Chapter 6 – The Second Key
“––You look a little better now.” Julis said, as soon as she took a look, to Ayato who just entered the waiting room.
It was the day of the quarterfinals.
“Well, somehow, thanks to you.”
“Does it mean that you have strengthened your resolve?”
Catching Julis’ surveying look… Ayato slowly nodded.
“Yeah. I have decided. I will look for Nee-san. ––For that… Borrowing the Integrated Enterprise Foundation’s power is the fastest way.”
“…I see.” Julis joyfully smiled.
Immediately after that she tightened her expression and opened a space window.
“Then. We must first win today’s match.”
When Julis operated the portable terminal, which she held in her hand, a pair of a boy and a girl, who looked very much alike, were projected there. It was the opponents that they would confront a few hours from now; The Li siblings.
“There are two trends, which can be grasped from the past data. First, those twins only aim at their opponent’s weakness thoroughly, –– in other words, they take the strategy that their opponents will dislike the most. Of course, you may say that it’s the basics of a fight in its own right, but I think… that even such a thing is secondary to them.”
“When you say ‘secondary’, do you mean that for them, there is something more important than that?”
As Ayato asked about it Julis frowned in displeasure.
“Probably. From my opinion the technique those twins regard as most pleasant, is to torment their opponents.”
Certainly, even from Ayato’s perspective, there was the impression that the twins loved to torment their opponents more than necessary.
“For them… Even winning is also probably something secondary. Well, in one word, they are ‘sadists’ drunk with power.”
“…It’s not much the type you want to get along with.”
“You're quite right. And there is another trend –– these twins never act rashly. They create an absolutely advantageous situation for themselves and they only begin their offensive after ensuring a safety zone. Although they are reputed to be very prudent, one can only see that they are mean cowards who are afraid to get themselves hurt.”
Julis seemed to be somewhat amazed while saying these words.
In fact, with Julis’ character and creed, it was an opponent whom she could never become compatible with.
“Even so, there is no doubt that those twins’ ability is the real thing. In addition, they are extremely clever in making good use of strategy. The essence of their strength doesn’t come from the height of their technique in Star Senjutsu but probably from their, unique to them, combination of ability and strategy composition.”
“Come to think of it… Song-san and Luo-san has also said that.”
“Yeah. Those two’s words are probably right. In a battle to iron out a plan… I’m probably no match for those twins.” Julis frankly admitted.
Even if Julis’ tactics could directly aim at the opponents during their unguarded moments they still could not entrap them. That was something purely based on their particular character so, and on that point, it could not be helped that she was no match for the twins.
“However, for only this time, we also have some advantageous points.” Julis broadly grinned.
“Yeah. If the twins use the specific strategy of aiming at their opponents’ obvious weaknesses, this time, won’t it be extremely easy for us to know their aim?”
“Ah!” Ayato clapped his hands.
“…My seal. Huh.”
“Yeah. To be more precise, the twins will aim at the limit. For them, there is no more desirable weakness than this. In that case, naturally, we may expect the strategy that they will come up with.”
“––Time-buying.” At Ayato’s words, Julis nodded.
“Most likely. Well, with that in mind, what kind of measures we will take is the problem, but ideally speaking, instantly bringing them down by applying a swift attack would be best. If we can first defeat even one of them… The match would be almost decided.”
However, even while saying so, Julis shrugged her shoulders.
“That said, honestly, this will be difficult. There is no doubt that the twins will take counter-measures of some sort. They will certainly be on guard.”
Someone who used a plan, always first began by calculating the opponent’s movement. In this case, the twins should first assume that an opponent with a time limit would attempt to setup a swift attack. There was no way that they would not undertake counter-measures.
“There. Regarding what to do…” Julis somehow lowered the volume of her voice and explained her strategy.
“It’s not a bad idea. Is it? I mean, honestly, I wouldn’t be lying if I said that it was the best I could come up with.”
“No, even I don’t think that I can come up with a better strategy. Let's go with this.”
He lightly simulated it in his head and the result was excellent. If he had to say something, it was that the timing of the finish was difficult, but it was already a usual thing and it was too late to be concerned about it.
“Hmm. I see, then, let’s work out the details based on this premise.” Julis said so with a somewhat relieved face.
『"Now, now, I guess everyone has been waiting long for this! At last… The quarterfinal match is about to begin even in this Sirius Dome! First, from the east gate, the ones making their appearance are the Seidoukan pair Amagiri Ayato/Julis-Alexia van Riessfeld! And then on the other side! From the west gate is the entrance of the World Dragon Seventh Institute pair Li ShenYun/Li ShenHua!"』
『"Oddly, like in the fifth round, it is also a Seidoukan vs. World Dragon match."』
『"That's right! Still, all the matches are already over in other stages, and among the best four, up to three frames have already been decided! And now, which pair is to fill the last frame?"』
While the earsplitting great cheers, which increased in volume, almost to a level that drowned out the voice's of the commentator and reporter, resounded as Ayato and Julis slowly stepped into the arena.
