Chapter 2 - That Which Escapes the Seer's Eyes / "for their reasons"
Taking walks in the shop when her father was not around was one of Sakuramairi Shiraho's few rare hobbies.
Inside the dim shop with the metal shutters down, behind the counter was where the residence connected. Surrounded by shelves of antiques, she strolled along the passages between them. Quite a cramped place to take a walk but enjoying this purposeless wandering was amusement in itself. If one had to articulate into words, there was no description as apt as taking a walk.
Indeed it was purposeless. Neither tending to the shop, nor staying on alert, nor cleaning, nor examining the antiques out of interest, nor assessing her father's wealth so as to steal it. All she did was circle about repeatedly within the cramped shop, blankly gazing at the antiques, feeling the serenity beneath the dim ceiling, smelling the slightly musty odor in the air.
Encapsulated in one sentence—she simply liked staying in this space all alone without any other people.
But one particular day, things went differently.
As usual, she was walking in the shop, savoring the feeling as if she had turned into an antique herself.
Suddenly, Shiraho recalled the delivery of the antique doll her father had bought a few days ago from abroad. She was not terribly interested but having a look would not hurt. Where had that thing been placed?
Hence she surveyed the dim interior of the shop. At this time—
From behind she heard what sounded like friction in a doll's joints—then a quiet voice.
"—Are you looking for something? That said, you look like you're just taking a walk."
This occurred half a year ago.
The first encounter between «Sovereignty Perfection Doll» and Sakuramairi Shiraho—A precious and unforgettable moment.
Suddenly spoken to, Shiraho naturally received quite a fright. Faced with the fact of the matter before her eyes, she had no choice but to accept. Since the doll would be eventually sold off if displayed in the shop, she had an argument with her father at one point and even unilaterally took Sovereignty back to her room to make it her own possession. Henceforth, Shiraho and Sovereignty developed a confiding relationship as friends. Occasionally, Sovereignty would make other dolls move to amuse Shiraho, but she never recounted her past or the process with which she became human, hence Shiraho had no idea of such details—
While listening to Shiraho's whispered explanations, Haruaki walked along the quiet hallways while class was in progress.
As his ears listened to her voice, his eyes were focused on searching for Sovereignty.
Was there anything moving in the hallways?
Was there anything hiding in the shadows?
Anything unusual going on?
He did not wish to see more victims. Neither could he allow any further victims to appear. Hence they had to capture Sovereignty as soon as possible. If she were still within the school, the opportunity must not be lost—
"Then a few days ago... The sound of us conversing in my room was discovered. Sovereignty hastily pretended to be just a doll, but my father was not fooled. He declared that buying this thing was a mistake and that he will leave Sovereignty at a friend's place, so he took her away forcefully—From that day on, she never came back. Afterwards... Because I was busy handling funeral affairs from my father's sudden passing due to a flare up of his illness..."
"I was finally free today. Finding out about my father's friends and acquaintances from relatives at the funeral, I wondered if the person to whom my father entrusted Sovereignty was our school's superintendent. Sovereignty and I are friends, so I must find her... Wah!"
Turning back, Haruaki found Shiraho crouched down, trembling as she held her shin in pain... The apparent culprit was the water cooler in the hallway.
"...S-Sorry, I didn't watch where I was going—Yah!"
Just as she forced a smile and stood up, she stepped on the dispensing pedal. The resulting spurt of water made the front of her uniform all wet.
The drenched uniform clung tightly to her figure, displaying convex curves which surpassed Fear but inferior to Konoha. Furthermore, there were no obstructions in the outline from her collarbone down to her chest, thus presenting a perfectly curved surface, this undoubted meant—
(S-She's... Wearing nothing but the uniform...?)
Haruaki could not help but gulped hard. Suddenly he was elbowed in the flank. Fear, who had been watching the surroundings alertly, was now glaring at Haruaki and Shiraho severely.
"What are you two doing? Completely laid back! Finding out about the past is fine, but you've got to focus on finding that doll!"
"S-Sorry! I panic too easily..."
Hmph—Fear snorted and forcefully threw open the cleaning cupboard in the hallway to check inside.
The only one laid back is Shiraho—Haruaki protested in his mind as he turned his attention to the surroundings. He could vaguely hear the sound of class in progress inside the neighboring classroom, so there would be no point in checking. Dividing up, Haruaki searched the male washroom while the girls checked the female side separately. No discoveries either.
"Looks like this floor is done... Let's check the one below."
Swiftly descending down to the next floor, Fear seemed quite concerned about the matter.
"So you came to find the doll that was taken away—which is why you're searching together with us now, right?"
"Hmm...? Wait a minute, I just remembered. The superintendent said you haven't been coming to school previously, right? Will your condition be okay, coming here so suddenly today?"
Condition? —Shiraho tilted her head in puzzlement. Frankly speaking, I wouldn't be surprised if this airheaded girl suddenly rolled down the stairs—Haruaki stayed on alert in case he had to catch her in an accident as he continued speaking:
"Namely, why you didn't come to school before... Perhaps you were unaware, but wasn't it because Sovereignty absorbed your life force? Then you recovered after the doll was taken away? Your father's message did mention that 'this doll is the cause of my daughter's lack of vigor' or something like that."
"Ah... Oh~ I see. It was my father's misunderstanding."
"Misunderstanding? Okay. Anyway, let's check the calligraphy classroom over there. Even though it's hardly used, the door is unlocked. It would not be strange for someone to be hiding in there."
They had descended the stairs without incident and arrived at the calligraphy classroom at one end of the second floor. They searched the cupboards and under the desks as the modest smell of ink invaded their nostrils. Fear resumed the interrupted conversation.
"...By misunderstanding, what do you mean?"
"Uh... My life force wasn't being sucked away. Why I didn't come to school earlier, was because... Umm... Personal reasons, not because of my physical condition. Yes. Because of family reasons..."
"What reasons? If you're healthy then coming to school can't be that difficult, right... Ooof! Hey, Haruaki! Why did you poke me in the flank? That is a sensitive spot, you know? Shameless brat!"
"You can't carelessly probe into other people's private affairs. You have to learn how to pick up cues and show some tact... I'm sorry, this girl here doesn't know how to be considerate..."
"Umm... It's okay, I don't mind."
Haruaki recalled what the superintendent mentioned. About her mother passing away and how she did not get along with her father. He also mentioned she was supposed to be a difficult child to get along with—
(Hmm~... But based on her personality, there shouldn't really be a problem with friendliness...)
As if sensing something from Haruaki's gaze, Shiraho slightly widened her eyes. Then she walked over to the windowsill in the calligraphy classroom and opened the window to look outside. After all, they should not focus all their attention within the school.
Originally refusing to go to school, she only came in search of her friend. This must have involved extraordinary suffering and resolve. Nevertheless, after taking such great pains to find her friend, her wish was rejected and the friend even declared she would continue harming others and not return. To Shiraho, this was betrayal and clearly a change had occurred in their relationship.
Even so, Shiraho remained the same, seeking her friend with sincerity... Albeit rather clumsily. Even now, her skirt was fluttering in the wind rather precariously unless she held down the hem slightly.
In order to avoid seeing something fatal, Haruaki turned his gaze to searching the classroom. But all possible hiding places had been checked already without any results.
"Tsk, not in this classroom either... I think we understand your basic situation now, but the current problem is how we can capture the doll. Shiraho, what do you see outside?"
"Nothing special... Just a wall and a bronze statue."
"Having searched fruitlessly for so long, I guess we should start considering the possibility she already escaped the school... The outer walls are quite high and I remember there's barbed wire on top. Given her mobility, I don't think she could climb over them easily—wait a minute, what was that about a bronze statue?"
Rushing over to the window, Haruaki saw a human sculpture that was truly full of artistic flair. Some kind of friendship gift from who knows where, Haruaki could only conclude its only purpose was wasting space on Earth.
"How strange, that should be positioned a bit further on that side instead...!"
The bronze statue's original position should be beside the incinerator a few dozen meters away—quite a rude location to keep a friendship gift but that thing was really too obtrusive anywhere else. Definitely, the gift giver was someone one did not have to worry about taking offense.
Reaching his head out the window for a better look, Haruaki found an empty pedestal beside the incinerator. Simply stated, the bronze statue had move separately from the stand. Currently, the statue was leaning against the outer wall as if acting as someone's stepping platform—
Exchanging glances with one another for a few seconds, Haruaki and the rest then rushed out of the classroom.
Sluggish Shiraho almost tripped when exiting the front steps but Haruaki anticipated the situation and caught her. Looks like you're always keenly looking for chances to catch girls in your arms—Fear's cold glare seemed to be transmitting such a message. Enduring her gaze, Haruaki continued running.
They finally reached the narrow space between the school building and the outer wall. The ground floor of the building on this side had no windows, thus created a sealed alleyway. The cream-colored wall was roughly three meters tall, which meant that it was at a borderline height where one might just barely climb over with a leap. However, the previous description only applied from the standpoint of an unassisted attempt to get over the wall—
"...Damn it, this thing was being used as a stepping platform?"
Fear smacked the bronze statue's head.
"I-I'm sorry I didn't realize immediately... Because it's my first time at this school, I didn't think it was out of place..."
"It can't be helped, don't worry about it... Ah, Fear, do you see that? The thing stuck on the barbed wire."
"Looks like a scrap of torn clothing. Very similar to that fluttery outfit a certain person was wearing."
"Just as I thought. If she escaped while we were searching the school building, who knows how far she's gone... Damn it, this is really our oversight."
Given her awkward movements, she could not climb over the outer wall—What a rash conclusion. They had forgotten to consider her ability to control dolls—with just a little assistance, even her mobility was enough to traverse the wall. Her earlier limping image gave rise to preconceived notions, but one should not forget she was not human.
Haruaki had no choice but to admit.
Undoubtedly—they had missed the chance to capture Sovereignty.
Haruaki slouched dejectedly. What should they do next—Shiraho gazed up uneasily at the fabric torn on the barbed wire.
Without saying a word, Fear kicked the innocent statue, sending it rolling on the ground.
