Chapter 5 - Bonds of Hydrangea

Part 1

"Nn〜...it's strange after all..."

"Taiga, you've been glaring at the terminal for a while now, what happened?"

The next day after they heard about Fuyuki's and Shio's past, Taiga, wearing his school uniform was visiting 《Paradise》 to have breakfast. Unfortunately, it was raining today; the rain that poured down quietly caused the air to have an indescribable taste.

Like she usually did, Rui made the breakfast while wearing the maid outfit, but she was also worried about Taiga who kept fiddling with his terminal, she stopped her hands and inquired about that.

"Nothing, I tried to contact Shio ever since yesterday, but she didn't answer at all. I was wondering at what time should I dive today."

Although he tried both interactive communication and e-mailing her, there was no response at all. Shio wasn't attending school, and thinking that she slept until this late wasn't believable. It wasn't weird for Taiga to worry, though Rui was worried about something else.

"...just when did you get Shio-chan's contact address?"

"When, you ask. Yesterday. We can't meet in the real world, it would be inconvenient not to know it."

"...mu—"

He was right, he was right but——that wasn't interesting at all.

Rui forgot she was currently in the middle of cooking and stretched her hand towards Taiga's cheek, she pulled it lightly.

"...ut ah oo oing?

"It's been only a day since you met right? Rui-san thinks it a bit too fast."

Rui was blatantly unhappy, she repeated the same thing three times, and after pulling a bit harder in the end she let go. Taiga refuted while rubbing his slightly red cheek.

"Even though you say that... I've asked for Rui's contact info on the day we met as well right?"

"That's true, but somehow I'm not convinced..."

"What's up with that..."

Recently, Rui's mood often turned for the worse like that all of a sudden. Although it usually had something to do with Fuyuki, it seemed like it wasn't limited to her.

"I've already told you yesterday, a lot happened. It wasn't long but it was pretty intense, so the distance between us shrunk naturally."

"...I know that but..."

Since Rui quickly became close to him in a similar way, she couldn't deny it.

"...speaking of which, why is Fuyuki taking a day off? Did her physical ability give out?"

Only Taiga and Rui were present in Paradise at the moment,the black-haired petite girl that was usually next to them was absent.

"No, that's not it. She wanted to recreate the program she gave Shio in the past no matter what. 'This time I won't run away, in order to get my friend back' is what she said."

Using all her abilities, I'll make an improved version——after saying so last night, Fuyuki began to work in the dive room.

"Is that so. Is that all right? What if she passes out in the room..."

"When I went to check up on her in the morning, she was sleeping on the floor. I carried her to bed and prepared breakfast. She should be eating it when she wakes up."

"Eh? Taiga, you can cook?"

"Well, I just made simple rice balls with just rice and nothing else inside."

It was a great help that rice cookers were fully automated these days.

Although he wanted to take a day off together with her, Taiga was absent from the school for 10 days already in just this semester. If he took any more days off, it would impact both his grades and the way teachers view him. That's why even though he was reluctant, he left for school leaving his exhausted, sleeping little sister behind.

"...still, that Shio, what happened to her?"

"...maybe Taiga was too harsh and she decided to ignore you?"

"Uguu..."

No, the fact he couldn't rule out that possibility made him anxious.

"Is having to listen to someone's worries annoying after all..?"

'...well Rui-san was always listening to Fuyuki's chatter. I don't mind it〜"

Although it seemed like she was in a good mood yesterday... but even trifling things could trigger a change of heart for better or worse.

...that Karasuba bunch, they really do pointless things.

Shio wasn't acknowledged by her family in the past. Although she slowly changed herself, with a single opportunity, she could step back into the darkness again.

An indescribable unease spread inside Taiga as he started to eat the breakfast Rui made.

Part 2

"Uunyaa... bright..."

A dazzling light entered through the gap in the window blinds, causing Fuyuki to move slightly.

Even though she tried to escape from the day by going back to sleep, after waking up her consciousness wouldn't fade away again. Her eyes opened little by little, eventually she shook off the temptation to stay in bed and rose up.

It seems like it's morning.

She opened the blinds using the room's remote control system. The sun was nearly at the peak, it seemed like it was noon.

"Eh... umm... why am I on the bed...?"

Still half asleep, she checked on her memories from last night.

She remembered programming until dawn, and the moment she completed it all the fatigue surged at the same time. 'Did I walk to bed while unconscious?' is what she considered, but she found something strange on the side deck.

"A rice ball...?"

She looked down from the king size bed, It was definitely a rice ball. It was wrapped to prevent it from drying up, and there was a piece of paper by its side on which was written 'Good job'.

"...Onii."

That's when she noticed, her long black hair was supposed to be in a mess because of work, but it was clean and neat instead.

"Fufu... he should have said so, I would've let him do it anytime."

Fuyuki tied her hair with a ribbon, preparing her usual twin tails and left the room while stuffing her cheeks with the rice ball.

There wasn't enough salt in it, and too much strength was put while shaping it, some parts of it were stiff,

"...delicious."

But when she thought her Brother prepared it for her, it was a great treat for her.

Since she didn't eat anything since last night, Fuyuki gobbled up three rice balls and checked the time. It was half past eleven.

Even if I went to school now, I would only make it for specialized course.

Since it was Monday, there were specialized courses in the afternoon. Honestly speaking, the specialized course she chose with Rui was boring and tedious. There should be no problems if she misses it once. However.

"...since Little Sister is absent, Brother and Rucchan are eating lunch together just the two of them..."

Also, they are eating Rui's homemade boxed lunch with their usual atmosphere like a pair of newlyweds.

When she thought of that, Fuyuki's heart was quickly filled with jealousy. The rice ball's taste disappeared from her mouth and frustration occupied her mind.

"Let's go after all. Letting brother be alone with a girl other than Little Sister is unforgivable."

Honestly, Rucchan was cute. She was incredibly cute.

She has cheat-level perfect style and an innocent personality——she seemed very attractive even from the point of view of other girls. One week ago she announced that she likes her Brother. Although it seems like she didn't confess yet, she continues to steadily shorten the distance between them.

Fuyuki quickly decided, returned to her room at a brisk pace and started to change into her school uniform.

Just when she finished changing and grabbed her bag, she received a e-mail.

"Aah, even though I'm in a hurry here, who is that from——...eh?"

Sender of the e-mail was——Karasuba Shio.

Fuyuki read the entire message in a hurry, then read it again for a second time.

〈"To Hime-chan. I have something I want to talk to you about. Can we meet now? I have written the coordinates indicating where you should come. I'll be waiting."〉

She looked through the briefly written message multiple times. The coordinates indicated it was in 《Aries》, but she didn't know that place. Fuyuki displayed the program she had just completed on the palm of her hand in the form of a bright purple crystal.

The program's name was——《Hydrangea Garden》.

"...this time, I won't run away."

She resolved herself, and quietly murmured.

In her hand, Fuyuki clenched the thing she couldn't give in the past and rushed to the dive room.

And after starting the Arclight, her consciousness dissolved in a sea of electrons.

 

———Her memories were confused.

In a world covered with silvery snow, Karasuba Shio was patiently waiting for a girl who was once her friend.

The snow was slowly falling down from the grey sky and piling up on the ground.

Blocks and pillars of ice were scattered around, although it seemed like the entire landscape was frozen, the temperature she felt was only to an extent of a chill despite wearing a hunter costume. That was probably because of a setting that protected players.

...a mysterious sensation.

A delicate white girl who could be mistaken for a snow spirit looked at the winter sky and exhaled while in a daze. Even the cold air wouldn't cool down the black emotions swirling in her heart.

Why did hatred fill her endlessly like that. Even Shio herself didn't know the source of these emotions. She had no memories from the time she separated from Taiga until this morning.

She didn't know where those feelings came from, but it was all the same to her.

Her body was engulfed with rage, she soaked in a darkness-like abyss and her heart cried out with only a single absolute purpose.

"——You came, Hime-chan."

"...it's been a long time, Shii-chan."

