In any case, night descended peacefully. Dinner was Chinese cuisine, but if one were to make a great concession, to comment with maximum possible mercy, benevolence and generosity... Yes... The taste was not too bad. But the problem was—
"You really need to control your appetite. So today, I'm only giving you this much."
Saying that, Haruaki rationed Fear's snack to three rice crackers only. But she still devoured them ravenously as usual, however—
"Uwah~ Unfair treatment! Abuse! Classroom disruption! Racial discrimination!"
"Where did you learn all those terms? It is an unavoidable fact, things decrease in number as you eat them, that is only natural. If you want, you should go out and buy one of those pockets that can conjure rice crackers endlessly!"
"...Where can I buy one?"
Haruaki cleared the table as he spoke. Fear went "Hmph" in response and lay down, preparing to sleep.
"Sleeping immediately after eating. Be careful or else you'll turn into a cow~~"
"Why don't you tell that woman instead. No wait, she's already a cow, it'd be pointless. Hahaha."
"If she overhears this, you're going to be slaughtered..."
As she listened to Haruaki's footsteps as he walked to the kitchen, Fear suddenly felt an unfamiliar object beneath her. There was something in her pocket. Taking it out, she found the black card Kirika had given her. Maintaining her lying down posture, she placed the rectangular object before her as she gazed upon it.
"Indulgence Disk... That's what they called it? So how is it actually used?"
Frowning, Fear flapped the metallic card to fan wind against her face. As she stared blankly at the black object, somehow—a suddenly sense of discomfort filled her body. Instinctively, she stopped the movements of her hand.
"What... Is this feeling? I... What—"
Narrowing her eyes, she recalled the feeling in her chest. A vague and distant feeling that seemed to be telling her something. As hazy as a dream state—formless—a past sense of loss—how nostalgic—nostalgia?
That's right—she knew this thing.
Opening her eyes wide, Fear suddenly sat up. She knew. She had seen this before. Though she could not recall where or why, she definitely knew. This fact was deeply engraved somewhere in her memory.
"I can't recall any details... That's right, but for some reason, I know. I also know what needs to be done..."
Fear turned to look at the corridor. She could hear the sound of Haruaki washing the dishes in the kitchen.
She could not do it alone. In that case, she had no choice but to rely on that person...
"I-It can't be helped. That's right, there's no choice... Damn it."
Blushing as she got to her feet, Fear went to the kitchen. Leaning against the doorway, she deliberately avoided looking at Haruaki inside as she spoke:
"Hey... Haruaki. Is the bath ready?"
"It's already ready for you. Remember to put on the cover once you're done to prevent the bathwater in the tub from going cold."
"D-Don't nag so much! I already know!"
"Why are you suddenly angry...?"
"Uh... Umm, I have something... I need your help with. Wait until I'm done with my bath... Then come to my room for a bit."
She heard Haruaki turn off the tap.
"What is it? I'm done with the dishes, so we can do it now if you want."
"No... No no no, definitely no! At least wait until I've finished bathing, idiot! You got that!? Understood? You must remember to come!"
Blushing even further, Fear fled the kitchen with noisy footsteps.
"What on earth was that about...? Hey, Fear, I'm coming in, okay?"
Having knocked, he was just about to slide open the door when Fear's voice responded.
"I'm coming in. What do you want to ask me to do..."
"Wah—Wait! Wait wait wait!"
"Wha... What is it now?"
"Umm... Mmm hmm. Before you come in, prepare yourself mentally. Rather—Y-You, don't get the wrong idea!"
"Get the wrong idea?"
"In other words—Hmm! B-Because it's you! Only because it's you, I am giving you special permission! I don't want to do this either... So embarrassing..."
A strange noise was heard.
"You... In the beginning... You've already seen this... So..."
The stammering murmurs from the room made Haruaki's heart rate rise. Already seen this? What have I already seen? Something seen in the beginning—speaking of where he first discovered Fear, it was the kitchen? At that time, her appearance was—eeeh? It can't be... In other words, just now when she said she need to take a bath first at least, she meant—eeeh?
"I have a request... To make of you."
"W-Wait a minute! What are you planning?"
"I-It's very hard to explain. Just look... And you'll understand what I want you to do for me..."
"Just look and I'll understand? —B-But I'm allowed to look?"
"Only because it's you... I don't want anyone else to do it... Okay, once you're mentally prepared, come in."
"...Do I have a choice in this?"
