Chapter 5 - Even If Cursed / "Here"
Her silver hair tousled by sleep, the girl sat up. Half opening her eyes, she stared blankly without moving. She was still stuck halfway in the world of dreams.
Suddenly, her vision captured a mysterious object. Slowly she blinked, tilting her head in puzzlement. Several seconds later, she inclined her head in the opposite direction. Then she mumbled the name of the object she saw.
Sleepily, Fear continued to sit comfortably, swaying her upper torso as she approached the object with her face.
The nearby snoring transformed into a strange moan.
Fear murmured, still half asleep:
The sound of someone springing up suddenly.
In any case, the day began rather leisurely except for the moment of awakening.
"Hey, what on earth was that phenomenon just now—"
Despite this sort of awkward conversation, breakfast ended rather unhurriedly because it was Sunday.
After that, just as they were enjoying their free time after the meal, a guest arrived.
"So, Konoha, is there something you want to talk about?"
"Just as I mentioned yesterday, we need a strategy meeting. To discuss our future plans. In actual fact, we should have discussed this sooner. But—too many things happened."
Sipping tea, she threw a glance at Fear who was hugging her knees, watching television. She seemed to be ignoring Konoha's presence and did not shift her gaze at all.
"Those people might not be coming again. After all, they not only failed twice but both of them are also injured."
"Rather than speculating they won't be back, wouldn't it be more appropriate to assume they will return? You can't bet your life on optimism."
"You're right. But even if you ask me what to do..."
Haruaki was facing Konoha as he drank tea.
"At the end of the day, the best solution is to 'make them not return,' isn't that right? If we contact the organization supporting them... That Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion, right? To convey our message clearly—"
"It'll be very difficult. Just look at that woman in a dress, clearly she is an opponent who cannot be communicated with like a human. Besides, we know basically nothing about that organization nor how to contact them. Only Honatsu-san would probably know?"
"My old man... I do talk to him on the phone from time to time, but just as usual, I can't reach him at the moment."
"Is he okay?"
"He is essentially unkillable. Anyway, relying on my old man is no good and we can't possibly negotiate with the backing organization. Then that leaves... What was mentioned last time, we go on the offensive? Once we find their base, perhaps we could also obtain information about their organization. But the problem remains the same, we don't know where it is."
"...Right. We must start with their hiding place but that presents many challenges. A blanket search would be foolhardy. Besides, it needs to be carried out in secret, which means I'm probably the only one who could undertake it. In that case, this home would become defenseless. Leaving Haruaki and this child alone at home would be too dangerous."
Fear's shoulders twitched. She was probably reacting to the mention of "this child"? By "dangerous," Konoha probably meant it in more than one way.
"Even if we know their location, what could we do to force them to submit? That is also quite a dangerous task, which makes me think Konoha is the only one we could rely on. I certainly can't bring myself to do it... In that case, we've gone full circle, back to waiting passively for them to come?"
"Sigh... It ended up being that again... Whatever, I expected it as the most likely outcome in the first place. The problem is we need to go to school tomorrow. What should we do?"
"I am also troubling over that. We can't leave her alone to watch the house, but neither can we take her to school. I guess we'll have to be absent from school for now..."
"But who knows if we need to be absent for a week or even a month? We can't just apply for leave indefinitely? So we're back to the same dilemma."
Haruaki suddenly looked at the garden. He was reminded of the other tenant who shared the detached accessory dwelling with Konoha.
"Wait till Kuroe returns, then the situation would be different. How about we ask her for help?"
"Ah, I already called her shop yesterday, but she didn't pick up. I think she's probably wandering somewhere again."
"That's so similar to my old man, I guess she has vagabond tendencies too... This is really no good for an urgent crisis."
At this time, Fear who had remained silent until now, went "...Television is so boring today" and got up, intending to return to her own room. However—
"—Wait up." With a rather serious voice, Konoha stopped Fear from walking away.
"It's fine if you don't know what to do right now. But if you continue to remain clueless, it'd be quite meaningless. You should at least try to think."
"...I have been thinking."
"Liar. You have stopped thinking and turned to escapism. You are simply repeating 'What should I do? What should I do?" to yourself as you tremble in fear. Clearly when contemplation is the only choice left, but you do not even want to think—that is proof that you are still a child, completely hopeless."
"Uh—Konoha-san? I don't really understand, but could you be a little more calm, please?"
"Haruaki-kun, please be quiet."
For his personal safety, Haruaki chose silence.
Immersed in this prickly silence, Fear took a deep breath as if about to say something—
But she could not voice it out. Swallowing air, she started walking as if escaping to her room. At that very instant.
Konoha's eyes widened into a stare as she grabbed the dinner table before them.
Maintaining her sitting posture, she threw the table at Fear using just her upper body strength.
Haruaki was just about to place his teacup on the table when he frantically lifted it again. Konoha must be furious. Definitely furious. This was going to be pandemonium. To prevent anyone from getting hurt, Haruaki was just about to step forward to restrain the two girls when—!
The table's edge brushed past Fear as it flew into the garden in the distance, producing a cloud of dirt.
"Y-You, what are you doing! Are you trying to pick a fight against me again—"
As if she failed to hear Fear's angry shout, Konoha swiftly stood up and moved in front of Haruaki.
The sound barrier could be heard broken several times. Followed by the sound of an equal number of impacts.
As Konoha stood before Haruaki, several objects fell down between her legs.
"I knew it, relying on lead bullets to defeat you isn't going to work... Though it'd really spoil the fun if such a toy was able to obtain victory so easily."
The voice came from the table buried in the soil of the garden.
Standing gracefully on one of the table legs like some sort of conjurer, it was a woman in a stylish black dress—
"It's been a while since we last met, bitches. Have you prepared yourself for your rotten guts to be splashed out in the open?"
Then she took a deep bow. With that, Haruaki and his group's strategy meeting became totally pointless.
"An attack... In the middle of the day!"
"Damn it, you should have said so earlier! I thought you were trying to start a fight with me again!"
"I wanted to say, I wouldn't mind if the table really collided with you."
"What did you say?!"
"You two... Now is not the time to argue... Woah!"
Another volley of bullets were fired, but Konoha blocked them using her body.
"It's fine. Aren't humans the same? When they tense up their body to the max, their muscles become hard? In our case, the sturdiness approaches our original forms."
Konoha slowly walked off the porch while Haruaki and Fear watched as they stood on the porch.
"Hmm. I brought them along just as a test, but since they didn't work, these are nothing but ordinary lumps of lead eh..."
Holding a cigarette between her lips, Peavey muttered as she threw away the gun in her hand. Then she stuffed her hand down the chest opening of her new dress—between her cleavage, taking out another gun and tossed it away too. She no longer wore that massive armor on her arm, baring her heavily scarred skin for all to see. On her back she was carrying a strange package wrapped in cloth. Her appearance was quite different compared to last time on the roof.
Appearances were not all that had changed. Rather, her greatest change was the aura around her.
Too calm, too composed.
She was not in the impatient state filled with mocking laughter when they first met. Neither did she display the state of depression like an emotionless ghost when her arm had been severed. Currently, she was swaying her body like a ghost but speaking like a noble and sneering with derision—
Why did this change come over her? Who knew. Perhaps because of that, it seemed even more eerie.
(This woman... Why... Why is she so calm...?)
Instinctively, an unfamiliar sense of fear was rushing along Haruaki's spine.
