Chapter 4 - Like an Inescapable Curse / "She played Killing Organ"
Even though Haruaki and his group had no idea what was going on, at least it was clear this was no time to be casually attending class. Skipping the lessons in the afternoon, they rushed out of the school, making their way towards the Shiraho address obtained from the health survey earlier. Since the location was in the neighboring town, their first destination was the station.
"Hey, what's going on? Isn't that girl Sovereignty?"
"I don't get it either...! But she's the one depicted in Shiraho's photo, that's absolutely certain!"
"Then Yachi, supposing the person in the photo is 'the true Shiraho,' then naturally there exists someone else as the 'true doll,' right?"
This was obvious, and the most likely candidate was—
Haruaki looked at Fear running beside him. Supposing that was true, had this girl not realized it?
(No... It was also possible.)
He recalled back when Konoha was scrutinizing the mask the superintendent handed over to her. Even cursed tools like her and Fear had no certain method of discerning other cursed tools and only relied on intuition. In that case, through accomplished acting skills, it was possible to deceive them—
"Didn't I mention, there were other minor points of suspicion? Perhaps they may end up being trivial, but I find them bothering."
Having reached the station, Kirika spoke as they went up the stairs. She held down her skirt firmly—in order to prevent others from seeing what was strictly concealed.
"Suspicious points regarding her movements. A student who did not attend class coming to school to search for a doll. Even if we take this for granted, then—Why didn't she visit the superintendent's office as soon as she came to school? Why was she loitering outside the dressmaking room during the lunch break?"
"Uwah! There's this thing blocking my path!"
Haruaki had given Fear the train ticket earlier but then he recalled he had not taught her how to use it. Rescuing Fear who was stuck and struggling in the ticket turnstile, Haruaki nodded to the surprised station staff as they rushed towards the platform, sliding in the train just as it arrived.
"Hoo... Hah... Now that you mention it, Class Rep, that is quite true."
Being one station away, the trip to their destination only offered brief respite to catch their breaths. Perhaps because it was in the middle of the day, the train was rather empty. The trio sat side by side on a bench.
"But don't you find it strange? After all, Shiraho was wearing a uniform on her first day."
"That doll—The doll-like girl was wearing a fluttering outfit, on the other hand."
"You guys did mention that. In that case, it does make the photo the point of inconsistency instead—But then again, let me ask a question. Does anyone know what the doll was wearing when it was first delivered?"
Since no one had opened the case after it was delivered to the superintendent's office, then no one witnessed it. The only person who knew would be Shiraho who saw the doll before it was stuffed into the suitcase.
"But simply wearing casual clothes does not imply she is the doll. Conversely the same."
"Mmm... So, does that mean she dressed the doll in a uniform from the very start? Is that possible?"
The train slowed down. Getting up and grabbing the hanging ring-shaped handhold, Kirika said:
"Hard to say. After some contemplation, my conclusion is—the doll was not wearing clothes when first brought here."
"How would you know?"
"Just a hypothesis. I simply recalled suddenly... During the first term, didn't we have home economics lessons in the dressmaking room? Back then, there was one time I had to enter the preparation room to do something. I remember seeing a female uniform inside there. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be used for a class or left behind as a souvenir by a crafts club alumnus—In any case, uniforms can also be easily obtained in school."
As soon as the train stopped, they rushed out onto the platform.
They had just exited the station when Kirika said "Please wait for me briefly" and ran into a convenience store. Several seconds later, she returned with a map she bought. Confirming the copied address on the map, Haruaki and his group started running again.
"B-But isn't that a little contrived—It's just your own speculation, right?"
"Of course it's just speculation. In addition, finding socks and indoor shoes would also required a certain amount of luck, not to mention a set of underwear... But then again, the lack of underwear isn't so easily seen, so that's not a problem."
Haruaki exclaimed in surprise in his thoughts. Beneath that drenched uniform, what had he seen?
He then recalled several things. Her awkward smile when confessing she did not even have enough money for a cup of juice. If Kirika's hypothesis was correct, then her purse was not simply in a pinch, she was completely penniless instead. Also when exiting the school building after discovering the bronze statue, she was quite sluggish in getting to the front steps. Was she looking for the right size shoes—
The conversation gradually trailed off as they ran as fast as they could. In order to obtain answers—
Finally they arrived. Opposite to their destination was an old fashioned confectionery store. Dumping the map into the trash can in front of the store, Kirika spoke:
"Now that we are here, it'd be useless to agonize over unanswered questions. Let's hurry and get answers directly from the one who actually knows, okay?"
"I agree completely, Kirika. If... Yeah, if our current speculation is correct—I want to question her directly."
Fear bowed her head slightly, expressing her reluctance to accept the speculation.
Haruaki felt the same. If possible, he did not wish to believe. But they had no choice but to confirm.
"The problem is whether she's really here..."
This was a town that was somewhat remote from the city center. Neither residential nor commercial entirely, it felt like people simply built tea houses or laundry stores here and there on whim.
The antique shop building had two stories and seemed to act as both shop and home. The front was divided in half between the shuttered storefront and a normal entryway. The shop's name on the worn out sign was completely unreadable, so it would probably have been futile if they tried to ask for directions using the shop's name.
"Okay, let's go! Press the doorbell! If no one answers, let's crash through the door!"
"Yeah right, not allowed!"
Haruaki pressed down firmly on Fear's head. This little child could not be left unsupervised for even an instant—Once again he was reminded of this fact.
"Although we have no idea what's the situation on the other side, do you really think she'll come out obediently with a press of the doorbell? Even if she's inside, your doing so would be equivalent to screaming at her to flee!"
"Indeed, it would be troublesome if approaching straight from the front causes a commotion. This place is quite conspicuous—Let's go around the back first?"
Mmm—despite whining in protest, Fear did not voice her objections.
Squeezing between walls to make their way to the back, they found a spacious clearing large enough for kids to play baseball. This soft grassland, filled with weeds, must have been cultivated as farmland once. Tall and towering trees surrounded this space like a fence, so there was no need to worry about seen by neighboring residents.
Kirika looked up towards the back of the Shiraho residence.
"Let's clarify our aims. I'm going to state this plainly. It is very likely that the girl you've been treating as Shiraho is actually the true «Sovereignty Perfection Doll»."
"I admit... Indeed that's quite likely."
"As much as I don't want to believe it, the circumstances leave me no choice but to consider the possibility. Seriously—that Cow Tits said something about seeing a boy, isn't that completely off!?"
"But the fact that 'it was a student' is consistent. Regardless, even though we don't understand the whole situation, this does mean that the two of them cooperated to deceive you guys. Don't be surprised if you're attacked on sight, so be careful... Okay, just for the sake of caution, let's enter from the window? Things cannot progress until we start investigating from the home."
Kirika pointed to the window on the second floor's verandah where lowered curtains prevented them from seeing inside. The silver hair bobbed up and down—
"I have no objections."
"Hmm, I guess there's no other way... But how are we getting up there?"
Kirika answered by extending a black belt from her right sleeve—the «Tragic Black River».
"Got it. Thanks. Oh but she's quite heavy, will it be alright? It could break, you know—"
"Y-You! What are you saying!? I-I'm fine, I can jump over this height easily! Rather, I'm sure even if Kirika helped me up there she won't feel burdened or troubled at all, but I just want to save her effort, that's all!"
"Woah, don't be so loud! If you jump and end up wrecking the verandah then we'd really have a problem! We must enter discreetly—"
Or else it would be meaningless—But just as Haruaki was about to finish his sentence...
His words became completely redundant.
They heard the acute sound of something breaking and shattering coming from the interior of the house. Furthermore, it sounded like the source was the room they were looking at. Signs of alarm instantly appeared on everyone's face—
"There's no time to waste on talking—Haruaki, I'm going to jump!"
"Wait... Don't use the princess carry!"
"—«Tragic Black River»!"
Fear picked up Haruaki and leaped, causing the verandah to creak as if about to shatter. Entangling the railing on the verandah with the black belt from her arm, Kirika rose through the air like a bilboquet, performing a somersault in midair and landing on the verandah.
The glass window was not locked. Rushing into the room at once, they were met with the sight of—
It was beyond their understanding.
Completely counter to predictions.
No amount of prediction could have expected this.
On various levels, it was completely mind boggling.
The room was dimly lit. A shattered vase lay on the floorboards in the depths of the room, near two figures.
Sovereignty—or rather, the true Shiraho, her face so exquisite it almost seemed artificial, was suspended with her feet in the air, pressed against the wall. Someone's hand was choking her by the neck. Only now did Haruaki witness for the first time a human expression of suffering on Shiraho's face. The front of her usual outfit was slightly open, revealing a shoulder as white as porcelain.
And the one committing attempted murder against her—
A handsome youth with a feminine face. A strange youth. An inexplicable youth.
He was wearing a short skirt, dressed in a female uniform. His shirt was unbuttoned, exposing a loose and almost falling brassiere as well as a flat chest—
The youth's left hand was strangling Shiraho's throat. The two of them were pressed so closely together, they almost seemed locked in embrace. As for his right hand, it was positioned as if caressing her chin. With a flash, Haruaki witnessed a cold sharp blade emerge from his palm as if cutting open his right hand—
"Not yet, still no good... Still... It's okay... Rather... Please, stop... Stop...!"
The youth bowed his head and kept repeating these words as if about to vomit blood from agonizing sorrow.
Haruaki was the only one who stood in shock. Without seeking to understand the situation, the other two sprang into action.
"Mechanism No.8 crushing type, circular form: «Breaking Wheel of Francia», Curse Calling!"
"«Tragic Black River»!"
The thrown breaking wheel. The extending strangling belt.
Only then did the youth became aware of the intruders, suddenly leaping away from Shiraho. The belt struck his former position while the breaking wheel crashed into the wall behind, cracking it. Shiraho coughed violently and collapsed to the floor.
Fear and Kirika pulled back their weapons. The youth wrapped his arms around himself. Head bowed, the eyes visible beneath his dangling hair displayed a hollow gaze.
"Ah... Ooh... A-Ah... T-Thank you... to you all..."
These words were also incomprehensible.
Fear gripped her retrieved breaking wheel in a stance and glared sternly as she asked:
"—Who are you?"
"Eh... You don't recognize me looking like this...? Well then—"
Whispering, the youth suddenly placed his hands on his chest and moved them around as if groping something.
With a series of brief breaths, in the next instant, his chest began to expand.
"Massaging them makes them bigger... Just like I said..."
Then he stuffed his chest into the mispositioned bra. Grabbing his head with both hands, he tugged at his hair—without tearing it off. Instead, the hair simply extended smoothly.
Standing there was no longer a youth but something with female form.
Up until now, the one Haruaki and the rest had called Sakuramairi Shiraho—
«Sovereignty Perfection Doll».
