Chapter 5 - What if He Makes a Mistake / "Still, Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
Haruaki groaned. Staring in wide-eyed shock, he could only groan.
Just now, Zenon—What had she said?
"Of course it's true. She carries a Wound on her body. You guys should know that it's proof of membership in the Draconians. Actually, there has always been many of us around you. It's just that you never noticed."
Kokoro waved her hand impatiently.
"It's actually true, so stop making a fuss. As for how many people were sent to this remote little island, that I'm not too sure. Despite some non-uniformity in quality, I see potential in these two... After engaging them in combat, I can tell that their skills are decent. More importantly, they even expressed their wish to observe a «High Single» in battle up close. Such spirit is commendable. Hence, ever since a few days ago when they came running to me, they've also been helping me with various troublesome chores as payment for their training. Although they failed that night, it was actually they who proposed leaving the job of retrieving the lost item to them. That's why I had them go to your house but didn't expect them to fail."
Haruaki pondered what her words meant—And immediately figured it out. The masked assailant who had sneaked into Un Izoey's room, she was actually Zenon or Ganon?
Fear's face became distorted to unprecedented levels as she gripped the drill tightly and yelled:
"Y-You two... Hurry up and say this is false...! Otherwise, why were you captured by this girl...!"
"Of course, we were the ones who proposed to Her Excellency Number Four to take part in this charade."
However, Zenon simply replied calmly—using the calm expression they had witnessed countless times in the superintendent's office.
"Besides, don't you find it quite unnatural for us to be helping you in your part-time job? Even if Yachi-sama did not make the suggestion, we would have offered ourselves to help, thereby giving us the chance to search your belongings under the pretext of changing, so as to recover this cube. However, you apparently kept it on your person, so the plan failed as well."
"So tiring... However, failing despite sneaking into your house in the middle of the night was our fault. Hence, left without a choice, we could only come up with the next plan, namely, to become hostages on purpose, thereby retrieving the cube through a hostage exchange. Ahhh, even explaining it is so tiring..."
"Kaha. In actual fact, there was no need to do that. Originally, I was thinking I'd get it done simply by attacking you guys directly. But because you're too weak, I decided to execute the fake hostage plan. In the beginning, these two suggested an exchange on the spot... But the way I saw it, compared to getting the cube back, I prefer seeing you guys mad with rage and bringing out your true power. Seriously, to think I made preparations already. Why couldn't you wait for a night? However, this does mean that you're currently full of fighting spirit, so it's fine anyway."
"We were... deceived...? All this time...!"
Hearing Fear's stunned whispers, Zenon and Ganon remained silent without changing their expressions.
At the same time, Kokoro's scarf was trembling in her delight.
"Kaha, forget about it, just let it go. Although I feel that a Draconians' style should be living every day in life or death situations, I don't reject this method of becoming strong by secretly training yourself every day. This also requires blending into the crowd in society, right? Anyway—you guys please don't forget, they are just the audience. Your opponent is me. At last, things have become fun now. Furthermore, I've retrieved the replenishing vessel."
"But... Didn't you mention that the materials were being kept somewhere else? I don't think you need to go out of your way to use it, right? Also, I believe that was precisely the reason why you chose to fight in this location."
Ignoring the questions and exclamations from Haruaki's group, Zenon asked Kokoro after hearing what she said. Zenon and Ganon was really not on their side, but on the enemy's—Haruaki felt compelled to confront this fact.
"No, the materials are right here. More accurately, they've been handled already. Continuing to feed them would be too much of a a hassle, so before making contact with the hunter, I had already made preparations. After all, they will keep for at least two or three days."
"...Is... that so?"
Zenon answered lightly and narrowed her eyes. Haruaki could not tell what she was thinking about.
"You two... What are you talking about...?"
"Kaha. Really? You guys have no idea what this is? You've been carrying it on you without knowing?"
"Of course we know. You mentioned it before! It's a cube for granting mankind's greatest wish—the cube for bringing the dead back to life!"
"Yes, that's true indeed, but that explanation is not enough. This cube is a replenishing vessel—A crucial component of this sword. It's totally useless on its own. Back when I first fought the hunter, I was too careless and she knocked it out."
Kokoro brought the cube near the guard of the sword in her hand. She plugged it in, clamped it with metal parts then connected it to the tubes dangling on the sword's side—Another mechanical accessory had been added to the weird sword that was already covered in decorations of mad science and death.
"Do you want to know how this thing is used? Kaha, very well, since I've already gone through the trouble of creation, plus the expiry date is fast approaching, this'll serve as a tool to liven up the mood. I'm really looking forward to you guys becoming stronger due to your roused emotions—Come, let's have a lively opening ceremony!"
Kokoro straightened her posture. In the next instant—
She swung the bizarre sword and split open the mountain of scrap metal next to her.
As the debris scattered, what lay beneath was composed of various mechanical parts, large and small—A cage. Presumably, it was created using the sword's power beforehand, just like the wreckage sword made from the vending machine.
"This sword is called the «Ritual Sword of Necromancy»... In an attempt to resurrect his wife, a mad scientist combined magic and science to create this demonic sword of life. Naturally, its power was born from being cursed—that was the method the scientist came up with to fulfill his wish. In other words—"
Blown away, the scrap metal rattled noisily as they fell on the ground.
Using this metallic clanging noise as her accompaniment, Kokoro continued simply:
"—It possesses the taboo ability to resurrect someone using another's life."
Inside the cage where Haruaki's group was staring at—
Two corpses were currently moving restlessly.
Haruaki stopped breathing. The shock was so immense that he even forgot to breathe.
The corpses were two young women in their underwear. Unblinking eyes. Their bodies were already discolored. Large wounds were found on their chests and abdomens respectively but they had stopped bleeding a long time ago. They were already dead beyond any doubt. Already dead, yet they stood inside the cage, swaying as though trying to seek balance. They were unlike those shown in movies. Neither did they make any moaning noises. Nevertheless, simply stated in the most common terms—They were essentially zombies.
Next, Haruaki noticed. Inside the cage, by the feet of the zombies, bulging from the floor of scrap metal, rounded shapes that differed from mechanical parts, lying there powerlessly—
An even greater sense of nausea was forcing its way up his throat. Four of them. There were four people. This number matched that of the missing persons case, which took place before the 'Santa Hunter' appeared, mentioned by the detective when he visited the cake shop to ask for clues. From the very start, Haruaki and his group were already too late to save them?
"Y-You... You bastard! How could you kill... completely uninvolved... h-humans...!"
"There's no need to get so worked up that you can't even speak, Fear-in-Cube. Haven't you killed hundreds, thousands of people in the past? In this regard, compared to me who only killed a necessary number of people, you're far more experienced, right?"
"S-Shut up, shut up...! What necessary number of people!? Are you saying that killing them is necessary!?"
"Yes, it counts as necessary... I guess? Although not to the point of being obligatory. This was simply insurance prepared in advance, also serving as a way to kill time. Too much preparation would make things very boring as well, so I was thinking roughly two people should be right. Then afterwards, all I did was restock red cloth. After discovering that it was actually the Christmas season right now, I quickly decided to target people in Santa suits... Since committing too many crimes would draw excessive attention, creating obstacles instead, so I decided to stop killing people. How about that, very humane, right?"
The case of people wearing red gone missing followed by the 'Santa Hunter' incident starting—Haruaki's group finally understood why the case had evolved like that. But right now, that was no longer important. Fear roared with greater anger:
"Stop screwing around, humane my ass! Also... You said two people? Stop lying! Over there... Over there... Aren't there four...!?"
"Oh~ You're quite right. Okay, lemme explain this a bit as well. Like I said before, this ceremonial sword's powers are related to "life." Just as the mad scientist wanted to resurrect his wife in a crazy manner, this sword can use other people's lives to bring someone back to life. One person's amount of life can be used to resurrect one person."
Haruaki desperately suppressed his urge to vomit. So that explained... this? There used to be four people but now there are two. Using two people's lives, two other people were resurrected. What an utterly deplorable curse.
"Kaha, so... Given the recent incessant conflicts in the Middle East, I was raising a ruckus over there before coming over. But those guerillas and proper armies made a big deal over it and started calling me «Fifty Percentage», how vexing. All I did was annihilate one unit of troops and used half the corpses to attack the commanding officer. Of course, the ones who died directly to serve as fuel, rather than getting turned into moving corpses, were the lucky fifty percent."
"Guh... The brain of someone able to brag in this manner is truly impossible to understand...! So that cursed sword's ability is creating zombies through this kind of method!?"
"It's not limited to zombies. There are all kinds settings like 'resurrection extent' for example. If I put in a bit effort, I can even create products that retain their will and memories, virtually indistinguishable from when they were alive, but that shortens the lifespan and requires new life to be refilled every few hours... So basically, I always adjust them to the level of these zombies, which allows them to stay fresh for a while."
Kokoro spoke while swinging her sword. After the cage was destroyed, the moving corpses shambled out.
"Also, in order to convert other people's life force—or rather, I should say blood—this component is required... I just have to pour fresh blood into here and stir the corpse, oh dear, how incredible—That's the kind of feeling. Luckily, I already created these things before the component was taken away, so I wasn't in any hurry to retrieve it. However, having it on hand is better than not—So there, it's time to let them fulfill their job of livening up the mood. Go!"
The corpses slowly approached Haruaki's group. Haruaki covered his mouth while Konoha and the others grabbed him and forced him to retreat. However, Fear remained motionless.
"Ooh... Damn it... This..."
Fear groaned and closed her eyes tight. The corpses approached her even more.
"Fear! What are you doing, hurry and back away—!"
As Haruaki yelled at Fear, a corpse's arm was reaching towards her. Shoulders trembling, Fear opened her eyes wide in that instant, turning the drill in her hand into a hatchet.
