Chapter 4 - Karasuba Fuyuki and Karasuba Shio

Part 1

——Tracing back to around noon.

"Yahaha... seems like we bought a little too much."

"Where do you see 'little'! I'm clearly over-weight here!'

Around the time Taiga and Shio entered 《Babel》, Fuyuki and Rui returned to 《Paradise》 to eat lunch.

"Little sister is super tired. Don't want to move no more."

"Well that's because we've walked around quite a lot〜, though Rui-san could still continue."

"Hmph, that's because little sister doesn't have any stamina."

They shopped in a store that didn't have any customers despite the fact it was a holiday (to be exact 80% of their shopping was done by Rui), they bought things like clothes and bags.

Seeing the amount of things she bought, Master—Saionji Jyugo scowled.

"Rui. It's good that you aren't obsessed about saving money, but I won't forgive being wasteful."

"Uu...umm that's... you know? When I was picking clothes for Fuyuki, I found a lot of things I wanted to buy, see? That's why, umm, overlook it? Dad♪."

"No way. I'm cutting your pocket money for next month."

"Seriously?!"

It was too much of a shock to her, Rui fell down and lying her head on the counter seat, she placed a hand on it. Fuyuki who has bought a lot of things felt somewhat sorry, and apologized to Rui.

"Sorry, Rucchan. Because of little sister..."

"No, it's not Fuyuki's fault. Rui-san got too fired up. That aside, you're hungry right? Hurry up and make an order."

Raising her face in a hurry Rui passed the menu. Although Fuyuki remembered the entire menu, she still properly took it from her best friend.

"Then, a pancake set."

"Okayy. Dad, the same thing for me."

Jyugo received the order and immediately begun cooking, while the food was being prepared the two girls checked on their loot.

There's really a lot... the wardrobe is going to expand.

During the time when she was immersed in studies at Karasuba she didn't have suitable clothes for going outside. The clothes she had on herself were the only thing she brought as she ran away from Karasuba.

While Fuyuki was worried about that, Rui not only chose clothes that fit her, but also perfectly coordinated her outfits.

At first Fuyuki was taken aback by how different the clothes were, but when she actually wore them it turned out that they suited her outstandingly. Like usual, Rui's sensitivity was surprising.

It's the same when it comes to cyber technology, Rucchan is amazing at things like this.

If it's just technology, Saionji Rui couldn't win against Tenryo Fuyuki. It wasn't a problem of having or not having a talent. Fuyuki received specialized education in one of four major cyber-related corporations 'Karasuba' while Rui received only general education, they came from way too different environments.

However, Fuyuki could declare with all certainty that when it came to preparing attack-configured programs, Saionji Rui was definitely better than she was.

It wasn't like Fuyuki was bad at making those. She made quite a few of them before, they were better than attack-configured programs that normally circulate, and had a good performance. Still, when compared to the ones Rui made, they were strangely bleak.

What made Fuyuki's and Rui's different, was sensibility.

The basics of programming are in the form of the imagination. Repeating precise calculations aiming for a desired result, bringing it closer to an ideal little by little. For that there's both a need for computing power and imagination——and with that, sensibility is complete.

Partially because Fuyuki was a researcher before, she tends to focus on efficiency, and cuts down on the wasteful parts as much as possible to derive the best results under limited conditions.

That was also reflected in 《Synchro Infinity》, the program she has written for Taiga.

But Rui was different. The most important thing for her was to make it 'fun'.

In the past, Rui asked Fuyuki "please teach me programming" and received a detailed lecture on the topic.

The basics aside, programming was something to be done very instinctively. When Fuyuki reached the last part and was in doubt, not knowing what she should teach her, when she finally decided to teach her how to make a small structure Rui reacted to it——'Is that any fun?'.

Creating a structure was essential, it wasn't the case of it being fun or unfun——thinking like that Fuyuki taught her, and in the end Rui managed to make a structure, even if it was very small.

The thing that she created was extremely miserable, and when Fuyuki questioned her 'How did it turn out to be something like this?' Rui simply answered her with 'Because it's more interesting like this, right?'.

Fuyuki was surprised by the fact Rui didn't think of it as a failure. Three days later, she created a structure incorporating a fantastic system, moreover it was big enough for a person to move in. It was created with only the knowledge she was taught and while it looked proper at a single glance, it was built by mysteriously connecting various elements.

When it came to capability only, Fuyuki's was far above Rui.

However——Rui had her own distinct sense, and with it Saionji Rui definitely reached the 'genius' realm.

"What is it, Fuyuki? Are the outfits Rui-san coordinated weird?"

Hearing a voice coming from the seat next to hers, Fuyuki's thinking returned back to reality.

"No, all of it is really amazing. ...well, maybe some of them. I wonder what kind of thinking circuitry do you have to come up with such a combination, that's what I would like to know."

"Eh? Didn't you subtly make fun of me there?"

"No way. If anything, then it was praise."

Although some time ago Rui said that she and her brother were weird, but she too could have been categorized as that. That's what Fuyuki thought earlier that day.

"Sorry for the wait, two pancake sets. Eat before they get cold."

It seemed like the food was prepared as they spoke about that, in front of the two were soup in a cup, a pancake and salad lined up. Fuyuki and Rui stopped rummaging in the paper bags filled with clothes, and focused on the food.

"It's delicious as always. Master, if you changed the bar-like interior, some customers might actually come?"

"You really do say horrible things without any hesitation."
EVR_v02_0186

Although Fuyuki had an intense fear of strangers, as expected she got used to him after a week. She could speak to her best friend's father, Saionji Jyugo while remaining relatively calm.

"Certainly today's lunch is really good. Also, Rui-san didn't need to help to prepare it either."

"Or rather, how come this business doesn't collapse? Or are you profitable?"

"Ahaha, you know 《Paradise》 is just Dad's obsession〜"

"Saying it's an obsession is too much. I won't deny it is my hobby though."

"That's what you say. But all the fine details are done by Mom."

"...Rui, your allowance cut is extended by a month."

"Eeee?!"

They continued to eat and chat like that for the next twenty minutes, after the meal the two of them enjoyed a cup of Japanese tea——and thought about what to do next——as they relaxed after a meal.

...in the end, we just ended up playing around normally.

Although she felt like she was being approached with something, but Rui didn't say anything.

Fuyuki herself knew very well that she couldn't continue like that——but no matter what, she didn't have the courage to face the past that was catching up to her.

"Speaking of which, Taiga seemes to be acting alone? He's been here a while ago to eat."

"Oh, so Taiga came. So he logged out for a while?"

The moment she heard it, Fuyuki reflexively rose up.

She didn't know for how long she's been there. But she needed to hurry up and chase after him, they might meet again if she makes it before he returns from Elysion——and as she attempted to run out, her arm was grasped.

"...Rucchan?"

"You can't, Fuyuki."

I won't let you go——that's what her eyes relayed, Rui continued to hold onto Fuyuki's arm.

For a moment Fuyuki felt like shaking off her hand, but seeing her serious expression she sat back on the seat.

"Sorry Dad, can we occupy the seats for a while longer?"

"...as long as you get off when a customer comes."

After saying that, Jyugo moved to the back of the kitchen. Rui said 'thank you' in the back of her mind and murmured at the same time before facing Fuyuki again.

"Rucchan, why did you stop me. Little sister only wanted to——"

"Wanted to be pampered by Taiga, right?"

"...yes."

For herself who couldn't go forward, with an unchanged status quo, her heart sought support.

It's not that Saionji Rui didn't support her. Still——she instinctively sought her blood related brother.

