Chapter 4 - A Mother and a Body Pillow for the Night / "Voice, a termination, not a termination, her, her"
"Uh... Ueno-san, would you like to use the bathroom in my room—"
"No—I wasn't really drenched by the rain. Please lend me a towel, that'll be enough."
Konoha had taken Kirika to her bedroom. Her room had a bathroom attached. Along the way, a scream was heard. Most likely it was due to the sight of the glass window broken by Fear.
Haruaki took Fear to the bathroom in the main building—
"Okay, you go in first, ladies first."
"...I won't catch a cold, but humans will. You first—"
Fear said with her head bowed as she was pushed into the changing area.
"By this point, a few dozen minutes is not going to make a difference, idiot. And who was it that made me jump into the sea in the first place?"
"A-Anyway, the modern world looks down on male chauvinism. To prevent human rights organizations from busting into our house, you go in first! Or is the short little miss over there trying to tell me she is no lady, hence the modesty?"
"S...Shut up! You go ahead and really catch a cold! Go and die! Be cursed!"
Fear snarled angrily with her face all red. Haruaki took down a towel from a shelf, tossed it to her and left.
Although he said all that, Haruaki did not particularly relish waiting in his wet clothes. Returning to his room to change, he glanced at his bandaged arm. Quite some time had gone by since it was bandaged and there was no new bleeding. As long as he did not move it recklessly, it did not hurt too much. Even though it was a wound from a bladed weapon, thanks mainly to Konoha, critical points were avoided. What truly divine skills.
"Woah, even though I made the offer out of pride, this surely is cold... In these modern times, getting out the heater would be the proper thing to do!"
He returned to the changing area with the wet clothes he had taken off. Listening with one ear from outside, he could hear the splashing sounds of bathing. Looks like she was properly warming herself up.
Quietly, he entered the changing area and threw his wet clothes into the washing machine. At the same time, he took the opportunity to take Fear's clothes in the basket—by the way, which was Konoha's uniform—and threw them in as well. But amongst them were a piece of white fabric that looked like it belonged to Fear. In that instant, Haruaki froze.
"No, wait a minute, I am simply washing clothes. There are no improper thoughts at all. There shouldn't be..."
Nevertheless, he still felt a little guilty. Checking his surroundings meaninglessly, he bent over and slowly reached out towards it. Just as he caught a corner of the wet fabric—a black shadow suddenly appeared beneath his feet.
An ominous black shadow that swiftly crawled out from under the washing machine, indeed it was Strange Creature C. A being that seldom found itself welcome amongst humans. Struck with surprise and terror, Haruaki reflexively cried out.
A faint scream was also heard from the bathroom. At the same time, there was the sound of some object like a stool flipping over. Haruaki furiously roared: "Don't scare me!" But there was no answer. Ominously, all he could hear was the sound of the shower persisting.
"Fear... What happened? Fear?"
No response. What happened? Haruaki tapped the frosted glass of the bathroom but nothing could be heard inside.
"Hey—Hey? Answer me! Did you faint? If you don't answer, I'm coming in!"
He hesitated for but an instant. He was now ready for anything. Sliding the glass door open, he walked inside.
Entering into his view were the flipped over stool and wash basin, as well as the shower head sliding along the floor as it spewed hot water, and... Fear, sitting on the bathroom tiles, shrinking into a ball. Teeth chattering, she was trembling all over, her arms around her head covering her ears.
As soon as she discovered Haruaki, she looked up in surprise, displaying her face that was twisted from being on the verge of tears. Then she screamed wildly.
"Yaah! My... My bad! I'm glad you're okay! Ugh!"
Suffering a straight right punch to the gut, Haruaki remarked to himself. To think he worried so much about her. Looks like she was more than energetic enough.
In any case, Haruaki crawled out of the bathroom first, reaching out to slide the frosted glass door behind him.
"Don't scare me, you shameless brat! I'll curse you!"
"Sorry, it really was my bad. Why don't you continue your bath, no need to hurry—"
Just as he was turning to leave—
"Ah... Umm, wait... Wait a minute... Since you're here, why don't you listen to something I have to say."
"Can't you tell me after your bath?"
"I want to tell you now. If I don't, my resolve might waver."
The color of her image was visible through the frosted glass. Separated by this sort of halfway distance, her white and silver contours looked rather vague. But in combination with the fresh memories from the sight of her smooth shoulders, waist, and thighs of a girl's, it was too easy to imagine—wait a minute, imagining is not allowed! Haruaki frantically shook his head.
"Nothing! It's nothing! Then I will listen..."
Since looking in Fear's direction would lead to strange imaginings, Haruaki sat down and leaned his back against the frosted glass. At this moment, finding his attention caught by the piece of white fabric he had failed to place into the washing machine just now, it was quite a strange feeling.
"What happened just now?"
"Umm... Nothing much. Just a a bug I'm really scared of..."
"Huh? No, it's that hated thing whose name starts with 'C'... Ugh, simply thinking about it makes my skin crawl. Anyway, it's okay now."
"I see, yes. Simply thinking about it makes my skin crawl. I feel the same way too."
"Were you afraid just now because of that?"
"Id... Idiot! I wasn't afraid! Completely not afraid! Besides—"
Haruaki waited for the conversation to resume. After a few breaths elapsed—
"—No. Even though the reason is different, but make no mistake. I am afraid. As soon as I recall what happened during the day..."
Cutting straight to the point—Haruaki thought to himself. Fear's voice sounded very serious.
"Haruaki... I am afraid of screams. More precisely, the screams of those I feel close to. Which also applies to earlier, as soon as I wonder if I might begin remembering the past, or revealing my past appearance, I feel afraid."
"...If that little scream makes you afraid, it's rather troubling for me too, you know?"
"Just now that was... Because... What happened during the day made me a bit oversensitive. I'm a bit neurotic now... But, perhaps something similar could happen again in the future, so I have to say this first. Scared by a bug aside, but take today for example, if you were hurt by someone, screaming in true pain—perhaps I might really turn back into my old self."
"It's because... Of the screams you used to hear...?"
"Yes. There was once a boy who was responsible for taking care of me while I was still a tool. In the end, that boy's life was sacrificed because of me. Hearing your screams reminded me of that incident. Simply put, I started developing awareness of 'self' back then—though it was an insane self. Haha, I really have no right to mock that insane ape woman."
A laugh of self-mockery came from the other side of the glass.
"But now it's different, right? That's just a type of mental trauma, simply confused memories."
"Even so, I am still me. I have not felt any change in myself. Carrying the same curse, I have come here. Perhaps everything is simply my delusion. Hating the way I was, is my delusion. Perhaps deep down in my heart I might actually desire to murder people as a tool..."
Then silence. After a moment, Haruaki felt the glass behind him shake.
Turning to have a look, he saw a white and silver silhouette behind him. Fear too, was sitting with her back against the bathroom door. Separated by a sheet of frosted glass, they were sitting back to back.
The vague silver silhouette seemed to be directing her gaze upwards, causing the back of her head to strike the glass, making it shake slightly. This vibration must have been felt by Fear and transmitted to Haruaki at the same time. They were connected. Her body, his body, connected by this pane of glass.
The fact that this girl's truly heavy body was mere centimeters behind him—feeling this concretely, Haruaki felt rather uncomfortable. But Fear had yet to notice his feelings.
"...I am really cursed, really a dangerous existence. If you wish to abandon me, you have to do it now."
"Why... Do you have to say that?"
"Because I don't know, whether I have the right to stay here. Whether I have the right to lift the curse and be absolved of sin..."
Haruaki recalled of Konoha's reminder on the rooftop. That's right, whether the curse is lifted or not, had no direct relation with staying in this home.
The only thing related and should be done was—very simple. Because it was too matter-of-fact, hence it was likely that Fear had not realized it, being a non-human. In that case, he had to tell her himself.
"Say... Aren't you always so willful?"
Haruaki sighed with a wry smile.
"Why can't you be willful in this particular matter? I don't remember saying anything about being eligible or not!"
"It has nothing to do with having rights. If you like it here, then stay! This isn't a confessional where we receive remorse. How should I put it... More like a purification waterfall? Something like that. All monks in training are welcomed, none are refused! So whether you stay or not, depends on 'whether you want to stay or not.' You can make your decision entirely based on that."
