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Infinite Stratos Volume 7 Chapter 4: The Condition for a Hero

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Chapter 4: The Condition for a HeroEdit

(Is it morning...already?)

Rubbing her swollen eyes, Kanzashi slowly got out of her bed.

She couldn't feel even worse now.

However, today's the day of the Personal IS pilot tag match tournament. Right now, it's impossible to even think of resting.

(I have to go...)

She staggered and walked to the basin area, and washed her face with cold water.

Calming herself down, Kanzashi put her glasses on.

"..."

She had to work hard today no matter what.

She continued to think that way. Even though she still couldn't accept it psychologically, she could only think that way.

(The tournament schedule. They will show the match-ups...at that time...)

But if they progressed smoothly, they would have to face off against Tatenashi, even if they didn't know when.

--*Cree*. Her chest hurt.

"..."

Ichika and Tatenashi, who looked really happy. She understood that they didn't mean to agitate her, but she still felt really hurt.

(I can't beat that person, I can't.)

She bit her lower lip tightly.

Tears still swelled in her eyes.

--If only there was a hero around.

Like in a manga, where the hero would appear majestically, a flawless hero. A powerful, strong, kind, unwavering and upright partner who would follow his own justice until the end.

"U..."

Kanzashi saw the hero in her dream interchange with Ichika, and couldn't help but shake her head.

(Either way, I have to go.)

Feeling so inferior that she wanted to disappear, Kanzashi left the room.

"Then, we'll invite the Student Council President, Sarashiki Tatenashi, to deliver the opening address."

After Utsuho-san said that, she took a step back from the microphone on the podium.

On a side note, Nohohon-san and me, members of the Student Council, were lined up behind Utsuho-san.

"Fuaah...sleepy sleepy..."

"Shh. Nohohon-san, the head of the teaching staff is looking here."

"Okay..."

I wouldn't detect it if I don't look closely, but Nohohon-san nodded her head slightly.

However, I don't know if it caused the opposite effect as she swayed around like a daruma[7D 1].

...Ahh, the teacher's looking over.

That head of teaching staff has inverted triangular eyes, hair tied to the back, dressed in an angular shirt. has thick red lipstick on and has the title 'oni-baba'[7D 2]. However, she should be cuter than a real demon...On a side note, the demon I'm talking about is Chifuyu-nee.

"Everyone, we're having the Personal Pilot Tag match tournament. I hope that everyone can learn something from the match. Please enjoy the show!"

The clear tone, the precise pronunciation, they all felt like some beautiful music.

Like usual, Tatenashi-san gave an overwhelming presence. There's no other reason for why she's so popular.

"Well, not only that."

*PAN!* The fan opened, and the words on it read 'Bakuto'[7D 3].

"To let every student enjoy this, the Student Council members specially came up with the plan. It's called Prediction of the Winning Pair—Meal Vouchers Fight!"[7D 4]

WAAAAAAHHH!! The students who were lined up properly broke into ruckus.

"Hey, isn't that gambling?"

"Please relax, Vice-President Orimura."

"Huh?"

"I finished the negotiations."

Tatenashi-san gave me a smile, and nobody in the teachers camp looked like they disagreed...Chifuyu-nee however looked like she had a headache.

"And this isn't gambling. It's just simple assistance. Just using one's own vouchers only. It's just guessing who will win."

"Is-Isn't this gambling already!?"

An-And I never heard of such a plan before.

Just when I wanted to say that, Nohohon-san tugged gently at the bottom of my shirt.

"Orimu—, you hardly come to the Student Council~. We decided through voting."

"Ku... Recently, I was stuck in the preparation room the whole time...!"

What's going on? Suddenly creating a gambling cult...

But this is the charisma of IS Academy's Student Council President, Sarashiki Tatenashi. She really grasped the hearts of the students, and my heart couldn't help but be dyed marine blue.[7D 5]

"Then, I'll announce the matchups!"

After saying that, the large holographic screen appeared behind Tatenashi-san.

Shown right at the top is—

"Geh!?"

The first battle, Orimura Ichika and Sarashiki Kanzashi VS Shinonono Houki and Sarashiki Tatenashi

(Another inevitable meeting in the first round? This looks tough.)

Remembering the time when I faced off against Laura, I sighed deeply.

(But is Kanzashi okay? Suddenly having to fight Tatenashi-san out of a sudden—)

I couldn't see her in the crowd of girls whose hands were raised.

(We have to remain on standby in the same pit. I'll discuss it with her later.)

(Gosh! I'm going against Ichika!)

Once the matchup schedule was released, Houki felt really happy.

(Fufufu, I'll show him my ability!)

To be honest, Houki improved a lot through Tatenashi's training.

(It won't be like the last time! [Akatsubaki] has evolved a lot since last time. This time, this time...!)

I must win! Houki raised her tightly clenched fist to her head.

(Tha-That's right. I must win...I must win this...and, and then, at tomorrow's hotel dinner, I-I-I will con-confess, and-and then, we-we'll-we'll go out together...we'll be dating! This time!)

Focusing on that more than anything in a certain sense, Houki used her wish as fuel to support her burning passion.

"Ah, Orimura-kun."

*Tatata*. Running over here is Mayuzumi Kaoruko-san.

"What's the matter? I'm going to the 4th Arena to change into the IS suit. I've got to hurry."

I have to make a detour to reach the 4th Arena, and it's really far. A mid-distance running before the match starts? The one who assigned the rooms is either an oni or an akuma.[7D 6]

"Well, well, what are the odds?"

"Huh."

The paper in front of me indicated that there were overwhelming odds for the Houki and Tatenashi-san pair.

Well, Tatenashi-san's the only 'National Representative', so she's on a completely different level from those who are only Cadets.

"And then I-I'm the last one."

"Well, Sarashiki-san's data's still a complete unknown."

Next, the second best odds are a second year and third year pairs, then Charl and Laura, and Cecilia and Rin.

"So there's only 10 people, 5 pairs of personal IS pilots."

"Yup. Amongst them, there're 7 in the first years. This year's abnormal, really abnormal. There's only one third year, and amongst the second year, including Ta-chan, there are only two people. Also, the first years seem like they all have the latest 3rd Generation frames."

"Sure sounds impressive."

"Why do you sound so unconcerned? It's all because of you, you!"

She pointed her finger at me. Is-Is that so.

"Furthermore, Shinonono-san's [Akatsubaki] is a 4th generation."

"Seems that way."

"Heh! That sounds more like it!"

You were the one who said that. I couldn't say it out though, so I remained silent because of the pressure.

"Anyway, please make a comment before the match! I'll be really busy if I don't compile everyone's lines. Here, pose!"

Then, *kacha!* She pressed the shutter. She's as energetic as always.

"Photo OK! Now for the comment."

"Huh, erm...then I'll do my best."

"Aim for the win! Something like that!"

"No, that's..."

"Hmm. Ah, that's right."

Mayuzumi-sempai put her hand under her chin to look like she's thinking of something. Perhaps she did think of something?

"'You'll be my harem slave if you lose to me'...how about that?"

"What, that's!"

"Nope, that's because nee-san said something like that."

Ahhh, how did that interview get edited until like that!

Speaking of which, what did she mean by harem slave?

"Ahaha. It's really fun to tease Ichika-kun a bit. Just like what Ta-chan said."

"Please don't do that. Please."

"Well, don't say that—"

Just when Mayuzumi-sempai said that as she waved her hands.


--*BOOM!*

"!?"

An earthquake suddenly struck, and the ground shook wildly.

"Kya..."

"Danger!"

Shaking continuously, Mayuzumi-sempai couldn't maintain her balance.

Seeing sempai about to slam into the wall, I subconsciously reached my hand out to brace her.

"Are you alright?"

"Y-Yeah. Anyway...what's going on?"

*PAAMM!!* With a crisp sound. All the lights on the corridor became red. Then, the holographic screens in the air showed Emergency Situation Alert as a broadcast was aired.

"ALL STUDENTS ARE TO EVACUATE UNDERGROUND! I REPEAT, ALL STUDENTS—KYAAAAHHH!?"

The teacher who was making the emergency broadcast got interrupted suddenly.

And then, another powerful attack shook the school, shaking it left and right.

"WHA-WHAT JUST HAPPENED...!?"

"ORIMURA-SENSEI!"

Maya ran down the corridor, and finally found Chifuyu.

"Yamada-sensei, what's the situation? What happened?"

"IT'S AN AT-ATTACK! PLE-PLEASE LOOK AT THIS!"

Panting really hard, Maya pulled out the portable terminal, and the screen clearly showed the 'enemy' image the arena camera took.

"This is...!?"

"Ye-Yes! The same unmanned drones like before—no, it looks like they're more developed!"

"Numbers!?"

"5 of them! Appearing from all the arena pits at high speed! They're attacking students with Personal ISes!"

On hearing Maya's words, Chifuyu's changed her expression.

"Damn it...this is too early...'that thing' still can't be used..."

"Huh?"

Maya was a little surprised by Chifuyu's little muttering.

However, it seemed that she muttered that subconsciously. Chifuyu again shut her mouth, her hasty mannerism wasn't like her at all.

"O-Orimura-sensei! What do we do!?"

Maya earnestly looked up at Chifuyu.

Chifuyu was the one in charge of IS Academy's Unexpected Event Response Command, and the reason was because she was crowned the world's strongest Brunhild.

"How's each section doing?"

"Like last time, they're in the highest level lockdown."

"Got it. The teachers should put priority on evacuating the students. Also, gate system lockdown is to be removed. Teaching staff are to get ready to attack. Level 3 armaments, 2-man cells as defensive lines."

"Un-Understood."

Maya straightened her back as she answered, and then ran to the hangar to get her machine.

Seeing that figure leave, Chifuyu suddenly punched the wall viciously.

"That was really daring...but, you underestimated us."

Chifuyu's eyes looked like they were burning as she muttered softly but clearly.

"KOOOYAAAAAHHHH!!!!"

*KLANG!*

The [Souten Gatetsu] launched an attack and continued on with another as Rin slammed the attacker—the black IS away.

Rin was really excited over repaying the debt. In contrast, the opponent just responded with a presence an unmanned machine would have.

"—"

The black IS was called [Golem III].

It was far stronger than the one that appeared before, and the shield expanded greater.

In contrast to the metallic giant-like [Golem I], [Golem III] looked more like an iron girl. It looked just like a black model.

The pitch black armor was neatly arranged, outlining the female armor.

The head had complex eye lens on it, and to obtain a wider range of view, the visor-shaped eyeline was changed to become a ram's horn Hyper Sensor as it charged in.

And the parts that changed the most were definitely the arms.

The area under the right elbow became a huge blade, and possessed strong combat capaibility.

