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The bell sounded.
It was the signal announcing the start of the compet.i.tion.
Only a week since the start of the new year, the new Student Council President had announced the holding of this compet.i.tion.
It was an individual sports compet.i.tion amongst the new Military Arts students.
Last year, Zuellni had fallen in danger of losing its last Selenium mine and had also encountered various other hardships - one could call it a disastrous year. But it had obtained two victories in the Military Arts Compet.i.tions held between Academy Cities and had successfully increased its number of Selenium mines.
There was no Military Arts Compet.i.tion this year.
However, if they slacked off this year and failed in the Military Arts Compet.i.tion again next year, all of that would become meaningless. This compet.i.tion was being held in order to maintain the sense of urgency as well as to convey this sense of urgency to the new students.
"Hmm, how do you use this?"
Claribel stood on the battlefield, muttering as she tested the feel of the battle clothing and the practice sword that she wasn't used to.
Both of those were unfamiliar equipment, so she felt a bit off. After completing her basic training, Claribel had practiced under the guidance of her first teacher - who was also her grandfather - true Military Arts always without any safety equipment. Though her next teacher had been Troyatte, having reduced Kei flow was the most severe handicap out there when battling with primarily Karen Kei, so safety equipment had been completely meaningless.
In that sense, Claribel hadn't held any weapon other than the Kochouenshiken since she had gotten used to it.
"Haah~ it really doesn't feel right."
Claribel swung the practice sword several times as she muttered this. However, there wasn't any practice weapon with a similar exterior to the Kochouenshiken, so there was no helping it.
Other first-year Military Artists had already scattered to various locations on the battlefield. Forest and mountain terrain had been set up just like during the normally-held platoon matches, and the terrain became more complex the closer it was to the center, a great place to ambush enemies. The Military Artists who had looked at the overview map beforehand realized this, so they had gone to the central area before the starting bell sounded.
Only Claribel alone had gone near the entrance.
The compet.i.tion rules were very simple. The one who defeated the most people and who was still standing on the battlefield after the allotted time was the winner. Teaming up or moving independently was all up to the individual to decide.
Claribel hadn't come across anyone near the entrance, nor had she even found a place to fight. To her, she was already in a disadvantageous situation.
The bell sounded.
The signal of the compet.i.tion's start.
"Ah, I guess this is still a bit unfavorable."
After murmuring this, Claribel moved. The word 'defeat' wasn't in her mind at all.
She leisurely walked to the center of the battlefield. The sound of battle already came from around her. The crashing sounds of Kei, sounds of impact, dust explosions mixed with the shadows of people. The spectators moved between cries and cheers, their shouts filling the sky of the battlefield.
There certainly were several Military Artists who were confused by this noise. Had they never fought in a compet.i.tion before in their hometown, or had they just never been in a compet.i.tion of this nature? To Claribel, the current atmosphere was no different from the countless compet.i.tions she had entered in Grendan. She ignored the Military Artists shaken up by the compet.i.tion atmosphere and advanced towards the intense fighting.
Of course, there were people who were jolted back to their senses by her demeanor, and who turned to attack her. Claribel counterattacked suitably while increasing her KOs.
"Huhu♪ Ah, that's about right."
Claribel hummed as she swung her practice sword, seeming quite happy.
Two people watched this scene from the spectator seats.
"Uwah, how amazing."
Nina nodded after Harley gasped in admiration.
"Just like Layfon and Gorneo-senpai, people from Grendan are really strong."
Even if she wasn't as good as Layfon, Claribel definitely was one of the best of Grendan's Military Artists. Though Nina had been in Grendan, she had pretty much never seen any of its Military Artists fight, other than Heaven's Blade successors. Maybe Felli or Sharnid, who had crossed swords with Grendan Military Artists, would be more knowledgeable about this.
However, neither of the two were here. Felli had shown a disinterested expression like always, and even Sharnid had said: 'that girl will win anyway' and publicly expressed that he wouldn't be going to watch the compet.i.tion.
Cheers rose again, with the voice of the female emcee especially excited.
Was this pretty much as expected? The cheers were for Claribel.
She had arrived at the center of the battlefield, which had already become an intense battleground. There were several temporary teams and hastily-formed alliances locked in battle with one another, reducing each other’s numbers. Nina believed that, when teaming up with strangers, quickly understanding what you and your new teammates could do was more important than trusting each other.
However, it was something very difficult to do, and even now Nina didn't fully grasp what she could do. She could fully realize that fact when she considered the many things that had happened despite the amount of time their platoon had acc.u.mulated training their teamwork.
Though the teams were temporary, attempting to act cooperatively was praiseworthy. Of course, whether she wanted to recruit any of them into her platoon was another matter.
"Ah, isn't it Shin-senpai over there?"
Before founding the seventeenth platoon, Nina had belonged to the fourteenth platoon, and Shin was the current captain of the fourteenth platoon. He was watching Claribel with an extremely serious expression, with no trace of his normally-lighthearted air.
"He's incredibly into it."
