Chapter 4 - Mayhem Permitted. Additionally, / "Because we are friends"
Konoha readied her hand in a karate chop. Kaidou took deep breaths as she raised her shovel with trembling hands. Kuroe moved her dripping wet hair while Kirika reached towards the pareo at her waist. As for Fear—
After touching her school swimsuit, Fear clicked her tongue angrily. Although her attire had made it impossible for her to carry the Rubik's cube, she was not scared at all.
"Shiraho—What did you do to her!? And Sovereignty as well!"
"If one had to state simply, they were eliminated. Cleaned up incidentally."
"You dare say... incidentally...?"
"Let me clarify first, calling for help is futile. Currently on this floor, apart from you guys, there are virtually no other humans—All of them are under my control right now."
Haruaki gritted his teeth in anger. So this woman was responsible for the sudden lack of people? They had all disappeared in the same way as the unconscious Shiraho just now.
"What on earth did you do? Where did everyone go? Are they still safe!?"
Filled with unease, Haruaki yelled loudly. Although the enemy had no obligation to answer, luckily, Fourteen replied readily.
"They are all alive, akin to sleeping—Currently speaking."
"You said 'currently speaking,' didn't you? So that means if we beat you up, you'll release them all?"
Konoha's words were filled with murderous intent.
"...Yes, as long as I will it."
"I see. In that case, we just need to hurt you until you relent... Do you intend to use them as hostages? Truly despicable."
"Before I find out the location of the 'real thing,' I will not allow any interfering elements to disrupt my plans. I would be troubled if you guys fled."
Hearing that word, Satsuko was so scared her entire body trembled. Fear took a look at her then smiled in mockery.
"Hmph, I originally thought you were stupid enough to be deceived completely... How did you find out?"
Fourteen paused for a moment then replied:
"...I saw it on the streets."
Haruaki and the others instantly pondered the meaning of her words and came to a disheartening realization. Satsuko had mentioned that her fake headless doll was made from a teddy bear that came from a claw vending machine. Where exactly did Fourteen witness the mountain of dolls piled up inside a machine? In any case, "unfortunate" was all one could conclude.
"No, umm, you're wrong! Satsuko already said many times, she really did not take the doll—!"
Satsuko squeezed her voice out but Fourteen mercilessly shook her head and said:
"I don't believe you. Since you used a fake doll to trick me, that implies that you possess the 'real thing'... Hence, by any means necessary, I shall question you for its location."
"She already said she didn't take it. Don't you understand human language? But just curious, what means do you intend to use?"
"For example, torture that would make her wish she were an inanimate object with no sense of pain or humiliation that would make her regret being born female. In addition, there is—Ah yes."
Fourteen slightly raised her arms as she replied to Kuroe. A glow appeared but different from the momentary flashes of light witnessed earlier. Instead, this was a bigger, persistent phenomenon of light—similar to blue-white ghostlights. There were not one but three. The lights left vague afterimages, hovering as they flew around her arms irregularly past one another.
Then Fourteen continued speaking with mild hostility:
"—There's also the option of questioning her before her friends' corpses. Surely she will reply obediently then."
"You are free to try, but you'll surely regret it!"
"I don't know what grounds you have to dare say that. If you believe you have tested out my powers through the battle last time, you are sorely mistaken. Because clearly I had not exerted myself at all."
The irregularly flying ghostlights suddenly changed directions. The ghostlights rapidly spun around her forward extended arm as though tracing out a circle. Sometimes they moved in a straight line towards the opposite edge of the circle; sometimes they changed directions with acute angles; sometimes they traced out smaller circles inside the outer circle. Visible to Haruaki's group was a lingering afterimage of light that resembled a magic circle composed of complicated patterns—
In the center of the glowing circle, something seemed to be sliding out of her outstretched arm but it was not one of those wooden blocks seen the night before exams. It was very similar but not the same. A certain object several times bigger than wooden blocks. As much as it looked like a rectangular block, no matter how similar the timber, if it was several dozen times thicker, it could no longer be called a wooden block. For an analogy, it would be a strange phenomenon akin to the rectangular support pillar of a torii appearing horizontally out of thin air.
Instantly, Konoha's face changed drastically in alarm.
"That kind of object can't possibly be moved by hand. If that's the case—It's going to be shot out! Everyone hurry and dodge!"