In contrast, the left arm used the same design as [Golem I]. It was a huge arm, but the modifications on the hand had 4 high intensity infrared lasers, and the cannons opened up in black holes like the caves of hell.

"You recovered and forgot all about your scars, right?"

The [Impact Cannons] on the shoulders [Dragon's Roar] opened.

In the battle at the narrow pit, she used the maximum force to blow the [Golem III] up—or that was what was supposed to happen.

"—"

However, ball-shaped things formed around the machine, raising a powerful energy shield to defend against the [Impact Cannons].

"What the heck, you! You're more of a defensive type compared to before!?"

"Rin-san, get down!"

On hearing that voice, Rin hurriedly dived.

Cecilia flew quickly above her, spun to stop in mid-air, and fired the [Starlight MKIII] a few times.

"Damn it! This shield's really hard!... However!"

The BITs that floated nearby fired at the same time, and all the beams shot off in the wrong direction.

"I definitely won ♪"

*Swoosh*. Cecilia flicked her finger in mid-air. At that moment, the beams created a huge refraction, firing at the blind spots of the ummanned machine. This was the BT weapons' attribute, Psycho Sympathy [Flexible] [7D 7].

"—"

Sensing that there was no time to deploy the Shield Unit, the [Golem III]'s body danced in mid-air.

"What!?"

Because it was an unmanned unit, the body could do all sorts of complicated movements. And then, using precise thruster control, it dodged all the attacks.

"Ar-Are you kidding me!? Such defensive ability and mobility!? And—"

The [Golem III] stretched its left arm towards Rin and Cecilia. The cannons were loaded, and beams started firing.

"Such tremendous firepower..."

*DOOONNN!!!*

An explosion once again shook the pit.

"What's with this thing!?"

The [Golem III] that destroyed the ceiling accelerated and leaped at Laura.

The huge arm wrapped around Laura's head, and then exerted force onto its fingers. The sensors on the head let out a sharp shrill, and the irritating alarm came. Still not understanding the situation, Laura quickly made a decision to get away from the bind, so she activated her left plasma saber.

(I'll slice the arm together with it!)

Thinking about that, Laura quickly swung at it, but she got unexpectedly blocked by the right arm of the [Golem III].

"What!?"

--Not good!

Just when she was thinking that, her partner's reliable voice was heard.

"Laura!"

It was Charlotte. The .69 caliber Pile Bunker [Grey Scale] opened from the shield on the left arm.

"Damn it!"

*DOONKK!!!!*

After a huge explosion, the [Golem III]'s left arm separated from Laura.

But just when that arm separated, Laura saw a burning laser about to shoot out from the palm cannon.

"CHARLOTTE!"

"GET DOWN!"

Charlotte, who slid in between the [Golem III] and Laura, immediately used her specialty [Rapid Switch] to summon three heavy physical shields.

"Kuu..."

Even if it was the [Revive]'s sturdy physical shields, three heavy ones in fact, it couldn't defend against the attack completely. The few infrared lasers that went through grazed Charlotte's right arm.

"Cha-Charlotte!"

"I-I'm alright...I just got a bit of shield energy eaten off."

"Unforgivable. YOU BASTAARRRDD!!!"

File:IS v07 226.jpg

Laura adamantly took off her left eyepatch, and just when the [Golem III], assisted by the support sensor to increase the firing speed, was about to fire the golden light, Laura used [AIC] at maximum power to attack the [Golem III].

"BLOW TO BITS!!!"

The large caliber of Gatling fire created a waltz of explosions and booms.

"UOOOOOHHH!!!"

"Laura, no! Get down!"

Charlotte's shout seemed distant, and just when this voice reached, Laura was shocked by the [Golem III] that closed in immediately.

"[Ignition Boost]? And this efficiency—"

The blade stabbed into Laura.

"LLAAAAUUUUURRRAAAAA!!!"

"Ahh...what do we do?"

Saying this in a completely unenthusiastic tone was the 3rd year Daryl Cayce. Though she deployed her IS [Hellhound Ver 2.5], she was completely unarmed.

"Please, sempai!"

Saying that and making a victory pose was the 2nd year, Forte Sapphire. She intended to let her partner handle the unmanned pilot. Though she summoned her IS [Cold Blood], she was just using the [PIC] to float and flip in the air instead of fighting.

"Damn you, Forte. Is that an attitude you should have to your sempai?"

"What are you saying? You should be treating your kouhai gently."

On a side note, just when both of them were bickering, the [Golem III] fired the high intensity laser over.

"Oh my. That seems hot. Hey, go check it out."

"No way. Sempai, please dye your skin brown."

Evade, defend, deflect, spin, sink, stop.

Both of them seemed to be giving a little attitude, but in fact, they were making a bronze wall like defense.

This pair's combination was called [Aegis]. Combining the specialties of both pilots into one to block all attacks.

"Ah, oh my."

"Hiii."

Couldn't hit, couldn't hit, couldn't hit. There wouldn't be any damage even when they were hit.

"But Forte."

"What is it, Daryl-sempai?"

"It'll continue if we don't attack."

"You're right."

Facing the sudden slash in from the blade, both of them easily dodged aside.

Those eyes gradually narrowed.

"Then, let's..."

"...Give it a counterattack."

*PANK!*

The flying kicks, that looked like twin axes swinging in, landed on the [Golem III]'s body.

"Ah-Ahh...Ah..."

Facing the sudden attacker, Kanzashi couldn't even deploy her IS, let alone come up with some plan.

Unable to grit her teeth as she let out a cry, she backed away in fear.

(Wha...What...What, is this...?)

Fear, overwhelming fear disrupted all of Kanzashi's thoughts.

"Hii...!?"

The legs that were backing away stopped as they got blocked by the wall.

Kanzashi trembled as she looked at the wall behind her before slowly looking back in front again.

"—"

The pitch black unmanned machine [Golem III] was closing in step by step, seeing the IS on Kanzashi's right hand that was in standby phase.

(Some...one. Somebody, save me...!)

She forcefully closed her eyes, praying hard as if she was trying to grasp for a miracle.

If a hero was here, he would definitely save her.

That perfect hero who would come with the wind and rip the darkness apart would definitely appear.

"—"

But reality couldn't be like dreams and anime.

One step, and another, the [Golem III] closed in on Kanzashi.

"...ri-mu...ra...ku..."

The left arm of the [Golem III] slowly stretched over.

Just when its fingertips were about to touch Kanzashi, Kanzashi screamed out—

"ORIMURA-KKKUUUNNNN!!!"

*BEEPP*—

She thought she saw a crack appear in the wall behind her, and the next moment, it got ripped apart.

"KANZASHIIII!!!!"

"!!Orimura-kun...Orimura-kun, you're here..."

Rushing through the smoke and appearing in front of her was Ichika, undoubtedly a hero.

The hero Kanzashi always wanted.

(Orimura-kun...)

"UOOOOOOHHHHH!!!"

Ichika destroyed the wall and entered the pit, reaching his left hand out at the [Golem III] and letting the particle cannon gather energy to fire.

"Ch!!"

But the [Golem III] also used the left hand to fire high intensity infrared lasers, and the two energies collided in mid-air, causing a huge explosion.

"Kanzashi, activate your IS, quick! Or else you're going to get caught in the explosion!"

"Ye-Yes!"

Kanzashi's body's covered in light, and [Uchigane Nishiki] was deployed.

Simultaneously, Ichika continued to fight with the [Golem III].

"This guy's hits are really heavy."

Although he was swinging his [Yukihira Nigata] in his right hand and [Setsura] modified into a blade in his left hand, the [Golem III] blocked them all with its gigantic left hand.

"Ku...looks like I can't do this alone...Kanzashi!"

"Wha-What?"

"Are you alright?"

"Y-Yeah."

Kanzashi immediately and hurriedly checked her systems. The energy levels were rising in her, and each of the parameters was showing OK.

(I-I...)

--Want to fight together!

The moment she prayed for that, the energy levels rose tremendously in the [Uchigane Nishiki] as if it was responding to Kanzashi's wishes.

"Let's go, [Uchigane Nishiki]!"

*Giii!!*

Ichika's blade was deflected away, and he pulled his distance. Kanzashi flew into the gap like a tagout as she rushed to the [Golem III]. The rapid-fire particle cannons on her back, [Shunrai][7D 8] deployed under her armpits as they were aimed at the incoming enemy.

"I won't miss if it's this close!"

At such a close distance, the particle cannons fired out.

"!?"

But Kanzashi's attack got blocked completely by the changeable shield units of the [Golem III] that were floating around.

"Get back, Kanzashi!"

"Wha-What do we do?"

As Ichika supported her with fire, Kanzashi obeyed and pulled her distance from the [Golem III].

"In such a narrow space, [Uchigane Nishiki] can't use its attribute."

"Bu-But, the protective barrier of the arena was activated."

"Oh yeah. The protective barrier of the arena was sliced apart by [Reiraku Byakuya]. We can go out to fight from that gap."

"I-I understand."

"Then, keep attacking at close range."

Ichika maintained his position so that he could activate [Reiraku Byakuya] as he wielded [Yukihira Nigata] at a low position.

At the same time, Kanzashi summoned her close ranged equipment—the ultra-vibration halberd [Trance][7D 9] and held it tightly with both hands.

"Let's go."

"Y-Yeah!"

[Byakushiki] and [Uchigane Nishiki]— both machines activated the large thrusters on the shoulder wings as Ichika and Kanzashi flew forward.

"HAAAAAAAHHH!!!"

*GLANG!!*

Houki used the swords in both hands as she swung them each, but they got blocked by the [Golem III]'s right arm. The deflection caused its body to slant slightly, but it immediately used [PIC] to support itself and regain position. However, Tatenashi didn't let such an opening slip.

"Got you."

The unique aqua nanomachines caused the water to move at high frequencies, and the water spun around her to form a lance-shaped weapon [Heavy Rain][7D 10] as she aimed at the body of the [Golem III]'s body, concentrating on a single point to thrust in.

But just millimeters from when it was about to be pierced through, that lance got held by the huge left hand.

"Houki-chan! Use the [Fold-Out Armor] on your back! Push me!"

"Go-Got it!"

The water lance's spinning ability got maximized. As a loud rubbing sound could be heard, the [Golem III]'s arm got worn away little by little.

"Ku! How hard is the armor it uses!"

"Tatenashi-san! I'm going!"

"Okay!"

With Houki's [Akatsubaki] pushing hard, Tatenashi and the [Golem III] approached the gate of the arena.

"—"

The three ISes continued to accelerate.

Even though Tatenashi's [Mysterious Lady] and Houki's [Akatsubaki] were alerting them that they were too close to the gate of the arena, both of them completely ignored it.

"Take this!"

