Chapter 5 - The Place Where Strength Lies. There, / "In hand"
Incomprehensible. What could this scene mean?
From inside Fourteen's body, Satsuko had taken out an electric drill that one would use for leisure carpentry. Although it was the size of a hand gun, the slender drill bit installed on its tip was abnormally long—Roughly a meter or so. This steel drill was what Satsuko had use to deflect Konoha's knife hand.
"Of course it's a drill. Didn't Satsuko mention last time that she loved drills? Although it's only natural for you to forget the worthless words of someone like Satsuko, it does make one feel empty inside... And drills really are super cool! Full of dreams—"
"I-I'm not asking you about that! You... what on earth... Why..."
Fear was staring at Satsuko in disbelief while Fourteen stood by Satsuko's side. The veil on her face was turned towards Konoha who had hastily pulled back after her attack was deflected, as well as Kuroe who had pursued together with Konoha. Kirika was still lying on the floor, her eyes displaying bewilderment. Kaidou's situation was apparently the same as Kirika's, except that her eyes expressed greater confusion than anyone else present.
"You're asking... why? Well—Satsuko always says that she is a cowardly and useless person. Hence, Satsuko must become strong... That's what Satsuko told the teacher once."
Satsuko sneaked a glance at Kaidou but immediately turned her gaze back towards Fear.
"Also, the higher-ups keep telling Satsuko that 'If you want to become strong, you need to hone yourself on a mental level as well.' That is completely right. Satsuko believes that strong people have strong minds too. For example—Even if a friend turned into an enemy, a strong person would still fight without hesitation. Hence, Satsuko decided she must develop that strength. Although the process is very painful, if it could be achieved, then even her willpower will become strong... Something like that. So that's why Satsuko did this."
"Wha... I don't understand, I really don't get it. What on earth are you talking about...?"
"The same goes for me. Could you please stick to the main points? —No, just give me the main points!"
Still in a stance with her knife hand ready, Konoha adjusted her choice of wording.
"Even if you ask Satsuko to give the main points, it's a bit difficult. Well... Anyway, Satsuko boldly decided to attempt making friends with everyone. For this goal, Satsuko had to resort to many lies and a lot of acting."
"Lies... Where did they start?"
Kuroe tilted her head in puzzlement. Satsuko made her usual timd smile and said:
"Uh—Well... Simply stated, almost everything."
Everyone held their breath in surprise. Perhaps feeling the current atmoshere, Satsuko continued nonchalantly:
"Satsuko is not a student. Everything about her family and parents is false. Staying overnight at Haruaki-san's home was for the sake of establishing friendly relations with you all. The «Crying and Screaming Headless Doll» does not exist. Naturally, Fourteen was never out for Satsuko's life. Rather, this girl is Satsuko's partner. The plan to drive her away was decided beforehand all along. In order to gain everyone's trust... Up until this point, the entire situation was for deepening Satsuko's friendship with everyone. Because you invited Satsuko specially to have fun at the pool, Satsuko thought that the chance was perfect and even put in lots of effort to create a suitable sense of crisis... For example, Satsuko pretended to sprain her ankle so as to buy time for Fourteen to circle around to locate you guys. Satsuko tried very hard to arrange many details. Uh~ As for what's real... Probably the fact that Satsuko has no sense of direction and is a super fan of occult goods. Oh of course, Ontenzaki Satsuko is also her real name. But the name of someone like Satsuko probably isn't something important in your eyes..."
Fear simply stood rooted to the spot in shock as she listened to her. Seeing Fear's expression, Haruaki could not help but recall Satsuko's voice, her timid smile and the happy looks when Fear and the others interacted with her.
So virtually everything was fake.
Everything from the very beginning until just now.
Unbelievably, everything that had happened since Satsuko visited their home turned out to be deception?
Even now, Haruaki still could not believe it. But if everything she said was not a lie—It could explain all her past words and actions as well as the nagging sense of minute dissonance behind them. Indeed it could.
For example, there was her exceptional readiness in accepting the existence of cursed tools. As the time, Haruaki had found her ability to understand things quite unbelievable but was convinced upon hearing her describe herself as a obsessive fan of occult goods. Were she already involved with this world, then it would have been completely matter-of-fact. Then there was the way she froze completely as soon as she opened a textbook. This would be the expected behavior of anyone not a student. Then there was the way she spoke to her parents on the phone. Speaking to parents in a completely uninhibited manner was within reason. However, if the other side was not her parent—indeed, a familiar partner for example—it would be perfectly natural. Then there was the convenience of using a phone, such as obtaining permission to stay out overnight or taking steps to arrange a late night assault—
Haruaki felt dizzy. There was a feeling as though suddenly realizing the world itself was just a dream. The sense of reality was disappearing from reality. He could not understand, why did it come to this? He still could not understand.
"Partner... Speakng of which, the Dominion's knights have partners known as 'auxiliaries.' In that case, you must be—"
Konoha glared severely at Satsuko. However, Satsuko simply inclined her head in surprise.
"Oh, you're mistaken. That's also fake. Satsuko has nothing to with the Knight's Dominion at all. Satsuko only borrowed that name because it matched the setting of Satsuko being hunted down."
"What... You're not part of the Knights Dominion? In that case, why!? Why did you do this? Deliberately getting in our good graces—Then proceeding to make enemies of us!"
"Hasn't Satsuko explained it already?"
"I heard you spouting nonsense about strengthening your willpower, but I still don't understand what you mean! Why must you go so far to make yourself strong? What is your goal!?"
At this moment, Fourteen suddenly fluttered her veil and broke her silence:
"—Satsuko, the way I see it, you've forgotten to say the most important thing. It's fine if you want to tell the whole story clearly, but don't spend too much time on that. Hurry and settle things."
"S-Satsuko was just about to say it! Satsuko can't stand you, Fourt, always talking at inappropriate times! Also, it's all because you speak too little that Satsuko must talk nonstop like this! So asking Satsuko to hurry up is too mean of you!"
Fourt was her nickname? The current Satsuko seemed like a different person compared to the way she acted in the company of Fear and the others earlier. The usual sense of unnecessary timidness was completely gone. Furthermore, their attitudes towards each other was testament to their close relationship. Just as Fourteen nonchalantly muttered "...very sorry about that," Satsuko went "Hmm—" and pouted:
"Satsuko can't feel your sincerity!"
Then Satsuko's fingers ripped through the air towards the veil on Fourteen's face. Unexpectedly, the face of the girl behind the veil looked even younger than imagined. A completely ordinary face of a girl's. But under everyone's gaze, her face gradually turned as red as an apple and she even raised her voice by an octave:
"I-It's very embarrassing for the curtains to be drawn... Satsuko, please stop now...!"
"Are you reflecting now?"
Satsuko even went as far as to pinch Fourteen's exposed cheek lightly. This physical punishment caused Fourteen to reply tearfully:
"I-I am reflecting on my behavior. Reflecting deeply and sincerely too. So please, cover it up...!"
Saying "I hope so," Satsuko moved her fingers away. Apparently, the piece of cloth could slide towards the side. Fourteen swiftly pulled the curtain with her hand and muttered in her usual voice:
"...Please have mercy on me."
"It's you, Fourt, who was acting too naughty~ You were this close to receiving the punishment of no sweeping for a week."
"...Anything but that. Truly, please have mercy..."
Feeling completely perplexed, Haruaki's group could only speechlessly watch their conversation from the side. Satsuko turned to them once more and said:
"Uh... Sorry to shock everyone. So anyway, would you all have a look at this?"
While speaking, Satsuko stabbed her drill's long tip into the side of her swimsuit and slowly moved it towards the other side, causing the swimsuit to rip apart noisily... Next to appear before everyone's eyes was her pale white skin of course. Satsuko reached towards the tear that had turned her swimsuit into a two-piece. Muttering "there we go," she pushed the remaining fabric of the lower half down to expose even more skin. Then she pushed further to below her tiny navel. Haruaki could see something resembling a birthmark on a spot which could be considered her lower abdomen. Normally, Fear and Konoha would surely rush over to block Haruaki's eyes but on this occasion, just like Haruaki, they both stared at Satsuko's birthmark.
But they all immediately realized that it was not a birthmark but a tattoo.
Colored green as a base, it approached a hexagon in shape... Indeed, it was a design that seemed to use reptile scales as a motif.
"...What is that...? Back then... You said you had a huge scar..."
"Oh, right~ Satsuko also told Fear-san another lie. Satsuko lied about having a scar here. However, Satsuko's identity would be leaked if you saw it, which would be troubling, so Satsuko deliberately hid it. However, all scars apart from this are real. They were caused by bullying in the past. All the scars from back then remain on Satsuko's body indeed. But among them, quite a few were left behind purely from battles."
Fear was rendered speechless. Satsuko smiled in response. Her smile looked really happy.
"Fear-san, you only treated Satsuko as a friend because you pitied Satsuko for being a victim of bullying and was alone all this time, right? Satsuko did not lie about that part. Hence, Satsuko and Fear-san's friendship is not a lie after all... Ehehe, Satsuko is so happy. Right, let's get back to the topic just now."
