Chapter 3 - Carnival Festival / Willful Dance Between the Mask and the Monster / "Landfisher VS."
"After careful examination in an isolated place, even I can recognize the face now. Indeed, that's him... Little miss helper, could you please lock up that door there?"
"Sigh—then I'll close it first."
The skull mascot sighed as if lamenting over some sort of misfortune, then proceeded to close and lock the classroom door. Perhaps due to something like a voice changer, the resulting voice was hoarse and artificial-sounding. The mascot was wearing a dark-colored suit similar to a gentleman's tuxedo. The head was essentially just a skull. This character's back story apparently consisted of a dark hero who was awakened from hell.
(I think it was called... Bludgeoning Gentleman Gasha Skull? That's right, it's the costume the girl mentioned that was stolen.)
Haruaki had forgotten all about it due to all the things that happened afterwards—Why would this mascot appear here now? Who on earth was this guy anyway?
Then there was the other person. The wet woman with the cheerful voice, who was she? Putting aside the question of whether she was a youkai or not, one thing was certain: she was definitely the wet woman.
Dressed in a white parka with a cute design, she had her hood pulled down low. The parka was the long type whose length reached down to the bottom of her hips. Her outfit did not include a skirt or anything similar. Exposed beneath the parka's hem were a pair of white and voluptuous thighs. Her long and slender legs reached down to her sandal-clad feet. Her legs were soaking wet, no matter how you looked, with the water droplets on skin surface especially emphasizing the tender smoothness of her thighs. Naturally, not only were her legs wet, but even the parka worn on her upper body was also dripping with water.
"Oh my—How wonderful, I've been searching for you for so long... To run into you in this place where it's unlikely for interlopers to appear, that's truly fortunate. This must be a reward for my everyday good behavior, ufufufu."
The woman was carrying a long, rod-shaped object that was wrapped in a piece of cloth. Resting it against the back of her neck, she kept her hand on it while she slowly pulled up her hood.
The woman was probably twenty-years-old roughly. She was not Japanese and the distinctive red color of her long hair was very memorable. Naturally, her hair was also wet like the rest of her body. Peering through the hair that clung to her face was a pair of eyes that seemed like they were struggling to stay open after a sleepless night. This stood in stark contrast to her inexorably energetic expression, making her look as though she had spent an entire night high on drugs.
With water dripping from her fingers, she then pulled down the zipper of her parka.
"I find this rather incomprehensible... This should be the type of woman that would drive Fear-kun nuts on sight. So, Yachi, I'd like a simple explanation for your gulping just now. Perhaps you happen to worship large busts? How absolutely ridiculous!"
"I'm just feeling nervous, okay!? After all, these people make no sense at all."
Indeed, no sense at all.
Revealed beneath the unzipped parka was a highly revealing bikini swimsuit. Well-toned abdominal muscles could be seen around her dripping wet navel. However, the curves that water droplets traced out as they flowed down her cleavage were amazingly large like those of foreigners.
Staring at her voluptuous body, Kirika spoke in a stiff tone of voice:
"You mentioned 'searching for you for so long' just now, right? Are you referring to us? Who are you?"
"Now this is a so-called interrogation! Ufufufu, then I shall reveal my name. I am Oratorie Rabdulmunagh, but I also have this «Landfisher» nickname."
The name sounded familiar to Kirika and she desperately racked her brain to recall it.
"...Pakuaki seemed to have mentioned it earlier. The name of the Family member who had escaped from one of the branch labs."
"Th-That's right, it definitely was a name that sounded something like that..."
"Completely correct. I am a member of the Family. Oh right, I should also correct a mistake you made."
The mysterious wet woman in a swimsuit—Oratorie—put down the rod from her shoulder in an extremely nature manner. Humming a song to herself, she happily began to untie the cloth around the object.
"Ufufufu, I'm not searching for the 'us' that you mentioned."
"Like. I. Already. Said. You're completely unimportant to me. In other words, the one I'm looking for is..."
Inside the unwrapped cloth was a wooden oar.
An aged and slightly filthy-looking wooden oar.
She effortlessly picked up the heavy-looking oar with one hand and rested it on her shoulder, then—
"Haruaki Yachi. That's your name, right? Ufufu, excuse me but I have a request for you—"
Oratorie seemed very happy and very very happy at that.
After announcing her goal, she immediately sprang into action.
"—I hope you can die obediently!"
With wet squishy footsteps that completely failed to match the current mood, Oratorie charged forward.
"Yachi, stay back!"
Kirika shoved Haruaki's chest, forcing him to retreat behind her. Although Oratorie's motives were completely unknown, her murderous intent was enough to prove that she was serious.
"B-Be careful! That oar is most likely..."
From Kirika's right sleeve, a black belt slithered out and extended—The deadly weapon that was crowned with the name of the «Tragic Black River» serial killer. Having absorbed much killing intent in the past, this belt now moved to subdue the current killing intent at hand.
Haruaki turned his gaze and thought "What about the other person?" The thief in the mascot costume was currently leaning against the wall, arms crossed. He, or perhaps she, seemed to be staring at the floor repeatedly as though deep in thought, then—
"Since there's only one opponent, you should be able to handle her without much effort... I'll just watch from the side for now."
"Oh—really? If that's the case, I don't really mind!"
The swimsuit woman—Oratorie—answered without even looking back. Haruaki did not really understand their conversation, but it was fortunate that they were not attacking together. However, even if it were one on one, was Kirika really going to be okay?
Facing off against Oratorie whose parka and red hair fluttered as she closed in, Kirika slid between the stationary desks as she extended the «Tragic Black River». Oratorie jumped onto a desk to evade in response. Then Kirika entangled a leg of the teacher's desk to lift it and throw the table at her enemy. However, Oratorie took one look at the desk that was flying at her from a dead angle and simply moved her arm. Swinging the wooden oar nonchalantly, she effortlessly deflected the desk towards the edge of the classroom. What truly horrific arm strength.
"That really must be a Wathe? Not bad. However, you really should cherish it. Every night, you must caress, stroke, embrace and kiss it. You should also murder people with it, for it is something that can save your life—But right now, may I ask you to stop? Since this is a very very important transcender, if possible, I'd prefer not to break it."
"What kind of nonsense are you babbling about...? If that's the case, you should simply stand there and stop moving!"
Kirika extended the «Tragic Black River» directly towards the oar. The belt, which had absorbed the blood of numerous victims in the past, reached out forcefully towards that slightly dirty-looking oar, attempting to entangle it—
But failed to entangle it.
Kirika could not understand why the belt, which had clearly wrapped around the oar, simply lingered emptily in midair.
"Ufufufu, I did as you told and stopped moving. But now, I'm going to move."
Jumping down from the desk, Oratorie swung the oar, forcibly ripping a stationary desk out from its base and sending it flying with a loud impact. This was not limited to that one desk. Every desk she encountered suffered the same fate.
Kirika tried her best to dodge the shattered remains of the desks. In an attempt to slow down Oratorie's advance, she ran into a space between some desks but it ended up counterproductive. Failing to dodge a large piece of debris, Kirika was struck in the leg, causing her to lose balance and fall down on the spot.
Yelling loudly in response, Kirika continued to control her belt. Although she still could not understand what had happened earlier, this was her only weapon. She extended the belt between the gaps of the flying debris, but Oratorie had already disappeared from there.
Standing crouched horizontally on a wall on the side, she was sticking right to the wall.
The scene was as though the world had been rotated ninety degrees. A scene ignoring the law of gravity.
Sure enough, this strange phenomenon was accomplished by the oar in her hand that was being used to support her body. Its front end was buried into the wall. Rather than digging a hole in the wall, the oar had slid into it smoothly.
The corners of her mouth upturned in a smile, Oratorie gave the wall a kick from her current posture. The reaction force propelled her straight towards Kirika. While in midair, Oratorie swung the oar.
Kirika was just about to sit up. Unable to evade Oratorie, she used the «Tragic Black River» to drag a desk's remains to act as a shield. However—
It passed straight through.
With that, it became certain. The «Tragic Black River»'s inability to entangle the oar, the way Oratorie stuck to the wall, as well as her attack passing through the debris—All this proved that the oar possessed an ability related to "phasing."
