It's been months ever since I update for real, 4 months? Well, stuff keeps pestering us. Anyway, my co-writer, Blitz1/2 finally graduated and therefore has time to spend with this work.

I wish I can deliver what did you expect, this chapter would be either made you confused, disappointed, angry, or all three. I cannot promise frequent update, but I promise the next one would be better. I have a lot of plan, and I don't want them flushed down the toilet.

If you're interested, or pessimistic about this story's continuation, feel free to ask me via Private message, or just come to animesuki forum. :p


Infinite Stratos

-Sacred Twins-

Co-written with Blitz1/2

Disclaimer:

Izuru Yumizuru & Okiura

TBS, 8-BIT, MF Bunko

And everyone else!


V2 Chapter 4: The Melancholy of the White Emperor


~ICHIKA POV~

"Well, that concludes today"

"Too bad, I really want to meet Madoka-chan"

"I'm not letting you meet her"

Contrary to what I said, it's not like I'm not letting her getting him as a boyfriend, problem is, I'm afraid once they broke up, it'll never be the same again.

Call me paranoid, if you want.

"You went to a co-ed school right, how exactly do you not get a girlfriend?"

I hate to admit it, but during our Junior High Dan is kind of popular guy. Too bad at the time our minds we're occupied by something else, and now Dan seems to regret it.

Then again that 'something else' might be one of the factors…

"Dunno, it's maybe nice guy syndrome or something, except for the fact that you, unlike me, are immune to it…"

Well, while Dan is 'nice', some button simply shouldn't be pushed. By the way, I'm immune to the 'nice guy' syndrome? Really?

"Eh, Ichika, did you hear about the rumour regarding the Virtual Simulator?"

"Yeah, I heard it" I nodded in response "Virtual Reality Game seems very popular these days"

"But really, this is I.S. related game we're talking about…" Dan chuckled, resting his arm on his neck "I really want to try the real deal"

Too bad, I will have to drag you to academy if you somehow able to use I.S…hey, we can be a guy trio! And since you called it paradise, you'll be happy. Mutual Benefits eh?

"Ichika-nii?"

"WOAH!"

It was Madoka, standing behind us all along, and of course it startled Dan, poor guy.

"Madoka? Why are you here?"

"Taking some fresh air, it was boring at home without you, and I'm hungry, besides, you didn't answer my call"

Alas, I forgot to charge my cell phone…maybe I should bring her after all…"Ahh, I'm very sorry"

"No problem, I suppose you're Dan-san?"

"Yep, that's me" pointed to himself confidently, Dan raised his chest a little… that's pathetic…

"My name is Madoka, nice to meet you!"

It was rare for Madoka to smile to a new acquaintance, maybe the effect of having real friends? Or maybe because Madoka knew Dan from my story and that two of us hit well? Anyway, it's good. But aren't her face a little flushed?

"Ah, it's dark already; would you like to have a dinner with us?" I offered him, honestly, what else could I do?

Smiled at me with suspicious eyes, Dan waved his hand "Nope, I'm not going to disturb your private moment"

Madoka seems bothered with that, and her face became red, hey! Don't tell me you had flirted with him all along…

"N-no, it's not like that, I'll be happy if you can join us"

"I'm not very convinced"

"Well if you say so" Madoka laughed, seems like she's not hitting him at all, thank God, but I wonder why she seemed to be embarrassed "Anyway, you know that tomorrow a closed beta testing of 'ISVR' system is held at Arcade nearby?"

"Eh really?" both of us asked in response.

"I've heard about testing, but this soon? Man this is awesome…"

"Iori-san told us to participate in its testing; they want an opinion from real pilots, as well as wanting to gauge the discrepancy of ability between amateurs and professionals"

"Hmm I see" I should charge my cell phone… damn it.

"And to bring at least one friend along, preferably male"

Madoka and I looked at Dan, who seems puzzled "me?" He asked.

"Apparently, no guys win the tournament back then"

We nodded in conclusion.

"That… would be awesome…"

Being a game mania he is, Dan must be caught off guard, a chance of lifetime testing a new Reality simulation, no wonder he lost the ability to speech coherently… even though usually he's very talkative.

"Please come at 10:00 O'clock"

"Are you sure it's okay to bring him?" I asked jokingly.

"Well, dunno, that's up to Iori-san" Madoka shrugged.

"You guys better not give me false hope" Dan seems annoyed as he turned his back on us "See you tom, and call me if there's a change of plan"

"Yup"

As his tall and lanky figure disappeared within the dim-lit alleys, I mumbled "I wonder what I should cook today?"

"I want omu-rice!" Madoka frowned and tugging my sleeves like a child begging for candies, normally I'll shake my head to a high-protein dinner, but since its Madoka, and the fact that I abandoned her for three hours, I'll leave it this once. Anyway, her face is even redder than before…I'm a little afraid..

The dinner went absolutely smooth, and Madoka complimented my cooking as always, even though it's nothing special, well, at least it's up to her expectation.

And then things went downhill when we're head for the bed…

"Madoka~"

"NO"

"Please?"

"I said no"

"We're not going to share a bed, it's too small" I roared.

"Precisely"

Did Madoka have a fever or something? Well, as I checked, SHE DID, OH GOD! Using my strength, I carried her to the upper room, and most of my goods are there.

*POOOOF* "Uwa…"

"Open your mouth"

"Ichika-nii-"

"Open. Your. Mouth" I crossed my arms and emulating Chifuyu-nee's stern face, which made Madoka obedient somehow, so I'm able to use a thermometer.

37.8 C, slight fever, there's not much symptom beyond that, no sneeze or cough, strange. It's not influenza probably, so I might just give her fever medicine and use warm compress. I see if her condition will be better or worse…

On aside note, cold compress is no longer an effective method to reduce fever, because it caused constriction of the veins. Warm compress enlarged them hence the body can regulate the temperature more efficiently by the means of blood flows and sweat.

"Gee, I wonder if it's because the cold room and late dinner…"

"You won't leave me right"

"Nope, until you sleep very soundly, I won't""

Since both of us have incredible resistance against infection, we're not often fell sick, which was what the doctor told me anyway. Most people could recover from cold by three days, Madoka could do it in two and for me one day is enough.

I don't know why, but my conscience whisper that I will not leave Madoka for a long time.

Probably the best.

"So this is their place?"

"Yep, this is"

It was me in the past, me and Dan precisely… Its winter 2014, and snowy, everyone is walking around, paid no attention to two of us.

Except for them.

Five guys, three armed, one with a knife.

"Finally you came…you bastard"

"You dare to challenge us?"

"Why? You guys are just cheapskate pussies, two of us are enough" Dan mockingly asked.

"SHUT UP AND DIE!"

"I should be the one told you that, asshole!" Dan opening the slaughter with a kick to the face, yep, his long legs aren't for show…

The day where I paved my path…

~DAN POV~

That Madoka sure is cute eh? But really, genetics don't work that way, for them to be eerily resembles each other is really strange, even if they're Half identical twins (from same ovum that spilt into two).

I might paid to much attention, should just dismiss it, besides, those two also resemble their older sister… maybe Orimura genes were just that strong.

But that aside, how exactly he missed the fact that Madoka saw him not only as brother but something else, or maybe I'm just that perceptive… no, either he's super blind or in denial…

Probably the latter.