"It's because the fourteenth platoon lacks members."
Shin was her senpai and former commander. Nina sent him a respectful glance.
Harley had only noticed him, but Nina had already spotted the other platoon captains who had come out here and there. All of them were observing the strengths of the new students, and planned on recruiting the ones who interested them into their platoons.
Claribel was the only one among these new students who never left their gazes. Maybe it was the unfamiliar weapon in her hands, but she seemed a bit awkward to Nina's eyes. However, she actually was enjoying that disadvantaged feeling.
Claribel possessed incredible strength, and definitely reminded the spectators of Layfon from one year ago.
"......An incredible recruiting battle's going to start up."
After Harley said this, Nina nodded absent-mindedly.
A recruiting battle? Of course such a thing would happen.
"But she came here chasing after Layfon, right? In that case, won't she come to us?"
Harley hastily added, possibly worried about Nina's distracted demeanor.
As befitting her att.i.tude, Nina only nodded, but to tell the truth she wasn't thinking about that matter at all.
Nina was just watching Claribel's movements. She was standing in the center of the intense battleground alone, indifferently parrying the focused attacks that various groups directed towards her and striking them down one by one. The flashier she became, the hotter the looks the platoon leaders flashed at each other became. Nina felt the hot gazes, but felt as if that scene was happening somewhere far away.
The sun kept shining. Now it was the afternoon.
The scene changed to a restaurant.
Of course, this was a celebration for Claribel.
"It was all so sudden."
After a toast, Claribel spoke with a sight.
When she had returned to the changing room after the compet.i.tion, various platoon captains had been waiting to meet her. There were various kinds of people among them, some who were veteran captains, and some who were juniors who had taken over when their seniors graduated and given them the position. Hence among them were people that Nina had heard of but never actually seen. As could be expected, almost all of them were here to recruit Claribel.
"Though I heard about it already, everyone was surprisingly desperate."
"It's because the scholarship they get varies depending on the performance of their platoon."
Harley replied with that and then started explaining that part.
"......I see, that might not be bad for motivating training and compet.i.tion."
"Is that how it goes?"
"That's right. But never mind that, what happened with the data I gave you before? Can you reproduce it?"
"Of course it's possible. Also, I brought it today. Even I can't fine-tune it without the person in question present."
"You work so fast."
"It’s because I've never made such a weird thing before, so making it was very interesting."
"A weird thing......"
"Ah, that's a compliment, of course."
The moment the topic switched to Dites, Harley's interest perked up. The Dites of the first-year new students weren't strong enough, but Claribel seemed to plan on fixing her Dite right here and now. After spotting that, Nina reminded her with a gentle tone.
Just then, Nina felt a sharp gaze, so she looked around.
The shop was almost full of customers. Was that to be expected? The other platoon members hadn't come, so there were only three people at the four-person table Nina and the other sat at.
Though Nina turned her head, there were people gazing openly and rudely at their table...... and there were several.
Faces she recognized and unfamiliar faces, all looking at Nina with grim expressions.
Speaking of faces she recognized, there was Vance of the third platoon. In addition, there were several new faces that looked like brand-new captains.
Faces of those who hadn't given up on recruiting Claribel.
"Ah~ they’re still here."
Perhaps her talk with Harley had come to an end. Claribel muttered this, looking in the same direction as Nina.
"Those people are so annoying. But if what you said before is true, they won't give up so easily, right?"
"Money isn't the only reason they want rookies."
Claribel's tone made Nina inadvertently voice a reb.u.t.tal.
"Especially people like Vance-senpai, who have a very strong sense of justice and duty. They definitely believe that, in order to keep from repeating last year's mistakes, they shouldn't let talented Military Artists laze around with nothing to do."
Of course, among them were also Military Artists with their sights set on scholarships. Nina wouldn't deny that those kinds of Military Artists existed, and she also knew that there were allies connected by things other than trust, so she wasn't sure exactly what the other new captains were thinking.
"But you're taking Military Arts at Zuellni, and you're so strong, so I think there will constantly be people looking for you to join their platoon."
Harley's words made Claribel raise her head to look at the ceiling, as if in thought.
"If joining a platoon means I can gain battle experience, joining one would be okay."
"In that case......"
"Hey, Nina Antalk."
She turned around and saw that Vance had already come up to them.
"What is it?"
"I have something to talk to you about."
After being singled out, Nina stood up from her seat.
Vance went to the entrance of the restaurant and stopped around the sofas that people waiting in line used.
"Senpai, what is it?"
"It's about her."
Vance cut straight to the chase.
"Do you plan on having her join the seventeenth platoon?"
"Well, it depends on what she wants."
"What? That's a very laid-back answer, considering your personality. But why is that?"
"Our rooms are very close, and we've met a few times, so we're friends."
"Oh? In that case, can I believe you won't force her into joining the seventeenth platoon?"
"Senpai? Do you want a verbal guarantee?'
"Uh, that's pretty much right."
"Being honest isn't necessarily a virtue."