As a result, Kirika's right upper arm was mercilessly struck by the the massive oar. At the same time, the heavy piece of wood's destructive power was converted into sound—a mixture of the two different noises from the crushing of flesh and the shattering of bone.
Kirika was too occupied to reply to Haruaki and could only lie collapsed on the floor, moaning painfully.
However, Oratorie refused to stop. Naughtily, she stuck her tongue out and said:
"Yes, it's useless! It's already useless! Ufufu, let me express my sincere condolences for your misfortune... Also, I see your black panties~ Eh, what's with that zipper there? What a super kinky design! Do Japanese high school girls all wear underwear like that? I find it rather moving, so I'll spare your life."
Then she repeated her attack motions.
Lifting the oar, she swung it down.
Repeating that simple motion several times, dozens of times.
She aimed at the same spot every time—Kirika's right arm was where all the attacks were focused. Rather than crushed, the flesh of Kirika's arm was essentially smashed apart. Rather than shattered, the bone was essentially minced with the flesh. Every time the wooden oar struck that spot, there was a definite splash of crimson liquid that Haruaki had no wish to see.
Oratorie simply pummeled her, pummeling overwhelmingly.
The oar violently repeated "Smack... Smack... Smack smack smack!"
"Guh! Gah! A-Ahh... Nngg! Kyaah—!"
"Ufufu, ufufufu! Now this would be a so-called beating! A beating!"
"S-Stop it! Stop it right now——!"
"I won't stop, ufufufu, because I am a member of the Family. We must offer shelter to our beloved transcenders, the Wathes. I'm going to pull off this girl's arm to take the belt back with me. Just a wait a little while, Haruaki Yachi. If there's no possibility of someone interfering, I will kill her slowly!"
No! Absolutely... This cannot be allowed to happen. No!
Haruaki racked his brain to find a solution. If he rushed forward recklessly, he would lose for sure. He was greatly frustrated by his powerlessness. Or perhaps he could throw a desk's remains to divert Oratorie's attention to buy time for an escape—No, he should phone Konoha to call her here. If Konoha were present, the Sword-Kill Counter could instantly handle this woman... No, that was not for certain. Very likely, even that move might pass through the oar. But there was no time to hesitate over such issues. In any case, Haruaki understood very clearly that his power alone could not help in any manner—
His chaotic thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a window shattering violently.
Jumping in through this second floor window was neither Konoha nor Fear.
Un Izoey had arrived instead.
"My wish: elimination of what my eyes cannot tolerate."
Performing a flip in the air, the knife in her right foot was thrust forward like lightning. The sudden attack was so swift that even Oratorie could not ignore it. She stopped beating Kirika and swung the oar up, barely managing to evade the knife's attack and distancing herself from her opponent.
"...Who are you?"
"No obligation to answer, hence, answer is nothing."
They glared at each other. However, Haruaki had no time to care about them. Frantically, he rushed over to Kirika's side. Her state was quite dismal—But Kirika was also wearing another Wathe apart from the «Tragic Black River». Hence, her wounds were writhing away, gradually recovering.
"Gwooh! Huff... Ah..."
"Class Rep, Class Rep!"
Haruaki supported Kirika's upper body. She looked at her right arm and said:
"I... I'm fine. How absolutely ridiculous, did she really intend to hack off my arm like that...!? But thanks to that, I wasn't killed immediately... Hmm... mmm...?"
"Don't speak anymore. Although the current situation totally blows my mind, that girl seems to be helping us—"
Kirika started hugging her arms and shivering. It seemed to be unrelated to her right arm's injuries. Haruaki frowned and said:
"Could this be the result of that collar? Right, we've been separated all this time!"
"I was thinking a moment of separation would be fine. Damn it, this seems to be something similar to backlash... Here I go?"
"U-Umm, what should I do now? Contact... I'm already touching you, uh—?"
Her body held in his arms, Kirika's face twitched. Perhaps due to the pain in her arm, her eyes were still filled with tears. Kirika forcefully narrowed her eyes but her body trembled even more intensely. Casting her gaze towards the side, she murmured softly:
"If possible, umm... If... you could embrace me tighter... No, if you don't want to, then it's fine to just keep things like this... The current wave should subside eventually, perhaps—Kyah!"
If that would help, I'll do it no matter how many times it takes. After all, it's all I can do with my meager ability.
With self-contempt weighing in his heart, Haruaki wrapped his arms around Kirika's shoulders and embraced her. He was somehow hearing exceptionally adorable screams but he pretended not to hear them. So hot, Kirika's blood was so hot. Haruaki did not care about getting his uniform dirty. He already knew that the blood would flow back into the wound as it healed, but even if it did not, he probably would not care about bloodstains anyway.
After a while, Kirika sighed slightly. It felt as though she was feeling very relieved and very satisfied.
Just as Haruaki gently supported her body, intending to check out her expression—
"Oh dear, I never would have expected even Oratorie Rabdulmunagh to be here as well. What kind of fated encounter is this?"
Haruaki hastily turned around upon hearing the voice. Pakuaki was standing just behind him. Just how far was he capable of coming and going without warning?
Kirika's face instantly changed with alarm. With a grim and severe expression, she said:
"Pakuaki! What is the meaning of your words—"
This resulted in a chain reaction in the situation at hand. Instantly, the skull mascot, who had been leaning against the wall apathetically, drew a knife from somewhere and charged towards Haruaki's group.
"Oh, there's a strange hero character here too? No matter, Un Izoey, I'll leave that to you as well."
The dark-skinned girl leapt freely. Moving about on her cuffed hands, her control of her motions and posture was as precise as though moving on one's feet. Her knife-wielding leg also handled the enemy as though it were an arm. Un Izoey's fluttering skirt, upside down and swaying gray hair, her dark-skinned legs reaching up and out freely—These were all unprecedented and bizarre movements. However, it undoubtedly managed to seal off the movements of the enemy duo. Skillfully evading the oar that Oratorie swung with monstrous strength, she also turned and dodged when Oratorie made use of the phasing ability, changing her position as though she were sliding, deflecting the knife from the skull mascot who had approached with astounding speed.
"W-What the heck is going on...?"
The mascot thief and the wet woman had both arrived. Haruaki expected to be attacked by the wet woman but had not foreseen that further enemies would enter the fray and battle—The situation was far too chaotic, impossible to understand.
But without giving Haruaki enough time to figure things out, the situation continued to change continuously.
"Oh jeez, what the heck is going on here...!? Nothing is more annoying than this girl getting in my way here. Rather than fighting you, I should get rid of my target first—"
"—Don't be careless!"
The mascot thief's warning came too late. Un Izoey was truly a master and did not miss the opening. The instant Oratorie's attention was diverted from the opponent towards Haruaki in the back—Un Izoey slid towards her feet. The knife on Un Izoey's foot skillfully evaded the sudden thrust of Oratorie's reflexive counterattack and slashed open her thigh.
"My warning to you: a warning not to not pay attention."
Despite almost losing balance, Oratorie did not fall over. Despite the large amount of blood flowing down her thigh, she continued to glare vigorously forward, raising her oar in a combat-ready stance. But the bleeding wound was obviously no minor wound. Naturally, everyone present could tell she was heavily injured.
"Let me give you another warning, Oratorie Rabdulmunagh. After sustaining such a severe wound, you should be incapable of fighting any longer. Why don't you give up and flee? If you don't stop the bleeding, you'll probably die soon... Hahaha, but fortunately, this is a school. If you rush over to the infirmary right now, perhaps a gentle school physician might bandage and treat you?"
"But it doesn't matter either if you don't flee. Although I have no idea how you managed to escape in the first place, you are an escaped prisoner from one of the branch labs. If I could capture you again right here, it would help highlight my dignity as the Lab Chief—"
Just at this moment, the clang of blades clashing rang out. The skull mascot still remained active and was engaged in an intense battle with Un Izoey. Slashing so swiftly that one's eyes would have difficulty following, the weirdo spoke with displeasure:
"Tsk—I said so earlier, if you are rendered immobile, I'm going to continue without you, right? I'm sorry but the current situation is unsuited to providing you with cover or treatment. Thus ends our cooperative relationship. It ended much faster than I expected, how disappointing... Oh?"
