Contents and Translator credits:
Chapter 1: Xplorer30
Chapter 2: /a/non translator
Chapter 3: /a/non translator, Tusjecht (Editor)
Chapter 4: Xplorer30
Chapter 5: Xplorer30
Chapter 6: Heikichi & Tusjecht (In-Progress)
Chapter 7: Tusjecht (In-Progress)
Chapter 12: Tusjecht
Latest update: 14th October.
«Brain Burst» was a full dive type duel fighting network game.
However, different from same type of games sold on the market, the duel matching was not by going to a single server on the Global Net.
Basically, it was from the current physical body location of the player, that is, the «Burst Linker». Due to similarities to the real world, people not within a certain ward section could not become duel opponents. Those ward sections, are called «Battle Area» in Brain Burst.
The battle area size vary between the city center and other locations, but within the Tokyo 23 wards, one ward usually contain from two to four battle areas. For example, for the Suginami ward, it was divided into three areas from «Suginami 1st Battle Area» to «Suginami 3rd Battle Area». Each of those battle areas are called one «Matching List», and it was set to display all the Burst Linkers that is currently in the area, so each person can either pick a duel opponent from that list, or go into a «Standby Mode» to wait for an intrusion fight.
In the 23 wards, the total number of battle areas, are about 60.
Since most of the about 1000 total Burst Linkers live within central Tokyo, for one battle area matching list, it was calculated to have about 10 to 20 people registered in it. Of course it varies between location and time period, and for afternoon during weekends in Shinjuku and Akihabara, it was not rare to see over 100 people in the list.
With this number of people gathered in one spot, once in awhile something unexpected is bound to happen. The duel opponent that was casually picked from the list, suddenly appeared on the «Duel Stage» at a few meters of ultra close range, or a gallery might appear very close to one of the duelers’ entry position.
Brain Burst’s VR duel stages, were made from very high definition security surveillance camera network that was placed in many places in the real world, that is, the stages were recreated from the «Social Camera Net» videos. That meant even though the stage buildings and roads change to various shapes due to random «Attribute», it would still basically be similar to the real shapes.
On that terrain, if duel avatars appear close to each other, that would mean the Burst Linkers’ real bodies exist right in front of each other. This would be very uncomfortable. No, it would even be dangerous. For a Burst Linker, exposing the real face and name —— that is, «Reality Intrusion», is one of the biggest taboo. If picture was taken, and was trailed to find out home and real name, then in the real world that person might be kidnapped, threatened, and through other methods robbed of all Burst Points.
Extreme people that do not mind this kind of violent criminal act, are few but still exist in the accelerated world. They are all called Physical Knockers or «PK», and large legions were called to enforce them, but even finding out their name is very difficult. Since the attacked Burst Linkers, almost without exception, lost all points, that meant their Brain Burst program and all memories related to it were all lost, and could never return to the accelerated world again.
Even with the low chance of this kind of fearsome danger, there were lurkers in the weekend hot and lively battle areas.
Put it another way, it could be said that in areas with low number of Burst Linkers, the chance of reality intrusion was greatly decreased.
For the 23 wards, the west of the Setagaya ward, the Ota ward, and around the Edogawa ward could all be called underpopulated areas. Compared to their wide areas, there were usually few people on the matching list.
But surprisingly, the location with lowest chance of near miss danger in Tokyo, was in the center of the whole areas- the Chiyoda ward.
The Chiyoda ward was the only ward in the 23 wards that was not divided into battle areas. Other than the special ward of independent Akihabara area, all of its huge area is set as one battle area and furthermore, Burst Linkers who used that place as home ground was about equal to none.
It’s because up to 20% of Chiyoda ward’s area is the imperial palace that normal people are forbidden to enter.
This rule is even in placed in the accelerated world. The imperial palace exist in different shapes according to the duel stage attribute, but a wall is set inside the moat that made invasion impossible. With this huge forbidden zone in the center of a way too wide map, if one of the dueler feels like it, doing a long range attack at the start for one hit, running away for 30 minutes, then aiming for a decisive win was not hard to do.
With this kind of difficult-to-fight-in terrain, plus having Akihabara directly north and Shinjuku west kind of duel mecca available, there was not many people that would still fight in the Chiyoda ward. This made the Chiyoda area matching list normally inactive. However, this did not make it a worthless area.
While being in the center of Tokyo, the chance of having real body near miss danger is low. This feature, created an unexpected use for it. That is, instead of «Duel», it’s a «Negotiation» place. For people in opposing forces, when they think of a place that could eliminate reality intrusion as much as possible during contact, the very wide and unpopulated Chiyoda ward was the perfect place.
With the above reasons ——.
2047 June 16, Sunday, afternoon 1:45 pm.
Legion «Nega Nebula»’s leader, Black King «Black Lotus» that is Kuroyukihime, legion sub leader and controller of the duel avatar «Sky Raker» that is Kurasaki Fuuko, and the low rank fighting member «Silver Crow» that is Arita Haruyuki, were in Tokyo city, Chiyoda ward, Fujimi Nichome’s coin parking lot stopped small EV car, continuing to wait for the start of the «Negotiation».
No, to be specific, it was no longer just a simple negotiation between legions.
Since what will start this afternoon at 2 pm was, in the Accelerated World’s 8 year history, the 2nd gathering of the «Seven Kings of Pure Color».
“…This car is master’s personal property?”
Unable to withstand the tension from the impending «Seven King Conference», Haruyuki suddenly inquired from the rear seat, which made the person in the driver’s seat his «Master», Fuuko shake her head in surprise.
“No way. It’s my mother’s since no matter what I cannot buy an automobile with just a high school student’s allowance.”
“Th, that’s right.”
The EV had a round cute form, but the bright cream yellow interior had leather upholstery and the center of the steering wheel had a snake and cross shaped emblem. Even Haruyuki was very familiar with it, as it was something from an established Italian automobile maker. Let alone university student, not even young members of society can easily afford that kind of price.
“You seem to be very used to driving, so I thought that maybe it was yours. That license is your own… right?”
The answer to the cautiously asked second question, was not from Fuuko but was instead from the navigator seated Kuroyukihime.
“Fufu, of course. Fuuko is 16 this year, so she is a woman who can obtain license or get married, unlike us.”
“…Saa-chan, I don’t like the way you said that…”
‘—— I see, a woman huh.’
After that moment of fleeting thought, Haruyuki shook his flabby head and revived.
The qualification for acquiring a driver license was lowered from the normal 18 years old to 16 years old about 7 or 8 years ago. The official reason was, the social camera net completion and the vehicle control AI became mandatory so traffic accident rate was greatly reduced. That was the story but there seem to be a hidden side.
Japan in year 2040, was overcome with unbounded declining birthrate and aging population, and the social security system was on the verge of collapse. The annual increase in health care, long term care and public pension expenditure became unsupportable by the working generation. At that point, with the driver’s license as representative, various qualification acquisition ages were lowered so as to increase the number of working young people- this was the government’s intention. In fact, the Labor Standards Act was also amended at that time, so it became possible to hire 16 year olds as a full time company employee.
That meant Fuuko was already, in a legal sense, over half of an adult. And then Kuroyukihime who became 15 this year will be one next year. In just two years Haruyuki’s time will also come.
Of course, graduating from middle school does not immediately mean having the need to find employment, and in fact one will continue to be a child, but even so, Haruyuki could not help but feel uneasy about it.
‘—— How long, will I be able to stay as my current self.’
After thinking about that kind of thing, he suddenly made a bitter smile inside his heart. Not wanting to be his current self and wanting to escape somewhere far away, this kind of longing was something that Haruyuki was supposed to continue feeling for a long time.
That desire had not disappeared. He still hated his external form and he still could not like his middle school. However if right now some kind of God said to him, ‘I will change you to a different person living at a different place’, then he would probably firmly reject the offer. «This Place» was, in the short term, being in the rear seat of the EV driven by Fuuko, and in the long term, being a Burst Linker in a corner of the Accelerated World. Putting it another way, with «Brain Burst» boasting enormous size and finesse, he would be a player of this game that offered him unlimited thrill and excitement. He did not wish for any more than that, not a thing.
But even that was probably not forever.
Brain Burst was a game. A game will eventually end. No, aiming only to reach that ending, Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime were fighting.
What kind of shape the game’s conclusion will be, he could not understand right now. When Kuroyukihime reach the level 10 she wished for, will Brain Burst itself be cleared, or will the «End of Childhood Time» kind of ending come, robbing them of their play rights without mercy, or will even some other kind of ending he could not imagine be visited upon them?
That was why right now, he should go all out.
Do his best to play, enjoy, and then protect. This world that himself and the people he loved could be together in.
In the somewhat tight rear seat, he swore that in his heart and held his fist tight —— then, Haruyuki soon remembered the circumstance he had fallen into, and blew out a deep sigh.
In fact, this was not a situation where he could say cool things like ‘I will protect!’.
The agenda of the «Seven King Conference», which was to start in 10 minutes, was number one, a countermeasure against the mysterious destructive group, «Acceleration Research Society», that suddenly appeared in the accelerated world and number two, how to deal with the unbelievable revival of the enhanced armament, «Disaster Armor» and Chrome Disaster.
Whichever agenda, if it was just one week ago, would have just been an over the cloud talk for the not yet level 5 Haruyuki. For discussion between Kings and their aides, he would be glad to just look on from the audience seat.
However, right now Haruyuki, instead of being an audience, would be standing in the center of the stage.
Since, the one who revived the Disaster Armor, and became the sixth generation owner, was Silver Crow —— Haruyuki himself.
“…No need to become so tense, Haruyuki-kun.”
With the arrival of calm words from the front seat, his face jerked up.
The owner of the voice suddenly pulled the nav seat’s reclining lever and the backrest started to tilt. Right in front of Haruyuki, who panicky dodged to the driver side, the seat fell all the way to full flat. Long black hair smoothly flowed, and part of it touched Haruyuki’s lap.
