Chapter 5 - The Restless Fear-in-Cube / "Cross x Crusade x Calamitous"
These two were watching the same scene.
"Looks like the new battlefield has been built."
Their gazes were directed towards the open school gates, in other words, the place where a certain group had rushed into.
Smiling with delight, Satsuko said:
Together with Fourteen, she started walking.
The opponent's identity did not matter. Anyone would do as long as they were strong enough.
This was undoubtedly the center where everything was happening. Any opponent encountered there would possess a minimum level of strength. The number of strong opponents here should be too many to count.
"Oh dear~ Satsuko is so looking forward to this."
She murmured with utmost sincerity.
Her heart was overflowing with anticipation.
Sincerely, only anticipation.
Maximilian Pendragon had just jumped onto the wall surrounding the school, but stopped there.
Riko called out in puzzlement. This was already who knew how many times today.
He was spacing out, pondering what Kuroe had said to him.
(So... What should I do...?)
He came here and saw them rush into the school, which informed him that the school's isolation had ended. Hence, he jumped onto the wall first.
However, he still had no idea.
So, all he could do was think back to what he did know.
At the current stage, what was known to him.
To him, in order to become a dragon, he really needed the girl who was like a treasure.
But if he tried to take her by force, that treasure would become damaged—
So—what about the situation before that happened? So far, what had he come to understand?
He was the strongest. At least, he should be infinitely close to being the strongest existence.
Either way, he was going to win—At some point, he had started to feel weary of this. Because he was the strongest, this was only natural.
There was nothing more boring than a match where it was clear that one was going to win. He had been very bored all along. Searching for an opponent to duel and make him happy, pretending to be dispelling boredom, he had felt bored the whole time.
However, someone like him had reached this kind of result.
Namely, Kuroe had escaped from him successfully.
Then right now, he was savoring this displeased feeling.
Indeed, in a certain sense—this counted as defeat.
Even the strongest person still could lose. There ought to be a reason for that. What was it?
Pendragon thought and thought.
He admitted it.
(Am I... impatient?)
In order to obtain her as quickly as possible. In order to obtain her by any means necessary.
He was desiring too urgently.
However, there was a contradiction in all this.
Clearly as the closest to being the strongest—Why was he so impatient to obtain her, what he needed to progress farther?
He could not help but smile in self-mockery. There was only one answer.
Because he feared getting judged by others, that despite being called the strongest, he was not actually the strongest.
He wanted to eliminate the possibility of defeat as quickly as possible, the possibility of being not the strongest.
Nothing much, that was it.
Feeling bored? No. Undoubtedly, he was seeking a sense of security. How pointless.
(Hoho, I get it now. Commander of the Draconians? Synonymous to being the strongest? Totally absurd... For someone like that, there are weaknesses exclusive only to someone like that.)
Ultimately, he had become the strongest only because he had defeated the strongest person.
Hence, every so-called Commander understood better than anyone the concept that even if you were the strongest, you would still be dragged down from your throne eventually.
Perhaps this also implied that the Commander was more cowardly than anyone. Perhaps driven to seek a sense of security more than anyone else. Hence, that was why he used boredom as an excuse to fight nonstop.
After admitting this "weakness" of his—
Pendragon thought back to what Kuroe had said.
He recalled that transparent expression on her face back then.
Hence, he felt like he could see something.
He seemed to have found the answer.
"Ho... Ha, hahaha!"
"Uwah! What's going on? You suddenly stopped moving then started to laugh! It's creepy!"
"Master, what is the matter with you?"
Listening to the voices of the two whom he was wearing, Pendragon grinned.
"Nothing much, I simply figured out what I should be doing. So—that means I have to make preparations now. I've got to hurry and make a move."
Saying that, Pendragon jumped down from the wall.
As for the direction he jumped towards, surely Riko and Granaury would never have guessed in their wildest dreams.
After Shiraho hung up, Haruaki dialed his phone again, this time to talk to Kana while he was running.
Because they had entered through the main entrance, the large clock on the front of the school building was in view. The current time was just after noon, in other words, there were less than two hours until the time limit of 2pm.
The sports ground was behind the school building, so there was no way to reach it directly. They must either circle around the building or cross the courtyard. Along the way, enemies were probably going to obstruct them. Besides, even after reaching the sports ground, time was still needed for destroying «Dieu le veut»—They really had no idea whether an allotment of two hours was plentiful or too little. Unsure what could happen next, they must not be careless or complacent.
Their course of action was to swiftly converge with the in-school team first then head to the sports ground together. They wanted to verify the situation by meeting the in-school team first. Before running into the sports ground, they also needed to release the students. Besides, the reason why they had kept the «Demon's Mouth» so far instead of destroying it was so that they could control when the hypnosis was lifted, to prevent the students from entering a state of panic after regaining their senses. The timing must be chosen with caution. But at the very least, they were certain that the hypnosis must be lifted while the knights were still in disarray from losing «Auschwitz-Birkenau», before they did anything to the students.
They had decided on the infirmary, first floor of the school building, as their meeting point for now. Slipping into the white smoke, hiding in the bushes, advancing while trying their utmost to avoid combat, they entered the school building. ALong the way, they met one knight, but Konoha and Kotetsu went all-out to take him down the instant they encountered him. Although Konoha and Kotetsu rushed out of the smoke in what was tantamount to a surprise attack, the opponent's arm strength and endurance seemed to have risen to unnatural levels, presumably due to "Dominionization." Had they engaged him in frontal combat, time might have been lost to the battle dragging on.
The group then reached the door to the infirmary by following a noisy corridor. After they knocked, someone unlocked from inside without saying a word. Upon entering, they saw—
Inside the room where all the curtains were shut, Haruaki found every face there a little nostalgic.
Probably staying on high alert as a matter of principle, Un Izoey had her foot raised while holding a knife. Presumably due to the earlier phone call, Shiraho was glaring viciously at Haruaki whereas Sovereignty instantly rushed over to hug Fear. Dressed in gym clothes, Chihaya glanced in their direction with displeasure while Isuzu greeted them, smiling as always. Shovel carried on her shoulder, Kaidou the teacher was observing the situation outside through a gap in the curtains.
"Wow! It's Fear-chan, Fear-chan! It feels like it's been such a long time. I'm not going to lose, here's a hug from me!"
Then immediately after Sovereignty, Kana hugged Fear along with her head of silver hair tightly against her chest.
Rotating his arm, Taizou also walked towards them.
"Hi Haruaki, it's quite a shame you didn't get to see me in action. I'm definitely winning the MVP award."
After exchanging a glance with Fear, Haruaki relaxed his expression, but Fear awkwardly lowered her gaze as though she had suddenly thought of something.
"Umm... Uh... Basically, as mentioned on the phone too, I—"
"Time out~ I don't want to talk about anything that'll force Fear-chan to make such a sad face~ I don't wanna listen either~ Listen carefully, Fear-chan, you are yourself and we are us. This will absolutely stay the same forever no matter what. Okay~?"
"Hey slow down, Taichi! You're proudly making a thumbs up way too fast! You've got to listen to the reply first!"
After she saw the two of them act excessively upbeat as always, Fear's shoulders began to shake—
"Back to the subject... Is it really necessary to say it...?"
Head lowered, staring at the floor, Fear simply raised her right hand.
Then she made a thumbs up.
"Of course it's okay..."
As though celebrating a batter's home run, Kana and Taizou made fists and bumped them against Fear's fist that was gesturing thumbs up.
Watching the scene with a gentle expression just like Haruaki, Kirika spoke up:
"Well... Unfortunately, the current situation does not permit us the leisure to enjoy this reunion. Let's decide our next move."
"I answer with an answer of agreement. Is this all of your group, everyone present?"
Haruaki glanced behind him. Fear, Konoha, Kirika, Kotetsu and Kuroe, in other words, the usual members of the group.
"Yeah. We also contacted the superintendent just now to let them know the gates are opened, so they might be coming later. As for the leader of your organization, we didn't go out of our way to contact him, but he'll find out and visit on his own, I presume."
Un Izoey nodded silently as though going "Very likely."
"Then there's Pops... Since he's not a fighter and he said he'll be helping out in other ways, I'm guessing it's related to the town. Anyway, don't mind him."
"In any case, thinking about people who are not present won't help. The enemy has probably discovered the fact that we've broken into the premises, so they'll soon find us even if we stay in the infirmary. We have to decide our next move as quickly as possible."
"Yeah. Of course, the top priority is destroying that spear—It's called «Dieu le veut», right? But... before that, the students need to be taken care of first."
Saying that, Chihaya looked up in sudden realization.
"That's right. It's great that we don't want them to panic, but in terms of concrete plans, what are we going to do? Do we have a solution thought up?"
In response, Kirika said:
"Yes. We still haven't destroyed the «Demon's Mouth». It's right here."
Kirika spoke and opened the bag hanging on her shoulder, allowing everyone to peer at the cursed megaphone inside. Due to Taciturn smashing it, there was still no lid on it.
"Although it's absolutely ridiculous... We've no choice but to go there first. Namely, the broadcasting room."
The group was running in the corridor. There was no point trying to hide by this point. While weaving through the students—
"Yo! You guys!"
"Get out of the way!" "Move aside!" "...!"
Every time a knight appeared, Konoha, Kotetsu and Un Izoey were in charge of disposal. Probably without killing them.
"This has been bugging me for a while now! Could these enemies actually be quite easy to handle, Konoha!?"
"You're getting that impression only because we have the element of surprise and numerical superiority on our side. It feels like I can't inflict any damage unless I chop at arms with the determination to sever them, for example... Compared to the enemies before, I feel that this knight just now had become even more resilient."
"R-Really...? After all, there's not much time left till 'Dominionization' finishes. Does that mean the power-up effect is about to reach completion? We've got to hurry!"
After some effort, the group finally reached the broadcasting room. Although it was locked, that meant nothing before Konoha and the others. Breaking the lock, they stormed the room.
As expected of a broadcasting room, the internal layout was clearly different from other classrooms. First of all, like the dance studio earlier, there was a soundproofed door. After opening the soundproofed door, there was a staggering arrangement of devices like a console. Gray carpet was laid over the floor to eliminate the sound of footsteps—Speaking of which, there were slippers placed at the entrance, which meant that shoes were forbidden inside to begin with. Behind the console was a recording room isolated by glass, but one could apparently use the console to make announcements without going inside there.
Why could they conclude that? Because there was a walkman-like accessory hanging in front of the giant microphone inside the room—A speaker whose shape resembled a rice ball. Sitting in boredom on the seat before the console was a young blond knight, presumably in charge of guarding this speaker.
The young knight only had enough time to exclaim in surprise and turn his head back.
Swiftly dragging him down to the floor, Kotetsu proceeded to play a horrifying symphony of snapping and cracking. When Kotetsu got up next, the knight was collapsed on the floor groaning with all the joints in his limbs visibly dislocated.
"Truth be told, he was way too open..."
"But Kotetsu, you were planning to fracture his arms and legs, right?"
"Yes, of course."
"Even if this young man was careless and inattentive, his body was still fortified to such an astounding degree... Oh my, I get the feeling that things will not be so easy here on."
"It's very likely that the enemy changed tactics after «Auschwitz-Birkenau»'s destruction. In other words, they are taking a final stand to defend their lord and «Dieu le veut», leaving only a handful of knights inside the school building... These knights are probably disposable pawns of inconsequential value."
Haruaki nodded after listening to Kirika. In other words, things were going smoothly only for now... But no matter what, they had to finish what they needed to do first.
At this moment, Haruaki suddenly realized there was a problem. Sweeping his gaze across everyone present, he said:
"By the way, who will do it...?"
"It is perfectly obvious that it is my job."
Kaidou was the one who spoke up. Opening the bag carried by Kirika, she took out the «Demon's Mouth» without asking. Because she acted in such a natural and straightforward manner, it was quite worrying whether she actually understood what it entailed.
"S-Sensei? Are you sure? That Wathe's long-distance system is already broken, so the curse will affect the user as well. It will definitely be hard to resist—"
"No matter. Rather, precisely because of that, I must be the one to do it."
Resting her shovel against the console, Kaidou operated a switch near the microphone. As a member of the faculty, she was probably trained in the most basic usage.
"If you still cannot understand from what I have said, allow me to give you two reasons."
Kaidou proceeded to adjust a certain portion of the devices. Still facing the console, she continued to speak:
"First of all, there is the curse mentioned just now. Without any special abilities, it is unlikely that I will be able to assist in the next part. Rather, I might become a liability. In that case, there is nothing wrong with monopolizing the only thing I can do... As for the other reason—"
After saying this, she finally turned to face the group.
Then in a truly rare moment...
