Chapter 2 - Unexpectedly Fragile / "Going on a picnic with the sandwich"
According to Kana—
Today, she had gone out shopping with her cousin (recently married) who had brought her six-month-old baby. But just as they started browsing the shops, Kana's cousin had collapsed and was sent to the hospital. Although it was only appendicitis and nothing serious, she took the opportunity to check into the hospital. Hence, Kana was currently entrusted with the baby. Just as she was on her way home, she discovered the baby needed a change of diapers—By chance, she ran into Kirika who was looking for a part-time job in the streets... That was how it happened apparently.
"Then since this is on the road home anyway, Kirika-chan wondered if we should stop by Akki's house or not. Although we could have borrowed a washroom somewhere, it's time to feed the baby anyway~"
"What, so that's what's going on... Well, upon reflecting calmly, it was very clearly a joke! But it did frighten me for a moment there..."
Watching Konoha sighing at the dining table, Kirika hunched her shoulders apologetically:
"I-I'm sorry, Konoha-kun, Kana is the mastermind! Seriously, it's absolutely ridiculous!"
"Ahaha, because I really wanted to see Kirika-chan play the fool's part for once~ Sorry! But it's quite a rare sight, right? And very fun too?"
"Because of this, I was almost strangled to death... Say, is it really okay for the baby to be entrusted to you?"
"Don't worry, I've been helping out at home all along. Come, Yoshifumi-kun, it's diaper time~"
Saying that, Kana skillfully removed the baby's diaper and wiped his bottom. The originally whimpering baby went "Ah~ Ah~" happily with his lower body exposed, perhaps because of the clean and fresh feeling from the soiled diaper's removal.
Konoha and Fear watched the baby with indescribable fascination.
"Wow, so cute!"
"It's true. There's also something cute growing there."
"W-Where exactly are you directing your attention? I don't mean cute in that way!"
"Cute things are cute! Am I right, Haruaki!?"
"W-Why are you asking me?"
Despite Haruaki's misgivings over having an argument over the baby's head, the baby was not only unafraid, but he also smiled happily instead. Clearly this child was going to become a great man one day. While all this was taking place, the change of diaper was completed.
"Okay, next we'll need to warm up some milk. Akki, lend me your kitchen for a bit? Then until that's ready, I'll trust you guys with the baby. Uh~ Kirika, here you go."
"W-Why are you giving him to me... Didn't I already tell you, I'm not used to this sort of thing..."
Handing the baby over to Kirika without taking no for an answer, Kana went into the kitchen with her bag that carried the thermos and other stuff. Although she claimed unfamiliarity, Kirika could not just abandon the baby so she had no choice but to keep cradling the baby in her arms with a troubled expression on her face. But seeing her like that, an eager someone soon volunteered to relieve Kirika of her duties.
"I-If you're not used to it, how about I have a go at taking care of him?"
"Oh thanks, Konoha-kun... Here you go."
Receiving the baby with unexpectedly skillful motions, Konoha smiled happily:
"Wow~ He's quite heavy! But his face and fingers are so tiny, and his skin is so tender and smooth.... Hoho, so cute!"
"Yeah, I have a bad feeling about what's going to happen."
Seeing the wobbling mass before his eyes—the baby was fascinated from a food point of view. Hence—
"Iyaah? Umm, wait—Sorry, I don't... have milk, okay...! Ah, stop it, stop it..."
"It tickles... Nnnggg... Haa... Jeez... Jeez... Huah!"
The baby bit firmly despite the layers of clothing, causing Konoha's shoulders to tremble. Although she was giggling, Haruaki felt delicately embarrassed to watch. Trying as much to divert his gaze, at this moment—
"Hey Cow Tits, it's no fair for you to be hogging things! I want to hold the baby too, let me hold him!"
"Eh~ Will it really be okay for you? It's no joking matter if you drop him on the floor!"
"Shut up, of course it'll be okay! I didn't drop any dishes just now either, right?"
"Don't compare a baby with dishes, sheesh."
Taking advantage of Konoha's ticklish state, Fear took the baby from her. Because her method of holding was quite a terrifying sight, Kirika then taught her the correct way.
"L-Like this? ...Ohoh, so tiny, so cute~ He reminds me of the dog yesterday."
"Don't compare a baby with a dog, sheesh."
Going "Ah~ Ah~" happily at the sight of the glittering silver hair, the baby suddenly reached out with his short little arms.
Towards Fear's chest.
