Chapter 4: An Unavoidable Battle.
If there was one fate worse than death in this world, it wouldn’t be a lifetime of physical pain, but rather a lifetime of boredom.
Kurisu Nabariya had that exact fate in her plain old jail cell. She was wearing the standard Kanagawa white uniform, but her skirt was all wrinkled since she continuously slept in them.
She did have plenty of time to sleep, even more than what she needed, but she still felt so tired. Perhaps it was because she had nothing to do. Even her blonde hair and her white skin looked lackluster, presumably from her degrading mental state.
She was currently held up in Kanagawa’s detention center. Her eight square meter room consisted only of a simple bed and a toilet, and for a window all she got was a tiny slit near the ceiling. Of course, every exit point was protected with metal bars as a precaution.
An extremely necessary precaution, as it turned out to be. After all, Kurisu was a spy sent from Tokyo who plotted Maihime’s kidnapping after purposefully waiting for an [Unknown] attack. While both Tokyo, Kanagawa, and even Chiba for that matter all strove to protect Japan from the [Unknowns], they were rivals trying to one up one another. Maihime, unsurprisingly, had the most rivals. People weren’t fond of her taking the top rankings while still refusing to go inland.
Kurisu and many other top Tokyo members were branded as traitors from the whole ordeal. The Administration Bureau contemplated heavily on what to do with the criminals so that such a thing would never happen again and launched a full investigation. There was the possibility that even the Tokyo head had already been arrested, seeing that’s who Kurisu had been receiving her orders from. Despite that, Kurisu didn’t really blame anyone else for what happened. She took responsibility for her own actions and her inadequacy.
She sighed. “Even so…”.
It was boring. She would be here until the Bureau decided what to do with her, but there just wasn’t anything to do. While her Tokyo conspirators were also in the same detention center, they were housed in different areas to prevent them from communicating with each other. She tried yelling at them a few times only to be greeted by her own echo.
The only human interaction she’s had is with the guard that gave her food three times a day. If this continued for a few weeks longer, she would be so bored for so long that she could very well fall in love with him. Humans might not know this from their day to day life, but by nature they craved social interaction. Perhaps that was why some criminals enjoyed being interrogated.
Kurisu’s [World] was a [World] of deception by messing with what others perceived as objects. She could have probably escaped from here if she had kept her [World] a secret, though it was too late now. There was a time when she made herself invisible to the guard during mealtime, but the guard ignored it and dropped the food down as always. By now everyone must have known her powers so she couldn’t pull any fast ones on the guard.
She stopped making herself disappear because doing so took away precious conversation time with the guard.
One day, she heard the usual footsteps come to her cell, but this time was different because it seemed a little early to get her meal. Could the guard have fallen for her first? She shrugged— that couldn’t have been it. More than likely her punishment had been decided and she would be transported to the Bureau or something along those lines. She could do nothing but stare at the door and wait for her fate.
The door that had not once been opened since her internment unlocked and creaked open, revealing a girl on the other end.
“Huh?” Kurisu stared suspiciously at her. It obviously wasn’t the prison guard, nor was it anyone from the Bureau. No, it was another student from the same school.
She had to take a few moments to remember who she was, seeing that she had seen her before. She recalled it was the same girl that snuck into Maihime’s room with Shino. If she remembered correctly, her name was Rindou Hotaru.
“Why’re you here? Maybe you’re from the Administration Bureau?”
Hotaru snickered. “Wow you’re sharp, but you’re neither right nor wrong. I didn’t come here for that.”
“Then for what?”
“Well I was just thinking maybe I’ll bust you out of here.”
“You’ll do what?” Kurisu narrowed her eyes. “That’s fine by me, but why? What’re you trying to do? What do you want me to do?”
Kurisu would do anything to break out, but Hotaru’s tone sounded too suspicious. Besides, the whole timing was just too convenient. It was a huge risk to break her out, and there was always the possibility that this was just a way to kill her from the shadows.
But Hotaru just smiled patiently. “I’m not trying to do anything!” she said, extending her hand out. “After all, aren’t we friends?”
“Is it done yet?” asked Maihime.
