Owari no Chronicle:Volume12 Chapter 19
Chapter 19: Worn-Out Anticipation
Do your best
Below the darkening evening sky, two men stood in a rectangular clearing made in a forest.
One was a young man wearing a white coat and holding a white sword.
The other was a boy wearing a black T-shirt and black school uniform pants.
The young man had a cigarette in his mouth and blew out some smoke.
“Hey, Hiba. You sure you don’t want to do any meaningless warming up?”
“Y-yes, Atsuta-san. I’m fine.”
“Is that so?” Atsuta rested the Cowling Sword prototype named Kusanagi on his right shoulder. “Then let’s get to 2nd-Gear’s renegotiation.”
“What are the rules?”
“Do we need any?”
Atsuta sounded like he was spitting out the contents of his heart.
He repeated “c’mon” several times while adjusting Prototype Kusanagi’s position on his shoulder.
A moment later, the air around Hiba suddenly grew clear and a certain phenomenon occurred.
He heard a pulsation.
The earth and the air that made up everything shook a bit around him.
From Hiba’s perspective, a tremor spread from his feet to his knees and shook his entire body.
As soon as he questioned it, the sensation vanished as if he had only imagined it.
“Wh-what was that strange feeling?”
“Oh, that was a side effect of Prototype Kusanagi’s cutting power.”
Atsuta let a smile show on his face.
“The earth and air are trembling in fear of the blade. …Don’t you get it? This isn’t like your fists there. Being handed something crazy like this is the true pleasure of being a swordfighter. But…”
He erased his smile and held Kusanagi forward in his right hand.
“It’s a prototype and that cuts the fun down some. Listen, kid. I’ll set a rule that’s not really a rule, so I hope you’re thankful.”
“What is that?”
Hiba frowned and Atsuta clicked his tongue toward the sky.
“Y’see, a friend of mine made a prototype Cowling Sword like this once before. It had issues on the durability front, so it broke unexpectedly and got him a wife.”
“I feel like you’re omitting quite a bit there, but I take it a lot happened.”
“I’m not omitting a damn thing! Why can’t you figure it out from what I told you?”
Why is everyone in UCAT like this? wondered Hiba while hiding his misfortune behind a smile.
…I’m not sure I can put up with how excitable this guy is. He’s a lot like Sayama-san or Izumo-san.
His worry was interrupted by Atsuta’s annoyed voice.
He held up Prototype Kusanagi.
“After releasing its power three times, this Prototype Kusanagi will break. It’s made that way so it won’t cause any accidents, so…”
He rested the sword back on his right shoulder.
“If I don’t cut you down in the first three attacks, 2nd-Gear loses. But if you can stop me, then it counts as your win. How about that!?”
“My win? But, um…!”
He had thought this was to help him train, but it had suddenly become an issue of life or death.
He gulped, forced strength into his stomach, and opened his tense throat.
“I-if we both fail, it won’t resolve anything!”
“That’s what a fifth-rate failure would say, you idiot!!”
That shout of anger seemed to stab through Hiba as he made excuses.
“In a fight, killing your opponent or stopping them are the only options, little monkey! The only people who start talking about failing are the lukewarm one’s who don’t want to do either. Lukewarm’s only any good when you want to soak some squid for drying!!”
Atsuta used his left hand to press a finger against his own head and moved it in a circle.
“Listen, idiot! Is there anything at all in your head!? Any brains!? Then is there anything in your stomach!? If you don’t have any guts in there, you won’t even make third-rate! And if you can do that, you should at least be able to be cut down by me and lose!”
Hiba searched his memories.
He remembered being unable to protect Mikage the night before and he remembered Tatsumi’s laugh.
…She called me weak.
“Then are you first-rate!?” he asked.
“I’m a sword god, stupid. Why are you trying to measure me by human standards?”
Atsuta’s voice gave Hiba a chill even in the wintery air.
And it came from behind him.
…The Art of Walking!?
The man had vanished in front of him and the voice had come from behind him. That meant he had used more than just the Art of Walking.
…He moved really fast.
“C’mon now. Don’t misjudge me, little monkey.”
The shadow on the ground had Kusanagi raised to the upper right.
