Chapter 4 - Not Warm / "In a sports day, the school that means her is sealed up"
Monday—sports day. For most people, this would be a holiday but for the students of Taishyuu Private High School, that was not so. This was the very day of the long awaited sports festival. Along the usual route to school, apart from themselves, Haruaki's group could spot students all over the place, carrying school bags that were lighter than normal.
Fear looked up at the sky with unease:
"Hmm, the sky has darkened, the weather is overcast, Haruaki! What should we do? If it rains, what should we do?"
"The weather report said the chances of rain are 50%, right? ...But even if there's a little rain, the sports festival will still be held, don't worry!"
"What if it rains heavily, then what!? Damn it, you're all too slow!"
"You're the one going too fast! Even if you get there early, it's not going to start any earlier."
Although quite a lot had happened and they were facing a difficult situation, a sports festival was still a sports festival. One could hardly blame Fear for her enthusiasm... Just as Haruaki sighed, Konoha smiled as she walked beside him. It was an unbelievable smile expressing both loneliness and happy cohabitation.
"Hmm, what's up?"
"Nothing much... How should I put this? Somehow it feels as though you're different from yesterday, Haruaki-kun, or rather, you look very normal... Or perhaps, I should say you resemble Haruaki-kun from before..."
"Yeah, but I'm still confused about many things. Maybe it's better to say that I've mentally overcome certain issues after a day...? It feels like... All I can do is take things in stride. Of course, I still want to recover my memories with you all, so for this purpose, I will help in any way I can no matter what."
"Haruaki-kun, you just need to act as usual. Indeed... Taking things in stride is perhaps the correct approach. Speaking of which, do you still remember about Ueno-san?"
"Eh? Class Rep? What about her?"
There seemed to be some kind of blockage in his thoughts but he could not remember. Konoha shook her head lightly:
"Nothing... Well, I guess this might be better after all. She probably won't be happy to talk about this subject anyway and it's not like she's going to bring it up on her own initiative. Don't worry about it."
"If that's what you say, I won't think about it..."
While conversing over these matters, they finally reached the school. The sight awaiting them was a great change from the school's usual appearance. Above the school entrance, there was a magnificent gate for promoting the sports festival, exhibiting a kind of grandness not normally seen. But as though this was not enough, further decorations were still being added. Standing on a tall ladder, happily at work—A maid.
"...A maid? What's going on, I have this urge to make a snide comment yet at the same time, I feel like it wouldn't matter..."
"Oh, it's Haruaki-kun, Fear-chan and Konoha-chan. Good morning~"
The maid smiled cheerfully and waved to them. Ugh—Haruaki frantically turned his gaze away.
"Hi Sovereignty, you're really energetic today... Oh my!"
"Sovereignty-san, your skirt, your skirt! Just standing in that position is already quite dangerous, how could you not be more careful!?"
"Eh? Uwawa... It's all exposed~!"
Because she turned around politely on the ladder to face Haruaki's group, Sovereignty's skirt ended up getting caught by the ladder. The surrounding male students quickened their pace and hurried to walk through the gates... Faced with such good fortune at the beginning of school, they probably would discuss this topic for the whole day.
As if supervising the maid—Sovereignty—at work, the cool beauty of a secretary was standing at the bottom of the ladder. Houjyou Zenon. Haruaki remembered her name.
Good morning everyone—She bowed her head without smiling at all. Konoha whispered softly to her:
"Oh, Zenon-san, good morning... Sorry for calling you so suddenly yesterday, are things okay?"
"Yes. To be honest, these decorations are just for camouflage. The monitoring security cameras were just installed for their original purpose. I've always felt that there was a need for them and now came the perfect opportunity."
"...But doesn't it seem a little strange for them to be installed by the original culprit who first created a need for them?"
Fear looked up the ladder as she spoke. Sovereignty laughed "Ehehe~" in embarrassment as she scratched her head.
"Once the sports festival begins, more guards are scheduled to be stationed here—Not only that, but there will also be patrolling personnel to stay vigilant for intruders from outside. Due to the bizarre murder incident earlier, these extra measures won't arouse any suspicions."
That reason also stemmed from Bivorio—Fear muttered as though she had recalled an unpleasant memory, but immediately shook her head:
"If they came, what are you going to do?"
"I will be instantly alerted of any unusual signs whereupon I shall inform Konoha-sama immediately. I hope you will keep your cellphone by your side."
"Understood. When the time comes, we'll rely on your help to divert bystanders and lead the enemy to remote locations and trap them there. But it's really going to be difficult."
"No, making the sports festival a success if part of my job. Since suspicious parties might be making an appearance, I will handle things with full force."
Although Haruaki did not quite understand, Zenon appeared to be a reliable ally. Indeed, they could neither let other students get caught up in the troubles nor allow their safety to be at risk. It was imperative to handle matters cleanly by themselves.
Sovereignty apparently finished her task at this moment and slowly climbed down the ladder.
"So~ Haruaki-kun... I've heard about it. So you've forgotten me too?"
"Eh... Uh, umm, sorry."
"How could this happen..."
She lowered her gaze in grief and held Haruaki's hand tightly.
"Haruaki-kun, you're the one who saved us! And that's how we became friends. I never would have thought you'd forget... It feels... so lonely..."
Probably a spontaneous motion—Sovereignty's gentle fingers slid across Haruaki's hand back and forth. Haruaki experienced what felt like the body temperature of a soothing yet embarrassed girl. Then that temperature began to gently entwine Haruaki's fingers one by one. Clearly only his fingers were being touched but Haruaki felt as though his body was being embraced by her. Slowly and tenderly, she closed her eyes halfway and continued to caress Haruaki's fingers without special meaning.
Unused to this type of skin to skin contact, Haruaki wondered if he should push her away? But that felt kind of rude, so what exactly should he do? Just as Haruaki grew frantic—
"W-We're going to be late, Haruaki, let's hurry~!"
"Oh dear, I suddenly feel so dizzy! Why can't I stand steadily!?"
Fear and Konoha crashed into Haruaki's back simultaneously. After the impact, by the time he regained his senses, Haruaki found himself dragged along their way with the two girls grabbing each of his arms respectively.
Walking in this manner, the two girls made a look of confidence and turned their heads towards Sovereignty.
"Don't worry, Sovereignty-san."
"That's right, this guy will be back to normal by tomorrow—That said, his shamelessness will remain unaffected."
"U-Uh... Yes. If you need any help, please let me know."
Bye bye~ The maid waved goodbye to them. As they walked towards the school building, Haruaki asked the two girls beside him:
"...That girl just now, what's her relationship with us?"
"She's the secretary's assistant at the superintendent's office."
"The first time we met her, you allowed her to sit straddled on your body. You were even happy about it."
"She's lovers with a girl named Shiraho-san. By the way, she's actually a boy."
"Your eyes looked unusual when you were staring at her belly button."
"I don't get what the heck you girls are talking about!"
How strange... Surely he was not that excessive of a pervert? But try as he might, Haruaki could not remember. He slumped his shoulders dejectedly.
For sure, he needed to retrieve his memories as quickly as possible. If this continued, he could not even trust himself anymore... But at the very least, he probably did not harbor any impure thoughts towards a boy, did he?
The sports festival started. All the sights and scenes were quite new and refreshing for Fear. All the students were dressed in either gym clothes or tracksuits. Colorful arches were laid out on opposite sides of the sports ground while simple tents were set up around the track. There were also many parents dressed in casual clothing with their cameras prepared. Although it was not because someone was watching her, Fear somehow still felt nervous and avoided looking in that direction. School on a holiday, school without lessons, school that was like yet unlike school, all this contributed to an incredible feeling.
The opening ceremony. Having everyone do warmup exercises together felt stupid but happy. "The superintendent's speech"—Delivered by the man in the gas mask, it really was quite strange. Perhaps to avoid attracting undue attention, he instantly retreated out of sight into the VIP tent. In contrast to the students' nonchalance, the tumult in the parents seemed quite amusing.
Soon after, the competitions began. Despite the unfortunate, overcast weather, the students still showed great enthusiasm. Fear heard live cheering she had never heard before, stirring up a sense of eagerness in her heart... But Fear did not forget.
(Who knows when Abyss or Bivorio might show up. Although Zenon is keeping watch, I can't be too careless...)
Glare, glare—Fear's gaze patrolled the surroundings. No matter what, finding a way to take care of those people is the top goal. Compared to competing in events, she must prioritize staying vigilant. Sorry, everyone, please don't rely on me in the sports events, do your best... Thinking that to herself, Fear went over to where she had to stand by for her first event.
