Chapter 3: [Silent] and [Aegis]
As evening approached, the city of Kanagawa began to quiet down immensely, almost as if its livelihood faded away with the sun. The watchtower along the coast continued to stand guard well into the night, and as the moon shined brightly, the city seemed to come to a complete standstill. Today was no different— it was just business as usual.
Of course, while the city itself seemed to calm down at night, the students usually hung out or played games in their respective dormitories. Apart from a select few, shops were not permitted to stay open at night, so there weren’t many reasons, if any, to go out.
In the academy, the student council room still had its lights on. The four Divine Pillars had convened to discuss their next move. Like the name suggested, they were the four highest ranking officers in Kanagawa. [Silent], [Aegis], [Invisible], and [Princess Road]… The four vowed to protect and serve their leader, Maihime Tenkawa.
“Well then,” said [Aegis]. The scarf on her neck shook a bit as she spoke. “The reason we’ve gathered here today is because we have a picture of that student?”
“Indeed, here it is,” replied [Princess Road] while booting up her computer. Once it was ready, she projected the footage onto the wall. As expected, it replayed the events of the mock battle. Maihime stood dignified on the field with spectators cheering all around. Like always, she was holding on to her large sword.
Upon seeing her, three of the four people in the room voiced their admiration:
“Wow, Hime-sama is so cool, right? Hey, hey, can I get another angle of her like this?” said one of them, squirming uncontrollably. “I want to see her in all her glory!”
“She really is. She’s intense, yet cute. Brave, yet elegant,” said another as her nose twitched. “It’s unfortunate, but I can’t smell her sweat from this video at all…”
The last pulled out her stuffed animal and began to talk to it. “… She’s fabulous isn’t she well to be honest I could have done a better job with the video in fact I could have shown her in even better ways you know.”
They smiled, but when the video showed the final confrontation, their eyebrows shot up.
“Huh? It was this student?”
[Princess Road] was confused by their unexpected reactions. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
The three did not answer her at all. They just stood there, deep in thought.
The sun rose once again. This time, Shino and Hotaru were in their usual 2nd year D class classroom, surrounded by their noisy classmates. Their lecture on specialized weapons had just finished, so it was time for lunch. Many of the students had already left for the cafeteria.
It was important to keep the students on a healthy diet, yet for many of them, eating was their sole pleasure in this world. As a result, their performance on the battlefield was directly correlated with the food quality, so the Administration Bureau and city staff paid very close attention to what they were serving. For the students to fight at their best, the food had to be tasty and nutritious at the same time. This luxury, a luxury that couldn’t be enjoyed by the adult fighters of the past, was made possible by the steady supply of ingredients from Chiba’s manufacturing plants.
Despite all that, Shino didn’t seem particularly interested in eating right now. He just sat at his desk, staring at all the information he had gathered up so far.
“Shino,” he heard from above.
He turned and saw Hotaru coming up to him. “You’ve been staring at that all class,” she said jokingly. “At this rate, I’m gonna tell the teacher!”
“I didn’t learn anything new in the lecture,” he said. “Besides, if their goal was to make us learn, this way is much more effective.”
“Well, yeah. But sometimes, I just think that you should act more normally, you know… Maybe speak up once in a while? So when trouble arises, you become less of a suspect.”
“Of course,” said Shino. “But why bring this up? You know that we have to keep a low profile, and not cause too much attention to ourselves.”
“Yeah, you’re right, I guess…” she said uncomfortably, but that went largely unnoticed by Shino. “Anyways, what’s the progress so far?” she whispered.
“We have plenty of intel now, and I’m done with all the observations. I’m one step away from figuring out our best course of action.”
Upon hearing that, Hotaru had a surprisingly bitter reaction. “Umm, how do I put this… That’s wonderful to hear, but… Umm…”
“In any case,” interrupted Shino. Once again, he failed to pay any attention to Hotaru. “If we can create a situation where I’m one on one against her, there’s a chance I can do it. So, yesterday I compiled all the times when she’s alone, but the issue is approaching her at these times. I can’t just barge in, and even waiting for her to be alone seems difficult.”
“Well, it seems like in Kanagawa, Maihime Tenkawa has the so called Four Divine Pillars,” explained Shino. “These four don’t protect her out of some sense of duty or obligation. Instead, they have a deep affection for her, almost to the point of worship, and that’s what drives them to protect and serve her. If I don’t take care of them, then it will be impossible to kill her.”
“F-Four Divine Pillars?” said Hotaru meekly.
“Yes. But killing the four is definitely not the play. If any of them dies, they’ll probably all be on alert. Instead, they must be led away from her without any suspicion.”
“C-Can you even do that sort of thing?”
“Yes, I have to,” he said, putting away his tablet and standing up. “Now that that’s done, let’s go eat.”