"My warning to you: avoid meaningless chatter."
Devoid of talking for a few seconds, only the sound of blades clashing remained. Then Haruaki heard Oratorie clicking her tongue. Looking at the wound on her thigh impatiently, she stroked the water droplets in front of her chest as she spoke:
"You really chose a great moment to stab me in the back, little miss helper... But this bleeding really doesn't bode well and it's almost time for me to refill my water—Damn it, there's no other choice!"
Staring at Haruaki's group as she retreated, she opened the locked door of the calligraphy classroom.
"Haruaki Yachi... You narrowly escaped death for now, but I have not given up."
"W-Why do you want to kill me? Give me a reason!"
"I... must find out. There are things I must find out, therefore—Oh no, that was close, really close. I have no obligation to tell you. Anyway, I'll be right back. I forbid you to run away. Stay here and wait for me!"
Then Oratorie opened the door and left. As much as Haruaki hoped she would not draw too much attention, it was useless to care now.
"Anyway, how could I possibly not run away... Class Rep, can you move?"
"Yeah, just barely. My arm has recovered enough to move."
"Then let's leave from the window. After all, the mysterious hero character is still desperately swinging a dangerous weapon. Using your «Tragic», you should be able to lower us to the ground, right?"
Kirika stood up and glared viciously at Pakuaki who was leaning leisurely against the window frame. Shaking the belt lightly, she said:
"Before we escape, I could strangle your neck and interrogate you for the bomb's location."
"My advice? You'd better not. Because in that very instant, Un Izoey will come running over here. Do you think you can handle her alone?"
Kirika clicked her tongue lightly. In the end, the belt did not entangle Pakuaki's neck but a thick water pipe in a corner of the classroom.
"Yachi, hold onto me tight, we're going down."
This could not be helped. After all, Kirika's injuries were not completely healed so their only choice was to escape and regroup. Wondering which part of her body to hang onto, Haruaki hesitated for a few seconds before finally gripping Kirika's left arm. Just as the two stepped over the window frame, Kirika turned her solemn gaze back towards the classroom interior.
"—Why help me?"
"Hahaha, now that really is a stupid question. Does a brother even need a reason to help his cute little sister?"
This conversation ended with Kirika's clicking of her tongue again. After cracking the whip in a threatening manner to produce a large noise, she slowly extended it to lower them outside the window.
Although she was feigning calmness, Haruaki wondered how much it hurt for her arm to support both their weight before she had fully recovered. In order to slightly ease her burden, Haruaki let go and jumped down when they were a couple meters from the ground. Soon after, Kirika also landed.
This was behind the school building, free from bystanders' gazes. Haruaki then rushed frantically to Kirika's side.
"If you're worried about the state of my body, I'm fine. It should heal up completely soon... But my clothes are torn to some degree. Putting that aside for now, what should we do about that Oratorie woman? Although I find it absolutely ridiculous, her goal seems to be killing you. Do you know why someone would want to hunt you down and kill you?"
"Oh... Some kind of reason? Could it be related to Abyss...? But because too many things happened during the sports festival, I was completely helpless. I'm really not too clear."
Haruaki conversed with Kirika as he decided to leave this place first. After all, the enemy could descend from overhead again... However, Haruaki got the impression that compared to himself, the skull mascot's target seemed more likely to be Pakuaki.
As before, Haruaki walked in front while Kirika pushed him from behind.
"Let's put aside the reason why I'm being hunted, what should we do now? Since it's the Family, who knows what horrible things they'll do? It would be tragic if she suddenly attacked in places with other students. Even if that woman is wounded, it's still impossible to feel relief."
"Yeah, but we still have a more troubling problem compared to that woman right now. Putting it more strongly, it's still okay to push back Oratorie's matter till tomorrow to handle, but our most urgent problem has a time limit."
"But it'd be bad if someone interrupted us in the process... Gwah—This is just going in circles! Damn it, what on earth should we do...?"
A whole host of troubling problems but there was no time to waste in contemplation like this. While they walked in this manner, the time limit gradually loomed closer. Although it was uncertain whether Oratorie would attack in a crowd, once the time limit arrived, the bomb was surely going to explode. Fighting Oratorie now would just be a waste of time. If she could not be subdued in one go, if she were allowed to escape again, there would be no end to their troubles. But if they left her to roam free, who kenw what could happen—What a dilemma.
"Ugh... Let me call Konoha first. There's so much I need to tell her."
Haruaki took out his cellphone, but just as he was about to dial the number, his fingers stopped.
What he recalled was that Fear did not have a cellphone, so the message could not be passed along until she reported to the superintendent's office. Another issue—was what was currently surfacing in his mind.
Then Haruaki immediately moved his fingers and called Konoha. After a few dozen rings, the call finally picked up. Haruaki quickly explained everything that had happened to this point. Then he sighed deeply after that.
"So... How should I say this? I need a favor from you."
Severely injured by the dark-skinned girl who had appeared inexplicably, Oratorie escaped from the classroom that smelled heavily of ink and moved while dodging people's gazes. It would be best to get her wound treated before she was discovered and a commotion arose. However, that might prove to be a challenge.
Moving along the back of the school building, she peered into every window she came across. After repeating this for a while, she finally found the location she wanted on the ground floor of the school building facing the school yard.
It was the infirmary. Although she did not come here to follow that man's orders, it was the only place where she could stop the bleeding. As far as she was concerned, she was totally not going to abandon her goal and leave the school.
There was no one in the room—even the school physician was nowhere to be found. This delicate timing was quite a mixed blessing. Either way, whether "threatening someone to treat her wounds then kill off the witness depending on circumstances" or "finding medication to stop the bleeding herself," both were considerable chores.
In any case, Oratorie opened the window that was not locked and entered.
"How troubling. What should I do? Disinfect, inject a hemostatic agent and bandage it? After all, as long as it allows me to move freely, anything is fine... Would taping it be better? Where are the bandages? Ah~ jeez, this is such a chore..."
Just as she was muttering while she ransacked the medication shelves...
"Excuse me—Doctor, he's not feeling very well, can he come in to rest—"
Two students had entered. One was a short boy who was holding a schoolbag while the other was a girl who was helping him walk by offering her shoulder to lean on for support. Judging from their closeness, it was only natural to conclude that they were probably a steady couple.
(Ah, the springtime of youth... Well, what should I do? Should I kill them?)
As soon as they started screaming and yelling, it would be too late. Yes, I should go for a preemptive strike. Making this simple decision, Oratorie gripped the wooden oar and turned to face the two students. Just as she took a step forward—
"G-Good heavens! You're heavily injured! Please don't move!"
"Sorry, Ren-kun, why don't you sit on the bed and rest first. I must tend to this person's wound first."
The boy obeyed and sat on the bed while the girl knelt down before Oratorie to examine the wound on her thigh. Very soon, she frowned and said:
"What a severe wound...! Why are you still standing? Hurry up and sit down! I'll treat you immediately but my skills might not be great! Ahhh~ Seriously, so many things are happening today...!"
The girl began to search the shelves desperately. While it would be perfectly easy to take this opportunity to swing the «Tragedy Method» against the back of her head, Oratorie was slightly at a loss as to how to react to the girl's behavior. Also—
"Umm... I think you'd better listen to Hina-chan and sit down. Here, take this chair and have a seat."
The boy brought a pipe chair and placed it next to Oratorie. Looking like he was trembling slightly, he bowed politely and returned to sit on the bed.
(Hmm—They didn't go yelling and screaming and she's even helping to treat my wound. Perhaps there's no need to kill them at this moment?)
Spacing out as she pondered such matters, Oratorie was finally won over by the desire to avoid anything troublesome.
"Then thank you. I hope you could work a bit faster, because I've bled quite a lot earlier already."
"Wow, you speak Japanese really well... No wait, now is not the time for this! I-I got it! Uh... Here's the antiseptic, uh... Bandage, where are the bandages? Oh my—Where has Houjyou-sensei run off to at a time like this... Hurry and come back!"
