Chapter 3 - The Sadist Who Is Nowhere / "A gasper on the bed, or her cute secret"
Building materials crashed down on her body. Out of the way. Out of the way. Hurry and get out of my way!
Manifesting her "nature" all around her body, she straightened her knees and stood up all at once. Accompanied by a cloud of dust, the surrounding timber were all sliced apart and blown away. Involuntarily, her mutterings were mixed with violent intentions.
"What a hindrance! Mere lowly sawdust—how dare such arrogant debris require me to slice them personally...!"
A-A-Ah... That's not right. I... I... The one here is... me.
The situation was too bleak. A dark premonition... Were that truly the ending, Konoha would seek to destroy the world completely. Such terror reawakened her past self for an instant. Using all her effort to sweep this fear aside, Konoha surveyed her surroundings.
There was nothing.
Only a collapsed abandoned house. A mountain of rubble.
Her heart pounded uncontrollably. Wait, no, this can't be true. So please... Definitely!
Using her hand to slice apart the timber by her feet, Konoha desperately looked for signs of Haruaki. Here, he must be here, absolutely unmistakably. So please... Ahhh... Please!
Konoha found a slightly protruding spot. He—was standing there at the time.
"Haruaki-kun, Haruaki-kun! Are you okay? Hey, answer me please!"
Using her hands to dig into the rubble, she kept sweeping debris aside.
But she could not find him.
There were no signs of him anywhere.
What she found was... Beneath the pile of timber, the only discovery was—
Konoha exclaimed in surprise. Indeed, over there was—simply a strange—
Ornamental bull, made of steel.
On further examination, there was a flash of silver under the bull's belly. Then as the chain of cubes connected to the bull was pulled, a silver-haired girl struggled to get up from the space between the bull and its pedestal. Then—
"...Oh, you two are fine? Thank goodness!"
A certain part of the bull opened up. Out emerged the youth whom Konoha had been searching for.
"I'm the one... Who should be saying thank goodness. I was so worried..."
Perhaps drained from the sudden relief, Konoha collapsed and sat down on the pile of rubble.
Haruaki scratched his cheek and said:
"R-Really? I'm sorry I made you worried. But... I'm also glad you're both okay. It goes both ways, I guess?"
We're both not human. How could something trivial like this threaten us? Idiot.
Konoha simply grumbled in her heart and turned her gaze away with displeasure.
Because if she were to continue gazing at his easygoing face... Watching him worry sincerely about tools—
She knew a certain something was going to flow down her cheeks.
"So, what is this? To be suddenly stuffed into this thing, I have no idea what... Is it a cow?"
"Mechanism No.24 roasting type, sculpture form: «Voices of the Brazen Bull». By itself, there's nothing dangerous right now, but once you imprison someone in it and burn firewood underneath, the iron will heat up and roast the person inside. Sealed inside, the screams sound like a bull's bellows. This form was created by referencing an invention dating back to Before Common Era..."
Hmm? —Fear glanced up, looking a little out of it. She must have said all that stuff subconsciously? Her mind was already occupied with other thoughts. Indeed, it was obvious from her expression—definitely certain thoughts of a masochistic nature.
"...Anyway, thanks. I'm saved."
"No need... to thank me."
Fear replied, still in a daze, her gaze moving across the hill of rubble. She simply moved her lips and said:
"Yeah. Say, did you two see what she did in the end?"
"I saw it. She simply vanished. Probably by using some sort of cursed tool's ability?"
"Such as teleportation...? Seriously, what kind of tool would be capable of doing that?"
Moreover, although it was just an abandoned house, one could not underestimate the power displayed by that hammer and butcher's cleaver in its destruction of the building with a single attack. The likelihood of it being a cursed tool was quite considerable.
"Clearly that woman could not be allowed to escape... She'll keep... again..."
Fear clenched her little fist tightly.
As if unable to forgive a certain person and unable to forgive herself as well.
As if gathering all her strength in that fist. In contrast, her gaze seemed weak and gloomy. Nothing but gloom. Haruaki felt that her gaze resembled the one he had once witnessed on a rainy rooftop some time ago.
"By the way... Isn't this cow's expression kind of stupid looking? It really calls into question the creator's aesthetic sense."
Haruaki patted the bull sculpture and grumbled.
Sh-Shut up, moron—! I'm the one who made it, so are you saying my face looks stupid!? I'll curse you!
Haruaki was hoping for this sort of response, but he never heard it no matter how long he waited.
—Switching off the majority of the lights inside, the shop was now her personal domain.
Ningyouhara Kuroe stared at that thing.
Because it was necessary, she had no choice but to do this.
So she reached out with her hand.
Her fingertips felt a sensation they were long accustomed to. Relief—But at the same time, her heart could not help but stir.
Ahhh... In spite of that—There was a need to do this. Hence she focused her gaze on that thing.
What was that thing?
Naturally, Ningyouhara Kuroe already knew the answer.
Several grams in mass. A soft substance. A polymer made of amino acids. Trash. Treasure. One's own appearance. A woman's symbol. A crime of the past. A symbol of life. A god among humans. A vague record of time. A single filament for sorcery. A tool for business. A current necessity. A secret they do not know. And also—
Haruaki, Konoha and Fear continued to search the ruins of the abandoned house for the vanished Alice until late at night, but of course, it was in vain. The next day at dawn—
The news on television reported the discovery of another cube-shaped corpse.
Ahhh—I must do something.
Fear's mind was filled with endless anxiety. By the time she came to her senses, lessons had all ended.
Staring blankly at the ceiling of the noisy classroom, Fear pondered.
Indeed, she felt compelled to act. It was her duty. After all, Alice was doing these things because she wanted to recruit Fear into the Bivorio Family. If Cow Tits was right, the chances of it being terrorism was quite high. If you don't join us, innocent people will be killed one after another! Can you accept that?—That was the message behind it.
—How could I possibly accept this!? That woman is crazy!
But why? Why does that woman want me? What kind of responsibilities will she impose on me in the Family? For the sake of fulfilling her goal, she even needs to go as far as to kill off innocent people?
Furthermore, that woman mentioned something about "figuring out what the victims share in common"... What did that mean? Would the incident really end once they found this point of commonality? Their only source was the news on television, but the news reports did not point out anything in common between the victims. There was very little information at the moment, with only rehashed speculation of a psychopathic murderer or a religious cult's ritual. Naturally, Haruaki and his companions who watched the news together were unable to find any commonality in the victims' information such as their names or occupations.
(Ahhh... I must do something, but there's so little information!)
Was she unsuited to thinking? Fear wondered helplessly. After all, she was a tool and tools did not need to think.
Humans were suited to thinking. Because they lacked power, because they were not tools, they needed to think.
In times like these, she needed that person after all.
There was nothing wrong with asking others for help. Fear had learnt this in the previous incident.
"Fear... Hey, Fear?"
"That's... Right... I guess I'll have to get help again... Things weren't working out in the first place."
Treating Haruaki's calls to her purely as processed information, Fear took her schoolbag and stood up.
"...Hmm? What's the matter, Fear-kun?"
"Kirika... I have a request, could you please help me?"
Kirika's return gaze seemed to carry a certain kind of ambiguity. As if enduring something, she meaninglessly narrowed and widened her eyes every now and then. The rhythm of her breathing was also quite irregular, often mixed with intentional deep breaths.
As she took a deep breath, Kirika slumped her shoulders and turned her gaze away.
"—My apologies. I've already mentioned yesterday, I can't provide any assistance this time."
Fear had expected Kirika's answer, but it still elicited a sense of loneliness. She could not help but feel gloomy, bowing her head dejectedly.
"Hey Fear, I understand how you feel, but please don't make unreasonable requests to her... I'm sorry, Class Rep, don't let it weigh on your mind."
"No... I'm the one who should..."
"Also, umm... It pains me to say this, but we need to go out today as well..."
As soon as Haruaki finished his sentence, Kirika looked up, glancing at him with a gaze conveying a complicated mix of emotions, but then she immediately looked back down again.
"Didn't we agree... it was... just for yesterday...? Fear and Konoha aside, you're the executive committee's assistant, Yachi, to ask for leave two days in a row... Too irresponsible... It troubles... me greatly too."
We're the ones who feel greatly troubled. After all, Haruaki is an important part of the team. Compared to a sports festival, our current matter is much more urgent—But then again, Kirika would only speak this way because she was not privy to the situation.
"Meaning you won't allow it?"
"Indeed, your request for leave... Denied. No time to... waste. Let's... go... Ooh!"
Kirika was just about to rise when she lost balance. Haruaki frantically reached out to catch her, but she grabbed the corner of her desk to support herself on her own.
"A-Are you okay?"
"...I am fine. Let's go. Put on your sportswear."
"What do you mean by 'let's go"? You don't look fine at all..."
Haruaki frowned, greatly troubled. Judging from his eyes, his intentions were completely obvious. Indeed. Naturally, he could not possibly leave Kirika alone in her unwell state. He wanted to help.
—Then why don't you just go ahead and help her!?
Suddenly, an annoyed feeling of resignation filled Fear's heart, one that even she could not understand very well herself. This emotion turned into a forceful and legitimate reason, easily trumping all others.
"Haruaki, you go and help Kirika. I'll be fine by myself."
"H-Hey! Wait a minute!"
While listening to Haruaki's calls—
Fear rushed out of the classroom without looking back at all.
By the time Haruaki hurried out of the classroom, there were no more signs of Fear and chasing after her would be too difficult. Left with no recourse, he could only entrust the search to Konoha. As much as he wanted to search personally, there was no way he could leave Kirika unattended.
