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Kurono states that Ikki won versus her

With that realization, her feelings turned gloomy. It seemed her hope wouldn't come true. She'd been beaten, and beaten so completely she could make no excuse for her loss.

"…Haa. I thought I had forgotten it long ago. Losing… certainly does feel like this."

"Well, you shouldn't let it bother you that much. Handicaps aside, Kurogane is a guy who even won a straight fight against me. He's not someone you could defeat as you are now."

"Winning against 'World Clock', the former top third in the world… what the heck is that?"

There was a limit to being a monster.

Ittou Shura

While swinging her sword of light, Stella made this protest. A release of magic power that could be seen by the naked eye, and then movements that couldn't? Such things weren't caused just by doubling physical attributes. Even if she was only talking about physical power, Ikki's had surely jumped more than ten-fold.

Ikki, still moving around like a windstorm while dodging Stella's sword, gave a small and boastful laugh at what she was pointing out.

"That's true, but I'm not using my ability the normal way. Instead, I'm using it at full power."

"Huh!? There's no way you would improve like this just because of enthusiasm!"

"No… I wasn't talking about enthusiasm, but the literal meaning."

"Eh…?"

"I've been thinking about this for a long time. Let's say you were to sprint a hundred meters after saying that you'll do it at full power. Even if you did as you intended, you'll still have spare energy afterward. I thought that was strange. If you really ran while using all of your strength, shouldn't it be weird to even stay conscious afterwards?"

How could that happen? The answer was because humans are alive, and living creatures instinctively want to preserve their lives, their instincts give top priority to survival. No matter how much a person pledges to use his full strength, his subconscious would never allow it. Even if he expends all energy, some amount would still remain so that his body continues to function. This limitation was hardwired into living biology.

Because of that limitation, humans didn't normally use even half of their stamina, strength, or magic power. It was an absolute rule.

But what if someone could break that absolute rule? What if someone, using willpower alone, could remove the limiter that keeps him from exerting his full strength?

"You… you don't mean―!"

"Yes. My magic power hasn't increased. I'm just tapping into power I couldn't before, after willfully exceeding my limitations."

Ikki lacked talent more than anyone else, and he understood that fact better than anyone else. He couldn't close the gap between himself and a prodigy just by working hard, because prodigies also worked hard, and it was insulting to say that they won only by talent. Insufficient effort could widen the gap, but investing effort couldn't shrink it so easily. A difference in talent was that vital a factor, normally.

If he wanted to close the gap anyway, he couldn't be normal any longer. He had no choice but to become a Shura. Ikki didn't avert his eyes from that truth. Focusing on this realization, he had discovered a way. To surpass talent, he could no longer leave any strength unused.

One minute was enough. It was fine to ignore what happened afterward, but for one minute he'd become strong enough to beat anyone.

That was the answer Ikki Kurogane found, so that his greatest weakness can defeat another's greatest strength. Intentionally using all of his vigor and stamina after breaking through his limits, it was a Noble Art that brought out all of his meager power for little more than one minute and multiplies that power several dozen times.

"Ittou Shura."

Suddenly Ikki, who was moving around the arena with movements that could no longer even be tracked by human eyes, used his astounding speed to appear at Stella's blind side, and ended everything.

Pseudo Ittou Shura

"Senpai! I'll vouch for your legitimate self-defense, so stomp them good!"

Kagami urged him to fight and promised to absolve him if the school authorities investigated. That was a nice proposal, but―

"No, there's no need."

No need, because he wouldn't wield his Device in this scuffle.

In an instant, Ikki focused his sight. He didn't need color, so Ikki cut off that detail, and seeing the world moving in gray, he transferred the acuity of his color sense to his motion perception. As he did so, the movements of the world around him slowed. This was no special power, just the boost in cognition that even regular people would receive from danger, except that Ikki could activate it consciously since, obviously, he couldn't reach the level of concentration needed to win a fight in under a minute without this sort of ability.

The gray world around him slowed and dimmed as if sinking to the bottom of the sea, and Ikki analyzed his surroundings. There were four enemies to his left, right, front and back.

Blocking Stella's strikes

From afar it certainly seemed like Stella's strikes were pushing Ikki back, but the reality was different. Against his tactics, her strikes were being completely negated. Using a soft defense that slowly drained away power―that might sound easy, but doing it was quite difficult. If the strength in blocking was even a little bit too high then his arm would be pulverized, and if it was even a tiny bit too low then he'd be cut down. The calculations of power, angle, timing―missing even one of these factors meant immediate failure, yet Stella's opponent handled all that without so much as breaking a sweat. At this realization, Stella felt an indescribable anxiety. It was an alarm bell, her sixth sense warning that the enemy before her was very dangerous!

Ikki's Ability

Ikki's ability was… doubling his physical attributes.

It was called the worst among all the abilities a Blazer could have, because even without the boosting of physical attributes, a Blazer could gain far more force or mobility by applying magic. Indeed, Stella had used such magic during this match, and her attributes had multiplied five or six times, not merely doubled. In other words, Ikki's ability was a downgraded version of what every Blazer could do just by using magic.

Copying Stella's sword

What irritating eyes!

As if her clothes, skin, and muscles were being read fiber by fiber, her every little act was being studied. And from that gaze, she realized that Ikki was trying to understand the Imperial Arts from her movements.

"My sword style isn't so simple that you can see through it easily!"

"…No, I already got it."

In an instant, the flow of the battle turned. Only five minutes had passed since the start of the match when Ikki Kurogane began to attack for the first time.

It might've seemed like a suicidal action at first glance. In a head-on clash between swordsmen, what could he do with just honed technique against an opponent with that much offensive force? He could only fall before such scorching firepower. It should've been inevitable, but―

"Kuh!"

But Stella was the one who retreated. Ikki was pushing Stella back with his weapon. How? The method lay with the sun-like orbit Intetsu was tracing. It was, in fact, Stella's Imperial Arts.

"Impossible…! How can you be using it?"

As she asked, something flashed through Stella's mind.

"You don't mean, you copied my style during these exchanges!?"

"Something like that. I've been despised ever since I was a child, so no one ever taught me, and all I could do was watch others and steal their styles. That's why I'm quite good at these kinds of tactics. I can grasp most sword techniques with only a minute of trading blows."

Swordsmanship describes its own knowledge, style describes its own history, and breathing describes its own principle. If one followed the branches and leaves of a sword style and arrived down at the root, then it wouldn't be hard to grasp that style's techniques and combinations, or its approach in facing different situations. This was what Ikki was saying.

"And if I can understand the style that far, I can also create techniques that outperform my opponent's."

What was the ultimate way to surpass an opponent's sword style? Simply correct all the flaws of that style to create a more perfect one, and the new would be plainly superior to the old. The new style would account for all the old style's faults, and even compensate for its weaknesses. It would eclipse its precursor in every offensive and defensive situation.

"Creating that sword style in the middle of battle is my technique, Blade Steal. Because Stella-san's techniques were so well-engrained, it took me two minutes to steal it and thirty seconds to surpass it. But now I have a solid grasp, so I'll also be attacking from here on."

Understanding Trackless Step

A moment ago, she leaned herself on me before I knew it.

Ikki had never felt that before, that uncomfortable experience of someone getting close without him being able to react. It was probably some kind of classical martial art, perhaps a variety of footwork from an ancient Japanese martial lineage. He didn't know exactly what kind of trick it was, but―

"…Uh, it's no good if I don't concentrate on the match in front of me right now."

Short footwork that uses eye-to-eye contact with an opponent to make distance hard to measure. It was an interesting technique, but there was probably no way to practice it at the moment,so he had to suppress his interest for now and continue preparing for his important match.

Resistance to Pain

"Yes, yes, that's quite like you. Alright, to show a little respect, I'll give you a handicap. I'll tell you the place I'll pierce you next. Try and avoid it. Now, here I go. To start with, the left thigh."

"Gah!"

"What's the matter? Your reaction is slow. There, right shoulder!"

"Guh…!"

"Come on, try to dodge! The next one is your right ear!"

"Uwa!"

"Your movements are slow, Kurogane-kun! Don't you have some motivation? Put more spirit into it and run around! Here, left shoulder! Right thigh, right palm, calf, right knee, small intestine, stomach! Liver! Kidney! Large intestine! You'll die, you'll die! If you don't dodge well, you're as good as dead!"

"Guaaaaaaah!"

Ikki's knees finally collapsed as Kirihara's arrows started to fly at the internal organs in his torso.

Nene's description of Blade Steal

"What the hell does that mean!?"

「Oh goodness, you're exceptionally dull, aren't you Kiri-yan? Haven't you seen the fight between the princess and Kuro-bou? At that time, Kuro-bou saw and stole the princess's Imperial Arts, but stealing a sword technique isn't an ordinary feat like imitating a style. From something like a style or swordsmanship, the accumulated history is studied, taking the ideas arrived there, and exposing and returning with the principle of its foundation. That's what we call stealing a sword technique.」

Perfect Vision

There was a certain bloodthirst dwelling in Kirihara's voice as he nocked an arrow on his bowstring. Perhaps his move would be deathblow to decide this fight.

"―to the crown of your head. If you don't want to die, dodge it, you held-back failure!"

A destructive killing intent shot invisibly, an arrow capable of even snatching away life, was racing directly toward Ikki. But―killing intent was inconsequential now. Of the arrow, there was nothing that could be seen, nothing that could be heard, so rather than try for the arrow, Ikki would only see what he could see, hear what he could hear.

Remember it―

The order he received his wounds, the direction―

Remember it―

The depth of his injuries, the angle―

Remember it―

Kirihara's words at that time, the voice―

Everything about this match was packed into those details. As if perusing the history of its fencing from the sword style technique, derive the enemy's process from the order and direction. As if collecting the school's knowledge from its swordsmanship, reverse-engineer the position from the injuries and angle. As if stealing the principles of its invention from its tricks, expose the patterns of thinking from the words and the voice. And then from everything there, investigating the previous degree of piercing's tendency, the personality, technique, design, by integrating, analyzing, understanding, exhausting data on all kinds of things―grasp everything about the person called Shizuya Kirihara!

There was no reason he couldn't do it. It wasn't difficult. Because all along, since long ago, Ikki Kurogane had fought that way!

In that instant, the arrow shot from Oborotsuki bit into Ikki. The place it pierced… was not the crown of the head, but the heart. Yes, Kirihara had set a trap into the last blow with a Hunter's composure and cool-headedness. His opponent was already in a hopeless situation, but just in case none of the injuries had occurred, he had shot an arrow at Ikki's heart while saying he was aiming at Ikki's head. A feint in addition to invisibility, his attack permitted no evasion. And exactly as the Hunter planned, the invisible killing intent pierced Ikki's heart―

"…Oh?"

That sound spilled out from Shizuya Kirihara's mouth at the inexplicable sight before him, and his mind went blank. He had sent an arrow of certain death that couldn't be avoided or blocked, but―Ikki's left hand had grabbed it, stopping it on the verge of penetrating Ikki's chest.

"H-How…."

How was it possible? Did such a thing really happen? To the astonished Hunter who was confronting a reality beyond his comprehension, his red-soaked prey coughed and said―


"…As I thought, there's no way you'd tell me the truth."


"What… are you saying―!?"

In that moment, Kirihara shuddered as if a worm had burrowed into his back. Ikki's eyes, without the slightest wandering, were staring him down even though he should be imperceptible.

"It… can't be…."

He had never experienced this, and icy sweat was pouring from all over his body. A chill crept up his spine, and his limbs trembled with a clatter. In Kirihara's swaying field of vision―

"…Yeah, I caught it. And I won't let you get away again."

―the bloodstained knight before him laughed weakly.

「W-W-What happened―!? Contender Kurogane just caught the arrow that he shouldn't be able to see! What the heck is going on!? Even I, reporting live on location, still can't find Contender Kirihara! Area Invisible, the perfect stealth, is still going strong, but the images from our camera are being delivered now… and they reveal that Contender Kurogane reacted to the arrow flying at him! Is he seeing what we can't!?」

「Aha, wahahaha! Are you serious!? That guy really did it!」

Saikyou, who was also giving commentary to the arena, abruptly clapped her hands and gave a resounding laugh.

「Saikyou-sensei? Did you just figure something out!?」

「Heh heh heh…! Yeah, I figured it out. It's exactly as it looks. Area Invisible is already useless.」

Kirihara countered Saikyou's words reflexively.

"D-Don't be ridiculous! My Area Invisible is unbeatable! There's no way this F-Rank garbage has seen through it!"

「Ahaha. Yeah, that's right. That's also what I think. Kiri-yan's Area Invisible is the strongest Noble Art against individual fighters. It's fine to be confident about it, because after all, Area Invisible can't be seen through. The thing that's been seen through is… the Hunter himself.」

"What the hell does that mean!?"

「Oh goodness, you're exceptionally dull, aren't you Kiri-yan? Haven't you seen the fight between the princess and Kuro-bou? At that time, Kuro-bou saw and stole the princess's Imperial Arts, but stealing a sword technique isn't an ordinary feat like imitating a style. From something like a style or swordsmanship, the accumulated history is studied, taking the ideas arrived there, and exposing and returning with the principle of its foundation. That's what we call stealing a sword technique. And just now, he did the same exact thing to you. During the fight, he stole the person called Shizuya Kirihara. Isn't that right, Kuro-bou?」

At Saikyou's nonsensical words―

"Eh, well. It was something like that."

Ikki affirmed her analysis with a nod. He had employed his anti-personnel technique, Blade Steal, against Kirihara.

"R-Ridiculous! How can something like that happen!? Especially since I must have been invisible to you…!"