“Recite a poem, kid. A death poem. I’m always singing, right? Make it something like that.”
“But I can’t do something that, um, tricky on such short notice…”
“Don’t bother praising me, idiot. You don’t have to give it much thought. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”
Hiba thought and spoke the first thing that came to mind.
“Heh heh heh. C’mon, stop. It’s not like I’m a young girl of fifteen.”
Immediately afterwards, a great roar ran through the sky.
The deep sound traveled through the sky.
It reached some newly prepared land one level lower than the source of the sound.
The prepared land was raised slightly above the surrounding forest, a blue tent was set up there, and two men sat on a mat laid out in front of the tent.
One was an elderly man in a navy blue Japanese outfit and the other was a young man in a lab coat.
The young man looked through his glasses to view the source of the sound through the mountain forest.
“Oh, sounds like it’s begun. I asked you for help setting this up, so what do you think of the fight, Hiba-sensei?”
“How does it look to you as a military god, son of Kashima?”
“Well…” Kashima smiled bitterly and realized what Ryuutetsu had said. “Son of Kashima? Do you know my father?”
“We’re field buddies. Especially since last month when our idiots went at it with Chao’s idiots.”
He looked to the tent behind him and the recently levelled earth there.
“My house was blown away pretty spectacularly. I came back from the field and found it gone. Toshi was so confused she tried to hit me with a hoe. …After that, your parents and the others around there shared a lot of food with us. Those squashes were really good when cooked.”
“Th-those were grown by my wife. I imagine they were quite good.”
“Yeah, they had a really nice flavor.”
“Yes, they would have. I remember Natsu-san saying she had given my portion to someone in need. …So it was you that stole a portion of my happy family life! Give back those squashes! Please give them back!”
“Why did you even come over here?”
Kashima hung his head, sighed, and opened the laptop sitting next to him.
“Ahh, ahh. I hope your grandson will be okay.”
“Don’t make that sound so forced. And are you sure that first attack didn’t already kill him?”
“I don’t know. Whatever the case, I hope he can get out of this with no regrets.”
“Fat chance of that. …Ryuuji’s too soft.”
Ryuutetsu lay on his side and Kashima asked him a question.
“That would be a problem for both of us. But are you serious about that?”
Kashima showed the old man his laptop monitor.
The window only showed a gentle pulsation on a horizontal line graph.
“That sound wasn’t from the Prototype Kusanagi.”
He remained expressionless but turned toward the mountain forest.
“Well, I’ll be hoping he puts all of his effort into this.”
Hiba swung his body back and to the right as if twisting it and then stopped moving.
He had made a backwards jab with his right elbow.
He aimed directly below where he had heard the voice. He lowered his hips and twisted his feet to send the strike directly into Atsuta’s solar plexus.
The roar of the attack was the combination of his foot stomping on the ground and his elbow striking.
He had chosen his elbow for attack.
A surface attack would not penetrate the anti-shock ability of Atsuta’s combat coat. The wider the surface, the more the impact would disperse and grow dull.
The end of an elbow was sharper and thus more powerful than the surface of a fist.
…And I won’t turn around, so it can catch Atsuta-san off guard.
It was the very first attack, the enemy was behind him, and he was being treated like a weakling.
All of that increased the odds of success for a rear attack.
And the attack had indeed succeeded.
Hiba felt the blow land perfectly.
However, he heard a voice from above and behind his head.
“The hell was that?”
It was Atsuta’s voice.
The vibration of the voice passed through Atsuta’s stomach and Hiba’s elbow.
Hiba felt that vibration coming from his elbow.
“Are you even listening?”
Even after the question ended, the vibration coming from Atsuta did not stop. In fact, it grew stronger.
Hiba realized this was not the vibration of a voice or of pain.
…This is anger.
“Did you really think that puny elbow would work on me?”
Hiba’s elbow felt something other than the vibration. It was a compact sensation much like a weight or pressure.
Atsuta was disappointed in the attack, his body trembled in anger, and he built up pressure in his body.
Hiba reflexively turned around and took a step back to check on the man.
Atsuta’s eyebrows were raised, he was looking straight forward, and he had a smile on his lips.
