Chapter 2 - Do Something, to Something, at Somewhere / "When contents of the cube are exposed"
"Look at your plate when you're eating! The food is falling off the plate!"
Fear answered yes. Again. She'd answered the same word several times already but her eyes were fixated on the rectangular box in the corner of the room.
"Hmmmm. I'd thought that you'd say something clichéd like, 'What are those small people doing inside that box?!'."
"D-Don't take me for a fool. I know how that thing works. This box just shows a place far from here. And the power of electricity makes it possible to record the past. It's true that this is my first time seeing one for real but, uh, it's just like what I imagined. I wasn't astonished by it, ha-ha-ha..."
She let out a false laugh while making a serious face. Her fork wandered around her plate, though it was empty. The newscaster on the television said, "Good morning, everyone! Let's do our best for this day!" and Fear answered, "Yes. I don't know you but I wish you luck," with unnecessary politeness.
"Hey Fear, hold this. I'll teach you how to use the television."
"What is this?"
"Try pushing the obvious red button. Direct it at the television."
Accepting the remote control from Haruaki's hand, Fear apprehensively pushed the red button just as she was told.
"I-It went blank!?"
She looked astounded as she reported what happened to Haruaki. He told her to try pushing the button again.
"I-It lit up again!?"
She reported again with exactly the same expression.
"That's the power button. Keep the television off when you're not using it. Although there are various other buttons, don't touch them randomly. The only buttons you're allowed to push are the ones with numbers written on them. Go ahead and try them one by one."
"Are you sure it's alright? I'm gonna push it? You hear me, I'm going to!"
The channel changed to a different news program doing a segment on sports. The sudden scene from a Formula One race, which Haruaki did not expect, caused Fear to shout "Watch out!" and duck down.
"So, that's how it works. You push the buttons and the channel changes. Whatever happens, the images won't come out from the television so you don't need to worry."
"I-I knew that! It's just that... er... yes! It's just that you have to be prepared for the unexpected! No one knows what'll happen next, uh-huh."
Fear tried pushing other buttons. Haruaki noticed that a faint blushing on her pale cheeks. She only stopped pushing different buttons when the channel switched to a weather report. Her finger went still and her eyes stared at the television in awe.
"Is that the... sea?"
Haruaki answered affirmatively and she whispered softly, her eyes still fixed on the monitor,
"...I never had a chance to see it. I didn't think that it would be so big."
Different shades were behind those eyes. There was the shade of admiration... and there was also a bit of disappointment.
"It looks a lot colder and darker than what I expected..."
"That's because there are rain clouds coming. It's completely different in summer."
"We also have one here, but it's on the opposite side of town. We can go someday if you like."
Fear shook her head vaguely. Haruaki could not tell if it was a yes or a no.
The doorbell rang and Haruaki went to the front door carrying his bag. Konoha was waiting behind the door, smiling. Konoha usually went to school together with him when she didn't have work on student council or club activities.
"Okay, let's go."
"Hmmm... What's the meaning of this?"
"We're going to school. Didn't I tell you that we have to go to school during weekdays?"
"Well, yeah. We're in the same year, after all."
Haruaki finished putting on his shoes, stood up and pointed at Fear.
"I have an order for you today. It's about your work while I'm away at school."
"First, turn the television on like I told you earlier. Watch any program that you like. When you get hungry, there is some food in the kitchen. When you feel sleepy, go sleep. That would be all. I wish you luck."
"Yeah. Hey, I'm gonna teach you household chores later so be patient for today, okay?"
Fear pouted. Haruaki was puzzled. He couldn't think of any reason why Fear would be dissatisfied with his order. Konoha peeked over the front door, smiling like a saint.
"Don't tell me you can't take care of yourself alone because you're lonely?"
"W-Why you?! Who told you that I'm lonely?! I'd be glad that there won't be any more annoyance like you two! Oh, I'm so excited. The world on the television is waiting for me now!"
"You'll be fine alone then. Great. Splendid. Well, let's go now, Haruaki-kun. To the happy place called school. TOGETHER."
"A happy place you say? Hmph! I'd bet that you'll just use those great tits of yours to flirt with him! How shameless! C'mon, go now, go! I can't wait to be alone, you know!"
"Er—I'm kinda worried about Fear but I'll be late for school at this rate. It can't be helped. Let's go, Konoha."
They went out of the gate, towards the road. Konoha moved with light steps and Haruaki scratched his head. Fear was letting out a fierce snort as she watched their backs disappear from her vision. When she felt that they were gone, she let out a deep sigh. She sat down in front of the door. It was silent. Everything around her was still. The wooden ornament above the shoe rack. The patterns on the wooden ceiling. The mirror on the wall. The calendar besides it. She felt that the cold silence of those inanimate objects welcomed her—As if they knew that she used to be an inanimate object just like them.
She hugged her knees and narrowed her eyes. Tilting her head slightly, she looked at her silver hair sliding across her view while she whispered emptily.
"Jerk... Did you really have to leave me alone...?"
He was used to taking up weird passengers. It was natural since he worked in a place where different people come and go. He was a taxi driver stationed in front of the airport. In the past, he had black passengers who used the word FUCK in almost every sentence they used. He also had Chinese people who carried imitations of popular game consoles. He even had passengers of a Japanese family who asked to be brought to a forest or swamp where no one else lived. If he were to think back about every passenger he had, it would take forever. But—This passenger was the weirdest among all the passengers he had. The driver moved his eye over the back mirror to check again at the lady passenger he picked up earlier. She was a blonde Caucasian beauty who wore an elegant gown. That was normal. But, other than that, everything else about her was strange. Too strange. He wondered how she was able to board a public plane wearing THAT thing.
"I have this feeling that I am being watched."
Through the rear-view mirror, the driver could see the woman with a cigarette in her mouth, (probably intentionally) ignoring the "No Smoking" sign, with both smoke and fluent Japanese escaping her lips—There was also a faint metallic sound when she shrugged.
"Er, excuse me, miss...?"
"Oh. Not you too."
Who else could she be referring to? There was no one else in the taxi but them. The driver felt chills down his spine as the atmosphere grew ever more ominous with time. They were still quite far from the neighborhood of the hotel she had named, but one should not discriminate against customers. Thinking he ought to lighten the mood, the driver made conversation.
"You speak Japanese very well. I've had many foreign passengers before but you're the most—"
"The most eccentric?"
The driver felt as if an icicle had impaled him from throat to anus. Somehow, he was able to regain his composure and replied.
"Aside from the fact that you speak the best Japanese among the passengers that I've had, you're also the, um—most beautiful, ma'am."
"Hmm. I wonder if all the taxi drivers in this country are this trained in offering compliments? I say it is just what you may expect from Japan, a nation of politeness. How splendid."
It seemed that the driver had answered correctly. He calmed down a bit hearing the soft laughter coming from his passenger.
"It is not just a compliment, ma'am, not at all."
"Haha, I don't really mind even if it was a lie. My favorite author said in one of his books that 'You should bear in mind that a lie is the key to every happiness, benefit, reputation, and wealth.' —It is an anti-social statement though."
"Er, never heard of it before, ma'am... I suppose he's a foreign author?"
"Indeed. Marquis Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade is known for his anti-social views."
After the passenger explained that to the driver, she started to laugh again. The driver wondered what was so funny.
"Did you come here to Japan for a vacation?"
"Unfortunately, no. It is about a matter concerning my work."
"I see that you're dedicated to your work, ma'am. May I ask about your occupation?"
The strange beauty raised her face, looked at the driver through the back mirror, and smiled. That moment when the driver's eye met the passenger's, all the calm that he accumulated during their recent conversations vanished. A strong need to get far away as soon as possible from this passenger made the driver kick the accelerator hard. It was, after all, just as he thought. There was no way that woman having that kind of eyes is sane. Those eyes filled with cold disdain, as if they were used to look down upon the people around her...
"Taking out the trash."
A few hours had passed since Fear was left alone in the house. She quickly lost interest in watching television.
"Phew, I have nothing else to do... ."
It was the same thing that she said yesterday. A thought suddenly came into her mind. If she was bored inside the house, She should go outside. She wore the sandals that were left on the porch and walked around the garden.
Fear walked around the outside of the house a few times, making a wry face. The accessory dwelling where Konoha was staying came into her view. The storeroom on the ground floor was closed behind a silver shutter. She thought that it was a garage or something. Her eyes went up to the second floor window, and she remembered what happened this morning.
