Lorelei VS Raikiri.
Both of them were the strongest student class B-rank knights.
The contest between two of the most powerful figures in Hagun welcomed an unexpected start.
「Wh, what is going on-? Both of them refuse to step forward!」
The kodachi named <Yoishigure> possessed a silver blade.
The Japanese sword <Narukami> sheathed in a black scabbard.
They both circled around the ring, keeping their distance the same, while holding their devices.
Even though an entire minute has passed since the match started, they still had not clashed their swords even once.
---The ground was covered in tension to the point of being painful.
The audience, who had come to watch a high quality fight, held their breaths without any exceptions and watched the ring.
"Neither of the two are trying to make the first move."
The fiery red haired girl, standing beside Ikki, called Stella Vermillion muttered in a stiff voice.
"They're checking each other's moves out while glaring from a distance."
It was the tall beauty, Arisuin Nagi who answered to Stella's mutter.
"Both of them are B-rank knights possessing the power of a Seven Star Sword King. That student council president and of course Shizuku, too, have the means to attack from one end of the ring to the other. Both of them are within each other's attack range. The one to make a careless move will be defeated."
"To add one more thing to what Alice said, Shizuku doesn't want to be the one to make the first move because Toudou-san has the strongest cross range weapon."
"…Ikki, is that the trump card the commentator talked about?"
"Yes, it is neither exaggeration nor a lie. It's the noble art that became Toudou-san's epithet because of its immense strength and awe striking nature. To elaborate, it is the ultra-electromagnetic battoujutsu <Raikiri>."
She creates a powerful magnetic field with her thunder ability around the blade and scabbard of <Narukami>, hanging on her waist, and then shoots the blade out.
The strike of that battō has the tremendous power and speed to even cut through a lightning bolt.
That's no longer a strike that could be parried with the body of a human.
Thus it's a certain kill technique.
"Every single official match where she used <Raikiri> ended in Toudou-san's victory. Once it's released it will defeat the enemy without fail. It's literally a trump card."
"Huh, but Ikki, wasn't she in the best four last year? Then, wouldn't it mean the knight who defeated her surpassed it?"
Ikki denied, swinging his head.
"The current Seven Star Sword King, Moroboshi- kun is a spear user. I saw a video of the match, he was doing his best, throughout the match, to stay out of <Raikiri>'s range. In other words, even the Seven Star Sword King was afraid of her <Raikiri>. There has been no one till now who has been able to breakthrough Toudou-san's cross range. Every single one who stepped into that territory was, without any exception, cut down by her faster than a lightning slash, and of course, Shizuku knows that, too."
"…That's why, she doesn't make a move."
"Yes, Shizuku will be on defense throughout this match. Though, originally, Shizuku specializes in long range magic battles. There is no one who will step into a disadvantageous distance by their own will."
That's why, Shizuku was going to wait.
For the moment when her opponent will attack.
Within the frozen time.
"But… once Toudou-san makes a move things will develop quickly."
At the exact moment Ikki said that―Touka moved!
Swiftly bending her knees, she leaned forward, and leaped.
Within an instant she reached top speed.
Their distance was twenty meters.
Touka could cover that distance within a blink of an eye.
But the 《Witch of the Deep Sea》 wasn't someone who would easily allow that!
It was obvious because she had been waiting.
For the moment when Touka would move with all of her strength!
Along with those words, Shizuku's footing froze.
That ice froze the entirety of the ring and extended to the walls faster than Touka.
And what would happen if one were to run with all their might on such a foothold?
Of course, they'll slip.
Thus Touka would have to temporarily decrease her speed.
But, to force her in that situation was Shizuku's plan.
Shizuku immediately made her next move.
Noble art 《Water Bullet》.
A water cannonball, which could take away the enemy's breath by clinging to his/her face once it touches it (them), was shoot from 《Yoishigure》's tip.
Three consecutive shots. It was impossible to dodge those three shots on this frozen plain. That was common sense.
However, her opponent was a monster who lived in the immediate vicinity of Seven Stars' summit.
To her surprise, Touka didn't decrease her speed on the frozen ground.
She saw through Shizuku's plan to slow her down in an instant.
Thus, rather than stopping she further accelerated by sliding on the floor.
She slipped through the space of the three cannonballs like sewing through them, and skillfully dodged 《Water Bullet》.
And, while spinning around like a top by using the frozen floor, she released 《Narukami》, which was on her waist, aiming at Shizuku who was still far away.
Instantly, from the drawn blade a crescent shaped lightning slash was released towards Shizuku's neck.
After seeing through Shizuku's plan, she immediately performed a long range counter after dodging her attacks.
Touka was visualizing her evasion and counterattacking the moment she saw 《Water Bullet》.
There wasn't any enemy till now who saw through Shizuku so fast and precisely.
But---- that was within Shizuku's prediction.
The moment before the lightning slash cut Shizuku.
A water wall with a breadth of thirty meters from the ground came between Shizuku and the slash.
It was the noble art 《Shouha-Suiren》. It was Shizuku's impenetrable defensive technique that didnt't allow any kind of bullets or lightning attacks to pass.
Of course, Shizuku didn't think 《Raikiri》 would let her have her own way.
Obviously, because she was the fourth strongest apprentice knight in Japan.
She was sure to attack from long distance.
Having read that, Shizuku had taken precaution(s).
The lightning slash was able to blast away a part of the water wall, but it didn't penetrate it.
She had safely dealt with Touka's counter attack.
―That thought existed for brief moment.
The instant Touka saw that her attack didn't pass through the water wall, she let out two, three, ten more lightning slashes without even waiting for a second.
She unleashed lightning attacks like a machine gun.
What frighteningly violent attacks these were.
There didn't exist any valor like before when she saw through Shizuku's plan. This was just an overpowering, brute force spasm.
But, it was all part of her plan.
Touka, at this point, had already understood the advantage she had against Shizuku.
It was the time required to execute techniques.
Shizuku needed to pay attention to every single molecule of water, removing any impurities to create pure water that had an attribute of insulation, to dodge the lightning. It was an extremely nerve wreaking, delicate operation.
In comparison, Touka only needed to clad her slashes with lightning and send them flying towards Shizuku. It didn't really require a delicate procedure.
Of course, a gap in their speed appeared.
Touka realized that advantage with a single exchange.
That cornering her with a barrage of instantaneous lightning strikes was the most difficult development for Shizuku.
And that was a correct deduction.
Shizuku would be unable to undo the barrier if she was under the constant bombardment.
Shizuku had no choice but to protect herself with 《Shouha-Suiren》 from the barrage of lightning blades.
But, even just a single attack from Touka was heavy.
The hot lightning blade was certainly, without fail, chipping away Shizuku's defense.
And after several tens of attacks, the machine gun like barrage of lightning finally blown away the last of Shizuku's defense.
Touka immediately proceeded to swing 《Narukami》, intending to finish it up with one last lightning attack.
―It was at that moment.
Touka's movement stopped.
The reason was at her foothold.
Touka's feet were caught up by something.
They were arms made out of water coming forth from the frozen ground.
The water arms froze the instant they caught Touka, effectively sewing her to the ground.
At the same time a shadow was nearing Touka from above, whose movement have been completely sealed.
What is it?
It was too late when Touka took her gaze off from Shizuku and looked above her head. What she saw was a scene where an enormous pillar of ice was falling down at a terrifying speed from a human's absolute blind spot, and it had come so close to her it could almost touch her nose.
―Everything went as Shizuku had planned it out.
If Touka was to go on offense by quickly seeing through her plan, then Shizuku was to counter it by seeing through Touka's plan profoundly.
Shizuku let Touka think that she had the advantage of speed.
She caused her to get the wrong idea that all she could do was be on defensive and protect herself like a turtle.
And, behind that facade, she imbued her mana into the ground and made the arms constrain her. On the other side, she used the water that was vaporized by Touka's lightning attacks to create a mass of ice to crush her.
