Chapter 3 - Water and Exposed Skin Everywhere in View. Or Perhaps, / "How to clean the whole stealthily"
For the next few days, everyone had their hands full between handling exams and protecting Satsuko. Since they could not be certain if the plan worked in making Fourteen give up, ensuring safety had to come first.
Guessing that the enemy would not attack in crowded places, they decided that Satsuko should be fine when going to school during the daytime. In any case, they accompanied her on the way to and from school and cautioned her not to go anywhere deserted. The only remaining problem was protection during the night. After all, Satsuko could not keep staying over at the Yachi residence, but neither could they go to her home (which was an apartment building), hence their only choice was concealing themselves outside to monitor the place. In the end, the responsibility fell to Fear and her kind who were less prone to sleep deprivation (especially Kuroe who had no exams) as well as Kirika who offered to help due to being aware of the situation. In this manner, the group worked hard and took turns in protecting Satsuko. Although they had asked Haruaki not to push himself too much, naturally, he also tried his best to help out within the bounds of his stamina. Due to a need to prepare for exams and further reduction of sleeping time, it really was quite tough. However, Haruaki could not permit himself to relax while all the girls were hard at work, monitoring for Satsuko's sake.
However, there was also one more person whom Haruaki wished could relax a bit more. Mainly, the extra person who had shown up staring from the first night to monitor Satsuko's home apart from Haruaki's group.
Kaidou. Naturally, she did not arrive at the request of Haruaki's group. The morning after Fourteen's attack, she had thanked them for the night and left. But for her, things probably could not end there.
If Haruaki's entourage were to appear before Kaidou, she would surely say: "Leave it all to me. You should return." Hence, Haruaki's side decided to hide a certain distance away from Kaidou who was leaning openly against a utility pole as though challenging the enemy "Come at me if you are going to strike." Then even more nervous than before, they secretly kept watch.
Hence, from that day onwards, they kept their distance from Kaidou not only at night but also during daytime as well. Perhaps due to sleep deprivation or some other reason, Kaidou was always spacing out, not just during her lessons but also when she came to the class as the exam invigilator, making it impossible for anyone to talk to her. Naturally, Fear did not take any action towards her. It was as though she had forgotten what happened that night.
This scenery filled Haruaki with a sense of loneliness. He was troubled by an inexplicable sense of agitation over "is there any method to resolve this situation?" that he could not dispel from his mind. Precisely because Fear and Satsuko's friendship was deepening as days went by, this anxiety felt especially poignant.
Naturally, Haruaki had no objections to their friendship. Rather, he felt that it was a good thing instead. Ever since that night, Satsuko had grown especially intimate with Fear and would interact proactively. Perhaps the two of them had found some kind of common ground in particular to hit it off.
In any case, while Haruaki was at a loss as to how to improve relations between Kaidou and Fear, the raging storm of the end of term examinations finally subsided. Another few days passed—Since nothing had happened so far, perhaps they could deem their plan a success. Although they remained vigilant, the level of alert gradually diminished.
By the time the first weekend arrived after exams had finished, Haruaki's group concluded it was probably okay for Satsuko to move around freely. Hence, that weekend became a special occasion to commemorate their dual sense of liberation—from exams and the conclusion of the incident. Under extremely natural conditions, they decided to execute the plan first proposed during the study gathering.
A perfect opportunity. Or rather, it was an opportunity that could not be missed.
Hence, while planning the itinerary for the weekend, Haruaki also decided to put a certain plan into motion. He had no idea if it would work or not. Furthermore, the results would only be visible on that day but in any case, he felt compelled to do it.
Then after some hasty preparations over a neither long nor short period of time...
The Sunday scheduled for the plan finally arrived—
"Ooh— Ooh—Too slow, you guys are too slow!"
"Yeah, but the appointed time hasn't arrived yet. We're the ones who arrived too early."
"That's right. Please do not keep pacing back and forth, Fear-san. It's very unsightly."
"Oh my, waiting like this is part of the fun after all. Say, it's been quite a while since the last trip to the pool."
"I know it's been quite a long time since the last time we all went out to have fun like this. But do you really have to deliberately close up your shop the whole day to take part...?"
"I'd feel so lonely that I'd die if everyone is having fun while I'm the only one working. Haru, do you want me to die? You murderer—I can't help but admit, you must be one of those special serial killers who derive excitement from watching a beautiful pubescent girl like me, dying as result of being ostracized by her friends—"
"Okay okay... But I don't have an entry ticket for a beautiful pubescent girl here, so you'll have to pay for yourself."
Haruaki and his group's location was currently the entrance of the Hitsutou Grand Hotel in the center of Hitsutou City. It was the tallest building in the city with its pentagonal form towering into the clouds. This place was not simply a luxury hotel but also housed their destination today—a water park and leisure facility. Rather than a "relaxed vacation with your family," the building exuded an air that invited "the minority of people who possessed excess time and cash." One could say that it was the kind of venue that Haruaki would never consider in the first place, conscientious as he was regarding family expenses—
"But on further thought, this prize really was quite extravagant. Weren't there hundreds of people in the winning team at the sports festival?"
"I heard that this place's operator is friends with the superintendent."
"That guy's social circles are quite a mystery... But if they're friends, I can understand."
Just as they chatted over these matters, Fear suddenly straightened her posture. She was originally prowling the area in circles like a bear. Waving her hand vigorously, she cried out:
"Oh Kirika! We're over here!"
"Hmm... You guys are really early. I already left home ahead of time."
"Good morning, Class Rep. It's all this girl's fault. Ever since she got up from bed, she's been yelling 'Okay, let's go, we're setting off now,' forcing us to leave the house early."
"R-Really? I see."
As the two met face to face, Kirika's face went red subtly. Intrigued, Haruaki lowered his voice and whispered:
"Umm... You sure you weren't forced into this? If you don't like swimming, I don't actually have to celebrate at this venue."
"W-What are you saying at this point? Umm... I think it should be fine. After all, not everyone who goes to have fun at the pool needs to be in swimwear, right? I came because I expect to have fun, so don't you worry. U-Understood!?"
"Oh? I don't understand why you're scolding me, but sure, I understand...!"
Kirika scoffed and went "Hmph," turning her back towards Haruaki in a huff. Then she began muttering emphatically while facing the wrong direction:
"...Seriously... I even went that far already, how could I miss this kind of chance? Right, although there's a risk, I'll be fine so long as I'm careful... So..."
"Uh—Class Rep...? What's the matter...?"
"N-Nothing!" Kirika frantically restored her expression then spoke as though trying to change the subject:
"By the way, Kana and Taizou really can't come?"
"Yeah, they can't. They both said their clubs had competitions... Especially Taizou, he was so despaired that he sounded like the world was coming to an end."