Classes were still in progress. In any case, they ought to sit down and reflect calmly first, so they went to the vending machines to buy cup-dispensed beverages near the shoe lockers. Smiling awkwardly, Shiraho confessed: "My purse is in a pinch right now." Hence Haruaki treated her as well. Then the three of them moved to a bench in the courtyard.
"Umm—Is this really okay?"
"I'd feel bad for us to be having beverages while you're left out. Consider it a sign of our friendship!"
"Ehehe, how embarrassing. Thank you."
"Besides, someone else is already freeloading on me anyway, so it's not much of an extra favor."
Haruaki cast a slanting glance at Fear whose face had become quite tense, seemingly vexed at letting Sovereignty escape. Sitting beside Haruaki, she spoke as she drank her juice:
"What!? If only I had money... Oh yeah, today when I was chatting with classmates, I learned about the concept of pocket money. I heard that everyone gets it from someone? Hand it over."
"What do you mean, hand it over? That's a really novel manner of requesting something. Anyway, it's too early for you."
He slapped her outreached hand with a smack. Fear snorted with displeasure and downed the rest of her juice with one pour of the cup. Watching this transpire, Shiraho could not help but chuckle.
Having ended the conversation, Haruaki stared blankly at the blue sky delineated by the straight outline of the school building.
He was pondering about the future. Regarding Sovereignty who had escaped as well as her declaration that she would continue absorbing life force within the school—even though he could not understand the meaning behind it, he was certain he could not allow her to proceed.
Haruaki recalled the male student who had fainted in the hallway. According to the school physician, the symptoms of the victims resembled malnutrition. All they needed was an IV drip and proper rest to recover eventually.
Eventually. Perhaps days or weeks later. Moreover, future victims might not be limited to the effects displayed today. In the worst case, students could be weakened to the point of death. Even if not to that extent, perhaps they would catch other illnesses as a result of their weakened condition—
Shiraho also seemed to be contemplating the future. Then she spoke quietly:
"So, uh—Haruaki-kun. Can I confirm something with you? I asked just now, but are you guys really not planning to destroy Sovereignty...?"
Haruaki had already explained about themselves while they were patrolling the school building. Regarding curses, the Yachi home, Fear and Konoha—as well as what happened during their search for the doll to return the superintendent's favor.
But simply searching for Sovereignty was troubling enough so Haruaki only covered the basics. Shiraho probably had more questions to ask, especially about the future fate of her friend.
"Of course. The superintendent only asked us to capture her and did not say anything about how to deal with her afterwards. Personally, the only thing I can't tolerate is her harming innocent people."
"Yes... That's definitely no good. I still can't believe it, why Sovereignty would do that kind of thing..."
"Naturally it's because of the curse? Even if we catch her, it's not like she can stop just because we tell her to."
Fear explained matter-of-factly.
"So... Suppose, I'm saying suppose, once Sovereignty is found, is there no choice but to keep her in Haruaki-kun's home to stop her from causing trouble to others? Haruaki-kun, curses don't affect you, right?"
This was the root of the problem this time. If it were a curse that affected the "owner," then once Haruaki became the "owner" there would be no trouble for anyone. However, there existed extremely rare types of cursed tools that "indiscriminately affected everyone in the vicinity"—stones that brought discomfort to nearby people simply by existing, or dolls that wandered every night and attacked people—if this was the case, then changing owners would not work. After this was explained—
"Even if curses don't affect you, they will still affect others, right? Do you keep any of that type of tool in your house?"
"Yes, not many, but there are some of that type which have been sent to my home. In those cases... Pops keeps them in a special location, the storeroom in the depths of the basement. However..."
Haruaki sighed. Indeed, even if a curse targeted people nearby, harm could be minimized by locking the tool away in the basement—that said, it was not a solution Haruaki could agree with wholeheartedly.
"This is, however, the first time for me to encounter a tool with human form that bears that type of curse. I can't really bring myself to lock away for years in a basement a tool which has self-awareness and lives like a human—What's with that look, Fear?"
"S-Shut up, nothing! Hmph... If you actually did that, you'd really be in trouble..."
Muttering, Fear turned her face away, leaned back on the bench and closed her eyes.
"Fundamentally, we all wish to lift our curses. Take me for example—if the curse can be lifted without causing any trouble to others, even if it meant imprisonment, I'd make the sacrifice. But of course, I wouldn't be pleased about it."
Opening one eye, she glanced at Haruaki—
"On further thought, I think the problem is that the doll is not aware of the fact that 'there are ways to lift curses,' right? She is currently running away because she believes she will be locked up or destroyed once she is captured."
"Same here, before I learned about you guys, that's what I thought so too... So that must be what she believes."
Shiraho chattered softly as if talking to herself.
"In any case, she must go to Haruaki-kun's home in order to avoid causing trouble to others. So I must tell her this... Then only later on, I could ask her if she wishes to return to my place or not."
"You're really okay with that? Didn't you come to school for the purpose of bringing her home?"
Gazing into the distance, Shiraho answered with a smile:
"...Yes. My wish is just willfulness, and furthermore, harming innocent people is definitely unacceptable. So long as she returns to me after she has been purified of her troublesome curse, that is enough... Besides, it's not like we can't meet while her curse is being lifted, right?"
"Ah... Yes, though you'd only be able to make visits."
"Even so, if Sovereignty agrees then I will endure. Even if we cannot be together, my wish to be her friend does not change."
Haruaki sipped coffee from his cup. From his standpoint, that of someone trying to bridge relations between humans and cursed tools, Shiraho's words were truly gratifying.
"I'm already clear on how you feel about that doll—but the most practical issue now is how she feels. Even if she refuses to return home because she is afraid of being destroyed, why would she come to school to absorb life force?"
"Dunno... I dunno, but I feel like... Even though I still see her as a friend, perhaps Sovereignty doesn't feel the same way... That's why she's doing that. Uh, in other words—"
Her voice was filled with sorrow.
"Perhaps she thinks... Humans betrayed her."
As if impatient with the resulting silence, the bell rang inside the school building. With the end of class signaled, the entire world changed with the noise and bustle of after school. From the courtyard, one could see through the windows students cheering up as they rushed out of the classrooms one after another.
Only in the courtyard did the serenity of class time linger. In a mere matter of minutes, that too was lost in the flow of time.
"Next time I see Sovereignty, I wish to apologize to her. Why Sovereignty refuses to come home... Is most likely because what my father did caused her to feel disappointed."
Fear and Haruaki waited silently for Shiraho to continue.
"We used to be friends... Or perhaps that was just my wishful thinking, but I still believe that was what she should have felt in the past. If she carries such an unbearable curse, yet she never absorbed my life force, doesn't that imply Sovereignty is being considerate for my sake and has been stopping herself from absorbing mine?"
"That's true. Maybe for a day or two, but she couldn't possibly have suppressed the curse for half a year. Perhaps in order to avoid harming you no matter what, she went out secretly at night."
"But then she was suddenly stuffed into a suitcase and sent to an unfamiliar location. Believing she was going to be abandoned or destroyed—it is possible she felt disappointed and was convinced that all humans, including me, had betrayed her."
Fear repeated the word. Mentally, she asked herself.
—Do I feel disappointed in humans? Probably... Not.
—Did I ever feel disappointed in humans? In that instant, her mind became dominated by dark memories.
The castle lord's laughter. The smell of blood being called an appropriate perfume. Herself as a tool, wishing for what should not be wished. Listening to shouts that were not screams, a cube had no ears that could be covered. Fallen in a corner wishing to be picked up but no one extended a hand. Before she knew it, she had transformed from a lone object to a solitary person. Cold, dark, chilling. Ah... As she reached this cemetery of buried thoughts, only meaningless questions surfaced in her mind like tombstones.
Why was I created? Why was I cursed? Why was I abandoned?
—Whose fault is it?
(...This only belongs to the past, forget it!)
It was possible to forget. In her heart, there was one image sufficient to dispel this swathe of darkness.
A flashlight illuminating the dungeon, the one whose face she could still see, whose voice she could still hear, the one who was only affected by the curse known as the cold.
Indeed—at this current time and place, I do not feel disappointed.
I believe him.
That is enough.
"In the end, she must have decided humans were not worth caring about, which is why she's doing this... I don't understand why she insists in doing it at school, but—I want to tell her: 'Humans are not all like that. I'm sorry I was unable to stop my father. Please forgive me, for I am weak in many ways.' I want to apologize to her. Rather, I must apologize no matter what."
Shiraho's voice brought Fear back from her thoughts.
"Really? So ultimately, you just want to save her, right?"
"I don't have the power to help her. But because she is my friend, I must..."
Sovereignty Perfection Doll—the above-named doll was very disappointed in humans. Just like Fear's past self.
In that case, from that doll's perspective, this girl named Sakuramairi Shiraho was to her a similar existence as Haruaki and Honatsu was to Fear? People with the power to save cursed tools from their fates.
"I promise you. I will find that doll for sure. I will capture her without damaging her and stop her from harming others. And the first I'll do is let you meet her—Don't worry. Just like the superintendent is client number one, you're client number two to me."
"...Right, that's our next step. You've summarized our direction, Fear. Surprisingly, good job!"
"Mmm! Surprisingly is redundant, dummy! Don't go patting my head so casually... Okay..."
Fear reflexively looked up to launch into a tirade, but the sight of Haruaki's expression stopped her impulse.
(This guy... Hmph! That's why he's such a shameless brat, seriously...)
Left with no choice, Fear averted her gaze to find Shiraho smile apologetically:
"Thank you, you two—I'm really sorry for causing so much trouble to you. I'll try to help as much as possible."
"So, a concrete strategy to capture that doll... Of course, I believe she will come again tomorrow so that opportunity must be seized, but we can't give up today yet. Whether or not she was telling truth when she said she'll only absorb life force within the school, it's best to catch her as soon as possible. Do you have any idea where she could be hiding outside of school?"
"Umm... Not really. She only told me before she didn't like crowds."
"That's understandable... Then we'll rule out the possibility of her wandering busy streets overnight or anything of that sort. Places requiring payment such as manga cafes, hotels or family restaurants—what we should be searching are remote unfrequented areas, right? But that's easier said than done, given the massively broad range..."
"Don't give up before we start! You must believe in my intuition!"