She made an amused smile, relaxing her face for the grinning corners of her mouth.
"Giving these orders is precisely a teacher's job—Do you not agree?"
Cover your ears well and resist the hypnosis—After leaving these final words—
Kaidou pressed the switch, connecting this place to every speaker all over the school.
Then raising the megaphone in front of the mic, she inhaled forcefully—
"I hereby declare lessons to be over today. Everyone go home immediately. That is all!"
"«Auschwitz-Birkenau» has been destroyed?"
"What are the knights inside doing!?"
"There is no point in complaining now. Orders to assemble have been issued from above. We will return!"
After receiving reports, the raid teams on the streets changed course for the school. As foreigners dressed in heavy coats, they attracted a lot of local attention, but there was no time to care about that. «Dieu le veut» at the school was the backbone of the operation—as well as the Knights Dominion organization itself—hence it must be protected at all costs.
Everyone had memorized the geographic layout for the most part, hence they started sprinting back to the school along the shortest route. Stepping on asphalt, jumping over guardrails, traversing parks, they moved in a straight line.
Then running along a shortcut and jumping over the wall at the end, they reached a small alley. However, there was a vending machine in the alley. A woman was currently turning around, picking up a drink from the dispenser. Her location was precisely their landing spot.
Under such circumstances, there was no need to hesitate whether or not to kick away a pebble at one's feet. "...Hmm?" The woman seemed to notice the knights' arrival and turned her face towards them. However, the knight in front did not care and executed a kick using his falling momentum. She was probably getting a broken nose at most. Just curse her poor luck.
He ended up being the one who got his nose smashed instead. The woman simply tilted her head slightly to dodge the kick, then even went as far as to extend her arm along his leg to counterattack his face. As though in an attempt to compensate for arm length, she even stood her drink upright on her palm, thus striking him in the nose with what was akin to a lengthened base of the palm. Carbonated liquid spurted out from the can.
As a result, the man in front lost consciousness and fell pathetically on the ground. The two remaining knights who jumped the wall immediately after him landed next to the wall and stared warily at the woman.
"Woman, who are you!?"
Completely normal in appearance, the Caucasian woman was dressed in a black business suit. Roughly in her twenties, she had a head of short blonde hair. On her elegant suit, she was wearing a striking tie of brilliant red as though it was the aspect where she could exercise self-determination, or perhaps an act of defiance against something.
Shaking her head, the woman said:
"Sigh~ ...What rotten luck. Of all times, for me to encounter you guys on my break, even losing my soft drink that costs an absurd amount of 120 yen. Price levels in this country are way too high..."
"We can't waste time on this mentally unbalanced passerby. Treat her as an enemy! Attack!"
Now that one of the knights had been taken out by her, there was no need to show mercy. The other two knights drew their swords and approached the woman, but—
"Oho~ Not bad, such quick wits. After all, if you chose to escape, I'll still be able to chase you down!"
The woman grinned with her canines showing in a belligerent and vicious expression. Then she clenched her fists and approached the knights too. Undoubtedly, her courage, movements and speed belonged to no amateur.
"Haha, come, let me have as much fun as possible! You guys have been strengthened by some kind of Wathe's power, right?"
Several minutes later, going "good grief," she sat down on an impromptu chair created on the spot. The chair's materials consisted of three unconscious knights piled up on top of one another. Searching through their coats without permission, she took out wallets—then suddenly slumped her shoulders.
"What kind of idiots are these guys? I can't believe they only have British pounds... At least pay me back for my soft drink."
While saying that, she still stuffed her trophies into her pocket. After a quick break to catch her breath, she took out her cellphone.
"I took care of three. Send the cleaners over."
The man speaking to her answered in a muffled voice as usual:
'Wow~ How amazing. I will send someone right away.'
"It's only reasonable to pay me a bigger bonus. Even I find myself working with such dedication."
'Based on your character, you're going to made a tidy profit either way through blackmail or threats anyway, right? Villains will be arrested by the police, so please take care.'
To mask the sudden surprise in her heart, she hastily said:
"Shut up! The way I see it, you definitely count as a villain too."
'Oh really? How?'
"Using poison and antidotes to coerce obedience from me. Dying if I don't drink your antidote, isn't that way too absurd? What kind of movie are we acting out?"
'This is necessary as a beast tamer. If you don't believe me, you could always run away.'
Knowing clearly that they were in a cooperative relationship of mutual benefit, the man still talked like this deliberately. She was totally unconvinced that what he said about poisoning was actually true.
However, even if it was a joke, having a reason was better than none.
It was a fact that this man used to be even stronger than her. It was also a fact that she had lost to them in the past. It was also true that she believed she could get at least a bit stronger as long as she sought this man's tutelage—
She sighed. Anyway, life was still long. She did not think it mattered if she took a slight detour, hence, for now, she would continue this temporary lifestyle as something akin to his lackey.
"So, how are things on your side?"
'Things are officially beginning. Rather, it would be better to say that it seems to have already started.'
She thought so too. The background had become noisy on the other end of the phone call starting just now.
'Unfortunately, I won't be calling you over. Because somehow, I feel as though it would be too much to handle if I called Miss Beast who can only be tamed through poison. Just do your own work obediently. Bye now.'
After giving these instructions, the man hung up.
"Tsk... Now isn't this delightful?"
Remarking sarcastically, she imagined the party venue. Which people were going to take part? Just picturing it was almost enough to make her drool, crap.
However, she did not drool. Instead she smiled fearlessly.
Now was not the time to remain bound by principles and rationality. Prepare yourself and eat the poisoned feed willingly. Because if you were to do nothing, the master feeding her could very well die there just like that. She forbade him from dying in futility.
"Seriously... I can't believe he told me an awesome party's location without sending me an invitation. That's underestimating me too much. Kaha!"
In the courtyard which was surrounded on all four sides by the school building...
Haruaki ducked down to evade an enemy attack. At the same time, he continued speaking:
"Earlier, «Dieu le veut» was planted on the Dominion Lord's wheelchair, right? I guess we've no choice but to get to him, right?"
"My statement: That is «Mobile Territory: Zilch Ground», used to create a 'temporary territory for the Dominion Lord to move around.' I think the 'Dominionization' of this town is by another spear... Probably by the Dominion Lord's side, so not much difference."
"I see. Then where should we go?"
"Probably the biggest tent on the sports ground!"
While answering, Un Izoey swung the knife on her foot and sent a knight flying. However, another knight seized the resulting opening to attack her. Kotetsu and Konoha blocked it for her.
On the other side—
"Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
"Go, «Chupacabra Bandage»!"
After Kuroe's hair and Kirika's bandage entangled the enemy, Fear punched him flying without saying a word. Although she had no weapon, given her supernatural brute force, the enemy probably could not escape uninjured.
Most conspicuous was ultimately what Kirika had used to face off against Taciturn, «Chupacabra Bandage»—the cursed bandage originally used by Amanda when she was still Mummy Maker. Pakuaki had apparently given it to Kirika without asking her opinion. Amanda seemed to have explained briefly the method of usage, but Haruaki felt that Kirika was controlling it quite adeptly. Was it because of its similarity to the «Tragic Black River» in shape and usage?
At this moment, Haruaki heard talking next to him.
"...Just do your own work obediently. Bye now."
"You must be confident if you can still make phone calls in these circumstances."
The superintendent, who had just met up with them, shrugged and replied:
"Now is the only chance to talk on the phone, right? There's probably no more time to make calls from here on."
Naturally, Zenon and Ganon were also by the superintendent's side, fighting knights respectively.
Haruaki shifted his gaze slightly, towards the school building entrance that was visible from the courtyard through a corridor window—This was exactly the reason why they had come here.
Large numbers of students could be seen leaving the school building through the entrance. A normal after school scene, with students carrying schoolbags, filing through while chatting with their friends. This came as a result of Kaidou's hypnotic suggestion. As a side note, after issuing the hypnotic suggestion, Kaidou had said "Well then... I am going home" and immediately left the broadcasting room. She was probably hit by the curse as well. No mater what, Haruaki could feel only gratitude towards her.
Apart from those present, the others including Taizou, Kana and Shiraho had already returned to the secret room at the superintendent's office, taking the «Demon's Mouth» with them. Although Haruaki really hoped they could leave the school, they insisted "It's possible we might be needed somewhere again!" Of course, Shiraho and Chihaya were grumbling nonstop.
Like Haruaki, Fear glanced at the students leaving to go home while she took out another restrained knight. At the same time, she said:
"By the way... It's lucky that they didn't give the students a hard time!"
"Probably because we're making a scene here, they don't have any energy to spare on other things!"
"I think so too... Although it's absolutely ridiculous, now that things have come to this, we can't go into hiding again. Instead, we must rampage as much as possible and keep pushing forward!"
The Knights Dominion had originally used the «Demon's Mouth»'s hypnosis to take the students hostage. Now that the hypnosis was lifted, the students were starting to return home on their own. No one could predict what might happen next. There was no guarantee that the knights would not attack the students directly in typical and petty acts of intimidation. But currently, it looked like that was not going to happen, be it due to circumstance or their pride. Although Haruaki also believed that Konoha and the others, who had entered combat mode thoroughly already, would immediately bring divine retribution upon the knights the instant they tried to attack students in leisure—in any case, it would be best if that type of situation could be avoided completely.
In other words, just as Kirika described.
They could only push forward, devoting their full effort so that the enemy was unable to take any action except engage them in combat.
"Still... There are so many of them. My hair is getting a bit tired."
"Agreed, there ought to be limits on tiredness~"
"Please get moving before complaining, Onee-sama."
Speaking of moving forward, there were too many knights blocking their way. No matter how many they defeated, knights would emerge one after another from somewhere, surging forward to attack. In addition, with every knight strengthened under the effects of "Dominionization," they were not easy to handle at all.
Haruaki looked up at the clock in the courtyard&mash;It was almost 1pm.
He shuddered. The predetermined time limit was 2pm. In other words, the enemy's powerup had already reached 80 to 90% completion.
Haruaki shuddered simply for the lack of time remaining. The time limit they had decided upon was based on the belief that things were definitely fine at least until 2pm. Hence, strictly speaking, there should still be a bit of stoppage time even after 2pm... Nevertheless, they had no idea if it was on the order of seconds or minutes. They could not leave things to chance.
The remaining time was only roughly an hour. Just one hour, failure was not an option, no second chances. This was the only chance.
Stopping the Knights Dominion's conspiracy.
Protecting that place where they belonged.
The chance to protect the Yachi home—
Haruaki subconsciously clenched both fists. Due to muscle tension, he felt a dull sensation of intense pain coming from the missing part of his left hand. This felt like it was cheering for himself.
At this moment, the superintendent said:
"I think this might take forever at this rate. Should we part ways to split up the Knights Dominion's forces?"
"That appears to be the only option."
"I give agreement to agree this is great idea. No need to have everyone moving together the whole time. All it takes is for some of us to reach and destroy «Dieu le veut». Although it is easier for large groups to hunt prey, it also slows down movement speed."
Konoha and Un Izoey both nodded.
"Then what about the groupings? To be honest, I don't want my group to split up."
"My opinion: suggestion that I am fine alone."
Hearing that, Haruaki was a bit surprised.
"Hey hey, are you for real...?"
"I do not plan on defeating all knights on every encounter. I will find the Dominion Lord's tent and destroy «Dieu le veut». One person will not get tied down, easier to move perhaps."
That being said—Was there any reason for Un Izoey to do this? Haruaki wondered. The reason why Pakuaki assisted them was to rescue Un Izoey who was trapped in the school. In that case, his objective was already achieved.
Probably sensing his thoughts through the mood, Un Izoey glanced at Haruaki and said:
"For the Lab Chief's Nation, 'Dominionization' is not phenomenon to be left alone either. My own opinion: reached conclusion that it must be stopped as quickly as possible."
"Really? ...Uh, but, how should I put this? Thank you."
"No need to thank. I am just doing what I need to do."
Un Izoey looked away suddenly for some reason. Then the superintendent spoke up:
"So, my group will move independently then. I think we will be responsible for acting as bait, so the three of us are enough. We'll show you how quickly adults can flee."
"Eh~ So tired~"
"I could prepare an alternative mission for you. How about letting you run alone while screaming and yelling, charging into the enemy's headquarters from the front? Which do you pick, Onee-sama?"
In this manner, the superintendent formed his usual team of three. In other words, they had divided themselves into three: Haruaki's main team, Un Izoey as the independent guerilla team, as well as the superintendent's diversionary team.
"...You must all stay safe."
Fear said with a serious face. Un Izoey, the superintendent and the Houjyou sisters nodded firmly. Then—
"I return the same words to you exactly, wishing this kind of wish!"
