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Infinite Stratos Volume 3 Chapter 3: Thin Red Line

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Chapter 3: Thin Red Line - Standing on the Boundary LineEdit

It's the second day of training camp, and today, we're going to carry out testing of all sorts of IS equipment and data collection. As for those with personal machines, they have to try out a large amount of equipment for them, so it's extremely tough.

"Is everyone here--hey, the latecomer over there."

"Ye-Yes!"

Unexpectedly, the one who cringed when Chifuyu-nee called her was Laura.

It seems she got up late, a rare feat for her, and got to the gathering point 5 minutes late.

"In that case, explain the IS Core Network."

"O-Okay! The IS core network uses all sorts of signals to exchange data. It was originally designed to send the location information in vast space. Right now, it allows the pilots to communicate with each other through public and private channels. Also, through recent researches, the core attracts all sorts of signals through a 'sharing' method as fuel to evolve. As the creator Professor Shinonono viewed these as a part of evolution, she allowed them to develop continuously, so right now, they're still under development, resulting in an incomplete grasp of the whole picture."

"Outstanding as always. I'll let you off for being late then."

On hearing Chifuyu-nee say that, Laura heaved a sigh of relief. I don't know if it's just my imagination, but it seems that she's patting herself on the chest to comfort herself...oh well, Laura probably just felt the unspeakable terror of Chifuyu-nee when she was an instructor in Germany, I guess.

"Alright. Each class is to carry their stuff to begin the IS part testing. Those with personal suits are to test the personal parts. Everyone, move fast."

Everyone answered yes. As all the first years are lined up in a straight line, there are a lot of us. On a side note, we're on a beach for IS testing. The surroundings are extremely high cliffs, so if there's a need to go to the sea, one has to go underwater and through a water tunnel. It really looked like some underwater filming for a movie.

The IS and equipment that was to be used for testing is gathered here for this purpose.

Of course, as we have to pilot IS, all of us are wearing our IS suits. It feels like some sort of swimsuit (competition?) at the seaside.

"Ah, Shinonono, come over here."

"Yes."

Houki, who was using the [Uchigane] to carry something, heard Chifuyu-nee call her and walks towards her.

"From today onwards, you'll be pilo--"

"CHHHHHIIIIIII~CHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNN~!!!"

*Zudodododododododo...!* As a cloud of sand and dust gathered, a figure came flying over at a very fast speed. Maybe she has an IS on her? Though the problem's that person--

"...Tabane."

That's how it is. That peerless genius Shinonono Tabane just ignored the restriction of the zone completely and came barging in just like that.

"Yaa Yaa! I really missed you Chi-chan! Let's hug to show our love--fuheh!!"

Chifuyu-nee held down Tabane-san who came flying over with one hand, grabbing onto her face too as the fingers sank mercilessly into the flesh. Chifuyu-nee really doesn't know how to show mercy.

"Shut up, Tabane."

"Mmmn...your iron claw's as merciless as ever."

Actually, she's amazing for being able to clamp down Tabane-san like that.

After shouting out lightly, Tabane-san now turns to Houki.

"Yaa!"

"...Hello."

"Hehehe, long time no see. How long have we not met? A few years? Houki-chan's really grown up, especially the breasts~"

*GANK!*

"I'll beat you up!"

"You've already beaten me up...and with a Japanese sword sheath! That's too mean! Houki-chan's soo mean~!"

Pressing her head, Tabane-san looked teary eyed as she complained. Everyone present just looked at that exchange.

"Huh, well, well, people other than the ones involved are not--"

"Hmm? What you're saying is really weird. If you're talking about IS related personnel, I'm the most most important person now."

"Huh, ah, so, yeah, so, I guess that's right..."

Yamada-sensei got shot down beautifully. Basically, there's nothing anyone can do as they just let her on a roll.

"Hey! Tabane! Introduce yourself, my students don't know what's going on."

"Huh--that's so troublesome...hello, I'm the genius Tabane-san! That's all from me!"

After saying that, she even made a spin around. At this moment, everyone present seem to finally realize that this is the genius scientist who developed the IS, and the girls started to chat.

"Haa...can't you even introduce yourself properly? Hey, first-years, why are you stopping? Ignore this person here and continue testing."

"That's too much, calling me 'this person'. Can't you call me 'my beloved Tabane'?"

"SHUT UP!!"

While both of them are exchanging words, Yamada-sensei trembles as she interrupts them.

"Huh, erm, what should I do in this situation..."

"Ah, like I just said, you can ignore this person here. Yamada-sensei, please help assist the classes."

"I-I got it."

"Uu, Chi-chan's so kind...this Tabane-san really feels envious. She got fooled by this huge-breasted monster, right~?"

After saying that, Tabane-san leaped onto Yamada-sensei as her hands quickly grabbed onto her ample breasts.

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

"Sigh, what's the problem, what's the problem~?"

Wa, the topic just changed within a few seconds...where in the world did her jealousy go to?

On a side note, Tabane-san's breasts are slightly bigger than Chifuyu-nee's and about the same size as Yamada-sensei. Actually, it's kind of an eye candy to see two huge-breasted women harrass each other.

"SHUT IT YOU IDIOT! IF WE'RE TALKING ABOUT BREASTS, AREN'T YOURS BIG ENOUGH?"

"Hehehe, Chi-chan's so lewd."

"GO TO HELL!!"

After being kicked really hard by Chifuyu-nee, Tabane-san's face got buried fully into the beach sand. Let me emphasize this again. This woman in front of us is the peerless genius who single-handedly developed the basics of IS and practical design.

"So what about the thing I requested from you...?"

Houki sounded somewhat hesitant as she asked that. On hearing that, Tabane-san's eyes lit up.

"Fufufu, I prepared that already. Here, behold the great sky!"

Tabane-san pointed up at the sky. On hearing her say that, Houki and the other students looked up at the sky.

*ZUUUNNN!*

"WAHHH!"

Suddenly, really suddenly, with the sound of an impact, an unidentified metallic object dropped onto the sand.

The silvery metal block looked like it's a wall for a moment as its front part falls down. Then we see the contents inside. What's inside is--

"Jya jyan~![3C 1] This is Houki-chan's personal IS [Akatsubaki]![3C 2] Its specs are superior to every IS in every way and was made personally by Tabane-san!"

As if in response to Tabane-san, that crimson red armor was moved out using mobile arms.

The red armor was reflecting the bright sunlight, probably because it's a new IS. It's really eye-catching. Huh? Did Tabane-san just mention something unbelievable? The specs are all superior to the current ISes. In other words, it's the newest and strongest frame!

"Here, Houki-chan, it's now time for the optimization! I'll help out from aside, so it'll end soon♪"

"...I'll leave it to you then."

"That's so rare~. We're blood siblings. You should talk to me in a more affectionate manner--"

"Hurry up and start."