Fear's exasperation seemed to be reacting to the shameless brat, as if she was suppressing the urge to give him a good beating. Just as she was about to put her thoughts into action, Shiraho frantically spoke up:
"I-I will try my best to help! Maybe we can search separately? I'll look in my neighborhood while you guys take care of the school's surroundings?"
"Yeah, but who knows how close to the school that doll will hide herself. Then we'll rely on you for the neighboring town. Don't do anything too risky, okay?"
Haruaki answered Shiraho gently, causing Fear to feel like hitting him even more.
"Also, are you coming to school tomorrow?"
"Yes, if we don't find Sovereignty outside, we must stop her here. Uh... Why are you asking anyway?"
"No... Because you've been umm, absent all this time, I was wondering if you might have certain difficulties... If you need any help, we will try our best to assist you, so don't be shy. You can talk to us whenever you want."
"T-Thanks. You're right, since my father is gone... Once Sovereignty's issue is handled, I must pull myself together—ehehe. Haruaki-kun, you're so gentle."
Faced with her smile, Haruaki shyly scratched his head.
"It's not like I'm really gentle... How should I put this? I'm the type who can't resist helping those who are trying hard. In any case, don't think too much of it... Woah! Hey Fear! Why did you sock me in the gut!?"
"Hmph... Just as you advised earlier, I'm picking up on cues!"
"That's not what you're doing!"
While they were quarreling, the number of students walking through the courtyard increased. This was apparently a shortcut en route to club activities. Since it was pointless to continue chatting idly on the bench, Haruaki's group decided to part ways and expand the search to outside of school.
"Ah, there's still a bit left, let me finish it in one go! Gulp gulp..."
Watching Shiraho pour juice into her mouth from the side, Fear got up from the bench.
"Okay, let's go back to the classroom to get our bags. Hmm? Haruaki, why are you making that strange face?"
"No, I keep getting the feeling I'm forgetting something—what is it?"
"...How odd, I have the same feeling too. By the way, didn't that thing in your pocket make noises repeatedly starting a while ago?"
"Eh? Oh, it's a text message. Let me check... Oh no!"
Haruaki suddenly cried out. Thinking something disastrous happened, Fear moved over to glance at Haruaki's hand, only to find several sentences on the screen—
'How's the situation? Nothing unusual on my side.'
'You didn't respond. I am very worried but I can't leave my post. I have no choice but to keep monitoring.'
'Did something happen?'
'Nothing unusual has happened even after school. The number of people leaving are increasing. How much longer do I have to monitor the entrance?'
"Oh no, I completely forgot!"
"What's that skull symbol at the end? It looks kind of scary."
"Something like 'I'm dead tired from all this monitoring,' possibly? At least, that's what I sincerely hope...!"
"Maybe she means 'I'm gonna kill you' instead...?"
The two swallowed hard as they continued reading, but Shiraho suddenly screamed.
"Ooh... I was drinking too fast, the i-ice fell... into my uniform..."
Fear turned around to find Shiraho frowning and twisting her body, pulling up the front of her uniform where the ice cubes had fallen into. Then she curled up the shirt and started fanning her clothes as she yelled "Hey! Hey!" with a serious expression. The ice cubes immediately fell out but unbeknownst to Shiraho who continued her motions—exposing her snow-white abdomen and navel which flashed in and out of view (mildly moistened by the ice). Decidedly, this was an extremely bad influence in the shameless brat's education. This girl's airheaded behavior was fast becoming quite threatening.
As a mysterious scratching was heard from behind, there was a very ominous feeling. Before Fear and Haruaki turned around, they instinctively glanced at the cellphone display. The final text message read: 'Given the circumstances, she won't be leaving through the school gates. I'm going to look for you guys since I'm worried, Haruaki-kun☠'—The ominous feeling intensified.
Bracing themselves, they turned around.
Fear and Haruaki were standing side by side to look at the cellphone while Shiraho was in front, exposing her belly. A pair of glazed eyes was glaring at them—eyes filled with contempt.
"...I came running out of worry, and... Everyone turns out to be having fun...?"
At the entryway connecting the courtyard to the school building, a bespectacled girl extended her upper torso forward, giving off an eerie aura like some kind of psychic phenomenon, her hand scratching against the surface of the door.
"Let's go! Hurry and start searching, we have to catch her! Go—!"
Fear was about to dash off as soon as they exited the school gates when Haruaki hastily grabbed her by the collar and stopped her by force. Predicatably, Fear protested "Hey, what are you doing!? I'll curse you!" as she made strange noises.
"Well, let's confirm first, what we just discussed with Konoha... Do you still intend to search alone?"
Konoha was currently not present. After they had bidden Shiraho goodbye and apologized to Konoha to appease her displeasure and were about to leave, Konoha remembered she still had duties at the library committee. Although she said it was fine to skip them, she ultimately decided to attend to them. This was the result of Haruaki's persuasion: "I remember you also skipped last time as well? Skipping twice in a roll would place you in quite an embarrassing predicament!"—as well as Fear's remark: "I don't need your help. You can go wherever you want—Shoo! Shoo!"
"Of course! I already said I'll resolve this incident by myself! R-Right, I almost forgot, I don't need you to help either..."
"But just now when Shiraho and I accompanied you to search the school building, you didn't complain?"
Mmm—Fear whined softly and stepped back.
"That was—j-just a natural development, going with the flow!"
"In other words, even if I'm around, you don't find me obtrusive, right? In that case, then it should be okay for us to continue acting together, right? Besides, I'm not going to get in your way... Right, let's do it this way! You will be in charge of the matter, so I'm just an extra to support you, as if I'm your assistant. Does that work?"
"Hmm. Assistant... eh?"
Fear seemed to considering something. Muttering for a while, she finally looked up at Haruaki, who then responded with a fake smile that seemed to say "I want to work for you," causing Fear to pout and avert her gaze. Then—
"Well... Umm, if you must help no matter what, it's not like I won't consider accepting it."
"Okay, boss! Thank you for hiring me!"
"Very well, assistant, let's move out immediately! Hoho, you have to be obedient like a dog!"
"First of all, as your assistant, I have a suggestion. Please don't wander around carelessly or else you'll get lost, shiny silvery little lady."
"Arrgggh! Hey—! What is with you this time? Has your fetish for strangling girl awakened!?"
While he used his hands in place of a leash to capture the struggling boss by her collar, Haruaki thought to himself.
Even though Fear did not understand how challenging it was to find Sovereignty, it did not imply she was taking things lightly. She definitely wanted to accomplish the task, but having declared she would succeed alone she did not want to rely on others. With respect to her dilemma, accepting Haruaki as her assistant was probably the result of a compromise—
(Whatever. From my standpoint, as long as this little lady lacking in common sense is kept under control, it doesn't really matter.)
If the only price to pay was simply playing such a role, it would be truly a bargain.
Several hours later—it was evening with the sun almost completely set.
"Still can't find her..."
Hoo—sighing, Fear straightened her back as she looked down from atop a bridge.
"Haruaki, next location!"
"Yeah... I remember there's a park, there should be many hiding places there."
Then let's search it—Fear started moving as if trying to chase after her lengthening shadow. Naturally, Haruaki followed along. Their search had failed to yield a single clue. To be honest, with "no crowds" as the only hint, the chances of finding Sovereignty were really too low—but they could not accept inaction. Since it was imperative to find her as soon as possible, the thought of any possible location was enough to rouse them into action.
A glance at Fear's profile would show sweat gliding across her cheeks beneath the setting sun. Haruaki was naturally in a similar state because they had been running without pause.
"Shouldn't we take a break?"
Without looking back, she replied:
"Whether studying or exercising, a suitable amount of rest helps efficiency, you know?"
"This is neither studying nor exercising, but work—no, it's a mission."
Indeed, a sense of mission was what her sincere expression displayed.
Hence Haruaki did not say anything more. After all, the first person to fall from exhaustion would be himself rather than Fear; but somehow, compared to her stern expression, the importance of his own stamina seemed much less urgent.
Sigh... Haruaki secretly shrugged. But Fear's steps suddenly stopped.
Glaring severely, she pointed her finger towards the side. Did she find Sovereignty? —Haruaki hastily looked at where she was pointing.
"Pearl barley tea."
Pointing at the vending machine, she uttered this term.
"Taking the extract of pearls and mixed with barley, this tea sure is avant-garde... Your boss is very curious. Assistant, I order you to buy me that! Also, you get yourself something to drink too! Rest aside, replenishing moisture is very important. If you were to collapse on the road, I'd be very troubled—Not! But, uh... It'd cause trouble for others."
Expressing a different meaning this time, Haruaki shrugged again.
Drinking the tea bought from the vending machine, they continued on their search.
Parks, quiet Shinto shrines, little forests, abandoned factories, junkyards with mountains of scrapped automobiles, dead space between mansions... Spending hours, they searched every uninhabited place they could think of.
"...Still can't find her."
Fear seemed quite depressed, having repeated that line for who knows how many times today. This was the conclusion.
"Not that easy to succeed, right... Perhaps Shiraho's search in her part of town is the same. Ultimately, there are too many possible places. Not succeeding is a shame, but don't be too depressed."
"Konoha should probably be back home by now? Anyway, let's end the search for today."
Haruaki checked the time on his cellphone. But Fear raised her head and gazed at the dark sky with an ambiguous expression, refusing to move.
"But... I still—"
"I know you want to find her; I want to continue searching too. But we have to go to school tomorrow—and perhaps Sovereignty will be at school again. If we spend the night searching and collapse the next morning, then it's futile, right? Borrowing Class Rep's catchphrase, it'd be absolutely ridiculous."
After a while, the silver head finally nodded and she began walking at a pace much slower than when she was searching for Sovereignty.
The side view of her face truly showed dejection.
Unbelievably, whenever Fear was in low spirits, Haruaki felt uncomfortable all over.
As a result, after walking for a while, Haruaki spoke up as if suddenly remembering something:
"By the way, the fridge is empty, let's go to the supermarket along the way!"
"What a pain. Weren't we hurrying home to rest?"
"Hmm, if you really want to go home first, that's fine... But are you really okay with it?"
"Am I okay with what? ...What do you mean?"
