It would be fine if they chose a relatively popular road, but the minor roads didn't have a good snow-melting system and they were unable to proceed without studless tires and chains.
At this rate, their car would end up stuck. When Ouka suggested that they should hide somewhere until snow ceases to fall, Nagaru said "I know a good place to hide.".
Following Nagaru's suggestion, they headed to the place specified on the map.
The location was a secluded mountain, although there were houses scattered around, it was horrifyingly depopulated.
When they arrived, what was waiting for them was a private house that seemed like it was decaying.
There was a very plain sign by the entrance of the house.
『Fuji Inn』——Hot springs inside.
Nagaru left the car saying "I'll go negotiate!" and hurriedly entered the house. Meanwhile, the snow continued to fall and the platoon members stared at the house agape.
"This, no matter how you look at it, it's a hostel."
"It is a hostel."
"I saw something like this before... in pre-war documents."
"It's the season, but there's no ski resorts here, making it unnatural for it to be here."
Each of them anxiously stated their impressions.
"There's no way, but can it be that we're to spend night here..."
At the same time as Ouka's face cramped up, Nagaru came outside with a fast pace.
And, with a huge dazed smile, she made a big circle with her arms.
"They say it's okayy〜! We can stay〜!"
Ouka trod quickly through the snow and shook Nagaru's shoulders.
"Are you retarded?!"
"You want us to stay in this inn during such an emergency?! Did you even consider the possibility we might get caught?! We're fugitives you know?!"
In response to Ouka's logical arguments, Nagaru joined the fingertips of both of her hands and pouted.
She fidgeted looking up from below at Ouka.
"'Cause, it's cold and sitting in the car would be difficult... don't you want to enter hot springs?"
"We're not here for a trip! From the very beginning we had no intention of spending the night! Since we're running away, it's natural for us to move through the night to the home base! Inquisition's pursuers might be approaching us right now you know?!"
"It's all right〜. They can't really look for us in this snow, I'm very familiar with this inn."
Nagaru started to explain the circumstances.
"When I became Student Council President I came here sometimes to obtain information about Magical Heritage to earn points. There are rumors of this hot spring's incredible effects. It's supposed to heal illnesses, injuries and other physical conditions. Mysterious, right〜?"
As if chatting, Nagaru continued.
"And then, I came to investigate! There's a Magical Heritage at the source of the spring〜! Normally I would take the Magical Heritage and arrest the landlady but..."
Raising her index finger, Nagaru laughed nonchalantly.
"It was a really good hot spring, moreover it was completely harmless, according to the landlady it was installed about seven generations before and I had no heart to rob this poor, deserted village of this little enjoyment."
"And, under the condition of overlooking it, they let me stay here for free〜."
——Ouka once again shook Nagaru's shoulders strongly.
"That's what they call bribery!"
"Ahaha, Ouka-chan, I'm not a regular Inquisitor, I have a splendid history as a criminal now. By the way, you're the same so let's not dig into small details."
"But that's not what AntiMagic Academy's student council president should do right?!"
Despite being a problem child, Ouka was a professional witch hunter and was unable to let off Nagaru's conduct with simple "ehh is that so".
However, the only one furious was Ouka, the other members didn't mind it.
As cold had taken hold of their bodies, they walked in droves up the stairs to the inn's door.
"It's so cold that I don't care. It's a fact that we're tired, hot springs hot springs♪."
"At this rate we'll turn into snowmen. Ah, but what about weapons?"
"Let's just leave it in the car, no point getting cold feet."
"Nice smell... Mari, in here, can we eat something? Can we eat?"
Seeing the platoon members line up in a carefree manner, Ouka was dismayed.
"Y-you all! Why are you riding on the flow like usual in this situation?! Now it's not time to do th——"
She wanted to restrain them, but everyone quickly entered the inn.
Takeru placed a hand on Ouka's shoulder.
"In the end, unless the snow stops falling we won't be able to proceed anyway, let's take it slow here."
"Y-you too Takeru... b-but..."
"I'm happy that you're trying to hurry it for my sake, but everyone's tired. You too, over the last month you haven't slept properly, am I right? You have dark circles under your eyes."
In response to Takeru's caring words, Ouka rubbed her eyes to deceive him.
He pat her shoulder twice.
"Just for today, let's soak in the hot springs and eat to recharge our energy."
"...if you say so."
While scratching her head, Ouka headed towards the front door after everyone.
After seeing everyone off from behind, Takeru let out a deep breath.
And he clenched his fist as if to withstand something.
It wasn't anger nor irritation.
From the depths of his stomach came a feeling similar to impatience.
The fact that even now Kiseki was suffering, was hurrying Takeru to an unpleasant degree.
"Kusanagi-kun's really splendid〜."
Unexpectedly, Nagaru called out to him from behind.
The instant he turned around, she stretched and patted his head.
He opened his eyes widely at this surprise attack. Although he patted other people's heads often, hardly ever was it done to him. Rather, it might have been the first time.
Smiling, Nagaru removed her hand from his head and looked gently towards Takeru.
Somehow, he got very embarrassed and his gaze wandered suspiciously.
"Despite what you said to Ouka-chan, you're the one who needs rest the most, don't overdo it."
"I-I'm all right. I slept a lot in Magic Academy. I'm the one with the most strength left over."
Nagaru shook her head.
"It's not physical strength, but your mind's problem. You're disturbed by your little sister's case right?"
"...that's true, but even if we hurry we can't do anything at the moment."
She erased the smile and stared at Takeru with a serious expression.
Takeru tensed up and stood upright, but Nagaru immediately changed her expression.
"You might rely on others, but that's not enough. You should learn how to let others spoil you. If you don't, one day you'll break."
How is it different from relying on others, Takeru wondered.
As he stood there puzzled, Nagaru sighed and made a wry smile.
"Haa, it can't be helped... actually, I wanted Ouka-chan or Suginami-chan to play this role, but those girls have their own difficulties, really, can't be helped〜. Listen, Kusanagi-kun, being spoiled means——"
"——Something like this."
