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Ayato brushed the towel aside, and snapped upright like a coiled spring. Checking the time, it looked to be around four in the morning. From the window, the dusky light of the sun just before dawn came through. "...That memory again..." Before the morning alarm sounded, he turned the clock off, and stretched his stiff body. He'd had quite the busy day previous, but though thoroughly exhausted, he'd woken at the usual time. "Actually, today was quite fortunate." If that dream had continued... Ayato shook his head and proceeded to change his clothes. What he put on, however, was not his uniform, but rather a T-shirt and pair of shorts, better suited for training. The habit of early morning training was also one that his sister had impressed upon him; he wasn't likely to be so proactive otherwise. His sister, at times stern, at times warm and kind, had raised him in place of their departed mother. "...Oh, that's what it is." A lightbulb suddenly went off in Ayato's brain. The look in Julis' eyes was identical to his sister. Her eyes had spoken of her desire to "protect Ayato". Those were the eyes of one who possessed an unswerving resolve and firm conviction. Eyes that Ayato had, as of yet, never had. "-Alright." Ayato took hold of the Lux he'd left near his pillow, hanging it on his back. Though he was admittedly more comfortable with the shinai his family had used, given where he was now, foregoing a Lux wasn't an option. Figuring his classmate was still asleep, he'd planned on taking off without a word, when, to his surprise, a cheerful voice rang out. "Just what you'd expect from a special invitee student; this early and already off to train." Face still showing all the signs of sleep, Eishirou had only one eye open as he spoke, though he showed a toothy smile. "Sorry if I woke you." "No worries. I'm a bit of a light sleeper. That said, I'm just dreaming right now anyway." Eishirou hugged his pillow as he whispered. "'cuz, you know, I could have sworn I'd heard someone talking in their sleep just now." "!" Ayato blushed. "U, um, Yabuki? You definitely were just imagining things. But just as, you know, a reference...would you mind repeating what you think you heard?" "Mm! I love Onee-chan too!" "M-hm-mm-mrm" Ayato rushed over to Eishirou's bedside in a flash, and jammed his hand over his mouth. "That was a dream! You were just dreaming, do you hear me!?" "You know, I think you might just be right. Hmm, what should I do...? Oh, by the way, Amagiri, what're your plans for breakfast - Japanese or Western?" At Eishirou's words, Ayato's shoulders sagged in defeat. "I get it already. Eat whatever you want, my treat." "Sounds good, yuan-yaki it is!" It looks like anytime something like this happens, the way to his heart is through his stomach, Ayato thought. It seemed the moment of crisis had passed; for the moment, anyway. "Right then, I'm heading back to sleep. Have fun working hard at your training." "Ha..." In his estimation, the number of times he'd sighed since entering the school had increased exponentially.
"A~ah. So tired...Morning, everyone." Stretching lazily, Eishirou pulled open the door to their classroom. He proceeded to summarily pass out on his desk; it seemed he really hadn't had enough sleep. Ayato could only stare in amazement at Eishirou, his face flat against his desk. The classroom was filled with the air of lively chatter, a scene you'd find in any school. Attendance was surprisingly good; it seemed the students at this school were of a rather sober nature. "Morning, Julis." "...Morning." Ayato greeted his neighbor, who, cheek resting on her hand, greeted him in turn. In an instant, the previously noisy classroom was filled with silence. "Hey, did you just hear that...?" "...Th, the Princess greeted someone...?" "Are we hearing things...?" "Just what kind of black magic did that guy use...?" "Rather, that can't be the real Princess, can it?" Seeing the uproar which had taken ahold of their class, Julis slammed her hands on her desk and rose. "Y-you all sure are rude! I was just returning his greeting!" In spite of Julis' sullen expression, the clamor didn't lessen one bit. This was way beyond expectation. Their classmates' reaction made plain just what kind of classmate Julis typically was. (Maybe this is a rare opportunity to try and get along with everyone?) Thinking on Julis' behalf, Ayato reminded himself that this was only his second day. It was all well and good to worry over Julis, but honestly, he needed to worry about himself first. At that moment, Ayato realized that the seat on his left, which had been empty the day before, was now filled. There a young girl with beautiful blue hair lay on her desk, fast asleep. It seemed