Chapter 5 - Late Night Festival / She Does Not Wish to Know Right Now / "Enough unknown, unknown enough."
In the beginning, Fear seemed to be oblivious of her situation.
"Haha... Ahhh~ This is the best and the worst. I... Can still take more... Bring it on..."
Haruaki rushed forward. Sitting on the metal chair of thorns, Fear slowly turned her neck, her eyes gazing hazily towards him from beneath her silver hair. With that, Haruaki finally understood what was going on before his eyes. In the next second, the chair suddenly disappeared. The Rubik's cube fell and rolled on the floor, followed by Fear's petite body that fell with a thud.
Haruaki hastily picked her up in his arms, holding his breath as he saw the two colors exposed by her tattered uniform—the white of her skin and the red causing her pain respectively.
"You! How did it turn out... like this...!?"
"Ahhh... Haruaki... It's nothing really. My injuries are much more minor than they look. Not only did I hold back, but I also tensed my nerves to avoid wounding vitals... I'll be able to jump around energetically with a little rest. See, the bleeding is about to stop. Don't worry, I'm fine."
Then Fear raised two trembling fingers to make a victorious sign of "V" in order to indicate she was fine. Haruaki did not know whether she was trying to act tough or if she was telling the truth. In any case, there was no way to tell from sight, so just let it be.
"W-What I mean is how did this happen? That guy must have done something to you!"
"I'm asking you to tell me now! Tell me now!"
"...He wanted me to torture Bivorio—he wanted to see how torture tools were used in their intended function. If I did as told obediently, he will give up on Kirika and stop the bomb from exploding."
Haruaki was greatly shocked. To think Pakuaki would suggest that kind of deal. To think he would suggest such an utterly despicable deal.
"To be honest, I hesitated. But if I didn't do as told, innocent students could become victims once the bomb explodes. Apart from that, there's Kirika's matter. She would likely have to return to that guy's side. So I thought about trying it. Yes, that's right, for an instant, I really considered this: 'Bivorio is an enemy, so I'll just do as he suggests.'"
Held in Haruaki's arms, Fear added these words and turned her neck lightly as though avoiding his gaze.
"But for some reason, your face suddenly surfaced in my mind. This made me feel that even though she is an enemy, if I really did it, you... Umm... Probably would become very sad. Although you're very shameless, you're very big on decency. It's not like I'm not aware of how much you've helped me, uh—Anyway, many times—"
"S-So, basically, I decided to do it this way. I said to that guy, if he wanted to see how torture tools are used, then it shouldn't matter whether the target was Bivorio or not... Hence, umm... It became like this..."
Ahhh, I get it now. Haruaki finally understood how things developed to this state.
Because Fear was acting too foolishly.
"...Didn't you consider what emotions my face might display if you did something like that?"
"I-I don't know."
Fear twisted her body again, turning her back towards Haruaki, trying to hide her face from him, trying not to see his face at the same time. To be honest, even Haruaki himself did not know the answer to his own question. Currently, what kind of face was he making?
"Didn't you consider what actions I might take?"
"M-Muu... What are you going to do...?"
Now Haruaki understood himself, hence he proceeded to do what he wanted to do.
First, he clenched his fist, straightened his elbow and raised his hand high. Then like a hammer, applying appropriate force—
He knocked hard on the silver head.
And again, knock!
Fear made a strange sound like a cat as her body shook.
Haruaki prepared once more—Just as he swung his arm downwards, probably because she had finally reached the end of her patience, Fear turned back to face him and grabbed Haruaki's arm forcefully:
"W-What are you doing, I'll curse you! I never said you could do whatever you want, knocking someone else's head like mad... I've seen this on television before, it's called 'domestic violence'... or... whatever...?"
Fear's voice gradually grew quiet and finally diminished to nothing. Staring wide-eyed, she gazed straight at Haruaki. Ahhh~ Indeed, what sort of expression am I wearing right now?
"You're amazing for choosing not to torture someone else. But this kind of situation—It's not something I can accept, nor do I wish to see. I don't want to see you like this."
Fear emitted something like a soft sigh then slowly released Haruaki's arm she had been gripping tightly. Bowing her head slightly, she shrank her shoulders and said:
"Umm... How should I put this... S-Sorr... Hnyowah—!"
Fear made a strange noise because Kirika suddenly hugged her tight while kneeling on the floor.
"...Sorry. Really, I'm very sorry. Fear-kun...! There's actually no need for you to do this kind of thing by yourself. Indeed, there's really no need for that. It's all my fault. Blame me and that man. Sorry..."
"Oh no, you don't need to apologize, Kirika. I didn't do it just for you, there's also the bomb. Weighing risks and benefits, I had no other choice but this."
"Fear-kun, y-you, how did you—"
"Uguu! If you hug me this tight, I can still feel some places hurting... Anyway, your collar is off now! D-Did you find the key? In that case, what about the bomb?"
While accepting Kirika's embrace, Fear's expression changed to surprise. Haruaki breathed a great sigh of relief. Judging from what he could see, Fear's earlier words were apparently not part of an effort to look tough, she probably had not suffered serious injuries... Logically speaking, the self-repair abilities of her kind should be able to handle it.
"The bomb problem is gone. Or rather, I should say that there was no bomb to begin with all along."
"W-What did you say, Cow Tits!?"
Gazing ahead with vigilance, Konoha spoke while standing. Literally, she was enveloped in a sharp aura that would slice someone open on the slightest touch.
"Most likely, his goal was to make a deal with you. In other words, from the very start, he prepared this game for the purpose of observing your torture tools from close range. By deliberately inciting a sense of crisis, you were forced to believe that a deal was the only solution."
"W-What... If that's true, then everything I did was a total waste... Damn it, I can't forgive that! I absolutely cannot forgive that kind of thing...!"
Fear tried to stand up, but even if Haruaki tried to persuade her to remain still and rest, she probably would not listen. Hence, Haruaki grabbed her arm to help support her body, at least preventing her from falling over.
"Don't say that. You really did what I hoped you wouldn't, but... Saying it was a total waste would be too harsh."
"That's right, Fear-kun. Your actions were mistaken, indeed, but to me, there were more noble than anything else. I won't allow anyone to laugh at what you did for being meaningless. It was a noble and commendable—mistake."
Kirika spoke as she supported Fear's other arm. Her words were quite contradictory but very agreeable at the same time.
"Even so, you should still be angry, right? But now is precisely the opportunity for you to get angry. Let me state for the record, I am completely not angry... Why is that? Is it because my body's condition seems to be miraculously improved today? Even seeing the red liquid flowing from your body, I am still able to endure."
Konoha spoke calmly as usual but was using some round-about manner to hide the killing intent emanating from her body.
Then Haruaki's group glared at the same target—the silent gray-haired girl and the man who was looking around inquisitively.
"Wow~ So this is what happens when «The World Seen by Alicia Pitrelli» is destroyed? Interesting. But this seems to require further investigations. No, I believe this was actually quite dangerous, we could have disappeared into the curse like past users, devoured by an infinite hallucinatory space, or even sliced into halves ourselves... Fufu, to think when one unknown turns into something known, that ends up creating new unknowns. The mysteries in this world are truly too exciting! There is still far to go along the road to conquering unknowns. And no, I'm not just saying this to sound cool."
"You...! Why did you make her do that! Do you really want to see her powers that much!?"
Haruaki accused loudly, causing Pakuaki's wavering gaze to finally turn towards his direction. Smiling, he nodded and responded:
"Indeed. Weren't you listening ot me? I want to know, want to know, desperately want to know! I want to know everything that's unknown! That's why I investigate as much as I can, that's all!"
Haruaki was prompted to recall what Kirika had told him while they were searching for the bomb. About the man who searched for unknowns as well as the genius who could not live without unknowns.
"If it doesn't involve any of these girls, I don't care, you can find as many unknowns as you want...!"
"That's right! I'm not your toy, stop adding to my troubles!"
"No, you are a toy."
Pakuaki instantly gave a simple response. Possibly because he sensed the dangerous aura hanging around Haruaki, he shrugged and said:
"Fear-in-Cube, you are a most intriguing toy. Currently speaking, you are very likely to be the 'best' toy. I'm really touched to be able to observe up close today. Thank you very very much... However, my interest in you has not ended. Just as I have investigated you all this time, I still want to continue investigating in the future. In any case, I must carefully analyze the data from today. Next, I should be able to find out many new things that were unknown in the past. About you."
"Hmph, what do you know about me?"
"Well... If my answer is: part of what you're supposed to know, as well as part of what you don't know... Does that count as a complete answer?"
"What kind of joke is that..."
Fear picked up the Rubik's cube by her feet. Haruaki originally wanted to ask her not to do anything rash but before he could speak, Pakuaki had already restrained her with his words:
"On the other hand, don't you care about what's happening not too far ahead of you? If you don't care, then I'm personally fine with it too."
Pakuaki's eyes motioned towards Bivorio who was sitting collapsed on the floor. She did not have her monocle or her nun's habit, but was still handcuffed. She was staring straight at Fear with her tear-covered face and confused eyes that displayed how lost she felt.
"Ahhh... Why won't you punish me who has sinned heavily...? Why won't you allow me to savor pain? Why won't you abuse me? Why won't you violate me? Why won't you destroy my dignity as a human and treat me like a rotten insect? Please hit like just now. Hit me viciously, like you would beat a filthy sow. Smack! Smack! Hitting..."
"W-What is the matter with her...?"
"No idea. According to that bastard there, it's probably the result of destroying Abyss."
Just as Fear answered Konoha, someone suddenly knelt down before Bivorio. No, not exactly. It was more like a subject kneeling before a king, or a believer accepting a saint's baptism—She was kneeling on both knees with her head bowed. The wet woman in a swimsuit with a parka on top.
At this moment, a slight glimmer of sanity returned to the eyes of Bivorio that were filled with her empty wishes of masochism.
"You are «Landfisher»... Oratorie Rabdulmunagh...?"
"It's been a while, Matriarch."
"You're still... alive... Thank goodness..."
Oratorie's eyes showed slight unease, perhaps in response to the sense of dissonance in Bivorio's words. However—
"I'm very sorry I wasn't able to follow your orders. Umm, I originally planned to kill as many members of the Lab Chief's Nation as possible and tried to go on a rampage using the «Tragedy Method» before detonating the bomb. However... I was careless and ended up imprisoned before I could even detonate the bomb. Then I managed to escape with great difficulty, and desperately searched for you, Matriarch—"
Bivorio wept once again, her body trembling even more intensely, acting like an ordinary girl.
Perhaps finding Bivorio's reaction too unusual, Oratorie straightened her upper body, slightly at a loss.
"W-What is with you, Matriarch? Please tell me what I should do next? I've been searching for you in order to find that out, taking action in order to locate you. If you want me to invade the Lab Chief's Nation with a bomb again, I will do so. Please let me do that. This is exactly what I can do as proof of my love for the transcendent partner who saved my life!"
"S-Sorry sorry sorry—! No, that's sin! That's sin... It is the sin I have forgotten until now! You don't need to do that sort of thing, you can't do that! If you did it, oh no~ The guilt will kill me! Even if I'm not punished, I'll die! That sort of thing, is definitely... unpardonable! Unpardonable to the point of being cursed!"
"W-What are you talking about...? You... are our... The Bivorio Family's Matriarch... No, wait, what about the Patriarch? Weren't you together? How's the Patriarch...?"
"Abyss is already dead."
The one who spoke this line was neither Bivorio nor someone in Haruaki's group.
Instead, it was someone who had suddenly started standing beside Bivorio and swung a knife forcefully to sever her handcuffs—The person in the mascot costume.
"I completely... can't understand... your meaning. Who on earth... are you...?"
Oratorie entered stance lightly as she spoke. However, the mascot did not even look at her. Furthermore, finding the mask that Un Izoey had destroyed to be a hindrance, the person pulled it off.