Is this what they mean by 'playing alone'? Houki ignored Tabane-san completely and prompted her to move.

"Mn~ well, that's true. Let's get started then."

*Pi*-Tabane-san pressed the remote control, and [Akatsubaki] activated, opening the cockpit to allow the pilot to enter. It even kneeled down automatically to let the pilot enter it easily. Ohh, that's rather amazing.

"I've input Houki-chan's data to a certain level. Now I just need to update the recent values! Then, *pi, pa, pa♪*!"

Tabane-san opened a control panel and slided her fingers on it. She then summoned out 6 screens in mid-air to navigate through the huge amount of data on the screen, and typed out on the emulated keyboard in mid-air.

"It's a close-ranged suit that's adjusted to being an all-around type, so I guess you will get used to it soon! Not to mention there's automatic support equipment! Onee-chan prepared them all!"

"Oh, thanks."

Houki still sounded rather cold. Really, since you two are sisters, I think you should warm up to her more.

I'm not too sure of this myself, but Houki seems to hate Tabane-san because she had to transfer schools when Tabane-san introduced the IS.

But that was a long, long time ago. She should let go of it now, right?

"Mn~fu, fu, fufu~♪ Houki-chan's kendo skills are even more refined. I can tell from your trained muscles. Yaa Yaa, onee-chan's really proud of you."

"..."

"Hehe, I got ignored--okay, optimization is complete~ that was fast, as expected of me."

Spouting nonsense, Tabane-san never stopped typing. It resembles someone playing the piano more than typing a keyboard, fast and fluid, and she even went through all the pages that switched around.

Though she's rather frivolous, she is a super genius. Again, I realized this.

On a side note, probably because of the pre-input data, the IS [Akatsubaki] didn't change amazingly like the [Byakushiki]. The more it felt like was that it was suited for Houki's body.

Speaking of which--

(This suit's also for close-range, right? There's nothing else other than a pair of Japanese swords on both sides of the waist.)

I suddenly thought of that because I felt that it resembled [Byakushiki].

But just now, Tabane-san just said that it has 'automatic support' and 'a close-ranged suit that's adjusted to an all-rounder'. Maybe it might have equipment like Blue Tears.

"That IS is to be given to Shinonono-san...? Because they're family?"

"Yeah, it feels a bit unscrupulous."

Voices like these can be heard from the crowd. Unexpectedly, the one who quickly squashed all these reactions was actually Tabane-san.

"Oh my, haven't all of you read history? This world has never been fair."

The girls who were called out immediately went back to work. As for Tabane-san, she just left it that as she continued the adjustments, or rather, she never stopped typing even though she was talking. She's really a genius.

Then, the adjustments were complete, and Tabane-san closed the screens.

"After that, it'll just be adjustments, and the personalization will be complete. Ah, Ii-kun, let me see [Byakushiki]. This Tabane-san's really enthusiastic!"

"Huh? Ah, okay."

After closing all the screens and keyboard, Tabane-san turned to me. Her light skirt flutters as it gives off a polished woman vibe that's completely opposite of her childish personality.

Anyway, I put my left hand on my right arm as I concentrate.

(--Come out, [Byakushiki].)

As if responding to my thoughts, [Byakushiki] dispersed in balls of light. The lights then gathered in mid-air to form a circle, spinning a few layers around me before forming.

This is my personal IS [Byakushiki], a machine that was developed for close-ranged combat. The weapon's a [Yukihira Niigata] sword, and it is a stubborn suit that refuses to have any more armaments--well, that doesn't sound right.

"Let me see the figures~uriya!"

Saying that, Tabane-san just inserted the circuits into the Byakushiki's armor. And just like before, the screens appeared in the air.

"Mn~...to actually create such an unbelievable diagram like this. What is this? I never seen this state before. Is it because Ii-kun's a guy?"

Let me explain this. The diagram here refers to the development path the IS takes according to the person. In human terms, it's the genes.

"As for what Tabane-san just said...why can I pilot an IS when I'm a guy?"

"Hm? Well, why..., I'm not too sure myself. I could understand it if we were break it down to nano units. Can I do it?"

On a side note, the target of breaking down would definitely include me.

"How can I..."

"Ah haha, I knew you would say that. Well, forget about it. I'll just won't know about what I don't know then. I set the ISes to evolve on their own when I created them, so it was obvious such a thing would happen, hahaha."

Well--the problem wasn't solved anyway.

"Also, why can't I have any other armaments?"

"Well, I set it like that."

"Huh...WHAAAT? Tabane-san created [Byakushiki]?"

"Mn, yup. Actually, I just retrieved the scrapped flawed machine and tweaked it slightly until it could move. But thanks to that, you can use the [One-off Ability] in your first phase, right? That's super convenient. Yup! Also, how should I say it? It was developed like this, you know? In Japan."

"Idiot, stop revealing so much classified information!"

*BAM!* Tabane-san's head got hit without mercy. The one who attacked was obviously our instructor from hell Chifuyu-nee.

"OWWW! Huh, Chi-chan's affections have been too intense up till now."

"SHUT UP!!"

And another hit! While Tabane-san's rubbing her head in pain, a girl called out to her.

"Ex-Excuse me! I heard of Professor Shinonono before. If possible, could you please check my IS?"

I thought who that girl was. It's Cecilia. Most likely, she felt excited about seeing the famous Tabane-san in front of her as her eyes are glowing exceptionally. However--

"Ah? Who are you? I don't recognize some blond person. And right now, it's a touching reunion with Houki-chan, Chi-chan and Ii-kun after so many years. I don't know why are you interrupting me. Who are you anyway?"

Her tone suddenly got cold, the content, the eyes and even the tone got cold.

"Huh, that..."

"Shut up and move aside."

"Uu..."

After being rejected again, even Cecilia backed away while looking completely distraught. She got rejected without even having the chance to be shocked by the sudden change in Tabane-san's attitude as her eyes got teary.

Well, this person hasn't changed at all...

According to her, the reason is that 'I can't tell the difference between humans. The only people I know are Houki-chan, Chi-chan and Ii-kun. Papa and mama may count as well. Ufufu, that's because I have no interest in other people at all!"

That's why Tabane-san treated everyone else beside us like that. But, well, she did improve in this case, which made me rather shocked.

(She would ignore others in the past...)

On a side note, that seemed to be trained into her by Chifuyu-nee. At least she would answer others now.

"Hoo--weird blond hair. I hate the thick skin of the Japanese. Japanese are the best~ but I don't care about Japanese either way except for Houki-chan, Chi-chan and Ii-kun."

"Uncle and aunty too?"

"Hm? Well--...that's right."

Hm? Why do I find that her answer was a little false?

"Never mind, that's not important. More than that...Ii-kun, I'll modify your [Byakushiki]."

