Chapter 2 - The Unknown Making a Wish to Him / "Jingle Bell Rock"
"The rice is done. Should I carry the entire rice cooker over?"
"Yeah, Class Rep, thanks."
It was December 23 today. Due to being a holiday, unlike usual mornings, there was no need to watch the clock when making breakfast to make sure they got to school on time. With Kirika's help, the breakfast Haruaki made included two more portions than usual. Kirika, as well as the girl who just woke up.
"In any case, thank goodness she finally woke up... Now we can finally ask her questions."
"Yeah, but don't get careless. Her words cannot be taken as unconditional truth."
They whispered discreetly to each other while bringing trays into the living room, but only found Kuroe and Fear with no signs of Konoha and Un Izoey in the room.
"The two of them went to the toilet~"
"Right, that girl seems to be super country bumpkin. Does she even know how to use a flush toilet...? Hmph, if she has no idea, then it proves that she's on an even lower level than my past self, seeing as I was able to use the toilet correctly even back when I first arrived!"
"Well, it's not like she just left Africa two days ago..."
Just as Haruaki groaned, voices could be heard from the direction of the washroom in question—
"H-Hold it right there! Pause! Pause!"
"My question: is there a problem here?"
"Of course there is... Hey, stand still right now~!"
The footsteps reached the living room. Haruaki's rice bowl almost fell from his hand.
This was due to Un Izoey's drastic change in appearance. Since her pajama top only had the second button fastened, not only was her navel exposed, but a certain bulging area was also in quite a dangerous state. No, if one had to talk about dangerous, before mentioning her top, her lower half had already completely transcended the bounds of dangerous.
She was wearing nothing except underwear down there.
Zoom! Konoha rushed into the living room mere seconds later, carrying what must be the pajama pants that Un Izoey had removed, using it to cover her up, trying desperately to conceal those dark-skinned thighs.
"What... on earth... are you trying to do...!?"
"My conclusion: a difference in cultural understanding. The navel should not be concealed. My explanation: wearing pants feels too restrictive, agitating."
Why was this person here so angry? Un Izoey's face seemed to be saying that in confusion with her head tilted. Konoha shuddered her entire body violently and said: "Ahhh, seriously, just when I thought one indecent element had passed, yet a new indecent element arrives...!"
In any case, Un Izoey was asked to wrap a sheet around her waist as a compromise. Although the overall effect was quite reminiscent of tribal attire, because she sat with her knee up, it was still quite dangerous in various ways. This sitting posture was not exactly polite, but that could be chalked up to differences in cultural understanding as well.
Hence, breakfast began. Since Un Izoey did not seem to know how to use chopsticks, Haruaki had prepared a fork and a spoon for her, but even then, she used them with great stiffness and unfamiliarity.
Fear and the girls would glare at Un Izoey on occasion while eating their meal in silence. Out of everyone, Kirika's gaze was the most wary. On the other hand, Kuroe's eyes, sleepy-looking as always, were the least intense.
So quiet that one could hear a pin drop, breakfast finished amidst the tense atmosphere.
"So... I'm full. Are you full yet?"
Fear glared sharply at Un Izoey.
"My confirmation: the act of eating is finished. Conclusion obtained: very tasty."
"That's the shameless brat's only good point. So, you wouldn't happen to think you can get away with a free meal, right? Since you're full now, let's cut to the chase... We have many questions for you."
"My answer: I will answer everything I can answer."
"Hmph. First of all: why did you faint in that kind of place? What happened?"
Un Izoey answered briefly without hesitation at all:
"I was attacked by the Draconians."
"What did you say...?"
Everyone gasped. They had first come into contact with the Draconians roughly half a month earlier, the organization seeking to become the "strongest." Naturally, they were reminded of a certain encountered girl.
"What did the enemy look like...? Right, was there a petite girl similar to these two in size together with a partner who had a veil on her face?"
"...? No, answer: negative. Enemy is a single swordfighter."
"A different person? That does make sense since all the weapons in that child's possession were destroyed and both her hands should have been fractured by Kaidou-sensei's attack after all. In any case, you were attacked by someone from the Draconians. As for the reason—Hmm, I think I can hazard a rough guess."
"My answer: to be correct, unknown. Simply attacked is the explanation."
"Hmph, because of your weird and unique fighting style using your legs, plus you look so conspicuous, if those Draconians learned of your existence... It's quite likely they would send someone to attack as a way to test themselves. Hah, serves you right. I hope you'll taste the same pain that I suffered."
"Defeating strong opponents to obtain corresponding experience—A notion similar to that. It almost sounds like living in an RPG world. A swordfighter character further adds to that feeling~"
"But after attacking you, it's possible that those Draconians might want to defeat me to gain experience. That can't be ruled out. So, tell us more about that swordfighter's characteristics."
Un Izoey nodded obediently.
"My answer: a girl all dressed in red clothing."
"Red clothing... Is that it? Hah, that girl sure sounds like Santa. So that's what I misrecognized."
Seeing Un Izoey cocking her head in puzzlement, Fear declared proudly:
"Hmph hmph, you didn't know? Let me tell you then... Santa Claus is the mysterious elderly volunteer who goes around everywhere giving presents to all good children! I heard that he dressed in red and drives a sleigh pulled by servants like reindeer to fly in the sky!"
"Driving a sleigh to fly in the sky. I am surprised by this great surprise. What kind of skill is that?"
"Muu. I don't know the details of how it works, after all, he's the mysterious elderly volunteer. What could it be... C-Could it be an anti-gravity drive system developed by NASA? —That's what Kuroe over there suggested. Also, Santa Claus only appears once a year during Christmas. I think it's because Christmas is supposed to be a special day that allows wishes to be fulfilled... right..."
Getting even more carried away in her sense of superiority, Fear began to explain about Santa Claus and Christmas. Of course, there were quite a few inaccuracies, but Haruaki decided to simply observe them from the side with a warm and fuzzy feeling in his heart. Were he to rain on her parade, there was a possibility that Fear might find out the truth about Santa Claus.
After Fear's explanations were done, Un Izoey, who had been listening with great interest, nodded.
"I see. Truly, an unknown has become known."
"Show me your gratitude properly, country girl. However... I'm quite bothered by the idea that the enemy is a girl resembling Santa. Although she would be on the side of the hunted rather than the hunter, does this have anything to do with the 'Santa Hunter'...?"
"My question: 'Santa Hunter' is another unknown term."
"Recently, there has been a recurring incident where people in Santa suits were attacked and had their clothes stolen. Is it you, perhaps? If you're related in any way, confessing straight away here would be a wise decision!"
"No. I explain that myself who arrived in this city only yesterday is an impossible impossibility."
However, Un Izoey looked up as though she were recalling something:
"Except—the Draconian had a sack on her back. When she attacked, I saw cloth inside that looked like red clothes."
