Chapter 1 - Hello Guillotine
One evening on a certain weekend.
"Haruaki, I'm bored out of my mind! I wanna take a walk outside!"
Fear was saying this after one of the common sense lectures conducted whenever there was time—today's being "How to Use the Vacuum Cleaner, Lecture #3 ~The accessory with the pointy tip is not an item for stabbing people to death~"—had ended for some time. Earlier, she had been obediently watching an animal show on television, but now that the show had ended, she seemed to be bored with nothing to do.
Haruaki was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Making a surprised expression, he looked back at her and said:
"Since you're bored, then try finding something to do... Such as helping out with the cooking or the like?"
"I've done that before! How should I put this? I'm not in the mood for helping with cooking right now—That's right! I believe I should broaden my experiences!"
"You make a fair point... But I'm busy cooking right now, so I can't leave the kitchen."
"Why not leave the cooking to Cow Tits?"
Fear swayed her silver hair with displeasure. Standing beside Haruaki, helping out industriously with the cooking, Konoha looked up and said:
"Eh—But Haruaki-kun's cooking still tastes better. Right, if you say you 'don't mind it's not Haruaki-kun's cooking and you want to eat my cooking no matter what!' then I don't mind."
"Muumuu... Hmph, who wants to eat your cooking of full meaty hell? That'll cause the fatal disease that they call m-metabolic syndrome on television. That said, one person already caught it already. Poor thing, there's no hope for her at all..."
"W-Why are you looking at me with tepid eyes?"
The usual back and forth bickering began as always. But at this moment, Fear spoke as though she suddenly had an idea:
"But after more thinking, it's not like I need to have Haruaki by my side. I can manage something as trivial as taking a walk by myself. After all, I'm just going to make one round encircling this house. So can I go for a walk? I can? Okay~ Then I'm off!"
"Hey~ Hold it right there."
In any case, Haruaki grabbed her collar first and began to think. Counting from the day this girl was suddenly sent here, quite a few weeks had passed already. Although she was still doing many weird things as always, compared to the beginning, she had already improved greatly. Also, she had started going to school from a while earlier, so she seemed to be slowly getting used to things outside of the house...
Still grabbing onto her collar, Haruaki turned Fear's petite body around and looked her straight in the face.
"Hey, Haruaki you dummy! Let go now, or else I'll curse you!"
"So, you said you want to go for a walk no matter what?"
Grumbling, Fear was showing glimmering eyes while nodding vigorously.
"Do you promise that you'll return after making one round in the neighborhood?"
"Promise you won't run off to somewhere strange?"
"Even if a weirdo calls out to you, you won't pay any attention?"
"Yes yes yes!"
"...! I'll be back before you know it!"
Fear rushed out of the kitchen, leaving only silence behind. Dressed in an apron, Konoha frowned slightly and said:
"Is this okay?"
"After all, she said she's only making one round in the neighborhood. Besides, I can't stay by her side forever, right?"
"Sigh... Well, I just hope she'll return without incident..."
Still feeling worried, Konoha murmured then continued preparing the meal. Her attitude prompted an ominous premonition to suddenly emerge in Haruaki's mind, but it was too late by this point. There should be no problem, right? There must not be a problem, please, no problems... As much as these worries gradually increased in his mind, Haruaki still picked up the kitchen knife again.
However—Based on the result...
Fear's walk this time was precisely the root cause of the later commotion.
During dinner in the living room...
"U-Umm, Haruaki, can I eat in my room today?"
"What? Definitely no way. It's a different matter if you're living in the accessory dwelling, but we're living in the same home after all. So long as you're not ill in bed, having meals together is one of this family's rules."
"Muu... No exceptions?"
"Why do you want to eat in your room so much?"
"N-Nothing, okay! It's not like... I particularly... wanna... eat in... my room. Also, I only asked because the thought suddenly occurred to me. In fact, there's no special meaning! Wahaha!"
Fear laughed in a clearly unnatural manner then reached out with her chopsticks towards the dishes on the table.
(Hmm... Her behavior is too suspicious.)
Haruaki did not know when exactly she had returned from her walk. After coming home, she had stayed cooped up in her room doing something secretly. Even when he asked her how she felt about her walk, she simply replied with a weird answer of "N-Nothing much, not especially good or bad!" Having gone off on her walk with such enthusiasm, Haruaki expected her to report back happily on various sundry happenings.
"Muu, oh right."
Picking at the dishes as though distracted in thought, Fear suddenly looked up. Her glimmering eyes seemed to be saying "eureka!" Then she said:
"Midnight snack. That's right, I want a midnight snack. Haruaki, roll some rice balls!"
"Hmm? Oh, I can't for today. We don't have much rice left and the amount remaining is barely enough for breakfast tomorrow... You should eat your fill now during dinner so that you don't need a midnight snack."
"Also, why don't you sleep earlier instead of staying up late?"
Fear's whimpers of displeasure only increased Haruaki and Konoha's doubts.
Then after dinner ended, it was time for tea.
Like a lawyer raising an objection to a judge, Fear knocked on the table and said:
"I demand double the usual amount of rice crackers for today's tea time snack! Four pieces! I want four!"
"What? Don't you have your own personal rice crackers in your room?"
"I finished them long ago! So I need to get the amount I will be eating next!"
"Didn't I give you a pack yesterday? I told you not to consume them too quickly."
"That's because, umm, there's an unpredicted situation... No! In any case, that's what I demand!"
Konoha sipped tea calmly while throwing a slanted glance at Fear's desperate pleading.
"Haruaki-kun, you must not give in to her demands no matter what. Otherwise, she'll simply keep asking for more."
"Well said. So you'll just have to make do with two. Here you go."
Receiving the two rice crackers, Fear was shaking with her head bowed, her silver hair quivering—
"Damn it, whatever! You dummy!"
She rushed out of the living room in a huff. As her inexplicable shouts of "The shameless brat is struck with shameless disease! Cow Tits' boobs are such an eyesore, they should deflate—" gradually receded, the sound of a paper door slamming shut was heard last.