No, it was not a smile at all. His face twisted as he gathered strength and it simply resembled a smile.
“Just so you know, if that was your full strength, then none of your attacks will work on me.”
“Just let me cut you three times and then scatter in the wind!!”
This time, a true roar shook the air.
The Prototype Kusanagi produced silence.
After swinging the sword, Atsuta initially felt something fire from the blade.
…The hell was that?
Normally, a Cowling Sword cut using the power of the concept contained within. When swung, it would either emit the power from the blade or have it reside in the blade.
But the Prototype Kusanagi was different.
As a sword god, Atsuta could become one with a sword when he swung it, so he understood.
As the strike descended, it created more than mere concept power.
But this energy did not surround him like an aura.
Like murderous intent or one’s gaze, it continued on and on into the distance.
This thing’s dangerous, he realized.
He came to an instinctual understanding of how Kusanagi worked.
It was unlike a normal Cowling Sword.
The difference came in the instant after swinging it.
…Kashima!! What was that son of a bitch thinking!?
Not even he could use this Cowling Sword, he thought.
…This Cowling Sword isn’t a sword at all. This Prototype Kusanagi isn’t a sword at all!
It did not produce power from its blade.
…Swinging it intimidates the surrounding space itself into becoming a sword!!
The ruler’s sword filled the world with fear and then cut through it.
A moment later, Kusanagi activated.
Instead of sending a cutting power along the path of its gaze, it brought its own presence there.
It did not matter what stood in its way, whether it was the air, the earth, or anything else. Not even sound, light, or empty space was an exception.
Kusanagi’s might shot through the area that was filled with its energy.
Atsuta’s arm trembled.
The hand on the hilt shook, his muscles distorted, and his flesh leaped like splashing water.
He could become one with a sword, but Kusanagi was too powerful a blade even for him.
The hilt and blade before his eyes was only Kusanagi’s temporary form. The gaze it sent out was where the true Kusanagi would appear.
His right hand trembled violently. It was almost jumping around or undulating.
The idea was simple. Kusanagi’s presence was so great that it was sending recoil back into his arm.
This sword was too great for even a sword god to hold it one-handed.
Atsuta realized why Kashima had given him this sword.
As a military god, he had created a sword that only Atsuta, a sword god, could use properly.
…Are you trying to turn me into your sword!?
“If that’s how it is…!”
Atsuta placed his left hand on Kusanagi as it raged at the bottom of its swing.
He pressed in from the left to suppress his shaking right hand and a powerful smile reached his lips.
“Then I’ve gotta use this thing right!!”
With that yell, he squeezed Kusanagi in his grip.
With a shout of focus, he lowered his hips a little, and worked to restrain the struggling blade. As a sword god, he instantly grabbed the hilt like a man is meant to wield a sword.
As soon as Kusanagi stopped trembling, a cutting blast covered an area of several hundred meters ahead of him.
It looked like it was suddenly placed inside the scenery, but the earth was instantly torn up, the air was split apart, and explosions filled it all.
The forest and slope were swept aside and felled with a sound resembling surging waves more than a roar.
It all happened in an instant and Atsuta let out a breath once it was over.
“Now this is interesting!!”
A figure adjusted his two-handed grip on Kusanagi.
He relaxed his entire body, raised Kusanagi without any excess movement, and stepped forward.
He moved toward a boy lying on the ground.
It was Hiba.
The previous attack had been aimed at the boy, but he had only been blown away by the after effects since Atsuta had not known how Kusanagi activated.
He had missed.
A normal Cowling Sword emitted concept power or cut with its blade.
But Kusanagi required a proper intent to cut on the wielder’s part.
Atsuta realized that Kusanagi was not a sword that obeyed a sword god. It was a sword on the same level as a sword god.
So if that sword god wielded it halfheartedly, it would only manifest itself halfheartedly.
That was what had happened just now.
If Kusanagi had truly activated…
…Everything along the line of its gaze would have transformed into cutting power as I swung Kusanagi.
This Cowling Sword could only be wielded by a sword god and it manifested itself in accordance with that sword god’s will.