“…It feels like the voltage is at its climax.”
“This Phoenix will soon reach the final stage. After all. They're probably fired up just by watching.” Julis said curtly.
As she put a hand on her waist and looked at Ayato with a sidelong glance.
“More importantly… Sasamiya and Toudou have safely won through. We can’t afford to stumble in here.”
As the commentator said the other quarterfinal matches were all already over; Saya and Kirin had safely advanced to the semifinal. Ayato and Julis had seen their match broadcasting in the waiting room; including the other matches, one might say that it was indeed the expected results.
The members of the best four that had currently been decided were Saya/Kirin of Seidoukan Academy, the True Knights duo of St. Garrardsworth Academy and –– the autonomy type puppets pair, Ardi and Rimsi of Allekant Academy.
“––I know. I’m fired up.”
Ayato strongly grasped Ser-Versta's activation body and answered so.
"That’s right. I can’t afford to stumble in a place like this…!"
“…Is that so? Then it’s fine, but, don’t be fired up more than necessary.”
Julis observed Ayato with a slightly dubious face but she immediately turned her gaze forward.
The twins of World Dragon were coming over in their direction.
“Nice to meet you. Gruene RosePetalblaze Witch and Murakumo. I am Li ShenYun.”
“I am Li ShenHua. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
The two greeted so with a light smile on their faces.
At any rate, looking at them up close like this, they surprisingly truly looked so much alike. Because World Dragon’s uniform was loose, and their body’s lines could not be seen, one could tell them apart only with the chignon on ShenHua’s head.
“…What the heck do you want?”
On the other hand. Julis briefly replied without concealing her wariness.
“No. We thought that we should apologize just in case.”
“Apologize? You say?”
“Yes, the other day, our peers seemed to have displayed a shameless match…”
“And as disciples of the same master… we are just ashamed.”
The twins talked as ShenHua, without any pause, took over from ShenYun’s words.
“Peers… Are you talking about Song and Luo?”
“I don’t think that those two were cowardly though.”
As Ayato turned his gaze ShenYun exaggeratedly shrugged his shoulders.
“No, no, we would be troubled if the ’s personal pupils are considered at that level.”
“So. We will show you a world that those two have not shown you.”
“––The depths of the Star Senjutsu. That is…”
The twins, alternately spanning the sentence between the both of them, happily rumbled their throat.
“Is that so? Then. I will look forward to it.”
Saying that, Julis removed her gaze from the twins, so as if to say that, she had no more to say.
The twins, who also saw it, quickly turned their backs and returned to their earlier position.
“…Humph. That’s blatant provocation. As expected. They are repugnant fellows.”
Julis spat a candid curse (abusive language) towards their back.
“But, by actually meeting them, I understand that they are opponents against whom we can’t let our guards down.”
Though Song and Luo had also talked to them, before the match, the meaning was completely different.
For those two. The earlier conversation was probably a part of their strategy.
“Well… It’s fine. We just do what we have to do.”
“You’re right. Well then…”
As Ayato answered so he raised his prana.
Power overflew from the depths of his body and the chains binding him creaked.
“––Secret sword bound by the prison of stars. Release your might!”
The swelling pressure flicked them (chains) off before long, and a huge amount of prana flew up at the same time.
『"Uh-oh, there is it, there is it! Player Amagiri’s performance! …Ah no, it wasn’t a performance, right Tram-san?"』
『"We don’t exactly know, since the ones concerned haven’t told us about it, but the majority think that it’s probably a necessary process in order to release the power, which is restricted. Judging from the fight in the fifth round, there also seems to be a certain interval in the limit release… I think that player Amagiri’s ability is indisputably first class, but when taking this into consideration, his matches so far were also quite just."』
『"I see, I see… Meanwhile. It’s finally the time for the beginning of the match! To which pair will the goddess of victory smile?"』
As expected of the commentator, her remark was sharp. While inwardly smiling wryly, Ayato activated Ser-Versta.
He adjusted his breathing and focused his attention.
“Phoenix quarterfinal fourth match. Battle start!”
At the same time with the declaration of the game start, Ayato instantly shortened the interval between him and ShenHua, and aimed at her, slashing with Ser-Versta diagonally from the shoulder. It was the perfect timing for a quick attack, but as she expected this, ShenHua dodged it by leaping back.
“Fufufu, you’re indeed fast! But. I can dodge it if I know it is coming!”
It was also the same as with Irene but, as expected, Ayato’s speed did not seem to give him an absolute advantage at this level.
“Bloom proudly –– PrimroseDancing nine-spirering-flower!”
Julis promptly activated her ability, but ShenYun, who was one step faster than it, forced his way through.
