Chapter 5 - The Contents Inside? / "Not void"
The corridor was unrecognizable, with tiles peeled off, holes opened up in the concrete beneath, windows shattered, fluorescent tubes on the ceiling broken as well. One could easily imagine the intensity of the fight up to this point.
But henceforth, this was to become her own stage.
"...«Narrow Narrow Abyss». Haha, I'm so happy."
"Ara ara, how popular you are, Abyss. I'm feeling a little envious."
Bivorio commented as she observed from behind Abyss. Fear slightly forced herself to ignore it.
"Looks like the moment has finally arrived to retrieve Haruaki's memories."
"That's what the Japanese sword was saying as well... Is that human really that important? Perhaps it might be strange for me to ask, being the one who asked him to make his confession, but are his memories so important that you'll go this far to retrieve them?"
Abyss' hat swayed to the side as though he were dumbfounded by an ignorant child.
"Is that really so? Perhaps I've mentioned before—My true nature is to bring salvation to mankind. Because that's what God and the cross that symbolizes God are about. That boy may very well have obtained salvation from me. I've heard from Aiko that he has forgotten everything related to Wathes, yes?"
Fear stopped herself midway in her retort. She recalled Haruaki's mutterings to himself that night in the kitchen.
"Judging from the way you look, you must have considered it before, right? Asking humans to help lift curses... That is doubly ridiculous. For we who are non-human, surpassing humans, why would we intentionally lose the proof of our status? It is not only futile but also non-beneficial. And for an ordinary human to assist in this futile and non-beneficial endeavor—Ahhh, who knows how much suffering and trouble he has gone through to this date?"
"Since it causes suffering and offers no benefit, it's better that he stops doing that sort of thing. I have saved him from his tormented life! Asking him to confess his burden, having him forget about it. Isn't there no need to force his memories to return?"
Despite her anger, Fear did not hesitate.
"He wishes to recover his memories! Rather than torment, those memories are very important to him!"
She believed so without a doubt, because on that particular night, that was what Haruaki actually said—
"...You weren't taking away Haruaki's memories of cursed tools on purpose, right? Rather, you intended to steal all his memories. It's just that I interrupted you so it ended up with that result, right? Perhaps you may think it happened by chance, but I don't believe so."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"I think that for Haruaki, those memories occupy a great majority of his mind. Which is why he forgot those memories—That is what I believe!"
"That's your own forced interpretation. Perhaps compared to anything else, that is the burden he wishes to forget the most. In actual fact, that boy should become quite depressed to remember them... Given such a rare chance to forget them."
"Shut up, I've already said it three times, «Narrow Narrow Abyss». You're the absolute worst. I'm going to shut that mouth of yours and break it!"
Turning her Rubik's cube into the «Morgenstern», Fear closed in. Abyss also stepped forward, swinging his fist using his body weight. How foolish, no matter how hard your fist may be, you can't possibly surpass this execution tool, designed for bludgeoning and specially treated in quality.
As expected, the «Morgenstern» overcame the fist and sent Abyss reeling backwards, falling on one knee. Fear charged further forwards.
"Here I am, barehanded and unarmed, yet you still show no mercy. Truly, praise the Lord. Then you shall behold the darkness that dwells in the narrow, narrow abyss of hell!"
A blackness was emitted from his glove like smoke or mist. The mist instantly took on tangible form and extended into three spears.
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»—Curse Calling!"
Using the long and massive axe, Fear swept the three spears away all at once. The spears' tips dispersed hazily into mist, but the root portion attached to Abyss' glove showed warning signs of restlessness. Immediately—
"I see, you're harder to handle than the Japanese sword. But let us see how long can you endure!"
Several new spears and whips appeared, displaying hardness and softness. Abyss stood his ground in front of Bivorio's wheelchair, occasionally casting his gaze outside the window. He was apparently on guard in case of Kuroe's actions.
(He was just playing around with those moves just now. Is he planning on a long range attack from over there next?)
What should she do? The answer came instantly. A path needed to be opened for closing their distance. Even if for just an instant, if only this hindering darkness could be swept clean—
—Can it be done?
—It can be done.
Because she knew all about the castle lord's madness.
"Mechanism No.5 impaling type, upright form: «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes»!"
She launched the execution stake, striking the floor of the corridor in front of Abyss, without penetrating any of the spears of darkness. But this was enough—That was merely a set up.
She had intended to settle the battle before retrieving the stake, but Abyss' darkness was reaching out for her, moving past the stake's position. At this moment, Fear transmitted her vigorous will to the stake through the chain of cubes that was connected to it.
"Mechanism No.12 extinction type, revolving blade form: «Tornado of Souls», Curse Calling!"
Instantly, the stake transformed into a stout and upright pillar. Extending out from that pillar were countless blades of varying lengths. Then with the grating sound of gears as a signal, the blades started revolving around the pillar like a tornado—Abyss' tentacles of darkness were haphazardly swept up and sliced apart.
The tornado of blades left claw marks on the classroom walls and caused fatal damage to the glass windows that were already on the verge of destruction. In terms of results, the tornado of blades held absolute control of air supremacy within its domain, imposing its tyranny on the space known as the corridor.
"This—what is it?"
"Haha, this reminds me of the time when three people gathered around me to play catch! Of course, the ball was a human with his arms and legs tied up. With just the slightest deviation or unsteadiness in the ball's trajectory, the result was slices, slices, slices of flesh! When members from a family of seven were used one after another as the ball, the atmosphere was the liveliest!"
Fear had no idea how much of an effect her words might produce, but any intimidation would be better than none—So she loudly yelled out memories she had no wish of recalling at all. She also remembered how the final remaining prisoner girl had fallen into despair and insanity and thrown herself into the blades at the first instant, but there was no need to waste time explaining that to Abyss.
Fear sprinted swiftly and stopped the tornado with perfect timing. Grabbing it and transforming it back to the «Morgenstern», she swept away the darkness blocking her path. Before Abyss could produce new darkness, Fear had already closed the distance in his unguarded state, swinging the supermassive murder weapon—
Then darkness erupted explosively, overflowing in a manner incomparable to before.
Fear was blown back along the corridor. Performing a back flip and landing on all fours, she looked up to see—
Wielded by Bivorio while sitting on her wheelchair—A cross.
"...How troubling. Can't I defeat my opponent without using this form..."
"Conversely, you can win in this form, right?"
"Hmph... I get it now. Transforming back into your original form allows you to control greater amounts of darkness, am I right? If you weren't stingy with it, you could have done this from the start, right?"
Fear stood up. She had suffered no injuries of note and could still fight.
"But I don't think the situation is that favorable for you. Changed into that form, you can no longer move. In other words, you've lost the ability to dodge."
Instead of Abyss, Bivorio was the one who answered her.
"Then as the one holding him, I shall move in his stead. Just watching from the sidelines is getting boring."
She slowly stood up from the wheelchair. Her earlier wounds yet to heal completely, her footsteps were unsteady and the pain distorted her expression from time to time. This was hardly surprising, seeing as Fear had pierced quite a few holes in her abdomen last time.
However, Bivorio smiled at the cross.
"Would you do the honors, Abyss?"
