Chapter 2: Laboratory/Hundred/Crash Course

The following events took place shortly after the conclusion of the school entrance ceremony.

Having parted with Fritz and Reitia, who had expressed a desire to explore the school, Hayato and Emil walked the halls to the laboratory.

“Remind me, why are you coming along?”

“Wouldn’t you just get lost if I left you alone?”

“That’s certainly a possibility, but still…”

The interior design of the Bugeika school building – which coupled beige walls with cream-colored linoleum floors – was repetitive to the extent it was practically draining.

This, of course, did not exclude the first floor of the basement where the laboratory was housed.

The design made it rather simple for one to be easily lost, but, knowing that Emil had a copy of the building map on his PDA should the need arise, the two were quite carefree as they made their way to the entrance of the laboratory in question.

“Is it really alright to just waltz on in like this?” Hayato wondered aloud, having caught sight of a sign by the door proclaiming access for ‘Authorized Personnel Only’.

“The president was the one who told us to get in touch with the lab, so it should be fine. Let me give something a try here…”

Having thus spoken, Emil raised his PDA to the scanner placed alongside the door. An electronic beep echoed and the word ‘OK’ appeared on the intercom display.

“Looks fine to me.”

Smiling as the door opened on its own, Emil walked in.

Hayato followed.

“Well, it certainly feels like a laboratory…” he said on impulse, referring to the lighting in the dimly lit room.

The lights on the ceiling which would normally light the room were all off. Instead, the room was illuminated with the ambient light of the dense crowd of machines and massive computers which filled its space, draping the scene in a truly eerie glow.

In a particularly brightly-lit corner of the room, seated before a great number of monitors, was a girl in a white labcoat, slouched over in her chair.

“Char, you’re really here!”

Emil raced over, gripping the girl in a tight embrace.

“What do you think you’re doing all of a sudden?!” Hayato shouted in shock.

The girl in the labcoat, however, didn’t so much as bat an eye in response.

“Char?” Emil called again, peeking at her face. “…S-She’s dead?!”

“Say WHAT?!”

“Just kidding~ She’s asleep, I think.”

“Give me a break…”

“Ehehe,” Emil laughed, trying to smooth things over.

Upon closer inspection, her fluffy hair and honeybee-patterned hair tie, gently rose and fell with the rhythm of a sleeper’s breathing.

“――From the looks of things, I’m guessing you know her?”

“Yep, Char’s my patron.”

“Patron, huh…?”

He did recall her having mentioned a ‘Char’ back in the dorms. It seemed the sleeping girl before his eyes was the aforementioned Char.

“Char here’s something of a wunderkind. She earned her PhD at the most acclaimed university in the Weimar Kingdom when she was primary-school age. By middle school, she had already become the foremost expert on genome engineering, alchemy, and other such things. That was when I met her; she taught me about the Hundred and I received mine at that time.”

As Emil spoke, he continued to shake Char by the shoulders.

“Come on, Char. Wake up! It’s me, Emil.”

Char stirred and – half-awake – offered up an, “Ooh, it’s been a while, Emily――” before cutting off mid-sentence.

“Guni―” she went instead, as Emil pinched her cheeks.

“-ut aw oo zooing…”

With her small cheeks forced apart by a vice-like grip, Char couldn’t talk normally.

“Char, you’re still half asleep. I’m Emil, Emil Crossford!”

“Ooh, that’s right. Emil; you’re Emil, Emil Crossford. Morning, Emil. It’s been a while; what’s up?” Char responded, yawning as she rubbed her eyes tiredly.

Her height was comparable with – no, perhaps even shorter than Reitia. The hem of her labcoat dragged along the ground.

Moreover, she had quite the baby face.

Given what he’d heard from Emil a moment ago, she ought to be roughly the age of Hayato and the others, if not slightly older. With her in front of him, however, it was difficult to reconcile this fact with her appearance; he simply could not see her as being anything but years younger than himself.

“As you see, I was able to safely arrive in Little Garden as of today. This is also thanks to you, Char. Thank you…” Emil said, giving Char a tight hug.

“Oi, oi, greeting me with a hug is fine, but are you okay clinging to me like this? Won’t that guy over there misunderstand something?”

“Hahaha, there’s no need to worry about that. Char’s seen as nothing but a child. Isn’t that right, Hayato…?”

“Certainly, it wouldn’t feel out of place calling her an elementary schooler, but…”

“Oi, you guys, regardless of the circumstances, that’s still impolite, alright! I’m of an age where I shouldn’t be described as anything but a young lady; of an age where I can even bear children―― Er, actually, that was hardly a self-introduction, right? I am Charlotte Dymandias, the main technologist of this lab.”

“Uh, I’m…”

“Kisaragi Hayato, right? I’m well aware.”

Hayato was interrupted just as he was about to introduce himself.

“I’ve already seen the data of all students enrolled in the Bugeika with [LiZA], the academy mainframe,” Charlotte said, indicating to an object in the center of the room shaped like a pillar, or perhaps a thick tree trunk, with a thump of her hand.

“Is that [LiZA]?”

As if prompted by Hayato’s question, the color of the monitor changed, radiating a blue glow throughout the room; it now read the word ‘Exactly’.

“…What the heck?”

“Did Char do that just now?”

Hayato and Emil called out one after another.

“Nope; that was [LiZA] herself. She’s an autonomous system so she can do something like that if she wants, you know?” Char replied.

The characters on the screen began to change.

[Kisaragi Hayato. Welcome to Little Garden[1].]

“Looks like [LiZA]’s giving you quite the welcome.”

“I don’t quite understand, but it’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? [LiZA]…” Hayato muttered.

