As expected of Mr. Tempest35, this chapter is also awesome. You won't waste your time with this, trust me. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be the one posting this.

Read and review.


Infinite Stratos

-The Mirror Universe-

Disclaimer:

Izuru Yumizuru

And everyone else!


Chapter 04: New Semester, New Challenge


"I.S. academy allows all kinds of uniform altercations so long as you keep the material and color pattern the same as original issue, as well as fulfilling the minimum standards of decency," Orimura-sensei recited verbatim. Along with that, she tossed his mask into the trash. There was no point in hiding it from the world anymore.

"So, what you're saying is that I am allowed to keep a 'disguise' up?" Ikkun muttered. "What for? Do you think that's still necessary, sensei?"

"Aside for my amusement, not much," Chifuyu revealed honestly, much to her 'little brother's' chargin, "However, I personally recommend that you do because the school will be less chaotic that way."

Ichika being Ichika, like his female counterpart, never got the memo about his physical attractiveness. Even putting his 'special' trait as being the only one male pilot aside, he was just naturally charming and kind; a regular chick magnet to begin with.

If Orimura-sensei said it was good; then it's good. "Understood" he nodded, putting on his shades as three of them step out of the helicopter, Chifuyu being the lead.

On the upside, personal I.S. operators and cadet reps tended to wear heavily customized outfit anyway.

Icchan was probably one of the worst offenders to date, with a distinctive waist coat attached to a miniskirt and sleeveless blazer combo. Protecting the modesty of her lower body were black spandex shorts, actual part of her I.S. pilot outfit. To be fair, Icchan had told him that it was her summer get-up. Her normal uniform was a lot less crazy or revealing, by her standards.

"Ne, Ichika, if you don't want it, just leave it alone," Icchan huffed, popping her head out from the rear seat.

"Nah, it's okay. The fact that it's comfortable is a plus," he laughed to reassure her. "Also, I just want to see everyone's reaction. I'll ditch it eventually."

"Well, what could possibly go wrong," Icchan shrugged as she handed him his uniform. This would be the first time he played as a clown at school, voluntarily. Knowing his luck, this will either painfully backfire or went horribly straight into its logical extreme.

In the classroom, everyone was waiting in anticipation. A male student, the first and so far the only one, is transferred to class 1-2. The tension in the air was palpable among the girls, who were gossiping excitedly.

"What kind of man is he?"

"Ho, I wonder what he look like,"

"Is he strong? Is he handsome?"

"Well he has a personal I.S. so-"

Lingyin scoffed, the girls in the class and the student body in general as they had very high expectations of the new guy. She wondered if they'll get their hope crushed at first sight, since she knew that the guy was not exactly the coolest guy around. A certain memory of how her heart pounded that one night was beaten back into whimpering submission before her cheeks became red. "Th-that wasn't anything special," she grumped, folding her arms over her chest.

He was friendly, if a bit awkward. Otherwise, aside from looking exactly like Ichika and being able to pilot an IS, he's a totally average guy.

And oh how the universe decided to show just how wrong she was this time as the door swished open.

Clad in the academy colors with his uniform top lengthened to resemble a long coat, his footstep echoed through the suddenly silenced classroom. A pair of dark shades covered his eyes, which combined with his hairstyle, gave him a very mysterious, aloof vibe.

"This is Orino Ichika-kun," she was careful to distinguish the '-kun' from the already familiar name. "From today onwards, he'll be joining this class."

He straightened his back then bow politely, expression unchanged behind the shades. "My name is Orino Ichika, you can call me however you like. Please take care of me."

A deafening scream and cheer erupted, caused Lingyin to cover her ears.

"So cool!"

"He look so strong, ahh… look at those broad shoulders…"

Lingyin put a palm on her face. That dork…! How dare he just waltz right in and corrupt these girls!

"There's four empty seats on the back, choose whichever you like, Orino-kun."

"I understand," he nodded, and proceeded to sit aside Lingyin's, who sat in the right rearmost corner. She looked at him with strangely irritated expression.

"What the heck with that getup," she hissed at him in a very cat-like manner. "What did you eat this morning? Wrong kind of supplements?"

"Chifuyu-nee told me to dress this way," he answered calmly "She said it would have caused a riot if I acted normally. I still don't understand why she said that."

At his mention of 'Chifuyu-nee', Lingyin felt her eye twitch in response. To date, no one but Icchan would ever call Chifuyu that, and now this guy was calling the older Orimura that familiar nickname.

But it seems to work, he thought. The first time he went to school, he made himself look like a dumbass due to his awkward feelings. Using the shades he managed to avoid showing his constantly twitching eyes.

"Well she does have a point, at least you don't wear a mask," Lingyin sighed, still marginally disappointed that she couldn't see him made a fool of himself on his first day in the Academy.

"Sure thing."

The class went rather smoothly, and Ikkun was especially thankful for having so much time allotted to learn and exercise last month, he could catch up with most of the students without any hiccups. He had never felt this productive during his 15 years of life. When the bell rang and the first subject ended, he quickly evacuated out of the class, knowing full well that the girls numbered in the dozen is trailing behind him with unbridled curiosity. So at the cost of not constantly being surrounded by girls, he had to bear the burden of being stalked constantly instead.

At least Chifuyu was right that the girls were less… loud. He grunted, thinking about a way to lose them as smooth and quick as humanly possible.

"Where the heck are you going?" Lingyin asked as she ran aside him.

"Trying to lose my stalkers."