Raising the massive blade, she severed the corpse's outstretched arm at the shoulder. There was almost no bleeding. Thud, the corpse's arm fell to the ground directly as inanimate objects. Next, the other corpse also reached out. Cutting the arm off in the same manner, Fear panted and murmured:
"Damn it... This is so... sad. I've seen all sorts of corpses to this date. I've seen hundreds and thousands of corpses. But looking like this... Being forced to move even after death, I've never seen that kind of corpse before! They should be allowed... to rest in peace properly...!"
"Kaha. Then you should chop off their heads. Decapitate them viciously. Why don't you do that?"
"Th-That's... That's... because... Oooo... Oooooo.. Ooooooooooh...!"
Come back—Kokoro whispered. Having lost an arm each, the corpses slowly shuffled their way back to her side. Next, Kokoro saw Fear's pallid face.
"Oh...? You're really afraid, is that it? Even if your opponents are corpses, you don't want to recall the sensations of killing? As much as I'd like to say you must be kidding, I've changed my mind slightly. In other words, you can't stand this because you're afraid of turning back into your old self once you recall those sensations, right? In that case, you should become even more afraid. Be more scared of the past, push yourself beyond your limits of toleration! Your attacks in the beginning, filled with rage, already displayed your natural abilities as a tool, making me feel so happy. If you can turn back into that genocidal tool completely, I'm sure I'll be treated to the greatest level of fun?"
I absolutely cannot allow her to do that, Haruaki thought. Absolutely.
Hence, Haruaki tried his best to suppress his urge to vomit. There was no time for nausea right now, with many things he needed to do. In order to protect what was precious, there was still things he must do no matter what—
He confirmed the situation. Fear was shaking, trying to suppress something just like last time when Bivorio had forced her to taste the feeling of death. Un Izoey was still lying on the ground panting, her wrist still bleeding. Zenon and Ganon were observing expressionlessly without any signs of offering assistance.
Himself, Konoha, Kuroe and Kirika. They were the only four who could still move freely.
"A cursed sword... Sending it on its way to the afterlife is my responsibility, I suppose..."
Konoha transformed into a Japanese sword as her whispers of suppressed rage were heard. The sword's weight brought Haruaki a sense of comfort.
"I... cannot leave that dark-skinned girl unattended. I must give her treatment."
"Then I'll leave that to you. Also, it'd be nice if you could give her a punch on my behalf."
"After all, that girl is the start of everything. I'll leave my share to you as well... So, let me take care of the poor corpses, okay? It's not like we can't let Fear-kun face them. Besides, all they can do now is bite, right? Immobilizing them should be fairly simple."
With a grave expression, Kirika slowly extended the «Tragic Black River». Perhaps due to hearing her words, Kokoro deliberately spread her arms in a pose of exasperation.
"Is that so? You guys should remember... This sword has other secondary powers you've seen before. Do note that a scientist came up with this thing. This could be thought up only because he was a scientist. From his standpoint, compared to raising the dead, reviving broken machinery would be even easier. Conversely speaking—since the sword can manipulate "human life," of course it can manipulate "mechanical life" as well! So this thing can also revive broken machinery. It's even easier than resurrecting a human, and of course, it doesn't require injecting a person's life through the refilling vessel."
While speaking, Kokoro slashed at the scrap metal at the corpses' feet. Just like the time when she crafted a sword using the vending machine, the numerous mechanical parts dismantled by the sword were reborn in a new form—
"«Ceremony Dedicated to Mary, Compound Trials No.2793 and No.2794»!"
After a series of unpleasant clattering, the mechanical parts gathered on the corpses where Fear had severed the arms. Slender, twisted, inauspicious.
Finally taking form were prosthetic arms made from abandoned scrap, with neither fists to hold things nor fingers to grip objects. Instead, the arms' front ends were made of sharp mechanical parts, resembling spears in shape. A melding of human death and mechanical death.
"How far are you... going to desecrate human... dignity...!"
"Stop sweating the small stuff. Since it makes them stronger, I'm sure they're very satisfied. Kaha, monsters born from the revival of corpses and the handling of machinery. Hence, this sword has another name—«Frankenstein's Heart». Okay, come, I want to make you understand that I'm a super monster with Frankenstein-level monsters as flunkies!"
The red scarf fluttering behind her, Kokoro rushed down the mountain of scrap metal.
Naturally, the two monsters followed closely behind her.
—The two of them kept watching. Simply standing there together, watching.
...The Draconian's Number Four as she swung the ceremonial sword, her red scarf fluttering behind her.
...The boy wielding the Japanese sword, fighting desperately.
...The girl extending her leather belt towards the corpses with the mechanical arms.
...The girl lying collapsed on the ground, her wrist all bloody.
...Kneeling beside her, the Japanese doll using her own hair to heal the girl.
...The silver-haired girl, holding a tool of torture while breathing irregularly—
"—Which side will win?"
The elder sister replied concisely. Indeed, no idea—Houjyou Zenon thought. At the same time, only now did she realize she was clenching her fist tight. So was her sister. No idea. However, there was currently no need to ponder that question. This was nothing more than a completely meaningless wish.
What they needed to do was prepare. In order not to miss the opportunity, they had to prepare as much as possible to take the appropriate action when the right time arrived.
In other words, sure enough—
All they could do was continue observing this scene.
Nevertheless, an even more meaningless wish compelled Zenon to move her lips. Just as before, she asked her sister beside her.
"That boy... Those girls... Will they forgive us?"
The sister's answer was, sure enough—
...Still exactly the same as just now.
Kokoro Pentangeli's fighting style was captured completely by that one word. Advancing boldly. Thrusting boldly. Slashing boldly. With Konoha's assistance, Haruaki desperately blocked these attacks. Naturally, he would also counterattack whenever there was a chance. Despite remaining in its scabbard, a sword was still a sword. Given sufficient force, lacerations beyond bruises could be inflicted. However—
Kokoro's boldness was not without reason. She was neither concerned about minor openings nor minor counterattacks. This was all because of the red curse she was wearing.
The black scabbard struck her flank, producing a sensation of bones cracking. Were the bones simply cracked? Or did they fracture? The wound inflicted at that location could not be confirmed, not because it was situated beneath clothing, but actually because of the opposite.
"Guh... How annoying. Every time you're attacked, your body becomes more exposed. This is utterly terrible in terms of moral education...!"
"Kaha, don't sweat the small stuff! I will repair it as appropriate!"
A portion of Kokoro's red uniform suddenly vanished, exposing unharmed skin—This abnormal phenomenon had occurred many times already. Of course, Haruaki would always try his best to avert his gaze.
Several clashes and then several counterattacks later, her clothing disappeared successively from various parts of her body. While Kokoro was swinging her sword boldly from some distance away, in that instant—
Just as Haruaki entered a sword drawing stance at Konoha's instruction, Kokoro stopped swinging her sword and retreated backwards. Based on the apparent situation, it was not supposed to be the right timing for withdrawing her sword... Did she possess beast-like instincts? Or was it a deduction? The right answer seemed to be both. Kokoro grinned fearlessly.
"I was thinking it's about time for you to make your move... Then lemme switch my weapon!"
Raising the ceremonial sword, she chopped at the scrap metal by her feet, reassembling in the same manner as the vending machine last time. A wreckage sword built from mechanical components stood upright from the mountain of junk. Sheathing the «Necromancy» sword, Kokoro gripped the new sword in both hands. This massive two-hander was even more enormous than the one made from the vending machine parts, almost as tall as a human. Sharpness aside, its mass alone could cause broken bones simply in the act of blocking direct attacks from it... By the way, swinging that thing was in itself quite unbelievable.
As Kokoro swung the two-hander forcefully, Konoha managed to parry it with great difficulty. The tip of the sword, apparently a reused ship's propeller blade, struck the ground underfoot, causing an engine's remains to fly apart like splashing water. Having twisted the iron core into structural steel in the shape of spider legs, the sword then rushed up diagonally from below. Evade. Block. Evade. Block. Block. Block—
Konoha had discreetly raised her concentration. The suddenly unleashed Sword-Kill Counter destroyed the great sword of wreckage with a single hit. However, Kokoro swiftly threw the remaining hilt towards Haruaki. Using the opportunity of the sword's destruction, Konoha pulled back to create distance between Kokoro and Haruaki. As though to show off the speed of her own sword drawing in retaliation, Kokoro unsheathed the ceremonial sword at her waist and slashed the mountain of scrap metal at their feet. By the time she re-sheathed her sword again, two new wreckage swords were already born from the rubble. This time, these longswords were of a more manageable size to control.
"Next comes dual-wielding...!"
"Hmm... She must have picked this location expecting things to turn out this way. A sword that is even able to manipulate the life of machines—So long as she carries that sword in her hand, she can create replacement weapons endlessly."
"In other words, unless that source of a sword is destroyed, we'll just be stuck in this battle of attrition..."
If only someone could come to help them—Haruaki could not help but think. But he instantly rejected this idea. He could not force Fear in her current state. Kuroe was busy healing Un Izoey. Kirika was handling the corpses while protecting those two. There were no other allies, none—
In the corner of his view, Haruaki saw the pair of sisters who were still observing expressionlessly.
But Haruaki pretended not to see them, tried not to think of them as he rushed towards Kokoro again.
Humans who can't die. Resurrected humans.
That makes them just like me—Kirika thought while watching the corpses approach slowly with their mechanical arms.
"Therefore, I understand your wish... Although it really is absolutely ridiculous, I've already found my reason for staying here and I will stay here for that reason. But I won't be like you two who are serving as someone's tool, forced to exist without choice... Just like my past self."
In that case, their wish should be the same. Kirika knew that she was simply fantasizing pretentiously and understood that she might not be right, but even so, she still decided their wish for them mercilessly.
Indeed—An end to all this.
"One more time. Hey, I said don't move. I will wrap it up with my hair and bandages. Be patient."
Kirika checked out the situation behind her. Un Izoey was still lying on the ground with her bleeding wrist while her wavering gaze stared at her convulsing hand, all covered in blood. Once the wound was treated, will she be able to stand up? Can she still fight? —Who knows. Kirika only knew that she was part of the reason why Un Izoey could not stand.
(I don't regret what I did back then, but... I never expected it to end up plunging everyone into a crisis. How troubling, absolutely ridiculous...)