Today’s Kuroyukihime, was in unusually casual clothes. Above her grey slim jeans was a tight print T-shirt. On top of that was a thin punching leather material short sleeved shirt. The color was, of course, black. It was in contrast to the ivory type one piece and three quarter length leggings that showed the feminine side of Fuuko, but it did not diminish her official kind of beauty by one bit.
Kuroyukihime, who was in a sleeping position in front of Haruyuki, casually extended her right hand, grabbed Haruyuki’s T-shirt collar with her fingertips and pulled. As his body leaned forward as if sucked in, a sweet scent different from the car air freshener tickled his nose, and Haruyuki’s thinking rapidly decelerated.
“You don’t need to be afraid of anything. It’s ok, I will not let the Kings do anything to you. You, will be protected by me.”
After that was whispered at an extremely close distance, his head became more dizzy, so, after desperately putting his brain in gear, Haruyuki answered.
“Th… thank you very much. But… that is, all the Kings other than senpai will of course, ask for enforcement on Silver Crow right? That means… legion master’s «Judgement Blow»…”
“If that… was refused, won’t that be bad for senpai, how to say it, image-wise?”
What Haruyuki had experienced, was how unbelievably cruel the «Many who wore the hat of justification» could become. The delinquent students, who bullied Haruyuki a lot during the first year, did not irrationally wield violence at the start. At the beginning they came by with friendly faces, then at the moment that Haruyuki refused their invitation and distanced himself, they used the pretext of «Betrayal of companionship» and showed their fangs.
This time, as for reason, he thought that the Kings have more of it than Kuroyukihime. The «Disaster Armor» was a curse that had a lot of victims since the beginning of accelerated world, and even Haruyuki thought that it needs to be erased. On the other hand, if he could erase it by his own operation, then he would have done it already.
If that was not possible, then he should be dealt with by all the Burst Linkers. If Kuroyukihime rejected that «Valid» opinion, then what kind of mental and physical pressure will the Kings shower upon them?
That, was only Haruyuki’s worry —— however.
“Hahaha, what are you saying that at this time for?”
The sudden light laughter that flew by, made him blink his eyes a few times.
Then Kuroyukihime’s smile changed to a fearless one, and exaggerated in a somewhat low sound.
“I am already their enemy. I did not join their foolish «Mutual no invasion treaty» either. If they have a problem, then the six Kings can just come duel me. That is exactly what I wish for, right?”
‘—— Truly, what a strong, cool… and brave person.’
While he was impressed within his chest, he of course did not have the ability to put it into words, so the least Haruyuki could do was look with all his heart into the shining deep black eyes at close range.
Doing so made Kuroyukihime’s sharp look soften, and she again kindly smiled as she accepted Haruyuki’s gaze. With her lips moving slightly, a lowest volume whisper shook the air lightly.
“Thinking back, I had been protected by you a lot since the beginning…”
The lightly extended fingertip, gently touched Haruyuki’s right cheek. Even while his heart beat loudly, he somehow managed to answer in a raspy sound.
“No way… That’s not it… I had also…”
However Kuroyukihime lightly poked Haruyuki’s cheek with her index finger to seal his objection.
“I am your «Parent». So I have the right to protect you any time. That’s why, at least during times like this, rely on me without saying anything.”
With his chest quickly tightening, Haruyuki somehow managed to say just that, and continued to exchange gazes with Kuroyukihime. The sword King that returned a kind nod, as her fingertip stayed on Haruyuki’s cheek, once more whispered her words from a few seconds ago.
“I promise. You, I will protect.”
“…Yes. Yes.. I believe yomugiu!”
—— There, the reason that the ending of his words were overwritten by spoiled sound was.
The backrest of the driver’s seat suddenly fell down, and squashed Haruyuki.
The hand that thrust out from the seat’s edge grabbed hold of Haruyuki’s left ear and at the same time it was pulled, Fuuko’s face peeked out with both cheeks blown up hugely, and said in a resentful voice.
“Hey Saa-chan, Karasu-san! Getting excited in someone’s car is forbidden, you hear!”
The two people in the front returned their seat angle back to normal and as Haruyuki fixed his depth in the back seat, it was 3 minutes to 2 pm in the afternoon already.
Looking up through the window, he saw somewhat moody light clouds in the middle of June sky, but spots of blue color also showed their faces here and there. There did not seem to be any worry of sudden thunderstorm disrupting Neuro Linker connection.
Continuing after a slight cough, Kuroyukihime said tensely.
“This time’s conference is not an everyone connected become fighting opponents kind of «Battle Royale Mode» and instead, the host, «Blue King»’s two close aides will duel and other participants will be in the gallery which will automatically dive in. That is, there is no need to think about danger of anyone attacking us.”
“Ah… Including «Incarnate System» type of attacks too?”
Haruyuki’s question was answered by Fuuko.
“Yea, even if mind power is used, you cannot do something like attack the gallery in the normal duel field since the gallery does not even have a HP gauge. In the previous week’s «Hermes Code Traverse Race», the reason that the participants and audience were hurt by Rust Jigsaw’s mind power was because the HP gauge was set for everyone, but the number for it was locked due to the special field status.”
“I see, it was that right… Somehow… someway, it was like…”
As Haruyuki murmured obscurely, Kuroyukihime added with a quiet sound.
“Somehow it was like, it seems there was leeway left for destroying the race with mind power, that?”
“Ye… N, no, to that degree is…”
He hurriedly shook his head. If that was said, then the next conjecture would inevitably hold true. That was —— that destructive act by Rust Jigsaw, was approved by the developer of Brain Burst.
No way, it could not be that. That simply could not be. The identity unknown developer, who managed Brain Burst for whatever goal was still a mystery, but Haruyuki had already began to feel a deep respect for him/her as a gamer. The person who built and maintains this much of a fun, exciting, and immersive game… no, «world», could not be helping some dirty guy from the likes of «Acceleration Research Society».
As he strongly ground his inner teeth, Kuroyukihime’s gentle sound called out.
“Listen, remember just this. Accelerated world’s main actors are each and everyone of the Burst Linkers. You’re the same. What kind of form you commit to this world is fully left up to your choice. No matter what the developer’s intent is.”
At the same time as his deep nod, the time display at the edge of his view showed that it was 10 seconds before the appointed time.
“Good response. —— So then everyone, start Global connection.”
Under the legion master’s direction, three fingers pressed the link button on each of their Neuro Linkers.
After the Global Net connection display lit up, the connection status continued after, and 2 seconds after that icon disappeared ——.
A ‘ViShiiiii!’ kind of acceleration sound echoed fully in Haruyuki’s hearing.
In the center of his view, [A REGISTERED DUEL IS BEGINNING!] in flame letters brilliantly flared up.
Like a mirage that vanishes without a trace, the warm moist air, brought on by the monsoon rains, disappeared and cool wind caressing his body took its place.
Under his duel avatar’s mirrored helmet, Haruyuki excitedly opened both his eyes. No matter how many time he battles, joy fills him the instant he confirms the stage setting.
However this time, there was something more important than the stage that mystified him, and thus with a single glance at the fire-red sunset with cool wind rustling the sea of golden grass, Haruyuki confirmed it was the «Grassland» stage, and immediately turned around.
Just as the object of his immense curiosity – the duel avatar Shinomiya Utai controls – came into his vision, and in that instant, Haruyuki inhaled sharply.
As Haruyuki had expected, her body was small, yet it possessed a thickness that couldn’t be called ‘small’ at all. The reason was embodied in the long shields draped from both her hands, and the layer of protective skirt armour she wore, which covers from her upper waist to her feet and widens at the bottom. Putting these two components together practically looks like a set of white clothes with a red skirt – resembling olden Japanese apparel.
But the deepest impression this duel avatar made was that its upper and lower halves were of completely different colours.
The colour of her torso and arms are a moist, watery pale white, very similar to her Neuro Linker. However, the lower body’s clothing armour is a deep, vibrant red colour of high purity in contrast. It’s completely different from the pure red of Red Rider, the first-generation Red King, nor does it elicit the transparency of Scarlet Rain, the second generation King. This particular colour, combined with her avatar gives a distinct Japanese feeling– it should be called «Vermilion».
The head bears an astounding resemblance to Utai in real life. In front of her forehead, fringe-like armour plates are covered by a white mask, while a considerably long head of hair extends from the back of her head. Combined with her skirt and eye lenses dyed in the same vermilion colour, it was both cute and yet appears firm and unwavering.
Haruyuki has never seen such an avatar with two colours separated like this. Silver Crow’s body was coloured entirely silver, of course, and this too was the case for the legionnaires of Nega Nebulas who all possess a single colour. Even though there are duel avatars that do have more than two colours, they were different shades of the same colour, as ‘the duel avatar’s colour name = duel avatar’s affinity = the colour of its body.’ Since the colour name of a duel avatar’s name is one word, there should only be one hue of colour being expressed– or that’s how it should be.
But before Haruyuki’s eyes, the lower half of Utai’s slender and elegant avatar is very close to the «Red of ranged Combat», while the upper half similarly is dyed in the «White of Special Character». What colour name might then possibly encompass both colours despite their clearly dissimilar properties?
Haruyuki became fully aware of his gaze, captivated by the powerful attraction of the Japanese-style avatar, and looked away to the two Health Gauges in the upper left corner of his vision. He focused on the names tagged to the Gauge:
[Ardor Maiden]. This is the name of Shinomiya Utai’s avatar.
Maiden can be understood and interpreted as ‘young woman.’ There’s no other name besides this that fits Utai better.
But the crucial point is the colour word, the English word ardor, which Haruyuki momentarily couldn’t translate. Had this been the real world, a translation bubble would be called up just by focusing on the word in question. Regrettably, no such function exists in Brain Burst. Even if he feels that he has come across this word before, all the English materials up until 2nd year middle school level at least definitely did not cover this word.
Asking Utai for the meaning of her name would really be quite going off-topic, so Haruyuki could only give up and check his tag partner’s Level. It was Level 7– as expected, considerably high.