…This isn’t cutting with the power of a concept. It’s more like cutting with your own gaze.
He was now directly connected with a blade that could cut through even a dragon.
Atsuta expressed that feeling as follows:
“This is what I call interesting.”
He sensed movement seven meters ahead.
In the shower of scattering fragments of crust, a boy slowly stood up.
He was gasping for breath, covered in sweat, and trembling.
But Atsuta’s thoughts made a 180 when he saw Hiba.
His interest was in Kusanagi, not in Hiba.
The best part about this prototype Cowling Sword was its power and the fun of using something so hard to control, but…
…It does have a weakness, too.
He had to check on that.
However, he still had this match to take care of, so…
“Hey, little monkey.”
He addressed Hiba who somehow managed to get to his feet.
He was too out of breath to reply, so Atsuta began to move.
He used the Art of Walking to vanish from Hiba’s eyes.
The very next moment, Atsuta had moved up to Hiba and lifted the boy up by the collar of his T-shirt.
Atsuta saw him shrink back in surprise as he dangled down.
Whether from the previous impact or from fear, there were tears in the corners of the boy’s eyes. They filled Atsuta’s heart with disgust.
“Listen up, you. …Just lose this thing already.”
Hiba’s eyes opened wide and Atsuta wondered what there was to be so surprised about.
“I had decided to take you on, but Kusanagi here’s way more interesting than you. So lose this thing already. I’ll let you off if you bow down to me. …It’s better than dying, isn’t it?”
“I…I can’t do that,” quietly said the boy.
It sounded like an excuse and Atsuta felt his heart cool.
This ain’t good, he thought of himself. It’s fine when I’m excited. I try to enjoy things with my opponent then.
Things changed when he got oddly calm like this.
Even as he wished he could regain his excitement, he could tell his eyes were narrowing.
…This is hopeless.
The boy dangling before his eyes was trembling in fear of what he might do.
…This guy’s hopeless.
“Know your place.”
Oh, I’m pretty cool when I’m criticizing people. But this still ain’t good. This is where I’m supposed to lecture him. I’m supposed to yell at him, hit him, and give a good punch.
This really ain’t good. Don’t think like that. It won’t lead anywhere good. It isn’t like the Great Atsuta at all.
This guy’s nothing. He stood up to me, thinking he’s some kind of big-shot, but one attack later and he’s flinching back. He’s this close to me, but he isn’t doing anything other than watching to see what I’m gonna do. He’s that pathetic.
Don’t tell yourself you don’t want to fight him. You know that won’t end well.
…But I don’t want to fight him anymore.
Didn’t I just say not to tell yourself that?
Yeah, that’s right.
Sigh, tilt your head, and look down on him. This is when Ryouko would’ve stopped you in the past.
He opened his mouth.
“If you won’t apologize for yourself, I’ll give up on you as the most pathetic of the pathetic who can’t apologize for being weak or even really reach the level of being ‘weak’ in the first place. How about it?”
“I’ll give you five seconds. Five.”
Once he said that, something appeared before his eyes.
Realizing it was a fist, he caught it.
He used his forehead to stop the fist Hiba swung at him.
The blow landed, producing a nice reverberating sound, but Atsuta was a sword god at the moment and that alone nullified any human attack. This attack was no different from the elbow from earlier. Plus, an attack thrown while dangling in midair was not going to be very effective.
A leg arrived and that movement seemed to signal the beginning.
A fist arrived, then a chop, an elbow, and a knee.
The attacks hit his head, his neck, his shoulder, his side, his gut, his crotch, and his vitals.
But none of it did anything.
As Atsuta counted down, Hiba continued his meaningless attacks like a child.
That idiot, thought Atsuta as a chill filled his mind. He’s crying.
…He really is stupid.
This was no time for sympathy and Atsuta had no intention of showing any. This boy had agreed to fight a sword god.
Despite the difference in strength between a god and a man, he had set foot into this arena where he could easily die.
The boy had misjudged what that meant.
He had completely failed to realize he would be blown away by the very first attack or just how much damage it would do.
Most likely, his body was recalling another incident.
…His defeat from last night.
He had been knocked away by a god of war and slammed to the ground.
