Chapter 3 - Him and the Children, the Numbers Problem / "Kokoro the Red-Weared hunter"
The next morning, Kirika entered the washroom to wash her face. Due to the commotion during the night, she was lacking in sleep to some extent, but since this was his home, she definitely could not allow him to see any sleepy looks from her. To be honest, she was still quite unsettled about sleeping in the same room as him the night before yesterday. Hopefully, she had not said anything weird in her dreams.
Checking out the clean washroom, she thought to herself again: This is his home. Thinking that this situation was a very precious experience, she carelessly turned her gaze around, finally stopping at the sink. Toothpaste and other toiletries were arranged neatly in front of the mirror. Standing there were a total of four toothbrushes.
(Fear-kun's, Konoha-kun's, Kuroe-kun's—and his.)
Every time she came across traces of his daily life, Kirika could not help but feel her heart jump. A jump of joy.
At this moment, Kirika noticed the towel rack on the wall. Along this long bar of stainless steel, a number of bath towels were hung. On the surface of the wall above each towel, there was a sticker with a name on it.
The instant she saw his name on one of the stickers, she felt an illusion as though her blood's temperature were rising rapidly.
Click—She could feel a certain switch activate inside her body.
By the time she regained her senses, Kirika was already crouching in front of that sticker.
(Wait a sec, hold it right there.)
The last vestiges of rationality whispered in her mind. What on earth was she trying to do?
(Absolutely ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. How absolutely ridiculous—)
But... but... indeed.
It was not like someone was watching.
It was not like it would cause anyone trouble.
Just once, if only just once—
Kirika reached out in hesitation, her fingertips touching the fluffy fabric of the towel. The towel remained hanging on the rack. Slowly, she pulled it while bringing her face towards it at the same time.
She had already admitted to the feelings in her heart. Kirika no longer intended to deceive herself. However, she knew it would be extremely difficult. No, more correctly, this was virtually impossible. There was absolutely no way. Very likely, even the act of wishing itself was a futile endeavor in overestimating oneself. This was decided a long time ago. To be honest, it felt like her mind would go weird if she pondered the issue any deeper.
Precisely because of that, she needed a mental stabilizer once in a while. This current act was precisely a stabilizer. No big deal. Absolutely, she had no intention of doing anything perverted like sniffing.
She simply pressed her cheek against it. Indeed, pressing with her cheek, she allowed her skin to feel that soft texture.
Only wanting to experience a feeling akin to skin contact with him—
That was all, hence—
"Good morning, Class Rep. What's with you?"
Intending to wash his face, Haruaki had gone to the washroom and found someone inside already. For some reason, Kirika was clutching a towel that was hanging on the wall, staring intently at it. After he called to her, she cried out in surprise and turned around at the same time. With speed fast enough to leave afterimages behind, she let go of the towel and jumped aside, pressing herself against the wall with her face all red. Haruaki had no intention of startling her.
"Y-Yachi, this... umm..."
"That's the towel I normally use... Oh right, I must have forgotten to mention. The towels for guests are kept in this cupboard."
"N-No. I brought my own towel. I was just about to wash my face. Aside from that, I was not doing anything. Truly, absolutely without a doubt. Uh... Just now, that, right... I-It's the texture. Indeed! This towel looked especially fluffy to me, so I was curious if it's a towel made from a special fabric, very curious...!"
"This is probably a normal towel I received as a midyear gift from the Bon Festival or some other occasion... Is it because of the fabric softener? The one we always use is that jar we keep by the washing machine."
"I-Is that so? Hmm... I see now, that's a lesson learnt. The mystery is completely solved. Then let me wash my face now!"
Splash splash~ Kirika scooped up cold water brusquely and splashed it onto her face. Nothing less expected of the class representative, starting the day with a refreshing and wide-awake beginning. Even in the act of washing her face, she's full of vigor—Haruaki was secretly impressed.
After Kirika finished washing her face, it was Haruaki's turn at the sink. However, he could sense Kirika still behind him, wiping her face. Just as he felt intrigued—
"In the end... Who do think those people were last night?"
"Hmm~ I don't know either... Most likely more of the Draconians, right?"
"Yeah. It's possible that they're taking action as a team like Satsuko and Fourteen, or similar to the Knights. But then it still doesn't make total sense."
Haruaki turned his gaze up and used the mirror to look at Kirika behind him. She was narrowing her eyes with a grave expression.
"The Draconians are members of an organization that seeks 'strength.' However, that doesn't correspond with the attacker's attitude last night. Doesn't it seem like they ran away too quickly? If seeking strength, namely by fighting Un Izoey to improve their abilities, then they should've been fine with fighting more aggressively. But last night, they didn't do that."
"In other words, they had other goals...?"
"Presumably. Logically speaking, taking back that 'cube' is probably their goal. However... Under those circumstances, running away immediately as soon as the tide turned unfavorable, that's really quite unnatural."
"Hmm... Now that you mention it, I agree too. But apart from that, there's no other reason for Un Izoey to be targeted, right? See, even that Fourteen said something like 'fleeing is a type of strength'—Perhaps that's what's going on?"
"Hmm, that's probably the most reasonable explanation. Perhaps I'm overthinking things?"
Kirika exhaled. Haruaki finished washing his face and wiped his face with his own towel. Hmm, this towel really cannot be more ordinary. He did not find it particularly fluffy.
"No matter what, in order to resolve the current situation, defeating the Draconians is imperative. Conversely, once the Draconians are defeated, everything will be resolved. That girl is just waiting patiently for the superintendent's return and is also related to resolving the 'Santa Hunter' incident... If there's anything else we want to know, I'm sure we can get it out of the defeated enemies."
Anything else probably meant that cube, right? This was rather concerning, but once they knew how to use it, what was he going to do?
Haruaki could not help but ask this question in his mind as a sudden sense of heavy suffering filled his heart.
He was rather concerned? Why? And for what purpose?
The worries he usually avoided thinking about were rising to the surface horrifically. These were the worries that had surfaced in his mind involuntarily a number of times ever since that sports festival. Every time, he had tried as much as possible to not think about them, suppressing the worries in the depths of his heart all along.
What if Aiko never woke up again—
Enough. Stop thinking about it. Just as he had done repeatedly so far, Haruaki tried his hardest to stop thinking. But right now, he could not help but think even more. Precisely because of the current situation, he had to think.
If Aiko were actually dead, then the only way to see her again would be resurrection. In other words, only by relying on that 'cube'—
(...That's wrong, that kind of thing... I don't want to use a cursed tool at all, besides... No, because, Aiko must still be alive.)