Haruyuki spent another three seconds to finish gathering his information, and then spoke to her while bowing:
“Then…then, please take care of me. I won’t disappoint you.”
Raising his head after speaking, he suddenly realised there was a problem. Brain Burst does not provide automatic translation capabilities nor textual chatting functions. How on earth would they communicate then? Sign language? Eye contact?
Immediately afterwards, Utai replied in such a way that made Haruyuki doubt his eyes– or rather, his ears:
“Take care of me too1. And Kuu-san, there is no need to speak so politely all of a sudden.”
–Kuu-san? Is this referring to me? Is this ‘kuu2‘ from ‘crow?’
No, this is not the question. I definitely didn’t mishear– she actually spoke. The mouth parts of Utai’s duel avatar’s mask had definitely moved, and afterwards that voice was heard speaking.
“May…may..may I ask? Shi..Shi…Shi…no, um, how should I address you…”
“Anything besides ‘Denden’ is fine. Previously, I was called by ‘Mei.'”
–is it the first half of ‘Maiden?’ No, this still isn’t the important thing now.
“…then, then…Mei-san, this…just now, you…spoke…”
Extremely shocked, Haruyuki’s words were more than a little rash, but Utai didn’t seem to mind and nodded:
“I may only speak like this during Acceleration. You could say that it’s the only reason why I continue to come to this world.”
Her voice seemed to carry a piercing, unyielding tenacity underneath its innocent and pure tone. While Haruyuki’s poor speaking skills is a perfect reflection of his real self, Utai appears overwhelmingly smooth with a rich inflection to her words; every word can be heard clearly as though she has taken speaking classes.
“But…but, to talk in this world, isn’t the theory that speech signals originate from conscious thought and the Neuro Linker processes them…?”
“I myself am not so sure of the specifics. But in the past, Black Lotus said that this is because the depth of quantum consciousness connection is never the same for everyone.”
“Oh, oh…I don’t understand either…”
Tilting his head to the side in deep thought, Haruyuki returned to closely examining the entirety of Utai’s avatar.
Exquisite as the combination of pure white and vermilion was, the Japanese-style apparel, a white shirt and red skirt, almost made one feel like their very soul was being captured. No– perhaps there’s a reason for this appearance. The arrangement of these colours and this appearance reminded him of a certain event in the real world. He remembered that long ago, he had seen it there…remembering that it was before his parents divorced, and the three of them were together for New Year’s…
“Kuu-san, I don’t mind even if you stare at me all day…”
“…and there, we went to a huge shrine…to pray for New Year’s…”
“I wouldn’t mind if you want to come pray in June for New Year either…”
“After praying, then we went for a divination…and then I remember drawing ‘Greatly Inauspicious’…”
“But the Guide Cursor has been moving nonstop till now.”
“It was written on the top that my interaction with others would greatly suffer…wait, what?”
When Utai’s words finally reached his consciousness, Haruyuki hurriedly looked at the dull blue cursor in the center of his vision. Indeed, the cursor was circling from left to right speedily, and the opponents were surely were the arrow pointed.
This picturesque grassland after all is a battleground provided by Brain Burst, not a virtual space to chit-chat.
“No good…they’ve gotten a lot closer!”
Quickly grasping the situation, Haruyuki checked on the opposing tag team information in the upper right corner of his vision.
One of them is a Level 4, «Olive Glove», who should be a Green Legionnaire whom Haruyuki has never seen before.
However, he was quite surprised upon checking the other name.
It’s «Bush Utan». A Level 3, he’s also a Green Legionnaire whom Haruyuki has battled numerous times before. But whenever he appeared in the Suginami Ward, it was always in a tag team with the person he called ‘Big Bro,’ the motorcycle rider Ash Roller.
Despite his misgivings, it wasn’t as though he teamed up with his pal to battle more than half the time, so Haruyuki set his feelings of uneasiness aside. There was a more pressing question before him: gong by the Guide Cursor, the enemy should have closed in within twenty metres and logically the battling will begin soon, but–
“…where are they?”
Tiptoeing, Haruyuki desperately scanned in the direction of the Cursor, but all he could see was the absurdly tall grass being blown by the wind. Not even the silhouettes of the opponents’ avatar could be seen. They surely should be keeping a low profile as though swimming through the grass.
While Haruyuki looked all around, Utai softly spoke to him:
“Kuu-san, it seems that the opponents have split themselves into the front and rear vanguards. I will take care of the rear and leave the front to you. Please let me see your true strength.”
She leisurely walked towards the back after saying that.
From Utai’s manner of speech before the battle, she should be related to Kuroyukihime’s «Disaster Armour Purification Plan» for her, a rural resident, to even appear before Haruyuki. And it is almost as though she is judging on whether to take part or not based on the outcome of this battle.
As such, a meaningful victory should be desired; a quick win is out of the question. But it is useless to talk about winning when the enemy can’t be found at this very moment. From the opponent’s constant movement to the left, coming closer in a spiral pattern, he will soon approach within 10 metres of Haruyuki,and at that point the Guide Cursor will vanish. With increasing desperation, he searched high and low for his opponent to no avail, unable to distinguish between the occasional rustling of the wind and the sound of an opponent’s footsteps.
–that’s right, listen!
He abruptly shut his eyes and directed all his concentration to his ears. He needs to listen for the difference in sounds when an opponent tramples the grass as he advances, and the rustling of grass and leaves when the wind blows. There’s a minute difference within the two that should be heard.
Two seconds later.
“…there’s absolutely nothing!”
Feeling extremely irritated, Haruyuki opened his eyes again. No matter how he listens, there seems to be zero variation of the shashasha sound coming from all directions. Usually there will be small differences between the two players, but to perceive this aural difference might possibly require anti-detection training.
His eyes and ears are useless in this situation. Haruyuki might be able to find the opponent if he was able to fly with his wings, but his Special Gauge is still empty and there are no breakable objects in the surroundings.
On the edge of grinding his teeth in worry, the Guide Cursor in Haruyuki’s vision finally disappeared. Strictly speaking, there is still one more Cursor, albeit pale-coloured, but it points towards the rear vanguard opponent instead, and as such is irrelevant to the circumstances.
He doesn’t know if the front vanguard is Bush Utan or Olive Glove, but that guy, having come within a radius of 10 metres, should be waiting for an opportunity to strike and dish out the punishment to Silver Crow. Of course, Haruyuki could simply copy the same strategy and lie low among the grass, but doing so will sacrifice the biggest advantage of Silver Crow: it’s speed. And in doing so, the duel will become a mutual fistfight on the ground.
Had this been a regular battle, Haruyuki would have abandoned all thoughts by this time; make preparations beforehand to attack the weak spots, steadily fill his Special Gauge, and bet on aerial combat from the middle of the fight onwards. This could be said to be the default fighting style of Haruyuki. It’s because Silver Crow is not very durable and its attack range is short, therefore it isn’t suited for grappling combat on the ground. There’s a definite loss of advantages while not flying–
Because that’s what he has always believed in his heart.
But, Shinomiya Utai had asked to see Haruyuki’s true strength.
This true strength could be said as «One’s true power». And as for ‘true,’ it would mean that no reservation nor excuse is acceptable. Most importantly, this battle definitely has a direct connection to the success or failure of the «Purification Plan».
–is there no way out anymore? Have I no cards left to deal with this situation?
As he wondered, a thought seemed to flash in his heart.
What if it’s her? Even if the Black King, Black Lotus, is only strong in close-quarters combat, what would she do if in the same situation as Haruyuki? Of course she wouldn’t be frantically looking around like he is; she’d definitely stay in that one spot leisurely until the enemy shows himself to attack, betting on that one instant to counter. Indeed, she’d do this. Since the enemy is a close-combat type, he certainly won’t be standing in the grass the instant he strikes.
Naturally, Haruyuki will be the one slower to react in this course of action. He can’t pre-emptively strike even if he sees the enemy. But in the Direct Connect duel last week, she told him that a skill to switch from defense to offense exists. He can’t replicate it exactly, but even if he tries and fails, it’s a hundred times better than not thinking and blankly standing there.
Releasing his entire body, Haruyuki half-closed his eyes.
The image of Black Lotus during last week’s duel appears in his mind.
Silver Crow’s fastest, most powerful right-hand punch was still slow in comparison to the speed at which the Black King had intercepted it. Her movement was not so much fast as it was «without excess movement». It wasn’t merely repelling the enemy strike as much as it was pulling it in and diverting its vector to push it away. This technique as named by the Black King is «Soft Act», or also known as «Guard Reversal3».
A high-pitched RIIIN sound can be heard in his consciousness, blotting out all sound in the background even though he’s keeping perfectly still. This is the Accelerated Sense, which Haruyuki only experiences after surpassing a certain level of concentration, although this is his first time doing so when keeping still in such a relaxed state.
After an indeterminable amount of time, Haruyuki finally felt the direction of the opponent’s first strike; not by seeing nor hearing, but by the slight tremors of footsteps.
Haruyuki turned his body and raised his right hand simultaneously. At the same moment, his opponent emerged from the grass, fist thrusting forwards; a small, grassy-green avatar that blended into the surroundings: Bush Utan.
His mask resembles that of a primate. His body is hunched over with small feet, but his arms are long and thick. It would seem that he had not run through the grass, but instead depended on his muscular arms to ‘swim’ through, which explained the lack of the sound of footsteps.
There is a distinct advantage for the short-statured in this kind of terrain. To Haruyuki, this first strike is a surprise attack. By the time he’s determined his opponent’s identity, the huge right fist is no more than ten centimetres away from his face. Combined with the fact that his footing is less than ideal, it’s impossible to dodge this hit.
Certain that his first hit would connect, Utan gave a loud shout. Without making a sound, Haruyuki intercepted the enemy’s fist with his open palm.
