Apr 15, 2018

Rakudai Kishi V9 Chapter 14

Chapter 14 - Heightened Fighting Spirit

After the end of the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival’s second semifinal round, Ikki fainted in the waiting room. By the time his cardiac arrest was discovered, the shock and anxiety had spread beyond his inner circle, to the tournament staff and spectators. Many of them seemed to expect the worst outcome. In reality, the tournament staff had to at least consider that possibility, so they revised the schedule for the next day.
Fortunately though, due to the power of Japan’s greatest doctor, there was no need to worry. Ikki was saved from death.

However, Ikki had still not awoken by the time the final round was scheduled to begin. But was that really a big deal? As long as Ikki was alive, what was waiting a day?
Everyone’s hearts were united in this.

Kurogane Ikki and Stella Vermillion.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this 62nd Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival had been the highest level ever.

The two knights who had fought their way to the summit, the finals.

The tournament should not end without seeing the conclusion for oneself.

An attack after the end of the match. Not to mention taking a stray hit after protecting the umpire. With such an unfair end, there was no good excuse to end the festival there.

Therefore, they waited for Ikki to come to the stage of battle.

To this end, everyone offered a hand. The staff ran about apologizing and moving forward an exhibition that had been planned for the last day, the media coordinated special coverage, and the spectators accepted these changes without complaint. All for one young man’s sake, countless people gave their all.

And then… He came.

The sun had already gone down completely. His clothes were disheveled and he still had a bed head.

Even so, he was there in the ring, ready to face his fight, showing his strong will.

The hopes of the fighters, the desires of the staff, and the feelings of the audience were all the same.

There were no longer any obstacles.

Thus, with many people’s support and good will and the great spirit of the fighters, the final match was ready.

Dawn broke at last, coming from the eastern sky with a first light that seemed to burn white-

And the morning of the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival’s final day, which so many had been longing for.

◆◇◆◇◆

“Wow, What a huge crowd. Everyone is so fired up even though it’s still morning, huh.”

It was 9 am. Tomaru Renren, from the Hagun Academy Student Council, had taken the bullet train to the station nearest Wangan Dome, where the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival was taking place. The moment she got off, she found herself both amazed and astonished by the massive congestion, and murmured this complaint.

Everything, from the platform to the ticket gate to the road to the dome, was filled with an uncountable number of people.

Naturally, they all had one goal. The Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival finals.

“But with this many people, can they even get inside?”

“There’s no way they can all fit inside. They’ve even installed monitors outside.”

The one who answered Renren’s question was the one who had come with her to Osaka, another member of the student council.

It was a large man with a physique like a rugged boulder, Saijou Ikazuchi.

Just like he had pointed out, most of the people were there to watch the fight from outside the venue.

Even though normally a lot of people gathered, the semifinals simply couldn’t compare to the finals.

Considering that it was a confrontation between the A-Rank Knight Crimson Princess, boasting magic power that could be said to be the greatest of mankind, against the Blazer with the worst evaluation of F-Rank, Worst One, who had advanced by continuously defeating one strong opponent after another starting with Seven Stars Sword King, it's even more so.

Moreover, with such an unprecedented turnout, many merchants had gathered to do business as well.

Some sat with their backs to the hedge, guitar in hand, singing songs.

Other performers juggled or did magic tricks.

And then there were the local stalls.

Even though it was but morning, the area around Wangan dome was already festive.

There was another person currently with Renren, the Student Council Vice President, Utakata Misogi, whose face was blue and trying to hold something back from his mouth.

“Somehow this large crowd is making me feel rather sick…”

“Are you okay? Vice Pres-?”

“I’m not okay. I’m hot. Frazzled. Tired. I can’t take it.”

“Then it would have been better to leave you at school.”

“That’s no joking matter. Wouldn’t I look like an idiot if only I had stayed behind to work while everyone was playing? Let’s just hurry and get to the hotel. If we stay in this kind of place, I think my brains will melt out through my ears.”

Utakata whined while pulling at the hems of Saijou’s shirt.

Well, even if one’s brain didn’t melt, staying much longer would probably lead to heat stroke.

It would be no laughing matter to have spent the two and a half hours to come from Tokyo only to watch the game from a hospital bed.

“Even if you say that, with a crowd like this, finding Kanata-senpai will be such a pain-”

“Nah, that’s not true.”

As he said that, Saijou pointed at a spot in the crowd.

“Everyone, over here~”

Amongst the crowd, dressed in mainly short sleeved shirts and shorts, with at most a thin cardigan, was the figure of Kanata Toutokubara, completely clad in a white dress that did not reveal even her fingertips, which could already be said to be a partially suspicious getup.

“That was a needless worry, huh.”

“Kanata-senpai, aren’t you hot?”

“I’ll be fine if I just endure it~”

“Endure… Why endure through that…”

Perhaps there was some spiritual reason? It perplexed Renren.

Utakata tilted his head questioningly at his junior, then asked Kanata a question.

“Eh? Kanata, whatever happened to Touka?”

Though they had without a doubt been traveling with her, the figure of Hagun Academy Student Council President, Touka Toudou, was nowhere to be found.

“Since it’s Touka-chan, she probably slipped out for some urgent business that just came up this morning.”

“Urgent business?”

“Fufu. Yes. Urgent business.”

Though Kanata would not explain the matter further, her bemused expression told them that it was not a serious matter.

Since it seemed that forceful questioning wouldn’t be necessary, Utakata closed the matter with a “hmm.”

“Well, she did say that she would come back before the fight, and that we should all watch the finals together.”

“I see.”

“But, finals, huh… Once, we were wondering what would happen, but it would be good to have a meeting about it. Being surprise attacked after a match, moreover losing by default due to an injury taken while protecting someone else, Kurogane-kun is too pitiable.”

“That issue is something for the management committee to consider for us. Such a special measure is an unprecedented exception. ...According to the information Toutokubara collected, to make this extension happen, Prime Minister Tsukikage pulled a lot of strings.”

“The Prime Minister who put us through all that?”

“...Again, that’s a separate matter.”

“Nonetheless, there’s no way they would have delayed the schedule just for one student. It just so happens that the rampage Stella went on that shortened the festival by a day may have been a blessing in disguise... It looks super unfortunate, but kouhai-kun is pretty lucky.”

Renren nodded in agreement at this as well.

Then she looked up at Saijou behind her and asked a question in her friendliest classmate voice.

“Hey hey, who do you think will win? Saijou-”

At this, Saijou put his hand on his chin and contemplated for a moment.

“...Both are from our school and are developing their abilities quickly. However, just looking at how they fought during the semifinals, Vermillion has the edge in ability. I can’t imagine how to handle that dragon’s power with just sword techniques. My assessment is that Vermillion will triumph.”

With that answer Renren came to an understanding.

Stella’s true power was what she pulled out in the semifinals, Noble Art Dragon Spirit.

It was natural for Saijou to come to such a conclusion.

However- Renren’s thoughts differed.

“It’s true that Stella-chan’s true power, the embodiment of a dragon, was amazing. I do think it’s already beyond what one person has the power to handle; it’s just that abnormal a power… But, it’s by repeatedly overturning such unreasonable odds that Kurogane-kun came to be standing in the finals ring tonight.”

“...You think Kurogane will win?”

Renren nodded.

“I understand because I’ve fought him directly. Though Stella-chan’s power surpasses human understanding, Kurogane-kun’s skill can also be said to be superhuman, something in the realm of the abnormal. Do you remember? What Kurogane-kun did when he defeated me at the Hagun selection battles?”


“If I’m not mistaken, he sidestepped your supersonic charge 「Black Bird」, then caught you by the nape of your neck and smashed you into the ring.”

“That’s right. Normally, doing that would get your arm torn off. Despite that, Kurogane-kun countered that power completely and instead diverted it into the ground. That skill is definitely a match for Stella-chan’s violent power.”

“...It’s not that I can’t understand your point of view, but your understanding of Vermillion is a little naive. She effortlessly stopped my Crescendo Axe’s heaviest strike. Because of Dragon Spirit, that brute strength probably rose even more. That offensive power is beyond the domain of things that can be stopped with techniques. I was crushed by it, after all.”

“Kurogane-kun has the speed to completely dodge that. I saw it myself, Kurogane’s speed throwing Stella’s figure off her feet!”

“That’s an illusion. Fights are won by by those who are strong.”

“What a thoughtless thing to say! Speed is the key to modern wars!”

“In the end, it seems you just want the opponent you lost to to win.”

“You’re the one who wants that!”

“Hnnnng!”

“Mmmmm-!”

“Ah okay okay, let’s stop it there you two.”

Within the heat that only gave rise to a haze, those two held an argument so heated, it gave off sparks.

Unable to just watch, Utakata got between them and tore them apart.

“Have your sweltering conversation in a place with air conditioning. If we stand around here any longer, we’ll end up with heat stroke.”

“That’s right. Then, everyone, let’s go to the hotel. There’s even food prepared, so let’s continue there.”

It seemed Kanata agreed with Utakata.

She immediately took the lead to guide them to the Toutokubara group’s hotel and began walking.

“Eh? Food? Awesome~ There’s food, Food~”

“...Apologies. I, of all people, got unusually fired up.”

“Nah, the lightning god image was quite scorching, so it didn’t seem out of place.”[1]

“!?!?”

With a shocked expression, Saijou hardened like a statue and got left behind.

◆◇◆◇◆

“Fuhaha~ Look, the people are like trash!”

“What the hell are you doing?”

A long line of people stretched from the station to Wangan Dome.

Watching from the hotel terrace, Nene Saikyou let out a strange, feigned voice, at which Kurono Shinguuji shot her an incredulous gaze.

“Now look here, when you look at a crowd of people from somewhere high, don’t you just want to say that? Instinctively.”

“I do not.”

“Seriously? Kuu-chan, are you sure you’re Japanese?

“Is this really something you’d involve nationality in?”

While grumbling in a sighing voice, Kurono pulled out cigarettes from her suit.

She put one to her lips and lit it before tossing words at Saikyou.

“It seems you didn’t agree to do commentary for the last day, even though it should be a profitable job.”

“Well, yeah. It’s the finals of my favorite pupil. Wouldn’t I want to watch from the front row?”

“It was only for a week, I want to say, but… She did improve considerably.”

“I was surprised too. I thought I’d just try more or less shoving her around. Who would have thought that such a beast would be sleeping.

“When I think about it, that huge appetite of hers that doesn’t match her constitution must be the influence of the dragon’s power as well.”

