Chapter 3 - Antinomy of Each Other's Body Temperatures / "Cold curse, Warm curse"
Rusted industrial machinery stood upright like some kind of monster. The air was rife with the smell of rust and mold. On the other side of the high ceiling, the sound of countless raindrops dancing could be heard.
In the corner of an abandoned factory, Peavey's silhouette could be found. Her upper torso naked, she was covered below the waist by a brand new blanket. Nevertheless, the bleeding from her shoulder made newness irrelevant.
That thing—the dangling bandage moved and inexplicably wrapped itself around Peavey's shoulder.
Peavey's body twisted in suffering as a result of the extreme intensity of the pain. The portion of the bandage in contact with the wound was writhing restlessly. Contracting, sucking away. No mistake, it acted as if it were alive—sucking blood. As if struck by electrical shock, Peavey's body jumped. But seconds later, she endured the pain as she breathed irregularly, peering through her blonde hair to glare at the figure standing before her.
"What joke is this... What are you do—"
"...Yes, it should have sucked to its fill now."
Unintimidated by her anger, the girl responded without hostility. Stopping herself from pouncing forward, Peavey glanced at her own shoulder. She could tell that the shoulder's pain was subsiding. Not only the pain caused by the strange bandage but also the pain intrinsic to the amputation wound.
"No matter what kind of critical wound, Chupacabra Bandage can stop the bleeding. But because this thing is alive, it feeds on blood the instant it wraps around the wound, accompanied by intense pain. Simply stated, one has to endure suffering while it sucks its fill. Once it is full, the pain will disappear temporarily. For the sake of closing a critical wound, one is forced to savor pain—that is this bandage's..."
The strip of fabric extending toward Peavey severed itself, and the remainder retracted.
The figure nodded in acknowledgement and murmured softly:
"This place is one of the hiding places we arranged. In your current state, there was no way to send you to the hotel, but left alone you would have died. Hence you were taken here for emergency treatment. I apologize for lacking the opportunity to explain until now."
Who knew if Peavey was actually listening as she used her remaining iron arm to punch the bloodstained blanket as she stood up unsteadily.
"...It's better if you stay still. Although the bleeding has stopped, your physical energy has yet to recover."
"You must be joking! Why act without my consent! I can still fight! That stinking rubbish of a tool! I must defeat her at all costs..."
"Certainly, because that is the mission, its destruction is imperative. Nevertheless, at that particular point in time, I judged you as incapable of achieving it."
Chupacabra Bandage once again extended out from the mantle, its front end striking Peavey's bare chest. Knocked out of balance, Peavey fell and sat down on the dirty blanket once more.
"The job of an auxiliary is to provide full support to the knights on the front lines. From this standpoint, that is all I can do. I firmly believe I made the right decision."
Peavey glared at the girl's eye beneath the depths of the hood. The girl remained calmly composed, completely unfazed.
"Fighting under conditions of uncertain victory would simply result in a wasteful sacrifice—that would be troublesome for me, for it would be seen as my failure as an auxiliary to judge the situation properly."
The aloof attitude persisted for minutes with no signs of changing, causing Peavey to give up in the end. She sighed and sat down properly, dangled her arm to the floor and took off her armor. Then using her exposed hand to open a retractable compartment on the armor, she took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling the smoke deeply into her lungs—slowly, slowly, as if performing deep breathing.
As she inhaled and exhaled, her abandoned emotions began to return slowly. Her sanity defrosting, light returned to her soulless eyes as a sardonic smile appeared on her lips.
Raising her head up to examine the figure before her, she scooped up her blonde hair and spoke with displeasure.
"Hoo... And here I was, wondering what kind of auxiliary I had, who could have expected a single little child like this. Far I have truly fallen, to be lectured by this kind of child."
"Regarding the description of 'little child,' I must voice my objections. As for 'a single,' that I can only explain to you thus: it is inevitable given the circumstances. Due to the suddenness of the mission, there was no time to organize an army."
"Yes yes, I know. In any case, I was the only one free to be sent to this place, and you are the only one to support me. The Knights Dominion lacks in manpower, this cannot be helped. I have not a single complaint for our lord... By the way, girl, can you tell me your name?"
In that instant, as if she were struck by an unexpected impact, her hood began to sway lightly from side to side.
"...Hmm, there is no need. Just call me 'Mummy Maker.'"
"How utilitarian a child you are. Fine. My name is—"
"I already know."
Mummy Maker's hand began rustle as it moved beneath the mantle. After a long while, a bandaged hand emerged from under the mantle, holding out an object resembling a small stack of flashcards. She spoke as she flipped through them:
"Peavey Barowoi. Female. Twenty-one years old. Unmarried. Blonde-haired. Rank: Orthodox Knight, First Class. A rare knight who does not rely on Wathes to fight on the frontlines. Likes: cigarettes, black pepper steak, white wine..."
"Are my three-sizes written there?"
"Three-sizes are... Yes..."
"I didn't ask you to read them out. I was being sarcastic."
Peavey puffed out smoke. The reason of her displeasure was not because she was forcefully withdrawn from the fight.
"If 'Hates' or 'Special Characteristics' are written there, why don't you read it out?"
"Note: her hatred and revulsion towards Wathes is especially outstanding amongst the knights. Hates: all Wathes."
"Especially long and slender Wathes, they repulse me so much it makes me shudder!"