The blazing power from the enemy’s right hook was transferred to the palm. In this moment, any attempt to withstand and block would certainly end with the arms being deflected instantly and the face bearing the brunt of the strike. Rather than doggedly resisting, it is to adjust one’s movements to match the enemy’s action; not to reject his strength but to change his vector. The key point is a «Circular motion». It’s similar to how he played the virtual squash game daily in the past: the speed of the ball will rise infinitely if power hits are always used to return it, so it became necessary to lower its speed by moving the racket’s face in a circular ‘wrapping’ motion.
Recalling the action, Haruyuki twisted his opponent’s fist in an anti-clockwise direction with his palm. It wasn’t possible for him to fully absorb the power of this strike: his right wrist armour creaked from the stress applied, but at the same time he felt the fist’s trajectory being altered.
At this stage, Kuroyukihime could already redirect the attack a hundred and eighty degrees to throw Haruyuki backwards completely. Naturally, Haruyuki didn’t have such proficiency, but a deflection of about ten degrees was all that was needed here, such that it would not be a direct hit at least. Clenching his teeth and holding his breath, Haruyuki carefully redirected Utan’s fist into a circular motion.
CHII! A small scraping sound sounded as a sharp, burning, sensation assailed his left cheek. A few dots were shaved off from his HP Gauge. However, the huge fist merely glanced off Haruyuki’s helmet for an instant and continued on past; Utan’s upper body lost balance. It would probably be a result of only his arms and shoulders being exceptionally developed, hence raising his centre of gravity too high whenever he strikes.
Realising in that instant, Haruyuki involuntarily swept out his right leg towards Utan’s short legs.
The grassy green avatar yelped and somersaulted uncontrollably, landing on his back with a ZAN! sound effect. Although the tall grass might have cushioned the fall and reduced the damage, Utan’s HP Gauge nevertheless fell by a few percentage points.
——I did it! That looked like Guard Reversal!
Much as he was elated with himself, it was too early to celebrate. Utan disappeared into the grass with audible SHA SHA sound effects again, probably to attempt another sneak attack. Haruyuki crouched slowly and devoted his full attention to his perception.
The next attempt came quickly; within seconds, the ground shook with the vibrations of footsteps from directly behind. Moving faster than his eye could see, Haruyuki’s right hand shot out, and in the instant he felt it catch something, immediately guided it into a circular motion again.
When his vision caught up to his action, it was the sight of the deflected left straight and Utan having lost his balance again that greeted his eyes. Utan had attempted to forcibly correct his attack’s trajectory at the cost of raising his centre of gravity when his left leg was fully straightened; Haruyuki reflexive catching of Utan’s fist with his palm therefore resulted his his arm hitting Utan’s shoulder.
With that single shout, Haruyuki put in his strength to deflect Utan, sending him flipping end-over-end higher in the air before landing on his face. It seemed that the natural cushion of grass wasn’t able to properly absorb the fall damage: accompanying the injury effect was a 10% decrease in his Health Gauge.
Stuck in that disastrous position with his legs waving in the air for a moment, Bush Utan jumped up explosively with his arm strength to spin a hundred and eighty degrees and land on his feet. Instead of tunneling back into the grass, he merely retreated a few steps and pointed at Haruyuki:
“Hohoho, as expected of Ash-bro’s longtime rival!”
Not expecting this kind of response, Haruyuki could only blink and sputter incoherently:”Eh… It… It is?” But Utan merely continued his rant without paying attention to him:
“To think you’d use such an extraordinarily clever defense technique! This is the first time I wasn’t able to get the FA4 on the Grassland Stage! But if you think you’ve won already, don’t get a head of yourself! I would truly be undefeatable if I gave up direct attacking and went for sneak attacks instead!”
He wasn’t wrong at all. Although he understood Kuroyukihime’s tactic of «technique beating strength» with great difficulty, it was fundamentally ineffective against throwing and grappling skills. If both his legs were to be grabbed by Utan’s massive hands below the grass, he would end up in a one-sided battle without a doubt.
However Utan merely waved his right index finger at Haruyuki, who was sending himself into a panic:
“But if we used grappling skills here, the audience here would be super-disatisfied, right? That way, they wouldn’t see anything at all!”
Upon hearing this, Haruyuki scanned his surroundings and discovered that besides Shinomiya Utai — «Ardor Maiden», who was watching him from a distance, and the other opponent «Olive Glove», who had yet to make his appearance, everyone else was observing by standing among the grass.. Utan was quite correct: no matter how fiercely Haruyuki and Utan tussle on the ground, they would not be seen by anybody.
“…so, what do you plan? Eh, I just wanna clarify, I absolutely won’t agree to using brute strength to decide the winner!”
When Haruyuki had blurted out as such, Utan replied just as he slapped his right fist into the the palm of his left:
“Hoho, that’s a pretty good idea! But too bad, those skinny arms of yours that look like bamboo are no match for mine full of power. That’s why, this time I’m going to bring out my newly acquired skill!”
This made Haruyuki tense up. As far as he knew, Bush Utan’s only two weapons are 1) The strength contained within his huge arms, and 2) The ability to extend them by up to three times their length by depleting his Special Gauge. Since he was a Level 3 in the duel last week, it naturally couldn’t be that he had obtained a new Special Move or ability. If that was the case, then he should have used his Burst Points to purchase an Enhanced Armament, or he had perhaps developed a new battle technique. No matter which one it was, he needed to be extra careful.
Haruyuki crouched low and tightened his mind and body. Utan, on the other hand, walked closer without a care in the world and spoke deeply and provocatively:
“Hohoho, if you challenged me thinking that you could win just as easily as you did in last week’s Territorial Battle, then you’ll surely regret this! I’m not the polite me from then anymore, so watch closely… This is my new power!!”
Coming to a stop, he crossed his arms over his chest in a hugely exaggerated action, and after a moment, fiercely uncrossed them while shouting:
“«IS Mode» activate!! Come!!”
Hearing that unheard-of skill name being called out, Haruyuki braced his senses, preparing to dodge anything – even a long-ranged skill.
But what happened next completely surpassed his predictions.
From the centre of Bush Utan’s grass-green chest, a strange object emerged with a *kacha* sound. It was a small hemisphere approximately 5 centimetres in diameter with a heavy lustre, but not the metallic type. It looked like plastic; no, it should be best described as a moist texture like an organic form.
The following things immediately confirmed this observation. The hemisphere’s surface opened up like a human eye, splitting in half. Below this ‘eye’ leaked a bloodred glow, and the eye stared directly at Haruyuki.
Bush Utan released a dreadful pressure, flattening the grass all around. Black light was released from the eye in his chest, covering his entire body and radiating loudly. Despite being about ten metres away from Utan, an inexplicable sensation of pain was felt even through Haruyuki’s armour.
An abnormal thirst in his eyes, Utan shouted out an unheard-of skill name, raising his right fist as he charged forwards:
“Hohh… «Dark Blow»!”
Gaining the likeness of an enormous steel bullet, the shadow thickened around his fist and gave off a heavy, low vibration as it hurtled towards Haruyuki.
If he wanted to, surely Haruyuki could grasp this chance to use Guard Reversal again, but an indescribably frigid killing intent shut down that thought. Driven by fear, he jumped with all his might to the left to dodge.
What happened thereafter blew away Haruyuki’s thoughts, even forgetting to counterattack.
Utan’s straight landed at his feet, and in an instant blew away the grassy field like a meteor strike.
The stage floor possesses different properties from objects and rock, and should not be so easily shattered. Such power to effortlessly carve out such a crater was highly uncommon. Had he attempted to deflect that punch with Guard Reversal, he would have been single-handedly trying to bear such huge strength.
–What was that!? A Special Move…that can’t be right, an Enhanced Armament?
At a loss for words, Haruyuki reflexively checked the gauge displayed below Utan’s HP, a slim, green line displaying the amount of Special Gauge remaining.
Upon seeing it, he was panic-stricken and breathless.
The gauge hadn’t even decreased by a hair. Or rather, it hadn’t even been used from the start. And yet, Utan’s entire body was constantly radiating a dark aura with flickers of red.
Constant emission of light without depleting the Special Gauge. Only one word in the Accelerated World exists to explain this phenomenon:
«Over-Ray». Besides the Movement Command system most commonly used, there’s another way to control a duel avatar: the Image Control System. When a strongly imagined action passes through this system, excess signals are treated and rendered as photons – visible light.
At this point, Haruyuki finally understood what Utan had meant by ‘IS Mode.’
It had to be an abbreviation for ‘Incarnate System Mode,’ or the more commonly used term, ‘Incarnate System.’ The dark aura enveloping Utan was proof that he had activated the forbidden Incarnate System.
But why did he do this? Whenever high-rankers pass on the knowledge of IS, they would surely warn their students that the Incarnate System is to not be used in normal duels. And besides that, just what was that black eyeball in his chest? Incarnation is purely from the imagination of its user, so no objects nor equipment need to be equipped.
Deeply confused, though Haruyuki was fully aware that Utan, draped in inky blackness, had begun to attack; he thus was unable to react immediately.
Utan yelled out in a distorted voice as he raised his fist high. Haruyuki finally blinked and opened his eyes wide; but it was too late to dodge. Despite knowing the danger of doing so, all he was able to do was to raise his left hand, preparing to apply Soft Act in response-
Calling out the same skill name as before, Utan threw an explosive punch.
Haruyuki brought his palm up to bear against the Over-ray emitted by the fist.
For a split second, he felt a bone-chilling sensation in his hand—
With a high-pitched shattering sound, Silver Crow’s left hand instantly fragmented into countless shards of silver.
Even in the regular field with a reduced pain threshold, Haruyuki was unable to hold back his scream from the pain, feeling as though someone had literally ripped out a piece from his mind. And yet Utan’s fist didn’t stop there and continued on towards his face.
Haruyuki desperately craned his neck away to evade, but couldn’t stop the corner of Utan’s large, rough thumb from grazing the left edge of his helmet. Feeling as though his cheek had been cauterised, an enormous pressure then knocked him off his feet and onto his back, crumpling heavily into the grass.