Konoha's prediction was completely accurate. Haruaki's group frantically jumped away from their position. Fourteen steadied her arm as though locking onto a target—Accompanied by an acute exhalation, the long and massive wooden beam was shot out at high speed from the air. Immediately, there was a deep and violent sound of concrete breaking. The impact went as far as to cause the floor to shake intensely.
The only surprise was that Fourteen's target was not Haruaki's group but far off to the side. Namely, she had targeted the entrance to this pool area.
Shooting the giant object for a direct hit above the entrance, she had caused the concrete at that location to collapse completely. Just as gray powder scattered everywhere, everyone could see the collapsed concrete wall and the giant wooden beam completely blocking the automatic door that led to the service desk and the changing rooms.
"...Personally, I am quite unwilling to make a mess of this place, but it would be troublesome if you people escaped."
"S-Stop screwing around! Now there's no way for me to get it...!"
Fear clenched her fist and yelled. In order for Fear to use her power—to start the cube emulation—she needed that Rubik's cube as a medium. The first thing she thought of just now was probably going to the changing room to retrieve it. But given the situation, it was no longer possible. Gathering everyone's strength, they should be able to clear away the concrete debris at least, but Fourteen was definitely not going to give them the chance to do so. If the present giant wooden beam was the same as those wooden blocks and taken out from that so-called «Warehouse Cloak», it was not going to disappear after a time limit and go back to empty space. Haruaki knew because after the exams, they had spent a lot of effort cleaning out the wooden blocks from the garden.
"Getting angry is your freedom. But please pay attention to what I will be taking out next."
Fourteen declared and the ghostlights rapidly traced out afterimages again. This time, the light was reflected in the glowing circle and gave rise to countless beams of bright light.
"Tsk! Mode: «Cushioning Munemori»!"
In front of everyone, Kuroe's hair rushed forward and spread out explosively. Successfully forming a soft shield, the hair curled up the projectiles in wavy curves and threw them to the floor—transparent shards of glass in varying sizes.
"Woah, that was close... Kuroe, thanks for your help!"
"Hmm—The enemy is throwing projectiles like mad. She didn't use them before... Was she holding back?"
"Maybe she wanted to save it up as an ultimate move and was reluctant to use it? In any case, I will close in and defeat her."
Kuroe and Konoha conversed as they advanced.
"H-Hey? What are you two planning?"
"Anyway, the enemy's target is still Satsuko so she should escape from here first."
"Indeed. Where's the emergency exit? You guys should look for it while the two of us pin her down."
"...Then I'll assist in pinning her down. I have the «Tragic Black River»."
Kirika lifted her pareo lightly. The black leather was being used as a belt in its proper position, probably for securing the pareo that was wrapped around her waist.
"No... Ueno-san, please go along to protect Satsuko-san. After all, we can't be sure if the enemy has any accomplices. Also, Haruaki-kun, Fear-san and Kaidou-sensei should protect her together. Leave it to us two to handle things here!"
Haruaki looked at the other two people's conditions.
Fear was clenching her fists, unarmed. Her eyes were very simple to read for they were filled with dissatisfaction at being unable to fight despite wanting to. She was suffering because she not only wanted to protect Satsuko but was also confronted with her inability to rescue Shiraho and Sovereignty who were being used as hostages. Haruaki was certain of his assessment.
Kaidou was also gripping her shovel tightly. Her eyes were filled with complex emotions. This had started ever since Fourteen's reappearance. She looked like she was hesitating over something, angry at something, yet afraid of something—Staring at Fourteen, she simply breathed in and out.
Instantly, Haruaki made his decision. Presently, there was no choice but to leave the situation for Konoha and Kuroe to handle. Satsuko's cowering with her shoulders hunched and trembling further convinced him. No matter what, it was imperative to help her escape first.
"Argh, damn it... Don't force yourselves too much! Once Satsuko succeeds in escaping, I will return!"
"Who knows? We might even finish the battle before then!"
"Woah, it's coming again!"
Kuroe spread her hair and blocked the blades of glass again. Konoha went under her hair and started dashing towards Fourteen. Haruaki took one final look at them then he turned around:
"Let's go, Fear!"
"D-Damn it...! I actually could fight her barehanded... But it can't be helped!"
"Ah oooooh, everyone, this is all Satsuko's fault, so sorry..."
