Chapter 4 - The Transcenders Who Are Everywhere / "Human"
Passing through back alleyways, the trio of Haruaki, Kirika and Kuroe were taken to a coastal area lined with warehouses. Perhaps this zone was originally abandoned, because it was completely devoid of people. Blown continuously by the sea breeze, several warehouses looked like haunted houses as they stood eerily in the darkness of the night.
Following Alice's orders, the trio entered one of the warehouses. Since it was late at night, the view was completely dark. But very soon, faint light appeared. The nearby light source was behind Haruaki—A battery-powered lantern in Alice's hand.
The dim light revealed the emptiness in the warehouse. Apart from a large freight container positioned by the wall, the remainder was a vast space with nothing but the chilly, blowing wind. Near the entrance, there was a spot with lingering signs that someone had lit firewood in the warehouse in a lapse of common sense, surrounded by piles of random articles including blankets. Alice had apparently been using this place as shelter.
"Anyway, could you please enter the freight container over there? Although it's a little cramped, you'll find it cozy once you get used to it."
Alice ordered Kirika to pull open the door with its heavy hinges and unload Kuroe inside. Her arms and legs static like a doll's, Kuroe spoke up again:
"Wow~ This suite is simply marvelous. The hard feeling of icy-cold steel against my back is simply the greatest."
Blankly, she commented with sarcasm.
Then Alice took out two sets of handcuffs from her luggage and tossed them lightly to Kirika.
"Go inside and put these on your ankles and wrists."
"Ara ara, would you like a cup of hot juice too?"
Haruaki felt the cold blade against his throat again. Kirika had no choice but to abandon the frown on her face.
"Wait, I get it... Look here, I put them on already."
"Excellent. Now you too—Oh... my? I only brought three pairs of cuffs? Never mind. In any case, please cuff your hands."
"Damn you to hell..."
Haruaki was completely reluctant to obey her, but he did not want to die either. Left without a choice, he could only handcuff his wrists. Excellent—Satisfied, Alice pushed Haruaki from behind and shoved him into the freight container as well. The area within the container was only about the size of a school washroom and definitely not spacious, but it was not so cramped as to be impossible to move about inside. Other than the open door, a draft could be felt seeping through a gap. At least there was no danger of suffocation.
"I need to make some preparations, so please relax and get some rest for now, everyone."
Once the container door was shut, a rustling sound was heard outside. What was she preparing?
"How troubling. Things have become absolutely ridiculous."
"Ow. Haru, don't step on my arm."
"Woah, sorry... W-What should we do?"
"Nothing can be done. The «Tragic Black River» can't open handcuffs, so we can only bide our time—That woman called us hostages so she shouldn't be doing anything to us immediately."
"I hope so..."
"Of course, we cannot let slip any chance for escape. That woman intends to make a deal with Fear and Konoha, right? In that case, I believe the instant of the exchange will be the best opportunity to take action."
"Ohoh, I see this kind of development in movies a lot."
"In the movie I saw last time, the hostage who made a false move in a similar situation got shot in the head."
"Kuroe, please don't say something so unlucky..."
While they conversed, the container's door was opened again. Blinded by the sudden brightness of the lantern, Haruaki could not keep his eyes open.
"Preparations are ready. First, allow me to give you all a present. Please accept this."
Bottles were rolled over. Five unopened bottles of mineral water. Be careful not to get dehydrated—Alice said while smiling cordially.
"Also, I'll leave this lantern here as a matter of courtesy. After all, I can burn firewood for illumination. Anyway, let's leave it at that. How about we cut to the main point? Please look this way."
"...A video camera?"
Haruaki looked up and saw Alice with a small device before her face. She was waving her hand especially happily:
"I bought this at Akihabara. As expected of a product made in Japan, it's packed full of features, it's really wonderful!"
"Hmph, looks like it can shoot a happy home video. You plan on giving it to your companions as a souvenir?"
"No, this will serve as a video letter. Those girls must be in quite a panic by now, right? Hence, I intend to send them this to disclose a bit of news. I believe an elaborate product would transmit my feelings better—Oh by the way, Kuroe-sama, I couldn't catch your face!"
"I can't move at all. Haru, please turn my neck for me."
While helping Kuroe turn her head, Haruaki glared at Alice with everything he had.
"Okay, perfect. The recording begins... Okay, Fear-sama, this is the current situation. Let me title this scene, 'Three Helpless Little Deer.' What needs to be done should be quite clear to you, right? If you wish for the safe return of these three, please accept our invitation to the Bivorio Family. I will offer utmost hospitality."
"Fear! You should know what to do!"
Haruaki could not help but yell. Yes, Fear should know what she needs to do. She will not accept these terms. She cannot choose this option. For the sake of lifting her curse, she had already decided to stay here. For the sake of lifting her curse, becoming human. Hence she absolutely was not going to go to those people—
"No no no, Fear-sama does not understand."
"Does salvation ever come without suffering? Indeed, because Fear-sama's salvation is needed, I have expressly prepared suffering. The homicides in the city. The need to ponder their meaning carefully to reach the truth—That kind of suffering. But with Kuroe-sama under suspicions, that became no longer possible. Hence I have no choice but to tell you all now, because this will be just as dramatic as overcoming suffering, this goes just as well. Indeed, overcoming suffering to finally uncover the truth for the first time—Only such a dramatic development could effectively transmit the true message, that is what we believe, which is why we don't talk about it lightly."
"I don't get what you mean...! What the heck are you trying to say!?"
Haruaki questioned gruffly, but Alice simply chuckled, shaking her shoulders.
"Of course I am talking about us—The Bivorio Family."
Alice slowly extended an arm, pouring forth her emotions and began explaining as if Fear were present right here. Or perhaps, this performance was targeted towards Kuroe who was immobilized.
"Indeed, I did not lie. The reason why I tried to persuade you, merely wanting to be together with you, merely wanting to have tea with you, merely wanting to chat with you, merely—a simple wish... Would you allow us to become your family?"
Haruaki gasped. There was nothing suspicious in her words. Judging purely from the content, the description did resemble the Yachi home. Similarly, Haruaki hoped to become their family. But why—Why did Alice's words produce such an intense chilling effect?
"Indeed, we hope to become your family. To become family members for you who are wonderful, you who are not human, you who are superior to mankind! There is no dilemma, nothing to hesitate about. Family offers salvation. Family offers love. Family offers recognition. Family offers affirmation. So naturally, in order to allow family to become part of our family—We insist on a single and simple principle. Listen carefully, okay?"
Alice took a deep breath. One could not feel any haughtiness from her.
But proudly, she puffed out her chest.
"We members of the Bivorio Family—offer complete affirmation of the existences known as Wathes."
"Complete affirmation of Wathes...? What does... that mean...!?"
Halfway through, Kirika widened her eyes in surprise as if she realized something. Staring back in amusement, Alice continued:
"Indeed, complete affirmation. Naturally, this also includes the curses on the Wathes."
Haruaki was almost about to suffocate. This was absolutely too incomprehensible and his head was dizzy. What did she say? This woman just... said what...?
"We affirm curses. We affirm the curses that gave birth to transcenders like you. Curses do not require you to force yourself to bear them. Moreover, they are not something that must be removed. Transcenders should look their part as transcenders, as existences possessing superhuman powers. It is completely fine to live as you please using the power of curses. You have that right and obligation—Naturally, this applies equally to Wathes that are in the process of transforming into transcenders."
"N-No... That's wrong! That is absolutely wrong!"
Haruaki recalled the suffering brought by curses to Fear, Konoha, Sovereignty as well as Kuroe in the past—Wishing they could stop harming humans, they suffered great anguish and desperately held back.
"You think it's wrong? Now that would be the true misconception. You're unable to accept your own curse because holding it back is very painful, Fear-sama? But it's fine, there's no need to hold back, because that is what you are."
Kirika bit her lower lip and said. Haruaki agreed.
"No, the humans who forced unnecessary torment on you all are wrong. The humans who try to imprison you transcenders with human logic are wrong. The Family does not do that. If curses compel you to kill people, then go ahead and kill joyfully! If curses cause owners to go insane, then let them joyfully become the madmen who embraces and rub cheeks with you! And if curses kill the owners—Then let them joyfully offer their lives as sacrifice!"
"...Not happy at all. At least for me, treated in that manner doesn't make me happy at all."
Kuroe murmured expressionlessly. But Alice either missed it or refused to hear it.
Still smiling, she declared proudly—
"For a member of the Family, dying for a transcender is an honor. Absolute sacrifice and thoughtfulness—only those who have awakened feelings of such familial love are qualified to become members of the Family. Although numbers are few, we do have supporters. Those who were saved by the Wathes and decided to devote everything henceforth to the transcenders known as the Wathes... Indeed, I asked them for help this time."
The ominous feeling in Haruaki's heart increased.
Don't listen—His instincts whispered to him. This was further insanity exhibited by madmen. Were he to listen, there would be no going back. This was the depressing truth that made him realize the decisive difference between his side and Alice's—
But Alice did not stop talking.
In a very very happy tone of voice, like a child who was showing off her prowess in a game, she continued:
"Yes. In order to dramatically express 'our affirmation of curses,' I asked several members of the Family to offer themselves in sacrifice. Everyone died joyfully!"
All thought interrupted.
Then came understanding.
Instantly, Fear kicked the table flying out of the living room by pure strength alone. The dining table crashed thunderously into the garden, but that did not matter at this time.
"Screw this, screw this, screw this...! What the heck? What is going on!?"
"—Please quiet down a bit. I can't hear the sound."
Konoha was intently watching the playing DVD. However, her fingers were busy adjusting the glasses over her sharp gaze.
Fear clenched her fists. Wanting very much to escape from the woman who was bringing up unpleasant things, she turned her gaze outside the house. The dining table lay overturned in the garden. The sky was already getting light—Then several more hours passed. Earlier, Fear and Konoha had returned home to find their important companions disappeared after Alice had vanished during the pursuit like last time. As for their discovery of the DVD in the mailbox, that took place merely half an hour earlier.
Although Fear was facing the garden, she could still hear the sound. She knew she must listen no matter what.
'Could this be—what they share in common—?'
It was Haruaki's voice. A voice that now elicited nostalgic feelings.
'Indeed, precisely this. All the people who died are members of the Family—This is the answer. Asking them to visit the beauty parlor was meant to serve as preferential treatment and a hint. What I call preferential treatment is this—Since death was coming anyway, they would offer their hair to Kuroe-sama as nourishment. As for the hint—it was to let you know their faces.'
All their reasoning was reversed—Fear instantly understood.
Rather than people who visited the beauty parlor were killed...
Simply those fated to die had visited the beauty parlor.
'...Didn't you switch targets to Ficchi? There's no particular need to service me, right?'
Fear glanced at the screen. Just like what she saw earlier, Kuroe remained motionless. Her freedom of mobility was probably taken away somehow, right?
Fear was reminded that she still had not apologized to her.
'Indeed, our primary target has changed to Fear-sama, but I still like you, Kuroe-sama, and would offer the Family's love as much as possible—Hence, not only did I visit personally to have you cut my hair, but also told other members of the Family to visit your shop as soon as they arrived to this town. Since I did not prescribe a sequence for the deaths, I allowed them to do as much as they could while they were still alive. Everyone agreed readily to it.'
Kuroe snorted through her nose as her response.
'After all, preferential treatment is simply what it is. Please don't mind it too much. By the way, speaking of which, there was another hint I prepared to help you realize what the members of the Family shared—But it looks like no one caught it. To draw a connection to my nun's habit, I ordered everyone to wear a cross ornament when entering the beauty parlor... Was that too difficult to spot?'
'! ...I see now, so that's the weird feeling I had when checking the security footage... That was it huh...'
Kirika groaned in displeasure. Oh no... Fear really wanted to tell her "Thank you for your help"... But before she had a chance to express her gratitude, this situation had arose immediately.
'The silver cross. Hair decorations. Key holders on their bags... Speaking of which, I have some recollection of them wearing those. Tsk, how could I fail to notice...?'
'I prepared many similar hints, but until yesterday, you had not even figured out that all of the deceased were customers of the beauty parlor. Does this country have strict standards of privacy protection? The news almost never reported on their appearance. Thus as a further hint, I snipped off some hair from a dead Family member who had had a haircut already and delivered it to Kuroe-sama. Part of the reason was also the fact that I wanted another haircut myself.'
'All thanks to you, I was involved in a great misunderstanding.'
Kuroe's statement caused Fear a pain in her chest. I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
'...So what if we realize the deceased are members of the Family? What's the meaning in doing this?'
