Chapter 1 - As Fragile as Glass Beads / "Sovereignty-Perfection-Doll"
Haruaki and Konoha sighed gloomily together.
"Strange, this is clearly the same route we take to school every day. But what is with this sense of exhaustion...?"
"We even set off earlier than usual but somehow we ended up arriving at school the same time as always..."
The school gates stood before them like some sort of difficult destination. Somehow, the place they visited every day seemed like a desert oasis today.
The cause of their mental fatigue was obviously the new member who started joining their journey to school starting today. Despite their efforts to remind her to walk properly, her elated appearance was unmatched. Wandering this way and that, she had to pet every puppy that was being walked, and was drawn to dumpling sellers as soon as the smell of soy sauce reached her. Walking with a showbiz monkey would probably be easier. After all, there was no way to put a leash on Fear's neck.
On further thought, it was only natural for Fear to be so excited. To her, today was the first time to walk out on the streets normally. Although she ran to school on her own without permission, simply getting there took enough effort such that she had no leisure to enjoy the surrounding scenery. Perhaps her current behavior was a reaction to that.
"Ooh, my sense of unease is ever increasing."
"W-Well, I'm sure we'll gradually get used to it. I think."
Konoha also disputed the decision last night. Clearly, she was worried about Fear going to school when she had yet to accustom herself to human society. To be honest, Haruaki agreed with her.
But then again, leaving Fear home alone could lead to frightening results. After all, there was the precedent of her making a mess of the house. Also, there was no way to be sure that Fear's "enemies" would not return. Hence, they might as well keep her under supervision close by... This final reason was how Haruaki convinced Konoha last night. Then morning arrived. Nevertheless, Haruaki never expected to be met with such exhaustion from the very start of the day.
In any case, they now had to enter the school gates. Haruaki suddenly noticed the disappearance of the footsteps behind him.
Turning around, he was met with the sight of shiny silver hair reflecting sunlight as well as pristine skin as white as snow, even purer than the morning air.
Outside the gates, at the place where all it took was one further step to enter the "school" space, Fear was rooted to the ground, staring up at the school building. As other students cast gazes of curiosity at her silver hair, very incredibly, her expression was quite solemn.
As they neared the school, Fear's meanderings had gradually decreased and the number of times she spoke became more and more restrained. Her pace slowed down, quickened and slowed down again. Haruaki was not oblivious enough to dismiss these changes as simple mood swings.
"Fear, what's the matter?"
Relaxing her expression, she looked back at Haruaki. Same as last night, this was a shy and nervous smile.
"Henceforth—From now on, I am a 'student.'"
"Just like you... I've become one of the students."
"That's what I told you already. You're a student, so being late would be bad, let's hurry!"
As if resolving herself, Fear jumped with both legs.
And stepped into the new world known as "school."
This time, she displayed to Haruaki an undoubtedly hundred percent pure smile and said:
"Yay, I've become one of your comrades."
Stab. Haruaki felt something pierce his chest, taking his breath away. Incredibly, this sharp stinging sensation felt painful and unbearably ticklish, yet at the same time, not entirely unpleasant. But he had no more time to contemplate this feeling—
"Okay, that's that. Let's go, Haruaki-kun. Being late is unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable! Well then, hurry!"
"Uwah, it hurts... What are you doing, Konoha? I can walk without being dragged, you know!?"
"I'm not listening to you. Seriously... With the way things are... I really can't be careless. Sigh..."
Murmuring to herself, Konoha pulled Haruaki's sleeve with a stern expression.
Unable to understand why Konoha was in a bad mood, Haruaki could only wave and tell Fear to "Hurry and follow" as she watched in puzzlement.
The lunch break had arrived. A finished lunchbox on the table before him, Haruaki was currently sipping tea from a water bottle.
"Hmm—Is this really okay? Somehow it feels like things progressed too smoothly..."
"Is that any cause for you to complain? Drinking tea in peace is happiness, didn't you used to say that all the time?"
"That's right. Besides, it's not like nothing happened, right? This morning there was quite a commotion, eh?"
As usual, Taizou and Kana offered their commentary after they finished lunch together.
Prompted by Kana, Haruaki recalled the scene this morning. Wondering how the class would receive Fear, Haruaki's focus was fixated on Fear more nervously than any test or examination.
"Uh—umm, my name is Fear Cubrick... Pleased... Pleased to meet you?"
Her greeting strangely turned into a question. The whole classroom was instantly filled with amazed exclamations of "Wow!" and applause.
"Fear-chan, nice to meet you too! I'm really happy to see you again!"
"Can we be together all the way until graduation?"
"Have you decided which club to join? If you're free, I can give a tour of the track and field club..."
"Hey, stop stealing a march on others! The soccer club currently has no manager! How's that!?"
"No manager!? You mean I'm fired?"
"Tennis club... Those fluttering and really short tennis skirts..."
"Idiot, she should come to the archery club instead! The hakama—think about the massive contrasting effect! Ah! Simply imagining it is...!"
"W-Wait a minute, I can't hear everything clearly. What? Who should I answer? Stop speaking all at once!"
"...!" "...?" "......!"
That was how it went.
Haruaki looked helplessly into the distance.
"Yeah, what a great commotion... Nothing gets more excessive than that..."
"See? So why are you complaining?"
"I mean, what happened afterwards seemed a bit too natural... Whether you guys or the other students, why are you all acting so nonchalant as if Fear had always been a part of the class? And to think I was so worried earlier, it really makes me seem like a fool!"
"There's nothing to worry about. Her Japanese is perfect, also she is just so~ cute, there's no problem at all! Wow... I never expected to be sharing classes with a girl like that! Akki, good job!"
As Kana said the words "so~ cute," she embraced Fear who was eating beside her and started rubbing their faces together.
"So hot and stuffy, get away from me!"
"Awww, don't be so cold, Fear-chan... I love you...!"
Despite Fear's efforts to push her away, Kana seemed to be deliberately pressing even closer. Clearly she was quite enjoying it. As for why Fear was the only one still eating, that was because Kana and Taizou kept giving her food as if treating her as some kind of pet, thus delaying her from finishing.
"Hmmmm... This adaptability is really overdone—you do realize that the one who transferred in is this sort of weirdo, I hope? Normally, shouldn't you get close more gradually?"
"Chew chew. Yeah, I'm sorry for being a weirdo."
As Fear glared at Haruaki, Taizou hastily comforted her:
"Nothing like that, Fear! The weirdo is definitely Haruaki! Being foreign and a beauty to boot, that can only constitute appeal. Calling you weird is wrong! Seriously... Haruaki, don't say such strange things! It's not like getting along quickly is a bad thing!"
"I second what Taizou says! Besides, this isn't our first time meeting so getting along this way is normal! Just that we never expected we could still see her in school, so there was surprise at first. If you knew about this, why didn't you tell us earlier?"
"...How would I have known? It was a sudden decision."
In actual fact, Fear's situation was like a transfer student's second day at school. Even though Haruaki did consider things turning out this way, which made it easier to accept—But still, it went too smoothly, and was therefore surprising.
