Alone inside her own room, she was sitting with knees drawn up to her chest.
Her face was forcefully buried between her thighs. Her long silver hair dangled on the left and right sides, forming a tiny inviolable room in front of her chest where none could trespass. An extremely small space filled only with her thoughts—Or one could call it a cage.
Her shoulders kept trembling. Hence, the cage trapping those irregular breaths also shook continually. And just like a rain leak, warm water droplets kept dripping down from the top of the cage.
(I can't believe... I...!)
If one were to paint this cage with color, the utter pitch-blackness of darkness would be the only possibility.
Regret, despair, self-loathing, fear, sorrow. The same color as these emotions.
With black as the background, a scene surfaced in her view. As branded, engraved on her retina, that scene persisted forever.
That of Haruaki's left hand, with the missing fingers.
She—had done something irrevocable.
Unbelievably. Unbelievably. Unbelievably unbelievably unbelievably, she had—Was it unavoidable, in order to protect him? An excuse. He was harmed as a result. Stupid. She had failed to consider the worst case scenario. Despite knowing clearly it was very risky. Too naive. Too confident in herself. Too complacent. She had made a great mistake. Why was she so hopelessly incurable? She really wanted to start over again. But starting over was impossible. Why?
—Die, die, die.
—Her foolish self should just die already. Break. Disappear—
With feelings of resignation and self-abandonment, she kept rejecting herself nonstop. That was all a prisoner aware of one's crimes could do.
However, at this moment—
Suddenly, she noticed what seemed to be a commotion happening outside her room. Something was happening in this house that had been shrouded in silence and gloom until now. Needless to say—
Him... He probably woke up at last.
After many hours, she lifted her dainty face from between her knees, letting the long-absent air from outside enter the tightly shut cage. Likewise for her face, drenched with tears, she experienced the empty coolness indifferently.
Having received treatment, he had slept the whole time till now. Knowing he had woke up, what she felt inside was—
Relief, as well as—
So massive that those emotions, circling nonstop inside the cage so far, could not compare at all—
She really wanted to see him. She really wanted to talk to him, face to face, She really wanted to converse with him. But she also did not want to see him. She did not want to converse with him. So scary. So scary. So scary so scary so scary—!
Hence, when she noticed that movement had resumed in the house, when hurried footsteps soon made their way straight towards her room...
With her mind totally blank, she did the one thing in her power—
Un Izoey squinted and looked out of the classroom window, towards that scene.
The sports ground below. The giant helicopter descended from the sky. The girl wearing the visor-like helmet, waiting for the helicopter's arrival, as well as the man standing at the opened rear cabin door, receiving a spear from her hand.
"—Well then, let the founding of the 'Second Knights Dominion' begin."
As though long awaiting these words, new movements appeared from behind the man as figures exited the helicopter one after another. There were men and women of varying ages, but they were all dressed fairly uniformly. Virtually everyone was clad in an inconspicuous outfit resembling a gray coat with faint glimpses of armor underneath, very much in the style of knights.
Silently, they walked past the lord standing at the rear cabin door to arrive in Taishyuu High's sports ground. Then without anyone issuing orders, they lined up in a neat formation.
Seeing that, the nearby students all asked among themselves: "Who are they? Is this some kind of shoot?" Listening to their noisy chattering, Un Izoey trembled all over.
(Numbers... Too many. This has surpassed the level of a 'knight squad.' A greater collective—the assembly of multiple 'knight squads' to form the ultimate "legion"...)
If the squad led by Lilyhowell Kilmister during the welcoming festival was the average size—Then the scattered knights in view numbered three times bigger. In other words, this legion consisted of at least three "knight squads" as well as the three or more powerful squad leaders commanding them.
Un Izoey recalled what her own leader had said before. They are simply drawing out their true power at last, to seriously obliterate the so-called 'Yachi House.' Did true power refer to these great numbers?
