Infinite Stratos: Athena

Chapter 9: Recovery


========== Tanaka, Togane, Chiba Prefecture ==========

"ErghUuuurh…"

It's been a couple of weeks since the Replica Jabbers incident and things have been rather peaceful that Inami slowly comes awake thinking like it just happened yesterday. It's a Saturday afternoon and he has practically dozed off almost half of the day on the sofa in the living room.

Or so he thought.

Clearly he could not have been mistaken by the oddly soft sensation his head is resting upon or the fact that his head is slightly tilted upwards with a slight painless strain at the back of his neck. The sofa might just have a sudden bump caused by mass displacement under his weight or he might've forgotten that he got a pillow before he dozed off. Such thoughts present no bother but his tilted neck eventually does so he turns his head to the side.

"Ehee…!"

Despite the sudden yelp, it was too soft to register an effect on his mind. However, he soon begins to feel odd. The soft sensation pressing against his right cheek is too smooth and its lacking the fiber bristles of the sofa's cover. Moreover, it feels bodily warm as if the sofa has absorbed his body throughout his sleep.

Or so he thought…

He opens his eyes and sees the television tipping on its side. Its bottom is sticking to the right side along with the coffee table. But that is just his vision from a tilted head.

What immediately caught his eye is the pair of slender legs the right side of his head is resting upon.

"—!"

He gets up quick and turns around. Sitting on the sofa, dressed in white tank-top and a pair of grey shorts is Tsurugi smiling at him with a short chuckle.

"Tsu-chan…! You—"

"Had a good sleep?"

"Umm… Yes, I guess… But why were you—?"

"Can't be helped, you hogged the whole sofa and I don't want to turn my head just to watch TV."

'Oh… right…' he mentally replies, embarrassed at the stated fact even though it has been countless of times that he has done it. Outdoors totally bathed with bright direct sunlight, granted that there are very few clouds in the sky but the house's AC is running so the tenants are spared from the supposed merciless heat from outside.

"Summer's really a killer this year… Even last year wasn't this bad."

"Well it is summer." Inami passes the obvious remark then gets off the sofa in his short-sleeve shirt and knee-length pants, heading out of the living room.

"Where are you going?"

"Gonna wash myself up a bit, I'm feeling a little too… dry."

"Well okay. Mom and Dad are coming home tonight, how about we go out and find stuffs for dinner later?"

'A special celebration dinner…'

He remembers Reika mentioning about something along that line, something about a special dinner to wish her daughter good luck though he does not recall being told the details about it. The thought soon slips off his mind. It is going to be a hearty occasion for someone he holds dear along with her parents whom are the closest he has to his own which is all that matters to him.

"Oh right… Sure!"

She beams a wide smile, switching off the TV then pushes herself off the sofa.

"Sweet, let's go then!"


========== Infinite Stratos Academy ==========

Even with the heating torment outside, the instructors' office remains cool thanks to the network of ceiling ACs. Nevertheless, it does not ease any tension for Kaori who's restless in her own cubicle with a brown folder neatly filled with a thin stack of papers resting on her desk. The folder has "Unknown-01" written on its cover with a bullet-tip marker pen.

"That took a while…"

Twirling the pen around her fingers, she stares blankly at her computer screen which displays a written record of the Minerva along with a picture of it;

[

Subject Designation:

Unknown-01

First Sighted:

April 25th

First Sighted Location:

Tokyo Bay

Subject Details:

Humanoid Armor Unit armed with lethal particle-based weaponry and manned by a single user. Roughly 1.8 meters tall, user is voice-confirmed male in his mid-late teens as reported by Aegis One. Multiple encounters, none hostile. Subject appears to be actively deterring third-party attacks on the Academy. Armed humanoid attack drones, designated Unknown-02, appear to trigger 01's appearance on every occasion.

Action Taken:

Supervision.

Reason For Action Taken:

Subject is deemed non-hostile. Active deterrence of attacks directed towards the Academy is unnecessary but appearance can be used as a tell-tale sign for potential attacks. Hence, supervision of Unknown-01 is highly-advised.

Additional Report(NIL if none):

As of July 7th, Unknown-01 will be dubbed "Minerva", the confirmed proper designation of report subject reported by Aegis One.