Peavey glared with revulsion at the bandage wrapped around her shoulder.
"...Are you blaming me for using Chupacabra Bandage?"
"That's only half the reason."
"And the other half is...? Other than this I had no other recourse. Had I explained to you first, surely you would have refused. I already considered it beforehand."
"That is not the reason. I understand very well this was the only way to close this wound, so I'll concede and overlook the fact. Besides, it's already bandaged, this is all in the past. However—the problem is the present."
The present? Mummy Maker inclined her head in puzzlement, her movements as girl-like as her voice. Peavey's sharp glare persisted.
"Take that thing off and show me your appearance."
"...Only if there is such a need."
Mummy Maker pulled her mantle back and the hood fell on her shoulders to reveal herself as a white-haired girl, age fifteen or so. Instead of wearing clothes, her entire body was wrapped in bandages, even one of her eyes.
"Oh my, isn't that an adorable face?"
"...Hmm, no such thing..."
"In any case, those things wrapped around your body, which ones belong to Chupacabra Bandage?"
"Almost all of them. Except for the face."
Almost all of them eh—Peavey's face expressed mockery.
"Then take them off."
"Did you hear me? Take them off. This thing on my shoulder cannot be helped, but as much as possible, I do not want any Wathe to enter my sight. Even if a Wathe exists nearby I will feel uncomfortable. Take them off and throw them away as far as you can, somewhere out of my sight. Treat this as your obligation, at least when you're speaking with me."
"...What if I refuse?"
"Then you have failed as an auxiliary to accommodate and support the knight. That would be my conclusion. From then on, I will neither accept nor permit your assistance. You could return to the Knights Dominion."
"Underneath this... Nothing is worn..."
"It does not matter."
"My body... Is very ugly, with burn scars..."
"It does not matter."
Finding Peavey's serious expression unchanged, the girl sighed briefly. Slowly she went to work, directing the ends of the bandages to move behind the nearby abandoned machinery. The sound of wrapping around some kind of object could be heard. At the same time, the bandages around her started to wind towards that direction with a rustling sound.
After that, what remained was the pale white body of a girl of whiteness.
She continued to maintain her sense of aloofness that matched neither her voice nor her age. Expressionless, she stood there—just as she had claimed, her body was covered with large patches of burn scars, now completely laid bare. But apparently she was not without emotion, for faint blushing appeared on her cheeks.
"...Hmm. Like this, is it okay...?"
"Yes, this is fine."
"There is nothing to be embarrassed about. Isn't my chest exposed too? Besides—"
Peavey held a cigarette in her mouth as she walked over to the girl's side, staring at her body tactlessly.
"Yes, I knew it. What were you saying... Very ugly? Nonsense!"
Mummy Maker raised her head with surprise. Peavey easily deduced that she must have some kind of mental trauma and sad past. Hence, rather than jeering she was smiling. Amongst the Knights Dominion, there were many who regarded Peavey as a mad dog.
Seeing the girl display the mettle to express her opinion directly to someone of such a reputation, Peavey was greatly pleased.
"In my view, Wathes are what are truly ugly. In that case, having removed that kind of thing, how could your body be ugly? Burn scars are insignificant."
"I'm not lying. This aspect of yours is rather fitting for your age."
Peavey spoke as she extended a hand to caress the girl's head. This act caused Mummy Maker to act even stranger. As her eyes flashed and turned upwards, her body shuddered slightly.
"What's wrong? Ah yes, you dislike having your head touched, is that it? My apologies..."
Just as Peavey was about to withdraw her hand, Mummy Maker shook her head hurriedly.
"No... No! It is... The opposite...!"
"Up until now, no one had ever touched my head, so... I, am very happy..."
"Don't parents usually rub their child's head?"
"—No. My parents never did..."
The girl gloomily looked down at her burns and did not finish her sentence.
Peavey narrowed her eyes. She also recalled—her own parents who had died from Wathes.
"Well, there are many kinds of parents after all... Fine, what should I do? If you wish, I can continue rubbing?"
Although she meant it as a joke, the girl seemed to have taken it seriously. Shyly she lowered her head and drew in her shoulders, hesitating for quite a while before finally murmuring:
"If you don't find it troublesome... Then... A little longer..."
Peavey was quite surprised but since she had made the offer, there was no other choice but to continue caressing the girl's head. This sort of intimacy, which did not suit a first encounter, gave her a rather incredible feeling.
As she continued to rub, Peavey rested the girl's forehead against her stomach. The girl's face was out of sight.
(A surrogate mother... That doesn't really suit my style... But fine, once in a while feels not bad at all.)
At this time she suddenly recalled:
"Even though I asked you to take off the bandages, you are not required to continue showing me your naked body, you know? If you feel embarrassed, feel free to wear your mantle."
By pure coincidence, Ueno Kirika met the girl in front of the cram school. After lessons ended, she walked out of the building and immediately saw her—just as she was frowning at the rain falling from the night sky as she opened her umbrella, a silver figure walked past before her.
The girl's appearance was quite strange. Still wearing her school uniform, she did not carry an umbrella and allowed her silver hair to be completely drenched. Her gaze directed towards her feet, she walked listlessly.
Even though she only took care of the girl for one day, being the class rep—no, regardless of her identity, she could not leave her alone.