“That’s only natural; she’s also Little Garden’s brain, you see. It’s thanks to her that, despite working in a tiny room like this, my research and development of the Hundred is made possible.”

Hayato glanced around the lab once more. The room certainly wasn’t all that large; there were no more than three desks, after all.

“This lab produces the Hundred, so I figured there would be a bunch of scientists and technologists involved and that they’d need some rather large heavy-machinery, but I guess that’s not the case?”

“While the Hundred use the ore known as Variable Stone for raw material, they are made through a process of computer-controlled genetic manipulation, coupled with a design process that has been evolving since the middle ages. Large equipment is uncalled for. Also, I may not look it, but I’m really smart, you know; I can do the work of about three scientists by myself,” Char declared, laughing heartily.

“A moment ago, Emil described you as a ‘wunderkind’?”

“Well, I’m still often called that, but well, it kind of feels a bit derogatory, in my opinion. Putting that aside… How can I help you guys? If it’s just for small talk, I’ll have to take a rain check; I’ve been up all night organizing the data of you freshmen and I haven’t had much rest. I’m quite exhausted.”

“So that’s why Char didn’t come to the school entrance ceremony.”

“You could say that. If you like, why don’t you come back later? Give me an hour to rest; no, better make that two.”

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we can’t wait that long. Could you spare about an hour for us? I think you should have gotten notice from the president…”

“The president? From the Queen? Let me check.”

Char popped the lollipop in her hand back into her mouth and began to run her fingers over the optical keyboard.

The large monitor switched to display email software, which reported a considerable number of newly arrived mail.

“Indeed, it seems I’ve received a mail from the Queen. Wait, huh?”

Spinning her seat around, Char turned to face Hayato.

“…So why exactly is it that you’re to duel Claire Harvey?” Charlotte asked, popping her lollipop out of her mouth.

“I’ll be explaining that to you,” Emil interrupted, before beginning to summarize what had occurred during the school entrance ceremony.

 

“Yare, yare. What a shock…”

Charlotte heaved a deep sigh as Emil finished his explanation.

“Still as tomboyish as ever―― Err, wait, you wouldn’t call a man that, would you? Uh, what a bold personality. Even that disrespect for those in positions of authority – that part of you hasn’t changed either…”

“Emil’s always been like this?”

“For at least as long as I’ve known him. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to apologize to his family because of him….. To begin with, the fact that he was able to leave his country and come here is thanks to me.”

“Wait a sec, Charlotte! Don’t say anything unnecessary―!”

“Hahaha, my bad, my bad. Well then, shall we get to Kisaragi Hayato-kun’s final Hundred maintenance? If we don’t, I can’t hand over the Hundred, you know?” said Char as she lifted the receiver for the room phone.

“That was my assistant,” she informed them.

A few minutes after she hung up, the lab door abruptly opened. A woman, strangely dressed in a maid uniform, rushed in, gasping for air.

“Char-sama, thank you for your patience! …So, are these the guests―?!”

She had (attached?) both cat ears atop her head as well as a tail and boasted a lovely figure, and on the whole was attended by a rather unworldly atmosphere.

…Could this person possibly be the assistant in question?

“We talked about this before didn’t we? This is my close friend, Emil Crossford. And the guy over there is Kisaragi Hayato.”

“Oh―?! I see!”

The girl leapt to her feet, positioning herself before Hayato and the others and bowed her head.

“I am Charlotte-sama’s assistant, Meimei―― So this is the rumored Kisaragi Hayato-san?! Well, now that I think about it, I’ve already seen you in the school database. But this is my first time seeing you in person. Would you mind if I gave you a quick whiff?”

“A ‘whiff’…?”

Without bothering to heed the response of the utterly bewildered Hayato, the woman who’d introduced herself as Charlotte’s assistant leaned in near his chest, and began to sniff him.

“I’d heard you’d come from Yamato originally, so I figured you’d smell like soy sauce. I guess that isn’t the case, though.”

“Um, even if someone’s from Yamato, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t smell like soy sauce. Similarly, you wouldn’t smell corn on people from Libia either, right?”

“Now that you mention it, that’s indeed true. Meimei’s learned something new.”

Meimei nodded with an ‘mhm mhm’.

“You’re probably thinking about how strange she is, but I can vouch for the fact that she’s definitely sharp. No matter what the rest of her may be like, she’s basically a disciple of mine, so you can be sure she’s more than on top of things when it comes to the Hundred.”

“Yep, I’m on top of things!”

Meimei enthusiastically clenched her fists before her.

“Ha, haha…”

Despite what Charlotte had said, he honestly couldn’t see her as a competent and able individual, but that said, if it weren’t for Charlotte’s white labcoat, he probably wouldn’t be able to envision her as the exceptional technologist she was either. He had heard, after all, that occupations such as scientist and technologist happened to have a disproportionate number of eccentrics within their ranks. He decided to stop thinking about it too deeply.

“…So, Char-sama – what would you like me to do?”

“First things first, I could use some coffee. Don’t skimp on the sugar; I want it sweet. Oh, and the donuts at the cafeteria are pretty popular, right? Why don’t you grab me some? Get some for Emil and Hayato as well.”

“In other words, you’d like to eat, right?”

“Well, it’s lunchtime, isn’t it? Forget going to war, you can’t even get your brain to work with an empty stomach. We’ll proceed with maintenance after we’ve had lunch.”

“Roooger that!” Meimei answered animatedly as she skipped out the lab.

 

After their meal, Hayato and Emil read up on Claire Harvey to pass the time until the maintenance on his Hundred finished.

Char had informed them of their ability to access her data via [LiZA]’s terminal.

The data in question was hardly a secret, being accessible to the entire student body, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t useful for his upcoming duel.