In response to Fear's skeptical gaze, Haruaki simply uttered a simple line. This sentence might be ineffective on others, but to this little lady, it was akin to a HP recovery spell.
"Supermarkets carry lots of rice crackers!"
"Hey! You're scary when you're acting all high instead!"
They had arrived at the supermarket and was currently at the rice cracker section. Haruaki had asked Fear to choose two bags—one to offer to guests as snacks and one for herself, but who knew if she was listening as she gazed at the rows of rice cracker laden shelves, muttering to herself: "Sesame... No no, soy sauce... Ufufufu..." Occasionally she would go "meow~" as she twisted the corners of her mouth. Quite a terrifying sight indeed.
"Hmm, hey! Haruaki, what's this white one that looks soft and puffy?"
"The okaki rice cake? That's the rice cracker's friend. With savory black beans inside, they're quite tasty."
"What!? Then I'll need to add it to the candidate list... Hmm, how troubling..."
In the end, she selected one bag of black bean okaki and one bag of soy sauce rice crackers. Although Haruaki had asked her to choose two bags based on their purpose, it did not really matter because ultimately the vast majority of rice crackers at home were going to end up in the same stomach.
Not only was Fear's HP gauge restored, she was also sent into a berserk state, screaming at the rice cracker shelves as soon as they entered the supermarket. Once she finally calmed down, it was finally time to begin buying normal groceries.
"So this is the supermarket... Taking a closer look, it's really interesting with so many things I've never seen before."
Fear walked along the aisles, looking all around.
"You'll gradually get used to it. Okay, treat this as a lesson. Why don't you get me a head of cabbage while I go pick the eggplants... You do know what a cabbage is, right?"
"Don't treat me like an idiot! Of course I know what a cabbage is. Just you wait and see!"
The silver-haired little lady ran noisily towards the vegetable section and happily examined them. When the racks blew out a puff of cold air, she jumped in fright, screamed and began to laugh... As if infected by her mood, Haruaki could feel the corners of his lips relaxing. No particular reason—but let's bring her along again next time, thought Haruaki to himself. In any case, she had clearly recovered her spirits.
Fear immediately came running back.
"Fufu, look at this!"
"Thank you for making such a classic mistake. This is lettuce."
Even though they were similar, the cabbage had a more rugged feeling—after giving her this hint, she got it right. However—
"To tell if a cabbage is fresh or not, you need to look at its core. This one is already darkened, so it's a bit old. Get a new one!"
"How nitpicky. But if it'll be tastier, it can't be helped.
Even if it was nitpicky Haruaki forced her to memorize it. As the master of the dinner table, compromises were unacceptable.
Preparing to go select the meat, he wondered why Fear was not following. Wondering what she was doing, he was surprised to find—
"Hey, old lady over there. You need to check the cabbage core for freshness. That one is no good, pick this one!"
"Ara ara, why thank you. Even though you're a young foreigner, that's very helpful of you, hoho~"
"Why of course, it would not be wrong to call me the cabbage master. I won't mix it up with lettuce either, because cabbages have a more rugged feel. So, old lady... Hmm? What's up, Haruaki? Why are you showing such a delicate expression?"
"I was just caught in a dilemma, wondering if I should ridicule you for 'Proudly showing off what you just learnt!' Or 'Be careful or else people might mistake you for a stingy old hag.' Or praise you for 'Doing a good deed'... Whatever, I just said them all out anyway."
"I don't get it. Anyway, it feels great to be thanked by others!"
Words of thanks. Perhaps a single phrase expressing a person's wish was enough to reduce Fear's curse by one ten-thousandth or maybe one billionth. What she had just performed was the first step, one that she needs to repeat over and over from now on, but Fear did not seem to have noticed.
Precisely because she was naturally enjoying the act of helping others, Haruaki believed Fear would absolutely have no problem in the future.
Sooner or later, she would surely lift her curse one day. Arbitrarily creating her and willfully feeling hatred towards her, selfish humans were responsible for everything—the curse conferred upon her.
Suddenly, Haruaki thought of Sovereignty. Her situation was the same. Though he did not know the details, she was also cursed because of humans. And currently, she was disappointed in humans.
If he wished for her to become like Fear, would that simply count as human conceit? This sort of contradiction, was it analogous to a murderer begging for mercy? But deep down, perhaps Fear also—
Even though he trusted her, he could not stop his lips from moving. He must be too weak.
"...Do you like humans?"
"Well enough, so-so."
He could not see her expression. Viewed from behind, she was examining with great curiosity various products displayed on the shelves. The cold air blown from below caused her silver hair to sway slightly. Then she straightened her arched back. Her face still out of view, she held her tiny hands together behind her back—
"—About the same as rice crackers, I suppose."
Saying that, her voice sounded quite gentle.
As soon as dinner was finished, Fear started yelling: "Haruaki, bath time! We have to go to bed earlier tonight!" and rushed out of the living room. There was a noisy racket one should not hear from bathroom. Soon after, the noise died down, replaced by the sound of a series of wet footsteps.
"Hey, the shampoo is used up—!"
"Woah! ...Couldn't you at least have dried yourself before coming out?"
Wrapped in a bath towel, Fear made her appearance. Her slender arms, pale shoulders and wet hair were all dripping with water. Haruaki was sipping tea after dinner when the awakening of memories from a few days ago caused him to blush slightly. Nevertheless, Fear did not pay any attention to him—
"I'm in a hurry to sleep so I'm preparing for bedtime with high speed! I must be well-rested and energetic for tomorrow!"
"Somehow it seems like you'll end up more tired from all this tension? Don't you find it counter productive... Oh well whatever."
The incident happened in the next instant. Perhaps it was an inevitable outcome. Indeed, the way Fear had her towel wrapped around her was definitely inadequately secured—
It slipped down. Or rather, it loosened.
As the towel's knot loosened before Haruaki's eyes, the world seemed to move in slow motion. The area of Fear's exposed skin gradually increased as he watched. Pulled by gravity, the top of the towel originally located below her collarbone instantly descended down to her snow-white chest—from between the edges of the loosened towel, glimpses were offered of a moist orifice, the navel—as the lower edge of the towel gradually spread out, the smooth curves of her inner thigh came clearly into view—then everything—
"Special Move—Immorality Blocker (Visual Variant)!"
"Owwwwwwwwwww! Wait a minute, Konoha, my eyes are going to be gouged out!"
Konoha, who had been sitting beside him enjoying her tea, instantly blocked Haruaki's gaze with fearsome god-like speed. Fortunately, this prevented him from seeing anything fatal. But her movements were so forceful that it made Haruaki wonder if she might imbue her hands with a sword's sharpness at any point, so it was quite scary. Listening, Haruaki could hear the sound of Fear frantically tightening her bath towel.
"Oooh, haha... Mmm. Finally a good deed from the Cow Tits."
"Thank you for the compliment. By the way, you should be able to find the replacement shampoo underneath the sink, Fear."
"Oh really!? You should have told me earlier!"
Fear hurried back to the bathroom. Only then was the visual obstruction removed from Haruaki's view. As he rubbed his stinging eyes, he could not help but ask Konoha:
"I'm just curious... Is there a olfactory variant?"
Smiling while presenting him the back of her hand, Konoha shoved two fingers upwards. His spine shivering, Haruaki resolved to forget all about this.
"...Anyway, where was our discussion before we were interrupted?"
"Yes—about after school, what happened after you two parted ways with me... In the end, you didn't find anything out in the streets, right?"
Right. Calming their thoughts, the two of them continued pooling their information.
"Yes. But I don't think it was completely fruitless."
"I can't say for certain, but there didn't seem to be anyone fainting on the streets, nor was there any sound of ambulances... That doll really stuck to her word and did not cause trouble outside."
"I see, confirming this point is comforting despite the overall crisis. However—"
As if piercing the bottom of the cup with her gaze, Konoha narrowed her eyes.
"Indeed, if that doll was not lying then she'll 'be back to absorb life force in this school again.' We need to come up with a plan."
"I agree, but I still don't understand why she's doing this."
"Her curse can't possibly be as specific as 'can only absorb the life force of students wearing the Taishyuu High School uniform"... There's no point in pondering any further what cannot be understood. The issue at hand is what we should do tomorrow."
By their estimates, Sovereignty was not going to intrude into the classrooms during lessons. Instead, she should be targeting times like the lunch break when students moved about alone.
"In that case, skipping a day of classes would be kind of meaningless. At least, that's what I'd like to think."
"Skipping classes would be asking to get scolded for sure. Besides, we already skipped the afternoon periods today."
Right—as Haruaki nodded in agreement, he recalled Kirika's gaze when he had happened to run into her in the classroom to get his bag—truly like a class representative, she glared severely at him for inappropriate behavior. At the time, Haruaki had swiftly escaped from the classroom together with Fear, but if they were to skip class again, retribution surely awaited them like some sort of vengeful ghost. Truly too frightening. Haruaki did not want to imagine the consequences.
"Then how about we patrol during break times outside of class?"
"Yes. Of course, I'll help too... Ah, correction. Starting tomorrow, I will try taking walks around the school during break times as a way to relieve stress. Perhaps I might end up running into someone suspicious!"
Konoha grinned mischievously, eliciting a wry smile from Haruaki.
"Not helping Fear deliberately, is that right... Because that girl is really stubborn."
"That's the way she is from the start so it's nothing surprising. She's enthusiastic to help others because she's really eager to lift her curse. In any case, I will respect her wish for a few days."
"As expected of someone who's been through the same path, you're really understanding. Next... We should find Zenon-san in the morning to report to her and request her assistance. For this time and age, our school's security happens to be quite lax, like a sieve... That said, I'm not going so far as to ask her for armed guards stationed within one meter around the school perimeter."
"If it's too conspicuous, alerting the masses would be a big problem too... Oh yeah, let me brew some more tea?"
"No thanks, I'm planning on retiring early for the night, so you don't have to—"
"Don't be modest. Besides, I still have more to say."
Saying that, Konoha went to the kitchen to replenish the boiling water. When she returned to the living, there was a smile on her face for some reason.
"Well then, Haruaki-kun."
"W-What is it?"
