It was a very warm spring morning.
The morning weather was good enough to blow away the feeling of heat they experienced in Elysion yesterday.
On a second floor of café 《Paradise》, a store set up in the corner of the New City, in Saionji's kitchen.
A girl with a glamorous body wearing a pink apron, struck a guts pose after finishing the masterpiece she was working on from six o'clock in the morning.
Her father has already entered the first floor and started preparations, and her mother was working in her office room taking care of food orders.
Usually Rui was still sleeping at six o'clock in the morning, but today she somehow woke up early while rubbing her eyes sleepily.
"It took me an hour. I'm not sure if there's enough of it, but... it's pretty good, even if I do say so myself."
Rui folded the apron and started cleaning up.
It was currently seven o'clock in the morning, the siblings would come soon. She had to prepare everything before then.
His face when he first met her, she remembered the surprised and admiring expression he had when he saw her dressed as a maid.
The crystal clear sky-blue eyes her best friend had, and she was so envious of. When she thought about his eyes that were the same as his little sister's, her heart started beating faster.
He wasn't used to the opposite sex, and his reactions were cute every time. And yet, he seemed wild and harsh when he gripped his sword, as if he was a sharp blade himself.
Every day has gotten more fun ever since he came, the time she spent with him was brilliant.
Well then, it was time to start another enjoyable day of hers——
"Uuu... my head hurts..."
"Hey hey, stop staggering. Here, hold onto me."
"I'm all wobbly... Brother, piggyback please."
"That'll be the last resort."
The siblings walked under the blue sky to meet up with their best friend for breakfast.
Because of Fuyuki's drunkenness and going to sleep early, Taiga could get a proper refreshing sleep until it dawned.
However, now the little sister was completely unlike the refreshing morning sky, she held her aching head and had a faintly blue face, and walked while leaning on her brother.
In other words, she had a hangover. Even though she didn't drink anything.
"To think Little Sister was so weak when it comes to alcohol... Onii, piggyback."
"Did you regress into an infant again?"
"Haa... Brother, right, it's Brother. I need to be careful."
"I don't really mind if it's 『Onii』. Didn't you call me that way in the past?"
"I don't want to. It's childish."
He wondered if she wanted to appear older. She did look really young, so he could understand that feeling.
While he supported her small body (by the way, they looked like a student couple making out from a third person's perspective) they walked together for about five minutes, and arrived at Paradise later than usual.
"Welcome Taiga... eh what? Why is Fuyuki...?"
"Ah just a little something. Sorry, but if you could get her something light for breakfast it would be a great help."
Greeted by a maid that didn't suit the store's atmosphere, he put his little sister down on the seat.
His little sister laid down on the counter table, and looked up at Rui from below. She saw a chest that couldn't even be compared with her own.
"Everyone with big breasts should just die."
Because she felt bad, her language turned bad as well.
She was at her limit, and her face hit the counter. Taiga and Rui looked at each other.
"Ahaha... then, I'll get Fuyuki something light."
"Sorry for that."
Various things happened after that, and when they finished their meal they headed to school.
For some reason Fuyuki was revived after eating the breakfast, and the gloomy atmosphere was instantly dispelled.
Her long black hair that was divided into twin-tails danced in the Spring's sunshine.
From Rui's point of view that figure looked mysterious and fantasy-like, beautiful enough for her to admire.
The twin-tails was a hairstyle that emphasized childishness, but in Fuyuki's case it worked in reverse, giving her a more adult charm (also, it fascinated Taiga).
In other words, it was 『Envy』, something she didn't realize before.
Also, Taiga's silence affirmed it, which worried her even more.
There were three bags, and in them was rectangular luggage wrapped in cloth, it was quite heavy.
"It's a secret〜. You'll know in about five hours."
The three of them took a linear later than usual, heading to school.
In Kiritou Academy, the cyber department aimed at the same or a higher level than general course when it came to basic subjects. That's why, since there was the additional burden of specialized courses, the progression rate of basic subjects was inevitably faster.
So, if the level was higher, the lesson structure was more inclined to application rather than memorization.
In other words——
"Sugar〜 give me sugar〜"
"It's too early to collapse, Brother."
The boy who survived the entrance examination thanks to memorization and overnight cramming, was already getting left behind.
It was the lunch break after four classes, and there weren't many students in the class. Taiga's face fell on the desk.
It seemed like smoke came out from his head, and it wasn't just a metaphor. That's because he never was good with studying.
His head was already a mess during the third lecture, during the fourth, the teacher's words entered his ears from one side, and left through the other.
Then, a call came in to Taiga's terminal. The caller, Rui, already went ahead to the rooftop while holding bags with wrapped luggage.
〈"Ah, Taiga? Preparations are done, you can come over."〉
"Finally. So, did you prepare food or something?'
〈"Look for yourself, you'll enjoy it."〉
He gestured to Fuyuki summoning her, and they went up the stairs aiming for the roof.
"Welcome to 《Paradise》 on a business trip〜!"
The only people on the rooftop were the three of them, a blanket was spread in the best possible location where the sunlight was strongest, and boxes with a total of five layers were spread out on it. In the layer on top of four others were rice balls.
"Woah, Rucchan, did you make all of this?"
"It's all handmade♪."
"It really is amazing... but this, no matter how you slice it, isn't this too much?"
"That's because people who do sports eat a lot don't they〜. I thought Taiga would be like that as well〜."
"I know of something called weight management. I refrain from indulging in gluttony."
There was no way to imitate the strongest weapon of his, the speed. However, it was true that the exercises consumed calories like crazy.
"Uuu... th-then, will you... not eat it...?"
"...no, I can eat if it's this much."