"I'm not forcing you—Because this is a 'request.' Seriously, then I'll make this clear. Haruaki—"
Pausing in hesitation for a moment, Fear spoke again in a faint voice:
"You don't like... Touching my body?"
Haruaki's heart rate was reaching its limit. His mind went blank as if his brain was boiling.
"I... I'm coming in."
Aware that his mind had halted, Haruaki slid the door open with trembling hands—
Peering into the room, he found Fear in her most vulnerable state.
Then—they engaged in a secret act that only the two of them were privy to.
A fair amount of time after that...
Trembling, someone pressed against the slide door, eavesdropping on the situation in the room.
"Well then, I'm entering here..."
"Yee... Yahh! Don't touch with your finger! Dummy!"
"Sigh~~ Seriously. Then I'll finish things quicker."
"Yes—It's going in... Ah. You touched that..."
"This is really tight. Ooof!"
"Ah... Ah... Ah... Ah! Nn... Nnnnnn... Ahhhhh! I-It's in! Ahhhh... Ha... Hee... A-All of it... Is it all in?"
"No, only the front tip went in a little. Ready for another go?"
"Ah! —Hmm... Huaa... I-It's so tight!"
"It's already halfway in, just bear it for a while longer."
"Oww... Owwwwwwwwww... Ahhh, no good, it's already... Full!"
"Does it hurt? Do you want me to stop?"
"Oooh... N-No need, continue. Continuing is okay, I... I'm fine... S-So!"
"Don't force yourself."
"I said it's okay... So it's okay... Hurry, see it through to the end... You can be a little forceful, just shove it in..."
"You're really leaving me no choice. Then it's going in all at once, you have to bear it—!"
"Ah... Hee... Aieee! I-It's coming... It's all... All in! Ahhh... Mmm..."
"Yes, it's in. It's done, Fear, you tried really hard."
The eavesdropper reached the end of her patience.
Listening outside the door, Konoha vigorously threw open the slide door with a great "Slam!"
"Y-You two! Truly... Truly... i-indecent! I won't allow it, I forbid this!"
Kneeling in front of a black cube, Haruaki looked up in surprise. His hand was reaching out towards a face of the cube which had been opened, exposing the complex machinery inside.
Her face red with embarrassment, Konoha gazed at the sight for several seconds.
As her glasses slid down lightly, Konoha and Haruaki spoke at the same time:
A couple dozen of minutes prior to Konoha freezing from an unexpected sight—
"So it turns out to be something like this...!"
The instant he saw the vulnerable cube sitting in the center of the room, Haruaki collapsed on his knees upon the tatami.
"W-What? Why are you suddenly so dispirited?"
"No... Nothing, I'm just feeling exhausted. Just now I was definitely weird... What now? Isn't it a rare sight to have you in this form, what is this about?"
Haruaki patted the cube which was making sounds from who knows where as he knelt down before her.
"Wah! Don't touch so carelessly... Wait, never mind. Like I said, I am really unwilling to do this... But since you've already seen this form once already, I have a request for you."
"It has to be done in this form?"
"Yes. About the matter of the Indulgence Disk over there."
The black metallic card was found on the side without requiring any searching. Haruaki picked it up.
"I seem to... Recall something about it. It feels like... I remember something about it."
"Really? So, what needs to be done?"
Fear hesitated then spoke loudly as if she finally made a decision:
"L-Listen well, I am really embarrassed... Very embarrassed, you know! You have to be mindful of that while you act!"
"Right, so what do I have to do?"
"Mmm... Hmm. First... Turn me over, and make the current side on the base face that direction."
Although Haruaki had no idea what this was about, he did as told anyway. Grabbing Fear's corners on top, he mustered his strength and rotated the dense and heavy cube by one quarter of a revolution.
"Hey, be more careful with your movements!"
The base was now shifted to face sideways. Haruaki bent down to examine it but found it indistinguishable from the other faces of the cube. Just a black surface with tiny seams.
"Ooh... Ooooh... This feels as if someone was peeking underneath my skirt..."
"I thought you've never experienced peeking before?"
"I-I know what it's like, shut up! Hmph! Stop being so sluggish—Next, there should be a circular component on your upper right, push it in. Push the whole thing in."
"While keeping it depressed, pull out the exact center of the left side. The spot that looks like a 'C'—Yes, that's right."
Clang—accompanied by a faint sound, a portion of the cube sprung out. As seen before, the inside was filled with screws and gears in various combinations, forming a complicated inner structure.
