Chapter 24: The unexpected duel

7thDecember 2001

"What does she want?"

Takeru dragged his injured body toward a certain simulator deck while pondering.

Right before he could formally reassign with his squad in the briefing room 07, he received a summon from his Yuuko sensei to a certain simulation block.

Damn. It's still hurt like hell. The girls really went all out on him a moment have totally beaten him like a pulp. He wondered if he could even recognize his own face in front of a mirror right did he deserve something like that? The world really unfair… he just wanted to be considerate of the situation and let the girls savored the sacred moment of their graduation ceremony.

Imagining if he said aloud to them something like "We will be together forever as a squad whether we want it or not and Marimo chan will be stuck to us whether she want it or not", as if he could say something like that. Even someone as dense and a blockhead as Takeru, he would not tell the girls something like that. The atmosphere and the mood are just wrong.

As if Takeru could really spoil the memorable and sacred moment of a graduation ceremony with some future knowledge of his. Even Takeru's blockhead was legendary, but he wasn't nearly stupid as doing something like that. Yet, his kindness and good will was denied and rewarded with violence.

"Senseiii"

Takeru called out to the mad scientist the moment he saw her standing on the simulation deck.

"I have been waiting for you"

Yuuko replied, she looked dissatisfied for some reason

"What do you call me here for, sensei?"

"Ha…. And you had my expectation up during the coup d'état, now I knew that you are truly but an idiot."

The mad scientist sighed out.

"Hah? What do you mean?"

"I wonder if I might catch your stupidity just by talking to you?"

The mad scientist looked at Takeru as though she saw a cockroach.

"Hah?"

Confusedly, Takeru wondered why the hell his Yuuko sensei gave him the same cold treatment as the girls. Did he do something wrong to deserve such a treatment?

"I call you to a simulator deck and you came without your armored suit. Can you not wasting my time anymore than you have already done?"

"Urg"

Immediately realized the reason why his Yuuko sensei using her poison tongue against him, Takeru backed off and made a run.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(Monitoring deck)

"Is that him?"

A girl asked hysterically. She could not hold back her surprise as she pointed her finger to the image of a certain boy who is dashing away from the simulator deck.

"That's the one"

Munakata Misae nodded her head. She stared at the boy who desperately made a mad dash out of the simulator deck to avoid further critics from the mad scientist.

"That's the genius co-inventor of the XM3?"

A pony tail hair girl asked with a doubtful voice, looking at Misae as though she wanted to hear a denial from Misae. The boy in rumor isn't supposed to look as stupid as this…

"That's him"

Misae affirmed with a serious tone.

"That's the genius Eishi we all heard of who cleared the whole training course in the first day?"

A small built girl pointed her finger at the screen and asked. The genius Eishi she heard in the rumor around the training school looked way cooler than this.

"That's him"

Misae replied with the same answer she has told everyone from the beginning.

"The same genius Eishi who manage to injured Instructor Jinguuji during the practice match?"

Suzumiya Akane rubbed her eyes as though she doubted her eyes. That genius Eishi should have a somewhat intimidating look according to those in the Mechanic Department.

"That's him"

"The charming prince in the rumors all around the base?"

Suzumiya Haruka asked with a depressing voice as though her dream was broken.

"That's him"

The firmed answer of Misae once again resound the monitoring room

"1st Lt. Hayase's…?"

Kashiwagi Haruko grinned mischievously and voiced out her thought

"It's definitely him"

Misae repeated the same answer to all of her kouhais' and her friends' questions, because it's definitely the same boy that she saw weeks ago at the hangar.

The commotion in the monitor deck was so big due to the fact that the image of that certain person on the monitor screen was nothing like the girls have imagined. Talking about broken dream…

"This is getting fun"

Misae kept that thought to herself with a grin on her face.

"I only hope that our Hayase would not kill him by an accident… "

Isumi Michiru looked at the screen with conflicted expression. One could not tell if she was excited about this event or if she was worried about it.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"I'm back"

Takeru said

"Enter the simulator number 07. I have installed the twin driver cockpit system inside it. Yashiro has already mounted on that simulator and waited for you"

The mad scientist pointed her finger at a simulator cockpit in particular.

"Roger"

Takeru replied and walked toward the appointed simulator.

Heh.. It's been a long time he came into this simulator deck. Well, since this deck didn't belong to his squad anyway. The only time he entered this deck was when he made the XM3 disk and when he was still a member of the Valkyries.

Oh, yeah. This sure brings back memory. Takeru was so infatuated with the SSS course during the time his Yuuko sensei traveled to her sister's 's a shame that Takeru didn't have any spare time after finishing the XM3 to playing around with that SSS course. Oh, yeah. He wondered how is that Eishidoing. He didn't even know the identity of that mysterious Eishi who he fought against inside the course SSS. Whoever that Eishi was, that person was definitely a good dueling partner for Takeru.

The 07 simulator was just directly opposite block of the simulator with that SSS installed. What the?

Why the hell that simulator with SSS course installed… is full of dents? One, two,…Takeru can count at least 30 dent marks on the outer frame of that simulator. It was as though someone vented out her one-full-month worth of frustration on that machine. wondered who was it, the person who was brave enough to vandalize the training property of the Valkyries…

"Sorry Kasumi, did you wait long?"

The first thing Takeru saw the moment he opened the simulator lid was Kasumi's pouting face.

"No…"

"Did I do something wrong…?"

Takeru scratched his head and asked.

"…"

"Are you gonna enter it or not?"

The cold voice of his Yuuko sensei immediately shoved Takeru into his seat.

"Kasumi, what's this exercise all about?"

"Yuuko sensei wants to test how effective the twin seat driver system is…in anti-TSF battle"

"I see… so where is our opponent?"

Takeru asked. It's obvious that his adversary shouldn't be some AI this time. It would be a flesh and blood Eishi. Otherwise, his cheating synchronized link with Kasumi would not be of any use. Since, Kasumi's esper abilities were of no effect against computer AI and machine.

