Chapter 1: Gruene RoseThe Petalblaze Witch
Ayato caught it almost by reflex as it fluttered down from the sky.
Appearing to shine brilliantly in the first rays of the early summer sun, looking for an instant so much like a snow-white feather––what he grasped in his hand was nothing quite so spectacular; it was just a handkerchief.
Judging from the embroidery of the lovely, yet clumsy flower pattern, it was likely not a manufactured item, but handmade. It seemed a little worn, and closer inspection revealed the vestiges of past repairs.
The deep sentiment its owner held for that handkerchief was clearly conveyed. It was inconceivable that it had been intentionally discarded.
"...Was it stolen by the wind?" If that was the case, then where on earth did it come from...? Looking around as he thought that, Ayato smiled wryly.
After all, Ayato had only just now arrived at this city––and also only just arrived at Seidoukan Academy. Having arrived a little earlier than expected, he'd gone for a stroll around the school grounds to kill time until his appointment, but the site was so large that he had no sense of his current location. Even if he'd followed the footpath, and thus wasn't lost per se, there was still no way for a newcomer to find the handkerchief's owner.
"It can't be helped; I'll turn it in at the office later."
Anyway, since he would meet with the Student Council President after this, he could hand it over then. Thinking that, Ayato carefully folded the handkerchief and put it in his pocket.
The current time would still be regarded as the early morning, and birdsong echoed through the boardwalk surrounded by bright green trees.
Looking at the scenery, so abundantly favored with nature's grace, it was hard to imagine this was an artificial island. Nonetheless, this was one section of the War-Academy City Asterisk, well-known throughout the world. It went without saying that no expense had been spared when it came to grounds keeping.
However, Ayato was brought to his senses after hearing a faintly panicked voice from the other side of such trees.
Clear as a bell, and lovely enough not to lose out to the small birds' singing, and yet a voice which revealed a strong will.
"Ahhh! Of all the things that could happen, why at a time like this...!"
But, listening carefully, the content of what he overheard could hardly be referred to as lovely.
Turning in the direction of the voice, he looked up at a room with a large, open window. Standing in a location set a little away from the footpath was a building of neat and classic structure.
"Anyway, I'd better go after it before it flies far away...!" The voice, which floated over from the other side of the fluttering curtain, was filled with urgency.
"... I see." Ayato turned his gaze to his pocket before looking up once again at the room.
Originally, Ayato was not that perceptive a person.
Nonetheless, if it was, after all, a situation as easy to understand as this, then it was another matter.
"The fourth floor, huh... Well, since there are also footholds, I think there shouldn't be a problem."
Though there was an iron fence about two meters high between the walkway and the building, Ayato jumped over it lightly, without needing a running start. Taking hold of a nearby tree branch, he casually climbed up.
For Ayato, a member of the Genestella, such a task was indeed trivial.
The target room was located further above the trees, but Ayato jumped from a handy branch to the window frame in one go. Arching his body like a cat, he landed almost soundlessly.
"Errr, sorry to just pop in like this. By chance a little while ago, this handkerchief..."
Ayato had chosen the quickest way. Since the voice's owner seemed to have been quite in the hurry, he'd thought that handing it over the sooner the better was best after all.
It was a simple, pure intent. Assuredly.
Nevertheless, his good intentions had resulted in problems –– and big ones at that –– of which there were two.
One was that the building was the High School Girls Dormitory of Seidoukan Academy.
And another was that the owner of the room was just in the middle of getting dressed.
The girl, who was slipping her foot into a skirt, and Ayato stared at one another's faces with altogether dumbfounded expressions.
The girl's age seemed around the same as Ayato's, 16 or 17 years old.
With pale green eyes like young leaves. With the bridge of the nose straight (high straight along the nose), and skin as white as fresh snow.
The color of the long hair which flowed down to her waist was not so deep as to be called scarlet, though also too bright red to call pink. If you had to pick a color... it would be rose.
Her face was also stunningly beautiful. Though it was his first time meeting her, Ayato was captivated.
Besides, the girl was now half-naked.
The two people, for a while, did not move, as if frozen solid.
The uniform buttons were undone on her upper body, and even her underwear was exposed. Since her body was bent, her bosom was also completely visible.