Tatenashi increased the force on the lance, activating the other armament on the [Heavy Rain], as a 4-barrel Gatling gun fired.

The [Golem III] was about to use the malleable shield to defend as a single unit, but it was pressed onto the gate of the arena by the front impact.

"Ku!"

The impact that came from the front and the powerful thrust behind pancaked Tatenashi, who grimaced with pain.

"Tatenashi-san!"

"I'm alright! Right now, we need to destroy that unmanned armor!"

"Bu-But...!"

"Okay okay, get to work."

On hearing Tatenashi grunt, Houki was surprised for a while, then increased the output of the [Fold-Out Armor] on her back.

"Gu-uu..."

A huge pressure could be felt from behind.

But even so, Tatenashi didn't stop her attack. The water lance and the Gatling gun mounted on it did damage the [Golem III], as sparks continued to fly.

"Tatenashi-san!"

"Fu-Fufu...not over yet. Onee-san's just getting started."

Tatenashi supported the lance she was wielding with both hands with her left hand only, and reached with her right hand above.

"Take this, the biggest firepower of [Mysterious Lady]...!"

Water gathered around Tatenashi's palm.

All the water on the [Mysterious Lady] was gathered, forming something.

"Th-This is...?"

"By gathering all the aqua nanomachines that were normally defending on the surface of the armor at a single point to attack, I can release a deathblow. It's called—"

—[Lance of Mistilteinn][7D 11]

This armament used every nanomachine's ultra-vibration to destroy. No matter how strong the armor was, it was as feeble as paper before it.

And the nanomachines that enter the enemy's armor could use energy transfer to trigger a large explosion. The total energy would be equivalent to 4 mini gas bombs. It really was the final deathblow.

Perhaps feeling the flow of energy, the [Golem III] hacked its large blade at Tatenashi. However, Tatenashi had no defense or resistance as she was setting up the [Lance of Mistilteinn], and was thus wide open to attacks.

"Ku...AAHHH!!"

Tatetanshi's IS armor got wrecked as the weapon broke through the Absolute Barrier and sliced the skin.

Blood flowed as Tatenashi continued to take the one-sided beatdown. But that smile didn't disappear.

"Houki-chan."

"Ah, yes!"

"Set all of your [Fold-Out Armor] to defense, or else you're going to get caught in this."

"Okay...Ta-Tatenashi-san?"

"Fufu, this onee-san's an immortal."

Tatenashi smiled radiantly at Houki.

Joking around like usual, carefreely, Tatenashi's smile would definitely not disappear.

"Here I go...!"

"No-NOOO! DO YOU WANT TO DIE, TATENASHI-SAANN!!?"

Tatenashi didn't answer. Instead, she just smiled.


--The [Lance of Mistilteinn] was activated.

File:IS v07 239.jpg

*DOGAAAAAANNNNKKKKK!!!!*

"Wha-What just happened!?"

Having managed to escape from the 3rd Arena, Kanzashi and I were attracted by the sudden explosion on the gate opposite.

"Is that, Houki and the rest...?"

We opened the IS private communication channel, but nobody responded. It seems like the unmanned machines were giving off interfering electronic signals since just now.

"Orimura-, kun...!"

"Uwah!"

After being tugged by Kanzashi, I spun in the air. The next moment, a high-intensity laser shot over.

"Ku! How stubborn!"

"I'll take him...!"

"Kanzashi!? Don't force yourself!"

"Orimura-kun, check the situation at the gate... on the other side..."

"Go-Got it!"

Kanzashi began fighting with the unmanned machine, and I headed towards the gate that's giving off lots of smoke.

(Houki! Tatenashi-san! You must be safe!)

As I approached the gate, my Hyper Sensors detected an IS.

"Are you alright?"

--But what appeared from the smokescreen was the left arm of an unmanned machine.

"Guah!?"

My left leg got grabbed by an unmanned suit. Though I immediately used my thrusters to try and escape, the unmanned suit grabbed my leg tightly and used an exaggerated strength to slam me hard onto the wall.

"GAAAH!"

Pain went through me—hold on. [Absolute Defense] can't be broken through so easily.

(Don't tell me, this guy!?)

I immediately opened the IS Status Panel.

[Confirming that enemy IS' arm is releasing an unknown energy. Shield deployment got interrupted]—

(Like that!? This IS' an anti-IS?)

No matter what, the IS armor is made of an incomparable metal.

However, it's not hard to...kill the pilot's body.

"Damn, you...!"

I use the thruster on my right leg to forcefully stand up before hacking at it with [Yukihira Nigata].

But my attack got blocked by the right arm's blade.

"!!"

The unmanned machine spun me around and threw me to the inside wall of the arena.

"GYAAAHHH!!!"

That indescribable impact that spread from behind me suffocated me, and the pain went through my entire body. With a moan, I choked out blood.

(No, not good! It'll be over if I lose consciousness! Got to get ready—)

I gritted my teeth so hard I felt like they were going to be crushed. Then I quickly deployed the wing thrusters to get away from the rubble.

"Ahh—"

The infrared laser attacked me from in front of my eyes.

(No, I can't...beat it alone...!)

The halberd slash, the particle cannon shots, Kanzashi used these two things to engage in a fierce battle with the [Golem III]. However, no matter whether it was the technical ability or the response, the enemy machine was always better as it started to gain advantage.

(Ku!)

Due to the strong interference, she still couldn't use the private channel.

Thus, she didn't know how the situation was with Ichika, who had gone to the gate to check.

"—"

The [Golem III] high intensity infrared lasers poured down like rain.

Kanzashi quickly exerted the boosters on her legs to the maximum and evaded the attack.

"—!?"

While backing away from the rubble in front of her, the aquamarine-colored armor that she knew entered her eyesight.

She couldn't be mistaken. It was the [Mysterious Lady] Kanzashi's sister, Sarashiki Tatenashi piloted.

"U...! ...!"

Seized by unrest, Kanzashi switched the Hyper Sensor into super sensitive mode.

(Where...? Where is it...?)

The irritating feeling couldn't be shaken away, and cold sweat broke out inexplicably as her heart pounded like crazy.

"!!"

Tatenashi was there.

Her armor was badly wrecked, and there was almost none of it left.

Tatenashi was lying there motionlessly, perhaps due to the grave injuries.

(N...o... Lie...That's a lie...)

She wanted to scream, but she couldn't let her voice out.

She wanted to shout that name out, but her mouth couldn't move.

--The world around her immediately distorted.

It's disgusting.

It's disgusting.

It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting It's disgusting

Struck by nausea, Kanzashi turned to look at [Golem III].

"—"

The unmanned machine that was unable to speak had a visor, a bodyline that was refined like a girl, a large left arm that didn't match it and a slender right arm that looked refined.

All this.

--IT'S DESPICABLE!


"...I'll...destroy you..."

Kanzashi murmured blankly, but this voice had unrivaled determination—no, killing intent in it.

"UWAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!"

Deploying her wing thrusters, Kanzashi exerted the maximum output and used [Ignition Boost].

Firing one shot after another, Kanzashi raised both hands over her head and hacked the halberd at the [Golem III].

--*GLINGGG!!!*

A sharp metallic sound echoed out, and the halberd that was sliced by the blade spun in the air.

But even so—

"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!"

Kanzashi was so agitated that she couldn't calm down.

She quickly readied both particle cannons and shot wildly at close range.

*DONK!* *DONK!* *DONK!*

The [Golem III] continued to back away under the impact of the cannons, and Kanzashi pressed on as she closed in and continued firing.

"Un...forgive-able..."

*Fire*.

*Fire, fire, fire*.

*Fire, fire, fire, fire, fire*.

She continued to fire without letting the malleable shield units interfere.

The sturdy [Golem III] armor finally broke and revealed the core.

(If I break this...!)

--*KACHANK!* Just when Kanzashi saw a ray of success, a mechanical sound brought reality crashing down on Kanzashi cruelly.

She ran out of particle cannon energy.

"Ah-Ahh..."

She prayed as she squeezed the trigger, but the particle cannon couldn't be shot.

*Click* *click*. Only that merciless sound was left for Kanzashi.

"U—!?"

Lifting her head up, the [Golem III] was right in front of her.

Trembling and unable to move, Kanzashi got swept aside horizontally by the blade.

"Au!"

Kanzashi, who was beaten to the ground, remained in that position as she summoned her console.

(A-Anything I can use, weapons...what...what...)

*Gaching* *gaching*. Her teeth let out an unharmonious tune in fear. While unable to calm her trembling body down, she still checked on the machine's situation.

(8 rapid-fire guided missiles [Mountain Storm][7D 12]... But...this...)

Most likely, with such powerful interference, a normal lock-on system couldn't chase it effectively.

No matter how potent the explosives were, they were pointless if they didn't hit.

(But...if Orimura-kun can hold off the enemy...maybe...)

Just when such a thought appeared.

*DONG!* A huge explosion could be heard.

"Huh...?"

Ichika was thrown beside her.

There were lots of scratches all over his armor, and it didn't look like he could hang on for long.

The other [Golem III] that rushed over went beside Ichika and grabbed his head.

"St...op, it..."

Kanzashi tried to shout as tears dripped down her face.

(It's, impossible...As expected, it's impossible...after all...Someone, like me...)

Kanzashi hated herself for being unable to take revenge for Tatenashi and only able to hit the ground weakly.

But she didn't even have the guts to stand up.

It's scary. It's scary. She wouldn't even lift her head up.

(Orimura-kun...I'm sorry...)

I'm sorry for pairing up with you.

I'm sorry for being unable to save you.

I'm sorry for being completely useless.


I'm sorry—that I was even born.


"Uu...uuuu..."

Kanzashi felt really lousy, and now, she just prayed to hurry up and disappear.

And then, thinking about it unknowingly, she finally realized.

--There's no such thing as a hero in this world.

Thinking about this, there was only despair in her future.

"—"

The [Golem III] was closing in slowly.

It raised its blade, and swung it down.

This movement looked really slow for some reason, and Kanzashi just looked at it, forgetting to even close her eyes.

(Ahh...)

I'll most likely die now.

Thinking that, everything else became meaningless.

A meaningless life, a boring time.

Everything and anything would vanish in the next few seconds.

"..."

She didn't feel relieved.

Neither did she feel fear.

She just felt completely empty.


*ZOOM*...


"—Huh?"

The blade didn't land on Kanzashi, and the figure that appeared in front of her hugged her as if it wanted to protect her.

Tightly, it hugged her tightly.

"Onee...chan...?"

The figure hugging her tightly was Tatenashi.

She used the last ounce of her strength to fly over and protect her imouto with her body.

And blood spilled out as she took a slash on her back.

"Onee..."

She called out softly, and Tatenashi's body fell.

"ONEE-CHAN! ONEE-CHAN!!"