Claire’s Hundred boasted extreme mobility, and true to its nature as a Dragoon-type model, could freely employ heavy weaponry. Its name, carrying the meaning of ‘Noble War Princess’, was Alystherion. Counting from when Little Garden and the Bugeika had been founded two years prior, she had never once lost, and so she’d come to be known as the ‘Perfect Queen’[2].

She was someone who had battled twelve Savage as a lone Slayer in the two years since her admission. The total number of sorties against the Savage to date numbered 17, and thus she’d not only participated in nearly every battle, but she’d dealt the killing blow in over half of the battles she’d taken part in. Her merits in battle had earned her the nickname ‘Rose Guardian’.

“…What chance do I have against someone with nicknames like that?”

“But Hayato’s amazing Hundred reaction reading is overwhelmingly higher – that surely has to count for something‘…”

“You just keep going on and on about that aptitude test reading, don’t you?”

It didn’t matter how many naturally gifted athletes you assembled, if they’d never played football before, you still wouldn’t have much of a game, right? Something like victory existed only in the realm of dreams. Hayato was about to voice such complaints when Meimei bounced in from the workshop adjoined to the lab.

“All done―!” she exclaimed, extending a small box to Hayato.

“This Hundred is exclusively for Hayato-sama’s use; please be careful with it, all right?”

Within lay a blood-red, octahedral crystal with a string: A portable, pendant-shaped Hundred.

“So this is my personal Hundred…”

Taking the crystal in hand, Hayato lifted it above his head for a better look.

“Its appearance hasn’t been customized, but it’s been adjusted to be compatible with you. I think you’ll be quite pleased with the results,” Charlotte added.

“Hey, Hayato, hurry up and deploy it already!”

“…’Deploy’ it you say…and how would I go about doing that?”

“Hold your horses for a moment, okay? If a beginner were to deploy a Hundred here, there’s no telling what could happen. Spare me that, would you?”

“By that logic, what would count as an acceptable place to give it a try? The duel’s tomorrow; I’d really like to practice――”

“I figured you’d say that, so I went ahead and booked the practice grounds already. Seeing as no one else was using it, it should be open for use.”

“That’s Char for you! Thanks!”

After receiving a hug of gratitude from Emil, Charlotte picked up a piece of candy atop the table and stashing it in her pocket, walked toward the exit.

“Since it’s come to this, it can’t be helped – I’ll take you to the training grounds so please follow me.”

 

※※※

 

The training grounds were located at the first level of the basement and situated a short distance from the main Bugeika building.

As Charlotte opened the door, a large, rectangular space revealed itself before Hayato’s eyes.

Charlotte explained that it was of an equal size to the auditorium the school entrance ceremony had been held in, but because of sheer amount of space that had been allocated to the battle arena in the room’s center, it felt extremely spacious.

The field was surrounded by glass partitions; each partition housing a few seats of a kind that could be found in a movie theatre, baseball stadium, or concert hall.

“This is just like back in Gutenburg, huh?” Emil muttered, glancing around.

“I’d planned on using this training ground. For starters, why don’t we head down to the battle arena?” Charlotte said as she descended the path to the arena, with Hayato and company trailing after her.

“It seems kinda barren, doesn’t it?” Hayato mused.

Hayato’s thoughts mirrored the scene before him; the ground was paved with neither concrete nor linoleum as one might expect, but was instead simply dirt.

“Even if this is a training ground, the point is to simulate battle with the Savage. In real combat, you’d fight in an environment like this as opposed to one with clean, paved floors, you know?”

“Though the Colosseum has no roof and its spectator stands are several times larger than the ones here, when it comes to either the size of the arena or the atmosphere, you’ll find things identical to the practice ground here. That’s why it’ll serve well to get yourself accustomed to the feel of things,” Charlotte chimed in, adding to Meimei’s words. “Incidentally, since the activation of Hundred skills not only poses a risk to bystanders, but causes extensive collateral damage as well, Bugeika lessons are also held here.”

“Yep, yep. The walls, glass, etc. of this practice ground were designed to take a beating, even from a Hundred or the Savage. Feel free to test their durability for yourself.”

“A-Alright…”

Following Meimei’s prompting, he gave the wall a hefty blow, but it simply rippled on contact, dispersing the impact.

“What is this…?”

“The surface is layered with a shock-absorbent material; it employs electrical engineering techniques to form a barrier of sorts.”

“Little Garden sure is amazing…”

“Fruits of my labors, you know?” Charlotte proclaimed, thumping her chest proudly.

“Now then, to start things off, shall we have you change into your combat suit, Hayato-sama?”

“Change…? Why would I have to change clothes just to deploy the Hundred?”

“In order to draw out the full abilities of the Hundred, it’s necessary to wear your personal Variable Suit.”

As she spoke, Meimei turned to face a door opposite her and began walking toward it.

“In tomorrow’s duel, you’ll also be using this Variable Suit, and so it needs some adjustments, just like your Hundred. We’ll explain things one at a time, so please go ahead and get changed, alright?”

After changing and having said adjustments made, Hayato left the locker room and returned to the arena where Charlotte, Emil, and Meimei awaited him.

At any rate, this suit’s pretty simplistic, isn’t it?

His thoughts were prompted by Emil’s outfit, the design of which differed from Hayato’s, and clung to his body almost like some kind of bodysuit.

“What are you staring at…?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that I’m not really able to see my own suit that well, so…”

Because it was called a combat suit, he’d imagined it would be rather bulky; the true appearance of the Variable Suit was just the opposite, however.

By breaking down the ore that formed the core of the Hundred, the Variable Stone, and incorporating it into the suit’s fibers, not only did it gain the ability to deploy the Hundred, but the suit’s own shape changed as well.