Although he had offered many times to send her to the infirmary, Kirika always rejected with a simple "I am fine." In the end, Haruaki and Kirika went over to the usual arch building site together. In that case, there was no choice but to hurry and get the work done. Hence they began hammering nails, but—
Kirika's breathing remained irregular and her face looked quite red. Rather than a flu, she seemed to be suffering from heat stroke, looking as though she would collapse in the middle of each motion. Simply watching was nerve wracking.
"Hmm... Huff... I said I'm fine... Okay, hurry and get to work."
One more time—Haruaki secretly made up a rule on his own. If he were to conclude "this can't continue" one more time, he was going to drag her to the infirmary, even by force if necessary.
Who knew if Kirika had read Haruaki's mind, but she stared at the top of a nail and said:
"You... and Fear... have something... important to do, right?"
"Yeah... That's right but even if I'm there, I might not be of too much use. Besides, I can't leave you alone like this."
"No... I know. Compared to me or the sports festival, what you're facing is more important. It's fine if you go. Rather, you really should go..."
Panting, Kirika continued in a dazed tone of voice:
"...Yesterday I heard... a rumor... that the sports festival might be cancelled."
"Because of the current homicide cases. Apparently there's an influential member of the parents association who lives near one of the locations where a victim was discovered. An excessive overreaction... Basically, the argument is: if there is a psychopathic serial killer on the loose in the city, picking random targets aimlessly, how could a sports festival be held where any number of people could attend?"
Picking random targets aimlessly. Indeed, they still had no idea what Alice meant by what the victims had in common. How did she choose her victims? Did they really have something in common? What did she intend by having them figure out what was in common? Haruaki had spent the day contemplating this unanswerable question as he sat beside the listless Fear.
"...Absolutely ridiculous. If that really were a concern, couldn't they simply place the city under martial law first? Nevertheless, calls for security in education circles seem to have grown popular in recent times, beyond a necessary level. Although there are only these sorts of arguments at the current stage, if homicide cases continue to happen, it's going to get much more real."
No matter what, Haruaki never expected the incident to be making waves in this area as well. He had no idea at all. Feeling that it would be unfair to reveal to Kirika that they were currently pursuing the culprit, Haruaki's face was filled with mixed emotions. However—
"Then is it related to your situation?"
"If you are acting to prevent it, I should let you go instead. I don't want the sports festival to be cancelled either. But—Oh no, what is this...? I'm putting the cart before the horse."
"Putting the cart before the horse?"
"...No, how should I describe this? Does this count as reversed priorities? I don't want the sports festival to be cancelled because I enjoy it. I enjoy working with you like this, which is why I don't want to lose this opportunity, neither do I wish to waste it; however, if I let you leave, this opportunity would be lost... The result seems to be the same regardless of my choice, yet different...? I really don't get it... Absolutely ridiculous..."
Kirika's murmurings to herself had gone from meaninglessness to approach ravings of madness. Simply moving her lips, she was swinging the hammer with mechanical movements.
"Even I don't understand what I'm doing... Or what I want to do. To this date, I simply act according to need, with acts truly performed by my own freewill one could easily count them... Hence... I am like a tool, a gear being used. A gear that always happens to be present, to be inserted by someone... Not only a class representative, but also a researcher... Owww!"
Kirika's accident was only natural given her current state. Having smashed the hammer on her own finger, her fingernail had split open, spilling blood. Haruaki hastily surveyed the surroundings but fortunately, no one seemed to be taking notice.
This can't continue. "One more time" had finally arrived. Haruaki felt compelled to take Kirika to the infirmary no matter what. Although her finger injury would heal in an instant, Kirika was definitely not in her normal state.
Just as Haruaki grabbed Kirika's hand, intending to drag her to the infirmary by force—
She smiled helplessly as she watched her bleeding fingertip—the way it was healing gradually, and said:
"Oh... How truly disgusting I am."
Murmuring exceptionally blankly, she then lost consciousness.
I will take her there, it'll definitely be okay! I will go alone, so you guys don't need to come along! —Haruaki vigorously pushed away the surrounding students and—
"Oh~ I remember you are... The one whom the superintendent favors greatly... Yagi-kun?"
"It's Yachi, okay!?"
"Oh, is that it? Simply recalling the name takes so much effort... Would you like some Pocky?"
The master of the infirmary was lazy and drowsy as usual, which was quite irritating.
"No thanks! Don't you see what I'm carrying on my back?"
"Hmm~? How troubling, if you want to borrow the infirmary's bed for a lover's date, cleaning up afterwards might be... Anyway, looks like it's not the right time for kidding around. There are no other patients at the moment, so just lay her down on a bed first."
Haruaki gently let Kirika down from his back onto a bed.
"So, what's the matter with her? A heatstroke?"
"Umm... I have no idea. She seemed quite unwell since this morning..."
"Hmm... Then various checkups need to be done first..."
"Oh by the way! Umm—Due to various reasons, please don't take off too much of her clothes!"
Since Ganon was Zenon's older sister, it was possible that she knew about cursed tools. However... Since Kirika had not divulged her true identity to the superintendent, Haruaki decided to keep her cursed bondage suit a secret as much as possible.
"I can't perform any diagnosis without taking clothes off... Ah~ You're that type, right? 'My girlfriend's naked body belongs to my eyes only~' is what you're trying to say, right?"
"N-No, of course not! Argggh! You're driving me nuts!"
At this moment, Kirika's eyes happened to open.
"Class Rep! Are you okay? Anyway, this is the infirmary so it's fine for you to sleep here!"
Shaking her head lightly, Kirika stared straight into Haruaki's eyes and spoke as if pleading something—
"I want... to go home. I'll be fine... once I go home..."
"...You mean 'it can't be cured unless you go home'?"
Kirika nodded. Haruaki understood. Whatever Kirika was suffering from, it was probably not an illness but a condition born from "some supernatural cause."
"I-I'll get our schoolbags and come back immediately. Ganon-san, please just watch her."
"Mmmhmm—Is there some difficulty that cannot be shared?"
Ganon lazily returned to her seat, asking with a stick of Pocky in her mouth.
"Yes, sorry about that."
Haruaki first returned to the classroom to retrieve his schoolbag and swiftly changed back to his uniform. At that point, he was caught in a dilemma as he recalled Kirika's schoolbag should be in the girl's changing rooms. Fortunately, he met a girl from his class outside the changing rooms who knew about Kirika fainting and she helped retrieve Kirika's bag and uniform.
Returning to the infirmary, Haruaki found Kirika with her eyes closed again. Ganon meaninglessly adjusted her glasses with one hand while her other hand was occupied with a jigsaw puzzle, equally meaninglessly.
"Hey, boy with the secret difficulties, here's a Christmas present delivered right into your hands."
"Eh? Uh... An address written on a note, and ten thousand yen...?"
"After last time, I am leaking personal information again using the health survey forms. Before this child went to sleep, she mentioned that you probably don't know her address, but she nodded off before I could ask her. And then the money is the taxi fare... Man, explaining takes so much effort."
"Just pay me back afterwards. Sigh~ Because the superintendent mentioned before, asking me to help Yachi as much as possible. So just now, if you actually said you were having a lover's date, I would have handed the key to you without a fuss and left."
Haruaki hesitated for a moment, but it was true that he did not have much cash on hand. Without knowing the cost for a ride to Kirika's home, he had no choice but to accept the money first.
"Sorry, then I humbly accept your loan."
"That's right, that's right, just accept it without a fuss. You need to let the adults act cool once in a while... By the way, I already called for a taxi just now, so it should be here soon."
Haruaki originally had her pegged as a lazy and delinquent school physician, never expecting her to take action when the situation called for it. Revising his assessment of Ganon, Haruaki bowed his head deeply.
Carrying Kirika on his back with two schoolbags in his arms, Haruaki left the infirmary. The taxi waiting before the school gates took him to a brand new apartment building near downtown. A quick glance determined its height to be over ten floors. The neat and tidy entrance was quite spacious. Clearly, the rent here was definitely not cheap.
"Okay, let's go... Oh no, it's an automatic lock? What should I do now..."
"Did you help me get my uniform...?"
"Oh, you're awake? I did get it for you, it's stuffed inside the bag."
"The purse in the skirt pocket, there's a keycard in it... Nnngg!"
Kirika swallowed painfully. Was she finding it hard to even speak? Then she immediately closed her eyes and all Haruaki could hear was the sound of her irregular breathing.
Opening the schoolbag according to her instructions, he took out the purse from the skirt pocket—It felt positively criminal to be furtively searching a girl's skirt, but Haruaki decided to ignore this feeling for this moment.
Using the key to enter the lobby, Haruaki entered the elevator. There was a room number in the address Ganon had written for him. As soon as the elevator started moving against gravity, the shaking caused Kirika to wake up again.
"Sorry for all this..."
"You should just sleep, it's okay. Seriously, I should have used forceful measures earlier... Perhaps you have been hiding it all this time, but there's no need to push yourself so much until you collapse, right? So that's why you couldn't help us."
"...That's not it."
Ding—The elevator arrived at the destination floor. Walking along the quiet hallway, Haruaki asked in return:
"What is not what?"
"I couldn't help... not because I'm unwell... Neither is it because I don't want to..."
"So what's the matter?"
Haruaki felt her arm on his neck tighten but she did not reply. Was she worrying over if she should say it or what she should do—or perhaps her words just now came out as a result of delirium?