"Where is our opponent?"

Takeru asked turned his head around the deck to search for his opponent.

"There"

Kasumi pointed her finger at the simulator with the SSS course program installed.

"…I see"

Takeru replied as he fastened his seatbelt.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXX

"It's just the same"

I said testing out the data feedback of the simulator.

The different in data feedback between the simulator appointed to our squad and the real TSF is a far cry. But, it wasn't the case for the simulators in this deck. All of them were installed with JIVEs system which able to replicate every tiniest data feedback that a TSF can perceive. Therefore, one cannot realize the different between piloting a real TSF and controlling a simulator with the JIVEs system installed.

Just by transferring the data record in my armored suit into the simulator, I could not tell the different between my own Shiranui and this simulator.

"Are you done?"

An irritated voice resounded through my earpiece. Damn, I must make Yuuko sensei impatient with all the delay.

"Roger"

"Good, standby. The simulation will begin in 10 seconds"

"Roger"

"JIVES online. Simulation setting Hiragi ruin. Prepare on standby"

Heh? A one-on-one anti-TSF battle? Hiragi town ruin setting again? What exactly is that Yuuko sensei wants to test here? Even without Kasumi's help or the twin seat system, an anti-TSF battle with this kind of setting is just way too convenient for me.

"You are clear to launch"

Yuuko sensei's impatient voice resounded through my intercom.

Damn, what's wrong with her?

"Shirogane Takeru launching off"

I quickly answered and compelled my Shiranui out of its launching platform.

The sudden change in G force pumped blood and adrenalin into my body. All of the sudden, I completely forgot the unfair treatment that the girls has directed at me and how sensei treat me like an idiot.

"Are you all right, Kasumi?"

I asked. Even Kasumi has aced the aptitude test by a landslide and joined me in the simulation using our squad assigned simulator; sharing a drive with me using the JIVES is completely different to some simulator. This JIVEs system made all of the feedback data we received through the simulation became realistic as real life. In another word, it was like driving a real TSF using a simulator.

"No problem"

Kasumi answered.

"A response-570 meters- 5'oclock"

Eh? Why the hell is our opponent flaunting around in such an open space? It was right in the Hiragi square… It must be the enemy's strategy to leave his TSF's IFF transmitter to bait me… Though, it's not like I was afraid of traps at that level.

"Copied. Kasumi, let's not synch our mind yet. I want to see what kind of opponent we are facing against."

"Ok"

Kasumi nodded her head and replied.

I smiled and then lightly tapped on the pedal and turned the Shiranui toward the Hiragi square. Wait… now I think about this… The way the other TSF exposed its whereabouts was more like a provocation than a invitation to a trap… It reminds me of that's mysterious Eishi I faced against inside the SSS course. Wait, don't tell me that it's the same opponent that I have to face off this time.

There… I hare receive a visual confirmation from the Shiranui…

I was stunned for several seconds the moment I spotted a Shiranui stood right in the middle of the Hiragi square without its firearm. The only weapons in possession of that weird Shiranui were a niginata resting on its shoulder and another sheathed niginata on the Shiranui's back.

Urg, my instinct was right on the mark. It was that same mysterious Eishi. Other than him, there would be nobody who chooses to make such an outrageous entrance. It was as if he was so sure that I would answer his challenge fair and square. It was as if he knew that firearm would be meaningless in our battle. It was as though he desired a CQC battle to the highest level.

Well, it just happened that I want to have a rematch against him. That's time, neither I nor him could exert our full strength. But, it's different now. The XM3 installed on my Shiranui is something that maximizes my potential and piloting skills. It won't be the same. Wait… then this faceoff is already decided….

Well, I might not need Kasumi's help this time. There is no way for him to win if his TSF has not converted into XM3. Even for someone as skilled as him, it won't take 5 seconds for me to take him out the moment I entered his strike zone.

"What do I do now? Should I engage him in a melee in his fashion?"

I asked my sensei genius sensei through the intercom. I am still not clear of her intention. If she want to test the efficiency of this XM3 against the normal OS, wasn't the data of my battle at New Hakone Ruin and Izu skyline enough? And if my data wasn't adequate, the Valkyries' data should be.

According to the captain Isumi's report, none of the rebel TSFs managed to breaks through their defense at Atami city. The only casualty on the Valkyries was Tae who was injured during the battle and currently hospitalized.

On the other hand, reports of mysterious UN arm force which put a stop to the rebel's entire attempt to capture the Shogun using their main Army has spread among military bases. The exact number of that mysterious UN arm force was estimated to be around a squadron or two in those reports only to make things turned awry. It was more like a farfetched fairy tale in modern day. It's completely impossible that there is existed an arm force that could stop two third of the rebel main army with roughly 12 TSFs. And to make thing worse, several rebel Eishis appeared to experience trauma and STPD during that battle. All witnesses regaled their stories of fighting against an undead monstrous TSF resemble a UN Shiranui. Damn, the moment I heard those stupid rumors that were spreading among the Imperial Army, I could barely contain my laughter at how stupid and baseless those rumor can be.

"Do whatever you want to destroy the target"

Sensei's nonchalant voice transmitted through my earpiece stopped me from remembering of those reports of the Atami city battle.

What the hell? What does Yuuko sensei mean by "do whatever I want"? It doesn't make any sense at all. Well, it's not like her usual speech make any sense to me… What the hell Yuuko sensei want to test in this simulation?

Anyway, I already have sensei's approval. It's up to me to do whatever I wish now.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Standing in the middle of the Hiragi Square, a navy blue Shiranui rooted to the ground. Arrogant, it appeared to all the spectators, right arm lightly grabbed to the niginata hanging on its right shoulder while left arm gesturing a challenge to its arriving opponent.

20 meters away from the blue Shiranui, a grey Shiranui descended. While spectators expecting the grey Shiranui to be provoked by the arrogant attitude of its adversary, the grey giant was moving at its own pace, completely ignoring its opponent. Slowly discarding its assault rifle and its supplemental shield, the grey Shiranui then calmly deployed its niginata and assumed a stance.

