The moon’s light failed to reach here, the darkness deep and impenetrable.
‘Here’ was a tunnel formed by trees that was a little ways off the main street. Even during the day it was pitch black.
Amidst the darkness, Charl was walking at a brisk pace.
Her body leant forward, she was taking big strides with squared shoulders.
Behind her, Sigmund was flapping his wings to catch up.
“Let’s go back, Charl.”
Charl ignored him and continued pressing forward.
“How long do you plan on carrying on like this?”
“You’re being very noisy. Be quiet.”
“Stop adding to your list of crimes committed. Return to your bed.”
“Hmph. It’s not a crime as long as I’m not caught.”
“Cease this foolishness, Charl.”
Sigmund flew in front of Charl and bared his fangs. While skilfully flying backwards, he started to lecture her like a nagging old man.
“You should already know by now, even if you succeed by doing things this way, it won’t bring you happiness. Do you plan on living your whole life as a social outcast? What you need right now is the acknowledgment of other people. Stop trying to shoulder burdens all by yourself. There’s no one in the world that doesn’t need a friend to walk hand in hand with.”
“I told you to be quiet already, didn’t I!?”
She smacked Sigmund away.
“If you keep this up, I’ll change your daily diet to peanuts.”
Sigmund stubbornly regained his posture, flying in front of Charl once again.
“Why are you so worked up? Did Felix say something to you?”
Charl lips snapped shut.
Sigmund sighed in resignation.
“It shows on your face. You’re too easy to read sometimes.”
“Quiet. If you understand, then just shut up and help me.”
“All the more reason to refuse, Charl. If you really want to be acknowledged by that man, cease this recklessness. Stop being so impatient. Fight and win inside the Night Party fair and square and you’ll silence all the gossip surrounding you.”
Charl suddenly came to a stop.
Perhaps Sigmund’s words had pierced her, but there was an anguished expression on her face.
“But I can’t forgive this… how can you expect me to sit quietly by the side and watch on…!?”
“You’re not a representative of the law; neither are you a disciplinary committee member. This vigilantism is merely your own selfishness.”
“That’s just a coward’s logic! Noblesse Oblige—“
The fire in her eyes died out almost as immediately as it had appeared.
She had already noticed her error, without Sigmund having to point it out.
Charl was using the pretence of public indignation as a surrogate for her own anger and hatred.
Sigmund gently landed on her crestfallen shoulders.
“You have a precious dream. Don’t taint it by fighting meaningless battles. You have your family to think about—“
“That’s enough, Sigmund.”
Her voice was unnaturally strained. Sigmund immediately fell silent, raising his head up and scanning the surrounding darkness.
Finally, he noticed something.
Fifty metres ahead, to the right of their current location, there was an alien object wriggling about!
The shadow was crawling around on all fours at the base of a tree, hidden inside the impenetrable darkness.
It showed no signs of breathing, and it moved soundlessly— it wasn’t human. Considering the time and the place, there weren’t any humans who would be crawling around on all fours now.
So, it was an automaton.
The edges of Charl’s lips twisted. For a brief moment, her aristocratic face morphed into a dreadful mask of ferocity like a savage beast.
“Finally, it looks like we’ve found our prey.”
“Wait, Charl. We should ascertain who or what that is first.”
“All the good boys and girls should be in bed by now. The only kind of people who would be sneaking around at this time of night…”
Charl began to radiate magic energy from her hair to her shoulders. Inside the darkness, the bluish white light that shone sparkled like moonlight. Extending her hand out to Sigmund, her magic energy coalesced into a bundle of light which flowed into Sigmund.
Sigmund’s body began to react, but he didn’t grow any bigger.
“It’s no good, Charl. There isn’t enough light here.”
“It’s fine even if you’re like that. Make sure you keep him alive, Raster Flare!”
The little dragon opened its jaw. Countless needles of dazzling light poured forth from Sigmund’s mouth, flying towards the shadow, impaling it. As its name implied, it was not the blast of a cannon, but contained the smaller explosive power of a flare.
The quadrupedal automaton collapsed under the attack.
All four limbs were pierced with the needles of light, pinning it to the ground.
Charl rejoiced. Just as she ran over to confirm what she had hit,
Intense and angry voices closed in on her from all four sides.
Hidden in the treetops and shadows, countless human presences revealed themselves.
Charl realised she had been completely surrounded. There were eight— ten individuals. All of them had their lamps turned towards her. To call their attitudes hostile would be an understatement.