'Like I said earlier. I hoped you could realize for yourselves—The Family affirms curses. We are a wonderful organization who are willing to die for curses. In order to satisfy the curse of this «Cannibal Cooker» here, I asked them to die. And in order to convey our message to Fear-sama, I had them made into cube shapes. My original hope was for you all to solve the riddle using the clues I provided, so that you could realize the meaning behind our actions, to find out in a dramatic manner what sort of organization we are. I believed that only through this sense of drama, only by overcoming suffering before salvation to reach the truth, could you all truly experience how wonderful we are.'
After Alice finished, Kirika's bitter voice sliced through the air:
'I can't understand a thing you're saying, but let me ask you, that curse... Is there a connection to the fact that parts of the victims' bodies were removed?"
'Yes, the curse of this «Cannibal Cooker» is quite simple. It simply compels one to kill and eat people.'
Haruaki was rendered speechless.
'I only used it for the first time after coming here... But it's not very tasty actually, oh? Perhaps limited by how the news is reported, none of these details came out very well, which is partially responsible for the failure. This country feels like it was cultivated in a sterile environment, how troubling.'
Fear bit her lower lip hard. The damage to the corpses was completely unrelated to Kuroe's consumption of hair. Everything came about only because this woman and the Bivorio Family were too abnormal—
Now that Fear understood, the answer was simple. To have been manipulated so easily, she really was incompetent, how frustrating, too embarrassing—Fear felt her anger rising.
'...Okay, Fear-sama, you now understand the Family's position and the current situation, yes? Once you make a decision, please come to the location indicated on the enclosed map. I won't ask you to come alone. Similarly, I hope the glasses-wearing girl can also become family. You two may come together—Plus Kuroe-sama, I really would not mind if all three of you joined us at the same time.'
"I refuse. Indeed, I refuse. What am I thinking right now? Nothing but to make you regret the ridiculous acts you have perpetrated... This is truly all that I am feeling right now."
Konoha was murmuring in a terrifying voice, her hand still adjusting her glasses without pause.
Then the video letter ended and the screen turned dark.
Fear took a deep breath. Although she was completely at odds with Cow Tits here, only at the current moment did she feel that their minds were in complete agreement.
"When do we leave?"
The Japanese sword answered immediately. Had she been the one to ask first, Fear would have instantly replied the same.
Konoha stood up, her face resembling the expression Fear had seen in the night forest before—A cruel and merciless aura.
Ah... I get it. I can understand what she's feeling.
Fear felt the same way—and was desperately suppressing this anger.
She really wanted to get there earlier. To reach that guy's side as quickly as possible.
But before the that, something apparently had to be done first.
Something needed to be settled first.
"Hey, Cow Tits..."
Just as Fear spoke up—
There was a great noise from the entryway. It only sounded for an instant.
Fear and Konoha looked at each other for an instant before springing into action, rushing out of the living room.
A few mere steps were enough to reveal the reason for the noise. Completely unexpected—Whether considered as good news or bad.
Kirika was lying collapsed at the entrance, all covered in blood.
—Tracing back a a few hours earlier...
After finishing the recording, Alice closed the freight container's door again. The battery-powered lantern she left behind was glowing faintly, illuminating the narrow space.
Judging the time to be appropriate, Haruaki stood up, being the only one whose legs were free. Lowering his head to glance at Kuroe who was immobilized apart from her face—
"Kuroe, are you able to move your hair?"
"I would've done it already if I could."
I thought so too—Haruaki sighed and started to examine the door. Perhaps due to the wind blowing in from a gap, it felt even colder than further inside. But of course, it was not a gap a person could slip through, and neither could the door be opened from inside. Useless huh—Just as he sighed again, Kirika hopped over. Since her ankles were cuffed together, this was the only way she could move.
"Yachi, are there any gaps in the door?"
"Well, however I look at it there's none that..."
"Even a centimeter is enough. If the «Tragic Black River» can pass through, I might be able to move the chain from inside here."
"Oh, that's right."
Who knew if Alice was careless or complacent, she only confiscated their cellphones and did not search their bodies. Kirika had not shown the belt so far, hence fortunately, it was still wrapped around her right arm. With Kuroe still immobile, this was their only available weapon.
Haruaki and Kirika pressed their faces against the edge of the door to find a gap. However, it was still in vain.
"Tsk... What an exceedingly simple sealed room. Looks like it needs to be dealt with in an equally simple manner."
"What do you mean?"
"Simple destructive power should be able to break open this door, allowing us to escape from here."
Yeah but—Haruaki shrugged.
"But we cannot find what's not there, no matter how hard we try. The draft here is quite cold, so let's go back deeper."
Kirika hopped back towards the depths of the freight container. But no matter how athletic she was, Kirika could not have accustomed herself to moving with her ankles cuffed together like this.
Either she slipped or she tripped, Kirika fell down along the way. Although she did not get hurt—
"Uh... Yeah. As hard as it is for me to say this, but... The situation is just as you suspect, Class Rep..."
Her skirt was flipped up, revealing her bottom underneath—Haruaki could catch a glimpse of the black leather. Blushing to her ears, Kirika frantically attempted to flip her skirt back down, but because her hands were cuffed, she could not move as she wished.
"Huff... Ooh... Damn it..."
"No, ummm, no need to force yourself. Let me help you fix it. See."
Trying as much as he could to avoid looking at her bottom, Haruaki helped Kirika to flip the skirt back. She then crept to the depths of the container. Leaning her back against the wall, she yelled, still blushing:
"H-How could such a guy exist!? Flipping my skirt and then covering it again!"
"Wait a minute, I helped you cover it back up, but I never lifted it... Woah, don't glare at me! R-Relax, I only saw it for an instant, no actually, I didn't see anything at all! That's right, if you think about it, compared to yesterday, this is completely—Oh..."
Kirika's face went even redder and she forcefully bowed her head. Seeing her reaction, Haruaki felt sorry and stopped talking. Indeed, that's right... It was not something she wanted to recall—
"Adult-looking underwear, 'compared to yesterday,' two people blushing awkwardly... What is the answer indicated by all these elements? If Ficchi and Kono-san are unaware of this, perhaps I've stumbled upon potent blackmail material."
"Woah! Oh right, you're here too... No, nothing, there's really nothing."
Oh~? Haruaki decided to ignore the blank gaze directed towards him for now.
Silently, time passed. It was getting cold. Wondering if she was cold, Haruaki looked at Kirika who was sitting opposite him. Sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest, Kirika was staring at her kneecaps in apparent contemplation. Her arms wrapped around her legs, her skirt hem was sandwiched between her ankles and her thighs, thereby covering up what was not supposed to be seen. However, her pale white knees and legs, exposed from under her skirt, looked quite cold. At this moment, the thought of leaning closer together for warmth occurred to Haruaki—Frantically, he shook his head to dispel the notion. That would be bad. Leaning together, shoulder to shoulder, their bodies against each other—That could lead to many misunderstandings! That said, it was not clear who would be doing the misunderstanding.
"You... I'm surprised you're so calm."
"—Eh? R-Really? Isn't this very normal?"
"Of course it's not normal. We're being imprisoned, you know?"
"It's because Haru is like an old man. His mental age has already reached the level of an old abbot at a monastery."
Even Kuroe chimed in as well. Doesn't that sound like I'm about to croak and kick the bucket? How displeasing.
"Because struggling is useless, right? So all I can do is wait... Oh yeah, but if I were imprisoned all alone, I'd definitely be screaming and shouting in a panic, I suppose? Thanks to having the calm Class Rep and Kuroe here, I can be more relaxed... Yes, luckily, it's a great help that you two are here."
Hoh—The corners of Kirika's mouth relaxed.
Then she turned her gaze away a little shyly and spoke awkwardly:
"This goes the same for me. If you were not here, I'd definitely be more flustered, yes? I am nowhere as calm as you imagine. So, umm—I also think... It's a great help to have you here... Or should I say, how fortunate to have you..."
"But the one who helps further by saving you is still me after all."
Suddenly at this time—
A voice appeared.
Without them noticing, a strange man had started standing inside the container.
For an instant, Haruaki suspected the suit-wearing man of being the superintendent. This was because his voice sounded familiar and he was wearing a mask. But this man was not the superintendent. Quite obviously not.
This was an iron mask with spikes radiating from it like a lion's mane. Probably meant for decoration, but it was especially ugly as a result, producing an atmosphere like equipment used for some strange ritual. Despite the simple shapes used for the eyes, nose and mouth openings, there was some kind of artistic sense to them. The mask's dull color of iron wrapped the entire head. One could barely spot some fine hair at the man's neck.
"Wha... Who... How did you get in here?"
"I didn't notice either. And to think I am supposed to be quite skilled in presence detection, although not as amazing as Kono-san."
The trio expressed their surprise respectively. Only Kirika was also gnashing her teeth as well.
"How did I get in? I simply opened the door normally and walked inside. However, it is only natural that you all failed to notice. This is the Wathe whose curse started with the anger and resentment of a certain man who died in 1703. Without even receiving a name, this man lived his entire life wearing this mask. In other words, he was treated as a human who did not exist."
Tapping the mask lightly with his finger, the man continued as if lecturing slow-witted students:
"Regarding the matter of his 'non-existing existence,' the man simply strengthened the curse progressively on this mask. After the man died, others in similar situations were forced to wear this mask: an impermissible illegitimate son of the king, an impermissible child of mixed blood between a noble and a commoner, an impermissible child of pure blood between siblings. Hence, the mask was cursed—transmuting into a Wathe that 'dilutes the wearer's presence once worn.' And its name comes from the man where it all began, people call it... «Il est dans Bastille»."
Haruaki was certain he had heard this voice somewhere before but could not place it. How strange. Despite recognizing the voice, this manner of speaking was unknown—There was this sense of contradiction.
"A mask that dilutes the wear's presence once worn...? So that means..."
"Indeed. After confirming that this Matriarch had tossed the video or something into the Yachi home, I tailed her back to this place. Then I used this mask's taboo power. For an act like opening a door, it too, can produce an effect of diluted presence, causing people to think 'it's nothing much' and not notice—Oh dear, I've said too much. Your serious listening attitude earns you a hundred marks, Yachi-kun."
"W-Why do you know my name—"
"Oh? She hasn't told you? This is good too. I'm so glad, Kirika, how considerate of you regarding my position, yes? As expected of my—"
A curt shout. Haruaki looked speechlessly at Kirika. What was going on? They knew each other? If this was someone Kirika knew, then that meant—
"Indeed, I am a member of Lab Chief Yamimagari Pakuaki's Nation, Ueno Kirika's dependable partner, and the man who understands the princess better than anyone else."
"Sh-Shut up—Stop talking about that and answer me! You just mentioned the 'Matriarch,' so you mean—"
"Oh, so she hasn't introduced herself to you people yet? Did she playfully decide to withhold it, or did she forget... Either is possible. Oh well, let me tell you then. Of course, I am referring to the woman snoring away outside. Her name is Alice Bivorio Basskreigh—the Canonical Mother, Ms. Fanatic, the Woman Bearing the Name of Alpha, the First Matriarch. It is understood from these titles that she is the founder and head of the Family."
"This is really shocking—She's the boss? Hmm, so if she originally came to Japan to target me, that means she holds me in high regard? That said, I'm not happy about it at all."
Listening to the man as she lay on the floor, Kuroe murmured blankly.
The masked man spread his hands in an exaggerated manner towards Kirika who was glaring at him.
"Yes, which is why I said it beforehand, right? I told you not to get involved with the Family. Compared to others, their organization is more fragile, more undisciplined, ignorant—and above all, more fanatical than any other faction. Even for us, the Lab Chief's Nation, they are enemies more abhorrent than the Knights Dominion or other organizations. We cannot enter a conflict with them as an organization."
The masked man shook his head in exasperation.
"Especially since this is Bivorio herself—the woman who is the source of all the insanity. As soon as I heard she was coming, I knew anything could happen. No matter what, I could not let the Lab Chief's sister, the princess, get involved, right? But the threat—no, my honest advice was for naught and it ended up like this. I never thought you would show him that. What a great gamble you took, Kirika."
After listening to the man and seeing the dramatic change in Kirika's expression, Haruaki instantly understood.
In a rare moment, he felt his mind instantly boiling in rage.
"You... You're the one threatening Class Rep! Even forcing her to go that far!"
"Full marks for your answer. Did you see it? Were you terrified? Did you find it disgusting? I don't suppose you were aroused? Do you reminisce over it in bed? In that case, your future might get dangerous—"
"Shut up and stop screwing around! Why are you forcing her to do that? It's all your fault, that's why Class Rep would endure to the point of fainting!"
Kirika's eyes wavered complicatedly. Handcuffed, her arms were crossed tightly before her chest.
Haruaki stood up and approached the masked man, almost about to beat him up. However—
"You ask me why? It's obvious. Of course it's for her personal safety."
The man lifted Haruaki by his collar. The vicious gaze from behind the mask almost penetrated him.