"Er what can I say...Isn't Haruaki favoring that Cow Tits a bit too much? That shameless brat...I also don't like the fact that Cow Tits gets her own proper room while I have none. Talk about being unfair. Doesn't he even think that I also have things that I wanted to do? He always say 'Don't do this' and 'Don't do that'..."
She mumbled complaints and started to walk back toward the main house—but stopped.
"Oh yeah, he didn't say that I shouldn't do THAT. Hmm, I suppose there's no problem with me doing THAT so he didn't mention anything about it. Yes, it must be so."
Fear nodded to herself. But, there was one little problem.
"So, what should I do now...?"
Fear looked up at the sky and tried to think about what she had to do. The next moment, she realized that the answer was simple. She grinned.
She looked up again at the outer building. There she saw the vast sky...and the little window on the second floor of the outer building, peeking from the corner of her eyes.
Taizou came back from his trip to the nearest vending machine to buy their drinks since he lost in the rock-scissors-paper game. But, he came back empty handed, shadowed by his dark expression. Haruaki who was having his lunch with the usual members looked up to ask Taizou what happened.
"Is there a problem, Taizou?"
"Hey, Haruaki... I know it's not good. But I can't help myself—I know that this line is too clichéd to use nowadays...But, I just have to say it! Tell me, Haruaki, can I say the words that are meant to be said in a situation like this?!"
"W-What are you saying...?"
Haruaki sent Taizou a blank stare. Suddenly, Taizou grabbed Haruaki by his neck.
"Why! Is it! Always you!"
"Argh, Ergh?! What do you think you're doing, idiot! Tell me what happened!"
"Ask that to yourself, Bastard! Aren't you content with Konoha-san?!"
"I'm telling you, I don't know what you're talking ab—ooooooooogh!"
"Hey, Yachi! Something came out from your mouth!"
Haruaki forgot to apologize to Kana and Kirika. He couldn't believe what he was seeing right at that moment. It was—a silver-haired head peeking out from the room's rear door.
"Hey you over there! Didn't you say you'll tell me where...Ah, so there you are."
Fear approached him with a self-possessed calm. For some reason, she was wearing a school uniform.
"Hehehe. I came here just as you wished, Haruaki."
Fear held her head high and told Haruaki triumphantly—When the atmosphere in the classroom became tense.
"Fear?! What are you doing here?!"
"You're asking me why I'm here. Well, you didn't say that I shouldn't go out or shouldn't come here. So, that means I can go to any place I want to."
"I didn't tell you anything because I thought that it was obviou—argh!"
Kana who was sitting beside Haruaki grabbed his head and pressed it against his lunch box. Kana used that as a force to stand up, her eyes shining bright with interest. She went beside Fear and started hugging her.
"Wow! She's so beautiful! How cute!"
"Er, woman. Stop touching me."
"Oh, I love how you speak! So, your name's Fear, huh? Where did you come from? What kind of relationship do you have with Akki...uh, I mean, Haruaki-kun?"
"What kind of relationship, you say... I wonder too. Basically, I live in his house."
"My old man! I mean, she's the daughter of my old man's friend that he made abroad! That's why I have to take care of her in place of my old man!"
"Hmm... So you two are staying in the same house. Looks like...there are some things that need to be confirmed. As the class representative, of course."
Kirika stood up with strange vigor. Soon, all the other people in the class started to gather around them. Haruaki slumped his shoulders in defeat. He just gave Fear a look that said she better not say anything unnecessary. Fear just nodded. It seemed that people around them thought that Fear was a girl who came from abroad visiting the school because she had nothing much to do. Needless to say, news about Fear quickly spread outside Haruaki's class.
Haruaki looked at the direction where that voice came from and saw pale-faced Konoha staring at Fear. She must have been on her way back to her homeroom from the snack shop since she was carrying a handful of sandwiches.
"Why is she...?"
"She came here by herself. I'm going to pass out now. I'll leave the rest to you, Konoha..."
"What do you want me to do?!"
The moment Konoha entered the room, a boy left the circle forming around Fear. It was Taizou who changed his attitude as he saw Konoha coming to their room.
"K-Konoha-san! W-Welcome to our room! Our room's kind of sordid since half of us are guys but I hope you won't mind! So, what can I do for you?"
Konoha answered his question with a polite smile. An idea came to her mind.
"Um, I was planning to have my lunch with Haruaki-kun... and since there's also Fear-san, I would have liked to eat with her too but as you can see, there are too many people so..."
Taizou moved to break the circle surrounding Fear just as Konoha expected him to. He ignored all the boo-ings coming from the crowd and proceeded to send them away. Konoha smiled her thanks and Taizou turned back, making a guts pose. Haruaki thought that he's a type who'd be tricked by a woman in the future.
"Hm—Oh, it's you. You needn't have come here."
Konoha moved her lips without making a sound. She said, "You're the one who shouldn't have come".
"Come on, get some more tables. Two more."
"Ah, hey Taizou, we're not..."
"Huh? You guys aren't gonna eat with us? Is there going to be a problem if Kana and I are present?"
"A lunch, is it? Sounds good to me. I found a lunch box back at the house so I stuffed some food in it."
Fear answered without any pretense. It would sound strange now to insist that they were not going to have lunch with them. But, if that was the case, Haruaki needed to remind Fear of some important things before they proceed to have lunch together.
"I'm gonna buy some drinks for us while we give her a tour of the school. C'mon Konoha, let's go."
"Yes, I am coming now. Excuse me, could you please hold these for me?"
Konoha handed Taizou the three pork cutlet sandwiches that she was holding, then started to follow Haruaki. Stares directed at Fear kept coming even when they were passing through the corridor—but, that can be ignored for now.
"You there, what were you thinking coming here all of a sudden?"
"Huh? I've already told you that I came here because you didn't say that I can't come here, haven't I? Well, there's also the fact that I didn't have anything to do at the house. Besides, it'd be unfair if this woman can attend school while I have to stay at home."
"It is not as though I started attending school right after I became human..."
"Really...I should have told you clearly that you can't go out yet, since you still lack a lot of common knowledge."
"Why you! Didn't you hear earlier that I was having a normal conversation with the people in your class?"
"I'm sorry to inform you that I almost had a heart attack while you were talking to them since I was afraid that you'd say something that you shouldn't. Let's just leave that topic. What's important now is that you should maintain the backstory that you don't know much about Japan since you just came here. If there was a question that you don't know how to answer, just shut up, smile, and shake your head. That's the Japanese way of solving problems."
Haruaki bought some drinks at the vending machine in front of the shoe lockers. Fear observed Haruaki, seeing something unusual for her. Konoha spoke to Fear while she was busy checking the vending machine.
"I was wondering since you came here... Where did you get the uniform you are wearing?"
"It's obvious whose uniform this is. The hip and bust measurements are too big and wide for me. You should lose weight."
"Y-You dared to trespass into my room?! Have you no sense of right and wrong!?"
Konoha drew her face near Fear's and glared. Fear simply bent her mouth into a cool smile.
"Oh...So you think you can say that to me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Listen, Haruaki, I found this really ugly underwear in her top drawer and—"
"No! No! No! I was not quite myself when I bought that!"
"What are you two fussing about? We should go back now. I already bought the drinks."
Haruaki started to walk, and looked down at Fear.
"I heard part of your conversation... You should know that entering other people's rooms without permission is very rude."
"Hmph, it can't be helped. I at least know that one can't enter school without wearing a uniform. Besides, I was able to come here because I asked people for directions to the school by using this uniform."
"Why didn't you give up in the first place when you didn't have a uniform...?"
"By the way, how did you enter my room? I locked the door properly."
"...? What do you mean? I just entered by the window like anyone else would."
"How odd. I remember locking the window too... Wait. N-No way?!"
Fear made a "V" sign with her hand towards Konoha, who froze up in outrage.
"That's right. I broke it."
Konoha staggered as though having a dizzy spell, feeling all strength drained from her body. Haruaki let out a soul-escaping sigh. He didn't want to think about who was going to pay to repair the glass.
"...Damn. I can't take any more of this. You wear me out. Hey Fear, go back to home when you're done eating. I don't know what the teachers would say if they happen to see you."
"Hmm. I still wanted to see this 'lecture' thing. Can't I stay?"
"Of course, you can't!"
While they were having an argument, Kirika appeared from the opposite side of the corridor, walking towards them.
"Oh, it's you, Class Rep. Where have you been?"
"I just went to the staff room. Be glad to hear this, Yachi, and you too, Fear-kun."
Staff room. That word sent a bad feeling nagging at his gut. That bad feeling hit right at its mark.