Haruaki acknowledged her will and feelings. In the past, she was once a tool. Tools had no will of their own. No feelings. Tools existed because they were needed. In other words, existence in itself was all the acknowledgement they received. This also meant that up to this point, she had never been proactively acknowledged by others.
Fear fell into silence. For quite a while there was no sound or movement. End of conversation? Just as Haruaki was about to get up—his cold body shuddered and he had a great sneeze.
"...Hey. Ummm... You really... Caught a cold...?"
"Hmm? No, simply this place makes me so cold it's unbearable. Old houses tend to have crevices allowing drafts to blow all over the place... I'm not trying to hurry you, okay? But don't bathe for too long, be a bit more efficient and I will thank you. That warm place you're in right now can be considered heaven! To be frank, I'd like to enter the sooner the better."
His nose began to itch again—
"Hoo... Hah... Hah... Hah-choo! ...Ooh~ There we go!"
The instant he finished speaking, the feeling of the glass door against his back suddenly vanished.
Dragged into the bathroom, followed by a vigorous yell, Haruaki found his view completely dark. A wet towel was covering his eyes.
"Hey hey hey! What are you doing? Are you trying to kidnap me for a ransom, or are you playing some sort of feudal lord game?"
"Sh... Shut up, stay still!"
"Telling me to stay still... Woah! Why are you unbuttoning my—!"
"Hmph... Hmph! I don't like owing favors! Just now you said that I was the reason you jumped into the sea. Yes, that's right, I am the reason! Any objections? It can't be helped, fine! Since I made trouble for you, let me do a little something to compensate! Aren't you cold! You want to take a bath soon? Very well then, I will help scrub your back right now! It's just an apology, only... An exception only for today! Don't you get the wrong idea!"
"No no no! You don't have to go so far!"
"Shut up and stop struggling! Hmph... Seriously... Clearly you're just a shameless brat...!"
How could he not struggle? This was quite a bad situation. But his shirt was pulled off as he twisted his body, making things worse. Haruaki was just about to stand up as a last ditch measure—
"Didn't I tell you to keep still...! Fine, since things have come to this, I will use brute force to make you submit!"
With great enthusiasm, Fear grabbed him from behind and immobilized him. There was an amazingly soft and supple feeling on his back, but Haruaki forbid himself to think about it! He could also feel a hand reaching for his pants—
Haruaki struggled harder. Somehow, he managed to escape from his restraints. In any case, he first tore off the object covering his eyes in order to find the exit, but his entire view was still obstructed by something white in color. Unable to see anything, he was confused for an instant, but he still turned around frantically. Just as he stood up—
"You two... What are you doing?"
Konoha was standing in the changing area.
But in a rather terrifying manner.
Haruaki calmly assessed the situation. Behind him, Fear was completely naked. That was only nature, seeing as this was the bathroom. But for some reason, he was present as well. Due to the struggle, he was also panting heavily, with his face most likely all red, his upper torso naked, and his pants halfway—how should one put it, all the elements for a classic misunderstanding were present.
"Hmm~ If you're asking what we were doing—"
Fear's voice came from behind. Because Haruaki dared not look back, he could only try to transmit his thoughts to her: Please, I will rely on you to clear up the situation.
"I guess I could put it this way... For the sake of returning a favor. But all I can give is this body... To be honest, I'm totally embarrassed as well, but I owe him, so there's no other way."
"Hey! Why do you have to pick words that would cause misunderstandings?!"
Konoha's body began to tremble audibly. The intimidating smile remained on her face.
"Hmm? What misunderstanding? Because this is my first time, perhaps I can't do it very well... But I am really offering my body in earnest, trying to make you feel comfortable! A-Actually I'm not completely willing, but for the sake of apologizing it can't be helped—besides, you were the one who started it by what you said!"
"Why is the list of words causing misunderstandings piling up?! What did I say exactly?"
"Something like... 'Unbearable' 'I'd like to enter the sooner the better' 'Your' 'Warm place' 'Huhahaha'... I can't remember all of it, but that's the summary of it. After saying that—you struggled violently, and came in here—then it became like this. No objections, right?"
"Plenty of objections! Your way of summarizing is too outrageous!"
Konoha's expression suddenly collapsed and one could almost hear a snap.
"Uwaaaaah! Too... Too indecent—!"
Covering her face with her hands, clearly in great shock, she ran away just like that.
As Haruaki slumped his shoulders in dejection, Fear spoke from behind him in puzzlement:
"Doesn't she understand the meaning of taking a bath? Why would entering the bathroom be indecent?"
The smell of curry wafted from the dinner table. However, it came from one of those boil-in-the-bag packaging. Under the assault of sleepiness and hunger, Haruaki was forced to abandon his principle of "Always cook a proper meal regardless of laziness." That said, he still made a salad to make up for it slightly.
"I see... I basically understand now. Konoha-kun and Fear-kun are not human but tools who acquired human characteristics because they were cursed. The person just now was a member of the organization that attacked Fear-kun. Also—"
Kirika narrowed her eyes and said:
"Yachi is the most despicable and worst sort of pervert."
"Can we stop making reference to that...?"
Haruaki tried his best to suppress the impulse to plant his face into his plate of curry. After listening to Konoha's sobbing accusation, Kirika had taken out her cellphone with full seriousness and talked into it: "Hello? I'd like to report a crime, there's a man—" As a result, Haruaki feared that she was not simply teasing but actually angry at him. But then again, he did not enter the bathroom on his own volition—even though he explained, but under those conditions, apparently it was not that easy to convince her.
Expressionlessly moving her spoon, Konoha also seemed equally unconvinced. After listening as Haruaki explained to her and Kirika, she did help out with the salad and recovered a slight sense of trust, nevertheless—she remained silent after that, completely unresponsive to the content of his conversations with Fear.
"So... Class Rep, you don't seem very surprised? I didn't think you'd believe us."
"It's impossible not to believe, right? The Rubik's Cube transformed right before my eyes and just now, Konoha-kun demonstrated by chopping up an empty box with just a finger. Based on common sense, these are all impossible phenomena, but the truth is they did happen. In other words, something beyond common sense has happened. Whether super powers, alien technology or cursed tools, I have no choice but to believe. By this point, I don't think you would still lie."
Eating curry by the mouthful, Kirika displayed a calm expression. Still, she should be confused to some extent—
"Besides, our common sense is very narrow. So-called common sense consists of known information that is shared amongst the people, hence everything unknown falls outside the realm of common sense. Starting from a long time ago, I had been thinking there must be reasons for frequent sightings of ghosts, UFOs, unidentified mysterious animals (UMAs), etc. There is no reason to dismiss them all as delusions or mistaken observations. They lack explanation only because our current knowledge is insufficient to explain them. Isn't it more natural to think that way? And currently, I have simply been exposed to the knowledge of cursed tools by coincidence. It would be equally surprising for me as the discovery of the coelacanth, but if I were to disbelieve it, that would be absolutely ridiculous. There are also numerous legends of cursed tools so there is nothing unbelievable there. That's right, nothing unbelievable. Examples include the likes of Marie Antoinette's blue diamond, the Pharaoh's mask, etc. I see now, I see that it's true after all... I have no choice but to believe..."
The one who interrupted her unending murmurs was not Haruaki but Fear. Using her spoon to mix up her plate meaninglessly, the curry was quickly turning into dry curry.
"So, what you mentioned just now... Was the time when you ran into me on the streets—"
Hesitating, she paused for quite a while before continuing—
"I... am very sorry. Letting you see me in an unusual state. Making you afraid. I'd like to apologize for that. Ah, seriously—I am the one who is the most scared of myself, surely there's something wrong."
"And what? ...You're not afraid of me? I am... That kind of—"
"Is the current you the same one in that 'unusual state'? Or are you saying you'll suddenly turn into your 'unusual state'?"
Fear held her breath and immediately shook her head in denial:
"No! I don't want that! I don't want to ever again... That happened because of all sorts of things—"
"Then it's okay, right? Besides, even though I was surprised back then, I wasn't scared very much. How should I put it... You saved me when those strange guys were hassling us."
Saying that, Kirika smiled lightly:
"So basically, I should be thanking you! Thank you for saving me."