She hated rain and, in particular, being drenched by it. Whenever she saw boys getting excited to see wet uniforms turning transparent, she wished she could eliminate them all from the world. Running in the rain was suicidal, but she had no choice but to abandon this principle of hers. Simply using her umbrella to prevent rain from splattering on her directly, she broke into a light run in pursuit of the figure.
"Fear-kun...! Hey, Fear-kun! What is going on? Why are you here?"
The girl did not respond to her calls and simply continued walking in a daze—judging the situation to be abnormal, Kirika forcefully pulled her into an small alley. Only then did she look up with a blank expression—
"...Yes, Ueno Kirika, the class representative of Yachi's class. Didn't we meet during the day? Seriously, what happened? Walking in the rain without an umbrella, that is absolutely ridiculous! Where are you going?"
"Where am I going... Yes, I have to go where..."
She murmured with her eyes out of focus. Just as Kirika frowned in surprise—
"Oh? Hey girls, you're completely drenched!"
"Where are you girls going? How about we share umbrellas? Or why don't we simply find a place to shelter from the rain? We'll treat you!"
A bunch of frivolous men. Now was not the time to get involved with them.
"Please don't interfere, this is none of your business!"
"...Huh? We are just offering our kindness, what is with that attitude?"
Kirika's original manner of speaking was already different from most girls. Combined with her impatient tone of voice, her words sounded especially offensive. As a result, the two men's attitude instantly changed.
Troublesome things again—Kirika frowned, causing the men to be even more displeased. By this point, apologizing would only make things worse.
As Kirika began to ponder, whether it would be faster to simply run away and drag Fear along, at this moment—
A voice came from behind her.
"Too noisy... The only noise needed are screams... Screams...? Yes, screams..."
"Too noisy? Girl, you think we're too noisy?"
Before Kirika could interfere, one of the men reached out towards Fear.
Then Kirika saw it. The Rubik's Cube held in the silver-haired girl's hand.
The toy instantly transformed into a long-shafted tool. With merely a light sweep, Fear sent the man flying away. Smashing into the wall with a frightful sound, the man fainted.
"What...! F-Fear-kun, what on earth is this...?"
"Y-You girl... What have you done?"
As Kirika watched in shock, Fear moved past her and came before the other man. Without any pretense she made a forward thrust with the spiral weapon. The man tried to escape but slipped and fell on his butt—the spiral weapon embedded itself into the wall, mere centimeters above his head. As it dug through the steel-reinforced concrete, debris fell onto the man's head.
"Behold, Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator». This is me. Another me. This form measures 178.7cm. Number of times used: 357 or 358. In one case, a person died from shock at the very sight of this, a very young boy..."
Fear's gaze remained extremely hollow all this time. She was having a dream. A nightmare that could not be called a dream. While mutters continually came from her throat, her arm moved as if heeding the calls from a sea of darkness. Retracting her weapon from the concrete, she lowered the tip slightly, pointing it at the man sitting on the ground.
"...What is the purpose of my existence? Why do I exist? To gouge, to drill, to perforate! Hence, I-I..."
"Fear-kun! This is going too far!"
Kirika hugged Fear's arm tightly. As if she had been hoping to be restrained from the very start, the girl instantly stood motionless.
"You there—Run! Hurry and run!"
"Eh! Ah! Yaaah..."
Leaving behind his friend and umbrella, the man scrambled and scurried away.
Kirika felt a chill along her spine, even colder than the rainwater. She saw at this time that the vicious weapon had transformed back to a cube shape. Noticing Fear relaxing, Kirika let her go, but Fear began to look lifeless once again.
"Ah, haha... Useless, I knew it..."
Slowly she turned her gaze up towards the dark sky, her expression obscured by the silver hair over her face.
"This is my first experience of rain. Yet all I can think about are memories from the past. Someone like me, where should I go... Haha, right, of course there is only that place. Ending things at the place I saw for the first time... Would not be bad. Not bad..."
The silver-haired girl started walking again, leaving behind Kirika who was powerless to do anything.
As the sight of her back was lost in the dark streets, her mutterings gradually faded into the distance.
Suddenly no longer hearing that weak voice, Kirika instantly became confused.
Were the girl's shoulders trembling because she was laughing, or was it—
"Any sign of her?"
"No good... Can't find her anywhere."
At the meeting place—the plaza before the station, Haruaki and Konoha were looking at each other, out of breath. The sky had completely darkened and pedestrians walking before the station were sparse and few in between. In contrast, only the rain poured harder and harder, rendering the vinyl umbrellas they had bought at a convenience store useless.
Parks, alleys, gaming centers, department stores, behind buildings... They checked place after place for where Fear could be but failed to find any trace of her.
"Damn it, where did she go? She has no money so trains and buses are out of the question. She couldn't have gone far."
"It's not like there are no channels of obtaining money... But I don't really think she would go that far?"
"I'm quite sure her mind is not messed up enough to rob money from pedestrians. No, more fundamentally, she probably doesn't even know how to take a bus or a train. There shouldn't be any problems there. Anyway, let's continue searching—"
Just as they were about to start walking again—
A lively ringtone was heard from the cellphone in the chest pocket. Who could it be at such a busy time? Haruaki was planning to ignore it but—the ringing continued nostop. Glancing at the caller's ID, he gave up and took the call.
"Class Rep? Sorry, I'm really busy right now, could we talk next time—"
'I saw Fear-kun!'
Haruaki frantically withdrew his finger that was about to press the end call button. Motioning to Konoha with a glance, he indicated it was an important call.