Humans feared what they could not comprehend. That's right, incomprehensibility. This was purely incomprehensible. A noblewoman who laughed maniacally while engaging in destruction was terrifying. A ghost that swayed expressionlessly was also terrifying. But currently, the intermediate existence that belonged to neither, surpassed the other two and aroused overwhelming, unmatched horror—to the point one could not even understand why it was so terrifying—thereby creating additional fear—an endless cycle of incomprehensibility and fear.
Haruaki watched Peavey as if she were a monster of indeterminate form.
"How incredible this feeling... As soon as my emotions are roused, my body sways, making it impossible to speak properly. Hence together with the armor on my arms, I was called the 'Balancing Toy.' Now I feel the same thing the instant I lay my eyes on that trash cube, however—For some reason, my mind is quite lucid. A first experience. Perhaps because I have waited so long for this, and the opportunity has finally arrived... Is it due to that sort of joy?"
Her voice did not sound like it carried much spirit. She simply chattered quietly, her words so calm it felt rather eerie.
Slightly relaxing her expression, she turned her gaze towards Fear who was standing on the porch.
"Well then... Let me quote this line: 'You wouldn't happen to believe in the existence of God?' You didn't think I wouldn't return, right? Unfortunately, even if the date for the trash cube's dismantling is postponed, it will not be cancelled."
"You... What are you talking about... For someone of your level, I'm just going to take that other arm of yours and simply—"
Fear swallowed her words as soon as she started speaking, then frowned and lowered her gaze. Haruaki noticed Konoha was glaring sharply at her.
"Oh my, are you afraid of something? But by this juncture if you were to behave like some kind of believer in non-resistance, it would simply be ludicrous to the extreme... 'Do it! Simply stated, just do it!' Just as the Marquis de Sade wrote, I am simply doing it."
Once again, Haruaki instinctively felt horror and eeriness along his spine. But he could not remain silent.
"...How do you think you'll accomplish that? You have only one arm remaining and no longer have that strange armor. For your own good you'd better give up. Go back to where you came from."
"I can't help it if that is what you think. However, the only reason I'm not wearing that—is because I can't wield this if I wear the armor. After all, its effects cannot manifest without direct contact."
Peavey spoke as she unwrapped the cloth around the package on her back.
A double-edged axe was revealed. A thick and sturdy axe blade, curved ominously with a sharp spike on its tip. A rectangular object resembling a remote control was attached to the shaft near the grip, but Haruaki could not discern its purpose. In any case, he knew that the axe was a weapon that did not lose to the armor in any way, and an equally poor match for the dress.
"This time your weapon is that axe?"
"Yes. We call it «Dance Time». Although I had no intention of using it in the beginning, hoho, it can't be helped now, having lost my aaaarm, aaarghhhh..."
Originally smiling as she chatted, Peavey suddenly turned to the side and began to vomit inexplicably.
While she vomited a number of times, Haruaki and the rest could only feel bewilderment.
"Hoo... Ah~ I apologize for my unsightliness. Though I have resolved myself, as expected, it's not that easy to dispel my revulsion for Wathes."
"You're saying that's a cursed tool? Why—"
"There exist those in the Knights Dominion who uses them. In order to destroy the most abysmal tools, there really is no choice. For heavily cursed Wathes, one has no choice but to rely on the Indulgence Disks."
"...Oh my, how careless of me to divulge that term. In any case, I have no choice but to twist my principles. Since I must rely on this to destroy that trash cube."
"If you hate it so much you want to puke, then just don't use it..."
Hearing Haruaki groan, Peavey shrugged nonchalantly.
"If it weren't for this situation, you are completely right. Holding this kind of object truly makes me want to vomit. I haven't touched a single one of them for ten-odd years now... Hohoho, not since my father obtained that whip from an antique shop."
"A cursed... Whip, is it?"
Haruaki muttered softly. Peavey nodded:
"Given the current situation, let me give you a few clues. There was once a father who ran a farm; a whip cursed with the desire to abuse victims until they could no longer move, ultimately leading to their deaths; as well as me and my mother who were always being scolded and beaten by the strict father... Under such conditions, I'm sure with a little bit of thought, you can easily deduce why I hate Wathes so much. Even though it created this habit of mine."
"Fine, enough with the chitchat. I've replenished my nicotine too, so it's about time to start."
Spitting out the cigarette butt, Peavey stepped forward.
"Hoo... I knew it. You couldn't possibly stand back or not interfere."
"Obviously, how could I possibly not interfere! But I'm just a powerless ordinary person. I have no right to ask you for a favor, so my only choice is to beg you willfully. So please! I'm really sorry about this—to the extent I even want to kneel down before you, kowtowing until my forehead bleeds from striking the ground..."
"No problem. After all, I already knew that is the kind of person you are, Haruaki-kun."
She sounded like she had already accepted things. With an exhausted tone of voice, she spoke as she walked near Haruaki.
"You stand further back. Don't do anything, you understand?"
Konoha said sharply. Fear looked like she was about to object reflexively but in the end, she stood there with her head bowed.
"Understood... Okay. Dummy..."
A weak voice, sounding as if coming from a child who was about to cry. By the time she finished her sentence, Konoha's clothes had already fallen to the ground as Haruaki held a Japanese sword in his hand.
"We're starting from this side? Very well. Let's begin the duel!"
"...A duel is fine. But I hope the other person won't be showing up to interfere."
Haruaki did not expect an honest response, but Peavey went "Eh?" as she tilted her head slightly.
"Mummy Maker...? Speaking of which, she did contact you earlier after all. Don't worry, that child will not be causing any trouble here."
"I really hope I can believe in your words."
"Because she is already dead. Sentenced to death for betrayal, as well as—food for this axe!"
The start of the fight was announced by sudden footsteps. With unbelievable force and speed, the heavy axe blade came crashing despite being wielded with one arm. Only with great desperation did Konoha manage to block this attack.
"Food? —You killed her?"
"Yes, because she was too meddlesome. Besides, making use of this axe's taboo power requires using it for murder, to grant it fresh blood. The timing was perfect."
"Aren't you comrades!?"
"Yes. But my mission is to destroy Wathes, while hers is to assist me. There is no contradiction here."
Haruaki could not help but feel goosebumps all over. No good, he could tell simply from her eyes. This woman clearly believed wholeheartedly there was no contradiction.
"Very well, let's dance, Dance Time... Now is the time to live up to your name. I have given you vigor, given you fresh blood. Let me dance until I go mad, until screams of death signal the end like the ringing of a bell!"
The battle axe descended straight down as if trying to split the Earth into halves. Blocking this hit, one had to find an opening in the enemy—
"A solid hit... Yes? ...!"
Konoha initially thought Peavey had been caught by the black scabbard, but in the next instant, she hastily aborted the attack. Withdrawing the sword, she defended at the last second the sweeping axe that aimed for Haruaki's body.
"Are you mad? Do you not care about mutual defeat? How could you?!"
"Actually I'd like to ask instead, are you mad? How could I possibly care about that? Precisely because I didn't care, that was why I chose this Wathe—this axe never stops attacking. Whether I am injured or not, this axe will continue to dance for the sake of defeating the enemy. That's right, even if it means death. Never stopping until the enemy is defeated!"
"...? You must be joking... You're crazy!"
Haruaki completely agreed. The cursed axe only knew to slash at Haruaki continually. A vertical chopping attack, a horizontal sweeping attack, a diagonal severing attack, a forward piercing attack!