"Wait a sec. Putting aside the fact that she was wearing red clothing and looked like Santa—You said her sack contained red clothes? In that case, in other words—"
"The clothes might have been stolen from other people. In that case, this means that the Draconian is the 'Santa Hunter'! It can't be a coincidence no matter how I think about it... I've no idea why she needs to attack Santa-costumed people and take their clothes, but at least we've caught her red-handed!"
Fear shouted with excitement. In contrast, Un Izoey spoke in complete seriousness:
"My supplement: I explain that the enemy's hands were not red."
Silence and speechlessness pervaded the entire living room. Oh dear, where should one start in educating the ignorant? Just as Haruaki's group froze under this atmosphere, someone spoke as though trying to make use of this period of silence:
"Then what happened?"
Kirika glared at the dark-skinned girl and said with a tone of voice colder than anyone else's:
"Fear-kun has found a lead for the 'Santa Hunter' she has been looking for all this time, congratulations. But before that, there is something else that must be asked. Please continue to answer my next questions. Why did you come to this town? Your job should be something like Yamimagari Pakuaki's bodyguard, right? Where is that man? Has he arrived in town as well? What is your goal? Haven't we agreed already that your side will stop making moves on me and Fear-kun? Are you guys trying to go back on that? What exactly is going on? Answer me right now!"
In contrast to Kirika's emotional tone of voice, Un Izoey quietly narrowed her eyes and answered:
"No, answer: negative. The deal is effective. My visit is unrelated. The Lab Chief did not come. In this city, only I am here."
"...Who knows. Then why did he get rid of his bodyguard and you're the only one here? For what reason?"
A simple answer. This meant that she came to cause them trouble again? Perhaps noticing the dangerous gazes from Fear and the others, Un Izoey shook her head, her gray hair swaying from side to side.
"This order has no direct relation to you. But it cannot be said to be completely unrelated."
"What do you mean? Related or unrelated? Please explain clearly."
"That's right. By this point, please stop saying anything ambiguous. What is your purpose?"
Phew~ Un Izoey exhaled, still expressionless.
"Contents of the order: deliver this letter personally to the man named Sekaibashi Gabriel."
Haruaki frowned. That strange name belonged to the superintendent of the school where they were studying at. The eccentric with the gas mask. Haruaki's father's old friend.
"A letter—Kono-san, did you find it just now?"
"Yes. This one?"
Konoha took out an envelope from her bosom, one of the articles confiscated when they were changing Un Izoey's clothes. Un Izoey stared at the letter intently and nodded.
"Muu... What business does the Lab Chief's Nation have with that deviant? What are the contents of that letter?"
"My answer: unknown. Not told to me. Not allowed to open the envelope as well. My purpose: deliver the envelope to that man. If I must supplement, I can't say there is no other purpose at all."
"What do you mean by that?"
"My memory: the Lab Chief said: 'There is something you must find out.' About this research theme, it seems this answer can be found during completing this mission. In other words, a secondary purpose. But—after all, there is only one main purpose. Deliver the letter."
Hence—She straightened her back and gazing straight at Konoha, she said:
"My demand: I demand the letter returned."
"I'm very sorry but I cannot agree to your demand so easily... Ueno-san, what's your opinion?"
"If her main purpose really is to deliver the letter, then I hope she can finish her job as quickly as possible and disappear... But we can't risk endangering the superintendent just because of that. The same goes for that research theme which I find utterly unimportant from the bottom of my heart. Yachi, what do you think?"
"Eh? E-Even if you ask me... Well~ I'm thinking that if it's just to hand over the letter, it's not that much of a concern. Think about it, if they wanted to do something bad to the superintendent, there's no need to prepare a letter specifically, right? There's no bomb installed like last time either."
"Right. Based on touch, it really seems like it only contains paper. However, once we know the contents inside, we can decide if we should return this letter or not."
"Not allowed. The Lab Chief did not allow the envelope's opening."
"Do we have any obligation to listen to him?"
Konoha's question caused Un Izoey to narrow her eyes. In the next instant, Haruaki saw a certain dark-skinned object reaching out over the table. Not an arm but a leg. Turning the leg whose knee was originally drawn up, Un Izoey grabbed a fork from the dining table. Then just as she was sitting up—
"Now now, let's calm down. Kono-san, you should know that peeking at someone else's letter is very rude~"
Kuroe's hair extended swiftly, grabbing Un Izoey's ankle. However, she did not actually need to do this, because Un Izoey was already swaying uncontrollably before her hair touched the ankle.
"Wait... It's dangerous..."
Perhaps because she had not regained her physical strength yet, Un Izoey lost balance and fell sideways. Haruaki reflexively reached out and caught her in his arms. Phew, the weight in his arms turned out lighter than expected.
"Hey Haruaki, don't go near her so easily!"
"N-Now is not the time to be saying that, right?"
While retorting against Fear who had taken out her Rubik's cube, Haruaki looked at Un Izoey's face. Her eyelids were about to close and her eyes were blank and out of focus. Her lips moved slowly.
"Ooh... Ah... Must finish... Lab Chief's... order... My... mission..."
Directed towards no one, her soft murmurs entered Haruaki's ears as though she were talking in a dream. Precisely because of that, Haruaki understood. Right now, before his eyes, there were no lies nor pretense, just simple, earnest, determination—
(She's already this unsteady but still... She's way too serious for her own good.)
The girls must have heard her murmurs too. Fear and Konoha pouted as they watched Un Izoey. But under this mood where there were separate issues at work, in the next instant, Haruaki found himself pulled up by his collar by Fear and the girls, forcibly dragged away from Un Izoey.
Shortly after, Un Izoey blinked forcefully. She had apparently regained a clear consciousness. Waving her hair, Kuroe sat Un Izoey down in her original seat.
After a quick glance at Fear and the others who had almost entered a combat state, Kuroe asked Un Izoey:
"...Have you calmed down? Moving recklessly is not good for your body."
"If there is a need to move, then I must move..."
Un Izoey muttered softly as though forcing her voice out.
"I want to ask you, how do you plan to hand this letter over to the superintendent? Do you know where he is? I've heard that he has quite a number of homes."
"...I give a negative answer. If I go to school, meeting is possible."
"It's not like he's often in school... Especially now that it's the winter vacation."
Haruaki scratched his head. He understood clearly why Fear and the girls were so wary, but he could not help but recall the exceedingly pure and untainted sincerity he felt from her murmurs just now.
"So... Anyway, can I first say what I think? Although she belongs to the Lab Chief's Nation and caused us a lot of trouble in the past, as you can see right now, she's quite frail and powerless. If we ditch her right now, it'll weigh on our conscience. So... As a precondition, I think we can consider letting her live here for now and taking care of her."
