Mari returned together with Ouka. Five minutes later.
"Stay in my house?! Why?!"
Takeru yelled, after hearing the circumstances from the two of them.
"Because of mishandled procedures, there are no free rooms in the girl's dormitory. Also, knowing that Nikaido Mari is wearing a Gleipnir, going outside school grounds is fine... at least the Chairman said so."
Ouka explained dissatisfied. But at the same time, she wasn't too convincing.
"So why does it have to be my room?"
"Saionji is living with her parents and there's nowhere to sleep at Suginami's. This woman didn't want to come to my room. Of course I don't want her in there either."
"...you're getting along way too badly; the two of you."
"Don't worry Kusanagi, I won't leave you alone with this witch. I'll accompany and monitor you to make sure you won't get attacked."
"I won't attack him!"
Mari retorted, as she walked up from the left side.
While being a bit nervous, Takeru looked at Ouka.
"Ootori, are you... going to stay in my house too?"
"...is that bad?"
Ouka asked, while feeling a little uneasy.
"...i-it's not bad! Definitely not!"
"Mmm. Well, sorry to intrude then. Don't worry, I brought a sleeping bag with me."
He finally found out what was in the huge boston bag Ouka brought with her.
"Oh well, I'm not going to stop you... I'm quite poor so it's really small?"
"It's fine, I already knew that you're poor and prepared myself."
...the fact that she's going to move in was decided just a moment ago, so why did she have that kind of information.
Takeru's mood turned a bit sad.
"Kusanagi is living alone... is it an apartment?"
"Yeah. Six and a half tatami mats, with a kitchen and a bath."
"? Isn't that quite normal, it's not that bad of a place... by the way, how much is the rent?"
Hearing Ouka, Takeru raised five fingers.
"...fifty thousand? That's quite normal rent."
"...no, five thousand."
It's too low no matter how you look at it, is what the two of them thought.
Seeing them surprised, Takeru looked quite proud.
"Fufufu, a good deal ain't it? I finally found it after looking everywhere over and over again for a week."
"Umm... isn't it unusually cheap when compared with the other rooms?"
"? Yeah, now that you say it, the other rooms were about sixty thousand weren't they."
I wonder why? Takeru tilted his neck thinking that.
Mari made a crooked smile. Ouka's face turned extremely pale, and she fell silent.
"You, that's... definitely dangerous. It's definitely a room a suicide occurred in, or maybe a poltergeist appears in it."
"Hahaha! There's no such thing. You've watched too much horror movies. Things like ghosts won't appear unless you use evocation magic."
Takeru laughed off Mari's imaginative fears.
Mari followed Takeru while still being a bit anxious. Ouka didn't speak a thing ever since she heard the rent was only five thousand, she trudged a bit behind while looking towards the ground.
"We're here. This is my place."
The two looked in the direction Takeru pointed at.
There, at first glance it looked like ordinary apartment. It's overall appearance was pretty normal. One part only; one of the rooms. The innermost room on the second floor looked weird.
———*wooooooooooo—gyaa!!* *gyaaa!!* *creaak...* *creaak...*
It's aura was emitting an ominous sound, birds that sat on the roof let out creaking voices. Despite no one being inside, a creaking sound could be heard coming from inside the room.
"——Isn't this definitely dangerous!?"
"What is that black aura?! Isn't it giving out a horrible "wooooooo" ringing!?"
"Isn't that the ventilation fan next door?"
"And those birds going *gyaa**gyaa*?!”
"That's a crow. Because they feast on garbage. The neighbors act annoyed lately too."
"Crows don't have scales like that?! Also, there's no one inside yet you can hear creaking sounds, what is that!"
"The rattling in this house is pretty horrible."
Takeru explained embarrassed.
Mari looked at Takeru with astounded eyes , "What kind of nerves do you have..." she muttered,
"? Ootori, what is it? Why are you standing there? Come over here."
Ouka noticed what Takeru was pointing at and stopped in the back. Being called she turned around, her movement seemed to give out creaking and squeaking sounds.
"...what's up with the slang?"
"There' ain' nothing like dat. All's 'fine. I ain't scared 't all!"
Looking at her, she was trembling and her teeth were chattering. Even though Takeru who was pretty dense didn't notice it, Mari who was pretty sharp understood Ouka's reaction right away, she smiled maliciously.
At the same time, she clung to Takeru's arm tightly.
"You can go back if it's scary? I don't really mind, I'll stay here alone with Takeru."
"But, for a honor student like you to be scared of ghosts——. That's really unexpected——"
"Y-you! What are you talking about! I... this much is... n-n-nothing to me!"
Saying that, Ouka started walking towards the apartment confidently.
Seeing Ouka trembling and unsteady unable to climb the apartment stairs, Mari laughed happily.
"Pufufu, don't try the impossible. Go back if it's scary, come on, go back."
"...I don't get it, but are both of you going to stay in my room? Or is it just Mari? Which is it?"
Takeru asked Mari while checking his watch.
Mari was surprised for a moment, she thought calmly for a moment while placing a hand on her chin.
Without Ouka. Alone with Takeru. Sleeping alone with a boy. Mari's face reddened slightly.
"N-no... that's a bit... w-what to do? I-I don't have any experience... w-we aren't going out yet... suddenly such a thing, it's a bit..."
"? Though I don't really get it, but Mari is staying right. Go in then, come on."
Takeru took something out from his pocket, and handed it to Mari.
"Make yourself at home. If you want to eat, there's a supermarket if you turn right in that alley, also, you will find the kitchen and bath easily... if you don't want to use my bath towel, you can buy one at the supermarket. Do you have money?"
"Wa-wait a minute. Why? Am I supposed to stay here alone? What about you? Isn't this your place?"
"I've got a part time job. I won't be back until 2 o'clock after midnight, so you can go to sleep and don't mind me."
"Part time job?! Until 2 o'clock... are you fine with that kind of lifestyle? Is your body alright?"
"My body is quite sturdy because of swordsmanship. I'm quite used to it."
Takeru said so with a faint smile.
He was a self-supporting student. He needed money to repay his household's debt and for the sake of his little sister. The reason he entered Inquisition was because of the money in the first place.
Takeru checked his watch impatient and looked back.
"Sorry, I'll be late. Use my room as you see fit!"
Takeru ran off while waving. Mari was left where she stood unmoving.
