Hidan no Aria:Volume11 Chapter1
1st Ammo - Lumberjack -Night of Revenge-
One Autumn afternoon...
"Man, the Texas burger is great!"
"And it's 10 times better when you eat it with the person you like!"
"..." Kaname and I were eating hamburgers at a MacDonald's in Daiba; we were seated under the deep blue sky, on a trendy terrace. There were a lot of couples eating here. Understandable, as it was new, and quite pretty. Kaname was acting cute, and she certainly looked the part. We were just a high school girl and a high school boy on a date.
No ordinary person that knew the truth would be able to look her in the eye without a shiver running down their spine.
"The weather's great! Totally fitting for our wonderful sibling date~!"
Tohyama Kaname. Self-proclaimed little sister. She's a danger to society. She could be perfectly fine one second, but once the flip is switched, she's blowing up pedestrian walkways, hurling grenades around, swinging kitchen knives about...like a roaring flame, too hot to touch. She could destroy the whole district by herself in half an hour.
What the hell's a 'sibling date' anyway?
Please don't spout out such terribly thought out jargon so loudly...And I don't get it, who eats hamburgers with a caramel latte? When you go to MacDonald's, you get a coke. In Jeanne's words, that is one of the laws of this world.
Autumn's the season for war...or so they say, I thought to myself.
Sipping the cola, I felt what remained of my appetite slipping away. I hadn't even taken a bite of my burger, I was too far into the depths of my melancholy, thinking about what had happened the other day. The trauma of the incident was the cause of my languor.
Shirayuki and Kaname had had a showdown in my room.
"W-We must have a duel! Fatal accidents may occur during a duel! We must have it! The stability of the Tohyama family, and by extension the safety of Japan hinges upon it!"
Shirayuki stormed into my room, and finding Kaname there, she screamed a challenge before unleashing a hail of bullets at Kaname, who was dancing and dodging around the room, laughing all the while. In that moment, Shirayuki looked like Lucifer, come forth to issue judgement.
After all, her guns, M60s, were full-auto machine guns. Bullets just kept flying and flying. In the end, the gun overheated so much that the shear mechanism failed, causing bullets to fly out without end. The guns had heat fins, but such things were meaningless in the face of Shirayuki's raging trigger fingers. She kept firing till the guns ran dry, their metallic bodies bent and twisted from thermal expansion. When they at last fell silent, Shirayuki tossed them aside.
"This was just a taste. My formal challenge will come later, and I shall not touch you beforehand. Take the time to enjoy what remains of your life." Spitting those words out, Shirayuki left.
How fitting of the student council president of Butei High. Being sprayed at by machine guns constitutes a 'taste'. Though I was near my wits' end with terror the next day, Shirayuki still interacted me just as she always had: gentle, docile, and sweet. When Kaname was around, she came to my room, saying:
"Oh, this is terrible..." before restoring it to its original condition. But all the while, I was thinking: You were the one who did this, Shirayuki. Don't you remember? It's like you're schizophrenic.
That wasn't the only thing. After that, she would still come over to do housework, smiling all the while, but...I caught a glimpse of her staring Kaname's toothbrush and laundry, her face twisted into an expression of rage, looking almost like a Hannya mask. And she would leave traces of her housework behind. Upon seeing those traces, Kaname would, despite whatever cheerful attitude or smiles she came back with, take on the same expression that I had seen on Shirayuki. Faced with this, I had only one thought:
This is terrifying...
In view of how nice these two normally acted towards me, it made their sudden transformation all the more shocking. This couldn't be good for my heart. It reminded me of the head twisting scene in "The Exorcist". But this time there were two demons...I'd even prefer Aria's violence to this. As fast as she blows her top, the following period of terror ends just as swiftly. These thoughts assailed me as I took a pill with my coke.
Suddenly, the sparrows sitting in the corner of the terrace startled, chirping noisily, and flew away.
"Huh?" I let slip. S-She's here! Mounting the escalator up the terrace, feet stomping on the metal...
At first, I saw only the white ribbons streaming from her hair, but she soon appeared, in her bullet-proof uniformed glory. It was Shirayuki. She gave me a graceful bow, but when she turned to Kaname, I knew why the sparrows had flown away. They were fleeing from the killing intent pouring from her smiling face. Kaname was waving at her, a smile also on her lips. I could just about hear the 'Hi~!' she would have said, but instead, all I could feel was anger, emanating from her body like electricity. The negative aura surrounding the two had completely decimated the atmosphere. What a waste of a clear blue autumn sky.
I stood between them. I was the one who had called them out. Now I sat there, looking between the two of them like the referee of a wrestling match.
"Good day, Kin-chan. Oops!" She stumbled as she stepped off the escalator, but managed not to fall. As clumsy as ever, I suppose.
"Well, now that we're all gathered here...you should order something as well, Shirayuki. Maybe a hamburger."
"Okay." Shirayuki clapped her hands. After a moment, she looked around, the question mark clear on her face. The three of us sat there in silence, before I realised...that was the gesture to summon a waiter at the school cafeteria.
Come to think of it, Shirayuki doesn't really leave the shrine except to go to school.
She's never come to a MacDonald's before, has she? Well, I guess I'll have to go with her to order something. But seriously, calling for a waiter in a MacDonald's? There's got to be a limit to how out of touch you can be. How sheltered are you, Shirayuki? That was a winning entrant in the Sheltered Maiden Olympics.
As for why I had called the two of them here...the reason that Shirayuki had challenged Kaname to a duel was because Aria, Riko, and Reki, having been taken by surprise by Kaname before, were plotting their revenge. To that end, they had thrown their hats into Shirayuki's ring. With Shirayuki at the vanguard, the Baskerville girls were poised on the edge of an all-out conflict with Tohyama Kaname. If I just left them to have it out, who knows what kind of war would arise? If that happened, Butei High might just go under. So I decided to be the mediator. I had prepared a negotiation table, so this conflict could be resolved without bloodshed. The reason this was a MacDonald's table was because of the large number of bystanders. Even Shirayuki and Kaname would hesitate to bring out the machine guns or knives in this kind of situation. Teriyaki meal on a tray, Shirayuki followed me, spellbound expression on her face.