Kanzashi hugged Tatenashi, who collapsed onto the floor, and shook her body. The warm blood covered Kanzashi's hands.

"No...don't...onee-chaaan..."

"Aha...how many years, has it been, since you last called me that...?"

"Onee..."

Tatenashi smiled.

She looked really happy, as if the only thing that made her relax was that her little sister was okay.

"Why...must you...do that?"

"To save my sister. Do I need a reason...?"

"But! But...it-it's useless..."

"Useless...of course not."

"It's useless! There's no such thing as a hero in this world!"

"Is that so...?"

Smiling no matter when, Tatenashi was always so gentle.

"But...but...!"

Kanzashi still couldn't hold her tears back.

Seeing her little sister like this, Tatenashi gave a 'Really, you...' look as she gently stroked Kanzashi's head.

"...It's not, useless..."

"Huh...?"

It sounded soft, but she could hear it clearly. It was Ichika's voice.

"A flawless...hero, it doesn't exist..."

Ichika's head continued to be grabbed by the [Golem III], and his arms and legs swayed lifelessly.

However, that voice became even more forceful.

"A flawless hero like that...would never cry, and would never smile..."

*Gugugugugu*. Ichika exerted strength into his body and tried to stand up.

Right now, he was embittered, tattered, awkward-looking, and pathetic. However—this figure looked even more dazzling than anything else.

"Therefore. I!"

*BEEP!*

The finger on the left hand [Setsura] released an energy claw.

Then, he slashed the arm of the [Golem III] that was binding him.

"I'm a human. I can cry, I can laugh, and I do fail. However—I won't give up! I won't run away from a battle. THAT'S WHAT A HUMAN IS!"

The [Golem III] that was counterattacked suddenly pulled its distance.

"HOUKKKKKIIII!!!!!"

"LEAVE IT TO MEEE!!"

[Akatsubaki], which finally recovered from the close-ranged explosion, appeared and broke through like the wind..


"Tatenashi-san's attack should have worn the shields out."

Using [Fold-Out Armor]'s thrusters to close the distance, Houki kept her body low.

"—"

*JYAGINK!!* A sharp metallic breaking sound could be heard. [Golem III] was sliced in half right down the middle, and it exploded.

"Are you alright, Ichika?"

"—Watch your back, Houki!"

"What!?"

Another [Golem III] that still had some energy left in it rushed at Houki.

"GAAH!"

Houki was slammed to the ground, and she hurriedly got up, changed directions, and left that position with her booster.

But the accurate hits came at Houki.

"Damn it. If this keeps up, Houki will...!"

Ichika opened his wing thrusters as he tried to fly.

But he was stopped by Kanzashi's voice.

"Wa-Wait...!"

"Kanzashi...?"

"Wait...don't go. You...your IS, it's...at its limit..."

"No way. I need to go save Houki."

"Wh-Why...? Are, aren't you...afraid of...death...?"

Seeing Kanzashi look so troubled, Ichika curled his lips up.

"Of course I'm scared."

"If that's the case...why...?"

"Well, I'm more afraid to run than to fight."

"Huh...?"

"If I run, I feel that I won't ever be myself again."

It's a declaration full of decisiveness.

To Kansashi, whether it was the emboldened words or the faith that matched it, they didn't exist anymore.

"Then, I'm going."

Summoning [Yukihira Nigata], Ichika increased the output of the wing thrusters to the maximum and flew off.

"Why..."

Staring blankly at Ichika's back as he left, tears welled up in Kanzashi's eyes.

--It's alright if I can be that strong.

--It's alright if I have the courage to fight.

--Me, me, me.

--Alright, alright, alright.

"I..."

The tears landed on Tatenashi's face.

"I'm really a coward..."

She kept thinking of reasons not to fight, yet she didn't take a step out.

Weak, ugly, cowardly, and unreasonable.

"I...really can't, do this...onee-chan..."

Crying could be heard.

She felt so unhappy that she wanted to go crazy, yet she couldn't move.

"You're not useless."

"Huh...?"

Kanzashi felt that she heard Tatenashi's voice, and thus hurriedly looked at her chest.

However, Tatenashi, who lost consciousness, didn't move at all.

"What's so bad about it? Weak, ugly, cowardly, and unreasonable. Who made us humans anyway?"

That's right. It was Tatenashi's voice.

Is that the illusion that normally happened?

But this voice that touched her heart was filled with warmth.

"Therefore, Kanzashi-chan. Just be weak, just smile. Accept all these. Once you accept that, you can stand up, because..."

"I-I'm human...?"

"That's right. And also—you're the little sister I'm so proud of."

Gently. It felt that she was gently smiling back.

"..."

Kanzashi put Tatenashi softly onto the floor, not moving away as she stood up on both legs.

"I'm going...onee-chan."

Her tears, they weren't flowing anymore.

"Are you alright, Houki!?"

I continued to hack at the unmanned machine, and slid my body in to protect Houki.

"Ichika!? Yo-You idiot! Who'd rush in like that at such a state!?"

It's true that [Byakushiki]'s completely battered.

And with the [Absolute Defense] being disrupted by that unmanned machine. The pain on the flesh pricked at me.

"So can I leave it like this?"

"Wha-What?"

"—Houki, I'll protect you."

"U...!!"

That's right. I'll protect.

Houki, Tatenashi-san, Kanzashi.

"WHAT KIND OF GUY AM I IF I CAN'T PROTECT MY FRIENDS!!"

*GALINK!!*

I forcefully pressed my blade down and used the momentum to spin and slash at the unmanned machine itself.

(--Too shallow!)

This slash didn't cause fatal damage to the enemy. In my haste, I overdid it.

"Ichika! Danger!!"

Houki used her body to knock me away, and then she got bathed by the attack of the infrared lasers.

"AAAHHHHH!!"

"HOUKI!"

"Fu-Fu...this level, I can still..."

Perhaps intending to deal a fatal blow to Houki, the unmanned machine raised its blade.

"HOW CAN I LET YOU GET AWAY WITH THAAATT!!!"

I rushed into the unmanned machine's range and blocked the blade from below.

"Guuu...!!"

It was a heavy hit. And not just a simple slash, it also means that my IS energy's wearing out.

(Will...it end here? In this place, without knowing anything!?)

I gritted my teeth hard.

*Mishi* *mishi*. This creaking sound was either from [Byakshiki]'s armor or from my own bones. Gradually, I couldn't tell.

But, even so, I still...!

"I won't, admit defeat...GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!"

I forced my blade back.

However, the next moment, the left arm of the unmanned machine stabbed over.

"Damn—"

I was ready to take damage.

--At that moment, a sudden explosion saved me. A figure flew by the unmanned machine, and it knocked the black frame off and pulled me away.

"Wha-What's going on?"

"ICHIKA, GET AWAY FROM THERE!"

It's a voice I've heard before.

But I'm somewhat shocked that it sounded clearer than ever, especially for such an appropriate occasion.

"Kanzashi..."

So—it seems that she can stand up, and come to help.

Thinking that, I couldn't help but be happy.

I was happy, so happy, that I started smiling.

"Do-Don't smile! HURRY UP!"

"Got it!"

I carried Houki and got away.

Then, [Uchigane Nishiki]'s guided missiles hit the unmanned machine continuously.

"—"

It used its energy shield to block it, but the unmanned machine's movements stopped completely.

Houki and I used this opening to get to Kanzashi.

"So it seems that that's still not enough...to beat it."

"Then what?"

"How about [Reiraku Byakuya]...?"

"No can do. I don't even have enough energy left."

Really, the situation's so critical that it's laughable.

But even so, neither Kanzashi nor I looked like we wanted to give up at all.

"We can recover the energy through my [Kenran Butou]..."

"Can you do it? [Akatsubaki] took quite a lot of damage."

"...I'm okay. But, I need some time."

"If that's the case...I'll, buy some time...during this time."

Kanzashi automatically requested to fight.

Buy time. It sounds really simple, but this means that, until I recover, she would have to be a meat shield.

"No way. It's too dangerous."

"No time to hesitate...besides, there's, no other way..."

That's right. What Kanzashi said was true.

Right now, we're relying on [Uchigane Nishiki]'s guided missiles to hold down the opponent, but this isn't a long-term plan.

(If that's the case, I'll—)

Believe.

Kanzashi.

Houki.

Myself.

My friends.

Just pure belief.

"Tatenashi-san, I'll take revenge for you."

"Hey...don't just, kill me off like that..."

Severely injured, Tatenashi-san tried to get up. Her swaying body looked like it would collapse anytime, and I hurriedly supported it.

"This..."

"[Mysterious Lady]'s Aqua Crystal...?"

"It's a charm..."

I grabbed onto the thing that was given to me tightly.

"I understand...it's like a memento."

"...Ichika-kun. Once I'm all healed up, I'll definitely, definitely, beat you up violently."

Tatenashi-san said that with the blood drained off her face

But her face was still smiling.

It's weak, but it's an immovable smile.

"If that's the case, well."

"Let's try it."

"...Yes."

I, Houki, and Kanzashi all nodded our heads firmly.

Tatenashi-san gave a thumbs up, and said,

"Do your best, first years."

Having gotten the Student Council President's support, we immediately went into action.

(If I use the [Multi Lockon System], I can create...an opening to attack...for Ichika...)

However, [Uchigane Nishiki] which Kanzashi pilots doesn't have an automatic tracking function process on it.

(If that's the case—!!)

Kanzashi closed her eyes and gathered her concentration.

She then opened her eyes suddenly, and the armor on the arms and legs scattered into light particles and disappeared.

The 20 digits of hers that were released seemed to be confirming their existence as they move about.

"I can do it...[Uchigane Nishiki], manual guided system...activate, 48 shots salvo."

Floating with the power of the [PIC], Kanzashi opened her arms wide like a Saint bearing the cross.

Holographic keyboards appeared at her digits, one above and one below at all the limbs.

The 5 digits of her hands and feet were assigned 2 ball-shaped keyboards each, 8 keyboards altogether, and she started entering all the information manually.

"Atmospheric conditions...mobility of each missile, time lag...interference between the explosions. Should be able to create an offensive power large enough..."

Several windows opened up in front of Kanzashi.

In other words, she was guiding each of the 48 hi-capability missiles manually.

"Suu...haaa..."

She inhaled some air, and exhaled it.

She cleared her thoughts, gathered her concentration to the maximum, and then—

"Can you run away from this [Mountain Storm]...?"

The 6 missile covers on the wing thrusters on her shoulders slid open.

In the meantime, the 6 groups of 8 consecutive shots were formed by particles, and all 48 shots were ready to be fired.

"Give me your strength, [Uchigane Nishiki]!"

*DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON DON!*

With booming sounds, the missiles flew out at the same time.