"...Fuyuki doesn't know anything. Why a siscon like Taiga went as far as to ask Rui-san to take care of Fuyuki. You really don't know the reason for that do you."

"So Rucchan knows the reason?"

"Although the person himself didn't confirm it. But seeing Fuyuki right now, trying to escape again, I can tell."

These words pierced Fuyuki's heart, she looked away from Rui's stare. If she were to look her in the eyes, she would have no choice but to admit her words.

"...Fuyuki doesn't just want to be pampered by Taiga. What you're facing, you want Taiga to shoulder what you should be shouldering and take care of it for you right? Taiga is kind, there's no way he will refuse Fuyuki. His precious little sister is troubled, so he'll help."

Maybe, she somehow did it unconsciously. Even so——after being apart for eight years Tenryo Fuyuki who suffered from unbearable loneliness turned to rely on her brother with whom she finally reunited with.

"...you mean I shouldn't rely on Brother?"

"Relying on someone is not a bad thing. But, I think pushing someone's back and leaving everything to them is wrong. At least the first step, you need to take that step by yourself. If you leave all of it to others, where is your own will then?"

If Taiga were to tell Fuyuki 'Don't run away', she would face Shio even against her own will. However, there was no worth in such resolution.

Distressed and suffering——and yet still trying to move forward, if the resolution dwelling inside her came from desperation, she would no longer be able to shine. There was no meaning in borrowed resolution.

"Just waiting for Taiga to step in is no good. Though I think that would definitely work. But if you really want to overcome it, you should gather the courage to step out. Right?"

Saying that, Rui reached out to Fuyuki.

Her irreplaceable best friend who's been with her for four years straight.

There was a dazzling confidence in her eyes, she believed in her from the bottom of her heart, Fuyuki was envious of it——but even so, she didn't take her hand.

"...Fuyuki."

"...I'm sorry. But I'm scared. I'm really scared of being denied again, I can't help it..."

She should have forgotten it, it was a memory she should not see ever again.

But the fact that she reunited with Shio reminded her of the past and pained Fuyuki's heart. Her expression that said 'I wish I never met Hime-chan.', her expression that implied her heart was broken, her eyes that looked like she was weeping in despair, they wouldn't leave Fuyuki's head.

To be denied again——thinking of that, she couldn't help but be scared.

"...I see."

Rui didn't know what past the two had, she didn't know because of what Fuyuki was suffering from. But she could tell that Fuyuki continued to live, while continuously suffering from a burden just by looking at how she trembled.

That's why Rui retracted her outstretched hand.

"Alright! Let's play then!"

"..................ha?"

"We have two Arclights here, it's been a while since we entered 《Aries》 with just the two of us, come on hold the luggage."

"Eh, wha.. wai... Rucchan?!

Rui grabbed Fuyuki's hand and led her up the stairs to her home.

The second floor of 《Paradise》 is Saionji's home, it was a place no different from any other normal household. If there had to be one difference pointed out forcefully, it would be the fact that it had no kitchen space.

In the back of their home, was Rui's room.

"Go ahead. It's the first time you enter Rui-san's room right?"

"Yeah..."

While her thinking still couldn't keep up with the sudden turn of events, Fuyuki stepped inside of a room that had a nameplate saying 「RUI」 hanging on it.

If one were to describe it with a single word, it would be a big room.

There were no unified electronic devices like the ones in Tenryo's home's dive room, but the room was filled with various different items. But since it was really tidy, it seemed very spacious despite the amount of items inside.

A basketball, tennis and lacrosse rackets, there's also a guitar. Just how many hobbies does she have.

Probably, anyone who would see this room would think——'just what the hell does this room's owner want to do'.

"You really tried many things. It seemed like you're good at sports but I didn't think you even dabbled in instruments."

"Yahaha... actually I didn't use it all that much. I got bored of it."

Doing anything as long as it's fun at the moment——that's how the girl called Saionji Rui was.

Her parents, especially her mother rooted for her and bought for her whatever she wanted, which might have encouraged such behaviour.

While Fuyuki looked around the room examining various things, Rui began to rummage through the closet.

"Ummm, the spare should be around here... there it is."

Rui pulled out an orthodox headgear-type Arclight from the back of the closet. Even though it was a previous generation machine from which the paint already came off, there was no problems with its functioning. Together with the newest model of Arclight that was on top of the bed, there were two machines.

"It's alright if Fuyuki uses the new one."

"All right. ...it's the first time I'm using a small-type."

At Karasuba she used a large machine, and when they moved in she used the medium-sized machine. Although she had a small one as a spare, she never used it. It was a simple machine that specialized in diving into Elysion, it didn't have any other functions other than that. What everyone was focusing on, was diffusion rate, though those machines were expensive.

Rui installed the older machine next to the bed and hit the bed twice, inviting Fuyuki.

Since the small machines didn't have anything to support the body like the medium-sized and large-sized machines, they needed to lie down during immersion.

"...excuse me then."

Fuyuki got on the bed cautiously and lied down next to Rui.

Because it was the first time for her to lie down with someone of the same sex she was a little nervous. Because it wasn't a twin bed, but a narrow ordinary one, their hands overlapped.

"Let's go then!"

She started the Arclight at Rui's sign, and the two jumped into the paradise of electrons together.

Part 2

〈"——Hee, you did pretty well. You have my praise."〉

"Thanks. Though, it's not me who prepared that."

Around the time when Fuyuki and Rui entered 《Aries》, Taiga and Shio left the central city 《Central Kadora》 and entered a canyon outside of it.

Since monsters appeared, Shio continued to shoot arrows at a good pace taking down crow-like monster with flame-imbued arrows.

After the 《UNKNOWN》 was over Taiga jumped out of the arena and pulled Shio by her hand. But since he didn't know what to do, he returned afterwards to ask Leon.

According to what he said, while players could travel freely, not all places were available for them right from the beginning.

Every area had a fixed boss monster, and players were able to proceed to the next area after defeating him. The moment they are defeated the move point in that place is released and can be used at any time. By the way, players A-ranked or higher who have the qualification, 'subdue viruses by moving from area to area and receive their prize in 《Babel》 afterwards' (and they do it repeatedly). And that's the general behaviour pattern for players.

Since it also served a purpose of trying out Shio's new attack-configured program, they chose a valley area with many flying enemies around. Since Taiga didn't have any way to do long-ranged attacks and couldn't fight, he called Haya instead.

He transferred over the investigation report he got from Leon, and with this his work was over.

〈"It's the same as in other structures, 'Angel' gives away a wide variety of programs that could destroy the game's balance. Calling himself like that on purpose. ...just what is his aim?"〉

"Isn't he just flaunting his abilities?"

Taiga answered not bothered, but Haya wasn't that positive, she seemed anxious.

Certainly, she thought of that possibility. But considering there were many structures that were hit, including large-scale structures managed by Kiritou, it would be better to take care of 'Angel' who was poking holes in the system Kiritou made. If that's happening, the fact that Kiritou will begin moving sooner or later could be easily predicted.

〈"...it seems like he's incredibly confident in his skill."〉

The fact that 'Angel' might really be targeting Kiritou——stimulated the mind of Haya who was suffering from lack of sleep.

〈"——Taiga, additional orders. If you were to get in contact with 'Angel', recover the program made by him."〉

"Haa?! Wait a second, I don't have time for——"

As expected, at this rate he would become her handyman. Just as Taiga was going to refuse, he stumbled seeing the expression on Haya's face that was displayed in the window.