“Not yet, please be patient just a bit more,” said a boy sitting next to her.
Maihime was too eager to sit in her assigned seat as she stared at the big machine doing its thing. She, along with many other members of the engineering team, were currently at the specialized weapon factory, dubbed “The Workshop”. Even Koujou Teppei, the head of the engineering team, was present.
He was a monster of human, coming in at almost three times Maihime’s size. Although he was just eighteen years old, he looked to be in his thirties with his unkempt beard, his stout chin, and his ruffled hair. It was as if he was the child of both a giant and a dwarf.
“To think someone’s getting a weapon personally made by Maihime,” he said, “with the top of the line Magisteel as well. Who is this lucky guy?”
“It’s not for a guy. Shino’s a girl.”
“Oh, my bad. Shino, huh…” he said, scratching his head with his big burly arms. “Isn’t she the newest Divine Pillar?”
“Yup, that’s her! She’s so strong!”
“She was the one in the mock battle, then. Wasn’t that a boy?”
The other engineering students chuckled when he said that.
“How far behind the times are you?” one of them snickered. “Last week it was all over the news: Akira Shinomiya is actually a girl! The newspaper even printed a special edition for that very thing.”
“Oh really?” He sighed. “So that makes her second person who could use pure Magisteel. I’m disappointed in the boys, not one of them can wield it. Including me, I guess.”
He took a moment to pat Maihime’s head before continuing. “Seriously. She’s fighting her heart out against those monsters and we’re all just hiding behind her within the safety of the city…”
“That’s not true! Without you guys, there would be no weapons to fight with. The only difference between those who fight in the front lines and those who support from the back are the different [Worlds] we saw! We all gotta play to our strengths. That’s the only way we can keep this city safe.”
“Alright alright,” said Koujou, patting Maihime’s head once again. “You’re naive as always.”
“Ow…” Maihime stepped away and fixed up her hair once again. “Jeez…” she said with a pout. “You always pat too hard…”
“Hearing that from you, Kanto’s strongest, is an honor,” he replied. He turned to the machine which had been slowly making more and more noise. “Seems like its just about done….”
Maihime’s eyes grew wide. “Really?”
She moved in to take a closer look, but was promptly pulled back my Koujou.
“That’s dangerous. Please wait a little longer.”
She took a closer look at the machine. It was actually kind of like a coffin, but it was used to create the cartridges used for the specialized weapons. In addition, with the help of Koujou and the rest of his team, Maihime was able to forge and polish Shino’s new weapon. Once the cartridges were added on by the machine, the weapon would be finished.
Soon, the lamp on the machine switched from red to green as it gave off a beep.
“Nice,” said Koujou, walking up to the machine. Once he turned the knob, the machine completely opened up with a bunch of steam that filled the room.
“You can come on over now,” said Koujou.
Maihime nodded and peered into the machine. Even though it was a mostly black blade with a black hilt, it was somehow glistening under the light. Perhaps it was because its cross guard was gold in the shape of a butterfly. Or maybe it was because the blade itself had an intricately designed gold pattern on it. In any case, it was certainly no ordinary blade. It was literally one of a kind.
The blade itself was straight and narrow while the handle was illuminated by a green cartridge.
“Wow….” Maihime said instinctively. She was deeply involved in making it, but even she was still surprised by the finished product.
Koujou took a sigh of relief. “Everything worked out nicely,” he said, stroking his chin once again. “This blade needs a name, huh…”
“Yes it does!”
“So what’s it name?”
Maihime giggled. “I’m not gonna tell you just yet! The owner should be the first to know, right?”
“Ah, you’re absolutely right.”
He chuckled and took the sword, along with its beautifully crafted sheath, and handed it to Maihime.
“Go ahead and sheath it too,” he said. “We can’t have you going around with an open blade.”
“Got it, thanks!”
Maihime rested her hand on the blunt side of the blade and smoothly slid it right into the sheath. Not only was the sheath a perfect fit, it made a satisfying metallic sound as well.
“Let’s hope Shino will like it, Maihime.”
She could do nothing but nod to that with a smile that went from ear to ear.