Pushing the torn swimsuit down, Satsuko seemed to be deliberately displaying the tattoo to Haruaki's group as she continued:
"This is a mark. For members of the «Draconians» such as Satsuko, everyone has this type of tattoo somewhere on their body—"
Haruaki had heard the name before. He turned to look at Kirika who knew the most details but she was still in newly revived state and only shook her head silently.
"That's right, but there's no mark on Fourt's body. Although she's a member, only humans are entitled to these Dragon Wounds."
"Really... So that explains the earlier feeling that something was out of place. She's not human, so that means she's one of our kind? No wonder her movements are so unnatural."
"Firing laundry poles into the swimming pool and jumping from pole to pole, I don't think that's even possible for us."
"But during the cultural festival earlier, we did encounter someone who seemed capable of such skills... Consequently, that person skewed our standards of judgment."
"Oh by the way, the «Warehouse Cloak» is also a lie. The cape is only used to match the image. Being able to take out or put in many things is simply Fourt's power. Although the decision to treat it as the cape's ability was made beforehand, the name was improvised by Fourt... Come to think of it now, that was really sloppy. But speaking of why this was done, it's because if Fourt's identity as a Wathe was found out too early, then it'd be troublesome once you guys questioned who the 'owner' was."
"That sort of thing... is not important."
Clenching fists that were almost about to fly out, gritting teeth that were about to shatter, Fear yelled as her whole body shuddered:
"Tell me now, what are the «Draconians»!? What goal does this organization have!?"
"Uh—Hasn't Satsuko repeated that many times already? Namely, they desire to become strong, stronger than anything else. To become the strongest existence."
Satsuko lightly pressed on her drill's grip, causing a spinning sound to be heard from the pool side several times. Then looking at her weapon, she said:
"This is «Mr. Big»... Obviously a Wathe. Wathes are very scary and amazing things, right? Why do these things exist? Once obtained, what should humans do with them? Once such amazing things are obtained, becoming strong is only natural, because they are able to do so many amazing things. Since that's the case—perhaps one could call them things that exist to make humans stronger?"
"If that is the meaning of Wathes' existence, then it's meaningless unless one becomes the strongest. Everyone tries to become the strongest through their respective ways. Of course, even the Commander, whom someone like Satsuko finds scary to talk to, has always strived to become the strongest."
"How absolutely ludicrous... How can something like being the strongest be decided? Don't tell me you resort to duels?"
Konoha ridiculed the idea but Satsuko nodded and answered seriously.
"Ah yes, that's what happens. But that feels something like... a segment of the training to become strong... Uh—To this date, no human has ever achieved the goal of «Strongest» that Satsuko and the Draconians seek. Hence, everyone aims for that target. According to the Commander, that 'as yet unachieved strongest existence'... No one has ever seen, made contact or talked to it before. Conceptually, it is the strongest, almost like the progenitor of a new species. In other words, this is what Satsuko and her comrades call this existence—Namely, the «Dragon»."
"You must be... joking. We exist to make humans stronger? Cow Tits is right, this is absolutely ludicrous. We simply exist, that's all. We sin and get cursed, and simply exist, that's all."
"..Curses are the reasons why we exist, but they are not the meaning of our existence..."
Fourteen muttered. Fear glared viciously at her own kind.
"This is too crazy. You're just as crazy as that cross from the Family, just in a different way..."
"I disagree. Since we harm humans and possess powers for harming humans, there is meaning in the curse. The curse has its meaning."
Just as repeated so many times in the past, Fourteen caressed the veil on her face with her fingertips as she replied. Fear was furious to the point of gritting her teeth hard. At this moment, Fear glared severely at Satsuko again as she walked towards Fourteen.
"So that's pretty much it for the explanations... Oh, please don't look at Satsuko with that kind of gaze, Fear-san. Actually, Satsuko is suffering too. Uh—the higher-ups gave battle authorization of which the targets include everyone near the Yachi home, especially the primary intended opponent, Fear-san. So Satsuko will naturally try hard, especially towards Fear-san, trying her best to become good friends with you no matter what..."
So that was why she did all that?
That was why Satsuko became Fear's best friend? The primary reason was not whether they got along well together but due to deliberate, calculated efforts to deepen their relationship—Then to trample all over Fear's feelings.
This was the only thought going through Haruaki's mind.
But Satsuko continued and fully expressed her terrible behavior.
"Ah, on the other hand, perhaps it's better if you glared at Satsuko. If you treat Satsuko as your friend, you won't be able to fight at your full strength, then Satsuko would be in a dilemma... Yes, it's very important for Satsuko to see Fear-san as a friend right now. But how Fear-san thinks of Satsuko is totally irrelevant to Satsuko."
"Wawa, everyone's eyes are becoming even more scary...! Uh—Umm, then it's about time to start fighting! After all, getting authorization was not easy, hence even someone weak like Satsuko will devote her all to the fight... Fourt!"
"Okay, let's get the holster first."
Satsuko moved her hand through the sarashi on her partner's chest as though searching for something, causing Fourteen to exhale lightly. The object she mentioned fell out from between the sarashi—a belt connected to many leather holders. Using one hand, Satsuko attached it to her thigh and murmured:
This time, a scalpel with dark red stains fell out and she secured it in her holster.
"«Impedance to Ethical Lines»."
This was a vicious frozen food cleaver with a serrated edge. She placed it in her holster. This was followed by a hammer, a knife as well as many unfamiliar looking blades and blunt weapons. All of them entered the holster.
"H-Hey, no way... Are they all... cursed tools...?"
Unbelievable. Suffering so many curses was undoubtedly suicidal behavior. Hearing Haruaki's groan—
"Relax—Most of these have very light curses. The only powerful ones are... Oh right, there's this drill and Fourt, as well as... One more. Please take out «Raizawaseri's Proof»."
What Satsuko finally held in her hand was a yellow boxcutter, a piece of stationery that one could find anywhere. However, one person at the scene reacted dramatically towards it.
Kaidou had been lying on the floor, listening in a daze so far. Suddenly, she stared wide-eyed and pushed against the floor with her trembling arms. Then her entire body began to shudder nonstop. She looked up and said:
"I said... Why!? Why would that thing be here!?"
She yelled as though she were about to spit blood. Kaidou's gaze was locked onto one location—The boxcutter in Satsuko's hand.
"That is... Ahhh... what Satsu... once possessed... Impossible, how can it be here...!?"
"Eh, you know this boxcutter? This really feels like destiny~ If you ask why it's here, Satsuko is left scratching her head. Because this wasn't Satsuko's to begin with—Just as Satsuko mentioned before, members of the Draconians sometimes engage in something similar to duels. The rules allow the winner to take away one of the loser's Wathes. For a weak human like Satsuko, victory must have been luck, but it was under such circumstances that..."
Kaidou bit her lip hard. This was not anger. Rather, it seemed like she was reprimanding herself for her helplessness.
"So, Satsuko is all ready! Satsuko may be very weak, but she will try hard and use all sorts of Wathes like this, so please treat her well!"
"W-Wait up... Hold on first!"
Haruaki spoke frantically, causing Satsuko to incline her head in puzzlement. Haruaki was simply trying to buy time to calm his mind, but she interpreted his words on her own:
"Wait for what? Oh—Because the explanation of the curses isn't finished yet? But it's really nothing. This drill and boxcutter only have ordinary curses compelling the owner to hurt people. The drill seems to have undergone some kind of modification to eliminate the impulse to harm others. As for the boxcutter, Satsuko normally uses Fourteen's back to vent the desire to hurt someone. Rather, Satsuko should say that the upcoming battle will help vent the impulse. Then there's Fourteen's curse... Well~ It makes someone stop growing like this. For Satsuko, it's really like a curse. Despite how Satsuko looks, Satsuko is actually twenty-one years old already."
A completely unexpected age was heard. Despite Haruaki's group's astonishment, Fourteen simply muttered calmly:
"Rather than a curse, it can be considered a benefit. Because there are people in the past who entered my body to seek longevity and eternal youth."
"Really? Perhaps that happens because of widespread rumors of immortal witches remaining forever young? The real curse is that the owner must kidnap humans and bring them inside Fourt's body where they will weaken and die. If that's not done, the owner would weaken and die instead... Although the curse eventually strengthens to the point where one cannot catch up, so in the end, everyone wastes away and dies."
"...I really hope that will only arrive in the distant future."
Satsuko continued to supplement her explanation. For example, there was the female high schooler whom she "first kidnapped and borrowed her uniform and school bag" as well as her family she lived with in the apartment, and the people from the water park this time. Although putting that many people inside does not necessarily produce a better result, it did mean that Satsuko was probably safe from the curse within the near future.
Hearing her explanations, Haruaki was struck by many more thoughts. Since she had used the first female student's background as her cover, there had been chances to expose that lie. For example, during the nights when they were keeping watch, a single visit to the apartment where Satsuko was most likely staying alone. During the day, she obviously did not attend classes so she probably hid somewhere to spend her time after Haruaki's group escorted her to school. Had they spent one day protecting her in class, the lie would have been exposed.
But these thoughts were already too late. Racking one's brain over things that were too late did not help at all. The most important thing at hand, deserving of deep thought, was more simple—the fact that humans were kidnapped and concealed inside Fourteen's body.
In other words, Sovereignty and Shiraho must be rescued.
...As well as all the other captured people, they must be rescued at all costs.
