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Infinite Stratos Volume 2 Chapter 4: Find Out My Mind

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Chapter 4: Find Out my MindEdit

It's now the last week of June. IS Academy had already gotten into the individual division tournament mode, and the panic far exceeded what was expected. It was about time for the 1st round, and all the students were still settling the admin matters, clearing the arenas and guiding the guests in.

The students who finally gained their freedom frantically headed into the changing rooms in each block, and the boys' changing room is still so large, and still occupied by 2 people. It's really generous for them, but the other changing room has to accommodate twice the capacity of the room, so the situation's rather serious.

"But this is really shocking..."

I looked at the state of things from the changing room's television screen. Government officials from all over the world, researchers, enterprise representatives and other people were all gathered here.

"There will be people scouting the third years and others checking the progress of the second years after their training. Though the first years shouldn't be affected, I guess they will be noticed if they get the top few positions in the tournament."

"Hm--that's hard work."

Though I just listened to something that I wasn't really interested in, Charles seemed to notice what I was thinking as she chuckled.

"Ichika, you just want to fight against Bodewig, right?"

"Well, that's right."

As expected, Rin and Cecilia weren't allowed to participate, so they had to forfeit. It would have been alright if they were ordinary students, but they're representatives of other countries, and have their own personal machine. They couldn't even take part in the tournament, let alone getting a good result. This would drastically affect their circumstances.

"It must be hard for them to be unable to test themselves."

I remembered the commotion from before and unconsciously gripped my left hand. Maybe I'm being too forceful, as Charles gently covers my hand with hers and soothes it.

"Don't be frustrated. I guess she's most likely the strongest among all the first years."

"Yeah, I know."

Ever since it was decided to be a double battle, and since we were living in the same room, Charles and I had gotten a lot closer. Normally, Charles would start to sense my feelings or detect things really quickly. But nowadays, I seemed to understand what she was thinking. Maybe this was telepathy. It's become normal to start action without saying anything first. It's practically as common as having meals...not just meals, but the basic three meals.

"--Ichika, this isn't funny."

"Uu...really?"

Though one couldn't really tell from her appearance, Charles had a vicious tongue when it came to criticizing jokes. But why is it that she's become able to tell what I'm thinking like the rest of them? That's a mystery.

"Alright, I'm ready."

"Same here."

We've finished changing into our IS suits. While I was making sure to check one last time before activating my IS, Charles seemed like she was checking her male IS suit (at least the outline was made like it).

"The schedule should be out."

I don't know the reason, but it seems like the double battle format seem to cause the system to be unable to function as per normal. Thus, the schedule which was supposed to be finished yesterday was only done by students today using a lottery.

"Those in the first round who get the first group in block A are really lucky."

"Hm? Why?"

"Because we won't be standing around thinking. This momentum is important. Problems can be settled once they come, it's better to enter the finals decisively."

"Hoho, maybe. For me, I'm thinking that if I show my ability right from the start, my thoughts will start to get more negative."

It's really just like what Charles would be like. Maybe it was because both of us seemed to have such contrasting ideas that we would agree with each other. But I did feel that Charles was just going along with me.

I recalled the scene when both of us were training--Charles has a nice personality and is extremely gentle. I don't seem to have any of such people around. Though it may be an exaggeration, she does look like a goddess or an angel to me, and that can't be helped. I'm serious! That can't be helped!

"Ah, it seems like we have our opponents."

I switched the screen to the schedule and paused my thoughts, looking intently at the words on the screen.

""--WHAAAAT?""

On seeing the words on the screen, Charles and I shouted out.

Our opponents in the first round are Laura and Houki.

"..."

"..."

Located opposite Ichika and Charles was a corner of the air-conditioned changing room that was overcrowded.

One of them was Laura Bodewig, and the other was Shinonono Houki.

Both of them gave off a weird presence, seemingly covering all the heat that was generated.

(My first opponent's Ichika? Why is it this combination...)

Though Houki closed her eyes, her heart was still wavering.

On the day when the tournament format was switched to a double battle, she continued to wonder whether she should ask Ichika to partner her, and unknowingly, it was already midnight.

But when she rushed to Ichika's room just before midnight, the answer she got was 'I already teamed up with Charles'.

After that, she was thinking of what to do. Once the deadline was reached, her partner was chosen through a lottery, and she ended up teaming with Laura. It seems that the only two 1st years who had to use a lottery were Houki and Laura.

(I wanted to win no matter what!)

--This is bad, this is the worst case scenario.

Though Laura was more than capable in terms of battle prowess, Houki couldn't agree with her, and Laura had no intention of listening to her. Even if she spoke, the most she said was 'Don't get in my way'.

They just couldn't get along.

And also, Houki hated something else--the person who was like her.

Laura felt that strength's everything, reminding Houki of her past self.

It's like my ugly state in the past was seen by others! Houki can't hold back this irritation.

(...No, now's not the time to think about this.)

She couldn't fight if she didn't do this--no, she couldn't fight alongside Ichika.

The hands cupped in front of Houki's chest tightened as she silently gathered her concentration.

"Sure saves a lot of time, meeting in the first round."

"I feel the same."

There're only 5 seconds till the start of the battle, 4, 3, 2, 1—start.

""DOWN!""

To think that Laura and I would say the same thing.

The moment the battle started, I immediately activated [Ignition Boost]. We'll get a huge advantage if we get the first move.

"WOOOHHH!"

"Humph..."

Laura stretched her right hand out—it's coming.

I remember the conversation I had with Rin and Cecilia, who fought directly with Laura.

"AIC? What is that?"

"It's the [Schwarzer Regen]'s 3rd generation weapon, [Active Inertia Canceller]. It's an ability that removes inertia."

"Hm—"

"Ichika, do you know about PIC?"

"...No."

"Th-That...isn't that basic knowledge? It's basic! All IS uses this [Passive Inertia Control] to float in mid-air, accelerate and stop!"

"Ohh, seems like I heard of it somewhere before."

"Really, you..."

"Okay okay, stop making blind guesses and start thinking about how we should counter it. To be honest, this is the first time I saw it for real as well. It's unbelievable that it has advanced to such an extent."

"Ah, I'm the same as well. To think that it's able to hold down the [Impact Cannons]..."

"But logically, it should work like the [Impact Cannons], right? They create energy to interfere with the space."

"Ah, sort of. I guess it's basically correct. Though the specifics may be different, it does operate similarly to weapons that compress space. It's controlled by energy."

"So that means that [Reiraku Byakuya] should be able to cut through it, right?"

"Logically, that should be the case, but you still got blocked, right?"

"That's true...how did she do that?"

"It's simple. She just needs to touch your hand without touching the [Reiraku Byakuya]."

"Directly...onto the hand? But I'm moving so fast. Can such a small part be blocked?"

"Seems like it. Speaking of which, Ichika, your movements—"

"Are really easy to predict."

"Huh..."

"Your hand movements always move in one straight line, right? Straight down or horizontal. So—"

"She could just block it easily by emitting AIC energy waves in the opposite direction."

"I see...so what should I do?"

"It's your job to find out."

"...You're right."

In the end, I didn't manage to think of a way to accurately break through the AIC.

If that's the case, there's only one method—an unexpected one.

"Ugh...!"

But it seems like this level of tactics have been seen through, as my hands, body and legs got caught by the AIC net, and I couldn't even close in or back away. I couldn't move my body, like it was grabbed by some invisible hand.

"Launching an attacking after the get-go? You're really easy to understand."

"...Nice going, nice going, it's good that we have telepathy."

"Then you should know what I'm about to say."

Yes, I didn't really want to know, but what I could imagine was...*SCREECH!* With the loud sound of the large wheel spinning, [Byakushiki]'s sensors let out a warning.

"Enemy's IS railgun is deployed, safety removed—warning! Locked on—warning!"

Don't worry, this isn't a 1 vs 1 battle, is it?

"I won't let you."

Charles jumped over my head and began firing her .61 cal sub machine gun [Garm] and started to fire the explosive bullets that scattered down like rain.

""Che...!""

Laura's cannons deviated slightly due to Charles' attacks, and the shots missed me. Also, because of Charles' attacks, she had to back away and widen the distance between both of us.

"Don't you run away!"

Charles immediately changed her gun and pointed it forward, summoning an assault rifle on the left hand. Light gathered in the air and formed a gun in less than a second.

This is Charles' special skill [rapid switch], summoning weapons in battle without calling it out. This could be pulled off due to Charles' skill and decision making.

"Don't forget about me here."

Mobilized in the [Uchigane], Houki appeared to block the attack that was aimed at Laura as she deployed a physical shield that was well-suited for a defensive IS, knocking the bullets aside as she hacked at Charles.

"You're the one who forgot about me!"

Being released from Laura's AIC, I immediately accelerated towards Charles from behind. Just when I'm about to crash into her, she did a backflip to switch positions with me. This chemistry is all due to the special training.

*KLANG!*

Houki and I are locked in close-ranged combat as the hits let out sparks.

I continued to use my sword to attack and defend as I increased the power of my thrusters. The accelerated slashes started to push Houki back.

"Ugh! Damn it...!"

Being pushed back, Houki panicked and raiseed her sword up high. Now's the time!

"Charles!"

"Got it!"

*CLACK!* I used both hands to grip the sword tightly and used the [Yukihira Niigata] to knock Houki's attack aside. At this moment, Charles, who was on standby behind me stretched both hands out. She was holding two .62 caliber auto shotguns [Rain of Saturdays], and it was impossible to dodge them at this short range.

