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Chapter 4: Dressy White - SetsuraEdit
This happened when Ichika was in 2nd grade.
Having gone to the kendo dojo with Chifuyu-nee for one year, he finally trained quite a bit.
For some reason, he just couldn't get along with the daughter of the kendo dojo owner, the girl who was of the same age as him. It was the same thing today. Both of them fought during morning practice, and it became a scuffle. In the end, Ichika got hit horizontally on the side and lost.
(Ah-- damn it--...can't I even beat her...I really want to win...)
Thinking about this, Ichika swept the classroom unhappily. The sunset after school was extremely bright. Ichika knew that everyone other than himself went off to play, but he didn't mind. He often felt that if there's a need to do things, he'd do it himself.
"Hey—tomboy~. You didn't bring your bokutou today."
"...That's a shinai."
"Hehe, that weapon sure fits you as a tomboy~"
"Even the way you speak is weird~"
The girl didn't respond.
The three boys surrounded the girl, mocking her.
Even in this situation, the girl just casually glared back at them, not letting aside one bit—the girl's name was Houki.
"Ya—ii ya—ii, tomboy~"
"...You guys are really noisy. If you have so much time, just come over and help out. Ahh?"
Ichika felt that this meaningless harassment was really irritating, so he spoke up for his classmate.
"What's with you, Orimura? You want to stand up for her?"
"Heheh? You like this tomboy?"
No matter the times, the way kids make fun of others is illogical. Even though they're of his own age, this mockery made Ichika really unhappy.
"You guys are blocking me, I'm sweeping! Move aside!"
"Oh~you're actually sweeping so seriously. What an idiot—OWAHH!"
Houki suddenly grabbed the boy on the collar. Even though they were the hands of a second grader, they were rather firm due to the training everyday. If she were to fight seriously, those 3 boys would most likely lose to her easily.
Houki didn't respond to how they laughed at her, yet she responded to that statement.
"WHAT'S IDIOTIC ABOUT SOMEONE DOING THINGS SERIOUSLY? AT LEAST HE'S A LOT BETTER THAN YOU GARBAGE!!"
"WHA-WHAT...WHY ARE YOU SO ANGRY? LET GO! LET GO OF ME!
Unlike the boy whose collar was grabbed by those strong arms, the other two boys revealed sinister smiles.
"Ahh—I see! Those two are a couple. I know, you two flirt with each other every morning."
(Wah, here we go! What couple? These guys really love to play this. I had enough of it.)
Ever since he went to Houki's dojo, Ichika was told this a few times. Speaking of which, this didn't hurt Ichika at all because he didn't have parents, and thus didn't have any real concept of a couple.
"Oh yeah, this guy even tied a ribbon a while back! This tomboy's really funny—FUU!"
This time, the one who got enraged was Ichika, who slammed a punch into the boy's face. Ignoring the dumbstruck boys around him, Ichika grabbed that boy who fell to make him stand up.
"FUNNY!? WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT IT? IS IT FUNNY FOR HER TO WEAR A RIBBON? IT SUITS HER WELL, RIGHT? AH? SAY SOMETHING, YOU RETARD!!"
"Yo-You--!! I'll tell the teacher!"
"FINE BY ME, YOU BASTARD! I'LL BEAT ALL YOU GUYS UP FIRST."
Having fought again with the three boys, Ichika got caught by a teacher who overheard the commotion, and this incident ended just like that.
As Ichika practiced Kendo and also martial arts from Chifuyu, he was able to beat the three boys without so much as a scratch.
But this was where the trouble began.
Dastardly parents are still bastards, and this seemed to be a logic that doesn't change. Thus, the three bastards said that they wanted to report him to the police and even sue him.
Ichika didn't mind, but Chifuyu had to go to them and apologize to them, which made him unable to accept it.
"I'll cause Chifuyu-nee problems if I get into trouble."
Ever since then, Ichika learnt his lesson, and would deal with the dumb boys in a safe manner.
"...You're really an idiot."
"Ah? What? I'm not an idiot!"
After a few days, Ichika went to wash his face after the after-school training, and Houki spoke to him, a rare feat at that.
"Have you ever thought about how much trouble that would cause later?"
"Hm? About that? Yeah, I didn't. I just wanted to beat up people who can't be forgiven."
Though Chifuyu once lectured Ichika badly, he didn't feel that he was in the wrong. To the young Ichika, that was something he couldn't back away from.
"Besides, I hate the way they just used the fact that they had numbers. It's too despicable to gang up on one person like that. They're scum amongst men."
"So don't mind. That ribbon really suits you. Tie it up next time."
"Hu-Humph! I won't listen to your orders!"
Folding her arms in front of her chest, Houki turned her head at another direction. Ichika said 'I see' and continued to wash his face. He really liked to use the icy cold well water to wash away the sweat after practice.
"I'm going home then. Bye then, Shinonono."
"My name's Houki. Shouldn't you remember that already? Besides, my dad, mom and sister have the same surname Shinonono. You'll just confuse me that way. Just call me by my name, got it?"
"Got it. I prefer to listen to what my acquaintances would tell me to do— well, the name's Ichika."
"My name. There's also two people whose family name is Orimura. Just call me Ichika."
"Got it, Houki?"
"I-I got it! I-I-Ichika! Is that alright?"
"Oh, that can do...would you accept it if it's a request instead of an order?"
Houki tried to act tough before leaving. Looking at her leave, Ichika felt that she was really strange.
It was June, and summer was about to arrive.
It was one of the rooms in the resort, and the clock on the wall pointed at just before 4pm.
Ichika had already laid on the bed for more than 3 hours.
Waiting beside him, Houki continued to look distressed, and the hair without its ribbon showed her emotions.
(It was my fault...)
She remembered the smile Ichika unconsciously showed her.
However, Ichika had lost his smile now, and right now, he was just lying there lifelessly.
Ichika got the [Absolute Barrier] of his IS shattered, and he got burned hard as he was now covered with bandages all over.
(It's because of my uselessness that Ichika became like this--!)
Houki grabbed her skirt forcefully, and the force exerted on it caused her palms to turn pale. She continued to clench her fists tight as if she was punishing herself.
"Mission failed. I'll call you if there's a change in the situation. Before that, wait here for now."
After being rescued from the sea, Houki heard these words the moment she got back to the resort. After Chifuyu gave instructions on treating Ichika, she immediately went back to the planning room. Houki felt even more miserable that she didn't get scolded.
