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“Wow…… it really did change completely.”
When overlooking it from the Sirius Dome’s stands, it could be said that the stage was changed into something completely different.
First of all, the change, which caught one’s eyes first and foremost, was the deep trench like a ca.n.a.l surrounding the stage. The protection that Allekant developed was filled there, and now the stage became an island floating on a lake. It seemed that this protective gel unfolded to spread around the stage when a match is started.
Furthermore, the existing protective field was placed in addition to the protective gel. It was without doubt the perfect safety measure.
“Though it seems to be an upgrade in order to raise the audience’s safety, it is definitely overkill.”
Julis, standing next to Ayato, had an amazed face.
Kirin and Saya stood at the audience seating’s front row a little ahead, and were talking about something.
Though the opening ceremony of the was held today, the partic.i.p.ating teams were given an opportunity to observe the upgraded hall before it began.
Therefore, the audience seating, which could originally accommodate about 100,000 people, was still almost empty and it looked strangely forlorn.
“Fufufu, it can’t be helped. After all, it seems that the Integrated Enterprise Foundation’s top bra.s.s will come to watch matches in the next . It’d be a serious matter if they were to be hurt by any chance.”
“The top bra.s.s, is it? Hmm…… if that’s true, then I can understand this excessive prudence.”
“I hear that Committee Chairman Madiath Mesa succeeded in making them hold up the next “Great Conference (Concordia)” in this Asterisk. And by that flow, they seem to have considered watching the finals and partic.i.p.ate to the ceremony.”
Speaking of the Integrated Enterprise Foundation’s top bra.s.s, it could be said that substantially they were the most influential people controlling the present world. They rarely appeared in public, but it was said that several representatives from each Integrated Enterprise Foundation branch attended a summit meeting called “Great Conference (Concordia)” which occurs in an interval of several years, and performed long term interest adjustments.
“The last time that they came over here was when Asterisk’s great renovation was over. If the meeting does occur , it’ll be the first time in about 40 years, huh. Of course, the members will be different from that time though.”
“Still…… is the Management Committee Chairman someone allowed to have that much influence?”
──The ’s current Management Committee Chairman Madiath Mesa.
As far as he heard a lot of stories ── and even a.s.suming the feeling where Ayato himself met him directly several times and talked with him, he (Madiath) did not give off any bad impression. Even the matter of Flora having been kidnapped and the matter of having found Haruka, he had he helped as best as he could.
However, Ayato did not forget the advice that he received from the Star Hunter Guard captain Helga Lindvall before.
『──Don’t trust Madiath Mesa too much.』
These words properly remained in Ayato’s heart even now.
“Let’s see. Speaking of position, Committee Chairman Madiath Mesa is only a middle-ranked executive of Galaxy. Judging from his origins/lineage, he shouldn’t expect any more promotion than this. Normally thinking, it is impossible for him to have anything to do with the site decision of the “Great Conference (Concordia)”, but……”
Claudia slightly lowered her voice and answered Ayato’s question.
“The holds an extremely special position even for the Integrated Enterprise Foundation. After all, it is the one and only event for which the six Integrated Enterprise Foundations jointly hold a meeting. Therefore, the members of the Steering Committee are temporarily transferred from each Integrated Enterprise Foundation, and the number of people is adjusted so as to become a constant ratio. I do not even need to explain how much advantageous it will be to produce the Management Committee Chairman among them, right?”
“In other words, he’ll be in an exceptionally strong position?”
“Although, it may also be said that he is in a position where his neck will be immediately cut off should any problem arise. The previous Management Committee Chairman seemed to have evaded such a situation due his political ability, but at least Committee Chairman Madiath Mesa has showed results with no room for criticism at the moment.”
As expected, without doubt he seemed to be a quite able person.
Be that as it may, there was still too little information to ascertain the human called Madiath Mesa.
“I am sorry to disturb you in the middle of your pleasant talk, but can I have a little of your time, ladies and gentlemen of the team Enfield?”
──And, a cool and familiar voice came from their rear.
