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Infinite Stratos Volume 2 Chapter 3: Blue Days, Red Switch

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Chapter 3: Blue Days/Red SwitchEdit

"So the reason why Ichika can't beat Alcott-san and Rin-san is mainly because you haven't grasped the nuances of ranged weapons."

"Is, is that so? I thought I should have understood..."

It's been the fifth day since Charles came here, and today's Saturday. In the IS Academy, Saturday mornings are for theory lessons, and afternoons are free. As the arenas are completely open on Saturdays, almost all students will use the time to practice. I'm one of them as well, as Charles and I exchanged a few moves with each other while he lectures me about IS battles.

"Mm-yeah, it may sound like I'm using some half-baked knowledge, but when you fought against me, you almost couldn't close the distance in, right?"

"Um...that's true, even the [Ignition Boost] was seen through..."

"That's because Ichika's IS can only fight in close range, so if you downplay the characteristics of ranged weapons, you can't win in a battle. Also, Ichika's ignition boost goes in a straight line, so even if I can't react in time, I can use the trajectory to predict the attack."

"A straight attack...hm."

"Ah, but it's better not to forcefully try to change the trajectory. The air resistance or pressure will cause additional burden on the machine, and in the worst case scenario, may even cause fractures."

"...I see."

I listened seriously to Charles as I continued to nod my head.

That's because Charles' explanation is too easy to understand.

"Like, *rip*-- after I do that, there will be *klang!* *Donk dong!* feeling."

"Your instincts should be able to understand, right? Use your feelings, feelings...whaa? Why can't you understand that, idiot!"

"When you defend, the right part of your body must tilt forward by 5 degrees, and when dodging, you must turn in the opposite direction by 20 degrees."

So far, those three who call themselves coaches have just given me such welcoming words. In all sense, I was already at a dead end, and the savior Charles Dunois appeared. This grace is so touching that I can't express it in words. What's even better is that there's no need to think too much if it's between guys.

(Speaking of which, the IS suit is really too revealing...)

It doesn't matter if it's just an ordinary battle, but training's just training. To be honest, my eyes will accidentally look at other places, so it's really hard to move.

"Humph, that's because you didn't listen to my suggestion."

"I made it so easy to understand already, and yet you couldn't understand."

"Do you have any dissatisfaction against my clear and elaborate explanation?"

Sigh...and the three so-called personal coaches of mine were muttering behind me.

Like I just said. The arenas are completely available on Saturday afternoons, so in this third arena, there're a lot of students who are seriously studying. However, it seems like as the only two guys training here, there's a lot more people who want to use the 3rd arena as it looks like it's about to overflow. Right now, many of other groups have been knocking into each other or being hit by stray bullets. That's really tough. So far, I've already knocked into other people thrice.

"Doesn't Ichika's [Byakushiki] have an equalizer?"

Oh, Charles-sensei started to speak, and I have to listen. Maybe it seems that as a guy, it's easier for me to understand another guy, so as of right now, I'm just like a sponge that can absorb water.

"Oh yeah, I asked others to check a few times, but it seems like there are no more expansion slots, so everyone told me that it's impossible to add on."

"It's just my guess, but the capacity is used on a one-off ability."

"What do you mean by a one-off ability?"

"As what the name says, it's a 'one and only' ability, and it's an ability that occurs naturally when IS pilots are in maximum synergy with their IS."

From how he was about to describe it so fluently, I can tell how outstanding Charles is.

"But most of the time, it appears in second phase. Even so, as there are so many machines that haven't discovered such power, there are 3rd generation IS that can allow multiple users to use a unique ability. Alcott-san's [Blue Tears] and Rin-san's [Impact Cannons] should be the same."

"I see. So [Byakushiki]'s unique point is the [Reiraku Byakuya], right?"

As long as it attacks something that has an energy source, it can negate and destroy it--that's the most powerful attack of the [Byakushiki], however, activating it will deplete its own shields and energy fast. It can be described as a cursed weapon, a double-edged sword.

"[Byakushiki] actually has that ability even though it's in its 1st shift, and that alone is rather abnormal because there's no precedence in such an ability. And its ability is even similar to Orimura-sensei's--first generation [Brunhilde], right?"

That seems to be the same. Chifuyu-nee's weapon is the same as mine, and even the IS design's the same. It's really hard to explain.

"But can't that be explained as us being siblings?"

"That's not enough, I don't think that just being siblings is enough to establish a reason. I just mentioned that it's important for IS pilots to have synergy with the machine. So no matter how we try to emphasize on it, it's not enough to deliberately cause such a thing.

"Is that so? But anyway, we still can't think of an answer even after thinking so long, so let's forget about it for now."

"Hm, that's right. Then, let's have some shooting practice! Here, this is for you."

After Charles said that, he passed me the 0.55 caliber assault rifle [Vent].

"Huh? Aren't we unallowed to use other people's weapons?"

"Normally, but if the owner unlocks it, everyone can use it as long as they're registered. Hm, right now, I allowed Ichika to use it with [Byakushiki]. Try shooting it."

This is the first time I'm holding a gun, and I find it unexpectedly heavy. As the IS has an energy field, normally speaking, I shouldn't be able to feel the weight. This is the first time I'm holding a weapon, so most likely, that's the reason why there's a mental feeling.

"I, I just need to hold it like this, right?"

"Let me see...close your armpit down and move your left arm here, got that?"

Charles got behind me, and though there's a difference in our height, he used the floating feature of the IS to nimbly guide my arms.

"And as it's a firearm, there will be lots of recoil, but the IS will almost negate it completely, so you don't have to worry. Can you do a connection detection?"

"You're talking about that option when using firearms, right? I was looking for it since just now, but I couldn't find it."

As I'm shooting in hi-speed, I definitely need a super hi-grade sensor. That's to include the required signal when the enemy's in firing range for the IS pilot to detect. The weapons and sensors have to be linked together, but ever since the beginning, [Byakushiki] doesn't even have such an option.

"Hm--even if it's a close-ranged machine, normally speaking, there should be one..."

"I feel that this is a flawed machine."

"Maybe it's a 100% close combat fighter frame. Well, it can't be helped. You can use just your eyes to judge."

Ohh, to think that I actually have such disadvantageous conditions while shooting for the first time. But it's useless to complain now. Anyway, let's shoot first.

"I'm firing then."

"Well, I guess once you shoot, you should find it rather different."

I can't understand the feeling if I don't try it myself, so what Charles said should be correct. Anyway, I take a deep breath and force my strength into the trigger.

*BAM!*

"WOAH!"

The explosion of the firearm was too loud, and it shocked me. So I can hear such a loud sound even when shooting?

"How is it?"

"Ah, ahh, I don't know. The first thing that came to my mind was 'fast'."

I understand that a bullet's speed is really fast, but after firing it, this became even more obvious.

"Go-Got it."

Besides, my body got hit by the recoil—though most of the power was worn off, and this is the first time I experienced such a different feeling from a sword, so my heart started to pound like crazy.

"That's right. It's fast. Though Ichika's [Ignition Boost] is fast, the bullet is small in size, so its speed increases at a faster rate. Thus, if the enemy predicts the trajectory, it would be easy to hit you, and even if it didn't, it can suppress an enemy. It's right for Ichika to have an attacking mindset, but there still has to be a brake in your heart."

"So that's why the distance kept getting away and the enemy started to attack me..."

"Mn."

...I see. So that's the reason? Eliminating Houki, who specialises in close range, it's no wonder that whenever I fought against Rin or Cecilia, I always ended up being attacked...I see. I can finally understand now.

"I already explained so many times that it was like that...!"

"So you didn't even know that? Sigh, what an idiot."

"I almost wanted to say that you almost understood. Why did you still chose to fight like that when you're practically underestimating yourself?"

Ahh, what's going on? I seem to have some people rolling their eyes behind me as they said to me—hm, a conversation is important, so we should talk more to understand each other more. It's because we don't understand each other so well that we ended up having miscommunications on so many different aspects.

"Ah, please continue trying. It's alright to use up one magazine."

"Okay, thanks."

After calming myself down more than before, I shot 2-3 rounds. I felt the impact spread through the shoulders and throughout my entire body as I continued to think of how to close the distance.

"Speaking of which, is Charles' IS a [Revive]?"

"Mn, that's right. Ah, your arms are open. Close your armpits tight again."

"Is, is that so...like this?"

"Ok! Also, try to let the gun's sights remain in front of your eyes. You can't shoot accurately if you tilt your head!"

I continue to accept his guidance as I ask something that I've been wondering about.

"As for that IS, it looks very different from the one Yamada-sensei's using. Are they really the same model?"

The IS [Raphael Revive] (commonly called the Revive) that Yamada-sensei uses has 4 deep blue multi-directional thrusters on the exterior. In contrast, Charles IS is different in colour and design. The pair of thrusters on the back of Charles' IS look like 2 sets of wings that're divided down the middle, which increases the mobility and acceleration. Also, the armor has somewhat been modified from Yamada-sensei's machine. In terms of the weapon box, it seem to have one huge box behind with another small thruster on it. It seems it's used for maintaining balance. However, the biggest difference in all these is that the 4 blocks of physical shields that were attached onto the shoulders were all removed. What replaced them is an arm-sized shield on the left arm and a cooling exterior on the right arm to prevent any disturbances when firing.

"Oh, that's because its been customized for me, so a lot of things were modified. The actual name of this baby is [Raphael-Revive Custom II]. The functionality has been multiplied after removing a few pieces of equipment."

"Multiplied? That's amazing...I really hope you can share some with me."

"Hahaha, I'm okay with giving you one. As it's custom-made, right now, it has about 20 equalizers.

"Wow—that feels somewhat like an armory."

In fact, since they were all weapons that were specialized for IS, it wasn't something that could be brought over with just 'somewhat'...what I said wasn't an exaggeration at all. The firepower's basically equivalent to 10 tanks...or more seriously, hundreds of them.

However, Cecilia and Rin have only about 5 IS equipment slots, or at the most 8. That's because it's impossible to use all the weapons that are stored up. More importantly, considering the waiting time needed to summon a weapon, there's no point in having more.

And that custom machine of his should have been made with these considerations, so maybe Charles has some unique skills?

"Huh, look at that..."

"No way, that's the 3rd generation German model."

"I heard that it's still in the testing phase in their country..."

The arena started to buzz all of a sudden. I just used up an entire magazine of 16 rounds, so I turned to look at where everyone's looking at.

"..."

Standing over there was the other transfer student, the German representative candidate, Laura Bodewig.

Ever since the moment when she first transferred in, she had never interacted with anyone in class, let alone say a single word. She's a lonely and proud girl.

On a side note, I haven't talked to her at all. That's because she slapped me for no good reason, so I don't really know how to talk to her...u--yeah, how about a smile?

"Hey."

A voice could be heard from the IS communication channel. As it happened on the first time, I could never forget that voice. It's Laura herself.


"...What."

Though I didn't really want to answer, I couldn't just ignore her. After I answered her casually, Laura continued to speak as she glided down.