"Haruaki-kun, are you okay?"
Though there was no problem with the agility of his body, the actions performed under Konoha's control were unfamiliar to his body, and naturally strained his muscles, resulting in the accumulation of fatigue. Nevertheless, Haruaki had no wish of showing any signs of weakness.
"Yes, I'm fine. Konoha, I have a suggestion. Use the 'Sword-Kill Counter'... Since she won't stop even if she dies, then simply destroy the axe itself."
"...Understood. Her movements are very hard to predict, so it might take some time. Furthermore, this will reduce my focus on defense, so please be careful!"
"Okay! I believe in my reflexes!"
Haruaki could feel the sword become slightly heavier. Even though it still reacted in accordance to the trajectories of the battle axe, he felt that it was simply moving but required his input for precise adjustments. Furthermore, the power available when parrying attacks also felt slightly inadequate. Haruaki consciously tensed his muscles and gritted his teeth as he endured the weight of the battle axe. No problem. However—
(Hmm... I have to bear it!)
The part of his arm where he had injured at school was beginning to ache. This was the only anxiety factor.
Displaying cold and merciless eyes, Peavey repeatedly attacked. At the same time, she muttered:
"This is getting rather troublesome. Why push yourself to this extent? What reason do you have to protect that thing?"
"Who cares—Reasons are not needed!"
Haruaki did not know if she was starting a conversation as part of some sort of trickery. Just as he expected the axe to continue its wave of attacks, it suddenly stopped. Even though the battle axe only knew how to attack automatically in continuous succession, its repertoire also included feints. Konoha with her immense combat experience keenly discerned it, but—
(This was bad...)
Unversed in swordsmanship, Haruaki could not handle it. As the axe blade changed directions and approached, Haruaki felt a chill down his spine. Just at that very instant—
Haruaki thought he had dropped the sword out of fear and confusion. But that was not the case. The weight disappeared from his hands because the sword had been unsheathed with incredible speed.
Meanwhile—Walking along a peaceful street on Sunday, a girl was currently making her way towards a certain destination.
For no special reason in particular. However, having no reason at all would be awkward, so she thought up a random reason.
"Yes. That guy was skipping school yesterday. Even though he called a little while later to say he caught a cold, he was definitely skipping school, no mistake about it. How dare him! As the class representative, I must give him a warning... Also, today happens to be the first holiday after that kind of incident happened. As one in the know, it is only natural to check up on the situation—There!"
Ueno Kirika was murmuring alone, nodding to herself.
Suddenly, she halted her steps as she saw her own reflection on a display window she passed by. Even she found the sight of herself dressed in a casual skirt to be strange and unfamiliar. Even during PE lessons, she would never wear anything but a full tracksuit. Exposing her legs made her feel embarrassed, and also carried a certain risk—
"After all, it's Sunday and the first time for us to meet during a holiday. Dressing like this once in a while would be nice. That's simply what I think... Is there any other reason? Absolutely ridiculous. That's right, absolutely ridiculous..."
She arranged her hair slightly, smoothed the creases in her skirt and nervously adjusted the angle of her collar.
That uneasy attitude of hers would probably cause any onlooker to smile knowingly and think to themselves, "This girl must be heading off to a date, right?" Kirika started walking again.
Heading towards the Yachi residence.
As blade collided with blade, both sides were sent far apart.
Haruaki looked in surprise at the axe wielded by Peavey. It appeared unaffected.
"What happened, Konoha?"
"Ooh... I—couldn't help it."
"I miscalculated. That axe is 'autonomous.' Of course, the wielder's body is also moving, but only as support, similar to us. But the Sword-Kill Counter relies on finding openings through predicting the attacker's habits or muscle movement, hence—"
"After all, the target's weak point has to be targeted with precision as fine as a hair..."
"It's not your fault... Anyway, she looks like she intends to keep going?"
The axe seemed to be convulsing as if impatient for slaughter. Peavey held the axe as she slowly approached.
"Impossible, this is too unbelievable. You can't possibly be gambling away your own life on a flimsy reason such as 'just because you want to' or the like?"
She resumed the previous conversation. Haruaki adjusted his breathing as he glared at her.
"...Then let me correct myself. It's not like there isn't a reason."
"Oh? Is is it something like love one would harbor towards a doll? Or a sense of possessiveness towards a machine?"
"—It's the sense of guilt."
Haruaki could feel the sword in his hand shudder once slightly.
"So you feel guilty if you stand back and watch them meet their demise? How strange. Even though they have taken human appearances and possess the ability to move and talk, they are simply tools."
"Stop talking nonsense. These girls are not tools—and neither am I referring to the kind of guilt you're talking about. Of course, what you described is included to some extent... But it's a different sense of guilt."
Sighing, Haruaki said:
"—The ones who cursed them, are us, humans!"
His hand gripping the sword was full of power.
"We are the cause of their condition. We are the ones who cursed them arbitrarily. Considering things from their perspective, humans are probably the ones who deserve contempt. Why turn me into this!? —I definitely would be crying out as hard as I could. However... Consequently—At least... Even if they hate us, as long as any of these fellows come here to rely on humans, I wish to help them as much as I can."
In the past, definitely... But now.. I really love... Truly.
Haruaki could vaguely hear the sword giving off this sort of faint voice... As if suppressing some kind of murmur.
"And then, if these fellows were to believe 'humans are not so bad after all' or 'isn't it wonderful to become human~'... If they really wish to believe that more or less—wouldn't it be nice? At least it makes me feel some level of absolution! Of course, this is only an illusion, I know that! This cannot compensate for all of humanity's crimes, but—those who are at least aware of humanity's culpability... Knowing that we are culpable, if I don't do this, our crimes will simply persist forever! Perhaps what I'm doing might be meaningless, however... Right! In the end, I'm doing it because I want to! So what!?"
Roaring angrily, Haruaki poured out all the thoughts in his mind.
As for Peavey, her response carried neither anger nor jeering laughter—
It was simple revulsion. As if staring at rotten trash, she vomited once again.
"Urrghh... My apologies, boy, but your speech has caused me to reevaluate you as trash on the same level as Wathes. Ah, how unbearable, how vomit inducing, truly it is too disgusting...!"
Peavey approached once more, as if unable to suppress the axe's desire.
Thus, Haruaki was forced to play the role of her dance partner again. Her attacks were full of openings. But if one were to take advantage of these openings to attack, the instant Peavey was struck, the resulting automatic counterattack would prevent Haruaki from withdrawing unscathed.
This was stalemate at best. If this continued, Haruaki's stamina would be depleted. Furthermore, there was a negative factor that Haruaki had been deliberately ignoring, but whose presence was becoming increasingly obvious. As if released from floodgates, pain flooded the sensations of his arm.
His lungs suffered as they struggled for air, his heart was beating violently, his muscles screamed from overload, his brain began to imagine a dark future on its own. Everything was deteriorating. Deteriorating. Deteriorating. Truly deteriorating to the worst situation.
(Damn it! What should I do...!)
He sought a path of survival but could not see anything. His ears were only filled with the noise of repeated impacts of iron and steel, the metallic clanging continuing on and on—This was almost like—
The sounds of an ominous bell, ringing to declare closure of a party.
Meanwhile, Fear watched all this unfold. The sight of Haruaki breathing irregularly, dripping with sweat, gambling his life to cross blades with his enemy.
What about herself? Staring blankly down at her hands, thinking about nothing.
Her breathing was calm. Only sweating slightly. Naturally, she was not risking her life either.
