"You don't have to, if you don't want to. It might be a bit difficult for you, considering your current...condition."
The president spoke to me in a rough, yet concerned, tone of voice.
"Please, I do want to help." I replied, shaking my head.
I followed closely behind him as we walked through the busy streets. There were so much noise and people, one could easily get lost.
To prepare for the ensuring event, we were to gather supplies. The president was to go and bring back as many tools that could be used as weapons, and I decided to tag along.
"In Artificial, there aren't any actual weapons. Major things like guns and bullets, or smaller ones like sharp blades don't exist.
They can't be found anywhere, almost as if they were all filtered out." The president explained to me. "While it makes this world very safe, it also is an inconvenience for our situation."
"That's why, we have to make do with what we can find. While things like switchblades don't exist, there are still kitchen knives and other utensils, although they are dulled down.
Thus, we try to sharpen them the best that we can and turn them into something usable as weapons."
"So that's why you and Hideyoshi were carrying all those knives when we first met."
"Hmph..." He replied with a grunt.
I gazed upon his wide back as we continued on our way. I watched this lumbering giant of a man walked past crowds of people. He stood out like a giant signpost.
He was also not very talkative, moving without even striking a single conversation yet when he did speak, it was only in seriousness and nothing else.
His firm stance was quite admirable, but it made the entire trip very awkward as we both walked about in almost complete silence.
"Over here." He growled as we turned a corner and arrived at what seems to be a shopping district.
"Artificial really is strange. Why is it that there are stores and buildings if the people themselves are controlled by it?
What is the point if the people are just going to be moved the way it wants them to and all basic needs are already fulfilled?" I asked curiously.
"Hmm... it is a mystery." The president replied gruffly. "It might be just to keep up appearances."
"Seeing as how Artificial still allowed the people to move about freely, it would be even stranger if they are to wander around on an empty plane.
No amount of memory manipulation would solve that, I think."
"I guess so?" I tilted my head in confusion. "Why does this world exist? And why does it see a requirement to manipulate the people, yet still allowed them freedom?"
"Don't concern yourself too much for now. It is best we stay focus on our objective. All those question, everything else, is better saved for another time." The president replied as he adjusted his glasses.
His voice was cold and almost emotionless as he spoke.
Could it be that, the questions I'm asking, are agitating him?
They have told me that there is still much they do not know. It make sense that me asking such confusing questions that none of us know the answer to, is nothing more than a nuisance. Even so..,
"Haaa..." I sighed, as I scratched my chin. I have so many questions, yet knowing there is no answer for any of them is so aggravating.
So little make sense, and every time I tried to make sense of it, my head hurts.
"Takatora, over here." The president called to me.
"Y-yes!" I shook my head to clear away all the confusing thoughts and quickly ran over to him.
We went into a hardware store and made our way towards the cooking utensils. Looking around, it seems that he was right.
Many of the kitchen knives were very dull, looking more like butter knives.
They could chop, and maybe even slice if applied enough force, but using them as weapons would be impossible.
"Hmm..." I watched as the president took out various sets of knives and carefully looked over them.
"Is there something specific we should be looking for with said knives?" I asked.
"Yes. The size, the material, it's durability. All of those are important. We also must account for the balance and grip as well.
Otherwise it becomes a hassle, especially if it is to be quickly discarded and replaced." He explained to me.
"I didn't know so much were needed to make for an effective weapon."
"You can take that up with Hideyoshi since these knives are for him. He's very picky when it comes to what can be used."
"Eh? Really?" I was taken by surprise. "Will you not use them, president? "
He shook his head. "No, these knives don't fit in my hand. I am also not as nimble as Hideyoshi when it comes to using these as weapons. I prefer bludgeon equipment, or simply my fist if I must."
"Oh..." I looked at his giant hands. No doubt if he does punch someone or something with them, it would cause severe damage.
"You should also decide what weapons would be best suited for you." He said as he continued to inspect the knives.
"It is important you use something that is most comfortable to you, as well as being able to rely on in a pinch."
"I've never fought before, let alone use weapons." I replied meekly.
"First time for everything then. Remember that where we have to go, your survival will depend on it."