(That said, this isn't actually anything bad. But somehow I feel like the risk of Fear exposing her secrets may have become higher... But I already warned her yesterday. Anyway, I can't keep worrying forever so there's not much I can do but keep a closer watch?)
While Haruaki engaged in self-suggestion in his thoughts, Kana and Taizou continued their conversation.
"Speaking of surprise, doesn't it feel like the teachers are all acting different from before?"
"Yeah that's right. Could they be feeling nervous? Yoshimura's stale jokes are more frequent than usual, while Sasaki kept glancing furtively at Fear-chan from the corner of his eye... By the way, Himura was also uncharacteristically smiling on purpose?"
Himura was the mathematics teacher whose face was always obscured by his long hair and always mumbled gloomily when he spoke. Nickednamed the «Ghost»—For someone like that to be smiling, clearly the sight of Fear reading the textbook intently was quite smile-inducing.
"Fear-chan, now that you've had a few classes, how do you feel about them?"
Chewing the sandwich prepared by Haruaki, Fear answered:
"Well... Even though English is very boring to me, I can understand what's being taught in history and biology so that's kind of interesting. If all it takes is memorizing it all, it's really too easy. But taking notes is annoying. Reading Japanese is okay, but I'm still not used to writing it."
"Eh!? It can't be... Fear-chan, you're actually the type who's great at studying? I'm sorry but to be honest, I don't get any of the lectures at all! I had hoped for another fellow comrade with failing marks, nooooo~!"
"Don't cry, Kana, I'm the same... I don't get anything either! You won't have to go to after school supplementary lessons alone!"
"Ah... Taizou!" "Comrades!"
The two bumped elbows together.
I really hope these two's poor influence doesn't rub off on Fear—just as Haruaki observed coldly he was suddenly reminded:
"Right, we originally planned to go say hi during lunch... Fear, we're going to the superintendent's office once you finish eating."
"Yeah, that's right. It's not really right for me to not even know the face of the person who helped me so much."
"...Strictly speaking, I don't know what the superintendent looks like either..."
"...? Whatever, I'm done. Let's go!"
After informing Taizou and Kana, Haruaki and Fear left the classroom—"Woah! I was just about to call you two." They ran into Konoha immediately in the corridor. Then—
"Ah, Ueno-san, good afternoon."
"Hello, why is everyone gathered together?"
The one on her way back to the classroom was the class representative who had revealed her secrets to Haruaki's group earlier—Ueno Kirika. After their customary cooking duel concluded with the usual result, she had finished her lunch first and stepped out, presumably off to the washroom or somewhere.
She suddenly turned towards Haruaki and their gazes met. Without saying anything, Haruaki immediately averted his gaze. Rather than ignoring her... This happened naturally. They had also greeted each other normally in the morning. But—
(She did tell me to feign ignorance, but... No matter what, it just doesn't feel natural.)
To be honest, Haruaki did had many questions he wanted to ask. About herself, regarding the future, as well as the "enemy" she had taken away to handle—
But he had promised her not to pursue the matter any further. Kirika's only wish was to "continue living a normal school life." To Haruaki, she was a precious friend and classmate, so "I can't fulfill your wish" was not an option.
Still, he could not stop feeling awkward in his heart. Despite the fact that only a little acting was required, it felt like their entire relationship was now shrouded under pretense, completely unnatural—extremely unsettling and unbearable.
"Are you showing her around the school again?"
"Nope, just going to greet the superintendent."
"I see. Yachi, you have to act as a proper escort! That guy—I do believe he is a good person at heart, but his appearance is truly bizarre to the extreme. Don't let Fear mistake him for a pervert and attack!"
I'm not that violent—just as Fear protested completely unconvincingly, Haruaki deliberately forced a smile--but taking care to hide the pretense—and answered:
"Wow, nonchalantly delivering such a harsh comment, Class Rep."
Kirika smiled lightly. Her smile was so natural that it carried not the slightest falseness of pre-established harmony.
Haruaki knew she only had good intentions but still felt lonely from the sense she was maintaining her distance. But it could not be helped, since this was her wish—Just as Haruaki thought to himself—
"By the way, seeing all of us gathered here reminds me. Kirika, that crazy woman yesterday, what happened to her—"
Hastily sealing Fear's lips before she could ruin all his efforts, Haruaki grabbed her and turned around, forming a barrier with his back between Kirika and Fear.
"Hey you, didn't we agree earlier, this kind of topic is forbidden...!?"
"Pwah! Listen here... Stop stuffing my mouth shut all the time! Do you really have that kind of fetish? As soon as you see an orifice on a woman's body, you feel compelled to shove something inside? In that case, I have my solution to that!"
"Uwah! Ouch, stop biting! Jeez... Your saliva is making my fingers all sticky..."
"Hmph... Tastes terrible. Season it properly with soy sauce next time!"
"You're going to bite again!?"
"Seriously you two, stop making a ruckus in the hallway... Let's go, we don't have much time left."
At this moment--
Behind them, Kirika could apparently suppress her laughter no longer.
"Haha, how should I put this... You guys are really quite something, still acting the same. And to think I was so tense, completely like a fool—Hoho. Absolutely ridiculous..."
"N-Nothing. Aren't you heading to the superintendent's office? Hurry, there's not much time remaining."
Time was definitely tight. As Haruaki turned around to continue on his way, he heard a voice from behind:
"Just mindless gossip—The balancing toy has already been handed over for safekeeping. Although it is not a place I can interfere, at least she won't be violently mistreated there. Don't worry."
Haruaki hurriedly looked back. Somehow he got the impression that Kirika winked momentarily at him as she walked into the classroom.
The superintendent's office was located on the top floor of the staff block.
Almost everyone who walked here felt a sense of dizziness. There were two reasons for that. Whether the wide tables or the sofa for guests, the grandness of the furniture caused one to doubt if this was inside a school. Secondly, the walls were covered with various items—helmets from western armor, blow darts, wooden cylinders that smelled of sexual harassment, etc—Completely haphazard and disorganized.
Fear's jaws gaped wide, speechless. This was the natural reaction—Haruaki thought.
"Hi, it's been a while, Haruaki-kun, and you too, Konoha-chan. You must be Fear-chan... I see."
Thud! A dart struck the very center of a dartboard hanging on the wall next to the desk. The seated person who threw the dart quietly swiveled his magnificent chair to face the arrivals.
"I am this school's superintendent, Sekaibashi Gabriel. Pleased to meet you all. I was slightly worried originally, but it looks like the uniform's size is a perfect fit. The gift was well worth the price. Oh right, let me take a picture, this is necessary. Though that said, it's a Polaroid so I can't guarantee the quality... Yes, this is good enough."
A man in an expensive looking suit. Not only was his name strange, but it also suggested a mixed racial heritage, especially given his bright hair color. Age indeterminate. He was supposed to be in his latter twenties but his exact age could not be discerned. As for why—
"Hmm? What is it?"
"Y-You must be a freak, right? Stay there and don't move, I'm going to take care of you!"
