyone again.
Indeed beyond a doubt.
"Why... are you telling me this? Doesn't it contradict what you said earlier?"
"Hmm, frankly speaking—"
His tone was lively, which actually made Fear feel that he was speaking from the heart.
"I believe that things to research about you have almost been exhausted. This is the final unknown left that I'd like to see with my own eyes."
To the point that the Lab Chief's Nation's leader, whose only interest lay in turning unknowns into knowns, would say something like this—
She was currently at the culminating point, she had this feeling.
She also felt like laughing now.
At this moment, Fear noticed a presence outside the room.
"Oh. That's pretty much all I wanted to say at the moment. I will be retreating now..."
Pakuaki's voice was not heard again after that.
Footsteps were gradually approaching along the corridor. That rhythm was very familiar.
Hence, Fear quietly waited for that person to open the room's sliding door.
Several seconds later—
"...Hi, are you awake?"
Just as expected, before her eyes was his usual smile.
The instant she saw it, her heart overflowed with the same feeling as just now.
She wanted to laugh a bit.
At the same time, she wanted to cry a bit too.
Turning the clock back slightly earlier, back to the Yachi home's garden...
Haruaki was staring at the house when Kirika suddenly got up from where she was sitting on the side.
"I'll get some refreshments to take to Konoha-kun and Kotetsu-kun. Can I borrow the kitchen for a bit?"
"Sure, thank you... Need any help?"
"I don't plan on making anything labor intensive, so I'll be fine alone."
"Really? Then it's fine even if you pour out all the tomato juice from the fridge."
After ending this conversation, Kirika walked into the dim interior of the house. It felt like Kirika needed to find something to kill time.
Clearly they should not have time to kill.
Clearly before the final deadline arrived, they must do something.
In spite of that, Haruaki still could not muster any strength. As soon as he sat here, looking at the wrecked house as though admiring flowers, for some unknown reason, neither his mind nor his body could exert any strength.
After running around all day, his body was filled with fatigue. His left hand's wound was giving strange feeling between pain and numbness, suggesting a sense of emptiness as though something important was escaping from there. His mind could not focus, only recalling ambiguous activity records while his consciousness was about to drift away any moment.
No good. No good. Haruaki shook his head lightly while saying to himself:
"What should we do...? My brain can't operate at all..."
"Because too many things changed all at once. This can't be helped."
Originally muttering to himself, the father sitting beside him responded to him. Because he had been cleaning up the whole time, Honatsu was still wearing an apron, sitting with his calves tucked against his outer thighs.
"You're talking like this has nothing to do with you... Don't you have any good ideas, Pops?"
"How could there be none? Rather, it would be better to say that I've been putting them into action the whole time."
Haruaki turned this head to see Honatsu patting the broom on the side while he continued:
"This only happened because too many things have changed. Then the first step is to try restoring everything back to the way it was. I think it's a great idea."
"...That's why you're sweeping?"
"Yes. You won't come up with good ideas if you don't calm down. Going through the motions first turned out to be surprisingly effective, it's really great."
What should one say? It felt too simple and wishful. Haruaki shrugged and sighed.
"Sweeping is all fine and good, but it still doesn't solve anything. What if the enemy attacks and damages the house again?"
"Just continue fixing and sweeping, right?"
Honatsu spoke boldly and simply.
"...Then will a good 'development' follow from that?"
"Yeah, probably. Right now, that's all I can do then wait."
"Probably? This is so unreliable..."
Haruaki sighed again.
At this time, Honatsu turned his body to face Haruaki while remaining in sitting posture. With a smile, he asked him:
"Eh, what's the most 'life as usual' thing for you, Haruaki?"
"Let's start the restoration from there, how about that? After all, we can't possibly restore everything all at once, so we have start our efforts somewhere critical."
Life as usual.
Haruaki tried to think. At the same time, he kept the same view—looking at the house from the garden.
An undamaged roof. The veranda heated warm from the sun's rays. The pillar where heights were recorded in the past. The old but staid smell of tatami. Everyone gathered in the living room. Konoha slightly in a huff. Kuroe saying frighteningly absurd things. Kirika reciting her usual catchphrase in exasperation. Then, in the very center. The center of their group was—
"Fear in human form, munching on rice crackers, also scattering crumbs everywhere... Right?"
