“––As you can see from the contents of the matches so far, the Li siblings’ greatest weapon is, as expected, their variation of the Star Senjutsu. Above all, you may say that they are experts when concerning its illusory system. The elder brother Li ShenYun, as his nickname, the
, implies, is specialized in technique displaying nonexistent things as existent. Additionally. Since the younger sister, Li ShenHua alias
, uses a technique displaying all things existent as nonexistent, there’s a huge contrast between the styles.”
Private training room of Seidoukan Academy.
Julis and Ayato, who came back to the academy, were carrying out a strategy meeting for tomorrow’s quarterfinal as planned.
In the space window that Julis opened was a match video of the Li siblings in the current Phoenix was projected.
“And precisely because they are twins, their synchronization is excellent. Let alone using words their perfect connection is established almost without even making eye contact. Really. There is nothing more troublesome than that. In addition to that, if what Song and Luo said is true, then we have to consider that they also excel at tactics–– Hey, Ayato? Are you listening?” Julis abruptly stopped lecturing.
Julis’ voice seemed to startle Ayato as he raised his head suddenly.
“Ah, yeah, sorry.”
Julis continued what she was saying while glaring at such Ayato with half-opened eyes.
“Judging from pure Taijutsu only, Song and Luo are definitely above them. But, if judging synthetically as a tag, there is no doubt that those twins are far tougher. According to the standard strategy, the most effective strategy would be to bring down either one of them first, but their Star Senjutsu displayed a high effect mostly in the defense side. As counter-measures––”
Julis spoke up to there and looked over at Ayato to see what his reaction was.
But, although Ayato had a serious expression, his eyes were looking at neither the space window nor Julis.
Ayato was obviously thinking about something different which had nothing to do with what Julis was saying.
Julis steadily stared at Ayato’s face and greatly sighed.
“Looks like you are really worried about your big sister after all.”
Ayato tried to say something, but stopped right away.
“I won’t say something like ‘I understand your feelings’ to console you. After all, I hardly know what kind of person your sister is, and what kind of relations there was between both of you. However, I think that I can tell how much you dearly love your sister.”
“––But, shouldn’t you task all your energy to this Phoenix precisely for it?”
When she said so, Ayato frowned as he was somewhat perplexed.
“That is… To win and follow my wish for Nee-san’s search. Is what you mean?” Ayato said as if puzzled.
“Yes. Of course, for that purpose, we have to win the Phoenix and it won’t be an easy task. But, with the only clue we have now, you can’t possibly find her, right?”
From what he heard, Haruka’s data no longer existed in Seidokan Academy, and even the newly obtained information was only a witness story about the underground –– a place where it was no longer possible to search, for the present time, at that.
“You had said that you weren’t going to forcibly look for your sister, but, are you still feeling the same now?”
Ayato did not answer and slightly cast his eyes down.
Julis saw it and once again took a deep sigh in her mind.
––”It’s a little troublesome, but I must say it after all” thought Julis.
“Ayato. You may get angry, if I’m wrong, but… You, aren’t you by any chance afraid?”
“…Afraid?” Ayato asked in return as if it was doubtful
After staring in silence, for a while at Ayato, Julis slowly opened her mouth.
“Your big sister applied that seal and disappeared without saying anything. Of course, it’s a fact that, you wished to be reunited with your sister. But, at the same time, you will naturally also want to know the reason why she did it. The more you are attached to your sister… The more afraid you will be to meet her.
Ayato suddenly raised his face.
“––Right. The fear that she might have abandoned you.” Said Julis plainly.
At Julis’ words… Ayato muttered as if he realized that for the first time.
“I see… Yeah, now that you say it, it might certainly be so.” Ayato said, more to himself, as he reflected upon it.
To Ayato… Julis nodded.
“But, it might also be inevitable, to think about it in that way. Being rejected by someone that you hold dear is painful. Just by thinking of that possibility… It’s natural that your heart will cower.”
Julis, while saying so, felt a sharp pain running through her chest.
At that moment the face of a close friend, who she parted from, flashed across her mind.
Anything and everything had changed; Even the face of her dear friend.
However. Julis slightly shook her head and stopped her sentiments which tried to resurface.
“However, if you want to clarify the truth, it’s an undeniable fact that, this opportunity would be your chance to do so. You should think about it properly.”
In the voice of Ayato, who said so and nodded, as expected, there was still no vigor.
“Okay. Then, we shall dismiss for today (that’s all for today).”
“Eh? But, what about the countermeasures for tomorrow––”
“No matter how I discuss with you in your actual state, I don’t think we will reach a useful conclusion. It’s just a waste of time.”