Taizou had been inviting everyone to the pool from a while ago... But at this critical moment, he had ended up backing out. Due to the cultural festival and the end of term exams for the past while, this weekend was the final opportunity, but unfortunately for him, he missed it because of a match. When Haruaki explained the situation to Kirika, the result was—
"I never expected Taizou to be this timid... Although I feel sorry for them, it's true that their absence implies less of a risk. If we postpone to the next weekend, fewer of us can join because of supplementary lessons. Further than that, the tickets will expire, so in terms of dates, it can't be helped."
"Hmm, why did I hear an unlucky term? But personally, I don't like going near unlucky things, so I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
Originally chatting and laughing with Kuroe, Konoha tightly grabbed the collar of Fear who had stopped in front of her but still intended to wander around and check out the surroundings.
"What do you mean by unlucky? Please do not indulge in escapism and remind yourself to be more self-aware. Seriously, even though we held a study gathering... You really aren't one for self-improvement."
"W-What are you talking about? I'll curse you! Listen to me carefully! I did fail Ancient Japanese but compared to the midterms, I improved three marks for Modern Japanese—"
"A mere three marks, what are you boasting about!? It's only because the average went down so your score managed to pass barely, right?"
Protecting Satsuko made everyone even more busy and of course, they ended up spending even less time preparing for the finals than for the midterms. In Haruaki's case, his overall scores were slightly worse than usual (but luckily he did not fail anything), so he was more or less sympathetic to Fear's plight. But Fear was arguing against Konoha whose grades had not dropped very much despite facing the same conditions, which made it difficult for Haruaki to put in a good word in Fear's defense. As for Kirika, her scores were the same as usual, thereby underlining the importance of studying throughout the term.
In the end, Haruaki could not take either side, thus the argument continued to escalate.
"To think you'd fail to understand the importance of three marks. I've always suspected you of cheating, looks like I really should look deeper into it... I keep getting the feeling that you possess another memory organ apart from your brain. Of course, it's one that no ordinary person possesses, so I was thinking it must be an unnatural and twisted biological component that ordinary people cannot imagine..."
"Wow~ It wobbled just now! Kuroe, look, the creature is awakening, beware!"
"Wah—We're gonna be eaten—"
"Kuroe-san, don't you go joining in this nonsense!"
Just as Haruaki half narrowed his eyes and wondered thought: "Should I break up this argument?"
"Ufufu, you're so noisy here! Hello everyone—"
"Given such unsightly behavior in public, I think it's best that we pretend to be strangers, Sovereignty."
At this moment, Shiraho and Sovereignty arrived. As expected, Sovereignty did not come in her maid outfit. But rather than Sovereignty, Fear seemed to be more concerned with Shiraho's arrival.
"Shiraho! You've come at the right moment. As my study buddy, you must say something to this girl here—"
"D-Don't go treating me as your buddy so casually. This concerns me not."
Shiraho turned her face away in displeasure. According to Sovereignty's brief report, Shiraho narrowly avoided repeating her legendary achievement of failing all subjects last time. Although it only applied to two or three subjects, she did indeed progress to the point of passing. These results were thanks to her own efforts and the support of her gentle lover, as well as Kirika's earnest instruction of studying techniques.
"...By the way, human, may I say something? I only came here to have fun with Sovereignty. You people only happen to be here by coincidence. Since we are not friends who came together, there is no need for me to show any mercy... Should any of you stare at Sovereignty or me in our swimsuits, I shall instantly scream and have the security guards evict you. I advise you to prepare yourselves. Oh how I really look forward to watching a typical pervert getting taken away while spouting excuses in vain."
"Don't casually call someone a pervert, okay!?"
"Oh dear, so you're actually the pervert...! No matter how others might stare, Satsuko won't make any objections since she owes you... Oh no~ But for further actions, please do it somewhere without people watching please!"
"Anyway, when did you arrive?"
Haruaki had missed Satsuko because of her petite stature. Like a young puppy as usual, Satsuko was trembling nonstop with fear in her eyes.
"J-Just now. Sorry, something happened while Satsuko was on her way. For someone like Satsuko with a hopeless sense of direction, getting lost is only natural... So Satsuko is a bit late. But Satsuko expected this already, so luckily, Satsuko packed a «Hollow Earth Compass» beforehand. Without this compass for pointing the way towards the entrance to the massive underground cavern in the Antarctic, who knows where Satsuko would have ended up now...!"
"Isn't that no different from a normal compass... N-Never mind. After all, you managed to arrive on time, so there's nothing to be concerned about. It's okay."
Seeing Satsuko, Fear stopped aggravating Konoha and rushed over.
"Oh~ Satsuko! You've arrived!"
Using her running momentum, Fear high-fived Satsuko with both hands, yelling "Yeah!" in unison. Judging from her smiling face, she was really happy. Of course, Satsuko also smiled and conservatively received Fear's high-five. If Haruaki tried the same thing with Satsuko, she would probably ask fearfully: "Oh no, this mysterious posture! Using both hands, you are planning to toy with Satsuki's body doubly, right...?" Although Haruaki was not particularly envious of their close friendship, somehow he felt rather complicated inside.
"S-Satsuko is here. Satsuko can't believe that you would invite someone like Satsuko who is just an eyesore and not fun at all..."
"Please, didn't we agree already? How could we not invite you? Oh yeah, I should ask just in case. What happened after yesterday?"
Fear stared into Satsuko's face and asked.
"Yes, nothing strange is happening anymore... Like the «Lucky Cthulu Oracle» or the «Crystal Bowling Ball Fortune Telling», both showed good results! Thank you all for taking so much care of Satsuko recently...!"
"Y-Yeah~ I don't quite understand fortune telling... But if nothing happened, it looks like the plan really worked. If that woman found out she was tricked, there's no reason for her not to reappear by now. In any case, if anything happens again, just contact us. I will instantly rush over to your side."
At this moment, Fear brought her face close to Satsuko's ear and chattered away:
"...By the way, umm, will you really be okay?"
"Yeah, because it's a one-piece swimsuit, Satsuko thinks it should be no problem at all... Sorry for making you worry..."
The two began whispering to each other. Although Haruaki had no what they were talking about, it was only natural for close friends to share a secret or two. He decided not to pay it any particular attention because there were more pressing concerns at hand.
"Anyway, everyone is basically here. Except for one person..."
Fear suddenly threw a slanted glance up towards Haruaki.
"I didn't get her reply... But I think she should be coming."
To be honest, Haruaki felt apologetic towards Satsuko because in a certain sense, he was partially using her. He had sent an invitation through the superintendent. Since that guy pretty much started the whole affair, he naturally agreed readily to help. For example, Haruaki had asked the superintendent to pass along the details of today's celebration as well as Satsuko's participation. Hence, definitely—
Soon after, a certain character arrived in her usual tracksuit and carrying a shovel, someone who looked even more out of place in this luxury hotel than Haruaki's group. Like a warrior heading towards the battle arena, she was slowly approaching step by step.