The winds stopped blowing as though they didn't wish to miss the inevitable clash of the titans. Silently, the grey skin titan and the blue skin titan glared at each other.

In an instance, the earth shook, dust erupted.

Spectators who observed the match can only stare in astonishment, for the battle they were witnessing was one with extraordinary intensity. It was as though this was one of the merciless duel could only have taken place in some fairy tale where gods clashed against gods.

Armored titans in grey and blue, in single combat were battling with unearthly strength amid the light reflecting off their shiny armor and the shadow of their clashing blades.

It was as though a mere clash of cold steel could threaten to destroy all beings and object within sight as mighty torrents of air accompanied the clash subdued all things from inferring the duel of the gods. No wind dare to get in between the clashing blade of the titans or dust dare to lift off the ground to interfering with the vision of the titans.

The foot landed crushed the dry asphalt into thousands pieces.

Outer walls and windows of buildings and streetlamps surrounded the Hiragi Square were crushed, peeled away by the ripping wind. Spectators could barely have any spare time to wonder how iron, concrete and the like can be easily peeled in such way. However, whether it was the gleaming blade on the hands of the grey titan or the crushing blade of the blue titan did that, it was of no important to all spectators. It was as though all spectators have their souls sucked into the clashing blade of the titans.

The wind was moaning in pain.

Faced with a dimension that is at odds with the physical law of the world, all the air could do was emitting paranoid wails.

A chaotic maelstrom of blue and grey raged on the empty Hiragi Square, destroying and trampling all things existence within.

Shafts of white thunder when blade met blade tore the sky apart, knolls of the wailing winds impaired the earth.

It was as though just a mere clash of blades would be more than enough to ruin the entire Earth. It was as though this duel could even recreate the whole world, to era where myths and legends dwelled alive.

Faced with a sight of a different realm, all spectators witnessing the duel could do was staring as if transfixed.

It was clear to all spectators who had the upper hand.

Even if the appearance of the weapons on the gods' hands were the same, their characteristics are a world apart.

The crushing blade of the blue armored titan was indomitable. Fast and deadly it was, but the most notable attribute of that blade was its weight.

Even if the grey titan braced every single inch of muscles on his body, it would not be enough to withstand the crushing blade in the hands of his adversary. If he was to take on a blow from the crushing blade head on, he would be crushed by his own blade instead and then cleaved apart, unable to stop the weapon of his adversary from its path.

Combined Tension was the name of technique that the blue armored titan employed. Unifying all carbon actuators hidden within her joints and muscle packs and then unleashed all within a single instance. As the result, the entire bursting raw power produced by the whole body of the blue titan all channeled into the edge of the crushing blade.

The way the blue titan swinging her niginata made people would doubt whether the true identity of her weapon was an oversized niginata or perhaps it was Mjölnirr, the hammer of Thor.

It was no wonder if the grey titan could not withstood that kind of impact. Combine tension was a self discovered technique of the blue titan. Even though it wasn't a secret technique that only the blue titan can use, it wasn't the kind of technique that one can learn within a time span of a year.

In order to acquire the Combined Tension technique, the blue armored must understand clearly every tiniest detail of her body. Then, only after swinging her blade for millions of times, she understood the theory of the technique. Swinging the blade for another millions times, it was only then, the blue titan fully grasped the technique for herself.

However, even with such a crushing advantage, the blue armored titan wasn't able to dominate her adversary at all. And, ironically enough, it was her who found herself dominated instead.

The grey titan was like an incarnation of a butterfly and a honey badger.

He found no necessity to brace himself for the crushing blade of his adversary. Since he has tasted how the gravity rested within the crushing blade more than one, he has found an answer to negate the crushing advantage of the blue titan.

He, the grey titan, himself became a butterfly in order to match his blade against the blue titan.

Hovering and fluttering in the wind, he absorbed all power rested within the weapon of the blue titan without straining his muscle.

Then, the moment the blue titan showed an opening, the grey titan transformed himself into a honey badger fully employed his specialty 'speed'.

Diving, rolling, somersaulting, spinning… around his confused opponent, the grey titan allowed no chance for the blue titan to move. Since his opponent is more experience than him in this road of carnage, she was better than him in control the flow of the battle and forcing her opponents to dance in her tune. That's why he would not allow her to move her body freely and controlling the flow of the battle.

Using his specialty 'speed' to maximize his advantage, the grey titan circled around the blue titan and attacked her in her blind spots. His movement was so fast that even the blue titan could barely catch on to him with her vision. As the result, the blue titan could do everything but moving her body and distanced herself from the grey titan.

The grey titan has forgone his aerial dynamic aerobatics during this duel. Since he has used them all the time during his previous duel with the blue titan, most of them became ineffective to the blue titan this time.

However, those aerial dynamic aerobatics wasn't the only weapon in the grey titan's arsenal. His ground base aerobatics, too, were just as deadly.

The grey titan's wings in form of flaring thruster were abused to the maximum capacity they could offer. However, they weren't meant for the grey titan to soar through the sky.

The grey titan moved around as though his body was glued to the ground… with a godly agility as contrast to how the earth tried to suck him in and prevents him from speedy movements with her gravity and friction.

Two stage boost and triple stage boost were sometimes employed in a short distance to prevent the blue titan from breaking out of his circle; the grey Titan wouldn't give a chance for his adversary in blue a chance to control the flow of the battle.

The grey titan's first rate reflex, unearthly agility and his ground based aerobatics reminded all spectators of a honey badger.

Spectators who witnessing the duel could only shake their heads, unable to think whether they could last 5 seconds, fighting against the honey badger incarnated titan. Surely, they would be taken out the moment he entered their strike zone, without understanding how he has taken them down.

However, the spectators were more surprise of how the blue titan can last against her grey counterpart.