It was too late for Houki as she went pale, and Charles squeezed the triggers.

"?"

Houki disappeared right in front of us, and the rain of bullets zoomed past vacuum. What's going on?

"How bothersome."

Having switched positions with Houki, Laura quickly closed in on me. She used one of the cable guided blades on Houki's leg and used the centrifugal force to toss her to the edge of the arena. It seemed that Houki was able to do an emergency landing through the whip.

"Wh-What are you doing!?"

But Laura wasn't intending to help her partner at all. She just wanted to throw Houki aside, thinking that she's a bother, resulting in Houki pouting in rage.

However, Laura herself didn't hear that as she launched the attack at us.

Laura deployed the plasma blades and attacked us from both sides. The mix of slashes and stabs accurately forced us to back away.

"It's more advantageous for me to have a disadvantage in numbers."

"It's just twice the number!"

Laura Bodewig, who would actually say such words, is truly as strong as a monster. Right now, she was engaging in close range combat with me as she held Charles off with the cabled blades to separate her from me. Though she couldn't combat all 6 cabled blades at the same time, she swiftly shot them out and retracted them in fluidly to create a rapid-fire attack.

"Are you alright, Charles?"

"What about you, Ichika? I'll support you now."

"No, it's alright. It'll be that battle then."

"...I got it."

We switched to the private frequency to talk for a short while and switched our battle plan to what we originally planned, which was to 'Beat Houki down first'. She can complain afterwards anyway.

The reason why we chose this plan was simple—basically, Laura's battle strategy was to go up against many enemies at one go, which she would never expect to fight in group, so she probably wouldn't help Houki.

So, we should beat Houki and attack Laura in a 2 vs 1 situation. Of course, like I just said, Laura has the ability to take on many machines at one go, but this is where the trap lies. A tag team is formed by having 1 plus 1, but there aren't 2 possibilities.

"Sorry, but your opponent isn't Ichika."

"What...? Don't look down on me!"

File:IS02 241.jpg

Leaving Laura's range, Charles immediately closed in on Houki. Houki didn't understand what was going on, but Charles' taunt certainly made her blood boil.

*KLANG!* Charles used the close-ranged knife [Bread Slicer] to block Houki's sword, and then, while maintaining the position, she starts to fire the [Rain of Saturday] with her left hand.

"Kuu...!"

The impression that Charles gave was that she's really strong at shooting, but actually, the biggest attribute about this ability is 'flexibility'--and in fact, she won't lose to anyone in combat. Also, with the [rapid switch] skill, once the opponent feels that she wants to fight it out with melee style, she can suddenly switch into a gun to shoot, and once the distance is pulled apart, she can close in to close combat range again. She can maintain a certain distance and attack motion whether the opponent's near or far away, and her attacks and defenses are great. This stability is hard to break through.

On a side note, this tactic is said to be called the 'Desert Mirage', which is 'The closer it is, the further it gets; once one gives out, it closes in again; called in by the green lushness and forgetting the fatigue on the legs as one steps closer towards death'. I understand it now.

"So it's a tactic of beating one person? That's meaningless."

Laura most likely never factored Houki in, but this to us was still meaningful. Anyway, my role was to hold off Laura's attacks until Charles beats Houki.

The 2 plasma blades in her hands and the cabled wires form wave after wave of attacks, and it wasn't easy to deflect them all. Also, once I'm not careful, the distance would be pulled apart. So I could only hang on and maintain close proximity.

"You only have that sword as your only weapon, so you can only damage the opponent being in close range, right?"

That was also another reason, right? However, the main reason was because if the distance was pulled apart again, I would become the target of that large caliber railgun, and she had those electric cable-controlled blades. If the distance was pulled apart, I would have to use a lot of time and energy just to get close to her.

(Anyway, I have to hang on!)

I switched the [Yukihira Niigata] to my right hand and used my left to hold Laura's plasma blade off by grabbing her left hand. My legs were maintaining their position as they continued to operate fully, kicking the cabled blades aside. The movements of the cabled blades were very complicated, I would be scratched if I didn't kick it to the side, so right now, the situation is that 'It will be over if I don't concentrate'.

"WOOOOHHH!!!"

*KLANG!* *CRAK!* *SCREECH!* *KLAMM!*

This was a zero distance battle, and I didn't know when my concentration would run out as I continued to rely on Charles.

"...Time to end this."

Laura shut the plasma blades off. Not good!

*BAM!* My body froze like ice. Laura's blades were crossed as she raised her hands towards me.

(Damn it! It's the AIC!)

"Alright—disappear."

Six cabled blades shot out at me.

"DAMN IT!"

It was useless to shout as the cabled wires pierced into my body and took off 1/3 of my IS armor. My shield reserves dropped to nearly half.

And Laura's attacks weren't stopping as she used 2 cabled wires to tie my right hand and twist it around a few times, seemingly trying to twist it off and slam me to the ground.

"WAH!"

Unable to take the impact that pierced through me, my breathing immediately stopped.

--Got to stand up fast!

Just when I thought about this, Laura's large railgun is aimed at me.

"This is the end!"

*BAM--!*

The scene in front of me looked extremely slow as the bullet shot out with flames surrounding it at the cannon and moved forward after passing through the flames. That was a unique anti-armor bullet, and once it hit the spot, it would decide the victor. And right now, it was coming at me.

(Can't dodge it! Then...let's slice it!)

It wasn't about slicing it, but that everything would be over if I didn't do so. Thus, I gathered my strength in my right hand to raised the sword--

"!"

--My right hand suddenly stopped.

(The cabled wires are still tied on my hand!)

There's only one, but it's holding [Byakushiki]'s forearm armor, so I couldn't take it off immediately. Ahhh damn it!

"Sorry to keep you waiting!"

*KLANG!* With a heavy sound, Charles used her shield to block the shot, and then sliced the cabled blade apart to drag me away from the battlezone.

After that, rain-like bullets flew at where I was.

"You saved me there...Thanks Charles!"

"No problems."

"Where's Houki?"

"She's taking a break."

After saying that, Charles turned to look aside, and I turned to look at where she was looking—at the side of the arena, there was an unhappy looking Houki, who was in a severely damaged IS with 0 shields and kneeling on one leg.

"Nice!"

"Say that after we win!"

Charles tossed aside the twin assault rifles in her hands to summon new weapons—they were an auto shotgun and a machine gun.

"Now's the real show."

"Right, let's show her our chemistry!"

"Wow--that's amazing! They managed to work together like this after just training for slightly more than 2 weeks."

Inside the observation room that could only be accessed by teachers, Maya was watching the battle footage as she marveled at them and muttered.

"Orimura-kun's really amazing. He sure is talented!"

"Humph, it's only because of Dunois' co-operation that they were able to do that. That person didn't even do anything."

Seeing Chifuyu criticize her own family member like that, Maya could only smile awkwardly and say,

"But even so, isn't it amazing that Orimura-kun's able to work with others like this? Nobody would want to work with him if he didn't have charisma."

"Well...I guess you're right."

Though Chifuyu frowned as she answered, recently, Maya started to realize that the action was meant to hide her embarrassment, so she didn't really mind. Thinking about it, perhaps this was a 'Show of protectiveness of her own little brother'.

"But the reason why they suddenly changed the format of the individual division tournament was because of the 'Incident' last month, right?"

The incident that happened last month--when the black machine attacked. Most of them felt that it was a terrorist plot. As attacking IS Academy was a serious problem, and since they found out that it was an unmanned suit, the situation got even more critical. Right now, many countries were all suspecting whether they should start to doubt each other.

"Though I haven't heard about the specifics, that's most likely the case. They chose to adopt a tag team system to let the students gain more battle experience."

"But the 1st years enrolled just 3 months ago, right? Besides, it's not that a war really happened. I guess there shouldn't be any need for mock battle trainings..."

Maya was correct, and Chifuyu knew that she would ask this question, which is why her expression didn't change.

"It's because of what happened last month. Now that we have many freshmen who have their own 3rd generation frames. When they're facing a mysterious enemy who suddenly appeared, what should they be worrying about?"

"--Ah! So you want them to defend themselves?"

"That's right. Forget about the pilots, we still need to protect the 3rd generation IS that were issued. However, we have a limited number of teachers, so the principle is to let them defend themselves, which is why there's a need for practical mock battles."

"Oh, I see!"

Maya's questions melted away like ice.

Basically, IS technology must be revealed, but if newly developed technology was revealed immediately, the other countries could easily use it, so this wouldn't be beneficial to them.

If the IS pilot is unable to familiarize herself with the important parts of the technology, the developing country would be lead to ruin.

And this is the aim of IS Academy.

Hidden amongst the mission of IS Academy when it was first developed was the element 'All the laws don't work here'. Of course, it wasn't that all laws were ineffective against IS Academy; the main point was the 'Prototype IS Technology'.

"This place allows new technology to be tested out, and they can decide on whether they want to reveal their data here. They have no need to reveal it."

In other words, IS Academy was the only place in the world where 'They don't have to declare the data of their mock battles'. That is why China, England, Germany and other countries were sending their 3rd generation IS here.

Also, their real aim was to get the [one-off ability] and fuse with it. As long as their IS could switch into second phase within 3 years to create a one and only unique ability, they would have no problems with revealing their technology. That was because a 'one and only unique ability' definitely couldn't be imitated.

Of course, the chances of success were astronomically small, but with 3 years of piloting experience, the data gained will become a huge experience.