Arriving at the door, he put down Kirika. She seemed to be contemplating something as she stood there unlocking the door. But finally—without looking back at Haruaki behind her, she simply opened the door wide enough for a single person to slip through.
"...Thank you, Yachi. I'll be fine after some sleep, so you can—"
"Yes yes, excuse me for the intrusion~"
Haruaki forced his way into the flat, pushing Kirika from behind. He felt more and more like a criminal.
His back facing the closed door, Haruaki gazed back into Kirika's eyes that were staring at him.
"Reason number one, our conversation just now is not finished. I believe you are hiding something as well, Class Rep. Reason number two, just now you said you'll be fine once you return home, but is that really true? I can't leave until I confirm this fact. And then how should I put this... It's only my intuition, but—reason number three, I keep getting the feeling that the two reasons are related."
"If there is any reason causing you to collapse on the ground and faint like earlier, tell me. Class Rep, you've helped us many times, so please, allow me to help you for once... Like a friend is what I'm thinking. Although I don't have any power, at the very least, I can listen."
Kirika's gaze wavered and she bowed her head as if trying to hide her expression. Her shoulders immediately began to quiver lightly.
"Fuhaha... You leave me speechless."
"That's right~ I am sometimes stubborn to a shocking degree. Have you given up resisting?"
"Yes... I give up. Hmm... Fufu, it feels happy actually. Friends huh... Not only 'someone belonging to the Lab Chief's Nation' and 'Year 1 Class 2's class representative,' but also 'Yachi Haruaki's friend'... Not bad. I like it. But exactly because of that—Indeed, I cannot hide this any longer. Nnng, guh!"
Still gazing downwards, Kirika took half a step forward as if deliberating over something. Her voice was mixed with painful moans while she breathed heavily as if she had just completed a marathon.
"I was threatened by someone, if I were to help you guys, then what I've been hiding—that activity would be revealed to you."
"That's right. Something I absolutely did not want you to know. Something very... very very—awkward and embarrassing, disgusting, an activity I engage in. I don't want you to dislike or feel disgusted of me. But... For you to treat me as a friend, even though I am a gear wheel belonging nowhere... Hiding things from you would be a breach of trust, so I must make my confession. If I will be disliked, so be it. I cannot bear it any longer—Because I tried to bear it, I ended up like this."
"W-Wait a minute, my comprehension speed can't keep up, uh..."
"No more waiting. I can't wait any longer. Only because I was feeling defiant about being blackmailed using that hated activity, I endured purely through rebellious impulse—Haha, looks like it didn't work after all. Oh yeah, rather than explaining, it'd be faster for you to watch. Ooh... S-So... So... Yachi?"
She took another half step forward. Due to the narrowness of the entryway, Kirika naturally leaned herself against Haruaki's body. Her tongue seemed a little hindered but she swiftly called out Haruaki's name and looked up.
Then she whispered in his ear:
"Watch... As I do unspeakable things."
Can't find her. Ahhh, I can't find Alice anywhere. But it was so easy to find her yesterday.
While Fear was wandering everywhere, the sky had darkened without her noticing. But in spite of impending night, she could not allow herself to stop without making any progress in the search. Casually inhaling the night air which had just switched from dusk, Fear continued walking along the streets.
Before the victims increased again, she had to find Alice.
Hence, she continued to walk. Sometimes she ran.
But neither the smile, the musical instrument case, nor the monocle appeared in her view. As if mocking how alone she was, the world remained beyond her solitary grasp.
Yes, solitary, alone. Fear suddenly thought of this fact—Why did she rush out of the classroom back then? Clearly the more manpower the better.
Perhaps because of the passage of time, Fear felt that her mind was turning slightly faster than a few hours earlier. The depressed impulse driving her at the time, somehow felt similar to what she had felt a few days ago when seeing Kuroe surrounded by the crowd.
Ah, in other words, it was—The admiration and jealousy a tool felt towards humans.
Indeed. Back then, she could not help but wonder, which side was Haruaki naturally supposed to help? Which side should he help? Was it Kirika, who was human like Haruaki, or was it the weird little girl whom goodness knows was human or a tool?
Of course, she had no idea which side Haruaki would choose. Precisely because she did not want to know, she fled.
Fear sighed in self mockery.
(That guy doesn't make his choices from such a perspective, but despite being well aware of that, I...)
But unwilling to dwell any further on the ways Kirika and her were different, Fear was unable to control her emotions back then.
In the end, she lacked confidence. "What" was "her current self"? She could not state confidently. Neither a complete human nor a tool, "her current self" was simply a half-baked existence...
By the time she noticed, Fear found herself at a park. Shaking her head as if to dispel the gloomy mood, Fear successively checked the people sitting on the benches.
—Even as a half-baked existence, she understood one thing. She was here for the sake of lifting her curse and becoming more human. She had already witnessed an actual case she regarded as her goal. Hence, Fear absolutely could not accept Alice's hindering ways, especially in harming others—
"Damn it... Not here either?"
Looking up at the clock tower in the park, Fear found the time approaching eight in the evening.
Haruaki had probably finished helping Kirika by now, right? As for Cow Tits, whatever. Perhaps those two were searching the streets like her. Either that or at home. However... Fear somehow did not feel like seeing those two. She did not want to return home yet.
"Eight o' clock... That's the time for Kuroe to close up shop..."
Fear decided to go ask her if she had seen Alice. Although Alice had switched targets to Fear, in light of her visit to the beauty parlor for a haircut, Fear concluded it would not be strange if Alice had gone to harass Kuroe again.
Despite getting a little lost along the way, Fear finally made her way to the shopping street she remembered. It was a deserted scene. The "Dan-no-ura" was already closed, with the metal shutters down completely except over the glass door entrance.
Were Haruaki and Konoha inside, it'd feel so embarrassing—Thinking that, Fear discreetly peeped into the shop from the entrance. With only half the lights on inside, Kuroe was crouching in the back of the shop. Was she cleaning up? Just as she wondered, Fear saw it.
Kuroe was holding a small paper bag in her hand. It looked like the kind of gift bag one would use for presents or souvenirs.
Reaching into the paper bag, what Kuroe then took out was—
Fear had some impression she had seen it before. Where? That rainbow-colored, ostentatious hair.
Kuroe stared unerringly at the hair in her palm. Her expressionless face was even more devoid of expression than usual. Then she gently curled her fingers as if beginning to caress, wrapping her hand around the hair in her palm. Then—
While giving off faint light, the hair vanished from Kuroe's palm.
Furthermore, Fear noticed minute movements in Kuroe's lips. By her guess, Kuroe was murmuring...
Fear felt goosebumps on her back. Struck with the onslaught of boundless terror, Fear could not help but turn tail and run. Rushing out of the shopping street, she finally stopped when she reached the crowded business district. Supporting herself with her hand against a utility pole covered with ads of half-naked women, Fear panted heavily, her shoulders heaving up and down.
"Huff... Huff... What I saw just now... What was that...?"
Incomprehensible. How strange. What was that? She ate it? Absorbed it? Human hair?
Fear was struck with a splitting headache. What she recalled was—Kuroe's words. Her curse.
She had been cursed for cutting hair off to drain human life force—Wasn't that what she had said?
Then—Could it be that—What Fear had just witnessed—In other words... What it implied—the success case—was there any evidence to prove that it was actually possible—
Fear's mind was in chaos. Head dizzy and vision blurry, it felt as if the world had turned upside down. The warmth of the hand scrubbing her back, the sensation of the fingers combing her hair, the smile when pouring juice for her, all these memories slowly and gradually faded in color.
Just at this moment, a voice entered Fear's ears.
"...Next on the news, another cube-shaped corpse was found today. The discovered victim is Osanai Yuuko-san from Honryuu City. The police are—"
The sound was coming from a massive television displayed at the entrance of a nearby electronics retail store.
Fear's eyes were glued to the screen.
The image of the victim's face onscreen—Fear had some impression.
Unmistakably, she was the owner of the rainbow-colored hair.
Haruaki found himself dragged forcibly to the bedroom. With no lights on and the curtains shut tightly, the room was completely dark. The only shapes he could barely make out were the bed and something resembling a desk.
"W-Wait a minute, Class Rep..."
His arm suddenly released, Haruaki fell down flat on his bottom in the center of the room. Breathing irregularly, Kirika crawled unsteadily onto the bed. Unsure of the situation, Haruaki could not move at all. Gazing seductively at his face, Kirika reached towards her tracksuit pants and pulled them off without any hesitation. Beneath her pants were summer shorts, but these were also taken off as if she could not bear them any longer. Only now—did the black leather serving as Kirika's underwear finally appear.
Kirika then reached towards the tracksuit top covering her upper body, pulled down the zipper and took off the jacket. Then she took off the gym uniform. Also removing the t-shirt beneath, in a manner akin to ripping it off—
Kirika slowly extended her arm, throwing the t-shirt towards the bedside. Of all the removed upper garments, the t-shirt descended fluttering as the last piece. Kneeling on the bed, Kirika's appearance was now the same as the moment in the past when Haruaki had discovered her hidden side. Clad in nothing but the bondage suit which would kill her as soon as she removed it. Highly revealing to an erotic degree, the skimpy leather gave off a dull black sheen.
"Y-Yachi... Watch. Ahhh, please watch. Perhaps you might not want to watch, probably... Yes... Huff—Damn it... But already... It's no good... Nnnggg!"
Her mouth half-open—
Kirika leaned forward, her back straight, as if exhibiting her body before Haruaki's eyes.
Then her right arm—
Slowly, it moved slowly—
It stopped. Her hand did not reach anywhere.