"CAREFUL!" Lingyin's voice fell on deaf ears as the subsequent impact came with loud *BOMPH*

"Auuuu~" Icchan rubbed her aching back, full speed deflection courtesy of her male counterpart. He seems to be fazed, but otherwise fine.

"Are you okay?" he offered his hand, genuinely apologetic for his recklessness "Sorry for that"

"Nah, same here" she grasped it and stood up, for all intent and purposes, she's the one almost tackled him down, she turned her attention to her childhood friend "Anyway, the next class is joint training; I suppose I had to inform you"

"Change of schedule eh" Lingyin noted and pointed the stalkers with her thumb "Sure, it's convenient that the girls are here"

"Well, good for you, I think?" Icchan tilted her head in confusion.

"I'll be there soon" he nodded, before running his way for the locker.

"What's with the crowd" Cecilia and Houki's head popped out of the door.

"Your boyfriend is making a ruckus of the girls in my class" Lingyin said, until the girls from class 1-1 also rushed out on their way following him like lost puppies "Scratch that, if this goes probably half the school will go into riot mode."

"Who is who's boyfriend," the female Ichika questioned, causing Lingyin to give herself another facepalm. As usual, Lingyin's tease flew right over Icchan's head, even as the other girls sighed.

"I swear, you do this on purpose sometimes."

...

He practically stormed into the locker, with biosensor on full alert. Noticing that no one is present, he went to change his clothes.

"?"

"Guess who?"

He regretted he turned the biosensor off, and whoever managed to sneak on him certainly is not a normal girl. All in all, he could only see pitch black.

"I don't recognize that voice," he said coldly.

"Awww, you're no fun."

He swiftly spun his body to face his 'aggressor'.

A girl, pale hair and skin alike, bright red eyes. Familiar, perhaps… like Kanzashi but different. She wore a tie, designating her as a second year student. She certainly didn't look like one; she barely taller than Lingyin! Despite that, he felt a strong presence in her, an enigmatic power and aura he often felt from top of the line pilots, or from his elder sister.

(She's not flat as board though; and he mentally smacked himself for thinking that)

He's screwed for sure.

"Mind you-"

"HAH!" She exclaimed, caused him to almost reflexively follow her direction. But thanks to Chifuyu's training, he subconsciously dodged an attack from her. An attack using a mechanical-looking fan… now that's ridiculous, ridiculous he repeated mentally.

"Hey! What was that about?"

"Nice dodge," was all she said as she winked and left him unwittingly staring at her hips.

Now, what the hell just happened? He wondered

...

"YOU'RE LATE," the roar was heard plainly across the field, as if a bomb just detonated nearby. The tension in the air could easily break the souls of the puny mortals gathered in front of her.

"I apologize," Ikkun bowed with a straight face, while in reality, his legs were trembling a bit, just not enough to be visible. In any reality, the woman before him was not to be trifled with - real sister or not. "I faced a slight problem with this girl-"

"Ohhh~, so you say the reason that you are late to my class is because of your problem with a few girls,," Chifuyu restated matter-of-factly in such a way that it felt that all fault lay with him, caused Lingyin to snort derisively.

"Um, y-yes…?"

"Well, then," Chifuyu smirked serenely, almost too peaceful for it to be real. In truth, she was as devious as a devil when she put her mind to it. "Dunois."

The French girl stepped forward. "Yes, sensei?"

"Fire at will," Chifuyu crossed her arms and turned her back on him, giving the two sudden combatants plenty of room.

Ikkun sighed, his shoulders slumping a bit. "Such misfortune," he managed to get out before he stepped aside quickly to dodge the first shot courtesy of the I.S. grade rifle. "Please don't take this personally, Orino-kun," the angelic girl with golden looked at him apologetically as she summoned a pair of shotguns right afterward and fired.

"None taken," he said, spinning and leaping like a dancer to evade barrage of pellets powerful enough to make mincemeat of an armored vehicles. This gained an "OOOOOH!" reaction from everyone except Chifuyu, who was ticked off even more by his antics.

"Stop clowning around and be serious! You are not Michael Jackson!" Chifuyu shouted, thoroughly exasperated that he was treating this so lightly. However she secretly glad that his Spartan training seemed to be effective despite having that lax atmosphere around him. In fact, she concluded that he tended to face everything, up to including death threats, with either overblown theatrics or a rather nonchalant mood.

This time he did look somewhat tired, so perhaps someone DID interrupt his changing session?

Golden plates began to form around his body; his sunglasses disappeared, replaced by armored blue visor covering half his head. His massive hip armor clanked open, revealing a pair of large caliber revolvers he quickly took out.

"Let's go" he said, striking a pose right out of action movies as he pulled the trigger repeatedly at Charlotte's direction. She dashed upward to evade them, her I.S. fully materialized.

"What's with the odd posing? That's unnecessary," Cecilia commented, remembering the times when Chifuyu scolded her for doing the same thing. Okay, not the same thing but…

The she realized, he actually canted his gun consistently 20-30 degrees inward. This is a common technique for shooting one handed with the less dominant hand, definitely not accidental. He HAS the knowledge.

"Gun kata," Houki muttered in realization. This, of course, caught everyone's attention, "W-what? Even I watch movies you know."

"Indeed," Laura said. "A combination of heightened natural sense and advanced ballistic computing system allow him to optimize even the slightest movement into evasion or counter moves."