After listening to their conversation Ouka started walking back.
That's when Mari grabbed her shoulder strongly.
"Wh-what is it... I'm going back just like you told me to, let go."
"D...don't leave me alone."
Mari clung to Ouka with her eyes full of tears. Ouka's eyes were teary as well.
"It's a mission right, you have to guard me properly!"
"Why are you saying that only at a time like this! I want to get away from this place as soon as possible!"
"I don't want to stay in a place like this either! But I have no choice other than staying here because I was given the key!"
"Then stay here alone! I-I'm g-going back!"
"You're heartless! I definitely won't let you run away!"
"Let! Me! Go!"
The two of them made a ruckus under the twilight sky.
But in the end, both of them stayed together in Takeru's home.
Takeru said farewell to Mari and Ouka and left for his part time job.
The strategy of using Nikaido Mari as a bait ran behind the scenes.
A single truck was parked in front of Takeru's apartment.
Inside of that truck were strategic headquarters. A large amount of monitors were lined up in the dim space, and firearms were hung on the wall.
There were several people typing on the computers, a man who seemed like an Inquisitor looked over it and stared at a monitor with a serious expression.
《"This is Banshee's first monitoring unit. One of our members collided with a bystander. Fortunately he wasn't noticed thanks to optical camouflage. We're continuing our monitoring."》
"Continuing what. Exclude that guy from the mission immediately. Get rid of that useless guy."
《"...yes sir!! My apologies!"》
After instructing Banshee corps, Kurogane Hayato removed the microphone from in front of his face.
Next to Hayato who was staring at the monitor was his subordinate, another member of Dullahan who approached him with two cups of coffee.
"You let them out of the school on purpose, but it doesn't seem like they're attacking... The Valhalla."
The woman put a cup of coffee in front of Hayato and murmured quietly.
"Don't let your guard down. Be prepared to return fire at any time."
Hayato told the woman without removing his eyes from the monitor.
"Aren't you a little too nervous? Valhalla won't necessarily act here. I wonder if it's necessary to be this cautious."
"...You, you're a the newbie who was admitted to Dullahan from Banshee, right? Have you confronted Valhalla yet?"
"? No, I haven't yet."
The black haired woman lined up next to Hayato after putting documents on the desk.
"Don't underestimate them. They can use methods beyond our imagination to kill the target."
"...is that so, but maybe they will leave her..."
Hayato answered the unconvinced woman without moving his eyes from the front.
"Do you know why humans were able to win the Witch Hunt War?"
"...because guns were stronger than magic?"
"Wrong. There were few reasons. We had an overwhelming numeric advantage. Guns were merely the only way we could compete with these guys. Just like we used our military force, they produced wisdom and strength as well."
"But, that was 150 years ago? In modern times, the power of the witches has declined. Certainly, a witch has strength equal to a tank, but that's the extent of it."
"The monsters you speak of from 150 years ago, just think that their remnants constitute current Valhalla."
Saying that to the woman, Hayato dropped his line of sight towards the documents.
"A report from Mistilteinn?"
"It's from 20 minutes ago. There were no abnormalities."
"Did you run background checks on the students who were with Kusanagi Takeru? It was the guys who were present at the capture of Nikaido Mari."
"Yes. Kirigaya Kyouya, Yoshimizu Akira, Kitakami Heiji, Ishibashi Shinya, Mizuhara Ai, There was a recent issue with them. They have been punished the other day. It seems like they were depressed after they lost one person, but they seem to be acting as usual."
"Continue being vigilant."
The woman left after being given an order.
Hayato who was left behind, stared at the monitor and lamented the fact that the current Inquisition lacked a sense of danger.
"All members brace yourselves. Don't think that the enemy won't attack. Move while assuming the worst. Got it?"
Even after hearing a reliable reply he couldn't stop worrying.
Kurogane Hayato was one of the few Dullahans who knew how dreadful Valhalla was.
At 2 o'clock after midnight. Takeru finished his part time job at the convenience store and returned to his apartment while walking quietly.
After failing worse than usual and getting scolded by the manager Takeru's spirit was at it's limit. For Takeru who couldn't do anything except for swordsmanship, having work was simply a torture. If he lost concentration even for a single moment the order was going to fail, so his nerves wore out five times faster than a normal person's.
"Haa... living is difficult."
While saying the words too heavy for high school students as if he was spitting blood, he headed to the innermost room.
While looking at details of water and electricity bills that have been placed in the post, he opened the door.
"I'm back〜" he muttered to himself; took off his shoes and opened the sliding door like usual.
His eyes met with Mari's.
Because he came back home like usual, he forgot that Mari was staying over.
What he had seen, was burned into him. Mari seemed to have taken a bath and was wiping her hair with a bath towel. She wasn't wearing anything.
She had a slender but feminine body, reddish skin, and wet hair.
And above all else, those very modest... still in the middle of growing (or so they seemed) two bulges. The moment he saw it, the sound of his heart roared in his chest.
"N-no... t-t-this is, umm."
This is bad. He's going to be beaten up. Thinking normally there's no way he won't be beaten up.
Thinking that, Takeru braced himself ready to eject and escape at any time.
"...y-you're q-quite early..."
Mari hid her body with a towel quickly, she lowered her face and looked up at him shyly as she said that.
He wasn't beaten up after bumping into her in the bath. But if he wasn't beaten, how should he respond. It couldn't be helped that he was embarrassed.
"C-can... can you g-go out. This is quite... embarrassing."
Averting her faintly wet eyes, Mari——
"Don't... stare that much... I don't have confidence."
Hearing such a thing, these killer words and that gesture. Takeru's face turned crimson.
In the super awkward atmosphere, Takeru took a few steps back to leave the room.
At that moment,
The scream that suddenly resounded loudly, was not Mari's.
As he wondered what's going on the bathroom's door opened vigorously and a woman jumped out like a wet animal.
She came. It was Ouka. She jumped out of the bath with teary eyes and crashed into Mari who was in the front causing both of them to collapse.
"Bah...! What are you——hyaa!"
"?! Wait, don't come over here idi——guh!"
The two of them entangled and fell in Takeru's direction, the three crashed in front of the entrance. Takeru fell down in a way that made him face the two naked girls.
As dust rose up faintly, Mari's face displayed fury.