"Huh? Well...let me ask this. How?"

"Hmm...how about a butler? I always felt that Ii-kun's well suited to wear a cocktail suit! Or a maid outfit."

Very good. I'll just pretend that I didn't hear that last sentence.

"Can you not say it now..."

"'Kay! Oh, you agreed! Then let's begin--"

"Ahh! DON'T MISTAKE MY WORDS DELIBERATELY!! I'M SAYING NO! NO! NO, THANK YOU--!"

"Well, I'll Northern Lights then!"

Huh...what's with this unrelated match of starting things with 'no'...

"So how about it, Ii-kun? How would you look as a girl?"

"WHAT WAS THAT?"

"Hm? I've been reading these scenarios in manga recently."

"DON'T EXPERIMENT THE CONTENT OF A MANGA ON ME!!"

"Che~ Ii-kun's really too much!"

"Ah--ahem."

Houki coughed twice to interrupt our conversation.

"Am I done here?"

"Mn, it's done. Oh, 3 minutes over. Ahh, I could have used the time to cook a cup of instant noodles. Too bad."

No, there's nothing to feel bad about...also, nowadays, instant noodles won't even need 3 minutes, Tabane-san.

"Then try taking it for a ride. Fly it a bit! It should follow Houki-chan's thoughts~"

"Okay, I'll try it."

*Phoosh phoosh!* With that sound, the cables linking to it were removed. After that, Houki closed her eyes, and [Akatsubaki] flew off at a really fast speed.

"WAH!"

The sudden acceleration caused shockwaves that made the sand dance about. As I turned to look at Houki, [Byakushiki]'s super-sensors captured [Akatsubaki] that was flying 200m above.

"How is it? Much more mobile than what Houki-chan expected?"

"Mn...yeah, sort of..."

Tabane-san's most likely strapped with an IS as well, as I can sense that she's using the public channel to communicate.

"Then try swingging your swords. The right one is [Amatsuki][3C 3], and the left one is [Karaware][3C 4]. I'm going to send the special data of the weapons over!"

After saying that, Tabane-san danced her finger at the sky. Having received the weapon data, Houki drew both swords with a swoosh. The clean strike amazes me.

"Let's add on Tabane-onee-chan's explanation~♪! [Amatsuki]'s used to attack one person. The blade will create an energy blade attack when it attacks. It can turn an enemy into a beehive if it's used consecutively! It's a wonderful weapon~ the range is about as far as an assault rifle, no? It can't reach the range of a sniper rifle, but it's balanced out by the speed of [Akatsubaki]."

I don't know if she was going along with Tabane-san's explanation, but Houki got ready to swing the blade. She raised her right hand to her left shoulder into the Shinonono-nitoryu kendo style-the shield-sword style. That's a position that can easily turn defense into attack, using the force of the attack to counter.

As the blade got swung out, the surrounding space let out several red lasers, forming a ball-shaped thing. They then formed bullets of light and pierced out several holes in the clouds in the air.

"The next one's [Karaware]. It's a weapon used to deal with a group, and can launch a shaped attack with the slash! It can extend its range when it's swung, so it's super useful. Try hitting some of them here!"

After saying that, Tabane-san summoned a 16-missile pod firing machine. As the lights gathered and formed it, it shot out its missiles at that instant.

"Houki!"

"--Don't worry! If it's this [Akatsubaki]!"

Like what Houki said, she swung the [Karaware], that was tucked under her right armpit, one round. The red lasers extended out just like Tabane-san said, taking out all 16 missiles.

"Powerful..."

Gradually appearing from the smoke of the explosion, Houki and her red IS looked as imposing as ever.

Everyone present looked stunned and mesmerized by the overwhelming outcome in front of them, unable to say anything. Tabane-san seemed satisfied as she viewed the scene in front of her, nodding away.

"..."

However, only one person's staring at Tabane-san sternly.

That person is--

(Chifuyu-nee...? Why would she show such a look? It seems like she's looking at an enemy--)

"TH-THI-THIS IS BAD! O-ORI-ORIMURA-SENSEI!"

The sudden voice of Yamada-sensei caused Chifuyu-nee to keep her sharp eyes and turn to her.

Though Yamada-sensei's normally panicking, it felt different this time.

"What's wrong?"

"Pl-Plea-Please look at this."

On seeing the visual image Yamada-sensei passed over, Chifuyu-nee's face darkened.

"Class A special mission, and a request to deal with it immediately..."

"Th-That's...located at the Hawaiian research--"

"Shh! Don't leak confidential information. The students will hear it."

"So-Sorry..."

"The pilot of the personal IS?"

"One-One's missing. The rest are present."

Chifuyu-nee and Yamada-sensei seem to be discussing about something in a soft voice. Once they notice several students looking here, they started using hand signals instead.

(Uu, not a normal sign language...is that a military related hand signal?)

I used to see those hand signs when Chifuyu-nee was the representative of Japanese. It feels that both of them are alike.

"I-I'll contact the other teachers then."

"Got it--EVERYONE PAY ATTENTION!!"

After Yamada-sensei ran away, Chifuyu-nee clapped twice to gain everyone's attention.

"The IS Academy teachers are now going to carry out a special mission, so today's testing will be over. Every class is to keep the ISes and return back to the resort. You are to remain in your own rooms. That's all!"

"Huh...?"

"End? Why? The special mission is..."

"I don't understand at all..."

The unexpected situation caused the girls to chatter away.

But Chifuyu-nee roared,

"EVERYONE IS TO HURRY UP AND HEAD BACK! WHOEVER'S COMES OUT WITHOUT PERMISSION WILL BE LOCKED UP! AM I CLEAR!?"

"""YE-YES!"""

Everyone started moving frantically, removing the equipment on their bodies, shutting down the activated ISes and putting them on the vehicles. It seems that they got scared by Chifuyu-nee's roar.

"Personal IS pilots are to gather! Orimura, Alcott, Dunois, Bodewig, Huang, and...Shinonono!"

"Yes!"

Answering really loudly was Houki beside me. Oh yeah, she can be considered as one with a personal IS.

(But is it...really alright...?)

For some reason, I developed this weird sense of anxiety from this panic.

"Now, let me explain the situation."

The room full of teachers and personal IS pilots, as we all gathered inside the deepest banquet hall of the resort, the Kachihana Room. The room with the lights still off has a large screen floating in mid-air.

"There's news that 2 hours ago, the [Silver Gospel], a 3rd generation military use IS that was developed by both America and Israel, went out of control in the test facility in Hawaii and left the surveillance facility."

Hearing Chifuyu-nee's sudden explanation, I was gob-smacked all of a sudden...huh? What? Military use IS? Out of control? Why must they inform us?

Somewhat puzzled, I'm rather mindful of the other members' reactions as I look around.