It's because of this that the IS Academy students already got the latest models even though they were just representative candidates.

The ones chosen to pilot these frames are definitely elites, but there aren't just one. To put it radically, anyone who fulfills the criteria can do. Thus, at the candidate state, there wasn't really a large difference."

"But Shinonono-san was really trashed thoroughly."

"That's what happens when you don't have a personal machine, and in terms of character, Shinonono's at a disadvantage to Dunois."

It's like janken[2D 1]. Chifuyu added as she turns to look at the screen away.

On the screen, it showed Laura still fighting against her opponents despite this disadvantageous situation.

"Bodewig-san, she's strong."

"Humph..."

While Maya was really amazed, Chifuyu snorted, seemingly bored.

"Nothing changed. The potential and attack are the same, but even so--"

She still can't beat Ichika.

But she definitely can't say these words. If she says it, Maya may start to say something again.

WAAAHHH!!!

The atmosphere in the arena boils as the cheers enter the observation room.

"Ah! Orimura-kun took out the [Reiraku Byaku]! Does he intend to settle this in one attack?"

"Looking at this, things won't go as planned."

"Here we go again. Even if you act like you don't care, that attitude's--"

"Yamada-sensei, we haven't done any martial arts sparring for a long time. Now's a rare chance, so how about 10 rounds?"

"No, no thanks! I...ahem...have to watch the students' machines!"

Yamada frantically shakes her head and waves her hands, but Chifuyu uses a deep voice to declare,

"I hate people who come up with nonsense to make fun of me the most. Do you remember that incident?"

"Ye-Yes...I'm sorry..."

Maya, who was retreating and curling back, looked really pitiful, and because of that, Chifuyu patted her head gently.

"Alright, continue to watch the match. It's worth seeing how they intend to beat their opponent."

"Ye-Yes!"

"I'LL BEAT YOU WITH THIS!"

I activated [Reiraku Byakuya] and charged at Laura.

"I heard that all the shields will be drained once I touch it...but it's nothing if I don't get hit."

Laura's AIC binding attacks continued to assault me. My right hand, left hand, my vision, all these continued to be assaulted. I immediately stopped, turned and accelerated, barely dodging them all in the process.

"Running around like that, what an eyesore...!"

She then started to become more vicious in her attacks while striking at me with more cabled blades, but I wasn't fighting alone.

"Ichika! Break through the front at 2 o' clock!"

"Okay!"

Laura, who's attacking using her ranged weapons, wasn't relaxing against my guard. I began to feel that it was great to be on the same team as Charles. If she were an opponent, it'd be really weird to go up against her, somehow.

"Che...another of your petty tricks!"

After zipping through the cabled blades, Laura finally entered my range.

"It's useless, I can predict your attack."

"That normal slash's just a start, then--what about this!?"

I raise the tip of the sword that was below my foot to chest-level.

"!?"

If the slash can be predicted, then I'll just stab in. Though it's easy to predict as well, the trajectory of the hand should be difficult to grasp. It's way harder to predict that than a line.

"IT'S USELESS!"

*BZZT!* My body froze as the AIC net completely stops me.

"I have no need to focus on your hand. As long as I stop you before that--"

"...Ahh, what's wrong, have you forgotten? Don't you know? We're--a tag team!"

"!?"

Laura frantically moved her eyes, but it was too late. Closing in to zero distance, Charles quickly fired off 6 shotgun bullets, and at the next moment, Laura's large railgun exploded with a loud bang.

"Ku...!"

As what we predicted, Laura's AIC had a fatal flaw. The flaw was that 'If she didn't focus on the target she wanted to stop, she wouldn't be able to maintain the effect', so right now, I was freed.

"ICHIKA!"

"GOT IT!"

I again raised the [Yukihira Niigata] and got into position--she shouldn't be able to escape this time!


"...!"

This was the sure-kill hit that I so believed in, but unexpectedly--

*KUriiiii...*

"WHAT? HOW CAN THE ENERGY RUN OUT AT THIS TIME!"

It seemed like I took a lot of damage, as the energy blade of [Reiraku Byakuya] began to shrink with the sound of the voice before disappearing.

"What a pity."

Laura's voice was close. I turned around, and saw her leap into me and deploy her twin plasma blades.

"SINCE YOU'VE USED UP YOUR SHIELD ENERGY, YOU CAN'T FIGHT ANY LONGER! I'LL WIN WHEN I GIVE YOU ANOTHER HIT!"

Laura was right. My shield reserves would drop to 0 if I was attacked again, and it would be determined a loss for me. Either way, I continued to block the vicious blade attacks that were coming from both sides.

"I WON'T LET YOU!"

"YOU'RE ANNOYING!"

Laura didn't stop in her attacks on me as she continued to use the cabled blades to hold off Charles, who came in to support me. Her attacks on both sides were as fast and accurate as ever, and with this, we again found out how skilled our opponent was.

"WAH!!"

"CHARLES! KU--"

"THE NEXT ONE WILL BE YOU! FALL!"

Distracted that Charles got hit, I let my guard down, and Laura definitely didn't let this opportunity slip as her attack hit me cleanly.

"GUWAHH...!!"

This hot sensation is the numbing sense of an electrical flow surge through me. The feeling can't be described in words, but it indicated that I got damage.

The strength swept out of my body--and [Byakushiki], as I fell onto the floor.

"Ha...HAHAHA! IT'S MY WIN!"

A fast moving silhouette attacked Laura, who loudly proclaimed herself the winner. That's--

"IT'S NOT OVER YET!"

That was Charles, who immediately used [Ignition Boost] to the maximum speed.

"WHAT...! THAT'S [IGNITION BOOST]!"

For the first time, Laura showed a dumbstruck look. Maybe it was because the data never specified that Charles could use [Ignition Boost], and I was shocked as well--because even I didn't know of that.

"Well...this is the first time I'm using it!"

"Wh, WHAT...? DON'T TELL ME YOU LEARNT IT DURING THIS BATTLE!?"

It seems now that Charles' flexibility isn't just a unique attribute, but a skill altogether. Maybe one can even call it a 'one and only unique ability'.

"Humph...BUT IT'S NO USE AGAINST MY STOPPING BARRIER!"

Laura said as she switched into the AIC activation mode, however, the one who stopped was--Laura herself.

*BOOM!*

"!?"

Being attacked somewhere that's unexpected, Laura looks around before seeing me, who's right below her. I'm holding the loaded sub machine gun that Charles threw just now.

That's right, that's the gun that I was allowed to use in the training. At this point, Laura finally realized that the throwing of the loaded gun just now was Charles and my double-set plan.

Now, I could only believe, in myself, and in Charles.

--But though I said that, it had a lot to do with luck. It was [Byakushiki] who managed to hang on against Laura's attacks, and for this time, I really can't show my face to this partner called [Byakushiki].

"NOW YOU CAN'T USE AIC!"

"DAMN IT...YOU HALF-DEAD ZOMBIE!"

Laura shouted, but she still didn't lose her cool. She probably would ignore my inaccurate shooting and focus on Charles. She again aimed the AIC in front.

"But I got a window to attack now."

"SO WHAT! WITH A 2ND-GENERATION'S ATTACK POWER, TRYING TO TAKE DOWN THIS [SCHWARZER REGEN] IS--"

At this moment, Laura suddenly stopped.

That's right. She discovered the strongest weapon amongst the 2nd generation in terms of offensive power,

And Charles always had this weapon hidden in her shield.

"I WON'T MISS AT THIS RANGE!"

Charles' shield armor opens, revealing the wheel and pilebunker that was fused together. It's the .69 caliber battering ram [Gray Scale], also known as--

"[SHIELD PIERCE]!?"

For the first time, Laura revealed a panicked expression that showed that she didn't expect to make it.

""OOOOHHHH!!""

Both voices overlapped. Charles clenched her left hand to charge forward, and it was a simple forward thrust like what I had just done.

However, what's different is that she even used [Ignition Boost] to close in, so it was too late to even activate AIC on her. If Laura couldn't stop the battering ram between these few millimeters, she would be hit directly.

"!!!"

Laura focused on that target--but missed.

In a moment, just for a short moment, Charles showed an angelic smile that looks like a declaration of death, a dazzling yet guilt-ridden smile.

*BAM!!!*

"KUuu...!"

The battering ram hit Laura's abdomen. If she concentrated all her shield reserves and activated [Absolute Defense], she could block this hit, but as her reserves were almost drained, she couldn't block the impact, and it slammed hard through her body. Laura's face twisted with anguish.

However, the attack was not over. As the [Gray Scale] had a roller function, it could be quickly filled with explosives--in other words, there were multiple shots.

*BAM!!!* *BAM!!!* *BAM!!!*

Three consecutive hits. Laura's body trembled terribly. Purple electricity jumped up her frame, forming a forced ejection sign.

--But in the next moment, another change occurred.

(To think that I...would actually lose here, me...!)

It's true that I underestimated that opponent's power, and that was a mistake on my part. But even so--

(I CAN'T LOSE! HOW CAN I LOSE...!)

Laura Bodewig. This is my name. A code to identify myself.

My earliest codename was Gene Perfection Experiment C—0037.

I was created through artificial human means, born out of a metal womb.

--It was dark. I was in darkness.

I was created, born, bred and trained to fight. That's my only objective.

I only know how to attack humans. I only understand tactics on how to defeat the enemy. I learnt to fight, use guns and remember how to use weapons.

