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When the School Festival ended, the wind of early summer blew to Asterisk before long.
The sky was high, perfectly clear, the trees shook the bright green treetops and the blazing sunlight became stronger day by day; it was such a season.
Despite this, Ayato and company, having no room to feel such a change, have secluded themselves in a training room and were striving to practice in their special training for the team battle.
“Which reminds me, I heard it from Yabuki, but it seems the stages have been upgraded for the .”
“Yes, looks like it. If I’m not mistaken, four stages, namely the large stage and the 3 main stages, have been upgraded.”
While doing stretches before the training, when the subject, which she had heard about the other day, was brought up, Julis answered like so as she did not seem to have that much interest in it.
“Thanks to that, the Official Ranking Battle’s battle ground has been changed to a mid-sized stage and this is a real nuisance for us.”
An Official Ranking Battle was often held monthly in an arena within each school, but stages of urban areas, where the general visitors could watch the battles with an observation card, were also used. This was a key event which gathered tourists in Asterisk during the period of time when a was not being held ── although there was exceptions like World Dragon ── and when it came to a ’s match, it was customary that no less than a large-scale stage was allotted.
In fact, both Ayato and Julis turned down challengers in the main stage, the Sirius Dome, last month. Because Julis excelled at long-range battle, it would be desirable that the stage was wide.
“But even if you say such a thing, didn’t you overwhelm that last time?”
The Seidoukan Academy Rank #7 and user of the scholarship Ogre Lux was an opponent whom Julis herself once said that she had bad affinity with. But in the Official Ranking Battle last month, Julis faced that formidable opponent who excelled more than her at long-range battles, and won with a margin of safety.
Having obtained the new armament called Rectoluz also played a great part in it, but above all the fact that Julis herself grew in strength rapidly in this one year was probably the primary factor. From her physical ability, amount of prana, and variety of techniques to the subtleties of their activation timing…… all of them showed steady improvements precisely because of the c.u.mulation of her daily training.
“Humph, even if you say that, yours was much easier, right?”
Julis curled her lips into a smile as she said so teasingly.
Since the time when Ayato had defeated Kirin and took the seat of rank #1, he certainly defeated almost all the challengers handily in the Official Ranking Battle. Although, even so, the fact that there was no end to the number of challenging students would be evidence of how exceedingly special the t.i.tle of rank #1 was after all.
“Well at any rate, things such as the stage’s upgrade aren’t that unusual. I think that it’s not really something to mind though.”
“……On the contrary”
Saya, who was checking her hand gun type lux, b.u.t.t in at that point.
“I heard that the upgrade this time was quite large scale. They said that a new type of defensive mechanism that Allekant developed was incorporated.”
“A new type of defensive mechanism, is it?”
Kirin, who had put Senbakiri on the floor and loosened her body, inclined her head to the side as if to say that it was the first she heard of it.
“It seems that the protective gel for shock absorption that Allekant’s developed was used.”
“Hou, you’re quite well-informed, huh.”
When Julis replied questioningly to Saya’s unexpected comment, the latter curtly answered while looking at the hand gun in her hand from various angles.
“Last time, I heard it when I spoke with Camilla Pareto.”
“Heeh…… wait, eeeh!?”
Because she had said it too casually, they almost went with the flow reflexively. Speaking of Camilla Pareto, she was the head of Allekant Academy’s and a talented woman who was in charge the armaments of the autonomous puppets Ardi and Rimsi; but she should have had principles that are completely contrary to Saya’s……
“Since when did you guys have a relationship where you talk casually like that?”
“Have you reconciled with her?”
It seemed that Ayato was not the only one surprised; Julis and Kirin too looked at Saya with flabbergasted faces.
“It’s not really like that. I’ll settle things properly with Camilla Pareto someday; that hasn’t changed. But…… it’s not really like there are still ill feelings between us.”
As Saya returned the lux to its setup state, she heaved a small breath.
“For a little while now, I’ve come to think about the state of my luxes in my own way. Of course, it’s not like I make light of my father’s guns ── since they are the weapons made only for my sake, I think that they probably aren’t too fit for team battles.”
Although the luxes, which Saya used, certainly have high firepower, judging from the viewpoint of accurate shooting, one could not but say that there was slight difficulty. Though Saya’s shooting skill itself was superior, even with it, the possibility of harming her allies in the case of melee would by no means be small.
After all, in the stage of the , a total of ten people, enemies and allies, would fight jumbled together. In the area where the rear guard supported the vanguard, it was an undeniable fact that more accurate shooting was demanded.