Shocked for an instant, Fear lowered her gaze as if feeling shy, and finished her curry in one breath:
"N-No need to thank me. Haruaki, another please! This thing called curry is pretty tasty! Next time, put some rice crackers in it!"
"Don't be silly... But I seem to remember there should be one more pack of curry remaining. Fine, I'll warm it up. Please wait here."
Haruaki got up and quiety whispered "Thank you" in Kirika's ear. Kirika winked in response.
Silently, Konoha continued to eat her curry.
"It's this late already. I've already listened to all the details, so I should be getting home now... However, let me ask about one more matter. Isn't Fear-kun being targeted by the enemy now? What are you all going to do from here on?"
This question instantly caused a change in mood. Naturally, Haruaki instantly recalled Mummy Maker's ridiculous proposal.
However, Fear continued to enjoy her second helping of curry as she answered leisurely:
"Hmm. From here on... That strange woman already lost an arm. I can't really imagine her fighting properly anymore, so she won't be back? Besides, even if she came again, we'll easily drive her away again—Right? What's up, did I say something wrong?"
"No, hmm... Nothing wrong."
Haruaki agreed vaguely. She was not aware. The fact that Peavey's comrade had visited them, the fact that they had not given up on destroying Fear, and the fact that they plan on eliminating those apart from Fear—
But even if she knew, the conclusion would be pretty much what Fear had proposed. Hence Haruaki agreed with her.
"No matter what, we don't know where they're staying, so we can't really take the initiative."
"Yachi, I'd like to have your opinion simply as a reference. If you did know their location, what would you do?"
"That's also a problem. Even if we went to persuade them not to come back, they don't really seem like they would listen. In that case, we may have to resort to force—"
"...If you're planning to seriously break the law, I'm going to stop you."
"Of course. Basically we'll see if we can teach them a lesson to scare them from coming back, or maybe destroy or rob them of their equipment so they have nothing to use... Something like that. I have no wish to do anything more drastic, nor would I let you two to do so."
Throwing Fear and Konoha a glance, he continued:
"Basically, because we don't know where they are, we couldn't take such dangerous actions even if we wanted to. So anyway, let's just hope they don't return, and if they do, then just like we mentioned, we'll drive them off—That is where I stand for now. That said, we should continue to look for a better solution..."
"I see... Anyway, since I've heard about the matter, I can no longer pretend to be ignorant. All's well if nothing happens, but in case something does, come find me to discuss it! So—"
Getting up, Kirika hesitated for a moment and—
"That's right, I am the class rep. Yes, so I am bound by duty to help my classmates."
Haruaki smiled at Kirika. He had no intention of embroiling her into trouble, but he still felt quite happy for her kind offer.
"By the way, isn't it dangerous for a female high school student to be walking home alone at this time, how about I walk you home?"
"No, it's fine. I will take a taxi."
"Oh, a member of the bourgeois class... Then I'll send you to the door."
As he stepped out of the living room, Haruaki glanced back to find Fear engrossed in her plate of curry, nodding absentmindedly to express farewell. On the other hand, Konoha was simply staring at her tea cup blankly.
At the entryway, Kirika put on her school shoes as she asked in a whisper:
"It's not really my business to say this, but regarding that person's 'proposal,' are you really—"
Kirika smiled mysteriously as if finding him hopeless, but at the same time, she seemed to be saying: Now that's the Haruaki I know.
"Since you have decided, then I won't say anymore. I was only concerned because you picked up the card."
"I was only wondering if it might come in handy in some way."
"Very well. Ah, by the way, also..."
"...Eh? Where's the card?"
Reaching into his pocket, Haruaki was met with surprise, but immediately he remembered he had changed his clothes.
"Right, it's in my pants in the washing machine. Sorry, I'll get it right now so that I don't forget and wash it with the clothes. Wait for me here and we'll continue the conversation!"
"Ah, no, there's nothing important left to say..."
Haruaki listened to the voice behind him as he rushed into the changing area and began searching the pockets in his pants. He was greatly surprised to find it missing. No matter how hard he searched it could not be found. Running over to his room where he had changed, it was not there either. He ran back to the entryway.
"...How is it?"
"Terrible, I lost it. I might have dropped it somewhere."
"How could you lose something so important?!"
Kirika frowned and helped him search the entryway. Naturally, it was not found here either.
"After changing in my room... I only went to the changing area next to the bathroom? Then I lost it on the way home? Damn it, what should we do?"
"You're kind of clueless in strange areas like this one."
Kirika sighed as if exasperated and reached out for the notepad by the telephone. Picking up a pen on the side, she wrote as she spoke:
"...Basically this, right? Because she read it out as she wrote."
"Class Rep, you remembered it?"
"I have a habit of remembering everything if it's important. This is far simpler to remember than timelines in history."
"Man, you're too amazing... You really helped me a lot! I'm saved! I love you!"
"D-Don't talk nonsense! Hmph!"
Kirika blushed and shoved the notepaper into Haruaki's hand.
"Thanks, I'll be careful not to lose it. What was it you wanted to say just now?"
"Nothing important really—Forget it. I just wanted to tell you, Konoha was acting quite strange during the meal."
"Yes, that's right... What could be the reason..."
As soon as he mused casually, Kirika glared at him sharply.
"Let me guess, she must have been greatly shocked by your pervert antics."
"Ugh. She's still upset about that...? I'll try to explain to her again later."
"So be it, but I can't guarantee she will forgive you."
Timidly, Haruaki tried asking Kirika:
"...What about you, Class Rep?"
Smiling in response, she then made a beheading gesture with her hand while maintaining the same expression.
"'If you don't want everyone to know about this incident, help me out with this!'—Who knows how many times I will get to use this statement in the future? Looks like I'll be able to lighten my load for the sports festival and the cultural festival, what a relief... Well then, goodnight."
Several minutes later, the scene was still at the entryway. Konoha was blanky putting on her shoes. In the end, she only spoke thrice at the dinner table: "...Thanks for the meal." "...I'm full now." "...Well then, time for me to head back."
"Konoha. Listen to me, Konoha!"
"...Ah, sorry. Yes, yes... What is it?"
"Say, are you still angry about that? Like I said, it was Fear who dragged me into the bathroom. It only turned out like that as a result of the unusual circumstances. I didn't do anything suspicious—"
"Eh? Oh that—what happened just now, I'm no longer angry."
She responded with a smile. Although her expression was darker than usual, the sense of anger at the bathroom was gone. Haruaki silently breathed a sigh a relief.
"That's good... Because you were acting a bit strange. If there's anything you feel concerned about, let's talk over it."
"Nothing. Hmm... There is something concerning, so I was lost in thought, no doubt about it... But it has nothing to do with you, Haruaki-kun, so please don't worry about it."
Really—Konoha nodded with a smile.
"Sorry you were worried. So... What about tomorrow?"
Haruaki glanced at the little clock on top of the shoe cabinet. The clock which usually warned him when he was at risk of being late, was in a certain sense, currently predicting a great chance of being late the next day.
"Absolutely nothing we can do about it. Tomorrow is Saturday, right? We'll just miss half a day of class, think of it as our good fortune. I'm going to sleep in until noon. At least for tomorrow and the day after that, I plan on observing the situation at home... What about you?"
"I'll also... Slack off and take a break too."
"That's right~~ Three cheers to sleep!"
"Ah, I guess if I push myself, I could still go to school... But then again... Tomorrow... There's something I wish to do, so..."
"Something you wish to do?"
"This also has nothing to do with you, Haruaki-kun."
Though her tone of voice sounded gentle, somehow there was a sense of refusal that prevented him from probing further.
"So... Our strategy will be as Ueno-san described, passively wait for the enemy's next move?"
"I guess so, there's not much we could do with just a phone number. That strange proposal could be just a bluff. Perhaps they might be turning tail and fleeing for their lives."
"...That's true too. But there are many possibilities. They might return, they might not, they might be planning something—perhaps Haruaki-kun or I will be attacked. Even if it might be a bluff, it does raise the likelihood of an ambush."
As if ruminating over something, she paused for a moment then spoke:
"It would be better to stay alert for now. Please be careful."
"However, Haruaki-kun, you only need act as usual. Don't think too much or too deeply, just live normally and it'll be fine."