"...What's with her? Although it's completely normal for her to be begging for rice crackers, today's behavior is a bit strange."
"So true~ But that child acting weird is also commonplace. Logically speaking, there is no problem."
Konoha looked exasperated as she poured tea into her cup. At that moment, she eyed her own bosom.
"...That child always says that... Could it really come true...?"
"What's the matter?"
"Eh? Umm, uh... Hmm! This is a good chance, I guess I'll muster my courage to try asking."
"Umm... My bosom, is it... really... an eyesore...?"
What kind of senseless question was that? Haruaki desperately tried to stop tea from spurting out of his mouth but could not stop his gaze from being drawn to "that part" while Konoha's body twisted from embarrassment. The way she cradled her bosom with her arms caused that body part to look even more magnificent—
"No! Actually... it's not... an eyesore. I think... it's quite nice. Not an eyesore at all."
Konoha's face suddenly flushed red, then she awkwardly shook her braids.
"Is that so... Aha, I seem to have asked something weird. Please erase this from your memory and pretend I never asked."
"O-Okay. I also find my answer quite weird, so please forget it as well..."
As though trying to hide her embarrassment, Konoha drank her tea in one breath. But then she suddenly frowned, causing Haruaki to ask: "Did something happen?"
"No... I seem to be hearing something strange. Perhaps it's just my imagination."
Konoha answered in her gentle smile as usual. Then saying "Okay, I must work even harder," she stood up. After Haruaki asked in puzzlement: "What do you need to work harder at?", Konoha replied:
"Because the teacher assigned a whole pile of homework that needs to finished quickly by Monday, unless I divide it up to work on for today and tomorrow, it'll be quite tough... Haruaki-kun, didn't your class get homework?"
A couple dozen minutes later, Haruaki was clutching his head, agonizing before his desk in his room.
"Gah, I can't believe I forgot all about it...!"
Clearly, he could not ask the teacher to reduce his homework load using excuses such as "My father never came back after going abroad, meaning I must do all the house work. If I had to mention another thing, there's a silver-haired girl living in my home." What a pain, what a great pain. In Haruaki's view, homework was contemptible for taking away time from important house chores.
(I'll need to finish this handout by today. I need to go shopping tomorrow and it's quite rare for me to feel motivated enough to clean the entire house thoroughly.)
Haruaki's grades were neither great nor terrible. But the enemy known as "formulae" was quite formidable, halting the advance of his homework progress.
"Hmm, I don't get this. I'd better ask Konoha...? No wait, she's quite strict about homework~ Looks like I should try my best on my own... But still... I... don't... get it..."
Just as Haruaki was hunching forward, feeling his strength drained, he thought "No way, I'm gonna fall asleep if this continues" and stretched. Suddenly, the paper door behind him shook. Someone was knocking. Haruaki casually answered "Come in."
"Umm... Is it okay if I come in?"
It was Fear. Haruaki glanced back at the sound of the paper door sliding open and saw her standing there with a timid look. Shoulder hunched, hands behind her back, she gingerly looked towards him.
"I'm quite tied up but whatever. Anyway, it won't affect my progress that much."
"Okay... Then I'm coming in."
"Sure, what's up?"
Thinking "she's probably coming for something like extra rice crackers," Haruaki turned towards the desk again. As the thought of "I'd better work hard and sort out this question, it's very important" crossed his mind, Haruaki proceeded to continue his duel against the handout, still covered in blanks.
At this moment, he heard the paper door slide shut behind him while Fear walked over to him timidly and slowly on the tatami floor.
"I have a something... I need your help with."
"No, rather... It's something that must be said, that's what I mean."
Haruaki simply responded indifferently. However, Fear's quiet voice was slowly approaching his back—
"I—may have done something wrong."
"Really really... Huh?"
Only now did Haruaki notice the atmosphere of dissonance. Fear's tone of voice sounded very serious with a hint of worry. This was definitely not the voice she used in her usual willfulness when demanding rice crackers. Instead, it was more sincere, more unusual—Indeed, it was as though she was forcing out a message from the very depths of her heart—
"I really can't... bear it any longer... So..."
Haruaki felt warm breath against his ear. Why was she... leaning in... so close? An inexplicable sense of pressure made him afraid to look back. All he could hear was irregular panting. He could imagine Fear blushing, breathing irregularly, her lips approaching his ear—What the heck did she want to do exactly?
"Arghhhh... How did explaining what happened become so hard? Anyway, it's this. What I want to tell you is this. So, Haruaki, could you turn your head towards me..."
Haruaki did not dare turn his head. The mechanical pencil in his hand also began to shake. The mathematics handout, originally considered a tough enemy, would be mere fodder worth only 1EXP in comparison. Good heavens~ How did it come to this? Running away from fodder was possible but not for boss characters.
Haruaki now felt a new sensation against his ear. Amidst the nonstop panting, a soft and slightly wet object was moving back and forth against his earlobe, gently and carefully—No mistake about that.
His ear was being licked.
"W-Woah! W-What are you doing, Fear!? Listen carefully, you must calm down. I don't really get what this is about, but you must first calm down! You must be temporarily out of your mind, right?"
"...Huh? What are you talking about?"
"Stop going 'huh,' okay!?"
Despite his serious confusion, Haruaki still managed to activate the willpower dormant in the depths of his brain cells, turning his head to look all at once. The result—
For some reason, the tongue that was even nearer than Fear's voice gave Haruaki's nose a forceful lick.
"Woof woof! ...H-H-Huff!"
Held in Fear's outstretched hands, an especially cute little animal was currently wagging its tail vigorously.
In any case...
Fear had apparently picked up a puppy during her walk.
"Oh... I see? That's what happened..."
Haruaki smiled radiantly while pointing to a different direction:
"Put the dog back where you found it."
"What!? Are you even human? How could you be so heartless!? No way, no way, I—DON'T—WANNA—! Because this little guy is so fuzzy and soft! You've really disappointed me, Haruaki!"