Kirika exhaled. In any case, now was not the time to be distracted from battle.
"The «Tragic Black River»!"
The belt of assassination extended and flew out. The method to stop the corpses could only be confirmed by testing. In any case, let's try strangling their necks—Obviously, it doesn't kill them. Crunch. The sound of bones breaking was heard from the corpses as they continued advancing. Well then, let's try stopping their footsteps. However, the corpses severed the belt using their sharp, mechanical arms.
"Okay, basically... It's done... I'm supporting you, Kiririn! Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»!"
Acting as ropes, Kuroe's hair tied up the corpses' bodies. However, they continued to move forward. Creak creak, they contorted their bodies forcibly, going as far as angles that no living person could duplicate, finally using their prosthetic arms to sever the hair.
"Even Kuroe-kun's hair won't work huh."
"Perhaps it's similar to the objects that Fourteen took out, strengthened in the process... But we can't give up because of that."
"Indeed. We must find a way to stop them... Let's go!"
We must deal with these corpses as quickly as possible to go support Haruaki and the others. Kirika and Kuroe worked with perfect coordination and extended their respective weapons towards the approaching corpses again.
Kirika was greatly anxious. Hurry up and stop them. I must be faster. Right now, he is fighting by himself. Even wielding the Japanese sword, who knows how long he can last—
However, Kirika did not know how to kill corpses. Despite broken necks, broken legs and being pierced by Kuroe's spears of hair, the two corpses, which Kirika found similar to herself, still did not halt. No good. We can't continue to step back. Un Izoey was still lying on the ground and Kirika did not want to get too far away from Haruaki and the others.
In the end, Kirika and Kuroe's weapons alone were lacking in destructive power. What should be done? What should be done?
While agonizing over the situation, Kirika performed another meaningless attack as though trying to stall for time. At this moment, she heard a sound. Looking over in that direction—Her heart skipped a beat.
Locked in desperate struggle against Kokoro, Haruaki was sent flying in the air, crashing into the mountain of scrap metal.
A loud sound was heard, but it seemed as though it had happened faraway in a distant world. It sounded like random noise completely devoid of any meaning. Currently, there was only one sensation that was meaningful.
Her hand felt burning hot.
Seeing the night sky, Un Izoey finally realized she was lying on ground. Lifting her burning hand, her wrist was in so much pain it felt as though it had suffered thousands of cuts. Whatever. Somehow, cloth resembling bandages were already wrapped over it. Whatever.
All she looked at was her hand.
Defiled by the red of fresh blood, a state that used to be absolutely forbidden for this hand.
Faced with that unpleasant sensation, that taboo, she shuddered. Nauseating. Her heart was beating violent and her body felt like exploding. Unable to breathe. Just like a few days ago, even more than before, the unpleasant feeling in the depths of her mind was trembling.
The enemy had reproduced the curse.
She was cursed. She had committed taboo. Recalled. She recalled the curse, hence the trembling. Once cursed, was she herself any longer? Unclear. Hence, she could not move her body. This body, which did not belong to her perhaps, did not move. Unwilling to move.
Hence she lost.
She shut her eyes but the curse could not be lifted. Her twitching hand seemed like another organism. Contemptible. Bathed in fresh blood, the convulsing flesh was like a hunted beast. Hunted beasts were going to die and get eaten.
How should she escape from here? What should she do to return to being a hunter instead of a wild beast?
She did not know the answers.
Without even the strength to open her eyes, without even the strength to stand up—She thought.
Within this world—There really are too many unknowns, Lab Chief.
In the instant Haruaki blocked the wreckage sword, trying to parry it, his legs convulsed ominously, his muscles having reached their limits already. Keenly discerning this fact, Konoha moved Haruaki's body forcibly. Fearing that a severe injury could result from blocking the attack recklessly, she took initiative in abandoning the contest of strength, choosing to jump away instead. Absorbing the entire impact, Haruaki's body was blown away several meters away, crashing violently into the mountain of scrap metal with his shoulder.
"H-Haruaki-kun, are you okay!?"
"Woah... Ouch ouch... I-I'm okay."
Haruaki checked out his condition. Scrapes, bruises, minor cuts. Nothing serious. However, upon finding the sharp end of a metal pipe mere inches from his head, he could not help but shudder.
Then even more terrifying was—
Kokoro had approached Fear.
"I'm back. What's the matter, you still feel like puking? So afraid you're about to wet yourself? No problem, I don't sweat the small stuff. Therefore, yes... It's about time to start the surgical operation!
Kokoro started walking again, holding up a wreckage sword she had created earlier. Fear's silver hair quivered.
Perhaps driven by survival instincts, Fear swung her hatchet in a haphazard manner.
Kokoro neither dodged nor blocked.
Thud! An unfamiliar sound was heard. The blade buried itself into Kokoro's shoulder. Judging from the depth—the collarbone was completely sliced through, wasn't it?
"Cough... Kaha, this is special service. You're just a step away, right? See, the wound will heal so I won't die. Don't worry, so just enjoy yourself as much as you want..."
Kokoro spoke as sweat appeared on her brow. Given such a wound, it must still hurt quite severely. In contrast to her calm expression, her clothing's area of fabric was gradually decreasing. Even so, she did not budge. Not only that, but she also reached out with her free hand. Placing it on the back of the axe blade that was buried in her shoulder, she pressed down, moving the hatchet as though it were a saw.
"Uwaha, kahahaha, ouch! Ouch ouch ouch! How's that? Hurry up and recall your past, then become strong enough to let me enjoy myself even more!"
"S-Stop it... Stop it... Stop it—!"
"No I won't! Look look, this is flesh! This is bone! This is the inside of the enemy's body, a human body you can toy with as you please! You used to toy with humans in this manner all the time, right? Hurry up and recall it, look, hurry!"
She's mad—Haruaki thought. In the past, Bivorio had also done absolutely terrible things. However, that was because she believed that Fear would only be truly happy by returning to her past self. But this girl here was even worse, doing it only for herself. If Fear could return to her former self and become strong, she would rejoice—That was it, nothing more than selfish pleasure in sadism.
Haruaki looked at Fear. This was a selfish and willful wish, but he could not help but pray. Don't lose, Fear, I beg you, please don't lose—!
Fear also looked at Haruaki. Instead of the hurtful behavior she was forced to engage in or Kokoro who was the one forcing her, she only looked towards Haruaki in the distance.
The hatchet, which had dismembered countless humans in the past, shook greatly. Not out of delight but surely because of the fear from recalling past screams.
Her lips, which had laughed for the blood and screams of victims in the past, opened slightly. Not out of pleasure but surely because she needed to exhale in order to suppress the urge to vomit.
Indeed. Fear was no longer her past self. Compared to her past as a tool people used for torture and execution, compared to when she first arrived, compared to times when she had lost herself to past memories, she was clearly different.
Putting in all her strength, suppressing the impulse with her entire mind and body, this was her battle.
In order to win this battle that absolutely must not be lost, Fear—
First she closed her eyes tightly—
Then she transformed the torture tool in her hand back to a Rubik's cube.
The toy cube rolled and fell from Kokoro's shoulder. Finally, Fear looked at Kokoro and in a trembling voice—
"Moron... You seem to be having loads of fun, but I'm not happy at all. Instead of playing with you—I'd rather play with this by myself."
Haruaki knew a long time ago. Fear definitely was not going to return to the past. Hence she even went as far as to let go of the torture tool that represented herself. However—This also meant losing all the weapons with which she could use to defend herself. In order to safeguard her will, she had abandoned the protection of her body. Perhaps this was the only method remaining, but this action, in this situation with Kokoro approaching up close, was extremely dangerous—!
Kokoro stared with her eyes wide open for quite a while. Then she clicked her tongue disapprovingly with a "Tsk!"
"You must be kidding me... This is the result? Ahhh~ How utterly boring... Why did I deliberately come all the way to this remote and backward island? Had I known, I should have enjoyed myself suitably back at headquarters on Dragon Island instead, being an island as well."
Kokoro lifted up the wreckage sword. No matter how you looked at it, this was a distance too close for Fear to dodge.
Then without any hesitation at all, she thrust the sword towards Fear's chest—
Nevertheless, the sword did not manage to stab into Fear's chest.
Still lying in the same posture as when he first crashed into the mountain of scrap, Haruaki watched the scene in surprise. Blocking Kokoro's attack was neither Kirika nor Kuroe who were busy with the corpses and unable to approach, nor Un Izoey who still remained lying on the ground, looking up at the night sky.
It was someone else on scene.
The instant she rushed forward, Houjyou Zenon realized her mistake.
Too early. She should have taken action at a more decisive moment. Absolute proof that assured Kokoro would be defeated had not appeared yet. She should have waited.
But she could not wait anymore.
Even though she had deceived them for her own goals, to her, they were still precious friends—
Acting for the sake of protecting them, Zenon whispered softly: "Will they be angry?"
Springing into action at the same time, Ganon replied in her usual tone of voice: "Who knows~?"
In that instant, Haruaki watched as Kokoro twisted her body and swung her wreckage sword in the opposite direction. After deflecting quite a number of throwing knives, she frowned in surprise.
While blocking the throwing knives, she evaded the hand that was reaching towards the scabbard at her waist and struck back with a sword swing. The opponent swiftly drew a dagger from a thigh holster and in an incomprehensibly feeble manner, proceeded to block and parry Kokoro's bold sword unsteadily—Nevertheless, she was unable to dodge Kokoro's forward kick. Striking her in the chest, the impact of the flying kick sent the person flying backwards.
"W-What is going... on...?"
What actually happened? The throwing knives had come from Zenon while the one rushing forward to attack Kokoro was Ganon. Those unsteady movements were quite familiar... Was she the home intruder the previous night? Then the one who threw the knives to help her escape was Zenon? In other words, those two really were the home intruders last night. But why, right now—Why did they rush out at this point in time as though to help Fear?
In fact, while Zenon and Ganon were attacking Kokoro, Fear had desperately mobilized her trembling legs and retreated. At least, she succeeded in escaping from the sword's attack range.