"Which is it? Don't think too much, or live normally?"
Saying that, for some reason, she smiled slightly apologetically.
Just before noon the following day, Haruaki was preparing brunch, clearly indulging in laziness.
His mind was not occupied with cooking but the dialogue with Konoha the previous night.
What should he do henceforth? Even if he did not want to think about this issue, the thoughts flowed into his mind on their own. Even though he had long accustomed himself to cursed tools, Haruaki was still a powerless ordinary human, and like most people, he would still worry.
—I will give you a day's time to consider.
If he believed in that Mummy Maker, perhaps nothing might happen today. But what of tomorrow? The day after that? Who knew—perhaps he himself would be attacked. Konoha was correct, the likelihood had increased. Correct, so long as they did not accept the proposal, so long as they did not give up on Fear, then—
Haruaki clicked his tongue.
(How stupid. I must have slept myself into a daze. What is wrong with me...)
Before the time limit was up for pondering, he should do something but definitely the proposal was unacceptable. Anyway, rather than pondering these things, he should figure out what ingredients to add to the miso soup instead.
At this time, a patter of footsteps entered the kitchen.
"Huh? The meal isn't ready yet, go watch some television."
"The television is exactly what I came to ask about. That black device underneath, what is it? I'm very curious, tell me!"
"That's called a videocassette recorder. It's used to record television programmes."
"What! You can even record the things recorded on television... Then that means you can preserve them for eternity, and watch them again and again forever!"
"That's really exaggerated of you. Anyway, VCRs are kind of outdated nowadays."
"What? That kind of invention already outdated... D-Damn humans, what a dangerous game you play!"
Seeing her in serious amazement, Haruaki could not help but smile wryly. Somehow, it made him feel a little better.
He still felt a vague sense of uneasiness—but there was no fear. Why was that? He tried to self-analyze—
(Forget it, I believe in my ability to judge people.)
He believed—Perhaps such an explanation was rather cliched, but that was basically the result.
He believed in the Japanese sword that was both a bespectacled girl and very domestically inclined. Furthermore, for the sake of compensating for her crimes, the strange cube girl who was desperately learning to adapt to the world—
"Teach me how to use it! Damn it, if I'd known earlier, I could have recorded that 'Meow Meow Paradise Hell' programme permanently...! Those fuzzy little fellows and their cute voices, makes me so want to hug them tight and scream!"
"So is it really heaven or hell? What an incomprehensible programme..."
"Okay, hurry and teach me! Actually there's so much I want to know! How to wash clothes properly, how to use the air conditioning and the phone... Yes, also, I want to unravel the mystery of the noise I hear from your room every morning—"
"Yeah yeah I got it. Let's save that for after the meal."
In the end, Haruaki's mood simply concluded "Though what tomorrow brings may be worrying, bring it on!" Though it could not be described as completely bright and cheerful, it was not gloomy at all. His body felt completely relaxed, but his mind had not rest at all. It was a day full of contradictions.
(Somehow I keep feeling like this is the kind of strange holiday where stress is built up... Fine, for a time like this, let's add some vigor to my latest cooking creation! I'm just copying what I've seen before, but I'll manage somehow!)
Hence, the ingredient for the miso soup was decided.
"By the way... Did you know? There exists something called rice cracker miso soup."
"Wh...What? How intriguing..."
"I am making it for the first time too. This is a recent fad."
"Wait a minute, I'm getting worried if you put it that way. I can't tolerate the waste of rice crackers, I must supervise you now..."
"...If you stare like that, you'll only distract me and cause me to fail. Would you like to help with some simple tasks?"
As soon as he spoke, Fear was all smiles:
"Can I? Yes yes, I want to help! What should I do first?"
"Well... Why don't you start by watching this pot for me, don't let the water overflow when it boils."
"Yes, leave it to me!"
Fear approached the gas stove and knelt down halfway, bringing her serious face near the pot. The sight of Fear bending over to monitor the pot was enough to bring a smile to anyone's face.
(Whatever, enthusiasm is all she needs currently.)
Then Haruaki continued with his other tasks. Suddenly—
"...By the way, can I ask a question?"
"Hmm? What ?"
"'The water overflowing when it boils,' what does that mean?"
"What? Ah, that's this! What you're looking at right now!"
Haruaki frantically shut off the gas.
"Oh... So when it's hissing and bubbling like this? Now I know."
"...That's really great."
Seeing Fear nodding away profoundly, Haruaki groaned with his eyes half closed. He amended the thought he just had—more accurately, enthusiasm was all she had at this point.
No need to be impatient. At this point all she needed was enthusiasm. First she had to develop self esteem, that was the most important... Based on this line of thinking, he then asked Fear to do some simple chores. Carrying the dishes, turning the switch on the gas stove, etc. Simply stated, tasks that were noncritical.
The cooking continued in this manner. Just as Haruaki reached out to the cabinet located high in the kitchen—
"Wh... What's wrong? Is your arm hurting where that woman wounded you?"
"No... It's nothing serious... But certain unusual motions still cause a bit of pain."
"Don't force yourself, leave it to me."
Just as he was about to point out what could Fear do when she was shorter than him, Haruaki found his answer seconds later.
"Hey hey, isn't this backwards? For a man to be carried on a girl's back, that's quite an innovative form of shameful posture!"
"Stop complaining, grab what you need quickly!"
There was no other option at this point so Haruaki swiftly found what he was looking for and got off from Fear.
"It can't be... Are you still miffed about my comments about your weight?"
"I-Idiot! Of course not, completely not, how rude! I'll curse you! You're really the worst kind, completely insensitive to the delicate hearts of others, a shameless brat!"
Clearly he was right on target. Fear pointed at Haruaki as she changed the subject:
"A-Anyway, what is that?! A club!?"
"Why would a kitchen have that kind of weapon? This is a stick of bonito flakes. Compared to the bagged version, this type is tastier. The flakes have to be shaved off using this—like that, pretty much. Do you want to try?"
Of course! Fear nodded and displayed a tense expression as she slid the bonito rod against the grate. Though her movements were rather unfamiliar, she did manage to shave flakes off so there should not be any problem.
"That's the way it is. You can say that for all cooking too."
"If only there was a tool for shaving a large amount of all at once—Right!"
As if she suddenly thought of something, Fear looked up.
"Using my drill, perhaps it could be shaved off easily. Worth a try!!"
"Of course I'm just joking."
Saying that, Fear laughed lightly with great delight.
As the cooking finished with nothing left for her to do, Fear began to protest unhappily. Haruaki had no other choice but to issue her the final command.
"Cough... The silver little miss over there, I will now entrust you with the most important mission in this enterprise."
"Oh? What is it?"
"While I'm mixing this, you have to help by praying that the flavor will be distributed evenly. This is very important! Put your hands like that! You have to keep saying: 'Become tasty~~!'"
"Be... Become tasty!"
That's right, at this point, having enthusiasm was enough. There was no point in being impatient, so long as she improved gradually—No need to think too deeply, just do things casually. And his mission was to assist her.
As he thought to himself, Haruaki desperately suppressed his laughter as he watched Fear, her hands extended, a serious expression on her face as she delivered her mental waves to the bowl.
From the window of the her room in the detached accessory dwelling, Konoha watched the commotion in the main residence. Though she could not see everything going on inside the home, glancing at the porch from afar was enough to catch a sense of the bustling within.
A patter of busy footsteps. Did something go wrong? Haruaki's anxious voice was heard. Holding a cloth, the girl started scrubbing the floorboards of the porch. Halfway through, she got tired of scrubbing and took a nap. When Haruaki discovered, he gently picked her up in his arms—and tossed her into the garden. The girl complained acutely and noisily, but no sooner had Haruaki taken out a bag of rice crackers, she began to moan and reach out with her hands. But she could not reach the bag. As Haruaki moved the bag left and right, Fear's upper torso with both arms raised also swayed from side to side. The sight truly resembled the teasing of a cat.
Watching this scene that would make anyone smile, Konoha's cheeks relaxed, but only for an instant. Immediately, she returned to her task.
—Monitoring the dangerous girl before her eyes.