(Why...am I always, this careless...)
She always got carried away after obtaining power.
She really wanted to use it.
She would always feel the impulse of wanting to use force.
(Why did I train for...!)
To Houki, kendo was not a tool to train herself, but to discipline herself.
A seal to control her violent impulses.
But...she knew of the limit that restrains this danger.
Like thin ice, it will break if she exerted a little force.
Just when she was about to make this important decision, the door got opened violently.
*BAM!!* The sudden opening of the door shocked Houki, but she had no strength to look over.
"Ahh— ahh— you're really easy to understand."
The girl who barged into the room without restraint walked over to the devastated Houki.
This voice belonged to— Rin.
Rin said to her, but Houki didn't respond. She couldn't.
"You think you're the reason Ichika's like this, right?"
The [Absolute Defense] on the IS pilot, due to this fatal defense mechanism, Ichika became unconscious.
The IS used all the energy on the defense, saving the pilot's life in this manner. With the IS supporting, until it can recover, the pilot won't be able to wake up.
"So are you going to remain like this— DON'T MESS AROUND WITH ME!!"
Suddenly burning with rage, Rin grabbed the devastated Houki on the collar, forcing her to stand up.
"YOU SHOULD HAVE SOMETHING YOU MUST DO RIGHT? RIGHT NOW! HOW CAN YOU NOT FIGHT!!"
"I-I...well, I don't want to...pilot the IS again..."
Houki took a slap to the face and lost her balance, falling onto the floor.
Rin again grabbed Houki and glared straight at her.
"STOP MESSING AROUND...SINCE YOU'RE A PERSONAL IS PILOT, I WON'T ALLOW YOU TO BE STUBBORN! OR ARE YOU—"
Rin glared straight into Houki's eyes.
Her eyes were burning with determination, similar to a burning passion.
"—ARE YOU A COWARD WHO CAN'T FIGHT EVEN WHEN IT'S TIME TO FIGHT?"
Those words lit up the fighting will in Houki's eyes.
The voice that was so teeny-weeny soft became louder due to anger.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO!? WE DON'T KNOW WHERE THE ENEMY WENT! I WANT TO FIGHT THE ENEMY IF I CAN FIGHT!!"
Seeing Houki finally getting motivated again, Rin sighed slightly.
"At least you have the will now...ahh, that's so troublesome."
"We know where the enemy went...right now, Laura's—"
As Rin spoke halfway, the door opened. Standing at the door was Laura in a black military uniform.
"It appeared. According to the recent confirmation, the target's more than 30km away above the sea. It's in stealth mode, but it doesn't seem to have used optical camouflage, so the satellites could pick it up."
Seeing Laura walk in with the tablet PC, Rin finally smiled as she awaited Laura's entrance.
"As expected of the German special forces, you're really something."
"Humph...what about you? Are you ready?"
"Of course, [Shenlong]'s special attack [Packet]'s installed. I wanted to ask how were Charlotte and Cecilia doing."
"Ahh, about that—"
Laura's eyes turn to the door, which opened again.
"All preparations are A-Okay, we're ready to move out."
As all the pilots with personal IS gathered, they all turn to look at Houki.
"Then, what do you intend to do?"
Houki clenched her fists tight. Unlike the remorse she showed just now, this was a show of determination.
"I want to fight...I must fight, I must win! I can't allow myself to lose now!"
"Then it's decided!"
Rin folded her arms in front of her chest, revealing a fearless smile.
"Then, let's begin the battle planning! We'll take down the enemy for sure this time!"
(This place is...?)
Attracted by the sound of waves from afar, I'm walking alone on the unfamiliar beach.
As I step forward, the white sand below my feet would let out a sandy sound.
My feet feel the sand and the heat directly. There's the smell and sound of the tide and waves from the seas, and there's a cool breeze blowing at me, and the bright sun that's burning me slightly but painfully.
(Is...is it summer? Now...)
Where is this place? What's the occasion now? I have no idea at all.
For some reason, I'm wearing my uniform. My pants are rolled up as I'm walking barefoot on the beach. I'm even holding onto the shoes that were taken off, though I don't know when.
Suddenly, I hear singing.
A singing voice that's full of clarity and vibrancy.
Feeling somewhat mindful of it, I head towards where the singing's coming from.
*Kisu* *Kisu* *Kisu*
The sand below the feet respond carefreely.
A girl's standing there.
The waves dampen her toes slightly, as the girl continued to sing and dance about.
Her shiny bright white hair dances around.
The white one-piece dress dances under the sea breeze, occasionally flipping up.
For some reason, I didn't want to call her out, but sat down near a floating log. This log should have been washed ashore a while back, since the bark's almost completely peeled, and the colour's almost white.
I sat on the white sofa with an irregular shape, staring blankly at the girl.
*Gyagya*, the sound of the waves can be heard.
The occasional breeze felt comfortable, and I stared at the scenery in front of me in a trance-like state.
Awaiting 200m above sea surface, the [Silver Gospel] curled itself up like a baby.
The wings that extended out from its head covered the curled up body.
The [Gospel] suddenly looked up.
The next moment, a supersonic bullet hit it on the head, causing a huge explosion.
"First bullet is a hit. Keep shooting!"
Floating 5km away, the [Schwarzer Regen], with Laura piloting it, fired the first shot before the [Gospel] could counterattack.
The [Schwarzer Regen]'s exterior was a lot different from usual, as two .80 caliber railguns [Purizushi] were each installed on both shoulders.
Also, to allow for long-range sniping with cannon fire, 4 physical shields were covering its left, right, front and back as protection.
This is the [Panzer Cannons] packet with the cannons installed on the [Schwarzer Regen]
(Enemy closing in...4000...3000...ku, faster than I expected!)
The next moment, the distance between both of them was 1000m, and the [Gospel] continued to close in.
Even though Laura continued to attack, the [Gospel] used both wings to shoot out energy bullets to take out the cannon bullets and close in on Laura.
To avoid recoil, the [Panzer Cannons] packet didn't allow much mobility.
In contrast, having its mobility customized, the [Gospel] suddenly accelerated from 300m away and reached out for Laura's right hand.
--She couldn't dodge it!
However, Laura curled her lips and smiled.
The [Gospel] reached out its arm to block the machine that descended from above.
A blue IS— [Blue Tears] launched a strong attack in stealth mode.