“Huh? Oh, sure… Somehow I don’t feel like eating, though…”
“It’s shameful for soldiers to be unable to fight due to skipped meals, but it’s even more shameful for them to pass up on the opportunity to eat,” said Shino. “You should, at the very least, eat in case you need the energy later. That meal could be the difference between life and death.”
“Y-Yeah, sure,” she nodded with a bitter smile.
Shino nodded as well, and prepared to leave the classroom with Hotaru. All of a sudden, however, they heard a commotion in the hallway.
“Huh? I wonder what’s going on?” said Shino. He peered into the hallway to see three girls walking towards him. The students were blocking the hallway, but they quickly made space for them to pass. “Woah, that’s…” he whispered.
Before he could finish his sentence though, the students around him drowned his voice out.
“What the..? T-Three of the Four Divine Pillars are here?”
“What in the world happened? This isn’t just any ordinary event!”
“Amazing! I wonder if I can take a picture with them…”
“Don’t even try… You’ll only get them angry!”
The chatter went on endlessly. The students were so hyped up that the three might as well have been celebrities. They represented the pride of Kanagawa just like Maihime Tenkawa, and many looked up to them.
“The Four Divine Pillars?” Shino raised his brow. His astonishment wasn’t from their sudden appearance in the hallway, but instead, it was from the fact that he had seen them before. Indeed, he was just talking about them with Hotaru… Their plan’s success was very much dependent on how they acted. They were, after all, close associates of Maihime Tenkawa.
“Ah! There he is!” said one of the Divine Pillars with blonde hair and a mole under her lip. She pointed at Shino, and the students all simultaneously turned their focus to him.
“Woah, you’re right. Shino, huh? Thanks for the other day.”
Shino didn’t say anything. With them knowing who he was, there was no way he could fool them any longer. With a regretful sigh, he walked out into the hallway and stared back at them.
“So what business do you have with me, Zakuro Otonashi, Ginko Sajihara, Kurisu Nabariya?” he asked adamantly.
In response, Ginko and Kurisu just smiled, while Zakuro darted her eyes away.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it business,” said Ginko. “I heard about a transfer student that did pretty well against Hime-sama in the special mock battle, so I thought I’d take a look.”
Kurisu piped in as well. “Hehe, looking at that video really surprised me. To think the transfer student was you… But now that it’s come to this, I can see that you haven’t been telling the truth, right?”
“… What are you trying to say?” calmly asked Shino, despite having an idea of what they were up to. The very same transfer student who fought toe to toe with Maihime was caught snooping around her just days later. That alone was enough for them to suspect him as a spy.
Despite their suspicions, right now there was no way they could know what Shino was up to. They probably couldn’t decide if Shino was a good or bad guy, so they were trying to shake him up a bit to see how he would react. That’s why Shino responded calmly without revealing any emotion.
Zakuro had stayed quiet up until now, but she ripped off her panda and started speaking to it in a monotone voice. “… You two really beat around the bush huh fine I’ll say it clearly to you Shino we are not pleased with you snooping around Hime-sama,” she said, tightening her grip around the panda’s neck. “So if I completely beat you up and win then you wouldn’t mind not going near Hime-sama anymore right?”
She flipped him off without so much as a glance in his direction.
Hotaru’s eyes grew wide. “S-So… So that means that…!”
“—It’s a ‘Ranked Battle’, right?” interrupted Shino. He darted his eyes back at the Divine Pillars.
The three stayed focused while the students around them gulped in anticipation. It was a natural reaction for the students… After all, one of the Divine Pillars just challenged him to a duel.
Kanagawa was a defense city— its only purpose was to protect the citizens within from external threats. Personal grudge matches between students were normally forbidden. However, they could be done under the pretense of training, just like Maihime’s special mock battles. Even so, fights would have to go through lots of paperwork and official reviews before being approved, because points were at stake.
That being said, high rankers would almost never fight low ones in the “Ranked Battles.” If they did, the outcome was usually determined before the fight even began, and the points they got from winning would be trivial. So, that’s what makes the circumstances so special this time. It gave Shino a good opportunity to do what he wanted to do.
“Hmph!” he said, nodding and staring back at Zakuro. “I’ll do it.”
Hearing that, Hotaru let out a cry. “Shino!?!?” However, before she could say anything else, Shino continued on.
“But! If you are going to impose those conditions on me, then I’m going to do the same for you.”
“… What do you mean?”
Shino pointed his finger aggressively at Zakuro. “You just said it yourself, didn’t you… If I lost, I had to stay away from Maihime Tenkawa. Well, if that’s the case, if I win… I’m taking your place.”
Zakuro’s eyebrows twitched. When Shino said “your place,” he didn’t mean the place where Zakuro lived in, obviously. He didn’t even mean her place as a member of the Four Divine Pillars. Zakuro knew that he was asking for the rights to stalk Maihime.