As she said that, Kurono glanced at the top of the table fleetingly.

There, stacked on the table, was a mountain comprised of the ruins of what had once been a room service meal.

Farther in, on the bed, the red haired girl who had created the mess… Crimson Princess Stella Vermillion was sleeping with her body curled up like a baby.

“...Nene. About today’s finals, what do you think?”

“I think it’ll be a great fight. Since they’re both knights who obtained great power in their own ways, neither should get done in easily. Though it could also become an appropriately high level mudslinging contest.”

“A mudslinging contest eh.”

“You know, since they’re lovers and all. It’s kind of messy.”

“If such a pleasant quarrel were to occur, the viewers might just feel relieved.”

After responding to Saikyou’s banter with a dry laugh, Kurono puffed out a breath of smoke.

“I don’t think that’s likely to happen. Especially between these two.“

She muttered, though her tone betrayed a tinge of nervousness.

At this, Saikyou also returned a small nod.

“True. If something goes wrong, someone might die. Just like in the match between you and me.”

Though Saikyou was joking, Kurono could see that her eyes carried the same nervousness.

What she was recalling was the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival of their own generation.

What she clashed with back then were her own feelings.

─Back then, she believed she didn't mind dying.

To beat that person, she would even throw away her life.

It was to that extent… The girl named Kurono Takizawa had pined.

Saikyou was sure that Kurono thought something similar might happen.

That, with the same feelings as they had held back then, these two might-

“Still… It seems the one in danger here in the end is still Kuro-bou.”

“Does Yaksha Princess see Crimson Princess as better?”

“Yes, after all, I can’t picture it. The image of this princess losing, that is.”

Saikyou momentarily looked over the sleeping Stella.

As she was deep asleep, all Stella did was make sleeping sounds.

She was saving her strength.

Not even using the energy to open her eyes, she accumulated strength from head to toe.

All so that tonight, she could erupt at the finals.

“...”

While laying her on the bed, the two had visions of the dragon’s giant body several times.

At that overwhelming pressure, Kurono couldn’t help but gulp.

And so she thought.

Tonight, the one to face this monster will be a single knight.

(Kurogane. What are you thinking now? How are you spending your time?)

Was he, like this girl, accumulating strength?

Perhaps he was waiting eagerly for the finals, unable to sleep from the exhilaration?

Or possibly...

“...Either way, in this match, even if we interrupt it, things could get deadly. We can’t leave this to some half-hearted knight. If it comes down to it, you and I will stop it… Just like Nangou-sensei and Kurogane-sensei did back then.”

“I know, I know.”

Saikyou agreed with Kurono’s sentiment without showing distaste on her face.

From the start, in order to focus on the fight and not miss such an important timing, she had turned down the commentary.

She didn’t have to be told such a thing.

Saikyou regarded Kurono with a serious expression. Right now, even more important was-

“Hey, Kuu-chan.”

“Hm? What?”

“This place is a non-smoking room, you know.”

“...Next time, please warn me before I light up.”

“I’ll use my best discretion.”

With a mean grin on her face, Nene smirked at the blushing Kurono.

◆◇◆◇◆

Stella had stored as much strength as she could in her body.

Her opponent, Kurogane Ikki, was in a training facility owned by the National League near the Wangan Dome.

For the duration of the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival, this training facility was free for use by contenders.

Ikki was carrying out a mock battle in one of that facility’s rings.

Acting as his opponent was a tall, thin, and handsome person.

It was his friend, Black Sonia Nagi Arisuin.

“-Huu.”

With a fast attack that whistled through the air, Ikki charged at Arisuin.

In response, Arisuin shifted his weight backwards and took a retreating stance.

“Shadow Beast-!”

Arisuin threw three copies of his dagger shaped device, Darkness Hermit, at the ground, and left them standing there.

In an instant, they melted into puddle-like shadows on the ring.

From those shadows, a black spray splattered and two giant tigers and a bear flew out of them attacking Ikki.

However, Ikki was not even perturbed by these wild beasts, simply kicking off the floor and charging at the enemies that now stood in his way.

With one stroke he dealt with the shadow tiger snapping at his head, lightly sidestepped the bear trying to claw his head, and cut it at the torso as they passed. Then, with his fastest secret technique, Raikou, he used the weakness in the second tiger’s offensive stance to overtake its movements and bisect it.

The shadow beasts dispersed into a seemingly harmless black mist.

However, it had never been Arisuin’s intention to use Shadow Beast to stop Ikki’s movement.

It was just a distraction.

The black mist that had dispersed from the crumbled shadow beasts blocked Ikki’s field of vision for a moment-so he could to use his shadow jumping technique, 「Shadow Walk」, to jump to Ikki’s shadow!

After his machinations went through smoothly, Arisuin moved from his own shadow to Ikki’s.

From Ikki’s shadow, stretching out behind him thanks to the lights in the ring, he sprung out, thinking (I’ve got you…!).

From this position, facing Ikki’s back, he flourished Darkness Hermit to strike at Ikki’s neck.

However, in that instant-

“!!!”

Even sooner than Arisuin could strike at Ikki’s neck, the jet black tip of Ikki’s device, Intetsu, appeared from under Ikki’s arm, stopping just at Arisuin’s brow.

Without facing Arisuin, Ikki had completely read the plan to flank him, and counterattacked instead.

“!!!”

Arisuin promptly used the knife he’d been striking down with to guard.

By doing so he narrowly avoided being skewered, in that one beat, his action was stopped.

What Ikki Kurogane just took advantage of had been a fatal weakness.

“-Gah, ha!”

The thud of a heavy strike reverberated throughout the ring.

It was the sound of Ikki’s kick striking the pit of Arisuin’s stomach.

The impact of the kick to the stomach sent Arisuin flying three meters, where he rolled out of the ring and started coughing painfully.

“Cough! Cough! H-harsh! To kick a maiden in the stomach is incredibly unchivalrous.

“Er, Sorry?”

“Why do you seem so unsure?”

“Because I am unsure”

Arisuin couldn’t help but smile at Ikki’s answer, even as he continued to cough.

“Haha, well, jokes aside… Despite sleeping for an entire day, your body doesn’t seem sleepy at all. Ikki. You’ve given me some peace of mind.”

“It’s all because you came with me for some warming up, Alice.”

While expressing thanks, Ikki lowered Intetsu.

After all, Arisuin was lying on his side on the floor and not in any condition to fight.

In the end, this mock battle had just been to warm up Ikki after he’d slept for a day.

There was no need to deal a finishing blow.

Thus, a petite girl rushed over with small steps to the two who had stopped fighting.

With neat, short, silver hair, the girl was Ikki Kurogane’s younger sister, Shizuku Kurogane.

As soon as she arrived at Ikki’s side, she gave her honest opinion while looking slightly astonished.

“Isn’t that enough? Tonight is the final and you’re still here holding a mock battle. You’re being too unreasonable.”

“Haha, sorry. But I’ve been sleeping the whole time, so I’m checking the condition of my body.”

“Well, I know how you feel, but if you don’t restrain yourself, your condition will only worsen. Look at how much sweat you’ve worked up… Eh?”

Shizuku unexpectedly used a towel to wipe the sweat that had collected on Ikki’s face, but her expression hardened.

That was because the sweat that he’d shed was as cold as a winter stream.

“Onii-sama, this is…”

“...I’ve been exposed, huh.”

With a bitter smile, Ikki received the towel from Shizuku.

“This sweat isn’t borne of exhaustion. It’s from fear… Of fighting with Stella, that is.”

Ikki grumbled while continuing to mop up cold sweat.

Right, this wasn’t sweat from exercise.

Nervousness, anxiety, weakness… it was something that came from an emotions, that could only be described as chills.

It was because he was scared.

Scared of Crimson Princess Stella Vermillion.

But that was a matter of course.

The ease she had shown in her first irregular match against Icy Scorn Mikoto Tsuruya and others had demonstrated a power up within Ikki’s expectations, but the power she showed in the semifinals far exceeded his imagination.

“She is already different from the girl I fought before. Up until now, she had only been fighting with the dragon’s breath. But now, she has realized what she really is. Moreover, she now possesses the ability to freely control the power of the dragon that burned her as a child. She is not just a flame user anymore. Skill, power, tactics… She is the incarnation of the prideful, all-powerful monster with the strength to force any enemy to yield.”

And tonight, he would have to face that monster himself.

What’s more, this time, Stella now had even more information on the man named Ikki Kurogane.

When he had beat her in the past, he had used her lack of knowledge to launch a surprise attack. She would not let that happen again.

A veteran of losing battles. Stella knew about Ikki Kurogane’s struggles better than anyone else.

In this final, there was definitely no room for slack in Stella’s heart.

With such a Stella as an opponent, in the ring where there was nowhere to run or hide, the only option was to conquer her head on.

“Because of that, I cannot waste even a minute, no, a second.”

Sharper by the minute and stronger by the second.

He would sharpen himself up until the last moment before entering the ring.

“That is my best condition.”

“Onii-sama…”

Shizuku responded to her brother’s unusually stiff expression with an uneasy voice. At that moment-

“Oi~ I did it!”

A call in a familiar kansai dialect hit everyone present.

Upon looking at the entrance to the room they were talking in-

“Ara, it’s you guys.”

“Moroboshi-san! And Toudou-san too! You came for us!”

In front of the open fire door stood the one Ikki had defeated in the first round of the tournament, Seven Stars Sword King Yuudai Moroboshi, and the one he had eliminated in Hagun’s selection tournament finals, Raikiri Touka Toudou.

Shizuku let her bewilderment at these unexpected visitors seep onto her face.

“Why are you guys here...?”

Touka answered while happily grinning towards somewhere else.

“This morning we got mail from Ikki saying he wanted our help with training.”

“From Onii-sama?”

“Exactly. Well, I was free anyway. Incidentally… At the hotel, I called over some of the other losers to come.”

As he said so, Moroboshi pointed at the fire door behind him with his thumb.

“Who’s a loser? You’ve said a little too much, Boshi!”

“Well, in reality, that’s exactly what we are.”

“Gahaha. True, True. Even if you try to say it nicely now, there's nothing you can do”

“We didn’t even participate in the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival, so we didn’t lose!”

“...Even though you guys got beat up by two people at the training camp?”

Behind the two, faces that anyone would recognize streamed in.

Moroboshi's fellow representatives from Bukyoku academy, Eye of Heaven Byakuya Jougasaki and Demon Flame Momiji Asagi.