"It seems like you possess a personal IS. If that's the case, it's simple. Fight me."

What's this person saying? Does she like to fight?

"Nope. I have no reason to fight you."

"You don't, I do."

Ahh, I see--Germany, Chifuyu-nee. I can link these two events together to remember one thing. It's the finals of the 2nd Mondo Grosso.

That's a memory I myself personally don't want to remember, yet it's etched deeply within me.

--Basically, on the day of the finals, I got abducted by a mysterious organization. This mysterious organization--this isn't even a name in a movie script...how lousy is that. However, they were so mysterious that there's no other way to describe them, and since it's a mysterious organization, I suppose it should be alright to describe them as such.

Nobody knows why they did that. Anyway, I got abducted and locked into a pitch black place. As it was dark all around, I lost all feelings for a while, but after a while, the room suddenly shook due to an impact, and after the wall collapsed, what appeared under the rays of light that shone in was Chifuyu-nee in an IS. It seems like she got notification from the finals arena and flew directly here.

That's right. At that time, I couldn't forget how Chifuyu-nee looked. Suave, overpowering and beautiful.

Thus, the finals naturally ended up with Chifuyu-nee losing on default. She didn't manage to complete her bi-championship, and as everyone believed that Chifuyu-nee would win, her decision to forfeit was quite the shock.

Though the fact remains that I was abducted, at the time, the German military managed to obtain information through their unique reconnaissance. And then, as a condition, the Germans got 'compensation' for providing information to save me. After the tournament, Chifuyu-nee became an instructor for a year.

After that, she disappeared for a while and suddenly reappeared before becoming an IS Academy instructor.

"If it wasn't for your existence, instructor would have easily reclaimed the championship, so I will never, ever, agree to your existence."

...And that seemed to be the case. As Chifuyu-nee's student, Laura must practically worship her strength. That's why Laura hates me for breaking Chifuyu-nee's perfect, undefeated record. Well, I guess I can understand her feelings, because I'm the same as well. To be honest, I couldn't forgive myself for being so weak that day.

However, that's different from the situation now, and that's not enough reason for me to fight Laura. At least, I don't want to fight.

"Maybe next time."

"Humph, since that's the case. I'll make you fight me."

After she said that, Laura switched her black IS into battle mode. At that moment, the large missile that was equipped on her left arm immediately shot out.

*BAM!*

"Suddenly starting battle in such an enclosed space. Germans are really hot tempered, huh? So are your people's beers and brains hot?"

"You..."

Butting in, Charles used his shield to deflect the live bullet and pointed the .61 [Garm] sub-machine gun on his right hand at Laura.

"To think that the likes of a second generation French IS is standing in my way."

"It's probably more mobile than your third generation German model which still can't be mass produced."

They glared at each other coolly. Though I'm shocked by Charles interfering, I'm more impressed that he managed to summon his equipment so quickly.

He managed to summon the weapon immediately in 1-2 seconds and even aim at the enemy. I see, it's because of that that he's able to have so many equalizers? He can probably choose the most suitable weapon for battle even if he doesn't summon it and reload at the same time. In other words, he has an overwhelming advantage in an endurance fight, and can even switch his own weapons to counter the enemy's.

I can finally understand why Charles is a representative candidate and why his machine's a customized one.

"You students over there! What are you doing! State your year, class and register number!"

An audio broadcast can be heard. Most likely, the teacher who's in charge came rushing over.

"...Humph. I'll retreat for today."

Maybe her enthusiasm was curbed because someone interrupted her, Laura casually got rid of her battle mode and left the arena through the gates, although it's very likely that the extremely angry teacher that is standing over there, seeing Laura's personality, will pretend not to notice her.

"Are you okay, Ichika?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm okay. Thanks."

The sharp expression that Charles showed when he faced off against Laura several seconds back disappeared, and right now, he's looking concerned as he observes me.

"That's it for today's training. It's already past 4, and the arena's closing soon anyway."

"Ah, that's good. Oh ya, thanks for your gun. I got quite the lesson here."

"That's good."

He smiled again. Though that lack of defensive mindset often caused me to feel anxious, the problem is always what happens next.

"Huh...we'll go back after you change."

That's right. It happened all the time. After the IS practicals, Charles never changed clothes with me...it's not that he's unwilling, but he never changed clothes with me after practicals. The only time he changed clothes with me was on the day when he first transferred in. After that, he either changed into the IS suit or headed out faster and changed faster than me.

And what's even more weird is that Charles, who would guide me through so earnestly during practicals, would become really stiff once we returned back to our room—

"Hu—that's refreshing...ah, you can use the shower."

"I-Ichika, why aren't you wearing clothes?"

"I am. I'm just wearing shorts."

"Uu, you have to wear something on top. And, and also, dry your hair."

"Ahh, no need to be so troublesome."

"You, you have to. Ichika has to be properly dressed up!"

"We're both guys, so there's no problems! Speaking of which, Charles, you always dress up nicely before going out. Well, you don't have to worry too much about me."

"I-Ichika! You should think about others more! Ahh that's enough! I'm leaving you alone!"

--We used to have such conversations. I don't really know why, but Charles would start to nag at me when we're alone. It's more like 'he started to tell me off after being unable to stand it'.

Hm, is Charles the naggy mother type? I don't really understand how parents really are, so I tried to imagine it from what I heard from Gotanda. Such words should be said by a mother, right?

Let's not talk about that...since we're already roommates, and are guys, we should use this chance to build our relationship with each other. Alright, time to convince him.

"We should occasionally change clothes together."

"No, no."

"Don't be so heartless."

"Instead of being heartless, why do you want to change clothes with me, Ichika?"

"Well, then why doesn't Charles want to change clothes with me?"

Though it's really classless to answer a question using a question, I have to be more forceful in order to deal with Charles. That was what I learnt during the past few days, so there shouldn't be any problems.

"Why...that's, that's because, I-I'll feel awkward..."

This chap's really weird. Though Charles himself looks rather slender, he does look like he trained his body. If that's the case, what's there to be embarrassed about?"

"There won't be any problems once you get used to it. Come on, let's go change together."

"No, that, that..."

Maybe he's still thinking of an excuse as he looks around—alright, time to give him a nudge.

"Hey, Charles--"

WAH!

"Okay, okay, hurry up and go change. You won't have any friends if you don't know how to hold back."

I got choked on the neck from behind. Wah, this is killing me! Let go, Rin! RIN!

"Ah, ahem...if you want to find someone to change with, well, I'm not too willing, but it can't be helped. I, I can change with you—"

"We're changing as well, Cecilia. Hurry up and get over here."

"Houki, Houki-san! Don't grab my neck—I, I got it! I'll go over! Okay okay okay! I'll obediently change in the girls' changing room!"

Just when Cecilia was about to argue, Houki forcefully grabbed her by the back of the neck and pulled her back...what? Is such a skill required to be a childhood friend?

(Speaking of which, the girls' have been calling each other by their own names since who knows when.)

Though they looked like they didn't meet eye to eye, I guess that can be explained by them being with each other for a while. It seems that they can call each other by their names now.

I got it, it's that, right? Fighting at the riverbank until the sun set—and then starting to talk? 'You're good', 'you too' kind of thing, right? Hold on. If that's the case, doesn't that mean that they have to fight against each other? No way, I'm against violence.

"Rin."

"What?"

"I'm against violence."

"THIS IS CALLED VIOLENCE!"

How rude. Knocking me on the head like that, I just said that I'm against violence!

"Who asked you to raise an objection before I even hit you, idiot."

No matter what, I don't want to be hit continuously. The arena's about to close. Better go change now.

"I'm going off then."

"Ah, okay."

After saying that to Charles, I headed towards the gate. As I've gotten used to accelerating and stopping suddenly, my IS control is more or less refined now.

"But speaking of which, this sure is luxurious."

In the empty changing room, there are already about 50 lockers, and the room's naturally as wide as it indicates. I transformed [Byakushiki] back into the standby mode as I sat down on the bench and took off the IS suit.

"Sigh—I really want a bath..."

Though the suit can really absorb sweat, it doesn't change the fact that I sweat, so to be honest, I really want to relax my body and soul. According to rumors, as there are 2 guys in school now, it seems like Yamada-sensei is rescheduling the onsen usage time. Thank you very much.

"Alright, I'm done changing."

It's easy for guys to change clothes, it will be over after I just think about something.

"Excuse me, are Orimura-kun and Dunois-kun inside?"

"What's wrong? Huh, only Orimura's inside."

I heard the call of someone from otuside. The owner of the voice should be Yamada-sensei. Speaking of the devil.

"Can I come in—? Are you changing—?"

Why is it that voices will drag when they're calling someone from afar? It really can't be explained...but that goes for me as well.

"Ah, no problems. I'm done changing, so please enter."

The door swooshed open, and Yamada-sensei walked in. The opening chorus of compressed air was as cool-sounding as ever.

"Isn't Dunois-kun with you? I heard that he was training together with Orimura-kun."

"Ah, he's still in the arena. Maybe he went back to the control zone. What's up? If it's really important, I can call him over."

"Ah, it's not really anything major, so please pass the message to him. From the end of this month onwards, both of you can use the onsen. As there will be problems allocating times to allow you to use it, we decided to allow you to use the onsen twice every week."

"IS THAT TRUE!?"

What do you mean it's not something important? This is something important! I can finally take a bath now! I'm so touched that I couldn't help but grab Yamada-sensei's hands and say,

"I'M SO HAPPY, THAT'S WONDERFUL! THANK YOU YAMADA-SENSEI!"

"It-It's alright. It's my job anyway..."

Maybe that's true, but right now, I'm so thankful and overwhelmed with emotions that I really want to express my thanks.

"No no no. It's all because of Yamada-sensei's great work. Thank you very much!"

"Is, is that so? Saying it like that, I'm getting really embarrassed, hahaha..."

At that moment, I just realised that there's only both of us in the changing room, and I'm holding onto a female teacher's hands so passionately—what should I say? I feel an ominous presence that indicates that something bad is about to happen.

"...Ichika? What are you doing?"

ACK!

...What, so it's Charles? Phew.

"Ah, no. It's nothing."

I suddenly let go of my hands. Maybe it's really embarrassing that Charles had to say this to me. Yamada-sensei immediately turned her back at me after I let go of her hands.

"Ichika, I should have told you to go back first."

"Oh yeah, you did. Sorry."

Phew, why do I feel that Charles sounded really vexed? But he's giving the same look. Maybe I'm thinking too much.

"Charles, I got good news for ya. We can use the onsen starting from the end of this month!"

"Oh."

Having removed his IS, Charles glanced at me, who's all pumped up, as he starts to rubs his head with a towel.

Uu—hm, seems like he's not feeling too good. But it's such rare good news, and his response is so dull. It's really somewhat anti...

"Ah, that's right. I still need Orimura-kun for something. I got some documents for you to fill, so can you please come to the office? As it's related to the official registration of [Byakushiki], there's a lot of pages."