"T-Then take that cylinder and spin it three revolutions towards the right... Wah, idiot, spin it slower! Seriously... Hmm... Haah... Next, slide the lower right portion out—Ah... Hoo..."
Haruaki followed Fear's instructions as he operated the cube's mechanisms step by step. Throughout the process, these instructions were mixed with sighs of unknown meaning. It really was quite a tough job.
"Then pull the lower cover up. Inside you should find a slender component, pushing it horizontally—"
"—Is strictly forbidden."
"Gah! A knife just flew out!"
Haruaki frantically withdrew his hand. The fright almost shaved a few years of his life.
"Listen carefully until I'm done! Moving it horizontally is very dangerous, so you have to move it vertically!"
"Stop wording things so misleadingly! I almost lost four fingers!"
"...Hmph. Serves you right for rudely playing with my body..."
"But it's you who asked me to do this..."
In any case, on of the cube's faces had been opened by Haruaki, exposing its complicated interior. The tedious steps made him rather exhausted, so he started to flex his fingers to take a break midway. At this time, Fear murmured and asked:
"Say—What is your opinion?"
"Opinion on what?"
"...What you see before you. Stained by bloodshed, unimaginably filthy. Even if unseen, it is filled with uncleanliness—fully cursed. You... Would you feel disgusted?"
"Hmm—" Haruaki crossed his arms and spoke as if it were no big deal, sounding like he was recalling a memory:
"Speaking of which, isn't there a guy called Taizou? The really noisy guy in school. He really loves plastic models. I think you must have seen it, the Taizou zone he established behind the classroom, where he keeps several dozen—"
"...What does that have to do with anything? Is it related to me in some way?"
"I have no particular interest in plastic models... However, boys in general, there is a fraction of them that thinks that stuff like models and machinery are really cool—Yes. The more complicated, the more their eyes glow in admiration, thinking it is super cool. Boys are that kind of creature. Whether missiles, tanks... Or strange metal boxes, that is how they feel."
Fear fell silent. Probably not displeased silence—thought Haruaki.
"Then, what's the next step?"
"Hmm? Ah, right. N-Next is the final step. That's right, the final... Ahhh!"
Fear suddenly returned to a stammering state. What remained were the locked metal plates on top and on the two sides. Following her instructions, Haruaki operated and opened them like the chairs in a cinema—
"Ah... Ahhhh... Seen... It's seen... This place that no one has ever seen before..."
Neatly arranged inside were rows of slender slits. Four columns. Eight rows. Almost all of them were empty on first glance. Bringing his face close to examine carefully, Haruaki found two or three slits already occupied.
"Ah! Hmm... I can feel the breath from your nose, it tickles... D-Dummy! Hey, Haruaki!"
"Eh? Ah... Hmm, sorry. These... Could it really be..."
"That's right. Although I don't understand the meaning behind it, I sort of get it. I believe that disk was once kept here. So... Put it back inside."
"Is this really okay? I don't see any buttons for taking them out. Once it's in, it probably can't be taken out easily?"
"N-No problem. Probably. I just feel that it must be inserted no matter what... D-Do you understand? Which is why I can't do it alone. This is the deepest part of my body, and cannot be opened by my own will... Turning into this form, I can only request others to insert it. Okay, hurry and put it in! Just insert it anywhere! Simply being watched like this, is very embarrassing..."
"Sorry, I can't understand anything here except for your sense of embarrassment... Anyway, fine, I'm going to put it in then... Once it's inserted, who knows if your curse will be weakened?"
"No idea. But at least I don't have any ominous feeling, so it should be fine."
Since she said that, there was no choice, hence Haruaki picked up the black chip, and maintained his kneeling posture to approach Fear's slits. Then he arbitrarily picked a position to insert—
"...So that's what happened..."
After that, Fear suddenly lost her temper and said: "I have something I want to confirm! Hurry and reassemble everything then get out! Also, forget everything you saw just now!" Hence, Haruaki and Konoha returned to the living room to seek refuge and drink tea.
Konoha avoided looking at Haruaki directly and for some unknown reason, Haruaki found himself kneeling in traditional sitting posture. Ending the explanation of what happened to this point, Haruaki had no choice but to submit to the tense atmosphere and continued to speak respectfully:
"So, Konoha-san... Is it possible that... You're still... Angry...?"
"If it looks that way to you, then assume that is the case."