Making the entrance seem small just by stepping his huge build through was Rokuzon Academy's Panzer Grizzly Renji Kaga.

And finally, two original representatives from Hagun who had withdrawn from the festival, Kikyou Hagure and Botan Hagure.

Ikki's eyes opened wide in surprise at their entrance.

“Did, did all of you came for my sake? Hagure-senpai and everyone else too?”

“Hehe. Well we arrived early and had nothing to do.”

“...During the training camp, you taught us, so we’d like to return the favor.”

“Though we’re not sure how useful the ones who were KO’d the quickest will be.”

“Actually, we were also called upon by Sensei. It was because that procedure looked to have taken a lot of your strength, and it seems to be as bad as she thought. ...But the people here are of the same calibre as those who entered the tournament. I think we'll be just right as practice opponents.”

Ikki shook his head at Moroboshi’s words.

“Don’t even mention things like being just right! Everyone, thank you so much!”

“Good, good. All of us wanted to try going up against the rumored Worst One once as well.”

“So, what do we do? Before we came here, we also had some mock battles. Should we take a break?”

“No.”

Ikki refused Touka’s consideration with a single word and once again took up Intetsu.

Then, he faced everyone with eyes burning with fighting spirit.

“Immediately though… Please!”

His passion instantly spread to everyone.

“”“Yessir!!!””

As if responding to Ikki’s spirit, everyone else’s devices manifested.

◆◇◆◇◆

“Guhaa! Th- This is…! Poison? Assassination? My Twilight Crusaders…! Such an underhanded method…!”

“Ojou-sama is saying ‘This is so bitter!’”

“If bitter is not acceptable, it would’ve been better not to request coffee.”

They were in a cafe slightly out of the way of the long line to the venue.

At the terrace seats, Sara Bloodlily shot an astonished look at Rinna Kazamatsuri, who had coffee dripping from the corners of her mouth.

The one who wiped Rinna’s mouth with a handkerchief was her attendant, Charlotte Cordé.

Together with the three girls at their table was one other person.

He was an elderly man, dressed stylishly in a suit.

It was Japan’s Prime Minister, Chairman of the school the girls attended, Akatsuki Academy’s Bakuga Tsukikage.

“Even so, Sara-kun’s Color of Magic is truly convenient. Even with so many people around, nobody can see us. I’ve always wanted such a convenient power.

“Even without a special power, something similar can be done.”

“Is that so?”

“Ikki did it.”

“...That only makes it feel more impossible.”

Tsukikage’s wrinkled face twisted into a bitter grin.

“Sorry, Prime Minister. Could you pass the sugar pot?”

“Yeah, here.”

Responding to Charlotte’s request, he slid the sugar pot near his hand toward Rinna.

Rinna blushed shyly at this.

“Ah, thank you, Oji-sama…”

While expressing her thanks with a sincere tone, she drew the sugar pot towards using her small hands.

However, Rinna’s movement stopped there.

Without even putting sugar in her coffee, leaving her gaze on the sugar pot in her hands-

“...Sorry.”

In a single word, she remorsefully apologized to Tsukikage.

“What are you apologizing for?”

“Every one of us ended up losing…”

“Ah, that.”

Tsukikage understood Rinna’s reason for apologizing.

To begin with, Akatsuki Academy was a group of mercenaries gathered via the connections of Tsukikage through one of Rebellion's Numbers, his old friend Kouzou Kazamatsuri, in order to sever the connection between Japan and those who utilize the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival, the League of Knights.

However, they had been completely eliminated by Hagun Academy’s Worst One and Crimson Princess.

Remorseful over being unable to carry out the duty they had been entrusted with, Rinna had said that.

However, Tsukikage hadn't placed any blame upon Rinna.

He put his hand on her apologetically drooping head.

"Don't worry about it. You all did well. I understand that perfectly."

"But..."

"Giving up easily does not befit a politician. If Akatsuki fails, then I will think of a different direction to go in... At that time, if I need you, will you lend me your power again?"

While stroking Rinna's head gently, he asked her that.

Rinna finally raised her head at this, and with a smile like blooming flowers nodded "Yes!"

-It was precisely 'that time.'

"...She's here."

Sara mumbled curtly while focused on the line of people.

Everyone gathered at the table responded to her voice by following her gaze.

There, in the dense crowd without a single gap in it, without pushing her way through, calmly weaving through the crowd with steps as if walking across an empty field, was a girl.

While her long, pure white hair swayed, she stepped directly to the four people who should have been hidden by Color of Magic.

Nonetheless the four of them raised no suspicion toward that.

For her, it was only natural.

That she could see them even when they should’ve been invisible.

Someone who could pass through a crowd without any difficulty.

Additionally, while doing so, she didn’t alert a single person she crossed paths with.

Today, the person they had come to wait for-

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Sara. Rinna. Char. And also… Tsukikage-sensei too.”

The strongest swordsman in the world, Twin-Wings Edelweiss.

◆◇◆◇◆


“Thank you for waiting. Here is your blend coffee.”

“It’s for her.”

“Thank you.”

While expressing her gratitude with a friendly smile, Edelweiss pulled the sugar pot to herself.

Then she looked at Tsukikage.

“Thank you for today. For listening to my sudden selfish request.”

She lowered her head slightly.

The selfish reason she mentioned was the reason she was here today.

Last night, Edelweiss had contacted Tsukikage.

...Wanting to watch the final of the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival.

“Unexpected, that you would be interested in the battle of someone who is just a student, Ede.”

“Perhaps there’s some relationship we don’t know about.”

“Fufu, if I remember correctly, when we carried out Operation Beowulf on Hagun Academy, the one who faced Another One was Brynhildr.

“Be, Beo?”

Sara offered an advice to Edelweiss, who tilted her head and was making a bewildered face.

“Don’t think about it too much. It’s just Rinna’s usual sickness.”

“Ojou-sama is saying ‘When we made the attack on Hagun Academy, she fought Another One.’”

“A, Ah. So that’s what it was. Yes, it’s exactly as she’s saying.”

Edelweiss confirmed as she scooped up a spoonful of sugar from the sugar pot.

“I saw the semifinals on TV. It surprised me to see Ouma lose in such a one-sided fashion, but… even more than that, seeing Amane in such a helpless state was beyond my expectations.

Amane’s childhood and the attachment he had to Ikki because of it.

Edelweiss had known about that.

Because of that, Amane’s existence was an obstacle blocking Ikki’s destiny.

That’s what she’d thought. -However,

“He took no notice of him.”

He’d faced the defeat Amane had thrust at him head on and crushed it for all to see.

“...He’s an amazing young man. Truly.”

“That’s why you want to watch the finals in person?”

Edelweiss nodded at Tsukikage’s question while adding yet another spoonful of sugar to her coffee.

“For Crimson Princess it is natural, but Another One as well… He is climbing onto our stage. I decided that when I saw he had the willpower to undergo extraordinary training and obtain the physical prowess needed to defy fate that he showed at the semifinals. Thus… even I cannot ignore that. Another exciting moment will happen soon. I might cross swords with him again.

“...”

“More importantly… Another party with the same thoughts as mine came here today in order to overcome the menace of the future, we are willing to be audacious.”

“Eh?”

When he heard those disquieting words, Tsukikage lifted his gaze from her hands, which were busy scooping a third spoonful of sugar.

Edelweiss was looking at the crowd instead of Tsukikage.

-Her eyes glinted sharply.

Following that dangerous gaze, Tsukikage also noticed.

In the crowd, there was a man looking at them astutely through a visor.

“That’s… America’s…!”

“It’s not just him. At this place… Agents from various factions have already gathered.”

Edelweiss’ words made Tsukikage recall a certain scene in his mind.

A red and black memory that he’d seen.

Tokyo, engulfed in flames.

The permeating stench of protein being scorched and human fat that stuck to the skin…

With fists shaking from fear and anger, Tsukikage informed Edelweiss.

“Front row box seats have been prepared.”

“Thank you very much.”

Edelweiss returned a slight bow and put her coffee, which she had just added a fourth spoon of sugar to, to her mouth.

“Yum.”

“If you can’t handle bitter, then it would be better to not order stuff like coffee.”

◆◇◆◇◆

(Too, too strong…!)

Bukyoku Academy’s third year and finalist at last year’s Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival, Momiji Asagi, was struck with admiration at the physical prowess of the man she was crossing blades with.

As the disciple of God of War Torajirou Nangou, she had confidence in her blade.

However, that was exactly why she couldn’t help but understand the magnitude of the difference between herself and the warrior in front of her, Another One Ikki Kurogane.

“Hah!”

“...!”

Countless clashes later, a particularly loud strike rang out and Momiji was sent flying backwards.

Her vision went blurry. There, at the edge of the ring, Momiji fell down and exhaled roughly before looking at the trio.

The Hagure sisters and Jougasaki, who had already carried out mock battles with Ikki.

Ikki had kicked the three around in front of Momiji.

He hadn’t even been scratched.

If this went on, she too would-

“Asagi! Show your determination!”

“Enmaku...!”

Responding to Moroboshi’s encouragement, Momiji deployed a wall of fire in front of her.

Frustrating though it might be, she couldn’t compete with swordsmanship.

She would just have to show her determination by fighting with magic.

Thus she switched over. However-

“Seya!!!”

Her determination was short lived as Ikki cut through her wall with a single shout and a slash.

From an overhead stance, Ikki had swung Intetsu down, and by sheer force, blasted away the approaching Enmaku.

And at the same time, -Momiji’s spirit as well.

(...)

Having cleared Enmaku away, Ikki’s eyes shone like a wet blade.

Momiji’s blood ran cold seeing this.

Head and chest, mind and body, would be cut apart.

Ikki wasn’t foolish enough to waste that moment.

He closed to space between them now that there was no obstacle-

Fast.

Though she’d frozen for only an instant, Momiji lost her chance to respond.

Clash was now inevitable. No, rather, if there was an ability that could still allow her to evade, it would be the Trackless Step Master Nangou had taught her.

(Even if I were to try to enter his blind spot... he doesn’t even have one!)

Standing against Ikki, Momiji came to a realization.

Ikki’s discernment was just like her friend Moroboshi’s Happou Nirami[2], in that it could perceive the entirety of the arena, not overlooking a single movement from the enemy. Her own Trackless Step would not be precise enough to outmaneuver the owner of those eyes.

In that case... there was nothing to do but intercept him with her sword.

Despite the knot in her stomach, Momiji clad her device, Hibachi, in flame.

One hit would be enough.