Haruyuki rolled on the ground in agony. All of his left arm from the elbow downwards had disappeared without a trace, and at the side of his helmet a deep scar ran, emitting sparks. Utan looked down on him, and withdrew his right hand with heavy movements. He then thrust his left fist into the air.
There was no trace left of the original Bush Utan from last week’s duel in the light of his slanted, comma-like eyes behind his humourous mask. No, it could already be seen just ten seconds ago, with none of the passion for duelling. Now, those eyes only held a thirst, a longing beyond hurting and breaking Haruyuki, until he surrendered to Utan’s delight.
For the third time, Utan’s left fist, cloaked in the sticky black aura, was brought down to strike. Haruyuki propped up his back for dear life and unfurled his wings from this position, extending ten metal fins with all his strength.
Utan’s fist deeply pierced the ground where Haruyuki was a mere 0.1 seconds before. His blood ran cold at the mere sight of this, and he climbed as high and fast as he could until he was more than twenty metres above, and only then did he halt.
He couldn’t understand it at all, or rather, he refused to believe it. With great difficulty, he eased open his locked jaw, and squeezed out a few words:
“…U, Utan…why…your skill, what the…”
And the response he received was-
Utan raised a massive hand and faced Haruyuki, floating in the air. A voice crushed low to the point of a rumble issued from his mask:
“…flying away is just as useless…”
A black aura gathered in the center of his palm, five fingers spread outwards. In a slightly garbled voice, he shouted:
A jet-black beam of light erupted from Utan’s palm with a heavy sound.
Haruyuki’s mind was long past the point of surprise, and all he could do was stare at the black beam streaking right for him. He unconsciously vibrated his wings and slipped sideways, attempting to move out of the beam’s way, but of course, it was too late…
A huge hole was punched through the centre of his left wing, scattering silver fins much like the feathers of a bird when shot. Consequently, Haruyuki’s thrust was unbalanced and he dropped like a stone with no time to react; he crashed into the ground.
If the ground hadn’t been thick grass, his Health Gauge would surely have turned red by now. Instead, after a glance at his Gauge that had come dangerously close to fifty percent, even if he trembled before the fearsome power of Utan’s Incarnate skills, Haruyuki still dragged himself back up.
Trampling the grass with swishing noises, Bust Utan walked up to Haruyuki and broke into a huge sneer:
“…How does my new skill’s power feel like, eh? Ain’t it cool? Nobody could hope to match it, yeah~”
Light continously throbbed and emanated from the ‘eyeball’ in the center of his chest. In a soft, stuttering voice, Hauryuki fought against Utan’s bloodthirsty gaze.
“Wh-Why…Just, how did you…get this power…”
The answer came just as soon as he thought of it – it could only be that someone taught him how to use the Incarnation System. Just like how Sky Raker had taught him, and Scarlet Rain to Takumu. But there was still something he couldn’t understand:
Niko had said that there were four basic types of Incarnate techniques: «Range», «Movement», «Offense», and «Defense». And, any person can only learn Incarnate techniques that are compatible with their duel avatar’s colour type. But right before his eyes, Bush Utan had shot him out from the sky with a «Range Expansion» technique: the affinity belonging to the Red spectrum in the Colour Circle, and completely opposite of a green avatar’s defensive properties. And prior to that, Utan too had used an «Offensive Expansion» technique to strike Haruyuki. It’s impossible for these Incarnation techniques to exist together; even Niko, herself a high-level Incarnate System user, admitted her inability to use either Offensive or Defensive Expansion techniques given her avatar type.
Faced with a problem far surpassing his comprehension, all Haruyuki could do was to sit down, shell-shocked and gazing blankly.
Across from him, Bush Utan lowered his long, burly arms loosely by his sides while the «Eye» in his chest gazed around. Moving his mouth as little as possible like a child revealing his secrets, Utan spoke with a crazed fervor:
“…Didn’t I say? I…got this from someone who gave it to me. This «IS Mode Study Kit»…or simply ISS Kit.”
“Gave… You? Someone…gave you the ISS Kit?”
He murmured in a daze at this revelation.
Haruyuki was familiar with the words ‘study kit’; there are numerous companies marketing a wide variety of educational kits for young children: Piano, Gymnastics, Bicycle riding, just to name a few study kits. After downloading the kit into the Neuro Linker, either FullDive or Augmented Reality learning could take place under the guidance of a virtual instructor. He himself had used such a kit, ‘Speaking Practice Kit,’ but he didn’t wish to let others know of this fact.
But such companies in the real world couldn’t possible create and sell an ‘Incarnate System Study Kit.’ And logically speaking, the power of the Incarnate System couldn’t possibly be learnt from these quick fixes. Lastly, Utan had said that he did not purchase this, but obtained it from an acquaintance, most probably another Burst Linker who told Utan, ‘With this study kit, you can learn the Incarnate System,’ and thus passed to him that black eyeball.
So who on earth gave it to him? It couldn’t be… It couldn’t be…
“This…someone who gave you the ‘ISS Kit,’ is he… Ash Roller?”
For a moment, a bemused look crossed Utan’s face while Haruyuki trembled in fear. Utan then shook his head and replied:
“…Nah, it wasn’t. This thing… I would never tell Big Bro Ash about it. ‘Cos Big Bro, he… probably wouldn’t like this too much, yeah…”
Upon hearing this, Haruyuki secretly exhaled in relief. Ash Roller had already been taught the basics of the Incarnate System by their master, Sky Raker, and therefore shouldn’t have to experiment with such suspicious tools like the ISS Kit.
But he couldn’t let his guard down just yet. Bush Utan leaned in closer towards Haruyuki, and whispered feverishly:
“…But, as long as I use this kit to become stronger, Crow-san, don’t you agree that Big Bro will definitely be happy for me? If he knew that even though Crow-San beat me up just a week ago, and that now I’ve scored a flawless victory with the ISS kit, Big Bro’s gonna be happy, ain’t it? He’d say I’m ‘GIGA COOL~,’ ain’t that right?”
Seeing Utan’s insatiable thirst in his eyes up close, Haruyuki gasped sharply and involuntarily shook his head as he replied:
“…N-No, it wouldn’t be. The power of IS Mode… I mean, the Incarnate System shouldn’t be learnt from a kit like this. You have to first face your own «trauma», and understand the source from which that power originates… You have to begin from there, or you’d be swallowed up by your heart’s darkness…”
“Dafuq you sayin’?”
Utan shut Haruyuki up on the spot with his angry retort. Their masks were almost touching each other, the formerly cheerful and lively Burst Linker now spoke in a gravelly tone:
“…Crow. From that tone of yours, it’s as though you know a little about this «power»….but in that race last week, you should have personally experienced it: the immense power of the shuttle No. 10’s «IS Mode» that ran amok and in an instant, rusted away the shuttles of several hundred Gallery members to smithereens. «IS Mode» is such an extraordinary power, an ultimate power that can break every last rule of Brain Burst. There are all those filthy fellows who have been hiding it from everyone else all this time, so is there any purpose in caring about what that power signifies now? No, or rather… maybe even you’ve been using that power in your fights every now and then, winning them in your own little sneaky way?”
Like a huge snake, Utan’s right hand snaked forwards and grabbed Haruyuki by his throat, and with his extreme strength lifted him to his feet. From this close proximity, Haruyuki could see into the depths of Utan’s eyes, which should have been leafy green in colour, flickering with a black-red light. And – the frequency of this light’s pulsing and the eyeball of the ISS Kit stuck in his chest was completely in synchrony.
“If I ain’t stronger, there ain’t no point to it. If I ain’t stronger, my winrate won’t be good and all I’ll ever be in the legion is merely an underling. It wouldn’t be long before I lost all my points, and nobody in Accel World will even know they just lost another small player. But of course, people like you who had rare abilities like «Aviation» from the start wouldn’t understand, or maybe there’s just no way for guys like you to understand us.”
—I understand. I can understand it better than anyone. I’ve never thought of myself as a winner, not in the real world, not even in Accel World.
That was what he wished to say, but Bush Utan beat him to it. In a hoarse voice, he continued on:
“…But, with this «ISS Kit», even losers can become strong. No…losers will never have to feel like a loser ever again with its strength. You saw it too, right? In the three days I’ve had this Kit, I’ve been able to master «IS Mode» to this extent. As long as I’ve got this power, I won’t ever lose to melee nor ranged attackers ever. Those idiot legionnaires too, who look down on me, and… Even Big Bro – I mean, I can even beat Ash Roller! I’m strong, that’s right, I’m stronger!”
His voice wasn’t hoarse anymore; at some unknown point, his tone and even his volume had drastically changed.
Bush Utan lifted Haruyuki off the ground with just his right hand gripping Silver Crow’s throat, yelling out loud:
“I’m the strongest… I’m stronger than anyone! I don’t even need a Tag Partner anymore! ‘Olive Glove!’ Let’s have a duel after this! Let’s see who’s got the better skill at IS Mode! Where are you, Olive! Watch me finish this guy off!”
With Bush Utan’s complete turnaround in character, and Haruyuki’s comprehensive ability long overloaded, all he could was think in a daze, unable to keep up with the situation anymore.
-‘Olive Glove’ was the name of Utan’s tag partner in this battle. He should be his buddy from the Green Legion, but from the way Utan had referred to him, he seemed to have also obtained the ISS Kit. In other words, Olive too should be capable of wielding the terrifying power of «all types of Incarnation».5 If that was the case, then how had Shinomiya Utai fared as his opponent? She shouldn’t have gone down in one hit just like he had…
Just when Haruyuki looked up to check the Health Gauges in the upper corner of his vision, he heard footsteps from his right, and immediately turned to face it.
A chilling wind parted the swaying grass and an unknown duel avatar stepped out, slowly walking towards them.
His armour colour was just like his namesake, a dark brown – Olive. His body was slim like a branch, but his arms were disproportionately large. And, another black hemisphere was stuck in his chest just like Utan.
But the eyelids of this eyeball were nearly shut, save for a tiny exposed sliver of the «Eye». Red light flickered irregularly from it, as though it would go out at any moment.