"Hey you...! What's up with you jumping out of the bath suddenly!"
"I-i-it, it came out! G-g-gh-ghost...! A-a woman with long hair... from the bathtub!"
Ouka was shaking with a blue face as she held onto Mari and Takeru. Mari looked with an amazed face at Ouka who was unexpectedly trembling.
In that situation,
"Uh... umm....... this, this it not my fault right? It's definitely not my fault right?"
Mari and Ouka noticed Takeru under their chests.
Because Takeru held out both of his hands trying to stop them as they collapsed, his left hand grasped Mari's breast, while his right grasped Ouka's breast.
It was a really contrasting feeling to him, it was *funifuni* in his left hand, and *munimuni* in his right.
The feeling was about the same, but Takeru could not afford to enjoy this bliss.
The two of them noticed their chests were groped, and stared at Takeru. Being stared at, his face turned red in no time and he made a crooked smile as he prayed to god...
As expected, he was beaten up by the two of them this time.
After he properly took a shower, when he opened the door to the changing room, Ouka was already sleeping soundly in her sleeping bag.
Since the spiritual phenomena subsided as Takeru came back, she fell asleep as if her strings were cut.
Ouka was bad at handling ghosts, it was surprising that she had such an aspect to her.
And Mari was sitting on the edge of an open window, gloomily staring somewhere outside.
Although she bought fresh underwear at the supermarket, she didn't have any clothes, so she borrowed Takeru's shirt.
Because the size didn't fit, the white shirt was too long and loose, it looked as if she wasn't wearing anything which was strangely sensational.
Takeru was still troubled and his eyes were unfocused, he took out two plastic bottles from the refrigerator and threw one to Mari.
Mari smiled thinly and said her thanks.
Takeru sat down on the mat by the window and brought the plastic bottle to his lips and looked at Mari as she was illuminated by the moonlight.
"So... how was it? The first day at our school."
"...well, it wasn't anything special. It was tiring. The level of the class is low. And I was made to do unreasonable physical exercises, how barbarous! Only bad things came out of it."
Pouting her lips, Mari started to complain.
"Then, what about the Small Fry Platoon? Feeling you can get used to it?"
Takeru asked. Mari narrowed her eyes in response and faced down.
"......I wouldn't know such a thing."
Hearing a neither negative nor positive answer, Takeru made a bitter smile.
"But, you and Ootori, somehow get along don't you?"
"Haa? Where did you see that? We're hopelessly incompatible."
Seeing her denying it annoyed, Takeru chuckled.
"Well, you don't have to rush. Even if it's a test run, you know that you will be attending officially once it's fully adopted, right?"
Hearing Takeru's question, Mari fell silent.
"I'm not bothered at all by the fact that you're a witch, if you ever wondered about it. The others aren't people who would either."
"Ootori is the same. Her hate is directed towards criminals, not the witches. You think what I'm saying is strange right? If she really thought you were evil, she wouldn't quarrel with you head on like that."
"Usagi and Suginami too, they will treat you normally after speaking with you a bit. After all, I got used to it the same way."
"They are picky fellows, if the time passes they will surely——"
Suddenly being interrupted strongly, Takeru looked at Mari in surprise.
"Please... stop talking about that..."
As if, Mari said that with a face as if she was putting up with something.
"Sorry. You're getting a bit too familiar. You're like a poison to me... causing me to drop my guard. You're scary, Takeru."
"W-what are you saying?"
"I am a witch. You are a human. The worlds we live in are just too different."
"...you say such things suddenly, what happened."
She had a headache, and placed a hand on her forehead while closing her eyes.
"I don't know... but I... am not the person you think I am."
Mari's face was blue because of the headache, her eyes were devoid of light.
"I still... don't really remember, but that's the feeling I have..."
"You can't remember... what are you talking about?"
"I will... definitely hurt you."
Mari averted her faintly wet eyes that were staring directly at Takeru and she stood up.
"Sorry... forget I said anything. I'm going to sleep. You should go too, morning will come soon."
Mari sunk into the futon without looking back.
"......good night, Takeru."
Mari faced away from him as she slept.
Still stunned, Takeru heard both Ouka and Mari's breathing as they slept.
He glanced outside, the sky started to light up as it was almost dawn. But pain surged through Takeru's head as he recalled something from his memory. But inside of Takeru's heart was nowhere as bright and easygoing as the dawn sky was.
Mari firmly rolled up in a futon, and looked towards Takeru's back.
Why did I suddenly... such a thing...
She frowned as her head still throbbed with pain.
Pain surged every few seconds, as if her mind was remembering something.
Every time the pain surged, she saw a strange video like a flashback.
Video transferred bits and pieces of something to her. Flames, burning. Corpses rising.
In the video that surging through her head, Mari faced towards him.
『"Magic is——it exists to make people happy."』
Mixing with the video, a voice echoed in her head. The voice was also very nostalgic, a cruel voice deep from Mari's heart.
What is this... is this my memory...?!
Even without knowing the meaning of the recollection, her body began to tremble. Not knowing why was it scary, her teeth started chattering.
A strangely pale baby, a voice calling her mother.
That voice sounded like it blamed Mari for some reason.
You are not qualified to live a normal life. You are a witch. Be crushed by sin.
The numerous invisible things looked down on her scornfully.
Mari rolled her eyes and hugged her own body.
She remembered a piece of her memory, but despite not knowing who she is, she felt like she didn't want to remember it.
Is that something that can be forgiven...? Not remembering anything, acting familiar with Takeru and the others, can that really be forgiven?
Mari couldn't get rid of the discomfort she was in no matter what she did.
195th AntiMagic Academy's mock battle tournament.
The annual competition that was carried out in two batches every year preliminaries and the main competition. They are divided into three leagues from first years to third years. it's a competition in which test platoons fight mock battles against each other.
Sniper rifles, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, everyone chooses only one gun, and the bullets used are paint bullets. There is a limited number of bullets. No friendly fire. Lethal close combat weapons are prohibited, a plastic knife covered in paint is to be used. Knockout via martial arts is allowed. Hitting the enemy gun's barrel is allowed. The possibility of injuries is still considerable.
Competition takes place over a period of one week, 100 points for the promotion is given to platoons that win qualifications, and the winner of the national competition is unconditionally admitted into Inquisition.