"...fufufufufufu. To come up with such a troublesome task when I'm this busy, and to provoke me like that on top of it... even though I'm already cutting my sleep time to do a mountain of work... I wonder what I'm gonna do to him when I catch him... ufufufufufufufufufu♪ ."

Scary—?!

Haya flashed a dark, spine-chilling smile causing Taiga to instinctively back away.

〈"You will do it right?"〉

"...yes."

In front of the smile that seemed to say he would be socially obliterated if he refused, Taiga nodded repeatedly.

Contact me when you find a clue——Haya said that and cut off the connection. Taiga looked up at the sky and murmured words of excuse.

"No—, it was impossible to refuse just now."

He continued to curse himself as he restored his line of sight and saw Shio's appearance as she shot flaming arrows in the air.

"Bullets!"

Together with her voice the arrow divided into dozens of small flaming arrows. The flaming arrows tracked the eagle-type monsters flying in the sky and shot them down one after another by burning their bodies. However, some monsters escaped from the tracking arrow and dived in a straight line at Shio.

If it was Shio from a while ago, that attack would have made her push the panic button.

But as expected, after going through the same thing for five times already, she got used to it. She created an arrow of ice by imagining it and unleashed it.

The arrow rotated in the air and rose to the sky while cutting the wind and pierced through the enemy.

"Woah, you're mastering another one. 《Cryoflare》 was it?"

"Yup. It's all thanks to Onii-san who taught me the basics of the bow."

After using the program in the form of a crystal that was the award for winning the match, Shio's bow turned into a distinctive two-coloured bow that could shoot arrows of fire and ice.

The flame arrows had a tracking ability and the ice arrows could penetrate the targets, it was also possible to use both abilities simultaneously. It was an excellent attack-configured program that had three attack types——the 《Cryoflare》.

"At this rate it doesn't seem like my turn will come."

"So you say. Even though I've been nearly killed before."

Shio set up another arrow and continued to exterminate enemies.

...I wonder. what are the other two doing now?

Taiga looked as fire and ice intertwined, and his thoughts were directed towards the two girls elsewhere.

Part 3

Qualification holders in 《Aries》——in other words, those of A-rank or higher, to become one it's exceedingly difficult. Among tens of thousands users there's only around a hundred people who hold qualification, because they are only a few percent of the total player base, they are incredibly rare.

Every user starts from rank E, they usually reach C rank after around three months. But even though it proceeds smoothly until then, the road to B rank takes around a year if a user plays every day.

Reaching there is difficult enough, but it only gets harder from then onwards. A lot of players give up on obtaining the next rank.

There's only one condition, to have the ability.

After becoming an A-rank they are allowed to subdue powerful viruses, as such they need to be accordingly strong. In the case of a defeat, the management would charge them a fee for regenerating their virtual bodies, however, that way the original purpose of eliminating viruses would not be achieved.

Therefore there's a certain level of ability required, it was a level completely different from the one normal users could achieve. At the very least, they needed a high level attack-configured program.

And the second was, to complete all area's of Aries.

Unlike the small fries that are controlled by the management, the targets specified for suppression appear randomly and it's impossible to predict it. Sometimes they appear in high difficulty areas, and sometimes they appear near the initial point. Therefore, it's needed to gain access to all areas——in other words, to clear the entire game.

While that condition sounds like something easy to do, that's where the majority of users are stuck at.

The reason is the boss in the final area of 《Aries》——the so-called final boss.

This last boss has strength equal to that of a virus specified as a target for subjugation, and on top of it, there was a need to defeat it solo.

As a result, ever since the 《Aries》 started six years ago, there were only around hundred people who reached A-rank. Moreover, there were only ten people who reached S-rank.

"There there! Take that!!"

"...and what is one of those top ten doing."

Staring at this young heroine who vigorously knocked away monsters with a great momentum, Fuyuki started to forget she was in the middle of combat as well.

Although instant death-class monsters appeared in front of them from a trap, their teeth didn't reach her and the blades pulverized them one after another.

Since Brother was the one in the front recently I forgot, but Rucchan's strength is cheat-class...

In order to get accustomed to fighting in Aries, Rui only provided support from a distance. However, her original battle style was to engage in medium-range combat. She could probably match Taiga when fighting one-on-one.

"Hoo, finally we cleaned it up."

The great heroine wiped three parties with ease, and then Rui waved towards her lightly. Then the weapons dispersed around turned into light. Although Fuyuki thought there might be a need of lending a hand, but it seemed like it wasn't necessary.

"It's the second time I come here, but the traps here are as nasty as usual—. The people who come here for the first time usually die right away."

"When someone who breaks through that unscathed and shamelessly says that, it's not convincing."

The place two of them were at, was area called 《Ancient Ruins》 located far south of the central city. Rui who was an S rank has cleared it long ago, but it was Fuyuki's first time there. When they were at a loss where to go with just the two of them in 《Aries》, this was the place Rui chose.

They proceeded while taking down the monsters that appeared along the way.

Rui acted as a vanguard and took all enemies upon herself, while Fuyuki attacked them from a distance. This was the formation they used continuously for four years, it made Fuyuki feel incredible nostalgia.

...it hasn't been even two weeks and yet it feels like it's been a long time.

That was all, it was more important for her to spend her time with her Brother.

———Fuyuki just wants to be spoiled.

Suddenly, she remembered those words.

That might have been true. But, what's wrong with acting spoiled?

Her only brother in this world, her beloved that she wanted to meet, but couldn't for eight years. If she's not allowed to act spoiled towards someone like that, then where should she seek comfort when facing this suffering, this pain.

When Fuyuki was younger and did not have anyone to rely on, she couldn't withstand the pain. She had no choice but to close the wound, she pretended to have forgotten, she had to live pretending as if nothing happened.

And she deserted her friend who was crushed by despair, she ran away alone.

Scary, is it. Even I think it's incredibly selfish of me to say that...

Even though she was the one who cast her into the depths of despair, but she was still afraid of facing her. Fuyuki knows very well just how selfish that was.

Even so, she wasn't able to gather the resolve to meet her.

"...aah."

Because she was thinking about unnecessary things, she was hit by an attack that normally would never reach her. Probably because it was a high level monster, her HP has decreased by nearly 20%.

"You're not focusing, Fuyuki. At this rate you'll be taken down."

After cleaning all the remaining monsters Rui warned her.

It was one of the highest difficulty areas in Aries. Although Fuyuki boasted of being as strong as an A-rank, her durability was still that of a B rank. It wasn't a place she can let herself drop her guard at. She herself knew that very well, but——.

"...that's impossible."

"Nn?"

"...after being told that there's no way I can focus."

The words stabbed into her mind and continued to circle around in her head without stopping.

She felt as if she strayed into a maze and had no way out. Ever since she reunited with Shio she felt as if her heart was wrapped in mud.

She didn't want to be alone. She wanted to be spoiled by someone. She wanted to seek warmth, but was denied of it.

——If I am to feel like this... I wish I never met Hime-chan!——

The memory didn't fade away, and continued to torment her.

A lonely girl suffering after losing her entire family couldn't withstand it.

"What should little sister do? What should she do to free herself from the past? Please, tell me..."

Standing there, wasn't the girl who was a programming genius.

Grief after losing her parents, the loneliness she felt, the harsh days in Karasuba, the girl continued to deceive herself focusing on her love for her brother. 'For the sake of Brother' she continued to protect herself while indulging in those words, 'For the sake of Brother' she continued to say, relying on him, a small and weak girl.

...at a time like this, if Taiga were here he would gently comfort her.

As Fuyuki continued to fall apart in front of her, Rui could not help her in any way. That's because she knew that if she did it, everything that has been done up until then would have become meaningless.