"Then let me ask you, why is she being imprisoned now? Why is she handcuffed? The fact is, had she not gotten involved with the Family, this would not have happened, or am I wrong? Before I arrived, if Bivorio were to abuse Kirika, how would you stop her?"
Haruaki could not retort back. There was nothing he could say.
"Stop it, let go of Yachi!"
"Mode: «Chaotic Tadamori»... Still not working, I knew it."
Choked by the throat for a few seconds, Haruaki was finally tossed aside and freed. Coughing violently, he wept involuntarily. Damn it, completely shameful.
"Hmph, brat. How annoying."
Then the masked man knelt down by Kirika. Taking out a needle from his pocket, he began to fiddle with the keyhole in the cuff on her ankles. Kirika glared at the man at close range. After a long while, the shackles were opened and the man turned to handcuffs. As the clattering sound persisted, the cuffs were opened the same way—
Kirika instantly punched the man in the gut.
"Oof... Guh... Ha... That really... hurts..."
"I am very grateful for your rescue, but I will not allow you to make a move on Yachi."
"I didn't punch or kick him, okay?"
"Shut up. Next time, if you dare—"
The man tilted his head as if completely baffled.
"Kirika, what are you talking about?"
"Wha... Are you actually..."
"I am not obliged to rescue these people as well. «Il est dans Bastille» can only erase the presence of one accompanying person at most. That is the limit."
While he spoke, the sound of something being shot was heard. Haruaki saw a flash of light erupt from Kirika's neck and the stun gun that had suddenly appeared in the man's hand. The man loaded the unconscious Kirika on his shoulder.
"—Okay, that's it. Don't resent me for this, boy and little girl."
"I resent you deeply. Hurry and save me! As a reward, you may grope me."
"I'm not interested in little kids."
The masked man quietly opened the closed door and stepped into the darkness.
Haruaki did not intend to stop him but hoped he would continue instead. Even if it was just Kirika, Haruaki hoped she could escape to safety first if possible. Haruaki had no complaints at all.
"I leave Class Rep... in your hands."
Hearing the voice from behind, the masked man looked back in amazement.
Shrugging, he remarked in mockery:
"...What an excessively nice guy. Even when clearly you have no idea whether you'll live to see tomorrow."
The man with no presence opened the freight container's door and walked out, carrying a girl. Even if someone were to witness this scene, they would completely dismiss it with only a slight sense of dissonance. The man did not exist and humans were unable to sense the nonexistent.
Of course, this extended to the senses of hearing and touch as well. Hence, the woman did not wake up. She was very sensitive to the presence of people approaching in her sleep. If anyone apart from this masked man walked into the warehouse, she would instantly notice. However, she did not wake up here.
Alice Bivorio Basskreigh was currently dreaming. Perhaps either the primitive warmth from the campfire beside her or the coldness of the warehouse was reminding her of her homeland. Or maybe the prospects of bringing new family home was giving her a sense of comfort. Or she was simply embarking on a journey through memory on whim.
No one knew the answer. But as it happened, she was dreaming of "home."
She had spent her life in three homes. One was her current home, the old church. One was the welfare agency where she had lived ever since she could remember as nothing but a serial number. And finally—
Despite being the same building, the old church in the past was considered a separate home from the present. Immediately after the priest adopted her from the welfare agency, it was the worst and most terrible "home" she was taken to.
She was currently dreaming of that home.
In other words—This was a nightmare consisting of fragmentary memories.
The beloved old church. After adopting a good many children from the welfare agency, the priest had said to them in front of the church—From today onwards, this is your home. I will use this place as an orphanage—Uttering such lies and truth.
Alice. Her name. The one she received when she was taken away. "You girls need names anyhow. So you're A... Alice. You're B, Bianca. You're C..." The names were chosen according to alphabetical order. The foolish children rejoiced, failing to notice that the result was identical to the welfare agency's numbering.
Work consisted of sweeping, washing clothes and other chores, and for some unknown reason, learning etiquette for facing elders. Back at the agency, children were spanked for doing things wrong, but this place was different. There was no spanking. Child G, Galatea, who took her work the least seriously, lost all the fingernails from her right hand within the span of a single day.
After roughly two months had passed, the church began to have visitors. Most of them were smartly dressed gentlemen who chatted amiably with the priest on some topic while their gentle gazes watched the children work. Those eyes, filled with tender love, were completely sincere, yet for some reason, Alice found them unbelievably disgusting.
There were two meals a day, consisting of dry bread and soup without much substance. On occasion there was some other food, most notably hot milk with honey, which was basically a luxurious feast. One day, Alice found some leftover milk in the kitchen and secretly drank it all by herself. The priest discovered her and gave her a sound beating. Sweet milk was vomited out together with digestive juices. "Sorry I lost my temper by accident. If you want to drink it that much, then it can't be helped, keep it a secret from everyone!" Then smiling gently, the priest pointed to the vomit spilled all over the kitchen floor and said: "Very well, drink it all up and leave no drop behind!"
Elena. Child E. The friend who gave Alice haircuts and watched her draw. On a certain day, she was gone. On that day, Alice watched from a window as a visitor led Elena by the hand into a car while the priest saw them off with a smile. For a long period after that, the meals were more extravagant than ever before. Once the priest adopted a new orphan from the agency to replace Elena, Alice finally realized. This was not a church but a ranch. There was nothing here but young sows waiting to be sold.
Late one night in the chapel, Alice saw the priest weeping as he gazed at a massive and filthy cross hanging on the wall before him. Ohhh~ God, I have sinned, please forgive me. How shocking, this man had a conscience? He also had a human heart? So pure unadulterated evil did not exist in this world?
Then the priest discovered her watching from the side and hugged her with his face covered with tears. He kept repeating "sorry, sorry" over and over again—until the tears suddenly vanished from his face.
Sorry, sorry. I have finally realized, you are the most important to me, Alice. That is why I have not sold you after all this time, but kept you by my side instead. I'm sorry for making you feel lonely. We will remain together forever from now on. Ahhh, let me stroke your beautiful hair. It reminds me so much of my mother. I love you.
...Alice knew. This was contrition for the priest, but to her, this brought forth new despair.
The elderly priest seemed determined to prevent her from escaping while he caressed the twelve-year-old's hair under the cross. Ever since Elena left, Alice had started keeping her hair long. The priest held her hair against his nose, inhaling as if it were a narcotic.
Staring blankly at the design of the cross hanging high above, feeling the repulsive breath against her hair, Alice thought to herself.
—O God, what have I done wrong?
So smelly, so disgusting, so nauseating. Grotesque. It gives me goosebumps. I want to kill him so much. This is too terrifying.
—O God, is this some kind of punishment?
I want to die. Such torment. The tongue licking my hair is making me sick. I imagine squirming leeches.
—O God, why won't you save me?
—O God, may I curse you?
She could feel shaking. A comfortable, random rocking motion.
A soft feeling against her back. A chair—no, a seat. Sleep inducing. This came as no surprise, seeing as she had been sleeping until now. Sleeping? Why was she sleeping? Until just now... What had she been doing...
As soon as her thoughts reached this point...
She instantly became wide awake.
"You woke up? How do you feel?"
Having taken off his mask, Himura was gripping the steering wheel from the driver's seat. His nonchalant expression was making Kirika feel her urge to kill rising.
"What are you doing—Turn back! Why did you leave Yachi and her behind!?"
"Because there is no reason to save them."
Gazing forwards where the car's headlights invaded the darkness sharply, the corners of Himura's mouth twisted.
"It goes without saying, you must be saved. You are my partner, the Lab Chief's younger sister, and owner of valuable Wathes—as well as the woman who should receive my love. No matter what crisis you are in, isn't it only natural that I should rush over to save you like a hero of justice?"
"Stop screwing around! You just mentioned that the Bivorio Family is mad. Leaving Yachi behind with that woman, who knows what she'll do to him...!"
"Like I said, it's none of my business. Whether that guy is killed, abused or violated by Bivorio, that has nothing to do with me. That is what I believe from the bottom of my heart."
"Even so, how could you just save me and leave him alone—You... Have you have no conscience at all!?"
Out of breath from anger, Kirika panted irregularly.
Indeed. Haruaki had said it was lucky to have her there, but now she was the only one who escaped. She was the only one residing shamelessly in safety like this—
Kirika felt nauseous from self-contempt. Had she known this would happen, she would not have allowed Himura to rescue her so easily. She would keep herself there even if it meant using the «Tragic Black River». The only reason why she had not done that—although it was only for an instant, she had thought "I'm saved now" with relief, all because of her moment of weakness. Kirika could not help but curse her carelessness.
"How troubling, why does it feel like I'm taking a class on ethics and morals? Let me tell you honestly, this weighs nothing on my conscience. Rather, I believe this is perfectly reasonable."
"The Bivorio Family. The Yachi home. Fear-in-Cube. I am greatly interested in all phenomena related to these entities—And observing them is my job. Okay, then a certain VIP named Ueno Kirika gets mixed into the experimental farm. What should I do? Keeping the VIP safe is only natural, right? But should I take action towards the experimental farm that is already all set up? Of course not! How could any rational researcher let a rare opportunity go to waste? Of course one would avoid interfering as much as possible in the farm itself, only removing the foreign object that entered the experiment—"
Experiment. Observation. What on earth was he thinking? When clearly that person's life was on the line!
Kirika felt a stinging pain in her chest. The thorn, embedded in her heart since a long time ago, was hurting with extraordinarily sharp pain.
"...All for the sake... of research...?"
"Completely correct. All we need to concern ourselves with is the completion of the assigned research theme."
Throb. The thorn shuddered. She had intentionally ignored this thorn all this time. The thorn she pretended not to notice only because it was inconvenient to her.
"Then... Then you're just a tool for that man."
"Of course. We are all supposed to be tools for Lab Chief Yamimagari, right? Putting it another way, we are gears as part of the machinery. The all-purpose machinery, a work in progress that could answer all questions about the Wathes—We are nothing but a part of that all-purpose machinery's creation. This has been the case, from the very beginning—"
Yes, from the very beginning... It was quite clear.
Which was why she felt she was a tool, a gear.
Shying her eyes away from what was important, she ignored the thorn she had discovered very early on, turning only as a gear should. Although she disliked the job of a gear, she never deliberately attempted to stop. Because it was very easy.
She could no longer hide the pain from the thorn. She did not want to conceal it any further.
From the bottom of her heart, she disliked disguising pain.
"Enough already... I have had enough!"
With a great shout, she punched the dashboard. Greatly surprised, Himura turned to look at her. Clenching her now bleeding fist, Kirika glared at Himura intently, pouring forth all the hostility she could muster.
"Hey, what is it that you've had enough?"
"Everything! This situation, you, Yamimagari Pakuaki, and also the Lab Chief's nation! I've had enough of it all! Ha! Screw you all, everything has nothing to do with me anymore!"
"Kirika, do you understand what you are saying? Calm down. Do you realize on who's account are you able to stay here? The Lab Chief, right? Living expenses, tuition, rent? Who is protecting you? And for what reason? Precisely because you are a member of the Lab Chief's Nation, not because you're the Lab Chief's sister but as a researcher. Once you lose this title, you will be truly isolated and helpless—"
"Who cares about that! That's right, I don't care about any of this! Only because of that—"
She took a deep breath. It felt good to acknowledge and condemn the villainous practices of the Lab Chief's Nation.
Likewise for admitting her feelings in front of someone else for the first time.
"Only because of that, I can't even save the man I like! If that's the case, I am truly a tool with no meaning of existence! And that would be impossibly, incurably—Absolutely ridiculous!"
Himura widened his eyes with a face full of surprise. Kirika pounced at his hands, grabbed the steering wheel by force and turned it with all her might. The tires skidded and screeched intensely from the friction.
In barely half a second, a utility pole appeared before the dead center of the windshield.
Stopping a block of metal moving at sixty kilometers per hour did not require braking.
A collision was good enough.
Kirika escaped from the smoking carwreck. Because the door could not be opened, she smashed the window with her bare hands.
This was calculated beforehand. Without any people around, the only damage caused by the accident was the fallen utility pole. Provided she fled the scene immediately, no one was going to question her culpability.
She checked the car's condition. Miraculously, not much gasoline had leaked so there was no need to worry about a fire. Then she looked into the front seat of the carwreck to find Himura fainted on the airbag. Although he was bleeding, there were no obvious external injuries... He might have suffered internal wounds to some extent but Kirika did not want to sympathize with Himura at all.
To be frank, she was actually injured far worse. Crashing into the windshield, her head was bleeding and she had broken bones all over. The feeling of warm blood made her sick. For some reason, she found it difficult to maintain balance. Perhaps she might even have lost an arm without noticing.
But she had to go. She must reach those girls first.
Dragging her steps painfully, Kirika made her way.
Flesh squirmed in her wounds. The sensation felt disgusting as always. But this sense of disgust was not entirely without merit. After all—Only thanks to this was she able to "risk her life to save a certain person" without hesitation. Even if she failed, she could try again any number of times.