"—Due to the inclusion of many problem children, hence the superintendent requested that I lead this group. You probably heard about this already."
She stopped before Haruaki and spoke these superficial words. As a side note, the teachers on the white team had all received winning prizes for the sports festival—Kaidou was the only one left who had not used hers. But anyway, her explanation was simply the superficial reason the superintendent used to issue orders to her.
Kaidou moved her eyes and met gazes with Satsuko, who smiled demurely and said: "Hello again..." Kaidou used a deliberate-looking poker face and answered: "...Yes, it is wonderful to see you in good health."
As for Fear, her expression disappeared, but immediately—
"Great, everyone is finally here! Then let's go, time is precious!"
"Don't be in such a hurry, it's not like the swimming pool will run away... There are other guests in the hotel, so don't be too noisy."
The group began to advance. Haruaki deliberately slowed his pace and walked beside Kaidou who was in the rear.
"...Thank you for agreeing to come."
This was the first time for them to speak after that night's incident, but she glanced at Haruaki and replied:
"I came on the superintendent's orders. There is no other reason apart from that."
Despite Kaidou's answer, Haruaki still felt grateful to her. After all, things could not begin unless she came.
On that night, he had not asked Kaidou why she swatted Fear's hand away. But after Fear ran back to her room, judging from the way Kaidou stared at her own hand in surprise—Haruaki concluded that she did not actually mean to do that. It was probably involuntary. In that case, there was still a chance to mend their relationship. If she really did not care about Fear, she probably would not have made that face.
But even now, Haruaki still had no idea how to mend their relationship. Since he did not know, Haruaki decided to start from the very beginning. In other words—to attempt bringing them closer together through ordinary means. In turn, Fear and the others could get closer to the teacher in a casual atmosphere. That was all he could come up with.
No matter how much she was at a loss on how to deal with them, perhaps under circumstances when conversation was unavoidable, the awkwardness of not knowing how to face them might gradually diminish or even be eliminated. Of course, this was just a prediction based on subjective optimism. It was also possible for her to become even more at a loss—But recalling what had happened that night, Haruaki decided that it could not get worse.
Indeed, simply stated.
Haruaki had changed his mind and seriously thought: "There's already nothing to be afraid of."
Hence, he arranged for Kaidou to be here. Perhaps a day's worth of time might not change anything but it was still better than doing nothing. After all, their dealings with her were not going to be limited to this day only.
"Well... The superintendent is right, there really are a lot of problem children among these girls. If you'll assist in supervising them, Kaidou-sensei, it'll really help me out a lot. If they do anything strange, feel free to scold them harshly."
Haruaki spoke thus.
"—I shall handle things as appropriate."
Her face still solemn, Kaidou replied.
The hotel's entire twentieth floor was a water park zone. The nineteenth floor was also a pool area but since it was a specialized facility for competition events such as swimming races, synchronized swimming and diving, it was apparently provided to universities and amateur clubs for group training and not open to the public.
"Hmm... After all, diving is too scary for me to try, so it doesn't really matter to me. Uh—This floor... So this sign says it's divided into five areas each with unique attractions..."
Haruaki had changed into ordinary swimming trunks. With nothing to do, he turned to look at the map on the wall. Quite some time had passed since he exited the male changing room. Why did girls take so long to change into their swimwear?
The facilities here probably emphasized quality over quantity. There were not a lot of other guests, but it was not empty either. He could hear the sound of people talking and jumping into the water in the pool behind him. These sounds were enough to get Haruaki excited but entering the pool alone would feel especially empty. Furthermore, expecting Fear to get lost in her overexcitement, Haruaki decided to memorize the floor map firmly.
"This place is currently the 'Standard Area'... Uh—Next to that is..."
This floor was apparently divided into five areas that were isosceles triangles. Since the building itself had a pentagonal cross-section, the floor was basically carved into five equal portions by drawing lines from the center to the vertices. Based on the map, the Standard Area was at the very bottom. Then going clockwise, next came the Family Area, the Jungle Area, the Slides Area, and finally, the Coast Area. Every area had its own name. The Standard Area was unique because it included facilities such as the changing rooms, the service desk and the elevator lobby, hence it had slightly less floor space than the other areas.
Just as Haruaki was looking at the guide panel, wondering what kinds of pools there were...
"I-I-It's water—! It's water everywhere in view!"
"Of course, this is a water park after all. I'd be more troubled if other things were mixed inside."
"If there were swimming pools filled with something like wine, that would be fun."
"...Allow me to retract my previous statement. Oh dear~ That probably would be quite fun too..."
Fear and the girls were chattering away as their voices approached. Thinking "finally they're here," Haruaki sighed and turned around—
Haruaki could not help but feel his heart pounding at the sight before him.
This sight was only natural. He could understand it on an intellectual level but had not expected the shocking sense of reality. The sight of these familiar girls in their swimsuits, how should one put it? Indeed... It made one's heart race.
"W-What is with your gaze... Damn shameless brat! I expected this from you, but is this really the time to be making use of your talent!?"
"Okay, before I refute your accusation, let me ask you something first. Fear, where did you get your hands on a school swimsuit?"
Indeed, Fear was actually wearing a basic school swimsuit. The mundane color of navy blue stood in stark contrast against her shining silver hair and pale white complexion, seeming like an awesome combination, or maybe not.
Back when they first decided to go swimming, Fear had said "Swimsuit? No problem." Due to her confidence, Haruaki originally thought she would ask Kuroe to buy or lend one to her, but little did he expect—
"I asked for this swimsuit as a memento after the cultural festival ended. It was from Kana's senior in the swimming club. Because I helped out at their stall to attract customers, I guess it's also meant as a thank you gift for my efforts."
"Right, I think you mentioned something about helping the swimming club's publicity... But a school swimsuit..."
"I-Is there anything strange? It's still a swimsuit, right? Just in case, I asked Kuroe already and she told me I must wear it! See, we're the school swimsuit duo!"
Fear swiftly grabbed Kuroe by the hand and dragged her out front. Haruaki sighed again. Kuroe was dressed in white school swimsuit. Although he had heard rumors before, Haruaki never expected to this color would actually be available for sale in the market.
Kuroe gazed blankly as usual:
"...This is the Second Player color scheme. Please feel free to enjoy the sight of my partnership with Ficchi."
"No, I don't quite understand what you mean."
Whatever, Haruaki decided to dismiss the sight as "little kids wearing childish swimsuits turns out to be just right."