Konoha recalled the scene at the roof. The girl's pressure, the force of that inquisitional wheel, as well as the unbearable fear she felt when that thing crashed towards Haruaki—
That sort of event could not be allowed to happen again. Hence, Konoha had no choice but to regard that girl as dangerous.
Even though there was no problem currently, she could not be careless. As she thought, further confirmation was necessary...
"Though it's this sort of... Hated role..."
She murmured to herself. Yet she did not give up. For the sake of protecting him.
No mistake, everything was for that purpose. Hence, there was something else she had to carry out while monitoring the girl.
Her finger caressed the rim of her glasses. Her eyes showed such intensity that there was an illusion of a creaking sound as she maintained alert awareness of the surroundings. Were they really given a simple period of consideration? Currently, there were no strange presences in the surroundings of the house. Nevertheless, she could not be careless when the enemy could show up at any time—
Konoha searched for presences in the surroundings as she watched the silver figure below.
With great concentration, she continued with these two tasks of hers.
"...Mummy Maker, could you get me some water?"
Waking up from thirst, she spoke but there was no answer. Peavey had no choice but to get up from bed. The sight of that hated bandage, which acted as some sort of wake up greeting, caused her to click her tongue disapprovingly.
Though the shoulder wound brought convulsive pain on occasion, Peavey no longer minded. Stepping on the carpet, she could feel strength in her legs. Even though this could not compare to her condition in full health, based on the current progress, she should be able to move about starting tomorrow. A full day of rest was needed—listening to the girl's advice turned out to be rather worth it.
Peavey had already decided on the next day's operation. This was the conclusion brought about by her sense of mission and revenge that finally overcame her pride. For this purpose, she pondered the preparations she must make as she stepped out of the bedroom.
The sky outside the window was just a swathe of darkness. There was truly no sign of Mummy Maker in the room. She probably went to scout again? —Thought Peavey to herself. The girl had guaranteed that those people would not flee, nor would she let them flee. Only because of that, Peavey agreed to spend a day's worth of time in this manner. How commendable, that girl's diligence in her work—let me caress her head when she gets back.
As Peavey walked towards the washroom to get water, she suddenly found something had fallen on the floor near the door. It was one of those cards that Mummy Maker often flipped through. Did she drop this when she went out?
Picking up the card, Peavey casually glanced at the words written on it.
Her surprise only lasted for an instant. Immediately, she began to laugh.
Giggling like a young girl.
Laughing like a maniac, hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha—
Just as predicted, the day ended peacefully. Haruaki thought to himself as he dove into bed under the covers.
The problem was tomorrow. After the allotted day of consideration, what would happen next? What action would the other party take?
Furthermore—the next day was Sunday, which was fine—but what about Monday when they had to go to school? What should Fear do then? Or what about when he went to school, would some sort of danger befall him... There was plenty to contemplate, but the comfort of the bed gradually absorbed those thoughts.
(What happens tomorrow, will be considered... Tomorrow...)
Then Haruaki entered the land of dreams.
Subconsciously—He decided that "tomorrow" would begin from the morning.
But that was not what the enemy thought.
When he suddenly woke to a noise, he found a figure standing in the room.
"...? Who... Who is it?"
The only source of lighting was the moonlight streaming in from the window. Only the vague outline of the intruder could be seen floating in the darkness. Shrouded by a large piece of cloth, the figure's head and entire body was completely covered.
Haruaki jumped in fright. The figure remained silent in the darkness, only swaying her body. From a gap in her mantle, a long and slender object could be seen dangling, waving ominously.
Haruaki recalled the scene when Peavey was swept away by the bandage. Mummy Maker had claimed to have no combat ability but at least she had that sort of power. On the other hand, he was just an ordinary human. What should he do? Escape? Or take a gamble and charge forward—
Perhaps hearing the noise just now, Konoha pulled the room's slide door open. Standing in her pajamas, she narrowed her eyes sharply as she glared at the figure in the room.
The figure emitted a rustling noise from her hand—probably the sound of a bandage or something extending—then it stopped at the same time. The figure turned her hooded head to face Konoha.
There was an instant of delay.
The next action came from—Fear! Squirming her way between Konoha's legs at the doorway to enter the room—
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi», Curse Calling!"
The Rubik's Cube transformed itself into a long and broad axe to attack the dark shadow.
No mercy at all, no hesitation at all, no confusion at all.
As the figure turned around, her left arm was sent flying with a spatter of blood.
"Haha... How dare you make a surprise attack while we were sleeping!"
Without any hesitation, the figure wrapped the cursed tool around the severed arm and turned around. Without giving Fear and Konoha a second glance, she jumped out the window. Decisively, she chose a complete retreat.
After enduring several seconds of silence, Haruaki slumped his shoulders.
"Eh eh... What should I say, thanks for the help. I never expected her to come as soon as the twenty-four hours were over."
"Sorry, even though I've been on alert all along, because there was no murderous intent, I discovered too late..."
"Were they planning on capturing me as a hostage?"
"Maybe... Anyway, there are no other presences now... I will stay on higher alert from now on."
"Then I'm really grateful... Will she return? She said she had no combat ability but then she ran here on purpose. Maybe it's because the other woman with the muscular arm retired from injury. And if that person just now retires from injury as well... Assuming they are a two-person team, they should be giving up, right?"
"That would be best. I don't know. We can't be off our guard yet."
Haruaki switched on the light, only to find Konoha watching Fear's silent profile instead of looking at him.
"Were you planning to kill her?"
A simple question. Hearing that, Fear suddenly looked up in surprise. Frantically, she shook her head:
"N-No, nothing like that! I heard a noise, and found... Haruaki being attacked, so I got all angry instantly, then... Then I was thinking, I've got to save him... I did—Yes, I did hold back! I only sliced off her arm by chance! Only by chance..."
"By chance... Is that right? Very well."
Fear stared for a few seconds at the Rubik's Cube that had returned to its toy form. "—I'm going back to sleep." Then she turned and left.
Konoha sharply glared at Fear's back as she slumped her shoulders and walked dejectedly. After a long while—
"Well then, I'm returning to my room too. I will take care not to let stray cats into the house. Please rest assured. As for the future, let's talk about it tomorrow!"
Left alone once again, Haruaki sensed a strange atmosphere as he scratched his head in puzzlement.
Then it suddenly occurred to him—shouldn't the room be spattered with blood? But turning his head to survey the room—
Logic would dictate a blood-stained floor but he could not find a single drop of blood. All he could see was his ruffled futon and a little dirt from the intruder's shoes—Only that. Although it was unbelievable, seeing as cursed tools were involved, anything could have happened without being surprising. In any case, he decided to give up pondering how it happened.
"...Whatever, I'll just be thankful that it saved me the clean up effort. Scrubbing blood stains late at night would be quite a horrifying scene."
A few hours after the intruder had appeared, Fear was still staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. She noticed the sliding door to the room being shaken.
"I have something to talk to you about."
The voice stopped. Even though it sounded calm, there was something about the tone which made it impossible to disobey. Fear got up and slid open the door to find Konoha standing on the porch, her back facing the moonlight. She was expressionless.
"What? At a time like this... Let's talk tomorrow."
"It has to be said now. I don't want the noise to wake Haruaki-kun. Let's take a walk as we chat? I'll wait for you outside."
Deciding matters on her own, she walked over to the corridor in a manner like an intangible mirage.
"Even though taking a walk with you isn't really my cup of tea..."
Fear grumbled but Konoha did not stop. Fear sighed and changed out of her pajamas into casual wear. Putting on sandles as she exited the front door at the entryway, she found Konoha turning around after a glance at her.
"Where are we going?"
"There's a forest behind the house. It's close enough that I can sense if anyone comes to this house. Follow me."
Just as she described, making their way around the walls encircling the home, they reached a lonely forest behind the house. The only source of light was the bright moon above, but to non-humans like Fear and Konoha, this proved to be no particular challenge.
"So, what do you have to say? You can't be inviting me for a walk just to entertain me, right?"
Konoha halted her steps, but she did not turn around, standing there motionless.
"There are certain things I wanted to know, so I've been watching you today. But I am still uncertain, so I had no choice but to do this."
Unable to comprehend her words, Fear questioned but Konoha ignored her and continued on seriously:
"I hope you can do something. No need to think too deeply, for it is a very simple task."