"Alright, sit down here, Shirayuki. Before we begin, take note. We are outside Butei High. Shooting, stabbing, slashing, or other violence of any kind just because you feel like it is expressly forbidden. You too, Kaname." The fact that I had to say this was depressing, but still...just in case. I sat myself facing Kaname. The two of them sat there, arrayed in front of me, They smiled at each other, faces frozen like noh masks.
...My stomach hurt.
"Has to be the death penalty."
Kaname decided to start things off the worst way they could.
"When you returned from buying a hamburger with my brother, there were hearts just flying from your innocent little face."
Kaname was gnawing at her straw, and smoke was...coming from her mouth? Was the straw melting from the heat of friction? What the hell? That jaw strength...That's like a crocodile's or shark's level. On the other hand, Shirayuki was daintily taking bites from her Teriyaki meal.
"I guess that being a concubine means that every petty little thing is of the utmost importance." And there she goes, issuing a challenge of her own. But wait...concubine? What makes you think that you're my wife? This was definitely not the mood to point that out, though. I have to get through this negotiation peacefully.
"Don't start this conversation looking for a fight. We're here to resolve this conflict, not cause another."
"Kaname. The true wife holds the power. That is a fact. I will not back down."
"What idiocy are you spouting? As the little sister, I'm the strongest here. I'm not backing down either."
Yep. This won't work. Well, time to work out an escape route, then.
"The little sister, duh!"
Shirayuki and Kaname had each taken hold of one of my arms, and they were pulling. I...I had experienced this before with Aria and Riko. If this just goes on, I'm going to be split in two! An image of my body, split perfectly in two from head to toe, meandered into my mind.
"I did some investigating. And I found that you were registered as an American Butei, Kaname."
"Mmmm, those records weren't erased yet, huh? Well, what about it?" They glared at each other.
"You are a Butei. I am a Butei. Butei should not fight each other, if not at a client's behest. Therefore, Team Baskerville has decided: they shall have their revenge through a representative, in accordance to Butei High's rules for dueling."
"Hey! What are they deciding without me!? I'm the leader!"
"I am that representative. This was a unanimous decision." A unanimous decision that I wasn't part of! Kaname smirked viciously in response.
At Butei High, the unofficial directive, taken straight from the Masters was this: "Duels between students should not occur, in accordance to our official rules." Which is to say, just have them if you want. Anything as dangerous as a duel is, as a matter of course, banned in this country. However, our school, in which danger is an everyday occurrence, chooses to close an eye. Naturally, whatever happens during a duel won't ever go official. If you went crying to the police, saying that you were hurt in a duel, you'd just be laughed at.
"You really are an idiot. Don't you know which of us is stronger?"
"This is my challenge. Do you accept?"
You could just about see the sparks in the air as they locked gazes. Suddenly, Kaname released her hold on my arm.
"Sure. I accept. And I'll return this too. After all, I'm done analysing it." Just as her sentence trailed off, something dropped from the sky. It fell at a perfect timing, unnoticed by those around us. Letting go of my arm, Shirayuki caught it. It was a Japanese blade, sheathed in a scarlet scabbard.
I looked to the sky, and about thirty meters above me an X-shaped piece of cloth fluttered, spinning like the blades of a helicopter. It was the weapon that had blocked Aria's bullets, and sliced through a pedestrian crossing like it was paper. Kaname had probably kept it there, just in case a fight broke out.
That's your primary weapon, right? Fighting you when I've already taken it from you would be pretty cowardly."
"Cowardly? I never thought that I would hear that from you, of all people." Shirayuki laughed, hand daintily covering her mouth. Kaname continued to stare at her.
"I learned it recently. Kinji told me 'not to do anything cowardly'. So I won't. Unlike what you're doing now." As she said this, a MacDonald's waitress walked by. Kaname reached out and grabbed her ass. Letting out an exclamation, the silver-haired waitress spun around, a visor obscuring her facial features, but...
"J-Jeanne!? What're you doing here?" It was Jeanne d'Arc. Former IU agent, now a second year in the Informa division.
Her ice-blue eyes opened wide, shocked at having been found.
"Goshhh, so prettyy! You're so vulnerable to beautiful girls, Kinji." Kaname's eyes were burning holes into Jeanne.
"Hotogi Shirayuki. The 'Witch of Infernos', seducing my brother. And helping her, the 'Witch of Diamond Dust'. Looks like it's time for a witch-hunt. Two on one seems about right to me. I wouldn't even call it a handicap." Kaname declared cockily. Shirayuki looked down, her fringe dropping to cover her eyes. But they still shone from its shadow.
"Two on one...I wonder about that."
Oh God. What's going to happen to my peaceful afternoon at MacDonald's?
I looked around. T-They're here. All of them are here, dressed as part-time waitresses. Aria was frying french fries in the kitchen, the shape of her gun clearly visible beneath her skirt. Riko was cheerfully manning the cashier, despite not having been there before. Reki was mopping the floor in the corner of the terrace. I could even see Haimaki hidden in the shadows of the shrubbery.
We were completely surrounded.
"Kinji, I'm so scared~ They're bullying me~" Kaname clung to me, but her words were clearly in monotone. Looking where she's grabbing me though...I'm her hostage.
"Aren't you the one who started it? You did something that made everyone hate you." I knew that I didn't hold any value as a hostage. Not like the Baskerville girls cared at all about how much I was hurt. Not wanting to be blown to bits, I tried to tear myself away from Kaname.
"Whaaat?" Kaname let go of me suddenly.
"You guys are such idiots! You just don't learn. I'll turn you into hamburgers!" She roared at the Baskerville girls (and Jeanne.) A dangerous smile was still hovering on Shirayuki's lips.