“Ji ji ru lü ling, chi!”
As ShenYun’s hands made complex signs with fingers, the surrounding space swayed in slow motion. And at the next moment, from around the stage, a dense smoke gushed out with a tremendous force.
“This is –– a smoke screen!?”
The smoke covered the whole field in an instant, and Julis had no choice but to cancel the Dancing nine-spirering-flowers. She probably judged that at this rate, aiming at the target would be next to impossible undertaking and that if she was to make one false move, they might also hit Ayato.
Ayato, who also considered that he could directly be hit by an attack, temporarily withdrew.
“Julis. Are you all right?”
“Yes. No problem. But. We were outwitted by this… To think that they would come up with such a move.”
As he returned to Julis’ side by relying on the voice and presence, Julis clicked her tongue in vexation.
Though Ayato carefully explored the surroundings, he could not deeply see through the smoke at all. But, he immediately noticed the discomfort. The smoke was too deep and dark. So dark that it was as if it was not smoky.
“Julis. This smoke is probably fake.”
At these words Julis also surveyed her surroundings with a surprised expression.
“I see. So this is also an illusion…”
ShenYun was an expert of illusion who showed nonexistent things as existent. If so… Then it would be no wonder if this was a fake smoke created with the Star Senjutsu.
“I hear that Li ShenYun’s illusion can reproduce all things but I didn’t think it could also reproduce smoke… But, well, it’s fine. In any case, this smoke will clear up in a few minutes, too.”
“On what basis do you say that?”
As he asked because she asserted quite confidently, Julis answered as if it was matter of course.
“Attacking by creating a situation which intentionally blocks outside vision is a Stella Carta violation after all. Even looking at the past data, those twins have probably never used such a strategy, right?”
“I see. If what is happening is not visible from the outside, foul play can’t be checked, either.”
“That’s also true, in a sense, but… The main reason is because this is entertainment. If the audience doesn’t know what’s going on… They can’t enjoy it.”
It was a more cruel reason than what he thought.
However, as if proving Julis’ words, booing arose from the stands after a while. The smoke suddenly vanished as it gradually grew louder.
“Good grief, the audience these days lacks patience.”
“Geez. They don’t need to be so impatient, after all from now on, it’s the real thing.”
ShenYun and ShenHua, who had moved to the edge of the stage before anyone knew, said while broadly grinning.
For the twins it was probably a satisfactory outcome.
After all –– they were able to reduce Ayato’s time for nearly one minute with almost no effort.
“Humph. They are really ill-natured fellows.” Julis annoyingly spat so out.
Although she was more focused on the next technique.
While Ayato also agreed in his mind, he set up Ser-Versta again, and shortened the interval.
“Oh. They are also impatient here. Well, in that case, we shall also proceed with our next move.”
ShenYun’s hands once again made symbolic signs with fingers.
The space around him shapelessly distorted and something vague like a silhouette emerged.
It took the shape of a person before one’s eyes; Four bodies, which looked exactly like ShenYun, and which were standing with a fearless smile, took shape there before long.
“There it is…!”
This was Li ShenYun’s favorite illusion –– the so-called “clones (alter egos)”. Even looking at their past matches, ShenYun had used this technique in almost all of his matches.
Of course this was an illusion, it didn't have a material form, but since they were so well done it was almost impossible to distinguish them from outward appearances; Even the movement of prana was artificially reproduced. Moreover, since all the four bodies took different movements, it was even more impossible to read and understand their pattern.
As ShenYun and ShenHua made their wrists snap… Scraps of paper suddenly appeared out of nowhere between their fingers.
“Then. I too…”
As ShenHua made signs with fingers… Her figure melted as it vanished.
This was ShenHua’s favorite illusion –– the “Hidden Line”. Since like ShenYun’s clones, the presence, the sounds and even the movement of prana were masked by her illusion, rather than simply disappearing, she was almost imperceptible unless one concentrated very hard.
You could say that either was the ideal technique to gain time.
“Well, with this our preparations are set, but”
“At this rate, isn’t it slightly boring to just wait for their attitude like this?”
“Yes. Even the audience would be bored with it.”
“If we don’t enliven it, a little, there might be booing again.”
“That being the case…”
Each of the five “ShenYun” spanned words alternately. It looked they were reproduced even up to the voice.
“––Let’s go flashily with one here.”
As ShenYun and ShenHua made their wrists snap… Scraps of papers suddenly appeared out of nowhere between their fingers.
“Ayato. Be careful –– these are talismans.”
Julis set up her thin sword, Aspera Spina and dropped her waist so as to be cautious.
The talismans were a kind of auxiliary items in which the power of Star Senjutsu was loaded. Though they were disposable, the ability activated was multifarious depending on the type of talismans, and their application was effective in various settings.
“But, the real one is among them, isn’t it?”