Suspended in midair, it seemed like some sort of dance.
At this moment, Kirika repeated her murmurs loudly:
"Tragic—«Tragic Black River»—!"
Instantly, the leather belt wrapped around her arm danced with delight. The extending leather gave off supernatural slithering noises as it moved like a snake or a gymnast's ribbon, tracing out spirals as it danced.
The snake slithered up the tree. Up the tree named Ueno Kirika. Along her arm, passing beneath her underarm, entangling all her arms and legs. Obsessively and compulsively, it wrapped itself around her layer upon layer to an astounding degree.
Maintaining her kneeling posture, Kirika was thus tied up by the leather belt. This was the sadistic fetish named capture. As the belt slithered, the constricting force gradually grew stronger with the leather sinking more conspicuously into the body.
As Haruaki watched in wide-eyed shock, Kirika's body was completely bound. The front end of the «Tragic Black River» began to sway. The state of bondage persisted while the belt's front end moved softly.
Next the belt entwined itself around Kirika's immobilized left hand. Even more slowly, the snake's tongue climbed over her thumb, slithering with the noise of leather. Then—
All at once, the thumb was bent in an unnatural direction.
"Gah! Kua... Ah... Ahhh... Nnnggg... Nnnnnnggggg!"
Snap! A noise sounding as light as a joke. Kirika's voice drowned it out completely.
"D-Don't interfere, it's not over... So just watch, Yachi, just watch... it... Ahhhhh!"
Index finger, followed by the middle finger. Naturally, then it was the ring finger, and even the little finger was not exempt.
Snap snap snap snap.
"Nngg, ooh... uwah..."
Kirika's bound body was twitching and recoiling from the pain. Her sweat either splashed about or flowed along her skin. Her ponytail, tied behind her head, also came undone during her convulsions, scattering all over the bedsheets like some kind of creature.
"Yes, leave it alone, this is... fine... But... it's... not... Not over yet... Guah!"
After breaking all her fingers, the «Tragic Black River» lifted its head and reached for Kirika's body. Passing over her arms and elbows, it reached her shoulders. Then it proceeded to entangle her knees and ankles. Finally, the belt wrapped itself around her neck like some sort of step that must not be forgotten—What was it going to do? The answer was obvious.
Haruaki tried to get up in a panic but his knees were powerless. With moist eyes, Kirika motioned from the bed for him to stop.
"It's okay, I won't die, I can't die, so... Just watch—"
He saw the broken fingers recover. But how could it really be okay? Right now, her body was being "contorted" even more severely than just now—!!
"Ahhh... Ahhh... Ahhh... «Tragic»... «Tragic»... «Tragic Black River»! Come...!"
The belt restraining her squirmed even more intensely—
"Nngg... Ah... Ah... Ahhhh... Phew... Cough... kkkkkk—Ah?"
A momentary pause. The silence felt as if time itself had stopped.
Phew—Taking a deep breath, Kirika stared wide-eyed and stopped moving.
Her entire body made only a slight shudder.
Creak creak creak—Kirika's arms and legs were twisted by force. Her bones lost their purpose as bones.
The belt throttling her neck tightened, pressing on her windpipe.
Then with drool dangling from her mouth and a splattering of sweat, Kirika—
Collapsed on the bed, her entire body in spasms.
"Oh, you woke up?"
Kirika felt the usual stiffness of leather around her body. Her back was resting against the soft mattress she was well accustomed to. Overhead was the usual inorganic ceiling. This was her own room as usual. However... Why was his face by her side?
Dazed for several seconds, until the blood was finally delivered to her head—Only then did she suddenly recall.
Grabbing the blanket, she covered her head. As a result, her body became exposed, but whatever. It felt too embarrassing, truly embarrassing indeed. Her face must be completely red? No, it was probably pallid. He saw it. He found out about it. How she wished to be dead.
Her face covered beneath the blanket, Kirika gnashed her teeth in depression. He was not saying anything, so she had no choice but to speak up.
"...You understand now?"
"Yeah—Basically. Right, I should have realized earlier... That «Tragic Black River» is cursed. Since that's the case, it obviously carries a curse."
His voice sounded very calm. What was he thinking? Kirika was too scared to imagine.
"Indeed... The «Tragic Black River» carries a curse. Judging from its origins, a very typical form of curse. A curse that compels one to strangle, to hang, to torment and to kill someone, in the manner of a serial killer."
"Compared to picking a random person off the streets, there is a much better target for letting the curse blow off steam, namely, me. No matter how my bones are broken, how my joints are dislocated, how my neck is strangled, I won't die. So several times a month, I... Sometimes several times a week, or even daily if necessary—I've been doing this. Haha, isn't this a truly ugly game played in solitude? Ahhh, now I feel so relieved. Now that you've seen it, I finally feel relieved. With this, I have nothing more to hide, and nothing anyone can use to blackmail me again..."
Indeed, blackmail was no longer meaningful to her. However—What she tried to protect even at the cost of submitting to blackmail, perhaps she might have destroyed it completely herself.
"Fufu, Yachi, how is it? What are your thoughts?"
"I... Umm, Class Rep..."
Will he say I am disgusting? That he never expected me to be someone like this? Or perhaps he'd say it's nothing and simply try to gloss over the matter? But henceforth, he probably wants to keep his distance from me, right? One could hardly blame him. Even I would find this type of girl disgusting. Abusing one's body because it will recover no matter what—This is not human at all but just a tool. This is what a self-fulfilling tool does. Indeed, a meaningless gear.
However, what he said next was—
"Class Rep... You are really gentle."
Completely unexpected words. Kirika thought she must have heard wrong, but he—
"Because you don't want to hurt others, you are making yourself suffer—Creating memories you do not wish to recall, right? Given someone else, they might not necessarily do the same even if they also had healing abilities. Of course, were I in your place, I'm not sure if I'd do the same either. Hurting others is much simpler, so I think you are very gentle."
The voice came from the other end of the bed. Awkwardly averting his gaze, scratching his cheek, but carefully giving thought to each word he said, to compose this sincere speech... Kirika felt as though she could see him acting in such a manner.
"It's not disgusting at all. Besides, it's not your fault, Class Rep. Despite how I may look, because of living in that home, I have seen quite a lot, even though curses do not affect me—So I know. No matter how repulsive, how embarrassing, how against your will, curses confer impulses that cannot be resisted... That is what 'cursed tools' are."
Hmm—It felt like Haruaki was nodding.
"As a result, I won't hate you, Class Rep, for something like this!"
She had forgotten. She had forgotten a very important thing.
This boy was—
Unimaginably laid back with an outlook like a withered old man, and also—
No good, something was overflowing from inside. Kirika burst out laughing. Laughing as though she was mocking someone derisively!
"Seriously... Yes, absolutely ridiculous. Over thinking things, I'm the one who's absolutely ridiculous."
"Yeah, I agree that you really were too stupid just now. But then again, I can't laugh at you like this in the context of exams. Well then, regarding cursed tools, I have a request for you."
The instant he posed his question—
The blanket covering Kirika was unexpectedly pulled away. Supporting himself with his hand against the bed, Haruaki hunched over as if to peering into her face. His expression was laid back as usual. Due to their close separation, her heart felt as though it had stopped. Using this opportunity—
"Well... Class Rep... That «Tragic Black River», may I have it?"
The nonchalance in his expression was as if he were asking "Would you like to exchange food from our lunchboxes?" But Kirika could currently feel his intentions.
Curses did not affect Yachi Haruaki.
Consequently, so long as the «Tragic Black River» was in his possession, no one would ever suffer from its curse again; moreover, the one currently suffering from its curse would be liberated—
Indeed, it was quite an attractive proposal. However—
"...I refuse. Even if you were to use your cooking secrets in exchange."
"I am already used to controlling this thing. You won't be able to do much if you were the one holding it, right? Besides—"
She relaxed her face. This guy couldn't have forgotten what he had just said, right?
"This is my power, something I need in order to help you. Were I to let go of it, I would become a useless immortal... I don't want that. Aren't I 'Yachi Haruaki's friend'?"
"Please, allow me to be a friend capable of helping you."
Dozens of seconds passed. Sighing, Haruaki shifted his body and sat on the bed side, throwing a sideways glance at Kirika.
"Is it really okay?"
"I said it's okay."
"I see... Then I understand. I won't force you either. But... Should you ever feel tired of it, tell me immediately. I will take it off your hands any time."
"Also... About that curse... Targeting others would be more effective, right?"
"Why do you ask?"
Haruaki scratched his head.
"Well, although breaking bones would be a bit much, if it's only strangulation or constriction, I guess I could also... No, but getting choked by the neck would be really scary. Ahhh~ But then it'd be pointless? Hmmmmm..."
Seriously, how stupid could this guy get? It was really dumbfounding.
"I don't think it makes a difference. Basically, doing it to myself is enough. Venting the impulses sufficiently, like today... Then... The condition doesn't deteriorate too badly..."
Saying that, Kirika began to recall. What exactly had she done in front of this guy?
She could not help but turn her face away in embarrassment. Speaking of which, she was currently completely nude... Well, stated more delicately, she was lying on the bed in her underwear while that guy was sitting on the bed side. She began to tense inevitably.
Next, the room was met with silence for some time. After a while—
"Should you ever need help in the future—Please do not hide it. If you promise me that, I'll let what happened today slide. That said, I still would prefer very much if you handed that thing over to me."
"Like I said, I refuse. However... Your good intentions make me very happy. And about the curse, I will find a better way of handling it from now on."