Haruaki remembered her. The unmasked person was very familiar. The knife-wielding, exceptionally agile, skilled in seeing through attacks, even managing to astound Konoha, that girl—
She was Nikaidou Kururi. Like Bivorio, she was a member of the Family who had disappeared without trace after the sports festival incident.
—Was she still a member of the Family? Haruaki had heard from Fear about how Abyss' destruction came about. Kururi had betrayed the family and buried her knife deep into Abyss' body.
"Should I say hello again? Hmph, that would sound so incompetent."
Her expression did not relax at all. She even muttered resentfully. Then casting a glance towards Oratorie, Kururi said:
"I was once a newly recruited member of the Family. Let me re-introduce myself—Nice to meet you, my senior."
"...I remember earlier, Hinai mentioned something about recruiting a master knife user in this country. But I don't really get it, if you're neither a helper nor a true member of the Family, why did you dress up in such a strange manner? Also, why did you suddenly start foiling my plans?"
"Like you, I've been searching for this person."
Kururi glanced at Bivorio.
"Just like you, I have many things I want to find out, but I didn't know where she was. All I saw was that man taking her away. So I decided to find him, but my only clue was this school where she was taken away from—"
"Hmm, I get it now. Let me outline my deductions then—Seeing this cultural festival, you wondered if that bastard would invade the school and make another appearance. But if we discovered you, things would get complicated, which is why you needed to hide your face—At that moment, you came across an air-headed girl who was snoring away with a mascot costume beside her. That's how everything happened!"
Fear proudly announced her exceedingly simple deductions. Kururi looked at her and went "Ha" in a smile.
"Your answer is correct, Fear-in-Cube. Yet you remain noisy and incompetent."
"Guuu, you're the girl who remains infuriating!"
Fear bared her fangs and threatened. Haruaki marveled at how quickly she had recovered. There was nothing more worth being thankful for at the moment. However, wasn't Fear acting too energetic?
Kururi then shrugged and indifferently explained what had happened afterwards. Such as overhearing Pakuaki and Fear's conversation and guessing that Bivorio was in the kaleidoscope; how she no longer wanted to help Oratorie but made use of Haruaki's group instead; after handling Oratorie to allow Haruaki's group to leave, she escaped here while fighting Oratorie at the same time, etc.
"Oh—I still don't quite get it... So, in the end, what goal are you pursuing... Rather, the most important issue here is the Matriarch's unusual state. No no, hold on! You just said something that I can't ignore even if it were a joke—"
"Then let me repeat myself. I killed Abyss. He's already shattered into pieces."
Fear unhappily grumbled: "No wait, I dealt the fatal blow—" but Haruaki ignored her for now. His attention would be better focused on the dialogue between the two members of the Family that was causing a sinister atmosphere to rise.
"As for the reason, there are all sorts. Such as: I was bored, he deceived me for so long, I found the Family incompetent, he was a man who deserved to die, a cross deserving to be destroyed, etc. Feel free to pick any reason you like."
Perhaps looking for permission to kill Kururi, Oratorie gripped the oar hard and yelled. However, Bivorio simply crossed her liberated arms and hugged her own shoulders:
"Ahhh... Yes, it's completely true. Abyss is already dead... And he was steeped in sin..."
"There are two things I want to know. I've decided to ask one of them right now."
While paying attention to Oratorie's movements, Kururi emotionlessly asked Bivorio:
"Is Abyss still your most beloved? Do you hate me for killing Abyss?"
Bivorio gasped then closed her eyes and buried her face against her chest amidst her long hair. In a trembling, sobbing voice, she murmured in response.
An extremely simple—
"I don't know."
Instantly, Kururi crashed into Bivorio, but not to attack her. The one attacking was Oratorie who had swung the cursed oar at Bivorio.
Spinning nonstop to evade Oratorie's attack, Kururi picked up Bivorio in her arms directly. Standing before her, Oratorie rested the oar on her shoulder and giggled.
"Fufu... Ufufufu... Ufufufufu! This is the so-called—All mysteries are revealed! Although I don't know what you people are planning, but—Guha! This Matriarch is fake! You can't deceive my eyes. As the leader who founded the Family out of familial love, through familia love, for familial love—the Matriarch—she logically cannot say such words. Like a god that transcends the transcendent—the Patriarch can't possibly be killed by this kind of little lass! Fake, fake! You're—a—fake—! Fakes and imposters should be condemned and killed without mercy as quickly as possible! Ufufufufufu!"
"Tsk... Is she mad? Although she's already mad in the first place."
"Ahhh—Sorry, sorry, I don't know, I really don't understand anything anymore—If you want to kill me, please go ahead and kill me. After all, I'm steeped in sin and she is also one of my sins. If I could be killed in as agonizingly slow and torturous a manner possible, that would be my greatest wish of a lifetime..."
Kururi clicked her tongue impatiently.
"I won't let that happen, because I have one more thing I need to find out."
"It's my fault, it's all the fault of my heavily sinned self. Ahhh~ Who will come and hurt me...!?"
"Seriously—Could you just calm down?"
Carrying Bivorio, Kururi retreated a great distance and even threw Haruaki's side a glance for some reason—Ignoring the battle stance the quartet had entered, she walked over openly.
"By this point, I don't want to fight you at all, so just do whatever you want. But I've decided on my own to use you guys as my shield."
Literally doing as she pleased, Kururi walked to a corner of the training hall behind Haruaki's group and set Bivorio down lightly. Watching the two of them, Konoha asked:
"W-What should we do now, Haruaki-kun? She does show zero killing intent right now... But as a side note, the killing intent over there is astounding."
While they were not noticing, Oratorie had run over to a small tap in another corner of the training hall, turning the water on with her head under it. While splashing the water vigorously, she said:
"Mmm—icy cold, that feels so refreshing. So, I should calm down. Calm down and think carefully—Very well, I've decided! Although I don't know why I need to do this, I shall kill everyone present!"
A super fast decision.
Then while her red hair dripped with water creepily, Oratorie turned her head and declared:
"First. Of. All~ That fake there looks like she can be killed any time... So let me start off with Haruaki Yachi over there. Yes, it's you! I will kill you then find out the true Matriarch's whereabouts!"
...Under incomprehensible logic, Haruaki was determined to be the first prey. Haruaki really wished to convince her to reconsider.
"Don't delude yourself. You're an even worse psycho than rumored... Anyway, it looks like we need to fight that woman first."
"However—there's also a guy here whom we can't allow to escape. The freak who made us suffer in his games just to satisfy his desire for knowledge. What are we going to do, Yachi?"
You're asking me what to do? I'm probably not the one who can decide. Not me, who has neither shed a single drop of blood nor suffered any mental trauma.
Hence, Haruaki borrowed the question—
"What are we going to do, Fear?"
Fear closed her eyes lightly and murmured:
"I don't know what's correct, I don't know anything. Right, I said it this morning, Haruaki. I said that I was ignorant and wanted to find out what I am supposed to do. Or back when that guy proposed the deal to me, I asked: what should I do? What the correct answer should be, what is it?"
"How would I know?"
"But you hit me, right? Umm... Because I did something wrong, you were angry, right?"
She opened her eyes slightly, greatly resembling the way children would sneak a peek at their parents.
"That's right, because you did something wrong, I was angry. But how would I know what the right answer is? If you do wrong things in the future, I'll still get angry even if I don't know the right answer. Although I want to know the right answer as much as you do, I would still get angry."
"Mm-hm~ Why does that feel kind of unreasonable?"
"Because I'm different from that bastard research freak over there. I'm just a great idiot, that can't be helped. Compared to knowing things, there should be more important matters, right... So, it's much simpler. In other words, what I want to ask is—What do you feel should be done?"
After a moment's pause...
Giggles were emitted from Fear's throat and her silver hair began to shake.
"If it's that simple, it's easy... Yes, that's right, perhaps ignorant people can only accept things and act like an ignorant person, because it's impossible to suddenly become omniscient."
Fear opened her eyes. On further examination, she was exuding an intimidating aura of confidence. Despite the filth on her uniform and body, just as she had said earlier, all her bleeding seemed to have stopped already.
"The things I want to do are very simple—seeing as Kururi and that disgusting Bivorio are giving up, I won't bother with them anymore! Since Oratorie declared she'll kill Haruaki, I'll beat her up and foil her plan! And since Pakuaki did so many infuriating things, that guy needs a good beating as punishment! Haruaki, Kirika and Cow Tits, what do you guys think about this decision!?"
Naturally, none of them objected.
Now that what they had to do was decided, the next problem was how to carry it out.
"Since there's no time—Sorry but I'll decide each person's role. I'll handle Pakuaki, or rather, 'Let me be responsible for Un Izoey.'"
"Kirika, that's too reckless!"
"Th-That's right! That girl is a very powerful master—"
"There's no time for debate now. I'm probably the weakest among us, but precisely because of that, I know I must engage that girl. Since she is only here for protecting Pakuaki, in other words, she is simply a defensive threat without any intent to kill. For us, Oratorie is equally threatening, but an offensive threat. Hence, there is a clear difference in meaning... Also, we can't allow a shortage in combat power. So please, Fear-kun and Konoha-kun, please attack in full force."
Speaking as fast as machine-gun fire, Kirika suddenly began to take off her uniform swiftly.
Everything. She took off all her clothes from head to toe.
"Ooh... wawah! Cl-Class Rep...?"
She took off her socks and her uniform top. Pulling the the zipper at her waist, her skirt fell down as a result. Even her shirt beneath the top was removed—Finally, all that remained was the black bondage suit.
"I-Idiot! Stop staring at me! Th-This cannot be helped, the circumstances are forcing my hand, so I have no choice here...! Th-This is also for showing my serious determination, got that!?"
"Somehow I feel like I'm on the line between getting it and not getting it—Anyway, Konoha, hurry and stop reaching out with your hand silently! Now is not the time for testing out your Immorality Blocker!"
"Seriously. Listen carefully now, you all know that I am immortal so I always have a way to take care of things. Faced with an opponent who has no intention to kill, I should be able to handle things alone. Just leave it to me."
There was no time to stop her. Extending the «Tragic Black River» to take hold of a beam on the ceiling, Kirika used it as a pivot to jump, then wobbling on unsteady footsteps, she went over the approaching Oratorie, finally landing in front of Pakuaki. Naturally, before she got there, Un Izoey had already stood in between them.
"Ahhh~ Seriously... Will she really be okay...!?"
"There's no way to stop her now. Besides, the enemy on this side is here."
Fear held up her Rubik's cube while Konoha readied her knife hand and stepped forward in a combat-ready stance.
"Damn it, I'll have to observe from the sidelines again...! Be careful of the enemy, Fear, Konoha!"
Dripping wet all over, Oratorie approached slowly, stopping when her oar was just a few steps away from Fear and Konoha. Exhaling, she cast a very gentle gaze towards the raised oar.
"Okay, let's get ready to start. On that surprising night when I was struck by that wound of a lifetime, cast into the sea known as the future, the vast view of red as I struggled desperately along the path of a new bride to reward him for his passionate heat—Fufu, you are the one who used the method of tragedy to bring about reasonable misinterpretations of cliched romances, so I will not hesitate at all... As always, we will love each other while immersed in memories of rifts, oceans, redness and heat!"
Words that started out like whispers towards a baby ended up as a forceful speech. Spinning the oar with her entire arm as one would spin a pen, she took a step forward.
"Excuse me, I'm already accustomed to this, so I won't be slipping and falling due to the water. Sorry if I've betrayed your expectations."
"I wouldn't expect that from anyone but Sovereignty. But more importantly—Speaking of getting accustomed, I can't let Haruaki-kun's eyes get accustomed to your indecent appearance. There is nothing I wish more than getting rid of you completely from my sight!"
"I agree. I really wish for those eyesores of yours to disappear faster, meat lump number one and number two. And today, I'm bearing a grudge towards swimsuits in general, so let me take out some of my anger on you!"
"This isn't really important, but I'm curious. Which side is number one and which side is number two!?"