However elaborated the illusion was, a clone was a clone after all. It should not have a material form. In other words, it meant that except the real one, the talismans were fake, too.
“That’s right, but, tsk, they are coming!”
There. The five ShenYun came to attack at the same time.
Since they did not have weapons some sort of offensive type ability was probably loaded in those talismans.
As Ayato wielded Ser-Versta so as to intercept one of them was easily bisected.
…But, without any response, the body, which should have been cut, immediately reverted back to its original form just by swaying like smoke.
(An illusion, huh––!)
Even if one knew, they were almost indistinguishable. Although another was struck down by the returning katana, there was still no response; the sword slash just slipped through in vain.
“It’s a shame, it’s also a fake.”
The third ShenYun, who appeared as if passing through, grinned while projecting a talisman towards Ayato.
At that moment, the talismans exploded with a roaring sound.
A devastating blast and heat mercilessly attacked Ayato; Ayato rolled on the ground as he was blown off. Although, thanks to the fact that he had seen it several times in the video recording, he was able to reduce the damage by promptly turning his prana into defensive. Still his bones creaked on the impact.
“He~e. So you suffered only that much damage even though you received a depth charge talisman at that short distance.”
ShenYun, who said that as if he was honestly impressed, immediately took distance again and mixed himself with the clones.
“Ayato! Are you all right?”
Julis, who was facing the two remaining ShenYun tried to rush over in a hurry, but––
“––Fufufu. I’ll be troubled if you forget me.”
Suddenly along with ShenHua’s voice, an explosion similar to that of earlier arose before Julis’ eyes.
Julis was rubbed by the blast and fluttered about in the air.
As Ayato reflexively ran off and caught her… Only ShenHua’s laughter echoed out of nowhere.
As she probably let it echo on purpose. They appeared to be unable to grasp her position from her voice.
“Guh… I- I’m all right.”
Julis stood up while distorting her face and turned her eyes to Ayato.
“More importantly Ayato. It’s almost about time when your limit becomes severe. Right? I will support you. So bring down Li ShenYun first.”
“…Understood.” Ayato clearly stated.
Some time had already passed since the beginning of the match. He could not waste any more time.
And, if he tried to apply a swift attack, it would be more reasonable to aim at ShenYun rather than ShenHua, whose position he did not know. The clones were troublesome, but still only determining the target was better. Even if he defeated them one by one, he might draw out the real one with the first shot if things went well.
“Unexpectedly, we have splendidly fallen into their plan, but in a sense, it’s also just as we planned. Don’t get impatient.” Julis said while concentrating her prana.
The mana of her surroundings condensed in response to it.
“Bloom proudly –– Livingstone DaisyFlaming Crimson Decapitator!”
Dozens of flame chakrams manifested and sprang toward the five ShenYuns as if guiding Ayato.
“Hmm. So you are coming for me after all.”
One of the ShenYuns muttered, but showed no signs of taking a stance, as he calmly stood stock still. Did that mean he was an illusion, Ayato wondered.
(If so, then I should just ignore it…!)
While Ayato shortened the interval, under cover of the flame chakrams, he instantly made such a judgment.
However. Before his eyes, without warning, a huge wall suddenly appeared.
The flame chakrams, which were ahead of him and were going to attack ShenYun, were all blocked by the wall. The chakrams sprinkled sparks, so as to pierce through the thick wall, but they soon vanished as they used up all their energy.
Ayato promptly leaped horizontally, in order to go around the wall, but this time the space in front of him exploded as if it saw through him.
This time his defense by prana did not make it in time and he was directly hit by the blast.
“Oh. You better be careful. The talismans set by ShenHua are invisible after all.”
ShenYun happily said towards such Ayato.
Set, in other words, traps.
The wall of earlier was probably a talisman for defense use, too. However, “when on earth did she set them?” Ayato wondered… After thinking about it, just so far, he immediately realized it was obviously during the time of that smoke screen.
As for the form of her traps, they were close to Julis’ setting type ability, but since a required amount of prana was loaded in the talismans at the time they were made, the caster hardly consumed his/her prana at the time of their use. In other words, as long as the talismans did not run out physically, they could be used as many times as one liked.
If so, then, where and how many talismans were set were both unknown.
“Ayato. Move aside! If we don’t know… Then I just have to burn everything!”
Even if they were not visible, as long as they physically existed there, it was possible to destroy them.
Julis’ ability could especially burn down a wide area at once. ––However.
“––Like I say, don’t forget that I’m here, too.”
Then, ShenHua’s voice, who seemed quite happy, resounded behind Julis.
Julis looked back with a surprised face, but it was too late.
“I call forth thunder!”
A thunder stroke gushed along with a fierce lightning, and a shock as to tear off Julis’ body, ran throughout her. It was ShenHua’s Star Senjutsu.