Really? —Haruaki nodded and got up. The bed's springs recoiling from the lightened load felt rather regretful.
"You're going to look for Fear?"
"Yeah... Things have become quite troublesome."
"Related to the Bivorio Family?"
Haruaki's face became alarmed. Lying on the bed, Kirika shook her head at him:
"I've only heard of the name, but not any details... I only speculated their involvement based on intuition. It's because of them that I was threatened, so I didn't want to think about it."
Kirika recalled a certain man. She could not predict what his next move might be.
"...Sorry, I don't know why I was threatened against helping you, nor can I reveal who was threatening me. But most likely, that faction won't be participating proactively in the current incident. In light of their neutral stance as observers—Apart from me."
"So you're willing to help?"
"If only I could have answered the same, three days earlier..."
Although she wanted to get up, her elbows were powerless. She could not lift her body. Were the broken bones still subtly unhealed?
"You should lie down longer. I'll tell you the details next time."
"...Sorry, I guess that's the only way. I should recover completely after a while—I'll call you then. Or maybe even a visit to your house."
"Sure, call me... Then I'm off. Sleep well!"
Once Haruaki left, the room instantly became silent.
As Kirika stared blankly at the ceiling, various thoughts rushed into her mind. Ahhh, I'm so relieved. My heart feels so much lighter. I'm saved. This worst day of my life turns out to be not bad after all. He called me gentle? What a fool. Serves you right, Himura, your threats are meaningless. But come to think of it, this was so embarrassing. Nothing could be more embarrassing. Didn't that guy feel anything? For a great girl like me, moaning in such a suggestive pose? What's wrong with showing a little reaction? Ahhh~ It was such a shame when he was peering into my face just now. Why didn't he do anything? Even if he were to bring his lips down for a kiss, I wouldn't have resisted particularly—Stop it right there with these thoughts!
Turning herself over, Kirika buried her face in the blanket. Her current expression was probably the type which cannot be exposed even to the ceiling. Definitely.
"...Jeez... Absolutely ridiculous."
Normally at times like these, she would use the excuse of "who would care about a girl who wears this kind of bondage suit" as an absolute weapon to kill off her hopes.
But for some reason, only now, she did not want to think that.
Leaving the apartment, Haruaki glanced at his cellphone to find many text messages received from Konoha. He had not noticed earlier because he had set it to mute.
"W-What happened I am very worried but with Ueno-san you should be safe but if anything were to happen I would still feel very worried in any case!"
A rambling series of incomprehensible words. Anyway, Haruaki simply replied, informing her that he had accompanied Kirika home because she fainted. There was probably no need to tell Konoha anything further for the moment. Perhaps Konoha was aware of Kirika's recent condition at school, she understood immediately.
Then Haruaki met up with Konoha at the business district.
"I couldn't find either of them."
"Hmm... Well, Alice might be quite difficult to find if she decided to hide. But at any rate, we've got to find Fear. She looked a bit strange, let's hope she didn't fall into her self-abusive mode and do strange things."
"That's so true. I hope she never jumps into the sea again."
Haruaki felt that Fear probably would not go that far, but it really was quite worrying. In any case, she had to be found—Just as he was thinking to himself, Fear was found with unexpected ease.
She was standing before a retail electronics store in the business district, staring blankly at the LCD television displayed at the entrance.
"...What... is going on...? What are the chances..."
"Hey Fear, we finally found you. I can't believe you rushed out on your own."
As he patted her lightly on the shoulder, Fear turned around to face him in surprise. Then—
"Watch this! It's about to repeat again!"
"Owwwwwww! You're twisting my neck off, it's going to twist off!"
Clamped by her hands, Haruaki's face was brought close to the television. The screen was showing news and currently reporting the discovery of a new cube-shaped corpse.
Perhaps taken from her identification documents, the newest victim's portrait was displayed near the edge of the screen—
"Damn it, another one... Hmm? Eh, why does it feel like I've seen this person before?"
"You must have. So did I."
"Me too... Hmm, I've seen this face recently... Ah!"
As Konoha gasped, Haruaki also recalled. This was probably a picture taken from a photo album or something, right? The woman's face on the screen had very defined facial features like a model. Although he had some recollection, it felt dissonant at the same time, because the hair color was different from what he saw a few days ago. Indeed, this woman was—
"The first customer at the beauty parlor's reopening...?"
"That's right. Then there was another one, shown on the television just now, the previous victim whose face I also recall. Her face is very similar to one of the customers sitting on the sofa when Alice was getting her haircut."
Haruaki had not paid special attention to the victims' faces. After all, perhaps because very few clues have surfaced, the victims faces had not received special coverage.
"Eh? What... is this about...?"
"No idea. But if it's not coincidence or a mistake in recognition—"
Staring at the screen, Fear gulped and spoke:
"—Perhaps we've found the point of commonality."
In other words, "customers who get haircuts at the beauty parlor will be murdered," was that what was implied?
"N-No no, wait a minute. Perhaps it could be as you said, a mistake in recognition...? That said, I do recall a visit from the person shown just now..."
"Even Kuroe herself would not be able to remember every single customer, right? There's no way to confirm this."
"I want to confirm it... Is there any other way?"
"Then we need a way to find out the faces of the beauty parlor's customers... But wouldn't that require security monitoring? But Kuroe's shop doesn't have... that kind of thing... installed...?"
In the middle of speaking, Haruaki realized. Or rather, he recalled what happened during the opening of "Dan-no-ura."
Indeed, Kuroe's shop was not equipped with security monitoring. However—
'Ah, that reminds me, I must reposition the camera in my store to face yours, Kuroe-chan!'
'This way I'll be able to record Kuroe-chan's lovely face every day!'
The person bearing strange title of "the chairman of the central shopping street's Kuroe-chan fan club," had pointed his shop's security camera towards the "Dan-no-ura"—Haruaki and company had witnessed it with their own eyes.
Returning to the shopping street, they knocked on the electric appliance store's metal shutters to ask the owner to provide security camera footage. Since it was recorded on a DVD, they decided to borrow a player together as well. Of course, this went through various twists and turns, but where there was a sincere will, there was a way—More concretely, this so-called "sincere will" was a promise to provide the shopkeeper with behind-the-scenes shots of Kuroe a few days later. As a side note, the "Dan-no-ura" was completely closed down at the time, without any presence of people inside.
Then the group returned home to replay the data. Although the camera angle was quite strange, at least it offered a clear view of who entered the shop. Skipping Kuroe's expressionless V-shaped gesture of victory directed towards the camera whenever she entered or exited the shop, they basically fastforwarded everything, only switching back to normal playback speed to check when customers entered the shop. After a few hours of this—
"W-What is going on?"
"Hmm... When you suddenly asked me to 'collect portraits of the victims,' I was going to ask why... So it turns out to be for this."
Kirika was also present in the Yachi living room. Along the way home from the electric appliance store, Haruaki had received her call. He felt bad about summoning Kirika so soon after her recovery but he could not think of another solution apart from asking her for help. Then using the victim's photographs Kirika had collected from the internet, they confirmed them with the customer's faces recorded by the security camera.
The result was just as Fear predicted.
"All of them were customers at the beauty parlor. So this is what they share in common—Hmm? Class Rep, what's the matter?"
"No, I just get this feeling... Something isn't right somewhere. I don't know. Am I worrying too much?"
Kirika confirmed the victims' images on screen many times but there was definitely no mistaking their identities. Konoha inclined her head and said:
"But judging from Alice's words, her goal was apparently to have us figure out the point of commonality. But this discovery doesn't yield anything significant, right? It only raises new questions—Why would she specifically tell us about this?"
"—I think I have an idea. Haruaki, can you continue to play the footage?"
"Eh? What are you talking about, Fear? We've already confirmed all the victims."
"Don't worry about that and just play it."
Although Haruaki did not understand, he did as she told and pressed fastforward. He paused whenever customers arrived but they were all irrelevant. Continuing in this manner, they reached today's records—Until a customer's arrival after it was dark.
"Alice...? She came again!"
"Th-This doesn't look good, right? Kuroe hasn't returned home yet, something could have happened..."
"I knew it."
Ignoring Haruaki and the rest who were getting up, Fear simply stared at the screen, hugging her knees to her chest.
"As soon as you notice what's common, the problem will be solved—That's what she said. That's right, although I have no idea what her intentions are, at least I know what should be done next..."
"Fear, what's going on?"
"Look at that woman's hand. She's carrying a paper bag, right? Then look at her coming out—Yeah, it's not there, just as I thought."
Fear continued. In other words, the paper bag was given to someone inside the beauty parlor.
"I saw it with my own eyes. That paper bag contained hair from the latest victim. Because the hair-color was too fancy, I recognized it immediately. As for the person who received the paper bag—She absorbed the hair."
"It was probably given as a gift. No, maybe she was 'taste testing' the hair she cut from the customers before choosing targets who passed. That's why hair was cut from the corpses and delivered... I see now."
Haruaki gasped as he listened to Fear's mutterings. Could she be insinuating—
"Come on... No way... You're suspecting Kuroe—?"
Even so, Fear did not turn around. Haruaki simply saw her shrug.
Then she said:
"Indeed... I am suspecting Kuroe. I suspect she might be connected to the Bivorio Family."
"W-Why would you... saying something like—"
"I saw it with my own eyes. Kuroe absorbed the victim's hair that Alice had brought. My intuition told me that she was eating, no mistake about it. Why would Alice bring it to her on purpose? Why would Kuroe eat that?"
"...I have never met this person named Kuroe, so let me simply report some news."