St. Garrardsworth Academy’s students with a nimbus-shaped school badge, which was the symbol of order, stood behind them with an orderly appearance. Julis who saw it opened her eyes wide; Kirin and Saya responded with surprised faces, too.
“It’s been a while since the School Festival, eh, Fairclough-san.”
When Ayato said so and held out his right hand, the young man who was at the vanguard of that group ── Ernest Fairclough, with a handsome face, shook the hand with a perfect smile, similar to Claudia’s.
“I am glad to see that you are looking well, Amagiri-kun.”
Ernest brought ten Garrardsworth’s students along with him.
“h.e.l.lo, Mr. . To show up with team Lancelot and team Tristan, that is quite extravagant of you.”
Claudia returned a similar smile and bowed as to greet the party.
Regarding the team Lancelot composed of the from the rank #1 to rank #5, four people among them were the same members of the previous champion team.
Although team Tristan, composed of from the rank #6 to rank #10, was commonly called the farm team/second string, when compared with team Lancelot. There should also be many other teams from Garrardsworth partic.i.p.ating, but ability wise, those two teams stood out the most.
“What, there were people insisting of wanting to greeting you people by all means after all.”
At the same time as Ernest spun these words, a woman with roll gorgeous golden hair quietly stepped forward.
“Oh my…… It has been a long time, Laet.i.tia.”
“Yes, really ── it’s been quite a while……! Tree years since that humiliation in the , an opportunity of revenge has finally come……! I will win against you this time for sure, Claudia!”
That woman who turned a challenging gaze at Claudia was St. Garrardsworth Academy rank #2, Laet.i.tia Blanchard also known as the .
“Revenge? Weren’t you the ones that won that match?”
“This isn’t about the outcome of the match; it’s a problem of my personal pride!”
Claudia who dodged Laet.i.tia while fickly laughing.
Taking a sidelong glance at her, Julis muttered as she was amazed.
“Haah…… Geez, they haven’t changed at all, these girls……”
“Are you acquainted with her, too, Julis?”
When Ayato asked, Julis turned her eyes for an instant with folded arms.
Speaking of Garrardsworth, there were rumors only about Ernest; but the ability of Laet.i.tia supporting him was not something to be underestimated at all. As far as he watched the match videos, as a , she was probably among the five best in Asterisk.
“……Like Claudia, I have met her many times at the Opera House Ball. She seems to be old acquaintance with Claudia, more than me, but even back then whenever they met each other, it’d always turn out like this. Laet.i.tia seemed to hold some sort of rivalry towards Claudia.”
“Heeh, what should I say…… that sounds amazing.”
To think of competing with that Claudia, she was a woman with quite the fighting spirit.
“Apparently, the Blanchard House has a deep connection with the Enfield House and it continued until the present age, but……”
“I can hear you, Julis.”
Laet.i.tia intensely glared at Julis.
“I’ll tell this in advance, but it has nothing to do with our Houses. This is only a problem between me and Claudia.”
“Well, excuse me for that.”
Julis averted her gaze and ducked her head.
Judging from their exchanges, she seemed to have a friendly relationship than Ayato initially thought.
“And above all, as an old frien…… ahem! No, as an acquaintance, I cannot silently overlook you for trying to realize an absurd and foolish dream. I will smash it to smithereens without fail, so prepare yourself!”
Laet.i.tia thrust a finger at Claudia and declared so.
(From her way of speaking now, does she know Claudia’s goal……?)
Though Ayato and company have already heard about Claudia’s wish ── they did not know yet anything after that ── that is, they did not know what kind of vision she was trying to achieve.
If Laet.i.tia knew it, she might have a closer connection with Claudia than what Julis said.
“Well whatever. In any case, if you are trying to win in the , then you will definitely fight against us. Though, if you were to trip up in the preliminaries, it will be an enjoyable show on its own.”
The matchups of the preliminaries ── until the third round have already been announced, but because like in the , it was arranged so that the prominent teams did not confront each other there; so at least until the fourth round, where the drawings would be held again, they would not encounter team Lancelot and team Tristan until then.
“──Is it fine already, Laet.i.tia-senpai?”
What interrupted them was a voice Ayato too was familiar with.