As to hold back Ayato, who tried to rush over, Julis, who went down on her knees, shouted.
“I-I’m fine. So just devote yourself to bring down ShenYun!”
A little more than two minutes have already passed since the start of the match. Thinking about tomorrow or later there was no longer time to lose.
“Understood! Then… I leave ShenHua to you!”
As soon as Ayato said it, he shortened the interval towards the handiest one, ShenYun.
“Yes. Leave it to me!”
While hearing the voice of Julis behind Ayato suddenly braked right, just before ShenYun’s eyes, and stepped aside all at once.
The space before ShenYun waved and exploded a moment later.
These talismans were probably of the types which automatically activated when someone entered a certain range.
Currently, the present five ShenYun took distance and were scattered about, but there was no way that they would randomly scatter about just like that. There was a reason in all their actions. Thinking so, naturally, they were to some extent able to mark out the position of the traps set.
“Hmm… You aren’t bad.”
He sliced down, in one breath at the ShenYun before him, who muttered as if impressed –– but, there was no response. It was a clone.
However. Ayato immediately pulled himself together and confirmed his next target.
“It’s fine. It will change nothing unless I slice down all five…!”
“Indeed. As expected of Seidoukan rank #1. It looked like ordinary means won’t work on you.”
As he approached the second (ShenYun) ShenYun was also becoming better able to read Ayato’s patterns and evaded. Although, once brought into close range combat, Ayato’s attacks were not something that could be dodged indefinitely.
Even while being exposed to the blast several times on the way, he sliced the second, then the third, but…
“Hmm. Too bad. You are off mark again.”
ShenYun’s clones, which swayed like a heat haze, laughed as they mocked him.
The damage of the explosion and his limit’s imminent approach were gradually tormenting Ayato.
–– Even so, there were two remaining. Apart from the one who took the position farthest from Ayato, there was only the one in front of him. Either of these two was the real ShenYun.
“Then. It’s this…!”
Ayato aimed at the one more behind based on ShenYun’s character.
The blow, which greatly mowed down, had been dodged, but from there he took one step forward, turned his wrist over and swung upward.
“Amagiri Bright Dragon Style First Sword Fighting Skill –– "Twin Water Dragons"!”
But. Here was no reaction.
(So, it wasn’t the real one…!)
Ayato unintentionally bit his lips. When he turned to face the last one remaining he suddenly fell on his knees.
“What is it… Have you already reached your limit? You were almost there but it’s regrettable.”
ShenYun, who saw it, said as he seemed slightly relieved.
Julis, hurriedly ran up to him, but immediately after that, was entirely and suddenly sent flying.
“Hahaha. Nice feeling!”
Suddenly ShenHua’s voice, which seemed to be happy, resounded out of nowhere. It was probably her who threw in a direct blow to Julis.
Magic circles appeared around Ayato, and shackles of light bound him once again.
Ser-Versta, whose blade disappeared, fell from Ayato’s hands with a dry sound. Even while seeing with a joyful expression, Ayato in such state, ShenYun did not yet approach him as he was wary.
Before long, when the light settled, and Ayato, breathing roughly, had fallen down, ShenYun finally came near him.
“Though I don’t know the reason for your seal, it’s something inconvenient. So. How do you feel now?”
A smile which showed confidence of his victory appeared on ShenYun’s face.
Indeed. They knew that he had a limit. Judging from their fight with Irene they also knew that when he passed his limit he could not even move his body. That’s why they were waiting for it.
To the smile, that had leaked out, ShenYun unintentionally looked at Ayato with suspicious eyes.
“What is funny?”
“No. It’s nothing. Just. –– That the match isn't over yet.”
While saying, Ayato activated a blade type Lux in his right hand.
ShenYun braced himself with a surprised expression –– but, it was already late.
As Ayato instantly raised his body, he swung his arm in a straight line
Right. Even if they were aware of Ayato’s limit, they did not concretely know how much time it was. This was because they could only use the match with Irene and the duel with Kirin as reference. To the bitter end, they should only have been able to estimate a rough time.
This time, it was a little more than three minutes since Ayato was going all out. Although there was a considerable backlash, but it was not to the extent that he could not move.
This was Julis’ strategy. First apply a swift attack; If it does succeed, then fine. Even if it failed, feigning to have fallen into the trap of the opponents time-buying and waiting for a chance by pretending as if the limit had passed. After all, judging from the twins’ personality, she was certain that they would not give themselves the finishing blow after settling their absolute superiority. And she was totally right on the mark.
The cutting edge, which Ayato swung, tore off the school badge of ShenYun, who was late to dodge.
There was again no reaction at that blow.
(No way, that can’t be…! This is also a clone!?)
Ayato was staring at ShenYun’s flickering illusion in blank amazement.
“Oh. That was dangerous. It’s indeed ‘the discretion is the better part of valor’.”