Fear and the girls all gave off an air of surprise as though going "Not again." Sensing the mood, Haruaki continued in trepidation:
"Then if we're really concerned about what she's handing over to the superintendent... How should I phrase this? Let's help her deliver the letter to the superintendent as an easy favor, how's that? If the delivery is done in our presence, there's less of a risk. Also, if we don't help contact the superintendent, I think she'll be spending a long time trying to get a hold of him..."
"My confirm: you say you are helping?"
"That's right. Also, excuse me for saying this, but before the letter is delivered to the superintendent's hands, I hope we can hold onto it for now. If you ask why, that's because it's likely you'll run off to find the superintendent on your own if we give the letter back to you. After we contact the superintendent, we'll return the letter to you when we go meet him together."
After pondering over something for a long time, Un Izoey silently looked up.
"My judgment: if in this case, the letter can hand over to Sekaibashi Gabriel for sure—I think, this method is the only choice."
"Hmm. Umm... Is that okay, Class Rep? Although you might not be too happy about it, the way I see it, this should be able to guarantee everyone's safety and it's the best method to resolve the incident peacefully."
"Absolutely ridiculous. Argghh, absolutely ridiculous. That 'everyone' absolutely does not need to include this girl as well, does it? But whatever. That's the kind of person you are. Since those are your considerations with that precondition in mind, perhaps your method really is the best compromise..."
Closing her eyes, Kirika exhaled forcefully. Konoha also performed virtually the same action.
"The usual excessively nice guy has entered the stage again huh... I can't be responsible for how things will turn out."
"Agreed, I'm aghast too. However, there is no other way now. And from my point of view, if we evict her from our home now, it'll be troublesome—Don't get the wrong idea, it's nothing benevolent like worrying about her recovery. This girl has other uses."
"Fear, what do you mean?"
Fear swiveled the Rubik's cube she had just taken out, producing a series of clicking noises.
"Basically, the 'Santa Hunter' incident. The culprit is the Draconian who attacked her, right? Also, it's not evident that this Draconian has given up on her. It's possible that she might come to challenge her again... When that happens, isn't that a perfect chance to catch the culprit? This girl can serve as bait."
"Bait isn't really a nice word... But true, the enemy may not have given up. We need to consider that."
"This really leaves us no choice. That means we'll need to stay home all the time while taking care of her? Meanwhile, we also need to help with handing the letter over to the superintendent as well as staying on alert against attacks from the Draconian who is likely to be the 'Santa Hunter'."
Konoha turned her highly wary gaze toward Un Izoey and continued:
"Regardless, during your stay in this home, we will monitor you continuously. Although we agree to help you, please do not misunderstand. We have not lowered our guard against you."
Nodding lightly, Un Izoey's head began to sway forwards and backwards unsteadily. She was probably feeling unwell again. Trying to force herself to fight in such a condition was truly reckless beyond measure.
"H-Hey, are you okay? It's not like we can contact the superintendent instantly. Besides, you can't move around in your current state, right? Go back and sleep first. I'll bring the medicine later."
"Seriously, it'll be troublesome if you faint along the way, so let me accompany you back to the room... Kuroe-san, could you come along as well? She seems to have sweated quite a lot, so we'll need to wipe her body and help her change."
"Okay okay~ Looks like the secret exploration of a dark-skinned body is about to start again~"
Leaning against Konoha's shoulder, Un Izoey stood up with Kuroe following behind inexplicably happily. At this moment, Fear spoke towards Un Izoey's back as though she had suddenly recalled something:
"Wait. Although it's nothing important, I want to ask you a question. What is this thing in your possession?"
Saying that, she took out the metallic cube. Like the letter in Konoha's hand, this was found last night among her belongings.
Un Izoey looked as though its existence had not crossed her mind until now. Turning back for a glance, she spoke with a disinterested expression:
"My memory: perhaps it's something unintentionally taken from the Draconian last night. Cannot remember clearly what happened."
"Hmph... In that case, what's its purpose? Originally, I felt a subtle sense of closeness to it because it bears the same shape as me... But after staring at it all night, I keep feeling there's some other reason. Vaguely, I can feel that it seems to have a cursed aura. Is it a cursed tool?"
"...Probably. What object it is, this question has no clear answer. However, I seem to have heard last night's enemy say this—An object for realizing mankind's greatest wish. Concretely speaking, no doubt—"
Un Izoey half-closed her eyes as though recalling her memories.
Then she spoke quietly:
"—A cube for bringing the dead back to life."
Knees drawn up to her chest, Fear was sitting on the chilly veranda.
She was holding a cube in her hands. A cube that shared the same shape as her yet seemingly possessed completely different properties. Holding it up before her eyes, she could also see the storeroom in the garden.
Fear recalled her memories of Tateoka Aiko. A fellow member of their kind, shy and timid, burdened by similar crimes, she was a girl who likewise hoped to lift her curse. Due to choosing amnesia as the means to reach salvation, she had joined the Family, but in the end—
Fear clutched the cube tightly. At this moment, she heard footsteps behind her.
"Fear, aren't you cold?"
"...No. Have you called Zenon's side?"
She asked directly without turning her head. Haruaki proceeded to sit on the veranda.
"Yeah, I made the phone call. Same old. The superintendent can't be located, but at least I've reported the situation to Zenon-san. She says she can visit us later."
"Really? What about things at the cake shop?"
They had agreed to work there not only for yesterday but also the three days before Christmas. In fact, they were originally scheduled to work this afternoon, but Un Izoey could not be left unattended at home. That said, a total cancel at the last minute would be too unreasonable, hence—
"I've made a phone call to apologize already. When I asked the shopkeeper if it's okay for Kuroe to substitute for us, he immediately replied 'That's great too!' As expected of the shopping street's idol."
"Hmm, it feels like we're pushing everything on Kuroe, that makes me feel bad. But thank goodness that's handled. So, what about tomorrow...? If only everything could be resolved today."
Fear nodded lightly and murmured. She could feel Haruaki casting his gaze towards the cube in her hand. After a pause as though hesitating—
"Hey... Do you think it's true?"
"Who knows. A claim made by a Draconian and passed along by a member of the Lab Chief's Nation? It's a completely untrustworthy game of telephone. Even if it's true, we don't know how to use it. Besides—"
"I said I felt a cursed presence from it, right? If it's a cursed tool, then using it will definitely cause something bad! I don't want to use a cursed tool to do anything at all!"
"Well... That's true."
Fear deliberately suppressed her emotional tone of voice and whispered:
"Besides... This thing has nothing to do with me. Absolutely nothing. Because Aiko... She's not dead."
That's true too—Haruaki murmured again.
The concept of "life" for them was an unknown even to themselves. Do broken objects have awareness? As an object, do their auto-repair functions still operate? Even if their proper forms were regenerated, will they recover consciousness again? Will they obtain human form again? —Even Fear herself did not know the current state of things. However, precisely because of that, precisely because it was unknown—Hence, Aiko was not dead.