Suddenly, Nagaru wrapped Takeru's head with both of her hands and pulled him to her chest.
Her chest had a soft and sweet scent.
Feeling a faint bulge on his cheek, Takeru stiffened.
"Aha, forgive me for not having any breasts〜."
"It's fine〜, be silent and let yourself be cuddled to Onei-san's chest."
While saying so, Nagaru gently stroked his head.
Unable to make any move, Takeru let her do as she pleased.
"You did well. Yes... good boy... you did your best. It was hard wasn't it. It's all right, there's no need to act strong any more."
"I'll definitely protect the promise I made to you. Will it be simple? It won't, but thanks to the means you have brought back, we can properly save Kiseki-chan."
"There are preparations undergoing... rest easy."
As she spoke to his ears with a sweet voice, Takeru was filled with embarrassment.
To think of it, he was encouraged before, but was he ever embraced? Was he ever comforted by anyone?
Perhaps because he always continued to tense up, tears spilled from Takeru's eyes.
Nagaru laughed cheerfully like she always did.
"So you collapse even with someone like me comforting you. I get it, rest properly for today. You've been doing your best the entire time, so God will forgive that much. And even if God doesn't forgive it, I will."
Although it took only a minute, a significant amount of the burden Takeru felt in his heart has dispersed.
Just when he was about to close his eyes because of the comfortable feeling, Takeru suddenly separated from Nagaru in a hurry.
"Ah, mm...! S-sorry for getting distracted!"
Takeru lowered his head while wiping off the tears from his eyes.
Nagaru shook her hand and made a complacent smile.
"No problem〜. Even so, spoiled Kusanagi-kun has quite the destructive power〜. My maternal instinct went "kyun kyun"〜."
"I wonder if Ouka-chan and the others will be angry if I give you a kiss on the forehead〜 and so on I wondered as I lost control〜."
She placed both hands on her cheeks and twisted her body back and forth.
Being told he's spoiled, Takeru blushed like never before. For a long time now he knew he's weak to older girls, but he didn't think he would get that disturbed with a hug from a girl just one year older than him. It was even more embarrassing, considering that Nagaru's appearance was very young, like that of an elementary schooler.
Seeing Takeru restless, Nagaru grinned.
"Can it be that you fell for me?"
"I see〜. So Kusanagi-kun is weak against adult charm〜. I wonder if this means I should enter the competition for Kusanagi-kun〜."
"Gufufu" Nagaru placed a hand on her mouth and laughed in an indecent manner, she was already back to her usual tone of voice.
He really was unable to get a grasp on her real self.
When she started to tease him, Takeru tried to retort to her like he usually did, but then,
Lapis clad in a black hood stood in the inn's entrance and called Takeru.
Her face wasn't visible, obstructed by the hood's shade.
"...you'll catch a cold. Let's hurry and enter."
"S-sorry. So you waited for me."
Treading on the snow, he ran up to Lapis in a hurry.
When he moved beside her, she lightly grasped the sleeve of Takeru's jacket.
"What is it?"
Dodging the question, Lapis denied ambiguously.
She grasped his sleeve and stood there for a moment. However, soon enough she faced forward and pulling on Takeru's sleeve she entered the inn.
Takeru had an uncomfortable feeling, but didn't really worry about it and opened the inn's entrance door.
When Takeru and Lapis went into the inn, Nagaru stared at Lapis.
Lapis pulled on Takeru's clothes, as if to attract him to her as they walked.
Takeru probably hasn't noticed, but Nagaru did.
Just before Takeru started walking, Lapis glared at her from under the black hood.
Nagaru shook off the thin layer of snow on her body and warmed her hands with her breath.
"...looks like that girl is a bit dangerous after all."
What to do, she muttered, then followed Takeru and the others into the inn.
It was right after they were guided to their room. Even more so than the landlady's hospitality, the inside was cleaner than one could imagine judging by how it looked from outside.
Even so, a hostel was still a hostel. Since out of season it functioned as a private house, it was narrow in comparison to an inn, it gave off an 'at home' feel.
On the other hand, it calmed Takeru's mind.
Rather than in a refined inn, he preferred this one.
"...but this is no good."
When Takeru took a look at the room he was guided to, his face cramped up. The room wasn't dirty nor there was a shady atmosphere, it wasn't that.
It was a refined traditional Japanese room. It had an old-fashioned TV, yellowed hanging scrolls and a kotatsu in the center. It was truly a room one could feel at home in.
The problem in this case was that only one room was prepared.
They say that boys and girls beyond the age of seven shouldn't share a room with each other, for him to stay in one room with seven girls for the night, was very bad for him as a man.
"President, why didn't you prepare two rooms..."
"That's no good, Kusanagi-kunn. We're in middle of escaping, it would be dangerous if we're not together and get attacked!"
"If that's the case, then why are we staying in this hostel in the first place?!"
"It's okay〜. Landlady in here definitely won't sell us to Inquisition. If she did that, she would no longer be able to continue to operate this hostel〜."
It seemed to be quite popular with elderly people. Even in times and location like this, it was used as a base for neighbors to relax in, there was a possibility not only just the landlady, but the entire village would shelter them.
——Then even more so, prepare two rooms...!
"Our members are almost all girls...! It might be weird for it to come from me, but how about you consider..."
When Takeru was about to say it, Mari raised her hand while fidgeting.
"I don't... really mind it though?"
Even as she said that, Mari continued to glance sideways at Takeru.
"M-me neither... i-it is all ri-right. Just... when we're changing... please go outside."
While covering her face with gloves flustered, Usagi shyly accepted sharing a room.
"Very well. As you wish. Everyone, let's have an org——"
As Ikaruga was about to say a dirty joke, Mari and Usagi hit her with the inn's slippers.
"I don't mind either. It's as President said, it's safer for us to be together."
Ouka was serious, and Kanaria indifferent, each of them agreed on sharing the room with Takeru.