More importantly, as the back space was distorted all along, ShenYun appeared from there with a light smile. The moment ShenYun snapped his fingers, all the five clones disappeared.
Ayato finally realized there. In other words –– those five ShenYun were all clones and the real ShenYun had concealed his appearance all along with ShenHua’s technique… It seemed so.
(But, since when…?)
Ayato, in blank amazement, tried to re-think.
As expected. That was possible on only one occasion –– It could only be in the midst of that smoke screen. If so, then it meant that what Ayato and Julis had been fighting since the beginning was an illusion all along.
“Hahaha. So you finally realized. Yes, it seemed, you guys also thought of a good strategy. Unfortunately. That much isn’t enough against us.”
In the expression of ShenYun, who said so, expectation and joy were clearly revealed.
“…No. But when had you have first used the talismans…?”
It was not possible for an illusion to use a real talisman.
So at least, the ShenYun, who had used the first depth charge talisman, should have been the real one.
“Oh. That? That was also a talisman which was set by ShenHua. However. It was a time limit type.”
“Time limit type…”
“Right. The rest was just to choose, at our discretion, the timing and place and set the illusion. It was a little troublesome, but thanks to that, it looked like we made you think that the real one should have been among the five.”
ShenYun exaggeratedly shrugged his shoulders.
“––Dive into your range by mingling among the clones… Did you really think that I would do something that foolish?”
While saying that ShenYun turned his wrist and multiple talismans appeared between the fingers of both his hands.
“Well. It would be difficult for the current you to dodge even an attack of this level. Wouldn’t it?”
As ShenYun waved his arms, the talismans, which were released, ran through the air and surrounded Ayato.
Though a moderate speed, it was a speed in which Ayato in his unsealed state, let alone dodge them, couldn't slay them all.
The talismans, which surrounded Ayato, remained in the air as if having been pinned.
“Not yet…! I can’t afford to lose in a place like this…!”
“He~e. Even if you do make that kind of face… Yes. I’m very excited.”
Joy spread in ShenYun’s words.
As Ayato re-set his sword while chewing his molars, he tried to forcibly break through the encirclement (of the talismans).
“Oh, I like it, that useless struggle. I’m thrilled.”
But, the talismans, which were one step faster, flickered and exploded.
Furthermore, the talismans of earlier, which were blown off, exploded, and Ayato’s body was many times flipped off like a ping-pong ball. As his defense was not in time, Ayato, who was thoroughly infringed upon by the shock and heat, stooped to the ground without resistance (helplessly).
He had bruises and lacerations, and his bones had probably taken considerable damage.
“…Now then, sorry, but it’s time to end this.”
ShenYun said so and once again took out more talismans.
––But. Just before he released them.
“Ayato! Stretch out your hand!”
Julis’ voice struck Ayato’s ears.
When he promptly stretched his right hand as he was told, Julis, who flapped in on wings of flame, flew in at low altitude, caught it and continued through.
The talismans, which were released, exploded one instant later. As she lost the control due to the blast… The two of them rumblingly fell down on the ground as they were thrown out –– but still they somehow escaped the predicament.
“T-Thank you. Julis… You saved me.”
“No, I’m sorry, too. I knew you were in danger, and it took me time to shake off ShenHua.”
As Julis immediately got up while saying so and set up Aspera Spina.
Although Ayato also somehow stood up with his body, which did not move as he wanted, he immediately fell on his knees as he had apparently suffered considerable damage.
“Geez. Don’t push yourself so much. You understand that you are no match for ShenYun in your current state, don’t you?” Julis, somewhat angrily, said.
Her gaze was still turned towards ShenYun.
ShenHua appeared all too soon beside ShenYun, and they seemed to discuss something. There was enough distance, and each side adopted a proper stance again. In fact, it was Ayato’s side which was overwhelmingly disadvantaged.
“It is my responsibility to have been so completely outdone regarding strategy. But it’s not a reason for you to act so recklessly.”
“We’re in a tough situation but we haven’t yet lost. Don’t be in such a hurry.” Julis said as to admonish him.
As she suddenly revealed a small smile.
“But… Frankly speaking, I’m somewhat glad, too.”
“Your being that much in a hurry is the proof of your desire to win. It’s probably because you become aware of your desire to save your big sister.”
At Julis’ words… Ayato nodded after a slight hesitation.
“When you said that you would fight for me… Of course I was happy. That’s true. But, at the same time, it was also painful. After all. I can’t do anything for you.”
Julis said up to there and turned to Ayato.
“However, now, this time, you and I are on equal footing. Each of us has a wish, and we think to do our best for each other. And it’s something natural. Because we are partners.”
“In the first place, if you ask me, you take too much upon yourself alone. Certainly… You do have power for that. The power to protect me and pull through fights. However, that’s why, I will now return to you those words of yours from back then.”