Fear hugged the puppy tightly in both arms and hunched herself as though trying to protect it from Haruaki's harm.
"You... How could you just suddenly start keeping a dog?"
Konoha spoke with her hand against her temple. Like Haruaki and Fear, she was sitting at the living room table. Hearing all the commotion, she had left her room to ask what was happening at the living room.
"I-It's not like I'm asking for your opinion, Cow Tits! Like me, you're not the master of the house, so you don't have any authority to decide... No wait! Dangerous! You're very dangerous! You meat demon! Could it be that y-you wanna eat him?"
"...I'm not going to eat him."
Seeing Fear hide the puppy behind her with a worried expression, Konoha reacted with a twitch on the edge of her face. Perhaps thinking that the discussion would definitely be derailed if she blew up at Fear right now, Konoha was probably suppressing her emotions. What amazing self-control.
"However, now at least I understand why you're behaving so suspiciously. So you just wanted to get food for him... And you also fed your original stash of rice crackers to him."
"Muu... That's right. But it feels like it's not enough for him... Also, I was thinking I can't keep hiding him, so I wanted to try discussing with you..."
Fear curled herself up . Haruaki went "hmm" and examined the dog held in her embrace.
A small-sized dog with lovely colored fur. Not very knowledgeable about dogs, Haruaki did not know what breed the dog was but got the impression it was foreign. In other words, the dog looked very expensive... To think this kind of dog would be abandoned.
It was also wearing a collar that seemed to have the owner's telephone there but could not be read due to serious abrasive damage. Most likely, it was done on purpose before abandoning the dog.
"What should we do in this kind of situation? I guess we should contact the police? If we call the police, they should be able to seek out the original owner, right?"
"...If they don't help find the owner, then what?"
"Well... Probably find a new owner... But if a new owner cannot be found..."
Haruaki did not finish. As a result, even though Fear was unfamiliar with how Japan dealt with stray dogs, she still received an ominous impression. Greatly alarmed, she hugged the dog even tighter.
"I think letting him stay and keeping him as a pet is the best solution! It must be! Come on Haruaki, please, please! I'll listen to whatever you say from now on and obey any command. Even if you ask me to scrub your back in the bathroom like last time, I'll do it! It's embarrassing, but I'll bear it!"
"You clearly did that on your own without my permission!"
Completely ignoring Haruaki's retort, Fear frowned and kept pestering "Pretty please? Pretty please?" as she brought her face up close, almost touching his nose. Haruaki frantically cast his gaze to the side and happened to look into the eyes of the puppy in her arms.
Big, round eyes. Innocent look. The puppy's unwary expression displayed its trust in these three people as it tilted its head blankly as though stating that malevolence did not exist in this world.
Haruaki felt his heart getting shot by something. Argghhh, damn it, so cute~ If we abandon this little guy, he'll really be pitifully alone. On television, it was also reported that dogs at shelters only had a very low percentage of getting adopted~ Please be more kind, people of Japan. And I'm Japanese too, ahhhhh.
"Haruaki, what's the matter, Haruaki~?"
Fear continued to ask to be spoiled while staring at Haruaki from the right, the left and down below while he was frozen, head bowed. She tugged at his sleeve like a little child. Although Haruaki did not react to her gestures, he slowly looked up after a short while.
"If we release him outside now... It'll be us who are abandoning him... Right?"
"—! Th-That's right, that's what it'll end up being!"
"Anyway, yeah, let's do it this way first. We'll try asking classmates at school first. Perhaps someone might be willing to adopt him. Before that, let him stay here for now... Perhaps... that might... be better."
"O-O-O-O-O-Of course we need to do that! We are responsible! And I get the feeling it'd be best if no one adopts him. Rather, there won't be, but don't mind that! Before we find someone to adopt him, we must protect him!"
"...Then it's decided."
Although Haruaki saw Konoha sigh helplessly on the side, he pretended not to see. On the other hand, Fear instantly stood up in all smiles, lifting the puppy up like a trophy.
"Waha—! Wonderful, from today on, you'll be a member of this family! Uh—Right, we need a name! We need to name him first!"
"Pooch is basically the most commonly used in Japan."
"What kind of tasteless statement is that! This guy is like family that I found. Right, so I wanna give him a name that's clearly related to me the moment you hear it... Uh..."
Fear lifted and spun the puppy for a while. The puppy barked in concert with the act. Then Fear suddenly stopped and grinned as though saying "This is perfect!"
"Yes! Your name is—Guillotine!"
"Th-That's the worst name!"
"What—You don't like it... By the way, the second candidate is Iron Maiden."
"No no no no~"
Haruaki did not even know where to begin. Just as he waved his hand before his face, Fear started to explain the meaning on her own.
"Oh~ Right, I forgot to confirm something important... Hmm, she's female. Then there's no problem. No wait, this means that the second candidate is more fitting? But Guillotine sounds more catchy..."
Holding the puppy under its forearms, Fear muttered and looked between its legs. At this moment, the sounds of a cheesy drama could be heard from the television that had been on all this time. 'Shouji-san! I love you!' 'Shouko... I'm sorry.'—Hearing these lines, Fear nodded vigorously with a sudden realization.
"I see. So Japanese names have rules of gender variations, right? Then out of respect for Haruaki, I'll follow the basic rules of this country. In that case... Let's call her Guillotine-ko."
"This name is so bad it's unbelievable! In all sorts of ways!"
"Why are you complaining so much? Otherwise, what should I do?"
"Sigh... Just call her Guillotine, it basically sounds like a French name..."
"Then why didn't you say so from the start?"
Although Fear pouted in her reply, she was still quite happy and even gave her blessing by singing "Guillotine~ Guillotine~ Guilotiiiiine—!" in her own improvised melody... Should she be stopped?
However, there was still one person present who was not pleased by the blessing.
"I cannot accept this."