"...So that's the situation. Sorry, I'm the only one who..."
"No, this is not your fault. In other words, you have left the Lab Chief's Nation?"
"I suppose so... Oof!"
Lying on a living room cushion, Kirika slowly sat up.
"You're already okay?"
"Yeah—Almost healed completely. I'm ready to go any time."
Kirika was opening and closing her palm as if checking her motions. Fear was the same, ready to go any time. But Kirika's arrival had interrupted what she had originally planned to do. Fear wanted to get the matter settled first.
"Then as quickly as possible, let us—"
"Wait, Cow Tits. I have a request for you."
The eyes behind the glasses stared impatiently at Fear. Yeah, I know you want to get moving as quickly as possible, but I need closure for this first.
"I was wrong in suspecting Kuroe. And because of that—it resulted in the current situation. I want this settled."
Fear stared as if trying to penetrate the glasses with her gaze. Konoha's gaze also turned sharp all of a sudden.
"Are you serious about this?"
"I am very serious. So please hit me seriously. I won't complain."
Fear watched as Konoha blinked slowly.
"Then I shall do as you wish. Brace yourself."
Tensing the corners of her mouth, Fear stuck her chest out. She had no intention of averting her gaze, but as Konoha raised her hand and swung it down vigorously, Fear closed her eyes reflexively—
"Hunininini!? W-Weet are yee doing? Eee'll curse yee!"
What landed on her face was neither a fist, a slap, but fingers. Fear's face was being viciously pinched.
"Hoo... Unfortunately, that's as far as my punishment will go. The rest should be left to Kuroe-san herself. I don't have the right to take that away from her."
"Hu... Nyu... Nyo... Myu!"
Konoha stretched Fear's cheeks up and down, left and right. It hurt quite a lot. Just as Fear was about to complain, the fingers finally released her—Konoha's exasperated expression returned back to solemnity.
"Understood? The past is over and done with. What matters is the future."
"...I get it, okay. What needs to be done, what should be prioritized. I will use everything available, even if it means sacrificing my all—I will take back what needs to be taken back."
"Agreed. However, let me state this for the record. The only one who can sacrifice her life is me with my infinite regeneration. Yachi will not want to return to this home without any of you... So please do not abandon your life. Neither are you allowed to leave with that woman on your own."
Kirika approached slowly. After hearing her words, Konoha twisted her lips in a smile:
"I have no intention of dying. Neither do I want to take an unhappy trip abroad during this busy time just before the sports festival."
"Of course. That woman, Alice—Bivorio right? I don't want to lose to her at all. After all, the chances of losing is even lower than the likelihood of Cow Tits' breasts being useful. I was simply expressing my determination."
"Apart from my doubts regarding the usefulness of flat chests, I agree with the rest of what you say. Okay, it's about time, right? If any preparations are needed, please make them now."
Fear expressed her readiness with a snort. However, Kirika was frowning slightly, pondering with her chin resting against her hand.
"...Ueno-san? Is anything bothering you?"
"No, rather than bothering... You're right, preparations... We need to ready everything we can beforehand. Give me five minutes."
"Sure... But what are you preparing?"
Kirika walked out of the living room with her cellphone. As Fear called out from behind, Kirika paused and turned her head. Reflected in Fear's eyes was Kirika's profile, gazing ambiguously at the ceiling.
"...Supposing Yachi has a 'power,' what do you girls think it might be?"
"Power huh... But he's just an ordinary human. You mean his immunity to curses or his shamelessness?"
"Actually there's more... He's gentle and excessively kind. Also his cooking skills?"
"Fufu, all these are correct. But I believe his greatest power is—"
Chuckling lightly, Kirika stated profoundly:
"Having 'Yachi Haruaki's friends.' Those such as me or you two here."
The morning air was quite fresh and clear. The cold sea breeze and salty spray further emphasized the air's refreshing crispness, as if the clean pure air were clearly stating its mission of safeguarding the peace and quiet of this vast warehouse zone.
Under Kirika's lead, Fear and Konoha made their way past the mountain of rusting freight containers, arriving at the heart of the warehouse zone—The location adjacent to the sea. As soon as they reached the target warehouse, without needing to peer inside to check the situation—
"Ara ara, good morning. Let's title this 'A Dawn-Colored Encounter'... I was thinking it was about time for you to arrive, so getting up early to prepare was well worth the effort."
In front of the warehouse, the woman dressed in a nun's habit was burning firewood. She casually drank from her mug while the hammer-cleaver stood beside her.
"Fear, Konoha! Why are you here, Class Rep!?"
"Haruaki! Are you okay?"
Haruaki's handcuffs were chained to the door handle of the warehouse. He had no external injuries at first glance. Although she knew that Alice's goal was not to kill Haruaki, Fear was still relieved at the sight.
"I'm here too, you know?"
"Kuroe-san is unharmed as well... But just as Ueno-san described, she seems to be unable to move."
Kuroe was lying on the floor in front of Haruaki, also apparently uninjured.
"Ara ara, on closer examination, I see that the escaped little miss has returned... You're human, yes? I believe that one hostage is enough, so I don't have any extra hospitality to offer you... What do you want with me?"
"On the contrary, I would like to offer you some of my hospitality. Just release those two obediently and we'll end all this with a little hospitality for you."
Kirika declared with an icy-cold gaze, extending the flowing «Tragic Black River» from her sleeve. Given the current situation, it was no longer necessary to keep it secret.
"Ara, a Wathe... I understand now, I see."
"Kirika is right. Alice—or rather, Bivorio. This is three against one, so you have no hope of winning. Just surrender without a fuss and return Haruaki and Kuroe, then we'll spare your life."
Bivorio put her cup down by her feet and asked in puzzlement:
"Ara? Have I mentioned that name to you? Oh well, it's of no consequence even if you know it... I was thinking, perhaps the Family's image might worsen if others discovered that the head was someone as laid-back as me."
At this moment—
To everyone's surprise, Konoha suddenly dashed towards Haruaki. Regardless, as soon as the hostage was freed, victory would be secured for their side—
"Ara, that's not allowed."
A gunshot. Seeing the new hole by Haruaki's feet, Konoha hastily stopped in her tracks. Bivorio apologetically waved the gun in her hand which she had just fired.
"I would be greatly troubled if you did that. How could you suddenly attempt to snatch away the prize? That would be cheating! I missed intentionally, but one false move and the next shot shall find its target. Mark my words."
Konoha gnashed her teeth. Fast as she was, she could not move faster than a bullet.
Fear took a step forward and bared her fangs:
"—Let me make this clear beforehand. If you dare shoot him, you're dead meat. I will chase you to the very ends of the earth until I kill you. I will use all the knowledge and functions I possess to torture you, to let you savor each and every humiliation recognized by mankind, then execute you, leaving not a single bone intact. Contemplate my words carefully."
"Ara, how scary. Fufu, I won't shoot him so long as Fear-sama agrees to joining my side."
Bivorio chuckled, her attitude completely opposite to what her words expressed. Indeed, she was definitely not afraid. That was the kind of people the Family was. Fanatics like this, who would go as far as to die for the sake of cursed tools.
"Since you are calling him the prize, you intend to have a match to decide the victor? Then it's simple—If I win, give Haruaki back; if you win, I'll let you take me away."
"Well said. We won't reach an agreement if this continues... I have been lacking in exercise lately, so it would be nice to play with you all. However, I'll have a tough time dealing with all of you at once, so please, may I have a one-on-one battle? I don't mind if you swap participants in the middle."
And of course—She waved her gun.
"But snatching the prize during the battle is not allowed. Even in the midst of combat, so long as I have the chance to breathe, I can deliver a bullet... Despite how I may look, I am very skilled in long range marksmanship!"
"—Very well. Kirika, Cow Tits, I'll go first. You two stand down."
"This feels difficult to accept..."
Konoha frowned and glared at Fear, who replied quietly:
"Your knife hand cannot oppose the raw destructive power of that metal hammer. Besides, the guy who would allow you to exhibit your true form is currently a captive. Kirika's belt is also unsuited to a frontal clash. I'm the only one up to the job, right?"
"Looks like there's no other way, Konoha-kun."
Fear stepped forward and took out the Rubik's cube as she heard Kirika's voice.
"Haruaki, just endure a little longer... Yeah, you're such a dummy, why are you being imprisoned like a princess in distress?"
"Sh-Shut up! It's not like I wanted to be like this!"
In order to ease the tension, Fear tried to talk in her usual tone of voice. Haruaki retorted in kind.
So there was no problem. Nothing to be worried about. Definitely, things were about to return to normal.
"...You be careful."
"Who are you talking to? How could I possibly lose to that strange weapon that can't decide if it's a hammer or a spear."
Fear gazed ahead to find Alice casually holding the cross-shaped hammer-cleaver upright. Somehow she now had a gun holster at her hip where the pistol was kept.
"A strange weapon eh... And to think I was quite satisfied with this «Cannibal Cooker»'s design? I was originally worrying because this is the first time I am taking it out, but it's been easy enough to control and I would rate it highly."
"Cannibal Cooker... What a repulsive name. So its curse is the one you described in your message? I guess I'd be doing it a favor by taking care of it before its curse progresses enough to gain self-awareness."
"Why would it be repulsive? This is a rare item and quite sought after in certain circles, you know? It was first discovered in America during the first half of the twentieth century—In the home of a bizarre serial killer, hidden away from the police. Reportedly, this was the tool he created only for the sake of cooking humans."
"Hmph. Crushing human flesh with the hammer and then slicing it with the cleaver on the front end?"
"Yes. Guided by some sort of fate, it passed through the hands of various owners. Such as a certain Wisconsin-born NEET, or a certain alcoholic from Milwaukee—Naturally, its curse gradually accumulated."
Recounting with a smile, Bivorio took a step forward and slowly raised the cursed Cannibal Cooker.
"Hence, it has been blessed with rather transcendent power. Wonderful, it's truly wonderful. Fear-sama, can you understand? This is what I hope—All of you can receive more and more curses, to become more and more transcendent, to become existences transcending the one I love!"
"How could anyone hope to be cursed!? Mechanism No.14 raking type, beast's claw form: «Cat's Paw»!"
Bivorio approached, swinging the Cannibal Cooker. Fear also clutched the Rubik's cube, transforming it into a torture tool resembling a giant rake.
The heavy, human-slicing cleaver on Cannibal Cooker's front end was swung like a naginata. The claws of the «Cat's Paw» barely managed to block the attack. Then—
"—Cannibal Cleaver: 'Let's slice and dice randomly'! Reenactment: «How to Cut up Ingredients Boldly and Haphazardly»!"
The instant Bivorio declared as if singing, a strange phenomenon occurred.
For barely an instant—Cannibal Cooker's blade seemed to shift in position. A strange afterimage phenomenon.
And for some reason, the afterimage was tangible.
The «Cat's Paw» was deflected. Fear stared wide-eyed. How bizarre.
The attack just now... Was definitely not "a single hit." Fear could feel through her torture tool as though it had received four or five chopping attacks. Casting her gaze down at the hooked claws, she found several traces where a blade had haphazardly scratched.
"What is going on...?"
"This Cannibal Cooker remembers all past actions undertaken. Consequently, it can relive those series of movements any time it wants. Speaking of slicing and dicing, it can faithfully reproduce the motions for chopping up a human body—After all, saving labor is an important part of cooking. Yes~ It's quite similar to macro commands on the computer."
"What computer—I don't know anything about that! Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi», Curse Calling!"
Fear twisted her body like the motion of a baseball pitcher and swung the massive axe down on Bivorio's head. Heavy blade struck heavy blade as two similar tools clashed with an acute noise—
"'Let's shred with a thousand cuts'! Reenactment: «How to Make Long and Slender Shapes»!"
Instantly, the blade produced even more afterimages than previously. Fear felt an impact like that of a straight slash, as if Cannibal Cooker were lined with innumerable blades on both sides. Clearly she should have blocked it, but for some reason, her own axe was staggering from the impact. Withdrawing her axe before a fatal opening could arise, Fear yelled out as she performed a horizontal slash.
"'Let's cut and slice finely'! Reenactment: «How to Carve Fragments Like a Monomaniac»!"
This time, there was a flash of blades that were not supposed to exist, slashing left and right endlessly. Afterimages—or multiple momentary existences. Moving and making contact unlike a blade, these visual cues prompted involuntary predictions while contradictory sensations were felt from Fear's axe. In an instant of confusion, unsure of where to apply force and how to deflect the attack, Fear found her axe easily blown away.
Haruaki called out anxiously. Fear used both hands to pull back the chain of cubes. Bad. The situation was bad. Bivorio had already turned around, preparing to use another cooking method—
"This is similar too, but even simpler than yours, it merely focuses countless chopping movements in a single instant."