Just as Haruaki sighed in exasperation, the sight of Konoha turning her body awkwardly caught his eyes. This was the combination of glasses with a bikini, and a perfectly flawless bikini at that. The small, triangular pieces of fabric on top and on the bottom were tied with tiny strings. How should one describe it? —Many parts looked like they were about to burst out.
"U-Umm... Haruaki-kun, you keep staring at me... It makes me... embarrassed. So, the way I'm dressed... Is it very strange...?"
"No—It's not strange, not at all. I-I think, it suits you very well. It looks super."
Just as Haruaki shook his head vigorously and expressed his opinion, Konoha breathed out as though greatly relieved. This resulted in her bosom going as far as to produce "boing" onomatopoeia.
"I-Is that so? Good to know. Although I... 've been worrying if... this might be too daring... But I've never worn it since buying it, thinking I'd try it out in this opportunity. Umm... Haruaki-kun says it looks super... Fufufu... Looks like my efforts have not gone to waste...!"
For some reason, she giggled to herself and leaned back, making a small victory pose. Haruaki had no idea what was going on but seeing her so happy, he felt it was worth it to offer her praise. On the other hand, Fear and Kuroe were chattering away: "That creature finally displays her ultimate form..." "Only we... can stop the first step in Earth's invasion..." That was what their alliance conference sounded like.
Next to emerge from the changing room were Sovereignty and Shiraho. Sovereignty was wearing a cute tube top with hot pants while Shiraho was dressed in a stylish bikini with a halter top and a low-rise design. In fact, she exhibited great potential and frankly speaking, she really looked like a model.
But in her view, how others looked at her lover was apparently more important than they viewed her.
"Sorry to make everyone wait! Okay, let's have as much fun as possible... Shiraho, what's the matter?"
Shiraho swiftly stepped in front of Sovereignty, instantly blocking Haruaki's gaze. Deliberately clicking her tongue disapprovingly, she then—
"...You should go and die."
"Eh, Shiraho, are you in a bad mood? Did I do something wrong again...?"
"No—It's because you're too adorable, I just don't want others to see you. I wonder if a strange epidemic could start spreading, where all humans who stare at you without my permission will die? Starting right now."
Shiraho sulked while Sovereignty hugged her tightly from behind with all smiles. In a certain sense, these two were still the same as usual.
Just as this moment, timid footsteps could be heard. Haruaki turned to see—
"W-What's wrong? Just hurry up and say whatever you want to say! Stop staring at me like I'm some sort of rare animal, that's... A-Absolutely ridiculous!"
It was Kirika. Compared to Fear and the rest, there was of course a difference in her level of exposure. On top, she was wearing an oversized t-shirt made of dark and thick fabric that succeeded in completely concealing her attire underneath, whose arm segments were forcefully dragged up to her shoulders. Then on the bottom she was wearing a pareo in a natural manner, thereby perfectly concealing the black leather underneath.
For Kirika, this manner of dress was probably her absolute limit. Haruaki had never seen her expose her arms and legs this much. No, although he had witnessed a number of times what she considered her nude state—But the sight of her thighs flashing in and out of view offered a totally different sense of presences...
"L-Let me repeat myself, absolutely ridiculous! The way I look, it must be quite a killjoy..."
"No, this has nothing to do with being a killjoy... Rather, I should say it's quite a refreshing new look. Yes, it looks great, Class Rep."
Haruaki answered honestly and Kirika ended up blushing suddenly and turning her back towards him. Muttering "absolutely ridiculous... absolutely ridiculous" to herself in embarrassment, she began to fiddle with her pareo meaninglessly.
"Hmm, dressing like that is perfectly safe, Kirika. Besides, there are other people wearing similar stuff, so it's not strange even if you're not in a swimsuit."
Fear commented. Startled, Kirika looked up as though pulling her thoughts back to reality.
"R-Really? Thank you, Fear-kun."
"But... You can't swim in that getup, right? Is it really okay?"
"About that, I never intended to swim in the first place... Besides, I already told Yachi, just being by the pool should be fun enough."
"Oh okay, then it should be fine... So, those two are the slowest again huh..."
Originally looking in all directions, Fear stopped and stared in dumbfounded amazement. Haruaki followed her gaze and ended up equally dumbfounded.
"Oh sorry for being late..."
Satsuko was wearing a one-piece swimsuit with a skirt design. Although it fit her petite physique, the swimsuit really suited her too well, making her look really like a young child. But to be honest, the striking sight was not Satsuko but the person beside her.
"...My apologies. Due to objections at the service desk, there was a substantial delay. But once I mentioned the superintendent's name, there was no issue."
Haruaki was already used to the shovel issue and did not bother to point it out in particular. However—
Why was her swimsuit more skimpy than anyone else's? Rather than fabric, it would be better described as made of string. Furthermore, it was colored in a passionate shade of bright red and even featured a bold deep-V design that left little to imagination...!
In the edge of his vision, Haruaki found Konoha getting unsteady on her feet and murmuring "Good heavens... Not only did our directions overlap, but I even lost to her...? Then... What's the point for me to dress up so boldly...?" Haruaki tried asking Kaidou. He felt compelled to ask.
"U-Umm, Kaidou-sensei. That swimsuit..."
"This? I did not own a swimsuit and had no idea how to pick one. Hence, I requested Houjyou-sensei to select one for me."
So that person was the culprit...!
The bespectacled and lazy face of the school physician surfaced simultaneously in the minds of Haruaki and the rest. Kaidou stared quizzically and said to them:
"...Is there any problem?"
"Uh—Don't you feel it's quite inappropriate in terms of how revealing it is...?"
Kaidou looked down lightly at herself and—
"—Not at all. A swimsuit is a garment worn to ensure human mobility in water. In fact, this swimsuit has achieved the goal of near weightless fabric. In that sense, there is nothing inappropriate. I certainly do not mind."
"Please be mindful, I beg you——!"
First attempt: unassisted.
"Gurgle gurgle gulp gulp."
Second attempt: swimming board.
"Here I go... Gurgle gurgle gulp gulp."
Third attempt: swim ring.
"W-Wow...! Success, I'm floating... Gurgle gurgle gulp gulp."
Then the fourth attempt—
"L-Look, Haruaki! I can swim now!"
"How can you call that swimming—! You've simply combined yourself with the swim rings! You're covered in swim rings!"
Fear was randomly thrashing her limbs on the water surface. But she was virtually hidden from Haruaki's view apart from her fingertips and the soles of her feet. She had covered her body with swim rings, almost numbering in the double digits. Rather than swimming, it would be more accurate to describe her as burrowed inside a floating cylinder on the water.
"I'm very sorry, dear guest, but please don't borrow too many swim rings at once for one person..."
"S-Sorry about that! Okay, Fear, in any case, come back up first!"