Fear and Konoha rushed forward simultaneously. The swimsuit woman swung her oar greatly to enter a stance, ready for battle any time. Fear engaged her first in close combat.
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»—Curse Calling!"
The sound produced was not creaking but grating. Not clicking but clacking.
The sound of the Rubik's cube turning seemed to be mixed with the noise of heavy steel, carrying killing intent. The emulated cube instantly took on an appropriate form, hence transforming into an axe for chopping humans to death.
The axe struck the oar repeatedly with a symphony of deep noises. Then face to face, the two combatants produced exceptionally violent sounds—After a moment's pause, their silver and red hair swirled up as though from the aftershock.
Both sides' weapons were clashing equally in a fight to the death, then they stopped.
At this moment, Haruaki could see the corners of Fear's mouth turning up into a smile.
"Mechanism No.3 severance type, descending form: «Guillotine»!"
The sudden transformation caused Oratorie to lose balance, but her oar had already swung out front due to her momentum with its tip clamped inside Fear's dramatic execution device.
Without any hesitation, Fear ordered the guillotine's slanted cutting edge to descend—However, she then retreated with an alarmed expression. Unbelievably, the oar, which should have been decapitated, swept past before Fear's chest.
"Tsk... I see, it has the power to pass through!"
"Ufufu, indeed you are correct. So defense is useless. Be careful. Although the Matriarch permits us to eliminate Wathes that stand in our way, destroying them too arbitrarily would anger her—By the way, you are the Fear-in-Cube that the Matriarch loves so much, right?"
Oratorie took this time to look up and down over Fear's body .
"On further inspection, you really are so small and cute... I'd really love to hold you tight and sleep together. Hmm, looks like I must forgive you after breaking off your arms and legs."
"That should be my line instead! If you want to sleep with her, be my guest, but please don't complain if anything happens to your own arms and legs!"
"How could I possibly let her so easily!? And you, what do you mean by calling me small! I'll curse you!"
Konoha pounced and starting fighting with her knife hand. On the other hand, Fear switched to another tool of torture and execution to look for an opening. Then Oratorie Rabdulmunagh prepared to unleash a wave of impacts to engulf the two girls.
Made dripping wet just like its master by the splashing water, the oar's dark stains looked as though it had been sucking blood.
Caught between the two girls, one gray-haired and dark-skinned, the man began to speak.
"I can't help but point out that this is a foolish strategy, Kirika."
"On the other hand, I disagree."
"The situation now is different from during the day. Now that the game is over, I have no reason to hesitate. I could very well use force to take you back directly—If you believe that Un Izoey has no intention to kill, you are sorely mistaken. Against any enemy who assaults me, this child will deliver fatal attacks without any hesitation at all. Moreover, for the sake of accuracy, in actual fact, it's not like you 'can't die' but 'you revive after dying.' So that is why I say your strategy is foolish, Kirika. Once you lose consciousness, it's over. In other words, I could simply give the following order: Un Izoey, kill Kirika and take her back."
This explanation treated Kirika as though she were just a specimen of local fauna. But in actual fact, Pakuaki probably treated her as just an object to be dealt with on the side.
At this moment, the dark-skinned girl moved her eyes and asked:
"My wish to confirm: Confirmation for 'Is that really okay?'"
"Of course you can, no need to hold back. She's currently wearing a Wathe that is, in a certain sense, even rarer than «The World Seen by Alicia Pitrelli». It's a Wathe that will automatically self-repair so long as there's no severe damage, unlike others that would break from damage in one spot."
The handcuffed girl stepped forward with a gliding stride of her dark-skinned foot. However, Kirika reached out to stop Un Izoey with her left hand which did not have the «Tragic Black River» wrapped around it.
"Hmm? What's the matter, Kirika?"
"...I'd like to ask you something. That collar you placed around my neck, was it simply just for punishment? Was it really just for such a simple purpose?"
Pakuaki showed slight surprise in response to that question. Then—
"Well, disregarding the fact that it's very weak, I did have other goals in mind, yes. But if I explain it directly, it's kind of embarrassing... That is, I hope you could remember the past. I am your older brother, so it's not like I want us to be at odds. If there's an opportunity for us to make up, of course I'd want to do that... Like right now, could you be honest with your feelings, Kirika? Or perhaps, you have no recollection?"
There was a few seconds' pause after Pakuaki finished.
Kirika then nodded.
"Very well, now... I'll be honest. I remembered. I remembered those happy times in the past. That sense of isolation made me recall the loneliness I felt when waiting for my father to come home. That sense of isolation made me recall the loneliness of not having a mother. Furthermore, that sense of isolation—"
She bowed her head slightly and her shoulders trembled.
"I recall it... Back when I was lonely, my brother's... back... that I always relied on..."
Pakuaki took a deep breath. Then his eyes became very gentle and he muttered like a father:
"Come home, Kirika. Return to my side."
The trembling in Kirika's shoulders did not stop. She then tried to force words out, but her shoulders continued to tremble.
"...You really think..."
No way, she could not hold it back anymore. She could not hold back the excessive joy she was feeling.
"...Did you really think I'd say that, Yamimagari Pakuaki!? How absolutely ridiculous! Although I did remember about my father, I have no brother—On the other hand, you should reflect on what you've done to me!"
It was worthwhile to act out this sort of unfamiliar performance. Although it was so embarrassing that she felt as though her cheeks were about to burst into flames, it was terrific. Simply the sight of that man's astounded expression felt exceptionally refreshing.
Perhaps either he was bluffing or he really was that composed, Pakuaki immediately smiled wryly and said:
"You've changed, Kirika. In the past, even if you played jokes, you'd never trick people with that kind of performance."
"Perhaps I've become stupid after getting to know those people!"
Kirika suddenly extended the «Tragic Black River» towards Pakuaki. Instantly, a dark-skinned afterimage surfaced from below, severing the belt in the middle of its journey. Un Izoey's demeanor was full of belligerence, perfect.
Because Kirika had already decided what to do.
Kirika also had a role model, the silver-haired girl who had made herself all covered with bloody wounds, even though she clearly did not need to do that.
Hence, Kirika decided to act in the same manner.
To proudly make mistakes on her own volition under conditions when the right answer was unknown.
The «Human-Perforator» charged fearlessly ahead but was deflected by the wooden oar, whose hardness was probably strengthened as a result of its curse. Oratorie counterattacked. Fear swiftly pulled back the drill against its advancing momentum and prepared to block the approaching wood—But someone kicked her in the bottom.
"Get out of the way!"
The oar sang a song as it sliced through the air, passing through the space beside Fear's stumbling body.
"Don't suddenly kick me, Cow Tits! I'll curse you!"
"Oh enough of that. Seriously, how many times has it been? Didn't I tell you it can't be blocked!?"
"I-I know, okay..."
The wooden oar was capable of passing through objects. Naturally, this included Fear's tools of torture and execution that she used for defense. Despite knowing that fact, Fear's body could not keep up that easily. And stop speaking with such swagger, okay!?
"Damn it, you domesticated tits! That's totally cheating, you're clearly ignoring the issue yourself!"
"By this point, I don't care if you're making up stupid nicknames for me. But that's not my problem because it implies the oar cannot pass through the human body."
"Ufufu, you are completely correct. But I'm not afraid of those karate chops of yours at all. While saying 'Heed my advice and just give up obediently, so that I can kill that little boy over in the back, okay?' that would be a so-called sneak attack!"
Oratorie swung the oar to attack. While Fear dodged—
"Mechanism No.5 impaling type, upright form: «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes»!"
She also tossed out the execution stake that was connected to the chain of cubes. However, Oratorie had already moved. Penetrating the floor with the oar's tip, she used the oar as support for a front flip. Using a motion akin to a human water wheel, she delivered a devastating attack towards Konoha—
In actual fact, Oratorie was quite a proficient master but her strengths were completely different from Un Izoey's. If Un Izoey's strength lay in speed, hers was power. Power to deliver death to an ordinary human through a single strike, combined with random blows and more random blows that rendered defense meaningless no matter what equipment was used. Like a turbulent storm what would devour and crush all ships, she unleashed random blows repeatedly.
While transforming the stake into a new form, Fear threw a glance backwards. Haruaki was watching with his fists clenched. I can't lose, I absolutely must not lose—Even if storms could crush massive ships of any size, a storm capable of crushing a steel cube definitely did not exist.
Then Fear entered the fray again amidst the random pummeling.
Kirika reflexively used her left arm to block the incoming knife that was aiming for her carotid artery. This slashed through the outside of her wrist, adding more pain to her body. Half of her flesh and the middle of her bones were severed. If one were to twist hard, her hand would probably come off like a popsicle. But even without any twisting, simply by grabbing the wound in attempt to staunch the bleeding—There was a feeling of flesh squirming. This body was too disgusting, really too disgusting. But under such disgusting conditions, it continued to endure.
"My conclusion: overreaching movements, overestimating self, not going to work."
"Is that... so...? Have you ever hunted a wild beast whose wounds keep healing?"
"Never seen that type of beast before. But the beast here now, not all wounds are healing instantly. When elephants and rhinos bleed, movements become slower."
Although Kirika could not understand what exactly Un Izoey's analogy was comparing her to, it was true that her wounds were not completely healed. After all, the time taken for recovery depended on the severity of the injuries.
Currently, her left hand had finally recovered enough for her fingers to move. Her thigh whose bone was exposed just now was still pulsing with pain. As for the hole under her breast, the usual liquid was spewing out generously as though to skip the process of vomiting blood. Nevertheless, a rusty stench was rising up her throat and Kirika desperately tried to swallow and suppress that reverse flow.
Seeing the gray hair quiver slightly, the «Tragic Black River» instantly reacted and extended over. Despite being severed along the way, it continued to extend, unfazed. Like an obsessive snake, it acted as though imbued with a serial killer's obsession.
The belt was both a rope for binding and a whip at the same time. And whips were powerful weapons beyond an average person's imagination. Not only was a whip capable of scraping skin off, but it could also strip flesh down to the bone, then used to kill the person. That was the kind of weapon it was.
While severing the belt as she slowly approached, Un Izoey suddenly distanced herself at this time. Lowering herself and extending her left leg as though performing a Cossack dance, this action caused Kirika to frown. A fatal instant. Using this opening to take out darts from her skirt, Un Izoey lodged a dart on her left toe's bowstring. While leaning her upper body backwards in an almost horizontal posture, she used her cuffed hands to shoot. Multiple times in succession.
Supporting her body, her right leg acted as a gun's grip while her left leg served as the barrel and her upper body was the hammer and trigger. Kirika was unable to dodge the darts that were flying at her almost as fast as bullets but she managed to guard her head with both arms.
She could feel foreign objects drilling into her body. Solid objects cutting her open repeatedly, mercilessly invading her body. Scorching, scorching, she could not help but feel an illusion as though her body was about to explode. The ruptures and holes in her body, created forcefully by the foreign objects, completely ignoring her own will, seemed to contract and squirm with delight as they accepted those scorching foreign objects.
Kirika was pierced in four places: shoulder, breast, lower abdomen and thigh respectively. Unruly liquid gushed out from these four places impatiently. This amount of blood loss was really quite problematic—Kirika could feel her mind getting dizzy.
"This is also... used in hunting...?"
"Yes, confirmed by such a confirmation. Mainly used to hunt birds flying in the sky."
"That makes sense, birds, I see now. I like birds too. Especially tasty when roasted with salt."
Forcing a smile, Kirika withdrew the «Tragic Black River»'s tip back to her hand.
Un Izoey approached. Presumably, once she immobilized her prey using flying projectiles, she would take her time and slash the prey's throat. Finally, she had entered her hunting mode.
However, Kirika was neither a winged bird nor a fanged beast.
She was just a foolish human.
Precisely because of that, she was capable of certain things—
Then with trembling legs, Kirika rushed towards Un Izoey on her own initiative.
Anxiety. Despite the advantages offered by Konoha's knife hand which could not be penetrated by the oar, that was all there was to it. Their difference in range was too disparate.