Her expression was unlike any she had displayed in the past. There was neither the airheaded shyness nor the forced smile. Currently, her face only expressed bottomless gloom and emptiness.
"Shiraho—or rather, you're really Sovereignty... Right? You're actually...! What is going on!?"
"Correct... I am the «Sovereignty Perfection Doll». Perfection is perfect, hence perfection. I am the doll created for the purpose of fulfilling the owner's desires—Since it is impossible to know beforehand the owner's gender, as a doll of perfection it is only natural that I possess functions for accommodating both. Since my original form resembles a human greatly, therefore when I take human form I still retain the taboo ability of gender alteration."
That was how she was created—She explained.
Both a male and a female doll at the same time.
Created only for the purpose of fulfilling human desires—
"That's not what I'm asking you about! What were you doing? Last time when you encouraged me you were lying to me—Were you deceiving me!? Why!?"
Fake Shiraho—Sovereignty trembled slightly. Covering her lowered face with her left palm, she spoke in a slightly hoarse voice:
"Lying... Yes, I deceived you. That is the truth. How rare... To make a friend... But, but...!"
Haruaki did not understand completely, but he could not let himself stand there in shock indefinitely.
"Sovereignty... May I call you that? We won't harm you, so please just tell us the full story. About swapping identities, absorbing life force, as well as what you were doing to her just now..."
She forced herself as if vomiting her words.
"...No. My... curse... does not actually drain life force... W-What I am compelled to do is..."
She turned her head in fright to gaze at the girl sitting collapsed on the floor.
As they gazed at each other, Shiraho called out that name while Sovereignty bent over to hold down her own hand. From her hand, the blade that only emerged halfway earlier began to fully extend with a series of creaking sounds—
"...Ah! It's already... No good... Stop it!"
Sovereignty suddenly turned and ran away from the door in Shiraho's direction, towards the window where Haruaki and the rest had entered.
Faced with the sudden attack, Fear reflexively threw the wheel, but Sovereignty bent herself low and ducked under it. With a hollow expression as if suppressing pain and on the verge of tears, she approached Haruaki who was standing behind Fear.
"Wait, please stop, can't we just talk—"
"Get out of the way... You're in danger if you don't move aside...!"
Haruaki did not even have the to go "Eh?" and ponder.
Sovereignty's bladed right hand was fast approaching like martial arts palm strike. This is bad, I'm definitely gonna be stabbed and it looks painful! Eh? Something is pulling me... "Yachi!" Falling over, he found someone standing in his place, only to have her chest violently violated by that blade—
Sovereignty's eyes wavered for an instant, but then she immediately withdrew her blade from Kirika's chest and rushed out the window.
"K-Kirika! Hang on there!"
Too occupied to chase after Sovereignty, Haruaki frantically rushed over to Kirika's side. The bleeding was very severe due to the blade piercing the center of her chest, most likely injuring her heart—Desperately suppressing the tumultuous thoughts that seemed to almost explode from his skull, Haruaki decided to stop the bleeding first and tore open her uniform.
Only to find her wound regenerating as if time was rewinding—
Counter to the laws of nature, her flesh began to close up. The warm liquid gushing from the long incision was slowly recalled back into the body, granting greater visibility to the throbbing pink hole. Until the wound recovered completely, the exceptional healing ability persisted nonstop—
"Ack... Don't... worry. You forgot? I cannot die, because of this."
"Oh yeah... Now that you mention it, that's right. Because it was too sudden, I went into a panic. But..."
"But it still hurts, right? Kirika, don't speak and rest first."
Kirike wore beneath her clothes a bondage style outfit—«Gimestorante's Love». Cursed with instant death to the wearer upon disrobement, this was a Wathe that healed all external injuries as long as it was worn.
Haruaki had witnessed its effects before. Nevertheless, upon seeing a girl he knew lying on the floor as she bled, he was unable to stop worrying until she recovered. On an emotional level, he could not dispel his unease...
As Haruaki stared unerringly for the wound to heal, Kirika spoke hesitantly:
"Y-Yachi—My wound will finish healing in an instant. Perhaps to you this might not be anything unusual, but... Umm... Personally to me... It felt like someone had stripped off my clothes to peek at my underwear..."
"Eh? Uwah, I'm really sorry!"
With her uniform torn open, vast areas of her skin was exposed, although her breasts were barely covered by the erotic bondage suit. Haruaki frantically turned his gaze away.
"I'm glad that Kirika will be fine... So, you're the real Shiraho? I have many questions for you."
Fear spoke up. Still sitting on the ground, Shiraho looked up at her. After biting her lip for a moment, she quietly said with a seemingly inorganic voice:
"I too, have a question."
"What is it?"
"Will you kill Sovereignty?"
Shiraho's gaze turned to Fear's wheel of torture. Truly ominous, truly frightening, a simple glance was enough to ascertain—That was a tool created for murder, and in actual fact, it had indeed slain numerous victims. A painful mechanism meant to inflict pain.
Fear and Haruaki exchanged glances silently. The answer was obvious and needed no words to explain.
But before these two could say anything in response, as if these few short seconds were unbearable, Shiraho bowed her head and with a weak and trembling voice, pleaded from the depths of her heart—
"I beg you, please don't kill Sovereignty!"
"Hmph, that's a really weird thing for you to say. Even disregarding our opinion for a second, you do remember you were almost killed, right? Wouldn't most people feel fear or hate instead?"
"I don't. Because there are extenuating circumstances."
"...Sovereignty's curse. Just as she said, it does not steal life force from others. That is simply a forced application of her 'normal ability.' The true curse of the Sovereignty Perfection Doll is—"
Shiraho clenched the carpet in her fist.
"«To cause the owner to love her unto death»."
Standing before Shiraho as she sat on the ground, Haruaki extended his hand.
"We won't kill her. I promise you, as a fellow human. Therefore—please tell us the details."
"...I have deceived you all. Except for one thing."
Smack! She swatted away the hand in front of her.
"I hate humans, human. Even if you say it so easily, I do not believe you."
Glared at by her starry eyes, Haruaki shrank back slightly.
"Then let me say it—I won't kill her. As her fellow cursed tool, I promise you. So please tell us the details."
This time it was Fear who extended her hand. With mild surprise, Shiraho stared at her.
"...You really mean it?"
"Yes, I really mean it, human."
Fear grabbed Shiraho's hand forcefully and pulled her to to her feet. Smooth as doll's, hers was a warm human hand.
Shiraho's eyes seemed to be saying—Don't you dare deceive me.
(Ah I see—She really doesn't want that doll to die.)
Fear suddenly thought to herself.
Why doesn't she want someone who almost killed her to die?
Consequently, Fear wondered if the answer lay in one of those terms she was likewise unable to comprehend.
Indeed, the circumstances brought up by Shiraho included something Fear had yet to understand—
—The word known as love.
People were always praising me: "This child is truly as beautiful as a doll!" That was also how my mother doted upon me. On the other hand, my father was apparently uninterested in dolls. Perhaps due to these circumstances, all I can say is, by the time I realized, I had already turned out like this.
Living to this day, I always felt as if I was not human.
When I was a child, my mother once took me to theatrical troupe, to have me learn acting skills.
It was truly simple. After all, dolls were made to imitate people.
I could not muster any enthusiasm. On my end I simply invested minimal effort but somehow the audience were always roused to a commotion. Prodigy. Golden Egg. Future Great Actress. A whole slew of trite titles.
In contrast to the fanaticism around me, my heart gradually froze.
What exactly had they seen? What did these people see that roused them into a commotion? Me as an actress? Or the fictional character I interpreted and conveyed? At the very least, I felt that it was not directed towards myself. If one had to ask why, it was because no one ever noticed what I was thinking about.
To be moved simply by superficially expressed sorrow? How trite.
To be enraptured simply by superficially expressed smiles? How naive.
I was again taken to the theatrical troupe several times after that, but it was utterly inane, so I stopped acting. Even when forcefully shoved onto the stage, I simply stood there motionless. Faced with the surrounding pleas, snarls and tears, all I could think was: How noisy. If you want something that perfectly imitates a human, why not simply prepare a doll?
My mother fell into depression. Apparently she had hoped for her dress-up doll, me, to win the hearts of the entire Japanese audience. As always, my father remained indifferent. Rumors of what happened at the theatrical troupe also spread to school and for some reason, I became hated, ostracized and rejected.
Please leave me alone.
Why approach us on purpose then complain? Why act so high and mighty? Stop looking down on others! Don't think others will suffer your arrogance just because you're pretty! The way you consider yourself different is very aggravating! Etc etc.
I am a doll, you people are humans. Having differences is only natural.
The unchanging environment made me feel helpless and disappointed. I soon became completely jaded.
Henceforth, I hated humans.
Then my mother passed away due to illness. Uninterested in dolls, my father did not interact with me. Even though he managed to get me enrolled into high school, I suppose it was only an act of propriety as a show to society? It simply felt meddlesome to me. My father was uninterested in me, and I was uninterested in humans.
Whenever the human who shared the same roof went out, I took walks inside the shop. I enjoyed the taste of antiques. The taste of objects abandoned by humans gave me a sense of homecoming.
On one occasion, the one who struck up conversation with me was—
A doll. Human-sized, almost mistakable for human from a distance, a truly beautiful doll. Its material was incredibly soft and warm, its joints could move, and the seams could not be discerned without careful examination. It spoke. Then without much change in appearance, it took on human form.
Very incredibly, I did not feel fear. So this was actually possible—I simply accepted the fact.
A doll who was like a human and a human who was like a doll. I felt that we were quite well matched.
"If you continue staying here, you will be sold off. If you wish to become my conversation partner, you could come to my room."
The doll—in a youth's form at the time—smiled sorrowfully:
"I am very glad to know you wish to become my owner. However... It's better if you don't. Because I am cursed."
"Given the current situation, it comes as no shock to me. What will happen?"
"You will fall in love with me."
"My, aren't you confident?"
"No... This is predestined. It will happen. That is the kind of curse I bear."
Sovereignty Perfection Doll began to tell his story.
It all began with the creator's beliefs. The creator believed that the true nature of playing with dolls was rooted in sovereignty. Why did people want dolls? The fundamental answer was—so long as one had a doll in hand, anyone could fulfill their dreams as a sovereign king/prince/queen/princess in a fairy tale. Simply stated, it stemmed from a wish to transform oneself into a perfect human akin to royalty—playing out the fantasy of "an ideal self different from oneself." According to Sovereignty, all playing with dolls originated from that.
The exploits of princes or princesses appearing in stories—namely, romance.
Hence a desire for dolls. One person cannot play out a fairy tale romance alone, hence a desire for dolls. A princess for a prince, and a prince for a princess. The doll's role is to play the part of the romantic partner, the corresponding sovereign queen/princess/king/prince. With that, only the possession of all required elements of a fairy tale romance could stand as proof of a perfect doll. The ability to accommodate all desires of humans existing in fairy tales was exactly the requirement for a doll of perfection.