Shino was sitting down with her eyes fixated on her cell phone in the middle of her own room. She was staring so intently at the screen she wasn’t even moving a muscle, but she just couldn’t figure things out.
It had been about an hour since she’s been like this. For someone who valued time and efficiency, this was a rare moment for her.
There was a good reason why: Displayed on her screen was the login page for her backdoor communications with the Bureau. Normally, these communication lines would only be opened if she was about to die or another event of that magnitude, but she knew she had to do this.
As an agent, she swore an oath to never return until her mission was over, but this time she had to ask why.
She threw her cell phone on the table and stood up. Her arms and legs were getting sore after sitting down for so long, so she took a trip to the kitchen and got a bottle of water from her refrigerator. She was more thirsty than she thought after finishing the whole bottle in one gulp before returning back to her room.
On the way back, she took a good hard look at the schoolgirl uniform she was now wearing through the reflection of her own window. Everyone found out her true gender last week, so Maihime graciously sent her some female uniforms to wear. Shino didn’t mind continuing wearing her male uniforms, but Ginko and Zakuro would go crazy if they found out she wasn’t wearing the ones Maihime gave her personally. Plus, since literally everyone in the city knew by now, there wasn’t a point in hiding it any more.
She was wearing thick tights because she never got used to the skirt by itself, and she was sporting the same ponytail style Maihime insisted she have. With all this in mind, she felt like Maihime had taken over her body without her realizing. No, perhaps it was her who had been taken in by Maihime’s kindness before she realized it.
Shino didn’t want to admit it, but she had grown fond of Maihime’s strength, sense of justice, and straightforwardness. It was the first time in her life she felt this way towards another person, much less a person she was supposed to kill.
She didn’t want to kill her, but she knew full well it could be because of her bias towards her. One of the worst things an assassin could do was to grow attached to the target. In fact, it was bad for her to think on her own rather than following orders. She should be thinking about ways to carry out the mission and not on anything else.
Despite all those rules drilled into her head, she couldn’t help but question the motive. Why would they want to kill a girl like her?”
Shino grabbed her phone and opened the communication lines with a deep breath. Half a minute later, her phone beeped and a voice answered.
“This is Kanaya. Did something happen?”
The person who was on the line was Shino’s direct superior, Kanaya Hisahide, who answered in the calmest voice she had heard in a while.
Shino took a deep breath to compose herself before answer. “Yes. There’s something I would like to ask.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about the reason behind Tenkawa Maihime’s assassination order. From what I’ve seen so far, she isn’t a target that needs to be taken care of. Why is this mission necessary?”
“What? Do you realize what you’re saying?” replied Kanaya in a soft but commanding voice. “I told you already, that is classified information.”
“I understand that. I was just exploring the possibility of another way of handling this.”
“That’s enough. You must have your reasons for saying that, but Tenkawa Maihime has to die. Other plans like removing her as the head, jailing her, or deporting her back inland won’t work. Her very existence is troublesome. That’s it. You aren’t questioning the decision made by the Bureau, are you?”
“No, of course not,” Shino replied, sweating. “But—”
Before Shino could say any more, her room door suddenly slammed open.
It was Hotaru, the only other person who had the key to her room. She smiled like she knew exactly what was going on, but stomped her way to Shino and yanked the phone right out of her hands.
“This is Rindou… Yes… Yes. Everything is fine. The mission will be completely soon. Yes… Bye.”
She immediately hung up the phone and tossed it to Shino.
“Shino…” she said in a tone that sent chills down Shino’s spine. “What are you doing? Why’re you contacting Kanaya?”
“I…” Shino wanted to say her side of the story, but didn’t after thinking about it. After all, she was in the wrong, not Hotaru. She knew she wasn’t thinking straight right now.
“What’s going on with you? You’re acting strange. Why’re so concerned with that girl? She’s just someone who’s about to die soon, right? We stalk her, kill her, and that’s it. Are you not satisfied with that? Besides… ”
“Hotaru?” interrupted Shino. She wasn’t used to hearing Hotaru ramble on and on like this.