"..."

All of them are looking serious.

Everyone else other than Houki and I are official representatives of other countries, so maybe they've received training for this kind of situation. Laura's eyes are looking exceptionally serious.

"After that, through satellite tracking, we found that the [Gospel] will enter our air space, 2 km from here. That will happen in approximately 50 minutes from now. Thus, according to the Academy's higher-ups jurisdiction, we have to deal with this situation.

Chifuyu-nee calmly said on. What she said next came unexpected.

"All staff members, please use the Academy's training suits to seal off the air space and sea. The main operation will be done using personal ISes."

Wha what? That means that that rampant military IS--will have to be stopped by us?

"Next, we'll be beginning the planning of the battle. Anyone with doubts, please raise your hand."

"Yes."

Cecilia immediately raised her hand,

"Please explain the specs and data of the target IS."

"I understand. But these are the highest military secrets of those two countries, so it definitely can't be revealed. Once the data's revealed, the parties involved will be court-martialed, and they have to take at least 2 years of probation."

"I understand."

I don't really understand the situation now, but including Cecilia, everyone present are already discussing about getting the data.

"It's a unique long ranged type that's designed to clear the area...it seems that it can launch a full-scale attack like my IS."

"It's frame has enhanced attack and mobility. That's tough. And the specs are better than my [Shenlong], so the opponent has a slight advantage..."

"This unique armor seems to be tough to handle. My country sent a few [Revive] defensive equipment over, but I do feel that it's tough to defend against them consecutively."

"And looking at these figures, its fighting capability is still an unknown variable. The technology it has is also unknown. Can't we investigate it anyway?"

Cecilia, Rin, Charl and Laura are all seriously exchanging views. As for me, I managed to recover from this chaotic situation, but I still can't catch up to them. Honestly, I'm really useless.

"Can't be helped. This machine's still moving at a supersonic speed. The maximum velocity it has is over 2450km/hr, so there's only one chance."

"Only one chance...that means, we can only launch a suit with a sure-kill attack, right?"

After hearing Yamada-sensei's words, everyone turned to me.

"Huh...?"

"Ichika, beat it with your [Reiraku Byakuya]."

"That's the case. However, the problem is--"

"How are we going to send Ichika there? It'll be hard for us to succeed if we don't focus on the attack, but how are we going to move there?"

"And we have to catch up to a fast moving IS. The super sensors are important, right?"

"Ho-Hold on a minute! I-I'm going?"

""""OF COURSE!""""

All four of them answered in unison.

"Orimura, this isn't training, it's a real battle. If you're not ready, don't force yourself."

--

Once Chifuyu-nee said that, I immediately kicked off the cowardice in me.

"I'll do it. I'll do my best."

"Very good. Now, let's discuss the battle plan. Amongst you pilots, who has the fastest speed."

"My [Blue Tears]. It just so happened that the [Strike Gunner] England sent over had a high-capability sensor equipped with it as well."

All IS have what's called [Packet] switch equipment.

The [Packet] includes the weapons, additional armor and boosters. There are all sorts of varieties to them. One of them includes a specialized set called an [Haute Couture] that's used to create special unit sets, though I've never actually seen that before...

The IS machines capability and nature will change drastically according to the packet, and can allow for all sorts of combat. On a side note, all the first year personal IS pilots, including me, have a semi-customized packet.

--Ah, except for Charl whose packet is fully customized...that's really easy to mix up.

"Alcott, how long have you been training under supersonic mode?"

"20 hours."

"U...that's indeed suitable—"

Chifuyu-nee gets ready to end this planning, only to be interrupted by a super energetic voice.

"HOLD ON, HOLD ON! STOP WITH THAT STRATEGY~!"

And the voice came from the ceiling. Everyone looked up to see Tabane-san's head appearing upside down from the ceiling.

"...Yamada-sensei, please forcefully escort that person out."

"Huh? Ye-Yes! Ah, Professor Shinonono, please get her down first."

"TOU★!"

Tabane-san flips a somersault in mid-air and lands. That gentle movement is something even a clown from a circus has to admire. How far is this person going to show her cards like that...

"Chi-chan Chi-chan, my brain's now printing an even more brilliant plan!"

"...Get out."

Chifuyu-nee pressed against her head. Though Yamada-sensei wanted to follow orders and escort Tabane-san out, Tabane-san easily slipped away from her.

"Listen to me, listen to me! This is de~fin~ite~ly the time for [Akatsubaki]'s debut!"

"What?"

"Look at [Akatsubaki]'s specs! It can fly at supersonic speeds even without additional packets."

As if responding to Tabane-san's words, screens appear around Chifuyu-nee.

"Adjusting [Akatsubaki]'s [Fold-Out Armor]...change change change! See? The speed will be great now!"

[Fold-Out Armor]? What's that?

Just when I'm puzzled about this strange name, Tabane-san's already standing beside Chifuyu-nee and explaining it to her, even taking away the mains screen from her. What was an image of the [Gospel]'s data is now switched to [Akatsubaki]'s specs.

"Let me explain. Here it comes~this so-called [Fold-Out Armor] will be the 4th Generation frame's equipment that this genius developed for the 4th generation IS!"

Fourth...?

"OK! Now, the kind-hearted Tabane-san will start explaining~ this is for Ii-kun! Hehe, are you happy yet? First, the 1st generation frames were aimed to 'complete the IS'. The 2nd generation is to 'diversify according to the different equipment'. Next, the 3rd generation 'carries unique weapons that're controlled by the pilot's imagination', including air-compressed weapons, BiTs and AIC. And the 4th generation are those 'all-purpose frames that don't need a change in equipment'. Right now, it's still on the planning phase. Okay, do you understand, Ii-kun? Sensei loves the outstanding students best."

"Hm, oh. Huh, no, about that..."

Hol-Hold on a minute. I remember that all the countries finally managed to enter the 3rd generation phase after so much experimenting. Why have we jumped all the way to the 4th generation now?"

"Fufufu, this Tabane-san isn't just an ordinary genius! This is just an appetizer from me!"

An appetizer. Doesn't sound nice for some reason...

"This was already used on the [Yukihira Niigata] of the [Byakushiki]. I installed it to try it out~"

"""Huh?"""

What she said caused every personal IS pilot other than me to be stunned.

The base construct when activating the [Reiraku Byakuya] of the [Yukihira Niigata] is actually the so-called [Fold-Out armor]. If that's the case, [Byakushiki] itself is a 4th generation already.

"And because the development went well, [Akatsubaki]'s entire armor is made of [Fold-Out Armor]! When the system's at its maximum ability, the specs will double★!"

"Ho-Hold, hold on a minute. Huh? Whole body? The armor's the same as [Yukihira Niigata]? That means..."

"Yup, it's invincible! Anyway, it's the strongest."