"Oh? Fufu, a connoisseur knows his stuff after all... Indeed! Fundamentally, there's no difference between me and Cow Tits, there's no need to feel inferior at all! This is proof of that!"
Fear's proud grin of triumph only lasted briefly. After a few pats to confirm the feeling, the baby—
He inclined his head with an incredulous expression. Completely losing interest in the chest, he went "Ah... Ah..." as he reached for the silver hair.
"Wha...!" Fear groaned and bowed her head, her entire body shaking for quite a while. Finally, the pressure suddenly vanished and still keeping her head bowed, she—
With a great sigh, she handed the baby over to Haruaki.
"Sigh... I knew it, a little child wouldn't know things after all... He wouldn't know... It can't be helped. It's not like I'm offended. Ahaha..."
Her dry laughter was extremely stiff. Somehow, she looked a bit pitiful.
Only at this moment did Haruaki suddenly realize that Aiko had not joined in their circle centered around the living room dining table. Instead, she was standing slightly further away. A distance similar to the one she kept during their first encounter.
Indeed, it was exactly the same, completely the same.
Seeing Aiko sneaking glances at the baby from time to time, Fear suggested to her—Why don't you have a go at holding him, how's that?
After much hesitation, Aiko finally approached in trepidation and Haruaki handed the baby lightly over to her arms.
Aiko seemed to be smiling happily as she looked down at the baby in her arms—
Then Haruaki and the girls finally learned.
The true meaning of "earsplitting crying" that actually existed in this world.
"I'm really sorry for causing all of you trouble~" Kana departed with Kirika as she comforted the baby. After that, dozens of minutes passed—
Haruaki was alone in the quiet kitchen, preparing lunch. It really was very quiet. Perhaps due to the excessive noise earlier, this feeling was further exacerbated.
"...That girl, she's not leaving her room."
Fear's voice came from behind. Haruaki glanced back to find her leaning her back against the kitchen entrance, her big toes fiddling meaninglessly with each other, her gaze directed firmly to the floor. "I see..." Turning his face forward again, Haruaki replied without pausing in his work.
After what happened, Aiko had left the howling and crying baby and bolted out of the living room. Like the other time, she was exuding an extremely gloomy aura. From then on, she would not respond no matter how they called to her.
"That girl said something about being the same as me or even something worse. She said she was an existence that deserved to be cursed. So... I can understand what she's feeling—"
After some silence, Fear infused a little resolve into her words. Quietly, she spoke:
"I have even been used on babies quite a few times."
"So I felt the same just now. Can I really hold him with these hands of mine? Do I have the right to hold him? Is holding him permitted...? To be honest, my mind was filled with these thoughts. What if he cries? I would feel very unsettled. If that girl is really thinking the same things and in actual fact, she did receive that kind of response, it's no surprise that she would end up so depressed."
"What do you mean, 'I see'? Can't you try to comfort her!? That girl... Judging from the way she looks, who knows how long it'll take before she agrees to leave her room—"
Fear's voice carried slight anxiety. Haruaki took a deep breath and slowly turned his head back.
Fear was glaring at him sharply. After careful consideration of what to tell her, Haruaki—
"Today's lunch is: sandwiches."
"The weather's nice, so let's eat outdoors. You can also call it a picnic."
He smiled as Fear stood rooted to the spot in surprise.
"No one is ever unhappy about having a picnic. In other words, no one will remain in low spirits after a picnic. And in order to be a picnic, the whole family needs to go."
The color of comprehension gradually appeared in Fear's eyes.
"Uh—In other words, if there happens to be a listless girl, let's force her to go out for a walk to help raise her spirits, so she'd better prepare herself! That's the idea. So... Comrade Fear! Your mission is to tell everyone and gather them all to the entryway, dragging them by the collar if necessary! May victory smile upon you!"
"A-Affirmative! Leave it to me!"
Fear rushed out and the kitchen returned to silence.
Let's not forget to prepare the desserts—Haruaki thought to himself.
Apples, bananas, and of course—an extra helping of rice crackers.
Haruaki set off on a picnic together with Fear, Konoha and Aiko who was forcibly dragged out by Fear. Aiko remained listless but at least it was still many times better than being cooped up in her room.
In light of the sports festival the next day, wasting energy on walking too far would be a bad idea. Hence, the picnic site was chosen somewhere relatively near—the river embankment where they had met Aiko. Just as Haruaki thought yesterday when he was gazing around blankly, the river was quite beautiful and simply eating outdoors was quite fun. It shouldn't be boring, right?