Now sitting on the chair, Oratorie examined the two students once more. The girl that was called Hina-chan had thick glasses with strong lenses, hair that was sloppily tied behind her head and a skirt that was not very short, combining to give a rather unfashionable impression. However, her personality did not seem especially introverted and her natural assets were actually not bad, what a shame. Keeping these unimportant comments to herself, Oratorie wondered "If she switched to wearing contacts, she'd probably be the type who goes from an ugly duckling to a swan."
As for that boy called Ren-kun, he stood in stark contrast to the girl. His adorable appearance and timid, cowardly impression combined to instill an urge in others to protect him. The type of handsome boy who was like a small pet.
"Got it, this is it! Well then, let's wipe this and disinfect it..."
"Hey little girl, are you one of those health committee students who are in charge of health-related matters? I've heard that there exists this kind of system in Japanese schools."
"Ah, no, I'm not, actually."
"Then why are you willing to treat my wound?"
The girl was wiping Oratorie's wound and applying a piece of gauze with liquid antiseptic on it.
"Umm, I'm the type who can't resist helping whenever I see anyone in need. If I leave them alone, it weighs on my conscience... Although my parents and friends always say I'll get taken advantage of like this, I do it because I want to help people, so it's fine. Last time when I helped an old granny with her luggage, my friend even laughed at me for being a 'rare and modern Good Samaritan.' But it's true, that's my style."
"Ah, that's right, that's right. That type of person does exist. Even I know someone who's like that. However, this is stinging quite severely, could you be slightly~ more gentle?"
The girl bowed her head honestly and went "S-Sorry!" What a nice and gentle girl. But it looks like you're currently found the wrong target for your gentleness.
Just as the girl had mentioned earlier, her skills in treatment were not particularly experienced. But compared to doing it herself, Oratorie found this much easier indeed.
"Okay, wrap the bandage tighter, it must be tight."
"Y-Yes. Uh—Is this okay?"
Thus, the treatment was basically done. Although some blood still seeped out through the bandage, it was many times better than earlier already.
So, now that the treatment is done, how should these two be dealt with?
(Although they didn't really bother me... Whatever, I guess I won't kill them. After all, she did do me a favor by treating my wound. Ufufu, I suppose this would be called a merciful heart.)
Secretly gloating to herself—
"Thank you, uh—Hina-chan, was it? Oh~ Even your name is quite similar to Hinai... Hmm, then I guess I'll be off."
"Ah, I'm called Sorashiro Hinata. He's Doumoto Ren-kun—Eh? W-Where are you going?"
"I have matters to attend to. A very important matter."
"N-No you can't! I don't know what you need to do, but you've suffered a severe injury! Ren-kun, you think so too, right?"
"Y-Yeah. At the very least, you should rest a bit first..."
That's really annoying—I guess I'll kill them after all.
Just as Oratorie was about to recklessly withdraw her earlier decision, she suddenly thought of asking about that important matter.
With so much time ticking by already, the boy was probably no longer in that classroom. That meant she would need to search for him within the school again... Like finding a needle in a haystack.
(He probably escaped already, right? Then I'll need to find him in the crowd again, what a pain. Besides, running around and tiring out this leg would be a bad idea. Hmm, before I recover sufficient energy to battle, it's best that I avoid wasting stamina on walking as much as possible.)
Then what should she do now? After pondering a bit, she immediately came up with an idea.
Oratorie turned around and returned to the chair. The girl exhaled in relief and said "You finally agree to rest, huh."
"So... Let's be honest here, do you... find me strange?"
"Eh? Well~ Just a bit... Because you're wearing a swimsuit and holding a bloodstained... oar. But then again~ Today is the cultural festival after all, you're probably someone involved in some kind of event? Did you end up getting injured accidentally?"
"Hmm~ Good girl. Ufufufu, or perhaps you are a Japanese whose mind has been brainwashed by peace? But whatever... Ah, I just remembered something very important. Could you get me some water?"
Seeing the water faucet in a corner of the room, Oratorie requested. The girl answered "Understood!" and rushed over there. Thinking "the school physician probably drinks coffee, right?", she grabbed a nearby mug and returned with it filled with water.
Smiling and saying "thank you," Oratorie took the mug and—
Poured the water over her head.
"Eh, what are you doing?"
"Phew... Nothing much. It's just that if I don't do this, I'll die."
Oratorie continued explaining to the shocked girl:
"Looks like you don't understand. Me... I'm different from you lot. Including my way of life and motivation behind my actions. I'm not gentle like you, nor a busybody like you, neither am I some kind of goody good girl. In other words—"
Oratorie cast her glance to the other side. Sitting on the bed, the boy was inclining his head in puzzlement like the girl.
"In other words—Ufufu, I am a villain. For example, I am so bad that I will do this."
The woman swung the wooden oar with one hand. Just as the oar was about to bury itself into soft flesh, she suddenly stopped.
Then Oratorie held the cursed tool and pressed it against the cute little pet who was still blinking in puzzlement—against the boy's throat, and said to the girl:
"I hope you will help me find out where a student called Haruaki Yachi can be found~ If you dare say 'no,' I'll obviously do something to this cute little boy—You probably don't want to see that happen, do you? Let me ask you, whenever you see someone in need, you can't resist helping, isn't that right?"
"Ah! Are you okay? Is it really true that you were attacked? How dare she try to kill Haruaki-kun, where is that good-for-nothing who deserves eternal damnation? I will personally go finish her off right now and make her emit unimaginable screams!"
This was the first preliminary report. As soon as Haruaki and Kirika entered the superintendent's office, Konoha approached with an intimidating aura. Although Haruaki knew she was very worried about him, it really was a terrifying sight. Konoha was exuding airs as though anyone who touched her would be chopped apart.
Perhaps because she heard from Konoha already, Fear was sitting anxiously on the sofa, turning her Rubik's cube while gazing at Haruaki with terrifying eyes:
"Seriously, I never expected all this trouble to pop up all at once. Why does the enemy want to hunt down the shameless brat... I really don't get it. Didn't someone say she's from the Family? Since I'm the one who killed Abyss, wouldn't it be fine if they targeted me instead, right?"
"No, that's not good either..."
"Anyway, Kirika, are you okay? It's you who saved Haruaki, right?"
The hand touching Haruaki's back only moved up and down slightly. Kirika probably shrugged?
"I didn't really do anything major. Perhaps on a whim, that man and his subordinate protected us carefully."
"I don't really understand what's going on, but it's quite worrisome that someone is out for your life... Is there anything I could do to help?"
Zenon frowned and asked. She was currently marking up and adding notes to the map spread out on the desk, the same as what she was doing when Haruaki entered the room.
Listening with her back towards Zenon, Konoha brought her face close to Haruaki.
"I am very thankful for your consideration, Zenon-san, but I will take care of that despicable enemy, so don't you worry! Okay, let's go! We're setting off now! Instantly!"
"I'm not letting you hog the spotlight on your own. If someone wants to kill the shameless brat, I can't stand back either. Also for hurting Kirika, proper payback is required for sure...!"
"N-No, wait up! Wait~ up!"
Haruaki frantically reached out his hands to stop Konoha who seemed to have entered her combat mode already and Fear who had stood up from the sofa. Then he sighed deeply:
"...What we need to handle right now is not this matter, okay?"
Oratorie's incident needed to be resolved, yes, but there were more pressing things to be done. These two girls should be very clear on that.
Konoha's eyes flashed unhappily.
"We have a time limit. If she manages to run away again when we try to subdue her, it'll be a total waste of time. It should be fine to leave her alone for now... We must hurry and finish what we need to do first. One final push and the search for all the dolls should be complete, right?"
Haruaki looked towards the map. Marked red—were the many places they had already searched. Indeed, all it required was one final push to finish things. Getting off track would be unacceptable at this time.
Konoha looked quite reluctant but Fear reacted differently.
"Although I can't accept it completely—You're very right. No matter what, we absolutely cannot let the bomb explode. I must find it at all costs...! No matter what!"
Fear currently displayed an expression of determination. Her eyes had never been more determined than right now. Even Haruaki could not help but feel frightened at the sight.
"If focusing on the bomb is what's right, I'll return to the search. To be honest, there's no time to be doing this kind of thing here right now."