When she looked down again, there, blooming like an elegant flower on the snowy field was a single girl.

White and black——the two girls who met seven years earlier faced each other once again.

"Long time? Didn't we meet two days ago?"

"No, you got it wrong. Only now we have reunited for real."

"...fuun."

As the snow kept falling, their gazes intersected.

The eyes of the girl in a remodelled kimono were different from the other day, a strong will shone in them. Seeing these eyes, Shio ascertained her intent again——wanting to crush her.

"Did you resolve yourself?"

"Yeah. Little Sister won't run away again. I will properly end what started seven years ago, and become friends with Shii-chan again."

"............"

While Fuyuki was saying she's prepared, Shio reached out to the bow on her back and set it up. Then, after creating an arrow of ice, she immediately released it.

Cutting through the cold air, the arrow flew past Fuyuki while grazing her cheek and shattered upon striking the ice pillar behind her.

"Friends...? You left me to my worthless life, and you still say such a thing? That's pretty selfish of you."

Words of a complete rejection, but Fuyuki still didn't pull out even an inch.

"That's certainly true. But, I have decided. No matter how troublesome it is or how I am denied, I absolutely won't give up."

Just like how she was saved in the past.

"Hime-chan's feelings don't matter here. They're not related to me."

Fuyuki had said how she felt from the bottom of her heart. However, it didn't reach Shio who was dominated by hatred. She aimed another arrow towards Fuyuki and released it.

"I have only one goal. To get revenge on Hime-chan, because of you I suffered."

The meaning of her actions were clear. Fight with me, here and now——that's what Shio meant.

"...no. Little Sister didn't come here to do something so silly."

She was responded to with an arrow. Fuyuki dodged the arrow which flew straight towards her head in the nick of time.

"Silly...? You don't know how much I suffered, how much pain I went through, don't talk as if you know!!"

Her feelings overflowed, she released a heartbreaking cry. Seeing those unnaturally strong emotions, Fuyuki had a bad feeling.

"Let's fight. In order to regain the value of my existence, I will surpass Hime-chan."

Rough waves of deep, strong emotions. Hit by the negative emotions she tasted once already, even though she was scared, Fuyuki continued to look straight at Shio.

Fuyuki from seven years ago, escaped at this point. Unable to withstand the negative emotions, she abandoned Shio to protect herself.

"I'm sorry."

That's why, she definitely couldn't withdraw this time.

"...that so."

Responding to Fuyuki, Shio narrowed her eyes. A cold spine chilling glare, full of hatred and resentment concentrated on her, Fuyuki's heart made a creaking noise.

"Then it can't be helped. ...I'll have you fight me, even if I have to use force."

That moment, Shio moved.

She quickly created three arrows of ice and released them at the same time. Although Fuyuki dodged to the right Shio continued to shoot, following her.

"Kuu——Shii-chan! Please stop!"

She tried to convince her somehow while dodging the arrows, but she got no answer.

Instead, the rate of fire at which arrows were released increased, and finally Fuyuki was caught.

"Tsu——"

With her feet targeted, Fuyuki's movement dulled immediately.

Shio didn't miss that chance, she released an arrow that pierced through the sky blue eyes——before that happened, the arrow of ice was shattered by a crimson fan. Seeing what Fuyuki had in her hands, Shio's mouth distorted with satisfaction.

"You've finally drawn your weapon. Then, let's start."

"...Shii-chan."

The moment Shio aimed at her eye, Fuyuki understood. Her friend from the past, has stepped into a region from which she can't be taken back, she stepped into a place like that and cannot turn back.

"...so, there's no other choice but to fight?"

"That's right. Otherwise I won't be satisfied."

The words of denial she desired, discarded as if cut with a sword. Before Shio's last word reached her, Fuyuki already resolved herself.

"I understand. In that case——I won't hold back and will take you down."

She resolved herself, to fight with her.

With a flap of her remodelled kimono, Tenryo Fuyuki faced Karasuba Shio.

I feel bad for Shii-chan, but I'm going to finish it with a single blow.

Fuyuki didn't have even a speck of doubt of her victory.

It was obvious. It's been only two days since Shio started in 《Aries》. She was definitely a Rank D. On the other hand, she was a Rank B and had four years of experience. It would be another story if she had specs comparable to Taiga, but it was impossible with those thin limbs.

Fuyuki calmly started the calculations for the elemental sphere, however, she suddenly felt an unexpected chill.

Not good——Fuyuki momentarily changed the formula, and shattered two elemental spheres. She sidestepped with wind giving her acceleration from the side.

"———《Replicon》 initiate."

The next moment, a flash of light ran through the edge of Fuyuki's view.

Because Fuyuki didn't have an outstanding dynamic vision like Taiga, she couldn't see at all what was it that approached her at the speed of sound. But the scar gouged in the earth in a straight line indicated it was definitely an attack.

"...you... dodged it..."

Fuyuki barely avoided the silvery-white flash. When she looked behind her, there was a spear of ice. The ice spear's that was stuck in the snowy field was about as thick as a human body.

No way, did she just shoot that?!

And at a speed that made it indiscernible.

Fuyuki was startled, and on the other hand, despite releasing only one shot Shio's breathing got rough and sweat appeared on her forehead.

"Next one, let's go..."

Seeing Shio prepare another arrow of ice, Fuyuki moved taking an evasive action immediately.

She didn't consider defending, in order to stop it she probably would need a chain of three.

Fuyuki's attack-configured program 《Elemental Sphere》, it's a small attack-configured that used her own computing power improvising its characteristics, it took her more time to activate as the chain increased.

The difference between a chain of two and three was a second or less, but that difference could be fatal considering that arrow's speed.

Aiming for Fuyuki who tried to escape from the line of fire, Shio readied her arrow. She fixed her breath after her body was assaulted by pain in reaction to 《Replicon》's usage, and shot while holding her breath.

If Taiga was there, he would have seen it. The arrow Shio released from her hands rapidly expanded and accelerated during this process.

Even if she deliberately looked at it, it was so fast Fuyuki could only barely see the ice spear, it's aim was a bit off and it landed at her feet. The powdery snow the ground was covered with danced in the air because of shock, creating a white smokescreen.

This is bad. She can hit me anywhere with this...!!

The field of view was blocked by large amounts of snow.

Taking away the enemy's vision was a basic tactic. The response to an attack is delayed if you can't see it. And so, something flashed near the edge of her view.

"———!! Triple Spell 《Steam Flare》!"

She immediately smacked three spheres, a red, blue and a white one. A shining white ball appeared in front of Fuyuki, it shrunk greatly and burst open as it was pushed away.

The shock wave and the ice spear were released at the same time and clashed. The engulfed ice spear shattered. As expected, the shock wave blew away the snow, and the ground was exposed in a circle around the explosion's location.

"As expected of you, I guess. I shot that with the intention of deciding this match, but it seems like this much isn't enough to take Hime-chan down."

"Shii-chan... just what did you do?!"

Shio set up the bow while being vigilant, and Fuyuki shouted in confusion.

It was impossible. She could understand if it was just 'an excellent attack-configured program'.

But after her vision was blocked, Shio moved to the edge of her view almost instantly.

Shio's original physical ability was bad and her rank wasn't high, she wasn't supposed to have such leg power

"There is no way to get that strong in such a short period of time in a legitimate way. Please answer me! What did you dabble in, Shii-chan!"

The response was another arrow. It was not the ice spear she released before, but its rate of fire was quite fast. Fuyuki took it all down with an armour of wind.
EVR_v02_0268

"That kind of thing doesn't matter does it? I will defeat Hime-chan, and regain the value of my existence. That is all."

These were words that came out of her mouth, however Shio was worried about that herself.

Something is wrong. There was something missing from the inside of her head——however, she didn't know what it was.

No, this is alright. I'm not in the wrong.

Shio threw away her doubts, and aimed the bow towards the sky. A crimson fiery arrow appeared in her hand.

"Let's go, Hime-chan!!"

Along with the yell, an arrow of flame headed towards the sky like a dragon.