Haruaki instinctively shrank back. His intuition alerted him that Konoha's smiling appearance presented some sort of danger.
"I had some free time earlier so I asked Fear about the details of what happened during the day. Namely, how you forgot about me completely and shared juice with those girls to enjoy yourselves."
"Umm... I-I already apologized to you about that, right? Haven't I?"
"Because there are still a lot of details to be cleared up. Let's see? When Shiraho's uniform was drenched by the water cooler, you kept staring? When descending the stairs, you were eyeing for an opportunity to get intimate with her? Furthermore, you were very concerned about her skirt fluttering in the wind, with constant furtive glances. As soon as an opportunity presented itself, you seized it to embrace Shiraho in excitement—how utterly terrible and unacceptable, do you not agree? Completely indecent."
"Wait a minute, some of that is clearly fabricated!"
"I don't want to hear your excuses. How should I say this? Shiraho is at fault too. Too airheaded, too careless. And seriously, boys are just unbelievable, always staring lewdly at girls at the slightest opportunity..."
That's only possible when girls present the opportunities, right? —Though Haruaki reflexively felt like objecting, he was aware that the earlier claims were true to some extent so he could not protest with a clear conscience. In that case, there was only one solution.
"Ha... Hahaha! Oh my that's really true, I can't believe someone could be that airheaded! It's really troubling, so I'd better get to bed soon! So, goodnight!"
Just as he was about to get up, Konoha grabbed his wrist, preventing him from standing.
"Stay, I still have lots to ask! Haruaki-kun, do you prefer airheaded girls? How do you really feel about her vulnerable lack of awareness? So does that kind of size turn out to be perfectly suited to your tastes?"
...What kind of size did she mean?
The next morning, three notices were announced during homeroom. Even though the sports festival was approaching, please do not forget the midterm exams coming up after that. Recently, reports of missing belongings have increased, so please take care of valuables.
Finally—there have been increased cases of people not feeling well and fainting. Please be sure to have three regular meals and adequate sleep.
Correct and meaningless warnings.
In the few spare minutes after homeroom, the class was in a noisy state of commotion.
Amidst this chaos, Fear was sitting at her seat, her face tense, arms crossed. Over on the side, Haruaki was sprawled over his desk, sleeping like the dead. Early this morning he had also seemed quite tired as if he had experienced some kind of exhausting night—apparently an impeachment trial? Serves him right.
Busily drumming away at the desk, Fear's fingers moved rhythmically.
To be honest, she was quite anxious.
Who knew when the doll would arrive? If she could, she wanted to go out and patrol as much as possible. However, there was little chance of the doll causing trouble in class; besides, skipping a whole day of lessons on her second day would be a huge a problem—particularly when she already had the precedent of skipping the periods after lunch on the first day.
In the end, meaningful patrolling could only be undertaken during breaks. Although the current time also counted as a break, there was too little time if she wanted to leave the school building.
She recalled the curse she carried—as well as past days when she had been disappointed in humans.
Harming others due to being cursed. This was a point of commonality all tools shared, whether dolls or torture equipment.
And now, Sovereignty Perfection Doll was currently stuck in a period of hopeless despair.
Such thoughts ran through her mind.
It was conceivable. Cursing her own curse, troubled by her inability to resist the impulse. Ruminating in her mind, born as a simple tool to be used according to human wishes, how did she turn out like this? To be able to go back to an unthinking tool, how happy would that be? However, a sense of self-awareness could not allow that. Having tasted the joy of being used by humans, contradictory feelings became rooted in one's heart.
That's right, it was conceivable—After all, Fear had gone through the same feelings in the past.
She was a tool whose existence persisted only to harm others. Alone, she was unable to subvert this truth of the matter. Like a branding iron, like an execution stake, like the spikes of an iron maiden, self-reproach and suffering were continually imposed upon herself. Until her salvation brought upon by others, this period of torment simply seemed to stretch endlessly—
Ah yes... Fear wanted to save Sovereignty as soon as possible. Not a moment to lose, as quickly as possible.
Hence—if only she could have told this to her past self as well.
(Shiraho and Haruaki... In order to save you, they are waiting for you.)
Not a moment to lose.
Anxiously, Fear wanted to locate Sovereignty.
Hurry and flow faster, time! Let class end faster! Hurry and appear before me, doll! Fear perked up her ears, trying to listen for screams and commotions. If anything happened, she was going to abandon class. Ah... How unbearable—
"Fear-chan, good morning~!"
"You look kind of tired, didn't you sleep well last night? Were you watching late night television?"
"Yeah, you were missing after lunch yesterday? Same with Yachi-kun. Recently there's been lots of people fainting, were you guys one of them, Fear-chan? Are you feeling okay?"
Several of the girls in the class had surrounded Fear's desk. She had only chatted with them a little yesterday and they had not mentioned their names again. To be honest, Fear could not remember their names.
I'm trying to listen carefully here, what are you girls chattering about—Fear could not help but frown. It was a miracle that she was not clicking her tongue disapprovingly. The girls also seemed to notice something different about Fear's demeanor and looked at each other with surprise.
"No... Yesterday—because there were still some remaining procedures to handle for enrollment, I was tied up with that. Haruaki was helping me as well. We're not unwell at all. Also, I didn't watch television yesterday and went to bed early. So what's up?"
"R-Really? Nothing much, I noticed you had your eyes closed, so I wanted to ask if you were sleepy..."
"Speaking of sleepy, isn't Yachi-kun dozing away all this time? Uwah, could something have happened last night...?"
One of the girls seemed to be actively trying to dispel the subtle atmosphere and forcing herself to sound cheerful. Then the other girls gathered together, elbowing each other in the ribs and started to talk:
"What what? That's so dirty, you perverted girl. You're not thinking about that 'sudden rendezvous theory,' are you? Though I'm the one who proposed the theory first."
"It can't be happening, right? What about that girl from Third Class—Muramasa-san? Doesn't she live with Yachi-kun too?"
"T-That girl hates to be called by her family name, you'd better watch out~"
"How strange. I mean, even though she's supposed to be cousins with Yachi-kun, her attitude towards him is a bit alarming... What do you think, Fear-chan?"
Fear decided she had to respond to these girls in order to avoid them from troubling her after class. After all, she could not go anywhere right now anyway. The most reliable method would be the Japanese solution—a polite smile.
"How should I put it... Sorry, I'm not too sure. In any case, I don't know that much about Cow Tits."
"Cow... Uwah, somehow I can't really disagree. Are you two really not getting along?"
"...We don't. Whether in body size or behavior, she is an affront to the eyes. Given a chance, she's always creating a shameless atmosphere around Haruaki. How should I say it? We are biologically incompatible."
Suddenly, Fear noticed the girls were for some reason snickering to themselves and exchanging knowing looks.
"Could this be... A love triangle?"
"Looks like it, very much. I feel like I've discovered an unexpected bomb, things have become so interesting!"
"Fear-chan, let me give you some good news, okay? That's definitely not biological incompatibility but a woman's instincts...!"
"...? I don't get what you're saying. What are you referring to a woman's instincts?"
Fear's serious question made the crowd even more excited.
"You're the oblivious participant type! Oh no, Fear-chan is so cute!"
"Well, it's possible she doesn't get it only because we're talking in Japanese."
"Excuse me... Sorry to interrupt your conversation, umm..."
"After all, foreigners are supposed to have their first experiences very early. But Fear-chan gives off an impression like a inexperienced sheltered virgin, so maybe she really doesn't understand. Yes, this must be a natural monument, one that must be preserved!"
"...Please, girls... Excuse me..."
"Immature love yet to blossom. Once she realizes the love in her heart, the girl will become self-aware as a woman!"
"Ahaha, you're reminding me of bittersweet memories. Ah, how nostalgic."
Fear tilted her head in amazed puzzlement.
What was love?
A concept unknown to her, she must surely learn about it. But just as Fear was about to consult them for further details, the girl seated diagonally behind Fear—Kirika sighed lightly and stood up.
"Shouldn't you people pay slightly more attention to your surroundings?"
"Eh? What's up, Class Rep? Wah! Himura-sensei!"
"Finally, they realized my presence... Thank you for your help..."
Standing on the side was a gloomy looking man—Himura Sunao, the mathematics teacher. His expression was obscured by his extremely long bangs and his mumbling voice always lacked presence.
"So... Class is starting..."
"Ah yes, sorry!"
The girls obediently returned to their seats. "Despite his gloomy demeanor, he's not bad looking—that's the girls' general opinion of him, hence his popularity is average." Fear recalled Haruaki's words from yesterday. He had also told her that this man had nicknames like ghost or the negative energy drain man.
"By the way, Fear-kun, as the class representative I'd like to make a request. Could you move back a bit, closer to me?"
Fear did not understand but did as Kirika told. Immediately, an elastic band flew across Fear's face and struck her neighbor, Haruaki, squarely in the head.
"Ouch! W-What the heck? Did a homerun come flying?"
"Uh.... Excuse me, Class Rep, could you give the orders..."
"—Stand up. Bow. Sit down."
The sound of chairs scraping against the floor filled the room as Haruaki watched in puzzlement. But soon after, he dozed off again.
Somehow, Fear felt like she could hear Kirika murmur in a barely audible voice: "Are you sure you guys really didn't do anything strange last night...?"
The culprit always returns to the scene of the crime. This was someone's famous quote.
In the corridor outside the dressmaking room, Fear stood alone in high spirits, head held up high. This was only a ten-minute break between classes, so she chose to focus on monitoring this spot instead of wandering around purposelessly.
Even though this part of the school was less frequented, it was not entirely unvisited. Whenever footsteps approached, Fear went into a battle-ready stance to cast a sharp gaze at the direction of the sound.
"F-Forgive me! I wasn't planning on chatting you up!"
"...Good morning, Fear-sama."
"Hmm, you're the secretary from yesterday."
Appearing without any warning, Zenon greeted normally as if making a statement about a secretary's proper attitude. She was expressionless as usual—though there was something different about her today, a strange object worn on her head.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing much, just sticking this up. Because of a lack of manpower."