"Is this okay...?"
She asked herself. How could this be okay? For whose sake were they fighting for? The answer was obvious.
But—she clenched her fists. Within her mind, that woman's unpleasant voice reverberated.
(Truly, you cannot be allowed to fight. You are too dangerous.)
Whenever she recalled how easily she lost herself, whenever she remembered her murderous intent towards the intruder, whenever she thought of how she almost killed Haruaki—she felt a stabbing pain in her heart.
(Absolutely, that... Cannot be allowed to happen again... But...)
She was very dangerous. A dangerous existence. Though she understood that, she could not accept it.
That's right, how could that be acceptable? While unrelated people were fighting, the root cause of the incident, herself, was standing idly aside.
How useless. At the very least, her pride rejected such peace and tranquility. Also, there was her pride as a self-aware being. However—she was forbidden from taking action. Because she understood the danger of action.
"Dangerous...? Heh. Cow Tits is clearly more dangerous than me, to think she could make her eyes look like that..."
She murmured to herself meaninglessly as if in self-mockery.
At this very moment, this comment uttered without conscious intent, suddenly interrupted her spinning thoughts.
If Cow Tits was also very dangerous, then why did Fear have to submit to her on this particular issue?
Recalling her rebellious feelings when she first arrived, Fear recalled pure and simple displeasure. Then one after another, she reminisced everything that had happened—and remembered what occurred in the bath the day before yesterday.
She realized. Realized it. The current situation was exactly the same as that time. An exceedingly simple matter.
But at the same time, those words Haruaki had yelled out mere seconds earlier, was once again heard in her mind—
(Perhaps what I'm doing might be meaningless, however... Right! In the end, I'm doing it because I want to! So what!?)
"Ha... Haha... Yes. I don't care if she's right or wrong, why do I have to obey that brawny woman anyway? That's completely unlike me. I do what I want, that's the way I roll!"
What if she turns out to be right? Well, the answer was also very simple—the fact of the matter was, Cow Tits was also very dangerous. Easily argued. Realizing this, the answer was all clear.
Laughing from the depths of her throat, Fear reached into her pocket.
The feeling of the solid cube in her hand, truly what a reliable sensation it was.
"You all have forgotten a very important fact—I am extremely willful!"
—It happened suddenly.
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi», Curse Calling!"
Haruaki saw a silver-white stream flash before his eyes.
As if the contrast of his vision had been reversed, a white and petite figure replaced the woman in a black dress, striking and sending her flying away.
"Hmm? Oh, I didn't kill her but simply smacked her using the back of the blade. I suppose she must have broken a few bones in the process—only that. Very likely, she can still move."
Fear answered with self-composure. Peavey had been sent flying and her upper torso was buried deeply into the boundary wall. But just as Fear described, there was no bleeding at all.
"You promised me! What are you doing?!"
"I didn't promise you anything, you were only talking on your own, so I will now act as I please. If I start acting strangely—"
She smiled as she spoke these words.
"Destroy me immediately, because I am very dangerous."
Haruaki and Konoha were unable to understand the meaning of her words in that very instant.
"You should be capable of that, Muramasa Konoha. Of course, I have no intention of losing myself."
"What—are you trying to say?"
"Hoo... I'm only going to say this once. Muramasa Konoha, I will arbitrarily believe in you. I will believe in your terrible character, the dispassionate self you have kept hidden. Plainly stated, it is that fiendish quality of yours. Yachi Haruaki, I will arbitrarily believe in you. I believe you are an ordinary though hopelessly benevolent person, but in any case, you do sincerely care for my well-being."
The girl who looked back once more was displaying a cheerful expression as if she had realized something.
"In short—If I start acting strangely, my wish is to be destroyed. That will be my happy end. In that event, Haruaki would make my wish come true for the sake of my happiness. Also, when the time comes, the fiendish Cow Tits will take action without hesitation—is that right?"
" "How could that be possible!?" "
Haruaki and Konoha's voices sounded in unison as they knocked Fear on the head with the scabbard. Ouch—Fear covered her head.
"...That hurts! What the heck!"
"I knew you were an idiot already, but I had no idea you were this stupid..."
"That's right... What fiendish quality or terrible character are you talking about? You have no right to say that!"
Fear quietly narrowed her eyes as she traced her gaze along the axe blade she wielded in her hands.
"I know I am very stupid, but I cannot accept any action other than this. I do it because I want to. I am responsible for myself—not a tool to be manipulated by others. The one in control of this body right now is no one but myself."
Haruaki gazed at the sword as it waved slightly vertically.
"Indeed, those are willful words. Then I will declare willfully as well, I ignore your request."
"What did you say!? That... Are you really asking me not to fight...?!"
"Furthermore, I will arbitrarily believe in you. You will continue to fight hard and surely you won't go insane!"
Fear closed her mouth just as she was about to say something. She turned her gaze towards Peavey whose upper torso was still embedded in the wall—in other words, her back was turned towards Haruaki and Konoha.
"Hmph. Believing is not necessary. Because my pride is on the line here, I absolutely won't go insane."
"Very well. So... What should we do now? There's not much time to think."
Debris was falling away noisily from the wall where Peavey was stuck. In other words, she was going to regain mobility soon. The axe lay abandoned at her feet, but her hand was groping around in search of the axe grip. Even though her sight was blocked by the wall, she would probably find the axe almost immediately.
"Then we must create time for planning. Let's hide first!"
Saying that, Fear grabbed Haruaki by the waist, took a running start and jumped high in one go, landing at a certain location—the second floor of the accessory dwelling, through the window of Konoha's room.
"Shut up, Cow Tits, or we'll be discovered! Hoho, I must have predicted something like this in advance, which was why I broke the glass. Thanks to that, we are now able to slip inside quietly."
"That is a total lie."
Invading Konoha's room, Fear and Haruaki crouched down just as Peavey's footsteps could be heard outside. Slow steps—she was probably looking out for a surprise attack as she sought her enemy.
"I knew it, even though it can attack on its own, as long as the enemy is out of sight, that power cannot apply itself."
"Right. In any case, we have to plan what we're doing next. How to handle that axe which continues to move even after the wielder is dead. If only we could destroy it, but unfortunately that didn't work. Let's think of another way."
"Based on what happened just now, I've discovered that the axe stops moving as soon as she lets go. I also remember her saying something like, she couldn't use it unless she makes direct contact with it..."
"Then didn't we waste our chance just now? What a waste... Anyway, complaining about it won't help the current situation. Should we ambush her again like just now? While I'm acting as bait, you—"
"She was sent flying just now only because she was completely caught by surprise. The same move probably won't work again. Besides, there's a flaw with that plan."
"You're underestimating me! You think I wouldn't notice?"
She slapped him lightly on the arm. Haruaki frantically covered his mouth to suppress the cries he nearly emitted.
"Haruaki-kun? Could your wound on the arm have opened up?"
"Hoo—Looks like there is no point hiding it any further... At first it was still bearable, but after the Sword-Kill Counter was deflected just now, it hurts so much I can't apply any strength... But it's fine, I can still wield the sword."
"But that doesn't mean you are able to block the enemy's attacks. How could your injured arm defend against those attacks of brute force? You're pushing it! That woman probably realized it already. I should act as bait instead. But she would probably attack you first. Which would make things meaningless if you die before or while I take action!"
Even if he wanted to object, there was no room for Haruaki to object.