Kokoro stared quizzically at the sisters while voicing the same doubts as Haruaki.
"What's going on? Going as far as to obstruct me... Say, was there another purpose in that action just now? You were trying to steal this ceremonial sword. Why did you do that?"
"That is because—From the very start, it was our target all along. Kokoro Pentangeli."
"Crap, I failed... However, it can't be helped. In that case, we can only try our best... Even though it's so tiring."
Zenon and Ganon rushed towards Kokoro again. Zenon thew knives while Ganon brandished her gentle swordsmanship. But ultimately, a difference in inborn strength proved decisive. As Ganon was sent flying again and caught by Zenon, the two of them rolled along the ground a certain distance.
"...I knew it already, but she really is tough to handle."
"So tiring~ I really want to relax, rest and eat Pocky right now~"
Kirika and Kuroe showed worry in their eyes as they watched, but they could not disengage from their battle with the corpses. Feeling their gazes, Haruaki asked:
"Zenon-san, Ganon-san... What is actually going on?"
"Our goal was stealing the ceremonial sword in her possession. Simply that. For this end, we lied. Although I don't think you will forgive us, please allow us to apologize to all of you... We are truly sorry."
"Our plan was pretending to be her allies to make her lower her guard, so that we can steal the sword at the best opportunity—But I guess we misjudged the best opportunity. Sigh, can't be helped. If precious students got injured, the school physician's work will get busy and that would be so tiring..."
The two of them spoke calmly while watching Kokoro warily. They did not sound like they were lying. Despite their serious demeanor, the impression they gave off was completely different from before. There was no feeling that they were forcing themselves to remain expressionless. Before Haruaki's eyes were simply their original serious looks as usual in the superintendent's office, as usual in the infirmary.
"Why? Why do you want the sword? Which ones were lies actually? Are the tattoos real? You are indeed members of the Draconians, right? There are so many other things I want to ask you two—"
The Japanese sword in Haruaki's hand shook, asking in a slightly stiff voice. Konoha probably still could not trust them completely.
"We are truly sorry. We do not intend to hide anything from you anymore and would like to explain everything... But very unfortunately, there is no time for that right now. Once everything ends, please allow us to explain to you all? As for the consequences of deceiving you—We will gladly accept everything afterwards."
"Konoha... I think what Zenon-san and Ganon-san are saying is the truth. After all, they did save Fear. Naturally, I also have many questions for them but now is not the time."
"...Hoo~ Seriously, it can't be helped."
So the result was that the Houjyou sisters were not their enemy. Haruaki did not know why they were compelled to deceive his side, but he was slightly relieved to know that they were still themselves. However—
"How troubling... Are you done with the talking?"
At this moment came Kokoro's voice, still as bored as ever. Stabbing the wreckage sword into the ground by her feet, she drew the ceremonial sword again.
"Jeez, wonders never cease. I don't think your dragon Wounds are fake and neither did you fail any of the Draconian's secret code phrases... Wanting to steal the «Necromancy» sword is possible, but I would never imagine in my wildest dreams that two ordinary members would think they could defeat a «High Single» such as me, no matter how much you desired it... Too suspicious. But no matter, let's not sweat the small stuff. As much as I'm puzzled, since you tried to obstruct me, I'll simply have to kill you all. Sorry, because of all these inane things, I'm in a very bad mood now!"
With that, Kokoro swung the ceremonial sword towards the scrap metal by her side as though venting her anger. Many times, many dozens of times. As though in defiance of gravity, a shower of mechanical parts flew upwards. Just as the sound of the destructive rain ended—numerous wreckage swords appeared around her like tombstones embedded in the ground. As many as a few dozen of these Frankensteins had been created by combining dead machinery.
"Defeating weak enemies one by one is too troublesome... Let's just make this target practice!"
Clang! Kokoro reached out and grabbed the impromptu wreckage swords one after another. Violently, mustering all her strength, yet aiming accurately at her target, she threw them. The swords flew and approached with lightning speed.
Konoha instantly reacted and struck down the swords. More accurately, the scabbard was used to parry and make them deviate slightly from their course. Simply deflecting the attacks were making Haruaki's arms numb. What astounding arm strength.
Next, Kokoro picked up other wreckage swords by her feet and casually threw them. Zenon dodged with great alarm on her face. Ganon simply bit her lip and evaded using her gentle yet unerring movements while deflecting the swords' trajectories like Konoha did. Kokoro continued to throw swords continually.
"Ugh... With this... There's no way to get near her...!"
"Not good, my hand is starting to hurt... I can't carry this on for long."
"Yes, hoping for her to run out of ammunition would be foolish indeed. This location really presents her with a great advantage... This is bad!"
Without warning, Kokoro threw a wreckage sword in a completely different direction. Her target was currently displaying a shocked expression at the sight of Zenon and Ganon's entry into the fray—meanwhile, she had exhausted her energy and stamina to resist bloodlust—Fear, sitting helplessly on the ground currently.
She had proudly adhered to her resolution to avoid getting devoured by her past again. However, this was definitely no easy task. Fear's eyes showed the intent to stand up but she could not enter the battle in her current state—The Rubik's cube remained in its original form as it rolled by her feet. All she needed to block Kokoro's incoming sword was pick up the cube and transform it into a torture tool, but was Fear able to do that in her current condition?
Fear looked up and reached for the Rubik's cube. However, before it could transform into a tool of torture and execution, the deadly wreckage sword with its irregularly shaped blade had already arrived right before her eyes—
It collided in midair with a steel pipe that had flown from the opposite direction.
Flying parallel to the ground, the sword seemed frozen in time for an instant. But in the next second, it spun and flew straight up. This meant that the pipe had struck the wreckage sword's very tip in a violent collision with equal speed and power.
Currently in a desperate struggle to pin down the corpses, Kirika and Kuroe whispered in surprise.
"Oh dear, what should I say... Today is really full of surprises."
Haruaki agreed. What on earth was going on? Today was truly abnormal. All these unprecedented events, with Zenon and Ganon's matter most prominent of all.
Ahhh, but on further thought, this was perhaps only natural.
"I didn't intend to show myself originally... But that would ultimately be too selfish of me. After all, I am responsible. Responsible without a shred of doubt. Since I cannot stand aside and do nothing—Consider this the arrival of right timing."
Zenon and Ganon had acted for a certain purpose.
Their loyalties remained the same as usual, yet they were acting due to some unknown secret motive.
Their usual selves, in that case—Haruaki was certain that they were not the only two privy to their goal. Naturally, one more person should be in the know. Obviously, that would be—
"Everyone, I am truly sorry... My willfulness has caused trouble to you all. Once this is over, I will explain everything. So first of all, let me end everything here—And shut the dragon's «Jaws» firmly."
The man who had thrown the steel pipe—
The man, whose face was hidden behind a gas mask, had never spoken in such a serious tone of voice before.
What happened? Fear could not understand. A familiar man's voice, a familiar man's appearance. Why was he here? What was he doing? Due to the bizarreness of it all, she almost felt like throwing an ashtray. Having sat down to tea countless times in that room, this was the figure who made strange laughing noises through his gas mask while happily listening to them chat.
That man and the one standing here were supposed to be the same person, but somehow she could not connect them at all. Hence, everything was total chaos.
Fear only knew one thing. Namely, what had happened to her just now.
She had been saved. Continuously resisting those shocking and ominous memories of the past had exhausted her body and mind to their limits. Taking advantage of the situation, the enemy had attacked. If that man had not thrown the pipe, the sword would have struck her directly.
However, she was currently thinking that she could not accept that rescue from the bottom of her heart. Neither could she thank him purely.
First of all, most importantly, she wanted to confirm. She wanted to confirm the answer to an important matter.
What should she do to accomplish that? Obviously—Since the answer was not in her heart, she must go out to search for it.
Fear breathed out slowly and softly, gradually regaining strength in her limbs.
She questioned his true motives. She wanted to know if he was trustworthy from her side's perspective—
Standing up, she gazed ahead to have a good and clear look.
There was definitely no mistake. Approaching step by step was the weird man in the gas mask—Sekaibashi Gabriel. Most likely wary because her wreckage sword had been deflected, Kokoro frowned while she watched the new enemy.
As though trying to calm Haruaki's mental turmoil that was making him speechless, the superintendent raised his hand lightly.
"Oh dear, I understand. You all must have many questions for me? But we do have our own extenuating circumstances that are impossible to explain in few words... If anything, there's only one thing I currently hope for you to understand, namely, that we are still your friends and absolutely not your enemies. Being forced to deceive you actually weighs heavily on our consciences."
"Hmm, this looks like a chaotic situation. Anyway, let's regroup first. Zenon-kun, Ganon-kun, go over and assist them."
Zenon's throwing knife pierced the head of one of the corpses that was facing off against Kirika, instantly stopping its motions. With unsteady footsteps, Ganon slashed at the other corpse in front of Kuroe, severing its non-mechanical arm while flooring the corpse with a kick at the same time. Although the two corpses were not dead yet, at least this bought time.
Using this opportunity, Kirika and Kuroe rushed forward. Using her hair like a hammock to lift up the collapsed Un Izoey, Kuroe moved her away.
"Since your two subordinates seem to be deeply involved with cursed tools, you can't possibly be uninvolved either? Hmph, what an absolutely ridiculous truth."
"Mmm-hmm~ Due to that overly bizarre appearance, I suspected from the very beginning that you might have some kind of secret. I saw through it early on! ...Honest."
"Such unconvincing words are quite rare too. Anyway, thank goodness the two of you are okay."
"On ther other hand, you guys seem to be in trouble. Ficchi, are you okay?"
"Yeah... First of all, lemme confirm something."
As Kirika and Kuroe ran back to the group, Fear also stood up with the Rubik's cube in her hand. Although her steps were not very steady, she still glared at the superintendent sharply.
"I have only one question. You guys—Are you allies?"
The superintendent answered swiftly.
"But you tricked us."