Zenon stuck a sheet of paper with the words "Renovation in progress, entry prohibited" on the door of the dressmaking room. Then she took out from her pocket a device that resembled a tiny notebook. "Dressmaking room notice is done, now waiting for the contractor's contact..." was what she muttered as she operated the device in her hands. Watching her poking with a pen, it really seemed like a real notepad. How amazing.
"How are things going?"
"Still in progress. How about your side? Did Haruaki ask you for help?"
"Yes. We have stationed personnel at the school gates and various points around the perimeter to be on alert in case she decides to invade the school directly—But we don't have that many security guards in the first place, so the coverage isn't perfect. I will help out later as well."
"...I see. So that's why you're wearing that on your head?"
"Ultraviolet light is a type of slow-acting death ray."
Fear skeptically eyed the straw hat sitting atop the secretary's head. It seemed a poor match for her cool beauty demeanor and business attire. Combined with the cute bear design woven delicately on the hat, it was like seeing a Greek statue holding a teddy bear in its arms, even to the point of desecration in a certain sense, completely dissonant—even though it would be an adorable accessory on any other person.
"Due to the suddenness of the incident, we are unable to increase the number of guards immediately... I am really sorry that these conditions will persist a while longer. As soon as the superintendent returns, I plan on suggesting to him that security cameras be installed to prevent intruders."
"I'm not hoping for an airtight defensive net. Anyway, the enemy is not human so a perfect defense is impossible. You guys only need to make it easier for me to catch her and that'd be enough."
Also—Fear scratched her face awkwardly:
"Like helping out the same way you did with this classroom. Though it's not like we intentionally damaged the facilities."
"No problem at all. After all, the repairs came out of the superintendent's own pocket."
A firm and distinct answer.
"R-Really? Anyway, just leave the school building to me. I will catch her for sure."
"Good, I look forward to your success—Well then, please take care."
Bowing respectfully, Zenon left. As she watched the cute bear straw hat disappear from the other end of the corridor, Fear patted her cheeks as if rousing her spirits.
"Looking forward eh... Yes! I must do my best!"
This could very well be the first time anyone expressed expectations of Fear. With increased concentration, she monitored the corridor. Once again, footsteps were heard. Was the doll finally here? Fear braced herself for combat—
"Ah! ...Hmm? Fear-chan?"
The one frightened by Fear's gaze was a fellow classmate. One of those girls who were chatting with her this morning.
"...What are you doing here?"
"Looking for someone suspicious."
"R-Really? I'm just here to hand this printout to the teacher..."
"Oh? Beware of suspicious people."
Although Fear spoke with complete seriousness, for some reason, the girl waved lightly and walked past with a snicker. Why is she laughing at me—just as Fear wondered in puzzlement, another student appeared. Reflexively, Fear glared at the new arrival as usual, eliciting an "Eek!" response in return. Is that a scream? It's almost like I'm the one scaring people—
"Ah...? C-Could it be... I'm the one acting the most suspicious here?"
Finally realizing why she was being laughed at, she slumped her shoulders in dejected shame.
Standing in the very center of the corridor was a poor idea? Should she hide in a corner to watch secretly instead? Just as she was moving towards the staircase, she carelessly looked out the window—
Beneath the window was the narrow space between the school building and the outer wall. In other words, the back of the school building. There was not supposed to be anyone there.
There were two figures superimposed at a spot closer to the school building. One was lying on the ground while the other was riding on top of the first. Based on the hair length, the one on top should be a girl—
Fear stopped to think and made sure there was no one was around her. Hand in her pocket, she confirmed the touch of the Rubik's cube.
At the same time, her other hand automatically opened the window.
In the blink of an eye, she had already leaped into midair.
Landing behind the figure, she made footprints on this poorly sunlit ground. This must have been due to the soil being moist, definitely not because she was too heavy.
"What are you doing! Stop what... you're doing...?"
"Oh no, don't kiss me in that spot, someone might see~"
"What's wrong even if someone sees—Hmm? Who are you?"
Indeed, a girl was riding a boy. Only that this was not the life force sucking that Fear imagined... Though in a different sense, this did count as a type of life force sucking...
(T-Truly shameless, these people...!)
More accurately, they were simply embraced together. The boy was sitting on the ground while the girl sat on his thighs. Their faces almost touching, their chests were pressed tightly together. For some reason, Fear could feel her cheeks rising rapidly in temperature.
How long did you stand there for? Could you not tell on us to the teacher? Are you a foreign student? —Saying that, the lovers separated from each other. There's no reason for me to publicize this kind of thing anyway, right?
"Why are you doing things that are causing misunderstandings!? What are you doing at this time of the day!? Are you dummies? Know some shame!"
On the other hand, Fear was the one who felt embarrassed. It was only fortunate that she did not transform the Rubik's cube and no one saw her jumping down from the window. What utter embarrassment and a huge misunderstanding.
As if trying to hide her increasingly reddening face, she walked away with long strides.
"I-I can't believe there exists people who engage in such shameless behavior in school... No, now is not the time to be impressed. Now that I know that this kind of behavior actually exists... That's right, this means it is more likely for Haruaki and Cow Tits to be doing something shameless together... I have to pay more attention from now on!"
Muttering, she stepped into the science building and climbed up the stairs.
"But break time is almost over... I guess I'll have to wait until next time to catch that doll. And I can't be sure she'll come either—no, she will definitely come. Let's not underestimate my intuition, hmph."
Just as she turned the corner and stepped into the corridor—
She discovered the classmate she had just parted with earlier.
The doll had been here.
The voice of the elderly teacher, whose age approached retirement, sounded like a lullaby. The subject he taught was classics, a casual relaxing class where students were free to doze off or do things secretly under the desk. Even so, the classroom was currently filled with an atmosphere of unease. Students were whispering and passing notes, sending text messages under their desks... Even if he did not intentionally pay attention to them, these sights and sounds naturally reached Haruaki.
(Two days in a row... It's inevitable that the students would begin speculating on the causes.)
Of course, the public explanation was heat stroke, anemia, etc occurring two days in a row by coincidence. Naturally, the doctor's diagnosis was only "fainted from exhaustion due to unknown reasons." Overhearing the conversations of classmates who had visited the victims, Haruaki learned that some of them had already recovered enough to get out of bed and talk. In a few days, all of them should recover substantial mobility. As a side note, it seemed like no one remembered what occurred immediately before they fainted.
For there to be almost ten victims in a mere span of two days, it was impossible for people not to be suspicious. A psychopath roaming around with chloroform, the work of ghosts, a gas leak somewhere, baseless rumors were beginning to spread out of control in the classroom.
In particular—there was the first occurrence of a victim from this class.
Haruaki stole a glance at his neighbor beside him. Rather than holding her pen ready to write, the silver-haired girl was blankly staring down at the empty page of her notebook.
She had returned to this period several dozen minutes late. Pointing to an empty seat in the classroom, she explained: "...I was taking this guy to the infirmary." Haruaki already knew what was going on. The other students also seemed to realize something had happened. Through the exchange of messages with students from other classes, news of other victims immediately spread throughout the class—"Surely something suspicious is going on?" That was the current mood in the classroom.
Haruaki felt the same and was in no mood to pay attention to lessons calmly. But suddenly rushing out of the room would be too conspicuous, as if announcing to everyone else "I am involved in the incident." Besides, Fear must have returned to the classroom only after attempting a fruitless search.
Haruaki clenched his fist beneath his desk. Obviously, Haruaki had also been patrolling the school building during breaks. Likewise for Konoha. In consideration of Fear's pride, neither of them did it conspicuously, but in the end, they still took precautions separately.
However—They had failed to prevent further victims. When clearly they were the only ones in a position to do so given their knowledge of the situation.
His heart stung with regret and a sense of ineptitude.
Most likely, the silver-haired girl sitting on the neighboring seat felt the same.
(What... Exactly am I doing?)
While she was occupied with that misunderstanding, distracted by that kind of tangent, the doll had seized the opportunity to strike.
Letting the doll roam free to commit crimes, causing a person whom she had just been talking with mere minutes ago to become a victim—indeed, mere minutes ago. This particular point felt most regretful.
The bell rang for the end of period. A hustling and bustling break time—the contradictory concept that is quiet tumult.
Her skin felt gazes belonging to no one in particular. Her ears heard whispers belonging to no one in particular.
If only you had kept your act together, she would have been safe—Fear felt such reproach directed towards herself. But it was just a feeling. The gazes were only what she imagined in others and the whispers were only noises her own ears created deliberately. No one was paying particular attention to her. Nevertheless—
She got up from her seat and went out to the corridor. Even though Haruaki turned to look at her a few times, Fear did not feel like talking to him at this time. Even though she knew it would have been better to say something.
Of course, she did not find the doll either after that. Today's crimes were either finished or perhaps she was waiting for another opportunity to strike—Fear could not know for sure. But even so, she could not abandon searching for the doll. Even though she did not have a destination in mind, Fear felt compelled to visit unfrequented locations.
Indeed, she had no destination in mind. Perhaps the doll was still in school, but she could also have gone outside already. As things stood, things were repeating just like yesterday—no, since victims were increasing, it was getting worse. What a powerless girl she was, unable to stop the situation from worsening...
Involuntarily, she sighed and hung her head. At this time—"Poof!" She found her face buried in something.
"Gyah! Ah, it's you, Fear-chan... A-Are you okay? Your face doesn't look too amazing, you know?"
Fear had buried herself into Shiraho's bosom. Her friendly smile felt dazzling. The feeling of self-torture further increased. Fear twisted her lips and went "Heh!" Slightly trying to escape reality, she said softly to the person before her:
"Fuu~... Speaking of amazing, this part of yours is quite amazing. Doesn't quite match up to Cow Tits, but still. Ah, but mine are completely no good..."
"I-If you keep talking there, it really tickles!?"
"And laughing dryly at me is also very scary! Uh... Starting from now on! Fear-chan's will start growing from now on!"
"I'm not convinced. But how on earth can I reach the same level as average people..."
Fear asked with an exhausted voice.
"Hmm—Well—M-Massage them and they'll grow bigger! I-I worked hard on mine too! Like this!"
Rub rub rub—Shiraho began to massage her breasts with both hands. Fear watched her with initial amazement—
"Wow! I don't know if it's my imagination but they really seem bigger... Let me try too!"