"Direct link, check...! Manual lock, start...!"

The missiles rushed at the [Golem III].

This time, it flew in differently, using complex 3-dimensional movements to close in at a fast rate.

"—"

The [Golem III] deployed the malleable shield, and intended to shoot down the missiles with its left arm.

However, the guided missiles that were supported manually dodged and accelerated like the [Golem III] as they changed directions and accelerated, thoroughly crushing the middle of the malleable shield units.

Having lost its defensive ability, the [Golem III] hurriedly used its thrusters to back away. However, it didn't get a chance to rest, as the next wave of missiles came roaring like wolves.

The legs, arms, shoulders, waist, head, abdomen. It got swallowed by the storm of explosions caused by the missiles.

"—"

But even in this situation, the [Golem III] still wanted to change the situation and gathered all its energy on the left arm. It wanted to shoot the infrared lasers at Kanzashi, who was defenseless as she controlled the missiles.

"I WON'T LET YOU!!"

Appearing in front of Kanzashi was Houki.

She raised her arms forward, deployed her [Fold-Out Armor], and created a powerful energy shield, blocking all the infrared lasers.

At the same time, the [Golem III] changed the infrared lasers to high-efficiency rapid-fire as it tried to break through Houki's shield.

"Ku! [Akatsubaki]! Show it to me, your strength!"

As if responding to Houki, the shoulder unit on [Akatsubaki] slid open.

That shape looked like a huge crossbow with an arrow on it.

"What, is this...?"

The panel that suddenly popped out showed this message.

«Experience level gained to a certain value. Construction of new equipment is complete. Variable output Blaster Rifle [Thousand Pierces][7D 13]. It's an outstanding piercing armament with the largest firing range—»

"Alright! Enough with the ridiculous explanation!"

Shutting the window, Houki kept her shields open and bent down.

--This is a weapon that could vary its output. It's unlikely to hit without using all the [PIC].

Without knowing why, Houki understood it all, and summoned the scope on her right-eye.

"I'll take your left arm."

*BEEEEEEPPPP!!!*

Using her [Fold-Out Armor] like usual, the crimson red energy bullet was shot out under huge compression.

The attack came from the shoulders on both sides, and it rushed forward with shockingly scorching heat that burned the land, and the [Golem III]'s left arm was blown away.

"—"

But since it was an unmanned machine, it wouldn't feel pain.

The [Golem III] barely tried to support the body that lost balance, and used [Ignition Boost] to rush at Houki.

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

"Okay!"

Flying above Houki's head, Ichika used [Ignition Boost] to enter the battle.

Wielding [Yukihira Nigata] in his right hand, he let out the extremely powerful energy of [Reiraku Byakuya].

"UOOOOOOHHH!!!"

The [Golem III] used the blade on it's right side to slash to the left.

And Ichika used both hands to raise the blade above his head, exerting all his strength into it.

*KLANG*...

"—"

The [Golem III]'s blade got destroyed by Ichika's [Yukihira Nigata].

"It's over now!"

Using a horizontal slash, he ripped the [Golem III]'s hard armor to reveal the core in it.

Ichika used all his strength in his left hand to smash the block-shaped object that was glowing golden, and the [Golem III] was knocked aside.

"—"

The core of the IS was made of 'A Rare Metal'. Though it was supported with a power assist, it wasn't something that could be destroyed with one hit.

However—

"It's a charm."

Between the core and the parts was an object that was flashing.

It's actual name was [Aqua Crystal], and it had the functions of the [Aqua Nanomachines]. It was the IS [Mysterious Lady]'s armament.

And naturally, the pilot is—

"Fuu..."

Sarashiki Tatenashi.

Though all blurry due to the severe loss of blood, that hand of hers raised up to the sky, and the movements of the fingers looked like they were holding a switch.

"Kachink."

Tatenashi pressed the finger.

The next moment, [Golem III] was absorbed by the explosion within, and vanished without a trace.

File:IS v07 269.jpg
.

"Yeah..."

Using her last ounce of strength, Tatenashi gave a thumbs up.

Seeing her like this, Ichika, Houki and Kanzashi all looked like it couldn't be helped, gave thumbs up—and started smiling.

"Un..."

Her consciousness still blurry, Tatenashi slowly blinked twice.

The white ceiling's dyed orange.

"O-Onee-chan..."

Tatenashi turned to the voice who called her.

Kanzashi was probably waiting for Tatenashi to recover, and stood up from the chair

"Are you, awake...?"

"Yes... This is...?"

Tatenashi still wasn't fully awake, and she asked Kanzashi in a somewhat dazed tone.

"The school's, medical office..."

"Not the infirmary...owowoww."

Her mind still blank, Tatenashi tried to stand up, but the moment she was about to do that, she was stopped by her pain and a panicking Kanzashi.

"You still can't move, yet...it's not fatal...but, your wounds aren't light..."

"Okay..."

After that, Tatenashi and Kanzashi continued to remain silent for a while.

--It had been a long time since the sisters had had such a conversation.

Both of them were thinking that.

The older sister who was always mindful of her younger sister's thoughts.

And the younger sister who feared the older sister.

However, those things felt like lies, and both of them naturally became silent.

(It's really thanks to Ichika...)

Tatenashi remembered about asking Ichika to pair up with Kanzashi.

Thinking about it, it was really strange.

(Why did I ask him in the first place...)

At that time, she didn't really realize something, but she just believed it.

That it'd be okay to leave it to him.

(Did I...)

Gradually, Tatenashi started to blush.

(Want to flirt around with him...)

Suddenly realizing that she started to blush, Tatenashi hurriedly turned to the window to avoid letting her younger sister detect it.

"Onee-chan..."

"Wha-What is it?"

"What happened...? Your face, it's red...?"

Not good. It seemed her agitation was about to show.

"Most likely due to the sunset..."

"Really...?"

Silence took place after that.

After about ten minutes, Kanzashi hesitated, and finally decided to say.

"We, erm, y'know...onee-chan..."

"Mn?"

"I'm sorry...for all this time..."

"Don't worry about that."

"Bu-But..."

She labeled others randomly, created a wall on her own, and kept running.

Facing herself like this, Kanzashi couldn't help but be so ashamed that she couldn't forgive herself.

"I'm...one useless imouto..."

"That's not true."

Tatenashi endured her pain and got up, hugging Kanzashi, who was about to cry out.

"You're my precious imouto. A very strong one, my younger sister—"

Kanzashi's head continued to be patted, and unable to take it any further, she teared up.

"Onee-chan...onee-chan..."

"Nn."

In the medical office with only two people, the sisters finally broke their frozen bond, and their souls finally interacted.

Only the sunset remained, watching over both of them silently.

"Hmm..."

Why did it end up like this?

"My turn. Yosh, 2 Fives."

"I'll put 2 Sevens then."

"Nuah! I wanted to put Seven!"

"Then, I'll pass."

"My turn? Then, I'll put two Aces."

Right now, Houki, Cecilia, Rin, Charl and Laura are playing Daihinmin[7D 14] in my room.

'As punishment for not pairing up with us, you must listen to one request from us'—just like that, the five of them requested this at the same time.

And my response was that I couldn't do that for 5 people, and so the winner will take it! Just like that, the victor would be decided by Daihinmin.

"I say, can't you settle this another day? A lot of things happened today. You must be really tired already, right? And you're all injured—WAU!"

A pillow got thrown over, and the one who threw that was Rin. It seemed that she threw that with her injured right hand as she let out a strange moan and squatted down. What's she pulling now?

"This little thing isn't much of an injury at all!"

"That's right! I hope you don't underestimate the Representative Cadets."

"Mn. Besides, there are things girls can't back away from."

"There's no one in our squad who'll waste time saying such nonsense about being treated as casualties with just this damage."

"Speaking of which! If you think that you are fine, be gentler to me! Get me juice! And snacks!"

Ahh, Rin revived.

But everyone's energetic, and I'm the one who was really injured.

"I-Ichika, if you're bored, please rub my shoulders..."

"Huh? Ahh, okay. I'm fine with it."

I answered Rin by nodding my head, and then went behind her back.

"Are your shoulders okay? Huh, uwah! Your cards are weak."

"Sh-Shut up! I'm starting a Grand Reversal. Just shut up and rub my shoulders!"

"Yes yes."

I really can't deal with her.

Thinking that as I was about to rub her shoulders, Charl's cry pierced into my ear.

"AAAAAAAAAHHHH!!! ICHIKA, YOU CAN'T! THE WINNER'S NOT DECIDED YET! YOU'RE REALLY SNEAKY, RIN!"

"THAT'S RIGHT! CHARLOTTE'S RIGHT! THIS IS FOR THE WINNER..."

"HUUH, SHUT UP! DON'T GET BETWEEN ME AND ICHIKA!"

"Stop joking around. Is your throat itching to be pierced through?"

In this ruckus, the 5 of them gradually had less cards.

Now, it's finally Charl's turn.

"Then...this!"

She showed 4 Eights...which means, that...!

"A REVOLUTION! NO—IT'S THE FRENCH REVOLUTION!"

"""ICCCHHHHIIKKKKAAAAA!!!!!!!!!"""

Everyone got really angry. Huh?

The intense poker card battle lasted late into midnight.

"..."

IS Academy, Underground Special Area—

In this place, of which only a handful amongst the teachers were aware of, Maya was analyzing the unmanned machines that were taken.

"How about you take a rest?"

"Ahh... Orimura-sensei."

Chifuyu walked into the room and threw a can of drink at Maya.

Tasting the Royal Milktea that was passed to her, Maya showed the investigation results on the screen.

"Please look. As expected, they're the upgraded versions of the unmanned machine that appeared before. I'm certain of it."

"And the cores?"

"According to the records before, they're still unregistered."

"...How many did you retrieve?"

"Two of them. The other cores were completely wrecked in battle...what do we do?"

After pondering for a while, Chifuyu answered simply.

"We'll report to the government that all the cores were destroyed."

"Bu-But, that'll mean—"

"Think about it. The IS cores are things any country would desire. If we hand them over, there'll be a lot of unnecessary conflicts."

Chifuyu sounded confident, but according to what she said, it'd mean that the Academy would be exposed to danger.

"..."

Seeing Maya remain silent, Chifuyu continued to remain optimistic.

"Hey hey. Who do you think I am? I was called the world's strongest before."

"Yes..."

"One Academy or two, I'll protect them."

Chifuyu curled her lips up slightly.

"—With my life on the line."

"...Fua, ngh...In the end, they couldn't settle the score. We were forced to stop since we disturbed others. Well, I don't really mind."

It'd been an entire night since the unmanned machines attacked, and I went to the sink in my room.

"Owowowow..."

My joints and bones hurt after just a little movement.