“That’s why I intend to prepare my weapons for team battle in a way that I thought about myself.”
“I see, so that’s why Sasamiya-san has often come and went to the Meteoric Engineering Research club’s factory as of late, huh.”
And, Claudia, who was listening to the conversation silently until then, clapped her hands as if she understood.
“Heeh, so that’s it.”
According to Eishiro, the Meteoric Engineering Research Club, among the prominent major clubs even in Seidoukan, exceeded the academy’s equipment department in the adjustment of luxes. Although one could say that, Ayato, who had left ’s maintenance to the equipment department, did not feel dissatisfaction towards their work.
In contrast with the equipment department that performed adjustments precisely, if anything the Meteoric Engineering Research Club seemed to have the tendency of performing quite peaky adjustments.
“……For the time being, since a workshop was necessary, I provisionally joined the club.”
“Saya in a club?”
That too was the first time they heard of it.
This was because just like Julis, Saya was not one to have too much interaction with others a.s.sertively.
“Then, since Camilla Pareto showed up there, we just had some conversations.”
Camilla was also the person in charge of the development of the new model lux ── Rectoluz jointly developed by Allekant and Seidoukan. Although the Rectoluz was already completed, it was still decided, that for the time being, data collection would be carried out as well as support from the joint cooperation of Allekant and Seidoukan.
By the way, Seidoukan side started a special committee consisting of members of the equipment department and the Meteoric Engineering Research Club on taking part to this project. Therefore, the fact itself that Camilla showed up in the factory of the Meteoric Engineering Research Club was not strange, but even so the fact that the two girls came to exchange conversations normally probably meant, as Saya had said, there were no particular ill feelings, or a source thereof, remaining between them.
“Hmm…… Then, does this mean that you’re developing a new weapon, Saya?”
“As expected, making it from scratch would be impossible practically, time-wise and environmentally. So, I intend to make do by customizing an existing weapon. Still, it’s doubtful whether or not it’ll be in time for the .”
“No, it’s amazing enough.”
It looked like Saya too was thinking about various things for the team battle. It might have been triggered by Julis, who mastered the Rectoluz, and Kirin’s considerable growth, but it was without doubt a good direction.
When Ayato honestly praised her like that, Saya stuck out her small chest slightly bashfully.
“Yes…… you can praise me more.”
While Ayato smiled wryly, he gently put his hand on the head of such a childhood friend.
“Yo, you’ve gathered, huh, brats.”
Having appeared there with a listless greeting was Ayato and company’s homeroom teacher, Yatsuzaki Kyouko. She carried her familiar nail bat on her shoulder, and her uselessly excessive pressure was amazing as usual.
“Huh, Yatsuzaki-sensei…… what’s the matter?”
“Hah? It’s not ‘what’s the matter’. You’re the one who called me, right?”
At the same time as she struck her nail bat on the floor, Claudia took a step forward.
“Ah, I forgot to mention it, but actually, I intend to hold combat practice for team battle from today on…… so, I asked Yatsuzaki-sensei to be our opponent.”
“……You should say such things sooner, Claudia.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll be careful next time.”
As Julis glared at her, Claudia honestly bowed her head ── but, her words were quite hollow.
“Err…… So, when you say combat practice, you mean that it won’t be coordination’s training like until now, but that we’ll actually do team battles?”
“Yes, I think that we’ve already brought our individual coordination up to a level where we should have any problems. Also, we can’t confirm how far it will work toward those who are at main battle level, or how to cope with improvising tactics and situation a.s.sessments in a group battle unless it’s an actual combat.”
Although they were surprised, n.o.body showed dissatisfaction.
There was persuasiveness in the words of Claudia who was the only person in this team to have partic.i.p.ated in the .
“Besides, even if a team battle is a mock battle, it’s difficult to find an opponent for training. Not wanting to reveal the scope of one’s power is the same for both sides, or unless it’s a very confident team, otherwise they wouldn’t accept it. Just so you know, there’s also the method of simulation battle, but……”
Claudia revealed a vague smile there.
Without her continuing her words further, Ayato could understand, as well. A three-dimensional simulator was also implemented in this training room, but there were a lot of restrictions, so it was incomparable with the experience which would be provided in actual combat.
Plainly speaking, it meant that it was hard to gain actual fighting experience with it.
“And there comes Yatsuzaki-sensei.”
When Claudia said so, Kyouko exaggeratedly sighed.