Upon a closer look, just to keep moving forwards, Olive Glove’s avatar itself had to readjust every step he took with great haste, as though…as though he was fleeing.
Upon hearing Utan’s voice of surprise, this lean avatar raised its head stiffly. Beneath rows of vertical slits, his eyes opened as wide as saucers.
“…Utan…hel… Help me…”
His hoarse voice suddenly cut off mid-sentence as he abruptly turned his head back and raised his right hand out of fright. A thin layer of shadow gathered, wrapping around his hand that resembled the branch of a tree.
A soft sound interrupted Olive mid-word.
It had come from a long, thin object wrapped in flames that had appeared from nowhere, piercing straight through Olive Glove’s left chest – a ‘fire arrow.’
The entire duel avatar instantly disintegrated and dispersed; his Health Gauge had been reduced to zero. Haruyuki reflexively checked the four – no, only three bars were left in the corners of his vision.
Bush Utan’s Gauge still had 80% left, while Silver Crow’s was just less than half full. But Haruyuki’s tag partner Shinomiya Utai – Ardor Maiden – her Gauge hadn’t decreased even a single dot since the beginning of the battle.
The «Eye» – the «ISS Kit» that Utan had referred to, had already appeared on Olive Glove’s chest, so Maiden should also have encountered an Incarnation attack as her opponent’s first strike. In Olive’s last moments, he had tried to use the same long-ranged skill Utan had utilised, «Dark Shot». That couldn’t have been his first Incarnate attack against her, and yet Maiden hadn’t even suffered a scratch. How on earth was that so?
Haruyuki momentarily forgot to breathe as his gaze slowly rose from the spot Olive had vanished.
About twenty metres away, the silhouette of a diminutive duel avatar appeared, clad in a white robe and red hakama6. All of her armour shone brightly without a single imperfection, save for an object she held in her slender left hand that hadn’t been there before. It was a long, thin object nearly as tall as she was, gently curving backwards above and below her grip, with a thin line strung between the ends. It was – a bow.
Ardor Maiden nonchalantly glanced at Silver Crow, less a whole arm and one of his wings, and Bush Utan who had him by the throat and off the ground.
There had been nothing else in the space between her hands. But suddenly, a fiery-red line appeared – an arrow of fire. Utai straightened her back, raised her right hand high, and in a beautifully smooth motion, gently pulled on the string.
Time seemed to stop in that moment of silence. Her right hand shimmered, and her left simultaneously released.
With a gale-force wind the arrow flew, deeply piercing through Bush Utan’s right lower arm.
Groaning in pain, Utan dumped Haruyuki onto the ground and pulled out the flaming arrow with his left. The arrow dissipated into thin air afterwards. But just from this one shot, Utan’s Health Gauge had already been reduced by ten percent.
Though her arrow’s damage was high and her accuracy amazing, it was the dignified manner in which Ardor Maiden carried herself which truly frightened Haruyuki – and probably Bush Utan too – rooting him to the spot. The Japanese-style avatar seemed to glide through the sea of grass, murmuring in the wind, as she came closer. If only avatar size is considered, then she’s smaller than any other player, yet a scorching aura about her chased away all such feeling. In Niko’s words, she exerted an «Unbelievable Information Pressure».
Ardor Maiden came to a stop before Haruyuki and Bush Utan, holding her bow horizontally with both hands before her. In the same dignified manner that belied her innocent tone, she spoke:
“This has been an unforeseen matter. I merely wished to restrain Olive-san before a victor could be decided on your side of the duel, but unfortunately that couldn’t be the case.”
She shook her head lightly, as though her flawless victory had in fact been a grave mistake. She then proceeded to speak her train of thought aloud in a short monologue:
“The «ISS Kit»… If this was to be spread uncontrollably, it will be quite difficult to resolve the situation. And if the distributor’s identity cannot be found quickly…”
Utai raised her head and fixed Utan with a severe gaze. She got to the point straightforwardly:
“Bush Utan, who gave to you this?”
As though intimidated, the grassy-green avatar retreated two steps. The «Eye» in his chest began to flicker irregularly, as though in pace with his own state of mind. The form of the dark aura surrounding him, too, had begun to sway violently.
Utan shook his head repeatedly, and in a hoarse voice, he croaked in reply:
“I, I can’t tell you… Nope… I promised, not to tell…”
“Is that the case? Well then, there’s no other choice since you’ve made a promise.”
Utai acknowledged with a blunt nod of her head, continuing to fix Utan with an iron stare as she delivered her next question:
“I will daresay that this power will do more harm than good for you. Bush Utan, the «Flames» of my avatar type has the ability to purify your body of that parasitic object if you wish so for it. There is still time for it now. It is regrettable that Olive-san turned me down… But what about you?”
The full implications of her words’ meaning couldn’t be immediately grasped by Haruyuki.
But after a second or so had passed, his eyes grew wide with realisation.
Utai had definitely said ‘The «Flames» of my avatar type has the ability to purify your body of that parasitic object.‘ But, wasn’t such an ability extremely rare? Hadn’t Kuroyukihime and Fuuko talked about it in the past; parasites and other object of similar types could only be removed by users with the rare «Purifying Ability»?
Then – Shinomiya Utai, Ardor Maiden, has to be one such user with a Purifying Ability. She is the keystone to the ‘Disaster Armour Purification Plan’ as outlined by Kuroyukihime, which will cleanse Chrome Disaster’s seed from Haruyuki.
As the realisation glued him to the spot, Haruyuki momentarily forgot about the pain from his missing left hand and wing; Utai nodded at Utan, as though urging him to answer.
Standing few metres away, the black aura surrounding his body seemed to become increasingly pale and weak. His voice seemed to have lost all strength as he croaked:
“I… I… I only…wished to become strong…as strong as…-Big Bro…”
He took a single step forwards. His hands dropped by his sides, and his head shivered continuously, as though he was about to nod. But then-
The Eye in his chest suddenly blinked and opened wide and the dull red light it emitted strongly pulsed. At the same time, Bush Utan’s own eyes too, lit up together and the same red light shone from them. Haruyuki got the feeling that it was actually the Eyeball that was interfering with Bush Utan’s state of mind.
“…No… This power is mine… My power… My strength…”
A tinge of distortion overcame his voice, deepening it greatly. The aura surrounding him began to regenerate, and his outstretched hands slowly clenched to form fists.
“I won’t just hand this over… Or let it be stolen… Don’t even think about taking this from me… No.. Not at all…”
In a low voice, Utan seemed to ramble to himself, when he abruptly stood straight up forcefully. From his eyes and the Eyeball in his chest, each emitted a thin ray of dark red light like a spear.
“This is my power, this is my «IS Mode»! If you want to take it away… then I’ll show you!”
He thrust his right fist high into the air, a thick black aura covering it completely.
“Oooh… «Dark Blow»!”
Bush Utan wanted to beat the smaller Ardor Maiden to a pulp from above.
Haruyuki’s instinct was block with his own fist,but Utai raised her left hand, gesturing for him to stop.
In the same action, she brought forth her right to face Utan. Compared to his fist, humongous like a boulder, Utai’s five slim fingers resembled newly-bloomed rose buds. ‘There’s no way she could stop it,’ Haruyuki thought.
Utai’s palm lit up with a gentle orange light – flames. A clear layer of translucent flame covered her hand in a fraction of a second.
Just as Utan’s fist was about to crush Utai’s comparatively tiny palm – a resounding *GAAN!* erupted. The impact propagated, fiercely shaking Haruyuki and the surrounding grass all around. But all he did was to stare blankly at the scene before him, as though oblivious to everything else.
Utan’s and Maiden’s hands were not touching: a space of five centimetres separated them, and within that space Utan’s black aura could be seen tussling viciously with the semitransparent flame from Utai, emitting dazzling sparks everywhere. This was their respective imaginations clashing to create the «Overwrite» phenomenon – in other words, Maiden was defending against Utan’s Incarnate attack with her own Incarnation.
But the difference between their expressions couldn’t be greater: Utan’s face was twisted with undisguised hate and killing intent, but Utai just kept her hand raised quietly. Her expression looked a little sad, even.
Utai abruptly spoke up, her words reinforcing Haruyuki’s impression.
“Bush Utan, this is where you’re wrong. The power of Incarnation… Or ‘IS Mode’ as you call it, isn’t a power to be bestowed upon you nor a power to be taken from someone. It is born from your heart, from your inner self.”
“…Shut up, shut up shut up!”
Utan bellowed and brandished his left fist.
But even before he had struck, the flame surrounding her right hand strengthened by a tiny amount.
And then the balance of opposing forces between them was instantly dispersed. A tremendous force blew away Utan’s fist, flipping him into the grass behind.
The disparity in their strength was absolute. Utai had probably employed a ‘Defensive Expansion’ Incarnation technique, and despite the fact that her red-type duel avatar should not be able to use such a skill, and even when it should be inefficient, she only had but to use Over-Ray to deflect the opposing fist. All the more, she was no ordinary player.
Bush Utan, too, seemed to have sensed Ardor Maiden’s incredible power, and rather than continue head-on, dived back into the grass. *SHASHASHA*… The sound of rustling grass surrounded them, accompanied with the rustle of the wind. He had not fled, in fact, but most probably was preparing to launch the same long-range dark beam attack that had felled Haruyuki earlier.
“…Ut- Sorry, Mei-san, he’s planning to use a ranged attack!” 7 Haruyuki cried out hurriedly.
Utai nodded slightly. Walking a few steps closer to Haruyuki, she turned around to scan the surroundings, and with a dignified voice stepped towards the fields of grass.
“Bush Utan, there’s one more thing which you do not know of. If you attack with Incarnation techniques, you mustn’t forget this. The opponent may also counterattack with Incarnation as well.”
With that, Utai glanced at Haruyuki for a moment before nonchalantly speaking:
“Kuu-san, just once will suffice; please block Utan-san’s attacks. My Incarnation attack takes a little time to activate.”