"As much as I would like to avoid straining your body excessively, it can't be helped."
As soon as Abyss' words finished, the darkness surrounding the cross began to writhe—and tore up Bivorio's clothing.
The sight of her nude body was composed with the colors of gold and pure white. Wrapped around her abdomen, the bandages were also pure white. But with one exception, a single part of her body displayed a different color—that of indigo mercury. Indeed, on her right arm, which had been covered by the opera glove until now, everything below the elbow had turned into the same substance as gu poison—
"Indeed, this is Aiko-sama's curse. Causing the owner to venomize... Perhaps because she is currently producing gu poison continuously, the venomizing process is advancing rapidly."
"You're... willing to go that far?"
"We affirm curses absolutely. As the head of the organization serving as the role model, this is only natural. Were this to continue, I suppose I shall turn entirely into venom at some point? But if it allows me to serve as her foundation, I will be even more ecstatic. That said, the one fact that I shall have to part with Abyss does sadden me greatly."
Bivorio chuckled in response. The darkness writhed further and reached for Bivorio's nude body, instantly solidifying and covering her—
The darkness served as black clothing, black bandages, a black corset, as well as black armor. Despite the difference in form, it was still a nun's habit—Her previous attire. This stood as proof of her identity as the priestess serving the fake god Abyss.
"Ahhh—This feels much better, thank you."
"That's because you keep moving around despite the plaster cast. Once this ends, you do know you'll be in pain, right?"
"That is pain that ought to be loved."
Fear had no intention of listening to them finish their sickening conversation. She instantly closed the distance and swung the spiked metal club—But did not feel the sensation of impact. Hastily, she turned her head.
Bivorio was suspended in midair. As though she were riding on the back of a bicycle, she was sitting sideways on Abyss with her knees drawn up.
"Hahaha! As God, how could something as simple as flying pose a challenge!?"
By spewing out darkness below it, the cross was apparently using the reaction force to hover in the air. Fear recalled what had happened at the river embankment.
"I get it now. That time when I found Haruaki, you used this method to fly and escape, right?"
"Despite looking like something to be proud of, this actually does not go beyond the level of a circus act, given its poor energy efficiency... Very well."
Bivorio and Abyss landed lightly in the corridor again. Bivorio lifted Abyss effortlessly. Although her stance was similar to how she held the Cannibal Cooker last time, this is actually the cross she wielded originally. Naturally, there were no openings to exploit.
"Now that things have reached this point, let me ask you once again, Fear-sama. Will you join us at the Bivorio Family—"
Fear closed in again and smashed the spiked metal club downwards. The cross was swung to oppose her—But just before contact was made, darkness flowed out from the cross, deflecting the metal ball easily like a shield. It felt like hammering a heavy slab of rock. Taking advantage of Fear's staggering back, the cross reached out with tentacles of darkness—
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»!"
Hastily retreating, Fear used the axe to slash the dark tentacles. Without letting up, Bivorio swung the cross down from overhead—Blocked. Swing. Dodge. Transformation. Darkness. Saturation. Retreat. Transformation. Tornado slash. Transformation. Advance. Re-engage.
"...Fear-sama, would you please give up? It feels like this scene should be titled 'The End Draws Near With Darkness.'"
"That's what... I want... to say to you!"
Fear moved her body, fully absorbed in the fight. At the same time, she sensed—Somewhere in a corner of her mind, there was something rousing in excitement. Was it the thrill of battle? Perhaps. The thrill of bloodlust? No. Regarding the 'no,' this was not excitement from actions undertaken with bloodlust. Despite using her various forms in an unprecedented manner—those tools of torture and execution, Fear was standing somewhere quite far removed from her past. Even she knew that very well.
Her goal was not harming people.
She was swinging this weapon, only because—only because.
To save the existence behind her, to save a certain person.
Hence, she must not lose—Fear thought strongly to herself. No, she should amend this statement. Something simpler, something more powerful. This must be the true face of her excitement.
(—I cannot possibly lose!)
Until this resolve crushed the cross, Fear shall not halt the movements of her hand.
There were no groans, not even the sound of breathing. Resembling living creatures but not living, appearing to be metal but not metal. This was Tateoka Aiko's gu poison—Indigo Venom.
But there should not be any problem. Under normal conditions, it might be more difficult to sense their presence. But since it was currently raining, nothing could face the splattering of raindrops without making a sound.
Hence, with a thrust, Konoha killed the quietly approaching indigo venom baby. It would have been better were it simply a strange indigo metallic shape rather than a baby—Konoha could only pray that Aiko did not harbor too many venom familiars of this type. Konoha's displeased anxiety intensified.
"...You too... will obstruct me?"
"Yes, how could I possibly not obstruct you? I cannot believe that you are going to kill everyone within the school. However, I still don't understand how that would allow you to create gu poison."
"...Due to my curse progressing to a point that allowed me to take on human form, my nature changed as a result. The essence of gu poison is that within a sealed territory, the losers' lives become the winner's nourishment. Provided I seal off a venue personally, that space is then considered a vessel called 'me.' Of course, physical methods can be used to escape to some extent—But this space called a school is already sealed off conceptually and has become 'me'..."
"So all you need to do is kill everyone here and all their lives will become the possessions of you, the winner? I see, I understand now. So the remaining question is: why would you do this on Bivorio's orders—"
Just at this moment, all the glass windows shattered on the third floor corridor, the place where Konoha had been until just now. This was probably the result of a certain energetic person using some kind of ridiculous torture tool? Hearing shards of glass falling on the muddy ground behind her, Konoha sighed.
"However, that child is going to complain if I stand here leisurely, so I'll take my time interrogating you after I stop you."
"...Really? Sorry, sorry, you treated me with such gentleness... Your food was wonderful... But I must do this, I must do this no matter what..."
Konoha did not feel displeased to hear her cooking being praised. Smiling cordially, she answered:
"Thank you. But I'll feel troubled if you get the wrong idea, so let me state for the record—I will definitely not be any more gentle than Fear-san! Especially now."
"Ahhh, I can probably imagine. That child must have defeated your familiars fair and square, one by one? What a truly foolish child. The enemy numbers are admittedly great, but there's always a solution, yes?"
Saying that, Konoha advanced. Aiko gasped in surprise. With a wave of her hand, the venom familiars all rushed forward.
Konoha first aimed and chopped with her hand. Despite the hardness, she still managed to slice its head into two. Without even looking at her handiwork, Konoha took a few steps back—After pausing half a second, she swung her hand while taking a step back at the same time. In the corner of her eye, two venom familiar had crashed into each other, having lost their target. Using the few seconds of respite thus obtained, she allowed one beast to rush forward. Then carefully calculating the angle, she punched it flying with the back of her hand... Naturally, its flying body also hindered the movements of the other venom familiars.
"How should I describe this? ...The trick is to maintain a wide field of view and use imagination, how's that?"
There was no need to overreach in slaying the enemies. All she needed to do was seize appropriate opportunities.
"Seriously... It's quite an unpleasant feeling for me to reuse my memories of the battlefield. Ah, this does remind me of one matter. Didn't I mention in the beginning that you had a smell that caused agitation in the depths of my heart? Were you ever owned by anyone related to the Tokugawa? I remember there was this man from Iga whose family name was Tateoka..."