"H-Haruaki Haruaki! What's going on? The white team's points are the lowest! But I clearly got first place!"
"That's because it relies on the points from all the members. Isn't this only natural? Besides, the sports festival is only halfway through. This is my first time seeing someone getting so serious about it!"
Haruaki explained to Fear who had come running to tug his shirt. This resulted in—
"What are you talking about, Haruaki? Without halfway, how could there be any results!? You should learn from Fear-chan's serious motivation instead! Fear-chan is our role model for the white team to reflect on, Fear-chan in the mirror! Woo!"
The idiot classmate, namely Taizou, was supporting Fear with astounding vigor. Haruaki frowned:
"You seem to be in even higher spirits than usual..."
"And you, Haruaki, are acting just like an old man as usual!"
Yes—Fear nodded with heartfelt agreement. Taizou grabbed Haruaki by the shoulder:
"Listen carefully, I have gambled my life on this sports festival but for one purpose, victory!"
"Eh... Although I can understand your passionate enthusiasm, this really isn't something worth gambling your life over."
"...Haruaki, you couldn't have forgotten? Didn't the superintendent just say? He is offering a luxurious prize to the winning team to express his modest goodwill!"
"Eh? Did he say that...? Also, isn't a luxurious prize kind of contradictory to modest goodwill!?"
"Stop worrying about those little details, this is a display of Japanese subtlety! According to my prior investigations, the prize apparently consists of tickets to a certain entertainment facility... Hoho, do you realize what this means?"
"No idea." "No idea."
Fear and Haruaki shook their heads at the same time. Taizou laughed eerily in a profound manner and clenched his fist:
"In other words... It gives a legitimate chance to invite the girl you like on a date! 'Given this rare opportunity, would you like to go together?' With just this one question, just by asking this one question... She won't suspect any ulterior motives, thus allowing me to succeed in asking her out on a date! The cliche of 'I happen to have an extra ticket' is out of fashion nowadays. If you say something like that, anyone would know what your intentions are, right? So things have to be natural. Precisely because everyone in the winning team already has a ticket, it will be natural... Hoho, obviously I am going to ask Konoha-san, together with Konoha-san... Then... Then! If only there'd be a warm water pool available on that day! Kukuuheehee!"
In any case, wouldn't your ulterior motives become instantly exposed... Haruaki thought to himself but did not voice his remark. This was out of consideration as a friend.
"Tickets huh... I don't quite get it, but it's something expensive?"
"Probably, Fear-chan. It must be something cordially designed so that those without courage can still redeem them for cash!"
"Oh... Oho... Cash huh... That means I can buy something I like to my heart's content? Who knows how many bags I could buy...!"
Smiling profoundly, Fear and Taizou exchanged glances and—
"Taizou, the war begins now! We must work for victory!"
"Fear-chan in the mirror!"
As if reaching some kind of understanding, the two shook hands firmly. Watching these two, Haruaki sighed, thinking at the same time—Ahhh, indeed, she's really getting along with the crowd.
Indeed, this was the first time for "his current self" to witness the way she got along harmoniously with Taizou. It gave Haruaki a sense of what the times spent with her were like. She must be quite used to this, getting along with others albeit noisily. Perhaps there were still many issues but she was definitely trying hard, no mistake about it. Just as Haruaki savored this sort of feeling that carried both happiness and loneliness—
"Fear-kun and Taizou, the next event is the borrowing race. It's about time you both head over to the standby area to get ready."
Kirika appeared with the programme schedule in her hand. Due to her roles as the class representative and membership in the executive committee, she also had to manage the competition participants from her class.
As usual, she was dressed from top to bottom in a long-sleeved tracksuit. Although she was not the only student wearing these clothes, people felt hot from exertion as the sports festival progressed and there were very few people who remained dressed in this manner.
Watching Kirika send off Fear and Taizou, Haruaki stared at her involuntarily and thought... Doesn't she feel hot? Did the saying, cool minds naturally result in cool bodies, actually work? Who knew how Kirika was interpreting his gaze, but she blushed and approached, saying as she brushed past him:
"...W-What's with your staring? I'm not taking it off unless you're the only one watching, that much is obvious, right?"
She whispered swiftly as though she were sulking slightly yet extremely shy at the same time.
To think she would say something like that.
Kirika walked past without turning her head, her ponytail swaying. What? Was there some sort of deeper meaning in what she said just now? Haruaki felt like he was about to remember—But in the end, he could not recall.
This was terrible. Extremely terrible.
Sure enough—Am I really that much of a pervert? Furthermore, it seemed as though I were a pervert in all ways to an unimaginable extent. I'm the worst.
The borrowing race. Although Fear had already listened to the explanation earlier, it was still quite difficult to understand in practice. After all, "competitions" were a totally new experience for her. The first race she participated only involved running so she managed fine. But for this event where there were additional rules, she felt rather ill at ease.
While waiting on standby, she used her exceptional eyesight to confirm the runner's unrolled scrolls and studied in advance.
(First open this up while running. Written there is... That's 'handkerchief'... Oh? It's okay to leave the track? Then borrow from other students... Even from the parents... Then show the objects to the executive committee in front of the finish line, raise the white flag and set off again to run towards the finish line. Seems simpler than I imagined! There's many types of things to borrow here. 'An elementary schooler or younger.' 'Dog.' 'Young housewife.' 'Belt.' 'Zippo lighter.' 'Person you like'... Some of these things are incomprehensible... Oh well, I'll just find someone to ask. If the object required is human, I guess I can just lead them by the hand to the finish line?)
Okay, studying complete.
As it so happened it was now time for Fear and the participants to start the race. Under the executive committee's signal, they all moved to the starting line.
(Run, open up the paper, borrow stuff, run! That's all!)
The dry bang of the starter's pistol was heard. Run forward! Run forward! Be careful not to run too far, run forward! Even so, Fear was still the first to arrive at the location where the borrowing paper was placed.
(Then open it!)
The words entering her view were:
For some reason, Fear felt a murderous impulse for an instant. Who was it? Who the heck prepared this kind of thing?
And written carefully in small handwriting in the corner of the paper were the words "Obvious beyond any doubt." Speaking of someone who matched this condition... Fear turned her head and glanced sideways. As much as she did not wish to search, her neck swiveled on its own.
Instantly, she found her target, Cow Tits. Under the tents used by students, her eyes squinting behind those glasses, glaring sharply, turning left and right surreptitiously. Like herself, Cow Tits must be looking out for enemies—At this moment, their gazes met suddenly. Cow Tits puffed her chest out slightly and apparently snorted. "What are you doing? Hurry and finish the race so that you can return to your place to keep watch!"—Fear imagined her saying such words. I know without needing you to tell me! Retorting in her heart, Fear resolved herself "I'd rather die than ask this woman for help!" as she watched the bulge under Cow Tits' gym clothes jump merely from puffing her chest.
But then what should she do? Was there anyone else? After all, isn't this what's known as sexual harassment? To borrow a giant bust. To borrow a giant bust. Wait, it didn't say borrow "a woman with a giant bust," so it should be okay to stuff soccer balls in front of one's chest and walk proudly to the finish line, how's that... No way, that feels as though it would create a legend that people will talk about for a decade. And a dishonorable one too, of course.
So, she still needed to find someone else right now—Just as Fear ran aimlessly.
"Do your best~ Ficchi~"
She heard a voice like that. Looking up, she found Kuroe standing in the front row of the parents area.
Dressed in a bright and colorful outfit with a miniskirt and many frills, holding pompoms in her hands—
Indeed, this was the cheerleader look she had seen on television before.
Fear's footsteps and thoughts were drawn over there.
"W-What are you doing ?"
"I'm going to bring packed lunches and cheer for you all later—Didn't I say that?"
"I heard that, yes... But what's with this shameless outfit!?"
"This is a true and proper cheerleader's outfit. Oh, don't worry, you see, there are athletic bloomers underneath... Look?"
Kuroe lifted up her skirt. Was that thing any different from underwear? Small in area, navy blue in fabric... Even if did not count as underwear, the sight of those exposed thighs felt quite shameless. Men in the surroundings also kept throwing glances over here.
"Let's not worry about that for now, Ficchi, what do you need to borrow? If it's something I possess..."
"Ah... R-Right! But unfortunately, it's something you don't have at all!"
Kuroe tilted her head in puzzlement.
"You don't have any of that either, but no! Damn it...!"
Fear's rhythm was all disrupted because of that strange sight just now. Having borrowed successfully, some of the other runners were already making their way towards the finish line. This was no good... Ignoring Kuroe, Fear turned her head. Rather than the students' or the parents' tents, she had discovered a figure in the VIP tent who was waving and cheering for her.