Other than Takeru, all the members entered the room one after another.
"Ohh, it's quite decent. There's a good taste and it feels nice... wait, not that... it's not time to be impressed... I need to check if there are any wiretaps...!"
"Since there's a teapot and leaves, I'll pour everyone tea later. Ah, there are teacakes. Rakugan? A reproduction of sweets from before the war... this makes me really happy."
Placing luggage on top of the mats, Ouka and Usagi began to look around the room.
Mari and Ikaruga also placed their luggage in front of the old-fashioned TV and looked around the room.
"Hee〜 it's great to have a kotatsu... hey, what's this?! This TV, you can't watch it unless you pay?! There's no remote?!"
"It doesn't use a remote, you use the buttons on the TV. If it's normal channels, you can watch them without paying. The programs you have to pay for are ones like this."
Ikaruga put a coin into the port, and an obscene video filled the screen.
"Kyaa kyaa kyaa! Why is there a lewd video on the TV?! Uwaa, egh... i-it entered inside there...?!"
"It's perfect for studying physical education isn't it. Hey, this TV, it receives the digital broadcasts. Is it a newest TV covered with antique leather? Or is it reproduced to look like pre-war? This hostel has to be reckoned with."
"...rather than that, isn't the food here yet? I'm hungry. Usagi, can you make something?"
Next to Ikaruga and Mari who were making a loud fuss by the TV was Kanaria, who was thrown some sweets by Usagi and started to devour them by herself.
"...it's powderish but tasty."
"Really, it's delicious. This taste would fit better with green tea rather than black〜."
Behind the two people enjoying rakugans, Ouka glared at the hanging scroll with a meek expression.
"This scroll, it's clearly suspicious... I see! Look, Takeru, we can't stay in this room! There's clearly a note affixed behind it! It must be an instant charm for eavesdropping!"
Because of exhaustion, clothes slipped down from Takeru's shoulders.
The hostel's Japanese-styled room has turned into the usual chaotic platoon's room in an instant.
"What... so I was the only one bothered by it."
"Ufufu, how maidenly♪."
Nagaru poked his arm repeatedly and teased him.
Usagi and Mari who were checking the luggage have smiled wryly to him as well.
"There's no need to think so deeply into it is there? It's not like we're sleeping together in one bed or seeing each other naked. Everyone stopped in Takeru's home before, too."
"That is right. This much is no different from being in the platoon room. As long as you go out when we change clothes, I..."
While saying so, Usagi was taking out clothes, but realizing she took out a bra she hurriedly stuffed it back inside.
That's when Nagaru clapped her hands as if she recalled something.
"Oh right〜, the word 'naked' reminded me of something."
Everyone's gaze gathered on Nagaru, she raised her index finger.
"As for the hot spring, the landlady has reserved us some private time."
"I see. In middle of a bath we're defenseless. My thanks for the consideration."
As Ouka nodded and said so, Nagaru smiled a bit wryly.
"However〜, we have only one hour〜."
"Even an hour is good enough. I'd welcome a bath to relieve tiredness."
"Yup〜, but, it's mixed bathing〜."
Nagaru's words resounded brightly and casually.
It took a moment for it to sink in everyone, and they all froze stiff.
"We can have mixed bathing for an hour since we're mostly girls we'll use women's bath〜, the men's bath is usually more populated, that's why."
" " " " "............" " " " "
"It's aalll riiight! I got a permission from the landlady for soaking in the bath while wearing towels! If everyone's together, we'll be safer♪. Naked socializing it is, naked socializing♪."
Nagaru already had a change of clothes and a towel in her hands.
They could use the hot spring for an hour from now on. No one had any choice.
Hot springs, simple words, and yet there was a lot to it.
The compositions vary from alkaline to acidic, there were those containing sulfur and iron, ones that were radioactive. They had various colors, blue and red, milky white or even black.
While bathing in them was acknowledged as good for the human body, there were differences between individual hot springs. Those were mainly unfounded stories and even superstitions.
However, among the hot springs there clearly were ones that had an effect on the human body, Inquisition started researching it quite a few years ago. Not only were there inns that placed Magical Heritages at the source, but also veins of magical absorbent ore that affected the hot springs as a natural phenomenon. Even if the effects were beneficial for the human body, Inquisition has cracked down on the business, stopping it.
And such illegal inns were devised in various manners, they kept the magical power suppressed as not to be found out but...
"...they're not hiding it at all."
Takeru let out an amazed voice seeing the hot spring in front of him.
The hot spring looked like a common open air bath-type. The water colors was that of green mixed with milky white.
However, it was glowing.
It was clearly shining.
Along with steam, sparkle rose up from the spring, looking like fireflies. Seeing particles of magic appear naturally at high density was very rare.
It was clearly artificially made with a Magical Heritage.
"This thing, it's a restoration spring from an RPG..."
Although he couldn't afford a luxury like games, once a month when he ate ramen on a discount in shop and read a weekly manga, Takeru saw something similar.
When he stood there amazed that Nagaru hid and didn't report this, the sliding door opened behind him.
"Woah, amazing concentration of magical power... the feeling of these particles, is it『Healing』 property? Even so, this is quite a splendid hot spring, isn't it."
"Right〜, in the past they were addicted to explore regions in search of hot springs apparently〜."
"...President, can it be that the story about you looking for a Magical Heritage was a lie, and you came here because of your hobbies?"
"Waa... it's really sparkling."
"This is completely out. It's on few years of imprisonment level. Since we have no Seelie lets take a bit of it. We can use it instead of a first aid kit."
"...why does everyone have to take a bath together... on the inner side there was no such habit."
A group of girls has come in from behind.
At a glance it looked like a harem, but it was in fact difficult for one man to stay together with several girls. Even more so if it comes down to naked socializing. When he timidly turned around, he saw six girls with towels wrapped around them in there.
He was slightly relieved. While it's true that he had trouble focusing on anything, the places that ought to be hid were firmly hidden. The steam was fairly thick, making this situation not as disturbing.