She simultaneously performed three different complex mana operations.
A feat average blazers wouldn't be able perform, but Shizuku could do it.
Her ability to control mana was worthy of being rank-A, because it was at the highest level among humanity, even surpassing Stella's.
Instantaneously, the fallen mass of ice split the ring along with Touka.
Its power was tremendous. The crack from the destruction extended till the audience stands.
It was that powerful of an attack.
And at the center of that destruction was a tombstone made of ice.
There was no way she could still be standing after receiving this attack.
The result of the match was obvious to everyone. It was supposed to be.
Despite that, Shizuku felt it.
--That even a single atom of that almost painful atmosphere has not disappeared.
As though to ascertain her understanding, the mass of ice burst opened from both sides like a blooming flower.
《Raikiri》 stood at the center of that, unharmed.
Both of them attacked, and defended to the point where the ground was partially destroyed, but still none of the two have scored a point.
They were evenly matched.
The fight of two rank-B knights had returned to the starting point, both glaring at each other.
『A……… amazing!!!!!!!!!!! What a high level match of offence and defense! I, despite being a commentator, was not able to let out a single word!』
The commentator who was captivated by their fight, shouted like she finally remembered her position.
And with that the audience, finally freed from the pressure that rendered them breathless, raised surprised voices.
「Wh, what heck are they……!? Are they really humans like us……!?」
「Amazing, President is really amazing after all!」
「No, no, I already knew President was amazing! After all, she is among the best four! But, what's up with that first year who is equally holding up!?」
「In that moment, she defended, counterattacked, pulled off a bluff, and used her trump card… how many cards did she play in that short amount of time!?」
「However, President countered them all!」
「Both of them are monsters. So, this is the power of a B-rank……!」
『Their fight has stirred a commotion in the stadium! However, it's no surprise! Power, technique, tactics; everything shown in this match is not at the level of an interscholastic competition! It wouldn't be weird if either of them becomes the Seven Stars Sword King, since they have such power! On top of that, both of them are without scratches even after such a violent battle! As they say "Diamonds cut diamonds!" Just who will fate choose as the winner today!?』
"Shizuku, she is doing good……!"
"…I knew she was strong, but to this extent… even I am surprised!"
Like the commentators and others, Stella and Arisuin, seeing Shizuku holding her own game expressed their admiration.
Since her opponent was the strongest knight in Hagun.
And, she was the girl who was in the best four in last year's Seven Stars Sword Art Festival.
Against such an opponent, Shizuku was fighting equally.
In other words, it meant that Shizuku's power was equal to the monsters living at the summit of Seven Stars.
"At this rate, she might really win……!" said Stella, with expectations.
Despite quarreling with her all the time, Stella did not hate Shizuku.
There were things they understood, precisely because they loved the same man.
That's why Stella was happy with this development from the bottom of her heart.
Shizuku was fighting well enough against a high rank lightning user.
Thus, the outcome of this match was unclear. There was a large possibility of something unexpected happening.
But, standing beside the two filled with hope, there was one―
Kurogane Ikki was the only one looking towards the ring, grimly.
"Well, Kanata, those two are certainly evenly matched."
"Yes, Vice President, it does seem the case."
Two people of the student council lead by Touka Toudou, Utakata Misogi and Kanata Toutokubara, were watching the match from above the red gate located opposite the blue gate where Ikki's group was at.
"Really, this year's first-years are amazing. Everyone's so strong, I'd have to give up. If they acted up, the ones who'd have to come stop them would be us, huh?"
"Hahaha. Aren't you crying out in joy? The point is we can graduate with relief."
Complaining with a refined voice like a songbird's twitter, Kanata gazed again at the opponent who was fighting equally with Touka from beneath the rim of her hat.
"However, I was truly surprised that she can compete with our princess this far."
"It's true. She really isn't the tiniest bit inferior. That there's anyone like this among the first-years besides Kurogane-kun and Stella-chan, it's truly amazing."
Utakata also acknowledged that. And more than acknowledging it, he cheerfully smiled with cool composure.
"―But that is still, in the end, the wrong range."
Right. It was the reason Ikki had a grim expression. It was the one visible reality of the current match. Touka had taken absolute control over close range. For one thing, it could be said that cutting through this was impossible. In other words, Shizuku Kurogane's way to win was completely in commanding long range. In that case… it was wrong to call them evenly matched. The scene of offense and defense just now was, as far as Shizuku was concerned, about seven to three that she had to come out on top. In spite of that, she couldn't do any kind of effective damage to Touka. That is, if the current match was restricted to offense and defense, it was even, but if one expanded his outlook and carefully studied the whole fight… since some time ago, a clear superiority had emerged between Lorelei and Raikiri.
"Furthermore, Touka isn't serious yet."
Shizuku was a B-Rank knight, a water user who could boast of almost A-Rank Magic Control. For this kind of outstanding talent, there was something at the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival which couldn't be found elsewhere by chance. That was hard-won experience. For that reason, Touka didn't purposely attack unreasonably, and accepted the long range combat that Shizuku wanted. In order to study the top water user's offense.
"Fighting before the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival, Touka is probably delighted, huh?"
"Yes. But still, it's about time for the studying to wrap up. The time span of today's match is extremely strict. Because as president of the student council, she prefers to not fall behind schedule."
Exactly as Kanata had said, something unusual was happening in the ring. Under Touka's feet, the icy surface created by Frozen Field began to steam. With the Joules of energy created by a lightning user's manipulation of vast electric power, Touka was overriding Frozen Field. And raising Narukami, she aimed its point at Shizuku.
Shizuku certainly felt a heart-piercing blood thirst from the clearly shining sword-point, and her expression stiffened. However, the reason for Shizuku's expression stiffening wasn't only that pressure.
I don't understand.
While Shizuku was surrounding Touka with a spell, she had been captured by doubt. It was the previous response to the offense and defense from not long ago that was giving her an irremovable doubt.
How was she able to respond to my surprise attack?
Lorelei's magic control far eclipsed that of Raikiri. Compared to Stella the A-rank knight, Raikiri's magic control would be even more inferior to Shizuku's. For that reason, Shizuku had absolute confidence in her concealment tactic. It was impossible for her opponent to discern what kind of technique she was bringing out. Furthermore, humans have an absolute blind spot above their heads. Even the people who could react to indications from behind them could not sense things above their heads. That was the mechanism of the creatures called humans. But in spite of that, Touka noticed it as if it was nothing out of the ordinary, and sliced in two that tombstone of ice.
I'm seeing something… something I've never seen before.
The instant she thought over what that was….
A sudden wind roared, and Shizuku saw Touka's figure brandishing Narukami before her eyes.
Shizuku goggled at that sight, and almost screamed. It was understandable, because in a blink, the enemy who had to be tens of meters away had gotten close enough to extend a hand and touch her with their sword.
But even if she was surprised, she didn't freeze up. Shizuku threw her body backward without breaking her fall or any thought, and evaded the sword flash that was swung in a horizontal line. And then like that she turned her body, and placed her left hand on the ground. From the palm of that left hand, high pressure water exploded outward, pushing her body far from Touka.
It was simply a composed judgment that didn't stop at evasion. However, that was Shizuku generally using her reason and somehow decisively acting with composure. Right now, her head was half-panicking.
The reason, I don't understand it!
She couldn't understand what was occurring. Her gaze could not have slipped for even a moment. Despite that, Touka had shortened a distance some tens of meters without a sound or sign, and abruptly appeared before her eyes.
「Oh, contender Kurogane! She just made a dangerous evasion just now! Even though she was able to cope with contender Toudou's movement, what the heck happened just now!? It looks like she's somehow lost concentration, but…!」
I've lost concentration?
To the voice of the live broadcaster, Shizuku knit her brows in puzzlement. It was impossible for her to lose concentration in the middle of the match. However, the words of the live broadcaster made what looked like that apparent to everyone else. That she had overlooked Raikiri, who just now made an attack.