The situation wasn’t normal, so she understood why Hotaru wasn’t acting the way she did. They were supposed to do this mission together, but now Shino was questioning the mission and even trying to stop it by appealing directly to their superior. It wouldn’t even be surprising if the Bureau had her killed for that, and if they did, Hotaru would probably be killed as well by association. She certainly did not want that to happen.
“You wanna know the reason?” Hotaru continued ranting. “Well, we don’t need to. As long as the Bureau okays it, isn’t that good enough? You keep asking why we have to kill her, but what reasons do you have for keeping her alive? Why are you so intent on going against the Bureau and siding with her?”
“I….” Shino’s voice dropped off.
She could think of many reasons why Maihime was essential to the city off the top of her head. Certainly, she was strong and was the backbone of the city. The city —even the country— would have a hard time filling her shoes if she was gone.
Despite that, the Bureau determined that she had to die. This wasn’t a decision an agent like Shino could overturn easily, too. The bigger the target, the bigger the fallback. If that decision turned out to be wrong, the country may never recover from the consequences.
“Let me ask you once again, Shino. What are we doing here? What’s your mission?” asked Hotaru.
In her usual high spirits, Maihime was cheerfully humming a song she couldn’t remember the lyrics to as she made her way down her dorm hall.
She was wearing her classic uniform and overcoat, but in her hands was something she never had before. Indeed, it was soon to be Shino’s new blade.
“Hehehe, she’ll definitely be happy about this!”
Maihime couldn’t wait another second to deliver the blade after she took it from the workshop, so she headed straight to Shino’s place.
Maihime suddenly stopped in front of Shino’s room. She could hear some faint chatter on the other side of her door. She certainly didn’t feel comfortable eavesdropping, so she went for a knock on Shino’s door.
Before she was able to, she was able to pick up some words that stopped her straight in her tracks. Shino was talking to someone and somehow Maihime’s name came up in their conversation.
“My name….?” she thought to herself. She didn’t like it, but she pressed her ear to the door and listened in.
“…. kill Tenkawa Maihime,” Shino said softly.
“That’s right. That’s our mission. Nothing else.”
“I know that already.”
“You knew? Then what were you doing for the past week? You let her know your true gender, you wore the clothes she gave you, and you even let her choose your hairstyle! Are these things all part of the plan?”
Shino couldn’t respond. Hotaru’s words were just making her more and more distressed.
Hotaru leaned in on Shino and gave her a pat. “Hey, listen. Where did the real Shino go? The cool, calm, and collected Shino who was ruthless in carrying out missions. You certainly aren’t her… Kill Maihime, and return to your true self.”
Her voice had a tint of sorrow in it to appeal to Shino’s emotions.
“Okay.” Shino sighed and pushed Hotaru’s hand away. “I know…”
Shino struggled to say even those words. She didn’t feel like she was being herself.
“Wait, whose there?!” Shino suddenly shouted. She heard a faint noise through her door and immediately ran to it and slammed it open.
Yet she saw no one else.
“What’s going on, Shino?”
“No, I just thought I heard something outside,” said Shino. She took another good look around before closing her door once again. “In any case, there’s nothing more to discuss. I got it. I will do the mission, but I will decide when I carry it out.”
“Okay…. Fine. But if you drag it on too much longer, I’m gonna do it myself.”
Hotaru grinned. “Hey, I’m an agent too, you know.”
In a random area behind Shino’s dormitory, Maihime had to calm herself down against a wall. Her heart was pounding hard, her face dripped with sweat, and her lungs felt like they were about to explode. Of course, it wasn’t like she was out of breath from running for a bit. No, she just didn’t know how to react after hearing what she heard in Shino’s room.
Shino came here to kill me?
She didn’t understand what was going on. Not one bit. She slid down the wall slowly with the blade still in her hands until she hit the ground. No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t grasp the situation. Instead, the more she thought about it, the more depressed she became.
Shino’s transfer. Her mock battle. The first date. The battle with the Triton-class [Unknown]. Now they were all tainted memories, memories that now haunted her by having death lurk around the corner.
No, no, no. Maihime bit down hard on her teeth and shook her head.
With a big gasp of air, she slammed her face into the wall and screamed the loudest she had ever screamed. Her slam was so powerful the wall cracked, and her scream was so loud even the dormitory itself was shaking. She could hear some of the students open their window to see what was going on.