Haruaki squinted and spoke. The dark living room. The heavily scarred living room. These were superimposed upon his imagined scene.
"So... Let's start with restoring that, okay?"
"That's what I want to do too."
"Fear... has suffered a severe shock. The meaning of her birth was rejected by that Dominion Lord, that guy who created her. Also... Because of her curse, she lost control on the ship."
In addition, there was the matter of chopping his fingers off.
"I... What should I say? Like 'don't let it weigh on your mind' or 'I don't mind,' stuff like that... Just repeating those things I've kept saying all along isn't going to change anything... Geh."
Honatsu suddenly extended the broom's handle to rub Haruaki's cheek. Haruaki narrowed his eyes and pushed the broom away.
"What are you doing?"
"This is educational instruction for my overly serious son. Listen to me, the answer is surprisingly simple. When facing difficult things, don't think about anything, just do what your feelings tell you to do. Just like last time, it's necessary to be willful sometimes."
But this time was different. The situation was much worse than last time.
During his indecision, Honatsu's throat shook as he laughed "hoho."
"The way I see it... I think that Fear-chan is just troubling over boring little things~"
"Don't make it sound so easy, to her, it's—"
"That's exactly it. Although Fear-chan is treating this very seriously, there's no need for us to take such a serious attitude as well. All we need to do is speak to her in a live~ly~ manner from our own standpoint. So what if her existence was a mistake from the start? So what if she deserves to be cursed? Sometimes, right things are born out of that... Stuff along those lines."
"Right things... Such as?"
Honatsu narrowed his eyes slightly after Haruaki asked.
He fell silent for a long time.
So long that Haruaki was beginning to wonder if his father refused to answer, whether he was spouting things randomly.
But after a while—
Finally, he spoke in a calm voice.
Those words were exceedingly feeble, sliding into the world with the impression that they were murmurings to himself.
"Perhaps precisely from understanding curses, these negative thoughts, one can further understand how irreplaceable positive thoughts are. Perhaps precisely from being something that has been cursed again and again—only then can something farthest removed from curses be born and nurtured. That's what this is about..."
Honatsu seemed to be recalling something in a daze, his gaze directed towards the house...
Near the end of his speech, his gaze suddenly shifted.
Surely, ever since his birth till now—
Over these past eighteen years, his father was slipping up for the very first time.
His father's gaze and words made him realize something. Could it be possible—
With a mighty beat, his heart began to grow hot.
Haruaki could not help but ask—
"Umm, I've been wanting to find a chance to ask you again since a while ago, my mother..."
His father's eyebrow twitched as though going "crap"—Did he imagine it? That instant was too non-obvious and his father immediately resumed a foolishly smiling look too naturally, so he could not be sure. Perhaps it really was his imagination.
"Hmm? The subject changed suddenly~? Well, I don't know what she's doing, out there somewhere. After the divorce, we never got in touch again, but I think she should be doing well? Uh, this is my—Sorry, I should apologize seriously for times like these and switch back to a normal male tone of voice. It's all my fault for always running all over the world outside. She couldn't stand it and left this home. It's my fault for making her life full of uncertainties. I am really so sorry. Anyway, it was all my fault, I am to blame for all of it, so hate me if you must, son, no wait, conversely, in order to lavish you with double the amount of love, that's why I'm trying so hard looking like this, so you should be able to conclude it's a happy ending, right!?"
He glossed over the issue in full force.
Haruaki knew very clearly, but unbelievably, he did not feel like pursuing the matter to the very bottom at this time.
Regardless of the truth, it did not matter now. Even if he found out, it would not change anything.
Hence, he could only relax his body and mind then smile.
"...No way no way, how is this a happy ending?"
"Eh~ To think I created a brand-new realm of child-rearing by being both parents at once. Oh, I guess I need to let you breastfeed after all? Wanna suck?"
"I-I'm not allowing him to suck! Absolutely ridiculous!"
By the time he noticed, Kirika had already returned at some point. She glared viciously at Honatsu who was squeezing his bosom with his arms to accentuate it under the apron, but Honatsu giggled and ignored her. Then he stood up with a grunt of "ooph" like an old man.
"Okay, it's time to continue sweeping~ Oh, Kirika-chan, can I take a cup of tea?"