"Everything will be okay, Kin-chan. We will not entrap you now. That comes later. We only called everyone here just in case Kaname went berserk here...after all, she is just so unreasonable. Teehee."
"H-Haha, I see. Thank you very much." I was so terrified that I ended up thanking her. Shirayuki seemed to have prepared for battle, just like Kaname.
"I came here to inform you of how our upcoming duel will be conducted. I wonder if you can figure out just how we are going to take care of you? It resembles your current situation." Shirayuki asked, almost like she was teasing Kaname with a quiz. Kaname frowned, seemingly puzzled.
"...!" I frowned as well. But unlike Kaname, I frowned because I knew what Shirayuki meant.
"You don't mean, the Lumberjack...?"
"Yes, Kin-chan. As astute as ever. We have not had a chance to welcome our new arrival from America, so we thought to use a method well suited to you." Shirayuki smirked. Though her name meant 'white snow', she seemed a lot more like 'black ice', uncaring and deadly. Switching back to her gentle 'Shirayuki' expression, she turned towards me.
When I first enrolled into Butei High, I had experienced an unarmed version with a certain someone, which is why I was familiar. In summary, it was one of the toughest forms of duels, notorious in Butei High. It was a variation of a duel format used by lumberjacks in America. This fit with what Shirayuki had said. The best way to describe it is 'simple'. A number of Butei, in bulletproof equipment would stand in a circle, known as the ring. The ring would surround the duel participants, leaving them no way to escape. The duel only ends when one side admits defeat, or is rendered unable to move. Those were the basic rules.
However, there were some additional rules to be aware of. If any of the duelists were to try to exit the ring, the Butei making up the ring were free to attack the duelist. Duelists that suffered this fate would be pushed back to the centre of the ring, and once again fall victim to the other duelist's attacks. This would continue, being pushed back and forth and attacked from all sides until the victim had suffered injuries that brought them to the brink of death. Not only could you not escape, even a small retrograde was not allowed. It was a hellish variation.
As if that were not enough, the Butei making up the ring did not have to be neutral. They could be your allies, or your enemies. If you aren't popular, you can count on the ring being full of enemies.
These rules will make things seriously dangerous for Kaname...!
Obviously, your enemies would not shoot each other, even if you pushed them out of the ring. The most they would do is shove them back in. On the other hand, if you were shoved out...you'd be showered with bullets. Because of these draconian rules, the Lumberjack was often banned.
In this fight, Kaname will have no allies. Seeing as she started it, I can only see this going one way...they're gonna gang up on her.
"Lumberjacking doesn't happen any more. Maybe when Butei High was first founded, but...there were too many accidents. It's way too brutal. Definitely not something girls should do. You need to stop this." I said, displeasure written on my face.
"Don't stop us, Kin-chan. There are times when girls need to fight!" Shirayuki pleaded, shaking her head. Her long black hair fluttered behind her.
"This is a sacred battle. I am fighting because I love you! In order to maintain the peace of the Kin-chan country, the Shirayuki country has already declared war on the Kaname country!" She spouted some nonsensical lines about the Shirayuki country's strategy.
"Er..." Despite being ladylike most of the time, she could be even more belligerent than Aria now and then.
"Who cares? Let's do it. Any rules regarding camerata?" Kaname continued to take bites out of her hamburger, the picture of calm. She could almost have been asking if Shirayuki would like milk in her coffee. And I was trying to help her too...
"They will be in play. If you have any friends, feel free to bring them." Shirayuki smiled darkly. She seemed to take the fact that Kaname had accepted her challenge as a message from heaven, telling her it was alright to beat Kaname to a pulp. That was why she was giving some relatively friendly advice, I guess. Camerata were basically seconds, but they could only help once. Traditionally, their role was to stop a fight from going on too long. When the victor was certain, and everything after that was just overkill, they would force their way into the ring to admit defeat. But from my experience, that usually goes down the drain once the fight starts.
"That's not what I mean. I won't need one. You will. I'm going to brutalise you, beat you until you won't even be able to pronounce 'I lose,' so you're gonna need someone to say it for you." Kaname, being Kaname, returned the smile. She crumpled the wrapper of her finished Texas burger, and threw it into the bin with the force of a shotgun slug.
She was standing there the next night. Illuminated by the moon, Kaname stood firmly on the on the second section of the school grounds. This was where the duel was set to occur. Strapped to her back was a naked blade, as tall as she was. Fluorescent blue gleamed from its ridges and coulisses. This was no ordinary sword. This was the technologically advanced weapon that Kaname had used when she attacked the Baskervilles,Sonica mono-filament vibrosword. My grades in Physics and Chemistry are terrible, so I'm no expert, but according to Kaname, the blade is formed of stretched out wires, only one atom thick, which spin like a chainsaw. Those wires are formed of carbon compounds, and look like a jigsaw lattice when observed under an electron microscope. They rate a 10 on the Mohs scale. In layman terms', the sword like a diamond chainsaw. That's my interpretation, at least.
"There is nothing this cannot cut." Kaname boasted.
Shirayuki said the same thing about half a year ago, but Kaname's explanation does seem more convincing than her occult ramblings.
Before I sank deeper into my thoughts, I saw them. Jeanne and Shirayuki leading, the rest of the girls behind, their heavy footfalls crushed the gravel, making an unpleasant grinding noise. Oh man...I can't help but regret following Kaname because I was worried. Shirayuki was in her miko attire, with a forehead protector to boot. Her sleeves were held up by a tasuki, a sash meant for that purpose. She was holding a scarlet scabbard. Within lay Irokaneayame. This was the Hotogi mikos' traditional battle attire. She hard worn it when she came to kill Aria in April. The others were dressed in their bulletproof uniforms, but Jeanne had Durandal on her hip, Aria had guns sitting visible just beneath her skirt, and Riko was hugging a M1887 shotgun and giggling. They were all reeaaalllly pumped up.