Hearing her answer, Konoha smiled gently.
"For some reason, my true nature causes me to automatically fight harder against those related to the Tokugawa. Although I wish to show mercy, I might end up becoming even less gentle, so please do take care!"
"...! Indigo Venom No.23, Name: «Unknown»! Indigo Venom No.24—"
New venom familiars appeared, splashing in the mud.
Konoha smiled faintly again and leapt into the fray of the nostalgic battlefield.
She did not hesitate at all. Henceforth, all she needed to do was rush over to her family and fulfill her duties.
The scene she encountered first thing at the school caused turmoil in her heart once more.
It seemed as if the entire world had been turned upside down.
Once inhaled, the air seemed to turn into lukewarm body fluids.
Flying over the school walls, she landed. This was her first experience in the ten-odd years she had lived. The roots of the tall trees planted next to the walls. The ground that had turned into mud. Having landed on her knees, she looked straight forward and prepared to stand up, at this moment—
She saw it again.
Dog-like things were being slaughtered one after another.
Throb. How many times had she felt this way recently? The sense of dissonance penetrated her brain.
Kururi vomited. Digestive juices mixed itself into the mud. Clutching the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth», her hand trembled. She supported herself with both hands against the ground.
Squealing was heard. She heard squealing.
Impossible. Those indigo-colored dogs could not possibly squeal. However, she heard it.
Then what exactly was making the noises she was hearing?
"Huff... Ah... Hah—I'm... so strange... gone mad...? U-Urggggghhh...!"
Within her distorted field of view, she saw Aiko summon even more venom familiars. Throb. Those were the three dogs Abyss had caught for confirming Aiko's powers. Despite the indigo mercury appearance, she could tell from their physiques and the shape of their ears. The Norwich Terrier, the American Cocker Spaniel and the Schipperke. Eh? Why do I know the names of so many types of dogs? Why can I identify them so accurately? Do I know a lot about dogs? Throb. Throb. I clearly never had—never had—never—
She had kept a pet dog once.
Her chest felt as though it would expand and burst from the throbbing. The dizziness felt as though her skull was going to explode. The sense of vomiting was scorching her throat. Throb.
The mixture of stomach juices and muddy water was reflecting something. Yutaka. Waiting for Kururi who had survived the suicide, the dog had barked many times at her uncle. She recalled the large build of the elderly dog. It had died. Amidst a puddle the color of ripe strawberries, its life had extinguished. Throat slashed, its fur curled up along its wounds, its flesh twitching and restless, its limbs convulsing as though suffering from the difficulty in breathing—And looking down at the dog was a certain person, holding the "く"-shaped knife—
She touched something dirty. The hand that realized that fact dropped the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth». A splash of muddy water. The knife that was supposed to have given her courage, the knife that helped her kill her uncle—The knife that continued to act, fueled by bloodthirst. What the knife had stabbed into was the warm fur that had comforted her tears many times in the past.
The knife, buried deep into the last family member that had remained steadfastly loyal unto death.
She remembered, remembered, remembered, remembered, remembered this incident.
At the same time, it struck her. Why had she forgotten this? How could she have forgotten—
Finding herself sprawled over her own vomit, Kururi slowly raised her head. Everything had been taken away. There was nothing left in her petite body. Her asymmetric hair dangled, weighted by the rainwater it had absorbed, covering the petite girl's expression. Nothingness. Hollowness.
Her hollow lips, having even lost their trembling, moved slightly:
To whom was this word directed to? No one knew. Including everyone not present, the rain, the vomit, the knife with the bent design, the drenched hair, the sound of splashing water from the distant fighting, Nikaidou Yutaka.
No one—knew at all.
Fear decided that the greatest issue was the darkness' buffering property. No matter how many times she struck with her weapons, the formless shield protected the cross. The problem boiled down to how to penetrate that line of defense.
The «Morgenstern»'s impacts were being deflected. «A Hatchet of Lingchi»'s blade was not working. The «Human-Perforator» only brought a disappointing sensation to her hand. Indeed, what she needed was penetrative power. Pure sharpness.
Did she possess that kind of torture and execution tool?
Fear answered her own question. She drew back and distanced herself from Bivorio. To get a running start.
Casually deflecting the sudden spears of darkness that shot at her, Fear glared at the cross and declared:
"I will destroy you, «Narrow Narrow Abyss»!"
"Isn't that a bit late to declare? ...Are you going that far even though we are clearly kindred, Fear-in-Cube?"
"Precisely because we are kindred! Your way of living is wrong, hence as kindred, I will destroy you to make things right."
"The way we see it—" "Your way of living is the one that's wrong."
Bivorio smiled wryly and Abyss did the same.
"Then how about you ask that gloomy darkness of yours and my sadism!? To see which side's cursed hatred is correct!"
While realizing the duel was reaching a climax, Fear sprinted along the corridor in a forward leaning posture. She sprinted singlemindedly. As the darkness hurtled towards her, she merely dodged with a slight turn of her face. Despite the feeling of a lashing cut on her cheek, she did not stop. Before the darkness could turn into whips to entangle her, Fear sprinted even faster. Using the momentum of her speed, she lightly lifted the Rubik's cube that was emulating her form—
"Mechanism No.30 blooming type, pointed form: «Flower Sword Verazella», Curse Calling!"
What manifested was a long and slender sword that resembled a spear. Particularly striking was its characteristic tip—The sword's pinnacle ended in a sharp point while the top ten-odd centimeters of the sword was shaped like a water droplet, or perhaps one should describe it as an egg's curvature. It seemed to refute the purpose of a sword's long and straight blade.
Aiming the sword's tip towards Abyss and Bivorio, Fear continued to sprint, sprint and sprint. The spears of darkness brushed past her shoulders and passed through her hair, but did not pose any reason for her to stop. Sprint—just run forward, full speed ahead!
"A suicide attack? Praise the Lord!"
Fear closed in successfully. Bivorio swung the giant cross.
Fear mustered all her might and entrusted everything to the momentum of her sprint, making a thrust with the raised spear. The two weapons clashed intensely. Similar to all previous clashes until now, the impact was blocked by the darkness appearing in front of the cross—No.
This was different from before.
Fear pushed hard. Pouring forth the strength from her entire body, she pushed forward. She could feel through her hand the sensation of gradually penetrating the darkness. How's that—
"Ga... ah... ah...!"
Slowly and steadily, the tip of the spear-sword invaded the depths of the darkness.
A contest of strength without any technique. Gambling purely on penetrative power.
Because this was what Fear prayed for. Praying, praying, she continued to push forward with all her might.
Is it there yet? Is it there yet? Is it there yet—
At this very moment, Konoha also halted her movements. The venom familiars continued to be born.
"Indigo Venom No.32, Name: «Unknown». Indigo Venom No.33, Name: «Tama». Indigo Venom No.34, Name: «Gregory». Indigo Venom No.35—"
Just as Konoha was thinking "It's about time to put an end to this," Aiko apparently came to the same conclusion of deciding the battle all at once. Pulling back, she continued to recite to herself.