...to think of it deeply, mixed bathing isn't that unusual, if I'm bothered too much they'll think of me as a closet pervert instead.
Takeru wasn't aware that it was already too late in the case of him being labeled as a closet pervert.
"Ehh〜, Kusanagi-kun isn't hunching over at all〜."
"Oh, that's true. How uninteresting."
Nagaru and Ikaruga stared at Takeru disappointed.
"You two, what were you thinking of me...!"
" "A closet pervert?" "
"?! I-I'm not a closet pervert! I'm not a pervert! M-my spirit is not as weak as to lose to desires of this degree!"
Takeru corrected them angrily two times.
"Oh, that so? Usagi, he's saying there's not enough stimulus."
As Usagi excitedly peeked at the hot spring, Ikaruga approached her from behind and suddenly stripped of her towel.
The bath towel danced in the air, and Usagi's stark naked body appeared. She looked at Ikaruga's and Takeru's faces, then dropped the line of sight at her own body.
With bright red face she tried to hide her breasts but,
Her back was pushed by Ikaruga, and she plunged forward towards Takeru.
In a hurry, Takeru tried to move forward to support her, but since the ground was slippery, he entangled with Usagi and fell into the hot spring.
Since Takeru fell into water while facing up, a lot of hot water has entered his nose all at once.
"Idiott, it's dangerous——gh?!"
When he raised his head from the water and opened his eyes——two dripping wet incredibly big bulges were sticking to his face. He grasped them with both of his hands, but immediately after realizing what was that he released his hands in a hurry.
After Takeru let them go, they floated on the water like a balloon, without losing buoyancy.
Even though there was steam, they were in full view at close distance.
"Auu... water has entered my eyes..."
Usagi became teary-eyed.
Her gestures and wet hair, in combination with her wet chest was as expected, entrancing to Takeru. Somehow, that coupled with her face and physique which looked very young gave it an exquisite immoral feeling. This is when Takeru understood the charm Ikaruga usually called "Big-titted loli" through his own blunder.
He didn't notice it before because he interacted with her as if she was his little sister, but looking at it from this perspective, it's truly...
Not good. He thought as he saw Ikaruga's face who stared in his direction and chanted "Closet pervert".
While pretending to be calm, he got concerned about Usagi who wouldn't open her eyes.
"A-are you okay Usagi? Can you stand?"
Rising up from the water, he lent Usagi a hand.
But, at that time, Usagi rubbed her eyes lowering her line of sight and opened her eyes widely.
The place her line of sight was directed to, was Takeru's crotch. When he jumped out of the bath water, the towel he had wrapped around his waist has disappeared somewhere.
Usagi's face turned bright red and she concealed it with both of her hands, through the gap in her fingers she saw it clearly. And once again, she started to cry.
"Usagi?! Did you hit yourself somewhere?!"
Not realizing his own appearance, worried about Usagi in the earnest, Takeru moved closer to her.
With Takeru's thing moving even closer, Usagi lost her consciousness and fell into the water on her back. Thinking it might have caused concussion Takeru hurried to her, but then he finally noticed everyone's gaze.
Everyone lined up in a row and stared at Takeru's crotch since he stood up from the hot spring.
"N-no... T-Takeru...is t-that...?"
"T-Takeru...y-yo....w-www-w-what a thing...!"
"......? What's that, it's big."
"Waa〜, it's splendid... thank you for the treat〜"
"I already knew. I have studied it before when he fainted."
Mari stared with a blush, and Ouka pointed with her finger, her lips trembling.
Despite not knowing what it was, Kanaria said her frank impression, for some reason Nagaru started praying while looking at Takeru, and Ikaruga stared at Takeru with an aloof expression.
That's when Takeru finally looked towards his crotch.
Seeing it his face turned red, and he sank his body into the spring in a hurry.
"No, it's not... this is... umm...!"
In front of Takeru who spoke hesitantly, Mari's and Ikaruga's expressions were dyed in anger.
"Hee〜〜〜〜...... since there's a reaction, that means a big-titted loli like Usagi-chan is closest to your preference. Rather, how dare you get horny with your comrade just because she's a woman, Takeruu...?"
"I'd like to say it can't be helped since it's a man's physiological phenomenon... but in this case, not to be even bothered with comrades eyes and get horny... bastard, you should be a martial artist right...? Spirit, technique and body... I'll beat those values into you again...!"
Bones in their fists soundly crackled, and the two released an aura full of anger. Takeru's face turned blue, and his earthly desires have diminished.
Takeru tried to excuse himself somehow——that's when.
Just when he thought he saw a shadow behind Ouka, Mari and Kanaria, four towels have fluttered in the air similarly to Usagi's.
It was Nagaru who went around behind heir backs.
Three of them were horrified, and one as usual.
And Takeru too, in various meaning of the word and in various places was horrified.
The four's backs were pushed from behind, and they plunged into the hot springs Takeru was in as well. Even as he trembled seeing the five approach, Takeru has firmly burned all their naked bodies into his eyes.
Yeah, surely, I'll get an unreasonable beating after this.
While thinking such a thing, Takeru sank into the bath once again, crushed by female bodies.
After five minutes, when the commotion in the bath finally settled down, Takeru immersed himself in water to his shoulder.
"Ahh... this is... invigorating."
Saying the line of an old man, Takeru exhaled comfortably.
Ouka and the others were washing their bodies. Although he couldn't see well in this steam, a sight of girls in a bath wasn't something one could see often.
A sight for sore eyes.
Usagi and Nagaru pressed down Kanaria who didn't want to wash her body, and scrubbed her forcefully.
On the opposite side of the spring, Ouka and Mari sat down side by side.
It wasn't really quiet in the hot spring, but because he was conscious of it Takeru picked up their conversation.
"Ootori Ouka, lend me shampoo."
"A-, wait don't take it without permission. Unlike you my hair is long... wait a moment longer."