After glancing at Rui, Taiga corrected himself in a hurry.
That expression was a foul play. He wouldn't be a man if he didn't eat it after seeing that look on her face.
Seeing a smile bloom like a flower on Rui's face, Taiga decided he made the right choice.
"Well then, Itadakimasu."
He extended the chopsticks towards the opened boxes in front of him.
No matter which one, the taste was amazing, and Taiga's hand didn't stop until the five-layered box was empty.
They enjoyed a cup of tea after a meal, and then went back to the classroom. Also, they refused Rui's proposal to make them boxed lunch every day with 『"We can't bother you that much"』, and settled on 『Occasionally having some』 after a few complications.
After school they headed together towards the station, and came back to central station by taking a linear. And just when Taiga thought they will go back home and enter Elysion——
"Brother, let's go on a date."
Hearing that, he stopped thinking for a moment.
"Date you mean...? Doing things that couples do?"
"YES indeed! The couples going out together do do various things, that kind of date."
"But you're siblings, aren't you?"
"Even if we're siblings let's go out together. In fact, it's even more special since we're siblings."
"But it's misleading if you say it's a date. 'Why don't we tour the New City〜' and invite him like that."
"You mean, you will guide us around, Rui?"
Certainly, the only places they have been to ever since they moved in, was just Paradise, their own home, station and school. They could get a map from their terminal, but they never had time to look around.
"You mean, we're not going to enter Elysion today?"
"We don't have to log in every day, also there's the accumulated damage from yesterday's battle. We'll wait a day until it recovers."
In that case, there was no reason to refuse the invitation. With that said, the three of them walked around the New City that was crowded with people.
New City is mainly divided into an eastern and western part around the central linear station. Café 《Paradise》 and the Tenryo siblings apartment were in the eastern part, residential areas, stores and entertainment mainly scattered around the city. Generally, the students mainly used the city's eastern part.
"There's a lot of large shopping malls... looks like there's a lot of stores in here."
"That's because Kiritou Academy is a mammoth school with three thousand students in it. There's no shortage of customers to attract."
The commercial street was a short walk away from the station, it was really crowded and very active.
There were a lot of students wearing Kiritou Academy's uniforms, they were either window shopping or eating out in the free time they had after school.
"That shop over there is expensive, but they sell cute accessories. That restaurant has delicious parfaits, but other than that it's mediocre."
They walked around the avenue while listening to Rui's guidance. Even while walking around the commercial street, the trio easily attracted people's gazes.
Two cute girls were one reason, plus one of them (of course it was Fuyuki) clung to a boy's arm, and was in the spotlight.
In other words, they were gazes of jealous boys.
"...being stared like that makes it hard to walk."
"Ignore what they're saying. It's a situation that should be openly enjoyed."
"What are you muttering over there, Rucchan?"
The trio continued to walk while acting cheerful and noisy.
In the corner of shopping mall, there was a shop with female clothing——
"How is it, Brother. Does it suit me?"
"...ain't there too little exposure? Leaving shoulders exposed is normal〜"
"This IS pretty normal. Speaking of which, you're wearing quite plain clothes as compared to yesterday."
"No, it's Rui who has a perfect style so that looks good on her, unlike this flat-chested Fuyu——."
"Little Sister's screw uppercut!!!"
"...what are you doing in the changing room?"
He accompanied two completely different types of cute girls as they were shopping,
"Brother, won't you buy me that ring to commemorate our first date?"
"Umm, Imouto-sama? Isn't that a diamond or something?"
"...well then I'll settle for that."
"That's also pretty expensi——no, it's nothing."
He held his head with one hand as he made an unplanned expense in the accessory shop.
"Oh, this is delicious."
"Red potato taste huh, please have a bite."
"Then, here have this in exchange."
"...having crêpes after school, this really feels like youth."
"That's because we are young maidens. Here, I'll give mine to brother as well."
"Ah yeah, sankyu."
"Mouth to mouth."
"Cherish yourself a little more, young maiden!"
The trio had a good time sitting in the park with crêpes they purchased.
After they finished touring the eastern side, on the opposite side of the station was the western side occupied by company buildings.
That's where they headed. As expected, there were barely any students over there.
"No matter where I look it's people in suits."
"Though, there are leisure facilities here, like a zoo or amusement park."
"I see, so that you don't have to leave the city to see one on holidays."
As they walked down the road, the street had skyscrapers lined up and what entered their line of sight were just signs describing the company names. As they looked around looking for something standing out, their eyes were naturally drawn to the building around twice as big than others.
"So that's the Kiritou Group headquarters..."
"Big, isn't it. It seems to represent the power of New City."
"Want to enter and look around? The first and second floors are open for visitors and have cyber-related products displayed."
"Brother, let's go!"
"...your eye colour changed〜"
He went inside of the Kiritou Group building pulled by Fuyuki whose eyes were shining.
They passed through the huge building's dazzling entrance hall, and headed to the second floor in an elevator.
After the front door opened, there was a hallway in which a number of devices was exhibited.
"Brother, Brother look at this! It's amazing!"
"Ah, yeah, so it is."
While pulled slightly by his max tension little sister, he looked at the exhibit.
As several of devices like Arclight and terminals that even Taiga knew were lined up, between them 『How is this used?』 were things that made him think that.
At some point, excited shouts could be heard from a square away. When they looked towards that direction interested, they saw a dozen people gathered in the square's corner.
〈"Everybody, why don't we play a game to commemorate your visit?"〉
A hologram depicting a woman in a suit was projected on the side.
Judging from her inorganic, expressionless voice, it was an AI widely used as a receptionist. Hologram projectors seemed to be installed in various places.