“I am sorry, but you are not the only who swore for revenge.”
Laet.i.tia took a step backward with a reluctant face.
“It has been a while, Amagiri-san.”
Having greeted Ayato with a light smile was the Elliot Forster who confronted Ayato in the previous . He excelled at counter, and speaking of sword ability, he was a genius who emitted a vibe that could match Kirin.
Last time, Ayato purely had a clash of sword skill against sword skill with him without , but Ayato was able to be barely overcome him.
But, that was last year.
“Wow…… looks like you’ve improved your skills quite a bit. If I’m not mistaken, you’re rank #6, right?”
Ayato, who saw Elliot’s figure up close after one year, could not hide his surprise at Elliot’s growth.
His fluffy curly hair was the same, but his features have matured quite a lot. Although the fact that his height was still somewhat shorter than Ayato to some degree was undeniable, one was able to perceive that his hands and feet which grew nimbly got flexible muscles even from over his uniform.
“No, I am still inexperienced. But……I did not forget the humiliation of when my school badge was smashed by you.”
Elliot fearlessly smiled as he said so.
“At least, I intend to be diligent so as not to end up showing such an unsightly fight again.”
Contrary to his words, his eyes full of confidence, and the sharp sword essence that he could not hide blurred from within his body.
“Yes. I know, Kirin-chan.”
To Kirin’s tense voice, Ayato gave a small nod.
Kirin probably felt the ability of the young boy in front of them. It was natural as she was a swordswoman herself.
That was how much the young boy in front of them kept it to himself.
“I think you will know how much I grew by crossing swords with me. I look forward to our match.”
Elliot who politely bowed stepped back to Ernest’s side.
“It is often said that defeat makes a person grow, but…… the current Elliot is a different person from that time, you know? I guess that I must thank you on that point, Amagiri-kun.”
Ernest happily put his hand on Elliot’s shoulder.
“──Though, I too did not lose the feeling of crossing swords with you.”
He said that and smiled softly.
Though he heard Saya’s muttering voice, Ayato, who was about to respond, noticed slightly shaking on his waist.
Upon close inspection, the activation body of the ogre lux hung on Ernest’s waist ── was similarly shaking, too.
“Fufufu, perhaps they may be expecting something, too. After all, it has been several years since the last time when the demon swords of the four colors have confronted like this.”
The Demon Swords of four colors pointed to the four ogre luxes , , and . But even in the long history of the , there has never once been a precedent where all these ogre luxes got a wielder in the same period.
It was that currently, no one compatible with has appeared; and was left in seal state.
“I heard that they were all made in the same laboratory. If that’s the case, then have they missed each other, or……”
Ernest deliberately did not spin his words to the end, and clapped his hands as to change the topic. Such action, too, as expected was somehow similar to Claudia’s. The two were probably humans of the same type.
“Well then, I am sorry to have taken your time. Let’s mutually do our best, fair and square. See you later ── preferably on the field of the battle.”
While seeing off Garrardsworth’s party leaving in perfect order, Claudia slightly laughed.
“You have it tough in a lot ways, huh, Ayato.”
Ayato could only return a wry smile to these words.
“Though there is no need to say it now, the level of the rises each time it is held up…… Ah, I will supplement just in case, but this is not something to look down on the past heroes. You may, to the bitter end, think of it as talk of a case when one based oneself on mean values such as physical data.”
The 24th opening ceremony.
Looking around at the partic.i.p.ating students standing in a row, Madiath Mesa continued his speech.
In the newly renovated stage, like the opening ceremony, students stood in a line representing each academy; the huge lighting installed on the dome’s ceiling lighted up the spotlight turned towards Madiath on the dais.
“In my personal opinion, for example anyone here would recognize that the Guard Captain Helga’s strength is something that has not dulled even now, right? But, even if comparing prana, which is one mean value, there is no doubt that you, ladies and gentlemen, who are gathered here now, are superior to the first generation in which she is categorized. This is clear even in terms of numerical value.”
As usual a calm voice, yet cheerful tone. Madiath’s speech somehow had something which attracted people.