"You're become pretty eloquent."
"Don't be like that, I've been here for four years."
"It looks like your experience as a captain wasn't wasted."
"......Our results last year weren't too different from yours, senpai."
"Well, who's responsible for obtaining that kind of fighting strength but only managing those kinds of results?"
The platoon had Layfon, Felli, Sharnid, and Dalshena. They were all talented people who would definitely become core fighting strength no matter what platoon they were put in. Naruki was a first-year student, so she was still a growing talent, but her rate of growth also showed promise. They still had a weakness in their number of platoon members, so should she absorb Claribel into the platoon right here and now?"
"In terms of individual pieces, and considering the meaning of the platoon battles, the fighting strength you have is already enough. What you should focus on next is your teamwork and level of coordination rather than chasing after individual talents."
The significance of the platoon battles was a wager between cities over the Selenium mines, a struggle that happened every two years...... The greatest goal among Academy cities was to refine their fighting strength and prepare for the Military Arts Compet.i.tion rather than to construct a singularly powerful team. From the perspective of raising their overall strength, it would be best to let everyone compete with even levels of combat strength, and not to let a single powerful team win exclusively.
That was the meaning Vance was trying to convey.
"Of course, we don't have control over who joins your platoon. You're the one who chooses who joins your platoon, and you're free to ask anyone."
You're free to ask anyone - though his mouth said that, his eyes wouldn't allow Claribel to join the seventeenth platoon.
With that, Vance returned to his own seat, and Nina directed a long sigh at him.
To be honest, Nina didn't know what Claribel wanted to do at all. Her goal was quite clear. But that goal somewhat betrayed the student life.
Nina didn't know what she wanted to do with her ident.i.ty as a student of the Academy City Zuellni.
Nina had also contemplated how she had fervently pulled Layfon into the platoon last year. Because of that, Nina didn't want to hastily force Claribel to join the platoon.
However, if this situation had happened last year, Nina might not have been so mentally calm.
"What do you plan on doing, Clara?"
After murmuring this, Nina returned to her seat.
After Claribel said that she had other business and parted with Nina and the others, she shook off the platoon captains who tried to get in contact with her and went for a walk alone.
Though she had taken advantage of the war with Grendan to come to this Academy City, until now the recent Military Arts Compet.i.tion had been over and it had been a transition period where the school prepared to enter a new term. The campus leadership team had been chosen through the student council elections, and graduates and new students came and went - a busy period with lots of people moving about, a scene that would never be seen in Grendan. Claribel had only seen this side of the campus, so it was her first time actually experiencing the platoon system.
"It's not bad, but......"
As expected, the primary problem was the Military Artists' strengths. It was obvious, but purely considering that meant staying in Grendan was the only way she could fight with more powerful opponents. As for the compet.i.tion held today, fighting in a Grendan Military Arts compet.i.tion like normal would be more beneficial to her. Over there, nothing was unusual about someone dominating a Military Arts compet.i.tion with their strength, and you could even say that it was only because those people appeared that Military Artists would further improve their powers and motivate themselves.
Claribel placed her growth as a Military Artist first. In that regard, she felt that although Zuellni's ways and city system were very interesting, everything else was lackl.u.s.ter.
However, this place had things that Grendan didn't.
"That really is the most important thing."
Thinking about the answer she had obtained after long consideration made Claribel not know what to do. When she was about to fall into contemplation again...... she quickly stopped thinking.
"Well, it's best to say those things to the person directly."
After all, the time was about right, wasn't it?
Deep thought really wasn't one of her interests. After coming to her conclusion, Claribel's feet quickly moved towards her destination.
Her destination was Layfon's place, of course.
"That's how it is, so come fight."
Claribel had suddenly come here while he was eating dinner and spoken those words. After she said that, Layfon handed over the saucer of broth that he was using to taste-test.
Many things had happened since the new school year started, and Claribel now lived in the same apartment as Layfon. Layfon had only moved here due to many things that had also happened in the dorm he had lived at before. Though the household tools and cookware around him was all new, Layfon seemed already used to living here. Also, some of his friends had rented rooms in this apartment.
Because of that, people with free time would be responsible for making communal dinner, but that job almost always fell on the shoulders of Layfon and one other person. Though Claribel could make food for herself, she mostly just helped Layfon make food in these situations.
Claribel had only recently realized that Layfon was so good at cooking, so she felt that this way of living was pretty fun.
Today too, Layfon had checked the schedules that everyone had written on the board and then started preparing dinner on his own.
"Wow, it's good."
Layfon smiled naturally at Claribel's response.
"What's today's dinner?"
"It's this soup with salad, and I plan on making something with chicken meat."
"I like herb-roasted chicken."
"Ah, got it."
"Ooh, I'm looking forward to it!"
After smiling gently at Claribel as she clapped and cheered, Layfon checked the seasoning.
In that moment, Claribel realized.
"............Ah, that's not it!"
"But I'm making dinner right now."
"Although that's important, there are more important things."