"You guys are so slooow. I'm so tired of waiting." Kaname shouted to them, slashing her thumb across her throat.
"The plastic miko, the westerner, the midget, and the fake cutie...eh? Aren't we missing one? Where's the mime?" She counted each of them, pointing at them one by one, and noticed that Reki was missing. Wait...the westerner? Oh, probably Jeanne.
"She's already aiming at you." Aria answered, twintails streaming in the wind. So, they're acknowledging their nicknames.
"She's the outer ring. You can't run. Reki's sniping success rate is above 99%...and I've never seen her miss. The 1% was due to a misfire." Well, I was the one behind that misfire. Without my influence, she's 100%.
"Sigh...I'll say this again, but just stop. I get how you feel, having been victims of Kaname's surprise attack, but this is just too childish. Can't you think of a more sustainable solution?" I tried to convince them from my position as the leader of the Baskervilles, but Aria glared at me like a cowboy from a Western.
"Looks like not coming to the Assault division has made you some kind of pacifistic idiot, Kinji. This is what being a Butei is all about. Problems should be solved by shooting them in the face with lead." And now she's talking like a cowboy. But with an anime voice.
"Yeah? This isn't a solution, this is just reciprocation. You come here all lined up, in full battle order, just to take on one person. It's like you're holding a grudge about something else as well." I glared back at Aria, and her blush switch flipped on.
"I-It's not like I'm trying to take you back from Kaname or anything!" Aria's face grew panicked; it seemed like she was wondering why she had just said that. (I didn't get it either, it seemed pretty unrelated.) After a moment, her face snapped back to seriousness, and she drew her silver-white M1911.
"These rounds are pastel loaded. Don't think that this will go the way it did when we last met." Pastel rounds were Detective Armed LethalDAL rounds received from the Vatican. She had probably brought them after seeing that .45ACP rounds had no effect on Kaname.
"Did you think that that was the problem? How naive~" Kaname smirked at Aria, but...don't be mistaken, Kaname. You might not have thought about before, considering your overwhelming strength, but the difference in power between people who are caught unawares and those who have made proper preparations are on several orders of magnitude. And with a Butei of Aria's level as your opponent, one slip will cost you your life. Do you understand?
"You've been keeping Ki-kun to yourself all this time, Kaname~. We're all undergoing a yandere transformation!" Riko had gotten an especially weird nickname from Kaname. She was now making finger horns above her head, somehow still dexterously holding on to her shotgun at the same time. Lowering her hands, she worked the pump-action of her shotgun.
"When you run, please come to me~ Won't you play with Riko? Teehee." It's always possible to avoid a handguns' bullets. Even amateurs can dodge out of the line of fire. After all, bullets fly in what amounts to a straight line, and it's possible to trace that line with the naked eye. However, a shotgun's bullets are undodgeable. The shot will spread out, catching the target with a bulk of the bullets. What's more, Riko's carrying a sawed-off. Not only does that make the shotgun easier to conceal, it increases the shotgun's spread. It's not a gun that I would ever want to face, even if I was in Hysteria Mode.
"Hehehe. Isn't this nostalgic, Ki-kun? We're having another Lumberjack!" Riko smiled at me, and I noticed something. She had two shadows. Hilda's with her? Well, she probably just came for fun. I thought of Hilda's devilish appearance.
"Have you finished praying, Kaname?" Jeanne said coolly, unsheathing Durandal.
"I am Shirayuki's camerata. While I will be part of the ring, I will interfere but once." Her hair was tied up in a triple-braided bun. Ready for battle as well, I see.
"I didn't think you'd be a part of this brutality too." I muttered, and Jeanne's ice-blue eyes glared at me.
"The reason I must act now is because of your incompetence, Tohyama."
"Why's it my fault now?"
"We gave you the order to bring Kaname over to Deen using the method we discussed."
The method we discussed...?
Oh. She wants me to be Kaname's Romeo? Like hell. Who would do that to their little sister? Even if its a self-proclaimed little sister.
"Look where we are now. You failed."
"Failure or success isn't the issue. You just blurted out what you wanted me to do, I didn't agree to anything."
"I was not a victim of her surprise attacks, so I considered myself rather neutral towards her. That is why I continued to stifle the Baskerville's girls complaints, explaining to them that you were placating Kaname using that method. I even drew them a concept image."
Wait...! What did you do, Jeanne!?
"But despite that their relationship with Kaname did not improve..."
"Like hell it would! Especially after being told about such an idiotic plan!"
"Therefore, I came to the conclusion that we needed a new way to bring her in. We will make her surrender in a duel. Jeanne (what an idiot!) swung her estoc towards Kaname, who seemed totally confused by our conversation. The blade gleamed blue in the moonlight.
"And more than anything, I am doing this because Kaname called me a coward at the burger shop."
Burger shop? What, the MacDonald's? Well, you really were just sneaking around. All of you were.
"I am not a coward. I will show her how I fight, fair and square. Losing to a junior is considered dishonorable in Butei High anyway. I could not turn my back and run from one, no matter what." Despite saying that, you ran away from your juniors during the Ristorante Masque, when they found you in a waitress cosplay, didn't you? Ah, fuck it. There's too many things to lecture her on, I'm just not in the mood.
"Whatever, whatever. Are we counting your battles in Far East Warfare?" Kaname stuck her tongue out at Jeanne. Shirayuki, who had been silent till now (which made her all the more scary,) strode forward, her red geta scraping against the gravel.
"Kin-chan, please get back. Azure particulate concentration is 0% tonight."
Azure particles. Falling like rain from time to time, they were known for their ability to jam special abilities. If there were none tonight...then Shirayuki could use her full strength. That's hugely different from last time, when she couldn't touch Kaname at all.
Kaname. You're in serious trouble this time.