"...Able to realize mankind's greatest wish huh...?"
Staring at the cube, Fear suddenly chuckled wryly. Feeling Haruaki's intrigued gaze, she explained:
"Jeez, the situation has become incomprehensible. This is my first time experiencing Christmas which only comes around once a year. I was thinking of working hard to the max and enjoy myself to the max... But nothing ever goes smoothly. I was thinking I finally found Santa, but I ended up finding some other trouble. In the end, we even have to help take care of an enemy who may or may not be an enemy. Neither have we caught the 'Santa Hunter.' Not only that... I even noticed accidentally."
Fear leaned back and lay down on the veranda. She could see the sky overhead, clear and blue yet chilly, completely unlike yesterday.
"Just as I explained to Un Izoey, Christmas is a day of miracles when Santa Claus fulfills people's wishes in the form of presents, right? But even Santa cannot fulfill my greatest wish. Simply hoping for that kind of present is already a waste of effort."
"Also... I accidentally discovered that I have two greatest wishes. Greedy as I am, perhaps Santa Claus was never going to come in the first place..."
"...Of course not."
Haruaki denied curtly and pressed his fingers lightly against Fear's head, spinning it.
Since he did not ask, Fear concluded that Haruaki already knew what her wishes were.
She had a wish. A wish that she had hoped for since centuries ago. Namely, to lift her curse and atone for the past.
Another wish was born merely months earlier—She wished to see that girl again, a certain fellow cursed tool.
Fear really wanted to see her again.
Belonging to the cube that had murdered countless people to this date, her fingers stroked the surface of the cube that was allegedly capable of bringing the dead back to life. Nevertheless, she still had absolutely no idea how to use it.
"In the end, this is a cursed tool that I don't know how to use, don't want to use, or need to use. It is completely irrelevant to me and I'm totally uninterested. So right now, I will start with things that I can do. In other words, I'll take care of that country girl until she recovers and assist her in delivering the letter to the superintendent."
"Hmm, you're completely right. No amount of thinking will help when faced with a tool of unknown origin... So, let me brew some tea to bring over."
It felt like Haruaki was deliberately stretching and speaking in a lively tone of voice. Fear remained lying on the veranda and waved her hand as if dismissing him.
"Hurry hurry. I demand hot~ tea, together with rice crackers of course! Since Kirika is here, the quantity must be higher than usual too!"
Yes yes—As Haruaki left with a wry smile, Fear cast her gaze back to the cube again. She really did not feel like she needed this thing. Cursed tools always caused tragedies and misfortune, hence she was not going to use it. Tateoka Aiko was only in deep slumber, not dead, so there was no need to use it. Simply that.
However, in that case—
Why was she still clutching this cube so tightly even now? Why did she not destroy or discard it?
She should have done that. This once belonged to an enemy but was completely unnecessary to her own side. Its mere existence was ominous. Even if she destroyed or discarded it, no one would complain. Nevertheless, why—
"...Isn't it obvious? It's because this is a clue to the enemy. The enemy could very well come in an attempt to take it back. Like the country girl, this is bait for drawing out the enemy..."
Fear murmured to herself as she carelessly stuffed the cube into her pocket. Actually, there was no need to say this out loud, right? ...She realized after half a beat later. She knew that there was not a soul nearby.
Indeed, this was almost as though—
Almost as though she were trying to convince herself, wasn't it?
While they took turns in watching over Un Izoey, time was ticking away by the second. After several hours passed since noon, Haruaki's cellphone rang—Not long after Kuroe had just set off from home to work part-time in their stead.
After the phone conversation, Haruaki nodded and walked to the guest room. Under the watchful gazes of Konoha, who was reading a book in boredom, and Kirika, Haruaki knelt down by the pillow side and examined Un Izoey's face.
"Ah~ ...How are you feeling."
"My answer: I give an answer of much better. I'm already fine."
"There is nothing more unreliable than a patient's claim of 'I'm fine'... Whatever. There will be a visitor later, are you able to get up for a while?"
"You want to hand the letter to the superintendent, right?"
In response to Haruaki's question, her eyes blinked repeatedly without any emotional fluctuation. Then she breathed out.
A smile appeared on the corners of her lips. She really felt relieved at the prospects of completing the mission that Yamimagari Pakuaki had assigned to her. That was the message her face appeared to convey. It was an extremely natural expression that seemed to reinforce the sincerity expressed by her murmurs this morning.
At this moment, Un Izoey began to produce a rustling noise as she tried to get out of the futon. Haruaki frantically stopped her.
"Hold on, it'll take a while first, so it's okay for you to continue lying down. I'll let you know when the visitor arrives."
"My sleep: cannot sleep because I want to sleep too much..."
"Honestly, your words completely baffle me, but I think I get what you mean."
"My wish: occupy some time briefly. Can I ask you some questions?"
If it's something that I know—Haruaki answered.
"—What kind of person is Sekaibashi Gabriel?"
"That's quite a difficult question to answer. Summed up in a single word... He's an eccentric, I guess. Also, he's always wearing a gas mask and he keeps flying all over the world."
"Why? I question."
Even if you ask me, I don't know. Haruaki tried to seek assistance from Konoha and Kirika by gesturing with his eyes.
"Hmph... Same old deal here. You're filled with desire for the 'unknown'? Absolutely ridiculous."
"Regarding the gas mask's explanation, the superintendent himself has changed his tune on multiple occasions... The same goes for his reasons for traveling abroad. Although he says it's work, every time I ask him, he ends up giving all sorts of answers like purchasing timber or buying real estate. I really have no idea what his main occupation is."
"Maybe he operates what's known as diversified businesses? Since he's seldom at school, running the school probably isn't his main occupation, right? Apart from that... His hobby is collecting things that feel like cursed tools. Stated bluntly, he collects fake cursed tools."
"What is meant by collecting fake cursed tools?"
"Because he lacks a discerning eye for these things, none of what he collected are cursed tools."
"It would be too dangerous if he actually finds authentic cursed tools. I can't really approve of it. Although I've reminded him frequently already..."
"A rich man's entertainment generally meshes well with the sense of excitement. On the other hand, I would consider a hobby of collecting abstract paintings of indiscernible meaning much more tasteful. How absolutely ridiculous."
Konoha and Kirika must be quite bored too and offered their comments as appropriate. Perhaps as a way to express their determination in refusing to lower their guard towards Un Izoey, it felt like they were mainly speaking to Haruaki.
Un Izoey's expression was quite lost but she nodded with great interest as she listened to their conversation. Then she stopped her movements as though she had a sudden realization. Just as Haruaki tilted his head in puzzlement—
"My request: I hope to borrow notebook and pencil. If possible, a string as well."
"Eh? Sure, that's no problem... Is a mechanical pencil okay?"
