The Robotics Club was short for the "Robot Research Group". The repair room was a small lab where they conducted all sorts of robot construction and electric testing.
During the preparation period, there was a large computer here used for debugging purposes that helped to modify the Activation Sequence for the model device used during the Thesis Competition.
His assignment today was to calibrate the Activation Sequence. Since Suzune and Isori already finished the testing the mainframe's run time, Tatsuya was the only one with anything left to do today. The main focus of the demonstration, the thermonuclear reactor model, had already been connected to the computer. The Robotics Club members responsible for setting up the device had already left to help other teams put their components together. Right now, Tatsuya was the only person in the repair room.
(Am I a little late?)
Even though this was a day off with no classes, they certainly helped him a great bundle, Tatsuya chuckled wryly.
He was the only "human" in the repair room, but a second after he entered the room, a "humanoid" came to welcome him.
It was wearing a white apron with white frills above a black skirt that extended 10 centimeters below the knee. Beneath, there was a pair of white, knee high socks and black shoes. There was also a white headband with frills on the head.
(Seriously, so that's where their interests lie......)
"Year 1 Class E, Shiba Tatsuya."
Tatsuya chuckled and simply announced his name.
The welcoming "young lady" straightened and paused for half a second before bowing deeply.
The movements stopped to verify his voice.
Satisfied that the facial and vocal examination matched the records, Tatsuya finally bypassed the security features in this room.
An awkward tone paired with an equally awkward movement.
Still, this "awkwardness" wasn't noticeable unless carefully observed.
Her name was "3H Type P94" (3H Personal-Type '94). The Robotics Club nicknamed her "Pixie".
This was the Humanoid Home Helper, also known as the 3H personal chore robot, owned by the Robotics Club. That was the identity of this "girl". Apparently, someone among the Year 3 students in the Robotics Club had connections with the HAR's primary distributors and were able to borrow an updated AI device.
Generally, the 3H's appearance was set to that of a woman in her twenties, but in order to reduce the incompatibility on campus, she was specifically set to be someone in her late teens.
Truly, if she wore the school uniform from First High and managed to sneak into class, she would be an exemplary "emotionless female student" if she could just sit down and not make a sound. She might even qualify for the term "cool beauty". —An effect completely lost when she was wearing a maid uniform.
Even Tatsuya was caught by surprise upon being served by a "maid robot" while preparing for the Thesis Competition in this room for the first time. Still, he was more or less accustomed to this garb now.
Just as Tatsuya sat down in front of the controls and faced the terminal, a cup of coffee was set on the table beside him with a small sound.
(Looks like there's still room for improvement in the control software......)
After pondering for a bit, he picked up the cup and took a sip. It was a fair cup, he nodded.
The newest 3H model "Pixie" possessed automatic, customized features that could identify the tastes of over fifty users based on facial structure. Even though Tatsuya didn't say anything, it was this function that enabled her to prepare a cup of coffee to suit him.
"Pixie, remain on standby."
After replacing the coffee on the table, Tatsuya gave this order to Pixie. Despite knowing she was a machine, having such a life-like robot standing behind him still felt unnatural.
The pronunciation for such a specific term was quite fluid.
The P94 bowed in a fluid motion that matched any live human and walked towards the seat near the entrance.
After taking a seat, she became motionless.
The power source for the 3H was a methanol fuel cell.
There was an option to refuel methanol — literally drinking it in this case, so the user didn't have to worry about exhausting the fuel.
However, there was no need to waste fuel needlessly, since the act of standing was rather taxing on the power (standing on both legs was a rather challenging exercise), so the model remained sitting when not in use.
Tatsuya moved his head around (no ulterior motive implied) and placed his fingertips on the keyboard.
The sound of lightly tapping the keys rang out.
Tatsuya's left hand left the keyboard and moved towards the pearl-colored display. This was the access point for users to directly interact with the large CAD plugged into the display. The user could supply psions needed by the Activation Sequence through this display, where the CAD would then read the Activation Sequence.
He was currently projecting the movements of the Magic Sequence.
Normally, the sequence involved breaking down the Magic Sequence into steps and removing individual steps before they came to fruition in order to test whether the desired result was brought about by the processes.
On the surface, he was following this procedure, but in reality he was using his "eye" to directly observe each aspect of the Magic Sequence.
His superlative talent in developing magic was largely thanks to this hidden ability (Elemental Sight), although other magic pioneers might label this as cheating — he was not the sort of person to quibble over things like that.
His physical eye was watching the screen while his mental eye was glued on the information dimension.
His work continued for roughly an hour.
Suddenly, he felt an uncomfortable feeling within his body.
Drowsiness suddenly sneaked up on him.
(Did I overdo it......)
Wishing to take a break outside, Tatsuya moved to get up, but—
His limbs were heavy.
Like his body hadn't woken up yet.
Highly trained individuals could use their will to control the physical body's desire for sleep.
Pulling several all-nighters in a row was another story, but he didn't recall that he led such an unprincipled lifestyle.
A danger signal flashed across his brain.
His physical body plainly was behaving abnormally.
[Physical functioning dropping abnormally]
Sleepiness itself is not something that poses an obstruction to combat ability.
However, when unable to awaken based on one's own consciousness, then this drowsiness became an impairment to combat ability.
