Such a punch was precisely the serious punch of Nakamura Shinichi.
Trembling hands, power that was drawn unconsciously, yet the fist was still properly thrust forward.
It was a punch that hurt Shinichi as well, but he desperately threw it nonetheless because he knew it was necessary.
The scream of a normal person that could be yelled precisely because he saw Takeshi Sasaki as his friend.
That’s why it was more painful than anything.
After all, it was a punch that belonged to Takeshi’s friend.
A punch that made him realize just how much he was hurting his friend.
The following finishing blow was also quite powerful, though, so he was actually genuinely dizzy.
“As usual, you know where to poke to make it hurt, Shinichi… I guess you’re right, after all, I just want to be scolded by mom again… Boy, I really do have a mother complex.”
Takeshi chuckled with a pained expression. He really wasn’t in a position to preach at others, it seemed.
Acting up to get attention from one’s parents. How childish could he be?
Really, he himself hasn’t changed at all. In fact, he didn’t even notice it until Shinichi pointed it out to him.
“It’s been 8 years already, yet he saw straight through me with just one meeting. He’s as good as ever at weaponizing his understanding of other people.”
He knew what made people hurt, so he knew how to inflict that pain on others.
That’s why Takeshi looked down on people who saw Shinichi as just a kind person.
Of course, it wouldn’t be wrong to call him kind too.
“That’s also why you overburden yourself with others’ feelings…”
Because of that he was likely depressed about this unsolvable problem.
Takeshi could just imagine the sight of the depressed Shinichi. It was curious whether he was laughing or apologetic about that, but what came out of his lips was a voice akin to that of hate.
“Terrible. Just who could possibly empathize with the pain that you feel?”
Those that could understand the pain of others would experience more pain in their whole life than those that couldn’t.
Humans were creatures that suffered just by living, so if someone were to take on other people’s pain as well, then the amount of pain he would suffer in his whole life would inevitably increase.
Such a thing was not a wound that ought to be described as kindness.
In fact, perhaps the so-called ‘kindness’ that everyone referred to did not even recognize that pain as pain.
“…Are you sure about this?” Ein asked.
“Hmm? What do you mean?” Takeshi said.
“If you care about him so much, should you really be picking a fight with him?”
It was an obvious question as far as Ein was concerned, after all…
“If I recall correctly, you weren’t originally planning to go this far. The devices you set throughout Japan were also just meant to allow you to escape.”
“Well, that was the plan at first, but… After speaking with him for awhile, I remembered about something I wanted to do, so I changed my plans.”
He was aware of the fact that he was causing his friend plenty of worries but he showed no remorse, and instead he wore a cheerful smile.
“Sorry, but you’ll have to play along, Ein. I’m sure we’re headed to hell, but isn’t that plenty fun too?”
“But of course. As unworthy as I may be, I will follow you wherever you go and destroy any and all that stand in your way.”
Ein spoke using somewhat antiquated expressions while talking.
It was curious if that was a trait of their race, but regardless, Takeshi narrowed his eyes for a moment, then a mischievous smile surfaced on his lips.
“Big words considering you can’t beat either Shinichi or his servant. You should be overwhelming them based on Status, though. Don’t you think that’s strange?”
“Uu… That’s… I have no excuse…”
Ein appeared visibly dejected, as if he genuinely regretted not having enough power, though he continued to drive with unwavering dedication.
Takeshi couldn’t help but crack a smile at that. While one of the reasons he accepted Ein was rooted in the fact that Ein fundamentally wasn’t quite ‘human,’ another reason was his genuine appreciation for Ein’s seriousness and the dedication with which Ein carried out his tasks.
“Don’t worry about it. Losing can provide information too. Thanks to that, we’re able to get a clearer picture now. They’re returnees from another otherworld, after all, so it’s only normal that they know something we don’t. I’m guessing there’s either a completely different power at play here, or there’s a secret to the Status that we don’t know about.”
“It’s fairly common in games. A hidden stat that’s been taking effect this whole time.”
Takeshi reminisced about how he used to enjoy uncovering things like that when he was a child. Now, he was trying to uncover the hidden truth behind the Status with the same sense of excitement.
“That also gives another perspective to the peerlessness of that general. It’s true that his Status is powerful, but I’ve always felt as though there was a power at play beyond that. I’d love to watch him go at it with Shinichi… I wonder how I could get him to come out.”
Takeshi chuckled to himself, and Ein found his cheeks slackening.
“You really are having fun, Master.”
“Obviously. After all, I’m fighting against someone I can’t beat no matter what. My heart is about to leap out in excitement, you know.”
It was the challenge of a lifetime for him – a challenge against an imposing, towering wall – a competition between him and his best friend. It had merely been a concept that he knew of before, but for the first time, he could now experience the rush that came with a true challenge.
That put a genuine and heartfelt smile on him.
It was such an irrational thing, yet what actually led him to take on this mad endeavor was his unwavering belief that he couldn’t win, yet strangely enough, he took pride in that.
“Fu fu, for the meantime, let’s go check on the progress of some of our experiments. Those things we distributed in Qaragal, let’s check up on them. Shinichi will also going on a field trip there, so it’s good timing too.”
“I understand. I’ll prepare the necessary travel arrangements.”
“Thanks… Oh, but before that, we better make sure to retrieve all of those traps I set. If we piss him for real, I’ll be kicked out of the game immediately… So scary.”
“…I think he’s plenty scary as is, though… Can he really be that much scarier?”
“Yep, when he’s real pissed off, he’s just like a runaway locomotive full of explosives. He’ll just keep on charging and blowing up until his opponent is dead.”
In their previous encounter, which was a brief but revealing exchange, Ein had found himself overwhelmed by the Mask’s superior abilities, so his face understandably paled when he thought of having to fight the Shinichi that Takeshi described.
Takeshi could more or less figure out what he was thinking, but he just laughed as though it didn’t concern him.
What was scary about his childhood friend when angry wasn’t actually that, but the fact that a runaway locomotive wouldn’t care if it was broken.
“It’s as if he’s saying that he’d much rather be broken than allow more people to get hurt. But you know, Shinichi? The only one I care about that much nowadays is you.”
He sounded like he was complaining, but the expression he wore was that of amusement.
Takeshi pondered on schemes that would allow him toe the line of just barely pissing off Shinichi.
Oh, what joy. He could either win or lose, live or die… It was that perilous of a line.
And the very thought of such uncertain and gambling methods brought him no end of excitement.
For the first time, he was able to understand what it meant for one’s heart to race.
Without intending to, a child-like smile void of all malice surfaced on him.
A smile that toed that fine line of madness and innocence.
“Well, either way, I know I’ll end up pissing him off, though… Sorry, Shinichi.”
Despite saying such ominous words, the only apology he could utter was something so casual.