That was much like being hit by a car and his body remembered that damage in the form of fear.
Atsuta could feel the boy trembling, but it was not caused by his present fear. It came from the fear of the damage he had received the night before and from the realization that the one he cared for had been injured.
With his wounds healed, he must have assumed he had forgotten that fear.
…But his body remembers when he received similar damage.
Hiba’s strikes and kicks no longer had any proper form.
Tears flowed down his face and his mouth opened as he sobbed.
His movements were nothing more than protests at the fact that his strength was hopelessly insufficient.
Does it seem unfair? wondered Atsuta. But you’re the one at fault here.
After all, he had lost the night before and had yet to shake off that fear.
Atsuta sank down so he could toss Hiba into the air and immediately swing Kusanagi down at him.
But he still spoke to this pathetic enemy.
“If you’re gonna hate anyone for this, hate yourself. This was your fault for not realizing how weak you are.”
Just before the final number was given, Hiba stopped moving.
Tatsumi had called him that the night before and this opponent had done so again.
Yes, he agreed while relaxing his arms and legs.
…I really am weak.
He also relaxed his clenched jaw and felt tears spill down his cheeks.
What was this? Whatever the result, there was nothing he could do.
…But I still don’t like it.
He did not like it, but he had to accept it. He had no way of changing it, so that was his only option.
…But if I had more strength, it wouldn’t have turned out like that!
The words “what if” entered his mind.
But there were no “what ifs” when it came to the past.
He knew that. He knew it, but he still did not like it. And that regret definitely did exist in his heart.
So he thought about what to do to keep himself from feeling that regret again.
…What if I could get stronger?
Instead of thinking about the past, he turned his “what if” toward the future.
What if? What if he could rid himself of his weakness?
His attacks were of no use against the sword god before his eyes. No matter how strong he grew, there were some things he could never overcome.
I am weak, he told himself. Even if I grow stronger, I’ll still be weak.
Even with the help of Susamikado and Mikage, he was only borrowing their strength and he had no more strength than any other human living in the real world.
That’s right, he realized. Then no matter how hard I work, I’ll still be weak.
But in that case…
…Isn’t that perfectly normal? Then why?
…Why is everyone acting like I’m not allowed to try and fight when I’m still weak!?
If he could be strong when wielding a great power or weapon, wasn’t that enough?
He did not even hear Atsuta speak the final number.
But he did hear the word in his heart.
…That isn’t right!
He did not know what was not right or how it was not right, but he knew that it was not.
Once, a white god of war had made a pursuit and fought despite being outmatched.
An American UCAT mechanical dragon unit had fought a large black mechanical dragon. Hiba’s own upperclassman and a girl younger than he was had even fought the dragon.
And another of his upperclassmen would face enemies of any number or any size with nothing but a pair of wings and a spear. Yet another upperclassman would confront his enemies while declaring his righteousness and without carrying a single weapon.
That was why it was not right.
It was not right to remove him from the battle just because he was weak.
One could be removed from the battlefield when…
…When they let out a scream and run away.
The others did not do that.
And the night before, he had held the person who mattered most in his arms to the very end.
He was afraid. His entire body was still experiencing a refrain of the impact and noises of Typhon’s strike.
…But I didn’t do that! I didn’t let out a scream!!
That transformed into another sentence inside him.
He fought because he was weak. And he announced what that meant in his heart.
…That’s what you call struggling!!
Atsuta finished his countdown and prepared to throw Hiba into the air.
Before he could instruct his hand to move, his fingers reflexively let go of the boy’s collar.
He felt pain. A stabbing pain filled his left thumb.
He looked down and saw a chunk of flesh bitten out of the thumb’s base.
“Oh!” he said in surprise before realizing what had happened.
Hiba had kicked off his arm and, when he landed in a crouch, he spat something to the side.
That’s a part of my body.
Don’t be tearing that off and throwing it away. Aren’t you going to at least give it back?
But at the same time, Atsuta felt a slight strength pulling up on the corners of his mouth.
What do you think you’re doing, me?
He held Kusanagi tightly in both hands and raised it overhead.
And he literally jumped toward his prey.
…Now this is getting interesting!!