unlikely that she was like himself, who'd transferred over just recently. She'd probably just taken the day off. Though he thought that he'd best greet her as well, she gave no hint of waking anytime soon. As he considered his options, the girl suddenly lifted her head. Nice, here came opportunity, knocking at the door. "Good morning to you, neighbor. I transferred here just yesterday; I'm Amagiri-" Ayato's introduction came to a screeching halt. "...?" Catching a glimpse of the girl's face, he froze. "S-Saya...?" "..." The girl looked on expressionlessly, before at last tilting her head slightly. "...Ayato?" There was no doubt about it. She was Sasamiya Saya. Ayato stood up in a fluster. From behind, two eyes fairly gleamed with the delight of a small child given a new toy. Eishirou. The girl looked on expressionlessly, before at last tilting her head slightly. "What's this, what's this? You two know each other?" "Ah, yeah. We used to be friends, or rather, we're childhood friends." "Childhood friends...?" Eishirou asked, eyeing them suspiciously. "Then why didn't you know she was a student here?" "Well, even if I say we're childhood friends, ever since Saya moved abroad six years ago, we haven't kept in touch." "Ho~, so that's why there's been no response from that side." To be sure, even after recognizing Ayato, Saya's expression has barely changed. "Hmm, how do I put this, the feeling's pretty much the same, so I was rather surprised really." "Really?" "...Yeah, really." "...I sure didn't see anything that looked like surprise." Saya's "reaction" hadn't even extended to the raising of her eyebrows, prompting Eishirou's question. "But still, it sure has been a long time. Everything good?" Saya suddenly asked. "You know, you sure haven't changed one bit, Saya." Saya vigorously shook her head from left to right. "...No way. I've grown a bit taller." "I-I see..." Still surprised at their sudden reunion, Ayato sized up his childhood friend. Her eyes were rather large, to the point that the rest of her face didn't leave much of an impression. Her height didn't appear to differ in the least from when they'd parted, and would have been more appropriate for a student in elementary, rather than high school. Her expression didn't seem to change much either. She looked, for lack of a better word, like a rather cute doll. "You really do look the same..." "Wrong. It's that you've grown too much." Saya puffed up her cheeks sulkily. "...Don't worry about it, though. I've already decided that I'm going to grow as tall as you by next year, so if you just grow a little, we'll make quite the pair," Saya mumbled to herself. Unfortunately, whatever her thoughts on the matter, closing a gap of 30 centimeters in a year seemed unlikely, if not impossible. "It sure is a small world, or maybe we should call this a fated reunion?" "Fated reunion...Mm. You've said something good, Yabuki." Saya gave him a thumbs-up. This way of praising others was, similarly, unchanged from before. "Speaking of which, how's your dad doing?" Saya's father was a meteoric engineering researcher, specializing in the development of Lux weapons. The reason the Sasamiya family had left the country six years prior was because of his career. "...In good health, although I wish he'd be a bit more dignified about things." "Haha, it sounds like he's the same as always then." Ayato's impression of Saya's father could be summed up in two words: mad scientist. He remembered even now the uproarious laughter which had filled the Sasamiya household during his past visits. From what he'd heard, her father was well-regarded in his field, although due to his difficult personality, he'd had to change jobs with fair frequency. "I came here because Dad wanted me to." "He did?" Saya reached out and unholstered her Lux from her uniform. Activating it, a large gun appeared. From the smoothness of her actions, Ayato could tell how much time she'd spent with it. "In order to spread the word of Dad's creations." "Spreading the word, I see..." Although hardly to the point of being a danger to one's life, Asterisk could hardly be called a safe place. To send his daughter here solely for the sake of spreading the word of his inventions; Ayato found he couldn't approve of his actions. "It doesn't seem like that decision was just made on a whim. This place is quite well-known, and the potential results you'd see from making things known here are without limit. That is, after all, at least part of the reason the Integrated Enterprise Foundation created this city in the first place," Eishirou cut in to say. "Are you fine with that, Saya?" "I have my own reasons for accepting, don't worry," Saya responded, to alleviate Ayato's concerns. "Hmm, and what reason would that