I was outstanding, and in terms of capabilities, I always had the best records.

But at that time, as the strongest weapon, the IS appeared, and my world suddenly changed.

The operation to implant the [Odin's Eye] into me in order caused a drastic change.

The actual term of [Odin's Eye] should be a hyper-sensor package, and what it does is that it can heighten nerve processing to the brain at an explosive speed. The aim is to react quickly in a hi-speed combat. The operation was supposed to transplant the nanomachines into my eyes, and those eyes that went through this operation are called the 'Eyes that Surpasses the World'.

There were no risks with the operation, and logically, there wouldn't be a rejection—logically.

However, this operation caused my left eye to turn gold, and I couldn't control it. It couldn't shut down on its own, it was always activated.

This 'Accident' caused me to deteriorate amongst my peers in IS training.

I don't know when I fell from the top position. What awaited me were the mockeries and humiliations of my peers, and the mark of 'Trash'.

My world changed—I went from infinite darkness to even more darkness.

And the first time I met the light, it was when I met the instructor—Orimura Chifuyu.

"Though you look like your grades are bad, there's nothing much to worry. In a month from now, you should be able to get back to being the strongest in your squad. You're going to be trained by me after all."

Those words weren't a lie. Though I just obeyed that person's training honestly, I managed to get back to the top after I started learning IS.

However, I couldn't stay in the same situation. I didn't care about my peers who drifted away from me.

I continued to admire that person greatly.

Strong, courageous, indomitable. Seeing her like that made me anxious.

--Ah, I really want to be like this, I really want to be like her.

With these emotions, I would talk to her when I had the time before she went back to her own country half a year ago.

No, it's alright even if we don't say anything. As long as I could stay with her and stare at her figure, I can feel strength coming out from within.

It's somewhat a feeling of 'Courage'.

Maybe that's because she had such power.

One day, I tried to ask,

"How did you become this strong? What must I do to become this strong?"

At that time—ah, it's at that time...that person, that instructor who was as strict as the devil showed a gentle smile.

For some reason, it felt like my heart got punctured through by a needle.

"I have a little brother."

"A little brother...?"

"Once you see him, you'll understand, what's strength, and what's more than strength."

"...I don't understand."

"It's good that you remain like that. Ah, if you have a chance to come to Japan one day, maybe you can meet him...but let me give you a warning. That person—"

A gentle smile, a fearful expression. That's—

(That's not right. That wasn't what I envisioned you—Strong, courageous, indomitable, that's you.)

So—I won't forgive the person who made instructor show this expression.

I can't agree with the existence of this little brother who made instructor like this.

So—

(I MUST DEFEAT HIM! USE MY OWN POWER TO BEAT THAT GUY, THAT BASTARD...INTO DUST!)

That's why, I can't lose here! That guy, that bastard's...still moving. I must thoroughly break him until he can't move! That's right! So—

(I WANT POWER!)

Ku...someone rumbled deep inside me.

Then, it spoke.

"—Do you wish for it...? Do you, wish for a change within yourself...? Do you want a stronger power...?"

Of course. If I have power, if I can get it—I'll even pay for it with this hollow existence!

So give it to me...give me the invincible, strongest, absolute power!

Damage Level...D

Mind Condition...Uplift

Certification...Clear

[Valkyrie Trace System]...boot.

"AAAHHHHHHH!!!"

It seemed that Laura just got ripped by something as she let out a scream. At the same time, [Schwarzer Regen] let out a strong electrical jolt and knocked Charles off.

"Ugh! What's going on...--!!!"

"WHAT'S THAT!?"

Charles and I couldn't believe our eyes. In front of us, Laura...her IS was changing!

No, it wasn't that simple to say that it was changing. The lines that formed the armor were melting softly into something soft and sticky, engulfing Laura's body in it.

The pitch black corroded darkness swallowed Laura in whole.

"What is that thing..."

I subconsciously muttered. I guess anyone who sees this would think the same thing.

Normally, IS won't change shapes, or more accurately, it can't.

IS could only change shape 'In the first shift when it gets used to the pilot' and 'Switches Modes'. Though the equipment and some other parts may change slightly, it was impossible to have a base change. Anyway, that was just impossible. That's a flaw on the design.

However, the impossible thing was happening in front of us right now.

And this wasn't just a change in shape, but a mud doll that was shaped through the fusing of the sticky mass.

What was supposed to be [Schwarzer Regen] covered Laura's entire body and continueed to move on the surface. It then started to beat like it had a pulse and slowly descended to the floor.

The moment it landed on the floor, the body looked like it was quickly changing at a high speed before forming a shape.

—Standing over there was 'something' similar to the black IS, but it was completely different from the one that attacked last month.

The appearance and shape was of Laura's shape. The girl's hands and feet were armed with the minimum amount of armor, and the head had armor that covered the entire body. Also, the red lights of the display sensors could be seen from the eye below the armor.

The problem, however, was the weapon in her hand. I definitely couldn't be mistaken. That's—

"[Yukihira]...!"

It was similar to the sword Chifuyu-nee once used.

It was basically a duplicate.

I subconsciously gripped onto the [Yukihira Niigata] and raised it to the middle.

"—!"

The next moment, the black IS flew toward me. Looking at the way she was keeping the sword behind her waist, she must be trying to use an Iai technique. If she used it at a distance where I'd definitely be hit, it'd be a flash sure-kill hit. That was definitely the katana technique that Chifuyu-nee uses.

"KU!"

The [Yukihira Niigata] that I was holding tight on was knocked away, and the enemy raised the sword up—not good!

"!"

The sharp slash that was swung down straight on assaulted me, and I couldn't receive it with my sword at the last minute. At that moment, I immediately ordered [Byakushiki] to 'back away'.

It was because I knew how Chifuyu-nee fought that I was barely able to dodge it.

However, [Byakushiki]'s shield reserves had already dropped to 0, and the left hand only got a little grazed, yet there was blood flowing out.

That emergency evasion took out the last of me, and [Byakkushiki] disappeared from me in a glow of light.

"...So what..."

But right now, it doesn't matter to me.

"SO WHAT!!!??"

Driven by burning emotions, I clenched my fists as my weapons and rushed towards the black IS.

—Unforgivable, unforgivable, UNFORGIVABLE!

"WOOOHHH!!!"

Just as my fists nearly hit the black IS, my body got dragged away in the opposite direction.

Once I felt the impact on my back, I realized that the one who pulled me was Houki, who was equipped with the [Uchigane].

"IDIOT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! DO YOU WANT TO DIE?"

"LET GO OF ME! THAT PERSON'S JUST TOYING WITH ME! LET ME GO BEAT HER UP!"

That technique just now was the first technique I learnt from Chifuyu-nee, and I can still remember the first time I saw it.

"Listen Ichika, a sword is to be swung, but just trying to swing it isn't kendo.''

To me, who lifted that heavy piece of metal item for the first time, the weight alone made it hard for me to carry it. I was already sweating while it was on my hand, and I couldn't even lift it because of the weight even though I tried to make a pose.

"It's heavy, isn't it? This is the weight of a weapon, one that can take someone's life away."

The cold and slightly glittering katana.

An existence that was born, created and refined to kill.

"You have to consider what does it means to carry such a weight. This is what it means to be strong."

When she said that, Chifuyu-nee's eyes were stern, yet it had a tinge of gentleness. It looked somewhat dazzling, an expression that was different from usual.

That was why I chose to become strong, to become Chifuyu-nee's supporting power...that's right, ever since that day, I always—

"LET GO OF ME, HOUKI! IF EVEN YOU DARE TO INTERFERE, I'LL—!!"

"Che! GET A GRIP!"

*PA!* My face got hit, and I flew away and landed horizontally on the floor.

My face felt the pain as it touched the icy cold floor, causing my rage to drop.

"What's going on!? Tell me in a way that I can understand!"

"That...that's Chifuyu-nee's data, CHIFUYU-NEE'S! THAT'S SOMETHING THAT ONLY CHIFUYU-NEE HAS! THAT...DAMN IT!"

The black IS remained motionless in the arena. Right now, it seemed like it was automatically programmed to attack anything that had weapons or that would attack.

"Really, you...always Chifuyu-nee this Chifuyu-nee that."

"That's not all! The corrupted power that Laura's using, I don't like her for doing that. The black IS, Laura...both of them...I HAVE TO PUNCH THEM!"

Power—this so-called strength wasn't referring to offensive power. That power couldn't be called strength, but mere violence.

"Anyway, I must beat that thing up. I need to calm down first."

"I understand your reasons, but what can you do now? [Byakushiki] doesn't even have any energy; how are you going to fight?"

"Ku..."

Houki was right. It was likely that the black IS didn't have much energy left, but it was meaningless if I didn't beat her down. And right now [Byakushiki] didn't even have enough energy to deploy, let alone attack.

"Urgent emergency! All matches are suspended! Situation's at level D. Teachers are to deploy to suppress the enemy! All guests and students, please evacuate! I repeat!"

"You heard it. Others will handle this even if you don't do anything, so—"

"So there's no need to jump into a dangerous situation necessarily, right?"

"That's right."

Houki was right, but even though that reasoning was sound, my consciousness—still refused it.

"That's wrong, Houki, completely wrong. It's not that 'I have to do it', but 'I want to do it'. I don't care what others think, but I won't be me if I back away now. I won't be Orimura Ichika!"

"Ah, you idiot! Now what are you going to do? You already ran out of ene—"

"If you don't have it, just get it from somewhere else. Isn't that right, Ichika?"