"Feh, either way, how lucky"

"Lucky what?

That voice, even though it's neither husky nor hoarse, it's still getting terrifying. The owner of that voice would be Ran, my little sister.

"Umm, dunno, I mean, tomorrow is ISVR opening and I somehow get invited" Rotated my chair, I tried to laugh.

"And HOW exactly did you get invited" Her big, rounded eyes gazing sharply into mine, oh God, I don't want to die painfully.

"Connections… yep"

Normally she'll accuse me of lying, but she knew about my 'connections', so she dismissed it as truth, not that I'm lying anyway, Ichika is part of said network.

This little sister of mine is blinded by her unreasonable crush to my buddy.

And by unreasonable, I mean it, she fell for him when two of us 'loaned' our strength for Basketball Club, due to Ichika's speed and my height. If she has a passing crush on him then its okay, but really, she treats these feelings as if it's Ichika the only man in the world.

It's different from usual stuff where Ichika helped a girl and that girl fell in love with his niceness and rather attractive physique, only to be disgusted by his obliviousness.

(But if his story about the British Representative Cadet is right, she fell in love with him when he's able to prove his words and endorsed his pride as a man. Hell, it's seems that Ichika once again climbed his way to the top…though less brutal and more competitive)

"That aside, why don't you tell Ichika-san came to visit?"

So finally that question came…

"If I tell you, you'll abandon your assignment in school"

"That's doesn't matter" She wailed onto my face, she also unleashed her restrained wrath. Calm down man, you can solve this.

"He actually said 'oh how Diligent, even though normally girls spend their Saturday night with friend or a boyfriend'! Had he knew you being absent from school activity, what would he think?"

I grinned at her, though I was serious saying that. After the departure of Rin, and precisely after that one incident, Ichika has 180 degrees turning point, he became a diligent, straight A's student, ranked 10 in the final exam.

He also tried to forget his attempt at getting part-time job, which considering our age is definitely illegal. Though with the help of my 'connections', getting job would be easy and our attempts came into fruition, both of us look older than our actual age anyway…

"Fine then, but next time I'll not forgive you"

Can't I have a less dangerous sister?

*BLAM!*

I looked at my Journal; tomorrow will be a good day to resume the research once again.

With that determination, I fell asleep.

"Why don't you guys just apologize and gone with it" Ichika roared as his first strike broke his target's teeth, his fist is bleached with the blood of our enemy.

Those feelings, sense of domination and bloodlust, somehow both familiar and alien at the same time.

(It's an old shame, and both Ichika and I can't believe we act like that, but it's cold, hard reality we must not forget and dismiss…)

As a switchblade flew toward me, someone managed to catch it miraculously, injured his hand.

"TOMOKI? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?"

"There's no way I'll run…"

"Are you stupid or what?"

"I know I'm not strong, I'm weak and useless… but I'll pave my road along with you guys! I'm not going to chicken out!"

And then five more guys, scrawny and fail, they show no fear facing much larger five guys.

I was awake in the middle of night… that dream, that nightmare that sometimes haunting me in the night…

Silver switchblade, memento of these days, darkest day of my and Ichika's Junior High… where Ichika stood up on the mountain of our foe's bodies, and I stood up beside him, laughing manically.

Until that tragedy happens…

Do you remember that feelings, Ichika? Back when two of us aren't as nice as we appear in front of schoolmates, teachers and even our own family…

I strode through the darkness silently, while not exactly poor; my family is the type that likes to be economical, in spite of our house's size only few small lights were turned on.

Dressed in humble tracksuit, I walked out of home and went to nearby park, not much people gather there, including a policeman on his post saw me with amused gaze, as he knew I often came here.

Where else you can use punching bag freely?

I don't know how much Ichika has developed in three months, but from his story, he was constantly fighting all the time.

*SLAM* *WHOP*

I never let myself dulled, even though I never fought anyone again after Junior High graduation. I know that Ichika has been way ahead beyond me.

*WHOP* *KRACK*

Slammed my hand to the soft sand on the playground, I lift my entire body using both of my arms, and slowly, I spread my legs wide and close my eyes…

...

One hour later, I felt relaxed and slightly tired, been distracted form that nightmare, it's time to hit shower and return to my bed.

The policeman grinned again as he checked out the spiraling craters and crescent-shaped trenches I left on the sandbox. The dust already settled, but the aftermath is still there, left on purposed by the policeman.

~NEUTRAL POV~

*PATA* *PATA* *PATA* *PATA* *TAP* *BLAM*

"Haaa… Haaa… haa… finally… I get it"

Everyone in the dojo shrugged at how fierce the Chinese Cadet Representative stroke the training dummy, so fierce they can only saw the blur of her arms in motion every time she deliver a barrage of palm, fist, and chop.

"Rin-san, are you sure you're not working too hard?" Takatsuki Shizune fixed her Gi, shortly before flailing her tonfa at the training dummy

"Nah, I'm fine, I've just finished this morning share of training" Rin laughed and straightened her back, as well as letting her arms relaxed. The key of her martial arts is flexibility and relaxation, or else she will strain herself.

"But it's kinda ironic isn't, my I.S. were optimized for strength"

*BAT* *BAT* *BLAM*

"But thanks to that technique, you can achieve such high awareness that partial release become a child's play for you, right?"

"Kind of" Rin sneered, shown her protruding fang. Odd teeth were one of her distinct feature, and oddly, a charm point, according to most people.

"Your tonfa technique seems to get squared in quality"

"Nah" Shizune blocked the rotating dummy's 'retaliatory strike' with her weapon "I'm never been too friendly with a sword, but being barehanded made me very afraid"

Anyone else would laugh at her back-story regarding her choice of martial arts, it was back when she's a little teen and some… drunk perverts scared the hell out of her. Her savior? A humble policeman and his baton.

True, unlike Tonfa, Baton was designed to stun, not breaking bones or cause internal bleeding. However, in shape and usage principle, they're the one and the same, T-Baton as they call it, are derived directly from Tonfa.

In spite of her claim, she's knowledgeable in hand-to-hand fighting, Okinawan karate. While Black belt doesn't indicate mastery at the slightest, it's safe enough that she's at least conquered the basic. This is because the most common Tonfa Technique in Japan is that of Okinawan origin.

~CHARLES POV~

I walked through silent corridor in the Sunday morning; this section of Academy is rarely used anymore. In fact, so much that there's been plan about purging the entire building.

But of course, considering the construction method and cost involved, purging the building is not viable solution either. The new plan would be refurbishing the section into a makeshift dorm or something.

Before that however, the Student tend to hang out here.

Well, you can say they're involved in a fishy activity.

(fishy?)

"KYAA!"

"Dear god…" I quickly looked away as I saw a pair of student kissed each other in a compromising position.

What have I done to deserve this? Oh wait… I deserve this… Oh no, I don't deserve this treat… Wait.

"Louise!"

"Louise! Where are you?"

"-!"

I practically somersaulting to evade a powerful kick aimed at me… barely grazed my uniform in process. You simply do not walk into this territory, especially being a guy.

"Halt there, what are you doing here?" a girl wore gray tracksuit asked, ready in a battle position, more shown up around me. There are around 5 in total.

Judging from their eyes, they're rather hostile indeed.