Fear returned the Rubik's cube back to her pocket. Slightly bowing her head, but maintaining her eyes of firm resolve, she walked out of the room.
"I said I'm fine already. Fear is right, let's go."
This was all they could do at this point. Haruaki smiled at Konoha, asking her "not to worry," then turned and left the superintendent's office with Kirika.
After parting ways with Konoha who sighed many times, Haruaki began to make his way through the school building's corridor. At this moment, Haruaki noticed a familiar face among the students brushing past his shoulder.
It was Shiraho. She also noticed Haruaki and Kirika in turn and frowned. For a face to face reaction, it was surprisingly mild... Speaking of which, Haruaki noticed that whenever they met, Shiraho never seemed happy. Not even once.
But there was a significant difference from her usual reaction. Most easy to tell of all—
She seemed more unhappy than usual.
Just as they passed by each other, Shiraho silently kicked Haruaki on the shin. It was a sneak attack that one would commonly find occurring under a table.
Ignoring Haruaki who suddenly crouched down in pain, Shiraho went "Hmph" and quickly left the scene.
Trembling all over as he endured the pain, Haruaki heard voices from the boys nearby talking. They were probably her classmates.
"Oh my god, why would Sakuramairi-san enter that mode? Not only is her intimidating aura more acute than usual, but there's also a subtle change in her hairstyle... Looks like the cultural festival really is a special day, we got to see something really awesome!"
"Getting kicked just for brushing past her! Damn it, who is that bastard? I'm so jealous of him!"
"I super want to be kicked by her too! Even if I end up with broken bones, I have no complaints!"
During the sports festival, Haruaki had also wondered if the boys in her class had been brainwashed. Thinking to himself, he rubbed his shin as he stood up. Looking back, he could no longer see any signs of Shiraho, but he saw Kirika shrugging her shoulders:
"Yachi, just for the sake of future reference, I'd better ask as a matter of principle. Perhaps, are you actually happy about getting kicked by her?"
"H-How could that possibly be true? Please give me a break, Class Rep."
"Just kidding. I simply find it very strange for a boy to remain silent when suddenly kicked by a girl."
Well, I guess I was too occupied to complain, or rather, the mood back then did not allow me to complain?
As the pair continued walking again, Haruaki helplessly slumped his shoulders and muttered emphatically:
"...Just think of it as me, counting my blessings for the fact that no bones were broken."
Not long after casually handling the mascot hero and leaving the calligraphy classroom—
Two people were back on the roof where the game had started, leaning against the fencing, shoulder to shoulder. Un Izoey gazed blankly at the sky while Pakuaki slowly chewed on his CalorieMate biscuits.
"...Un Izoey, won't you catch a cold like that?"
"My answer: the question seems unclear in meaning."
"You're wearing a lab coat that exposes your navel. That said, I have no intention of commenting on your personal tastes in fashion."
"The navel is the pathway that connects to the energies of the land, hence my answer: there is no need to hide it."
"I see. The beliefs of your tribe still intrigue me to this day."
Saying that, Pakuaki took up his pen and swiftly wrote in the notebook hanging in front of his chest. Then he glanced at his watch and said:
"It's this late already? Then Fear-in-Cube should be getting anxious now... It's time for us to go."
"The 50th one?"
"Doesn't matter anymore. Just leave it around here, how's that?"
Thinking "I have no idea where to place it even if you want it in this area," Un Izoey took out the doll from her lab coat's pocket and swiveled her head to check all directions. Her gaze suddenly settled on the area behind the school building, down below.
"—My discovery: reporting a dog."
"You like dogs? Well, for your people, those are hunting companions, right? Hoho, then how about giving it a present to express your gratitude? After all, it's just a useless toy, it'd be nice to let the dog take it away and bury it along with other treasures."
Hence, Un Izoey tossed the doll. Flying over the fencing, it landed right in front of the stray dog—or perhaps one that lost sight of its owner—that was wandering lost behind the school. With a quizzical look, the dog first sniffed the doll to make sure there were no problems before sinking its teeth into the doll and going merrily on its way.
"Lab Chief was successfully eaten by the dog."
"C-Could you not say something like that with such a straight face? I think you need to add the word 'doll' to your statement... Besides, the dog hasn't swallowed it."
"That would be a highly challenging challenge."
Smiling wryly towards the dark-skinned girl whose was cocking her head, Pakuaki spread his arms lightly.
"So, Un Izoey, prepare for the end. Next begins the meaning of our existence, the beginning of our desire. The beginning of a singleminded desire that is unshakable like the moving parts of a machine. Do you know what that is?"
The gray hair swayed lightly as innocent eyes stared at Pakuaki. Indeed, she was very innocent. Perhaps just as innocent as him.
"—Desire to know."
"Indeed, the desire to know, it's the desire to know! Truly and very correct! Although your Japanese isn't very fluent, you are completely correct, resembling a member of the Lab Chief's Nation more than anyone else. Precisely because the past world you lived in was so narrow, you understand that the world is full of unknowns. Hence, you are more honest and greedy than anyone else, especially towards the pinnacle of incomprehensible unknowns—«Curses»."
Originating from a completely different starting point yet walking along the same path, the comrade nodded to express agreement.
"Well then, let's use a researcher's honesty and a warring nation's greed to destroy one of the unknowns in this world. Conquering a trivial and meaningless unknown to make it a trivial and meaningless known fact. That wil definitely be interesting. So, let us set off with enthusiasm—to welcome Fear-in-Cube."
The Lab Chief needs to look like a Lab Chief, so let me exhibit my dignity on occasion—thinking that, Pakuaki solemnly proclaimed their departure. However, things did not go as well as planned.
In the next second, Pakuaki was sent flying by a kick from Un Izoey.
Because the mysterious mascot had appeared on the roof and launched a sneak attack against them once again.
—Memories of one millimeter, she recalled them.
Entire families committing suicide due to poverty was a common thing. Having survived that kind of tragedy, Kururi was unwanted among her relatives. Hence, she was entrusted to be raised by the similarly unwanted uncle.
The uncle was a freak and completely unworthy of being called human. Kururi was often beaten by him.
After roughly one year of adoption, he suddenly dragged her into an empty room in the house one day. The uncle was carrying a chair, a ruler, packing tape and a kitchen cleaver.
She thought "I'm gonna be killed" but was powerless to resist.
The uncle asked her to stand at the edge of the room. Once she reached the spot, the uncle continued speaking.
Although she had long forgotten how to smile, she still forced her face to distort and squeezed out a smile as he ordered. Instead of approaching her, the uncle moved slightly away and for some reason, started marking lines on the floorboards with the packing tape. Then he turned the chair around and sat on it. Next, he simply stared at her. His chin resting against the back of the chair, he swung the cleaver, his empty gaze staring at the twisted face of the elementary schooler niece who was displaying something that could not be called a smile. Then after a few dozen minutes, he said "That's enough" and left the room.
The same thing happened the next day, except with one difference. The uncle used his ruler to measure out one millimeter accurately, then stuck a piece of tape on the floor and moved the chair by merely a millimeter. Then sitting there, he held the cleaver as he stared at his niece's undeveloped body and artificial smile.
Same for the next day. Same for the next day after that. Same for the day after the day after the day after the day after the day after that.
One millimeter. One millimeter. One millimeter by one millimeter by one millimeter by one millimeter by one millimeter, the uncle slowly moved closer.
The torture of one millimeter. When the remaining distance shrunk to zero, what was going to happen? Kururi had no idea. Completely no idea. Will she be killed? Will she be violated? Or will there be some other terrifying behavior?
Under such unknown conditions, under such unknown conditions, under such unknown conditions, the millimeters continued to add up, one at a time. Kururi simply smiled and stared at that one millimeter, the same way her uncle was staring at her face. That one millimeter was everything to her. Her world, her life, her fear, her uncle, her future, her past, her mother who had clicked her tongue in disdain at Kururi who survived alone. There was probably no one else in the world who would stare at one millimeter like her, right? There was probably no one who would squander her entire existence in this continual staring, right?
Indeed. Hence, hence she—
More than anyone else in this world, she understood this distance of a millimeter.