"I didn't see you, but knowing 'where Kirihara-kun is right now' isn't that difficult, because you've left a lot of clues, you know?"

"Clues…?"

"The wounds you've put on me. Your procedure from the sequence of wounds I took. Your direction from the angles. And the distance from the power. They all tell me where you are. Tracing the Hunter's position at any particular moment is easy if I follow these markers, and if I understand that much, it's the same as being able to see you. In that case, it's fine to do what I usually do. Whether it's sword technique or people, there's a principle that fundamentally governs all their actions. You can call it a system of values. By using that―the person's actions and plans, what that person is thinking right now, how I myself should move, what countermeasures should be taken, whether to move forward or draw back, to attack or defend―every possible action is completely and quite clearly predictable. For example, at this moment, I know that you've taken three steps back."

Kirihara's body froze in fright at Ikki's light declaration, and he leaked out a soundless shriek, because what Ikki had said was unmistakably true. But of course Ikki could know Kirihara's response. The principle he spoke of wasn't a notion limited to the here and now. That predictability of human thought was a firmly-rooted identity, not something that could be changed in an instant. However much the person himself wants to outsmart that identity, even the thought of outsmarting it arises from the identity itself, and therefore couldn't escape Ikki's perception. By stealing the opponent's identity, Ikki seized all those thoughts and feelings.

If Ikki had to name this technique, it would be Perfect Vision. Before its power, Kirihara finally understood. The true dreadfulness of the knight called Ikki Kurogane wasn't sword technique, a one-minute boost, or anything else like that. It was his ability to expose and reflect the true nature of everything he sees, a discerning eye like a shining magic mirror. That mirror could capture even the invisible Hunter. Therefore―

"I see everything you're capable of doing. In this match, I'll take the win!"

With that declaration, Ikki burst forward to thrust a fang at the Hunter who had lost his refuge!

"S-Stay awaaaaay!!!"

In response, Kirihara put up one final resistance. Drawing Oborotsuki so forcefully that it creaked, he faced the sky above and shot one arrow that had all of his magic loaded into it. A moment later, the arrow exploded in midair, becoming a hundred slivers of iron shining with light invisible to the naked eye. Overtaking Ikki as a sudden shower, they homed and poured down on him, drilling into and smashing the stone floor of the battleground, heaving it up and smashing it again.

There was no pattern to the destruction. The Noble Art Million Rain was an attack of indiscriminate scope made of more than a hundred pieces of iron. Kirihara had concluded that if his thoughts were being read, he should carpet-bomb the area without thinking. The idea had to be correct, but even so―

"Why!? Why doesn't it hit!?"

―Ikki cleared away the invisible arrowheads, running through the destructive rain without slowing the slightest and darting through the rolled-up cloud of dust. In truth, he had already seen all of it.

"It's useless, you know. No matter how much you try to keep your heart clear, you want to beat me. You want to kill me. The urge for that frightened heart to shout its killing intent can't be restrained. No matter how much you want to attack with an unreadable mind, the killing intent dwells inside you."

And Perfect Vision accurately captured that intent. Attacking an enemy without consciously aiming to kill was a mental state taught by certain martial arts, but it wasn't a skill that someone like Kirihara could use. He had only increased the number of arrows he had shot.

"Whether a hundred arrows or a thousand, my Ittou Shura won't fall to such things!"

Every resistance was already meaningless. Like a superior player who predicts a hundred moves ahead, Ikki had already seen the endgame!

"Wait, wait! Stop! Stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop I said! Do you hear me!? Stop fucking kidding me! Am I supposed to fall to this F-Rank failure of a student!? Unlike you, people expect things of me! Unlike worthless garbage like you, I have things to lose, you know! Someone like you, there's no reason for you to win against me! So stoooooop!!!"

Ikki didn't stop. He already couldn't be stopped by Kirihara!

"H-Hey! This is a joke, right!? Yeah! Let's drop it! Let's drop it already! That kind of, that blade!? If you cut a person with that thing, it'll probably become a disaster, right!? That kind of thing isn't normal! There's other ways for us to do this! So let's stop! I-I know! Let's decide it with rock-paper-scissors! That's good, right!? Hey, Kurogane-kun! Aren't we classmates, friends!?"

Ikki wasn't going to listen. Who was it that asked if he had prepared himself in coming onto this stage? From the moment a knight entered the ring, he was resolved to kill or be killed. Therefore, Ikki would have no mercy. The black blade would clear away Kirihara's resistance, grasp Kirihara at sword distance at last, and―

"Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"

"H-HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII! S-STOOOOOOOOOOOOP!!! I get it! I'm fine with losing! I'm fine with losing so DON'T HURT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!"

Ikki swung downward with a flash, and in that moment, the space Ikki sheared through shined bright. Kirihara's body was visible in the middle of that light, and he fell on his back onto the ground already unconscious, turning up the whites of his eyes, spouting foam from his mouth, but… without injury. He had been cut so shallowly he wasn't even bleeding from the skin on the tip of his nose.

Ikki understood that Kirihara was giving up, and had no intention of killing Kirihara from the beginning. And yet―

The predicted distance was off by a millimeter, huh.

―yet even though he hadn't intended to wound, the sword edge did slightly touch skin. It was only because the power of Kirihara's arrows made reading the distance difficult.

My training's still lacking, I guess? There's still a long way to go.

6th sense

For someone of Ikki's level of skill, it was already a close ranged barrier of sword strikes. If there was something close by, a samurai's sharpened sixth sense will definitely react to it, no matter if it is visible or invisible, fast or slow. Failing to read that was the reason why Tomaru lost.

Martial Arts Knowledge

The lecture they were talking about was the one Ikki was forced to start giving, being pestered by his classmates. It was a martial arts class. Ikki gave classes on various martial arts. Of course swordsmanship was included, but there were also kodachi techniques, spear work, and even archery.

Only Ikki could do it. Being well versed in many martial arts after analyzing so many techniques of different enemies, he was a universal martial artist.

Though, taking into account that Ikki himself doesn't count anything else but swordsmanship as his speciality, and that he wouldn't teach the students actual techniques along with their skills, it was simply a school class for fundamental martial arts.

















"That's right, kodachi techniques…! As expected of Ikki!"

"Kurogane-kun can use a kodachi?"

"He can even teach Shizuku who has a kodachi-shaped device, so of course he can use it!"

Ikki hated teaching wrong things to others, knowing that nature of his, Stella was convinced. And her guess was correct. Ikki wasn't only well versed in swordsmanship, he was also proficient in archery, grappling, unarmed, and many others. Even if it could only raise his strength on a minuscule level, he desperately practiced it and used all the time his body would allow to pursue those methods. Because he was well aware of the fact that he was weaker than anyone. And he was now bringing out everything he had learned back then.

Ayase's comment on Blade Steal

"Then shall we train together from now? The matches today are already over, so we have time until dinner."

"Yeah, I'll be in your care… and could you talk to me casually? Since I'll be the one learning, it will feel weird for the teacher to be the one using honorifics."

"That's, I'm not so amazing to be called a teacher you know."

"That's not true. A while ago Kurogane-kun said we could counsel each other, but honestly, I don't think there is a single thing I can teach Kurogane-kun. Thus the disciple here is actually me."

Ikki showed a bitter smile at that. It was as she said, even though Ikki could teach her stuff, there was nothing she could teach him in return. He could steal most of her techniques just by seeing them. More humility would just be sarcastic.

Confirming that, Ikki accepted Ayase's suggestion.

Fixes Ayase's stance

Ayase vigorously swang her sword Hizume, a Japanese katana with a vivid blade, drawing an arc with it. Her face when she used the sword was completely different from the cowering expression she had in the infirmary the other day. With her mouth closed and eyes wide open, she looked only at Ikki with an extremely stern expression. As expected of a swordswoman, the moment she held her sword, all her fear towards men completely disappeared.

Right now, they were doing equal mock training with Ikki as her opponent, per his suggestion. Ikki would fight Ayase while limiting his power to her level, since he was the stronger one. He would only use techniques of her strength level.

And during this training, he would measure Ayase's strength as a swords practitioner.

As expected of the Last Samurai Ayatsuji Kaito's daughter, Ayase was very adept at the basics. She could even keep up with Ikki and Stella's jogging. She must have run for a long time. Ayase's body was perfected as a swordsman, so with any kind of form, shape, posture and body, there was no uneasiness in her muscles.

The training from the day before was also paying off. Her footwork, the vivid red that drew the arc, everything flowed perfectly together with no interruptions at all. It must have been a form engraved into her body after practicing it thousands of times.

But if one said that she couldn't handle anything but that form, then that was also wrong. During this practice, Ikki tried some seriously underhanded methods over and over again to try and break Ayase's form, but not only did Ayase deal with those attacks appropriately, she also did rapid counter-attacks.

Never forgetting the form, while not being too fixed on it. Ayase's level of skill in practical sword fights was unnaturally high. Ikki completely saw through the surface of Ayase, who boasted of hard work.

Through this, Ikki figured out why Ayase was in a slump.

"Ayase-san, let's stop for a minute."

"Nn?"

Ayase parried Ikki's downward slashing sword and with that opening, she went to strike for his body. But the red blade of Hizume was tightly halted.

"What's the matter, Kurogane-kun? I'm still… I'm not… tired yet."

Ayase showed confusion at the sudden interruption. Her eyes didn't calm down, but she didn't avert her eyes and disappear like the first time. Well, it was natural that she would get a bit used to Ikki after three days.

"As I can see, the Ayatsuji single-blade style seems to be a sword style that emphasizes on counter-attacks."

"Eh, err, yeah. That's right. You could tell with only that much?"

"I didn't have a master you see, so I've only learned stuff by observing and stealing techniques from others. So as I was saying, now that I've seen your style, I kinda figured out what your problem is."

"I-Is that true!?"

"Yeah. Ayatsuji-san's been in a slump after you've started trying to follow your father's ways, right?"

Ayase nodded.

"Yes. I just can't seem to produce the same sharp movements like my father. Even though I've memorized all of his moves already."

"You shouldn't do that."

"Eh!?"

"Trying to mimic Kaito-san, that's the reason for your slump."

"…Are you saying that… my father who taught me how to use the sword was… incorrect?"

Instantly, Ikki saw an emotion in Ayase's burning eyes. It was anger. She was angry after being told that her teacher was the one who was the cause of the mistake.

She really seems to trust Kaito-san.

He was a bit jealous after seeing that she had a father she was so proud of. While keeping that small envy hidden inside, Ikki shook his head in reply to Ayase's bitter words.

"That's not it. Kaito-san was an excellent swordsman. I don't doubt that."

"…Then, why can't I mimic father's techniques?"

The reason was simple.

"It's because Ayatsuji-san's gender is different."

"Gender…? Does that matter?"

"Of course. Being a different gender means your body structure is also different. And having a different structure naturally means the muscle coordination is also dissimilar. Movements that bring out the best of a man's potential form are definitely not the same as the movements for a woman's potential form. The more you try to follow the opposite, the sooner the restrictions caused by it would surface."

"Ah…."

At Ikki's careful explanation, the anger faded away from Ayase's eyes, and understanding replaced it. Ikki wasn't mocking her teacher. Rather, it was because her teacher excelled too much. Well, there were some unavoidable factors too. In the first place, swordsmanship was something created for men to use in ancient times.

"For the time being, I've thought of a method on how to reform Ayatsuji-san's movements. If Ayatsuji-san wants to continue her previous ways of following Kaito-san, then I won't forcefully reform them. Since I don't think that we should do it if you think like that either. Because one's mentality is a big factor too. However, if the movements are reformed through this technique, you won't be able to reclaim your previous movements afterwards."

Currently, Ayase was practicing a sword art that was tuned for men. So of course, her body recognized that it was impossible and it was constraining her power and speed in various ways. Following Ikki's method, she could smoothen her movements while discarding all the strain. But if a swordswoman with the skill level of Ayase experienced those smooth movements even once, she wouldn't be able to revert back to her previous state. It would follow that she would have some regrets when that happened.

That was why Ikki gave Ayase the choice whether or not to follow his guidance.

"…."

Ayase spent a considerable amount of time thinking it through. For a while, she was in a conflict. But it wasn't long until she made a resolute expression.

"Please teach me! I, I have to become stronger no matter what!"

She looked at Ikki's eyes without flinching, and requested for his cooperation. Of course, she was still conflicted, but she wished for strength nonetheless.

That's why Ikki had no reason to decline.

"I understand. Leave it to me."

















Saying that, Ikki took out Intetsu and stood before Ayase.

"From now onward, I'll slash at you with my sword just like before. I've changed the angle in your knees, elbows, and hip joints. Move based on these three points and try to parry my strike just like before and counter attack."

"R-Roger."

Ayase, who took out Hizume, had looked tense. Guessing that she was ready, Ikki brought down his sword with the exact same speed and angle as before.

Then….

"…!"

Just like before, Ayase parried the strike diagonally, and with the opening, she countered. However, whether the actions really were the same… it could be confirmed just by seeing that the strike was definitely faster.

At that fact, more than anyone else, Ayase herself was at a loss for words. As if she couldn't believe her own movements, she looked at the Hizume she grasped in her hands with terror, and then at Ikki.

Whew. Seems like it was a success.

Ikki was relieved that his corrections were right on spot.

Until now, Ayase had used her upper body-she put strength in her arms to block the strikes.

But that was an error. If it was a male, then he could follow up smoothly after that action, but with a female's physique, putting strength in her arms would not be enough, and after that it would just break her stance. As a result, the body would only stiffen, and the reaction would also be slower.