"That's due to extenuating circumstances. As for what the circumstances are, I hope you'll allow us to explain later. But in summary, it's related to our past. Honatsu-san also knows our past. Since I believed that these things should not be revealed to you guys, I never explained them all this time... Although I did hesitate over the decision a number of times. Indeed, we lied and deceived you, withholding certain matters. But even so, I can swear to the heavens that we are your allies. You are our precious friends and I owe a huge favor to Honatsu-san."
At this point, Fear gazed at the superintendent face to face. Incomparably seriously, her eyes seemed to be vigilantly searching for signs of lying. There was neither doubt nor calculation. She simply stared straight at the superintendent. Without avoiding her gaze, the superintendent kept his gas mask facing her, accepting her judgment head on. After several seconds of silence—
"Since only Honatsu knows, it feels a bit unfair, but... Really? You guys are still yourselves, right... Right? In that case... Very good..."
Fear exhaled. That was definitely a sigh of relief. Although they had been deceived, they were not betrayed. Spontaneously, Haruaki thought the same thing and a sense of assurance surfaced at the same time.
Speaking of which, that Pops even hid things from his own son, what on earth was he thinking? His father had first introduced the superintendent to him back in elementary school. The only impression he retained was how scary the strange man looked in the gas mask. Since then, many years had passed... It would've been fine to tell me "that guy is actually this kind of person" at least, right?
Once Pops gets back, this adds another thing for me to complain to him about—Haruaki thought. Sighing in exasperation, Konoha spoke as though trying to lift her spirits:
"Anyway, the current situation certainly does not allow for us to inquire about the details. So, allow me to confirm our combat potential."
"My skill is knife throwing. I don't have many knives remaining, so at most, all I can do is help provide cover."
"I probably can only manage a role of providing cover~ Because I haven't been keeping up with my sword training for the past few years. That said, I almost got decapitated by a weird oar-wielding woman not too long ago, it made me realize 'Oh dear, I've grown sluggish" so I started training again... But sure enough, it's really tiring~"
"I'm quite interested in that gentle sword style of hers. Would the superintendent happen to be her master?"
"No no no, Ganon-kun is virtually self-taught in a style of her own. On the other hand, I have instructed Zenon-kun a bit. Basically directing her with some key insight while I'm not too rusty yet."
Speaking of which, Haruaki recalled witnessing the superintendent's amazing accuracy with darts in the office. Considering that along with the thrown pipe just now, he was probably a master in some kind of "throwing" skill? Then could they count the superintendent as one of their combatants? As Haruaki cast this sort of questioning gaze—
"I know what you're trying to say—But because I've suffered a major injury in the past, there's a whole load of problems with my health. Due to throwing that steel pipe by using my full strength which I haven't used for so long, my hand already ended up like this."
The superintendent extended his mildly convulsing hand, which looked so feeble it was hard to imagine the hand holding anything.
"I don't think I can throw accurate at the target the next time. It'd be terrible if I hit one of you in front, so I'm sorry, it's better if you don't count me as one of the fighters."
"I see—Anyway, I'm very thankful for just now. In other words, we have a total of six people able to fight on our side? Obviously, I'm not counting that country girl. What poor endurance."
"Clearly you were in a similar state until just now... Anyway, what about that girl on the enemy side?"
Moving the tip of her sword slightly, Kokoro remained on high alert, staring intently at the superintendent.
"...Who are you people? To strike down my sword with such disgusting accuracy... I don't think even those guys among the «High Singles» can necessarily manage that level of skill."
"Don't worry about that, it was an exceptional case. I'll be an observer from now on. How regrettable."
"It does bother me... But whatever, I won't sweat the small stuff. Even if two or three more flunkies have appeared, it's no big deal. What I need to do remains the same."
Most likely summoned by Kokoro, the corpses had returned to her side, one of them convulsing all over with Zenon's knife in its head while the other had its arm severed by Ganon's dagger. These two corpses were her subordinates. Although the numbers stood as six versus three, it did not mean they could afford to be careless—
"They're a bit damaged. Well then, let's add more to them!"
Kokoro swung the ceremonial sword towards the corpse with the knife in its head. The head went flying. Fear groaned again but Kokoro remained unfazed. Through the sword's power, nearby mechanical parts began to clang and gather noisily on the neck where the severed head had been. Finally, a head made of wreckage took form, without eyes or a nose, with only a bird-like beak for a mouth. Very considerate of her, there was even a rows of teeth inside the mouth. Next, she used her sword to touch the corpse that had lost an arm, creating another prosthesis out of wreckage—branching out, it looked like some kind of weird spider alien. Hating spiders, Fear frowned at the sight.
"You might consider this an excuse... But I did give orders for Zenon-kun and Ganon-kun to find out the whereabouts of the abductees while pretending to be her allies. I never expected them to have died from the get-go. How utterly abhorring."
The superintendent muttered in a mournful voice as he looked at the two corpses, one with a bird's head while the other was equipped with spider-like and spear-like mechanical arms. Haruaki recalled how before the battle started, Zenon had advised Kokoro that "the sword's power is not needed." She was inconspicuously trying to prevent Kokoro's atrocities. Nevertheless, Kokoro's depravity had already far surpassed their expectations.
They absolutely must not lose to her.
"Fear, are you okay?"
"...Anyway, I must step up."
Fear clutched the toy cube and took a step forward in front of Haruaki. Ahead of her was death which had been toyed with, as well as the sadist who had toyed with death.
This was a scene she had been watching all along, as well as a scene she hoped to never see again. A scene very close to her yet very far away at the same time. Hence, that was why her heart was wavering so unpleasantly.
"Indeed... I must fight. She cannot be forgiven and I'm very angry. Now that we've cleared up the fact that Zenon and the others are allies, there's nothing left to make me afraid. Nothing at all—"
She halted at this point and only took one step.
However—She whispered. With the back of her silver-haired head still facing Haruaki, she murmured to herself:
"However—I still want to obtain some power. If something could ease the terror of this pair of bloodstained hands and prevent this throat from swallowing bait on its own... I think it'd make things better. Hey, Haruaki, do you really not have it? A certain power that could let me, cursed as I am, forget that curse temporarily?"
Haruaki did not have that kind of power.
However, he noticed it. Fear's tiny hand was subtly reaching out to him. That hand seemed to be hesitating, clenching tightly and opening repeatedly.
Haruaki held the hand.
"You... will definitely be okay."
These words were so ambiguous and unclear. Fear remained silent. She simply gripped his hand firmly, firmly, twice, thrice.
"Hmph... Completely useless. I did read on the news that a shameless man was arrested by the police on the train simply for holding a high school girl's hand. In other words, this action of yours is indecent enough to be arrested and in perfect accordance with your style as the shameless brat. Ahhh, crap, truly too shameless, it makes me completely furious—"
Fear kept facing forward all along. Her silver hair shook slightly.
"All because of this, whether the urge to vomit or anything else, everything is suppressed... It can't be helped, I'll endure using this anger for now."
Then Fear's halted footsteps started moving again.
There was neither hesitation nor unsteadiness.
It was as though she had obtained the power to move forward again.
"M-Muuuu... Haruaki-kun! Although I've never mentioned all this time, in actual fact, you'll really help me a lot if you could grip this scabbard tightly! How should I say this? Umm—Right, it's the breathing! By feeling your pulse strongly, Haruaki-kun, breathing can be synchronized easily, which may then increase combat power probably, no wait, it will surely increase!"
"O-Oh? S-Seriously? Well then... I'll grip tighter..."
"Huwahiya!? S-Should I say that being gripped there troubles me greatly? Ahh, no good... If you use... that much force... Ah... Huff~ I-I'm energized a hundredfold...!"
For some reason, Konoha gave off an ecstatic-sounding moan and the tip of the blade quivered. Despite Haruaki's puzzlement, he really hoped it was true that Konoha would become energized a hundredfold. After all, Konoha had likewise gone hazy from Kokoro's massive bleeding earlier.
"A chance! Let me hold hands too. Wow~ It's Haru's smell~ ...Sniff sniff, muu, this smell alone is enough to go down with three bowls of rice! Hurry and summon the chef now~"
"Stop smelling me while saying such weird things! Eh, ouch! Class Rep, why did you slap my hand?"
"I-It's like a high-five or something. Nothing more, it's just to help you pull yourself together and to help me muster my courage. H-How absolutely ridiculous... Hmph!"
For some reason, Kuroe also reached out and gripped Haruaki's hand lightly a couple times before walking forward, while Kirika slapped his palm while passing by him.
"Hahaha! Haruaki-kun sure has a happy life."
"Superintendent, what are you talking about...?"
"Secret, secret. Zenon-kun and Ganon-kun, why don't you do the same as those girls?"
"Most regrettably, I have no wish to suffer those girls' resentment."
"Nyaha, what she said. Immoral love between teachers and students... I'll be arrested if it got exposed, that would be way too tiring~"
Zenon and Ganon also moved forward, following Fear and the others. Hence the war was about to begin.
Fear readied her torture tool while Kokoro started throwing wreckage swords again. Kuroe extended her hair while Kirika curled her leather belt. One of the corpses opened its mechanical jaws while the other waved its two mechanical prosthetic arms. Zenon took out knives while Ganon staggered forward.
An all-out war.
Haruaki also gripped Konoha tight and prepared to enter the fray. However—his action was halted by something tugging at his sleeve. Turning his head to look back, he was met with surprise. While being surprised, he realized his mistake.
Because speaking of an all-out war, a piece of the puzzle was still missing.
That piece of puzzle was currently gazing at Haruaki with pleading eyes.
Do you really not have it? These words entered her ear.
A certain power that could let me, cursed as I am, forget that curse temporarily?
How could something like that exist—Un Izoey thought.
Awareness of her bloodstained hands. Awareness of her cursed hands.
The power to forget all these.
How could something like that exist?
—However, if... supposing... it really did exist—
She really wanted to know it.
Half-opening her eyes, she could see it in her hazy field of vision.
Were things that simple? Why the moon rose with a different shape every night, why the sky was blue, that was how simple it was. The delightful feeling of something that used to be completely unknown to her finally becoming known.