"Yes, I poured these out for you two in the first place... Yachi, take one too."
Haruaki took a cup of barley tea from Kirika's tray then turned his gaze while drinking. On the boundary wall in the back, Kotetsu was drinking canned tomato juice with a serious look on his face. Kirika had apparently gone to visit Konoha and Kotetsu first to deliver refreshments to them.
"Puha~ Great, then I'll work hard for a while longer! Kirika-chan, can you clear the cups later and first help sweep up the broken glass in the main house? After that, I'll provide you with an unused room to rest."
"I don't mind, but... Uh, what about Yachi...?"
"The unworthy son seems to have things to do."
Looking at Haruaki, Honatsu winked. It did not suit him at all. Then turning around, he said at the same time:
"Anyway... I think the topic went on a tangent in the middle, but the conclusion is very simple. Since you're not sure what to say, remember that actions speak louder than words. This is an ancient proverb that's still circulating."
The father's figure moved forward after handing the broom to Kirika.
Watching his back, Haruaki also stood up.
Compared to just now—Strangely enough, he felt energy in his body.
Even though what he needed to do remained unclear.
But he knew what he wanted to do.
"The answer is surprisingly simple. Actions speak louder than words... I see? Then it can't be helped."
His lips curling in a grin, Haruaki muttered:
"Then I'll be willful for once."
"...Hi, are you awake?"
Fear's reply was very brief.
The room was dark. There was only the moonlight shining in from the sliding door he had opened. It illuminated the steel cube standing coldly on the futon.
It was as though Fear were saying that staying in that form was the only penance for her.
As though saying it was the only safe solution that would not hurt anyone.
Haruaki narrowed his eyes lightly and reexamined his own heart. What he wanted to do. What he desired—The scenery of life as usual.
To restore it, what action should he take seeing as he did not know what to say?
Crap. I'm grunting the same way as Pops. Haruaki frowned while...
Picking up Fear's body in his arms. Extremely heavy.
"What are... you doing...?"
This was a willful solution.
What he wanted to do.
Hence, completely unabashed, Haruaki carried Fear in his arms out into the corridor—At the same time, he said:
"Let's sleep together."
Although it sounded like a scream of insanity...
For the first time in a while, Haruaki finally heard Fear's voice full of emotions again.
His own room. After laying out the futon taken from the closet, he placed Fear on the very center. Then putting the prepared blanket at his feet, he lay down on the same futon—In other words, next to Fear.
"Y-You, why are you doing this...?"
"Because I want to. I want to sleep with you. That's all."
It was no lie. He really wanted to try this.
He wanted to do this with Fear, who had been keeping her distance from him, building high walls using her cube form, making it difficult for them to convey their thoughts to each other.
He wanted to go further than before, to bring them so close together that there would be no gaps, to touch each other once again. That was all.
Lying down beside the cube, Haruaki reached out lightly with his right hand. Fear's body shook—He ignored it and patted her corner gently. Which part of her body did this correspond to? The head would be fine but if happened to be some place like her butt... Hmm, that would have to wait until she reported it herself.
"Speaking of which, you sneaked into my bed before..."
Recalling what happened back when she first arrived here, Haruaki whispered quietly.
Haruaki did not know if Fear was reacting to his words or his hand rubbing her corner, but she shuddered while saying:
"D-Damn... shameless brat..."
Scolding him as usual. As usual? Exactly what he wanted. That was why he did it. Currently, he was taking any damage at all.
"Yes, that's right. I might be a shameless brat after all. I didn't dislike it much back then."
"I don't dislike it now either. Like this, trying to touch you..."
He changed his way of touching to poke lightly with his fingertip. Her breathing became even more acute.
Then after a while...
"Even like this... in the shape of a box...?"
Haruaki thought for a moment then answered honestly:
"Hmm, if I had to say the truth, your human form is softer. I'd like to touch it too."
"Th-That's your real goal? Hmph..."
This time, Haruaki exhaled. Now was the chance to say what he wanted to say.
"—You became like this because of me, right? I've wanted to have a proper talk with you all this time."
He paused in his motions of touching her.
"On that ship... You went berserk only because I was too weak. If I were stronger, you wouldn't have been forced to do that to save us. That's why... Sorry."