Haruaki desperately tried to avoid thinking of that troubling possibility. At the same time, he felt that Fear must be experiencing the same thing. I don't want to use a cursed tool to do anything at all. Fear had said that. But still, she was curious about the cube, even so, she could not know the answer to the question: what would she do once she knew how to use it? No idea. Just like him, Fear surely did not know the answer—Because last night, she did not ask the question intentionally, instead, it had slipped out involuntarily. Otherwise, she would not have made a troubled expression that seemed to say "I can't believe I asked such a question."
However, Fear resumed her usual demeanor after that, acting as though she had completely forgotten the cube already, forgotten the question she had asked. Haruaki also imitated her and cast the unanswered question about the cube aside. Currently, he needed to come up with a better plan.
"...Yachi, is something wrong?"
Kirika's gaze showed worry as she watched him. Haruaki deliberately relaxed the tension in his face.
"No... Nothing at all. So in the end, we can only wait for them to show up on their own?"
"Who knows. It's best if simply waiting can solve the issue... Hmm, but right now, talking about the future won't help. Let's discuss with everyone later."
"That's right. Anyway, let's discuss during breakfast."
"Yes, I'll help too. Call me when you're preparing to cook."
Saying that, Kirika was just about to leave the washroom. Suddenly, she stopped in the middle of her tracks.
"That reminds me. Greetings are very important, so let me say this again: Good morning, Yachi. Also—"
Seeming quite embarrassed, Kirika did not face Haruaki as she continued speaking:
"It's absolutely ridiculous to say this under the current situation. But still... Merry Christmas."
Watching Kirika as she left the washroom, Haruaki was reminded. Come to think of it...
The date for today was December 24.
Konoha and Kirika were helping with breakfast preparations together. Just as they carried Haruaki's cooking out to the table—
"Haruaki-kun is so slow... May I go take a look?"
"Yes, thank you for your trouble. Leave the rest to me."
Leaving Kirika with the task of serving the food to the table, Konoha walked over to the guest room. Currently, Fear and Kuroe were in charge of monitoring and it was difficult to imagine what sort of abnormal scene might have happened... If all Haruaki did was go inform everyone to come eat breakfast, why did it take him so long to return? What happened?
Hence, just as Konoha was walking along the corridor, she heard a noise coming from the guest room. She had no choice but to withdraw her earlier statement. This was precisely a noise announcing some sort of abnormal scene.
"Ohoh... Ooh... Oh... Th-This is..."
"Feel good? I ask this question."
Konoha's heart skipped a beat violently. These were Haruaki and Un Izoey's voices. What? What was going on in the guest room? Why was he making such an excited and—literally, just as he described—pleasurable sound?
Konoha quickened her pace. Rather, she had started sprinting before she knew it. During this time, the voices persisted.
"How about harder?"
"O-Ooh... Woah! Th-That's... too hard."
"—My apology: really sorry. Then what about this kind of feeling—"
"Ooh, ahhh. Y-You're really amazing... Also... To think you're using your feet..."
Using feet! Th-That is such a... high-level... act of indecency! Unforgivable! What are those two doing in spite of their monitoring duties? Just as Konoha furious arrived at the door—
"N-Nuu... Shameless brat, that expression on your face is really too shameless...!"
"That's right, Ficchi. If you're free, why don't you join in as well, Ficchi?"
"Fufufu. Really? That also seems like fun. Then I'll use my feet as well... Put yours here and press like this... Knead it like this...!"
"Hold on. It's too dangerous if you're doing it...!"
"How about that, does this kneading feel nice? Hmph, seriously, speaking of you..."
"O-Oh...? W-Wait a sec, Fear, you're way too violent!"
Clearly on the scene yet making no effort to stop it, no, even going as far as to participate. What are those two thinking!?
"Th-This ends now—! I absolutely forbid you all from engaging in this debauchery any longer!"
Konoha opened the sliding door violently. The first thing she saw was Kuroe enthusiastically watching the scene ahead—
"G-Getting crushed... The insides... about to spill out..."
Haruaki was convulsing, lying sprawled face down on the floor while Fear was stepping on him in her thigh high socks, rather happily at that.
"—Another person deserving gratitude? I must offer my service."
While stepping on Haruaki's arm to massage him, Un Izoey calmly proposed.
Back in the living room with breakfast prepared, Haruaki was looking straight ahead at Konoha groaning while pressing on her temples.
"You people have no sense of wariness whatsoever, do you..."
"She doesn't have any weapons after all. Also, as long as either Ficchi or I are unrestrained, she can't possibly make a weird move. Since she said she wanted to thank us, we were thinking if it's better to let her do something~"
"Ahhh, enough... If she must do something, just have her wash dishes with her feet or something, jeez."
Although Haruaki had done nothing wrong, seeing Konoha pouting while muttering, he judged it best to refrain from arguing back. Hence, he decided to simply downplay the issue with a courteous smile.
The whole thing apparently started after Un Izoey woke up and proposed to Fear and Kuroe who were in in charge of surveillance: "I want to thank you two, right, people have praised my technique before." Feeling curious, Kuroe was the first to accept her massage. Then seeing that it looked quite comfortable, Fear also followed. At that moment, Haruaki had arrived to call them for breakfast. Swayed by the "trying it out a little won't hurt" kind of atmosphere, he was dragged into it. Speaking of "no sense of wariness whatsoever," perhaps that was completely right.
In any case, the subject finally ended, signaled by a great sigh from Konoha. Breathing a sigh of relief, Haruaki looked over at Un Izoey who was sitting at the dining table.
She was no longer wearing pajamas and was dressed in an unbuttoned, navel-baring lab coat with the tribal, high-slit skirt. Her usual attire.
"My greeting: I say good morning. I report the report that my body is completely recovered."
Un Izoey lowered her head and bowed. Fear snorted.
"That's really great... As if I'd actually say that. This means you can move around freely now? Looks like troublesome things will continue."
Un Izoey gazed at Fear for a long while. What, you wanna fight? Fear frowned. Then Un Izoey turned her gaze away from Fear and towards Kirika again. Then she looked at Konoha, Kuroe and Haruaki in turn.
"Before breakfast, I have a suggestion."
Un Izoey nodded and answered in the affirmative.
"My hope: I hope to leave this home."
Hearing her sudden proposal, everyone looked at one another silently.
"If you want a reason, I tell you the reason is last night's incident. The Draconians' target is me. Staying here brings unnecessary tension. My true feelings: thank you all for the treatment and protection. Therefore this."