"On further thought, your situation does not matter to us at all. For us, the most important thing right now, is the fact that you are the enemy who deceived us..."
"On the other hand, we should count our blessings now that we no longer need to expend effort to help a certain person escape. What we needed to do has not changed, really."
"Indeed, I am able to help this time."
"Are you okay, Class Rep...?"
Kirika's wound was finally healed up, hence she slowly sat up. Rubbing her neck where flesh had been scraped off earlier, she nodded and replied:
"Yes, I'm fine. You should take the teacher... along with Fear-kun and retreat to the side. After all, you lack weapons, and also—Fear-kun's emotional state can't adjust that easily, right?"
She whispered the latter half of her words to Haruaki only. Fear was still glaring at Satsuko, using all her strength to question—"Why are you doing this?"
But the question did not reach Satsuko's ears. Or rather, in her view, she had already answered it.
"So, it's finally time to enter the fray officially! Weak little Satsuko will do her best!"
She was wielding the drill in her right hand and the boxcutter in her left. Naturally, on her thigh was the leather holster carrying all the weapons she had taken out earlier. On the other hand, Fourteen held a broom in one hand while flying ghostlights surrounded her arms.
Konoha, Kuroe and Kirika shifted their positions in preparation to oppose the two approaching enemies.
"I still don't quite understand what this is all about. Hopefully... you can tell me as a fellow cursed tool. There are too many inexplicable aspects to your behavior, hence, I've been full of questions all along."
"That can be easily rectified. I simply move the objects inside my body... Things that belong in my body can be taken out and will be strengthened. They can also be shot out. As for objects that did not exist inside me originally... Such as Satsuko's Wathes and the like, they are simply taken out without modification. Hence, there is nothing inexplicable."
"Things... that belong in your body? You're some kind of vessel?"
Konoha continued to pursue the matter. Fourteen livened up the ghostlights' movements as she summoned a new wooden block from midair. At the same time—
She announced her true identity.
"In a certain sense. Speaking of my original name, I am «Coonsberry's Haunted House of Death on Fourteenth Avenue». Reportedly, there was once a certain psychotic woman who was obsessed with magic. She imprisoned several dozen people and murdered them. Then the witch made her residence inside—"
"...A cursed house."
Blue-white ghostlights flew about, tracing out many trails in the air.
"«Geist». The strange fires swaggering about inside the witch's house. Your favorite time, that of disorder, has arrived—Let everything within reach fly. No need for mercy, I permit you to riot in this house! Come, «Geist», «Geist»! «Polter»—«Geist»!"
Timber, glass knives from broken windows, laundry poles, red bricks and countless other objects appeared from the ghostlights' trails. Next, as Fourteen extended her arm, those strange objects began to fly all at once—
"Who could have expected a cursed house. It's my first time to encounter such a large-scale member of our kind... But now is not the time to be amazed. And no matter how much I try, I won't be able to block everything. Try to dodge as appropriate!"
"Understood! Haruaki-kun, you guys retreat to the back!"
Kuroe's hair undulated up and down while Konoha and Kirika instantly jumped away from their previous position. Shortly after, a symphony of destruction rocked the swimming pool.
The battle started. Haruaki bit his lip and grabbed Fear's hand while she remained rooted to the spot. Then he dragged her away. After all, Kirika was right. This had girl wanted to fight barehanded, but with Satsuko and Fourteen as the opponents, coming out unscathed would be absolutely impossible.
"W-What are you doing? Haruaki! Let me go, I also have to... fight—"
"That's completely impossible for you right now. Let's go over to the teacher first. Since she's already hurt and also needs to find a place to hide, I can't do it alone. Come over and help me."
Despite her reluctance, Fear kept her mouth shut and did not speak. The two of them circled around Konoha's group and made their way to the pool side. Having flown and crashed into the wall, the teacher was now using the wall to support her back while she forced herself to stand up on her trembling legs.
"Kaidou-sensei, are you okay!?"
Haruaki asked out of courtesy, but she did not look okay at all. Although she had not bled too much, she had been flung into a concrete wall by a large force after all, so there should be a few cracked bones at least, right? Furthermore, her eyes were staring emptily towards a certain place... Haruaki surmised that not only her physical but also her mental state must have suffered heavy trauma. As for whether it was critical, that would be unknown.
"Anyway, let's retreat to the next zone first."
Kaidou's gaze remained fixed. Hence, Haruaki sighed as he forced his way under her and propped her up by the shoulder. After he started walking forward, Kaidou finally started moving, dragging her feet. Haruaki could feel that instead of moving by her own volition, her body simply walked helplessly out of habit as a result of being pushed forward.
"Fear, if anything comes flying from behind, you must let me know."
Just at this moment—
"Ah... P-Please wait! Don't run away! Satsuko's original goal is to fight Fear-san. If you do that, Satsuko will be very troubled—!"
"Y-You're very annoying!"
Fear looked back and scolded harshly.
Standing by Fourteen's side, Satsuko brandished the drill and the boxcutter in her hands as she spoke:
"If everyone does not fight with their full power, Satsuko will be very troubled—Isn't it fine even if you don't have a cube for a tool...? As long as you let Haruaki use your own body."
Fear's face was twisted by anger. For Fear, that should be something she would rather die than allow to happen, because in a very true sense, letting someone use her would completely contravene her wish of "never harming anyone again."
"Don't listen to her, Fear, let's go!"
"Indeed, stop spacing out! I will handle this person!"
Konoha charged straight at Satsuko. Haruaki warned her not to force herself too much then began to move. On the other hand, Fear simply followed without saying a word.
They passed through a glass door and moved to another zone, the completely deserted and silent Slides Area.
"Kaidou-sensei, how are your injuries...?"
The two of them allowed the teacher to lean against the wall as they asked about her condition. However, Kaidou did not answer but simply stared emptily at her feet... Clearly she had suffered a great shock.
(How troubling~ I must at least confirm whether she's fine. Otherwise, there's no way I can go back to help the girls without worrying...)
Although Haruaki was unable help out much, he decided it would be better to keep more options open by being there to wield Konoha in case she needed to transform into a sword.
Just when Haruaki was sighing and wondering what he should do next, suddenly entering his view was—
Standing nearby, Fear was displaying an expression that indicated she had made some kind of decision. Then with heavy footsteps, she walked over to the teacher.
"Ah~ Satsuko believes that Fear and the others will return eventually, anyway... Having to fight the gentle Konoha-san who lent Satsuko her pajamas, Satsuko feels so conflicted... Oh how her heart breaks. But it'd be meaningless unless Satsuko does this, so Satsuko will try hard..."
"Actually, I'm not gentle at all, so don't feel brokenhearted. You'd better not expect me to show any mercy."
"Sob sob, Satsuko is very weak, please pay attention when the time comes..."
Hunching her shoulders while she spoke, Satsuko's shadow began to change. Of course, her petite body did not change, but the weapons in her hands were happily altering their form in response to her killing intent.
The drill in her right was spinning away noisily.
The boxcutter in her left was clicking away noisily.
The drill's slender bit and the boxcutter's blade made noises respectively as they extended forward. Originally long to begin with, the drill became even longer. Hidden inside the boxcutter, the blade formed by joining countless razor blades now extended to roughly a meter long. These two tools' lengths were both beyond the expectations of common sense and one could not possibly find the mechanism for containing them. But to Konoha, there was nothing to be surprised about, because they were both cursed.
Seeing Satsuko's twin hair buns bob slightly, Konoha did not expect her to lean forward and rush over instantly. So fast.
Konoha dodged the drill that was suddenly thrust over, meanwhile using a karate chop to receive the attacking boxcutter. Although she used a kick to counterattack, this was swiftly blocked by the drill that had been swiftly pulled back.
"Wah—Sorry, because you are fighting someone like Satsuko, you are holding back, right...? But if that's the case, it doesn't improve Satsuko's training, so please fight seriously—!"
Satusko bent forward as she swung the boxcutter up, aiming for Konoha's abdomen. Konoha attempted to sever it with a karate chop and the boxcutter blade did end up breaking. But no—that boxcutter's blade had scattered apart on its own where the individual razors connected. Konoha did not feel the expected resistance and slightly lost balance. At this moment, the boxcutter recovered the length of its blade with a series of clicking and came slicing from the opposite direction. Konoha frantically retreated backwards.
This was just as challenging to handle as Fourteen's wooden blocks. Furthermore, this boxcutter was apparently able to break its own blade according to the user's will. It looked like it could extend indefinitely for there was no guarantee that the blade was at its maximum length—To be honest, it was quite hard to judge the weapon's range.
"You... How on earth do you call this weak!?"
Satsuko's expression remained timid and cowardly, but her body's movements were outrageously fast. Her level of ability was clearly high enough that Konoha could not afford to hold back.
Hence, Konoha decided to stop believing whatever Satsuko said from this point onwards. Once again, her karate chop clashed with the electric drill's bit.
"Oh dear... Kono-san looks quite tied up."
"Yes, that doesn't look like an easy opponent at all... How many more lies did that girl actually tell?"
Kirika dodged the incoming timber as she replied to Kuroe, but just at this moment—
"...For the sake of Satsuko's honor, let me first correct you two here. Satsuko was not trying to deceive... Indeed, some call her the «Tailender Syndrome»."