Somehow that got her more motivated than ever. Now wasn’t the time to worry— it was never the time to. She wasn’t the type of person to wait until everything magically became clear to her. Instead, she would be the one to seek the truth.
Besides, what she ultimately heard was just from eavesdropping. There was always the possibility that she just misheard or simply got the wrong context for everything.
She couldn’t jump to any conclusions before directly asking Shino herself. She could have gone through this the stealthy way and tried to pry information from Shino bit by bit, but that just wasn’t her style. She never dealt with things strategically, but rather face them head on no matter what it was. She had her pride on the line as the strongest in Kanto.
She pulled out her cell phone and started writing her text. If everything was just a misunderstanding, then it was all good. She would apologize and give Shino the blade. On the other hand, if what she heard was true…
She took a deep breath before sending the message.
A few minutes after Hotaru had left, Shino felt her phone ring in her pocket. This came as a surprise to her since there were very few people who knew her number. She thought of Hotaru’s words earlier and got anxious.
Luckily, it was from Maihime. She remembered that they had shared IDs during her induction meeting to the Four Pillars.
“I wonder what she wants…” she said to herself, opening the message and taking a quick peek.
What is this…
The outskirts of the city were a far cry away from the city. Rough winds ran unhinged between the ruins, causing dust to stick to Shino’s uniform. That, combined with the fact that she had to tread carefully through the broken down road made for a very unpleasant experience. One couldn’t even call it a road anymore— only markers were there to show where the road should be.
Around her were the remnants of what was once a city. If buildings had a graveyard, this place would be it. What was once a bustling city now reeked of death. Even the so called “park” here didn’t fare much better.
Believe it or not, this place was once called the Kanagawa prefecture, the area furthest from the inland. Behind her were the walls that marked the city of Kanagawa, and in front lay a vast, but bleak horizon.
Shino was here not because she liked walking these desolate ruins, but rather because Maihime called her out here yesterday with a text message. The message was short and concise: to come here the next day during a specified time. Despite replying and asking her why, Shino didn’t get any more messages from her so she had to come here without knowing what was going on.
“Where are you, Tenkawa?” Shino shouted out, his voice echoing in the distance. There wasn’t anyone in sight.
After a minute, Shino heard a rock crumble to the ground. Turning around, she could tell it was Maihime.
“Hey,” greeted Shino, walking up to her..
“Shino.” Maihime replied softly.
Shino was taken aback. This wasn’t the Maihime she knew.
“Why did you call me out here?”
“Shino, I have something to ask you.”
Maihime nodded. “Did you come here to kill me?”
Shino instinctively held her breath. She didn’t know how to respond, but did all she could in acting like it was no big deal.
With a calm voice, she said, “What are you saying?”
Maihime was unfazed. Her gaze was so powerful it felt like she could see right through Shino, so she remained silent. She wondered how Maihime could have ever known in the first place. Sure, Maihime had her doubts about her, but to pinpoint assassination… Now that shouldn’t have happened.
If that was the case, then this was just another one of Maihime’s tricks to get information out of her. Surely that was why she confronted her.
No, Shino quickly discarded that thought. Just the look in her eyes told Shino that she wasn’t playing around.
At that moment, she thought of something. Yesterday, when she was talking with Hotaru in her room, she did hear a suspicious noise, and everything would make sense if that turned out to be Maihime. After all, Maihime felt like a different person compared to the last time she saw her.
“No way….” she whispered.
She went one step further. What if it was Hotaru who purposely made Maihime listen in? She would then create a divide between the two which would clearly benefit her.
No, that was too far fetched. Besides, now wasn’t the time to think of how Maihime came across this information. She had to respond properly first. On initial thought, the best course of action was to feign ignorance. If Shino didn’t divulge any information, then Maihime couldn’t verify her suspicions.
That being said, there was the possibility that she knew everything already. Perhaps the other Divine Pillars were hiding in the ruins around them. If that was the case, then there wouldn’t be any point in confessing now.
However, if that wasn’t the case, then Shino had to avoid a confession at all costs. So, playing dumb was by far the best course of action.