"Once everything is over, we have to gather for a cup of tea. But according to reports, cleaning up the superintendent's office first will be quite a monumental task!"
To break past the knights surrounding them, they charged in completely opposite directions. Un Izoey went towards a dense cluster of enemies whereas the superintendent's group went for somewhere with fewer enemies. In that sense, things were completely opposite too.
"We too—Let's go!"
"Yes! Haruaki-kun, please take care no matter what!"
With Konoha and Kotetsu taking point, the group began to advance towards the sports ground. Most likely chasing after Un Izoey and the superintendent's team, much fewer knights showed up next. However, that was just compared to earlier. The current situation still did not allow for carelessness.
They continued to move forward while doing everything they could to take down the enemies who emerged every few meters along the courtyard. The connecting corridor between two wings of the school building could be seen up ahead. Once they passed through there, the grassy lawn of the courtyard would give way to a plain space between two buildings, covered only by asphalt. Then running from there to the edge of the school building—The sports ground ought to be visible from there.
"Konoha, above! Second floor of the connecting corridor!"
"I shall handle it! Muramasa-sama, take care of the right hand side!"
"Sorry Kuroe-kun, my defense failed! Left side!"
"Mode: «Chaotic Tadamori»—Anyway, I'll lead you guys to jump towards the third floor window!"
After much effort, they finally dealt with the last wave of attack before entering the connecting corridor. Confirming there were no ambushes from above, they crossed the connecting corridor all at once. Success! The sensation underfoot changed from lawn to hard asphalt.
Perhaps that was it for the enemies who had rushed over to the courtyard. Haruaki turned his head back slightly to check out the view behind him, only to discover that no new enemies had rushed out of the connecting corridor or the school building. Was diverting manpower to Un Izoey and the superintendent part of the reason?
No worries. At the current pace, they were going to reach their destination soon. No need to be concerned about the time limit. Ah, at this rate, there was no need to worry at all. No matter how many more knights came, they would surely—
Just as Haruaki was thinking that—
In front of him, Fear suddenly stopped running. Haruaki's nose collided into the back of her head.
Fear did not look back. Like Fear, Konoha and everyone present halted in their tracks.
Looking past Fear's head, Haruaki also checked out what they were all staring at with bated breaths.
He was rendered speechless.
—Why the Knights Dominion had stopped attacking for now. Why there were gaps of time between attacks.
Perhaps it was not just due to the success of diversionary tactics from Un Izoey and the superintendent's faction.
Perhaps it was simply because the Knights Dominion's numbers were decreasing.
In other words—
"Oh! You guys are so late~"
Scattered all over the ground, in front of them were countless bodies of dead knights.
And in the center of the corpses, all covered with splatters of fresh blood, yet looking back at Haruaki's group with a smile—Ontenzaki Satsuko.
As one would expect, Fourteen was also by Satsuko's side. With pale blue ghostlights hovering all around her body, it felt like she wa going to fire off attacks any moment. A reinforced broom was already held in her hand.
Satsuko was also in the process of killing a knight. While she turned her head to look back, the man collapsed in front of her with his throat cut open. Swinging «Karma Speed» with a whoosh, Satsuko flung off viscous blood then muttered as though talking to herself:
"Hmm, this Wathe itself can be used as a weapon too~ Although it can't be used to hit places that are too hard, that's all."
Fear glared at Satsuko and said:
"...We don't have time for you right now. Move aside."
"Eh~ Sorry, no can do, Fear-san~ That'll waste all the waiting we did for you here."
"I don't recall asking you two to wait for us."
"Hmm, if you insist, how about tomorrow instead?"
Konoha spoke with eyes narrowed whereas Kuroe followed up blankly.
"But isn't there a party right now? Although Satsuko will play with any opponent encountered, a bit of attention needs to be paid to sequence after all~ Anyway, putting it bluntly, if Fear-san and the rest of you continue forward, Satsuko has a strong feeling that you'll be killed by the Knights Dominion people. So Satsuko hopes you'll fight us before that~"
"Such presumptuous reasoning, absolutely ridiculous...!"
Kirika glanced at Haruaki. Konoha and the others also directed the same kind of questioning gaze at him.
Haruaki understood what they meant. Their options boiled down to two: fight or flight. Their objective was not defeating Satsuko. Even if she issued a challenge to them, they were not obliged to accept—
"Oh. Uh~ Umm, although it's only natural since someone like Satsuko is your opponent, if you really ignore me and escape, Satsuko will still feel very sad~ So please think back a bit, to a very long time ago during the battle at the pool, those massive pillars Fourt had shot, does everyone still remember~? After repairs and fortifications, she can now launch many pillars~"
Hearing Fear's question, Satsuko smiled.
"—Those are really huge things, you know? To liven things up, how about throwing some at the school building right now with a 'boom~'? That place where you can see the shoe lockers is the most suitable, right? Although Satsuko has no other intentions."
No other intentions? Don't be ridiculous!
Haruaki looked at the far end of the courtyard where they had just escaped, the place where shoe lockers were kept—although much fewer in number now, there were still students preparing to go home after school. If a massive pillar, the type they saw during the swimming pool battle against Satsuko and Fourteen in the past, one that caused the exit to collapse completely, were to be thrown there, the students would surely suffer grievous injuries.
Fear gnashed her teeth and said:
"A threat huh...? You disgust me...!"
"Oh dear~ Satsuko and Fourt only wish to fight you guys, Fear-san, that's all~ It should end quite quickly, so you don't need to be so stubborn. The previous fight got interrupted half way, so Satsuko just wants to confirm, even though weak little Satsuko is clearly very weak, how much more competent Satsuko has become!"
Indeed, there was probably not much point for the Knights Dominion to take students hostage again—but this logic was impossible to apply to Satsuko before them. She simply wanted a fight. Simply fighting followed by more fighting, wanting to become strong.
A simple and genuine motive, almost approaching insanity.
The natural way of life as a member of the Draconians.
"Tsk... Fighting is the only option?"
"Ha! I shall humor them. Now that the sight of blood has gotten me worked up, I shall find it difficult to hold back."
"—Actually, the same goes for me too."
Konoha and Kotetsu revealed savage grins and took a step forward. In contrast, Haruaki, Fear, Kirika and Kuroe stepped back. Kirika glanced at the surroundings while extending Chupacabra Bandage from her arm.
"We can't leave these two for Konoha-kun and Kotetsu-kun to handle on their own. Kuroe-kun and I must provide cover... But the knights might show up any time. Yachi, Fear-kun, let us know as soon as you spot anything."
Haruaki looked at the silver-haired girl after he replied. Eyes narrowed, glaring viciously ahead, her answer was—
Fear felt a certain unpleasant entity stirring in the depths of her heart.
The color of bright red dominated her view. It came from the dead knights' bodies created by Satsuko.
She felt nausea and discomfort towards this stench of blood and death that she knew better than anyone. But at the same time, she also sensed a certain existence taking joy from all this. Something causing dull aches, thirsting for the taste of brutality. In the bottom of her body, even if one were to take out her organs, slice them to pieces and mix them up, the darkness would still adhere firmly to somewhere deep and unreachable.
No matter how much she wanted it to disappear, no matter how much she wanted to pretend it had disappeared, the throbbing of that parasitic existence was still ominously shaking the cells of her core.
Hence, worry crept into her heart. She could feel an irrepressible part of her lingering in her body.
She was still able to suppress it because these were irrelevant knights, but if she were to see the blood or corpse of someone she knew—
(I'm not... gonna lose.)
Fear gritted her teeth hard and forcefully carved this declaration into the depths of her heart.
She must admit that her unease. Even so, she already had the determination and resolve to triumph over it. That was why she was standing here. She was not going to be devoured so easily.
Besides, the worst case scenario of her companions ending up like that would not happen in reality. There was no weapon in her hand. If worse came to worst, she had already asked the Japanese swords for the favor. Hence, don't worry. Don't worry. Don't worry. Don't worry. Don't worry. Don't worry. Surely—It will be fine.
After repeating those words nonstop, she suddenly felt a lighter feeling in her chest.
She really felt that it will be fine. Imagination was very important. She believed that what she ought to think about was not insignificant worries but the vast ocean of hope that lay before her eyes.
No need to worry. There was not the slightest need for worry.
What she desired was already in front of her.
So long as she overcame the crisis today, she would be able to stay with Haruaki forever.
Because this happiness was already in view up ahead, all she needed to do next was keep her head high and continue striving forward.
Before giving her answer, she paused for roughly a breath's worth of time.
However, her tone of voice was calm and natural.
"Yeah, leave it to me. I'm only here more for defense than offense. I have to complete this mission at least."
Well said, that goes without saying—Haruaki felt relieved. The current Fear would no longer lose to fighting instincts and charge mindlessly at the enemy. She was giving thought to what was within her ability instead of trying to act tough.
"Rather, Class Rep and Kuroe should be more careful. I remember they—"
Cautiously, Kirika stared at Satsuko and Fourteen, nodding lightly.
"I know. Fourteen will be launching items for her to accumulate speed and release that giant slash attack... Their tactic is like self-sufficient power generation, it's very tough to handle."
"Yeah. But in games, skills that are powerful in theory tend to have major flaws."
"Kuroe-san is correct. That tactic of theirs cannot be an exception."
"Just stop her from throwing things before they manage to store up the speed! I shall take care of that house!"
As Kotetsu dashed towards Fourteen, Konoha said "Then I will—" and closed in on Satsuko a moment later. Fourteen retreated backwards and dodged the attack Kotetsu launched to prevent her from throwing items. Her broom destroyed by Kotetsu, Fourteen nonchalantly summoned a new weapon, then shot two bricks at Satsuko while swinging a laundry pole downwards.
However, Satsuko was currently facing off against Konoha who was attacking with barehanded chops executed in taijiquan style. Although Satsuko used «Karma Speed» to block, the weapons became entangled together as though sparring without accumulating speed. As though saying "it doesn't matter who it hits," Fourteen shot bricks at both Satsuko and Konoha, but—
"Mode: «Cushioning Munemori»!"
Kirika's bandage and Kuroe's hair blocked the bricks. Kuroe wanted to take the opportunity to ensnare Satsuko in her hair, but Satsuko used «Karma Speed» in its original function as a sword and sliced the hair before jumping away. Konoha seized the chance to close in.
"Wow~ So that's how it goes~ As expected of Konoha-san and the others, you immediately came up with countermeasures~ Then we'll switch tactics too."
"...What did you say?"
Instantly, Satsuko and Fourteen doubled their speed at the same time. Moving swiftly, they traded positions in a bewildering display. Kotetsu and Konoha hastily chased after them.
Fourteen made a motion as though pushing a pair of doors to summon two laundry poles to launch. Neither Kirika nor Kuroe could stop the laundry poles from flying away—because instead of aiming at Satsuko or Konoha, Fourteen had shot them towards the school building beside them. The laundry poles were respectively embedded in the walls of the school building on their left and right.
Satsuko instantly changed course for a laundry pole while waving «Karma Speed» in her hand.
Next—using them like last time at the pool when they used laundry poles as footholds to move across water, Fourteen and Satsuko simultaneously stepped on a laundry pole on opposite sides respectively and jumped up high.
Their bodies overlapped for an instant in midair—
But only Satsuko disappeared.
Kotetsu frowned. Summoning two brooms while in the air, Fourteen swung them at him while traveling along her landing trajectory. Kotetsu crossed his arms above his head to block the attack but in the next second, Konoha shouted urgently:
"Kotetsu! Watch out, there is one more person inside!"
While Konoha was shouting and Fourteen's wielded weapons were locked in a struggle against Kotetsu, Satsuko suddenly appeared from under Fourteen's cape. This was below Kotetsu's belly, closer to him than even Fourteen. In a crouching pose, Satsuko swung «Karma Speed» in a flash.
Frowning, Kotetsu flew backwards to retreat. The flank of his clothing was torn and a conspicuous red color seeped out.
"Don't sound so lame! It is but a scratch..."
Kotetsu answered Haruaki while keeping his view forward vigilantly. Before him, Satsuko was already straightening her knees to stand up.
"Oh my~ Looks like victory can't be decided in one hit after all."
"Muramasa-sama, that is—"
"Instantaneously entering Fourteen's body whose true nature is a house, then coming out again? Totally just a petty parlor trick."
"Ehhh~ Really~? As long as it's used well, Satsuko thinks it's unexpectedly effective~"
Satsuko cocked her head slightly while Fourteen shot laundry poles and iron rods at the school building on the side again. Moreover, it was not just one or two. The school building was turned into an array of skewers. Satsuko and Fourteen jumped again, landing on the footholds created by Fourteen, then started jumping between footholds as though performing in an athletic event. In addition to stepping on the poles and columns, Satsuko even grabbed the laundry poles with her hands to swing her body like in gymnastics horizontal bar events. While moving, Fourteen continued to shoot out new laundry poles to increase the number of footholds.