Hence the adjustments Meimei had made in the locker room.

A multitude of factors – such as one’s current condition, psyche, and aptitude with the Hundred – all played a role in determining the form a Variable Suit took, and thus each person’s suit was as unique as was their Hundred.

Accordingly, both the color and form of Emil’s and Hayato’s suits differed.

“…So, seeing as you’re also wearing a Variable Suit, I’m assuming you also have your Hundred?”

“I’ve had it with me this entire time.”

“…Meaning even before you got here…?”

Naturally, Hayato was astonished. The Hundred were powerful weapons.

In the hands of a skilled user, the single-handed destruction of an entire combat regiment was more than a possibility.

Accordingly, their use was tightly regulated by many countries and licenses to possess one were restricted to troops belonging to either the UN or PMCs.

At the time of his enrollment, he’d had to sign a mountain of paperwork and was subjected to many a psychological examination.

“Indeed, his situation is unusual,” Charlotte cut in. “But, well… Emil’s Hundred reading is fairly high and it seemed useful for my research, so I made the necessary arrangements, and he was given special dispensation.”

In other words, an exception had been made.

“…In that case, wouldn’t it be better for Emil to fight instead? Having taken part in your research, I imagine his skill with the Hundred is considerable.”

“The president challenged you directly, so that’s not really an option, is it? My fate already hangs in the balance as it is. Anyway, first things first, deploy your Hundred; let’s see it already.”

“Deploy… It’s the same process as when we were first tested, right…?”

Responding to his question, Charlotte, and not Emil, answered.

“First, touch your Hundred. The next part’s all the same up until the part where you speak your desire for it to become a weapon; then, shout ‘Hundred on’. That’s the keyphrase to initiate deployment.”

“‘Hundred on’, is it…?”

“For now, just give it a try.”

With a nod, Hayato gripped his Hundred tightly. A blood-red light burst forth from between the fingers of his hand in response. This was the color of his Energy.

“HUNDRED ON!”

As he shouted with all his might, the Hundred suddenly burst into fragments and reformed itself around his right arm.

The form it took was that of a rugged arm protector in the design of traditional Yamato armor – multiple tiers of layered protection.

Extending downward from his shoulder to the base of his hand, his right arm was completely transformed.

Most eye-catching, however, was an enormous sword with a blade measuring over a meter in length, taking the place of the Hundred he’d taken in his hand. It could well have been described as a zanbatou[3].

“So how is it? Your personal Hundred – [Hien][4].”

Hayato’s gaze took in the weapon Charlotte had developed, and he smiled in satisfaction.

“So this guy’s called [Hien], huh…?” Hayato muttered, looking at the sword in his hand.

“Yeah, Chevalier-types resemble the warriors of your country – Yamato – in both name and form. How does it feel?”

“It’s huge and heavy, but other than that…the feel of it in my hand is just right.”

Taking a stance with [Hien], he swung once, twice in practice.

“Of course. I was the one responsible for it, after all. In this way, your physical advantages – your agility and dexterity – can be leveraged; you should be more than maneuverable. If you’re pleased with it, then that’s the most important thing.”

Brimming with self-confidence, she nodded her head at her craftsmanship.

Indeed, work of a quality expected from the one called ‘wunderkind’.

During the examination when he had first laid hands on the Hundred, though it had more or less taken the form of a katana, it nonetheless had branches protruding from all angles, as if a mysterious objet d’art. Now, however, it had properly taken form as a sword.

The improvements could more than likely be attributed to the adjustments that had been made, as Charlotte had said.

This was a sword made for battling the Savage; a sword made for Hayato.

“Now, it’s my turn.”

Emil pulled a pendant out from around his neck. It had a red crystal attached to it.

“Is that your…?”

“This is my Hundred.”

Tossing his pendant above his head, Emil yelled, “HUNDRED ON!”

Unlike Hayato’s, Emil’s Hundred radiated a blue light before diffusing into particles and reforming, enveloping Emil’s body like a coat and eventually forming over a dozen floating objects.

“So that’s your weapon…?”

Rather than a weapon, it looked more like a defensive armament of some sort.

A closer inspection revealed that it lacked a sturdy form, like that of Hayato’s [Hien].

Instead, the particles had formed into a handful of clusters.

“Its name is [Arms Shroud][5]. The manipulation of these particles is the form my Hundred takes – it’s based on the ‘Innocence’ type.”

“‘Innocence’ type…?”

After his transfer had been confirmed, he’d skimmed a book on the Hundred as preparation. Within its pages had been laid out the various kinds of Hundred.

These included Hayato’s Chevalier, the president’s Dragoon, Long Shooter, which formed the core of their long distance artillery; Martial Arts, which specialized in hand-to-hand combat, and so on and so forth. In all, there were more than a hundred types.

But not once was there mention made of an ‘Innocence’ type. That alone demonstrated its unconventionality.

“Can I ask – how exactly do you plan to fight with that?”

Defense was one thing, but he really couldn’t see how you’d attack with it.

“I simply have [Arms Shroud] change into a weapon,” Emil replied.

The solid mass of particles covering his body flashed a brilliant blue-white. Suddenly, in his hand was a short gun barrel, which quickly took the form of a rifle-like gun pod.

“It’s said that the president’s Dragoon-type employs weaponry of this design, so that makes me the perfect sparring partner.”

That certainly seemed to be the case.

“Even if you say that… How can you suddenly change your Hundred’s form like that…?”

The gun pod hovered above Emil’s right shoulder, floating in mid-air.

“Haha, well, my Hundred’s a little ‘special’, but there are other Slayers who can change the form of their weapons in battle, so it’s good that you’re experiencing this early on. Putting that aside for the moment, let’s get started with practice; there’s no time to waste.”