“Well, it’s bothersome, but this too is the duty of a teacher. Even leaving that out, I somewhat owe this girl. I’ll keep you company to your heart’s content.”
“We’re very thankful for that, but……”
Julis looked around quizzically while saying so.
“Since we’re speaking about a team battle’s practice match, where are the other members?”
“Ah! You don’t have to worry about that. They’ve already gathered.”
When Kyouko casually swung once the nail bat in her hand as she said that, the disorderly hammered nails begin to radiate bluish-white light.
One could see Julis, who was a , holding her breath.
A large quant.i.ty of mana was released instantly, and it gradually materialized while winding into raging whirlpools ── just as if reproducing a claymation, it made up shapes of humans from the feet.
These smooth dolls without eyes, nose nor mouth, totaled to four. Their whole bodies were dark blue like the depths of the sea and they all had the same stature and build as Kyouko. As a matter of fact, they had neither clothes nor weapons.
“This is…… is this like Gustave Malraux’s demonic beasts?”
“It looks to me like the shadow dolls of that person who kidnapped Flora-chan……”
Julis’s and Kirin’s impressions were different each, but in any case it was without doubt Kyouko’s ability as a .
“……If I’m not mistaken, I’ve heard that Sensei’s ability is essentially effective against ability users.”
To the words of Saya who did not quite understand, Ayato nodded, too.
According to the rumors, it was said that Kyouko was a which possessed overwhelming advantage against and . The dolls in front of them did not really look like that.
“Taking in the target’s ability and making it her own, that is Yatsuzaki-sensei’s power. This is also the first time I see it actually though.”
Without hiding her wariness, Julis muttered in a low voice
“In other words, stealing the target’s ability……?”
“Something like that. Well, it doesn’t seem like the one whose ability is stolen becomes unable to use it, though.”
If it was true, then it could only be described as a threat for Julis who was a . So it was understandable that she would be cautious.
“These dolls have the ability of my old teammates. I can use a puppet which copied the targets’ combat abilities as is. It’s a copy of myself this time though.”
“When you say teammates, do you mean the ones of the time when you won in the ?”
The team, which Kyouko had led before, was the legendary team which had won the only in all Le Wolfe Black Inst.i.tute’s history. Ayato did not know the details either, but he had heard a story that all of the team’s members were .
“Well, one eye-witness is better than many hearsays. For the time being, you’ll understand once you fight.”
Kyouko, not answering Ayato’s question, threw out four lux activation bodies from the holder hung to her waist to the faceless puppets.
“──I’ll show you the power of the , former Le Wolfe Black Inst.i.tute rank #2.”
The mechanical voice announced the mock battle’s start, and Ayato cut through the vanguard.
In Ayato and company’s team, the offensive hands in charge of the vanguard were three people: Ayato, Kirin and Claudia, who was also the team leader. It was a relatively offensive team with Saya in charge of the rear guard and Julis acting as the guerilla, as she would attack the enemy or a.s.sist her allies as the situation dictated.
In contrast, Kyouko’s team had a puppet which set up an a.s.sault rifle type lux and two puppets which took aim with dual handguns as the rear guard. A puppet which took a stance with a long sword type lux held at eye-level and a dual-wielding puppet with two small sword type lux, one in each hand, were at the vanguard.
The team leader — Kyouko, carrying her usual nail bat on her shoulder — had taken position slightly behind the two vanguards; she was probably acting as the guerilla. Two vanguards, two rear guards and one guerilla ── this was generally the team formation said to have the best balance.
In a team battle, one loses when the team leader’s school badge was destroyed, when the team leader loses consciousness, or by declaring give up. Conversely speaking, there will no problem if only the leader remains standing.
First, Ayato brandished as he determined his aim at the puppet which set up a long sword, but──
The puppet with the long sword withdrew to the rear with a back step and immediately after, countless light bullets attacked Ayato. It was a diversionary attack of the opposing team’s rear guard.
Although Ayato was able to easily evade such a simple attack as he had grasped every movement in the battlefield with his state of “cognition”, he had no choice but to give up pursuit due the rain of light bullets diverting his attention incessantly.
(Is she aiming at me with the two rear guards……?!)
“Hahaha, listen Amagiri! In a team battle, don’t think that there’d be all that many idiots that would challenge someone in close combat!”
Kyouko shouted as such with a fearless smile.
“In you guys’ team, the one whom people will be the most cautious about and prepare elaborate countermeasures for, is without doubt, you and your , Amagiri. After all, unless the other party has an ogre lux of the same rank, they won’t even be able to cross swords with you. There’s no obligation whatsoever to exchange blows with a guy swinging such a frightening thing.”