"I might ask the same thing; did you saw Napoleon-senpai from Class 3-2?" I asked rather calmly "We're supposed to have a meeting here"

"So… you're the guy Louise-sama always been talking about huh… how despicable. Prove to us that you're worth her attention!"

I believe from their speed and agility, they're by no means ordinary girls. But still…

"You're no match for me" I smirked as I grabbed her wrist, and using her on inertia and body mechanics, I practically thrown her into an unused sofa without putting any strength except into my finger grip.

"Who else want to try?"

I tied my tracksuit's upper part on my waist, leaving my body uncovered except by the tight-fitting I.S. outfit.

I pulled a boxing stance to taunt them, even though my actual fighting style is closer to that of Judo. I don't like to hurt a girl, really. But being a Gentleman also means I have to treat the girls as they wish, they want a good fight, and I'll be sure give them one.

Two girls charged toward me with full drive, as I counter them with a smash on the stomach each, I thought this is going to be fun…

Dozen of minutes later, it took effort for me to disable them without giving them noticeable injuries, but I managed it somehow without being touched (partly because they use I.S. outfit which reduces impact damage).

My I.S. outfit is drenched, despite its incredible capability of absorbing sweat to keep the pilot comfortable, there's always a limit.

Well, I might just think this as a workout.

"This is disgraceful, for us to be beaten by a guy like you-"

"I wish you don't hate me… because Louise's friend is my friend too" Charles "or is that because you girls hate us men in particular?" I practically teased the girl I thrown into sofa by kissing her hand gently, and she melts into a pinkish puddle.

Rather than worrying about your combat ability, you should worry more about your resistance.

*CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP*

"O-ho-ho-ho. That's quite a show you gave us, Honey"

"Excuse me?" I leered at the source of laugh and clap, she stood there proudly. Her light blond, curly hair was tied back into a ponytail.

On the other hand, her muscular build and extremely huge assets are way more striking than her hair…

(Okay, Charles, now you sound like a dirty old man.)

"Eyes up here"

*TAP*

I wasn't anticipated the sudden attack and flicked on the forehead, it wasn't painful at all, but moreover, it was very shameful.

To think that Louise can move fast and discreetly…

"My, my, Charles… Don't tell me you're not virgin anymore"

"Wha? Of course I am!"

"Doubt so"

I looked around as the girl dismiss themselves, only few remain around us, seems relaxed too.

"Still, it's seem your mission went smoothly"

"I know" I nodded "That was precisely why I was sent here, after all"

To steal ByakuShiki's data directly from Ichika using synchronization link… By posing as his friend first…

I don't even know whether I am truly his friend or not…

All I knew is that I already betrayed his trust.

"Well, let's proceed to the next step… while taking a little walk"

"Yes…" I nodded and followed her as she waltz deeper into the abandoned section. I can see why the girls are comfortable with it, and why they seem disturbed by my presence.

Despite being abandoned by technicality, this section seems clean enough. A good place for hanging out, true.

"Louise"

"Yes?"

"Is that true that some of them are from Student Council"

She replied with a little smirk "Not anymore"

"Why?"

"Loyalty they said, how stupid" Her expression turned sour "When I was kicked off my throne, they followed me"

To think that someone younger than her can beat Louise, Japan sure is amazing.

"Mmm… I think they just treasured you as their leader and don't want anyone else"

"Don't you think that's a little selfish?" Louise sighed and waved her hand, before crossed them again "No, that's beyond selfish, that's irresponsible"

"It was their choice" delivering a bitter smile, I noted "You have a choice too…"

Eyes widened, she noted with a faint laugh "I guess you're right…"

That's why, both of us ended up as the bad guy… not that I'm not sad about it, but we won't regret it.

"Anyway, Charles"

"What?"

"Don't you think this place is interesting?"

"Wait, didn't you said you're a-"

"Maybe" She snorted and noted how I always took everything too seriously... in my defense, she LOOKS serious when she said that.

I got that weird feeling again, even though she looks and act like usual, I always felt the tense, weird atmosphere every time we spent time together.

(I should forget about that… it's useless and distracting)

After finished my business in that shady place, I returned to my dorm. I'm not exactly surprised, but neither feels comfortable when I saw Rin-san is standing there in front of my door, arm crossed and lips twisted, as if she's holding her anger… or something.

"Rin-san?"

"Ichika still haven't come back huh?"

I shook my head, should I tell her that he spend entire Sunday outside?

"…So he haven't said anything"

Ah, I might as well tell her.

"Umm, actually, I think he said he'll spending Sunday there"

"…last time I checked, Madoka wasn't in her room, and I heard Kurogane is sent to the factory"

Uh…

"Which means they're together in the first place…"

I wonder if I said anything wrong, but what could possibly wrong with brother and sister spending their time in their old home, just two of them…

Waitaminute.

Uhhh, I'm… how exactly I forget that, wait, GET YER MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER! CHARLES!

Anyway, I could swear I've seen dark aura of some sort is emitted by Rin-san

"What the heck, if I knew that, I'd just barge in to his home and done with it"

I don't think that's the best solution, besides… even if their relationship kind of vague, they do have a point about spending time together in private.

"Are you jealous?"

"Why should I? Well, I did, more on the fact that Ichika didn't being honest" She looked at me intently, and her sharp eyes mellowed slightly "I knew it's really stupid, it's not like we're official or anything remotely close to that, besides, we're not having any training schedule today. Besides, family members should stick together as much as they can"

Hmm, that's definitely not good. It's like she has some problem about her own family, it's not my privileges to ask however.

"Well then, get a change of clothes and let's go"

"Huh?"

"We're going on a date, quick"

"How could be?" I wailed in response, but then again, it's not like I can do anything besides training so I comply anyway.

"Just remember, I do this because of Ichika"

Not that you can't go out by yourself, oh well.

~CECILIA POV~

What I see about Houki-san's act was, feeling of disturbed. She popping out her head in every corner, to see whether other girl present around the dojo's bathroom.

Truthfully, this is not the first time I saw a scene like this, Houki-san always sneak past the others and her reason is that she don't want to take a bath with another member of Kendo Club.

I should find the reason for sure.

Smoothly took off the hakama, she exposed her firm back upon me. In contrast to her feminine and elegant appearance, Houki-san was heavily rugged, not really having a bad skin or something, but her muscles are really well toned.

Those features usually well hidden behind I.S. outfit. Well, they never exactly hid her arms anyway, but still…

"What are you staring at?"

"Nah, nothing"

But in the end, it was her who stared at me, "Foreigner has it easy huh" she sighed in response, wait, what does she mean?

"Uh, I don't understand…"

"Nothing, let's just finish this"

Spending quite a time removing the sarashi -as they call it-, Houki-san's eyes wander onto the mirror, occasionally sighed.

(I'm not sure about why, but aren't spandex more practical in keeping our breast in place than a long strip of cotton?)

The shower time is really awkward, even though I do not like her that much, this kind of heavy atmosphere is unbearable, and then I finally ask.

"Something about me bothers you"

"I said ignore it"

"I hate it the most when people ignore me" even though I'm somewhat afraid, her apathetic answer ticks me off. I walked out of the shower stall without any piece of clothes at all, huffing.

She seems felt dejected, but then sighed for the last time

"Those things really bother me"

Those?

Then her eyes turned down, ahh… how could be?