“That much is true.”

It was indisputable that they were short on time.

He had, after all, been informed by Meimei while changing that they had only been able to reserve the training grounds for three hours.

“To begin, what do you know about Sense Energy, Hayato?”

“If I recall correctly, it’s released from a human’s body, and is made up of minute particles… or something like that?”

It wasn’t something he’d ever seen with his own eyes, but the Hundred both reacted to, and changed in accordance with it… What he’d just recited was his recollection of something he’d once read in a book.

“Just so. More generally, this energy is also referred to as ‘ki’ or ‘magical power’, but here in Little Garden, it’s ‘Sense Energy’, or just ‘Energy’ for short.”

“Incidentally, once your Energy reading hits zero, it becomes impossible for the Hundred to maintain its form, so do be careful,” Charlotte added. “When that occurs during a duel, you lose.”

In other words, Sense Energy could well be construed as life itself to a Slayer.

“Our goal today is for you to learn to use this Energy; to imbue your weapon with Energy, to defend against an opponent’s attack by forming a barrier, and then to employ Energy for both Accelerate and Jump. Moreover, we’d like to assess your ability with a sword as well as physical abilities – the bare minimums necessary to fight.”

Emil had hit upon a number of points in a row without pausing. There was a considerable number of things Hayato needed to be mindful of, and yet that apparently constituted just the bare minimum.

I seem to be in a bit of a tight spot here…

He thought to himself that if the duel had been a week from now and not a day, then he might have had a chance. At this point, however, it was too late to worry about such things; he had no choice but to learn what he could in the next few hours.

“Haaaw~ I don’t think I can stay up much longer. It’s about time I got some rest. It was originally my intent to see you to this point, and if you were able to deploy your Hundred without any issues, then I’d like to go back home and sleep.”

“In that case, I, too, shall take my leave. I wouldn’t want to intrude upon you two.”

“Intrude…”

Seeing Emil’s face blushing a deep red, Hayato unintentionally cocked an eyebrow.

“What’s up with that reaction…?”

“Hahaha, anyway, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to give Meimei a call. If you dial extension 18 on the training grounds’ phone, you’ll be connected with her, alright?”

Charlotte yawned airily as she exited the training grounds along with Meimei.

“Now then, first things first. Why don’t we test your proficiency with Energy?”

“Test, huh? And how on Earth do you plan to do that?”

“Oh, kind of like this…”

“――Uwa―?!”

A beam suddenly fired from the gun pod floating above Emil’s right shoulder.

Drawing [Hien] in front of his body in guard, Hayato blocked the assault of blue-white light that drew near.

*GAKIN*!

[Hien] made a shrill sound, and he felt a jarring impact run up his arm.

“What do you think you’re doing all of a sudden?!”

He’d been somewhat able to defend against it, but had he been even a moment slower with [Hien], he’d likely have been hit directly by the beam.

“Hahaha, well, I’ll be; I never would have guessed [Hien] could just stop the beam like that…”

“That’s not something to laugh about! And you didn’t answer my question…”

“I figured I’d test whether or not you could use an E-Barrier.”

“E-Barrier… Uh, that’s that Energy-Barrier thing, right?”

It’d been mentioned in the book he’d read.

“Right. Energy is released from the body which then expands into a Barrier which mitigates the opponent’s attack – it’s one of the most fundamental techniques in a Slayer’s repertoire. The process for creating one is simple: just picture yourself deflecting an incoming bullet. In other words, it’s just like deploying the Hundred… And with that, here I come again!”

“Oi, wait a sec!”

“Not a chance! Practice makes perfect, you know!”

His tone suggesting he was enjoying himself tremendously, Emil caused one of the [Arm Shroud] clusters to form another gun pod, and again fired a beam.

“Even if he said to just picture deflecting a bullet…”

Naturally, he didn’t have the time to consider the matter too deeply – the beam was already before him. He simply stuck out his hand in response.

The sole thought which occupied his mind was that of wanting the beam to stop.

“Ah, I did it…”

The beam failed to contact Hayato’s body. Just before reaching him, it exploded and disappeared.

“That’s great, isn’t it, Hayato? Let’s try a few more.”

Emil proceeded to fire five beams one after another in rapid succession. Hayato was able to stop all of them.

“Amazing, Hayato. Perfection in an instant! With this, you’ve learned the basics. Throwing up an E-Barrier, bestowing Energy on the Hundred, and using Energy for Accelerate and Jump – they’re all essentially the same, you know?”

“In other words, I’ve reached the barest minimum of what a master of martial arts can do…?”

With that thought, a tiny bit of self-confidence gushed up within him.

“From here on out, the rest depends on your endurance. We’re going to engage in real combat training, alright? It’s easier to coach during an actual match.”

Emil caused more of [Arm Shroud]’s fragments, floating around his body, to change form, creating yet more gun pods.

“Alright then, let’s begin! Stop these with your E-Barrier, like you were doing earlier!”

Emil manipulated the gun pods, firing one beam after another.

“…That’s―!”

Hayato expanded an E-Barrier, protecting himself from a pair of beams.

A light impact ran through his body, but only to the extent of having caught a thrown ball; there wasn’t really any damage to speak of.

“You’ve already mastered the E-Barrier, looks like? But you can’t win if you just stay on the defensive, you know!”

In other words, Emil was telling him he needed to go on the offensive.

He decided to accelerate toward Emil, and deal him an Energy-imbued blow.

Since it’s come to this, there’s nothing to do but try!

First, Accelerate――

Focusing his thoughts on closing the distance, he expelled Energy from his feet right as he kicked off from the ground, adding an explosive thrust to his leap. Closing the gap between Emil and himself in an instant, he imbued [Hien] with his Energy, and slashed downward.