But after Ikki's corrections, she now received the attack by relying on her lower body. A female's tender thigh joints were suitable to absorb the shock. She could block most of the attacks just by putting strength on her legs. And since there wouldn't be strain on her body, she could react to the next attack timely.

That was the mechanism that resulted in a sharp adjustment to Ayase's fighting.

"A-awesome… awesome awesome! This is awesome Kurogane-kun!!"

Perhaps she had finally grasped the changes to her body. She made a bright smile and grabbed Ikki's hands firmly while waving them around like crazy.

"To be able to solve the problem I've been troubled with for two years so easily! Kurogane-kun's almost like that right!? A PhD in swordsmanship, right!"

"I'm also relieved to find out that I'm not mistaken."

Not too happy about such a shady degree though.

Other than Shizuku, for people who come to the lecture during the lunch break, he could not guide them so directly like this. For Ikki, this was the first time he had taught someone directly. But, after seeing Ayase who was skipping in total delight while her body screamed ‘I did it! I did it!' with all her might, despite being tense he was glad he did it.

Understood Kuraudo was strong by looking at him

Even though they were ganging up, Ikki just ignored them. Ikki knew there was only one guy here worth fighting. He looked towards the one with the skull tattoo named Kuraudo.

As he did, Kuraudo asked Ikki a strange question while looking back curiously.

"…You, You're a swordsman?"

"You can tell?"

"Hah, somewhat. You bastards have this peculiar aura and all."

















"The guy with the skull tattoo in the middle's quite strong. A hard opponent to fight empty handed."

Can read through people

"It seems like we don't need to introduce ourselves… but still, the way Kurogane-kun handled the situation was truly brilliant. Sword Eater is a person who attacks people from other schools unannounced, and goes around town smashing dojos. In any case, he becomes quite hard to handle if enraged. Thanks to you, we were saved from quite the trouble too. Once again, we thank you. It appears that we have been underestimating you too much."

"It seems like it wasn't a fluke that Renren was defeated. This ability of yours that sees through a person's character in battle, just like Yaksha-hime said. We need to reaffirm our recognition of you."

Knew everything from the start against Ayase

To be frank, everything was in the palm of Ikki's hand from the start. He already knew there were traps set all over the ring. He had already seen through the fact that she did not want to prolong this battle. That was the reason Ikki jumped towards the slashes of his own free will to make her go on the offensive, aiming for a decisive battle.

All of that… was to talk with Ayase through clashing their swords.

Can sense danger

What happened? For him to lose sight of his target with that timing? He could not understand. Did he just lose sight of Kuraudo like the mist?

No, that's not it. Ikki's senses immediately rang out in a frenzied alarm. It almost hurt.

Danger, Danger, DANGER, DANGER―!

….He ducked!

Ten'i Muhou

From the blade positioned parallel with his eyesight. And from the depths of the pair of eyes that released a blinding radiance. Kuraudo felt a chill as if his whole body was being cut apart.

He knew this. In the past, there was a moment where he felt the same sensation. That was, during the match with Ayatsuji Kaito. During the very last moment. At that time, the almost dead Kaito was trying to do something. Just like the current Ikki, he had his sword positioned like that, and he jumped forward abandoning all defense.

Kuraudo had always pondered what that was until today, that feeling. But he certainly felt it right at that moment, that sensation.

Danger.

From a man who was half dead, a man who could collapse any moment, he felt an unreasonable fear that well up from his very depth. And right now, it was the same—and exactly because so!

Interesting!!!

Kuraudo didn't stop his sword. Even at this very moment, he could evade with his Marginal Counter. But still, he didn't! He faced it head on!

Of course I will…!!!

Kuraudo always longed to see this. He wanted to see the continuation of that duel, even though he thought it was no longer possible. Maybe, just maybe Kaito might recuperate. Maybe Ayase would also master the sword completely and come to challenge him.

With that marginal wish in mind, he had always waited at this place. That was why he wouldn't stop. There was no reason for him to stop.

"It was worth the wait! These two long years―!!!"

Immediately after, their two figures intersected, and fresh blood flew in the air.

The splash of blood that rose so high that it reached the ceiling―was Kuraudo's. There was a massive slantwise gash on his huge built body, starting from the right shoulder till the end of the lower left abdominal area.

And as for Ikki, he sustained no wounds.

Why? Yamata no Orochi was something that didn't allow defending nor evading. In truth, Ikki took on the eight serpent fangs with his body. But why was he unharmed?

The reason, Ayase understood it immediately.

…N-No doubt… that's….

In the past, Ayase had witnessed this technique just once. When Ayase decided to enter Hagun Academy, it was the secret technique of the Ayatsuji single-blade style her father had shown her.

At that time, when Ayase attacked her father with Hizume, she certainly did hit his body. But, she wasn't able to cut him. The response, it was as if he was cutting the sakura petals dancing through the air. Her father said this―

―A counter-attack will be delayed if one uses the blade for deflection in order to perform an interception.

Because whenever one shifts the enemy's sword to evade, then one's own sword will also shift from the place he wants to attack a proportional distance. Then what should be done in order to perform a perfect counter?

Kaito's gave an answer to that question. All one had to do is take the opponents attack with one's body and ward it off without shifting the opponent's sword along with the place one wants to attack.

A peerless stance to evade the enemies attack by taking the most minimum possible movement, dispelling everything of the material world while feeling every physical existence around.

"Ayatsuji single-blade style final secret, Ten'i Muhou!"

Trackless Step

"…Hey Ikki. How is Shizuku doing?"

"How, meaning?"

"I can tell by looking. It's obvious that her response to her opponent's movements worsened all of a sudden."

"It's just as Stella-chan says. Even though the President is moving normally, it looks as if she can't see it."

Arisuin also felt that there was a problem with Shizuku's movements. And of course, Ikki did too. But Ikki could already see a few more things than the other two.

"…It's exactly like that, probably."

"Eh?"

"Shizuku really can't see her. I've also seen something like this once before."

It was that time before his debut battle, when he met the Yaksha Princess Nene Saikyou at the reception desk.

"That time, Saikyou-sensei got right in front of me in an instant. Even though I didn't let her out of my line of sight for even a moment, she got to my chest before I knew it. Right now, Raikiri is probably using the same body technique, I think."


"Ahaha. As expected of Kuro-bou. You noticed it after all, huh?"


A voice descended from an angle above. Ikki turned his eyes in that direction, where a bewitching petite woman dressed in a kimono and an imposing woman clad in a suit were descending the bowl-shaped stadium's stairway.

"Hey there~. It's been a while ♪."

"Saikyou-sensei, and Madam Director. The two of you together, I wonder if something's going on?"

"What, she just called out because she saw you guys, not because there's a reason."

The board chairman, Kurono Shinguuji, answered Arisuin's question. These two only came to see the duel between fellow B-Ranks in an ordinary Selection Battle. They only greeted them because Ikki's group was having an interesting conversation.

"…Hey, Nene-sensei. The thing that Ikki noticed, is what he's saying correct?"

Saikyou-sensei confirmed Stella's question with a nod.

"Yep. That is an ancient Japanese martial arts technique called Trackless Step that merges breath control and footwork. Or something like that―"

"…Eh?"

In an instant. Saikyou who had to be at least five meters away from Stella reappeared very close, and―raised Stella's plump breasts from below while rubbing them.

"Eek!?"

"Oh, this kind of feeling? Well, no milk's coming out. Yet it's super soft~♪"

"Kyaaaaa! Wh-Wh-What are you doing!?"

"I was wondering if rubbing yours would make mine grow."

"If you want to grow then go rub your own!"

"I don't have anything to rub, IDIOT!"

"You're getting angry at the victim!?"

Ignoring the two noisy people, Kurono asked something of Ikki.

"Kurogane. Someone like you has already seen through how Trackless Step works, right?"

To that inquiry, he nodded.

"Somewhat. If you tell me to do the same thing, I could probably do it."

"Hey Ikki, what is this Trackless Step?"

"Let's see, humans are nothing more than animals, and like a machine they can't process all the tiny details that they see and hear, and the brain certainly can't consciously recognize all of those sights and sounds. After all, if they processed and analyzed everything they see and hear, the brain will burn out. Therefore, the human brain will toss low-priority information into the unconscious, and abdicate recognizing them in order to ease the load on itself. This thing called Trackless Step is a martial arts technique that applies peculiar breath control and footwork to slip its user's existence into the opponent's unconsciousness. As a result, even though Shizuku can still see Toudou-san, she has become unable to recognize that fact. Even though the brain and the eye can capture Toudou-san's movements, they can't be processed because the consciousness is classifying them as unnecessary information, to the degree that a life-threatening danger can approach to little more than a blink away.

"Spot on. You understood it well."

Kurono praised him as if in admiration, because there were no faults in Ikki's answer that divulged the mysterious mechanism that was assaulting Shizuku.

Right. There was only unconsciousness within.

The opponent was making everything about herself imperceptible by shifting her breath and body a half-step, and by sliding into that interval, she had dodged the awareness locking onto her. That was the mechanism behind the old-style footwork Trackless Step.

"Because I've already seen that body technique once."

Moreover, Touka's Trackless Step had great flaws compared to Saikyou's. Because of that, Ikki was able to see through the mechanism.

"But I didn't think that there was a student who could do the same thing as the Yaksha Princess."

"Well, it's natural to be able to do the same thing, since Nene and Toudou both study under the same knight. Trackless Step was originally the technique that was that knight's strong point."

"Is that how it is? By the way, who was that teacher?"

"Torajirou Nangou."

"Nangou, the 'God of War'…!?"

To the revealed name, Ikki showed a shocked expression.

God of War―Torajirou Nangou. The great hero Ryouma Kurogane's lifelong rival, the elder knight who was on active service while being over ninety years old. He is a living legend who people talked about without end.

"It's like you saw him at a senior's lodge one time, and begged him for training thereafter."

"Mu. Hold on a second, Kuu-chan! I've never thought of that geezer as master even once!"

"What are you being shy about? Those clogs are probably also something copied from that person."

"Y-Y-You're wrong! I bought these from mail order to help ease my constipation!"

"Sandals for changing how you walk, huh…."

While patting Saikyou's long-sleeved kimono noisily, Kurono leaked out her honest opinion that "that person is as unfrank about her feelings as ever" about Saikyou who for some reason was becoming irritated, then once again turned her gaze toward Ikki.

"Well even so, if you can see the mechanism so clearly to that extent, it should be understandable to you. Trackless Step can't be broken by your little sister."

"Eh―!"

The declaration of those words, they were the truth of Shizuku's hopeless defeat. It was Stella and Arisuin who raised surprised voices upon hearing them.

But Ikki, though he had a bitter expression, didn't show surprise. Why? Because he had reached that conclusion a long time ago.

"…Really, Ikki? There's no way for her to break Trackless Step!?"

"No, there's a way to break Trackless Step with your own body. It's enough to just voluntarily shift your attention to the unconscious. However, that's easier said than done."

For example, imagine that there was a man thrusting a gun in front of one's eyes. And that man is obviously showing hostility, and pulling the trigger with his finger. In that kind of situation, just about anyone would have his eyes glued to the muzzle. It would be natural, because it was one's life being threatened. Under that kind of situation, would anyone take heed of the man's earring? Would anyone care who the earring's maker was? There was no way anyone would care. No one would consciously recognize inconsequential information, probably. However, in order to break this Trackless Step, one has to take his eyes from the muzzle and focus on the earring beneath that serious situation. That was the task of shifting one's attention onto the unconscious.

"Shizuku is right now exactly in an exchange for her life. In this situation where her opponent is intentionally slipping from her consciousness, it's training in its own way, and if she can't gain free control over/of her own body and consciousness, she won't be able to do it."

Visualization

When he recalled that vision and opened his eyelids―before his eyes, there was no doubt that man was standing there.

Of course, the real thing wasn't there. It was only a virtual image brought forth by Ikki's concentration that had been honed to the utmost. Picturing the image of the supposed other party, and then practicing a paired kata. It was a basic technique for a practitioner of martial arts. This was a practical application. However, if it was an expert like Ikki, the image would have a gaze, heartbeat, and temperature unlike a normal image. It would have an overwhelming realism even to the point of an audible pulse. With that realism, it would even shake the spirit of Ikki who had created it.

The king of Vermillion who had the severe features of a lion didn't speak and didn't move, only staring at Ikki with the same crimson irises of his honest daughter. At that gaze, Ikki felt pressure that seemed to burn the outer surface of his skin. Sweat poured from his whole body, and his throat went dry in exchange.

Ittou Rasetsu

If he was inferior, he should gather his strength. If he was imperfect, he should strain his power.

One minute was too long. Right now, he just needed one second!


―So be it, he'll sharpen his soul.


Vision, taste, hearing, touch, smell―right now he didn't need any of them. In this instant, he didn't even need to breathe. Abandoning all of those things, he concentrated the strength left over.

All of his flesh. All of his brain. All of his blood. All of his cells, everything from them.

His personal vitality, stamina, magic power, potential, he mustered all that he had―

―And for an instant, he broke past his limits!!!

The flash of lighting from colliding steel. That air that was blasted away. The collision gave birth to lightning and thunder that could be witnessed hundreds of miles away, carrying away all color and sound―

















However, speaking of the risky match―the truth was different.

"Did you see that, Nene?"

"Of course I saw that. Sheesh, what an outrageous man Kuro-bou is."

The two mage-knights looking down on the ring from the top floor of the spectator seats had noticed it. They had seen it with their own eyes.

Raikou and Raikiri. The thunder of two steel swords colliding, and the moment that happened.

―Ikki had accelerated even more.