"——Sorry, Fuyuki. I can't tell you that."

That's why she told her the cruel truth.

"...why, is that...?"

Rui sat down next to Fuyuki and looked into her clear, sky blue eyes. She started speaking slowly.

"Once upon a time, in certain place there was a single girl."

"...what are you saying all of a sudden."

"It's something like a folk tale. Just listen till the end. ...that girl was good at both sports and academics, she was an outstanding child."

"That's a horrible beginning."

"Fufu, so it is. ——The chosen girl was very bright and always surrounded by a lot of people. She was always the centre of the class, even her parents thought she led a fulfilling life. But the heart of the girl in question was dry."

"...why?"

"The girl was too outstanding. Whether sports or musical instruments, after doing something for a short while she reached the level where only few could barely keep up... she tried many many things, but she found all of it incredibly boring."

That's why no matter what she tried, she couldn't find someone she could become friends with.

While there were people who could be called her friends, there was no one she had a relationship good enough with to call them 'best friend'.

"She hated such a boring life. Four years ago the girl decided to try playing on a certain structure. She thought that she might find someone the same age as her, and might be able to do something seriously for once. And then, as she indifferently took down monsters in the beginner area, she met a girl with beautiful eyes."

That meeting was a complete coincidence.

However——the girl who was tired of ordinary life, and the girl with an unknown talent who was brought up in an unusual environment met. It might have been inevitable.

"What happened from then onwards, there's no need for me to say it right?"

"Yeah... of course not."

Fuyuki remembered it as if it was yesterday.

To take a breather from research, she entered 《Aries》 while keeping it secret from Karasuba. There, she met a strangely over-familiar girl. Although Fuyuki was scared of becoming friends with anyone, the girl persistently continued to talk to her making her finally decide to go with her on a journey together——that was how she met Saionji Rui.

"Eh—, now that I think about it, it was really too much. I was one step away from being mistaken as a stalker."

"...I'm grateful to Rucchan."

If Rui wasn't so forceful, she would continue to be alone——that's what Fuyuki thought. It was the first time she heard about Rui's past, but no matter the reason, she was grateful to her for breaking her out of her shell.

"Thanks. Umm, I want to say that... no matter what shape it takes, Fuyuki should seriously face Shio-chan head on. Just like Rui-san."

"...but."

"You might face these bitter feelings again. Nevertheless, nothing will change unless you make that step. If Fuyuki wants to live while being troubled by those feelings, Rui-san won't say anything else. But if you want to start over with Shio-chan, even if you think of it just a little bit, Rui-san will help you. Shall we do our best together?"

——This much help should fine, right? Taiga.

She said that in her mind to the boy with sky blue eyes and reached out to Fuyuki again. Fuyuki looked up and stared at Rui's hand.

And thought about it.

She met Rui, and was saved from the darkness. She took this hand, and was able to break out from her lonely life. In that case——after she ran away, was there anyone who would save Shio?

...are you going to leave it to someone else again?

These were the words she aimed at herself.

Her brother declared that he will definitely stay by her side. Even though the truth was that he was really weak, even though he wanted support, he pretended to be strong.

If that was the case, she will change, here and now.

To become someone strong enough to support another person, just like she was saved by Rui before, she will change into someone strong and capable of saving another. The lie will become truth.

"Little sister is a weak person."

"That may be so."

"Just getting spoiled by both Brother and Rucchan, she never confronted anyone seriously. If it's painful, she might run away again. At that time——will you scold little sister?"

"Yup, of course."

Taking the outstretched hand, Fuyuki rose up. Her sky-blue azure pupils were completely different from before, a shine of resolute will dwelled within them.

"...I keep troubling and being taken care of by Rucchan."

"Don't mind it, don't mind it. We're friends after all."

Rui laughed as she said that, Fuyuki said 'thank you' again, conveying her heartfelt gratitude.

"Then, what do we do now? Go to where Shio-chan is immediately?"

"No... before that, there's something I need to tell to both Brother and Rucchan. Let's change the location to somewhere we can talk in silence."

"Oh, then won't that place be good?"

"That place?"

"Yup. We have preferential rights, it's a good opportunity to visit it isn't it?"

Rui held out a window while saying so, on it were written coordinates of 《Oonira》 structure.

Part 4

"...nn? An e-mail?"

It was just when they left the canyon area and entered the plain. Suddenly, a mail screen appeared in front of Taiga. The sender of the e-mail was——Tenryo Fuyuki.

He checked it the very moment Shio wasn't looking his way, looking through the contents of the e-mail.

These coordinates were not that of 《Aries》, they showed a different structure. Taiga was completely out of touch with the Elysion, but he was able to trigger a transition using the mail.

...that Rui, it seems like it went well.

There was nothing that said what happened in the mail. However, Taiga believed that his little sister definitely will move forward.

"Onii-san, did something happen?"

"Sorry Shio. Something came up. Can I log out for a while?"

"Oh, is that so. Then maybe I'll take a break as well..."

"Is that so. It should be fine to stop for today. Thanks."

"Thank you ver—"

As Shio waved modestly to him, Taiga touched the coordinates provided in the e-mail and starting the transition process. His visibility was quickly dyed white, Taiga closed his eyes preparing for the incoming shock of spatial transition.

After the feeling of his entire body being twisted vanished, he was in a completely different world.

"...this place doesn't feel like Elysion at all."

It was lacking the feel virtual reality had, it was a place that looked like a hotel lobby. There was a receptionist in the front and dozen of doors lined up in the back.

"Oh, he's here. Taigaa—, over here—!"

There were Fuyuki and Rui standing in the corner, they were wearing their uniforms. They waved vigorously to him making them very noticeable. He checked himself a bit worried, but it seemed like Taiga's clothes also changed to a school uniform.

"Hee— it feels like it's been a while since we've been together the three of us, doesn't it?"

"Though it hasn't been even half a day."

"Recently we've been constantly together〜. Separating for a while gives a feeling of freshness doesn't it?"

There were roughly twenty people inside of the lobby. Most of them were dressed in plain clothes, in fact, the three in school uniforms stood out.

"So what were you doing on your side?"

"Shopping mainly, Rucchan chose some clothes for little sister."

"Yup, I've chosen a lot of cute ones. You'll enjoy it once we're back. How about Taiga? You were with Shio-chan all this time right?"

"...well, yeah."

He glanced at Fuyuki to see how she reacts, but she wasn't upset at all and just stared back at him. Her eyes conveyed 'It's fine now', causing Taiga to be secretly relieved.

"Brother. I don't think that would happen, but you didn't force the entire story out of her right? "

"From Shio? There's no way I'd do that. I taught her how to use a bow, gathered information about some weird guy and for some reason I ended up fighting in Arena. I was really busy you know?"

"...it was the same with the Grim Reaper incident, Brother really does have a terribly bad luck."

"...I think so as well."

Both the matter of Haya's orders and the case of Tokuma, he felt like a lot happened to him.

"Hey, the two of you. Don't just stand here chatting, we should go in."

"Hm, that's right."

"By the way, what kind of structure is this? Our clothes are one thing, but it doesn't feel like Elysion at all..."

"This is 《Oonira》, it's a small structure that's been very popular lately."

"Oh. I feel like I've heard that name before...?"

"Did you forget? It's the one Taiga won preferential rights for in a game during Shinkansai, it's that."

"...ahhh! I completely forgot."

He manipulated his terminal and pulled out the preferential rights data, of which its existence he forgot. It allowed them to play in the super popular 《Oonira》 structure without having to make a reservation six months ahead, there was a time limit of one hour.