"Tsk... Mechanism No.8 crushing type, circular form: «Breaking Wheel of Francia»!"
Fear forcibly turned the axe into the wheel of torture, using it as a shield to block in front of her. In that instant—
"—Cannibal Hammer: 'Let's smash this over and over again!' Reenactment: «How to Process Mince-Meat»!"
As Bivorio described, she turned her body as if dancing, using the centrifugal force to swing Cannibal Cooker's hammer. The actions performed on dozens of victims in the past were reenacted in one focused attack.
The reenactment of pure destructive power. With merely a single strike, Fear felt an illusion as if she had been struck dozens of times, as though dozens of Bivorios were attacking all at the same time.
Although the breaking wheel shielded her from getting hit directly, the astounding force of impact was still transmitted to Fear's body.
It really was capable of collapsing an abandoned house with ease. At that moment, Fear recalled that irrelevant fact—Unable to even take an evasive stance, she was easily sent flying dozens of meters away.
Haruaki felt a chill down his spine. He wanted to rush forward but there was nothing but a rattling sound as his restrained arms struggled. Naturally, all he accomplished in return was the pain from friction between flesh and metal. He clenched his jaw tightly as he watched as the silver-haired girl was swatted away. Only after a while did she finally move again. She seemed fine. Haruaki breathed a sigh of relief.
During this time, Bivorio's combat opponent had switched to Konoha instead. But just as Fear found out through battle, the Cannibal Cooker was quite powerful. Even after manifesting the sharpness of blades on her karate chops and kicks, Konoha could only engage with caution, focusing mainly on evasion. Simply stated, no matter how hard she tried to attack, it was in vain.
Once Konoha returned to her true form—Once that can be used—These notions crossed Haruaki's mind—
"Damn it...! Why am I the one who's caught...!?"
So powerless. It crossed his mind many times. As an ordinary mortal, there was nothing he could do, no way he could help. Not only that, but he was also imprisoned as a hostage. There should be limits to how much of a burden he was to the others.
"I'm caught as well. Don't blame yourself too much."
Lying on the side, Kuroe simply moved her eyes and said:
"I was thinking perhaps I could move a bit as time went by, but nothing's changed at all. As the only one in this endless napping state, it makes me feel really bad... Seriously, although I know it's caused by a cursed tool, what kind of principle is this?"
"I was able to catch a glance, Alice—Bivorio was holding something in her hand. We just need to figure out a way to take care of that thing, then you should be able to move... I think."
"Right now, I am trying to move for the sake of 'taking care of that thing.' In terms of causality, this is really hopeless."
Kuroe sighed expressionlessly. Haruaki realized something at this moment.
"Haru, what's the matter?"
"Oh right... My situation is different from yours."
Nothing he could accomplish as an ordinary mortal? Perhaps that might be true, but currently, there was something he could do.
If one were to ask why—Kuroe's immobilization was hopeless as she said, in terms of causality. Under the effects of the unknown cursed tool, she had no solution and could not move at all.
Then what about himself?
It was merely a set of handcuffs, a simple restraining tool. What about himself, whose wrists were merely cuffed together?
"—Aha, I get it. I finally get it. If only I had realized sooner."
"Kuroe, this would be bad if Bivorio noticed, so please try to be quiet. Also, once everything is over and you can move, I'll be relying on you."
"...No way! Wait!"
Haruaki could wait no longer. Who knew if Fear, Konoha or Kirika would be forced into desperation. If they were defeated, Fear and the others would fall into the hands of that insane woman, never to return again. Indeed, they would never return to the home they had resolved to live in.
Haruaki could not accept that. Hence he must take action. As the powerless hostage who dragged them down, he must free himself as soon as possible.
By any means available.
He calculated in his mind the diameters of his arm in centimeters, then the diameter of his fist in centimeters as well.
Yeah, there will be a way.
He pulled forcefully. Simply taking the hand that was stuck in the handcuff, he forcefully pulled, pulled and pulled!
"Didn't I say... to be quiet... Ooh..."
The flesh that could not pass through the handcuff was gradually curled up and shaved off. Like the bursting of a balloon, warm fluid gushed out all at once. It's just a few dozen grams of flesh, I'm not going to die from this—He kept himself under autosuggestion. Even so, his bones creaked under the pressure while his nerves rioted with fragility. A single and simple signal was transmitting all over his body, kicking his heart heavily, jumping onto his spine and finally attacking his brain. There was a sense as if his ego had been conquered by that signal. Yes, indeed, his body was now made of pain and suffering.
Clenching his molars, Haruaki suppressed his throat from making a sound. Oily sweat dripped from his body in great amounts.
Do not scream at all costs, I cannot be discovered. Besides—
Were she to hear a familiar person's screams, Fear would be unsettled. Haruaki did not want to risk that.
Yes, this was all he was able to do. In order to save the girls, all he could was this.
Powerless, all he was able to do was endure pain, simple as that.
Once his fingers passed through the handcuff, the rest was simple. His right hand was extracted. Only the middle part of the handcuffs was chained, so he was now freed even though the handcuff still dangled from his left hand.
"F-Fufu... Success! Yeah, once everything is over, I'll need to you to help me with your hair. Oh dear, handkerchief, handkerchief, where are you? If Konoha were to see this, she'd definitely faint. Okay... Done."
The task was completed inconspicuously. Luckily, the smiling Bivorio was occupied with Fear who had returned to battle, so now was the moment to take action.
"Ohoh, the princess carry."
Haruaki scooped up Kuroe in his arms all at once and picked an escape route that would not get caught up in the battle. Bivorio instantly noticed and just as her hand reached for the holster at her hip—
"—«Tragic Black River»!"
Controlled by Kirika, the belt extended rapidly towards Bivorio, hindering her action. Konoha also charged forward from behind Fear, entering a position where she could block the shot with her body if necessary. With that, everything was perfect.
"Haruaki-kun! How did you... Your hand!"
"I simply tried my best. There shouldn't be too much blood visible—Anyway, the tides of battle have reversed with this. It seems a bit underhanded, but let's gang up on her, everyone."
"You're still worrying about underhandedness? That's really like you. But indeed, it is as you say."
Kirika shrugged and remarked.
"I-I always find a way, okay... Even on my own... However, since you want to help, everyone, it's not like I won't accept your intentions, it can't be helped! H-Hurry!"
Engaged with Bivorio slightly further away, Fear was requesting assistance as if she found it troublesome. Bivorio laughed lightly, took a great leap and distanced herself from Fear.
"Ara ara, the prize has been snatched... How troubling."
"Hmph, next it's Kuroe. I don't know what you did, but return her freedom immediately! If you do that, I'll show a little mercy in my lesson for you. You already have no hope of winning, so give up!"
"No hope of winning? Ara ara, why would that be?"
Bivorio's smile remained. The insane woman continued to maintain her smile.
Due to her excessive composure, Haruaki and company knew that she still had tricks up her sleeve.
"Next comes a group battle? Very well, that's fine too."
"...You're bluffing. The Family doesn't have a lot of members, right? And the ones who came to this area are probably all dead thanks to your insane actions earlier, right?"
"Fufu, indeed. But I also specifically requested the delivery of a tool allowing me to fight a group battle... Because it is very precious, I usually keep it at home. It is this. Some of you might have seen it already when I used it to seal Kuroe-sama's movements, yes?"
Bivorio proceeded to take out an antique-style mirror. Clutching the mirror against her chest, she happily explained, like a parent bragging "my child is so amazing."
"This «Suicidal Beautification Reflector», or SBR, is quite a transcendent Wathe. Its main taboo abilities are three in number. First is its basic ability which makes the owner beautiful. A power that that all women in the world covet. But I'm quite good-looking to begin with, so I can't become even more beautiful, what a shame. The second is «Welcome to the Other Side»—Just as you can see from its use on Kuroe-sama, it seals a person's movements. In other words, it can seal someone into the world inside the mirror, yes? And the most amazing is the third ability. I'll simply show it to you all with an actual demonstration!"
Gazing deeply into the mirror she clutched with one hand, Bivorio whispered:
"«Hello to Another One»."
In the very next instant—
Right beside Bivorio, stood the figure of a second Bivorio.
"Ufufu. Indeed—This is a replica of what's reflected in the mirror."
"Apart from the inversion of parity in the reflection's appearance, everything else is the same. The replica can talk and think. Although there is a time limit—it disappears after ten minutes—but that is not an issue seeing as even equipment can be replicated. You see, even this Cannibal Cooker is copied. The only thing that cannot be replicated is this SBR itself."
Two Bivorios—one with a monocle on her right eye and one with a monocle on her left eye— were talking in tandem.
Haruaki was rendered speechless as he recalled past events.
The position of the monocle—that sense of dissonance he had felt in the abandoned house. The first time they lost sight of her, she had already switched? The paper bills she gave to those men were most likely replicated as well. The ten-minute time limit and the way she vanished. Appearing outside the accessory dwelling's window and then running away, it was her with the left monocle. Entering the house undetected and sealing Kuroe's movements, it was her with the right monocle.
A few unnatural mysteries lingering in the depths of his mind—There was a gradual sense of satisfaction with their resolution. However, these answers to the riddle came far too late.
Letting a watch slide down one arm to her elbow, Bivorio raised Cannibal Cooker with the other arm and said:
"I suppose one could call this... A doppelganger perhaps? We all have our own individual wills, but since the clone is myself, she is self-aware of her existence as a replica, and will take action on her own accord—Yes!"
Nonchalantly, she began to use the blade to saw her own arm. At the position which was formerly concealed by the watch, Haruaki could see numerous scars that likely stemmed from the same behavior.
"W-What... are you doing..."
"Ara? Ara ara, please don't let this bother you. Just as the name of the «Suicidal Beautification Reflector» suggests, the curse compels one to do this on occasion. A girl cursing her inability to become beautiful, looking in the mirror as she slit her wrists, that is the source of this curse. However, I am already used to it. Besides, fulfilling the desires of the curse is indeed the Family's duty. This is akin to nursing a baby."
"Correct on all counts. The other me, let me help you stop the bleeding!"
"Ara ara, thank you very much, the other me."
The left-monocled Bivorio took out bandages and swiftly wrapped up the arm of the right-monocled Bivorio. Seeing the blood seeping out of the bandage, Konoha held her breath and suppressed the impulse to vomit.
"What a disgusting person. But even if you double yourself to two, we still have four on our side. We still hold numerical superiority—"
"Is that so? It's quite embarrassing, but please do not jump to conclusions too early. Because—"
Interrupting Fear, the right-monocled Bivorio lifted up the SBR and laughed:
"No one ever said the copies were limited to one!"
«Hello to Another One».
In response to Bivorio's whispers—
A third Bivorio appeared.
"Good day, another me. Although it will only be for ten minutes, I shall be in your care." "Likewise, the same goes both ways."
Taking a deep bow towards each other, the soft whispers continued. Four, five, six, one after another—
"You've got to be... kidding, right?"
"This is too abnormal, absolutely ridiculous...!"
Currently standing before the eyes of Haruaki and his group, were now innumerable—
Over twenty Bivorios, with the same smile hanging on each of their face. One of them was wearing a right monocle while holding the mirror, while the other Bivorios all had monocles on their left eye. Without exception, each and every one of them was armed with her own Cannibal Cooker.
"So that's basically it. Very well, let's start the group battle! Bring it on with everything you've got!"
"Tsk... Fakes are fakes and replicas are replicas! Other than the one holding the mirror, the rest are surely illusions! In any case, we just need to break that mirror and they'll all disappear!"
Before Haruaki could stop her, Fear lifted up the «Human-Perforator»—the drill, and charged at the crowd of Bivorios. She made a thrust towards the real Bivorio who was holding the SBR, but—
"Despite being a fake, it is also very real—Yes!"
A clone stepped in the way and rather than using Cannibal Cooker, she used her own body to block Fear's drill. It looked almost as if she offered herself to be pierced.
"You see, it's very real, isn't it?"
"You see, hot blood is gushing out vigorously, isn't it?"
"You see, the flesh is moving like a toy, can you see it?"
"You see, the innards are squirming as if singing a song, can you hear it?"
After one of the Bivorios was pierced, the surrounding Bivorios remarked in amusement.
Fear made a scared expression as she stared in terror at the drill embedded in the human body with blood gushing out. Her hand trembled visibly.
"No.... I-I... had no intention... I wanted to... show mercy..."
On the other hand, the pierced Bivorio continued to smile, caressing the drill lightly. Coughing out blood, she said:
"Please savor this a bit more. It's been quite a while since you last experienced this feeling, yes?"
Bivorio pushed the drill even deeper into her body.
"Ah... Stop... it..."
"Don't be shy. Come, be my guest, kill me. Please kill me more happily. Very well, come, come, deeper, more violently, even deeper—Ah...!"