Answering without thought, Haruyuki realised too late that he had just tripped himself up. It was going to be no easy task to deflect a ranged attack from possibly anywhere – it may well be impossible.
But Utai had already moved out of Haruyuki’s line of sight and began to concentrate. Spreading her feet apart slightly, she shut her eyes, and a layer of Overflow resembling genteel flames enveloped her whole frame.
And then her duel avatar abruptly underwent an unexpected change.
With a loud *CLACK!*, armour from her fringes slid out and covered her entire face. These pure white surfaces with gentle curves only bore 2 curved lines for eyes, like a false appearance – no, it’s actually a mask.
The eyes drawn on this mask appear soft, but to put it another way, they gave off a cold appearance, or there was not the slightest trace of innocence, to say the least.
Following which, another transformation began with the Japanese bow she held in her left.
The entire length of the flaming bow was instantly shrunk into a small rod, merely a fraction of its original size. Utai then transferred this object, still wrapped in flames, into her right hand, holding it outwards like a brush. Haruyuki speculated that that should be some sort of weapon, but in the next moment-
With a crisp sound, the rod unfolded from her hand into a thin, sector-shaped object: a «Fan». Let alone a firearm, it’s not even a weapon; why go to the trouble to change the bow into a fan! No matter how much Haruyuki wanted to yell that at Utai, he couldn’t break her concentration just yet.
Unable to do anything else, Haruyuki could only prepare himself to defend against Utan’s attack at all costs, and scanned their surroundings.
If Utan’s Over-Ray was his original avatar’s colour, it might have been possible to spot him through the grass which wouldn’t completely conceal him; but the black aura he gave off blended into the shadows created by the evening sun, making it impossible to see where Utan was. And it was just as impossible to hear even the slightest sound of footsteps; given these circumstances, predicting the source of his next shot was more difficult than detecting a punch by several orders of magnitude.
—Wrong. Even if he has a way to conceal his footsteps, Utan still has to make a sound before he attacks: «Calling out the Skill Name»8. Incarnate techniques aren’t like normal Special Moves: it was not impossible to activate it without calling out the skill’s name. Yet, instant activation without any voice imagination trigger was quite a high-level technique, and for Utan who had only possessed the «ISS Kit» for a few days, he shouldn’t have had attained that level of proficiency.
Haruyuki stretched out and brought his fingers together, gathering his entire concentration unto his sense of hearing.
The blowing of wind, the rustling of leaves, all other noises were eliminated from his consciousness, single-mindedly waiting for the one and only sound inscribed into his memory by Utan a few minutes earlier.
When an eternity passed in a few seconds’ time, Haruyuki’s senses were finally triggered.
His eyes opened in an instant and he shouted:
“«Laser Sword»!!” “«–rk Shot»!!”
The two Incarnate attacks’ names were called out simultaneously.
A black beam shot out from behind Ardor Maiden’s right, and Haruyuki slashed up with his right hand. A silver aura from his fingers elongated into the length of a sword, and its point rushed towards the inky black darkness—
*CRAASSHH!* With a shrill collision, the laser deviated from its path, barely missing Utai’s shoulder and vanishing into the twilight sky. A distance away, an expression of shock momentarily crossed Utan’s face as he stood, but his avatar immediately ducked back into the grass, leaving neither sound nor shadow as he fled.
Utai’s request «to protect her once» was fulfilled. But Incarnate attacks wouldn’t deplete the Special Gauge. Strictly speaking, it requires «mental strength» to attack, but Utan’s fighting spirit was probably in no way weakened. Another Dark Shot was sure to follow in the next few seconds.
Not knowing what to do next, Haruyuki turned back to look at Ardor Maiden.
The diminutive masked avatar slowly waved the hand fan in her right hand, almost as though she was dancing.
At this, a long-forgotten memory in Haruyuki’s recollection suddenly awoke:
Where had he seen this scene before? Yes, on a performing stage when he was much younger, he was brought by his parents for a New Year’s shrine visit. In the midst of mysterious music, a girl dressed in white with a red hakama danced with a fan in one hand just like Utai was now, though there were differences. The performer was not masked like Ardor Maiden is, and her movements were not as dynamic as Utai’s. Her changes in tempo were enormous, from a climax to freezing in place noiselessly. There was no other words that came to mind to describe this other than ‘superb.’
Haruyuki had long forgotten about the battle just in front of him, and continued to admire the dancing of Ardor Maiden.
Without warning, from the mouth of her mask, a bright, clear voice resounded. She wasn’t shouting, yet her voice clearly carried to every corner of the stage. It was an outstanding «singing» with strength within.
Sukoshi suzushiki san’netsu no
Suddenly, the grassy fields covering the entire stage shuddered. It was not transpiration – it was flames. Flames surrounded Utai and spread far away to the edges of the stage. That was the indication of an Incarnate System Skill, «Over-Ray», or excess light, that was covering the entire stage. To the point of surpassing even the erosion-type Incarnate System skill employed by Rust Jigsaw, «Rusting Order», which he used during the Hermes Vertical Cord Race last week.
Kurushimi wo manugaru soreno mika
The world ignited in a blaze.
Lotus-like red flames rose into the sky in all directions, completely scorching the grassy plains. The whole stage had been dyed red, with countless embers dotting the sky like stars.
A two-meter circle of space around Utai was untouched, with naught an ember inside this space. But the illusion of being completely untouched by those flames was enough to send Haruyuki gasping for breath.
Ardor Maiden gracefully waved her fan. The violently raging flames spread, burning the grass and even the ground to ash.
Between the curtains of fire, a vague shadow could be seen.
That was Bush Utan, whose entire body had been engulfed in flames. His two arms had long ago been incinerated.
And yet unbelievably, his face had no expression of pain whatsoever, only an unreadable expression. He looked down on his own body which had just been toasted into a pillar of flame. Haruyuki reflexively checked their HP gauges; Bush Utan’s gauge was dropping at an alarming speed. It dropped below 30% in the blink of an eye, as though the flames itself was burning the gauge away. 20%–10%–zero.
With a flash of light and a sound effect, the avatar-shaped pillar of flame disappeared.
Even so, the short avatar continued with her dance. While watching her in silence, Haruyuki finally felt all the puzzle pieces fall into place, and understood:
The meaning of «Maiden» does not only refer to a young lady. It also could refer to a nun of God. Isn’t this very form just that of a shrine maiden, and therefore the first image that is invoked by the red and white armour?
And, «Ardor»’s meaning is ‘Blaze.’ Hotter than «Fire», more ferocious than «Flames», to the point of an apocalyptic conflagration.
In other words, «Conflagration Shrine Maiden».
1. ^ When Haruyuki first says ‘Please take care of me,’ it’s in polite speech. This reply by Maiden is a shorter, more casual form.
2. ^ Crow in katakana is ku-ro-u, and Maiden calls him Kuu-san by revoicing the ‘u’ in ‘ku’. The English equivalent is Cro-san, a shortening of his name.
3. ^ 受け返し (uke kaeshi) in Japanese, 四两拨千斤 (sìliǎngbōqiānjīn) in Chinese. It’s «Give & Take» and «Skillful Deflection» respectively.
4. ^ First Attack.
5. ^ Very iffy: the term 全属性心念 is used here, which is literally ‘All-affinity Incarnation,’ ‘Universal Incarnation,’ etc. It conveys the idea that the ISS Kit grants skills of all affinites from the Colour Circle: ranged & melee offense, defensive, and indirect. Whether all of these are demonstrated remains to be seen.
6. ^ Haruyuki almost calls out her name, caught himself mid-word, and reverted to her avatar’s name, if that was unclear.
7. ^ The haori and hakama are the two most prominent articles of clothing in a shrine maiden’s attire.
8. ^ There’s a few ways to translate this, but TVTropes takes the cake. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CallingYourAttacks
9. ^ This line is taken from a Noh play with a poetic structure to it: a faithful translation is beyond our combined abilities. The best I can give is a direct translation:
Worries and pain, they are
Freed now, and there is more by far
The phrase ‘more by far’ should be taken to mean that more than just one’s worries & pain can be freed / cleansed / relieved.
Summary: Haruyuki duels Ash Roller and they discuss the emergence of the ISS Kit.
Finishing his breakfast of cornflakes with milk in big bites, Haruyuki hurried out of his home after informing his mother in her room that he was going to school.
Although today is a rare sunny day, it is still quite humid, immediately increasing one’s unhappiness index early in the day; the tiniest amount of exertion is enough to cover one’s entire body with sweat, but Haruyuki persisted with a pace close to jogging towards the main road to the front of the large building.
He is not running late; his intended destination is not his school either, but a location en route to where he normally travels to school. Reaching the side of Seven Rings Road, he continues to walk south along the wide pedestrian path, deviating from his usual route of turning right at the turn.
Entering the central flyover and climbing the gentle slope, he soon reaches the junction of Seven Rings and Aoume Avenue. Getting on the skybridge escalator, Haruyuki stops at the center of Seven Rings Line and checks the time in the lower right corner of his vision. It’s now 7.45am.
Switching his line of vision to the lines of EVs1 underneath him, Haruyuki softly utters:
*BASHIII!* With that sound effect, the world is silenced and is dyed blue. This is the Initial Accelerated Space, which the Brain Burst program created by amplifying the quantum clock pulses of Haruyuki’s heart and accelerating his thoughts by a thousand times.
At first glance, the EV traffic, dyed a uniform, vivid blue, seems to have completely stopped, but a closer examination reveals that these cars are in fact moving forwards by about a centimetre every second. Against this strange backdrop, Haruyuki moved the hands of his pink pig avatar and opened the Matching List Option in Brain Burst. Locating the name he was looking for from a long list of familiar names, he exhaled a virtual sigh. With naught a trace of hesitation, he selected it and pressed “DUEL” on the resulting popup.
The world changed again. From its outer edges inwards, the sky turned an inky black. Scars appeared on the walls of tall buildings and convenience stores on either side of the road. Every car vanished and countless broken walls spawned by the roads, including potholes and rusting gasoline barrels.