"I negotiated with the teachers and consquently, our foreign visitor here was granted special permission to participate in the afternoon classes. No need for gratitude, by the way. I just did what I can do as a class representative. Besides, we don't have many chances for cultural interchange activities. It would be a good experience for all of us."
Mind your own business! Haruaki wanted to roar angrily but suppressed himself. Kirika continued to speak with narrowed eyes.
"With that, I'll get more time to converse with Fear-kun. There are certain matters that still need to be confirmed—Such as the fact that although you're already living together with Konoha-kun, your cousin, in this case, you are now living as a high school boy with a young girl who has no family ties to you... Who knows if there was a mistake in arrangements somewhere...?!"
Judging from her sharp gaze, Haruaki could tell that she undoubtedly considered him to be the heart of the problem.
(Ohh damn, from where should I start complaining?)
In the end, Haruaki just slumped his shoulders and gave up all resistance.
It was clear that none of his complaints were going to be heard after all. At least, he knew that much.
"I didn't get much of your conversations, but does that mean that I could participate in the lecture? Kirika, was it? You're a nice person!"
One of the reasons why Haruaki gave up complaining was the fact that Fear looked happier than he expected.
After handing a tip to the bellboy who was educated enough to make a forced smile, she hurried to unpack her baggage. Those trunks which she received from the front desk were sent sometime ago from her country in advance. She proceeded in her confirmation of the contents of the trunks while she enjoyed her cigarette. Those things she needed were all there. There was no apparent problem.
"...? I have a feeling that there is an excess among the baggage..."
The last trunk, which was shaped like a guitar case, was not familiar to her. She drove the almost finished cigarette into the ash tray, then opened the last trunk. There she saw—
A strain formed on her cheeks. It was the form of deep hatred and wrath. She shut the trunk hard. The momentum from the banging revealed a note from inside the trunk. She picked up the note, read it, and crushed it inside her hands.
"Oh, this is none of their concern, absolutely not...bitch!"
She assaulted the trunk and sent it flying across the room. The expensive-looking flower vase which decorated the suite shattered aloud.
"What an ill-omened way of beginning a mission... Ahh, I need to calm down, I just have to—"
She walked around the room for a while. Later, she grabbed the cigarette case on the table. She sunk deep into the sofa and started to smoke. One stick was consumed. She went on to her next stick. With her third, she started to retrieve her calm. After she finished her third stick, the cellular phone that was included among her baggage rang. The voice that came from the opposite side of the line was a girl's.
"I am the Auxiliary who was assigned to aid you in this particular mission. This is my initial contact."
"How kind of you. I arrived here safe and sound...I had this feeling of being observed since I came to this country...I suppose it was you?"
"I affirm. I've started to support you. Since your first step in this country. It is just usual for the Auxiliaries not to show themselves."
"Of course. It would be a shame for a Knight if it happens that his Auxiliary will show himself in the battlefield. Since I'm the one sent as a front-line, there is absolutely no chance of that happening though...Oh, and one more thing. Are you responsible for this unnecessary trunk that was included among my baggage?"
"...? I do not understand what you mean."
"I'm talking about this shit equipped with an indulgence disk. It seems like you're not responsible for it. If that was the case, there isn't any problem. I'm glad that a fracture didn't occur between our relationship as a team from the very beginning of this mission—Well, come on now my faceless and nameless Auxiliary. Let us move on toward our parting without ever revealing our faces or even our names."
"I understand. Let us begin the mission."
With that, the voice coming from the phone stated the current location of their target. She was glad that an efficient Auxiliary was allotted to her. After she was done with their conversation, she smiled and whispered while she looked at the smoke that accumulated at the ceiling of the room.
"I must go now. Off to eliminate that eyesore-bitch."
They were at the rooftop after the classes. The wind blowing from the faintly cloudy sky felt chilly against their naked skin. But despite that, Fear looked down at the school ground below looking cheerful as ever.
"It's so high up here, and it feels great...Come to think of it, I should have seen the view of the ground from the airplane when I came here. That was a mistake."
Then, she smiled at something that she remembered.
"By the way—that lecture thing sure was fun. I still remember the look on their faces when I spoke in English. I think that anyone could speak fluently with two days of studying though."
"Our basic capabilities are very different from your kind so don't compare us with you..."
Haruaki muttered as he dropped his shoulders. He felt as though he experienced a mental torture while they were having the afternoon classes. Fortunately, there hasn't been a fatal mistake—but, thanks to the order to give Fear a tour around the school directed by some meddlesome teachers, his mental condition wasn't fully recovered even after the classes were finished. Beside Haruaki was the tired-looking Konoha leaning against the fence. Fear was also accompanied by Taizou and others at first but they eventually parted because of their club activities and student council duties. In the end, Only Haruaki and Konoha were left.
"Hmm. Looks like that ball game below is about to end. I noticed too that people are becoming fewer."
"It's about time where most of the club activities are wrapping up for the day... Can we go home already?"
"That's a wonderful idea. Let's go home and have something to eat."
Fear heard them but made no motion of letting go of the fence.
"I guess you two are right. But...a little bit more. I want to stay here...a little bit more."
Haruaki looked at Fear's back for a while. Finally, Haruaki let out a sigh of defeat and said that she had 10 more minutes to stay there.
"Hey Haruaki, Don't you think this place is—nice?"
"Is it? There's no people or anything around here. It's not much of a view."
"I wasn't talking about the view. I meant this place called school...Its very lively and there are an unbelievable amount of people. Every one of them is kind of happy in their own way. Really, I never saw a place like this."
She said with a soft voice, making a bitter smile.
Haruaki heard a clicking sound. He looked at Fear and saw that Fear was playing the Rubik's cube with one hand while her view was still fixed at the ground below. He thought that he saw a hallucination where there was no one else here in the rooftop aside from that girl. He thought that she'd stay here even if they left her alone. Just like seeing a painting of a solitary girl from outside of the frame.
"This kind of school was just recently made...It's just natural that this place would seem rare to you."
Konoha's words stopped his hallucination. There was a feeling of consolation in her words. Haruaki wondered if that consolation came from understanding of Fear's feelings.
"The city that I passed on my way here was just as rare. After all, they are the same—There are a lot of people and it's noisy there. Haha, I wanted to ask them what there was that all of them have to talk about."
"Was there only few people from where you came?"
"Where I came, you ask..."
"—Er, there's no need to answer if you don't want to."
It was only then that Fear looked at Haruaki's face. She was smiling. Her cheeks were slightly relaxed, her big eyes turned into slits, and her well-formed lips were faintly raised up. But, for some reason, he thought she looked like she was about to cry.
"Haruaki. Do you really want to know?"
"I'll be the one to ask now. Do you want to know about me? About where I was, what I did, or what I was in the past? Do you really want to know all of that?"
She was still smiling. And it was harmless question. But, there was a strange tension in the air around them. Haruaki swallowed his saliva. He felt that something might happen if he answered Yes or No. He had no idea what it could be. He just knew that whatever it was, there would be no backing off once she told him about herself.
Konoha just looked at Fear's face with serious expression. Fear kept her sad smile. Both of them were waiting for his answer. He licked his lips, inhaled some air, then opened his mouth to answer—
"I'll tell you the first answer to your question, about where she had been staying. She was lying inside a hidden chamber of a dungeon inside a castle remains for hundreds of years. That was the reason why she was able to escape our attention for so long."
A voice coming from the rooftop's entrance stole Haruaki's words. What she said WAS an answer to his question. And, just as he thought, that triggered the incident that could never be undone. Ever.
It was a woman who donned a dress much like those nobles wear. Her blonde hair was slightly curled, and held between her sexy rouged lips was a cigarette which was unbecoming for her aristocratic demeanor. But, her most outstanding trait was her arms—which were covered by a black armor from the tip of her fingers up to her shoulders. That big, thick armor was worn in a candid manner, and it gave a rustic impression. The armor also covered the back of her hands and her wrists. The shiny black plates were held together geometrically, and the equipments was as thick as her torso. There was only one word to describe her appearance: Deformed. It was as though an armplate of a giant or a part of great armor was detached from its body and was forcibly attached to her arms. Naturally, this made her look like a balancing toy.
"Wh...who are you?"
Haruaki spoke to the woman even though he was overawed by her strange vigor. Hearing this, the woman giggled.
"You don't have to use terms of respect to me, boy. I came from an organization called the 'Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion'...and my name is Peavey Barowoi. Some people call me by the name, 'Balancing Toy'."