Unlike how it was normally, the 6 BITs were all arranged like a skirt on its waist, and the cannons were covered to act as thrusters.
Also, the high BT laser rifle [Stardust Shooter] was more than 2m long, more than enough to make up for the lack of firepower of the BITs.
Cecilia's head had the Hyper Sensor [Brilliant Clearance] installed on it to respond to speeds over 500km/hr to go along with her high powered mobility packet [Strike Gunner]. With the information it processed, she suddenly turned at a high speed and aimed at the [Gospel] ready to attack.
"Enemy B confirmed. Proceeding with elimination."
After the [Gospel] dodged Cecilia's attack, another machine attacked from behind.
It was Charlotte, who climbed onto Cecilia's back when she launched the sneak attack in stealth mode.
The two shotguns were shot from behind at close range, causing the [Gospel] to stumble left and right.
But that was for a moment. It immediately launched a counterattack at the 3rd machine with the [Silver Bell].
"Oh sorry, but this [Garden Curtain] won't to be taken down so easily!"
The [Revive]'s defensive packet used the physical shields and energy shields to block the [Gospel]'s rain of bullets. Its figure seemed to resemble a normal [Revive], as both physical and energy shields blocked the front like a curtain.
While defending, Charlotte used her specialty [Rapid Switch] to summon an offensive Gatling cannon, using that time to counter.
With Cecilia moving at high velocity and attacking, and Laura shooting while pulling her distance, the [Gospel] began to look damaged as it was attacked from three directions.
"...Changing priority. Now setting 'escaping air space' as priority."
Scattering energy bullets all over the place, the [Gospel] immediately turned on all its thrusters as it intended to break through.
"DON'T YOU DARE GET AWAY!!"
The sea ruptured, and then exploded.
The crimson red machine [Akatsubaki] flew up with the [Shenlong] on its back.
"Take it down before it escapes!!"
[Akatsubaki] attacked the [Gospel], and Rin got off the back to get into battle mode with the [Landslide] packet on to allow an increase in functionality.
The 2 pairs of [Impact Cannons] on her shoulders, and the 4 cannons opened fire at the same time.
While [Akatsubaki] got away from the area after a little scuffle, the [Impact Cannon] bullets shot out from behind her. However, these weren't the invisible [Impact Cannons], but rather bullets covered in scarlet red flames. The numbers matched up to the rain of bullet from the [Gospel], and the empowered [Impact Cannons] should really be called [Thermal Diffusion Impact Cannons].
"Did we get it?"
Though the [Gospel] got hit directly by the [Diffusion Impact Cannons], it continued to move.
"The biggest counter of the [Silver Bell]—begins."
The [Gospel]'s arms extended to both the left and right sides, and even the wings expanded outwards—at that moment, a sharp glow of light exploded, and a rain of energy bullets began shooting.
"HOUKI, BEHIND ME!"
Looking at the last failure, Houki's [Akatsubaki] was still in a limited phase. To prevent it from overexerting the [Fold-Out Armor] and running out of energy, right now, the settings were set so that it wouldn't activate the [Fold-Out Armor] involuntarily even when on defense.
Of course, the reason why this readjustment was made was because she left the defense to Charlotte. This was to maximize the advantage in a group battle, by splitting the roles up.
"Even so...it's a little tough here."
Even though she had a defensive packet on, it was dangerous to continue taking the [Gospel]'s continuous attacks.
One of the physical shields was completely destroyed during this time.
"LAURA! CECILIA! PLEASE!"
"DO YOU NEED TO SAY ANY MORE?"
"LEAVE IT TO US!"
Laura and Cecilia moved forward to back up Charlotte who was backing away, and shot from both left and right sides. Cecilia used the hi-mobility mode to shoot, while Laura exchanged fire with her cannons.
"IT'LL BE OUR TURN ONCE THE ENEMY STOPS!"
Next, Rin attacked from below. Using the [Souten Gagetsu] to slash, she immediately let out the close ranged diffusion cannons to fire—the target's multi-thrusters on the [Silver Bell] that was connected to the head.
Even though the rain of energy bullets continued to pelt on her, Rin continued to slash.
The [Gospel] let loose a spread similar to the [Impact Cannon], and both sides got severely damaged. Rin finally managed to slice off one of the [Gospel]'s wings.
"Haa, haa...! HOW ABOUT THAT—KU!?"
Though left with only one wing, the [Gospel] immediately readjusted itself and gave Rin's left hand a roundhouse kick. This kick, with the thrusters on the foot turned on, smashed Rin's shoulder armor and caused her to fall towards the sea.
"RIN! DAMN IT--!"
Houki, wielding one sword in each hand, quickly hacked at the [Gospel].
As the Emergency acceleration caused it to lose balance, the [Gospel] got a cut on its right shoulder.
Just when Houki thought this, something unbelievable happened. The [Gospel] used its hand to grab both left and right swords.
The energy released from the swords could break through the armor, but the [Gospel] didn't seem to mind as it opened its arms wide.
With the swords pulled apart, Houki was forced to open her arms wide, revealing a completely defenseless position. At this moment, the [Gospel] opened the cannons on its remaining wing as it got ready to attack.
"HOUKI! LEAVE THOSE WEAPONS AND ESCAPE!"
But Houki didn't leave her weapons behind.
(...If I back away here, why did I...)
The loaded energy bullets fired out at the same time.
(WHY DID I WANT TO GET POWER!)
A second before she got hit by the energy bullets, [Akatsubaki] spun around, and the [Fold-Out Armor] on the toes seemed like it responded to Houki's will as it created an energy blade.
Houki swung her foot and used the energy blade to slice.
Finally, the [Gospel] lost both wings as it fell towards the sea.
"Ha, haa, haa...!"
"Are you alright?"
On hearing Laura's rare panicked vice, Houki's erratic breathing started to calm down.
"I'm...alright. The [Gospel], it—"
Just when someone wanted to say 'We won', a ball of powerful light emerged from the sea surface.
As if time stopped, a ball-shaped space appeared in the midst of the sea surface. The [Silver Gospel] with the blue electricity covering it was hugging itself, squatting right in the middle.
"This...!? What's going on...?"
"DAMN IT! THIS IS—[SECOND SHIFT]!!"
As Laura shouted this, the [Gospel] turned to her as if responding to the voice.
As its face got covered by an inorganic mask, it was hard to see the expression. But from there, they could still feel the antagonistic intent, ringing a warning alarm in all the IS pilots.