"Ittou Shura, which spent everything of oneself in one minute, didn't win against Raikiri. Kurogane himself understood that. So that guy, he spent everything himself in one sword swing instead of one minute! With astounding concentration, he concentrated his 'strongest single minute', and magnified his physical strength in a many-fold leap, and added swing speed and power…!"

Compared to burning his stamina using the usual Ittou Shura to run forward, Ikki had spent the stamina of running a hundred meters at the first step instead just then. That was entirely beyond the domain of humans. It was not the realm of a man who fell into the realm of the shura. Exceeding limits beyond limits. A… demon that exceeded humanity. If it needed a name―


Ittou Rasetsu.


"But that's just an ordinary mechanism. The result of the battle was decided by something else, you know."

"Nangou-sensei…."

"Geezer, what are you saying?"

"The Raikiri that Touka unleashed. That was a slash that didn't have the resolve to kill that Kurogane youngster. What I saw was the highest, most beautiful sword stroke without a hint of hesitation. And that, make no mistake, was faster than the youngster's long sword. But… that youngster. He improved in the instant of reaching his limit. In that last moment. In order to beat the stronger Touka. …Perhaps, that youngster came here to do that the entire, entire time. Having nothing, being given nothing, while constantly under siege he continued to believe in his own potential even in a struggle to the death. Continuing to hone himself. Faster than himself at one minute. Stronger than himself at one second. In that narrow span, that difference. Touka undoubtedly drew strength to her limit. But that youngster, in this battle, had changed his own limit. …His spirit in continuing to change his own potential without slacking off, this victory was born of that."

Saying that, Nangou tightened the wrinkled skin around his narrowed eyes, and said―

"…That boy resembles him."

















Losing strength, Ikki's body leaned languidly on her. Even though he was breathing… it was terribly weak. She could tell he was in a dangerous condition with a glance.

And furthermore Stella noticed it. Ikki's entire body, it was bleeding underneath his clothes. The body he had strengthened many hundred-fold. It was already beyond the range that a human body could withstand.

If I don't take him to the infirmary quickly….

Fought and copied Edelweiss' style

And that judgment was correct. Edelweiss attacked with the wind coiling around around her. From the beginning, Ikki was confident that he had not erred in his judgment about his opponent. The moment Edelweiss swung both swords, his eyes lost sight of the attack. In confusion, he hurled his body backward.

At that instant, the air where Ikki's nose had been was split. Something invisible and absurdly sharp flitted across his eyes, just barely scraping his nose. At the odor of something burning drifted by, Ikki understood. The invisible thing that had flitted near had been an attack―Edelweiss's two swords.

I can't―see her strikes!

Because it was much too fast, much too sharp, he could not even see the afterimages of the twin pure-white blades with the naked eye. What had just barely been perceived was a glimmer of incandescence in the air due to the sword blades cutting through it at extraordinary speed.

What a temper…! If I lose focus for an instant, my head will fly…!

















Sounds were waves born of impacts against the atmosphere causing oscillations. Put another way, one could call it the dispersion of physical force. So if one was able to control the energy of his actions completely, and not allow any to be consumed uselessly, what would happen? As a result of making all actions silent, one could show speed and offensive at close to a hundred percent potential.

Such a thing was not the technique of a human being, but―without a doubt, this was possible for the human in front of Ikki's eyes. Ikki understood that, and shuddered as he swallowed the saliva gathering in his mouth.

This is… the world's strongest swordsman…!

















But all of that was an interaction Ikki Kurogane had foreseen. He drove her off, and all of her cross-like attacks. For Ikki who had the vision of both eyes stolen away, not a bit of agitation was in him.

How? All of that was already things he didn't need to see!

I can't see the swings, but I can see through the muscles moving her body!

Edelweiss's breath. Swordsmanship. Tempo. Footwork―

It was the peerless ability of insight, stripping bare the essence of the opponent's habits through the information he gained from the opponent while fighting.

Perfect Vision―using the asset he had besides sword technique, the Worst One saw through Edelweiss's own technique. So he didn't need vision anymore. Because even without something like vision, he could predict two or three moves ahead of his enemy!

















Edelweiss brought Ikki Kurogane down with a single cut.

The expression of the winner… was dyed in astonishment. What she thought back on was the instant of conclusion. The unbelievable incident that developed amidst the entanglement that shined as if with light.

In that instant, Ikki Kurogane had, in front of the world's strongest sword—of all things, he had attacked on his own accord.

Until now, it could not be said that she, the world's strongest, went easy or acted the slightest bit hesitant while using the sword. Becoming serious, she had charged deep in order to take Ikki's life, but he had driven the blade infused with his soul into the needle-thin gap.

To the end, he had been trying to win against her. Against that edge, Edelweiss had been forced to protect herself completely, and as a result—her attack had faltered. A single step had rendered her fatal blow useless.

And so, Edelweiss had not slayed Ikki Kurogane's spirit.

Furthermore, that last bit of swordsmanship he showed was unmistakably—….

"…Amazing. I never thought it would be to this degree."

Edelweiss stood beside Ikki who had collapsed, and held her pure-white blade to his throat.

And she smiled slightly.

"If I lay my hand on you as you lie there, it would be me who loses face, wouldn't it?"

Perfected Imperial Sword Style

"Creating that sword style in the middle of battle is my technique, Blade Steal. Because Stella-san's techniques were so well-engrained, it took me two minutes to steal it and thirty seconds to surpass it. But now I have a solid grasp, so I'll also be attacking from here on."

「H-Hey. Doesn't the princess look like she's being pushed back!?」

Stella was falling behind visibly. The audience started stirring up at the unexpected development, but the one most surprised was Stella herself, and not only because she had lost in sword skill. She was surprised because her prized style had been copied, and moreover, Ikki had refined the style enough to surpass it. Just by looking at her sword swings, he could grasp the wisdom of a technique, read its history, and find its secrets. That devilish insight, it could even be called a reflective magic mirror. And on top of everything, he had done all this without using a bit of magic.

For this boy, receiving fierce attacks from Stella Vermillion and surpassing her Imperial Arts were nothing more than feats of general swordsmanship. How much training must he have had to gain such expertise?

Strong…!

She could no longer deny it. Comparing just their sword skills, this boy was several levels above her. If the duel was restricted to weapons alone, it wouldn't even be a fair fight.

Can skip acceleration to become hard to perceive

(Everyone's eyes are dangerous! They aren't in a state where they'll talk a lot!)

Then a way of escaping from here was the right answer.

Ikki decided so and brought down his body while looking for an escape route.

Yana noticed the expression of Ikki who recovered his composure for an instant and peeked at his surroundings to try to escape from this place then raised her voice.

– Don't let him get away, you guys!

『『『OOOoOoOoOooooooOoooーーーーーッッッ!!!!』』』

The crowd put much more motivation in their war cry and brandished the specialized weapons in each of their hands.

But――

– Fuh.

『『『Huh!?』』』

Immediately after, the crowd that attacked the overbearing Ikki lost sight of his figure.

The brandished specialized weapons grazed the emptiness and hit hard the ground.

――He disappeared.

From before their eyes, all of a sudden. The human.

In that situation, everyone showed confusion and bewilderment, they weren't able to conceal those,

『Kyaaa!?』

『Uwaa, w-why was he here!?』

Screams were heard from behind, they turned their heads to the people that attacked Ikki.

And they saw him.

Ikki, who had brought down his body and almost touched the ground, ran through the narrow gaps in the jostling crowd with an agility like he was a cat.

That's right, Ikki hadn't disappeared.

The process called acceleration was skipped, he left behind the dynamic vision of all the crowd that were attacking him thanks to his body that went at maximum speed from the start.

Made the Imperial Guards fear him

In exchange for such loyalty, a dear treasured picture was given by the commander of the Imperial Guard.

The man whose treasure was arbitrarily touched raged and swung downward the western sword against Ikki.

That, yes, that was――such a foolish act, wasn't it?

In that case,

– The fact that this was only given to the Imperial Guards means that all these guys have something similar to this, isn't it?

He made a smile with just his mouth because he would waste the last chance to escape from the man that was the most broken in this place.

――Later on, the Imperial Guards spoke while shaking.

Of the day when their Princess came back, accompanied by a『demon』from the country of Japan.

Fighting the Vermillion army, using mostly just his hearing

– D-dammit…! He feigned it! Don't let him escape!

『『『Yes ma'aaaaaaaaaaaam!!!!』』』

The soldiers fired the rifle they had in their hands while chasing the distant Ikki.

However, he was able to let all the bullets fired go past him by stepping to the left and right.

He checked with his sense of hearing the location of the shooting sounds.

He predicted the arrival time of the bullet speed, he didn't look back not even a single time.

His movement was extremely quick despite the unstable footing.

Even when compared when he was running on the level-ground airport.

That was because Kurogane Ikki's mind and body conditions had recently reached their climax.

Everything was thanks to them, the people of Vermillion.

Ikki was able to notice them because they were facing him seriously.

『To get them recognize him as Stella's companion』

『To get them to hand over Stella』

If they truly loved her, if they thought about her wellness more than anything else,

――Was she something that they should and could hand over?

As if he couldn't hand over Stella.

Ikki was aware of the serious attitude so far of the people of Vermillion.

They were just like him.

In that case, there was no way they could coexist.

Trying to coexist was the great mistake itself.

Fellows that loved the same girl from the bottom of their hearts.

If he wanted to get the girl, there was only one thing to do.

That was to pull Stella's hand, hold it tightly and take her away.

With stronger feelings――and physical strength than the others!

(If it's the strength of my feelings, then I won't lose to anyone――!)

Never, to them――or to Stella's father.

Other than that, there was no way to make them agree.

The moment he arrived at that mental state, Ikki was finally able to determine his feelings.

――He may not get them to recognize him.

Such weak idea, that was filling the head of Ikki until just now, dissipated, and he stared straight at the castle with burning eyes.

He didn't think that he'll get them to accept him and hand her over again.

He would take her away and made them recognize him…!

Because――that's was Kurogane Ikki's way of life and the Ikki that Stella loved.

『T-that man…! Does he have eyes on his back or something!?』

『And with this unstable footing, how can he run so damn fast…!?』

『General! It's useless! We can't catch up with him! 』

– Tsk.

The heavy burden of his heart vanished, the soldiers couldn't catch up with Ikki that became more agile.

Ikki jumped between the roofs and separated from his pursuers in the blink of an eye.

The soldiers fired bullets at Ikki with the rifles they had in their hands, but none of them hit him.

The soldiers weren't unskilled.

Ikki stepped to the left and right to evade the bullets with precision.

――He never looked back, not even once.

He had already assessed the speed of the bullets. And remembered them.

If so, the timing at which the bullets came flying from the angle and position of the firing sound could be roughly calculated.

It was possible to avoid them, including the calculation error if he had to evade it with a bit more room.

Signard clicked her tongue.

Although she knew about the level of his physical ability, what Signard saw was just Ikki on top of a flat ring.

It was nothing but the skillfulness of his main sword technique that caught her attention.

The impression of his Noble Arts《Ittou Shura》was also combined with it, she thought "he was a strong knight specialized in matches".

But that wasn't it.

Signard realized it.

The fundamentals, the foundation that sustained that sword technique.

The sharpened physical ability and concentration ability of Ikki weren't common. And his ability to grasp space.

Ikki wasn't bothered at all by the terrain or the surprise attacks.

He constantly turned his head and selected the best movement at the very instant, he understood the art to break the battle.

This tenacity, this determination to use everything he noticed――

(――this guy's the type that exists for war rather than for regular matches…!)

The non-Blazer forces weren't opponents for him.

It should be possible for Ikki to return and take the head of the enemy general by himself.

He wasn't flashy so as to blow up the large army in one hit like Stella, but he had the penetrating ability to deeply pierce through the enemy like a sharp needle.

He was making light of them.

They couldn't stop that by themselves.

Calculated the energy of 3 incoming bullets and countered with the exact same force

Yes. The creation of this situation was the aim of their wave attacks.

People couldn't move in the air except for the Blazers that had a special ability.

He was completely defenseless.

It wasn't possible to evade the maximum speed of《Calamity Barrett》that were just shot with that momentum.

The three bullets attacked him.

Ikki flipped his body in the air.

Then took an interception stance with sword in hand――

(That's really meaningless〜)

It was insignificant for《Calamity Barrett》whether they were cut or repelled.

If they were cut, the number of balls would increase just like before.

If they were repelled, then they'll attack him many times due to the propulsion of ricochet's momentum.

――That was what she supposed.

That was why both Milliaria and Tilmitt were convinced of their victory, but――

– Haaa!

At the same time as the three bullets pierced Ikki.

Three slashing lights surrounded Ikki and《Calamity Barrett》lost its ardent driving force, it was attracted by gravity and fell to the ground without force, Ikki was safe, he landed on a building shorter than the one Milliaria and Tilmitt were standing on.

– Huh?

Milliaria got confused by the unexpected consequences.

The ability of Kurogane Ikki should be physical strengthening.

That was why she was able to invalidate his Noble Arts.

But Tilmitt who had a taijutsu sense greater than Milliaria, comprehended together with shivers the superhuman feat of Ikki just now in the sea of stones.

(They completely cancelled each other out…!)

It was evidently that.

Ikki, in the defense and offense so far, and the bullets that Milliaria replaced twice up to now, he read that her ability is to guarantee nothing else but『Trajectory』, she doesn't have the power to『re-accelerate』the fired bullets. By striking the bullets with the same energy as the energy contained in them, they weren't repelled to the back like before and weren't sliced off either, all their movements were cancelled.

(Milly's ability is just『bullets』, they aren't『missiles』. What we're doing is meaningless)

《Calamity Barrett》was powerless against enemies that had a technique of such level.

