“Say, did you hear? Lots of unconscious bodies’ve been popping up lately. It’s almost like someone ripped their souls right out.”
“Wait, seriously? That’s the first time I heard about it…”
“Well, to be honest, I think it’s just one of those rumors…”
The conversation drifts my way, right when I’m in the middle of enjoying my sandwich, its origin a nearby table where two young men have chosen to sit. There’s no doubt about it. They’re definitely talking about the case of the lost souls.
I managed to pick up some sparse mentions of the incident when we were walking along the large road, actually, the details of which have only spread as a simple rumor. Just goes to show that our enemy’s efforts to cover this up aren’t waterproof. Still, the majority of those that know of the rumor seem to take the issue with more than a grain of salt.
“Well, if it’s true, then the demons are behind it. Can’t think of anyone else.”
“True. Stealing souls just seem like something a demon would do.”
Hey, these false rumors are damaging our reputation! I’m trying to build a world where demons and humans can coexist, alright? So stop it with these damned rumors! Then again, I don’t really have any concrete evidence that a demon isn’t behind all of this…
“Sorry, Rina. Mind waiting a little?”
“Oh, not at all.”
I finish eating my sandwich and leave my seat, then head for the bathroom. I have to find the people responsible for all this before these baseless accusations about demons being involved spread any further. My head’s reeling with these thoughts, even as I open the door to the men’s bathroom.
What I see happening right in front of me leaves me dumbfounded. Inside the now open toilet, which I previously thought completely empty, is a young girl. Of all things. Her dark hair just reaches her shoulders, and though she has a cuteness to her looks, it doesn’t hide an inherent sort of confidence. She has, by all appearances, just finished up what she came here to do. She’s leaning forward and is still in the process of pulling her panties – pink, by the way – up her legs.
Our eyes meet, and the girl goes rigid in an instant. I can see a healthy red seeping into her face, growing more and more vibrant.
“N-Now hold on just a second! I didn’t mean to do this, I swear – whoa?!”
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With all the ricketing going on, our legs accidentally intertwine, and I start falling towards the girl. Acting on nothing but sheer reflex, I stretch out both my hands.
Luckily, neither of us falls down. Unluckily, I find myself keenly aware of how each of my hands seems to be coming into contact with two entirely different things. My left hand is pressed against the cold wall of the bathroom. My right, on the other hand… is grabbing the girl’s soft bosom. You heard me. My right hand is holding her left breast in a firm grip. When did I become the protagonist of some sleazy manga?
The girl gives me a powerful shove, and my back crashes against the wall. Her cheeks are as red as a pair of apples, and tears are welling up in her eyes. Almost immediately afterward, I find myself on the bad end of a really strong slap.
Spitting out those very words, the girl exits the bathroom.
Completely dazed, I continue to stand there for a while, never moving a muscle. Though my mind hasn’t quite had the chance to catch up with reality just yet, I’m well aware of how hard I messed up.
HP: 9,999,999,912 / 9,999,999,999
A quick appraisal of my stats shows me that my HP just went down by seventy-seven points. While it’s true that my weakening spell has done a real number on my DEF points, this is still much more damage than what Uriel, that one member of the Seven Angels of the Stars, dished out during our fight. I do my best to ignore the notion that the blow to my mentality has been taken into account.
“I just heard a woman’s scream coming from the toilets. Did something happen…?”
Rina’s uneasy question is the first thing to greet me when I make my way back to the table, my hand still pressed against the spot where I’d been slapped.
“W-Who knows? Maybe she saw a big bug in the bathroom or something.”
I rely on the lie I cooked up to cover up my tracks. I just know that telling the truth’s going to make her angry at me.
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But, now that I think about it more clearly, that girl isn’t entirely blameless. She didn’t even remember to lock the bathroom door. Although I guess you can say that I’m also at fault for not knocking first, if that’s the case.
“Why don’t we get out of this store?”
“Of course. Thank you for the food.”
Honestly, I’m a little relieved that I had enough foresight to lower my DEF points. For all I know, a DEF stat of 99,999 might’ve proven to be more harmful to the girl’s hand when she slapped me. That doesn’t stop my cheek from stinging, though.
If there’s one thing I really regret, it’s not having had the chance to apologize to her. The girl left before I could even do as much. But something tells me that our paths will cross soon enough. I really don’t have any basis for thinking that, but if that does happen, I’ll be sure to give a better apology.
Now that we’d left the cafe, Rina and I decided to take some more time walking around the city. Although we’re in a rush to find even the smallest clue pertaining to the case of the lost souls, my mind keeps flashing back to that scene in the toilet. I can’t bring myself to focus.
That girl was really cute, though. I can easily compare her to Rina, in fact. I really should’ve taken the time to burn that scene into my head a little more…
I bang my head against a nearby tree with more force than necessary.
“What?! T-That was sudden, what happened?! Are you alright?!”
“…I’m perfectly fine. Sorry if I worried you.”
Blood trickles down my forehead when I answer Rina. Remind me, why did I come to this place again? I’m here to look for the culprits responsible for all those souls being lost, aren’t I? I didn’t choose to come here just so I can play the lucky pervert. The impact I just suffered blows away any lingering worldly desires, and now that there’s nothing holding me down, I can concentrate again.
Just a few minutes go by after leaving the cafe, and I finally come to a halt in front of a nearby park. I can’t say for sure if there’s some sort of event going on, but there are a good few people dressed like animals standing around. Cats and dogs and the like. They’re handing out balloons to children.
One of their dresses, in particular, a rabbit, catches my eye. I can feel an odd surplus of vigor emanating from the rabbit costume. It almost feels as if someone who’s spent their whole life in the service of the military’s hiding inside, and, if my intuition’s on point, inside that rabbit should be…
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Without any discernible rhyme or reason, the rabbit decides to make a complete fool out of itself. It takes off its head. Now revealed is the face of an older man, one that looks awfully familiar.
“Waaaaargh! A weird old guy came out of the rabbit!”
The children present break out into tears and speed off together. The rabbit… or rather, the older man seems completely unaware of his flop, still keeping up his dignified stature.
I was right; it really is Khiel. I guess he can never really stop messing up on the job, huh?
“Sorry, Rina. Can you just stay close by? You can pass the time however you want. I just need to talk to him real quick.”
“A friend of yours?”
“…Well, I guess you can say that.”
I take my temporary leave from Rina and go into the park. Khiel’s in the middle of being reprimanded by someone who I can only assume is the person who heads their work.
“Come on, man! Pull yourself together! How many times have you screwed up at this point?!”
“No need to worry. I haven’t let go of a single balloon so far.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about here! You know that you shouldn’t show your face to the children here, don’t you?! How many of their little dreams do you have to ruin before you’re satisfied, huh?!”
“While I am a warrior who lives on the fields of battle, I am also a shining star of hope for every last child. There is no way I would be capable of destroying their dreams.”
“Look, you realize that you’ve already broken them, don’t you?! One more flop and you’re fired!”
“You mean to fire me? Do you even know what that would mean?”
“You mean apart from saving me from all this extra stress?! Anyway, one more slip-up, and you’re fired for real! Am I clear?”
I look on at the scene a safe distance away. There’s something strangely sad about seeing a man that old being lectured by a youngster…