The swelling of her bosom was modest, but the curves of her body were distinctly feminine, and her waist was slim.
Her healthy and flexible legs were nimbly stretching on her toes, and drawing his gaze, shining between her thighs, was lovely, pure white underwear.
This sort of clumsy, half-naked appearance was definitely more sensational than full-on nudity.
The two people, for a while, did not move, as if frozen solid. Since the girl was in a situation where she had one leg raised, one could say that she had an amazing sense of balance.
It was as if time had stopped, but of course, things could not simply continue in this manner.
It was Ayato who came to his senses first.
"So-Sorry! No, errr, I never meant to peep!" Although he somehow tried to explain himself, his words fumbled as they came out.
He tried to cover his eyes with both his hands for the time being, but he could perfectly see her charming appearance from the gap between his fingers.
The girl, on the other hand, had finally grasped the situation. Her face dyed bright red, she flapped her mouth open and closed.
Was it out of shame, or anger, or both?
Ayato resigned himself for the scream that was inevitably coming.
As the girl deeply inhaled while hurriedly covering her body, with tears in the edge of her eyes, she fiercely glared at Ayato.
"––Tu-turn the other way!" She said in a low voice with barely repressed emotions.
"It's fine, just turn around already!"
At that peremptory tone, he obeyed in a hurry.
The light sound of clothes rustling came from behind him. In addition to that, there was also a somehow strangely nice smell.
Ayato was unable to settle down.
Furthermore, he was still situated on the window frame. A moment of carelessness would be all it would take to plunge down below. Almost losing his balance to occasional bursts of wind, he waited for several minutes.
"Phew... O-okay, it's fine."
Finally hearing her voice, Ayato turned his head back and saw a splendidly beautiful girl.
That figure, which was wearing an impeccable uniform, was filled with grace and elegance, to the point that her earlier appearance seemed to be a lie. Though her moody expression and her severe gaze clearly conveyed her bad mood, it still looked somehow lovely.
As Ayato was unintentionally admiring her, the girl cut straight to the point.
"So, the handkerchief?"
"Didn't you mention it earlier? Something about a handkerchief."
"Ah, oh yeah! well, it's this..." Ayato took the handkerchief from earlier out of his pocket, and presented it toward the girl. "The wind carried it to me earlier and I picked it up. Here, could this be yours?"
The girl opened her eyes wide for an instant, and soon after breathed deeply as she felt relieved.
And after she received the handkerchief from Ayato, she gently held it to her chest. "...Sorry. It's something very... very precious to me."
"No, I just happened to come across it, totally by accident..."
"Even so, you saved me. I'm really grateful." The girl bowed deeply and politely to Ayato, who scratched his head while being embarrassed.
"Now then, do you think that it's all settled?" With her head still lowered, the girl muttered so.
Her voice was different from that of until now, filled with emotions that could explode at any moment.
The face of the girl, who slowly raised her head, was wearing a smile.
But her eyes did not laugh at all.
The edge of her lips which drew an arc with a smile was convulsively twitching.
"Then –– go to hell!"
The next moment, the whole atmosphere of the room changed.
The PranaStar-Power of the girl increased explosively, and the atmosphere rumbled. A chemical element was converted by the Mana, which given direction, awakened the phenomenon.
(This presence, don't tell me she is...!)
"Come into bloom – AmaryllisSix-Petal Burst Firebloom!"
At that moment, a huge fireball appeared before the girl, and was aimed at Ayato.
Suddenly jumping from the window, he adjusted his posture in the air and landed.
A roaring sound echoed almost at the same time. Looking up, a huge firebloom (flame flower) opened its bud in the air. It was a large flower of exploding flame, with overlapping blazing petals.
The air vibrated as the gust of heat rushed past. It showed just how the explosion possessed a tremendous power.
"...No, no, no."
As Ayato was taken aback... Inside the window, where some sparks still poured down, the girl appeared and let her body lightly leap from the opened window. Like Ayato, she gracefully dropped to the ground without any problem from the height of the fourth floor.
The girl was a Genestella who possessed a phenomenal physical ability due to her adaptability with Mana–– and besides, judging from the ability she used earlier, there was no doubt she would be a Strega ––whose existence was especially unique even among them (Genestella).