Haruaki bowed his head and gazed at the sword. Fear also looked down. After a while—
"...I'll go alone."
"You? What are you talking about when things have come to this?! Not only is it meaningless, it is also too dangerous!"
While Konoha objected, Haruaki listened motionlessly. He was pondering what he could do? What should he do?
Then he reached a conclusion.
A cowardly conclusion.
As he gritted his teeth at the thought of his powerlessness, twisting his face out of contempt for his own incompetence—Haruaki muttered softly:
"Yes. Next... Do your best alone."
Kirika pressed the door bell. No one answered. Did they go out? Just as she thought that, she sensed the presence of someone in the home.
"Maybe they're doing something in the yard..."
The gate was unlocked. Only deliberating for an instant, she decided to enter the premises.
"Pardon my intrusion... Yachi? Are you home?"
She felt a little nervous. This would be their first encounter during a holiday, and at his home as well. Was there anything strange the way she dressed up? Was her hair okay? She recalled all the reasons she had thought up earlier. Should she greet him with a vigorous "Hi!" or should she go with a humble "Sorry for visiting unannounced"...
Just as various thoughts crossed Kirika's mind as she crossed the side of the main house towards the garden, then—
"Are you a friend of the boy's? You came at the right time. Wonderful."
A woman in a black dress mercilessly sent her knee into Kirika's chest.
"Mechanism No.26 piercing type, imprisoning form: «Iron Maiden»—Curse Calling."
In preparation for their next move, Fear exhaled deeply. Lightly caressing the disguised cube which had transformed into an iron maiden, she perked her ears and listened to the situation outside the window, calculating her opportunity for jumping out. At this time—
"Can you hear me? Fear-in-Cube, the boy and the Japanese sword? You would do well to show yourselves now."
"...Who would be foolish enough to heed your call, dummy. You can wait impatiently for all I care!"
But just as Fear muttered to herself—
"Fine, if you don't want to come out, but conversely, I can't guarantee what might happen to this girl here!"
Peeping out the window discreetly, Fear found an unbelievable scene unfolding before her eyes.
Holding the axe in one hand, Peavey was smoking with a blank expression. And lying on the ground at her feet was a girl whose stomach was being stepped on forcefully—
"Kirika...! Damn it, why now!?"
"Hmm? Dance Time seems to be unbearably restless. I will now count down from ten seconds. Come out before I reach zero, or else—I may have to decorate this place with a splash of color. Come, ten, nine..."
Fear pressed her hand against her chest to adjust her breathing, calming herself. Even though there was an unexpected crisis, she had to be calm.
"Don't worry, I have to go out there sooner or later... No problem, I'll definitely find a way. I won't let her hurt Kirika. Kirika won't be hurt. Sticking with original plan is fine. Stay calm—"
The countdown reached four. Then three.
"Stop! I'm coming out now, release that girl! She is uninvolved!"
Fear yelled out as she jumped through the window. Landing together with the iron maiden, she glared at the most despicable enemy.
Peavey continued to tilt her head with a listless expression.
"The boy and the sword did not come out, why?"
"Regrettably, I have already sent them away to escape. It's too dangerous to let the wounded face an insane opponent like you."
"Well that truly is unfortunate... I'll have to waste energy hunting them down later. Whatever, after all, the main course is now prepared before me."
"There will be no more dishes served after the main course."
Fear pulled the chain of cubes closer and rested her hand against the iron maiden.
"In my case... I could definitely eliminate you with this thing here. Regardless of whether your attacks continue or not, once you are enveloped by the womb of this maiden, you cannot avoid being cut into pieces of flesh. Turn into a dead foetus for eternity!"
"I don't care what kind of stinking steel womb it is, I will tear its belly apart. Using this Dance Time! Like a dancing baby that keeps going forever!"
"Rubbish—Anyway, that girl is useless to you now, right? Release her."
"Oh my, I almost forgot. But now that you mention it... How unbelievable."
Peavey stepped harder. Tears could be seen welling up in Kirika's eyes as her solar plexus was stepped on.
"S-Stop it! I already came out, release her!"
"This is what I find unbelievable. Since you already made the boy and the sword escape, why didn't you run as well? You must be planning an ambush, right? But why would you show yourself so easily, simply because this girl was taken hostage?"
"How could you say that, simply because a hostage was taken...!"
"That anger of yours is also quite unbelievable. You're not human, right? For a non-human tool to jump out in defense of a human... Are you trying to pretend you are human? Have you forgotten you are a tool that reeks of bloodshed?"
"—I only do what I want to do. Simple as that."
Faced with this curt answer, Peavey snorted with displeasure.
"Then I'll assume your answer is 'Yes.' I already know what kind of home this is and what Yachi's goals are. You are probably trying to lift your curse, right? That is why you are masquerading as a human here, sucking up to humans, trying to obtain absolution for your sins!"
As her tone grew increasingly harsh, her eyes widened at the same time, and on that lifeless face of a ghost's... The face of a ghost born from wrath, was gradually infused with an additional layer of exceptional fury—
"Unforgivable, unforgivable! Tools like you! The things your kind has done to me, my father and mother! The pain, humiliation and immorality that made an utter mess of my family! You dare seek to forget! I will not forgive you for that! I—I will curse your wish to lift your curse, I curse you, I curse you, I curse you!"
"Curse as much as you want."
Fear murmured softly.
"I have no intention of forgetting my sins. Ultimately, does the curse consist of the sins I have committed, or is it additional punishment imposed due to those sins? Even as the one being cursed, I have no idea. However, my hope is—"
To never hear another scream of pain again.
To never swing a bloodstained blade towards someone she liked.
"I will never compromise on this point, because—Even if the curse is not lifted, I have no intention of adding further to my sins. I am very clear on that. That's right. Perhaps looking back at the past is a mistake, but setting my sights on the future is definitely necessary. I believe in my feelings."
Sternly she looked up and continued:
"The place I want to stay is here. The person who acknowledged me for the very first time is here! I have decided where I shall reside, not as Fear-in-Cube but as Fear's first decision!"
She wanted to stay here. This was not only the stance taken by a cube but also the stance of the girl who received the name of Fear. Her first wish that came from the heart. As pure and innocent as a baby's first cry—was this desire.
And no baby would be silenced just because they were ordered to stop crying.
"I will be here. No matter who denounces me, despises me, feels anger towards me, or refuses to acknowledge me—or even curses me, nothing changes! So I will gladly accept your curse! Curse as much as you wish!"
These words made Peavey's face distort. As the impulse to laugh slowly flowed up to her throat, the instant it peaked—she screamed instead. Before Fear's eyes was neither a woman with noble airs nor a ghost who had abandoned all emotion, but a vicious demon with a twisted and ugly face!
"BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCH! You have no right to speak like a human, so go and die! To dare imagine not suffering from a curse, I will not allow it! Die! Die! Die! Ah, how unbearable this is, so go and die!"
Peavey stepped forward impatiently. But then she turned around as if she remembered something and buried the axe blade deeply in Kirika's abdomen. Only then did she walk towards Fear.
Kirika's chest and abdomen were sliced open vertically, spurting blood like a fountain.
Her body also convulsed violently once.
Then stopped moving.
Completely unexpected. This forbidden existence. Blood. Blood. Blood. Impulse. Terror. Desire. Trembling. Palpitation. Madness.