Somehow, all of those deadly strikes which could have ended the duel were rendered ineffective. Using some sort of tricks that were unknown to all spectators, the blue titan fended off the frenzy assaults of the grey armored titan.

And thus, blade clashed against blade, punch matched against punch and kick swept against kick. Two titans raged the Hiragi square to a standstill.

It was a match that belonged to an imaginary realm. One could not believe in their eyes how strength was rendered ineffective with soft and speed was denied with slowness.

Even as their armors were chipped away, neither the blue nor the grey titan flinched. The sights of their armors were slowly chipped away by their opponent only fueled their excitement and rage.

Suddenly, the raging maelstrom stopped.

A left forearm arced through the sky and crashed into a shopping mall, bringing down the shopping mall's outer wall with it to the ground.

All spectators were suffocated as their sight transfixed into the blue titan. Her left arm was now in half of its original length, cleanly cut across the elbow.

However, neither the blue titan seemed to be panic of such sight nor the grey titan looked overjoyed of his achievement.

Their distance was now 25 meters. The blue titan has broken out of her opponent's encirclement at the cost of her left forearm, a small price to pay, considering how deadly the grey titan can be when he approached her blind spots countless of time in their duel. She was barely able to escape her dooms by a hair breadth. The trick she employed to avert away her doom could not use against the grey titan forever. It won't be long until he finds a counter measurement against that trick of her.

Thus, the left forearm was but a small price to pay.

The air grew tensed just as it was at the start of the duel.

Suddenly, the blue titan did something so unthinkable that nobody could possibly imagine.

She leapt back, away from the grey titan.

Taken aback for half a second, but that's just the length of the grey titan's reaction to the unexpected behavior of his rival. He immediately gave chase. Working his wings to their max capacity, the grey titan chased after the blue titan in a max thrust.

The ground based battle suddenly transformed into an airborne chasing game.

As though roaring "Why are you running away?", the grey titan executed a triple stage boost, catching up with the fleeing blue giant.

It was a feat that one could not possibly accomplish by anyone else other than the person who compelled the grey god.

It was so fast, so outrageous and original. It was as though that the grey titan rode the wind so that he could catch up with his fleeing adversary. However, all witnessing spectators barely have any time to admire the maneuver of the grey titan, the blue titan suddenly shifted her wings in form of brightened thruster so that she crashed into a skyscraper.

Crashed… was how spectators recognized the current state of the blue titan. It was such a forceful and inelegant maneuvering that wasn't suited for someone of her stature. Other than crash, people could not see it as something else.

Dust exploded, spreading through the atmosphere like wildfire.

The grey titan who has overshot himself from his intended target forcefully canceled his boost with a somersault and an inverted boost.

But, the grey titan barely has any spare time to wonder the reason for the blue titan crazed action, for he received his answer straight away.

Ripping the dusty air apart, the blue titan leapt at her opponent using the skyscraper's wall as a jumping platform.

This whole situation was planned. Since she could not match against her rival in term of speed and his ingenuity aerobatic, the blue titan just has to find a method to make use of her strength, to bring him down with her brutal crushing strength and her savagery.

Trapped by his own speed, the grey titan was barely able to regain his balance with a prolonged inverted boost. The grey titan had no other choice but to receive the attack of his adversary head on.

But, it was how spectators perceived the situation.

Shifted the tired thruster at his back, the grey titan plunged himself to the ground in an inverted boost while facing his adversary.

There was no way for his tired thruster to outrun the wings of the blue titan. And the grey titan understood that fact painfully well. Therefore resigning himself to gravity was not an act of escaping. It was meant to buy the grey titan sometime to readjust his niginata for a counter.

Bringing the niginata to the level shoulder, tip pointed at the incoming blue god, edge facing upward, the grey titan was ready for any kind of attack coming from his blue counterpart.

If it was someone else other than the blue titan, that person would surely surprise by how calm the grey titan can be, but it only brought pleasure to the old god in blue. Without a sliver of hesitation, the blue titan answered to her grey counterpart's invitation by propelling her body to a vertical descent.

The two titans swung their weapons at each other as they dropped down to the ground like two falling meteors.

The titan in grey swept his blade horizontally with every intention to serve the titan in blue into halves.

It should have been an unavoidable and unblockable strike for the blue armored titan. The blue titan is after all was propelling at her opponent in a max thrust while posturing her sword for a stab. The best she could do in this situation is a double knock out. But, even that scenario seemed impossible with the kind of speed of the titan in grey. Her body will be served the moment her blade touched the grey armored of her adversary. And there is no chance for her pitiful last remnant of strength could be enough to puncture the armor of her opponent.

Yet, the titan in blue didn't mind about it one bit. She stabbed her niginata straight to the cockpit region of the grey giant, moving her abdominal muscle in a way that it would extend her reach and increase the speed of her stab.

Clang!

The weapons rested on the hands of both titans dug into the flesh of steel of their master's enemy.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A few years were shaved away from his life span, Takeru muttered inwardly.

The moment Takeru landed his Shiranui on the Hiragi Square, he knew immediately that he was fighting against his mysterious rival like he did in the SSS course.

Nobody other than that mysterious Eishi could be so arrogant and confident as though being a king of the arena or perhaps queen of the arena?

He intended to finish the match in 5 seconds. But, he has yet to comprehend his Yuuko sensei's intention in hosting this kind of match.

Takeru's instinct told him there was something fishy about this match. And his instinct has yet to fail him in any situation.

Maybe, the Shiranui in blue was also fully converted into XM3 just like him. Who know?

Takeru racked his brain to perceive his Yuuko sensei's true intention in hosting this kind of match.

Wait… Wait… it is the most appropriated for that blue Shiranui to be XM3 converted in this scenario.

Yes… now it is crystal clear the purpose of this match. It wasn't to test the capability of the XM3 converted TSF against each other or it was meant to test his piloting skills. It was to test the result of Takeru's original practice of mind linking with Kasumi to borrow Kasumi's esper ability using the twin seat driver system.