Filling his hands with power, he charged them with Energy. The various ornamentations which decorated [Hien]’s blade shone a brilliant crimson – the color of his Energy.

Filling [Hien] with his Energy was a success.

“HAAAAAAAAAAAAA―!”

His timing was similarly perfect!

It was a magnificent attack. That, however, wasn’t nearly enough to land a blow on Emil.

“Whoopsie…”

Emil casually manipulated the particles of [Arms Shroud] floating around his body, formed two shields and, crossing them, blocked [Hien]’s downward swing.

“…Amazing. Not just a perfect Accelerate on your first try, but to even succeed at imbuing your Hundred with Energy – it’s beyond expectation. If that’d been a direct hit, I’d probably have gone down.”

Laughing delightedly as he spoke, Emil absentmindedly operated his two shields, sending Hayato’s [Hien] flying.

“Uwa―?!”

Hayato, his balance having been thrown awry by Emil’s counter, was thrown on his back. Emil stopped attacking.

“If you can do this much with what little I’ve taught you, then you just might manage against the president.”

Emil turned to Hayato, who was dusting himself off, and held out his hand. Hayato grasped it, and was lifted to his feet.

“Your words… do you mean to say that you don’t think I can win…?”

“Hahaha, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m talking about devising a plan of attack; we’ll need a strategy.”

“…Strategy?”

“Yep. To win against the president, you’ll need stra-te-gy.”

 

※※※

 

The intense training continued on without a moment’s rest, not letting up until the very moment their reservation time ended, the majority of their time was dedicated to practicing in accordance with the strategy Emil had developed.

Though it was tough going in the beginning, he found he was still able to enjoy himself. From the halfway point on, however, the training had ceased to be anything other than grueling. He was utterly exhausted.

“…Yeesh, I’m completely worn-out…”

The sun had long since set, and Hayato, having already changed and left the practice grounds, was walking the path back to the dorms with Emil at his side.

Crossing the distance between the school and the dorms was normally a five-minute walk, but in his fatigued state, it felt infinitely longer.

“If that’s the case, why not try out the public bath?” Emil suggested, as they finally arrived at the dorm building.

“…The public bath?”

“It’s in the dorm’s basement, and the bathtub there is made from natural minerals. It supposedly has a beneficial effect on both stamina and Energy regeneration; it says here that it’s intended for student use.”

The referenced page was an info page for students, found in the PDA’s browser. Hayato hadn’t yet given it a look.

“Sure, let’s give it a try.”

“N-No, I’m think I’m good. You can go alone, can’t you…?”

“What’s with that weak response? First, you tell me about it, and then now you say you’re not planning on going? You exerted yourself every bit as much as I did; there’s no way you’re not tired.”

“But… Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to go in together with Hayato; isn’t it still too soon for that…?”

“There you go saying that kinda stuff again…”

When they had been changing into their Variable Suits, Emil had commented that it was too embarrassing to do so at the same time, and had refused to change together.

“Well, yeah. Taking a bath together’s definitely a step above just changing together. Being together the whole time, completely naked… And it’s undoubtedly a large public bath, so you’d completely submerge yourself in it, right…”

“Come to think of it, Britannia doesn’t have that custom, does it…”

“In Yamato, it should be pretty common, right? It was written that this bath is based on the hot springs of Yamato.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true, isn’t it? I’ve gone to the hot springs a few times, and it’s a rather pleasant experience; I’m sure you’d like it.”

“But…”

“You really hate the thought of going with me that much, huh?”

“Eeehm, that’s, well…. It’s not that I hate it, but isn’t it too soon…?”

“In other words, you have no plans of going with me today.”

“Yeah, it’ll happen sooner or later. For today, though, I’m just gonna head back to the room. I’m fine with just a shower.”

On this matter, it seemed Emil wouldn’t budge.

Even though he went through such pains to tell me about the public bath; it’s really such a waste…

Emil was really a strange person.

“In that case, I’ll go by myself.”

Hayato gave up on trying to get Emil to join him. He briefly returned to their dorm room to change before taking off for the bath.

 

※※※

 

“Ah― That was nice…”

Exiting the bath alone, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, Hayato returned to his room and pulled his PDA from his pocket.

As Emil had described, the spacious, public bath had been done in the style of those found in Yamato. Just as advertised, it had the miraculous effect of dissipating his fatigue, and his body felt amazingly light. That being the case, it looked like he’d take part in tomorrow’s duel in tip-top shape.

“Alright then…”

Given Emil and Fritz’s demonstrations for him earlier at the school gate and the entrance to the lab, he knew what the key for his room was.

Holding his PDA to the scanner, it gave a small ‘beep’. The attached screen displayed the word ‘OK’ and the door slid open.

“…Haya… to…?”

A voice could be heard alongside the sound of the opening door, and the atmosphere within the room turned to ice.

Even if his body, from the chest on down, had been frantically covered with a bath towel, Emil was nearly nude. Owing perhaps to the fact that his hair had been let down, his presence now felt quite distinctly feminine. Moreover, his skin was shockingly fair, more so than even Hayato’s sister who almost never ventured outside because of her illness. Fair as the white of freshly fallen snow. That was Westerners for you… as if! Actually, on that point, this was hardly the time for admiration. The other party was a Britannian gentleman who had even hesitated to visit the bath together; that was how easily embarrassed someone like Emil was.

“U-UWAAAA――――――――――!”

Emil screamed and ducked down. Gripping the bath towel tightly in his right hand, he took the still-packed Boston bag at his feet in his left. Given the scene playing out before him, the only possible action he foresaw in his near future involved said object flying toward him.