Everyone present is dumbfounded. The only one who didn't respond is likely Chifuyu-nee as everyone's just shocked by what this Shinonono Tabane in front of us said.

"Also, [Akatsubaki]'s [Fold-Out Armor] is of the instant configuration type, so it can change to attack, defense and mobility along the way. This is the aim of the 4th generation frame, a multi-type frame. Fufufu, I prepared it a long time ago. Hohoho~"

Everyone's silent.

"Huh? What's wrong? Why is everyone looking like they're keeping vigil at a funeral? Who's dead? That's strange."

That's not something that can be excused with the words 'that's strange'.

All the countries invested money, time, talent in an arms race to develop the 3rd Generation IS frame...

And all that was actually meaningless.

How, how can there be such a stupid thing!!??

"--I told you before already, Tabane. You overdid it."

"Really? Hehe, I got too into it accidentally~"

Tabane-san seemed to have finally understood why we remained silent after Chifuyu-nee explained it to her.

"Ah, but you see, [Akatsubaki]'s still incomplete, so don't show such an expression, Ii-kun. Seeing you look so down-heartened, this Tabane-san really doesn't want to play pranks now."

No...it's useless even if you continue blinking at me like that...

"Well—about that, that's when [Akatsubaki]'s at full power. Finishing this mission is just a warm-up before dinner!"

Before dinner...no, never mind. Never mind at all.

"Speaking of which, about that rampant incident, it reminds me of that [White Knight] Incident ten years ago!"

Tabane-san chuckles away, and beside her, Chifuyu-nee gives an 'uh oh' look.

The [White Knight] Incident

Everybody in the world should have heard of this name.

Tabane-san introduced IS ten years ago, but at the beginning, no one recognized her accomplishments.

Nobody believed that it could 'surpass all current weapons'.

Some of them even felt that those words 'couldn't be trusted'.

"Oh my, I never thought that this world would be that stupid. Ufufu, they wouldn't believe my ability, yet they would believe God's blessing. This so-called Idol worship is simply amazing. This Tabane-san's an actual living person!"

A year after the IS was introduced, an incident happened.

Well, it would be too weird to call it an incident, since there's nothing more critical than that point.

A hacker sent 2,341 missiles from all the countries in the world at Japan, making them unable to be controlled--and launched them all.

The whole world sunk into chaos and despair.

At that moment, a female in a full silver and white armor appeared.

As that female's face was covered thoroughly by some facemask-type sensors, nobody knew her real identity. However, how should I put it—it was really too similar to some shounen manga plot, as it left everyone speechless.

The hero who was dressed like some Middle Ages knight actually,

"She slashed them all! She slashed about half of the missiles, 1,221 missiles in all. That's so cool~"

That female was holding a sword no matter what, yet unexpectedly, the human actually flew at supersonic speed to slash down these modern-day weapons called missiles, so it really seemed exaggerated.

Then, as the guided missiles are a bit away from her, she suddenly wipped them out with what was called a large charged particle gun, destroying them all.

With a combat ability that's based around speed, an ability to create a large number of things through light particles and the practical usage of light weapons—no modern weapons were a match for it.

However, the entire world's not so slow as to not deal with this starling existence. The countries around Japan ignored the world's constitution and started tracking through scout planes.

The mission of those scout planes was to 'Investigate the Target. Capture If Possible, If Impossible—Eliminate'.

At that time, all the countries seemed to have invested a lot into the latest weapons.

--But they were completely outmatched.

"Vulcan guns or guided missiles couldn't even hurt the armor of the IS. There was even an energy shield."

First, the fighter planes couldn't turn about immediately as the human pilot can't handle the tremendous G-Force.

But the IS was different. With the defense system guarding it, no matter how mobile the frame was, the pilot would not lose consciousness nor gasp for breath.

And according to the figures the sensors calculated, the IS could process calculations faster and make decisions faster. It could also change into action.

Despite sinking all the fighter planes of all the countries, the [White Knight] didn't take a single life away. This proved the battle difference that they despaired over.

Anyway, the thing was that 'It could make the opponent powerless without killing them'.

Even so, all the countries still sent in troops, yet the [White Knight] suddenly vanished like the sunset. It was like the VTR image of it got rewound and suddenly disappeared, as the illusion-like [White Knight] disappeared completely.

They couldn't track it down using radar, and they couldn't identify it through their own eyes. It showed complete invisibility.

Facing the ability it showed off—this world lost completely.

One machine was able to destroy or disable 2,341 missiles, 207 fighter jets, 7 cruisers, 5 aircraft carriers and 8 satellites. This 'Ultimate Mobile Weapon' IS instantly became famous in one night.

Having a machine that can overpower other countries' military capability, this fact prompted the entire world to immediately propose a constitution about IS to limit its use and also to spread it about.

Shinonono Tabane once said that 'Only an IS can beat an IS', and with the facts in front of them, the losers of this fight, the world accepted it without disagreements—they had to.

"So because of that, my beloved IS became famous! I don't care about the fact that women got special treatment, but I could be kidnapped or assassinated if I'm careless. That really felt like some other country. Ufufu ♪."

Describing it really happily, Tabane-san seemed to be gloating like a mother whose son just performed on stage for the first time.

"Even so, I don't know~ufufu, who was the [White Knight]? Who was it? What do you think, Chi-chan?"

"I don't know."

"Hm, I guess her bust size is about 88cm—"

*GONG!* A blunt sound could be heard. That's Chifuyu-nee's attendance book attack. No wait, that's the info terminal attack.

Uboah...the info terminal is made of metal on the outside, right...

"That, that's too much, Chi-chan. This Tabane-san's brain got split into half, you know!?"

"Really? That's good. You can take turns thinking with your left brain and your right brain."

"Ohh! I see! You're so smart, Chi-chan~"

...I mentioned it quite a bit already...but this person in front of Chifuyu-nee and talking back at her is the genius amongst geniuses who developed the IS, Shinonono Tabane. Oh well, I better not do this explanation any more...

Hm? Speaking of which, this means that Tabane-san doesn't know who the [White Knight] was? She did send the IS directly to the person.

"Chi-chan was really active in that incident."

"Yup, the [White Knight] was really active."

...Well, logically speaking, it should be Chifuyu-nee, right? I guess.

But the IS Chifuyu-nee used when it was active was completely different from the [White Knight]'s IS exoskeleton.

So where did the [White Knight]'s IS go? It was the first operational IS in history, and it should be in some sort of research facility for others to analyze data from as they toiled on without breaks.

Besides, after the last frame of the current 467 ISes was completed, there was no more production of it. Strictly speaking, there should be 467 IS cores.

In other words, no country would play around with a core.

(Huh, I remember when Tabane-san disappeared 3 years ago, she left behind a letter saying 'This is the last core, not a bun. Congratulations, you people got an IS effortlessly' or something like that.)