"Got it—then Charles, This will take quite some time, so you can use the bathroom first."

"Mn, got it."

"Then let's go, Yamada-sensei."

Closing the doors up, Charles, who's alone in the dormitory room, sighed. Maybe he endured it up till now, as the sigh he unconsciously let out was much deeper than what he expected, shocking even himself.

(What am I frustrated about...)

Recalling the attitude he showed in the changing room, it was really shameful on his part. It's likely that Ichika should be even more shocked, causing his mood to worsen.

(...Let's take a shower to lighten the mood.)

Charles pulled out a change of clothes from his own cupboard and walked towards the bathroom.

"Hoo—done, done."

There were a lot of documents alright, but they're just things that need to be signed, so it's not as time-consuming as I thought it would be.

So now I'm the official pilot of the [Byakushiki]...hm, but that's just what the documents mean, so there shouldn't be any drastic changes, right?

"I'm back—hm, that's strange? Charles isn't here."

Thinking about this, I hear the sound of water in the bathroom.

(Oh, he's bathing—speaking of which, he did tell me that we ran out of bathing foam.)

Remembering what Charles said, I pulled out the pre-prepared bathing foam from my cupboard. Since I had thought that I would be the one bathing first, I thought I should fill it up while bathing.

(Hmm—Charles probably doesn't know what to do. Let's just take it to him.)

The bathing room is separated from the sink and the changing area, so I should just head to the changing area and call him, I guess.

After thinking about that, I head towards the sink.

*Klak*

--*Klak*?

Huh. I just opened the room, and it's too strange to hear such a sound...ah, did Charles open the bathroom door? He should be looking for bathing foam.

"Ah, nice timing, this is the refill—"

"I-I-I...chika...?"

"Wha...?"

A 'girl' I didn't recognise walked out of the bathroom.

--How can I tell? It's simple, she has breasts.

Her drenched hair is blond and curly with such softness and elasticity, and she has nice long legs on her slender body. Her slender waist also indicates larger breasts than what they should be.

Her blond hair and purple eyes clearly show that she's not Japanese. Maybe it's because of that the breasts are probably at least size C no matter the measurements. It's really unbelievably eye-catching. The crystal clear skin carried beads of water on them, and they looked as beautiful as diamonds.

Anyway, the girl was completely naked, and though I wanted to look away, my eyes continued to stare involuntarily.

"Huh, well~, that..."

I seem to realise where I had met this naked girl before, but as my mind's in a mess, I really can't arrange my thoughts well. Let me think, blond hair...blond--?

"KYAHH!!"

File:IS02 153.jpg

*BAM!*

Suddenly recovering, the girl hurriedly covers her breasts and escapes back into the bathroom.

"..."

"...Wh-at..."

The person on the other side of the door doesn't say anything. It's likely that she's like me, not knowing what to do.

"I-I'll, I'll leave the bathing foam here..."

"O-Okay..."

After this conversation that ended with a questionable outcome, I placed the bottle in front of the bathroom door and left the changing area.

Huh, what's the situation now? Logically, Charles should be inside the showers now--mu, so it was Charles just now?

Speaking of which, she does look like Charles. If he was to let the hair he ties up down, it's likely he would look like that. But that's not the main problem.

(But it's weird. Why does Charles have breasts? That's right, breasts--)

I can't shake off the image that's imprinted into my eyes.

(Her breasts...are pretty)

I'M AN IDIOT! THAT'S NOT THE MAIN POINT! No, I can't deny it completely.

(Damn it, it's better not to think too much. Burn till thy heart is cooled off, and everything shall be dreams amongst dreams.)

*Klak*...

"!?"

The changing area door opened softly, but to me, that's a lot louder than anything else, causing my body to freeze.

"I-I'm done..."

"I-I see."

The voice that came from behind did belong to Charles. I tried my best to ignore my rapidly beating heart as I slowly turned around.

A girl was standing over there.

"..."

"..."

I guess it's about an hour since we got like this? The girl in front of me--or rather, Charles herself--is facing me as both of us sit on the bed, but our eyes waver as we let time pass silently.

"Ah--that..."

As there hasn't been any progress, I opened my mouth to speak, and the female version of Charles trembled...there's no need to be so shocked, right...

"Would you like some tea?"

"Huh, okay, I'll have some..."

Both of us probably agreed that it was better to have something to drink while talking. At this point, this was the first time I realized that we had the same idea. Anyway, I boiled the water using the electric kettle and poured it into the teapot.

"..."

"..."

Both of us sank into silence before the tea was prepared. But this couldn't be helped. I just hoped that the tea leaves would dissolve faster.

"It's done. Here."

"Oh, thank you--KYAH!!"

As my hand passes the teacup to her, I touched her fingers, causing her to recoil in shock. In this situation, I nearly dropped the teacup onto the floor. And just when I re-grabbed the cup, the tea landed on my hand due to the reaction.

"HOT HOT! WATER, WATER!"

I rushed towards the basin and turned the faucet to the maximum. The gush of water cooled my hand down. At least I managed to settle it without creating such a serious situation.

"So-Sorry! Are you okay?"

"Sor-Sort of. I cooled it off with cold water immediately. There shouldn't be any scalding."

"Le-Let me see...ahh, it's all red now. I'm sorry."

Panicking, Charles ran over to my side and pulled my hand, looking at the place where I got scalded with tea-water painfully.

"I'll get ice over here immediately!"

"Hol-Hold on, wait a minute. There'll be problems if you go out like this. I'll go get it on my own."

Like usual, Charles' wearing a clean cut and suave sports jacket, but maybe due to the fact that her identity is exposed, she's not wearing anything to restrain the breasts, and the clothing she's wearing will clearly show her figure, so one can immediately tell that she has breasts.

"However--"

"More importantly than the ice...that, how am I going to go about with this...your breasts, they're pressing against my body..."

"!!!"

After I mentioned this, Charles finally noticed her positioning. She jumped away from me like she was flying, looking like she wants to cover her breasts as she hugged her own body.

"..."

Though it's faint, Charles' definitely giving me a look of protest that all girls would have.

"And I was worried about you...Ichika no ecchi[2C 1] ..."

"Why's that?"

What's she talking about!? She's treating me like a bad guy, totally illogical! I'm being slandered, I tell ya, slandered!

Maybe it was just my imagination, but Charles wasn't just giving a look of protest, there was also a look of embarrassment and yet happiness mixed together.

...Huh, maybe I'm just thinking too much, but no guy should be feeling happy after being touched by a guy, right?

"Ho...I guess that's enough cooling. Then, here's another cup."

"Thank, thank you."

Charles received the teacup properly this time and took a gulp of tea. And after I took a sip to clear my throat, I raised the question I had been holding back.

"Why did you choose to crossdress as a guy?"

"That's because...that...tha...someone in my family, he told me to do..."

"Hm? Your family? That's the Dunois'—"

"Yes. My dad's the chairman of that company, and he ordered me to do it."

...? For some reason, I feel that something's wrong. Ever since he began, it looks obvious that Charles has some bad memories about it.

"You said he ordered...your dad? Why did he order you to do such a—"

"Ichika...well, I'm an illegitimate child."

--I have nothing to say.

I'm a 15-year-old boy who only has a normal understanding of society, and I don't even understand about what's going on around the world, and don't even know the meaning of the term 'illegitimate child'.

"I was sent back 2 years ago, about the time when my mother died. My dad's subordinates came looking and put me through many check-ups. They immediately found that my IS aptitude was extremely high, so...while it was unofficial, I was made a test pilot."

It's likely that all of these were things that Charles didn't want to mention. Even so, she still said it out, so I listened to her silently.

"I only met my dad twice, and only talked to him those two times. I usually stayed somewhere else, and was only summoned to the main house once—it was horrible. I got beaten up by the real wife and labelled 'a thief's daughter'. It was miserable...had my mother told me more, I wouldn't have been so lost."

Hahaha. Though Charles laughed softly, her voice was still dry and without emotion, and I couldn't answer to her smile. Besides, Charles probably doesn't need such an influence, right? But for some reason, I started to rage, and had to clench my fist to endure that emotion.

"After a while, the Dunois Corporation was facing a crisis."

"Huh? But the Dunois Corporation has the third largest share of mass-produced IS in the world."

"That's correct, but the Revive is still a second generation machine after all. IS development needs a lot of money, and most of the enterprises were only able to develop after getting the support of their respective country. However, France was omitted from the European Union's 'Ignition Plan', and facing this crisis, they had to create 3rd generation frames. Though it was out of national defense concerns, for a country that doesn't have enough capital, what awaits it is doom if they don't get any benefits right from the beginning."

Speaking which, I remember what Cecilia said about 3rd generation IS development.

"Right now, the European Union's having a surge in selecting the 3rd generation Ignition Plan! Right now, the ones taking part are my country's [Blue Tears], Germany's [Schwarzer] and Italy's [Thunderstorm II]. Though England's leading right now in terms of practical usage, there's still some instability, so the country sent me into this IS Academy to obtain data."

I remember she said that. So this means that the reason why Laura transferred in was also because of that.

Back to the main point—thus, the Dunois Corporation would end up developing the 3rd generation frames, but they were already a lot slower than the other countries and was the last company selling the second generation frames. Thus, they had too little data and time, and couldn't create much. Thus, the government naturally gave far little capital to the Dunois Corporation. Then, the situation had become one such that 'if the company fails in the next selection, the government will completely cut off funding and even revoke the rights to develop IS'.

"I can get what's going on, but what does that have to do with you having to dress up as a guy?"

"It's simple. I'm supposed to gain publicity. And also—"

Charles looks away from me and says with an anxious voice,

"If I'm a guy, it'll be easier for me to approach the current irregular case that appeared in Japan. If possible, I'm to take his IS and biometric data back. Just like that."

"In other words—"

"That's right. He called me to steal [Byakushiki]'s data. That person."

As I listened to what she said, isn't that father just using Charles? She just so happened to have high IS aptitude, and if that's the case, make use of her—it felt like that.

And then, Charles herself should understand more of this better than I can...I see, no wonder she talked about her real father like an outsider. That's not a father, that's just a stranger—that's the way she segregated him out of her life.

"Hm, that's the case, but now that Ichika found out, I'll definitely be recalled back...as for Dunois' Corporation, mn...whether it collapses or merges with other enterprises, it shouldn't be the same as now, right? It doesn't matter to me anyway."

"..."

"Ah, I feel a lot better saying it out. Thank you for listening to me! Also, I'm sorry for lying to you. I'm sorry."

Charles bowed to me deeply. Before I realized it, I found myself grabbing onto her shoulders and forcing her to look up.

"Is that fine with you?"

"Huh...?"

"Is that alright with you? Definitely not, right? So what about them parents, do they have the rights to take a kid's freedom away? That logic's too strange!"

"I-Ichika...?"

Charles shows a timid look of not understanding what's happening, but—ahh damn it, I can't stop talking. That's mostly because I can't even control my emotions now.