Still, Konoha was not completely unable to attack. She had to stop this woman from killing Haruaki. Stopping her was already a decided resolution.
Konoha jumped and executed a forceful, flying kick, however—
"This would be a so-called perfect hit in baseball!"
Oratorie swung the oar forcefully to strike at Konoha. However, Konoha used the tip of her kicking foot to step on the oar and was sent flying high into the air. Her twin braids sweeping across the ceiling as she performed a flip in the air, Konoha managed to land on all fours. By the time she looked up, Oratorie had already switched to engaging Fear in battle.
"Konoha! Are you okay?"
Haruaki rushed over. Konoha pushed herself up and replied:
"I'm okay but this place is dangerous. You should retreat to the back—"
"I'm sorry but could you please transform into the sword. I think that would be better."
Haruaki's expression was very serious. Perhaps he had already come up with some plan?
"But there are many problems with that. First of all, Haruaki-kun, you'll be at risk. Chopping with my hands, I can perform defensive maneuvers. But once I turn into a sword, I cannot guard anymore... Being unable to block would be a rather severe disadvantage."
"I know that. But this cannot continue either, there's no time."
Konoha followed his gaze and saw Kirika fighting Un Izoey. Naturally, she could not remain unscathed and a certain vivid color was constantly increasing.
"So, let's use the Sword-Kill Counter. Only that move can defeat her in one go."
"Eh—But that oar is able to pass through my attacks, right? The Sword-Kill Counter is a technique that targets weapons..."
"Yes, that's right. It probably won't work if I use it the usual way. No, it won't work at all."
Then saying "That's why"—Haruaki proceeded to share his plan.
It was a very simple strategy. But at the same time, Konoha found it exceptionally difficult.
"It's not going to work unless I can coordinate perfectly with that child... But the problem is, if we were able to do that in the first place, things wouldn't be this difficult now. Last time during the fight against Kururi-san, it did cross my mind. Whenever I fight alongside her, it's as though our rhythms don't match, or perhaps..."
"No, we must give it a try—"
While listening to Haruaki, Konoha lightly held his hand. Then comfortably storing that feeling of his hand and its warmth into the box of cherished memories in the inner depths of her mind, Konoha returned to her original form.
"Hey, you made so many objections but yet you went along so readily... Is it really okay?"
"No problem. After all, there is absolutely no doubt that tacit coordination does not exist between me and that child. But even though that's the truth, I don't know why—"
"H-Hey, you two—! Chatting away so happily while I'm fighting by myself, I'll curse you!"
Hearing Fear's complaint, Konoha lightly shook the tip of her blade. Then she continued:
"I don't know why—But so long as we have you between us, Haruaki-kun, I believe there will be tacit coordination."
"Haruaki, don't rush ahead too much. Anyway, don't force yourself to block even if you're attacked, you must find a way to dodge!"
Konoha really felt like calling Fear out for openly pirating her warnings to repeat to Haruaki but she did not speak. She was currently concentrating. Hence, even with Konoha's assistance in moving his body, Haruaki must still maintain awareness of dodging on his own. Hence, he listened to Fear and looked for opportunities to strike without charging too far ahead.
"You finally stepped up! Why don't you step aside, cute little Wathe. My target is that boy!"
Neither Fear nor Haruaki heeded her words.
Haruaki was only waiting for Konoha's concentration to become keen. Ready yet? Still not ready yet?
(Don't be too impatient, Konoha. But please, could you hurry up a bit...!?)
Haruaki currently worried the most about Kirika, naturally. He had sneaked glances at her situation several times, but she did not look like she had the upper hand in any way. Hence, it was imperative to settle things here so that he could head over and support her.
Just at this moment—
"Guh... Ah... Ha... A-Ahhhhhhh... Ahhh!"
Kirika's extremely loud screams were heard.
Haruaki reflexively looked over there.
Then entering his view was—
Kirika with a knife deeply embedded in her heart with blood gushing out violently like a ruptured pipe.
The distance instantly shrank to zero. Kirika guarded her neck and head using her arms. She must prevent instantaneous causes of death such as severing the neck or penetrating the brain. In that case, where would the enemy target instead?
Kirika mistook it for the force of her heartbeat, originating deep within her body. A force that seemed to turn her entire body into a beating heart.
She was pierced. Kirika saw Un Izoey approaching with gliding steps, her cuffed hands touching the ground and raising her right foot, but Kirika did not see the knife held between her toes. This was only natural, because it was already buried inside her.
Within Kirika's field of view that was beginning to shake violently, Un Izoey's emotionless eyes were looking up at her.
(My body... Hurry and move!)
Kirika's body finally moved because it had been waiting for this precise situation to move. Conversely, if this awaited opportunity had not arrived, she would have remained still—Precisely because it was this kind of action, Un Izoey reacted an instant too late.
There was only one chance. Mobilizing the arms which she had used to protect her neck, Kirika grabbed Un Izoey's right foot hard. The impact caused her heart to scream in pain, but there were more urgent things to attend to.
"Gaha... You stabbed me, right? You stabbed deeply into my body, right? That's good enough..."
Kirika listened to her own voice, delivered with blood, while controlling the «Tragic Black River». Watching Un Izoey's gaze waver with surprise and unease, Kirika could feel the knife in her heart invading deeper. Instead of pulling her right foot back, Un Izoey seemed to have decided it would be quicker to just kill Kirika by pushing the knife further.
Her decision was correct, very clearly correct. Even if Kirika were to use the «Tragic Black River» to entangle Un Izoey at this moment, during the time required to strangle and break her neck, Kirika's heart would suffer even more severe damage, thereby resulting in death.
Hence, Kirika needed a method for seizing victory instantaneously. She needed a method of reversal in the next instant.
Instead of entangling Un Izoey's neck with the «Tragic Black River», she aimed for the handcuffs instead.
Then Kirika pulled, pulling in Un Izoey's hands.
Once she was pulled in, the leather belt's work was done. Kirika released the foot she was gripping then forcefully used her bloodstained hands to grab Un Izoey's wrists—
And made her touch the hilt of the knife that was buried in her heart.
Un Izoey's eyes widened to a sad degree.
"...Even if... in a few more seconds... I'll be dead..."
Un Izoye's body began to tremble. Staring at her own hands in disbelief, she kept trembling.
Kirika's hands applied more force.
Desperately twisting the knife as though she were pulling it into her body, Kirika made it stab deeper, deeper, ever deeper—
Letting the blade that Un Izoey was holding violate her body unchecked.
"...But the cause of my death is your pair of hands. According to the rules of your tribe, you are forbidden from staining your hands with the enemy's blood. But now, you've touched it—Un Izoey!"
At this moment, originally icy cold, the girl's eyes now only contained—
Nothing but pure unadulterated—
Hence, Kirika smiled lightly like a corpse and said:
"A first experience, congratulations."
"—Ooh, ahhh, ahhhhhhhhh!"
The gray-haired girl desperately struggled, trying to withdraw her hands. Although she easily struggled free, it did not matter anymore, because her foot had let go of the knife, she was sitting collapsed on the floor, her body trembling nonstop. All she could do was stare at her bloodstained hands.
Kirika originally hypothesized that this should be able to create an opening but the results surpassed her expectations. This was probably an imposed belief that had been branded upon Un Izoey's deepest psyche since early childhood. A pathological taboo that went as far as to demand suicide as though it were perfectly logical.
As the belt wrapped around her neck unhindered, Kirika granted her peace through the loss of consciousness.
Next, the «Tragic Black River» locked onto its next prey, choking the neck of Pakuaki who was crying out in surprise.
"Huff... Guh... Ah... Huff... Fufu... Fufufu. If it weren't for knowing from the start that my clothes would get dirty, I wouldn't have undressed, because it's too embarrassing...!"
"I get it now, so you planned on doing this all along? What a reckless strategy—cough cough, but you didn't break my neck in one go, why is that?"
"Because... there's no value."
"You're already on the verge of death. I'm sorry, but I'll escape once you die."
"...U-Unfortunately for you, my body just barely managed to catch up and will recover from this point onwards. Haha, I didn't expect her to be that gentle—Besides, I already accounted for the possibility of dying here. I was thinking, as long as Un Izoey was dealt with... Then those guys would help me handle the rest."
Pakuaki turned his gaze lightly.
"You mean them...? The way I see it, they're in a desperate fight. Is it really okay for you to withhold assistance?"
"...Don't worry, they can handle it."
Kirika followed his gaze. Despite the dimming of her vision probably due to excessive blood loss, she was still able to see what was happening over there.
The silver-haired girl was swinging her torture tool. This girl had chosen by her freewill to shed her own blood for Kirika's sake. Hence, Kirika had decided to repay that erroneous yet noble-minded choice. What she came up with was this method of intentionally burying Un Izoey's blade deep within her own body.
The other person over there was the boy wielding the Japanese sword. He had been gazing in Kirika's direction with surprise, but immediately, his eyes showed understanding. Apparently, he had witnessed the instant when Kirika had suffered that wound. He must have been very shocked back then.
Kirika communicated by nodding towards them without saying a word because she no longer had the strength to yell loudly. However, this action was already more than sufficient.
The boy nodded vigorously in response. The Japanese sword's shaking motion probably expressed the same meaning as well.
Then they started taking action, aiming for victory just like her.
Suddenly, Kirika thought of something.
With a slight sense of loneliness and unease, she wondered.
Would he get angry with her as well—?
Kirika had won. In that case, it was Haruaki's turn.
Fear's loud shouting entered his ears.
"How ludicrous, Oratorie Rabdulmunagh!"
"What... are you saying... ludicrous?"
Haruaki advanced slowly while the Japanese sword in his hand urged him to quicken his pace.
"You and your faction, it's all over already! Abyss is dead and Bivorio is repenting for her sins!"
"That's a so-called big fat lie! Yeah right it's over!"
The silver hair and red hair crossed over, passing by each other, then approached again as though drawn by mutual attraction. Haruaki was also rushing to Fear's side as if attracted by gravity. Fear remained on high alert and entered a stance with «A Hatchet of Lingchi».
"Will it work?"
Konoha answered briefly. Fear nodded lightly in comprehension.
"However, when should we coordinate the attack?"
"How about the next one? More than likely, the enemy will unleash her strongest attack next."
As soon as Haruaki spoke, Fear glanced sideways at him skeptically.
"How would you know?"
"Just look behind you."
"...I see. I get it now."
Then Fear took a deep breath.
"Listen carefully to me, Oratorie! That whatever belief about us being transcenders, or that joke about the existence of that imposed familial love, it's all meaningless now. Those arguments not only failed to move us, but they also failed to change anything. You are just scum, an ignoramus in search of knowledge who took advantage of today's chaos to sneak in, a common madwoman who could not be any more ordinary!"
"No! My goal is—"
"To find Bivorio? She's right there!"
"No no! That's a fake!"
"Really? Then in that case, what is she holding in her hands?"
Oratorie stopped moving, apparently stupefied.
Bivorio was standing in front of her gaze, in the corner of the training hall where Kururi had sought refuge.
She was staring straight ahead with a twisted expression.
Held together, her hands were raised up in front of her face.
She simply stood there, holding a white object in her hands.
In fact, anyone could tell with through further examination that those were the remains of a cross.
"Oratorie... Please listen to me. Abyss is already dead. Indeed, he has already died..."
Haruaki did not understand why she had that in her possession. Perhaps she had taken it from the school, or Pakuaki had playfully stuffed it into her pocket, either of those would not be surprising. These were the only two possibilities Haruaki could come up with at this moment.
Oratorie gripped the oar hard, almost enough to create sounds of wood cracking.
"Ahhh... Fake... Damn fake... Do you really think you could deceive me by preparing a little prop like that!?"
"N-No, this is real. Right before my eyes, Abyss really was..."
She's coming. With a face like a demon's, Oratorie came.
Just as predicted, it was an attack, unprecedentedly simpler than before yet more powerful than ever.
This was the very moment they had been desperately waiting for.