"No no no! But she was just a box, I haven't done anything to be ashamed of. Besides, didn't you show a 'Eh? I'm mistaken?' expression just now, Konoha-san?"
"Although it seemed fine in the first instant, on further thought, how could there not be a problem? Suppose I turned back into a sword. The sword is my body, there is no doubt about that. So if the sword is touched I will feel the sensation of being touched. But that is simply a sensation, and it doesn't mean it is precise enough to tell which part of the body was touched. However—when the most vital part of the original form is touched, it is equivalent to touching a human's most vital part. Do you understand?"
Her extremely cold gaze seemed to pierce right through Haruaki, sending chills down his spine. Whenever Konoha drank tea as she insisted she was acting normally, that was when she was scariest.
"You touched it, right?"
"Touched it... I guess..."
"You manipulated it, right?"
"Manipulated... Maybe... I guess..."
After a moment—she shifted her gaze and murmured softly:
"I-I'm really sorry! But, umm... My mindset was really treating it as adjusting a box..."
The teacup was returned to the table with a crash. Haruaki cowered back and stopped talking. Konoha was so scary!
At this moment, from the direction of Fear's room, suddenly—
A strange shrill cry was heard. Next came the sound of the sliding door pulled open with great force, followed by footsteps. Turned back into human, Fear rushed into the living room with great surprise on her face.
"Terrible! This is really terrible!"
"W-What happened? S-See, I knew it, because something strange was shoved inside—"
"That's precisely it! I knew this was the reason!"
Fear opened her eyes wide and cried out as if she could not believe it herself:
"The «Iron Maiden» form is no longer accessible!"
"Huh? You mean yourself? Or the weapon transformed from the Rubik's Cube?"
"Both! Basically, neither can take on that form anymore!"
"That means... The curse is weakened?"
Konoha put her anger towards Haruaki aside for now and asked.
"It doesn't feel that way. Simply the form is inaccessible."
"Then what does it mean?"
"Who knows—However, the reason stems from the insertion of the Indulgence Disk. No mistake about that. Originally, when I first awakened I had this strange feeling. I have thirty-two forms in total, but for some reason, two or three of them were unavailable. At first, I thought it was because I had slept for too long..."
"Before I inserted that card, there were a few embedded inside already."
"That's right. It is the result of that disk after all. Why the 'curse-weakening' mentioned by Kirika turned out to be like this, I have no idea, however—the limitation imposed on my torture tool functions is due to inserting that thing. Which is why the iron maiden is no longer usable... Hohoho... Haha..."
Suddenly, she crossed her arms tightly against her chest and started to laugh happily.
"So—to you, this counts as a good thing?"
"Of course! That's right, of course! This is great, isn't it?! One is clearly not enough, if more were inserted, more of those disks... Then all the forms will became inaccessible! Once that happens, even if my heart desired it, I won't be able to hurt anyone anymore! Then I no longer have to be scared of my past self, I no longer have to fear going mad!"
"Right. Then you don't need to worry about anything... And focus on gradually lifting your curse as a normal human being!"
"—Well then, where are the rest of the disks?"
Fear froze for a few seconds then sat down on seat cushion.
"Just to summarize what we've learned about the Indulgence Disks. They are things that can be inserted into you, or perhaps they were originally part of you, and once inserted, you become unable to use a particular ability. And..."
"...This thing was found on that axe. To me personally, I'm not sure if it has any meaning, but since others are using them, to other cursed tools—Perhaps the truth really is as Kirika described, the disks have the ability to suppress the effect of curses."
"In other words, the other disks are probably being used in other tools possessed by that organization called the Knights Dominion? I remember that woman saying it was used on objects with particularly powerful curses."
"Yes, I see..."
Haruaki nodded in agreement.
"Summing up, let's bring up the next subject! Konoha, I didn't see you up until just now, what have you been doing?"
"Wait a minute, don't change the subject all on your own! We're talking about me right now! I am the subject of conversation!"
Fear slammed the table top forcefully. Haruaki scratched his head and said:
"But... Even if we know where they are, it won't be of much help. I don't know much about the Knights Dominion, we have no idea where they're located, and neither do we know if they are coming back or not. There are too many uncertainties for us so there is no point in thinking too far ahead. In the end, let's just follow our original plan."
"...Hmm... Original plan... is that so?"
"Yes yes. Anyway, you have to learn common sense first. Once you are able to help around the house, then you can learn lots of things outside. This will take a lot of hard work, so be prepared."