"Just my wish. If possible, pencil is better. The lead doesn't break."
Haruaki walked over to the living room, found a worn pencil and a small notebook in a cupboard and returned to the guest room. Un Izoey ended up weaving the string through the notebook's metallic coil binding and hanging it around her neck like a necklace. Seeing as this look resembled a certain someone, naturally, Kirika frowned with annoyance.
Holding the pencil in a fist like a kindergarten child, Un Izoey wrote down certain words forcefully in the notebook. Haruaki tried peeking a few times, only to see wobbly words written with excessive force: "gas mask," "abroad," "fake cursed tools"... Where had he seen this type of writing before? On further thought, Haruaki figured it out. This handwriting resembled the kind used by kidnappers for ransom notes or eccentric thieves for announcing their crimes beforehand. The extremely atrocious handwriting resulted in a bizarre script. Clearly, she was still learning how to write in addition to speaking Japanese.
"Uh... What is that?"
"My guess: is it this? What the Lab Chief means by something I must find out."
Speaking of which, she did mention that earlier. Apart from her letter delivering mission, Pakuaki had also given her the research theme of 'There is something you must find out.'
"Just from hearing this information, Sekaibashi Gabriel still has many unknowns. Considering the orders are related to this man, I predict that this prediction is very likely to be true."
Despite the blank and expressionless look on her face, Un Izoey murmured incomprehensibly then stared intently at Haruaki.
"Your pleading kind of gaze is making me awkward... But this is all we know about him."
"How absolutely ridiculous. There's completely no need for him to ask you to investigate this kind of information. There must be loads of people in the other labs who are suited to this kind of work and skilled in espionage operations."
"No necessarily. The Lab Chief's profound intents are very profound."
"No matter what you want to investigate, so long as you do not harm those people, do whatever you want. But conversely—If you dare try to harm them, we will stop you with everything we've got."
"My denial: completely no intention of doing that. If I intend to harm, I fear the recipient might not agree to receive the letter."
"I hope so."
Just as Konoha narrowed her eyes and spoke, the doorbell happened to ring.
Un Izoey instantly lifted the blanket and got up to her feet. The time to finish her mission had finally arrived—That was the determination conveyed by her gaze. However, she had apparently undressed under the blanket, leaving nothing on her lower body except a pair of panties.
This meant that one troublesome matter could draw to an end—That was what Haruaki originally thought.
But Un Izoey's statement completely surprised everyone.
"I cannot hand it over."
Faced with Haruaki's exclamation of surprise, she remained unmoved. Leaning against the living room table where she was seated, she stared at the two people on the opposite end—namely, the superintendent's secretary, Houjyou Zenon, accompanied by the school physician, Houjyou Ganon, for some reason. Zenon had been working on official matters at school and happened to pass by the Yachi residence on her way home. Apparently, Ganon was also at school and came along.
"Hmm... What is going on? I heard that there was a letter for the superintendent?"
The beautiful secretary asked in her usual calm tone of voice.
"I insist on my insistence that I cannot hand it to a proxy."
On the other hand, Un Izoey simply answered with simple and easily understood explanation.
"My memory: the Lab Chief said I must hand it to Sekaibashi Gabriel personally."
"But... I have already told Yachi-sama that the superintendent currently cannot be contacted, even by us. He should be working overseas currently, so we can only await his return... I think leaving the letter in our safekeeping for now is the most practical solution."
"Understood, but denied."
Crap. Haruaki originally thought that anything involving the superintendent could be easily resolved by asking Zenon for assistance but forgot to consider whether this method was acceptable for Un Izoey.
"Zenon-san, do you know when the superintendent will be back?"
"My utmost apologies, I do not know of any set date."
"Nyahaha, this is usually how he acts~ Then all you can do is wait patiently for his return. However, I don't think it's possible that he'll return before the year end."
Contrasting sharply with Zenon who was sitting formally in seiza, Ganon was sitting lazily with her legs outstretched. In her usual, relaxed attitude, she said: "By the way, the feeling of tatami is really great~ I keep wanting to sleep... Going to work on holidays is really so tiring~" Then she collapsed on the floor comfortably on her own. Every time he saw them together, Haruaki could not help but wonder, why were this pair of sisters so unlike?
"...You absolutely must hand it to him personally no matter what?"
"My answer: I absolutely must hand it over to him personally no matter what. By the way, what does 'absolutely' mean?"
Haruaki exhaled with a sigh.
"Then it can't be helped. You can try waiting a few more days. If he's back during this time, that's obviously the best, but if he's not, we'll have to make a decision then."
"Haruaki-kun, here you go again... Because you said the letter will be delivered, I already gave it back to her."
"Muu, maybe I'm worrying too much but this means we've lost one thing that we can hold hostage."
"My declaration: I will not attack them. Repeat again, I repeat that I have not received orders of that kind."
"Hmph... Who knows. How absolutely ridiculous."
Watching Un Izoey hug the letter tightly as she spoke, Kirika's attitude remained unchanged. Eyeing their reactions doubtfully, Zenon nodded lightly.
"In any case, I am sorry for failing to provide actual help. If you insist on waiting for the superintendent's return, we are unable to make any comments on this decision... Then once we learn of his return date, we shall immediately inform you. When the time comes, contacting Yachi-sama is fine, I presume?"
"A cellphone... You probably don't have one, right?"
Haruaki looked towards Un Izoey. Just as expected, she shook her head from side to side.
"Well then, sorry for your trouble, Zenon-san. Anyway, it's decided, thank you for your help."
"I originally thought I'd only have to put up with this until her injuries healed, but now I feel as though the duration this person needs to be protected has inexplicably lengthened... So in the end, our days of labor and worrying will persist until the superintendent's return?"
"I-I don't think we need to worry that much... But Konoha, I'm sorry for troubling you every single time."
"No, it's not so serious that you need to apologize to me. Besides, I'm very happy to be troubled by you..."
"I guess the same goes for Class Rep. You're feeling worried or troubled, right? From your standpoint, Class Rep, getting rid of her as quickly as possible should be what you wish, right? ...Sorry."
"No, I'm the one causing you trouble instead, umm... Suddenly arriving uninvited and even imposing myself on your hospitality."
"Don't sweat that kind of small stuff. Anyway, school is on holiday right now, so feel free to live here however long as you want."
"R-Really? But even if you say it's fine for me to live here however long I want, I still find it troubling..."
Kirika turned her gaze away and murmured awkwardly and inexplicably. Haruaki looked up at the living room clock.
"Well then, since it happens to be three, let's have afternoon snack time. Since I'm sorry that Zenon-san and Ganon-san had to come all this way deliberately... Please stay here for tea before leaving."
"Well then—We shall not refuse your hospitality. Also, Onee-sama, you need to mind your manners."