Also, all of them had an armband around their arms.
(The disciplinary committee…!?)
His smooth golden hair fluttering, someone walked up in front of a discomfited Charl.
“Pefect timing, Charl. Or rather, I should say this timing is better than perfect.”
Felix turned gloomily towards the quadrupedal automaton, pointing at it.
“That’s one of my spare automata. I thought I’d see if I could try to fish Cannibal Candy out, so I released three baits into the open.”
Charl was confused. She didn’t understand the meaning behind Felix’s words. Was he upset that she had interfered with their search?”
“Charl. Do you know why I’m here?”
“This is a sting operation…”
“I heard you sneak out of your room. On the off-chance something might happen, I ordered the area to be cordoned off.”
Was she being suspected of being..?
As soon as she realised it, she was gripped by an unspeakable fear.
“No! I thought that automaton was Cannibal Candy!”
“So you were trying to capture it, is that right?”
His gaze was full of suspicion. Being stared at like that, Charl felt her explanation slide back down her throat.
“You are a scheduled entrant into the Night Party. Even so, Cannibal Candy would still be a threat to you. Surely he wasn’t that big a threat for you that you needed to proactively hunt him out however, was he?”
“I just… I thought… it was unforgivable…”
“The boarding mistress has already testified that you’d been sneaking out of the dormitory regularly.”
Charl flinched in surprise.
That certainly was true.
As trivial as it may have been, Charl did break the rules, and she had done so repeatedly.
“Did you think your absence would have gone unnoticed?”
“But I wasn’t doing anything to feel guilty about! I snuck out of the dormitory—“
“To search for Cannibal Candy.”
“Oh, Charl… don’t you think it’s time to drop the act?”
Felix shook his head. He had a bitter expression on his face that was a mix of resignation and betrayal. The look in his eyes was no longer gentle or kind.
“Now that I think about it, your actions have been incomprehensible as of late. You kept talking about Cannibal Candy with indignation in your voice— but that too was strange.”
Felix sighed. When he started speaking again, the warmth in his tone had vanished.
“You hate people, and you don’t mix around much with others. How could I have expected you to feel any sympathy for those students who were attacked? Also—“
There was no emotion in his voice as he continued in a monotone.
“You got close to Raishin Akabane; someone who hates people as much as you got close to someone as callous as him.”
“In other words, your hatred of Cannibal Candy— it was merely a show you put on.”
“No! I really—!”
“If we assume everything you did was to avoid suspicion, then all the pieces fall into place.”
“Why!? How can you say that!? What evidence is there!?”
“There is evidence. We found it in your room.”
Charl’s eyes widened. They couldn’t have— did they find that!?
“Wait, I can explain! Those magic circuits—“
The disciplinary committee members stirred. Charl realised her mistake.
“Charl… So, those were really hidden by you.”
Felix had a sad look on his face. On one hand, there was the possibility of a third party hiding them— someone who had a grudge against Charl, or even Cannibal Candy himself could have placed them there to frame someone else. However, Charl had mentioned magic circuits herself, and so those circuits were now incriminating evidence.
However, it couldn’t be helped and she couldn’t defend herself. The truth was Charl herself did conceal a large amount of magic circuits in her room.
“You have harmed a large number of students thus far.”
Once again, she couldn’t say anything for it was the truth.
“You were always aloof and solitary, and your surroundings were filled with nothing but enemies. Under these circumstances, wouldn’t your hatred build up?”
“What are you implying?”
Felix spoke slowly, like he was trying to confirm something.
“The reason why our investigation could never get a hold of Cannibal Candy was that he was a loner, therefore no one had any clue as to his movements.”
“After learning that Raishin Akabane had agreed to assist the disciplinary committee, you felt a sense of danger. Why? Because he wasn’t afraid of you and persistently tried to approach you despite your rejections. If anyone were to get close to you, they would smell a rat.”
“And that’s why you went out with him; to create an alibi and so throw suspicion off of you. Or maybe, you were trying to get him on your side? Fortunately for you, you do possess great beauty.”
Her shoulders trembled. This was mortifying. To be thought of as someone who destroyed automata for no good reason and use seduction as a means to an end.
“You should understand what I’m trying to say, no?”
Felix gave a long, deep sigh, like he was emptying out his lungs.
Staring at Charl with bitter chagrin, Felix finally spoke.
“In other words, Charlotte Belew. You’re Cannibal Candy.”