Dodged a spear thrust a point blank range

Triaina slipped through Ikki's《Intetsu》 that tried to stop the point of the lance with a water sound and hurried to the face of Ikki in a straight line.

(Got you!)

The moment Tilmitt was convinced about it,

– That's too open.

Certainly, 《Triaina》supposedly stabbed Ikki's forehead, but it turned away to the side like sliding on the skin of Ikki.

It was the secret technique that warded off the blade with only a slight defensive body movement ――《Flawless》.

Ikki dodged the lance attack of Tilmitt with that,

Understood how strong Daniel was despite never having met him

– How was it? What is your impression of the sightseeing tour of the Empire of Vermillion?

– You are…

– Hoho, my apologies. I am Daniel Dandalion, I was entrusted as the Branch Director of Vermillion of The International Mage-Knights League and as the Sword Art Instructor of the Empire of Vermillion. I was waiting for you to come. 《Seven Stars Sword King》Kurogane Ikki-dono.

When the old man answered, he revealed his Device.

It was a thin long sword with a silver sword blade and the face of a lion was traced on the golden grip.

The old man held the specialized weapon in his hand and turned its tip towards Ikki.

At that moment, Ikki, who sensed that a sword was produced by him, felt a sensation like the soft hair of his whole body was burning.

(――this person. He's strong)

Ikki felt the form of the enemy's firm true strength, and realized his own disadvantage.

Sensed exactly where Daniel would attack

Dandalion launched thrusts from the most effective distance.

His speed was just like lightning speed.

From the offenses so far, this speed was of a different dimension.

Instantaneous.

The instinct of Ikki that was sharpened by slipping through the verge of death gave birth to phantom pains that pierced his skin.

The locations were: the lungs, throat, heart and the point below the navel.

What was released by Dandalion was five instant thrusts crowned with the name of Southern Cross, he was on the verge of piercing those five human body's weak points.

Used insight on a technique he had never seen before

His intuition came from the motion of the enemy, the detailed gaze movements and the vast combat experience.

And also he read through of the enemy's sword, he saw through it even if it was his first time seeing a technique.

Seeing that it was too much to be struck by his own ability, he smashed it from the onset without hesitation.

Dandalion transmitted his honest praise to his powers of observation, imagination and his decisiveness to devote himself to it.

– In addition, you made of the handle a shield, which is indeed a really interesting way of using the sword, you are not different from the rumors.

Can notice changes in the flow of sound in certain areas and even amplify his senses further

In the crowd.

An unnatural wide-opened『hole』was there.

A blank space――――

(No, that's not it)

It wasn't a blank space.

Ikki opened not only his sense of vision but his five senses and gazed steadily at that『hole』.

The flow of sound, the stagnation of the atmosphere, the signs――

He compensated for the unnaturally and partially removed visual information and, he saw it.

Rising to the surface as it if revealed itself.

The place where the only thing that could be seen with nothing but his eyes was a blank space.

A woman was standing there.

Stated by Renren that his skill was abnormal

“I understand because I’ve fought him directly. Though Stella-chan’s power surpasses human understanding, Kurogane-kun’s skill can also be said to be superhuman, something in the realm of the abnormal. Do you remember? What Kurogane-kun did when he defeated me at the Hagun selection battles?”

“If I’m not mistaken, he sidestepped your supersonic charge 「Black Bird」, then caught you by the nape of your neck and smashed you into the ring.”


“That’s right. Normally, doing that would get your arm torn off. Despite that, Kurogane-kun countered that power completely and instead diverted it into the ground. That skill is definitely a match for Stella-chan’s violent power.”

Stated by Momiji to lack blind spots and have full awareness of the entire arena

(Even if I were to try to enter his blind spot... he doesn’t even have one!)


Standing against Ikki, Momiji came to a realization.


Ikki’s discernment was just like her friend Moroboshi’s Happou Nirami, in that it could perceive the entirety of the arena, not overlooking a single movement from the enemy.

Redistributed the energy from Kaga's attack

“Aha, you’re welcome… I don’t feel like I was very useful though.”


“That’s not-”


“Armor Piercing Bullet-!!!”


“Hu-???”


A deep voice like a cannon’s roar suddenly interrupted their conversation.


While Ikki was facing Momiji, an attack came from directly behind him, aiming for the back of his head- It was Panzer Grizzly Renji Kaga’s iron palm strike.


It was a most unexpected, barbaric surprise attack for a mock battle.


Momiji was petrified at this. However-


Ikki’s expression didn’t even waver.


Momiji saw it during that moment.


“-True at all.”


After completing his statement towards Momiji, without even an ounce of confusion, Ikki moved half his body, almost casually, and stopped Kaga’s palm strike with his own palms.


His body was nearly twice Ikki’s size.


The palm strike from the man who boasted weight four times that of Ikki’s, didn’t even move him a bit.


-Impossible.


There was a trick to this impossible feat.


That trick was in Ikki’s feet.


As he received the blow, the ground below Ikki’s feet sank noticeably, cracking and being crushed.


Witnessing that, Kaga understood in an instant.


-He had redistributed the force.


By moving his whole body and perfectly shifting his center of gravity, Ikki had received the blow and released it into the ground through his legs without having it reverberate in his body at all.


Just like a lightning rod.


After receiving the surprise attack, Ikki matched the movement of Kaga’s attempt at retreating and pushed him back using the arm he’d received the hit with.

(...!)


In that instant where he shifted his weight back, more force had been added from the front.


With his own weight being so heavy, Kaga was bent backwards greatly-

Stated to lack weak points and not mind surprise attacks

“Kaga-san. Thank you very much.”


He thanked Kaga as he had Momiji and the others.


For a moment, Kaga stared in puzzlement at this expression, then broke into a broad smile.


“Gah, hahahaha! On top of not having any weak points, you don’t even have a single complaint about a surprise attack, eh. Even though you have a girly mug if you look at it right… Being combat ready at all times. It looks like you know that well.”

His 6th sense warned him of danger against Touka

Believing so, Ikki struck forward again-


Rather, he tried to.


(!?!?)


Immediately after, a sharp numbness ran up his neck.


It was sixth sense he’d honed by toeing the line between life and death so many times warning him.


At this warning, Ikki's body ignored his previous assumption and moved- Touka's sword had moved faster than Ikki's expectation and, just barely, had managed to return to defend.

Read Touka's thoughts and fixed his body after it was electrocuted

From the contact point, Touka channeled an electrical attack into Ikki.


“...Ah!”


Zap! Sparks crackled between Narukami and Intetsu as electricity ran through Ikki.


Though his skin wasn’t burned thanks to Illusionary form, receiving a shock made his muscles spasm intensely and cry out in pain.


In the end, his movements were stopped instantly.


Touka took aim at this opportunity-!


She raised Narukami overhead nimbly, and struck down at Ikki.


However, Ikki had baited that attack out.


(She's flustered!)


Just as Touka began her strike, Ikki steeled his writhing body.


Using the full body control he had cultivated, he forcibly restored function to his cardiac nerves.


Recovering from the shock in that instant, Ikki avoided the strike towards his head with the smallest possible sidestep.


Thinking that the shock had immobilized him, his opponent had gone for a finishing blow.


It was a move made after seeing through Touka's thoughts, outplaying her thoroughly.

Kicked a rock into the scabbard of Narukami, and fooled Touka's mind reading

Using a shard from the ring to block her scabbard was definitely a surprise. She wouldn’t let it happen again.


However, reading her intent to use Raikiri and then using the damage to the ring was nothing short of creative.


Even during their fierce sword fight, he’d had the ability to nonchalantly lead her to a predetermined location.


Most impressively, he had completely deceived her ability to directly read intentions from biological signals in order to get his plan past her, taking decisive action without letting her realize anything.


Without a doubt, that was the power of Ikki’s experience.

Seigan no Kamae

Ikki understood his own weakness, and made use of everything before his eyes for victory.


Contrary to that, when it mattered, he had the courage to trust in his own strength.


At a glance, these two seem contradictory.


The one who united them was Worst One Ikki Kurogane.


He is aware of his weakness.


Despite that, he believes that he can be stronger than anyone.


To achieve this, he does everything he can.


That everything resides in the black blade he grasped in both hands.


Therefore, Ikki Kurogane would no longer back down. He would no longer run.


If it was himself, it was possible.


Believing that, he advanced slowly, but surely, towards Yuudai Moroboshi.


This was no last stand. Nor was it a desperate attack.


Absolute Victory. He held such a conviction.


His pressure was fierce.


“Guh!?”


He overwhelmed Moroboshi soundly, driving him into a corner of the rectangular arena.


“Awesome, Onii-sama! To drive that Moroboshi-san against a wall head on!”


“Forwards, slowly, but surely. He did it through incredible pressure.”


“Yeah. That said… Kurogane-kun’s stance is also amazing.”


“What are you talking about?”


“Against Moroboshi-san, without being shifted laterally or front-to-back, he maintained a straight trajectory. It makes it hard on the attacker. Anyway, he guarded with his blade well centered in Seigan no Kamae and made it difficult to attack, and his opponent did not change his stance at all, continuously aiming for a fatal strike at the same place, from the same angle. He inevitably ended up repeating the same motion. As a result-”


Right after that, red light fluttered in the ring.


It was Blood Light spilling from Ikki’s limbs.


It was just a graze, though.


And surely enough, Moroboshi also understood the ‘result’ that Touka pointed out.


(I’ve shown too much motion! He’s optimizing his strength and approach to repel me!)


Precisely. If one ends up repeating the same attack, then you’ll end up exposing it.


The power, angle, and speed necessary to deflect the enemy was all shown in detail.


And now Ikki had analyzed it and optimized.


While avoiding any fatal wounds, Ikki used the minimum defence necessary, contracting his defensive movements as much as he could, making his attack and defense stronger than before, and stepping into Moroboshi’s zone.


Forwards. Powerfully. Quickly.

Perfect Vision will work on any style that is anything short of perfect

He was being neither held down nor overwhelmed.


He was waiting for something.


That something was an opening in Amatsukaze.


No matter how much time had gone into developing such a technique, in the end, it was created by humans.


Creating something perfect was impossible.


And if it was anything short of perfect, Ikki’s perfect vision wouldn’t miss it.

Ikki remembers using Blade Steal on Edelweiss although he couldn't perceive her

At that moment, a memory surfaced.

Now that I say it… I had this feeling then, too.

It was a memory of his duel with Edelweiss on the Akatsuki Academy's school grounds. A memory he had been unable to recall well, blinded, dazed and desperate as he had been then. His torn-up state brought him back to that time, suddenly making those memories clearer again.

What did I do then?

To his surprise, the memory came to mind with ease. Facing the incoming strongest knight in the world, he had—

—Ah, that's right. I attempted to use Edelweiss's swordsmanship.

Edelweiss's blade had been so swift that his eyes had failed to even catch its afterimages, but he had just barely been able to read her strokes from her body's movements.

He remembered. No human eye could perceive her overwhelming speed—and the secret to that was that she did not accelerate. Usually, when a blade was swung, it would start out slow. One needed to accelerate the movement in order for it to reach maximum speed. But there was no such thing in any of Edelweiss's movements. The moment she made to step forward, she was already at top speed. As she began to slash, she was already at her maximum. An extreme stop-and-go, racing from zero to a hundred in a flash. But this technique was extremely strong. The extremities of its swiftness and slowness made the blade strokes seem many times faster than they were. It was also incredibly hard to keep an eye on the blade itself, since it had no slow initial speed.

Ikki had seen through that much in their battle. Thus, he had attempted Blade Steal in those final moments. He had not been certain if it would work. But he had done it anyway, if only because that was the strongest swordsmanship known to him at that time.

What he had to do now was the same. Even if he might not manage it in his current state, this was surely the best he knew.

So, at the very least—

As Ikki thought thus, the feelings he had in his battle with Edelweiss returning to him, he gave instructions to his rebelling body.

The world's strongest swordsmanship. It was done like—

"This."

In that instant, his body became light as a feather. Like a rushing wind he weaved through the gaps between Sanrensei's spear strokes—and as he passed he cleaved deeply into Moroboshi's abdomen.

That crossing of swords happened in an instant, a flash. Without even being able to raise so much as a cry of pain, Moroboshi sank to the floor amid a mist of crimson blood.

"Eh…."

It took not a few moments for Ikki to realize that this had all been done by his hand, even as cries filled the stadium at this sudden reversal.

「Whaaaaattttt!?」

Ikki's copy of Edelweiss Swordplay

At this, Kiriko remembered the conversation that Ikki had had with Yagokoro when they parted ways the previous day.

"That inability to remember was also the cause for his abnormality."

"Madam Chairman, what do you mean by that?"

"Edelweiss's swordplay isn't normal. Normally, all of a human's motions are created by the coordinated movements of muscles. However, that will not let you use Edelweiss's swordplay. To create that kind of extreme zero-to-one-hundred difference in speed, you need all the required muscles to move together instantaneously, and instantaneously muster the full strength of those muscles. A human normally wouldn't be able to send sufficient nerve signals instantaneously for that to occur."

One could not give orders to all of one's muscles at once.

"To make this possible, one needs to change these nerve signals themselves."

They had to be shaped, shaped into combat signals completely different from the ones normal humans came equipped with, signals that could be sent in shorter, more concentrated bursts. If one could not come to use one's brain signals this way, it would be impossible to command all the muscles of a complex living organism like a human being to release all their power at once.

"Ikki must have been able to touch and then get a hold of Edelweiss's swordplay from the blink-and-you'd-miss-it battle between their techniques. If even he himself did not remember it, his brain still does."