Consequently, he acquired an appearance that allowed for immersive ecstasy, eyes that generated a sense of being, soft gentle lips for kissing, supple skin for a comforting tight embrace throughout the night, as well as various essential mechanisms.
Not only that—An ending must be prepared for the prince and princess' tragic romance. Having been crowned with the title of perfection, one was obliged to act out the ending of a transient and beautiful romance.
In the end, the creator went mad—That was what Sovereignty said.
Otherwise, a doll that realized love and death simultaneously could not have been created.
"I am equipped with the mechanism called the Killing Organ. This body is designed to conceal countless blades. When the love between the owner and me reaches a critical point, the mechanism is activated autonomously. «Embrace Only Once»—the first and last deadly embrace. That is how the romance terminates."
His emotionless gaze pierced his hand.
"Simply stated, when the owner and I are deeply infatuated with each other, naturally love comes with embrace. After embracing numerous times—Eventually one day, blades will emerge from this body to kill the owner I am embracing. Because this system is very special, no one can control it except for the creator. Even after having obtained human traits from my curse, I cannot use willpower to prevent the blades from manifesting. As soon as the opportunity arises, the blades activates, only retracting when the mission is complete."
What kind of mechanism is that? —Shiraho could not understand.
"Who knows. In any case, this is the system formed by the 'curse,' so I have no idea. When I was just a doll, I suppose there was a device somewhere in my body for measuring love. Who knows if it counted the number of embraces for data—even this I do not know. Similarly, you humans are unable to keep a counter of your own heart beats, right?"
New questions. So you're currently different from before? And what is a curse?
He cast his gaze into the distance as soon as he heard the questions, then began to recount his experiences when he was still a tool.
At the time, he was just a beautiful doll, without the special ability to make the owner surrender to love with complete abandon. Nevertheless, attracted by that beauty, the owners continued to fulfill their dreams, everything went according to the creator's plan, terminating physically with death by the mechanism of «Embrace Only Once». In the instant of death, they would lament and cry out—Why must I die by the hand of such a doll?
"Those people didn't know continued usage would lead to death?"
There was no instruction manual and the Killing Organ only manifested for that single instant. Hence, a rumor soon began to spread, that of a "strange doll whose successive owners were found tragically slain." But the more people sought the doll in spite of the rumors, the more beautiful the doll inexplicably became. Hence, the number of tragedies only increased.
Many people. Many dozens of people.
An unending stream. Whenever the doll entered embrace, it heard painful cries.
You decided this on your own! You dared to deceive me—Such were the victim's dying glares.
"As a result, I was cursed. Cursed—then inflicting the curse of 'causing owners to fall in love unerringly, then murdering them with the Killing Organ without fail' back upon humans. Although the result achieved remained the same... Indeed, perhaps only through the curse did I truly acquire perfection. Because I obtained the power to make humans truly fall in love."
"Before I was cursed, there existed cases where owners might give me away or simply treat me as decoration to be admired from afar. But after the curse, owners were doomed to a single fate. All would approach me with loving intentions. But no matter what kind of love they bore, at the moment of death they would regain their senses to curse me—Before I knew it, I discovered I had gained the ability to take on human form like this."
Saying that, he smiled sorrowfully again.
"Let's end the story of my past at this point... So that's the way it is. This is for your own good. I'm sorry I talked to you in a moment of carelessness, but if you pretend not to have noticed, you can still avoid a fate of death."
"I've been wondering for just now. Why did you speak out to me?"
Faced with this question, he paused for a moment. Then he replied: "Because you looked very lonely."
"...You're not scared that I would be so frightened as to douse you with oil and incinerate you?"
"True, now that you mention it. It was quite risky indeed—Well, I guess I simply wanted to talk to you."
What a carefree doll. At this moment, I realized it had been a long while since I last relaxed my expression like this.
Nevertheless, I felt embarrassed and turned away.
"My room is this way, follow me."
"Eh? Didn't you hear what I told you? If you stay together with me, you will—"
It was fine.
Even that sort of thing was fine.
"It will be fine."
He was the same sort of being, just like me.
With me being a doll, he was the first friend I made, one who was a doll.
So it was going to be fine.
With a matter-of-fact expression, I asked him in turn:
"Can there be romance between dolls?"
However, I ended up falling in love with him.
In other words—
That made me human.
The rays of the setting sun streamed into the living room of the Yachi residence. The room was crowded as never before, with those present being Haruaki, Fear, Kirika, Konoha in pajamas—as well as Shiraho.
Distancing herself from the rest who sat themselves around the table, she was sitting in a corner of the room, knees drawn to her chest, conspicuously establishing a barrier of isolation. All this time while she was recounting how she met Sovereignty, she maintained this posture as she stared at the tatami, moving her lips as if murmuring to herself.
Haruaki bowed down halfway in front of Shiraho to offer her a cup of tea.
"Uh... Here's some tea."
"Aren't you thirsty?"
"Like I said, not needed...!"
She waved her hand impatiently. "Woah!" Haruaki dodged and retreated, then placed the teacup on the tatami by her feet.
"Then I'll leave it here. Just drink it when you want to."
"I'm not going to drink it."
"That's the miraculous thing about tea, you'll find yourself wanting to drink it involuntarily. When you naturally find yourself with nothing to do, or unsure of what to do, you'll find yourself reaching out without conscious intent. Now that is the charm of tea."
As if saying "what utter nonsense," Shiraho turned her face away.
"What a wasteful girl. Doesn't she know the tasty combo of tea and rice crackers?"
"There's no need to force anyone to drink anything."
"Rice crackers aside, tea is truly tasty. Please drink it before it cools off~"
Finding her advice ignored, Konoha slumped her shoulders in dejection.
"Sniff sniff... And to think I carefully selected these tea leaves..."
"This reminds me. Speaking of Konoha and tea—"
"What is it?"
"Seeing Shiraho sitting there with her knees drawn to her chest, it felt somewhat familiar—I remember back when Konoha first arrived, she also did the same thing. No actually, it was even worse... When I was still a little kid, I saw Pops pushing a teacup towards Konoha and ended up with tea splashed all over himself. That sight of him jumping from the scalding tea was truly terrifying..."
"Uwah—! Wah—! How do you still remember that? Please erase it from your memory!"
"Cow Tits has been exposed as a wolf in sheep's clothing? With that kind of past, you are disqualified from enjoying tea and therefore the right to eat rice crackers as well. I'll finish up your share for you."
"This lack of tension, I'm not even sure if it's a good or bad thing... Is this always the atmosphere in this home?"
Her wound completely healed, leaving only a worrying (mostly due to Haruaki) hole in her uniform, Kirika shrugged slightly. Then she swept her gaze towards Shiraho.
"We now understand Sovereignty's curse and how you two met. Then could you tell us what happened next?"
The noisy conversations ceased and everyone sat up properly, gazing at Shiraho unerringly.
"...There are certain things I'm sure Sovereignty would be more informed."
Turning her face to the side, Shiraho resumed her murmuring explanations.
The Sovereign Perfection Doll arrived at the back of a desolate shrine. Sitting down, the doll trembled constantly, shrinking into a ball.
"Ooh... Ah... Hoo...!"
Creak. The sound of the awakening Killing Organ, responsible for taking dozens of lives, could be heard.
The blade in the right hand had emerged completely while the left hand was about to erupt with another shiny blade. There was also an ominous sound of friction coming from around the thigh.
No! No! I must endure. Face rubbing against the floor, clutching the body, tears and saliva flowing, the doll suppressed itself amidst the creaking noises.
But this is so painful. So very painful. Painful enough to go mad.
How did it come to this—Sovereignty thought.
The answer was already clear.
This had happened the same way every time. Like a duty that had been performed for dozens of times already, it was also demanded by the curse. It was simply time for the doll to kill the owner that had fallen in love with it. The doll was always unwilling in the past, and this time, it was likewise unwilling. However, Sovereignty suffered unprecedented pain and felt unprecedented reluctance this time—
Ah yes... Indeed.
Because Sovereignty had also fallen in love with her.
—A dusk-colored curtain, she said.
"Curtain. You see, as the setting sun shines upon it... Hence it is dusk-colored. Hoho, here is the curtain and this place is backstage. After the puppet show, the puppets gather here in secret to chat, a place where no one knows."
You are truly a poet—Sovereignty smiled. Shiraho kissed the doll with a light peck on the cheek.
To Sovereignty's recollection, he had actually taken female form at the time. Occasionally transformed into a girl on whim to converse, Sovereignty's gender became apparently irrelevant to Shiraho as time went on. Whether male or female, Sovereignty was still Sovereignty, that was what she had said.
Shiraho was very beautiful and even more adorable when smiling. Simply chatting to her about mundane things was a very enjoyable experience. She must be displaying what she had never shown to other "humans," sixteen years worth of gentleness, smiles, and all other emotions, offering them all to this doll—me. Her lifetime's worth of love naturally held substantial charm—
Hence Sovereignty had repaid her warmth with a light peck from gentle lips. At the same time, the curse could be felt.
Shiraho was acting in this manner by her own will. No doubt about it. But conversely, everything stemmed from the curse residing in this body. A curse that caused infatuation. Without the curse, would she still act the same way towards me—? There was no way to confirm this difficult question.
Sovereignty only felt that perhaps it was time to speak up. There was no choice but to speak.
"It's almost time."
Through repeated communication, their feelings of love had accumulated and progressed. As their hearts and bodies touched time and again, the result was—«Embrace Only Once». The activation of the Killing Organ. Its time was arriving.
Much earlier than expected. Sovereignty had expected to endure for months or even years, but somehow the pace had quickened several weeks ago. Although it was only a premonition, Sovereignty knew.
"What do you mean by 'I see'...?"
"I mean that I don't mind—even if termination comes with your embrace."
Were these words sincere? Or was it 'an answer compelled by the curse'?
In spite of the ending, she was fine with it.
But Sovereignty was not.
Sovereignty did not want this result—
Hence, the doll did not resist at that time.
"Shiraho! Who were you talking to just now!? I knew it, it must be...!"
"...Don't come in here any time you want!"
They had believed the father to have gone out. The instant he entered the room, Sovereignty had forcefully returned to the form of a doll. But it was futile for the father seemed to have heard the doll's voice clearly.
"I said you wanted this doll with its shady past, so I gave it to you, but it looks like I was wrong...! Rather, buying this thing was a mistake all along! Give it to me!"
Grabbing the massive doll in his arms, he violently swept away Shiraho's hand that was holding it tightly. At the same time, the doll heard his painful coughing.
Although it could have taken human form to resist, the doll did not do so.
Because in that instant, the doll thought—Perhaps this might be a better ending.
If this led to destruction—then at least Shiraho would not be murdered.