The flame intensified as it increased its altitude, before long it looked like it stopped at a certain height.

"——— 《Meteor Rain》!!!!"

And it split in the air into dozens of flame bullets which poured down on Fuyuki!

It's different from the ice arrows from before... they're guided missiles!

Although Fuyuki started running, the flame bullets freely changed their course and chased her.

She destroyed two white spheres and created a large number of wind blades, the fire bullets detected the blades and swiftly avoided them.

"Heey, that's troublesome..."

While running, she prepared an image to counter the fire arrow. Then she converted it into an improvised program, she fixed the data as three blue spheres and shattered them.

What manifested was a raging vortex. The wall of water surrounded Fuyuki from all directions and the flame bullets drowned in the water one after another.

"A return gift!!"

Fuyuki moved her fan, the water stream changed into the shape of a dozen water serpents and approached Shio with their pointed fangs.

There was no way to dodge, it was a simultaneous attack from all sides.

However, Shio moved like a real hunter, and rapidly dodged the water serpent and attacked while continuing to move. As expected she didn't have room to make a bold move, Fuyuki moved one of the water snakes to protect herself and took down the arrows flying towards her. Shio also looked for a chance to land an arrow on her, but couldn't find any.

Really persistent...

She didn't know why, but Shio's stats were equivalent to that of a rank A player's. And on top of that, her attack-configured program was pretty strong, an average player wouldn't be able to stand up to her.

Fuyuki's fighting style could be described as an artillery-type. She was a typical rear-guard.

Since she had poor specs even despite the rank correction, there was no way for her to get behind Shio as she couldn't move in explosive bursts of speed. No other choice, she had to use elemental spheres both offensively, and defensively and rely on her firepower. That was the best tactic in the current situation.

And in contrast, Shio was a guerilla-type.

She was a long-range type who took advantage of her mobility to disrupt the enemy attacks, a style of looking for opportunities to attack. Although it was a standard tactic to fight that enemy type, in Shio's case, she released powerful and bold blows instead.

They were both in a stalemate and none of them used any tricks——however, the equilibrium collapsed surprisingly soon.

It was sudden. Shio suddenly held her chest in severe pain..

"Ha——aa...ku——!!"

*guwan*, Shio's vision shook all at once. She screamed as her entire body was engulfed in pain, and her consciousness drifted away.

"Shii-chan?!"

Agitated by the fact Shio suddenly collapsed, Fuyuki reflexively run towards her.

But because of that, she didn't revoke the command given to the water snake, which attacked Shio according to the last instruction it was given.

"Dam——avoid it!"

Immediately after Fuyuki cried out, the water snake swallowed Shio and exploded.

A large amount of water splashed out and soared into the air, before pouring down in the form of rain.

Each of the rain droplets didn't have much power, but if all of them overlapped, they caused an enormous amount of damage.

It was definitely fatal. Fuyuki showed a pain expression as she worried about Shio, and headed towards her in a hurry. However——

"...not yet, the match... is still on!!"

On the other side of the curtain made of water, there was Shio who had a smile despite the fact there was an expression of anguish on her face. The stamina gauge that appeared above her head——it had barely decreased at all.

"Wha...!!"

A normal player, no, even an A-Ranked player would have his HP reduced to half by that attack.

No matter how you looked at it, her durability was too high.

"——— 《Partisan》!"

The next moment, a spear of ice accelerated and penetrated through Fuyuki's small body.

Part 3

———*kin-kon-kan-kon*

Fourth period, the class for the subject he was worst at, modern Japanese ended. Taiga turned off the electronic textbook and collapsed on the desk, exhausted.

"Ahh〜I'm exhausted〜"

"Taiga is really bad at modern Japanese. Midterm tests are coming soon, is it all right?"

"...honestly. It's not all right at all."

The results for the small test came back today, and he was almost in red. That was the result of his poor performance on top of being absent from school. By the way, since they are siblings, he received Fuyuki's test results as well, she had full marks even though she was absent for as long as Taiga. He wondered where did this difference come from.

"Come on, how am I supposed to understand the feelings of the characters. Go ask the author himself for that."

"Ahaha..."

They were demanding too much.

Taiga was good at memorization, but he was bad at other fundamentals. He didn't have many opportunities to come in contact with books when he was a child, he couldn't think of something like that. Before, he lived while mainly relying on his intuition.

"Well, let's leave it for now. Rather than that, let's go eat lunch."

"Ah, yup. But since it's raining we can't use the rooftop? Shall we eat in the classroom we are in now?"

"That's right... uh, wait a moment."

There was a call incoming to his terminal. Taiga left Rui in the classroom and moved to another place indifferently, and frowned after seeing the caller's name.

"...what is it Haya?"

〈"You seem like your in a bad mood. Do you hate speaking with me face-to-face that much?"〉

"That's because whenever you call me, it never turns out to be anything good."

〈"I won't deny that."〉

Haya whom he saw on the screen wore a suit she didn't look good in, he's seen her in that ouftit once before. The scenery behind her was not the classroom's, it seems like she didn't come to school.

"Student council president playing hooky?"

〈"It's called sick leave. If I seriously do this on regular basis, I can avoid having people pry in my matters at times like these."〉

It's not being serious, its pretend. Is what he thought but didn't say.

"So, did something happen?"

〈"Oh, right. About Angel, because there was something that worried me I performed a scan on all virtual bodies in 《Aries》 when I had some spare time from research and I located two strange reactions."〉

"Strange reactions?"

〈"Yeah. On top of that, they didn't log out ever since last night. Well, that in itself isn't so rare, but with this timing it got me worried. One of them ceased to exist in the morning so I recovered its distributed data. And then, well, it seems like the structure of the virtual body itself changed."〉

"...make it a bit easier to understand."

He wanted her to finally take into consideration who it is she's talking with.

〈"In a nutshell, the virtual body was remodelled. No, to be exact it's more like it was compressed rather than remodeled. The density of the data making up the virtual body was abnormally high."〉

The virtual body was also made of data. Of course it was possible to interfere with it.

However, since virtual bodies could affect the human body in reality, the security was top class. It shouldn't be that easy to interfere with it.

"And what does higher density mean?"

〈"They get incredibly strong. The virtual body itself is enhanced, and not only the athletic abilities but also reflexes improve. In exchange for hellish pain."〉

"Pain? Doesn't Elysion block the pain?"

〈"There's a rule that says it only applies to normal virtual bodies. It's different when it's modified. There's no need to protect a guy who's using an illegal one. And so, that compression process, it should feel like your body was being crushed into one thousandth of its size."〉

"That... sounds painful."

Just by imagining Haya's example covered him with goosebumps, Taiga pulled his cheek to feel the pain.

From what I've heard, it seems like an atrocious program similar to 《Synchro Infinity》

Although both hacked into the virtual body, that program was messing with the virtual body's configuration itself. In contrast to it, the program Fuyuki made for Taiga, 《Synchro Infinity》 simply disabled all the extra features.

In the first place the 'structural ability compensation' was unnecessary for Taiga and instead became an obstacle when it came to tuning his virtual body, of course they were different.

〈"I'm telling that to you because it seems related to Angel. Well then, continue the investigation."〉

"Hey hey..."

She ended the call before Taiga could reply properly. It's not time to do that now, is what he wanted to say to her.

"...I want to become a person who can say 'no."

"I think that's impossible."

The words he said without thinking were denied from behind him. Behind him was Rui who couldn't stand waiting, and came closer to him with a smile.

"That's because Taiga is too kind, and one way or another he ends up getting pulled in."

"I'm aware of that so you don't have to tell me... nn? Was that an e-mail?"

He opened the window thinking it's Haya again. But, instead 《Unknown》 was written on the field of the sender's name.

At first Taiga put on a puzzled expression.

First of all, he could count out all the people who knew his contact information on the fingers of both hands, he didn't remember advertising his mail address anywhere. This kind of mail shouldn't have arrived.

"《Unknown》? It looks like it contains a video file."