As of July 8th, Minerva is classified Missing In Action. Decision to pursue report subject investigation is on hold until disciplinary board's action review of Aegis One is complete.

As of July 10th, action review for Aegis One consolidated. Board advises Aegis One be nominated as Investigation Officer for report subject Unknown-01. Nomination confirmed, Aegis One will be placed under supervision of instructor Kaori Murakumo as per confirmation of experience dealing with the report subject Unknown-01 "Minerva".

]

"Che… Fancy asking me to write a report just because he keeps appearing when I'm on duty." grumbles Kaori as she browses through her own report, realizing that it has added more work to her pile. Several pages of the report have printed pictures of the Minerva in combat along with sticky notes complacently scribbled in pen with words like "beam guns" and "beam saber" to label the powered armor's visible in-built weaponry.

She closes the report with a grunt and another file on her desk catches her attention.

Unlike the previous report file, this one is colored navy blue with the Academy's symbol imprinted in the middle at the bottom of the cover and has a "Student Progress File" printed in white at the center of it. Kaori flips the file open and begins to browse through the few sheets of what appears to be an application form written with a decent, average handwriting, the student's name partially-blocked with only the surname visible.

'Katami… huh?'

As she reads through the written form, her eyes stopped at the student's residence, briefly raising her brows and growing a small smile as though she just realized something interesting.

'Heh… What are the odds…?'


========== Hachijo Island, Izu Islands Cluster ==========

"Thank God for air-conditioners…"

Clause watches out his base's observation deck where the hologram screen displays the temperature outdoors while the Sun bathe the island with intense heat and daylight. Staring at the hologram screen from a rotary seat in front of the deck's control console, he brings out various data from the archives including first-person-perspective pictures of the Minerva.

'A single manned unit fending off five of our masterpieces in a single fight…'

He enlarges the pictures in sequence which shows the Minerva with the Type-One flight unit mounted on the back, some magnifying the in-built weapons like the beam guns on the forelimbs, the beam sabers stored on the waist and the massive, broad buster sword.

'Even though it mounts specialized close-combat equipment as a standard…'

Pictures of the Minerva taking damage from railgun and super-compact air projectiles is swapped to the foreground, showing bits of the geodesic particle barrier that shields the unit against the shots as well as pictures of physical fracture damage on the unit's armor.

'Tough… but not invincible. Then there's still the Academy's IS defense system…'

"Tch." He clicks his tongue as he swipes the pictures off the hologram screen and back into the archives, pulling out a couple of items. One is labeled [JABBER 02: ASTRA] while the other has a single, big Greek sigma icon as its cover. He selects the former which displays another humanoid drone unit unlike the previous Jabber drones the organization has fielded. This new Jabber unit, the Astra, appears much slimmer than its predecessor.

The Astra also appears to lack in-built weaponry on its arms like the predecessor. However, it is armed with a pair of cannons mounted on its back and a long sleek solid blade attached to a rotating mount that's attached parallel to its right forelimb. The opposite tip of the mounted blade sports a couple of oval-shaped gun muzzles.

"Block R, what's the sit-rep on the revised Replicas?"

"-We've just completed the combat test for Unit Two-B, sir. The cannons' alternate function for plasma ammunition churns out more way more firepower compared to the Jabber's plasma guns and the scimitar halberd appears to hit much harder compared to the previous double-bladed lance type.-"

"And the Astra?"

"-As planned, we've built three of them. They're currently being loaded onto an Ark along with the rest of Apprehension Plan.-"

As the personnel speaks through the comms, Clause browses through other data in the archives on the hologram screen. One of the item, labeled [APPREHENSION PLAN] on the top right of the hologram screen, shows what appears to be a strike force consisting of several Jabbers and Strike Jabbers. Alongside the drones are three of the Astra units and a massive transport aircraft labeled [ARK].

The Ark appears as a huge, tailless, variable forward wing sweep aircraft with a bulk on its underside where the main cargo hold resides. Relatively flat top, the aircraft also lacks a visible cockpit which instead has four semi-transparent panels around its nose cone, each concealing an optical camera. The Ark's overall design is relatively sleek with barely any major hinges across its exterior and at the back of it are quadruple deep, rectangular engine exhausts.