The drill penetrated Bivorio's body completely. Forced to skewer her.
The trembling of Fear's body became even more intense. Dying with a smile, Bivorio fell to the ground. Freed from the dead body's abdomen, the drill also dropped to the ground as Fear collapsed, sitting down where she was standing.
"Please bear with the ugly sight. Due to the perfection of the copy, this cannot be helped. I beg your pardon for the lingering corpse. It will disappear once the ten minutes are up."
"Guh... A-Ah... Corpse... Corpse? No, this is... a fake, I-I—Stop recalling it! No, no, this isn't one, no! I-I haven't... killed... anyone... I should have already forgotten... Forgotten the feeling... Forgotten the feeling of murder—!"
"There's no need for you to suppress it. That is what you are originally. Since you are aware of the replica, it is just a half-baked feeling; but should you have the wish, I can prepare real, live humans as your partner so that you may relish in torture and take joy in slaughter! What kind of humans do you like? Children? Women? Villains? Nobles? People you know?"
Fear hugged her shoulders and could not stop trembling. Just like the time on the rainy roof in the past, she was being devoured by her past self.
"Fear! Calm down, got that? Calm down! Stop listening to her!"
"I don't wanna... I don't wanna, I-I... don't wanna turn back into my past self... I have already decided, I have already made my decision...!"
Clutching her head, Fear shook her head like a child. Suppressing her impulses was taking all her strength. Meanwhile, Konoha was also—
"Ooh... Urghhhh. I-I can't believe, because of this...!"
Covering her mouth, Konoha's face was pale and her body was unsteady. This was bad. Seeing that staggering amount of blood, it was a miracle she had not fainted.
Kirika made her move at this time. Perhaps she decided the situation would only deteriorate if nothing was done. She extended the «Tragic Black River» towards the mirror held by the real Bivorio. But with a flash of the Cannibal Cooker's cleaver, another Bivorio chopped off the belt's front end. Unconcerned, Kirika continued to extend the belt but yet another Bivorio grabbed it while some other Bivorio pulled the belt with brute force. Stumbling, Kirika was pulled into the crowd of Bivorios.
As if reenacting an old scene, Cannibal Cooker's cleaver sliced at her body. Kirika's abdomen was dissected vertically, spilling blood everywhere. The cut open uniform slipped down, revealing what was underneath. Bivorio examined incredulously with her head tilted. The other Bivorios circled behind Kirika, grabbing her arms and lifting them up high as if cheering.
"Ara ara—You're wearing quite a strange thing, yes? Even stranger, your wound is gradually healing up, how incredible."
Suspended in midair, the «Tragic Black River» extended from Kirika's arm again but was severed by the cleaver once more.
"I am starting to get interested. Is this a Wathe too? Ah yes, how wonderfully transcendent, truly transcendent. May I examine it to confirm?"
"Ooh... A-Ahhh... Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Nnngg... Guh... Yahhhh!"
One of the Bivorios reached her hand into the depths of Kirika's body, making wet and slimy noises as she stirred the insides through the sliced open flesh. Kirika stared wide-eyed in pain, saliva dripping from her mouth. Another Bivorio stabbed her cleaver into Kirika's thigh, twisting the blade in amusement. Screams, screams, screams, giggles, screams.
"Class Rep—! God damn it! Konoha, Konoha! Can you turn back into a sword?"
"Cough... Urgghh... I could turn back into a sword, but judging from the current situation... I probably... won't be of much help... You'll only... fall into danger, Haruaki-kun. It's no good... Hurry and escape... Haruaki-kun, hurry and escape—"
"How could I possibly escape!? Please, Konoha, I beg you!"
Her eyes tearful from vomiting, Konoha gazed at Haruaki for several moments. Then as if she finally accepted things, Konoha's clothes fell to the ground, no longer supported by her body. Haruaki picked up the sword in its black scabbard and rushed to rescue the abused Kirika first. Usually, Haruaki relied on Konoha's help to control his body's movements, but currently she could not offer much assistance. But at least some was better than none—
Occupied with these thoughts, Haruaki charged ahead selflessly.
Naturally, he was sent flying with but a swing of the hammer. Like what had happened to Fear several minutes earlier, he rolled along the ground, feeling the icy coldness of the road's paved surface. Had he not been wielding Konoha in his hand, he probably would have been turned into minced meat for real. However, the hand where flesh had been scraped off was violently shaken by the impact of crashing into the ground. Pain began to spread up his spine as though his nerve fibers were being drawn out and used to play cat's cradle.
"Excuse me, I am very sorry but you are the only one here who holds absolutely no interest to me. Could you please not interfere?"
"Stop... joking around. Haha, although the current situation can only be described as like a joke...!"
Mobilizing all of his convulsing muscles, Haruaki stood up while dripping with greasy sweat.
The sword remained silent. Had she fainted already? Fear was still clutching her head, trying to suppress her impulses. One of the Bivorios was whispering softly by her ear like the devil. Kuroe was still immobilized. Screaming vaguely, Kirika was being treated like a toy by several Bivorios.
The only one facing off against the remaining dozens of Bivorios was Haruaki alone. An ordinary mortal without any power.
Oh this really feels like a joke—Despair.
"If you intend to interfere, then it cannot be helped. Please be made into food!"
One of the Bivorios approached Haruaki. Experiencing a heavy weight he had never felt before, Haruaki raised his sword.
"H-Haruaki... Ooh, h-hooooh..."
Becoming aware of his situation, Fear unsteadily tried to stand up, but it was too late. No matter what she did, she would not make it in time.
In that case, Haruaki had to find a solution himself. What would work? What should he do?
Any countermeasures? Think, hurry and think—Was there any... way—
Reaching this conclusion, his cortex involuntarily commanded his body to tremble, issuing orders for him to toss Konoha aside and beg for mercy. But Haruaki bit his lower lip hard and chastised his cowardly cortex. Instead, he gripped the sword even harder with his trembling hands. It would be unacceptable. No matter what happened, he did not wish to surrender, but apart from that, he could not think of any solution.
"Ara ara, you look like you're about to cry? It's okay, just close your eyes and it'll be over all at once."
Laughing lightly, Bivorio took a step forward. Just at this moment—
The current situation was completely desperate indeed. Haruaki could feel nothing but helplessness.
Restrained under the direst and most destitute of conditions, almost being toyed to death, Kirika—
Looking up blankly, she whispered as if salvation were imminent:
"Ahhh—You two finally arrived."
At this moment, the latest arrival's voice could be heard:
"What an utterly inane farce. Just hurry up and conclude it already."
A stunning beauty was standing some distance away from the group, her long hair fluttering freely in the wind.
"I have only one word for those of you over there, occupied with cell division—Stupid. Your naivety in failing to kill me this very instant stands as a fatal mistake. Once I begin taking action, people of your ilk shall find themselves absolutely incapable of stopping me. Should you possess the ability to read the future, hurry up and weep, fools. Even if you cannot read the future, weep anyway, fools. You will lament for want of weeping, finding weeping to be essential and well worth the effort."
Her attitude was excessively supercilious. Arms crossed before her chest, the beauty declared arrogantly as if she were the very truth ruling the world. The confidence she exuded was more than enough to attract the attention of all the Bivorios.
"Very well, the stupid should just die already, thereby putting an end to stupidity. Experience this truth with your very own bodies, you, you and you. The starting words shall begin from my very arm here, ending with its descent—Go sing a song of your sad demises while you still can, saturated with admiration and ecstasy!"
The girl raised her arm. The image resembled a saint or perhaps a magician.
Visually—the effect was very beautiful and intimidating.
Even Haruaki, who clearly knew she was just an ordinary mortal, was convinced for an instant that she would work some kind of supernatural magic.
The Bivorios raised their Cannibal Cookers to enter a battle stance.
Keeping her arm raised, the girl—Shiraho—grumbled with a slight frown:
"...Could you please hurry up already, this is so embarrassing."
A brief moment later, a figure finally climbed atop a neighboring pile of freight containers.
"Eh... Uh... Umm... The Masked Maid of Justice has arrived—! Bullying people is definitely not allowed!"
The voice and attire did not quite match the situation. Standing on a freight container, her maid outfit floating lightly in the incoming wind, she was Sovereignty of course. As a side note, she was not wearing any sort of mask.
"W-Why would they..."
"...Because I felt that they are also supposed to be part of 'Yachi Haruaki's friends.' Well, I had no idea if they would agree to come or not, but I decided to inform them by phone anyway..."
On the verge of death, Kirika threw Haruaki a glance and whispered to him. But even if they came here, it would not change the situation—Just as this thought crossed Haruaki's mind, he realized he was mistaken.
Standing high above, the maid gazed upon a certain "object," took a deep breath and yelled out:
"I hold sovereignty over every doll. Those bearing visual semblance, listen and show proof of your worship—Obey!"
The Sovereignty Perfection Doll's power: manifestation of the royal authority bestowed upon her.
Indeed, she held the power to coerce any humanoid object to move—!
In that instant, the hitherto unnoticed existence started to move. The forgotten existence, dismissed as no threat. Although her ability to move autonomously was sealed away, her body could still be moved via external force. And now, under a certain person's control, she was moving.
"My friend—Take care of that mirror!"
Manipulated by Sovereignty's control, Kuroe's petite body took a leap. Normally, this kind of attack would probably be struck down easily. But the current situation was different. Due to the dual impact of the bluff delivered through Shiraho's acting skills and the sudden appearance of the bizarre maid, in a fortuitous turn of events, Bivorio could not react in time as a result of the distraction.
An instant was all that was needed. Leveraging the momentum of her descent, Kuroe kicked the mirror hard. A loud shattering sound rang out.
The residual impact of Kuroe's kick sent the Holy Mother falling to the ground. For the very first time, her voice was mixed with anxiety. But despite the complete destruction of the mirror, its ability—«Hello to Another One»—apparently continued to persist for some time. Or perhaps the copies would survive until they reached their time limit. Numerous Bivorios rushed at Kuroe, including the one by Fear's side and the ones restraining Kirika.
Another of the mirror's abilities—«Welcome to the Other Side»—apparently lost effectiveness simultaneously with the mirror's destruction.
"You really caused me a lot of stress. Sorry, I'm not going to show any mercy—Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
Kuroe's hair instantly lengthened, turning into capturing ropes as strong as steel wires. The Bivorios were instantly entangled. At such close distances, especially with the explosive divergence of Kuroe's hair in all directions, the Bivorios were unable to escape. The only one spared was the source of the clones, the real Bivorio who had fallen on the ground. Rolling a few times along the ground to distance herself from Kuroe, she stood up, wielding Cannibal Cooker in her hand.
"Haru, these fakes will disappear sooner or later as long as I keep them captured like this. I'll leave the real one to you!"
"Hey—Fear, are you okay? Hurry and get up!"
"Yeah I know... I'm fine."
Using her drill for support, Fear slowly stood up. It looked like she had finally recovered her calm.
Then slightly fearfully, her tearful eyes, almost about to cry, turned their gaze towards two locations. One was Haruaki's right hand whose wound was hidden by a handkerchief. The other was the corpse of Bivorio's clone. However, Fear's rage ultimately trumped her terror.
"Bivorio...! Look what you've done!"
Turning the drill into a wheel of torture, Fear attacked the Holy Mother, once again engaging Cannibal Cooker in a violent clash.
"Haruaki, watch over Kirika for now! Is Cow Tits still unconscious?"
As much as Haruaki wanted to assist Fear, she had a point. Haruaki rushed over to Kirika.
"Guh... Ah... Huff... Damn it, for her to go so far as to toy with another's body. Of course I won't die but I'll need to spend some time to heal, sorry."
"Yeah, get some rest for now. By calling those two here, you already merit the best accomplishment."
While talking to Kirika who lay on the floor as she clutched her abdomen, Haruaki turned his gaze towards Shiraho and Sovereignty who had suddenly appeared. Sovereignty was yelling: "Uwawa, so dangerous! Eh? Looks like my skirt got caught on something and flipped... And it's gradually slipping off—!" Just as always, she was acting inappropriately in light of the context. Finally, she managed to get down from the freight container and ran over to Shiraho's side where she stood in safety.
"We did it, Shiraho, the plan succeeded! We did great!"
"I was utterly embarrassed, however."
"Don't say that~ You looked like you were totally into it. Oh, Haruaki-kun. Uh~ How should we help next—" Sovereignty intended to walk over, but Shiraho grabbed her by the collar from behind.
"We are not duty-bound to go so far for them. It would be foolish to interfere and get hurt. Let's go home."
Shiraho threw Haruaki a cold glare.
"We are indebted to these humans, so we are simply returning the favor today. I have no intention of paying extra interest."
"Uh... Well... Umm... Ahhh, stop pulling me, Shiraho! I-Is it really okay?"