Kirika interjected in a calm tone of voice. Closing her eyes, she spoke pensively:
"While searching for portraits on the net, I also gathered facts from the reports. After all, I joined in comparatively late. And the most recent fact revealed to the public is—Other than being made into a cube shape, there were also body parts missing from the victims. In other words, they were taken by the culprit."
"Absorbed... Perhaps there are other parts... as well?"
Haruaki was stunned. He did not want to hear this type of news. No, perhaps it was the truth, but he never expected Kuroe to be involved—
"Wait, hold on a second and calm down. Listen carefully, Kuroe has no reason to help the Bivorio Family, right? Same for Alice, she should have no reason to ask Kuroe for help. So somewhere here... There must be a misunderstanding..."
"...Oh, one more thing. Look here, this shows there's no wound on Alice's hand. But clearly she was injured in the abandoned house. I know someone who possesses healing powers. Bringing tasty human hair or whatever in exchange for healing... Is this enough to establish a cooperative relationship?"
Indeed, Alice's hand onscreen was not bandaged. Things were getting incomprehensible.
"The more I think, the fishier it gets. Besides, she didn't need to come home expressly, right? She is the one who led the Family here. Why would Alice switch targets so easily to me? It's also very strange why Kuroe would not mind cutting her hair. It's highly probable that they made a deal, such as helping them to kidnap me in exchange for not being abducted by them. Or more simply, she could already be a member of the Family—"
"Hmm~ Because I ran out of money. She followed on her own. Why she switched targets, I have no idea... Probably because Ficchi is more popular than me? After all, so long as there's no violence, my policy is to treat all arrivals as customers. Also, no matter what, I'm not going to sell my cute little self to others."
—The person who answered Fear was Kuroe, who had started standing at the living room entrance at some point. Her face was expressionless as she stared blankly as usual. Her voice also sounded quite calm.
"Kuroe? What have you been doing until now?"
"Sigh~ After closing up the shop... I had many things on my mind so I went for a walk. Along the way, I also went to buy the latest released game... My original plan was to return earlier, but I had to visit quite a few shops because the game was out of stock."
She lifted the shopping bag in her hand up high. Fear remained silent, her silver hair blocking her view.
Sighing lightly, Kuroe said:
"By the way—After some contemplation, I discovered something quite shocking. In actual fact, all the victims were customers who had visited my shop!"
"We've already confirmed that fact already. Stop playing dumb. Please explain yourself—We already know that Alice has visited your shop, bringing the victims' hair. The evidence is currently playing onscreen."
Kuroe glanced at the television and shrugged.
"She suddenly came to me, asking to have her hair cut shorter. My personal policy is to avoid turning the shop into a battlefield, so I had no choice but to trim her hair as if it were business as usual. In the end, she forced a paper bag on me as a gift. After closing the shop, I opened it for a look, only to discover it was hair I've seen before."
"You really think I'll believe that?"
"...Your suspicions run that deep? Hmm~"
Kuroe stood still with her head inclined, a troubled expression on her face. She looked like she was pondering something.
After a long while, she suddenly looked up—
"Let's do it this way then. Before my innocence is proven, you guys can imprison me."
Haruaki poked his neck straight forward in reaction to this sudden proposal. Kuroe explained nonchalantly:
"If this is done, you guys will understand that I am not in contact with Alice, right? Although it breaks my heart to have my business interrupted for now, I want to clear my name as quickly as possible."
"There's no way of making sure you won't contact her during your imprisonment, right? This is meaningless."
"It shouldn't be meaningless. If the 'point of commonality' is being a customer of the beauty parlor, then once we close the shop, Alice will know that we have discovered it. She said that figuring it out will solve the problem, so she'd probably come here to show some sort of reaction, right?"
"Hmm. Then let's think about what she might do after she arrives... Normally, when a fellow member is imprisoned, most people would attempt a rescue, right?"
Kirika spoke calmly with her arms crossed before her chest. Kuroe nodded in agreement and turned to look at Fear again.
"Indeed. Conversely, if it were someone unrelated, she won't attempt a rescue. Could this be used as a test?"
After a moment of silence, Fear suddenly stood up.
"I have no idea what you're planning—but fine. Since you want to be imprisoned, you'll get what you wish for. After all, it would indeed bring Alice here. By let me state this for the record. I suspect you are helping that woman, so if a critical moment arrives, don't expect me to show any mercy!"
"W-Wait a minute, Fear! Can you think things over carefully!? Kuroe's explanations are not entirely impossible, right? You should calm down a bit!"
Haruaki could not contain himself any longer. He stood up and spoke impatiently. Only then did Fear look up for the first time and glare at Kuroe in the face:
"Have you forgotten? Haruaki. Perhaps everything else is all speculation, but there's one thing I saw with my own eyes. This girl ate human hair! How can this be explained? Strange, how very strange, too strange! Since curses have no effect on Haruaki, your true curse probably targets 'people around you' in actual fact! Your curse hasn't been lifted at all!"
Shouting violently, Fear shook her scattered silver hair.
"There's no success case, I am such a fool... Ahhh, but I already suspected this possibility from the start. I-I still—I still don't believe it completely! This type of ugly curse, with layer upon secure layer of curses, how could it possibly... be lifted...!"
Saying that, Fear gasped with a surprise realization. But immediately, she looked down and clenched her fists—
"Cow Tits, you're more suited to this, right? You'll monitor her!"
"Hey Fear, wait!"
Ignoring Haruaki, Fear ran to her room without even looking back. Haruaki wanted to chase after her, but—
"Yachi, it's better to let her cool off on her own for now. Judging by the way she looks, your words are just going to bounce off her... Just let her calm down first."
Hearing Kirika's calm voice, Haruaki sat down again. Sighing, he buried his face in his palms. Konoha then said:
"Sigh... Why impose this kind of task on me..."
"Because it's true, Konoha, you're the best at tasks like sensing presences or surveillance."
Fear's reasons were probably not limited to that... Indeed, definitely not.
"Actually, what she really feels is—She doesn't want to suspect Kuroe either. It's obvious."
"Then why not dispense with the suspicions?"
"She's currently confused, wanting to do something no matter what... So the only thing she could do was single out the most suspicious person... She's still a child after all."
Muttering helplessly, Haruaki turned his gaze towards Kuroe.
"—Are you serious about this?"
"Of course. Provided this draws Alice here and clears my name."
"Then what about the scene Fear described...?"
Kuroe slowly lowered her gaze, then calmly—she confessed.
"It's true. I absorbed life force from human hair."
Haruaki originally thought Fear might have been mistaken in what she saw, but hearing Kuroe's confession, he was shocked. However, as if to reassure Haruaki, Kuroe calmly explained the reason:
"But this did not come from the desires of a curse. It is simply a part of my powers, like eating for nourishment or refueling."
"Didn't I help treat your wound last time, Haru? It's not a power that conjures its effects from thin air but one that depletes a corresponding amount of life force. I am simply replenishing that life force. In the past, as a result of the curse, I 'absorbed life force from the person through the act of severing hair.' Nowadays, I 'absorb remnants directly from hair that has been cut,' something like that. The amount is quite tiny and does not affect the person whose hair was cut. It's simply reuse and recycling."
Sighing in the middle, Kuroe continued blankly:
"Because there was no need to explain explicitly, I haven't told you all until now. No... Perhaps the thought of revealing this to you, Haru, makes me feel very guilty. Although it doesn't come from a curse's desires, it's true that I find hair very tasty."
"I-I see... You don't need to feel guilty about it. It's because I was injured that you had to do it."
"...Thank you. As for consuming the hair Alice brought, it was out of a different kind of necessity unrelated to nourishment—Because I instinctively knew, it was the hair of a deceased person. Not only was it the traces of life and threads of memories, but also proof that life has ended. That type of hair... holds special meaning to someone like me who was made by implanting that type of hair. Other than consuming it as an eulogy, I cannot do anything else for it."
"Say, why don't you explain all this to Fear?"
"Do you really think she'll accept it after listening?"
Haruaki fell silent. He knew quite well—At least for now, the answer was negative.
Kuroe looked blankly into the direction of Fear's room. That said, she could not possibly see through the walls.
"...Success case, huh? She misunderstood this incident, thus feeling betrayed, she became even more confused, right? That curses actually could not be lifted—That's the message she felt like she received."
Haruaki instantly understood. 'Success case' was what Fear blurted out.
He also recalled—the expression on Fear's face when she said "I still don't believe it completely."
Ahhh... So Fear still harbored such fears.
A sense of helplessness suddenly surfaced in Haruaki's heart. It resembled both sadness and shame.
Eyeing Haruaki's expression casually, Kuroe walked over to the closet and slid open the paper door. Poking her head inside, she swayed her tiny bottom as she rummaged.
"So be it, she should listen after some time passes and she calms down—Hmm? I remember keeping it here..."
"...What are you doing?"
"I'm looking for playing cards, UNO or something similar because the nights are long. Okay, Kono-san, hurry and prepare the pillows and futons. Let's use the room in the accessory dwelling as the place for imprisonment. After all, it has a toilet and a bath."
As usual, one could hardly comprehend what Kuroe was thinking. She acted as if she were totally unfazed by the suspicions cast upon her. This sort of attitude made one feel as though the notion of Kuroe as a traitor was completely absurd.
Who knew what Kuroe was thinking as she watched Konoha sigh, but she said:
"...Looks like you're not satisfied with playing games. Then perhaps we should talk about sex instead?"
"Of course not!"
Seriously, what am I going to do with you—Konoha grumbled as she stood up.