"Could it be… this is what Chifuyu-nee taught him during the rest of our vacation?" Icchan mumbled. While [Raijin] is definitely a high-spec machine, such reckless movements couldn't be taught overnight.

The shell ejectors worked up to maximum tolerance as burning spent cartridges spilled like raindrops. From the perspective of untrained eye, those pistols might as well automatic. But as the timeframe perceptions are different, it's definitely not the case.

Bullets crashed into transparent shield and smash through, barely missed the second, almost skin tight energy layer. Charlotte smiled - he was definitely serious. "I'll go all out then," she smiled brightly without slightest bit of animosity. Yet her words came with a burst of fierce offensive maneuvers to accompany it.

She shot her rifle multiple times, but with a slight deviation course, purposefully shooting where he might end up. Her shooting trick destroyed his rhythm and took 40 points out of his shield.

"Don't use assault weapons beyond fifty meters," Chifuyu shouted at him. "Switch to your carbine!"

"Roger," Ikkun replied and two weapon parts popped out off his backpack and assembled in mid-air into a deceptively simple-looking carbine.

He rolled to the side before igniting his main thrusters, reaching four hundred kilometer per hour in less than three second. Even for an I.S., such level of acceleration is considered impressive.

Flying around, both of them exchanged shot with their respective weapon, hitting naught. Bullets ricocheting left and right as they hit nothing but the insulation barrier of the arena.

He decided that even if the difference is subtle, Charlotte is more dangerous at longer range than she is in assault, and he was glad he's right when one of his rounds made a loud ping against her absolute defense, seeping out two dozen energy points in the process.

He huffed as his booster roared; changing the vector angle so suddenly was a rather stupid mistake. Meanwhile, Charlotte beautifully danced around his attacks without exerting superfluous power. He definitely needed to learn more.

But first, DODGE!

"Remember to use your gyroscope when you need to, that'll help conserving energy and ensure flight stability," Chifuyu reminded him through a raised megaphone.

"Hai, sensei," Ikkun nodded, his booster spread wide to help with maneuver at the cost of higher drag.

The spectators could only watch in awe at the show the two pilots were putting on. All things considered, Charlotte was one of the best fighters amongst the first years. The fact that he's able to last more than five minutes against a top-tier like her was amazing, even if his chance to win was really slim. Bit by bit, her more accurate attacks chipped away at his hit points steadily while the damaged she received was sporadic at best. Eventually the match was decided in favor of Charlotte, much to everyone's surprise except the instructor, who crossed her arms with a satisfied smile. "Not too shabby…"

~333~

"Why didn't you switch to using your sword," Houki pointed at him, frustration in her eyes. The group was seated in the cafeteria for lunch after the battle. After the match, Orimura-sensei had congratulated both himself and Charlotte for the fight, even being as 'low-level' as it was. She had even given him approval with a ghost of a smile before reverting back to her stony facade. So fast was it that Ichika still wasn't sure that it had happened. Still, the match had taken quite a bit of energy out of him so he was happily putting away his food.

"Uh, the purpose of that mock battle was long range combat" he said calmly in defense. Whatever it was, Houki was clearly 'insulted' that he refrained from showing off her prized Shinonono-style of swordplay. "Orimura-sensei said as much."

The fight ended, clocked at 6 minutes twenty five second with him unable to do something significant. Though, she stated that she barely able to endure the intensity of his assault, and any lesser pilot would have withered under the relentless barrage from the Raphael Revive.

He begged to differ with her modest opinion – it was a good quality about her but she tended to understate her own skills a lot. Anyone with Cadet Representative-level skill, knowledge, and experience would have found a solution for Charlotte's attack patterns. Though as he remembered the first time they fought back on his own world, he didn't even last three minutes against her and in hindsight, he could see that she was taking it easy on him then too. Thankfully he had come a long way from the ignorant, spoiled rookie he was before.

"But still… aagh, I'm disappointed!" Houki threw her hands up. For obvious reasons, she wasn't about to directly object to the commands of one Orimura Chifuyu. She had no desire to leave this earth unfulfilled.

"PMS?" Lingyin baited with a sadistic grin

"PMS," Icchan snorted in agreement, the two giggling like conspirators. Until Houki's own rendition of the Orimura Iron Claw was brought into effect.

"I'M NOT!" Houki caught the two and grund both their heads with her strong grip. Icchan and Lingyin just gritted their teeth and endured, unwilling to surrender or apologize.

"Say, you said someone got in your way this morning before you got to class right? Do you remember who it was?" Charlotte asked sincerely, opting to ignore the three girls for now. It made for less frequent headaches.

Ichika crossed his arms in thought. "She had blue hair. That much I'm certain. And red eyes too." Ichika missed Icchan stiffening her body at the mention of 'blue hair and red eyes'. Her male counterpart continued on, "If I have to guess, she was probably Kanzashi's relative… or something along that line."

3… 2… 1…

Icchan screamed, surprising both Houki and Lingyin so much they jumped back from her, bumping into the table. "EEEEEH?!"

"Well, I guess I'll take my leave," Ikkun said as he stood up to bring his serving plate back to the tray drop-off point.

"O-oi, Wait for me, baka!" Lingyin said, following him.

"What's with that reaction?" Houki was surprised by Ichika's outburst.

"Ah, heh heh, don't mind me. I was just surprised," Icchan gave a broken laugh. Houki merely raised an eyebrow at her friend but didn't press it further, much to Icchan's relief. If it's her, then something is going to happen… Her eyes narrowed slightly. I just hope he'll be okay with it… Shaking her head a bit to clear her thoughts, she turned back to Charlotte. "So, how do you assess him," she posed the question with the help of her chopsticks, pointing them at the blond French girl.