"Well, the ring has been formed. Let us reconfirm the rules." Shirayuki drew her sword. I only noticed it when she mentioned it, but the others had backed off at some point. Only Shirayuki, Jeanne and Kaname were nearby now. To prevent friendly fire, Aria and Riko were standing apart from each other, firing lines off by at least 60 degrees. The last corner of the triangle they formed was Haimaki, lying in wait in the shadow of the gym storage shed. He was wearing a full set of tactical body armour. Though not present, it's safe to say that Reki was taking charge of that angle.
They've come up with a thorough battle plan, huh...
The ring of a Lumberjack can only be made up of less than 10 Butei, but there are no rules as to their placement. The ring that the Baskerville girls had formed was perfect. It was a layer of concentric circles, centred on the area where we stood. First of all, their duelist was Shirayuki, wielding a Japanese blade. Jeanne, the other fighter most versed with close combat, formed the closest circle. Even if Kaname managed to escape the inner circle, the gun savant Aria would cut off her line of escape, while Riko's shotgun suppressed a whole area. The intermediate circle was inescapable. And if by some miracle, Kaname was able to get out, there's no running from Reki's absolute radius. After all even after going into Hysteria Mode, I was unable to run.
"Kaname, you can't do this. There's no way you don't understand the purpose behind these concentric circles. This is their killing ground. You'll never be able to run." Feeling a little nervous about the fact that I was also in the midst of that circle, I warned Kaname using Assault concepts I knew she would understand. But nevertheless, the smile never left Kaname's face.
"I won't blame you for anything. Just apologise, and surrender. I'll take care of the aftermath. I'll somehow convince these guys, so please...don't you know how much danger you're in?" I said, the gravity of the situation apparent from my expression.
"Don't be dumb, Kinji. A dinosaur doesn't back down from an ant. And really, there's no need to provide such a large ring, girls." Kaname said.
Kaname started skipping, skirt flapping in the wind, like she was an elementary schooler playing hopscotch. Her toes dug into the ground, outlining a circle with a five meter radius. Shirayuki, Jeanne and I were all standing inside this circle.
"I'll fight you without leaving this circle. We'll call it my loss if I even stick my little finger out." Hearing this, Shirayuki frowned. Kaname brandished Sonic, its tip pointing towards the moon.
"Viva el cutting edgeneu Schneide. This blade is leagues ahead of your rusting weapons. This is the newest of the new. A soldier armed with this could fight evenly with a T10 Main Battle Tank. Don't you agree, Kinji?" She turned to me, a cute smile on her face. It was like seeing a flower bloom, yet...maybe it was because I had spent a long time together with her, but I understood how she really felt. Instinctively, Kaname's feelings came across to me.
She was bluffing. Kaname was alone. She didn't even have a camerata. The Baskervilles were using enhanced weaponry this time around, and they'd obviously done some investigation on LL concentrations. They were the ones who had picked the date of the duel, after all. And now that they had taken such a perfect formation, Kaname must have been feeling the pressure. I could feel her fear. I didn't want to, but I could. Ah, dammit. I guess I'll have to.
"Aria." Even at this distance I could tell that Aria was furious. A D-shaped blood vessel was popping out of her forehead.
"The cocktails sent to me weren't 9mms. They sent me .50AEs." I drew my desert eagle, showing it to all around.
"You can't stop us, Kinji."
"I've given up on that. You can go ahead and fight till you're satisfied. But what you're doing now? This bullying? I hate it more than anything else."
"We aren't bullying her~ We're taking care of her!" Riko shouted over, hands cupped around her mouth.
"Looks the same to me."
"What are you doing, Tohyama?"
"I'll be Kaname's camerata." I explained to Jeanne, always slow on the uptake, shooting Kaname a glance. Her hands were clasped to her chest, and she was staring at me, eyes wide with shock. When her eyes met mine, she blushed a little, and averted her gaze. I didn't really understand her reaction, but I took it to mean that she had no objections. Seeing Kaname's expression, Shirayuki was grinding her teeth. She seemed like she was about to speak, but hadn't said anything yet, so I took the opportunity to get things rolling.
"Let's go over the rules one more time. This duel will end when either participants admits defeat, or is unable to move. There are no technical knock-outs, even if your limbs go flying. There are no draws. There is no escape. If you run, the ring will send you back to the middle. They can use any method to do so, whether a hard shove or a face full of lead." This reminds me of my days in the Assault division. Maybe not Aria, but this is just like Butei High, and I mean that in the worst possible way.
"Camerata may help out only once, whether it's to prevent the duel from reaching a stalemate, the death of any participant, or for any other reason. After that one instance, they may no longer interfere."
"Yeah, yeah, we all learned the same rules. Is that it?" Aria seemed a bit happy to see me motivated. She just loves to fight.
"Yeah." I nodded.
"Then let's begin." Aria said to the two duelists, drawing her black M1911. Shirayuki and Kaname locked eyes, but neither of them made a move. Only the participants could decide when the Lumberjack would start. That was their unassailable privilege. They would begin when they both felt the time was right. It was reminiscent of a fight between wild beasts, or a duel between samurai. We could only wait for time to pass.
Shirayuki took her stance, her sword completely silent as it swung upwards. The blade was nearly complete vertical, and the hilt of the sword was nearly touching her right cheek. She was taking one of five basic kendo stances, the eight-directions. It was rarely used in modern kendo, being more of a traditional stance. However, Shirayuki used it often, preferring it for its efficient movements since she used it in conjunction with her Hotogi arts.
What's your battle plan, Shirayuki?
Kaname's sword can cut through any metal. Even a named sword like Irokaneayame isn't an exception.
"razor sharpI cannot cut what I do not touch..." Kaname muttered, taking her own stance. She pulled her right foot back, standing nearly perpendicular to Shirayuki. Taking hold of its hilt with two hands, she pulled the hilt back to her face, pointing the swordtip straight at Shirayuki. Kaname held it there steadily, parallel to the ground. I had no idea what stance she was taking. That said, it's not likely that you'd seen any of Kaname's techniques in an instruction manual. All I could tell is that it was a fairly active stance. But instinctively, I knew what function that stance served. That stance lacked any kind of guard. And Kaname didn't need to defend, thanks to Sonic's mono-filament edge. Kaname had probably come up with it herself. It was only feasible to use if you held that blade.