Her armor-covered arms grabbed the tip of her skirt and she made a graceful bow. She did it with an almost absurd politeness and exaggeration.
"Huh...? I don't get what you want to—"
"Strange, you don't seem to recognize my name—In that case, let me confirm one thing. Your family name is Yachi, no?"
"Er...well, yes. It is."
"Then, let me explain. We, the Knights Dominion, are taking a stance against Yachi Honatsu. All started with the discovery of the location where THAT thing behind you was kept. We sent an investigation team the moment we got hold of the information but we were forestalled. Usually, they don't leave traces but this time they did, since that thing is much different from the usual items. Somehow, we were able to get hold of the information where that thing was sent—and, here I am now. Need I say more?"
That. Thing. Where it was sent...and, his father's name. They meant only one thing.
"Y-You're after Fear...? But why?"
"A silly question. The discovery of that thing is a matter of concern for all the organizations that go after a cursed item—which we call a Wathe. But, our purpose is different from that of other organizations, namely, Lab Chief Yamimagari Pakuaki's Nation, the Draconians, and the Bivorio family. We're different from Yachi Honatsu too. It's simple. The Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion does not approve of the existence of Wathes. It is something that should not exist within the human world. Therefore I—"
A long trail of smoke came out from the end of the cigarette she held between her lips. She spoke cheerfully.
"Shall destroy that—that 'Fear-in-Cube,' top on the list of all Wathes."
An understanding of who she meant by that word came easily to him. Haruaki looked back at Fear and saw that she had her head bowed, with her face pale. Peavey spoke again.
"The Marquis de Sade wrote in one of his works; 'Their ground of argument about the justification of the pleasure earned by cruelty came from the following reasoning: We all desire for something that could move our hearts. That is exactly the reason why men are absorbed in seeking pleasure, and we desire to have that pleasure in the most active manner'. Though I am a woman, I am moved, deeply so, by those words! By the cruelty that shall take place here and now!"
Words suddenly switched into action. She fluttered her dress and made a dash toward Fear.
"—! Haruaki, run!"
Fear pushed Haruaki away, which caused him to stagger. Konoha moved to snatch him away from Peavey.
"That prudence is worthy of a praise! A pig like you shouldn't involve anyone in this!"
It was a simple attack. She raised her gauntlet-shrouded fist—then brought it down with all her might. Fear evaded the attack by performing a side-roll. Crashing noise signaled the end for the ground where Fear was standing. Peavey spat the almost-finished cigarette out while her body layed in a low position, just like a beast. —It was another action which didn't look good with her dress.
She withdrew her arm which was stuck on the concrete, and remains of the rooftop floor dropped from her gauntlet. This made the caved-in condition of the floor visible, and it looked like a crater made by a meteor crash. Impossible—that was what Haruaki thought. He couldn't think of a way for a woman to inflict that kind of damage. A possibility came to his mind.
(That gauntlet... Could it be a Wathe?)
The hunter, donning a dress and heels, made a simple attack once again. Fear desperately evaded the assault. She barely got away from having contact with Peavey's arms but in exchange for her, the concrete floor beneath her broke. The steel fence got crushed. What used to be a bench now scattered around them as broken pieces of wood. A side of the water tank was pierced with countless holes.
Eventually, Fear was cornered. In front of her, Peavey who blocked the way, moved her arms and the gauntlet creaked. It was as though she was preparing for the kill.
Peavey made a decadent smile while she licked the drop of sweat that rolled off from her temple.
"Strange. Why are you just running...? It isn't like you to hold back, Fear-in-Cube. From what I've heard, you're not supposed to be that way."
Fear looked-up in surprise and spoke with a forced voice.
"S-Stop... Don't say it."
Peavey raised a brow. After a moment, the dawn of understanding caused her shoulders to shake in laughter.
"This is amusing, indeed it is! Could it be that the boy over there do not know the details about you? Let me tell you the rest of the answers for your question a while ago then!"
She opened a part of her gauntlet which seemed like a clasp. She drew out a cigarette and started to smoke. Together with the accumulated smoke came out a voice filled with ridicule and teasing.
"You asked 'What she did in the past'. The answer is simple. She slaughtered people. That thing shamed them, forced an end to their life, craved for grievances, drank their blood, and just killed them! Tens, hundreds, thousands of them! Sinners, non-sinners, men, women, children, the aged, commoners, nobles, slaves, scientists, farmers, merchants, priests, mid-wives, and even the knights!
"No... No... No... No..."
"You killed them all equally like a God, without any discrimination, didn't you? Shamed a wife and driven her into insanity in front of her husband? Ripped the womb of a pregnant woman and took out her child, ending its life along with its howl? Gave food to the starving vagrant, ripped his stomach open and enjoyed the scream of agony he made while you slowly killed him?"
"Stop it... stopitstopitstopitstopit! I-I was, I, ahhhhhhhhhh!"
Fear's whole body was shaking. She embraced herself with a pale face.
"Y-You're wrong... Wrong. I, didn't, do it, willingly. I, was just used. I didn't do it because I wanted to...!"
"How could you be so low! You're trying to reason your way out even though you're just a thing. But, it's a fact that you killed them, is it not? After all, that was the reason why you were cursed. Oh, how you disgust me. To tell you the truth, just talking with you like this makes me want to vomit!"
"Shut up, shut up... just... shut... up!"
"Like hell I will! Think about it once more. About what you really are. Wait, I was mistaken. I should be the one to tell you what you really are, shouldn't I? After all, there's still the answer left for your question, 'What she was in the past'.
Don't say it. Whispered Fear. Haruaki thought the same. But, that didn't stop the word from coming out of her mouth.
"Fear-in-Cube. It was developed during the period when the pagans were being hunted down. She—that thing—is just an multipurpose torture-execution instrument."
"I can't help but to burst out laughing at that wonderful scream. C'mon now, you've committed sins. You sinned by executing countless innocent people with torture. That curse which made you personify is the vindication of your sins. You have to take the punishment as you should, don't you? You have to be silent and accept the fact that a thing like you should be destroyed when you became unnecessary."
Haruaki clenched his fists. He just can't accept those words. He wanted to say something. He wanted to ask her if she knew the strong determination needed to accept the fact that they're not just a tool anymore and live with the curse that was branded to them. To accept their unfortunate fate that they have to feel the pain of what they did in the past.
"If you have no intention of resisting, that is also fine with me. Just the thought of destroying another hateful Wathe is a pleasure in itself!"
Peavey raised her arms. There was too much distance for Haruaki to move in between them. But, that moment, he heard a faint whisper of rustling dress behind him.
"Stay here, Haruaki-kun."
The brown-haired girl jumped in with inhuman power. Beside Haruaki stood a girl. A girl who like him, felt a surge of anger against Peavey. Maybe, her anger was greater than his.
She jumped over the few meters of distance between them with ease. She made an attack from above which was almost at a right angle, her uniform fluttering. The woman in a dress quickly turned over and evaded the tegatana that was meant for her—while Konoha landed between Fear and the woman in a dress, her eyes blazing. Peavey made a quick look down at her slashed skirt and made an exaggerated gesture of spreading her arms wide.
"Oh my, oh my! Why is it that no one told me there was another disgusting garbage here? I never noticed. Although it's not part of the mission, I could destroy you if you are going to interrupt me from accomplishing my first priority. What do you say?"
"Don't misunderstand my intention. I have nothing to do with the infant behind me. Please take my action this way—I got irritated with what you've said so I attacked you. After all, I'm one of the ill-tempered youth these days."
Those words were spoken gently. It almost sounded like a joke. But, her eyes were still overbearing.
"If you don't want to get hurt, I advise you to leave now."
"...Hmph. I like you, girl. You look cool-headed and unyielding—but, that's what makes me want to put you to shame. What did they call this wonderful expression of oppositions? Was it tsundere?"
"I wouldn't know!"
Konoha raised her palm in a knife-hand stance while covering the distance towards Peavey. The lady in a dress raised her heavily armored arms and deflected Konoha's attack with ease. Peavey countered with a hook that attacked the whole body. Konoha hastily raised her arms in defense, but the difference in their mass resulted in Konoha being thrown away.
"You look pitiful for someone who sounded energetic just a while ago. Poor, is the only word that can describe you right now. I do not know what tool you are, but half-hearted attacks won't do any good against me, you understand?"
Konoha had sunk-in against the nearby fence. Seeing this, Fear let out a shout against her.
"Y-You too...this has nothing to do with you. What do you think you're doing...!"