Even though that kind of thing couldn't have happened.
In any case, it had been unfavorable just now. She had to concentrate so that it'll never happened again. Shizuku told herself so strongly, and gathered her awareness into her eyes.
The next instant, her eyes that swung downward saw the blade of Narukami approaching.
It cut deeply into Shizuku's clothing, and she had no time to dodge or think.
「Aaaaahhh! Contender Kurogane Shizuku took a hit from Contender Toudou's sword just now! And it was quite deep! Could this be a fatal wound!?」
However, the instant that everyone thought the match was decided, Shizuku's body suddenly turned pale, turned to ordinary water, and spilled onto the ring. And the real Shizuku was already behind Touka, standing quite a large distance away in the arena.
「I-It was some kind of water clone! Contender Kurogane has avoided Raikiri's sword splendidly… no!」
The live broadcaster's voice suddenly cut short. Why? Because the scarlet color flowing across Shizuku's left hand was visible.
「Blood is dripping from her left hand! She wasn't able to dodge perfectly! In the end, Contender Kurogane was struck! The first one to get in a damaging hit in this match is 'Raikiri', Contender Touka Toudou!」
I didn't see it at all.
Shizuku moaned as she held the light wound on her left arm. She didn't know what kind of mechanism had been used. What kind of method was used to move invisibly, Shizuku completely could not comprehend it. However, the scarlet flowing down her left hand told her only a single certain truth.
I can't catch the movements of this enemy…!
Right. In this instant, it was obvious to anyone's eyes that the even struggle between these two people was broken.
Once the struggle for supremacy was broken, in the situation afterward, Touka pressed forward just like that. Shizuku started a one-sided defensive battle, and ran around the ring single-mindedly. However, the pace of the pursuing Raikiri was swift, and her own reaction was slowed by the burden generated from her evasive movements. She was gradually becoming tired, and now if she was pressed she'd be driven to exhaustion repeatedly to the degree of collapsing.
「What's going on? Lorelei and Raikiri seemed to be even matched in the beginning, but now Lorelei is running around, and it seems that's the best she can do. Why in the world has the balance up to now become so different!?」
The bewildered live broadcaster hadn't grasped that Shizuku had lost sight of Touka. Because of that, she couldn't comprehend why the match up to now had progressed so one-sidedly. However, there was one truth everyone at this battlefield could understand together. That was―who would be the winner of this fight.
「Even though it's fine for her to surrender already….」
「Guess this was a heavy opponent for a first-year after all.」
「Even though I thought there was a possibility she'd be able to compete….」
「Well what? Gonna leave?」
「Yeah, I figure the match is already decided. She's really strong, that Prez is.」
The venue whose atmosphere was cooling; the enthusiasm from the start was nowhere to be found. That was how it was. If one thought about it, no matter how exceptional she was, she was still a first-year. Was there a reason for Hagun's best knight to lose to that kind of opponent? There had been an off-the-mark enthusiasm, but that kind of apathetic atmosphere now drifted through the venue.
In the middle of that, Stella asked Ikki in a moaning voice.
"…Hey Ikki. How is Shizuku doing?"
"I can tell by looking. It's obvious that her response to her opponent's movements worsened all of a sudden."
"It's just as Stella-chan says. Even though the President is moving normally, it looks as if she can't see it."
Arisuin also felt that there was a problem with Shizuku's movements. And of course, Ikki did too. But Ikki could already see a few more things than the other two.
"…It's exactly like that, probably."
"Shizuku really can't see her. I've also seen something like this once before."
It was that time before his debut battle, when he met the Yaksha Princess Nene Saikyou at the reception desk.
"That time, Saikyou-sensei got right in front of me in an instant. Even though I didn't let her out of my line of sight for even a moment, she got to my chest before I knew it. Right now, Raikiri is probably using the same body technique, I think."
"Ahaha. As expected of Kuro-bou. You noticed it after all, huh?"
A voice descended from an angle above. Ikki turned his eyes in that direction, where a bewitching petite woman dressed in a kimono and an imposing woman clad in a suit were descending the bowl-shaped stadium's stairway.
"Hey there~. It's been a while ♪."
"Saikyou-sensei, and Madam Director. The two of you together, I wonder if something's going on?"
"What, she just called out because she saw you guys, not because there's a reason."
The board chairman, Kurono Shinguuji, answered Arisuin's question. These two only came to see the duel between fellow B-Ranks in an ordinary Selection Battle. They only greeted them because Ikki's group was having an interesting conversation.
"…Hey, Nene-sensei. The thing that Ikki noticed, is what he's saying correct?"
Saikyou-sensei confirmed Stella's question with a nod.
"Yep. That is an ancient Japanese martial arts technique called Trackless Step that merges breath control and footwork. Or something like that―"
In an instant. Saikyou who had to be at least five meters away from Stella reappeared very close, and―raised Stella's plump breasts from below while rubbing them.
"Oh, this kind of feeling? Well, no milk's coming out. Yet it's super soft~♪"
"Kyaaaaa! Wh-Wh-What are you doing!?"
"I was wondering if rubbing yours would make mine grow."
"If you want to grow then go rub your own!"
"I don't have anything to rub, IDIOT!"
"You're getting angry at the victim!?"
Ignoring the two noisy people, Kurono asked something of Ikki.
"Kurogane. Someone like you has already seen through how Trackless Step works, right?"
To that inquiry, he nodded.
"Somewhat. If you tell me to do the same thing, I could probably do it."
"Hey Ikki, what is this Trackless Step?"
"Let's see, humans are nothing more than animals, and like a machine they can't process all the tiny details that they see and hear, and the brain certainly can't consciously recognize all of those sights and sounds. After all, if they processed and analyzed everything they see and hear, the brain will burn out. Therefore, the human brain will toss low-priority information into the unconscious, and abdicate recognizing them in order to ease the load on itself. This thing called Trackless Step is a martial arts technique that applies peculiar breath control and footwork to slip its user's existence into the opponent's unconsciousness. As a result, even though Shizuku can still see Toudou-san, she has become unable to recognize that fact. Even though the brain and the eye can capture Toudou-san's movements, they can't be processed because the consciousness is classifying them as unnecessary information, to the degree that a life-threatening danger can approach to little more than a blink away.
"Spot on. You understood it well."
Kurono praised him as if in admiration, because there were no faults in Ikki's answer that divulged the mysterious mechanism that was assaulting Shizuku.
Right. There was only unconsciousness within.
The opponent was making everything about herself imperceptible by shifting her breath and body a half-step, and by sliding into that interval, she had dodged the awareness locking onto her. That was the mechanism behind the old-style footwork Trackless Step.
"Because I've already seen that body technique once."
Moreover, Touka's Trackless Step had great flaws compared to Saikyou's. Because of that, Ikki was able to see through the mechanism.
"But I didn't think that there was a student who could do the same thing as the Yaksha Princess."
"Well, it's natural to be able to do the same thing, since Nene and Toudou both study under the same knight. Trackless Step was originally the technique that was that knight's strong point."
"Is that how it is? By the way, who was that teacher?"
"Nangou, the 'God of War'…!?"
To the revealed name, Ikki showed a shocked expression.
God of War―Torajirou Nangou. The great hero Ryouma Kurogane's lifelong rival, the elder knight who was on active service while being over ninety years old. He is a living legend who people talked about without end.
"It's like you saw him at a senior's lodge one time, and begged him for training thereafter."
"Mu. Hold on a second, Kuu-chan! I've never thought of that geezer as master even once!"
"What are you being shy about? Those clogs are probably also something copied from that person."
"Y-Y-You're wrong! I bought these from mail order to help ease my constipation!"
"Sandals for changing how you walk, huh…."
While patting Saikyou's long-sleeved kimono noisily, Kurono leaked out her honest opinion that "that person is as unfrank about her feelings as ever" about Saikyou who for some reason was becoming irritated, then once again turned her gaze toward Ikki.