Near the bridge, there was a patch of short grass that looked comfortable to sit on. Laying out a leisure mat, three baskets worth of sandwiches were spread out.
"Ah, this is great!"
"Wow, this looks very tasty!"
"I only used existing ingredients that I had on hand, so I make no guarantees about the taste... There's egg, ham and vegetables or pork chops cutlets... Oh right, there's also some leftovers from Konoha's spicy meat yesterday, so I made a bold attempt of making sandwiches out of them. In addition, there are some deep fried chicken pieces as well as dessert over here. Feel free to take whatever strikes your fancy... Aiko, what would you like to eat?"
Haruaki asked Aiko who was staring blankly. She spoke timidly with her bangs shaking incessantly:
"Uh... Then I'll have the spicy one..."
"Yes! It's the meat Konoha made yesterday! Here you go!"
He handed the sandwich to her. Under everyone's gaze, Aiko took a large bite out of the sandwich she was holding with both hands.
"...Very tasty. The spicy one."
"That's really wonderful."
"Ufufu, to have picked this for her first choice, she must be quite enamored with my cooking! It makes me so happy~"
"You're trying to take the challenge? Be careful of the delayed effects. Even if you may think 'No problem, no problem' to yourself at first, you may find unnecessary blubber growing somewhere imperceptibly... Ohoh, too scary."
"Please don't mind her. That's the biased opinion of someone who won't grow meat anywhere no matter what she eats."
"W-What are you saying!? I'll curse you!"
The meal proceeded with this sort of noisy commotion. Although AIko was not very talkative, she would still answer whenever Fear or Konoha brought up a new topic of conversation. Even casual words with no content were fine, so long as it took things off her mind—Haruaki thought to himself.
There was virtually no one else around. Slightly further away, there was a riverside plaza where people could play baseball, so most people probably went there instead. Hence, it felt as though Haruaki's group had the whole place to themselves on the river embankment. The only sounds were that of the river's quiet rhythm and the short grass swaying softly. The atmosphere was extremely calm.
Just as Haruaki yawned, overcome with a sense of drowsiness, Fear suddenly frowned in the middle of drinking tea from the thermos.
"Hmm? Hey, Haruaki, the tea's out."
"That's all because you've been gulping it down madly... I wanted to drink some too..."
"Sigh, I guess it's my fault for not preparing enough. I'm thirsty too, so let me buy some juice or tea! I remember there's a vending machine up there..."
"Excuse me... May I go buy the drinks?"
"It's okay, you girls should... Well, just engage in some girl talk to liven up the mood!"
In other words, "you girls should continue helping Aiko lift her spirits." Konoha definitely got the message and responded apologetically: "Thanks, I'll have tea please." Then after asking what Fear and Aiko wanted, Haruaki climbed up the embankment and made his way towards to vending machine, a hundred meters away.
How immensely distant these one hundred meters were going to be—Haruaki had no idea at all.
A mere ten seconds or so after Haruaki had left to buy drinks, Fear felt a gaze.
Looking up, she found a figure on the the nearby bridge. Elbows resting on the railing, a girl was gazing down at their group with a bored expression. Although her face was well proportioned, her eyes looked a bit violent and part of her hair was uneven in length.
Noticing Fear's gaze, the girl spoke without changing her posture of elbows on the railing:
"Hey, does that taste good?"
Still eating slowly, Aiko inclined her head. Konoha also blinked suspiciously but instantly displayed a perfectly courteous smile and replied:
"Yes, very delicious."
"Oh~ Very delicious huh?"
Regurgitating Konoha's words in a halfhearted manner, the girl nodded.
Then she smiled at Fear and company who were below the bridge—
"However, it seems to smell of extreme incompetence."
Konoha's smile stiffened:
"Just now—What did you say? I didn't quite catch it."
"I said: it smells incompetent. In other words, totally useless in stuffing your bellies. To put it bluntly... Trash, I'd say?"
"...What right do you have to say something so excessive when you haven't even tasted it? How contemptuous. Even if you beg me, I won't share any with you. Go scram to somewhere else."
Although it was Haruaki's cooking that was being insulted and not herself, for some reason, Fear felt her anger flaring up as she retorted and glared at the girl. However—
"Taste? I know even if I don't try it. A bunch of people bringing their packed lunches, chatting and going 'Wow~ So tasty'—The sight of that is enough to make me conclude: incompetent. I hate this the most."