However—it was too late.
The Gospel let out what sounded like a wild beast's roar and charged at Laura.
As it was too fast, Laura got her foot grabbed before she could even respond.
Then, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the [Gospel]'s head-wings that were sliced off started to slowly regrow.
"LET GO OF LAURA!"
Charlotte quickly used [Rapid Switch] to attack using the close-ranged knife.
But the knife got blocked by the enemy, barehanded.
"MOVE AWAY! ESCAPE! THIS—"
Before she could finish, Laura got surrounded by those beautiful energy wings.
At that moment, the rain of energy bullets at 0 distance pierced into Laura, sending her falling to the sea.
"LAURA! DAMN IT...!"
Charlotte gave up on the knife attack and summoned the shotgun, aiming it at the [Gospel]'s face and squeezing the trigger.
But the sound didn't come from the shotgun.
The [Gospel]'s armor felt like an eggshell as cracks formed on the chest, waist and back, growing out little energy wings. The energy bullets fired from there knocked the shotgun and Charlotte away.
"WHA-WHAT'S THAT? THIS ABILITY...EVEN IF IT'S FOR MILITARY USE, IT'S TOO ABNORMAL—"
As Cecilia again tried to attack using the high mobility, the [Gospel] arrived in front of her. [Ignition Boost]—that was an acceleration that used both arms and legs to ignite an acceleration.
Once she closed in, the huge rifle wouldn't work. Even though she tried to pull the distance and raise the gun barrel, the rifle got kicked on the side.
The next moment, the [Gospel] began shooting from both wings on both sides, and before Cecilia could even come up with a decent counterattack, she began to fall to the sea.
"You dare—YOU DARE TO DO THIS TO MY TEAMMATES!!"
Using emergency acceleration, Houki closed in and continued to slash away, using parts of the [Fold-Out Armor] to do special attacks, dodge the enemy's attack, and using the boosters to raise her unstable position and launch attacks.
This was a close-ranged fight with both sides dodging each other, and having increased her output slightly, the [Akatsubaki] finally managed to corner the [Gospel].
(Alright! If this keeps up--)
Houki stabbed [Karaware] out. However—
"WHAT! I RAN OUT OF ENERGY!?—KUAA!!"
Using this opening, the [Gospel]'s right hand grabbed onto Houki's collar.
Its wings slowly covered Houki.
Hearing the rustling of the waves, I stare at the girl patiently.
For some reason, her voice and dance made me nostalgic.
But once I recovered, the girl stopped singing.
She's no longer dancing, just staring up at the sky.
Feeling incredulous, I stood up from the log and walked towards the girl.
*Gya*, *gya*, *to*.
The cooling seawater accompanied the sound of the waves and lightly dampened my feet as I walked on the coast.
Even though I asked that girl, she still looked up at the sky, not saying a single word.
As I look up at the sky where she's looking at as well, her voice suddenly reached my ears.
"It's calling me...I have to go."
As I look around, the girl disappeared.
I look around, but there's no one around, and I can't hear the singing voice anymore.
*Gya gya*, *gya gya*. Only the sound of the waves could be heard.
Can't be helped. I could only turn around and return back to that wooden sofa.
Then—I hear an unknown voice from behind.
"Do you want power...?"
I quickly turn around, only to see amidst the waves—a woman whose knees are under the sea.
Looking like a shining White Knight.
Her face was covered by a mask protecting the eyes, and I could only see her lower half.
"Do you want power...? For what..."
"Hm? Hm--...you just asked me something that's really hard for me to answer."
Only the waves are between me and this woman.
"...Well, for my friends—no, to protect my friends."
"For my friends. How should I put it? Aren't there things in this world that I have to fight for no matter what? Not just for struggling, but for lots of things."
Even though I haven't even arranged my thoughts properly, I could only talk with her just like that.
As I explained, I exclaimed 'Ah, so that's how I think' deep inside as I continued on.
"In this situation, well, there are a lot of things that don't follow logic, right? There's a lot of unreasonable violence. Because of this, I want to help my friends as much as I can, to help these people who're fighting with me in this world— my friends."
The woman answered silently and nodded her head.
"If that's the case, you have to go."
Another voice spoke up from behind me.
Turning around, I see the girl in white dress standing behind me.
Her face is showing an earnest smile, staring at me with an innocent expression.
She pulled my hand over and ran over to me, smiling.
I suddenly got embarrassed.
I nod my head.
A change suddenly happened.
--The sky, the entire world started to let out a really bright glow.
The scenery around me got swallowed by the white glow, moving further away from me.
'The dream has ended', that's what my mind thought.
(Ah, speaking of which...)
That woman looked like someone.
A female White Knight.
Houki's throat got grabbed by the [Gospel], letting out a painful moan as her throat's being crushed.
The [Gospel]'s hand continued to grab onto Houki's neck, and the [Silver Bell] that evolved into energy mode covered [Akatsubaki] completely.
(Is this the end...it's embarrassing...)
The brightness of the wings of light increased. As the [Gospel] let out a countdown before firing, Houki only thought of something.
--I want to see him.
--I want to see Ichika.
--I want to see him immediately. I want to see him now.
--Ahh, ahh, I really want to see him.
Unknowingly, she called out Ichika's name.
Facing the wings that were becoming even brighter, Houki got mentally prepared and closed her eyes.
The hand of the [Gospel] that was holding onto Houki suddenly let go.
As the puzzled Houki opened her eyes due to this sudden situation, she saw the [Gospel] get shot at by some powerful charged cannon bombarding.
Still in a state of disbelief, Houki heard a voice that broke her thoughts.
"DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH MY FRIENDS!"
A glowing white machine appeared in front of her.
Houki's eyes started to tear up.
From her slightly teary eyes, she could see— Ichika in [Byakushiki]'s [Second Shift], [Setsura].
"Ichika, is that you, Ichika? Your body, your wounds...!"
I fly towards Houki, who's stuttering, and respond,
"Oh, I kept you waiting."
"That's great...that's really great...really..."
"What's up? Are you crying?"
Seeing Houki rub her eyes like that, I gently pat her head.
"Don't worry, it's alright."
"I'm-I'm not worried..."
Either way, it really is Houki's style to act tough. I pat her head. That hairstyle without the ponytail still made me mindful of it.
"That's good isn't it? Here."
