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—Rewinding time back to a little earlier, at the Yachi home.
Yachi Honatsu was alone, diligently sweeping the garden. The second floor of the accessory dwelling, where Kuroe and formerly Konoha lived, was damaged to a tragic degree. Windows shattered, gla.s.s shards scattered all around, crushed window frames dangling, tattered curtains fluttering in the wind.
Honatsu first cleared away the gla.s.s shards, which were the most dangerous. Using a broom to sweep, he then gathered them in a dustpan and threw the gla.s.s into a flame-resistant garbage bag.
"That's about it~"
He turned his head to survey his surroundings in a circle, confirming his handiwork. At least the area in front of the accessory dwelling had been made rather clean. Of course, he had not worked on the veranda or the interior of the house yet, which he was going to do later if there was time.
Seeing as no knights had visited again so far, it looked like they were probably in a state that lacked spare energy for attacking this home. Haruaki and company seemed to be making progress smoothly.
As for why he had left them, staying at home to sweep, he could only say "no choice." He would be of little help even if he went along with them. In that case, it would be better to get started on cleaning the house first.
Honatsu's gaze stopped at the storeroom part of the accessory dwelling. Caught in the earlier battle, the metal shutter was slightly contorted. Expending quite a bit of effort, Honatsu barely managed to raise the metal shutter.
He walked into the storeroom.
Although no earthquake had occurred, Pendragon and the knights had fought a disorderly battle all over the place. Honatsu hummed a song while broadly checking for anything out of place in the cursed objects placed either on the shelves or on the floor.
"Hmmhmm~ Of the slightly cursed tools... Yes, a couple of them have lifted their curse. I've got to take them out once everything is settled and replace them with new ones. The ones labeled to be returned to their owners... This one and that one~ I wonder if there are any packing materials in the house?"
Muttering quietly, he walked to the next set of shelves.
"No matter how small an object, no matter how minuscule a curse, nothing wants to be cursed after all. Because everyone here was created for the sake of helping others, more or less. Only because certain things went awry did they get covered by the negative emotions of foolish humans. It would be so sad if they were thrown away just because of that."
"Oh~" Honatsu looked at the storeroom's ceiling as though he thought of something at this moment.
"In other words—What I need to do is very simple. It's recycling. It's environmental protection, eco-friendliness. Although I just realized, I was actually a pioneer ahead of the times a long time ago, as expected of myself!"
He clapped his hands and praised himself.
"Even if slightly dirty or a little broken, they might still be usable or there might be other ways of existence. This is the resting place for the sake of slowly pondering such matters... Right?"
After muttering all alone, he c.o.c.ked his head on his own as well.
"Why do I have to do this? Hmm~ If it's Haruaki, he might say that this is penance for the tools that we humans have cursed... Of course he's right but Daddy is the one who started this endeavor from day zero and I don't quite agree~ Actually, it's more like paying off debts."
He examined the next shelf then tilted his head the other way.
"Hmm~ Speaking in general terms... It's wanting to be kind? Not just towards humans but also things created by humans and things related to humans. Don't you find this to be wonderful? At least I purely think so. However, I think Haruaki also understands this point. Summing it up, it's love. Love. This home was built using our love, so plentiful that it overflows."
Honatsu nodded and walked over to the last set of shelves. At this moment, he suddenly giggled.
"By the way, I'm quite intrigued myself. Why am I muttering so much to myself? Yes, as usual, it's because of 'developments.'"
The directionality of "no choice." Something occasionally enveloping him, whispering to him, pushing him.
Something demanding that he "do this."
He called them "developments."
"By the way, let me add this, why I prioritized sweeping the accessory dwelling's surroundings is also for this reason. I was already sweeping when Haruaki and the others were here. Actually, it's probably better if I started sweeping from the main house or the living room. But just as 'developments' said, it's of course much better to wake up in clean surroundings. Although this is totally just a matter of mood."
Then Honatsu knelt down in front of those shelves.
His gaze settled on something on the lowest level. He stared straight at it.
Then he reached out and caressed gently.
"Are you worried about affecting Haruaki and the others' 'developments'? Hoho, what a kind child you are. But you're thinking too much. They will embrace you with open arms... Very naturally, matter-of-factly, unalterably. Like what those children have been doing all along. So, you don't need to be afraid."
Ahhh—Honatsu finally noticed.
Why he was here, why he came here.
"It's to help you, still half asleep, to realize your own 'developments'... In other words, my mission is to give the sleeping girl one final push."
Hence, Honatsu used just his fingertip to poke that object. It felt hard yet unbelievably warm.
"However, you don't need an alarm clock. Neither do you need a hand to shake you out of bed, nor words to rouse you, nor a spoon to whack a frying pan noisily."
Gently, only extremely gently—He then said:
"You just need to be aware of it... Got that? Long ago—You have already woken up."
In front of his gaze...
The indigo pot shook with a clatter.Part 2
Haruaki could not believe the scene in front of him and blinked repeatedly. Because it was too unexpected, he had to spend a bit of time before he could recall from memory what he definitely knew.
Just as an armored knight was about to swing his broadsword upon Haruaki, something jumped from the side, baring its fangs to bite the knight's throat. It was—
A beast made of indigo mercury.
Ahhh, this... This is hers—!
Then he heard a voice. So nostalgic that it brought him to the verge of hot tears, that voice.
"Indigo Venom No.28, Name: «Unknown». Indigo Venom No.29, Name: «Ura.n.u.s»!"
She looked back.
Haruaki saw it.
With hair covering one eye, dressed in a large coat with many pockets, wearing tall boots for some reason, summoning to her side the cursed forms of her venom familiars—
He was not mistaken. It was definitely Aiko. During the battle against the Bivorio Family, she had suffered a grievous wound sufficient to kill. It was only last Christmas when they discovered that she was miraculously still alive, slowly waiting to recover—the girl whose true nature was a cursed pot.
With timid airs like a small pet, Aiko retracted her neck and fidgeted shyly. Indeed it was her, exactly as Haruaki remembered.
"Yes, uh, umm, it was Honatsu..."
In the middle of Aiko's sentence, Fear rushed over to hug her tightly. Fear's face went through myriad expressions while she rubbed her face against Aiko in one instant, or shook and stroked Aiko's body all over in the next.