If she just grazed him, Hibachi’s flames would capture Ikki’s whole body like a snake.

(Just one stroke…!?)

However, she was only eager for an instant.

She had lost sight of Ikki Kurogane.

“Crap.”

Momiji realized in an instant that it was due to Trackless Step.

“Aku-”

But by that point, it was already over.

Ikki had passed by Momiji’s side and cut her torso with his device in illusionary form.

That attack had, without a doubt, been a fatal wound, cutting through her stomach all the way to her spine, causing an appropriate amount of strength to drain out of Momiji as a magical red light- Blood Light, which dispersed into the air.

One moment later, Momiji’s body collapsed onto the ground.

“Ha, ah, …!”

Sudden fatigue hit her as she was gouged of strength appropriately for an illusionary fatal wound.

Despite also feeling a burning pain in her abdomen, Momiji somehow managed to raise her head. Then-

“Thank you!”

Ikki bowed his head deeply and thanked Momiji.

Just as he had done earlier with the other three.

“Aha, you’re welcome… I don’t feel like I was very useful though.”

“That’s not-”

“Armor Piercing Bullet-!!!”

“Hu-???”

A deep voice like a cannon’s roar suddenly interrupted their conversation.

While Ikki was facing Momiji, an attack came from directly behind him, aiming for the back of his head- It was Panzer Grizzly Renji Kaga’s iron palm strike.

It was a most unexpected, barbaric surprise attack for a mock battle.

Momiji was petrified at this. However-

Ikki’s expression didn’t even waver.

Momiji saw it during that moment.

“-True at all.”

After completing his statement towards Momiji, without even an ounce of confusion, Ikki moved half his body, almost casually, and stopped Kaga’s palm strike with his own palms.

His body was nearly twice Ikki’s size.

The palm strike from the man who boasted weight four times that of Ikki’s, didn’t even move him a bit.

-Impossible.

There was a trick to this impossible feat.

That trick was in Ikki’s feet.

As he received the blow, the ground below Ikki’s feet sank noticeably, cracking and being crushed.

Witnessing that, Kaga understood in an instant.

-He had redistributed the force.

By moving his whole body and perfectly shifting his center of gravity, Ikki had received the blow and released it into the ground through his legs without having it reverberate in his body at all.

Just like a lightning rod.

After receiving the surprise attack, Ikki matched the movement of Kaga’s attempt at retreating and pushed him back using the arm he’d received the hit with.

(...!)

In that instant where he shifted his weight back, more force had been added from the front.

With his own weight being so heavy, Kaga was bent backwards greatly-

In that instant, Intetsu cut open his robe.

“Gu, Nuu!”

Kaga’s great body collapsed at the knees and he hit the floor.

Towards that Kaga-

“Ah, you! What were you thinking, attacking so suddenly?!”

Shizuku shouted angrily.

After all, it was an unthinkable thing.

He had launched a surprise attack on a fighter who was set to fight that same day, even if it was in Illusionary form.

Ikki himself was far calmer.

“It’s fine, Shizuku.”

“O, Onii-sama!?”

Then, of all things-

“Kaga-san. Thank you very much.”

He thanked Kaga as he had Momiji and the others.

For a moment, Kaga stared in puzzlement at this expression, then broke into a broad smile.

“Gah, hahahaha! On top of not having any weak points, you don’t even have a single complaint about a surprise attack, eh. Even though you have a girly mug if you look at it right… Being combat ready at all times. It looks like you know that well.”

Knights were not sportsmen.

Therefore, they had to maintain high concentration outside of matches as well.

Even when they are walking, sleeping, or eating, they must always keep their senses sharp.

They can’t afford to be careless.

If one became used to slacking off, they would surely fail when it matters.

Sometimes, the flow of battle goes to the one who can transition quickly.

Going about it in small steps is out of the question.

This was all the more true against an opponent who’d easily overwhelmed Ouma, whom he had been so powerless against.

That was why Kaga decided to attack in the moment when Ikki was preoccupied with Momiji.

However-

(I’ve been preaching to the choir, at most)

To this man, it was a pointless warning.

At the same time Kaga realized that, he came to believe it.

“You’ll win! You will!”

Kaga thumped Ikki’s chest with his fist as he insisted on this.

Stella was certainly a formidable enemy. Her attack power was nothing normal.

However, Ikki knew how to use and stop force.

His special skills shouldn’t be outdone by her attack power.

Kaga believed this based on what he’d witnessed.

Ikki smiled at the encouragement.

“Then, I shall be your next opponent.”

“...!”

Ikki’s expression stiffened as a wave of numbness ran through his neck.

When he turned his head, he saw a girl climbing slowly into the ring with a katana in a black sheath in her hands, Raikiri Touka Toudou.

The opponent Ikki had defeated at the finals of Hagun’s selection tournament.

Though their battle had consisted of a single stroke, her strength was vivid in Ikki’s memory.

She had been in the top 4 last year, falling behind Byakuya and Momiji, but the impression on Ikki’s skin was betraying that fact.

No doubt she was the best of the members that Moroboshi had assembled.

She was a difficult opponent to face with no abilities.

“What will you do? Including Arisuin-kun, you’ve fought 5 consecutive battles. Will you take a quick break?”

“No, don’t worry about that.”

His fighting spirit was overflowing.

Ikki wiped away the sweat from his hands and renewed his grip on Intetsu.

“Please don’t hold back!”

He raised his sword to point at Touka.

◆◇◆◇◆

In the instant Ikki raised his sword, Raikiri began to move. From ten meters away, she unsheathed Narukami and fired a crescent slash formed of lightning towards Ikki.

The golden lightning charged at Ikki like a bird with wings spread open.

It was the same long ranged attack she had used against Lorelei, the Noble Art Raiou.

However, while it was a quick opening strike, it was made from a considerable distance.

Far from distressing Ikki at all, he immediately took an evasive maneuver.

Namely, he took a big sidestep to the right.

It was a style of moving that he’d learned from Twin-Wings using his Blade Steal. That was how he managed to evade so easily at high speed as soon as he raised his heel.

Truthfully, it didn’t pose a threat to him.

However, the moment Ikki dodged the first attack, Touka launched a follow-up Raiou right at him.

The technique he had just dodged so easily was launched again.

Of course, that one didn’t reach Ikki either.

With a leap in the opposite direction, Ikki evaded that as well.

As expected, it didn’t even graze him.

Even so, Touka fired a third Raiou.

Was she just being stubborn?

Of course not.

Touka had a reason for her actions

(This is…!)

“As expected of Toudou. After watching his match with me, she has recognized his weak point.”

Murmuring this with a spirit of admiration was Moroboshi, who was watching their battle from the sidelines.

“Onii-sama’s weak point?”

“Well, more accurately, it’s a flaw in that technique. It’s a technique he’s been using since his match with me, a technique he took from Twin-Wings using Blade Steal where he uses all of the muscles in his body simultaneously to accelerate rapidly to top speed. Most people cannot follow such acceleration with their eyes. That being said, constantly moving at full speed is…”

“Ah…”

Once said, Shizuku realized as well.

Since earlier, Touka had been unleashing Raiou left and right in order to force Ikki to dodge in different directions constantly.

“I get it. When moving at full speed constantly, it’s difficult to make sudden stops and turns. All that switching makes puts excessive strain on his lower body. Dodging will slowly become more difficult, and eventually he’ll get caught.

Moroboshi’s prediction was coming true up in the ring.

While Ikki had avoided the first two by a good margin, that margin started shrinking, and the amount of near misses began to rise.

“Ikki should also understand Touka’s intention, though. If he stays on the defensive, he’ll just remain pinned down from long range.”

Ikki started to change his movements, just as Moroboshi predicted.

He stopped his sideways evasion, faced the scattered Raiou strikes aimed at him, and started running.

Just as he was about to take a direct hit, he dropped to the ground like a crawling animal to get past the Raiou.

“Wow..!”

“He’s doing the unthinkable as usual. Passing through a gap like that!”

“It’s possible because it’s Onii-sama!”

Once he slipped through that, he was in range to cross swords.

It was close range.

Having closed the range so much, Ikki could now launch attacks as well.

Both of them moved so quickly that only the trails left by their swords were visible.

Touka fought back well, but no longer had any opportunity to resheathe her blade.

And when Touka is unable to sheathe her blade, she cannot bring out the strongest close range noble art she boasts, Raikiri.

(This is good…!)

Ikki thought this while carrying out an orthodox Raikiri countermeasure.

Ikki understood the power of Raikiri from personal experience.

Only by using Ittou Rasetsu to put his all into one daring strike was he able to overcome Raikiri before.

Since he was preparing for a match with Stella, he would be unable to use such abilities. In order to beat Touka, he had to first ensure that she could not use Raikiri.

If it was used on him, he would lose right then and there.

Thus in that manner, he would pressure her with swordplay and suppress Raikiri.

(I’ve got this! My swing speed is faster…!)

Though Touka’s attacks were sharp as well, they were a far cry from Ikki’s, which mirrored those of Twin-Wings.

As long as it didn’t come to a sword lock, he shouldn’t have to worry about being shocked either.

(At this rate, I can overwhelm her!)

Ikki made up his mind. He shifted forward again and put his power into the sword.

Then, suddenly, he struck out like a flying swallow and forced Touka’s Narukami to the side.

(Alright, she’s off balance!)

After exchanging blows with Touka, he had finished measuring the speed of her swings.

With her sword pushed to such a position, she would not be able to block his strike.

Next, Ikki would-

(I’ve got her here! It’s decided!)

Believing so, Ikki struck forward again-

Rather, he tried to.

(!?!?)

Immediately after, a sharp numbness ran up his neck.

It was sixth sense he’d honed by toeing the line between life and death so many times warning him.

At this warning, Ikki's body ignored his previous assumption and moved- Touka's sword had moved faster than Ikki's expectation and, just barely, had managed to return to defend.

(That’s crazy…!)

Based on Touka’s swing speed, the speed of that counter was impossible.

Ikki gulped in astonishment.

What on earth was that?

Ikki thought about the unexpected counterattack.

However, Touka wasn’t about to wait around for Ikki to think.

Narukami and Intetsu clashed once again.

From the contact point, Touka channeled an electrical attack into Ikki.

“...Ah!”

Zap! Sparks crackled between Narukami and Intetsu as electricity ran through Ikki.

Though his skin wasn’t burned thanks to Illusionary form, receiving a shock made his muscles spasm intensely and cry out in pain.

In the end, his movements were stopped instantly.

Touka took aim at this opportunity-!