The stands, which were empty until a while ago, were already tightly packed; and the gallery filling them up was carefully listening to Madiath’s speech while holding down their rampaging enthusiasm.
“Furthermore, the evolution of tactics and development of luxes are also remarkable. The Rectoluz released recently is the very symbol of that…… Well, that is a digression; just to tell you that I sometimes think ‘if only there was that in my active service period’. Well, whether or not I would have been able to handle it is a different matter though.”
To Madiath, who threw in a joke, the hall’s atmosphere suddenly loosened.
When looking up, the extra-large s.p.a.ce screen unfolded in every direction of the lighting installation and projected Madiath’s wry smile close-up.
“Speaking of which…… the committee chairman was the winner of a , right?”
“Yes. What about it?”
As Ayato posed a question that suddenly came to mind to Julis, she replied in a low voice.
“No, I just wonder what kind of person his tag partner was.”
“Hmm…… If I’m not mistaken, I remember that it was a woman; but I can’t recall her name. After all, it’s been quite a long time since I watched those match videos.”
Julis put a finger on her temple and shut her eyes as she searched her mind.
“I see…… Thank you.”
Even thinking about it in terms of age, it was probably before Ayato and company were born that Madiath had won the . If it’s the inquisitive minded Julis, then it was not strange that she had checked all of the matches of the past Phoenix Champions, but remembering all of them would be something stringent.
“Is there something bothering you about it?”
“No, that’s not it, but”
After waving his hands to Julis, he once again returned his gaze to Madiath.
Even he did not know why such a thing came to his mind.
Such a question just popped into his head really suddenly.
“──From the above-mentioned reasons, we judged that with the existing stage facilities as is, we might not keep up with the evolution of the in the near future. So this time, although it was a slightly forced schedule, we have decided to perform a large-scale upgrade.”
As Madiath made a short pause there, he turned his gaze to the audience seating.
“The installation of this protective gel raised the safety at the outside platforms without spoiling enthusiasm and excitement; and as a result a bolder and sterner freedom will be brought in the inside!”
His tone was tinged with enthusiasm, and the audience acted in concert with it.
As usual, Madiath’s speech seemed to be well-received by the audience. Even among the students, there were those who snorted out as they were somewhat excited, maybe because they were affected by the feverish atmosphere.
Although, for Ayato, who already knew the behind-the-scenes circ.u.mstances of the stage upgrade, Madiath’s charismatic words only sounded like sophistry. As expected, even the student council presidents standing at the vanguard of each academy seemed to know those circ.u.mstances; thus Ernest and Fan XingLu had slightly cold expressions.
Ayato, too, while calmly gazing at Madiath, felt something like a strange sense of incongruity different from it.
He has heard Madiath’s declamation here like this the last summer, too, but now he sometimes felt like he caught a glimpse of the eerie emptiness in there. Ayato could not help shivering at the fact that a strange, desolate s.p.a.ce seemed to spread out on the backside of his attractive and clear-cut face.
It was not as if something has changed in Madiath’s look.
If compelled to say it, what changed was probably the way Ayato saw Madiath.
Helga’s warning seemed to root in him more deeply than he thought.
Be that as it may, he could not afford to worry about it now.
Ayato and company’s first match would begin in the afternoon.
As Ayato took a short breath, he slightly shook his head as to shake off unnecessary thoughts.
──After the opening ceremony ended.
“Saya, I’ll go buy some drinks. Can you tell this to everyone?”
“……Yes, got it.”
As Ayato said along the way to the waiting room, Saya walking beside him nodded.
The other three girls were talking with gestures a little ahead of them.
“If Kirin’s Iaidō was usable even in a group battle, it seems like we might be able to increase more pattern using it as the starting point.”
“I’m sorry, as expected I think that that’ll be difficult unless it’s just a one-on-one situation. It’ll also take time for the set up……”
“Restrictively, creating such a situation won’t be impossible; but the fact that it’ll take time with powerful enemies as opponents is fatal.”
Judging from the contents that he overheard, they apparently seemed to confirm the battle coordination. It would be bad to disturb them.
“Then while we’re at it, can you also get one for me?”