“Hey, wait a sec! That’s my――”

The contents had yet to be unpacked; that, Hayato himself knew best.

However, even as he raised his voice, he realized it was already too late.

Emil threw the bag.

“Guha―?!”

*CRASH*, a massive force impacted the crown of his head as darkness filled his vision.

Hayato collapsed unknowingly upon the carpet.

*DONK*!

Once more, an impact resounded through his brain.

The back of his head had struck the carpeted floor.

“That was close; I was almost found out―― Wait, Hayato, are you alright? Hayato!”

The voice frantically calling his name gradually faded into――

 

A short while after, Hayato’s vision returned, and the scene of a familiar ceiling came into focus.

That’s… the dorm ceiling?

It took a moment before his thoughts coalesced.

I wonder why…

Somehow, he felt strangely comfortable…

“Ah, I’m so relieved. You’ve finally come to.”

“Eh?”

Alongside the interrupting voice, Emil’s face cut into the field of his vision.

With that, Hayato finally understood.

It can’t be, that…

It wasn’t just soft.

That, both slightly supple and warm, was not a pillow – it was Emil’s lap…

“Uwaa?!”

There’s no way; why would I fall asleep with my head on a man’s lap――

It was soft and comfortable, though… Wait, what the heck am I thinking?!

Cutting off that train of thought in a hurry, he leapt to his feet.

“Ouch!”

Pain ran through his forehead just as a scream leaked out from Emil.

As he’d tried to rise, his head had collided with Emil’s, which had been lowered to peer at Hayato.

“Ouchouchouch, what are you doing so suddenly…”

“That’s my line, what on Earth do you think you’re doing?”

“What’s that; it’s clearly Hayato’s fault, suddenly coming in like that…”

Gazing at the blushing Emil, he realized he’d woken up after collapsing shortly after he’d returned to the room.

“After I collapsed, did you carry me to the bed…?”

“…Yeah…”

Emil’s downcast gaze lowered apologetically, and he bowed his head.

He’d been looking after Hayato ever since.

“I’m really sorry. I suddenly lost my head ’cause of that…”

“That’s why I told you not to throw it! It was my bag too…”

“Y-you were the one staring at my naked body, so it’s your fault really!”

“No one was staring at anything. Besides, that was just an accident of unfortunate timing, right?!”

“Uuh~ Hayato, you should just go hit your thumb on a table leg…”

Pouting, Emil glared at him.

Shortly thereafter――

“Um, well…”

“What?”

“Do you remember how I looked naked?”

“…Eh?”

“How I look naked. Do. You. Remember. ―Is what I’m asking!”

“Uhm…”

He desperately tried to recall, but it seemed the memory had fled, probably from the shock of having hit his head twice in rapid succession.

“Thank God…” Emil sighed in relief when he explained.

“Anyway, Hayato. You need to be more careful from now on, alright?”

“Even if you say that, we’re both guys here, so there’s no need for you to get so upset over something so trivial, is there? In the first place, you being that embarrassed about these things is weird.”

“Geez, Hayato just doesn’t get it!”

“What’s there to get…?”

A tense atmosphere filled the room.

A short electronic sound suddenly echoed from Hayato’s PDA, breaking the tension gripping the room.

“What now?”

Picking the PDA up, its screen revealed the arrival of a new message.

“An email? From whom?”

“Let’s see.”

Hayato fiddled clumsily with his PDA.

…I knew it, I’m not very good at this.

“Your girlfriend…?”

“Oh, please. That’s impossible.”

“Impossible? Why?”

“My sister’s been very sick for a long time now. Ever since our parents passed away during the ‘Second Attack’ in Britannia, I’ve had to care for her on my own. I’ve tried my best; I haven’t had time to pay attention to anything else.”

“So Hayato was in Britannia during the ‘Second Attack’…”

“My father’s work put him in Gutenberg. That was really some horrible timing, wasn’t it…”

“Sorry, I asked something I shouldn’t have. But now that you’re here in Little Garden, will your sister be okay?”

“She’s here as well. When I was being scouted by the Warslan Company, they offered my sister world-class medical treatment – free of charge – if I entered the Bugeika. Now, let’s take a look at that mail―― Er, it’s from Karen.”

“Is that your sister?”

“Yeah.”

Hayato nodded. As he read his sister’s message, the blood drained from his face.

“…What’s wrong?” Emil asked, tilting his head.

“I promised her I’d visit after the entrance ceremony concluded, but, with all that happened, I totally blanked. She’s pretty mad.”

Figuring it’d be faster to show than to explain, he turned his PDA so that Emil could see.

Emil leaned in for a better look.

Uh― Ah…

A bittersweet fragrance drifted over, causing Hayato’s heart to skip a beat. When he’d been pushed down earlier, he’d felt similarly.

In his confounded state, Hayato didn’t react as Emil reached for the PDA and went on reading the contents of Karen’s message.

 

Nii-san,

Why didn’t you come after your school entrance ceremony? (-_- メ )

I thought we could have dinner together, and I’d been waiting all this time……

But now visiting hours are over……

Your email address is registered in the school’s database, so I had Miharu get it for me so I could send this email.

I don’t know your phone number; hurry up and let me know already.

If you don’t respond right away, I’ll put a curse on you!

Karen

 

“Hahaha, seems like you’re in something of a bind, huh? You guys seem pretty close though?”

“Everyone thinks that. Karen can get way scary when she’s mad, though; it’s a little troublesome.”

“Oh, right; the email just now reminded me – we haven’t eaten yet.”

“I’m too tired to feel hungry, so it completely slipped my mind… In any case, if I tried to eat after that brutal training, I’d just throw it back up anyway. I’m not really in the mood for food either, so I’m probably just gonna skip dinner tonight.”