Sitting formally in seiza with narrowed eyes, Konoha continued in a calm but forceful voice:
"I understand Haruaki-kun has a heart of kindness. However, you must reflect more on your situation. You clearly have no idea how to take care of a dog and your schedule is already packed from handling household matters and school. If you increase your burdens any further... There will be a problem."
"C-Cow Tits! I'll take care of Guillotine myself, so there!"
"You want to take care of her when you're lacking in basic common sense? Don't be ludicrous. Surely, Haruaki-kun will end up taking care of the dog in your place."
This comment really sliced to the core of the matter. As much as Fear wanted to object, she clearly knew her lack of common sense. Consequently, she could only gnash her teeth while glaring at Konoha.
"No, uh—Umm, Konoha...? You should know too that we can't just throw her out, right?"
"But it is also true that we cannot afford keeping her. I'm really reluctant to say this but it's not like feeding a dog doesn't cost money. And we can't skimp on shots and vaccines, right? Our home expenses have increased ever since this child's arrival. Do we have excess cash to spend in this area?"
The very correct argument of budget issues stabbed mercilessly into Haruaki's chest. Hence, amidst the heavy atmosphere on scene, Konoha stood up slowly and looked at Haruaki and Fear coldly.
"Please allow your brains to calm down, then consider things carefully. Of course, it needs to be a solution apart from keeping the dog as a pet. I will ponder carefully during bath time as well—We'll discuss again after my bath."
Saying that without allowing any objections, Konoha walked out of the living room, leaving Haruaki and Fear to exchange glances.
"What do we do, Fear?"
"This pisses me off, damn Cow Tits! Is her massive bust our final obstacle!?"
"No, it's got nothing to do with busts."
"Hold on, I've got a plan... Fufu, my eyes cannot be deceived...!"
Haruaki watched in puzzlement as Fear clenched her fists and muttered emphatically.
Held in Fear's hands, Guillotine also tilted her head as though imitating Haruaki's posture.
When Konoha returned to the living room after her bath, she found Guillotine pacing about on the table, bored with nothing to do. Haruaki and Fear were not present. Were they having a planning meeting in a room?
"Even so, they shouldn't leave this child unattended... Are they really serious in keeping her as a pet?"
Entering the living room, Konoha grumbled while hanging the towel she had been using to dry her hair on her shoulder. As a result, Guillotine looked up at her as though saying "You're back?"
Konoha's face twitched. Exuding an aura of extreme chill, Konoha glared viciously.
She simply moved her eyes to survey her surroundings. Right side OK, left side OK, bottom O~K~.
Tugging at heart strings.
More tugging at heart strings.
Konoha's endurance reached its limit.
"Ahhh~ Jeez, how should I say this? Ahhh~ Jeez!"
With lightning speed, fast enough to leave afterimages, Konoha picked up Guillotine and started rubbing her face against the puppy. Guillotine struggled desperately, caught in her cleavage, waving its short little limbs in suffering.
"Wow~ So soft~ So warm~ ...Ufu, ufufu. Ufufu ehehe."
Konoha frantically rescued Guillotine from being buried in her cleavage, then brought the puppy close to her face, almost touching their noses together. Then out from her lips came:
"Ohhh... Sorry about just now, woof~ Please forgive me, woof!"
Some kind of vague and mysterious doggy speak.
"However, we still can't add to Haruaki-kun's troubles. I really pity you, but asking the police to handle it is the best way, woof... A cute little puppy like you will definitely get adopted. Ahhh, even so, what if no one adopts you—sniff sniff, woof woof, what should we do, woof?"
No one knew if these two beasts' hearts were connected as they stared at each other and barked back and forth.
Just at this moment, the wall closet behind Konoha slid open—
Shocked, Konoha stopped what she was doing. Then trembling slightly, she looked behind her.
Behind the slightly ajar paper door, half of Fear's face could be seen inside the closet, grinning maliciously. On the upper shelf of the closet, Haruaki could be seen as well. He was staring with his eyes wide open. Still maintaining the same expression, Fear murmured:
"...Please forgive me, woof!"
Right before their eyes, Konoha's face grew redder and redder—
This instant ended up becoming the critical moment when a new member was added to the family.
Then the next day, Sunday, the breakfast table was more lively than usual.
"Good doggy, so obedient. Eat eat, have some more. Ufufu, she keeps eating nonstop."
"On further thought, it's quite lucky that we weren't eating Hamburg steaks last night~ Just the thought of you feeding her in secret sends chills down my spine."
"Dogs cannot eat onions or else they'll get poisoned."
"Haha, what stupidity coming from a shameless brat. Why are you making such an unfunny joke?"
"...It's actually true?"
"Look here, Guillotine-chan, there's tasty food over here too~"
"Nuu, Cow Tits! I won't let you steal a march on feeding her!"
"This is not stealing a march. Since we have decided to keep her, I will make sure she does not become Haruaki-kun's burden. I shall take very good care of her."
"Guillotine, c'mere, that girl there could very well say dangerous things like 'However, you look even more tasty, woof!' Seriously, 'woof' this 'woof' that, it's totally disgusting."
"Uwaaaah... Erase it! I demand that memory be erased!"
Fear and Konoha bickered with each other as usual while handing edible-looking morsels of rice and side dishes to Guillotine. The puppy kept wagging her tail happily and running about beside or under the table.
(Hmm—It's quite chaotic... I wonder what it'll be like if Kuroe returns.)
Recalling another resident who was not yet back from her travels, Haruaki felt a sense of heartwarming due to Guillotine while he ate breakfast. Ahhh~ What a healing feeling.
But at that moment, the news on television reported "Up next, a recent problem of frequent thefts of high-class pets..." To think that there were people who went to such lengths. In just a day, the Yachi household had already grown so attached to Guillotine—were a longtime pet to be stolen, what a huge blow would be dealt to a family.
Just as Haruaki was thinking "we'd better be careful too"—
"Okay, she's full! Haruaki, let's go for a walk! A walk!"
"Yeah, let's do a bit of shopping along the way... Are there any pet shops nearby?"