be?" Eishirou had shifted into reporter mode, with a notepad in one hand and a serious expression on his face. "That's a secret," Saya said, glancing at Ayato. "Although half of that reason is already..." "Hoho~" Eishirou seemed to have been clued in on something by those words. "That reminds me, when you first joined the school Sasamiya, you made a request to leave Asterisk. How'd that go?" Though Asterisk was physically located on Japanese soil, it was legally sovereign land. As such, one who wished to leave the city first had to make a proper request through their school. "...I haven't gotten permission yet. What about it?" "Nothing~ It's just that, if I'm not wrong, that request to leave no longer needs to be granted-" Eishirou's devilish grin was stopped short, as he suddenly closed his mouth in a hurry. The reason? It was likely a reaction to the barrel of Saya's gun, now leveled at his throat. "...Let's not say anything unnecessary, alright?" "Alright~ I understand. I'm sorry. My bad." With the gun aimed straight at him, Eishirou could only raise his arms in surrender. "I really have no idea what's going on, but I should point out that, despite her appearance, Saya has something of a temper. It'd be best not to anger her." "You should have said that sooner." "Hurry back to your seats, homeroom's starting." Kyouko greeted the class as she walked in with a sleepy look on her face. She dragged her bat with the suspicious history across the floor, evoking an ear-piercing screech which filled the students with an unnamed fear. "You over there, the classroom's no place to be waving around your weapon- Wait, aren't you Sasamiya?" "...Good morning." "Why didn't you come to class yesterday? You better have a good reason." Kyouko stomped over to stand rudely in Saya's face, folding her arms as she awaited a response. "...I overslept." "Hahaha! So you overslept, is that all?" ~thump!~ "...it hurts..." "You idiot! How many times is this now? You're going to make up those classes on your next break." Having been struck on the head, Saya's expression was, for the most part unchanged. From the corners of her eyes, however, tears began to form. "Ha...It seems you're still bad with mornings." "...My blanket's too cozy; I can't help it." "..." As Ayato and Saya chatted, Julis, in the seat next over, idly observed their antics.
After class, that same day. "...Hmm, something like this, I guess?" Julis mumbled to herself as she double-checked her appearance in the restroom mirror. The reflection staring back at her was beautiful, with hair that she wasn't all that fond of, and an immaculate uniform. Maybe she was being oversensitive, but the state of her dress was a matter of proper etiquette. If her attire wasn't all in order, then she couldn't calm down. If that person hadn't made such comments before, then she wouldn't be paying such careful attention to this. Yeah, that was the case. Telling herself this, Julis exited the bathroom and returned to the classroom. Though there weren't any other students left, Ayato remained in his normal seat, conversing and laughing with Saya. Since this was their joyful reunion after having been parted for some number of years, this kind of joyful conversation was to be expected. Despite understanding this in her mind, for some reason, Julis' heart just wouldn't calm down. "So, um, are you ready to go?" "Oh, Julis. I sure am. Please lead the way." "I-It can't be helped. A promise is a promise." Julis deliberately turned away, although she continued to watch Ayato out of the corner of her eye. Outwardly, she wore an unhurried expression which radiated calm. But inside, as she remembered the earnest look in his eyes as he'd saved her, her heart was a raging storm. Her heart seemed to tie itself into knots as she struggled to understand what she felt. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. "...Promise?" Overhearing their words, Saya asked in surprise. "I'd asked Julis to show me around campus." "Riessfeld? Why?" "Well, it's complicated. Either way, it has nothing to do with you, Sasamiya." "...grr-" Saya frowned unhappily. "Let's go." "Alright. See you tomorrow Saya." "...Wait just a moment. If that's all he needs, then I'll be the one to show him around." "What!?" "Huh?" This abrupt declaration left both Ayato and Julis speechless. "I'm sorry, but we'll have to decline that offer. I refuse to back out on a promise." "...Given how little you seem to want to show Ayato around, it seems best that I do so instead." "W-who said anything about not wanting to show him around?! For starters, Sasamiya, you've only been a student here for a year. In comparison, I've been here since junior high. Which one of us is more appropriate should be obvious." Sparks seemed to fly between