When they had started living like this, Claribel had requested that Layfon call her by that nickname. Layfon had straightforwardly agreed to that request, and hence addressed Claribel that way.
Claribel froze, exposed to his stern gaze.
"Nothing's more important than eating."
Claribel had been red-faced and paralyzed by Layfon's stare, but now lost her balance as if her strings had been cut.
Claribel put on an unaffected expression as she thought.
I knew it! Right, I already knew it! I knew he was like this since Grendan!
When she heard that he was going to Grendan, where there were only girls and boys of similar age, she had worried about what might happen...... But in the end, nothing like that had occurred.
Even so, she still believed that the recent commotions might make him grow, but it seemed like that hadn't ended p happening either.
Maybe he just didn't like her as much as she hoped. Instead of worrying about that, believing that he was an incredibly dense idiot made it easier for her to keep calm mentally.
"Don't worry about that. How about we go get some exercise after eating dinner?"
But she would leave that question to the side for now. Right now, in order to realize her other desire, Claribel shifted her angle of approach and tried convincing Layfon.
Layfon showed a thoughtful expression after Claribel brought up her request. However, his hands didn't stop preparing the chicken. Claribel admired those motions as she waited for Layfon's answer.
"Unless it's like something from before, fighting with Clara would be very loud."
'From before' referred to when Layfon had infiltrated Grendan.
"Don't use a one-hit kill, and also I've trained a ton since then. This time we'll compare our overall fighting strength."
"Even so, right now is no good. It's too loud."
"W......What do you mean, it's too loud......"
That answer almost made Claribel feel dazed. She couldn't imagine it being a reason worthy of being stressed twice.
"Y......Your reason is that it would be a little too noisy? This is a practice between true Military Artists. If you say something like that, then what does Ruimei-sama's morning exercise turn into?"
Every morning year-round, Ruimei would punctually carry out morning practice, and the citizens of Grendan even used that morning practice as a way to tell time.
"That's really noisy. It's nice that those people who work in the night haven't complained."
The unexpected statement made Claribel lean backwards in shock.
"Once it started, I always thought 'Ugh, I have to go to school today.' And on holidays it always wakes me up when I try to sleep in."
"W......What...... You never thought that you couldn't lose to him?"
"Uh, there are quieter training methods - that's what I think."
"What...... You never felt a sense of compet.i.tion?"
"If we thought like that, the Heaven's Blades would band together and make noise, and then Her Majesty would scold us."
Maybe that was true. Come to think of it, her grandfather and her master had never expressed any opinions about Ruimei.
Claribel understood that. But the fact that she burned with a compet.i.tive spirit yet Layfon didn't made her inadvertently think about the difference between them.
"Uuu, I guess that's the difference between someone who hasn't become a Heaven's Blade and someone who has."
Claribel endured her deep shock. Next to her, Layfon was heating a pot that he had poured oil into.
"Clara, I think that motivation of yours is good."
"But if you're like that, it really might be better to stay in Grendan......"
"It's because there's someone I can't fight in Grendan."
"Uh, do I have to explain that for you to understand it too?"
"You, it's you! Layfon Alseif! The youngest Heaven's Blade successor, the one said to have the most Kei of all the Heaven's Blades. And the one who beat Savaris-sama one-on-one, and who had an incomparably intense swordfight with that mysterious person in the battle back then. Even now, everyone in Grendan my age and younger has their eyes on surpa.s.sing you!"
"Huh~ No way."
"Don't reject it so fast, okay?"
"But I'm a criminal."
"Please don't mix the views of ordinary citizens and Military Artists together. Also, you know that the kind of Military Artist n.o.ble sentiment that Nina-senpai has is a minority in Grendan."
"Huh - I don’t think that's right. Psyharden was the source of the Salinvan Mercenary Gang, so it gets looked down on a lot. I wonder why Grendan's people hate mercenaries?"
"It's not so much their moving around a lot as much as them avoiding harsh battlefields like Grendan and running off to lukewarm battlefields in faraway cities to strut around, right?"
Thinking about it that way, it was possible that Grendan's people now thought about Claribel like that too. After noticing that, Claribel's mood worsened. She hadn't run off to a lower-skilled battlefield; she would definitely return a few years later to prove that to everyone.
"Is that so?"
"No, I haven't thought about it seriously, so I'm not sure."
"Yeah. Well, it doesn't matter."
As the two of them spoke, Layfon put the chicken, marinated with a special sauce, into the pot. Perhaps the oil had already heated up to a suitable degree.
The crisp sound of oil frying spread through the room. That sound, announcing that dinner was ready, made Claribel's mouth water.
When the pot was opened, the perfectly-fried chicken released an aroma of herbs and spices into the surroundings.
"Anyway, dinner's already done. It would be nice if you could call everyone who’s at home to come eat."
The prospect of dinner made Claribel obediently do that, and she left the room to get the others.
She wasn't good at thinking.
However, right now it seemed that she had to think.