“Well, that’s true, huh…… oops!”
Ayato responded like so with bitter feelings as he cleared away the unceasing barrage with .
Kyouko’s words were probably true.
Speaking of being cautious, it was probably the same for Claudia’s too; but it was not like its (Pan-Dora) actual condition had become common knowledge yet. As it seemed like there was only vague information that its ability was speculated to allow its user to see the future ── of course, this was the result of Claudia’s careful information manipulation strategy ── there would be no way to create measures against it.
In comparison to that, countermeasures to were clear and simple.
For example, one should just avoid close range combat with Ayato to the utmost and utilize long-range attacks.
Although, having been said that, even if the two of them attacked, Ayato too would not let himself being hindered so easily by ordinary opponents, even leaving aside the shooting accuracy of the puppets that Kyouko manipulated. Either way, their timing was good.
When facing an opponent or in an emergency, If he were to intent to change to defense and evasion, the opponents will slow down their shooting and come to others aid. If he were to shift to attack, then a carefully aimed light bullet would come toward his vitals right at that moment.
The Rectoluz, operated by Julis, sent out an attack intended to interfere with the shooting, but the puppets, while evading it by light footwork, did not break their lines of fire at all.
“But Ayato-senpai isn’t this team’s only swordsman!”
Kirin and Claudia, who moved, flanking from both sides, headed for Kyouko.
They probably aimed at Kyouko who was the leader, thus deciding the victory in one movement.
“Of course, I know that.”
The opponent team’s two vanguards, who had withdrawn a little while ago, each released a slash so as to stop Kirin’s and Claudia’s advances.
The two girls crossed swords with the puppets head on as is, Kirin fiercely exchanging blows with the puppet with the long sword and Claudia the dual-wielding one. Unexpectedly, the puppets’ ability was at a level hardly inferior to that of Kirin and Claudia. No, judging from only sword skill, there were no doubt that the two girls had the edge, but as expected their (puppets) way of taking the range and their way of taking away one’s timing was outstandingly good. Moreover, the puppets of the rear guard, which were holding Ayato, also shot suppressing firing towards the two girls whenever they saw an opening. At this rate, even if they were Kirin and Claudia, it would be difficult to shake them off immediately.
Only Ayato’s perception which was expanded when in the state of “cognition” noticed movement to the rear.
When he heard these words, Ayato had already moved out of the line of fire without even looking back.
Immediately after, a huge light bullet from Helnekrom that Saya had fired slightly grazed him by a paper-thin margin and directly hit Kyouko ── a blast blew violently.
While using as a shield from the incessant rain of bullets, even now, Ayato checked for Kyouko’s presence on the other side of the fiery winds.
It should have been a timing which would have been hard to evade, but when the smoke, that had risen up densely, cleared away, a wall of sand stood there, towering, as if to protect Kyouko.
(If I had to guess, that’s also the ability of a different person, huh……)
The sand wall slowly crumbled down, and was once again reverting to mana.
If an ability was hidden in each of the nails hammered into that bat, honestly Ayato’s side had no hand to play. It was natural as they had no information at all. Speaking of countermeasures they had come up with, they could only bring her down before letting her use countermeasures of her own.
“──Bloom proudly, Six-Petal Burst Firebloom (Amaryllis)!”
Suddenly, Julis’s sharp and dignified voice resounded.
Julis, who had sneaked around to Kyouko’s blind spot during the recent exchange of blows, swung her thin sword and released blazing fireb.a.l.l.s. Moreover, she maintained the three-dimensional attack of Rectoluz, which she turned towards the rear guard’s opponents, as is. Though at this late hour, one could not help but be astonished at her abilities in spatial perception.
(But, this is the best timing……!)
Matching his timing with that of Julis, Ayato shortened his distance to Kyouko, albeit slightly forcibly.
Although his prana was chipped away as he was struck by several light bullets, incurring some damage for this opportunity could not be helped.
Were she to try to either defend against or evade Julis’s fireb.a.l.l.s, Ayato would jump at the opportunity of a certain victory in that opening.
Although, if Kyouko were to try to evade it, Julis could simply make her Six-Petal Burst Firebloom (Amaryllis) explode. It would be impossible to escape from everything in its effective range. In that case, there was also a possibility for Ayato being caught up in the explosion, but he could grasp it to some extent, estimate and evade it with the state of “cognition”.
Conditionally, Ayato’s side was advantageous.
“Oi, oi, scary.”