the two of them. "Um, listen here you two..." Although Ayato tried to calm things down, neither party paid him the slightest bit of attention. "Oh, well if that's how we're judging things, then I'm clearly the most suited for the job." "Wha...!?" Having appeared at some unknown point in time, Claudia spoke, as she stuck her head out from behind Ayato. She held Ayato in her arms, her breasts pressed directly against his back. At the sight of this scene, Julis and Saya's expressions grew more horrifying yet. "Julis only transferred here in her third year of junior high. I started here." "...Who're you?" "What're you doing here?" "Actually, strike that. Get out of here, Claudia!" "Oh my. How terribly cold. It's such a rare opportunity, why don't I join in?" "...No thanks." "I decline." "Alas, how unfortunate. Well then, there's the matter of the task for which I came. Everyone else, please stand back." Claudia looked quite disappointed as she left her position on Ayato's back, instead handing him a file. "Your appointment for Ogre Lux selection and compatibility testing has been determined. It will take place tomorrow. Please read over this document, and if you agree, sign here." "Oh, that." Although the appointment's date of the following day was rather sudden, it was a good opportunity to verify for himself whether or not the Ogre Lux in question had really been used by his sister. An opportunity he couldn't afford to pass up. "I understand. That said, there's quite a lot here." The document was over ten pages in length, with each page densely packed with words. "What you're dealing with is Integrated Enterprise Foundation property, after all. Even if it's all just a formality, the preceding requirements process is looooong." "The student council president herself is hand-delivering paperwork; it almost makes one think how leisurely the student council must be." "Yep. This way we can ensure that all of our students are growing up to be good boys and girls." Claudia cleverly dealt with Julis' sarcasm. "...Claudia and Julis are good friends?" "Just so." "100% wrong." At the simultaneous, yet completely constrasting answers, Ayato tilted his head in confusion. "My, how terribly distant." "We met a few times at the Wiener Opernball. That's it. End of story." The Wiener Opernball is Europe's largest opera ball. For the young ladies of the upper crust, it presents a singular opportunity for social contact. "Now that your task is complete, please leave." "...Shoo, shoo." "I wish everyone a delightful day. Since I will monopolize Ayato for all of tomorrow, allow me to first apologize to everyone." Claudia curtsied, and left. Julis and Saya stared daggers at her back until it disappeared into the distance. "I can't stand that fox! Just because her breasts are a little bit big, she thinks she can do whatever she wants...It's just useless fat anyway!" "...I agree." Saya nodded her agreement of Julis' words. The former atmosphere of mutual hostility seemed like an illusion, giving way instead to mutual agreement. "It's a pretty rare occasion, why don't the two of you show me around together?" Hoping to preserve the good atmosphere, Ayato proposed a compromise. "The two of us...?" "..." Julis and Saya stared at one another for a moment, before giving a grudging, wry smile. "...I understand." "Fine. Continuing to argue would just be a waste of time." "Hah..." Ayato wiped the cold sweat from his forehead, his expression revealing his deep-seated relief.
And thus their party of three made their way around campus- "This is the club building. While it's true that our school doesn't really have club activities, given the slightest hint of an interesting occurrence, you can be sure the Newspaper Club will be there, regardless of where it may be." "...Nn, nn." "This is the student union office. All matters concerning student welfare, appeals, etc. must pass through here." "...I see." "As for food services, I won't show you those right now. The school has seven cafeterias on the grounds, including a buffet. There's plenty of space underground, so it's being used in a variety of ways." "...That's the first I've heard of it."