"This leaves me no choice, but I'll just have to humor you for now... Not due to Fear-san's orders, but because you requested it yourself, Kuroe-san. I also agree about clearing your name as quickly as possible. Besides, whether you're innocent or not, Kuroe-san—although I already know the answer—Since that person will be arriving, it's a good idea to increase security around you anyway, Kuroe-san."
"Yes yes, thank you for your troubles. By the way, I've been feeling very curious about something."
Kuroe withdrew her head from inside the closet, turning her gaze.
"...Who is this person? Someone related to Haru?"
"Although this is our first meeting, based on these words of yours, I think I can understand what sort of person you are."
In response to Kuroe pointing her little finger while speaking expressionlessly, Kirika shook her head in exhaustion. Then sweeping her gaze lightly across Haruaki—
"I am simply 'Yachi Haruaki's friend.' My name is Ueno Kirika. Pleased to meet you."
Kirika seemed as if she had accepted something and was proud of the fact that she could declare this aloud.
She puffed out her chest as she spoke.
The next morning, Kirika went to school alone. Disregarding Konoha who was tasked with heavy responsibilities, Haruaki was not happy-go-lucky enough to to head off to school in this kind of situation. Before Kirika went home last night, she shrugged and told Haruaki: "I am already accustomed to being busy. Once that is treated, I am fine dealing with all the work by myself." Nevertheless, Haruaki still felt rather guilty.
Naturally, Kuroe was currently under house arrest in a room of the accessory dwelling. Konoha had spent the night in the same room as her, and the two had not separated ever since. Haruaki peeked at the situation when he brought breakfast and lunch to them. The two girls were using the television in the room to play competitive videogames at times, playing boardgames on other occasions—To be honest, it was no different from a sleepover party. Nevertheless, Konoha remained vigilant in her monitoring duties, reporting to Haruaki with a complicated expression: "The phone did not ring. She really is not in contact with Alice. This was all expected, of course."
Meanwhile, Fear was glued to the living room television, hugging her knees, confirming whether the homicides had really subsided. If a new victim surfaced, then the 'point of commonality' identified was wrong, but so far there were no related reports.
Not long after the sun had set, the doorbell rang. Haruaki welcomed Kirika at the entrance to find her dressed in her uniform.
"No... Absolutely nothing."
In any case, Haruaki brought her to the living room first. Then he told her he was just about to deliver dinner to the accessory dwelling—
"Is that so? Since I'm here already, I might as well go over and say hi. What about you, Fear-kun?"
Fear had her back towards Kirika when the question was asked. Kirika's voice sounded naturally gentle, vaguely reminiscent of a class representative showing care towards an unengaged member of the class.
"Let's go check out their situation? After all, the news isn't going to report anything new so soon."
"...Well... I guess I'll go..."
Fear stood up slowly. She clearly wouldn't move no matter what I said—Haruaki explained to Kirika in gratitude. I guess it's because you're more used to these things, Kirika—Or perhaps through the passage of time, Fear had calmed down to some extent? Maybe another attempt at communication could be considered.
Fear trailed listlessly at the back as they made their way towards the accessory dwelling outside. Kuroe's bedroom was room number one on the second floor.
"Hey, I've brought dinner~"
"Yes, wait a minute. All I need is a 7 to move the thief and I'll be set for victory..."
Inside the room, Kuroe was looking down at a board game while she answered inattentively. Still acting in her same old way, completely lacking in tension... Left with no choice, Haruaki entered the room and put down the dinner tray. Standing alone near the room entrance, Fear seemed to be drawing the same conclusions. One could hear her clicking her tongue in disapproval.
"Tsk... This is way too casual. Do you understand the situation at all?"
"Because having a staring competition with Kono-san here would be very boring... Besides, it'd feel weird otherwise. Or rather, since it's Kono-san here, I don't mind offering my body."
A statement delivered blankly as usual. Fear narrowed her eyes further:
"Give me a break...! I don't have time to joke around with you. This concerns people's lives, so just confess if you've given up!"
"What giving up? I haven't done anything that requires confessing."
"You're still playing dumb—"
"Fear! That's enough, calm down!"
Haruaki grabbed her by the shoulder. Fear looked as though she was about to charge over and beat up Kuroe directly. Glaring strongly, Fear's gaze wavered slightly before fleeing off somewhere.
"...I'm very calm."
"No, you're not calm at all."
Haruaki had endured for a day already. Seeing her current attitude, which seemed as though she might be open to reason, Haruaki decided to make another attempt at clearing up Fear's misunderstanding.
"It's obvious that you are just taking out your anger on others. It's easy to focus your doubt on the most obvious points of suspicion. Fear, listen to me. In what ways do you find Kuroe suspicious?"
"Basically—That woman went to the beauty parlor and give Kuroe hair that was cut from the corpses... And her wound was healed."
"Perhaps she possesses a special healing tool, who can know for sure? Besides, we were there during the reopening. Didn't that woman enter openly? It wouldn't be strange for her to make another visit—These do not constitute evidence of Kuroe assisting her."
"A-And... she absorbed the hair. I saw it unmistakably."
This was it. This was most likely the root of the misunderstanding.
"You misunderstood. Kuroe already explained that it's not a curse. She was simply absorbing the lingering life force in people's hair in order to replenish what she spent to heal me."
"That's right. I don't have to do it at all, but that'll prevent me from performing healing—I did it several times during my travels so the Bivorio Family might have witnessed it and reported to Alice. That's probably why she brought hair to me as a gift."
Kuroe supplemented the explanation. The silver hair shook.
"Then why don't you investigate it? Simply by imprisoning her here for now, the answer will be obtained. So, assuming what you say is true and Kuroe's curse compels her to drain people's life force through their hair, then her desires should be exposed by now if her curse was not lifted, right? But she hasn't shown any such signs so far—The truth is what you wanted to believe, her curse is really lifted."
"What concerns me is what you said last night. 'I already suspected this possibility from the start' or 'I still don't believe it completely' etc... You... Is that what you really believe? You think that curses can't actually be lifted?"
Haruaki peered into Fear's eyes, face to face. She lowered her head and kept trying to avoid eye contact.
After a long while, she finally whispered in a stutter:
"Not that I don't believe... However... But... Perhaps one out of ten or one out of a hundred—I can believe that at least. I do doubt... a little..."
Haruaki sighed heavily. His exasperation with Fear gradually exceeded his anger.
"Could you please not doubt that one point? Please believe it one hundred percent, okay..."
"B-But... But, I have... that kind of... curse..."
"No 'buts.' I believe it. I believe everyone's curse will be lifted—Yes, indeed. If you insist on this, then that means you distrust me, the one who believes in the lifting of curses. Think of this as I'm begging you. To be distrusted is too sad. Think of all the effort it took for us to be living together, okay? Henceforth, we'll be living together here, for years or even decades!"
Fear gasped in surprise.
"—Y-You really... believe? I... umm..."
She slowly looked up, her eyes appearing to be expecting something.
If Haruaki did not answer her immediately, he would consider himself disqualified as the master of the house.
"Of course. You can definitely become human."
More accurately, he should probably say a human-like existence. But Haruaki did not think there was anything wrong with saying it this way. Fear understood these matters. Her past and origins as a tool could not be forsaken. Nevertheless, once that kind of past became diluted, once she became an existence "approaching human" who happened to have residual abilities of a tool—
That was enough to be called human, right? Haruaki believed so. At least for a human who had been witnessing their arduous efforts by their side, this slight bias was not excessive, right? You girls have worked very hard—it would not be excessive for him to claim the right to joyfully declare this to them without pretension, right?
So that was why he said this.
Fear's gaze wavered again as she looked down. Haruaki could see her little hand clenching and opening repeatedly as if lost. He knew she was furtively glancing in Kuroe's direction. Konoha, Kuroe and Kirika all watched her intently.
Fear slowly looked up. Stammering just as she was about to speak—
She involuntarily stopped moving her lips and closed her mouth. Staring wide-eyed, she gazed at a certain target.
Haruaki and the rest also followed her gaze—
"Ara ara, I'm discovered. I suppose this situation should be titled 'Strange! Flying Barbarian Woman's Head!' perhaps?"
Outside the window, a tactless female stalker's face was currently suspended upside down in midair.
Despite the frightening sight, there was nothing supernatural about it. Most likely, Alice was simply lying on the roof of the accessory dwelling, peeping in from above. As Haruaki's group readied themselves, she spoke:
"I don't quite understand, but it feels like you're in an argument. Internal discord is not good, you know... You must get along harmoniously. Do you understand?"
Maintaining her courteous smile, she waggled her index finger from side to side.
Fear took out the Rubik's cube and transformed it into a torture tool shaped like a giant rake. Alice remained smiling as usual, the monocle over her left eye flashing from the fluorescent lighting in the house.
"Very well. Since the beauty parlor was closed, I was thinking perhaps you may have figured it out, so I came over for a look. How is it? Do you already know?"
"You're still the same, completely incomprehensible in all respects... But if you're talking about the 'point of commonality,' then I think we already know. You killed the beauty parlor's customers, is that right?"
As soon as Haruaki finished, Alice went "Oya?" and changed the angle of her tilted neck.
"If that's all you have... Then your answer is still a bit lacking. The point of commonality goes beyond that—But it's pointless if you don't understand the meaning behind it. Once you receive the message effectively, I can stop any time."