"Before you speak, remember to start running, Satsuko-kun!"
The teacher still remained at the scene. Haruaki turned his head back and yelled:
"Kaidou-sensei... Let's go!"
Kaidou shut her eyes lightly—for roughly a few seconds.
When she opened her eyes again, she also started running.
But this action was not for fleeing Fourteen's attacks but to chase after Satsuko.
That seemed to be what she was telling herself as she locked her eyes, filled with complicated thoughts, on the back of the petite girl before her.
Five blocks of wood simultaneously appeared amidst the crisscrossing ghostlights and were shot out successively at high speed as though by a Gatling gun.
Konoha and Kuroe ran on the pool side as they dodged, pursued closely by the sound of hard concrete getting smashed behind them and noisy splashing of water.
"Who will actually pay for this damage..."
"How would I know!? In any case, it won't be us!"
"...Simply stated, I have no intention of paying either."
Fourteen spoke candidly as she conjured bricks to shoot as ammunition. Konoha and Kuroe jumped apart. The bricks exploded in the space between them and even created a large hole on the pool side.
"Ah, seriously... We can't go on the offensive unless we get close, but she loves shooting bricks...!"
After entrusting defense to Kuroe, Konoha had succeeded a number of times in skillfully evading the incoming projectiles by slipping underneath them. But every time, Fourteen would retreat and create distance between them.
"But at least, this can stall for time."
Kuroe took a look at the entrance behind them, leading to the next zone—the Coast Area.
"True, but the way she keeps firing consecutively, even our lives are at risk here. Furthermore, I'm worried about Shiraho-san and Sovereignty-san's safety."
"Yeah. Even if they're inside that cape, it would be troubling if the enemy tells us that they are weakening as time goes on. A quick conclusion would be best—Kono-san!"
A broom was flying handle-first towards them like a spear. Konoha turned her body and just as the broom was about to strike her shoulder, she chopped with her hand. Although it caused numbness in her hand, she managed to deflect its trajectory. As she heard the sound of the broom penetrating into the wall behind her, she spoke:
"To think I would be unable to slice through a mere broom, what a blow to my self-esteem... Let us switch to offense now. Kuroe-san, you'll first attack her while I take advantage of the distraction to charge her. As for evasive maneuvers, we'll just have to manage independently."
"Understood. Well then—«Penetrator Yoshimasa»!"
Kuroe's bundles of hair extended forward like spears while Konoha sprinted in parallel with a forward-bending posture. Groaning, Fourteen attempted to retreat but Kuroe's hair did not stop extending, continuing to lengthen and hinder the enemy who finally stopped. Kuroe's hair grabbed the wooden blocks summoned with the glowing ghostlights and bounced them away with the tips of her hair. Just as the floor was being destroyed by the fraction of Kuroe's hair that had missed, Konoha had already closed in on the target.
Chopping with her hand and engaging a wooden block, she did not give Fourteen any time to summon a second block. Just as Konoha thought "victory" and extended her sharp blade of a hand, she saw Fourteen reach out to counterattack with a clearly unarmed hand. No—
Her hand was surrounded by ghostlights.
Konoha was reminded of the scene when they first spotted Fourteen in the water park. Back then, there was lingering glow on Shiraho's neck for an instant. Hence, Konoha immediately understood it was caused by the ghostlights. Did it produce an effect like a stun gun? As much as Konoha believed she could not be easily incapacitated by such a move, she could not be certain of preventing openings from forming. At such distances, instantaneous openings could be fatal. This was quite a crisis—
Perhaps Konoha should not have strained herself to jump back. The result was even worse. Due to being by the pool, the floor was wet of course. Thus Konoha slipped. Losing balance, she fell on one knee. Just as she felt a chill down her spine—
"Mode: «Chaotic Tadamori»!"
Suddenly, Konoha felt a sense of weightlessness. It turned out that Kuroe had wrapped her hair around Konoha and forcibly pulled her away to another part of the pool side. Perhaps intending to regroup, Kuroe moved to the spot furthest from Fourteen—the other end of the pool, fifty meters away. At such a distance, they could easily dodge even if Fourteen fired projectiles to attack. If Fourteen tried to approach, they could circle around the other side of the pool side.
"Th-Thank you, Kuroe-san...!"
"Not at all, not at all. If you want to thank me, let me continue to savor your body, Kono-san. Wow~~, I really don't know how to describe this amazingly bouncy feeling... So sexy!"