Fear remained silent for a while but then she started tapping her fingertips noisily on the table as she threw a tantrum:
"...Where's my tea? And of course, rice crackers are required as snacks to go with tea!"
Despite saying that, she understood what she had to do and what she was able to do. Haruaki smiled wryly as he got up.
"Ah, since you're going to the kitchen, could you help me out along the way? Make a detour to the entryway."
"Help you out? Sure."
Agreeing to Konoha's request, Haruaki accompanied her to the entryway to find a large amount of luggage there.
"...What is this?"
"Eh? I didn't tell you? I'm going to move back into the main house for now. That was the answer to your question just now, I was packing my luggage earlier. So, I hope you can help me move them."
"No, wait a minute, I never heard anything about this? Why?"
"Yes! Due to the precedent of this incident, I believe it is better if I keep a closer eye on things for now. Living under the same roof, it would be easier to take action if anything happened."
"Intruder incidents shouldn't be that frequent, I think..."
"Also, leaving you two alone together, I would be most troubled if anything indecent happened."
Though she was smiling, it was a terrifying smile.
"If you refuse, Haruaki-kun, I will take that as a confession that you are planning to do something indecent, okay? I will refuse to speak to someone so perverted ever again."
Hearing the threatening tone in her voice, Haruaki slumped his shoulders dejectedly.
"Like I said, just now was because she requested, plus she was even in cube form, so there's nothing indecent... Whatever, after all, there's no disadvantage anyway. You used to live here so you should know your way around. That room over there is free, so you can use that one."
"Got it. Hehe, it's been so long since I lived here. Since I will be in your care here, let me help you with the cooking as much as possible!"
Without them noticing, Fear had suddenly appeared behind them. She probably ran out of patience and charged into the kitchen to commit robbery? Held in her hand was the bag of rice crackers.
"Cow Tits here is going to live in the same house? I never heard about this!"
"By the way, the room seems to be next to yours. Pleased to meet you too."
"I-I don't approve of this!"
"That is because... Umm... Y-You, simply looking at that very heavy body part makes me so mad! Shameless! And even sleeping in the room next door? That is fundamentally a problem! Every time you turn in your sleep, you'll surely make noise that disrupts my sleep!"
"Ahaha, hear that, Haruaki-kun? This child is truly amusing... May I give her a sound beating?"
"You're treating me as a child again!"
"How troubling, wait until it's my turn to cook, perhaps I'll accidentally make one children's meal less?"
"To think you'd go for starvation tactics, completely despicable...! Hmph! If I actually ate your meaty cuisine, surely I'd grow really fat! Just like a certain someone, growing meat in useless places! Ha, it's just as well!"
"What... How dare you make up new descriptions to insult me!"
"...Uh... By the way! I have to go check the mailbox, hahaha!"
Using this contrived excuse, Haruaki escaped the scene before he could be embroiled into the conflict. While listening to the noisy dispute behind him, Haruaki quietly made his way outside. Neither of the girls noticed.
Slowly, he opened the mailbox next to the main gate. Amongst pornographic flyers and junk mail, he found a single letter delivered via air mail—sent from his father.
This was the first time Haruaki received any communication from his father ever since he sent Fear here on his own accord. Haruaki opened the letter immediately in a hurry. There were too many things he did not understand at this point in time. You have explain everything in detail, old man—Thinking that to himself, Haruaki used the light at the entrance for illumination. The content of the letter was rather brief:
'It will take me a while before I can come home. Also, I think quite a few disasters might have happened during daytime, so I gave the superintendent a call. You can save your thank you hug until I get back!'
"No, I completely don't understand what's the meaning of this! As if I'd feel thankful at all!"
Turning the letter over, he waved it to check for any hidden messages. At this time, one of the letters he was holding under his arm fell to the ground. He had failed to notice the letter until now, but the words on the envelope were very familiar to Haruaki. Seeing the words, "Taishyuu Private High School," the name of the school he was studying at, Haruaki had an ominous premonition.
Opening the bulging envelope, he found several folded documents inside. He did not spend the effort to read the fine print, however—one of them was written in large print, realizing his ominous premonition in the worst manner possible.
The first thing he saw was a name written in katakana—"Fear," followed by an arbitrarily chosen family name.
The next line after that was—Authorization of the above-named student's enrollment.
"My old man is such an idiot... Look at what he's done!"
Haruaki slouched dejectedly and gave a deep sigh.
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