Mari stared at her as she did that.
"...? What is it, it's gross. Don't stare at me like that."
"No, I just thought that your hair is beautiful."
"? It's unusual for you to praise me, it makes it even more gross."
"Stop saying 'gross' 'gross'. I honestly praise good things for being good. Unlike you〜."
While saying so, Mari stole the shampoo from Ouka.
Ouka complained dissatisfied and returned to washing her hair.
"...if you praise this hair, even if it's you, it doesn't feel bad. When I was a child I was being teased for this hair color, but I really like it now."
"Since you were born with it, I think it's a good color, it looks like sunset."
"I think I inherited it from my mother, probably. I'm not familiar with her, but I think so."
"...this color is surely something given to me by my mother who tried to protect me."
She learned her own past after fighting with Laugh Maker and now said so.
Although Takeru didn't know the details, but he was told by Ouka that she was a witch.
Ouka placed a finger on her cheek and smiled wryly.
"Actually, I don't know whether she tried to protect me or not. It might be that I just want to think so. I want to think, that she... wanted to give birth to the child of a man she didn't know."
Mari responded with "hmm", and continued to wash her hair.
"Same for me, I don't know my real father and mother. I've said before that I grew up in orphanage, right?"
"...speaking of which, that's true."
"I don't know what kind of people they were, but I just have feelings of "gratitude" for them. My parents might have been real scum, and they might not have wanted for me to be born, but thanks to them I'm alive here and now. 'Thank you for letting me be born'... that's what I feel."
"That's why, if you're feeling happy to be alive, 'thank you' should be enough."
While saying so, Mari rinsed her hair under the shower.
"...is that so, I guess..."
Ouka just once, touched her hair and stroked it.
"This hair, when I fulfill my revenge, I intended to cut it short but... I won't do that. The only proof of me, being my mother's child is now only this body and hair."
"I see. I think you shouldn't cut it either. No matter the reason, it would be a waste."
Saying so with a candid tone of voice, Mari began to wash her body.
Ouka continued to glance sideways at Mari, suspicious.
She wanted to say something, but couldn't put it into words.
"............um... you have my thanks. I'm happy that you praised this hair of mine."
When Ouka finally spoke honestly, Mari stopped her hands that were washing her body.
There was a strange silence between the two. Embarrassed Ouka and unmoving Mari.
Remaining as she was and not moving, Mari murmured.
"Speaking of which, before I realized, you stopped referring to me rudely haven't you."
"...i-is that so? I didn't really do it consciously but... well, there is no longer any reason to refer to you like that. Although I'm reluctant, we currently have a relation akin to a united front."
"...i-it's a fact that calling comrades that way is not a good thing."
Comrade, saying that Ouka was genuinely embarrassed and hung her head.
Mari stared sideways at Ouka and squinted.
"That's... how to say it...um..."
Hearing an unexpected word, Ouka vigorously raised her face. Takeru slid moving his entire body into the water.
"But that's how it is. You suddenly turning honest, is really spooky you know〜? Ahh gross, so gross. Eww ewww. I'm don't swing that wayy."
"Ahh, that's right, you were that kind of wench! Damn, give me the shampoo back you fuel tank!"
"Wai... how long are you going to drag on that nickname! I'm still using the shampoo! Also, pass me conditioner!"
"Don't go classifying your hair as better by yourself, you damn anpan woman!"
Although there was finally some good atmosphere between them, it returned to how it was in an instant. Takeru smiled wryly and thought that's probably the best for them.
"They've actually got a good relationship there."
"Woahh, you almost gave me a heart attack! ...what, it's just Suginami, so you were soaking in the bathtub."
Takeru was taken aback seeing Ikaruga appear imperceptibly beside him, observing Mari and Ouka.
Ikaruga immersed herself in the bathtub with just a towel on her chest.
Once again, he had problems focusing his eyes.
"Yeah, having someone you can speak honestly with is something to be envious of."
"Is that so? You have Usagi don't you."
And so do I, he wanted to say but decided to stop because it was embarrassing.
Ikaruga stared at Ouka and Mari sadly.
"............it's impossible for me to be as honest and straight as those two are."
She spoke with a sigh.
Normally Ikaruga said things straight, but it was 'thinking' and not her 'feelings'.
"I wonder since when, honestly conveying my feelings has began to feel a little scary..."
The frustration she experienced during the encounter with Isuka. Regret. What disturbed Ikaruga, were surely those feelings. For Ikaruga who in the past escaped from the laboratory and turned her back on her past, the loss that has befallen her when she took action to settle her past has caused her great despair.
It was understandable for her to become scared of moving according to her emotions.
Ikaruga faced towards Takeru and moved slightly closer.
"I haven't thanked you properly yet."
"...for bringing back Kan9aria, thank you very much."
Oh that, Takeru thought. He tried to say that there's no need for that, but as Ikaruga's face approached him his words were stuck in his throat.
She closed her eyes and her lips closed onto his.
"...hey w-w-wai... wha-whassit??"
"What you ask, it's a thank you kiss."
Blankly, with a straight face she said something like a 'kiss'.
"No, I'm fine you don't need to thank me! It's something I did arbitrarily!"
"...that so. If not a kiss, then what would be good? I'll do anything for you now. How about my breasts?"
Ikaruga lifted her large breasts which floated in the water and rubbed it.
"Or maybe you want me to do it with my mouth? The real thing is a little... everyone's looking so the aftermath would be difficult."
"Suginami-san Suginami-san! Why is it all sexual service! Your thanks is enough, okay?!"
He unconsciously changed into polite speech. It was because Ikaruga didn't seem to be joking.
"I won't rest easy then. I can only give you all of myself. That's the only thing I can think of doing for you."
Ikaruga's expression was like seriousness itself. That is why he felt it would be awkward to openly refuse her.
Although the way she did it was indecent, her sincerity was the real thing.
...can it be, that this one doesn't know how to convey her thanks to others?