“Got it. You’re fine with apple juice, right?”
“The Not from concentrated one.” 
“I got it.”
After giving a confirmation gesture by raising his hand, Ayato went to the vending machine section at a quick pace.
On his way, when he casually sneaked a look at the entrance, it was crowded with students who were gathered at the stage until a while ago. Though it was not necessary for Ayato and company to be also there as their match would be held here in this Sirius Dome, this was because students who had a match in other stages had to move there. Of course, there were also many students whose first match was not today, but tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
Then suddenly, he heard a voice calling his name.
When he turned his gaze towards the familiar voice, a hand extended from a shade of a pillar beckoned to him.
“……A student council president really has it tough, eh. Being summoned even though you don’t partic.i.p.ate.”
As Ayato approached while smiling to her unexpected, childish action, the one there was Sylvia just as he expected.
They contacted each other several times after the School Festival, but it has been a long time since they met each other directly like this.
“Well, that’s my job after all. Of course I’ll come to the ceremony if my schedule is empty. And this time, it looks like even XingLu herself came instead of a representative.”
“Now that you mention it, someone did say that that person often sends in a representative frequently.”
Now that he thought about it, certainly Fan XingLu, whom he met in the School Festival, and the person, who was at World Dragon’s student council president seat at the time the ’s closing ceremony, were completely different persons.
“Even that child’s representative, judging from my sources, is a pretty famous person, too.”
“Eh? Is that so?”
“The seventh prefecture 『Glaring Eye』 of the Nine Offspring of the Dragon, organization under World Dragon Seventh Inst.i.tute student council president’s direct control…… Well simply put, it’s about World Dragon’s Espionage Organization, but I heard that she’s one of its members.”
“……She’s famous even though she’s an agent of an espionage organization?”
Wouldn’t it interfere with her work? Ayato wondered.
“Anyway, she isn’t a pupil of XingLu, but she seems quite favored by XingLu. I heard that both their personalities are quite similar.”
“Similar, which means……”
“Yes, a battle maniac.”
If possible, Ayato did not want to approach her as much as possible.
“Ah, by the way Sylvie. It’s been bothering since a while ago, but why are you dressed like that?”
Sylvia’s outfit was her disguise, which he became completely familiar with.
When he caught sight of her figure at the opening ceremony a while ago, she was in her school uniform.
“I’m off duty from now on, so I thought about wandering aimlessly at the entertainment district area a little.”
That meant that she would probably go to look for clues of her “master” again.
“Tourists increase at the period of the , so it’s easy to blend in among them…… Ah, of course, I’ll properly watch your match though, Ayato-kun.”
Sylvia lightly winked at him as she said so.
“Seems like it’d be exhausting then.”
“……Hmm, speaking of usual, it was like that until then; but aren’t you taking it too lightly? Well, even I don’t think that Ayato-kun’s team will lose in the preliminaries, but you shouldn’t let your guard down in the , you know?”
Sylvia raised her index finger and approached her face.
“Y-Yes, I’ll bear it in mind. More importantly──”
While his heart skipped at her purple eyes which drew unexpectedly quite close, Ayato said as to play it off.
“Sylvia, too, you must be careful. Didn’t the number of times you slip out in incognito mode increase recently?”
“That’s…… Well, that’s right.”
Perhaps because it was bull’s eyes, considering it was Sylvia, she unusually let a muddy voice.
Though Ayato did not accompany her in all these outings, he heard a rough report. Recently ── especially since summer vacation began, the number of times that Sylvia has slipped out incognito clearly increased.
Of course, her goal was to investigate the whereabouts of her master, Ursula Svento.
“Did you by any chance find any clue?”
However, Sylvia ruefully shook her head.
“No. Rather, it’s the opposite. That might be why I’m getting a little impatient.”
Since she was aware that she was getting impatient, it did not seem necessary to be worried about her.
“But…… after thinking about various things, I’ve realized one thing.”
“What is it?”
“Judging from her way of speaking at that time, I think that Ursula is probably in a situation where she is manipulated by someone. At least, that wasn’t Ursula herself.”
