Chapter 3: Duel/Claire/Confession

With a combination of white noise, light, and warmth calling out to him, Kisaragi Hayato awoke.

“Nnh, uuuuuuuuaaaah…………”

Rising from his futon, he stretched sleepily.

Turning his gaze, he saw the back of his neighbor, sitting on the edge of his bed. He had already swapped his pajama tops for the shirt of their uniform…
He turned his gaze towards his neighbor. The back of Emil, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, could be seen. He had already changed from his pajamas into the uniform’s shirt. As far as he could tell, Emil had gotten up some time ago.

Did I oversleep?

Glancing at the clock, it appeared that the appointed time for breakfast in the dorm had already begun; he’d overslept a bit. Hayato turned his gaze toward Emil once more.

What on Earth’s going on over there?

Facing toward the window, Emil’s back was to Hayato. He didn’t seem to have noticed that Hayato had awoken. Instead, he was focused intently on his hands.

“Morning, Emil.”

“UWAA, HAYATO― WHY ARE YOU CALLING OUT ALL OF A SUDDEN―?!”

Seeing that Hayato had called his name, Emil turned his head as if startled.

“M-My bad… Or rather, why’d that shock you so badly―?!”

“I was really concentrating…”

Emil, who was raising his eyebrows, had a uniform nears his knees; a needle spooled with a piece of thread in hand. He had been in the middle of sewing their school badge onto his uniform.

“On sewing something onto your uniform with that needle and thread…?”

“Though fastening it with a pin works as well, this way it won’t come off as easily. If you lose it, the instructions say that you’ll have to write an apology and pay for a new one, so it’s recommended that you sew it on. I’m already finished with yours,” Emil said, handing Hayato his jacket.

“Oh, you did mines for me? Thanks.”

Hayato glanced at the jacket Emil handed him. Indeed, the school badge was now firmly attached to the collar.

“I’m in the middle of putting my own on, so Hayato, go ahead and get rea… O-OW!―”

“What happened? Are you alright?!”

With a shriek, Emil grabbed one of his fingers; his small body curling in pain.

“Ahaha, ’cause I looked away for a sec… my finger – looks like I messed up…”

“Let me see it.”

Hayato drew close to Emil, took hold of his arm, and checked his injury, from which a pea-shaped drop of blood had formed.

“Looks like you pierced yourself fairly deep, huh? Hold still. I’ll treat it now.”

“Treat it? Wait, Hayato―?!” Emil protested in vain as Hayato put the injured finger in his mouth.

Emil’s body trembled in surprise as his mouth flopped open and closed in shock.

“Hey, Hayato… What are you doing all of a sudden… Nnh, aah…”

Each time Hayato sucked and moved his tongue and cheeks, small moans leaked from Emil’s mouth.

“This is necessary; we have to disinfect it after all, don’t we? Incidentally, stop making that strange sound. It’s making me feel weird…”

“F-Feel weird――?”

“D-Don’t make me say something like that, alright―”

“Sorry…”

“That should do it.”

By the time Hayato, whose face had slightly reddened, parted his mouth from the fingertip of Emil, whose face was flushed, there was no longer any sign of blood.

“We should ask Fritz if there’s a first-aid kit somewhere.”

“Wait a sec! If it’s about a first-aid kit, there’s supposed to be one here. If I remember correctly, it should be in the one that’s the third from the bottom. I noticed it earlier when I was looking for the sewing kit.”

Emil’s gaze indicated a set of drawers standing alongside the wall.

“Ah, there it is.”

Hayato opened the aforementioned drawer, which indeed contained a first-aid kit. Within were medical supplies such as bandages and disinfectants – just what they needed.

“Right, let me see that finger again.”

Hayato snared a piece of cotton swab with a pair of tweezers, and soaking it with disinfectant, proceeded to disinfect Emil’s finger.

“…It’s not that big a deal. Isn’t that a bit much, Hayato?”

“Remember the story I shared yesterday? Ever since that day, when I see a wound, I tend to get a bit upset.”

“Ah, so it’s like that… that’s why you’re so used to treating someone, right?”

“I also treated injured children back at the institution where I lived before. Moreover, even if something like this isn’t normally anything to worry about, it’s still best to be sure, right? You wouldn’t want it to get infected―― And… done.”

“Thank you…”

Emil, whose finger was now covered with a bandage, spoke words of gratitude.

“I’ll sew your badge on for you later. It’ll be tough with your hand like that.”

“You can’t! Today, Hayato… your duel is today. You can’t afford to get hurt now of all times, so…”

“It’ll be fine, I promise. I’m good with that kind of thing,” Hayato said.

Taking the needle and thread in hand, he picked up the uniform that had been placed atop Emil’s bed and began sewing the badge onto its collar.

Indeed, he seemed to be quite experienced.

“Wow, so it really is something you’re good at, huh, Hayato?”

“I picked that up at the institution as well. It was ’cause we had no money, you see. Patching up old clothes? That was just a part of life―― Alright, here. It’s done.”

“Th-Thank you, for seriously worrying about me.”

“What’s with that?”

Emil started to put on the jacket Hayato had handed him.

“Alright, should I get changed too? It’s about time to go get something to eat right?”

“WAA― HAYATO―! WHY ARE YOU SUDDENLY STRIPPING―?!”

Hayato had put his hands on his undershirt causing Emil to jump and scream in shock. He looked to be trembling quite a bit and his face was dyed a bright red.

“Why am I stripping? How am I supposed to get changed if I don’t?”

“EVEN SO, DON’T DO IT WITHOUT WARNING IN FRONT OF ME!”

“I’m different from you – I don’t mind you seeing me naked.”

“I do! I’ll wait outside!” Emil called out as he dashed out of the room in a hurry.

Seriously, even for a so-called Britannian gentleman, that’s still a bit over the top, isn’t it…?

Musing to himself about the strangeness of the situation, he sighed before once again putting his hands to his undershirt and taking it off.

 

“I wouldn’t have minded if you had just gone on ahead, you know…?”

Having finished changing, Hayato exited the room only to find Emil waiting for him in the corridor.

“Is that really something you should say to someone who was waiting for you? You’re so cruel, Hayato…” Emil pouted.

“My bad, my bad. Right then, shall we?” Hayato replied as he began walking.

They were suddenly interrupted by the chirping of a PDA.

“A mail notification? Seems it wasn’t mine.”

Hayato proceeded to look at his own PDA. It notified him of an email from the student council president, which read as follows:

 

[The duel will be held two hours from now.]

[Please come to the front of the Bugeika school building an hour before.]

 

These two points were clearly outlined in a tone suggesting such a thing was an everyday occurrence.

I’m really going to fight that student council president today…

Hayato heaved a heavy sigh.

He felt burdened by the weight of that knowledge, but needed to steel his resolve nonetheless.

There wasn’t much time left – what had to be done, had to be done.

So from now on, I’ll need to give things my best effort.

Convincing himself that things would be alright, Hayato walked toward the lobby with Emil at his side.

 

Following breakfast, Hayato and Emil, who had changed into their uniforms, made their way to the designated spot at the time indicated in the email.

There, one of the student council vice presidents was waiting with her arms crossed – Ridi Steinberg. As soon as she saw Hayato and Emil, her sharp eyes narrowed even further.

“I’ll now guide the two of you to the Colosseum.”

“When you say ‘the two of you’, I assume that means it’s okay if I go as well, correct?”

“That would be perfectly fine, although it goes without saying that this extends only as far as to the waiting room,” Ridi replied as she began walking.

They were led to the waiting room inside the Colosseum, located a short distance from the Bugeika school building.

It was about ten-tatami mats wide and was empty but for benches along the wall and a few scattered chairs.