"Well even so, if you can see the mechanism so clearly to that extent, it should be understandable to you. Trackless Step can't be broken by your little sister."
The declaration of those words, they were the truth of Shizuku's hopeless defeat. It was Stella and Arisuin who raised surprised voices upon hearing them.
But Ikki, though he had a bitter expression, didn't show surprise. Why? Because he had reached that conclusion a long time ago.
"…Really, Ikki? There's no way for her to break Trackless Step!?"
"No, there's a way to break Trackless Step with your own body. It's enough to just voluntarily shift your attention to the unconscious. However, that's easier said than done."
For example, imagine that there was a man thrusting a gun in front of one's eyes. And that man is obviously showing hostility, and pulling the trigger with his finger. In that kind of situation, just about anyone would have his eyes glued to the muzzle. It would be natural, because it was one's life being threatened. Under that kind of situation, would anyone take heed of the man's earring? Would anyone care who the earring's maker was? There was no way anyone would care. No one would consciously recognize inconsequential information, probably. However, in order to break this Trackless Step, one has to take his eyes from the muzzle and focus on the earring beneath that serious situation. That was the task of shifting one's attention onto the unconscious.
"Shizuku is right now exactly in an exchange for her life. In this situation where her opponent is intentionally slipping from her consciousness, it's training in its own way, and if she can't gain free control over/of her own body and consciousness, she won't be able to do it."
For example, if this was someone like Ikki or Stella, even that was probably possible. Because these two people, from the process of learning martial arts, had established almost complete control of their bodies. However, Shizuku was different. She was the best when it came to magic control, but as for controlling her physical body, she was a novice. Therefore, rather than thinking it was an oversight, she would try and concentrate. As a consequence, her field of vision would narrow, and the darkness of her unconscious would deepen. It would give birth to a perfect vicious circle.
"Honestly… it's very severe for Shizuku, I think."
"That can't be…!"
Of course even Ikki didn't want to imagine Shizuku's defeat. But it was sad that Shizuku and Touka, these two B-Rank knights, had too much of a difference. Whatever additional effort Shizuku tried to start making, she simply couldn't ever make an effective attack on Touka.
And that was with her forte of long range. In a fight without the evenness that comes from distance, the match would become complicated. It would probably be impossible to have a victory in a situation where she's completely pinned down.. Without a doubt, she was being maneuvered into a fatal distance. And that was Raikiri's range.
"…Maybe, there's a possibility that Shizuku has a trump card she can use to deal with Raikiri in close range. But if not…."
To that, Ikki didn't say so daringly. However even if he didn't say it, Stella could understand the words that might follow.
It was mysterious. As far as Stella was concerned, Shizuku was a rival in love. A person who could be nothing more than an obstacle, but still―she understood Shizuku. That right now, what kind of feelings Shizuku had in this fight. How strong the thoughts that Shizuku was dealing with in her chest during this fight. Because she loved the same man, she understood how those feelings hurt.
Because of that―
"Shizuku―! Do your best―!"
It wasn't something she could put into a single word. Despite knowing that, Stella couldn't contain that shout.
Stella's loud and beautiful voice reverberated through the assembly hall that had lost its enthusiasm. Naturally, it also entered Shizuku's ears. This voice, from a rival in love she knew well, hit her earlobes giving a cry that sincerely wished for Shizuku's victory. To that cry, Shizuku clenched her fist hard enough to block the bleeding.
I'm not exactly happy about being cheered on by someone like you!
Raising her eyebrows, Shizuku pretended to be tough. Feeling it inside her heart, in order to ignore a terribly itchy difficultly-shaped emotion. If she accepted that, it would give a mood of having a permanent change to the relationship between that girl and herself.
But however much she ignored it, Stella's voice had certainly shifted a feeling in Shizuku's heart. That was the competitive spirit.
Stella-san will definitely go to the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival.
She was simply the one A-Rank knight in Hagun. Right now she was someone higher ranked than Shizuku, and Raikiri who Shizuku was confronting. She didn't think it would be likely that Stella would stumble during selections. Furthermore, Ikki who took a victory over that Stella would probably advance again, into the national stage. Shizuku understood her brother's strength more than anyone. For that reason, she had no doubts about this truth.
Therefore―she couldn't be the only one to lose here.
I'll also win, and advance. With Onii-sama, with everyone together, to the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival―!
The moment she became aware of that, the fighting spirit of Shizuku who had lost strength out of hopeless inferiority surged upward. While healing her wounded body, she held her head high and glared at the enemy before her eyes.
「Oh, contender Kurogane who has been one-sidedly defending hasn't given up the fight! She's given her body some healing, and has taken a stance to keep on going! Could it be she has found some way to win!?」
She hadn't found any such thing. But she had found determination.
…Touka's approach, she couldn't follow it. What kind of mechanism it was, Shizuku didn't understand it, but she realized enough that she already detested only that. In that case―she couldn't keep defending. More than the fact that she couldn't see her opponent's moves, the tactic of spraining the first step with long range was failing. Huddling up at a distance would only make the situation worse and worse. Therefore, reserving herself for survival would naturally only distract her offensive.
Her opponent was Raikiri. Hagun's highest knight who held an invincible single slash in close range. But if there was no other way to take the victory―
I'll capture it! That invincible close range!
Shizuku prepared herself that way, and put her strength into her grasp on Yoishigure. But knowing nothing about that determination, Touka ruthlessly, mercilessly, again penetrated the thin space of Shizuku's consciousness with Trackless Step―
In that instant, Shizuku moved! She stabbed Yoishigure into the frozen ground, and yelled out.
Together with the words of that incantation, the ice of the Frozen Field changed from solid to vapor in an instant, and became a smokescreen-like deep white mist that swallowed the entire field!
Shizuku had changed her way of thinking. If one couldn't see in this direction anyway, it'd be fine to make everything invisible. Therefore in the face of the Joules of heat, the Frozen Field that wasn't serving its function was already vaporized, dispersing as a thick fog that one couldn't even see a meter into.
In the middle of this magic mist, the only one who could move freely was its practitioner Shizuku. Without being able to see, this mist was the same as a part of Shizuku's body. What was there? Who was there? She could feel all of it. And that perception had undoubtedly captured the position of Touka who had been brought to a standstill and lacked a technique to establish the middle of the fog.
Shizuku immediately circled around Touka's back.
Acting with the voice, the water in the atmosphere gathered on Yoishigure's edge, and soon took the form of a large Japanese sword. That was a blade of high-pressure circulating water current(s). That was to say, it had the strength of water that wears through stone drip by drip. If it was with a high-pressure current, water could change into a tool that can cut apart even metal like butter. In the first place, for the entire Earth, it could be said that water had sculpted its shape. There was nothing on its surface that hadn't been cut apart by water. Shizuku, with outstanding Magic Control, had compressed that power of Mother Nature into the shape of her blade―
Let's do it―!"
And broke into a run toward Touka. Was it a reckless suicidal attack? No, she had a conviction of victory in her heart. The overhead surprise attack from the beginning, she didn't understand the reason that had been seen through. However, using Narukami to try to deal with Hisuijin the same way as that time, it would be impossible. Why? However much one possessed a famous sword or cutting power, water was fluid. Narukami, which had a solid form, could not stop such a blow. Hisuijin would pass through Narukami that came to block it, and cut down Touka's body.
Shizuku could see that vision. For that reason, she charged into Raikiri's distance with conviction held in her heart, and―
In that moment, Shizuku saw it. Within the mist. With a pair of eyes trained on Shizuku who couldn't possibly be perceived, it was the sight of Touka's form that had taken a stance to quick-draw her sword. A visible flash of lightning violently moved at the black scabbard where Narukami had been restored.
She knew. Shizuku saw and remembered the image many times over. This technique that releases a blinding light. That was a trump card that cuts through all resistance in a single flash―!