(Don't go mad. Kirika... Kirika! I won't go mad! Endure! Unforgivable! I'm going to slaughter this woman! Calm down! I have to kill her! I can't bear this, I'll save her once I defeat this woman, she definitely can be saved! I'm going to kill her! So stop going mad!)
She felt her consciousness eroding. The stress and discomfort of the moment was nauseating. Feeling herself weak at the waist, she watched as Peavey rushed towards her with axe in hand. She was going to be killed if she continued to stand there in shock!
Fear stumbled backwards. Manipulating the head of the iron maiden, she deflected the blade of the attacking axe, then she tried to distance herself—but tripped, falling on her bottom.
"Hahaha—! How unsightly! Stand up and fight!"
(Unsightliness is fine, not fighting is fine too!)
Fear closed her eyes as she endured. The smell of blood wafted into her nostrils. This too, needed to be endured.
(My mission is to not go mad—)
Because he believed in me.
He believed I will stay sane to the bitter end. That was why he came up with such a dangerous plan—he had suggested a plan that meant instant death for himself with any misstep.
That's right, I wish to change from the cube I've been up to this point.
I want to become an ordinary human.
I must believe so—
Fear saw that Peavey was just about to brush past the iron maiden that had stopped moving.
Now was her chance.
The world was tilted in her vision as if she were drunk. Fear lightly traced her fingers along the chain of cubes wrapped around her right hand, opening the iron maiden's cover. At least opening the cover was within her ability. Then—
From within the iron maiden that had remained shut until now, out jumped Haruaki.
Peavey stared wide in surprise.
From her eyes it was apparent she finally understood why Fear did not use the iron maiden to fight. But it was too late.
At this extremely close distance, she was completely caught unprepared. She had already committed herself towards an attack pose.
The natural result from all of these elements was embodied by the word "unavoidable."
In that very instant, Haruaki rushed at Peavey with the Japanese sword in hand, accompanied with rage—
—Based on the discussion in Konoha's room, they had already decided what they were going to do. Deprive her of that axe. In order to achieve this goal, they needed to split up roles of offense and defense. Given the circumstances, the distribution of roles was decided automatically—the person who could swing a sword, but could not take any attacks, was only suited to offense after all. But since the enemy was aware of this, she would target him first on sight. Hence there was only one solution.
A surprise attack from a location that the enemy could not attack even if they wanted to.
The only remaining challenge was finding such a place.
Fear felt a liberating sense of accomplishment. She no longer had to endure—just as she thought that to herself, the unnatural state she was desperately maintaining returned to normal—the spikes in the interior of the iron maiden she had been holding back shot out all at once.
(Seriously, coming up with this sort of plan... Indeed, the enemy cannot attack this place, plus the fact it was possible to launch an surprise attack at an extremely close distance without being detected, making it a perfect hiding place. Other than the fact that a single lapse in my concentration would result in a tragic death...!)
Naturally, maintaining a torture device in such a halfway state was something she had never tried or even imagined. But she did it. Because others placed their faith in her, she was able to do it.
Succeeding in avoiding killing Haruaki by accident, Fear felt relieved from the bottom of her heart.
She had done everything she could. Now she only needed to await the result.
Staring at the axe blade which continued to approach her head from above, that was the thought crossing her mind.
"You... This... You—!"
Haruaki chopped at Peavey with all his strength. The sword itself also responded to him by offering its greatest speed. Shrouded in fury, Konoha made the most of the brief moment she had before she would faint from the sight of Kirika's blood.
Peavey's fist was already in motion as if about to smash Fear's head. With great precision, the black scabbard struck the fist, completely shattering the bones on the back of Peavey's hand—
While she groaned in pain, the axe grip flew out of her hand at the same time.
Success! Damn her! Serves her right! Take that! Fear could feel violent and impure pleasure running amok inside her body. But only during this moment did she feel it was not bad at all. As long as she recalled the wicked deeds of this woman.
In that instant, the world appeared to be moving in slow motion.
Fear watched as the axe flew through the air as if progressing frame by frame. At the same time, she heard the woman's choppy cries.
The woman in the black dress, her arm dangling powerlessly. Saliva dripping from her mouth as she watched the end approach.
"—Ah, ah, ah, ah—"
But at this moment, the eyes which displayed intensely dark emotions transformed into the eyes of a beast.
Her groaning lips also began to roar like a wild beast.
Then widening her mouth as if tearing it apart, she bit and held the grip of the flying axe between her teeth.
A number of her teeth broke and flew out. In spite of that, she continued to twist her neck, her torso half bent over, using a strange posture to wield the axe forcefully in her mouth with unbelievable speed and power—
Only one person was able to counter this berserk attack. Konoha murmured softly in apology, but it was not directed towards the woman.
(—I am sorry.)
In the next instant, this axe would surely bury itself into Fear—or Haruaki's body. Then there was no choice.
(Time to use the true Killing Counter—)
The true secret to the Killing Counter was not its destruction of weapons but the fact that it destroyed weapons and nothing else. In other words, it was simply a high-level technique of mercy born from her taboo and avoidance of bloodshed.
Provided she discarded any notion of mercy to release her true self, Konoha was able to destroy weapons with pure power alone rather than technique. But given such a level of force, what might result indirectly in the wake? Injuring—or even killing the opponent would not be surprising.
(Killing someone and seeing the blood I spilled, perhaps I might be cursed again. However... There is someone I refuse to let her murder no matter what!)
Consequently, she deliberately ignored the taboo of murder she had maintained for past decades and centuries.
For the instant this thought existed, she imposed it upon the past demon she had abandoned—
In order to put into practice a sword's proper yet wrong purpose, its one and only original duty, the white blade slid out of its scabbard.
The art of drawing the sword with superlative divine speed. A light flashed across Dance Time wielded in the enemy's mouth.
And the result was—something inevitable, something fortunate, and something unlucky happened.
As the axe blade was split in half like tofu, the broken piece flew in the air and shattered inevitably.
Having deflected the axe blade that could have slashed his throat, Haruaki was fortunate that only a mere layer of cells was shaved off his ear.
As if guided by some unseen force, the flying shrapnel from the shattered axe blade flew straight into one of Peavey's eyes—
Konoha accepted her scream and bleeding. Even though they were caused indirectly, they still counted as her crimes.
Desperately, she suppressed her inner self which reveled in joy and nostalgia.
"It's over... Right? ...Konoha, are you okay?"
"Uh... Yeah. I'm fine."
"What about Fear?"
"I'm also... Fine... But that's not the most important right now!"
"Right, Class Rep, hang on there! I'll call an ambulance straight away—"
Peavey lay shuddering on the ground as she listened to these voices while she endured the pain assaulting her eye. The urge to laugh was the reason why she shuddered. How utterly stupid, she thought. Sliced through the chest and abdomen like dissecting a frog, surely that girl must already be dead. For them to care about something like that and turn their attention away from her, they were truly stupid. Right now, the location where she lay happened to be where she had thrown her gun. God must truly be stupid to have prepared such a delicate coincidence in her favor.
She felt the hard and solid sensation beneath her belly. Even with her hand broken she was still able to move a finger at least. No one was paying attention to her. The boy was located closest to her. A gun was unable to destroy Wathes, but given the situation, she would satisfy herself with abusing the boy at least!
Dragging out the gun under her belly by hooking it with a finger, she stood up. The gun barrel swayed unsteadily, but she could not possibly miss at this distance. All she needed to do now was press the trigger—With great surprise, the boy and the rotten box looked back at her as they gathered around the girl's corpse. How meaningless.