Claribel munched on herb-roasted chicken as she watched Layfon. Felli was the only one who could make dinner tonight, so the three of them ate around the dining table in Layfon's room.
The herb-roasted chicken was extremely delicious. A sweet taste spread through the mouth, and the aroma pa.s.sed into the nostrils. The amount of chicken, soup, and salad was too much, even if Layfon had planned for the maximum number of people who could potentially have been circled around this table. Though the huge amount of food surprised Claribel, the feeling that she could eat as much as she wanted made her practically forget about everything other than the delicious food, and she hastily restrained her appet.i.te.
Did Layfon not want to fight?
He had been in low spirits since being rescued from Grendan, but recently signs of recovery had slowly showed up.
Claribel had brought up that request because of that, but Layfon's response had been as bad as she antic.i.p.ated. Rather than Layfon being in low spirits, it felt more like he was leaving her behind.
Did he have no desire to fight?
But several possibilities hid inside that 'no desire'.
Does he think I'm not a match for him, or has he lost his motivation as a Military Artist?
Or does he plan on giving up being a Military Artist?
It's too early to judge......
Claribel chewed the chicken as she thought.
But he had indeed lost the desire to fight.
In that case...... it would be troublesome. If Layfon had any sort of charm, it was because he was very strong.
That was a difficult-to-change truth for Claribel, although different people viewed him differently. People couldn't see every side to another person right after an encounter. People would first see the face and see that side, then decide their impression of the other, and then decide how they would interact with that person.
The Layfon Alseif who attracted Claribel was Layfon Wolfstein Alseif, and the power that had easily taken a Heaven's Blade successor position at a young age.
In addition to being attracted by his strong power, she wanted to surpa.s.s him because he was strong.
Also, at the same time she also hoped that he would be a tall wall. A difference in strength that couldn't be easily surmounted despite their mere one-year age difference.
Fighting strength changed very easily. Walking the line between life and death could affect the mind as well as physical ability. Once the heart gave in, the flesh would weaken like a house of cards.
If Layfon wanted to reduce his desire to fight and his thirst for battle, should she awaken those feelings?
She had to become strong. Her heart wavered...... It had been her desire to surpa.s.s Layfon that made Claribel think about this, but now it was not the case. No matter what, she had to become strong.
In order to reach that goal, Layfon had to be the Layfon from the past - no, she had to surpa.s.s the Layfon from the past.
She wanted to surpa.s.s that Layfon. At that time, she could definitely approach towards an even farther goal. Also, when that time came, Layfon would become a great help.
But what should she do......?
In the end, she couldn't think of an answer during dinner.
After long thought, her body felt incredibly tense, so Claribel ran outside to catch some fresh air and for some after-meal exercise.
She ran a loop around the outer area first. Normally, Claribel would maintain Sakkei and train her silent movement, but tonight she really wasn't in the mood for such a thing. Come to think of it, since this was the outer area, a bit of sound would be drowned out by the huge noise of the city's legs. Claribel sprinted past the outer area without holding anything back.
One loop, two loops, three loops...... When she finished her fourth loop, Claribel finally felt like stopping. She regulated her slightly heavy breathing, spreading Kei through her whole body to scatter sweat. The light of Key instantly pushed back the darkness of the night.
Her body gave off a satisfied feeling of release, and Claribel nodded with a smile.
Then, what should she do next...... As she was thinking this, someone watching from the side approached her.
"What are you doing?"
Claribel had sensed that someone there on her second loop, but that person seemed to be just a pa.s.serby, so Claribel had ignored him. However, that person was not approaching her, so he must have business with her.
There actually should have been one more observer, but that person didn't approach.
"You really are different from the other students, hugely different."
Vance stood there.
"Ah, you're - uh......"
However, Claribel didn't remember his name. She had lumped Vance in as one of the many platoon captains obsessing over to recruiting her.
"I'm Vance, the captain of the third platoon."
"Oh. Then what do you need from me?"
"I want to ask you to join our platoon."
Claribel knew it was a pointless question, and she hadn’t missed the impatient look that flashed over Vance's face when she had asked it. Maybe this person was very irritable. But he was willing to take the time to approach her on his own, so Claribel felt that she ought to endure such trivial matters.
"Unfortunately, I have no interest in things like platoons right now."
Because you're so weak - in the end, Claribel didn't give those words voice. However, Claribel's thoughts were understandable. With her strength, a half-baked platoon wouldn't work out. Also, if she didn't have this much self-confidence, she would never realize her goals.
Vance seemed to find Claribel's answer unexpected.
"But as a Military Artist, protecting the city is......"
Vance elaborated on what all Military Artists ought to comply to, as well as on how to effectively use Military Artists' strengths under Zuellni's system. The platoon system was indeed very useful to use as core groups during group battles. Grendan's Military Artists underwent group battle training in order to be able to fight cooperatively with others. But in the end, that was with the premise that those groups would be temporary. Of course teams that had been a.s.signed beforehand would perform more effectively, since they acc.u.mulated training experience in a different way.
However, that wasn't the important point.