"W-Where? Please tell me, we are trying to find her!"
'—Just as I expected. No... Sorry, she was with me a short while ago but I lost her. Because she looked very strange, I decided to contact you to let you know.'
"I see... Wait, did anything happen to you? That girl is a little emotionally unstable right now—"
A moment of silence. Then—
'I myself am fine.'
Catching the implication of her words, Haruaki's spine stiffened.
'No... Nothing serious. Even the people apart from me. However, how should I put it... She is very confused. Yes, I don't know how I should explain it—perhaps you might think I am absolutely ridiculous, that... I saw something unbelievable! Fear-kun, Fear-kun was holding this Rubik's Cube—'
Haruaki swallowed hard. Amongst the acquaintances of his father, there were people who knew about the existence of cursed tools. The school superintendent was one such person, which was how a special case like Konoha was able to obtain a student's identity—But this was the first time Haruaki met someone in his own circle who had encountered cursed tools.
"I am sorry, but I will explain once everything settles. Can you forget this incident for now?"
'What are you saying?'
"I know this is unreasonable of me, but it is hard to explain right now..."
"I beg you, Class Rep, now is not the time for explanations, I must find Fear!"
After a period which felt like forever to him, Haruaki finally heard a sigh.
'...It can't be helped, you seem to facing difficulties of your own.'
"T-Thank you! Also, please don't tell anyone else—"
As soon as Haruaki finished, he heard a clearly angry response.
'Absolutely ridiculous! Do you really believe I am the type of idiotic woman who goes around spilling other people's secrets for fun?! Besides, I already know you have your difficulties!'
"Owah... S-Sorry! That's not what I meant!"
'Never mind. So, where would Fear-kun go, do you have some idea?'
"That's exactly why I'm in a bind. Class Rep, did that girl say anything?"
'I wasn't able to converse with her much... Hmm? No, she did say something towards the end...'
"What did she say? Tell me!"
'Right! I recall she said... "Ending things at the place I saw for the first time... Would not be bad"... Something like that.'
The first time? Ending things? The place... She saw for the first time, and for ending things?
Haruaki's mental circuits connected instantly, recalling what happened this morning. While watching television, Fear had expressed dramatic interest towards a certain place.
Kirika was still talking but Haruaki shut his phone, tossed his umbrella and broke into a run. Watching him splashing as he ran, Konoha silently sighed and also threw away her umbrella.
The night sea seemed far darker than what she had seen earlier on television, and far more terrifying. As countless raindrops splattered across the surface of the sea, the continued noise filled the air.
The wave breaker stretched ahead into the distant sea. The faraway beach was littered with rocky shores. No matter how curious, no one would probably come here for a swim. Even fishermen would have no way of seeing to the depths of the sea. For years, decades, or even eternity—a vast secret room lay beneath where people's gazes would not venture.
Fear walked towards the furthest end of the wave breaker. Accompanied by the rhythm of the rain, the complex sounds of mingling waves felt even more intimidating. Taking a deep breath, the fishy smell of the rocks filled her lungs. The sensation was fresh and novel, was this the taste of saltwater? Was this the taste of fish? Questions suddenly surfaced. She felt the urge to ask the person who appeared in her mind, however... That person was not by her side, and they will likely never meet again.
Fear smiled lightly—she still could not sever her attachments.
Gazing at the darkness extending before her eyes, it really looked limitless. The horizon which should be there was not visible, for the sky and the sea were equally pitch black. Why would she feel this sense of longing? But she knew the reason.
As she stood on the edge of the wave breaker, she was completely drenched by the splashing waves and the rainwater.
"Don't be impatient, I will go now..."
Muttering to herself, she prepared to take the last step—But just at this very moment.
She heard a voice. A voice calling her name.
Not Fear-in-Cube but the name she had taken provisionally, the one whose meaning she did not even understand, her name here.
"Ho... Idiot. Seriously, what an idiot. Why did he have to come..."
Smiling wryly she turned her head.
There was no one.
All she could see was the wave breaker, splattered by the rain. Only the icy-cold water stretching into the distance.
It must be her feelings of attachment.
Unable to suppress the urge, Fear began to laugh in her current posture with her head still turned back.
"Ha... Ha... Aha... Ahahaha... How I wish to defy fate! But I did try to kill that guy! I almost added another to my crimes! He couldn't possibly have come after me! Haha... Even if he really chased behind me, the gods could not possibly allow him to arrive here! Because—I am—cursed! Ahahahahahahaha!"
Then her laughter stopped suddenly. She was truly pathetic, hence she resolved herself.
She was cursed. Hence, it was not allowed.
As she murmured softly, she leaned her weight backwards, slowly reclining her body.
She could see the sky as rain poured down from it. There was a comfortable sense of floating. Embraced by water from all directions, her body gradually sank. Keeping her arms and legs spread out, she let gravity guide her to the bed prepared for her at the bottom of the sea.
Her back could feel the sensation of sand. This was the place of her eternal slumber—she thought.
Nothing could be seen. So very dark.
There was nothing in the surroundings. So very cold.
Ah—expelling her last breath as a bubble, Fear closed her eyes.
Nothing to see. A cold, dark place. This was exactly the same as the underground dungeon beneath that castle.
I ended up there again? How fitting. If only I never left in the first place. Only because I went out, did something like this happen. Only because I tasted the edges of warmth, did something like this happen.