I hand over what I brought along to Houki.
July 7, it's Houki's birthday today.
Because I didn't know what to buy, I could only ask Charl along.
"Well, since I bought it, just use it."
"I'm going to fight now— well, it's not over yet."
Saying that, I carry out an emergency acceleration at the [Gospel] that's flying over and clash with it head on.
I brandish my [Yukihira Niigata] with just my right hand and slice towards it.
Facing the [Gospel] that gently evades, I use my new weapon [Setsura] to slash at it with my left hand.
This [Second Shift] equipment seems to change according to the situation and form different types as it seems to respond to my thoughts. An energy claw appears from my fingertips.
"DON'T YOU GET AWAY!"
The claw that extended to more than 1m long slashed the [Gospel]'s armor. Even though it got blocked by the energy shield, it still did hit the [Gospel].
"Enemy information renewed. Changing attacking level A."
The [Gospel] expanded its energy wings wide, showing the wings that appeared from its body, and countered with a sweeping attack after evading the last attack.
"WHO'S GOING TO LET YOU KEEP ATTACKING!!"
I didn't dodge as I readied my left hand first.
--[Setsura] changed into a shield and started defending.
*KLANG!* With a sharp sound, the [Setsura] on the left hand started to change shape and expand, negating the rain of bullets from the [Gospel].
That's right. In other words, it's a shield with a [One-Off Ability] like the [Reiraku Byakuya].
Even though [Setsura]'s rather draining, it can negate the enemy's attack, which gives me a huge advantage. I checked the specs already, [Gospel] doesn't have any live ammunition weapons.
Armed with 4 large wing thrusters, [Byakushiki Setsura] can do [Double Ignition Boost]. Even the [Gospel] that can do complex maneuvers can't dodge at my faster speed, so this should be enough to catch up to it.
"Change in situation. Using the most powerful attack."
As the mechanical voice declared this, the [Gospel] spread its wings to me, and quickly curled itself into a ball, forming a cage-cocoon state.
--Damn it, I have a bad feeling about that.
The worst case scenario did happen, as I expected.
The [Gospel]'s wings expanded out as it spun, and the energy bullets scatter all over the place like a storm. In other words, these attacks would hit Rin and the rest who haven't recovered yet.
(DAMN IT! HOW DO I PROTECT THEM--?)
As I immediately intended to become the shield of my friends, I heard a voice call out to me.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? NO MATTER HOW BAD WE ARE, WE'RE STILL REPRESENTATIVE CANDIDATES! STOP WORRYING AND FINISH IT OFF!!"
"Rin...I got it."
Believe in my friends. This is the only thing I can do now, so no matter what, I will believe in them.
[Yukihira] in my right hand and [Setsura] in my left hand each create the light blade of the [Reiraku Byakuya], and I flew towards the [Gospel] again.
This made me really happy.
My heart started to race, burning as it continued to beat wildly.
Seeing Ichika's silhouette while battling, I felt an extremely strong wish inside me.
(I want to fight alongside him. I want to protect that silhouette!)
My heart started to pray strongly and earnestly.
As if responding to my wish, [Akatsubaki]'s [Fold-Out Armor] let out golden dust mixed with red light.
From the Hyper Sensors, I could tell that my machine's recovering energy extremely fast.
The words written on it are [One-Off Ability]
(Can I still fight? If that's the case--)
I tie the ribbon Ichika bought for me and remotivate myself, keeping my eye on the [Gospel].
(Then, let's go! [Akatsubaki]!)
As if breaking through the sunset horizon, the crimson red machine that's glowing red and gold dashed forward.
The [Gospel]'s energy wings got sliced by the [Reiraku Byakuya]'s blade.
However, it was hard to slice off both wings. Besides, the 2nd strike got dodged. During this time, the [Gospel] regrew its lost wing and continued to launch a barrage of attacks at me.
--Energy left, 20%. Estimated time left: 3 minutes.
(Damn it! If this keeps up...)
I can't tell how much energy a military use IS that doesn't have a limiter has.
In contrast, my machine's almost at its limit. Thinking about this, I started to feel anxious.
"HOUKI? YOUR WOUNDS—"
"I'm alright! Don't talk, take this!"
Houki's—[Akatsubaki] touched my [Byakushiki].
An electrical-like surge and a burning sensation immediately passed through my body, and my vision started to waver for a bit.
"Wha-What...? My energy—recovered? Houki, this is—"
"Don't think about this now! Go on, Ichika!"
Gathering my concentration, I let [Yukihira Niigata] increase the energy output to the maximum, and brandished the huge sword with both hands as I swung it around.
The [Gospel] spun once and dodged my horizontal slash. It then locked me within its vision, and the wings of light turned around—got it!
"LEAVE IT TO ME!!"
The [Akatsubaki] used both swords to slice down on the [Gospel]'s wings that were aimed at me.
"DON'T YOU GET AWAY!"
She deployed the [Fold-Out Armor] on her feet, causing the [Gospel] to take a roundhouse kick with emergency acceleration.
Not expecting this initial hit, the [Gospel] lost its balance. I slashed off the remaining wings of light with an uppercut.
And just when I wanted to finish it off, the [Gospel] grew out all its wings on itself and fired at me.
(It's come down to this. No going back!)
While my body took the rain of bullets, I swung [Reiraku Byakuya] at the [Gospel]'s body.
I felt the energy sword's contact as I increased the boosters output to the maximum.
Even when it's being held down, the [Gospel] continued to reach its hand for my neck. But before the fingers could touch it, this silver IS finally stopped moving.
"Haa, haa, haa...!"
Having lost her armor, the pilot in IS suit fell down to the sea.
"—Really, your efforts went to waste, you."
Rin finally managed to recover from her injuries and saved the pilot before she reached the sea surface. Also, Charl and Laura seem to be alright, even though they aren't completely unscathed.
"Yeah...it's finally over."
Houki and I stood side by side as we looked at the sky.
The blue sky of just now was no longer present. Instead, the sunset gently covers the world.
"Mission completed—though I want to say that, you people acted on your own and broke the school rules. Once you get back, write a letter of remorse. I've already prepared a special schedule for your punishment, so you people better get ready."
Welcoming back the warriors who came back, isn't that a little too cold?
Seeing Chifuyu-nee lecture us with both arms folded in front of her chest, it really made me feel like we didn't win at all. All of us were kneeling in the hall, and it's been 30 minutes already. Cecilia's face went from red to white, and that's a danger sign.