"It uses a private room system, which makes it perfect for us to talk calmly, let's use it."

Fuyuki took the data from Taiga's hand and passed it to a woman at reception, they heard a brief description saying how to use it (but Taiga didn't pay attention to it), and they received a passkey from her. The trio walked down the hall looking for the room the number on the passkey indicated.

"This really does look like a hotel..."

"It seems like it's built like that on purpose. The rooms in here usually are rented for days, I've heard that some people even sleep in here."

"What happens if you sleep in cyber world?"

"The brain doesn't rest completely, but it seems to have some effect?"

"——And here we are."

The colour of the door changed from red to blue after Fuyuki used the passkey, the remaining time and amount of people using it was displayed on the nameplate. But that was all, there was no sign of the door opening.

"Let's not waste time and enter already."

Fuyuki said so and took a step forward——slipping through the door like a ghost. Rui entered it as well, surprised, Taiga followed them.

"What's this? There's nothing in this white space?"

On the other side of door, there was completely nothing. Furniture aside, there wasn't even any light sources, only white walls surrounding them from four directions.

"As expected, this is really bare. Let's do a makeover."

Fuyuki closed her eyes. The walls and floors changed shape, turning into ones made of wood. A comfortable-looking sofa appeared from nowhere.

"...ha?"

"Since we're already here, why don't we add some more? How about this?"

While Taiga was surprised by the fact that the room suddenly changed, the room itself increased in size and things like tables and beds kept appearing.

"...what's up with this room?"

"To put it simply, it's a room that changes its shape according to one's imagination. It changes according to what the people inside envision. How about Brother also tries it?"

While still doubtful, he solidified an image in his head. He imagined that he held an object in his hand——the mock sword he always used during his morning training.

"Oh...!"

It appeared just as he imagined it, Taiga was slightly impressed.

"Fufufu... it doesn't just produce objects, even something like this can be done!"

Then, Taiga's body suddenly started floating in the air.

He looked around surprised, both Fuyuki and Rui as well as the previously made furniture were all floating.

"A space without gravity. That's what you thought of instantly... as expected of Rucchan."

"This is certainly amazing... however, it's really annoying too."

Because there was a lot of furniture inside, the room turned into something miserable.

The objects in the air continued to float and move around, it looked as if a typhoon entered the room and devastated it. It was difficult to move in there.

Rui snapped her fingers and the gravity returned to normal. The design of the room also changed at the same time, the interior changed into one that had a calm atmosphere and felt like a recreation room.

"Interesting isn't it?

"Indeed. It can be used really, in many ways."

The mock sword also disappeared before he noticed. It seemed like it was possible to interfere with things other people created.

"So, we're gonna talk about...?"

"That's..."

Suddenly hesitating to speak up, Fuyuki forced herself to form the words.

Neither Taiga nor Rui said anything, they waited patiently for her to let it out. Fuyuki repeatedly took a deep breath to calm herself, and started to talk slowly.

"——Little sister's and Karasuba Shio's... no, Shii-chan's past."

Their first meeting and their parting.

"Shii-chan, eh. Is that how you called her long time ago?"

"Yeah, eight years ago little sister was taken in by one of the four largest programming companies 'Karasuba'. Theoretically, I was an adopted child."

"...theoretically?"

As Fuyuki clenched her teeth strongly, Taiga could see that she was uncomfortable. In truth, it was different——he heard as if she said that.

"Just like Kiritou is developing human resources in their school, Karasuba also brings up researchers in their own way. Internal educational institution 『Bird Cage』. The little sister who was an adoptive child was taken there, there were many children without relatives in there."

She was given the last name of Karasuba on the family register. However, she didn't have a single memory of meeting with people who were her adoptive parents. A family only on paper, total strangers——that was the relationship she had with Karasuba.

"Speaking of which, you said that before. That you graduated after a year thanks to treatment that allowed you to skip grades."

"Yes. Although, that place can't be called a school. It could be called a factory producing researchers."

"...that's quite an unpleasant expression."

"All the teachers were AI, I was confined in a private room and unable to leave it until I finished the daily quota. It wasn't very school-like."

People who reached a certain level were able to graduate. It was possible for Fuyuki who was incredibly outstanding to graduate within a year, however, normally to reach a level required to become Karasuba's researcher, it takes more than a decade.

"For Karasuba, little sister was just a tool. A tiny gear made for moving the Karasuba's huge system... and it didn't change even after she graduated from the 『Bird Cage』. Every day she continued to create programs alone, in a small laboratory. After just six months of that, little sister couldn't stand it and started to work on escaping. That's when she met a single girl."

"And that was Shio-chan?"

"Yes. ...from now onwards, it should be easier if you saw it yourselves."

Fuyuki who stood in the centre of the room closed her eyes quietly. The outline of the room started to distort, the data they gathered from their five senses like sound and colours also went bad.

"《Oonira》's usage isn't limited to redecorating the room. Even memories can be visualized as if they were a video."

Immediately after that, the space rapidly formed a shape. In front of the three appeared a pure white room that had size of about ten tatami mats. There were a few things that could be called furniture inside, kitchenette, a medium-sized Arclight and a minimum of daily necessities.

In there, was a figure of young Fuyuki. She was wearing a pompous cloak disproportionate to her small body, she was incredibly adorable.

"Cuuute〜!!"

"It's little sister, so that's a given. ...now then I will start it, please stay quiet."

The video started to move. Apparently young Fuyuki just came back from theElysion, she raised her body and stretched.

"Funyaa... tired..."

The girl rubbed her eyes, then slowly removed the headgear and opened the refrigerator. She drank a jelly-like contents all at once.

Although there were no windows, but it seemed like it was morning. On the window that appeared beside Fuyuki was a clock which displayed the time, it was eight o'clock.

Judging by how tired she was, it seemed like she had been working the entire night.

"...Onii... I want to meet you..."

She was looking at a picture. It was the last photo of the siblings taken when they were parting eight years ago. Young Fuyuki gently traced Taiga's face and tears appeared in her eyes.

She was at her limit.

While originally she was scared of strangers, Fuyuki was already more shy than anyone. She lost her parents, separated from her brother, she spent over a year in solitude and her heart was starving for a connection.

But there wasn't even a single opportunity. At that day, Fuyuki decided to run away.

Not thinking much, she unlocked the doors by hacking it and young Fuyuki jumped out of the laboratory.

"Haa... haa..."

She continued to run while being out of breath.

Although she was originally bad with exercising, she didn't go out for more than a year and a half, her physical strength has dropped significantly. Fuyuki didn't know the structure of the research building, and ran away towards the mountains to get away, her stamina was wasted in vain.

"Auu... it's not here either..."

Young Fuyuki was very smart and knew very well that she'd be brought back if she's found.

That's why she continued to change direction whenever she saw an adult——that happened so many times she was soon completely exhausted.

And, she heard adults talking in front of her, Fuyuki quickly entered the closest room——

"...who are you?"

She met a girl with silver hair.

The girl was surprised by the sudden intrusion. She was probably working on something, a huge amount of windows was expanded. On the other hand, it was the first time for Fuyuki to meet a girl her age, and couldn't hide her surprise at the room's appearance.

Bright purple colour occupied her field of view. Rainy season flowers known as hydrangea decorated the room.

It was obvious that they were artificial. But inside of the room there was a damp smell floating around, as if it were raining. Because of this aroma, young Fuyuki was reminded of the time she spent with her family.
EVR_v02_0223

"...why are you crying?"

"Eh...?"