Spraying plasma, burning the world to white. An overwhelming heat released in an instant.
Shizuku, who initiated the clash, couldn't stop. She was swinging Hisuijin downward with her full strength. Raikiri who had released her power, with only that speed, erased that sword of circulating current in an instant.
As if everything up to now had been like that. Shizuku Kurogane's wish―had been cut down with one stroke.
The moment that Raikiri, who was clad in plasma, followed through, a blade that transcended the speed of sound blasted through the surrounding atmosphere. The same windstorm that burst open swept over Toudou, and blew apart Byakuya Kekkai's mist. That aftermath reached even the audience seats, and grated the cracked assembly hall. The force of the atmosphere was already to the point people couldn't even stay up.
But in the middle of it, Ikki didn't close his eyes even one time. Within the raging windstorm, staring down on the ring beneath his eyes―to the end, without averting his gaze, …he saw Shizuku Kurogane's fallen form with his own eyes.
「A flash of lightning! A blade descended! At the same time, the referee has cross his arms! The match is over!!! Contender Kurogane has shown us a brave fight but even so the obstacle of last year's best four was insurmountable! The one who conquered the life-and-death struggle with a fellow B-Rank is our student council president, 'Raikiri' Touka Toudou!!!」
The live broadcaster announced the winner's name, and lowered the curtain on the match.
Putting up a good fight―certainly the offense and defense in the beginning far transcended the level of students. However, the natural contents of the match was probably Shizuku's complete defeat. Because however it happened, she was never going to be able to touch Touka.
"I get it, Alice. I was watching properly."
Answering Arisuin's voice that way, Ikki stared at a speck in the ring. What he was staring at was the right hand of the fallen Shizuku.
That right hand was gripping Raikiri's leg.
Right, it was certainly a complete defeat. However―
"She was splendid. Shizuku."
It was probably Shizuku herself that felt more than anyone the difference between her power and that of another. Despite that, she didn't concede to the end, and continued to fight.
…She's gotten stronger, huh?
That small girl, who always followed him with tiny steps―around this time today, there was no instant of Ikki not feeling four years worth of progress. And―
Ikki stared at the back on which chestnut-colored hair waved and was leaving the ring.
…As I thought, she's strong.
At that time, Shizuku had definitely not made a reckless suicidal challenge. The Byakuya Kekkai that snatched away her opponent's field of vision. In the middle of the Noble Art that Shizuku possessed, the strongest cutting ability that she boasted of, Hisuijin. She, by means of her entire strength, seriously carried out a strategy against Raikiri. She probably could see the vision of her own victory. But to seize it, she cut forth head-on. How much did she try her best, even thinking about the highest one effort, the existence that heads toward that distant higher hypothesis.
Ikki, who fought the "Sword Eater" Kuraudo Kurashiki, knew this. The extent that the people who resided at the top of the Seven Stars, not a single one of the people who resided at that domain was ordinary. They were superhumans who surpassed common measurements.
For that reason, Ikki thought―how much effort would it take to ascend to that summit?
Touka Toudou, Raikiri…. It looks like I'll definitely cross swords with her, huh?
After the advent of the flash that burned away her field of vision, there was a deep darkness of despair. From that gloom, Shizuku slowly woke up. Raising heavy eyelids, she saw the blurry world come into focus. What jumped into her eyes was the white ceiling of a spotless medical office, and―
"You've woken up, haven't you Shizuku?"
―the face of the roommate she recognized.
Shizuku slowly raised her body half-way from the bed. When she looked, she saw that it wasn't only Arisuin here. Behind him, the figures of her brother Ikki Kurogane and Stella Vermillion were here as well. From that sight―
Ah, I see.
Shizuku comprehended her own defeat.
"I lost, didn't I?"
At those words coughed and muttered, a heavy silence fell.
Don't worry about it, cheer up. The people who were part of this world of matches and fights knew how bleak those words would be. In this world, there were no such words to give for the defeated.
"…Shizuku, umm, you know?"
The words that Stella tried to begin to say in the middle of the painful silence, Shizuku cut them to pieces.
"A little while… just for a little while, won't you leave me alone? I'm worn out today."
Shizuku covered her face and begged everyone. Right now, she didn't want to hear anything, and didn't want to see anything. …She just wanted to be alone.
"I understand. …Let's go, Stella."
Ikki sympathized with Shizuku's feelings, and lead everyone out of the medical office immediately. She was grateful. The regret over her defeat that ran through her heart was already rising through her throat. Her body trembling miserably from bitterness, she didn't want her brother, Stella, or anyone to see it. Because Shizuku was a proud little girl.
That was what she asked for, but―
"…Why are you still here?"
For some reason, Arisuin had remained in the room with a gentle smile on his face.
"Well, I wonder why?"
"I must have said to leave me alone."
"Yep. I heard you."
In the instant she vented violent words, Arisuin embraced Shizuku.
"You really fought hard, didn't you?"
Arisuin conveyed a calm tone close to the ears of Shizuku who had been surprised by the sudden embrace.
"Your brother, he was watching Shizuku all the way to the end. He said that you were splendid."
And while stroking her silver hair as if brushing it―
"And to me, Shizuku is neither someone who wants to protect nor someone who doesn't want to lose. Therefore… you don't have to pretend to be tough, you know."
That was her limit. To the gentle words that had been announced, to the embrace wrapped around her, the sobs that were rising through her throat spilled out. After it spilled out once, more overflowed like a dam breaking.
Frustrating. Frustrating. Frustrating!
The wish that didn't come true. The dream she didn't reach. Those vestiges tormented Shizuku. The frustration that she couldn't put into words, Shizuku screamed them out as she clung to Arisuin's chest. She put in enough strength to cut with her nails, but Arisuin didn't loosen his embrace. Because the partner of this proud little girl who was spitting out her bitterness, he knew that he was the only one. Therefore Arisuin kept hugging her small body until Shizuku's sobbing ended.
"Shizuku seemed vexed."
Heading down the corridor from the medical office to the dormitory, Stella coughed.
"…It's understandable. The road to the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival has essentially been closed to her, probably."
Some time ago, Ikki had been informed by Oreki firsthand that these Selection Battles would advance only six names as representatives, and these slots would be filled by the undefeated. Since they would aim for the entire country, these fights would never permit a defeat.
"But Shizuku has nothing to be embarrassed about."
Ikki remembered Shizuku's right hand that seized Touka's ankle. The willpower that she showed at the end, it was indescribably magnificent.
"It's a rigid fight that doesn't allow even one loss, right?"
"Yeah. But… it's not just someone else's problem."
Everyone fought under the same rules. Shizuku, Ikki, Stella―and everyone else. None of the people who aimed for the summit of the Seven Stars were allowed even one defeat. That was the rule laid out by the new board chairman, Kurono Shinguuji. A cliff that filtered out contenders for the sake of creating a Seven Stars Sword King from Hagun. Even breaking down and reuniting the stars of high-ranking companions, to select the strongest single person. Because at the end of the day, only one person can take the summit of the Seven Stars.
"It's already the finishing line of the Selection Battles. Even we have to focus our energies more than ever, right?"
"I won't lose, you know."
Ikki turned his gaze to Stella nearby, who made that clear declaration. And Stella also looked up at Ikki again. With pupils that held the blazing and sparkling flames of a strong fighting spirit.
"I will absolutely not lose. Because I'll fight and win against Ikki this time at the finals of the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival."
To that expression of strong will and affection, Ikki felt a happiness rising inside his chest. The promise they exchanged that night. He knew he wasn't the only one who looked forward to its fulfillment.
"…I think the same, after all. I definitely won't lose either."