"It's logical that kids won't be born if there are no parents. But still, that doesn't mean that they can do anything with them. That's absolutely ridiculous! Everyone has the right to choose how they live, AND THAT'S NOT SOMETHING THAT EVEN PARENTS CAN INTERFERE WITH!"

As I kept talking, I seemed to notice—I see, I'm definitely not talking about Charles. I'm talking about myself, right? And then, thinking about Chifuyu-nee who's been working so hard, I had all the more reason not to endure further.

"Wha-What's wrong with you, Ichika? You seem strange..."

"Wha, ah...sorry, I just got agitated all of a sudden."

"It's alright...but what happened to you?"

"I—Chifuyu-nee and I were abandoned by our parents."

Perhaps she understands what it means to 'be abandoned by parents', Charles lowers her head in apology.

"About that...I'm sorry."

"Don't. I only have Chifuyu-nee, and right now, I don't want to see my parents at all. Right now, the most important thing, Charles, is, what are you going to do next?"

"How...I guess it's a matter of time? If the French government learns the truth, they will revoke my rights as a representative candidate without saying a word. If I'm lucky, I'll spend some time in prison..."

"Is it okay?"

"That doesn't matter. I have no right to choose. This can't be helped."

After saying that, Charles reveals a smile that's heart-wrenching. That's an expression that far surpasses the realization of despair. I can't forgive Charles for showing such an expression, and at the same time, I'm furious that I can't do anything to help her—I'm extremely frustrated that I can't even save a friend now.

"...If that's the case, just stay here."

"What?"

"Clause number 21 of the special directive: students who are studying in this Academy will not be affiliated to any country, organisation or syndicate. Without the student's agreement, external organisations are not allowed to manage them.'"

Oh yeah, that can be used! Thinking about this, my mind calmed down, and I then recited what I memorised from the textbook with such fluency.

"—In other words, you won't be affected for 3 years as long as you stay in this school, right? If there's so much time, we can find a way to solve it. Besides, there's no need to rush."

"Ichika."

"Hm? What is it?"

"It's amazing that you could remember it. There are 55 clauses."

"...I do work hard, you know."

"Really. Hehehe."

Charles finally laughed—and that's a 15-year-old girl's laugh, devoid of any dark clouds.

(Uu, it's making me nervous for some reason...)

Looking closely, Charles' body's really nice looking, and most importantly, she has a gentle presence. Maybe it's because of this that she looked really cute to me. Right now, this defenselessness of hers is making my heart race.

"An-Anyway, the decision's still Charles'. Do what you want."

"Mn, I will."

As I'm starting to feel awkward about this, I immediately end this conversation. But should I give her a little push? Thinking about this, I again turn to look at Charles, and our eyes crossed each others.

"Hm? What's wrong?"

"Ah, it's nothing..."

I don't know if Charles understands what I'm thinking as she glances at my face. This isn't just a defenseless expression. The cleavage that's showing from below the collar is causing my heart to beat crazily.

"An-Anyway. How should I say this...Charles, please back away."

"?"

"No, that...your breasts..."

After bringing it up, Charles' cheeks blush...it felt like something similar happened a second ago.

"I-Ichika, you've been fixated at my breasts...could it be that you want to see them?"

"Wh-What?"

"..."

"..."

Charles said something that's hiding her real thoughts, causing me to panic. For some reason, she blushed and remained silent, causing an awkward atmosphere between both of us.

*THOMP* *THOMP*

""!!""

"Ichika-san, are you there? It seems that you haven't eaten dinner yet. Are you feeling bad?"

The sudden knocking and calling at the door made us jump up in shock.

"Ichika-san, I'm coming in."

Damn it, damn it, damn it! We're doomed this time! Once she sees Charles like this, any dimwitted fellow can tell that she's a girl.

"Wha-What do we do?"

"An-Anyway, hurry up and hide."

"I, I got it. I'll go hide then—"

"HEYY! Why the cupboard? The bed, the bed! Cover yourself in the blanket!"

"Oh, oh yeah, I forgot."

Charles and I hurriedly moved—clak, the door opened.

"Oh, oh, hi Cecilia! What's up? Is something up?"

"....What are you doing?"

Right now, the scenario is that I'm using a blanket to cover Charles' body and pressing her down from above. Anyone would probably find it weird to see someone sprawled wide on a blanket. Cecilia's looking like she's trying to point it out anyway.

"No-Nothing, Charles seem to be sick, so I was just covering him with a blanket. Hahaha..."

"...Do Japanese have a way of curing sick people by sprawling on them?"

No, there isn't. There has never been such a thing in the world, right? Or rather, how could there be one!?

"An-Anyway, about that, Charles just said that he's not feeling well, so he wants to sleep. It doesn't seem like he wants to eat dinner either, so I just said something along the lines like I'll go alone or something like that."

"That, that's true."

A vague voice could be heard from inside the blanket. Hey, act more like a sick person, will you?

"A-Ahem."

Wahh, that feels deliberate. So I still can't fool her...?

"A-Ahh, is that so? I haven't eaten my dinner as well. Uh hm, there sure are rare coincidences in the world."

Seems like I just fooled Cecilia as she suddenly changes her attitude and changes the topic to going for dinner together. Now it seems like I need to find a way to get food back for Charles.

"Ahem, then, enjoy yourselves then."

"I, I got it."

"Dunois-san, please take care. Ichika-san, let's go then."

She links an arm with mine. As expected of an Englishwoman, doing something that a Japanese doesn't really do. To be honest, I'm really troubled that she's being so close to me, but right now, I don't want her to keep thinking about the weird stuff, so I might as well just let her crazy me out like this.

We left the room and arrived on the corridor. While walking down the staircase, we hear a shout.

"WHA-WHA-WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?"

Another person came running down fast from the other end of the corridor, and I can tell who's that without looking...it's Houki.

"Ahh, Houki-san, we're going to have dinner together now."

It seems like she's emphasising on the word 'together'. Is there a special meaning behind it? Maybe it's something that I don't know and the girls do, some myth or something.

"WHAT HAS THAT GOT TO DO WITH LINKING ARMS AND STICKING YOURSELF SO CLOSE TO HIM LIKE THAT!?"

"Oh? It's absolutely natural for a gentleman to escort a lady."

Is that so? I thought that I was the one being escorted...ahh, Houki's glaring at me now. Why is it my fault now?

"You too, Ichika! I was waiting at the cafeteria for you, what's going on!?"

"Even if you ask me, I had..."

I still had other things to do. Besides, you went there on your own. Isn't it too much to scold me then?

"Anyway, we're going to eat now. We'll take our leave now."

"Hol-Hold it! If that's the case, I'm coming along as well. I'm going for dinner as well."

Hm? Is that so?

"Ara ara, Houki-san, eating too much will speed up weight gain, you know?"

"Humph, don't worry about me. I will burn off those calories through my activity level."

Ohh, are you talking about the kendo club that you never show up for? The sempais will cry. There's a national-level freshman who doesn't come for practice at all. Houki, I'm really happy that you'll train me after class, but you should at least show up at the club? It's too bad if the potential you trained so much goes to waste.

"Besides, my household sent me this, so I'll be training Iai with this. There won't be any problems."

She said that as she shows us--WAH! IT'S A KATANA! It's sheathed, but I remember it. I remember it's a famous katana that was passed down for generations ever since the Edo period--in other words, it's a real katana.

"It's name is Akeyou, crafted by the master swordsmith Akaru Giyou in his last years."

After the master swordsmith Akaru Giyou chose a swordswoman as his lifelong partner, he abandoned all the swords he made before and moved up into Hida mountain. It seemed like he created 'a sword that exists for women'.

The idea of 'women beating men' was of using soft power to beat hard power. As a swordsmith, it seemed that he was always chasing that theme. Of course, all these started from when he first met his wife. That Akaru Giyou finally came up with two conclusions.

"When swinging swords, swords should never touch other weapons. Also, a fatal blow must be dealt while the sword's close."

"One must draw the sword faster than the enemy, and the first hit must kill the enemy immediately."

Houki has the latter--which is a katana that's made to be long and thin. The sheath was made to be longer than normal, but what's unbelievable is that the drawing speed is actually faster than a dagger. I remember that one reason was because of the smoothness of the sheath and the circular motion of the body. And the other was the footing.

But is this alright? There's a high school student carrying a katana with her in this law-enforced country called Japan...oh yeah, I forgot. This is IS Academy, it's 'a land that does not belong to any country', whether in legal terms or in international.

"The-Then, let's go."

Hm, Hm? Why did Houki run to me--HUH, WAH! WHY ARE YOU EVEN HOLDING MY ARM!?

"...Houki-san, may I know what you're doing?"

"It's natural for a man to escort a lady, right?"

Escort...you two, we're just heading to the cafeteria!

Let me add on, Cecilia's holding onto my left arm, and Houki's on my right. Hey, three people in a straight line will block the corridor! Look, everyone's looking!

"Ahh, so good..."

"This is the so-called being hugged on both sides, I guess."

"What childhood friend? That's too sneaky!"

"What personal machine? That's too sneaky!"

Hm? Huh...why is everyone staring and Houki and Cecilia with such envious eyes? And it seem like these two people are doing it deliberately to earn the envious eyes of many. Is being escorted by a boy really something that's worth being envious for?

File:IS02 173.jpg

"Excuse me."

"What?"

"What is it?"

"It's really hard to walk like this."

Kii! I got pinched on both hands! What, what are you two doing? Everyone watch them!

"Don't you have anything else to say in this situation..."

"People who don't realize how happy they are are dumber than dogs."

Happiness? Well, is being pinched on both sides really considered happiness in England? Sorry, I just don't have that habit.

"Ne-Never mind. Anyway, let's go for dinner."

After I prompted them, we continued to walk, but there's another awkward situation.

"Today's fish set meal is mackerel, it should be delicious."

Squeeze over here.

"I heard that the Western set today has half-cooked egg and bacon spagetti. Want go get some, Ichika-san?"

Squeeze over there.

"Oh, oh yeah, well, about that. I think both are good."

Though I thought this way, what my mind was really thinking was: ANYTHING WILL DO! Actually, I would prefer to change the current situation now. They're holding onto my arms, and 3 people walking together will be rather obstructive. Thus, while both of them continue to walk, for every step we take, my arms are--well, how should I say it? I feel the soft ample parts of the girls, and even though I told myself not to think about it, I would still remain aware of it.

"What's wrong, Ichika?"

"Is there anything wrong, Ichika-san?"

Both of them squeezed over. They glance up at my face, and they're sticking even closer to me. While our bodies are touching each other, my arms can clearly feel their breasts being squashed underneath their clothes.

"NO, NOTHING AT ALL! NOTHING! REALLY NOTHING! DEFINITELY NOTHING!" [2C 2]

I tried to use the five perfective regular verbs to grasp tightly onto my sanity I was rapidly losing. Though it seemed like I lost a part, I don't need to mind that stuff. Speaking of which, is it used like that?