“The locker room’s next door; please use it as you see fit. You will find your Variable Suit prepared for you there, so please change, and make any necessary adjustments before the match starts. You know how to do so?”

“Yep, I do.”

“If that’s the case, then you should be fine on your own, right? Before the match begins, Erica will call on you. As long as you’re ready by then, I don’t mind whatever else you choose to do. Now then, if you’ll excuse me,” Ridi remarked, before exiting the room.

“What do you wanna do, Hayato? Get changed right away?”

“Yeah, I’ll do that.”

*dingdong*…

“What’s that?”

As they were mulling over what to do next, the intercom that had been installed inside the changing room suddenly sounded.

“Who would that be?”

Tilting his head in puzzlement, Emil operated the monitor of the intercom which had been installed horizontally by the door. The figures of the two freshmen who had been sentenced to leave by the student council president during the school entrance ceremony appeared.

“It’s okay to let ’em in, right?”

“Yeah.”

Emil opened the door in response to Hayato’s nod of affirmation. The two schoolgirls simultaneously called out, ‘Pardon the intrusion’, and entered the room.

Heading straight over to Hayato, they spoke at the same time.

“It’s alright if you don’t worry about us, so please don’t force yourself!”

“Although we’re the ones at fault, Kisaragi-san’s the one that’s having a hard time. We feel bad and… we think it’s not too late for you to just forget about the duel!”

It seemed they had learned of the president’s strength, and came to request he call off the duel. They also seemed to have the resolution to leave Little Garden in consequence.

“Please calm down, you two. I don’t think that I can suspend the duel now anyway – the president wouldn’t forgive something like that,” Hayato said in an attempt to calm the two down.

In any case, according to the notification he’d received from the president, it’d soon be time for the duel. Moreover, rather than the girls, Emil had been the direct cause of it.

Adding fuel to the fire, Emil proceeded to comment, “Please calm down, you two. If it’s Hayato, he’ll manage somehow.”

“I already told you to stop talking like that, alright?!”

Hayato retorted in the same manner he had after the school entrance ceremony, filling the waiting room with cheerful laughter.

That seemed to have helped. The gloominess disappeared from the girl’s expressions and Hayato’s nervousness was also lightened. Although Emil did have trouble reading the situation at times, that was countered by occasions like this, where he was the only one able to lighten the mood. Hayato wasn’t decided as to whether the positives outweighed the negatives.

The net result has been rather troublesome, after all…

“Haa,” he sighed.

“Well then, we wouldn’t want to interrupt you any further, so please excuse us.”

“Kisaragi-san, stay safe and give it your best. We’ll be cheering for you from the stands!”

 

Thirty minutes had passed since the girls had left the room. Ten minutes remained until the scheduled time for the match: 11 o’clock.

Hayato had long since finished changing into his Variable Suit and was now stretching with Emil. Suddenly, on wall opposite them, the door to the corridor opened. The other vice president, Erika Candle, appeared.

“It’s time. Are you finished with your preparations?”

“In just a moment,” Hayato replied as he rose.

Excited roars could be heard in the distance.

“What’s that…?”

“Sounds like Claire-sama’s entry.”

“…Just that warrants that level of noise?”

“It’s not just the students of the Bugeika; the students of the other schools and the people of Little Garden in general idolize Claire-sama as well. She’s tremendously popular,” Erika replied, as if repeating something that was only common sense.

“So that president isn’t just your ordinary creep, eh?”

“There you go again, saying such――”

Erika gave Emil a stern glare.

“Anyone else who’d seen what’d happened at the entrance ceremony would think the same way, you know?.”

“The sternness of that rebuke was for the sake of preventing the loss of so much as a single person on the battlefields to come. That was the manifestation of Claire-sama’s kindness, understand?”

“You really like the president, don’t you, vice?” Emil teased, in response to Erika’s earnest reply.

Erika’s face flushed a deep red in response.

“Th-That’s a given. That person is someone that I know I can rely on…”

She cleared her throat with a cough and tiptoed to the door she had come in through.

“Well then, Kisaragi Hayato – it’s your turn to enter. Let’s go.”

“You’re coming as well?”

“That is because I am to serve as the judge in today’s match…”

“You wouldn’t side with the president out of love, would you?” Emil mocked her once more.

“T-That doesn’t even need to be said. I’d never do something like that to my goddess. It would displease Claire-sama. Not that such a thing would be necessary to begin with. Claire-sama always attains victory without fail, so――”

Erika opened the door before them.

Beyond it lay a 100-meter long passage with a low ceiling.

“Hayato, give it your best.”

Ushered on by Emil’s words of support, Hayato turned to the battlefield, and stepped forth.

 

There are more spectators than I thought…

Surveying the stands, he found they were filled for the most part.

From all that cheering earlier, the majority of the spectators here seemed to be looking forward to watching the [Perfect Queen]’s battle style.

Fan-made signs and banners were in abundance, and all declared their support for Claire.

The rest seem to be curious about what the rumored freshman is capable of…

On the topic of who was supporting him, Fritz, Ridia – even the two girls who had been told by the president to leave the school – and a fair number of the freshmen class were included.

Amid this hostile environment, Hayato turned to the center of the battlefield and advanced.

“…Were you able to prepare yourself?” Claire called out, when the distance between the two had closed to approximately five meters.

She was, of course, wearing a Variable Suit as well. It was the same shade of red her uniform had been.

“Well, as might be expected, all this commotion has caught me off guard a bit.”

Hayato answered Claire’s question with a wry smile.

“That kind of thing… Once the duel starts, that kind of thinking could get you killed.”

A chuckle slipped out of Claire’s mouth, then she continued, “In any case, could you not stare?”

“…Eh?”

“You were eyeing me right now… with that lewd gaze…”

“TH-THAT’S――”

He couldn’t deny it.

The Variable Suit clung to her body, showing off her well-developed, womanly curves. It also exposed more skin than either Emil’s or Hayato’s. Not just her sides, even her shoulders were exposed too.

The two big bulges of her breasts and her figure, which made it impossible to deny her femininity, were so charming that his heart caught in his throat.

“…I was just joking, but shaking like that, you’re still a long way off from being ready to stand on the battlefield, aren’t you?”

He didn’t try to deny it. It was the true that he was fascinated.

“Well then, shall I deploy my Hundred?”

She didn’t bother to wait for a reply. Claire flipped the Hundred she grasped in her hand lightly into the air.

“HUNDRED ON!”

Alongside her shout, the Hundred released an emerald green light which transformed into six, red gun pods.

So this is President’s Hundred, [Alystherion]…?

The objects hovering around Claire’s body were considerably larger than those from Emil’s [Arms Shroud] and looked ready to fire without the modification that Emil’s had required. At any rate, a handful of turret-like objects had now attached themselves to her person.

The muzzles of the weapons in question were rather wide, and so it seemed likely the beams they fired would be quite powerful indeed.

“Now it’s your turn to deploy your Hundred.”

“I know that already.”

He was so nervous that his voice almost visibly shook.

However, it didn’t need to be said that failure here was a luxury he couldn’t afford.

Failing to correctly deploy his Hundred would be pretty pathetic, and would dampen the lively atmosphere.

It will be okay.

Reassuring himself, he unfastened the pendant to which his Hundred was attached from his neck and gripped it tightly.

“HUNDRED ON!”

As he shouted, the Hundred glittered a brilliant red from inside his hand. It reacted to Hayato’s shout and began its transformation.

At least that part went well…

Glancing at [Hien], which had manifested in his right hand, Hayato breathed a sigh of relief. The protector that covered his right arm had also deployed like the day before.

“The duel between the student council president, Claire Harvey, and the freshman, Kisaragi Hayato, will now commence,” Erika pronounced, acting in her role as referee for the match.

Her voice echoed forth from the speakers installed around the colosseum.