The game itself was a simple shooting game that pursued realism by using a Hologram
"Let's try it out!"
Rui enthusiastically placed her hand on a handgun model displayed. A hologram displaying a two legged drone popped up and approached her.
Rui shot them one after another as they were displayed. Fuyuki continued to observe products not interested in the game. And Taiga who was being a little bit left behind, observed Rui play from a distance.
...I thought so yesterday already, but Rui has pretty good reflexes. If she trained she could be as good as I am.
Rui continuously shot the appearing drones breaking them.
Her dynamic vision and reflexes were good, and she hadn't missed a single time yet.
She had better physical ability than most girls her age, good at studying, good at cooking and had a perfect figure. Truly a high spec girl.
He moved his line of sight away, there was an AI that didn't move an inch.
Its fake smile clearly looked like it was 『Artificial』.
"...it's a same AI but it feels fairly different from Iora."
〈"Did'ya call me?"〉
He heard a response right next to his ear.
And after he looked down at his shoulder, he saw Iora's figure ten times smaller than she was before, jumping up and down on it.
"Oh, you surprised me... so, why are you here Iora? Also, you've gotten really small..."
〈"Master's working here, I am currently in navigation mode."〉
She added some more supplemental information about a lot of things. It seems like she can change the scale of her body. That felt really useful.
"Ah, now that you say it she's a daughter of Kiritou's. So, why on my shoulder?"
〈"Let's continue from yesterday."〉
The look on her face didn't seem to answer his question, but some kind of curiosity glimpsed on it. Her heart seemed to be unsteady.
"Continue from yesterday, that means———"
〈"The story about crushing mafia two years ago."〉
"Ah, that. Unfortunately, I'm currently in private time mode. We'll continue that tomorrow in class."
He was a bit surprised by her regretful expression.
It couldn't be said that she has a lot of expressions, but it seemed like there's more emotions in her than yesterday. A difference could be easily seen by comparing her with the AI over there.
"To think you changed just by chatting. Just like I've been told, that's amazing learning ability."
〈"Did I really change that much?"〉
"There's a great change as compared to yesterday. You're not aware of it?"
〈"...dunno. But... there's something that'snot Iora, something hateful... what the hell is feeling?"〉
Asking about the dark feelings she had in her heart.
She might not keep up with the rapid development of emotions. He wanted to say some appropriate words, but he couldn't think of any.
That's when, a loud noise rang out from towards the stage. It seemed like Rui apparently cleared the game, she had a big smile and was showing a V signalizing her victory.
〈"Then, about time Iora excuses herself."〉
The moment he removed his gaze from Rui and looked at her, Iora was already gone. He decided to talk about it with Haya tomorrow, and looked at Rui again.
"...no matter where you go, you really stand out."
It might be just her looks, but it seemed like there was an aura that attracted people's gazes around her.
Maybe it was just her natural disposition. Her charm, and a foundation of her overwhelming presence.
No matter when, she was always dazzling.
I wonder, if I'm like a moth attracted to her light.
He knew. That was, a feeling that came from a silly inferiority complex.
"...really, how ridiculous."
He murmured very quietly, so that no one could hear him.
He wondered if that light could clear up his darkness, wondered if he could forget about his past.
———Even though he decided not to forgive himself, ever. He wondered if he was asking for salvation.
Rui received praises and applause from people surrounding her, the sun she was the centre of, seemed like a distant scenery that didn't reach Taiga.
They walked around until sunset, and returned early to have a dinner at 《Paradise》.
After healing themselves in the bath, the siblings were sitting in the living room.
"Brother, how about a cold tea?"
Together with the sound of his little sister's slippers, the ring on her finger shined, she got it as a commemoration of the date (she made him buy it), a ring with an azure stone.
"Umm, isn't that the finger a wedding ring goes on...?"
"There is a deep meaning to it."
"It's no good over there, is it!!"
Recently, this little sister did things that her brother couldn't understand.
Fuyuki stroked the ring cherishing it, it was chosen on the spot by her, because it had an azure stone embedded in it. When he looked at her eyes, and compared it to the stone colour, he noticed there was a difference between them.
Their eyes were ones that direct descendants of the Tenryo line were born with.
In fact, their mother had the same eyes. Their eyes were often called 『Sky eyes』 or 『Crystal eyes』, their eyes symbolized the power of the Tenryo household that had an even longer history than Renjou's. That's what they were always told by their mother.
Maybe because he thought of their mother like that. He had a flashback that felt like an old injury about what happened eight years earlier.
———That day, they were deprived of everything.
The whole family was walking through a cross-walk.
A large truck stuck at the intersection ignored the signal. Taiga who had superhuman reflexes and dynamic vision noticed immediately and was able to react, but his parents and little sister couldn't.
As young as he was, he made the worst choice.
No, even if he said it himself, he was the one who was the worst.
With his own physical ability, and the position he stood in, his parents that couldn't be saved in time——feeling like he wanted to puke because of his calm thoughts in that situation, Tenryo Taiga discarded his parents.
"Brother, your teeth will break if you put any more force in it."
Before he knew it, Fuyuki appeared in front of him and hugged his head gently. He felt the warmth of the hand that stroked his head repeatedly, he felt something from it.
"Can it be, did you remember what happened eight years ago?"
"So that's how it is after all. You made a scary face so I realized immediately you know?"
"...that's my sin. I won't ever forget it, not even for a moment."
"Brother didn't do anything wrong."
"I know. If I tried to help father and mother back then, both of us would be dead now. I know that!"
He understood that deep inside his head.
Back then it was the best course of action. Even as he is now, back then he didn't go through any special training, but even now he probably couldn't save them.