"Ahhh, it really is Aiko! Why? How? When did you wake up? Are you okay? Running to this place!"
Aiko made that nostalgic sound while allowing Fear to keep shaking her. However, her gaze suddenly turned to the side—The approaching armored knight that a newly summoned large dog-shaped venom familiar had pounced on.
"Umm, Fear... I'm very happy, but right now..."
"Y-You're right. Right now... Hmm, it's not the time."
Fear finally recovered somewhat from her confusion and released Aiko's body.
"I'm pretty lost here but you mentioned Pops' name just now? I can basically guess everything from that... Are you willing... to help us?"
"That is exactly why I came here."
An unambiguous answer. Clearly for her, using venom familiars was not supposed to be a happy thing. It was supposed to be a power that she herself hated.
Haruaki felt very grateful for her well intentions. Nodding, he said:
"Kotetsu! Those animal-like things are on our side. Don't worry!"
"Guh, oh... Hmph. Truth be told, your allies are full of weird things. I never expected the arrival of even beasts as well—"
Despite wounds all over his body, Kotetsu was still valorously fighting the armored knights with his tiger claws, muttering in a gruff tone of voice. His reply seemed a bit strange to Haruaki.
"...Even beasts as well?"
Kotetsu silently lifted his chin, gesturing towards Kirika who had her abdomen pierced by a knight's broadsword earlier. Heavily injured, she was supposed to be focusing her attention on healing at the moment. Haruaki saw—
Arriving unnoticed, Yamimagari Pakuaki was standing there, looking down at the collapsed Kirika.
Next, after a wave of his arm...
A group of people dressed in lab coats suddenly appeared in the surroundings.
Pakuaki first glanced at Kirika then Haruaki.
"No need to be so surprised. I simply used transportation and concealment Wathes."
"No, I'm not talking about that, why are you..."
"Looks like there's no time to explain reasons right now. Although brawn is not in abundance on my side, there are a few skills just sufficient to handle combat. That's the main point, right?"
"Take this! Eat my punch! As for the name... I got it! Intellectual Fist of Destruction!"
"Kususu, surprisingly good, that gorilla-like and simple-minded speech of yours. But gorillas can't speak j.a.panese, so overall, it still adds up to zero."
"Th-Then... Ooh, ooh, ohhhhhhh!"
"Uwah, obviously human but imitating gorilla sounds, that's so revolting. Doing that is totally r.e.t.a.r.ded, so it's minus points now."
"What the heck do you want me to do!?"
A familiar looking muscular researcher equipped with bra.s.s knuckles was punching an armored knight. A gloomy woman was wielding a taming whip. Other researchers who showed up were each carrying strange tools, some resembling rods, some resembling fans, some resembling guitars. Those were definitely cursed tools that were useful in combat.
If a re-introduction was necessary, there was also one researcher present who did not carry any cursed tools.
"I am late. Apologizing with this kind of apology."
A dark-skinned figure jumped over, sending a set of silver armor flying with a kick. Most likely, she finally defeated those living knights she was fighting earlier.
"Hi. Anyway, this is the situation now. You help out too."
"Although the reason is unknown... Orders acknowledged."
After nodding at Pakuaki, Un Izoey was just about to pursue the armored knight she had just kicked away when—
Someone landed on that knight's helmet with a thud.
Haruaki could only stare wide-eyed. Because it was too unbelievable, he could not trust his own eyes.
Kokoro Pentangeli. Her hair was cut short and she was dressed in a pantsuit like a businesswoman, but unmistakably, it was the Draconian whom they had defeated in the past.
"Kaha. It's been a while, Hunter, boy... Woah!?"
The armored knight under Kokoro's feet stood up forcibly. Somersaulting in the air, she landed and casually picked up someone's sword that had fallen on the ground. After clashing a few times with the armored knight's broadsword—perhaps due to a difference in ma.s.s—her sword broke. Backing away, she picked up another sword.
"Tsk, how fragile~ But whatever, this is also a good training handicap."
"Oh? You didn't hear about this? I'm now being kept by that unscrupulous and inhumane masked man. He even threatened me with poisoned food... So that's the story. Anyway, that's why I've no intention of fighting you guys at the moment."
Indeed, they had handed Kokoro to the superintendent to take care of. Although she was a villain who had committed unforgivable crimes... Haruaki did not believe that the superintendent would execute her privately. Presumably as punishment, he forced her into becoming his subordinate.
Kuroe tilted her head slightly.
"Come to think of it, the superintendent seems to have mentioned something about a beast tamer..."
"Although I think what he said about poison was 99% likely to be a lie, I can't ignore the possibility that he really laced my food with poison. Anyway, that guy currently holds the power to determine my life and death... Usually, he sends me to do his bidding by handling gangsters or other boring conflicts. Now that there's a rare chance for a big fight, I have to enjoy myself! Kahaha!"
Obtaining weapons from the scene, Kokoro charged the armored knight.
Haruaki then saw Kirika stir restlessly to move her upper body, so he reached out and helped her up. The abdominal wound seemed to have finally healed.
"...Absolutely ridiculous, the situation seems to have descended into chaos."
"It's way too chaotic! By the way, huh? There's even one of Sovereignty's dolls mixed in there!"
Haruaki suddenly discovered there was a doll mixed among Aiko's venom familiars, jumping around, trying to divert the armored knights' attention. Haruaki turned his head to see a figure on the school roof far away. Not just Sovereignty but Shiraho, Isuzu and the others were also there.
"They were clearly asked to hide in the secret room..."
In his hand, Konoha shook lightly.
"I understand their feelings. It's quite painful to just wait without doing anything."
"And right now, the knights probably don't have any spare energy to give them a hard time... Even if they do, Isuzu would be able to handle one or two of them using the power of norito. Anyway, let's feel grateful for Sovereignty's support, it's enough to disrupt the enemy."
Haruaki nodded in agreement with Fear, then readied Konoha in a stance. There was a continuous stream of slight pain from his left hand just from holding the sword. It was when clashing against armor and swords that the force of impact would bounce around inside his body, causing a vague and ambiguous numbness. This elusive pain, too small to pinpoint tangibly, actually felt more annoying.
However, staring at the battlefield before his eyes, Haruaki slowly began to ignore it. Slowly, he forgot the pain.
