In an instant, Shino began to unsheathe his sword while continuing to stare at Zakuro. After seeing her <World> twice now, he had an idea of how to deal with it. He would strike before she even had a chance to materialize it.
His sword started to shine, and he could feel his power well up in it. Once he released his attack, she should be completely done.
Shino held his breath. The moment he drew out his sword, Zakuro suddenly disappeared from his field of view, and he sliced nothing but thin air. He could cut anything he saw, but that in itself was a weakness: He couldn’t cut what he couldn’t see.
He immediately felt a presence behind him, causing him to duck. The scythe swung right where his head was just at, but it followed through without touching him at all.
“Oh wow you dodged that that’s pretty good intuition honestly,” he heard from above. Because he dodged at such an awkward angle, he couldn’t get a chance to see her. With his body still twisted, he swung his katana at Zakuro’s feet to try to knock her down.
However, once again he felt himself cut through thin air. He got up a bit just in time to see Zakuro about to swing her scythe down directly at him.
Shino grunted and jumped back. The scythe, now covered in an aura, hit the area he was just at and exploded on the ground, causing dust to fly out everywhere. Once the dust settled, he saw a hole in the ground next to her, but he quickly swung his katana at her. However, she disappeared instantly only to reappear back to her original position.
Shino was speechless; sweat started to drip down his face. Zakuro’s speed was much faster than what he had anticipated, and she didn’t have any tells for her movement. It was as if she was teleporting straight to Shino’s blind spots for her attacks. Her nickname [Silent] certainly suited her well.
“You sure talked big though I’ll admit that was pretty good and I see how you could put up a fight against Hime-sama,” she said, glaring at her panda strap.
She kicked the ground… Suddenly her voice was to Shino’s right. “But you won’t win by just dodging you know,” she said, swinging her scythe at his neck.
Shino swung up to block the attack. At the same time, he caught a glimpse of Zakuro in his right eye, so he went in for a strike to her face with his left hand. It connected, making Zakuro flinch for a moment, but Shino couldn’t follow up with any more attacks as she instantly disappeared and reappeared once again to a different location.
Disappear only to appear; appear only to disappear. She was taking the notion of hit and run to the limit. So much in fact, that Shino felt like he was fighting a ghost. Using solely his reflexes and intuition, he could do nothing but dodge the lethal blows that come his way. Even so, there was no way he could keep up this kind of defense for a long period of time.
Zakuro continued her assault, slicing Shino on the shoulder with one of her attacks. It wasn’t a fatal blow, but it did knock him onto the ground. He quickly rose up to his knees, knowing that he was extra vulnerable on the ground, and pointed the tip of his katana at Zakuro.
“Oh the fight’s pretty much decided but you still have some fight in you huh.”
Tsk. Shino knew that it wasn’t going to work, but he stared at Zakuro anyway and gripped his katana tighter for an attack.
It was at that moment that he saw something shiny out from the corner of his eye, causing him to raise his eyebrow curiously. Near his feet was the hole that Zakuro had made moments earlier from her explosive attack, and there was a small coin in it.
“Not bad for you to get this far,” whispered Zakuro, pointing her scythe at Shino. In reality, Shino was much stronger than she thought. She wasn’t messing up her attacks or anything like that, but they just didn’t seem to be doing much damage. He was even able to get a hit on her, something only the other Divine Pillars were capable of.
“Heh,” said Shino. He turned to Zakuro and leapt at her, kicking some dust up from his feet. It seemed like he knew that he had to change his tactics for a chance to win.
Zakuro took one look at that and grinned. She was able to move freely anywhere within the training grounds, so what he did was quite the poor move. She moved a few meters back to dodge his attack, and then kept appearing around just to toy with him. Shino tried to keep up, but stopped after a while, probably figuring out that it was pointless to chase after her any more.
Every time Zakuro appeared, whether it be from the front, back, right, or left side, Shino would desperate try to follow her with his eyes to no avail.
Seeing his desperation, Zakuro chuckled. “Well then I guess I should hurry and finish this up,” she said, finding humor in his struggles. She swung her scythe around towards Shino, and materialized her <World> once again. Immediately, she moved behind him and swung.
Shino anticipated her attack, so he blocked it while retreating backwards. Seeing this, Zakuro dashed to his blind spot for yet another attack. Up until now, Shino was only able to take roughly five or six consecutive attacks from her like this. Since her attacks were at such a fast pace, his limit was quickly exhausted.