Vance clearly felt impatient about Claribel's vague att.i.tude. He had even come to find Claribel this late at night, which was showed quite the enthusiasm. However, there was too much enthusiasm, so it felt a bit...... gross. Excessive enthusiasm felt repulsive. Hmm, take note of that. Claribel's maiden portion considered this.
However, in the next moment, he said something that made Claribel waver:
"You would be able to fight against Layfon Alseif of the seventeenth platoon."
Right, that was it.
"Ugh, I can't believe I forgot."
How negligent. Perhaps it had been that Layfon hadn't done anything related to the platoon since Claribel came to Zuellni, so Claribel had completely overlooked the fact that he was a platoon member.
"If he doesn't want to practice with me...... then fine, if it's a platoon match...... But...... no, it's fine if I leave that to her......"
After hitting that juncture, her thoughts started moving in a flash.
"Right, that's not a bad idea."
"Then do you want to join our platoon?"
"Ah, I haven't decided on that yet."
"Well...... let me test something on my side first."
After saying that, she brought up a proposal that surprised Vance.
So, the bell rang again.
"And the compet.i.tion starts! This is an anomaly among anomalies, an incredible anomaly! To think that the Military Artist new student Claribel Ronsmier, wanted by many platoon captains, would turn the tables and test the strengths of the platoons! But the bigger anomaly is - not just one or two platoons accepted this request! The third, fifth, seventh, fourteenth, and sixteenth platoons, five in total, announced that they would partic.i.p.ate in this compet.i.tion! Claribel obtained victory in the new student compet.i.tion held before - but no, the compet.i.tion this time is proof that she's just so amazing! Which platoon will be able to obtain this much-antic.i.p.ated, extraordinary rookie? We’ll decide that today, on this battlefield----------!"
The female emcee's voice shot through the sky of the battlefield, exciting the people squeezed in the spectator seats.
Claribel stood in an un.o.bstructed area near the entrance to the battlefield. Her figure was being tracked by cameras and projected to various screens in the spectator seats.
"......It feels like this has become something huge."
Layfon murmured in the spectator seats as if frightened by the loud cheers.
Nina smiled wryly next to him.
"There's no Military Arts Compet.i.tion this year, so this platoon won't be a round robin like last year's, it'll be a bracket compet.i.tion. Also, the results of the platoon members will affect their scholarships less than last year, so platoons will have win compet.i.tions frequently. But even so, every platoon wants to strengthen their fighting power. When you think of it that way, there actually aren't that many platoons partic.i.p.ating."
Felli replied plainly from her seat on the other side of him.
"Ah, it's because the others are angry at the way Clara's doing things."
After she said that, Nina thought of the platoon captains who had approached Claribel after the compet.i.tion. The platoons who hadn't announced they would partic.i.p.ate in this compet.i.tion had definitely gotten angry at her att.i.tude and methods.
Claribel was shown on the screen, holding the Kochouenshiken with safety gear that Harley had reproduced for her rather than the practice sword from the previous compet.i.tion. New students usually couldn't hold Dites until half a year of getting used to the campus life. Only those who joined a platoon or city police could obtain permission.
She hadn't yet joined a platoon. To be honest, she ought not to be able to hold a Dite.
"It seems like this was a special provision laid down for this compet.i.tion. I heard that the platoon captains partic.i.p.ating in the compet.i.tion even signed a pet.i.tion."
Claribel had definitely brought that item up as an additional condition for holding this compet.i.tion. Did even someone like her feel that dealing with so many people using a practice sword would be extremely unfavorable?
No, it was purely because she felt strange holding a Dite other than the Kochouenshiken that she used. Layfon thought so.
"Come to think of it, she didn't have any interest in platoons, so why did she suddenly become like this?"
Claribel had been griping about how everyone was trying to pull her into platoons when she had eating dinner before, so Layfon brought up that question.
When Layfon mentioned how he couldn't understand her fickleness, glares shot at him from his left and right.
"Is it really an incurable disease?"
As Layfon was confused by Felli's words, Nina explained:
"It's because she wants to fight with you. Don't you always refuse her? But if it's a platoon match, you'll have to fight with her. That's definitely what she's thinking."
Felli's tone made him and Nina smile wryly.
The starting bell sounded.
However good she was, Claribel couldn't fight all the platoons right from the start. Though Claribel herself felt that might work, the platoon captains didn't agree with those methods.
So they would draw straws to decide the battle order.
The rules of the battles were: If Claribel is unable to fight, the platoon wins. If the platoon members are all unable to fight, then Claribel wins.
"Just by looking at the rules, you can see that contestant Claribel is extremely disadvantaged. But apparently, it was contestant Claribel herself who proposed these rules. How arrogant, or is that an expression of absolute self-confidence? In any case, their first opponent - the sixteenth platoon - is starting to move!"
A boom pa.s.sed through the battlefield.
The sixteenth platoon had been the seventeenth platoon's first opponent last year. Just like last year, they were good at battles of speed, and as soon as the compet.i.tion started five of their fighters bravely charged. They were attempting to avoid the central area with more obstacles, planning on fighting near the entrance.