After that battle, I was treated, and found that I had 17 bruises, a scratched right shoulder, and two broken ribs.

(My body still hurts, but it's not so bad that I have to stay in the hospital. I need to go out today too.)

First, a trip to Ran's Saint Marianne's Academy for the School Festival, and then the dinner with Houki at the hotel.

Well, I need to check the transfer time.

*KOK* *KOK*.

"Hm?"

On hearing the knock on the door, I answered as I left the basin.

"Who's that—?"

"Yees, it's me!"

It's Yamada-sensei. She does feel really happy today. Is it because the breakfast was nice today?

They would switch menus everyday. The egg with natto set meal today was really good. Though Cecilia was staring at it with a look of complete disbelief when she saw that...it was really good.

"Orimura-kun!"

"Yes."

"You're going to be investigated!"

"...What?"

Erm, did I just hear that someone will be investigating me?

"The investigation will begin in 20 minutes. Please come over to the Student Counselling Room."

"Huh, well...I need to go out now."

"Huh? No way. We can't write a report if we don't understand the cause of this event. All personal IS pilots who were involved in the battle have to turn up, you know?"

"Then...how long will it take?"

"Yes! It's about 2 hours."

What? Two...hours?

"On a side note, what'll happen if I refuse?"

"Erm, you'll be kept under detention."

"By who?"

"The Government's IS branch."

Uwa—

"After that, you may end up having Orimura-sensei's personal counselling, you know?"

Personal counselling. Well...it's called counselling, but it's basically just training the students physically until they're completely worn out.

On a side note, those students who went out of the school on their own seemed to be saying that 'It's like hell on Earth' when they came back.

I don't want it. Definitely no way will I want it.

"Then, Orimura-kun, please don't be late."

"Ah—...yes..."

Having finished settling her stuff, Yamada-sensei took small steps and went away, *tatata*.

What do I do now...

(Anyway, better send a mail to Ran first.)

Will she be angry? I guess. Got to apologize to her first.

"Haa..."

After sighing, *KOK* *KOK*, another knocking on the door could be heard.

"Yamada-sensei?"

"E-Erm...!"

On opening the door, I found Kanzashi standing in front of me there.

"Hm? What's the matter?"

"We-Well..."

"Ahh, do you have to come along with me for the investigations?"

"Y-Yes..."

It's really unbelievable to see Kanzashi calm down like this and think. Just when I thought of this, she suddenly glared at me. I think she said that she hated to be looked at by guys like that?

"I'll put on my clothes. Please hold on."

"A-Alright...I'll wait..."

Kanzashi nodded her head hard. She really looked completely different from when we first met.

Of course, it's for the better.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Then, let's go."

"Nn..."

I got out from the room and walked with Kanzashi side by side.

On a side note, it's now 9am.

"But it was really bad yesterday. Kanzashi, is your body okay?"

"I'm okay...I-Ichi-Ichika...how about you?"

It felt like she was a little awkward with calling my name. I don't think my name was something that hard to pronounce.

"I'm fine. No problem."

Let's leave it as that. In fact, I can still walk.

"How's Tatenashi-san?"

As she was sent to the Medical Office, Kanzashi followed her, so she should know.

"O-Onee-chan's...she-she needs to be monitored in the Medical Office for a while..."

In other words, she needs to be hospitalized, right? Well, I need to bring some visit gifts. What should I get?

"What does Tatenashi-san like?"

"Huh? Erm...Shogi[7D 15], I guess..."

"How refined."

However, she can't play Shogi alone. It'll cause disturbances in the patient's room. Better not get that.

While thinking about all this, Kanzashi raised her volume slightly.

"Are-Are you worried, about onee-chan's situation?"

"Hn? No, I'm just wondering about what kind of gift I should buy for her—"

"A, gift...?"

"Yup. It's a lonely life in a hospital, isn't it?"

"Ah...I see..."

Kanzashi looked like she heaved a sigh of relief.

(What's wrong? This Kanzashi.)

"A kendama."[7D 16]

"Huh?"

"It's better to give her a kendama. Onee-chan always liked to play with that."

Really? Well that was totally unexpected.

"And...hmm, how about I give her a knitting set?"

"Onee-chan, she's bad with..knitting."

"Huh!? That person has things she can't do...?"

Now that's really completely unexpected.

I really can't imagine seeing Tatenashi-san failing at blocks.

"Didn't you say it before... there are no flawless heroes, not in this world..."

"Well, I did say that."

Humans. We are incomplete, useless, weak, fleeting...that's why, we need to be stronger.

Become stronger, until we can smile.

Become stronger, until we can make anyone smile.

"I'll...bring books over..."

"I see. Then I'll bring a kendama along—no, wait. This is a good chance. I'll bring a knitting set over to train her."

Actually, I just want to see Tatenashi-san flustered.

"Ichika..."

"Hn?"

"You're so evil..."

"Isn't this good? It'll be a little payback. She always messes around with me, you know."

"Fufu..."

Perhaps imagining how Tatenashi-san would tease me, Kanzashi gave an intriguing smile.

Walking with Kanzashi side by side, I smiled too.

Passing through the corridor that's somewhat empty due to the holidays, an inexplicable sense of solemnness seized me.

"Er-m...hey."

"?"

"Th-Thi-This is..."

Saying that, Kanzashi took out the carrier bag she'd been holding ever since she had been to my room.

"What's wrong?"

"Lo-Look...inside..."

"Oh."

After she said that, I peeked into the carrier bag.

There were a lot of anime DVDs inside, magical girls anime, robot anime, teenage love anime, and—hero anime.

"Oh, there're things I've seen before."

"Wh-Which ones?"

"Mn, this—you're too close!"

Kanzashi peered over to look, perhaps to hurry up and know the titles I watched.

At that moment, my face got stuck close to Kanzashi, and I hurriedly backed away.

"!! So-Sorry..."

"Ah, no...that's not something worth apologizing for."

Recently, Kanzashi's face felt like it had a gentle presence as compared to the first time we met. To be honest, it's cuter now.

"We-Well...if possible, I hope you...can look at it."

"Oh. I see a lot of interesting anime. I'll be taking them then."

While rummaging through the bag to arrange the items that were out of place, I asked something I was curious about.

"You like?"

"Huh..."

A somewhat shocked voice could be heard.

I couldn't see Kanzashi's face as I was arranging the stuff inside the bag.

"Y-Yes...I like..."

"Is that so—"

"..."

"Okay, that's all for the arranging. Besides, I did mess it up."

"..."

"Kanzashi? What's wrong?"

Kanzashi blushed as she looked down.

She was pinching her skirt hard.

"Erm, that..."

"Yes?"

Suu...haa...Kanzashi took a deep breath, and then lifted her head up.

"I...I LOVE (YOU)...!!!"[7D 17]

She suddenly shouted.

That voice echoed throughout the corridor. The girls who heard that all went 'What What What' as they came out of their rooms.

"Then, I'll be heading off...!"

With the people of the same gender looking at her, Kanzashi ran away.

"Er...m...?"

I got left behind. Anyway, let's go to the counselling room with the bag.

(I-I said it out...!)

Running down the corridor at full sprint, Kanzashi's ears got completely red.

--Ichika, who changed me.

--Ichika, who helped me.

--Ichika, who made me stronger.


I like that Ichika.


--I fell for him.

"..."

Either way, she really didn't understand much about crushes.

Her head was spinning inside like a Shepherd Dog.

(I-I-I'm not weird, right...? I didn't do anything weird, right...?)

She searched through her memory.

"Ah..."

The second time they met, she gave Ichika a vicious slap.

Looking at it now, that would have been a really fatal failure, on the same level as death.

(Ah-Ahh, I have to...apologize.)

Though she thought that, Ichika would definitely think 'Huh? You don't have to worry about that'.

But this is this, and that is that. To Kanzashi, she couldn't let it go if she didn't apologize.

(Bu-But, if I go back now...I'll definitely, be unable to say anything...)

Since this was the first time she confessed in her life, when she meets him again, she couldn't do it easily even if it wasn't much.

(An-And...)

She never said that she wanted to go out with him. She just said what she thought, so of course she wouldn't get a response.

Either way, he's that infamous 'Blockhead amongst Blockheads' Orimura Ichika.

(Bu-But, I did say...properly, that I liked him...)

*KAAAA!* Kanzashi's face got even redder as she continued to run down the corridor.

"—Huuh!?"

Why did she feel that the atmosphere felt weird?

She recalled the confession.

"You like?"

"Y-Yes...I like..."

"Is that so—"

...Huh? Kanzashi stopped in her tracks.

She thought through it carefully again.

They talked about anime.

Do you like it?

Yes, I do.

Is that so—

...Huh, huh, huh? That-That means...

"Did he just ask me, whether, I like...anime, or something...?"[7D 18]

There was no assumption. That was what he basically asked.

"U~!!!!!!"

Feeling like she wanted to find a hole to hide in, Kanzashi again ran forward.

"Haa..."

It was a switched-off setting now. In the Middle School Student Council Office Section of Saint Marianne Academy.

Ran was dressed in the basic black uniform, and it was the 17th time she sighed today.

Though she was sitting in the Chairman's position, she sprawled her body on the table.

"What's wrong, Kaichou?"[7D 19]

"Why are you so lifeless? Today's the School Anniversary, you know?"

Some of Ran's classmates and friends from the Student Council surrounded her worriedly.

Ran spoke weakly as if her soul was coming out.

"The one I invited..."

"OOH! Who who who? Who did you get? What's his name!?"

"It's not that..."

"Then—what happened to the guy you invited?"

"He's late..."

Haa. She sighed again.

"Huh, what's wrong with that? Just wait."

"It's not that he's not coming, right?"

"That's true..."

"How long will he be late?"

"Two hours."

This means that they couldn't go on the shopping trip in the morning.

"Isn't it okay to go in the afternoon? There's still 3 hours left before the School Festival closes."

"Isn't that too short? A little longer, even till night. Maybe we can raise a campfire."

"Nope, that's impossible. The Festival Rules are part of the School Rules, they're really strict."

"Yeah..."

Haa...she sighed again.

It couldn't be helped, but Ran didn't give up as she opened her phone's mailbox again.

"Sorry. I'll be late due to school circumstances. Most likely, I'll be there at around 12."

(Uu, I thought we could go out in the morning...)

But if he arrived around 12, it would suit her, wouldn't it?

They'd be seen if they were to eat lunch with everyone on the rooftop.

(In that case, ehehe...there'll be rumors of him being my boyfriend. Just like that...)

Yay~ Just when Ran was lost in her thoughts, the phone again let out a *Bzzt* sound.

"Mail...? Ah!"

It's from Ichika-san! Ran forcefully swallowed her words before she said that out.