(In any case, these numbers are truly...)
There were currently close to ten of them. Konoha did have battlefield experience, but those opponents were humans after all and were limited in how many could attack at once. But small-sized venom familiars could easily surpass those limits. Suddenly, Konoha recalled the time when Sovereignty's dolls attacked—They were quite numerous that time and really tough to handle.
"Indigo Venom No.36, Name: «Unknown». Indigo Venom No.37, Name:..."
For some reason, Aiko began to stutter this instant as though she were hesitating or perhaps troubled by something.
However, she still held her breath and continued as though she had resigned herself:
This time, a person appeared from her summons. Not a baby but an adult male. In spite of her surprise, Konoha suppressed her feelings.
She had already considered the possibility beforehand. Since they were targeting everyone in school, then the creation of gu poison was not limited to cats, dogs or babies. Using mostly cats and dogs up until now probably stemmed from the curse's usage efficiency and ease of control. Now that Aiko had started using a venom familiar of human form, it must be because the owner had gone mad and no longer cared about cost-effectiveness, that could only be it—
Having given birth to the blue metallic man, Aiko panted, her shoulders shaking heavily.
"...These are... all of them."
"Oh? Really? How do you plan on using them?"
The venom familiars swarmed in. Their numbers were so great that trying to calculate them would be a feat of strength that would slow one down.
Readying her battle stance, Konoha frowned and thought to herself:
(I can dodge them. I can evade them. But that alone won't end this—!)
—It would be bad if she made a move but ended up getting in the way. Hence, she had simply observed quietly until now.
But it finally came, the time to provide assistance.
Thinking that to herself, still on the tree, Kuroe murmured softly to herself:
"Mode: «Chaotic Tadamori» and «Penetrator Yoshimasa»."
Konoha did not take action. The venom familiars closed in from all directions.
Not moving an inch from her position, her figure disappeared into the indigo avalanche.
But at this moment, Aiko could sense a troubling presence through the indigo venom.
Just as Aiko felt perplexed, black hair was silently extending from a nearby tree, swiftly picking up a certain object from the center of the venom familiars and tossing it over towards Aiko. The object was a Japanese sword, sheathed in a black scabbard—
In the instant of Aiko's surprise, the Japanese sword turned back into human form again. Glaring sharply, Konoha grabbed Aiko by the neck and lifted her up.
"It's over. When facing an army of overwhelming numbers, capturing the general is of utmost priority. Easier said than done, of course."
"Are you listening? Whatever, it doesn't matter anyway—Just surrender. In any case, make all the gu poison disappear first."
No—Aiko shook her head, prompting Konoha's face to draw near. Beneath those glasses, her pupils contracted, becoming eerily like a cat's—
"Thou shalt do well to act whilst my tone of voice remaineth gentle, venomous pot. Ancient relic reeking of Tokugawa stench, were I my past self I would have choked thee to death on the spot. Before I change my mind... Make haste and do as I say!"
No good, I can't win. There's no way to win against this person. Aiko instinctively understood.
The force strangling her throat intensified, almost preventing her from breathing. On the verge of suffocation, Aiko nodded desperately. Her mind in a daze, she withdrew the venom familiars back into her pockets. Only then did the pressure on her throat begin to ease.
"I've been really terrible today. Perhaps due to a loss of composure, I've been speaking in a rather crude manner... I must reflect properly on myself."
"...Sob... Cough... Cough cough..."
Konoha loosened her grip and Aiko fell onto the ground. So much pain. So terrifying. Failure. I clearly had no choice but to do it. Her mind could only struggle as she crawled on the cold and muddy ground. Did the rain get heavier? Or was it lighter now? Ahhh, it's lighter. Feeling moisture on her face, mistaking it for heavier rain, that was due to her tears. An unending stream of tears.
"Sob... Sob sob..."
She could see someone's feet before her. Were they that terrifying person's feet? Since they had become enemies, since she had lost, naturally, only a fate of destruction awaited her, right?
Aiko looked up in trepidation.
Standing there was not Konoha with her demonic expression.
Instead, it was a boy with an extremely troubled expression, looking too kind for his own good.
Shaking his head, sighing mournfully, he knelt down in front of Aiko.
"I still can't remember. I still can't recall any of this. Who you are, why things became like this, everything is so confusing. However..."
"I don't know why... But seeing your crying face, I get the feeling that this would make things better."
Saying that, he stuffed his hand lightly into one of Aiko's pockets.
"Uh... Let's leave it at that for now. Umm, if this constitutes sexual harassment for you, let me apologize beforehand."
The feeling of the hand in her pocket.
The embarrassed smile as he scratched his face.
The tears that continued to slide down her face.
Faced with all this, Aiko thought to herself.
Recalling those tears she had thought to be her last, back when she resolved to freeze her heart and never weep again, she thought to herself, at a loss:
Oh no—It's no good.
Is it there yet!? Not yet!?
Strength gradually faded from her hands that were thrusting the sword of petals forward. All the muscles in her entire body were screaming in pain.
Ominous anxiety was beginning to fill up her heart. Not good. If this... continued... Then—
At this moment, a black object entered the corner of her view. It had reached in from outside the window, a bundle of hair that had hardened into a spear. Fear merely swiveled her eyeballs to confirm. She saw Kuroe on the tree, observing both the situations in the corridor and down below the tree—apparently using half of her hair skillfully to do something at the bottom of the tree—She made a thumbs up gesture.
Discovering the sneak attack of the hair, Bivorio clicked her tongue lightly and used a small portion of the darkness to intercept. Kuroe's hair was deflected in the clash with the black spear. She instantly withdrew her hair as though she were afraid of getting caught. However, this did divide Abyss' attention in controlling the darkness. The shield's density should have decreased—Hence, Fear pushed harder with her arms, burying the flower sword deeper by millimeters, centimeters, almost piercing it—
But that was as far as it went.
She sensed Abyss' sneering. Feeling despair, all Fear could see was darkness. It was a rare opportunity with Kuroe offering assistance between all the things she was doing, was it not enough? Fear already had no more strength to spare. Were she to take a breath, her whole body would probably lose all power, right? Just a bit further, clearly all she needed was for the sword to pierce just a bit further!
Fear's body began to falter.
Everything was about to end. The warning signs of collapse.
Nikaidou Kururi buried the «Returning Kukri of Childbirth» into Abyss' center.
She aimed for the back where there was no darkness acting as a cushioning material.
This was an act of pure—
"Kururi, you bitch!"
"Family, yeah right... You made me forget about Yutaka! This thing here, if I had still remembered that incident, I never, ever, would have..."
"Oh? You recalled it? Now that's truly extraordinary... such bonds... But it was what you wished for!"
Liar—Fear thought to herself. You merely wanted a pawn who loved cursed tools, that's all—She murmured to herself. This man's insanity and depravity were sufficient for her to make such a conclusion.
What did Kururi actually think?
The answer was given by her trembling hands that pushed the blade of condemnation deeper.
Even so, Abyss was not yet destroyed. A single kukri knife was not enough to break that cross.
The darkness writhed and moved towards the back, sending Kururi's body flying. The knife remained embedded in the cross while the girl's petite body rolled into the depths of the corridor.