Including Seidoukan Academy, almost all of the Students of the six Academies present in Asterisk City were Genestella. Even Ayato, who was almost completely uninterested in the Festa, knew at least this. And though by adapting the "Mana", with the abilities of Strega and Dante, one could even bend the physical laws of this world, he also knew just how rare of an existence they were.
According to a theory, even among the Genestella, those who revealed talent as Strega or Dante were only a few percent. In the first place, even though there was an increasing tendency, the Genestella themselves were still a rare species. Saying that this girl is a rarity amongst rarities... this designation could be easily inferred.
Ayato himself had so far actually come in contact with only one Strega before.
"Oho... to be able to dodge that, you are pretty good." The girl's anger spread in her voice, even though she offered some admiration.
"Fine then, if that's the case, I will take you a little more seriously."
Sensing the girl's PranaStar-Power rising again... Ayato hastily raised both his hands, in an attempt to control the already tense situation.
"Woah, woah, just wait a minute!"
"What? If you would have just stayed still, I could have just cooked you to well done and let you off."
"Are you really overflowing with desire to roast me alive?"
Without even feeling the slightest hesitation.
"Or rather, I want to know why you're going for my life..."
"Since you peeped on a maiden changing clothes, it would be only natural to compensate with your life."
The girl calmly declared such a dangerous thing.
"If that's the case, then what was the thanks you gave me earlier...?"
"I'm of course thankful to you for returning the handkerchief. But... this and that are different issues."
"...Couldn't you be a little flexible about this?"
"Unfortunately... I hate the word 'flexible'." While smiling, she drastically discarded this option.
There seemed no way to get along.
"In the first place... There was no need to return it by coming through the window, right? Besides, it's not unreasonable to beat up a pervert who sneaks into the girl's dormitory."
"...Eh? Girl's dormitory?"
Ayato, with a stunned look, slowly compared the girl and building.
Sweat quickly appeared and flowed from Ayato's temple.
"Don't tell me... you didn't know?"
"Not knowing or whatever, I'm a stranger who planned to transfer into this Academy today, and besides, I just recently arrived here. I swear it's not a lie."
As Ayato said so, he showed his brand-new uniform.
Since he had not yet gotten used to wearing the brand-new uniform, both the jacket and the pants were still firm and crispy.
The girl stared at Ayato with doubtful eyes for a while, but she soon emitted a deep sigh.
"OK. I'll believe you."
However, at those words, the moment Ayato was about to heave a sigh of relief...
The girl again, said with a smile. "But, after all, this and that are different issues."
Around the smiling girl, fireballs yet again appeared. Though smaller in size compared to that of earlier, this time there were nine in total.
Around the smiling girl, fireballs yet again appeared.
"Come into bloom –– Dancing Nine-Tower-Flower!"
Nine fireballs in the form of a lovely primrose, each with a different orbit, attacked Ayato.
As Ayato twisted his body and dodged them, the fireballs that had already hit the ground burst and disappeared along with the dull sound of an explosion.
The concrete pavement, set in the style of cobblestones, now had holes completely gouged out of it. Though it might be preferable to the earlier explosion, this power was also enough to let a chill run down one's spine.
Regarding the body tissues of the Genestella, the muscles were made stronger than those of ordinary humans; Furthermore, if the PranaStar-Power was concentrated the physical body could raise a defensive force, enough to at least protect against a bullet. Still, if it hit directly, one could not get away unscathed.
Besides, and in addition to all that... The remaining fireballs were still incessantly attacking Ayato from all directions.
However, Ayato outdid each of the attacks by a hairsbreadth.
Sometimes by leaping vertically, and sometimes by bending his body, he dodged them at the limit.
At those movements, the girl was surprised once again and opened her eyes wide.
"I see, you don't seem to be just a pervert."
Ayato, who took in color at the clear praise for that voice, wiped the sweat from his forehead relieved.
She seemed once again to revise her opinion of him. Perhaps, this might be somehow manageable afterall.
"You're an extraordinary pervert."
"It seems that a mutual understanding will be difficult..." Ayato, unintentionally, raised the complaint.