While stroking her veil, Fourteen explained as she stood on the opposite side of the swimming pool.
"...The truth is that Satsuko really believes she is very weak. She is convinced that it's impossible for her to be powerful. Simply stated, that is her personality... Then as a result of her utter lack of confidence, she ends up hoping desperately to make herself stronger in earnest. Exactly because of that—I acknowledged Satsuko as my owner."
Just as she finished talking, the ghostlights proceeded to draw circles. Clearly she did not wish to talk further.
"Mode: «Cushioning Munemori»!"
"...«Tragic Black River»!"
Blocked by the soft, spread out hair, the bricks lost momentum and fell down. Using her belt to grab bricks in midflight, Kirika twisted the belt and sent the bricks back at Fourteen like throwing stones. Although her projectile speed was inferior to Fourteen's, this merely served to hinder the enemy's movements. Just as Fourteen fluttered her cape while dodging the wave of attack—
"I see it again! New move: «Dinosaur Narimori»!"
Kuroe used her hair to pick up a nearby mechanical triceratops and threw it at Fourteen like a hammer. However, the enemy swiftly took out a round table from her body and used it as a shield against the dinosaur attack. This impact easily caused the triceratops' parts to scatter and fly. Although the table cracked as well, Fourteen simply murmured "Another mess again... How annoying" without suffering any damage herself.
"Hmm, too bad it's an improvised move that I can only use here."
"Kuroe-kun... Are you actually fighting seriously?"
Hearing Kuroe sound so leisurely, Kirika finally erupted in a scolding tone of voice, but Kuroe explained nonchalantly:
"Of course I'm serious. I will try out any method as long as it's within my ability. Even if it's lame or completely pointless, I'll try it out first before judging... This is all done for the sake of rescuing Sovey-chan and Shiraho-chan."
Kuroe's eyes were the same as usual, partially closed as though she were sleepy. But in spite of that, one could feel a sense of seriousness from her. No, rather than serious—It would be better to say she was filled with grim determination. Her eyes displayed resolve and great anxiety, as well as anger that was not overtly expressed.
"But let me clarify something. Specifically, I had no intention of judging your attack just now... I believe it's the best way to make up for a lack of destructive power. But what made me concerned, whether you were serious or not, was the name of the move."
"Very regrettably, that probably cannot be helped. Based on the iron principle that yelling out the names of super moves will make them more powerful, I must think up move names as much as possible."
"...R-Really? If that's what you insist, never mind... Hmm!"
Something flew over, causing them to dodge by jumping to the side. Although Kirika suffered a minor laceration on her arm, this did not pose any problems and she immediately stood up in response to Kuroe's gaze.
"Anyway, I agree with what you said about 'trying out any method as long as it's within my ability.' Whether my body, my brain or tools, I will use anything that comes in handy... Speaking of which, I discovered something that could prove advantageous to our side. Those giant—probably support pillars in the house—It's highly unlikely that she will throw any more of those."
"Oh~ How so?"
"If she had a way to fire those pillars en masse, she would have done so already. Decidedly, she can only attack using objects that definitely exist inside the house. In other words, from her standpoint, attacking means consuming herself at the same time. Things like bricks might be endlessly abundant, but that cannot be the case for the pillars of a house."
"I see. If she attacks too much, she could end up losing more than she bargained for... Ah!"
Kuroe's hair swiftly deflected an incoming block of wood and changed its trajectory. Flying into a pool, the wood made a huge splash.
"It's true that I don't want to fire any more pillars... But simply stated, if your plan is to exhaust my ammunition, that is futile. The space I can use is vast. The poltergeists have endless toys to play with."
"Don't look down on me who lives in a small room—Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
Kuroe complained strangely as she extended her hair. In order to perform a simultaneous attack, Kirika also swung the «Tragic Black River» as she glanced behind her.
However, there were still no signs of Haruaki and the others returning.
Then Fear bowed her head and looked at Kaidou—arrogantly with her chest puffed out—and extended her hand.
Her instruction was short and to the point, as though what she demanded was perfectly natural. Even if she were to add "rice crackers" at the end, it would not sound unnatural at all.
But right now, Fear was not demanding rice crackers.
Instead, it was the shovel in Kaidou's hand.
Kaidou's long hair slid as she looked up at Fear but she did not relax her grip on the shovel.
"You don't intend to give it to me, right? Yes~ In that case—Why aren't you moving?"
"Be quiet, Haruaki. I am currently speaking with the teacher."
Fear glared at the teacher. Kaidou gazed back at her silently, a sense of unease suddenly flashing across her eyes—Finally, she spoke a long awaited answer:
"The boxcutter in her hand... Used to be my sister's..."
She looked down again as though trying to forcefully suppress the surging pain. But still, she continued to speak. It was basically the same story as what Haruaki had heard the night before the final exams—except in much greater detail. For example, there was how her younger sister had been bullied yet she remained in the dark about it, how her sister obtained the boxcutter, how her sister suddenly slashed her one day with that boxcutter, as well as how her sister committed suicide by jumping off the building, shocked by what she had done to her elder sister, etc.
"But then that boxcutter... To think it would fall into the hands of that child... That child whom looks so much like my sister... I cannot understand... Why is this..."
Of course, Haruaki did not know the reason either. If Satsuko's words just now were true, very likely, she herself did not know either. Only because someone collected it and then someone else robbed it—finally, it simply ended up falling into the hands of Satsuko of the Draconians. If one had to guess, it was probably because it was a convenient weapon.
"Umuu... Right now, I have only one thing I can say to the teacher."
After hearing Kaidou's story, Fear crossed her arms before her chest and drew her face close to Kaidou. Taking a deep breath—her lips twisted as though in a sneer—she said:
"Basically, so what?"
Kaidou swallowed her breath without speaking. Fear ignored her and continued to talk:
"The story just now was simply your past. I understand. But does that constitute a reason for you to lie here unable to move? We are currently being attacked and pursued. Those two are taking innocent people and our friends as hostages. In spite of that, you are still unable to move—Putting me and my kind aside, that implies that you don't care about these students—Kirika, Shiraho and this shameless Haruaki. Furthermore, those people who became hostages are irrelevant to you as well, right?"
Fear already knew the answer and was perfectly aware that she was being very despicable. But still, she asked.
"No... I am..."
Kaidou gripped the shovel hard.
"...Indeed, I... am the teacher who is supposed to save the students. Even an ordinary person cannot feel uninvolved when hostages' lives are at risk. But, even so... Even so, I really... am very useless..."
She sighed. A sigh that admitted everything and despaired.
"...You have made me realize that I had mistakenly believed I had become stronger. I was supposed to have trained myself for these situations—But still ended up powerless. It makes me feel that the way I am, I have no right to stand on the battlefield. Take for example, all those reasons on that night which I used to make a stand, even at the cost of deceiving myself of my weakness, all have now vanished. Indeed, trying to protect someone whom I had superimposed my sister's image onto, when she is definitely not my sister... Even though I already discovered it from the very start."
Kaidou murmured as she confessed her cowardice while slowly standing up.
Then she raised her hand and presented the horizontal shovel to Fear.
"...Take this if you need it. Cowardly as I am, keeping it in my possession won't do any good."
Haruaki watched in amazement as all this unfolded. Fear silently received the shovel. It felt so heavy.
At this moment, in her heart—There were still doubts.
Namely, doubts regarding why Kaidou was unable to fight as a result of cowardice.
After hearing Kaidou's words, Fear concluded that what she needed to do had not changed. Just like just now.
Hence, she repeated the same question.
Carelessly shifting her position, she circled over beside Kaidou—
"Hmm~ You're cowardly and useless, yeah... But so what?"
Using the reverse side of the shovel, Fear spanked Kaidou's very exposed bottom beneath the revealing swimsuit.
"F-Fear? W-What are you doing?"
"Hmph, for some reason... I feel very mad. Because the teacher keeps saying strange things, it makes feel all annoyed inside. So I'm punishing her. What's odd about that?"
"O-Of course it's very odd!"
Indeed, Fear was very agitated. If the weak really should stay away from the action instead of getting in the way—
Then what about Haruaki here?
Was he someone who should stay away from the scene instead?
Indeed, perhaps it would be dangerous for him because he was useless. Perhaps it would be better for him to be absent. However—Fear thought to herself, why did she feel the contrary?
She hoped he could stay.
Supposing what Kaidou just said was correct—it was as though she were cynically advocating that "hoping to stay here was wrong in itself." But that should not be true. Then why did Fear feel that it should not be true? Hence, she began to search for the answer to this question—
"Yeah... Right. The power to fight on your own, that doesn't really matter. I sincerely believe it's irrelevant."
"You say... It is irrelevant?"
The spanking hit should have hurt but Kaidou only looked at Fear without stroking her buttocks.
"In the past, there were a number of occasions when I thought I had become stronger. But these feelings didn't come up when I finally defeated hated enemies. This is because I fight only after I resolve myself to defeat the enemy. Hence, being able to defeat the enemy is the way it should be from the start."
"Those are not the times when I feel myself becoming stronger—Instead, it was when Shiraho and Sovereignty came to help me, or back when I recalled everyone's faces and was able muster the strength to smash that cross, or that time when I was even able to endure the pain of my own torture tools as soon as I reminded myself I was doing it for Kirika and everyone. It was during times like those when I felt that I had become stronger."