"How could you still have time to joke around!? Put me down right now!"
Despite having pulled Konoha back already, the hair remained wrapped around her body until now. Back on her feet, Konoha stood by the pool side and said:
"Well~ then, although I made a small blunder, what should we do next... Hmm, what?"
There was a series of powerful splashes. The enemy kept firing metal rods—laundry poles roughly two meters long—into the 50m pool before them. The laundry poles were embedded slanted into the bottom of the pool. Using the tips of the laundry poles protruding out of the water as stepping stones, she approached. In a flowing cycle, she kept repeating the motions of jumping, firing and landing.
"This is no good. She'll close in soon if this continues. This spot is also too narrow and not good for dodging. We'd better hurry and move."
"Even if you want us to move..."
The first option was the entrance behind them, leading to the next area. However, the two girls could not retreat so easily since their mission was pinning down the enemy.
"If the adjacent Coast Area has an emergency exit, I'm sure Haru and the others would have escaped already. If it doesn't have one, I'm guessing they should have moved to the next area. Also, I've come up with a plan, so let's try it."
"A plan huh... Understood."
With no time to hesitate, the two girls swiftly opened the glass door behind them and moved over to the next area. Haruaki's group could not be seen there. As Konoha and Kuroe moved over the rustling sand and reached roughly the midpoint of the beach—
"Okay, let's see how it goes. If it works, perhaps it could cause symptoms such as fainting, sluggishness or blindness. Then you can take the opportunity to finish her off, Kono-san."
Kuroe's hair rustled and moved as she said "this is a new move, I'd better decide on a name..." and prepared for battle. Konoha realized Kuroe's intent from the motion of her hair and silently readied her knife hand in preparation for combat.
Several seconds later—
"...I wish you wouldn't run away. I already used precious laundry poles already."
Saying that, Fourteen appeared. Just as she walked a few steps and stepped into the beach—
"Uh... Okay, I've decided! Mode: «Mongolian Death Worm Yoshikado»!"
Lurking in the sand, Kuroe's hair rose up at once. The entangling bundles of hair bulged up as though scooping up the sand, almost like man-eating worms of the desert. Naturally, the sacrifice was the unsuspecting enemy who had stepped into this trap. The hair carried a large amount of sand and dumped it over Fourteen's head all at once. As the cloud of sand swirled around, she was engulfed.
Konoha rushed over while confirming the situation. In concentrated amounts, a substance like sand would turn out to be unexpectedly heavy. In that case, the enemy should be immobilized.
As the lingering cloud of sand settled slightly, what entered Konoha's view was—
"—Sand? I don't like sand, it's too hard to sweep."
Unbelievably, Fourteen was currently holding an umbrella over her head casually. Who could have thought she would have prepared even something like that? But rather, speaking of which, a mere umbrella should not be able to block that amount of sand—
"I think I mentioned before, the objects taken out will increase in sturdiness."
Perhaps noticing the surprise in Konoha and Kuroe's eyes, Fourteen muttered an explanation. Konoha's momentary pause would prove to be a fatal mistake.
"Okay... Mayhem permitted—«Geist»!"
The ghostlights traced out patterns in midair. Slowly appearing from there was a giant wooden beam like earlier. Naturally, they could not allow themselves to be struck by that kind of thing. Konoha and Kuroe attempted evasive maneuvers, but the wooden beam's target was the same as before.
Aiming slightly upwards, the wooden beam was shot towards a location slightly further behind Konoha and Kuroe—thereby completely destroying the entrance leading towards the Slides Area. Amidst the rumbling noise, Konoha wondered. Why aim there? Isn't she chasing after Satsuko-san who is escaping behind us...?
But as soon as she saw Fourteen turn around towards the Standard Area, Konoha suddenly realized that things were different from what she imagined. Kuroe also seemed to agree.
"Drats, Kono-san... She wants to circle around the opposite direction!"
This floor of the hotel was divided into five areas arranged in a circle. Naturally, going counterclockwise would eventually reach the location of Haruaki's group—
"Gah... She can't be allowed to succeed!"
Clenching her fist tight, Konoha pursued Fourteen with Kuroe as fast as they could.