She knew about him. During the cultural festival, the Lab Chief had explained it to her, eliminating the unknown.
Hence, she understood. She simply needed to do the same as the other girls here.
Indeed—Although these hands were stained by the stench of blood and cursed...
The hand of the human who was absolutely immune to curses could very well wipe away that blood and curse.
Currently, she could only entrust her hopes to this possibility. Mustering all her strength, she stood up.
As she walked forward, he was looking at her with surprised eyes.
"My... wish... I request to give me the same as those girls..."
He hesitated briefly. What would happen? Perhaps the answer was no. He had no obligation to fulfill her wish. Also, there was the highly wary sword. This was a gamble with very low odds of winning.
As he looked down at the sword in his hand with a troubled expression, the sword seemed to be murmuring something. In response, he showed slight surprise then sighed as though going "can't be helped"—
"...Just once, okay."
Then turning his face away in embarrassment, he extended his hand.
"My feelings... Very thankful."
Using her physically dirty hand seemed inappropriate. Un Izoey used her lab coat to wipe the filth off her hand before holding his hand. What an incredible feeling.
So warm. On further thought, to this date, had she ever experienced the act of holding another person's hand like this? She could not recall it. Then it meant that she had never had the experience of holding hands with someone deliberately. The first time. This was the first time. The warmth flowed gradually from his fingertips.
"...I give... a question of what is the matter..."
"Did you run out here all by yourself... because you thought that the incident was your fault? Because you felt responsible, you tricked Konoha and lied to prevent us from following, then you came up with the foolish idea of defeating that girl even at the cost of mutual annihilation, intending to rescue Zenon-san and Ganon-san by yourself—That's why you came here?"
Un Izoey remained silent, unsure of what to say.
As she looked back at him, her heart began to race.
Mixed with surprise, anger and some other emotions apart from that, he made an unbelievable expression.
Then he smiled.
"You're such an idiot."
This sentence was extremely difficult to understand, conveying a feeling of "unknown" that she had never seen or felt before.
"You're from the Lab Chief's Nation, which means you're not our ally and might even be our enemy, but... After living with you for a few days, I understand. You're not a bad person. So, there's no need to push yourself so hard alone. You don't need to take on everything like it's your fault, because—"
"Because... Wait a sec, even I'm getting confused here now. How should I say this? ...Basically, rather than a patient or a freeloader, umm—Right, it's because we're part-timer buddies!"
"I haven't said anything all along, Haruaki-kun, but... What are you rambling about? Are you getting excited from holding hands with her~? Yet clearly you gripped me so violently just now..."
"No no, I'm not feeling excited at all! A-Anyway, that's that! Also, I can't leave those girls alone, so I'm heading over. What about you?"
He released his hand. The source of warmth left her.
However, some warmth still lingered in her palm.
This was not the sensation of a bloodstained curse.
In that case, everything was alright. Although she had no idea what lay ahead in the future, everything was alright now.
"...I go over too."
Enjoying the delightful feeling of something becoming known, she nodded at the same time. He nodded too.
"I see... Then thanks for your help. I look forward to your contributions, part-timer buddy!"
Hearing this sentence, she was reminded. She had worked at a Christmas part-time job. It was Christmas today and Fear-in-Cube had explained what Christmas was to her. Although the Japanese sword and the boy were watching with a subtle expression at the time, perhaps that explanation was a bit exaggerated.
But right now, Un Izoey's body and mind felt quite weightless. She had finally recovered from the discomfort that persisted ever since the cultural festival. Speaking of which, perhaps Fear-in-Cube's explanation was not exaggerated at all.
Yes, she was right.
—It looks like today really is a day when wishes can be granted.
One corpse possessed mechanical arms that resembled spider legs and a spear, making it look like some sort of deformed scarecrow. Equipped with a similar spear-like arm, the other corpse had robotic jaws and might be better described as a birdman. Since both corpses moved quite sluggishly, they should not pose too much of a threat if handled cautiously—putting aside the unpleasant feeling of destroying a corpse. But just as Fear readied her hatchet—
"Kaha! Despite clearly being so weak, you guys are not accepting your deaths very graciously!"
Kokoro picked up a wreckage sword from the ground and threw it at the girls. Fear swung her hatchet to deflect it but immediately the second and third swords came flying as well. The corpses also took this opportunity to advance. If grabbed by those corpses and immobilized, those powerfully thrown swords could get really dangerous. But if she focused on dealing with the corpses, the thrown swords would get in the way... What on earth should she do?
Just at this moment, something rushed past her side. This was a dark-skinned figure who moved with beast-like speed, running with a low stance like a beast and targeting the prey like a beast without hesitation.
The figure kept her stance low and instantly unleashed a sweeping attack at the scarecrow corpse's legs, severing the ankles. Next, she went past the flying wreckage swords with contorted movements like a gymnast. While in midair, she met gazes with Fear.
"My report: I go first. I warn first by warning that I take all credit if you relax too much."
"Hey hey, what's going on? How did she suddenly get so unbelievably agile!? So she really can do it if she puts her mind to it!"
"I treat that glory as praise for my glory—But it doesn't please me at all, okay."
Fear did not know what had happened. Just now, she had heard Un Izoey and Haruaki conversing behind her so that was probably the reason. In any case, Un Izoey had returned to the same level as exhibited during the cultural festival, completely different from the confusion and hesitation she displayed in mind and body over these past few days.
She belonged to an enemy organization. It was probably not a good thing for the enemy to become stronger, right? But for some reason—Fear felt a lot more relieved. Somewhere in her heart, she thought that.
"«Tragic Black River»... Fear-kun!"
"Mode: «Killing Machine Masakado»! Preparations complete!"
After suffering Un Izoey's attack, the scarecrow corpse had fallen on the ground, having lost its ankles. Even though it tried to get up, it was unable to overcome the disability of its severed feet. Kuroe extended her black hair that had hardened into steel wires and entangled the other corpse's mechanical arm while Kirika used her belt to ensnare the normal arm, rendering the corpse immobile.
"Poor corpse... Rest in peace!"
Un Izoey's earlier action served as a hint of inspiration. Since the corpses could not be killed, eliminating their mobility was good enough. Fear swung the axe and chopped off a leg from the immobile birdman corpse. The disgusting feeling of slicing dead flesh was transmitted through her hand. In order to forget that sensation, she swung the hatchet towards the corpse's mechanical head. Clatter—the sound of a metal block shattering could be heard as the head was sent flying into midair. The corpse shook violently, but—
"Hmm... Woah, crap!"
Perhaps as a last-ditch struggle, the corpse forcibly pulled the mechanical arm that was being bound by Kuroe. Due to the excessive force, or maybe it was self-destruction, the mechanical arm broke into two halfway through the process. Next, the corpse stabbed its broken prosthetic arm towards them—
"Fear!" "Please be more vigilant!"
Haruaki blocked the attack using the Japanese sword in his hand. Mind your own business—Thought Fear to herself as she swung the hatchet for the third time, amputating the mechanical arm. Left in quite a pathetic state, the corpse could only squirm stiffly on the ground.
"We only need to render them incapable of interfering in our fight, right? By this point, the enemy shouldn't have any leisure to reattach new mechanical parts to these corpses. As for the other one... Although it can't walk currently, it'd be troublesome if the corpse crawled behind us unnoticed. Let's destroy the other corpse's mechanical arm first."
Just as Fear was thinking that, there was no need to do so anymore.
"Basically, we've already dealt with it."
"Indeed, the feeling is really unpleasant..."
While saying that, Ganon and Zenon approached. Fear nodded.
"Well then—the only one left is that girl. Astounding brute strength, endless creation of mechanical swords, plus clothing that provides healing... Hmph. Looks quite troublesome to handle. However—"
Fear cracked a grin. At the same time, she recalled the sentence she had heard faintly just now.
"However, I can't think of any reason why we'll lose. Our teamwork is much stronger than that girl's strength. Because we've braved hardship together before—Part-timer buddies, that's the correct saying, right?"
You heard it all? Haruaki shuddered. To think he'd go so far as to count that girl among the part-timer buddies—Fear felt a little miffed by Haruaki's kindness, but at the same time, she understood it was what made him Haruaki.
Naturally, once everything ended, she must pursue the matter properly. Unbelievable that he would hold that girl's hand so shamelessly.
Kokoro felt incomparable joy. The kick flying from a dead angle, the lightning speed and astounding strength, the unpredictable and rapid knife—She had never witnessed such sights nor had she ever fought this kind of opponent. Ahhh, this really was, this really was—
"Kahahahaha! Joy, oh what joy! The mood has finally livened up!"
"I feel no bit of joy towards that joy... I ask trivially: or just a bit?"
"Kaha, you're pretty calm there!"
Ducking to evade the foot-wielded knife, she swung the wreckage sword at the same time. However, Un Izoey had already spun like a top to circle over to her side. While moving, she also swapped the knife over to her left foot and performed a thrusting attack from a dead angle which Kokoro could not withdraw her sword to block in time.
Kokoro stuck out her tongue and licked her lips, releasing the sword in her hand. Without even the time to toss it aside, she directly picked up another small sword that was stabbed in the ground in front of her, using it to block Un Izoey's knife. Un Izoey performed a back flip to distance herself while Kokoro picked up another wreckage sword to dual wield.
"Wonderful. I can finally satisfy my appetite with your current state."
"What are you talking about? I tell you this first, even in my tribe, eating human flesh is taboo."
"I don't mean literally. Didn't I mention it earlier? This «Ceremonial Sword of Necromancy»'s curse turns the owner into a state similar to a revived corpse. In other words, it requires one person's life to resurrect another's—I'll die if I don't replenish periodically using other people's lives. I decided long ago that I'll only eat the souls of people who are at least as strong as myself. I'm so happy that you're finally worthy of being my prey! What's left is just the process of cooking you properly!"
"I warn you with a warning that too stubborn with type of prey causes insufficient food. Also, beasts should know well they are beasts. Beasts that recognize hunter wrongly as prey will suffer painful lesson."