It seemed that he was aware of it.
To Ayato, who frankly apologized, Julis returned a wry smile.
“It will be again at the very last-minute, but we will have no choice but to make time before tomorrow’s match. We will continue (the strategy meeting) then.”
Feebly nodding, Julis, who saw off Ayato, who left the training room, took out her portable terminal after a little hesitation.
It was frustrating, but this was all what she could do for him.
From this point on, she could only leave the rest to someone, who could do something.
As Julis entered that person’s number the space window opened after a while and a familiar face was projected.
“––It’s me. I’m sorry, for the sudden call, but… I want to ask you something.”
As Ayato returned to his room, Eishiro was nowhere to be found.
Since he said that he still had work left to do, he might be at it presently, or he simply went out to play.
In any case, it was just right since he wanted to be alone for a while. He turned off his portable terminal and lay down on the bed.
When he turned his line of sight, a very high summer sky of the present evening was spreading outside the window. After blankly looking at it for a while, Ayato took a deep breath so as to extrude the lees (mental sediment), which accumulated at the bottom of his body.
Ayato thought that Julis’ remark was probably correct.
He was not aware of it, but that anxiety was certainly lurking somewhere in his heart.
Of course, Ayato believed in his big sister. His big sister was a person: strong, straightforward, and above all full of affection and kindness. No matter what were to happen, she would never abandon him. Right, he firmly and strongly believed it.
At the same time, indelible questions were also nestling close to there.
Why did she apply a seal on him?
Why had she disappeared?
Why didn’t she say anything?
Ayato had been keeping himself from worrying about many such questions by believing in his big sister.
No matter, how much he worried about it, he wouldn’t get a quick answer anyway. If so, then just thinking about it would be useless.
He did not think that that choice was wrong but, in a certain sense, one might also say that he was just running away.
As Ayato was brooding over his thoughts, he suddenly felt a strange presence outside the window.
It was not an enemy, but, it was like it (the presence) was searching something…
Ayato quietly opened the window while being cautious –– he recalled that he also had a similar sensation before.
That was at one time when he walked with Kirin from the dorm––
“Wow!” Ayato exclaimed in naked suprise.
What suddenly appeared, to be hanging from the sash upside down, as he might have expected, was Saya.
Even though he knew it a moment sooner he was still surprised because her behavior was eccentric as usual.
“…Saya, I have also said this before but, don’t scare me so much.”
“It’s because Ayato’s phone was not connecting.”
As Saya said so, she turned her body around in the air and landed within the room. Really just like a cat.
“Oh, it’s because I want to be alone for a while to think… Wait. Saya! More importantly… This is the men’s dorm!”
“Yeah. I know.”
Saya inclined her head to the side seeming to want to say “what about it?”.
Like the women’s dorm the entrance in the men’s dorm was, in principle prohibited, to the opposite sex, too.
Putting aside when one could meet the other party in the drawing room through the regular procedure as Kirin the other day, the fact that intrusion without permission was subject to punishment was not different regardless of the men’s dorm or the women’s dorm. And, like how there was a vigilance committee in the women’s dorm, an organization called patrol group which protected the public morals within the dorm, there was also one for the men’s dorm.
However, just one point was different, although in the women’s dorm the one intruding without permission was subject to punishment. In contrast, in the men’s dorm it was the one deemed to allow it –– in other words, the boarder, who was punished. Usually any point raised on the men’s side was never even listened to.
“…There, Ayato, sit down.”
Whether or not she knew of his circumstances, Saya sat down on Ayato’s bed and invited him to sit next to her as she unreservedly tapped there with both hands.
Since it seemed, like whatever he said would be useless, he had no choice but to do as she asked.
“So. What business do you have with me?”
Since, she had expressly come all the way here to the men’s dorm, it was probably something very important.
By the way recently, Saya was finally able to move within the campus without losing her way.
But Saya, did not answer at all and was, just fixedly staring in Ayato’s eyes.
“Wh-What’s the matter?”
“…That’s my line.”
Saya, still looking at Ayato in the eyes, told him with her usual –– however, slightly blaming tone.
“…Ayato. Is there something troubling you?”
At these words Ayato unintentionally looked back at Saya.
“––I see. You have heard from Julis… Right?”
Saya nodded and continued her speech.
“I was contacted just a little while ago. Riessfeld is really worried about you, Ayato, otherwise she would not have told me.”
“Julis… Contacted you?”
It was indeed a little surprising.
Julis was not the kind of person who easily asked a favor from other people. Much less if the other party was Saya, all the more. Just that much proved how much she was worried about him.
“…Riessfeld is unexpectedly a good person. I have misunderstood her a little.”