"—You're right. Didn't you hear what I said a while ago? What I'm doing doesn't concern you so just let me be."
Konoha tried to loose herself from the fence. While she was at it, she spoke to Fear without glancing at her.
"By the way, it's something that doesn't have anything to do with me. What are you planning to do? You're cursed. That's a fact. You've been through a past that caused you to be cursed. This too is a fact. Your life's being threatened because of it. Another fact. What are you going to do to face those facts?"
"...I wouldn't be troubled right now if I knew the answer to that..."
"You're saying that you're giving up and you're going to let her destroy you?"
"...I wouldn't like that..."
"Then, you have to fight. You have to fight in order to protect yourself. That's the natural way things go. But... I say, knowing how you feel sure is a pain."
"What... and how do you know anything. About how I feel."
Konoha whispered. her eyes were directed at her front.
"I understand how you don't want to hurt anyone. I understand that you do not want to fight. I know that the harder you try to forget, the more it comes back to haunt you. That causes you to hesitate, even if your life was in the line... Really, I feel as though I'm looking at my old self, I can't really describe how I feel right now."
Konoha stood up, took a deep breath and rushed towards Peavey. She got thrown away again but this time, she did not crash against the fence. It was because another person that appeared in front of Fear caught Konoha's back.
"Both of you, sorry. I was kind of confused and that took me some time."
"Have you gone mad...? Get away from here! Hurry and run!"
"Er, I don't think I'll be much of a help but I suppose I could lend you my hand."
Haruaki turned away from astounded Fear and faced Peavey.
"Look here boy, what you're trying to do is a foolish act. Although I could not actively kill a person, I might not be able to help you if ever there was an unfortunate accident. And, if it comes to you trying to help out those bitchy tools... Well, won't you change your mind?"
"Sorry, I can't do that. This girl came to our place, relying on me. I just can't say no and drive her away, can I? Besides, Japanese people are a merciful lot... Oh, and one more thing. I got irritated by the same reason this girl wearing glasses got irritated with you. So, right now I want to make you take back all the things you've said. I'm not fond of fights, though."
"That's funny. Would you mind telling me how you're going to do it?"
That was the problem. He looked down at Konoha, who stared right back at Haruaki.
"You...fool...this is my problem and..."
Haruaki twisted his lips as he heard those words.
"She's mumbling awful things at me. Is trying to protect her such a bad thing?"
"Though I'm not at complete disagreement...I think you're being your usual self."
"I'm not sure what you mean. Hey, I hate to ask you this since you hate to do it, but it seems that we're at odds with our current situation."
Instead of answering, Konoha just smiled and took a step. When her eyes met with Peavey, the smile was already gone from her face. The only thing left on her expression was an earnest determination.
"If you're not satisfied with half-cooked attacks, I'll turn back into myself. For a reason, I'm trying to avoid shedding blood but I won't be responsible if it would hit you bad. I just wanted you to understand that."
"I see, so that's how you're going to play your game. It's fine with me. Oh, I forgot to ask your name, miss garbage. I'm going to need it in my report later."
Haruaki placed his hands on Konoha's shoulder. In a moment the clothes Konoha was wearing fell off the floor and—
The only thing left on his hand was a long inorganic-substance. Its blade was covered with a black sheath. It was abnormally thin and hard. It was as though the blade was coated with a thin black metal...and, it was sharp enough to be called a sheath-blade.
Words were spoken by the cursed Katana.
"My name is Muramasa Konoha... But, I hate to be called by my surname."
She caught the heavy blow with the katana. The terrible impact passed through Haruaki's arm but it wasn't enough to throw him away.
"Relax your body like you always do...! I'll take care of your body movement!"
Haruaki replied to the voice coming from the katana that he was counting on her. Konoha, the demon blade, took over his body movement and made a step forward. The almost-weightless blade flashed, aimed towards the enemy's body, slashing diagonally from below. Peavey frowned at the great speed of the blade but she was able to block the slash using the elbow of her gauntlet.
"That was a good one. Now, I'm starting to have fun...! By the way, why don't you draw? I heard that the Japanese blades were awfully sharp. Am I wrong?!"
"As I have mentioned earlier, I despise bloodshed... Do not worry, even if it is just the scabbard, it will hurt plenty!"
The scabbard and the gauntlet crossed each other countless times. High-pitched sounds from the clashing steel was starting to hurt his ears.
"It's too hard... Is it possible that something could be that hard?!"
Even though his body was being moved by Konoha, that didn't mean that he wasn't feeling exhaustion. His breathing was becoming shorter. Konoha took note of his condition, and jumped backwards as she saw the enemy's fist sinking into the rooftop floor to put a distance from her.
"Are you alright, Haruaki-kun?"
"Yeah, I can still... w-whoa!"
One careless moment and a concrete-floor fragment was flying toward his head. The katana smashed the fragment down. Haruki thought with a shiver that he'd be already dead if Konoha wasn't moving his body.
"However, we might lose if this keeps up."
"I have an idea. If we're going to lose at this rate, why don't you try that one? The one you used once before... that countering technique. Though, I suppose you'll hate to do that more than you hate being back to this form."
"Oh, okay... I'll try. I think there won't be a problem, I'll just have to be careful."
"It's not the time for you two to be having a cozy talk. You boy, helping out those garbage! You're an eyesore so I'll be really glad if you'll just die right now!"
The awkward, but symmetrically aligned balancing-toy joyfully started her bloodlust.
Konoha parried the blows as she did earlier. But, she started to take a new action. She changed the mark of her actions within herself. It was not an attack and it wasn't a defense either.
She started to analyze.
What was needed was complete concentration. She had to direct all of her thought on trying to find a flaw in Peavey's movement, using all the non-existent brain cells to concentrate on every single action made by her opponent. Her breathing. The line of her sight. Her posture. Her movement. Which attack would come based from which precursor. She made a law out of them. At the same time, she made an analysis of the gauntlet's structure based from the resistance taken from the blade. Where was its weakest spot, structure-wise. Where was the core which supported the whole structure of her gauntlet. Unbelievable amount of concentration was needed to figure all of that out.
The other thing needed was the chance. She had to join the faint precursors together, make a forecast on when the attack would come, and wait for the moment when the effect would come to agreement with it.
(Not yet. She's still...)
She evaded the attack. Waited once again. Impatience was out of question. The law she made was constructed upon the territory within herself, between unconsciousness and instinct. It would easily disappear the moment her concentration was broken. She felt the gradual loss of the forecast she had made so far. But, she wasn't impatient. And—
This was it. An attack which came from a certain direction and speed according to the conjecture she made from the countless precursors. That moment was a future that she knew well, coming from her past. That was why she was able to make a pinpoint aim for the gauntlet's core. There, Konoha threw away the law and conjectures she had formed and let out an attack coming from her body and soul— Konoha turned Haruaki's hand which held the katana, and moved the unused left hand to hold its sheath. She instantaneously shifted weight, and at the same time drew the blade, as though it was a manifestation of its true nature.
The clashing sound of the blade and sheath vibrated through the air surrounding them. The silver edge that came out from the sheath-blade flashed for an instant, just like lightning. Now, the blade was already returned to its dark sheath, making the opponent think for a moment that the flash of light she saw was just a hallucination. The counter attack made by the katana used all of the force coming from the enemy's heavy blow, destroying the structural core of the gauntlet. Therefore, only a single blow was needed to put an end to the gauntlet.
There was no movement coming from the blade, which stood in a posture of follow-through. For a while, silence reigned through the air—and after a few seconds, the insensitive steel finally recognized its death and started to fall into pieces, as the last cry of inorganic gauntlet resounded around them.
"Just what.. did you do? Yes, I'm mildly surprised...you bitch, bitch, bitch. I never thought that you would insult me this way."
Konoha's blade destroyed only the weapon of her opponent. The gauntlet that covered one of her arms broke, falling apart in a chain reaction. The damaged gauntlet was left now with a big hole, exposing its inside.
There was an arm.
Naturally, there was an human limb inside. It was revealed then that the gauntlet was covering flesh and not some artificial arm—However, there was a possibility that the gauntlet might have been the artificial arm.
Her whole arm was distorted. Its skeletal frame was abnormally crooked. Her skin looked as though it was suffering from necrosis, discolored with shades of black and purple. There was also traces of fresh blood here and there.
"What, the hell, is that...?"
"You're questioning me what happened to my arm, although you're the one who did this. I'd say its just natural that bare flesh covered with an ordinary gauntlet would be distorted like this if you repeatedly beat it with force strong enough to crush concrete."