"Don't apologize. The one who wants to apologize... is me."
But she did not continue with words of apology. Haruaki's guess was that she believed that no amount of apologizing would be enough, that was why she forbade herself from saying those words.
The bandage on his left hand. The emptiness occupying it. The vague pain. The cold sense of loss. But clearly, he had already started to get used to his left hand being like this.
Hence, he extended his left hand this time and stroked Fear's body as before. Nothing different from his right hand. No need for concern at all. No need to obsess over it at all. Even if the number of fingers had decreased, he was still able to touch Fear's body. And being able to do that was very important.
Fear seemed to hold her breath for an instant, but did not say anything. Even if it was only a mere fraction, he hoped his feelings could reach her.
"Say... You became like this because you don't want to hurt us again, right?"
Turned into the form of a cube. Turned into a passive tool of torture and execution instead of an active weapon. Turned into what she probably disliked, her form.
Haruaki sighed greatly in exasperation. His hand's movements changed to caressing back and forth. As a result, his fingers' pain became more pronounced, but he did not care and said deliberately in a gentle tone of voice:
"Uh~ What you're doing is wrong, can you stop?"
"It's not like I hate you in this form, but if you decide: 'I must stay like this forever!' That's really going to be a problem. I'd be very grateful if you could return to your original form quickly."
"Why...? Why... is it wrong? Staying like this, I'll... not hurt anyone again—"
"Nothing of that sort."
"I'll feel hurt. Wanting to touch the soft you, wanting to see your usual face, I'll feel hurt..."
Fear cried out in surprise.
Following up on his success, Haruaki continued to whisper:
"I know this is my willfulness, but I still have to say it. Not too long ago, you said you wanted to stay with me, right? I'll answer you right now... I too... want to stay with you. I want to live together in his home forever. So—This is an order. Just as before, stay here."
A willful move. A willful declaration.
However, this undoubtedly came from his heart.
After a very, very long silence—
"I can... stay here?"
"Of course you can. Stay."
Then Haruaki relaxed his tense face. Smiling, he said:
"Somehow I feel like I've had this conversation with you before. Back when you first got here."
But things were different from back then. His own thoughts were different.
Back then, he did not mind whether she stayed or left.
But now, even if she did not want to stay—She must stay.
Becuase he hoped for her to stay.
He did not want her to disappear.
"But... Oh right. I've been thinking... Was it really good for me to come here? Was the choice I made back then wrong? After coming to this home, what have I done? What can I do from now on? Was I wrong from the start? Still continuing to be wrong until now and will remain wrong forever? I can't dispel these thoughts—"
"Haha, it's because that Dominion Lord told you many terrible things, right? What an idiot... Even if he said you were a mistake from the start, there's no reason why everything that happened afterwards becomes a mistake, right? That guy only remembers you from your birth, but he doesn't know the you after coming here."
"But—In hindsight, I did things with irrevocable results—"
He could sense faintly.
Fear's gaze was directed towards his left hand that was stroking her body.
"What have I done? In the end, everything was wasted effort, right? If it's like that, what pains me the most to this day, that harming a certain person's body was all I could do, then the meaning of my time living here—"
"Like I said, nothing of that sort. The meaning of your time living here? Of course there is meaning. The positive things are too many to count."
"Yeah. The positive effects and changes here after you came. Although I might be exaggerating, there are definitely things that make me feel 'thank goodness'—"
Using a calm voice with a smile of nostalgia, he then said:
"Lemme think... First, from my perspective, I learned the soft feeling of caressing your head, I also learned the softness of your body, the taste of your skin, the pleasant sound of your voice, and also learned your weight..."
"W-Wait wait wait! What the... Those are all embarrassing things! Shameless, too shameless...! D-Don't joke around...!"
Haruaki's smile did not go away. He was not joking. He definitely started with things to embarrass her on purpose, but he was absolutely not joking.
Everything he said was true.
"There's more. Like I know you have a habit of curling up in a ball to sleep. You also love cute animals like cats and dogs very much. I also know that after seeing those animals, you look very cute the way you can't hold yourself back. Then when I see you stuffing yourself with rice crackers, as long as I ignore the matter of the home budget, it fills me with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, it's really great..."
"S-Still the same stuff! Those are all trivial things, not worth mentioning—"
"But if you weren't here, I'd never learn those things."