Claribel noticed the opponents' intent, but deliberately stayed where she was.
However, she didn't do nothing at all.
"Ohh, contestant Claribel is using a move. What is that? Kei is glowing, but we have no idea what's going on. Is it some kind of offensive technique to counterattack?"
The emcee's uncertainty was eliminated when the sixteenth platoon members pa.s.sed through the central forest.
Dust kicked up by high-speed movement spat out from the forest and five platoon members flew out. They continued shortening the distance to attack Claribel accurately and simultaneously from multiple directions.
However, they couldn't do it.
Then, things changed.
External-type Kei, Karen Kei variant - Scattered Flowers.
Orbs of red light suddenly appeared in Claribel's surroundings... but not just her surroundings, they also appeared in the surroundings of the sixteenth platoon members who pa.s.sed through the forest. Though they were only as small as a thumb, their numbers were - uncountable.
The sixteenth platoon members cried out, then their figures vanished in explosions of red light one by one.
After the light cleared, their figures slumped naturally to the ground.
"........................O-Oh...... Ohhh------! This is really incredible! Really incredible! The unimaginable scene made me speechless for a moment. But what exactly is going on? To think the sixteenth platoon was instantly beaten! It's hard to believe. Is this really happening? Are we seeing some sort of illusion!?"
The spectators cheered again alongside the emcee's excited voice.
Amidst this thunderous sound of cheers, Claribel looked at Layfon.
How was that? Don't you think I'm qualified to stand before you?
She asked in her heart.
However, Layfon was replying to the two girls next to him with an ordinary, commonplace expression.
A very disinteresting scene.
"Come on, have the next team come out!"
Claribel uttered those words as she expelled the impatience from her heart.
Claribel won easily after that.
The remaining order of the compet.i.tion was the fifth, then the seventh, then the third platoons.
The fact that the compet.i.tion continued meant that Claribel continued winning.
The first time they had drawn straws, the platoon captains had all believed 'I'll be able to get her if we draw first'.
However, their beliefs had already changed, changing to believe that it would be more favorable for them to go at the end, when she started to show signs of weakness.
Vance's grieved cry echoed resounded the battlefield.
"Ohh! Even the fourth team, the third platoon, has been defeated - contestant Claribel's overwhelming victory. Her fighting style hasn't shown any weakness at all - how exactly will things play out? If this goes on, will we end the battle with no platoon partic.i.p.ating in the compet.i.tion able to get her? Then she's make a record that no one has ever attained until now - winning singlehandedly against five platoons in a row!"
"Just that much would be boring."
Claribel murmured this at the emcee's words. That voice was picked up by the flakes of the Psychokinesists helping to run the compet.i.tion, then amplified and broadcast to the entire area.
"Maybe I'll end up leading these five platoons...... Right, I might as well just be a squadron leader."
"Th......There's no such system!"
Vance cried out, collapsed on the ground and waiting for medics.
"Oh? Then I would have won for nothing? I even gave myself up as a prize, but you won't give me anything when you lose? Isn't that a bit stingy?"
Vance hadn't expected a situation like the current, so he had nothing to say.
"Ah, there's still one team after this, so the possibility that I lose hasn't completely vanished."
"! That's right! If it's Shin, if it's that guy............!"
"Ahahahahaha! I see there are high expectations of me!"
That voice suddenly rang out.
It wasn't a voice broadcasted from the speakers set up by the operating crew.
Claribel noticed that. There were several new flakes above her head, and the voice was reaching her through them.
"This voice - is it Shin?"
Vance looked up at the sky. He has also noticed the flakes.
The voice responded, but Vance showed a surprised expression.
"It's finally my turn to take the stage!"
"Shin, I always thought you were lighthearted, but aren't you particularly laid-back today? No, rather than laid-back......"
"Laid-back? No, that's wrong. Starting from today, starting right now, the fourteenth platoon will be reborn!"
At the same time as that voice reached them, a new voice came from another flake - one that had already been surrept.i.tiously positioned in the battlefield...... or more accurately, positioned above the spectator seats.
No, it was a recording.
A thirty-two-beat, extremely fast song played out through the air. It was a solemn keyboard melody interspersed with distorted, high-pitched string instruments. Combined with an original, rough percussive rhythm, it made an incomparably somber tune.
The melody produced by the trackless, intense sound filled the battlefield, attempting to create a different world.
"Come, let everyone witness the rebirth of the fourteenth platoon!"
Then, they appeared.
From the sky.
If you asked how they did it, they had probably slipped onto the top of the outer wall of the battlefield, but that kind of thing was boring when the trick was revealed.
In any case, they descended from the sky.
With pitch-black appearances.
Like envoys of the night.
Or like Rakshasa leading evil demons.
The reborn fourteenth platoon descended to the area, crowned with new names.
"Teresa the Black Rose."
"G.o.d of Death Tony."
"Moon Shadow Cody."