As Julis teasingly laughed and gently spun those words while touching Ayato’s cheek.
“『––In that case, who will protect you?』”
At that moment.
In the bottom of Ayato’s chest… Something shone.
“Are you done talking? In that case”
“Let’s resume the fight.”
ShenHua and ShenYun said so with a fearless smile.
“It looks like they have finished their preparations. They have probably again prepared a lot of invisible talismans. But…”
As Ayato briefly called out to her, Julis, who had shifted her attention to the twins, suspiciously turned her head.
Ayato said so with a sweet smile.
Julis glared at such Ayato’s face for a while with a dumbfounded face, but as she suddenly came to her senses, she turned away with a bright red face.
“W-What is it so suddenly? I haven’t really done anything which required you to thank me!”
“No, I woke up, thanks to you. This time, that is.”
Ayato adjusted his breathing, slowly stood up, and stood at Julis’ side.
“So. I have something to ask to my partner. May I?”
“…Let me hear it.” Julis replied.
Her face was still a bit red.
“Can you buy some time. Just for a little while?”
“Hou~u? Did you come up with a plan?”
“It’s not really that. But… there is something I want to try. If things go well… We may somehow manage to do something about this situation.”
“––Understood. Let’s try it. We don’t have any other card to play anyway. However, I won’t hold up for very long. You know?” Julis said so and took a step forward.
Searing the image of her back into his memory… Ayato slowly closed his eyes. He focused his consciousness within himself and thought back upon Saya’s words yesterday and Julis’ words today.
And then, his big sister’s words, at that time. –– What he should do.
Then again… A small light shone deep down in his heart. Ayato softly reached out to it.
What this was… Ayato intuitively understood.
Julis was surprised at herself.
At the time of this adversity, for some reason, she could not stop her heart’s exhilaration. She felt like she could not lose to any opponent at this time. –– Well, she did not think so far, but there was no doubt that her willpower was at its climax.
Although her body ached here and there, compared to Ayato, who took ShenYun’s attacks throughout his body as the vanguard, for Julis, who had only received harassing-like strikes little by little from the vanishing figure of ShenHua, it was a thoroughly preferable situation.
[But I see. That was probably Ayato’s natural smile.]
Julis recalled Ayato’s smile just earlier, and broadly smiled without knowing it.
She had many times seen Ayato smiling but it was the first time that she saw such a carefree smile. It was probably the true face of Ayato who was always somewhat elusive and buoyant.
[So Sasamiya also witnessed that in their old days…]
She unintentionally said “It’s unfair” in a small voice.
Noticing herself thinking so… Julis shook her head and changed her mood. As she looked again to the front, the twins who still had plenty of room to spare, were staring at Julis with grinning faces.
“Oh my. Why does the Gruene RosePetalblaze Witch fight alone?”
“You surely don’t think that you could take on both of us alone, do you?”
“…It’s indeed that. Is it bad?” Julis said
As the twins shrugged their shoulders in unison.
“Haah… It looks like we are seriously underestimated. ShenHua.”
“Yes… It’s regrettable. ShenYun.”
Contrary to their words there was no sign of smiles which had disappeared from the twins’ faces.
“Oh well. I don’t know what you are plotting. But…”
“Let us enjoy ourselves accordingly.”
ShenHua made signs with her fingers and as if melting, her figure disappeared.
“––Humph. I will be troubled if you underestimate us that much.”
Julis muttered so and concentrated her prana. If it’s like this… She also must not hold back.
While moving so that the twins were away from Ayato as much as possible…she released her power.
“Bloom proudly –– RanunculusFlame Phoenix Flower of Heavy Waves!”
At the same time as Julis swung Aspera Spina downward, several heavy flame waves radially surged around her.
Scorched by the heat waves that could not be dodged the twins raised a small scream.
It was a range attack, which covered about one third of the stage, –– though originally intended for defensive use, something used as a check when surrounded by many people. The offensive ability itself was also quite high.
However, even so––.
“…I see, so you are rather aiming at our talismans.”
ShenYun muttered. Seeing explosions bursting all over the stage.
Right. At least with this, within the ability's range, she should have been able to burn down most of the talismans which had been distributed earlier throughout out the stage. Moreover, the Flame Phoenix Flower of Heavy Waves would keep sending out waves of flame within it's effective range as log as she maintained it. The prana consumption was intense but the twins would not be able to easily approach her either.
In the meantime… Julis concentrated her prana for another technique.
Using another technique while maintaining the Flame Phoenix Flower of Heavy Waves was technically and substantively severe for the prana consumption, but she had no leisure to grumble about such things now.
“Hmm, quite interesting… in that case, we shall slightly change our plan.” ShenYun said.
As he performed a sword mark with a quick move.
"Ji. Ji. Ru. Lu. Ling. Chi!"