The reason why I knew this was because the world aired a show called 'Shinonono Tabane's live interview with the world'. However, the mass media that went to the research facility went for naught as they only saw a letter and the last IS core. That image was aired directly on worldwide live TV.

(...But what's going on? Chifuyu-nee, Tabane-san, it seems that my elders around me have a habit of disappearing.)

If that's really the case, this will be the toughest part—anyway, now's not the time to talk about it.

On a side note, amongst all the IS in the world, 322 out of the 467 ISes are used for actual combat, and the remaining 145 are handed over to all the countries research facility or enterprises as research. Many of the experimental frames that were born out of the researches from these areas were handed over to personal IS pilots.

In IS Academy, the ISes are divided into teachers' use, training use and personal use. In total, there are about 30 of them. However, there seemed to be quite the anomaly this year, as amongst the 1st years, there are more than 5 personal IS pilots—In the past, there used to be only about 3 at the most.

The reason why there are so many IS pilots with personal machines this year is—I guess, me? There were supposed to be more 3rd generation ISes, and with 'The only male that can pilot an IS', every country started making their own moves...I guess. Either way, I don't really understand things that are too complicated.

"Speaking of which...Tabane, how long does it take to adjust [Akatsubaki]?"

"O-ORIMURA-SENSEI?"

Cecilia shouted out in shock. It seemed that she felt that she was the only one amongst all of us who had a hi-powered booster and could take part in the battle.

"If-If it's me and [Blue Tears], we'll definitely succeed!"

"Has that packet been installed?"

"We-Well...not yet..."

Cecilia's voice immediately softened as if her foot got stepped on, stuttering at the same time. In contrast, Tabane-san revealed an innocent smile as she said,

"Let me add on, it'll take just 7 minutes to adjust [Akatsubaki]★!"

"Okay, then this mission will be carried out by Orimura and Shinonono. You're to track the target to take it down. 30 minutes later, get ready to act. Everyone's to get ready in 30 minutes from now."

*PAN!* Chifuyu-nee clapped her hands, and the teachers got ready to prepare the necessary machinery.

"Those with nothing to do are to help move the equipment or do anything else they can help with. The main frontlines are to adjust their ISes. Don't be sloppy."

Uu, we got scolded again. Actually, looking carefully, I'm the only one who hasn't gotten into action as everyone else

"Huh, what about me...?"

"Complete [Byakushiki]'s configurations. Also, remember to fill up your energy gauge."

"Un-Understood."

After answering that, I immediately summoned [Byakushiki]'s control panel. As for energy...there's no problem, and there's nothing really insufficient now. If that's the case, I can sortie anytime.

(Speaking of which, Houki is--)

"Then let's hurry up and get [Akatsubaki] ready!"

"..."

"Nua— you should smile more. Hey hey, you're already a member of this mission group. Isn't that good?"

"This face of mine was born like this."

"Mn—but well, you were a lot cuter when you were born. And you would cry too."

"Who-Who wouldn't cry—"

Tabane-san casually added a maybe as she patted [Akatsubaki] summoned by Houki.

"Uu, I'll pat here, pat her. The [Fold-Out armor] on the back, the legs, the shoulders seem to be forcefully pushed forward, and some attack support mode, and we're done. Well, let's get star—ted."

After Tabane-san finished her line, the particles of light gathered around her to form something.

Something appeared in front of her shoulders, 2 on each side, 4 in total. They all look like IS arm armor no matter the size.

"Is this Tabane-san's IS...?"

"Hm--? Far from it, Ii-kun. This is my mobile lab! On a side note, it's called 'I'm a cat' (I don't have a name yet)."

Tabane-san said that as she flipped her index finger up. Unexpectedly, those two right-hand-styled objects followed her action...what-what's going on, really...

"Okay, let's start."

After Tabane-san said that, she used the gaps between her fingers to pick up 10 tools, including screwdrivers, chisels, Swiss-army knife and all sorts of tools with unknown purposes.

"Funfu, raise your right hand if it hurts~"

And she added such a classic line before starting.

She used what looked like a Swiss-army-knife to cut off the joint on the IS arm (I really couldn't see it from the exterior), and then quickly used other tools to fix it in place. She then pulled out some mechanical parts and modified it. As this action was going on in five separate places, it really looked confusing.

Tabane-san was working on the toughest part, and the 4 floating arms were working on the rest.

Each unique finger of the arms seemed to have a lot of machinery and functions, as these arms were shooting out lasers from the mechanical fingers as these got to work.

However, what's most surprising is that Tabane-san didn't need any mechanical support as well—in other words, she's doing this alone without any hi-tech equipment or even protective glasses.

(How-How in the world can she deal with such intricate stuff...?)

And she herself is looking rather relaxed as she hummed, working at a fast pace to boot.

"Ha--Only the jaw's sent from afar~♪"

What do you mean by 'Jaw sent from afar'? I really don't understand Tabane-san's thought process.

Thinking about this, I suddenly exchanged looks with the anxious Houki.

"Wha-What's wrong?"

"Hm? No, it's nothing."

"Re-Really?"

"..."

"..."

Just like that, I continued to stare at her like that without reason.

"Wha-What are you trying to do!?"

Uh oh, I made her angry.

"No, it's nothing much—ADAA!!"

Just when I was talking to Houki meaninglessly, I got punched hard on the back of the head. This force definitely belongs to Chifuyu-nee.

"If you have nothing to do, learn from Alcott how to carry out a hi-speed battle."

"I-I got it."

*GOINK*, *POINK*, *DOIINNNGG*, with the BGM of these metal clashing together, I began to ask Cecilia...uu, seems like she's really dejected.

"Uh...I got scolded by Professor Shinonono, and I got kicked off the team. That's too cruel..."

"Hey, Cecilia. Heey, Heeyy."

"Yes...--KYAH!?"

Suddenly noticing that I'm staring at her face, Cecilia jumped up in a slight shock, and the equipment dropped down (luckily, it's a mini-screen). I quickly caught it.

"Woah, it's small, yet heavy..."

"Wh-Wha-What's the matter? Is-Is there anything...?"

"Well, Chifuyu-nee...no, Orimura-sensei told me to learn from you how to fight in hi-speed battles."

"I-I see!"

After hearing that, Cecilia's face immediately brightened. That's good. I was worried that she would be too depressed. It's better for a human to be happy than to be sad.

"Ah, ahem. Then, I'll give you some tips on what to look out for in hi-speed battles. Has Ichika-san used the hi-sensitivity Hyper Sensors yet?"

"Well, no."

"I see. I'll start explaining from here first. The so-called hi-sensitivity Hyper Sensors adjustments in a hi-speed battle would refer to—"

Cecilia put both hands on her hips and started explaining as per normal. At this moment, a voice interrupted,

"When using that, you'll feel that the world would slow down. Well, at the start anyway."