Sylvia’s eyes increased their sharpness, and cold anger blurred from her words.
By “at that time”, Sylvia probably referred to the time when she came in contact with the person thought to be Ursula in the Grand Coliseum of the School Festival.
“But, it’d still be fine if it was an ability that takes control of a body; but I’ve never heard about an ability which interfered with someone’s memory and personality themselves. No, in the first place, such a thing is impossible with the scope of mana that and are able to handle.”
For abilities capable of mind interference, it was an established theory that the inhibition by prana was so taxing that the effect was weak on a .
“If such a thing was possible, then it’d be──”
“……an Ogre Lux”
Sylvia nodded at the reply of Ayato who antic.i.p.ated it.
“That’s just the most likely possibility though.”
Sylvie then sighed and dropped her shoulders.
“In the first place, no matter how much I investigate, such an ogre lux doesn’t seem to exist…”
The Ogre luxes’ development research was obviously cla.s.sified, but by the treaty concluded between the Integrated Enterprise Foundations, the Ulm mana dites used for them (ogre luxes) were all numbered and managed. At the minimum, she came to know what were where.
“But, as a path to consider in order to get answers, that certainly seems to be the most plausible.”
The woman seeming like Ursula, although she temporarily interfered with , she stopped its activation. It was not normal no matter how Ayato thought about it.
He did not know about the extent of the existence outside of the norm like XingLu or Ophelia Landlufen, but apart from them, it would be natural to see it as the power of Ogre Lux.
“Yes. Therefore, I intend to investigate that matter…… Ah, sorry! Even though you’ve a match soon, we’re talking about such distracting things. Ayato-kun, you must concentrate on the !”
“……Yes, I know. But, you may contact me anytime if anything happens, okay?”
“Hahaha, thank you.”
Sylvia revealed a faint wry smile apologetically, but──
“……Oh, that’s right. More importantly, I came today to give this to you.”
Suddenly, she took out something from her bag and held it out towards Ayato.
“Fufufu, a bento.”
Sylvia who smiled teasingly.
“Hey, I said it before, didn’t I? To look forward to it next time.”
Now that she mentioned it, when they talked about the topic of cooking during the School Festival, Ayato seemed to recall that she said something like that……
“Then, are you saying that you’ve really made it? Expressly for me?”
Even Ayato knew how busy Sylvia was.
If word got out that the world famous diva were to have spared her precious time for cooking a dish to a man, it would be something preposterous. Was this to be found out by Sylvia’s fans, he would most likely be cursed by the fans for at least a hundred years.
“I may look like it, but I’m fairly confident about my cooking. Or, is it that you can’t eat the cooking from a rival school student?”
“I-It’s not like that……!”
When Ayato took the lovelily wrapped lunch box, Sylvia smiled.
And when she slightly turned her face away, she hung her head down and leaked out a small sigh.
“Haah…… it was nerve-wracking.”
“Ah, no, it’s nothing; nothing.”
As Sylvia immediately turned towards Ayato, she waved her hands with her usual bright smile.
“If possible, I want you tell me your impression here though.”
“Errr, that’ll be a little……”
Ayato cautiously surveyed his surroundings.
Both Ayato and Sylvia were good at erasing their presences, so they were probably not noticed for now; but if Ayato were to open the box lunch here, he would attract attention. And that would be bad.
“Fufufu! It’s a joke.”
Sylvia took one step back while unconcernedly laughing.
“Well then, I should go back soon. Do your best for your first match!”
“A-Ah, yes. Thank you.”
Ayato saw off Sylvia, who went away towards the audience seating at a quick pace, while being still slightly dumbfounded.
The same time, Sirius Dome entrance ── from the shade of a slightly distant vending machine.
Two girls have stiffened with their eyes wide opened.
After a short time, one of them finally opened her mouth.
“……What is it, Miluše?”
“……Just now, did you see that?”
“……Yes, I saw it.”
“……That was…… Sylvia, right?”
“……Without doubt, it was Sylvia.”
The two girls went silent once again; but before long when they rapidly looked at each other, they greatly exchanged a high five with smiles which mixed surprise with delight.
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