"Hey, stop that! Using an ashtray as a murder weapon only happens in detective novels!"
As Fear was about to throw a heavy glass ashtray, Haruaki quickly reached out with both hands from behind to restrain her. Struggling, she still seemed intent on throwing the ashtray at the suspicious person before her.
Yes, describing him as suspicious was completely accurate. The man was wearing a gas mask on his face, which would not have been out of place at a biohazard battlefield or the scene of a gas leak. But no matter how displaced he was, he should not be casually sitting legs crossed in this superintendent's office.
"Oh, you're surprised by my appearance...? That's only expected for your first time, hohoho."
The man in the well-tailored suit shook his shoulders gleefully. Despite his composed and proper bearing, the laughter coming from the mask gave off a bizarre "ppffft..." kind of sound.
"Woah! See, Haruaki, this guy... This guy is scary! Come up with something, quickly!"
"Hmm—I almost forgot Class Rep's warning... Okay, don't be afraid. Even though this guy looks like that, he is a good person."
Fear finally put down the ashtray in her hand and shrank away slightly.
"B-But that mask... Definitely suspicious!"
"Even though the accusation of strangeness is laid at me, I can't help but agree. My respiratory system has been very frail since birth, so the slightest bit of dust causes a stinging sensation as if tearing my lungs apart. If I don't wear this, I would be a perpetual invalid confined within the white walls of a sickroom."
"What!? It turns out to be something like that!? I-I'm really sorry, I was too impulsive."
No big deal, I'm used to it—the superintendent shrugged. But Haruaki and Konoha glared coldly at him instead—
"I remember the explanation last time was to hide a scar on your face?"
"I was told it was for religious reasons..."
"...Hey, which one is real?"
"Eh, is that so? Whatever, don't let such trivial details bother you, hoho."
Completely untroubled by his conscience, the superintendent threw another dart at the board on the wall. This time it struck the most outer edge.
Indeed, even if he changed his tone and insisted "This is the true explanation" no one would believe him. Since he wore a gas mask at all times, to Haruaki and the rest, this was the superintendent's face.
That said, his appearances in the school were not particularly frequent. The role of the superintendent was but one of his numerous professions. He was always busy and traveling all over the world. Although no one knew what he was actually doing, the only truth Haruaki was certain of was that this man was very wealthy.
"By the way, Superintendent, do you know what my Pops is doing?"
"Not really. His phonecall earlier only asked me to take care of Fear-chan. He seemed quite busy over on his end and I was in the jungle with a bad signal, so we didn't talk for long."
"I see... What? Jungle?"
As always, he was a guy doing unknown business.
"Yes, Papua New Guinea—yes yes, I made another discovery there! This time I am very confident! Would you like to have a look?"
Suddenly without any reason, he took out a wooden mask with various colors bunched together. It looked a bit dirty with strange stains. Simply stated, it was weird. Standing up, he handed the mask over to Konoha.
"How is it? As soon as I laid my eyes on it, my intuition told me I must have found a cursed artifact, am I right this time?"
For some reason, he spoke quite happily. With no choice but to receive the mask, Konoha turned it over and over in her hands, feeling it. Suddenly, Haruaki spoke up and asked:
"I've always been curious, can you actually identify that kind of thing instantly by examining it?"
"No... How should I put it... That works for some but not others... If you want an analogy, it's like looking at the muscles of someone you meet for the first time and then exclaiming 'This person really works out, right?' ...That's the kind of feeling... Isn't it the same for you, Fear?"
"I hate agreeing with you, but yes, that's what it's like."
"Hmm... So I guessed wrong again eh... I'm really far from catching up to Honatsu-san's level..."
The superintendent's shoulders slumped dejectedly as he took the mask back. This man seemed to love "discovering cursed tools," with a bad habit of buying on impulse any suspected object he discovered during his travels abroad. This was also one of the fundamental reasons how he became good friends with Haruaki's father.
"I guess I have no choice but to work harder and improve. Okay, Zenon-kun, could you bring the tea please. A portion for everyone please."
The one who answered had been standing in a corner in complete silence until now. Her short hair contributed to her striking image as a cool beauty. Even though she was not wearing a suit, her jacket gave off a strangely arrogant impression. As for the lower part of her outfit, she was dressed in a long skirt. Whether in terms of facial expression, attitude or attire, she seemed quite unapproachable in all three areas.
This woman was the superintendent's secretary, Houjyou Zenon. Even in her employer's absence, she still managed this room dutifully. The superintendent trusted her deeply and she also seemed to be privy to the existence of cursed tools all along. Haruaki and Konoha had met her before—though they were not particular familiar. That said, she did not act particularly intimately towards the superintendent either, so it was probable that she treated family with the same attitude.
Urged by the superintendent sitting before the desk, the entire group sat down on the sofa. Soon after, Zenon returned from the room next door, deftly served tea to Haruaki and his group, handed a straw to the superintendent and returned to the corner in the room. Manipulating the bottom of the mask, the superintendent created a small opening for the straw to enter and began sipping tea.
Fear watched the scene with half-narrowed eyes while Haruaki remained unfazed, already used to the sight.
"Oh yeah, by the way." As he savored the tea, the superintendent reached towards the camera on the desk. Picking up the instant photo, he began to cut it using scissors.
"What are you doing?"
"I said just now that a photo was necessary, right? A medical history for the infirmary is supposed to be attached to the enrollment application... A health survey which requires a photo. I already prepared the application beforehand but there's nothing I could do about the photo."
"The infirmary...? I don't really think I'll have any opportunity to use that place, right?"
"I believe so too, since your body's structure is different from humans. But if you alone lack the health survey form, it'd be strange, right? This is only for plausibility... Okay, it's done. Anyway, please confirm the address as a matter of procedure."
Confirmed. Seeing the "Nothing out of the ordinary" written on the health survey along with a photo of Fear with a silly open-mouthed expression, Haruaki felt rather surreal.
"If there's no problem, please leave it there, I will ask Zenon-kun to hand it in... Also, right! I remembered another thing. Zenon-kun, please."
Then Zenon brought over from the other room something that looked like an old suitcase. It was almost big enough to fit a person and also gave off a particularly sturdy impression.
"I have a request to make of Haruaki-kun. I don't really want to oblige you as an exchange of favors—since I did help fabricate Fear-chan's paperwork, but I'd be very grateful if you could agree to my little request."
"Certainly, even though it's Pops who asked you on his own, I'm really grateful for your help. So long as I'm able to help, I'd agree to any request... So, if you're asking me, that means it's related to cursed tools, right?"
The superintendent nodded and explained that he knew an owner of an antique shop from the neighboring town. Even though it was simply the relationship between a frequent customer and a shopkeeper, due to the purchase of cursed tools, they used to gossip in the past.
"And that person seems to have brought this suitcase to me. I was away at the time and it was Zenon-kun who received it in my stead—Zenon-kun, did he leave any message?"
The secretary replied calmly:
"Nothing much. 'This is a cursed doll.' 'Surely this thing must be the cause of my daughter's lack of vigor.' 'Please deliver this to that place for safekeeping.' That's all."