"Ufufu, what should I do? How exactly should this be handled~?"
While Konoha was smiling stiffly, the skewer sticking in a piece of fried chicken was sliced to pieces by her.
"Hey girl, are you trying to pick a fight? If you don't behave, we have our own ideas too!"
"Yes yes, indeed. You understand, after all... I am picking a fight, so let's get it on! I'm coming over right now!"
The girl spoke nonchalantly and stretched lazily—Then jumped off the bridge. Her skirt fluttering, she landed on the ground with her legs spread wide. Although the height was roughly two stories high, she landed without any loss of balance.
The girl slowly straightened her knees and stood up. Similar to the uneven length of her hair, her attire was unbalanced as well. Her feet were wearing mismatched boots, but in contrast to the rough image of her footwear, the light and fluttering skirt seemed especially cute. If anything, despite her petite and weak looking figure, the girl had eyes that glinted with violent intentions.
Fear had a premonition. Was this girl so simpleminded as to pick a fight out of ill temper? No—
"—Who are you?"
"Nikaidou Kururi. It's fine even if you don't remember it. After all, it's just an incompetent name."
Saying that, the girl—Kururi—fished out a pendant from her front collar. It was a very heavy looking cross, even bigger than one's palm. As if showing it off, she raised the cross up high, then bit the longer side with her mouth. Holding it between her teeth like a cigarette, she licked it once with her tongue—Meanwhile using her hand to pull the shorter end. The pendant was split into two with a clack, thereby producing a knife in her hand. It was a concealed knife disguised as a pendant.
In the instant of their surprise, Kururi suddenly charged towards them, her posture leaning forward, almost as if licking the ground. So fast! Having readied herself for battle before Fear, Konoha used the outer edge of her wrist to block Kururi's thrust of the knife and executed a palm strike with her other hand within a hairbreadth. However, Kururi simply evaded by a slight bow of her body. Konoha's palm ended up brushing past her abdomen without incident.
Frowning, Konoha kicked, causing Kururi to duck in evasion. The ankle flew over her head. Her uneven hair fluttered lightly. As if getting swept up into the leg's motion, the knife went for Konoha's abdomen with lightning speed—But Konoha lowered her elbow and blocked. Using this impact between bodies, she distanced herself from Kururi.
Konoha's glare became extremely sharp.
"...You don't seem surprised."
"Although the motion only lasted for an instant—But a normal person would probably wonder 'is there something like a metal plate hidden in that elbow?' in surprise, right?"
"What, so you're actually worried about that? That explains why you only made average attacks."
"Cow Tits, this girl, sure enough..."
"Indeed—she must be an 'interested party' involved with our kind. And she's carrying a knife whose shape is reminiscent of unpleasant memories. Could it be..."
Kururi smiled maliciously and bowed her head in an exaggerated manner.
"Greetings, dear incompetent assholes. I am a member of the Bivorio Family... Although I only joined recently. I am the newcomer whose only forte is being fresh and brand new."
The Bivorio Family. A name Fear could never forget even if she wanted to. She was just starting to feel relieved that they had not resurfaced for some time—But it turns out they haven't given up yet?
"Aiko, you stand back. This girl is very dangerous."
Rushing to shield Aiko who was cowering in confusion, Fear took out her Rubik's cube and stepped forward. Since the enemy belonged to that organization of insane fanatics, there was no reason to show any mercy. Besides, since their opponent was currently under the bridge, there should be no risk of being seen by passersby, right?
"Fear-in-Cube plus the cursed sword Muramasa... Right? Let me carry out my orders and bring you two back, by force if necessary. Pleased to meet you."
"Hmph, to think you can still brag in a two-against-one fight. Hey, Cow Tits, how are you faring?"
"What should I say.... All I know is one thing, that knife turns out to be pretty sharp."
Glancing at the cut in her sleeve causing by her block just now, Konoha murmured:
"Basically, so long as you're careful, hard objects like you or me cannot be penetrated by ordinary blades. But if you're caught off guard and stabbed in an unexpected location, it's a different matter—Vitals, such as the brain or the heart, still correspond to irreplaceably critical components of our true forms, yes? Damage to those parts will be fatal, so please be careful."
"Hmph, who are you talking to? You worry too much."
Their opponent slowly pressed near. Kururi held the T-shaped pendant, or perhaps one should call it a sheath, in her mouth while waving the knife in her hand.