They were polar opposites, Shirayuki holding her sword vertically, and Kaname laterally. The air was thick with tension, making it difficult to breathe. Nobody dared to utter a word. Even the crickets had fallen silent. The two duelists' auras were clashing, spilling into the surrounding air...
A fallen leaf flew between them, propelled by a gust of wind. In that instant, Kaname pounced.
Christ, she's good.
She made her move right when the withered leaf had blocked Shirayuki's vision.
"...scarlet flameFlame Wall!" Shirayuki had to defend. She pulled her right hand away from her sword, swinging it to the side in a wide arc. A wall of fire, nearly two meters tall, sprang up in front of Shirayuki.
Even though I was quite a distance away, I felt a dangerous amount of heat radiating from the flames. That wasn't any ordinary fire. Those tongues of flame were white-hot. Looks like Shirayuki wasn't lying when she said that the azure particulate concentration was 0%. Without the particles around to interfere with her abilities, she's like a human flamethrower. Kaname pierced the inferno with her blade, but her body did not follow. She braked, dashing to the left instead. Shirayuki also appeared from the other side of the fire wall, her long black hair flying every which way. I had seen her use this attack when she fought against Jeanne. She was holding Irokaneayame with her right hand, much like an athlete would carry the Olympic torch. Not a bad comparsion, as its blade was wreathed in swirling flame.
"Hotogi Art - ButterflyScarlet Mirror!" Nobody would be able to follow the sword with the naked eye. But the trajectory of the flame surrounding the sword was clear. The blaze split backwards as the blade was swung downwards then upwards in a V-shape, spreading out like the wings of a butterfly. This was Sasaki Kojirou's Swallow ReversalTsubame-gaeshi, except one-handed. However, she had swung Irokaneayame only to scorch Kaname's sword. Shirayuki was trying not to touch Sonic, knowing that if she did, Irokaneayame would be sliced apart.
"Heh." Kaname laughed, seemingly confident in her victory. She swung her sword back, also blindingly fast, and did a backflip, putting some distance between her and Shirayuki. The fluorescent blue light gleaming from her blade traced a beautiful arc in the air.
"That was close."
"Not bad, Kaname." Aria and Riko said. They seemed to have clearly caught what had happened in the previous exchange.
Remaining silent, Shirayuki assumed yet another of the five stances, the middle. Her hilt was lowered to her hips and the tip of the sword pointed directly at Kaname's head. But...
The sash holding up her scarlet hakama was slightly cut, and a long incision had been made on the left side of her white kimono, all the way to her underwear, leaving her undershirt exposed. In that instant, Kaname had struck at Shirayuki twice, once at her abdomen and once at her chest. Kaname landed with the skill of a gymnast.
"Sheesh, one more millimeter and Sonic would have tasted your blood." She happily assumed her stance again. This time though, she kept Sonic's blade further away from her cheek, leaving her stance a little more open.
"Hmph, Trying to heat my up my sword so much that I'd let go?" Sonic was glowing red with heat. There was no way I'd be able to keep hold of any metal that hot. So, Shirayuki hadn't been aimlessly using her Hotogi arts...she was trying to heat Sonic up so much that Kaname had to drop it.
"What a shame. Both this sword and I have gone through heat tolerance tests, time and time again. Even if you heat us up, our performance won't change. It's over." She looked at Shirayuki like a hawk at its pray, and her right foot crushed against the gravel.
"Jeez, you won't be able to sew your limbs back on once if you suffer such horrific burns to the cross-section, y'know? But, you reap what you sow, right?" As Kaname was trying to intimidate her, Shirayuki sheathed her sword, lowering her stance. She was preparing to iai.
Scarlet Hotogi God! No...you shouldn't do that, Shirayuki...!
It takes time to build up enough energy to execute her secret technique - Scarlet Hotogi God. There was no way Kaname would allow her that time. Even if she managed to pull it off, the path of her blade is simple to predict. If Kaname can meet her, blade to blade, she'll cut Irokaneayame, along with Shirayuki, in two. I wouldn't put it past her. Could it be that knowing that...Shirayuki wanted to sacrifice herself to kill Kaname?
"Witch of infernos...burn in your own flame!" Brandishing Sonic, which glowed red-hot, Kaname hurtled forward, kicking the ground underneath her. She shot at Shirayuki like a cannonball.
"You are done, Kaname." Shirayuki started at Kaname from below her fringe, and from behind her...
Shirayuki's cameratara sprinted forth. Wielding Durandal by her hip, Jeanne was hiding its blade with her body.
"Woooow! It's a jet stream attack!" Riko was getting hyped up, spouting out a phrase I had never heard before. The words had scarcely left Riko's lips when Jeanne leaped gracefully over Shirayuki, brandishing Durandal before her.
"...ice flower of Orleansfleur de la glace d'Orleans..." Jeanne chanted softly, and Durandal shined with a blinding electric blue. Diamond dust, tiny particles of ice, glittered around her. Seeing this, Kaname decided she didn't want to take Jeanne head on. She impaled the ground with Sonic, braking as hard as she could, and the blue light, falling just beyond her, froze the ground solid. The subzero temperatures, unaffected by Azure-irokane, spread quickly into Kaname's sword.
"...!" Sonic was frozen solid, and the ground beneath Kaname was rapidly freezing as well. Not wanting to be frozen to the floor, Kaname jumped, not releasing her grip on ehr sword. Just one hand on the pommel, she managed to rely on her superhuman athleticism to remain upright. It looked like she was giving some kind of circus performance. Ice was slowly creeping up Sonic's blade, but because it had been so hot before, it only made it up to the handguard before stopping its advance. Kaname, doing a one-handed handstand on her sword, was unharmed.