"We are the Three Jet-Black Stars!"
Military Artists wearing black clothing and with black accessories appeared there.
Then, the final person.
"And the great me! Shin, the Falcon!"
Wearing a long black coat decorated with silver chains that fluttered like a mythical bird, the fourteenth platoon leader Shin Kaihan descended from the sky.
Upon seeing that figure, Claribel......
In the spectator seats.
Two girls stared at the figures, their bodies quivering.
"No, I have nothing to do with this."
"Uh, but no matter how I see it, this......"
"At least I didn't come up with that person's outfit."
"Why are you muttering?"
Layfon, the only one left out, looked to the girls to his left and right.
"And aren't those fighting clothes? So in that sense, this has nothing to do with me. Yeah, absolutely nothing to do with me."
"But as for that nickname, come to think of it......"
"But that was just once, wasn't it? During last year's matches and Military Arts Compet.i.tion, they were still dressed normally......"
"We saved our budget from last year and were thus reborn!"
Shin said. Though the timing was perfect, the words he said were a bit lackl.u.s.ter.
Nina covered her face.
"Under the guidance of the Silver Angel, we have been reborn as envoys of darkness!"
"They absolutely aren't talking about me. Yeah, definitely not. And what's up with that nickname? No way no way no way no way......" (repeat to infinity)
Felli, who began mumbling again, cringed due to some unknown pain.
As an explanation, this was the intense mental pain produced as a result of a tiny prank unexpectedly going out of control and becoming unstoppable, and her once again witnessing the embarra.s.sing outcome.
"Uh, that...... is it...... Felli?"
"Shut up, Lay the Flash!"
"Huhh? Or rather, I feel like you've called me that before. Then, did you really make those peoples' nicknames?"
After accidentally shooting herself in the foot, Felli panicked.
As the two of them spoke, the situation on the battlefield continued.
We return to the battlefield.
"Heh, heheh...... you look pretty good."
Claribel's murmur made Vance, s.p.a.cing out nearby, widen his eyes in surprise.
"Heh...... I knew you'd say that."
Shin's mouth curved into a smile.
Claribel realized in that moment that Shin had been the other observer that night in the outskirts. However, that definitely wasn't something that displeased her.
"Since the moment I saw you, I knew you were a human searching for darkness. A beautiful flower that can only bloom in the darkness...... Right, the Scarlet Princess."
"A great name."
"Hey, wait! Are the two of you both serious?"
Vance was the only one present left unhappily behind in reality. However, he couldn't believe his eyes and could only put on an alarmed look.
Ignoring the dumbstruck Vance, the dramatizing two continued speaking.
"However! Without power, you cannot command me!"
Claribel shouted this, then stabbed out the Kochouenshiken. The tip of the blade shone sharply. The ruby-colored metal reacted, and crimson light scattered from the blade.
Her burning fighting spirit left Vance speechless.
However, Shin didn't move. Shin the Falcon didn't move.
Also, the Three Jet-Black Stars behind him didn't cower.
Teresa the Black Rose smiled.
G.o.d of Death Tony and Moon Shadow Cody stood there with confident expressions.
Waves of Claribel's Kei made Shin's clothes flutter. He fearlessly approached her.
"I have no intention of commanding you. Didn't I say - you're a princess, one who commands darkness. We'll pledge allegiance to you, and our proof is - this."
Tony, standing behind him, opened the package they had prepared, and took out an outfit from inside it.
"This is the outfit of the princess who will ring the bell of victory for us."
"But this is only temporary, so the measurements still haven't been adjusted."
After Shin quietly said that, he instantly smiled wryly.
"Come, command us, princess!"
Claribel's eyes sparkled like a small girl's, her hands grabbing tightly on to the black clothes.
Vance made that last groan.
However, no one in this drama recognized his existence any longer. No, even if people noticed him, his role was just that of a sad fool whose enthusiasm had been perfectly manipulated by others. Though Vance noticed that fact, he was unwilling to admit it.
Claribel draped the black garment over her shoulders, and Shin the Falcon moved behind her and to her right side, with the Three Jet-Black Stars moving behind and to her left.
"Our enemy is there!"
Kochouenshiken's blade turned directions.
It pointed to the spectator seats.
"It's you! Lay the Flash!"
"Why do you know about that!?"
Layfon wailed from where he sat in the spectator seats.
A month-long commotion happened after that, and she was later named the Princess of Chaos afterwards, but we'll recount that later when there's more time.
Translator's Notes and References ↑ Demonic beings from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. ↑ This whole fourteenth-platoon thing is a joke off of something made up in the Regios manga. I urge you to read that manga because it's hilarious. ↑ Sound effect of a beating heart. Apparently, she likes their costumes. ↑ Explanation: Felli chooses the outfits for the Three Jet-Black Stars in the manga. She chooses normal clothes, though, so what they're wearing is apparently not exactly what she picked out for them. ↑ Rough translation ↑ Reference to a terrible nickname Felli made for Layfon way back from Volume 2.