"It'd be bad if you got bored, so Satsuko and Fourt will be turning in a grand performance~! Satsuko will work hard to prevent you from calling this a parlor trick!"
"This looks more and more like a circus act. We don't have money to pay for unspectacular shows...!"
Tensing up, Haruaki's group looked up at the two figures jumping back and forth overhead like pinballs.
Fourteen fired two bricks at them. Konoha and the others dodged swiftly but at the same time, Fourteen also launched three bricks at Satsuko in midair, which were then immediately absorbed by «Karma Speed». After repeating similar movements multiple times, Satsuko and Fourteen overlapped in the air again. Fourteen flipped her cape again and Satsuko vanished.
After leaping from foothold to foothold many times, Fourteen jumped upon Haruaki's group again as earlier. Konoha blocked her attack and watched out for Satsuko who was assumed to be hiding under the cape—
"How about this? Slicing wind at point blank range...!"
Realizing suddenly, Haruaki cried out frantically:
"No, Konoha, right above!"
The last foothold that Fourteen had visited—Satsuko was standing on there. Just before Fourteen mounted her descending attack, she must have left Satsuko there. Satsuko was already ecstatic with her face flushed red. Then she swung the rapier down hard.
The giant mass of slicing pressure descended like a waterfall, flying at them vertically.
Naturally, Fourteen already expected this attack. After merely a slight delay after Fourteen, Konoha also jumped from her original spot, but the situation was very risky. Also, Haruaki and the others could not stay uninvolved either.
"Haruaki, get away quick!"
Fear pushed Haruaki. Naturally, he did not resist and started running as hard as he could. There was no guarantee that the next slash would not reach their location. Even the wake of that attack posed a threat. Just as Haruaki and Fear hastily pulled back to create distance—
The vertical slash brushed past Konoha's body, striking her former location directly. The massive ensuing crash made Haruaki's eardrums hurt. Violent air pressure swept his hair. Not only that, but it even caused him to stumble and fall flat on the ground. Certain fragments flew in all directions, striking him in the body. Ouch. Speaking of pain, the left hand he had extended reflexively against the ground for support was feeling sharp pain from the amputated spot.
Then opening his eyes, Haruaki saw the asphalt ground which had tragically cracked open. Probably injured by flying stones, Fear had small bloody scratches on her face. Wiping the blood away with the back of her hand, Fear directed her gaze forward. The four of them nearer to the impact had suffered far more than Haruaki and Fear. Kirika and Kuroe were tangled together and blown far away, but seemed uninjured. Kotetsu was kneeling on the ground with a twisted look on his face. Among them, the one with the most serious injuries was—
"I... am fine...!"
Although it looked like she had dodged by a hair's breadth, Konoha had a large gash on her shoulder just from a minor glancing blow. The patch of bright red on her was even larger in area than Kotetsu's. Konoha glanced coldly at her wound then exhaled, suppressing a certain emotion into the depths of her core. Calmly, she tore off her dangling sleeve to facilitate movement. Judging from her motions, the wound was not as bad as it looked... But Haruaki had almost never seen such a large wound on Konoha's body before. And clearly, it was not even a direct blow.
Many laundry poles and iron rods were embedded in the school building's walls to their left and right, as well as the side wall of the connecting corridor, forming footholds.
Standing on them, Satsuko and Fourteen were looking down at Haruaki's group.
"Oh my... They actually dodged that attack? Amazing as expected! Satsuko is overjoyed!"
Satsuko spoke confidently. Pushing themselves up, Kirika and Konoha grumbled with a frown:
"Tsk! What joy? This firepower is absolutely ridiculous...!"
"Their current tactic is to reduce the speed accumulation period as much as possible then unleash the attack freely from various angles, thus making full use of terrain..."
"Yes, indeed! Although very weak, Satsuko and Fourt's advantage is cooperation and tacit understanding after all! By increasing or removing footholds, Satsuko can appear or disappear to make use of three dimensional tactics~"
"Satsuko has excellent speed to begin with, but as a result, her weakness is also a lack of attack power. Weaponry is one of the reasons. But after obtaining «Karma Speed», this problem is solved... Don't mistakenly think we're still the same as before."
"Yeah~ It's all thanks to «Karma Speed». So lucky to have it, it fits Satsuko so well! Since this method works, Satsuko will try to challenge you, please play with us a while longer!"
Then like a pack of predators surrounding herbivores, slowly depriving their prey of stamina, intimidating them to crush their will to resist.
Also making use of the school building's protrusions and drainpipes, the pair began to jump back and forth over the heads of Haruaki's group. Ghostlights flashing, Fourteen launched items that were sometimes absorbed by Satsuko's rapier as sources of speed, sometimes used to create new footholds, or sent to attack Haruaki's group directly on other occasions. Satsuko would also disappear suddenly then emerge under Fourteen's cape. Satsuko sometimes followed Fourteen's direct attacks to appear at extremely close range. Other times, she used feints to counter their predictions, only to appear in the distance. It took a lot of effort to keep track of the pair's positions.
Agitated, Konoha jumped up and stood on a laundry pole just like them. Then leaping towards Fourteen, just as she was about to execute a flying kick, an instant before that—having entered Fourteen's cape, Satsuko jumped out and landed lightly on the ground. She was already panting with eyes moistened and glazed over.
Konoha must have instantly severed her foothold. Then falling down together with the severed pole, she barely evaded the slash Satsuko had unleashed upwards from below. Vicious light flashed across her glasses as she groaned:
"Up and down, how busy you are...!"
"Oh, just so you don't get the wrong idea, Satsuko will make this clear. We don't really want to run all over the place~ Aerial combat is just one mode of attack. Depending on the situation, we also fight on the ground."
Haruaki gritted his teeth. To him, simply tracking Satsuko and Fourteen's movements with his gaze was hard enough already.
Apart from Fourteen's own combat power as a cursed house...
There were footholds all around that they could increase or decrease as they saw fit, in other words, a three dimensional space—Rather, seeing as Satsuko could also enter Fourteen's body to obfuscate timings and positions, it counted as four dimensions—combined with the tacit understanding born from their relationship of absolute trust, allowing them to rule over this four dimensional space.
In addition, there was «Karma Speed»'s one-hit kill power from its super destructive slash attack—
All this combined to serve as Satsuko and Fourteen's current—
...Was it possible to win?
Could they prevail against a pair like this?
Haruaki felt as though his heart was being constricted tightly, causing a vague sense of unease to surge in his body.
He also thought of something.
There was no leisure to take out his cellphone to check the time, but the deadline was less than an hour away. They should not get themselves pinned down in this kind of place. They must move advance as quickly as possible, advancing towards the sports ground—
However, whether or not Satsuko understood their feelings, she cackled and said:
"Anyway, we're going to move as possible, so enjoy yourselves! As playmates, Satsuko will give it 100% so please go all-out if you please, Satsuko will be very happy—although weak little Satsuko is still very weak, so if you get disappointed, sorry about that!"
Haruaki broke out in cold sweat.
You liar—He thought.
The superintendent's team of three was moving along the school's boundary wall.
Then halting, the superintendent turned his head back.
"—I knew you were going to show up."
"Really? Well I suppose, after all, we go way back for years."
As though in an afterthought, he casually floored a knight who was originally about to attack them.
Maximilian Pendragon was standing there in leisure. Wearing «Corpse Armor Rikongarowa» with the «Granaury Spear» on the back of his right hand... He was fully armed.
Grinning, Pendragon said:
"Any intention to move aside?"
"You already know my answer, don't you? I can't let you go over to them. To my dangerous friend who has started an obsession in stalker behavior, I really hope you won't go farther along the wrong path, which is why I can't stay silent... You can't use brute strength to coerce a little girl. Don't use force."
After the superintendent finished with a shrug, Zenon and Ganon stepped forward in front of him.
"Good grief, are you trying to waste my time again like yesterday? No matter how many years we've been separated, I've grown tired of playing around. This time, I won't spar with you like yesterday. Sorry, I'm going to be serious—?"
A crisp sound.
Pendragon raised Granaury's blade to eye level. In the next instant, a knife flying at high speed was deflected by the blade, falling on the ground behind.
The superintendent stared intently at Pendragon. While breaking out in cold sweat, his mind became aware of his hand's trembling fingertips and the creaking in his body.
"Unlike yesterday... It's three against one this time."
"Gabriel, do you intend to personally enter the fray? Isn't your body full of problems, to the point that it's difficult to pinpoint them? With your health in such a state already, acting tough won't do you any good."
"Acting tough? Hmm..."
The superintendent reached into his suit and drew a knife from its holster. What a nostalgic feeling... At the same time, this was probably going to be his swan song.
"If I don't act tough now, when else would I have the chance? Clearly the ones behind me are my students—This is my school!"
Switching modes, he threw continuously, launching many knives at the same time. The flowing motion of thrown knives were like wings, like a sword, with each knife followed closely by the next. By calculating and predicting the opponent's angle of deflection, he would alter the trajectory of successive knives as a result. Such throwing fully exhibited the pinnacle of technique. Having learned the majority of his throwing skills, Zenon also joined in to attack with her knives.
Confronted with a continuous stream of thrown knives aimed at his vitals, Pendragon could no longer stand idly in one place. While running, he used Granaury to deflect the flying knives. Although Riko's armor definitely protected the vitals, the superintendent would also predict the armor's changes in thickness through reverse logic so as to throw the next knife and the one after that. Faced with this group, Pendragon could not rely completely on his armor. That being said, armor was armor after all. For knife throwers, armor was definitely a complicating factor.
"Ha... Looks like you and your disciple haven't regressed much in skill."
"I'm very happy to hear you say that."
Intense pain coursed through the depths of his body. His muscles were screaming in pain. His fingertips were convulsing. The superintendent desperately hid these symptoms of unease while he answered, but the dragon's eyes could not possibly miss the prey's weaknesses.
"But who knows when this can persist until."
"Yeah, that's right. Although we have to stall for time bit by bit, no one knows how long it can last... So, it looks like the job I picked has increased. Ahhh, so very tired..."
Waving the tip of her sword left and right, Ganon walked up to the front lethargically. The previous Commander had passed onto her as the sole successor of what could be called swordsmanship for countering the strongest—a style named the Void Night Sword. Ultimately, she still stood as their most powerful combatant.
The superintendent took a deep breath and picked up a knife. Incredibly, he felt nostalgia towards this sensation that should have been forgotten long ago. However, he had her by his side back then. Rather, what he carried was not knives, but her. The spear that always returned on its own no matter where it was thrown. The spear whose power increased the farther it was thrown, the «Treason Piercer»...
The one who asked was Pendragon's right hand, Granaury.
She seldom spoke on her own initiative. Without stopping her, Pendragon glanced at his right hand.
"The way you look is truly fortunate/unfortunate... It brings back too many memories. Why is Liz not by your side?"
"—Because Long destroyed her. You know that, right?"
Most certainly, this was not the answer she wanted to hear, but he had no choice but to answer so.
She originally wanted to continue but fell silent halfway. Pendragon scratched his head and used the back of his left hand to tap the blade on his right. With eyes as calm as a father gazing at his child, he said:
"Say it now if you have something you want said. You might not get another chance ever again."
Granaury could be heard sighing. She seldom expressed her emotions, but the superintendent knew that she not actually emotionless. This was only natural, because he used to spend quite a lot of time with her—They could be considered old friends.
Hence, he knew her voice carried sorrow.
"So why... was I not there?"
The superintendent closed his eyes forcefully first.
Then he answered:
"—Because you're not Liz."
Likewise, this was not the correct answer, but he had no choice but to answer so.
"True. But we are both spears."
"Would you believe me if I said I was always jealous of Liz?"
"If you want me to believe."
"What a sly/honest man..."
"The one by your side is not me. However, there once existed the possibility of me by your side. Together with Liz. Or replacing Liz. Clearly I could have been by your side, but was not by your side. This contradiction shook the contradiction that is me."
"I don't quite... understand."
Pendragon slowly raised his right hand, allowing the superintendent's reflection to show on Granaury's blade. This was surely akin to having her gaze squarely at the superintendent.
"Why were you unable to defeat Long before Liz was destroyed?"
"Because he was very strong."
"Also because, compared to surpassing Long's strength, you were always thinking about Liz's curse, weren't you?"
Liz's curse caused her to pierce her owner. It troubled her the whole time, making her cry. Indeed. Back then, long ago, compared to the strong opponent, he was already trembling at the premonition of separating from her.