“If that’s how it is, then why don’t we call it a night? Tomorrow’s the big day, after all.”

“Let me just answer this email first. This wouldn’t be the most opportune time to get cursed.”

With help from Emil, Hayato crafted a response email which included an explanation of the situation, an apology toward his sister, and – of course – his phone number.

“Alright then. Let’s head to bed.”

Emil returned to his own bed, and the slightly salty, flower-like aroma faded, leaving Hayato feeling somewhat lonely.

Even for someone with rather feminine features, he inspires some pretty strange feelings in another guy…

Considering the matter, he was rather terrified of the implications of such thoughts.

I can’t let that awake in me. This was simply because that guy came from Britannia; yeah, that was why he resembled the girl from his dreams. He assured himself that that was all that was going on here, stilling his troubled heart.

“’K, it’s lights out.”

Emil, having confirmed that Hayato was in his futon, turned off the lights with his PDA.

 

“Hey, Hayato. Are you still awake?”

Ten minutes had passed since they’d slipped into their futons and exchanged ‘Good night’.

“I’m awake; what’s up?”

He was still unaccustomed to sleeping next to a roommate he’d just met. Moreover, with the thought of tomorrow’s duel on his mind, he hadn’t been able to fall asleep.

“I asked you about some relationship stuff earlier, right?”

“Wait, don’t tell me you still want to talk about that…?”

“We’re sleeping side-by-side like this, and you still think this kind of talk is too private – we should try to get to know each other better.”

“Now listen here, you…”

Unconsciously, Hayato smiled wryly.

For a second, he’d almost wanted to ask if Emil thought this was a school field trip.

“And, when you say ‘each other’, I imagine you really mean you’re the only one that’s going to be asking questions here.”

“Hehehe, you got me… But still, would you at least answer one question for me?”

“Hurry up and ask then.”

“I’ve already asked if you’re in a relationship, but is there someone you like? Maybe even someone you really like…”

“Nope.”

“How about someone you once liked?”

“…………”

This time, he was at a loss for words.

He thought of the girl.

“What about someone who’s on my mind…?” Hayato answered, after a moment’s silence.

“Well, tell me about that person. What’re they like?”

“Eeehm, well, let’s see…”

As expected, Emil was really getting into it.

Frankly, he wasn’t sure he wanted to answer.

“You won’t laugh?” He asked, as if embarrassed.

“I won’t laugh,” Emil declared firmly.

Reassured, Hayato began to open up, if only a little.

“Well, it’s something I’ve been dreaming about.”

Admitting that was embarrassing enough already. Nevertheless, he mustered his courage and continued on.

“It’s in your country – Gutenburg – that the girl in my dream appears: the girl who’s on my mind.”

As he talked, he tried to remember his dream, and as before, got the feeling that she somehow resembled Emil.

“The girl and I were attacked by the Savage, and the girl was injured―― and then the dream suddenly ends. I can’t remember anything beyond that.”

“Are you sure that’s just a dream?”

“…Hmm?”

“Hayato, you were in Gutenburg at the time of the ‘Second Attack’, right? It seems like that could have been something that really happened…”

“I can’t honestly say. I sustained a concussion when the Savage attacked us, and my memories of Gutenburg have all since drifted away…”

“If, by some chance, what you see when you sleep is not a dream, but a memory, then I definitely think that girl is alive.”

“How can you just declare something like that all of a sudden?”

“Let’s put it this way: if she’s alive, then wouldn’t she want to meet you? That’s why she appears in your dream, you see.”

“That sounds somewhat occult,” Hayato laughed.

“But, if that truly were the case, you’d be happy, right?”

“This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve thought that. That’s also one of the reasons I’ve made my way here.”

“So what do you plan to do about it?”

“I don’t really know; I’m hoping that maybe via some event, or the Savage, or just over time, the memories will return.”

There was one other thing he left unsaid.

If, by some chance, that dream really was a memory, then when the moment came that he was reunited with her once more, he wanted to be sure he wielded the power necessary to protect her. This time, he’d ensure they’d never be separated again――

“If that’s how things turn out – if you could remember something about her – that’d be great.”

“You’re really a good person, you know that?”

“Hehehe, don’t tell me you just noticed?”

“So, is there someone that you like?”

“That’s for me to know, and for you to find out.”

“Even though I answered you, you’re keeping things to yourself? That’s pretty unfair of you.”

“Alright then, I’ll tell you this much. I’m the same as you, Hayato.”

“What’s that supposed to…”

“At the time of the ‘Second Attack’, I, too, was separated from someone.”

“And what kind of person were they?”

“That’s a secret.”

“Hey, I answered you properly. Now it’s your turn.”

“I’ll tell you soon enough.”

“You really do mean to tell me?”

“Well, probably, anyway,” Emil said with a mischievous laugh.

He likely wasn’t telling the truth.

But, it wasn’t the kind of thing Hayato intended to pry about.

A whirlwind of events had happened today, and the only sleep he’d gotten the day before had been during his trip here.

Just a moment before, he didn’t see how he could possibly fall asleep.

But now, his body demanded rest.

As they’d conversed, his eyelids had gradually grown heavy.

“Right then, I’m just about ready to nod off here.”

“Hey, give it your best tomorrow, alright?”

“You got it…”

With a nod, Hayato closed his eyes and immediately slipped into unconsciousness.

 

Translator notes and references

[1]Furigana display the Japanese text in English.

[2]The kanji reads “Undefeated Queen”.

[3]‘Zanbatou’: See here.

[4]The kanji reads “Soaring swallow”.

[5]The kanji reads “All-Enshrouding Mist”.