Ginko and Kurisu noticed this as well. They looked at each other and grinned in amusement. Zakuro, however, was not so amused.
“Tsk. You act as those you already won and it’s pissing me off,” she said. This time, she was not only choking the panda, but twisting its neck mercilessly as well. She turned and glared at Shino. “But I will do it after all your chances of winning are exactly zero.”
And with that, the ranked battle between Akira Shinomiya and Zakuro Otonashi had been decided.
The next day, a crowd of students gathered around the training grounds, the same place where Maihime hosted her special mock battle. The large turnout surprised nobody… On one side was one of the highest-ranking students in the city, and on the other was a mysterious student who fought evenly with Maihime. The hype for this ranked battle was through the roof.
In the midst of all the cheers from the surrounding audience, Shino quietly looked around the field. Unlike last time, he was at the center of attention. Everyone’s focus was fixated on him alone, and there were even some students cheering his name. Off to the side, what looked to be members of the newspaper club were incessantly taking pictures as well.
Shino didn’t plan to stand out at all, but this time there was no other choice. Besides, compared to the time when he fought Maihime head on, the risk here was nothing. In fact, that line of thinking was what propelled him to accept the fight in the first place. If he couldn’t hide anymore, then there was nothing else to do but win those rights in a spectacular fashion.
He wanted those rights not for stalking in particular, surprisingly. His real goal was to keep Zakuro away from Maihime, and this was the best way to do it. By winning, he could get her out of the equation without killing her.
The crowd suddenly cheered even harder, snapping Shino back into reality. He looked up and saw that Maihime, Ginko, and Kurisu had entered the audience seating area. As always, Maihime’s coat fluttered in the wind. She took her reserved seat and eagerly stared out into the field. It seemed this battle was a big deal… So big, that even she came to spectate.
“Ah!” she said cheerfully as her eyes met with Shino’s. She jumped up and started waving at him.
Despite her enthusiasm, Shino looked away and sighed. Once he did, the audience started to boo.
“Wow! Hime-sama waved at him and he does that?”
“YEAH! Show some RESPECT!”
Being made a public enemy of Maihime would be troublesome, so he waved back reluctantly.
“He’s making a move on Hime-sama!”
“Screw you! Know your place!”
Shino was at a loss of what to do. He sighed once again and lowered his hand. At that moment, however, the speakers turned on with an announcement.
Well then, let’s begin our battle between Zakuro [Silent] Otonashi, and Akira Shinomiya!
The announcer pumped up the crowd even more, but Shino was a little confused. After all, he was still the only one on the training grounds…
Or so he thought. In a split second, about 100 meters in front of him, Zakuro had suddenly appeared out of thin air. She appeared so suddenly that it felt like the world had snapped in that very moment. As her nickname suggested, she had entered silently, and she calmly stood on the field.
She was wearing the same outfit as yesterday, but this time she was holding a specialized weapon that was almost as tall as she was. The weapon had a long handle with a curved blade, looking eerily similar to the scythe of a grim reaper. There was also a little fluttering panda strap attached to the edge of the handle, though it really did not look much like a panda at all.
“What’s the matter Shino you don’t look so well,” she said, grinning. Despite the arrogance, she wasn’t even looking at him. This time, she was staring at that very panda strap.
“That entrance did shake me up a bit, though it’s really no problem at all.”
“Hehe is that so that’s good then if I didn’t beat you when you’re at your best then it’d be annoying if you kept trying to void the outcome.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea. When I said that it wasn’t a problem, I wasn’t referring to my condition. I was referring to you. Your <World>, your capabilities, your strategies… everything you have won’t be a problem for me at all.
“… You really don’t know how to shut your mouth do you well not that it matters to me anyway,” she said. She then turned to Maihime in the audience and shouted, “This victory from Zakuro Otonashi will be dedicated to you Hime-sama.”
It was a quick declaration of victory, and with it, the crowd went even wilder. Zakuro waited for the crowd to die down a bit before continuing on.
“But just a plain old battle is kinda boring so how bout this Hime-sama if I win within five minutes can I get some kind of reward?”
Maihime’s eyes widened. “Sure… But what do you want?”
“I want to lie on your lap while you pat my head.”
“That’s it?” giggled Maihime. “Sure! Do your best!”
“I’m grateful,” said Zakuro, bowing her head. She then turned back to Shino and pointed her scythe at him.
Seeing that, Shino took up his low fighting stance. His type-38 specialized Katana was still sheathed, but he held onto the handle anyway and prepared to draw it out. The crowd turned silent as they watched the two take up their stance. Once they quieted up, the announcer started to speak up.
Well then, let’s… LET’S BEGIN THE MATCH!!!