When she said that's the only thing she can think of, he got that feeling. What he's forgotten, was that this girl was also very clumsy.
Takeru calmed down and started to think of what to do, but then a commotion has broke out in the washing area.
After a sound of something rolling, came a sound of the sliding door being opened.
"Heyy! Kanaria-san! You still haven't properly washed your hair!"
"〜〜〜, enough washing! My skin's tingly!"
Still drenched and in the nude, Kanaria left the hot spring.
When she was leaving, she turned around only once and glared at Ikaruga.
The door closed loudly, Usagi's sigh and Nagaru's laughter resounded.
Seeing Kanaria, Ikaruga sank into the water up to her mouth and started to blow bubbles.
And then, she raised her eyes which said that she has no idea what should she do.
As she was troubled, it was the first time he felt there's cuteness to her.
The one who could make Ikaruga make this expression, was definitely just Kanaria.
Casually, Takeru placed a hand on Ikaruga's head as she continued to blow bubbles.
"I know well how scary it is to be honest. But picking your words as not to hurt the other person is something only smart ones can do, it's impossible for me. That's why I say things straight. On the other hand, you look like someone acting arrogant and it's impossible to guess what you think, you're the type that chooses her words carefully."
"However, for me who can only live straightforwardly, if it's not a simple game, I'm no good. It was the same when I was to choose whether I kill Kiseki or not."
Ikaruga stopped blowing the bubbles and just moved her gaze at Takeru.
"Back then, the only thing I was able to do was to hug Kiseki. There was no leisure for me to convey anything with words... but those were my true feeling."
Recalling the moment the blade was about to pierce Kiseki, Takeru looked at the snow falling from the sky and melting in the hot water.
"I love Kiseki. But I want to live. I want to be with my comrades... and with Kiseki. These are my true feelings."
"If I killed Kiseki back then... I wouldn't become honest with my feelings, I couldn't die and leave things that way."
Takeru removed his hand from Ikaruga's head and once again sank to his shoulders. On the other hand, Ikaruga stood up from the water and gazed up at the sky.
"...your little sister is probably incredibly angry."
"Yeah. Still, right now there's no choice but to save her and apologize."
"...your little sister, is probably hurt and is suffering even now."
"Indeed. That's why, I need to grant her happiness beyond that suffering."
Ikaruga looked away from the sky and stared straight at Takeru.
"Why are you so strong?"
Strong. Being described so, unconsciously Takeru made a wry smile.
"Wrong... I'm just selfish and an idiot."
"And... I don't want to regret."
Takeru entered the water up to his mouth and started to release bubbles.
Hearing Takeru's words, Ikaruga raised her hips and stood up.
"Don't want to regret... yeah. You're right."
Since she didn't even try to hide her nude body, Takeru looked away in a hurry.
"I also hate regrets. I don't want to be too late anymore."
Surely, she was reminded of Isuka.
Ikaruga started walking through the spring, and moved out of it.
She must have decided to speak with Kanaria.
That's why he didn't say anything to her and just saw her off in silence.
"By the way, Kusanagi."
When Ikaruga put her foot on the edge, unexpectedly she turned only her head around to him.
And, she brought her hand to her mouth and mimicked holding something.
"Are you really okay with me not doing it with my mouth?"
Looking at him she shook her hand back and forth, then left the hot spring with her mouth in a '3' shape.
Although the washing place was still noisy, they enjoyed the hot springs exclusively.
Snow constantly poured from the sky, it was the best weather to enjoy hot springs.
Making sure no one is watching, he secretly ogled the girls.
It was bliss. Everyone was in hot springs in before, but it was the first time they could enjoy it for so long. His body was full of bruises and his muscles were at their limit due to abusing Soumatou, but thanks to this hot spring it was completely healed.
In a good mood, Takeru started humming as he enjoyed the hot spring.
Hearing a voice come from the side, Takeru's voice twisted.
Before he noticed, Lapis was standing in the bath. She didn't have a towel. She was stark naked. Lapis' body type was like that of a child, but reminded of when their skin came in contact in Magic Academy, he felt uneasy.
Lapis waded through the hot water and stood in front of Takeru.
"I-is it fine for you too to come to the bath?"
When everyone went to the hot spring they asked her if she's going, but since she said she isn't, they left her behind...
"You're not going to rust... or something, aha, ahaha..."
As Takeru tried to cover up his agitation by saying something irrelevant, Lapis turned with her back to him. A small and adorable butt appeared in front of him, but soon enough it sank in into the water.
Since she was right in front of Takeru, it rather meant, that she sat down on his lower body.
"Uhyaa" Takeru unconsciously raised a voice.
"P-please spare me from sitting on my knees in the bath..."
"No...we're both naked, that'd be bad right?"
"...you don't like it. I understand."
Understanding Takeru's words as rejection, Lapis quietly moved away from him.
And then, she curled up holding her small knees, in addition, she started letting out bubbles of air from her mouth just like Ikaruga did a moment earlier.
It was as if she was upset, similarly to how she was in Magic Academy. Back then, she was upset as a sword and as a Magical Heritage. This time, the reason seemed different.
Can it be that she's upset since she was left behind...?
Takeru wished for her to stay together with him as a sword and as a person but... what's this ticklish feeling.
"...L-Lapis, it's not like I don't like it, there's no need for you to leave so fast."
"Blub blub blub blub blub..."
Lapis continued to blow bubbles expressionlessly.
She approached Takeru from the side, who thought it can't be helped and immersed herself in water beside him.
"Geez, if you're going to be upset, you shouldn't have said you're not going in the first place... you're not too honest either, are you."
And, with an unexpected attack-like move, she grasped Takeru's left arm and pulled it towards herself.
Lapis stickiness felt a little strange to Takeru. Although she was sticking to him quite a lot usually, it was rare for it to be this excessive.
It was like this ever since they left Magic Academy.
Does she cherish me that much?
As if to answer Takeru, Lapis blew bubbles from her mouth.