Rui was looking into it from the side, she tilted her head after seeing the mail.

Hesitatingly, Taiga started the video from the file by touching it. After it started he saw something like white powder flying around, the video quality was far from perfect.

———And there, Fuyuki fought with Shio, the entire thing was captured with details.

"...what's...this?"

Fuyuki wearing a remodelled kimono manipulated a water snake, Shio who was wearing a hunter costume released arrows of fire and ice while moving around——it was a sight completely different from what he envisioned, Taiga was dumbfounded.

"It was taken... twenty seconds ago?! This is pretty much real time!"

The video cut off as the spear of ice Shio released pierced through Fuyuki.

"———!!"

As soon as the playback ended, Taiga started to run. Rui also followed him in a hurry.

"Taiga, where are you going?!'

"That's obvious! I'm going home right now, and go to that place——!!"

"Then you won't make it. It might be all over before you arrive there!"

Hearing these calm words, Taiga stopped his legs just as he was about to jump from the window.

Certainly, going home from this place would take time even if he hurried. Since it was noon, there weren't many linears running, in fact it would delay him even more.

"It would be faster to use one of the Arclights in here. There's the information room that's open during the lunch break, let's hide there."

"...no, there's a better place."

"Eh?"

A place where no one enters and there's no time restrictions, the best place there is.

He took a deep breath calming down his frustration. It was not the time to take extra detours. He had to calmly arrive at his destination in the shortest time possible.

"Rui, do you know where's the location we've seen on the video?"

"It's probably the deepest part of the snowy field near the central city. We can go there directly since there's a move point.

"All right... let's go!"

"Ey eyy——um, where?"

Taiga started to run at a reduced speed, allowing Rui to catch up and contacted Haya through the terminal.

〈"What is it, Taiga? Maybe you got anything on——"〉

"We'll talk about that later! If I remember well you had an Arclight in your classroom right!"

〈"What's up all of a sudden? ...I have two in there. They're my personal belongings."〉

"I'm borrowing them for a moment!"

"Ha?! Wait a moment, that's my important collection——"

Although it seemed like she was saying something, Taiga ended the call already. They entered the unused school building and ran to the unused classroom in its very back.

"It should be somewhere here... there they are!"

"Woaa〜 This is Namisagi's unique model!! It's an incredibly rare Arclight! Why is there such a thing here?"

"As long as we can hide, anything is fine!"

Taiga linked his terminal with the headgear that had a characteristic shape and leaned his back deeply on the sofa. Rui sat down next to Taiga, and after setting the coordinates the two of them closed their eyes at the same time.

""——Dive Start!""

They felt dizzy for a moment. Their mind and body structure turned into data, and faded as it was being incorporated into a virtual body.

After they opened their eyes again, they were outside, on a silvery white field with snow falling down. In the centre, they could see a black and a white girl.

"Fuyuki!!"

Taiga started running towards where Fuyuki was kneeling with an ice spear piercing through her. But suddenly he heard the sound of someone snapping his fingers and smashed his head into a space that should have nothing in it.

"Ouchh... what's this?!"

When he reached out, he felt his fingers touch something hard. Some kind of invisible wall was spread around, it didn't budge at all when he pressed on it.

"Taiga, what is it?"

"I can't go any further! What's up with this?!"

An invisible wall seemed to be stretched and the two couldn't get any closer to Fuyuki. Taiga pulled out the nodachi, attempting to break through by force.

"——That won't work. There is no way you guys could break this wall."

They heard a voice from above.

Taiga directed the tip of his sword towards where the voice came from.

About ten metres away there were huge icicles, on top of them was a virtual body that wore a white cloak which covered it completely from head to toes.

"...who are you bastard?"

"Oh right. If I said I'm the existence you are looking for, would you understand?"

Thinking his roundabout words were just evading, Taiga's frowned. He lowered his body and put a hand on the nodachi's hilt.

"...hurry up and answer. If not, I'll cut your head off."

"Scary scary. What, having to introduce myself the same way three times in such a short period of time is troublesome. I already did it in a roundabout manner. ——Please call me 'Angel' for the time being. If it's you, you should know me right? Tenryo Taiga."

Taiga was surprised that he smoothly accepted the fact his name was known. He probably instinctively knew it already.

———That this guy, was Tenryo Taiga's enemy.

"Is this wall your doing?"

"That's right. I would be troubled if you interfered with this fight. You should remain as bystanders at least until this fight is settled."

As Angel and Taiga glared at each other, explosions resounded throughout the field of snow.

The flame bullet divided in the sky and poured down on the ground like a meteor shower. Fuyuki whose HP was already down to half intercepted them with a variety of elemental spheres.

"Taiga, I think this wall was made with use of 《Master Code》. It can't be destroyed from the outside."

"...is that so."

Rui whispered that to him after examining the wall. It seemed like communication was cut off as well, there was no response when he called Fuyuki's terminal.

"You get it now, right? The fact you can't do anything."

Reluctantly Taiga took his hand off the nodachi's hilt and glared at Angel whose mouth distorted. There was no way he heard that.

"Let me ask you one thing. You, what did you do to Shio?"

"By what, you mean?"

"Don't play dumb. Shio's movement is not normal. I can tell, you modified her virtual body... that's what I want to hear about. Why is Shio fighting Fuyuki? There were better ways to resolve this."

"I wonder. Your words are irresponsible and don't have any value. She changed her feelings on her own. No, she was hiding her real feelings. That's why——I just pushed her back a little."

"...pushed her back?"

"I didn't do much. I just erased some of the emotions that disturbed her, like kindness, or compassion."

"Wha...?!!"

Erased her emotions——hearing Angel say it so simply, Taiga and Rui were at a loss for words. Anger immediately welled up in them.

"You bastard, do you even understand what you did?!"

"I just pulled out the true feelings that were inside of her. Karasuba Shio definitely held a grudge against Tenryo Fuyuki, her feelings of wanting to be acknowledged by someone. I just lent her a hand."

"You're wrong! Certainly they may be her true feelings. But that's not all! She definitely had feelings of wanting to be friends with Fuyuki too! That's also a part Karasuba Shio consists of! What you bastard did, is just brainwashing!"

"That's just a different point of view."

The Angel looked down on him, and Taiga who looked up at Angel.

Neither of them would back down on their thoughts, they realized that immediately from the look in the other's eyes.

"I have no intention of arguing with you in the first place. Anyway, you can only watch until it's settled between those two——right?"

He didn't like it, but it was just as Angel said.

Regardless of what form it takes, these two decided to face each other again. That means the rest is a problem of Tenryo Fuyuki and Karasuba Shio. It wasn't something Taiga should step into.

"...Taiga."

"...I know. Let's leave Shio to Fuyuki. She resolved herself to stand in front of Shio."

He slowly told that to himself. He suppressed the frustration coming from the fact that he couldn't do anything, and glared at Angel again.

"Do you have anything else to say?"

"Yeah... just so you know. If you dare to interfere with these two again——I'll cut off your arms, legs and your head, I'll cut you all apart."

What Angel felt, was intimidation that felt like it crushed its body.

It was a thirst for blood any human with decent sensitivity could feel, Angel unconsciously stepped back.

Taiga returned his gaze to the girls who continued to fight.

"...do your best, Fuyuki."

He murmured the words that couldn't reach, as his sky blue eyes watched over the battlefield.

Part 4

"——— 《Steam Flare》!"

Numerous flaming bullets poured down like meteorites, Fuyuki blew all of them away with a steam explosion.

She invoked another image from her head immediately, and right after she destroyed a single sphere with a dance-like motion.

A lump of earth emerged from the ground in the shape of a hand and received the rotating spear.

Although the arrow was strong enough to penetrate through the mass of soil, it lost its momentum before it hit Fuyuki and faded away together with the lump of earth.

"Haa... haa..."

After continuously using elemental sphere, Fuyuki started to breathe roughly.

The amount of elemental spheres she generated was already beyond fifty. Although Fuyuki had an enormous computing power far beyond normal people, she was starting to see her limits.