"Sasamiya, are you sure you don't need me to show you around as well?" Julis asked, as they stopped for a break in the central area. "...What can I say? I'm bad with directions." "And yet you volunteered to show others around?" "Hehe." "That wasn't a compliment." "It's fine, isn't it? I've really learned a lot, thanks," Ayato said, languidly smiling as usual. "I-if that's the case, then that's good." "By the way, would you like something to drink? My treat." "Red tea, if you would." "...Apple juice, but not the kind that's made from concentrate." "Got it." Ayato walked around the large fountain, headed toward the high school building. The vending machines in the junior high building were actually quite a bit closer to their current location, something Julis had just shared with him. Julis considered that for a brief moment before laughing. "...Riessfeld, let me ask you once more," Saya suddenly asked. "What's up?" "Why are you showing Ayato around?" "You sure don't give up, do you? Forget it, I'll answer. I owe him a debt. That's why." "A debt?" Saya's question stopped Julis dead in her tracks, but she nonetheless answered openly. "...Because in the middle of our duel, he helped me." "A duel? Between Ayato and you?" "That's right. You hadn't heard?" Battles involving the Top Twelve were always a topic of discussion, and yesterday's duel was no exception. It seemed this classmate of hers wasn't interested in the rankings. "That's the most I'll say. Anything beyond that is private." "...And the result?" "Someone interfered during the middle of our fight. We never settled the matter." "...That's weird." "What is?" "You fought with Ayato. There's no way you'd come out of it unharmed." Julis found this utterly shocking statement unsurprisingly hard to swallow. She considered for a moment that it might be a joke, but any chances of that were dispelled by the serious look in Saya's eyes. "That's a rather rude estimation of my ability, don't you think?" "...You are strong. I know that very well," Saya answered. Saya's tone implied that such a thing was simple fact, which filled Julis with a strange, unsettling emotion. "It's just that, at most, you're only around my level. That's nowhere near enough to be Ayato's opponent." "––Ho. Someone's talking pretty big." The atmosphere grew tense. As far as Julis knew, Saya's name was not to be found in the Named Charts. Moreover, Saya was clearly aware of her classmate's formidable reputation. Although it wasn't like she intentionally kept her distance from others, but Saya hadn't participated in the ranking matches at all. It went without saying that the ranking matches weren't the be-all, end-all of things; Julis herself had said as much to Ayato just earlier. There were those who hated to stand out, and purposely kept a low profile until the Festa itself. That said, there was no way Julis was just going to let that comment stand. "Why don't we test that confidence of yours?" "..." Saya rose, and silently created some distance between herself and Julis. Taking Saya's actions as acceptance, Julis stood, and pulled out her school badge. "I, Julis Alexia van Riessfeld challenge Sasamiya Saya to a duel." Her words finished, Julis reflexively jumped aside. At nearly the same moment, the bench gave out a groan as it was pierced by several arrows in succession. "!" The attack had come from the direction of the fountain square, and thus couldn't have come from Saya. "The fountain!?" Having entered the water at some unknown point, a black-garbed assassin appeared, their lower body still submerged beneath the water, a bow-type Lux in hand. "Ugh, another ambush, is it?" In all likelihood, the perpetrator was the same as from the previous incident. Laughing mockingly, Julis gathered her Prana, and called forth her flames. "Bloom proudly–– LongiflorumWhite Firebloom of the Keen Lance!" Appearing out of thin air, the flame lance was released immediately upon contact with the ground. This perfectly-timed counterattack failed to either pierce or set aflame its intended target, and was instead blocked by a newly-appearing black shadow. "There's one more than last time... and more than that, it's someone capable of actually holding off my flames." The shadow who'd suddenly interfered in their battle was similarly clothed in black, and was using a large axe, requiring a two-handed grip, as a shield. Although their manner of dress was utterly lacking in taste, it clearly denoted their role as partners. The still half-submerged attacker was slightly overweight, while his comrade was of rather large stature, nearly two meters in height. She had no recollection of either that physique or that equipment, but this was hardly the time to be worried about something like that. Though neither of her opponents gave off much of a presence, they weren't likely opponents she could take lightly. Any questions she had could wait until she'd defeated them, and could beat the answers out of them. Julis once again began to gather Prana, at which time–– "...~boom!