Striking her head when being pushed away, Shiraho lay sprawled on the floor with a concussion. But her father did not pay attention and simply left with the doll.
Then Sovereignty was stuffed into a suitcase and taken somewhere.
Shiraho almost never left the house. As for the way her father was acting, clearly he would never tell her where the doll went. Stuffed in a cramped space, Sovereignty thought—So this is goodbye for us—Then several days passed.
However, during this period—
Wondering if the doll had been handed over to the superintendent, Shiraho came to school—The story occurred similarly as the one told by Sovereignty masquerading as Shiraho during the school search two days previously.
"Because I had no intention of going to school, I had thrown out my uniform a long time ago. Left with no choice, I slipped secretly into school to seek that child, only to find a commotion there as soon as I arrived—Then I discovered the fainted student."
"That was the first time we ran into you, right? So you instantly knew the doll was the perpetrator?"
Fear asked. Shiraho answered as she continued to stare at the tatami:
"I had once heard Sovereignty mention that there was a method to impede the curse from acting on the owner."
After a breath's delay—
"By stealing the feelings of love from unrelated people."
"Ah! So... That's how... I see now...!"
Konoha suddenly looked up with realization. Resting her hand against her chest, she murmured as if she figured something out:
"But... Ah yes, I think that means 'accumulated feelings of love' rather than the 'will to love.' Hence the feelings towards the loved one still linger—except with a feeling as if a hole had been opened in my heart... If one were to explain this using the concept of love as a person's source of power, then it is similar in nature to the life force necessary for living. When accumulated feelings of love are drawn out and taken away, fainting as a side effect doesn't seem so surprising now—"
"Konoha? Don't just explain things to yourself over there. If possible, please tell us too."
Haruaki's request caused Konoha to wave her hands frantically.
"Eh... Uh—! Regarding my feelings of love, please allow me to exercise my right to silence. Right now, the important point is that other people's feelings of love has a neutralizing effect on the love between Sovereignty and Shiraho—the countdown of the curse, is that right?"
Casting a disinterested glance at Konoha, Shiraho once again turned her gaze back to the tatami.
"—Correct. Different from the original activation condition, after being cursed, Sovereignty gained the ability to measure the 'love value' between her and the owner and use that as the condition for activating the Killing Organ. In other words, she is constantly absorbing the feelings of love from the owner and measuring them. Since it is absorbed gradually over time, the owner's health is unaffected. Once accumulated beyond a certain threshold, it simply activates the mechanism."
"Eh? But doesn't that mean that if you absorb feelings of love from others, you are accelerating the curse's progress instead?"
"The amount measured refers to the 'feelings of love from the owner,' foolish human. Through absorbing feelings of love from others, it temporarily confuses the curse as to the 'identity of the owner.' That's what I heard."
"Ah, now I see."
Shiraho snorted in derision and continued to explain what had happened the day before yesterday.
Since Sovereignty was responsible for causing the student to faint, Shiraho deduced that she had already escaped and all they needed to do next was meet up. A person like her from outside the school would only raise alarms if discovered, hence Shiraho decided to leave first.
At this moment, Haruaki and the rest had shown up.
Chased into the dressmaking room, the situation had been worsened by Fear asking "You must be the doll, right?" After all, only someone who knew about the situation, namely those working under the superintendent, could have asked such a question.
If these people were to find out that "Sakuramairi Shiraho herself" had appeared and that she was so strongly bonded to the doll that she came to retrieve it, they would naturally conclude that "the doll will return to Shiraho's side." In that case, even if Sovereignty returned, they might end up being separated again. Hence—
"I had no choice but to hide the fact that I am Sakuramairi Shiraho. Just as I desperately pondered how to escape—Sovereignty arrived."
"Pretending to be passing by and discovering the fainted student by chance—According to Class Rep's speculation, the uniform was obtained from the dressmaking preparation room?"
"Apparently so. Just as she happened to find the uniform and took on a female guise, she heard someone's voice about a fluttery dress, causing her to wonder if I had arrived to find her—That was what Sovereignty told me. Later on, she told me that she rushed out in order to find a way to rescue me."
Dressed in a uniform, she was struck with sudden inspiration—Shiraho said.
"If that child decided to start draining feelings of love from others, it was definitely done for the sake of staying together with me. Perhaps I was jumping to conclusions, but that was what I believed. In that case, I had to do everything I could to help her."
"So you went along with our mistake and switched identities. You pretended you were the doll..."
"Simultaneously fulfilling the dual goals of 'hiding the fact you are Sakuramairi Shiraho' and 'having the opportunity to continue absorbing feelings of love.' Now that I think about it, you really did pick a very efficient strategy. And now I understand why the stage had to be set in school—with the fake culprit attracting all the attention, the true culprit lurking in school was free to attack the unwary. Because you never attended school before, simply enrolled in name only, no one had ever seen what you looked like. That was what you took advantage of? But why did you admit yes so readily when asked if you were "only draining life force in this school'?"
In response to Kirika's question, Shiraho turned her gaze towards Konoha.
"...Because the glasses-wearing girl spoke too confidently, indeed I did waver at one point on this account. But attempting to perform absorption outside the school had several drawbacks. First of all, there would be too many witnesses. Also, since the intense feelings of love during puberty are essential to have an effect, it is far too troublesome to look for students in desolate areas out in the streets. The fact that Sovereignty is only doing this in school would likely be discovered eventually even if I hadn't confirmed it—Furthermore, admitting to it would reinforce your impression that 'I' would invade the school every day to drain life force, and as a result, keep Sovereignty safe."
"You thought quite far ahead, it must not have been easy... Speaking of not easy, you even deliberately acted as if you were unable to move your body naturally, I'm amazed you managed it."
Fear spoke helplessly. Just as she pointed out, it was all Shiraho's act to make others think she was a doll. On their way back to the Yachi residence from Shiraho's home, Haruaki was shocked to find her walking so smoothly without any impediment.
"Pretending in front of you people is not different from an acting performance. It's very simple—even though I am not actually very athletic."
Getting over the school walls did take quite a bit of effort—She added with self-deprecation. She explained that it was by pure luck that Sovereignty happened to see her from a window. Haruaki was surprised to find out that Sovereignty had moved the bronze statue down below while looking out the window from the calligraphy classroom.
"Correct, because she once mentioned she could only move dolls within her line of sight. Although that child only spotted me by chance, she was apparently trying to help me escape from school safely by taking part in your operations."
Exhale... Her sigh was filled with an air of exasperation.
"...Fundamentally, she is a good child. Both naive and gentle, she does not have the calculating mind required to deceive you proactively. Hence she never ambushed you from behind and in fear of being caught, she avoided lying as much as possible beyond the minimum required. That child only wished to save me and understand what kind of people you are—what a waste of opportunity. Had her personality been as nasty as mine, I'm sure she would have eliminated you people through forceful methods early on."
Seeing Shiraho's lips contorted in self-torment, Fear snorted dismissively:
"I already know she is a good fellow. I can at least tell she wasn't faking."
Sweeping her glance across Fear once, Shiraho continued.
Using a metaphor that only the two could understand between them, Sovereignty successfully reunited with Shiraho at her room. They then discussed how to proceed and decided to maintain their switched identities to steal feelings of love—Due to Sovereignty's gentle personality, instead of eliminating Haruaki's group, they only continued acting out the deception.
"Proceeding from there, our task was not difficult. If an incident occurred while the imposter, me, had proof of absence, perhaps you would be led to believe someone else was stealing people's feelings of love. Hence I had a message passed along to the human that was safe for me to appear before, in order to use him as my witness."
The unknown boy who passed the message to Haruaki's classmate was Sovereignty in male form. The uniform required to dress as a boy had been acquired beforeheand—Haruaki recalled the homeroom notices when the teacher reminded people to beware of theft inside the school.
"To prevent anyone from interfering with the sports ground meeting, Sovereignty was responsible for keeping watch. During that time, he spotted you."
The target of Shiraho's slanted gaze, naturally, was Konoha.
"If you were to arrive on scene, I might be captured so Sovereignty had no choice but to stop you—Afterwards, the child was convinced you saw your attacker. Because of that, she did not go to school today, deciding to stay home to plan our next move... But the result ended in what you witnessed just now. Even by absorbing other people's feelings of love to impede the curse, she was approaching her limit."
"I see now. But in actual fact, all I saw was a guy's legs..."
Konoha murmured softly. The whole room seemed to suddenly descend into silence.
After a while, Fear stood up. Walking over to Shiraho who was still sitting with her knees against her chest, Fear asked with a stern expression:
"I have something to ask you."
Everything that could be explained had been said already—Shiraho looked up at Fear, conveying her thoughts with a wary expression.
"If you had already heard from her what we talked about, then you should understand that we were not trying to destroy her but to help her lift her curse. Why doesn't she want to lift her curse? Why didn't you ask her to lift her curse? She doesn't want to kill you, and neither do you want to be killed by her, right? I can't think of a single reason why the curse shouldn't be lifted. Once you transfer ownership to Haruaki, the curse will no longer have any effect, hence the curse that had been tormenting you both will disappear. Rather than stealing other people's feelings of love and experimenting with uncertain methods to extend your time, wouldn't it be better to wait for the curse to lift, gradually—"
"You said to lift the curse?"
Shiraho's gaze turned sharp. Precisely because her facial features were so fine and exquisite, she was able to express emotions more directly than anyone. Then she spoke angrily:
"...Is that so? Apparently, you are even more inferior as a tool than Sovereignty."
"W-What did you say!?"
Fear retorted, outraged. Shiraho glared in return as she forced her voice out of her throat:
"From the standpoint of Sovereignty and me—There is no distinction between curse and love! It is simply the bond that exists between us. If the curse were to be lifted or if I were to be Sovereignty's owner no longer, perhaps all that would vanish without a trace. I don't want that! You want me to treat it as just a passing dream? To relegate everything to a curse? Supposing these feelings are all due to the curse... Do you think I can simply abandon them with a simple 'Oh yeah, that's right!" Because—"
"Because, indeed, you are human."
Patting the silver-haired head lightly, Haruaki chimed in. Fear stared at him in puzzlement.
"I finally feel like I can relate to you and Sovereignty's feelings... Fear, it's like this. Human feelings cannot be explained completely with logic. And amongst various inexplicable emotions, the most representative feeling is love."
"...Really? It's so difficult to understand."
"No~ In actual fact, I don't understand either. But I simply feel it—so I can relate to Shiraho's feelings. You shouldn't be so hard on her."
Fear looked up, gazing directly into Haruaki's eyes.
Then she turned her gaze towards Shiraho, bowing her head and said:
"Since that doll 'is acting even more human' than me—perhaps I am indeed an inferior class of tool. I have so many things I don't understand. But I do want to understand them. So... If I said anything that was insensitive to your feelings, I apologize. I'm sorry."