Although he couldn't hear it well, but it was probably "It's an error", he thought.
Kanaria left the hot spring and without wiping her hair, she came back to the room.
She stared at the room with a frown.
"...what is Kana doing in a place like this."
Asking herself, she bit her lower lip.
Kanaria has been starting to regret coming with Takeru.
She didn't really hate the 35th platoon. However, their carefree attitude only stirred up her frustration.
Even a moment earlier, Kanaria wanted to rush to Alchemist's headquarters and destroy everything.
She was unable to suppress those feelings.
Then why, has she listened to Takeru's words and followed him to such a place...
Why was her heart moved by the words of a man who knows nothing...
Why did she think of talking with the woman who deserted her mother and ran away...
Right now, she can't be honest. When she's in front of that woman, she can't maintain her calm. Emotions take over, and anger springs forth.
It's not like she didn't want to talk with her either...
Kanaria shook her head, discarding hesitation.
In order to calm herself, she took out a candy bar from her pocket and placed it in her mouth. As the intense sweet mint aroma passed through her nostrils, just a little her emotions have eased down.
She took off the slippers and walked on the tatami.
With her hand, she grasped the magical sword "Lævateinn" that leaned against the wall defenselessly.
After unsheathing the sword with both of her hands, she stared at the red blade.
"............it's all right. Even alone, I can do it."
Hardening her resolve, Kanaria narrowed her eyes.
Lævateinn was a Sacred Treasure just like Mistilteinn, but it was partially destroyed during the Witch Hunt War and lost majority of its capabilities.
Like other Sacred Treasures, this sword wasn't something that can be handled with a soul of a human. As a half-elf, Kanaria's soul's quality was close to an elf's and it was enough to handle this sword.
According to Orochi, Lævateinn's destructive power was beyond that of Mistilteinn's.
However, not only the power to kill the gods called 《God Hunting form》 was lost, but also the 《Hero form》 cannot be performed satisfactorily.
According to Mother, Lævateinn's personality and soul still dwelled inside of it, but Kanaria couldn't hear its voice. If the Magical Heritage's soul isn't linked with its user, its original power cannot be exercised.
Kanaria still wasn't acknowledged by Lævateinn.
An incomplete sword and incomplete user, if she attacked Alchemist right now it would end up with her getting killed. Kanaria was fully aware of that.
"...hey, say something, Lævateinn."
Frustrated, she spoke to the sword.
Lævateinn didn't answer. It looked to her like a lump of iron.
To Kanaria, the red sword seemed to be saying so.
In an outburst of anger Kanaria returned it into its sheath and turned around on her heel.
But when she tried to head for the exit, there stood the person she didn't want to confront the most.
It was Ikaruga. Her black hair was wet and her yukata was sticking to her skin. She probably came running in a hurry without wiping her body. Her chest was rising repeatedly with her rough breathing.
Kanaria's stare turned into a glare all at once.
"Move, you're in the way."
"...where are you going?"
"Nothing to do with you. I have no more business here. Being with you is pointless. Kana will go alone."
As Kanaria refused her bluntly, Ikaruga downcast her eyes.
Both of her hands in forming fists were trembling.
"...you must be hungry right? There will be a meal soon, it's not too late to eat. Let's have a dinner and some fun."
"Don't need it. I have no time. Outta way."
Kanaria tried to pass through Ikaruga uninterested.
When she attempted to pass by, suddenly Ikaruga caught Kanaria's hand.
Kanaria glared at Ikaruga with a frown, but soon after she looked away.
The expression of Ikaruga's who grabbed her hand was so compelling, it was as if a hammer has hit her.
"...wait... don't go. You can't go."
"L-let go. Why do I have to listen to your orders."
"It's not an order... it's a request... there's something I want to talk with you about."
Turning towards Ikaruga who wouldn't let go of her hand, Kanaria unsheathed her sword.
She pressed the point of the sword against her throat and grit her teeth.
"What are you trying now! I have nothing to talk about with you, who left Mama and ran way!"
"D-don't call me by my name! This is the name Mama gave me! I don't want to be called that by you!"
Kanaria yelled in anger. Even though she wanted to reject Ikaruga calmly, her emotions overflowed and her tone has turned rough.
It was always like that. Even in Magic Academy, she had too much of a temper and couldn't make friends. She was a poor talker and couldn't understand people's minds.
She tried to pull back the sword from Ikaruga's throat and go outside.
Ikaruga grasped Lævateinn with both her hands.
Kanaria opened her eyes wide in surprise. If she pulled the sword back with the momentum she intended to use, Ikaruga's finger would easily be cut off. As expected, Ikaruga's blood dripped from the cut skin.
"...I don't mind if you cut off my finger and pierce my neck. If you listen to my story in exchange, that would be cheap."
"I'm not screwing around. If I let you go right now, I wouldn't be able to face Isuka. I'd rather die than let you go."
At Ikaruga's straight gaze, Kanaria's pupils shook.
"Yeah. I think so too. But, if you don't want to kill me... just for a while, I want you to listen to what I have to say."
Ikaruga's blood flowed down the blade and reached Kanaria's hand.
The moment the blood was about to reach Kanaria, she released strength from her hand.
Kanaria stayed silent, her mouth formed a 'へ' shape as she trembled in shame and humiliation.
"This... what are you..."
"At this rate you'll catch a cold, right?"
"This is different from just listening, Kana didn't hear of it."
"Don't move, it'll be over soon."
Being calmed down, Kanaria remained silent even though she looked dissatisfied.
Ikaruga made a faint smile and gently wiped Kanaria's hair with a towel. The wounds on her hands were healed immediately as she put them in the hot spring's water.
A situation where she touched Kanaria's hair was a wonder for Ikaruga.
She thought Kanaria was disposed of by Alchemist, it was beyond her expectations that Isuka worked behind the scenes to allow Kanaria to live.
It's already been five years. Kanaria seems to think that Isuka was the one who gave her the name, but it was actually given to her by Ikaruga.