“However, before we begin – seeing as there are many freshmen present today – I ask your patience as we first outline the rules. The time limit on the match will be 15 minutes. A knockout, surrender, or the depletion of either Vitality or Energy will be the means for determining victory and defeat.”

Together with Erika’s explanation, the rules were also shown on the electronic scoreboard installed above the spectator stands. In the event time ran out without a clear victor, the person with more Vitality remaining would win.

“The counts for remaining time, Vitality, and Energy are displayed on the electronic scoreboard with data drawn from the four Vital Rings that are attached to each Slayers’ hands and feet. The audience may thus confirm their current values at all times―― That’s all there is to explain; Hayato-sama, do you have any questions?”

“Nope, nothing in particular. Put simply, the one who falls unconsciousness or loses their weapon loses, right?” Hayato replied

Claire suddenly raised her hand.

“Would it be alright if I added a condition?”

“…Claire-sama, what might that be?”

“This is something I’ve pondered since yesterday. Even if Kisaragi Hayato may have the highest aptitude reading currently; in practice, yesterday was his first time handling the Hundred, correct? If I were to fight such an opponent with my full power, I do not think it would be much of a match. I believe a handicap is necessary.”

“A handicap…?”

That would be helpful.

He’d take whatever he could get.

“And what form will that handicap take?”

“What if I were to forego the usage of Full-body Armament?”

“…Full-body Armament…?”

“Ridiculous – don’t tell me you don’t know what Zenshin Busou is? It should be described in the preparatory materials you were given before you arrived here.”

“Um, if I remember correctly, the current deployment form is Bare Armament or something like that…” Hayato replied, attempting to recall the contents of the book.

“That is correct.”

Claire nodded in satisfaction.

“The Bare Armament you have deployed now only utilizes a small portion of your Energy. The difference is that Zenshin Busou requires an instantaneous release of all your Energy at once as you manifest your weapon.”

It was a powerful ability, but the Energy requirements were extraordinary, and thus it couldn’t be used for long. Worse, it placed a heavy burden on the body and was tremendously difficult to control.

Claire was the first student to be able to use the Zenshin Busou, as well as being the only member of the student council who could.

“In other words, originally you might employ Zenshin Busou in a duel, but you won’t in this one?”

“That’s correct. Facing an opponent who can’t use Zenshin Busou, even if I were to obtain victory with its use, it’d be meaningless.”

“Just to double check – you won’t use this as a pretext to break our promise if you lose, right?”

“Of course not.”

Erika didn’t object to the exchange.

“Well then, let’s begin the duel. Both of you, please place some distance between you and face one another,” Erika directed, as she moved toward a corner of the field.

As per her instructions, Claire and Hayato backed up until there was roughly ten meters between them and turned to face each other.

“Now, let the duel commence!”

Triggered by Erika’s shout, a countdown began on the electronic scoreboard.

Starting at [10], it then turned to [9].

He had now passed the point of no return. All that was left to do was execute the strategy Emil had devised――

――Which was to rely on his natural agility to charge the moment the duel began, allowing that single moment to decide victory or defeat.

As his opponent was a skilled master of the Hundred, a long, drawn-out battle was to his disadvantage. If things reached that point, any hope of victory might well disappear.

This was what Emil had foreseen.

The moment before [6] turned to [5], Hayato filled [Hien] with his Energy and began to concentrate it underneath his feet.

Concentrate, I must concentrate…

The sound of cheers faded into the background.

All he could here was the loud thumping of his pounding heart.

[3], [2], [1], the countdown approached zero.

And――

“Come, Kisaragi Hayato! Show me what you can do!” Claire shouted as she fired [Alystherion] in his direction.

I’ll be fine. It’ll work! Hayato assured himself.

He’d learned how to deal with Dragoon-class Hundreds the day before, so he ought to be able to handle it.

“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA――――――――!”

Hayato released the Energy under his feet, initiated Accelerate, and flew.

A swift attack in accordance with the devised strategy.

Dodging the six beams coming from [Alystherion], he closed the gap between Claire and himself in a single movement.

[Hien], of course, had already been charged with energy, and its blade glowed bluish-white.

“Wha―?!”

Her eyes widening in surprise, Claire was caught off-guard. Emil’s blitzkrieg plan had worked, but unfortunately his execution had left something to be desired…

…Oh crap!

Overexcited, his control over his Energy was poor.

And so, his deceleration was late.

“KYA―!”

Claire shrieked.

“UWA―?!”

As did Hayato.

CLASH―!

Having exerted more force than intended, Hayato crashed into Claire. Consequently, as if shoved to the ground, Claire collapsed onto the floor.

Ouch… Crap, did I screw up…?

They had completely collapsed.

The spectators roared with laughter.

Frankly, it was incredibly embarrassing.

“Th―! Kisaragi Hayato―! You, where do you think you’re touching?!”

“…Eh?”

Because of her words, Hayato finally noticed the warmth in his hands.

This couldn’t possibly…

Moving his fingers, a soft sensation was transmitted through his fingertips.

“H-Hann!”

A bewitching sound poured forth from Claire’s mouth.

Hayato suddenly realized what he’d touched – Queen Claire Harvey’s voluminous breasts.

“E-Eeehm…”

“Y-You… What on Earth do you think you’re…”

Claire’s face was dyed a deep red as she raised her eyebrows.

“T-The Variable Suit should be worn to soften incoming attacks, so why is it so thin? The sensation of your breasts is as if there was nothing there…”

“Han―!”

Once again Hayato moved the fingers of his hands, and alongside a bouncy sensation, Claire’s captivating voice erupted once more. Her body lost its strength. However, that was only for a moment.

“――!”

Claire turned towards Hayato again and glared at him sharply.

O-Ohoh…

Hayato panicked and released his hands from her breasts.

“Eeehm, my bad. I’m really sorry. Can’t you forgive this… accident…?”

Hayato laughed nervously. The grim look on Claire’s face gave him goosebumps.

“O-OF COURSE THIS WON’T EVER BE FORGIVEN―!”

With tears in her eyes, Claire Harvey thrust Hayato away with both hands and forcefully stood up.

“For someone else to touch my b-breasts… This hasn’t happened once before, and yet in the middle of a duel… I’m touched this way! And on top of that, not once, but t-twice―!”

Trying to preserve her dignity as the Queen, Claire crossed both arms in front of her breasts, her shoulders quivering violently.

“You’ve got some nerve, haven’t you, Kisaragi Hayato? Don’t expect any mercy from now on―!”

Uh oh. Claire pointed toward Hayato.

As declared, she manipulated [Alystherion], firing six full-powered beams his way.

“U-UWAA―!”

Hayato was only just able to dodge. From Claire’s behavior, he didn’t get the feeling she even knew what the word “mercy” meant anyway. Here, on the battlefield, stood the war princess herself.

“So all you know how to do is run, huh, Kisaragi Hayato! That’s all you can really do!”

“Wha―”

Closing in on Hayato, who was dodging her beams, she struck with her fist.

Oh shi―!

He raised his guard, but that fist’s power was the real deal. His guard, utilizing his arm protector, was blown away and her fist sunk into his solar plexus.

“Gu―”

With that, Hayato’s balance was destroyed and Claire pursued further. Twisting her body, she hit with a roundhouse kick.

Hayato, who had received a direct hit, scattered dust as he slid along the ground.

“Such a look of surprise. Did you really come into this thinking that I wouldn’t know close quarters combat?” Claire asked Hayato, who struggled to stand up. “Even though I can use a Hundred, I still studied self-defense to safeguard my close surroundings. Martial arts is the basic among basics when it comes to combat; it’s possible to clad one’s fists and feet with Energy after all.”

She showed a cocky smile.

“Well then, shall we end this?”