It felt unbelievable.
They were facing the «Wittelsbach Knights», sixteen of them, threats with mechanical vibes like robots.
Kotetsu swung his tiger claws. Kuroe extended her hair. Kirika controlled her bandage. Un Izoey brandished the knife in her foot. While the doll controlled by Sovereignty distracted the knights, Aiko's venom familiars would seize opportunities to bite. Waving around their respective tools, incomprehensible to Haruaki, the members of the Lab Chief's Nation handled the knights. On the other hand, Kokoro was swinging her sword like a beast.
Everyone was there. Enemies, friends, as well as people who were difficult to cla.s.sify as enemies or friends.
Haruaki felt his heart heat up unbelievably. He thought back to all the details of everything that had happened to this date. Times they had spent—interacting, knowing, clashing with certain individuals. At the same time, he immersed himself in the feeling.
Without these times in the past, surely this currently scene would be impossible to witness. The situation would not have developed into this either.
(Sure enough... it's because of Fear, right?)
He believed that Fear was the origin. Everything started after she came here. Meeting all kinds of people, experiencing all sorts of things. To be honest, every incident had good and bad aspects to them—but thanks to her, many things were definitely put into motion.
Even so, what was waiting ahead of them was a.s.suredly going to be "something good."
Of course, what they desired was a happy ending.
He did not want to see an ending with people crying. He did not want to see an inconsolable ending.
Power surged silently within him. Standing in front of this scene, it was only natural.
This scene, allowing him to see everyone, seemed to be saying "step forward towards the happy ending."
At this moment, gazing at the battlefield like a commander, issuing orders to the researchers, Pakuaki suddenly said to Haruaki:
"Hey hey, what are you s.p.a.cing out for? We're not jocks, after all, intellectual exercise is our specialty. Although we can buy some time, things won't look pretty if you expect us to wipe out the enemy."
Pakuaki extended his arm lightly and pointed somewhere.
The far end of the red carpet.
The Dominion Lord was sitting in his throne, the wheelchair. Beside him was the maiden knight—as well as the cursed spear stabbed in the ground.
"You guys have things to do, right? Then go, Yachi Haruaki."
"This guy is correct. Our goal is not the complete destruction of these sets of armor."
Fear nodded with a serious demeanor. The j.a.panese sword in Haruaki's hand also shook lightly.
"Got it. Then excuse me, I'm leaving the rest to you!"
Saying that, Haruaki started sprinting. Kirika also followed. Kuroe, Kotetsu and Un Izoey wanted to rush over but were blocked by the armored knights. Without extra energy to spare, they had no choice but to stay where they were and continue fighting the knights.
In the end, they were the only four who broke free from being surrounded by the «Wittelsbach Knights». Haruaki, Konoha in his hand, Fear, and Kirika.
"Haruaki-kun and I will be in charge of close quarters combat. Ueno-san will take care of long-range attacks and provide treatment in case any of us are injured. Finally, the one who doesn't matter... I suppose this is the most basic lineup."
"Don't call me the one who doesn't matter, accursed Cow t.i.ts!"
"Konoha-kun, are you going to fight in that form?" asked Kirika.
"To be honest, I also hope that Haruaki-kun could stay in a safe place."
"Let me help please. Now that we're here, how could I do nothing but watch? My hand is totally fine too."
Haruaki a.s.serted firmly, prompting a sigh from the j.a.panese sword.
"Indeed, the opponent does not seem to be a target that could be handled with knifehand strikes alone... And I don't want to suddenly see a set of armor approaching Haruaki-kun from behind and swinging a a sword at him after we separate to fight."
Immediately, Konoha's voice turned serious.
"I will put my life on the line to protect Haruaki-kun. Haruaki-kun, may I complete an important preparation for this purpose? However, that means changing back to human form for a moment."
The Dominion Lord and Dainsleif were right in front of them. However, since Konoha said it was an important preparation, Haruaki could not ignore her, of course.
"Of course it's okay, but since you're turning back into human form, shouldn't I close my eyes first...?"
"Oh, either way is fine. I don't mind even if you don't close your eyes. Yes, this is a good chance to find out Haruaki-kun's preference."
By the time he tilted his head in puzzlement, Konoha had already jumped up before his eyes and returned to human form. Confronted with the vast view of bare skin, just as Haruaki reflexively tried to close his eyes, Konoha reached out with both hands to lift his face then—
She kissed him on the lips.
It was quite unlike the kiss last time. A certain something slid into his mouth, stirring boldly, sucking with a slurping sound.
"Puha... Excellent—! My motivation is surging! Come, Harauki-kun!"
Konoha's body bounced up and turned back into the j.a.panese sword.
"Cow t.i.ts! What are you doing!? T-Too shameless!"
"Konoha-kun! You're doing this kind of thing again! A-Absolutely ridiculous!"
"I don't hear anything at all!"
"D-d.a.m.n it...! Haruaki, I want motivation too! But it's way too shameless if I imitate her, so, uh, I'm doing this!"
"I-I want some too! Although it's absolutely ridiculous! But it can't be helped!"
Fear wrapped her arms around his back and hugged him tightly, pressing her silver-haired head against his chest. Kirika grabbed his arm and embraced it tightly in her bosom. Haruaki felt his arm sandwiched between two soft objects.
"Hey, you've totally lost me, now isn't the time for this kind of behavior, right!? Although I do agree that motivation is definitely needed!"
In this manner, noisily...
The four of them moved forward, in a style very much unique to them in this sense—
Fear was using the entire front half of her body to feel Haruaki's body warmth.
Through his warmth—She smothered what was within her.
The black mud pulsating in the depths? That did not disappear, it still existed.
After seeing the dead bodies Satsuko created, it became restless. After the «Wittelsbach Knights» appeared, it became restless. The more the battle situation intensified, the more it became restless. After Konoha acted unreasonably, it became restless.
In other words, a feeling of displeasure. A wish to cause mayhem.
However, apart from her own willpower right now, there were other things capable of suppressing that impulse.
Rubbing her forehead against his chest, she savored his smell.
This alone was not enough. She recalled the taste of his skin.
She used his entire being to smother her impulse. Trying not to think. However, she still thought accidentally.