"Don't worry~ Having entered someone's home already, with tea offered to us already, this is basically that... Like a family visit. Since the school physician isn't in charge of those, this is quite a new experience. This could very well be the most teacher-like I've ever felt since starting this job~"
With Ganon lying flat on the tatami lazily, her words sounded completely unconvincing. Rather, no matter how one interpreted it, Ganon sounded like she were confessing that her "usual work was even less teacher-like than when teachers went on family visits."
Yes, she's Ganon-san after all—Convincing himself with minimal effort, Haruaki went to the kitchen. After he started preparing tea and snacks, footsteps of two people sounded behind him.
"Eh, what's up?"
"Perhaps an occupational habit, I cannot allow myself to stay inactive whenever I see tea being brewed. Please allow me to assist."
Guests should sit and wait—As much as Haruaki wanted to say that, he could understand that uncomfortable feeling. If this could actually help her relax instead, he did not want to coerce her.
"Then... Thank you for your troubles. But then, even Ganon-san is also...?"
"No no no, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I am very unskilled in these trivial but tiresome tasks. I'm simply very bored so I'd like to ask if I may explore your house a bit? May I?"
"Sure... But there's nothing interesting to look at. Oh, if you do happen to see anything weird, please try not to touch them. Or rather, I should say please avoid as much as possible those room with weird objects inside."
"Yes yes yes~ Understood. I just find stuff like tatami and sliding doors very nostalgic. Ahhh, how I really feel like spending a day doing nothing, just wandering in a house like this~"
Ganon swayed as she walked out of the kitchen. Haruaki and Zenon resumed preparing the tea and snacks. In any case, rice crackers had to be prepared for sure, but having just a single type of snack seemed too bland. Hence, Zenon decided to make pancakes that she had not made for a long time already. Haruaki handed an apron over to her and shared the task.
Beside him, wearing an apron, Zenon was quietly at work with a calm expression. The sight of this appearance of hers felt rather new to Haruaki. Somehow, he felt his heart rate increasing. After all, he seldom had opportunities to do this kind of work together with an older woman.
These quiet times did not last long. Feeling someone's gaze behind him, Haruaki looked back.
"Woah! Un Izoey, what's the matter...?"
"My intention: I offer my wish to help."
She peered at Zenon as she spoke. Although Haruaki did not think a person like her would be suitable for this kind of housework... Why would she suddenly make this sort of offer? Haruaki wondered as he took a more careful look, only to find her holding a pencil against the notebook hanging round her neck in preparation.
"Is it... Because of your guess that the superintendent is what you're supposed to find out about? Hmm, compared to us, I guess Zenon-san or Ganon-san might know more details. But trying to dig the truth out of guests, that's a bit too..."
"My question: I calmly ask what you're talking about. Unable to comprehend your incomprehensible comment. Because there is no need to mind, I will help by helping."
Only now did Haruaki notice, but Konoha was also standing behind her.
"This person needs to be monitored closely at all times. Besides, I was thinking of helping you in the first place. May I?"
"I don't think I really need that many people here... Oh well, whatever."
"Hold it right there~! Speaking of helping out, count me in as well! Having honed my skills day in and day out nonstop, I must prove that I'm more useful than this country girl who just arrived in the city! I won't lose!"
Next, Fear also showed up in the kitchen, motivated by a strange spirit of competition. Then immediately—
"Yachi, I won't miss out on this excellent chance to steal your cooking secrets. I will also help."
"Even you too, Class Rep? Clearly, this place is overcrowded now!"
But for some reason, no one paid Haruaki any attention. The simple pancake making task instantly turned into chaos.
"My request: teach me what I should do."
"Well... Could you help wash the dishes that we'll need to use next? Those ones over in the cupboard there."
"Eh, don't hold them with your foot when washing them!"
Currently, Un Izoey had her pants casually tied around her waist. With her foot stretched out on the kitchen counter, moving about while holding a dish, it really was quite dangerous.
"My judgment: feet are not dirty. Also, dishes end up washed by water anyway, therefore no problem."
"I'm not stopping you because it's dirty. Say, you're doing it this way because you're using the notebook...?"
"I ask what are you talking about. Next, the subject of conversation will be casual chatting during housework, no special meaning—By the way, please tell me Sekaibashi Gabriel's age."
"How is that casual chatting at all? You're being way too direct!"
The chaos was not showing any signs of subsiding. In order to compete, Fear started using her foot to wash the dishes and Haruaki frantically stopped her. While he was frequently glancing at Un Izoey's actions in concern, Konoha went "Oh~ those legs are really exposed for all to see. You haven't forgotten the earlier lesson, have you...?" and her hands started to take action—Under such chaotic conditions, making sufficient pancakes for everyone was truly quite a miracle.
"So this is pancake... My comment: the perfect circle shape is truly impressive. It must be very tasty."
"...How is that related to circles?"
"Circular things are tasty things. I have never seen anything circular but not tasty."
Haruaki felt too tired to offer a dose of cynicism. Sighing as he returned to the empty living room, he suddenly felt that something was not right. Speaking of which, he had forgotten about Ganon.
"Is she still taking a walk...? I'll go find her."
Haruaki made a tour of the house but failed to locate Ganon. Where on earth had she gone? Just as he puzzled with his head tilted, he heard an inexplicable sound from his own room. After checking inside—
"Muu... No good~ I can't eat anymore..."
Haruaki found Ganon sleeping in his own futon, presumably tired from her walk, muttering cliched dream talk. Feeling a sudden sense of exhaustion, Haruaki slumped his shoulders dejectedly, thinking to himself: If only my personality allowed me to do as I please like her without caring what anyone thinks, how nice that'd be.
After Zenon and Ganon left, night descended. Inheriting the clear sky from the daytime, the night displayed the moon and the stars in full splendor without a cloud in the sky. Although everyone had eaten dinner and taken a bath already, it was too early to go to bed. During this time of excess leisure, all they could do was wait for this unproductive day to reach a conclusion.
Sitting on the veranda, Kirika was spacing out in deep thought. Her wish was easily summed up by the words "hoping that Un Izoey could leave as soon as possible." However, the situation remained unchanged. Things were still okay before Un Izoey regained consciousness, but the letter delivery issue had caused Zenon and Ganon to make a fruitless trip all because of her obstinacy. How absolutely ridiculous.
(The superintendent will be back eventually. Perhaps time will solve everything...)
However, there was another wish occupying Fear's heart—settling the 'Santa Hunter' matter. The day had passed without any progress. Kirika could empathize with her wish to do things beneficial to humans and to welcome a most wonderful Christmas. As for assisting Fear, Kirika had no objections to that.
Kirika had a feeling that this was not all. Perhaps there was something that Fear was deliberately trying to stop from showing—Another wish. Recalling that "cube," Kirika shifted her gaze.