Nevertheless, his heart didn't acknowledge it and continued crying out, burdening him with that sin. As if it were begging for forgiveness, as if it was seeking condemnation.
Tenryo Taiga clung to the chest of the one he saved.
"But I, I allowed the two of them to die!! Even though I knew they would die, even though I understood that, I didn't hesitate even for a second!!"
To rescue just his little sister, he sacrificed both of them.
That's why he sought strength. In order to protect everyone next time. In order to save everyone.
So that no matter what happens, he can protect everyone.
And more than anything——to protect the last remaining member of his family.
While being hugged tightly, Taiga breathed heavily releasing it all.
Seeing her brother like that, Little Sister thought,
———It's like a curse.
The talent given to him from the heaven, the talent that led him to the future, continued to torment him.
And her brother was in agonizing pain. But she loved him very, very much.
"...it's alright, Onii. The past, the present and the future, your little sister forgives it all. That's why———"
She placed her forehead on his, and stared at him with the same eyes.
"Onii should continue walking on his path without ever stopping."
Just hoping for that.
She wanted for her beloved person to follow his righteous path, and receive his reward in the end.
〈"Now then, hurry up and continue your story."〉
"...I beg you, don't wait for me right by the door, it's scary."
He entered the deserted innermost school building, and after opening the classroom door he stepped inside slipping through Iora. Haya who lied on the couch raised just one hand up.
"...as ladylike as ever aren't you, Haya."
That light greeting decreased his mental strength because it was done by a girl that had the appearance of a yamato nadeshiko. The person in question had a mean, evil smile on her face at the moment.
"In just two days, she really got attached to you. That Iora, she's been looking forward to the continuation of your story ever since yesterday."
I'm a little jealous〜, she didn't say it, but that was what her relieved face seemed to say. It was an expression like that of a mother's who was happy her child found a playmate.
"How do I say it, you're like a guardian."
"...well, Iora is something like a daughter or a little sister to me. Calling me her guardian is not wrong."
〈"Taiga, hurry up, I want to listen to the rest of the story."〉
He sat on the couch and Iora continued to float in front of him. Seeing that, he passed off the worries he had the other day as imaginary fears.
After taking a deep breath he looked around the room.
The room wasn't wide, but it was filled to the brim with equipment that apparently didn't belong to school.
A rare thing in modern times where the e-books are mainstream, was a bookshelf with about a hundred books on it. The room of course had air conditioning, a small refrigerator and a dish rack could be seen in the back, there were also wardrobes with various things in them.
It felt like, a person could even live in this place.
"You really do as you please."
"I am in a position that allows me to do as I please."
She does whatever she wants without a shred of fear. She made a fictional lecture, made an unused part of the school her private room, seeing it go that far he could only sigh.
"Oh also, I'm not going to be unreasonable and just force you to work, don't misunderstand. This is work so you're going to get your reward."
"Yup. Kiritou is still developing its influence. So they can't afford to pamper relatives. You get to have one wish fulfilled every time you show results——that's the agreement I work under."
Kiritou was an electronics-related company that emerged in the recent decade.
Until then, there were three large companies, Karasuba, Namisagi, and Tokiminu. They bit into the monopolized cyber market thoroughly, seeking profit, but they still weren't in a situation where they can let their guard down.
"...the president's daughter has it unexpectedly hard, huh."
"That's how it is—. I accumulate a lot of stress. That's why instead of me, I count on you to spend your time with Iora."
"Then, if it's just that——hey, wha?!!"
〈"Taiga, I want to listen to rest of the story."〉
Startled by Iora's head popping out from his stomach, Taiga tumbled down from the sofa.
After school, as usual Haya headed towards the company headquarters, leaving the specialized course building.
She had to finish all of the student council's business and attend lessons before the lunch break. To avoid the possibility of teachers complaining about the work she was responsible for.
After changing clothes from her uniform to work suit, she slapped her cheeks.
In this place she didn't wear 『The mask of student council president that's loved by everyone』. What was important in here——was to produce proper results.
After releasing the lock by authenticating with her brainwaves, she entered her private laboratory on the upper floor of the Kiritou company's building.
Even though it was called a laboratory, there was only an arclight there. The real laboratory was inside of Kiritou's structure.
A company-made arclight was laid out around the centre of the room, various devices were surrounding it. She closed her eyes after entering the capsule-like core part.
Her consciousness was interrupted and instantly put to sleep, she woke up a moment later.
The login procedure was natural and quiet, there was no dizziness like in medium-sized machines. Haya immediately began her work.
"Iora, are you awake?"
〈"That question is unnecessary. A virtual personality does not need rest."〉
Iora appeared in the centre of the room in response to her call.
"It's just a little joke. Don't take it seriously."
〈"...is that so. I still can't understand jokes."〉
When she looked at Iora's pupils as she said that, she saw frustration in them.
Even though I developed her by myself, this really is amazing progress〜
That could without a doubt, be called an emotion.
Ten months of development, no, three months to be exact. But the growth didn't show up until a few days before, her sensitivity evolved dramatically since then.
...really, it's so fast it's scary.
For some reason, Haya couldn't bring herself to rejoice over her evolution.
After continuing to improve Iora. The fruits of her work have finally appeared.
However, if this evolution causes an 『Unexpected』 situation———.
"Iora, a schedule change. Lie down there, and give me a full scan."
She was still anxious, even though she performed a full scan just recently.
A bed appeared through object manipulation, Iora closed her eyes and lied down on it.
Haya placed a hand on her and shifted the virtual personality into dormant state. There was no effect on her personality even if she changed the internal information in there.
"It'd be good if there were no bad viruses inside of it."