Apart from being customers of the beauty parlor, there was more in common? And what did she mean by stopping any time? Judging from her tone of voice, it was almost as if—The main point was not threatening Fear using the terrorism of killing innocents. Instead, her true goal was making them realize what the victims shared in common—
While Haruaki was immersed in these thoughts, Alice continued speaking with a mildly troubled expression:
"Oh I see, your thinking simply stopped at this point. Judging from what I've just heard—it looks like you have misunderstood, mistaken in the belief that Kuroe-sama is linked to the Family. In any case, that 'interpretation' is wrong. In delivering the hair, my original intention was to provide a hint and a special treat, could it be possible... It ended up counterproductive?"
My apologies—the upside down head swayed from side to side. Her words were enough to make Fear gasp. Nevertheless, all Haruaki obtained from Alice's statement was slight reassurance. This was only natural, seeing as he never suspected Kuroe enough to be relieved in the first place.
"Does salvation ever come without suffering? Yet meaningless internal discord caused by a misunderstanding would be unnecessary suffering, simply leading to gradual deviation from the proper path... In that case, this leaves me no choice but to push the timing for the next stage."
"What... You said timing? I'm going to have to ask you to exit the stage for causing overlapping redundancy in character archetype and manner of speaking relative to me. Naturally, I am referring to the stage of Japan."
Glaring severely, Konoha readied her karate chop.
"Then why don't you try driving me out by force, will you? What I mean by timing is precisely this... It looks like it is time to resort to slightly violent measures."
As soon as she finished, a massive shadow suddenly loomed over the glass window. It was the giant weapon, a hybrid between a hammer and a butcher's cleaver. Without any hesitation, Alice transformed the weapon's weight into destructive power—She smashed the glass window with astounding vigor.
"Nuu—!? Tsk, this is bad!"
Fear and Konoha abruptly looked back but it was too late. The scattered shards of glass glittered brightly as they brushed past the two non-humans, flying towards the two humans' bodies of flesh and blood.
Due to the suddenness, Haruaki could not react in time. Whether ducking down or covering his face, it was too late. His skin could feel the transparent and lethal weapons arriving to slash his carotid artery and stab his eyeballs. Just as he reflexively closed his eyes—
"Mode: «Cushioning Munemori»!"
Instantly, black hair was spread out before his eyes, in a thin layer like a protective barrier or a shield. The hair gently blocked the numerous glass fragments that attacked Haruaki and Kirika's bodies, reducing their motion almost to zero.
"Uwah~ I thought I was a goner...! Thanks, Kuroe!"
"Let me thank you as well—However, please prioritize Yachi over me next time. In situations where you cannot help both of us, it's fine to leave me unprotected. That's the kind of body I possess."
"...? I don't quite get it, but as long as things are okay."
Kuroe answered with her head slightly tilted for she did not understand the details of Kirika's condition.
Feeling someone's gaze, Haruaki looked up to find Fear with an expression like a scolded child. He also instantly realized that Fear was actually looking at Kuroe beside him.
Haruaki had tried to clear up the misunderstanding about hair consumption.
Alice's words had expressed surprise at their internal discord.
Kuroe had taken action without hesitation to protect Haruaki and Kirika.
Summing all this together, Fear finally realized she was wrong. Although she still doubted the meaning Alice intended for them to figure out—in other words, the fact that only customers of the beauty parlor were killed, there was virtually no reason for suspecting Kuroe any longer.
Seeming like she wanted to say something to Kuroe, Fear was just about to speak, but—
"Okay, where can we raise a commotion? As for me, I'm fine with anywhere."
"Freeze! I won't let you escape again!"
As if dragged down by the metal hammer, Alice fell from the window. Catching a momentary glimpse through a gap in the broken window of Alice turning her body, Konoha jumped out the window to chase after her.
"Tsk... Damn it, I still have things to say, but that can wait until later!"
"Yes, I also—"
Fear glared at Haruaki the instant he opened his mouth. She looked quite angry. Perhaps she was trying to use a vicious glare to cover up the fear and unease she was feeling inside.
"You wait here! I don't want to see anything like what happened the day before yesterday, ever again!"
The day before yesterday. She meant getting caught up in the abandoned house's collapse? It really was quite a terrifying experience, but still—
"If we have no choice but to ask for help, Cow Tits should be able to phone you, right? Anyway, just leave the pursuit to those of us who are used to violence—So you stay here! Kirika and Kuroe, I leave Haruaki in your hands!"
Following Konoha, Fear jumped and disappeared through the window. Haruaki reflexively took a step forward to see where she was going, but felt a sharp pain on the sole of his foot. It was the hard sensation of glass.
"Uwah... Damn it, mere broken glass is enough to prevent me from walking, I'm so useless..."
"Don't belittle yourself, Haru. If Ficchi can say to me 'I leave Haruaki in your hands,' then that's only because you helped convince her, Haru."
"Convince huh... I simply stated out what was reasonable. Well then, what should we do? It can't be helped, should we return to the living room to wait for them to contact us? Oh yeah, Class Rep, what's the matter? What's with the pained look?"
"No, somehow I get the feeling..."
Dressed in her uniform, arms crossed before her chest, Kirika was gazing down at the glass by her feet.
"—What's the meaning of breaking the glass? She declared war intentionally but suddenly ran away, what does this all mean...? Say, Yachi, how should I put this... Perhaps I'm worrying too much, but... Don't you think we've been cleverly separated?"
At that moment—
As if proving Kirika's speculation correct, Alice's voice came from the same spot as just now.
"Ara ara, looks like we have a smart one here—Though it doesn't really trouble me, really."
It felt like time had been rewound. From the top of the broken window pane, Alice was smiling upside down, her monocle flashing over her left eye.
Had Fear and Konoha lost her trail already? Since they were not here, were those two girls still safe? Why did Alice return? What was she doing?
Haruaki and company were drowned in confusion by these questions. Alice smiled lightly and cleared her throat. Then suddenly withdrawing her face back to the roof, she disappeared from their view.
Haruaki readied his stance while Kuroe looked out the window, her hair beginning to wave—
On the other hand, Kirika—
Discovered 'it' earlier than everyone else.
But it was already too late.
As if having entered normally through the front door, appearing in the room behind the trio, from a direction completely opposite to the window—
Clearly she could not have moved instantaneously, but through some unknown means, she made her appearance here—
Alice, with a monocle over her right eye.
"«Welcome to the Other Side»!"
She was holding a glowing object in her hand. While murmuring softly, Alice pressed the object against Kuroe's back. Kuroe tried to turn around and attack with her wriggling black hair, but—
Stopped in that very instant.
Alice simply murmured a sentence and touched Kuroe's back with the glowing object to completely halt her motions. Completely frozen in an unnatural pose... As if changed back into a doll... Or perhaps, as if time had stopped for her alone.
No, for some reason, only her lips could move.
"Haru, hurry and escape...!"
"Ara ara, by the way, that would not be allowed—Moving recklessly is very dangerous! The same goes for the person over there. Unless you're unconcerned with what happens to him, please do not do anything rash."
Whoosh—Haruaki felt wind against his throat. Simply shifting his gaze down a little, found the hammer-cleaver hybrid weapon—Its cleaver portion was being held against his throat, separated only by a hair's breadth. Despite the weapon's heavy appearance, Alice simply wielded it in one hand. The blade's cold touch and even the coarse rusty texture could be felt through Haruaki's skin. Terrible. The situation was really terrible.
"Did I not advise against rash action?"
As soon as Kirika raised her right arm slightly, Alice's blade reacted. The thick and icy sensation pressed harder against Haruaki's throat. It was a miracle he did not start bleeding.
Kirika gnashed her teeth and stopped moving. Putting the hammer and the glowing object in her other hand away, back under her nun's habit, Alice nodded with satisfaction.
"Very well, thank you. So long as you remain still obediently, I won't harm any of you."
"What do you intend to do to us?"
"Without mincing words, let's just call you hostages? Although the timing calls for measures to be taken, a direct confrontation would be rather foolhardy—By the way, please do not worry about Kuroe-sama. I have simply stopped her from moving without coming to any harm or injury. Since it might be a little uncomfortable, I allowed her eyes and mouth to move."
"...Then I guess I really should thank you."
Kuroe grumbled as she stared with sleepy-looking eyes. In a rare moment, her voice carried a tone of sarcasm. This was the most resistance Kuroe could offer with her body immobilized.
Similarly, Haruaki could only offer vocal resistance:
"Class Rep...! Hurry and escape, even if it's just you alone—"
"Ara ara, that would not be allowed. Were she to call the other two back here, it would be troublesome. I expect they will not be back in the next seven minutes."
Right, what were Fear and Konoha doing? If they were chasing after this woman, they should be back any moment now—!
Did Alice defeat them? Impossible no matter what. Then using some sort of means—Haruaki took a sideways glance at Alice's face—his gaze attracted by the shimmering monocle on her right eye. How strange, he remembered it being worn over her left eye—What on earth was going on—?
But Haruaki could not pursue this line of thought anymore. The situation did not allow for further contemplation.
With a clear voice, Alice declared:
"Would you please come along as well? Should you try to escape or make a false move, guava juice will be flowing out of his neck, okay?"
"...Understood. As you wish."
Kirika narrowed her eyes and sighed, relaxing her whole body to express surrender.
"Very good, you're quick to understand. Then could you please carry Kuroe-sama on your back? Although she cannot move according to her will, external forces can alter her posture."
Kirika silently loaded Kuroe on her back while Haruaki could do nothing but watch this scene unfold while feeling the icy-cold blade against his throat.
A most terrible development. It could only be described as most terrible.
From this instant onwards, the trio of Haruaki, Kirika and Kuroe were kidnapped by the strange woman who kept smiling even now.
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