"A cursed doll..."
"What a cliched item. But if that's all he said, not much can really be deduced about its past."
"Eh? You didn't try calling him to ask? Wouldn't it be better to ask first..."
The superintendent shook his head at Konoha's question.
"I did call, but he seems to have... He died on the way back after dropping this thing off..."
The shopkeeper was already quite elderly and had been visiting the hospital recently due to illness. Gabriel slumped his shoulders gloomily, whispering as he explained—Although he had no idea if carrying the suitcase was too much of a strain for the shopkeeper, given he was so ill, sending by post should have been a better solution, right?
The above was what the superintendent discovered when he called and heard from the relative who happened to be at the house, taking care of the estate. Of course, that person was not aware of the doll. The shopkeeper's wife was already deceased so consequently, no one knew anything about the doll.
"Eh? Wasn't a daughter mentioned in the message just now?"
"She seems to be quite difficult to get along with and she doesn't pick up the phone. She was already problematic to begin with, and now combined with the impact of her father's death... Speaking of which, is the reason why she's not coming to school really related to this doll? And to think I specially reserved a spot for her, but she never came, causing me to wonder. Now it seems to make sense."
Nonchalantly exposing his tendency to spill gossip behind others' backs, Gabriel's words clearly disqualified him as an educator. This guy is really quite a character—thought Haruaki to himself.
Back to the subject at hand, even if their information on hand was practically zero, it did not pose any huge problem for Haruaki. After all, curses did not affect Haruaki and this would not be the first time for him to be entrusted with cursed tools for safekeeping on behalf of the superintendent.
Hence, the superintendent told Haruaki: "Just shove it somewhere in storage." After Haruaki nodded in agreement, Gabriel spoke cheerfully as if trying to dispel the gloomy atmosphere:
"Okay, now that things are decided, I think the actual object warrants a look. Zenon-kun, the key to this suitcase was also under your care, right? Let's open it for a view."
The secretary handed a key over to the superintendent who then unlocked the suitcase.
"Okay, what kind of doll would it be? Since it's cursed, will its appearance be frightening? Or perhaps the opposite, exquisitely beautiful? Actually, is it oriental or occidental in style—should we have a bet? In my view, I'm betting on a South American voodoo doll. What about you, Haruaki-kun?"
"Eh? Umm... Based on the impression, I feel like it's a Japanese doll."
"An ordinary marionette? Anyway, let's just hurry and open it!"
"Well, then my guess is... Chinese style?"
"Excellent, every guess is different. How about you, Zenon-kun?"
The secretary narrowed her eyes and shook her head.
"I do not participate in gambles where value cannot be precalculated. Besides, since the reward has not been quantified clearly beforehand, the bet does not stand."
Even though her face remained completely expressionless, it felt like she really wanted to say "Ridiculous." The superintendent merely shrugged at her usual lack of enthusiasm.
"You're not betting no matter what?"
"Not betting no matter what."
"If you guess right, let's double your salary for the current month."
"I vote for the western doll."
An instant response. Her gaze immediately became five times brighter and even more frightening than usual.
"Great. Well then—let's open the case!"
The superintendent immediately opened the suitcase for all to see its contents.
Haruaki and the rest could not help but gasp. The interior of the suitcase completely exceeded everyone's expectations.
On the other hand, the superintendent opening the suitcase from behind could not see what was within. He seemed to be the type who liked to save fun things to the very end, standing there to prop the suitcase open with great amusement.
"So? Who won, can someone tell me?"
"...Put in a contrived manner, it would have been me, a minute or so ago. Manipulated by desire, I have surely made a fool of myself."
"Hmm? What is going on?"
"'The bet does not stand'—that's the answer to this wager. Simply stated—"
Completely candidly, she described the contents of the suitcase.
Time stood still for several seconds.
"No idea. I have not touched the suitcase except when receiving the delivery and taking it out just now... In my humble opinion, I did notice that the weight was different compared to when I first received it. I thought it was just my imagination, but..."
"In other words—there was something inside originally when the shopkeeper brought it?"
Her gaze wavering slightly, Zenon bowed her head.
"I am at fault for its loss while it was under my safekeeping. I am prepared to accept punishment."
When she looked up once again, her eyes were filled with vigor surpassing her earlier state. As if it were a matter of life and death, she asked with a nervous and serious tone of voice:
"—Will my salary be deducted?"
"Do you wish for me to do that? Even if I deduct your salary completely, it won't change the fact of the matter. Hmm... But not handing out any punishment would be irresponsible as an employer. Well then... Okay, since I happen to have the camera on hand, why don't you let me take a picture of your happy face? Make the kind of expression that would get you locked up by airport personnel as they laughed hysterically if you ever used the photo in a passport."
"Then allow me to hand in my resignation today. As for the severance payment, I simply want the privilege of swinging this fist of mine."
Expressionlessly, Zenon raised her fist beside her face. Her other hand was already holding an envelope.
"Just joking." "...Really?"
Then Zenon expressionlessly replaced the envelope titled «Resignation» back into her pocket.
Haruaki was well accustomed to these exchanges between the boss and secretary, hence he ignored them. Once again, he examined the suitcase. No matter how many times he checked, it really was empty. In other words, conceptually, it contained "nothing at all;" but in actual fact, it was a depression lined with white cloth. Based on what Zenon reported, the contents must have disappeared during the few days after she received the case. In that case—
"Hmm... What do you conclude?"
"Isn't it obvious? Unless it was stolen, then—the thing inside 'ran away by itself.'"
Clearly another troublesome incident. Haruaki's statement made Fear greatly alarmed while the superintendent rubbed his mask, his expression indeterminate.
"I see, that's possible too. I didn't even consider that. With no way to ask the shopkeeper the details, what a disaster this is."
"Well, most people wouldn't think of this possibility, right? After all, cursed tools with the ability to take on human form are not that common."
But it would not be surprising to run into one; after all, two of them were standing right here in this room.
"Indeed, if I found myself suddenly being stuffed into a case, I'd want to escape too... Hmm? But wasn't it locked?"
"Since it's a cursed tool, nothing is impossible. For example, I know a doll who could make her hair act like metal wires... Besides, there shouldn't be anything else missing, right? Since there are so many valuables in this room, but no theft had occurred—This rules out the possibility of ordinary thieves."
Listening to the exchange between Fear and Haruaki, the superintendent nodded in agreement, then rested his forehead on one hand as if pondering something.
(Oh no, I have a bad feeling about this.)
Just as Haruaki felt a sudden impulse warning his entire body to bolt out of the room—
"...Very well, there's no other way but to amend the requested task. Haruaki-kun, please find the missing doll."
"I knew it!"
"You're unwilling to do this?"
"I don't know if I should call it unwilling or too difficult..! Since the doll left by its own will, then I have no idea where to start looking!"
"True, but if the doll is left to roam free, contrary to my friend's dying wishes, wouldn't that weigh on our consciences? Besides, if the doll is not taken care of, perhaps it could cause trouble for others, right?"