She started a scan immediately.
A vast amount of information continued to scroll down like a muddy stream, and Haya continued to analyse and discuss it in her head.
This is not required so it can be forgotten, I wonder if this has to be modified. ——Nn?
There was a program code written in it, that she didn't recognize. It wasn't there during the scan three days earlier.
"...found it, this is the cause. It's a bit unexpected."
A clear and simple beyond imagination, a program code woven with a single purpose.
Although she had a déjà vu as she examined it, she immediately tried to touch and remove it with her hands——
From the supposedly unconscious body's mouth, a machine-like voice leaked. The change was dramatic.
A crimson light poured out of Iora's body like blood and spread, it started wriggling and wrapping her body from head to toe.
"Wha- what's this?!"
It was an ugly, sickening sight. It's as if a real slime was devouring it's prey——
Indeed, it was predation. It was definitely predatory, it was eroding her.
"Guhh—— 《Emergency shutdown》!"
Haya ordered it to stop by using remote control. But, it didn't stop.
On the contrary, the crimson mucus began to expand several times. It swallowed the bed, and stopped in one spot modelling a creepy sphere, which burst at once and contracted.
The red mucus splattered around, it looked like a gruesome scene of a tragedy happened.
In the centre, in a pool of blood, there was a movement that ignored the laws of physics, It wasn't 『Iolite』 anymore.
Her appearance itself didn't change much, only her hair was dyed blood red.
But on the surface, there wasn't a single fragment of Iora left.
The expression, her eyes, even the atmosphere around her was colourless and transparent. Unfocused eyes that had neither warmth nor coldness in them, they were just eerie.
〈"——— Recognition start."〉
The crimson girl murmured.
〈"Information acquisition complete. Location confirmed, multiple virtual bodies reaction confirmed, commands confirmed."〉
"What are you... saying...? Hey... what's going on, answer me!!"
She was just listing out words.
That's how devoid of emotions it was.
Showing interest in Haya's cry, what used to be Iora continued.
〈"Situational awareness complete. Program 《Jail》 experimental operation setup, complete. ———Experiment start."〉
She turned her head around, and looked in front.
Goose bumps appeared on Haya's entire body, instinct more than thinking drove the finger and activated the room's defence system.
〈"Barrier confirmed. Elimination by cutting recommended."〉
Crimson light converged in her hand creating a huge sickle. It was even longer than the entirety of her dress, the girl grasped it in her hand and———everything exploded with a flash.
The electronic barrier that was spread around couldn't withstand the shockwave, and was brutally cut apart. Haya was blown away and slammed into the wall as the aftermath swept into the room.
Can't be... to think the barrier would be broken so easily...
Sometimes unexpected situations happen causing accidents during experiments in laboratory. That's why, a high level electronic barrier was set to prevent the worst in case there was an emergency.
And that, was blown away to pieces with a single blow.
It was quite a strong impact, but Kiritou structure blocked the pain. She looked around the room for her, she noticed ends of scarlet hair in the destroyed doorway.
Haya thought of what to do as she got up, she chased Iora's back and contacted the management division at the same time.
If she loses sight of Iora now, she'll never see her again——that's the feeling she had.
"Emergency call! AI is running away from the lab area, hurry up and seal the structure———"
Her voice was interrupted by a scream.
She repeated the terms 『Virtual bodies reaction』 and 『Start the experiment』 again and again in her head.
The view that appeared in front of her after she anxiously ran towards the screams source was, many of her colleagues lying on the ground, and a crimson girl grabbing a researcher's neck with one hand.
What... just what is going on?!
Her thinking couldn't keep up with the incomprehensible situation. A scene where dozens of people were lying down unconscious in virtual reality was impossible.
In the first place, people get automatically logged out from their virtual bodies by management's security measures after they lose consciousness.
Lying unconscious like that, was impossible.
"H-help me! Everyone was beaten up by her———"
The researcher that was gripped by his neck asked Haya for help, but the girl holding him poised her sickle,
"Stop, please stop Iora! 《Emergency shutdown》 I beg you, stop——!"
〈"——— 《Jail》 activate."〉
Her desperate cry was in vain, as the sickle of madness pierced through researcher.
The abnormality began immediately.
The researcher trembled as his voice leaked out, and his eyes lost their light.
The moment the light in his eyes was lost, the sickle pierced into his belly seeped out, and was pulled out again.
An abnormal spectacle.
However——she knew. She knew what this sight was, she knew very well.
"It can't be... why, why did that program?!"
The researcher became a dumb doll deprived of its contents and thrown away. Likely detecting an accident happening, combat AI's transferred over one after another to protect the structure.
〈"Several hostile forces confirmed. Assessment of the situation———experiment interruption. Escape recommended."〉
She shouted at Iora who realized she was at disadvantage and started running away. Immediately after, she noticed. That direction——was the worst.
"The transfer section... she's going to run away to another structure?!"
The blockade process wasn't completed yet.
There were around twenty passages from the transfer section, it was quite time-consuming to close them all. While it was requested, it will probably not make it in time.
Haya immediately seized control of the combat AI's invading the management division, and moved while leading the troops. Alarm signalling unauthorized access resounded, but she couldn't afford to care about such a thing. If it's left to Kiritou, Iora will be disposed off without a doubt.
I won't let that happen... I will stop her!
With determination filling her heart, Kiritou Haya ran through the structure.
At the same time, there were three figures including in the 《Aries》 structure. Taiga was one of them.
"Yahaha, that took a while——"
"There were quite a lot of troublesome small fries. They stood in front of Little Sister's social standing and didn't give us a single penny, they should know their limits."