And began massaging her washboard of a chest as well.
Passing male students were shocked by the behavior of these two girls.
"Also, I heard that it's more effective if you let others massage them for you..."
"Okay, massage me! Give and take, I'll help you massage in turn!"
"Hyah! Eh... Really? Are you really sure?"
"...Damn it, yours are so soft and warm. Somehow it fills me with a sense of hate..."
"Hmm... Don't worry, Fear-chan, yours have some substance too... Surely they'll grow from now on."
Another boy walked by. Hakuto Taizou. Seeing two girls in the hallway massaging each other's breasts (and washboard), he was similarly shocked. Then for some reason, he nodded twice or thrice and thanked them: "Thank you for the delicious treat!"
In the end, their strange behavior persisted until Kirika passed by and told them with a blush: "Could you two stop engaging in public indecency in the hallway?"
Returning to normal, Fear accepted Shiraho's invitation to go sit on the same bench in the courtyard they had sat together yesterday. Walking around in such a daze, you won't even find something that was right before your eyes, so why not relax for change of pace? —That was how Shiraho convinced her.
While drinking the cup of juice Shiraho had bought as thanks for treating her yesterday—
"...Are you sure about paying?"
"Ahaha, this is a return favor. I'm treating you today."
Even though they had also wasted money at the vending machine just now, since Shiraho said it was okay, Fear did not let the matter weigh on her mind.
She recalled how Shiraho had forgotten to take out the first cup before pressing the button for the second cup, then entered a state of confused panic as the cup overflowed and spilled... This girl needs to calm down too.
"So, how are you doing? Even though there's not much time left, if you wish, I'll listen to your troubles."
Shiraho spoke with a pure and innocent expression. Once again, Fear felt the dark gloom in her heart decrease.
"Have you heard? Just now, that doll apparently came again."
"Looks like it... Even though I've been patrolling too."
"Despite all these precautions, we still failed to stop or catch her. But I promised you I'd catch her and let you meet her."
Is this why you're depressed? —Fear nodded and replied:
"I want to catch her as early as possible. Before more victims appear—more importantly, it's for her own good."
"Yes. She and I are the same, so I understand. Revulsion towards one's cursed self. The disappointment felt towards humans who cursed us. The regret felt when unable to suppress the curse in spite of everything. Precisely because I understand, I must tell her. The only salvation... Comes with lifting the curse."
Fear downed the remaining juice in one gulp and crushed the paper cup in her hand.
"That doll is most likely in a state of self-abandonment. As a fellow inorganic tool, her senior—perhaps this is a kind of arrogance, but I want to save her. Simply that. Clearly just that, but I can't even achieve it... I'm so useless."
Shiraho suddenly embraced Fear who was sitting beside her. Turning to view Shiraho's face, Fear found her smiling as if something dazzling had entered her view.
"I think it's okay not to be so anxious. If she heard how you felt, I'm sure Sovereignty will be really happy. Of course, as someone who wishes for her happiness, I am very touched as well. That's why I want to thank you."
Fear felt embarrassed. But strangely enough, it did not feel unpleasant at all.
"...However, I sometimes think—I have harmed others in the past as result of my curse, committing irreconcilable mistakes. Am I simply trying to compensate for my irreconcilable crimes—Which is why I want to stop her? Or am I simply taking advantage of her who is of no relation to me, trying to seek absolution for myself on an emotional level perhaps?"
"I don't really understand difficult issues. I only know that you, Fear-chan, care for her sincerely. So that is why I am hugging you. Even if you make such a sad expression, it won't help anything."
Shiraho suddenly smiled cheerfully. She must be similarly troubled over Sovereignty so this was definitely a forced smile. However...
Suddenly, a thought entered Fear's mind. Was forcing a smile actually quite a difficult act? Then forcing herself to smile, Shiraho was actually quite resilient? Even though she was so scatterbrained, she was a human with great strength of heart—Fear realized for the first time.
Through her heart, this strength was being poured into Fear's. That was what Fear felt.
"Making a sad expression doesn't help anything... That's right. Hoho, indeed it's true."
"...Okay, enough of rest! I will not give up, definitely, I'll catch that doll!"
Fear suddenly stood up. Perhaps she simply saw things differently, but incredibly, she felt her heart lighten.
"That's the spirit. I will help too!"
"Yes. You're client number two, so that's fine. But if I don't get on the move, that meddlesome Cow Tits will be butting in to hog the spotlight. Now is not the time for me to wallow in melancholy. Seriously, that Cow... Tits..."
Suddenly, the image of her impressive bust surfaced in Fear's mind. Taking a further look, those contemptible protrusions seemed to be right before her eyes. Before she knew it, she found her hands unceremoniously grabbing them and squeezing away.
"Yah! W-Why are you grabbing my breasts again!?"
"Umm sorry. As soon as I am reminded of her, my hands start moving on their own. By the way... I've been wondering for a while, hmm~ What on earth are these things filled with...? Anyway, sorry, could you accompany me again to scout out the the enemy?"
"I-I have no idea what you're talking about—!"
Hiding in a dark corner behind the vending machine, Haruaki stared intently at the two girls on the bench.
"—What the heck are those two doing...?"
Due to Fear's visible depression, he had planned to chase after her to listen to her grievances... But seeing them massaging each other's breasts, it would have been too embarrassing to call out to them. So after that, he followed them around like a stalker.
Even though they had done some strange things, in the end, Fear seemed to have recovered her spirits. Perhaps this was a good thing—Haruaki thought to himself. Since she had come to school, it would have been troubling if she were unable to interact with other students normally. Shiraho was basically someone intermediate between a normal person and those involved in the world of cursed tools, as a practice partner she was perfect—disregarding the issue of whether breast massages counted as normal interaction or not.
That said—Haruaki pondered their next step.
Through Zenon's arrangements, security was tightened but Sovereignty had still been able to invade the school and absorb life force from a student. Haruaki did not want to blame security—after all, suddenly reserving security personnel was not that easy and numbers could not be changed within a day or two.
"In that case, it's still up to us to handle the issue..."
Feeling like the bell for class was about to ring, he made his way back to the classroom. He had thought about going to search for Sovereignty, but like yesterday, it was very probable she had escaped already. Of course, it was also possible she was still around, so he had no choice but to continue searching and staying on alert when out of class—but if he were to skip classes without a good reason and become suspected of being involved in the incident, he would be unable to take action when a real crisis emerges.
Still, there were things he should do during class. Namely, contemplating plans for the future.
It was vexing to have failed in preventing victims today. He felt anger and anxiety towards his own powerlessness. He could not allow another incident to happen—Indeed, it was absolutely unacceptable. No matter what, he had to put in maximum effort.
But alone, he was just an ordinary human with insignificant power. Simply stated, the conclusion was—
The power of everyone on the team needed to be gathered. They had to discuss seriously as a team to decide how they should act. If they all acted separately, even something within their grasp would not be caught.
"The situation no longer calls for an assistant. But the problem is how the boss feels—Well, how could I get this past her... Before the lunch break, I must come up with a way to broach the subject."
The lunch break arrived.
"Fear-chan, and Akki too, time for lunch! But given the choice, I'd prefer to eat Fear-chan herself! Like this, lying on a plate, with sashimi raw fish laid on top... Teehee!"
"Fear-chan, I am truly grateful for the earlier treat! But it's a slight shame, if only Konoha-san was the partner! If that was the case, I could... Half a year! It would last me half a year!"
"To be honest, I've always been thinking, the very fact that you two were able to get into this school is absolutely ridiculous. Let's ignore these idiots, Yachi, I'm not going to lose to you today."
"Hey Fear, after we finish eating, I have something to discuss—"
Amidst the chaos of four people talking at the same time—
"I'm sorry! I'm not eating lunch today, I don't mind if any of you finish off my portion!"
The silver-haired girl rushed out into the corridor with great vigor. Taizou and Kana stared blankly at the receding image of her back as Haruaki slumped his shoulders in disappointment.
"I gave it so much thought... I even had five different proposals..."
One of those who stayed—Kirika looked at Haruaki as if she wanted to say something. However—
"Let's hurry and eat then go find her... Hmm? Class Rep, what's the matter?"
"N-No, it's nothing."
For some reason she was shrinking back mildly with her face turned away. As if trying to occupy herself, she started moving desks together to form a small island.
Then their meal started without Fear. First they had the usual cooking battle—ending in Kirika's teeth-gnashing defeat once again. In a certain sense, lunch played out exactly the same as in the past.
"By the way, I wonder if Tsucchi will be okay~?"
"Tsucchi? Oh, you mean Tsuchiya? Recently, there's been a lot of cases of malnutrition and anemia."
As soon as they began eating, Kana and Taizou brought up the subject.
Haruaki's chopsticks wavered slightly but he pretended nothing had happened and continued with his meal.
"Who knows what's going on~? I think it must be something supernatural."
Kana always looked like a dunce, but she turned out to be surprisingly sharp.
"I support the chloroform psycho theory instead. Secretly approaching students from behind, quietly smoldering them with chloroform, then satisfied with rendering them unconscious, he leaves without doing anything else... What a super gentlemanly pervert, wouldn't you guys agree?"
Taizou always looked like a dunce, but he really was a dunce to the core.
"But weren't there a number of male students amongst the victims too?"
"...Exactly because he's a gentleman, he also has interests of that sort. It's not very commendable."
"Besides, I've heard that inhalation of chloroform doesn't put people to sleep that quickly. It really is a supernatural phenomenon, maybe the ghost of a deceased male student? Rumors say that the person who discovered the fainted student today seemed to have witnessed a striking handsome youth!"
"That sounds so fake~ The Chloroform Baron should be a more of a dandy, definitely! Walking stick in hand, wearing a top hat, with a V-shaped beard of course! In other words, a veritable universal pervert!"
The two eagerly discussed the nonexistent male ghost and gentleman pervert. If that doll did end up being sighted, it would be quite troublesome—just as Haruaki watched their debate with lukewarm enthusiasm—
"Yachi, what's your opinion?"
Despite her usual "I have nothing to do with idiotic conversations" philosophy, Kirika posed a question. She was nonchalantly picking away at her lunchbox—but her gaze showed a surprising air of seriousness.