She raised Narukami overhead nimbly, and struck down at Ikki.

However, Ikki had baited that attack out.

(She's flustered!)

Just as Touka began her strike, Ikki steeled his writhing body.

Using the full body control he had cultivated, he took control of his heart and forcibly restored function to his peripheral nervous system.

Recovering from the shock in that instant, Ikki avoided the strike towards his head with the smallest possible sidestep.

Thinking that the shock had immobilized him, his opponent had gone for a finishing blow.

It was a move made after seeing through Touka's thoughts, outplaying her thoroughly.

That was Ikki's chance-or it should have been.

"Ku!?!?"

Once again, Ikki's predictions were overturned by Touka's blade.

This time, having sidestepped Narukami, Ikki did not need to lock swords with Touka, which prevented her from using the same move again. Their close range battle continued in this manner.

Ikki would have to rethink his close range tactics from square one.

Despite being able to clearly surpass her swing speed, he could not land a decisive blow on Touka.

Moreover, Ikki was slowly starting to fall behind.

The cause must be…

(This switching around!)

Ikki saw it in her movements while being pressured.

Touka’s blade would strike out with the sharpness of the legendary sword technique Swallow Counter, then return with unnatural speed, leaving a trail like a flash of lightning.

Squeezed into the moments between blows, these strikes threw off Ikki’s rhythm.

This was the technique Touka Toudou had polished in order to win at this year’s tournament. By creating a special magnetic field around her, she could use electromagnetic attraction and repulsion to move her sword at speeds exceeding the limits of her body. It was her Noble Art, Inazuma, devised as a counter to Yuudai Moroboshi’s superhuman technique, Houkiboshi.

The burden on the wrist made it impossible to use it haphazardly, but by occasionally mixing it in while trading blows, she could interrupt her opponent’s rhythm. Once their rhythm was interrupted, forcing them back was simple!

“Aha!”

“Ku!”

Touka lunged at Ikki’s chest.

In order to avoid the blow, Ikki threw himself backwards, ending up outside of engagement range.

He escaped with his tail between his legs.

“Onii-sama…!”

Ikki had been forced out of his comfortable range.

Shizuku realized this and let her worry show, while on the side Moroboshi’s expression hardened.

It was only natural. Ikki knew well the close range superiority of Twin-Wings' sword, which he had learned. That being said, someone had pushed it back.

(This girl is... powerful. She can’t be compared to herself from last year.)

Not intending to let Ikki get away, Touka stayed hot on his heels, keeping up the pursuit.


(Kurogane-kun. Your sword sword skills are certainly amazing. When I saw your match with Moroboshi-san on TV, I got goosebumps. Your techniques don’t even seem human. However!)

That much was expected of Blazers.

It was incredible that Ikki had gotten this far on physical skill alone.

However, that was a product of Ikki’s circumstances, having not been blessed in terms of Blazer power.

Touka and other Blazers hadn’t needed such single minded focus on martial artistry in order to reach this point.

If they simply used their magic power along with their abilities, then surpassing an ordinary person was no big deal.

His skill alone would not be enough.

With sword techniques that merely surpassed average people...

(Forget Stella-san, he can’t even handle me…!)

“Gah…!?”

In response to Touka’s fierce attack, Ikki stayed on the defensive.

Beyond avoiding clashing, Ikki was forced to constantly retreat.

In the end, that turned out badly for him.

“Ah!?!”

Suddenly, while jumping away, Ikki’s balance wavered.

What had happened?

The answer was under his feet.

Shizuku and the other spectators looked on with dismay.

(That’s what was left behind when he took Kaga-san’s attack!)

(No way! His foot got caught in the cracked part of the ring! An attack is coming, Ikki!)

(...No, this is-)

“Haaaaaaaaaaah!!!”

As Arisuin expected, Touka took the opportunity and attacked with all her spirit and might.

Having caught his foot in the broken ring, Ikki’s balance was off and he was not able to defend. However, with a dull ‘Gagi!’ the two returned to having their swords locked.

Of course, Touka followed that with a lightning blast.

“Bzzt!”

With a soft bursting sound accompanied by sparks, Ikki’s right arm and upper body snapped back from the shock. Touka saw a decisive opening.

(This is it!)

Touka decided to unleash her trump card.

Touka had already seen Ikki’s resilience towards electrocution earlier.

A mere slash would simply be dodged. However, even if he were to dodge Raikiri, her supersonic blade would hit Ikki with a blast through the air.

At close range, the damage from receiving that would be able to take down any single human.

There was no reason to hesitate.

Believing this, Touka returned Narukami to its scabbard.

“Eh!?!?”

To be more accurate, she tried to.

However, she was unable to.

Why? Well, the reason was in Narukami’s scabbard.

Right at the opening of the scabbard and the tip of the sword, preventing the sword from returning to the scabbard, was a small chip from the broken ring!

(!!!)

In that moment, Touka realized that she had been trapped.

Ikki’s foot had not gotten caught on the broken part of the ring.

In order to kick up a shard from the ring, he had stuck his foot in a crack. Then, while he was bending back due to the electric shock, he launched the shard into the gap between Narukami and its scabbard.

This prevented the resheathing of the sword, leaving Touka defenseless.

“Ka, Ha-”

In that instant, Ikki finished recovering from the shock and cut Touka at the throat.

◆◇◆◇◆

After receiving such a fatal wound, Touka felt that she was about to lose her consciousness and collapse.

However, with sheer force of will, she managed to stay on one knee and addressed the victorious Ikki.

“To think that Raikiri would be defeated in such a manner…”

“It’s a surprise attack that will only ever work once, though.”

Touka smiled bitterly.

Using a shard from the ring to block her scabbard was definitely a surprise. She wouldn’t let it happen again.

However, reading her intent to use Raikiri and then using the damage to the ring was nothing short of creative.

Even during their fierce sword fight, he’d had the ability to nonchalantly lead her to a predetermined location.

Most impressively, he had completely deceived her ability to directly read intentions from biological signals in order to get his plan past her, taking decisive action without letting her realize anything.

Without a doubt, that was the power of Ikki’s experience.

Ikki’s strength definitely consisted of more than just swordplay.

He had widened her view. He was constantly thinking about the best way to win.

(I’ve been thinking only about sword techniques this whole time.)

“Amazing. Even though I came to help you train, I ended up learning from you instead.”

“Learning from me? I’m only fighting this way because I can’t afford to reveal my hand… Toudou-san. Thank you for having this match with me.”

“Oh, don’t men-”

“Alright, alright. It’s very Japanese of you to be throwing thanks around, but face me, Ikki.”

Something hard prodded Ikki in the back with an audible thunk.

It was Moroboshi’s device, Tora-ou.

“That was an interesting path to victory you took, though I’m not surprised. After all, you turned the tables on me in similar fashion, didn’t you?”

Ikki turned his attention from Touka to Moroboshi and nodded slightly.

“That I did. You and I have a similarly sneaky way of thinking.”

“Haha. Of course. I’m a merchant from Naniwa.”

Even while he laughed deeply at Ikki’s jesting, Moroboshi flipped Tora-ou around, pointing its tip at Ikki.

“I will be the last. Since you have a match today, I will not use Tiger Bite, hehe. I’ll tire you out in a good way. I’ll take this opportunity to pay you back for the first round. Are you ready?”

Moroboshi wore a boorish grin on his face.

However, even as he played with his expression and words, the fire in his eyes was honest.

Even while feeling thankful for the warm feelings Ikki saw flickering in Moroboshi’s eyes, he raised his sword.

“Let’s do this.”

◆◇◆◇◆

It was time for a mock battle with Moroboshi. The beginning proved much calmer than his battle with Touka.

It was natural, as Ikki and Moroboshi were knights with similar styles at heart.

He wouldn’t engage in long range combat with magic the way Touka had.

Basically, until he entered spear range, he wouldn’t attack.

(At least, that’s what I’d like to think, but he seems like he might throw his spear.)

Even though Moroboshi hadn’t entered spear range, Ikki could not let his guard down at all.

While paying meticulous attention, Ikki circled around Moroboshi.

All that time, Moroboshi’s gaze never left Ikki.

Tora-ou, which had been lowered, tracked Ikki’s heart with its tip.

(Facing him again, the pressure really is incredible.)

There was no point at which he could break into Moroboshi’s range.

(I don’t think I can use speed to disturb his zone like I did in the tournament’s first round.)

Ikki reasoned this out.

He was referring to how close his victory against Moroboshi in the Seven Stars Sword-Art Festival had been.

That victory had been less through true power and more about a surprise attack. Moroboshi hadn’t known enough about Ikki, which let Ikki get a major cut in on him before his eyes had gotten used to Ikki’s speed.

The bleeding from that cut had lowered his oxygen circulation. With his eyesight weakened by that, Moroboshi had been unable to follow Ikki’s sudden acceleration.

However, Moroboshi was different now.

He was in perfect condition, and moreover, he now knew about Ikki’s use of Twin-Wings' style.

Relying on speed to attack such an opponent was dangerous.

(However-)

Right, even so, in the end, it was the same as in his match with Touka.

Dangerous or not, Ikki did not have many options to choose from.

He had his own fighting distance. Take the battle to the range of a sword, and cut them down.

Besides that, he had no other way of fighting.

That said…

(He’s scary.)

Moroboshi’s pressure was certainly strong.

However, if he flinched from just this, he would never be able to approach Stella.

If there was no hope of victory given by his opponent,

(I must go, without fear!)

Ikki steeled his heart and accelerated, running up to Moroboshi.

In response, Moroboshi took a deep breath.

“...!”

As Ikki stepped into his spear’s range, Moroboshi unleashed three lethal thrusts towards him in the blink of an eye.

It was Moroboshi’s high speed strike, Sanrensei.

Ikki took them on with lightning-like slashes, which left only afterimages in his vision.

The downpour of steel was like that of falling stars.

He pushed forward, trying to cut through, but…

(This is…!)

Try as he might, he could not advance.

Countless Sanrensei strikes rained down in a flurry.

The speed and density of the strikes were beyond comparing with those in the previous match.

Even using Twin-Wings' technique, he could just barely repel the strikes.

“Are you surprised? Kurogane.”

“...!”

“During the tournament, I was using Sanrensei as bait for Tiger Bite. You prepared to enter my range by depending on your speed. However, if I don’t mix in Houkiboshi, don’t use Tiger Bite, and focus on speed, even I am capable of this much. If you can get through, then show me!”

“Ku…”

His voice was full of confidence.