"Could you be more clear... What task is very simple?"
"Just a request. That's right, it's really simple, and this request only takes an instant to complete—"
"—Could you please go and die."
With a wave of her hand held like a karate chop, she stabbed right into Fear's soft chest.
Once again, she heard words that had never been spoken to her before.
"Welcome back. Did anything happen?"
"...Maybe, maybe not. Over at their place—"
"How devoted to your work as an auxiliary, I really must reward you."
Her head was being caressed. Stopping her report, she focused her attention to the sense of touch.
As per their agreement, she took off Chupacabra Bandage as soon as she returned to the hotel. With only a mantle covering her bare skin, it was a little chilly, but simply having her head caressed brought a sense of warmth from within. How incredible.
After a moment, the hand left her head. To be honest, she felt rather reluctant for the feeling to stop, but she could not make willful demands.
Peavey opened a suitcase in the corner of the room and began to search for something.
"...Hmm, I've thought of something. The report just now..."
"It doesn't matter anymore. I too, have thought of something. Can I ask you a question?"
"...Please go ahead."
"Can I ask again, what is your name? Not a boring nickname like Mummy Maker but your real name."
Peavey spoke without looking back.
To be frank, Mummy Maker hated her own name. This was the name given by her most hated parents. The name given by the man and woman who had tried to burn her to death. The name that had been destroyed in the fire, abandoned when she was bandaged like a mummy in the hospital. After that, her mother at the hospital bedside had strangled her neck, saying: "Why didn't you die?! Then we can't claim the insurance money!" Back then, she had cursed her own name.
But given this person here, being called that name was fine—that was what she thought. So long as it was this person who caressed her gently.
Deliberating a little longer, Mummy Maker finally spoke her name. The feeling of speaking that name felt too nostalgic, bringing an incredible sense of embarrassment.
"...Amanda. Amanda Carlot."
"Really, that's a good name."
Peavey smiled as she turned around.
"Well then, goodbye."
The massive axe swung down at Amanda's abdomen.
Blood shot out from the depths of her throat like a fire. She could not understand what was happening to her. Why would her abdomen feel so scorching hot? Why could she feel wind flowing inside at the same time? What was this she was vomiting? Dirtying this expensive looking carpet, will she be scolded?
"I don't know if you know this, but this is «Dance Time» which belonged to the knight Rielrink who died last month. This was what I was talking about in our first telephone conversation. The higher ups must have decided on their own to mix this into my luggage, trying to avoid having a Wathe idle meaninglessly without a master. Seriously, I can only call them meddlesome... But now that things have come to this, it is the only recourse left."
Incomprehensible. What was she talking about? Why? This? Where was the warmth from that hand just now?
"Oh my, your eyes seem to be asking 'Why did you do this?' I think you understand of course, but let me tell you one of the reasons."
Through her unsteady gaze, the girl watched as the woman in a dress held a card between her fingers. That... That was?
Peavey waved her arm and said teasingly:
"Something that you dropped. So, what's written on it, eh... Oh my? These digits are your telephone number right? Are you trying to imitate a callgirl? So I looked on the back side. Ah~~ I see, you even recorded in detail your 'To-do List.' Proposing to let that sword and the boy called Yachi off if they give up Fear-in-Cube. Also, asking for reinforcements from the Dominion and to return the wounded—Having lost this note, have you remembered to finish all of these tasks? Hoho."
As if it were extremely filthy, Peavey threw the card away. Her body convulsing as she collapsed to the floor, the girl looked at the card straight before her. The row of numbers were indeed her own handwriting. Why was it here? Furthermore—
(...Did I write down all that...?)
She could taste iron with her tongue. She was reminded of fire but she was not in a fire right now. Contradiction. Contradiction. The phone number had been written down that time to give to those people, it could not possibly be here; there was nothing written on the back. Most importantly, she knew that calling for reinforcements would anger Peavey, which was why she considered it but chose not to after all. In other words, the card did not record what she was supposed to do, did she really give this card out—it was given out—it was given out... Should have—dunno—
"This is truly betrayal. My wish is to personally destroy that stinking bitch of a box, the boy and the Japanese sword. Proposal? Reinforcements? Return? Who needs such hindrances?! That fact that you have been doing this secretly behind my back indicates you must have progressed to a certain extent, and have no intention of changing your mind, right? Then a person like that is of no use to me and only a hindrance, even an affront to my eyes—which is why I have decided to part way with you."
Hindrance. An affront to the eyes.
That's not right. I... It was for you... That was why I did it! Because I didn't want you to die... That was why I did it!
Unable to speak. Seeing her hand twitching and trembling, like a frog, how disgusting. She was being hated, how troubling.
Peavey picked up the axe by her feet and stepped forward.
"As for the second reason... A matter of coincidence. This disgusting axe requires the blood of a live sacrifice in order to activate its taboo power. Even though I could have managed along the way, this is rather convenient—Ah, by the way, it is still very disgusting. Though it can't be helped, being forced to touch a Wathe is really... As soon as the job is done, I might as well replace this remaining arm with a prosthetic as well?"
Speaking leisurely, she swung the axe in her hand.
A grin on her face.
"Hmm? You want to say something?"
That's right, I want to tell her. There's something I need to tell her.
"The report you were about to make? I'll listen to you. Hoho, if you're not deceiving me."
No. By this point, that kind of report did not matter. What happened at that home, in any case—
She simply wanted to turn her inner thoughts into words. But she could not make a sound. A warm substance filled her throat. Instead, she wanted to show using facial expression, but her face could not move either. She could feel liquids at the corners of her eyes and mouth.
Ah... Really want to tell her... So want to tell her... Clearly want to tell her.
I've always wanted someone to caress my head, and she did it for me.
Even if it was a ruse, deception, just killing time, a mistaken impression on my part, she did caress my head gently.
Having only experienced wrongs, I was struck with this revelation for the first time—feeling this must be correct. She had given me this.
That's right, hence—
"Oh my, it's hopeless for you now. Well then, it's about time—"
Thank you, for teaching me what a mother is like—She wanted to tell Peavey that.
The axe-wielding maniac called out her name with more loving gentleness than the girl's parents, more than anyone.
Such a happy experience had never been recorded in this girl's life.
"You... Suddenly... What are you doing...?"
At the very last moment, Fear grabbed Konoha's hand and pushed back with all her might. The fingertips which had stabbed millimeters into her finally left her body.
"Didn't you hear me? I said, please go and die."
The eyes beneath the glasses flashed mercilessly with sharp metallic luster.
Seeing her left hand moving, Fear leaped to Konoha's side and kicked at her. Konoha reflexively jumped backwards, her merciless left hand giving off the sound of slicing wind. This was no joking matter.
"...Tell me the reason!"
"Reason? Reason eh... Hohoho, then I will not hold back my inner thoughts!"
Only at this time did Konoha's lips smile faintly for the first time. A twisted smile of mockery. As Konoha pushed up her glasses with one hand, Fear felt a chill down her spine and goosebumps all over. Next to Konoha's fingertips, the glasses flashed. Beneath those lenses, her eyes were so intense that they seemed to be creaking as they distorted from the pressure—Like cat's eyes giving off eerie light—
"For me to destroy a rotten old box of mechanisms... What further reason would I need other than the fact that the sight offends my eyes?"
Fear moaned in terror. Then slowly Konoha's demonic aura—changed back to normal killing intent.
"Hmm, yes... Basically that."
"You wolf in sheep's skin!"
"Don't use such an unpleasant description. It's simply the fact that past selves do not disappear. Very well, are you done with talking? After all, you're going to die here."
"I don't really get what's going on... Huh, but in the end, you still turn out to be my enemy."
"You can decide that for yourself."
"Hoho... Hohoho. I never liked you from the second I laid eyes on you. Are you an enemy? An enemy, right? You are an enemy!"
"... Have you made your decision? Then what are you going to do next?"
Asking me what I'm going to do next? Isn't it obvious? Enemies must be defeated. Fear took out the Rubik's Cube.
A sense of liberation. From the depths of her mind, she felt a refreshing sense of liberation. Given an "enemy," she must fight "in self-defense" and she had to attack "with initiative." By doing that, surely she would get to hear wonderful "screams," hence "kill" "kill" "kill" "scream" "kill" "kill" "scream" "kill "scream" "kill."