But, there was no impatience on Kyouko’s face.
As she calmly glanced at the fireb.a.l.l.s, she lightly dodged out of their lines of fire.
“In that case, I’ll do this…… explode!”
In response to the dodge, Julis made the fireb.a.l.l.s explode as she had antic.i.p.ated it.
A roaring sound shook the air, and flash of light and explosive flames raged ── but.
“──Isn’t that a bad move with me as your opponent?”
Just like water being sucked up into an empty hole in the bottom of a lake, the flames flowed into the palms of Kyouko’s hands, which were held out towards them.
“Heeh, the three of them were quite powerful, eh, Riessfeld. It’s a good ability.”
Between Kyouko’s fingers, which were grasped as if to squash the blast, three nails, just like the ones stuck into her bat, let their sharp tips stick out.
(So, she stores another person’s ability in that way, huh……!)
As expected of someone who won a ; the rumors of being able to counter all ability users were not necessarily a lie.
“But, at this distance……!”
Even so, Julis’s attack gained enough time for Ayato to shorten the distance.
He slashed with in a high chop aiming for the pseudo-school badge on Kyouko’s chest ── Just before that.
“──Well then, I’ll use it at once.”
Ayato felt a shiver down his spine, stopping his attack immediately and leaped back.
Immediately after, the moment that a bluish-white light ran from Kyouko’s hand, fireb.a.l.l.s filled with fiery winds appeared before Ayato’s eyes ── and exploded.
It was Julis’s Six-Petal Burst Firebloom (Amaryllis).
Although he somehow defended against it, Ayato was greatly blow away by the shock and landed while rolling on the training room’s floor.
“Oh, your judgment just now was good. I’ll praise you for that.”
Kyouko revealed a carefree smile and once again put the nail bat on her shoulder.
“Well, thanks for that……”
While wiping off the sweat covering his forehead, Ayato slowly stood up.
Checking the surrounding’s situation again, the puppets, which were fighting Kirin and Claudia, withdrew to the rear and the rear guard’s puppets also stopped their shooting. This meant that they had gone back to a square one.
“Oh, well you aren’t bad overall. For your first team battle, I’ll give you a pa.s.sing mark. Even as you’re now, you can probably qualify for the main battle partic.i.p.ation easily. Though I’ll say it like this, there’s a world of difference from the previous team that Enfield led.”
Kyouko said in listless, yet somewhat intimidating, tone, like that of her teaching in cla.s.s.
“……But, at this level it’ll be a little hard to aim at the championship.”
Then as her voice suddenly lowered, her upturned eyes shone keenly.
“Listen well. You guys ── especially Amagiri and Toudou, are above the current me when it comes to body specs. It’s also the same regarding techniques of close range combat. However, Toudou wasn’t able to break through a puppet which only has the same abilities as me, and Amagiri wasn’t able to bring me down. Do you know why?”
“……Is it because the coordination between Sensei and her puppets is above ours?”
As Saya puffed her cheeks in displeasure, Kyouko sighed while putting a hand on her waist.
It looked like she was relaxed, but the prana kneaded to every corner of her body did not waver at all. The puppets adopted a stance in which they could immediately restart the battle as well.
“Well, you can call it an old man’s wisdom in this situation, but if I only ended with that, that wouldn’t count as a lecture, right? Simply put, our techniques and experiences in a group battle are different. First, Sasamiya; it’s natural for the rear guard to support the vanguard, but there’s also a role of suppressing the opposing team’s rear guard. In the situation of a little while ago, if you had restrained my team’s rear guard with your firepower, Amagiri, Toudou and Enfield should have been able to move a little more easily accordingly.”
As she received a concrete indication, Saya nodded with a slightly surprised face.
“Next, Toudou; your ‘conjoined cranes’ is an excellent technique, but it isn’t too suited to a team battle. Against an opponent with ability above a certain level, it’ll take too much time for you to bring them down. If you can be fended off, like what I did a little while ago, there would be a lot of opponents who would be able to take advantage of that.”
“Then, Riessfeld…… you were a little too reckless with me as your opponent. Or is it that? Did you make a light of me?”
“It’s because I wanted to actually make sure of Sensei’s ability.”
Replied Julis, who had received Kyouko’s piercing gaze head on.
Certainly, against a who captured her opponent’s ability and handled it as if it was her own, it might have been a somewhat careless attack. Even so, she would miss a chance if she hesitated about using her ability. Julis seemed to want to confirm in what way Kyouko’s ability stealing was performed.