Her Japanese was still quite strange and difficult to understand... But basically: she's the one being targeted, she's thankful for our care, and she'll leave this place to avoid causing trouble for us, something like that?
"No wait. Aren't you planning on handing the letter to the superintendent? If you leave, what about communicating—"
"My idea: no problem. Wait outside school every day."
"Even if you say you'll wait at school... It's still unknown when he'll return. By the way, once you leave, do you have somewhere to stay?"
"This country has many shelter facilities. I have some travel money. My request: I demand wallet returned."
Oh dear? Haruaki looked at Konoha but she shook here head in surprise.
"Uh, well... Although I've confiscated stuff like the knife, I never saw a wallet in the first place."
That was what Haruaki expected. He did not recall seeing anything like that either. Hence—
"It probably fell and got lost while you were fighting. Your battle started out quite intensely, right?"
Kuroe probably guessed correctly. Everything had started with Fear pointing out "Santa Claus is flying past." Given that the fight had taken place while they were jumping between the tops of buildings, it was a likely possibility.
Most likely sensing through the mood that they were not lying, Un Izoey remained frozen and expressionless for quite a while. But then after that—
"...Got it. My idea: I declare I have no more problems. Warriors sometimes go on hunts for many days. I am used to living in the wild."
"No, that's a huge problem... If you don't have money, then how are you going to eat?"
"My idea: I repeat my words of no problems. This is because..."
The posture of her back remained completely straight.
Going as far as to exhibit a tone of pride, she declared with confidence:
"—My judgment: the peeseh in this country lack wildness. Slow in movements, very easy to catch."
"Hey! I don't quite get what you're saying, but it feels like I heard something dangerous sounding!"
"No, I don't get what you're saying. Dangerous where? Taste very good after roasting."
"Exactly that! That's the dangerous part!"
Un Izoey stared with her head tilted. Were cultural gaps really that difficult to bridge?
"A-Anyway, let's get back to the main topic. First of all, this is what I think... I can't cast a penniless person out onto the streets, so I vote that you stay."
"I vote the same. If someone discovers weird corpses of stray dogs and it gets on the news, it'll be troublesome."
"My correction: I explain that peeseh are not izucru. I remember now. In your language, they are called mi—"
"I-I don't wanna hear it, okay—!"
Haruaki drove that word out of his ears while giving Konoha multiple looks. She sighed while sipping her tea.
"I don't want to repeat the same words over and over again... Hoo~ Think of it as giving up. I cast a neutral vote."
"I side with Konoha-kun and vote neutral as well. Although my true feelings would rather see this girl out of this place as soon as possible, since I'm not a member of this home, my position does not allow me to vote against, right?"
This meant two votes for and two votes neutral. In a majority vote, this would probably be enough to reach a conclusion. However, it was still necessary to hear what Fear had to say. As Haruaki turned his gaze towards her, Fear spoke with a scowl:
"Hmph... I neither agree nor disagree. I don't care what you're going to eat. When the superintendent returns, we'll still be visiting the school once we're notified. You can wait there for all I care—That's what I'd really like to say. However, unrelated to your condition, I must refuse your suggestion due to my own reasons. At least for today, you still have to stay here."
"Why? I ask this question."
"After what happened last night, it's clear that you're still their target. Since that swordswoman's comrades fled with their tails between their legs without succeeding in their attack on you, she's probably gonna appear in person next. So, you have to act as bait to draw out the 'Santa Hunter' again... Although I've no idea why she's stealing Santa costumes, as long as this remains unresolved, I can't help but feel weighted down and unable to enjoy Christmas. So if possible, I hope the enemy will show up before night falls."
"I ask another question. If today is peaceful all day, what do you do?"
Hmm? Fear crossed her arms and tilted her head. Haruaki also pondered the same question. As indicated by the moniker, the 'Santa Hunter' was a thief who stole Santa costumes. But Santa costumes were not available all year round. Once the Christmas season was over, these costumes would no longer be in sight. Then what—?
"In that case, once Christmas is over, the hunter's targets will also be gone. If the enemy doesn't show up today or tomorrow, how will things develop in the future... Muumuu, no idea."
"I'm still quite concerned with how quickly they fled. Indeed, it's possible that the 'Santa Hunter' might make a personal appearance next time... But conversely, it's also possible that they don't visit again."
After Kirika said that, Fear looked up at the ceiling. Inexplicably disheartened, she murmured softly:
"Perhaps it'd be nice to think that no more crimes will be committed once Christmas is over... But watching the culprit escape right before my eyes is the absolute worst feeling. I really wanted a definitive end. Also... Oh right, I almost forgot because it's so meaningless, worthless and insignificant, but I do have another bait—the 'cube' that they seem quite eager to retrieve. Even if Christmas passes, as long as it's unclear whether they've given up on this thing, we still need to stay on guard in case they attack in the days ahead."
Fear reached one hand into her pocket. Most likely, instead of the Rubik's cube, she was gripping the other cube.
Haruaki felt there was something wrong with Fear's attitude. The unease regarding Aiko was stirring subtly and restlessly in his heart again. But suppressing it, Haruaki thought: She's right, because they totally did not wish to use a cursed tool, because Aiko was not dead, hence, the cube was completely useless. Be that as it may—Fear currently seemed to be trying to convince herself with these words, to an excessive degree beyond necessary.
Sure enough, this was related to what she involuntarily asked the night before? If he were the one holding on to that cube—Haruaki wondered. Just as he was thinking this morning, Fear was going through the same. Perhaps he would have ended up asking the same question then suffered a serious blow for having asked it. Hence, Haruaki thought, the reason really stemmed from her concerns over what happened last night—But then again, that did not seem to be all.
"...Hey, Haruaki, are you listening?"
Fear turned her gaze towards him. Haruaki hastily brought his thoughts back to the present. Although he was quite concerned with Fear's attitude, it was currently imperative to figure out a plan going forward.
"Yeah... True. Even if Christmas passes, we still have other holidays and festivals ahead like New Year's. If possible, I really hope we can get this resolved as early as possible, but how..."
At this moment, Kuroe's cellphone suddenly rang. "Oh, excuse me." Apologizing, she interrupted the usual Demon King deathcry ringtone that was going "Never forget, I shall reincarnate endlessly to return...!" and picked up the call. She started out listening quietly with frequent nods—But after a while, she held her hand over the receiver and looked at everyone with a slightly troubled expression.