After that, I don't even remember much about what I ate, let alone the taste.

"I, I'm back..."

"Ah, Ichika, welcome back--what's wrong? You seem to swaying about."

"Oh, no, don't mind me, I'm alright. Actually, you should be pretty hungry now, right? I brought a grilled fish set meal here. You don't mind eating that, do ya?"

"Um, thanks, I'll have some then."

Charles smiled as she takes the tray, but she froze the moment she put it on the table.

"What's wrong?"

"Huh, we--ll..."

"The food will go cold if you don't eat it. Since other people specially made it for us, it would be bad if you don't eat it while it's hot."

"Ye-Yeah...well, itadakimasu."

Just as I'm laughing at Charles' insecurity, I realised the reason why she showed such an expression.

"Ah..."

*PAK*.

"Ah, ahh..."

*Pak* *Pak*.

Dropping the food again, Charles lets out a dejected voice.

She had no problems separating the fish from the bones, but for some reason, she couldn't pick it up. Speaking of which, I believe this is the first time I see Charles using a pair of chopsticks.

"Are you bad with chopsticks?"

"Um, yeah, I did try to practice using it, but I still can't get it. Ah..."

The fish dropped. There was no wastage since she dropped the food on the plate, but no matter what, she won't be able to eat if this continues.

"Sor-Sorry. I'll get a spoon for you."

"Huuh? It, it's alright. No need to take another trip, I'll find a way to use the chopsticks."

"Even if you say that, it's still difficult for you to do that, right? Didn't I tell you not to be so hesitant?"

"Bu-But..."

"Charles, you should be more dependent on others. It's because you're so courteous that you lose out."

"Uu..."

"Hm, it's probably difficult for you to change so suddenly. How about you start relying on me...maybe it's a bit besides the point, but including the family problems, I'll stand on your side, so just rely on me."

"Ichika..."

Though she hesitates for a while, it seems like she still can't eat, so she says while seemingly decided,

"Th-The-Then..."

"Okay, you just need a spoon, right?"

"Huh, well, then...Ichika, please feed me."

What's with the stuttering, sure seems like you really can't say it out--just as I thought about this, I heard an unexpected sentence, causing me to be stunned. At this moment, Charles lowers her jaw and looks up at me with a begging expression, and says,

"You said that I can rely on you..."

"That, that's right. Men keep their word. Alright, let's do this."

I seem to feel that something's amiss, but I can just ignore that for now. Charles herself finally asked a favor. If I don't grant her this request, I can't even be considered a man--let me just think of it this way.

(No, but that looking up and begging expression must be criminal...)

Her eyes were just like those of an abandoned puppy poking its head out from a cardboard box at me in the middle of a rain. Those who would reject such eyes are either brave warriors or a demon king, and I don't want to be either of them.

I received the chopsticks from Charles and picked up the bits of mackerel meat she just dropped.

"The-Then...say ahhnn."

"Ah, ahhnn--"

Never would I have dreamed of Charles letting me do an 'ahh--' action. Maybe I'm thinking too much, as Charles, who's chewing seriously, looks a bit red.

"Is, is it good?"

"Yup, yeah, it's delicious."

"Good for you then."

"Umm...I want rice next..."

"Oh, okay."

Thus, I used the chopsticks to pick up a serving of rice that a girl can mouth and used my other hand to cover the bottom to prevent it from dropping as I delivered it to Charles' mouth.

"Here, ahnn--"

"N..."

Seeing Charles eat all of that at one go, I start to feel nervous for some reason. What's going on? Is this the feeling of a hen feeding her chicks? I started to get quiet for some reason.

"Now it's the cold dish."

"I, I got it."

Anyway, even though I feed her until the end, we started to talk less and less. After finishing, both of us just said a few words before going to bed.

A lot of things really happened today. Maybe it was the physical and mental strain that caused me to fall asleep immediately the moment I snuck into my bed.

It's dark. In this heavy darkness, a person is staying there.

"..."

She didn't know when she started to become like this, but when she was born, she knew the blackness of darkness. It's said that humans will see light when they're first born, but this girl was different. She was brought up in darkness, born amongst the shadows, and this fact hadn't changed.

In the room that was without light, her silhouette lurked in the darkness and the red eye was shining darkly.

Laura Bodewig.

She knew that this was her name, but at the same time, she didn't understand the significance behind it.

But there was one exception, that was when she was called by the instructor--only when she was called by Orimura Chifuyu that she felt that the name had a special significance, and lifted her spirits.

(That person's existence...that strength, has always been my goal, and my reason to live...)

It was like a ray of light.

When she first met Chifuyu, she was stunned by that indomitable strength. Fearful, moved and delighted, the feelings revebrated within her, making her feel hot. She then made such a wish.

Ahh, I really want to be be like--her.

I want to be like such a person.

The originally empty places within her quickly filled up, forming her everything.

She was her teacher and also had absolute strength. She was the complete incarnation of her ideals.

That was the only existence, to be 'like her'.

So she can't forgive those who aren't complete.

(Orimura Ichika--the person who caused the instructor to be blemished...)

She can't agree with that person's existence.

(I must eliminate him, no matter the means...)

With burning dark will, Laura silently closed her eyes and merged with the darkness as she sank into a slumber without dreams.

"I-Is that true?"

"You are not lying, are you?"

On Monday morning, as I headed towards the classroom, I got shocked by the sudden noise that could be heard on the corridor.

"What's up?"

"Who knows?"

Charles (male version) was walking beside me.

"I'm telling you it's true! This rumor is the hottest topic in school! If you're victorious in this month's division tournament, it seems like you can go out with Orimura-kun--"

"What's with me?"

"""KYAAAHHH!!!"""

What, what? I just walked in to talk to everyone normally, and they're giving me cries. Hey hey, that's too classless.

"So what are you talking about? I think I heard you people mentioning my name."

"U-Ugh? Did we?"

"Wh-Who knows what we were saying just now?"

Rin and Cecilia continued to laugh as they changed the topic. What now? Is it something that I can't know?

"No-Now then, I should return to my class."

"Th-That's right! I should return to my own seat now."

Both of them left with a somewhat fake smile. Maybe everyone else who had gathered here are trying to use this opportunity to escape and return to their classes and seats.

"...What's going on?"

"Who knows...?"

(Why, why has it become like this...)

Sitting at the table at the window, Houki's trying to act calm, but she's boiling up deep inside.

She knew of the rumor that seemed to be related to the individual division tournament.

But the problem was with the content.

"If you're victorious in this month's division tournament, it seems like you can go out with Orimura-kun--"

(That should be something only I should know!)

Ichika couldn't have spilled the beans, so who leaked the information? Recalling it, she remembered that her voice may have been too loud. Even so, she always thought that it was a secret between both of them and felt relaxed about it.

(...)

But the fact is that most of the girls already knew, and even sempais came running into the classroom with questions: 'so how about the winner is from a different grade?', 'can we hand the award out at the ceremony?'

(Things have gotten out of hand now...)

That's to be expected. She's vehemently against Ichika going out with girls other than herself, and that's to be expected. But when that happens, news will spread that she's going out with Ichika.

To be honest, Houki finds 'the secret relationship that only they know' fits her agenda, and she always had this goal.

She finds that the feeling of 'those who are normally aloof, but when alone with someone' is good.

But those feelings went amok on a 10+ year old girl who's growing up, and nobody can blame her.

Even if her tone's more traditional than normal and that others don't think that she'll do such things, Houki's wishes aren't any different from Cecilia and Rin.

(An-Anyway, I've got to win! It'll be alright once I win! It won't be like that time. It's alright, it's alright...I guess.)

Houki made the promise with Ichika when she was in fourth grade.

At that time, it was during the national kendo competition, and all the elementary school students were banded together, so 5th years and 6th years were participating as well, but in terms of the difference in experience, everyone viewed their hometown dojo's Houki as the favorite. In fact, Houki's ability was a lot stronger than the rest, so naturally, she should be able to win--logically, that should have been the case.

However, they had to move out on the day of the finals, and the one who caused her to forfeit because she couldn't attend it was her own sister, Tabane.

The IS that Tabane developed was so overwhelmingly powerful that many people felt that it could be used as a weapon. Thus, they[2C 3] could only follow the counsel of the government and move away for the sake of protection.

Ever since that day, Houki never liked Tabane. Or rather, she hated her.

After that, their family still had to move under the VIP protection plan, and it was a rush to get everywhere. They couldn't do anything about it. She once received a letter from Ichika, but was told that 'there will be problems if a 3rd party knows where you are', so she couldn't even reply due to the pressure from the government.

Then, before she realized it, she was forced to stay apart from her parents, and the culprit behind this, Tabane was still missing. As her older sister was involved, Houki had to undergo many invigilations and investigations, and her heart and soul crumbled, unwilling to go on.

In those days, the only thing she hadn't given up was kendo, for she felt that kendo was the only thing that linked herself to Ichika. But even though she won the national championship, it didn't really satisfy her.

The reason is fast and simple. That's because kendo was 'just a way for her to blow off steam'.

--She just wanted to beat anyone down into the ground.

That's right, that was what she thought.

However, the blade is a mirror that will reflect her expression, and once that extremely ugly look of hers heavily struck back to her, she was so mortified that she felt like she wanted to leave the prize award ceremony.

And what drew her into deeper despair was when she saw her opponent cry after losing to her in this state.

--What was I doing...

Her actions were just violence, not strength. Strength doesn't refer to this, and she knows of this...very clearly--that's what she thought.

"..."

She again shakes her head. It would be great to dump the adhesive-like memories away, but the human heart can't do such a simple thing.

(This time, I will...I should be able to win without misunderstanding the meaning of the word strength...)

No, I have to win! For myself.

Unknowingly, she started to desire getting back her old self more than Ichika.

"Ho--can't anyone change the distance..."

In the school compound where there are only 3 toilets for guys (i.e. me) to use, I immediately dashed out once the bell rang. Of course, I had to sprint at full speed in order to catch up to class. But I got mercilessly scolded a few days ago 'don't run on the corridor'. What else can I do but to run!?

(But thinking about it, Charles was the most worst off...)

She's a girl but she has to go to a guy's toilet. In other words--

(Nope, don't think about it. It's better not to.)

Anyway, I have no time to dilly-dally. The next lesson will be about basic IS battle technical knowledge and response. To me, that's something that I have to attend no matter what.

"WHY ARE YOU A TEACHER HERE!?"

"What a headache..."

Hm? I seem to hear a voice down the corner, and I try to notice. Those are voices I'm familiar with. One of them is Laura, the other should be Chifuyu-nee's.

"Don't let me repeat this again. I have my duties to perform, that's all."

"What kind of duties can you possibly have in this small far-east country!?"

I guess there's nothing else that can cause the ice-like transfer student Laura Bodewig to be so agitated. From what they're saying, Laura seems to be expressing her discontent about Chifuyu-nee's current job and her idol worship like emotions of Chifuyu-nee.