"Gahahahha! Go and die!"
Fear-in-Cube was too late to get between them. Even if the sword wanted to control the boy's body to run, there was not enough time to raise blade to deflect the bullet.
The bullet flew towards the boy's skull. Brain matter and blood spattered all around. The Wathes screamed to Peavey's great delight. Serves you right, serves you right, serves you right, serves you right! Because you underestimated humans—
Her delusions forcibly interrupted, Peavey stared wide in surprise.
The girl lying on the ground—
Why was she staring back with her head inclined?
The gunshot failed to sound out. Something had wrapped itself around Peavey's right arm. It was that black leather belt.
(Ahhh... Ahhh... Ahhh... Ahhh! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!)
Then all Peavey could see was something else. Something that brought a chill down her spine. She had previously mentioned to Mummy Maker that she hated long slender Wathes in particular. Especially when it was leather, black, and extending lengthwise, to her eyes—
It looked exactly like that which had caused her father to go mad, the frightful whip he used to abuse her.
The girl who should have died suddenly stood up. From her right sleeve out extended a black belt. With similar movements like Mummy Maker's bandage, it extended forwards like a snake—wrapping itself around Peavey's arm.
"Class... Class Rep...?"
"Save your words for later! That woman still has a gun!"
But Peavey was clearly acting abnormally. She made no effort to struggle free and neither did she try to push the trigger by force—all she did was tremble as she stared at the belt that was wrapped around her arm. But there was no time to ponder why she was acting abnormally.
Kirika yelled out shrilly:
In response to her shrill cry, a silver figure sprinted.
Condemning Peavey for her crimes, the girl shouted furiously:
"Mechanism No.8 crushing type, circular form: «Breaking Wheel of Francia», Curse Calling!"
The massive wheel crushed Peavey's arm that was being restrained by the black belt. Like various victims that had suffered the same torture, her arm was bent in an unbelievable direction.
Controlling the black belt, Kirika picked up the pistol that had fallen to the ground and tossed it into the distance.
Next, she aimed the front end of the black belt at Peavey herself who had fallen on her bottom. Her eyes staring wide, she focused her gaze on the waving belt before her, trembling as she shook her head:
"No... No... Don't, s-save me... Save me, help... Mummy Maker—Right, Mummy Maker, Mummy Maker, Mummy Maker! Hurry and save me—Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah...!"
Emotionally unstable, she muttered softly. Only halfway did she realize suddenly, her eyes unsteady:
"Ahhhhhh! No good, I killed her, I already killed her, it's me! No more... Comrades... None? The weapon is also... Ahhhhh... Who will save me... Ahhh... This... Belt... Ahhhhhhh!"
Shutting her eyes tightly, she rejected the swaying belt from her sight. Her behavior was akin to a child scared senseless by inescapable terror. Her body simply shook, trembling and swaying. Correct, as if unable to stop, like a swaying balancing toy—
"She must have some sort of mental trauma. Perhaps she deserves pity, but this works fine."
Kirika wrapped the belt around Peavey's neck then the leather gave off a sound of friction.
Simply rendering her unconscious—Kirika murmured as she watched Peavey's relaxed body.
"Hoo... Dear me. Seriously, somehow—absolutely ridiculous."
Haruaki observed Kirika once again. Her tone of voice and the frown on her face were the same as always. However.
The large volume of blood that gushed out earlier had disappeared at some point in time. As if demonstrating that Peavey's slice of the axe was no illusion, Kirika's clothing completely slid off her body as a result of the massive cut and her subsequent motions.
But rather than pale white skin, what those clothes covered was—a black leather outfit instead. A highly revealing and tight-fitting bondage suit with metallic spikes in various places, trimming that emphasized the curvature of the breasts, and for some reason, a zipper at the crotch.
"...Don't keep staring... It's embarrassing."
"Umm... Ah... S-Sorry. But, ummm—Also, you definitely bled just now—"
"T-That's right! I saw it with my own eyes! That woman took an axe to slice open your belly!"
Haruaki and Fear spoke in confusion. Konoha simply spoke quietly:
"That—That outfit... Is a cursed tool, right?"
Kirika looked at the sword in Hauraki's hand, sighed, and nodded as if surrendering:
"Correct. This is the Wathe known as «Gimestorante's Love». A certain sadist cursed his female slaves: 'Why do these women die so easily? Surely it'd be much more fun if they continued to live even if their eyes were gouged out and their bellies sliced open!' At the same time, these slaves cursed their fate of abuse, thereby giving birth to this thing. Due to the curse, this outfit received a taboo ability—simply stated, whoever wears this cannot die from physical injuries. It is a Wathe that provides complete healing as an automatic effect."
"How could this be... To think there was a tool that could cause such an extraordinary phenomenon..."
"The more extraordinary the abilities granted, the more powerful the curse. Make no mistake, I do not wear this type of outfit because I like it. It started because I was forced to wear it—this outfit's curse is very simple, death occurs to whoever takes it off. Once it is worn, it must be worn for a lifetime."
"A lifetime. Truly my tragedy."
Haruaki recalled his memories. Kirika wore thick clothing at all times. Even during PE lessons she never wore anything other than a full tracksuit. On rainy days she always held an umbrella—she was quite concerned about her clothing getting wet. Even when Konoha asked if she would like to take a bath, she refused. She was always worrying, probably fearing her secret might be carelessly revealed.
"Then there is this one called the «Tragic Black River». Its official name is much longer but that's not important. I'm forced to keep it on me for self-defense. It was originally a serial killer's favorite possession, but I have no wish of finding out how many lives this thing has taken."
As if condemning a serial killer with her gaze, Kirika waved the front end of the belt lightly.
"Ueno-san, please tell me... Who are you actually?"
Konoha's question received a sigh in response. Then as if organizing her thoughts, Kirika remained silent for a moment—
"Let me be clear, I am not your enemy. I only happened to be here today by coincidence. I apologize for hiding all sorts of things from you all, but I originally intended to keep my identity hidden and did not plan on getting involved with you—That said, I couldn't stand back and do nothing, seeing as this person from the Knights Dominion had arrived."
Kirika shook her head lightly as she spoke:
"My comrades have been monitoring this woman from the moment she entered the country. We did not plan on taking any action originally, but starting with the day when I ran into Fear by coincidence... Things changed."
"Back then, you already knew what I was?"
"Yes. Rather, I already knew when you came to the school, but I had no choice but to play along. Regarding Fear's transformations of her Rubik's Cube, I told Yachi I 'saw something unbelievable' because according to my calculations, that was how an ordinary high school student should react without prior knowledge, and pretending to have seen nothing would be very unnatural—but following Yachi to the seaside after that was purely because I was worried."
That's right, Haruaki had told her "I will explain once everything settles," but to his great surprise, she accepted it readily. If she knew everything from the start, then there was nothing to be surprised about.
"Then I decided to take some minor actions. First, I stole the card Mummy Maker had given Yachi, then I tampered with the content and with my comrades' assistance, an opportunity was found to throw it into their stronghold—Since Mummy Maker was acting alone on her own accord, taking advantage of that could create conflict in their midst... That was what I thought. But it looks like the reaction provoked was excessive."
"So the card was lost because Class Rep stole it..."
"Yes... Furthermore, I also undertook yet another operation."
Kirika looked at Haruaki with wavering eyes as if she felt guilty.
"I originally planned to kidnap you. Sorry, that was me last night."
"The person last night... You were the one whose arm I severed?"