Indeed, it was when she felt connected to others.
Only then did she feel that she had become stronger. In that case—
"In that case, what I call strength is different from what you—or those Draconians—consider strength. Also, the strength you need is definitely useless here."
Fear threw the shovel back to Kaidou. But for some reason, she suddenly found Haruaki's gaze, which was focused on her, quite embarrassing to endure. Turning her gaze to the side, she said:
"...I knew very early on that you had no idea how to face me. I also understood why you would think that. I knew it couldn't be helped. However—I remember that I have never expressed my opinion or what I was thinking inside. If I don't say it out, there won't be a beginning."
Fear found herself feeling very thirsty. How truly incredible. Clearly she only intended to voice her honest thoughts, but why was she so nervous?
"My wish is to live like a human. Perhaps that's not permitted, but even though it's natural for people to hate me, I still wish for that. But then living 'like a human' is not a matter that is limited to my own existence. Humans must connect with others around them. They must possess that quality of what I call strength. In other words—I want to live like a human by becoming that kind of person. So, umm... For the sake of making me stronger, are you willing to help me? Are you willing to become stronger together with me...?"
"What you mean is... You do not need... this...?"
"I believe that everything's screwed if I take that shovel away now. It feels like the chance for me and you to become strong together will never come again if I did that... So..."
With greatly troubled eyes, Kaidou bowed her head to look at the returned shovel. Fear impatiently tapped her fingers on her arm as she waited for Kaidou's response. Grinning cheerfully, Haruaki spoke up:
"Uh—Kaidou-sensei, many parts of this girl's words might be tough to understand... But let me try giving my interpretation. It boils down to two simple things. First of all, she wants to get along better with you and hopes that you could help."
"Get along better...?"
"What!? I-I didn't say that! I'll curse you!"
Although Fear was hammering away at Haruaki's back, he ignored her and continued:
"Secondly, she says that if she can improve relations with you, she'll become even stronger—But not just Fear herself, but also you, Kaidou-sensei. Of course, that includes the rest of us too."
"...Become even stronger... really?"
Kaidou seemed to sigh lightly.
Then after a few seconds, she finally turned her gaze away from the shovel.
There was no longer any hollow wavering in her eyes.
"Is there something... I am capable of doing...?"
"Yes... Of course. First, I have a request. I've come up with a plan but I need your help."
For some reason, Fear breathed a sigh of relief.
Immediately, a particular feeling took root in her heart.
She was convinced that if this was carried out smoothly, she would become stronger again.
While happily enjoying that feeling, Fear began to swiftly explain what they were going to do next.
"Ah, Fear-san! You finally agree to be Satsuko's opponent? Satsuko is so happy!"
"H-Haruaki-kun...? And the teacher as well!"
Haruaki, Fear and Kaidou had rushed into the battleground in the Jungle Area. Konoha and Satsuko were clashing intensely while Kuroe and Kirika were having a long range battle against Fourteen. Konoha and Kuroe were not completely unscathed. In particular, Kirika's left arm was dangling and she frowned whenever she was dodging the enemy's attacks. She was bleeding profusely from a large gouging wound on her shoulder and the sight alone was painful already. As much as the new arrivals wanted to enter the fray and assist immediately, however—
"Damn it, excuse us, everyone! Please hang in there a little longer!"
Fear's group began to conduct a search while staying vigilant of the enemies' movements. Instead of going over to help Konoha and the others, Fear and Kaidou went over to the messy pool side in search of their target. Konoha, Kuroe and Kirika's puzzled gazes felt painful—In actual fact, things would become even simpler had they asked for Konoha's help. However, Konoha was the only one capable of engaging in close quarters combat with Satsuko who was closing in on them. Hence, they could not ask her to help.
"Great, this will do! Found it! Let's make a hasty retreat!"
"Heavens gracious, you're not going to fight Satsuko? Then Satsuko won't be able to train at all—!"
Fear and Kaidou returned to the quiet Slides Area. Fear then placed on the ground something that had been rolling on the pool side—a brick that Fourteen had shot. Although most of it had shattered, miraculously, part of it was intact. A piece probably large enough to grip in one hand—
Kaidou pressed the shovel's front tip against the brick on the floor. Then the brick was chipped down by the metal scraping against it.
"Not enough. Do this side next."
"That's right. Muu—Then scrape it a bit here. This part's too long, chip it down by about two millimeters."
A scraping sound was heard as the brick was chipped down by the sturdy shovel. Haruaki pondered various things as he watched them working together. Soon after, the brick became a size smaller.
Indeed, its six sides were now equal in area—A cube.
"Finished! Emulation... Start!"
Fear pressed her hand against the brick in elation. Instantly, it transformed into a giant, black, metallic cube. Then accompanied by the sound of gears, a giant drill was formed.
"Great, this is usable! Prepare for a counterattack!"
"W-Wait a sec! It's okay for you to fight now but do you have any countermeasures planned?"
"What are you talking about, Haruaki? Cow Tits... can die for all I care but I must hurry and help Kuroe and Kirika! Even without a plan, it should work out in the end!"
"That's what I mean. If it doesn't work out, I'll be very troubled..."
Haruaki did not think Satsuko and Fourteen were opponents who could be defeated easily. Furthermore, it was of utmost importance that Fourteen could not be allowed to escape. This was because Sovereignty, Shiraho as well as the guests at the pool were probably all inside her. Hence, they absolutely must prevent Fourteen and Satsuko from running off with the captives.
(So... What should we do...?)
Haruaki pondered as his gaze wandered. Just as he was doing that, his attention was suddenly drawn to a certain spot on the wall in the pool area.
He slowly turned his head and examined the school swimsuit-clad body of Fear—who was desperately urging "Let's hurry" with great agitation—and recalled a fact.
"W-What are you staring at me for!? You shameless brat, I'll curse you!"
The plan was decided.
"Konoha! Come over here!"
"You must be tired of the Cow Tits creature's performance, right? It's my turn to take over now!"
Just as Haruaki called out to Konoha, Fear was already holding her drill up high, rushing towards Satsuko who was located in front of the flowing swimming pool. Satsuko happily rotated the electric drill in her hand and said:
"Wow—You're finally here! Sob sob sob, as painful as it is to fight a dear friend such as Fear-san, it can't be helped... Fighting someone like Satsuko might be very boring for you, but please, Satsuko will be in your care!"
"What do you mean, it can't be helped!? Clearly you planned all of this. You two—are exactly the same as all those people I've encountered to this date! You're all crazy!"
"So mean~ Satsuko wishes that you'd call her a stoic. The Draconians simply work hard to make themselves stronger, that's all..."
Satsuko shuddered her shoulders like a puppy—But thrusting forward was a cursed drill that could easily skewer a human body. Fear used her giant drill to deflect the tool.
Konoha relegated the task of handling Satsuko to Fear. She watched Fear as she returned to Haruaki's side.
"Haruaki-kun... She was able to find a usable tool?"
"Rather than find, it would be more accurate to say it was made. Also, she even asked the teacher's help for it."
Haruaki indicated towards Kaidou who was standing behind, glaring severely at Satsuko. But currently, she was not getting hung up and confused by the past. Instead, she seemed to be branding something in her heart and her eyes were displaying resolute willpower.
After confirming Kaidou's state, Konoha's expression relaxed slightly. Although she did not comment on the teacher's condition—
"Then what should we do now? Since Fear-san is already here, maybe I should go deal with Fourteen? Ueno-san and Kuroe-san seem to be lacking in firepower... Also with all that bloodshed, it's quite difficult to watch any further. At least I know that's the current state of affairs."
"You're right. But before that, could you transform into the Japanese sword first? Because I came up with an idea."
"You came up with an idea... Since you want me to turn into the Japanese sword, are you thinking of using the Sword-Kill Counter? But that house is not a weapon, which means you want to destroy Satsuko-san's weapons...?"
Konoha tilted her head in puzzlement. Haruaki shook his head and said:
"No, even if we break the electric drill using the Sword-Kill Counter, it's useless if Fourteen runs away. After all, rescuing Sovereignty and the rest is our top priority. Fourteen is still the first one we need to deal with."
"You make a fair point. But in that case, what's the point of me transforming into a sword?"
"Yeah, so I'm going to tell you the battle plan. You might find it a bit much, but please endure... I will try not to look as much as possible."
Hence, Haruaki swiftly explained the plan to her. Konoha sighed as she agreed to accommodate his idea.
With a "poof," she turned back into a Japanese sword. With a subtle feeling, Haruaki took off the bikini swimsuit that was hanging on the sword's scabbard and hilt.
"Oh no... I-I've been stripped. Completely by Haruaki-kun..."
"S-Stop making strange noises! Let's go!"
Haruaki proceeded to take Konoha away from Satsuko's side, instead walking towards Kirika and Kuroe who were further away, dealing with projectile weapons flying across the swimming pool.
"Class Rep, are you okay?"
"Yachi... I'm fine, my arm is almost ready to move. But it's better if Konoha-kun doesn't look at it."
"Sorry... I will try my best to turn my gaze away..."
"...Reinforcements are here? Wonderful!"