The three of them walked through vast plains between mopped up small flocks of viruses, some of them were pierced by huge swords here and there. it was a little tiring for them.
"But, well, we should be arriving soon right?"
"Yes, just a bit further."
They walked for twenty minutes from the nearest transition point, Taiga was tired of the empty plains.
But to earn a living, he could not skip out on a hunt. The three of them waited until the virtual bodies self-healing was complete, and decided to go on a suppression mission to subdue a virus for a bounty.
By the way, the current mission was like the last one, a new and yet undefeated species. Because of that, the reward was higher.
"Honestly, it might be tough with three people, but we have to do our best."
"How many people together does this usually take?"
"Nn—— It depends on the competence of individuals, but it's at least five people. But the two of you are stronger than normal because of Rui-san's special attack-configured program〜"
No matter how much the bounty is, it'll be offset by the repair bill for the virtual body if it falls apart.
So as to hunt safely and efficiently, it became a basic strategy of qualification holders to increase the amount of people in a group, even if it reduces the share they get.
"So, what kind of enemy is it this time?"
"In a nutshell, it's a huge knight machine. It's name is 《Peroon》, it's a powerful, two-staged enemy that repelled the suppression corps before."
"And it was a party of people who had three A-rankers within them."
"That 『Rank』 isn't quite satisfactory. Isn't there a higher rank we can obtain by winning?"
"Yeah, let me explain it briefly. There are six ranks in total, from E to S which is top rank. Brother is at the start line, an E-rank."
"Hmmm... and what determines your rank?"
"The battles done up to this point, there's a system incorporated in the attack-configured programs determining many elements. Going to B is relatively easy, but from that rank and higher it's extremely difficult. Little sister has also remained a B rank for two years straight."
"There's only about a hundred people who have an A rank〜"
"That means, Rui is one of those hundred right?"
"No, Rucchan is even higher, she's one of the ten people who have an S-rank."
"Eh, is she that amazing?"
In the first place, Rui was a senior player who played ever since Aries was founded. When it comes to ability, Fuyuki was at least an A rank even though she didn't gather enough experience to advance. The rank isn't directly related to a player's ability, it's only one of the indicators.
The rank has nothing to do with the body's ability or damage reduction, it's completely unrelated.
When the talk about that has ended, it suddenly darkened.
"Did it become night already?"
"No way. Night should have ended barely three hours ago——above!!"
When they looked up to the sky warned by Fuyuki, they could see a mass of steel falling straight at them. He embraced Fuyuki instinctively and backstepped, Rui also jumped back.
A second later, the lump of steel collided with the ground.
The earth shook from the collision, a limb came out from the growing metal mass. Gigantic and completely disregarding laws of physics, steel riddled with complicated symbols, a knight of blue steel shouldering an enormous axe.
"Mu—. Taiga, what's the meaning of this, why did you only protect Fuyuki?"
"I believed Rui would be able to dodge that. So, is this guy the target?"
"Yes. It's 《Peroon》. But I didn't think he would come falling from the sky."
Without panicking, Taiga unsheathed his nodachi, Fuyuki flapped with her fan, and Rui set up creation stones in her hands.
The enemy, a mechanical knight raised its axe slowly, and was about to charge at them.
〈"——— Obstacle confirmed. Recommended elimination by cutting ———"〉
And then it happened.
With absolutely no warning, something crimson cut Peroon, bisecting its body.
The machine's body was cleanly cut from left to right and continued to crumble starting with the cut's surface, it faded away unable to maintain it's integrity.
A single blow, with just a single blow the virus 《Peroon》 was suppressed and gone becoming particles of light.
"...Fuyuki. Something like that, storming in, does that happen often?"
"...no way. Seeing her prey being brought down in front of her like that, is a first for Little Sister."
In front of three people who couldn't move surprised, the extinction's afterglow gradually faded out and they saw one figure basked in the sunlight.
Defeating a virus that three people would have a hard time suppressing, with a single blow. She had a crimson hair and empty pupils, a girl who held a scythe that could easily slice apart a human.
"She looks like a Grim Reaper. But she doesn't appear to be a virus."
"There's no price on her head, guess we have to change the place."
While the two of them were wary of the intruder, Taiga recognized the figure from somewhere.
He feels as if he saw her before. And he remembered the AI that was always together with Haya.
Image and atmosphere were completely different. But, that was definitely her figure.
"Yeah... but she shouldn't give off such a strange feeling."
He took one step forward towards Iora who was rooted on the spot like an object. He raised one hand signalizing the other two it's alright and stood in front of the crimson girl.
"Hey Iora. What's up with this appearance? A makeover?"
There was no answer. While continuously looking expressionless and empty, the girl turned around slowly. A shiver went down his spine.
He regretted the fact that he approached her thinking it was Iora even for a moment.
Overwhelmingly, hopelessly, catastrophically, it wasn't a body of an intelligent being——
〈"——— Virtual body confirmed, resuming experiment."〉
Together with these words, the motionless scythe moved slashing at him.
He avoided the first blow thanks to his reflexes, though an ordinary person would not be able to react to it, Taiga unsheathed his nodachi in an instant. But because he was lost in thought, his posture was bad.
Heavy...! How does this brute force come out from such a thin arm...!
He diverted it by changing the angle instantly. But he lost his posture because of the overwhelming force. The girl slammed him into the ground and grabbed him by the neck rendering him defenceless.
There was no pain. But his vision was dyed white for a moment after being smashed by superhuman strength. The girl used that chance to swing her scythe down on him——
"I won't let you!"
Blades flew out from between Rui's fingers.