"Hmph, it's a joke."
Then the girl, while glaring at Ayato with half-opened eyes, flicked back her hair.
"It seems to be a fact that you were returning the handkerchief to me with good intentions, my, um... S- Seeing me changing, too, w-well, I can believe it wasn't on purpose, in a sense. B-But, only in a sense!"
He tried asking prudently, because he so far has repeatedly rejoiced prematurely.
The girl, while nodding, reluctantly continued speaking.
"However, not confirming what building it was, was your mistake, the attitude of suddenly coming in from the window, you understand that not everything can be forgiven just because you didn't do it on purpose, right?"
"That's... quite right."
There were no words of rebuttal.
"You have made your point, but it doesn't settle my anger. And so, we will follow the rules of this city. Fortunately, since you seem to be talented in your own way, you won't complain... Right?"
The girl said this, and stared straight at Ayato's face.
"What is your name?"
"I see. I'm Julis. Ranked fifth in Seidoukan Academy, Julis-Alexia van Riessfeld."
The girl, who named herself Julis, raised her right hand to the Seidoukan Academy's school badge, a stylized "red lotus", adorning her chest.
"In the name of the red lotus serving as proof of the inflexible, I, Julis-Alexia van Riessfeld hereby challenged you, Ayato Amagiri, to a duel!"
To Ayato's surprise the school badge on his chest started emitting a red light in response.
When petitioning for a duel, the decision whether to accept or reject it must be requested.
"If you win, I'll quietly withdraw my complaint. But if I win, you'll do whatever I want you to do."
Saying so as if it was natural, Julis grinned and laughed.
"W-Wait a minute. I can't just ––"
"Since you have transferred here, no matter what, you do know at least of the duel, right?"
He was peremptorily asked. "...Well, I did hear something about it but..."
Thinking it through completely, one might say that all the students who lived in this Asterisk were gathered here in order to fight.
The world's largest battle entertainment Festa. Here was the stage, since the students of each Academy were all player candidates.
"Then, hurry up and accept it. There is even a crowd forming."
Ayato looked around after being told this, and realized that the two of them had certainly become the center of attention.
They probably heard the commotion and came. Though most were likely female students from the girl's dormitory, there were also the figures of male students here and there watching from the distant circle formed by the crowd.
"Hey, hey, what, what?"
"The Gruene Rose seems to want a duel!"
"Seriously!? Isn't she a Page OneTop Twelve? They can't overlook that!"
"So, who is the opponent and where does he come from?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen his face before... How about the net?"
"I'm looking now... But, he doesn't appear in the Named ChartssBattle Omnicon."
"Is he not on the list? Well it's a courageous challenger again."
"How long will he last? That 'Princess' doesn't have it in her nature to go easy on her opponents."
"Wait wait, the odds of the net will come out very soon... Well, within three minutes, it's the double."
"There is a bookmaker who is already opened. You guys are being quick-eared as always."
"The journalism club is already providing live commentary. Hey, here or there?"
While listening to the voices of such outfield, Ayato frowned, and was troubled.
He disliked being the center of attention.
"Why is this getting such attention...?"
"There are two reasons. The first one is the collection of data on key students–– in this case, my data. I may look like this, but I am one of the Page OneTop Twelve of this Academy, if there is even a chance, there are a lot of people who aim to defeat others."
"Page OneTop Twelve?"
"…Must I explain it from the beginning?"
Julis stared at Ayato with dubious eyes.
"Fine then, you know that each academy of Asterisk has a ranking system, right? Although the rules differ from one academy to another, each academy has a ranking list that clarifies who sits at the top of each academy; they become the Named CardsBattle Omnicon. There is a limit of 72 names in each academy's book. The top twelve among them who have their names appear on the first page of the list are commonly known as Page OneTop Twelve."
"And the second reason is simple and clear, all the guys here are just fools who are dying to watch a match here."
"Well, if you don't want to fight no matter what, then it can't be helped. You also have the right to refuse the duel. But, in that case, I'm going to hand it over to the vigilance committee of the girl's dormitory."
Before he knew it, the escape route had completely disappeared.
"Ah, but you know, I don't carry a weapon."
Even so, he tried to struggle until the bitter end.