The squirming in the depths of her body. A shred of unease.
What was going to happen next? —Future options were definitely limited.
Hence, she could easily imagine them. Good futures, bad futures, the worst future.
She did not know which type of future among them would be chosen. Just as she did not know whom Haruaki wanted to be with the most between Konoha, Kirika and herself, she had no idea at all.
Even so, she still mustered her resolve.
The resolve to believe this to the very end: a wonderful future was what was going to arrive.
She inhaled forcefully again, allowing Haruaki to fill her interior.
Then as before, her unease was easily smothered.
Simple. Wonderful. At ease. Relief. Perhaps she had already gone through a makeover to become like this. To become an existence that was healthy in body and mind as long as she used Haruaki to fill up herself.
Okay, let's go. Everything was about to finish. A wonderful future was about to arrive.
Not like they could stay stuck together forever. The instant before the finish line was just ahead.
Seeing Kirika on the other side releasing Haruaki's arm with her face all red, she took this as the signal to slowly let go of Haruaki. His warmth, smell and texture departed.
Of course, she was definitely reluctant to part from these sensations, but conversely, she gained new pleasures. Because only during temporary separation could she ruminate and savor these experiences in her mind. She decided to immerse herself in them for now.
Just the thought of touching him again brought unbelievable joy to her heart.
She found this incredible and felt very happy at the same time.
The girls' warmth departed.
When Haruaki turned his attention back to reality, there were only two people before his eyes.
Sitting on the wheelchair, the Dominion Lord, and standing beside him, Dainsleif.
Dainsleif shook her head in disapproval.
"Impossible to comprehend. Like a parade of idiots, what are you people thinking?"
"A foolish question—Likewise, they do not comprehend our justice or our will. Simply a group of children... A group of children who jump up and down in rage after seeing their pile of sand in the park is about to be leveled."
"This place is not a pile of sand in a park. What you are trying to destroy is a place dear to us. That's why we must stop you."
Haruaki glared at the Dominion Lord and spoke. Sitting in his wheelchair and throne, he was gazing upon Haruaki with eyes marked with age.
Dainsleif rapidly and nimbly moved herself between the two of them.
"...Do you think you will succeed?"
"Hmph, you're the only ones left. I'd like to toss the question back at you: Do you think you can stop us?"
Hearing Fear's reply, Dainsleif answered with her shoulders shaking:
"So long as His Lordship and I remain, a minimum knightly order can be formed, a battlefield for a crusade to eliminate loathsome curses can be formed. Don't make me laugh."
She took a further step, stepping directly in front of the Dominion Lord.
"The only thing that saddens me is that I must request a.s.sistance from His Lordship himself."
"A foolish question. You are my sword. Now that the enemy is here, the sword must naturally be swung."
The Dominion Lord declared in a solemn voice:
"Hence—permission granted to unsheath, Dainsleif."
Dainsleif answered sternly then raised her arm as though rebounding. The visor-like helmet made a clong sound and moved—Underneath, below the visor that had bounced up...
It was a pair of violet eyes shining like ominous gemstones.
In the next second, while the Dominion Lord extended his hand towards her from behind, her body jumped up.
Then by the time anyone noticed—
A sheathed broadsword was already held in the Dominion Lord's hand while he remained seated the whole time.
The base of the scabbard had a component shaped like a clasp. In material and structure, the clasp resembled Dainsleif's visor-like helmet very much. The clasp was already open, revealing a glimpse of the blade beneath which was unbelievably glowing with violet light. Using a j.a.panese sword as an a.n.a.logy, this would be the state of koiguchi, loosening the sword slightly in its sheath for immediate use.
The Dominion Lord stroked the scabbard with his hand. Since the clasp was already open, all he needed to do was wait for the scabbard to slide off.
The red carpet underfoot received the scabbard's weight, producing a tiny thud—
Left in the Dominion Lord's hand was a sword flashing with ominous violet light, filled with murderous intent.
The shape itself was quite commonplace, a double-edged broadsword with thickness to its body. Attached to the blade's body was a thin steel plate with patterns engraved on it, thus increasing the blade's thickness. Subtly blinking as though breathing, the violet light completely enveloped the steel-colored body of the blade and the silver-white blade itself.
"That's... Dainsleif's original appearance—"
"Ha, don't overestimate them, Haruaki. Using a battery to glow might be a fun mechanism for little kids, but take a look, the sword's wielder is an old geezer. He intends to fight while sitting in his wheelchair."
Haruaki suddenly realized. Indeed, the Dominion Lord holding the sword was still seated in the wheelchair. «Dieu le veut»'s curse dictated death for the owner as soon as one stepped out of the territory under its rule. Because the town's "Dominionization" had not finished, the Dominion Lord was currently in a forced state of compromise, relying on another «Dieu le veut» spear, using that wheelchair as his temporary fiefdom—called the Mobile Territory, right?
In other words, until "Dominionization" finished...
The Dominion Lord could not walk from that wheelchair, Zilch Ground.
"Fighting on a wheelchair? Absolutely ridiculous. This can only work by staying impeccably on guard.. right?"
"A foolish opinion. You people have no idea about Dainsleif's curse."
Saying that, the Dominion Lord turned the sword's tip lightly towards them.
In a girl's voice, the sword explained her curse.
"My curse is... 'once drawn, a victim shall be killed.' Hence, I have been called a demonic sword."
"No need to sound so full of yourself. This type of curse is very common. I am a demon blade too."
Konoha remarked in disdain. However, Dainsleif's tone of voice did not change.
"Ignorant to a pitiful degree. As one would naturally expect from a lowly Wathe whose value is equivalent to dirt, but you fail to understand the meaning of the words 'shall be.' Once drawn, I shall move for the sake of killing, I shall exist for the sake of killing, the sword itself will be guided for the sake of killing. Putting it another way, once my sword is drawn, the result of 'killing someone' is already predetermined."
"The predetermined outcome, destiny and causality of 'a victim shall be killed' drives my sword forward—Its direction and the driving force behind the causal relationship is precisely the manifestation of my curse."
"—Foolish children will not understand, Dainsleif. Just let them witness with their own eyes: the ending reflected upon your blade, predetermined death that follows immediately, and the driving force of guaranteed death led by causality!"