"You're saying it was just an ordinary gauntlet, and not a Wathe?"
Peavey raised an eyebrow at Haruaki's question.
"I wouldn't dare to touch those filthy things! I'd rather bite-off my tongue. Though, there are some within the Knights Dominion who prefer to use those. But, I do not. That's why I'm armed with this gauntlet. To add further..."
She stared at her discolored arms with teary eyes.
"I just adore this, this pain that I receive from battle. It's very convenient indeed since I'm satisfied sexually when I feel the pain while I crush my enemies with my hands. Don't you think it's wonderful?"
"Oh my, what a tactless remark that was. I'd say that People have different tastes and therefore you have no right to judge me. In fact, you shouldn't insult my tastes since it occurred naturally, and you can say that it's a sin caused by natural causes."
Haruaki was taken aback by the woman standing in front of him. She was plain crazy. Suddenly, he noticed that the katana he was holding was becoming heavier every minute. He tried to ask Konoha what was happening, trying not to move his mouth. Konoha answered with a groan.
"Get hold of yourself! The blood is caused by her madness! It's not your fault!"
She replied this time with an emesis. Cold sweat covered his face as he remembered that Konoha's curse was almost lifted. The blood-thirsty demon blade was starting to lose its longing—which meant that Konoha was now repulsed by seeing blood, enough to cause nausea when she saw it. They succeeded in destroying their opponents weapon, but that only brought them this destitute situation. Haruaki shuddered and raised his head, only to see Peavey closing the distance between them. It seemed that the gauntlet left on her other arm was enough to crush them. She struck with a rough blow. Haruaki raised the heavy blade by reflex, and miraculously blocked the punch... but—
For a moment, he wasn't sure what was wrong. Something caused him to look down. There he saw that something was protruding from the side of the gauntlet. It was a hidden blade which was thin and long. It reflected light towards his face.
"Eye for an eye... as the wise men say. Pretty clichéd though."
Haruaki wondered what was the red liquid passing through the blade. He also wondered where it came from. He traced back where the liquid was coming from. Then, he knew where it was coming from...It came from his arm. The time that he realized the blood was coming from him, his brain finally registered the pain—
The howl that came from Haruaki resounded through the rooftop. That cry caused two things to awake within Fear... and it was fear and nostalgia.
She felt that something was pulsating within her. It was something that should not awaken, at any cost. The cry of pain was nostalgic. She was disgusted with herself for reminiscing those cries. But, those vague memories which resembled a faint dream caused a definite change within her. (that scream) (which I thought I'd never hear again) (It was the same scream from that moment—)
There was a master of an ancient castle. In there was an underground chamber which was a realm of madness. There was herself, sleeping in that chamber. She was still inanimate back then, but her master was pleased with her. Therefore after her master was done with his enjoyment every night, he made his footman clean her up. The footman was the only sane person left within that castle. Even though he vomited every time he cleaned her up, in the end she'd be shining like a brand-new appliance. And for that, she used to like the footman very much. The footman often talked to her while he cleaned her up, complaining about the work which he hated to do but was forced to out of need for money.
"I don't know what got into my master's head...I'm sure that this box would be happier if it was just left alone. Oh God..."
—One day, one of the maids heard the footman and the gossip about the footman's words spread within the castle in no time. Naturally, the master of the castle who heard about the footman executed him in the torture chamber. Consequently, She was used to torture the footman. The scream was caused by her own hands. It was a scream coming from someone she knew, from someone she liked.
"Aaaaah. Aaaaaah. Aha......haha, ahahahahahahaha"
It pulsated. The her of THAT time pulsated. She remembered. During that time, she was still inanimate. The reason for an inanimate object's existence was to be used. That was why she was happy. While she heard the footman's scream, she felt that certainty within her. Because the footman's scream certified the reason of her existence. It made her long for more screams—
"Aha—You're wrong—ahaha—shut up. Stop laughing—ahahaha—shut up, stop laughing, I said stop! I'm different now ahahaha different! I'm not thinking of those things aha haahahahahahahahahahaha!"
Fear tried to stop the laugh that flowing from her mouth, punching the concrete flooring below her with a distorted expression. But, the laughing did not stop. When she held her head, the laugh resounded through her head, instead of ceasing. She heard Haruaki's repeated screams. When she raised her face, she saw that Haruaki had dropped to the floor. The blade he was holding lied heavily down, and she knew that it won't be moving for some time. Someone whispered in Fear's head that he would be killed. But, she refused to become what she used to be because she did not want Haruaki to see what she really was. It was too disgusting, and too soiled... But, if she didn't do something, Haruaki will surely die. Fear asked herself what she should do—
That moment, Fear noticed the Rubik's cube that fell out from her pocket. She stared at the katana held by Haruaki once again. And, she remembered that Konoha fought even though she was in human form.
"A tool which was cursed enough to achieve the human form could still use some of the characteristics as a tool, even when it was in it's human form..."
It was the same for her. She had not tried it yet, but she knew she could. Therefore she needed to.
"I... have to do it..."
She tried to convince herself. It shouldn't be that bad. She still hated what she used to be. She was just going to use a little power, while maintaining her human form. It didn't mean that she was going to betray her decision on trying to lift the curse away from herself—
Fear did not realize that it was a compromise. She didn't know that compromises always broke determination. Then, all the things she was trying to push back came out inside her, just like a dam. There was nothing to hold back anymore. She only had to do what was needed. That moment, a comfortable sense of freedom shrouded Fear. There was nothing left inside her but the urge to break everything apart.
"Ah yes, that's what I'm going to do..."
Peavey saw that Fear moved to stand up. She let out a scornful laugh at her.
"Hmm, I see that you decided to stop crying now. So, what are you going to do now?"
"You're asking me what I'm going to do? Of course—"
"I'm gonna hear you scream. And I'm very excited. Ahahahaha", Fear said with cruel and cold eyes, tightly clutching the cube in her hand.
The hand holding the toy was thrust out.
Konoha was able to change into a blade that could be wielded by hand, but everyone had different characteristics. Fear's characteristics were much more complicated compared to Konoha. Hence, in order to utilize it—
In the short time it took to say those words, the Rubik's cube transformed. Rather, one should say that its very nature changed.
It was her original form, the black iron cube large enough for one to wrap their arms around.
Ignoring the laws of physics, the palm of her hand was firmly attracted to the iron cube. In order for her characteristics to manifest, Fear needed this kind of object. In order to become 'her other self', she needed something resembling this cube.
"Generating umbilical path, connected. Semi-remote control, materialized and equipped."
As if expressing its weight, the cube gave off a dull thud as it landed on the roof. Fear's palm continued to face downwards. A strange chain extended from her palm and connected to the cube at her feet. Rather than interlocking rings, the individual chain links were black cubes connected to one another by opposite vertices.
Wrapping the chain from the cube around her arm, Fear gently gazed at her other self and spoke softly.
"Mechanism No.26 piercing type, imprisoning form: «Iron Maiden»—Curse Calling."
In that instant, the cube transformed. Minute crevices slid horizontally. The upper portion rose like a curtain. The sound of metal parts sliding against one another, expressing the movement of the parts. Horizontal movement. Vertical movement. Rotated. Raised. Sunk. Combined. Separated. Buried. Bent. Switched. Extended. Supported. Leaned. Essential parts moving outwards. Unused portions retracted. Pieces required for decoration moved to the outside. And parts required for internal structure hidden within.
Thousands of parts which can assemble into thirty-two different forms. The cube was merely the outer shell of a standby state. As it is operated, it took on the form of a torture tool—
In terms of actual time, only an instant has passed as the sound of metal friction subsided. The cube was no longer a cube, but resembled a coffin the length of a normal human. Originally hidden and packed in the intricate curves of the cube's interior, but now assembled into the shape of a head and shoulders. What was portrayed was the image of an untainted girl. The Iron Maiden.
"Go, the other me that takes my form. To hear more of those screams!"
As Fear rattled the chain wrapped around her arm, the Iron Maiden began to glide.
Peavey jumped away from Haruaki's side, but the iron maiden changed direction and pursued her with Fear's manipulation of the chain. As if offering its purity the Iron Maiden exposed its interior as commanded, releasing its locks. The front of the Iron Maiden opened up as if offering sweet embrace to entice the victim to enter its spike-laden inner space.
However instead of fleeing, Peavey advanced and used her remaining armored hand to strike the Iron Maiden using pure strength alone. Metal clashed against metal, creating a high pitched screeching, and the Iron Maiden bounced away.