As Saya understood that, she slightly hung her head in shame and, in an unusually deeply emotive tone, said.
“Aside from it––”
However she, immediately raised her face and, once again looked at Ayato in the eyes.
“––Ayato. Do you really think that Haru-nee would abandon you?”
At the straightforward question… Ayato unintentionally stammered.
Even though he tried to spin words of denial it didn’t come out easily.
Perhaps, by any chance, rather negative assumptions were inevitably stuck somewhere in his heart.
Saya, who saw it, angrily frowned and slowly lifted both her hands.
“…Idiot.” A *slap* sound reverberated.
Saya clapped, with both her hands, so as to hold each of Ayato’s cheeks.
Ayato opened his eyes wide in as much surprise as it was sudden.
While holding his tinglingly hot cheeks rather than painful, Saya said in a strong tone.
“I swear it. There is no way in hell that Haru-nee would abandon you! Ayato.”
That might be an irresponsible encouragement with no basis from an outsider’s perspective. Certainly Saya might know his big sister well, but even so, it was only Ayato who saw his big sister that day –– the day she disappeared.
However, for the current Ayato, just the fact that there was someone by his side that attested for Haru-nee was a great salvation.
“Besides, that Haru-nee really lost to someone, I personally don’t believe it. But, anyway, if it’s true… Then it might be not that Haru-nee didn’t contact you but rather that she could not.”
“If so, then you shouldn’t be wasting time to worry about it.”
Saya slowly said so as to persuade him.
“––Yeah, that’s right, it’s as you say. Saya.”
Ayato firmly nodded and looked back at Saya straight in the eyes.
In the end, if he did not act by fear of something, he would still not know anything. And at this rate he might someday end up regretting.
If so. Then he could only do what he had to do now.
“…All right. That’s more like my Ayato.”
As Saya said so, she gently smiled while stroking Ayato’s cheeks.
The wind, which came blowing from the window, gently shook Saya’s blue hair.
At that expression, which he saw for the first time, Ayato felt a throbbing in his chest.
It was for just an instant but it was a vivid sensation that he had never felt up to now towards Saya.
“A-Ah. No, it’s nothing, it’s nothing.”
Without also knowing well himself, Ayato shrank back while buzzingly waving his hand.
Saya, still wearing a strange expression, suddenly clapped her hands.
“Oh yeah. Speaking of Haru-nee –– do you remember the bout, both you and I, had against her?”
“Of course. There’s no way I would forget.”
He had just seen it in dream just the other day after all.
“Sorry, sorry, have I kept you waiting?”
Haruka, who appeared in her uniform, said to Ayato and Saya, who had finished preparing ahead.
“No, it’s all right, Nee-chan.”
In the usual field, before the evening.
Ayato set up his favorite wooden sword and Saya had already deployed her dual pistols type Lux.
“More importantly. Is a two-to-one bout really all right? Even if like this we get one point from Nee-chan …”
“Yes, I understand geez. You want to follow the next lessons at the pupil’s home, right? I will put in a good word for you to Otou-san –– if you really get one point from me, that is.”
Haruka ,while saying so, also took her wooden sword and lightly swung it two, three times.
The usually carefree mood of Haruka suddenly changed completely as soon as she set it up. The air became tense to the extent that one could even feel suffocation.
Ayato and Saya gulpingly swallowed their saliva and fell one step back as they were overawed.
“Now then. I already finished my preparations, so let’s begin.”
At Haruka’s words Ayato and Saya, still remaining silent, exchanged a glance and nodded a little to one another. They had already ironed out their basic strategy.
After both sides bowed to each other, they first adopted the standard strategy of a many-to-one fight by splitting at both sides, and gradually moved towards a position so as to sandwich Haruka.
Haruka did not move as she took a side stance. Just her eyes were cautiously chasing the two’s movements, but that was just it.
Ayato had many times challenged Haruka in places, other than the Dojo, but even then the exchanges were rarely started by Haruka. As if to survey his present competence, at that point, she first let Ayato drive in to his heart’s content. Then seeing an opening and settling with a counter was Haruka’s way of moving things along.
And. Ayato had never taken one point from Haruka until now.[However, since today is a two-on-one bout, it won’t proceed like usual…!]
As Ayato muttered so in his mind he adjusted his breathing.
Haruka’s stance was naturally impeccable –– but even so they couldn’t just stand back and watch.
Ayato sliced with an overhead chop with a shout of shrieking sound.
At the same time, Saya, who took position in the opposite side across Haruka, acted as support by shooting coverage fire.
It was an attack with a perfect timing, but Haruka dodged the light balls with minimum movement and easily repelled Ayato’s blow.