A knight of Ikki's caliber could trace that exceptional technique in their subconscious minds after having seen it but once.

"Thus, whenever he is in the zone at critical moments, his brain will release those combat signals, but like him, his body has forgotten that battle from which he gained them—thus, having forgotten what they were for, he was unable to do anything with the foreign signals."

"So because he could not recognize the signals he could not react to them. Is that it?"

Kurono nodded in confirmation to Shizuku's words.

"Exactly. In other words, Edelweiss did not break Ikki. If anything, the battle with her caused him to evolve explosively, so much so that his own body could not keep up with that growth… but, that was only the case until now."

Faced with imminent defeat, his body had finally been able to recall the power that he had gained from duelling Edelweiss, along with that method of moving his body, so completely foreign from what he had been doing in the sixteen years since he was born.

"The engine, chassis and clutch necessary for that super-high-speed movement have finally come together—now that it's come to this, the result of this match is obvious. Yuudai Moroboshi can be considered the strongest Seven Stars Sword King in the last ten years, but his opponent is too much for him. Even after being defeated in a duel with the strongest sword in the world, Kurogane was able to utilize his incredible learning capacity to obtain a skill that has surpassed the level of a student knight by far."

This technique was far above the caliber of what might be expected at such a tournament.

"The person facing Moroboshi now… is the real monster here."

That was why Kurono believed… that with regard to the first round matches, it was Moroboshi instead who had no luck.

Secret Sword - Shinkirou

He had allowed himself to be cut flesh, bone and soul—all for this. This was the truth behind his act of being unable to deal with Ikki's extreme change. A blood-drenched bluff! And that bluff had managed to fool everyone in the Dome—not only the spectators, but even a knight of Kurono's level!

At top speed as he is, Kurogane can't dodge that throw!

Kurono could not help but shiver at Moroboshi's battle sense, that which had overturned her expectations and played them all for fools. Beside her, Shizuku and Alice felt the same way.

So everyone in here… was within the palm of his hand all along?

So this is… the Seven Stars Sword King!

They had discerned it. The true strength of Seven Stars' pinnacle—of the man who bore the title of Seven Stars Sword King!

—But in the next moment, everyone in the stadium would once again be shocked into frigid silence.

As Tora-ou's point sped through the air and pierced Ikki's forehead… his form shimmered, and faded.

Wh…at….

Moroboshi was at a loss for words. Just then, a shadow appeared above him. Silhouetted against the sun, the figure of a black swordsman was about to let fly his blade.

This was the secret sword that had eluded Houkiboshi earlier—Shinkirou. But this time, it neither feinted front-to-back nor left-to-right, but rather up and down. Leaving an afterimage below, he had sent himself soaring into the air with his enhanced leg strength. That which Moroboshi had hurled his spear at had never been anything more than an illusion.

In other words, Ikki knew that Moroboshi would choose this moment to try the last. But why? For what reason?

Ah… so that's it….

Looking at the expression on Ikki's face as he brought his blade down, Moroboshi understood. Ikki's face held not the slightest hint of mocking him for having fallen for that feint. There was only overflowing—almost embarrassingly so—respect.

You really believed in me….

Up till now the Seven Stars Sword King had layered stratagem upon stratagem, trap upon trap to make sure he had the worst of it. Kurogane Ikki had not believed for a moment that such a great king would easily allow himself to be defeated. He respected the knight named Yuudai Moroboshi more than anyone else in the stadium, even more than Moroboshi did himself.

This was why Moroboshi lost. He had fooled everyone with that blood-soaked bluff, but only this knight standing before him, he could not fool.

And so, the battle was decided in that instant.

Ikki let fly his blade. Having bet it all on this surprise attack, Moroboshi had nothing left—no magic, no weapon, not even the strength to flee. The blade bit deep, slicing him from the shoulder down. In a flurry of crimson, Moroboshi at least fell upon his knees. At the last, with the final vestiges of his strength, he reached out his arms and grabbed Ikki by the shoulders, and—

Ikki Kurogane's Build described by Byakuya

In that instant, a sound both agonized cry and shocked shriek escaped from Ikki's lips. For Byakuya's fingers were upon his chest.

"Now that I've touched it with my own hands, I understand. Each strand of muscle fibre has definition to the core, but not a one has lost its suppleness. The muscles themselves are light but strong―very impressive. Not an ounce of fat, nor an ounce of excess, for-show-only muscle. This is, indeed, the body of a trueborn swordsman, created only to wield his blade. An elegant design, created to display that purity of will. It is truly beautiful―one does not tire of touching it."

Every hair on Ikki's body stood on end as Byakuya's fingers toured the lines of his musculature, his shapely eyes gazing at him under long lashes. Wasn't this a dangerous situation? Gripped by an unspeakable fear, he leapt out of the bath, all but yelling for his friend.

Ikki uses Trackless Step and a crowd cannot perceive him

Arisuin deployed his Device, Darkness Hermit, as he said so. His ability controlled the concept of shadow, and using that power would literally make the shadow thinner, obtaining a temporary enhancement in stealth.

Usually, the use of Blazer abilities weren't allowed public areas, but at this rate they were bound to cause a major incident. Ikki understood this so he didn't protest, but….

"No, it's fine."

Ikki declined Arisuin's assist.

"Oh? But you can't do something like this with magic, right?"

"That's true, but my physical ability is more than enough to handle normal citizens."

Ikki turned his focus to the human wave rushing towards them. Reading blind spots, he strode into the crowd with Trackless Step, weaving like a thread through the holes in their collective attention. Not a single person noticed Ikki travelling against the human wave. His vision pinpointed the limits of each individual gaze, and his body moved without a millimeter of error, astonishing Arisuin.

"Oh my. Your stealth even humbles an assassin. I'm really amazed by you, Ikki."

With an admiring voice at Ikki Kurogane's fathomless technique, Arisuin followed after those four.

Once Darkness Hermit sank into his own shadow… that shadow immediately thinned out. In that moment, the five people vanished from the attention of all onlookers.

「H-Huh!? The're gone!? Disappeared!?」

Ikki detects Sara Bloodlily even though she used Color of Magic to convert herself into the equivalent of a stone on the side of a road

She had disappeared. The Bloody Da Vinci, Sara Bloodlily, was nowhere to be found in the hundred-meter diameter ring. Did she escape? Did she leave the field? Then should the ring-out count begin?

No, she's here.

Ikki knew she would not flee. This was Sara's Color of Magic in action, a magic to deceive the eyes of the surrounding people, making them see her as a stone on the roadside.

We could still see her that time, but… now I can't find her at all.

She must have put enough power in her technique that even Ikki had trouble noticing her.

But if that's all you did, you won't escape from me.

This was not complete stealth like the Hunter. At best, she was only invisible. Which meant—he could hear her. The venue was circular, and the sounds from the audience audience covered it. Within that sound was… a human-shaped void!

"Over there!"

It only took a split second for Ikki to switch from sight to sound, locate Sara, and cut towards her. Once attention was focused, the effect of Stone Gray vanishes, and Sara would not be able to escape—

"That's fine… I bought enough time."

—but she did not need to anymore.

  • Clash!*











Ikki's blade swung down at Sara's defenseless body, and… was blocked by another. A figure appeared between them holding the blade that protected her.

Ikki Kurogane is able to parry Edelweiss's attacks and clash

A white blade swung downard with lightning speed that the broadcaster could not follow. All of Edelweiss's actions, from stepping in to attacking, were soundless and wasted no energy, spent only on movement. The instant acceleration from stillness to motion made her swords difficult to see. A slash undetectable by eye and ear. Were he a normal person, Ikki's life would have ended without even noticing the attack. But…

"Gah!"

Ikki's body already knew all this, and he was able to defend against the false Edelweiss's first strike. Yet he did not have room for relief afterwards. The instant Intetsu parried Twin-Wing's left blade, her right had already reached Ikki's nose!

Thankfully, Ikki had predicted the follow-up thrust. He calmly tilted his head to evade, though his cheek was grazed. He even swung Intetsu in a counter-cut. In response, Edelweiss also spread her two swords—and delivered another attack!

"Ahhhh—!!!"

Swords of black and white collided and stuck together, with sparks scattering in the wind. Indeed, Ikki was clashing with her. He needed Ittou Shura in the past, but he could now keep up with Twin-Wings's swords! Was it because Sara's depiction was inferior? No. Ikki could tell that this false Edelweiss was no weaker than the real one he fought at Akatsuki Academy. The clarity of her swords, her power, and her presence were all identical. But to match her without Ittou Shura…

He had taken Edelweiss's sword technique using Blade Steal, and learned the neuromuscular signals to use it in combat. He earned much experience from that one fight, and so Ikki's fighting strength was tremendously higher. Even without Ittou Shura, he could already keep up!

With this, I can at least endure!

"Haa!"

And finally, the false Edelweiss stepped back from the sword bind.

「OHHH! I-Incredible! He's pushed back Twin-Wings Edelweiss, the world's strongest swordsman!」

「GOOO! Crownless Sword King!」

「Ikki-kuuun! Wiiiin!」

Ikki can disperse kinetic energy to reduce damage

「W-What!? Contender Kurogane stands on the eighth count as if nothing had happened. He's back in the fight, and with such light movement, as if he wasn't injured despite such a brutal attack!? How can this be!?」

The announcer Iida spoke with confusion and disbelief. In contrast, the commentator Yaotome spoke with understanding.

「Actually, he's more or less undamaged.」

「E-Even though that crash dug a path in concrete!?」

Yaotome nodded.

「Yes, and that's why he's fine. A normal knight would've crashed with fatal damage, but Contender Ikki rolled in such a showy way on purpose, dispersing the energy that normally should've destroyed his body into the floor.」

All the deformation of the barrier and stairway should have affected Ikki's body, but Ikki skillfully shifted his weight to disperse kinetic energy and thus damage into his surroundings.

「Therefore the damage from the attack just now was lower than what it seemed.」

「Is that kind of thing even possible…!」

「In theory, it's closer to a judo breakfall than a sword technique, a basic physical skill that non-Blazers can also use. Of course, avoiding that much damage is exceptionally difficult. Only Contender Ikki, with his supreme excellence in physical ability and martial arts, can do it so effectively.」

And after escaping that damage, Ikki had used the count to gather his breath, recovering for an extra while longer.

「I-Incredible…!」

Iida's voice swelled with admiration toward the man so young he could've been Iida's son. Admiration not at Ikki's skill, but at Ikki's spirit which did not falter even a little despite the situation.

「What fighting spirit! While everyone else thought the match was decided by the overwhelming strength of Purple Caricature, Contender Kurogane has not given up at all! He is somehow keeping up!」

Ikki defeat the Fake Edelweiss even though she's stronger and faster. The only difference is her mindset.

「H-He did it! We thought the fake Edelweiss was retreating on purpose, but there's no mistake the second time! There's no doubt that Contender Kurogane has pushed her back from close range!」

「Incredible! That wasn't even a millimeter away from his nose!?」

「He really saw through it…! He wasn't bluffing!」

Ikki's unexpected moves fired up the venue, but Sara did not hear those cheers. Her confusion left her unable to recognize them.

Why, so suddenly…!?

Her image's speed and power had overwhelmed him before. What changed!? Then Sara suddenly remembered what she had heard about Ikki Kurogane, that he could dissect an opponent's way of thinking to a scarily accurate degree.

"Don't tell me, this is Perfect Vision…!?"

"There's no need for that."

The person who denied Sara's guess was… Ikki himself. He did not need to read so deeply. In fact, there was no need to read his opponent at all.

"It's obvious with just a bit of thought. A Blazer's ability is unique to each individual, no matter how versatile the power seems to be. At its core, Sara-san, your power is only to 'materialize your imagination."

Color of Magic created an effect Sara associated with the color. Purple Caricature gave substance to an image she drew. Her ability does not truly recreate a subject, it only materializes her own imagination.

"But how accurate can your imagination be? The outer appearance is exact, and with the eyes of a supreme artist like youself, physical ability as well. Those are easy enough for you to draw. But… after that?"

Both Ikki's and Edelweiss's swords were swung with speed no normal person could see, and in each clash, there were feints in their gazes and postures. In each exchange, a battle of wits occured as both sides vied for control. These subtleties of combat—could Sara capture that accurately?

"It's impossible for you."

So Ikki declared. This was instinct possessed by those who have shed blood and tread the line between life and death. Someone who had never held a sword could not imagine it, which meant the false Edelweiss did not have it either. Sara could not reproduce it for her champion.

"But then I wondered, if there's no instinct then why is she moving? Why is she fighting? I had a guess, and then I confirmed it in the fight, by purposely leaving my guard down."

"Purposely…?"

"That's right. And thanks to that, I know."

The false Edelweiss had chosen to kick him out of the ring. Dealing damage and forcing a ring-out was not a bad tactic—but against an opponent like Ikki, it was risky. Though he would be blown out of the ring, he would no longer be taking hits. What if he seized on the chance to recover his breath during the countdown? And in fact, Ikki had done just that. It was Edelweiss who lost her advantage as a result. The real one would not have been so naive. Instead of assuming victory, she would have defeated her opponent more surely. The fake had chosen an apparent win over a certain one—and from that choice, Ikki confirmed his guess.

"What you imagined was 'Edelweiss who wins against Ikki Kurogane', so this forgery seeks victory recklessly. She will bite at the smallest opening she sees. And once I understood this… it was easy. I just have to feign shortcuts. I just have to create openings that she sees as quick wins."

And the false Edelweiss would rush in, time and time again. She was an image that sought victory, not a living creature who could think and learn and stop herself from following her basic definition.