"Rin-san? I only just explained halfway through? Speaking of which, have you taken part in hi-speed battle training before?"

"12 hours. Well, not as much as Cecilia anyway."

Cecilia backed away, probably taken aback from Rin's response.

Even so, she coughed to clear her thoughts and explain again,

"The-Then, the reason why the slow feedback would occur is—"

"The hi-sensitivity Hyper Sensors would transfer such details to the pilot to sharpen the pilot's senses. In contrast, the pilot would feel that the world has became slower. But only at the beginning. You'll get used to it soon."

"Cha-Charlotte-san...? I only spoke halfway through—"

"More importantly, you should notice how much of the boost's left, especially when you use the [Ignition Boost], Ichika, so you have to be careful. In hi-speed battles, the rate that boost runs out will be twice the usual rate."

"Lau-Laura-san? I—"

"Also, as the acceleration will be faster than normal, the impact of ranged weapons will be even more devastating. One critical hit will be enough to cause armor damage, so be careful."

"EVEN YAMADA-SENSEI CAME TO INTERRUPT!! REALLY, WHY MUST EVERYONE COME AND INTERRUPT ME!?"

Cecilia finally got angry. It seemed that she couldn't take it anymore after being interrupted so many times.

"Ah—well, Cecilia."

"WHAT!?"

"Thanks for teaching me so much. Just tell me if there's anything else I need to take note of."

Completely enraged and losing her sanity, Cecilia sounded really crude, but got shocked after hearing my words. She blinked, not showing an angry look anymore.

"Huh, yeah, well, this-this is nothing. I'm Cecilia Alcott, the representative candidate of England after all. You can come and approach me if there's something you don't understand."

Fufun. She placed her hands on her hips and smiled. Yup, as per usual, I guess.

"Anyway, well, Ichika, your [Reiraku Byakuya] will be the key in this battle, so don't use [Ignition Boost]. That would burn a lot of energy."

The next person who spoke up was Rin. It seemed that she went through the last of her moving, so her work's done.

"Next, the thing will be how to defend. Really, it's better to have a shield to guard against an assault, but Ichika's always using his weapon with two hands."

Having ended her moving as well, Charl entered the conversation officially.

After that, even Laura and Yamada-sensei joined it. Though it's to plan for the battle, I do feel rather happy to have people gather around me like this.

(I must succeed no matter what.)

I again renew this determination in my mind.

The time now is 11:30am.

The July sky is as clear as ever, and the strong sunlight lights the land.

Standing slightly apart from each other, Houki and I are on the beach. After glancing at each other once, we nodded our heads.

"Come on out, [Byakushiki]."

"Let's go, [Akatsubaki]."

Our bodies got instantly covered in light, and the IS armors formed around us as a result. At the same time, the floating sensation caused by the PIC and the Power Assist bring lightness to the energy, causing my entire body to feel a change throughout.

"I'll leave it to you then, Houki."

"My pride would naturally prevent any man from mounting atop a woman, but I'll make a special exception this time."

In terms of the battle, Houki will have to do all the moving, which means I have to ride on her back.

Though Houki immediately protested unhappily after hearing this method, it seemed that her mood was incredibly good, or is it just me.

(But then again, is this really alright...?)

Houki got her personal IS less than a day ago, and no matter how good Tabane-san's personalization and the optimization are, the pilot can't possibly have it easy.

(I'll have to protect her if something happens.)

Thinking about this, I reinvigorate myself.

"Even so, it's good that we're here. If Ichika's with me, we can do anything. Isn't that right?"

"Well, that's right, but Houki, the teachers already said that this isn't training. We don't know what will happen in the actual battle, so we have to be really careful—"

"I know that. Fufu, what's wrong? Are you scared?"

"Of course not. I say, Houki—"

"Haha, don't worry, I'll send you to the destination properly. Just wait calmly."

"..."

Anyway, she's been like this since the beginning. I know that she's really happy that she has a personal IS, but isn't she too happy now? I leapt onto the back of Houki's [Akatsubaki], unable to get rid of that anxiety.

"Orimura, Shinonono, can you hear me?"

Chifuyu-nee's voice could be heard from the IS public channel. Houki and I nodded our heads in response.

"The main emphasis of this plan is to take it out in one strike. Remember, we have to win in a short time."

"Understood."

"Orimura-sensei, I just need to support Ichika according to the situation, right?"

"Right, but you don't have to force yourself. That personal IS you just got hasn't been used in combat. Maybe something might crop up."

"I understand. I'll provide assistance as much as I can."

Even though she sounded really calm, Houki sounded really happy, or rather, too happy. Hopefully, it's just me worrying too much...

"—Orimura."

"Ye-Yes."

Chifuyu-nee's voice came over through the private channel, and not the public channel she just used. I frantically switched over to that line.

"Shinonono seems to be a little excited. Something may pop up in that situation. If anything happens, support her."

"Understood. I'll take note of that."

"I'll leave it to you then."

Then, Chifuyu-nee switched her voice back to the public channel and gave the order,

"Then, begin the operation!"

--The operation began.

Houki carried me and got up to 300m height in one go.

Wh-Wha-What's with this speed!? It's like [Ignition Boost], maybe even faster...!

[Akatsubaki] continued to move up despite carrying this heavy load, and managed to get up to 500m height within a few seconds.

"Confirming the link to the satellite...information check's complete. Confirming the target's current location—Ichika, let's go!"

"Oh, okay!"

Houki said that as she continued to increase Akatsubaki's speed. The legs and back parts spray out powerful energy, as to be expected of the [Fold-Out Armor].

(That's the [Fold-Out Armor] similar to the [Yukihira Niigata]—and the complete one to boot.)

According to Tabane-san's explanation, [Akatsubaki]'s [Fold-Out] has the functions of attacking, defending and agility, furthermore its IS armor seems to utilize this [Fold-Out Armor]. What will happen when it reaches full power...?

(But where did so much energy came from--)

"I see it, Ichika!"

"!"

The Hyper Sensors visuals show the target as if I was seeing it with my own eyes.

As the name indicates, the [Silver Gospel]'s covered in silver.

The strangest parts are the huge wings extending out from its head. According to the data, the silver-glow wings that are as shiny as the main body seem to have a lot of large boosters and wide-ranged shooting weapons.

(What in the world is the 'multi-direction' attack that the data indicated?)

--Either way, there's no time for me to think. We flew towards it at high speed, and I wielded the [Yukihira Niigata] in my hand.

"I'm going to accelerate! Reaching target in 10 seconds. Concentrate, Ichika!"

"Aa!"

Houki boosts the output of the thrusters and the [Fold-Out armor]. The speed's really shocking as it closes the distance between the two frames at a high velocity.