Ten minutes a match. First year fight in a team deathmatch style.
Objects on the field change every year. The field's interior of the 195th competition was something that mimicked urban warfare.
*swish* *swish*, Takeru had to move while hiding behind the rubble as the flurry of paint bullets was sent his way.
First years qualifications; first round. 10th Test Platoon vs 35th Test Platoon.
After the match started, Small Fry Platoon's positions fell apart right away and scattered as the enemy carried out a splendid surgical operation.
Because the enemy placed two people on top of an unused church's bell tower, Takeru couldn't move carelessly around the fountain square he was on.
"Usagi, can't you fire from there somehow?"
《"I-It's in a blind spot... a-a little bit... need to move a little bit further."》
Usagi's voice could be heard over the intercom.
It was the worst possible situation for Usagi. A big audience and her appearance being displayed on the monitor resulted in a stage fright on a catastrophic level. On top of it, she had to take down two of the enemy vanguards before they could advance.
While she was good at long range shooting, mid to short distance wasn't her specialty.
The enemy for the sake of sealing the sniper's actions rushed to her position at full speed and hid themselves.
《"Uu...uuu〜〜〜, Ku-Kusanagii〜〜〜, help mee〜〜〜."》
"Don't cry... I'm in a situation where I want to cry as well."
He calmed Usagi down while smiling wryly.
"Ootori, how is it?"
《"I got rid of the two occupying the position."》
"Ooh, as expected of you."
《"It's not time for praises, idiot. To save Saionji I need to pass through the fountain square no matter what. I can't hit the two at the bell tower... damn it, if it weren't only one weapon a person, I would have taken down that sniper."》
If Ouka had an assault rifle so she could snipe the enemy from medium distance only, only sniper rifles had pyrotechnical paint bullets, assault rifle's paint bullets were too fragile to be used at big distances.
"...Mari, how about you?"
Timidly, he checked on Mari's status.
After a few seconds, response from Mari came.
《"...I told you before we started, did you forget already?"》
She replied coldly causing Takeru to fall silent.
He thought about the words she told them before the match, when all of them were gathered.
『"I will definitely not help you in any way, if you want to do something, do it on your own."』 she said sharply.
Members looked at each other, and everyone reacted differently. Ouka only snorted and spit with a grumpy face, Usagi angrily said "No need to tell us, we didn't expect anything from you." . Ikaruga just raised her arms accepting it and Takeru just felt very disappointed.
It seemed thinking that even though she couldn't open her heart, that she would be able to open to them in her own way was apparently a misunderstanding.
Mari seemed to avoid developing permanent relations with them.
Maybe one day wasn't enough for her to get close to them. Maybe they said something they shouldn't.
No good... I need to concentrate on the mock battle now.
He shook his head and switched his feelings.
Takeru couldn't think of a way to break through, the communication with Ouka also fell silent.
This is no good... I didn't expect us to win, in the first place we weren't supposed to participate but... somehow.
While hiding his body behind the object, and playing with the plastic knife in his hand, he mumbled complaining,
"Even so, it's a bit shameful..."
《"I also want to capitalize on that feeling... but I'm not someone who acts high and mighty yet is unable to accomplish anything."》
《"Uuu〜〜〜!! I-it's still not over is right?!"》
《"If we were to know about it earlier, we would be able to think of more strategy and measures. If I had time, I could develop dedicated weapons for this."》
It seems like they all felt similar.
Despite already knowing that they would lose, everyone still wanted to challenge it and win. Even if they were the weakest of their grade, a group called 'small fries'.
Wait for a time-out, or perform a suicide attack.
There were only two options to choose from.
...but then, suddenly, a harsh voice coming from the intercom made them focus once again.
《"Hey, Small Fry Platoon! If you don't come out this game won't end! You can't keep hiding forever!"》
《"Ha ha ha, what did you guys think by entering the tournament! Or did you just want to disgrace yourself? What, you masochists, just come out and let yourselves be headshotted with a machine gun——"》
Their communication was interrupted by their opponents, the 10th platoon.
That was a so called taunt. It ended up with provocations since they just stood there. It may seem vulgar, but skills like these can be very useful in the mock battle tournament.
Small Fry Platoon... had a lot of pride despite not having any results, really, a lot.
"...h-hey, folks, can you endure that? A chance might come if we wait, we shouldn't kamikaze atta——"
Takeru tried to calm everyone down.
But right after he told everyone that, another remark came from enemy—.
《"Mr. Captain——! Please show me some of your cool swordsmanship——! After all it's only cool and can't really do anything can it——."》
《"It's a divine retribution -degozaru! He's a royal retainer -degozaru! It's a raid -degozaru!"》
《"Seriously, something like a sword is useless! It's just a disgusting and outdated; an antique——!"》
Any expression vanished from Takeru's face.
《"Ku-Kusanagi? Did you... again...?"》
"It's all right. It's okay. I didn't snap. I didn't snap yet."
It was only his mouth that laughed, his eyes were wide open.
That pair of eyes were like an animal's shining in the darkness of the night.
"It's all right... fufufu I'm calm. I won't go for a kill head on. I'll just evade. Just gonna avoid getting hit. But, just a little wouldn't——"
"——I think beating the hell out of them should be OK."
Takeru already completely entered berserk mode.
Ouka was slightly taken aback by Takeru's sudden change, the other two weren't surprised at all.
《"I didn't think a day where I approve of Kusanagi going out of control will come. After that annoying provocation I lost my patience."》
《"It's fine just this once. If your body hurts after this onee-san will massage it for you——go at them with full force, crush them."》
Takeru stood up after being pardoned by the two of them.
"Listen folks... we're deeeefinitely winning this."
While still looking like a demon, he squeezed the handle of his blade.
"?! What is it?"
"I'll be the decoy and buy some time, clean up the two weaklings near Usagi."
"I-is that okay? Doesn't your swordsmanship put a tremendous burden on your body?"
"It's fine. Believe in me."
Hearing Takeru speak in an unusually strong manner, Ouka gasped.
Takeru pulled his plastic blade as he spoke to Ouka,
Just as she was told to, Ouka started running and exposed her body out in the open at the fountain square.
At the same time, Takeru slowly moved from behind the object.
《"——Fools! You cheap bastards!"》
The sniper's muzzle shined in the bell tower, a dry sound of a gunshot rang.