"Yes, my lord!"
Instantly, the pair—
Together with the broadsword in his hand, the Dominion Lord sitting in his wheelchair rushed towards them.
With the speed of a bullet, with the momentum of a cannonball.
The wheelchair tilted, but probably secured by a belt or something, the Dominion Lord's body did not fall off. Together with the wheelchair's ma.s.s, he swung Dainsleif at high speed.
Konoha barely managed to block the attack, deflecting the sword. Against this ma.s.sive impact as though blocking a giant rock, Haruaki felt his entire body's muscles screaming before it turned into an electrical current that rushed out of his left hand's amputation wound. He gritted his teeth to endure the pain.
The Dominion Lord's wheelchair slid backwards and landed, but immediately, the twisting wheels made a 180-degree turn. Clearly, the Dominion Lord was not operating it at all.
This time, the wheelchair did not advance in a straight line. Instead, tilting the wheels alternately, it approached with dance-like movements—Fear was the target.
This was not something she could block barehanded. Probably not imitating Kokoro on purpose, but Fear instantly picked up a sword that had fallen by her feet, probably one of the knights' supplies, thus barely managing to block Dainsleif's attack. However, the Dominion Lord attacked relentlessly, chopping consecutively. Fear defended desperately—
Behind the Dominion Lord, Kirika extended the bandage in an attempt to strangle his neck or pull out the «Dieu le veut» spear embedded on the back of the wheelchair. However, the Dominion Lord stood the wheelchair up on one wheel and spun like a top, slicing through the bandage. Finally, Fear took this opportunity to distance herself.
"Tsk, I can't believe it... moves. So weird~"
"Dainsleif is the one pulling... Right!?"
"It appears that the speed and path can be controlled too. They mentioned a driving force of causality and guaranteed death, anyway, that means 'towards the enemy,' this kind of broad vector... Then making use of the vector, they created this method of fighting."
"I thought it was simply a charging thrust, but... Absolutely ridiculous. From the start, I should have calculated they would combine attacking motions with the wheelchair's ma.s.s and mobility. This might turn out to be even trickier than a normal battle."
"Indeed, we have never fought a wheelchair-bound opponent before, after all. But let us put this topic aside."
Konoha waved lightly. Haruaki guessed that she was probably looking at Fear's hand. Looking at the weapon she had picked up on the spot.
Still staring ahead, Fear pouted slightly and said:
"I don't want to hold it either, but there's no other way. Stop picking on me for such a simple weapon."
"Yeah, it's definitely challenging to handle a broadsword with bare hands... Konoha, it's fine, right?"
After Haruaki spoke on Fear's behalf, Konoha sighed several seconds laters.
"Fine—with a weapon like that, even if an emergency came up, I could still destroy it instantly. I'll treat it as an extension of your arm. However, carelessness is forbidden. What I need to do still hasn't changed. Listen carefully, on the first symptoms of trouble, immediately—"
"I know I know... Anyway, forget about me for now and focus on them! Their movements definitely startled me but it's pretty much just fighting on a wheelchair as a subst.i.tute for legs, right? Nothing to be afraid of!"
Shifting the wheelchair as though drifting in motorsports, the Dominion Lord adjusted his position and held up Dainsleif again. With a calm gaze, he said:
"—Foolish concerns. Whenever someone says there is nothing to be afraid of, the speaker is already afraid."
The wheels screeched. Both sides clashed again.
Haruaki and Konoha desperately fought the Dominion Lord together. Dainsleif was a cursed sword and was moving according to her own will—Hence, the Sword-Kill Counter would not work. Even by using the powerful True-Kill Counter—
"I am known as the legendary demonic sword! How could a mere demon blade from a remote island nation shatter me!?"
However, the opponent was a cursed broadsword with a long history. The two swords bounced off each other. Haruaki could feel they were evenly matched. It would be too naive to think the match could be concluded in a single strike.
Glowing faintly with violet light, the broadsword was swung with power, speed and spectacularly varying trajectories difficult to imagine coming from a man in a wheelchair. How could the elderly Dominion Lord's arm be so strong? His own swordsmanship was also astounding in skill. Difficult feints, combos, counters... He was not an opponent to be trifled with at all.
"Gwah... How can I... just keep defending... Take this!"
"Wait, Fear-san, you are too impetuous!"
But Konoha's warning came a step too late. Fighting like a caged beast, Fear lunged to attack using the sword she had picked up earlier, which ended up getting struck by the Dominion Lord's counter. The ordinary sword broke and flew away, leaving a scratch on Fear's cheek. Probably taking evasive action from more serious injuries, her pet.i.te body suddenly flew backwards and rolled on the ground. Then reaching around to search, she picked up a nearby sword.
"I'm not done yet...!"
She stood up and glared at the Dominion Lord. A fighting style relying on willpower and conviction instead of technique. Most likely displeased by this, the Dominion Lord scoffed from his wheelchair.
"—Foolish behavior. You are cursed. Do not fight as though you were a knight with a mission."
"Shut up, I... I have no choice!"
Tossing all concerns aside, Fear charged head on.
"...Mission? Of course I have one. I will defeat you in my rightful form! Then I'll return the town, the school and that home—back to normal! I absolutely won't give up!"
Haruaki could not watch quietly either and charged together, attacking with Konoha. Kirika also sent a flying bandage to cover them.
Silver hair fluttered by Haruaki's side.
To be honest, Fear's contribution to combat strength was negligible, but Haruaki was very grateful that she was willing to stay by his side and fight alongside them. He also felt saved.
However, even so—They still failed to harm the Dominion Lord and Dainsleif after all this time.
Although their fighting style was very eccentric at a glance, the pair's strength was like a straight fastball, relying on pure power with no gimmicks. Pure to the point of having no openings, there were no obvious weaknesses.
Haruaki's group kept consuming stamina. The fatigue acc.u.mulated from battling continually so far was weighing heavily on their backs. Even though Konoha was controlling his body, it did not prevent the physical body's base consumption. The shock from impacts felt concentrated on the end of his left hand, even giving him an illusion of the pain materializing into fingers. A matter-of-fact feeling there. A feeling impossible to forget. Forcing himself to forget was making him feel weary.
Hence—When he blocked Dainsleif's horizontal slash, swinging as though gliding through the air, Haruaki's knees suddenly lost strength and gave way.