Fear and Haruaki were currently inside the storeroom in the garden. The two of them were talking about something while using a towel to wipe a pot that they held like a cherished treasure... Just as Kirika thought to herself—
"Shameless brat, to think you'd stuff your little finger into the crack and thrust in and out, what intentions are you harboring!?"
"I'm just trying to clean out the dust that has accumulated inside!"
Another noisy argument started.
Kirika relaxed her expression. She knew about what had happened and also what they believed. Precisely because they believed, they were not going to dwell upon the matter of the "cube," right? Just at this moment...
"Seriously, those two are just so exasperating..."
Sitting by the veranda, Konoha was likewise watching the scene with a wry expression. However, extremely complicated emotions could be seen in her gaze towards the pot. Sitting on her far side was the dark-skinned girl who was staring out at the starry sky with her usual, blank eyes whose emotional fluctuations were impossible to read.
"My request: I wish to take a walk in the garden."
"As long as you don't do anything weird, be my guest."
Barefooted, Un Izoey walked to the center of the spacious garden. Looking up at the moon, she spread her arms and halted in her steps as though trying to block the cold wind.
Feeling a sudden impulse in her heart, then after an instant's hesitation, Kirika borrowed a pair of sandals from beneath the veranda and walked over to Un Izoey.
"...A clean and pure presence. Earth's energy and air's energy. A comfortable, wonderful place."
Perhaps sensing the person behind her, Un Izoey explained with a light murmur. Was this somehow related to the fact that these grounds facilitated the lifting of curses? Although this idea appeared in Kirika's mind, that was not what she really wanted to ask about.
"You—Why did you join that organization?"
Un Izoey answered without turning her head:
"My memory: that great man came to our tribe. After certain negotiations, the tribe chief promised to give the Lab Chief the staff passed down generations of the tribe. That staff was sealed in a cave in a dangerous jungle. I was given the mission to lead and protect that man until reaching the cave."
"On the way, that man told me many things. For me who lived only as a warrior and had no doubts about dying as a warrior. Why the sky is blue. How clouds are made. Stories about stars and moon. The lives of people never heard before, in places never seen before. Only then did I know. I know that I know nothing else. Once I know this fact—the world is not the same world as before. I cannot suppress my desire—I recall these recollections."
"That's why you decided to follow that man henceforth? Absolutely ridiculous—Why haven't you realized it!? That man, that organization's abnormality. They are all mad. For the sake of knowing something, they can go as far as to commit murder! Murdering just for the desire to know! That's the kind of place it is!"
Kirika could not help but get worked up. Konoha must have heard her. Perhaps even the two in the storeroom heard her as well. But she did not care.
"Just for living, we sometimes take each other's food, kill other tribe's people. Is this any different? I ask this kind of question."
"Completely different! How absolutely ridiculous!"
"No. I changed after meeting that great man. Realized the surrounding world is full of 'unknowns' and the correct answers existing in it. Very horrifying thing. For me who always thought 'nothing more than this' when looking at the world, death was nothing compared to this horror. Not knowing is unbearable, impossible to survive. 'Knowing' is a kind of food for me now, the buffalo I discovered in the gap between two tribes."
"So for the sake of obtaining knowledge, you don't even care if you harm others!?"
"Of course, what can be avoided should be avoided. However, if what's needed for survival cannot be obtained otherwise—only death awaits. Only this type of people are gathered."
"Impossible to understand. Indeed, impossible to understand! Is knowing really that important!?"
Kirika heard Un Izoey exhale audibly—then turned around. Her gray hair shook lightly while her eyes flashed slightly in the moonlight without any emotional fluctuation.
Then she acted as though trying to prove her claim that "'knowing' was equivalent to sustenance."
To the new "unknown" that was born in this instant, she simply sought an answer in earnest.
"Knowing is very important and very wonderful. My question... In this world, does anything exist which does not need to be known?"
Irreconcilable viewpoints—Kirika thought. This girl was probably not a villain. Nevertheless—they were still irreconcilable.
Kirika tightened her fist and turned around.
"Whatever—But don't you forget this. You are our enemy. Don't get me involved and don't approach me. If your side intends to cause trouble to me or the others, prepare yourselves well. No matter how many times it takes, I will curse you. Just like last time, I will make your hands taste the sensation of death, to the point of making you go insane!"
What childish threats. Even Kirika thought so herself. These words were completely meaningless.
However, in the instant just before she left—
Un Izoey's shoulder suddenly trembled.
An exceptionally fragile expression was seen on Un Izoey's face as she bowed her head like a frightened child.
Late night. Originally eyes closed with her back against the wall, Konoha moved her eyelids.
Inside the dark guest room, Konoha was the only one on surveillance duty. Kuroe and Fear were up next as a team, but it was not their time yet. In light of the blanket incident the previous night and considering the need for surveillance rather than medical attention, having Haruaki and the others sleeping here would only increase the risk. Hence, Konoha had bade Haruaki and Kirika rest in other rooms.
Inside this room devoid of light, Konoha watched as the originally sleeping Un Izoey suddenly sat up.
"My question: does this house have pet paruki?"
"I don't understand that word at all, but I know you're trying to say 'cat.' For a human, your senses are quite sharp."
An instant after murmuring an answer, Konoha jumped up. At the same time, she chopped overhead with her hand.
"Stop sneaking around... Down you come!"
She sliced a ceiling board open, causing a black-clad figure who had been sitting upright on the ceiling to fall down. Realizing the situation instantly, the figure maintained balance and used a knees-bent posture to absorb the impact of the fall. Truly superb martial arts.
"Who are you? Name yourself. While you're at it, take off that strange mask."
More correctly, what obscured the figure's head was not a mask but an industrial welding helmet. Too bizarre.
The mysterious intruder did not answer, instead closing in without warning—In that instant, this person's threat level jumped from intruder to attacker. However, the one being attacked was not Konoha but Un Izoey who had just lifted her blanket and stood up. Despite Konoha's many reminders, she was still wearing nothing but panties on her lower body.
The attacker made a beeline for her. Un Izoey narrowed her eyes and lifted her dark-skinned leg, but just as she was preparing to perform a spinning kick—Her body suddenly lost balance. Not because the attacker did something but due to her body tottering uncontrollably again.
(Ahhh, seriously, what the heck is she doing... Does she still have a fever!?)
As though her subsequent intended motions were somehow lost, Un Izoey was tackled by the attacker and pinned to the floor embarrassingly—It could not be helped.
Konoha instantly stepped forward and aimed a karate chop towards the back of the attacker's head, intending to at least break that ludicrous welding helmet to see the person's face. Nevertheless, the attacker realized her intentions and swiftly drew a dagger from a pocket to block Konoha's chopping hand. Indeed, the enemy had intentionally used a dagger to block a barehanded chop. Furthermore, the attacker's target was Un Izoey. There was only one conclusion.