The «End Of Century» stage is still a considerably windy environment, and Haruyuki couldn’t help but crack a smile. It wasn’t that he particularly liked this stage, but there was no stage more suitable than the current one. That’s because the opponent Haruyuki had chosen mere seconds go had fought in this particular stage for his first «Duel», and furthermore, it was when Haruyuki – Silver Crow had made his debut as a Burst Linker.
Tilting his ear attentively, it wasn’t long before Haruyuki picked up on the characteristic sound of a revving internal combustion engine coming from the wide, open northern main road. He should be joyriding towards Haruyuki’s position straight as an arrow with the engine at full throttle, since the water-coloured Guide Cursor is practically motionless. Within his heart, Haruyuki was lured for an instant to audaciously attempt the same trick as he had on a similar footbridge in the past: waiting for the opponent just before he passes directly underneath the bridge, jumping down and dealing a full-force flying kick.
But Haruyuki stuck to his original plan, and before he could even see the silhouette of his opponent, jumped down from the handrails of the footbridge. Opening his wings to slow his descent, he landed on the road surface gently.
“Crow-kun has gone down already? Why?”
This chatter came from the gaggles of Gallery Members gathered on the rooftops of various buildings. It was probably jaw-dropping for them to see Haruyuki squander such a rare advantage; but contrary to what they believed, Haruyuki had not «Accelerated» this time for the sake of a duel.
Putting his hands on his waist, it wasn’t long before Haruyuki could make out a shining headlamp from the darkness and the sound of a roaring V-twin engine. It appears that the opponent too, had noticed Haryuki and had changed gears, preparing to charge straight in; however, he had instead, raised his hands high rather than assume a combative stance to attack first, indicating his lack of intention to fight.
Fortunately, the opponent seemed to have understood his intent. Emerging from the darkness, the front and rear brake rotors of the steel ride emitted sparks from the deceleration, with their orange light reflected in the chrome plating of the upper half of the bike. The rear wheel was skidded and the bike came to a stop before Haryuki, and the rider removed his hand from the handlebars to shake a finger while clicking his tongue:
“So Bad, you lookin’ for a fight with me but surrender before we started?”
Facing the devilish scarface mask of the avatar who is probably Accel World’s one and only motorbike rider Ash Roller, Haruyuki bowed his head and replied:
“I’m sorry, but today I have something I want to discuss with Ash-san…”
The legion that Ash Roller belongs to is the Green Legion «Great Wall», whose territory is the area of Shibuya to the south, so their main duelling territory is of course Shibuya. Yet for reasons unknown, Ash Roller can be found on the Matching List on normal days in the morning and evening for a short period of time in Suginami. Perhaps it was because he takes a bus that passes through the Seven Rings road to get to and back from school, so this period of time is considered a «Neighboring Excursion». And if this is truly the case, then it is certainly very daring on his part; since it is possible to determine from the duel avatar’s spawn location the position of the bus that he is riding on, it’s difficult to protect himself from «Real Life Harm» incidents occurring.
Yet upon a second thought, there are no other Burst Linkers who could be appropriately described with ‘daring’ and ‘rough,’ and therefore Haruyuki made his decision to interrupt his thoughts and walked closer to the bike. Lowering his voice, he spoke:
“And, if we could talk in «Closed», it would help me a great deal…”
«Closed Mode«, as it implies, is the complete exclusion of Gallery members from spectating the fight, or in other words, a private duel. It can be initiated with the consent of both sides, but doing so would lead the Gallery to think that the fighters were petty about being seen. Furthermore, «expressing in view of everybody» is the reason why Burst Linkers throw themselves into a fight wholeheartedly, so next to no one ever uses this mode.
Ash Roller too huffed with dissatisfaction, but agreed in a small voice of ‘Understood’ given the serious tone Haruyuki had used.
Facing the four directions of the stage in turn, the motorbike rider shouted in a loud and clear voice:
“HeyheyHEY! Boyz an’ Girlz! Sorry that you guys can’t see Ore-sama win today, SO SURRY, but juz for this fight, everyone, take it that NOTHING happened at all!”
Thunderous protests immediately erupted from every direction above on the rooftops.
“Oi oi, that’s might boring!”
“I haven’t seen Ash vs Crow for such a long time now, you guys really should have a go!”
But no matter how fiercely the Gallery opposed him, when Ash added an unnecessary line:
-“What can I do! It’s this Crow who wants to confess to Ore-sama!”
The roar of protest immediately changed to rapturous applause in a single breath.
Hearing the waves of clapping and whistling, Haruyuki was utterly flustered and shouted “What, it isn’t so!” But even if this carrot hadn’t been given, more than half the Gallery refused to leave the duel anyway. Whether or not Ash Roller had been serious or merely joking, Haruyuki absolutely wouldn’t bow to this.
Hence, he reached and touched his name in the upper left corner of his vision, and from the menu to change the duel type, selected ‘Closed Mode’ and pressed OK. A [YES/NO] option must have appeared in Ash Roller’s vision too; his hand moved just a little and every cheer and whisper from the audience immediately disappeared in a flash of light.
A silence settled in over the stage as though the ‘mute’ button had been pressed, save for the low rumble of the gasoline engine of the V-Twin bike; it was exempt from the rule.
Ash Roller reached out with his right hand to toggle the ignition and cut the engine.
“…Alrighty, whaddya wanna say now? Your wings missing again? …Doesn’t seem like it, eh.”
“Uhh… That is… This…”
At a loss for the words he should use to explain the situation, Haruyuki decided to simply recount the truth as it had happened, and began:
“Yesterday, I entered into a duel with ‘Bush Utan’ from Great Wall…”
But that was all he got to when Ash Roller responded in a completely unexpected way:
“What… What did you say?”
The masked rider with a fierce appearance dismounted his bike, his skull-like face mask nearly touching Haruyuki’s, shouting:
“Where? When did this happen?!”
The two of them found a suitably-sized chunk of cement and sat down, while Haruyuki related the previous night’s events in detail:
How he had found Bush Utan and Olive Glove in Suginami Battle Area 2 at seven-thirty yesterday evening in a tag team battle,
Bush Utan’s repeated use of ‘-deyansu2 in his speech, followed by his equipping of the ISS Kit, and how his attitude drastically changed instantly,
And how Utan had said that this kit ‘had been given three days earlier.’
The only part he had left out was Ardor Maiden’s name and her power. The rest of the story would make its way to Ash sooner or later from the spectators present during the duel; the principle was to not spill out information about your own teammates’ information anyway, and Ash didn’t ask about anything as such.
After listening for about ten minutes, with his hand on his thickly armoured kneecap and his body hunched forwards, Ash let out a deep sigh.
“You said, this is called the ‘IS Mode Training Kit’…….”
After saying that in a low voice, he glanced down to meet Haruyuki’s eyes and asked simply:
“This IS Mode, it’s that so-called ‘Incarnate System?'”
“Y…Yeah, I guess. Hasn’t Ash-san learnt Incarnation already?”
With that question leaving out a great deal of information, the skull-like helmet slowly shook from side to side:
“I’ve only heard the name from Master. Before activating the V-Twin Fist technique in a pinch, Master would tell me that I had such an ability, but I’ve never actually seriously trained. How should I say it… It’s that I’m scared. After hearing about the dangers of falling into one’s own darkness, I got really scared……and now since Master has rejoined Nega Nebulas, I can’t say the same of her teaching me.”
The ‘Master’ Ash referred to was his Parent, and the same Master who taught Haruyuki Incarnation: Sky Raker. In May this year, she had formally returned to her old territory of the Black Legion, Nega Nebulas. Hence, she was essentially rivals with Ash Roller, who belonged to Great Wall. While they naturally did not appear to give much thought to this and continued to fight fiercely during Territorial Battles, it would seem that Ash could not rid his heart of his unease about being unable to depend on his Parent.
While they had deviated considerably from the question, Haruyuki took the opportunity to ask a question he had been curious about, and opened his mouth:
“Just to ask… why did Ash-san join Great Wall?”
1. ^ Electric Vehicles.
2. ^ This was something untranslatable in Chapter 6; Bush Utan, as opposed to ending sentences with the formal ‘-desu,’ instead ended a great deal of his sentences with ‘-deyansu’ to emphasise himself.
Cold, and hard.
The body is lying on the right side upon the frigid ground.
As if the entire body has been frozen, the arms cannot be moved even a single inch.
But an inconceivable warmth fills his arms somehow. *tokun*, *tokun*, it faintly pulses.
“…it hurts a little.”
He suddenly heard that voice.
With a start, Haruyuki opened his eyes wide like binoculars. Round, scarlet eye lenses entered his vision.
Raising his voice, he loosens his numb arms with considerable difficulty and distanced himself slightly from the dainty face mask of Maiden.
“…Shi, Shinomi…sorry, Mei-san…?”
As he whispered in a wavering voice, the mask nodded. A pristine voice softly resounded.
“Yes. You were the one who saved me, Kuu-san.”
Haruyuki’s body trembled upon hearing those words.
He can’t recall clearly what happened. He only remembers himself retrieving Ardor Maiden from the altar…frantically escaping Suzaku’s flame breath…and directly escaping towards the locked gates of the Imperial Palace…
And then, what happened? Have they died? Are they presently in the «Ghost State»?
–No, it can’t be. Had that been the case, their entire vision would have been dyed in monotone shades. In actual fact, the ruby red eyelense of Utai’s avatar is clearly glittering brightly.
But Haruyuki still couldn’t believe that they have indeed escaped that dreadful vortex of flames, and asked in a quavering voice:
“Um…are we, alive?”
Maiden nodded, and replied:
“…we are indeed alive. But…uh, but…”
As her voice trailed off, it blurred, trembled, and faded, disappearing in the cold air.
Ardor Maiden’s line of vision turned around to observe the cold, dim surroundings.
“…this is…this place is the interior of the Imperial Palace.”