"I never wish they become so huge"

…are you for real? It was the hope of almost every girl to have a nice pair of breast… frankly; my maidens always assure mine are better than most … as improper as it's sounds, I felt a little… inadequate anyway. Yet you feel disturbed.

"Why?"

"Getting in the way, it's a bother to bind them tightly, and I felt awful when other girls saw them… the emotions spilled over those… ugh" for some reason, Houki-san splashed her bent red expression.

Mm, now I see why she's not very eager about taking a bath together. Not only hers are above average, but she's also considerably taller than her peers, which means her average is considered big for Japanese.

I guess Houki-san is not the type that glossed over sensual charm… oh well…

(What about Ichika-san? Does he prefer normal or oversized?)

After getting dressed properly, we walked out of the dojo facility and chalked a bit about today's early training. My techniques still haven't develop that much, but still better than before. At the very least, I now understand the concept of close quarter combat.

The point is not letting yourself cornered.

It's thanks to Houki-san's effort, but furthermore, it's because a small motivation Ichika-san gave me. Ehehe.

We saw Charles-san and Rin-san walked out chattering about… something about the Orimura twins, Houki-san was sharp as ever and intently eavesdropping. They also something about… people in Ichika's Junior High.

I'm somewhat confused, but Houki-san just kept quiet and tailing them. Houki-san seems very curious…

"Ano-"

"Just follow them and shut up" she chided, how mean.

In the end, we're going as far as registering in the security checkup (to keep count people getting in and out) and buying tickets for the monorail…

This is… Not going to be fun, I felt it, and especially sure.

~MADOKA POV~

I woke up in the morning, realized that it's already half past seven. It's a dreamless sleep, and felt really uncomfortable if you think about it.

I remember last night I fell into confusion due to slight anger and fever, Ichika-nii must be worried, I must apologize.

"Ah…"

I noticed that I was half naked under a lot of blanket… must've because the clothes is swollen. This is embarrassing, to think that Ichika-nii do all of this.

"AAH! What should I do?"

"Madoka, have you awakened yet?"

"AH! Ichika-nii! Wait I'm naked!"

The door is creaking, and Ichika-nii poking out.

"I know; I have prepared you new clothes including…"

The atmospheric pressure increased by several kilobars when Ichika-nii kept silent for at the least ten second. And finally break the tension with one sentence… and a smile.

"…hot water for you to use"

Silent, it's eerily silent. But why the awkward response before? On that note, why I suddenly feel embarrassed? Months ago, I have no qualms about us taking a bath together…

"If you felt refreshed already, go downstairs and let's have a breakfast"

"Ha-hai…"

I washed all the doubt and tension with the warm water, provides a sense of revival. In fact, I can see myself on the mirror, a sense of certain confidence and urge to act cheerfully like a spoiled child.

Ichika-nii is already waiting for me, dressed in a short baggy pants and long sleeved blue shirt, very unusual style considering how he usually prefer casual long pants. On a more striking note, he also wears a buffed leather glove.

"Ichika-nii… the glove…"

"Oh this?" he waved it cheerily "SAP Gloves, considering the time I spent wearing ByakuShiki, I felt odd losing that weight"

Hmm, I see.

He removed the gloves and washed his hand before we enjoy the breakfast he provided. Once or twice I glanced at Ichika-nii, my eyes following his body curve, with the navy colored clothes hugging tightly, accentuating his body. It's as if…

As if it's an I.S. pilot outfit…

After finished our breakfast, Ichika-nii went to wash the dish by himself, even though I insisted to help.

He quickly wore a plain light gray shirt on top of his form-fitting garment, it's quite jarring to saw a 172 cm guy with such apparel, but at the same time it fits and made Ichika-nii look his age.

I wonder it myself, this is the first time I used truly girly clothing, usually just stick to sleeveless garment and long pants, and the only skirt I used is my uniform. I have stopped wearing casual skirt since the kidnapping incident, and now I'm using one, a miniskirt (loaned by Nohotoke, and I wonder how her apparel can fits me who is 10 cm taller, I wonder)… to preserve modesty, I have to use spatz.

"You look good in that blouse" he grinned "It's about time"

SO he doesn't notice the skirt? Oh well.

"Yes"

After checked all security measures, we left the house, staring at it for a while with a bright smile "We should came her more often" I told him "Never sleep so comfortable"

"Fun thing, I felt the same, I don't really eager staying in the dorm in fact"

"However…"

He smiled radiantly "It's not that bad, meeting more people and having a lot of friends. Besides, Chifuyu-nee will be angry"

I pouted in response and hooked his arm, playfully tugging and swinging around him… come to think of it; I always act like this when I was a preteen… until we separated that is.

And Houki…

Houki always felt jealous, and we ended up playing tug-of-war with Ichika-nii in place of a rope. He often yells in response and pulled of us into a bear hug, crushing us within a strong grip, as such he was really strong as a kid.

~ICHIKA POV~

"Oi, lovebirds there!"

Our moment of childishness interrupted by a yell across the road, Dan was there, dressed neatly in a stylized black coat with golden trim, his usual bandana has changed form blue to black as well, again, is golden trim really necessary? What the…

My mind wander to a little girl stood beside him, her red hair is similar to Dan in both color and style, if look somewhat more stylish and healthy. Her white, frilly blouse flowing along the summer breeze and the wind caused by auto vehicles running around.

Mouth agape, her expression then changed into an excitement as she waved at me.

"Is that…"

"Yeah, that's Gotanda Ran, Dan's sister, still in junior high"

Madoka's face set at blank, until her lips curled into a 3. Oh man…

"She certainly looks normal…"

Of course she looks normal, what did you expect?

"I expect someone taller and… err… bustier?"

Great, not everyone is 10 cm taller than they normally should, Madoka. You can't use Houki and yourself as template.

And no, even though Dan is tall, he's not that muscular, if we take genetics into consideration, related to hormonal outtake… wait genetic doesn't work that way! At least, the pattern can't be that accurate right? There's always deviation to take consideration about…

Okay, since when we started mind reading each other again?

(But come to think of it, with half the class being foreigners, most of which are taller than Japanese by default, can't blame Madoka, even thought she's the second tallest girl in the class.)

"Ah, I'm sorry, she insisted about going with us…"

"Nah, its okay, the more the merrier"

Even though Madoka said that, she looks at me with disappointed eyes. I know, this is supposed to be a date, but that's your fault for asking Dan.

She pouted in response, hey, don't be a spoiled child.

~RAN POV~

"I'm sorry, Ichika-san… I'm really curious about it, so I forced Onii-chan to bring me along"

I was very happy; it's been months since we last meet, Ichika-san disappears in February following his acceptance at I.S. Academy. I missed him so much, and even at such short time, Ichika-san has changed, he look… more calm and mature, even while wearing a childish apparel. Uh, it's me or Ichika-san actually grown taller?

(Compared to me, Uuu~)

My excitement cut short as my eyes meet with hers, a tall girl with light brown eyes and sassy black hair. At the very least, she's 10 cm taller than me, ah, no, maybe 12 cm.

Her expression was cheerful somewhat, but I kept reminded of Chifuyu-san anyway, they're almost indistinguishable at first… but this one is noticeably younger.

I remember about her, but I'm not so sure….