It seemed that some students enrolled with their own weapon-armaments, but most people were basically using customized supplies from the Academy. Since Ayato intended to do so if necessary, he naturally did not bring any weapons.
"You're not a Dante, right? What weapon do you use?"
"Could someone lend him a weapon? A sword is fine."
After Julis asked the spectators, a reaction came back immediately.
"All right, he can use this."
With those words, something was thrown towards Ayato from the crowd.
What he received was a short rod-shaped apparatus. Fitting perfectly in one hand, there was an emerald green crystal at the tip –– a 'Mana Dite' was inserted.
It was an activation tool for the LuxShining Type Armament.
"If you don't know how to use it, I'm not going to tell you."
Julis saying so fearlessly smiled.
As Ayato deeply sighed, he activated the LuxShining Type Armament in his hand.
The element pattern stored by the Mana Dite was reconstructed, and a mechanical "guard" instantly appeared at an acute angle from nowhere. Furthermore, when shifting from standby mode to the activation state, a dazzling light blade of concentrated Mana grew in the empty space.
The length of the blade was about one meter. Since appropriate adjustments had hardly been carried out, it was a normal LuxShining Type Armament.
Seeing that, Julis also took out her activation tool from the holder at the waist of her uniform, and activated her LuxShining Type Armament.
In fact, unlike Ayato's, it was a rapier of a thin flexible light.
"Well, are you ready?"
While elegantly posing her fine sword, Julis' eyes fixed upon Ayato.
In reality, the LuxShining Type Armament was too light for Ayato's preference, but as they had come this far... he had no choice.
"...I, Amagiri Ayato accept the duel request of Julis."
Ayato held up his hand to the chest school badge, and muttered so with a sigh.
As proof of acceptance, Ayato's school badge once again shone red.
The Festa was a type of battle entertainment, boasting the world's largest fan population.
The Artificial Water City––Rikka, which floated on a huge crater-lake located in North Kanto, was the stage known as Asterisk held once a year; the students from each of the six Academies wielded weapons in an extreme competition for supremacy.
Of course this did not mean that it was a fight to the death.
In accordance with these rules, it was stipulated in the agreement called Stella CartaStar Wars Charter, but long story short, it said that "the person who destroys the school badge of their opponent wins". Although intentional cruelty was prohibited, if there was the purpose of weakening an opponent's combat efficiency, attacks to any place other than the school badge was permitted, and since weapons were used, there would naturally be injured people. There were occasionally also cases when it didn't end with just injuries.
Nonetheless, that young people still came from all over the world to this city was due to the fact that it was only here that they could hope to fulfill their wish.
And, the opportunity for them to fight was not only in the Festa.
If hot-blooded young men and women confident in their ability gathered in the same place, quite a few troubles would be expected to occur. In such cases, private wars (personal struggles) in conformity with rules were permitted in Asterisk.
That was the duel.
Though victory or defeat was decided by destroying the school badge as in the Festa, the reinforced school badge also contained the data processing functions, performed the duel application negotiation, the combat data transfer, and so on with the host computer.
Especially in a duel between students belonging to the same Academy, given that the rank would change depending on the result (victory or defeat), there was a meaning beyond just a private battle.
Julis herself fought successfully through many duels and had obtained the position of fifth ranked.
But for Julis, the young boy in front of her –– she could not determine the ability of Amagiri Ayato at all.
"Come into bloom –– LongiflorumWhite Firebloom of the Sharp Spear!"
When Julis swung the fine sword like a baton, spears of huge pale flames manifested along the arc. The flames which carried the shape of the trumpet lily were flying, just like that, to pierce through Ayato with the momentum of a rocket.
Though Ayato somehow parried it with the sword as a shield, the shock sent him flying wildly.
Although he barely took a defensive position, his breathing increased considerably.
"Oho, that newcomer isn't bad at all."
"He endures the flames of that Princess well. Well, his skill is so so."
"Hmm, I think that he's fairly skilled."
"He's not so bad. But he's not so good, either."
"Isn't the Princess going easy on him?"
Julis slightly frowned at the voices of such a gallery.
She was not going easy on him at all. But that didn't also mean she was fighting at full strength; she was seriously fighting her opponent.