The paint bullet flew straight towards Takeru and——it was bisected into two in mid-air.
The puzzled reaction of the sniper could be heard through the intercom.
He checked through the scope, but bullet didn't reach Takeru.
What he saw instead, was a demon slowly walking towards the bell tower.
He gave off an illusion as if his fighting spirit emitted a red, growling aura. His eyes were wide open, and his mouth twisted into a wolf-like expression as he held his shiny blade.
The sniper instinctively screamed.
Takeru looked like a terrifying monster to him.
"Kusanagi Double-Edged style initiate, Kusanagi Takeru. When I protect myself like this——don't think any of it will reach, you insects."
In fact, he was like some sort of demon, he was pointlessly riled up.
《"S-shoot! Shoot himm——!"》
《"Don't hesitate! Don't go easy on him! Capitalize on that pea shooter's performance and shoot till he's dead——!"》
《"Bullet's don't reach him! D-don't come over here, don't come don't come don't come!!!"》
《"Ahahahaha! This is fun! Isn't it?! Isn't it fun?! Ahahahaha!"》
Mari was sitting on a rubble at the starting point with a delicate expression, as she heard the noise and Ikaruga's joyful, full of herself voice from the intercom.
《"It looks wonderful. I didn't think you had a split personality."》
《"I-is that Kusanagi's real self?"》
《"It used to be... this, a lot of this also comes from everyday life's frustration... wouldn't you feel sorry for him if we didn't let him do this?"》
《"So that's the problem?"》
《"But, at times like this it won't last long. Ootori, you hurry up too. It's about time he breaks down."》
A question mark floated above Ouka's head, and immediately after that.
Suddenly, Takeru's loud shout was heard.
What happened?! A reply to Ouka's fussing came together with Takeru's groan-like voice.
*bashyan* *bashyan*, immediately after a sound of paint bullets bursting could be heard.
《"I-idiot! It's too fast no matter how you look at it! Hold out a little longer! What's going to happen with me in this position, after believing your words?! The sniper changed his target to me!"》
《"S-sorry... I can't see anything because a paint bullet crashed into my face."》
《"You're a useless guy just as usual!"》
She could easily imagine Takeru weeping after returning back to normal.
Rather then reversing the situation, it has worsened.
《"Just a little bit to Saionji's field... just a little bit more...!"》
Ouka muttered frustrated as she hid herself in an instant.
《"I-I won't hold out for much longer either... I'm running low on bullets."》
With communication from Usagi, gunshots and laughter of the vanguard was heard.
The communication became quiet.
Mari gave a small sigh.
"What are they doing... those guys."
Honestly, Mari couldn't say she was shocked.
In the first place, no one but Usagi was originally motivated, and then they were overturned with such a crappy provocation, she thought they really are cheap.
Even Small Fries had their small fry pride? Can't such a thing be given up on?
Ridiculous. Silly. It has nothing to do with her. She's not one of their comrades, she doesn't want to be join Inquisition in the first place.
She still didn't remember about herself, she vaguely understood she was from a different world than they are. That's what her lost memory told her.
That's why she just stared with cold eyes from the distance, there was an invisible border between them. And yet...
"W———......what am I... what am I doing."
...why, why does she desperately want to run to where they are.
"Really... what am I..."
Honestly speaking, she was envious. She was envious about being so desperate about something so pointless,
She simply envied them.
Being a part of Small Fry Platoon, being made fun of by 10th platoon and getting pissed at them. Those small fry idiots are suffering yet they want to win.
Above all, she thought it was interesting. Logically speaking, it was no wonder her heart danced.
These last moments, this major pinch.
If she found a way out, she would feel really great. Noticing that about herself, Mari smiled wryly.
"I'm simply an idiot myself... geez!"
Mari continued to question herself as she grabbed the sub-machine gun she was given and jumped out into the fountain square after breathing out.
She aimed the muzzle high up while looking at the sky, and stopped for a moment.
"——Be thankful to me, Small Fry Platoon! Only this time, only this single time! This time only, this Nikaido Mari-sama is going to lend you a hand!"
In this desperate moment, she squeezed the trigger.
After being shot, the paint bullets spread out in the sky, which caused the sniper to direct his attention to Mari.
Paint bullets released by the sniper's rifle hit Mari's body.
Mari stood in spot while covered with yellow paint.
《"Mari became the decoy! Go, Ootori!"》
《"I got rid of the vanguard over here already——Saionji!"》
A sound of Usagi running can be heard.
《"——I see them! Two people in the bell tower, taking them down!!"》
A gunfire roared in the distance.
Everything turned silent and Mari looked up to the sky as she sighed. The entire field was enclosed in complete silence.
An alarm notifying the end of the match rang, and cheers of the audience sounded at the same time.
『"The winner of first round of qualifications for the first grade C-Block has been decided! It's the 35th Test Platoon! Everyone give them a round of applause!"』
Hearing the announcement from the students that were doing live commentary, all members of Small Fry Platoon gave a loud shout of joy into their intercoms.
No one could predict Small Fry Platoon's victory.
"......what's this......the gun feels... pretty good."
Mari lowered her hat in order to hide her paint-covered face.
Her lips that weren't completely hidden, made a small arc laughing happily.
"See? Look! We were able to win, just as I have said! Be grateful to me for entering us by force!"
"Ohohohoh.", a haughty laughter resounded in the platoon's room.
Small Fry Platoon splendidly (?) won the first round, and went back to rest their bodies in their room.
The mock battle tournament is carried out throughout the entire week. The second round is scheduled for tomorrow, Small Fry Platoon's turn was over for the day.
"It's only the first round we won. We won't get any points unless we win the first year's league. Talk about impossible."
Takeru lied down on a sofa and was being treated by Ikaruga as he had terrible muscle pains and his body was covered by blue bruises. He shook his head denying Usagi.
"No! It's a big step forward for this platoon! I have taken the last step towards this victory! Come on, come on, you should be grateful to me!"
*huu*, Usagi took a deep breath and puffed her big chest.
"Yes, yes, amazing. Usagi-chan did really well."
"D-d-don't call me Usagi-chan! It doesn't feel like I was praised at all!"
Usagi tried to hit Ikaruga who was sitting on the sofa, but couldn't reach because Ikaruga held her head at a distance.