I looked down at the ground. It's true that we're going to have to go back to that terrible place and will have to deal with those monsters again.
They won't care for any sentiments or mercy, and will only look to kill us. To have to face them again... my body shudder at the thought.
“Ah... forgive me.” The president said in a low calming voice as he noticed my trembling body.
“We shouldn’t be forcing so much on you. You are a girl and unfortunately, do have some inconvenience due to your right arm.”
"R-right..." I moved my left hand towards my right shoulders.
As I felt it, I remember what I was told about Hideyoshi, the president and Senpai. "Umm... president?"
"What is it?" He replied without looking away from the knives.
"Hideyoshi, he told me about everyone's conditions."
The president paused, before speaking again.
"Oh. So he told you about us, huh?" The president carefully placed the knives down.
"If you're worried about us, I would say that you shouldn't take our conditions into too much consideration. We have long gotten used to it by now."
We have long gotten used to it by now."
"Even so... I can't even imagine how it must be. Compared to everyone else, I...,"
"Then I'm glad. I would never want anyone else to experience any of this at all." The president turned to me. His eyes were the usual piercing gaze yet there was a sense of calm and serenity.
"We all have an equal ground in terms of our conditions. Hideyoshi, Mitsuhide, and you. You shouldn't have to feel as if your pain is any less than ours."
"Y-yes..." I slowly nodded my head. His words were similar to Hideyoshi's. He was right that we are all suffering the same.
Even if I couldn't fully comprehend his condition, nor Hideyoshi's nor Senpai's, in a way there is no way for them to comprehend mine either. Yet still...
All of us are in the same situation.
I slightly squeezed my shoulder, feeling the strange sensation of my right arm despite nothing there.
"President, I will do what I can, to the best of my abilities."
He was quiet. He stared at me, before turning his attentions back to the knives.
"Of course. But don't push yourself. Ah... I hope that doesn't come off as condescending." He replied as he adjusted his glasses.
"No, it's okay. I understand you are only looking out for me." I shook my head.
"Compared to everyone, there is little I can do but I am still grateful that you are all willing to help me yet again."
"I want to do whatever I can. I know there isn't much I can do, but I still hope to contribute. After all, this is all because of me. At the very least, let me take responsibility."
I spoke with boldness yet inside I was still a little frightened. There was no way to calm my wild thoughts, yet I did not want to give in to them.
"I see." The president gave me a warm smile. "Let us all do our best then."
"Yes." I happily replied.
After some time, we were finally able to get what we need.
"This should be good enough. Let us return, Takatora." The president said.
"Are we going to just take all of these?" I asked as we packed our bags and prepared to leave.
"Yes. Other people can't see us nor will it matter if we take them. Remember that they filter out anything that they are not meant to see.
In other words, we and what we do, does not matter to them." He roughly stated.
"It's strange. Almost as if we are stealing." I said, feeling guilty.
"Indeed, but it does not matter. It is disheartening, to have to follow logic outside of the norm, but there is nothing we can do. It's not like we can go to the register and just pay for them."
As we left the stores with our bags of knives, no one batted an eye just like he said. It was almost like if we didn't even exist. It was such an uncomfortable feeling.
"Oh Takatora, I might be needing your sizes." He suddenly said to me when we stepped outside.
"Eh?" My face turned bright red as I heard his abrupt request.
"Ah, please don't take it the wrong way. It is for getting protective clothing to fit for you." He reassured as he noticed my embarrassment.
The president scratched his head as he began to also feel embarrassed from his awkward request.
"Urk... f-forget what I said. Sorry for asking such a strange request." His face was turning red as he spoke.
"Heh...hehe. President, you're kind of funny." I found myself giggling.
"You seem so distanced and unapproachable due to your stature but, you have a very nice side." I said gleefully.
"I'll admit, you really did scare me when I first met you but...umm..."
"Are you still scared of me?" He chuckled.
"J-just a little. But you're also interesting." I replied softly.
"Hmm... is that so?" He said with a slight smile. "I guess that is not too bad. It seems that's what everyone says when they first meet me. Mitsuhide and Hideyoshi said the same thing. Although, their wording was not as kind as yours."