"Yes, Fear-kun. As for why... It's... Because I felt that it was the only way to protect you in a safe place, Yachi. Clearly, those people from the Knights Dominion were planning to kill those who stood in their way. But even if I asked you to hide, you probably wouldn't listen? Hence—I originally intended to take you to a safe place, even if it meant resorting to forceful measures. After Fear-kun and Konoha-kun defeated the people sent by the Knights, only then would I release you. After all, I couldn't expose my identity so I disguised myself as that Mummy Maker. Since her face was hidden and her weapon was similar to mine, it was a perfect coincidence."
Curling the black leather belt back to her right arm, she turned and faced Haruaki's group once more.
"Uh... It was for my sake?"
"Rather than for your sake, I felt that getting embroiled would be dangerous for you. But—It is true that I was being meddlesome. I reflected over it after I fled back home. At the time, you did not show fear and your eyes displayed determination. I also saw the way Fear-kun and Konoha-kun looked at me. Since you two were guarding Yachi so seriously, my actions were equivalent to trampling over your wishes. Completely tasteless. So I gave up... And now I would like to apologize for what happened that day."
"Hmm... I still don't quite get it, but I guess I should apologize for cutting off your arm?"
Fear frowned as she inclined her head in puzzlement. Kirika relaxed her expression slightly and said:
"Don't worry, because I'm wearing this thing, it was reattached instantly."
"I don't quite understand either... So in conclusion, what is your intention, Ueno-san?"
"R-Right... But since you're not an enemy, it's fine..."
"Goal... Eh? Well, I guess you could call it my personal intention? If you want to know what principle has driven my actions to this day..."
This time she truly smiled, the same way as she often did in the classroom.
"As the class representative, helping classmates is my duty, right? That's all."
"—Huh?" "What?" "Uh...?"
Three people. Three simultaneous questions. Kirika smiled wryly as she picked up her clothes, draped them over herself, tied up the cut open portion, and tried to cover up the highly exposing outfit beneath—but could not do so completely. Instead, she looked as if she was dressed wildly in punk rock style.
"Believe it or not, that is really the only reason. I... like you very much. Hmm, that's not right, umm... No. By liking I mean a normal relationship of classmates in school. Therefore—I wanted to help no matter what. Originally I only wanted to assist secretly, to push the situation towards a better direction."
"You didn't have to hide things, if only you told us from the start..."
"If that were possible, I'd be under a lot less stress, Yachi. I did mention a 'comrade' just now, right? I originally belonged to a certain organization. Not willingly, but this means my hands are tied in a certain sense. Although I asked a comrade to help me, it is a favor performed only at request and not without reward, similar to a debtor-creditor relationship. The organization's official stance is non-interference in the Knights Dominion's affairs, hence my actions would be frowned upon... Were they to find out about this ridiculous incident, I'll probably get scolded."
"An organization you say? Could it be—"
Fear paled and gripped her Rubik's Cube which had returned to normal. Then Kirika picked up the unconscious Peavey as she spoke:
"Don't misunderstand, my organization's stance is completely different from the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion. That said, I find our own stance rather problematic as well... Seriously, it's not quite appropriate for a member like me to say this, but it is absolutely ridiculous..."
"What kind of stance is it...?"
"That of a 'research organization.' To 'understand' Wathes and cursed objects—this is the organization's only goal. By this point, there's no point in hiding things, so I'll be frank. The reason why I entered this school, other than to study like an ordinary person... Is partially because I was assigned a task of 'understanding.' In other words, my mission is to observe Yachi and Konoha-kun, to report on how a sword lives as it gradually lifts its curse and assimilate into human society. I simply report back that you pass your days happily, living more humanly than humans."
Perhaps unsure how to respond, Konoha remained silent.
"Fear-kun, if you were to stay here, surely you'll become a target for observation. Because not only to the Knights Dominion, you are the focal point of attention for all organizations. I will find a way to take care of this woman, but inevitably someone else, perhaps even from a different organization, will show up."
"...Even so, I... Still want to... Stay here. I know this will cause a lot of trouble..."
Fear murmured with her head bowed. Haruaki forcefully rubbed her head.
"Don't say it's trouble. Stay if you want to stay, there will always be a way."
"That's right. Besides, where else could you go? What a headache of a child you are."
"Mmm... S-Stop treating me as a child, you two! I just... Just want to lift my curse, that's all."
"I heared what you said just now. Even though I don't know if it's right or wrong—I believe your intentions are very noble in any case."
"Wow, to think the Class Rep is praising someone...! How rare...!"
"A-Absolutely ridiculous! I do praise people sometimes! Yachi, you too... Since you decided to accept Fear, then stay true to your resolve, no matter what happens."
"Speaking of trouble, tons has already happened. By now, I've already grown used to it a long time ago."
Smiling, Kirika suddenly reached towards the ground, searching amongst the remains of the destroyed Dance Time.
"Class Rep, what are you looking for?"
"Since I deceived you, though this doesn't really count as an apology, I want to tell you all about something. The type of object called Indulgence Disks."
"Oh... That woman seems to have mentioned that, I remember—"
"A device for weakening curses."
The blade in Haruaki's hand shuddered. Fear also shook her silver hair as she looked up.
"I don't know the details but it's supposed to be a precious item. The Knights Dominion tends to install it on equipment that causes severe side effects... Reportedly, it can form complicated systems in concert with the internal structure of tools that have the ability to take human form. I've also heard that Indulgence Disks have a tendency to attract one another. As for the actual truth, I have no idea. Also..."
From amongst the fragments, Kirika picked up a rectangular object that resembled a remote control. It was that object affixed to the axe's grip. Crushing the object in her hand, Kirika took out something from within and tossed it to Fear. What Fear caught was something resembling a thin card, mere millimeters thick. Its pure black surface felt similar to steel in touch. Examining closely, one could discover, with great difficulty, faint etchings resembling geometric patterns.
"The Indulgence Disks seem to be related to Fear in some way. Anyway, you can have this."
"What is going on...? I have no idea?"
"Who knows. Like I said, I don't know any details."
Carrying Peavey on her back, Kirika then picked up various articles from the ground including the handgun and started to leave.
"—I'm going back now. Just as I suspected, I shouldn't do things I'm not used to doing."
"Class Rep! Wait a minute, I still have things to talk about...!"
"Yachi, I understand how you feel, but please be considerate of my position. Indeed, I am a member of an organization... But that does not define me personally... Being forced to wear this thing, forced to do things I don't like doing... I actually hoped you would never find out. I simply wanted to pass my days in school, being a nagging and totally uncute class representative, that would have been sufficient. My greatest wish... I hope you'll forget all this by tomorrow. Then I can simply report to the higher ups, all is well—That is the kind of life I want to lead, there is nothing more to my wish."
As he watched the image of her back as she halted her steps, the tone of Kirika's voice sounded somewhat lonely.
Haruaki could understand the sincerity and resignation in her words. Hence, his answer required no deliberation.
"If you say so, I'll forget it all... Back in school, I won't say anything about it. But let me ask a question. Why did you join that kind of organization unwillingly? And what is the organization called?"
Kirika looked back. Her glare was quite severe, quite melancholy—
"Lab Chief Yamimagari Pakuaki's Nation. The ridiculous miniature garden of a nation—one that my elder brother founded."
Then she started walking about, waving as she said:
"Don't skip school tomorrow, Yachi. Because I intend to win our sandwich duel!"
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