Fear did not miss this excellent opportunity. The shield of darkness became even less dense. Abyss was distracted.
Fear concentrated the last of her strength and shoved her weapon with reckless abandon. Penetrate—Penetrate—Penetrate through!
Clack! The teardrop-shaped tip of the sword made a sound like chipping stone as it stabbed into the cross—However.
That too, was as far as it went.
The darkness remained. The tip of the sword had only barely managed to penetrate its defense.
The sword remained motionless, unable to pierce any further. Body strength, grip strength, arm strength, Fear's power was reaching a limit.
"Ku... Kukuku! Owing to Kururi, I was worried for a moment there... But it looks like this is the end...!"
"Yeah, this is the end."
Fear admitted honestly.
Because this was enough.
"Then you should give up! I asked that boy to make his confession, thereby using the divinity called a curse to bestow salvation upon him. He no longer needs to waste his efforts on the troublesome task of lifting curses from Wathes. Hence, even if you join the Family, he won't care at all!"
"You're still going on about that? «Narrow Narrow Abyss»—You and your curse cannot save people! You're just a mere cross, stop falsely claiming to be God!"
Then she infused her will into the sword of petals whose tip was embedded inside the cross. Fear infused her will of "Okay, let's do it!"
How foolish, she thought. In the cube that harbored all the sadism humans could conceive, how could there possibly exist a tool whose usage ended with a simple stab?
"You will die because of me, who is merely a cross. You will witness clearly this cross of mine that is as merciless as God!"
The flower sword's blade was split apart into four pieces with the tip opening up in a cross shape. The tear shapes at the tip popped out as hooks for stabbing into and ripping open a human body effortlessly. This sword of a flower blossomed in the shape of a cross, causing torn flesh to roll up and the flower bud known as the human body to blossom.
Blooming forcibly, the sword carved a cross-shaped wound on top of Abyss' cross form. Creaking, grating, the cross gradually ruptured from the gouging.
"Ugh... Gh... Uh..."
Bivorio's voice was full of anxiety. Serves you right—Fear thought to herself as she felt all strength suddenly sucked out from her body. She had exhausted all her power in penetrating the darkness.
Losing strength in her knees, she collapsed into a sitting posture on the floor but without letting go of the weapon in her hand. Within her rapidly darkening view, she could see Abyss' darkness, darker than that from any other source, disappearing from around him—
The condemnation carved by Kururi from behind—
And the stigmata carved by Fear from the front—
Combined to dissect the cursed cross into an ordinary rectangle.
From beneath her eyelids that were about to close...
At the same time as Fear watched Abyss' darkness disappearing, the dress of darkness covering Bivorio also dissipated. Perhaps due to the disappearance of the armor that allowed her wounded body to move forcibly, Bivorio was now vomiting blood, pressing her hand against her abdomen, collapsing with her eyes out of focus. Shattered into quite a few pieces, the remains of the cross also fell onto the floor of the corridor, its broken fragments scattering.
Ahhh—It's finished. I succeeded, Haruaki—
Amidst exhilarating exhaustion and relief, Fear heard female laughter.
"Ahhh... Ah... Ha... Aha..."
Sobbing as she laughed.
But it was extremely hollow. The hollow laughter of a girl who had lost everything.
"Aha... Haha... Haha... Ahhh... Ooohaaaaahaha... Ooha... Hee... Ooh..."
Blown away, Kururi slowly got up to her feet. Kicking away the cross fragment that had rolled over to her feet, she did not seem to notice and walked unsteadily into the depths of the corridor. Towards where? Did she want to go somewhere? Or like a lost child, looking for a direction—Ambiguous footsteps.
What should Fear say? No idea.
What should Fear tell her? No idea.
But she knew she had to say something.
Thinking that, Fear decided to speak out. However, she could no longer withstand the heavy weight of her eyelids. Drowsiness overwhelmed all her thoughts. The instant she lost consciousness, the last thing she saw was the figure of the girl disappearing into the dark depths of the chilly school building, laughing as she sobbed, as though she were walking into the abyss of hell.
Fear did not know how long her eyes remained shut.
As her limbs gradually regained strength, she sat up. Bivorio remained collapsed on the floor. There were no signs of Kururi in the surroundings. Although there were still many things to be done, Fear decided to check out the situation outside which had gone quiet.
Peering out the window, she discovered that the battle had concluded as suspected. With unsteady steps, she jumped out the window. The rain had greatly diminished already, but her body was still greeted by icy-coldness.
Hearing a patter of footsteps, Fear found Kuroe standing by her side.
"I really have to say this, you helped me greatly there."
"Because I had to pay attention to Kono-san's side too, I was only able to help you a little... Anyway, you're welcome. Of course, it'd be better if you could repay me with your body."
Gazing blankly as usual, Kuroe remained aloof as always.
Konoha was also standing nearby. Fear frowned at the sight of her.
"Hey Cow Tits, it's that whatchamacallit, right? Whatever 'cliche' or 'signature move'? Every time you defeat the enemy, you have to go full naked."
Throwing a glance at Konoha who frantically ran towards her clothes, Fear surveyed the surroundings. To be honest, she did not care one little bit about Cow Tits the eye sore.
What mattered was—The two remaining people.
Aiko was lying sprawled on the ground. For some reason, Haruaki was kneeling before her, his hand extended into Aiko's pocket. Fear understood that there was no danger and the situation was not going to worsen.
Clutching Haruaki's other hand, Aiko rubbed it against her forehead and simply cried.
Fear called out to Haruaki from behind:
"On the way home, what are you going to buy for me without a doubt? It's my favorite food, that tasty thing."
Without turning his head, Haruaki laughed lightly and wryly through his nose:
"...I forgot to ask you: has the ranking between rice crackers and roasted sweet potatoes changed? You looked so touched back when you were eating that sweet potato."
Fear felt something overflow from the depths of her heart.
Something massive and comfortable, an emotion that made her want to laugh, cry and yell loudly all at once.
But Fear suppressed that feeling and squeezed words out of her throat:
"...Hmph, rice crackers remain unshakable as number one. Although roasted sweet potatoes are not bad, how should I put this? ...It feels like I'll get tired of the taste if I eat it every day. But I won't tire of rice crackers even if eaten on a daily basis. This difference is huge."
Understood—Haruaki shrugged in amusement. In his view, the status quo was fine.
As for Aiko, whom Fear could see over on the other side of Haruaki's shoulder, something needed to be done.
Fear felt that there were words she had to tell Aiko.
Although she did not get a chance to tell Kururi, she felt she must tell Aiko right now no matter what.
"The Family... Do they have anything warmer than the hand that is filling up your heart right now?"
Fear's voice flew over Haruaki's shoulder.
There was no response for quite a while, but finally—
Aiko's shoulders shuddered slightly. An answer that was obvious even if she did not voice it.
"If you ever forget what you are, won't you repeat the same mistakes again? After all, you're a pot of curses, a cursed pot, a pot that has been cursed. Once the Family has you in their possession, how could they possibly not make use of you? Even if you forget your past, only new curses await you in that future. Didn't you notice this logical and inevitable outcome? —Or perhaps, you didn't want to notice?"