"But this person's movements seem a bit strange? Yes, she's very fast—But her dodging ability is uncanny. For a human, it's on an abnormal level. Even back in the Warring States period, very few master swordsman could dodge the way she keeps evading with the slimmest of margins."
"Even making comparisons to master swordsmen, are you talking about the olden days, old hag?"
"Aren't you several centuries old as well yourself!? In any case, don't go rushing forward mindlessly to create strange openings. Also, if you could neutralize her without bloodshed as much as possible, I would greatly appreciate the help."
"Tell that to the other me—Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi», Curse Calling!"
The Rubik's cube turned into a cube-shaped object. Creaking, grating, it gave off a nostalgic yet contemptible noise. Further transforming the cube into a slashing blade, Fear held it through the controlling chain of cubes. She sneaked a glance behind her.
Aiko is looking at my form. How is it? Have you ever seen a tool whose purpose deserves hatred and curses and as much as me?
Casting these notions aside, Fear held the back of the blade towards the enemy and rushed forward. She was not doing this in consideration for Konoha, but were she to split a human into two with the bladed edge, Fear would probably have trouble sleeping at night even when the victim was an enemy.
The axe was swung upwards. It hit? Dodged by a margin so slim that one might mistaken it for a hit, there was only the sensation of brushing past hair. Always dodging successfully with the minimum motion required, Kururi counterattacked with speed that had all redundant movements eliminated. The knife was even too fast to react against.
"Didn't I already remind you just now!?"
Konoha rushed forward and intervened with a karate chop, crossing blades with Kururi's knife with the sound of metallic impact. Rather than blocking directly, Kururi had parried using by a gentle wrist motion. Otherwise, Konoha's karate chop would probably have sliced through the knife or sent it flying away into the distance.
"Oh my, how dangerous... Come to think of it, Muramasa is that very famous one, right? The Muramasa blade which is quite popular even amongst foreigners. Have you ever met famous figures? Like Nobunaga or Hideyoshi."
"You've been using it so many times—I hate being called by that name!"
While they were having this exchange, Fear swung the axe horizontally. If only it could hit. A solid hit was all it would take to smash them, whether that cheap knife or the girl's slender arm—!
The hit missed. But there was contact. More accurately, the other person touched it.
Parrying Konoha's karate chop while engaged in the intense close-range battle, Kururi jumped up and stood on the axe.
"Wow, I really did it, just like a manga scene... Oh no, who's gonna take a photo for me? Pretty please."
Her joking tone of voice caused Fear to rage in embarrassment. What kind of joke was this!?
"Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator»!"
Kururi lost balance the instant the transformation took place. Taking advantage of Kururi's inability to dodge in midair, Konoha performed a high kick. To be honest, Kururi had no recourse except to defend using her knife—Accompanied by a metallic screech, her body flew into the air. Although she twisted her body and landed nimbly, she now had her back to the river. She was cornered.
"Ahhh damn it, I knew it was a little hard to move in... Lemme make it shorter."
Kururi frowned lightly as she muttered, acting as though she was unaware of her predicament. Applying the knife to her skirt, she shortened it with a series of ripping and tearing sounds. Were Haruaki present, he would probably blush at the dangerous sight.
"So what! Even if you shamelessly expose your legs, you're not gonna seduce anyone here! Maybe if you decorate yourself with wounds, it might actually work better by evoking pity!"
Fear raised her drill and Konoha readied her knife hand as they attacked Kururi simultaneously from two directions.
However, Kururi narrowed her eyes and jumped backwards. Was she going dive into the river to escape? Fool, that would allow me to snipe you with the wheel or some other attack—Just as Fear was about to transform the drill, she realized what Kururi's intentions were.
What amazing jumping power. Kururi easily traversed a distance of several meters and landed on a supporting pillar of the concrete bridge erected over the river. Was she planning on a triple jump to leap back over here—?
In that case, a trap should be laid. Predicting Kururi's landing spot, Fear thrust the drill forward—
"...Mechanism No.16 dangling type, pyramidal form: «Judas Cradle», Curse Calling."
What appeared was a square-pyramidal block of iron held in midair by a pillar, standing over a square pedestal. There four more pillars, standing at each of the four corners of the pedestal, each longer than the central pillar. A ring-shaped restraining device was connected to the four corner pillars and was suspended over the square pyramid—This was a torture tool for imprisoning a victim and suspending them while their lower body was being hurt by the pyramid below.
"Hoho—I have prepared this for you: humiliation and shame! This is perfect for a girl like you!"