"Haa... aa...guu..."

However, her opponent, Shio was pushed even further.

During the intense battle her body was hit by the pain from 《Replicon》 and she used bold moves like 《Meteor Rain》 or 《Partisan》——Shio was already at her limit.

She's already been hit by elemental sphere many times, and now just fought by relying on her exceptional durability. The fight was leaning in favor of Fuyuki.

"Let's stop this already, Shii-chan... if you continue at this rate you will..."

"Not...yet... the match isn't over yet...."

It was clear as a day who will be the one to use up all their energy first. Even Shio herself knew that.

Even so, Shio set up the bow.

I... why am I so desperate?

As the battle continued, Shio questioned herself.

The burning hatred that occupied her mind was already receding. Her heart and mind regained enough composure to wonder what was that fiery passion that occupied her body.

Nevertheless, she didn't stop fighting.

Yeah, I see now. I——

Any chance was good. Any reason was good.

She just wanted someone she could push her feelings on, she wanted someone to be with her.

Just——to have someone praise her, she would be happy with that.

"———Cryoflare!!!!!"

"Square Spell———《Lævateinn》!!!!!!"

An arrow clad in both ice and flame clashed with a gigantic flaming sword, the swirling heat and cold gouged the earth all around.

They struggled for a moment, there was just a slight difference in power, but the flame sword broke through the arrow of ice and flame.

The raging crimson flame swallowed Shio and started running amok. At that moment the pain from 《Replicon》 engulfed her entire body, and Shio fell to the ground.

I can't... win...

What she saw as her field of view flashed, was the appearance of Fuyuki standing gracefully among the fire and ice.

She's so cool...

What she always longed for. What she's been always jealous of.

She was jealous of the girl who easily stepped into an area she couldn't reach, she was always proud of having her as a friend——she always wanted to go over there, even dreamt of it.

Just one thing, she just wanted to have her friend by her side forever, she wanted to be acknowledged, and in the end she ended up frustrated and alone.

She shook off the pain and stood up and she chanted once again.

"... 《Replicon》 Initiate."

The forbidden spell.

Next moment, Shio was hit by a severe pain incomparable to the one she felt at first. Her vision lost colours, her sense of touch went wrong. Although she screamed loud enough to tear her eardrums, her hearing didn't recognize it.

Cells throughout her entire body creaked. Not allowing her consciousness to fade, pain crawled through her entire body.

Despite that, Shio readied her bow.

"Why... is it... why does Shii-chan go this far...?"

Despite everything being covered with noise, for some reason Shio heard it clearly, and relied on her voice to aim. She could barely see anything with her eyes already.

She was about to pass out because of the severe pain anytime now but she endured it, and slowly pulled an arrow with a shaking hand.

A pale fire and cold air continued to converge rapidly, and the bow began to crackle.

"Why is it... I have always admired Hime-chan. I kept chasing after Hime-chan's back... but, I didn't have talent."

That's why she rejected it. One day she will look down on her——when she thought of that, she couldn't stop any longer. She wouldn't be acknowledged by her only friend, and would really become a worthless existence.

———With that she turned into a coward, she couldn't accept her weak self.

"I decided to change myself. I decided to change my life of falling deeper down and rotting away! It doesn't matter whether I win or lose. I need to settle Hime-chan's and my past. I need to do it, otherwise I won't be able to move forward even a single step!!!"

That's why Karasuba Shio fought.

It didn't matter how hard and painful it was.

In order to break with her past, in order to start living again——Karasuba Shio bet everything she had, and fought against Tenryo Fuyuki.

"...Shii-chan."

As Shio shouted, Fuyuki finally saw the real 'Karasuba Shio'.

She didn't change at all. Shio pretended to have forgotten about the bitter past. The one who was supposed to have moved forward before Tenryo Fuyuki, Karasuba Shio has been struggling for seven years and didn't change in the least.

...it looks like Little Sister doesn't have enough resolve yet.

Fuyuki started the terminal and extracted a single program from it. A crystal glowed with seven constantly changing colours——the program that she created, which broke the wall between fiction and reality, 《Synchro Infinity》.

Shio challenged her while betting all she had.

In order to reward her for that, in order to change herself, Fuyuki responded by betting everything as well.

"In order to move forward——let's put an end to the past here."

The seven-coloured crystal shattered.

There were slight differences between the virtual and the real body. The last shackle binding the computing power that was called exceptional by one of four major corporates 'Karasuba' was destroyed.

"...dance."

Fuyuki held out the fan towards the sky, and tens of white elemental spheres appeared and danced in the sky looking like a blizzard.

Surrounding them were red, blue, yellow, green and other countless elemental spheres orbited around like a satellite.

Her thinking circuits screamed as she used parallel processing beyond the limit. Even so, Fuyuki continued to increase the amount of elemental spheres——and eventually completed a celestial chart decorated with countless stars.

There was no way to dodge, they had no strength to spare to do that after preparing the blow.

They put everything they had into this single strike——and both of them unleashed it at the same time!

"Unlimited Spell———"

"———CRYOFLAREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeee!!!!"

 

"——— 《Stellar Wiper》!!!!"

 

The arrow clad in absolute zero temperature and an extreme inferno clashed with massive energy amassed by the stars——and the arrow was crushed in a blink of an eye.

...finally——"

Shio's field of view was gradually covered with pure white light.

I can finally move forward...

A giant shining star swallowed Shio, and an explosion roared upon the impact. A tremendous shock wave began to destroy the earth.

 

The tremors subsided, and snow began to fall again from the winter sky after the everything went silent again.

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

It looked like a miserable wilderness with no sign of the snowy field anywhere, Fuyuki proceeded with a wobbly gait. Pain rampaged inside of her head, even walking was hard for her.

She used a rock that was averted by Stellar Wiper as a handrail, and she walked step after step towards where Shio has collapsed.

"I can't... fall over... yet..."

Fuyuki spat out those words, ordering her own body.

And——she reached.

"Shii—...chan..."

"...it's my utter defeat, Hime-chan."

Shio collapsed with her back towards the ground, as if what possessed left her, she was looking at the sky with a refreshing expression. The attack-configured program 《Cryoflare》 shattered, it turned into light and faded away.

"With this, it's all over... I wonder, where did we go wrong?"

"Our relationship was irregular to begin with. Both Little Sister and Shii-chan were lonely, and we overlapped each other. So when it was betrayed, it felt like all of it was denied. Even if it didn't happen at that time, some day it would have collapsed anyway."

Fuyuki who lost her family and Shio who wasn't acknowledged by her family. They only looked for a substitute. A convenient fantastical presence they could push it all on.

"Is that so... we were destined to end up like this..."

"——That's wrong."

Fuyuki denied outright Shio's words of realization.

"I won't acknowledge such destiny. Indeed, we have ended everything just now. However, I have no intention of saying goodbye like this."

Fuyuki manifested a purple-coloured crystal from her terminal, and held it out towards Shio.

"What's...this...?"

"Although I had to wait for seven years, I can finally pass it to you——《Activate》."

In response to her instruction, the crystal's body floated in the air and gave off a dazzling shine.

Shio closed her eyes because of the glitter.

What tickled her nostrils in the darkness, was the familiar smell that was always drifting in her room at all times.

A rain-like damp smell, a delicate fragrance of flowers putting her heart at ease.

"Ah———"
EVR_v02_0295

What entered her eyes, was the sight of Hydrangea spreading in every direction.

A vast amount of purple flowers bloomed on the desolate land forming a circle around them. There were more than a hundred or two hundreds Hydrangeas, and they covered the snowy land, producing a rich flower garden.

That was the sight she was supposed to see seven years ago. It was what the young Fuyuki had created for her friend, something she left behind in the past.

It was what was supposed to connect the two girls, the 《Hydrangea Garden》.

"...I've always wanted to apologize to Shii-chan."

Fuyuki crouched beside Shio and matched her line of sight with hers. The sky-blue eyes were filled with tears, the transparent droplets fell down and hit the Hydrangea one after another.