Takeru smiled wryly at their exchange and rubbed the compress that was fixed to his upper arm.
"Everyone did a good job today."
"Everyone except for Suginami is wrong!"
"...if you're going to be like that I have no choice but to rub your breasts."
"Kyaaa! I already told you not to touch them——!"
Usagi's chest was vigorously rubbed right beside him, but Takeru looked at Mari who sat on the sofa opposite of him. Because she took a shower to get rid of the paint, she was wearing Takeru's shirt since she didn't have spare clothes.
"Well, today's MVP is Mari isn't it."
Mari looked up surprised, and immediately turned away.
"I didn't really... I just got shot. It's not like I did anything."
Mari's face reddened a little causing everyone to stare at her. She blushed even more, her eyes watered up.
"That was fast."
"You, turning dere."
"I didn't turn dere!!'
"Then, I wonder what was that action during the match?"
Mari didn't try to deny what she did there, instead she tried to hide her face with a hat.
Look at that, "mufufu", Ikaruga laughed.
"Even though you're grinning by yourself immersed in the afterglow of victory."
"A tsundere, huh... not really unique, but good enough. Even so, we were missing a small chest in our platoon."
"Wha——! That's rude! Who's small!"
Being called a small-chest, Mari leaned over while protesting against Ikaruga's words. Everyone's gaze gathered at Mari, or to be correct — at Mari's chest.
A faint bulge could be seen protruding from the shirt because she leaned over.
"......small aren't they."
"I-I think they're okay. Look, the size equaling status is a thing of the past."
"S-stop that or I'll beat you up...!"
Mari's eyes started tearing up, she checked the breasts of the girls from 35th platoon.
Ouka→Big. Suginami→Huge. Usagi→Big breasted loli.
While holding her hand next to her small bulge, she turned over towards the refrigerator where her last hope was.
Suddenly, the figure of Lapis who appeared unnoticed, and was munching loudly on ham as she stood next to the refrigerator could be seen.
Mari looked at Lapis' chest,
She shed tears feeling defeated. Ikaruga sat next to Mari and hit her shoulder making a loud *pop* sound.
"Aren't you happy, having a comrade."
Holiness of a benevolent goddess was dwelling in Ikaruga's smile.
"You piss me off! Really piss me off! Why are you sparkling! Don't try to console me!"
"Do all witches have small chests?"
"It has nothing to do with being a witch right?!"
"Well there's no other use for them except for seducing Kusanagi. It's fine not having any, right?"
"Don't say it as if I don't have any at all!"
"It is as if you don't have any at all."
"I have some!! I'm quite proud of their texture and elasticity!!"
Ikaruga became interested in her small breasts characteristic and started teasing Mari.
Mari apparently also held a "tsukkomi" attribute. Apparently "small breasts" was a taboo term causing her to retort.
"It's just like Suginami said! These things just get in the way! They cause stiff shoulders and disturb you when you snipe! Also it's painful when the gun hits your chest because of the recoil..."
She's quite sharp.
For a while longer the three of them, Ikaruga, Usagi and Mari quarreled.
Takeru made a thin smile as he watched the scene. Looking at her like this, she was just a normal girl. Things like being a witch, or living in a different world from them didn't matter after all. Things like that didn't matter in this place. They would get used to Mari while interacting like this and get rid of their imaginary fears, is what Takeru thought from the bottom of his heart.
Platoon members will get along naturally, even Ouka somehow will...
Takeru glanced at Ouka. She stood while resting her back on the wall with arms folded.
"...what is it, Kusanagi."
"You, why are you standing in the back like that. Come over here."
"We won the first round with a lot of effort right? We have to celebrate, come on."
Takeru picked up the orange juice from the table and held it out to Ouka.
She seemed troubled for a moment, but she came over making loud footsteps and took the cup.
That's when Ouka's eyes met with Mari's.
"...what is it."
Mari glared at Ouka.
At first, Ouka also glared at Mari, but she suddenly removed her gaze and made a face that said she was uncomfortable.
"...what, umm... I'll acknowledge you... even though I don't... want to. About you... acting as a decoy... honestly, you saved me."
While stuttering and faltering as she spoke, she thanked her and bowed.
She had the temperament of a samurai, in the first place, she wouldn't forgive herself if she didn't express her thanks.
Being thanked was out of her expectations, Mari averted her gaze with faintly red cheeks.
"I-it's not like I did it for you. Don't misunderstand, it's disgusting."
Hearing Mari straightforwardly say that, Ouka's expression changed all at once.
"...ah yes, it was a pretty good decoy. You really saved me, honest. Even you who can't do anything, can take the place of a scarecrow, how impressive."
"Nghh... is that so, I've had to cover certain someone's ass there, because the certain someone wasted the time Takeru bought as a decoy? It couldn't be helped that I had to act there——"
"You...!! I won't acknowledge you after all! I absolutely won't acknowledge the enlistment of a witch like you!"
"Ha? I refuse as well! Because of such a rotten elite like you this group is going to rot too!"
Sparks started to scatter and crackle between Ouka and Mari.
After a while he started to think it was pretty good atmosphere.
"I... I'm...! We'll fight later. Let's change clothes for now and look around colosseum. You didn't eat anything so you're hungry, right? The school deployed food stalls for the duration of the tournament. All of it is free, so let's go eat together everyone."
The one who quickly reacted to the word 'food' was Lapis who was done with the ham by the refrigerator. She quickly came over making loud steps and lightly grabbed Takeru's jacket.
Hearing about the stands, Mari's eyes lightened up with curiosity.
"Free... everything is free?"
"Yeah, the Chairman brings in traders every year. They are reproduced orthodox food stalls like the ones from before the war, they're unique old Japan style stalls. There are lots of things like gold fish scooping."
Mari's eyes were glittering. Perhaps it was her first time participating in a festival like this.
Just when Takeru thought they made up, Ouka turned away.
"Sorry, go ahead without me. I need to submit a report to the Chairman. We're on an escort mission after all, so we need to submit reports."
Hearing that stiff declaration Ikaruga meddled.
"You can do that later can't you? You'll disturb the group activity if you do it now."
"No can do. This is a mission so it has to be done."
"...same as usual, you can't read the mood can you."
"Guhh... I-if I say it's no good, then it's not! That's how it is. Let me off."