"Charles..."

Charles seemed to have recovered from the jolt just now as she gently landed beside us.

"It can't be helped if it's just a normal IS, but I guess my [Revive] can use the core circuits to transfer energy."

"Really? Thanks, hurry up and help me!"

"But!"

Charles sternly warned. Her tone's abnormally harsh, not allowing any arguments.

"But you must promise me not to lose."

"Of course! I'll swear with all my life here that if I lose now, I'm not a man."

"Then, if you lose, tomorrow, Ichika, you have to wear a girl's uniform to school."

"Ku...! I-I'll do that! I won't lose anyway!"

This little joke manages to remove some tension, and my mind that was flushed with anger is cooled off to a fine extent.

"Then let's start...opening the [Revive]'s core circuits and allow the outflow of energy. Ichika, set the [Byakusiki]'s mode at single 1 mode. You should be able to use [Reiraku Byakuya] now."

"Oh, got it."

The cables reached out of the [Revive] and attached themselves to [Byakushiki], which was in bracelet mode, and the energy flowed through it. It felt like a sudden surge in energy. I felt this power as I had an explicable feeling.

(This...feels like that first time when I activated the IS...)

It seemed like I hadn't had this feeling for a long time, and there was an inexplicable sense of reunion and nostalgia, and the feeling that the world was reborn, this feeling of being able to feel the surroundings completely.

"..."

What's going on? Either way, there's no need to bother about this. Right now, the most important thing is right in front of me.

"Done! I transferred [Revive]'s remaining power to you."

As Charles declared, [Revive] scattered into bits of light and disappeared in particles of light.

And [Byakushiki], which was in single 1 mode, began to build itself on my body.

"So the most you can go is the weapon on your right hand."

"That's enough!"

[Byakushiki] understood that I was about to use [Reiraku Byakuya] as it materialized itself on my right hand in the form of [Yukihira Niigata].

No defenses, a definite loss if I get hit, and at best, heavy injuries. However, I was prepared to be hit, and next, it's my turn.

"I-Ichika!"

Houki, who'd been standing on the sidelines till now, finally couldn't help but say something. Her eyes were staring at me, looking extremely serious.

"Don't die...you definitely can't die!"

"What are you worrying about, idiot?"

"Wh-Who's an idiot! I'm worried about you—"

"Just trust me."

"Huh?"

"Trust me, Houki. No need to worry about me, and no need to pray for me. Just believe in me and wait for me. I'll win."

—I'll no longer mistake the meaning of strength. I know what's strength without power. I understand more than others, people who continue to be strong to protect others.

Then, then I hope to be strong for a certain someone, I hope.

"I'm going then."

"Ah, yes! Win, Ichika!"

After I promised Houki that I'd win, I faced the opponent in front of me.

I glanced at Charles, and she didn't say anything, only nodded her head silently. That's enough!

"All right, bring it, you fake!"

My [Yukihira Niigata] in my right hand responded to my will as it deployed.

"[Reiraku Byakuya]—activate!"

File:IS02 273.jpg

*Vmmmm*...this little reaction sounded like [Byakushiki]'s answer. The blade that could erase all energy sources and negate it appeared with twice the length.

(It doesn't have to be this big now. What I need is speed and sharpness, and to be able to draw the sword fast. A refined blade.)

I gathered my concentration and imagined a shot of light in the darkness. It then became smaller, fine and sharper.

Once this concentration was at the maximum, [Yukihira] changed. What was just a [Yukihira Niigata] that was giving a large glow was now becoming smaller and sharper.

The moment the transformation was complete, the original physical blade of the [Yukihira] was completely gone. The blade was just an energy sword that was made out of the [Reiraku Byakuya], and the energy was forming a katana-shaped blade.

(Thank you, [Byakushiki], then—let's go!)

I kept my blade at my waist and got into a sword drawing position in front of the the black IS.

That was a fusion of what Chifuyu-nee taught me and what I learnt from Houki, the 'First Flash, Second Strike' move.

"Listen, you must draw the blade through its weight, not through your hand, but to be treated as a part of your body. When drawing, don't do too many unnecessary movements. No gaps, no mistakes."

"Ah, really, why don't you understand! I'll show it to you! Watch!"

Both of their postures overlap in my mind, forming my own posture.

I lowered my body and readied myself, bringing the hand with the sword behind me. My eyes continued to gaze forward, and a motionless surface of water appeared in my heart.

Then, while it seemed that I could respond to all the movements, I sealed my feelings, that consciousness into a single spot, right at the enemy in front of me.

"..."

The black IS swung down the sword. That was a move identical to Chifuyu-nee's, a slash that quickly attacked the enemy from the shoulder on one side to the waist to the other side. However, there was none of Chifuyu-nee's will there. In other words, that's—

"THAT'S JUST AN IMITATION!"

*KLANG!* My horizontal strike that was drawn from the waist knocked the enemy's blade aside.

Then, I immediately raised the sword above my head and slashed the enemy down from the top.

This is the 'First Flash, Second Strike'. The first is to strike like a flash, and the other is to slash the target,

"Ke, kre...klak..."

*Bzzt*...the purple electricity jumped about, and the black IS got sliced in half. And the moment Laura was about to lose consciousness, I exchanged looks with her. Her eyepatch dropped off, revealing the golden left eye.

She stared at me with a really weak expression, like one of an abandoned puppy, seemingly saying: Please save me.

"...Well, I won't beat you up then."

I hugged Laura, who lost her strength as I muttered. As for whether she heard it, I guess only she knows.

"Let me give you some advice. Once you meet that guy, make sure you have a strong heart, because though that person's really immature, for some reason, he sure can attract the girls easily. You may fall for him if you're not careful, you know?"

Instructor seemed to say that happily, even showing some slight embarrassment, and that really irritated me.

So--I understood. Yes, I felt jealous, so I finally asked,

"Have you fallen for him, instructor?"

"That's stupid. How can an elder sister fall for her little brother?"

She smiled as she said that, and I couldn't calm down. That guy was able to let the instructor show such an expression--I was envious of him.

And then, after we met, after the battle, I understood.

What is strength?

There should be numerous answers.

But I found one of them.

"Strength is where the heart is, where you stand. I guess that would mean consider what will happen to me."

...Is that it?

"I guess it should be. Forget about how strong you are, if you don't even know what you're doing, you don't even know where to go, correct?"

...How should I go...

"Go somewhere, where you want to go...and things like that."

...Where must I go...

"In other words, you'll win if you do what you want. Isn't it bad to worry or restrain yourself?"

And then, this guy--this man--he smiled and said,

"You must do what you want to do. Isn't that what life is supposed to be about?"

--Then, what about you...? Why do you want to get stronger? What makes you strong?

"I'm not strong. I'm...not strong at all."

He replied so firmly, and I couldn't answer back.

He had such strength, and yet he said that he wasn't strong. I really couldn't understand.

"But if you claim that I'm strong, I would be because--"

--Because...?

"Because I want to become strong, that's why I would be strong."

--

"And there's something I want to do after I become strong."

--Something, you want to do...?

"I want to protect someone, using my all, I just want to fight for someone with my all."

--That's exactly...like that person.

"Yeah, so because of that, I'll protect you too, Laura Bodewig."

Hearing him say this, my heart wavered strongly for the first time due to this impact.

"I'll protect you."

He said that. I--ahh, I see, so that's it...that's how it is.

My heart moved.

My rapidly pulsating heart indicated that in front of him, I was just a 15 year old 'girl'.

--Orimura, Ichika.

Ahh, that, that's right.

I seem to have fallen for him.

"Uu, ahh..."

The sunlight shone down on Laura, waking her up.

"Are you awake?"

She remembers this voice. She had heard it before--and not only that, Laura was able to deduce where she heard of it before. It was the instructor she so loved and respected, Orimura Chifuyu.

"What's...with me...?"

"Your entire body took too much burden, causing wounds and muscle fatigue. You can't move at the moment. Don't force yourself."

After finishing, Chifuyu wanted to change the topic, but Laura was still her past student, it wasn't easy to fool her.

"What...happened...?"

Laura barely managed to lift her upper body up. Her face twisted in agony due to the pain that spread throughout her entire body. However, her eyes were staring intently at Chifuyu. The eyepatch was taken off her left eye for surgery, and it was a golden eye that was different from the eye on her right. This mysterious eye was merely showing a puzzled look.

"Hoo...basically, this is both a major case and a top secret article."

However, Chifuyu knew that she wasn't someone who would give up after hearing such an answer, so after she remained silent to indicate that this can't be said to others, she began to speak,

"Do you know of the [VT system]?"

"I do...the actual name is [Valkyrie Trace System]...it records the systems of all the previous Mondo Grosso's Champions. I remember that's..."

"That's right. Right now, the research, and even the development, usage and all is banned under the IS treaty, and it was in your IS."

"..."

"It was hidden really well. The pilot's mental state, the damage the machine took, and most importantly, the pilot's will...no, the desire. It can only activate with all these conditions. right now, the academy's questioning the German Army, and the committee members will most likely carry out an investigation."

On hearing Chifuyu's words, Laura grabbed tightly onto the bedsheets. For some reason, she looked down at the void below her eyes.

"That's because...I wished for this."

I wanted to be you.

Laura didn't say it, but Chifuyu understood.

"Laura Bodewig!"

"Ye-Yes!"

Having her full name called out, Laura looks up in surprise.

"Who are you?"

"I-I'm...I'm...m,..."