"A-ano… "

"Yes, Ran-chan isn't it? I'm Madoka, Orimura Madoka"

(Madoka… that Madoka? Ichika-san's twin sister? Is she really 15 years old? She looks younger in the photo shown in that news!)

She deliver a cat smile as we shook hands, her palms are rugged, indicating that she often done some physical working with it. Not as harsh as Ichika-san or Onii-chan, but still noticeable.

(After all, girls always obsessed with smooth skin… or are they?)

"I saw you in the news; it was amazing… a pair of twins entered the same time. They said two of you are exceptionally promising"

"Well, not as much as Ichika-nii though, being the first male I.S. pilot and all"

(First?)

"Well, let's not waste too much time, shall we?" Onii-chan waved his hand, signaling the time of our departure. "All in all, it would be fun though. Say Ichika, what kind of I.S. you wanted to use?"

"High-speed close combat type, maybe some mid-range weapon for distraction"

"With fist?"

"Nah, per usual, Japanese swords"

"Funny… You always better at using your fist than a piece of blade"

"True enough… then again I abandoned kendo long ago, and just resumed it this year"

(Ichika-san resumed kendo again? I… I want to see him)

"Ichika-nii looks kind of cool huh?" Madoka-san winked at me teasingly, "He has this bright aura that attract people around, friend or foe"

My cheek goes red in response, truly, she is Chifuyu-san' little sister, just as sharp and composed.

"Ano, Madoka-san… how was Ichika-san in the new school?"

"Gathering quite amount of fangirls, and a few haters"

"Fan… girls?"

"Well, it's expected when a handsome boy enters an all-girl school isn't it? Dozens upon dozens hungry eyes fixated on him all the time, watching every single move with various intention, certain portion are definitely unwholesome. Ichika-nii might not be the strongest as of now, but he can keep himself safe as well. "

I gulped in response, hearing that Ichika-san is compared to a prey. Also, what do you mean 'safe'?

Then again, it's not that farfetched, when a new, young teacher came to our school; my friends react pretty much the same way. And that's just ordinary all-girls Junior High.

I.S. academy is an isolated educational facility almost completely devoid of male; I can imagine the horror Ichika-san must endure…

"Ano… does Ichika-san already have a girlfriend?"

"Hardly… why?"

"What type of girl does he like?"

Her smile disappeared for a while, this is not good. What if she is as fierce as Chifuyu-san? AAH!

She chuckled again, trying to contain it as much as possible.

"A strong girl that can voice their opinion firmly?"

That's… very generic.

"He tend to ignore girls who hesitates, but he especially hate the arrogant one" she smirked innocently, and without doubt, her words were truth, as much as it sounded cruel.

Madoka-san is so cool, no doubt that she's Ichika-san's twin sister. She was cooler than most guys I knew, more than Oniichan is… I think…

*THUMP*

Wha-what have I done? Calm down Ran; it's just about admiration right?

She is really Ichika-san's sister…

~DAN POV~

"Anyway, did you heard about the news?"

"About what?" he tilted his head.

"They said the construction of Tanhauser Gate Space station will be resumed"

"Are you for real?" his eyes bulged out in excitement "Meh, and I think they ditch the space exploration program for real"

"Nah, they want a transport terminal for Lunar Hydrogen Mining" I waved my hand "With Fusion technology perfected recently, there's more room for awesome source of energy"

"And they think they can solve the cost operational problem" he laughed "Unless they use I.S. magic again, which mean almost free transport cost"

"Magic huh" I crossed my arm on my chest and glee at my friend, which seems to respond by a small frown.

"I don't like your expression"

"Magic, are you for real?"

"What else? Even Isaac Clarke said so" he shrugged in response.

"Man, I can't believe it; straight-A in physic can be so problematic when learning stuff about I.S."

"In my defense, how do you expect 750 kg Behemoth fly like that without using aerodynamic principle? You have to skew some rules, and those rules is what I good at"

"You have to learn and apply the mantra"

"I know! That's why I said its magic"

I looked behind and saw Ran look bothered, definitely bothered. After all, unless they're military geeks, 14 year old don't talk about high caliber explosive stuff.

Expect the same thing happens with your rival.

(As for me? I'm a fan of anything machine. If it moves, I dig it.)

"Anyway, Ran, I hear you're in the Student Council now?"

"Yes, as the president" Ran nodded excitedly, finally has a chance to talk with her crush "it's nothing compared to Ichika-san though"

"Come to think of it, Ichika-nii is a member of student council too, right?" Madoka tilted her head as she circle around me, and then walking backward facing us. Hey that's dangerous.

"Yeah, long short story, I become a Student Council President, Dan was my Vice President, and we retired about the same time Rin left to China. You know, for the president and Vice president being the same year, it's a messed up story"

"Because you want to seek part time job eh?" she chuckled "How irresponsible"

What Ichika told her sister is not a lie, but not the real truth either. The reason Ichika quit is…

Ichika looked at me with a melancholic smile, I know it's a painful memory, but we have to bear with it. Reaping what we sow is part of hardship of living as 'good' people.

I placed my hand on his shoulder to ease his tension, no, you can't just tell them yet. Maybe we can keep it until old age?

"Yeah, that's really irresponsible, right?" he smiled brightly as if I managed to lift the burden off his back, and laugh myself in response. True friendship only forged by flames of conflict, they say.

"Definitely irresponsible"

~CHARLES POV~

"So, Rin-san… how you can find Ichika?"

"GPS of course" I waved my pull top at him, showing 2 dot on a digital map "Madoka and Ichika is together as of now, tailing them is a piece of cake"

She leered aside and muttered "Stalker"

I clasped my hands on my ears and wailing "I'm not hear anything, la-la-la-la~"

"Rin-san… that's mean" he snickered in response, truth to be told; I am confused whether to saw him as girly guy or a manly girl. But still…

I don't know why, but I think I can trust him.

"Hey, Rin-san…"

"What?"

"Do you ever think about give up?"

Her mischievous smirk disappear, replaced by a sorrowful smile, oh… good job Charles… good job.

"Of course I do" she replied, without a slightest tone of sadness, but her eyes telling all of it "Ever since I came here, I have prepared for it, though I still surprised seeing how competitive this business is…"

She swirls around, dancing around the wind, as if throwing around the burden off her shoulder.

"How about that Bodewig girl?"

"Umm, I'm not even sure about it… I mean…" I somewhat hesitated due to embarrassment "It's really a crush you know, I guess it's because she's very exotic and stand out"

(Even though she's tiny…)

"Yeah, but what's your opinion so far"

"It's hard… I don't know anything about her; she's pretty much closing herself from everyone else, except Orimura-sensei…"

It's very easy for having crush at first glance, however, you always wanted to know more to ensure your feelings.

"Well, on the more positive note, you don't carry burden of secret for the one you love"

Eh? What was that again? I swore I saw her eyes turned grim, not from mere sadness, but also certain sense of guilt.

"HURRY UP!"

"O-OKAY!"

Burden of secret… it's true about what she said, but isn't that p[apart of the sacrifice of loving someone? Either way, Rin-san seems ready for anything.

*SWOOOSH*

Rin-san suddenly swung her hand and then-

*TAP* *TAP* *BAP* *TAP* *TAP* *BAP* *TAP*

"Huff… huff… What was that?" I wailed in response as I regain my footing, my chest was numbed and my breath stopped for a moment due too five hits out of seven I failed to block. Sequence of punch and palm strike I can't even SEE, seven hit in one second! Not that it's unrealistic or anything, but…

"….Why don't you go down?" she seems ticked off seeing her rapid strike is totally blew, for some reason panting and gasping for breath.