Haruaki exchanged glances with Fear and they sprang into action. Very likely, Fear and Konoha's minds were connected at this moment.
Hence, all that was left was to move.
Haruaki and Konoha shifted slightly left while Fear moved right as though to exchange positions. Then they waited for the instant when Oratorie's oar was swung down.
This was the technique that Muramasa Konoha had discovered in her quest to abstain from killing. Raising observation, judgment and instinct to their highest limits to approach prescience for but an instant. Thereafter, the sword knew. The sword knew the location of the opposing weapon's heart and how to pierce that heart with one stroke of the sword—!
The sword trembled slightly in Haruaki's hand and exuded an aura of sharpness and clarity that seemed to release her accumulated sighs all at once. In one natural movement, his left hand gripped the scabbard gently.
Faced against the expected attack of Oratorie's wooden oar, the true blade pulsed and slid out of the black scabbard—
"Tsk! «Tragedy Method»!"
Perhaps warned by her sixth sense regarding the mission borne by Konoha's blade, Oratorie reflexively invoked her oar's power of penetration.
However, Fear also unleashed her axe's attack at the exact moment of Konoha's strike.
Had the attacks simply been performed simultaneously, failure would have resulted if the oar blocked them. Whether a barehanded chop partnered with a torture tool, or the combination of a simple black scabbard with a torture tool, the result would have been the same. More explicitly, this approach used Konoha's secret technique as bait—Followed by a simultaneous attack that could only work with the Sword-Kill Counter as bait.
Like Konoha's blade, Fear's axe flew past Oratorie's oar. The blade struck Oratorie mercilessly in the chest. Fear could not help but feel goosebumps on her back, accompanied by a strange cracking sound. It was the sound of certain hard objects breaking one after another, and not just one or two.
The impact caused the cursed oar to fall from Oratorie's hand. It became as vulnerable as a bundle of straw used for testing out a blade's sharpness. Before the oar could reach the floor—
The scabbard sung again. As the noise that greatly matched the surrounding training hall atmosphere subsided, the oar was no more, leaving behind nothing but two tragically severed fragments of timber.
Oratorie spat out stomach acid, unconscious with her eyes rolled up. Meanwhile, Bivorio murmured:
"Ahhh... I don't understand. Steeped heavily in sin, what should I do—"
Kneeling on the floor, she was holding that cross fragment in her hands. Kururi bowed her head and stared at the fragment.
"Success... finally. Phew—This took a ton of effort on my part..."
"Nice combination. You two can do it as long as you put your minds to it, see? You two work very well together."
Fear was originally so tired that she was supporting her chin on her axe hilt. Despite Haruaki's sincere praise, she suddenly straightened her body.
"W-What are you talking about!? D-Don't say something so embarrassing, okay? Who wants to work well with this Cow Tits here... Good grief, that's so disgusting! This is coincidence, only coincidence!"
"Do you really need to describe it as disgusting!? To think I almost praised you as well, but now I'm really glad I never said it out loud!"
"I won't feel happy at all to be praised by you! Now that would be truly disgusting!"
"What did you say again!?"
"Fear, don't swing that axe around! And you, Konoha, could you stop leaning your body against me!?"
Haruaki desperately resisted Konoha's movements as he turned his gaze over to Kirika who was the first to conclude her battle.
Although she was all covered in wounds, she smiled wryly as usual—
And made a slight thumbs up gesture.
Naturally, Haruaki responded with the same gesture.
"So... What are we going to do, Class Rep?"
"You mean how should this man be dealt with, right?"
In response to Kirika's "What would you do?", Haruaki scratched his head and answered:
"Uh—Well, since he won't be bothering Fear anymore—"
"Obviously, this also means that he will give up on taking Ueno-san back."
Konoha spoke up, still in sword form. Fear nodded in agreement.
"—Hey, are you even listening?"
"Of course. From the way it looks, you don't plan on doing anything cruel to me, right? Oh my~ Thank goodness. Although it's quite strange for me to say this myself, I am quite a super VIP after all. If another organization caught me like this, it would not be strange if they decapitated me on the spot without another word."
Fear glared viciously at Pakuaki who was still being bound by the belt and continued:
"I will make another deal with you. That video you took should be enough to satisfy you, right? So don't you appear before me again because I don't want to take part in your research. If you dare refuse me, I'll instantly trample that video to oblivion."
"Oh... I see."
"Listen carefully to me! What I mean is this: Take that video back with you, but don't you dare approach me again! This is the greatest compromise I'm willing to make!"
"Hey Fear, is that really okay?"
Haruaki asked. Very reluctantly, Fear nodded.
"Of course I'm really mad about having that recorded. But to me, it's just a meaningless video. But to this guy, it counts as important research materials. Since that was also his goal for today, it should be fine to use it to make a deal. So, I compromised."
"Yes, very well. It's agreed."
Haruaki's reaction was shared by everyone present. Skeptically, Fear looked up at Pakuaki's face and said:
"...Are you scheming in some way?"
"Not at all. I just think that it would be quite a shame to waste the obtained results. If you ask me not to approach you again, that's fine. After all, I need to spend time to analyze today's data for the time being."
"Not just for the time being, I'm asking you to stay the heck away forever!"
Pakuaki exhaled deeply. Closing his eyes and pondering for a moment, he opened one eye and said:
"...Understood. If a time comes when it cannot be avoided, I'll book an appointment with you beforehand."
"What's wrong with you, why aren't you listening? I already told you to stay away forever—!"
"I'm just talking hypothetically, after all, all sorts of situations could arise. For example—You might propose on your own to 'find out more about yourself.' You probably don't know everything about yourself, right?"
Fear went "Hmm" and frowned.
"...What do you know about me?"
"I'm saying this precisely because I don't know. Anyway, I'll need to sum things up to reach a conclusion first. I'll take the data from today and for now, you can—Oh wait, no."
He smiled then said:
"Without a prior appointment, I won't approach you again. Anyway, that's it."
"Hmm~ So that's how it ends... Really...? Oh right, there's still Kirika's matter! Kirika already said she quit the Lab Chief's Nation, but you said you're taking her back..."
"That's a separate matter from today's purpose. After all, I have given her important Wathes so that can't be ignored."
Just as Haruaki prepared to rush forward, an arm suddenly reached out in front of him and stopped him. Fresh blood still remained on the arm but was slowly flowing back into the wounds—Kirika's arm.
"Yachi, Fear-kun and Konoha-kun, let me negotiate this matter with him. May I have a brief and private word with him, please?"
Once everyone else had backed off into the distance, Kirika confronted Pakuaki who was still bound by the belt.
"Okay, what do you want to talk to me about?"
"Let me confirm this first: did you really intend to take me back no matter what? Actually, that's probably just an excuse—A deliberate disguise for hiding your goal of observing Fear's powers up close. If you really wanted to take me back, there's no need to arrange such a strange treasure hunt. All you needed to do was blow up the school or something and simply threaten me. At least, that's what the Bivorio Family would have done."
"It really breaks my heart that you'd lump me with those people. I'm a good person. I can't possibly do that kind of thing."
What audacious words. Kirika tightened the «Tragic Black River»'s restraints slightly as she spoke:
"No, you're a villain. Just like how the Family's actions are motivated by their love and desire for Wathes, your actions are always motivated by your desire for knowledge. Don't get others involved just to satisfy your desires!"
"Indeed, there's that. My actions are indeed motivated by the desire to know, but you can't equate that with 'not caring about anything else.' You are my second goal too."
"Or rather, it's because of the two Wathes in my possession—the «Tragic Black River» and «Gimestorante's Love»—Right? Logically speaking, it's because you haven't researched them enough, right? How absolutely ridiculous! In the end, doesn't it ultimately boil down to desire for knowledge again!?"
Pakuaki did not answer. He simply smiled and stared straight into her face.
Kirika inhaled and exhaled. She repeated this action many times.
She did not want to resort to this method. If possible, she did not want to use it.
However, it could not be helped. There were no other solutions in sight, so she had to do this.
"...Kirika, don't give up. I won't give up either and I'll keep trying to take you back—"
"Yeah, I know. And once again it confirms... The fact that your actions are motivated by the desire to know. You really are a worst specimen of a man. However—However, precisely because of that, there is a solution."
Still looking down, Kirika murmured in a voice that was barely audible to Pakuaki.
"A solution, what could that be? I can't imagine one."
"...Let me tell you now. What 'you want to know'—I can give a new research theme. It's something that can only take place while I remain in this school. Although it's very simple, you'll definitely be very interested. Since even I myself am interested in it, I'm sure you'll find it even more interesting."
"Oh~ Although I don't really believe something like that could exist, but I'll listen as a matter of principle... What is it?"
Kirika looked up and clenched her fist involuntarily.
What sort of gaze was she showing right now? A gaze that attempted to shoot this man to death? A gaze of suppressed emotions? Or perhaps... A gaze of fear and unease?
No matter which one, it did not matter. She only needed to do one thing.
Namely, maintain eye contact.
Surely—that conveyed two meanings.
"I've fallen in love."
"...Aha... Hahaha... Hahahahahaha! Huha! Ahhh... Hahaha!"
Pakuaki suddenly burst out laughing and looked at Kirika up close. At the same time, Fear and the others, who were having a simple conversation with the people from the Family, also stared wide-eyed over here. Drats. Kirika frantically waved her hand to indicate "It's okay."
"Huff~... R-Really? Is that so!? I see! Kirika, that really is... truly exceptional—Huff... Ahahaha!"
"N-Not allowed to laugh! Also, keep your voice down!"
"Geh! Okay~ Got it, got it. I'd be in great trouble if my already deficient oxygen supply were to be cut off completely. However, guha! You're right, that really would be a most intriguing research theme. How would your love develop? Wearing the leather bondage suit which would kill her if removed, carrying the killer's belt that compels one to commit strangling murders—How would such a girl's love progress? How do you yourself think it'll turn out?"
"...How on earth would I know how it would turn out?"
Kirika answered honestly. Indeed, how could she possibly know?
"Haha, an excellent answer. Oh my~ Seriously, looks like this is an unknown that is so interesting that it cannot be predicted at all! To me, in terms of desire to know, this would be equivalent in level to a research theme of 'What can a tool of torture and execution, which has been cursed for a very very very long time already, do in the world of humans?'"
Indeed, to this man, the end result did not matter. Whether her love ended in oblivion as logic would dictate—or perhaps through some accidental miracle—it might actually bloom and bear fruit. Or any other result would be fine as well. All he wished to see was the process of that unknown turning into something known.
Hence, Kirika decided to make use of Pakuaki's desire. If it would allow herself to remain in this school, she had no choice but to make a sacrifice.
"...So, that is something you can only observe if I remain here. If you take me back, then that unknown will disappear, remaining unknown forever."
"How troubling, that's a threat directed towards me."
"Of course, I am threatening you."
She stared at Pakuaki with eyes of firm resolve. In response, Pakuaki shrugged helplessly.
"As expected of my little sister, you know me like the back of your hand—Very well, I will submit to your threat. For now, I won't force you to go back."
Kirika breathed a sigh of relief but she deliberately prevented that emotion from appearing on her face. However—
Pakuaki's speech caused her to return to a confrontational stance.
Seeing Kirika's reaction, Pakuaki giggled and smiled intriguingly:
"As much as I don't believe you were lying casually, but as a matter of principle, I still think it's necessary for you to show me—that thing called evidence."
Stroking his newly liberated neck, Pakuaki surveyed his surroundings. The training hall was filled with objects that were originally stored in «The World Seen by Alicia Pitrelli». He first picked up a CalorieMate box and while chewing on a biscuit, he casually picked up a few documents intuitively. Casually stuffing them into his pockets, he then loaded the unconscious Un Izoey onto his shoulder with a "Heave-ho!"
"The other documents shouldn't be that important. Speaking of a souvenir for Sekaibashi Gabriel... Consider this as liquidated damages. After all, there isn't that much important information. Ahhh~ Right, speaking of liquidated damages, just for the sake of amicable relations in the future, I'll leave behind a token gift first. Say, Fear-in-Cube, the remains of «The World Seen by Alicia Pitrelli» are over there by your feet, right? You're free to take it home and study it."