"Trouble... Namely, a curse? What kind of curse is it?"
Fear interjected with an extremely serious expression.
"How would I know...? Wait a minute, the message did mention about the daughter lacking in vigor, could that be it? «Life Force Stealing» or something like that?"
"What a cliched curse for a doll. Even though it can't be the person with the hair I mentioned, the resemblance is striking."
"I agree, Haruaki-kun."
"Who are you two talking about? I don't get it at all."
"It's not really important right now, and you'll meet her eventually anyway, Fear... Just a tangent. So, we were discussing the fact that it's not that easy to search for a doll?"
"No, you do not need to trouble yourself over this."
"Why is that?"
Haruaki had barely spoken when Fear stood up from the sofa. Arrogantly crossing her arms, she declared to the superintendent:
"—I want to resolve this incident by myself. I will search for the doll, okay?"
"Of course. All I want is the doll to be found. I won't interfere with the process."
"Wait a minute, Fear, what are you planning to do?"
Haruaki received her direct gaze in response.
"Curses must be lifted by 'helping other people,' isn't that right? I want to be free of my curse as soon as possible... That's why I want to do this. Then I'll be helping the superintendent, right?"
"Your intentions are great, but... Why do you have to go at it alone?"
"This man helped me get into school so I owe him a favor. In other words, I am the only beneficiary. You and Cow Tits do not owe him, so let me be the one to return the favor."
"Idiot, this isn't something you can handle! You not only lack common sense but also an understanding of the town's geography, right? You'll only end up getting lost."
"I-I'm not going to end up lost. I'm not a child! Don't look down on me and stop calling me an idiot! Dummy!"
"Oh really? I'd really like to quote these words of yours to yourself this morning... Without us, I guarantee a hundred percent you would have become a lost child...!"
"W-What did you say? Anyway, if I say there's no problem, there won't be a problem! I will search by myself, so you just wait at home and sip your tea leisurely!"
Unyielding and refusing to flatter or self-reflect, Fear retorted with great vigor in spirit. Perhaps because Haruaki had declared her incapable with complete certainty, she was provoked into complete defiance as a matter of pride.
At this time, Konoha tried to patch things up with an expression as if she had no choice.
"I understand how you feel, Fear, but let's discuss this on a practical level. If you insist on doing this alone, perhaps you might miss something that additional people would have found? We don't even know if three people will manage."
"How would you know if I don't try? In any case, I won't accept your assistance!"
"If you do that and end up with "I can't find it!" result, then that's not really helping, is it? We don't even have any clues as to where the doll went, you know? Going at it alone is rash and unwise."
As expected of Konoha, so reliable. Hmm—Fear began to pout as she glared at Konoha.
"Okay okay, everyone, please don't make such a serious expression, you've got to relax! Perhaps the doll only escaped five minutes before I entered the room. I came back to school and Zenon-kun went to greet me around 11am, so in all likelihood, the doll is still in the area. Besides, class is about to start soon."
This was truly optimistic and wishful thinking. This sort of optimism, one that no normal person could emulate, was rather enviable.
"In any case, I have to go abroad in the afternoon so I'll be back a week later. If only this could be resolved before then... While I'm away, Zenon-kun will act as backup and follow your orders. Don't be shy, please feel free to ask her for any sort of help."
Even if you tell us to ask her—Haruaki looked up and exchanged glances with Zenon, who nodded gracefully in acknowledgement. Haruaki frantically nodded in return—it was not as if he feared or hated her especially, but somehow he always felt nervous facing her. Zenon's usual attitude lacked friendliness. Even though she was very polite in her manners and would say "Good morning" normally when they met, her facial expression gave off the feeling like she was saying "Executing death sentence. Death to you, pig!" instead.
And now, Zenon spoke up with her usual poker face. What Haruaki heard her say was—
"Everyone let's go meow meow in heaven and hell together today as well!"
"Eh? I-Is Zenon-san out of her mind!?"
"And even singing with a cheerful rhythm? I-Is this some kind of terminal disease... Eh?"
"Mmm... This is the opening theme song for «Meow Meow Paradise Hell»...!"
"—Excuse me, incoming call."
The earlier voice and music apparently came from a cellphone's ringtone. Fear, who listened with her ears perked up, was right. This was the opening theme for that animal show on television. Holding against her ear a pink cellphone from which dangled an especially cute strap, she took the call.
"Yes. Yes... No, I'll have to ask first."
Speaking softly into the phone, Zenon looked towards the superintendent.
"Hmm? Who called?"
"The infirmary—Ganon-oneesama. She says the infirmary is so hectic it's complete chaos. She hopes I could go over to help out."
"So hectic it's complete chaos. It's been so long since I last heard that expression. Go ahead and help her, but what happened?"
"Yes. She said five or six students fainted and were admitted all at once. Their lives are not in danger."
"How troubling. Was it caused by a gas leak or heat stroke? This must be handled properly."
In a rare moment, Zenon answered hesitantly:
"Neither heat stroke nor gas inhalation are the cause, and of course, there are no external injuries. The only commonality between the admitted students was the fact that 'all were discovered at unfrequented locations.' Other than that, the cause of fainting is unknown. According to Onee-sama's description, it's almost as if—their life force had been sucked out by a ghost or something."
With the lunch break about to end, the trio sprinted along the hallway.
Running in front was Fear who turned her head back to say:
"You guys don't need to follow! I will catch the doll by myself!"
"Yeah right! Now is not the time to discuss this!"
"Completely correct. Also, Haruaki-kun... Based on the fact that a large number of people had their life force stolen, perhaps rather than affecting the 'owner,' the curse affects the 'surrounding people.' If we don't stop it, a disaster might be brewing."
"That's right. This is my first time seeing something with that kind of curse and powerful enough to take human form. In various ways, this will be quite troublesome—anyway, let's catch the doll first! Right, Fear?"
"So annoying, what do you want!?"
"Where are we running off to anyway?"
Screech—Fear braked hard in front, causing Haruaki and Konoha to stop hastily, almost losing balance and falling forwards.
Seeing the silver-haired head tilt itself as if emtting a "...?" thought bubble, Haruaki could feel his own face twitching.
"Hey, to the conspicuous little miss over there... I was thinking, could it be possible..."
Haruaki stared at her with half closed eyes. Blushing slightly, Fear retorted:
"What, do you have an objection!? I-I am not simply running around without a goal in mind!"
"Oh? Then what do you have in mind?"
Fear arrogantly crossed her arms but her gaze was wandering and avoiding eye contact.
"...How should I put this, simply stated... Intuition! My subconscious told me this is the direction. I feel like the culprit's presence is summoning me and there's this uneasy feeling flowing from within!"
"That's called having no goal!"
"O-Of course not! Not only that! Umm—just now, didn't the secretary mention that the students were found in unfrequented areas!? So I predicted where the culprit will strike next, and we're heading to a remote location!"
"Definitely, you only just thought of that!"
"Well, even if she made up this reason on the spot belatedly, it is plausible. Based on the current situation, the only reason why there isn't a massive commotion is most likely because no one walked in on the crime while it was being committed."