The foot turned and moved with the knife as though they were one. A high-speed counterattack performed while evading Kururi's strike. Using the "distance" she understood, Kururi saw her opponent's movements clearly while feeling the mascot costume's surface getting shaved off, at the same time steadying her own steps—However, the dark-skinned girl's movements were too extraordinary. Her head was not located where one would expect a head, her torso was not located where one would expect a torso, while the knife held in her foot flew from outrageous directions. Although Kururi barely managed to evade, landing a hit with her own knife was proving to be an impossible challenge.
Whenever a slight distance opened up between the two combatants, the girl's left leg would suddenly extend.
The leg that was not wielding the knife. But instead, Kururi could see something resembling a string that stretched from between the big toe and the second toe.
No, it was—a bowstring.
Kururi only noticed it because the hand-cuffed girl flipped her own skirt up and took out countless short darts from the holder hidden beneath.
Placing a dart on the bowstring that seemed to be made of rubber, she pulled using her cuffed hands. Kururi stared wide-eyed at the bowstring's exceptional elasticity as well as the abnormal leg strength that could withstand that force.
She did not seem to care whether she would lose balance but simply moved herself virtually by feeling alone. The dart missed Kururi's face by four millimeters but the shooter did not show any disappointment in her failure.
"Lab Chief, please give orders."
"Yeah, I guess we really are this hero's targets... Whatever, let's just escape for now. After all, a higher priority unknown is waiting."
The man suddenly disappeared without trace. Then the girl leapt over the roof fencing as though bouncing off the floor.
Of course, Kururi had no choice but to give chase. If she lost them now, she would have to start all over again.
Then—She must find out no matter what.
As she began chasing after those two, she thought "But..." to herself.
She originally thought a sneak attack might work but it did not. That girl was completely flawless and without openings. In that case, it was necessary to rely on advantage in numbers—But cooperating with Oratorie ended up in failure. Had they attacked in full force in concert, the result might have been different. However, that woman only cared about her own goal, thus leading to her demise. Not only did she get herself injured, but she also rendered Kururi's efforts pointless. Trying to help that woman by suppressing the displeasure of seeing her past self became totally unnecessary. Kururi wanted to vomit simply at the memory of the way the woman looked as she pummeled the girl with the belt.
Oratorie could not be used anymore but Kururi needed manpower. Then what should she do—
In response to this problem, she immediately found a simple answer.
Just make use of those people.
The problem was that they probably would not help even if she asked them honestly—
(It doesn't matter even if they don't agree to help. I just need to use them one-sidedly through a baiting approach... But how should I create that chance?)
There was no time to worry over such matters. As long as she stayed close and observed their situation, some sort of method would just present itself. In the end, it was necessary to stop pursuing those people from the Lab Chief's Nation.
Kururi went over the fence and grabbed the drainpipe. Then using it as support, she slid towards the ground in one go.
Oratorie watched the infirmary's locked door but the girl still had not returned. The door shook many times, probably due to emergency patients or people with injuries seeking help, but she ignored them all as irrelevant.
(Seriously... Could she hurry up a bit? I'm really going to do it.)
Impatiently, Oratorie chewed Pocky. Apart from that, there were candies and beef jerky on the desk. These were originally snacks that were hidden in the drawers. Apparently, this school physician was not a very serious person. There was also a cellphone that probably belonged to this school physician, vibrating noisily many times. However, Oratorie had no choice but to ignore it.
Suddenly, Oratorie discovered that the hostage on the bed—the boy—was sneaking glances at her. He was probably as weak as he looked. Once he became a hostage, all he did was cower and shrink like that.
His gaze was stimulating Oratorie's sadistic heart. Tired of waiting around, she decided to talk to him for a bit.
"Hmm, so this must be so-called killing time."
"Like I said, killing time. By the way, 'this must be so-called' is just a catchphrase of mine, don't mind it. According to my friend who taught me Japanese, it's similar to a certain famous baseball player, right?"
"Oh... U-Umm, I think his catchphrase is actually 'one of those so-called' or something like that..."
"Isn't that close enough? By the way, you've been staring at this all along, right? You're bothered by this wooden oar?"
The boy went "sorry" and looked down, shrinking his shoulders even smaller. Oratorie stood up from the chair and sat down on the bed opposite to him. As she crossed her legs, perhaps embarrassed about the sight of the swimsuit exposed under the parka, the boy's neck shrank back even further. How adorable.
"Let me tell you then. This is a cursed oar. I had no idea about its origins when I first obtained it. It's only later when a friend helped me to investigate a similar legend somewhere and told me about it. It all started with a certain awful man, lowest of the low, who rowed his lover out to sea on a boat. Then he used this oar to beat his lover to death."
Then she added "for some unknown reason, however." In any case, it was probably a dispute over love or money, one or the other. Many problems have always existed in relationships between couples.
"But thrown into the sea along with this oar, the murder weapon, the woman was actually not dead. On the verge of death, she returned to the shore. Perhaps due to her unsteady footsteps, according to an eyewitness, she supported herself with this oar as she walked along the beach as though she were rowing a boat on dry land. Then the lover finally succeeded in taking her revenge on the man by using this very oar. Feeling despair towards life, the lover returned to the sea, walking as though she were rowing on dry land. That's supposedly the entire story. Say, Ren-kun, what do you think of this story?"
"...U-Umm... So tragic... This story..."
"Indeed indeed, that's what I thought too. Hence, the first time I heard this story, this was what I said: 'What a seriously irredeemable tragedy.' I don't know if it was the lover's personal resentment that held unprecedented horror? Or perhaps this oar was further used in other incidents? In any case, this oar became cursed. It can control the force digging into the ground—something like the penetration rate—In any case, in order to use that kind of power, the owner must keep their body soaking wet at all times to satisfy the curse, or else death results. So that's that."
Moving the oar, Oratorie placed the mug from the table onto it. Just like before, she brought it to her hand, took it and poured the water over her head. Although the wet hair clinging to her face was annoying, she found the boy's frightened expression even more amusing. Hence, she deliberately refrained from sweeping her hair back and drew near to his face.
"Currently, I'm fine so long as I refill the water at a rate of about once an hour. But the time interval gradually grows shorter and shorter. Also, seawater is much more effective than tap water. As soon as I recall that, I wonder if some day it might develop to the point where I'm forced to use only seawater. Hence, in the end, I might end up with a body that will die unless it is constantly bathed in seawater—In other words, I'll become like that lover in the story, obliged to return to the sea."
Oratorie spoke as she brought her body closer. The water droplets sliding off her hair dripped noisily on the smooth and tender skin on the boy's face that was like a girl's.
"So you understand now? I didn't make myself this way because of a fetish or insane tastes."
"A-Ah mm-hm... Y-Yeah, I get it..."
The expression he made as he looked from down to up, clenching his fists and curling his body in fear—Marvelous, simply too marvelous. Oratorie felt as though something she had long forgotten was slowly filling up her heart.
Just as she stuck out her tongue and licked her lips...
"Man—I'm so full. That's noodle bowls for you, they keep serving a new bowl to you without needing you to say anything, that's wonderful yet... I really ate until I could hardly walk. Who actually invented this walking motion of only advancing by one meter at a time? I'm gonna sue him... But that's way too tiring too."
Suddenly, a voice was heard outside the infirmary door. It did not belong to the girl that Oratorie had sent out to search for her target. Next, the door began to creak and rattle.
"A nap is required when one feels lazy, yes, a nap—How odd, why can't I open this—? Did I even lock it in the first place?"
The voice sounded puzzled. Then came the sound of a key being inserted into the keyhole. Has the school physician returned? Oratorie decided that she would need to deal with the new arrival in a different manner compared to the boy and the girl. No matter how irresponsible a school physician, once she discovered a suspicious person holding a student as a hostage, she would surely report back to the school, right? Hence, there was no other choice.
I'll just have to kill her.
"Sheesh, couldn't they just install a fingerprint or retinal scanning system for me~? That'll make my life much easier... Eh, who are you—Woah!"
(She dodged it?)
Swinging the wooden oar, Oratorie frowned. She had neither held back nor was she careless. In principle, it was supposed to be an unavoidable ambush. Hence, Oratorie could not believe that the woman's head remained unharmed. On further examination, the woman had simply fallen backwards on her bottom in the corridor. Perhaps she slipped and fell from fright and coincidentally saved her own life. What a lucky woman.