"He's surprisingly experienced," Charlotte admitted with a small smile. "He was able to read my individual movements; each and every single of them. I had to resort to more extreme maneuvers such as Lond Bell and Cross Cyclones to have any lead on him."

"I saw that as well," Cecilia took a sip of her glass, before resuming her talk. "And even then, he tried to make adjustments rather quickly. He seems to be accustomed at fighting powerful enemies."

"His knowledge is, at best, above average," Laura placed her fork down, her eyes closed sagely. "His fighting style is raw, but his ways of dealing with Charlotte's more advanced maneuvers, while crude, were effective in minimizing damage to an extent. In a way, you can say he fought like an untrained combat veteran or a seasoned rookie"

"Hoh," Cecilia gave a small exclamation, now being very interested in the subject. "On a power scale, how would he compare to us now, o wise one?" She gave Laura a smirk at that last one while the petite German girl stared at her with her uncovered eye.

"He would have mopped the floor with me," Houki admitted in a low voice. "And I won't be surprised if he could fight Lingyin to a standstill either."

"Actually, he scored even against Kanzashi in most of the simulated engagements we ran," Icchan pointed her chopsticks dramatically again (careful with those!), while mulching her food nonstop. "Had he allowed using his sword against Char, the fight would have been much more intense." she added for effect.

"If you say so, Ichika, I'll believe you," Char gave a reticent nod. "Guns didn't seem like his forte but he did well enough."

"Talk or eat, pick one," Houki bopped her childhood friend on her shoulder, causing the girl to drop a piece of food on the floor. Houki cringed as Ichika stared forlornly at the bit of chicken now lost to the bacteria and germs before leveling an Orimura glare at her friend. Wasting food in front of Ichika was to invite an Asura.

"You must be joking," Cecilia muttered in disbelief. "If he is all that you say he is, this guy cannot possibly be a mere amateur."

~333~

No, Orino Ichika-kun was not an amateur, for sure.

In the regard that he was regularly the resident IS sandbag for professional pilots, at the very least he need to be able to keep up so he could survive.

But that alone is not enough.

It was when he was evaluated unbiasedly did he realize just how far he was left behind everyone. The fact that most of his training was of the 'sink or swim' variety didn't help him at all. He was dragging them down, and he won't let it happen once again. This time, he was sure of it.

Stepping towards the arena once again, he felt an eerie sensation, as if a blade was leveled right at his person. Chifuyu-nee had spoken of being able to feel an opponent's presence through that alone and now, here he was, experiencing it for himself. He emerged from the ground level entry way and paused to look across the field.

Huang Lingyin was there waiting, her I.S. deployed, weapons at the ready.

He blinked. "Lingyin…?" He decided not to call her 'Rin', that would be too comfortable, and if she's the same as the Rin he knew, she probably won't find that endearing for a while.

"All out, not handicap," she grinned, the shadow of her Cannons covering her eyes. "This is your initiation test for my class as the Class Rep."

"Initiation test?" he raised his eyebrow.

"Look, Class 1-1 is impossibly stacked already," she muttered with no small amount of irritation. "Cecilia, Houki, Bodewig, Dunios, and of course Ichika herself - if you're as strong as I think you are, perhaps it'll even things out between us just a bit." She glanced back at him. "I'm not going to roll over for the star class just because Orimura-san is their teacher and Ichika is there too. I got my pride and I saw we knock some humility into that Class 1-1 bunch!" She gave a challenging grin at him. "So what do you say to that?"

Ichika responded by lifting his arm up and gave a slight hum before the telltale flash of light enveloped his body. Lingyin's grin got even wider.

"Wǒ xiàng nín tiǎozhàn,"*Lingyin's cry was punctuated by her boosters flaring up, causing the loose dirt around her to be pushed back in a circular gust as she rose up in the the blink of an eye, they're clashing full power. Edge meet edge, blinding spark ignited by the sheer force involved.

"Oh, how nice of you to block," she commented tauntingly. "You know the full power of my Ryuuhou, right Ichika-kun?"

"Yes" he said calmly, "I know both its strong points and weakness." To say that he was intimately acquainted with the weapons systems already was an understatement.

She laughed, before splitting her blades into its respective halberd pieces and gave a hard shove, pushing Ichika back. With a quick twirl of her wrists, she brought both halberds down at him, only to be blocked by his sword. He also knew this part of her. While she may be the most inexperienced cadet rep, but she's a genius on her own terms. Her training in kung fu, basic knowledge on anti-I.S. tactics, and how smoothly she can apply it in real time combat was no joke, perhaps even better than Cecilia, who is far more seasoned.

"If I attack from the front, she'll overpower me. If I play the range game, I have to deal with those powerful cannons. Let's try that trick once again."

If it was any other machine, the frame simply wouldn't be able to handle the burden, but like its predecessor machine – [ByakuShiki], [Raijin] was designed with the brute force method in mind. Able to withstand acceleration and deceleration that would tear the First Generation frames apart, its greatest specification was that it was geared toward high speed melee combat. And so he zig-zagged across the arena, evading dozens upon dozens of thermal-infused vacuum waves. "It's been upgraded huh," he muttered, looking at the damage done by the Ryuuhou, ready to cleave her from behind at first opportunity. He got it by shooting closer to her between the shots gradually. From her expression on her face, she knew it was coming too.