Since there was no choice, then let's do it! This was fine, right? Her heart felt pain as if a sharp wedge had been driven in there, what was that? Ahhh... No good, her body had already sprang into action before her thoughts.
"Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator»—Curse Calling!"
The cube transformed into a drill and returned to Fear's hands with a wave of the chain. Holding it at waist level in a stance, she advanced forward. Alarmed, Konoha took a leap, the hem of her skirt fluttering elegantly. But how could she be allowed to escape!
Fear could hear Konoha murmuring with a frown, her poker face cracking. That's right, so very fast.
Pursuing Konoha, Fear made a thrust with the drill once more. However, Konoha acted as if she had no intention of fighting all along and turned to evade once more. For the demon sword Muramasa to be fleeing continuously, it made her earlier aggressiveness seem like a facade. How unsightly.
Fear predicted Konoha's future position and launched the drill from her hand.
Her enemy stopped at the sight of the deadly weapon flying before her. In that very instant, Fear took another step forward and retrieved her weapon at the same time by tugging the chain of cubes. Then she prepared to use the drill to pierce that—
"Oh? —Isn't that quite a pleasant posture you have there, haha!"
Her hands imbued with the sharpness of blades, Konoha captured the front tip of the drill between her palms.
"This is the traditional street performance of disarming weapons with bare hands...! Still, this is the first time I'm disarming a drill...!"
"A street performance? Cool!"
"...Very well, let me ask you. What are you thinking right now?"
The tip of the revolving drill pressed its way towards her heart. Konoha could not be unaware of that, yet still she stared directly into Fear's eyes as she spoke.
"What am I thinking? Needless to say, of course it is the type of scream you will be making. There is no need to offer mercy to enemies. Drilling through those massive udders of yours will prove to be such an exhilarating experience! Haha, how I look forward to it!"
"...Eh, so the result is this? Although I knew it from the start... Just an interrogation tool that only knows how to slaughter, abuse and devour others. That is what you are."
Konoha sighed with her shoulders slumped. What on earth was going on? Idiot—in the instant Fear decided to push her weapon further—Konoha's murderous intent vanished completely.
As Fear frowned, Konoha suddenly shifted her gaze. She was looking behind Fear.
"Ah, it's Haruaki-kun. He is completely shocked!"
Fear felt the wedge and pain in her heart expand instantly.
He saw it again! He saw it again? It's here again? It's here again! The me from that time has been seen again!
The instant Fear looked back, Konoha lightly turned her wrists, sending into the ground the spinning drill she had been clamping in her hands. Its tip immobilized, the drill spun in one spot, causing Fear to roll around on the ground.
Frantically, Fear got up on her feet but Konoha simply blew into her palms.
"Ah~ So painful~ Spinning drills are truly deadly things."
"Haru... Haruaki, where is he?"
"Oh, that? I tricked you."
"In other words, everything was meant to trick you. No matter what, you can't kill someone simply because the sight offends the eyes. That said, in order to make the performance more convincing, I did try recreating my former appearance."
As she smiled mischievously, Fear asked in shock:
"You—Cow tits! What were you intending to do just now?"
"So, let me ask you instead. What were you intending to do just now?"
Konoha continued to smile, but her tone of voice remained forceful.
"What have I done today—Like I said, I've watched you the entire day. I was observing you all this time, observing to see ultimately what your true self is. But I still have no answer. During the day, you really behaved completely like a pure and innocent child."
"Who... Who are you calling a child! I'll curse you!"
"Let me finish. Then there is what happened earlier. The assault of an intruder—You attacked your opponent using full strength without any mercy or hesitation. Even though you denied it, but based on my observation... You were really trying to kill the other person."
"Wha...! Nothing... like that..."
"Even if that was not your intention, that was what your subconscious made happen. This is also an issue. Then I have no idea. What is your true nature? Reflexively displaying murderous intentions when facing enemies, is that the real you? Or is it the one smiling leisurely during the day? Because I can't figure it out, I decided to confirm with my own eyes through forceful measures. Which is what surfaced just now. That was the real you."
Understanding what Konoha was trying to say, Fear bowed her head in surprise.
"It was just like the fight on the roof. Because you recognize Haruaki-kun, you can still maintain a certain level of rationality, so you have improved a lot compared to last time... Nevertheless, you're still the same. You haven't escaped your past self, the screams, the battles, the power. Who knows if you might make the same mistake again, on some occasion... And attack Haruaki-kun again."
"Something... like that! I will not... Definitely... Never again..."
"I agree, that is what you think in your heart. This is the truth. However, I would also like to confirm whether you can adhere to that resolve. Resolve does not necessarily equate to reality. I basically heard the gist of what you two were conversing about in the bathroom. You have decided to stay here, that's very good. No one will interfere with that. However, you have to know—resolve does not equate to reality!"
Her words were delivered with great emphasis in one breath.
"As said previously, more enemies will probably arrive in the future. Even if they don't come today, who knows when they might arrive. When the time comes, will you be able to maintain control and protect your resolve? Based on my judgment—"
Facing Fear who was sitting sprawled on the ground, Konoha whispered. Giving up on her, Konoha quietly stated:
"You are unable to protect it. You are too dangerous."
"If an enemy appears in the future, I would advise you not to fight. No, truly, you cannot be allowed to fight. Embraced by the illusion known as your past self, you are irrevocably cursed to be unable find a new life."
"You are telling me... Not to fight... Yes?"
Fear spoke quietly as she stared at the leaves on the ground. Lifelessly, like an abandoned child.
"Neither allowed to fight, nor to flee... Then what should I do?"
"Who knows, just do whatever. At least I will be protecting Haruaki-kun, so don't you worry."
Konoha declared mercilessly and walked away, leaving Fear in shock.
Unable to look up, the cube girl kept her head bowed, trembling continuously.
As she walked through the uninhabited forest, Konoha looked up at the moon with a tired expression.
"Was I acting too harsh... Sigh~~"
Clearly there was no one watching but she still tapped her head lightly in a stale manner.
"I know. In the end, since Haruaki-kun is too nice—the one who ends up protecting that child will be me. However... I can't state things too plainly. She is my rival after all."
Just as she murmured to herself, she suddenly halted her steps as she sensed a certain presence. The nervousness only lasted an instant. Sighing, she pretended not to have noticed the presence.
"...What a night owl you are."
Quietly, she grabbed the black device. The instant she made contact with that icy-cold sensation, fear ran along her spine uncontrollably. Unlike the times when she was assaulted by enemies, or when she realized she was planning to hurt someone she had no wish to harm, this was another sort of fear. Gripping the device tightly, shrinking her shoulders, she endured it.
After deliberating, she slowly pressed the buttons on the keypad of the device.
This is fine. This will be fine. Such thoughts ran through her mind.
After pressing eleven digits, she finally pushed the big green button. Trembling, she pressed her finger down.
Nothing happened. How strange, wasn't this the way it was done? During the day, she had asked him in a roundabout manner to teach her. Once again, she tried. She still remembered the numbers, once more—
"I forgot to mention, if there's no dial tone, the call won't connect."
The boy, who appeared out of the shadows in the corridor, watched Fear with a calm expression.
"After something like that happened, how could I possibly fall asleep immediately? Let me ask you the same question. You've been up ever since?"
"...Yes. Because I've been thinking, what kind of expression I should face you with..."
"So you heard the telephone number as well. Since Class Rep memorized it too, I guess it was easy enough for you who was able to learn Japanese in a matter of days."
Fear returned the cordless phone to the charger silently, her head bowed. Haruaki glanced at the phone.
"I know you two went outside, so I secretly followed. I saw and heard everything. Konoha probably noticed me. Then I had this ominous premonition, so while you were hanging your head in low spirits, I went home and pulled out the telephone cord."
"You're going to look for those people?"
Passive turned into active. Silence gave way to words. Everything changed as if reflected backwards.
"That's right! I-I... am too dangerous. That's what she said, and I know it of course—ultimately, I'm just a tool for murder! It is only natural for her to tell me not to fight. Who knows when I would act like on the roof back then, going insane and attacking you! But now, I'm simply a protected existence... No, rather, something even worse than that! I am simply... An existence that embroils you into danger! In that case, I might as well—!"