"Little Sister didn't realize that she increased Shii-chan's suffering. She hurt Shii-chan. If she faced Shii-chan instead of running away to protect herself, Shii-chan wouldn't have to suffer for so long... I'm really sorry."

"Hime-chan always encouraged me right... it was me who got jealous and turned myself into a mess. Hime-chan didn't do anything bad."

At first it was just a small rip.

But it gradually expanded as a variety of factors overlapped, and before she noticed it was too late. When it was disconnected once already, she could no longer do anything.

"The one who really should apologize is me. I couldn't act honestly, and could only display my feelings and ended this in a form like this... looks like, our relationship was a mistake——"

"——In that case, let's start again."

"...eh?"

However, that's not an 'end'.

"So what if we made a mistake once. Let's start over again. This time let's support each other, and become real friends. That's why——Shii-chan, please be Little Sister's friend."

These entire seven years, she was always lonely.

She gave up on herself, and holed up in a shell.

That's why——as she stretched out her hand, what could be seen in Karasuba Shio's eyes, were tears of happiness.

"...are you fine... with me?"

"No one but Shii-chan will do."

Slowly, the two girls' hands overlapped.

I won't let go off you again——Fuyuki prayed in her mind and hugged Shio.

Feeling the warmth of human skin she has forgotten, the presence of a person who requires her, large tears overflowed from Shio's eyes.

"Uuu...Uaaa...UWAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...!!"

The matter that's been ongoing for seven years, was finally solved.

 

"———Sorry to intrude on your friendship-play, but it's about time I fulfilled my goal."

 

At that time, a voice resounded.

"Who——uaa!?"

It was already too late when she noticed, suddenly a white shadow appeared in front of her eyes, and Fuyuki was literally kicked away before rolling on the ground.

"Hime-chan!!"

"Seriously, could you not show me these kinds of pointless things? My mood's gotten worse because of that. Things like friendship or compassion, I hate them the most."

While spitting out selfish words, Angel put its hand on Shio's head who couldn't move.

"W-who are you?! Why did you kick Hime-chan——?!"

"It seems like your memory was erased properly... don't worry. I have no use for Tenryo Fuyuki. Her role was only to help this one grow—— 『Wake up』."

The moment she heard those words, Shio's body started to tremble violently. Her eyes lost their light and strength left her limbs, she collapsed to the ground.

"Shii-chan! Shii-chan!"

"Now everything is ready... before we begin, let's get rid of the obsolete tool."

Fuyuki called out desperately, but Shio didn't move even an inch.

After looking down on Shio contently, Angel approached Fuyuki.

Because of 《Synchro Infinity》's recoil Fuyuki couldn't move and only glared as Angel's right hand outstretched towards her head——and that arm was cut off by a flash of steel.

"...oh?"

"I've told you... that if you try to interfere I'm going to cut off your limbs!!"

Angel looked at his severed right arm in amazement, momentarily Taiga broke between the two and rotated his whole body and slashed with his nodachi at Angel's neck.

That blow should have easily cut his neck. But the forceful slash from nodachi didn't hit anything, and only cut air. He instantly looked back, and saw Angel's figure appear behind Fuyuki.

"As if I'd let you!!"

Angel aimed for Fuyuki again, but Rui who was slightly late, hurled a blade towards him.

It was a perfect attack from a blind spot——but Angel's figure disappeared again, and the blade exploded after striking stone and Hydrangeas.

"Shit, he disappeared again!"

"That's 《Quick Move》. A Master Code command."

"Brother, Rucchan... why are you here?"

Fuyuki was surprised by this sudden development, they should have been at school at the moment. And she wondered how did they know about this place however, the two couldn't afford to answer.

"We'll talk later. Rather than that, this guy——"

"So what will you do about me?"

He looked towards where the voice came from, Angel was standing on top of an ice pillar. Even though he lost one of his arms, he was smiling without care.

"However, you really are fast, Tenryo Taiga. I didn't think you would travel that distance in a matter of seconds. I'm glad I made the preparations."

Angel had a really surprised tone of voice. His unscathed left hand touched the place where he was cut, and the arm that should have been cut off was restored.

"...a teleport ability. You sure got some pain in the ass abilities."

"On the other hand I knew you are the opponent. And I have taken measures accordingly. And yet I lost an arm because I was careless for a moment, even though I knew just how fast you are."

Again. He talked as if he knew about Taiga beforehand.

"...what's your goal?"

Taiga said those words while releasing a killing intent, but it didn't disturb Angel's antics.

"Whaat, it's just a little experiment. There's quite a few conditions. And you guys were considered optimal."

"Even if we don't want to take part in the experiment?"

"We won't let you get any closer to Fuyuki or Shio-chan."

Both Taiga and Rui prepared themselves to take their prey. If he moves even a single step they will immediately attack him, but Angel had an undisturbed smile on its face.

It was obvious.

"——Unfortunately, it's already too late."

Because he had already did what he had to.

He snapped his fingers. The sound was transferred through the air and eventually entered Shio's trembling eardrums, activating what was waiting within her.

"Shii-chan?!!"

The two looked back after hearing an extraordinary cry, something that looked like a black liquid oozed out from Shio's body. The moment it came in contact with that cloudy and muddy liquid which looked like tar, Hydrangeas withered one after another.

"Wh-what's that?!"

The liquid that oozed out of Shio started bubbling and foaming, eventually it converged into a single fixed form.

Two meters tall, clad in a jet black armour that looked like darkness incarnated. It held a huge hatchet that required two hands to use, and which specialized in cutting enemies apart.

A creepy black miasma was emitted from its black body as the black knight stood in front of the three.

"Well then, experiment start——eat your fill 《Zygote》. There's food in front of you."

In response to Angel's voice, the jet black armour rumbled.

"——!! Rui, I leave Shio to you!"

"Okayy!!"

At the same time as the black knight, both Taiga and Rui jumped.

Taiga pulled away from the darkness-like substance the black knight emitted, and picked up Fuyuki who couldn't move even a single step.

"Brother, behind!!"

"I know!"

Taiga felt the presence of the black knight approaching him from behind and jumped to the side with all his might while holding Fuyuki.

He barely made it. The hatchet slammed into where Fuyuki was lying a moment before, and the bedrock below cracked.

He did that with just one arm...

Taiga looked at the crudely cut location with a pained expression on his face.

Originally, a hatchet was made for cutting apart weeds and branches. Although this one's size was far from ordinary, it was unheard of to have something like that break the ground.

The black knight's movement didn't stop. He rotated his large body rapidly and tried to cleave Taiga.

"Tch!!"

Although Taiga defended with the nodachi, he could only use one hand because he held Fuyuki in the other.

Even though he managed to parry the incoming blade somehow, because of the superhuman strength behind the blow he was flung about ten metres away.

The black knight didn't miss that opportunity and followed up, but that's when a dozen of blades pierced through him and exploded with a flash.

"Over here!"

Rui called from a blind spot that was located behind a rock. They used the chance as the black knight hesitated, and headed to where Shio lied who was breathing heavily.

"Shii-chan is?!"

"She's barely conscious, but she can't move. She should have been logged out immediately... but it's been sealed."

Rui activated the log out process from the terminal, but the window disappeared after displaying an error. It seemed like they aren't allowed to escape.

"Damn, it seems like we need to fight that black guy. Fuyuki, hide together with Shio over here. I'll beat this guy together with Rui."

"Please wait, Little Sister will too——"

"Fuyuki can't move yet right? Also, someone has to look after Shio-chan."

"Don't worry, there's no way we'll lose."

He poked her head lightly, then jumped out together with Rui from behind the rock.

Even though he was directly hit by a dozen of blades, the black knight was almost uninjured. The two rushed at 《Zygote》 from the front.

"Let's end this quickly! Rui, create a diversion, I'll peel off that armour of his!"

"Got it!!"

The black knight released a creepy roar, and Rui hurled the creation stones. Eight creative stones transformed into blades in mid-air and half of them hit the jet black armour, the other half landed under the knight's feet. As a result, the enemy's posture broke down.