Fear bowed. No one could have expected her to apologize humbly. Shiraho displayed slight shock but as if trying to act unfazed, she immediately resumed her poker face and turned her head away. Perhaps feeling embarrassed, she went "Hmph," took the teacup by her feet and raised it to her lips.
"Oh! Are you feeling awkward from an honest apology? You have lost to the magic of tea's charm!"
Shiraho stared at the teacup. Having drank from it already, there was not much she could do but simply glare momentarily at Haruaki as he smiled, then she finished it.
"...Not tasty at all."
"That's because it cooled off already. Would you like some newly brewed tea? Just now, it felt like you were trying to say: 'You said it would be tasty and got my hopes up, but it ended up short of expectations, how disappointing.'"
"N-No thank you! Know your bounds, human!"
Thud! The empty teacup was placed on the tatami. Her cheeks seemed slightly reddened—Her true personality is more and more exposed! —Haruaki felt happy for some reason.
At this time, Shiraho suddenly looked up towards Fear.
"Sovereignty told me that Fear is a very good person and that she was really happy to be friends with her. But being forced to deceive you pained her deeply. Also—since you must be sad that the glasses-wearing one was harmed, she wished she could apologize to you."
Then Shiraho simply stopped and turned her gaze away, as if saying "Don't mistake this for any special meaning, that's simply what was said."
"I see... So that doll said something like that..."
Fear's grave expression brightened. Definitely, it was what Shiraho meant.**
"No, umm~ In my view, anything that happens to Cow Tits has nothing to do with me. In fact, I think she deserved it! Since she's already recovered, it's completely meaningless. I'm guessing her breasts are most likely filled with emergency nutrients? Hmph, to think she's secretly hoarding her stores for herself. She should share those breasts equally with the entire world!"
"Seriously, there are so many things wrong with what you said I don't even know where to begin!"
As Fear and Konoha began to quarrel, Shiraho watched the room without any personal involvement. As if trying to steer the conversation back on track, Kirika spoke:
"Okay—Yachi, how do we proceed from here? Since Sovereignty's curse is already on the verge of its absolute limit, even if she could suppress it for now, it can't go on indefinitely. Her mind will be consumed with the thought of killing Shiraho. Although Shiraho could stay here for now, it doesn't resolve the fundamental issue. After all, since Wathes maintain connections to their owners to various extents, it is likely that Sovereignty will instinctively seek out her owner's location eventually."
Indeed, their current priorities lay in deciding their next move. Just as Kirika pointed out, they did not know how long they could continuing harboring Shiraho at the Yachi residence. If this did not work, should Shiraho be sent to flee far away somewhere? No, in order to safeguard Shiraho's life, the most simple and certain solution was—
"Please do not kill her."
Indeed, they had already promised her, so that solution was not open either.
In that case, it boiled down to severing the relationship between Shiraho and Sovereignty—Asking her to relinquish her rights of ownership was the only option left. But Shiraho was unwilling because she did not want to abandon their love.
Even if death was the price to pay, she was unwilling to change her stance.
(Then what on earth could be done...?)
An impasse. Every solution seemed to be ruled out.
Just when that seemed to be the situation—
"—I have a plan."
The silver girl spoke as she gazed into the distance.
For some unknown reason, Fear then led Shiraho out of the living room. Kirika and Konoha exchanged gazes in surprise. Then Shiraho immediately returned.
"Uh... What did you two talk about?"
"She only asked me about Sovereignty's Killing Organ. As well as whether it is possible to contact her."
"Is it possible?"
"I bought a pre-paid cellphone for her only yesterday. But since she fled to avoid killing me, she definitely won't pick up my calls. It's possible she might have thrown the phone away already."
Shiraho returned to her old spot, namely, the corner of the room. Fear arrived later than her and began gesturing from the porch.
"Kirika, Cow Tits, I've got something to tell you, come over here."
"What kind of plan is it...?"
"Eh? What about me?"
As for Haruaki, Fear expressionlessly told him:
"You'll be last."
"What is this...? It feels like I'm being left out. Quite uncomfortable."
"Just sit down for now."
The three girls left the living room, leaving Haruaki alone with Shiraho in awkward silence. Adjusting his seat cushion uncomfortably and sipping tea, Haruaki endured roughly ten minutes before the three finally returned. For some reason, Kirika and Konoha narrowed their eyes seriously.
"No other way... I guess this is the only plan."
Konoha glanced at Haruaki to examine his face while displaying a guilty conscience.
"What is going on, you two? What's the great plan—"
"Haruaki, you come over."
Fear stood in the porch as she called out. Finally my turn—Haruaki thought as he walked towards a corner of the porch.
The sun was now setting. The yard, the corridor, everything were now illuminated by a dusk-colored hue.
"What on earth is the plan? Hurry and tell me."
"Hmm... After careful consideration, I am convinced that there is only one thing you need to know."
Naturally, like the rest of the background, the diminutive girl's head of hair appeared to be golden yellow instead of silver.
The golden luster swayed lightly as Fear turned to look back as she walked in front. Then—
"I cannot tell you anything—Except this one point."
Haruaki was unable to understand her. However, Fear's gaze showed that she was serious.
"It's better that you don't know. Or rather, you can't be allowed to know."
"W-What are you talking about? I don't get it. Tell me, okay? There must be something I can help with!"
"Yes. You're helping simply by 'having no clue.' There's more to it, but you don't have to know."
"I can't understand what you're saying! What on earth are you—?"
Haruaki had a feeling like he was abandoned. It felt as if he was being excluded from the developing situation. Why did it have to be like this? —He really wanted to help Shiraho and Sovereignty too.
Was he really being excluded? Because he was a powerless human?
Fear smiled. Her eyes filled with sorrow—As if she was forced to give up something:
"I am a tool of torture. There is only one thing I can do."
"—Hey, you... What are you thinking? Tell me, what the heck is this!?"
Haruaki grabbed Fear by her slender shoulders. Her golden hair shook as a result.
Nevertheless, her gaze did not waver. Staring at Haruaki from an extremely close distance, she simply said a single word—
She lightly clutched Haruaki's hands on her shoulders.
For some reaon, Haruaki felt a sense of warmth from this gesture, as if she was relying on him.
Subsequently, Haruaki could not voice any further objections.
After a quick dinner, the whole group made their way towards the Sakuramairi home beneath the dark night. There was virtually no conversation during the meal and Shiraho did not eat anything.
"Konoha, how is your condition?"
"Oh, don't worry, I'm roughly around 70% recovered. I don't expect any major exertion later either, so there shouldn't be a problem."
Even while they were traveling, that was all that was said. The fact that Konoha was not planning on any major exertion gave Haruaki some reassurance for now.
The whole group stopped in the clearing behind the Sakuramairi residence. There was no one else present and the trees surrounding the location prevented witnesses.
"Then what? Why have we returned here? Isn't it about time you tell me what you people are planning?"
Shiraho did not even try to hide her displeasure. Currently, only Haruaki and her were still in the dark.
Prompted by her question, Fear's silver hair danced.
"Kirika, is it time?"
"Yes... Though I'm not too keen on this. Haruaki-kun, umm... Lend me your hand."
As soon as Konoha gripped his hand, there was a popping sound and a momentary illusion as if her clothing exploded. In a blink of the eye, Haruaki's hand now held a Japanese sword. Sheathed in its black scabbard—the demon blade Muramasa.
"Didn't you say you didn't plan on any major exertion?"
"Well... It's a long story."
The sword spoke hesitantly. Haruaki was struck with a resigned feeling of "fine, do whatever you want." Seeing Konoha in sword form for the first time, Shiraho stared with her eyes wide.
"Okay, let's begin the explanations. Very soon, Sovereignty will be arriving here."
"While you were preparing dinner, I asked Kirika to call the cellphone to contact the doll. I had asked Shiraho for the number earlier."
"...She won't come. For the sake of not killing me—"
"She will. Because what I told her was: 'If you don't come, I will kill Shiraho.'"
The instant he heard Konoha's voice, Haruaki found his body moving against his will.
Twisting Shiraho's arm behind her, he pressed the sword's scabbard against her neck—
"K-Konoha! What are you doing? Stop!"
Haruaki's body was unable to move by his own will. Unable to resist. "Controlling the user's body" was the "ability" Konoha acquired after being cursed rather than the involuntary effect of her curse. Hence, even against Haruaki who was immune to curses, Konoha could still maintain control so long as she wished—
"Oh... Is that so? Ultimately, you ended up deciding that humans are inconsequential, tools. But very regrettably, even if Sovereignty came, it will simply strengthen her wish to kill me. She won't come."
Shiraho did not resist, or perhaps she understood that it was futile for an ordinary person to resist. All she did was display a derisive expression.
"She will definitely come. Even at the risk of being killed, so long as your life is being threatened, she will come... I understand that is the nature of the bond between you, isn't it?"
Fear's words were proven in mere minutes.
Making an appearance beneath the moonlit night—was the silhouette of the berserk doll.
"What are you people... Doing... To Shiraho...!"
Sovereignty's voice trembled. The doll's body was also trembling. Various parts all over its body were convulsing visibly. Soiled by drool, tears and dirt, its face displayed murderous intent brought by the curse, a sense of emptiness that transcended exhaustion, as well as pure rage—
"Exactly as what was said on the phone. We decided to destroy you to resolve the matter because it'd be too troublesome otherwise. This girl here was the bait for this purpose."
"—That's not what you promised! Didn't you say that you won't destroy Sovereignty!?"
Greatly alarmed, Shiraho began to struggle in earnest. But the human restraining her—in other words, Haruaki's body, completely refused to budge. Likewise, the Japanese sword against her throat remained immobile.
"Fear, what are... you doing? ...Konoha, hey, Konoha! Are you girls for real? Stop this joke now, I absolutely forbid it!"
Was this the case? Because there was no way to save both of them, they are making do with saving one person? For the sake of that one person, the other must be sacrificed? People's lives are not supposed to be ranked when saving them! It's not like choosing between a tool and a human! This kind of thing... This kind of thing—Absolutely—!
"Yachi, I understand how you feel, but this is the only way. Sorry!"
Kirika stood in her uniform beside Fear, the «Tragic Black River» dangling from her sleeve.
"Even you, Class Rep!? Wait a minute, are you all really okay with this? Hold on! ..."
His words landed on deaf ears.
The doll took a step forward. Its body had sprouted many sharp blades. Right hand, left hand, shins, thighs, hips, shoulders, chest—popping out like folded knives, bearing dozens of centimeters of killing intent. These were all positioned on the front side of the body, to realize the embrace of termination.
It went without saying that Sovereignty's school uniform had been ripped open by these lustrous objects born from within. Beneath these clothes, no better than rags now, two asymmetric bulges were seen on the chest, mismatched in size for some reason.
"You look quite broken already. I can see quite a few of these obscene looking things poking out. Are you going to grow more of them? Also, you can't even tell if you're male or female anymore, right? What an unsightly body you have there."