Shiraho's outlook was very businesslike, but they had already provided much needed help at a critical moment. Hoping for more would probably bring about divine punishment—Besides, Haruaki could not allow two people with little combat ability to get into danger.
"It's okay, we'll handle the rest!"
Sovereignty responded to Haruaki by hunching her shoulders with a guilty conscience, waving goodbye as she went "Take care!" Then, dragged by Shiraho, they left. Seriously, these two were still acting the same as always, dispelling all the tension in the situation.
...But Haruaki and his friends could not afford to be careless. The tides had turned, but there was still something important to handle—
Haruaki turned his gaze towards the battle between Fear and Bivorio. They were dueling seriously.
A clash of weapons. And also—a clash of wills.
"Ara... Ooh, you're moving faster than before and you are stronger too, eh?"
"Of course! Because—I'm angry now!"
"But why? I love you so much, wanting to accept you as family."
"First of all! You hurt Haruaki. You made Haruaki get hurt! Secondly! You—You made me kill you! You made me remember that forgotten feeling, the one I wanted to forget!"
The inquisitional wheel that Fear threw out was blocked by Cannibal Cooker's «Shredding» and slid down. Fear did not pursue aggressively, choosing to pull the wheel back instead. This time, she performed a throwing attack.
"If you can recall it so easily, doesn't that mean there's no need to forget?"
"No way! Yes, I admit, that feeling was already etched deeply inside of me. The feeling of gouging a hole in someone with a protruding object, the feeling of a blade slicing through skin, the feeling of a human's life trembling in doubt, disappearing after a struggle! Because of that! Precisely because of that, I avoid this taboo!"
Bivorio deflected the thrown wheel using «Slicing and Dicing». Stepping forward while Fear was pulling the chain of cubes back, she said:
"Despite clearly being born for that purpose, you still wish to think that way?"
"That's right! For the sake of wiping out my past self—That very purpose is why I am here! You said you affirm curses. That's not affirming my past self but denying who I am right now! This one point—is one that I absolutely disagree!"
Wearing a nun's habit, the Holy Mother twisted her body, preparing to swing out her cross-shaped murdering culinary tool. At the same time, pulled by Fear, the inquisitional wheel returned to her hand. Then—
Bivorio performed the move that concentrated the destructive power of dozens of attack into one.
Simultaneously, Fear took her emulated form and turned it into a supermassive torture tool in no way inferior to the Cannibal Cooker.
"'Let's smash this over and over again!' Reenactment: «How to Process Mince-Meat»!"
"Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern», Curse Calling!"
The tips of the two hammer-like weapons clashed violently. The two were like batters who were facing each other, or mirror images—
For an instant, it seemed as if both sides became motionless.
Supernatural destructive power was fighting, vying for supremacy between the two of them.
"Why obsess over the present!? Is there any evidence that the current you is the right one?"
"Guuuuuuuu! What evidence... I don't... care about that at all! Because—"
Fear's «Morgenstern» faltered slightly. As if pouring new strength into it, Fear yelled loudly:
"Because of Haruaki—He said I could become human! Those words... They made me really happy! I want to believe in his words... Therefore! If my current self is denied, that means denying him whom I trust! I-I—don't want that! That's simply all there is to it!"
"Ara ara, how incomprehensible!"
"—No, but I understand!"
Swinging the Japanese sword, Haruaki rushed over to Fear's side. If Fear was standing in the right batter's box in this analogy, Haruaki would be standing in the left batter's box. As though he were eschewing speed and accuracy in exchange for pure ultimate power, Haruaki twisted his body greatly—
"Konoha, I'm relying on you—Let's go—!"
The black scabbard smashed into the back side of the «Morgenstern» that was resisting the Cannibal Cooker.
Despite being merely a minor impact, it was enough to disrupt the stalemate in destructive power.
In that instant, «Morgenstern» broke the balance with assistance, surpassing the Cannibal Cooker and pushing forwards.
The Cannibal Cooker was deflected backwards so forcefully it seemed as if it would rip Bivorio's arm off. In addition to an ear-splitting crash, the sound of steel shattering could be heard. Cracks were appearing on the Cannibal Cooker as a result of the impact.
"Ha—insane Matriarch, I have a mother here as well! But unlike you, she doesn't yammer about love all the time and neither does she impose it on others! Learn well from her!"
Seizing the opportunity, Fear instantly transformed the «Morgenstern» to become—
"Mechanism No.29 embracing type, iconic form: «The Blessed Virgin Mary's Steel Embrace», Curse Calling!"
Consistent with its name, an iron statue of the Virgin Mary appeared. In no way inferior to Bivorio, the smile on its face was filled with tender affection while its outstretched arms appeared to be urging sinners to repent. However, its upper torso, and most prominently the chest, was shining with innumerable thorns. If these thorns were covered by a thin veil, would unsuspecting victims throw themselves onto the Virgin Mary statue at the behest of interrogators, praying to God for final salvation perhaps? Never would they expect the statue of Mary to be the tool for bringing about their demise.
However, Bivorio currently showed no inclination to confess to the thorned Virgin Mary statue. Hence, the statue of Mary took action on its own initiative, obeying Fear's will that was transmitted through the chain of cubes, charging towards Bivorio who had lost balance.
All Bivorio could do was push the Cannibal Cooker forwards to face the attack in her stead. The statue of Mary caught the Cannibal Cooker and began another contest of strength—However, signs of inevitable breakage were already apparent.
By this point, Bivorio's face had already lost its smile. There was only anxiety, doubt and puzzlement.
"Why would you refuse us so resolutely? I have said many times already, you are a transcender, a being far surpassing mankind. That is why we worship you, hoping to offer you the Family's love, wishing you could love us like family!"
"No, I am not some kind of transcender who is superior to mankind. Neither do I desire that kind of title. All I want is to become human, I just want to be human!"
"Humans are cowardly and stupid, possessing none of your strength. They are simply powerless and ordinary existences!"
Perhaps it was true. Humans were weak and fragile.
However—Precisely because of that, humans could gather together joyously, unlike tools that completed tasks alone.
What she had witnessed at Kuroe's shop, that excessively dazzling scene.
"Yeah... Very ordinary. Very ordinary indeed. The fishmonger, the fruit shopkeeper, the laundromat's owner—They're all cowardly and stupid, without the slightest power. I concede this point. However—"
She also recalled Kuroe.
She recalled the way Kuroe had become a part of the crowd. Perhaps that foreshadowed Fear's future self.
"They were all laughing! They looked very happy! I want to be like that, to join them, to become happy—What's wrong with wanting that? Until recently, I've always been alone and never had a chance to smile. That's why, the humans who can do what I cannot, to me, they are the transcenders!"
Bivorio stared wide-eyed in shock. Seeing that, Fear was filled with delight and said:
"What I long for is the existence allowing me to laugh with these people and become part of their family. What I see as my goal is a way of living that is both gentle and weak. And this is called being human. And because you cannot understand this point, there can never be any consensus between us!"
Fear issued new orders to the Virgin Mary who was her emulated form. The springs, gears and other mechanisms installed inside the statue of Mary began to turn, causing the outstretched arms to come together with a grating sound. Embracing with strength that the confessor cannot escape, then pushing out the thorns covering its body—
"Impossible... How could... this be...! Because—Because no human could save me back then! The one who saved me... The one who saved me was... Ahhh! That is why humans as transcenders... That kind of notion—absolutely cannot be possible—!"
Ignoring Bivorio's words uttered out of confusion, the steel continued to grate.
Within one Holy Mother's embrace was another Holy Mother—Bivorio—and the Cannibal Cooker.
The sharp thorns pressed powerfully against the two entities. The tool, which had been used to cook dozens of people, shattered with a loud death cry as though it were weeping in contrition of its sins.
Naturally, the Holy Mother, who had been using the Cannibal Cooker as a shield, was also pierced with numerous holes of red.
—She still remembered what had happened that particular day.
She would report to the chapel late every night. The priest's eyes reflected nothing but the imagery of his mother while he sniffed her hair. Irrefusable. She had tried refusing once and ended up with her face beaten so badly she almost thought she would die. Her cheekbone was broken and she had a fever. Ever since that time, the eye that was beaten could no longer see clearly.
Inhaling and exhaling breaths blew by her ear while a terrifying warmth patrolled her neck back and forth. The air in the chapel was exceptionally cold, causing the priest's touch to feel especially heavy while he embraced her tightly. An ugly and detestable tyrant. Only engaging in disgusting acts, a clergyman like the devil.
She gazed blankly. Indeed, on the front side of the chapel, hanging high on the wall—A simple intersection of two pairs of parallel lines, a symbol of the sacred, the only God worshiped in these filthy premises. She looked up at that shape—and cursed it.
But on this day, she suddenly tired of cursing God. She suddenly reached a realization that everything was meaningless.
Hence, she felt incurably ludicrous and laughed out loud. The priest frowned in surprise. Finding things even more ludicrous, she laughed further. Giggling, laughing. The priest roared angrily and began to beat her face. Yet she still continued laughing. The priest covered her mouth, she bit down hard. The taste of blood. Her neck strangled, unable to breathe, but none of that mattered. Ahhh~ How interesting. ——, ——, ——. Muffled laughter. The impatient hands applied greater force. Her consciousness gradually faded, the throbbing intensified progressively. Ahhh, she was about to die. Death was coming.
Just as she realized this calmly—
How many more seconds could she laugh? Could it happen more quickly? Just as these thoughts crossed her mind—
The priest's body shuddered.
Then she saw at this moment.
That shape which had appeared at close range. From overhead, that shape which had descended silently from the place where she was gazing upwards until now.
That shape—Falling straight down heavily, had crushed the priest's body down below.
Therefore. Ahhh, therefore—
She understood. These acts of the priest's, the nightmare of this church, all were necessary suffering. Wanting to encounter God-like phenomena that transcended humans, wanting to obtain salvation, these wishes could not be allowed so easily. Only with suffering came salvation. Indeed, for the sake of salvation, suffering was essential—Hence—
"How could there be... salvation without having undergone suffering... Is my current plight... necessary suffering... that must be overcome...?"
Breathing irregularly, Bivorio gradually sat up. Her hair, which remained quite long despite having already received two haircuts from Kuroe, covered her expression. The black nun's habit was gradually dyed by red-black stains.
Clenching her fist, Fear watched her condition.
"Don't move. I held back with mercy, so you won't die if you get treated. But if you move recklessly, I can't guarantee anything."
"Ahhh... It's almost... time for the arrival..."
"Are you even listening? Listen carefully now. Promise me you'll never come back, surrender! If you do that, we'll give you treatment. Kuroe is able to heal wounds! If not, you really will die—"
Apparently not listening to Fear, Bivorio stood up. Her expression was still blocked from view. Fear bit her lower lip hard. Could you please understand, I don't want to kill you! Hurry up and say you won't return...!
At this moment, Kuroe remarked lightly: "—Oh, they disappeared." Fear glanced over to find that all the Bivorios caught by Kuroe had vanished. Breathing a sigh of relief and wiping her sweat, Kuroe turned her hair back to normal. Due to the clones' struggling attempts to break free, she had exerted quite a bit of effort to suppress them.
Walking over to Fear, Kuroe had her head tilted for some reason. Haruaki in the back was also muttering softly:
"...Fear, do you hear something?"
Perking up her ears, Fear discovered a noise that was coming from far away. The noise had a certain rhythm to it, sometimes fast and sometimes slow in a repeating cycle, beating—No, was it the sound of an engine—?
Instantly, Bivorio turned tail and ran. She was neither running towards the inland direction that was blocked by Fear and others, nor into the warehouse. Instead, her target was the vast open sea. Seeing her move, Kirika reacted and tried to extend the «Tragic Black River», but ended up collapsing on one knee. Her wounds were not healed yet.
"Kirika, don't force yourself! Damn it—"
Fear and the others hastily rushed forward but it was too late. The sea bank was not fenced and they watched as Bivorio jumped over the edge towards the sea without any hesitation at all. However, there was no splash to be heard.
Fear and company arrived at the bank, seconds too late. Only then did they understood why they had heard engine noise. There was a small cabin cruiser where Bivorio had landed. Her deathly pale face was smiling at the cruiser's driver—A middle-aged man in a suit.
"...Thank you, my dear. I'm saved."
"Sorry for being late, there were other difficult matters to handle... Are you okay? Didn't you bring something along as my substitute?"
The man's appearance was rather striking, with bold and vigorous facial features and a thick beard.
"It broke. The SBR as well... I'm sorry, have I become ugly?"
"What are you talking about? No matter what happens, your beauty is unshakable. Regardless how effective that mirror may be, so long as the user is you, that original power of making the owner beautiful is quite meaningless, to be honest."
"I am so glad."
Bivorio and the man's lips came together. Fear had no reason to silently watch this scene proceed.
"Mechanism No.5 impaling type, upright form: «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes», Curse Calling!"
"Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
Fear aimed the execution stake at the cabin cruiser. Kuroe's hair of steel also followed closely behind, extending towards the two people on deck. But in the next instant—The stake was struck down and fell into the sea, while the hair was forcibly swept aside.
Wielding a giant cross, Bivorio turned around and swung forcefully.
"Ahhh, darling, darling, Abyss. My beloved Patriarch. I knew that the likes of the Cannibal Cooker could not serve as a substitute cross. The familiarity of control is completely different..."
"Ahhh, darling, darling, Alice. My beloved Matriarch. That goes without saying. Although it was only temporary, for you to be forced to snuggle against another cross, my incompetence deeply shames me."
The voice came from the cross. Obviously, the man visible just now was no longer there.
"An accomplice—and even a cursed tool as well!"
"Yes, indeed you are right... But he is not an accomplice but 'family'..."
As the cabin cruiser slowly sailed out to sea, the woman in the nun's habit embraced the cross lovingly and stumbled, collapsing.
"Are you okay, Alice?"
The cross turned back into a man and drew his face near the woman. Bivorio murmured something in his ear then closed her eyes and did not open them again. Judging from the slight heaving of her chest, she should not have died yet.
The cabin cruiser had already sailed far enough to be out of attack range. Was there nothing they could do except watch them escape? —Fear gnashed her teeth. Just at this moment—
"...Wait. Let me state this first for the record. To that man over there, listen carefully."
"Class Rep, is your body already okay...?"
Kirika had caught up to them, apparently healed. Raising her hand to cut off Fear and Haruaki's queries, she kept her gaze on the man on the cruiser.
"I am the Yamimagari Pakuaki's younger sister. Since you are from the Bivorio Family, you should have heard of this name before—And just as you witness here, I act as part of this group of people here. Do you understand? The next time you dare make a move on me or these people, be prepared to make enemies of the entire Lab Chief's Nation."
"I see, that would pose a huge problem... I shall bear this firmly in mind."
With no intention of hiding his nude and muscular body, the man answered briefly. He then turned his gaze to Fear:
"So you're «Fear-in-Cube» huh... This is the message Alice just asked me to pass along—How you wish to deal with the remains of the Cannibal Cooker and the SBR is up to you. They were originally something captured from the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion. Attached to them are devices that we consider heretical and useless for our purposes."
"Muu? Could they be... Indulgence Disks?"
"That seems to be the name. In any case, if you feel the need, you may have them. This is Alice's goodwill. She sincerely wishes to love you, so please accept it."
"I'll accept the Indulgence Disks, but I refuse her whatever love—I declare myself incompatible with the Family. If you value your lives, don't ever appear before us again."
"That's not for me to decide—But I shall bear your words in mind as well."
Shrugging, the man steered the rudder as the cabin cruiser accelerated towards the sea in the distance.
I don't want to see these guys again—Those were Fear's sincere words. However—she still had questions for that man and matters which demanded his reprimand. Having lost the opportunity to do so now, Fear could only question in her mind. As a fellow cursed tool, she had doubts she could not figure out no matter what.
(You... For someone to affirm your curse, don't you feel... anything at all...? You don't find it to be a mistake...?)
Fear's fist remained tightly clenched while she continued to glare at the cruiser receding into the distance.
Finally, the engine noise could not be heard anymore and the white wake of the cabin cruiser disappeared completely.
Gazing at the sea whose peace and calm was restored, Kirika murmured:
"How troubling. Hopefully, this was enough to make them give up on Fear as their target... Now that Bivorio herself is heavily injured, they should be avoiding all-out war against the Lab Chief's Nation, right?"
"Class Rep, umm... Is this really okay?"
"Yeah. It's a little like a final prank. Since such a statement can serve as a deterrent against the Family, I had no reason not to say it."
Kirika slightly relaxed the tension in her face:
"—I have already quit the Lab Chief's Nation. After I escaped, I gave that guy a taste of a horrifying lesson."
"That guy... You mean the one in the iron mask... I-Isn't that bad? Won't you get scolded or resented, Class Rep?"
"I don't care. I have already made my decision. Although I have no idea what will happen, there will always be a way."
Haruaki could sense a certain refreshing feeling in her expression. Kirika turned her gaze towards the sea again.
"I have lived as a tool all this time. Henceforth, I hope to live as a human—Fufu, indeed, I am just like Fear and the others. I am really in an equivalent position, no joke at all."
...To be honest, Haruaki did not quite understand. Perhaps because his face betrayed his thoughts, Kirika smiled:
"It's just like I've told you before. I don't need the title of the 'member of the Lab Chief's Nation' imposed on me, so I abandoned it. Instead—I have chosen for myself the title of 'Yachi Haruaki's friend.' This is simply all there is to it. Don't mind it too much."
"Speaking of minding... I just remembered. Hold out your hand, Haru."
Kuroe looked up with her blank gaze. Prompted by her reminder, Haruaki's completely forgotten pain resurged all at once. His hand currently felt as though it was being chewed apart by wild beasts.
"O-Owwww... R-Right, thanks a lot."
Putting down Konoha, who was unconscious, Haruaki knelt down and untied the handkerchief that was wrapped around his hand. Kuroe and Kirika frowned. Fear, who had been gazing out at the sea, also ran over, greatly alarmed.
Her face was completely demoralized. Gazing at Haruaki's blood-covered hand, she hunched her shoulders, silver hair trembling nonstop.
"Don't make that kind of face. It's okay."
"But... But... It looks really painful. Very painful..."
"Like I said, it's okay."
"All wrapped up—Let's do it. Mode: «Satisfied Yorimori»."
Wrapped in many layers of Kuroe's hair, Haruaki felt slight warmth on his hand. The pain subsided substantially. Then Kuroe cautiously wrapped the handkerchief over the hair.
Watching this scene, Fear murmured with her head bowed. Twice. Her apologies were directed towards Kuroe and Haruaki.
"It's my fault... Although Bivorio caused it, the root cause lies with me. It's all because I suspected Kuroe that it developed into such a bizarre situation that allowed that woman to alter her approach and capture you guys—Then your hand... became like this. Perhaps sorry cannot settle things but I still must apologize. Sorry..."
"—I really didn't mind at all. It's true that my situation was quite suspicious."
"B-Besides, getting kidnapped was because I was too stupid, and that woman was too underhanded. That's it. You don't need to be that disheartened."
Despite their efforts to comfort her, Fear's expression remained unchanged, her eyes continuing to gaze with self-loathing at the blood-stained handkerchief.
"But... Turning out like this... It's still really my fault. What should I do? If it doesn't heal, what should I do..."
"Why are you making such a big deal of it? It's not like Class Rep's case, there was a great hole in her belly."
"B-But it became like this! Like this... Flesh scraped off, so much bleeding! Ahhh, what should I do? Dummy Haruaki... What if your hand cannot move anymore, how could I possibly compensate..."
"Why do you keep thinking pessimistically? I already said it's okay! After getting home, I'm going to disinfect it carefully."
"But I-I know, human bodies are very fragile! One person became a cripple with but a single cut while someone else's heart stopped when pierced with a single spike! No one can guarantee if the same won't happen to you...!"
Her thoughts were caught in a negative spiral. How troubling—Haruaki scratched his head.
"Like I said to you already, it'll heal, okay! Look, Kuroe gave me treatment already... Right? Even without your worries, I will receive an unending stream of recovery energy. Yes, if you're so concerned, then you'll be responsible for the bandages after we get home! I'll teach you how to wrap them!"
In any case, Haruaki had to make her forget her self-loathing by giving her a mission. A correct decision, apparently. Fear blinked several times and nodded her head vigorously nonstop.
"Yes, of course... Is there anything else I could do...?"
"Eh~ Anything else...? There seems to be something..."
"Oh—Right. I remember Kuroe mentioned before that keeping the wound warm will make it heal faster. In that case—"
Fear reached out with both hands and wrapped them lightly around Haruaki's injured hand.
"How is it...?"
"O-Ohhh, hmm... Umm... Thanks."
"Hmm... Why am I not getting any feeling that it's healing faster? It need to be warmer huh... Even warmer... A warm place..."
"Well, just leave the rest to a hand warmer. It's not like you can hold my hand all day long as I can't really calm down like this. Anyway, let's... Woah, hey!?"
Haruaki's hand was pressed against some place warmer.
Namely, Fear's chest.
"How is it...? Compared to holding hands... Much warmer, right...?"
Haruaki was sitting on the ground while Fear was kneeling on both knees.
Holding Haruaki's hand tightly with her hands, Fear pressed his hand against her bosom. Although she was frequently called flat, it was not as if she were completely flat. So in other words, there was a bosom. Even separated by clothing, Haruaki could clearly feel by touch, the domain sandwiched by the bulges on her chest. Indeed, it felt unmistakably warm. Much too warm.
"Ohhh, ooooooooi, Fear!"
"Mmm, mmm, how is it... Has it stopped hurting? Almost healed...?"
Fear's hands gently applied greater pressure, bringing a further sense of softness and warmth. Haruaki could recall Konoha doing something similar last time... No wait, now was not the time to be remembering things like that. Last time was because Konoha was half-asleep, so he decided to erase the memory from his brain. But now—Fear was completely sober. Haruaki could also hear the sound of her warm breath as he watched her quivering lashes. Oh no, this was really bad. Why did friction between clothing sound so loud? Why did Fear's hair smell so sweet?
"Oh my, Ficchi is quite bold."
"Yachi, how long... do you intend... to maintain this...?"
"Hey... Help me here! I can't take my hand away!"
"Don't take it away... I'm fine with it. Sorry I'm very small. But I'll work hard to keep you warm, so... Please continue to maintain this, okay...?"
This was bad. Fear was directing her moist gaze at him while Kuroe simply watched blankly in amusement and Kirika was about to strangle him with her belt. W-Who will hurry and save me—Just as Haruaki thought to himself—
"W-W-W-Wha—? W-What are you doing—!?"
The Japanese sword cried out with alarm from the side. Fear looked down and threw a glance at the shuddering sword.
"Tsk, the nagging woman has woken up. If only she'd continue sleeping..."
"How could I sleep in such a situation!?"
Poof! —Konoha returned to human form and approached Fear with a expression of alarm.
"Hmph, you basically slept through everything this time... How useless. Although I knew that already, nothing is worse than junk that swings around all over the place. You should keep sleeping."
"Wha... T-That's because... Umm... Indeed I cannot refute... But this is unrelated to that! Haruaki-kun doesn't like what you're doing, right? Hurry and stop this indecent behavior!"
"What are you calling indecent? This is simply healing treatment."
"What brazen cheekiness...! Anyway, put an end to this, end it!"
Konoha grabbed Haruaki's arm strenuously, trying to pull his hand away from Fear's chest by force. However, Fear pressed Haruaki's hand harder in resistance. Unable to move recklessly, Haruaki could do nothing but keep his arm tensed and immobile.
"Nuu, damn it, let go!" "No, you let go!"
"Umm, you two... Owww, hey, it really hurts!"
"See, he's crying out in pain! I will heal him, so back off, Cow Tits!"
"I understand the principle, but I cannot approve of this indecent method of treatment...! If this treatment must be done no matter what, let me do it! I'm the one who had... Umm—very clearly there is a difference in insulation ability!"
"What did you say!? Are you still bragging at a time like this!? Yours must be deceitful breasts with useless volume and nothing inside, popping with a bang at a pin's prick, so it's totally meaningless!"
As they argued back and forth, Kuroe suddenly poked Konoha on the shoulder.
"What... is it? I... am... currently... busy!"
"I see that you're not getting it, so let me tell you... If you use the same treatment method as Ficchi in your current state, Kono-san, it will really be a great deal. But then again, if you're doing this with full awareness, I'm not going to stop you."
"The problem is which side would be more indecent... It's quite troubling to see Konoha-kun acting like this on occasion."
Kirika spoke with her hand on her temple. Indeed—Haruaki concentrated on transmitting his mental waves of agreement. Turning his neck with all his strength, Haruaki deliberately avoided watching the battle between the two girls.
"How so? ...Oh right, Haruaki-kun, why has your gaze been avoiding my direction all this time—!?"
As if deciding time was up for Konoha to notice herself, Kuroe pronounced blankly:
"Hmm, Kono-san, you're buck naked."
Feeling extremely exhausted, Haruaki closed his eyes. Following that, all he heard were sounds.
A supersonic scream. Then the sound of someone sprinting, undoubtedly breaking world records in track and field—or rather, the sound of fleeing.
Nice body—Kuroe whispered expressionlessly.
Shaking so openly as if showing off to others, are you mocking me! —Fear remarked angrily.
Finally, there was Kirika who was the same as usual.
Smiling slightly wryly, she offered a single comment—Absolutely ridiculous.
Translator's Notes and References
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