"Uh~ The cake shopkeeper's wife has apparently fallen ill with a cold. But tonight's Christmas Eve happens to be the most profitable opportunity that only comes once a year. Although he has heard that Ficchi and Kono-san are tied up, he really hopes that you two could help out by working part-time... Basically that. Also, the more people the better, something about it'd be nice to get other girls as well. That's what the shopkeeper begged me tearfully."
They had already declined once using the reason of "an unavoidable situation." But for the cake shopkeeper to make a request in spite of that—He really must be in quite a crisis? Although Kuroe was already set to take their place for today as well, with the shopkeeper's wife fallen ill, the shop really must be extremely understaffed, right?
"Working huh... If possible, I'd like to help of course, but currently, it's really... Sigh..."
After Fear remarked, Un Izoey tilted her head slightly and asked:
"Working is what? I ask this question."
"Basically a job where you earn money. Selling cakes while wearing Santa outfits. It's pointless to say it at this point, but it's your fault. In fact, we were originally supposed to go work today as well, but it's not like we can let you stay at home and do whatever you want!"
Un Izoey fell into deep thought. Somehow, Haruaki had an ominous feeling.
Then—a dark-skinned hand was raised.
"I have suggestion."
"Yes, my thought: answer to stalemate. Since my staying home prevents you all from working, then problem solved if I go as well."
These words came way too suddenly, right? Faced with Haruaki's group staring wide-eyed, Un Izoey continued seriously:
"From what I heard, solving the problem requires meeting the Draconians. The Draconians' actual goal is still unknown but from their actions so far, they are quite obsessed with me, red clothes including Santa suits, the 'cube' in your hand, these three—No doubt."
"Hmm... That's true."
"Then bringing these three things together, the Draconians' chance of approaching us again might be higher? In other words—achieved if I wear red Santa suit and work together with person holding 'cube.'"
"I think just massage is not enough to thank protection and shelter, so I suggest this. Proud warrior must repay favors. My wish, please consider."
Haruaki's group looked at one another. The first to speak her mind was Fear.
"It pisses me off that the idea came from this girl, but it's true that we have no idea whether we'll encounter the Draconians again if we keep staying at home. Perhaps any plan should be tried out before judging it. As long as we stay vigilant while we're working, we should be able to prevent other people's clothes from getting stolen."
"Although I've no idea how much of a patrolling effect we'll make by walking in the street—It's better than doing nothing at all, probably. If the enemy finds us a nuisance, they might make another appearance for the sake of eliminating us. Although I don't believe the other side will launch an attack amidst the crowd... Perhaps this would be a so-called baiting strategy deep in enemy territory?"
"How troubling, but the more people helping the better... yes? I don't intend on wearing a Santa outfit, but given the pressing circumstances, I have no choice but to help."
"In that case, I'm sure the cake shopkeeper will be quite relieved. Is this okay with you, Class Rep?"
Kirika shrugged and said:
"The cake shopkeeper has no one else to turn to, right? Since rumors of the 'Santa Hunter' are circulating, I don't think part-timers are that easy to find—If we don't go, the shopkeeper might be forced to offer compensation above the minimum wage mandated by law so as to hire replacement part-timers. However, we can't let him do that either because we can't allow innocent ordinary part-timers to become new victims."
Despite her reluctance, Kirika also seemed to have decided to help work part-time as well.
"My true feelings: grateful for chance to repay favor. I will work hard."
Un Izoey nodded with satisfaction. After a quick survey of the conference scene where a conclusion had been reached, Kuroe pressed her phone to her ear again and spoke:
"Hello? Thanks to my vigorous persuasion, I've convinced everyone to agree and come on board~ In addition, I've pulled in two fresh recruits... So, as a reward for my efforts, will I be getting a slight raise in hourly wage?"
Encapsulated in a single sentence—
Over there was a dark-skinned Santa girl with her bellybutton exposed.
"My advertising: I assert that this offering called cake is needed for this holy Christmas Eve. I express to the strong fathers and gentle mothers, to not let little children go hungry during the feasts for deepening blood kin's bonds, you should act like you discovered a sleeping hare, buy this cake greedily without hesitation. I suggest this suggestion."
Gazing with her eyes as usual without the slightest emotional fluctuation, yet with her back perfectly straight, Un Izoey delivered this speech with complete seriousness. Naturally, she attracted a lot of attention.
A Santa hat was perched lightly on top of her gray hair. Beneath the super miniskirt she had chosen "because it is easy for movement, I pick this," her pair of dark-skinned legs were exposed in full view. Similarly, she had chosen a front-buttoned top for her Santa outfit. As usual, in accordance to the customs of her tribe, she only fastened the middle button, resulting in an exposed navel despite the chilly weather as well as a bulge that was covered precariously. Truly, there was an unguarded impression that would pose as a bad influence for children.
"Muuuu... I absolutely can't lose to that country girl! Cake! Very tasty! Buy it now!"
"Why are you using imperatives? Your basic customer service attitude is wrong!"
"Yes. Two of this type of cake... Thank you for your business. Haru, this customer would like to pay~"
Of course, Fear and the others were all wearing Santa outfits. Raising their voices to attract customers, their enthusiasm brought pedestrians to stop by one after another, resulting in more hectic work—From a business point of view, this was naturally an endless cycle worthy of celebrating.
"Man, woah, this is getting too busy...!"
"I report: buy-sell contract established. I judge this customer to be like an excellent hunter who doesn't let prey escape."
"Yachi, leave the bagging to me. You should focus on the cash register."
"Thanks, Class Rep!"
Like Haruaki, Kirika was also wearing the cake shop's apron. She glanced at the surrounding scene.
"However... Despite the recession, this booming business is quite astounding. Completely beyond my expectations."
"The normal crowds should be much smaller. Or rather, nothing less expected from Christmas Eve, I guess~?"
Finishing with the cash register, Haruaki looked up. The crowds appearing in the shopping street at dusk were unprecedented. As though to receive this incoming tide of people, the shops themselves were fully decorated more splendorously than before. Green and silver tinsel wrapped densely, pictures of Santa Claus drawn on display windows, miniature Christmas trees arranged in front of stores the way that Japanese set up decorated pine trees at their doors for the New Year—
"I wouldn't be surprised if someone pointed out that this is the only district where crowds increased. Disregarding that girl, it's because Fear-kun and the others look so cute and attractive in their Santa outfits."
Watching Fear and the others working energetically, Kirika relaxed her expression slightly wryly.