He was by no means overestimating his own ability.

Slipping through Moroboshi’s thrusts would be no easy matter.

(There are no gaps during which I could recover. This is not like Sanrensei so much as it is a meteor shower.)

The downpour of steel like a falling star had no gaps.

Put simply, stepping into range would be impossible.

That being the case, Ikki used a technique.

It was his technique where he moved left and right at a high pace, generating afterimages to deceive his foe.

Fourth Secret Sword- Shinkirou. It was the technique that had caused Moroboshi grief during the tournament.

With this, Ikki would press Moroboshi to choose between-

“Don’t underestimate me!”

“!?”

Ikki’s shallow plan was crushed in an instant.

Ikki used Shinkirou to send an afterimage right while he moved to the left, but in that instant, Tora-ou bent with deceptive agility, adjusting its trajectory to follow the real Ikki.

Ikki managed to turn the attack with a hair’s breadth of space.

“Oraaa!!!”

“Ku, oof!”

Moroboshi used all his strength to strike at Intetsu when Ikki blocked, sending Ikki’s body flying to the edge of the ring.

Moroboshi then smiled daringly at Ikki, who just managed to break the fall.

“If you try to create illusions, I’ll have my spear in you in an instant. I already know the movements you use to set up that technique. Don’t think you can get the same move past a first class fighter like me again. That’s naive of you.”

“...Eh? Didn’t it work twice, Botan-chan?”

“Yeah, that’s why he lost in the first round.”

“So he’s second-rate.”

“Sh-shut up! Onlookers stay quiet!”

Moroboshi objected to their disruption.

Even then, he remained vigilant towards Ikki.

It seemed obvious that he would; Ikki was grasping his sword strongly as if to say it wouldn’t be over after just that.

(I still have a way to get out of spear range!)

Ikki rushed at Moroboshi for the second time.

“You’re incorrigible! That said, even if you’re caught, this is your only way, huh!”

Moroboshi prepared to combat this approach from spear distance again.

He wasted no energy while Ikki was out of range, but the moment Ikki entered his zone, he swooped in like a raging fire.

Fundamentally, Moroboshi preferred this kind of patient spear technique.

That’s what Ikki decided to aim for.

The first blow Moroboshi would put out as he approached.

(I’ll hit his interception with Dokuga no Tachi!)

He raised his sword diagonally above his head. His sixth secret sword- Dokuga no Tachi.

It sends shockwaves into the enemy through the Device, attacking them from the inside.

It was an attack that passed through weapons.

Unlike Shinkirou, he hadn’t shown this technique to Moroboshi.

Therefore, the first attack should definitely get by-

“What might this be?”

“...?”

Ikki was left astonished the instant his Dokuga no Tachi intercepted Tora-ou.

Moroboshi had quickly withdrawn his spear.

Then, aiming at Ikki, who was full of openings after being faked out, he struck out again.

“As if I’d take such a poisoned strike!”

“Ku, Uoooooo!!!”

Immediately after, that light of strength leaving someone, Blood Light, danced in the air.

Moroboshi’s strike had caught Ikki.

However, it had not been a serious wound.

It had only slightly scratched his side.

To pull that off, Ikki had used the hilt of Intetsu to strike the blade of Tora-ou and turn its trajectory.

He then promptly escaped out of spear range.

“Skillful as usual.”

“What makes you say it was poisoned? You should not have seen this technique before.”

“It’s because you left your weight behind unnaturally. I just got a bad feeling from that.”

“...I see.”

Ikki laughed bitterly at that.

Even though he’d intended to make an opening, somehow there’d been another oversight.

He suddenly understood then.

(Tactics that expect mistakes from the enemy won’t work on this man.)

Perhaps it was due to the lack of tension during a mock battle, but Moroboshi's concentration had too few holes.

He had been in a natural stance this whole time, leaving no openings to attack.

In that case… There was only one thing left to do.

Having decided thus, Ikki brought Intetsu into Seigan no Kamae and focused on Moroboshi with both eyes.

“---”

Moroboshi observed Ikki’s gaze and stance.

“What’s that? The nature of his pressure has changed.”

Moroboshi’s veteran 6th sense immediately sensed something.

(His back foot is well planted. He can’t dash effectively from that stance.)

Just as Moroboshi had judged, Ikki’s third approach was different from those until now; this time he approached slowly.

Without changing from Seigan no Kamae[3], Ikki shuffled forwards slowly, feet never leaving the ground.

“What’s wrong? If you move at such a turtle-like pace, you’ll be filled with holes the moment you get in range.”

“---”

Ikki showed no response to Moroboshi’s provocation.

Ignoring him-that wasn’t quite it.

(He’s simply not listening. He can’t even hear me.)

After looking at Ikki’s eyes, he understood.

He wouldn’t respond to sound.

With his eyes focused on Moroboshi, he would just slowly advance and close the gap.

(When focus exceeds normal limits, you become unable to hear anything around you, and also become unable to perceive color. I’ve experienced being in that zone before...)

Well, if it was the man before him, he could probably enter that state intentionally.

The problem was, what was he thinking, using that focus?

With such slow movements, what was he trying to start?

Finally, Ikki’s toes encroached upon Moroboshi’s domain.

(Tch, I’m so confused! But what I have to do doesn’t change!)

Moroboshi made his move.

Focusing on speed, he unleashed a violent storm of steel.

Ikki blocked it in the same way as before, with Intetsu flying in to deflect the spear.

The sound of weapons clashing. The rain of sparks. It was exactly the same as earlier.

“!?!?”

Moroboshi felt it in the hand wielding Tora-ou first.

There was an abnormal weight coming from this opponent.

It felt like a massive tree rooted in the earth.

No matter how many times he struck, Ikki would not back off like he had earlier.

He didn’t dodge horizontally either.

With his eyes fixed on Moroboshi, he advanced straight forwards, bit by bit. Only forwards.

“...!”

Seeing his form, Moroboshi understood Ikki’s idea.

(This guy, he didn’t have a specific plan or anything…! He cut off nonessential senses, lowered strength spent on things other than movement as much as possible, and put all his focus into his sword…! I’ll put my all into my blade and break through with all my strength!)

He wasn’t an opponent you could get past with a half hearted plan and a cheap trick.

Knowing that, he would meet the blade that Ikki honed with his all.

Ikki understood his own weakness, and made use of everything before his eyes for victory.

Contrary to that, when it mattered, he had the courage to trust in his own strength.

At a glance, these two seem contradictory.

The one who united them was Worst One Ikki Kurogane.

He is aware of his weakness.

Despite that, he believes that he can be stronger than anyone.

To achieve this, he does everything he can.

That everything resides in the black blade he grasped in both hands.

Therefore, Ikki Kurogane would no longer back down. He would no longer run.

If it was himself, it was possible.

Believing that, he advanced slowly, but surely, towards Yuudai Moroboshi.

This was no last stand. Nor was it a desperate attack.

Absolute Victory. He held such a conviction.

His pressure was fierce.

“Guh!?”

He overwhelmed Moroboshi soundly, driving him into a corner of the rectangular arena.

“Awesome, Onii-sama! To drive that Moroboshi-san against a wall head on!”

“Forwards, slowly, but surely. He did it through incredible pressure.”

“Yeah. That said… Kurogane-kun’s stance is also amazing.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Against Moroboshi-san, without being shifted laterally or front-to-back, he maintained a straight trajectory. It makes it hard on the attacker. Anyway, he guarded with his blade well centered in Seigan no Kamae and made it difficult to attack, and his opponent did not change his stance at all, continuously aiming for a fatal strike at the same place, from the same angle. He inevitably ended up repeating the same motion. As a result-”

Right after that, red light fluttered in the ring.

It was Blood Light spilling from Ikki’s limbs.

It was just a graze, though.

And surely enough, Moroboshi also understood the ‘result’ that Touka pointed out.

(I’ve shown too much motion! He’s optimizing his strength and approach to repel me!)

Precisely. If one ends up repeating the same attack, then you’ll end up exposing it.

The power, angle, and speed necessary to deflect the enemy was all shown in detail.

And now Ikki had analyzed it and optimized.

While avoiding any fatal wounds, Ikki used the minimum defence necessary, contracting his defensive movements as much as he could, making his attack and defense stronger than before, and stepping into Moroboshi’s zone.

Forwards. Powerfully. Quickly.

“Moroboshi-san lost his patience after being backed into a corner. He’s attacking unreasonably out of impatience!”

That was Touka’s prediction.

“Come no closer!”

It came true in the next instant.

Moroboshi sent a single flashing strike flying towards Ikki.

Because of his impatience, he sent his elbow too far to return easily, making it a sloppy thrust.

Without any spirit put into it, the strike lacked power and aim.

“!!!”

Ikki didn’t overlook that.

“Shit-”

By the time Moroboshi realized his misplay, it was too late.

Ikki stepped forwards with the sloppy thrust, letting his own shoulder be pierced.

Using his own body he trapped Tora-ou, denying Moroboshi any counterattack.

“Haaaaaa!!!”

With Tora-ou stuck in his shoulder, he broke into Moroboshi’s space and thrust his blade into his heart.

◆◇◆◇◆

“Damn… Lost again!”

Moroboshi cried as his heart was pierced, and with his strength drained he collapsed on the floor spread eagled.

“Damnit… I thought I’d be able to win this time, too.”

“At the… real… match… this wouldn’t do…”

Ikki’s words, spoken while gasping for air, were not born of humility.

In reality, the fight just now Moroboshi had, worrying about Ikki who had low magic power, held back Tiger Bite. He couldn’t go all out on the contestant who was about to go into a big match. Even in that state, they had devoted as much power as they could.

Ikki knew this after crossing swords with him.

So, with Moroboshi included, Ikki once again thanked all his friends who had gathered today.

“Moroboshi-san. Everyone else as well. I am truly thankful. I have gained valuable experience before my match with Stella.”

“I don’t need thanks. You can return this favor by returning as the champion.”

“Isn’t that a little unreasonable?”

“Are you not confident?”

Moroboshi asked Ikki while sitting up, and after a brief silence, Ikki nodded slightly.

“Honestly, I think this fight is going to be the toughest thing I’ve done in my life. I can’t say I’m confident… But I’ll give it everything I have.”

“That won’t do, you big idiot.”

Moroboshi prodded Ikki in the head with Tora-ou’s hilt.

Then he spoke in a chiding tone.