Without changing her tone, Granaury continued:
"Why did you not defeat Long after Liz was destroyed?"
"Because I lost the reason to do so."
"Also because you followed the simple temptation of despair and fled, didn't you?"
By the time he woke up after Liz pierced his chest as a result of the curse exceeding its limit, everything was over. Left with only scars and emptiness in his heart without the slightest will to fight, he had deserted the Draconians. The only fragment lingering in his heart was the wish to see Liz again. That was the only purpose he lived for.
"Had you neither fled nor lost, and defeated Long, the future/past would have been different. Hence, hence, I—"
The blade on Pendragon's right hand glittered brightly.
"—hate your state of weakness."
The superintendent gasped.
Then in a fully philosophical tone of voice, he laughed.
"Hahaha! Indeed, my state of weakness has caused many people trouble, whether in the past or present. I'm so sorry."
"Please do not pretend to be strong... in this fashion. It is truly displeasing."
Strong? Weak? They remained fettered by these words. This made him feel a little sad.
Glancing at his two subordinates, the superintendent said:
"So, it looks like someone is holding a grudge against me. I'm sorry but the attacks might become very intense accordingly. I'm counting on you."
"...This is commonplace, in any case."
"After hearing things from you that needn't be said, it's the most tiring~"
In response to his subordinates' remarks, which conveyed questionable respect, he said:
"So... Looks like it's time for this conversation to end."
"Argh~ Enough, so long and boring! Granaury, I hold you responsible!"
"...I apologize/ignore. All that is required next is a one-sided victory akin to rape."
Confronted with the approaching figure of the "strongest"—
The superintendent laughed again.
No matter how perilous the situation, even if cold sweat and ominous premonitions remained, he still had to laugh.
This had nothing to do with being strong or weak.
It was the only proper way to act for an adult who wished to protect the children.
Pendragon had no intention of backing down either.
He had a reason to move forward no matter what. No matter what he must do.
He had something he had to do.
Hence, if anyone got in his way—the only option was to eliminate them, of course. Even if they knew each other or could be described as old friends.
(However... What a nuisance.)
The opponent was definitely not strong. Simply in terms of strength, the knights in the school were definitely stronger.
However, such a hassle. Like yesterday, Ganon's Void Night Sword would neutralize all of his offensive and defensive maneuvers—forcibly leading to a "tied" result. In that unsteadily swaying manner.
Pendragon introduced changes in his movements in an attempt to disrupt her rhythm, but Zenon—as well as Sekaibashi at calculated moments—would throw knives, which were impossible to ignore. While he was dodging the knives, Ganon would recover her position.
Only time and energy were being worn away bit by bit. Although this applied to the other party as well... For Sekaibashi's team, that was precisely their goal. To prevent him from advancing, to deplete his time and energy. That was their only goal, never intending to win from the very start.
"So, what should I do...?"
"How about surrendering by going 'uwah~ I admit defeat~'? Also recording that and broadcasting it on Dragon Island. Then, oh dear, how incredible, the beautiful school physician's popularity would skyrocket from defeating Number One."
"Although I don't think it's possible, do you really want to become the Commander?"
"Of course not, too tiring."
Pendragon conversed while using his full strength to push Granaury down in a spiral motion. Taking this attack head on would surely mean disembowelment—no, understatement—it would not be surprising even if her body instantly split into top and bottom halves. However, Ganon used the blade's body to absorb the impact with finesse, even performing a side flip in the air on purpose to dissipate the fist's force. Just as Pendragon was going to follow up his attack at the moment of her landing, Zenon and Sekaibashi threw countless knives, containing his movements.
Ganon's Void Night Sword was not a technique that could persist forever, after all. Despite looking relaxed in motion, that was only on the surface—requiring the control, understanding and manipulation of the entire body's nerves, it consumed unimaginable stamina. Even more so if one were to take the consumption of mental energy into account. Spending the same amount of time to wave a sword randomly without thinking would probably be much less taxing.
She was going to tire out, but with Sekaibashi and Zenon's support, she had already established a routine to recover her energy through momentary breaks. Her limit had yet to arrive.
Pendragon discovered that her technique had become more refined compared to yesterday. Deadly battles were more effective than any sort of training. Through yesterday's combat, she had recalled old memories then progressed further—What a waste of talent. This meant that Long's discerning eye had picked the right successor, didn't he?
In the end—
(Right now... she has achieved perfect balance to become a perfect master of the Void Night Sword. Without disrupting her degree of perfection, it's probably impossible for me to surpass her Void Night Sword.)
He admitted it, but this was absolutely no declaration of defeat. Of course. From the very start, his mind had not considered this a battle—It was more like an annoying cleaning task. Something dirty was in his way. Without scrubbing it away, there was no way to advance to the next destination.
(So, I just need to disrupt the balance from her degree of perfection. Let's see what can be taken away, or perhaps...)
This time, he unleashed a barrage of attacks, prioritizing speed instead of power. Ganon blocked this wave as though dancing.
"How like a dance. I'd gladly take you out tonight if you'll let me."
"What a tiring invitation... Max-kun, please save such words for the young women you ilke."
"Oh? But I don't dislike you."
"Oh really? But I find it hard to accept a flirty guy like you, Max-kun. Not my cup of tea."
"You like older men who give off airs of stability and maturity, right?"
"You know me too well."
Even while chatting like this, the precision of her movements remained unchanged, unshaken at all.
Ganon was currently strong and stable in mind. Trying to take away from that might be challenging. In that case—
(Or perhaps... Something extra could be added.)
This was very simple.
Exceedingly simple indeed.
The superintendent watched as Pendragon charged forward recklessly. He made a thrust with Granaury's blade on the back of his hand, but Ganon blocked him with her sword.
Up to now, things were the same as before, except—
Ganon showed alarm on her face in a rare display. Pendragon's fist, in other words, Granaury's blade, caught Ganon's sword and applied a vector to it—towards his own neck.
Confronted with this unexpected development, Ganon froze for merely an instant. She definitely could kill Pendragon if the sword continued its thrust. This was precisely Pendragon's goal in redirecting her sword.
However, she resisted. Without a choice, she resisted.
In stark contrast to the Void Night Sword's naturalness—Unnaturalness.
That instant was an opening.
And Maximilian Pendragon was a man nowhere naive enough to miss this opening.
"Having fought for so long, I'd notice no matter how oblivious... You don't seriously want to kill me from the bottom of your heart. For the unprincipled Void Night Sword whose characteristic is split-second adaptability—You can't hold on to this kind of principle."
Using the instant when Ganon's body froze, Pendragon flipped his right arm. At the same time, Granaury's blade retracted slightly while in contact with Ganon's sword—Just by doing that, the sword, which seemed stuck to Ganon's hand until now, was blown away.
The superintendent had no time to consider consequences. The feeling of tendons twisting. The feeling of muscles screaming in pain. Ignoring these feelings, he did everything he could to drive his limbs to throw the knives in his hands. Like how he had killed countless foes in the past—Mercilessly, raising speed and power to the maximum, he threw by pulling all the stops. Presumably seeing her elder sister in crisis, Zenon also threw as many knives as she could at the same time.
Zenon's knives descended upon Pendragon like a rainstorm that was blown horizontally by the wind. Pendragon had the left side of his body towards them, hence Riko could concentrate her armor on the left side for defense. After merely a millisecond's delay, the superintendent's knife flew over—but did not touch Pendragon.
The knife flew past his feet.
Striking the hilt of an earlier knife that was embedded in the ground, it bounced up.
As though reflected, it bounced upwards.
The knife flew towards where the armor was relatively thin due to defending against Zenon's rain of knives—the right side of Pendragon's body.
Stab him. Strike him. At least make him move. Even dodging would be good. In any case, if he could be prevented from delivering a lethal blow to Ganon—
But just at that moment, the superintendent saw snow-white skin behind Pendragon.
Originally on Pendragon's right hand, Grananury instantly took human form.
She struck down the superintendent's knife flying from a dead angle.
A naked body of snow-white complexion. Seen so few times that one could count them out, her eyes, always partially closed—They look like they were pitying something.
"By the way, people all say that I've become a gentleman the more I aged, contrary to all expectation. They even say that I'm beginning to resemble Long, despite having no blood relation. So..."
Unfazed by the absence of Granaury's blade, Pendragon still drew his right arm back.
Towards Ganon in front of him, laughing as though he wanted to say "ridiculous":
"A man like me not your cup of tea? Stop lying."
As though resigning, Ganon suddenly relaxed her tense expression and said:
"You realized it?"
In the next second, the fist descended, sending her body flying away like a puppet.
Next—The result was easily predicted.
Earlier, they had barely maintained balance in something of a miracle. Once one corner collapsed, opposing the "strongest" was no longer possible.
His entire body in abject pain, collapsed on the ground, the superintendent turned his face. This was already his limit. He could not even lift a finger. Overexerting himself to mobilize his muscles, nerves and tendons... Everything was screaming, halted in activity. In other words, dead. I guess I'll have to spend my days in a wheelchair like the Dominion Lord for a while—Assuming I survive this.
Ganon was completely buried in a wall. Having spat out blood, there was a patch of bright red on her chest—to the point that it was a miracle that a massive hole had not opened up on her body. But definitely, she must have broken many bones with damage to internal organs. Of course, she was also unconscious. Strands of her hair looked like they were shaking slightly. Hopefully, she was still breathing—As long as this was not an illusion born out of his optimism.
Zenon was lying sprawled nearby, her right elbow twisted in a strange direction. Scattered and glittering in her surroundings were the broken fragments of throwing knives. Groaning on the ground, she was probably trying her utmost to get up. There were heartrending bloodstains on her limbs and face.
The superintendent gulped and applied force through his convulsing throat.
"Zenon-kun, it would be best not to strain yourself."
"Enough. By this point, both of you have done more than enough for me."
By this point. Did she realize the hidden meaning in these words? Not only the battle here at school, but also starting from their Draconian days as well as after deserting the organization.
He was thinking, how fortunate to have them willing to follow a broken man like him.
"Clearly I was never able to reward you."
"...If there really was no reward, I would not have... retracted the resignation letter I almost handed over on many occasions."
"You don't mean... salary, right?"
"Must I really spell it out?"
Listening to Zenon's sulking voice, the superintendent smiled wryly. Just doing so made his throat hurt badly and caused trouble in breathing—It was already pointless, so he took off his gas mask.
Then within his unobscured view, he gazed at the slowly approaching figure.
"Hello, long time no see."
"Hello there, it's been forever."
Maximilian Pendragon. Or perhaps, just plain Pendragon.
As though declaring things were "over"—with a completely naked young girl clinging to his shoulder and Granaury waiting by his side with her massive wobbling bust.
"I admit my defeat. I guess someone who retired shouldn't try to stage a comeback to act cool. I don't care what you do with me but please show mercy to those two. They're just caught up in my foolhardiness."
"I decided a long time ago to leave good women alive as much as possible. Even a woman who fell in love with a certain someone who's not me despite knowing there would be no reward, or a woman who still can't forget a certain someone who's already passed away."
Then Pendragon closed one eye suggestively and laughed:
"Besides, they might realize my charm at the last moment and become my good companions. Possibilities are very important."
"Y-You bastard! You have absolutely no self-control at all—!"
Riko began to hammer the back of Pendragon's head. Completely unconcerned, he turned his gaze slightly and said:
"Just as you can see, as an actual believer of female supremacy, I can't oppose these two ladies. Living under their oppression every day, how tragic my life... So apparently, it's not up to me to decide your final fate."
"...May I decide?"
A moment later, Granaury walked over without hiding her naked body at all. She had clearly stated how she hated the superintendent's state of weakness. He was very weak indeed. Now, he was also defeated.
Zenon's voice called out. He deliberately avoided looking in her direction.
No matter what his final fate—He would only accept it willingly. That was enough to satisfy him. Having driven this body past its limits until it could move no longer, assuming Zenon and Ganon were not going to be killed, he had no regrets anymore.
(I've done... everything I could. We must have bought at least some amount of time... I'm sorry, but the rest will have to be entrusted to them...)
Her hand—belonging to one whose true nature was a spear, in other words, a hand that could easily pierce human flesh—grabbed his collar.
"...'Coward.' Indeed, that was what others used to call you."
With force almost enough to rip his collar off, she pulled his face towards her—
Her lips were pressed upon his lips.
A soft sensation. The caress of breaths. The wriggling of tongues.
A moment later, when she moved her lips away—their saliva could be seen adhering to her tongue.
"It would be too cowardly if you had done this on purpose."
"I intended to kill you but I changed my mind. When you showed me... these."
She stroked his face with her fingers, stroking the tattoo of the dragon eye that was supposed to be on his cheek.