"Sheesh, you used your camerata? Sorry, she looked so useless that I totally forgot that she existed. But it's too bad, it turns out that she was just as useless as I thought!" Kaname coiled her body like a spring before suddenly releasing that tension. The momentum of her uncoiling sent her, and her sword, flying over Jeanne. Sonic, still frozen like a crystal, was aimed directly at Shirayuki. Kaname was attacking her from above.
"Hotogi Art...secret technique...Scarlet Hotogi God!" Shirayuki, who had been building up energy all the while, met Kaname's attack with a rush of flame. Shearing through the flames like they were air, Sonic rushed to meet Irokaneayame head on.
"...!" Kaname seemed to have noticed something, but it was too late. Sonic clashed with Irokaneayame, and with the sound of breaking glass, it shattered. As it faded away, a dull thud shook the air. As Kaname fell, Shirayuki's sword, clear of flames, sunk into Kaname.
She used the back of her sword! I managed to catch it as Shirayuki had struck Kaname's abdomen with the back of her sword. Hitting the ground, Kaname rolled thrice before coming to a stop, on her hands and knees. She looked up.
"Haaa....haaa...." Tears in her eyes, Kaname tried to gather the fragments of her blade. However, they were red hot again, and her hands recoiled back.
"No way...no way...neu Schneide...there's no way...!" Kaname was too shocked to figure out what had happened, but for once I had an idea. No matter how high-tech it was, Sonic was still made of metal. When metal is heated and cooled and heated and cooled enough times, it becomes brittle. Even Japan's railroads, arguably the most durable in the world, will snap as the metal expands and contracts due to sudden changes in temperature. When such ridiculous amounts of heat and frigidity are applied, the effects are instantaneous. This was the cause for the scene unfolding before us.
"Cherry blossoms are the avatar of transience. There is naught else that bears comparison. They bloom, then scatter. That is the way of the world." Her eyes shut, Shirayuki recited a line from an ancient Japanese poem, sheathing Irokaneayame into its scarlet scabbard. I think that was from the anthology, New Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern. Written by Tokudaiji Sanesada. No idea honestly, my grades in ancient literature suck.
"Looks like we have a winner." Aria span her M1991s before keeping them in the holsters beneath her skirt. You didn't do anything, why do you look so proud? I knelt besides Kaname.
"Kaname, it's over. The 'newest weapons' will be invented again and again, like cherry blossoms springing into bloom, but there are no blossoms that do not scatter. That sword scattered tonight. That's all it is." I dissected the poem Shirayuki had recited, explaining to Kaname how it applied to this situation. If you could see the basis for comparison, then it was really simple to understand, but maybe it was too simple, because Kaname didn't seem to understand. Looking up at me, Kaname still seemed unable to face reality. Her weapon - the strongest, the newest - the cutting edge was broken.
"Uwaaaaah!" She stood up, having completely broken down, and made to attack Shirayuki with her fists. That's way more fitting of a middle school student. Just in case, Shirayuki assumed a defensive stance.
Assuming my role as camerata, I showed Shirayuki my open palm. My desert eagle was dangling from my index finger, which was inserted into the trigger guard. A gesture commonly used by Butei and the American police, it showed that I had no intention of shooting. It was a gesture of surrender. Stopping Kaname's protests with my other hand, I flicked my gaze downwards, urging her to look down. Below us was the circle that Kaname had drawn with her toes, saying that it was her loss if she stuck even a little finger out. And one of Kaname's feet lay outside.
It had been Shirayuki's intention to push her out of the circle by smashing her with the hilt of the sword.
"Abide by your word." I said sternly. Tears welled up in Kaname's eyes, but she resisted. She resisted. She resisted. But finally...
"Uwaaah...Uwaaaaaaaaaaaah!" She started crying, in a very middle school student-like way. I guess she couldn't bear to be shamed so badly in front of me. What should I do though? She won't stop crying.
"Ohh, you made her cry, you made her cry~ I'm going to tell the teachers!" Riko came skipping over, running circles around Shirayuki and I. Goddammit, Riko. Weren't you the first to approve of beating Kaname up? ...At least the heavy mood was lifted a bit. It felt like I was in a warzone just now. And to be fair, I can see on Riko's face that she thinks that they've picked on Kaname enough. I guess she could tell that the mood sucked, and tried to lighten things up a little. She has great social skills, unlike Aria and I. We just sort of looked at each other, completely at a loss. Haimaki walked over and licked Kaname on the cheek, like he was trying to comfort her. Even a dog is more sociable than Aria and I.
On the other hand, Haimaki's owner, who ranked even lower than Aria and I on the social skills scale, climbed down from the sakura tree at the edge of the school grounds, Dragunov rifle on her shoulder. Reki was closer than I thought.
"Kaname, you have great skill. I only just noticed that you launched a counterattack. If I had been slightly off, I would have been cut down." Jeanne said, squatting next to Kaname.
I-I can see everything!
I looked away quickly. She didn't seem to care, but Jeanne's bulletproof uniform had suffered a long vertical cut, and had completely split open. She didn't seem injured, but her bra straps were completely exposed. That, and her porcelain white skin. H-How do bras work anyway? Aria's bras had hooks at the front, which I can understand, but...how can the clasp be on the back?
"As strong as expected. I would accept no less of Kin-chan's little sister." Shirayuki had secured the damaged side of her Miko kimono with a safety pin she had managed to produce. She was now smiling gently at Kaname, who was still sobbing. Kaname remained silent, but she heard the phrase 'Kin-chan's little sister' loud and clear, and she nodded in response. Alright, I'd had enough of that.
"Don't praise her like that. Being strong or weak has no meaning off of Academy Island." I told Jeanne and Shirayuki off, and the tension finally bled away.
Right after, the demon of vengeance, Aria, spoke to me.