She reacted instantly by spinning her body in a tight rotation to block her left side, which would easily cause a lesser pilot to lose balance, but not her. Again, she withstood the attack without problem.

"Same trick won't work twice," she shouted, setting her engine at maximum output and slammed [Raijin] into the arena barrier.

"Guh, what do you mean-" Ichika shook his head to try and clear the sparkly things from his vision.

"I was defeated by your 'girlfriend' that way," Lingyin smiled almost bitterly. "I was too reckless, one direct hit is all she needs, after all."

Ichika blinked, then tilted his head. "...Who?"

"Geez, you're so dense," she shouted and he managed to tilt his head to the right to avoid her incoming blade. "The other Ichika, of course!"

Indeed, Icchan had become the strongest Cadet Rep because of her skill at utilizing the Yukihira efficiently; and yet in different way than her sister did in the past. In both her official fights at the school, she absolutely thrashed Cecilia and Rin and her fighting footage with Laura was absolutely terrific.

He wondered if he would be able to use his own Yukihira half as good as she did… No, that's not the point. The point is that he was studying half-assed and no one ever told him anything straight, even Chifuyu. If he could study half as good as he was now… that would be enough. Wait a minute…

"She's not my girlfriend!"

"Oh please, denial like that will get you nowhere~" she replied in a sing-song voice., firing another volley.

Drawing out a huge pistol from his left holster, he fired her rapidly with high caliber rounds.

"Tch!" Lingyin blasted off into the air to create some distance. She knew enough about guns to know that even with the Hyper Sensors, trying to shoot an IS with a hand-held pistol was insane. That and they still had the archaic function of reloading, which gave her a huge advantage. At a distance, she could also utilize her Dragon Cannons once more.

BLAAM!

"What the!?" Lingyin winced as the high caliber round bit into her shield energy, making sparks dance along the layer. "What the hell is that thing, a hand cannon!?" She darted to the side. "And how did you reload so fast!?"

"Practice," Ichika supplied in a helpful tone, causing the smaller girl to snarl. He gave a slight smirk and merely sighted down the scope mounted on top of the barrel and continued to fire. The blinding light caused by bullets hitting her shield distracted her enough for Ichika to attempt a finishing blow, his blade charged with thunderous energy.

She dropped herself aside to avoid the direct hit, lightning blade only meet air and grazed her absolute defense, too little damage or drain.

"Kesagiri, huh," she smashed his sword away with an impressive hook, as if the fist was rocket propelled. This was followed by an uppercut that threw him five meters away. Not leaving him free, she took her sword and boosted forward, swinging her blade so hard that he would have been ended right there if not for his reckless move of boosting backwards so close to the ground that he almost shredded himself apart. "Even your finishing move is similar," she murmured.

A bleeping sound warned her of an incoming attack. She blinked, slightly confused. When she realized it was a trick and turned her attention back, she was greeted by high velocity grenade aimed at her face. Thankfully she managed to evade, but what scared her was what happened immediately afterward.

The grenade went –SPLAT– on the arena barrier, microsecond passing before energy buildup caused a massive thermal shockwave; a pointblank detonation would easily cripple most I.S. and took a lot of energy to neutralize. "What a scary weapon," Rin gritted her teeth, looking at his smoking carbine "That was a bit weaker than my cannon at full power!"

Moreover, what about the false signatures? Infinite Stratos were kings of the battlefield; with all kind of passive and active detection systems known to man embedded in them… sensor fooling shouldn't be possible!

"I don't want to use Raijin's special equipment just yet," he said, cocked his carbine's lower sides that caused it to spat a large, smoking shell. So it's a retractable, under barrel grenade launcher after all "But it's impossible to win this to begin with, so I won't spare anything in this fight."

Oh so she was right, it was his third generation special equipment. Like Laura's AIC, it wasn't an offensive weapon, but supplementary system designed to augment the existing arsenal.

Just now, Lingyin was fooled by a sensor ghost, undoubtedly created by Raijin. An I.S. with such capability would be a major hassle to deal with both tactically and strategically.

But that also mean he would be a strong potential ally to have.

Lingyin's eyes widened in excitement, she screamed as her cannon building its power and pressure "BRING IT ON!" It's as if the dimension itself ripped apart from the resulting vacuum explosion with massive amounts of energy that formed a small trench across the arena and an insurmountable dust cloud.

Even arena barrier has limit, flickering helplessly after the two powerful hits. It managed to recover from the shock, as well as the combatants themselves.

Sighing, the arena operator wondered if she had to tell the maintenance crew to work extra after this bout.

...

"How could be… this girl-!"

No less than two [Raphael Revives] and three [Uchigane] lay slumped in various positions in a scattered half-circle, coolant and various fluids leaking onto the ground around them. Their pilots… they looked up in disbelief, can only feel despair and helplessness at the single IS unit standing in their midst like a goddess of war.

How could a mere freshman beat all of them so easily? Even discounting the fact that she's a cadet representative with a personal unit, she's fighting five – FIVE – sophomores at once! The possibility of winning should be close to zero, and by any means, that battle just now wasn't a fluke.

The winner stood tall, back straight, her eyes set straight… not at them, but at the sole girl standing on top of the catapult.

"As expected of the strongest cadet representative…," the girl laughed softly as she looked down at them from over the top of her paper fan. "I must apologize, my friends… Perhaps I should've warned you more often? Hopefully we can avoid this next time."