“Ku―”

Hayato had somehow managed to stand, but his posture was unstable. Claire activated [Alystherion], which fired beams in rapid succession.

“Hayato, quick! Form an E-Barrier and defend!”

“…Eh?”

While confused by the voice he could suddenly hear, Hayato nonetheless released Energy from his body and a E-Barrier expanded in front of his eyes.

He was able to protect himself from all the incoming beams.

“Are you alright, Hayato?” he heard Emil ask.

“Y-Yeah… If it wasn’t for your advice I’d be… Wait, how are you talking to me?”

“On your arm, there’s a Vital Ring right? I can communicate with you using that.”

Certainly, as described, the voice came from the ring that had been placed on his right arm.

“So that kind of thing’s possible…”

When Meimei had given it to him, he had only heard that it measured the remaining Vital and Energy, wirelessly transmitting the values to [LiZA]. He was surprised.

“There is a function installed on it that allows comrades to keep in touch during battle. That’s what I’m utilizing right now.”

The sound of footsteps and a door opening could be heard from the ring.

“Emil Crossfield, what on Earth do you think you’re doing?!”

Erika’s voice was heard.

“What am I doing? Hayato’s an amateur at using the Hundred. He messed up Energy management and you saw that he even collided with the president right? That’s why I thought, ‘Why not give him a little advice?'”

“No one’s ever done anything like this before; you know there’s no way we would allow this. Afterwards, some sort of punishment――”

“I’ll allow it.”

Claire interrupted the two.

“But… Claire-sama…”

“If it enables Kisaragi Hayato to demonstrate the full extent of his abilities, I’ll allow it,” Claire declared flatly.

“The one speaking is Emil Crossford, correct? You might have a bit of Hundred combat experience; however, you’re nothing more than a freshman. That hardly changes things. Let’s resume the match.”

“Understood.”

She appeared reluctant, but Erika accepted it and Hayato heaved an inward sigh of relief.

The blitzkrieg strategy had failed, but if Emil instructed him, he could still fight on.

That was what he believed.

“Thanks.”

Hayato faced Claire and spoke his gratitude.

“You’re welcome. Now then, here I come―!”

Claire began attacking with [Alystherion] once again.

“Hayato, form an E-Barrier!”

“Yeah!”

Per Emil’s instructions, Hayato formed an E-Barrier and blocked the beam that came flying in.

“Emil, next one!”

“Going off what Prez said a little while ago, if you keep on evading, you’ll eventually tire and then you’ll be a sitting duck. That’s why even though the strategy’s already failed once, we’re going to try it again.”

Even if the president was versed in self-defense, fundamentally her bodily physique was light.

If he bestowed Energy on [Hien], persistent attacks would accumulate damage on her even through her E-Barrier – was Emil’s thinking.

“Also, Prez’s [Alystherion] doesn’t work autonomously. It has to be consciously manipulated with Energy that comes from her. If you disturb her concentration, you should be able to lock it down.”

“In other words, it’s best to go on the offensive?”

“Yeah, should be.”

“Right then, let’s give it a try!”

Hayato Accelerated once more, and, blocking all incoming beams with an E-barrier while dodging again and again, closed in on Claire and swiped at her.

“――How’s that―!”

Things went differently this time as opposed to when the match had begun. As in practice, he was able to swing [Hien], which he had bestowed Energy on, skillfully downward.

“…Ku―!”

However, Claire blocked his attack with a single arm.

“Hayato, again!”

“You don’t need to tell me that!”

Hayato raised his sword and went in for a follow-up attack.

However, she jumped behind him and thus evaded it.

Claire took careful aim, activated [Alystherion], and began her counterattack.

He concentrated Energy underneath his feet in an explosive leap that cleared him of her attack.

“Perfect timing, Hayato. Let’s try that next! Hit her directly with your Energy!”

“Got it!”

He’d only ever once managed to pull it off successfully, but that was good enough for now.

It was still worth trying.

“UUUOOOOO――――――――――!”

Shouting a warcry, Hayato poured Energy into [Hien] which he had raised high into the air.

A vortex of blue light formed, coiling around the sword like a snake.

“HAYATO, GOOOOOO――――!”

Urged on by Emil’s shout, Hayato slashed with [Hien], forming a giant, crimson Energy burst that flew in Claire’s direction.

The technique was a success!

Just before it would’ve reached Claire, however, it dispersed harmlessly.

In Hayato’s eyes a flower bud-like figure was reflected – [Alystherion].

The “petals” opened as if blossoming, revealing Claire, completely unharmed.

“You’ve exceeded my expectations, Kisaragi Hayato! Frankly, I’m quite surprised. This fight has been worth it to see your true strength!”

As she shouted, six of the floating gun pods moved.

“――However, you’ll now receive the punishment for playing with my breasts!”

“I already told you that I’m sorry―!”

“My breasts are not so cheap that you can simply apologize―!”

Before he’d realized what was happening, [Alystherion] had him completely surrounded just as gravity began to exert its claim upon him once more.

“Seeing as you only began to use the Hundred yesterday, you won’t be able to dodge in mid-air!”

Oh crap――

It was just as Claire described. He was unable to alter his course to either the left or the right while in the air, let alone pull back.

“This is the end―!”

“Hayato―!”

Alongside Emil’s heartrending cry, several beams flew in Hayato’s direction.

“―Ku…”

He’d been able to protect himself from the first few shots with an E-Barrier, but that was his limit. Before long, the E-Barrier was destroyed and Hayato’s body was hit directly.

Hayato’s body, held in the air by the continuous impacts of the beams, hit the ground before long.

“How’s that? You done?” Claire asked.

She was standing above Hayato and looking down upon him as he lay upside-down on the floor.

He was still conscious.

However, he had also suffered the impact from crashing into the ground.

His body screamed in pain――

“No, not yet…”

Hayato tried to stand.

Giving up was not an option.

After all, if was going to lose, he wanted to lose by fighting until the bitter end.

If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to face Emil, who had kept him company during yesterday’s practice, and the two girls who had worried for him.

That’s why――

“Hayato…”

Emil’s worried voice could be heard from the ring.

A tone that seemed to imply, ‘It’s okay to give up.’

However, such a thought never entered his mind as he endured the pain and rose to his feet.

Seeing the state he was in, Claire heaved an astonished sigh.

“If that’s how you’re going to be, then at least let me end this――”

She combined the six floating gun pods into one giant rifle.

What the heck… So she can even do something like that… Hayato muttered in his mind.

Although, on that note, Emil had also been able to change his weapon. Moreover, he’d said that other Slayers would also be able possess this ability.

That Claire was one such wasn’t that hard to imagine.

“This is the Buster Cannon. It boasts enough firepower to incapacitate even the Savage should it hit directly,” she said with a provocative smile.

The barrel of the Buster Cannon was long and its muzzle wide.

It was large enough that it had to be carried with both arms.

“It’s unfortunate, but with this, the match is decided.”

As light began to gather within the muzzle of the Buster Cannon…

*THUMP*―!

His heart thumped loudly in his ears.

…What… is this…?

*THUMP*, *THUMP*―!

Twice this time.

What is this…?

My body… feels hot…

His blood boiled and he felt the impulse to rampage.

“Hayato, can you hear me, Haya… to…!”

The voice of Emil, communicating with him via the Vital Ring, grew slower and slower.

Thump, thump, thump.

The throbbing and his consciousness gradually faded――

 

…And simultaneously…

Kisaragi Hayato’s eyes turned golden.

 

※※※
 

“Wha――?!”

Because Claire couldn’t conceive of Hayato possibly dodging the bombardment in that situation, she doubted her own eyes.

It was indisputable, however, that he had not only dodged, but had also begun to attack with unbelievable speed.

“…Ku―!”

Kisaragi Hayato’s sword, which he held level with the ground, approached her.