Kuroe glanced sideways and spoke. The tip of her hair was chasing the enemy like spears. Fourteen conjured a broom to sweep it away while changing her location. Seeing the state of things, Haruaki asked Kirika:
"What's the current situation?"
"Stalemate, probably? Whenever we attack, we can interfere with Fourteen's shooting to some extent... But to be frank, I think she's been holding back so far. Maybe she intends to have a real duel once Fear-kun returned... But that seems to be quite right!"
The rain of projectiles flying across the pool increased in density. Among them were bricks, glass, objects resembling the backs of chairs, and many dishes. Many of those objects were caught by Kuroe's hair, many were dodged and many were struck down by Konoha's blade autonomously.
"...Finally getting serious? Okay, let us put our all into it! Only by doing that can we raise ourselves to the max."
"Whether you raise yourselves or not doesn't matter to us... Class Rep, Kuroe, listen carefully to my plan. If it succeeds, this battle can be ended instantly. That Fourteen is currently in perfect location."
"It's great that you have a plan... But did you say location?"
Haruaki dodged the incessant firing of riotous household items while quickly explaining the plan to them both.
Haruaki was right, location was very important. Like all the other zones, this Jungle Area was in the shape of an isosceles triangle. Entering from the Slides Area, there was a wall on the right hand side—in other words, near the part of the isosceles triangle corresponding to the building's outer wall. Along this wall, there was long and narrow swimming pool with Tarzan ropes. In the center of the Jungle Area was the meandering, flowing swimming pool with an operating circulatory system. The location of Satsuko and Fear's battle was near the midpoint of the long and narrow swimming pool. On the other hand, Haruaki's group was roughly in the center of the triangular zone, near the Slides Area, with Fourteen separated from them on the oppose side of the flowing swimming pool. Indeed, Fourteen's location was especially great.
The explanation finished quickly. Kirika and Kuroe nodded in comprehension—Then they extended their respective weapons towards Fourteen. Instead of performing a pincer attack, they both attacked from Fourteen's left side. While counterattacking by shooting back, Fourteen moved towards her other side, thinking "I'm not going to let you catch me." This prompted the start of the operation.
Haruaki threw the sword in his hand as hard as he could. Spinning rapidly in the air, the Japanese sword flew easily across the flowing swimming pool, finally turning back to human form and landing on the pool side. At this moment, Kuroe and Kirika turned around and spoke.
"Kono-san, are you recalling the fun you had during the cultural festival when you used that method of movement? I see, with this, you can legally treat Haru to a sight of your bursting bosom~"
"...A-Absolutely ridiculous! If that's really the case, I will have no choice as the class representative but to ban this sort of behavior henceforth!"
Making various remarks, the group ran towards Satsuko's side.
Having landed, Konoha ran along the edge of the pool, closing in on Fourteen and chopping with her hand to attack.
Fourteen retreated. In order to counterattack, she needed to summon a broom or a block of wood to her hand, which would probably buy Haruaki's side a couple seconds of time, right? The distance their footsteps covered in that period was also an opportunity.
Appearing in Haruaki's view was silver hair, moving horizontally with great speed, fluttering parallel to the floor.
"Hah... Excuse me but I have no intention of having a drill duel with you! Instead, you should drill holes in those wooden blocks over there on your side! That'll definitely be more fun than this kind of fight!"
"H-How could that be possible? Where are you going? What about the friendship fight with Satsuko...!?"
"That has nothing to do with me!"
At the same time when Haruaki was throwing Konoha, Fear was also charging forward with only one destination in mind. Locked onto that single target, Konoha and the others were pushing Fourteen towards it.
Jumping away from Konoha to obtain a suitable combat distance, Fourteen summoned a close range weapon. Her current location was in front of a window. This was also the top vertex of the isosceles triangle, or in other words, the center of this floor. This rectangular window, embedded in the wall, was facing the hollowed area that was part of the facilities on the floor below.
To Fear, who was informed beforehand and running towards that location, it was as though Fourteen had jumped into range on her own. Hence, without any hesitation, Fear transformed the drill in her hand to a new form.
"Mechanism No.23 hole type, thorned surface form: «Maranatha»—Curse Calling!"
Described in a single sentence, it was a bed of nails. A thick slab of steel, as large as a table in area, with countless spikes and blades of varying lengths standing upright on its surface. Conceivably, Fear's former master had forced victims to stand upon it while he watched them with a glass of wine in his hand, admiring the way they finally collapsed in complete exhaustion—In other words, the sight of their dead bodies, pierced by blades all over. But currently, Fear was holding it on its side to use as a shield, turning it into a deadly bulldozer rushing towards Fourteen.
Fear had chosen this torture tool because the force of its impact was impossible to evade. Indeed, "impossible to evade" was the most important point, followed by the fact that "it could be pushed to apply pressure."
Destroying Fourteen in one strike was probably quite a challenge. But pushing on the other hand—
If all they needed to do was push her towards the window behind her that overlooked the diving pool, this torture tool's curse was more than capable for the job. Indeed, this was good enough. This conclusion was substantiated by past images: how Kirika, despite being on the verge of death, had used the «Tragic Black River» to pull Fourteen into the swimming pool, as well as the way Fourteen was walking underwater at the bottom of the pool.
Hence, this was going to work. It should work.
Fear's gaze was infused with her prayers as her eyes met with Fourteen's.
Sure enough, just as predicted, Fear's torture tool caught Fourteen's body. However, that was as far as it went.
Despite being caught between the window and the torture tool, the cursed house forced ominous ghostlights to glow—
At this moment, a mysterious and giant mass appeared out of thin air to resist the pressure Fear was applying.
To think that her opponent would ignore her and go over to Fourteen's side.
Was it really because she was very weak? Because fighting with her was no fun at all? Troubling, how extremely troubling. She had become friends with her only because she wished to fight. Ahhh, I really treated her as a friend, fighting everyone really has been painful—Even so, the fight must go on. Should the fight end here, then all meaning would be lost.
Carrying such thoughts, fueled purely by the desire to pursue strength, Ontenzaki Satsuko prepared to chase Fear. However—
"I won't let you—go over to interfere!"
Kirika blocked her path and extended the «Tragic Black River». Although Satsuko twisted her body many times to dodge, the belt remained relentless like a snake. Finally, her right hand was entangled. However, Satsuko yelled "out of my way" and instantly used her left hand's boxcutter to sever the belt, thereby regaining her freedom.
"Ah~ Sorry for being so weak, Satsuko can only perform this simple of an attack...!"
Satsuko apologized sincerely as she rushed forward to make a thrust with the drill in her right hand. However, Kirika's reply was quite unexpected.
"Isn't simple a great thing? Since it is this simple an attack, I can act as a shield no matter how many times I'm attacked... Like this, ahhhh!"
Kirika extended her palm towards the electric drill. Naturally, Satsuko did not stop stabbing. The long drill bit burrowed into Kirika's wrist, causing blood to spurt as it spun, but gripped by Kirika, Satsuko could not pull it back out. Pressing on the switch, Satsuko caused the drill bit to spin and lengthen, but this accomplished nothing except increasing the number of times Kirika suppressed her screams. Were it to extend any further, the drill's tip would probably emerge from her elbow.
"Ahhh~ Wonderful, who knew this was possible, truly amazing...! Satsuko is so impressed! If Satsuko could defeat this kind of Kirika-san, could cowardly Satsuko become slightly stronger? Perhaps it's a stretch, but, huh—Thank you...!"
Satsuko gave up on pulling the drill out and swung the boxcutter in her left hand instead. If she were to chop off the arm where the drill was embedded, it should be possible to pull out, right? Just as she was thinking that—
"Ah—Ahhh—Actually, I've been looking for a chance to use this gimmick for a while. Enter stage."
Satsuko suddenly felt her left hand weighted down as well. A closer look showed that it was entangled by black hair. There were Tarzan ropes above the long and narrow swimming pool that was located along a wall in the Jungle Area. Using one of them, Kuroe had moved over to Satsuko's back all at once.
While holding onto the rope firmly, Kuroe gazed mistily as she wrapped her hair around Satsuko's left arm, immobilizing it. As for her right hand, the drill was still stuck in Kirika's hand. Without notice, the belt came to entangle Satsuko again.
"Ah~ Facing a crisis here. But once this challenge is overcome, Satsuko should be able to emerge stronger—"
Just as she was about to kick Kirika using her unrestrained leg, Kirika made an intriguing and twisted expression.
"—That depends on whether you can overcome it."
Another person's voice came from behind. A second later, Satsuko felt two cases of intense pain running throughout her body. One came from her left hand and the other from her right. Both hands had been struck by a certain solid object—Completely mercilessly, hard enough to shatter bone.
"Gah, ha... Uwah!?"
Ouch, ouch, ouch. The weapons in both hands fell to the floor. Satsuko looked back to find in her tearful field of view—
"Indeed... You are not my younger sister. Absolutely not. Because Satsu was ashamed of having swung this kind of object, going as far as to end her own life. She never felt at all that wielding this object made her stronger!"
Staring at the boxcutter fallen on the floor, Kaidou swung the shovel in her hand down hard.
Instantly, the sound of the blade snapping could be heard along with the noise of plastic parts scattering.