Yup, it was surely for this purpose. Since neither Takeru nor Kasumi has tested this out and the converted twin seat system designed by Yuuko sensei has yet to be installed to any TSF for testing. Therefore, this is a perfect opportunity to test out whether this system is just as convenient as Takeru has expected, against an ace level of Eishi nonetheless.

Then, he should make use of this opportunity to make a grand debut for this Shirogane and Kasumi twin drive system.

… But, it is surely a waste of opportunity to miss this kind of duel against someone of that caliber. It's not like Takeru could fight against someone of his level everyday… Damn, Hayase's competitive spirit has unknowingly rubbed on him since only god knew when.

Yeah, he can't be such a spoilsport and use cheat in this reuniting with his mysterious rival. The cheat can be waited… Yeah, his Yuuko sensei told him to do whatever he pleased. The cheat is therefore can be waited until further instruction from his Yuuko sensei.

His rival was as strong as he remembered. The way that mysterious Eishi made use of all carbon actuators in her/his TSF was absolutely perfect. His/her defense was just as solid as ever and the power of her/his attack was just as intimidating.

Nay, that mysterious Eishi is actually stronger than before. It was clear to Takeru that his rival was experienced with the new control of the XM3. Moreover, that mysterious Eishi seemed to understand Takeru's attacking and moving routine. Damn, his rival probably practiced in the SSS course with the AI taking after Takeru's piloting data.

Damn, and all Takeru ever did after say a silent farewell to his rival was totally forgetting about his rival through all sort of work and project.

But, it wasn't like Shirogane Takeru could be easily dealt with just by having his piloting data analyzed. If it was that easy to deal with him, there was no way for Takeru to easily dominate his friends and even Marimo chan in their simulation practices.

Among his squad, Class rep, Tama and Meiya were the best at analyzing data and came up with counter measurement. Marimo chan, too, was someone extremely good in that analyzing skill, if not on a different level compare to the girls in his squad. But, even putting their head together and came up with counter measurement against Takeru from his piloting data; until now, all of their attempts have barely showed any practical result.

If his rival was seriously thinking that he/she has owned this duel then that person has severely mistaken. Surely after exchanging blow for another couple of times, Takeru could come up with a way to change the tide of this battle.

Just as Takeru has expected, the duel was now under his control.

His mysterious rival was now dancing under Takeru's tune and in a disadvantageous situation.

But, even so, taking down the blue Shiranui piloted by the mysterious Eishi wasn't an easy job.

It was as though that the Eishi of that Shiranui in blue has expected himself/herself pushed into this kind of position, losing all edges and controlled by Takeru.

However, most of Takeru's attacks were rendered ineffective. His rival guarded his/her blue armored Shiranui's blind spots tightly and effectively.

And even though Takeru has sealed the blue Shiranui's movement with his speedy ground based footwork, the blue Shiranui can still moved around better than Takeru imagined.

It was as though that mysterious Eishi's piloting style was somewhat similar to Takeru's…

Gulped, Takeru has a bad feeling about this.

It was only now that Takeru realized that his piloting style and that mysterious Eishi was almost similar to each other to a scary extent. Takeru could not tell who copied after whom though…

It can't be her…right?

It can't be her…right?

It can't be her…right?

It can't be her…right?

Compelling his Shiranui to move around in even greater speed and efficiency, Takeru wished to end the match as soon as possible while a scary question haunted him.

Despite his best effort to put a quick conclusion to the duel, the Shiranui in blue persistently survived even as its armor was slowly chipped away pieces by pieces, as though confirming Takeru's source of fear.

The question "It can't be her…right?" slowly turned into "It is her…all right!"

The reason for that Eishi's aerobatic to resemble Takeru's was still unknown… but it was him who copied after that Eishi's CQC technique. It's no wonder why Takeru found the way he swinging his blade was somewhat similar to that Eishi.

It's that woman…

Can he cry now?

Can he surrender himself now?

Even he admired her to a great extent, she was the last person Takeru want to cross blade with.

Even as Takeru watched someone at the level of Capt. Sagiri and Major Walken, his impression is "they are one of the very best."

Watching Tsukuyomi, Takeru thought "There could not be anyone better than her"

And watching that woman…all Takeru could think was "I don't want to fight against her at all"

She, Hayase the woman bore the undisputed title the ace of the Valkyries was the only difference.

Just like how the BETA has imprinted fear into Takeru's sub-consciousness, tearing him alive in front of Sumika at the bottom of the Yokohama Hive, Hayase carved fear into Takeru's heart with her everyday killing spree in the simulation and her tough love.

To find himself suddenly fighting against Hayase was…really scary, much scarier than facing a BETA barehanded.

Takeru has prepared his heart, mind or body for this battle.

Damn, even his fingers are shaking.

Why the hell he didn't realize it was her until now?

Shouldn't he realize it was her…after exchanging blows with her in that cursed SSS course?

Damn, there was no way for him to recognize, her battle style was greatly different during that time, without XM3 converted.

But, shouldn't his instinct tell him that it was Hayase who he fought against?

Damn, why did his instinct fail him, wrong him…in such a spectacular way?

Even as those thoughts haunting his mind and slowly devoured every cells in Takeru's body, he couldn't stop compelling his Shiranui to move around, hacking, slashing, trying his very best to end the duel.

If he didn't, once this duel is over, a very dissatisfied and ***ually frustrated woman would surely raged the whole Yokohama base, looking for him and settle the grudge of giving her an easy win.

Unlike everyone else Takeru knew, Hayase was extremely fitting to her title as a Valkyrie and the ace of the Valkyries. She was battle addicted, battle maddened and battle obsessed

Takeru could easily imagine Hayase's to fill with nothing but battle. 1st Lt. Munakata told him something about "fighting was like having *** for Hayase"

If Takeru could not please her right now… he will surely receive a ticket to join the valorous einherjar in the hall of Valhalla very soon… and surely in a very traumatizing manner.