She can't continue on. Under this situation, she can't say that she's Laura.

"If you are no one, that's convenient. You will become Laura Bodewig from now on. Besides, there's a lot of time, since you have to stay here. After that, until you die, you still have a lot of time to use, so continue to be bothered, young lady."

"Ah..."

Chifuyu's words confound Laura. As she never expected Chifuyu to encourage her, she didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to answer, as she couldn't even say a single word.

Chifuyu got up from the chair and began to leave. She had said whatever she wanted to say, and was ready to head back to being in the position of a teacher.

"Oh, and also."

Chifuyu put her hand on the door, and without turning back, added on,

"You can't become me. If you become that guy's elder sister, you will continue to worry like me."

She did smile when she said that, right? Laura felt this way.

Then, a few minutes after Chifuyu left the room, Laura began to feel weird.

"Fu, fufu...hahaha."

Ah, such a cunning pair of siblings. Both of them always wanted to run away after saying what they wanted to say.

Having said so much, she still had to consider this. What was more sly than that?

(Think on my own, act on my own. Is that so...)

Though just laughing alone would cause aches in her entire body, Laura still felt happy.

She lost thoroughly, lost completely, but she never felt better.

Right now, the life of Laura Bodewig begins now--

"The tournament is called off due to an unexpected situation. But as the tournament is related to the tracking of individual data, all the matches in the first round will be continued. Please check the changes in locations, dates and times on the PD—"

*Beep*. Someone turned off the television in the cafeteria. I was watching the TV while eating sea-salt flavored ramen. Though the foreign language film had finished playing, it was rather smooth...I'm talking about the ramen.

"Mn, just like what Charles said."

"Yeah. Ah, Ichika, please pass me the chilli powder."

"Here."

"Thanks."

Though people may criticize us for 'Looking like it didn't involve us even though we were the ones involved', we were questioned by the teachers all the way until just now, and the cafeteria was about to close when we were finally released. Thus we hastily headed here, only to find a large number of girls waiting at the cafeteria, ready to question us.

Anyway, better finish dinner first. We sat at the table, ready to finish dinner, but the running trailer on the TV showed an important announcement, which was the section just now.

"Phew—I'm full! School cafeteria, hostel cafeteria, it's great to have such delicious food in this school...hm?"

I don't know the reason, but the girls who were waiting for us to finish eating suddenly looked extremely depressed. The way they looked depressed is like a Yamato-class battleship. I'm sorry, I never saw one before.

"...Our chance...to win...gone..."

"Date...wasted..."

"...WAHHH!!"

*Pa pa pa*. Several people ran out, crying...what, what's wrong now?

"What's going on?"

"No idea..."

Charles and I didn't even know what's going on. At this point, we just found another example of how 'Girls are inexplicable beings'.

After the girls left, I saw someone standing around. That was my familiar childhood friend, Houki.

Houki looked like her soul had just floated out of her mouth...anyway, better get to her.

"Oh yeah, Houki, about our promise last month—"

"Ku."

A response. Good, she's not dead yet.

"I can go out with you."

"—What?"

"I'm saying that I can go out with you...WAH!"

Houki suddenly jumped up like a loosened spring. She just grabbed my neck when I was already a lot taller than her—GUH!!

"RE-REA-REAL...LY!? REA...REAL-REALLY!?"

How many times do you need to say 'really'? It'll become a lie if you continue on. I guess now.

"...Mn, yup."

"Wh-Why? Yo-You, tell me your reason..."

Houki suddenly backed away from me, cupped her chest and gave a dry cough. Why is her face so red...well, forget about it.

"That's because it's a request from a childhood friend, so I can go along with you..."

"I-Is that so?"

"...On a shopping trip that is."

Ugh! Houki's expression's really scary...hey, hey! Is that what an oni's[2D 2] expression is like?

"...That's..."

"Hey, hey."

Was Houki's expression's really this terrifying? It's best not to irritate her. Those who have eaten nitroglycerin and chilli should be treated [delicate] and [softly].

"YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SOMETHING LIKE THAT!?"

MOVE!

"GUH!"

She launched a straight punch that was empowered with the twisting of the waist, causing my eyes to seemingly be covered by a black cloth--Sei kobushi no buratsuku sumi su[2D 3]...never mind.

"Humph!"

*BAM!* Ugh, her toes landed straight in my chest.

I-Idiot, I just saw your panties already...--let me tell you, it's white.

"U-Ug-Ugh..."

I immediately collapsed onto the floor, and couldn't see Houki stomp away angrily...it seems like I got critically damaged. Right now, I didn't want to move, and I couldn't move anyway.

"Ichika, sometimes I feel that you're doing it on purpose."

"Wh-What? What do you mean?"

"What do you think?"

Charles suddenly looked away. What the heck, what's...

It was 15 minutes later before I finally recovered.

Stroking my still-aching abdomen, I faced Charles as we sat.

"Oh yeah, I got some things to ask you."

"Okay, what is it? You can ask anything."

Having finished her Tsukimi udon, Charles smiled as she answered. Though we seemed to have met a lot of terrible stuff ever since the tournament ended, for some reason, she seemed to be in a good mood.

"Can we actually talk through IS? Huh, not by private channels. It's like talking to each other in a space both people have."

"Hm? Well...I seem to have heard of it before. Though it's thought to be the interference in the IS network, but in fact, it should be some sort of a consciousness interference when the pilots are of the same wavelength, or something like that."

"Ohh, that may be the case. But, the wave...wavelength. I really don't understand."

"IS itself has a lot of phenomenons and functions that can't be understood, and also, the inventor, Professor Shinonono Tabane didn't even reveal the complete details and disappeared. Though she once said that IS is designed to improve itself, it seems like she herself couldn't grasp it, so she couldn't even roughly describe it."

"Well, that sounds like what Tabane-san would do..."

That person basically wouldn't bother with things she wasn't interested in...she could have checked it out herself. Seems like she deliberately chose not to do so.

As I continued to think this, I suddenly noticed Charles staring at me—maybe it was just me or that I was distracted, but she seemed to be rather vexed.

"...Ichika, when you talked about 2 people talking in a space, are you referring to Bodewig?"

"Mn, well, yeah..."

"Hm—I see."

Charles nonchalantly answered as she kept her cutlery. Thanks to the recent training...or the telepathy between partners, I immediately knew that she wasn't happy.

She's trying her best not to show it, so it's almost impossible to detect it, but as she got into that situation, she would emphasize the ending in all her sentences, and she would walk faster.

But why is she unhappy? That's a mystery.

"Ah, Orimura-kun, Dunois-kun. You're here. It was tough on you two."

"You too, Yamada-sensei. It must be tiring to continue recording, right?"

"No, no. I'm already used to such dry work. Don't worry about me. Besides, I'm a teacher after all."

Hehe, Yamada-sensei lifted her chest up, and that voluptuous chest of her shook due to the weight, making me wonder where I should put my eyes on, and I can only look away.

"..."

"Ichika no ecchi."

Though that was just a little side comment, I could hear it clearly.

"Wh-What? Hold on, Charles! That's a misunderstanding!"

"Humph, God knows."

Ah, whatever. Why is her mood so poor? She didn't like to eat tsukiri udon? I did tell her that the traditional way of eating it was to eat the egg last...

"What's wrong?"

"No, nothing, nothing at all."

"I see...well, let's not mention about this. There's good news!"

Yamada-sensei clenched both fists and gave a victory pose, and her breasts bounced again. Well, though it was an eyecandy, it wasn't good for the eyes.

"It's really good news! Starting today, the boys' bath is opened!"

"Ohh! Is that so? I thought we had to wait till next month."

"That's because they had to check the boiler of the baths today, so the students weren't allowed to use it. But now that the inspection's done, there's no need to prevent the 2 guys from using it!"

Great, this is really great! Awesome! To be honest, because of the large number of problems that occurred with the tournament, I really wanted to take a bath to remove all my fatigue.

However...whether it was the inter-class match last month or any of my matches, there always seemed to be something unexpected, something impossible that happened. Right now, my fatigue level's almost at 100%, and I really can't be pleased about it.

"Thank you Yamada-sensei!"

Being extremely touched, I grabbed Yamada-sensei's hands tightly, wrapping my own hands around hers, and my eyes that were staring at Yamada-sensei's eyes should be glittering like gold...ahh, it's great to have a bath! It can be considered a tradition in Japanese history...no, it may even be the soul of it!

"We-Well...sensei will be troubled if you close in like this! That..."

"Yes?"

"No, nothing, nothing at all! It should be alright, right?"

For some reason, Yamada-sensei was unable to calm down as she looked about. You have to look at others in the eyes when they're talking to you! You said so yourself!

And she was blushing. Does she have a cold? A summer cold affects the body badly. I hope that she can take care of her own body more.

"Ah--...ahem."

Charles coughed dryly a few times to interrupt our conversation, and I suddenly felt that the warmth in her eyes is lower than before. Why is that so? She's not happy about a bath? I am!

"An-Anyway, both of you, please hurry to the bath. You just need to soak your body up to your shoulders to remove all your fatigue, right?"

"Yes! Then let's hurry and go—ah!"

Immediately after I quickly answered, I remembered something.

Yamada-sensei did say 'Both of you, please hurry to the bath'—she did refer to Charles and me like that.

Not, good.

Up until now, Charles had always been attending school as a guy.

It wouldn't be natural to go in separately, and they forced us to use it together. Anyone would roll their eyes about this wasteful manner.