Fear transmitted her will through the chain of cubes, causing the central ring-shaped restraining device to extend with a clang. Although the ring could not be manipulated once it was launched out, catching a flying object and hanging it over the pyramid should not be a problem.
"To think there was such an incompetent hobby...!"
As predicted, Kururi stepped on the bridge pillar and jumped again in a triple jump. Her shortened skirt exposed her thighs while her uneven hair fluttered—
But she jumped upwards instead.
Reaching the top of the bridge pillar, or more accurately, the bottom side of the bridge, Kururi contorted herself and kicked the concrete bridge once. The reaction force produced horizontal momentum, allowing her to return to the river embankment as though she were gliding from bottom of the bridge. Naturally, she also flew effortless over and evaded Fear's torture device.
Oh what a shame—that was what Kururi's twisted visage seemed to be saying as she stood there. Fear's gaze met with hers.
"What a monkey-like girl, it's obvious what sort of upbringing this reflects."
"I don't want to hear that from someone like you who laid such a low level trap."
Konoha frowned at this moment.
"What's the problem, Cow Tits?"
"It's too weird. I keep getting this sense of dissonance in her actions... Fighting for one moment, not fighting in the next. Same for just now, she should have been able to attack directly from above in the same manner... Yah—Ah!"
Konoha turned pale instantly. In response, Kururi simply clicked her tongue once.
"Fear! Hurry over to Haruaki! This girl here is most likely a distraction!"
"Hurry! Given your unrefined manner of combat, you can't handle this person. Just leave the situation here to me!"
"Tsk... Damn it!"
Turning the unused «Judas Cradle» back into the Rubik's cube, Fear swung around.
"Aiko! If you want to be useful, come along with me!"
Fear called out as she brushed past her, rushing up the embankment. Although she did not answer, Aiko also seemed to be hurrying hastily to follow Fear. What can she accomplish? Anyway, let's not worry about that for now.
Fear kept repeating a single name, over and over again, in her mind.
Haruaki, Haruaki, Haruaki.
Please—You must stay safe and unharmed!
After buying tea for Konoha and himself, Haruaki picked orange juice for Aiko who had said she wanted "something sweet."
Then came the issue of Fear's choice. She had stated specifically "I want to try something surprising and completely new—A drink I've never ever tasted before!" After surveying the lineup in the vending machine, Haruaki soon made his choice—the «Super Spicy Habanero Chilli Pepper Style Ginger Ale ~ Mexicana Mama Flavor». Haruaki could not figure out whether the main ingredient was the habanero chilli pepper or the ginger, but Fear was in for a surprise for sure. She'll have to blame no one but her own specific instructions... Almost hearing "I'll curse you!" by his ear, Haruaki smiled wryly as he knelt down and reached towards the dispensing compartment.
Just at this moment, he sensed someone standing behind him. Was the person waiting in line to use the vending machine? I'd better hurry and get out of the way—Just as Haruaki was thinking that...
"Have you ever made a confession?"
Hearing the voice from behind, Haruaki's hand stopped. He remembered this voice. It was only once, but he could never forget the special circumstances under which he heard it.
The man's deep voice shook the air. Haruaki was unable to turn his head around.
"Speaking of confession, you probably don't understand, considering the secular nature of this country? Simply stated, it is... Yes, it is about baring your past acts to the Lord."
It was impossible to discern how far away the voice came from. Several meters? A meter? Or even close enough to be blowing air at his ear? Who knew—Haruaki felt a chill down his spine. His throat felt dry. He must turn around. He must turn around and do something, anything—
"And then you obtain absolution. The past is forgotten, the burden lifted off your shoulders... Indeed, this is the Lord's salvation. Do you understand?"
I understand—Yeah right!
Perhaps he heard Haruaki's internal thoughts. Haruaki could sense the man smiling wryly. Taking advantage of the opportunity to regain control of his body, Haruaki turned his head around as he fell over. Falling flat on his bottom, he looked up. Indeed, before his eyes was that man.
His muscular physique was clad in a suit, with a soft hat on his head and black leather gloves on his hands. This gentlemanly attire, combined with his wild-looking eyes and beard to give an overall feeling like a member of the mafia, exuding a dangerous aura.
"Oh? Good memory, little lamb. Praise the lord—But my official name is Narrow Narrow Abyss."