Damn, even he was so scare fighting against her… he could not stop himself fighting against her now.

Sob sob… why must he suffer this tragedy?

To hell with all the people who perceived this fanfic a rom-com… it was surely nothing but a tragedy to him

He wanted to cry so badly.

He wouldn't mind the shame of crying like a chicken in front of Kasumi either… as long as he could escape from this.

"Beast kun, Muramasa kun, blade kun please wake up… I incredibly beg you. Fight this woman in my place"

Takeru could only soul search for his unknown cursed hijacker.

But, as if the name of Hayase could easily scare even the unfeeling incarnation of death, no matter how much Takeru begged… he must be the one who pleased and satisfied the battle addicted Valkyrie.

Why?

Takeru inwardly lamented

Fighting Hayase was scary as hell, but stopped fighting her right now is even scarier… there was not a person who would smile happily and switch place with Takeru right now.

"My apologies to all rebel kun… I laughed hearing those rumors about the Atami city. Now I understand why and how those rumors spreading around. No wonder people were sent to hospital for trauma therapy… At this rate, I might as well need one…"

Takeru thought, shredding tears of compassion.

Should he use his cheat now and end this duel?

No way… Takeru was more scare… of reading what's in the mind of that maddened warrior maiden right now.

He must end this battle before Yuuko sensei ordered him to do something as scary as that.

Damn, it was him who was totally controlled in this duel.

Can someone understand his sadness and regret?

That maiden has escaped his seal with her TSF's left arm as a price.

Can he cry now?

Why can't she just stay inside his seal and accept her doom like a true masochist she was?

Damn, she wanted this match prolonged…. Just how ******** frustrated she was?

Takeru cried inwardly, shredding tears of bitterness this time.

He may not be a chicken… No, he is definitely not a chicken… But, he still chickened out fighting against Odin's greatest battle maiden.

She ran.

Yay! She ran. Yippee!

Hell no!

Takeru compelled his mount to give chase as quick as possible.

It wasn't because I love her or anything.

No, don't misunderstand it. He isn't tsudere-ing at all.

He was crying tears of happiness watching Hayase distancing her Shiranui away from his.

But, even if he absolutely had no intention of giving chase, his instinct tell him that he should, every cells in his body were screaming "Chase after her even if it kills you"

While Takeru could easily imagine Hayase would say something playful as "Catch me if you can, honey, teehee", those words could only translate to Takeru as "Catch me if you still treasure your life, you trash, muhahaha".

That maybe because he was over thinking it…No, it definitely a result of he being over thinking. It was the sad true, the saddest and ugliest naked truth.

Fighting for his life now, Takeru plunged is Shiranui after Hayase's back in a max thrust, using a triple stage boost.

To hell with all the people who were admiring how calm he appeared to be now, he was scare…extremely scare.

Chasing after Hayase was already scary, sending her an invitation was even scarier. He felt like he was asking a lioness "would you go on a date with me… pretty please?"

But, this is the only opportunity for him. He must control his fear and swallow his bitter tears for a better tomorrow. He must surely end this duel right here and now. No further delaying is allowed…

Since Hayase entered a posture of a stabbing posture, he would end the match even faster. Taking advantage of her already amputated left forearm, Takeru swung his blade horizontally imagining he would cut the blue Shiranui into halves.

Suddenly, a needle appeared and burst the bubble contained all of Takeru's hope.

The sub-arm that was meant for quick reload grew out from the blue Shiranui left shoulder, tapping Takeru's niginata by the side.

Of course, using the small mechanical arm against its original purpose would only lead to the expected result of making the sub-arm pulverized.

Though, Takeru's niginata missed its intended target, dug deep into the blue Shiranui's shoulder instead. It then cut through the left shoulder and then beheaded the blue Shiranui in a single stroke.

Oh shit…

Takeru didn't have enough spare time to curse, realizing that it was him who is about to suffer.

Twisted his Shiranui away barely in time to evade its doom in form of a stabbing niginata in the hand of the blue Shiranui, Takeru was rocked violently from within his Shiranui.

Hayase's stabbing niginata tore through the right flank of Takeru's Shiranui like butter.

But, it was over yet, the furry of the beheaded titan in blue.

Takeru's Shiranui was now wide open, both hand held onto the niginata which was meters above the top of the headless Shiranui.

Inverting the edge of her oversized niginata, the woman who carved fear into Takeru's heart cleanly sliced off the right arm of Takeru's Shiranui, dragging her blade through the metallic right shoulder of the Shiranui in grey.

It still however has yet to pass, the wraith of the blue titan.

Her opponent was disturbed from its hitherto inverted boost with her latest slash. The grey Shiranui boosting speed was reduced by a small margin.

Shifted her abdominal muscle forward as her master instructed, the blue titan shortened the distance with her swaying opponent. Then, releasing her niginata, the blue titan grabbed the head of the titan in grey and hooked into the grey armored titan with her right sub-arm.

Immediately realizing his opponent intention, Takeru struggled.

He had let go of his niginata that was glued to a dead weight- his Shiranui severed right arm immediately the instance he felt the dead weight on his Shiranui left arm.

But, it still would not make a different to this situation. If Takeru remained like this, his Shiranui and Hayase's would smash into the ground with Hayase's Shiranui mounting on top of his. And surely, his Shiranui would be crushed into pâté as the result.

Shifting the muzzle of his thrusters, Takeru slowed the fall. Still it wasn't enough to defy against the momentum of Hayase's Shiranui full throttle and gravity.

Takeru compelled his Shiranui to shake away the blue Shiranui through all sort of possible movements.

Smashing its knee against the blue Shiranui's abdomen, yanking its head away from the grabbing hand of the Shiranui in blue, twisting its body away from the latch of the blue Shiranui 's sub-arm… the grey Shiranui tried.

The moment a fainted light of hope appeared in form of the pulverizing sub-arm of the blue Shiranui, darkness immediately returned. The blue Shiranui hugged onto Takeru's Shiranui without letting it go.