"Shut up, we're just reckless that's all," one of the Uchigane pilot shouted back in response. "But really, this girl is Orimura-sensei's sister huh… monstrous talent and all."

"She really is a monster…"

Although they wanted a rematch, the sophomores didn't seem to agree with their kohai's intent in continuing the fighting. They really didn't want to risk being beaten to pulp twice. It really was their fault for trying to bully younger pilots coming to the second arena; they really didn't know that their little ploy could backfire so horribly. Ashamed, they all left with their machines.

"Why haven't the student council done anything to stop this?" the freshman shouted up at the girl standing above them all. "Wasn't that your job to handle everything?" She wouldn't say but it irked her to have to look up so high. Only one person was allowed to stand that much higher above them all…

"We're understaffed I'm afraid," the girl on the catapult gave a helpless and completely nonchalant shrug. "If you can join us, surely this won't happen in the future." The fan snapped shut as her eyes narrowed appraisingly at the younger girl. "Yes… Someone of your caliber…"

The freshman was silent for a few moments before turning her back to the girl. "I sincerely apologize, but I don't think I'm up for the task."

"Eh? There's no way that you're not~ You're really strong~," the other girl called in a cutesy voice. "Why, you of all people could –"

"No, I'm not." The freshman turned back with an unreadable expression that gave the young woman chills just looking at her. "I'm not strong at all…"

That was what happened three months ago.

It's an unspoken rule to say 'that battle' didn't happen; no one wants to talk about it; a battle that no one dared to discuss. No one would believe it right? That a new student wiped the floor with 5 other units inside 7 minutes…

But for those who were present and those who saw her fight afterward - they knew the truth. That day was the beginning of the story for the new legendary rookie.

However, it was still fresh in Cecilia's mind. It wasn't her defeat by Icchan that opened her eyes… it wasn't Icchan's rampage against the second year students… It was Icchan's training afterward, a training schedule that made even Cecilia cringe. Why did she even bother to do it – to put herself through that? She's already so talented and strong, so why was she trying so hard? So much that she had to sacrifice her appearance – a girl's treasure – for gaining even more power?

Her reply was simple: "I'm not strong at all... if I was, Chifuyu-nee won't be..."

Behind that strong, cheerful and determined nature, she's just as vulnerable as everyone else, if not more so...

Cecilia stood at the balcony, overlooking the harbor that the IS Academy was built around. The cool breeze of the evening was soothing, catching the loose strands of her hair in its passing. She had a melancholy expression on her face. "It's all too easy to fall into your ego; thinking you're better at everything than everybody." Her fist tightened. "My name, my so-called 'talent' – it doesn't mean anything if I don't put an effort forward."

Indeed, that's exactly what happened with Cecilia. Her ego got the best of her only to be steamrolled within five minutes. Cecilia was sure Icchan didn't meant to kick a dead horse; she's just a painfully blunt person like that. In fact, Ichika here might have it even worse. Sure, she was an Alcott, born into a house made noble thanks to the advent of the IS. Her name was respected as one who had a hand in the IS development of their nation, but Ichika's situation… The name of Orimura was the advent of the Infinite Stratos. Everyone knew of that name – that name that was tied to strength, grace, beauty, and discipline of the highest caliber. Little girls were growing up wishing to be like the First Brunhilde – to be tied to such expectations, being constantly measured to live up to that kind of pressure…

Still lost in thought, she took out the rapier out of the bundle, amazed by the smooth, elegant contour of the blade. If she wasn't a professional pilot, she would have expressed disbelief that this was intended for anti-I.S. combat.

"Cover your weakness" she murmured, stabbing the air, "And recover from the brink of despair!"

Unfortunately, she pointed her new rapier at the disgruntled Ikkun, who screamed hoarsely.

"NO, NO MORE!"

"Hu-HUH!?" Both parties blinked at each other dumfounded for a moment.

Ichika put a hand behind his neck with a weak laugh. "Uh, sorry. I thought you want to challenge me or something. Excuse me." He walked past her and crammed himself in his self-made 'Corner of Woe'.

Lingyin sure was merciless this time. The match had been close, to close. Had he managed to strike her with lightning blade or his carbine just once more he would've won, but she had tricked him again and smacked him right on the face with one of her rocket punches, causing him to lose the match. Lingyin won with 30 shield points left – for her, it felt like a truly satisfactory victory. For her at least, Ikkun, however, was highly traumatized. He plopped down, legs crossed, arms folded, head lowered and remained that way for a while.

Cecilia blinked at his unusual behavior. It wasn't that she wasn't used to odd behavior since coming to this school, but this was unusual even for her to try and deal with. "D-don't be such a spoiled baby because you lost a match," Cecilia chided, her hand on her hip. "If this were Ichika-san, surely she'll be-", She paused in her berating as she saw that he was not paying attention to her in the slightest.

"…"

Cecilia felt something in her head begin to throb at the blatant show of disrespect directed at her person. "H-how dare you…!" A flicker of light captured her attention and she saw a familiar movement. Following her eyes, she looked over his shoulder and gave a slight gasp.

It was a video hologram being projected from his IS bracer. He was neither sulking nor depressed rather he was lost in thought. He had gotten the camera feed from the arena and was re-evaluating himself. His tactics, his strategy, usage of equipment, maneuver… his eyes barely blinking.

Cecilia felt a strange heat welling up deep within her chest and placed her hands over her heart at the sight of such dedication. And for it to be from a man of all things… She blinked as the similarity suddenly hit her. This was the same… the same passionate intensity as to Ichika whenever she was serious.