"We-Well, Orimura-sensei, that should be enough...be-besides, there are injured people, alright?"
In contrast to the fuming Chifuyu-nee, Yamada-sensei was panicking. Up till now, she had brought a first-aid box and a bucket of water. She sure looked busy.
"Th-Then, everyone, please rest for a while before continuing with treatment. Remember to take off your clothes when we do a full body check on you—ah! Guys and girls are to be separated! Do you understand, Orimura-kun?"
Speaking of which, the moment she said 'Take off', the girls subconsciously covered their own bodies, and that really hurt me. Do I look like a pervert who would peep on you...
"Then, everyone, please rehydrate yourself. It'll be a big problem if you don't rehydrate yourself in the summer."
Yes ma'am--as we echoed back in unison, I reached out for a sports drink. For health reasons, I chose a non-icy one. It's not good to gulp down an icy drink at one shot.
"OWWWW...UWAH! I cut my mouth!"
It's rare to have a metallic taste in my mouth. So this is the taste of blood. Maybe I was too excited in battle? I didn't even know that I bit my mouth. Anyway, I better not dip my dinner into wasabi and soy sauce, or I'll feel like I entered hell.
"Wha-What's wrong, Orimura-sensei?"
As she's been staring at me, I could only feel awkward and ask...uu, will I get scolded?
"...Speaking of which, you people did rather well. Luckily, all of you managed to return back safely."
Chifuyu-nee seemed to look rather embarrassed. However, I couldn't tell what her expression was as she quickly turned away.
Seeing Chifuyu-nee who's still worried about us, I secretly thanked her inside my heart. I guess she would find it irritating if I were say it to her.
Hm? Why are the girls staring at me—or rather, glaring at me?
"Well...Orimura-kun? I'm going to start treatment on everyone, umm—"
"""""HURRY UP AND GET OUT!!"""""
As the five girls shouted out, I frantically escaped to the corridor.
I lean my back on the sliding door and closed it, exhaling deeply.
Anyway, this battle's over.
There's a lot of things I have to think of, to arrange. Anyway—
(I...protected my friends, didn't I?)
I—and [Byakushiki] did it.
"O, O, what's the result? Tell us~"
"...Nope, that's classified."
Sitting in front of me, Charl continued to eat in large gulps as she continued to be questioned by the 1st years. They probably feel that Charl's the easiest to talk to, right? However, that's a misjudgment on their part. Charl's the one amongst the personal IS pilots with the strongest sense of responsibility. That's one thing I can be certain of.
"Che~ Charlotte's mouth is really tight."
"I say, you people will be forced to keep quiet after knowing it, you know. Is that alright with you?"
"Ahh...that's really troubling."
"So that'll be all. I won't say anything about this."
As expected of Charl, she sure can handle girls of the same age easily. Yep, Charl's really suited to be a big sister.
Suddenly noticing my stare, Charl asked.
Though it's nothing, for some reason, if I don't say anything, it seems that her mood would worsen...erm.
"Charlotte, your yukata is undone."
The girl besides her seemed to say something. Uu, I have a bad feeling about this. Recently, it seems that any bad premonition about girls would come true for me.
As expected, Charl blushed and quickly covered her yukata with her hand...hm? What's with Charl-san's look of complete protest in her eyes?
"I-Ichika no ecchi..."[3D 2]
WHY ARE YOU FRAMING ME! SPEAKING OF WHICH, WHY'S THAT? HUH? HUH, HUH?
"...I lied. The yukata wasn't open."
The girls beside her whispered something to her as well.
After hearing those words, Charl blushed as she stood up. Wha-What's wrong?
"Oh my, this sashimi's really delicious! Ahahaha, ufufu."
Charl's protesting eyes turned from me to the other girl, but the person involved didn't mind as she continued to gulp down her food.
"Charlotte's pretty ecchi."
"I'M-I'M NOT! I-I JUST...THAT...!"
This time, Charl's the one who looks in panic as she got teased by the girl beside her...um, I'm completely left out here.
"I-I-Ichika...? Erm, well, sorry about that...?"
I don't know what's going on, but I answered honestly. Well done, me.
After that, I heard a slam, and Charlotte sat down. She smiled and casually pinched the stomach of the girl beside her...uwa, seems like she's really angry.
--Oh well, let's just leave that aside for now. The problem right now's the girl beside me.
*Nibble nibble*, *chomp chomp*.
Having tied her hair into a ponytail again, Houki's chopsticks never stopped ever since the beginning.
For some reason, I feel that she doesn't want to talk to me, which is why she continued to eat...am I thinking too much?
"Well...is your body alright? You aren't hurt, are you?"
After a second's pause, she nodded her head and started eating again. *Nibble nibble*, *chomp chomp*.
She got shocked.
After curling her body a bit, Houki put down her chopsticks and turned to me. She looked rather stiff for some reason, and even if it's not me, anyone could tell that something wasn't right with her.
"Is-Is-Is there something wrong...?"
"Nothing. It's just that you look weird, so I just wanted to ask what's going on."
"Is-Is it strange...for me to do that?"
Ah damn it, I tripped without hiding it. Wh, why, why must she be so courteous...?
(Nonono, that's too weird! Ever since the battle ended, Houki's been so composed it's really weird, even the cat that's borrowed[3D 3] is more lively than her...)
But how should I put it. From everyone's reaction, I understood something. When 'Something is strange to you and you mention it, the girls will get angry for some reason'.
Hm, I really don't understand at all...but as this is a fact, I better not comment.
"Erm, well, never mind. It's nothing."
Ugh, I suddenly felt that I said something wrong.
I can tell that Houki became even more listless as she continued to eat her food at half her speed...so, sorry...
After that, I didn't talk to Houki as I continued to eat my meal silently.
Really, this meal should be delicious, but I couldn't even remember the taste.
Standing on the coast, I knock my head slightly and turn my head both sides to clear the water in my ears. I then walk to a nearby rock to sit down.
After dinner, I had walked out of the resort to rest a little, and arrived at the seaside in the night.
As it's a full moon today, even at midnight, the moon's still extremely bright. I listen to the heavy sounds of the waves as I stare blankly at the bright sky with the moon in it.
(Speaking of which, I dreamt of something at evening, but...what kind of dream was it?)
I did remember it clearly when I woke up, but now, the dream feels fuzzy to me.