'Apprehension Plan… A painstaking compromise but if all goes well…'

The screen immediately swipes off the displayed data back into the archive and swaps out a global view where a dotted line traces from Japan towards North America across the Pacific Ocean then back to Japan, at Hachijo Island where the Hyperion Styx's base is located. Three indicators [01], [02] and [03] are then projected at specific points along the dotted path.

'We'll have the world's greatest piece of technology in our hands!'

Clause grins at the screen and closes the overview display, staring out towards the distant town.

'Enjoy your summer while you still can, people of the Academy.'


========== Mount Nokogiri, Futtsu, Chiba Prefecture ==========

Held in a construction cage, the Minerva Kai powered armor stands in all glory of its completion. Primarily painted in darker shades of gray than the predecessor Minerva, which is held in another cage next to it fully restored with hardly any signs of damage on its armor, the Kai also sports red highlights on some parts of its armor as opposed to the original's blue. Despite the slightly different color scheme, the Kai's armor itself is different from its predecessor.

Unlike the original Minerva, the Kai lacks the large rounded pauldrons on its shoulders and instead sports slightly curved rectangular armor platings attached to where the user's biceps would be. The Kai's chest armor is also smaller and significantly thinner than the Minerva's, whose chest armor has flat, angular plates that roughly reflects the human body while the Kai's is a vest-styled chest armor with an armor plate over the upper torso and a few articulated plates attached to its bottom.

The Kai's helmet is also drastically different from the Minerva's. In addition to the thin visor of the original, the Kai also has a single fang-like slit down the middle giving the visor a roughly T-shaped appearance. It also has cheek guards and a protective alloy brace that reinforces the top of the helmet unlike the original, which has a beak-like protrusion below the visor and a cap-like protrusion on top of it.

On its back is a pair of particle thruster jets with actuator fins on the exhausts unlike the Minerva's which has cone-shaped nozzles at the end of its own. The Kai's particle jets also appear to be relatively bigger than the Minerva's and also retains the original's particle jets built on its calves.

"So this is the new Minerva unit…?"

"Yes. Minerva Unit Two, the Minerva Kai. After reviewing his past battles, it is clear that Inami's combat capability is greatly hindered by quite a number of factors of the original unit."

"Such as…?"

Jinrai pops open a laptop that's resting on a workbench. The screen then displays the predecessor Minerva unit in wireframe model form while he taps on the flat keyboard, bringing up data of the unit's in-built armaments.

"The original's weapons. The beam sabers are the Minerva's most powerful weapons but it consumes quite a lot of power in-use. The particle guns on the other hand, don't use as much power and yet they could deal considerable damage against the enemy drone units. Against the barrier-shielded units like the IS replica drones however… not as effective."

Gerald nods with narrowed eyes. In his mind, he wonders where and how did Clause managed to obtain barrier shield technology, let alone schematics of active IS units.

"We have little reason to believe that the enemy, whoever they are, will not implement barrier systems on their other units. Hell, if I were them I'd develop a brand new mass-production drone unit with more powerful weapons and barrier shield features." Jinrai continues.

"Hmm… True. It's already been weeks since their last attack… They might just be working on one as we speak."

"That is why I developed countermeasure weapons for the Kai, ones that can be used against barrier-shielded enemies as effectively as the Minerva's against non-shielded ones." Jinrai resumes as he taps on the laptop's keyboard again, bringing up another window that displays the Minerva Kai's armaments; a gun labeled as [MAGNUS] and a katana-shaped sword labeled [ECLIPSE]. The view is then magnified upon the Magnus.

Gerald stares at the screen for a brief moment, creating an awkward silence between the two until he rolls his eyes to Jinrai.

"…Just two weapons?"

"Yeah. It's a little bit of compromise to allow greater performance for the Kai over its predecessor."

"How so?"

"Well… To start off, I made the Magnus as a separate weapon since having it built into the arms would only serve as dead weight seeing as Inami doesn't use the Minerva's particle guns as often as he used to, especially against the recent IS replica units."

"What of the Eclipse?"

"It's planned but I have yet to develop the weapon proper. Until then, we won't be able to field the Kai for missions."

"Not that it will need it seeing as we still have the Type One and the Buster Sword."