She couldn't place if the uncomfortable feeling in her chest was from watching him being so studious or if it was incredibly warm inside the room. Going with the 'room' option for fear of what the other might even imply, she left the room with a sigh.

Orimuras were really hard to read when they're serious.

~333~

Ichika forced his eyes open. Eh? When he lose his consciousness? Oh wait, he just made from the arena and collapsed on his bed. He winced as pain was felt across his entire body… This was the most intense battle he had fought since the Gospel incident. He asked Rin if she's okay, he knew she wasn't. She's probably aching everywhere as well.

But did why his pillow feel so… comfortable? And warm… and squeezable…

Wait, squeezable?

He jumped back, instantly going into a fighting stance. No thanks to Chifuyu's Spartan Training and the naughty instructors, he had become paranoid for sudden ambushes (which usually ended with him stripped to the boxer and tied for several hours until Icchan came and rescued him).

The same girl who teased him this morning was sitting on his bed, way too relaxed. She looked at him with a wide smile drawn on her face "How do you feel, Ichika-kun?"

"I don't remember inviting you in, senpai," he said warily, lowering his hands just a bit.

He felt slightly guilty for being a jerk, but too much courtesy only bred submission. Chifuyu had hammered this fact on him; if he shown an opening, the girls will exploit it. If only someone had taught him this from before…

"My, my," she winced, patting her tender-looking legs, (he smacked himself again) "I thought you feel so comfortable that you and I would almost miss dinner."

He took a glance the clock on the wall, made a double take. It was 7 P.M. already.

"Damn it…" he grunted, donning his shades to hide his panicked expression. "Now, if you please, I'm going to lock the door."

"Fufufu, you sure are interesting." She flipped her fan open and held it in front of her face, her eyes holding an amused glint.

He could feel it, this girl can see through him like a glass of clear water. Sunshades didn't matter, not even if he pretended not to care. This was a clever foe he's facing, vastly more powerful and experienced.

"I think I'll need help soon," he muttered as he dashed for the kitchen and the tail end of dinner.

"You're late," Icchan frowned, having just finished her dinner when he finally made his way to the table.

For his part, he sighed. "I seem to get that alot from you and Chifuyu-nee," he told her, slouching as soon as he made contact with the seat.

"What's the matter?" She knew that he was exhausted – she had been in his shoes too often not to notice the tell-tale signs.

"Hah, I'll be okay," he settled into the seat. "I'm worried about Rin. I just collapsed on my bed after the fight, just think what would happen to her."

"She didn't come for dinner!" Icchan gasped in realization. Ichika didn't meant it as an insult, but superhuman or no, Cadet Representatives still had defined limitations of biological creatures. She stood up, tray in hand. "Alright, I'm going to check her… but what about you?"

He gave her a lopsided smile. "If I can survive Chifuyu-nee, I can stand this," he gave a half-hearted chuckle.

"If you say so," even though she was clearly concerned for his sake, she was even more worried about Rin. She tended to act tough even in the direst situations. More often than not, this tended to backfire horribly. She clasped her hand over his for a moment, giving it a gentle squeeze and a smile before leaving, which was the usual gesture she did whenever she want to say, 'I'm here/you can ask me anytime'.

He watched her as she left, feeling glad for her reassuring gesture before looking down at the plate of food. He decided that he wouldn't eat much, at least, not his usual. Instead, alongside his plate were lukewarm bottles of sport drinks. He stirred his porridge lazily before began to eat. The fight had obviously taken a toll on his body. Gritting his teeth, he couldn't forgive himself for being this weak…

"Damn it," he exclaimed before virtually inhaling his meal before leaving with bottles in tow, he raced back towards the dorm. Hopefully Lingyin still stayed in the same room as he remembered…

...

"Excuse me," he knocked.

"Get in here already," came the terse reply through the door.

When he got in, he saw Lingyin in pajamas with Icchan taking a hair dryer to her wet hair. "Don't tell me you passed out too," he deadpanned.

Lingyin's room was rather ordinary, indeed. The decorations are brightly colored and rather kiddy, not that he'll tell her. Otherwise, her room also rather sparse.

"Yeah, we should've just stopped after the second battle but still-" Lingying began.

"WHAT!?" Icchan's agitated cry chilled them to the bone. They were already beat – having to deal with an enraged Orimura just wasn't fair at this point.

"Umm, you mean I didn't tell you that the first two matches were draws?" Lingyin shakily raised her finger and forced a cracked smile.

Icchan twitched in response, not moving the dryer from the smaller girl's head. "Are you serious?"

"Hey that thing burns!" Lingyin protested, squirming out of the way of the hot air. "Besides, you of all people don't have the right to criticize overworking!"

"But I have a schedule, a SCHE-DU-LE!" Icchan went into 'mother hen' mode, something that was both annoying and cute at the same time. "Even as hard as I push it sometimes, there still is moderation! I don't go into three all-out matches on a whim!"

"Nope, not at all," Ikkun also piped up dripping in sarcasm, which earned him a hard stare from Icchan.

She pointed a finger accusingly, "What were you thinking!? Especially after all that training you did beforehand!?"

"Oh, you mean the 3 hour marathon in the simulation room during the summer vacation," Ichika nodded, "which was supposed to be just one hour, but you insist on keep repeating it. Vacation where?" That proclamation earned another eye twitch from Lingyin, who leveled a glare of her own at the suddenly reticent female Orimura.