"What kind of joke is this...! When did I ever say I felt troubled or annoyed? Don't you want to stay here?"
"Of course I do! But it won't work out! You will come to harm! I hurt people when I'm insane, and even when I'm not insane! This is only natural, because I am a tool created for the purpose of hurting others!"
"Who says it won't work out, don't decide that on your own..."
"Don't come near!"
Fear took out the Rubik's Cube, instantly transforming it into her virtual self. It was the great long axe she had used to repel the intruder.
"—Idiot! What are you thinking, taking that thing out?"
Haruaki said. Fear looked down at the bladed weapon with hollow eyes.
"Ah... yes. I will use this, might as well swing it at my own neck. Or maybe I should climb into the Iron Maiden, that would work too. Within that person's proposal, there should be this option."
"Stop it... You're not acting normal!"
Haruaki stepped forward. Surprised, Fear held out her weapon in fright.
"The one who's not normal is you! No matter how you look at it, abandoning me is the proper decision. Why? Someone like me, someone who might go insane at any time... Aren't you afraid...?"
"—Of course, if I were afraid, would I do all this?"
Calmly approaching her, Haruaki grabbed the blade of Fear's axe. Of course, he did it barehanded.
«A Hatchet of Lingchi» was the form taken for slicing humans to pieces. Cutting off ears, noses, breasts, slowly dismembering human bodies, meanwhile savoring their painful screams, this was the executioner's axe that sentenced victims to a slow death—hence this blade was capable of turning Haruaki's fingers into mere scraps of flesh straight away, in accordance with its reason for existing—All it required was a minute flick of her wrist.
"I-Idiot, what are you doing...!"
"See, there's nothing to be afraid of, right?"
"If you want me to let go, promise me never to do anything stupid, dummy!"
Threatened in this incomprehensible manner. Submitting to the force of his will, one she could not understand, Fear was mentally overwhelmed.
As if waiting for this opportunity, only now did Haruaki smile.
"Back in the bathroom, I already mentioned, right? It's fine if you want to stay. There is no need to be concerned with anything else. That's all there is to it. I am not afraid of you, so stop saying that you are causing me trouble."
"I will be at risk, but in reality, didn't we easily repel the enemy? Even if you didn't do that, I believe Konoha more than likely will... By the way, I forgot to tell you, try not to make her angry. Although I was only watching from afar, once she really switches to that mode, it's no joking matter."
As if speaking ill of someone behind their back, Haruaki furtively looked around as he spoke. He was completely right—Fear was finally able to understand—only at this time did she relax her tense shoulders.
"I... Am quite a burden..."
"I am truly the burden."
"I can't do anything."
"You came here for the purpose to learn how to do many things, right? Sweeping, laundry, cooking, as well as common sense, there's tons waiting for you to learn. If you give up halfway, I'm not going to be pleased. If you don't want to be a burden, then work harder!"
Even though she did not completely accept his words yet, she finally abandoned the notion of escaping from this home.
The reason was Haruaki's overwhelming stupidity. In order to escape here, she must pay the expensive toll of his finger. Too expensive! She could not afford to pay that.
"Got it... I got it. I'm not going to run away. So take your hand away..."
Haruaki moved his hand away. Fear breathed a sigh of relief and turned the weapon back to its toy form. But at this very moment, she noticed Haruaki nonchalantly hiding his hand behind his back.
"Show me that!"
Forcefully, she grabbed his hand and pulled it out to see. His finger was bleeding slightly.
"Oh, it's nothing really. Completely not your fault, it's my carelessness! It doesn't hurt either, so if it wasn't so visible, I wouldn't even have noticed. Sigh, I didn't even notice~~ Not even one tiny bit!"
What a poor liar. He must have hurt himself when he was holding the axe blade. Even without Fear making any movement, simply the slight shaking of his arm by a few millimeters was enough to cause this kind of wound.
(What a moron... This guy...)
What she found the most stupid about him was not the fact he got hurt but his trying to hide it. His expression did not change a tiny bit, nor did he moan at all. He simply smiled as he tried to cover it up. Why?
(Was it for me...? ...He hurt himself for my sake, so he didn't want me to feel responsible... To avoid screaming and making me go mad...)
The possibility of going crazy from a scream caused by this level of injury was extremely low. Nevertheless... Nevertheless, he still hid it. Fear felt a warm yet painful sensation surge in her heart. Hence—
"This was just my clumsiness, you don't have to mind... Ah, hey!"
Sucking on his finger, she tried to lick the wound. Not for a crazy reason like a desire for fresh blood, but because she felt like doing so for no particular reason. She simply wanted to soothe his wound with some affection.
Her soft tongue and lips surrounded the flesh of his finger. The sound of saliva sucking could be heard as she focused on licking. Feeling his finger twitch in her mouth, she mobilized her tongue further to reassure him.
"Hmm... Like this... How do you feel...?"
"Umm, ah... Hmm mmm. Thanks—It'll be fine with a band-aid next! Uh—"
"I know. I won't make any phonecall, nor will I go anywhere."
"I... I see. Good. Then go to sleep!"
For some reason, Haruaki was blushing and he seemed frantic as he went to the living room. Noisily, he searched through the compartments of the first aid box. Standing on the side, Fear watched from afar as he wrapped a band-aid around his finger.
At the same time, she recalled the sense of immorality she tasted on her tongue—as well as the warmth from his finger.
Only today. Just only for today.
A great deal of unease lingered. Could she really stay here? What should she do?
There was no solution that could completely satisfy her. As soon as she thought too deeply, she felt an overwhelming feeling as if being crushed.
To be honest, it was quite scary. So only for today.
She wanted to rely on something to fall asleep.
She wanted to experience with her entire body that warmth lingering on her tongue—
"Tsk. You woke up?"
"......! Fear! Why are you squeezing your way into someone else's futon—Yo!"
He was getting noisy, so she used her hands to cover his mouth.
"So noisy, shut up. I'll curse you, moron! Listen here, this is... This is... Yes, this is to protect you! Don't get the wrong idea! It is an emergency measure only for today! Just in case, the enemy side might think they tricked us into thinking they won't come again, so they could appear any time unexpectedly!"
"I-I don't get what you mean...?"
"Like I said, that... In case the enemy appears... If I hide in the futon, they will be very surprised!"
"Definitely, it will be very surprising... Namely, I will jump in surprise!"
"S-Shut up! It's not like I want to do this, but I can't leave things to that rotten cow-tits. I am left with no choice but this less than ideal solution—So that's the situation. You hurry and sleep! Hmph!"
Then Fear refused all conversation and curled herself into a ball with her back towards Haruaki. Sighing helplessly towards her silver hair, Haruaki's heart was filled with worry.
"It can't be helped... But only for today."
Then he turned around. Fear could tell they were now back to back.
A rhythm was transmitted. Thump. Thump.
Was her own heartbeat transmitted over to him in the same way? Thinking that to herself, somehow Fear felt a sense of reassurance.
Feeling uncomfortable in his sleep, Haruaki suddenly opened his eyes wide. Somehow, Fear had fallen asleep soundly while clutching his chest tightly.
(Ooh... Things have gotten worse...)
He tried to pull her off but did not succeed. After struggling for a while—
She was uttering strange words in her sleep. He looked downwards.
What he saw was a face with tears in the corners of her eyes. Like a lost child who finally found the mother, holding tight desperately as if never letting go, fearing wholeheartedly of getting lost again and separated again—that was the kind of expression she had, that of hope mixed with worry.
Haruaki lightly caressed her silver hair with his fingertips. Such softness to the touch.
Mmm hmm—Fear moaned in her throat as she tightened her grip slightly.
Haruaki silently smiled wryly—and gave up freeing himself from these shackles.
Truly powerless, an ordinary human who could not do anything. Or—
An ordinary human who could at least act as a substitute body pillow.
Which one was superior, the choice was obvious.
Translator's Notes and References
- ↑ Dry curry: typical Japanese curry consists of a curry stew served on plain rice. On the other hand, dry curry is less liquid and is basically curry-flavored fried rice. Haruaki is basically criticizing Fear for mixing her curry so thoroughly with the rice.
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