"Hehe. Of course. I won't allow you to disappear in the middle♪"
Stella cheerfully spread a sweet smile over her whole face at Ikki's reply. At that smiling face, Ikki's cheeks relaxed. Recently, this girl had become more and more unbearably lovely. The more he knew her, the closer he got to her, the more he loved this girl. Her flower-like fragrance, her slightly high temperature―all of it was lovely. And because he wanted to fall even more in love with that girl, he would maintain a higher motivation than what he had held up to now. He would push himself higher than where he was now. For the sake of making himself worthy of the strongest rival who was there beside him, of the girl who was his beloved sweetheart. His meeting with her, it was an irreplaceable fortune as far as Ikki was concerned.
"Well, so that we don't lose, shall we do some training?"
"That's fine. Speaking honestly, after watching Shizuku's match, my body has been throbbing."
"Haha. That's so like Stella. Then let's hurry and go."
Saying so, Ikki checked to see that nobody else was in the corridor, then took Stella's hand and entwined their fingers. When he did so, Stella also squeezed Ikki's hand in return. Since they had taken a step forward as sweethearts at the pool, little by little they had grown used to mutual skinship. Recently, when they went to places out of the public eye, one of them would spontaneously grasp the other's hand. Tightly entwining fingers, recognizing the partner's temperature and presence, Ikki and Stella both loved doing those things.
Well, of course their favorite kind of skinship was kissing. …In that state, for the love between the two, the matter that had begun at that pool had certainly shortened the distance between the two sweethearts. That could certainly be called progress.
However―to tell the truth, Stella felt a touch unsatisfied with the current situation. Or maybe unsatisfied was not quite the right way to say it. She wanted to get closer and closer―to seek Ikki as a woman would. To shrink and shrink the distance between herself and Ikki, that desire was growing strong.
At night. In particular, when they exchanged kisses before sleeping. It was the worst at the moment their lips separated. Like yesterday, she gave a strange moaning sound when their lips separated that had surprised Ikki.
That was so embarrassing….
Having been surprised by a sweet sound she hadn't imagined she could make leaking from her own lips, she immediately leaped into bed and covered her head with her futon, but nonetheless there was a time before the fire that had lit inside her body went out.
Are my sexual desires so strong, I wonder…
Just remembering it had somehow made her very embarrassed. In the first place, she hadn't sought a place to get an answer. Because for Stella, there was her position as the second princess of the Vermillion Empire. However, at the same time Stella and Ikki were both mature adults beyond the age of fifteen. (That Blazers come of age at fifteen was a standard shared by all countries participating in the international mage-knight community.) In other words, they were both… adults who could consent to marriage. As adults who've come of age, they had the privilege to fall in love, of course.
What if, by some chance… Ikki sought that….
If he looked her directly in the eyes, placed his hands on her shoulders, and sought that―if it was at this moment, what answer might she choose? Would she take the official stance of an imperial princess? Or instead her own personal feelings?
If it was Stella from a little while ago, she'd probably give some excuse or other and refuse Ikki. But right now, which would it be?
She asked herself, but no answer came.
But, if Ikki truly wanted and sought for her―
"What's wrong, Stella? Your face is really red?"
"Fue!? Ah, it's nothing!"
"If it's nothing, your face wouldn't get that red, you know. I wonder if you might have a cold. Maybe a little fever."
With a worried expression, Ikki drew near her forehead to check her temperature. To that kindness, Stella raised her feelings in a scream.
D-D-Don't get near my face right now―!
"I-I-I'm really fine! Really! So you can't get so close―!"
She somehow forced Ikki back, while astounded by her own lack of chastity. To think that she was considering such misconduct inside the school building before the sun had even set―
Such a thing was bad.
Such a thing is prohibited before going to bed.
Meaning it was okay in bed? Stella ignored the retort sent from her own heart and calmed her feelings down.
Suddenly, it was at that time. From the corner in front of their eyes, with a nuu sound, a strange thing came into view.
Was it a human shadow? Thinking that, the two of them separated their hands in a panic. Like they expressed not long ago, Ikki had a social position, not to mention Stella. If they were to be sweethearts, the world would be considerably taken aback, and that interaction would become heavily pressured. Because of that, until the frantic period of students in the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival ends, it was their current plan to leave the relationship between the two of them hidden.
However… what appeared wasn't a person. It was a monster in the shape of a pure white crooked rectangle.
That monster, if one looked carefully, one could tell it was a bundle of papers stacked into a pillar. Somebody was carrying the pile of stacked paper with both hands. It was hard to tell who was doing it though, because the mountain of paper stretched so high it was concealing his or her face. But if one looked toward the legs, it seemed to be a female student.
"I-It looks kind of dangerous."
"It does, doesn't it? We should probably give her a hand."
Making up his mind, Ikki raised his voice at the female student.
"Umm, if you'd like, should I help you carry that?"
However, the female student was surprised by his abrupt voice, and her body stiffened. Because of that, her right foot caught the back of her left foot, and―
And dropped the stack of paper on Ikki.
"Sheesh, what are you two doing…."
"Oh no no! I-I'm sorry! I didn't think that there were people in front of me!"
"No, I'm also sorry for startling you by calling out suddenly."
The three of them fell to their knees and together gathered the dispersed stack of papers. And then after collecting them to some extent, Ikki turned his attention back to the female student, and―
Before his eyes, there was a butt moving left and right.
"Ohh, glasses… where are my glasses?"
Perhaps at the time she fell down, her skirt had been flipped up. But the female student hadn't realized it herself, and while coughing, she was on all fours groping around the floor by hand. In doing so, she swayed and fluttered a somewhat large and voluptuous butt.
"Wha, hey you! Your skirt! Your skirt is flipped up!"
At Stella's warning, the female student finally realized she was waving her uncovered butt in front of Ikki face, and hurriedly returned her skirt to its normal position.
"I-I'm so sorry! I've shown you such an unthinkably indecent thing…!"
"Err, no… ahaha."
"Ikki, did you see it?"
"…If I said I didn't, would you believe me?"
"Do you think I would?"
"Guess I don't need to ask. …Hmm?"
As he sighed, something came into Ikki's field of view. It was a pair of round glasses with extremely thick lenses.
Ah, was this what she was looking for a moment ago?
Guessing the reason the female student had been on all fours and shaking her butt, Ikki picked those glasses up and presented it to her.
"Hey, the thing you were looking for, isn't this it?"
"Ah, that's it! Thank you so much! I can't see anything without them…."
The female student turned toward Ikki, and gratefully accepted the glasses. And that was when Ikki and Stella saw the female student's face properly for the first time―
―and froze in surprise with a single question.
Why? Because this female student―this girl with her chestnut-colored hair in a braid was―
Undoubtedly, it was the one who defeated Shizuku with overwhelming power, the one who was Hagun's strongest knight.
"Eh? Ah, yes? That's right, but what about it?"
"Ah, President! Hey there―!"
"Good afternoon, Mishima-san."
"Student President! Congratulations on today's match!"
"Thank you for your support, Sayama-san."
"President Toudou, good afternoon! Thank you for helping me search for my purse that other time! I'm really sorry about having you accompany me the entire day."
"Please don't worry about it, Itagaki-san. Besides, finding it was thanks to Uta-kun, and I wasn't helpful at all…. Ah, but please take care not to lost it from now on, okay?"
As they advanced meter by meter, students of various school years and both male and female gender greeted Touka, and Touka answered them individually by name. Ikki and Stella were holding the documents she had been carrying sometime ago, and were watching that scene while walking several steps behind her.
"People idolize Touka-san, don't they?"
Suddenly, Stella spoke her thoughts. To that, Touka was cheerfully smiling as if amused.
"I only know the things that are only natural for a student council president, after all. Leaving that, I must thank the two of you. Not just for gathering the documents for me, but also helping to carry them…."
"No, no. It was originally a quantity that was tiring to carry."
"Ahaha… I was a little overconfident and tried to carry them all in one go. In the end, I shouldn't try to cut corners, I guess. I'm reflecting on it."
Touka stuck out her tongue bashfully. That gesture was extremely charming, unthinkable for the same person who had previously used the power of a fierce god to put Shizuku down.