I am just returning to where I was originally, clearly when that is all this is, but for some reason—
—Compared to before, it felt even more lonely.
Staying in the cold abandoned factory was no help in recovering one's energy. Through the use of a rather unsightly manner—namely, using Chupacabra Bandage as a rope, Mummy Maker returned to her base—the room at the hotel.
Fortunately, the one who objected to this method of transport was currently sleeping behind her. As the embarrassing act continued, she left the message "I will rest for a while, I leave things to you" and simply went to sleep. Due to the difference in body size, moving her did take quite a bit of work.
Mummy Maker lightly laid Peavey down on the soft bed in the hotel suite. Although she felt that the armor worn on Peavey's arm was in the way, she had no idea how to remove it and could only leave it there.
As the covers were pulled over Peavey, seductive breathing noises could be heard from her sleep.
She must be quite relieved now—Mummy Maker felt a mysterious sense of warmth in her heart as if a fire had been lit. At the same time, she recalled the weight of the hand rubbing her head dozens of minutes earlier.
That was her first time. Not beaten but to have her head rubbed by someone. Not pulled roughly but to have her hair gently caressed. Standing so close together, hearing voices that were not scolds. Experiencing for the very first time, that all this could be so pleasurable.
Asking a woman she met the first time to spoil her, even Mummy Maker was surprised at her own behavior. However—why? —She could not restrain herself, as soon as she wondered whether or not she would have such a chance in the future.
Simply recalling the memory filled her heart with happiness. Dreamily, dreamily. It was as if her memories were washing away. The memories of her parents locking her in a closet, setting fire to it in hopes of obtaining insurance money, thus resulting in her near-fatal wounds and the loss of one eye.
She watched Peavey's sleeping face. The face of someone who should simply be a colleague.
Was she looking for a surrogate mother here?
Never experienced an ideal mother's touch, was she projecting her desires onto Peavey now?
It must be. That blonde hair, those heavily scarred hands which could not be called beautiful, that smell of tobacco... All these were identical to the mother who had tried to kill her. Hence, this person who was not her mother resembled her mother all the same. This was mistaken escapism, an act of substitution, she understood. Even though she understood—she could not suppress her feelings of tenderness. All she wanted to do now was continue watching that sleeping face forever.
But sooner or later, Peavey was heading towards death. Having lost an arm, her combat ability was severely compromised. But she did not care about that and intended to fight with nothing but pride as her weapon. How worrying.
Mummy Maker noticed the notions surfacing in her mind.
—Wishing Peavey could stay.
—Hoping she would not die.
—Wanting her to stay longer.
—Well then, what could be done?
A knight like her would definitely not listen to pleas asking her not to fight. As her auxiliary, such a suggestion was not permitted either. Even if a plan was come up to prevent her from fighting—such as asking the Knights Dominion to send reinforcements or a substitute candidate, Peavey would probably ignore orders and go forth to fight alone. Hence, rather than trying to stop her from fighting, Mummy Maker needed a way to allow her to fight in safer manner.
Assist Peavey in battle? Rejected. She would only be a hindrance. That was why she became an auxiliary in the first place.
Then what other ways were there—she thought to herself—and finally an idea occurred to her.
The orders issued by the Knights Dominion were to "Destroy Fear-in-Cube," nothing more.
Exterminating the Japanese sword and Yachi's family was not part of the mission. Even though letting them go would surely result in a scolding, it would not be grounds for punishment. If necessary, they could simply send another knight.
In that case, there were options open to her.
Even though it might prove futile, it was better than doing nothing—
Plans crystallized in her mind. The only condition was it had to be carried out in secret. Surely, even a plan of this level would incur the displeasure of Peavey? After all, this was merely her own willfulness.
If it were to be done, it had to be put into action while Peavey was asleep.
Once again, Mummy Maker turned to watch Peavey's sleeping face. Suddenly, a mischievous urge occurred to her as she tried to caress that blonde hair. Then—
"Hoho, are you trying to take revenge on me?"
Half opening her eyes, Peavey teased. Mummy Maker frantically withdrew her hand.
"...No, nothing much, I just... Felt like trying once... That's all."
Pulling her hood tight she hid her face. How embarrassing.
"Continue and sleep peacefully. I will go out to scout for a bit."
"Oh my, how diligent in your work."
Mummy Maker turned around. Just as she was about to step out of the room, she heard a voice from behind:
"Beware and take care."
These were also words she had never heard before.
Without noticing, she began to break into a light run.
As soon as Mummy Maker left the room, Peavey entered light sleep once more.
Her first priority was to rest and recover her body and spirit.
Her spirit was fine. It was always fine at any given moment. She will definitely destroy those stinking tools. Definitely, definitely, definitely.
What about the body, then? —She pondered.
An injured body, an exhausted body, and unfortunately, a body whose bleeding had been staunched by a contemptible Wathe.
Then she realized. Truly, it was too contemptible.
Having lost an arm, prevailing against two Wathes without a plan would pose quite a challenge.
What could she do? She no longer cared about image. Trash must be cleaned out as soon as possible. Although a minimum amount of rest was necessary, staying out for too long would be akin to forfeiting the match. She was still about to fight, even alone she could still fight. The dishonor of losing to a mere tool would be an insult amongst insults. She had to think of a plan, she had no choice but to come up with a plan—
Even if it meant resorting to a method that disgusted her so much she would vomit—a plan that her earlier self would have mocked and ridiculed a few hours ago. Had someone suggested this to her, she would have instantly considered them fallen to the level of lowly insects, but now, even such a way of doing things—
That is right, she had already thought of the way. The question was whether she would actually choose to use it.