The trio quickly cleaned up the dishes and prepared to go out. The dazzling sun was high up in the sky, seeming as though it were blessing the Sunday it had not seen for seven days. The weather, so uncharacteristically hot for autumn, was making everyone begin to sweat.
"Is it okay without a leash? Although we'll buy one at the pet shop."
"Should be okay, right? She seems to be quite attached to us already... Hwah~"
"Ohoh~ What a massive yawn. You must have slept little, playing with Guillotine instead?"
"It's him who's not letting me sleep. As soon as I go to bed, he keeps licking my ears and neck, leaving me no choice but to hug and stroke him. Fufu, despite being awake, it makes me feel like I'm in a dream."
"Hey, you forgot to add 'woof,' Cow Tits."
"How much longer are you going to keep bringing that up?"
Conversing like that, the trio left the house. They noticed there seemed to be a shadow behind a nearby utility pole.
It was a man who was wearing a trench coat with a soft hat pulled down low despite the hot weather. Although Haruaki's group found him intriguing, staring at him would not be polite. As soon as Fear released Guillotine on the ground, they set off.
Despite their worries, Guillotine did not dash off out of sight. Instead, she took steps one by one at her own pace. The trio followed her while talking:
"Wow, so hot. How could that guy dress like that without fainting from the heat?"
"Maybe it's on his own insistence? Because yesterday as well, he was wearing the same thing."
"...Yesterday as well?"
"Yeah, when I was taking a walk, he was walking around in the area. I saw him a few times."
"—Really? I see."
Relatively quiet during this time, Konoha spoke with a voice as cold as a glacier for some reason.
"I would have thought that one would only say this in a movie or a comic book, but apparently not. Fear-san, Haruaki-kun, listen to me quietly without looking back—We're being followed."
Haruaki was just about to look back nervously but he managed to suppress the urge. Suddenly, his feet felt heavy and difficult to move.
"W-Who is it? For what purpose?"
"It should be the trench coat man we were just talking about."
"No way? Are those people from the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion chasing after me again?"
Fear's voice sounded stiff. Konoha shook her head and said:
"Shouldn't be them. Also, this guy's skills in following are very poor."
"Then why else would he do this? I can't think of any other reason for us to be followed..."
"But we are definitely being followed. By that suspicious man who could whip out a gun from inside his coat at any time."
In that case, there must be a reason. Haruaki racked his brain to figure out why—
Then he recalled something he had heard earlier.
"Fear, let me ask you something... How exactly did you discover Guillotine?"
"Hmm? I saw him wandering around, so I reached out to pet him, then he started sticking to and following me. So I thought I might as well bring him home... Is there a problem?"
"Eh—He wasn't abandoned in a cardboard box or anything like that?"
Fear was tilting her head as though she did not understand what a cardboard box was. Haruaki made a sideways glance towards Konoha and said:
"Gah, I knew it... Konoha, do you remember what the news said just now? About high-class pets frequently getting stolen recently."
"Oh... Could it be that she was not abandoned but ran away on her own after being stolen, maybe...?"
"By the way, it's quite suspicious to begin with to think that such an expensive and adorable puppy would get abandoned—And now, we have an extremely suspicious guy following us. Hmm, I'm more and more convinced that we're involved in something troublesome."
An escaped pedigree dog. A theft group trying to recapture her. One's imagination easily connected foul play without any trouble.
"Although I'm totally lost by the conversation, that means the man behind us is a bad guy? Muu."
"What should we do? There are many solutions at hand, but it depends on whether we draw him to a deserted place? Or do we just turn back home?"
Hearing Konoha, Fear clenched her fists and said emotionally:
"Your ideas are too mild! Anyway, that guy's target is Guillotine, right? Then let's just ask him immediately what he wants!"
"Ah... Hey, hold it, Fear!"
Before Haruaki could stop her, Fear had already turned around and rushed off. Noticing her action, Guillotine barked and chased after her. Reacting a step slower, Haruaki and Konoha had no choice but to follow.
Just as they saw at their home entrance, the man was still hiding behind a utility pole. Perhaps scared by the approaching strange silver-haired girl, he jumped all at once.
"Hey, what are you trying to do here!?"
Instantly, the man tried to escape but Fear's severe glaring halted his movements. Due to the soft hat that was worn low, his expression still could not be seen.
Soon after, the man swiftly reached into the inside of his coat—Then he stopped.
He can't be allowed to take that hand out—This strange thought filled Haruaki's mind.
At this moment, the two sides observed each other's intentions. The tension left no room for a breather while time kept flowing away.
Then the first to break the balance was—
Guillotine had been wagging her tail all this time. After perking her ears and barking once, she suddenly ran to another place.
"...Ah! What's the matter, Guillotine?"
Although Fear displayed concern for the man's movements for an instant, in the end, she chose to chase after Guillotine. Baring her fangs to threaten the man, she swayed her silver hair and ran forward.
"Ah... Wait up, you!"
"Konoha, let's chase Guillotine first for now! It'd be bad if something happens to her!"
Although the man was concerning, he had not done anything of ill intent. Even if they captured him, he could simply play dumb. Haruaki chased after Fear while glancing back. The man still had his hand in the trench coat. Standing in the same spot, he seemed to be shaking his body as though hesitating on his next move. It looked like the worst case scenario of him using the opportunity to attack was not going to happen.
Guillotine did not slow down and even ran with leaping steps. Despite possessing physical capabilities surpassing ordinary humans, Fear and Konoha still could not catch up to him.
"Huff, hoo~ W-What on earth is happening...?"
"No idea! ...Hey, wait up—! Guillotine!"
Although already numbed to the feeling, Haruaki still found the name quite weird. And for a striking girl like Fear to be yelling that name desperately in the streets—Haruaki prayed for her not to attract too much attention while running as hard as he could through the quiet residential neighborhood. Just as the chased Guillotine down a fork in the road and rushed up a long and narrow slope—
"Oh, it's a dead end...?"