Shaking off the hook Ikaruga set up, Ouka stood up and headed out of the platoon's room. She stopped in the doorway before leaving and looked at Takeru.
"Umm... Kusanagi, after I finish reporting I'll contact you via e-mail... with details where and what... umm... I want you to tell me about it."
Hearing her request it while being so uneasy, Takeru almost spilled his drink.
"That's fine. I'll wait for you at specified location."
"I-I see... thanks."
Being requested something in such a clumsy manner, made Takeru incredibly happy.
"Well then, let's look around. Lapis, what do you want to eat?"
"I want to eat water balloons."
"...you can't eat that. Also, you really disappear and appear all of a sudden don't you."
"I won't mind if you think of me as a mysterious woman."
Takeru made an expression blank expression, he didn't know what she meant but still let her off.
"I want to eat that cotton candy thing. I haven't been able to eat any ever since I entered the middle school!"
"Usagi, don't go for cotton candy... that's something only children and anime characters want, isn't it?"
"Why are you always suddenly deciding things by yourself?!"
Taking the bare minimum of luggage, Small Fry Platoon were leaving together while acting noisily.
"Mari? Come here quickly, we're leaving."
After opening the door Takeru noticed Mari still stood in the platoon room and called out to her.
Mari just stood there, from the look on her face it was clear she didn't know what to do.
"Is it really... fine... for me to go together with you?"
"Hey... what are you talking about now."
Come on, Takeru held out his hand.
"Could you please hurry up! I hate women who dilly-dally!"
"Just come already, small boobs."
The three of them +1, waited by the door for Mari.
Mari made a modest happy smile as she took Takeru's big hand.
The sun was already hiding behind the horizon. The Colosseum was brilliantly lit up. Ouka listened to the distant noise as she knocked on the door of the Chairman's room.
Since there was no reaction, Ouka turned the doorknob and opened the door without permission.
It looked like Sougetsu wasn't there after all, though Ouka didn't really care whether he was in the his room or not.
A dim light was entering the room, she put the documents she brought where they could be easily seen on the desk.
"All right, now... eh?"
After she breathed relieved that she finished delivering the report, she noticed another document placed on the desk.
Ouka didn't really care about ordinary documents, however, this document had a photo of a familiar person attached to it.
She checked if there's anyone else around, and picked it up.
Even though it was dim, she could still read it.
Ouka's complexion worsened as she read the character strings.
Her eyes opened wide, and her brows made an arc.
"Witch of... aurora... memory loss...? Ancient Wizard?"
She continued reading.
【"Nikaido Mari (the last name is a pseudonym), charged with murder, terrorism, and a number of minor crimes. X Month, X Day. During a Valhalla was without a doubt involved. X Month, X Day, judged to be guilty.】
Besides that, there was information on Nikaido Mari's upbringing, and why she cooperated with Valhalla.
Everything was written in detail.
And on the bottom, there were documents after documents.
Summary of a certain operation Nikaido Mari was used for.
After reading through it, Ouka was unable to hide her astonishment. Her face displayed fury, a tremendous anger. A rage as if she was betrayed by someone.
"This is... impossible! Such a thing——it can't be forgiven!"
Ouka squeezed the papers without hesitation, and swiftly jumped out of the Chairman's room.
It was seven o'clock pm. The sun was already hid quite a bit. And the colosseum was brightly lit up even though it was just the first day of the tournament.
A number of stalls were lined up.
In the glittering lights there were, goldfish scooping stalls, a shooting gallery, cotton candy, apple candies, yakisoba, takoyaki, and things like that. Food and entertainment from old Japan that rarely appeared in this era were lined up.
Though it was European-style last year, this year's people interest was stronger in the old-Japan style. The blood of refugees who fled from the disaster mixed up, things like races no longer exist. Because this land was former old Japan, people tended to show more interest in old Japanese customs.
The meeting place was very crowded.
"Whaa!! What's this! It didn't fall over even though it hit!"
"How clumsy. Are you really a sniper? Look at this, you should aim for something small, like this..."
"...this gun is a defective product. I'm going to complain to the developer."
"Don't blame the gun now!"
"Shut up or I'll grope you."
Four members of Small Fry Platoon came to the shooting gallery together. After the cork bullet missed time after time, Usagi was made fun of by Ikaruga who started rubbing her breasts. Lapis who wasn't interested in shooting, was sipping and slurping her yakisoba in the back.
Next to the two people bickering in the shooting gallery, Takeru turned the muzzle aiming at the prize.
Takeru narrowed his eye, and squeezed the trigger.
The beautifully fired cork bullet, hit the shopkeeper, a skinhead, straight in the balls.
The old shopkeeper glared at Takeru.
"...i-it wasn't on purpose!"
Takeru put another bullet, and aimed at the prize that was furthest away from the shopkeeper.
His muzzle was aimed at the very end, on the opposite side.
And yet, the bullet struck the head of the bald shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper took the toothpick out of his mouth, and he grabbed Takeru's collar. The blood vessels appeared on his arm that had rolled up sleeves.
"That wasn't on purpose!"
He begged for forgiveness with tears in his eyes. Takeru's prowess with a gun – which was also referred to as a 'curse', was in top condition even in a shooting gallery.
Next to him, Mari who made a suitable pose, aimed at the biggest doll.
"...no way, it fell down."
Mari stood there surprised, her eyes wide open.
Ikaruga and Usagi who were on the side, leaned over unable to believe it.
"Why?!! How did you do it with such a posture?!"
"It was adjusted... for small boobs to use?"
"What kind of adjustment is that!"
While retorting, Mari received a doll from the auntie who looked like the shopkeeper's wife.
It was a giant anteater doll, a meter big.
"This is unfair! I will show you that I'll definitely shoot down a big game as well!"
"Auntie, give me a better gun. Gimme something like a shotgun."
The two started shooting again.
After making sure neither Usagi nor Ikaruga are looking, Mari faced back to them and hugged the doll tightly.
She looked very, very happy.
Takeru even though he was still being grabbed by his collar, after seeing Mari's figure like that, made a relieved smile.
"Those two get along well."
As they walked through the street with stalls, Mari suddenly said that to Takeru.
He looked at the place Mari was looking at, in there were figures of Usagi and Ikaruga acting playfully.