“This is the stage you’ve always aimed for. You can’t take it with such half hearted feelings. No matter how strong your opponent was, you must always enter the ring believing that you will win, 100%. Even if you don’t have confidence, force it out. You can think about losing after you lose. If you end up losing, that’s all you’ll be able to think about anyway.”

“Moroboshi-san…”

“If you still don’t feel confident, I’ll stick with you until you do. So, do me a favor and don’t say such a pitiful thing.”

Everyone gathered there today for Ikki silently agreed with Moroboshi’s sentiment.

They all had the same expectations as Moroboshi.

“If you’ll go that far for me, I’ll take you up on your offer. Will you accompany me a little longer?”

“Hehe, then, how about we go again after a rest?”

“Yeah, sure-”

With a heavy scraping sound, the training area’s fire exit opened.

“!!!”

A cold, wintry wind blew in and brushed against everyone inside.

They all noticed immediately.

This was not cold air, but that crisp swordsmanship that made one get the chills.

At least someone in there recognized that aura.

Could it be?

Thinking that, they turned to the door.

“What is it? Every one of you looks dumbfounded.”

With eyes as sharp as those of a bird of prey, glaring at all present, was a tall man with long hair.

Sword Emperor of Wind, Ouma Kurogane, stood there.

“O, Ouma!?”

“Why are you…!?”

Nobody was able to hide their surprise at the unexpected newcomer.

Ouma saw this and tossed the sack he’d been carrying on his shoulder onto the floor.

“I’m here for the same reason most of you are. I got a text asking for a training partner before the finals.”

“Eh, er, is that so? Onii-sama.”

Shizuku looked back at Ikki in surprise, who nodded.

What he said was true.

Besides Moroboshi and Touka, he had also contacted Ouma.

Of course, he had only done it because there was no harm in trying.
Ouma had never acted for Ikki’s sake before, after all.

“I didn’t think that you would actually come, so I can’t help but be surprised.”

“It’s only because I’m free, since I had planned to fight in the finals. Also… I thought that I’d see your power myself.”

“My… power?”

“After all, it’s F-rank vs A-rank. Your defeat is all but decided by the fate. I have no interest in such a spectacle. It’s just… To have even survived with such a meager power, until you were able to stand in front of that dragon… It is my duty as your older brother to beat the dullness out of you before you are killed.”

Ouma’s whole body then welled up with wind magic, which he focused into his right hand, manifesting his device, the nodachi Ryuuzume.

“...!”

When he manifested Ryuuzume, the aura he emitted became much sharper.

Shizuku felt disquieted, and immediately moved in front of Ikki as if to protect him.

No- More accurately, she tried to.

However, Ikki stopped her by putting his hand on her shoulder.

Even as Shizuku’s eyes shook with worry, Ikki told her “It’s alright,” and stood in front of Ouma.

“Thank you for coming. Brother.”

“Cut the idle chatter and prepare already. I’m not here to chit-chat.”

(As usual, not even a hint of friendliness.)

Even as he smiled wryly, just by feeling the pressure he felt just from standing in front of Ouma, he found himself in awe.

(Amazing…)

He had felt the intimidating aura the first time they had faced each other.

Ouma’s body seemed twice as big.

It was clear that he was a cut above fighters like Moroboshi and Touka.

Ikki’s palms began to sweat.

However, the thought of backing down didn’t even occur to him.

After all… there was some truth in what Ouma said. If he couldn’t fight off Ouma, then he had no chance of prevailing against Stella.

Might as well start praying then.

For the purpose of forcing life back into Ikki when he was feebly panicking in fear of Stella, there was no better opponent.

Ikki shook off the sweat from his palms once, and took up Intetsu in his grasp once again.

“Let’s do this…!”

◆◇◆◇◆

Ouma made the first move as the start was announced.

With his kimono sleeves fluttering, he moved to close the distance to Ikki directly.

Ikki was not idle, however.

He kicked off the floor to meet Ouma.

Of course, he wasn’t foolish enough to simply attack Ouma straight on like that.

He knew what kind of superhuman physical endurance and strength Ouma’s mad training had granted him.

Therefore-

“That’s…!”

Moroboshi, watching from the sides, noticed.

The instant Ikki entered the nodachi’s range, he changed his step, adding sudden changes to his speed.

Moroboshi knew that technique well.

Ikki used those movements to confuse his opponent’s vision and create afterimages.

It was the Shinkirou he spread around him.

And, according to Ikki’s plan, Ouma snapped at the afterimages.

With one breath he swung Ryuuzume down from above as if cutting bamboo, cutting Ikki in half.

However, he had cut an afterimage.

As a result, he exposed himself to a flank from the real Ikki.

"He got him!"

Moroboshi clenched his fist upon seeing Ikki take the initiative.

Next to him though, Raikiri was squinting while taking her glasses off.

“No, not quite.”

She pointed out a mistake in Moroboshi’s analysis.

Ouma knew his next move from the signals his body gave him.

“!!!”

Without bringing his lowered blade back up, he took a low, diagonal swing.

Using that force, Ouma rammed Ikki with his shoulder.

“Shoulder charge…! He even read through Shinkirou!”

Ikki used Intetsu, which he was going to attack with, to block instead.

However, Ouma was heavier than he looked.

The shock of a nearly five hundred kilogram man’s ramming attack was easily lethal.

“...!”

With the low sound of two people colliding, Ikki’s body was pushed back and he stumbled backwards with his balance destroyed.

Ouma swooped down on Ikki like a raging fire.

Without giving Ikki any time to recover his stance, he fired off several slashes and stabs.

Fast.

It approached Moroboshi’s Sanrensei in speed.

Without taking a breath, he fired off 10, 20, an endless barrage of attacks.

Such astounding rotation-Shizuku recognized it.

“Kyokujitsu Isshin-ryuu, Retsu no kiwami Amatsukaze...[4]!”

“What the heck is that?”

“It’s a secret technique within the Kyokujitsu Isshin-ryuu style passed through the generations in the Kurogane family. It’s a continuous 108 strike combination.”

From the first strike to the 108th, everything from the angle and power of each strike was tuned for efficiency.

By repeating them over and over countless times and carving them to his very core, he was able to abolish all thoughts and bring out the fastest speed that his flesh and blood body could handle. It was meant to crush the opponent with an overwhelming number of strikes.

“There’s no better technique than this to defeat someone whose stance has been broken…!”

“But if I’m not mistaken, didn’t Ikki grow strong by stealing the techniques of others? In which case he should definitely know of a technique passed among the Kurogane, shouldn’t he?”

“...I don’t know. All of this talk is over my head. But… even if he does, with just that he can’t do anything about this assault.”

Just as Shizuku said, in the face of Ouma’s overwhelming speed, Ikki could not even bring Intetsu to face the attacks. He had to do everything he could just to dodge Ouma’s fierce onslaught. He definitely wouldn’t be able to turn the attack in this situation.

Bringing about such a situation was the point of Amatsukaze, after all.

With almost excessively optimized constant attacks, it held down the enemy, preventing them from taking any actions.

Now, Ikki was completely stuck in that situation.

That’s how it seemed, looking from outside.

However-

(He’s waiting for something...)

Even as Ikki was being overwhelmed by Ouma’s strikes, Touka Toudou saw a glint of cleverness in Ikki’s eyes.

He was being neither held down nor overwhelmed.

He was waiting for something.

That something was an opening in Amatsukaze.

No matter how much time had gone into developing such a technique, in the end, it was created by humans.

Creating something perfect was impossible.

And if it was anything short of perfect, Ikki’s penetrating insight wouldn’t miss it.

It wasn't a first sighting either, especially since it was the Kurogane style, which he’d spent the most time watching.



“---”

Suddenly, a particularly sharp sound rang out, and the situation changed.

After that sound, the one who was thrown off balance was Ouma.

Ikki had pulled out his seventh secret sword, Raikou.

It was a technique with such speed that, before he had grasped what he’d stolen from Twin-Wings, he hadn’t been able to discern its swing by sight.

Worst One’s fastest strike had been further refined by Twin-Wings' swordsmanship, and in the instant between Sword Emperor of Wind’s Amatsukaze’s fifty-seventh and fifty-eighth strike, Ikki cut in with a strike to Ryuuzume’s side, ruining the combination.

After he disrupted the combination, Ikki launched a full body attack at Ouma, whose stance had been broken.

It was a slash with all his weight thrown behind it.

Moroboshi noticed something in that motion.

(The way he’s using his weight is just like the time he fought me.)

It was his sixth secret sword-Dokuga no Tachi.

Whether it strikes sword or armor, the opponent would be destroyed from within starting at the point of contact.

Using this technique, he could render Ouma’s steel body meaningless.

Not knowing that, Ouma took Ikki’s attack without blocking or dodging, accepting it with his tempered body.

His body was attacked from within as if it were a bag of water.

The shock that entered Ouma had nowhere to escape, and so it ran over his muscles, bones, and organs-

“Tenryuugusoku”

“...!”

The shock should have hit him, but Ouma looked like he didn’t even care.

Dokuga no Tachi had not failed.

The vibrations from his blade had definitely made it to Ouma.

However, Ouma had not been moved.

That was, in short, what made Ouma Kurogane a terror.

He had a force of will that transcended flesh.

He hadn’t spared any effort, realizing his resolution with steel-like sense of purpose.

Half-hearted attacks would not even be noticed.

Far from crying out in pain, without swaying even a little, he’d clad his body in the stormy armor Tenryuugusoku.

Then, Ouma reached past Intetsu, which had been touching his chest, and sent Ikki flying back.

Ikki’s body tumbled in the air like he’d been hit by a car.

Aiming for his landing spot, Ouma swung Ryuuzume horizontally from where he was.

With the sharp sound of cutting through air, he released a vacuum blade.

It flew towards Ikki’s landing spot, with just the right trajectory to strike Ikki’s neck.

However, Ikki ended up deciding not to evade.

“Fu.”

Ikki took the impact of the landing by sinking into his knees, lowering his body.

He bent as far as he could, then released the energy coiled in his lower body.

With enough power to gouge the ring, he kicked the ground and thrust Intetsu’s tip at the incoming vacuum blade.

First secret sword-Saigeki.

Within Another One’s original sword techniques, it boasted the fastest charging speed and the strongest penetration. With that thrust, Ikki met the vacuum blade head on and destroyed it with all his strength, sending the force right back at Ouma like an arrow.

Ouma had tried to use Tenryuugusoku to form a gap and engage in long range combat, but Ikki's speed completely destroyed that plan. He would unable to respond to Ikki charging back into range again with such timing-supposedly. However…!

(It’s no use!)