"How should I say this? I think you'll look good in a costume too, Class Rep. Of course, the excessively revealing type like Konoha's would be no good."
"What! A-Absolutely ridiculous! That's not what I meant...!"
Kirika suddenly went red in the face and protested vehemently. It's just a very normal thought—Haruaki replied with a wry expression. As a side note, Fear and the girls' outfits were all provided by the laundry shopkeeper in the shopping street. The outfit for Un Izoey, who had joined in suddenly for the part-time work, was borrowed additionally with much difficulty, but getting more Santa outfits was probably impossible.
(Perhaps we really stretched the favor. Next time, I'd better thank the laundry shopkeeper properly.)
While Haruaki was thinking over this matter, the young shopkeeper of the laundry shop happened to make a visit with a paper bag with him.
"Hi everyone, you're working hard."
"Oh, hello... I'm really sorry about our unreasonable request just now. You've really been a great help to us."
"No problem, it's wonderful to see cute girls wearing cute clothes. This is a universal truth! Ahhh, to think such adorable Santa girls existed... What a sight for sore eyes...!"
The young shopkeeper watched Fear and the girls in fascination. Perhaps noticing Kirika's half-narrowed eyes which seemed to be accusing him of looking so perverted, he hastily corrected his demeanor and said:
"Oh by the way, you two have great chemistry going there. Like right now, wearing the same kind of apron, you really seem like a young married couple."
"Y-Young married c-couple...?"
Bang—As though a bullet had pierced her heart, Kirika's body suddenly shook. "A-A-A-A-Absolutely ridiculous. S-Seriously, absolutely ridiculous... U-Ufufu... Fufufu..." She murmured emphatically while turning away, her entire body shaking intensely. Haruaki could not really understand since her face was not in view, but it felt like she was probably suppressing her emotions because someone said something excessively strange but she could not complain outright despite her agitation. That was definitely it.
"P-Please don't make that kind of strange comment."
"Ahaha, sorry my bad. Well then, I guess the young married couple illusion will be shattered next... Basically. Here you go."
Saying that, the young shopkeeper handed over the paper bag in his hand. What was it?
"Because it'd be such as shame if cute girls were present without enough clothing for them to dress up, I made an emergency request to a fellow aficionado of cosplay photography... Cough cough! Rather, I gathered some clothes through a friend. A total of three sets."
"Are these actually additional Santa outfits...? But why three?"
"Eh, what about those two girls? The ones who came to help out with the Dan-no-ura's reopening... That girl in the maid outfit and the extremely pretty girl. I was thinking they'd definitely be coming too."
"No, not this time unfortunately..."
Essentially, Haruaki tried calling them. "Oh~ You don't have enough people huh. So? To me who has already scheduled 'the perfect Christmas for two,' planned three weeks in advance, what do you intend to propose, human?" After hearing these extremely cold words, he was left with no choice. Had he forced her to come, she would probably have appeared with a kitchen cleaver in one hand.
"I see~ Of course a pretty girl would be the best foundation, but the maid is the classic of cosplay... Correction, I was thinking you'd understand the philosophy that girls should wear cute clothes. Yeah, in that case, it can't be helped. Perhaps there's a surplus, but please make good use of it."
Saying that on his own, the young shopkeeper left with brisk footsteps. Upon leaving, he did not forget to call out to Fear and the others: "How about a picture to commemorate? Okay, thanks~!" Then he snapped a photo.
Kirika scowled as she stared at the paper bag in Haruaki's hand. Then her eyes glanced up at Haruaki's face—
"Do you really... think... it'd suit me...?"
"Eh? O-Oh, of course!"
"R-Really—No! Whether it suits me or not, it's irrelevant. How absolutely ridiculous. I simply... Indeed, I think that I should help if I'm able to help Fear-kun and the others who look like they are the busiest. After all, I can simply return to my post and handle miscellaneous chores whenever you're overwhelmed at the cash register, so..."
"What is with those eyes of yours!? Listen carefully, this is assuming there's actually a Santa outfit I'm able to wear! Give me that! Seriously... Absolutely ridiculous...!"
For some reason, Kirika was in a great huff as she snatched the paper bag from Haruaki's hand.
Several minutes later, the number of Santa girls increased by one again.
Just as the sun was just about to set, the group decided to take a break. Today, the the cake shopkeeper was apparently too occupied to prepare refreshments, so Haruaki went over to a convenience store and bought some juice and simple snacks. Sitting inside the heated interior of the shop, they rested.
"Phew~ ...So tired. But we're not even half done yet. That energy source I need for recovering my vigor, you must have bought it, of course! If you dare say you forgot, I'll curse you viciously!"
"Yeah yeah, if you're talking about rice crackers, I bought them. The shopkeeper paid for these, so thank him properly afterwards."
"Speaking of thanks, I never expected him to grab our hands while thanking us with tears streaming down his face. The situation must have been really dire."
"Yeah, but nothing is too difficult so long as we of the beautiful Santa quintet are mobilized. Kiririn joining us in the middle really helped out a lot~"
"I-Is that so? I simply felt that it'd be a shame if the laundry shopkeeper brought these Santa outfits expressly and no one wore them... As manpower, I'm just filling in temporarily."
Kirika pressed her skirt down firmly in embarrassment. Who knew if it were good fortune or not, but inside the bag brought by the laundry shopkeeper were rather standard Santa outfits. In terms of liveliness and eye candy, it was honestly inferior to Fear and Konoha's, but with respect to contributing to sales, Haruaki believed that the difference was not that great. The awkward Santa girl's embarrassed aura must have been quite a refreshing sight, attracting many gazes to Kirika's agitated state.
However, speaking of gathering attention, one could not forget one particular girl. Haruaki walked over to Un Izoey who was spacing out while sitting on a chair in the corner and said to her:
"You... Yes, you've been working hard too. Here, have a meat bun."
"My question: I ask the question what is meat bun?"
"Ah~ ...Anyway, you'll know once you have a taste. It's delicious."
Here—The instant when Haruaki handed over the meat bun bought from the convenience store to Un Izoey, her two hands trembled as she gasped.
"Oh, I forgot to mention! Careful, it's still quite hot—"
"—So round. This circular round shape is perfect circle!"
"That's why you're astounded!?"
To think Haruaki was worried for her. What exactly was she gasping about?
Hmm, indeed, she had mentioned before that circular things were always tasty things. Haruaki did not bother remarking cynically. Un Izoey held the meat bun in her hands like a young child, examining its round shape intently, finally opening her mouth wide to bite down as though she had made a major decision. Remaining still for quite a while—
"This food—I am touched. Tasty. Tasty, this thing is the world's most tastiest."