During her contemplation, the stream of knights marching out of the helicopter ended. Without much apparent emotional reaction, the Dominion Lord glanced at the knights in formation before him. Then he turned around and returned to the helicopter's interior—
Soon after, he returned, sitting in a wheelchair.
Un Izoey frowned slightly but immediately remembered. It was from the knowledge conveyed through the Lab Chief's habitual chatting.
This was the curse of «Dieu le veut», the spear forming the backbone of the organization known as the Knights Dominion, held by the Dominion Lord.
Namely, the owner's life was confined within the territory's boundary. The curse apparently carried reverse significance as well, but that had little to do with the situation at hand.
In other words, given that particular curse, he should not have been able to leave the Dominion's headquarters in England in the first place. He should have died as soon as he left—Because this land of Japan had yet to be established as their territory, even though prior preparations had been made in full.
In spite of that, the Dominion Lord was still here. As for how that was achieved—
(It is already known. That helicopter and wheelchair are precisely what the Lab Chief had mentioned—«Mobile Territory: Zilch Ground», I judge with this kind of judgement.)
Apart from the spear in his hand, another identical spear was inserted vertically on the back of the wheelchair as well. No mistake, that was «Dieu le veut» too—Unlike the several other spears used to define the territory of the Knights Dominion's headquarters, this one had been used for mobility from the start. A spear producing a personal mobile territory.
Naturally, «Dieu le veut»'s power could not be used directly on inorganic steel such as a helicopter's. It was said that a thin layer of soil had to be laid on the helicopter's floor first before planting the spear tip. In other words, until now, that spear had defined the fuselage as the "territory" where he could live.
Moreover, because a helicopter alone would be too limiting in scope, they had evidently designed the spear-embedded part to be wholly detachable. The spear, the floor with soil where the spear was stabbed, a chair placed on top—In other words, the wheelchair where the Dominion Lord was sitting right now. Described another way, the wheelchair with the attached spear had been installed as a seat in the helicopter. What appeared to be the base at the bottom, with the spear planted in it, was probably covered with bloodstained soil just like the interior of the helicopter.
Sitting in the wheelchair known as Zilch Ground, the Dominion Lord slowly left the helicopter's sloping rear cabin exit. Instead of using his own hands to turn the wheels, he was being pushed from behind by a gaudily dressed woman who had apparently remained in the helicopter until the last moment.
Then the wheelchair—and with it, the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion Lord—finally descended upon the sports ground. The woman pushing the wheelchair and Sleif, who had had been kneeling quietly on standby, silently joined the ranks of the knights.
Seated on the wheelchair, the Dominion Lord swept his gaze across them.
His voice was very calm. However, it was possible to feel the knights filling up with tension just from this one word.
"A foolish question, yet I must ask... Are you imbeciles?"
"No, my lord!"
An answer in unison. The intangible and invisible pressure could be felt even from across the glass of the classroom window. The noisy students instantly shut their mouths.
During this time, the dialogue between the Dominion Lord and his knights continued.
"Are you retards?"
"No, my lord!"
"Are you fools?"
"No, my lord!"
"Indeed. You are neither imbeciles, retards, nor fools. You are proud knights."
While speaking, the Dominion Lord used the wheelchair's footrest directly as a pedestal and leisurely stood up straight. Taking the spear in his hand—«Dieu le veut»—he raised it before him.
"In that case, knights, what is your objective? Answer me, Dainsleif."
"To gather and destroy loathsome Wathes!"
The helmeted maiden knight replied instantly. Her entire body trembled as though from joy as well as self-contempt.
"What is your justice, knights? Answer me, Taciturn Chatterbox."
"To gather and destroy loathsome Wathes. There's nothing else apart from that, right~?"
The flamboyant woman who had been pushing the wheelchair, wearing a pointed hat like a witch's, replied instantly. She shrugged and laughed, causing a large conical object hanging at her waist to shake as well.