Touka and the other spectators all shivered.

At the same time, Ikki noticed it too.

When he destroyed the vacuum blade, the distortion disappeared from his field of vision.

Ouma brandished Ryuuzume, twisting as far as to face his back towards Ikki.

Everyone knew what technique would be fired from that stance.

Kyokujitsu Isshin-ryuu, Jin no kiwami- Amaterasu[5].

It was a secret technique where he used his whole body’s strength to twist his frame down to the bone, then slashed by releasing that wound up power. Though it was but one stroke, unlike Ikki’s Blade Steal, this, Sword Emperor of Wind’s fastest strike, was more truly within the territory of Twin-Wings.

Moreover, Amaterasu was not long ranged, but a close ranged attack.

Ouma had understood.

After breaking through the vacuum blade, Ikki would immediately return to sword distance.

Having read his opponent, he amassed his power and waited.

This was the worst development for Ikki.

Saigeki was an assault technique. He had put all of his power into the starting kick, as it was a technique that shot oneself like an arrow towards its target.

Therefore, once in the middle of Saigeki, it would not be possible to stop.

Ikki could now only move forwards.

As Ouma’s Amaterasu would win in reach and speed, Ryuuzume would behead Ikki before Ikki’s blade reached him.

However-

Ikki was not such a naive man as to be unable to improvise in a pinch.

“Wha…!?”

In the next moment, the spectators all widened their eyes in surprise.

In the instant Ouma fired Amaterasu, Ikki pointed Intetsu down and stabbed the tip into the ground.

As a result, Saigeki’s assault pitched forward, launching Ikki over Ouma’s head like a pole vaulter. He then kicked off the ceiling hard enough to break it, and once again charged at Ouma with Saigeki.

Amaterasu was a technique in which one devotes their all into one move’s speed.

That meant it left one vulnerable until it ended, leaving Ouma unable to avoid this Saigeki.

...Direct hit.

The close range Saigeki pierced Ouma’s wind armor, Tennryuugusoku, and Ikki’s sword dug in right above his collarbone.

That was by no means a random target.

Ikki had seen through Ouma’s muscle shape and density based on his movements, and attacked so as to slip through a gap.

He realized that without doing so, his offensive power would not be enough to pierce Ouma’s body.

His judgement was correct.

Even something like Touka using her Takemikazuchi was unable to cut Ouma. The only one who could damage him with a simple slash would probably be someone as powerful as Stella.

However, the plan hadn’t gone that well. Intetsu had not cut muscle. It had seemed to pierce Ouma, but before it turned into a serious wound, Ouma had flexed his muscles. His swelling muscles caught the blade as if it had been tucked in there.

Ikki immediately tried to extract his sword.

However, the cost of not bringing Ouma down was too great.

Ouma grabbed Ikki by the lapels before Ikki even landed on the floor, then threw him onto the ring with his full power.

“!!!”

Ikki’s body made a large, deep depression in the hard stone ring.

He just barely managed to use an ukemi, distributing the impact into the ring, but his stance was left in a terrible state, with one knee propping him up on the ground.

Ouma struck there, putting his full body weight into a downward swing.

Ikki also brought up Intetsu to bear.

Unfortunately, his stance was too poor.

With a position like that, there was no way he could take a blow with Ouma’s weight.

“Onii-samaaa!”

Ouma crushed Ikki along with Intetsu with his weighted blow.

But in the moment it seemed that would happen, something nobody could believe happened before their eyes.

Somehow, in the next moment, the one who was blown away was Ouma.

Ouma immediately gathered power in his toes, but couldn’t stop.

While scraping the surface of the ring, he moved backwards.

Even when he thrust Ryuuzume’s blade into the ground, he could not fully contain the force-

Not until he finally reached the side of the ring.

◆◇◆◇◆

Ikki had certainly been at a disadvantage.

However, the one retreating had been Ouma.

The spectators outside the ring were all baffled by this turn of events.

“Wha, what was that just now?”

“I, I don’t know…”

Moroboshi and Touka knew they hadn’t mistaken the statuses of the combatants.

That only left them all the more confused.

The attack just now clearly far exceeded Ikki’s strength.

What had just happened before them?

Unable to understand even after pondering it, they could only stare intently at Ouma, who had been forced to the edge of the ring.

However, there was one person who understood what had just happened.

It was none other than the one who had been pushed back, Ouma himself.

He understood the trickery from the numbness in his arms, and glared irritatedly at Ikki.

“...Such trickery is just like you.”

“But you fell back, brother.”

“...”

“My swordsmanship does not seek to become powerful. It seeks to win. Therefore, I will do everything I can possible do to defeat my opponent. Even if my opponent is more powerful than me, I will win. Even if that seems like trickery to you, brother, it is the answer that I, the weakest one, came up with. That is Ikki Kurogane’s swordsmanship. I do not intend to apologize for it.

Ikki did not avert his gaze from Ouma’s scornful glare.

He boldly threw out his chest, having nothing he felt ashamed about.

Ikki’s pose made Ouma think.

Even though he couldn’t understand, didn’t want to understand, that was one of Ikki’s strengths, wasn’t it. Then…

“Are you satisfied with your swordsmanship, having pushed me to the edge of the arena with stolen techniques?”

He had once again entered the ring, brandishing Ryuuzume.

The blade was clad in wind.

It was a dragon’s claw, clad in a wild tornado.

While his blade shaved parts off the ceiling and walls, Ouma called out to Ikki.

“Take your stance, Ikki.

I will give you everything I have.

Use everything you have, and show me you can overturn fate.”

“...”

Hearing those words, Ikki showed surprise for a moment.

He never thought this brother of his would accompany him so far.

However, towards that fighting spirit which brought shivers to his skin,

“Yes!”

Ikki thanked him sincerely and took up a stance with Intetsu again.

At some point, his cold sweat had stopped.

◆◇◆◇◆

“...”

When Stella opened her eyes, she found the room full of deep red light flowing in from the evening sun.

She sat up in bed.

Her eyelids were light, and not so much as a yawn escaped her mouth.

Her mind was clear, and it even seemed like her vision was broader.

She threw off her bathrobe and stood in front of a full body mirror.

It reflected a white body with beautiful curves and proportions.

Without any hesitation, she understood that her blood, cells, everything was full of energy.

It seemed the excessive amount of food she’d eaten before sleeping had been stored away without waste by her draconic body.

There was no mistake. She was in peak condition like she’d never been before.

Stella felt confident in the heat her body emitted.

Tonight, she would learn things about herself that she didn’t know.

Well now, everything was ready.

Time to go.

To the ultimate stage, where the strongest opponent would be waiting.

 [Previous Chapter][Main][Next Chapter]

1 Renren is making a pun on Saijou's given name, Ikazuchi (雷), which can mean lightning god.  
2 Happou Nirami, 八方睨み: An all-directional observation technique.  
3 Seigan no Kamae, 正眼の構え: A basic defensive stance with blade held low, pointing at enemy’s eyes.  
4 Kyokujitsu Isshin-ryuu, Retsu no kiwami Amatsukaze, 旭日一心流・烈の極 天津風: Rising Sun One Mind Style · Highest of Sequence - Amatsukaze.  
5 Kyokujitsu Isshin-ryuu, Jin no kiwami- Amaterasu, 旭日一心流・迅の極 天照: Rising Sun One Mind Style · Highest of Swiftness - Amaterasu.

30 comments:

  1. Awesome translation as usual!! Thanks a lotT this is definitely one of my favorite LNs ��

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's amazing as usual. All this fights really hyped up the fight with Stella
    A correction: After he disrupted the combination, Ikki launched a full body attack at Moroboshi, whose stance had been broken. -> It should be Ouma not Maboroshi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for pointing it out. We'll double check and fix it.

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  3. Thanks for the translation! By the way, are you going to translate the whole volume or just translate the untranslated parts of chapter 9 in jasonwanderblog?

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  4. Thank you for the tl. Btw I think this line probably needs fixing too: "Ouma and Touka knew they hadn’t mistaken the statuses of the combatants." I think it should be Moroboshi instead of Ouma because a following line mentions that Ouma understood what happened.

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    1. We will double check. Thanks for pointing out.

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  5. Omg thank you so much

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  6. Another mistake: "...via the connections of Tsukikage himself as one of Rebellion's Numbers and his old friend Kouzou Kazamatsuri,..."

    Actually Kouzou is one of the Numbers, not Tsukikage.

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  7. Thanks for the translation!

    This is a good chapter. And I wonder if Ikki won his mock battle against Ouma. Either way, the fights here were all great. Moroboshi and Touka are especially great considering what they did.

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  8. Thank you for your hard work !

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  9. Thanks for the translation ! Here are a few errors I found (i did not repeat the ones that were already pointed out in other comments) :

    There's "Shizuka" instead of Shizuku 2 times, one around when Moroboshi and Touka enter the practice space and the other when Ikki is facing Touka.

    "...It's here." I am not sure about that one, maybe Sara refers to Edelweiss' presence but it feels like it should be replaced by "...She's here."

    "Kaga thumped Ikki's chest with as he insisted this." Two things are missing here, "with his fist" and "on this".

    "This was not cold air, but that crisp swordship’s aura that gave one get the chills." Here it's either "made one get the chills" or "gave one the chills". Also shouldn't it be "swordsmanship" ?

    "In the next moment, the spectators all all widened their eyes in surprise." All is repeated twice.

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  10. Thank you so much, I read this in one sitting so now I am sad.

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  11. Thank you for the all the hard work put into translating this Light Novel. This is definitely my favorite novel so far! Can't wait for the FINAL BATTLE.

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  13. So are you going to do the next chapter or move to the next volume?

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  14. Thanks for translation. When can we expect the next chapter to be translated?

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  15. Thank you very much for your hard work! Even though i won't read it until all of volume 9 is translated (i like to read the books in one go ^^) i'm still giving you my thanks in advance. :)

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  16. Thanks! Looking forward to the next update

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  17. Hello! Thank you for the translation. Honestly, I really want to know what happened next as soon as possible but all I can do is to pray for your (the translator and the team) health and other matters (that would affect the progress of your updates) so you can continue to translate this novel. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!. I'm looking forward for the next update.

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  18. Thank you sooooo much for translating this series! It's such an awesome read.

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  19. Many thanks for your work! I love this novel!

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  20. Do you know where can I find the raw volume 9?

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  21. thanks for traslation ��

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  22. LOL REALLY WANT THIS TO GET TRANSLATED QUICKLY!!!!!!!

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