Dressed as a maid, a very conspicuous girl. Sovereignty.
(Muu~ Hers are quite large indeed, but regarding 'obvious beyond any doubt'... Well...)
A flash of inspiration occurred to her at this time. Speaking of which, that girl can...!
Following this flash of inspiration, Fear went beyond the track and raced towards her.
"H-Hiyaaa! W-What's the matter, Fear-chan, what's going on?"
"You! I need you! But it's not large enough currently! So it needs to grow bigger!"
Indeed, Fear remembered that Sovereignty's breasts could be enlarged to a certain extent—!
"W-What... What is this about?"
"Damn it, there's no time left to explain! Grope it, right? Just groping it will work, right?"
Rushing over and pushing Sovereignty down on the ground, Fear groped. She groped seriously.
"A-Ahhh... No, Fear-chan, doing this kind of thing... Makes me... So embarrassed..."
"It's nothing, it'll be over soon! No one's gonna notice! Come, you can do it! If it's you, it should work!"
"I-I'm being forced~ I have no say in this... Huff... Ah..."
Bathed under the gaze of the school's entire student body, Fear naturally came in last.
In the process, she created a legend that students would sing for a decade—the "sports festival's maid breast groping incident."
"Just now, what the heck were you doing..."
"Sh-Shut up! It's only because it's my first time, I got a bit confused."
"To that extent? Jeez."
The morning competitions (apart from the legend Fear created) all ended peacefully. Haruaki and his group were walking towards the parents' section. Despite thinking "that girl isn't a boy, just as I thought!" to himself, Haruaki did not feel there was a need to bring up the subject again, so he kept silent.
Looking over the parents' seating, the target was instantly located. Because she was dressed in sharp colors.
"Good effort, everyone."
"R-Right! Kuroe, it's your fault for dressing in this strange getup, making me confused and losing my rhythm! How are you going to compensate me!?"
"I only wanted to dress up cuter to cheer for you all... Sob sob, how you break my heart."
Kuroe lowered her blank gaze. A voice came from behind at this moment:
"O-Okay okay, I'm not bothered anymore, so everyone, please don't let it weigh on your mind."
Saying that, Sovereignty showed up, causing everyone else to remark at her appearance.
Instead of the maid outfit, she was now dressed as a cheerleader to match Kuroe. Shaking the pompoms with subtle joy, she jumped up and down, her miniskirt fluttering.
"Sovereignty is my dear friend. So I was thinking, at least for days like this one, we should dress up the same way to cheer for everyone."
"Ehehe, how is it!? Is it cute? I asked for Zenon-san's permission before wearing it and she nodded so vigorously I could almost see afterimages."
Her? Somehow, the image did not seem to match her... Haruaki thought. Yet Fear and Konoha were smiling politely as though they were saying "of course she would act that way." How baffling.
Some male students passed nearby at this moment. Seeing Sovereignty in her cheerleading outfit, they poked each other in the ribs:
"Hey, look over there!"
"Oh yeah, Sovereignty-chan... That outfit gives her a very fresh look too~ It feels wonderful..."
"I knew it, cute people look cute no matter what they wear. Precisely because there're bloomers underneath, the miniskirt is allowed to flutter... I'm truly... How should I say this? ...I feel utter bliss just watching this..."
"You're in the way. Scram."
A girl with exquisite facial features stepped in front of the boys and crossed her arms with displeasure. That's Shiraho-san—Konoha whispered to Haruaki.
The boys were apparently from Shiraho's class. Boy A smiled politely:
"S-Sorry sorry, we're leaving at once."
"Furthermore, although I didn't quite catch it clearly, if you people keep having these weird conversations, your conduct will be called into question. If you're going to chat, chat somewhere you won't be heard."
"W-Well said. Sakuramairi-san and Sovereignty-chan really are quite close. N-No, if you didn't catch it clearly, please don't mind it! Seriously, it wasn't anything important at all."
This was Boy B's answer.
"Don't just decide on your own to add the '-chan' honorific to my lov—friend's name, okay!?"
"Mm-hmm, sorry. Well then, we'll be on our way—"
Shiraho smiled lightly in a "Good if you understand" sort of way and kept the same expression as she said:
"Also, go and die!"
"She heard us after all~!"
"Scolded by Sakuramairi-san? This is my first time, my first time! Encountering double fortune, today must be my lucky day!"
The two boys escaped, fearfully or happily, who knew? Hmph—Shiraho sneered with disinterest and came over to Haruaki's group. She had apparently promised Sovereignty to have lunch with everyone as well.
"If we're going to eat, prepare lunch quickly, human. I want to be done and finished with this ordeal as soon as possible."
...Haruaki could not understand at all what was going in the minds of the boys who felt happy to be scolded.
Then they happened to find a free space which they used to spread out the picnic cloth. Everyone gathered in a circle and started to have lunch. Shiraho glared resentfully at Fear for humiliating Sovereignty; but perhaps because Sovereignty herself did not mind, she felt that bringing the topic up again would not be too appropriate. Hence, Shiraho finally sighed in exasperation without saying anything.
Not long after that, Kirika also joined them, having agreed to have lunch together beforehand.
"Sorry I'm late. There was some executive committee work to do."
As for Taizou and Kana who usually ate with them, today they were apparently having lunch with their families who had come to cheer for them. In other words, the ones present were all the members of the group whose parents were not here.
"Yachi, what about today? I don't really mind."
"Eh? Oh yeah, could it be... The lunchbox duel?"
"What do you mean, 'could it be'? There can't be anything else, right?"
"No, at least for today... Look, the usual judging committee isn't here either."
"Hmm... I don't really mind if Fear-kun or Konoha-kun does the judging... But then again, it's hard for them to judge impartially the taste they're used to eating every day. It can't be helped."
Hence, Kirika opened the lunchbox she had prepared for everyone to share.
Haruaki breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness. He and Kirika still maintained their daily ritual of the lunchbox duel, so nothing had happened to jeopardize this relationship. As for her puzzling words earlier, Haruaki decided not to delve too deeply into them.
The seven of them enjoyed their lunch noisily and happily. This was partially due to their high spirits from the sports festival, but this was supposed to be how it was normally, right? Haruaki only had an ambiguous feeling about the latter, but he knew.
However, he felt slightly uneasy. This was only natural. The incident had not resolved at all. Rather, nothing had happened yet and it was worrying. Fear, Konoha and Kuroe as well, the three of them were discreetly vigilant of their surroundings while they ate.
If anything were to happen, it would be coming up next, right?
As if reflecting Haruaki's internal mood, the wind suddenly felt rather chilly.
"...Looks like a storm is coming."
Looking up at the overcast sky which had darkened, Kirika murmured to herself.
No choice but to do it. No choice but to do it.
If I didn't, he won't grant my wish. Hence, I have no choice but to do it—
Under the dark and gloomy sky, the appointed time arrived and she began her operation.
Apart from the two security guards standing at the school gates in their navy blue uniforms, there were no signs of anyone else.
"Hmm...? H-Hey, this girl, you're not thinking of..."
She grabbed the arm of the guard who was taking out his walkie-talkie as he looked towards her, thus preventing him from using it. Sports were not really her thing, but handling a normal human was still within her abilities. Using inhuman strength to twist the guard's arm behind his back, she grabbed his face and threw him hard towards the other guard. The two men crashed together and collided into the boundary wall next to the school gates, ending up collapsed on the ground. Perhaps having been hit somewhere inappropriate such as their head, the two guards lost consciousness.
After spending merely an instant to ponder what to do, she decided to just leave them as they were. Lucky for them. If they were inside the school, she would have no choice but to kill them.
Passing through the vivid and colorful gates, she placed her hand on the original gates that were retracted behind the school walls. She felt the touch of heavy steel.
Once the gates were closed, there would be no turning back.
She was surely going to be cursed. Just like what had always happened to this point, but perhaps to a much further extent.
Ahhh, she did not actually want this. She hated it so much that she wanted to cry. However, in order to erase these hated things, to erase everything included in the past—She must do this.
Noticing her tears streaming down as expected, she swept her bangs aside and wiped them.
She decided that these were going to be her final tears. Let things begin once these tears were wiped. Freezing her heart as usual, acting like a tool as usual, engaging in cursed behavior as usual, starting as usual.
Sorry, sorry. I am still me, sorry.
I don't want to be me anymore.
Applying force through her hand, she dragged the school gate. The iron gate grated noisily as it slammed shut.