Phew—Sighing, Fear continued:
"I've also thought about it before, about forgetting the fact of being cursed. Like daily, for no particular reason, wanting to forget, unable to deceive myself—But it is not something that can be forgotten."
"...That's... very painful..."
"Yes, it is. That's why I need to say it. I need to tell you."
Extremely cruel and icy-cold words.
"—You must suffer."
Aiko's body trembled.
If one were to forget, then one would not be too unworthy of salvation?
Those victims who died because of the curse.
As well as herself who had been born from their cursing.
One could not pretend it never happened. That was not acceptable.
No matter how many tears were shed, that could not be allowed.
Fear looked lightly towards Haruaki's back. Konoha was frantically putting on her clothes. Kuroe stood standing, her blank gaze carrying a vague sense of gentleness.
"I say this to myself as well. So let us suffer together. Even if it's hopeless alone, if we have companions, we can surely endure it. It goes for me and it goes for you as well. We must suffer repeatedly, again and again, but we will still live as ourselves. Doing things for the good of others, lifting our curses, living as our ordinary selves."
"...I... can't do... anything, but... curse others..."
"Haha. Fear couldn't do anything either."
Haruaki laughed. He laughed cheerfully. Then quietly taking Aiko by the hand, he stood up and said:
"Even if you can't do anything, all you need to do is practice and try hard. These small things can start from the ground up. What special powers, those don't really matter. To be honest, I don't even want to make use of them. However~ If using those abilities can help save someone, it can't be helped either."
Indeed, just as Fear had told Abyss, curses could not save people.
In that case, how could her earlier actions be explained? In order to save everyone in school, what did wielding those torture tools constitute? —Faced with this internal question, Fear immediately got the answer.
My wish is not using a curse to save people.
Instead, it is me, who bears a curse, who wants to save people.
It was a minute distinction, but also a profound distinction.
"Ultimately, the power obtained from being cursed is just a replaceable inheritance. Whether me or you, no matter what abilities result from being cursed, no matter what those abilities can achieve, it doesn't matter. There's only one thing that bugs me about you—When can I challenge you to a dishwashing rematch again? Only that. If there's a trick to dishwashing, please tell me. Otherwise, it'd be too unfair."
Hearing Fear's words, Aiko looked up in surprise. Through her dripping wet bangs, she looked at Haruaki who was supporting her by the hand, looked at Konoha who was finally dressed, looked at Kuroe, and finally looked at Fear—
That was the sound she made.
Perhaps there was something that made her happy.
Or perhaps everyone's gazes were making her embarrassed.
Or perhaps she felt troubled, not knowing how to react.
Or just maybe, it was because of the flying knife that stabbed into her chest.
—Curses could never save people.
—Those who thought they were saved, ultimately could not be saved.
Alice Bivorio Basskreigh was half awake in a dreamlike state.
The wounds in her abdomen were hurting. Her body felt feverish and boiling from the center of her tumultuous brain.
Ahhh, I remember now, this feeling. A feeling I haven't experienced for decades. A primal fear originating from actions deviating from social consensus. A tangible feeling akin to absolute ostracism. Accepting self-enlightenment regarding past misconceptions.
Because «Narrow Narrow Abyss» was gone, his curse had disappeared.
His curse of "relieving owners of their conscience" had disappeared.
Unburdened by their conscience, people succeeded. Evil wishes obtained salvation. Whether the wishes of evil cultists, the wishes of narcotics smugglers, the wishes of terrorists, the wishes of serial killers, the wishes of a priest who sold children, or even the wishes of a woman who murdered people and instigated murders and suicides because she loved cursed tools deeply, all had obtained salvation.
But they could not be saved. The world did not tolerate or permit these people to live for long. Hence, they all perished. This is clearly not right, I clearly shouldn't be doing this—Asking themselves as they perished. Hence, perishing continued today as before.
Bivorio opened her eyes slightly. Or perhaps, her eyes had remained open all this time. That was possible too. Focusing her gaze, what she saw were remains. Her beloved man, her beloved transcender, her beloved cross... Remains.
Her entire body was struck by bone-chilling terror. She recalled everything she had done to this date. She remembered him whom she had loved, loving him deeply as a transcender, loving him deeply as family. She remembered how she had put that love into action—All sorts of acts she had committed.
(Ahhh... Ahhh! No, no, but no, this isn't, how could I—!)
Her memories and emotions were at odds. She remembered everything she had done in the past and all the emotions and logic behind them at the time. However—there was one single emotion missing among them that she was naturally supposed to have. A sense of guilt.
Only now did she first realize how unnatural it was.
Overflowing. As though demanding all her past debts to be paid immediately, a sense of guilt invaded her all at once.
The flood of decades worth of guilt was overwhelming. Pain stabbed her brain, gripped her heart and choked her uterus. Stinging pain. I'm breaking... I'm breaking... I'm breaking! Ahhhhh! A! I'm clearly nothing more than just an A!
She could not comprehend. Everything, everything, everything, everything!
Why? Why did it turn out like this?
"Sob sob... Sob sob sob... Sob sob sob sob sob..."
Tears, nasal mucus and fresh blood dripped down. As naked as the day she was born, Bivorio crawled along the corridor. She picked up the largest fragment of Abyss' remains. Guilt. Who knew, she did not know.
Even so, her gaze was still drawn to the knife embedded in the remains.
This. It was this thing's fault.
And whose fault was it?
Pulling out the knife, Bivorio continued to crawl. Almost rubbing her face against the wall, she struggled to get up. However, she collapsed from a sudden loss of strength. The body of her beloved man broke apart even smaller. Kicking the fragments, she stood up again. As her blood smeared over the window sill, she straightened her knees. The situation outside finally entered her view.
A silver-haired girl. Bivorio could not even remember her name. However, this girl was the enemy she had been facing until just now. Things had already ended up this way by the time Bivorio woke up. This was the only fact she could understand.
That girl caused this.
That girl caused this.
That girl caused this—!
Hence, Bivorio raised her arm.
The cursed knife's weight was actually quite light. A knife existing only to kill, it felt joy even from receiving muddled killing intent. Despite being thrown by a weak woman, the knife planned to obediently bring that killing intent to fruition.
In a straight line, a straight line—
Carrying her question of "Why did it turn out like this?", the knife flew—
Bivorio did not see the result. It did not matter. She felt something entangling her body, but that did not matter either.
Embracing Abyss' remains, Bivorio cried like a child as she closed her eyes and pondered.
—I can't comprehend... anything... anymore.
—Please, someone, save me.
—I won't... curse you ever again.
Time seemed to slow down for an instant.
Fear watched as Aiko rushed in front of her. She watched as Aiko took the hit for her, pierced in the chest by the knife flying from the school building—
Coughing as she spat out chunks of blood, Aiko swayed as though she were dancing. The muddy ground, through the principle known as gravity, caught her body violently.
Stabbing into the heart, invading the very root of her existence, the knife fulfilled someone's desire.
They all ran over frantically. Fear reached out but stopped her arms halfway, unable to embrace her. Picking Aiko up in her arms seemed to be so dangerous an endeavor that anything could happen.