Next, Satsuko felt something tighten around her neck, unsure if it was the belt or the hair—
(Ah, just as thought, Satsuko is still very weak...)
Muttering in her heart, she then lost consciousness.
Gathering her entire bodyweight, Fear used her shoulder to push the bed of nails forward, but just now, she saw Fourteen conjure patterns of ghostlights in the narrow space between the torture tool and the window. Since the torture tool was already a shield, Fear had nothing to fear from the ghostlights' stun gun effect—Given the situation, her enemy was aiming to shoot at point-blank range.
Suddenly, Fourteen pushed back with greater force. This mass did not come from a wooden block or a brick but something much more massive that was about to appear in this space. Most likely, another of those pillars.
"Another one left...!?"
But she could not afford to falter now. Fear mustered the strength from her entire body and pushed.
"H-Hey... Is this... your full power? Is this... your full power?"
"If it is, so what...!? I have no idea what you're trying to do, but immediately—"
Fourteen was right. The bed of nails was pushed back a few centimeters further. But Fear laughed and—
"What... In that case, all I can say is this. Compared to my power, you amount to nothing whatsoever!"
In that instant—Two thuds came from her two sides.
Two weights were added on her left and right, pushing at the torture tool together. Originally losing the contest, the torture tool was slowly gaining an advantage again.
As for the two people beside her, those two who were giving her power—
They were Haruaki and Konoha.
"I'll only thank you for this time, Cow Tits... This job suits you perfectly, because the mass of your offensive lumps of meat is really—"
"I'm going to send you flying if you continue saying that!"
"Guh, so... So very very very heavy...!"
Next, Fear heard other footsteps. Kuroe? Kirika? Kaidou? Feeling completely confident about those footsteps, Fear continued to push the torture tool forward, pushing with reckless abandon. To the end, to the end, pushing to the very end—
Just as Fourteen groaned, all the weight vanished at the same time.
Next came an intense sound of glass breaking. Nevertheless, Fear continued to push the torture tool forward, refusing to let Fourteen escape from here. Indeed, she must be pushed over the edge.
The vanishing weight included Fear's own bodyweight. Suddenly there was a floating feeling. Fear instantly understood that she had rushed over the edge together with Fourteen as a consequence of pushing too hard. Nevertheless, she no longer cared by this point.
"Haha, cursed house! You're definitely heavier than me! That's because you're a house! Even I can't swim—so it's impossible for you to swim either!"
Fourteen seemed to have realized where she was falling towards.
It was the extremely deep pool for diving that was roughly dozens of meters deep.
Even with superhuman physical abilities, she can't possibly float back up on her own, right? Even when we're unable to breathe, we simply become inactive and do not die from suffocation, so she'll simply linger underwater for the time being—That's all.
There was nothing left for her to do. Fear could do nothing except fall down together with Fourteen. However, this was trivial. Even if she fell into the water, Kuroe or Kirika would probably find a way to save her.
Just as Fear was thinking over these things—
Suddenly, her entire body felt an impact. Not only the floating feeling stop, but Fear also felt her bodyweight once more.
In order to confirm the reason, Fear looked up.
It was Kaidou.
She was desperately reaching forward. Despite getting cut by the window's broken glass—
Still, she gripped Fear's wrist firmly.
She was using the hand that had previously swatted Fear's hand away in a vicious and painful manner.
"There is one thing that I must apologize to you about. At last, I gradually begin to understand my own feelings."
"I... must have been scared of you. Hence, I used 'no idea how to face you' as an excuse to cover it up."
Her sincere eyes were looking this way. Hence, Fear gazed straight back into her eyes.
"I only recognized you as 'something that harms people'—that is what I have always believed. Hence I felt afraid, worrying if I would get hurt again, worrying if I would have to endure that kind of pain again. And that was all because I was too cowardly. Although I hoped to become strong, I actually had yet to become strong."
"But it's really true that I am something that harms people..."
"However, that is not all. That is not the only label that classifies you as a being. What I have understood is this, Fear Cubrick, Girl, Seat No.14 of Year 1 Class 2."
Fear seemed to feel as though something was being transmitted by the hand that she touched properly for the first time.
What she failed to reach that night—simple and gentle, human warmth.
"...How unbelievable. I currently... feel as though I've gained another source of power again."
"Really? Perhaps that might be understandable."
"Yes, exactly because I've repeatedly become stronger over time, that's why I dare to say this. Although I am indeed something that harms people, Kaidou-sensei, you're right. That's not all. I am also the ordinary Fear, a student named Fear Cubrick, living in the shameless brat's home... Also, I was once something that harms people. Now, I don't want to hurt anyone and I've already obtained the necessary strength that allows me to assert that boldly."
"I think so too. I caught your hand only because I understood that fact."
Fear's petite face was smiling towards Kaidou as she shifted her gaze. Behind Kaidou's body that kept sliding down, entering Fear's view were them—the faces of those who were desperately pulling her back.
They were the reason why she had become strong.
"Sovereignty-san and Shiraho-san... It looks like they only fainted."
"...Looks like it..."
In the Jungle Area which had become the main battlefield, a few dozen people were lying on the floor. They all had their eyes closed but there were no external injuries.
Satsuko and Fourteen's bodies were tied up using Kuroe's hardened hair. Apart from having her weapons confiscated, Satsuko was also placed quite some distance away, lying unconscious. Seeing as Satsuko was being held as a hostage, Fourteen probably would not dare to make any false moves.
At last, the primary objective of rescuing the hostages was completed. Haruaki muttered "how troubling" and sighed.
Just as his plan assumed, Fourteen really was unable to leave the swimming pool by her own strength. Although she struggled for quite a while, she finally ended up unconscious and sprawled at the bottom of the pool. Having waited for that opportunity, Kuroe and Kirika proceeded to pull her up to the water surface and tied her up in the middle of the pool. Were she to resist, they would release the belt and the hair, dropping her into the water again.
Then negotiations were carried out. Treating the still unconscious Satsuko as a hostage, they demanded that Fourteen release all of her hostages instead. Luckily, since the diving pool on the floor below was not open to the public, there was not a single person there. Had there been people there, the negotiations probably would not have been able to proceed in such relaxed conditions. This really was quite fortunate. In any case, after being told that she would be pulled out of the pool once she agreed to release the hostages, Fourteen considered for a short while before accepting, thus resulting in the current situation.
"I'm not gullible enough to take everything the enemy said as truth. But no matter what, I'm relieved that the hostages are unharmed. Those two—as well as everyone else—should wake up after a short while."
After confirming Shiraho and the other's condition, Konoha finally breathed a sigh of relief. Naturally, she had already put her swimsuit back on. Haruaki recalled how the instant everything was settled, Konoha had gone "P-Please don't look—!" and jumped into the swimming pool, diving straight to the bottom in one breath to retrieve her swimsuit. How should one put it? In that instant, Konoha was definitely the ultimate aquatic organism, simultaneously embodying a tuna's speed and a shark's ferocity in hunting prey.
"Really, everyone is safe and sound? Thank goodness..."
Kneeling beside Konoha, Fear had been watching everything worriedly and could finally relax. But in the next second, her eyes turned sharp unmistakably. Because Satsuko woke up.
Satsuko surveyed her surroundings in a daze. The pain from her broken hands caused her to frown and scream in pain. Then—
"Ah~ Sure enough, Satsuko lost~..."
"Absolutely. We're not going to entertain your whatever training any further."
"Okay... Because Satsuko already lost once, Satsuko and Fourt will rest for now."
"...What do you mean by that?"
"Uh—In principle, all members of the Draconians are engaged in jobs similar to mercenaries... But sometimes, the higher-ups will give orders telling us 'there's a suitable opponent that will help you improve your power level—' Then we will go defeat the opponent as part of our training. After all, fighting enemies that are too strong or too weak does not help with improving one's strength."
"Then this time, you came to fight us on your superiors' orders?"
Haruaki looked at one another's faces, but there was only one question they wanted to ask.
"Will anyone else come? Tell me."
"No idea, because the higher-ups decide that, it's not something that someone lowly like Satsuko would know~"
This uncertainty regarding the arrival of future opponents was not particularly good from the standpoint of psychological health. However, Haruaki did not think that Satsuko was still lying by this point.
"Chosen as targets for training without consent, how absolutely ridiculous... Unacceptable."
"Hmm~ Let's hope it doesn't happen again~"
"Anyway, isn't it fine as long as we beat them up if they come? But more importantly, what are we going to do with these two here? We can't help it if new enemies visit. But we can't just leave these two here like this..."
Fear murmured with a displeased look. At this moment, Satsuko opened her mouth wide and said: "Oh, Satsuko almost forgot."
"There's something you need to know about the Draconians! How should this be phrased? Basically, the agreement when a battle is lost. Anyway, there are two essential details of that sort."
Haruaki repeated the words. Satsuko smiled and nodded "yes." For some reason, Fourteen's shoulder twitched at this time.
"Uh—The first one, Satsuko may have mentioned it before... The loser must reward the winner with one piece of equipment in their possession. But you've already taken them all, right? Sob sob... Cowardly Satsuko had spent so much effort gathering those... But that can't be helped. After all, most of them were just sharp bladed instruments. Oh no, but there's the destroyed boxcutter."
Satsuko looked up and glanced at Kaidou.