There was a building on the right hand side while a concrete-reinforced cliff stood on the left. Extending further ahead, the road ended abruptly with a lower area where the tops of trees with red leaves could be seen. Acting as a fence, it would cause Guillotine to stop there—However, concluding that would be premature.
Contrary to what Haruaki expected, the situation got even worse. Using her running speed to take a leap, Guillotine jumped onto the branches of the trees. Although Guillotine's unsteady steps looked quite precarious, she still managed to walk from one end of the branch to the other end.
"Ah, it's dangerous, Guillotine! Wait up, I'll also—"
"Hey Fear! You definitely won't make it! The branch will snap!"
"A-Anyway, go down first!"
"Then let us get down there quickly!"
"Uwah, don't drag me... Ooph!"
Fear forced Haruaki to jump down as though carrying him on her shoulders. Instantly, the impact of hitting the ground was transmitted directly to his belly. However, now was not the time to be complaining.
This was a place resembling a long and narrow park. A fence in front of them was facing the platform where they had jumped down from. On the other side of the fence was a river roughly two irrigation canals wide where a large volume of water was flowing. On the edge of the park and with branches extending to the very limit was the tree where Guillotine had jumped to.
Guillotine was standing near the front tip of the branch and staring forward. The flexible branch and the leaves swayed in the wind. The way the branch looked like it could break any moment was increasingly worrying.
"Hey, Guillotine! It's dangerous there, hurry and come down!"
"Maybe she isn't able to come down on her own...?"
"That'd be bad. If only there was something long, like a wooden plank or something... Uh..."
"I see, so that's why she jumped onto there. In that case..."
Konoha surveyed the surroundings while she spoke. Fear nodded vigorously in sudden realization then reached into her pocket—What she took out was her emulated form.
In accordance to her will, the Rubik's cube emulated her original form. Emulation start—The giant steel cube appeared for only an instant—
"Mechanism No.19 gouging type, spiral form: «Human-Perforator»—Curse Calling!"
The cube transformed while Fear called out. The cube's components of countless mechanisms instantly shifted and rearranged themselves to manifest a drill extending from her palm and connected to a chain of cubes. Fear took a brief look at it—the object that was only used to harm humans in the past—
Then she forcefully extended it towards Guillotine on the tree.
"Okay Guillotine, come over here! D-Don't be afraid."
"What a sec, your words and actions are very contradictory! It's quite ridiculous!"
"Didn't Cow Tits say that something long is needed!? Jeez, otherwise, do I change it to «A Hatchet of Lingchi»?"
"What difference would that make? What are we going to do if someone sees this? Hurry up and put it away!"
Konoha spoke frantically but luckily, there was no one else in the surroundings and it looked like the strange torture tool had yet to be discovered. However, just as Fear was muttering, intending to turn the drill back into the Rubik's cube—
Perhaps scared by the shiny drill or for some other reason.
Guillotine suddenly jumped away.
Using the intensely shaking branch as the jumping point, the puppy traced out a beautiful parabola.
Guillotine thrashed her four legs in the air while flying over the fence, finally falling into the river beside. However, the river was flowing rapidly. Despite her desperate attempts to swim doggy style, the puppy began to sink into the current repeatedly.
"See, it's your fault for scaring her with that thing!"
"Y-You're being noisy! I only did it with good intentions, you have no right to criticize since you did nothing! ...Are you okay, Guillotine? I'm going to save you straight away—!"
"W-Wait up, Fear! I remember you can't swim—"
Before she could hear Haruaki, Fear had already leapt over the fence, falling into the water with a great splash. However—
"Gurgle gurgle glug glug!"
"Didn't I say so already!? Konoha, hold onto these for me... My cellphone and wallet!"
"W-Wait... Dear heavens, why am I getting an annoying sense of deja vu?"
Haruaki ignored Konoha's remark and also went over the fence, jumping into the icy cold river.
Fear's situation was even worse than Guillotine's. Gulping down water repeatedly, she was getting tossed around in the river. Perhaps due to her desperate struggling with her arms and legs, she did not sink suddenly. That said, it felt like it was only a matter of time.
Haruaki carefully caught up to Fear without letting himself sink and placed himself under her shoulder.
"Hey, don't act so rashly!"
"Haruaki, just support me like this! Just a little closer... Nuu, ku... Great!"
"Hey Guillotine, don't move about... Fufu, it's okay now—Relax and entrust yourself to me—glug glug!"
"Eeek! Hey Fear! Even if you don't know how to swim, at least use your arms to paddle! If you don't do anything, you'll sink 100% for sure! Because you're super heavy!"
"Shut up! My arms aren't free, this can't be helped! Also, calling me heavy is not allowed, dummy—!"
Fear devoted her full effort to kicking her legs to avert the crisis of sinking. However, this did not change the fact that they were facing a life and death situation. Two people and a dog were bobbing up and down as they struggled with buoyancy while being washed downstream in the river. If this continued, their stamina was going to run out.
Just at this moment, Konoha's voice was heard coming from somewhere.
"Fear-san, you should release Guillotine first! That child should have some level of swimming ability!"
"How can I do that!? And it's not guaranteed that she'll be able to reach the shore!"
"Even so, getting everyone drowned is not a solution... Ahhh~ Seriously, if that's the case, I have no choice but to do this!"
Next came a loud, crashing noise. Haruaki looked back desperately to see Konoha standing on the shore, having chopped with her bare hands. In front of her was a newly severed tree stump where the trunk had fallen towards the river. This formed a bridge that happened to be waiting for Haruaki to flow towards.
"Haruaki-kun, grab onto this first! I'll pull you guys up immediately!"
"Oh okay, yes!"
Haruaki reached out desperately to grab onto the tree trunk that was not too far above the water. Perhaps because his hand was too wet or Fear in his arm was too heavy, his hand immediately slipped off.
Two people and a dog flowed along the current under the trunk. This could not be helped. But in the that instant—
"Mechanism No.14 raking type, beast's claw form: «Cat's Paw»!"