The sixth attack came, and Shino collapsed to the ground. Zakuro prepared for the finishing blow.
“With this it’s over,” she said, appearing on Shino’s right side. She saw that he wasn’t defending himself anymore, so she went in for the swing on his neck…
Suddenly, she shouted in disarray. “What??!?!?”
Somehow, Shino was positioned right in front of her, ready for a strike of his own. Zakuro was dumbfounded… she knew she had moved to his blind spot. She had materialized her <World> so many times there was no way she could have messed it up. Her thoughts went all over the place, but she knew that this was not the time to hesitate. She had to get to a safer spot.
Even though she knew what to do, it was too late. Shino went down with a swing on her shoulder before she had a chance to get out.
“Ugh!” she cried out in anguish. She had taken the hit straight up, causing her to collapse onto the ground.
Lying face up on the ground, Zakuro coughed violently as she tried to catch her breath. The weapons they used in mock battles were not the same as the ones they used in actual combat, but Shino still struck her with what was essentially a lump of metal. She probably would not be able to move for a while.
He took a look at her and breathed out a sigh of relief. It was a last ditch effort, though miraculously it worked out quite well.
“How… How’d that happen…” huffed out Zakuro as she held her shoulder in pain.
Shino walked over to the coin on the ground and picked it up. Turning back to Zakuro, he flicked the coin up once into the air. Zakuro’s eyes widened seeing that.
“As I thought, huh,” said Shino. Seeing Zakuro’s surprised reaction only validated his theory even further. If the coin had just been a regular coin used around the city, Shino would probably not have paid any attention to it at all. However, the coin had a pattern he had never seen before, with a smooth, almost rubbery, finish. As a result, he began to have doubts about it.
The coin consisted of the same material used to make the specialized weapons, which made it compatible with people’s <Worlds>. Realizing this, Shino theorized that maybe Zakuro wasn’t able to “teleport” freely, but rather just to a place where she had a marking. He thought that beforehand she might have buried some marked coins around the area and just moved between them during the fight.
He paid very close attention to where she moved to, and noticed that she moved within a set pattern. When he discovered the coin, he hid it within his hand as he fought on. By doing so, he was able to bait her into moving to it, giving him a clear hit on her.
“I… No way… Even if you figured out my <World>… there was no way you could have known when I would go to that coin…”
“You’re right. That’s why it was merely a guess. I just chose the spot where it was the most likely for you to move to it.”
“Also, one more thing. The other day when you showed me all the photos you took of Maihime Tenkawa, a lot of them were shot from the right side. So I thought that your finishing move might come from the right side as well.”
He walked over to Zakuro and dropped the coin on her chest. “Remember this, and remember it well,” he continued. “Everything begins with observation.” He sheathed his sword.
Zakuro was still in shock. With her eyes even wider than before, she turned to look at him. Honestly, it was probably the first time she and Shino looked face to face.
“Ugh…” she groaned once again,” slumping her head back into the ground.
And… It’s been DECIDED!! What an upset!!! The transfer student Akira Shinomiya actually defeated one of the Divine Pillars!!! What is going on?!?!?
With that announcement, the crowd started to cheer, and Shino’s victory had been decided. With it, he was one step closer to getting rid of all of Maihime’s close associates.
At that very moment, he remembered something that Zakuro had said before the fight. He waited for her to be carried off in a stretcher before turning to Maihime in the audience.
“Tenkawa Maihime!” he shouted out.
“…? What is it?” Maihime replied solemnly. She looked very worried for Zakuro as she watched her get carried off, but she turned back to Shino.
“I won this match within five minutes… So I would also like a reward,” said Shino.
“… Huh?” Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t Maihime who was speechless. No, that voice came from Ginko, who was sitting next to her. “What are you saying?” she continued, “That was ultimately a promise between Hime-sama and Zakuro only!”
“Heh… indeed it was. If that’s the case, let me make the same request too. Tenkawa Maihime, if I win within five minutes, give me a reward.”
Maihime’s eyes widened. “Huh? If you win… but didn’t you just win?”
She wasn’t wrong, but Shino was referring to something else. He looked at the two students, Ginko and Kurisu, sitting next to her.
“Ginko Sajihara, and Kurisu Nabariya. One your fellow Pillars was defeated by a transfer student in no time at all. Are you really okay with letting it end like this?” said Shino. He waggled his finger at them, clearly telling them to bring it on.
“Shino, are you saying…”
Looking slightly confused, Ginko and Kurisu responded accordingly.