Horizontal gaze. Staring at Fear's body, he said with a serious demeanor:
"I've never felt happiness from these feelings before—That's why they're very precious to me."
"Uguu." Fear made a sound like something was stuck in her throat.
Seeing her unable to argue back, Haruaki continued. He did not stop the motion of his hand either. Changing the angle, he stroked Fear's surface. She shuddered again.
"Not just my own personal feelings... There are lots more. In your case, you started doing things you were originally unable to do. Like greeting others, working part-time jobs, also going to school as well. Then there are the people who made contact with you, everyone is smiling and laughing, right? This is a good thing."
"Yes, making friends of all kinds of people is a good thing. If you hadn't shown up... Right, we wouldn't have become so close with Class Rep, we wouldn't have known her secret and Class Rep would probably still be a part of that Lab Chief's Nation. Also Sovereighnty, Shiraho, Un Izoey, Amanda, Chihaya and Isuzu... We got to know so many people. Let's not forget people in town. Because you're so striking, people in the shopping street all remember your appearance. When you suddenly rushed at someone who was taking a puppy out for a walk, you ended up getting to help walk the puppy every now and then... Oh right, what was the owner's name?"
"Yes, Yamashita-san. That Siberian Husky looked so fierce but was very cute. Ever since you came, Kuroe looks so happy every day and never goes on sudden trips again. Haha, I've also noticed that Konoha shows an unexpectedly childish side whenever she's talking to you. It's all thanks to you... Apart from that... The liquor shop owner started giving us freebies frequently when delivering the soy sauce, strangers starting conversations with us in school has also increased—"
Haruaki found his examples quite scattered and divided.
Without any order, he was simply turning images surfacing in his mind into words. Using the hand with missing fingers, he stroked Fear's body, whispering as though singing a song to match the rhythm of his hand.
Thanks to Fear, things were gained, things had changed.
"Because you eat a lot, I've come to want to let you eat more kinds of food, improving my cooking skill in leaps and bounds. Then there's rice cracker flavors and types, even I've become an expert quietly. I've also started to watch TV shows I wouldn't watch if I were alone. My English grades have improved. When I come home to find the house so lively before I say 'I'm back,' I can't help but feel happy. Because you have such a strong sense of curiosity, situations where I have to explain things to you have increased, thus making it so easy for time to pass. We've played so many nostalgic games, laughing all the time..."
His consciousness was gradually growing fuzzy. The room's darkness, his own voice, Fear's texture, all this produced an inexplicable and incredible sense of comfort, bringing forth peaceful drowsiness.
"I'm very grateful to you for staying here. I hope you'll continue... to stay from here on... So, hey, Fear..."
He whispered softly.
Leaving his hand continue to rest on Fear after stopping his caressing...
Haruaki closed his eyes.
The sense of emptiness no longer occupied his left hand.
Of course, the fact that he was missing fingers did not change.
However, the cold sense of loss that originally resulted was now—
It was now replaced by warmth as though someone had used their palm to gently cover his fingers.
In contrast to his aristocratic-sounding name, Squad Leader Coenraad Johannes van Houten was a middle-aged man with cold, hard facial features and a massively built body like a bear's.
People often called him cold and he had some self-awareness too, but was unable to change. Destroying cursed tools was for avenging his family. Achieving that did not require being friendly. Instead, what he needed was the monstrous strength obtained through physical training, the war hammer skills that were engraved into his bones through practicing until he puked blood, as well as the willpower to complete his mission even if his arms broke.
Right now, Coenraad was walking proudly through the school building at night, checking out his surroundings without any carelessness. His mission was being in charge of supervising the students who were hypnotized by Taciturn Chatterbox, as well as eliminating uncertain factors lurking within the school.
Naturally, this was his first time walking in a Japanese school, and a school building at night to boot. He did not have knowledge in this area either. However, he was at least certain that this kind of situation was quite unusual.
Currently at this hour, the outdoors were shrouded by night completely. Even midnight had passed a while ago, yet the students were not concerned at all, continuing to carry out their daily school lives. Like during the day, repeating the same lesson again and again. Of course, the classrooms' lights were on. Taciturn's hypnosis included "not noticing what felt unnatural" as a basic effect, hence within the students' cognition, it probably became something like "today's sky seems a bit dark, let's turn on the lights."