"Such easy and naive attacks, no matter how fast or strong or frequent, don't matter—they're not scary at all."

"Kuh!"

Sara could not hide her agitation at Ikki's confident smile, because his conclusion was right on the mark. She had no ability to imagine the subtleties of combat, only what she could see in the physical model she chose and the idea of victory. The Blazers she imagined and materialized with Purple Caricature could break through an opponent's defenses by sheer power, but their tactics were simple and straightforward. If an opponent exposed an opening as Ikki had done, they would attack it. They must.

Sara glared at Ikki.

"But… so what!? Even if you figured it out, you can't win against her! The techniques you're using are just an imitation! Twin-Wings is absolutely superior to the Crownless Sword King! Why does it matter if there's real combat instinct? Recreating the physical specs is more than enough to win…!"

Sara's declaration was an uncharacteristic roar, as if she was trying to convince herself. At the same time, the false Edelweiss flew straight toward Ikki with strengthened steps reflecting Sara's own spirit. She planned to take victory here, and in response to the killing intent closing in, Ikki said…

"Well, that's not wrong."

He did not flee, but instead took a decisive stance and faced Edelweiss straight on. Was it reckless? After all, Sara's claim was reasonable. Even without proper instincts, the body belonged to the world's strengest. Facing it straightforwardly was very dangerous. And it was true that Ikki's sword techniques were an imitation. Proficiency and magic power obviously differed. Just understanding the flaw of Purple Caricature did not overturn these facts.

"But Sara-san, you're making a serious error."

She had a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of combat itself, and thought that the outcome depended on who was stronger. No. A battle does not simply go to the strongest. It was not a comparison of numbers and specs.

A battle was seizing victory in a single moment.

And so… there's no need to win in everything.

One strike was enough win a round. No matter how big the difference between them… even if the gap was so ridiculously huge….

If I know where it comes from, defeating the first strike isn't impossible!

The instant Edelweiss swung at the crown of Ikki's head to seal the victory, Ikki moved all his muscles in unison, and with the sword technique copied from Edelweiss as well as his own Raikou, he swung horizontally at the pure white shape before him, aiming to cut her into two, using both hands. That was Ikki's chance of victory. Like Sara said, the difference between him and Edelweiss was vast. But… to say that they used the exact same techniques was wrong, obviously. Edelweiss's Device was two swords, and Ikki's was a single one, so their styles were different and therefore they would use their swords differently. Edelweiss's two-sword style was highly offensive, shutting down opponents with a storm of strikes, but because she held a sword in each hand each strike was lessened in speed and power. Ikki's one-sword style used fewer strikes, but each was individually greater. If he limited the exchange to the first strike, before Edelweiss started attacking repeatedly…

I have the advantage—!

"HAAAAA!"

The swords cut through the night, crossing for an instant. A pure white blade split Ikki's scalp, and the moment it was about to penetrate his skull… A pure black blade ripped a horizontal line across the body of the world's strongest swordsman, reducing that body to paper shreds.

「C-C-Cut! Contender Kurogane, has cut that fake Twin-Wings Edelweiss! He reversed that hopeless battle with one strikeee!」

「H-Hey, seriously!?」

「He really won…!」

「The opponent's already defenseless! Finish it!」

"No… way…."

Standing admist the audience's echoing cheers, Sara could not understand why her Edelweiss had just lost. Unfamiliar with swordsmanship, she felt only confusion. But this outcome was obvious to Ikki.

"My sword is different from a pair drawn by an artist who has never held one before. This sword Intetsu is my soul, and from the moment I stepped on the path of knighthood, this sword has been everything I am."

His sword might not be comparable to those of Twin-Wings, but it contained his dream of becoming a man like Ryouma Kurogane, his commitment to the path of knighthood, his resistance to his family's objections, his responsibility for the dreams of the schoolmates he had defeated along the way—and his promise with one precious girl. His sword was real, and so he could not lose.

"Mind, technique, and body—things can't exist without the others, but your forgery was missing two of them… how could I lose against that!"

Ikki defeats multiple copies of himself even though they're in Ittou Shura whilst he is in base

With a speed even faster than Ikki's and Edelweiss's swords, she drew a fake Ikki—four of them. Ikki's eyes widened in surprise. He had rushed in because he thought Sara had nothing left, and such a counterattack was beyond expectations. But he wavered only for an instant.

"Take this!"

Though the four fakes had Ittou Shura, Ikki decapitated one immediately, and on his next breath cut down another. It was simple, since he was facing himself and he knew the strengths and weakness and moves and habits better than anyone. These half-hearted copies were no match even with four of them attacking in unison, no matter how exact their reproduction.

Sara knew that. The man who defeated her strongest model, Twin-Wings, could not be deterred by something like this. But there was one thing she believed would not lose against Ikki, her passion toward painting.

In that one thing, I definitely won't lose to you…!

So she would draw it, materialize her own soul. She would put her own passion and soul into the canvas, and it would come into existence. That is what painting always is!

As Ikki slew his third copy, Sara took a deep breath and infused the last of her magic power into Brush of the Demiurge. She began to imagine the passion within herself.

Ikki tanks Edelweiss's durabiliy negation

Twenty meters away, blood sprayed from Ikki's body again, and he felt pain as if every part of his body was pierced by lighting. Some sort of magic attack? No, Ikki immediately remembered what this was.

Dokuga no Tachi…!

Back then, the real Edelweiss had used the same technique as Ikki's sixth secret sword. It was a penetrating sword technique that transmitted vibrations into the opponent's body through the blade, damaging the internal organs. Ikki's Dokuga no Tachi did this by touching the opponent's Device, but the false Edelweiss had used the floor of the ring as medium, forcing the vibrations into Ikki's body from afar.

Ikki's Perfect Vision can find out the thoughts of his foes

Her image's speed and power had overwhelmed him before. What changed!? Then Sara suddenly remembered what she had heard about Ikki Kurogane, that he could dissect an opponent's way of thinking to a scarily accurate degree.

"Don't tell me, this is Perfect Vision…!?"

Widely believed to possess the ultimate swordplay

If Crimson Princess’ power could be called the Ultimate Power, then Another One’s swordplay can be called the Strongest Techniques!


This is by no means an unfair judgement. They are opposites, but represent the ultimate!

Gained a speed boost at the finals

As soon as the signal was given, everyone lost sight of Ikki Kurogane.


Using the instant acceleration from Twin Wings’ technique, Ikki broke out of everyone’s line of sight and moved towards Stella.


「Whoah! The instant the signal was given, contender Kurogane disappeared! How fast!」


「He’s a short ranged fighter. It goes without saying that he will try to take this fight in his own range. That conclusion is obvious, yet-」


Kaieda also found himself wide-eyed.


Such speed was incredible.


It was clearly faster than even Ikki himself in his last fights.

Can distribute the energy of the attack behind him

“Even so, Kurogane-kun is performing as expected, isn’t he.”


Upon hearing Kanata Toutokubara, Touka, who was watching from the fence, nodded ‘yes.’


The ones who stood out even among the student council, Touka and Kanata, noticed what Ikki had done in that instant.


“In the instant of the impact, he intentionally dislocated his own shoulder and completely distributed the force behind him like a bamboo mat. Thinking when pushed to the brink is normal for us too.”


“Eeeh, did he do such a thing?”


“If he hadn’t, he’d be stuck in the wall below us right now.”


If we call Stella, who relied on sheer physical strength to retaliate in that situation, a beast of power, then the one who cut through that, Ikki, is a beast of skill. Neither are incomplete. At the very least, it’s safe to say that the exchange so far had not decided anything yet.

Third Secret Sword - Madok

Stella appeared behind Ikki, having made herself invisible with the same Flame Veil, now ready to attack!


However!


“...!”


After making her appearance and preparing to strike down at Ikki, Stella suddenly shuddered.


Ikki was already looking over his shoulder at her with his keen gaze, as calm as a lake without a single ripple in it, despite the situation.


She had been read.


No doubt about it, seeing as her opponent was Worst One.


Once, this situation would have left Stella in turmoil.


But that had changed.


(That’s okay!)


Even if she had been read and had a plan prepared against her, it would be fine.


Whatever the plan might be, she could subdue him with force.


Without a single worry, Stella swung her sword down without holding back.


However-


“Third Secret Sword-Madoka.”


The attack that struck Stella immediately after far exceeded expectations.


“!?!?!?”


The sound of the resulting hit would best be described as an explosion, and this time Stella was the one sent flying.


Even as Stella braced her legs to try and stop, she slid backwards while chipping the concrete. Like Ikki earlier, she was driven to the edge of the ring.


「Wow! This time, as if paying her back for earlier, Fighter Ikki has sent Fighter Stella to the edge of the ring! It’s a complete reversal!!!」


By turning around a desperate situation with an unthinkable power play to answer the blow he took at the start, Ikki further fanned the excitement in the arena.


Stella remained calm despite the clatter.


She calmly analyzed the numbness left in her sword hand.


(This numbness… This power… This isn’t Ikki’s, is it)


Stella understood Ikki’s specs for the most part.


That’s why she understood.


With his strength alone, he was unable to output such offensive power.


In fact, it should be impossible for anyone but Ouma.


On the topic of people with such attack power, there was nobody else except for herself. In that case…


“You stole my power, didn’t you.”


In response to Stella’s surprisingly pleased tone, Ikki returned a smile.


“Good insight.”


Precisely. The one who had sent Stella flying was none other than Stella herself.


First, he took an enemy’s attack with his blade. Then he would take that power and rotate his body as if drawing a circle, then take the power riding in his body and send it all back as a counter.


“That is the principle of my Third Secret Sword, Madoka.”


Even among Ikki’s many secret techniques, this one stood out with its difficulty.


If even a slight error was made in reading the enemy’s power and timing, his body would be shaken about, causing a fatal moment of weakness.


It was a delicate technique such that even with Ikki’s skill and perfect concentration, there was still a risk of failure.


That’s why, besides his bout with Runner’s High, he had come thus far without using it in battle.


“Thanks to my copying of Twin Wings’ swordplay, the precision of my body control has grown exponentially. This would have been impossible for me at the time you transferred here, but now I can even counter a sword of your caliber head on.”


With Stella in her current state, he needed Madoka to fight her.










However, no matter how fast Ikki moved, the difference in their reach was evident. The initiative would be taken by Stella.


What she unleashed was...


(A straight thrust towards my throat with the smallest motion possible.)


“!!!”


Stella’s expression stiffened.


Quite understandable.


The enemy had taken the tip of her thrust with the tip of his own blade, a rather acrobatic move.


Ikki then took the impact he’d taken through Intetsu and, as if drawing a circle, brought it around by spinning his body.


With a sweeping horizontal strike that carried all the force from Stella’s blow, he struck Lævateinn in the side.


With terrific power, the strike turned Stella’s device away easily.


In that instant, Stella was defenseless.

Ikki's senses

Ikki was most definitely at his peak performance.


His eyes could see the hairs on Stella’s cheek despite the distance between them.


His ears could accurately distinguish the flow of his own blood.


He understood the flexion of every muscle fiber in his body.


His skin could feel dust blowing against it with such acuity that he could count the specks, as if his nerves were bare.


In this condition, he felt invincible.

Could predict 100 moves ahead and know all the timings perfectly

「What is going on? Both should have been in effective range! Only Fighter Kurogane’s strike lands, while Fighter Stella’s longsword finds only empty space! Nothing is going well for Fighter Stella in close range! It's one sided! She is being unilaterally pushed back by Fighter Ikki! This is an unbelievable sight! Fighter Ikki’s dominance at close range is well established, but still… To think that there was such a difference!」


「She may have gotten too close to Fighter Ikki. Fighter Ikki’s Perfect Vision can even track the movements of invisible enemies. Since they are lovers, this is not their first time facing each other. The more time you spend together, the more you know. I daresay Fighter Ikki is not only 100 steps ahead of Fighter Stella, but that he knows all her timings perfectly.」


「It- It’s that much?」


「Truthfully, Ikki begins his evasions before Fighter Stella swings. He evades just enough, with not even an extra millimeter of movement, showing unparalleled accuracy in his defensive movement. He won’t be getting hit. There should be no way.」


That level of analysis would be inadequate for this match, was what Kaieda said.

Could inexplicably sense danger from Stella despite him not having knowledge over the ability

“So Tsukikage-sama felt it too?”


Tsukikage nodded in response to Charlotte, Rinna Kazamatsuri’s maid.


“Yeah. At first glance it seems like Kurogane-kun is pressuring… But it just looks to me like he doesn’t know what else to do.”


“I think so too. From what I can tell, there have been seven chances for fatal strikes if he had used Ittou Shura or Ittou Rasetsu. And yet… He didn’t.”


“Naturally, he couldn’t.”


Edelweiss, sitting with them in the spectator seats, legs crossed, casually inserted herself into the conversation.


“Right now, he’s afraid.”


“Afraid?”


Edelweiss nodded at Sara.


“Yes. More accurately, his instincts are.”


And, particularly problematic for Ikki…


“Those warnings from his instincts are completely accurate.”










The one in question, Ikki, was feeling the same.


(This feeling, what is it?)


As he continued his onslaught, Ikki knit his eyebrows.


He was clearly the one in control of the match.


Since the beginning, the match had gone according to plan, completely suppressing Stella’s trump card, Dragon Spirit, what he had hypothesized was her greatest form.


If she tried to perform the motion for Dragon Spirit anyway, he would counter with Ittou Rasetsu and bring her down with one strike. If he continued attacking, the difference in their abilities would show and in twenty moves, Stella would reveal a fatal weakness. If he used Ittou Rasetsu then, it would be The End.