The lid called the school gate was now closed, thereby separating "this space" from "the space outside."
What was a pot? A sealed space.
And what was she? A pot.
Hence, this sealed space was herself.
So that was that. Who knew who defined it that way, but that was how it was—
"Delineation of the boundary. Sacrifices existing in the vessel. Sacrifices cannibalizing one another, devouring one another to create a curse."
She muttered to herself.
Her hand on the school gates felt the sensation of rain. The feeling of raindrops gradually intensified.
As if punishing her, the raindrops struck the back of her hand hard.
Then after a while—She was reluctant to loosen her grip, regretfully savoring the sensation of ice-cold punishment. Then slowly, slowly—
"...The name of the technique is Indigo Venom. Indigo-colored gu poison. Born from the Indigo Vessel to devour humans—"
Turning around, she walked under the rain.
In this vessel called a school.
The vessel existing only for the creation of curses.
For the sake of giving birth to those countless noises she was already accustomed to.
After finishing their lunch swiftly, Fear and Konoha left the cleaning up to Haruaki and the rest and made their way to the tent that was used as a changing room. The first event in the afternoon was the cheerleading battle. Using the arches constructed by the arch teams as a backdrop, the dance teams were going to perform the creative dances they had been practicing all this time.
"Oh Fear-chan, how's it going? The long-awaited moment has finally arrived! Wooha, the atmosphere is boiling with excitement!"
Kana, who had already entered the tent, patted Fear on the shoulder. Had it been Fear a week earlier, she would probably have returned a convulsive smile? But now was different. Puffing her chest out proudly and holding her head high, Fear declared:
"Hmph hpmh, I'm completely prepared. The dance will be perfect."
Wow, the surrounding classmates shouted to raise morale amidst laughter. There were also people clapping loudly.
"Fear-chan, you've been working hard! I'm so happy too... Very well, we'll use your perfect dancing to charm the audience, teammate Fear! Come come, hurry and change!"
"Konoha, come change as well! Is it already adjusted? If the chest area is still too tight, then we'll just have to make do with the forbidden secret move of the 'wardrobe malfunction,' okay?"
"I-I definitely made adjustments already before I came, there won't be a problem!"
Fear took off her gym clothes, placed them on the long table inside the tent and changed into the dancing outfit. Since she had tried it on before and had adjustments made, the size was just right, however—
"Umu, how should I say this... Dressing up like this is quite shameless after all, isn't it?"
"What are you talking about at this point~!? Wow, super cute! Choosing Fear-chan to join the dance team was definitely my correct decision~!"
Fear was standing before the full-length mirror that was prepared for the dancers, checking out her appearance. The outfit used the team's color of white as a base with additional colors for decoration. It was made from flimsy fabric. Indeed it was quite cute, but the level of exposure seemed subtly excessive... Such as revealing the navel or the like. Was this attire really appropriate for a high school sports festival?
"Uh... Am I okay, dressed like this?"
Hearing Konoha's voice, Fear turned her gaze towards Konoha. Uguu... Fear gasped.
If she were forced to use one word to describe the image, that would be—voluptuous.
"Uwoah~ Konoha, your destructive power is quite astounding too...!"
"U~wah, seriously, this is seriously making me jealous, Konoha-chan, what have you got stuffed inside? May I touch them, please~"
"Eh? Eh? Umm, wait a minute...?"
Having changed, all the team members gathered with interest, one after another.
"Guha, these are truly amazing!" "What have you been eating?" "It's the meat! The meat is rebelling! The frenzied meat is running away!" "Aren't they heavy?" "They're so soft." "Don't get taken in, these are just something like balloons, suck all the air out!" "When did you start filling out like this~?" "From now on, they'll start deflating! Come, everyone, let's all grope her hard!"...
"Hold it... Ow! W-Who is it, such a truly hateful act—Fear-san! It really must be you!"
Slide—Just as Fear nonchalantly removed herself from the crowd—
Splatter splatter! She suddenly heard an intense noise from above.
"Woah~ It's raining... And so heavily too."
"W-What~ This is worrying! They won't cancel the festival, will they!?"
"Hard to say... I hope they just postpone the event..."
Hearing Kana's words, Fear poked her head out of the tent to look outside. The rain was truly astounding. Bean-sized raindrops were mercilessly battering the sports ground while students and parents were frantically running into nearby tents for shelter. Even the tents' ceilings were shaking hard, so the rain really was quite heavy. Even if there were people carrying umbrellas, probably very few of them would actually want to stand outside in such conditions.
Hence, precisely because of that—
Despite the poor visibility under the rain—Fear could still clearly see a figure outside, standing there without an umbrella.
Not on the sports ground but closer to the school building. This was a vantage point where one could barely observe the situation on the sports ground.
Over there was the figure of a man in a suit, pushing a woman in a wheelchair.
Sensing the unusual presence, Konoha instantly charged towards the tent's entrance. Just as she was about to rush out into the rain—
"Phew~ Sorry, please let me take shelter here..."
Sovereignty had arrived at this tent. She should be on her way back to the executive committee's tent? This was perfect timing.
"Hey! Could you tell Kuroe for me, I'm leaving Haruaki in her hands! Those guys have arrived!"
As Fear and Konoha rushed out, they could hear Sovereignty's puzzled voice and Kana going "W-What's going on~?" Blown sideways by the wind, the rain instantly drenched their clothes.
The duo near the school building also seemed to notice Fear and Konoha rushing at them and turned to move away from the sports ground. How could I possibly let you two escape!?
While running along the muddy ground, Fear muttered to herself:
"Let's confirm first... Just us two, will it be okay?"
"I am a bit worried for there have been no signs of Aiko-san so far. Although Haruaki-kun is together with other students, with no idea what kind of move the enemy will be making, we can't leave him alone. Just as you said, Kuroe-san should stay by Haruaki-kun's side."
"Kirika as well... Due to suddenness of everything, she still doesn't know about the situation but we can't ask for her help this late in the game."
"She seems to be quite busy with the executive committee's work. Besides, we can't go inform her now but end up losing track of these two."
Konoha made an extremely cold and frightening smile.
"In any case—Even if I were alone, I have no intention of losing to that man."
A simple sideways glance was enough to send shivers down a one's spine. Fear really did not want to be enemies with Konoha the way she was right now.
The wheelchair woman and the man were moving along the school building, apparently towards the building's unguarded side door. Were they planning on entering there...? After the sports festival began, the school building should have been locked up.
But for people who were not normal, locks did not pose any problem at all. Pursuing the pair closely, Fear and Konoha were confronted by the sight of the school building's side door that was damaged outright. Entering the door whose handle was broken, they followed the footprints lingering in the corridor. The footprints led upstairs. What were they planning, even going as far as to carry the wheelchair up the stairs?
Then in the corridor of the third floor, they finally caught up to them.
"Hold it and stand still, Abyss and Bivorio!"
"...If someone asked you to stand still, Alice, would you actually do so?"
With a high-pitched grating sound from the wheelchair, the pair turned towards the girls in an unhurried manner. Abyss was dressed in his usual suit and leather gloves while Bivorio was in casual clothing and wearing her monocle. But instead of her clattering watches, Alice's arms were wearing opera gloves that a noblewoman would wear, with matching colors with Abyss.
Bivorio suddenly looked out the window and murmured to herself:
"Such heavy rain... But looking out from here, it feels as though the rain is falling somewhere distant. Let me title this scene 'Out of the Metal Toy Box,' how's that? Ufufu, a toy box that has been placed into a waterfall."
There was no time to chat or joke around. Fear took out the Rubik's cube she had stuffed under her costume and stepped forward.
"What are you people doing?"
"Captured in one sentence: taking a stroll. Quite a delightful one, in fact. This building is so devoid of people that one would like to praise the Lord."
"Because this is my first time to enter a school... Ufufu, I'd like to observe all sorts of things. To be honest, we were already here since last night."
"You were already inside from the very beginning... So that's why the security perimeter was not triggered."
Hearing Konoha's words, Abyss and Bivorio exchanged glances, going "security perimeter?" Then Abyss shrugged:
"I see, Kururi has apparently fallen into your hands. You knew we were coming here... So it looks like she was forced to confess the truth."
"Ara ara, how wonderful. Then that means Kururi must have had her longtime wish fulfilled. Fear-sama, how was it? It must have been quite a long time since you last performed interrogation? Did you enjoy it fully? Did you savor the screams carefully?"
"...Screw it with the joking! I didn't do anything like that!"
"Oh? Never mind, it's of no consequence... The problem is the security perimeter. Had we known that, we should have asked her to stay together with us."