"Please instructor. Please come back to Germany to guide us. You can't even show off half your abilities here."

"Oh?"

"Basically, the students over here aren't worth teaching."

"Why?"

"They aren't prepared enough. They have too little sense of danger, they think that IS is a trendy thing, those low-class people aren't worth the time for instructor to te--"

"--End of the line, little lady."

"Ugh...!"

Chifuyu-nee's voice has a terrifying presence, and even Laura seems to be afraid of the huge intent hidden in the voice as she stops, unable to continue.

"To think that you believe you're rather good after we haven't met in a while, is it? Just 15 years old, and you think that you're superior to others. I'm impressed."

"I, I'm..."

Even I can hear the trembling in her voice. She probably felt terrified, I suppose? Feeling fear from the overwhelming force in front of her, and feeling irritated that it can't be helped.

"Alright, it's time for lessons. Get back to the class."

"..."

With Chifuyu-nee's voice reverting back to normal, Laura silently leaves quickly...ah, man!

"Are you eavesdropping, the boy over there? I can't allow that abnormal fetish."

"WHO, WHO HAS SUCH A WEIRD FETISH! CHIFUYU-NEE, YOU--!"

*PAM!*

"In school, call me Orimura-sensei."

"Ye-Yes..."

Just like that, I couldn't even lift my head in front of Chifuyu-nee, as I got knocked on the head before I could even do so. We're not playing whack-a-mole here...

"Alright, hurry up and move along, you low-grade student. If this keeps up, you'll be eliminated on the 1st round of the individual tournament. Don't forget to work hard."

"I get it..."

"Is that so? That's good."

Chifuyu-nee smiles. It seems like she just said that as an older sister.

"I'm going back to class then."

"Mn, then move fast. Oh yes, Orimura."

"What is it?"

"Don't run on the corridors...I won't say that. If you want to run, make sure no one finds out."

"Got it."

I turned my back at Chifuyu-nee. It seems like she's letting me off the hook this time.

I cautiously sprinted back to the classroom without anyone noticing.

""Ah.""

Both of them let out dumbfounded voices--the time's after school, the place is at the 3rd arena, and the people involved are Rin and Cecilia.

"What a coincidence, I'm about to do some special training for the divisional tournament in order to win."

"What a coincidence. I'm thinking the same thing."

Invisible sparks fly between them. It seems like both of them want to win.

"Now's a good opportunity to decide here, once and for all, who's better."

"Ara, it's rare for us to have a common agreement. Now we can use this chance to see who's stronger, and at the same time, who's more elegant."

Both of them summoned their main wapons and aimed them at each other.

"Then--"

At that moment, a supersonic cannon blast came from above, blocking out their voices.

""!!""

After doing emergency evasions, Rin and Cecilia looked up at where the beam was shot from, only to see a pitch black machine standing over there.

The machine name was [Schwarzer Regen], and the registered pilot was--

"Laura Bodewig..."

Cecilia looks unhappy as she braced herself, one reason being that another European Union competitor was here.

"...What are you doing? Firing a shot over here, that's really amazing."

*DONG!* Rin raises the attached [Souten Gagetsu] up onto her shoulder and moved her [Impact Cannons] into standby mode.

"China's [Shenlong] and England's [Blue Tears] ...humph, I actually felt that they were only stronger on the data."

Hearing the sudden taunt, Rin and Cecilia scowled.

"What's the matter? You really like to fight, don't you? Coming all the way here from Germany just to get beaten. You must love being bullied. Is this really something trendy in the potato fields?"

"Ara ara Rin-san, that Missy doesn't seem to have much vocabulary, so don't bully her too much or it'll really seem pathetic. Even a dog can whimper."

Laura's sharp glare of arrogance seemed to offend those two. Even so, they still tried to vent their anger with words.

But unfortunately, that was futile.

"Sigh...so they let two people who're so weak that they would lose to a mass-produced machine be personal IS pilots? It seems like they really lack talent despite the numbers--your weak countries that can only be redeemed by your history."

*BOOM--!*

With the sound of something being cut off, Rin and Cecilia remove the final safety on their equipment.

"Yeah, yeah, I got it, I got it! She wants to be trashed--Cecilia, let's decide who should go first with janken[2C 4]!"

"Mn, well, I don't really care whether I go first or last--"

"Ha! Then how about both of you go at me? 1 + 1 equals 2 anyway. How can I lose to women who seem to be fighting over a useless stallion?"

These words were obviously taunts, but having went past their patience, both of them didn't care anymore.

"--What did you just say? My ears just heard 'Please, punch me as much as you like'."

"Insulting people who aren't here, I'm really ashamed of you as a fellow European Union candidate. Let me beat you up until that frivolous mouth of yours is shut for good."

Both of them tightly gripped onto their weapons, and Laura coldly stared at them before opening her arms out slightly and flipping her fingers[2C 5].

"Come at me already."

""AS YOU WISH!!!""

"Ichika, are you going for special training today?"

"Well, yeah, I remember the only arena that can be used is--"

"The 3rd arena."

""WAH!""

Charles and I walked down the corridor side by side, only to hear an unexpected voice, causing us to jump up in shock.

Maybe she was unhappy with our united response, but the 3rd person who was standing beside us from who knows when, Houki frowns.

"...Is there a need to be shocked. That's rude."

"Ah, oh, I'm sorry."

"Sorry, I got shocked. It was too sudden."

"Ah, no, I'm not blaming you..."

Seeing Charles bow down properly, even Houki's momentum got cut by half. And then, seemingly feeling like she lost face, Houki deliberately coughed a few times to change the topic.

"Anyway, let's head to the 3rd arena. I heard that there will be very few people using it today, so if there's time, I should be able to carry out some mock battles."

That's really's great. Since the IS ability is proportionate to the actual operation time, it's great even if it's just a little time. I'm really grateful to have some training like a mock battle.

As we headed towards the arena, we found a lot of tension over there, and there were a lot of students running around in the corridor. It seems like the commotion happened at the 3rd arena.

"What's wrong?"

"What's going on? Should we check it out?"

Charles said as she pointed at the gate to the spectator stands. It's better to go there than to go through the ordinary gate, so I nodded my head in agreement.

"It seems like there're people having a mock battle, but the situation seems to be--"

*DONG--VROOM!*

Just as both of us turn to look at the sudden explosion, two shadows flew out of the smoke like they were cutting through it.

"RIN! CECILIA!"

Under the isolation of the protective shields, the explosions on the stage itself didn't spread to us, but at the same time, I couldn't hear them.

Both of them looked hurt as they gazed directly at the center of the explosion, and standing over there was Laura, who was piloting the pitched-black IS [Schwarzer Regen].

Looking closely, Rin and Cecilia's ISs were severely damaged. There were damage marks all over the frame, and a part of the IS armor was completely broken. In contrast, Laura's IS wasn't completely unscathed, but the damage was relatively light compared to them.

"WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING--HEY, HEY!"

My voice couldn't reach them from here, and it couldn't be helped. After looking at Rin and Cecilia, I turned to look at Laura. Though it was a 2 vs 1, the ones in trouble were Rin and Cecilia, who, logically, should have been in an advantageous situation.

"EAT THIS!"

*KLANG!* Rin's IS [Shenlong] opened its shoulders. Docked on them were the pressurized-air impact cannons [Ryuhow], the maximum output weapons of the [Shenlong]. If it were a training machine, one shot would definitely wreck it, but Laura wasn't avoiding at all.

"That's useless against the absolute barrier of the [Schwarzer Regen]."

The invisible shots of the impact cannons were aimed at Laura, but no matter how I looked at it, the attacks never landed on her.

"Che! To think that you can hold me off like that..."

Maybe she deployed some protective shield or something like that, but Laura only reached her right hand out, and the impact cannons were completely nullified while they impact.

She shot out blades from her shoulders at Rin's IS. As they were both linked to the main body by electronic cables, she was able to let them fly out in complicated paths to avoid the direct shots and thus grabbed Rin's right foot--they seemed to be weapons that were a mix between blades and cables.

"Do you think I'll let you do as you please so many times!?"

Covering Rin, Cecilia attacked and launched her BITs at Laura.

"Ho...I don't know if [Blue Tears] is said to have the highest mobility in theory, but treating that design as a 3rd generation frame? That's a joke."

Cecilia used accurate sniping and the BITs to launch attacks from all over the place, and Laura continued to dodge and extend her arm out like just before. This time, she seemed to grab something in front of her while she was folding her arms, and the moment she did that, the BITs stopped.

"Your movements are sealed!"

"Yours too."

Though Cecilia managed to snipe her target accurately, Laura shot her large cannon to completely negate it. Laura threw Rin, who she caught just now, at Cecilia, who intended to continue firing. It was a theory of using cables to swing down in a clockwork manner, simple, yet effective.

"Ah!"

Facing the two of them while they lost their balance in mid-air, Laura launched her attack. Her speed could be compared to a bullet as she closed in within a second.

"[Ignition Boost]--!"

I definitely didn't see it wrong. That's my move, a special technique for close-range.

But if this is a close combat battle, it was beneficial for Rin as well. At this moment, she could also use her [Souten Gagetsu] to counter. Just as I was thinking that, I was shocked to see Rin undoing the knot.

However, I immediately understood the reason why she did that. Laura deployed the plasma blades from her sleeve and hacked at Rin with them.

File:IS02 199.jpg

"You...!"

While Laura was moving forward, Rin backed away and increased the distance, dodging a few blows in the process, skillfully using the shape of the arena to move and forcing herself not to get into any dead ends. However, Laura's cable blades attacked again, the two on her shoulders and the ones on both sides of her waist, 6 of them altogether. They all attacked in 3 dimensions as she continued to use her plasma blades to attack viciously. Even if it was Rin, who was so used to fighting, it was too difficult for her to deal with all the attacks adequately.

"Heh!"

Rin again deployed the impact cannons and gathered the power there.

"How naive! Using pressurized-air weapons that need time in this situation?"

As Laura said this, her cannons destroyed the impact cannons before shooting.

"Got you!"

"!"

As the armor on her back got shot off, Rin's body lost balance and Laura used this chance to stab the plasma blade at her chest.

"I WON'T LET YOU!"

At the last moment, Cecilia rushed in between Rin and Laura and used the [Starlight Mk II] as a shield. After avoiding the sure-kill attack, she shot the missile type BITs on her waist at Laura.

*BOOMM!!!!*

That was almost the equivalent of a suicidal close-ranged rocket as the explosion caught Rin and Cecilia, causing them to tumble on the floor.

"That was reckless of you..."

"Save the complaints for later. But really, that should have done some damage--"

Cecilia stopped as she spoke.

As the smoke scattered, standing over there was Laura. Even though it was an explosion at close range, she was still floating in mid-air without a scratch.

"Is it over? Well then--it's my turn."

The moment she said that, she used the [Ignition Boost] to glide down to the ground, first kicking Rin and then shooting Cecilia with a cannon.