Motion. Rejected. Motion. Rejected. Motion. Rejected—motions with identical content and their rejection. Every member of support personnel had their own pride and mission. Risking everything at their disposal, they repeatedly made decisions of tradeoff.
Once she reached her conclusion, she fell into deep sleep.
To replace the arm she had lost, a most contemptible arm finally reached out towards the most despicable solution.
Bathed under the pouring rain that flew sideways from the wind, Haruaki and Konoha finally arrived at the shore on the south side of town. Nevertheless there were still no signs of Fear. Trying to ward off ominous premonitions, they ran along the road which followed the shoreline. From ahead, a car slowly approached with its headlights lit up. One would have expected it to simply pass by but—
"Hey wait, you two... Are you searching for someone? If not, then never mind."
"Did you see anyone? Uh, we... Yes—we are searching for someone, a foreign girl with silver hair!"
As expected—the man in the driver's seat and the woman beside him looked at each other.
"You did see her?"
"Ah yes. Roughly ten minutes ago... She was walking ahead of here listlessly as we passed her by. She wasn't even carrying an umbrella and looked quite strange. We felt concerned so we turned back to look for her just now... But couldn't find her."
"Ahead of here... If I remember right, it's a dead end...?"
"That's why we felt troubled. What should we do? Should we call the police?"
"A-Ah yes—No no, there's no need! We were just playing some sort of punishment game... I think she probably went to hide somewhere! Really, that child, always acting out excessively... That's right, acting out excessively! Ahahahaha..."
Behind Haruaki, Konoha made a fake diplomatic smile and tried to smooth things over. What, it turns out to be something like this—the man forced a smile.
"That's right! How could something so terrible happen in real life... Really, this kind of shock is bad for the heart. You guys shouldn't play such dangerous punishment games. We almost called the police!"
"Yes, that's true, you are completely right... Sorry! Then we'll be on our way!"
They were finally near their goal. Haruaki and Konoha ran towards the direction where the car came from. Beside them, the beach gave way to a rocky shore. As they passed through the windbreak plantation, they quickened their pace as they made sure there were no signs of people. The road narrowed and as they ran, the paved path disappeared. At the end of that small path, the endpoint—was a vast space with only minimal street lighting.
The sea lay ahead with tall cliffs on the right. On the left, the rocky shore ended here with the wave breaker extending perpendicularly towards the sea.
This was all there was. All that could be seen was this.
Haruaki walked unsteadily onto the wave breaker. No one, there was no one there, only the sea.
The answer was simple, but he refused to believe it. If there was only the sea here—then it meant she was somewhere in the sea.
Somewhere in this vast expanse of water.
At the front end of the wave breaker, Haruaki collapsed on the ground.
The rain was so noisy. The sounds around him suddenly changed.
He was unable to respond to this voice. Clenching his fist, he gritted his teeth. Clearly his body still had strength, but a sense of emptiness filled him. The sounds from all around penetrated his hollow body.
Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.
Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.
Haruaki raised his head with surprise. Crawling over to the limits of the front edge of the wave breaker, he extended half his torso over the sea. Then he saw a certain object.
His shoulders trembling, Haruaki took out his cellphone and wallet from his pockets, tossing them to Konoha who was puzzled by his actions.
"...I forgot the most important thing. First of all, that girl is heavy. Secondly, she is very stupid, a fool, and very naive. Therefore—she definitely did not give much thought to where she jumped into the sea. Her first choice must be a spot that resembles the sea the most, this place. Yes, definitely. And there's evidence... The people just now said, she was seen roughly ten minutes ago, so this thing couldn't have drifted far."
The corners of his lips rising into a smile, he said lightly:
"I'll be right back."
"Eh? Umm, wait!"
Haruaki jumped into the sea.
The little toy cube struck the wave breaker as it bobbed up and down from the splash.
Was it because he had been splattered by rain all this time? Unbelievably, the seawater felt warm to Haruaki. The saltwater made his emergency bandaged hand hurt, and even though he had prepared himself, it was unexpectedly painful. Within his virtually dark view, he could only dive deeper by using the faint light above to orient himself. As his arm strokes plowed through the water, his fingers suddenly struck sand, surprising him slightly. But now was not the time to be surprised. He proceeded to search his surroundings.
The current situation was, that "thing" should have fallen from the wave breaker like a cannonball, a human-sized cannonball which could neither turn nor swim—surely he could find it. Based on logic, the probabilitiy could not be low. Haruaki persuaded himself in this manner. After a while, his fingertips suddenly touched seaweed. Seaweed? —Searching further, at the root of the seaweed was a hard yet soft and round object—hair and a head! Found her!
Next all he needed to do was float back to the surface. Embracing what appeared to be her shoulders, he kicked his legs with all his strength.
(Not good... So heavy!)
Anxiety consumed his oxygen. Was that direction really the surface of the sea? He could not be certain. Perhaps he was advancing towards the seabed. In fact, was he really advancing? Could his legs be kicking emptily at the bottom of the sea?
Just as he felt himself in a crisis, an unexpected water current could be sensed all around him. The body he held in his arms felt lighter and his kicking legs seemed to be propelling harder. Several seconds later—
"Puwaaah! Guh, cough... Oooh..."