Haruaki bowed desperately again and again to apologize towards the lifeguard who had approached to warn them. Then he pulled Fear out of the pool. Just as Fear returned the free swim rings she had taken out on her own—
"...Muu, it's not like it matters in the first place."
"How could it not matter? Anyway, you're getting way ahead of yourself by challenging the standard pool on your first attempt... Let me advise you to start with the adjacent Family Area. Shallow pools for children are more suited to you."
"Don't treat me as a child, I'll curse you! In my view, a pool with a more adult feel would be more suited to me!"
Haruaki chased after Fear who was walking off in a huff. But just as she passed by a small rectangular window on the wall, she stopped and went "Hmm?" This window offered a view of the center rather than the exterior of the building. Apparently, the central part surrounded by the five areas was hollowed out. The diving pool on the floor below was visible through the window. This design was probably due to the height requirements of the diving platform.
"Uumuu~ Although that really has an adult feel, I guess it's best not to try it. That's clearly suicide. Who the heck came up with this kind of sport?"
"Indeed that's right. That kind of diving pool would be really be suicidal for you to try. Given your weight, if you should fall into the water, it's most likely impossible for you to float back up again—"
"S-Shut up, I'll curse you! Anyway, let's check out the other pools!"
Watching the empty diving pool was quite boring so Haruaki continued to move on. They were currently in the Standard Area where they started and the main attractions were the 25m and 50m normal swimming pools. Apart from that, there were mini jacuzzi pools that were raised above ground. Haruaki looked over there and found—
"Ah... This feels... very nice... Oh... By the way, is that... really okay?"
"Do not worry. It is waterproof."
Satsuko and Kaidou were soaking side by side in the rather bath-like jacuzzi. As for what was waterproof, that needed no further explanation at all. At this moment, Konoha happened to show up.
"Uh— ...May I join in with you two?"
Satsuko smiled and nodded as an answer. But Konoha was waiting for the other person's response. Hence, arms crossed as she lay immersed in the water, Kaidou opened one eye and said:
"...Fine with me."
"R-Really? Then excuse me... Oh, this surging water feel terrific, doesn't it..."
Haruaki commented to himself that Konoha was also working hard to improve her relations with them. Even with such brief exchanges, accumulated over time, change should result eventually.
Just as he wondered how nice it would be if Fear could follow Konoha's example and looked to the side, Haruaki discovered that Fear had disappeared. As it turned out, she was now standing behind Konoha, her eyes half-narrowed in amazement.
"Good grief... This reeks of the elderly or something."
"Kyah! It's Fear-san? How dare you say something so offensive to one's ears...! Why don't you try a dip here and experience how comfortable it feels!? Come on in and take back what you just said!"
Konoha sat up slightly and turned her head to look back. Her upper body emerging from the jacuzzi tub, she brought her face near Fear. Due to her forward leaning posture, not only her face but also her supple and elastic cleavage was clearly in view. Fear retreated slightly as though intimidated by her imposing presence.
"If you've never experienced this comfortable feeling, I forbid you to make any criticisms. Come!"
Konoha leaned forward even more—Naturally, this brought her cleavage even closer to Fear.
Finally, Fear succumbed to the stress brought about by the approaching cleavage—
Her anger erupted.
"Muugah! Such an eyesore, my overflowing irritation compels me to expose your weak point! I see it, you're vulnerable to an uppercut! Watch me!"
Exactly as she described, Fear performed an uppercut. Rising upwards, her arm rushed forward bluntly...
Burrowing into Konoha's cleavage.
"W-Wow... This feeling I've never experienced before, such a mysterious yet irritating sensation..."
"Kyah! F-Fear-san, withdraw your hand now! Please withdraw your hand, immediately!"
"As much as I want to pull it out, I've resigned myself to mutual annihilation. Fufu, with this, you can't move anymore!"
"I can't move! I really can't move, so please, withdraw your hand—!"
"Kukuku, if I do this, you'll feel even more helpless. Up~, down~, up~...!
"A-Ahh... Please stop... It's going to move out of position—!"
Instead of pulling her arm back all at once to deliver a fatal blow to Konoha, Fear had apparently decided to torment her slowly and thoroughly. Konoha had no choice but to frantically press down on her bikini top to prevent it from getting pulled off.
Meanwhile, Haruaki was trying his hardest to pretend he did not know these people, naturally.
—Without saying a word, she looked up at the building before her.
Basically a regular pentagon in shape, it towered twenty stories high. Geometrically speaking, the design could be described as flawless, a silver exterior without the slightest bit of dirt.
How truly impressive.
The buildings in this country were quite beautiful for the most part. Despite their inorganic nature, she felt goodwill towards them.
Then she looked at the main entrance of the hotel, which was also swept nice and clean without any trash on the ground. Although she was greatly impressed by its condition, there was no way she could enter through the front door.
Hence, she began walking around to find a place to enter.
Meanwhile, the veil over her face fluttered lightly.
The part of the Coast Area near the outer edge of the building housed a swimming pool resembling an artificial ocean. Naturally, it produced waves periodically and the walls were painted to depict a tropical sky and ocean. Very thoughtfully, the land area was designed as a beach.
Standing there, Kirika lifted up something in her hand as she narrowed her eyes that were glinting eerily. Then—
"Pay attention now! Considered 'high-class food' since antiquity, both oriental and occidental—Caviar!"
The beach ball was struck high with a "smack" as Fear swiftly reacted to receive it.
"H-High-class rice crackers!" "Matsusaka beefsteak!" "Sea urchin! But I've never had it before!"
"...Let's go for sushi together next time. Shark's fin!" "Oumi beefsteak!" "H-High-class sesame rice crackers! Go and die, Cow Tits!" "Why do you keep picking on me? Fine, objection! Fear-san's choices have been weird since earlier!" "What are you talking about? I can't help it if I don't know high-class types of food very well! If you have any objections, why don't you treat me to something!"...
"How energetic of them..."
Haruaki sat idly on the artificial beach as he watched this beach ball battle. He had participated earlier but had to take a break on the side due to exhaustion. Currently still playing were Fear, Konoha, Sovereignty, Shiraho and Kirika. Kirika had picked a position on the beach nearby, safe from getting wet, and she looked like she was having a lot of fun. Meanwhile, Sovereignty and Fear were waist-deep in the water, splashing noisily as they played with the beach ball.
As for Satsuko and Kuroe, they had been casually going "Do your best, Fear-san!" or "If the ball goes near Kono-san, it instantly multiplies to three, so don't get confused—" to cheer for them, but soon stopped. Thinking "what are they doing now?" Haruaki suddenly looked to the side to find the two of them squatting on the beach like young children, building a pyramid out of sand. They are no longer young children, right?
"Wow... That's wonderful. Sacchi, let's build a classic castle wall, okay?"