Cradling Guillotine in one arm, Fear used her other hand to take out the Rubik's cube, which transformed into a torture tool resembling a massive rake. Then she instantly swung the hooked claws at the tip towards the tree trunk.
She almost caught it, but was an instant too slow. The claws only scratched the trunk, shaving off a thin later of bark.
Konoha screamed and Fear began to swear. Haruaki reached out wistfully towards the lifesaving bridge that gradually became further and further away—
Right then, he felt a powerful impact.
Looking up, he saw someone standing on the trunk, reaching out to grab Fear's weapon.
The man in the trench coat.
"...Ugh! H-Hurry and come up, the two of you!"
Did it fly off because he rushed over hastily? The soft hat on his head was gone. However, Haruaki could guess the reason why he kept his hat pushed down low.
Because the furtive middle-aged man was bald.
With the man's help, they finally got back ashore. Due to being completely soaked by the river water, their bodies had become especially heavy. Konoha frantically crossed the river from the tree trunk and only breathed a sigh of relief once she saw that they were unharmed.
At this moment, another figure appeared at the river side.
"Woof woof woof!"
Hugging the dog in all smiles was a boy who appeared to be an elementary schooler. He was holding something like a whistle in his hand.
"Oh, could that be a... dog whistle...?"
A whistle that could not be heard by the human ear. Reportedly, dogs could be trained to receive signals from the owner through them... Guillotine probably started dashing suddenly because she heard the whistle.
Suddenly, Haruaki noticed the trench coat man reaching into his coat again, staring at Haruaki's group while exuding an unusual aura. Just as Haruaki jumped in fright reflexively, the man yelled "W-Whatever...!" while drawing out his hand—
"Th-Th-This is my name card——!"
He handed out his card seriously.
Haruaki had no choice but to take it. On the card was a perfectly ordinary company name along with a perfectly ordinary man's name. Haruaki stopped thinking while turning his gaze forward once more.
"H-Hoo... G-Great, I finally managed to hand it out... Every time I try to hand my card to someone for the first time, I instantly get very nervous...!"
The man muttered to himself while wiping sweat off his brow. At this moment, the boy ran over while carrying Guillotine in his arms.
"Dad, thank you! You really helped me to find Rasputin. You've changed my view of you completely, Dad!"
"R-Really... That's right. Okay, we must thank these people who took care of her."
The boy turned towards Haruaki's group that was staring dumbfounded and bowed as a child would.
"Uh—Thank you very much!"
"Oh... It's nothing, umm..."
After asking about the details, they discovered that the trench coat man was neither mafia nor a member of a theft organization—He was the boy's father and had gone searching everywhere for the dog on his behalf. Something like that. Then there was astounding fact that the dog's original name that was just as bizarre as "Guillotine."
At this moment, Fear bit her lip and stepped forward towards the boy as well as Guillotine, held in his embrace.
"Hey Fear. These people must be Guillotine's owner—"
"I know. That's why I wanna say something."
Fear answered Haruaki without looking back at him. She stopped in front of the boy.
"Kid, you must be the owner who lost Guillotine... No, this dog, right?"
"No need to explain. I can see that she's happy. You probably regretted abandoning her and went searching for her? I have no intention of stealing her from you... But please!"
Fear clenched her fist tight and spoke with mournful eyes:
"Please don't abandon her again. Don't throw her away like a tool just because you don't want her anymore... Abandoned things are always... very lonely. Even real tools feel lonely. Once forced to confront the truth of being unwanted, abandoned in a deserted place, facing nothing but endless time to ponder the meaning of one's existence. That is very painful."
She spoke quietly from her own experience.
The boy looked at Fear for quite a while, at a loss, but then he spoke:
"I don't quite get what you mean, but I'll never separate from Rasputin again. Also, the one who abandoned him was neither me nor my dad but my mom."
"My mom was against having a dog for the longest time. When we moved houses, it became a huge argument again... In the end, my mom went ahead and abandoned Rasputin somewhere on her own. That's so mean, right? But luckily, we found her! I'll definitely protect her from now on. No matter how many times I must argue with Mom, I'll protect Rasputin!"
"...Do you swear?"
"Yes, I swear!"
The puppy in the boy's arms barked happily and wagged her tail as though in sync with his nodding motion. Fear made a faint smile saying "Really?"
"Having a home where one belongs to is a great source of happiness. Whether for humans, dogs... or tools as well."
Then as though dealing with fragile objects, she stroked Guillotine's head, then the boy's head. Both the dog and the boy shrank their necks away in a similar manner as though tickled.
"So... Sorry for troubling you during this time..."
"Woah! No, not at all. Umm, we should be thankful instead. We were rescued only thanks to you pulling us up from the river."
Haruaki bowed back in return to the father who was bowing in apology. Upon closer examination, Haruaki noticed his cowardly expression, pitifully bald head and a complete lack of assertiveness. As a master of the house, he was really lacking in solemnity.
"I'm always submissive in front of my wife... But after seeing how sad my son was, I decided this won't do, so for the first time, I wanted to try hard and show him his father's reliable side..."
After finding out with great difficulty from the wife where the dog was abandoned, he started searching the area. Then he caught sight of Fear going home with the puppy in her arms.
"Umm, excuse me, but if you spoke to us honestly, wouldn't the problem have been resolved instantly...?"
Konoha raised her hand slightly and asked, prompting the man to shake his head hastily:
"H-How could I!? Asking me to suddenly call out to someone I meet for the first time, that's way too scary!"
"Like today, I started hesitating since 6am whether to ring your doorbell or not. Then later on, you guys happened to come out, I was thinking I should at least pass my name card along to you, but couldn't find a right opportunity... I'm so sorry. Arghhh, this is the way I am, that's why I keep getting scolded by my department boss..."
Recalling how the man reached into his trench coat and stopped, Haruaki could not help but sigh. How did this man survive in society all this time with such shyness?
"Dad, we should be getting home."
"Oh, that's true~ You're right."
"Are you confident you can convince your mother?"
Fear asked but the boy looked up at his father's face and said:
"No problem! Because Dad is standing on my side!"