Fear knelt down and carefully picked up the kaleidoscope's remains. Then she frowned.
"Hmm... This is... an Indulgence Disk...! R-Right! Since you said you knew things that I don't know, I'd like to ask about this! Tell me, what on earth is this—"
Just as she looked up again, she saw Pakuaki retrieving a mask from the floor. An iron mask with spikes all over, looking as though it was supposed to be used in some kind of ritual.
"This thing is very ugly and I don't like it, but it can't be helped... Well then, we're going to take our leave for today."
As soon as Pakuaki wore the mask as he muttered, he disappeared along with the girl on his shoulder. This reminded Fear of the scene when Un Izoey was telling her about a secret trick. So that was a tool for making someone disappear.
"He disappeared... Hmph, damn it. Whatever, let's take care of the current situation. Say, Kirika."
"Are you okay? Were you able to talk things out...?"
For the first time after she had taken off Pakuaki's collar, Kirika took a good look at Fear and the group.
Her shoulders shaking slightly, she made an exhausted smile and said:
"—It's fine now, he seems to have abandoned taking me back by forceful means."
Haruaki finally relaxed, the Japanese sword was relieved and Fear felt her heart at ease. Spontaneously, she pounced on Kirika.
"Th-Thank goodness—! Although I'm not sure how it happened, this result is the best! That's really wonderful, Kirika! That means you can continue staying in this school!"
"Yes, that's right... Fufu, don't hold me so tight, some of my wounds still hurt."
"S-Sorry, anyway, it's wonderful!"
"Because I still haven't defeated Yachi's cooking skills, I won't allow him to flee while he's ahead."
"What? It's not like I want to flee while I'm ahead... Anyway, it's just as Fear said. This is wonderful."
"That's right. How relieving... As for the Family, judging from the way things are, they probably won't be back."
Konoha's words prompted Fear to look back. Two figures—plus Oratorie, that made three of them—had already disappeared. The only thing remaining was a certain white piece of debris that was abandoned on the floor as casually as a pebble.
"Hmm, the problem of those people is already solved. Oh my, so the whole incident finally comes to an end..."
"End... End... Crap, I just remembered!"
"W-What is it, Fear-san?"
"Isn't it almost time for the cultural festival to end? We have to get back to the shop to help with closing!"
"That's right. If we're still able to move, the least we could do is help with the final clean up. I think we've caused quite a lot of trouble for our classmates... But before we return, we should clean up our appearances somewhat."
Haruaki frantically cast his gaze aside, probably because he was reminded of the fact that Kirika was dressed in nothing but a bondage suit.
"T-That's true too. We need to help clean up. But even if we're going back, I hope you'll rest for a while first, Class Rep. Fear's uniform is also all tattered. By the way, we can't leave Fear's wounds untreated, continuing to bleed. Also, we need to ask Zenon-san to clean up the training hall—Come to think of it, not everything has ended. There's still a ton of work to do."
Haruaki rapidly finished his speech as though he were trying to hide the fact that Kirika's voluptuous figure was in his view all this time.
Glancing at the side of his face, Kirika sighed with a slightly gloomy expression and said:
"...Yes, there are still many important tasks to do."
While Haruaki and his group were still confronting Pakuaki whose mobility they had restricted—
There were two people in a corner of the training hall, looking at the fallen Oratorie. Looking at the woman who had lost her cursed tool, who had lost the Family head she looked up to for support, who had lost everything.
Bivorio caressed her own chest but the feeling remained entrenched. Namely, this was the feeling that she had forgotten until several weeks ago, which now felt as though it comprised over half of her existence—Guilt.
"Now that the surroundings are quiet, let me ask you the final question."
This voice came from Kururi standing beside her. Like Bivorio, she was also staring at the collapsed Oratorie with complicated emotions in her eyes. Without shifting her gaze, she took a breath—
"In your view, the current me... the current us—What are we?"
Guilt made Bivorio tremble and recall all sorts of past memories.
"...People who were invited to form an organization. People who advocated that Wathes were transcenders and that sacrificing everything for them was love. People who erroneously spread that doctrine. People who murdered and ordered others to die without any remorse in order to spread that erroneous doctrine."
"No, I said I'm talking about now, didn't I?"
Then like the answer to Kururi's first question earlier, Bivorio did not know.
"If you don't know, then think carefully. In the past, we were wrong. You were crying because you knew we were wrong, isn't that right? I saw it during the sports festival."
"I... don't quite remember. However... You're... right, perhaps... I really did cry."
"The cause should not be limited to Abyss' destruction alone. Even if that was one of the reasons, it shouldn't be the only one. But that's just my opinion—Am I right?"
"...I think.. that should be right. Actually, I've known from a long time ago, I knew that our past selves were clearly in the wrong. Using wrong reasons to gather problematic people, then taking wrong actions."
"But we had no choice but to do that."
This was stated calmly and sonorously. Bivorio looked towards the side of Kururi's face but Kururi remained facing forward, as though it were her duty to gaze upon Oratorie who had lost everything.
"Even if the reasons were wrong, we had no choice but to do that. After all, I accepted the Family's invitation myself but I had no other choice but to accept. Everyone was the same. Precisely because we belonged nowhere, wrong people could only band together to create a home for ourselves."
"That's... right, it was—the past... Family, steeped heavily in sin."
Bivorio thought to herself that she was equally responsible. Collapsed in the distance, Oratorie Rabdulmunagh's plight stood as evidence of the Family's guilt. Hence, Bivorio turned her gaze towards Oratorie again.
"The only ones who have realized this heavy sin are you and me. It once crossed my mind, what should I do? I also wondered, having lost our home, where could we find a new place to belong to?"
Kururi's family had committed suicide together, leaving her as the sole survivor. Furthermore, she had suffered long term abuse from her uncle and ended up killing him. Then imprisoned by the law, once that ended, she had found the wrong home in the Family.
Now, that home had finally come to an end.
Where should she go henceforth?
But as one who helped create the wrongs of that home, did she have a right to ask "where should she go henceforth?"
"Let me ask the same question again. Although it's very incompetent, let me very shamefully ask again. Having discovered the wrongs you have committed like me, you, a person who was like a mother to me in the past, what are your thoughts on a girl who was like your child in the past?"
Bivorio thought "Oh I see now" and understood.
Because Kururi wanted to know. Two people who had both lost their homes and both realized the wrongs they had committed—Weren't they both searching for a home to belong to?
"Perhaps... Like... family... I suppose. If that 'child' has no objections to this notion."
After all, Bivorio still cherished them. Whenever she looked at Kururi or Oratorie, she was thankful that they were still alive—She felt that from the bottom of her heart. But undeniably, there was also a selfish sense of comfort rising, feeling thankful that there will not be any new guilt. But at the same time—She could not deny feeling happy simply for the survival of these two who had once spent time with her in the past.
At this moment, Kururi finally turned her gaze towards Bivorio. But as soon as they made eye contact, she felt embarrassed and scratched her face. Then turning her face away, she said:
"Really? In that case, it can't be helped, since I've already decided what I'm going to do next. Because I already have nothing."
"Is it really okay? Despite knowing how heavy my sins are, who knows how I can atone for past wrongs?"
"Well.. In terms of 'who knows,' I'm no better than you. After all, I don't even know how I'm going to make a living, isn't that quite pathetic? Without anyone to teach me how to make a living, I'll surely die out on the streets... As for atonement, I'm fine with anything, except atoning by dying out on the streets, I can't accept that."
These words were delivered in her characteristically indifferent tone of voice. It counted as a sort of indirect encouragement.
Wanting severe punishment, wanting fatal punishment, those thoughts still remained. But at the very least, they must live on, the two of them who had fortunately survived.
If that was what she wanted, Bivorio was willing to provide a home to her who had become aware of the same committed sins—it did not matter even if it were a result produced by a process of elimination out of limited choices—furthermore, maintaining her identity as a mother, maintaining an identity like a mother.
"Well then, before things get complicated, we should get moving. On the other hand, what should we do with this woman?"
Kururi pointed to the woman in the swimsuit. Once she regained consciousness, who knew what could happen? But they could not just leave her unattended. Bivorio, who deserved to die, felt that she was alive only because of these two girls' existences.
"—May I request your assistance? I'm fine myself so I can still walk."
"Really? I understand."
As Kururi knelt down beside the woman, Bivorio wondered about Oratorie.
"Oratorie... Why was she trying to hunt down and kill that boy?"
"I don't know. I remember her saying that killing him would allow her to find out your location... I don't really get it. But there's no point in dwelling on it. After all, the incident is over."
Just as Kururi lifted Oratorie onto her back—
"Where are you going?"
Fear-in-Cube was looking back this way while the girl in the bondage suit was speaking privately with Yamimagari Pakuaki.
Kururi narrowed her eyes slightly and said:
"I don't know, but anyway, I think it's a place where cursed tools of torture and execution cannot be found. If you want to take your revenge on us, we who have committed all sorts of atrocities... I'm sorry to say this while you're exhausted, but you'll have to play with me next time."
"If you're going somewhere I won't see you again, I don't mind at all. But what you say is true. I'm very exhausted right now and too tired to play with a girl like you. However, hearing your answer has made me recover my strength. Let me ask you—Will we meet again?"
The meaning of her question was very easy to understand.
"You think there will be a happy expression that a certain person wants to see? How confident you are. I have no interest in that..."
Kururi looked over her shoulder slightly towards Bivorio, perhaps for confirmation?
Bivorio nodded and said:
"Supposing it is allowed, I believe... It would be best... if that chance does not come up."
Fear-in-Cube ended up sighing deeply and waving her hand.
As though extremely astounded.
It also seemed like she was saying "How inane."
"Well said, that would be best. Of course. Hence, that 'supposing' is meaningless, because that chance will definitely not come up. In other words, I won't have to see you people ever again. Frankly, that's wonderful separation... Just hurry and go wherever you want to go!"
Then the motions of her hand changed as though she were shooing Bivorio's group to leave. At this moment, Yamimagari Pakuaki suddenly began to laugh like a maniac, attracting the silver-haired girl's attention. Then she never looked at Bivorio's group again—
Such disregard, such scorn, it was like a curse.
In the future beyond, Bivorio would never forget. Neither could she escape—Moreover, it was accompanied by intense pain. Only those particular words were capable of expressing what she wanted to say.
Cursed, Bivorio lightly saluted towards the back of the silver-haired girl, then turned around and left with Kururi.
Exiting the training hall, she asked:
"Where are we going next?"
"Who knows. In my view, we should first go over to the river ahead."
Bivorio did not understand why. Just as she looked at Kururi in puzzlement, Kururi tugged at the mascot costume's collar and frowned:
"—I want to find a place to rest and cool down. This costume is too damned hot."
Bivorio smiled. She could not remember when exactly she had last giggled like this, far in the past.
Without any objections to Kururi's suggestion, she followed.
After a while, she realized that the cross' fragment had disappeared from her hand.
But she did not feel any desire to go back and search for it.
Haruaki's group reported to Zenon what had happened and requested for her to handle the training hall's cleanup. As for the mascot costume stolen by Kururi, Zenon decided to pay the replacement fine by using the emergency fund the superintendent had entrusted her with. Publicly, the cover story was that despite the thief's capture, the mascot costume was irreparably damaged by the thief's perverted behavior, hence the thief was paying for the costume's replacement.
After ending the call to Zenon, the trio of Fear, Haruaki and Kirika returned to the infirmary and heard the following voices from inside:
"...Umm, Sovereignty, to be honest, this makes me super embarrassed. May I take it off now?"
"Eh—But I think it looks awesome! Actually at first I wasn't seriously suggesting it, but to think the doctor agreed to lend it to us so generously! It's such a refreshing new look, why don't you wear it longer?"