"Damn… she would not let go no matter what"

Takeru lamented inwardly, yanking his control sticks wildly.

"Wait… this is a chance for me to stop this match."

In a speed of light, a bright and wonderful thought crossed through Takeru's brain.

"Ah ah… true. This maybe for the best after all"

Takeru realized and stopped his struggle.

This would be a happy ending for him.

Hayase would win this battle and she would no longer interest in someone who has lost to her.

Yeah, this is the best ending.

However, Takeru immediately struggled to bring about the situation once again the moment a grim thought crossed his mind.

"What if she think that I didn't do my best and let her walk away victorious?"

That thought drove every cell in Takeru's body to work to maximum ability.

It wasn't because of the shame of dying mounted by Hayase or worse, in Hayase's bear hug… It was the fear of Hayase's addiction and obsession to battle, Takeru fought for his life once more with greater vigor.

Shake

Shake, so that his Shiranui would escape her clutch.

Shake, so that his Shiranui would mount hers.

Shake, shake, shake…

"Damn her and her perfect control of her thrusters"

Takeru cursed

Hayase wouldn't give Takeru a chance to change the situation, changing the direction of her Shiranui thrusters, controlling the power output of her thruster respectively. It was sure that she would be the winner of this match.

Then, something felt incredibly wrong. For a single second, Hayase felt that her Shiranui accelerated downward. Her whole world immediately rotated and span around at an incredible speed in the next instance.

"If Hayase thought that she was the only person who could control the thruster of her TSF to such perfect grace, she was dead wrong."

Inverting the thruster's nozzle to their rightful position, Takeru let Hayase's pushed his Shiranui downward in a greater speed.

Then, increasing the output power of the right thruster and snuffing out the power output of the left, Takeru sent both of his Shiranui and the blue Shiranui hugged into him to an endless rotation while crashing down to the earth headfirst.

Choose.

Choose.

Choose.

Let me go or else we would have a lover suicide here.

Takeru silently told his opponent.

Choose

Choose

Choose

Please choose, I beg you. I incredibly beg you.

Takeru shredded tears, silently begging his 1st Lt. Hayase to let go.

The image of dying together with Hayase in a lover suicide wasn't beautiful at all.

10 meters away from the ground, the Shiranui in blue and the Shiranui in grey separated and crashed into opposite directions.

Dust erupted skyward created a small smokescreen until the top portioned of the skyscraper which was previously crashed onto by the titan in blue fell to the ground, causing a great tremor.

Nobody could see what happened to both combatants through the visual monitor.

Dust covered everything.

Audio signal was rendered useless.

Spectators turned their eyes sight toward the status confirmation of both combatants.

Surprisingly, neither the TSF in blue nor the one in grey was taken out of the duel even though the both of them were in critical condition.

69 percent of the joints and muscle packs of the blue Shiranui was damaged. Left arm remained usable. Left thruster is unusable. All external cameras failed to function. Only one internal camera remained in service. Right thruster is in yellow condition, slight damage.

Surely if Hayase simply crashed her Shiranui to the ground, it should have been unusable by now.

The spectators looked at the status display of the blue Shiranui while recreating how Hayase has crashed her Shiranui to the ground in order to have that kind of damage.

Other than Yuuko who use her genius brain to recreate Hayase's landing, the Valkyries used their experience and eyes of specialists to recreate the whole process.

Left thruster is unusable while right thruster is only slightly damaged. Hayase must have landed on her left flank in order to prevent damaging her remained left arm. Then before the moment of impact, Hayase expelled all power within the right thruster and alleviated the fall through a spin. That's the reason why some of left leg muscle packs and joints gone critical red while right leg were orange.

Then, spectators turned their eyes toward the status display of the Shiranui in grey.

And they were stunned at the display

49 percent damaged. Right arm unusable, twisted and barely connecting to the body. Both thrusters remained unharmed. Head unit –totally was destroyed. All external cameras rendered unusable. One internal camera remained unharmed. Both legs are in yellow and orange condition.

Right now, other than the one who pilot the Shiranui in grey and Yuuko, nobody could recreate how the grey Shiranui landed.

Even with the eyes of specialists, none of the member of the Valkyries could understand how Takeru has landed his Shiranui. Other than Takeru's priority which is the thrusters and the leg of his Shiranui, the Valkyries could not decipher any further. Though, the grey Shiranui is now armless.

A sudden gust of wind immediately blew away all the dust that veiling the battlefield.

People may have mistaken that this gust of wind was natural. But, to the eyes of the Valkyries, it was Yuuko who was so sick of all the dramatic effect of the JIVES and created that gust of wind.

The two injured combatants had long standing on their feet.

"Shirogane, use it"

Irritatedly, the mad scientist ordered.

"Geh…I can end his match without using it"

As if that order has caught the boy off guard, the boy responded.

The Valkyries who watching the whole battle in the monitoring deck was wondering what is "it" that the mad scientist was talking about and why the boy seemed reluctant to use "it".

"It's it the whole purpose of this exercise?"

The mad scientist said

"Must I use it here?"

The boy insisted.

"Stop asking useless question and execute your mission as ordered"

Irritatedly, the mad scientist replied.

"…roger"

Reluctantly, Takeru replied.

"Kasumi, let's do it"

Takeru informed the silver hair girl with tears welling up at the corner of his eyes.

"Ok, Takeru san"

Indifferent to Takeru's pain, Kasumi answered.

"What is this "it" that Professor Kouzuki referring to?"

So this is what Hayase is thinking, it is not as scary as Takeru has imagined.

"Did she mean that he was holding back in the match?"

No, no, no… I incredibly beg you to stop thinking in that direction, Hayase onee sama. I did try my very best, you know? Don't jump in conclusion so fast!

Takeru begged inwardly, hoping his 1st Lt. Hayase would somehow understand his thought.

"So, he was holding back after all."