I didn't make it up belatedly—just as Fear grumbled unhappily, Haruaki surveyed their surroundings. They were now located at the very end of the school building on the ground floor. Before them was the entrance to the hallway that connected two buildings. Passing through this hallway would take them to the science building which housed the laboratories, workshops and other obscure classrooms.
"Indeed, in terms of unfrequented areas, the science building is definitely the top choice even during the lunch break. Since someone did faint here, it would not be surprising for the culprit to be hiding in this place. Let's search!"
Saying that, just as Haruaki was about to step forward—
Fear turned her head up to stare at the science building—around the third floor. Following her gaze, Haruaki looked but did not notice anything unusual. It simply looked like an empty corridor.
"Hmm... Just now I sensed something moving there. Let's check it out!"
She ran noisily forward but then stopped suddenly after a few steps.
For a moment, she seemed to be hesitating.
"...I am really fine alone, so you guys don't need to follow! But... Umm... I am very tied up right now, so if you two decide to follow, I can't stop you. So there! Definitely, this is not because I don't know how to return to our classroom without you. If you dare misunderstand, I'll curse you!"
Fear declared while pointing her finger at Haruaki and Konoha. Then she sprinted towards the science building. What a troublesome girl—Haruaki and Konoha shrugged at each other.
Currently, they still had not obtained any new information about the doll. Whether or not Fear was mistaken, all they could do was follow the lead.
Following the jumping silver hair through the hallway and up the stairs, they reached the third floor of the science building.
The instant they went up the stairs and stepped into the corridor, they finally realized Fear's reaction just now was only natural.
Nothing was there—Not exactly.
Something was there.
(I'm not surprised. Collapsed on the ground, of course I couldn't see it from outside the window...!)
A male student lay unconscious on the floor. Kneeling beside him was a white fluttering figure—the figure stood up and went into a neighboring classroom.
That was all they could see from the corridor.
"I knew there was something...! Hey, hold still right there, you fluttery fellow!"
Fear roared and rushed forward as the vanguard. Haruaki did not expect her to find the target so quickly, but at least this was way better than failing the search. Predicting that the culprit roamed the less frequently visited science building turned out to be correct... Since this prediction was thought up only after the fact, in terms of results, Fear's intuition could not be underestimated.
Located on this floor were toilets, the biology lab, the biology preparation room—then further away there was the dressmaking and preparation rooms. The fainted male student's position was at the door to the dressmaking room. In other words, the strange figure had escaped into the dressmaking room.
"Konoha, how is this guy's condition...?"
"He's okay, no external injuries. It feels like he only fainted. I don't know if it's the same as the others who were sent to the infirmary..."
Konoha answered as she felt the boy's pulse. It was reassuring to know he was in no particular danger. However—
"It's a bit mean, but let's move him over to the infirmary after we check out the situation. If we let the culprit escape, all our efforts would be wasted."
"How merciless... But indeed you are right. Okay, Fear, open the door!"
Bursting through the door, the trio entered the dressmaking room.
This was a classroom that smelled of dry fabric, like a secondhand clothing store. Arranged neatly in rows were fold tables with sewing machines. The door beside the blackboard led to the neighboring dressmaking preparation room. Hung on the back wall were various fabric samples and shelves overstuffed with doll creations of the crafts club. In a certain sense, just like the superintendent's office, this place did not resemble a school space.
But because of that, the figure standing by herself in the classroom, equally removed in style from a school setting, seemed rather fitting against such a background.
Standing in front of the blackboard, she was on the opposite side of the lectern relative to Haruaki.
The upright figure swayed subtly—then slowly turned around.
A girl with facial features so exquisite they seemed to be artificial. Her emotionless eyes carried a sense of clarity like glass beads. Her cheeks remained completely motionless. That pristine complexion of hers was as white as snow, though the excessive pallor suggested illness or perhaps an inorganic impression. As for that long hair which swayed with her movements, that too, gave an impression as if it did not belong to the body for every strand of hair resembled fine threads woven into a work of art—sleek, soft and lustrous.
"...You must be the doll, right? At least you don't look like a student."
Despite Fear's attempt to strike up conversation, she remained unmoved, simply narrowing her eyes slightly.
Just as Fear pointed out, it was at least apparent that she was no student—she was not wearing a uniform. Instead, her outfit was primarily white with fluttering wavy frills all over. Although the dress was full of gothic style that one would only find on television normally, there was not the slightest sense of ostentatiousness. Rather, it felt more noble, elegant, high-class... Undoubtedly, if an example was needed, then it was a perfect outfit for an "antique doll" to be wearing—
As glances were exchanged, time was ticking away. The hostility in the girl's eyes made Haruaki swallow. What should he do? This was in school, not to mention during the lunch break. If this girl was hostile and attacked anyone on sight, she could not be permitted to escape—even if the cause was her curse.
As much as he wished to avoid it, but in consideration of the situation, perhaps the use of force was necessary.
The problem was, even though this place was less frequented, there was no guarantee other students would not pass by—That's right, even facing off like right now, perhaps there would be others—
"Wah! S-Someone fainted here! Are you okay? What happened?"
"Damn it, just as I was worrying about the possibility, someone did arrive!"
They could hear shouts and the clatter of approaching footsteps from the corridor outside. A girl Haruaki had never seen before. Her reaction was only natural. Anyone who discovered the unconscious student would realize the dressmaking room's door was open. Timidly, she peered into the classroom—"May I ask what happened to this person here...?"
Faster than Haruaki and the rest could respond to the new arrival, a voice sounded out, so cold it must have escaped from beneath permafrost:
"Oh my... Shiraho, it's been a while. Let me take this opportunity to express my sentiments. The case was too cramped."
The girl who had remained silent till now, slightly... Truly, she only twisted her lips slightly to speak to the girl student. Rather than joy, that twisting process expressed arrogance as if gazing down condescendingly at a surrendered foe.
The girl student referred to as Shiraho displayed alarmed surprise and was rooted to the spot.
(What is going on? They know each other...? In other words—)
While Haruaki was deep in thought, the girl took a few steps stiffly as if one leg was limping. Leaning one hand against the lectern to support her weight, she stiffly turned towards everyone. In terms of position, the lecture almost seemed to be acting as a temporary shield.
"Having to move my own body is truly troublesome. Humans are truly troublesome."
"Hmph, are you still unused to a human body? —Even though the answer is obvious, let me ask you once again. Are you the doll that was kept at the superintendent's office?"
Fear asked with a severe gaze. The inorganic girl replied inorganically:
"«Sovereignty Perfection Doll»—that is the name bestowed upon me. Since it's quite a mouthful, you may call me what you wish, human."
"Is there something wrong with your eyes? We are of same kin. And Cow Tits behind me as well."
The girl mildly raised a dignified brow.
The next person to speak was the student who intruded midway—Shiraho. With an unbelievable expression, she stared at the girl—
"Why...? Why do you have to do this?"
"Because it is necessary. You do understand, do you not?"
Her answer was completely cold and merciless.