Meanwhile searching for an emergency exit, even Haruaki's group ran into many problems. First of all, while entering the Coast Area from the Standard Area, Satsuko tripped in the sand and twisted her ankle. Without saying a word, Kaidou carried Satsuko on her back but this still slowed them down to some extent.
In the next zone, the Slides Area, there was a lifeguard whom Fourteen had not "eliminated" yet. Despite being frightened by the noise from the collapse of the entrance to the pool area, he could only look around frantically because he could not abandon his post. Since it would only add to their troubles if he witnessed something that he was not supposed to see, Kirika used the «Tragic Black River» to choke him from behind and render him unconscious. Then the matter was settled without issue by hiding him behind the water slides. In actual fact, Haruaki did not feel that this was without issue, but he definitely could not come up with a better solution.
Next, they reached the Jungle Area. This zone's main attraction was an artificial river. Probably based on the Amazon River in design, the flowing swimming pool had a meandering form. There were also other swimming pools in its outskirts, even equipped with pulleys and ropes for athletic competitions. This added to the jungle atmosphere and probably allowed a taste of Tarzan's experiences.
Furthermore, a lot of thought had been put into this zone apart from the swimming pools. Most prominently, the pool side area was virtually covered with subtropical vegetation such as ferns and palm trees, giving an impression like swimming pools in a botanical garden.
"Nuah!? S-Scared me for a moment, there are dinosaurs here?"
"Isn't that a fake? On the other hand, your voice ended up scaring me."
The power source was probably hidden somewhere between the flourishing ferns. Fear knocked the slowly extending head of the triceratops and said:
"Anyway, Haruaki, don't miss anything shaped like a cube if you see one. I really need it."
"Yeah, I know."
Indeed, she did not have to use a Rubik's cube. According to Fear, the cube emulation could be started using "anything that's basically a cube." As for how large a discrepancy was allowed by the description "basically", this could only be determined by trial and error apparently.
"Of course we should also look for that, but our first priority is finding an emergency exit. If there isn't one in the Slides Area, then based on the distribution, I'm guessing there should be one here... But Satsuko-kun, is your foot okay?"
"Oh, sorry for troubling everyone..."
On Kaidou's back, Satsuko hunched her shoulders. Just as Kirika encouraged her and asked her to endure, Kaidou suddenly straightened her body.
"...Found it. The emergency exit."
Everyone followed her gaze. On the wall where the subtropical vegetation broke off unnaturally, there was a shining green lamp with the word "EXIT."
However, their relief only lasted but an instant. Before their eyes, yet another problem occurred. The worst one.
"Uh—Get down, Haruaki!"
Pushed down by Fear's pounce, Haruaki watched as the green lamp's role as the savior was instantly cut short. Directly attacked by a giant wooden beam, the emergency exit collapsed. The scene could only be described as a nightmare.
"...That's the third beam. I think she's being too generous here..."
Standing on the other side of the flowing swimming pool was the enemy in pursuit of Satsuko. Why? What happened to Konoha and Kuroe? Were they safe? A terrifying thought crossed Haruaki's mind.
Next to take action was Kirika, followed by Fourteen's reaction.
"The «Tragic Black River»!" "«Geist»!"
Wrapped around her arm once more, the black belt extended. At the same time, ghostlights jumped in the air to draw a complicated design, followed by a red brick shooting out at high speed.
Although Kirika swiftly turned her body to avoid a direct hit, the red brick brushing past her neck still gouged her flesh viciously. Instantly, one particular color was scattered all around. This was soon followed by Satsuko's scream. Nevertheless, Kirika—
"Don't... look down on others...!"
Kirika continued to transmit her will to the belt. As soon as she confirmed that the end of the belt had caught Fourteen, Kirika used the momentum from her collapsing body to drag down the enemy forcefully. However, amidst her intense pain, she was unable to entangle a vital spot such as the neck and only managed to ensnare an arm. What Kirika accomplished was simply making Fourteen lose balance and fall into the flowing swimming pool. No one could blame her.
Haruaki frantically rushed over to Kirika's side and tried to support her body, but Kirika was bleeding too much. Before Haruaki's hand could touch her—
"H-Hurry and escape, Yachi... I... am fine. Immediately..."
Her face pallid, Kirika collapsed halfway through her speech. Satsuko screamed even louder at this moment. As much as Haruaki wanted to explain many things to her, there was no time.