"But… I was surprised. I saw Stella-san's face in the newspaper before so I knew her, but for you to be the rumored Ikki Kurogane-san. …It was a rather awkward timing for us to meet face to face, I think."
Awkward timing, it was probably because Shizuku was Ikki's sister. To those words, Ikki responded by shaking his head a little.
"…It was a match. Shizuku brought out everything of herself and fought splendidly. And you accepted that challenge head-to-head, and answered it sincerely. That's all it was for me. I'm very grateful that you accepted my sister's desire, and I bear no grudge."
Those were Ikki's true, undeceiving thoughts. But―
"I'm of the same mind, but I do have one thing I'm concerned about."
Going along with Ikki's words, Stella looked at Touka with a gaze that carried a slightly dangerous mood. She had something she needed to ask Touka no matter what. That was―
"Touka-san. We saw the situation just a moment ago, when you had the kind of eyesight that lets you see almost nothing without wearing glasses, but you didn't put on glasses during the match, right? Why was that?"
Indeed, why did Touka, whose eyesight was so bad, take off her glasses during the match?
"…Can it be, you were going easy on her?"
"N-No, dat ain't true!"
"Eh? …Ah. …Th-That's not true at all~"
Was she agitated by Stella's question? A huge accent had appeared just now. With her cheeks reddened, Touka's confused attempt to gloss over it was already rather too late. But nevertheless, Touka cleared her throat a bit and returned her tone to normal.
"How should I put it, it's instead the opposite. Because Shizuku-san was an opponent who couldn't be dealt with by ordinary means, there was no way I could accept her challenge while wearing my glasses. If I didn't improve my perception's accuracy by cutting off my eyesight, matching an opponent of Shizuku-san's class would've been very difficult.
"Perception, you say… what do you mean by that?"
"Me, I become able to sense the subtle signals of my opponent's body moving by cutting off my eyesight. Such a thing is a practical application of the ability to use lightning, you know?"
As Touka said. Humans are living machines. Their movements are based on autonomic transmission of signals coming entirely from the brain. Being able to perceive those signals was extremely beneficial.
The opponent's movements from the signals running down his nerves,
The opponent's line of sight from the signals controlling his eye muscles,
The opponent's mental status from the signals in his inter-cranial matter,
One could understand all of them quite distinctly.
"That sort of information, it's the opponent's true and naked feelings that can't be falsified. The opponent's state of mind. How the opponent is planning to act next. There are many things I understand beyond what the eye is limited to seeing in the opponent in practice. And if I grasp those things, reading and analyzing what my opponent is thinking becomes very simple. Thus I can see through both traps and surprise attacks."
"…I see. That's how Touka-san was able to avoid Shizuku's surprise attack, then?"
Touka nodded "yes" at Stella's words.
"That's my Noble Art, Reverse Sight. I suppose it resembles Worst One-san's Perfect Vision, yes? Although if Worst One-san's Perfect Vision is the fruit of discernment, mine is an ordinary cunning. …Well, that's how it is, but it's not like I never ease up on an opponent, you know?"
"Yeah… I get that well, sorry, it was an odd suspicion."
"No, no. Hahaha."
"You seem somehow delighted… right?"
"Yes, Stella-san was worried about her friend―was what I was thinking."
Stella's cheeks grew red as if a fire had been lit by those words.
"Wha! T-That person and I aren't friends at all!"
"Oh? Is that how it is?"
"No, I think they're on very good terms."
"I-Ikki, even you! Ugh―I don't care anymore!"
Suddenly in a bad mood, Stella turned her eyes away from Ikki and quickened her steps, walking ahead by herself.
…I wonder if she actually knows where the student council office is?
She probably, no definitely has no clue. She was waiting for them after having turned the next corner, most likely. So Ikki didn't chase after Stella, and asked Touka instead.
"By the way, is that alright?"
"Well, telling us about your own ability. There aren't many matches left in the Selection Battle Finals, but there's still a high likelihood we'll become adversaries."
"It's not really a concern. I've leaked the mechanism of Reverse Sight, but―it's not like I'll lose or anything."
In an instant, as if Ikki had been struck by a lightning bolt, he felt a numbing fighting spirit from the top of his head to his feet. Touka, who had been cheerfully giving the calm smile of an older girl a moment ago. From the narrowed eyes of that smile, a savage light like a sparkling knife was visible. It was unmistakable proof that this girl was Raikiri. Holding absolute confidence in her own strength, and craving battle with people even stronger than herself. One who was the same type as Ikki or Stella―with eyes that burned with self-confidence and ambition.
That was what Ikki thought on seeing it. That this girl and himself, they could surely become very good friends. And more strongly than that. Some time in the future―he wanted to try and fight this girl.
After walking for about five minutes, Ikki and the others finally arrived in front of the student council office.
"Whew. Got here at last. The student council room is unexpectedly far, huh?"
"Thank you, the both of you. You must surely come in and have some tea, please. Just yesterday, Toutokubara-san supplied us with very delicious tea leaves."
"Then I'll accept your kindness. How about you, Stella?"
"Me too. My throat is cracking."
"Then please come inside―"
As Touka said so, opening the student council office door, and taking a step inside to guide the other two―
Touka's toe caught on to something heavy, and she pitched forward and fell dramatically. Her head descended all the way, and her butt presented itself to Ikki and Stella, exposing her underwear yet again. Since some time ago, Touka's skirt hadn't done its job at all.
"…Hey Ikki. Shouldn't this person's underwear earn a fee from an ad sponsor?"
"There was no such arrangement."
"Owwowow…. Wha was dat?"
While speaking with an accent at the unexpected trap, Touka got up and took a good look at the student council room. And she turned white as a sheet.
"Wh-What the heck is this―!!!"
Touka raised a cry.
The student council room had bookshelf to bookshelf of books, miscellaneous objects withdrawn here and there, absolutely everything there scattered about. And in the middle of that chaotic room, all the student council staff members besides Touka were present. The secretary, Ikazuchi Saijou, was transcribing meeting records with truly skillfully written letters. The treasurer, Kanata Toutokubara, was pouring tea for him. But the vice president who was the type to do his work diligently, Utakata Misogi, was enthusiastically amusing himself with video games, and Renren Tomaru was watching the game screen with great interest and exercising with a resistance band while wearing nothing more than an athlete's T-shirt and a pair of panties.
"Oh~? The Prez is back―. Welcome―"
"Ahaha☆ Touka is such a klutz. Did you get turned around again?"
Renren and Utakata greeted Touka when they noticed that Touka had entered the room. Towards those two, Touka's eyebrows lifted mechanically, and―
"Geeze~! Tomaru-san! I'm always telling ya if ya gonna use dumbbells then put 'em back in a proper place! Iz dangerous, ya know! And Uta-kun, if ya gonna read manga then straighten da bookshelves properly afterward! Ya always take them out and leave 'em like that! I mean why'z the place this cluttered when I only went away for one day to prep for my match!?
She shouted with a raised voice.
"Pff, why's Prez deciding that we were the ones to make it cluttered? That might be a false accusation, you know!"
"The only one who works out in the student council room is Tomaru-san, and only you and Uta-kun read manga and leave it out!"
"Well no… I somehow suddenly wanted to read through all of Rur●Ken and Dragon B●ll and Sla● Dunk4 in one go, and going back and forth to take each volume from the bookshelf was troublesome, so I just grabbed all of them together, you know? And when I read them, I got nostalgic and suddenly wanted to play some SNES, so I turned over the room and dug through it little by little. Ah, but while Touka was gone, Ikazuchi and Kanata were working properly, so everything's okay!"
"What's with making that triumphant look while leaving everything to other people!? It makes me angry! Sheesh, you people are always, always―"
"President, it's not the place and there's no reason to get excited, and we do have guests as well."
Touka, who had forgotten herself in her wrath at the disaster area the room had become, looked over her shoulder at the entrance. There, Stella and Ikki stood with small smiles, gazing at the wretched state of the student council room that had become like a hoarder's house overflowing with garbage.