"Huh, what...that..."

"What's wrong? Okay okay. Both of you, hurry and get your change of clothes. I have the key to the bath, so I'll be waiting for both of you in front of the changing room. So then."

After saying that, Yamada-sensei immediately scooted off...ahh, what do we do now...

"...Charles?"

"Well, that's trouble...some. What do we do? An-Anyway, lets go back to the room to get our change of clothes."

"Well, let's just hope that someone up there can find a way for us..."

As we were with a common mindset, she understood it. Anyway, Charles and I headed back to the room first.

While getting our clothes, we still couldn't find a way. We didn't even have time to talk about normal stuff, and could only prepare to bathe.

And then—

"Ah, you're here! Please enter! You're the first ones in!"

"Th-Thanks..."

Sounding really excited, Yamada-sensei sent us in, saying 'Take your time~' as she closed the door to the changing room.

Then, the time of silence came, and Charles and I turned our backs on each other in the changing room.

"..."

"..."

No, this won't do. I want to take a bath, but no matter what, I can't do it together with Charles. Well...I did see her naked before, but that was another thing altogether. As expected, a girl at this age can't show her naked body to guys like that.

And I have to try my best to avoid seeing it.

Though many would say 'It's not like you'll lose a lump of flesh', that's a misunderstanding, a very serious mistake. It's basically idiotic.

They will decrease; the dignity, elegance, value of a girl will drop.

Logically, guys should be protecting girls, so how can I look down on them? That's the 'Lack of Shame' that Houki said.

"E—n...Charles?"

"Ye-Yes?"

Why does she sound so polite now? Sigh, never mind.

I still have to talk to her while facing her. It's really hard to talk to her while our backs are facing each other. But if I have to look at her face, a lot of unexpected things will come out of my mouth. This is really unbelievable.

"You're tired today, right, Charles? Go in then. I'll spend the time outside, and once you're almost done, I'll go back to the room."

"Huh? What about you, Ichika?"

"We can't possibly bathe together, right? Hm, well. Since it's like this, go in and bath then, Charles. I'll go back to the room to bathe."

Guys have to wait silently. Besides, since I have to accommodate my partner Charles, this is nothing. I don't have to be responsible for strangers, but Charles did care for me a lot.

In modern society, it's not rare to see girls suddenly order a guy they don't know, but if I meet one, I'll definitely reject her without a second thought. No matter who the person is, I have no obligation to listen to any rude and unreasonable orders.

On the other hand, if there's a reason I can agree with that is meaningful, I'll do my best to fulfill it. Don't look at me like that. I'm good at things like domestic stuff and massaging. Chifuyu-nee can guarantee that. Though I may be bragging, I could make a good house-husband, heh heh~

"It, it's alright. I'll wait for you in the changing room. Well...I don't really like to take baths, but you do right, Ichika?"

"I do!"

Of course I do!

If I have to compare between the importance of bathing and eating, bathing would come on top. But it's a different case if it's a meal with delicately prepared food. Huh? Why is Charles blushing?

"What's wrong?"

"No, nothing! An-Anyway, go take a bath then, Ichika! Don't mind me, okay?"

"...Really?"

"Ye-Yeah."

"I'm going in then! Thanks Charles! I'll pay you back next time!"

Since she said this, it would be rude of me to I refuse her. Knowing that I can take a bath (in such a large bath to boot!) made me feel a lot better.

Thus, I moved to a place where Charles couldn't see and took it off. Though it's rather troublesome to put on the IS suit, it's easy for guys to take off their clothes. I'm not kidding. It didn't even take half the time it takes to wear them.

"I'm going in then."

"O-Okay, take your time."

I called Charles before I entered the bath, but for some reason, she sounded rather sheepish. Is she planning on pulling a prank? I hope not.

"WOW!"

It's huge! It's really huge.

There was a large bath in the room, 2 medium-sized baths that had massaging and air-bubbling functions respectively, and one hinoki bath. Furthermore, there was also a sauna, a body shower and even a waterfall-style massage water pillar. The facilities were perfect! It's great to live in Japan! Long Live Japan!

Wah, I'm feeling way too good now. I really want to use all the facilities of this bath. Anyone who doesn't feel excited about seeing this isn't a Japanese. No, isn't even human!

"Wait, hold on. Calm down. Haste won't make the cut. Let's just wash my body first."

Got to wash my body first, really.

"WAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

IT'S ALRIGHT TO SHOUT HERE! THIS IS A LARGE BATH AFTER ALL! (Note: all good kids shouldn't try this.)

I held back my exhilaration as I hurriedly washed my body and quickly washed off the soap. I had to wash once first, bath, wash another time, bath, and then get out. That's my policy. Though it's alright to not follow through the routine, I'd feel better if I do, so I would often follow my routine.

After washing my body, I soaked my entire body into the bath pool that I oh so awaited.

"Hoo~"

Ahh, this relaxing feeling that spreads through my body. The tired feeling of fatigue and stiff body, and the relaxing feeling the steam brings to remove them...as I continued to relax my body, I try to remove all the thoughts in my mind. I don't want to think about anything. I just want to enjoy the bath on my own.

"Ah~! I'M REVIVED~"

REVIVED~REVIVED~REVIVED~...

As expected of a large bath, even the echoes are nice to hear. Hm, this is just like an onsen that promotes the importance of a bath. I should stick a gold star and then pin it up.

Thus, as I continued to soak in the pool, I soon forgot about the time, and a sleeping sensation gradually struck me. Maybe it was because I was tired, as the sleep monster carried me away after I relaxed.

(Ahh...I'll really sleep at this rate.)

I'll drown at this rate. This isn't good.

*Shashasha...*

(...? Is it my imagination? I seem to hear the door to the changing room opening...)

But my mind's really fuzzy now. Maybe it's just my imagiantion.

*Patapatapata*.

I heard a pair of beautiful legs walking on the wet marble.

The reason why I knew that was because it sounded beautiful. The source of the beautiful sound would most likely indicate that it was beautiful. Heh~

"I-I'm coming in..."

"!!"

I quickly raised the face that was half-soaked in water, and on the other side of the steam, I saw a completely naked Charles.

Of course, she had a towel wrapped around her, but it was a thin sports towel. The color of the skin behind could roughly be seen, and because of the backlight, I could see the body curves extremely clearly.

"Wh-Wha-What!?"

"...Do-Don't look! Ichika no ecchi..."

"So-Sorry!"

AHHH, why must I say sorry!!?

—AHHH!! I don't understand, but I better apologise!

Then, I quickly turned right at a rotation speed that could match an IS. The human body sure is amazing!

"Wh-Wha-What? Why are you here! Ah, I did ask you to come in, but that was when I was not in—why did you come in, Charles-san?"

Ahh, not good. My mind is in a mess now. Though I know what sort of situation I am in now, I couldn't control it now—or rather, how am I going to control myself now? Who could bring together, the gathering of a poltergeist? If there's one in the bathroom—yikes!

"You, you don't like...to be...with me...?"

"No, that's not it!"

That's not a case of liking someone or not. If I have to say it, I'm troubled! That's right, I am troubled! I'm a healthy 15 year old boy, and I have an interest in the opposite gender like others. I'd be lying if I said that I am not excited.

And at this moment, I'm in this large and sealed room (with high temperatures and echoes to boot) alone with a naked girl. This isn't good. I don't find that it's good at all. Right now, I can somewhat hear Charles breathing behind me, causing my heart to beat wildly.

"I still felt that it's better to come take a bath—if you, you're bothered by this. I'll just get out. Is it okay?"

"I-It-It's alright. I'll come out instead. I got enough of it, and besides—"

"WA-WAIT!"

She suddenly shouted for me to stop, and I stopped due to the shock.

"We-Well, I have something to say! It's important, so I hope that Ichika can listen..."

"I, I understand..."

If she has something important to say to me, I have to listen. Thus, I put my body that got up back into the bath pool.

But naturally, I couldn't stare at Charles, so I could only turn to the right side of the bath and listen to her with my back facing her.

File:IS02 301.jpg

"Well...do you still remember what you just said?"

"What I said before...are you talking about staying in the Academy?"

"Yes, that...well, I intend to stay here. Because I don't have any place to live, and..."

"An-And what?"

"..."

For some reason, she answered with silence. Our conversation suddenly stopped, and the entire bath went silent.

*Plop*.

"Kyah!"

"Wh-What's wrong?"

She just let out a cute sound, causing my voice to panic as well.

"I, I just got a water droplet on me...just scared me."

"Is, is that so..."

"..."

"..."

And then, the silence continued. The water droplets that would occasionally drop from the ceiling seemed to feel abnormally large.

Swoosh...

"Charles?"

As I heard the sound of water moving about in the pool, I turned my face to the source of the water instinctively.

"Do-Don't look here! Turn around!"

"So-Sorry!"

Though the steam was thick, both of us were less than 1 meter apart, so I could clearly see Charles facing me.

(Wh-What is she trying to do? No, is blood gushing into my head? I feel dizzy...)

But my wavering consciousness got shook up at the next moment.

*Swoosh*. Charles used her hands to touch my back.

"Cha-Charles—"

Her hands were hugging me from behind, and her slender body was pressing onto my back. My heart was pounding like crazy, it was as if it was about to jump out of my mouth.

"Ichika, I'll say it because it's here — I want to remain here because you are here."

"I, I see..."

Though it's nothing much to me, I find that it's enough that I could help Charles.