Fourteen stood leisurely in the flowing swimming pool where the water was quite deep, as though the water current did not matter to her. Next, she casually peeled off the limp «Tragic Black River» from her arm and started walking along the bottom of the pool, causing the water to splash about. Even underwater, the ghostlights hovering around her arm did not change in brightness, resulting in quite a sense of dissonance.
"Ahhh... Ahhhhhhh... Ahhh... Huff, ahhh...!"
"Calm down, Satsuko, you must calm down! It's okay, Kirika is okay!"
"Th-That's right. How should I say this? Although she doesn't look fine, in actual fact, she's totally fine! And more importantly—"
"—Yachi Haruaki, I leave this child in your protection."
Kaidou slowly stepped backwards towards Haruaki. Unloading from her back the dumbfounded Satsuko who was trembling nonstop, she forced Satsuko upon Haruaki. Naturally, Satsuko was unable to stand. While holding Satsuko's limp shoulders, Haruaki asked:
"K-Kaidou-sensei? You're not thinking of...!"
"Since Ueno Kirika is unable to fight, I am the only one who can be counted on. Since an opportunity has descended once more, I must put forth my utmost effort. And I must verify... whether... I am strong or not..."
Although Haruaki did not quite understand her, he could see a certain conviction clearly in her eyes. Originally displaying complicated emotions and full of doubt, her eyes became pure and simple through the force of her entire body.
This was willpower. One that existed here, one that must exist here—the same will she displayed on that night.
Holding the shovel, Kaidou took a step forward and waited for Fourteen to slowly walk over from the bottom of the swimming pool. However—
"—Hold on. It's too weird for you to be saying 'I am the only one who can be counted on,' I should be the one saying it instead. Please retreat to the back, Kaidou-sensei."
Fear extended her hand from the side. She was facing the same direction as Kaidou and seemed to trying to stop her from advancing. Kaidou glared sharply to the side but Fear ignored her.
"For an ordinary human, she is a very dangerous opponent. If I'm the one engaging her, I can at least withstand her attacks. If you don't want to end up like Kirika, retreat to the back."
"...My reply is negative. The option of 'retreat' does not exist in my heart. It is truly ludicrous to the extreme that someone intends to fight unarmed."
"How about you lend your weapon to me?"
"H-Hold it there, you two! Now is not the time for arguing—"
The tense atmosphere was intensifying and about to explode. Haruaki did not know the correct answer but at least in this perilous atmosphere, a correct answer probably could not exist. As much as he anxiously wanted to stop the two of them, it was too late already. The tense atmosphere was exploding. It exploded due to the enemy.
Kicking the bottom of the pool, Fourteen jumped to the surface at once. Her jumping power was beyond normal—prompting a sense of dissonance in Haruaki again. But currently, his highest priority was shielding Satsuko and Kirika behind him. Fear and Kaidou ended the fruitless debate and started to put their respective powers to task.
Fourteen conjured ghostlights in the air, holding a broom in her right hand while summoning a wooden block in her left. However, Fear fearlessly slid towards her landing spot and used her left hand to block the incoming broom that carried the jump's momentum.
"Tsk... This really hurts!"
As a counterattack, using her petite fist was quite a shabby sight. But shabby as it looked, this was merely superficial appearance. Given Fear's physical strength, even a simple punch should easily floor a human with pain if she got serious. However—her punch did not strike the enemy.
Fourteen's cape and veil fluttered as she landed and she even used her momentum to extend her foot to hook Fear's lower body. Losing balance, Fear collided into Kaidou who was swinging the shovel next to Fourteen. Haruaki watched the scene before him with despair. Since the two of them were acting independently without any cooperation or coordination. In that case, it was even worse than usual when Fear cooperated with Konoha despite constant complaints about incompatibility.
Kaidou held the shovel in one hand and attacked as though reaching around Fear's petite body. But ultimately, it could not compare to the power of wielding the shovel two-handed. Fourteen easily blocked the shovel using broom and counterattacked with the wooden block in one flowing motion. Fear looked over shoulder to watch the action.
Haruaki momentarily saw the conflicted emotions in Fear's eyes but instantly got the answer. Fear did not evade precisely because of who she was. Maintaining her posture with Kaidou in her embrace, Fear willingly endured the impact.
"...Simply stated, this would be self-sacrifice..."