As of this moment, the knights still had not located the Hunter of the Lab Chief's Nation or the other people involved with cursed tools who were supposed to be in school. Did they gather together and hide? The premises were already sealed off completely by «Auschwitz-Birkenau», so the completion of "Knights Dominionization" would only be a matter of time. «Dieu le veut» itself was together with the Dominion Lord with Sleif and her subordinates in charge of protecting them. Coenraad did not think that a few uncertain factors gathered together could do anything, but that was not sufficient reason to let them roam free.
Reminding passing subordinates to "Continue to stay sharp," he also walked into classrooms to investigate, checking cleaning equipment closets, working diligently. Class apparently ended during this time and a large number of students began to rush out of the classrooms. The noise of break time. Although it made carrying out the mission difficult, that could not be helped.
Under Taciturn's hypnosis, the students were unable to see knights. In other words, no matter what the knights did, they would be treated as "nonexistent people."
(Hmph, it's good that Neto isn't around anymore. Were he here, who knows how many people would get violated or killed by him as a pastime.)
At least, Coenraad had no interest in doing indecent things to female students even if they could not see him. He did not have that kind of bestial mind to target children young enough to be his daughters. Besides, Japanese people looked even younger than their actual age... However, he really could not approve the skirt length of Japanese high school girls. Why the heck did they need to show so much thigh?
Pursing his lips tightly, Coenraad walked along the corridor while the noise and bustle of break time filled the hallways.
By the way, there's so much individuality among the students in this school—Coenraad thought. The school rules must be quite lax. Not just the skirt lengths but there were also people who modified the looks of their uniforms and different hair colors abounded. Not just students, but he also saw a number of teachers dressed quite casually.
A man as tall and big as a bear was walking along a chaotic and crowded corridor. He was already taking care not to bump into students and send them flying, but when turning a certain corner—
"Uwah~ I have to run for next period! I've got to wash and clean up properly first!"
A student was dashing extremely quickly towards him. A girl wearing glasses with thick and swirly lenses, with a ponytail tied behind her head.
Indeed, her speed was very fast. Coeraad's arm shook. If it were an enemy charging at him with a knife, he would have instantly drawn out the war hammer from his back—his trusty weapon that had smashed dozens of cursed Wathes already—then struck the other party's skull or simply send them flying with a punch to create distance.
But this was a slender girl without a knife in her hand. She was merely carrying one of those plastic buckets used in art class. Hence, he had no idea how to react. Then during that instant—
This impact was no big deal to Coenraad, but things were different for someone without the same thickness of flesh. The girl was sent flying back greatly, falling on her bottom.
"Ah, ouch~ ...I fell... So embarrassing—Oh crap!"
The girl looked this way and that then leaned forward to look at the bucket in her hand. Then she cocked her head in puzzlement.
"Eh? It didn't... spill? But it looks like the water became less, is it my imagination...? There's no puddle in the corridor either. Great, it must be good karma from my daily good deeds! Besides, I don't have time to clean the corridor either! I'm so lucky—!"
Patting her skirt, the girl got up and ran away in a patter of footsteps.
Coenraad closed his eyes and sighed, meanwhile feeling the cold liquid dripping from his bangs.
Regrettably, the girl was wrong. The water had spilled indeed, just that instead of spilling in the corridor, the dirty water in the bucket had spilled on him—But for her, it was indeed fortunate.
Mixed with paint, the water of indiscernible color was giving off a weird odor. Naturally, he was also drenched from head to foot with his coat soaked with dirty water.
He was appointed as squad leader this time. As a leader of troops, it would be too improper if he left his appearance in this state.
Looking around, he saw that the girl was already gone. But seeing as she was carrying a bucket of dirty water, the direction she was going must have a sink to wash the bucket. In any case, he decided to follow first.
By the way, why was she running in the corridor while holding that kind of thing? Most art classrooms would have their own sink installed at least, right? Or was it because there were too many students that she had run out to the corridor in a panic? Perhaps due to the scarcity of land, this country of Japan seemed quite cramped everywhere without exception.
With droplets of water mixed with smelly paint dripping down nonstop, Coenraad glanced at a notice on the wall beside him.