"Like I said~ In interpersonal relations, it's very important to overcome dreariness by keeping things fresh. Whether husband and wife, lovers or friends~ Ahhh~ This is very teacher-like counseling, but more importantly, I'm feeling very tired..."
Recalling Zenon's mentioning of Sovereignty cleaning up the infirmary, Haruaki opened the door. Entering his view were: the nicely tidied up infirmary, Ganon sitting on a bed with just a bare mattress, chewing Pocky idly, as well as—
"See, even the doctor says so, why don't you keep wearing it longer—Oh dear, Dr. Shiraho—I'm not feeling well, may I have a hug please—"
"...The demands of the curse? It can't be helped then, let's have a hug... Huh?"
The scene showed Sovereignty and Shiraho in embrace.
Perhaps because she had changed before coming back to clean up, Sovereignty was back in her usual female form with her maid outfit.
On the other hand, Shiraho was dressed up as a female doctor.
Borrowed from Ganon, presumably? The white coat really looked great on her. The glasses were probably Ganon's as well? Putting on airs like a doctor, Shiraho was sitting in a chair with her long and lovely legs crossed—Perhaps for enhancing the mood, she was also wearing fishnet tights for some reason. Then kneeling on the bed, Sovereignty had her face buried in Shiraho's chest. Even after Haruaki's group had entered, Sovereignty was still purring like a cat while Shiraho's face instantly turned bright red.
"W-What now? What are you looking at, human!?"
"N-Nothing, sorry! I never expected the situation inside to be like this! Or rather, I should say, you don't need to mind it. After all, I've been doing similar cosplay with these girls here at a nurse cafe!"
"Your attempt at covering for me is even more displeasing...!"
Behind those glasses, Haruaki could see eyes of contempt as though she were looking at an ant. Haruaki would rather die than consult this kind of female doctor who could very well step on him for displeasing her.
"I never thought you would enter without knocking, what a truly foolish human. If there existed a contest for foolish humans in this world, you will surely obtain victory without any judging required, don't worry. As for the prize for the champion, surely it must the gallows, how marvelous."
Saying that, Shiraho took off the white coat and threw it at Ganon. Ganon went "Oh—?" and caught the garment with her face. With her head completely shrouded by the loose white coat, she continued to chew on her Pocky, how amazing. Then Shiraho swiftly removed the fishnet tights and casually tossed them away. After glaring at Haruaki who was frightened by the sudden sight of her bare, pristine, snow-white legs—
"...Okay, Sovereignty, let's go now!"
"Oh hey? Ah—It's Haruaki-kun. How did it go? Did things end smoothly?"
"We. Are. Going!"
Shiraho gruffly picked up her own socks from the table and scrunched them into a ball, then swiftly made her way out.
"By the way, Sovereignty, Zenon-san asked me to pass along a message. She wants you to make a trip back to the superintendent's office."
"Oh okay, understood—Wow, only now did I discover Fear-chan, you're hurt!? Are you okay!?"
Her uniform was tattered all over and her body was covered with bloodstains. Despite the wounds all over, Fear energetically puffed out her chest and answered:
"This is nothing, I'm very fine! Don't worry, most of it is already healed."
"Really—That's good I guess, but not good also, anyway, thank goodness..."
Shiraho deliberately clicked her tongue at this moment and dragged Sovereignty away by force. Just as the two of them were about to step out of the infirmary, Haruaki hastily called out to them.
"Hold on, let me say this again... I'm really sorry about today, but you two have helped us greatly. How should I say this? Perhaps it's embarrassing to say this, but I'm very proud to have you as my friends."
Her back facing Haruaki, Shiraho suddenly halted in her steps. Her shoulder shook slightly, perhaps she was sighing.
"You owe me a favor, human. Also, I never considered you people as my friends."
Without looking back, she continued softly:
"However, precisely because of that—I shall demand a return favor suitably, even with interest. The only reason why I am completely not bothered, without the slightest weight on my conscience, is grounded in your usefulness, understood in the slave sense, of course. Although I find it rather improbable, should you intend to accrue an even greater debt, please be reminded that you may be required to be prepared to die for it."
"Uh—? Lemme translate what Shiraho just said, basically, it means 'please feel free to ask for help if you have any troubles in the future'—"
Sovereignty's smile and words were cut off by the infirmary door. Then the two of them were gone.
Haruaki's group smiled wryly and exchanged glances with one another.
Thinking "this friend is troublesome enough~"
Although the question crossed Haruaki's mind before, Ganon's knowledge of cursed tools probably came from either Zenon or the superintendent. While examining Fear's body which "should heal even if left alone," to Haruaki's surprise, she even helped Fear scrub the bloodstains beneath her clothes and applied simple treatment.
Kirika's wounds were essentially all healed and her uniform had not gotten dirty, so she sat on a bed and rested. At this moment, Sovereignty returned to the infirmary and lent Fear another uniform to change into. This was probably the reason why Zenon had summoned her to return.
Soon after, Fear's treatment was done and she had changed. From Haruaki's standpoint, he hoped that Fear could rest more, but in the end, Fear and Kirika insisted they were fine and pushed him back to the classroom.
Already after five in the afternoon, the school building was enveloped in a mood of fatigue and comfortable burnout. Walking through the corridor which was filled with the noise and bustle of people cleaning up, just as Haruaki's group returned to their classroom—
"Ahhh~ Found them—!"
Dressed in her uniform, Kana happened to walk out of the classroom. Confirming that it really was Haruaki and the rest, she puffed out her chest and deliberately pouted with a "Hmm!"
"Seriously, where did you guys run off to? Why did you disappear and skip out on your shifts in the second half? I saw Konohacchi return briefly, but I never thought she'd rummage through the cafe as though looking for something and then leaving immediately—"
Kana's grumbles prompted Haruaki to remember. Due to so many things happening, they had forgotten entirely about their shifts at the cafe. Haruaki eyed Konoha and whispered to her:
(You didn't explain to her?)
(H-How could I explain? I was desperately searching for the bomb at the time.)
At this moment, Kana pointed at the two of them strictly to say "Hey, listen to me seriously—" and continued:
"Even once the cleanup started, I still didn't see you guys return. If it were just Akki, I would have dismissed it as him doing his excessively nice guy act somewhere again. But even Kirika-chan was absent, what on earth is eeeeeeeeeeeh!? Fear-chan, what's with the bandages on your body?"
Isn't that reaction too delayed? Seeing Fear's arms and legs wrapped in bandages, Kana stared wide-eyed.
"Uh—Umm, this is, this is that!"
Crap, I didn't even think up a reason. What now? What would be more natural but convincing as well? Hurry and think, think! I must answer before Fear comes up with a weird excuse.
Haruaki gestured to Fear with his eyes to say "Leave it to us" but—Too late.
"Yes yes yes. What about it? What on earth happened?"
Fear went "Ah—Hmm—", moaning as she cast her gaze to one side. Scratching her face, she said:
"—I fell down the stairs."
That reason is way too cliched! If anyone believed that, Haruaki really wanted a good look at that person's face. Frantically, he racked his brain, thinking "I'd must find a way to back up her excuse."
"S-So I see!"
Kana believed her very readily. I'll just toss it up as Kana being "so simpleminded."
"It must have been tragic. Are you okay?"
"Of course I'm okay, they're just scrapes and scratches. I should be completely healed by tomorrow."
"I-I see. But you must have hit your head and fainted a while, right!?"
"I took her to the infirmary to rest and stayed there to take care of her—I had no choice but to neglect my duties, I'm very sorry about that."
Never expecting even Kirika to lie, Kana accepted their explanations and nodded. On the other hand, everyone felt rather guilty.
"I see now~ Well, if that's the reason, it can't be helped."
"Sorry, it's all my fault. So, I'm willing to work hard and take over the remaining cleanup..."
"It's fine, you don't have to push yourself—In principle, I'm just asking as a matter of procedure. To be honest, I can't get mad at you! This cafe's booming business is owed mostly to Fear-chan, Konohacchi and Kirika-chan! Many returning customers came back just for you three, so your contributions are the greatest! As long as you apologize properly, I'm sure everyone will forgive you. Probably... I guess—"
At this moment, Kana cackled maliciously.
"What's the matter, Kana? Of course, we want to apologize to everyone."
"That probably won't be enough—Hee hee hee, in fact, we all decided to delay the cleanup until a little while later. That's because we want to take photos to commemorate! A commemorative photo of the entire class! And for the three of you who are the most special, you are forced to wear those special outfits."
Hearing her words, Fear began to frown. Konoha and Kirika also suddenly became flustered.
"Nuu~ I need to wear a syringe on my back again?"
"M-Me too? I need to wear that hakama nurse outfit...?"
"What? A-A group photo, dressed up like that, that's really, umm—embarrassing..."
"You skipped your shifts, you three have no right to refuse! Relax, Konohacchi, after all, there are quite a few girls wearing the same nurse outfits. However, it's just that none of them can match the violence of your figure!"
While saying "Okay, let's go, let's go," Kana pulled Kirika and Konoha into the classroom. Following behind them slowly, Haruaki and Fear exchanged glances.
"How troubling. But if the punishment for skipping shifts consists only of cosplay photos, that should be considered quite light. After all, it's not every day that we hold a cultural festival, of course we want it to conclude happily... However, there's still the after party once cleanup is done."
"What's the after party? I think I heard it somewhere before."
"They have a bonfire at the sports ground where people can dance and chat. Since some of the homerooms might go out for a celebratory drink after the festival, the school probably decided they might as well provide a place to celebrate."
Fear nodded with great interest. To this girl, every first experience was very interesting. Haruaki suddenly remembered something at this moment—
"How did you find the cultural festival?"
"Hmm, many things happened and unfortunately, I only got to participate in just a small part... But it was very fun. It felt really happy to work with everyone to finish something together."
"It's really great that you can understand what it means to be happy. I'm sure next time, you'll also work hard towards your own happiness."
"Next time huh... That's true. Kirika also managed to stay here without issue. Hmm, there are really many things to look forward to!"
Fear entered the classroom, full of smiles.
Haruaki also entered the room shortly after. Then suddenly he remembered something—Just now, Fear had mentioned "Kirika also managed to stay here without issue."
Speaking of which—
How on earth did she manage to convince Pakuaki to give up on her...?
The sky was already quite dark.
Sounding like an old man, Haruaki tossed garbage bags into the incinerator located in a corner of the school. Cleanup was reaching its final stages. After making several trips back and forth already, the task of trash disposal was also about to conclude.
Next, he could sense the sports ground getting noisier and noisier, because the after party was about to start. Did the more impatient homerooms run outside to gather this quickly already? Having already fooled around that much during the day, they sure are energetic.
On the other hand, so much had happened on Haruaki's side, hence he was dead tired. He could not suppress the yawns coming from his throat.
As Haruaki yawned in succession, he really felt like sitting down to rest... Looks like I'll have to rest during the after party. Since every class will lay out tarps, I could probably lie down for a bit—No, sleeping is probably not allowed.
Just as Haruaki smiled wryly and said "I'll tough it out a bit longer," and yawned again...
"Oh... Class Rep, you're here to throw out garbage too?"
Although he asked that, Kirika did not seem like she was throwing garbage away because there were no garbage bags in her hands. Furthermore, she was acting a little furtive and awkward.
"No, how should I say this...? I have something... to say to you, are you... free right now?"
"Yeah I'm free, after all, most of the garbage should be cleaned up... But the after party starts soon."
"I know, so I'll be quick. Come, follow me."
"Eh? Hey, I'm coming even if you don't drag me—Speaking of which, can't we just talk here?"
"Of course not!"
Circling around the school building, the pair moved over to a deserted area behind the school.
"Since we're in a hurry, let's go up directly. The roof."
"Eh, directly to the roof, what do you mean... Ah—!"
The «Tragic Black River» suddenly slithered out and wrapped around Haruaki's waist while its tip continued to extend towards the roof and entangled a fence, contracting with Haruaki caught in its midsection. Then Haruaki experienced an extremely terrifying feeling of suspension as they ascended—Finally pausing just before the fence for Kirika to ascertain there was no one on the roof. Then crossing over the fence, Haruaki finally stepped on solid concrete again.