“Hahaha, you’ve some nerve. If that’s the case, I’ll overlook it this time. Next time, think a little more before using it.”
Saying so, Kyouko moved her gaze to Ayato.
Amagiri, Frankly, I was surprised how good you sense of grasping your surrounding was. But, it’s a little too good.
“Of course, it’s necessary, in a team battle, to pay attention not only to the enemy before your eyes, but also to your teammates’ movement and the movement of the opponent’s rear guard. On that point, you pulled it off at a level that I had never seen…… But as a result, a hindrance is slightly reflected on your own action. Concretely speaking, you’re so caught in the surrounding situation that your judgment gets slightly dull. Even in the last rush, if it wasn’t because of that, your sword might have reached me first.
So, the state of “cognition” had partly backfired, huh.
He thought that it was the technique which could display the greatest effect in a team battle, but he should have thought about how to use it depending on the situation.
“For the time being, it’s roughly something like this — your individual coordination ain’t bad, so if you gain a little bit of experience, you’ll surely become more proficient.”
They were at a loss for words at the fact that she could raise points to be improved to this extent with only a short exchange of blows.
Should they say it was to be expected coming from the leader of a team which won a championship?
“Um, Sensei. Don’t you have anything to say about me?”
And, Claudia, the only one whose name was not called, softly raised her hand.
“……As usual, you aren’t cute at all, eh. You performed so well it makes me sick.”
When Kyouko said so uninterestedly, she exaggeratedly shrugged her shoulders.
“Besides, even while being restrained, you were vigilantly looking for an opportunity to prey upon me, weren’t you? Really, I couldn’t let my guard down.”
“Fufufu, unfortunately there wasn’t such an opening though.”
Claudia pleasantly laughed with her set up as is.
As might be expected of an experienced person in team battle, Claudia seemed to be slightly more experienced than Ayato and company.
“If I had to say, in real combat, you should quickly use ’s ability without reserve. In so doing, you’d be able to breakthrough my puppets and even I wouldn’t be a match for both you and Amagiri.”
“Yes, I would have done so if this was the main battle.”
“What I’m trying to say is that you should use your ability without a second thought even if it’s the preliminaries. Cast aside the naïve thoughts of keeping it for the next tournament battle. The isn’t so sweet, you know?”
“……I will bear that in mind.”
Claudia laughed as she played it off with vague words. It seemed that she did not intend to follow the advice on that area.
Kyouko said no more than that either and slightly snorted.
“Now then, based on the advice just now, shall we start the second round? I’ll say this just in case, but if you don’t do better, I’ll mercilessly kick your a.s.s.”
And as she revealed a ferocious smile on her lips, she rotated the nail bat in her hand.
She said it jokingly, but she was probably serious. In other words, Kyouko was seriously facing them to that extent.
While inwardly giving his thanks to Kyouko, Ayato set up at eye-level.
──Afterwards, the special training with Kyouko continued at a weekly pace, and Ayato and company, who were initially toyed with due to the difference of experience, somehow became able to cope with Kyouko at the beginning of the summer vacation.
“Err……I wonder if it’s here.”
When he knocked at a door, which the number 7 was drawn on in large text, a s.p.a.ce window appeared before Ayato’s eyes after a short while.
『……Who is it?』
Saya’s face appeared on it, her cheeks and chin dirty with oil.
“Hi, Saya. How do you feel?”
『……Ayato? Wait, I’ll open immediately.』
The door was opened as soon as she said that, and a room filled with large machines jumped into Ayato’s eyes. On the floor, cables, which one did not know to what they were connected to, were tossed around in bunch and one could not find anywhere to put one’s feet.
Only in the back corner was the sole empty s.p.a.ce, and Saya, who was sitting there, greeted Ayato while turning only her neck.
“……For you to expressly come to such a place, is something the matter?”
In the factory of the Meteoric Engineering Research Club located in the general training hall bas.e.m.e.nt, many workshops, each as wide as a typical cla.s.sroom, were lined up. This place was one of them.
A clubroom of a club was normally allocated in the extracurricular activities’ block in the school building, but when it came to historical influential groups such as the Meteoric Engineering Research Club, it seemed that they were able to gain special concessions.
The fact that results and ability were favorably treated was the same both inside and outside the campus.
“No, it’s because you seem to be quite concentrated on something recently. I came to see how you were doing.”
“Oh, I’m thankful for your concern. Then, I’ll take a small break.”
When Ayato raised the bag of gifts that he brought, Saya happily smiled and put the spanner-like tool that she held in her hand on the floor.