Fear sneered at Sovereignty's body. Forced to submit in a sitting position on the ground, Shiraho gnashed her teeth as though doing it in the moaning doll's stead.
"Guwuu... Ahhh, ah...!"
"Oh? You want to embrace Shiraho and the impulse to kill her is unbearable? I understand, I really do. She is very pretty, her beauty is otherworldly. Indeed, I'd like to kill her too."
"Hohoho... Ahahaha! Let me announce my name—I am the «Fear-in-Cube»!"
Fear took out the Rubik's cube and transformed it to emulate her true form. As the chain of cubes extended from her right hand, the steel cube dropped by her feet. The heavy and blunt sound effect added greatly to the dramatic entrance.
"I don't know if you've killed dozens or hundreds, but... Ha! You're still too inexperienced! I am the one who has slaughtered tens of thousands! Because I was created for the purpose of murder! The sadist capable of inflicting all forms of torture and execution! Your embrace is but child's play in my eyes. My embrace represents the scattering of human flesh, my rhythmic movements represent penetration, my peristalsis represents crushing and severing, my caress represents strangulation. Come seek my guidance, doll! I can show you ways dozens of times more effective in making people lose themselves in rapturous delight!"
"W-What is she talking about!? This girl, she—hasn't gone mad again, has she? Hey Konoha, now is not the time to be doing this! She must be stopped immediately! Give my body back to me—Konoha!"
The sword did not respond. Haruaki felt a chill down his spine as he thought—There was a reason for this show of force and explained this reluctant compromise and Fear's berserk appearance. Similar circumstances. Oh no, clearly she had endured past that! Clearly she should have overcome it! But why again—
"Konoha! Damn it, Fear, stop! Calm down!"
"Haha, how noisy on the side over there. So here is the conclusion... I will now destroy you, relishing in your destruction, then I will proceed to kill Shiraho who has outlived her usefulness! Because I am the killing tool and her beauty makes her worthy to be my victim! Whether princesses or housemaids, I have personally killed both in the past, but none of them can compare to her! Oh how I truly look forward to it, the sight of her face twisted in ugliness, tearfully screaming for mercy, dying with incontinence!"
Haruaki was rendered speechless. In contrast, the other side also turned into a tool, screaming with full force.
"Ahhh... Ahhhhhh... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Never, I will never ever let you do that! I absolutely... will not... let you... kill... Shiraho! I won't... allow—!"
Sovereignty took a great leap. Twisting in pain like a snake—
New sharp blades sprouted from the upper arms. Then between the fingers, on the flanks, arms—silver-white luster rose up successively.
A series of grinding noises could be heard.
Crish crish crish crish crish crish crish crish crish crish crish crish.
The unending noises sounded almost rhythmic. Indeed, right now in this place, performing a symphony of sounds akin to screams was—
The Killing Organ.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! I won't.. let you... Won't let... you... So... You will die——!"
"Kirika! It's coming, don't die on me!"
"Very regrettably, dying is quite difficult for me. You should be careful yourself, Fear-kun!"
Consumed with rage, the doll charged forward.
In contrast to the rusty grinding sounds, the sharp blades accompanying the song displayed no hesitation at all.
Go on and desire! What do you desire? Anything is fine.
Because in Fear's heart, the ominous and terrifying existence was no longer—
"Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator», Curse Calling!"
The cube transformed into a spinning drill. Sovereignty was already closing in head on. There was no mistaking the doll's unskilled movements for nothing but the speed of a rampaging beast. With no sense of self remaining in Sovereignty's expression, one could not help but wonder if the doll actually put in any thought before acting.
Without using any pretermined moves, Sovereignty simply swung the blades on the palms, arms and legs instinctively. Due to the haphazard nature of the attacks, Fear could not predict the blades' trajectories and could only manage by deflecting the attacks with the drill.
"Oh my, is this really okay? Compared to the the evilness of this drill, don't you find your blades completely outclassed? Why don't just give up obediently and let me drill you—Naturally, Shiraho is next after you."
"...! No... I absolutely won't allow..."
"Talk is cheap."
The doll's arm, postured as if executing a lariat, swung out along with the blades but was blocked by the drill. Immediately, the doll followed up with an attack from a knee equipped with a sharp popup blade. Fear retreated in response. Just as Sovereignty advanced in pursuit—
"Is this really okay, doll? To ignore me completely."
A jet black belt entangled the doll's body. In order to avoid getting swept up in the fight, Kirika had kept her distance and was controlling the «Tragic Black River» from afar. Skillfully avoiding Sovereignty's blades, the belt tied up the doll's body like vines creeping over a tree. Seizing this chance while the doll's movements were stopped, Fear stepped forward, pulling back the drill in her hand—
"Sovereignty! Oh no... Stop this immediately, I beg you, please stop—!"
Shiraho screamed. Ignoring her, Fear thrust the drill forward.
However, after piercing the uniform, the drill bit halted only after embedding itself millimeters into the one-sided bosom.
"Hoho, killing in one move would be too uninteresting. So let me slowly open up holes in your body? Let's start with this breast, but seeing as it can change in size, it might be a bit pointless... Hmm, then I'll drill Shiraho's chest instead, it'll be more fun that way. Which do you prefer? Being drilled or watching others getting drilled? As for me, both are—"
"Ooh... Ah... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"
Crish crish crish. The organ played new music. More blades appeared from the doll's body and severed Kirika's belt, allowing Sovereignty to struggle free.
"Tsk... Don't worry, this belt can continue to extend. However—this has become a bit tricky."
Watching Sovereignty's increase in blades, Kirika murmured softly with a solemn expression. The doll stared at Fear with a hollow gaze.
"If you dare do anything to Shiraho, I won't forgive you...!"
"Tsk—Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern», Curse Calling!"
The drill transformed into an iron club. Although its tip was shorter compared to the drill's, the club looked equally menacing. Almost large enough to hide a small child was the sphere covered in spikes—namely, the morningstar.
Twisting her hips in the manner of the sport on television known as baseball, Fear swept the wrecking ball horizontally towards the doll. This occurred just as the doll was pouncing for an attack. Sovereignty blocked the spiked ball using the blades all over its body, but was blown away by the difference in weight.
Fear could hear Shiraho scream. Yes, that's right, scream and cry as much as you can!
Just as Fear was thinking that, a series of loud noises shook her eardrums. Looking in the direction where Sovereignty was sent flying, the trees that surrounded the clearing—several of them had fallen with astounding impact.
"I hold sovereignty over every doll—Those bearing visual semblance, listen and show proof of your worship. Obey. Obey. Obey!"
"...? Ah, I see, those puppet minions again!"
This was what Sovereignty had secretly done back in the dressmaking classroom back when she was taking Shiraho's identity. The manifestation of sovereignty granted by the curse. By chopping down trees here, Sovereignty forcibly created "tools resembling humans in form."
A trunk and two branches for arms, as well as lower limbs fashioned with a slice from Sovereignty's blades. Crudely designed in this manner, two wooden puppets began moving with the sound of unnatural joints.
Apparently tasked with the elimination of interlopers, their target was Kirika. While she was occupied with tying down one tree with her belt, the other one approached her. By the time she turned to evade as she realized in alarm, it was too late. The puppet closed in and pierced her shoulder with its sharp hand. As vivid red droplets fell, Kirika bit her lower lip and distanced herself.
"Class Rep...! Konoha, go over and help her, come on!"
Fear could hear Haruaki's anxious voice. Yes, you should act this way too. Just act this way.
In any case, Kirika's belt was unsuited to handling these kinds of opponents. Fear had to do something.
Fear once again swung the morningstar to smash away Sovereignty who still had not learned its lesson regarding weight. Rushing forward to support Kirika, Fear smashed the wood using the iron ball, easily wrecking the two trees that were attacking Kirika.
"Sigh~ Too easy! Too easy! Sovereignty Perfection Doll, did you really think that these puppets could help you? Do you still believe that after witnessing the power of this black iron? So ludicrous I can't even laugh out loud. Although only the strong can wield this «Morgenstern», it can be considered the amazing progenitor of sadism. With but a swing, human flesh flies and scatters with a 'smack!' I just love swinging it at the faces of beautiful women. Indeed, for a beauty like Shiraho, her face will instantly be twisted into ugliness, trite tears shall fall, spikes will bury into her snow-white skin—Smack! Ahahahahahahaha!"
She found Haruaki furrowing his brow slightly.
Yeah—It's almost time for him to realize. But please, just a little while longer.
This was still not enough.
"Oooooh, ooooooooh, ooooooooh buwooooooyaaaaaaa!"
Faced with Sovereignty's incoming attack, Fear deliberately swung the iron ball with less force.
Letting the iron ball come to a rest on the blades of the doll's body, Fear gazed gently at the sight as she thought to herself—
Are you holding onto that thing because of a death wish? Who knows, in the next instant, it might not be an iron ball anymore!
"Mechanism No.18 stretching type, framing form: «The Duke of Exeter's Daughter» , Curse Calling!"
The wrecking ball transformed into a stable pedestal with a rectangular frame upright above it. Despite the lack of intimidating qualities like blades or spikes, it was still without a doubt a torture tool for inflicting pain.
On the top and bottom edges of the frame were what appeared to be crossbeams. Extending from the left and right ends of these beams were simply ordinary chains unlike the chain of cubes. Rattling noisily as they moved, the chains restrained Sovereignty's four limbs using the iron rings on their ends.
Then—the beams moved within the frame. The top beam was raised while the bottom one was lowered. Naturally, bound by the chains, Sovereignty's body was stretched vertically as a result.
"Ah... Ooh, gah..."
"How does the rack feel? Sovereignty Perfection Doll. On further thought, even though you're named the doll of perfection, I find your height a little too short. Let me help stretch you taller with this device—Until your arms and legs and pulled off! Ahahaha!"
Bound within the frame, suspended in midair, Sovereignty was immobilized. Moaning like a wild beast, all the doll could do was shake its body pointlessly.
The chains rattled noisily. The numerous extended sharp blades reflected the light from the starlit night. From gaps in the torn uniform, one could watch large droplets of sweat gliding down as if slowly licking the skin. Tied to the rack was Hermaphroditus—the doll who emulated him. Fear examined him seriously.
(Is now the right time?)
She had to be prudent and not misjudge the timing.
"Sovereignty... Ahhh, stop it, hurry and stop this!"
Fear confirmed the source of the voice. All in tears, Shiraho was acting more human than she had ever been.
"I beg you...! Kill me, kill me instead! I've had enough of this—so please don't kill Sovereignty! Please, I beg you... I beg you—!"
Shiraho struggled and twisted her body violently. Standing over her, Haruaki watched with an expression of mixed feelings. It went without saying, the Japanese controlling his body would not allow her to escape.