No, no, no, I didn't holding back at all.

Takeru panicked as his thought was delivered to Hayase…in a twisted form.

"Uhehe, I knew it. He was supposed to be stronger."

"Bring me out of here Kasumi. I don't want to listen to her thought anymore. Just the image inside her head will do"

Takeru begged the silver hair snow fairy, as though a certain nearsighted idiot would beg his Doraemon to save him from the bullying Giant

Immediately, Takeru stopped listening to Hayase's inner thought. Instead, he was now watching how Hayase brutally destroyed his Shiranui using all sorts of different approach, over and over again.

"I retract the thing about her inner world is not as scary as I imagined. It is definitely waaaaaaaaaaay scarier than I imagined."

Takeru cried, sensing no happy ending waiting for him.

"Ready?"

The irritated voice of the mad scientist resounded.

Why the hell is she being irritated? It's not like she jealous of the current relationship between me and Hayase or anything, isn't she? If she loves to duel with Hayase that much, I am gladly switching place with her any time, any place.

Takeru could only sit still and cried inwardly while replying "Yes"

"Resume of simulation"

The mad scientist coldly ordered, obvious to Takeru's distraught.

Kasumi, can I cry now? It's scary

Takeru asked

For some reason, the silver hair girl gave Takeru the cold treatment.

Can I cry now?

Takeru directed the question at himself instead, watching the blue Shiranui deployed its spare niginata with its remained right arm.

Takeru gulped, then purging the useless left arm of his Shiranui which still hanged to the left shoulder.

A small tremor can be felt as the left arm hit the ground.

Immediately, Takeru compelled his Shiranui to a straight dash, right at the blue Shiranui of Hayase with the imaginary head of his grey Shiranui pointed at the ground.

Faster

Faster

Faster

Like an arrow, the headless and armless grey titan plunged himself at his blue adversary as his master commanded. His legs were only slight damage and his wings were in no harm. Even his current form was but a pathetic shadow of his original form, the grey titan was still in great condition to use his speed.

As though he was the wind, as though he could bring forth the wind to his command or rode on the winds, the grey titan plunged himself at the blue armored titan with blinding speed.

The ground beneath him was ravaged as the distance between the grey titan and his enemy the blue titan grew shorter.

Suddenly, a blade swung down at the grey titan's back.

The oversize niginata in the hand of the titan in blue was brought down the moment the grey titan entered her strike zone.

One strike is all the blue titan need to bring down her armless rival. Majority joints and muscle pack in the blue giantess were no longer useable. But, it would not stop the titan in blue from using her favored technique the "Combine tension".

The current power of her strike would obviously nowhere near the level when the giantess in her peak condition. But, a single strike is all the blue titan need to bring down the charging grey titan, crushing the titan in grey to the ground.

However, the result wasn't what the master of the blue giantess has expected. Her oversized club in form of a niginata was unable to crush the grey titan to the ground. Instead, it was the blue titan who was crushed to the ground for an unknown reason.

Darkness shrouded the vision of Hayase.

She could barely understand what was happening.

All cameras on her Shiranui has now all destroyed.

The connection to the JIVES system is now, too, disconnected.

In another world, she has lost.

It was so fast that Hayase didn't have any time to comprehend how did she was taken down.

The only clue Hayase has was the weird feeling she felt back then, when her strike connected to the grey Shiranui.

It was too light for some reason.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

He has won

Against 1st Lt. Hayase the ace of the Valkyries

And with a easy and swift victory nonetheless.

Surely, his Yuuko sensei would surely satisfy with this result.

It's only natural that he won.

After all, he has read Hayase's mind inside out with Kasumi's help.

Among all the method Hayase came up with to win this match, Takeru saw an image of how Hayase would deal with him if he was to charge straight at her, a single chopping to end the match.

Thus, Takeru used that image to his advantage. Lower the center of gravity of his body as though his Shiranui could fall to the ground any second and then plunging at Hayase's Shiranui, Takeru could bring out the greatest speed that his Shiranui could offer.

Moreover, Takeru was plunging his Shiranui at Hayase with nothing but his…TSF's back. It would ensure that Hayase would strike him down right in the back.

And, Hayase did. She executed a remarkable chop.

Though, Takeru could read Hayase's mind of when she will deliver her strike. He could easily time her attack, moving his Shiranui in a vertical backward flip the moment Hayase's strike connected. Thus, all power rested within Hayase's strike entered void.

A spinning drop kick after Takeru's Shiranui has finished its flip was what crushed Hayase's Shiranui to the ground. If Hayase's Shiranui still has its head intact, Hayase would understand why and how she was defeated. But her Shiranui was beheaded long ago. As the result, there was no camera in that region to display the crushing drop kick of Takeru's Shiranui.

Takeru was sure that Yuuko sensei is somewhat please with this result.

But, regarding Hayase, Takeru wasn't so sure.

He didn't have the courage to continue mind connecting with her the moment he has won the duel.

Damn… he can be such a chicken.

But, this is Hayase that he is dealing with… so it is acceptable, isn't it?

But, Takeru still could not bring himself to believe that he has won against Hayase.

But…uwa

Why the hell is he crying now?

Why the hell Takeru didn't feel like he has won at all?

Was it because he used cheat?

No, Takeru wasn't as obsessed with battle as that battle maddened maiden.

A win is a win, no matter how people perceive it, cheating or not.

It was like how Takeru has once passed a physic test set by his Yuuko sensei by copying Mikoto's paper.

It was the same…wasn't it?

Surely… it was the same

That's why empty was not what Takeru feel right now.

Neither it was because Takeru was moved from defeating his biggest source of fear.

Because, winning against Hayase's is just as troublesome as losing against her.

He, Shirogane Takeru, has just let himself marked by his caring 1st Lt. Hayase Mitsuki once again in this loop, if not make her focus on him even more than the last loop.

That's why all Takeru could do right now is cry, shredding tear and say goodbye to his peaceful normal day life.