The Dominion Lord's solemn expression did not change the slightest.
"Precisely. Our objective, justice, future, present, meaning, faith, morality, laws, dreams, desires, hopes, wishes—Everything is for this. More than any other existence in the world, driven with reckless abandon, only acting for this purpose, that is who we are. No one walks along this path of orthodoxy more firmly than we. Where we stand is forever the most forward of the frontlines."
Saying that, he suspended the spear vertically and tapped its end hard on the ground before the wheelchair.
Then staring at the knights, he said:
"Well then—Is this place the same?"
"Yes, my lord!"
They concurred in unison with even greater vigor than before. The Dominion Lord slowly moved the spear tip and pointed at each knight in turn from the start to the end of the line.
"Indeed—Truly a foolish question. You have sacrificed everything. God shall bless those who sacrifice everything. Hence, these are God's orders."
The Dominion Lord paused for a moment, as though waiting for the knight's backs to shudder, then continued:
"Knights, turn this place into my territory, gather Wathes, and destroy them."
"Yes, my lord!"
The Lord raised his arm high, twirling «Dieu le veut» overhead for half a revolution, then held the spear in a reverse grip.
Then closing his eyes lightly, he resumed in a whisper:
"In that case, this land shall confer even greater power upon you. A war blessed by God is a crusade. This is the location of that which we gather and destroy. Then this place is the crusade's frontline—In other words, this land ought to be called the Holy Land—"
Instantly, he applied greater force through his arm, still holding the spear above his head.
"Hence—I, Trinac Agana, hereby proclaim: The Second Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion shall be founded at this location! Just like the crusader knights who had fought to protect the Holy Land in the past, shout! God wills it, in other words, Dieu le veut!"
"Dieu le veut!"
The knights responded thunderously. At the same time—
The Dominion Lord swung his arm down, stabbing «Dieu le veut» towards the ground.
Then as though accommodating the knights' shouting whose echoes were dissipating into the surroundings, the Dominion Lord lightly let go of the spear.
The spear did not fall over, standing upright in the center of the sports ground. However—
Un Izoey narrowed her eyes. Using vision she had honed through hunting in the jungle, she focused her gaze on that one point.
Namely, the point of contact between the spear tip and the ground. Despite being swung down with such great force, the spear had not stabbed into the ground. No, strictly speaking, it had, but only the first few millimeters of the spear tip. Just by relying on this meager support, «Dieu le veut» remained vertically upright in a physically impossible manner—
(...This too is also known.)
This was a Wathe for "territorialization" according to the owner's will, going as far as to alter the land's original meaning. All things considered, such a powerful effect could not possibly take hold in merely an instant.
Territorialization would progress gradually. Currently, the spear tip was still standing unnaturally, but with the passage of time, it would slowly embed itself into the ground. The town would reach complete territorialization the instant when the spear tip became completely buried in the soil.
Un Izoey sighed gloomily. In any case, it was starting after all.
The Dominion Lord's action just now was equivalent to pressing the start switch. In other words, unless that spear was destroyed, or the owner killed, the switch controlling further developments could not be stopped.
In that case, what should she do?
Where should she stand and what course of action should she take—?
The answer to this question was still unknown, but...
On the other hand, among the known facts told to her by the Lab Chief, there was something she believed was of paramount importance right now, producing a continuous sense of foreboding in her mind. Throbbing like an annoying headache, it reminded her not to forget its existence.
Once «Dieu le veut» activated...
Until the target zone completely "territorialized"—
There was only a buffer period of roughly twenty-four hours.
Haruaki sat up in bed.
"Yachi, are you alright?"
"Haru, it's best if you don't move."
Gathered around the futon, the girls kept calling his name. However, these calls only entered his ears vaguely without reaching his brain, unrecognized as meaningful sounds.
Conversely, something else was occupying his entire mind. Something very ambiguous yet extremely heavy in mass at the same time. Surely... One would call it a memory.