Ayato also went towards Saya while being careful not to step on the cables.
“At any rate, this place is an amazing facility.”
“Yes. Though as expected it looks inferior compared with my father’s factory, even so it’s quite impressive…… Oh, the popsicle; I missed it.”
“Yes, I found it in a tuck shop of the middle school.”
“As expected of Ayato. You know my tastes well.”
Saya, after rummaging through the bag of gifts, that rustled as she did, took out a fruit-flavored popsicle and joyously bit into it.
It was midsummer outside. Seething heat plagued Asterisk today, too, but air conditioners operated at most places indoor. This workshop would also be no exception, but it seemed like the heat produced by the large machines exceeded it. Although not as hot as outside, it was hard to say that it was all that comfortable.
In fact, Saya wore only a tank top on her upper half, an outfit to which one was quite troubled about where to look.
“Your business isn’t only this gift, right?”
Saya, who promptly finished eating the first popsicle, thrust the second in front of Ayato.
“……As expected of you. You know me well, eh.”
As he replied the same words Saya had previously said, Saya nodded with a smile as to say “of course”.
After Ayato lightly scratched his head with a wry smile, he opened his mouth after taking a small breath.
“Well, how to put it…… there’s a small something I wanted to confirm.”
Saya tilted her head to the side with a blank face.
“The approached little by little and the practice is becoming harder. To be frank, even though that alone is tough, other than on training, aren’t you spending most of the time confined here to customize your luxes, Saya?”
“……The end of the summer vacation is already close. If I don’t do this much…… no, to put it bluntly, it seems like I won’t make it in time at this rate, so it can’t be helped.”
“I know that, but…… Saya, look, you shouldn’t particularly have any reason to aim for the championship in the , right?”
“Ah…… So, you mean that.”
She clapped her hands as she just understood what Ayato meant.
This was because Saya’s reason for partic.i.p.ating in team Enfield was because she wanted to be Ayato’s strength. It was not like she had a wish she wanted to be granted, like the other members including Ayato.
Though he was certainly thankful for her feelings, Ayato also felt sorry about that.
It was probably because it was similar to Ayato’s feelings of when he decided to partic.i.p.ate in the .
(I wonder whether Julis also felt like this……)
However, Saya shook her head.
“You don’t need to worry about it, Ayato. The words I swore at that night aren’t lies.”
Upon hearing those words, Ayato recalled about what happened in Saya’s house when they stopped by on their way to Lieseltania.
『──That’s why, Ayato, I want you to rely on me when necessary. This time for sure, I’ll become your strength.』
Those were the words that Saya had said late at night while she looked up at Ayato as the shining moonlight trickled into the room.
Saya’s eyes at that time were serious.
In that case, Ayato could no longer afford to say this and that.
“……Besides, I don’t place that much trust in the Integrated Enterprise Foundation’s power. There are also things that even those guys can’t do.”
“Well, that’s a given.”
It was a matter of fact that even the Integrated Enterprise Foundation was not G.o.d.
“In that case, for me, this is much more reliable.”
Then when Saya took the jacket of her uniform, that had been hung on a chair, she took out something like an amulet pouch from the inside pocket. She opened it and showed an old sc.r.a.p of paper folded inside to Ayato.
“Eeeh? D-Don’t tell me that’s……!”
Ayato unintentionally opened his eyes wide.
That was a『wish ticket』 issued each time he had some sort of game with Saya when they were children. When this was used, one had to listen to a request of the other party per ticket ── it was that kind of rule.
“So, you still had such an old thing, huh.”
“This is the last piece. It was fortunate that I hadn’t used it as it’d have been a waste. And, this ticket shouldn’t have had an expiration date. In other words──”
“……Got it. It’s still valid.”
Ayato admitted it as he raised both hands (as if he’d given up).
Although they were trifling games when they were children, he couldn’t deny her that.
After all, Ayato and Saya were currently on an extension line of their pasts.
“What a relief…… But well, I don’t plan to use it now, so you may rest at ease, Ayato.”
“You don’t plan to use it? Why?”
When he asked, Saya smiled wryly, slightly forlorn.
“……Because I don’t have the courage to do so.”
Ayato wondered what she meant by that.
However, Saya returned to her usual expression and picked the spanner she had put on the floor.
“──Now then, end of the break. I must do my best again for a little while.”
And then, disregarding Ayato who was not quite satisfied with her implication, Saya resumed her lux’s customization.
A blade cut into her chest.