Oh no, she must have realized something? But since Haruaki was obliged to feign complete ignorance of cursed tools when interacting with Kirika, that meant he had to pretend he was not involved with anything of that sort...
"I-I have no idea! It's definitely a coincidence! But if it really turns out to be a pervert then it's troubling. Don't go off to remote areas alone!"
Kirika narrowed her eyes with dissatisfaction. Why did she react this way? In any case, it was quite scary.
"Okay, let me try the taste of this hamburg steak! Actually, the proportion of minced meat is a bit difficult to get right, today I was only able to—"
Kirika poked her chopsticks into Haruaki's lunchbox and delivered a piece of the hamburg steak into her mouth.
"Hey—! What are you doing, Class Rep!"
"Seriously... No, this can't be helped... That said... This vexes me... Hmph, why don't you try my hamburg steak! Yeah, sorry about it being the loser's taste!"
She grumbled disapprovingly. In actual fact, Kirika's hamburg steak had already surpassed average passing standards, so she should not be getting angry over this. Haruaki was truly puzzled over her displeasure.
"Oh? How unfair! I want to eat Haruaki's hamburg steak too! That taste testing just now was nowhere satisfying enough!"
"The meat squeezed and shaped by Akki's hand with indecent motions, I want to eat it~"
"What's with you two...!"
Just as Haruaki had his hands full with the slapstick, a male student suddenly approached.
"Yachi, someone just asked me to bring you a message."
"A message... From who? Fear?"
"No, it's a boy I've never seen before. A really handsome dude who'd probably fit right in with Johnny's."
"Eh? Why does that kind of description sound so much like me? That's my splitting image. When did I send someone to deliver a message... Hoho, how embarrassing~"
Haruaki ignored Taizou's incomprehensible ramblings behind him.
"I don't know anyone who looks like that either... What did he say?"
"He wanted you to go immediately to the drinking fountain next to the sports ground."
"No idea, he just said it was urgent. Well then, I've delivered the message."
Since it was about something urgent, Haruaki could not ignore the message. Covering up the lunchbox he was about to eat, he stood up—only to find Taizou and Kana's gazing at him with a serious expression.
"Isn't this a bad situation? Taicchi~"
"Yeah, really bad... To be singled out by a handsome dude, unmistakably, this must be—"
" "A love confession!" "
The two clenched their fists with excitement.
"Take care! Remember to report back with the juicy details! If possible, take a photo too!"
"Watch your ass carefully!"
Haruaki glared at the two. However—
"A-Absolutely ridiculous! T-That kind of thing—I forbid it absolutely! Even imagining it is forbidden!"
For some reason, Kirika seemed even more outraged than Haruaki as she scolded the two, her face flushed red.
Changing into outdoor shoes, Haruaki came to a corner of the sports ground. A concrete drinking fountain mainly used by the sports clubs. Since it was a fair distance from the school building, hardly anyone ever came here except during club activities.
"There's no one... To think he called me out here deliberately."
Let's wait a while longer—His back leaning against the wire fencing, Haruaki surveyed his surroundings. There were no security guards visible on the sports ground. Probably because the chances of someone intruding or escaping from such a visually unobstructed location was quite low, the guards were stationed somewhere else... Either that or they were monitoring from a secluded position.
In the center of the sports ground, a group of lively boys were currently playing soccer. The noise sounded quite distant, like listening to outside bustling from a library window. For some reason, Haruaki felt a sense of loneliness as he watched.
Blankly staring out at the distant scene, just as he was thinking to himself "That goalie sure doesn't get much action~"—
Despite there being no one around him, he heard a voice.
"Greetings, human. Are you still searching for me?"
Instantly clearing his thoughts, Haruaki suddenly backed off from the fence and turned around.
Standing on the other side of the fence was, obviously—
"If you were to mistake me for anyone else, you deserve to have your eyes gouged out and replaced with glass beads, human."
Just as usual, her voice sounded like a natural phenomenon while her face was as exquisite as an artificial work of art. With stiff movements evocative of noisily creaking joints, she lifted an arm and entwined her slender porcelain fingers around the fencing.
The fence was roughly three meters tall with barbed wire on top. Impossible to climb. The only way to reach her was through words.
"Why are you—I get it now... You were the one who sent me the message? Grabbing an unrelated student, then asking him to 'Help me deliver a message to someone in Yachi's class,' is that it?"
A telephone game. All it took was passing the message through two people and the original speaker would be unknown.
"For a foolish human, you understand rather quickly."
"Calling me out here, what are your intentions?"
"Don't be so confrontational. I arranged this because it would be impossible to converse calmly if those other two kin are present. I won't harm you, human."
"Converse eh... Very well, I happen to have things to tell you too. Even though I had hoped you would appear earlier before lunch time."
"Regarding this matter, human. Listen carefully with those ears of yours, no better than hollow logs."
"Indeed, I do absorb the life force of humans, but that does not endanger their lives—They will recover in a matter of days. So please, could you treat this as a flu epidemic and turn a blind eye?"
Haruaki frowned. By this point, why would she say something like that?
As if reading the doubt in his mind—
"Because that silver kin doesn't seem like she will give up and also the guards roaming about today. Though they present no significant threat, it is still quite troublesome—which is why I have come to confirm with you, would you give up and leave me alone?"
Sovereignty spoke with calm composure.
As usual, it was impossible to discern her intentions. Only one fact was clear, that she still intended to continue sucking life force within the school.
But that was immaterial. Whether or not she should be left alone was not the fundamental issue.
"My answer is... You have misunderstood. Simply that."
Those inorganic eyes of hers displayed signs of doubt. Haruaki looked her straight in the face. Indeed—weren't they searching for her in order to inform her of this?
"Your curse can be lifted. In fact, my family has always been helping out in this area. Both the silver-haired little lady and the glasses girl are living at my house, gradually lifting their curses."
"You have misunderstood. Shiraho's father did not send you to the superintendent to have you destroyed. Naturally, we do not intend to destroy you either. Shiraho wants to see you again and has been looking for you. She wants to apologize for having failed to stop her father. So—there is no need for you to escape. Running around and affecting others with your curse like this helps no one."
Indeed, this was for the sake of Sovereignty herself.
"Would you like to come to my home to lift your curse? I don't think you enjoy draining people of their life force, right? Your curse might be a bit more troublesome, so perhaps it cannot be treated the same way as the others—but I promise you, we will surely do everything we can to lift your curse in the most painless manner possible. Trust me!"
The few seconds spent waiting for her response felt like eons.
Her slender fingers, white as porcelain, separated from the fencing. Those long lashes of hers fluttered as she blinked. The wind blew and scattered her beautiful hair. Then she straightened her back and spoke:
"Human, I have only one thing to say."
More like a doll than ever,
More emotionless than ever,
More beautiful than ever—
"Curses—Do you truly believe that everyone wishes for their curse to be lifted?"
What did she just say? Haruaki could not comprehend.
During this time, Sovereignty closed her eyes at one point then opened them again and resumed her usual cheerless demeanor.
"If you still don't understand, let me be blunt. I have no intention of going to your place, human."
"W-Why!? Your curse can be lifted! I know that your kind are cursed involuntarily, so you have no wish to harm people with your curse! Tell me why...!"
"I have already spoken. That does not apply to me. Humans are truly foolish."
"Do you really not care about humans? If you really believe you'll be destroyed, I guess you can't help distrusting humans. But please—Shiraho wants to apologize to you. She doesn't want you to harm humans anymore! Of course I feel the same way! Maybe I have no right to say this, but even if you continue doing this, what would you achieve?"
"Who knows? What might happen eh~"
Haruaki clenched his fist so tightly his nails dug into his palm. Why!? Why would this doll not want her curse to be lifted even when she now knew a way to do so...?
(Are you that disappointed with humans? That's just so...)
At this moment.
Behind him on the sports ground, the group of people originally playing soccer were even noisier than before. Apparently some new teammates had joined up with them. Without listening on purpose, Haruaki overheard their conversation—
"Really? Another one!"
"I just took a look, there's a whole crowd gathered!"
"Great, that means I won the bet! Now taking bets on 'more people will faint starting noon onwards,' who else?"
"Me me me! Hehe, thanks!"
Haruaki looked back at Sovereignty in shock.
"Could it be... That you attacked another student before you came here?"
A few seconds later, the reply was—
"—Well, why don't you see for yourself? Human."
In the end, she simply responded with her usual attitude. Then moving away from the fence, still dragging one limping leg, she turned around and started to leave.
Haruaki frantically grabbed the fence. If only these hands were as sharp as swords—gnashing his teeth he made his final protests—
"Why only in this school!? What is your purpose!?"
Looking over her shoulder, she cast him a glance—
Without saying a word, she disappeared before Haruaki's eyes.
He was unable to climb over the fence. Even if he took the long route through the school gates, she would be long gone by then—Furthermore, even if he caught up to her, he had no ability to subdue her superhuman powers by himself.
In any case, he decided to contact Konoha by cellphone first. Although there was a ringing tone, no one picked up. Did she leave it in her desk...? Fear also had no cellphone so there was no easy way to meet up with them. Well then, what should be done—pondering, Haruaki then thought of the fainted student. If all the other bystanders failed to show compassion and the student was still collapsed at the same spot, Haruaki would take it upon himself to carry him or her to the infirmary.
Inquiring the soccer group, he found out the location was apparently the hallway on the first floor in the school building, near the service entrance. And the description of the student was—
The instant he heard, Haruaki immediately sprinted as fast as he could. He had no choice but to run.
Traversing the sports ground he rushed towards the school building.
Panting and out of breath, he entered the hallway through the service entrance and looked around. Beyond the crowd he could spot a figure lying on the floor.
The instant he saw who it was, he felt his heart beat intensely.
His heart which had already been racing from his sprinting—
Haruaki felt as if his heart was jumping out of his chest.
The people at the sports ground had said,
"It was a girl wearing glasses, with two pigtails and an especially impressive bust."
Translator's Notes and References
- Johnny's: A reference to Johnny & Associates, a Japanese talent agency famous for training and promoting groups of male idols.
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