But that wasn’t what she did.
“If I said yes, what’re you gonna do?”
It was the last thing she should have said, but she said it anyways.
She wondered why she said such a thing. She just couldn’t lie to Maihime, especially not with the stare she was giving her right now. And, if she couldn’t lie right now, she had to dart around the truth.
“I see…” Maihime whispered back. There wasn’t so much a hint of shock in her. In fact, she seemed ready to face the truth no matter what it was.
Maihime slowly brought out a katana under her big overcoat with her left hand. Seeing this, Shino instinctively grabbed her katana as well, but soon realized that Maihime wasn’t using the enormous slab of metal she usually used.
While Shino was wondering why she would suddenly swap to a different weapon, Maihime tossed the katana over to her side.
“What? Why?” said Shino as she caught it. She took a look at it suspiciously and realized it was another specialized weapon. After unsheathing it, she couldn’t help but notice the black blade that somehow sparkled in the sun.
One look was all she needed to know that this was no ordinary blade. The sharpness of it alone made her current one feel like a butter knife.
“Use that. You won’t be able to fight properly with that standard-issued one, right?”
She pulled out her very own giant blade that Shino was initially expecting from under her overcoat before saying a few more words.
“I won’t ask you the reason— you probably wouldn’t even tell me anyways. But if you want my head, fight me right here and now.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I… If you really came here to kill me, I’ve been thinking about what to do about it… And I came to one conclusion.”
“I… I like you,” replied Maihime sincerely. “Ah, but not in that way.”
Shino stayed silent.
“When I’m with you I have so much fun. When I fight with you I feel so relieved. When you’re happy, I’m happy. Those are my feelings whether you want to kill me or not. That’s even how I feel now,” she said, pointing her blade at Shino. “That will never change. So, I’ll make this easy for you to understand. If you win, you can take my head. But if I win, you’re mine.”
“W-What are you saying, Tenkawa?”
A single drop of sweat rolled down her cheek. She certainly did not expect Maihime to say that.
“I’m ready to bet my life on this. Unless… you don’t think you can win against me fair and square?”
Shino sighed at Maihime’s obvious provocation, but she would be in a really bad spot if she were to back away now. Now that Maihime knew everything, it was only a matter of time before everyone else knew, and that could lead to Shino getting arrested just like that. Once arrested, she would probably be sent back to the Bureau if it was ever revealed that they were the ones who sent her, but it wasn’t hard to imagine the punishment she’d get for screwing up, especially since she had so many chances to do it.
Shino couldn’t feel any bad blood coming from Maihime. With another sigh, she threw her old katana on the ground and held out her new one, taking a step forward into her usual battle stance.
There was nothing she could do now to change the situation, so Shino had no choice but to kill her.
In front of her stood the strongest fighter she had ever known, but she was prepared to accept whatever outcome this battle would have. This was the least she could do to honor Maihime’s resolve.
Maihime disappeared from her sight upon hearing that, leaving a trail of dust where she once was. She came face to face with Shino in the blink of an eye, ready to smash her to bits.
Despite that, Shino didn’t even flinch. She would certainly be scared if this was their first meeting, but it wasn’t. She knew everything about her after observing her for so long. This not only included everything about her daily life, but her fighting style as well, all the way down to the little habits she had when she moved. Shino knew what movements Maihime would do even before she herself knew. As such, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that right now Shino knew Maihime better than she did herself.
That’s why Shino didn’t falter— she had anticipated Maihime’s every move. Shino’s natural instincts were to back away, especially seeing Maihime suddenly pop out in front her, but she knew better than to do that. Had she done that, Maihime would unleash a fury of strikes no human could withstand and she would be done for.
Shino crouched down to her right and sidestepped Maihime’s first strike, all while drawing her own blade out. Of course, she had no intention of brute forcing her way to victory, since her arm would be long gone before she could ever do anything.
Shino raised her eyebrows in astonishment. “Wow…” she thought to herself. She wasn’t surprised by Maihime’s first strike, but rather the very katana she was holding.