"By the way, perhaps you may wish for my return but I refuse. I will never go back to that place."
Shiraho bit her lower lip sadly. Forcing out her voice, she slowly called out the other's name.
"So that's that. Enough said, yes?"
"Of course not. What the heck is going on? And who is this girl?"
Fear threw a slanting stare at Shiraho as she asked. Konoha pushed her glasses with an exasperated expression:
"Combining various facts, the answer is obvious... Could you use your brain a little? Also, listen carefully to what others are saying."
"What did you say!?"
"Hey hey, now is not the time for quarreling! Didn't the superintendent mention? The antique shopkeeper lived with no one but his daughter. And the daughter is enrolled in this school."
"So the girl here who knows that doll... Are you the antique shopkeeper's daughter?"
Shiraho nodded. As expected, she was no ordinary person... Then at least there was no need to hide the truth. Definitely, before resorting to force, something had to be done first.
"Okay, perhaps you may not be aware of the entire situation, so listen to me first. I am simply a human, Yachi Haruaki from First Year Second Class. We were asked by the superintendent to find you."
"I have no intention of listening to you, human. I hate humans."
The doll before his eyes—Sovereignty cut Haruaki off decisively.
"That's right, I hate humans. I have no intention of listening to humans again. Neither will I follow human commands. After reaping the puppet show's reward, I will slumber somewhere deep behind the dusk-colored curtain like an obedient puppet."
Did she mean that having absorbed enough life force, she had no further need to remain in the premises? Slowly, she dragged one leg as she retreated. Towards the window or the door to the dressmaking preparation room?
Fear dashed forward and called out:
"Wait, with all that you've done, don't even think you can escape!"
"Why would you think I won't be able to escape? Kin. Especially in this kind of place."
Shiraho looked up as if realizing something. Sovereignty glanced at her with one eye and continued speaking:
"I hold sovereignty over every doll—Those bearing visual semblance, listen and show proof of your worship. Obey. Obey. Obey."
Sovereignty's voice carried an unbelievable rhythm.
In that instant, a strange clattering sound was heard from the back of the classroom.
"Over there... What is going on...?"
A small figure dropped down from a shelf on the back of the classroom. One of those creations of the crafts club? There were dolls of various shapes and sizes. As if having acquired self-awareness, these dolls armed themselves with the dressmaking scissors and sewing needles sharing the same shelves and successively jumped onto the desks. In a certain sense, this was truly a fantastic sight; nevertheless, based on the numbers—as well as the sharp weapons in they wielded, it was hardly a comforting sight, instead resembling more of a low budget horror movie.
"I am the all-powerful doll created to fulfill the kingly role. What I have acquired from the curse is the manifestation of royal authority. Hence, all things bearing human form are under my rule—"
While she was speaking, the first doll leading the march across the desks jumped at Haruaki. Terrifying. Even though it was only armed with scissors and needles, being stabbed in the eyeball would be no joking matter.
"Stand back, Haruaki!"
Fear took out the Rubik's cube from her uniform pocket. Gripping the cube whose shape resembled her true form, she reminded herself of a certain unforgettable incident, then adjusted her breathing and—
"Mechanism No.26 piercing type, imprisoning form: «Iron Maiden»—Curse Calling!"
She yelled out loud.
Nothing happened. Holding the Rubik's cube with her arm extended, Fear tilted her head in puzzlement.
But Haruaki's crisis was not going to be resolved by a mere "Eh?" As Fear stood there bewildered, the scissors wielding doll was fast approaching Haruaki—at this moment, Konoha swiftly intervened. With the flash of a karate chop, the doll was struck down, its cotton guts spilling out and scattering.
"Hey, could you be a bit more serious!? You know that move can't be used anymore!"
"S-Shut up! I simply forgot for a moment!"
In actual fact, Haruaki had forgotten as well. After the incident ended yesterday, they had obtained the mysterious card—the Indulgence Disk. After inserting it into Fear's interior, her iron maiden was no longer available.
"In that case—Mechanism No.11 tearing type, jagged form: «The Teeth», Curse Calling!"
But even without the iron maiden, Fear still held power in her hands.
The Rubik's cube transformed into a black metallic cube then swiftly changed forms into a vicious torture tool.
This was a long thick saw with densely packed triangular serrations along its edge. It felt like it could lop off someone's finger with extreme ease. Of course, used correctly as a saw—let alone fingers, even arms, legs, necks or skulls could be severed in a single strike.
Using her saw, Fear blocked the pouncing dolls and effortlessly swept them aside. This simple motion was enough to shred the dolls into scattering scraps. Being creations of cloth, the jagged teeth of a saw proved to be more effective than axes or blunt weapons.
"Since the opponents are dolls, I don't have to hold back at all. After all, they won't bleed."
"I agree completely with you."
As Konoha and Fear intercepted the incoming wave of dolls, fabric was shredded like skin while cotton burst apart like guts.
"...What... Is going on...?"
"Oh, this is dangerous, you'd better stand back a bit."
Shiraho watched in shock as the scene unfolded before her. Haruaki lightly held her hand and said:
"Perhaps you don't quite understand the situation, but just leave it to them to handle. Don't worry."
Her gaze was focused on Sovereignty naturally. As Sovereignty slowly retreated, her face remained calm but displeasure could be seen from her gaze directed towards Fear and Konoha.
"Clearly—You two are completely different from me in nature. Are you sure you aren't the kin of violence instead? Kin. Rather than healing people's hearts, you were born to harm others. How terrifying."
"Mmm, shut up... Don't think you can escape, stand still!"
But of course Sovereignty was not going to stand still just because Fear ordered. Faced with the continuous onslaught of dolls, Fear was completely occupied and could only attack verbally. Likewise for Konoha.
"From what you said, you seem to think you are something for healing people's hearts? Don't make me laugh. How could something like that cause innocent students to faint? In fact, certain doubts arose earlier in my mind, so I'd be grateful if you would answer."
As Konoha continued to sweep dolls away with her arms and legs, she glared sharply at Sovereignty.
"That your curse absorbs life force from humans, I can understand. But—why do you have to do it in this school? Since you already escaped the case, wouldn't it be more normal to run as far away as you can first? No matter how the desires of your curse compels you, once you get outside, there are as many humans as you could ever need. Hence there should be no higher priority than fleeing from the school, right? Simply stated... Some particular reason compels you to absorb life force only in this school, right?"
Opening the door to the neighboring dressmaking preparation room, Sovereignty's hand trembled as it gripped the door handle. As if reprimanding her disgraceful hand, she glared at it for a few seconds before turning her narrowed eyes towards Konoha.
Like swinging a sword to remove blood on the blade, Konoha got rid of the scraps of cloth stuck to her hand from the dolls.
"...I was merely speculating, but based on your reaction, I can't be far from the truth."
Only displaying the wavering in her heart for an instant, Sovereignty immediately resumed her usual cold and unapproachable expression.
"Even if I denied, you won't believe me, right? Clever kin."
"Eh! Stop worrying about that! Cow Tits, hurry and catch her! Think of a way quickly!"