Ran never told anyone that she'd invited someone, no matter how close that person was. It's a secret amongst secrets.

(Wha-What's wrong? Will he be here earlier than expected?)

Her heart beating even faster, Ran pressed the phone, and the phone showed the content of the mail.

«Sorry, the investigation will last into the afternoon. About 2 hours later.»


...

"Huh?"

Unable to understand the situation, Ran instantly stopped thinking.

(What's this investigation...? And, he's going to be even later...)

And most glaringly were the words 'Two Hours'.

If the estimated time's changed from 12 to 2, there's only 1 hour to go out.

And if there's one hour left, it means they'll be starting to pack up.

Ran stared at the phone blankly, tears welling up in her eyes.

(Ichika-san, you...Ichika-san, you...)

*GANK!* She lifted her head up.

"IDDDDDIIIIIIIIOOOOOTTTTTT!!!"

"Haa...Haa...Haa..."

I ran full sprint from the station, and finally got to the entrance of Saint Marianne School.

It's now 2pm sharp.

I hurriedly pulled my phone out and called Ran.

*Duruuu*...*duruuu*...

(Huuh? She isn't picking up?)

That's strange. Though I wanted to hang up and see if I mistook it for the wrong person, the screen clearly showed the name 'Gotanda Ran'.

"..."

--Ah.

Just when I stepped through the entrance, I saw Ran sitting at the bench at the entrance below the [Maiden's Statue] in a lonely manner.

"Hey, Ran~, Heeey!!"

"..."

On hearing my voice, she lifted her head up.

--Humph.

"What?"

Ran turned around and walked away quickly.

"Hey, hey! Ran! What's with you!?"

Just when I wanted to chase after her, a female in nun habit came to stop me.

"Did you bring an invitational ticket along?"

"Ah, I did. Erm..."

I searched through my pockets.

I ran all the way here from IS Academy, so the stuff in my pockets were all crumpled. The nun looked at the invitational ticket and stared at me suspiciously.

She continued to look at me for 2 minutes with an expression like she was watching a suspect's expression.

"Then, welcome."

After getting the ticket back from the nun, I ran off to chase after Ran.

"Don't run in the school!"

"So-Sorry!"

The nun scolded me angrily.

Can't be helped then. I could only walk briskly to chase after her.

"This is hard..."

However, I could only see female students of Saint Marianne Academy dressed in black blazers in the School Festival, and lost Ran completely.

(And there's a strange look from just now...)

Looking around, I found many groups of threes, fours looking at me from afar.

(Ahh, am I treated as some sort of mystical beast here...)

Haa. I sighed. Now what do I do?

"Hey hey. Isn't that guy pretty good looking?"

"Yeah yeah! Just one guy?"

"But I think we've seen him before, right?"

"Ah! That person! Look! It's Orimura Ichika! Didn't he appear on TV before?"

"Huh!? Why—Why!?"

"He took someone's invitational ticket in, right? But there's only one."

"Let's-Let's go and talk to him..."

"Ah! He's walking over here!"

The noisy girls were raising a commotion. I felt somewhat nervous and approached the nearest group of girls.

"Well, if you excuse me?"

"""YES! ANYTHING WILL DO!"""

Their voices overlapped.

Wha-What's going on? What's with you people?

"Well, you're all from the same middle school, so do you know Gotanda Ran? She should be the Student Council President or something."

"Ye-Yes! We do!"

"Do you know where she is now? She didn't pick up my call."

"Wh-Who! Who knows?"

Well, normally speaking, that should be the typical response.

Can't be helped then. I'll check out where the Student Council office is and look over there.

"Well, if possible, can you follow us and sightsee the School Festival?"

"Huh?"

*Jiii*—

(What's wrong? Why do I feel that someone's glaring at me?)

It's not some girl's curious stare, but I do feel a powerful stare with intent aimed at the back of my head.

(Don't tell me...)

Suddenly, I formulated a plan and said loudly so that the person who was staring could hear me.

"YEAH! THE PERSON WHO INVITED ME DIDN'T SHOW UP! I'LL GO OUT WITH YOU PEOPLE THEN!"

"RE-REALLY!?"

The expressions of the trio of girls in front of me glowed radiantly...uu, I feel guilty.

"Ahhh~"

*DADADADA*—a girl came running over—it's Ran.

"I-ICHIKA-SAN! WHY DID YOU KEEP ME WAITING! THEN, LET'S GO! THERE'S NOT MUCH TIME LEFT!"

Ran forcefully tugged at me and pulled me away from the group of girls. As expected, the one who was glaring at me was Ran.

For some reason, it seems that she was looking at me from the shadows.

I palmed my hands together to apologize to the girls.

"..."

Ran pulled my arm and walked away fast.

After I entered the school campus, she never stopped to break the silence.

"Ran. Hey—Heeyy..."

"..."

"Are you still angry about me being late? I'm sorry."

"It's nothing. It's not about that..."

I thought that she finally decided to speak up after much difficulty, but she pouted her face and started muttering.

On a side note, the programs and performances of IS Academy and Saint Marianne Academy, which are both all-girls schools, feel similar.

(But this school feels somewhat more historic compared to IS Academy with its brand new facilities.)

The windows are as tall as the church, and the sunlight shone in brightly.

The floor and walls are all a simple cream-color, giving off a stern feeling.

"Wa, Gotanda-san got a boyfriend!"

"So good—I'm so envious—"

"That super-strict Gotanda-san!"

The conversations of the girls I passed by entered my ears...haa, girls really like to talk about such things.

"Ah, there's takoyaki[7D 20]. Do you want some, Ran? My treat."

"...Crepes."

"Huh?"

"Crepes are better."

"Ohh, is that so? We'll go to the crepes shop then."

Maybe it's just me, but with everyone looking at us like that, Ran seemed to feel better.

"Speaking of which, Ran, it's about time to let your hand go."

"No, no!"

"Huh? Why?"

"Because...I-Ichika-san, you never looked like you wanted to reflect on being late!"

"No, that can't be helped—"

"Yo-You're not a guy if you don't reflect on it!"

Uu, that's really cruel.

"This-This is to make Ichika-san reflect on this."

As she said that, she let my hand go, and then held my wrist again.

Hm? Why must I reflect on this? That's weird.

"The-Then. Let's go."

Suddenly becoming really stiff, Ran's knees felt like Tin plate soldiers that couldn't bend their knees as she kicked her steps.

"..."

"Ran?"

"Ye-Yes!?"

"Why do I feel that you're forcing it?"

"That's not true!"

Really? That's suspicious.

"Hmm—then, let's check out the crepes shop."

"O-Okay!"

I don't know when Ran's mood improved completely as she smiled radiantly like the sun.

One hour before the School Festival ended, I got dragged around on the wrist by Ran.

"I'm really sorry, but our restaurant can't allow you to enter like this."

"...Huh?"

I'm at the restaurant on the highest level of the [Teresa] Hotel, and the slightly old waiter's blocking me outside.

"Huh, no, but...how do I get in?"

"Yes, please put on a suit or a tuxedo."

"No, I don't really have that..."

That's...not good, not good at all. Couldn't I enter with just a ticket? You should have explained it to me properly...Mayuzumi sisters...

"Dear customer, you can get one from the shops on level 3. How about you check it out?"

"Erm, if I may ask, how much is the cheapest suit?"

"Yes...about 100,000 yen."

Guaaa! That wasn't a fee a high school student could take.

Speaking of which, what happened to Houki? Seems like she couldn't go in too if she wasn't in a dress...

"What's wrong?"

A clear voice could be heard from behind me.

Just when I was about to ask what was going on, there was a woman in a dress behind me.

"This is...Miss Meusel."

The waiter bowed to her respectfully.

On a side note, this woman has flowing long hair, is extremely tall, huge breasts, a slender waist and a beautiful hip curve. She's really a beauty.

She's dressed beautifully in a purple dress, giving off an adult charm all over.

"Is there a problem?"

"No, this customer's attire doesn't match the dress code, so he's not allowed to enter."

"Can't he go in? That's pitiful."

"Even if you request it, Miss Meusel, I'm really sorry..."

"Fuu, can't be helped then."

This woman—Meusel-san scratched her chin and turned to me.

"Shall we go?"

"Huh? Where...are we going?"

"The suit shop. I'll get one for you."

"Huh...Huuh!? Ho-How-How can I do that?"

"I can. It's my interest to give young boys gifts."

What kind of interest is that?

Just when I thought about that, she suddenly grabbed my wrist.

"Hey, Mister, where's the suit shop?"

"Level 3."

"Thank you."

Huh? Huh? Huh?

"Er-Erm—"

"Fufu♪"

Before I could say anything, she moved off first to stop my movements.

This sudden development is like a sudden downpour.

...

......

.........

"Ohh, it really suits you."

"Tha-Thank you..."

The extremely expensive suits were all lined up in the shop. I'm feeling nervous since it's my first time wearing a tuxedo.

(But, well, isn't this way too expensive...?)

I wanted to peek at the price tag, but Meusel-san spotted me.

However, it feels like there're 5 zeros on the price tag.

"Er-Erm— I still can't accept this."

"Are you still worried? What a cute kid."

"No, even though you gave this to me earnestly, there's no reason to help me out that much..."

"Ara, do I need a reason to help others?"

I got pressurized by the bewitching smile of Meusel-san, and became completely speechless.

"Huh, eeermm..."

--Not good. My heart's racing for some reason. *DOKI* *DOKI*

"Yes. If I really have to say the reason, it's to satisfy myself, I guess?"

"Satisfy...?"

"That's right, satisfaction. Satisfied that a penniless kid would take me. I can feel superior and honorable, right?"

Meusel-san blinked at me. It seemed that I never thought of this before.

It's just, basically, to help me when I'm in trouble, right?

Whether it's grace or bust, this woman in front of me has them big. I'm somewhat moved.

(Is this the so-called 'beautiful woman'[7D 21]?)

Just when I thought about this, my heart pounded faster again.

"Ah, look. Your tie's all crooked."

After she said that, I wanted to adjust it myself, but Meusel-san was faster than me and reached out to straighten my tie.

"Tha-Thanks..."

"Yes. That'll be perfect. Then, next is—"

"Miss Meusel. The package you ordered has arrived."

"Ah, perfect timing."

Speaking of which, I suddenly remembered that she called someone when she entered the changing room.

And now, a florist with an apron walked into the shop.

As for why I knew he's a florist, it's because he's holding a bouquet of roses.

"Thank you. The bill will be charged to the same place."

"Yes. We look forward to your next order."

The shop attendant of the flower shop bowed respectfully and went back.

Meusel-san took a whiff off the bouquet of flowers, and nodded her head.

"Nice roses. Then, here you go."

"Huh?"

She handed me the bouquet of flowers.