Munch chew chew, she brought the meat bun in her hands to her mouth in a manner reminiscent of a squirrel. Standing in stark contrast to the extremely serious expression on her face, her behavior seemed quite adorable to watch.
"Hmph... I admit that meat buns are tasty, but the world's most tastiest food is definitely the rice cracker, which happens to be very round too!"
Crunching rice crackers in her mouth, Fear retorted with a snort. Although she instantly pouted with displeasure when Un Izoey argued "that type of incomplete roundness is incomplete," Un Izoey ignored her and focused on eating the meat bun. Clearly, she really enjoyed eating it.
"Hmm, it's great that you like it... You've never had one before?"
"I reply with affirmative affirmation. This is really... Or perhaps most likely, even more tasty than the vurachiha our tribe is only able to eat once every few years."
"What's that? What kind of food is it?"
"A creature very hard to catch. Unknown how to call it in Japanese. As for characteristic, first of all, it has six legs—"
"Uh, hold it right there. I think it's best that I don't hear the rest at this stage. Forget it."
Nodding readily, she began chewing again.
"Jeez, it's not like it's food that you can get obsessed about. I guess food in your homeland must be quite hard to come by."
"Your comment cannot be ignored. I reply saying that although the food is not as varied and plentiful as in this country, but there are still many tasty things. For example, take scooniha soaked in alcohol and wrapped in rerri leaves then steamed together with goenutz, the fruit pulp melts over the tongue and the sweetness spreads out inside the entire mouth—"
"M-Muu, I don't understand but the way you describe it really sounds quite delicious. How unbelievable... Since it's sweet, that means it's some kind of dessert? Gulp."
"Rare chance, I want to know more about other food in this country. Any other tasty things?"
"Hmph hmph, are you begging me to tell you? Although I'm not obliged to tell you, very well. The rice cracker goes without saying, but there are many others! Oh right, after coming to this country, immediately after the rice cracker, the next food to move me was curry, also..."
Fear proudly recounted the delicious flavors of food she had tasted before. Un Izoey nodded enthusiastically while listening. Perhaps because she was imagining the taste of the unknown food, her eyes were filled with pure interest. Holding the meat bun with both hands while she ate, she really looked like an innocent child.
Only during this instant did Konoha, Kuroe and even Kirika show no signs of hostility in their eyes. Exasperation. Wry expressions. Smiling. Shrugging. They simply watched this scene silently.
Indeed. Un Izoey belonged to an organization that they could not approve of. Perhaps their standpoints were irreconcilable.
However—Haruaki did not think that implied she was a bad person herself. Without any particular reason, he simply believed so.
If only the girls reached the same conclusion—Haruaki could not help but think that.
"However... The 'Santa Hunter' hasn't shown up yet."
"There was no conclusive evidence that she'd arrive in the first place. Our original intention was simply banking on the possibility that she might be tempted to show up. But still, we cannot afford to be careless. Although I will stay on guard and sense for nearby hostility and killing intent, please remain vigilant and look for signs of suspicious characters."
"I know, if we believe this country girl—the 'Santa Hunter' should be dressed in red, right? I'm not going to miss that kind of Santa imposter. If the enemy attacks us out of an abnormal obsession with red clothing, or makes any other kind of move, very likely, she'll be wearing the same outfit."
After the break, Haruaki's group chattered as they reconfirmed their goal and readied themselves for work once more. Not long after the second half of their shift started, two familiar faces passed by, in front of the cake shop. Zenon and Ganon.
"Oh my... Good evening, Yachi-sama."
"Are you working as part-timers? How nice~ What a great role model to show those horny teenagers who are taking advantage of the Christmas season to make out and get lovey-dovey... Sorry, just kidding. Trying to do serious things like an educator is really the most tiring..."
Approaching them was Zenon, dressed in her usual suit, while Ganon followed behind in a lazy pace as always. Zenon nodded lightly.
"Right. I am very sorry but there is no news from the superintendent so far."
"Oh I see... I understand."
While answering, Haruaki saw, in the corner of his eye, a red and brown figure move swiftly and even take out that notebook from her bosom and perk up her ears conspicuously (although she was probably trying to act as though nothing had happened), approaching Haruaki and Zenon. She still hasn't give up on collecting information about the superintendent?
"Ooh, it's Zenon and Ganon! Perfect timing. Would you like to buy a cake? A cake!"
"Good evening, Fear-sama...!"
The instant she looked back, Zenon froze abruptly. Staring at Fear dressed in the Santa outfit, she widened her eyes, clenched her fist and bit her lip while her shoulders trembled incessantly—
"Perfect timing, yes. Running over to other places would be very tiring, let's buy some cake here... Oh? Hey~ My little sister~... Drats, her switch has already activated."
Ganon waved her hand before Zenon's eyes but finally shrugged and gave up. Zenon forcefully pushed that obstructing palm away, but her gaze remained focused intently on Fear—Finally, she directed her eyes elsewhere, but only towards Konoha, Kuroe, Kirika and Un Izoey who was standing beside her, all of them in their Santa outfits.
Oh yeah. Haruaki would forget sometimes, but it was true that Zenon had a certain liking. As much as she wanted to hide it, she had an extreme liking for cute things.
Haruaki suddenly thought of a suggestion.
"Excuse me~ Zenon-san. Supposing you're willing, would you like to wear a Santa costume? After all, we have two extra... Basically, because of a lack of manpower, the shopkeeper wanted to hire as many people as possible, so if you're free, maybe you could help out... But it's probably a long shot, ahaha."
Indeed, he simply came up with the idea on whim, 99% intended as a joke, really just a joke. That was only natural too. But little did he expect—
Haruaki never expected Zenon to accept readily.
"You all would like some help?"
Zenon's eyes flashed. Haruaki shuddered.
"U-Umm... Zenon... -san...?"
"Since you need help, I won't refuse of course. It is my fault for failing to locate the superintendent's whereabouts. Only because of that, Yachi-sama, your troubles were increased. Compensation must be provided. A secretary is precisely a role responsible for helping others. In order to improve my skills and affirm my prowess, providing assistance now is definitely a beneficial act. May I ask where the changing room might be?"
A rare out-of-control state, this reminded Haruaki of a certain occasion when she dressed Kuroe up as a maid. Immediately, Zenon grabbed from behind the collar of Ganon who was muttering "Eh~ So tired~ Can't we just buy a cake and go home~?" while continuing to gaze sharply at Haruaki.