Yet,


(-How many such timings have I already let pass?)


There had already been many such opportunities to use Ittou Rasetsu.


Yet, he hadn’t been able to close it out.


He could see it.


If he prepared himself to take even one step forwards, there would be a dragon waiting, snapping its jaws open and waiting for its food to jump in.


Ikki knew.


This was… A warning.


It was the instinct Ikki gained from countless times struggling through life and death situations as the underdog.


His sixth sense sensed the stench of death.


-It was correct.


“Kusu.”


Suddenly, Stella, who had been taking Ikki’s attacks by the dozen, cracked a smile.


Then, of all things-


“...!”


Far from counterattacking, she stopped defending herself, and faced Ikki with arms spread wide.


She was defenceless.


As if to say “Come hit me however you like.”


Seeing this bizarre action, Ikki stopped attacking.


At this, Stella, while laughing ‘Kusu kusu,’ posed Ikki a question.


“What’s the matter, Ikki? Why aren’t you attacking? I’m leaving nothing but openings.”


With a bewitching expression, she beckoned him as if it was to her bedroom.


However, Ikki didn’t move.


Of course he didn’t.


“Nothing but openings? As if.”


Ever since Stella had opened her arms, the only outcome he could see was that if he took even one step towards Stella, a dragon would rip him into pieces with its jaws.


Stella sighed with regret at Ikki’s caution.


“How unfortunate. This was my secret plan… In that case, I guess you won’t move how I want no matter how long I wait.”


“Then… It can’t be helped.”


And in the instant Stella muttered that, the world distorted.


“!!!”

Along with a sudden spike in Stella’s body temperature, incandescent flames scattered from her hair and heated up the surroundings until they distorted.


At the same time, a sound echoed in the arena.


Thump, Thump.


It was a massive heartbeat that shook the earth; it was unimaginable that it would be a human’s.


Matching the heartbeat, throughout Stella’s body, the marrow of her bones pulsed with light, and before long, as if oozing from her chest, a shining scar appeared.


“■■■■■■!!!”


Stella opened her mouth, baring giant fangs, and bellowed at the sky.


That was no longer anything like the voice of a girl, but rather the roar of the ocean.


There was no longer room for doubt.


「Th- This is- This light! This scar! There’s no doubt! It’s the Dragon Spirit which toppled the Sword Emperor of Wind! Fighter Stella is bringing out her trump card!」


“Why!? Stella hasn’t performed the Dragon Spirit motions she showed in the match with my eldest brother!”


And yet, Dragon Spirit activated.


Stella’s raised a perplexed cry at this unusual situation.


Behind her, Byakuya Jougasaki muttered “I see” in an impressed fashion.


“It seems that with all Crimson Princess’ enthusiasm for this match, she has exceeded all of our expectations in a grand way.”


“Shiro. What do you mean?”


“I mean that the preparatory motion of sticking her sword in herself was never needed in the first place. Showing us that exaggerated motion in the match with the Sword Emperor of Wind was part of her strategy for this match. I don’t think it was meaningless. With that in mind, for the finals, she sought to land a critical counter on Another One while he attacked her defenseless self in order to prevent her from using Dragon Spirit.”


It’s true that the first time around, while fighting the Yaksha Princess, she stabbed herself with her sword in order to instantly raise her blood temperature and forcefully draw out the dragon’s power.


However, after the first use, once she understood it, it was her own body, and her own power.


Even without stabbing herself with the sword, she could heat up her blood and activate it.


Performing the ritual-like motion in the battle with Ouma was all a set up for the finals.


Stella had been setting this trap for Ikki since the semifinals.


Just as Jougasaki said, by making it seem like she’d need a motion to use Dragon Spirit, in the instant he used Ittou Rasetsu, she would retaliate with an incredibly powerful counter.


However, that plan had been foiled by Ikki’s instincts.


“I couldn’t help but think things were going too well.”


“You haven’t survived all those bad experiences for nothing. As expected of Ikki.”


Stella had to commend him.


This plan was concocted to land a certain fatal hit with Dragon Spirit and guarantee victory.


To think that Ikki just barely managed to see through the plan.


It seemed she wouldn’t win through strategy.


“I guess waiting for you to make a mistake was not realistic.”


There was no longer a plan.


Defeating a knight of Ikki’s level would take quality over quantity.


That’s why Stella had staked everything on this one plan.


But it had all come to nothing.


So then, what to do?


Only the path of thorns remained.


Breaking through with raw power.


Through the master swordsman known as Another One.


That was a risky tactic even as the one who mastered Dragon Spirit.


The difference in knowledge and thinking in battle between her and Ikki was huge.


Frankly, she couldn’t even imagine when or where she’d be able turn the fight.


Nothing was certain.


The fight had become a lot more dangerous.

Ikki's Precognition

(The first move will be a straight thrust towards my forehead! I’ll counter the same way I did earlier!)


“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”


However, just as Ikki was about counter with Madoka, he saw a vision of his head vanishing.


“!!!!”


Following that instinct, Ikki immediately tilted his neck to the right.


Instantly, wind pressure like that of a passing cannonball assaulted his eardrums.


(The air next to my face just disappeared…! What an incredible thrust…!)


It was faster than he’d expected, and far stronger. It was a thrust that blew away even the atmosphere.


The increase in physical power from Dragon Spirit far exceeded Ikki’s estimate.

Used Seigan no Kamae on Stella

He then immediately crouched low, avoiding the following sideways sweep.


From there he did a backstep, putting some distance between them.


There he returned to Seigan no Kamae.


Right now he needed information more than anything else, so he needed to slow down the match and defend without using Madoka and gather data on Stella.


「Fighter Kurogane has been stopped! Of course, Fighter Stella won’t let him escape! Her dance-like attack is fierce and splendid, a strike with her full weight! It’s an onslaught! Literally a flaming barrage! But her opponent is Another One! Even as the fierce attacks trample the stage he endures! He has it under control!」


Ikki took the powerful swings with his single thin blade.


He released the shock into the ground with his legs, not even forced to use his entire body.


It was a superb defense, to fend off Stella’s herculean strength.


Bringing down Ikki while he was on the defensive was difficult.


In the meantime, Ikki was getting a grasp on Stella’s current strength.

Ikki unconsciously reflecting Stella's full power attack

His consciousness was gone.


It was a completely hopeless situation.


Stella grasped the situation.


(I got him!)


She raised the fist that delivered the final blow.


In order to reach the Seven Stars Summit,


In order to surpass the one who she’d be chasing,


She’d put her all into that blow…!


And then a blade reacted, as if just passing by, cutting through flesh and bone alike.


Blood redder than the magma dampened the floating slab they stood on.


That blood was hot enough to be on fire.


“Eh…?”


It could be no one else.


That was the Crimson Princess Stella Vermillion’s, dragon’s blood.


「「「OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!」」」


「A C-Counterattack! Just as we thought the match was decided! An impossible counterattack from Fighter Kurogane, who we thought to be in a hopeless situation! He cleaved her diagonally from below! What a reversal!」


「It’s Ma, Madoka! The impact of Fighter Stella’s attack was returned by his ingrained swordsmanship! I can’t believe it! He could still do something in that state!」


“Gah, Haa!”


「Fighter Stella has dropped to her knees! Boiling hot blood is spilling onto the white stone! This amount of blood is not normal!」


(This damage is… Not good…!)


While pressing down entrails that threatened to spill out, Stella moaned.


For Stella, within whom a the power of a dragon resided, this was not fatal.


But even with the vitality of a dragon, this injury would take time to recover from.


She would at least be unable to really move for dozens of seconds.


If she was attacked now she would be finished.


Sensing this, Stella mustered all her willpower to stand and beat a retreat.


「Fighter Stella is staggering away! She’s put some distance between them!」


“Ahhhh..!”


However, once she got an island away, Stella collapsed again.


Her vision wavered. Her limbs had no strength.


The blood loss was extreme. She couldn’t produce enough to offset the loss.


Even worse than the physical damage though, her spirit was seriously shaken.


A single question filled her head.


Why?


He should have been knocked unconscious.


Not just then. Even now, Ikki should not have recovered his consciousness.


So then, why had he been able to retaliate with Madoka?


She didn’t understand.


While Stella was confused by this mystery, Ikki finally regained his consciousness in front of her.


“...”


At first he was surprised by the sight of an injured Stella retreated some distance away.


(...Did I do that?...)


He’d been unconscious, but the feeling of having cut Stella remained in his hand.


While he was unconscious, he had countered in the best way he could.


That feeling, of having used Madoka to recover from a helpless situation, remained in his body.


How had he managed to move his body? He didn’t understand it all.


But that’s why he realized.


That movement had not been anything special.


It was not a miraculous critical hit, nor a poor movement.


It was just normal.


It was the movement of intercepting an attack with Stella’s full strength, which he had simulated thousands of times.


Repetition had carved this motion into his very flesh.


It was that which had come out while he was unconscious.


He didn’t want to lose.


His body, his flesh, pushed away his cowering spirit.


It believed in itself.


Even now his earlobes throbbed like they were beating.


“...”


Hearing his body’s cry, Ikki silently apologized.


Sorry.


As an F rank, he had nothing but the pittance of power a normal person would.


With that power, he had aimed for the Great Hero Ryoma Kurogane and started on the path of knighthood.


He had put this body through hell and back.


So much so that its survival instinct would not give up.


That is what his body had been through.


It shouldn’t be losing so easily. No-


It wouldn’t lose so easily.

Improved Madoka

Taking Stella’s thunderous strikes made numbness run down Ikki’s arms.


(Her counterattacks are gradually getting faster!)


Madoka was a technique that took the shock absorbed by the sword and returned it by turning it through the body.


However, while exchanging these countless blows, Stella’s slashes grew gradually faster, and his body was starting to be unable to cycle the force in time.


She was growing.


Within the fierce exchange, Stella’s body and blade were changing at a terrific pace, in order to surpass Ikki.


At this rate, she would overtake him with the next blow.


However-


(I too am growing right now!)


“Oooooooooooohhh!”


“...!”


Suddenly, a counterattack, with a flash of black and accompanied by a great shout, left Stella’s eyes open in surprise.


Why?


Ikki’s attack pattern had changed.


(Just now, he didn’t turn his body…!)


Up until now, after taking an attack from Stella, Ikki would spin like a top and immediately return the blow.


That’s how he’d been dealing with Stella’s powerful blows.


But now, Ikki was answering not with defense, but his own attacks.


In other words, this was no longer attack and defense, it was simply attacks clashing.


Normally, such a situation would be completely in Stella’s favor.


For Stella to lose in a match in power was unimaginable.


However, that unimaginable outcome was happening now.


In this clash of offensive power, Stella’s blade was being pushed back ever so slightly.


Why.


There was one reason.


As Stella’s own arms received numbing blows, she understood.


It was Madoka.


In this high speed battle, Ikki felt the spinning Madoka he’d used up til now start to fall behind, and quickly revised his technique.


Instead of spinning his entire body to cycle the force, he used his upper body muscle control to cycle the force through his back muscles and channel that force into his next attack.


To do that, he couldn’t be stiff anywhere in his body.


If he stiffened anywhere, the force he absorbed would explode there.


He had to relax as much as he could, so that the muscles in his body were almost fluid.


Even more deeply relaxed than as if he were asleep.


In the middle of that high speed clash.


Stella shuddered at the sight of the man capable of doing that.


What an guy. He was incredible.

Ikki's reactive evolution

“How terrifying, Vermillion and Kurogane both.”


Speaking in wonder was Shinguuji Kurono, watching a short distance away from Shizuku.


“While they cross swords they are growing at terrific speed.”


Skill, strength, speed, everything.


The spectacle was like two gemstones clashing, each polishing the other.


Its brilliance was quickly increasing.

Oikage

Stella felt a mysterious discomfort.


Something… Something was definitely strange.


This strong discomfort felt almost silly, like waking up and finding that the sky had turned pink.


What was it? What was off?

Where was the source of this discomfort?


She stretched her focus to the ends of the earth.


Like a spinning lantern, she searched in that slowly stretching moment, until she found it.


The source of her discomfort.


It was Ikki, swinging his sword- The black shadow below him.


It. Wasn’t. Moving.


Even though Ikki was preparing to swing at Stella, his shadow was just staying still-


Stella tried to guess at why Ikki’s own shadow couldn’t keep up with his movements.


Was that even possible..


No way.


That shouldn’t happen.


But by and by, more people noticed this impossible phenomenon.


They watched the spectacle.


.Being one with his sword, believing in his sword, surpassing his limits to arrive here…


Even his own shadow could not keep up with this strike’s extreme speed.


He was the concept of a slash incarnate.


The goal of so many people, the peak they pursued.


This final strike, combining the phenomenon and the awe it inspired, would be called thusly by people:


Final secret sword- Oikage. Her voice belied wonder.


“To think that someone so young would achieve Brute Soul...”


She wasn’t whether sure whether she should be happy about that.


Living within your fate meant that while you were a prisoner of your fate, you were also protected by it.


There was definitely happiness to be found within one’s means.


Anyone who wanted to live peacefully would definitely not step into such a domain.


Actually, while she had entered that domain, she knew a knight that had turned back of their own will.


But Ikki hadn’t stopped.


He had stepped in. Ignored the warnings of the gods.


Outside of fate. The domain of demonic beings.


(With that one step, Another One became a being that existed outside the cause and effect of this world.)


An existence that rewrote the world’s future instead of tracing fate.

Making several decades worth of progress

They were improving each other at terrific speed just now.


They just made decades worth of progress walking a path in an instant.


And the result… Another One has arrived.

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