"...Mechanism No.8 crushing type, circular form: «Breaking Wheel of Francia»—Curse Calling!"
Reacting to the command, the Iron Maiden transformed without returning to the cube state. In an instant, it had become a round wheel, with numerous short and thick spikes on the edges.
Fear deftly stepped forward as she motioned with her right hand. The wheel connected to the chain attacked Peavey. In the same way Peavey had crushed the limbs of uncountable victims, both guilty and innocent, the wheel was poised to wreck her life. As the turning wheel descended upon her head, Peavey blocked. The falling wheel bounced off the roof, damaging it, but flew towards Peavey's body once again.
"Ha...haha, you finally show some fighting spirit? This is great!"
Fear did not respond. It seemed like the smile on her face was a bit empty. Seeing the wheel about to be caught by Peavey's armored arm, she swiftly pulled the chain back and rushed forward at the same time.
"...Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator»—Curse Calling!"
Curling the chain back, in Fear's hand was now a dangerous looking drill! The length of a knight's lance, and ominous like a grim reaper's scythe, its edges sparkled luxuriously with the glint of sharpness. What it sought was soft flesh, soft flesh, soft flesh.
"Hoho—That's right, I was waiting for this! A tool made only for hurting others, I wonder what kind of screams it makes when it gets hurt itself! Ah, how I look forward to it!"
The armored arm clashed with Fear's drill two or three times, then Peavey feigned an opening to lead the drill towards her face and evaded at the last second. The spiral blade narrowly missed her face. Taking such risk to obtain an ephemeral opening, Peavey charged into close range. The drill retracted but could not attack again as quickly as the speed of Peavey's strong arm.
"Okay, begin to scream with pleasure, inferior object of the lowest class!"
However, Peavey did not make contact. What she saw was the drill penetrating the roof they are standing on, and Fear using it as a jumping platform. But as a result, there were no more escapes. One cannot dodge in mid air. As Peavey delightfully prepared her fist for a counterattack—Fear laughed and laughed against a backdrop of the dark, cloud-covered sky.
"Regarding ways to make songs out of screams, I am more experienced than you by centuries. Scream!"
Peavey suddenly noticed the drill in front of her giving off a strange noise.
"...Mechanism No.3 severance type, descending form: —"
Peavey instinctively retreated but because she had advanced too deep it was too late. The drill transformed into a quadrilateral frame. Peavey withdrew her body, moved her head and retracted her right arm. But—
It was too late for the naked left arm laid bare due to Konoha's destruction of the armor—
Peavey's left arm was severed cleanly by the descending thick blade.
And then, the screams desired by a certain someone were uttered by her own mouth.
Hoho. Hohoho. Fear laughed.
Raindrops finally began to fall. Standing in the rain, she looked quite delighted.
"Fear... Is that really... Fear?"
Haruaki was confused, but no one could answer his question. The instant blood spurted out from the loss of Peavey's single arm, Konoha lost consciousness.
Fear stealing rice-crackers to eat, Fear throwing a tantrum at home, Fear happily attending school. Those facial expressions compared to the current smiling face of Fear—clearly they were the same face, but different at the same time.
With residual piteous cries, the collapsed Peavey started to move. Muttering "Damn it! Damn it!" as she righted her upper torso, she knelt as she attempted to stand up—suddenly a great amount of blood spurted from her severed shoulder, causing her to lose balance, drained of strength. Flailing her remaining arm, the massive fist struck the floor, she created new depressions as she tried to support her body that was toppling forward.
Supporting herself like a three-legged beast, Peavey raised her head. Her blonde hair obscured her eyes and virtually all of her facial expression. Nevertheless, Haruaki could still see her bloodless lips moving. Rather than screaming angrily—
"How dare you... How dare you rape and humiliate me?"
A chilling voice. It sounded very calm. Too calm. The tone of mockery she bore up to this point was no longer present in her laughter.
Simply... Pure laughter.
Precisely due to that, it felt even more terrifying.
She had abandoned something decisively—that was what Haruaki felt. This was this woman's limit.
Suddenly, even the smile disappeared from Peavey's face leaving her completely expressionless. She started moving once more, withdrawing her hand from the floor, blood spewing as she stood up.
"Appalling... The worst... Humiliated by... Trash... Utterly appalling..."
Only quiet mutters came continually from her lips. These words carried no emotion. Neither did those obscured eyes nor her pallid face show any emotion.
Perhaps due to the difficulty of balancing with one arm or the effects of inner turmoil, she swayed with great instability. The pale ghost with blood gushing from her shoulder—or rather, the "Balancing Toy."
Even her mutters were shaking unsteadily, nonstop.
"...I'm going to kill you, destroy you, and then violate you. Happily I will torture you to death... You are just a tool... Rusted..."
Clack! —The sound of high heels. Expressionless, the balancing toy began to walk. Her footsteps unsteady. Even so, that abnormal existence was approaching Haruaki's group step by step, muttering to herself. The sight reminded one of a poorly made horror film, presenting an unbelievable and terrifying scene.
But just as Peavey advanced a couple of steps—
A long slender strip of fabric, resembling a bandage, extended from below the school building onto the roof.
Due to its great length, only the front end was in view. The source was probably on a lower floor or on the ground. The cloth strip moved as if alive, wrapping itself around Peavey's waist, instantly lifting her body into the air. Surprised, Peavey tried to resist but due to her injuries she could only fruitlessly wave her legs.
Then Peavey was taken away by the strip of cloth, disappearing over the railing—vanishing into the increasingly heavy rain.
Only silence remained. Silence synonymous to the sound of rain. Destruction's wake was colored garnet as if rendered as a watercolor painting.
Watching in a daze for seconds, Haruaki finally registered these surrounding elements as peace.
The enemy had left.
No response. Neither the cracks on the roof nor the twisted railing gave any answer. Totally beyond comprehension.
(However... At least the enemy was repelled...)
He relaxed his shoulders. The muscles of his entire body had tensed severely due to rushing in to battle without any warmup exercises.
The rain gradually increased.
His drenched uniform was becoming heavy, the fabric clinging to his arms. Only at this moment did he remember his painful wound. At the last moment, Konoha had shifted her body, thereby managing to avoid damage to bones or nerves. Nevertheless, a wound was a wound.
Hoping for the rainwater to wash away the bloodstains, Haruaki sighed.
However—he heard an unbelievable voice at this moment.
"...Mechanism No.8 breaking type, circular figure: 'Francs' Breaking Wheel'—Curse Calling!"
He instinctively shuddered and held Muramasa forward before him without thought. Thanks to his natural reflexes, the sword blocked the attack successfully.
It had blocked the attack Fear made against Haruaki.
The wheel and the sword resisted each other. Fear appeared before Haruaki with empty eyes, holding the edge of the torture tool. Giggles escaped her mouth as her gentle exhalation reached Haruaki's lips.
"Screams... I want to hear screams. I... was created for this purpose. I... that..."
"Come back to your senses! It's finished, the enemy has escaped! Fear!"
What astounding strength. Pushing the wheel hard, she gradually drew near. Haruaki desperately resisted. This caused sharp pain to flare up from his arm injury, making him lose strength. I'm going to be crushed! Just as he trembled from the thought—
"...You! What on earth are you doing?"
A terrifying roar came from the sword as it robbed Haruaki's arms of his control. At the same time as deflecting the wheel, Konoha's black scabbard struck Fear and sent her flying.
Lying on the concrete, completely drenched by rainwater, Fear remained motionless for a quite a while. After a few seconds passed, the chain of cubes extending from her hand vanished while the torture tool connected the chain returned to its original form as a Rubik's cube.
Her laughter sounded slightly convulsive, but Haruaki knew. Fear had returned.
Slowly, she got up. Quietly restraining herself, her drenched hair sticking to her cheeks as she stood in the same spot with a blank expression. Suddenly she raised her arm:
"...Rain? This is also a first. Really... So it turns out to be this cold. Haha, with this, my body—as well as my face, isn't everything all wet now...?"
As always, she seemed to be trying to hide something and muddle through. But she could not possibly muddle through this time. Haruaki was just about to lecture her in vexation when she spoke out first:
"...Do you understand now? You wanted to know my true nature, so this is it."
Her back turned to Haruaki, her voice sounded rather delicate and sad.
"Haruaki. How will you treat me now? That woman is completely correct. I've murdered hundreds, and I was created for the purpose of killing in this manner. Because of that, these hands and this self is cursed. Repeatedly cursed. But ironically, I finally obtained human consciousness as a result of endless curses, only to realize the concept of guilt."