"By the way... You mentioned just now that there are two extra outfits?"
Ganon exhaled. In her hunchback posture, she resembled a cat that had been lifted by the nape of its neck, unable to offer resistance.
Can't you struggle a little in times like these? Haruaki wondered. But due to Zenon's scary gaze, he did not dare voice his thoughts.
"Receiving 10000 yen from you... Here is your change of 7700 yen. Thank you for your patronage."
Zenon was operating the cash register with superhuman speed and handing change to the customer. Every time she bowed, the fluffy white ball at the end of her Santa hat would bob once. In terms of perfect customer service attitude, she was lacking in smiles, but most likely aware of this fact, she had chosen to work at the cash register just like Haruaki. But perhaps it was motivated by self-interest as well for the post offered a clear view of Fear and the girls at work.
(Hmm~ I could very well be witnessing an extremely rare scene...)
Dragged forcibly by Zenon into this situation, Ganon was dressed in a Santa outfit as well, a sight impossible to imagine given her usual white coat attire. However, she was simply wearing it without doing any work. Further back, behind Haruaki's group, she was currently sitting on a chair in a corner of the tent, collapsed in a lazy mass. Her appearance, even sloppier than usual, was readily explained, namely—
"...Pwah~ Oh, hmm, drinking outdoors is quite nice once in a while~"
"Hey~ Nee-chan, you really hold your liquor quite well! Here's another cup, have another cup!"
"Ahmm~? Don't say something so tiring... Even if it's two or three cups, bring it on! Huhahaha~!"
Her spot had transformed into the location of a mini-party. Gathered around Ganon were several shopkeepers from the shopping street. Among the refreshments delivered by the bar owner, the true culprit was the beer that was somehow mixed inside the pile together with other drinks.
A drunk Santa together with several red-faced shopkeepers. Although this combination was on a different level compared to Un Izoey, neither was it an appropriate scene for children to witness. Perhaps due to the hearty laughter and the cheering during toasts, the joyful atmosphere was spreading to the nearby crowds. This succeeded in drawing customers as well, perhaps.
At this moment, a young girl, who was walking with her mother, tripped and fell near the tent. Apparently suffering a scrape on her knee, she began to cry loudly. In the middle of drinking heartily, Ganon looked up.
"Oh, please don't cry here, it's very tiring... Hey look, little lady, Santa is going show you something nice~"
Ganon stumbled her way over with a beer can in one hand and crouched down, meeting gazes with the girl. Then after rummaging in her chest pocket for a while, she took out a band-aid and applied it to the girl's knee in a highly experienced manner.
"Okay. The only thing left is a little magic spell. Nunu, pain pain go away... Ah~ It's getting tiring so lemme omit the rest of the incantation, Abracadabra~ Hmm, how does it feel now?"
Ganon hovered her hand over the knee as she spoke casually. The girl looked up with an amazed expression:
"It doesn't hurt now! Thank you, old—"
"...Miss, your magic is amazing!"
Quick on the uptake, the young child instantly corrected herself and jumped up. Ganon smiled in response:
"There's nothing that Santa can't do. Please be more careful when walking from now on~"
The girl ran back to her mother's side. The mother bowed her head to express her thanks to Ganon, then turned and departed—That was what Haruaki expected, but along the way, she turned back and returned to buy a cake. A most memorable first customer brought in by Ganon.
Seemingly oblivious to this accomplishment, Ganon returned to the mini-party as Haruaki watched. Then he surveyed the scene before him again.
Fear was busy, Konoha's outfit was dangerously revealing, Kuroe was cute and petite. Even Kirika, whose school uniform look constituted a major part of her image, was dressed in a Santa costume. Strangely enough, Un Izoey was also working with everyone else. Furthermore, there was Zenon who was playing the role of a capable Santa instead of a capable secretary, as well as Ganon the drunk Santa—
A scene that was definitely impossible normally. Nevertheless, right now, it was taking place here without a doubt. Haruaki felt a strange floating feeling in his heart. The only thing he could be certain of was that it was not a bad feeling. An unbelievable sense of raised spirits.
Surely, this must be a scene that was only permitted on a special occasion like Christmas Eve.
He recalled what Fear had said once, Christmas was not just the day when Santa delivered presents—It was also the day of miracles when wishes could come true.
(What I wish for huh... There's so many things. However, it does feel nice. Being able to think that counts as a sort of wish, right?)
He pondered in a trance. However, perhaps because he was always thinking of these topics, other people remarked that he was elderly or boring in mindset. Haruaki secretly grimaced in his mind.
Then he thought, what was everyone wishing for?
Fear, Konoha, Kuroe, Kirika, Zenon, Ganon and Un Izoey?
—As well as the unencountered enemy?
What did everyone actually wish for?
After the sun had set and the part-time job was about to end, another chaotic scene arrived for who knows how many times now. Every time Fear and the girls raised their voices to tout, customers kept increasing, gradually overwhelming the cash register with work. Since they currently took turns resting with one person on break at a time, it just so happened that Haruaki's capable assistant, Zenon, was away. Although Haruaki could wait for her to return, he decided to make use of the only person on the scene who appeared to be quite free.
"E-Excuse me, Ganon-san, could you go call Zenon-san to come back? It's almost about time!"
"Eh~ That's so tiring~ But if I continue to stay here, I might be forced to help out, which would be even more tiring~ Can't be helped, I'll go call her~"
The party had already drawn to a close. Haruaki did not know if it was the alcohol or her natural gait as he watched Ganon stumble on her way. Then he turned back to his work at the cash register. He could not help but feel a little resentment towards Fear and the girls who kept bringing in new customers without any consideration for his situation. However, he could only grit his teeth and work furiously. Since Zenon had not returned yet, all he could do was try his best...!
For the next long while, Haruaki applied himself to his work in total absorption. Then he suddenly discovered that the long lineup had disappeared completely. Grinning from ear to ear, the cake shopkeeper came outside.
"Hi everyone, thank you for your hard work! Thanks to you all, we're all sold out!"
"Yeah, all the ingredients purchased for today have already been used up, so there's no way to replenish the cakes. It's over! I knew it, asking you guys for help was the right decision!"
The shopkeeper patted Haruaki's shoulder as he spoke. Compared to the man who was almost about to cry back when they first started working, worrying that the shop was facing a survival crisis on the verge of closing down, he was like a completely different person.
"It's over? Although it's a bit unsatisfactory that the 'Santa Hunter' ended up not making an appearance... We'll think more about it later. Let's enjoy the delight of a successfully finished job."