Now that she was holding the katana, she knew she had underestimated it initially. The hilt itself seemed to fuse with her hand, giving her absolute control over the entire thing. She felt like the katana itself was specially made for her, and the sharpness was nothing to scoff at either.
Now wasn’t the time to be amazed, though. Maihime had predicted Shino’s sidestep and did one of her own, ending it with another swing at an awkward, yet effective angle.
“Wow! Hahahaha!” laughed Maihime in the middle of her strike. “You’re amazing, Shino! You’re so damn strong!”
Shino barely managed to defend herself by redirecting Maihime’s monstrous power off to the side.
“This…. this feeling! I’ve never felt this before! I need you, Shino! I want you!”
“Stop screwing around.”
“I’m not!” Maihime shouted back, throwing more strikes at Shino. “I like you! No, I love you! I love you a lot! Please, please be by my side and fight with me! Together we can protect this city! Together, we’ll be the strongest!”
Despite getting annoyed at Maihime not taking this seriously, Shino didn’t have any more time to respond. She had to spend all her concentration on deflecting Maihime’s repeated blows, but during the third or fourth strike Shino found a good opportunity to counterattack, looking Maihime straight in the face and putting all her power into a strike of her own. Her own blade resonated as if it was inspired by all the power she was suddenly putting into it, sending an invisible slash directly to Maihime’s face.
She knew full well that this attack wouldn’t be enough to defeat her, but it wasn’t like she could let the opportunity go either. So, just as Maihime was about to talk again, an invisible slash went right through her mouth, but unexpectedly she stopped it with only her teeth.
Even for Maihime this was unexpected. Shino’s [World] slash wasn’t a guaranteed hit and could be countered, but it was invisible. Even so, Shino moved in for a physical slash this time.
She suddenly stopped as she saw that Maihime had already brought up her sword and was ready for a full powered strike.
“Damn!” She immediately released her [World] and leapt to the left.
Once Maihime brought down her sword, the whole area blew up under her in a flash of light. Shino would have been done for had she stayed even one second longer. The ground took the brunt of her attack instead, ripping even the rocks to shreds.
Shino had evaded far enough that Maihime couldn’t follow up with another attack, so she had the time to look at the destruction caused by only one of her blows.
“As always you have some disgusting strength, Tenkawa. What kind of [World] did you see?”
Maihime’s eyes widened. “Huh?”
Shino said that not to get a response from her, but to distract her enough to take her out of the zone. She had to be extremely naive to think that any opponent would be foolish enough to stop the battle and explain his or her powers just because she asked.
But that’s exactly what Maihime did.
“[Worlds]… huh?” she said. “These were the things we saw during our cold sleeps, right? If that’s the case, I didn’t see anything particularly special.”
She was completely unaware Shino did that to stall the battle and answered truthfully.
“The [World] I saw…” she continued, “was a happy [World]. A peaceful [World] where my Dad, Mom, Hotaru, and me lived happily ever after.
Shino had never heard of such a detailed [World] in her life, but Maihime didn’t seem like she was lying. Besides, Maihime’s powers seemed to come from her manifestation of her aura into the real world and nothing else. She didn’t have anything special like Zakuro’s teleportation or Ginko’s keen sense of smell. It was just the clean conversion of her [World] to brute strength.
“What about you, Shino?” grinned Maihime. Perhaps she knew Shino’s plan all along.
“Yeah, you’re [World]. It’s not fair if I’m the only one talking, right? What did you dream about?”
Shino stayed quiet for a few moments before speaking again.
“I’m not such an idiot to reveal that in a battle.”
Maihime pouted. “Wow, you were the one who asked me!”
Tsk. It wasn’t like Shino had anything to hide for strategic reasons. Shino couldn’t remember a single thing in her cold sleep. If she tried to think about it, the mysterious headaches would appear again.
She wondered what kind of [World] she had to see to be able to touch anything in her sight. More importantly, she wondered why she had never questioned it. It was as if every time she was curious about the [World] she saw, something in her head would unconsciously direct her thoughts to something else.
Despite that, now that she was thinking about it, one question turned to ten other ones, and those ten questions she had about herself gave rise to a creepy feeling in her head.