5, 6, 7, 8, 9...10!

"UOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH!!!"

With [Reiraku Byakuya]'s activated, I also activated [Ignition Boost] at the same time to close in on the [Gospel].

(I can make it--!!)

Just when my blade of light was about to touch the [Silver Gospel],

"WHA!?"

The [Gospel] actually turned towards me at maximum velocity and backed away in preparation for battle.

(Let's readjust the battle position—no, I'll just attack it like this!)

Since we're already in attacking range, it's too late to back away.

If that's the case, it's better to finish it off before the opponent counters.

However—

"Enemy suit confirmed. Switching into counterattacking mode. [Silver Gospel], movement start."

"!"

A mechanical voice can be heard from the public channel, but I can clearly hear obvious 'antagonistic intent', and a thought passes my head.

--I have a bad feeling about this.

And then, in less than a few seconds, it became reality.

*Swoosh!* The Gospel's body suddenly swung beautifully, dodging [Reiraku Byakuya]'s blade with inch-perfect precision. Even for an IS that has [Passive Inertial Canceller], this movement's still extremely difficult to pull off.

"Ku...! Those wings accelerated?"

Actually, there's a lot of high output multi-thrusters there, but I have never seen such accuracy at emergency velocity. For once, I have a whole new understanding to the term Classified Military Secrets.

"Back me up, Houki!"

"Got it!"

Anyway, it'll be bad for our side if we drag the battle on. I let Houki cover my back as I attacked the [Gospel] with a slash.

"Ku! This...!"

However, the [Gospel] swayed about gently and evaded at the last second, moving as if it was swimming or dancing.

As the remaining time for the [Reiraku Byakuya] was really little, I let out a huge swing at the [Gospel] after being bamboozled for so long.

And the [Gospel] didn't let go of this chance.

"!"

The silver wings, the armor with the thrusters on it expanded out like wings.

(DAMN IT! THOSE ARE--)

Cannons.

The Gospel presses the wings forward to aim the cannons at me. At the next moment, numerous bullets of light shoot out.

"KUU!?"

Those bullets were shot out with high pressure acting as the energy source, forming what looks like feathers. I thought they would hit the IS armor, but they exploded at the next moment.

The main armaments of the [Gospel] seem to be some explosive-type energy bullets, but the problem's—

(Even the firing rate is ridiculous...!)

The quantity and speed—this so-called rapid fire is really fast.

It's not really accurate, but since those are explosive bullets, one touch is enough to blow up a single crater.

"We're attacking from left and right, Houki! I'll leave the left to you!"

"Got it!"

Houki and I continue to do complex evasive maneuvers as we attack the [Gospel] from both sides.

--However, our attacks couldn't even reach it. The [Gospel] uses the specialized movements to dodge the attacks and counter. The uniquely shaped wing thrusters are used quite a lot, unlike what the unique appearance would indicate.

"I'll stop its movements, Ichika!"

"Got it!"

After saying that, Houki uses her blades to stab and slash, activating the [Fold-Out Armor] on her wings to match up with the energy blades that are formed as she attacks.

(Houki's machine is a monster too...!)

She uses [Akatsubaki]'s mobility and the [Fold-Our Armor] on different places at different timings, using emergency acceleration to bring herself closer to the [Gospel]. This wave of powerful attacks force the [Gospel] to defend itself.

"HHAAAA!!!"

--We can do it!

Thinking about this, I grip the sword in my hands tightly, but unexpectedly, the [Gospel] counterattacked.

"La...♪!"

File:IS03 213.jpg

The sharp sound of the machine rang. At that moment, the wing thrusters went all out blazing, 36 barrels in total, all aimed in different directions.

"Not bad...! But who's shaking you off!?"

Houki dodged the rain of bullets at the last moment as she closed in on the attack—there's an opening.

"!"

However, I'm moving in a completely different direction, down at the sea below.

"Ichika!?"

"UOOOOOHHH!"

I let the [Ignition Boost] and [Reiraku Byakuya] exert full power as I chase behind the last bullet and strike it down.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? THAT WAS A RARE CHANCE—"

"THERE'S A BOAT! THE TEACHERS SHOULD HAVE SEALED THE SEA OFF—DAMN IT, IT'S AN ILLEGAL TRAWLER!"

Even so, I couldn't leave it behind like that.

Kyuuuu...

The light on my [Yukihira Niigata] disappeared, and the [Fold-Out Armor] disappeared as well...I used up all my energy. I lost the one time to use it, and the key to this battle dissapeared.

"YOU IDIOT! WHY ARE YOU PROTECTING CRIMINALS...CAN'T YOU JUST LEAVE—"

"HOUKI!!"

"--!"

"Houki, don—don't say such disappointing words, don't do it! To actually lose sight of the weak, after gaining power...what's wrong, Houki!? That's not like you, not at all!!"

"I, well, I..."

Houki seemed like she was trying to hide her obviously wavering face as she covered her face with her hands. Seeing her dropped swords disappear into light, I panicked.

(That was [Limit Down]...! DAMN IT--!)

[Limit Down] means that the energy's used up. And right now, this isn't IS Academy arena, but a real battle.

"HOUKI--!!"

I threw my sword down and rushed towards Houki in a straight line, using all of my remaining energy to use [Ignition Boost].

(Please! I have to make it!)

In front of my eyes, the [Gospel] again got ready to fire in the same manner, and it's now aiming at Houki.

An IS armor with its energy lost is extremely weak, so even the 4th generation [Akatsubaki] should be about the same. Even if she preserves the energy of the [Absolute Barrier], she won't be able to take a hit once she takes the Gospel's rapid-fire attack.

(PLEASE! PLEASE! [BYAKUSHIKI]! COME ON!)

In the midst of this slow moving world, my vision did capture the movement of the light bullets. The next moment, I rushed between the [Gospel] and Houki.

"GUUUUUAAAAHHHHH!!!"

The moment I covered Houki by hugging her, all the explosive light bullets hit my back.

The shields weren't able to completely negate the continuous volley of attacks, and I seemed to hear my bones crack as my muscles also let out a cry of agony. After the armor got destroyed completely, the burning sensation hit my skin.

The endless pain that was about to drive me crazy remained, and during that time, I just glanced at Houki.

(Ahh...you're alright...that's great...haha, why do you look like you're about to cry...that's really not like you. Ah, the ribbon got burned...fuun, you look rather good with your hair down...)

"ICHIKA! ICHIKA!! ICHIKAAA!!!!"

"Uu...ahh..."

The entire world went upside down—ahh, wait, I'm the one upside now.

With my head below and legs above, I used my last ounce of strength to hug Houki tightly to protect her head.

After that, a huge splash of water could be heard, together with the impact that spreaded throughout. Through the sea surface, I looked up at the [Gospel], and immediately lost consciousness.



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