Stepping back, she dodged as the sword swung down from above.

It had only missed by a hair’s breadth.

The sword violently impacted the ground, forcing a cloud of dust into the air and left a large crater where it had struck.

What’s with this speed and power…

Both could not be more different from when the fight had begun.

If she were to take a direct blow now, it might even be fatal.

Impossible; to think that someone has appeared who – even if for just an instant – made me consider the possibility of losing――

As far as Little Garden was concerned…

No, even as far as the world was concerned, this wasn’t something she could just accept.

With this in mind, she roared, “There’s no way I can lose―!”

To lose to a freshman who had barely received his personal Hundred the day before… This was unacceptable for the one who was both president of the student council as well as the Queen. But above all else, this was not something Claire Harvey would allow. It would be a blemish on her dignity as the head of the Bugeika.

That said, it doesn’t look like he’ll go down easily…

Kisaragi Hayato’s attacks came fast and heavy, chipping away at her stamina little by little. Given the situation, staying on the defensive just wasn’t an option.

“If you’re going to go all out, then I shall as wel!”

Claire focused her Energy into an Accelerate, opening some distance between Kisaragi Hayato and herself.

Readying his sword, Hayato pursued.

Seeing that he’d taken the bait, Claire, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, charged her Booster Cannon with Energy once more.

“This time, I will absolutely hit my mark―!”

The shot, after all, would be made from point-blank range.

To this day, there hadn’t been a single person who’d received this attack from this range and still stood afterward. She had confidence that this technique would slaughter even the Savage.

“Claire-sama, at this range, you risk killing him!” Ridia screamed from far away.

Claire agreed.

But, if it’s the current Kisaragi Hayato I’m dealing with――

He wouldn’t be like those before, and more than likely, would not be knocked down.

If she attacked the normal way, he’d just dodge it.

Given that――

It’s because I’ve determined him to be someone who warrants my full strength that I’ve decided on this technique.

“Eat this, Kisaragi Hayato!”

Just as the person in question was about to slash her with his sword, Claire loosed the entirety of the energy that had been gathering in the muzzle of her Buster Cannon.

Instantly, his entire body was engulfed in an intense white light.

“*Haa*, *haa*… How’s… that?”

Claire roughly controlled her breathing.

With this, the battle should be over…

As the debris created by the explosion cleared, she was certain what would appear before her eyes would be the figure of a collapsed Kisaragi Hayato――

“This has to be a lie, right…?”

Claire couldn’t believe her eyes.

Not only because he was still there, standing.

But because the form of his weapon had changed entirely.

The rugged armor that had previously covered only his right arm now included his left arm and both legs too – it now covered his entire frame. For that reason, he now appeared several times larger.

“…Full-Body… Armament…?”

Given the scene before her, she could come up with no other explanation.

She’d been labeled a genius for having required only a month to reach that state with her Hundred.

For that reason, what was happening before her eyes simply could not be true.

Moreover, to suffer a direct hit from the Buster Cannon and come out unharmed? That was impossible. It didn’t look like he’d used an E-Barrier; in the first place, it didn’t look as if he’d used Energy at all. Stranger still, he appeared to have completely nullified the attack itself.

Only one possibility came to mind.

Could it have been… an N-Barrier…?

Generally speaking, there were two types of barriers.

The first type utilized a screen of Energy to defend against an opponent’s Energy attack, diffusing the force of the blow – the Energy Barrier, a.k.a. E-Barrier.

The other type was the Neutral Barrier, or the so-called N-Barrier. This type counteracted the opponent’s Energy, neutralizing it completely. This was the type that Kisaragi Hayato had apparently just employed.

Claire had heard nothing of his ability to use something like the N-Barrier, let alone the Full-Body Armament.

――Damn it!

This wasn’t the kind of situation where she could afford to stand around in a daze.

Before she’d realized what had happened, a sword clad in red Energy had appeared before her eyes.

It seemed an impossible task to dodge given the circumstances; even taking a defensive stance on such short notice was expecting too much.

Furthermore, even though the Hundred covering his body was massive, his speed was increased yet further still. The size of his sword made it powerful, but through the Energy that had been imbued into it, it had become even more so. It didn’t seem possible to defend against such an attack with an E-Barrier.

I’m… losing…?

She had never once, until now, ever felt cornered in a fight. Not by the Savage and most definitely not by a human.

The crown of the ‘Perfect Queen’ began to sway for the first time ever.

“… How could I, the QUEEN, lose to a mere FRESHMAN?!”

Claire shouted as a dazzling light was released from her body..

She had long since let go of the idea of a handicap.

The only thing that could stand against a Full-Body Armament was another Full-Body Armament.

As the light disappeared, protectors dyed in her signature crimson color appeared on both her arms and legs, though not nearly as massive as Hayato’s. On her back, tiny thrusters appeared as well.

“Come forth, my Petals―!” Claire yelled.

Her shift to Full-Body Armament having completed, she quickly used an Accelerate and dodged Hayato’s attack.

The top of the thrusters on her back opened, from which tiny, floating gun pods (Petals) scattered and surrounded Hayato’s body.

There were roughly ten of them.

“And with this, it’s over, Kisaragi Hayato―!”

With that voice as a signal, simultaneously from each and every Petal, a beam was released. It was a veritable storm of lasers.

In such a situation, even Kisaragi Hayato ought to be at the end of his rope.

Even when facing an N-Barrier, if that many beams are fired, at least some of them should punch through!

The N-Barrier nullified the first few shots.

However, just as Claire had surmised, the concentrated storm of fire pierced through the N-Barrier before long.

She took advantage of the opening, targeting it with the enormous Buster Cannon which had appeared on her right arm.

[Alystherion], or rather the six gun batteries had joined together to form it.

Precisely because this was a Full-Body Armament, it was considerably larger than the one Hayato had faced moments ago, and boasted an increased firepower commensurate with its larger size.

“This is the end―!”

Turning toward Hayato, she released the gathered Energy all at once.

There was no time to deploy either an N- or an E-Barrier.

I did it!

The enormous beam which erupted from the Buster Cannon hit its target directly.

Caught in the middle of a violent explosion which reduced even the ground beneath his feet to rubble, Hayato collapsed.

Confirming the result, Claire breathed in. A buzzer sounded throughout the arena announcing that Kisaragi Hayato’s stamina had zeroed out while the electronic scoreboard proclaimed “Claire Harvey wins”.

 

※※※
 

“Hayato―!”

Emil Crossford caused a stir in the stands as he rushed out to the battlefield.

Hayato, who had collapsed in the center of the ring, wasn’t moving and his Hundred had already ceased to function. These signs were worrying to Emil, but as he closed in, it became clear that he was still breathing.

“Thank God…”

Emil sighed in relief.

Erika Candle soon joined Emil on the battlefield. On her face was a look of distaste and bewilderment – as the judge, she could not declare Claire’s victory.

Ridia Steinberg, who had been waiting in the wings of the battle arena, agreed. With a bitter expression, her shoulders shaking uncertainly, she gazed at Claire, whom had found her breath again.

“Hey, I wanna say something real quick!”

Emil glared at Claire sternly. Since Hayato was leaving the Colosseum on a stretcher, he felt free to flare up.

“Emil, calm down. She’ll surely listen, you know?”

The one who had spoken as well as stopped Emil was the woman in the white coat―― Charlotte Dymandias. She had come onto the battlefield alongside the first aid team.

Next, Charlotte’s gaze turned to Erika.

“How ’bout it – mind leaving the decision to me?”

“…Understood.”

After several seconds of silence, Erika nodded her agreement and Charlotte turned to the stands and raised her voice.

“Dear members of the audience, I must apologize for ruining your excitement, but as Little Garden’s main technologist, I – Charlotte Dymandias – raise an objection to this duel.”