The Knights Dominion strongly encouraged members to learn all kinds of languages because their missions brought them to various countries all over the world. Coenraad's Japanese was not bad, which allowed him to read the words written there without any problems.
"...Don't run in the hallways? Good advice."
A well-built man stopped in front of a sink in the middle of the corridor, took off his coat-like upper garment then lowered the hammer secured to his back onto the floor, leaning against the wall by his feet within arm's reach any time. He did not seem to lower his guard at all.
The man turned the tap to let the water flow—
Wearing swirly glasses, with hair tied up, dressed up in Sorashiro Hinata style, Shriaho was secretly observing him from around a nearby corner. Then she clicked her tongue lightly.
"As expected, he wouldn't make a special trip to the shower room... If he did that, things would be so much easier for us."
"No helping it, Shiraho. At least it's a lot better than if he ignored the filth completely~ and continued to patrol."
Beside her was Sovereignty. To avoid attracting attention, she had changed into school uniform—Normally, she always commuted to school in student uniform first. Earlier, she had run quietly to the secretary's office to retrieve it and change.
Shiraho nodded slightly then looked at the man. Un Izoey had cautiously moved around the school building to observe the knights and finally picked this man. Of course, Shiraho did not believe Un Izoey completely when she claimed she could tell just by looking, but indeed, this man really did exude a different vibe compared to small fry... Chiefly because of his body's muscularity etc. However, even if they made a mistake, it was not Shiraho's fault. She would simply scold the dark-skinned girl viciously to her heart's content later. As a side note, due to the dark-skinned girl's appearance, highly conspicuous just by standing around a corner like this, she was standing by under the staircase slightly further away.
Feeling constrained, the knight bowed his muscular lower back and splashed water on his removed coat. He was probably washing the more obviously soiled spots swiftly. The surrounding students took no notice of him at all while they walked along the corridor normally. It was quite a surreal scene.
A moment later, he lifted the coat up to his nose, probably checking the smell. Then he put the coat aside for now. Moving his head under the tap next, he prepared to wash the dirty water from his head—
"Yeah... I hold sovereignty over every doll. Those bearing visual semblance, listen and show proof of your worship. Obey."
After she whispered softly, the tiny doll on her palm stood up at once. A toy roughly the size of a cellphone strap ornament, something intermediate between a human and a robot in appearance. Made of metal, its structure was surprisingly sturdy.
Because walking on its short little legs would take too long and it would be heartbreaking to see it trampled flat by students before it reached the target, Shiraho picked up the doll as originally planned, then tossed it carefully and silently, causing it to glide along the corridor.
When the doll neared the sink, it stood up again, under the gaze of Sovereignty who was watching from the corner. Then climbing up a nearby fire extinguisher, it jumped to a window frame in the corridor and moved from there to the edge of the sink—towards where the man's coat was placed.
The man was washing his head brusquely. The doll secretly slipped into the interior of the coat on the side.
"H-How is it...?"
"Hmm~ Uh, hold on. Heave, hoh, hah... Pocket is... this side... no, or is it the other side...?"
"I-I know... But I can't see clearly, it's hard to direct it... Oh? Is this it?"
The doll suddenly emerged from the coat, its tiny arms clamping something resembling a cellphone. Then it jumped down directly from the sink and ran as fast as it could along the edge of the corridor, returning to their corner—
Shiraho received the cellphone (not a smartphone but an ordinary flip phone) from the doll's hands then smiled at her lover.
"You're too amazing, Sovereignty. Great job there."
"Ehehe, you're embarrassing me~"
Sovereignty scratched her head shyly. Shiraho wanted to hug her reflexively but managed to suppress the urge. Then she glanced at the spoils of victory in her hand.
"Fortunately, it's not one of those transceivers. Looks like it's just an ordinary cellphone."
"Will this really let us contact the outside?"
"Who knows. We'll just have to test it to find out. Anyway, let's get out of here first..."
Just at this moment—
Shiraho first noticed in alarm that Sovereignty was suddenly staring wide-eyed in her direction.
Then she felt a large and heavy hand grab her shoulder—
Her back instantly froze.
"—What are you doing?"
Long before turning her head to look back...
Based on the smell of water mixed with paint, she already knew the identity of the hand's owner.
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