Slowly, it thawed. Slowly, it diffused to him.
The large number of Indulgence Disks from his father, as well as the night he had spent with Fear. The morning when everyday life had resumed. He remembered seeing her face, he had felt very shy and embarrassed. Then after that—Oh right, someone made a phone call. A sudden call. It was Maximilian Pendragon, Commander of the Draconians.
He said he wanted to hand over the spear that Kirika wanted to destroy. Hence, Haruaki's group had gone over to the fleet serving as the Draconian headquarters, facing off against the Draconians again on the duel ship for the meeting—
Haruaki's memory suddenly flashed. For merely an instant, chronological order seemed to scatter and mix. Only emotions surfaced from within.
Terror and fear. Sweat and pain. Oh right. He had heard—a voice.
The sound of laughter.
He stared wide-eyed. At the same time, he felt the frozen memories disappear like a melting glacier, spreading thickly inside his heart.
Laughing loudly, she was holding a drill in each hand. Taking a mighty leap, she pounced on Pendragon. Haruaki could not remember clearly what happened after that. Just a jumble of vague memories. Laughter. The crash of two gigantic entities colliding. The aftershock caused the ship to shake unsteadily. She had vanished at some point. Beneath the deck which was tearing apart, one could feel the movements of a dragon and something rivaling a dragon. Then the ship wailed in its final moments.
The ship tilted dramatically—
At the same time, she had leapt up from the depths of the deck's dark crevice—
In order to catch her, he had spread his arms at her landing spot—
However, she had raised her drill in midair and swung it down at him while keeping the same smile on her face—
Haruaki suddenly kicked his blanket away and stood up when his memories reached this point.
"H-Haruaki-kun! If you move suddenly, your body will...!"
Without any thoughts to spare on listening to Konoha, he moved his body, driven by sheer impulse. Dodging Konoha's extended hand that was intended to stop him, he ran out of the room where he had been sleeping until now. His legs were lacking in strength and his sense of balance felt off. Stumbling for a moment, he smashed his shoulder against a pillar in the corridor. Suddenly feeling something was not right, he looked at his left hand—
There was only emptiness at the former locations of his ring and little fingers.
Seeping red, the bandage was only wrapped around the base of the fingers.
"Yachi, hold on, hey!"
The girls exited his bedroom, chasing after him. As though trying to shake them off, Haruaki started walking, advancing along the corridor.
All he felt was numbness from his left hand. It was not particularly painful. Were his sensory nerves malfunctioning temporarily? Or had he left his sense of pain behind in that vast ocean? But needless to say, he did not care either.
The destination was before his eyes.
Mustering all his strength, Haruaki pulled open the sliding door that was tightly shut as though rejecting everything.
Then calling her name as hard as he could, he stepped into the room—At the same time, he prayed in his heart that he had made it in time.
Haruaki's right hand, leaning on the sliding door, slowly fell down.
Her room was the same as usual. A messy room. Worn clothing scattered all over the floor. Empty bags of rice crackers.
Amidst everything—Her figure.
Her figure as a cube of pure steel.
He called out again but still no response.
However, he knew that she was definitely listening to his voice. He felt that there was breathing sufficient to prove her existence. Her consciousness was there. He understood her very well, to the point that he could be this certain.
Even so, she still did not answer.
Refusing, and resisting as well—
Contact with the outside world.
Expressing her will to the outside world.
Escaping inward, hiding inside, building a wall—
She had withdrawn herself.
Hiding in the depths of the extremely sturdy shell of steel known as herself.
Haruaki slowly walked into the room and looked down at her silent self.
In a calm voice, with a calm expression, he said:
"My goodness... You're such a great big idiot..."
Then all he could do was, lightly, tenderly, using his hand with the missing fingers...
He caressed her skin that he had touched countless times before.
He caressed the cold corners of the steel cube.
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