"… Because you don't put enough power in it?" I laughed, now I just realized that she's using the legendary Wing Chun, combat style originally developed for Yim Wing Chun by Shaolin monk Ng Mui.

"…Maybe I'm just that inefficient"

Truthfully, had I not letting myself fall behind slightly, and had Rin-san more prepared and serious, I'll took a lot of blunt damage, and the result wouldn't be only shock… it'll much worse than that.

"Rin-san"

"Moh…"

"Your arms, did they hurt?"

"… A little cramp maybe…"

That's because you didn't do any warm up… her arm continuously shivering for the subsequent hour…

~ICHIKA POV~

We arrived at the arcade and greeted by a white haired young man that is Iori-san, he quickly introduce himself and explained about the system.

It's a capsule-like machine, large enough for a person to be strapped inside. This reminds me of Capsule Hotel, just more hi-tech I guess?

The machine work by sending signal directly to our brain. In spite of such complex and frightening process, there's no real danger being disconnected from it.

It's really a next generation Virtual machine.

"And miss are…"

"I'm truly sorry, Kirishima-san" Dan bowed in shame.

"Ah, my name is Ran Gotanda, I'm truly sorry for the intrusion, I don't expect that this is very important" Ran bowed innocently "I'm truly sorry"

"Nah, its okay, are you familiar with I.S.? Other than they are the most powerful weapon in the world?"

"Actually, I'm going to enter I.S. Academy next year"

Silence.

"EEEH?" I and Madoka gasped with delayed reaction, Dan just put his palm on his temple.

Ran innocently shown us a test paper, with A- sync test result, that's quite a rare result, actually.

(But if you see the footnote, her combat capability is… unsatisfactory at best. She needs extra experience, eh?)

"Why don't you tell me?" I leered at Dan, even though I know he's both saddened and don't want to talk about it "I don't give a damn, just ask Ojii-chan for detail later"

(Yeah, I'd just ask him later)

"Splendid" Iori-san clapped

And thus, we enter the chamber and lay on the chair, a helmet-like object strapped to our head, and we close our eyes.

Our mind materialized into a place resembles a heavily-fortified base, there's a lot of NPC here, indicated by their awkward movement and uncanny expression.

(Apparently, this was deliberate, to make them distinct from players as well as to save CPU power)

However, there are only four players here. I, Madoka, Dan, and Ran. We all use what could be described as full body version of I.S. outfit.

"Woah, this is awesome" Dan grinned happily, knocking the wall to check if that's really as realistic as Iori-san described. A near-100% accurate experience being an I.S. pilot, even if you're a guy.

On the main screen, Iori-san appeared.

"[Greetings, this is the first time the system tested out of factory, do you feel any difference already?]"

"Aside form the NPC-related weirdness, everything seems real. Actually, even the NPC is interacting differently"

"[Well, we applied procedural generation implements to give as much dynamic as we can, but we still apply some preset value for the player's convenience]"

We nodded in response.

"[Well, please proceed to the hangar. We'll conduct live combat test ASAP]"

"Ehh? Right now? But I'm not ready!" Ran wailed in response, she earn raised eyebrow from all of us. "But... but of course I'm not nervous or anything, let's go"

I can tell that you are, really nervous.

We arrived in the hangar rather quickly, where NPC is busy moving stuff and doing maintenance here and there. That scene looks really awesome from faraway.

"[Did you see any machine there?]"

"Yes, we saw two machines"

Black and white, hmm, definitely for me and Madoka.

"[It was prepared based on actual data you sent us; however, we have no data regarding Gotanda-kun and his imouto]"

"You mean we have to scratch-built and give a crash course?" Madoka eeped in response.

"[Correct]"

We sighed; we'll make this as short as possible, right Madoka? Dan wouldn't have a problem, considering how much of a maniac he is. I'm still worry about Ran.

"Well, Ichika-nii, let me help Ran-chan"

"Ooh good, smooth move" I nodded, with Madoka, there will be less problem. "But... isn't Ichika-san..."

"Its okay, Ran, Madoka always do most of the work when it comes to adjustment and maintenance, so I guarantee satisfactory results"

Ran seems dejected for some reason, did she dislike Madoka or something?

I looked at Dan, but he deliberately ignores me for some reason.

There are six basic frames to choose: 1. White Knight 2. Kurogane 3. Dragunov 4. Bear Cat 5. Arachne 6. Metal Wolf. All of them are either a prototype unit or limited production of the three corporation involved in the game project.

And considering Dan, I bet he will choose the sixth one.

"I think I'll take Metal Wolf"

Gotcha.

Metal Wolf is one massive frame, roughly 30% bigger than normal machine, or roughly 2.7 meter tall on the shoulder, as opposed to average figure of 2 m. Metal Wolf was the first attempt to apply multi-weapon system on a first generation unit, hence the massive frame.

However, the mass and size made it literally a hulking giant compared to other I.S., while it was pretty agile on the surface, in the sky it was an easy target to pick. This resulted in its demise.

"Hey Ichika can we really customize it?"

"Assuming right parts available, yes"

He grinned, oh god this is going to be fun.

~MADOKA POV~

She sighed as soon as we start the scratch building process. Not that I can blame her or anything, I truly understand. She want to spend more time interacting with Ichika-nii.

Were using Kurogane base with improved armor and reconfigured thruster for stability, this will render you unable to fight properly in the air; however it'll be easier for you"

"Eh, why?" she asked me anxiously, at which point I replied "Well, no offense, but its way harder than ground based combat. You don't have the advantages of using terrain, while you have extra room for maneuver and utilizing much higher level of mobility, you are visible from every single spot of battlefield"

"Ah, I see… but Madoka-san…"

"Yes?"

"I… I heard the claims that it's easy for I.S. to dodge bullets and such, but in reality, it's really hard to do. In fact, I was knocked out by examiner when she switch to a…erm, shotgun"

Likely, even with her high sync ratio, Ran was inexperienced fighter and this will translates to a bad piloting skill. She has talent; she might need to shape herself quite a little if she wants to be with Ichika-nii…

(As if I'll let myself lose, but I'm not cruel enough to sabotage my competitor)

"In the battlefield, even a sluggish ship can dodge torpedo assume they knew something fired at them from dozens of kilometer away. This is the same as I.S., they can dodge bullet if the human operator is ready"

"We'll use the top frame of Bear Cat, plus additional armor, shield generator, and thruster. I expect you won't be able to react against a total onslaught of assault weapon, hence the need of higher damage tolerance. This could be accomplished without reduction of mobility since you're restricted to surface combat anyway"

She nodded intently, all the while boarding the finished unit. Holographic HUDs began to materialize around her, showing her the result of adjustment as well as other stuff required for her to know. Judging by her sync ratio, she will learn this easily.

But in case of our circle, talent alone is not enough… you need to erase any doubt. TO comply with a situation beyond what you can handle, it's either charge ahead or think your way out.

Finished, all of us were loaded into a catapult each.