Abyss adjusted his hat and narrowed one eye. It was still a smile, but Haruaki could feel nothing but fear. The Bivorio Family. An organization affirming cursed tools completely. Narrow Narrow Abyss. Things had settled roughly a week earlier... The threat Haruaki believed to be over was appearing before him once more.
Haruaki desperately racked his brains to think. This man was a cursed tool. More than likely... A cursed cross. What could an ordinary mortal do against him? But Fear and Konoha were...
As Haruaki's gaze wandered, he found a policeman approaching on a bike. This was the vending machine corner in the housing estate by the river embankment. Indeed, it came as no surprise for someone to be passing by. Probably a policeman on patrol. Seeing a suspicious combination of a man standing before a boy who was sitting on the floor, the policeman was naturally intrigued. Hence, he got off his bike.
"What are you two doing?"
"A member of the public security bureau huh... Hmm, I remember this country is famous for not accepting bribes, praise the Lord."
"What are you talking about? Are you a foreigner? Where's your passport?"
At this moment, Abyss suddenly extended his gloved hand. Grabbing the young policeman by the face, he murmured:
"—Confess your actions in the past minute."
The policeman's eyes lost focus instantly as he spoke in a semi-dreamlike tone of voice:
"Found... a suspicious man and boy... I-Interrogate and examine..."
"I see, how enthusiastic about your work. Your confession has obtained absolution. I shall bear that in mind—"
Once Abyss loosened his grip, the policeman mounted his bike unsteadily and simply rode away.
"W-What... did you just... do...?"
"Nothing much, you'll understand in the next instant. No, more correctly, you will no longer understand in the next instant."
Chuckling, Abyss stepped forward. Overcome with an inexplicable sense of unease, Haruaki tried to get up—But one of Abyss' hands was holding him down by the shoulder. His strength was astounding. Haruaki could not stand up no matter how hard he tried. Then the other hand slowly reached towards Haruaki's forehead—
"It'll be troubling if you were to misunderstand. This isn't revenge for harming Alice. Instead, this is for your salvation."
What was he... What was he talking about?
Haruaki did not get the answer. The leather glove touched Haruaki's forehead—
"Don't you dare touch Haruaki———!"
Rushing over with a leap, Fear swung «A Hatchet of Lingchi» at Abyss with all her might. Abyss reacted swiftly by turning head and punching nimbly. Wrapped in only a glove, his fist made contact with the blade—Fear felt as though she had struck a rock. Although the hatchet was deflected with a blunt sound, it did send Abyss flying away from Haruaki.
"Hmm... That actually hurts quite a lot. I shall bear that in mind."
"You must be the one called Abyss! What did you do to Haruaki? Answer me!"
Despite the chill running down her spine, Fear roared angrily as a bluff. Haruaki was lying collapsed on the ground. Judging from the heaving of his chest, he was still alive—naturally, dying would be completely unacceptable—But his consciousness had not returned yet.
"Due to your interference, it is only half complete. Hmm, how far did he get with his confession—"
"Speak in terms that I can understand...!"
"Then I shall put things in clearer terms. Fear-in-Cube, do you still refuse to join the Family?"
Seeing that he did not intent to answer obediently, Fear gnashed her teeth:
"My answer remains the same, no matter how many times you ask... In fact, I'm the one who wants to ask you, why do you stay with the lunatics in the Family? Don't you find it shameful to allow those contemptuous curses to continue existing contemptuously?"
"Shameful? I truly find that laughable. we are using those so-called curses to bring salvation to others. Why would there be any need to feel shameful? On the other hand, you are the foolish one for not realizing this."
Fear gripped the hatchet even harder. Using curses to bring salvation? Ludicrous! This notion itself was extremely ludicrous. That blood, those screams, if one really interpreted that as salvation—Now that would truly be sacrilege deserving of curses.
"In that sense, this boy really is a little unfortunate. Even when in possession of me, he cannot receive my blessings. But instead, I used the method of confession to save him."
"So what the heck are you talking about?"
"Granting the forgiveness of memory loss to a sinful past. This is what it means to confess. Under this holy sacrament, no one is exempt from redemption."
"Totally making no sense—Damn it, whatever! I'll just make you explain properly after I beat you up!"
Abyss happily pushed down his hat after listening to Fear.
"Very regrettably, your wish cannot be fulfilled. Since the first plan wasn't carried out completely, I shall retreat for now to confer with her for countermeasures. Kururi's delaying tactics are probably starting to get suspicious—And starting at some point unknown to us, your side seems to have gained an additional Wathe."