"W-Why—W-Why... would this..."
"Very obviously, it's that person's doing!"
The instant Fear turned her head towards the school building, Kuroe extended her hair, aiming for the third floor window. Entangling Bivorio's body, Kuroe instantly tied her up. Bivorio was already weeping in delirious state, making no effort to resist or to escape.
"A final struggle in vain huh? What should we do with her!?"
"Kuroe, never mind that woman, Aiko is more important right now!"
"Hmm... Indeed. I want to concentrate my powers, so I'll leave my hair like this and sever it!"
According Kuroe, her severed hair would maintain their stiffness for a while even after being cut. The extended hair was severed and lost tension. Bivorio's body lost balance and fell over while still tied up, disappearing from the window's view.
"Please, hurry and heal her!"
"I'll try my best..."
Kuroe severed her hair and swiftly wrapped it around Aiko's wound. As indicated by the anxiety on Kuroe's face, despite the life force infused through the hair, color still did not return to Aiko's face. Kuroe's powers were able to increase natural healing. Ahhh, but... What if it were a wound that could not heal naturally no matter how much one struggled...
Aiko opened her eyes slightly. Since she was lying down and her bangs had slid to the side, her eyes were visible in a rare moment.
"...I... have... sinned. So... it's okay."
"What are you talking about!? Didn't I tell you that I'm the same!? Cow Tits and Kuroe also! No, you're referring to joining the Family and betraying us? That doesn't matter anymore. Everyone is safe and sound so it's fine! From now on, you'll lift your curse together with all of us, so! Even if you've sinned, you didn't need to do this for protecting me—"
"No. This is... sin unrelated to curses."
She had committed sins that cannot be forgiven even if the curse can be lifted. Fear recalled what Aiko had said earlier.
"I—By my own volition... Unrelated to the curse... Only because I wanted to kill... I killed a human."
It was... a breath of confession.
"His name is Heinzmann Diemelgerg. My previous owner. Also a knight from the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion, the One-Man Force: «Isolate»."
This unexpected confession caused Fear to hold her breath. In that case, in other words—Aiko belonged to the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion? Those people had not interfered any further ever since that Peavey woman was defeated. That said, Fear knew that it could not have lasted indefinitely and that they would return to cause a commotion eventually—
"I arrived... to this place as... the equipment of the knight who was sent to destroy you. Then for the sake of battle, I was forced to perform necessary restocking of venom. I've always hated it so I was very unwilling that time as well, I hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it absolutely... So... Deciding I was never doing it again, just because of that... I killed... Heinzmann."
"Speaking of which, that name... Just now, that..."
Recalling something, Konoha narrowed her eyes and murmured. Perhaps seeing her reaction, Aiko gazed without focus and said:
"...In order to take care of the body, I made it into venom. The place was... Near where I met everyone for the first time... An abandoned house. After that... Not knowing what to do... I walked and walked... and saw a river. The river was very clear and beautiful, but my hands were filthy. So I... used the river... to wash my hands—That's why... I was there."
Hence they had met. There was cute little dog there, but since her owner was no longer alive, she did not need to kill it. Foolishly, not knowing anything, she embraced the dog—
"...It wasn't due to a curse's impulse, neither was it required by the curse's powers. I simply murdered because I wanted to kill. That's my sin. This is... retribution... for that sin... So... it's alright."
"Of course it's not alright! Come on, how could it possibly be alright!?"
"Even if retribution and atonement are required, it doesn't have to be in this way! This... this!"
Aiko happily gazed back at Fear and Haruaki.
"Uh... May I... make two... requests?"
How could anyone refuse? But conversely, Fear hoped that Aiko could listen to a simple wish in exchange.
No matter who listened to this wish, if only someone could realize it, no matter who.
"...I never considered what I was going to do after killing Heinzmann. All I could think about was stopping things. Going to your home... Was pure chance. But... Really... I never expected—A good place. Although time was short... I know."
"Yes... Yes yes, that home is a good place. Although it's old and decrepit, with only spaciousness as its only good quality—It's a good place nonetheless. S-So!"
How strange. Why was his voice trembling? Why was his vision getting blurry?
"Right, so... I... want to stay... in that home. No matter where, even just a storeroom, I hope you can put me in that home. Provided... it doesn't cause you any trouble..."
"How could it cause any trouble... You're going to lift your curse together with Fear and the others, right? So—As the master of the house, I give permission. Yes, I give permission!"
"...I'm so glad."
Clasping Haruaki, whose voice was trembling just like hers, by the hand, Aiko smiled again.
"As your senior, I also give permission. Compared to a certain noisy, complaining pair of runts, you're several times better than them as a junior."
"Likewise coming from me, senior number two. I'm really looking forward to using my seniority to force my junior to confess who she likes... Really."
Konoha and Kuroe spoke respectively in calm tones.
"S-Senior number three agrees. I mentioned it just now, between us... Victory has not been decided. I still have not shown you... my dignity... as your senior..."
Aiko's bangs quivered from her breath. Her breath carried the same meaning as previously.
"So... What's your other wish? I will realize it using my full authority as master of the house. Tell me, Aiko!"
With just a single word, Haruaki understood what she was trying to say. Naturally, everyone present understood.
She did not wish for her pockets to be empty.
Rather than the curse of venom, she wanted something gentler.
Rather than something cold and hard like pebbles, she wanted something warmer.
She wished to fill up herself, making herself more fulfilled—
Haruaki's hand slowly reached into her pocket.
Aiko made a satisfied expression she had never displayed before.
She smiled. Her next whispers were very calm.
"Ahhh... I don't have to curse anyone anymore. I don't... need to be cursed by anyone anymore. Although I still remember the past and these memories bring me pain, I'm not alone. I'm really... relieved—"
Then as though she had suddenly remembered something, she gazed tenderly at Fear:
"But—That's right. I really want to... watch Fear... dance... officially..."
Halfway through her speech, she disappeared.
Her clothes collapsed, having lost what occupied them. Sitting on top of the clothes was—
Shattered where a knife was embedded...
What could only be described as beautiful—
An indigo pot.
Haruaki remembered. Whether her initial arrival at their home or what happened after she entrusted her wish to the Family.
He remembered everything.
However, even though his memories returned...
Why—why didn't everything return to normal?
"Damn it... Kuroe, hey, Kuroe!"
"...Sorry, I can only raise a person's natural healing ability, but there's nothing I can do if the wound is too deep. Neither can I do anything for someone who has reverted to tool form—And it goes without saying, I can't bring the dead back to life either. However..."
Konoha answered Haruaki's question as she knelt down and picked up Aiko's fragments.
"...We carry dual traits of humans and tools. In other words, damage incurred in tool form can sometimes heal like a human's wounds. Like a chipped blade returning to its original, newly sharpened state, or a frayed plushie repairing itself on its own. Last time when I cut open Sovereignty's chest lightly, the wound closed up under the same principles."
"Th-Then in that case!"
As Haruaki looked up, Konoha shook her head with a mournful expression.
"Nevertheless—Whether humans or tools, once completely 'dead,' there is no way of recovering. Like a broken blade is not longer a blade and an incinerated plushie is no longer a plushie, once destroyed beyond recognition, there is no hope of recovery."