"As an improvisation, yes. Then again, the Kai does not need the Type One for sustained flight."

"The Kai can fly on its own?"

"Indeed. The Minerva did not have such luxury because all of its equipment shares a central power network. Its particle guns, barrier systems, thrusters and all other applications tap into one single power capacitor that's fueled by the particle generators built into the armor. The Kai doesn't suffer as much because its uses a dual-capacitor system, one for the main unit and another for the main thrusters."

Gerald turns his head to the Kai that's held in its cage and notices a pair of protrusions from the back of its shoulders.

"That explains the bulk on its back."

"It's an experimental system for now. You have no idea how troublesome it was to remake the Minerva's OS for the Kai just so the dual-capacitor system can work proper."


Moments later on the observation deck where Gerald sees the sky slowly consumed by the darkness of night, he turns to the console which activates a smaller hologram screen directly on top of it and he begins to browse into Praxidike's data archives. Searching deep into the confidential files, he finds an item labeled [ATHENA].

'It's been a while…'

The item opens and displays three pictures; the IS Academy, Yakushima Island which is located off the south-western tip of mainland Japan and finally the Tanegashima Space Center which is located on its neighboring island of Tanegashima. Accompanying the pictures are a few other items of various names but one of them catches his attention. The item's name is ambiguously named "Miyanoura Project".

'That's right… It's been a long while. I should probably pay her a visit.'


========== Tanaka, Togane, Chiba Prefecture ==========

"Ich—!"

"There we go!"

"T-Thanks…" says Inami as Tsurugi places a plaster over a small cut on his right thumb then walks over to the sink, rinsing the knife under running water to wash off the tiny blood stain on the blade's edge.

"My, you're a dummy… I told you to be careful."

"Sorry…"

She slots the knife back into a wooden rack next to the sink while he makes his way out of the kitchen carrying a tray of empty glasses and a glass jug filled with iced tea. The wooden dining table in the living room has a number of spicy dishes cooked by the two as they prepare dinner for when Kiyoshi and Reika returns. He sets the tray down on the table and places each of the four glasses next to each of the empty plates.

'Oh yeah… I forgot to ask her that.'

"Tsu-chan!" He calls to Tsurugi, turning his head towards the kitchen just as he places the glass jug on the table.

"Yes?"

She walks out of the kitchen with a small towel, wiping her hands.

"Reika-san told me before that tonight's meant to be a special celebration dinner… Any idea what are we celebrating?"

'Oh no…!' pops up in her mind, realizing that she has forgotten to tell him something important, something involving a certain application of hers during his absence. Taken aback by her prompt short gasp, Inami raises a brow while she loses her smile and her eyes avoiding his.

"Tsu-chan…?"

Silence fills the air as she lets off a sigh and lowers her head.

"I'm so sorry, Ina-kun… I should've told you this earlier. Thing is… I… umm…"

"What? Is it serious?"

"Sort of… I'm going to enroll into the IS Academy."

Inami abruptly jerks his head backwards, his lips part and his eyes widen. Yet again, despite his reaction, his mind is still undisturbed even with various questions echoing within.

"Enrolling? That means… you'll be studying there…?"

"Yes…" she answers with her head still hung low, tightening her shut eyelids as she braces for a harsh reply.

"That's awesome!"

"—?"

Tsurugi immediately open her eyes wide and looks at him, confused at his cheery reaction as she expected otherwise. She had mustered up a great amount of courage to confess the real intent of the dinner thinking he would be angry at her for it. Yet, she got the opposite reply and her heart is filled with nothing but complete uncertainty.

"A-Awesome…? Why…?"

"What kind of question is that?" Inami asks, placing a hand on her shoulder with a beaming smile as he answers "That place is where you get to learn about the IS! It's like a prestigious school with high standards! Isn't that a good thing?"

"But… I don't understand. I thought you would be mad at me for it."

"Why would I be?"

"Well, you know… It's a boarding school. That means we won't get to be with each other as often and you just came back after your long absence… I thought you'll be angry seeing as I'll be the one disappearing this time."

"…We still have weekends."

"But we won't get to spend as much time together like we used to."

"You want to study, don't you?"

"Yes" is what she would've promptly replied but uncertainty still gets the best of her. She knows her priorities yet she's nervous of how he would feel about it.