Only after being told that, Fuyuki noticed she was crying. As she hurriedly wiped her tears, feelings of nostalgia filled her thoughts immediately.

"Uu...Uuuu...UAAaaa..."

"Eh, hey?! Eh?!"

The girl panicked as Fuyuki suddenly started crying. Not knowing what to do, but still unable to leave the sobbing girl alone——

"Umm... there, there."

She put her hand on Fuyuki's head and gently stroked it.

That hand was very gentle, causing Fuyuki to cry again.

And that was Fuyuki's and Shio's——meeting of two lonely girls.

"I am Karasuba Shio. What's your name?"

"...Tenr..yo... no, Karasuba Fuyuki."

"Karasuba? ...can it be, you're from the 『Bird Cage』?"

"Yes. And you're not?"

"Yup. I'm from the head family."

Ten minutes after their sudden encounter, Fuyuki was sitting on the coach beside Shio. It's been a while since she talked to someone her age, so she was a bit nervous.

"...so you're a real ojou-sama?

"That's right. Although since I'm the second daughter, and I have an older brother I'm not the successor to Karasuba."

"Ha〜...you're amazing."

Unconsciously, Fuyuki sighed in admiration.

If she was from one of the four major cyber-related corporates 『Karasuba』, that meant she was a top class ojou-sama.

However the person in question looked troubled and shook her head.

"It's not that great. Rather than that, I think you're more amazing for being given your own laboratory at that age. Isn't that more outstanding?"

"...after being locked in a place like this, I'm happy that I did my best."

Those were the feelings from the bottom of her heart.

I want to see Brother. If I excel at studies and have achievements I'll be able to act freely——that's what she thought in her young mind, and Fuyuki graduated from 『Bird Cage』 after a year of desperate effort, she devoted herself to studying to the very limit, even sacrificing sleep.

And yet, her situation didn't change at all. Rather than that, she was entrusted with copious amount of work, and her free time rapidly vanished. Contrary to her expectations, the reality cornered her.

"You're happy that you did your best, is it... hey, how do you write 'Fuyuki'?"

"Umm, 'fuyu' as in winter and 'hime' as in princess, read as Fuyuki."

"Fuyuki... then I'll call you Hime-chan."

"Mu... then I'll call you Shii-chan."

"Shii-chan... it's the first time I've been called that. Yup, I like it."

Contrary to her young appearance, Fuyuki had a adult-like name she was concerned with.

That's why when she was called with a childlike name 'Hime-chan' she retaliated... but she also unexpectedly liked it.

"Hey, Hime-chan. Why did you become a researcher?"

"...that's how it turned out. Also, I have a goal. And for that goal I need to become even better."

"Even better... in that case, I think you need to try even harder you know?"

"Even... harder?"

"I don't know what Hime-chan's goal is, but normally what researchers can do is limited. You need to become a senior researcher at the very least."

"Is that so. So unless I reach even higher, it's no good."

Fuyuki calmed down, and started to think realistically again.

Even if she got out of the researcher's building, what would she do afterwards. If they found out she tried to run away, they would become vigilant from that moment onward——she couldn't let that happen.

Just when she thought of that. Shio clapped both of her hands and said "I thought of something good".

"That's right. Hime-chan, why won't you help me study?"

"Study?"

"Yup. It's fine if it's only when you have free time. Hime-chan is around my age right? I think it's better to study together with other people of the same age."

Fuyuki was hesitant, but there was only one answer.

"..if that's what you want, then I don't mind doing it as my thanks for earlier."

"I see, thank you! Then let's do our best starting from tomorrow."

And like that Fuyuki continued to stay at Karasuba, the two of them continued to study together in Shio's study room.

Fuyuki who was almost crushed by loneliness made a friend who filled the gap in her heart even if just by a bit. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say Shio was the reason she could stand the harsh days in laboratory.

She felt fun spending time with Shio. However, Fuyuki noticed that occasionally Shio smiled in distress.

When she asked her why did she decorate the room with artificial hydrangea, Shio replied.

"That's because hydrangea tries its best to shine even in rain, right? Even when it's hard, it desperately tries and shines no matter what."

When she heard that for the first time she thought 'she looks at it from a strange perspective'.

But three months after their first study session, on a certain day. Fuyuki overheard Shio's conversation with her father by coincidence, and found the reason.

Ever since then, the gears slowly started to go crazy.

Why are you so incompetent——that's what her father said, scolding her.

Your older brother, your older sister... he compared her to her siblings. He tore her report card that showed her overall quite outstanding marks to shreds, and deleted the immature program she made.

After her father left, Shio desperately endured, trying not to cry as her shoulders trembled.

Hidden Fuyuki heard her worried voice "I need to do my best", that's all she said before heading towards the desk. Ever since then, she saw that scene many times.

The reprimands from her father intensified. Shio tried her best, studying by the desk to live up to her father's expectations. Doing that every day, she slowly turned haggard.

And as Shio continued to look worse and worse. Wanting to cheer her up somehow, Fuyuki talked about the results of her own research. As she showed her the program she made, Shio's expression turned dark.

Fuyuki desperately thought how to cheer her up——and what she came up with, was making an entertainment program that would help her get well.

Shii-chan loves the look of hydrangea, let's add a comforting fragrance into it as well.

For Fuyuki who only made practical programs up until then, it was a challenge for her to make one for the first time.

That was because in 『Bird Cage』 she was only taught techniques maximizing efficiency in programs. There was no place for entertainment elements in the basic knowledge she was taught. She had to learn from scratch.

I've been making a program for Shii-chan, because she was too embarrassed to say that, she lied saying that's the reason she can't attend study sessions, and used that time to develop the entertainment program.

She just wanted her to cheer up.

However, Fuyuki didn't notice. Who really cornered Shio, was Fuyuki herself.

If you get better even better you'll be free. She believed the words Shio said, and Fuyuki's talent fully bloomed.

Even if they begin at different starting lines, if you do your best you'll be rewarded some day. My strict father will definitely recognize me——Shio kept working hard while believing in that. However, Fuyuki's presence showed her the cruel reality 'there's no point in struggling if you don't have a talent'.

Negative feelings continued to undermine Shio's heart little by little, and ironically, it was the program Fuyuki made for her that broke her heart.

"Shii-chan, Shii-chan! Please look. I'm finally done!"

That day, with a program she just completed, Fuyuki visited Shio's study room.

The girl she didn't see for four days was waiting in the room from which lights have disappeared. There was a deep despair engraved in her pupils, but there was no way the excited Fuyuki could notice it.

"...done?"

"Yes!! Umm, please take this. It's a present for Shii-chan!"

Fuyuki projected a pale purple crystal and held it out towards Shio.

Shio timidly took it and asked for information about the content while looking at it.

"Since Shii-chan wasn't looking too good recently. This not only has a visual effect and sense of smell, but also a calming auditory effect. It was my first time making an entertainment program, but somehow I managed to make it!"

"First time... this...?"

It was an advanced program Shio couldn't make even if she stood on her head. In just a few days time, moreover it was her first try——intense jealousy of her talent raged within Shio.

And all the emotions that accumulated within her until then exploded.

"Why did you make such a thing... do you want to show off your talent that much?!"

Shio cried out and forcefully pushed Fuyuki's hand away. Because of that hit, the memory card inserted in Fuyuki's terminal flew away, hit the wall and broke.

"Hime-chan is always like that! Have you ever thought of how I feel when I see a program Hime-chan made?! How it feels to realize my own incompetence?!"

With these words, Fuyuki finally realized she has cornered Shio.