"Kaha, what audacious words!"
Then show me some skills next? —Just as Kokoro intended to attack Un Izoey again, the sound of something slicing through the air was heard.
"Showing motivation is very good... But now it's getting a bit bothersome!"
Kokoro used the small sword to deflect the throwing knife. Judging from the trajectory's source, it came from the short-haired woman with the calm and collected expression. Kill her first? Just as Kokoro's attention was drawn to her, a slovenly presence could be felt from behind.
"So tiring~ Can't I live life easier than this~?"
It was the woman with the weird swordsmanship. The sword that feigned attacks without attacking and feigned retreats without retreating—An illusory sword. Just as the description implied, this sword skill toyed with the enemy deceptively. Although Kokoro found it quite interesting, currently, it only caused her annoyance.
Kokoro already knew how to defeat the enemy. When engaging this type of opponent in combat, excessive brute force was enough to get the job done. She pushed her shoulder towards the enemy and intentionally allowed one of her swords to be entangled, then using her freed hand, she made a fist and punched the woman in the chest, sending her flying back with a moan of pain.
Too easy. The instant Kokoro felt that something was wrong, she noticed. It was a trap. Lying on the ground, the woman waved her hand lazily in mockery. Then jumping into view with lightning speed was the silver-haired girl rushing towards her. This girl is next? Just as this thought crossed Kokoro's mind—
"«Tragic Black River»!"
"An unexpected reappearance, «Mongolian Death Worm Yoshikado»! Followed by «Chaotic Tadamori»!"
The throwing knife, the illusory sword and even the silver-haired girl's charge were all part of the trap? Lurking in the surrounding mountain of scrap metal, the belt and the hair instantly rose up, shaking the junk away. They must have decided to spend time approaching her in secret because the usual manner would definitely result in getting severed. Too close, impossible to evade. The belt and the hair entangled Kokoro's arms from the left and the right respectively.
Not a problem. There were many ways to escape. Pull them apart with full force? Even breaking or severing her arms would be fine. After all, she could use the «Bloodstained Reginetta»'s power to recover—despite her limited stock of red cloth. Even confronted with the charging Fear-in-Cube, it would be the same. She would still be able to move even if pierced by a spear or sliced by an axe not too severely.
However, Fear halted in her steps just before reaching Kokoro. What did she intend to do at such a distance? She wouldn't be thinking of using a thrown torture tool, would she? A foolish strategy. Those kinds of things definitely lack power.
Defeating Kokoro required causing continuous damage to her until this «Bloodstained Reginetta»'s rate of healing could not keep up, until her stock of red cloth that served as its source of power was all gone.
"—You are truly a villain, Kokoro Pentangeli."
"A villain? Really? I might actually be Santa Claus, you know? I am truly capable of granting the wish of resurrecting the dead. For someone who harbors that kind of wish, I really am the Santa Claus who can offer salvation."
Kokoro answered casually while applying force through her four limbs. Fear glared further at her:
"People who harbor that kind of wish? Indeed, people's wishes come in all sorts. Those wishes, as well as the people making the wishes or the people granting wishes, not all of them are bad. For example, a man wanting to see his wife is a perfectly natural wish. But that excludes adding "even if it means raising her from the dead" to the wish. The wish itself is perfectly natural, but the means to realize it was wrong. If someone hopes for a wish to be fulfilled even if it is wrong to begin with, then that can no longer be called a wish."
"Oh? ...Then what do you call it?"
Was she being careless? Or underestimating the enemy? Kokoro wondered as she persisted in applying force. Snap, a strange sound came from her arms. One more go and Kokoro was going to escape from these bonds.
"The desire, obsession and madness in trying to fulfill a wish despite the wrong method—That already counts as a curse. The existence of that sword, cursed from those wishes, is proof of that. Hence, I absolutely cannot approve. As much as I can sympathize with the wish to resurrect someone from the dead... So long as the method is wrong, I absolutely cannot approve of it!"
Her eyes displayed completely unshakable determination, staring straight at Kokoro without any aversion. Then—
"If someone tries to use a wrong method to fulfill another person's wish, even if that person is the real Santa Claus, I will still stop him! So I'm going to stop you, just like now!"
Fear declared forcefully as she swung the drill in her hand. It did not hit. Instead, the drill's tip simply buried itself into the scrap metal heap by Kokoro's feet. However, the girl rattled the chain of cubes that was connected to the drill.
"Mechanism No.12 extinction type, revolving blade form: «Tornado of Souls»—Curse Calling!"
Immediately, it transformed into an upright pillar with countless blades on its surface. With the sound of steel turning, it began to spin like a tornado—At the same time, the resilient belt and hair entangling Kokoro's arms pushed her forward slightly. Naturally—
Dragged forward, Kokoro's body made contact with the killing pillar's sharp blades. The tips of the revolving blade gouged out bloody flesh, resulting in shared sensations of the clothing's ripping and the body's pain. The dual agony caused Kokoro's mind to go utterly numb. Forced to heal without a choice, yet her wounds were sliced open by the killing mechanism as soon as they closed up, resulting in ripped open flesh again, followed by healing. The «Bloodstained Reginetta»'s area was rapidly decreasing at an unprecedented rate.
However, Kokoro pondered amidst this painful suffering.
Her thoughts were mixed with anger.
While feeling annoyed by how weak the enemies were, she also thought: How naive.
"Ahhh... Naive, naive, too naive! Why show mercy, why bother judging the distance... Isn't it faster to bring this thing closer to my body and shred me directly!"
Fueled by that anger and impatience, Kokoro applied even greater force to her arms. Then—
By her own initiative, she allowed her body to be swept up in the continuously spinning tornado of blades. The sharp blades sliced even deeper wounds in her body. However, it was fine as long as she did not die on the spot. This was the easiest method to escape. While listening to their shocked gasps, Kokoro brought her restrained arms forward and used the torture tool's spinning blades to sever the hair and the belt. Although her arms were almost sliced to pieces, it was not a problem either.
Freed of her restraints, Kokoro retreated back, all covered in blood. The «Bloodstained Reginetta»'s area was 99% consumed, all used to heal her wounds. Although she instantly became dressed in almost nothing except for underwear, she simultaneously pulled out a red cloth from the sack on her back to replenish the fabric area. The red scarf she had been wearing all this time was also consumed. Only then did the «Bloodstained Reginetta» finally return to its appearance as a red uniform.
"Kaha, what a shame. You guys failed to take full advantage of a rare opportunity—"
Halfway through her speech, Kokoro could tell from their eyes that they had not lost the will to fight yet.
It was as though they firmly believed they would win.
It was as though they were saying that they possessed reliable companions who allowed them to believe so.
Before her eyes, the killing pillar switched to the form of another torture tool.
Although the enemy had escaped from the killing pillar, Fear saw a favorable shift in the tide of battle instead. She never expected that strategy to succeed on its own to defeat the enemy completely. Furthermore, since the sack and the scarf had been used to regenerate her clothes, this meant that the enemy's healing ability had already reached a limit. The area of her current clothing was probably all she had left. Then in that case, only one thing needed to be done.
"Mechanism No.21 hanging type, hook-claw form: «Spanish Spiders», Curse Calling!"
Dangling from the stand that was connected to the chain of cubes, real chains extended in accordance to Fear's will. On the end of each of these chains were a pair of hooks in a capturing posture. Four chains with four pairs of hooks all flew at Kokoro, ensnaring her upper arms and thighs securely. Originally, this torture device was meant to hang someone beneath the stand for excruciating agony, but right now, accomplishing the task of immobilizing Kokoro was good enough already. Because—
"Tsk... I'll let you have the chance to show off. Don't get careless!"
"Understood. There's also a rule in the tribe—When eating a meal, must eat everything."
The gray-haired girl approached expressionlessly. Supporting herself on her hands, she spun her dark-skinned legs. As though imitating the killing pillar just now, she kept slashing away at Kokoro's chest at high speed with the knife wielded in her foot. Incessantly, without pause.
"Guh, k-kah... You... bitch...!"
Un Izoey's attacks were completely merciless. Each cut from the knife sliced deeply into the flesh, stabbing straight into the heart. It would not be surprising if every strike was a fatal wound. Kokoro had no choice but to keep using the «Bloodstained Reginetta» to heal herself. Nevertheless, Un Izoey continued to exhibit eyes without any emotional fluctuation, executing slicing attacks persistently, causing Kokoro's clothing to disappear progressively. Since little of her underwear had survived the ordeal of the killing pillar, Kokoro ended up with nothing but a pair of underwear on her lower body. Unbelievably shameless... Once everything is settled, I must teach the shameless brat a good lesson.
However, just as the red outfit's area was reduced to just part of a collar remaining—
"DO. NOT. UNDERESTIMATE... ME—!"
Kokoro forcibly pulled her limbs that were caught by the «Spanish Spiders», ignoring the tearing of flesh and struggled free from her restraints by force. Those wounds did not heal. Neither could they heal again.
Jumping back lightly, she pulled back and bought a few seconds to prepare a counterattack. Of course, Un Izoey pursued closely behind her and rushed forward. Using the few seconds bought by the jump, Kokoro pulled out the nearest weapon. Just as she was about to block the knife from Un Izoey's foot—
It's over—Fear thought. The one who got the true chance to perform was not Un Izoey.
The dark-skinned girl halted the stabbing motion of the knife in her foot and crouched down on the spot.
Smiling, she declared:
"Adding additional explanation of tribe's rules. Food must always be finished completely. However—sharing with trusted companions is also virtue."
Flying over Un Izoey while she was crouching, a boy appeared, wielding a Japanese sword. Before their eyes was, of course, the cornered Kokoro who had finally drawn the ceremonial sword. The Japanese sword murmured softly:
"I can see that sword already—"
Go ahead—Fear thought. Despite the sword being the target of the superintendent's faction, they seemed to be approving of what was about to happen.
Yes, that thing is not needed.
Even if it could raise someone from the dead. Even if it could fulfill a wish one really hoped would come true.