"...A common thing."
"A common thing? Ha, really? I am self-aware. Speaking of guilt, I feel like I am the worst and most abysmal tool. Ah yes, right, Haruaki, I was really relieved to learn about your constitution. Immunity to the curses of cursed tools—that had been my greatest fear before coming here. I did mention, right? My curse is simply 'a common thing'... It causes the owner to go mad, compelled to use me without any self-restraint. No matter how virtuous or noble, as long as I come into their possession, they all become like my first owner... Like that murderous maniac of a castle lord. Using me to seek pleasure, interrogating and torturing others... An existence of this sort, what else could you call it other than irredeemably sinful?"
"Hence—I said there's no problem! This doesn't matter, right? Because it doesn't affect me! Since this is a matter of constitution, it won't change in the future, so you can rest assured!"
Haruaki tried to sound as cheerful as possible, but Fear shook her head in disagreement.
"No. Recalling the past, recalling that I am still me—I have realized the most fundamental problem. I strove to pursue hopes and dreams, but never did I think about how stupid it was. I tried to forget, to pretend things never happened. But clearly it's impossible!"
"Fear, calm down! What are you talking about?"
In response to this question, more questions were raised in quick succession:
"I am guilty. Guilty of murdering too many people. Which is why I am cursed with guilt. So what about punishment? What should the punishment be?"
Everyone was silent for a moment. Only the pitter-patter of rain could be heard, singing a noisy song.
Fear quietly turned her head, orienting her dripping wet face towards Haruaki—asking in a trembling voice:
"Hey... For me, is finding absolution possible? The curse this body suffers from... Will I be able to forget it?"
Haruaki was silent. Because there was no need to answer, he had no obligation to answer, he did not want to answer, and furthermore, it was a question with no answer. He knew it was underhanded of him to do this, but he still offered a smile as an answer.
"Let's go home, it's too cold here."
The underhanded plea did not reach her heart. Because she was too clever.
Looking rather happy, but also very lonely—Fear also returned a smile.
"This answer is so gentle... So very gentle, but it's the worst."
Once again, she turned around and stepped forward, murmuring extremely quietly as if to herself:
"I was very happy. The rice-crackers were very tasty. By the way, this school, this home, all treated me so kindly... But in the end, I don't belong here."
"Wait... Fear! Wait a minute, you—!"
Haruaki reached out towards the hand that could not be reached, but even then she did not look back.
"...What happened just now has steeled my determination. By now, I almost added another unforgivable crime to my repertoire. Rather than having things this way—it's better for me to sleep alone the way I was until recently. So I must go. I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused you."
The drenched silver hair jumped up high.
Fear went over the railing, disappearing into the rain.
Collapsing on the roof staircase, Haruaki pondered.
What would have been the correct answer? What would have been the right thing to do?
"Wait a minute, I'll bandage and give you first aid immediately!"
Konoha controlled Haruaki's hands currently, slicing off the lower hem of his uniform for makeshift bandages. Then she returned to human form and began to bandage Haruaki's wound. The bleeding had essentially stopped, so there was no worry that she would faint again.
Rather than sharp pain, an ambiguous sense of heat and pain could be felt from his arm. Perhaps his drenched body was reeling from the cold, the sense of heat seemed to be spreading thinly throughout the body like a film of oil, finally settling in the depths of his mind.
"Done. Are you okay?"
"Yes... It doesn't hurt much. Probably because you avoided a critical hit. Thank you."
"I don't think it's anything serious, but you should still get examined at a hospital. Or rather, I am ordering you in the form of a suggestion... We're going to the hospital, right?"
Haruaki did not answer. He stared straight at Konoha through her glasses at extremely close range, but he did not answer.
"You're not going... Is that what you want to say?"
"If that's the case, what are you going to do?"
"Then even someone like me will get angry. You have to take care of your own health."
Haruaki silently lowered his gaze. Konoha narrowed her eyes with displeasure:
"You're going to chase after that child, isn't that what you're planning to do? She left by her own will! Besides, that woman only lost an arm, but she doesn't look like she'll give up... She'll probably come again. Given the fact her life is being targeted, I think running away is actually not a bad decision."
These words weighed heavily in Haruaki's heart.
What was the answer Fear sought? If he had answered correctly, would she not have left? Who knew—even now, there was still no solution. Even if he chased after and found her, then what? If he said the wrong thing again, things would simply repeat again.
Plus the meaning behind "Running away is actually not a bad decision"... Even if Fear was brought back, dealing with the enemy from here on was also a problem. Undoubtedly, that woman named Peavey was an enemy. Most terrifying of all, she really carried murderous intent. The murderous intent to destroy cursed tools and anyone in her way. Even if Fear came back, how could Peavey be convinced to give up? Who knows.
"She said... 'It's better for me to sleep alone.'"
"That girl... She's not running away. Instead, she chose to terminate things in a more terrible manner. That's why..."
Gazing into Konoha's eyes, he pondered how to convince her. As the sense of heat clouded his thinking—
There was only one conclusion. It could not be helped. Because it could not be helped, he could only ask in this manner.
"I beg you, this is my one and only wish of a lifetime, Kono-nee!"
Konoha instantly drew a deep breath in surprise, then sighed as if exhausted.
"...So unfair, didn't you promise never to call me that again? We're already going to high school together."
As if relishing being scolded, Haruaki deliberately giggled.
"Ever since a long time ago, whenever I begged in this manner... You never refused me, right? Even if you fumed angrily and kept complaining nonstop, in the end—you'd always help me."
Konoha turned her face away. Was she hiding embarrassment? Haruaki thought to himself.
"Are you troubled?"
"...I am troubled. Really."
"To be frank—something else also troubles me, but I don't know if I should voice it."
"Wh-What is it? You're in pain after all, right? Oh no, you have to immediately—"
"That's not it. How should I put it... That..."
Haruaki muttered unintelligibly.
"SP? Is that some kind of acronym? Sonic punch?"
"Yeah, you could think of it as an acronym. Regarding something on a similar level of destructive power."
What does sonic punch have to do with anything? —As Konoha puzzled, she casually punched the air. Rather than producing slicing wind or sonic booms, the resulting sound effect was "boing." Realizing this, Konoha lowered her gaze mechanically as if her neck was fitted with some kind of switch. In actual fact, Haruaki had been desperately keeping his gaze on Konoha's face all this time, but he almost followed her downward shifting gaze. Frantically, he closed his eyes—
"In other words, stop parading naked!"
"You should've told me earlier—!"
Almost bursting into tears, Konoha ran out to the roof through the pouring rain. She must have gone to retrieve her uniform.
What should he do next? Haruaki pondered gloomily. A few minutes later, the sound of splashing footsteps entering the roof door could be heard. Konoha came to Haruaki as he sat on the floor, wringing water out from her drenched uniform.
"...I am simply musing to myself. I was thinking, that child probably failed to understand a rather obvious truth. When clearly it is so simple a matter."
"What do you mean?"
"Iyaah, are my musings being overheard?"
Saying that deliberately, she smiled and continued:
"Since you overheard, it can't be helped. This is the hint to the answer—regarding guilt and curses, etc—to her question. Perhaps you can treat it as the answer to the question, 'What could you do once you catch up to her?'"
Konoha watched Haruaki with her head tilted.
"Simply stated—I never asked Haruaki for an answer."
"That child is the same as me. I used to ponder the same question, and even now I still ponder—but although I've yet to find the answer, I continue to stay in Haruaki's home. What does this mean? ...End of my musings."
Haruaki could get a vague sense of the meaning behind her words. In other words—
Whether the curse could be lifted or not, was irrelevant to the question of staying in that home.
Instead, what mattered was... Once he found Fear, he should say—
What he needed to do turned out to be simpler than imagined. His lips naturally smiled.
"W-What are you smiling about?"
"Nothing, nothing much."
As expected, begging Konoha in that manner really worked—Haruaki thought to himself as he stood up.
"Great! So now, let us go experience the true meaning of youth!"
"Running a marathon under pouring rain is something that belongs exclusively to days of youth, right? It seems like it will serve as a glorious memory of high school days! So, could the lady over there please assist me in making these memories? No no no, it's not going to take too much of your time. That little girl's conspicuous silver shiny head is our goal, it will be very simple!"
"Making memories eh... Sigh—In that case, it can't be helped."
Like an exasperated older sister unable to refuse the whims of a willful little brother, Konoha smiled wryly and sighed.
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