They exploded the moment they collided with the scythe, and the impact caused it to miss and stab on Taiga's side. At the same time, two creative stones wrapped around the girl's arm and inhibited her movement. Rui rotated her body as she changed creative stones to blades, and slammed them into the defenceless abdomen!
The blades exploded the moment they hit the girl, blowing her away. Furthermore another eight blades were thrown in pursuit and reached her.
"How dare you slam Brother into the ground... I'll smash this crimson woman until she's one millimetre thin!"
Towards the girl rolling on the ground, Fuyuki smashed three soil-coloured elemental spheres. The girl was confined in a prison of stone, and a huge rock fist was dropped on her from above.
"Taiga, are you okay?"
"Sankyu, I'm saved. It seems like she's fairly accustomed with close combat."
"Fuyuki and Rui-san will be the vanguard."
"That's enough for talking. Brother, I don't know what kind of acquaintance that is, but for the time being we should beat her up. I think the other party isn't too talkative."
"...right? She cut the completely defenceless Taiga all of a sudden."
〈"Resistance confirmed. Rendering target harmless recommended."〉
At the same time as the muffled voice can be heard——a crimson blade hit the rock fist above it, and shattered it.
Fuyuki's attack definitely hit. The damage could be seen on the reaper-like girl, but she stood up without batting an eyelash.
"I'm going to attack from the front. You two attack her when there's an opportunity!"
The nodachi and the grim reaper's scythe launched at a tremendous speed and met.
Deflecting away the sickle's strikes that came at him, he resisted them, and looked for one. Rui walked behind the girl and threw the blades in the gap he created.
The grim reaper howled.
No expression other than howl was appropriate. It wasn't high enough to be a roar, the force of the screech shook their eardrums.
"What... is this, ultrasonic wave?!"
Their eardrums were damaged through the ear canal. Although Taiga withstood sonic grenades before, Fuyuki knelt losing her balance. Even Taiga could barely stand up, and attacking was out of the question.
*clank* ...he heard a faint high-pitched metallic sound ring in his head. The instincts he has cultivated so far warned him of crisis, and allowed him to jump away.
The scythe's blow tore through the thin air and lightly touched his ear.
"Don't... look down on me!!"
Together with the roar his fighting spirit was roused, he lifted the sword and rebuilt his posture quickly. The sickle and his blade clashed, the girl retreated two, three steps and lowered her scythe.
〈"Information updated, revising target's threat level higher———adapting. Suppressing target."〉
The crimson girl moved before he did.
The huge sickle was swung at Taiga from the front. Although he wondered why she hit without using any tricks, suddenly the speed increased.
His dynamic vision held out allowing him to barely keep up. But the blows were dealt in rapid succession,
It's gotten a bit faster...!
Taiga continued to gradually increase the speed he swung his sword at, same as the grim reaper.
The speed of their exchange seemed to rise endlessly——however, Taiga reached his limit sooner than he expected.
What's this... the body doesn't keep up with my thoughts...
In a high-speed battle, one can't show carelessness even for a moment. Although it was only for an instant, it was the first time his body ignored instructions ever since he was born.
And that happened more often every time his speed increased.
I don't get what's happening, but at this rate... before that happens, I'll decide it with a single blow!
He lowered the cutting edge and pulled the nodachi.
The nodachi was charged depending on stance, sparks and crackling resounded. First he slashed at the sickle's handle, and then two blows followed on the unprotected body.
"——— Fourth form, 《Raijyuji》!!"
A blow that could not be avoided or prevented. A deadly blow that should definitely have cut the opponent apart——was stopped with a single hand.
A hand wearing crimson light stopped the slash clad in purple lightning. Not even in his wildest dreams had Taiga thought it could be stopped, and that's what happened there.
Clearly, Taiga was off-guard.
Normally he wouldn't stop after hitting with one skill. He would have followed up immediately.
The fact that this was Aries and not a battle in real world, has deeply penetrated his heart, causing him to get caught off-guard. It's a game after all, in the end it has no effect on reality——and so on.
"Taiga, it's coming!"
When he heard Rui's voice, the reaper already swung it's scythe.
Taiga moved his nodachi startled as well, but he could only look at the sickle swung down with herculean strength.
Rui stood in front of Taiga while holding a blade, which shattered and she was penetrated by the sickle, unable to do anything.
She probably didn't intend to be slashed. But the defence made out of blades was destroyed, and the sickle went deeper and deeper inside of Rui's body.
〈"——— 《Jail》 activate."〉
The crimson girl muttered after piercing her. The red sickle pulsated like blood vessels, electromagnetic waves crackled around Rui's virtual body in response to it.
Irises started to fade away from Rui's pupils little by little.
Without blood flowing out, without a scream, but something invisible to the eye was gradually shaved away.
———Her appearance overlapped with the one his parents had before they died.
"——I won't let youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!"
That moment, he stopped thinking.
Led by an angry impulse, he smashed into the tip of the sickle. Rui's body slipped away from the sickle and fell down, at the same time he gripped the sword stepping forward, and hit the girl with all his strength blowing her away.
He literally sent the reaper girl flying over ten meters, and she hit the ground before bouncing a few times.
He lost control of himself for a moment.
He cooled himself down immediately, remembering it was Elysion
———It's alright. It didn't matter if they were cut in this world, they won't get injured anyway.
"Brother, Rucchan! Are you alright?"
Fuyuki came running while still wobbly, it seemed like she still didn't collect herself from the sonic attack.
Taiga raised his hand signalizing they are safe and took a deep breath calming his mind.
"To think a sound attack would come... my ears have gotten weird."
"Also that superhuman strength. It's too surreal to handle such a scythe with one hand."
The siblings talked without panicking. Rui's virtual body didn't collapse, she will get up soon——that's what they thought.