"That cannot be helped, Abyss. It is most effective right now when the greatest number of people are present. Besides, she also has a task she needed to complete over at the gates. It's called 'boundary delineation,' right?"
"What are you two talking about!?"
Abyss stroked his beard slightly, adjusted his hat a bit and narrowed one eye:
"Simply stated, you're about to find out that we're just red herrings."
Konoha suddenly shook. Frantically, she reached into her clothes and took out the vibrating cellphone. Glaring at Abyss, she pressed the phone to her ear:
"...Hello? Yes? Don't worry about making a move. Just keep a close to see if the students have been reached or not."
"Hey, Cow Tits, what—"
Putting the cellphone away in her chest, Konoha pointed her finger at the window.
"Fear-san, please jump out from here."
"Do you see the school gates over there? Please jump down from here—Aiko-san has arrived. Zenon-san just called to report."
While staying vigilant of Abyss and Bivorio's movements, Fear went over and opened the window, casting a quick glance outside. The school gates were visible under the intense rain. There was indeed a tiny figure at the gates, slowly walking forward without an umbrella.
"You two are not surprised. So that means you knew already?"
"Tsk... What are you planning on making her do?"
"Didn't we tell you already? We are just red herrings. She is the actual lead character in this performance. My original plan was to have it finished before I persuaded you with force—But it looks like it'll have to be done concurrently. How troublesome."
"But to sum it up in a single sentence, it's exceedingly simple, Fear-sama. In other words—"
Then displaying a crazy smile that did not seem crazy at all, Bivorio spoke:
"From this point onwards, Aiko-sama has been asked to kill everyone within the school."
"—Go and stop her, in any manner of your choosing."
Slam—Feeling a strong impact on her back, Fear found herself sent flying by Konoha's shove. By the time she realized it, she was already flying out the window.
"Damn Cow Tits!"
Turning herself in the air, Fear landed on the muddy ground with a splash. She tried looking up but could not see the situation in the third floor corridor anymore. It did not seem like she could climb back up either—
"Tsk. Judging from what you said, I can't leave the situation on this side unhandled either!"
Destroying Abyss, recovering Haruaki's memories—The most important task had been snatched away from her in a moment of vulnerability. Angry as she was, Fear turned her head. There was no choice at this point. Killing everyone within the school? This sort of atrocity would be completely unforgivable no matter who you asked.
Held in one hand, the Rubik's cube swiveled noisily as she approached the figure. The other side was also walking towards her.
At roughly the distance within earshot, the two halted their steps at the same time.
Drenched hair. Eyes obscured as usual, her expression could not be read.
Fear recalled what she had heard from Kururi and spoke up:
"It's been a while, cursed «Pot of Curses»."
"...It's been a while, cursed «Cube of Torture and Execution»."
Responding to Fear was a trembling, hoarse and feeble voice.
The voice of an enemy who must be defeated.
—She had killed her uncle.
In context of the overall picture, this was nothing unusual. Due to economic poverty, her whole family had committed suicide. Left as the sole survivor purely by chance, she had been adopted by the relative she hated. That uncle was not worthy of being called human. For many years, a good many years, she suffered from his peculiar abuse.
No one stood on her side. She had no other relatives in the entire world.
In terms of results, having survived suicide, she was nothing more than a corpse anyway.
With neither the courage to resist nor the courage to strike back, she was just a corpse doing nothing but enduring.
When did she start to resurrect? When was the decisive turning point?
Even she had no idea herself.
Was it the moment when she was returning home from middle school and suddenly stopped in front of an antique shop?
That object displayed in the window, its name is so similar to mine—Was it the moment when this trivial remark crossed her mind?
Was it the moment when she went into the shop, intrigued, and listened to the old shopkeeper's stupid story about its origins?
Was it the moment when she was back in her room, staring at the knife she had bought, suddenly feeling a surge of courage to resist the oppressor? Was it the moment when she faced her uncle who was brandishing the kitchen knife as usual, accompanied by the liberating feeling she experienced as she swung her concealed knife?
If she still had not resurrected by the time she finished the act, there was only one possible turning point remaining.
That was after spending several years confined in white walls.
When she was mercilessly released from those walls, arriving in this lonely world, the moment of their encounter.
The moment when he extended his helping hand to her—
Upon waking up, the first thing to strike her was the smell of tatami, causing Kururi slight confusion, but immediately, she remembered she was a prisoner.
The light on the other side of the sliding door indicated that the sun was already high up in the sky. The house was quiet without any noise at all. Recalling the commotion last night, Kururi concluded that the home was probably deserted right now.
Indeed, last night. The noisy bustling of dinner and tea after the meal could all be heard from this prison of a room. It was a mixture of several people's voices. Meaningless chatter. Disorganized conversations.
Very family-like, these voices she had never heard before were causing a stinging pain somewhere deep in her heart—
Kururi stopped thinking at this point. Family. Relatives. For her, the only remaining family she had was over there.
The first image she recalled was that of the man waiting for her at the juvenile penitentiary's exit. The man who had provided a new place to live for her who had no one to depend on.
To be honest—She became infatuated with him.
His wife... Kururi did not hate the woman who was like a wife to him. Although she was indeed eccentric, she had welcomed Kururi with gentle eyes. Worlds apart from the real mother who had thrown Kururi off a cliff... She was a mother.
Kururi decided she must go see them. Something—There was a vague sense of unease and nausea occupying her mind, but she deliberately ignored it. She had to see them. She only had to see them.
Because she was part of the Family. She was his family.
There was only one requirement to join the Bivorio Family: deep love for the transcenders known as Wathes.
Naturally, Kururi loved deeply. Whether him or the object that had given her courage and saved her from everything. Without that, she would have died long ago. She would still be a walking corpse. Hence, Kururi had offered her resurrected self without hesitation.
The Patriarch had helped her steal back the object that had been confiscated as evidence. This was Kururi's first opportunity to experience its curse because she had been arrested as soon as she committed the murder. Nevertheless, she did not feel any revulsion or contempt. As long as she regarded it as the reward she offered in exchange for granting her courage, it was nothing—Hence she has continued to savor the curse even now.
"Leaving a captive alone and running off happily to the sports festival, aren't they underestimating me too much? How incompetent."
The cross-shaped pendant that was merely a concealed knife had fortuitously pulled the wool over her enemies' eyes.
While frowning from the pain in her hands that were tied behind her back, Kururi moved her lower body and slightly raised her lower back. After taking a deep breath—in other words, preparing herself to endure pain—
"«Returning Kukri of Childbirth»...!"
Instantly, a sense of dissonance penetrated her body. To experience the ejection of a foreign object from one's body, that must be quite a rare sensation? Slowly dragged out, accompanied by a grating sound, pangs of convulsions, a symphony played by her own muscles, the blade emerged from the back of her thigh. Clenching her teeth, she endured the pain of her body being sliced open and the discomfort as though her brain had been thrown into a blender.
"Gah... Ah... Huff... Guh... Ahhh!"
Then—Freeing itself from the flesh where it was buried, the blade stabbed into the tatami with a thud. She did not bleed a single drop of blood. Confirming the "く"-shaped and bent design of the knife, Kururi exhaled and relaxed from the disappearance of the pain, with tension leaving her face.
The «Returning Kukri of Childbirth». She remembered the name that the old shopkeeper had told her many years ago along with the story.
Once upon a time, there was a mother whose newborn baby was mercilessly killed by a feudal lord. This was the knife the mother used for her revenge. In a cautious process to get close to the feudal lord, the mother spent a long period of time to become his mistress. Hiding the knife within her own body, she seduced the feudal lord and assassinated him in bed. But after suffering the lord's counterattack, the mother also died with regret...
Simply stated, hidden in the mother's body for the sake of approaching the feudal lord, the knife was the crystallization of her vengeance and a substitute for the baby that was taken away from her. Hence, in a certain sense, it was only natural that the knife would slip into the user's body as part of its curse.
Whether slipping into the body or when taken out of the body that served as its sheath, only pain was produced without leaving any wounds behind. But Kururi understood that the knife would gradually bury itself deeper into the body. Very likely, she would die once it reached her heart. Even so, it did not matter. Through this knife, she had obtained the courage to kill her uncle, thereby liberating herself from the life of a walking corpse.
"In order to strengthen the curse, I guess I really have to kill more people? I won't curse this curse..."
Muttering to herself, Kururi began to rub the electrical binding her wrists against the knife's blade.