Konoha had no choice but to endure the blow, absorbing the impact to jump to the side—or rather, allow Haruaki's body to be struck flying.
As the view receded away rapidly, Haruaki saw the wheelchair's wheels turning from the recoil of Dainsleif's attack, then as though executing a spinning back kick, it knocked Kirika away in the opposite direction.
Haruaki gritted his teeth and waited for the next impact. Meanwhile, he could only pray for the girl who was left on the spot—
He prayed for the safety of the girl who was facing off against her actual parent.
The screeching wheelchair landed after knocking Haruaki and the others away.
Fear faced off against the Dominion Lord head on, holding just a fragile and ordinary sword she had picked up.
Possibly to relieve boredom or to control the driving force, the Dominion Lord rotated his wrist, spinning Dainsleif in front of him as though performing a sword dance. Afterimages of violet light were left upon the viewer's retinas.
The Dominion Lord's expression remained constant throughout, completely emotionless, simply gazing at the justice he was meant to enforce. But at this moment, a slightly troubled expression seemed to surface in his eyes.
"I shall ask you... A continuation of the earlier conversation, although it is a foolish notion."
Fear frowned but the Dominion Lord continued unfazed:
"Why must you fight in this manner? Like an orthodox knight who gets up relentlessly for the sake of the mission."
Similar words as before. Fear could only respond with the same remark, namely, "Shut up."
"You are cursed. This manner of fighting is contrary to what I expected. Even if Indulgence Disks have sealed away several mechanisms, there should be others remaining, right? How about «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes»? «The Teeth» or the «Flower Sword Verazella»? Try conjuring them."
"Hmph, you want to see them?"
"A foolish question. Every mechanism stands as evidence of my sin, hence obliterating them would contribute to penance. This is my duty as your creator—Your father."
She felt her chest tighten. Just like when she was listening to him in the form of a box, this man's words were poisonous. She found it difficult to breathe, her heart was pounding, and she almost broke into tears.
But she did not want to admit defeat. Taking a deep breath, Fear said:
"To you... Am I just a collection of errors?"
"Indeed. As your creator, I can a.s.sert that your birth was an error. You were born in error, used in error, and most of all, shrouded in the error known as curses."
Without spending time to think, without spending time to agonize, the Dominion Lord answered immediately.
As though saying this could not be more obvious and logical. As though saying there was no other answer.
Fear was struck by an urge to laugh at his a.s.sertion, but while suppressing it, she said:
"Okay... Then I'll ask something a bit more specific. What you do think exists inside this body of mine that is such a great big error?"
Like issuing a challenge, she used that word on purpose.
Staring straight at him, she grinned and said:
"'Father,' tell me. What is inside me?"
"—A foolish question. There are thirty-two mechanisms of torture and execution along with loathsome curses."
Still showing a poker face, the Dominion Lord answered in full seriousness.
Hence, Fear could no longer restrain herself and burst out laughing.
"Haha... Ahaha! You think you're so smart, right? What an idiot!"
"Insolent wretch! Are you insulting His Lordship!?"
The tip of Dainsleif's blade shook intensely, but did not charge at her. As though contemplating Fear's true intentions, the Dominion Lord stared intently at her. Since he did not understand, she would have to explain for him.
Fear placed her hand lightly against her chest.
Heart beat. Warmth. What lay inside.
"Inside me—Yes, for example... I know how to solve a Rubik's cube. Did you design that?"
The Dominion Lord frowned as though saying he did not comprehend what she was talking about. This also amused her.
"There's lots more. Such as feelings of liking rice crackers, feelings of liking furry animal, or content from the lessons in school that are stored in my mind. I've gained so much knowledge. I can also perform the dance I learned for the sports festival. Learning part-time jobs was also a piece of cake, like being a waitress or a salesperson. Also—oh right, knowing how to make chocolate. I can make very~ tasty chocolate, you know? Of course, including everyone in school, everyone in the shopping street, everyone in town..."
After pausing for a breath—
"Along with Haruaki... Haruaki and the others, my feelings of love for them all."
Feeling shy, she had to change her words at the last moment. However, she was telling the truth. These feelings really existed in her heart.
"Haha, so let me ask again. Did you design these feelings for me by using that prided mouth of yours?"
Once she articulated herself, she no longer felt afraid.
"—The matter-of-fact error, me, that you created in the beginning... has already been diluted by other things. Because I am shaped like a box, of course there will be many things stuffed inside, even to the point that the original contents no longer matter. Every s.p.a.ce that used to remain empty all the time in the past has been filled up, even overflowing."
Beneath the palm she had pressed against her chest, she could feel those things that were breathing.
Those things that had been inserted bit by bit ever since she came here, less than a year ago.
Before she even noticed, these things had piled up in layers like flower petals.
Hence—Fear looked up.
She did not smile at her creator—Instead...
She stared straight at the Dominion Lord as though piercing him.
"Even if my birth is an error, the fact of my being here, coming here, and meeting everyone—all these things are absolutely not errors. This is the only point I can be certain of! You have no right to deny all this!"
Then she declared loudly to him.
The Dominion Lord shook his head lightly as though evading Fear's forcefulness. Reversing the direction of Dainsleif's rotation, he made a preparatory motion for a thrust.
Empowered by the driving force formed from the intent to kill, the wheelchair rushed towards her with lightning speed.
A threat, but she was not afraid.
She had already realized that this man was nothing so extraordinary. Dominion Lord? A ruler like a king? An ancient alchemist? The enforcer of justice? These meanings were insignificant. To her, there was only one meaning.
Fear gripped her sword tightly. Entering a battle-ready stance, she yelled:
"Ha! Insisting your daughter is very foolish when you clearly didn't try to understand her—From my perspective, I think this kind of father is even more foolish!"Part 4
The force of impact was substantial. Kirika did not think she could land safely.
Perhaps I might die again, hopefully I'll revive sooner—she thought, but the next sensation was not pain. Fabric and frame. She felt a melded mixture of softness and hardness envelop her body. A clatter of collapsing noises. Apparently knocked too far away, she had collided with one of the tents set up nearby. What unexpected fortune.