"Coffee, Kinji." I had a feeling that Aria would challenge me to a Lumberjack if I took too long, so I had to get Mutou to come over with some, apologising to him because it was so late. I couldn't tell him that we were having a duel, so I told him that I was watching the moon. And that there were girls. He told me that he'd be here in 5, but didn't have anything but can coffee. I asked Aria as politely as I could if it was okay with her, and was met with this reply:
"You're useless. Your future worries me." She proceeded to criticise me, starting with this comment. I couldn't bear to listen, but it wasn't like I had a choice. After she was finished, she called one of her juniors in Assault to get her some. This lazy noble sure is used to delegating her work. In the end, Mutou really managed to arrive in five minutes, carrying Akari Mamiya - Aria's amica - in his minivan. Mamiya was the thorough type, and had brought 10 different coffee pots with her, each with a different blend. And so, a lie became the truth. We really did watch the moon that night. Coincidentally, Mamiya was shorter and flatter than Aria. The rarely found high school student with a kindergartner's body. Her hair was short, and done up in twintails, making her seem even more childish. Her neurons must be wired weirdly, because she has abnormal levels of respect for Aria, and does whatever she says without objection.
"It's getting late, so please stay away from Aria-senpai...or just stay away from all girls, Tohyama-senpai." For some reason, she sees me as an enemy though. Definitely one of the girls I would not want to run into on the street. But seriously, only Butei would believe that we were gathered here to watch the moon. I'm glad that you're enjoying being by Aria's side and pouring her coffee, but don't you think it's weird that it smells like there was a forest fire here?
"..." Feeling excluded because of Mamiya, I excused myself from the ring of girls and sat down on the ground. I had some coffee, but it was kinda watery. Mutou had gone to buy some dango suitable for moon-watching. I hoped that he would be back soon. Kaname had lowered the cloth-like weapon, magnetically propelled fiber-shieldP-Fibre, to the floor. She had had it hovering above during the fight. Sitting down next to it, she seemed to be indicating that the rest should join her. So that's what they did. Using the cloth as a picnic sheet, they started their girls' night out. I looked over, worried about how Kaname was doing...she was drinking a caramel macchiato. I guess she had finally calmed down. I guess it was getting pretty late, 'cause I saw Mamiya hugging her knees and dozing off.
"Why didn't you use this tonight, Kaname?" Aria, who had suffered so much from the weapon before, asked.
"...'Cause Shirayuki only used one weapon. This wasn't like the first time. This was a duel, not a fight. So I thought that I should use only one weapon as well. It would be cowardly if I was the only one to use multiple swords." Kaname glanced at Shirayuki before she spoke. Well, I guess she had mentioned it before at the MacDonald's. She was just abiding by what I had said: "There are no cowards in the Tohyama clan."
"...Yes, I suppose so." Hearing this, Shirayuki seemed to look at Kaname in a new light, her animosity forgotten. She took a fragment of the broken Sonic, which now resembled a silver crystal, and wrapped it in a Japanese cloth before passing it to Kaname.
"A sword is a warrior's soul. I could feel it in your blade. It was proud and noble. It was beautiful."
"Shirayuki..." Accepting the fragment, Kaname gazed up at Shirayuki with eyes of respect. It was almost like they were really sisters.
"...Kinda like how you tell your opponent your name after a fight, yeah?" I turned to look behind, where the yakuza movie line had come from. Mutou, plate of dango in hand, had returned. Passing the plate to Shirayuki, he sat down beside me.
"You just held a Lumberjack, right?" I guess he knew from the start.
"Don't tell anyone, alright? Even if they turn a blind eye, the Masters have been pretty annoying recently."
"I won't dude. I support it after all." Speaking with a bit of innuendo, Mutou and I ate the rest of the dango.
"Hehehe, makes you think back, doesn't it Kinji?"
"Don't laugh like that, it's weirding me out."
"You're laughing too, bud." The truth is, Mutou was the one who I had had an unarmed Lumberjack with, right after I enrolled. Why is it that happened again? I'm pretty sure that Mutou was triggered by something that Shirayuki had said. I underestimated him since he was in Logi, but the difference in build made it a tough battle. He was pretty good at a lot of throw. The force of his T-Bone suplex made my head spin. That's something I could do without experiencing again. We fought till we were both about to drop, having been pushed back into the centre time after time. The ring was made up of Shiranui and Riko, but I forgot which one of us won. I don't know why, but Mutou and I started hanging out after that. Doesn't really make sense to become friends after fighting, but...I guess that's how relationships work in Butei High. Everything is so clumsy and dated.
It was decided that we would continue our after-duel talk some other time. Shirayuki and Aria went back to their own rooms, and Kaname and I went back to mine. We walked home, under the streetlights and listening to the cicadas chirping.
"Kinji." Kaname, walking beside me, spoke first.
"Thank you for being my camerata...my ally. When you said that you'd be my camerata, I was...really happy."
"You lost because of me though?" I decided to be the first to voice it. When Jeanne had used la fleur de la glace d'Orleans, Kaname could have completely dodged it if she had pulled out her blade earlier. She didn't because I was directly behind her...she thought to slow the spread of the ice with her blade, which was extremely hot. This was why Sonic was completely frozen, resulting in its brittleness. It was Kaname's mistake to fight so Jeanne's line of fire could affect the two of us, but if I hadn't volunteered to be her camerata, there might have been a very different conclusion.
"No. A little sister protecting her brother is...it's natural. It's natural for someone to protect their family." Kaname shook her head, her hair swaying left and right. When I heard that, I had the feeling that Kaname could be my real...
"..." I stopped, looking down at her. Kaname had stopped walking as well, and her ocean-blue eyes were staring up at me.
Like a real little sister, looking up at her brother.
Translator's Notes and References
- Hihi-irokane, (henceforth translated as Scarlet-Irokane,) is a mythical metal in Japanese history. Azure-Irokane would be its fictional counterpart. This is the same basis for the azure particles mentioned previously in this chapter.
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