Fear slowly walked up to Sovereignty as the doll remained suspended on the rack.
"What, is this it? Is this really all you've got? Oh look, see how Shiraho is crying? How should I put this? It really arouses my desire."
"Gwuuuuu... Ahhhh... Guaaaaaaaaaah!"
More came out—additional parts of the Killing Organ poked out of the doll's body. By this point, Sovereignty's appearance resembled a mountain of swords.
Sovereignty swiveled its wrists that were restrained by the iron rings, producing an unpleasant bone-scraping sound. The blades protruding from the palms made contact with the iron rings repeatedly as a result of the forceful rotations. Finally, the rings yielded to the impacts of the sharp blades. As the wrists struggled free from the iron rings, the doll recovered freedom in its upper body. Then swinging the blades wildly at the foot restraints, Sovereignty released the shackles.
Fear exclaimed in admiration as she returned the rack to cube form and withdrew it back to her hand.
Collapsed on its knees, Sovereignty immediately stood up.
Its breathing irregular, its eyes displayed turbidity, its limbs convulsing.
It felt like Sovereignty was reaching its limits.
Then it was about time to reach a conclusion.
For this purpose, it was necessary to capture the doll like just now. Although Sovereignty had wholly lost all sense of self, the previous move should have raised its wariness. A simple trap like the one previous probably would not work again.
In that case, preparing a more complicated trap will do.
Preparations for that were already in place.
"Hoho, you're really trying hard. So how about I give you a chance?"
The cube on the end of the chain transformed back into the Rubik's cube. Grabbing it—Fear then tossed it far far away, over Sovereignty's head, all the way in the distance behind the doll. The piece of plastic landed on the ground with a thud.
Fear stretched out her empty hands—
"Okay, I am completely unarmed now! Come at me with everything you've got! Because you're too weak, I am taking pity on you. Don't worry, I can't possibly die from that half-baked embrace of yours. To me, your embrace is pretty much the same as an iron maiden's, amounting to a mere thirty-second of my being! Even if you can prepare thirty-two times more blades than now, I don't think you can still defeat me! Okay, let's go!"
Who knew if Sovereignty actually heard.
In any case, the doll approached after roaring like a wild beast.
What exactly is going through Sovereignty's mind? Fear suddenly wondered.
Compelled by the curse to kill Shiraho, was Sovereignty consumed with eliminating me who is obstructing the murderous act? Or perhaps, for the sake of protecting its loved one, Sovereignty could not forgive me for wanting to to harm Shiraho—
(Am I feeling jealous...)
Sovereignty was mere meters away. With just a few more steps, Fear would enter the Killing Organ's range.
And then the act of «Embrace Only Once» would be realized—the end of a love story between a doll and a human.
(The one you wish to embrace shouldn't be me, right?)
Fear bent down and reached out with both hands as if in anticipation—
"Kirika, I'm entrusting my other self to you!"
As indicated by their exchange—The Rubik's cube, which had been tossed far away, was thrown back after Kirika's «Tragic Black River» retrieved it. They had prepared this plan beforehand for this moment. It needed to be said that this method was completely cliched, but against an almost unconscious doll, it was more than sufficient.
The thrown toy was released from the belt and flew almost touching the ground. Catching with one hand the toy as it flew between the doll's legs, Fear swiftly activated the emulation cube with only an instant to spare. Using her foot to push the cube forward beneath Sovereignty's crotch, Fear performed a backflip using the momentum—for Sovereignty was almost close enough to be breathing down her back—and evaded the blades in this manner. Before the doll could take another step—
"Mechanism No.9 capturing type, spinning form: «Inquisitional Wheel», Curse Calling!"
The cube transformed into a massive wheel, capturing Sovereignty who was positioned just above it.
This wheel was even bigger than the «Breaking Wheel of Francia» and resembled a waterwheel in appearance. Stored in various parts of the wheel were hand and foot shackles. This was a device for making the victim one with the edge of the wheel, completely depriving the victim of all freedom. Once captured, none could escape. Beatings, trials by water or by fire, or simply draining stamina by turning the wheel, myriad possibilities could be inflicted upon the immobilized victim.
However, what needed to be done now was different from all harsh punishments in the past—
"Stop it... Stop it... Stop it! I beg you to stop, please, I am willing to do anything, everything..."
Shiraho's voice had become no different from the screams of nightmares.
Sovereignty reacted the same way as previously when captured by the rack... No, the doll struggled even more intensely. Drooling, twisting that slender waist violently, the doll tried harder to arch its back forward. The blades on the snow-white thighs rattled as they knocked against one another.
"What now? Sovereignty Perfection Doll! Is this everything you've got? Is this really the very end? Is this really okay? You do know if this continues I am going to kill Shiraho, right! I will kill your most beloved woman! If you don't give it all you've got right now, Shiraho is a lost cause! And you won't be able to kill her! Shiraho will die a worthless death! Don't you hate this? You don't want this, right? Of course not!"
"No... No... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
Sovereignty once again swiveled its wrists by force. But this time, the shackles were not mobile like those of the rack and were therefore most secure, able to last longer. On the other hand, one would worry that the doll's arms might break first.
Crish crish. Crish crish.
The noise continued. Most likely, it was the final—
"Then don't you be stingy! Awaken all curses in your body right now! Summon all the possibilities existing in your body for killing a certain someone! Brandish all the sharp blades hidden in your body! If you adore Shiraho and truly love her, if that is said to be the curse—then show everything to me!"
The instant these words reached the doll's ears—
Sovereignty's body struggled even more fiercely. Like a ferocious beast, or rather, one in its final death throes.
Clang—out from the position of the doll's heart, a sharp blade extended.
The Killing Organ's melody stopped.
"Is this the end?"
"Is this truly the end!?"
"Oh no... Shira... ho... I'm sor..."
Seeing something shining in the corner of the eye, Fear decided it was time for the finale.
"—Well then, my job is done here!"
Saying that, she turned around.
Then turning towards the overly well-intentioned man who always believed in and watched over her—She smiled and said:
"I'll leave the conclusion to you, Haruaki. You should already know what you have to do, right?"
Of course I know. The only one who didn't—
—Was probably Shiraho who could only emit sounds of shock.
There was no longer any need to restrain her. Probably realizing that Haruaki had figured out the situation, Konoha had already relaxed her control over his body. Their wills united as one, Haruaki sprinted at full speed towards the inquisitional wheel.
Sovereignty was still struggling, trying to get free.
All the blades hidden in the doll's body were out in full force.
The issue was simple. The method to prevent Shiraho from getting killed without destroying Sovereignty—
The only remaining option was "depriving Sovereignty of the means to kill Shiraho."
Hence, there was only one thing to be done. Since Sovereignty was already restrained, there was no need to focus too much concentration. It was as simple as cutting grass.
Gripping the black scabbard with his left hand, Haruaki slid his right hand out in the same motion.
To unsheathe the sword.
A sharp gleam flashed across Sovereignty's body.
With precision fine enough to shave off hairs from the body, the numerous blades were sliced off at skin level.
With that, using Konoha's sword strikes that only destroyed weapons, Sovereignty's Killing Organ was—
Eliminated at the root without a single remnant.
Having regained her freedom, Sovereignty took stumbling steps like a puppet as she approached Shiraho. Shiraho remained sitting on the ground, her face covered in tears.
She did not reply but simply knelt before Shiraho, her expression hidden by her hair. Sovereignty embraced Shiraho's head.
"—I thought... I would never have a chance like this again."
"Yes... That's right."
"I really wanted to hold you tight. Although one might call it a curse, it is truly how I feel and I wanted to embrace you tightly in my arms. But then the Killing Organ started to sprout out—Escaping from the room back then, I was thinking: Oh no, I won't be able to embrace Shiraho again. That was when sorrow began to fill me."
"Yes... I see."
"But now, even if we embrace, you won't be killed anymore. So you are still alive, Shiraho."
"Yes, I am still alive. And so are you."
Shiraho wrapped her arms tightly around Sovereignty in turn.
Haruaki watched this scene from a distance with a petite figure standing by his side.
The unfolding scene was making him a little embarrassed, so he knocked the head beside him with his fist.
"Hey you, why are you hitting me!? I'll curse you!?"
"You... Yeah seriously! I've got so many complaints against you, I don't even know where to start! So I'll just encapsulate everything with that fist just now."
"...Are you referring to our decision not to explain the plan to you? It couldn't be helped. The doll cannot control the Killing Organ voluntarily—that was what Shiraho said. Hence, we had to push Sovereignty to the limit and force her to expose her fully armed state. This was done by keeping Shiraho in his view and making the doll lose control to anger so that the curse's impulse is drawn out."
For this purpose, it was necessary to deceive Sovereignty into thinking Shiraho was in a desperate crisis, even severe enough to make her cry. Naturally, Shiraho could not be let in on the plan as a result. Furthermore, anything that could alert Shiraho to Fear's true intentions had to be prevented—such as a certain excessively kind-hearted person failing to express anxiety or attempt to restrain Fear's violence, or simply foiling the plan because of poor acting skills. Consequently, it was imperative to keep things secret from that particular kind-hearted person.
"Before I figured things out, I was really breaking out in cold sweat. I thought you had... Umm, returned to the way you were again..."
"But you believed in me, which was how you figured it out, right?"
She smiled gently as she replied. For some reason, Haruaki felt a little contemptible.
"However... Partially it was because I felt that you were provoking Sovereignty in an over the top manner. Seriously, why did you have to deliberately make yourself the villain?"
"I am a cursed torture tool, long accustomed to being hated by others."
Fear gazed into the distance as she spoke, so Haruaki knocked her another one on the head. This time, it was only a light tap.
Fear did not complain.
Head bowed down as she examined her body, Kirika approached and said:
"This uniform is a writeoff. What an unexpected expense. Though that said, it's a lot better than last time."
"Last time? Right, last time it was your casual clothes that were ruined... By the way, is your injury okay?"
"It's healed already. That aside, are you okay, Konoha-kun? You've been silent from a while back."
"U-Urghhh... Eh? Ah, excuse me! I'm a little nauseous from accidentally catching a glimpse of your blood, Ueno-san, so right now... B-But I'm already fine!"
After that, Kirika and Konoha apologized to Haruaki independently even though he no longer minded. After he told the two girls that, they both displayed relieved expressions.
Seeing Shiraho and Sovereignty still embraced together, Haruaki asked for Konoha's opinion:
"So umm, I'm simply curious. What do you think will happen to them from here on?"
"Well... The curse of 'falling in love together with the owner, then activating the Killing Organ and embracing the owner unto death' still remains, except that the Killing Organ is no more. So, uh—"
"'Embracing each other in love'—I guess that's basically the case. Indeed, the urge continues to linger in my body, except that 'wanting to kill' has been replaced by 'wanting to hug.'"
Sovereignty looked up and spoke. Was it because her desire had been fulfilled? Her expression seemed quite refreshed.