Even so, Ayato returned the edge of his sword and launched two, three strikes.
“Phew… I see that your swordsmanship is much better than before. This is the fruit of basic training.” Haruka remarked.
“But I had no choice because you made me do that!”
While easily defending against Ayato’s attacks, unleashed in a rapid succession, Haruka calmly made brief comments. She seemed to still have enough room to spare. So as to give relief to Ayato’s attacks, Saya’s gunning, which also aimed and finished, was easily dodged.
However. All was going so far according to the plan. Where he more or less received support, from the beginning, neither thought that Ayato’s attacks alone would work on Haruka.
“…Leave it to me.”
At the same time as Ayato’s signal, Saya, who was taking distance until now, instantly shortened the interval.
Although Saya’s close range combat skill is high, as expected, it was not enough to face Haruka by herself. But, if it was both Saya and Ayato, then it was another story. Much less her gunning, at point-blank range, unlike earlier, would naturally become difficult to dodge.
While contrary, to until now, Ayato acted as Saya’s support, he awaited a possible opening from Haruka by Saya’s gunning –– it was the strategy that Ayato and Saya set up.
“He~e… this is, quite good…!”
Haruka pulled through the two’s fierce attack while saying as she was impressed, but she was gradually pushed by Saya and Ayato. Their fine combination, rather than following their previous preparation (strategy), was all improvisation. Even so, their breathing matched perfectly, it was a perfect coordination so as not to give any chance for Haruka to exploit.
“Geez. I’m a little burnt…!”
––But, Just as Haruka muttered so, her movements radically changed.
The movement of the wooden sword that she had been using to ward off attacks so far, changed into that of a sharp and offensive one. As expected… She had judged that it would be tough with a defensive style.[Well, from here on it’s the real thing…!]
Ayato raised his concentration and prepared for Haruka’s attacks.
Haruka’s sword, which switched to offensive, was not of an ordinary sharpness. One false move and the match would be over in an instant. In fact, at the same time, this was also a good opportunity. This was because her defense would inevitably become lax if she inclined towards offensive.[We somehow got over here––!]
The moment he re-motivated himself a lightning speed blow from Haruka flipped up Ayato’s wooden sword.
Although, he just barely prevented it from being flicked off his hand, one could see his hand gripping the sword had became numb like from an electric shock.
In addition. Haruka’s wooden sword drew an arc in the sky and knocked the pistol in Saya’s right hand.
That instant. Saya’s eyes intersected with Ayato’s.
Ayato, who understood her intention, in an instant, re-gripped his wooden sword.
The next moment the pistol, still remaining in Saya’s left hand, fired light balls.
––However, not at Haruka but, towards the ground.
Haruka’s voice resounded beyond that of the cloud of dust, which whirled up, as she was surprised.
Ayato did not miss that chance and mowed down his wooden sword straight for Haruka.
There was no better timing than this; It was the best coordinated attack.
The attack, which Ayato just employed, was used because he was partly convinced of victory. However, before it was completed, it was stopped only by what he felt was an indescribable strong and heavy feeling.
“Well, Just now, I guess you were a little impatient.”
On the other side of the cloud of dust, Haruka’s face slightly floated a wry smile.
The wooden sword in her hand defended against Ayato’s blow at the very limit.
Although amazed, Ayato and Saya promptly took a distance, and rebuilt their stance.
(So even that blow was not good …!)
Although he strongly clenched his molars, because of the frustration, Haruka was staring at such Ayato in admiration.
“Phew… Ayato. Saya-chan. You’re amazing, honestly, I did not expect you would get this far.”
That compliment might be pleasant but Haruka’s next words blew it off.
“If I don’t seriously respond to this, too, it will be rude of me. Right?”
“A serious Nee-san?” “…”
Ayato hadn’t ever once fought a serious Haruka so far. No, on the contrary, he had never even seen her fighting with all her might.
Haruka lowered her wooden sword and adjusted her breathing. She closed her eyes for a little while –– and then opened them.
The air, which was tense, suddenly felt like it became tenser. A tension as if one was riding on a blade.
Nevertheless. Haruka’s prana was surprisingly quiet and transparent.
However… That was all.
Rather, just by lowering her wooden sword, it looked like she was more defenseless than just a little while ago. It was to the extent that one could say that she was full of openings.
Ayato winked at Saya who also returned a small nod.
She might be up to something but it was useless to think about it. They should try to attack from here.
Just like in the beginning, they took position so as to sandwich Haruka from the front and rear and, mutually, gradually, shorten the distance.
There was no second guessing. They instantly bet on victory or defeat.