Suddenly, her gaze landed on the plate that had been placed by her side. Covered with plastic wrap, it was a plate of rice balls. Recalling she ended up eating nothing last night—as well as the strange girl who had wanted to feed her hand to mouth, Kururi could not help but click her tongue.
Inside the quiet room, even louder than her tongue-clicking, were the noises made by her stomach.
Accompanied by faint sounds of cursing, the silver-haired girl finally disappeared from Konoha's view. Sorry—Simply making a simple apology in her mind, Konoha turned to face the two enemies in the corridor again.
"Killing everyone in school—May I ask a question, is it really for gu poison creation?"
"Indeed. There's no need to go that far if our purpose was simply to abduct the Fear-in-Cube. This is being done in consideration of what comes later."
"What comes later?"
"I don't know the details, but isn't the Lab Chief's Nation assisting you? If we persuade Fear-sama by force, then what we must consider next are countermeasures against those people."
Konoha frowned. That had been Kirika's bluff, originally intended for the possible effect of delaying Bivorio's faction from acting—But unexpectedly, they not only believed it but also plan on overcoming the threat.
"Why do you go so far in your wish to obtain Fear-san? That child is nothing but a dumb little lass."
"I, too, have asked the same question. Praise the Lord."
"Didn't I answer back then already? This is my willfulness. If I had to explain again, then—I love Wathes deeply. Being who I am, feeling what I feel... The inevitable conclusion is that I must love Fear-sama deeply no matter what. How should I put this? She is the Wathe of Wathes, the very symbol of Wathes, the existences that are cursed tools. That is what I feel."
"You overestimate her too much, although it's true that the child has suffered an extremely cursed existence."
Taking a deep breath, as if guided by her exhalation, Konoha slowly drew in closer.
"Don't take me lightly either. As a bloodthirsty demon blade—If this were a game, I would most likely be the strongest weapon available, you know?"
"How truly admirable. Then it looks like I must take care of this strongest weapon before I can go assist Aiko... Let me be your opponent. Alice, you stay back."
"Be careful, Abyss. If possible, I hope you won't destroy this important Wathe here."
The wheelchair retreated towards the depths of the corridor. Her wounds from Fear last time were not healed yet, apparently.
"Thank you for your merciful statement. I've decided to learn from your example—Starting tomorrow!"
Lowering her stance, Konoha sprinted as quickly as a sword being drawn from its scabbard.
Given the current circumstances, she should be able to bear the sight of a little bloodshed. By "bloodshed," she meant injuring the opponent. It would be fine so long as she finished things in one fell swoop. If she were to witness unbearable blood, it would only happen with her opponent's decapitation. No problem.
Abyss also stepped forward. As he moved his immense weight, the floor tiles could be heard flying in the corridor. Next came his leather-gloved right fist. Konoha's karate chop, infused with a sword's sharpness, crossed with his punch but was deflected. Abyss continued to step on the floor tiles underfoot. This time, he attacked with his left fist for pure destructive power. Konoha twisted her body to evade, leaving a tiny trail as the tip of her foot brushed past windows, meanwhile performing a spinning kick—
A completely merciless kick aimed for the head was blocked firmly by Abyss' arm. Smiling maliciously, Abyss reached out and tried to grab her leg.
"A woman should not raise her leg so high—Such wonderful skin as white as snow, praise the Lord."
Konoha jumped and kicked with her other leg. Although it was blocked similarly, she used the reaction force from striking the opponent's arm to withdraw her leg that was almost grabbed and leapt backwards. Separated again by the same distance as earlier, they glared at each other—Only at this moment did the glass windows, which Konoha's foot had brushed past, all shatter at once.
A motionless world.
Only the clear sound of two people staring at each other stood between them.
"...Looks like you're a cross who relies on brawn. Also, you're a pervert. A pervert who relies on brawn, what a truly terrible combination. What should I do now?"
"I am completely self-taught. Hmm, how troubling, my gloves are now tattered. I really liked these gloves."
"A self-taught pervert? That's even worse, the worst of the worst. In the next instant, you won't need to care about any glove anymore."
Konoha suddenly kicked a fire extinguisher in the corridor. Abyss swung his fist and easily struck it down—But due to the small crack Konoha had sliced in it beforehand, the impact caused the fire extinguisher to make a small explosion, scattering white dust and powder everywhere. Hmm—frowning, Abyss's figure instantly disappeared from sight—
In response to this cloud of smoke, there was a world of difference between being prepared and unprepared.
Konoha instantly closed the distance. Amidst the white smoke, she performed a spear handed strike towards the location of Abyss' head. Although the strike did not penetrate, it did succeed in causing an impact. By sensing his presence, Konoha could tell that Abyss was retreating a few steps backwards.
"This does hurt quite a lot... I've heard that samurai warriors battle openly, fair and square. So I should take this to mean that the weapon did not inherit their spirit?"
"That would depend on the situation. In the case of recovering a loved one's memories, of course some underhandedness would be permitted... So that's that. I'm desperate here, so could you please return them? Haruaki-kun's memories."
"Saying that now won't help anything. Do know that women who keep looking for excuses are not well liked!"
"Can't you say things in a more gentle manner? Well then, let me tell you with my highest level of gentleness—"
Battle instincts throbbing. Body temperature rising. Her face distorting on its own.
This was the instant she had hoped for. Once this man disappeared, everything would be over.
Haruaki-kun would then remember.
A very very important matter, so important that Konoha would go so far as to gamble everything she had upon it.
"—If you have no intention of returning them, I shall shatter that skull of yours to drag the memories out. O Padren Cross!"
Only for this instant, Konoha's past self overflowed, cruel and merciless. An instant was enough. This was a necessary ritual for her to forget the taboo of killing her own kind.
Obtaining assistance from her past self's murderous intent, Konoha tasked herself to destroying Abyss.
Very quickly, the impacts between fists and karate chops began to overwhelm the sound of the rain.
Hanging her head, the girl did not answer. Her drenched hair not even swaying, she did not answer.
"Why? Why are you doing this? Answer me, Aiko!"
"...Because I want to forget."
She murmured her answer, even softer than the sound of rain.
"Forget that I am myself."
Fear frowned but Aiko only continued to stare at the drenched world. She spoke extremely feebly, like a curse:
"...I've sinned, sinning repeatedly all this time. I've killed people for curses. Whether dogs, cats, babies, I've killed all of them to use as curses... The stench of those extinguished lives already pervades my body. That is why animals and babies cry when they realize this fact. I clearly love them so much, but these arms are not even allowed to embrace them. Every time I see them, I am reminded of who I am. I don't want that anymore..."
Fear recalled the incidents of the dog from their first encounter and the baby that Kana had brought.
Aiko was suffering because they disliked her? More correctly, it was the sight of their revulsion that forced her to recognize her past sins, thus resulting in her suffering.
"I've killed people too. Hundreds, thousands. Which is why I'm cursed. I've also suffered whenever I recall those sins. But precisely because of that... I want to lift my curse. For the sake of sinning no further."
"I think... That's not a bad idea. But—I've been wondering. What about during the process? Do I need to carry this sense of guilt all this time? Do I need to live my life while fearing those memories? Every time I see something I want to hug, I am struck by the feeling as though I were pronounced 'unforgivable.' Do I want to lift my curse even if it means experiencing all that?"
Saying that, Aiko shook her head lightly.
"...Too much of a coward. Sorry, I'm too much of a coward. Compared to anything else, compared to lifting my curse in the future, I want to forget my past sins. I want to erase the fact of my past existence."
"That's why you want to rely on Abyss' power? Seeing Haruaki lose his memories, you want to end up the same way!?"
"...If I don't follow their orders, he won't help me. So I must do this. I must do what that man desires..."
"For the sake of forgetting your sins, you'll commit fresh crimes? That's a most contemptible contradiction!"
"...Can't be helped. Besides—"
She paused for a mere instant, only enough to take a deep breath.
Her voice sounding like a prayer as it conveyed her unwavering determination, she continued:
"Besides, in the end... surely... this time's sins, can be forgotten too—"
Splotch—The sound of Aiko leaving footprints in the mud.
Futile—Fear thought to herself. Aiko's wish was futile. She was wrong. Only this, Fear was absolutely certain.
But even if she told Aiko now, Aiko was probably not going to listen.
"Looks like—I'll have to wake you up first."
"It's useless, there's no other way. I've committed sins that cannot be forgiven even if the curse can be lifted—So I must do this, I must do this..."
"I see that you have an unmentionable past, but I can't forgive your for what you're planning to do—Perhaps I'll use a bit of force, so don't go hating on me."
"...I'm the one who needs to apologize. I clearly promised you... The sports festival... To cheer for you..."