"Huff... Huff... You... You are way too reckless! Seriously!"
"Sorry... Thanks for saving me."
The one floating beside him was of course Konoha. Haruaki thanked her from the bottom of his heart as he examined the tiny body they embraced between them.
"Our kind shouldn't be able to drown. She should wake up if you leave her for a while."
"Hoo... Honestly, I was really worried. Goodness knows what would happen if this evolved into a drowning incident of another victim! This girl is super heavy, if you hadn't helped it would have been dire."
"Seriously, what if you drowned! If it's heavy then at least come up for air first. This child is not human. Leaving her there a few more minutes would not have mattered."
"Now that you mention it, you're right... I forgot. All I could think of was getting her out from the sea as quickly as possible."
"You forgot? ...Sigh~~"
Konoha sighed in amazement.
"Seriously, if you say it that way, I can't even get angry anymore. Haruaki-kun is really Haruaki-kun... Sigh. Though this does count as one of your good points too..."
As he listened to Konoha's murmurs, Haruaki decided they had to move over to the wave breaker first. However, there did not seem to be any spot to use as a foothold. As he grabbed the Rubik's Cube floating before him, he wondered how to climb back up—Suddenly, someone extended a hand.
"You couldn't have possibly thought... You could get away with things just by offering me an explanation tomorrow, right?"
Extending herself from the wave breaker was Kirika, who looked both angry and relieved. Sweat and rainwater slid down her face—she was holding an umbrella with one hand, and her clothes were not particularly drenched, so it was probably sweat. This meant she must have run all the way here.
"You have to explain properly, Yachi... And Konoha-kun."
Konoha turned her gaze away, greatly troubled.
"I don't think this is an interesting topic... Could you pretend you didn't see anything?"
"No way. Even though it has only been a day, Fear-kun is already a classmate. I have the right to worry about her, right?"
Troubled—Haruaki shook his head.
He grabbed onto Kirika's outstretched hand.
In any case, they should enter the windbreak plantation for shelter first. Although the trees could not block the rain completely, it was still much better than being fully exposed to the wind and rain out on the wave breaker.
Late night diving was quite exhausting after all. Laying Fear down to let her sleep, Haruaki sat down on the ground.
"Hey, is Fear-kun okay?"
"Yes... Nothing to worry about, I think."
"If you say so, I'll believe it... But you are really useless, you know, look how energetic Konoha-kun is."
"Eh! Uh, I, umm..."
Because I am not human—it was impossible to tell her that directly, hence Konoha tried to dodge the issue ambiguously.
"Achoo! Ah, I feel terrible. Is this my punishment for not exercising regularly enough..."
"You suddenly jumped into the sea, that is too reckless! This is not an issue of regular exercise!"
Suddenly hearing the sound of swaying branches, Haruaki frantically turned around—
Before his eyes, a figure was suspended upside down from the branches, giving Haruaki quite a shock.
Like some sort of bizarre and strange entrance scene in a horror movie, it turned out to be a bizarre and strange human after all. It was a tiny figure shrouded entirely in black fabric. A rope-like object extended out from the figure's waist. Tied to and suspended from the branches, the sight resembled a bagworm.
"...I am an auxiliary belonging to the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion. Mummy Maker."
"You two, please step back!"
Konoha nimbly stepped forward. However, the bagworm who called herself Mummy Maker slowly shook her head.
"I am an auxiliary, with virtually no combat ability. My purpose here is not for battle."
"...Then why are you here...?"
Haruaki positioned Fear and Kirika behind him and questioned. The girl answered simply:
"The matter of our mission being 'Destroy Fear-in-Cube.' Hence I have a proposal."
A bandaged hand extended out from the mantle and raised a single finger:
"One, you people can destroy Fear-in-Cube yourself. Or two, you can incapacitate her and hand her over to me. Three, you can promise me you will not protect Fear-in-Cube and not hinder us. As long as you agree to one of the three, I will swear that we will not harm any unrelated humans and Wathes in exchange."
"That's completely stupid... If such a proposal was acceptable, I wouldn't have interfered in the first place. Isn't it so obvious you don't even need to ask?"
"Wait a minute, Haruaki-kun... I am very concerned why she still came to ask at this stage."
Konoha glared sharply at Mummy Maker.
"What you mean is—If we were to refuse you, you will target the lives of Haruaki-kun and me? Not simply because our protecting Fear leaves you no choice... But as part of your purpose, even if we do not stand before Fear, you will attack us?"
"...You are free to interpret as you wish."
Seeing Konoha's severe gaze unfazed, Mummy Maker softly supplemented:
"As a further note, this is a friendly offer."
"Friendly? Don't make me laugh... Are these the words of the companion of the lunatic who appeared during the day? Unbelievable. And the proposal itself is so stupid, it is impossible not to be suspicious whether there is a trap."
"I have no conspiracy. This offer comes from me alone. I think it is advantageous to both sides."
In response to Haruaki's voice, her answer sounded slightly guilty. But she immediately went "Sorry I have misspoken" and shook her head.
"I will give you a day's time to consider. Use it to think it through carefully. As for the method of contact..."
Taking out from beneath her mantle something that resembled flashcards, she flipped through it. However—
"...Hmm, method of contact, I seem to have forgotten to prepare..."