"Oh, that's a a great idea—But Satsuko thinks it'll need a lot more sand... Oh!"
Just as Satsuko looked around her, Kaidou had started digging her shovel into the beach without saying a word. This was Haruaki's first time to see the tool being used for its intended purpose. He originally expected the nearby lifeguard to tell her to stop, but Haruaki found the guy glancing at Kaidou with a surrendering expression. Perhaps due to passing on the superintendent's name in the beginning, she was now receiving this kind of VIP treatment—Or perhaps, the staff were simply issued orders of "Danger, don't get involved with her."
"...Use this sand here."
"Th-Thank you very much——! That makes things a lot easier!"
Satsuko exclaimed happily while Kuroe looked up at Kaidou with her habitually blank eyes.
"Thank you. Would you like to join us in building it?"
"No thank you."
Kaidou turned around as she answered. Kuroe bowed her head in disappointment and went "...Really?" However, Kaidou's next words that were uttered after turning away brought a slight smile to Kuroe's face.
"...I shall come over to have a look once you are done. I am actually quite interested in castles."
"Don't worry! I will put my heart and soul into it... And create an exquisite miniature of Azuchi–Momoyama Castle!"
"Eh? You two already reached an agreement, so this means that Satsuko's wish to build a western castle is in the minority...? Looks like Satsuko really is very useless...!"
Haruaki thought "that's not useless" to himself. Considering what happened here and at the jacuzzi earlier, Satsuko had been playing a facilitating role to help Konoha and Kuroe make contact with Kaidou.
In actual fact, Haruaki had asked for Satsuko's help when inviting her along. Since Kaidou-sensei might very well enter her hell guardian mode if no one paid her any attention, Haruaki asked Satsuko to try to engage her as much as possible if she did not mind, then that would be doing him a great favor. This was because Satsuko was the only one who could do this since Haruaki's group still could not manage it. In other words, she was to act as bridge for Fear and the others to come into contact with Kaidou and connect. Haruaki had not expected her to accept so joyfully, but it really was a great help.
Just at this moment, Haruaki heard from the artificial wave pool—
"C-Can I reach it? Oh! ...Th-This feels strange?"
There was a great splash accompanied by Sovereignty's voice. She had apparently submerged while chasing the ball. But there was something wrong with the situation... The ball finally bounced back up but Sovereignty was frantically searching by her feet. With her back facing the beach, she was crossing her arms before her chest for some reason—
"S-Sovereignty, what's the matter with you? Wah, no way...!"
"Hmm? What? Did you get hurt somewhere?"
"Of course not! She must have made some kind of cliched blunder again as usual, this is terrible!"
"A-Ahaha... I don't know where my top has gone—"
Only turning her neck to look back, Sovereignty was smiling politely. On the other hand, Shiraho's face had gone deathly pale as though she had heard news of "an incoming giant asteroid about to cause the end of the world." But an instant later, her eyes became filled with a sense of mission as though she were a lone pilot on a sortie to destroy the incoming asteroid.
"Sovereignty, do not move from your current position no matter what! Don't even turn towards my direction! I will help you find your swimsuit! Glasses girl over there, check if her swimsuit had washed somewhere on the water surface!"
"You there, check if it has washed ashore!"
"O-Okay, got it."
Unable to enter the water, Kirika nodded in acknowledgement. The only one remaining, Fear was infected with Shiraho's anxiety and asked uneasily: "W-What about me? What should I do?" This prompted Shiraho's gaze to turn even sharper—For some reason, she pointed at Haruaki and said:
"You will be responsible for blinding the depraved human's eyes!"
"What the heck are you going 'understood' for!?"
Just as Haruaki got up to dodge Fear who was charging at him—
"Oh, found it—!"
Sovereignty rendered all of Shiraho's efforts wasted. Holding up the bikini top she had picked up by her feet, Sovereignty was smiling radiantly. Naturally, she had turned towards Haruaki and the rest of the group, which obviously meant that Haruaki's eyes were treated to the full view of her naked chest—
"Umm—On further thought, I picked this swimsuit so that it wouldn't matter which form I took. So there's nothing to get nervous about!"
Indeed, her entire chest was completely exposed, but it was even flatter than Fear's.
This was the chest belonging to Sovereignty's boy form.
Haruaki breathed a sigh of relief, but—
"...Why do I feel that this makes him even more unforgivable instead? Therefore, please continue and blind that human's eyes."
"Yes, even if considered a boy's, it still feels very shameless. Leave it to me!"
Aren't you girls way too unreasonable?
The back of the building was much messier than out front. For example, there were cardboard boxes waiting to be collected for recycling, weeds growing in the soil amidst thickets, advertising flyers that were blown here by the wind, etc.
"What are the cleaning staff doing...? Truly unforgivable. Although there's a broom on hand, time-wise..."
She muttered softly with displeasure.
As she neared the back door, there was a security guard stationed there, of course. The guard eyed her unusual attire and seemed to wonder if some kind of film was being shot. Just as she approached the man who was checking out the surroundings—
Accompanied by a glow, there was a popping sound.
By the time the unusual character passed through the back door, the security guard was nowhere to be found.
He had vanished completely.
Exactly as implied by the name, the Slides Area was an extravagant zone where many different water slides were offered. For example, there were steep and precipitous slides, those with extremely complicated turns as well as slides with transparent tubes... For Fear who could not swim normally, these highly varied slides seemed to be especially to her liking. Sliding down the water slides repeatedly, she even invented new ways of having fun.
"Secret technique: screw descent! Wahahahahahaha!"
Spinning sideways rapidly while sliding down, Fear caused a violent splash as she entered the shallows. Her silver hair dripping wet, she instantly jumped up from the water.
"How's that? Did you see it, Haruaki!? Thanks to Satsuko and Kuroe's help, I achieved this labor-intensive move. Ordinary people cannot copy it... Ohoh~ I feel so dizzy now...!"
"Of course you'll be dizzy after spinning so much. Jeez."
Apparently overjoyed with the success of the newly created move, Kuroe and Satsuko were furiously waving their hands over here from their position on the platform where the slide entrances were concentrated. The intense spiral vector was apparently produced by spinning Fear's body sideways just before she slid down. A cooperative technique requiring excessive effort. Although Kaidou was standing behind them to watch, even she seemed to be gazing surprise.
"Hmm—Looks like we really created a horrifying technique. But there's a regrettable flaw in the move just now, right, Sacchi?"
"Yeah... Fear-san! No good~ The move name must be changed to 'Drill Descent' okay~!"
"Oh, that's right. Let's yell that name next time!"
The girls were laughing as they conversed from above and below the slide. Then Kuroe and Satsuko disappeared from view. Perhaps they had moved over to the entrance because they were about to slide down as well. Thinking "how troublesome~", Haruaki shrugged as he walked over to the shallows in the pool to rescue Fear who was still submerged in the water.