Charlotte’s voice echoed throughout the colosseum. The audience fell silent.

“First, regarding the conditions negotiated prior to the duel. Claire Harvey has employed the Full-Body Armament. Before the match, she personally declared that the Bare Armament would more than suffice and thus restricted herself to its usage. This rule she violated.”

As the crowd began to cry out, Charlotte’s speech continued.

“…Nevertheless, this handicap was made under the premise that Kisaragi Hayato was similarly unable to deploy the Full-Body Armament. Furthermore, even before his use of the Full-Body Armament, he and Emil Crossford were in constant communication throughout the duel. While this isn’t technically a violation of rules, it is nonetheless a gray area – and a dark one at that.”

In short, both had erred.

“Finally, the condition attached to the duel is one which had no bearing on the outcome of the duel in question. The rules state that the outcome alone determines the victor, and therefore, in accordance with that outcome, Claire Harvey wi――”

“Hold it right there, Charlotte Dymandias:”

Just as Charlotte was about to declare the Queen’s victory, the one who cut her off was the party in question – Claire herself.

“This match is my loss.”

The crowd roared. The Perfect Queen had personally accepted defeat, so such a reaction was only natural.

“What do you mean by that, Claire Harvey?”

“Your logic is indeed sound: going by the rules, I have won. However, in doing so, I have violated the rule that I personally imposed upon myself. In such an instance, even if you declare me the victor, it does nothing to change the fact that I personally feel I have lost. That alone is enough.”

“Those are simply your feelings on the matter. If you nevertheless find this result difficult to swallow, then we could call the match a draw?”

“Do as you’d like.”

Claire turned to leave.

“Of all of your duels I’ve seen so far, this was the most interesting one,” Charlotte said, a broad grin on her face.

“…Please keep your thoughts to yourself, Charlotte Dymandias,” Claire muttered grimly without turning.

And so the duel between Claire Harvey and Kisaragi Hayato ended in a draw despite the latter ending up in the hospital.

 

※※※
 

…What…?

Where is this?

A sharp smell filled his nose – the same smell he’d experienced when visiting his sister soon after he’d arrived.

A hospital then…?

He tried to move, but his body refused to comply. Both his consciousness and vision were faint as well.

His muddled senses notwithstanding, he nevertheless felt the impression that someone’s face drew near.

It drew slowly closer――

“Sorry, Hayato…”

He felt a gentle touch on his lips.

Was that now…

All strength left his body alongside a feverish feeling.

What is this person doing…?

Was this reality or was he simply dreaming?

He couldn’t tell in his current state, he thought, before soon fading into unconsciousness once more.

 

※※※
 

“N, nnn….”

It wasn’t until a few hours later that Hayato finally regained consciousness completely.

With a weak groan, he opened his eyelids.

So it really was a hospital…

A surprisingly gloomy one.

“…How long have I been out?”

“About six hours.”

He turned to the voice.

Sitting up in surprise, he found Queen Claire Harvey sitting by his bedside.

“P-Pres?”

As his eyes found her face, he remembered their duel.

“I lost, huh…”

His consciousness was faint and his head heavy while his memories of the duel were vague from the midway point on. Looking himself over carefully, he saw that he’d been changed from his Variable Suit into a t-shirt and pants, though he couldn’t see the latter.

“No, it was a draw.”

He was bewildered by the unexpected reply.

“What do you――”

He was then taught the astonishing truth.

How he had both employed the Full-Body Armament himself and defended against the Perfect Queen’s – Claire Harvey’s – Buster Cannon with something called an N-Barrier.

“N-Barrier, Full-Body Armament… was that really me?”

Even if someone else was the one telling him, it was hard to believe.

“You don’t remember?”

Hayato nodded.

His memories were clear up until the point where he was driven into a corner, with the president’s muzzle directed at him.

“You did all that while unaware…?”

“It looks like I did, I’m sorry to say.”

“Kisaragi Hayato, what on Earth are you? Something like that shouldn’t happen with high readings alone.”

“That’s what I want to say, but…”

He was struck with a sudden recollection.

Just as he’d been cornered by Claire, his heart had pounded with great vigor and he’d felt as if he’d lost control of his own body.

…What… was that?

Just as Hayato was about to ask her opinion, the door swung open.

“What’s Prez doing here?!”

Emil had entered the room and promptly stomped his way over to Claire.

“Even after sending Hayato to the hospital by breaking your promise, you’re still not done, huh?”

“No, I’ve simply come to apolo――”

“If that’s the case, then another time, okay? Hayato’s still not well, so…”

Emil tried to hide his look of concern.

Hayato’s condition must have been poor indeed.

“…I understand. There’s more I wanted to ask, but that can wait until my next visit.”

With a sigh, Claire stood.

“I’m sorry about this,” Hayato called out to Claire, who had turned and left for the hallway.

“No, I’m the one in the wrong here.”

Claire had paused for a moment as she’d answered, but she left the hospital room immediately after.

“…So, what brings you here?” Hayato asked Emil.

“‘What’, you say… I’ve been here ever since they brought you in, you know?”

Emil indicated the chair that Claire had been using a moment ago.

“I’ve been reporting back to Charl on your condition once an hour. I’d never have guessed that she’d show up in the meantime… How do you feel? Better, I hope.”

“Yeah, I’m okay. Nothing hurts, at least.”

“That’s great. Your brain doesn’t show any abnormalities either, so you should be good to go back to the dorms if you want, according to Charl. What do you want to do? If you’re not feeling up to it, there’s nothing wrong with spending the night here. I could even keep you company if you want?”

“Keep me company? Where would you sleep?”

It was a one person room. Hayato’s was the only bed.

“Good point… I’m guessing you’re against us sharing the bed?”

“Of course! I’d like to bathe, so let’s head back to the dorm, alright? But before that, there’s something I want to ask?”

“…What?”

It was what he’d wanted to ask the president earlier.

He’d been connected with Emil through his Variable Suit’s wireless, so Emil had likely noticed his change. Given how much Emil seemed to know about the Hundred, Hayato figured he might know something.

On that premise, Hayato continued.

“When Prez aimed that huge rifle at me, I was in trouble, you know? At that time my heart started to pound and my body got really hot…”

Hayato relived the incident as he narrated.

“Once that happened, it felt like I’d lost control over my own body. Now that I think about it, you shouted my name then, didn’t you?”

“So you remember that…”

“You noticed something was wrong, didn’t you?”

“…Yeah.”

Emil nodded and continued.

“What I’m about to say… don’t let Pres know, alright?”

“I was just about to ask her before you walked in, though. You interrupted me.”

“If that’s the case, then I’m glad. Talk about a close call.”

Emil sighed, relieved.

“What do you mean by that? Do you know something?”

“I do.”

“Seriously―?!”

“Hayato, hold it… Suddenly doing… Hey, wawa―?!”

Putting both his hands on Emil’s shoulders, Hayato drew in close with a serious look on his face. Emil blushed furiously and, while retreating, lost his balance.

*BAM!*

Because he’d been forcefully gripping Emil’s shoulders, once Emil lost his balance, they both collapsed into a heap on the floor.

“Ouch, sorry… Again…”

As he spoke, Hayato put his hands on the ground for support, and lifted himself up.

“Wait, Hayato… Where… are you touching…”

“Eh?”

“Your hands! Look at where you’re putting your hands―!”

Hayato suddenly realized that his right hand was touching Emil’s chest.

“Oh, sorry… Nothing to worry about between two guys, though, thankfully. It’s not like you’re Prez, after all.”

Hayato took hold of Emil’s arms as he tried to rise.

“KYAA―!”

A shriek escaped from Emil.

“Again with the strange noises…” Hayato commented, somewhat taken aback. “But still, your body’s just as soft as the Prez’s – are you really training properly?”