"I'm really trying... But the numbers are too great!"
Gazing at Fear and Konoha, as well as Haruaki and Shiraho behind them, the doll nodded lightly.
"—After all, you'll realize it straight away, so I might as well tell you. I am leaving now, but I'll be back to absorb life force in this school again. Giving you clues by causing trouble in town would be utterly stupid, so I will behave myself outside. Searching for me outside of school is futile—if you want to capture me no matter what, give your best shot and prepare a giant mousetrap here."
"What...! Why are you telling us this... What are you trying to imply!?"
"There is no need to tell you the reason."
"Damn it...! Fu... That's right, because we will catch you right now! Cow Tits, I'm leaving the rest to you!"
Just as the density of dolls finally decreased, Fear left Konoha to handle them and leaped with a forward flip.
Sovereignty slipped through the door into the preparation room without any anxiety on her face.
"Do you really think those cotton-filled dolls are my only pawns? If you don't want your efforts to protect those behind you go to waste, I would advise you to stop right there."
As Fear displayed surprise, from behind Haruaki—something flew into the dressmaking room from outside the door.
Two human-sized mannequins. The human anatomy and skeletal models from the biology lab on the same floor.
The skeleton was approaching especially swiftly. Haruaki frantically stepped forward to shield Shiraho and crashed into the model with his body. However, his opponent did not even budge. The sense of weight and sturdiness far surpassed its appearance—or perhaps due to being under Sovereignty's control, there might be some special power at work. At the same time, the violent impact against his shoulder made his left arm sting.
(Ouch...! Oh right, my wound still hasn't...!)
Regrettably, Haruaki was a human without super powers. A single night's rest was not enough to heal his wounds from the previous day. Just as he was reeling back unsteadily from the pain, the skeleton's fist struck him in the gut. Powerless, Haruaki was sent falling backwards. The skeleton advanced and jumped up, intending to follow up with another attack on Haruaki as he lay on the floor.
"Don't think you can succeed!"
Konoha suddenly intervened with a flying kick, slicing off the skeleton's skull and sending it flying. Like her karate chop, this kick was infused with sharpness equal to a bladed weapon.
During this time, the other anatomy model was stiffly approaching Shiraho as its joints creaked noisily.
"Tsk... The girl over there! Duck quickly!"
"—Mechanism No.5 impaling type, upright form: «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes»!"
Gripped in Fear's right hand, the chain of cubes made a sound. Rattling as it extended, the long slender execution stake shot out like an arrow. The spiked pedestal used for standing upright could only act as useless tail feathers. Launched horizontally, the stake pierced the anatomy model squarely in the abdomen, sending it flying towards the wall beside the door, nailing it firmly with conspicuous cracks in the wall.
With that, the classroom finally settled down. Fear smacked her lips and said:
Surveying the scene, there were no signs of Sovereignty, not even the sound of footsteps.
"An unfavorable location, their numbers were too great... Are you okay, Haruaki-kun? Seriously, your wound has not healed completely, so don't force yourself."
Konoha helped Haruaki to his feet. Shiraho frantically ran over with a twisted expression like a kitten's. However—
"Umm... Is your stomach okay? I'm sorry, it's all because of me... Huh?"
Perhaps stepping on a doll's fragment, Shiraho slipped and lost balance, falling forwards. Unable to stop the impact of her fall, Haruaki fell over backwards as well. Thus, Shiraho became straddled over his waist—Something similar also seemed to have happened yesterday.
"Oh no! N-Not allowed, whetherHaruakikunishurtornotthiswillstrainhisbodysuchintimacyIcannotignorethisevenifitisanaccidentokayhurryandmoveaway!"
Smiling as her face twitched, Konoha displayed a strange expression. Like an Italian soccer defender, she inserted herself between Haruaki and Shiraho with exceptional skill and forcefulness, then pushed Shiraho away as if nothing had happened.
"Ah... S-Sorry, I was in too much of a panic."
"Oh, hmm. I understand, but still... Basically, now is not the time for this kind of thing!"
"That's right, that doll should still be within school premises, let's hurry and find her—However, no matter what kind of circumstance, only a shameless brat would be interested in positioning himself beneath a girl's skirt, right? But do as you wish, to each their own."
Fear withdrew the stake back into the Rubik's cube with displeasure. It's not like it was on purpose—Haruaki retorted furiously, but the bell rang at the same time. They were already due for a scolding for skipping last Saturday's classes, but it now looked like they had no choice but to skip today's fifth period as well.
Then the group swiftly divided roles between themselves. Although they had no idea how far Sovereignty could have traveled while they were breaking the human models, she should still be within the confines of the school, so their first priority was to prevent her from escaping outside. Konoha was to hide herself at the school's front gates and monitor the entrance. The school's buildings were enclosed in high walls while the sports ground was surrounded by sturdy fencing and wire nets. Given the mobility she displayed, climbing over these barriers should be impossible.
Meanwhile, Haruaki and Fear were to deliver the fainted male student to the infirmary as quickly as possible, then start searching within the school—Given the current situation, it was possible she had already escaped the school, so searching might be simply a waste of effort, but it would feel wrong to do nothing.
"Okay! Let's go!"
"Wait, Fear, one more thing—Uh... You're named Shiraho, right? What are your plans now?"
This question seemed to send Shiraho into deep thought, her eyes wandering for a moment—
"Yes... Call me Shiraho. I will accompany you to look for Sovereignty."
She looked up as she spoke. Haruaki examined her face once more. She possessed a cute face that naturally gave the impression that smiling was well-suited to her. She must be a cheerful girl originally, right? But now, her expression only showed worry as she gazed up at Haruaki.
A simple sentence supplemented her reason for coming along for the search.
"Because we're friends."
Ah, I see. So being rejected openly by a friend was what made her so troubled and shocked. That was all Haruaki could tell at this point, even though he wanted to know more about their relationship—
"...I see. If there's an opportunity, I hope to ask you more while we're searching. Anyway, it'd be bad if the teachers discover us, so please keep your voice low."
Shiraho nodded in agreement. Konoha then nodded and said:
"Then I'll be going to monitor the school gates. You guys take care."
"You take care too. Also, if that person appears, don't engage in outrageous combat in full view of the public!"
"...I'm not lacking in common sense like a certain person, please don't worry."
"W-What did you say!?"
Ignoring Fear, Konoha left the dressmaking room. Having decided their roles, Haruaki and his group no longer needed to remain in this classroom. In any case, they had to move the fainted male student to the infirmary first. Hence everyone entered the corridor.
At this moment, Haruaki felt the tip of his indoor shoe stepping on a hard object. Checking it, he found a blue bead, most likely an eye from a wrecked doll tha had rolled along the floor and stopped against the wall.
Somehow, it felt like the omen of some unfortunate fate.
Haruaki terminated his imagination and shifted his gaze away from the fallen eye bead.
Even if she was something that harmed humans, that beautiful doll was the same kind of existence as Fear and others.
Most definitely, Haruaki did not wish for her glass-like eyes to end up rolling on the floor like this bead.
Translator's Notes and References
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