“I’m saying I’ll give you two a chance to bring some honor back to the Divine Pillars…” said Shino. “Look at my condition right now. Surely you can’t be scared to fight?”
OOOOOOOOHH? What is this? The challenger Akira Shinomiya has just challenged the Divine Pillars!!
Nobody had expected this, so both the announcer and the crowd went wild. Ginko, however, clenched her teeth together and turned towards Maihime.
“Hime-sama,” she said, bowing her head. “I have a request.”
Before she could say any more, Maihime nodded. “Sure, go for it.”
“Thanks, I’m in your debt. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but…” She took a good, hard look at Shino. “Don’t worry, I won’t lose.”
In one go, Ginko leapt down to the field. “I gotta say this first. Sorry, Shino. It’s exactly as you said. For us, the Four Divine Pillars that serve Hime-sama… We can’t have some random nobody beating us.”
She raised her right hand high up in the air, and soon, somebody threw down her specialized weapon from the audience. She quickly equipped it to her right hand— it was a plated glove that had a claw-like blade on each finger. With it on, she looked like a frightening predator.
“There’s no turning back now,” she continued. She grinned and leaned forward. “You may have just won… but I’m going to snatch that victory away from you.”
“Sure, no problem, since I’m the one who’s gonna win,” said Shino softly. Turning to Ginko, he once again prepared to unsheathe his katana.
WOOOOOOOAHHHHHH!!! To think that Ginko [Aegis] Sajihara would step to the plate first! She has accepted the challenge to avenge her fellow Pillar!!!
The announcer’s voice echoed far into the distance, and the crowd started cheering like there was no tomorrow. In contrast, Shino and Ginko silently stared at one another, trying to figure each other out. It may have been quiet on the field, but they were just as hyped as the crowd.
At that moment, Ginko suddenly transformed strangely. She roared out, trembling while her aura consumed her entire body. Her short hair shot out and extended down her back. It was safe to say that this was her battle form, as she did look like a werewolf from a horror movie.
“Sorry for the wait,” she said after she finished transforming. She ran her plated glove through her hair a few times.
“Alright, let’s do this,” said Shino.
Well then, let’s start the next, totally-not-planned, battle! Battle…. START!!!
Ginko took a breath, crouched down, and got on all fours. She didn’t seem human with her monstrous legs, and she wasn’t anything like Zakuro, where Shino had a tough time connecting his hits.
That being said, she didn’t lunge directly at Shino. Instead, she ran circles around the training ground with her metal claw dragging across the ground. Shino didn’t know what she was doing at first, but when the air got all dusty, he knew.
“Sorry about this. But it seems like it’s bad if you see me somehow,” said Ginko through the dust. From Shino’s fight with Maihime and Zakuro, she probably had a good idea of what Shino’s <World> was. The dust was a surefire way of hindering his field of vision.
The dust blew around in the air like a tornado. There was so much of it that Shino had trouble opening his eyes, so he instinctively covered his face with his left hand. Of course, there was no way that Ginko could have seen Shino as well, though he didn’t drop his guard one bit.
The other day in the landfill, Shino saw Ginko accurately pick out a single trash bag out of the countless others with her extraordinary sense of smell. With that, she could still know where Shino was just from his scent alone.
He suddenly felt a killing intent, so he shoved his katana out in front. DING! Without a moment’s notice, the sound of two metals clashing rang in his ears, and he felt the heaviness of the blow through his katana. As he expected, Ginko knew exactly where he was. At this rate, it was only a matter of time before he was finished.
However, he didn’t have a set plan to counter this. He could always just bait her close to get a glimpse of her, but a solid defense did seem like the better option. Besides, going into a battle of speed with a monster like her was way too risky.
After a few seconds of silence, an idea popped into his head. He could not guarantee that it would go well, but he didn’t have any other choice. He resheathed his katana and as usual, took a stance that would allow him to quickly draw it out again. This time, however, he reached into his shirt pocket and closed his eyes.
With his eyes closed, he was able to concentrate on trying to sense where Ginko was. “Oh!” he said after a few seconds of searching. He sensed Ginko’s presence once again, and at the same time, he pulled that out of his pocket.
That… meaning Maihime’s sock.
“What the…?” Ginko was coming in close on Shino, but this made her stop right in her tracks.
He didn’t let this precious opportunity slip by. Opening his eyes, he drew his sword out and slammed his katana down on her head. Ginko cried out in pain— it was a direct hit.