"[Are you ready]"

"Roger"

"[Bear in mind, this time, four of you will act as an aggressor]"

"Aggressor?" Ran asked, confused "Sounds like a bad guy"

"In combat training terms, we ARE the bad guys" Ichika-nii nodded, then looks at me and laugh "Considering this is a game though…"

I materialized a rifle and smirk "We're going to give a nice beatdown"

Ran-chan's eyes bulged out and her mouth left agape "Whoa? But isn't that a little cruel?"

"[We're not quite a player here, we're supposed to gather data]" Dan-san straightened his back, for all of his body covered with heavy armor of the huge unit (even as far as using a fully enclosed helmet) "[They're going to test the comparison of performance between professional pilots and casual gamers]"

"[Correct, Gotanda-kun. Please don't hold back, we need as many data as we can]"

"A-alright then"

"[Good luck, we're also going to do a Deep Strike reentry operation]"

"REENTRY OPERATION?" I and Ichika-nii gawked in response.

"What is that?"

Ichika-nii seems disturbed and sighed, while Dan-san snicker and muttering that this is going to be awesome. You're not going to like it… Ran-chan.

A long shriek can be heard in the radio as we literally dropped from a space station. That's right, all along we're always been in the LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and Iori-san didn't tell us that we're going to do is essentially paradropping from space.

True, we're protected from the hazard both by the I.S. selective barrier, as well as disposable heat shield.

But somehow Dan-san stood on his shield as if he was surfing. Words cannot describe on how cool that looks, and the same time, how stupid it looks from technical perspective. Nonetheless, he did it anyway, and I admit I want to do it too. What with the flame trail blazing from under your feet, as well as roaring shockwave accompanying it.

"Waverider concept taken to a stupidly literal extreme" Ichika-nii smiled in response to his friend's excitement.

"ONII-CHAN! WHAT ARE YOU STUPID?"

"[We can't have this all the time, just relax and enjoy!]"

"Dan, go ahead and scatter the crowds"

"[Likewise, my dear emperor]"

Hail of bullets is welcoming us, chipping our reentry shield. Being the spearhead of the attack, Dan-san was the first to lose it.

"[I'M COMING LADIES!]"

*SCHWIIING* *SCREEECH*

When he landed on the ground and began to wipe the startled crowd of females with his huge halberd and toe blades, all I could say was "ouch" and began to unload my own weapon

*THUMP* *THUMP* *THUMP*

Ran-chan also unloaded her munitions, consisted of a handheld automatic grenade launcher. While this weapon is useless against seasoned player beyond harassing/suppression purposes, against noobs, as people call inexperienced players, is rather easy and overkill.

"But how, Ichika-san… we're outnumbered roughly 10 to 1, and yet we could win easily?"

"The first mistake in large scale open warfare is having your group in tight formation" Ichika-nii explained as he evade a barrage of rifle rounds "Artillery barrage and air strike pretty much made this tactic obsolete, well, actually before that, ever since cannon was invented. Now that we took a fraction of them in the very instant, we lose elements of surprise and ahver to reorganize"

"Ichika-nii, let's retreat!" I told him while delivering a signal to Dan-san.

"Dan, we'll cover the girls"

"[YOSH-! Leave it to-]"

*BLAM* *BLAM* *KABOOOM*

"[FRACK!]" The red haired bruiser swore as he recovered from the shock, getting in the way of three missiles. The helmet destroyed in the process, but he was relatively unhurt.

"Learn to evade, Dan"

*WHEEZ* *SNIKT* *SCRAA* *BOOM* *BOOM* *BOOM*

Ichika-nii slices three missiles and quickly dispatches an enemy I.S. without any effort. He was so fast those enemies don't have enough time to react, considering he regularly train with I.S. cadet rep, this is understandable.

"[You've gotta be kidding me!]"

I spotted something from far away and smirk; my bullets lodged into the sniper's barrel and jam it. I took yet another batch of sniper hiding in the bedrock.

*WHOOOSH*

"RAN!"

*KABOOOOOOM*

"She bailed out" Ichika-nii sighed.

This match is decided from the get go, however, not all of us is going to survive either.

~RAN POV~

I quickly search for fresh air as soon as I returned to reality, the maintenance crews and Kirishima-san helped me, aware that in spite of everything happened in virtual world, it does affect my physical body a little due to the effect on my brain.

Even without the concern of G-forces which I studied in school, I still feel a little winded.

"You did a good job"

As a target practice, sigh…

Kirishima-san looked over the test results and presented them to me, an A? That is good, well good for a confidence boost. However, I only defeat three enemies out of sheer luck; this reminds me again to when I went for I.S. Academy exam and get beaten by the instructor…

"At first I can't understand why they're so weak, but then I realize that all of them are just as inexperienced as I am"

"Yes, roughly 90 ISVS Champions we're invited to test the cutting edge Game system in this world, none of them actually perform as good as I hoped. I was thinking about them having a good reflex from the gaming activity, at the least"

(Eh? I heard they use games even in the military, but is that really true?)

"Hand eye coordination, you see, pro gamer doesn't need to look at their control pad, mouse or keyboard"

In the monitor, I can see Ichika-san picked an enemy pilot and throw it to another, before revving his machinegun like a maniac.

"How… How ruthless, what happened with Ichika-san?"

"Ruthless huh?" the gray-haired young man smirked subtly "Maybe because this is a videogame?"

His tone indicating a hint that it's NOT because of video game, however, I refuse to believe this is the real Ichika-san…Ichika-san was kind… Ichika-san was…in a word, scary.

Was my image of the great Ichika-san tarnished? Part of me wanted to scream because I refuse to believe it.

As the virtual image rendered from the front side, Ichika-san stood above the fragments and scattered parts of downed enemies. Even though there's no corpse or blood, it was a frightening image… His reddish brown eyes gleam under the shadow of his black hair.

And he delivers a sad, bored face… a melancholic, soft expression. There, he's not mean or ruthless, I know it, but deep down there, I know there's something about this battle that made him like that.

I… I don't want him to feel sad, this is not like Ichika-san I always admire…But what should I do? What should I think?

….I…

Onii-chan jumped out of the simulator chamber roughly 20 minutes after I got shot down, laughing happily "Now that Ichika's happy son of submariner… girl's heaven be damned, to get a good workout like this on daily basis would be awesome"

"Congratulations, Gotanda-kun, you defeated 19 enemies"

"Nah, just look at them"

Could it be?

"It was your fault isn't it?"

"Eh?"

"Ichika-san looks so… tired… that's really unlike him"

His goofy expression stiffened into a disturbing gaze for a while, before mellowing into yet another goofy grin "Are you sure about that?"

Eh?

"Let's ask him nicely after he beat the final enemy"

Kirishima-san assumed it'll take roughly 1 hour for the fight to finish, in spite of my disbelief; they really do it, against 80 enemies at once.

And then the twins jumped out, proudly stretching their bodies. "Boring~" Madoka-san noted "This is so boring"

"That's too cruel, Madoka" Ichika-san ruffled her hair "But I do agree that I expect more resistance in a 1:10 combat"

"Ichika-san… umm…"

Silence, I can't bear to ask directly, but at the same time, I want to make sure "Are you holding back even a little?"

He raised his eyebrow in response "I don't have any reason to… cruel as it sounds, I hope nobody got an urge"

I wonder about that really. He seems to be bothered by something, but it's not about steamrolling dozens upon dozens gamer girl.