"T-thats not what I... I just wanted for Shii-chan to be more cheerful——"

"Who asked you to do that?! ...I was always jealous Hime-chan, what I wanted the most, I couldn't help but be jealous of Hime-chan's talent which was recognized by everyone!! Even I, even I want to be praised! Even if just once, I want to be told that I did well!!"

No matter how hard she tried, no one acknowledged it.

Even when her results improved, she was only scolded 'why did you improve only this much'.

In that case——there was no meaning in working hard.

"Aa...uu... Shi... Shii-cha...n..."

In front of that outburst of emotions, Fuyuki could only be intimidated.

I need to say something, at this rate she'll break——even though she knew that, it was the first time such negative emotions were directed towards her, and she couldn't say anything.

"If I am to feel like this... I wish I never met Hime-chan!"

"———!!"

Hearing the words that denied all this time they spend together every day up until then, Fuyuki ran away while blocking her ears with her hands.

She continued to run like crazy and before she noticed, she collapsed on her bed and cried.

"Help me... someone help me... Onii..."

No one responded to her heartbreaking cries. She lost her only friend.

There was no one who could be together with her no longer.


"———That's all, the entire past little sister and Shii-chan share."

The memory playback was finished, and the figure of a young girl collapsing in tears in solitude slowly faded away in front of the three. I must have been painful for her to recall the past as Fuyuki sat down on the coach and deeply exhaled.

"...what happened to Fuyuki after this?"

"Nothing. I was too immersed in the study to leave the room, I did everything to forget it. Ever since then, I haven't met Shii-chan even once."

Shio never visited Fuyuki's laboratory, in the first place a young lady of Karasuba family had no contact with researchers from 『Bird Cage』. There was no opportunity for them to meet in person.

"I see. You said before 『I made an entertainment program before, only once』 so it was the gift for Shio-chan."

"Yeah. I remember it's code even now. I probably won't ever forget it."

"...do you regret it? The fact that you didn't notice how Shio felt?"

"...I wonder? Whether it's guilt, or maybe it's regret... I no longer know it myself."

Saying so, Fuyuki made a tearful smile. I want to heal it somehow——thought Taiga, with a fragile smile.

"Oh, that's right. Rui-san will go outside for some fresh air."

With that, Rui suddenly stood up. Taiga said "This is Elysion going outside for fresh air..." and tilted his head. Rui moved her lips to his ears and——

"I'll come back in ten minutes. I leave Fuyuki to you〜"

Leaving these words behind, she left the room.

"...Rucchan really is a busybody."

It seemed like Fuyuki knew what her underlying motive was. As Taiga sat down beside her, she put down her head on his shoulder as usual. Because of a flowery aroma coming from her black hair, he felt a bit dreamy.

"...what should little sister do."

Her feelings spilled out. There was no need to answer——that's what he felt. He responded while gently stroking Fuyuki's head.

"It's not something I should be telling you. It's up to what Fuyuki wants to do, that is all. ...and that answer, you already have it, don't you?"

Immersed in the pleasant feeling of being gently patted on the head, Fuyuki closed her eyes.

What she though of, were the days she spent with Shio. The days they had fun together, and the tears she had in her eyes when she last saw her.

What she wants to do——she already knew what, for eight years now.

Even so, she was scared to meet her, and continued to run away.

She acknowledged her weakness. And wanted to move forward one step at a time. Let's move forward. And for the sake of doing that——

"I want to apologize to Shi-chan. And I want to get along with her once again."

First of all, that's where she'll start.

"The fact that little sister was always relying on Brother... I finally realized that."

"Relying on someone is not a bad thing."

"That's true... but, relying on someone and becoming dependent is not. Little sister wants to live with Brother as equals. That's why, give me courage."

"...courage?"

Fuyuki placed her hands on Taiga's and intertwined her fingers with his. She stared straight at him.

"Shii-chan comforted little sister when she was crying, it's time for little sister to pay Shii-chan back. That's why——once again, give me courage to stand in front of Shii-chan."

Fuyuki said that, closed her eyes and raised her chin.

Even the super dense Taiga realized what she expected of him. Or rather, there was only one thing that could be done with that posture of hers. Taiga's vision shook as he hesitated——

"...this has to suffice."

He stopped hesitating, scooped up her hair with one hand and kissed her bare forehead.

Fuyuki opened her eyes a bit annoyed, she had a dissatisfied expression on her face.
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"...little sister was expecting something more on the lips?"

"Don't say nonsense. As if I could do something like that so simply."

His heart was beating nervously with just kissing her forehead. Her lips were too high of a hurdle——and if it was with Fuyuki, then all the more.

"Is this fine?"

"Yeah. ...well, little sister wonders if it's really all right for her first kiss to be on a place like that, but will settle for on the forehead for now. But, please don't forget this."

She slowly traced Taiga's lips with her white fingers. Stuck out her tongue, laughed and sweetly bit his neck.

"Little sister will be the one to take them... so you can't let other women take them, okay?"

——Now. Let's go and retrieve what I left behind in the past.

Part 5

"...fuu."

After shooting about twenty arrows into a large tree that was fifty metres away, Shio lowered her bow.

Shio parted with Taiga, and wanted to log out at first. But she thought of practicing instead, and remained in 《Aries》.

"It's really easy to aim and hit the target with this bow after all."

《Cryoflare》 was a bow strong enough to allow her to subjugate viruses, but its habits were very strong. Although it would be misleading to say it picked its master, but it seemed to match Shio well.

I'll practice a little longer, and surprise Onii-san tomorrow.

It was fun to see herself grow after committing to it and putting in effort——it was a feeling she long forgot.

Young children that don't know reality could be forgiven for it. But as a person from Karasuba's main family, results mattered more than the process.

But it was different in 《Aries》. Here she wasn't 'Karasuba Shio' but just another girl, she could do whatever she wanted, no one would tell her what to do. She would do it by her own will.

"Alright, let's try another twenty times."

Shio set up the bow to start shooting again.

She concentrated and didn't notice the gaze that was staring at her back.

About fifty metres behind Shio, on a small cliff there was a virtual body that put on a white robe completely covering the entire body——'Angel', and Tokuma whose pupils were completely unfocused.

"Hmm, it seems like he's not there. It seems like I can carry it out more smoothly than expected. Looks like I am lucky after all."

Angel looked down on Shio's figure as she kept shooting arrows and snapped its fingers. Suddenly, Tokuma who was expressionless like a doll opened his eyes widely all at once.

"Now, Tokuma... there's the girl who was together with the boy you lost to."

"...wom...an...."

"You fought him and lost, he's the ringleader behind all this. You hate him right? If she's hurt, I wonder what face would that boy make?"

His thinking was cloudy as mud, that whisper turned into an absolute 'order' he had to obey. It no longer mattered who's the opponent, there was only the grudge in his mind.

"...pull...tear..."

"That's right. You have the program made by me, 《Replicon》 that raises your specs beyond comparison. And you don't have the reason to run away any more——you can rampage as you please."

"Aa....gaa...AAAAHHHH!!!!"

Tokuma howled unlike any normal human ever could, and jumped off the cliff. There were fifty metres of distance to the target in a straight line——a distance he should never be able to close with a leap, and jumped with abnormal leg power.

"Eh——?"

*gagon*, hearing a strange sound behind her, Shio immediately looks behind.

The man who was in her line of sight, was the same A-ranked player she saw a few hours earlier in the arena. Tokuma pulled out the whip sword from his waist and swung it down with brute force!

"HYARAAAAAAaaaaaaa!!"

"KyaAA?!"