"O-Ohoho. Won't you please wait just a bit~?"
Touka, while unsteadily plastering a forced smile on her paled face, pushed the two of them back into the corridor, and slammed the door shut.
"Look here! Everyone help clean this place up! Uta-kun, stop playing games already!"
"Wa! W-Wait a second, Touka! I haven't saved since yesterday, wait, waaaaa! My Hagurin5!!!"
"I'm always telling you, only an hour a day for games! Sheesh, I let my eyes off of you and this is what happens! And Tomaru-san, are you still in that state!? There are boys in the student council too, so please put on a skirt or something!"
"Eh? But it's so hot because Prez destroyed the air conditioner―"
"Since electrical appliances get short-circuited whenever the President touches them."
"I-I'm very sorry about that, but that has nothing to do with wearing underwear in the student council office! It disturbs public morals! It's an unbecoming display for a student council member who should be a role model for the students!"
"Even though Prez is the chief of napping around in her underwear―"
"Ahaha☆ It's because Touka didn't used to have opponents to keep her in shape, so she was endlessly idle, right?"
"M-M-My private life has nothing to do with this! Anyway, please clean up quickly! If you don't clean the place up, I'll throw all of it away!"
"Whoa, I get it! I get it!"
Thump thump thump thump. With a noise as if someone was moving house, a clattering and rattling sound came from the student council office's shaking window. While that riotous noise was audible from the corridor―
"Touka-san somehow seems like a mother, huh?"
"…The student council has its own troubles, I think."
Ikki and Stella both felt an affectionate mood toward Touka. In the end they had been driven out before setting down the documents they'd been carrying, but they weren't going to complain.
They then waited in vain for a few minutes, until the student council office door finally opened.
"C'mon, c'mon… ah, sorry for the wait. Please come in…."
Touka peeked a disheartened face through, and invited the two of them inside.
"Ah, yes. Please forgive the intrusion…."
While wondering if it was a mistake to accept the invitation to have tea, Ikki entered the student council room with Stella.
And he was astonished.
The place had become beautiful as if the room had been completely replaced by an entirely different one. The books that had been scattered everywhere were now all put away in the bookshelf, and the floor had been polished to the point that his face was reflecting off of it. The cleanliness and hidden antique style of the refined furnishings, it gave the sense that the space was a room from a Western castle. It was quite admirable that they could clean up this much in just a few minutes.
However, Ikki whose eyes were sharp had noticed it.
Umm, wait a sec. The closet over there looks like it's bulging in a weird way.
And in front of that door, Saijou was planted there looking like a Jizou statue6, which might mean―
…Yep, let's pretend I didn't see that.
He gently ignored the lid sealing that hellish pot, and Ikki and Stella accepted that recommendation and sat down on the sofa in the middle of the room, gathering around the same table as the student council members.
After that, Renren with her light brown skin sat toward them and gave a friendly, cheerful smile and spoke.
"Kurogane-kun, it's been a while. It looks like you haven't had any trouble winning continuously after beating me, huh?"
"Yes, I've been pressing on somehow."
Following that exchange, Kanata greeted Stella with a gentle smile. Beneath the brim of her hat, blue eyes peeked out for the first time.
"It's been a while for us too, Stella-san. You met me at the restaurant, yes?"
"Yes. Though I didn't think that the day would come that I'd be called to this room."
"Toutokubara-san. Please serve tea to the both of them."
"Ah, Kanata, I'd like some too."
"Kanata-sempai! I wanna eat some madeleines!"
"You two bad children will go without afternoon snacks today."
"Wha-What are you saying!"
"You're so mean, Touka! If we don't get afternoon snacks, why would we come to the student council room!?"
"It's because you're student council officers, right!?"
Touka raised her voice in a scream. The student council president's life was summarized by that retort.
To Touka who was wildly gasping for breath from that strain, Saijou who was holding back the closet seemed to give her a grave look and spoke with an admiring voice.
"But it's just like the president. The job was quick, finding helpers for the thing we were talking about. It was a good selection too. If it's these two, their combat ability is nothing to complain about.
Combat ability? Helpers?
Ikki and Stella came to attention and tilted their heads at the words with a suddenly dangerous atmosphere. Those words, they hadn't heard them from Touka even once. They shifted their eyes to Touka to ask what he was saying.
Touka herself also sported a puzzled face as if asking what this was about.
Saijou looked baffled by this response.
"Umm, was I wrong? I thought that had to be the reason for such unusual guests."
"What's this, Touka? It can't be that you forgot about it? Look, didn't the board chairman make the request?"
"Something Kurono-san requested… ah, aaaaahhh!"
At that moment, Touka screamed with a paled face.
"Oh my, did you really forget about it? Even though I also thought that was surely the reason you brought those two here."
"…Au, yes. I was concentrating on the match with Shizuku-san and forgot…."
"Umm, what are you all talking about?"
Stella, who was sitting next to Ikki, asked that of Touka who was greatly troubled and downhearted. The one who answered wasn't Touka, but Toutokubara while she poured black tea for everyone.
"A few days ago, the student council received a favor from Board Chairman Shinguuji. Although representative contenders usually lodge together before the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival at a training camp in Okutama7, recently there has been a suspicious person appearing there."
"It's not quiet, then."
"Yes. Confirming the safety of that place just in case has been left to the student council, because the teachers are currently very busy with administering the Selection Battles. …However, there are high mountains and wide forests at the boarding house grounds, and the student council alone are not at all sufficient to cover it."
"I see. So you're saying you need helpers for the outside areas?"
It seemed that it wasn't just the teachers who were busy with the large-scale Selection Battles.
"Incidentally, what kind of character is that suspicious person? Is there any information?"
"Yes, these is some, but―"
Toutokubara hesitated for a moment, but answered.
"It seems it is a giant with a height of four meters."
"Yes, giant. Not the professional baseball team8, you know?"
"And also not at all, All Ha●shin-san's partner9, you know?"
"I know. I mean, I'm surprised that Toutokubara-san knows of him."
"H-Hey, this thing about a giant, is that true!?"
Suddenly, Stella leaned forward and bit into the abruptly nonsensical topic.
"You're really getting into that, huh Stella."
"B-But! A giant! That's a cryptid, you know! Isn't it intriguing?"
The scarlet pupils of the girl who was speaking were sparkling entirely like a young child. To that response from Stella, Renren agreed as if she had just found a comrade.
"Hey! Stella-chan likes that sort of thing!"
"Since I learned Japanese from Kawag●chi Hiroshi Tankentai DVDs10, I love them!"
What a staggering place to get into Japan, this imperial princess…!
Though unlike Ikki who felt a bit conflicted, Renren seemed to have found a kindred spirit in Stella.
"Ooh! Stella-chan, tell me about it!"
"That might be almost―"
"Vice president, we can't go further into that."
"Hey, hey Ikki! Since Touka-san also looks troubled, let's cooperate! I want to see a giant!"
Stella shook Ikki's shoulder while her eyes sparkled.
Frankly, Ikki wasn't curious about some giant, but―he was someone who reaped the benefit of the Selection Battle system that was making the student council busy. So the idea of cooperating with them felt like an obligation. Therefore he acknowledged it immediately.
"If that's what you're talking about, then as a student I'll happily cooperate."
To Ikki and Stella's ready consent, Touka's face that had been troubled and depressed regained its vitality.
"The boarding house is also an institution for students, right? If our help is enough―"
"It's more than enough! Thank you so much, really! You're very much saving us!"
Speaking with a lively voice, Touka offered a handshake that expressed her feelings of gratitude. But―
The hand that Touka was extending to Ikki was intercepted by Stella. Making up for Ikki, Stella shook Touka's hand enthusiastically.
"Best regards, best regards."
"Eh? Ah, yes, my best regards as well."
Thus Ikki and Stella made plans to go next weekend with the student council members to Okutama.