A few moments later, the dust settled, and the audience was able to see her collapsed on the ground.
WHAT???What is going on??? I can’t believe this!! What happened in the midst of all that dust? Did Akira Shinomiya really take down another Divine Pillar???
Despite the speaker’s high intensity, the announcer spoke with such a shaky voice. Shino, on the other hand, didn’t speak at all as he put the sock back into his front pocket. There was one more Divine Pillar left, Kurisu Nabariya, and she was calmly sitting down with a smile.
“Well then,” said Shino, “That’s two down for me. Are you gonna come down here too?”
Kurisu covered her mouth as she laughed. “I guess so. It’s a shame but I’m going to have to pass. I don’t even like the way Zaku and Gin fight, you know? Plus—” she said, running a finger across her lip. “If I screw around too much, the last Divine Pillar will probably get mad.”
“The last one…?”
“Yeah. She’s known as the [Princess Road]. As the name suggests, she helps guide Hime-sama’s every move. She even has huge influence over her from the shadows.”
“What did you say?” Shino darted his eyes at her. Influence over Maihime Tenkawa… Those were words that he absolutely couldn’t ignore. After all, no matter how much investigating he did, he couldn’t find enough information that warranted Maihime’s assassination. If there was someone controlling her from the shadows, then there was a chance that the Administration Bureau screwed up again…
As he was thinking that, a glasses wearing girl was pushing her way through the crowd. “Kurisu!” she said, coming up to her side.
“Ah, Ao! You’re late.”
“Don’t ‘you’re late’ me…” she said, sighing. “What’s going on here?”
Looking at the glasses girl, Shino raised his eyebrows inquisitively. He had a feeling that he had met this girl before… No, he certainly did. She was the girl he had taken captive a while back, the girl that was forced to become Hotaru’s “friend.”
“Ughh…” she continued. “Everyone suddenly asked me to do a bunch of work, so I had a bad feeling about that…”
Kurisu giggled. “I’m sorry, I guess I really am interested in this transfer student… Ah! Yes, yes,” she said, taking Aoi’s hand and turning back to Shino. “I should probably introduce her. This is Aoi Yaegaki, the last of the Divine Pillars, nicknamed [Princess Road].”
“Huh?” Shino stared back blankly. Once before he was able to sneak up behind her and take her away. She didn’t seem to be stronger than either Zakuro or Ginko.
“Please stop with that nickname, Kurisu…”
“Why? It doesn’t seem too bad. I mean, it is pretty cool right?”
“Aoi Yaegaki,” interrupted Shino.
Aoi shuttered a bit upon hearing her name. “Y-Yes? What is it?”
“Is it true about you being the last Divine Pillar?”
“Hmm, how should I put it… Yes, I guess? Well, it happened before I knew it,” she said inarticulately.
Shino looked at her confusingly. “So you are the influencer behind-the-scenes.”
“Behind-the-scenes? I mean, no one else wanted to do this work…”
“[Princess Road],” said Shino, “and you guide Maihime Tenkawa’s every move.”
“If by ‘every move’ you mean her schedule, then yes, I do.”
Shino didn’t respond immediately. He took a few moments to sort out all the information he had just received.
“Aoi Yaegaki,” he said again.
“I feel your pain.”
“Thanks…” she responded. She sounded extremely tired, but managed to crack a smile.
“Speaking of which,” said Shino as he turned to Maihime. “Since there is no one else to challenge me, I’m going to need you to fulfill your end of the promise!”
Maihime shivered. Despite squealing at first, she quickly gave in. “Alright, I’ll do it… A lap pillow with me patting your head, right?”
“Actually no. That was Otonashi’s request,” said Shino. “Mine is a bit different.”
“Huh? Then what is it?” she said warily.
Shino stared straight at her and began to speak. “This Sunday, how about having you go out with me?”
“Say what?” Maihime didn’t know what to think of this.
The same could be said for the students around her. Their eyes widened as they quietly watched the situation unfold.
“So… that means…” she continued.
“A date?” interrupted Aoi. She had sweat running down her face.
Shino did a small nod. It wasn’t exactly a date, but correcting them on it seemed like a real pain to do, so he just said, “Yeah…. Sure.”
There was a standstill right after he said that. Nobody, including the audience, said a word. But, that silence did not last long.
“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?” shouted literally everyone in the arena. Out of all the yells that had been heard here so far, this one was perhaps the loudest.