Though dreams are always like that, I feel that there's something important in the dream, something I just can't forget.
With my name being called, I turned around.
Under the bright moonlight, it was Houki in a swimsuit.
"Houki...? Speaking of which, I didn't see you at the beach yesterday—"
"Do-Don't stare at me like that...I-I can't stay calm like this..."
I frantically turn my body around.
Though it was a mere few seconds, I managed to see Houki in the swimsuit, and that image's fresh in my mind.
A white swimsuit—and a rare one at that. To put it in a way, that's a bikini that Houki definitely wouldn't wear.
Black straps alongside the swimsuit, revealing lots of skin—how should I put it. Well, sexy...yeah, it is sexy.
(No, no wait. This is too embarrassing...)
I try to hide my emotions that are unable to calm down, but it didn't seem to be working.
Besides, after noticing that Houki's sitting just 1 meter away from me, I couldn't calm down.
I try to talk about some unrelated things, trying to ignore the heart that's beating non-stop for some reason.
But things aren't going as planned, as what I say is completely different from what I thought.
"Tha-That swimsuit, it suits you...yeah, that's good, isn't it?"
I know that Houki backed away. I secretly took a glance, and her entire face was blushing.
"Th-Thi-This, well...I, I just thought of buying...but-but it really feels embarrassing to wear it...so..."
Maybe that's the reason why I didn't see Houki on the first day of free time.
And it seems that she's feeling awkward about looking over here and talk, so Houki and I continued to talk with our backs facing each other. The moon that's above us shines upon us.
"Is-Is there anything...else?"
"No, why are you using such courteous words? Just talk as if it's normal."
I've been mindful of that since dinner started, so I started asking her first. After a moment of silence, Houki seemed like she couldn't spit it out and stammered,
"You-You said that...you like dignified and elegant girls..."
--Uu, damn it. That's...
"No, well, I see. Houki, I think you just need to be yourself. You don't have to force yourself, right?"
Though she looked rather unhappy, Houki coughed dryly a few times before moving her calm mode.
"Is-Is this good...?"
"Yup, the original Houki's good. Oh yeah, is your hair alright? I think it got slightly burned, right?"
"I-It's alright. I just lost my ribbon. It's nothing. And, well...I got a new ribbon anyway..."
"Oh, yeah. Let me say this to you again. 'Happy Birthday'."
Though I couldn't hear the last bit of the voice, I know what she wanted to say.
And—hm, the ponytail goes well with Houki.
"That, well...I-I want to ask. Are you alright? Are-Are you hurt?"
"Hm? Oh, looks like I completely recovered!"
"Well, the moment I opened my eyes, the IS activated. Before I noticed it, my wounds were healed completely."
"Do-Don't say such silly things! How is that possible—"
Saying that, Houki grabbed my shoulder and turned me over to look in the moonlight.
"It's gone...there are no wounds on you...?"
"Yup, I recovered. Huh, you see. Isn't there something? The IS pilot protective system."
"That's only used for protection, right? I've never heard that it could heal wounds..."
Timidly touching my back, Houki used her fingers to check if I had any wounds on me gain. While checking, I could hear her say 'That's strange'. Anyway, it just feels weird.
"Well, the wounds are healed well already anyway, aren't they?"
"Tha-That's not good! Because of me, you...Ichika, you got hurt..."
"What? Are you saying that it's better not to be treated?"
"NO, THAT'S NOT IT!"
After saying that, Houki realized that she increased her volume.
"It's not like that...it's not like that...it'll bother me if I'm easily forgiven like that..."
She sounded really listless, so I start to wonder what she's thinking about.
Seems like she felt that she had to take responsibility for me getting injured, but since the wounds disappeared, she could be forgiven without being scolded, and this seemed to make her unable to accept it.
How should I say it? She's really hard to understand.
(But she seemed to have some goosebumps on her.)
Can't be helped then. I decided to give Houki a little punishment.
"Houki, I'm beginning with the punishment then."
I turn to Houki and look her straight in the face.
She closes her eyes, being all prepared now.
I flick a finger on her forehead.
"Alright, that's enough. If you got the message this time, don't be overconfident and act on your own next time."
Houki looks troubled as she blinks her eyes. She then blushes and turns to me.
"Are-Are you making fun of me? Flicking my forehead with a finger...!"
"Okay, okay, calm down. Don't get excited."
"SHUT-SHUT UP! I'M A WARRIOR! MY PRIDE GOT STAINED. HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO CALM DOWN—"
"No, well...can you back away from me a little bit? Huh, they're touching me..."
After realizing how close we were, Houki quickly pulled away from me.
After pulling her distance, she wrapped her arms around her chest, glaring at me with complete protest. Uwah...
"You, you...! I'm talking to you seriously, yet, you, you're so indecent!"
Yes, that's the case. I'm sorry that my mum gave birth to me as a boy.
"...Well, that...do-do you have any feelings...?"
My hand suddenly got grabbed, and then—WHAT!? STRAIGHT IN HER BREASTS? HER CLEAVAGE!?...AHH, HOUKI...SAN?
"I-I just want to ask if you see me as one of the opposite gender..."
While Houki continued to maintain that fierce look, she suddenly lowered her volume, and even her ears were blushing. It seems that she's really shy.
Even though I'm not forced by the situation, I still couldn't help but make the decision.
However, with the waves, hurriedly moving near and far, acting as the background music. With my childhood friend in front of me in a sexy swimsuit, and the clear moonlight shining down on us from the sky. It's because of this atmosphere that I'm moved, there's nothing to feel weird about.
And well...how should I put it. I...actually find Houki cute.
"Is-Is that so...uu, then..."
As if chewing on her words, Houki reflected on the meaning behind these words, and then digested them.
While being kept close, her body temperature spread to me.
Houki and I are so close I'm worried that I might hear her heartbeat.
*DOKI DOKI!* Even I feel that my heartbeat's way too loud.
Suddenly, Houki and I exchange looks.
I'm completely mesmerized.
Her face really looks beautiful under the bright moonlight.
(Da-Damn it...well. Yeah, that's bad...right?)
Even though I'm thinking that it's bad, my heartbeat's getting even faster—
"CE-CECILIA!? WHY ARE YOU HERE!?'
"YOU TOO, RIN-SAN! COM-COMING OUT OF THE RESORT ON YOUR OWN LIKE THAT! I DON'T CARE IF YOU'RE SCOLDED."