"You're from the Draconians...?"
As though using the momentum from Konoha's chop, the attacker performed a back flip. Crashing into and breaking the sliding door, the attacker swiftly unhatched a window and escaped into the garden. At this moment—
"Are you okay, Konoha-kun!?"
"An enemy!? Although I'm already used to it, but how dare this person sneak into this home? Such audacity. Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»—Curse Calling!"
"Hmm~ ...This was a rare chance to share a bed with Ficchi~ How dare you interrupt our brief respite? Unforgivable."
Discovering the commotion, everyone got up and came running. First of all, Fear rushed outside as soon as she saw the figure in the strange welding helmet, swinging using the back of the axe.
Little did she expect the attacker to parry lightly with a dagger then stumble a few steps. Fear tried again with a horizontal swing, but the result was the same.
The attacker's entire body was swaying with unsteady footsteps. Rather than that gripping the dagger, the fingers seem to be holding it weakly by the fingertips. Even the arm wielding the dagger was dangling sloppily by the side of the body.
"Hmm~ This really resembles the drunken fist."
"Yeah... Instead of competing in power, greater emphasis is placed on countering the opponent's moves—a so-called gentle style of the sword?"
Konoha replied to Kuroe as she followed Fear into the garden where she began to frown.
Because Fear had stopped moving.
However, she seemed to be staring intently at the attacker with inquiring eyes.
Such audacity—Fear thought. To dare sneak into this home, how utterly foolish. I must defeat the enemy completely. Nothing needs to be said.
"Hmph, unlike what I've heard, you're not red at all this time. But lemme still ask you... What is your goal? Are you trying to defeat that country girl to become strong? Or is it—"
Strange. Despite clearly telling herself in her mind to defeat the enemy directly without explanation, why were her lips moving on their own? Why did her arms and legs pause?
"Or perhaps... Your goal is this 'cube'?"
Acting on its own accord, her hand took out the solid cube from her pocket. Now was not the time to be talking about this. While thinking that to herself, another part of her was saying: this is trivial. Indeed, asking a few questions won't hurt. She's just trying to confirm the enemy's goal. Of course.
After Fear presented the cube in her outstretched hand, the silent attacker's shoulder suddenly shook.
Fear thought: Just as expected. Of course—The enemy knows.
The instant these thoughts crossed her mind, Fear began to speak as though under a spell:
"...I knew it, this belongs to you? Although I don't particularly wanna know, please tell me—What is this thing? How is it used? What needs to be done—to resurrect someone!"
She asked the question. Fear was shocked by her own behavior.
This did not need asking. Because she neither wanted nor needed to use this tool. Hence, there was absolutely no need to inquire about its method of usage. But why did she ask?
Thump. Her heart began to hurt.
Filled with indeterminate unease, Fear looked up in trepidation.
Ahhh, could it be that... She had simply failed to notice herself, she was simply mistaken.
In actual fact, she did not completely believe that Aiko was still alive?
(That kind of thing... impossible...!)
Fear felt confused by her emotions, troubled by the thoughts that she could not admit.
The attacker did not answer. Currently, even Fear herself did not know if she wanted to know the answer or not.
Then—Several seconds later, the enemy took action. Neither answering, nor attacking without answering, a third choice was picked.
The attacker simply—
Turned and ran away.
Of course, Konoha heard what Fear had said. How contradictory—She thought. If she did not want to know, there was no need to ask in the first place. However, she could understand why Fear would give voice to that contradiction.
Even though she believed that Aiko was not dead, even if she believed from the bottom of her heart, what if the truth turned out to be the contrary? —This worry had always existed in her heart. No matter how much she suppressed it, no matter how hard she tried to avoid thinking about it, she definitely struggled in the depths of her heart—A curse akin to thorns.
But unlike Fear, Konoha's level of self-awareness regarding those worries was different, hence the current result. Seeing Fear surprised by her own words, Konoha thought to herself. The difference lay in whether Fear had limited self-awareness or if she subconsciously suppressed it all along. Somewhere in her heart, she had always harbored this notion—If Fear only realized it now, her extreme shock was only natural.
But now was not the time to be pondering such matters. Due to her surprise towards Fear's sudden behavior, Konoha halted all movement for an instant. Using this opportunity, the attacker had already retreated to the boundary wall without saying a word.
"S-She's getting away! What are we gonna do?"
"We won't make any progress if she gets away now. Catch her for interrogation—the «Tragic Black River»!"
"Yes, that's right...! If we want to ask her questions, that can wait until we've caught her! Allow me to draw her attention while you use that capturing move, Kuroe-san—
Just as the girls stepped forward again—
"...! Mode: «Cushioning Munemori»!"
Kuroe's hair shot out to block projectile weapons rather than to capture the enemy. Instantly extended, the sleek hair covered Haruaki and Kirika like a waterfall while Konoha halted in her steps. Several throwing knives flew in from the darkness, striking the position where she was about to step into.
Perhaps due to excellent presence concealment, Konoha was unable to instantly pinpoint the location of the person who had thrown the knives. Due to this impedance, everything was too late. The enemy in the welding helmet had already jumped over the wall. Attempting to stop her, Fear was also attacked by the throwing knives, providing the enemy with the chance to disappear into the darkness effortlessly. As much as they wanted to give chase, the critical problem was not knowing where the new enemy was located. They had to take precautions in case Haruaki was ambushed in an unguarded moment. For the next while, they all searched the surroundings for presences carefully.
"...Looks like they're gone. How troubling. They escaped?"
Konoha sighed and relaxed the tension in her shoulders. Fear still gripped the "cube" tightly while gazing at the top of the wall where the enemy had disappeared. Her eyes were wavering with a myriad of emotions. Even Konoha could not discern what feelings were currently contained in there. Was she disturbed by her own behavior, regretting the lack of answers, or simply still ill at ease—
"Muu—N-No, actually I... Really... Don't care about this cube at all. It's just a spontaneous question, because it feels so uncomfortable not knowing the other side's goal. Hmph, that's all there is to it!"
Hearing Haruaki call out to her, Fear turned her face away as though trying to hide something with displeasure. Virtually everyone present already understood what she was trying to hide—But no one spoke.
Fear swung the axe, but this time, her displeasure was not meant to hide something. She continued talking:
"However, the enemy's movements are really annoying! Soft and squishy all over, I can't believe how hard to handle it was. Had I known, I should have switched to a different torture tool earlier—Uumu, but that might gave given her an opening to escape. Arghh, damn it, it was clearly a perfect chance to catch the 'Santa Hunter'!"
However, Un Izoey spoke up in her expressionless face as usual:
"I say and repeat again: wrong. That is not the person attacking me last time."
She started blankly at Haruaki's group as they reacted in surprise.
She even cocked her head and asked them:
"Then who were they?"
...That's what we'd like to ask you too.
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