"Didn't I say not to play with moves that are too dangerous...? Hey, can you stand?"
"Nuhaha, but it's very fun! That feeling makes it totally worth it... Ooooh, I'm still dizzy."
Just as Fear grabbed Haruaki's hand and tried to stand up, she spun due to dizziness and ended up falling into the pool again. Although Fear simply giggled nonstop, this caused Haruaki, who was originally holding her hand, to be flung away by the reaction force from the falling motion of Fear's heavy weight.
"Cough cough cough... Hey, Fear!"
Just as Haruaki supported himself with his arms and legs in the shallows and tried to lift his head—
"Oh, Haruaki, watch out."
Due to getting flung away by Fear, Haruaki had somehow ended up at the bottom of another water slide. By the time he regained his senses, a certain person had already slid down and happened to crash violently into him. Unexpectedly, this person also happened to be wearing an extremely skimpy swimsuit.
The situation was really bad. How did he end up getting pushed down by the teacher? If Haruaki kept his head down, he would be forced to drink water. But if he lifted his head too high, he would end up caught between those humongous things. Yet Kaidou did not seem concerned and simply gazed at him as though saying "...Are you okay?", gazing down at Haruaki from close range. Come on, could you please hurry and move away, okay!?
"Hoohyah...! Wow, that was really scary and fun... How is it, Kaidou-sensei? It's surprisingly fun once you try it~ Hmm, eh?"
Next to slide down was Satsuko. She turned out to be surprisingly athletic and landed in the water with quite a splendid posture. Kaidou muttered as she spoke to the winking Satsuko:
"...Perhaps there is truth in your words, but I do not condone the act of pushing others suddenly."
"Oh~ Sorry... Uh—Umm, Satsuko was thinking if she didn't do that, you probably won't be willing to play the water slides with Satsuko..."
"O-On the other hand, could you please hurry and move out of the way, Kaidou-sensei?"
Haruaki could understand Satsuko's efforts in encouraging the teacher to have fun, but he still wished she could check to see whether there was someone down below first. Thinking that to himself, Haruaki finally freed himself from under the teacher. Then he casually dodged Kuroe who was yelling "Just as you're about to forget, the white angel descends—" and had timed her head-first journey down the slide to collide into him. In the end, Haruaki reached the swimming pool shore safely but it was not necessarily safe in fact. Because he found Kirika there with her legs in the water.
"You're back? I'm sure you must be elated to have such intimate contact with the teacher in the highly revealing swimsuit? I can't stand you, how absolutely ridiculous... A little longer and I would have gone over and strangled you."
"Th-That was an accident, I couldn't help it!"
Kirika went "Hmph" with displeasure, so angry that her legs moved as though she were kicking someone face, splashing the water in the shallows repeatedly. The splashed water produced ripples on the pool surface. Kirika's gaze turned a bit blank as she silently bowed her head and stared at those ripples.
Seeing that kind of gaze from her, Haruaki felt a certain notion rise up in his mind.
"Class Rep... You probably... haven't visited... this kind of place for quite a long time, right?"
"Hmm? Well, yeah. But let me state for the record, I do bathe every day. The act of soaking in water itself means nothing special to me."
Haruaki thought "that's probably not the same" to himself. Bathing should feel completely different from swimming with everyone or getting all wet while playing noisily with everyone.
Haruaki felt the notion stirring in his mind again. An idea he could not suppress. Hence, he surveyed his surroundings. Unsure how to read his actions, Kirika said:
"See, Fear climbed up again. Why don't you try the water slide again?"
"...You're right. In fact, I'm thinking of trying the special technique that Fear and the others were playing around with. Class Rep, if you're free right now, could you assist me?"
"I'm waiting here for Konoha and the others to return from the washroom... How troubling, I never thought you'd be even more childish than imagined. That said, I can understand why you're having so much fun playing."
Kirika reluctantly stood up. Haruaki went with her up the stairs to the entrance to the slides. Although he felt nervous about his greatest mission of the day, now that they were there, he could only go ahead with the operation.
"Then what should I do? Should I spin you like Fear-kun just now—"
"Class Rep, I'm sorry!"
Haruaki grabbed Kirika's shoulders from behind and crashed into her directly, pushing Kirika into one of the water slides. Due to her intense struggling reflexively, Haruaki ended up rushing into the slide together with her.
"H-Hey, Yachi! What are you... doing here... Wah!"
"It's dangerous if you move recklessly, Class Rep! Woah, this is so fast!"
At this moment, Haruaki recalled what Satsuko had said. Indeed, all it took was a single try and one would find it surprisingly fun. Accelerating from their combined weight, the two of them were also drenched by the flowing water in the slide. While trying his best not to think about Kirika's body that was sandwiched between his legs, Haruaki entrusted his entire body to gravity. A few seconds later—
"Huff, ah... I hate you... Yachi! You, you, why...!?"
Kirika was blushing bright red, a sense of world-ending despair flashing in and out of her eyes while she crouched down in the pool, covering her body with her arms. Her soaking wet t-shirt clung tightly to her body while the pareo was out of position, causing the black object beneath to become vaguely visible.
"Relax, I should say that you're nowhere as conspicuous as you think. Besides, you're also wearing a t-shirt. People can't see it unless they stare long and hard at you. And even if they saw it, people would just think it's a black swimsuit."
"H-How could that be..."
"Also, there are few guests right now. I've also been observing from just now. There are absolutely no other students from our school. Also, given how luxurious these facilities are, even if the lifeguards saw it, they'll definitely keep it a secret."
Kirika stared intently at Haruaki but he smiled as though bouncing her gaze back and said:
"Besides, if anyone dares to stare long and hard at you, Class Rep, I'll head over to give him a good piece of my mind and ask if he's got a problem with that. I'll definitely do that."
Kirika's eyes wavered. Then her shoulders began to shake—
Slowly, slowly, she loosened her arms that were wrapped around her body.
Then with a splash, she laid herself backwards onto the shallows of the swimming pool, floating with her arms and legs outstretched on the water surface.
Very likely, many years had passed since she last did this.
After a while—
"You're right, perhaps I'm worrying too much. Maybe I'm too self-conscious..."
"That's right, for some things, the more you try to hide, the more attention you end up attracting, right? If this were a crowded place, I wouldn't force you. But there's no one here and you're wearing a t-shirt with a pareo, so there's absolutely no problem."
"To be able to make me feel that it's alright—That's truly unbelievable. Only now can I feel that it's no big deal. If it's someone special, someone whose focused attention would be enough, tells me there's no need to be concerned anymore... Indeed, perhaps there isn't... anything that needs to be concerned about..."
Haruaki did not quite understand what Kirika was talking about as she floated in the shallows of the pool.