Then, Laura used the cabled blades to grab their bodies and drag them to her. After that, one-sided violence ensued.

"AHHHH!!"

Laura's fists clamped down hard on their arms, legs and bodies, causing their defenses to drop lower than what the machine maintanence warning zone permited. If the damage kept up, the ISs would be forcefully removed! It will be critical danger to their lives!

But Laura didn't stop as she continued to beat and kick Rin and Cecilia, ripping their ISs armor apart.

Seeing Laura's usual emotionless face actually smile for a moment due to delight, something seems to explode in me.

"OOOOOOHHHHH!!"

I deployed [Byakushiki] and formed the [Yukihira Niigata], gathering all the power together to activate the [Reiraku Byakuya]. An energy sword that was several times bigger than the main body was released as I used it to hack the protective layer surrounding the arena.

[Reiraku Byakuya], which can destroy anything that uses energy, hacked through the protective shield, and I slipped through the gap to charge in.

While entering, I activated [Ignition Boost]. Logically, it would be suicidal to use this move along with [Reiraku Byakuya]'s maximum output, as it would cause much more stress on [Byakushiki] which already uses a lot of energy and drains a lot out of the shields, but I'm not in the mood to bother about that.

"LET GO OF THEM, YOU!"

I charged at Laura, who was grabbing onto Rin and Cecilia, and swung my sword down.

"Humph...emotional and reckless, just like a fool."

Just when Reiraku Byakuya's energy blade was about to hit her, my body suddenly stopped. The right eye of Laura that was not covered with an eyepatch accurately grasped my movement from my body.

"Wh-What's going on? Damn it, my body...!"

It felt like I got held down by an invisible hand as my body couldn't move and my arms are held high, unable to land. [Reiraku Byakuya]'s power started to disappear bit by bit.

"As expected, you're not worthy of being my opponent. In front of this [Schwarzer Regen] of mine, you're just another weakling like them--disappear."

The huge cannon on her shoulder turned over, and with a clank, it's aimed at me--damn it!

"MOVE ASIDE, ICHIKA!"

Charles shouted through the private communicator as she uses two assault rifles to rain down bullets.

"Che...another small fry..."

The invisible force that's grabbing onto me disappeared as my body regained its freedom. I then flew to Rin and Cecilia, who were released by Laura and carried them away.

(Please [Byakushiki]! Let me use another [Ignition Boost]!)

Due to the bad habit of running out of energy after putting it at the maximum output, I had very little energy left. But [Byakushiki] seemed to grant my wish as it focused all the power on the huge thrusters behind me--good!

*Klang*...for a moment, the world became some sort of slow-motion picture before accelerating fast at the next moment. After experiencing the unique feeling of [Ignition Boost], I immediately got away from Laura.

"How are the two of them, Ichika?"

Charles was covering me as she followed me from behind, asking me as she continued to shoot at Laura. She was using a super-high explosive assault rifle, and since she was reloading fast, the gun would be reloaded immediately after the bullets were used up, so Laura didn't have any chance to counter.

"Ugh...Ichika..."

"I let you...see me get embarrassed out there..."

"Don't talk...Charles, there's no problem. They're still conscious."

"Good."

Charles responded with a somewhat relaxed tone, but she didn't stop as she kept shooting at Laura after doing a third reload.

"Interesting, let me show you the difference in power across different IS generations!"

Laura dodged the bullets, or rather, defended against them, even using that invisible forcefield to stop the bullets. She then bent down to counter--probably to do [Ignition Boost]. I was still carrying Rin and Cecilia, so I couldn't fight in this situation, but I knew that it would be dangerous for Charles to handle this alone!

"Here I come...!"

"Kuu!"

Just as Laura was about to rush in, a figure jumped in between us.

*CLANG!*

As the sound of metal could be heard, that figure stopped Laura's Ignition Boost.

"...My my, it's because of little things like this that I grew tired of handling kids."

"Chifuyu-nee?"

To think that the figure belonged to an unexpected person, and she was still wearing a normal suit. There were ISs here, and she wasn't even wearing an IS suit. She was holding onto a IS sword easily, and that was a huge sword that was 170cm in length, all without the use of an IS. Besides, she just interrupted the battle from the side. No matter how I feel, she's definitely not an ordinary human.

"It's fine to have mock battles--but, to the extent of destroying the barriers of the arena? As a teacher, I can't stand by that. You can finish this battle at the individual division tournament."

"Since instructor says so..."

Laura nodded in obedience and got rid of her IS. Her armor scattered into particles of light and disappeared.

"Orimura, Dunois, is that fine with you two?"

"Ah, yeah..."

I just accidentally answered as per normal, probably stunned by this sudden scenario.

"Answer yes when you're replying to a teacher, you moron."

"Ye-Yes."

"I'm fine with that as well."

After I corrected my answer, Charles agreed too. Hearing her say that, Chifuyu-nee again addressed everyone in the arena.

"In that case, until the individual division tournament, all personal battles are forbidden. Dismissed!"

*PA!* Chifuyu-nee forcefully clapped her hands, and it sounded as loud as a bullet being shot.

"..."

"..."

We're now in the infirmary, and it's been an hour since what happened at the 3rd arena. Rin and Cecilia have completed their treatment, and now that they're bandaged, they're staring away in different directions.

"It would have be alright even if you hadn't saved us."

"We could have won if it had continued."

Forget about thanking me, I even got such an answer. Oh well, it's not like I interfered just to earn their thanks. Basically, I interfered due to my own anger.

"You two..well, at least you two don't look too injured. I can relax now."

"These injuries are nothing--OWW!!"

"It's really meaningless to lie down here--EEKKK!!"

...Are these two idiots?

"WHO ARE YOU CALLING AN IDIOT! YOU MORON!"

"YOU'RE A BIG IDIOT, ICHIKA-SAN!"

And the response was so intense. I didn't even say anything and they found out? Either way, I really don't know what to do with these two injured people who're enraged.

"It must be quite embarrassing for you two to show such an awkward side to the person you like."

"Huh?"

Charles bought the drinks and came back. She seemed to say something, but I didn't listen to it carefully.

But it just seemed like I'm the only one, as Rin and Cecilia just blushed and started to rampage after hearing something.

"W-WH-WHA-WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I DON'T UNDERSTAND AT ALL!!"

"I-I-I WASN'T TRYING TOO HARD! IT'S UNCOMFORTABLE HEARING YOU MAKE GUESSES LIKE THIS!"

Both of them continued to get flustered as their faces turned extremely red...what's wrong? Did Charles say something?

"Here, Oolong tea and red tea. Drink something to calm down, okay?"

"H-Humph!"

"I'll accept it reluctantly then!"

Rin and Cecilia snatched the drinks Charles served up and opened the bottles, gulping them down in one go. Hey hey, you'll damage your bodies if you drink such icy stuff in one shot!

"Well, sensei did say that you two can go back after calming down, so rest for a while--"

*DON* *DON* *DON* *DON* *DONG...!*

"Wh-What? What is that sound?"

The quake-like sound came from the corridor, and it seemed to be getting close, or maybe that's just my imagination.

*BAM!* The infirmary door got sent flying...and no, I'm not kidding. It got sent flying, really! This is the first time I saw the door get sent flying like that. I thought this could only happen in the movies.

"Orimura-kun!"

"Dunois-kun!"

Entering the room were--several girls who came in like an avalache, and this is something really big. As the infirmary only has 5 beds, it's packed full with people in an instant, and they surrounded us on sight, reached their hands out like some mega-sales...wah, this is just like a horror movie. Anyone would be terrified by the numerous hands.

"Wh-Wha-What's up?"

"Wha-What's going on? Everyone...pl-please calm down."

"""This!"""

Facing us while we're still confused, the girls handed over the emergency news and registration form.

"Wha-What...?"

"'In order to make the battles more realistic, the individual division tournament this month will be done in pairs. Henceforth, all those without pairs will have a partner selected for them in the lottery. The deadline is'..."

"Ah, anyway, just read this part! Here!"

Another hand reached out. Hiiee.

"Pair up with me, Orimura-kun!"

"Dunois-kun, be partners with me!"

I don't know why there's a sudden change in format of the individual division tournament, but anyway, all the people who came here right now are all first years (I can tell from the color of the ribbon). They probably came running here thinking that they can get the opportunity to pair up with the only 2 guys in school, but--

"Huh, well..."

That's right, Charles' actually a girl, so it will be bad no matter who she pairs up with. As the pairs will have to train together, her real identity may be exposed.

So I thought as I looked at Charles, who was staring back at me with a bothered look. After our eyes met, it seemed like she knew I understood her plea for help as she looked away.

Charles' cautiousness caused me to grimace as I declared in a voice loud enough for all the girls who were bickering to hear,

"I'm sorry everyone, but I'm pairing up with Charles. Please give up!"

Utter silence...the sudden silence caused me to back away somewhat. Ugh, so this idea can't work?

"Well, can't be helped if that's the case..."

"It's better than teaming up with other girls..."

"A picture of two guys together is more beautiful...ahem."

It seem like they accepted it, and as the girls continue to say that it can't be helped, they leave the infirmary one by one. Trying to look for the door, I can still hear a commotion on the corridor.

"Hoo..."

"Well, about that, Ichika--"

"Ichika!"

"Ichika!"

Charles started to speak as I finally heave a sigh of relief, but Rin and Cecilia jumped off the bed and overpowered her with shocking pressure.

"Pa-Pair up with me! Aren't we childhood friends?"

"No, I'm your classmate!"

Both of them seem like they're about to strangle my neck. Hey, injured people should rest in bed, or else the injuries will get worse.

But what should I do? They're not like the girls from before, and it seem like I can't shake them off easily...haa.

"You shouldn't."

Wha? It seem like I'm not the only one who's shocked by this sudden voice, as Rin and Cecilia blinked, stunned by Yamada-sensei's sudden arrival.

"I just confirmed the state of both your ISs. The damage level sustained by both of your ISes have exceeded phase C. If you don't focus on recovering, there will be fatal problems later on. Take it as rest for your ISs, I won't allow you two to participate."

Can the two representative candidates with burning will accept this? I guess not...

"Ugh, ku...! I-I got it."

"I'm not willing...not, not at all! But I'll withdraw from the tournament..."

What? They actually accepted it...why?

"Sensei's happy that you can accept it. If you use the IS past the limits, you have to pay the price. It'll be bad if you lose the chance at the opportune time, and sensei doesn't wish for you two to become like that."

"Yes..."

"I got it..."

Though both of them look like they can't accept Yamada-sensei's serious lecture, at least they recognize that they can't participate in the tournament.

"Ichika, what's the third point of gaining experience in IS basic theory?"

Huh, huh...

"...'The IS will gather all the experiences from the battles and cause to it evolve faster. As experience gained is also done while the IS is damaged, if the IS is damaged past phase C, the incomplete state will cause a surge in energy, which will be bad for normal operations.'"

"Ohh, that's right! As expected of Charles!"

Charles gave the explanation that I couldn't remember.