There are about 20 roses, and I felt that it was somewhat heavy.

"Your partner for dinner, you kept her waiting, right? You can't be called a gentleman if you don't bring a few over."

"Is-Is that so..."

"Then, go to the restaurant. Don't keep the girl waiting. Girls can spend time on this world at twice the speed of guys."

"The-Then, I'll pay for the bouquet and the suit. Please tell me how to contact you."

I still can't accept that I didn't need to pay for this, and so I asked this for the fifth time.

But I saw Meusel-san maintain her smile, waving her hand and telling me 'No need, hurry up and go'.

(Uuu, what do I do now...)

Just when I was troubled, I glanced at the watch—WAIT, IT'S ALMOST PAST AN HOUR ALREADY!?"

"Than-Thank you very much! I'll go off first, so thank you very much!"

"I'll take your thanks then."

"Finally, just your name, or full name. Can you tell me?"

Meusel-san smiled and told me her name.

"Squall. Squall Meusel."

Squall-san, is it? I'll definitely not forget about that.

"Thank you very much! And goodbye!"

"Yes. Goodbye, Orimura Ichika-kun."

I hurried to the restaurant, taking care not to let my suit crumple.

--Huh?

"Did-Did she just say my name...?"

Just when I was thinking about this, the elevator arrived.

Ah! Got to get to Houki fast!

"..."

At the most inner table of the restaurant, sitting at that place and looking down at the night scenery was a restless Houki.

The reason she was anxious is the clothing she's wearing now.

"Our shop requires females to wear dresses."

Having been told to do that, Houki could only borrow a dress from the shop. As expected of female superiority in today's society. Men would be told to go buy it, and women can borrow the dresses inside the shop.

(It-It's not too weird, right?)

Houki was wearing a white dress, and the luxury showed more of the refined lady's image.

The last time she wore a dress was while doing the Cinderella fight during the school festival.

During that time, she was so focused on the right to live with Ichika that she didn't realize that the light and fluffy thing called a dress wouldn't calm her heart down.

(As expected, the kimono's still the best.)

That high performance costume's Number 1 in the world, at least for me.

Just when Houki was thinking about this, a voice came from behind, calling her.

"Sorry for being late, Houki."

"You're too slow, Ichika! What were you—"

She wouldn't feel good if she didn't rant off. Just when Houki was about to stand up, turn around and throw a tantrum—the world suddenly stopped.

"Yo."

Dressed in a tuxedo, Ichika was standing there.

He was dressed completely in black, and the suave coolness around him was undoubted.

(So-So handsome.)

Houki wanted to complain, but those thoughts were gone like the wind.

Staring blankly at Ichika, Houki was handed a bouquet.

"Please accept this."

"Are these...roses...? And they're all red..."

She received the bouquet of flowers for the first time in her life (and the red ones the girls always dreamed of). At this moment, Houki seemed to see a huge dream as all sorts of confusing thoughts rushed into her head.

(Ichika was late, I was angry, unable to calm down. Ichika finally came and suddenly gave me roses.)

She was completely lost.

Blank, Houki just stood there. The waiter in the gentleman's attire came to talk to her, and she sat down.

"Then, welcome, and enjoy the special dinner of this restaurant."

The duo who were greeted respectfully greeted back half a moment later.

"Then, please allow us to serve the meal according to the menu. Since both of you are underaged, we can't provide alcohol or the likes, but we can provide mineral water for both of you."

Ichika and Houki were really tense, and they nodded their heads in agreement without knowing what was going on.

The explanation then continued for a while, and both of them were finally released from the waiter. They couldn't help but sigh.

" 'Saying that we came to the right place', that's just inappropriate."

"That's right. This isn't a restaurant we should be at."

Looking around at the other tables, it seemed that they were all adults. And they were more like adults of the upper class of society instead of being just normal adults.

(Speaking of which.)

Houki put the bouquet of flowers on the table, and turned to look at Ichika, who was dressed in the tuxedo.

Ichika now looks more mature than usual. Basically—that's right, it's great.

(Why? Why is this guy so suited to wear men's clothing...)

It was the same with the butler outfit during the school anniversary. Anyway, he's just very suited to formal clothing.

(Do-Do I look bad?)

She lowered her head to look at her dress.

As expected, anything other than the kimono couldn't calm her down. It didn't look like it suited her that well.

"..."

She was somewhat depressed.

"Houki."

Lowering her head subconsciously, Houki anxiously lifted her head up as Ichika called her.

"This dress—"

"!"

*BKU!* She curled up.

What if he says that it's weird? What if he says that it doesn't suit me? Thinking about this, her heart felt like it was going to leap out.

"Not bad. It suits you well."

"Ah..."

--*DOKI!*

Her heart pounded hard.

"Is-Is that so? That's good."

She acted like it was nothing and coughed.

But the heartbeat that was left in her chest felt like it was going to burst out, and Houki could feel her face turning red.

(The dim lights help me a lot.)

After this, dish after dish was served, and yet she didn't feel the taste.

Actually, it was unbelievable that the food could even go through the throat, as Houki's heart had been beating wildly because of Ichika in front of her.

"But this is really a top-class restaurant. Each dish's so delicious."

"Is-Is that so?"

--Huuh? Who'd know how they taste like? It's all because of you, Ichika!

Thinking about this, Houki stared at Ichika.

"Hn?"

"Su...!"

What's wrong? Facing Ichika's smiling face, Houki's ears got red.

Ichika's so handsome, so cool, I can't even look at him straight now.

(Now's the only chance! I'll confess!)

Overcome by the impulse of wanting to pass her feelings, she couldn't bring her courage out. Anxious, Houki tried to encourage herself as she picked the glass cup on the table and drank the contents.

"I-Ichika!"

"What is it?"

File:IS v07 315.jpg

"I-I—"

A sudden surge of excitement and pressure caused blood to rush up to Houki's head.

Her heart felt like a damaged engine going overload. It was impossible to stop it.

(Say it! Say it!)

She clenched her fists until the fingers dug into her palms, and she didn't care even though it was hurting her.

"I, well, I—"

Like! Just when Houki was about to say it, she suddenly went limp.

"...Huuh?"

The world spun around her. What's happening? What's going on?—just like that, Houki's consciousness went out like a TV with the plug pulled out.

"Hey, Heey, Houki?"

Seeing Houki suddenly collapse on the chair, Ichika anxiously asked. But he couldn't do anything opposite the table, so he stood up and moved to Houki.

"Houki, what's wrong? Hey."

"Funya...Ihikaa..."

"Wah! What's wrong? Why do you reek of alcohol!?"

"Heh...what's going on..."

Her speech slurred, Houki swayed and leaped at Ichika.

"I'll teach you. I'll teach you!"

"Uwa! Idiot, stop it! Hey, stop hitting!"

"Nyahahahaha..."

Seeing this somewhat strange scene, the waiter hurriedly came over.

"Dear customer, what happened?"

"No, I'm not too sure. She became like this after drinking water."

"Water? Excuse me?"

The waiter took the empty cup and sniffed inside.

"Who-WHO SERVED WINE TO THIS CUSTOMER!"

"Wine?"

"Syake—"[7D 22]

"It-It was me!"

"YOU AGAIN! HOW MANY TIMES DID I TELL YOU NOT TO MESS THE ORDER!?"

The young man lowered his head and bowed as he faced the lecturing waiter. Houki was completely drunk, and Ichika just sighed.

It's like a dream.

I'm waiting for a certain someone in the wide flower field.

A precious someone.

No, I knew who I was waiting for—a prince.

"—"

Someone called my name.

And I answered.

"Come up."

The Prince lifted my arm and guided me onto the horse.

I was carried by the Prince in front of his chest, and my chest felt like it was playing a tune.

"Shall we go?"

To where? I didn't ask.

Anywhere. To the ends of the world.

Anywhere will do as long as I'm with you.

"..."

I held onto the Prince tightly.

The warm, existent heartbeat was pure, undiluted happiness.

"Houki."

Gyaahh, the wind blew.

"Fufufufuufu..."

GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!

"GUEEEEH! HOUKI, STOP IT! MY NECK'S ABOUT TO BREAK!...GUUEE!!"

Carrying the completely drunk Houki, I walked all the way back to IS Academy.

I'll return the dress next time. I told the restaurant staff, and came out. However, it's still a heavy journey.

(Besides, I'm in a tuxedo. And Houki's in a dress...)

It can't be helped if someone asks us which party did we come back from.

And Houki continued to smile as she slept, and the surrounding eyes would look at us.

"Haa...a lot of things sure happened today. I'm so tired..."

But never mind. It's not like I felt any worse.

(Houki looks beautiful in a dress.)

Considering that she's leaning on my back and sleeping, Houki let out stable breathing.

My childhood friend, who gave a completely refreshing charm after changing clothes, really looks cute to my somewhat biased eyes.

"...Ichika..."

"Hm? Are you awake?"

"Uu."

Nope. She's still drunk. Speaking of which, maybe she's all dizzy now.

"Anyonya."[7D 23]

"I don't understand what you're trying to say."

"Funi."

"Do you want some water?"

"...Syuki."[7D 24]

Hn? What do I need to take note of?[7D 25]

"Houki."

"...Suu..."

Ahh, she fell asleep again.

Really, you.

...

......

.........

"Then, Takatsuki-san. I'll leave her to you."

Finally making my way to the first year dorm of IS Academy, I brought Houki to her room and left her with her roommate.

Most likely, there'll be gossip of me carrying Houki back. I tried my best to avoid a few people, but some girls caught me.

Thinking about this, as I walked out, I met Chifuyu-nee.

"What's the matter, Orimura? Why are you dressed like this?"

"Erm, I went to watch a musical."

*PAK!* My brain got smashed by the karate chop.

"Oww!"

"Who are you trying to fool?"

How does she know?

(Huh, more than that. Isn't there something I need to ask?)

Luckily, there's no one else on the corridor.

I walked to Chifuyu-nee and asked sternly.

"Chifuyu-nee."

"Call me Orimura-sensei."

"Erm...it's about family..."

It's hard to say it out.

Having been abandoned by our parents, we siblings have always treated family matters as taboo.

But even so, I had to ask.

"Well, is there anyone else...in the family...other than us...?"

"..."

Chifuyu-nee's expression changed.

I got overwhelmed by the suffocating tension.

"Like, an imouto, or something..."

"Nope."

"No? But..."

--Someone who looked just like Chifuyu-nee existed.

"You are my only family."

"Bu—"

Seeing that I intended to inquire until the end, Chifuyu-nee walked away with large strides.

That back figure of hers indicated that this is the end of the conversation.

"..."

I'm unable to understand at all, and I remained rooted to the spot even after Chifuyu-nee escaped my vision.



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