"This Dragon Wound, this hair, this nose, and these eyes... Why did you bare them only now? Excessively unchanged, excessively nostalgic. And those feelings are screaming that killing you would be such a shame, hence—"
"Hence, I shall claim you as my trophy."
An urge to laugh flowed into his heart. His entire body almost became drained of strength.
She was very strong. He was very weak. Had he already become hers?
"The right to refuse... Denied?"
"Indeed. It would trouble me greatly if you died."
She separated from him and stood up.
Then looking down at him with those rarely revealed eyes, she said with an even rarer smile:
"Because I love/hate you from the bottom of my heart."
Contradictory words spoken by the spear that embraced contradiction, they were quite incomprehensible yet very easy to understand at the same time. This was very contradictory too.
"Haha," the superintendent laughed in a hoarse voice. As soon as he laughed, his entire body lost strength. Slipping, he lost balance and his back struck the ground. His eyelids felt so heavy too. No matter how hard he tried to keep them open, all he could see was the sky.
"So—time to do what needs to be done."
This voice was heard together with receding footsteps.
"...Having agreed to let me decide, have you any objections? Master."
"Haha~ None at all."
"I'm so angry that only Granaury gets to be satisfied! Hey Maximilian, I believe it's the right time to reward me for working hard! In other words, umm, give me the same sense of satisfaction!"
"Yes yes, a kiss, right?"
"Now isn't the time for that sort of behavior, is it?"
"Muununu, hey! Granaury, don't get in my way! You big-boobed monster!"
The victors gradually left in a noisy departure.
Nearby, Zenon could be heard murmuring:
"...Philanderer. This is one more item that needs to be reported to Liz."
Carrying all sorts of meanings.
The superintendent muttered in reply: "Give me a break."
The panting still had not subsided. Haruaki hammered his fist against his trembling knee cap in condemnation. Now was not the time to stop moving.
Due to Satsuko's giant slash attacks and Fourteen's projectiles, the asphalt underfoot was rendered unrecognizable. One could easily trip in a single moment of carelessness. And tripping under the current circumstances—could easily mean immediate death.
"Haruaki, take a break first!"
Fear used her limbs to block the bricks flying from Fourteen like stray gunfire. Although Fear was not human, the objects thrown by Fourteen were strengthened by cursed power after all. Deflecting attacks with her limbs could not persist without injuries. She was covered in bloody scratches. This heartrending sight made Haruaki gnash his teeth.
Konoha and Kotetsu were attacking relentlessly but Satsuko and Fourteen's speed was overwhelming. A back and forth battle of three dimensions which they had never handled before, fought with high-speed tacit understanding and coordination faster than Haruaki's naked eye could follow.
Midair, Satsuko emerged from under Fourteen's cape to conduct a surprise attack. Kotetsu dodged the attack but was struck by a broom that Fourteen took the opportunity to fire, causing him to fall, hitting the ground upside down. A new depression was created in the asphalt. Konoha tried to ambush Satsuko on the school building's outer wall from behind, but her barehanded chop was absorbed by «Karma Speed». Just as she bit her lip and tried to grab Satsuko's body, Fourteen immediately shot dishes from a blind spot.
"Mode: «Cushioning Munemori»!"
Half of the dishes were blocked by Kuroe's hair but the remainder passed between the strands of hair to strike Konoha's shoulder. Konoha frowned and lost balance. Satsuko swung «Karma Speed» but Kirika extended Chupacabra Bandage to restrain her. The white bandage was sliced into shreds, fluttering in the air. Then—
"Oh, Konoha-san's attack just now allowed Satsuko to finish charging up—Karma!"
The giant slash flew towards Konoha who had lost balance and was falling down. Unable to dodge completely, Konoha used a barehanded chop to strike the unavoidable portion of the attack... However, the gap in power was too great. She flew away diagonally, smashing into a window on the first floor of the school building.
"I-I am fine... Probably..."
Despite the many pieces of glass fragments falling from her body, Konoha immediately returned to position. Surely she was wounded, but she shook her head lightly. As though absolutely refusing to show any weakness, she glared resolutely at Satsuko and Fourteen.
Haruaki caught his breath while discreetly checking out his companions' appearances.
No one was unscathed, whether Fear, Konoha, Kotetsu or Kuroe. As for Kirika, who had just healed from getting struck in the shoulder by a projectile, Haruaki could not say for certain whether she was unscathed or not.
Everyone was panting. Muscles stiff, they stared at the formidable foes before them.
Satsuko and Fourteen. «Karma Speed»—Just by obtaining such a slender sword, they had changed, becoming so strong that they had far surpassed their former selves in previous fights.
"Hey Cow Tits! Is there no way to break the stalemate!?"
"I would have done it if there were. Please think a little... Naturally, it has to be a solution that does not include you joining the fray!"
At this rate, the tide would surely turn against them. Haruaki looked around him. A way to break the stalemate, was there one? Something they could use. Information beneficial to them.
He discovered that there was one thing that had improved compared to earlier.
"But... look, while we've been fighting, all the students seem to have gone home after school..."
"Oh, that's right. Is the student who just left the shoe lockers over there the last one?"
Kuroe glanced at the shoe lockers and commented. Kirika nodded lightly.
"...So we don't have to obediently play with them anymore, right? There's no need to heed their absolutely ridiculous threat, so let's just do what's necessary to move on—"
"Oh my~ Really~?"
Satsuko's confident voice interrupted Kirika. She and Fourteen landed lightly on the ground simultaneously.
"Then Satsuko can finally go all-out?"
"Satsuko has been enduring, rather, Satsuko thinks that having clearly explained to have no wish to take hostages, but turning out to take hostages in the end, that would look really bad~ Although Satsuko is very troubled by the possibility of you people escaping, conversely, there's no need to worry about getting others caught up... Yes, we will work our hardest to prevent them from escaping, Fourt!"
"Yes. Mayhem permitted—«Geist»!"
More than previously, ominous blue ghostlights moved at high speed in complicated patterns, blinking and flashing to produce an afterimage like a magic circle. The movements of these ghostlights felt rather familiar.
Then from the center of the magic circle, a certain object slowly emerged.
Gigantic and stout, with enough mass to flatten everything—A pillar.
"Meaning you can use it on us without reserve now that there are no hostages!?"
"Damn it! Be careful, everyone!"
Faced with the giant pillar's overwhelming pressure, Haruaki's group all tensed their bodies. What to do? That sort of thing was impossible to block. They could only dodge. But given their long and narrow location, would they be able to evade that enormous thing completely—?
But just at that moment, Haruaki saw Satsuko's eyebrow twitch once, her gaze directed somewhere behind them.
Haruaki looked back—and was struck by dizziness coming from the depths of his brain.
Behind them, walking out leisurely from the courtyard behind the connecting corridor was—
"Ohoh~ What an intense battlefield here."
It was none other than the Commander of the Draconians. Wrapped around and walking beside him respectively, Riko and Granaury were inexplicably naked. What the heck!? As much as Haruaki wanted to exclaim at the absurdity, now was not the time.
They were caught on both sides, with Satsuko and Fourteen in front and Pendragon behind.
A despairing situation.
"...Satsuko, what now? It's the Commander."
"Wa~ But the pillar's summoning can't be stopped now, right? And since it's the Commander, there's no need to worry about getting him caught up in it. Just attack."
Without giving them time to think of countermeasures, Fourteen's summoned pillar flew straight at them. This was Fourteen's most powerful attack, which they had previously experienced in a past battle. A trump card that surpassed the level of cannons to approach that of siege weaponry.
Haruaki was about to jump away when he tripped over the uneven surface of the cracked asphalt ground.
Then he fell on the ground. His entire body shivered. He understood that this momentary misstep—was enough to be fatal.
Before he could even shout "Don't come over," Fear and Konoha had already rushed over to pick him up in their arms, using their bodies to shield him. Kotetsu clicked his tongue while turning around to ready his tiger claws. Kuroe and Kirika also stopped running away and switched to postures for blocking the pillar—Despite the fact that it was totally impossible to block!
By this time, Fourteen's launched pillar was already fast approaching, impossible to evade—
Then there was massive crash that seemed to shatter the earth and the sky.
No pain. No pressure. If anything, all Harauki felt was the warmth and weight from Fear and Konoha's bodies lying on top of him.
Conversely, he could feel pebbles falling on his body in a clatter—Pebbles?
Greatly perplexed by this turn of events, Haruaki opened his eyes—
And was greeted by a completely unexpected sight.
"Hmm, I never thought the simple act of destroying something could be this fun."
Milky-white armor and a spear blade on the right fist. Pendragon had entered complete combat readiness—
Against the giant pillar flying head on, he punched straight.
With a large depression where it was making contact with his right fist and Granaury, the giant pillar stood still in the air. Who knew how Pendragon had exerted his force, but the giant pillar's cracks slowly expanded while the shower of stone fragments increased more and more—
Finally, the giant pillar shattered completely.
Haruaki's group could only react dumbstruck with their mouths gaping open. Why did Pendragon save them? Perhaps he was worried about Kuroe but even so, all he needed to do was pick her up and escape. Satsuko and Fourteen also seemed equally unable to understand his behavior. Staring in shock, Satsuko turned her face to the side and said:
"So, what do you want, Maximilian?"
"No matter what I want, I hope to end this as quickly as possible. Because the spoils of victory are waiting for me."
"Ahhh~ Got it. You guys be quiet now, this is very important."
After shaking his fist to fling away fragments from the giant pillar, Pendragon turned around and walked towards them in an unguarded manner. Haruaki's group frantically stood up and regrouped. Fear and the girls tensed their nerves.
However, Pendragon's target was only one person. "As expected," one could say? He made a beeline for Kuroe.
"Ohoh~ I guess I expected this, but I'm the target... Right?"
Saying that, Kuroe was just about to retreat backwards when Pendragon stopped walking before he got into the risky range where he could attack—
Suddenly, he knelt down on the spot.
As Kuroe tilted her head in puzzlement, Pendragon even reached into his armor to take out something.
Kneeling like a knight, with an expression that could not be more serious, he presented the rose to Kuroe.
Then in a solemn voice, he said:
"Ningyouhara Kuroe, I've fallen for you. Become my woman."
Satsuko, Fourteen, and even Riko and Granaury...
Apart from Pendragon himself, everyone present simultaneously exclaimed in surprise.
"W-W... What? What is he talking about?"
"This must be some kind of ploy! We're not falling for it!"
Haruaki's group was plunged into chaos.
But only Kuroe and Pendragon were staring at each other, exuding surprisingly serious vibes. Intimidated by their aura—Haruaki and the others stopped talking and simply watched developments unfold.
Kuroe's face was calm. It was hard to tell if the slight curl in her lips was a smile or some other emotion.
"Hoho, a rose huh... How cliché."
"Don't roses need to be given when confessing to a woman? I went out of my way to buy one."
"I don't really want to say this, but aren't you just after my abilities?"
"I admit that before, I only wanted you in order to get stronger, but it's different now. I, Maximilian Pendragon, hereby swear as a man that I now hold genuine feelings for you."
"Oh~ Then tell me what aspects about me you're in love with?"
"First of all, the initial trigger—that's your dazzling willpower, the commitment to taking your own life while smiling to the very end. That is precisely strength. To me, it is extremely dazzling strength."
Then Pendragon smiled boldly and said:
"There's a lot more. I'm the type who discovers even more good points and things to like after falling for a woman. I like your lustrous hair, I like your unfathomable eyes, I like your tender baby-like skin, I like your cute little arms and legs, and I also like your mumbling voice."
"Hmm, a lolicon huh?"
"I remember I've mentioned before, haven't I? My strike zone is extremely wide."
Kuroe giggled. After a few seconds—
With increased seriousness in her voice, she asked:
"Do you still remember what I said?"
"Yes, you want freedom—Right? Of course, I will respect you as much as feasibly possible. But even so, once you're with me, there will be some changes, probably. I might also force you to do certain things. Hence, I can only say this."
Gazing at Kuroe, Pendragon lowered his face.
In other words, he bowed his head vulnerably—
"...Please, give me a portion of your freedom."
After a long, a very long silence...
Kuroe's tiny hand lightly took the rose presented to her by Pendragon.
"...When you want to make a girl yours, the first thing you ought to do is to express your feelings. Yes, you finally took the first step."
Pendragon looked up again.
"You said—you don't dislike me, right? Then what's your reply?"
"Slow down, don't be so impatient, things are just finally beginning... The way I see it, that's right, I need to seriously consider for a while."
This time, Kuroe made a gentle smile distinctly.
Pendragon also breathed out through his nose.
"I hope you won't make me too anxious. What a bad girl you are, making men impatient... Although I don't dislike that."