"HUH, LAURA, YOU...RIN AND CECILIA? WHY, WHY ARE YOU HERE...?"
Rig-Righ-Right now, these voices definitely belong to Rin, Cecilia, Laura and Charl.
From the audibility, they should be somewhere far away from us. But if I continue to remain here, I'll definitely be spotted by them.
And right now, there's only Houki and me here. I have no guarantees of what they would say after seeing me.
"Ho-Houki...let's go to the other side."
Trying to escape from the voices that are getting closer, I pull Houki's hand and walk up the giant rock on the headland.
(Hoo...better hide here for a while. I think it should be alright if I head back to the resort later?"
"I-Ichika...that's too sudden. Well...bringing me to such an isolated place...I-I'll feel bothered..."
As I have no idea what Houki's whispering, I turn my face to her.
WHAAAAT!!? HO-HOUKI, SAN? WHY MUST YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES AND CURL YOUR LIPS!?
Houki's silent expectant face is definitely pretty.
--Uu, damn it...damn it, damn it...
(Damn it...I'll be sucked in like this...)
As I put my hand on her shoulder, Houki's body jerked.
Then, Houki leans her body over, and I slowly close in on her face—
(...Hm? What's that?)
I again move my face close to hers—
(That's irritating. What was that? Did something hit my head!?)
I thought as I opened my eyes—actually, it would have been better if I didn't.
Appearing right in front of me is a floating fin-shaped object, and there's also a rectangular opening.
That's the BIT.
It pokes its cannon in my face.
That was close, I managed to dodge it. Well, my hair got burned.
"—Very good, LET'S KILL HIM!!"
"ICHIKA, WHAT ARE YOU DOING...?"
The four needle-like stares are waiting for me as I turned around to dodge.
On a side note, the ones who spoke in order were Laura, Rin, Charl and Cecilia.
"HO-HOUKI! WE GOT TO RUN!"
"HUH? AHH? KYAHH!?"
Houki let out a scream as I carried her, but there's no time to bother about her.
Like an escaping rabbit, I run away from the four personal IS pilots.
WHY DO I FEEL THAT SOMETHING SIMILAR HAPPENED LAST MONTH!?
--Sounds of gunfire continued to chase me. STOP IT, I'LL DIE!! I'LL REALLY DIE!!!
"[Akatsubaki]'s operational rate including [Kenran Butou] is about 42%? Hm, that's about it?"
The female stared at the numerous values shown on the screens in the air as she gave an innocent smile.
Like a kid, like an angel.
The bright moonlight shines on that face that's no different from usual.
The person who often has a bored look, the person called Shinonono Tabane.
As she continued to hum, she summoned another screen. It's [Byakushiki] as he's fighting in second phase.
Tabane's sitting on the fence at the headlands, shaking her feet and looking at that image.
In front of her, there's only the wide sea that's 30 meters in depth. But even though she may fall and hurt herself, her expression didn't change.
"Ha~[Byakushiki]'s really amazing. To think that it can allow the pilot to revive. Just like—"
"—Like the [White Knight], right? Core number 001 was the first frame in action, and the one you spent the most effort on, right?"
Chifuyu walked silently through the forest and came out. Covered in the black suit, her figure looked like she was about to take away the darkness in the night, as it's full of silence and majestic feel.
Both of them aren't looking at each other as they turn their backs on each other. Tabane continued to shake her feet like that, while Chifuyu leaned on the tree.
Even without looking, they can understand the expressions on each other's faces.
It's the trust between them.
"Oh yeah, Chi-chan, let me test you. Where did the [White Knight][3D 4] go?"
"...You'll get the answer by reading [Byakushiki] as [Shirokishi], right?"
"Bingo, as expected of Chi-chan, the one who piloted the [White Knight] before."
The frame that people called the [White Knight] was dissimilated, leaving the core behind. It had a huge contribution to the production of the first generation IS. However, its core disappeared after a certain research lab was raided, and then unknowingly, it was installed in the machine called [Byakushiki].
"And then...hoho. For example, someone exchanged messages through the Core Network, Chi-chan's first [White Knight] and her second frame [Kurezakura]. If that's the case, even if they develop the same [One-off Ability], there's nothing weird about it, right?"
Chifuyu didn't answer.
But Tabane didn't care about her answer and continued.
"Speaking of which, it was really unbelievable...that machine's core was set back to the default form when it was dissimilated. How did that happen? It should be set back to the default setting because I made it, right?"
"There're a lot of unbelievable things happening in this world."
Chifuyu doesn't understand.
And neither does Tabane.
But there's no problem.
"...Oh yeah, let me give an example."
"Huh, Chi-chan? That's rare of you."
"For example, a certain genius deliberately made a boy mistake his high school entrance exam location and put the IS there such that it could only be activated at that time. If that's the case, the IS that shouldn't be operated by men becomes pilotable, right?"
"Hm~? But if that happens, he can't continue to pilot it, right?"
"That's right. You won't waste so much time to do such a thing anyway."
"Hehehe, because I'll get tired of it."
"...Then what's the truth? A certain genius?"
"Who knows? Fufufu, actually, I don't understand why [Byakushiki] activates. Logically speaking, Ii-kun and IS research are completely unrelated, right?"
"Humph...forget about it. Next hypothesis then."
"You really have a lot."
"Are you happy?"
Tabane answered 'That's right' and continued to listen to Chifuyu.
"A certain genius wanted to let her beloved imouto's[3D 5] IS grace the stage, so she prepared a personal IS and an IS going rampant."
Tabane didn't answer, and Chifuyu continued on.
"As the incident happened, the new model hi-capability machine could take part in battle. This genius' imouto could gracefully enter the stage as a personal IS pilot."
"Heh~ that's a really unbelievable assumption. It seems like such an amazing genius exists."
"Yup, such a genius exists. That genius once hacked 12 countries' military missiles to create a famous incident in history."
Tabane didn't answer, and Chifuyu didn't continue,
"Hey, Chi-chan, is the world you're living in interesting?"
"Ordinary, I guess."
The strong wind that blew up the headland let out a roar.
After saying a few words in that wind, Tabane disappeared.
Suddenly. She vanished.
Chifuyu sighed and leaned the back of her head on the tree branch.
The voice in her mouth disappeared together with the sea breeze.
<ref>tags exist for a group named "3D", but no corresponding
<references group="3D"/>tag was found.