"Hmm, maybe I really should put some restraint, but that WAS exactly the point" He rolled his eyes at Onii-chan "Do you remember those guys that play MMORPG as if it's their primary life?"

"Yeah, those absurd guys who call themselves 'pro gamers'… the type I hate the most, a game is a game, fighting is not a game, but a fighting game is all about fighting"

"We're kind of simulating them here, coming out of nowhere and breaks the fun" Onii-chan nodded in response and sat on the chair "I guess this is done to gauge the player classification right?"

"Indeed. The players won't be judged based on such unnecessary thing as EXP point, they are directly judged based on their combat performance, sorted out by our main server"

So it was all about the game anyway… still, why? It's just a videogame, but why Ichika-san seems sad about the deal?

"The testing with you was done, but if you still feel odd about it, you want to talk directly with the pilots?"

"Eh, we can?"

"Actually, that would be a good fanservice" Madoka-san pointed "Their reaction when you meet eye to eye is priceless"

She formed a strange, mischievous 3 shape on her lips and looked at me teasingly.

"Well, sure, that way I could say sorry"

The big screen divided into three sections, all portray roughly thirty females of various ages, looking eagerly to the camera, Ichika-san waved his and smiles charmingly. In fact, so much that I could mistake him for a rookie idol or something.

Of course, as expected, that earn a lot of cheer and squeal, with confession and worship interjected in-between, huh….

"First of all, I'm truly sorry for trashing around; this is supposed to be a fun game alright"

"Consider however this is for the sake of players' convenience, we're currently gathering data necessary to determine the player classification, to prevent unbalance of ability like the battle we had just now. The tutorial system will be implemented very soon, this will help the inexperienced player to adapt and learn before getting onto a real fight"

"And for that, once again I truly apologize"

I honestly swore I saw one of the girls burst her nasal artery, eww…

"[Did you enjoy the fight, Ichika-sama?]"

Ichika-san went rigid for a while, but melt into a faked smile, clearly faked smile. He definitely doesn't enjoy it.

"I guess?"

(He lied… that's why he didn't smile back then)

"[KYAAAA!]"

"I guess it'll be enough, Iori-san"

Kirishima-san nodded in response and thanked him for his effort, when he gave an envelope to Onii-chan, he politely refused.

"It's an honor for a male gamer to get a chance as beta tester, a precious experience I'd say"

"However if you did it, I'd be disappointed. Even Ichika-kun and Madoka-chan already accepted"

"Well, you're like an uncle figure or something to us, I think we can accept it as a gift or pocket money?" Ichika-san and Madoka-san replied in monotonic voice.

"In spite of my hair, I'm 24"

*WHOOSH* he sidestepped a chop like a drunkard, and how he didn't unfazed by the threat is a mystery.

"Don't apply economy to your sibling figure then"

"Chifuyu-san?" I gagged seeing the tall, black haired woman. Normally, I should feel happy and melt into a pudding in love, but I knew better than do it.

She's cool and frightening at the same time.

"I don't have much time, just came here to get some reports"

"Eh?"

"The game system will be used in I.S.A. as simulator unit, as well as military. They all have separate, different network and system, good luck spending millions creating a data converter unit" Chifuyu-san explained with no-nonsense.

He just smirked in response "Well, all in all, I'm happy I can spend some time outside factory and interacting with the youngster"

"…I can't tell if you two hate each other or friends enjoying each other's company" Ichika-san sighed "You two look so professional in the office yesterday"

"It's all about work ethic, ladies and gentlemen. An Arcade is where we have fun and being honest after all"

"You never told me anything about job, Ichika"

"Well, he never said anything about payment"

It was an awkward silence, and then both of them laugh.

"Kinda funny remembering how desperate we are looking for part time job"

"Agreed, let's fold the issue out"

Even though I still confused about Ichika-san, I decided to forget it and as if Madoka-san have a free time to spend in shopping trip. She cheerfully replied yes, and thus it's decided.

At least… I can forget it… for a while.

(I'll ask him personally)

~DAN POV~

After that, all of us just left the arcade. Ran and Madoka-san insisted we go on a shopping trip… sigh, this is going to be a pain in the ass.

It was odd, told you the truth. Girls can spend a lot of time in a window shopping, and spending just as much time selecting stuff for them to buy.

I don't know how many hours we spend…

Ichika turned to me, "If I were to say that you were the third IS pilot in the world, I'd say that you would do every well with me, considering how well you performed on the virtual simulator."

I slapped his back, "Well, it's not the end yet. By some miracle, I may as WELL be the next male pilot and then I could get some girls in IS academy. "

"What a simple-minded brother…" Sighed my sister. At least don't crush my hopes like that.

Before I could process my thoughts, I unconsciously blurted out, "I hope that girl won't be as noisy or violent like somebody like I know."

Both Madoka-chan and Ichika turned towards me with a confused look.

Behind the Orimura siblings was Ran, who made the hand motion of slitting her throat. Damn, I wasn't expecting to die this fast in life, and without making a single girlfriend!

Looking at the sunset, when had it become this late?

Seeing this, I think Ichika thought the same thing.

"Guys, it's getting late and I don't want the Gotanda parents to worry about their children. Let's go for a shortcut.

Pointing to an area, it was a familiar area that both Ichika and I knew; we usually go that path if we wanted to reach home faster from the crowded areas. But, somehow, I had a bad feeling about it today…

Ichika on the other hand, remained cautious, but nonetheless kept a smile as he walked along.

There was a voice that rang out and it was one of those voices that I did not want to hear.

"Orimura….and Gotanda is with you as well." A voice came from one of the corners of the alley-like corridors.

Ichika and I both clenched our fists, and THAT moment, our troubled pasts hit us like bricks.

"I can fight as well as you can!"

"No!"

Then dark images of blood and a wounded boy, and another image of a friend of mine that once ruled the school, like an emperor. His eyes were devoid of mercy as he dished out the punishment to those responsible.

Ichika began to slowly emit a killing aura, although it wasn't as strong as the gangsters that stood in front of us was, because we resolved to put away our past, to move forward and-

The leader stepped up to greet us; his sickly grin is as disgusting as ever, Ichika winced in response, conflicting whether to run or just run into an angry rampage.

"I have been waiting for my revenge on you two, ever since that day in the middle school, ever since two of you put a shame to us…"

I gulped in response, not that I was afraid of getting hurt or pesky little thing like that, but our sister was here and-

"Oh are those siblings? What fun I would have, after I watch them squirm after I beat you. And put "

Both Ichika and I stood in front of our respectful sisters, there's simply no choice "You will not lay your hands on them!" I told him.

"The reign of silver throne already collapsed eh? What happened to that Tomo-brat? Is he dead out of his own foolishness? That weakling, always tailing you like a puppy…"

"Dan…" my friend whisper at me, his eyes are full of regret and sadness, as if he's pleading for help. No, I shook my head and bit my lip in response; we can't run any further…

"Madoka, in my sign, bring Ran out and run out of here"

"Ichika… Nii…"

There, the gauntlet was thrown and the battle started, one that reflected the darkness of our past…


Yet another cliffhanger, well, I already said before isn't it? The next chapter will unravel "What the fuck just happened?" question you may have now. To put it short, you know there's something odd about Ichika, and it'll be explained.

-ZeroXSEED