But if it required another person's life in exchange—Fear did not want that.
Hence, that thing was simply—
A cursed sword that must be destroyed.
The impact was heard, serving as proof that new scrap metal had been created in this time and place.
Sounding akin to a scream, it was the shattering and scattering noise of the evil sword's demise, the sword that toyed with human death.
Using the force of re-sheathing, the boy swung the black scabbard that holding the white blade, striking the enemy's body hard, sending her smashing violently into the mountain of scrap metal where she lay exhausted and unable to move.
Watching this scene, exhaling forcefully—
What was this mood? Un Izoey secretly wondered.
She was in unbelievably high spirits. A sense of fulfillment she had never experienced in any sort of hunt. She even went as far as to feel that this incident and hunting might actually lie on opposite extremes. Warriors who had gained independence were required to hunt alone, then judged in accomplishment by how many prey they could catch.
(...Precisely because this was completely different from hunting?)
Cooperating with comrades with unity, simply for one goal.
She had almost never experienced this in her entire life to this date.
This feels—Very great. Indeed, very great. This sense of happiness was very important—She thought. Alone by herself, she could not have defeated that girl. Neither could she have shaken off the curse that was branded on these hands. Perhaps she had focused too much on being a warrior so far. Finding out about this was truly wonderful, being able to turn the unknown into known was truly wonderful—
A thought crossed her mind. Once again, she sighed.
"What I needed to find out, perhaps... is this? Lab Chief..."
"Phew... How troubling, at least it's over... Right?"
"Yes. The corpses have already stopped moving... Probably because the sword is destroyed."
Hearing Konoha say that, Haruaki finally relaxed his entire body. The dead were laid to rest. The sword was also destroyed. Pitiful corpses were never going to be used as tools again. Kokoro had also suffered fairly serious wounds without any remaining cloth to heal her. Even if she stood up again, Fear and the others should be able to knock her down with ease.
"Ugh. Once I relax, my body feels so uncomfortable... I've seen too much blood for today..."
"Are you alright? Uh... Do you need to change back to human form so that you can lie down and rest...? But if staying in your original form is more comfortable, that's fine too."
"Right... Then I guess it's time to change back to human form..."
"Hold it right there! I! Absolutely cannot ignore this! Shameless aura!"
"Why are you trying to sound like an Indian or something? Ouch ouch!? Stop poking me suddenly in the eye! What the heck!?"
"I've realized already! Whenever Cow Tits changes back to human form, that's the most dangerous time! If I have to pretend not to see every time, I absolutely cannot accept that...!"
"Fear-kun, you've finally noticed the key point. I agree wholeheartedly... It should be better if I first tie up Yachi's wrists using the «Tragic Black River» like this, right?"
"Yeah, nice idea."
"Even you, Class Rep!?"
"Ding ding~ I've thought up an epoch-making solution to this awkward situation~ Haru, reach towards me for a bit... Then putting this on top, lift your hands..."
With Fear covering his eyes and his wrists bound by the belt, Haruaki continued to hold Konoha in his hands while Kuroe's tiny hand guided him to do who knows what. She first led the sword's tip along the ground in search of something, then lifted the sword vertically... Rustle, something soft touched the back of Haruaki's hand. He could not be sure since he was unable to see, but something was hooked by the sword's blade and hanging on the guard currently. What on earth...?
"Uwah~! Kuroe, what are you making him do!?"
"Reverse thinking. Since changing back to human form is the most dangerous moment, then just have her dressed to begin with, right?"
"Hmmmmm... Eh... W-Wait a sec, what is going on!? How could you take advantage of my hazy state of mind... Why is my u-under...! Kyah, Haruaki-kun, this is no good! Stop touching with your fingers unbelievably!"
"EH? Umm, is this really... Uwawawa, sorry!"
Haruaki frantically stopped moving his fingers that were trying to confirm the texture. He could feel Fear pressing even harder on his eyes while he was placing Konoha on the ground. At this moment, Un Izoey could be heard talking to Zenon.
"My question: what are they doing?"
"Exactly what you see... That's all I can answer."
"I see. I speculate this is what's called a victory ritual?"
...Of course not.
The tension gradually dissipated from the atmosphere at the scene. But as soon as Kokoro staggered up to her feet from the scrap metal pile, the mood instantly became tense again.
"Ahhh, damn it, this hurts... To think I actually lost? I haven't lost for so long..."
Just dressed, Konoha readied her karate chop. Everyone else instantly entered a battle stance in surprise. Unexpectedly, Kokoro waved her hand with disinterest.
"Don't worry, I don't want to fight anymore. Seriously, you're clearly so weak individually, but suddenly turn out so strong when unified as a group... The «Necromancy» sword was destroyed? Tsk, what a waste. Wasn't that sword your goal?"
"Yes, but—It couldn't be helped under those circumstances. Indeed... It couldn't be helped..."
The superintendent was the one who answered. With his hands in the pockets of his suit, he stared at Kokoro from behind his gas mask. Kokoro grinned in mockery.
"You really sound like you're regretting the decision. Hmph, it's all because you people deceived me that my rhythm got disrupted. Interfering due to incomprehensible reasons and making me lose. I can't forgive that. Tell me, who are you people? And for what purpose do you desire the «Necromancy» sword... Oh, I already know why. Then who do you want to resurrect?"
Everyone in Haruaki's group gulped and looked at the superintendent. Indeed, that was obviously the case. Zenon and Ganon narrowed their eyes as though in mourning. The superintendent's face was hidden behind the gas mask and could not be discerned.
"So, before that, I have a small question. Can that sword really bring the dead back to life?"
"Didn't you see it just now? Of course it can. It even works for a corpse that had turned into a skeleton, as long as you put in several people's worth of life. So, a woman, right? Child? Parent? Friend? Or—"
Perhaps it was Haruaki's imagination, but he felt hesitation in the profile of the superintendent's face. Hesitation regarding whether he should answer.
"...It's absolutely clear that asking is completely meaningless..."
Nevertheless, he seemed compelled to ask, as though he could no longer suppress the urge to speak. Interrupting Kokoro, the superintendent asked:
"—So, can it resurrect a Wathe that's already dead?"
Time froze. Haruaki's group remained motionless. No one could move at all.
Just like Haruaki's group, Kokoro also froze. But after several seconds of silence, she seemed to realize something, finally breaking out in giggles by herself.
"Kaha. I see I see. So that's what this is about. Very unfortunately... That's impossible. If that's your goal, then you've got the wrong target from the very start. That said, I can understand why you would consider that possibility. Although that sword can bring humans back to life and reassemble machinery, it is powerless regarding the deaths of humanoid Wathes."
"Indeed. You think I've never considered reviving broken Wathes that used to be very strong? That's much more useful than controlling human corpses which are very weak, right? Because I've actually tried it before, I can safely assert this... But it's only natural. After all, humanoid Wathes are existences counter to common logic in the first place. They are not supposed to exist in this world originally. Neither humans nor tools, they are half-baked existences. We can't help that. Furthermore, the fact that they cannot serve as nourishment for the «Necromancy» sword indicates that the sword never regarded them as living to begin with."
Fear bit her lower lip hard. Counter to common logic. Not supposed to exist in this world. Half-baked.
Before she could regain her senses and say something, Haruaki was already holding her hand. Just like earlier.
This should be faster, thought Haruaki. He wanted to tell her: Even if that were true, it's fine for you to exist. He wanted to tell her: No doubt about this.
His thoughts must have reached her, because Fear gripped his hand firmly in return.
"Really? Then from the start, this was a wish that was impossible to fulfill? Ahhh, Fear-kun was right just now—Using a wrong method to fulfill a wish, that in itself is probably wrong already..."
The superintendent muttered softly as he nodded, sorrowfully but seemingly with a hint of relief.
At this point, Kokoro's shook even harder with laughter.
"However—this finally allows me to figure it out. I remember now. Now that you mention it, I've heard about it before. Kaha, kahaha! With this, I can understand now. I can also understand why those two would have Wounds of the dragon. Hey, since I already know, it makes no difference, right? Let me confirm it—Show me your real face."
The superintendent remained silent for quite a while. Finally, his shoulders shook lightly.
"Although I'm not obliged to show you... I am to them. Because we've agreed to explain things properly after everything is settled."
Hence, for the first time since Haruaki met him many years ago, the gas mask which had always concealed his face—
Was taken off.
Beneath the dim moonlight, the superintendent's bangs fluttered in the wind, obscuring the top half of his face.
Hence, his facial features and expression were not too clear.
Be that as it may, what was visible was—visible between the gaps in the fluttering bangs—
Branded upon his face—A tattoo resembling a dragon's «Eye».
"Kahaha! Just as expected! The previous «Eye»! The former «Blaze» No.2! Nicknamed the «Yellow Belly»! I've heard that you've done many great things in the past, before I joined the Draconians, right? I've heard about it: how you rebelled against the Commander because your Wathe died then you escaped from the Draconians—Traitor!"
"Yes, that's basically it. Since it's been so long since I last took it off, I can't relax without it. Please allow me to put the mask back on."
Saying that lightly, he sighed and wore the gas mask again.
Both his usual self yet completely different at the same time, the superintendent silently turned to face Haruaki's group.
"So, I think you guys still have many questions for me, right? But to be honest, I think this chilly and troublesome place isn't really suited to discussing those matters. Also, explaining everything might take quite a lot of time."
"Yes, but it's natural that you may find my words hard to accept in this kind of situation. However, if you're willing to indulge my willful suggestion—I'll allow you to ask one final question. Then could we please adjourn at that point? After that, all sorts of things need to be handled for the aftermath, followed by some catching up on sleep... Right, then we continue as usual, drinking in the office while we chat, how's that?"
Since the man in front of them suggested it, that's fine too—Haruaki thought. Hence, he accepted the suggestion and tried to raise the final question that he was most curious about.
"Superintendent... Umm... Why... do you want to resurrect a cursed tool that's already dead...?"
The answer was very simple and extremely brief as well.
"Naturally, because I love her."
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