"Ahhh... I haven't done this for so long. It feels so comfortable, extremely comfortable..."
Her expression looked very liberated.
Also, she looked extremely happy.
Despite taking forceful measures, Haruaki concluded that it was fortunate that he had decided to do this. After all, this was a rare occasion with everyone visiting the pool to have fun. It would be quite a shame if she could not enjoy herself together with everyone, would it not?
"Ohoh, Kirika has entered the fray as well!? Hmm~ It's completely fine. However, I never expected you to use a two-person combination technique... Nothing less expected of you! I won't lose! Haruaki, I wanna use that move too. Let's combine! Come on over!"
"Hey, hold on a second! I just returned from the washroom and suddenly saw something I could not watch any further! Haruaki-kun, please play the water slide together with me next! Uh—Umm, it's my first time on a water slide today, so I'm scared and I'd like to have someone accompanying me. So please, you must combine with me!"
Fear was looking down from the entrance area to the slides while Konoha had just returned to the pool side. They both proposed at the same time and started glaring at each other.
"U-Umm... How about this? Why don't you two play the water slide with each other..."
For some reason Haruaki could not understand, this resulted in Fear and Konoha returning ice-cold glares at him.
Neither could he understand why Kirika was laughing to herself on the side, causing tiny ripples as her shoulders shook.
She jumped over the counter and reached for the necks of the two female receptionists. This was followed by two bright flashes.
Then the only one remaining was her who was definitely not a customer.
Her cape fluttering, she went over the counter and invaded the staff room, doing the same thing to the handful of people inside. In preparation for what was coming up next, she must get rid of all irrelevant humans on this floor at least. Exiting the staff room, she next visited the male changing room, followed by the female changing room. Apart from a bit of commotion in the female changing room, she finished the job smoothly without issue.
With that, only the inside remained. Her first priority was the same as before: discreetly, thoroughly, but completely silently—Eliminate everyone in the way. Speaking of how this action should be named, obviously—
"...Spring cleaning. Okay, time to clean up. Then comes settling things..."
Looking a little pleased, she murmured to herself—
Fourteen Coonsberry headed off to the pool area for the sake of spring cleaning.
Then thinking "once this is done, I'll be heading to the imminent battlefield" to herself, she entered.
"Huha— ...We've played the water slide quite a number of times, but there are still areas we haven't tried out. Haruaki, should we check out the Jungle Area next?"
"You're really energetic. By the way, isn't it weird? Don't you find that the people seem to be decreasing in number?"
"Really? To me, it feels like the numbers haven't changed."
Haruaki's group was still at the Slides Area but there was not a single guest in the surroundings. The only person remaining was a lifeguard who was sighing in a daze, exhausted from repeatedly warning Fear and the others for their dangerous behavior.
"It's not near closing time either. But then again, since the price is quite high, perhaps they select customers through the principle of quality over quantity... That said, since we're using complimentary tickets, we didn't spend any money."
"Hmm, speaking of money, that reminds me. Shiraho and Sovereignty still haven't returned?"
"Come to think of it..." Haruaki was wondering the same. Shiraho and Sovereignty had mentioned they were buying drinks so the rest of the group had asked them to help get theirs as well. Even if the two girls had gone off to the beach store in the Coast Area or the shop visible upon arrival in the Standard Area... No matter which area they visited to find a shop, they should not be taking this long. Especially since the number of customers were so few.
"After all, Sovereignty-kun is with her. Maybe she fell over and scattered their money, splattered the drinks all over the floor, or something like that. She could have made all sorts of blunders."
"Sigh... That sounds a bit worrying, who knows if they're fine or not?"
Kirika and Satsuko expressed their concerns. Hearing them, Kaidou said:
"...If you feel worried, let me go and investigate."
"Oh, there's no need, Kaidou-sensei. Since we're about to visit the Jungle Area anyway, let's make a detour to check out the shops."
Sakuramairi Shiraho was exploding with rage. This was totally outrageous.
"...How could there be no one here!? Do they actually intend to run a business...?"
Shiraho was tapping her fingertips on the counter in the empty shop, muttering impatiently. She had already waited for ten minutes yet no one had come to serve her. Even when she surveyed her surroundings to find a person to complain, for some reason, there was not even a single lifeguard in this Standard Area. Neither were there any guests. It was completely deserted.
"So weird. Maybe we didn't notice but the place actually closed up already?"
"How could that be possible? The sun still hasn't even gone down yet."
"Uh—Or perhaps there's a fire and everyone evacuated?"
"But we never heard any fire alarms or sirens from fire trucks."
As her lover looked back and went "Oh right~" and smiled as usual, scratching her head, Shiraho chuckled and smiled:
"I'm already tired of waiting. Why don't we just give up and return? Then we'll cordially tell them 'You can drink the pool water to quench your thirst.' Alternatively, there should be people at the service desk so we could go there directly in our swimwear and complain. Which of the two choices do you prefer?"
"Ahahaha. Well, to me..."
Just as Sovereignty was about to speak...
A shadow suddenly appeared behind her, causing Shiraho to stare in wide-eyed surprise.
Before Sovereignty could look back, the dark figure—a veil over her face with fluttering clothing and a cape—had already reached towards her neck, producing blue-white light. Perhaps producing effects like a stun gun, it made Sovereignty sway on her feet. But just before she almost fell, she steadied herself with much difficulty.
"Gah... Shiraho, hurry and escape...!"
"To think you withstood it. Is it because you're not human? Nevertheless—You're still very weak."
The shadow reached out with her other arm, releasing light again with both hands clamping Sovereignty's neck. The mysterious flash finally caused Sovereignty to lose consciousness. Next, the shadow stuffed Sovereignty's body under her clothing—
The unconscious Sovereignty, unbelievably... She had vanished completely.
Anger, worry, fear, all sorts of emotions surged inside Shiraho, but her body still moved obediently. In an act very true to her arrogant style, Shiraho forcibly picked up the drink dispensing machine on the shop's counter and intended to throw it towards the enemy before her eyes. However—
"Of course... You're also very weak."
The last thing Shiraho saw before losing consciousness was the spark of light bouncing off her neck.
Then Haruaki's group witnessed the sight.
They saw Shiraho's body disappearing under the figure's clothing as though being sucked away.
The instant they passed through the glass door to move between areas, they witnessed an unbelievable sight, but no one here doubted what they saw. Haruaki's group prepared for battle and glared at the enemy's back while she stood before the shop. However, there was one person not looking at her—namely, Satsuko who was moaning weakly, her body curled up.
At this moment, Fourteen Coonsberry slowly looked back—
Receiving Haruaki and his group's gaze with the veil on her face, she spoke leisurely:
"My goal remains unchanged. Stated simply... Hand over the 'real thing' to me."
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