The first one who noticed the abnormality in her was Taiga. She didn't show a sign of getting up, and she was leaning on Taiga without strength in her body.
"Rui? ...hey, Rui!"
When she didn't respond to his calls, the doubts turned into impatience. Fuyuki also squatted and noticed something strange, she shook Rui's body.
"Rucchan! What's going on? Rucchan?!"
They were relieved hearing her voice react to them.
But she was barely conscious. Her eyes were opened only slightly, and it seemed like they would close any moment.
"Fuyuki, what's going on?!"
"...I don't know why, but the auto-logout function isn't working even though she almost lost consciousness. Let's hurry to a safe place, we're going to logout manually."
"Well then, let's transfer immediately!"
"Move command will take at least ten seconds because of coordinate calculations. ...at that time, this thing won't wait obediently."
The crimson girl rose up barely feeling the damage from before. The moment Taiga raised his sword up, he noticed an abnormality in his body.
I can't feel my right arm...?!
It was the moment he hit that thing. At that time he moved by instinct, and something in him completely disconnected.
He wondered if he could fight like this, his leg movements as well——
〈"Minor damage received. Remnants of enemy force confirmed."〉
"...Fuyuki, take Rui and——"
"I won't run away. It's not someone brother can defeat with an immobile arm."
Looks like she noticed.
Casually holding a scythe, the girl approached. The two of them knew that she was the cause of the abnormal state Rui was in. If that was the case——they can't afford to be hit a single time.
〈"——— Continuing experiment."〉
Like a ghost, the reaper accelerated slipping through the ground, the siblings raised their weapons.
"I found you——catch her!"
At that time, he heard a familiar sounding voice.
A dozen of mechanical dolls appeared with weapons in their hands and according to instructions jumped at the girl.
〈"Several hostile forces confirmed. Assessment of the situation, recommending elimination."〉
But even though one swing of the sickle bisected three bodies, the reduced number continued to attack. In the back of the unit, a girl in a suit commanded them while having a terrible expression.
"They can't match her after all. Civilians over there, hurry up and run———away..."
When she looked back, she froze seeing the two of them.
The two of them were surprised to meet each other in such an unexpected place.
Haya's eyes looked behind Taiga and Fuyuki, and were directed towards Rui, she noticed the red scar engraved on her body.
"That wound... it can't be, was she cut?!"
"Was she slashed...? Haya, what are you———"
At the same time Taiga questioned her, a loud sound of destruction reached them.
Dozens of AI bodies were cut apart by a roundhouse slash, faded away and became light.
"Gh... it can't be helped. I didn't want to use it if possible, Master Code 《Forced Transition》!"
As she clicked her tongue, a hexagonal crystal appeared on Haya's hand, it faded away and melted into the atmosphere. A big alarm resounded throughout the world.
《"Emergency alert, emergency alert. A serious problem has been discovered in the structure. Everyone will be forcefully transferred into another structure———"》
"What—, what did you do?!"
"It seems like that's going to seal off 《Aries》! Brother, hold Rucchan tightly!"
The moment he tightly embraced Rui as told to by Fuyuki, his vision twisted. All of the scenery mixed and became a mess.
Along with the uncomfortable sensation that made all of his five senses go crazy, his consciousness was removed from 《Aries》 structure.
When feeling came back, and his sight was restored, it wasn't 《Aries》 anymore.
"...the academy's... structure?"
The space in which the wall was glowing seemed familiar——it was the classroom Haya made private. However, it wasn't the real world, but Elysion. However.
Haya triggered another hexagonal body next to her and murmuring 《Quarantine Closure》, exhaled after finishing her job.
"Blockade complete. There's no need to worry that she escapes to another structure now. ...so, on to the next thing. Taiga, why were you in a place like that?"
"That should be my line."
Even though it wasn't the real world, he laid Rui down on the couch. He placed a hand on her cheek, and it felt like she had a fever, he called out to her quietly.
"Rui, are you alright?"
Her eyelids opened lightly, Taiga breathed with relief that her consciousness recovered a little.
His consciousness froze instantly.
"Rucchan, get a hold of yourself! Look, it's Brother. Tenryo Taiga!"
"...Ta...iga...? Right...Fuyuki's...onii-san.. Rui-san's...friend......"
Rui desperately dug in her memory.
But her voice was breaking up, hey eyes were unfocused, her consciousness was impaired to the point of losing it any moment. These abnormal words caused the siblings to go blank in this emergency situation.
Meanwhile, Haya who calmly observed the state Rui was in, moved.
While muttering she placed a hand on Rui's head. Then Rui's eyes slowly closed, and she disappeared into the void as her body shook. And she was transferred somewhere.
"Leave her to me. I'm not going to do anything bad to her."
Haya stated that with serious eyes she didn't show at school.
"...you better give us a proper explanation later."
"Of course. But wait a little. We need to treat her before it's too late."
Too late, treat her——he wanted to pursue it right away, but Rui's safety came first.
Fuyuki probably knew that as well, she grasped the hem of Taiga's clothes and signalized with her eyes 'Let's pull out for now'.
"...I get it."
The siblings started the logout process, and went back to the real world.
Haya contacted them an hour later.
Translator's Notes and References
- ↑ Usually Fuyuki uses Ani, which is more mature way of addressing older brother.
- ↑ Itadakimasu - In other words, words used before eating, and considered good manners. Some translate it to "let's eat." though, it's not entirely correct.
- ↑ Mu, is a Japanese onomatopoeia for being annoyed/angry/jealous, but more on the positive side. It comes from the word Mukatsuku – be annoyed/angry/pissed off.