Perhaps due to hearing Fourteen's mutterings—
"I-Idiot! This~ is, umm, I can't move simply because my legs are numb... Gu... ooh... ah!"
Using her back to shield Kaidou, Fear putting up a tough front but Fourteen continued to attack relentlessly. Her petite body was forcibly enduring the tornado of continuous attacks: wooden block, wooden block, broom, wooden block, etc. Every attack caused Fear's body to twitch. Groaning painfully, but somehow she became more and more unable to cry out—
At this moment, Fourteen's wooden block broke with a "crack," breaking as though satisfied that the girl's screams had turned into normal breathing. Then—
"...Too weak. Indeed, one person is still..."
These words were followed by a powerful strike from the broom that swept Fear away.
Exhausted, she was completely blown away.
There seemed to be something broken, rendering her body immobile. Pain was coursing throughout all her joints.
Fear ordered herself to stand up.
She must stand up. This was all for saving Satsuko.
She recalled Satsuko's scar-covered body in the bathroom that night. Satsuko had murmured that she had always been alone.
Satsuko had said was only natural.
She even called herself useless and lowly, hence being treated that way was only natural.
That was Fear's past self. Having slaughtered and harmed hundreds of people, it could not be helped even if she spent her life in solitude—a self-deceiving cube of torture and execution confined in darkness, only able to endure her situation by lying to herself.
But she had changed. She was different now. Unlike the underground dungeon that could not be opened from within no matter what, she was able to leave that place. As long as she reached out and she did reach out. No, she was only in the middle of gradually freeing herself. So close.
Hence—Hence, Fear must stand up.
She desperately tried to apply strength in her limbs but to no avail. Her body was in great pain. She cursed that pain. The consequences after standing up swiftly flashed across her mind. The enemy was quite powerful. Supposing she cooperated with the human woman who refused to make contact with her whatsoever, could they handle the enemy? Was it possible? This happened precisely because it was not possible, right? So painful. Both her body and something not part of her body were hurting. Ahhh, anyway—
I must hurry and stand up—
The dinosaur model had its head broken off beside Fear where she had collapsed. Sprawled on the floor, all she could do was breathe while enduring. That was all she could do. Although Haruaki felt compelled to rush over to her side, he could not take his eyes off the two people beside him.
Kaidou stared at Fear who was blown away then she slowly turned her gaze back to the enemy before her. She continued to breath quickly and deeply a number of times, convulsively—Then suddenly, a short while later, it was as though some sort of switch had activated...
"—Ooh, ohhhh ahhhhhhhh!"
With an explosive roar, she swung the shovel with her entire body's strength. However—
It could not harm Fourteen at all. The shovel was blocked by the broom as easily as deflecting an incoming ball. Using one hand effortlessly, Fourteen casually rendered Kaidou's full-powered efforts naught.
Haruaki had concluded from a while back that the teacher was quite amazing. The strength she used to swing the shovel casually and the speed that would render even a boxer dumbfounded—these attributes could only be described as amazing. Even now, this assessment had not changed. But ultimately, the qualifier "for a normal human" had to be added—
Currently standing before her eyes was an enemy exceeding that domain. An enemy beyond ordinary humans.
Kaidou's gaze flashed with hesitation. Haruaki had never seen that level of distortion in her eyes before. This was a warning sign of imminent collapse.
Fourteen took half a step forward, closing in on her.
Then at a distance almost close enough for Kaidou to feel her breath, she muttered softly—
And delivered the final sentence.
"...Although it is only natural, you are very weak."
Instantly, Kaidou's gaze collapsed. Crushed by many emotions, she abandoned all thought and shook her head in astonishment, simply breathing like a wild beast.
Fourteen did not miss the signs. Neither did she have any intention of showing mercy.
Immediately, the broom was swung, sending Kaidou flying in the direction opposite to Fear. Breaking the stems and trunks of subtropical plants as she few, she smashed into the wall on the side and slide to the ground.
Haruaki clenched his fist. He was the only one remaining now. Although it was unclear how the situation would develop and he did not think he could be of much use, now that Haruaki was the only one left, he had no choice but to pit his all against her—
"So, logically speaking, you two shouldn't be dead yet..."
Shifting her gaze left and right, Fourteen looked at the two who were blown away, stepping forward as though she could not decide whom she should deliver the killing blow to first. Haruaki absolutely could not allow her to succeed. His legs trembling, just as Haruaki intended to step up and block her—
"Enough... Satsuko thinks it's... enough. If your target is Satsuko, then..."