"Gah, that was really scary...! Class Rep, give me some time for mental preparation if you're going to do that!"
"D-Didn't I say we're in a hurry?"
"Even so, you didn't need to go this far... Actually, I wanted to say many things like 'Let's take the stairs' or 'Can't we talk down below?' etc but never mind, it's over anyway. Okay, what did you want to talk to me about?"
"H-Hmm, let's sit down here first."
At Kirika's urging, Haruaki sat down in a corner of the roof. Kirika also took a seat beside him with a delicate distance between them. Haruaki could hear her taking a few deep breaths as though calming herself down.
"Ah... First of all, I'd like to thank you. I've added a lot to your troubles today... So, thank you for taking care of me, thank you very much."
Haruaki smiled wryly: "What the heck, it turns out to be this?"
"You don't have to say thanks or anything. After all, I didn't do very much. You should thank Fear and the others instead."
"...You're right. I also intend to thank them properly. All of you tried so hard, risking your lives to rescue me. I'm very glad."
"You placed your life on the line too, so I think it's only natural for us to do that."
Haruaki's relaxed tone of voice prompted a sigh from Kirika.
"You're right, I also... placed my life on the line... I don't want to go back no matter what, that's why I went that far. It's not like I enjoy pain, but I had no other choice."
"Oh, that's right! I remember that, but I forgot to ask because there were too many things going on—Umm, was your plan really to proactively get yourself stabbed by the knife? Why did you have to do that? Class Rep."
"...In order to win, that was the only way."
"What I mean is: that can't count as a solution, right? A plan that relies on deliberately causing pain to yourself, isn't that too outrageous? When you insisted on assigning roles to us, it was for that, right? ...Jeez."
"After all, it's already over."
"Because it's over, that's why it makes me feel uncomfortable. Oh man—Damn it, I should have stopped you through forceful means. Had I known, I surely would have changed the distribution of roles."
Haruaki gulped in the process. Then he heard Kirika's voice.
"Umm... Are you angry?"
"Quite angry, and also angry at myself for not stopping you. I beg you, please don't do something like that again."
"If I did it again, what would you do?"
"I'll get angry again. Oh right... You're hereby sentenced to forehead flicking. Hence, this is for today."
Kirika happened to have sat down beside him within arm's reach. Hence, Haruaki extended his hand and flicked her on the forehead with a "smack."
"I'm really begging you, please don't make me worry so much, even if you have an immortal body—When I saw the blood gushing from your heart, I was so scared my heart almost stopped. Hmm, what's wrong, Class Rep? Sorry, did I flick too hard?"
For some reason, Kirika had turned her body and her face away. While presenting her back towards Haruaki, she was resting her face on her hands while her body trembled. What's going on, did something happen? Haruaki had caught a glimpse of Kirika's face for an instant after flicking her forehead and she seemed unimaginably more relaxed than her usual self—She shouldn't be the type to feel happy about being scolded, were his nerves acting up?
"Class Rep, are you okay?"
"N-Nothing... I'm... completely... fine. Hu... ha... Hmm, right, I'm fine!"
Haruaki heard her breathe in and out many times, then suddenly she turned herself towards him again. As he thought, the earlier expression he saw must have been an illusion. Because right now, she was displaying a furious expression with lips pursed, eyes widened and eyebrows raised. What an exaggerated expression of anger, it almost felt as though she were making it deliberately.
"No, it's fine. You are right, I did something that angered you. So you don't need to apologize. After all, that's just how it goes. I'm done with what I wanted to say today. How absolutely ridiculous!"
Her face kept twitching. Were her emotions about to explode? If not, then it looked as though she were desperately suppressing the urge to laugh, but of course, that could not possibly be happening.
(After all, she did that for everyone's sake... But it's my sincere feeling that I don't want her to hurt herself. In any case, even if I offended her, it can't be helped.)
Haruaki decided to withhold his advice of telling her to caution herself. He simply sighed and accepted her wrath. But being glared by her like this was really not good for his heart. Hence deliberately avoiding Kirika's gaze as she sat beside him, he looked up towards the sky. The sun was almost completely set. The sky above had already turned into a vast expanse of navy blue, resembling one of those dome-shaped ceilings in planetarium theaters.
For some reason, Kirika fell silent and did not speak. All Haruaki could hear was the comfortable sound of the cool breeze.
After a long long silence.
Haruaki felt his eyelids growing heavier and heavier. Just as he was thinking about finding a place to sit down and rest, this dark roof turned out to be a location that was easy on the eyes. Crap, even sitting upright on the hard concrete floor, he was beginning to feel as though it were a luxury chair. He felt his entire body sinking, slowly sinking. How much time had passed since their last dialogue? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Or maybe only a minute?
"S-Say, Yachi, let's get back to the main point—"
Class Rep was about to say something, I must wake up. Otherwise, it'd be too impolite, I must wake up...
Hmm, Class Rep. What's up?
He could not believe that Kirika failed to hear his voice. Hence, he tried to vibrate his vocal cords again.
But he had already reached his limit.
His consciousness ended up switching up—
Then he could not hear anything more.
Kirika murmured to herself, absolutely ridiculous.
Sitting with his knees drawn up, Haruaki had fallen asleep with his cheek resting against his lap. Accompanied by the sound of his breathing noises, he was completely unconscious. Also, his head was turned, giving a clear view of his stupid sleeping face.
She muttered again, feeling a surge of anger rising. Easygoing, too easygoing.
"...I'm angry. That's right, I'm angry, Yachi! And there are quite a few reasons for that. First of all, your punishment did hurt just now, so this is purely for revenge!"
Kirika's tone of voice was forceful but did not escape the realm of whispers. These words were completely not enunciated.
Approaching Haruaki on her knees, she reached out with a grim expression and flicked towards his forehead.
It missed, because Kirika missed intentionally.
She had flicked her finger into empty space without even touching his bangs. Kirika imagined a look of pain on his face but that was not satisfying enough.
"Second of all, it's about what made you angry! Whenever there is a need, I'm still going to do it, as many times as necessary. Even though I know it isn't right, for the sake of my righteous desires, I will still resort to that move no matter how many times it takes! If you want to be mad at me, that's your problem, but be prepared. I'll pay you back with my anger like this every time!"
Drawing her face even closer, this time, she aimed a flick at his nose.
A nose flick separated by the air.
In her imagination, he yelled in pain while laughing "You win okay, I get it now." How could there exist such an easygoing guy who was excessively nice to a fault? Of course, she was not satisfied yet either.
"Third of all, I can't forgive you for the third reason! Basically, you—"
Of course, she had already decided what she needed to do.
Still on her knees, she slightly drew herself even closer to him.
Like the previous two times—but this time, she was quite hesitant until the very very last second—she decided on her next target while thinking "Oh no~ I can't do it, this really is my limit" in escapism.
Then she held her breath.
His cheek. Her very own lips. They made contact.
She had no idea herself how many seconds she spent on that action.
Slowly, slowly, she separated from him.
Then she collapsed and sat on the floor, looking down as she murmured to herself.
"That's... because you... leave too many openings... for others to take advantage..."
In the beginning, she planned on saying "this is your reward as my thanks for helping me" while carrying out the act forcefully. She originally planned to use that as an excuse because she felt compelled to do it.
She had already prepared herself mentally.
She had also prepared herself for what could happen afterwards or the end result.
To think he would fall asleep in such an unguarded state—Doesn't that mean she can't do as planned anymore?
Kirika did not have the courage to let this perfect opportunity slip past "unused." Amidst feelings of desperation, in fact, her initially decided target was not his cheek... But in the end, she lost to her feelings of terror that even she could not understand herself. Good heavens, when did I become such a coward?
No, it's fine. Since everything had ended, it's fine, anyway... Anyway—
Kirika stood up without waking up Haruaki. Feeling a painful throbbing, she ran forward. She discovered faint light in front of the fence and could hear Oklahoma Mixer music in the background. Was the after party starting? What was he going to do? Was he going to get up immediately? If after waiting a long time for him and he still doesn't go to the after party, I'll just say I left him to sleep on the roof and left first—Kirika used the paltry remainder of calmness in her mind to ponder, but very soon, the rhythm of her heart instantly shot up.
In any case, all she could think of was leaving this place, leaving him.
If she did not do that, she could very well die.
Hence, Kirika opened and went through the metal door to the school building, then closed it softly. Exhaling as she leaned back on the door, she held her hand to her chest to suppress the beating within. At this moment, a sense of reality suddenly surged forth.
—I did it. I really... did it.
"Phew... Huff~ Ah..."
Calm down, I must calm down. Putting emotions aside for now, I must consider the logical side of things.
Indeed, although it did not go as initially planned, there should not be any problems.
There were no problems with this time or place.
She had provided concrete evidence and fulfilled the despicable condition that man had proposed—Could you show me a kiss? Kirika had no idea where he was observing from, but that man definitely saw it, so this was fine. In that case, she would not be taken back to the Lab Chief's Nation.
"Ha... Haha, serves me right..."
The worst memories, carved into the innermost depths of her mind, surfaced choppily in her mind. A sudden sense of touch, the arm she pushed away due to revulsion of that touch, that man's smiles and words. Hmm~ So this kind of feelings exists? Another unknown demolished, thank you, Kirika.
Clearly it had happened many years ago, but simply remembering these fragments of memories—Past feelings of terror were finally reappearing vividly as though she had just heard those words.
She could not allow him to know that sense of terror. She could not allow him to know how terrifying he was in his mindset of desiring to investigate thousands of unknowns. Hence, she absolutely could not allow him to know the reason why she refused to return to that man's side no matter what.
However, she had finally taken revenge. It took a great deal of effort to replace those memories of the worst kind.
Although it was done for a reason...
Although she almost backed out in fear and only managed it due to luck...
But this was definitely—
"This was... My first kiss."
Kirika gently caressed her lips with her fingers.
Then she rushed down the stairs with leaping steps.
Konoha was behind the water tower on the roof. She had been looking for Haruaki to join the after party, hence she followed him went he went out to dispose of the garbage. Finding Haruaki and Kirika acting strangely, she tailed them, climbed onto the roof using a drainpipe and saw—
"...That kind of thing, I already knew a long time ago."
Then there were Kirika's feelings of love she had hidden in her heart.
Konoha had eavesdropped with her superhuman hearing. She also did the same back during Kirika's conversation with Pakuaki.
Hence, Konoha knew what she was going to do.
Konoha renewed her thoughts. "What a formidable rival she is..." Although it crossed her mind, she left it at that.
"As expected of a cultural festival, so many things happened. However... I won't admit defeat."
Leaning back against the water tower, Konoha smiled wryly as she watched the sky lit up by the bonfire. She raised her hand as though trying to pierce the brightest star in the sky. This hand that was stained with the blood of babies, pregnant women and the elderly in the past. She knew she was filthy but consequently she greatly desired things of purity and cleanliness and looked forward to things of purity and cleanliness. She believed in cleanliness and purity.
Whether in lifestyle—or love.
Indeed, only by winning fair and square would her love have meaning.
Hence, nothing would change. She simply thought to herself, "I will try even harder than before."
"...Very well, time for me to get going."
In any case, she had decided what she would do next.
Going downstairs from here, pretending to look for Haruaki all over the place, then finally finding him here and waking him up.
Then with their usual expressions, with their usual attitudes, the two of them would join the after party.
Then before anyone else could do so, she would invite him to dance.
—Not long before Konoha was smiling wryly at the night sky, in other words, while Kirika was still on the roof.
Fear was also watching the same scene through the metal door that was slightly ajar.
Like Konoha, she had gone searching for Haruaki and just by coincidence, she witnessed the scene on the roof.
"Eh... How strange... Oh...?"
She pressed one hand tightly against her chest.
She could not understand.
No idea what was going on.
Kirika's lips had merely touched Haruaki's cheek. That was all.
Then why, why was her heart hurting so much?
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