Sent flying by Fourteen, Kaidou had suffered quite a few injuries on her arms and legs along with cracked ribs apparently, but she remained standing nonchalantly despite the pain. Although Haruaki had asked her many times, "Kaidou-sensei, please sit down and have a break" but she did not listen at all, even going so far as to say "I shall rest once all problems are resolved." But naturally, Haruaki's group could not stand by and do nothing. Hence, Kuroe used her hair to perform first aid treatment on her obvious wounds. Haruaki made the suggestion while worrying if she might dislike that type of treatment but his fears naturally turned out to be unfounded. Because the moment she reached out to catch Fear from falling, something was definitely starting to change gradually.
Although Kaidou was standing straight without saying a word, under the pressure of her forceful gaze, Satsuko immediately shrank her shoulders and turned her face away.
"...Also, that electric drill there is quite something—So please, you must cherish it. Especially since it has passed through many hands, so basically, well, it's rumored to have undergone measures to lighten its curse."
That probably meant an Indulgence Disk, right? If the Draconians customarily robbed their combat opponents, it was quite possible. Haruaki recalled the Indulgence Disks' alleged tendency to attract one another, but just as Haruaki's group was looking for the drill that was piled up with the other weapons—
They were suddenly taken by surprise. Too careless.
With her hands bound behind her back, Satsuko rolled on the floor directly. Fourteen also rolled herself at the same time. The instant their bodies made contact—
"Sorry~ Here's the second essential detail. Fourt, please...!"
Leaving behind these words, Satsuko disappeared into the cursed house. At the same time, Fourteen conjured shards of glass above her body that fell upon herself like rain. Instantly, she was released from the hair that Kuroe had used to bind her in various places. Naturally, Kuroe had tied her up mercilessly. Hence, when Fourteen forcibly severed her bonds, even her cape, clothing and the veil on her face were cut up together as well.
As Haruaki's group readied themselves for battle, Fourteen took a great leap back without hesitation.
Suddenly, she realized she was almost completely nude. Her cape was gone and the sarashi wrapping her chest had opened up completely. Originally hanging on, her shorts also slid down as a result of her jump just now. The veil on her face also fell off. Only her heavy boots remained, resulting in a very awkward appearance.
"Eeeek... S-So embarrassing! The curtain!"
But from her perspective, covering her face seemed to take precedence over her body's exposure. Frantically, she picked up a scrap of the cape that was caught on her boot. While covering up her face, she said:
"Phew... The second essential detail is that 'Although the Draconians aim to become the strongest, no one can be free from setbacks; in fact, setbacks make people stronger.' In other words—stated simply, fleeing is a type of strength. Hence, I shall excuse myself."
"Y-You're already looking like a total pervert. Why are you trying to act cool with your words?"
"Don't think you can escape! At least, promise us you won't come again...!"
Fourteen ignored them completely and ran singlemindedly. Her destination was the window she had fallen through earlier. Perhaps noticing Fear and the others chasing after her, she jumped through the window without hesitation. However, she did not fall straight down this time. Jumping up towards the roof of the pool area, she launched a laundry pole vertically into the ceiling just as she was about to collide. Instantly, she grabbed onto the pole that was embedded into the concrete. Before that metal pole could fall off the ceiling, she conjured another pole in front of her at arm's length and stabbed it into the ceiling. Grabbing the new pole with one hand, she moved herself to the next pole as though she were climbing monkey bars. Using the poles she conjured on the spot, Fourteen repeated the same motion a number of times, moving herself forcibly across the ceiling. Shattering sounds from the ceiling were heard no less than ten-odd times. Then they continued many more times. Finally, Fourteen stopped her gravity-defying trip across the ceiling, letting go of a pole and falling freely. However, she was no longer above the diving pool and landed firmly on the concrete floor of the pool side... She must have calculated that an ordinary jump would land her in the water from lack of distance. Hence, she used poles in this method of movement to secure herself some horizontal distance.
Kirika tried to extend the «Tragic Black River» but at this distance, it was futile even if the belt could touch Fourteen. The same applied to Kuroe's hair.
"I have no wish to fight you all any further today. I have no idea if we will meet again, but goodbye..."
Fourteen looked up at Haruaki's group as she spoke. Then destroying a glass door that was probably locked, she casually disappeared from the diving pool area.
Fear gnashed her teeth in rage. As much as they wanted to give chase, they could not just leave Shiraho and Sovereignty behind unattended. Besides, Satsuko's hands were fractured already. At the very least, those two should not be reappearing any time soon.
"...Can't be helped. Anyway, we'll just have to let things end here."
"Yeah... After all, we currently don't have the energy to chase them either."
"By the way, what are we gonna do next? Aren't all the exits blocked?"
"Since the enemies in our way are gone, we should be able to clear the debris away by combining all our strength... But I want to avoid unnecessary attention. The same goes for exiting through the central hollow. Even if we don't do anything, I'm sure it's almost about time that people notice the unusual situation here."
Only after hearing Kirika's analysis did Haruaki finally realize the severity of the current situation. The facilities were in a tragic state with a whole pile of unconscious people. What should they do...?
"I concur with Ueno's opinion."
At this moment, Kaidou surveyed the surroundings and spoke.
"After all, the closing time will arrive. When that happens, someone will discover the situation, right? All we need to do is wait quietly for rescue. As a matter of principle, I shall report the entire story to the superintendent afterwards... If there is a need to handle the troublesome aftermath, surely that man will find a way to deal with it? After all, he possesses both money and connections."
Somehow it felt like she was suggesting that they leave all the trouble to the superintendent to handle. However—she made a good point, perhaps that really was the only choice. After all, the superintendent was friends with the hotel's operator. Even if he were to say he had connections with the police, it would come as no surprise.
"But what about the water park's tragic state and the pile of collapsed guests? I'm guessing that Fourteen did not pay attention to security cameras when entering. Also, once the guests wake up, someone might end up saying they saw a weirdo in a cape... Or maybe it'll be treated as a terrorist incident?"
"Maybe. But even if we worry about all that, it is useless. But there is one thing that we must do next."
"W-What is it?"
"When help arrives, if we are the only ones conscious, we will attract unnecessary suspicions. Hence, in order to avoid unnecessary trouble, we have no choice but to do this. Indeed—"
Kaidou looked at Haruaki's group with extraordinary sharpness and continued:
"—Basically, 'play dead.'"
Haruaki somehow felt that there was no need to propose that with such absolute seriousness. Teacher, it's not like anyone is dead.
Everyone objected in their minds but Kaidou had a point. Hence, they all decided to play dead while waiting to be rescued.
Haruaki laid himself down beside Shiraho and Sovereignty so that he could explain the situation to them immediately if they happened to wake up. Upon further thought, he felt that having all the guests collapsed in the Jungle Area would be too unnatural, but it could not be helped by this point. Hopefully, the rescuers would conclude that the terrorists moved everyone here for some kind of dogmatic reason. Wait a sec, come to think of it, there was a lifeguard in the Slides Area. Although he was not here, that did not matter anymore. While waiting for help to arrive with nothing to do, Haruaki intended to occupy his mind with insignificant thoughts to kill time. This resulted—
"Yes... Play dead, I must play dead."
Just as he opened his eyes, Haruaki found Konoha's cleavage right before him. Why?
"Uh—Umm, on further thought, I think that since we're trying to make it look like everyone fell unconscious together, it'd be more natural to lie down in one place. So..."
"That's right, I agree with playing dead so I'm coming to play dead. So, I was thinking of coming for a look... Muu, I've been caught by some kind of creature. Apart from displeasure, it's hard to breathe too."
Quick as a flash, Fear's silver hair flew as she slid herself between Haruaki and that cleavage.
"So cramped. Also, why do you have to speak in that strange tone of voice? That said, I don't really care."
"If you find it difficult to breathe, then leave! Making me lose a chance to charm him... No wait, I simply find you very much in the way!"
Next, Haruaki felt Kirika's back pressing firmly against his own back.
"Umm, I will take responsibility for explaining things to Shiraho-kun and Sovereignty-kun. In that case, this is the only position that works... Very well, it can't be helped."
"No, Class Rep, you can just leave that task to me..."
"For a child-like maiden like me, I think it'll be an extra touching scene if I'm found in my guardian's bosom during the rescue!"
"Hey, Kuroe, don't lie on top of me using that kind of weird excuse!"
Just as this mess was happening, Kaidou suddenly sat up from the arbitrary location she had picked to lie down. Furthermore, she was looking at Haruaki with extreme skepticism.
"...Yachi Haruaki, although I do not quite understand what is going on... But since all the girls are doing it, perhaps it might be better if I go over and lied down near you like them as well? If that should be the case, I shall handle things appropriately."
Haruaki's group instantly froze for a moment, then shook their head desperately. On various levels of meaning, "too dangerous" was their consensus. Naturally, Kaidou cocked her head in puzzlement, then lay back down at her original spot.
At this moment, Haruaki's group suddenly realized something that they had overlooked.
Once the rescuers arrived at the scene, whom they were going to suspect first.
The number one candidate was, of course, the person dressed in an exhibitionist's swimsuit, all covered in injuries already and even bringing a shovel into the water park for some reason—a certain oblivious female teacher. Definitely her without a doubt.
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