A sharp end of the broken frame stabbed into her arm, but it was already several times better than breaking her neck or cracking her skull open from smashing into the ground or a wall. She pulled the frame out and sat up while pushing the tent's remains to one side. Due to moving her body too quickly, she felt dizzy.
Merely knocked away by a wheelchair—She gnashed her teeth secretly. Her body's only advantage was immortality. She was useless once she died and would end up worrying others instead, which she did not want.
(Is there really nothing... that could give me more power? If there's a way to help them...)
Just at this moment...
Amidst the remains of the collapsed tent, her hand, which was on the ground to support her body, touched something.
Kirika involuntarily turned her head to look at the object—
Then she laughed "haha."
"Absolutely ridiculous... Because it's too trivial, they could not even be bothered to destroy it?"
After getting knocked away, Haruaki spun his body and entered a defensive posture, although it was Konoha controlling him to do that.
Even so, he still braced himself for an impact against the sports ground's hard surface. The instant he tensed his entire body—
However, what he felt was a body of flesh.
"Huh... That's odd? Kotetsu...?"
Kotetsu had spared his arms to catch him. More precisely, he was holding Haruaki in a bridal carry.
Naturally, Haruaki felt embarra.s.sed and left Kotetsu's arms as though rolling away.
"Kotetsu? Thank you for saving me but how did you..."
"Because the number of armored knights decreased slightly. If it is just me, running over here should not be a problem..."
Haruaki glanced at the surroundings. Aiko's venom familiars, Sovereignty's doll, and the members of the Lab Chief's Nation including Un Izoey were still fighting. However, he could definitely see several sets of silver armor fallen on the ground, no longer moving.
"Really? Then that'll really be a great help to us. We're actually about to run out of energy here, if you could join in—"
At this moment, Kotetsu directed an unfriendly gaze towards him, glaring at Haruaki as though he had something to say. But seconds later, he shifted his gaze away immediately.
"To be honest... Truth be told, I am also tired. I cannot attack in my usual condition."
"R-Really? Uh, then it can't be helped..."
"So... Hmm, umm, basically..."
At this moment, Konoha bounced up in Haruaki's hand.
"Ah, could it be... Kotetsu, would you like me to speak on your behalf?"
"N-No, Muramasa-sama! Ultimately, this sort of thing... is only proper for me to suggest myself, so..."
What was he talking about? Haruaki tilted his head, then Kotetsu faced him again as though committing his resolve. Slightly pouting, he said:
"...This is just a temporary measure."
"I have yet to offer you my approval or my trust. Truth be told, you are truly incomprehensible and weak. Despite being weak, for some reason, you sometimes look very strong as well. Originally, I would never suffer such a fellow, but umm... Right! Because the magnanimous Muramasa-sama has taken the lead and done it, I am merely emulating her magnanimity, or perhaps one could call it learning, it would be nice to have a look at the world through the same kind of perspective... So!"
Kotetsu grabbed Haruaki's collar and brought his face up close in a very fierce manner.
Haruaki was thinking he was going to be killed—but in the next instant, Kotetsu went red in the face without warning and avoided eye contact.
"Just this once. Just this once... I permit you to make my body your plaything as you please."
These profound words make Haruaki's heart skip a beat.
While the Wa Lolita outfit was silently fluttering to his feet—
Haruaki found his left hand holding a scabbard-less j.a.panese sword.
"...Quit staring at me. You do have a thing for males after all? Ugh! Noo... Truth be told, I cannot believe you are using your fingers to play with that part immediately..."
"I-I'm holding you for the first time. At least let me confirm the grip's sensation!"
"Muu, somehow your comment sounds totally awful."
"Not at all!"
Haruaki was clearly just moving his fingers lightly to confirm the sensation of gripping the sword.
Although his left hand was missing fingers, the grip felt unexpectedly tight. Or perhaps Kotetsu himself was helping him out a bit.
"...Hmm, very well. But I still retain priority over Haruaki-kun's body, okay? Kotetsu."
"Certainly, I will provide support with the precondition of not obstructing you, Muramasa-sama."
Priority over his body sounded a bit weird but Haruaki decided not to dwell on the matter.
In any case, Kotetsu probably possessed a certain level of ability to a.s.sist the wielder's body. Combined with Konoha's power, Haruaki felt his body become much lighter. Naturally, this was his first time dual wielding Kotetsu and Konoha, but he felt that this should work.
"...Thank you, Kotetsu."
"Quit yammering. Shut up. All you need to do is move while holding me. This will be over immediately."
A gruff voice.
Haruaki smiled wryly and started walking back to the battlefield. Fear was currently facing off against the Dominion Lord.
He could hear—
Straightforward words, filled with her conviction.
Get back there immediately. Fight alongside her. She is already fine.
Just as he took a step while thinking such thoughts, Konoha spoke.
For some reason, as though in resignation towards something, her words were mixed with a deep, deep sigh.
"...Oh~ Excuse me, Haruaki-kun, could we go somewhere first?"Part 5
Returning as soon as one it had been dodged, attacking as soon as one thought it had been withdrawn, that was the kind of power driving the sword of Dainsleif. Despite attacking in straight lines, the trajectories were strange and complicated. Just as Fear desperately blocked an attack—
She saw something behind the wheelchair, twisting in a serpentine manner to take on a scythe-like shape.
And there were two of them.
In the next instant—
"«Chupacabra Bandage»! And the... «Tragic Black River»—!"
Kirika suddenly rushed over, waving her arms as though dancing. The white bandage, which had been transferred to her left arm, and the black belt on her right arm—returned to its original location—formed two writhing spirals.
The Dominion Lord groaned and turned the wheelchair while swinging Dainsleif in a horizontal slash. However, the two monochrome strips, one black and one white, differed slightly in timing, extending independently like using both hands to attack consecutively, a.s.saulting the Dominion Lord in wave after wave.
"Hah... Although I'm bringing this to a fight without practicing, I didn't expect it to work so well...!"
Easier said than done. In fact, it probably required substantial willpower and concentration. Her forehead covered in sweat, Kirika said:
"I happened to find it in the adjacent tent. They probably thought they didn't need to go out of their way to destroy a mere belt... Or they simply forgot. Anyway, this is mine. Although I took it back without asking, they're not going to object!"
"All you did was retrieving an insignificant and frail Wathe! Don't get too full of yourself!"