Using that opportunity, Taiga closed the distance. He barely made it and crawled under the black knight before raising his body and cutting upwards with his nodachi!

"Renjou Sword Technique, seventh form——— 《Senran》!"

The attack-configured program 《Heavenly Sword》 was clad in a windstorm, cutting the armour of darkness as if it was made of paper, cutting off the knight's right arm . Black miasma flowed from the cut's surface, and part of its armour was shattered.

That's when the creative stones under knight's feet jumped up, and Rui hurled another six at him.

"Unison Creation——— 《Brionac》!"

The creative stones released light as they connected and formed a circle from which countless light bullets were released, and it shot the collapsing armour like a machine gun. The black knight was partially destroyed, but the attack wasn't over yet.

"Flash, fourth form 《Raijin》!!"

Using the momentum left behind by the seventh form where he raised his sword, Taiga twisted his whole body.

And then he swung down with his blade wearing a purple lightning, and then after changing the direction he delivered a final blow to the enemy whose armour was destroyed by 《Raijyuji》exploded and cut the black knight's body.

On top of having its entire body shot with a machine gun, a lightning fast two strikes cut 《Zygote》 into four pieces, and it rolled on the ground.

"Despite all that effort, it seems like a pretty fragile doll. Angel."

Taiga made sure the black knight wasn't moving before sheathing his nodachi and glared at Angel who was watching over the fight from a high place. However, after seeing his pawn being destroyed, Angel started to clap giving them an applause.

"...what's up with your reaction."

"It's all right if I give you a honest round of applause right? I already knew you were strong, but to think Saionji Rui was that strong as well. I was right to choose you guys."

"We already destroyed that knight of yours right? How do you intend to continue your experiment?"

"Destroyed, huh. ———If you think you won after dismantling it into four pieces, then you are too naive."

"What?"

The Angel said so, and then it happened.

"———AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?!!!"

A scream sounded.

Taiga and Rui looked back, and they saw Shio suffering and wriggling on the ground. And her right arm seemed to be eroded starting from her fingertips, becoming black smoke.

"Shii-chan, Shii-chan!! Please get a hold of yourself!"

Fuyuki was calling out to her desperately, however Shio was in severe pain as her body was falling apart, and couldn't articulate anything.

In a blink of an eye, the miasma ate her arm up to the elbow and after leaving her body it was sucked into the black knight. It covered the wounds and soon after it took the form of an armoured knight again, it was restored in just a few seconds. No, he stood up looking even more terrifying.

"Bastard, what did you do?!"

"It's not that complicated. I decomposed Karasuba Shio's virtual body and repaired 《Zygote》's damaged portion, also I just strengthened its armour to accommodate your attacks. Well, she's feeling pain equal to if her arm was ripped off, I guess?"

"Just how long do you intend to use Shio!!"

"Though it's unfortunate, it doesn't matter even if her heart is broken and she becomes a cripple. As long as my goal is achieved."

"That's... horrible..."

Hearing how Angel uses people as tools anger boiled inside of him, Taiga unsheathed the nodachi and jumped. However, the black knight stood in his way.

"Out of my——"

"Hee, is that really fine? If it's destroyed, I will use Karasuba Shio's virtual body to make it recover you know? Maybe next time her main body disappears?"

"Guh...!"

Shio's suffering and her screams passed through his thoughts and Taiga stopped the nodachi which was heading towards its neck. That moment the black knight swung its hatchet downwards and blew Taiga away in a fancy manner.

"Taiga!!"

Rui cried out and ran up to him. Taiga instantly stood up and took a defensive posture, but his health was cut down to nearly 30%.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah——he's coming!"

The massive armour plunged straight towards them, the two held up their weapons in response.

"But what do we do?! If we attack it, Shio-chan will...!!"

"Let's keep avoiding it for the time being! We absolutely can't counterattack!!"

"Ahahahahaha!! I think you know it already, but if Karasuba Shio loses her entire virtual body, she will definitely break! Come on, dance until you hit your limit!"

Taiga and Rui freely ran around the Hydrangea Garden while avoiding the roaring hatcher that cleaved at them.

Even though they knew that eventually they'll be caught, there was no other choice than that.

They had no choice but to plunge into this hopeless struggle.

 

"Brother, Rucchan...!"

She couldn't just continue to look at the two avoiding the hatchet, Fuyuki bit her lips. From Shio's body which lied next to her an arm and a leg were already gone.

"!!———again...!!"

Miasma crawled through Shio's body again. This time it swallowed her ankle and assimilated into 《Zygote》, the armour changed into an even more atrocious form, and the black knight's speed also increased.

The black knight seemed to be set up so that he's getting reinforced automatically, he's already been enhanced several times. Even though the two didn't attack, Shio's virtual body was being eaten away at——and destroyed.

Because of the repeated 'exploitation' Shio was breathing with a hoarse voice as she was attacked by severe pain.

"I need to do something, anything...!!"

It was the worst situation.

They couldn't escape, and they couldn't even buy time. She needed to do something about that 'exploitation'——

...wait a second. How does it absorb Shii-chan virtual body in the first place...?

When her thinking circuits finally calmed down, that one question appeared in her head.

Repairing other programs with data taken from virtual bodies' structure was possible.

However, on top of remotely interfering with Shio's virtual body, there was some kind of trick allowing to manipulate it from a distance. It was far beyond the area of autonomously activated program.

Is there some kind of circuit that links him and Shii-chan...? But, there's nothing like that here...

If there is a circuit, it should have taken a shape inElysion. But no matter how she strained her eyes, she couldn't find the circuit connecting her with the black knight.

In that case, there was only one possibility.

If there's no circuit then they are connected directly...!!

Fuyuki immediately hacked into Shio's terminal, and reflected her virtual body's structure in a window. If she was right, then it should be there.

"...got it!"

She found something that shouldn't be in Shio's virtual body, a very, very small virus.

"He was definitely on the mark by calling it Zygote..."

In other words, it was a colony-type program.

It was incorporated into the virtual body data and then fused itself with it, infesting it with a virus. The virus continued to grow little by little inside of Shio's body, and then escaped from the host when ordered by Angel. Some of them were left behind in her body.

The leftover infection activated when its body took damage, it uses the virtual body's structure to rewrite its data and uses it to repair its missing parts.

If she knows its mechanic, she can create a remedy for it.

"I need to eliminate all of the Zygotes in Shii-chan's body...!"

If she does that, it won't be able to recover any more and Shio's virtual body will no longer be erased. Fuyuki immediately hacked into Shio's virtual body to eliminate the foreign matter———and froze.

〈"Search results——400 matches found."〉

"..................four...hundred...?"

No matter how she looked at it, there was too much. No, there problem didn't lie there.

〈"Matches, 457, 471, 484......"〉

In just a second, the number of Zygotes increased more and more.

There was no point erasing them one after another like this. She won't return to normal unless she erases all the Zygotes at once. But hacking into a virtual body was incredibly difficult. Moreover, processing five hundred of them at once was an area beyond what human could do.

"Uuu...uuu...such...such a thing..."

Tears poured down her cheeks.

Even though she knew the method to save her, she could only look at her miserably and powerless. She couldn't save the girl she just became friends with, it was incredibly frustrating.

The droplet spilled and fell on Shio. Causing her to open her eyes slightly.

"Hime...chan...? Why...... are you... crying......?"

"———Shii-chan?!"

"Are you... crying again... because you're lonely...? Yesterday... when we first met... you cried as well..."

Shio slowly woven the words, but her consciousness was hollow and hey eyes unfocused. Her memories seemed confused and she messed up the sequence of the events.

"It's all right. Hime-chan is... amazing, that's why... everything will be... definitely fine... don't cry..."
EVR_v02_0337

Shio wiped Fuyuki's tears with a trembling hand, and closed her eyes again.

She was supposed to be in severe pain. The fact that she regained consciousness even if for a moment could be called a miracle.

"...I've been... comforted by you again."

It was the same when they first met.