Apparently she failed to find what she was looking for. Instead, she searched the inside of her mantle, took out a cellphone, then started operating it with unfamiliarity, producing a noisy series of tones. Then using an adorable voice that did not quite match the scene, she read out the numbers "090..." and copied them on a card.
Having finished her task, she nodded with satisfaction and tossed the card towards Haruaki.
"Telephone number. Please contact this."
"I'm sorry you spent the effort, but like I just said, I won't accept the proposal."
"...Even if your personal safety is at risk?"
"I will permit no one to harm him. Absolutely no one."
Konoha lightly brandished her hand in a karate chop, splitting cleanly in half a leaf that had fallen from a branch.
"Hmm... Well, I am just a nuisance here. It is plain to see, there is a very reliable glasses girl right here. I have no intention of getting taken out right here."
Mummy Maker sighed with disappointment. As if on cue, her body began to rise as well.
"...I have communicated what I intended. I hope you will make a rational decision."
The black-clad figure disappeared amongst the leaves and branches. With a rustle and heavy shaking of a tree trunk—only the sound of rain remained.
"Yachi, just now that was...?"
"Ah— ...Let's leave this for the explanation later as well. I still have many things I haven't figured out yet."
Haruaki casually picked up the card at his feet. It was not something he would ever use. However—
(This is the only method of contacting those unidentified people. Even though simply knowing a telephone number isn't going to be of much use... Throwing it away would be a shame.)
That's right, that was the only reason.
The enemy's proposal was absolutely meaningless. Completely unnecessary.
Abandoning Fear as an unneeded tool, was definitely impossible...
Suddenly, he felt someone's gaze. Konoha was looking at the card. As Haruaki looked up, she laughed as if trying to hide the seriousness in her eyes:
"...So, let's go home?"
"Ah, yes. That's right. I'm going to catch a cold unless I take a warm bath as soon as possible. As for Class Rep—"
"Naturally, I will have to take advantage of your hospitality. The questions keep piling up."
Looks like things were getting more troublesome—Haruaki slumped his shoulders dejectedly and placed the card into his pocket.
"How should I put this... She's super heavy. Is it related to the mass of her true form?"
"Well... I guess it can't be unrelated... Let's take turns?"
"I'm still okay. I'll rely on you later."
Haruaki walked as he carried Fear on his back. Although he considered taking a taxi, carrying an unconcious young girl would be far too suspicious. Not long after they started walking, the rain gradually ceased. In the end, they took a shortcut home. Since it was late at night, there were few pedestrians naturally, and there was less worry of being stopped by others.
Still, Haruaki could hear people whispering away about misbehavior. Walking slightly ahead, Kirika turned her head back and asked:
"Umm, uh... Let's talk about that later as well."
"Oh? Very well—By the way, Konoha-kun, I don't know the way, so walking in front is rather difficult for me, you know?"
"Ah, sorry about that. By the way, since it's so late now, what about your family?"
"I live alone, so there's no problem. So don't even try to drive me away with that reason."
"T-That's not what I meant..."
Konoha and Kirika walked side by side as Haruaki followed slowly behind them. Suddenly feeling the sensation of Fear's nose on his neck vanish, he hurriedly tried to shift her back into position. This time, he felt something smooth and soft. That's her cheek, right? He thought. But just as he intended to start walking again—that skin of hers shuddered.
"You called me heavy... A second time already..."
In that instant, Haruaki deliberated on whether he should turn his head and look back, but decided to keep going like this.
"It is the truth. Seriously, I can't even stand steadily now."
"Towards a lady... How could you speak so rudely! I'm going to get angry, you know? I'll curse you!"
"What a coincidence, I am angry too. I'll curse you!"
Konoha and Kirika glanced back but did not say a word.
"...Put me down. Also, why... No, I..."
"Let me say this again, I'll curse you! My curse is very powerful, you know, so—please shut up unless you want to be cursed. If you dare ask me to put you down or to leave you alone, you will instantly suffer tragedy."
"...What will happen to me?"
"Your bust won't grow."
"What did you say?!"
Her voice showed some measure of willpower. She looked like she was recovering her usual ways.
"Besides, your curses are useless against me, don't waste your energy."
"Because they are useless, you cannot threaten me with them and I won't listen to your willfulness. To run away from home, how dare you—do remember that you are the guest my father entrusted me to look after! No matter how many times you run away from home, I will always bring you back, prepare yourself!"
Fear seemed like she had intended to say something, but in the end, her voice was stuck in her throat. From her thighs he was holding under his arms, Haruaki could feel Fear relaxing all of a sudden. With a trembling voice, she said:
"...How conceited, when clearly you're just a shameless brat."
"Oh my, so I owe you an apology?"
"Don't think you can look down on me just because you can't be cursed. If you don't reconsider that mindset of yours... I will apply a curse on you in a more direct manner, you got that?"
How? —Just as Haruaki wondered, he felt movement from Fear's arms which had been resting on his shoulder. As if crossing her arms, she tightened her hold on Haruaki's neck. Her drenched hair, soft face, flat chest and pale white legs were all tightly pressed against Haruaki.
"...How about that? Feel that cold? You deserve it! Why don't you go and suffer the curse known as the cold..."
"How terrifying, truly, this is a curse that everyone suffers at least once a year!"
Indeed, Fear's body that was embracing him tightly felt rather cold.
But precisely because of that—Haruaki thought.
If he could feel his warmth escaping so quickly, then definitely—
Fear must surely be feeling quite warm now.
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