"If the number of roses was a hundred instead of one, things might be different, you know?"
Kuroe waved the rose lightly and said in a joking tone of voice.
"Man, what an oversight. I was thinking if I carried too many, they'd only end up getting snapped in a fight."
"If you're willing to do other things to make up for the missing ninety-nine roses, my answer might come a little faster."
"Oh~? What an attractive proposal. Then how about I play with the hassling children on your behalf? Will something trivial like that count?"
"More than enough."
Pendragon straightened his knees and stood up, then turned his body's direction.
Towards Satsuko and Fourteen.
"Uwah~ I'm not motivated at all, and giving roses is unbelievable."
"Fighting for someone else's love... What an exciting/demoralizing development, master."
"Stop complaining, I won't forget to let you two enjoy yourselves to your hearts' content."
Kuroe turned to her stunned companions and said:
"So, looks like we don't need to fight Sacchi anymore. Let's go."
"U-Uh, that's wonderful..."
However, Haruaki still felt troubled. He turned his neck to examine them. Staring intently at each other were Pendragon and Satsuko. Pendragon's face was showing full confidence whereas Satsuko and Fourteen, who knew his power level, of course, were making expressions of maximum concentration—In other words, they were not paying attention to Haruaki's group at all. It seemed possible to run past them right now.
"Yachi, anyway, let's make use of this situation. We don't have time after all."
"Indeed, I concur. Now is not the time for fighting unnecessary opponents."
"Let's go, Haruaki, do it now!"
This time, Haruaki took care not to trip on the asphalt ground that was torn open, while passing by the Draconians who were facing off. Satsuko and Fourteen did not cause them any more trouble.
Although they had escaped the threat posed by Satsuko and Fourteen for now, Haruaki somehow felt that another huge problem had risen in its place. Because he could not ignore it, Haruaki felt compelled to ask:
"Kuroe, i-is it really okay...?"
"Yeah, since he's serious, I have to think over it seriously too. Besides, I don't dislike a wild man either."
Running while showing her usual air of aloofness, Kuroe grinned and laughed:
"It's just that the person who fell in love with me happens to be the world's strongest man, right? Nothing more to it."
Only after confirming they had run away did Pendragon speak:
"So... Although it's just for a moment, I did see your way of fighting. I can't call you Squishy-ko anymore."
"Eh? Uh, umm, what do you mean by that?"
"«Tailender Syndrome»—Ontenzaki Satsuko. As minimum courtesy, one has to understand your nickname properly. After obtaining an excellent weapon, your strength level has risen dramatically, reaching the level of the «High Singles»... Coincidentally, Nirushaaki is no longer around, so I can promote you to «Wings», which is quite fitting for your fighting style of jumping around."
"U-Unbelievably, the same as Nirushaaki-sama, Satsuko doesn't dare... Uh, thank you, Commander."
After some fidgeting, Satsuko looked up.
"Umm, Satsuko has one favor to ask, by the way. Although someone weak like Satsuko has no right to ask."
"Commander, since you're praising me of having «High Singles» level... Can Satsuko have permission? Let Satsuko get carried away and try to set the target to be surpassing you, Commander?"
She was smiling. As usual, smiling cowardly. An unshackled smile. An insane smile. Ahhh, perhaps she was actually the genuine Draconian.
"Biting reflexively when delicious food is set before our eyes. That is very much our style. Making such a suggestion is only natural... No need to seek my permission. But in that case, this rare opportunity to bestow the «Wings» upon you will be lost before you even get tattooed."
"Eh!? A-As expected, issuing such a farfetched challenge means the promotion has to be withdrawn as punishment?"
"No no, there are two implications here. One is if you defeat me, then you'll gain the «Head» that is tattooed on my chest, not the «Wings»—"
As though opposing her—
Pendragon grinned as he spoke, taking a step forward.
"Secondly, you won't be able to get any tattoo at all if you lose to me. After fighting me when I'm cutting loose, what do you fancy your chances of survival to be?"
Then—Haruaki's team arrived at the sports ground.
Tents of different sizes were arranged on the sports ground. It looked like a camping site.
The first unusual situation they saw was on the far side—the place reaching the sports ground if circling around the school building.
She was fighting in close quarters against four or five knights. Reflexively, Haruaki wanted to run over to her—But instantly, he seemed to see her make a chin raising motion. It felt like she was trying to convey something to them through her gaze.
"Meaning we should do what we're supposed to do?"
"...Yeah, after all, she spent so much effort to stall those guys for our sake."
There was less than an hour until the time limit of 2pm. They had to pick up the pace.
The group ran into the sports ground. Several knights attacked them but their fighting style was much simpler compared to Satsuko and Fourteen just now. Although their durability made things difficult to some extent, Konoha and Kotetsu still managed to render them incapable of fighting for now.
"I thought there'd be more knights waiting for us, but didn't expect so few...!"
Kirika nodded and said:
"If you think about it calmly, we've defeated many knights so far. Un Izoey must have taken out quite a few along the way here and she's holding those guys back right now... Also just now..."
"...Satsuko also eliminated many people. Looks like... Quite a lot."
Fear narrowed her eyes and spoke quietly. Haruaki recalled how Satsuko and Fourteen were attacking dead knights as if it was just a way to kill time. The knights still deserved pity despite being enemies.
Haruaki glanced at Fear to inspect her expression. She looked quite calm, but was that really the case? After seeing dead bodies, was she really unshaken? Was there any unease in her heart? Although he had many things he wanted to ask, there was no time at the moment.
The target tent was obvious at a glance. That tent was clearly much bigger, more magnificent, and its fabric was very high-class. Also—
Sleif was standing sternly at the tent's entrance.
"That name is incorrect. How it pains me for stinking Wathes to address me by this sloppily selected name. My true name is Dainsleif."
Haruaki smiled deliberately.
"But clearly you were the one who introduced yourself with that name."
"I never expected this hassle with your group to persist until now. Would you introduce yourself seriously to a gutter rat on the road side?"
Her shoulders shook lightly.
"...What a revolting embarrassment, a miscalculation... Nauseating. Who could have expected you loathsome lot to advance all the way."
"We're not going to let you guys do as you please. Step aside. We won't allow 'Dominionization' to succeed."
Sleif—or more accurately, Dainsleif—looked up lightly under her visor-like helmet.
"Your objective is «Dieu le veut» after all? Foolish."
"What's so foolish, you idiot? You're the fool. Looks like you don't even have comrades to rely on now?"
Fear was right. Now that no knights had shown up as reinforcements, it meant that there were no more knights remaining. She had sent out all manpower. Or perhaps all the knights were no longer capable of fighting. Hence, were the knights currently fighting Un Izoey the last of them?
This left only this girl and the elderly Dominion Lord.
Two people. Just two people, that was all.
In that case, it should be possible to stop them. Dainsleif had lost «Karma Speed». No matter how strong she was, she could not possibly be stronger than Pendragon. They probably did not have the same tacit understanding and coordination as Satsuko and Fourteen to run circles around them. It should be possible to stop them—
Relief was causing an uplifting feeling to surge from the depths of Haruaki's chest. This infectious feeling was probably spreading to his teammates who entered combat stances with vigor in their eyes. No need to hesitate, all they needed to do was move forward now—
Dainsleif went "hmph" in mockery then answered Fear's assertion:
"Oh? Do you really believe that?"
Dainsleif immediately extended her arm horizontally—
"The Lord has commanded, this view-obstructing tent is no longer needed once you lot arrived. Don't bore the Lord, go on and finish acting out the final scene in joy!"
Using her bare hand, Dainsleif sliced the tense supporting rope in front of the tent. Then lifting her leg lightly, she sliced another supporting rope.
A strong gust of wind happened to blow, greatly flipping up the tent that had been liberated from its restraints. Starting from the front half whose supporting ropes had been severed by Dainsleif, the tent flew back as though being peeled off—
Hence, the tent's interior was presented before their eyes. Support columns left emptily in their place. Tables with vases. Neat rows of armor as decorations. A long red carpet. At one end of the carpet was a platform one level higher than the ground, with something resembling a throne. No—Not resembling.
It was a throne.
Chin resting on his hand while sitting in his wheelchair, Dominion Lord Trinac Agana was there, his deep-set eyes staring at them. Haruaki saw Fear hold her breath, but she immediately bit her lip and returned the Dominion Lord's gaze with determination.
A spear was embedded in the wheelchair. According to Un Izoey, this was Zilch Ground—the "mobile territory" prepared to circumvent the curse of "dying as soon as one exited the territory." A different spear—next to the throne, within the Dominion Lord's reach, another spear was planted in the ground.
That was «Dieu le veut»—the spear which had harmed Kirika's body, using her fresh blood to stain these lands in preparation for this town's "Dominionization."
The object they needed to destroy.
It was already in sight, available for their taking once the female knight, whose true nature was a cursed sword, and the elderly man were defeated.
Once they were defeated, everything could go back to normal.
The Yachi home as usual. The school as usual. Daily life as usual.
(Great, it'll be soon. Success is really almost here...!)
Feeling impatient, Haruaki could not help but take a step forward.
However, he saw Dainsleif shrug.
"How pitifully shallow—Precisely the spinal reflexes of a gutter rat's. Even if it is a trap, your eyes can only see the bait inside."
"Your eyes are worse than the blind's. The knights guarding the Lord are right here."
There were no signs of anyone apart from the Dominion Lord and Sleif in this place, the original location of the tent.
No—Considering humanoid objects, there were some.
The gloomy silver armor placed at the entrance and along the two sides of the red carpet. Each set of armor was standing motionlessly with a sword resting vertically on the ground in front of them, held in both hands. Immobile decorations. They should be decorations—
"Please issue the command, my lord."
"Yes. Awaken—«Wittelsbach Knights»!"
With impeccable motions, the two rows of armor simultaneously raised their fists to their chests.
The clanging sounds from the armor were superimposed. Haruaki's group stared wide-eyed.
"These are not humans, right? I sense no presence."
Kotetsu frowned and groaned.
"Speaking of which, are these sets of cursed armor? Absolutely ridiculous...!"
"Your brains are absolutely ridiculous. This is the most ancient and illustrious knightly order. An order of royal guards who only mobilize on command. The curse consists of sixteen dead knights. In other words—A cursed chivalric order."
The sets of armor grated as they moved, then even proceeded to walk, raising their silver broadswords and adjusting to an overhand grip while their helmets shook with ominous metallic sounds.
"I've never heard of that kind of curse...!"
"A foolish query—A curse is an acute poison defiling all concepts. There exists nothing in this world that cannot be cursed."
The Dominion Lord answered Haruaki while watching the sets of armor slowly enter formation. Then as though to pass time, he started to explain the origins of the «Wittelsbach Knights».
Reportedly, they were the tragic result of the courageous chivalric order who had fought in a last stand to defend the throne room during a certain small nation's demise. Locking themselves in the throne room to defend their king, they waited for reinforcement. During this time, the enemy army outside the door kept assaulting them psychologically in various ways. Killing, violating the wives or children of the knights, making them listen to the screams of their loved ones. For the sake of their king, the knights kept enduring and held their position for a very long time. But actually, the king was already assassinated in the back room. Everything was a sham perpetuated by the enemy nation in order to toy with them for amusement. In the end, the knights walked out of the main door, laughing madly while cursing everything in the world. Then they fought to the death as martyrs.
"They feel neither pain nor fear, because they are the knights who fought until death, simply following their king's orders foolishly. Having become their lord, by royal authority I have commanded them to 'take action in accordance with hatred against Wathes.' So long as this royal decree stands, they will always follow my orders. That being said, should I lose my status as king, in that very instant, they will probably attempt to kill me as a result of the curse."
While the Dominion Lor was speaking, the sets of silver armor finished entering formation. Then raising their silver broadswords towards Haruaki's group, they took a step forward. Sixteen sets of cursed armor. Cursed knights.
Against these unexpected enemies, Konoha gritted her teeth, readied her knifehand stance, and said:
"Hmph. It has been nagging at me how surprisingly, you people rely on cursed tools so much!"
"Shut up, Wathe. Once all objectives are accomplished, I will be responsible for destroying them!"
"Truth be told, all you do is talk a good game!"
Konoha and Kotetsu engaged the first detachment of the Wittelsbach Knights. Using their arms and legs imbued with the sharpness of blades, they clashed with the armored knights' broadswords, producing loud impacts. Probably increasing in hardness after being cursed, even Konoha and Kotetsu were unable to slice through them.
With a total of sixteen enemies, it was impossible for just two people, Konoha and Kotetsu, to hold back all of them. One of the knights approached Haruaki first.
"Haruaki, hurry and retreat!"