“――Th― Nnn―!”

He prodded Emil’s soft arms, causing a seductive voice to escape Emil’s mouth.

“Cut it out with the strange sounds already…”

“H-HAYATO, YOU IDIOT――――――――――!”

WHAAAAAAAAAAAP…

Emil’s palm struck Hayato’s face.

“Hayato… idiot…”

“…Eh?”

He could see a few tears leaking from the corner of Emil’s eyes.

“What’s wrong now…?”

“Have you seriously not noticed already?”

“Noticed…?”

“I guess I’m asking too much, though, aren’t I?”

“Um, it seems like you’re trying to tell me something, but…”

“Just a sec. If someone were to overhear this, things could get out of hand, so I’m going to lock the door first, alright?”

“That’s okay with me, but…”

As promised, Emil locked the door.

The normally cheerful Emil now bore a serious expression on his face. That, more than anything, worried Hayato.

“Okay, Hayato, you can’t tell anyone about what I’m about to share with you. Promise me. I won’t answer your question unless you do.”

“What the heck’s the matter with you all of a sudden? Putting on airs like that…”

“What’s it going to be? Do you promise?”

“I do, but…”

“…Really?”

“We’re roommates, after all, aren’t we? I’ll never speak a word of this to another person; I promise.”

Plus, he really wanted to know about that mysterious phenomena when he tried to lift up his body.

“Then turn around for a second and wait.”

Although he wanted to ask why, he instead held his silence and did as he was told, sitting on the bed with his back to Emil.

“Don’t you dare turn around, got it?”

“I get it already, geez.”

Just ask he finished speaking, the sound of rustling clothes reached his ear.

“What on Earth are you doing now…?”

“You’re not looking, right? Don’t move until I tell you.”

“I know, I know…”

A minute passed before the silence in the room was broken…

“To be honest with you, Hayato, I’ve lied to you.”

A surprisingly earnest voice drifted over from behind him.

“I suppose I should have been straight with you, but I lacked the courage, not to mention you didn’t seem to have remembered.”

“Wait, what…?”

“You can turn around now.”

Hayato was finally given permission to turn around. As he did so, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

It wasn’t just that Emil had let down his hair. Just that wasn’t enough to surprise him; he’d already seen him that way, after all, and each time he’d been struck with the impression that Emil’s looks were rather feminine.

This time, however, he couldn’t see anything but an actual girl.

“The heck is this…?” Hayato muttered, his gaze fixated on Emil’s chest, illuminated by the moonlight shining through the hospital room window.

What he was referring to were the two fruit-sized bulges on Emil’s chest which ought not be there.

“Even seeing me like this, you still don’t get it…”

“’Don’t get it?’ What am I not getting?”

“Geez, Hayato, you’re duller than I thought. In that case, how’s this?”

With a demure look, Emil lifted up his shirt, exposing his abdomen, revealing a lovely, white-skinned navel.

And the barest glimpse of her breasts.

The sight was too stimulating…

Blushing, Hayato quickly averted his gaze.

If he hadn’t, he felt he’d have lost all reason.

However――

He’d realized the threat in time to avert that ill fate.

A scar ran down her abdomen from her chest to her stomach.

A scar that was located exactly where the girl from his dream had been wounded by the pincered claws of a Savage.

“Are you――”

He unconsciously rose to his feet.

Could Emil truly be the girl from his dreams?

Just as he was on the verge of voicing that thought, his memories of his time in Gutenberg returned.

That’s right. I met this person – Emil – in Gutenberg.

No, wait. That wasn’t quite right. Hayato corrected himself.

Her name… wasn’t Emil.

Right. If I remember correctly, her name was――

“…Emilia, right?”

Emilia Hammett.

That was her name.

“So you do remember.”

Emilia’s voice – the voice of the girl from his memories – trembled.

“Hayato. Really, thank you for saving me that day.”

“Thank God…”

The feelings of his heart came naturally to his tongue as tears ran down his face.

“I finally was able to remember. And, not only are you alive and well, but we were able to meet once more――”

Gently tracing the scar with his fingers, he wrapped Emilia in a tight embrace.

“I’m glad that you’re alive too. I’m so happy that you’ve remembered me――”

Emilia hugged him back as she spoke.

“I’ve always believed that if you were alive, you’d be led to the Hundred and so we’d meet again.”

“Led to the Hundred, you mean――”

“You know the details behind the First Attack, right?”

“That whole ‘giant meteorites dropped onto the South Pole’ thing, right? It’s said that the Savage came to this Earth on those things…”

“Simply put, yes. It was only after that event that people like us, people who could wield the Hundred, appeared.”

What Emilia told him next was staggering.

A virus, which had traveled the vast reaches of space via the Savage, had spread throughout the world upon their arrival.

The Hundred reacted and changed form in response to those who harbored the virus.

“The two of us are special even among that select group, however. I suffered an injury during the Savage’s attack on Gutenberg. At that time, you sucked the Savage’s poison out directly, right? Something happened to the two of us then – the virus entered my body directly, as it did yours, via the medium of my tainted blood.”

“And that’s why we can operate the Hundred?”

“It is, without a doubt, the reason your reaction reading is the highest in the world. It’s not an airborne virus, but its mortality rate is still quite high; you and I were very fortunate to survive. Moreover, it’s because of that that we hold such great power in our hands. People like us, namely those directly infected by the virus, are known as “Variants.” In the entire world, there are only around ten such individuals. That’s why I knew that you’d find me eventually.”

In other words, if Kisaragi Hayato were to have survived the incident, then he was fated to come across the Hundred sooner or later.

That thought had kept Emilia alive as she waited for him.

“I’ve had Charl monitor every reaction aptitude test held across the world. That was how I found you. Charl was sure that you had cheated during the test the Warslan Company administered for you. However, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was you whom I’ve been looking for this entire time.”

“Could it be that you’ve come to this school――”

“Because you were here, yes. I had Charl pull the necessary strings. If it weren’t for her efforts, there’s simply no way I could have disguised myself as a man, you know?”

“…That’s― Wait. So why are you disguised as a man―?!”

It wasn’t something that ought to be necessary in the present. Furthermore, if she hadn’t disguised herself, then their reunion would have happened much earlier.

“It’s because of… well, you know… my family situation.”

Her tone carried a heavier meaning.

Thinking on the issue, Hayato remembered.

When they had been children, Emilia had had to sneak out of the house to play with him. She was from a strict, old-fashioned family, or so he’d heard.

“Don’t tell me your family doesn’t know you’re here?”

“Hahaha, you’ve always been perceptive, Hayato. It’s just as you’ve said. I snuck out of the house and made my way here.”

Given the circumstances, she’d had to arrange for a fake name and background, watching her every step so that she couldn’t be tracked.

“Ever since I was infected during the Second Attack, I’ve been kept on an even tighter leash than I was during our childhood. To be honest, my family doesn’t know that Charl’s taught me to use the Hundred.”

“Seriously, you…” Hayato replied, astounded.

She was utterly unlike the gentle, submissive girl he remembered, but he felt the current Emilia, so full of energy, wasn’t bad either.

“Wasn’t it hard to keep your disguise up all the time?”

“Certainly. It was worth it, though. It might have been just a coincidence, but it’s only because of that that I could share a room with Hayato.”

*THUMP* – his heart pounded in his ears.

Emilia giggled, positioning her forefinger before her lips.

“Everything that we’ve just talked about – Variants and so forth – must be kept secret, okay? A secret for just the two of us; even your sister can’t know, alright?”

“Yeah, got it.”

“…Wait, I said just the two of us, but now that I think about it… Charlotte already knows, doesn’t she?”

“Ah, that’s true, isn’t it? Well, a secret between the three of us then.”