"I… I do, but—"

"Then go for it! What's stopping you?"

"Are you really sure, Ina-kun?"

"Of course! I'll also support you with all I can, yeah? I'm sure your parents will too."

"Ina-kun…"

Warmth overwhelms her heart almost instantly, tossing out every bit of uncertainty from her mind upon hearing his delighted approval of her enrollment. She feels so happy that she could not contain her happiness and her eyes tear up, growing a wide smile on her face as she throws herself onto him and hugs him tight.

"Thank you…! That means so much to me!"

Inami returned the gesture, putting a hand around her waist and another behind her head, gently stroking her silky chestnut brown hair.

"C'mon now, let's save the celebration for once your parents come home, all right?"

"Yeah!"


========== Infinite Stratos Academy ==========

Two days passed and Kaori has a thin stack of documents in hand, one of them being the blue-colored "Student Progression File". As she walks past the cubicles towards the office's exit, she spots Maya sitting in her own cubicle, staring into blank space while giggling softly to herself. Heaving a sigh, Kaori quietly sneaks into Maya's cubicle and slowly inching her head towards her back and over her left shoulder.

"Yamada-sensei."

"KIYAAAA—!" shrieks Maya as she turns to her back in her rotary office chair, throwing up her arms as she gets startled by her fellow staff's sudden voice at such close proximity.

"Are you daydreaming again…?"

"W-What? No I wasn't! I-I'm just clearing my w-workload!"

"You already handed in your last report like half a week ago. Even your computer is off and you've been giggling to yourself for the past ten minutes."

Maya turns back to her desk, realizing that it's completely clear of any papers or files and that her computer screen is totally blank without any glowing lights to indicate it having any power. Her face slowly reddens as she shyly turns back to Kaori.

"Umm… Sorry…"

"It's all right. Why are you here anyway? It's still summer, don't you have any holiday plans or anything?"

"I'll be going somewhere with Orimura-sensei later in the afternoon. Now I'm just waiting for her to come by."

"I see… Well at least walk around a bit, don't just sit there. You might damage your… bottom."

"B-Bottom?" Maya grows flustered again as Kaori then breaks out a short laughter.

"I'm just kidding! It's just unhealthy to keep sitting for hours."

"Is that so…? Guess I'll just wander around the campus grounds for a bit later. What about you, Murakumo-sensei?"

Kaori raises the blue folder in her hand.

"Working. There's a new enrollee coming in today."


"X…?"

Tsurugi steps out of a scanning port after it runs a full body scan on her to determine her basic synchronization level with the Infinite Stratos system. The pod displays her result on a screen on its cover upon closing itself. Outside the pod is Kaori, disguised as a typical Academy staff to mask any clues to her occupation as an instructor as she stares sharply at Tsurugi with her green eyes.

"Do you have any experience in using an IS before, Katami-san?"

"Not exactly."

Kaori acknowledges with a nod and ushers her out of the room then leads her towards one of the arenas for her next and final phase of enrollment. While Tsurugi is slightly disheartened by the ambiguous synchronization grade, she remains determined as she knows it is way too early to give in.

"If I may ask, Katami-san, what is your motivation to enroll in the Academy?"

"Well… I have a few, some of them personal. I'm intrigued by the impression the Infinite Stratos has made to the world and I want to learn what is it about the IS that made that impression."

The instructor remained silent. It is one of the common answers from almost every single student she has enrolled and yet, something is different for Tsurugi. While her answer may have been a template, there is honesty in her words. Particularly one word; personal, a word very few students use when they initially state their motivations for joining the Academy and yet, unlike the few students who mentioned "personal" as one of their motivations, Tsurugi spoke of the word as though she has nothing to hide.

"It's true that the IS has made an impression on the world. Then again, you could say the same for some of the world's advanced military hardware during their time."

"I suppose so, yes."

"And yet you chose to enroll here and not enlist in the military. Why is that?"

Tsurugi remembers Inami's five-year absence, his return and the surge of terrorist drone attacks that he has been exclusively armed to deter. Unlike Praxidike, the IS Academy is a school; life-threatening combat don't normally occur on a daily basis if there are even any. Her ideals lie in reasoning and understanding as opposed to Inami who leans more to decisive physical action with the Minerva, granted that the issues he face are life-threatening ones.