"Really?! Three hours in the SimRoom? Talk about overkill! And you," she screeched at Ikkun, who blinked. "Just how much stamina do you have!? First you're with Ichika, then Charlotte, then with me!? If you think that's too much, you could have just given up. What's next, entire student body? Surely they won't be satisfied if you're limp and livid."

Icchan's face turned red faster than an Ignition Boost at Lingyin's words, but Ikkun didn't catch it fast enough before he retaliated with, "No way I was going to quit a match I already started. And don't act all innocent, you're the one who wouldn't let it go, saying 'One more time, one more time!' and no, I can't just say 'give up' when it was clearly double knockout. Besides you're enjoying it aren't you?"

Icchan was sure that if her face turned any redder, she could have been mistaken for a tomato. "Ah mou! Stop it you two! You're making it sound dirty!"

"What?!" Lingyin whirled back to Icchan but seeing how red her friend was made her mentally review what she had said in the past minute or so… It wasn't very long before her own eyes widened and her blush kicked in as well. "…Ah, that was… yeah," she joined Icchan in fidgeting with her fingers, casting shy and embarrassed glances up at Ikkun, who had also realized the implications.

"Wah, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to - !"

"We know," Lingyin bit out from between her teeth, "Don't say anything else…just don't."

"A-anyway," Icchan gave a cough, "You two were really reckless, especially you, Ikkun. That's simply too much activity for one day."

"But I'm a guy, everyone expects it, and honestly, if I don't put this much effort forward, no one will take me seriously," he countered. "Besides, I bet you've done worse before."

"No I –"

"Oh yes you have," Lingyin jumped in. "Remember when you decided to imitate that one anime character's workouts? What was it, if you couldn't hold the Circle Rondo for 45 minutes straight, you'd practice Ignition Boost Shuttle Sprints 50 times."

"WHAT!?" This time it was Ikkun who gave the outburst, causing Icchan to wince.

"Oh that's not it, she kept doing this for 3 hours a day, for a full week before Chifuyu-san told her to quit since she was exhausted even worse than we are," Lingyin finished. The two gave the strongest Cadet Rep stares that made her wilt from the pressure.

"Tha-That's why I'm worried about you two," she tried to reassert herself. "I know how exhausted you can get and how much it sucks."

"Then you shouldn't do it either," Lingyin bit back.

"B-but!"

"Even if Chi-Orimura-sensei allows it, you should take care of yourself," Ikkun placed a hand on the top of her head, startling her a bit. "You're still a girl, no matter what." Rin swore she could see steam coming from the other girl's ears.

"Is he trying to kill her by making her blush so much!?" The Chinese girl had to hold in her snickers. "Ne, Ichi-baka" Lingyin cheerfully laughed and petted the taller girl. "Do you realize it now? This is what we felt when we saw you pushing yourself so hard before. When you took Gospel on by yourself I swear I saw Chifuyu-san faint standing up."

The amazon girl's face turned beet red for the upteeth time and she pouted rather cutely. "Buu~ Alright alright! You two win. I apologize for making you guys always worry."

"Anyway, my stomach is turned upside down; I suppose I can't eat anything big anyway," the cat-like girl fell back against the bed, arms outstretched.

Ikkun threw Icchan one of the drinks in his hand and nodded his head towards the prone girl. Icchan held it over the girl's head for her to take. Lingyin blinked, inspecting the contents, even going so far as to sniff at it.

"Just how much do you intend to act like a cat," Ikkun thought. Judging from the look on Icchan's face, she had a similar thought at the same time.

"It's warm," she said softly once she took the bottle from her friend. "Who drinks sport drinks warm?"

"I do," he gave a self-satisfied smirk at her. "It's better since your body is already warm to begin with. Drinking it cold makes the system take an unnecessary shock." She regarded him before smiling back and taking a swig of the drink.

"And that concludes my report," the cheerful tone finished, the sound of a fan snapping shut was also heard. The room was lit from lights installed in the floor along the edge of the room, giving it a very mysterious atmosphere.

"Hmm, what a peculiar boy," the man nodded sagely from behind the desk, fingers tapping against a photo of the topic of their conversation. Even though he was being protected by 'her', there were other means of getting through the defensive wall he found around the boy. "He's a little bit more rebellious than I thought…"

The girl's crimson eyes flashed with amusement. "Heh~, is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

The man turned towards the monitor to his right, the footage of Ikkun's match with Lingyin is shown, at times the camera had to be switched because view obstruction or overtly flashy effects from the weapons.

"Depends, " the shadowed man took a measured breath. "He is in the most unique position of any man of our time. He needs to be properly guided, and not just in IS." He glanced up at her. "You can continue your mission. Dismissed."

The girl opened her fan and gave one of her patented chuckles. "Ufufu, then I'll take my leave, Gakuencho."


Notes by Tempest35:

I'm sorry it took so long to get this up *bows* I have no excuses other than being hungry. Again, as long as Zero approves, I shall continue to Beta/Co-write on this project. I know, I'll have to go through the first couple of chapters as well since the change of writing style must be jarring if nothing else.

Wǒ xiàng nín tiǎozhàn! – I challenge you!

I believe this is Mandarin Chinese. If something's off, I blame Google Translator. XD I wanted to give Lingyin some more credit and depth by actually adding in terms and phrases from her Chinese side. It just makes sense to me. At least this shows that we are making effort to characterize them properly. I think.

Gakuencho – Principal