Fear wiped sweat off her brow and spoke with relief. All the other members of the group drew near. Hearing that the cakes were sold out, everyone showed a sense of accomplishment on their face—Except Un Izoey who nodded expressionlessly while going: "I judge this similar to successfully hunted all prey in a forest."
"It's cold outside, right? Leave the cleanup to me. You guys should all go inside. I'm going to raise your wages so wait while I fetch the money. Oh, I also reserved your share of cake of course, please look forward to it!"
"Ohoh! Another chance to eat that strawberry again? ...If I could eat it together with rice crackers, that would be fantastic like a dream!"
"That combination sounds very strange, Fear, then let's go inside..."
Just as the group was about to move—
"Hello everyone. May I have a moment of your time?"
A man in a coat spoke to them. The shopkeeper put up a radiant business-like smile and said:
"Oh, dear customer, I'm really sorry. Our cakes are all sold out already..."
"I'm glad for your booming business, but I'm not here to buy cakes, even though I would like to get one as a gift for family. That said, I'm in a line of work where booming business would be terrible... In other words, this is my profession."
While saying that, the man took out a black leather notebook from his breast pocket—A police notebook.
"Sir, why are you here...? Is it because of the 'Santa Hunter'?"
"Santa Hunter...? Oh, now that you mention it, I've heard of the incident. Well, that's unrelated, at least for now, while the police are investigating it. Anyway, there's a separate matter that started roughly a week ago. We've received reports of missing persons, roughly four of them. That's why I'm asking around the shopping street to see if the populace has any clues or eyewitness accounts."
Missing persons would be a very serious matter but if it started a week ago, then that was even earlier than the 'Santa Hunter' incident and unrelated to them—That thought crossed everyone's mind, but—
The detective took out several photos. His next words sent a chill down Haruaki's spine.
"Oh right, by the way, they all shared a common feature—reportedly, they were all wearing red clothes before going missing. I think that this clothing characteristic is quite conspicuous, so if you have any clues, even trivial facts, please tell me."
Haruaki thought it was a miracle that the detective did not sense his surprised reaction. Haruaki's group exchanged glances with one another and pretended as appropriate to put away the tables.
The shopkeeper shook his head after looking at the photos. Saying "thank you for your cooperation," the detective simply put the photos away. His current task was probably just interviewing the shops one by one. The detective turned around, meanwhile glancing at Fear and Un Izoey, then disappeared into the crowd. Suspicious foreigners couldn't possibly be working openly, dressed up as Santa—This was probably the thought that saved them miraculously.
Following the earlier instructions of the shopkeeper, Haruaki's group entered the shop. Naturally, they instantly exchanged glances with grave expressions and whispered discreetly:
"What does everyone think?"
"Missing persons dressed in red... Then immediately afterwards, the 'Santa Hunter' started stealing clothes... I think there's a connection between them, although it's unclear why the crime severity went down."
"Assuming the same culprit is behind everything, the situation is very serious. Although it'll be fewer than today, there should be at least one or two Santas on the streets even tomorrow. Next time, someone could go missing rather than simply losing their clothes. Since we don't know why the culprit chose to reduce the crime severity, it could very well step up again for unknown reasons."
"I knew that the 'Santa Hunter' is an unforgivable villain! Now is not the time for saying stuff like 'once the Christmas season is over, she might not commit more crimes'! Since people have gone missing already, then the only one who knows where they are is the 'Santa Hunter'—We must catch her and force her to cough it out!"
"Yeah, but how are we going to do it? She didn't appear today either. Even if we do the same thing tomorrow, there might not be any effect. We may have to think up another plan..."
The group discussed among themselves with serious expressions. In any case, they went into the backyard and suddenly realized—
"Say, wait a minute. Let's change the subject, where are Zenon-san and Ganon-san?"
"I saw them both entering the shop... But they're not here."
Tea and water were already prepared but there were no signs of the two of them.
"No one saw them leave, right? Then where have they run off to...? Ah, this backdoor leads outside, right?"
"That alley has a vending machine, so they probably went there. That, or they could have gone to the convenience store."
"No matter what, they shouldn't have gone far. Also, they're both dressed so conspicuously, right...?"
At this moment, Fear's face suddenly changed drastically. Haruaki also realized the danger involved.
"Not good... They ran off somewhere directly without changing out of their red Santa outfits? If only their clothes were stolen, that's fine, but we just found out that there were even cases of people gone missing...!"
"M-Maybe we're overthinking things... But it does feel quite scary. Let's hurry and find them!"
No one answered.
The group simply exchanged glances with one another and nodded, then rushed out the backdoor, still without saying a word.
—In a nearby alley, Ganon and Zenon's figures were soon located.
However, they were not alone. Furthermore, they were no longer dressed in Santa outfits either.
Because, judging from the result—
A third person was present, a person on the scene who resembled Santa Claus the most.
Dumbfounding. What they saw in the deserted alley was a girl dressed in bright red.
She was crouching on the ground...
Forcibly stripping the Santa outfits from the two people lying at her feet.
"Hmm? Oh, you guys have arrived."
The girl turned her head and looked back, swaying her long blonde hair as she stood up. In accordance with this motion, a Santa outfit's sleeve was pulled off Ganon's originally raised arm that now fell to the floor as though it belonged to a doll.
Un Izoey's body shook as she glared viciously at the girl in red and said:
"—My report: I give the reminder that this is the person who first attacked me."
"I know without needing you to tell me! You there, you're from the Draconians, right!? In other words—you're the 'Santa Hunter,' aren't you!?"
Fear took out the Rubik's cube and yelled angrily.
"Kaha! What's a 'Santa Hunter'? Although I still get what you're saying, I don't want to be called by that kind of weird name. I am Kokoro Pentangeli... The Draconians' «Jaws»! You guys probably don't get it, right? Then I'll explain simply."
The girl's shoulders shook as she laughed with amusement. Then with great confidence, she puffed out her chest.
"The Draconians are ranked by their strength. Only a select number of the top-ranked receive crests, the Wounds corresponding to a dragon's 'body parts'—I am one such member. «Blaze» No.4. By the way, your previous opponents, Satsuko and Fourteen, were ranked seventh. No wait, they're ranked nine now? Yes, in other words, what I'm trying to express here... You guys should understand now, right?"
Grinning widely, she continued:
"I am the fourth strongest of the Draconians, far stronger than Satsuko and Fourteen. So, if you don't bring out your true strength—You guys will die."
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