"Haaa... I have tried many times to change my image. To not be as you have said but, it never seem to work out." He let out a deep sigh.
"I sometimes wonder if Hideyoshi might be right that I should just wear a mask."
The image of the president wearing a mask flashed through my head. I couldn't help but giggle at the bizarre idea.
"Fufufu... I think you're fine the way you are, president."
"Hmph... do you think so?"
By the time we made it back to the club, the sun had already began to set. Its twilight rays swept across the school halls and dyed the world a myriad of red and orange.
“I can’t believe it’s gotten so late already.” I muttered as I hauled our bag of equipment in one hand.
“We don’t have much time to prepare but we still must do what we can.” The president replied to me without looking back.
As we entered the clubroom, we saw Hideyoshi still working on the grindstone. Beside him were a pile of already sharpened knives.
“Prez, Takatora! Hey, welcome back.” He happily came over and greeted us.
“We got as much varieties of knives as we could carry. See if they’ll work for you.”
“Let me see... hmm... not bad. This one is high quality steel and this one, a 240mm? I might have to work on it a bit.”
“I had thought you would preferred one with a sturdier handle.”
“Can’t say I don’t but...”
I listened as they went over each of the knives we brought. I couldn’t understand everything they were discussing but it made me felt a bit amazed how well versed they were.
“Takatora, you must be tired. Would you like some coffee?” The president asked me.
"Yes, 2 sugar and cream please." I happily requested
The president nodded his head and went off to make coffee while I took a seat and watched Hideyoshi work.
The grindstone he was using was a makeshift. From the looks of it, it was made using a bicycle with the front wheel replaced by a grind wheel.
Sparks flew out as he spun it and carefully refined the dull edges of the kitchen knives. His eyes were laser focused and he worked with such precision and delicacy, almost like a master craftsman.
It was a very fascinating sight to behold.
“Phew...I think this should be good. I got it down to at least 2mm in width. It should be able to pierce well, but I doubt it will last more than a single stab.” He sighed.
“It’s amazing that you know so much about this.” I said in awe.
“You learn it as you go.” He smiled at my compliment. “Especially when yours and other’s lives depend on it.”
He inspected the knife carefully and slowly moved it through the air as if to test it.
“Would you like to try it?” He suddenly offered.
“Eh? Umm...but I don’t know the first thing about...”
“It’s not that hard, I’ll guide you through it.” He smiled as he handed me a dull knife.
I sat in front of the grindstone and carefully laid the knife on the wheel, steadying the handle with only my left hand.
“Just relax. Lay the edge carefully on it, tilt it about 40 degrees...okay...” Hideyoshi instructed me.
The wheel spun and little sparks flew out, startling me, as the blade was being sharpened.
“Easy, keep your eyes on the blade’s edge. Move it gently...okay!”
He inspected my newly sharpened knife.
“How is it?” I asked nervously.
"Well, more practice will do you good, that's for sure."
I let out a sigh and giggled. "A little harsh for a first timer, don't you think? Especially one with only one arm." I beamed.
“Honesty is an important part of helping others improve.” He replied with a smirk.
“Takatora, you’re trying to sharpen?” The president returned with cups of coffee. “How did she do?”
“Nothing to write home about.”
"Ah, always the critical one aren't you." The president sighed.
“I’m quite proud of that.”
I took a sip of the coffee and nearly spat it out.
It was only lukewarm with still grinds of coffee beans mixed in the water, making it more like just a terrible tasting cup of tea with coffee haphazardly poured in.
It was so badly made and bitter I couldn’t taste neither the sugar nor the cream.
“Gah! Prez, did you make the coffee?” Hideyoshi exclaimed.
“Y-yes. You were busy, so I thought...” He responded sheepishly.
“Just because you’re lucky enough to never have to taste your own terrible culinary skills, doesn’t mean you should subject us to such torture.”
“I’ll have you know, I’m at least adequate when it comes to cooking.” He responded with surprising pride while adjusting his glasses.
I burst out in uncontrollable laughter at their exchange. The two boys looked at me and joined in as well.
The day was coming to an end, yet we still had so much to do.
There was only two days left.