~" Accompanied by a deep rumble which shook the ground, the large assailant was thrown into the air. He flew several dozen meters before finally impacting the ground with a vicious thump. Initial shock aside, it seemed the impact had left him unable to move. "...What?" As the storm passed, Julis looked in the direction the attack had come from. There Saya stood holding a gun larger than her own body. From the way things looked, Julis had a hard time deciding if Saya was holding that gigantic firearm up, or if it was holding her down. "...What's that?" "Thirty-eighth form, Lux-style grenade launcher - Helnekrom." "When you say grenade launcher...you mean that thing shoots grenades?" Saya nodded lightly, before absent-mindedly taking aim at the fountain. "...Burst." The firearm began to glow. Prana massed in an instant, focused at the tip of the gun barrel. The light of its mana dite began to grow. In other words- "-Meteor Arts!" The chunkier assassin jumped out of the water and made a break for it, but it was already too late. Thirty-eighth form, Lux-style grenade launcher - Helnekrom. "...~BOOM~" Attended by an almost comical sound, the light burst forth, splitting the ground as it landed. Their ears were assaulted by the booming roar of the explosion, which blew the fountain into dust. Water poured out of the only part left standing, spilling over in all directions. The scope of the explosion was on an entirely different level from Julis' own "Six-Petal Burst Firebloom". Its destructive capabilities were far closer to that of military armament. "You're rather more extreme than you look." "...Like you have room to talk." Julis was struck dumb at her reply. "I'm not going to thank you. I could have taken care of myself." Though she faced a two-on-one confrontation, Julis had no doubt of her inevitable victory. "Don't thank me. I only did that because they got in the way." Saya continued in that monotone of hers, raising her head to catch Julis' eye. "...Do you want to continue?" Julis was confused for a moment until she realized Saya was referring to their duel. By now, however, that impulse had fled. "No, that's not necessary. Your strength is real. I apologize for my disrespect earlier." "...That's good." Saya released her weapon. This was just Julis' opinion, but the girl in front of her was undoubtedly a little odd. "Alright, let's grab these two and hand them over to the disciplinary committee." Almost as if they'd read her mind, the two assailants chose that moment to disappear into the forest. There was no hint of the tall and large male from earlier. "Well, they definitely seem healthy enough." "...I'm amazed." It seemed the two had managed to evade the powerful attack from just now. Normally speaking, one wouldn't be able to move an inch after something like that... "Whatever. If we were to just blindly follow after them, it's likely we'd fall for a trap. On another note, Sasamiya, you just blasted school property into smithereens. Make sure you follow all procedures for cleanup, alright?" "...Why me?" "Because you were the one who blew up the fountain, of course." "...Too much of a hassle. I leave things in your capable hands." "What do you mean you're leaving it to me? Who do you think you're kidding here?" "He~y!" In the middle of their game of irresponsibility-hot potato, Ayato returned from the high school building. "I just heard this huge boom...wai-, wha!? What the heck happened here!?" Ayato shouted in surprise at the desolate scene before him. "Some stuff happened, right, Sasamiya?" "...?" Too much had happened to make it worth explaining in detail. "I'm still a little confused, but...Uwah-!" Ayato, who had been guardedly glancing around until now, suddenly flushed up to his ears, casting his glance aside in a hurry. His actions perplexed Julis for a moment's length before she suddenly understood. The destroyed fountain was spraying water all over this area, which naturally included Saya and herself. Their clothes were thoroughly soaked. Since they were wearing the thinner, lighter fabric that went with the summer uniform, the cloth adhered tightly to their forms. Their curves showed clearly through. Double-checking, the stripes on her underwear were clearly visible. "Wha, wai-! D, don't look! If you look, I'll kill you!" "I, I didn't see anything!" "...Our clothes are all see-through. How scandalous." "S-Sayamiya! Cover yourself! Wait, your underwear...?" Julis looked over at Saya, whose clothes similarly stuck to her body. What she saw, however, left her stunned. Even if their clothes were both soaked through, there was one stark difference. "...It's rather unfortunate, but it's not necessary for me yet." At Saya's unconcerned tone, Julis gripped her head in frustration. "Hurry up and find something to cover her with! NOW!" "R, right!" Given the destruction of the fountain and the insatiable appetite for gossip of their school's students, they were certain to appear at any moment. Watching Ayato race off into the distance, Julis sighed. References Jump up↑ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Opera_Ball