"But you did come, right? You arrived as promised."
Fear smiled. But Aiko did not.
She simply stretched out her hand and muttered:
"Indigo Venom No.1, Name: «Unknown». Indigo Venom No.2, Name: «Sakura». Indigo Venom No.3, Name: «Unknown»."
Instantly, several of the many pockets of her coat—the few pockets that were not bulging and filled with pebbles—began to squirm restlessly.
Next, indigo-colored masses flew out from the pockets, instantly expanding and landing before Aiko, turning into the shape of beasts. Dogs. But they were no ordinary dogs.
Despite retaining a form resembling fur, it was as though their bodies were made of indigo-colored metal. Flat but shimmering like a water surface—If one were to ignore the color and the solid texture, it would be similar to the way mercury reflected light. Beneath those eyelids, the beasts' eyeballs were no exception, filled with the indigo mercury-like metal in a hollow manner. Feeling instinctively frightened by those inorganic gazes, Fear—
"Is that your curse?"
"Then let me show you mine. In the same way that these things stands as evidence of the people or cats or dogs you've killed, this is the evidence tha I've constantly killed people, people, people, people, people, people and more people! Emulation start—Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern», Curse Calling!"
A heavy weight was produced in her hand that was manipulating the Rubik's cube. The rounded steel club fell upon the muddy ground. She felt the mud's soft sensation transmitted through her arm. It felt like smash someone's brain to pulp, a most displeasing reminder.
"This is shamelessly showing off to each other. I guess I can be proud of the fact that there's nothing about these powers to be proud of?"
As Aiko nodded, each of the three indigo venom beasts ran swiftly on their four legs. They bared rows of sharp and brightly shining teeth that were colored like indigo mercury. Fear swung the spiked club at the closest approaching one.
"Ahhh, I recall the conversation that we had that one time. Seriously—between you and me, who is cursed more?"
"...I don't want to know at all."
With vigor as though she would obliterate the raindrops from the air as well, Fear swung the heavy weapon.
Who knew how many times the spear-handed strikes and the punches had crossed? As the two combatants blocked each other's attacks with one hand, they pulled back their distance simultaneously.
"H-Huff... How's that? Your strength is weakening!"
"The same goes for you—That's what I'd like to say, but your sharpness remains potent as ever. Hmm, despite equality in martial technique, the situation is slightly unfavorable..."
"Then how about you give up? Don't worry, it's not going to hurt."
"Ha! What an incredibly attractive proposal, praise the Lord."
Saying that, Abyss lowered his raised fist. What was he planning? It's not like he'd give up for real—Konoha thought to herself as she gazed forward. Abyss arrogantly adjusted his hat and his necktie.
"...What do you believe exists in hell?"
"What? Asking that kind of question, it's useless if you want to stall for time—"
"I'm not stalling. If you don't want to answer, let me tell you... Darkness exists in hell. Darkness occupied that church which could be called hell. Children screaming and crying, fanatics chanting incantations, terrorists discussing how to topple tyrannical rulers, above their very heads—that space was occupied by dense darkness that even had mass."
Konoha noticed. Something was appearing out of Abyss' fist. At first it resembled a thread but soon enough it became like a rope. Suddenly becoming one with itself, it wrapped his hand like a glove. Konoha could understand without touching it—unlike smoke, that black substance was tangible with solid form.
"I don't understand the principles but I was already able to create this substance once I noticed. Curses are truly complicated and strange things."
Konoha secretly gulped. Was that his secret weapon? But who would be afraid of that kind of thing!?
"A god of darkness? Wow, how cool! That's so incredibly lame! Based on the feeling, I'm certain you're one of those final overlord bosses from games ten years ago."
Finally, borrowing those games from Kuroe to play has proven worthwhile—Konoha thought. Thanks to that, she could now taunt the enemy in this manner.
"I won't refute that so simply. But compared to a sword that can slice things apart, barehanded, I wonder which side is simpler?"
Abyss had the thumb of his fist hooked on his pocket. Without any prior warning, the dark matter extended out from his fist and descended towards the floor to trace out a curved trajectory. Konoha could tell from tip's sharp appearance that the darkness had solidified into something like a spear. Rather than blocking it head on, she jumped to evade. The sound of holes being pierced in the concrete could be heard behind her. No time to pay attention to that!
Landing, Konoha intended to close the distance before the enemy could attack again. Just at this moment—The darkness, stabbed into the corridor, began to squirm again. This time, approached like a whip. Konoha had no idea if it could be cut but she had no choice. A swing of her knife hand easily severed it. But at this moment, two new masses of darkness reached out.
"What a hindrance!"
Only able to fight the darkness off with her bare hands, her range of attack was too narrow. Despite gnashing her teeth at this situation, Konoha used both her hands to chop the two masses of darkness. Only at this moment did she realize she could no longer step forward. The first whip of darkness she had severed had somehow lurked underfoot and entangled her ankle. The entangled portion had already solidified. Once ensnared, the darkness could not be severed even by imbuing her foot with sharpness—
She attempted to swing her arms but having her mobility sealed was a critical blow. Although she severed the darkness many times, she lost to their sheer quantity. First her shoulders, then her waist, and finally her arms—Her entire body snared and bound by the whips of darkness, Konoha was suspended in midair.
Her whole body breaking out in cold sweat, Konoha reflexively attacked verbally.
"...You really are a pervert after all. Do you have a fetish for tying girls up?"
"Ara, is that the case, Abyss? If you told me, I'd gladly accept it any time you want."
Bivorio, who had simply been watching with delight, approached slightly on her wheelchair and commented.
"Please don't misunderstand, Alice. You're not a savage like this girl."
Hearing his calm and composed voice, Konoha's anxiety kept increasing in her heart.
Wait, hold on, this... This situation... I'm fine with mutual destruction, but this man must be killed no matter what. Clearly... Clearly that must be done...
Were there any countermeasures? There should be, there must be. Hurry and look for one, make haste, before more darkness reaches out! Before a spear of darkness can pierce this body—
However, she could not come up with a countermeasure.
Within her field of vision, more darkness was approaching mercilessly.
With the «Morgenstern» half-buried in the mud, lifting it would be such a hassle.
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»!"
The tip of the blade remained buried in the ground. Fear drew it out with a twist of her hip and a sideways swinging motion. An indigo beast was flying towards her with bared fangs. Fear felt a sensation as though she were chopping down a massive tree. The neck's severed surface also looked like the same old indigo-colored mercury. Without shedding a drop of blood, the indigo venom disappeared. How many beasts was this already? Whatever!
There was another one behind her. There was not even enough time to turn around and swing the axe.
"...«Human-Perforator», Curse Calling!"
Passing under her armpit, the drill penetrated the mouth of the beast behind her. But immediately, more indigo venom appeared as though it were overlapping the outline of the previous one. A short-legged corgi. Fear recalled the puppy she had embraced during the first encounter with Aiko. No, it can't be, it's definitely not... No way... It can't. Just as she was thinking that, the beast jumped over the indigo venom corpse whose head was where the drill was embedded—
(Damn it... There are too many of them! But I'm doing this manually!)
"Mechanism No.3 severance type, descending form: «Guillotine»!"
The transformation and the descending blade made it just in time. The beast's body was sliced into front and back halves. Using front claws of indigo venom that could not possibly reach that far if it still belonged to the original dog's short limbs, the front half jumped past her face and flew behind her.
Feeling the intense throbbing of her own pulse, Fear surveyed her surroundings. There were no more.
"Huff... Okay... Next, then—"
However, Fear then heard a voice that was creating more fatigue for her—
"Indigo Venom No.13, Name: «Pumpkin». Indigo Venom No.14, Name: «Unknown». Indigo Venom No.15, Name: «Unknown». Indigo Venom No.16, Name: «Umekichi». Indigo Venom No.17, Name: ...«Kousuke»."
The last indigo venom familiar was not a dog but something resembling a crawling baby. A creature, colored in that terrifying metallic indigo, brandishing sharp claws the original was not supposed to possess, was crawling towards Fear.
"...There are plenty more, so just give up..."
Seeing Fear transform the guillotine back to the drill, Aiko murmured.
Fear gripped the solid steel hard. More? How many more did Aiko have? Fear had fought desperately to defeat each and every one of them so far, but the last situation was really dangerous. If Aiko were to continue increasing their numbers, who knew what was going to happen—
"...Let me pass. If you let me pass, I'll leave you alone. They don't want to kill you."
"Ha! Because that woman wants me, right? But if you tell her that 'she hindered me until the very end, it couldn't be helped,' I'm sure she'll forgive you! Don't worry."