"I have a close friend whom I treasure dearly. He has seen the military way of living… and I, well…"

Close friend? He? Kaori's suspicions are sparked by those words as she has previously saw her residence which also happens to be the same general location where the Minerva is seen to sortie from and return to during its past interventions.

"I see… So you're the type that would sit back to learn and understand things rather than taking decisive action."

Kaori's tone came out harsh. The words of the instructor certainly relay Tsurugi's point but the latter half has a spike to it. While it sounded condescending, she knows deep in her heart that it's not intentional. In her mind, Tsurugi knows there are times to learn and understand problems as well as the times where she'll need to commit an action to solve the problems.

The two eventually arrive at the arena complex where the Kaori shows her a locker room.

"We've prepared pilot suit of various sizes in different lockers. Suit up in the one you are most comfortable with then meet me at the hangar. It's right around the corner from that exit."

"Got it, Murakumo-san."


Moments after, Kaori waits in the arena's hangar filled with a handful of the IS Training unit, the Uchigane, neatly arranged on the side. Tsurugi then steps into the hangar wearing the student-default navy blue pilot suit with cobalt highlights on parts of its edges. The form-fitting suit shows off her slender figure, projecting even her C-Cup breasts which made her feel slightly uncomfortable for a short while.

"Not bad."

"T-Thanks… It's been a long while since I last wore something like this."

The instructor lets out a short scoff and a smile, directing her attention to the IS units arranged behind her.

"This is the Uchigane. Second-Generation IS units employed by the Academy for training purposes. You will be using one of these in your final phase of enrollment."

Speechless and in awe, Tsurugi's sight gets glued to the marvelous samurai-themed Uchigane. It did not matter to her what Generation the Uchigane was classified as, it's her first time seeing an IS up close that she could just put her hand forward and touch it.

"How do I get on them…?"

"Touch them."

Touch, the very thing she has been dying to do upon seeing the Uchigane and now Kaori has given her permission to do so. What else is left for the fresh enrollee as she gently reaches out her arm and places her hand on the Uchigane that's resting at the middle of the arrangement, sensations of euphoria surges throughout her body and mind as she feels the cold hard surface of the IS' armor.

'This feeling… Is this how Inami felt when he first touched the Minerva…?'

*kyun~*

The Uchigane emits a brief soft hum and immediately glows in bright blue light shortly after her palms made contact. The sight of the IS seemingly coming to life amazes Tsurugi beyond anything else and her body suddenly levitates while the glowing training unit disperses into wide digital streams that orbit around her. While Tsurugi's appalled by the orbiting streams as they form the Uchigane's silhouette around her limbs and abdomen, Kaori frowns lightly as though something seemed off about the IS' activation.

'That's odd. Only S-Grade enrollees should have gotten such instantaneous reaction from an IS… but this girl's an X-Grade!'

Within seconds, Tsurugi finds herself donning the Uchigane's armor. The elongated mechanical forearms, the armored legs with twin long skirt armors floating on both sides of her waist, covering the entirety of the Uchigane's legs and the twin floating shoulder armors suspended in place above her shoulders.

Everything is alien to Tsurugi, the feeling of being mounted with armor like those of a samurai; she couldn't even begin to describe how it feels to be one with an Infinite Stratos unit. She takes a step forward and slowly moves her arms around, wriggling her fingers, curling them into fists and twisting them about to get a feel of the Uchigane's range of movement while the Academy staff watches in amusement at her trying to grasp control of the Uchigane.

"You're really into this, Katami-san."

The instructor's prompt snatches Tsurugi's attention, abruptly ceasing her arm-swinging.

"I-I'm sorry, Murakumo-san… Guess I got too excited as this is my first time using an IS."

"That's okay… Just don't break anything. Wait here while I set up for your final enrollment test, you'll be facing an instructor who will gauge your overall capabilities with the IS. Do not disappoint her."

Kaori's tone was stern but Tsurugi barely showed any signs of fear. While she still doesn't quite know how to pilot the Uchigane proper, she knows there's no room for slacking. She has gotten this far and enrollment is within her grasp. It's understandable as to why the Academy would have such harsh requirements for enrollees to meet given how prestigious of an institution it is let alone the fact that it teaches its students about the highly-advanced and similarly controversial Infinite Stratos.