Emilia laughed happily as she scratched her head.

“With that, we come to the main point. The hazy memories of your duel earlier is one of the traits of Variants.”

“Traits of Variants? What do you mean…?”

“When your life’s at risk, the virus activates and instinctive defense measures come into action. It’s a state we call the “Raging Berserker”, a condition wherein your strength continuously surges.”

“Raging Berserker, huh…”

Now that he thought about it, that name certainly matched what he’d experienced.

“In exchange, you lose yourself, and run rampant. It’s quite troublesome since it can reveal you to be a Variant. I, too, was in that state not too long ago, but nowadays, I’m somewhat able to control it. It’s not a problem anymore.”

“In other words, I could control it with practice?”

“You need to be able to control Energy first. You need to control both that and the sleeping power that lies within yourself. They’re quite similar. Give it your best, alright?”

“Y-Yeah…”

As he was about to nod in reply, an unexpected change came over his body.

W-What…?

His feet wobbled and his vision grew dim.

His condition must have been worse than he’d realized.

Hayato turned to Emilia and collapsed into her chest.

“Wait, Hayato, you can’t suddenly…! I need to prepare myself first…”

Emilia’s face was dyed a deep red. However, she quickly realized that he was neither flirting nor asserting his friendship.

“Could it… Hayato―― Your body’s still…”

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I can stand.”

“Oh. Then wait just a sec.”

“Huh…”

Emilia took Hayato’s face into her hands…

“What’re you doing…?”

“It’s fine. Just be quiet for a moment; it can only be done like this.”

As she spoke, she leaned in.

And――

“Wha…”

“Nnnn… Fuuuu…”

――Covered Hayato’s lips with her own.

“Nn, fuu… chuu, chuu, nmuu… chuu…”

Their kiss continued.

One second… five… ten…

“Nn, fuu…”

As their lips separated, Emilia’s saliva suddenly found its way down his throat.

“Why would you suddenly…”

Blushing furiously, Hayato touched his lips.

“You being tired is the direct result of the infection. Once activated, the virus consumes a vast quantity of Energy which results in the unusual phenomenon you experienced.”

“Even if that’s true, what does a kiss have to do with any of that?”

“Well, that’s…”

“…Eh?”

“Once a Variant’s ability has activated, Energy consumption increases tremendously causing a terrible strain on the body. One of the best approaches for countering this side-effect is… to be administered virus that hasn’t yet activated.”

“That’s… impossible…”

“Yes. I’ve delivered the virus contained within my body to you through my saliva. Charlotte’s developed a medicine which would serve a similar purpose, but this is simply the most effective method.”

He was suddenly reminded of the moment when he’d regained consciousness.

“Could you perhaps have k-kissed me while I slept as well?”

“Huh…? Were you awake then?”

“I can vaguely recall. Anyway, one way or another, the memory’s there…”

“Um, it was an emergency, so… I kissed you of my own accord… Sorry…”

“Because it was an emergency? You totally decided to do it on your own just now too…”

“Ahaha, now that you mention it, that’s kinda true…”

“Are you really fine with that? Even if you have a deeper reason for it, to do something like kissing with me…”

“I-I don’t particularly mind, alright? If it was someone else, then maybe, but if it’s Hayato…”

“Eh…?”

“You didn’t like it?”

“That’s not it…”

The hospital room grew dead silent.

There was a decided tension in the air.

“So uh, Hayato? Is your body better now? Can you stand on your own?”

“Looks like it, I guess.”

“Then let’s head back, okay?”

 

Hayato changed into his uniform and left alongside Emil.

Normally, it’d be but a ten-minute walk from the hospital to the dorm. This time, however, they hadn’t even reached the halfway point eight minutes in.

“Even though you said you were fine, you seem to be in quite some pain…” Emil commented, given the strange way Hayato was walking.

“I’d prefer to focus on walking as opposed to thinking, if that’s fine with you…?”

“…Should we go back to the hospital?”

“No. I’ve gone through great troubles to get here, so I’ll see it through…”

Ten minutes later, they arrived at the dorm without incident.

However…

“――Ugh.”

As they reached their room, Hayato lost his balance. Panicking, Emil caught his body.

“…Are you alright?”

“I guess I’m still a bit weak…”

He was dizzy, and his vision hazy.

“It would probably have been better for you to just rest back at the hospital instead of attempting the impossible, huh? Sorry that I asked you to come back to the dorm…”

“Even if you say that now, it can’t be helped. We’re already back, right?”

Borrowing Emil’s shoulder, Hayato made his way to his bed.

“Alright then, rest well. When you wake up next, your body will be back to its normal state.”

“…I see…”

Lying down, his consciousness began to fade.

By the time Emil’s gentle words reached his ears, he’d already fallen into the deep abyss of sleep.

 

※※※
 

Late that night, Claire Harvey, the student council president, was burning the midnight oil in the student council room of the Bugeika school building.

Before her were matters which had to be resolved before the day was over, as well as a stack of official paperwork to be signed. The contents of the papers she held in her hands never entered her consciousness. She simply could not stop thinking about Kisaragi Hayato.

Kisaragi Hayato, what on Earth are you…

He’d broken every record for the aptitude test and reaction reading. That notwithstanding, nothing particularly stood out about the readings of his other pre-enrollment tests.

Furthermore, he was completely inexperienced at handling the Hundred.

Claire had thus determined to assess his potential as a Slayer.

It had been for that very reason that she had intentionally instigated the incident with Emil Crossford and the latecomers. Unable to refuse, Kisaragi Hayato had been maneuvered into a situation where he could not refuse a duel that would exert him to his very utmost.

With regards to the outcome, her pride as the undefeated Queen with a two-year reign had been demolished.

And, that thing he used after activating his Full-Body Armament – that was undoubtedly an N-Barrier…

There existed a type of Savage that was capable of utilizing the N-Barrier, but even for them, it was a matter of genetic predisposition – there simply did not exist an Energy manipulation technique which allowed one to deploy such a barrier. If a Slayer were to wield such a power, it was only because their Hundred had been instilled with such a function.

However, his data contained no information on his ability to use the Full-Body Armament, let alone the N-Barrier. Neither had Charlotte Dymandias made any mention of his Hundred having such a function.

“Claire-sama. Claire-sama…”

A voice called her from her reverie.

Erika had approached her without her realizing.

“…How long have you been there?”

“Since a moment ago. I called you once already, but you didn’t respond, so I called once more.”

“I apologize. I was lost in thought,” Claire replied, turning her gaze to Erika’s hands.

She was holding a teapot and a cup.

“Black tea, is it? Thank you.”

“You fought that duel earlier today. I feared you might be tired.”

Erika placed the tea cup on Claire’s desk before continuing.

“Would you like anything to go with your tea?”

“Kisaragi Hayato…”

Erika’s expression clouded in an instant.

“…Please don’t worry about it too much. If it had been an ordinary duel, then it would unmistakably have been Claire-sama’s victory.”

“I’m not worrying about that.”

“T-Then is it because he touched your b-breasts…?”

“Wha…?!”

Claire reddened.

“I-It’s not like that at all…”

She lifted her tea cup as if to demonstrate her composure, though she achieved the opposite effect as her hands were trembling.

The memory of his touch crossed her mind.

Honestly, because of Erika, I’m remembering more than I want to now…

It went without saying that her chest had never once been touched by a member of the opposite sex. For something like that to happen – in front of the public even! It was a complete disgrace――

I wonder what this is I’m feeling…

*ba-dump* – the reason for the pounding of her heart.

What she was feeling.

Claire didn’t understand any of it.

“More importantly, Erika, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to consult you about a matter regarding Kisaragi Hayato――”

Her next words described her proposal for manipulating his fate even more.

 

Translator notes and references

None.