I feel that, depending on how the people around me treat me, I would treat them back in the same way. If others are to protect me gently, I wish to give the same gentleness to them and protect them. That's what I think.

"Also, that...I decided on something."

"Something...?"

"Yup, how I ought to live. Ichika taught me that, right?"

"Is, is that so?"

"Yeah. Fuuf, it seems like Ichika's so slow-witted whenever he's involved, that it's really irritating!"

"We-Well...sorry about that."

"It's alright, I forgive you. But can you call me Charlotte from now on? Just call me that when we're alone together."

"That's your real...?"

"Yes. My name. Mother gave it to me, my real name."

"I got it, Charlotte."

"Mn."

Charles—no, Charlotte happily answered like, as naive as a child. I could immediately imagine her completely worry-free expression.

"Th-Tha-That's right, well...if we continue to remain in this position, to be honest, something bad may happen..."

Though I didn't realise just now, when I noticed the parts she and I were sticking together, it couldn't be helped that I was mindful of the lumps on my back.

The size should be ordinary, but the springy-ness shape is rather good—WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I THINKING!!??

"Ah, ahh, oh! That's right! I, I have...to wash my body and hair first!"

Charlotte finally seemed to notice her situation as she got away from me with water splatting sounds, standing up from the pool.

"Do-Don't look here, okay!?"

"I, I won't..."

"...It would be alright even if you looked..."

She finally seemed to mutter something, but as the water splatters were too loud, I couldn't hear it.

Then, Charlotte and I continued to wash and bath, and then we left the bath after relaxing for 30 minutes.

—OF course, we put on our clothes separately. While I waited, Charlotte was putting on her clothes.

Guys just need a moment to put on their clothes, and I'm done—look, I'm done.

"Let's go back then."

"Mn."

Charlotte nods her head. Her head's flushed red, maybe because she just bathed.

Though she was wearing the bra as per usual, the hair that was wet and combed back caused my heart to beat ridiculously for some reason.

After returning to the room, we first talked about some pointless stuff, and then slept. I don't really remember what happened, maybe because I was too tired...maybe.

Let's just leave it as that.

The next, day, Charlotte didn't show up at homeroom.

'I'm going then'. That's what she said to me before she left when we were at the cafeteria. What happened?

I look around the classroom. Besides, Charlotte, Laura wasn't around either. She was probably still recovering due to the injuries yesterday. Either that, or she got taken by the teachers for questioning.

"Go-Good morning everyone..."

For some reason, Yamada-sensei tumbled as she walked into the classroom. Maybe she got severely affected by something early in the morning or something. Maybe her poached egg wasn't half-cooked or something...that could make her feel so moody.

"Orimura-kun. I don't know what you were thinking, but you can't treat me as a kid! Sensei's angry. Haa..."

She's angry...but not forceful. That's all. Sorry sensei.

"Uhm, today...I will be introducing a new student. Umm..."

I really can't understand Yamada-sensei's introduce...what? Transfer student?

My classmates seem to respond at the same time, as there's a commotion. It's already this late into the term, and we already had two transfer students. Another one? What's going on?

"Okay, please enter."

"Sorry to intrude."

Huh? This voice is--

"I'm Charlotte Dunois. Everyone, it's nice to see you."

Wearing a dress, Charlotte gives a deep bow. Including me, everyone in the class is stunned, but they still bowed back politely.

"Erm, Dunois-kun san is actually Dunois-san, just like that. Haa...I have to reassign dorms again..."

I see, so sensei's bothered about this.

...Hold, on, a, minute!

"Wha? Dunois-kun was a girl...?"

"I always knew that it's weird! She's not a bishounen, but a bishoujo."[2D 4]

"Hey, Orimura-kun, you were sharing a room together, don't tell me--"

"Wait a minute! I remember the bath was being used by the guys yesterday!?"

*Zawazawazawazza!* The buzzing surrounded the entire room, and the next moment, it rushed out.

--Ah not good. I have a bad feeling about this.

*BAM!* The classroom door looked like it got kicked down.

"IIICCHHIIIKKKAAA~!!!"

Crashing in and saying hello was Huang Lingyin. Her expression was showing rage that was like burning fire, and there seemed to be a dragon behind her. Ahh, this is the 4,000 year old history of China!

"GO AND DIE!"

She deployed the IS armor and opened the [Impact Cannons] on both shoulders with full force.

--Ah, I'm sooo going to die now--

Tomorrow's headlines will be decided.

"A 1st year high school male student was unfortunately killed by a girl of the same year. His body was completely blown to bits, and the classmates screamed out in shock."

'MEAT SAUCE!' 'TOMATO SAUCE' 'A PERSIMMON DROPPED ONTO THE GROUND!' 'A FIG!' 'A TRASHED CAN OF COKE!' 'OR PES(beep)COLA!'

Hey, the last two are the same--

*BZZT!*

"FU-AH, FU--AH, FU--AH!"

Rin's shoulders were rising and dropping due to anger, and she looked like a cat who was so angry that the fur was standing up--hm...huh? I'm...still alive...? I'm still alive?

"..."

I don't know if it was at the last second, but the one who arrived in between Rin and me was--that Laura.

She was covered in the black IS [Schwarzer Regen]. Maybe she used the AIC she specializes in to negate the impact waves, but on closer look, that large railgun wasn't there.

"Thanks for saving me...is your IS repaired? That's amazing."

"...Luckily, the core's alright, so I just used spare parts to reassemble it."

"Oh, I see--bku!?"

Suddenly--

Really, out of a sudden, Laura grabbed my chest and pulled me to her before--kissing me forcefully.

File:IS02 309.jpg

"!?!?!?!?"

SHOCKING NEWS! Can someone tell me what happened? Including Rin, everyone present widened their mouths in shock. They're showing the same expression; me too.

"You, you're going to be my bride! It's decided! I won't allow any objections!"

"Bride? Not groom?"

Being extremely confused, I commented calmly. Maybe I'm really a great artiste--okay, that's enough of my own ecstasy.

"I heard that the Japanese customs would say to the ones they like 'yome ni suru'[2D 5], so you're my bride."

Who told her all these rubbish!? Hey! Call the one responsible for this!

--Hn?

"Y-Yo-You...!"

Stuttering as she opened her mouth, Rin could only sputter some sounds like a goldfish. But for some reason, I couldn't get rid of the sense of danger. It's just like a goldfish sensor. Hold on.

"YOOOUUUU BBBBAAAASSSSTTTAAARRRRDDDD!!!"

*KLANG!* She activated the [Impact Cannons] again.

"HOLD ON A MINUTE! IT'S NOT MY FAULT! I'M THE VICTIM HERE!!!"

"IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT! ALL! ABSOLUTELY!! ALL YOUR FFFAAAAULLLLLTTT!!!"

THAT'S TOO UNREASONABLE!

But it seems like I can't talk sense into her. As I could feel my own life in danger, I tried to escape through the back door of the classroom.

*Bhew--!*

The laser grazes my nosetip, and I tremble as I turn around.

"Oh my, Ichika-san? Where are you going? I got something to say to you, you know? Well, it may be sudden, but it's necessary. Ohohohohoho..."

Eek! Cecilia has 1, 2, 3...at least 5 ruptured blood vessels! She's slowly getting up, the [Starlight Mk III] in her hands, the particles of light are forming BITs on her back. Too late, the IS armor is covering her body.

Things just got worse!

I gave up on escaping through the corridor and turned to the windows. As this is the 2nd level, I can just jump down. In the worst case scenario, I just need to deploy [Byakushiki]--

*DON!*

And right now(nanto)--here it goes (kanto). The south's (nanto) really great, and I mean exactly as what it indicates. It's good to complete it (kanto), and I mean exactly as what it indicates.

I got a katana stabbed right in front of me. Huh, is this the Sengoku era[2D 6]? Sengoku IS Academy...or something like that? Though it's not important, but Yodogimi's IS must be pretty powerful, I guess.

"...Ichika, how do you intend to explain?"

"HOLD IT HOLD IT HOLD IT! I'M THE ONE WHO WANTS AN EXPLANATION--OWOAH!"

I'M TOO LAZY TO LISTEN! The sharp slash echoed these words as it assaults me. AHH, YOU IDIOT! STOP IT! DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE!? STOP IT YOU IDIOT!

NO NO NO! I'll really die if this keeps up, so I bent my body down to escape without address--damn it, I don't even know what I'm saying now.

*BAM!*

"Huh?"

I knocked into someone. Who's that? I half-instinctively lifted my head.

"..."

It's Charlotte.

"Nikotsu."

"Ni-Nikotsu."

Ahh, is this the so-called angelic smile? It's like a buddha in hell, so I return an angelic smile at her. I'm rather good myself.

"I'm pretty shocked Ichika actually kissed another girl in front of me!"

"Well--...Charlotte? I was kissed, and I did not kiss someone. And why are you deploying your IS?"

"I wonder why."

[Rapid switch]--it doesn't really look necessary, as Charlotte didn't summon any weapons onto her hands.

That's right. That's because her strongest weapon and armor is deployed, so she doesn't need any other weapons.

*PAM!* With the sound of gunpowder exploding, the shield dropped off to show the .69 caliber battering ram [Gray Scale], also known as [Shield Pierce].

"Ha, haha, hahaha..."

When humans go past the limits, it seems like they can only laugh--a musician said this. Right, that's right...!


*DOKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNN--!!!*


In this homeroom period today, loud noises, huge explosions, and continuous impacts shake the classroom as what the words indicate.


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