However, the second strike was going to render that luck meaningless—Just as Oratorie gripped the oar hard, the woman smiled and stood up lazily:
"Haha, I get it, you're doing that, right? Hiding is pointless. You're planning on doing something nice with that boy in the back, right...? I am a very understanding and accommodating school physician. Normal occasions aside, on a special day like today, I'll give you two special permission just this once. If you're willing to clean up properly afterwards, I'll generously provide the infirmary for you healthy youngsters to engage in healthy activities. I won't tell anyone, please take your time and enjoy~"
Hearing such unexpected words, Oratorie halted her hand that was holding the oar up high. At the moment, the school physician patted her on the shoulder, smiled profoundly, turned around and prepared to leave.
"So, are you a foreign student? Soaking wet swimsuit play... That's worth remembering for future reference~"
Muttering to herself, walking at a lazy pace as though she were dragging her lab coat, she left for somewhere. Just as Oratorie wondered if she should give chase, another person arrived from the opposite direction—
"Hmm? Hina-chan, have you found him?"
"No... Not yet, I'm sorry. Here's the progress report, I think more time is needed."
Speaking of which, Oratorie had probably ordered her to return and make a progress report even if her search had not bore fruit. Humans were truly forgetful creatures. Looks like I need to threaten this girl a bit to make sure she doesn't abandon this boy and escape, to make sure she doesn't forget that the boy's fate is firmly grasped in my hands.
"Umm, about Ren-kun..."
"I haven't done anything to him, but if you don't search carefully, I can't guarantee what might happen next."
"I-I'll go search, I'll search immediately! So please, I'm begging you, please don't do anything to Ren-kun!"
"In that case, please hurry and search... No, hold on. What is the school physician like as a person?"
Just as the girl prepared to run, she explained with puzzlement on her face: "a person as sloppy as an amoeba."
"...Oh, really? So it really was her. Then that's it... Okay, hurry and search, hurry and search!"
Oratorie returned to the infirmary only after the girl had disappeared out of sight. Then she locked the door again.
"Umm, what's the matter...?"
"Nothing, you just need to stay silent and act like an obedient hostage."
Oratorie sat down on the chair. That school physician was probably no concern—In other words, it was back to waiting.
However, impatience and anxiety would inevitably surface while waiting. I can't just wait here all this time, so let's hope she can locate him as quickly as possible. Hence—that's right, perhaps it might be necessary to encourage Hina-chan to take her search more seriously. In any case, if her search remained fruitless, she would be returning to make a progress report after a while.
"Fine, I'll give her another thirty minutes or so. Ufufufu."
Feeling the boy's doubtful gaze, Oratorie placed a stick of Pocky in her mouth but did not bite. Hence, the chocolate layer on top began to melt from the warmth of her tongue.
It was as though she were deliberately killing time by playing with that sweet flavor.
This was the second progress report during the doll search, or perhaps the last progress report. Most likely there would not be a third progress report.
The time was already 4pm. Due to the gradual departure of visitors, the cultural festival's liveliness was slowly cooling down. But increasing in response were students running around yelling about discounts, trying their best to push unsold merchandise. In that sense, the school still maintained a lively and energetic atmosphere. The cultural festival was still underway. Even when 5pm arrived and people were supposed to start cleaning up, the festival would still continue, because after the cleanup was done, there was still an after party to be held in school. However—that would only happen if no major situation arose at 5pm.
"Why can't we find it!"
Fear roared angrily and hammered the table violently. She was so furious her shoulders were shaking. Filled with murderous intent, her eyes were glaring at the school map on the table. The solemn eyes she displayed during the previous progress report were probably complementary to her anxiety. And now, that anxiety was exploding.
Haruaki placed his hand lightly on her shoulder. In actual fact, everyone was just as anxious. Similarly, everyone felt as though they were being crushed by a nauseating and ominous premonition, however—
"...Acting out in this place won't help at all."
"I know, of course I know that! But—"
Fear turned around forcefully, scattering her silver hair. This time, she reached her hand behind her and smacked the table again.
"How many dolls have we found, Zenon!?"
Disregarding Fear's rudeness in asking a question without making eye contact, the superintendent's secretary answered softly:
"That's right, forty-nine! Don't you find it strange? Why can't the last one be found!? Logically speaking, there's no place left to search. That's what this map indicates!"
She was completely right. Every place on the school map had been marked as searched—In other words, the entire school had already been searched. Even places where the four of them could not enter had been taken care of by Zenon's side.
"Perhaps we should consider whether any of us might have missed it?"
"But that guy said 'They're all placed in conspicuous places you can find just by paying a little attention.' We're already searching so desperately, how could we have missed anything... But indeed, it's impossible to rule out that possibility."
Her hand still placed against Haruaki's back, Kirika answered Konoha's question.
On the other hand, Fear was clenching her fist so hard that cracking noises could be heard.
"That guy said there are fifty, so the final one must be the target doll. We must find it no matter what, absolutely—What are we gonna do if it explodes? What if other students are caught in the blast? This happy place will be filled with screams, filled with that smell of blood like the castle dungeon, with limbs and remains flying around like in that castle dungeon, filled with death like that castle dungeon—"
"Fear, don't just recall those annoying images! Let's go and search, we'll search all over again! I can't allow that kind of result to happen either!"
Just as Haruaki declared forcefully, Fear looked up. However, he saw in her eyes something different from her earlier anger, a flash that seemed as though she were afraid of something.
"Hmm... That's right, we must search. Yes, v-very likely, I missed a place, it must be that. So, we must search, I'm going...!"
"Hey wait up! Even if you search randomly—!"
Konoha reached out but Fear ran past her hand and rushed out of the superintendent's office as though she were fleeing. Konoha sighed and put down her hand.
"I understand how urgent she must feel, but the way she acted really doesn't look right."
"Because that girl sometimes falls into that kind of self-abusive mode..."
Konoha sighed as she spoke. Haruaki could sort of understand the reason.
In the past, Fear had been closer to "death" more than anyone else. Rather than death stemming from war but death was brought about under the most dismal of conditions, through unreasonable causes, merciless and cruel like nightmares, irredeemable.
These past events could not be forgotten. Even if she wanted to forget them, these memories remained.
Hence, as soon as she approached similar matters—She was prompted to remember. To remember the stench of death that she could not dispel from her cursed body.
Haruaki bit his lip and said:
"Staying here won't help. We must take action too."
"Let's pick places where it's more probable to miss things before we act. There's not much time left, hurry."
"That's... right, it's all we can do... Yeah."
Konoha and Kirika examined the map carefully. There was only one hour left. Clearly everything would be resolved by finding that one last doll. That was the only solution the entire team knew.
"Supposing, if we still haven't found it at the last second... I need to find a way to contact that guy. We absolutely can't have innocent students suffering."
"Ueno-san... I really don't want to hear something like that."
"That's right. You said you didn't want to return, right? So don't give up so easily."
Haruaki listened to Kirika behind him and felt the grip of her fingers tightening.
Indeed, that was the only solution the entire team knew.
If anyone knew some other solution, Haruaki really wished they could tell him. To prevent the bomb from exploding, to protect the students from suffering, to allow Kirika to stay at this school, safe and sound—That kind of secret trick.
"My question: you want to know the secret trick?"
This happened soon after Fear restarted her search and arrived in the courtyard.
This voice came from behind as though the speaker had been waiting for her. Fear hastily looked back but could not see anyone. But it was not a hallucination, Fear really did hear someone speak.
"Un Izoey... You're that girl, right? Where are you?"
"Silently ignored that question. You want to know the secret trick?"
The nerves all over Fear's body were tense due to nervousness. She clutched the Rubik's cube in her pocket and answered:
"This so-called secret trick... What is it?"
"My answer: a request to be proposed. If you are willing to agree, then us—will give up forcing researcher Ueno Kirika's repatriation, also the doll's time bomb will stop."
Fear was speechless but she immediately squeezed out a voice and murmured towards the air:
"What kind of joke is this? How could there be something so attractive... What the heck kind of malicious scheme are you planning?"
"So-called truth: simple and elegant. You decide it's true or not."