A sharp pain, and the taste of blood welling up.
The flame blazing in the depth of her body became thin and weak, and she lost strength from her limbs. The heat was lost.
“……My bad, president.”
Eishiro muttered in a low voice. A dagger in hand. It was not a lux.
His face could not be seen in backlighting. Was he laughing? Or, was he simply staring expressionlessly with cold eyes? This future her was supposed to have changed how Eishiro was used. She searched her mind…… Ah, it was no use. It was almost certainly a smile.
Her eyes got blurred and gradually became dark.
Her body became cold as if it had been soaked in ice.
It was painful.
It was frightening.
She understood that her death was imminent.
If she got used to it, she would somehow manage it? No way. There was no way that there was such a thing. Death is the fundamental fear. As if someone can get used to it. Infinite pain is only infinite h.e.l.l.
She fell into darkness. She fell and was gone.
Then, Claudia abruptly woke up.
“……It has been a long time since I have been killed by him, eh.”
She muttered so as she held on to the fading memory.
She wiped off the sweat damply concentrated on her forehead and then sat on the sofa there.
On the desk, there was a partially drunk coffee and a s.p.a.ce window that had been left open. She seemed to have fallen asleep in the middle of work. The clock pointed at 3:00 a.m.
As she looked at her portable terminal, there seemed to have been a call. It was from not too long ago.
Claudia smiled wryly as she saw the name displayed there.
Even so, she returned the call without hesitation.
『Gee, sorry to call you this late.』
A s.p.a.ce window was immediately opened and Eishiro with a carefree smile was projected on it.
“No, no, I do not do mind it. So, what’s the matter?”
『Look here, it’s about the matter of the ABC’s newcomers that you asked me. I somehow manage it, so I tentatively want to inform you.』
“As expected of Yabuki-kun, you work quickly.”
When Claudia honestly praised him, Eishiro got unnaturally embarra.s.sed.
『Well, if it’s a request from President, this much is no problem.』
“But, wouldn’t you better keep your distance with me soon?”
『Oops, what do you mean by that?』
Although the , Seidoukan Academy’s espionage organization, could move on the student council president’s authority, it was originally under Galaxy’s direct control. In Claudia’s position now where she was trying to stir up trouble with Galaxy, it was difficult for her to use it like before.
Moreover, the matter of this time was Claudia’s personal business. If this was found out, not to mention Claudia, but Eishiro, who undertook it, would get in trouble as well.
“A notification came from the top, right? I wouldn’t have minded it even you had declined it.”
When Claudia indirectly inquired as such, Eishiro waved both his hands with his smile as is.
『You too know it, right President? That I’m a shadow even in the . At this point, this much isn’t a big deal.』
“I see. Then, I shall thank you for your loyalty.”
Saying so, Claudia closed the s.p.a.ce window.
Of course, Claudia was not stupid enough to blindly believe Eishiro’s words like that. Judging from his position, there was no doubt that he was connected with Galaxy’s top bra.s.s. Far from it, there was also a rumor that he was connected with another academy ── more specifically, the Dirk Eberwein of Le Wolfe Black Inst.i.tute.
“……Although, his favorite is again a different one.”
Well, at least for Claudia, it did not matter at this point.
A little more ── just a little more and Claudia’s wish would come true.
Her preparations were perfect, and the pieces have already begun to move.
And now Claudia…… team Enfield just had to win.
In doing so──
Translator and references notes
 Okay I could not make sense of this immediately so I decided to a quick Google search. That resulted in finding this: https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ピーキー. From what I understand of this peaky is used to refer to an engine that has an inconstant number of rotations at different gears (primarily more rotations at higher gears) as opposed to a consistent rotation at every gear. However, I’m no expert at j.a.panese nor am I at cars so take that with a grain of salt.
From that information I think peaky means something along the lines of “over performing in various areas” with a connotation that it will have inconsistencies as well as context leads me to believe that it will not be without some demerits or strange “side effects”. So basically I think peaky is just another way of saying they might be adjusting it a little too well and as such might have issues (Hurray for mad scientists!) by Yascob
 this is the process of using clay to create an animation by taking a picture then moving or molding the clay a bit and repeating to eventually create an animation. Some notable examples are Wallace and Gromit, and Shaun the Sheep. by Yascob
 a j.a.panese idiom probably meaning seeing with one’s own eyes is faster than hearing rumors or something like that. I don’t know how to explain it well
 ‘it’ for effective range
 meaning that there were way better than Claudia’s previous team
 more precisely a pace of once a week
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