Fear dodged the broadsword and punched the knight's helmet from below. This impact caused the part of the helmet covering the mouth to come loose—A completely desiccated skeleton could be seen underneath. Hollow eye sockets, jaws devoid of teeth. Haruaki could not help but shudder. Fear's face also twitched stiffly but now was not the time to be concerned with what lay underneath. Unleashing a kick with full force, she made the armor back away.
"Chupacabra Bandage... Damn it, so heavy!"
"I'm having a rough time too...! Although now's not the time for disheartened words!"
Kirika and Kuroe also escaped while extending their respective weapons. But compared to the armored knights' mass and pressure, their bandage and hair were far too fragile.
(Damn it... And to think we're so close...)
Behind the silver knights, Dainsleif's figure on the red carpet was gradually receding. After walking over to the side of the Dominion Lord's wheelchair, she turned around and stood there motionlessly. Beneath the helmet, her eyes were calmly observing the situation. Haruaki could sense her pride and determination in protecting the Dominion Lord no matter what happened.
Standing between her and Haruaki's group were the sixteen deceased knights, clad in heavy armor, unable to feel pain, fear or fatigue. Let alone breaking past them to advance, simply avoiding lethal injuries was already taking full effort.
Worse of all—They were slowly getting cornered. Whether quantity or quality, the enemies were putting them under pressure.
Trying out every method they could think of, Haruaki's group still found themselves helpless.
Haruaki also had Konoha transform into a Japanese sword.
Even a sword drawing attack from the Japanese sword failed to slice through the steel armor of the knights.
"Shallow to the point of evoking pity. Even if you are a Japanese sword cursed over many years, they are also sets of armor that were likewise cursed over many years to likewise acquire astounding power. Furthermore, now that the concept of 'I am a knight' has been fortified by 'Dominionization,' don't believe mistakenly that they can be easily sliced."
Sleif mocked from her position standing next to the wheelchair. Haruaki and Konoha backed away to catch his breath.
Although fingers were missing from his left hand, it did not affect his control of Konoha very much, just that it was still hurting a lot. The shock generated from the impact against hard armor would attack his amputation wound directly, seeping into his body through the exposed flesh, bouncing randomly inside. Haruaki gritted his teeth and deliberately ignored the pain.
"Our attacks are not entirely ineffective... As long as we keep attacking the same spot multiple times, it should be possible to defeat them, but..."
The Japanese sword shook slightly as though in worry. She was probably worried about the pain in his left hand.
Haruaki gripped her tighter to tell her "don't worry." If something so trivial as his fingers hurting would give Konoha pause, it could get problematic.
"If it works, I'm willing to try anything. But the enemy isn't giving us any time to try things at our leisure...!"
Two other knights attacked them at the same time. Haruaki jumped back again. Using her full strength, Fear smashed her body against one of the knights, using the momentum to make him crash into the other, thus buying time for Haruaki and Konoha to follow up with an attack. However, Fear frowned and held her shoulder.
"H-Hey! Are you okay!?"
"Huff... Don't worry. Just a little shoulder dislocation, I've already pushed it back in."
While Fear was answering gruffly, a vigorous shout was heard. Kotetsu was locked in a scuffle with the knights. Attacking head on, mustering full force, he was engaging the most number of knights but as a result, his injuries were also the most severe. The color of blood on his body flashed in and out of view while pieces of his torn clothing dangled.
Speaking of injury, everyone present was not unscathed. Although not a lot of time had passed since the «Wittelsbach Knights» were mobilized, Haruaki's group was already all covered in wounds. This was not only due to the armored knights being too powerful but also because they had spent too much energy fighting Taciturn, Satsuko and Fourteen, as well as the other knights—
A certain ice-cold feeling silently crept up Haruaki's spine.
A feeling—one that he did not wish to notice—one that he did not wish to articulate. A premonition.
The splattering of fresh blood. Kirika was retreating when her legs tripped from fatigue. Chasing her closely, an armored knight made a thrust with his broadsword, piercing her abdomen.
Kuroe reacted in alarm. While extending her hair to pull Kirika's body over, she also used hardened hair as a shield to slide in front of Kirika's body. After the knight withdrew his broadsword, Kirika collapsed forward, clutching her belly. Haruaki frantically wanted to rush forward to cover her, but he was also facing the approach of armored knights which he could not ignore.
His back shivered again from a sense of chill.
(Damn it... We already got this far...)
A small voice was trying to catch his attention.
A small voice was forcing him to admit.
(The Dominion Lord is clearly over there, the spear is clearly visible over there...!)
Extremely gloomy and dark emotions were stirring in the bottom of his heart, attempting to devour all of his willpower and vitality.
(At this... rate...)
He tried his hardest not to think about the next words.
Through moving his body in a state of self-oblivion, he pushed those words away to the other side of his quickened breathing.
Haruaki did everything he could to feign ignorance of the ominous premonition climbing up his spine.
However, he had no idea how long this could last.
Most likely due to excessive loss of blood, with every breath, her pierced abdomen would convulse, producing pain as though someone were stirring her insides. The sensation of flesh squirming. It felt unpleasant even though she was used to it.
Just earlier, Fourteen had also sliced off a bit of her flesh. Although immortal, her physical stamina was not limitless. Her vision blinked and flashed, her entire body was filled with fatigue, causing the pain to feel even more clear and distinct.
Sprawling, it was impossible to see the surrounding situation. Through her arm, Kirika exerted all the strength she could muster, flipping herself to lie on her back. Then all she could do was breath repeatedly and swallow the blood flowing in reverse from the depths of her throat. There was an immoral flavor.
Hazy consciousness, blurred vision.
Suddenly, she noticed a pair of legs over her head.
Dressed in a black lab coat, the man was grinning as usual—Looking down at her. From below, she looked at the upside-down face of the man she hated the most in the entire world.
Was this guy here all along? By the way, what kind of situation was she in until just now? She could not quite remember. But since he was present now, he must have been present.
"Oh my~ What a crisis here. The «Wittelsbach Knights» eh? ...Even I didn't expect them to have this trump card up their sleeve."
"What's up, little sister? Although you won't die, it still pains my heart to see my little sister on the verge of death... I'll save you if you ask me for help, okay?"
He narrowed his eyes mischievously, then said:
"But in return—I'll demand that you return to my side, that's all."
"Don't be... ridiculous."
Words carrying the taste of blood. A reflexive answer that could not be more natural.
Kirika turned her blurry gaze. They were in sight. They had bled aplenty, but still fought vigorously. Blown away, falling, standing up. Wounds increasing monotonically, breathing likewise quickening monotonically—
This situation was despairing.
At this rate, they were going to be wiped out soon.
Even without losing their lives, once "Dominionization" finished, the result would still be the same. There was only a little time left.
That home, the meaning of its existence, everything would vanish.
The very meaning of their existence here would die.
Kirika's lips twisted as though laughing and crying.
"Like hell anyone wants... to ask for your help? What I want to talk about, is something else..."
So pathetic she was shedding tears. Towards the emptiness of the future, she wanted to laugh.
Lacking oxygen, her mind kept spinning. Her vision of them, fighting courageously in desperation, also spun haphazardly.
Inside her mind, there was only doubt. Why? Why? Why?
She did not want to do this, neither did she want to do that.
She only wanted to see smiling faces. She wanted to drink tea in leisure. She wanted to laugh together over silly little things. She wanted to enjoy delicious food. In that living room, together with him. Or together with everyone, forever and ever.
In other words, simply stated—
"I... They... only want to obtain happiness."
"This is quite a general wish again. But I believe it's very commonplace."
Her lips replied on their own. A hazy consciousness was causing her words to be fragmented.
"Indeed, we just want to obtain happiness. So, tell me how, Yamimagari Pakuaki."
"You don't even know the answer to this kind of question? How inane... Ahhh, absolutely ridiculous..."
Instantly, this catchphrase lit a burning inferno in her heart, even capable of erasing the red of blood, this fiery passion flowed out of her throat, losing control.
"Tell me! Say that you know! Just like always!"
She glared at his face. Making a fist to pound the ground, she continued to shout:
"Why did things come to this? I just want to obtain happiness. Everyone just wants to obtain happiness, that's all. Try and make me... make everyone obtain happiness! Tell me, Yamimagari Pakuaki, tell me that the method is already known!"
This was childish venting, a yell of resignation. She understood this point very well. However, that was all she could do. Because this was the only impulse lingering in her dying body.
Her yelling consumed oxygen that was originally meant for breathing. So hard to breathe, her vision blurred.
Pakuaki's giggling grin—entered into view.
"I will accept these words of yours as a challenge."
Kirika felt perplexed. What did he mean?
What was he talking about?
"Hohoho, what you talked about is definitely unknown. And since it is unknown, that constitutes sufficient reason for us to take action—Doesn't it?"
On the boundary of consciousness, Kirika was struck by a question immediately—
Why was Pakuaki turning his head as though seeking an opinion from someone on the side?
Somewhere very far away from the school—
In front of a certain room inside their rented apartment...
Alice Bivorio Basskreigh was currently on the phone with a familiar supplier. A regular conversation of information exchange akin to periodic updates. Considered a part of casual chatting, she would take the opportunity to ask how they were doing lately. She asked about the town where she had visited in the past.
"I see now... I understand. Thank you very much."
'I really don't want to see those Knights Dominion guys expand their influence further. It'd be a huge problem for me if business gets increasingly difficult... Here's to balance and world peace. Bravo. So long now.'
She exhaled while putting the cellphone into her pocket after the call ended. Next to her, a girl was sitting in the corridor, staring in boredom at the door in front of them.
"They seem to be in quite a crisis over there."
"That geezer's voice is too loud. I almost heard everything. How incompetent."
The girl—Nikaidou Kururi—glanced sideways at Bivorio then asked:
"So what are we gonna do?"
Bivorio closed her eyes lightly and pondered.
Her feelings towards them were complicated. She used to be their enemy and fought them. Then she realized the error of her ways. They also made her learn that her way of life was wrong. Saved by them? In one sense, probably, but in another sense, probably not. That being said, she had no idea what they thought on this matter.
But if one were to take the perspective of being saved by them, this point was quite clear. They had saved her from imprisonment as well as the bleeding Kururi. Hence, it was at least certain that they were owed a favor. However...
Bivorio sighed. Putting aside for now what their relationship was with her group—
"Even if we hurried over there now, it would probably be too late."
"...Right. Besides, we're not obliged to run all the way there to meddle in someone else's business. Speaking of which, it's not like it matters to us whether they live or die."
Kururi muttered as though arguing.
Bivorio relaxed her expression slightly.
The supplier had told her about their current situation. The town was facing "Dominionization." The school's students were taken hostage. The Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion's Lord had arrived with a legion under his command. Fear-in-Cube was feeling frightened by her own power. Although details were scarce, the Draconians were also causing trouble to them.
Just from the description, the situation sounded extremely despairing. However—
Whenever any member of their group came to mind, it was never in isolation. Like a chain reaction, one would naturally think of another person appearing beside them. Another person holding hands. Another person smiling together.
In other words—Them, living in the set of bonds known as "them."
"They have reliable comrades. If comrade sounds strange as a term... You can also say that they treasure the interpersonal bonds. These bonds will become their power."
"So... Can I be honest? That's super lame. It's not like this is manga aimed at teenagers."
"Interpersonal bonds becoming power... The same applies to us too."
"Hmph, how come I never noticed?"
"Oh my, is that really the case?"
She narrowed her eyes. In front of the two of them—what they had been gazing at all along—the door to a bedroom.
A certain traumatized family member had kept herself locked inside that door for eternity—
It slowly opened.
"Hmm? You're waiting for Elsie-san to come back? Oh my, MAX THANK YOU for real!"
Sent back by the Lab Chief's Nation, only reunited with Bivorio and Kururi several days prior, Elsie spoke while smiling tenderly. As for why she had entered the room like this, it was something she naturally suggested on her own initiative without anyone asking after she learned about the situation.
There was another woman behind Elsie.
Her best friend in the past was Elsie—Originally missing, later discovered to be badly wounded and protected by the Lab Chief's Nation until recently. Obediently holding hands with Elsie like a child was—
Oratorie Rabdulmunagh, the family's prided shut-in.
On her emaciated face was a smile that seemed shy, apologetic and timid at the same time.
Even so, her forceful and excessively cheery best friend still held her by the hand aggressively, taking a step out of the room just like that—
Still with a smile on her face, Bivorio said in a gentle tone of voice as though teaching her own child:
"See, Kururi? Forget about noticing or not noticing, isn't it right before your eyes?"
And then far away, Haruaki and company were just as Bivorio described.
Looking at their power.
Accompanied by surprise.
And a bit of nostalgia.
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