“What’s going on? I’m…” she couldn’t finish her words. Now wasn’t the time to be bothered about such things. The thing she should be focusing on was this battle, since a single mistake could cost her her life.
The two got into their battle stances, and like last time Maihime jumped at her to initiate the fight. Shino was also able to again dodge the shots coming her way, but she knew that she couldn’t keep this up.
Now was the time to use Maihime’s own power against her. As Maihime slammed her sword down the next time, Shino used her katana to stop the blow, but immediately pivoted so that she could use that power to jump away from her.
In a flash, Shino brought out her [World] once again, bringing the whole area into her vision. This time, however, she wasn’t looking at Maihime. Instead, she was focusing on the glass in the run down buildings behind her as she finally unleashed her first art with a swing of her sword.
An invisible slash ran through the glass, shattering it and sending its pieces down to Maihime.
“W-Woah!” shouted Maihime, running forward to dodge everything.
Shino knew all to well that something like that wouldn’t even scratch her, but it was necessary for her to follow up with her actual attack. This time, instead of just focusing on Maihime in her sights, she also looked through the million pieces of glass around her that all had her reflection.
And then she swung her second art, with even more power this time.
In an incredible display of superhuman reaction time, Maihime immediately spun around with her sword. She must have felt the flurry of attacks coming even though she couldn’t see them.
There was also a time where Maihime was able to defend against this very move, but this time Shino struck in places she couldn’t possibly defend against, made possible by all the data she gathered about her.
A 360 degree invisible barrage of strikes. Even if Maihime was the strongest, there was no possible way she could defend against them all no matter how hard she tried. With a few grunts here and there mixed with the constant sound of two metals hitting each other, Maihime danced and parried her way out of it.
As expected, even she couldn’t get out unscathed, as seen by blood dripping down her arm.
Seeing Maihime hurt like that almost made Shino cry out for her, but she did everything in her power to not let that happen. She just couldn’t understand why she shuddered at the sight of Maihime hurt even if she was the one who caused it.
Unfortunately, that didn’t go unnoticed by Maihime. She strenuously caught her breath and closed in on Shino in an instant, ready to lay down the hammer once again.
“You’re such a nice person, Shino, but is this really the time to be worried about others?”
She slammed her sword down on her.
Shino went to block it, but she was a step too late. She wasn’t composed enough to fight at her best, so her senses were dulled.
As the sword got closer, the massive aura behind it began to suffocate Shino. Her life flashed before her eyes until she only saw the image of death. Even her body unconsciously tightened up to prepare for her inevitable end.
Yet Maihime’ sword grazed by her hair and struck the ground beside her. The ground rattled as if it screamed out in pain while the resulting shockwave blasted Shino away.
Once Shino realized she was still alive, she knew instantly that Maihime shouldn’t have missed that attack. She missed on purpose.
“Ugh!!” Shino cried out in anger. The feelings she had for Maihime mixed with the raw emotion she felt being disrespected like and that made her go crazy.
Maihime’s missed attack created a small opening for Shino to counterattack, so counterattack she did. She took a step inwards slammed her shoulder into Maihime with every last ounce of strength she had left, knocking her down onto the ground.
As strong as Maihime was, she still had the frame of a small girl. An attack like that that caught her off guard could easily knock her down.
“Ahhhhhhh!” Shino immediately jumped on top of her, reached for her katana, and placed it right at her throat, ready to slice it at a moment’s notice.
But… she couldn’t do it. Instead, she barely scratched the surface of Maihime’s neck as she stabbed her katana into the ground.
A rare moment of peace resulted as the two caught their breath. Just as Maihime had purposely missed her attack, Shino had done the same. The two were now so close to each other they felt each other’s breaths, but didn’t exchange a single word, opting to just stare at each other.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Unbeknownst to her, Shino started to cry the more she stared at Maihime’s adorable face. What was going on?
“Huh? What is this…?”
She didn’t realize she was crying at first, but immediately covered her eyes when she did. Why was she crying? She slowly stood up, trembling, and ran away.
Maihime got up and called out to her, but Shino didn’t turn back. For some reason she just couldn’t stand being in front of her right now, so she had no choice but to run away.