"O-Of course. When the time comes to act, your dad will act after all. You saw me just now, right?"
"Yeah, you were super cool when you rescued them!"
"I pitched in everything I could muster at the time... Eh, speaking of which, the thing back then was...?"
Fear groaned and moved her gaze away from the puzzled father. Haruaki and Konoha frantically said:
"Th-That was a rake! A veritable rake!"
"That was a newest model of a portable and foldable rake! Very amazing, aha... Ahahahahaha!"
Although the man was taken aback for an instant, he smiled cordially and said "I see" and did not pursue the matter any further. Perhaps he realized that it was not a topic Haruaki's group wished to touch on.
The father and son bid a final farewell before going home, hand in hand. Walking beside them, Guillotine looked back and went "woof." Originally waving goodbye, Fear paused for a moment before waving even more forcefully than before. Standing behind her, Haruaki could not see her expression.
Soon after, the family disappeared from view.
"What a shame, Fear."
"...It's okay. Since the original owner showed up, it can't be helped."
Haruaki was thinking of comforting her but did not expect Fear to take things in stride so easily. She even went "hmph" and pouted mildly. Haruaki still felt that she was trying to act strong. Was his imagination being overactive?
"Really? I think it's quite a shame actually... I remember how you desperately advocated to keep her. Why did you want to keep her so much?"
"Muu... Because animals are so soft to the touch with big round eyes and fuzzy tails. I can't find a good reason. Also..."
"Since she was abandoned without a place to belong to, I thought she'd be happy to come to our home. That's all."
Fear answered softly.
Turning towards the direction where Guillotine had vanished, she said:
"No... That house is very old, the walls are so thin and there are really noisy fellows living there, it's cramped like hell! But umm, I still feel... that it won't be an unhappy place."
During the first half of her speech, Fear was glaring sideways at Haruaki as though she had suddenly recalled something. During the second half, her gaze turned straight ahead again while she stammered.
"So, ummm... For someone who doesn't have a place to belong to, it's not a bad location, probably... That's just what I think. That's all."
Surfacing on her profile was a curl of her lips that resembled both a smile and a wry grin.
Someone without a place to belong to. Someone abandoned. What was she thinking when she spoke those words?
Haruaki could only imagine, only imagining what she thought as a tool that was once abandoned.
However, the truth of the matter at hand was that she was no longer a tool. Why that came to be—Starting as a tool for harming humans, getting cursed due to the atrocities committed, then becoming no longer a tool due to being cursed, this tragic situation—Haruaki knew very well.
Haruaki thought to himself, what was he able to do? As an ordinary human, what was he able to do?
It was obvious, right?
He must protect the place where the single wish of "lifting one's curse" could be realized, the location the girls had decided as the place where they belonged. He must protect it with happiness, stability and comfort.
"So... Let's get home first. After all, I'm completely drenched and need a change of dry clothes."
"Oh~ That's right now that you mention it. Besides, the feeling of clothes sticking to the body feels super gross—"
Fear suddenly stopped speaking. Haruaki also noticed the reason. They had not noticed earlier because their attention was focused on Guillotine, but the thin fabric of Fear's clothing was completely drenched. Drenched to the point that her clothes seemed see-through. And just as she said, her clothes were sticking to her body. For example, her white thighs, the area around her petite navel, a certain charming bulge—
"Uwah—! What's going on?"
"You didn't notice? Just now, the boy and his father also seemed to be pretending not to see."
Konoha was looking in surprise at Fear who was desperately trying to pull her clothes to the side and wring them dry. Haruaki frantically turned his gaze away and said:
"I-I didn't notice either! In other words, I didn't see anything at all!"
"HA—RU—A—KI—KUN? Saying that makes you all the more suspicious—!"
Konoha deliberately circled over before him and showed eyes of intense displeasure. Haruaki could also feel an aura of murderous intent rising behind her—
"...Fu. Fu. Fu. I almost forgot. Speaking of things in that house that are troubling... It's that the shameless brat is utterly shameless!"
"Wait, why do I get the feeling that you girls are the reason every single time?"
"Wah—! Don't look at me, dummy—I'll curse you! Damn it, I absolutely can't tolerate the shameless brat's shameless behavior! I'm going back first!"
Just as Fear wrapped her arms around her body as she spoke, turning around and about to run off—She seemed to realize that she would definitely draw people's attention along the way if she returned like this. hence, she rapidly spun around and rushed towards Haruaki, demanding "Gimme your jacket!"
"Okay okay, I'll lend you my clothing! On the other hand, are you really okay going back by yourself?"
"What are you talking about? I'm not a child, of course it's okay! I can already go out for a walk on my own. This means I'm able to return home successfully on my own!"
"Returning home successfully on your own... Really? Why do I feel that all this can be traced back to that particular walk?"
"Actually, it can't be said to be entirely Fear's fault... But whatever. It's fine if you want to walk on your own, but bringing stray dogs home is not allowed."
"I-I know, okay! I won't pick up stray dogs again. Jeez, you're always nagging so much!"
"Yes yes yes, sorry for nagging so much. Oh, you must follow the rules and enter through the front door. Here, take the key!"
Wearing Haruaki's tracksuit jacket, Fear finally stuck out her tongue mischievously then ran towards home. Haruaki could not help but exchange glances with Konoha and shrug helplessly. Then the two of them walked leisurely side by side.
In front of them was the image of Fear's back, gradually shrinking in the distance.
Drenched thoroughly, her shiny silver hair was swaying nonstop like a puppy's tail.
Several days later.
After dinner, while drinking tea in the living room, Haruaki and Konoha heard a sound—
This was followed by a hushed voice saying "H-Hey! Be quiet...!"
Hearing these sounds coming from Fear's room, Haruaki and Konoha exchanged glances. Then the two did not say a word.
Stiff smiles hung on their faces.
Slowly, they stood up—
Nothing changed at all.
Except that this home—
Was lively yet peaceful as always.
|Back to Illustrations||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 2|