Hiba could tell he was trembling.
He had acted on a sudden impulse much like anger, but fear had taken ahold of his body.
Just a slight graze from that sword’s attack had pummeled his entire body, so a direct hit would end this immediately.
It had been the same the night before. He had only survived because Tatsumi had not really seen him as her opponent. She must have only been after 3rd-Gear’s Concept Core.
He felt she had implied he was not even worth killing.
…But I need to stop her.
Tatsumi was his Top-Gear counterpart and she claimed to have killed his father.
That made it his duty to stop her and those working with her.
He had to stop her no matter what.
It did not matter if he was afraid, if he was pathetic, if he was tossed through the air, or if he could not move.
He had to stop her regardless.
This was the same. The attack was preparing to drop down before him.
…What should I do?
He had no power and his attacks could not reach his opponent, but that did not necessarily mean he could not stop the man.
…So I can’t give up here!
He always had the strength known as Mikage by his side. That gave him access to striking power, piercing power, weight, speed, defense, flight, size, beauty, and coolness.
He did not have any of that now. All he had was…
…My own way of fighting!
He had been taught not to rely on the god of war as he fought and he had been taught to assume the battle never came to an end.
The sun king and moon princess had taught him to fight to his very limits and the youngest of the four dragon brothers had taught him strength was independent of size.
He refused to believe he had not gained anything from those battles.
He lifted his trembling body, starting from the back, and leaned forward.
He almost toppled forward, but he could form a running stance by moving his knees forward.
He kicked off the ground behind him.
He charged toward Atsuta with enough force to leave behind his shaking.
He did have some things: speed, his short frame, and the combat techniques passed down by the Hiba family.
Altogether, those gave him overwhelming mobility.
His low weight and height did not put much force behind his attacks, but he was second to none in speed and quick turns.
His opponent was a sword god. A military god might have been able to keep up with him, but…
As he ran, he tilted to the right and jumped.
He shot past Atsuta to the right.
The man had yet to swing Kusanagi.
As Atsuta started to turn around, Hiba twisted his body.
To throw a reverse roundhouse kick, he turned his body by 180 degrees as he ran.
Kusanagi caused the earth to pulsate below his feet.
The sword’s tremor filled the wind.
A tremor of fear remained in his body. If he let down his guard for even a moment, he would be assaulted by the phantom sound and pain of the blow he had taken the previous night.
He just barely made it. He felt like he was running on the edge between himself and the world.
As soon as he spun around, he leaped right, which was to Atsuta’s left as he turned around.
Atsuta was right-handed, so the raised sword was tilted to the right.
By jumping to his left, Kusanagi’s strike would reach Hiba slightly later.
Hiba lowered down and poured all of his strength into his body. And he used it all to turn around.
But the sword god made his move.
Atsuta used a simple method of swinging Kusanagi more quickly.
While facing straight toward Hiba, he got down on his left knee.
By lowering his body, he sped up Kusanagi’s fall by that much more.
Atsuta’s decision surprised Hiba, but it did not matter.
Hiba bent back and to the right before jumping into the air. He swung his arm and leaped as if trying to lean back and pass through the pulsation shaking the air.
Immediately afterwards, Kusanagi’s strike arrived.
Atsuta watched Hiba.
…He’s a fast one!
Not even a low level military god could move that fast.
Not even a mid level sword god would have been able to keep track of his movements.
But Atsuta worked alongside a top level military god and was a similar level of sword god himself.
He could follow Hiba’s movements and he could predict what the boy was trying to do.
So he went down on one knee and swung his sword while planted solidly on the ground.
Kusanagi’s energy shot out much like a gaze.
It was filled with intent to kill.
Atsuta twisted his arms and fired Kusanagi while feeling the delicious sensation in his entire body.
Something unexpected happened.
Kusanagi’s intent to kill was deflected as he swung it down.
The feel of the sword told him Kusanagi’s killer intent had gotten jammed in something that could stop a gaze.
That something was a fist-sized stone.
It had come from Hiba’s hand.
Hiba had run and leaped while turning toward Atsuta, but he had also thrown a stone that had been exposed when Kusanagi tore into the ground earlier.