Her voice was exceptionally calm and composed. Fear gritted her teeth without saying a word.
What on earth was going on? What on earth was going on?
If she agreed to their request, those two will give up on Kirika? Right, then, then—the still undiscovered doll will not explode? The students will not be harmed?
No, but one could not afford to be careless. That whatever request, perhaps... Indeed, for example, if it involved doing something to Haruaki, what should she do? That would be completely unacceptable.
"My added note: no harm will come to your friends or the students. Very small request."
Fear hesitated, she felt very hesitant. The surrounding students watched her with quizzical eyes as they passed by her. Who knew how many minutes she spent standing there staring into space; suddenly, Fear realized how precious those minutes were.
There was no time. Indeed, there was no time. Not even the time to ponder over this decision—
The students in the courtyard entered her view. They had not been blown apart. They arms and legs had not been blasted into bits and scattered all over. Freshly spattered brains were not present. No one was crying while trying to pick up their internal organs. Neither was there anyone giggling while kissing their lover's shredded head—Currently, that time has not arrived yet.
She had hesitated for roughly 3600 seconds, that was all.
That number caused Fear to move her lips.
"The content of the request... I'll listen to it first."
"Yes, judo and kendo training hall please."
Then Fear did not hear any more voices. Exhaling, she began to run towards the judo and kendo training hall located in a corner of the school.
She arrived at a place that was roughly two circuits smaller than the gym. There were no events being held inside and no one could be seen in the surroundings. Naturally, this place had been locked up all day. Logically speaking, Zenon had searched here earlier but afterwards, someone trespassed and broke the lock on the entrance. Without taking her shoes off, Fear entered the training hall directly. The interior of the building was divided into the judo hall and the kendo hall. The two people were on the kendo side. They were, respectively, the dark-skinned girl and—
"Hi, you really came? I was thinking it would be uninteresting to go back to that roof, so I looked for a place where no one frequented. In the end, I could only find this place."
Reflexively, Fear wanted to pounce but suppressed the impulse. Even if she did anything to these two right now, they probably would not reveal the final doll's location obediently.
"What's your request? What kind of deal do you plan on making with me?"
"Haha, you seem quite impatient, that makes things easier. Un Izoey, take that out."
Un Izoey proceeded to take out a certain object from the breast pocket of her lab coat. It was a small cylinder. Without the slightest mechanical hint to it, the cylinder looked rather plain and unfashionable.
Fear shifted slightly into a battle stance. See a tool that appeared in this kind of situation, she reminded herself not to get careless.
"There's not need to be so tensely on guard. This is a kaleidoscope. Do you know?"
"I don't know."
Pakuaki shrugged "Oh really?"
"Basically, it's a type of toy. Naturally, this is no ordinary toy. Inside the Lab Chief's Nation, this counts as a precious item. «Lab Chief's Room No.3»—It was originally called «The World Seen by Amelia Pitrelli»."
"...A cursed tool?"
"Indeed. The only toy possessed by Alicia who was imprisoned and persistently violated by her father from the day she was born until she died. She saw a world through this kaleidoscope and only the world in this kaleidoscope belonged to her. Looking into these everchanging patterns, she hallucinated an infinitely broad world. But after many things happened, this kaleidoscope mutated into showing vast and magnificent scenery that did not belong in this world. It produces pleasure and addiction surpassing that of narcotic drugs."
Fear scoffed and went "Hmph" nasally.
"What pleasure, isn't it just an ugly curse no matter what?"
"Indeed you are correct. Through prolonged viewing, the human user would eventually be sucked into this kaleidoscope and disappear. That is the world of Alicia Pitrelli... In other words, the hallucinatory space created from being devoured by her curse. In order to make use of that curse, I made some modifications to this Wathe."
"You said modifications?"
"Yes. Strictly speaking, this is no longer a toy because you won't see a beautiful pattern no matter how much you peer into it. However, the true nature of the curse... Namely, entry into the world inside—That's what I've modified it into. A very amazing power, right? Perhaps because the patterns are gone, the so-called world has shrunk to a very small size."
Pakuaki lightly tapped the kaleidoscope that Un Izoey had handed over.
"However, rather than modified, I think it would be more apt to describe it as suitably damaged. After all, you won't see any patterns no matter how hard you look, hence the addictive and pleasurable qualities are reduced without removing the curse completely. Apart from that, I've basically increased the safety level... In other words, while researching this Wathe, I was able to use it effectively. As for the name «Lab Chief's Room No.3»—it refers to the fact that it's a room that can be carried around personally."
Modified. Suitably damaged.
Although Fear could understand to some degree, simply the sound of those words made her feel terrified and repulsed.
"C-Could it be... You intend to toy with my body just like you did with that thing!?"
"Of course not. Although I would be interested, yes, my request is very simple. I have a special guest in this «Lab Chief's Room No.3» and there's something I'd like you to do together with this guest... Anyway, you two should meet first. It's probably faster to chat inside—Eh? Un Izoey, what's the matter?"
At this moment, Un Izoey suddenly turned her face to gaze at the kendo hall's window. Narrowing her eyes and staring in that direction for quite a while, she finally turned her face back.
"—Nothing much. My nerves overreacted, maybe."
"I hope it's that. So, Fear-in-Cube-kun, that's what's going on. If you'd like to listen to me, then please enter. I'll enter first and wait for you inside."
Pakuaki proceeded to stare at the kaleidoscope and ended up disappearing instantly. Last time when he disappeared from the roof, he probably used the kaleidoscope as well to seek refuge.
Standing in the same spot, Un Izoey presented the kaleidoscope towards Fear without saying a word. Unlike Kuroe's blank gaze, her eyes were icy-cold and completely emotionless.
Fear hesitated slightly for a moment. If she did not enter, there was no way for things to start. After all, the man had already gone inside, which meant that it was not dangerous to the extent of death on entry. Hence, Fear went "whatever" and stepped forward.
"Hmph, this kind of thing... Since you asked me to enter, I'll enter. So, how do I do it!?"
"Peer then think of going inside."
That was way too simple. Because the kaleidoscope had a hole on one side, Fear peered in from there.
But there was nothing to see except for darkness. Then just as she thought "Let me enter and have a look," in that very instant—
Her view changed.
There was a rectangular room. The ceiling glowed faintly, resulting in quite a clear view. No, that was not a ceiling but actually a mirror. A dark and unclear mirror which showed her own face looking down at herself. Upon further inspection, the floor underfoot and the two walls on the side were also mirrors, except that there was a carpet on the floor and wallpaper on the walls, hence it was not obvious. The seams shone with a mirror's brightness. Only behind her was there no wall, instead, it was occupied by darkness that resembled a black wall. Was that where she had passed through to enter this place?
—However, the problem was not behind but in front of her.
The room's situation was quite chaotic and even contained a large bookcase that would prompt someone to wonder "Even something this big can be brought inside?" Books and documents were sloppily inserted inside it. Apart from that, there were several chairs and a desk just as poorly managed as the bookcase. Considering the master of this venue, there were naturally objects such as a strange mask and tools that resembled some sort of ritual equipment. There were also many pieces of machinery of unknown purpose, large and small. Among them, one exception was a familiar device Fear had seen on television before, a proper video camera set up on a tripod.
—However, the problem was not this room but the person inside.
Pakuaki was here. Smiling, he gestured with an open palm as though he were introducing the person in the corner of the room.
"Here is the special guest, would you like to say hello first?"
The woman was wearing simple clothing similar to a hospital gown, its short hem exposing her legs beneath. Sitting on the ground, her long hair was scattered all over the floor. Like Un Izoey, she was handcuffed, but in this case, the cuffs were fulfiling their intended purpose. The woman started to cry as soon as she saw Fear—
"A-Ahhh... I... was wrong! S-S-Sorry...!"
She was Alice Bivorio Basskreigh.
"Okay, Fear-in-Cube-kun. Rather than a request from me, it would be better to say let's make a deal. Just as I said just now, it's very simple. Both simple and utterly simple, for you it would be effortless and easy. In other words—"
Then Pakuaki continued.
His expression was like an excited child who wanted to find out the answer to a riddle.
"—Could you please torture her?"
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