His gaze passed over Fear. Fear glanced back to find Aiko standing there after following her. She seemed quite fearful of Abyss' gaze. Aiko pulled up her collar and hunched her neck—but her eyes gazed at Abyss directly.
"Aiko, if you're able to do something, please, don't let that guy escape!"
"Didn't I tell you, that is impossible!?"
Abyss' exasperated voice came faster than Aiko could respond—
For an instant, Fear's view was filled with "something dark."
With neither shape nor form, an instantaneous blackness exuding great pressure.
In only happened for a blink of an eye. By the time she recollected herself, Abysss had disappeared without trace. Frantically surveying the surroundings, Fear found Aiko silently extending her hand. She pointed to a rooftop in the nearby housing estate.
The man in the suit was there in the distance. By some unknown method, he had traveled that far away in an instant. However, Fear immediately dismissed this question from her mind because she spotted another tiny figure beside the man.
Indeed. Long-haired, her monocle flashing, sitting in a wheelchair, smiling as she waved—
Alice Bivorio Basskreigh.
Despite her groans, there was no way for Fear to get there or attack. Very soon, the two figures vanished from the rooftop. As much as Fear was filled with the impulse to chase after them, she knew that their trail would be long gone by the time she climbed up onto that roof.
Rather than that, the more important thing right now was—
"H-Haruaki! Are you okay?"
Fear rushed over to Haruaki's side as he lay collapsed by the vending machine and hugged him, resting his head on her lap. He did not seem to be in pain but only sleeping. As if he were in comfortable slumber, he was snoring with a regular rhythm.
Fear felt relieved. It's okay, I must have arrived in time before that guy was able to do anything...
As she carelessly sighed in relief, Fear suddenly found Aiko gazing at her. This prompted her to reconsider.
Thank goodness—Indeed. If Haruaki had been kidnapped, then she would not have a chance to try out the drink with the brand new taste that he had bought, right?
Not long after that, after Kururi escaped, Konoha came to converge with Fear and the others. She instantly entered a state of panic as soon as she saw Haruaki's condition, but felt relieved once she learned that he had no external injuries.
Konoha carried Haruaki on her back as the group made their way home. Since the Family had made they appearance, it was necessary to be vigilant. After receiving a report of the situation by phone at the "Dan-no-ura," Kuroe also finished things at her shop, closed up and returned home.
After sleeping in a futon for roughly thirty minutes, Haruaki woke up.
"Ohoh, he awakened!"
"H-Haruaki-kun, are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?"
"Shameless brat, you dare take a midday nap so leisurely, how utterly bold... Hmph."
Haruaki blinked in surprise at the three girls who poked their heads forward to examine him.
"W-What's the matter? You're really hurting somewhere?"
"No, umm... Nothing... It doesn't hurt anywhere, but..."
"I know, it must be a great shock to you to find yourself suddenly surrounded by beauties the second you wake up, right? That must be it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the world's three greatest beauties are gathered here. There's me, graceful and dignified as Yang Guifei; Ficchi, who's as lovely as Ono no Komachi, as well as—"
"—Cow Tits, who roars 'ooga ooga' like a mountain gorilla and whose prided skill is eating whatever crap she can find."
"I knew it would turn into something like this in the end! Couldn't you use a human analogy at least? Better yet, stop using adjectives with ridiculous meanings! Good heavens, there's so many things wrong I don't even know where to start!"
"Umm, excuse me, may I interrupt here? I just have a question."
As the room began to get noisy, Haruaki timidly raised his hand, sitting upright with his upper body out of the futon. Startled, the group of girls regained composure and once again bent forward to peer at Haruaki's face.
In a manner that seemed unsure, timid or perhaps troubled—
Haruaki looked at Fear and the girls as if he were meeting them for the first time and said:
"Uh... All of you... Who are you?"
Konoha was instantly floored as though she had suffered a great shock. Fear's jaw dropped to the floor. Completely unprecedented, Kuroe's always sleepy eyes were staring wide-eyed.
Then there was Aiko, watching this scene from a slight distance away—
As if resolving herself to some kind of decision, she clenched her fist slightly.
Translator's Notes and References
- Yang Guifei(楊貴妃): the consort of a famous emperor in the Tang dynasty, Yang Guifei is renowned as one of the Four Great Beauties of ancient China.
- Ono no Komachi(小野小町): a Japanese poet, renowned for her unusual beauty. Her name (Komachi) is taken as a synonym for feminine beauty in modern Japan.
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