Hiba’s speed and Atsuta’s focus on Hiba himself had prevented Atsuta from noticing the stone.
Kusanagi’s blade struck the stone.
…Dammit!! I’m still not used to using this thing!
He lost control and Kusanagi activated early. Its power sliced through the sky.
The scarlet sky was split for several hundred meters into the heavens.
The air rumbled and wind blew in.
Hiba ran through the descending scarlet wind as he circled toward Atsuta’s kneeling back.
Atsuta stood up and took a quick step forward to move away from Hiba.
The movement of the wind told him what Hiba was doing.
…This is getting interesting.
He heard something a lot like a sharp blade, but it was Hiba picking up another stone.
He could tell Hiba was trying to win by having him activate Kusanagi a third time.
The boy was trying to stop Atsuta by doing that.
“This really is getting interesting!”
Atsuta turned forcefully around to face Hiba.
“If you can stop this blade, I’d like to see it!!”
Hiba spun around and charged in while Atsuta swung Kusanagi down toward him.
The boy was five meters away.
And that distance shrank as Hiba approached.
In an amount of time one could call an instant or a moment, Atsuta saw something.
Hiba had thrown a stone toward Kusanagi’s raised blade.
It was a snap throw from the left hand rotated behind his back.
The throw took a parabolic arc from behind him and over his head.
If Atsuta had only been watching Hiba, he would not have noticed it.
But Atsuta saw it.
And so he switched his stance. He placed his left palm on the bottom of Kusanagi’s hilt and pried the blade into a low position.
He also shifted his body to the left so Hiba would pass by to his right.
When Hiba did so, Atsuta would cut through him from below.
With Hiba’s speed and Kusanagi’s activation, Hiba’s torso would be cleanly sliced in two.
Even if Hiba tried to attack, none of his blows would affect Atsuta.
Dodging was the boy’s only option and the best he could do was take a wide circle around the man.
“This is over!”
Atsuta held Kusanagi like a bat and began to tilt the tip behind him.
At the same time, Hiba made his move.
He neither dodged nor made a meaningless attack.
Atsuta was briefly unable to react to Hiba’s action.
However, his reflexes as a sword god chose the most effective attack.
A moment later, their clash came to an end.
In the forest below, Kashima looked up from in front of the tent set up on a raised area of land.
He was frowning a little.
Next to him, Ryuutetsu stared up into the scarlet sky while still lying on the mat.
“It must be,” said the old man. “I don’t hear anything anymore.”
He sat up and rotated his shoulders to loosen them.
“How about we go check on them? They’ll get cold if we leave them there.”
Atsuta saw Hiba’s face so close that their foreheads were about to hit.
Hiba was smiling a little, his forehead was drenched with sweat, and he was not moving.
“Is he unconscious?” asked Atsuta.
He shook his head, clicked his tongue, and checked on their situation.
They were facing each other.
Atsuta held Kusanagi near his right shoulder with the blade thrust forward.
And Kusanagi had stabbed into its target.
That was Hiba.
Kusanagi’s blade had pierced the left side of the unconscious boy’s chest up to the hilt.
Atsuta had not done that.
“Did he run in and stab it into himself!?”
Atsuta realized what Hiba had done.
Before the third attack, Hiba had not dodged or attacked meaninglessly.
He had chosen to accelerate.
He had moved almost too quickly for Atsuta to follow and ran right up to the man.
In that instant, Atsuta’s training, characteristics as a sword god, and emotions had produced a single reaction.
He had counterattacked.
When holding Kusanagi like a bat, what was the quickest way to counterattack?
By dropping Kusanagi’s tip forward, he had been able to attack the boy as he charged in at him.
He had acted on reflex and used the sword like a normal Cowling Sword.
By the time he had realized his mistake, it had been too late.
He had already realized what Kusanagi’s biggest flaw was. He was not used to using it, so he had yet to fully grasp how to release its energy when it began to activate.
He knew how to release the energy for a slash. He had done that twice already.
But what about for a thrust?
He had acted without thinking. As a sword god and expert swordsman, he had attacked almost subconsciously, so he had not focused and released the killer intent.