From the front. Ayato slashed his wooden sword diagonally from the shoulder.
At the same time from the rear. Saya fired with her pistol at close range.
––At that moment.
Haruka’s wooden sword softly moved as if dancing.
Even after receiving Ayato’s blow, not only did she not ward it off, she drew it towards her invitingly.
At the same time she twisted her body, Ayato’s sword, which did not slow down at all, came down to Haruka’s back. Moreover, just ahead of that, there was Saya’s pistol which had just now fired light balls which were close to exiting its muzzle.
Saya’s pistol detonated almost at the same time his sword tip unavoidably met its muzzel. A voice of surprise leaked from both Ayato’s and Saya’s mouths.
Although it was a Lux, even though it’s power was adjusted for self-defense, the shock alone would be huge if the muzzle was blocked and Saya fired accidentally.
The cutting edge of Haruka’s wooden sword stopped right before the eyes of Ayato who was sent flying and fell on his back.
Ayato looked at it in utter amazement for a while, but as he finally pulled himself together just a little, he first asked his sister what he wanted to hear the most.
“What was that just now…?”
“First. ‘Amagiri Bright Dragon Style’ Hidden Technique,
Haruka answered while broadly laughing.
“Simply put, it’s a technique that freely induced attacks of multiple opponents and made them attack each other. Something like that.”
Ayato’s densho was still at the Intermediate Techniques. The Hidden Techniques were a domain beyond that.
“I heard that one can’t use the Hidden Techniques unless one extends their perception to the limit, but…”
“Hmm. I guess. Actually… I’m not allowed to teach you that much. Though.”
As Haruka said that she stored her wooden sword and then held out her hand to Ayato.
“I think that Ayato and Saya-chan’s coordination was splendid. It’s not flattery, but, let’s say that what I perceived was wider than what you two saw.”
As Ayato stood up, Haruka likewise lent a hand to Saya on the ground to help her stand up.
To Saya’s face, which showed that he did not understand well, Haruka, after thinking a little, continued her explination.
“For example, when it comes to fighting, if you are sensitive enough, you are able to detect slight subtlties such as the opponent’s breathing and motions even before delicate movements. Right?”
“The more such information increases the better you’ll be able to counter any movement of the opponent. Let’s say that widening it, from not only just at the opponent but, to the surrounding space is what the area of Hidden Technique is. In the Amagiri Bright Dragon Style… that state of mind is called ‘cognition’.”
It was an explanation that felt like they understood and yet at the same time did not.
But, one thing was clear, it was that Saya and Ayato lost. Unfortunately. They understood that only too well.
“But this isn’t really just about fighting. After all, when our options to live as humans become invariably restricted, there are times when we will inevitably reach these limits. I wonder, at such times, whether or not they might look out for more possibilities, from various things and aspects, not recognized before. ––Well… it may be still too early for you two to understand that though.”
Said Haruka while she lightly laughed and fondly patted Ayato’s and Saya’s heads.
“––In the end, even after all our planning, we weren’t able to win even once against Haru-nee.”
Saya said, sitting on Ayato’s dorm room bed, and dropped her shoulders in disappointment.
“Nee-san was really strong after all… Even though she always seemed so carefree.”
“…Well. I can say the same thing to you.”
Saya argued and then asked.
“How was it after I moved out?”
“The same. I didn’t win even once.”
Ayato said so with a sigh and raised both his hands.
After Saya moved out, it was only, about one year had passed until his big sister disappeared
In that one year, he personally intended and worked tirelessly to become as strong as what Haruka had shown but, –– even so, as expected, he was no match for his big sister.
Saya briefly muttered so and jumped from the bed.
And then, as she walked up to the window, she looked back in there and said.
“If it‘s the case, How about finding Haru-nee by all means and take revenge? You and me.”
At Saya’s words, Ayato was a little surprised –– and then, he slightly laughed.
“Yeah, that’s right. Though I think we probably can’t win yet.”
“…At that time, then, we should fight together again. Like we did at that time. So, how about that, Ayato.”
“Even now, in hard times, we should do so. Also, besides me, there is definitely someone who will help you out… Though it’s a little mortifying.”
Saya said with a somewhat sullen face and disappeared outside the window.
As Ayato saw her off with a painful smile he quietly closed the window.
It was just around the time when dusk had begun to dye the sky red.
Jump up↑ Lees refers to deposits of dead yeast or residual yeast and other particles that precipitate. Sometimes called ‘dregs’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lees_%28fermentation%29 Jump up↑ way to say father in Japanese Jump up↑ as for the meaning of densho, read here http://www.akban.org/wiki/Densho