Satsuko moved even faster than Haruaki and walked towards Fourteen.
"What... Hey, wait up, Satsuko!"
"Satsuko... won't wait. That person's target is Satsuko. As long as Satsuko steps up, it'll all end... If that's the case, no problem. As long as Satsuko steps up, Fear-san and the others won't be hurt any further... It's all Satsuko's fault that things developed to this. Satsuko a-already had enough...!"
Haruaki was extremely shocked.
"W-Wait up! Don't do this! If you go over, you know what will happen, right—!?"
"...You mean... something like torture? No problem, it's better than watching this happen... Also, Satsuko doesn't have that whatever doll in the first place. If it's repeated to her, perhaps she'll believe eventually..."
"No... Don't... do it... Cough cough..."
Haruaki was startled by the voice coming from extremely nearby. It turned out to be Kirika who had opened her eyes slightly and was looking up towards him. The wound on her neck had not healed completely yet and the pain was causing her to frown. She continued to squeeze out a weak voice from the depths of her throat—
"I'm... fine. I won't die... So..."
Kirika's eyes pleaded with Haruaki to stop her. Indeed, Haruaki was currently the only one who could stop Satsuko. Nodding firmly to respond to Kirika, Haruaki then turned his gaze towards Satsuko's back. But in that instant, Fourteen's hand was already moving towards them. If they stepped forward, something would definitely shoot out. Thinking "even so, I can't just sit here and do nothing," Haruaki was about to take action and by trusting his reflexes when—
"No, it's too dangerous... It's okay. Really... It's okay..."
Satsuko's voice was sorrowful. Her steps slowly took her into the line of sight between Fourteen and Haruaki. Even if Fourteen shot anything, she was still able to block it with her body, able to protect Haruaki with her body. Holding his breath, Haruaki stopped walking.
"...How could it... be okay...!?"
Just at this moment, with silver hair dangling, Fear dragged her body and stood up. With many bruises lingering on her arms and legs, all covered with injuries was the only apt description. Nevertheless, she still stood up. Clenching her fist, her only weapon, she took a step forward.
"...Don't do... anything stupid. Why do you think... we are fighting!?"
Frowning from pain, Fear turned her gaze towards Kaidou who was lying without moving on the floor with only her face up to watch the situation. She was silent because she could not speak—or perhaps because she chose not to speak.
"For Satsuko's sake... Right..? But, hence... Sorry... It's... enough. Even if you don't fight for someone like Satsuko, it's okay."
Satsuko's attitude was very stubborn, but her stubbornness was wrong, absolutely. Haruki gained courage after he looked at Fear's face and confirmed that she thought so. But when he looked at Satsuko's back again—He seemed to catch something in the corner of his vision.
Described in one word, it was salvation.
However, Fear did not seem like she noticed it. Her tone of voice became even more violent.
"You're saying 'someone like Satsuko' again! You're too foolish! You're no longer alone—You're not isolated anymore! You are my friend. How can I stand back and not help a friend!?"
Approaching Fourteen slowly, Satsuko stopped when she heard that sentence. But without looking back, she replied:
"We... are... friends...?"
"Of course! At least, that's what I believe—What about you!?"
This question seemed to make Satsuko look up slightly. "She probably caught sight of reinforcements," Haruaki thought to himself.
If she saw the signs, logically speaking, she should be halting her steps. But Satsuko advanced once again. In that case, that meant she still had not noticed the figure of assistance who was quietly approaching Fourteen from behind—
"Yes. Satsuko... also believes in being friends with you. Completely... friends. Ah, hence..."
Clenching her fist, Fear sprinted forward while Satsuko took the final step and arrived at the enemy's side. Fourteen spread both arms as though welcoming her.
Then as Haruaki watched. He watched with an exhilarating feeling of "Success!"
He saw the instant when Konoha approached Fourteen from behind without making a sound and swung her karate chop.
In that very instant, he was rendered completely at a loss as though the world had shattered completely, because—
"Hence—having become friends, a duel cannot be avoided."
Because Satsuko reached into Fourteen's body beside her and drew out a weapon from beneath the cloth wrapped around her torso and blocked Konoha's chopping hand as though protecting Fourteen.
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