And thus, Kusanagi had not activated.
He had simply stabbed the blade forward like any other Cowling Sword.
Hiba had not hesitated as he charged in.
He had grabbed Kusanagi’s blade with both hands and directed it toward the left side of his chest.
“He stabbed himself.”
…Is he stupid?
Hiba’s hands were now holding Atsuta’s hands on the hilt.
And Kusanagi’s entire blade had pierced through his body.
If Atsuta released Kusanagi’s energy to slice through the boy’s left shoulder, he could only cut either upwards or downwards.
That would not be enough to kill Hiba.
Atsuta clicked his tongue again and took a step back.
He let go of Kusanagi. It now simply looked like Hiba had grabbed Kusanagi and stabbed himself in the chest.
He had lost consciousness, but he remained standing and the area below his chest was wet.
Seeing that, Atsuta pulled some gum from his pocket.
It was a high-class nicotine gum advertised as “monkfish liver flavor”.
He heard footsteps from the forest behind him and put the gum in his mouth without turning around.
He reached for Kusanagi and grabbed it.
“Make sure to record this.”
He spoke to the person behind him and swung Kusanagi downwards.
It cut through Hiba’s left side and a red spray filled the air.
Lastly, the cut shot several hundred meters behind Hiba.
The attack roared and Hiba’s unconscious form was knocked through the air.
Kashima’s voice reached him from behind, but Atsuta did not care.
He looked down to find Kusanagi broken in his hands.
“Looks like it broke right on schedule.”
“Atsuta! The battle was already over! Why did you have to attack again!?”
Atsuta sat down without bothering to turn around.
He looked to where Hiba lay collapsed on the ground and held up the broken Kusanagi.
“I said I lose if I didn’t kill him after three attacks, remember?”
Atsuta stood back up and tossed the remains of Kusanagi.
He heard them hit Hiba and roll away.
“You stopped Kusanagi, so you win. And I didn’t kill you after three attacks, so I lose. …That clearly settles the wins and losses on both sides.”
He laughed quietly and yelled into the scarlet sky.
“Why is this world so damn boring!?”
The colors of evening filled a city.
The city had a port and an inland sea to the west. This was the city of Sakai which contained the ports of Sakai and Osaka.
The city contained a slope with a residential area at the top.
Two people stood at the bottom of the residential area as the setting sun shined on it.
They were Sayama and Shinjou.
They both held documents or letters and they looked at the houses on the slope.
Shinjou pointed behind the row of houses toward the top of the slope.
“Um? If we follow this road, turn right, take that walking path, turn left, come out on top of the hill, and then take that road a while, we’ll be at our destination.”
“Heh heh heh. Shinjou-kun. thank you for those directions that were even more indirect than I ever imagined. …You are so cute.”
“What you’re saying is too indirect and disconnected to have any idea what you mean!!”
Shinjou sighed and looked back up at Sayama with a look that seemed to say “anyway”.
“Can we get going, Sayama-kun?”
“Yes, we can, Shinjou-kun. …Let us continue to where you discovered your past.”
She gave a small smile and nodded, but quickly hid her smile behind her documents.
“I’ll have to show you everything I found here back when I came before you.”
“Of course. And when you say that, it sounds really dirty.”
“What is wrong with your ears?”
She sighed again and lowered her shoulders next to Sayama who was holding a handheld recorder.
“Honestly, if you like things like that, why not go somewhere that will do it for you?”
He nodded and looked her way.
“Are you sure you want me doing that?”
Shinjou groaned and stopped moving, but she finally answered.
“On second thought, no.”
“I would not want to either. Not if it was anyone other than you. And…”
He pulled on her hand and began walking up the sloped sidewalk.
She was surprised by the tug on her hand and he turned back toward her.
“Now, it is time we got going. We can continue reading these documents on our way to our destination…on our way to where your mother was.”
She hesitated but gave a definite nod. As if to say this would be okay, he gave her a refreshing smile and spoke.
“But I am a lucky man. Once we reach our destination, I get to see exactly where it was you ‘came before me’! Make sure to spread your legs!”
With a wordless smile, Shinjou took a running start and kicked the rear of the suit pants in front of her.
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