"Why are you trying so hard?"
"Once you go to school as well, you'll understand."
Indeed, no matter how tough it was, Fear was not going to retreat from here. Behind her was everyone. Her classmates, Kirika, Kana, Taizou, Shiraho, Sovereignty—as well as Haruaki.
Fear gripped the drill's handle even harder. Aiko's shoulders shook as she sighed.
Using this as the signal, all the present indigo venom familiars rushed forward together.
Fear understood her situation in despair. One. She could easily kill one beast, but what about afterwards? She did not want to imagine. Hence, she simply bit her lip hard and raised her trembling arm—Then it happened.
Rebelling against Fear's will, her own body jumped high into the air.
The rain continued nonstop. The lunch break had already passed. The announcer had just proclaimed that the afternoon events were postponed for now.
The students' tent where Haruaki was staying was packed full of students. Starting a while ago, the same meaningless dialogue repeated again and again—I'm getting drenched, squeeze it further, it can't be helped... etc etc. Naturally, everyone was forced to stand helplessly. It was evocative of passengers packed like sardines in trains. So stifling. Furthermore, Haruaki was facing the additional hardship of people staring at what was above his head.
"Ahhh, damn it... This is really the worst."
"Sorry Haru. If I stayed down there, I'll surely get crushed."
Riding on Haruaki's shoulders, dressed like a cheerleader, Kuroe answered blankly. The pompoms that tickled his head occasionally were unimaginably annoying.
Naturally, this situation did not arise from Haruaki's volition. Back when the tent was starting to get crowded, Kuroe had climbed onto him on her own accord. Then instantly, the packed train passengers state resulted and Haruaki could no longer let her down even if he wanted to.
"Say, why did you run over to the students' tent... Even if the girls asked you to..."
"If I'm not by your side, I won't be able to do anything if something unexpected happens, right?"
Arching her back, Kuroe lowered her face upside down in front of Haruaki's view as she murmured. Haruaki could feel something pressing on the back of his head. The sensation was quite warm. Trying hard not to think about it, he said:
"But anyway, this is really taking a while."
Haruaki directed his gaze towards the entrance of the tent in front that was used as the changing room. Kana had poked her head out a couple times to survey the surroundings. Worried about whether the rain would stop—It must be more than that.
"I have a bad feeling."
"A bad feeling. Although there's no basis, I have this kind of feeling..."
"To be frank—It's not like I don't have that feeling either."
In that case—
"Could you go over to them? I should be fine here."
"Even if you say that... I was asked to protect you, Haru. If something were to happen in spite of your 'should be fine'..."
"On the other hand, this time I'm begging you to go over to them—I'll do anything in return. If they scold you, I'll defend you. If you ask me to do anything next time, I promise to do it. Look at this situation here, nothing can possibly happen."
Kuroe's blank gaze dropped down in front of Haruaki again. Perhaps he was imagining things... But it felt as though her gaze contained slight shades of surprise.
"Why would you go that far?"
"Why... Isn't it obvious?"
Having said that, he could not articulate a reason instantly. For "his current self," the girls were merely strangers he had met only yesterday. He did not understand. He had no impression at all.
Ahhh, however, however...
The gazes they cast towards him, the words they said to him, all that was telling him that he was dear to them. Hence, for himself, they too, must be—
"...Because they are very dear to me."
Somehow, saying this felt very embarrassing. Haruaki turned his face away after finishing his sentence. This resulted in Kuroe's thighs clamping down tightly on his cheeks. With the supple thighs pressed hard against his face, Kuroe could feel the pulsation of Kuroe's arteries from an unusual place.
But she was not doing this to toy with Haruaki. Kuroe lifted her knees from her sitting posture and nimbly stood up on Haruaki's shoulders. Looking up, Haruaki found himself staring straight at the bottom of her athletic bloomers, making him at a loss on what to do. Those are not panties, don't mind them! But it's not like I can keep staring, right? Why am I embarrassed? Damn it! Now is not the time to be thinking of these things! Just ignore them in any case! —Instantly, he ended the conference in his mind.
"Are you willing to go?"
"Because you asked me, Haru. So, I'm off~"
Answering in her blank tone of voice that was excessively relaxed, Kuroe used Haruaki's shoulders as a springboard and took a leap. Flying over the students' heads, her jump instantly landed her outside of the tent. As the patter of footsteps receded in the distance, Haruaki sighed for two reasons.
First of all, Kuroe had left two clear footprints on the shoulders of his gym clothes.
"Ha~ruakki-kuun? Can you explain this~? Of course, what we want to investigate is the 'Cheerleader Beauty Sitting on Your Shoulders Incident' that just happened~!"
The other reason was the fact that the surrounding students were grabbing him by the arm, their eyes staring with murderous intent.
New darkness appeared. That mass of darkness flew straight towards—Bivorio.
Just as Konoha blinked, Abyss clicked his tongue and stretched his darkness in Bivorio's direction. Consequently, the darkness restraining Konoha lost density and she was able to seize the opportunity and escape by chopping with her hand.
"Hmm~ Looks like it won't work that easily... I declare 'The Hostage' plan a failure."
As Abyss' darkness approached, the black hair retracted back outside the window with a "whoosh." Crouching in a tree next to the school building was a girl dressed as a cheerleader. Expressionlessly and blankly, she raised her hand:
"What are you going 'Hi' for!? Didn't we ask you to protect Haruaki-kun!?"
"Haru himself asked me to come here. He said he had a bad feeling. And in actual fact, you were in a crisis, right?"
"Umm... Umm... That's true..."
Konoha turned her gaze towards the corridor. A new enemy huh? —Abyss smiled wryly as he bid Bivorio to retreat again.
Resting her face on her hands, Kuroe spoke as though she were dumbfounded:
"This really isn't like you, Kono-san. If you calm down and think, surely you'll instantly figure out the countermeasures for achieving a breakthrough in this situation. But because you're not calm it ended up like this. Would you like me to teach you?"
"But I'm very calm... Anyway, what countermeasures for achieving a breakthrough? Just tell me."
"Well then, please touch my hair first. I'm extending it over now."
"Oh? Then what? What does this have to do with any countermeasures at aaaalll—?"
The instant she clutched the hair, Kuroe's hair wrapped around her wrist—Then pulling hard, Konoha flew out of the window with "whoosh."
"I didn't deceive you. This is the countermeasure for achieving a breakthrough. Also, the one down there is coming up."
In midair, Konoha discovered that while she was thrown out of the window, someone else was flying up from downstairs, wrapped in hair—
"Uwah? Hey, Kuroe, what the heck are you doing?"
Fear was tossed back into the corridor window that Konoha had just exited.
Adjusting to the rain, Konoha narrowed her eyes and looked up at the tree, only to see Kuroe commenting nonchalantly:
"I understand how you cannot forgive the guy who stole Haru's memories, but there's the concept of combat compatibility, Kono-san."
"Kono-san, your opponent is over there. I will cheer for you as appropriate from here—Because I don't want to get bitten in the ass by a dog. That said, I have no confidence in dodging attacks from a guy who relies on brawn."
Now you're really acting like a model cheerleader—Konoha sighed as she looked around.
Amidst the rain, innumerable indigo shapes were standing. She sensed the presence of repulsive beasts.
"It's not like I have experience in eradicating pests, right?"
"At least you're more experienced than Ficchi in stalemate battles, right? Like the Battle of Sekigahara or the Siege of Osaka. Didn't you mention them before?"
"Mentioning all that old stuff again..."
I see—Konoha understood in a partially appalled manner. In a certain sense, she was indeed able to handle this sort of enemy more decisively than Fear.
"...I understand. In any case, I'll complain later to you about running over here on your own."
"I'm not afraid of your complaining. Haru said he'll defend me and even promised to fulfill any request from me! I'm gonna ask him to scrub my back in the bath~"
Smiling wryly, Konoha swung her knife hand to get rid of the raindrops. Under this heavy rain, the action was meaningless of course, but it was a matter of mood.
Konoha turned around to find the center of the indigo presences—the figure of the standing girl, giving off an aura that almost seemed to meld into the mist. She was slowly approaching.
Konoha also began to make her way forward steadily.
She did not forget to ask Kuroe a final important question:
"—That «Right to Have Haruaki-kun Undertake Any Kind of Request», how much are you willing to sell it for?"
Translator's Notes and References
- Padren(伴天連): a Japanese term used for referring to Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. Also used to refer to Christianity. The kanji rendering is a corruption of the Portuguese "padren" which means priest.
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