Yelling, Dainsleif used her own blade to slice through «Chupacabra Bandage» and the «Tragic Black River». Then the wheelchair slid between the two of them to close in on Kirika. Long before Fear gripped her sword, someone had already squeezed his way in front of her.
Obviously, it was Haruaki.
For some reason—He was holding a j.a.panese sword in each hand. In his right was an elegant j.a.panese sword in its black scabbard. In his left was an unbridled and unsheathed j.a.panese sword.
After blocking Dainsleif, Haruaki instantly counterattacked with speed and power, a consecutive offense that made use of complementary advantages. Fear originally thought Haruaki's left hand which she had maimed would have trouble holding a sword, but Kotetsu looked even heavier than Konoha and through judicious use of both sides' weights according to the principle of leverage, thereby compensating for grip strength while generating destructive power.
After clashing evenly with the Dominion Lord for several rounds, Haruaki jumped away greatly as though saying "enough."
"Compared to Nirushaaki-sama, you are too lacking in stamina. I am very dissatisfied."
"...That's only to be expected, right? Don't compare me with that kind of natural-born battle maniac."
"Kotetsu, you may exert more force on the left arm without any concerns. Although not to the point of tearing muscles apart, so long as muscle ache is the only aftereffect, Haruaki-kun will just have to endure it."
"Uwoah~ What a spartan approach..."
Haruaki sighed and slumped his shoulders. Then as though lifting his spirits, he grinned and looked at Fear over his shoulder.
"It's not all over yet. You want to punish that idiot father, right? Let us help."
"Yeah, count me in as well. I suppose he's one of those monster parents who've become fashionable lately. Although it's absolutely ridiculous, he won't understand unless we resort to force."
Kirika also chimed in. Had they all heard what she said to the Dominion Lord just now? Fear felt a little embarra.s.sed—But immediately, she thought candidly to herself: "Fine, whatever."
She felt her courage multiply just from the fact that she was facing the same direction as Haruaki and the others. She glared at the Dominion Lord.
"Foolish behavior... Just as Dainsleif stated, the mere increase of one or two insignificant Wathes will not turn the tide."
"Really? How will we know without trying...? If anything, I believe the gap in combat strength has definitely shrunk."
"Even this statement is also—a foolish answer."
The Dominion Lord suddenly extended a wrinkled finger, pointing at—
The spear standing upright next to the throne area.
Fear shuddered and swiftly turned her head to confirm the large clock installed on the side of the school building. Time. The current time—
Their time limit of 2pm had already pa.s.sed.
As though saying there had been enough stoppage time, the clock's minute hand kept advancing.
Then when Fear held her breath and looked back at the Dominion Lord's direction—
He had his hands on the wheelchair's armrests.
Walking down from the wheelchair, he stepped onto the sports ground and stood up straight.
Dying as soon as one exited the territory under their rule—Governed by this curse, for him to accomplish such an act meant that—
"'Dominionization' is complete."
The Dominion Lord glanced at the spear tip's progress—it was entirely buried in the ground now—and exhaled.
Then quietly, he spoke simply to inform them of the truth.
"This land where I stand is already the Second Knights Dominion."
Fear and company were staring at the spear in shock.
"We failed to make it in time...!?"
A hair-raising, icy cold and dark feeling shrouded their backs. Try as they did to push it away, it ha.s.sled them relentlessly, refusing to let go, whispering softly in their ears to face reality.
The time had pa.s.sed.
The spear tip had entered the ground completely.
The Dominion Lord who would die as soon as he left his territory was currently standing away from his wheelchair.
The meaning represented by all this.
Really? They did not make it in time? For the sake of eliminating them, the Knights Dominion was already able to bring out 100% of their power; that home's meaning was already lost; the place they belonged to had already vanished?
No way, no way, impossible.
It felt very unreal. Consciousnesses grew hazy as though paralyzed. Senses used to detect the surrounding situation were plunged into turmoil.
Among all this, they even noticed something else.
The Dominion Lord was standing. His facial features. Cheeks. Back of his hands. His wrinkles seemed to be decreasing—
Possibly a psychological effect? He looked like he was getting younger.
Konoha said as though groaning:
"Your face...! How could this kind of thing be possible...!?"
"A foolish question. Zilch Ground is simply the minimum soil to provide me with mobility, but the Second Knights Dominion is a territory far more vast and even more official than Zilch Ground. A feudal lord standing on an official fiefdom deserves to be granted commensurate and proper dignity. My semblance earlier was only temporary. This is truly my usual appearance as the Dominion Lord."
To confirm Dainsleif's weight, the Dominion Lord swung her with his hand which had decreased in the number of wrinkles. Not rejuvenated to the extent that one could call him a young man, he was still an elderly man. However, he did not give off any vibes that ought to belong to an elderly man who had just gotten off his wheelchair, simply exuding a mind-boggling air of strength, resembling an ancient tree that still stood young and flourishing.
Strong, robust, vigorous. Rather than quant.i.ty in muscle, these adjectives adorned his body through exuded vibes difficult to articulate. He looked downwards at the Dainsleif he was swinging.
"My first knight, there is no need to hold back any further. Remove even more of the scabbard."
"But what of your body?"
"A foolish question. Given this current body, there is no cause for concern."
The Dominion Lord swept his hand across the violet-glowing body of the broadsword's blade. In the next second, the thin steel plate with the patterned surface fell off from the blade's body. No, it was no ordinary plate anymore. Fallen by the Dominion Lord's feet was a slender piece of steel. It felt understandable. The Dominion Lord was correct, this was the Dainsleif broadsword's final scabbard. Something serving as a stone weight, serving as shackles.
Remaining after the scabbard's removal was the elegant appearance of Dainsleif, thinner in thickness than before.
An outline of orthodox and intimidating straight lines, a bare blade clouded by nothing. Enveloped in a faint violet glow, it even looked mysterious and fantastical. One could feel that it had shed all redundant and forced additions to reach perfect balance. This appearance convinced any viewer that this was truly her original and rightful form.
The Dominion Lord looked down slightly towards the sword in his hand and said:
"The demonic sword of mythical times did not unleash its full power on every occasion... Sometimes, it was beyond the ability of the wielder's body to wi