She saved her from breaking because of loneliness, and became her first friend.

This time it's my turn——that's what she decided when she came here.

"Though it might be unreasonable and reckless."

Even though she was so small and weak, she's been called a genius.

Then, it didn't matter how difficult it was. Fearless like usual, she told herself there's nothing she can't do and puffed her chest.

Think. You can only keep thinking, it's your only weapon.

All the knowledge she absorbed so far, all the experience she has amassed, she used all the information her 'eye' has captured before and derived a reasonable and optimal solution.

If parallel removal of all the viruses via hacking the virtual body was impossible, she had to detach the process itself.

It was something she couldn't achieve alone. But she wasn't alone now. Fuyuki opened the window and appealed to the two people displayed on it.

"...Brother, Rucchan. Please, lend me your strength. Please save my friend, save Shii-chan."

Part 5

Because of a crushing blow from the hatchet, both Taiga and Rui were blown away.

The black knight's specs exceeded that of Taiga's already five or more enhancements ago, after receiving an arm-breaking powerful blow the two rolled on the ground before standing up again.

"Ahahahaha!! You've been focusing on defence for a while now. If you don't resist just a little bit the experiment won't be able to proceed!"

They didn't have time to listen to Angel's loud laughter.

A single blow followed by a storm of violence eliminated all their mental strength, they were barely able to endure it. Both of them were nearly at the limit.

"As expected, this is hard..."

"It's getting stronger and stronger... at this rate it will———Taiga, behind you!!"

Rui saw the hatchet above his head and tossed six creative stones.

The creative stones connected and transformed into a brilliant silver shield which continued to absorb a jet black wave that was emitted from the black knight.

"Shit, that attack too... it's getting pretty bad."

It was a fight they had no chance of winning, it was just when the two were about to give up. Unexpectedly, a window appeared in front of the two and Fuyuki was projected on the screen.

〈"...Brother, Rucchan."〉

"Fuyuki? What is it?"

〈"Please, lend me your strength. Please save my friend, save Shii-chan."〉

There was a bright light in the sky blue eyes that stare straight at them, Taiga and Rui glanced at each other.

What are you saying now. Isn't the answer already decided.

""——Of course!""

Willpower roused their entire bodies. It didn't matter how exhausted they were. If she tells them to save her friend, their hearts will flare up again and again.

"What should we do?"

〈"...please dismantle that black knight. Into as many small parts as possible and in the blink of an eye."〉

"Leave it to us."

There was no need to hear any more. Taiga closed the window and then he closed his eyes.

"...I'll cut him into pieces. Rui, grind him to dust."

"I got it. Parallel Creation———"

The moment Rui started preparing, Taiga opened his eyes wide and jumped using his full strength and unsheathed the nodachi from its sheath.

He didn't think anything, he wasn't bothered with anything. He optimized himself for the sake of cutting the enemy in front of him.

〈"Activate———Synchro Infinity!!〉

For a limited amount of time he freed himself from all shackles.

It was something only Tenryo Taiga could do, he melded reality and fiction, becoming the fastest and the strongest in the area.

"„Supersonic” third form———"

He put a hand on the hilt, the 《Zygote》 swung the hatchet at him randomly, but Taiga saw through all its movements and it didn't even graze him.

And then aiming at the moment it's body is exposed, Taiga jumped below it and pulled out the nodachi!

"———《Amakiri!!!!》
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The blade could be seen only for a moment.

*kachin*, the moment the cool sound of the sword's collar resounded, the body of black knight gradually broke into a dozen of iron lumps.

„Supersonic” third form 《Amakiri》 ———It's a sword skill specializing in chopping enemies to pieces. Aside from drawing the sword so fast it becomes invisible, it allows you to slash dozens of times in an instant.

The black knight was chopped into pieces before it could regenerate and the pieces rolled on the ground.

Taiga retreated from the spot immediately and two large rotating creative stones were thrown in.

The huge creative stones spread out and rotated changing into a hundred smaller ones. And when Rui gave a signal, they all exploded!

"——— 《Explosion》!!"

The blasts overlapped each other and its power increased in a chain reaction.

Exposed to a hundred or more simultaneous explosions, the body of black knight turned into small, barely visible fragments.

 

"Thank you. Brother, Rucchan."

Fuyuki said her thanks to the two who perfectly executed her reckless request and focused on the window.

《Zygote》 turned into dust.

With the majority of its body destroyed, the reproduction function fully activated, the factors in Shio's body who was a host activated——just as Fuyuki wished.

The process for recreating the black knight's body started, at that moment.

Only in that moment, the virus factor hidden deep inside the virtual body had to come out to the surface.

"———Data elimination process start."

Fuyuki activated 《Synchro Infinity》 again and dived into the sea of data

Like this she reduced the amount of hacking she had to do on the virtual body. However, her work in this area still wasn't over.

It has no meaning if she doesn't eliminate all of the virus at once. She couldn't erase it one by one, she had to hit all five hundred of them at once, it had to be processed in parallel.

"Haa——— Agu———!!"

She was incredibly overloaded. Her brain nerves burned with pain, an alarm bell sounded in Fuyuki's head——saying 'stop it already'.

"With this, its hundred——four hundred more left..."

In front of her passed huge waves of information. Finding single threads among them was extremely difficult as hundred, then two hundreds appeared at once.

"Two hundred... three hundred... dzzuu——...three hundred and fifty——..."

Her thinking circuits screamed.

Enough, I can't do it any more. If you do any more than this your brain won't hold out. Her weakness assaulted her from inside.

———Shut up. Don't interfere.

Are you fine with becoming a cripple? For just one of your friends, are you going to throw everything away?

———Not just a friend. For an important friend.

What about your Brother and your other friend? If you break they'll be sad.

———That might be. But...

 

"———If I run away here, I won't be able to stand together with those two!!!"

 

Her thoughts burst.

Computing power, her speed of thought went beyond limit and all information poured into her head through the sky-blue eyes. An enormous amount of data that would have made an ordinary person pass out in an instant was forcefully covered by Fuyuki.

She continued to analyse the torrent of data at an overwhelming speed with her incredible processing power. Not missing a single piece of foreign matter she continued to save them all in parallel.

"Five hundred... fifty seven... all factors locked on... complete."

The moment she forcefully subjected all of the virus factors lurking in Shio's body, an incredibly severe pain hit her consciousness. It felt as if giant insects were rioting in her head.

"With this———it's all over!!!"

She used the last command with a trembling hand——and after triggering the removal, Fuyuki's vision was dyed black.

 

The change was dramatic.

The black knight that was lying in countless of pieces started shining with a sky-blue colour one after another and faded away not leaving a single piece.

Seeing hundreds of thousands light pillars rise, Angel had a shocked expression on hit face.

"It can't be, my 《Zygote》 was———?!!"

It didn't start the program that would allow him to escape, it thoughts didn't accept this defeat.

Why did I lose?

Its regenerating capability, its strengthening capability, and the condition that didn't allow the enemy to fight back——there was not a single factor that would imply it would lose. Then why was it——?

"Why don't I tell you why you lost?"

"Haa." Angel responded to the voice that was directed towards it, and wondered who was it all of a sudden. There, at a distance where he could be reached with a sword, stood Tenryo Taiga.

A strong will dwelled in his sky-blue eyes, Angel responded with words of a loser.

"...if there is such a thing, I want to know what it is for future reference."

"It's simple——it's because you made enemies out of us. The cause of your defeat, is us. That's all."

Taiga declared with a fearless smile on his face.

Although Angel was taken aback for a moment, it found it amusing and it mouth distorted in a smile.

"I see, I'll keep it mind——I'll be more vigilant next time."

In the end, Angel's body distorted and faded away as if melting into the atmosphere.

With this, the chain of events that begun with reunion of Tenryo Fuyuki and Karasuba Shio had ended.

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One thought on “Chapter 5 - Bonds of Hydrangea

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  1. Shance

    He should find him in rl and kill him or threaten him at least. Nothing good comes from people like that if they think they are invulnerable.

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