In other words, it's like 'there will be muscle aches when one tries to move during a fracture', and that should be right.

Anyway, back on topic, I asked Rin and Cecilia what I wanted to ask,

"So why did you two fight against Laura?"

"What, nothing, that's because..."

"Eh, well, how should I explain this...because we females got our pride hurt."

"Hm?"

Why is it that both of them look like they can't swallow it? I suppose one side started battle after a taunt, but as representative candidates of different countries, isn't it bad to act after a taunt? Hm.

"Ah, don't tell me it's about Ichika--"

"Ahh! You're being a loudmouth, Dunois!"

"Tha-That's right! Really! Ahhahaha!"

Charles seemed to finally thought of something, but those two girls quickly stopped her from saying it. Charles' mouth is cupped by those two as she struggles painfully.

"Hey hey, stop it. Can't you tell that Charles' really sad now? You're wounded here, and yet you were moving non-stop since just now...hey!"

Trying to calm them down, I reach my hands out to grab Rin and Cecilia on the shoulders.

"EEEKKK!!!"

As expected, it's painful. I just saw them shriek out and freeze.

"..."

"..."

"Ah...sorry, I didn't expect it to be that painful."

Seeing them remain silent as tears well up in their eyes, I can roughly understood how painful it is. I feel that I overdid it and immediately apologized

"I-I-Ichika...you..."

"Yo-You...you better remember this..."

Wah...they'll punch me once they recover, I guess? And then they'll demand set after set of set meals, and maybe even dessert. Drinks? That would be unlimited.

"Th-Then, about that, Ichika."

"Wha?"

After dinner, as we headed back to the room, Charles finally spoke. Maybe it's just me, but she sounded really forceful. What's going on?

"Well, it may be a little late, but...thank you for helping me."

"Hm? What did I do? I feel that you helped me out at the arena."

"It's not that, I'm talking about what happened at the infirmary. You said that you would be my partner for the tournament. I'm really grateful about that."

"Ah, about that? Hn, no need to worry. I'm the only one who knows the truth, so it's right for me to support you, right?"

I didn't really think that it was somewhat special, but Charles didn't seem to think this way as she thanked me with much enthusiasm.

"That's not it. It's because you're so kind, Ichika, that you naturally did that. I always felt that it's great to stand up for others. Thank you."

...Hm, as expected of a blond royal prince, even the wording used is really elegant, causing me to feel somewhat embarrassed. I used my hand to slap my face and fan it.

"Th-That's right, well, Charles, you don't have to deliberately use such a boyish-tone to talk to me when I'm around."

"Hn, hn, well I-I do think this way, but before I came here I had to study a boy's movements and speaking habits in order to 'avoid showing my real identity', so it may be impossible for me to change it back."

The one who taught her all these would be Charles' father, who I've never met. Though I'm really angry about this, seeing her just mention this nonchalantly, I can only endure--who am I angry for? For myself? I can't mistake this now.

"Bu-But that's...not really like a girl, is it?"

Looking dejected, Charles looked around as she asked me timidly.

"Hm? Are you talking about how you keep using 'boku'[2C 6]?"

"That, that's right. It's not what a girl would say, so I'll try my best to use an ordinary method to speak while we're alone."

"Ah, there's no need to try so hard, right? You're rather feminine anyway. I think Charles' rather cute already anyway."

"Cu-Cute...? Me? Re-Really? You're not lying to me?"

What's going on? Charles seemed to be even more panicked than before as she continued to ask me, but I didn't intend to lie to her as I answer honestly.

"I'm not lying. Trust me."

"Re-Rea...Really--that's alright, I guess."

Though I didn't really know what was going on, it seemed like she felt that it was alright. She just gave a reply and nodded her head.

"Oh yeah, a lot of things happened today. Let's change then."

Hearing her say this, I suddenly realized--Charles' a girl, so it couldn't be helped that she had to wear the IS suit inside the changing room, but when we were in our room, she had all the time and space to do whatever she wanted. I should wait outside for her to finish changing.

"I'm going out then."

"Huh? Why?"

"Well, you can't change when I'm around, right? It would be hard to remove the IS suit, so I'll leave the room for now."

Speaking of which, I remember that the same thing happened while I was with Houki. I'm still rather uneasy when I'm living with girls, and things are a lot more complicated with Charles acting like a guy.

"Huh? It's fine. I feel bad for Ichika. Well...I don't really feel bothered..."

"But even if you say that, I'm bothered by that myself..."

"Bu-But...well, since we're both guys, people might think it's weird if one of us were to go outside, right?"

"Well, that's true...well, I'll go to the sink then. Call me when you're done."

"I, I said that you don't have to mind me. We, can change like normal, and Ichika, you have to change anyway, right?"

Hm...anyway, it seems like I don't have to go out of the room. I don't know why Charles' trying so hard to make me stay here, but since she said so, I can't just leave it as it is.

"I'll change as well then."

"Okay, let's do that."

Charles smiled. Her face must be getting somewhat hot as it's flushed to a certain extent, probably because she was working so hard to find an excuse.

"Okay, it's about time to wear short-sleeved clothes. H-uh, where's my change of clothes...ah, found it found it."

"..."

"Hm? What's wrong?"

Though Charles had just told me that I didn't have to go out outside, she wasn't changing at all, so I stared at her in a puzzled manner.

"Wha, Ichika, I can't change if you continue to stare at me like that..."

"Th-That, that's right, sorry."

I turned around. Why do I find this familiar? It was the same feeling when I was with Houki--

"I, I'll be changing then..."

"O-Okay."

I was thinking, and after I heard her call, I curled up in shock. After a few seconds of silence...I started to hear the sound of clothes being taken off.

(Ugh, not good...that's a sweet smell over there...)

Though I felt nothing when she was a guy, ever since I knew that Charles was a girl, I could feel a seductive gentle aroma as long as I remained in the same room.

That's right, it's the aroma a girl has.

(What is this...guys don't have this smell at all. Is it the so-called pheromones?)

"I-Ichika, aren't you changing?"

"O-Oh, oh yeah, I'm changing now."

Hearing her say that, I suddenly realized that I was spacing out. Anyway, better get up from the bed and begin taking off my clothes.

"..."

Stare--

Is it my imagination? For some reason, I feel that someone's staring at me from behind.

"Charles?"

"Wah! Wh-What's wrong?"

Hearing her being extremely shocked, I started to feel shocked. As it seemed like I was getting panicky while looking for something to say, it became a problem when I couldn't even think of what to ask.

"I'll apologize first if it's just a mistake, but are you staring at me?"

"No, of course not!"

"I, I see."

She vehemently denied it. Maybe it's just me being too self-aware. I'm a guy and yet I'm so mindful of others looking at me. Why am I so vain?

(Never mind, let's just hurry up and change.)

"..."

Stare--

...Well--Charles-san?

"No peeping."

"Ah? I-I'm not, I was--ah!"

Charles' awkward voice became a soft whimper, and I instinctively turn around to look at her.

"Oww...I tripped...huh?"

"Huh?"

""WHAAT!!!""

Charles got tripped by the pants and fell onto the floor. The problem was her posture; she was wearing the tight bra she would normally wear while she's in guy's clothings, and at the bottom, besides the pants that are pulled down to the knees, there are the panties--and girls ones at that (although that's obvious). As Charles lost her balance and fell onto the floor, her hands and legs were on the floor and her butt was slightly lifted up. That perfectly-shaped butt and the pink panties that were slightly curled in were really alluring--not good, not good at all! At least for me anyway.

"WAH--"

Damn it! It's bad for us both if there's a girl's cry in here!

I thought as I jump onto Charles, who was taking off her pants and stuffed her mouth up.

In fact, Charles got shocked by my sudden action and stopped screaming, but as my body was in mid-air, the scream stopped for a while, and then I continued and landed on Charles.

But that wasn't all. When it rains, it pours. While I'm in mid-air, the pants caught onto the bed and tangled me up, and I then lost speed like an object being thrown and crash onto the floor.

--And a second before I crash onto the floor, I instinctively reached out my hands, and they firmly grabbed onto something I shouldn't be grabbing.

"Ugh~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~"

The force bounced back on me, and the firm muscles, silky smooth skin and the intricate fabric...in other words, that means I'm grabbing onto Charles' butt.

My first thoughts were that it's soft and warm--ah, that's right, I can understand why people who are dying would be extremely calm. That's because they would think about everything.

Also, gravity won't forgive anyone. My body dropped down. In other words, Charles' underwear would also slide down--

"AHHHHH!!!"

MOVE!!!

On the floor, Charles' instincts told her to use her leg to kick, and it landed perfectly on my jaw. Just like that, I got a concussion and fainted--KU!

"..."

Charles put the unconscious Ichika on the bed and blushed as she changed into her nightwear.

She was looking angry, embarrassed and somewhat happy, and it was rather complicated and weird.

"Re-Really, Ichika's always looked like this, and yet he's..."

Though she knows that Ichika didn't do it on purpose, Charles still can't hold back her emotions.

That was just an accident. It was nothing much, but she still felt angry treating it as a simple coincidence.

"A-Actually, I wouldn't..."[2C 7]

Saying up to that, Charles finally recovered, and after noticing what she was about to say, her cheeks blushed again. She looked like she wanted to shake off the redness on her face as she shook her head forcefully.

(Ah, whatever, I'm going to sleep! Yes! That's good!)

Looking away from Ichika, Charles turned off the lights in the room. As the room immediately became dark, her eyes couldn't adjust immediately.

And maybe because she couldn't see Ichika's face, Charles became unexpectedly daring.

(W-What am I doing...)

Charles thought as she closed in on Ichika's face and stared at him. Both of them are less than 5cm away from each other.

Charles could feel the breathing and even the body temperature of Ichika, and that caused her heart to pound faster.

"..."

Then, she remembered what Ichika said to her with a serious expression earlier.

"...If that's the case, just stay here."

--That was the first time someone said that to her.

Ever since her mother died, she had lost her only place of refuge. As her blood-related father only gave her a stifling ice chamber feeling, she could only pretend to live in the light.

She no longer felt that she was wanted, continuing to live through the grey cold life.

When the order her father gave her to go to Japan was finalized, she had no special emotions about it.

However--

(Why did Ichika cause my heart to waver?)

--She met the boy.

Sometimes, it felt like she got involved in a storm, but as she thought of that, he felt like a shamrock that blooms in spring and appeared beside her. However, when she tried to reach her hand out to get close, he would escape like a squirrel in a forest. Thus, she could only look in through the gaps between the trees, unable to close in.

"He's really sneaky, that Ichika."

He's just in front of her now, but he can't wake up, just like a 'sleeping beauty'. Thinking about this, Charles suddenly felt weird.

(Hoho, so the roles are reversed now.)

Charles again stared at Ichika for a while and showed a gentle look. Then, she kissed Ichika gently on the forehead like a mother kissing a child.

"Good night, Ichika..."

Charles hugged her body that continued to burn hot through the rest of the night.


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