At that moment… A huge quantity of water gushed out of the sky.
It suddenly covered the entire stage at an enormus rate. Filling up from the ankle, to the knee and until around the level of the thigh in the blink of an eye. It was as if the stage turned into a sea or something.
[It isn’t cold… Does it mean that this is also an illusion…?]
“I hope that you didn’t think that my illusions were only clones. Originally something so flashy is not of my liking.”
“…So what? Such a thing is just an illusion after all.” Julis spat out.
ShenYun giggling and shrugged his shoulders.
“Indeed… It’s just an illusion. But for some reason… It seems that your ability slightly loses its heat.”
To put it plainly. Strega’s and Dante’s abilities were techniques which embodied image. If they were to fall into confusion… The image’s power would also decrease inevitably. In other words… ShenYun currently set an attack on Julis’ constructed flame image using an illusion of water.
“But, this much…!”
Julis focused her mind and maintained the required prana.
“Hmm. Then what about this?”
As ShenYun snapped his fingers multiple ice arrows appeared overhead.
Under a word of command… The ice arrows poured down towards Julis.
Julis, promptly shutting her eyes, let them go past. This time it was probably an attack aimed at her concentration. But an illusion is an illusion; It had no effect as long as you didn’t look at them.
“I see, from the point of letting the illusion go past, it’s a wise way of bearing it. But… I cannot accept that you close your eyes in the middle of a fight.”
ShenYun said with a slightly joking tone.
“––Then. Shall I aim at your partner next?”
At these words Julis reflexively opened her eyes.
And as if waiting for that moment… A huge ice arrow pierced through Julis’ chest.
By the time she realized and was able to surmise it… It was already too late.
Even if she was telling herself that this was an illusion it could not stop the fact that her concentration was disturbed. The flow of prana was ripped, and she could no longer maintain the Flame Phoenix Flower of Heavy Waves.
“Fufufu, well you did do your best … It’s a shame.”
That voice could be heard directly behind Julis.
As she hurriedly braced herself for the attack of ShenHua who was invisible. Then, as predicted, she felt the hit –– probably with a kick –– aimed directly at Julis’ chest.
“Fufufu. Does it hurt? Yes. I guess it hurts. After all, there, it’s the place where Luo’s attack directly hit you before.”
ShenHua, who quietly reappeared, shook her shoulders as she giggled. Certainly that place was where she had been injured during the match against Song and Luo. But, earlier than the pain, a question floated in Julis’ mind.
“W-Why didn’t you aim at the school badge…?”
She should have been able to end it with the timing now.
“Fufufu. My aim had only just swerved a little.”
Kneeling on one knee, as Julis glared at her even while warping her face in pain, ShenHua bragged so with a slandered face. Intentional atrocities were violation of the Stella Carta but it could hardly be applied for minor infractions such as this. Naturally. the twins probably knew it.
“Hmm. I see…! Oh well. Then you should regret this as much as possible!”
Even while enduring the pain Julis released the technique which she had just barely prepared some time ago.
“Come out –– SemiserrataFalling Crimson Flower of Molten Sky!”
A magic circle shone and a huge flame Camellia opened its bud above Julis.
“Wha!? W-Wait, don’t tell me, a suicide attack––!?”
ShenHua disappeared in a hurry but it didn't matter anymore. Even if the opponent was invisible… Julis just need to burn down all her surroundings.
The blast swirled at the same time the flame Camellia fell, and intense heat and flames ran through.
However, in the central part where the explosion was the most intense, Julis stood up without bearing one burn.
“If possible, I didn’t want to show this, but…”
Julis muttered with a painful expression.
It was for the damage she received earlier but, above all else, it was painful for her to have shown her valuable trump card.
Even so, if she could bring down one of the twins with this, it would not be that bad –– she thought.
“…I see. So you can resist your own ability.”
From the other side of the swirling explosive flame… A voice resounded.
As soon the incredibly explosive flames settled she could see that a huge wall had risen up over there. Moreover. It was not just a simple enclosure but one which combined multiple walls.
“I have heard that it was possible for those with high level ability… Honestly. I was surprised. You’re more than what the rumors say… Gruene RosePetalblaze Witch.”
The walls flickered and disappeared. The two ShenHua and ShenYun were standing there unscathed.
“…The one surprised here is me… .”
Just now, it should have been the perfect timing. Even if they tried to defend by making a wall, they could not possibly defend against that explosive flame with just one or two. Those twins cooperated in that instant and accomplish that exploit (of exploits) by making an enclosure.
[Character-wise, they are not people to praise, but their combination is the real deal…!] Julis thought.
In fact, for ShenYun who still had a composed expression, it seemed to be a fact that it was very dangerous. As he observed ShenHua’s face which had somehow turned pale, he said.
“You were too careless just now. ShenHua.”