"Currently things have calmed by the curse's desire will probably revive. Because the owner remains the same..."
"Just have a hug every time you feel the urge, doesn't that work? No problem."
Shiraho was the one who pointed out the truth instead. Simply stated, Sovereignty was now akin to being afflicted with the "Hug Shiraho Poison."
"However—There are still some things I don't understand. Right now things are fine because the Killing Organ is gone, but as time passes, perhaps the nature of the curse might change. If it changes to a compulsion to kill Shiraho using methods apart from the Killing Organ, then..."
Indeed, Sovereignty's worry was inevitable. No one knew what could happen in the future.
Too obscure to predict.
Too complicated to understand.
Too strange for relief.
This was the future binding them—the shakles called a curse.
The words to break these shackles were so clear, innocent and high-minded.
"—Don't make me laugh."
Shiraho glared severely at the lover whose reunion came after such tribulation.
Although her lover's body was injured all over, the harmful sharpness remained no longer.
No curse was impossible to lift.
Looking only at the lover devoid of sharp blades, Shiraho continued to declare clearly:
"You are just an ordinary doll now and hence only an ordinary human. I am not going to be killed by someone like you. When the time comes, I will wake you up with a punch."
While delivering this speech, the emotions expressed in Shiraho's face no longer resembled those of a doll's. Consequently, Shiraho was also an ordinary human. Weak, strong, fragile, sincere, full of contradictions—But precisely because of that, Haruaki and the rest were relieved to watch from afar this human expression. Naturally, Sovereignty was greatly surprised to witness Shiraho's behavior up close.
But it was probably not limited to surprise.
These two, whose positions were originally diametrically opposed, now stood on equal ground without precedent.
Shiraho reprimanded him with all her strength: Don't say anything discouraging.
It must have been exceptionally uplifting.
Consequently, the human-doll gazed into the determined eyes of the doll-human.
"I see... I'm not alone."
Sovereignty smiled as if bidding farewell to gloom.
Then came personal time for the two of them. After a while, Shiraho pressed her face against Sovereignty's—in other words, to avoid letting Haruaki and the rest see her expression as she whispered:
"...So, about that thing you once mentioned, I don't think we need it anymore?"
Simply from those words, Sovereignty understood what she meant. After displaying a surprised expression momentarily—
"That's... right. But are you okay with this, Shiraho?"
"Like I said, I don't need that thing. I don't know the details but you should return it... Just like I said just now, I won't let you kill me. So things are fine even without that thing."
Shiraho displayed a subtly angry expression. Seeing that, her lover also relaxed her expression and said:
"Well then let's do it. Hmm, I also have a reason to return it in person."
Then Sovereignty turned towards Haruaki and the rest of the group who had no idea what they were talking about.
"I have a request, could you come over?"
"If I can help in any way, please tell me."
"Yeah, but rather than asking you... More correctly, I'd like to ask Katana-san over there."
"Me? What's the matter?"
Letting go of Shiraho gently, Sovereignty pointed to a certain location on her chest. Beneath her tattered clothing, snow-white skin was exposed. As Haruaki shifted his gaze away guiltily, Fear, Kirika and Shiraho all narrowed their eyes at the sight.
"Underneath this spot is an object that resembles a card. A few decades ago when I was still in Europe, a strange man decided on his own to insert it into my body."
Haruaki recalled the cursed axe wielded by the person from the organization that targeted Fear—The Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion. A disk had been found inside that axe.
"Could this also be... An Indulgence Disk? Does it look flat and smooth like this with corners?"
Fear frantically gestured with her fingers to draw a rectangle.
"Yeah, just like that. Black and slim."
"What is going on? Weren't the Disks all taken by those people from the Knights Dominion, Kirika?"
Kirika could only shrug in response.
"I've only heard rumors so I don't know any other details... But even if possession had fallen to other parties, it would not be surprising. The important thing is, in regards to that disk, what do you know? Did that man tell you anything about it?"
"Uh—the man who inserted the card didn't tell me this. But what I know is—it belonged to Fear originally and that it is able to suppress curses to some extent."
Sovereignty looked up and glanced at Fear.
"Recently, the curse-suppressing effect weakened—I'm guessing it probably started after Fear began to be active."
"What did you say...?"
"Ah, no, I don't really know how it works, I'm just guessing here. It's not your fault I became like this, Fear. That's not what I wish to think, which is why I'm telling you now."
Sovereignty shook her head and smiled:
"Any time in the future, if I ever go berserk like earlier and cause any irreparable harm—I would surely try to find an excuse to escape responsibility, like 'A certain someone caused the curse-suppressing effect to weaken.' I don't want to make that kind of excuse to my friends. Besides, since the effect had already weakened, keeping it is meaningless. So that is why I want to return it to Fear."
"You sure? After all, it's true that it does reduce your curse to some extent, right?"
Fear's question was only reasonable. Consequently, Sovereignty turned to look at Shiraho who had made the suggestion. Was it really okay? If the curse could no longer be suppressed, the victim would be Shiraho herself.
However she had already made her decision. Determined not to be killed no matter what happened. Accepting her resolve, Sovereignty's answer was naturally—
"This kind of thing did not belong to me in the first place. Besides—"
Stroking Shiraho's head gently, Sovereignty continued:
"Thinking further on the nature of my curse, it feels like that disk has been an obstacle between us all this time. Although what lies await for us in the future is unknown, I neither want to deceive myself and others nor do I want to shift blame to anyone else. We will work hard together the two of us. This is the way for an ideal romance, right?"
Shiraho half-closed her eyes and murmured softly, a little happy:
"Yes—this kind of romance sounds like a curse."
Because Konoha said she wished to avoid seeing blood, Sovereignty temporarily returned to her doll form. Even so, she did not look too different from a real human. Konoha made a small incision on her chest while Fear inserted her fingers to extract the Indulgence Disk. Although the reason was unknown, this sort of wound did not reflect upon the human form apparently.
This followed by a brief period of peace and quiet.
Konoha rushed into the nearby thicket, making rustling noises as she changed her clothes. Haruaki had wondered if he should assist her, but then again it would not be right for a man to be helping by handing over underwear.
"Anyway, back to the topic, I never expected to find this kind of thing in such a surprising place... Isn't it too much of a coincidence?"
Recalling the disk handed to Fear, Haruaki mutttered. Hearing his comment, Kirika informed him with a disturbed expression:
"...Perhaps it's not entirely by chance. Yachi, do you remember what I told you before?"
"Eh? About what?"
"Although it's just a rumor—Indulgence Disks apparently attract one another. Remember I told you when we captured that woman from the Knight's Dominion?"
"Now that you mention it... I recall something like that."
"Of course, the reasons and principles behind it are unclear. Also, there is the implication of intensity in the description of 'mutual attraction.' Is it a physical attractive force like magnets, or perhaps—attracting one another in fate? If so... Hmm, what's the matter?"
Haruaki recalled. On the first day of the unconscious incidents, Fear had rushed out of the superintendent's office and ran around the school building without any apparent goal—What was it that she said?
Intuition. My subconscious told me this is the direction. I feel like the culprit's presence is summoning me. There's this uneasy feeling flowing from within... Could it be possible that the Indulgence Disk's characteristics were the cause?
"It's possible, but it's not very distinct, right? I'm sure Fear-kun would find it quite strange if she feels like she's being pulled by forces as she runs around all day. Besides, she would have figured out Shiraho and Sovereignty swapped identities even earlier if that was the case. I suppose she simply feels like something is attracting her sometimes, maybe...? Perhaps that kind of property should be categorized as attraction in causality...?"
"Teacher, I think you're not being clear enough so I can't understand. Simply stated, what is it?"
Haruaki raised both arms to surrender. Originally murmuring to herself, Kirika answered simply:
"I don't know either. Based on the property of mutual attraction, various chance events occurred throughout this incident—scattered across the world, one of these Indulgence Disks happened to be present inside Sovereignty by chance, who happened to be purchased and brought to Japan by Shiraho's father by chance, then coincidentally entrusted to the superindendent who is connected to the Yachi family, and now the Disk is returned to Fear by chance—Perhaps the attraction is the reason for all these coincidences. But I'm simply speculating on the spot."
"Hmm—But if we blame everything on the Indulgence Disk, I think we're over thinking things..."
"Of course. This is purely speculation to examine its plausibility, don't take it too seriously."
Hearing her say that, Haruaki decided not give the matter any further thought. After all, he was currently so exhausted he could not think straight.
A voice came from the thicket: "Ah no... Eh? M-My bra is missing...! Am I in big trouble?" Kirika shrugged and said: "I'll go help Konoha-kun for a bit." Then she made her way over. Along the way, she picked up the piece of underwear that had fallen nearby. The instant she witnessed its size, Kirika swayed unsteadily as if from dizziness, but Haruaki pretended not to see.
As for the others—Haruaki turned to survey the surroundings. Sovereignty had returned to human form and was side by side with Shiraho, discussing their future plans. On the other hand, Fear was slightly further away, holding the Indulgence Disk in one hand as she stared blankly at those two together. Haruaki felt concerned.
"What are you doing?"
"Hmm... What should I say, seeing those two—"
At a loss for words, Fear then placed her hand gently on her chest.
"How should I put it? ...There's an indescribable feeling in my heart. Like happiness but also like embarrassment... And a little like jealousy. What is going on?"
"...You are beginning to understand things you never comprehended before."
Haruaki deliberately gave an ambiguous answer, but Fear did not ask any further. Perhaps to a certain extent, she had already realized.
Really—Fear murmured softly as she gave Haruaki a glance.
"Changing the subject, once we get home... Umm, I'll be relying on you."
"O-Of course I mean this!"
Fear waved the card in her hand.
"To be frank, it hurt a bit last time. You shoved it in so violently... You must be gentle this time!"
"Because it's a tight fit for you... I'll try, but I can't guarantee anything."
"G-Give me a guarantee! That kind of thing is so embarrassing, of course a guarantee is required! Every time I scream in pain, I'll demand one rice cracker from you!"
"Are you trying to con me out of rice crackers by screaming in pain as much as you can? What a criminal idea, I can't agree to that!"
Feeling a belt tightening around his neck, Haruaki turned his head in trepidation—
Only to find an expressionless demon.
"What's that about something embarrassing being tight and painful...? Yachi, tell me all about it."
"Class Rep! W-Wait a minute, you'll understand as soon as you listen to me!"
"Oh? You're willing to tell me? Although I was thinking it would be fine even if you insisted on silence—Provided you are very confident in the sturdiness of your neck! Hohohohoho!"
"Laughing in this expressionless manner makes you really scary!"
"Uh... Although I understand what is going on, I'm not going to stop them."
Behind them, Konoha was smiling politely with a complicated expression.
Shiraho and Sovereignty looked at each other in surprise.
Translator's Notes and References
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