After a brief moment, the tall hangar bay doors open towards the arena grounds. Curious of her opponent, Tsurugi steps into the arena's ground of earth and dirt meant to replicate an earth-based combat environment for students during training sessions. As she enters the area, she sees another Uchigane in the distance and is surprised upon seeing it piloted by Kaori herself, who now dons a jet-black pilot suit with orange highlights.

"Murakumo-san…?"

"Forgive me for not telling you earlier, Katami-san. I'm also one of the Academy's combat instructors and I will be the one to gauge your capability for your enrollment."

Tsurugi's briefly stunned by the revelation as it turns out that Kaori is an Academy instructor, a combat instructor even. Nevertheless, she shakes off the feeling. She needs to pass this final test. Kaori brandishes the Uchigane's katana as its digital silhouette forms in her grip. Having not a single clue on how to deploy weaponry, Tsurugi's stuck with her fists '…but who fights like that anymore?' snapped into her mind.

Despite her apparent helplessness, Tsurugi stands ready, closes her eyes and places her right hand on the left side of her waist as though she's drawing an imaginary sword from a scabbard. The instructor makes a beeline for her with the katana held in front of her right shoulder, placing every soul and heart into defeating the new enrollee.

'…Shinken.'

Tsurugi hears a soft hum and her hands felt a grip. Her eyelids part in a flash, barely catching sight of the instructor swinging the katana as she swings her right arm out.

*CLANG*

With just one arm holding the katana, Tsurugi parried the instructor's two-handed strike. Despite having absolute zero experience in piloting an Infinite Stratos, her family line of persistent sword training regiment was all it took to dish out a striking force right off the bat. Kaori stares dumbfounded as she feels the impact force down her arm, not strong enough to rattle her hold on her katana but it's undoubtedly the strongest hit she has blocked from a student, less likely a fresh enrollee.

"Interesting…! As I would expect from a child whose parents are dojo instructors!"

"How do you know?"

"Of course, I was also the one who processed your application form so I know everything about you!"

"Everything—?"

*KSHIIING*

"Erk…!"

Tsurugi stumbles a few steps backwards with the katana still firm in her grip while Kaori grows a grin and charges towards her with the katana held behind her right side. She swings the katana diagonally but Tsurugi blocks the strike by putting her katana in front of her. The impact pushes her aside but she keeps her steps firm to prevent herself from falling.

"Come on now, I told you not to disappoint the instructor, didn't I?"

"I won't!"

"Prove it!"

*CLANG*

Kaori hammers her katana hard onto Tsurugi's as the edge is held over her head. After a brief moment of struggle, the instructor loses her grin as she suddenly feels her blade being pushed back, looking at Tsurugi and sees the enrollee staring at her with frowned, brown eyes. The instructor exerts force on both her hands trying to push her weapon back against Tsurugi's but her efforts merely slowed down the rate at which her katana is being pushed back.

"I'll prove to you… my family's legacy of one-handed swordsmanship! You will not be disappointed, Murakumo-sensei!"

"Heh… Now that's more like it."

*KSHIIING*

Tsurugi breaks the parry and Kaori boosts away, leaving a wide gap between them.

"One more, Katami-san. Make my Monday better!"

"Yes, Sensei!"

Breaking another grin, Kaori dashes forward with her katana held in front of her right chest while Tsurugi, holding her katana low behind the left side of her waist, runs head-on towards her opponent. The heavy metal steps of the Uchigane's feet rocks the ground in her path as the two swing their weapons out towards each other.


=== [End of Chapter 9] ===


Author's Note: And thus, the story transits from one arc to another. While the pilot arc introduces the Minerva to the IS-verse, the next follows Tsurugi as a new student of the IS Academy. As per this chapter's publishing, I will take a hiatus to re-draft chapters for the next arc of Athena.

Once again, I would like to express my appreciation for those who have been reading Athena, especially those who took the time to write reviews for this story, thank you so much! Keep them coming as the story goes, yeah? I really do appreciate them as they help a lot when I need the drive to write this story.

Till we meet again in the next chapter, fellow readers.