It was so sudden Shio couldn't move properly. The jet black whip sword slammed to the right beside her and tore through the earth engraving an over twenty meter long, deep scar. Because of that huge power her body rose up, and then Shio fell to the ground.

*crnch*... along with the sound of someone stepping on the gravel, a shadow appeared in her field of vision. In front of Shio who looked up tearfully, was the figure of a man brandishing a sword in silence.

"...y-you are... Tokuma-san? Why did you... suddenly——auu!!"

She asked with a trembling voice, the reply to her question was a heartless blow. The whip sword bore through the ground forcefully once again, Shio rolled away blown off by the impact.

N-need to run——

Attacked without reason.

But what occupied her heart wasn't the way Tokuma acted.

Shio was always living while being told off by her family, so she was very sensitive to malice when it was directed toward her. That's why she knew. Hating to this extent was abnormal.

That's why she threw away unnecessary thoughts and only thought about fleeing.

But in this situation she couldn't escape that easily. Although Shio tried to run away with her back turned to Tokuma, but again her escape route was cut off by 《Cihuacóatl》's blow.

I can't... with an opponent who has such a long range weapon, I'll be done in for before I manage to run away...

Shio hid in the back of a tree, immediately after the sword whip continued to randomly hit everything around. The slashes were hitting all around, but they were not even remotely close to hit Shio.

...?

Now that she thought about it, it was strange from the first blow. She saw his skill when he fought with Taiga.

With an opponent who couldn't move a single step, why did he continuously swing it at random?

Maybe he can't aim properly?

With him in such an erratic state, it wasn't impossible. She could disengage if she triggered the move command now. Thinking so, Shio expanded the window——

〈"Error. This command is currently unavailable."〉

"Eh... why?!"

The moment she started the move process, a window appeared displaying an error message. Her only means of escape disappeared, in this abnormal situation Shio's head went blank, confused.

Impossible. To disable a system command, it was absolutely impossible unless someone used their Master Code———

"———!! Kyaaaaaaaaa!!!"

She dodged the tip of the sword in the nick of time. But the big tree that was acting like a wall was cut in two and disappeared becoming particles of light.

She couldn't escape. The obstacle that acted as a shield was no longer there. No matter how insane Tokuma was, his weapon had a total length of twenty metres. Even if he waved it at random, it would hit her.

There was only one option left, just one. To fight with Tokuma.

...alright, let's try it...

It's a game after all, it's fine to lose——Shio didn't think like that.

She finally found the place she can do her best at, no, found the place she belongs to. There's no way she would give up on it so simply.

Shio stood up determined, she set up the bow aiming the arrow in front of her.

She was too inexperienced to know any tricks, so there was no meaning in them. Even though she couldn't afford to stand still because she would get hit by the whip sword. Shio had no other choice but to hit him with her strongest attack head-on.

Shio exposed her unprotected form, the sword whip slashed horizontally and vertically, but it only hit the ground around Tokuma. During that opening, the arrow was clad in both red and blue, and its power increased thanks to the two conflicting attributes.

"Charging complete... gooooooo!!"

Together with Shio's yell, the arrow clad in both ice and hell fire was launched.

The arrow flew in straight line towards its target freezing and burning everything on its path at the same time, it grazed the 《Cihuacóatl》 and flew past the blade before penetrating Tokuma's brain.

It exploded with a roar, both ice and flame spread widely.

Fully charged blow, and additional bonus for hitting the head. The bodily ability didn't have much effect on the bow's ability, if succeeded, the damage to enemy should be severe——that is if enemy was normal.

Her visibility was covered with white smoke that looked like steam, Shio took a deep breath and lowered her bow——however, using that opportunity, a black shadow jumped out from the white smoke.

She reflexively shot an arrow at the shadow's head, but its movement didn't stop.

"Aguu!?"

Tokuma's right hand grasped Shio's neck, and slammed her into the ground.

And continued to strangle her like that with enough strength to break her bones.

There was no concept of suffocation in Elysion, but people still suffered if they couldn't breathe, that didn't change in cyber world.

"Haa...!! aaa..."

Shio was being held by the neck and couldn't get up. Tokuma raised 《Cihuacóatl》 which turned back into the shape of a sword and swung it down at her unprotected neck——

"——That's enough, Tokuma."

Together with that voice someone snapped their fingers, the jet black blade stopped. Tokuma's movement stopped as if he was a mechanical doll with its power cut off, the madness and emotions that dominated his eyes disappeared

She wondered since when it was there. A white virtual body 'appeared' beside Tokuma——and looked down at Shio who couldn't move, it's mouth distorted.

"Nice to meet you, I guess? Karasuba Shio."

"...who are you?"

Although it might have seemed that someone came to help her, Shio wasn't that optimistic.

An unidentified virtual body that knew her name——although she was still confused and didn't understand the situation, she somehow squeezed out the words.

"For the time being I call myself 'Angel', but call me however you want. Because there's no meaning in having names after all."

"...Angel? The one that spreads those strange programs——"

"It's a bit different. I'm just giving people what they need. Like Tokuma here———or like you."

"Me...?"

She didn't understand. Why would her name appear there.

"He, Tokuma was defeated, and to take revenge on Tenryo Taiga who took away his position in Aries he took the power. You too have been deprived of the place your belong to in the past. That's enough of a reason to desire power."

"Why do you know that?!"

After these words, she remembered about the girl who was once her friend. Why would the memory she didn't share with anyone be known by this mysterious virtual body——

"Because I've heard it. The story about you two's past, I was together with those three. Karasuba Fuyuki, no, now she's Tenryo Fuyuki is she. Don't you want to take revenge on her? Didn't you suffer because of her?"

These words stabbed deep into her, Shio looked below for a moment. The Angel didn't miss that.

"It seems like you thought about it before."

"...it's true that I always had a grudge against her. But... when I spoke with Onii-san I noticed. Rather than continue that, it's better to find something more fun to do."

That's right.

If she gave into despair, there was nothing she could obtain. Even if she didn't have a talent it was fine, she should enjoy herself as she improved.

Shio finally arrived at that conclusion,


"——What. So you're a human only worth that much."


Angel discarded it with those words.

"Eh——?"

"I thought you were the same kind of human as I am... it seems like I was wrong. You're a human being much weaker than I am. You don't even have courage to raise your head, a really worthless human."

"Wrong! I just——"

"To look for something fun to do? There's no meaning in these words. You will keep your resentment, it will not disappear. That's just escaping. Nothing can change the past you suffered. Unless you take your revenge, you won't be able to move forward."

*pishin*, she heard a sound as if something cracked in her. A slight opening was carved in her heart, Angel's words seeped into her heart like poison.

"That's hateful right? She has everything you lack. Not only talent, she even has a brother who cherishes her."

"...Onii...-san..."

A part of her heart was swayed. It felt as if there was no determination, but Angel's words wiped out those feelings.

"You admire him, right? His appearance as he faced the adversity. You're jealous right? Of Fuyuki who has such a wonderful family member. If you win against Tenryo Fuyuki——you might be acknowledged by the person you admire?"

With the last words, a fire in her heart was lit and her emotions ached, they unnaturally expanded. All of her emotions said one thing——defeat Tenryo Fuyuki.

"That's it——the expression I waited for."

Aiming for the moment her emotions were at the peak, Angel pushed the crystal it had on it hand into Shio. A bluish white pulse ran through her entire body, from Shio's mouth a soundless scream rose.

"Now then, I've input it perfectly. Whether she withstands is up to her... I have no other candidate. Don't break down immediately like he did okay?"

Angel stared at the screaming Shio as if she was an ant, and laughed.

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