"Usagi and Suginami originally got along just as bad as you and Ouka."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah, the two of them were at each other's throats all the time, it was really troublesome. Both of them have a lot of pride, neither of them would give in. I don't remember how many times I was beaten up as I tried to arbitrate between them."
Looking at their backs, Takeru said that with a voice full of emotion.
Mari also smiled wryly.
"...you too someday, will become like these two, is what I thought."
"With Ootori, I think you two are a pretty good combination."
"Give me a break. If it's with a woman like that, I'll pass,"
She faced away, but it looked like she didn't completely reject that idea.
Although it was still thorny, thanks to fighting together in a tournament, their relationship improved considerably.
"Going slowly is fine. You just became our comrade recently."
"Yeah. Even though that's something I selfishly decided."
Said Takeru and laughed merrily.
"What you said yesterday, I thought about it all the time. About you living in a different world."
"I think that's not how it is after all. I might not know much about these things, I'm talking with you right now, it's no different than talking with Usagi or Suginami, no different from Ouka as well."
"That's why, things like being a witch, or being normal, stop making a wall using such reasons like that."
"I won't force you to but..."
Takeru turned away in a little self-conscious manner. Mari stared at his embarrassed figure, then she suddenly looked down, and a shadow appeared on her face.
"If, by any chance."
"If by any chance... I was a villain... would Takeru still refuse to put a wall between us?"
Uneasily, Mari asked that question with timid voice.
Takeru stared at Mari who was facing down, with widely opened eyes, and then suddenly,
Suddenly he burst into laughter.
"Wh-why are you laughing?!"
"Buhahahaha! I-impsshible! No matter how you slice it, you're not a villain material!"
"Y-you don't know that!"
"Is that so? You can't even discard an empty can, someone who can't forsake a comrade and comes out to become a decoy can't be a villain."
Takeru laughed again, tears appeared in his eyes.
Mari blushed and puffed her cheeks in response to Takeru.
"...what, I even asked you seriously."
With displeased expression, she turned away.
Takeru wondered if he laughed too much and tried to apologize, but he had to look back before that happened since Mari stopped moving.
She stood there lit up by the stall's lights, people walked past by her in both directions.
It looked to him like a distant scene, completely silent.
"I... about myself... don't really know much, I don't have much memories of the past."
Mari spoke about herself to Takeru for the first time.
"But, sometimes a bit of my memories return to me."
Her pupils staring at the distance, reflected something else.
Then she looked at herself, and narrowed her eyes.
"These memories... aren't any good. What if I am a horrible person... I'm scared of that."
"I don't know if... it's okay for me to stay here... I think I might... not be qualified to."
A shadow appeared on Mari's face and her eyes were devoid of light. Takeru looked at her profile...
"I want you to stay here. That alone, is it not good enough of a reason to stay here?"
"I still don't know much about you, not even a day has passed since we met... however, I'm already pleased with having you."
Mari looked at Takeru in daze.
He responded with a carefree smile.
"Don't worry. No matter what kind of person you are, I won't build any walls between us."
"...and what if I really am a bad person, what will you do."
"Then I'll get angry. I'll get angry, but we'll think together what to do, but I think we'll still be comrades."
Takeru said that embarrassed, and reached out to Mari.
She seemed to be at a loss for a moment, hugging the doll and facing down.
"............I-I see, dankyu."
He didn't hear what Mari had said silently with and trembling lips.
"Mm? Did you say something?"
"——It's nothing. Rather than that, what do we do next? Frisbee?"
Mari suddenly strongly took Takeru's outstretched hand and drew very close to him.
"Wa-wait... hey... crossing arms is..."
"What is it. It's normal to cross hands with a little sister, is that embarrassing as well?"
"It is embarrassing!"
"I did it! Takeru, so cute!"
"Are you some kind of granny?!"
With their arms combined, the two of them walk to the ring toss stall.
Takeru didn't notice, but in the corners of Mari's eyes, tears were slightly visible.
Stalls were lined around the colosseum.
Ouka who wanted to admonish and question Mari, didn't do it in the end. The reason was the fact that she overheard Mari's and Takeru's conversation.
While looking at them from behind as they entered the ring toss stall, Ouka stopped walking.
The words that Takeru said to Mari, stopped her from admonishing Mari.
『"No matter how you slice it, you're not villain material!"』
The sight of Takeru saying that as he laughed stopped Ouka from doing that.
Ouka couldn't and didn't want to break it to him, now that Takeru was happy to have obtained another companion.
She looked again at the documents she had in her hands after picking them up earlier.
"...that woman is a criminal... there is no doubt about it..."
Muttering to herself with hatred, Ouka turned on her heels, and started to walk in opposite direction of where Takeru was.
"...but this data is clearly weird."
Irritated, Ouka hit her other hand with the documents she held.
"I am... still not convinced. Determined to be guilty with just this much? That's not enough to judge her, there's not enough evidence..."
Ouka walked making loud steps.
"Allowing such a verdict to be passed shames Inquisition."
While walking quickly, she took out a mobile phone from her pocket.
The recipient responded shortly.
《"This is forensics."》
"This is former Dullahan, Ootori Ouka. I want to borrow some investigation equipment right away."》
《"Understood. What do you need?"》
Ouka responded listing out the things she needed.
《"I apologize. Ootori Ouka is no longer a Dullahan. Such advanced tools are not——"》
"I'll take full responsibility. Don't worry, I'm the Chairman's daughter."
She stated that forcefully, as if threatening, the other side fell silent.
Familial influence was only useful at such times, Ouka laughed slightly in her mind.
《"......understood. When do you want to receive them?"》
"There's no time, right away."
Answering shortly, she finished the call.
Pissed off Ouka walked without hesitation, intending to work right away.
"——I'm not doing it to prove that woman's innocence, I'm doing it in order to prove she's guilty! It's absolutely not for that woman's sake! It's something obvious to do as a part of Inquisition! No, wait... why do I have to do such a thing in the first place? I wanted to eat apricot candy too... and yet... damn it, this and that, it's all that woman's fault! And she's even happily linking arms with him, that slut! I-I'm not envious at all! Not jealous even a little bit!"
Shouting to herself in the middle of the crowd angrily while resenting Mari, Ouka continued to walk. People turned around to look at her as if she was weird and tried to avoid her.
There was not much time left.
She had to learn the truth no matter what.
Deciding that in her mind, she rushed forward.