Of course, Ikaruga was not being thoughtless. Just as Kanaria said, that she shouldn't act as if she was her mother... Ikaruga too, thought that Isuka alone was Kanaria's mother. She didn't think of calling herself Kanaria's mother this late, and even if she was her mother, she didn't know what kind of thing a 'mother' was.
However, she cannot let this child who was born because, die as a result of her inaction.
"You've grown big haven't you. Even though only about five years have passed."
"...rapid growth. I was made to grow faster."
Kanaria faced sideways and murmured dissatisfied.
Rapid growth. In order to use clones and fantastical organisms for experiments, their bodies' growth is accelerated with Magical Heritages and chemical treatment.
It has a tremendous burden on human cells and as a result, their lifespan runs out in just a few years, but the elves' case is an exception. It's because the lifespan of an elf nears a thousand years.
Even so, as she is now, Ikaruga couldn't judge it as something positive.
Pain echoed inside of her chest.
"...you sure don't look like someone who's five."
"The knowledge was planted by using equipment. Don't think of me as child. Kana is good at studying. I'm smarter than you."
While it was possible to accelerate bodily growth and implant knowledge, it was impossible to develop mental age with devices. Judging from just her behavior, it was obvious that Kanaria's mentality was like that of a five year old's.
If she was a normal child, she would be still in kindergarten.
"...what are you apologizing for."
"The reason you were treated like an experimental animal in Alchemist, is all my fault."
Because of the guilt, Ikaruga's voice was slightly trembling.
She couldn't afford to act shocked. Although there was very little she could do even if she apologized, but because she continued to blame herself over the long years, apologizing in front of the person herself tensed her up even more.
"...I wasn't really treated like an experimental animal."
"Before Kana was disposed of, Mama protected me. No other researcher has ever done anything to me."
It was something Ikaruga heard for the first time. For a long time she knew that Kanaria was scheduled for disposal, but she didn't think Isuka would protect Kanaria herself.
She was unable to even imagine what kind of relationship did Isuka and Kanaria had.
Ikaruga felt like there was a very difficult bond between the two of them.
"...you, what do you intend after meeting Kana."
Questioned by Kanaria, she was unable to answer immediately.
After about ten seconds, she closed her eyes.
"To atone. Even I feel responsibility for creating you. I have played around with life... although I was unaware of it, that fact is undeniable."
In the middle of Ikaruga speaking, Kanaria soundly clenched her fist, her shoulders trembling.
Ikaruga predicted Kanaria would be angry when she said "atone". Still, there were no other word that could be used.
Even if she was forced to, she couldn't say anything affectionate like a mother would. She didn't know what a mother was , she didn't know anything of the pain from giving birth, and didn't think of a child that wasn't connected to her by blood as her child. Her emotions weren't clouded with something as cheesy as 'love'.
Responsibility, regret and need atonement. The feelings Ikaruga had for Kanaria were just that.
That's how it should have been.
"It's true that I ran away leaving you and Isuka. Because I ran away, Isuka suffered. The reason Isuka died is also because of me."
"The last thing Isuka left behind was you... that's why I want to protect you, whom she wanted to protect. I'm fine with you hating me. I'm fine with being hated. That's why... I want you to allow me to remain beside you."
What clumsy words are these, she thought to herself.
Even if it wasn't Kanaria, anyone would get angry hearing such selfish words.
She thought of herself as of a person who doesn't get nervous, and yet to think that in the end she would speak so poorly...
Before she realized, Kanaria released her fist and faced down.
"You, do you think of yourself as of my mother?"
"...no. Your mother is Isuka. I helped you be born in order to use you."
Ikaruga moved the towel away from Kanaria's head and braced herself as if to endure.
"Don't lie. Kana knows. She heard from Mama. You two made Kana together."
"But, Kana's mama is only Mama. To think of you as of my mother.... I will definitely, never do it. Kana absolutely won't forgive you."
After being rejected this much, Ikaruga was unable to say the truth.
That before she left Alchemist, she tried to help both Isuka and Kanaria. That Isuka rejected her, and it was too late for Kanaria.
But, it was true that she turned her back on them and ran away.
Even if she was rejected, she was fine just by holding her hand forcibly. She judged that it's too late for Kanaria just because of the candy that fell on the floor. It wasn't too late to check the bodies.
Although it was a fact that she tried to save her, she wasn't determined enough and didn't attempt to save her as much as she should have.
Kanaria stood up from the kotatsu and started walking towards the room's exit.
Lævateinn remained, placed by the wall.
"...if you want to be close, do as you please. In exchange, don't get in Kana's way. Kana doesn't care about you. Live you please, die as you please."
Although she spoke as if forcing that out, Ikaruga was happy.
With relief, her expression unconsciously loosened.
"That's fine. Thank you."
Not responding, Kanaria headed towards the exist in a quick pace.
Staring at Kanaria's back, Ikaruga hesitantly called out.
"The name "Kanaria"... I've heard from Isuka that it was taken from a picture book. It's a name of a bird who longed to be a human, and has become a human."
"Canary is a caged bird, but the girl in the picture book lived her life as a person and has obtained happiness. Surely, Isuka wanted for you to obtain happiness like a normal human."
"There's nothing I can do for you but... Isuka, has been thinking of you properly."
Kanaria put her hand on the doorknob, vigorously opened the door and left.
Left behind, Ikaruga lowered her hand that she was stretching in the air and hung her head down.
She concealed her face with one hand and sighed.
"What wishing for happiness. Don't screw around. Stop lying."
Ashamed of her own words, Ikaruga hid her face.
In the end, Ikaruga spat out two lies.
First, the name Kanaria was given by her, not by Isuka.
And the second, is that she didn't wish for anyone's happiness when she gave it.
"Even though you had not a shred of guilt... don't go 9naming people on a whim... idiot."
As if to punish herself, Ikaruga bit her lower lip. She only wished that Kanaria will live never learn that she was the one who named her.