"...Then... what about her...?"
"I understand what you're thinking, Haruaki-kun, but according to my judgment, to be honest—The chances are slim. This is based on the fact that she could no longer maintain human form, as well as this level of damage as seen here."
"But then again, the chances are not zero, Kono-san."
Hearing Kuroe point out quietly, Konoha nodded.
"Certainly—Even though it might approach zero infinitesimally, it's possible that destruction is not complete. Although who knows how much time it would take, there is a chance that recovery might happen eventually—That cannot be ruled out. That said, it's only the optimistic view."
Hence, that was why Konoha was picking up the fragments. In case this miracle really happened, Aiko would then be able to recover with ease. Despite talking about slim chances, Konoha surely did not wish for that to be so.
Naturally, Haruaki was the same.
Hoping, wishing, praying and believing.
He would wait forever. Just as she had wished, that home would wait forever for her to return.
Just as this moment, beneath the sunny sky where all the dark clouds had disappeared, an announcement was heard from the sports ground:
'Due to the sun coming out, the afternoon events will start in ten minutes. Participating students, please prepare as quickly as possible—'
Time, which seemed as though it had stopped, began to move as a lively bustling came from the other side of the school building. Haruaki listened as Fear whispered softly:
"...What a dummy, that girl, that was not two but three wishes..."
Fear stood up and turned around, rubbing her arm against her face several times. It was completely obvious what she was doing.
"She said she wanted to see me dance officially, right?"
"...That's right, she did say that."
Haruaki answered Fear who did not turn her head back.
"Well then... I must let her watch. Yes, indeed—We promised. So, Haruaki, you must stand somewhere with a clear view! Together with her!"
Then Fear started walking.
Towards that direction, her fists clenched tightly.
Even so, Haruaki could still see her petite shoulders trembling, as though the aftermath of certain emotions lingered.
—Dance! Fear commanded herself.
Despite the suffering, despite the pain, who knew if she could dance successfully.
What mattered was neither looking back, nor halting in her steps, nor the tears falling from her eyes.
Instead, it was the dance.
Even though little of her stamina remained, she gritted her teeth and danced.
This was their promise.
The promise they had made on the veranda—To celebrate her arrival.
Bivorio found her eyelids heavy. Her field of view narrowed. Everything had become akin to rotten mud. Guilt, memories, the fact that Abyss was no longer, love. All this was excessively jumbled together, a world where she had nothing to rely on. Amidst this, there existed certain solid sensations, only the corridor she could feel as she lay on the floor as well as the cross' remains that she embraced in her bosom. However, even the issue of whether embracing this thing could be considered good or bad, she could not understand. She did not understand. How she wished to silence her thoughts.
Her body was tied up and immobile. Hence, she could no go anywhere or escape. Neither could she escape from the world of her inner mind. This was prison.
"Sob... Sob sob... Sob sob sob..."
Outside the school building, the roaring of the announcer could be heard in the distance. How annoying. Her mind became several times more agitated. How she wished to silence everything but all she could do was weep.
Just at this moment—she sensed the presence of someone standing before her.
"I was really worried for a moment there, but luckily, things concluded with relatively few losses. After all, that girl was not going to live long anyway... Were you aware of it? The organ of mercy: Euthanasia."
Who was this? Unable to widen her eyes, she could not see clearly. All she could hear was a voice.
"It's a function included with the device that connects the Indulgence Disk. A sort of insurance policy the Knights Dominion imposes on self-aware Wathes. To prevent Wathes from killing their own kind, resisting, running away—If they don't return to the Knights Dominion headquarters for treatment or uninstall it on their own, the device will automatically fulfill its function... Destroying the Wathe that is connected to it."
"Even equipped with such a device, why would she kill her owner? We'll never know now. Was it because she wished to act freely under her own will, no matter how little time she had left? Or was she unaware of the Euthanasia device? —The possibility of the latter might be substantial, yes? In any case, it is truly stimulating in various ways to observe the philosophy of living in the moment, taboo curses and the reasons for redefining one's own existence. Oh dear, how interesting, what excellent food for thought."
What on earth was this man talking about? No idea. Bivorio could only get the sense that "he sounds just like a researcher." The talkative man suddenly fell silent, seemingly shrugging—That was the feeling she got.
"Anyway, that's a bit of a tangent. Being too talkative is my bad habit—Very well, Alice Bivorio Basskreigh. I never thought you'd suddenly go that far. Once you decided on war, you went as far as to send virtually all of your members on suicide bombing missions. The effectiveness of preemptive first strikes cannot be denied, history is proof of that—But it was truly troublesome. Although not to the level of crippling, almost all of our branches suffered serious damage."
Understanding, language, thought. Given the current chaotic state of her mind, she could process none of that. Nevertheless, she was struck by an instinctive sense of fear. Bivorio wanted to flee, but bound by something, her body could not move. Even standing was impossible. As her field of view gradually dimmed, all she could hear was the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Why would you instigate such violence? Aggregating all the information and deductions at my disposal, the answer is simple... Very clearly, you were mistaken. You people really should verify your facts more accurately. Verifying the reliability of facts is the first step in data analysis. However, if facts were provided with the intent to deceive, it is true that the difficulty of verification increases correspondingly."
His next words sounded a little aghast.
"Seriously, it's all the doing of my unworthy little sister. It's fine for her to believe that this could act as a deterrent, but she did not understand how the situation could have developed from there. Clearly, the world does not revolve around her... That girl is not as clever as she thinks she is. A little more self-awareness would do her good."
Unworthy little sister. Ahhh, Bivorio felt like she thought of something. A name. A name somehow related to herself, very related.
Unable to get up, her consciousness hazy, Bivorio could only see an expanse of darkness as she looked up at the source of the voice. The man's approaching figure entered her view. Then the figure proceeded to extend a shadow resembling an arm towards her—
"To be frank, all I intended to do today was check out my sister's situation and visit my subordinate at the hospital. My original plan was quite modest, but luckily, you happened to appear before me like this right now. Given that you are the head of the organization that did so much to us, I can't really turn a blind eye to this—"
Name. Name. The enemy's... name.
The circuitry in Bivorio's chaotic mind suddenly connected and words slipped out of her mouth.
"You are... Y-Yamimagari—"
In the middle of her sentence, her view went completely dark and Bivorio's thoughts were interrupted there.
—Right outside the school, in a desolate back alley.
Sitting collapsed on the wet ground, she opened her eyes. Swiveling her neck slowly, she looked towards the other end of the alley... Whose face was that? A chance passerby? The person vanished from view in an instant.
Even if that was a certain person's face, even if anything had happened, she had no memory of it.
What she recognized were only the tears on that face whose eyes were closed...
Not a smile but traces of tears.
The same. It was the same as her own face, reflected in the puddle on the ground.
That person was surely the same as her. This was the only fact she was certain.
A mother, but not a mother. Different from her, but the same.
For some reason, she was suddenly overcome with the urge to laugh.
Kururi laughed emptily. While laughing, something fell at the same time, creating ripples in the puddle below her face. These were the last droplets of rain to fall here.
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