[Personal Restoration: Semi-Automatic Activation]
His Personal Restoration ability recognized the necessity.
[Magic Sequence: Loaded]
[Core/Eidos Data: Retrieving from Backup]
[Restoration: Commence...... Complete]
In an instant, his body returned to "a state before drowsiness came upon him".
But the primary problem still hadn't been addressed.
The only thing that he had consumed since leaving the house for the lab was the coffee from the cafe and the cup Pixie prepared for him. Neither of the two items contained hazardous materials. That was because he already used his "eye" to verify this before partaking in them. Thus, the only direction where chemicals could come from was—
The circulation system must have been tampered with.
After taking a quick inventory of the information in the room, he confirmed that a fast-acting sleeping gas had been introduced into the air for a short period of time.
So what should he do now.
It was a simple matter for him to "decompose" the gas.
However, there were magic monitors all around the campus, so if he used "Decomposition" in a large, open space like this repair room to remove all the gas, the magic he kept hidden all this time would be revealed. That was not a desirable outcome.
Miyuki, Honoka, or Shizuku would be able to identify which gas particles were harmful and expel them from the room, but that sort of magic was a little too difficult for him.
At any rate, holding his breath also had its limitations.
Right now, the only thing he could do was leave. He could just leave the device behind without a problem. After locking the computer, Tatsuya turned towards the entrance.
Yet — before him, a slim figure halted him in his tracks.
The figure standing before Tatsuya stretched out a hand towards Tatsuya's mouth.
Since the movement wasn't particularly swift, Tatsuya wasn't clear what the figure was trying to do.
"Her" hand stopped shortly in front of Tatsuya's face.
"There is an abnormality in the circulation system. Please wear a mask."
3H (Humanoid Home Helper) Type P94, the feminine robot named Pixie offered him a simple mask.
At first glance, this appeared to be disposable cloth dust mask, but this was a high quality gel filter sufficient to block anything larger than carbon dioxide particles. Applied to the face, the filter was able to block almost all poisonous gases while not hampering breathing in any way.
They even have these, Tatsuya thought as he put on the mask and closed his eyes.
"Corneas in danger of contamination. Need to be directed outside, by hand."
Despite the clear need for linguistic improvement, Tatsuya got the meaning she was trying to convey perfectly. The newest 3H model P94 appeared to have crisis management protocols installed, or maybe this was simply the Robotics Club's "education".
Tatsuya knew that sleeping gas did not contain elements that harmed the eyes.
That was because she said so only after he closed his eyes.
Still, he made no motion to walk outside.
"Pixie, override and activate the ventilation system. To prevent secondary hazards, I will remain here. Remain in Monitoring Status. In order to allow assistance, do not prevent others from entering. You are forbidden from obstructing them."
The P94 accepted the chain of commands from Tatsuya.
"Avoidance of secondary hazards, logical and confirmed. Overriding ventilation system."
The air conditioning system and the ventilation system that was on a separate system had been activated.
The 3H itself was only a voice-machine interface for the automatic household system.
The small fuel cell that served as its power source and upright frame that stood on two legs were not suitable for physical labor.
Owing to its humanoid design, the number of sensors installed was also limited, so it wasn't suited for precision tasks either.
Based on the 3H's design, individual activity did not need to match the strength or precision of actual humans and was designed to facilitate the usage of the automatic household system.
After going through voice recognition, they were able to receive verbal orders. This was like remotely controlling the HAR that shared the same outward appearance as humans. The HAR was originally intended to be an add-on and never meant to cover all the bases for household management.
Still, the add-on functions were so well done that most people forgot the HAR's original purpose as an interface.
Not just everyone else. Even Tatsuya actually forgot today.
(Being overly accessible has its pros and cons......)
Tatsuya ruminated whether he had that embarrassing thought only because he refused to admit defeat as he waited for the sleeping gas to be expelled.
Taking the 3H's operations into account, the air conditioning system was being restored at the same time.
Tatsuya sat down in front of the terminal again and removed the gas mask. In order to refrain from scaring the person checking to see if he had fallen asleep, he closed his eyes and relaxed the tension in his body.
The person he was waiting for quickly arrived.
After the gas was removed, Tatsuya sat there with closed eyes, concentrated, and quickly detected someone creeping into the room.
He preemptively ordered the P94 to refrain from searching each individual before entering because he considered the possibility that someone would enter right now, which fell perfectly within Tatsuya's calculations.
The familiar voice of an upperclassman.
The statement was made to check if Tatsuya was actually asleep and would immediately offer a false offer of worry if he rose. However, based on the terrible alibi due to his awkward choice of timing to enter the room now, he was a complete amateur.
Naturally, Tatsuya continued to feign sleep.
"Shiba, are you asleep?"
Once again making sure that there was no answer, the invader glanced around as if looking for something, but his eyes quickly focused on the device. He abandoned the terminal as a target because he saw that Tatsuya already locked the computer. Or, maybe he never wanted the data in the first place.
The invader had no idea that Tatsuya was watching with narrowed eyes, nor was he aware that Pixie was sitting there in Monitoring Mode and recording the entire sequence. And so, the invader plugged the hacking tool he used on the recording cameras into the device and started trying to remove the Activation Sequence data.
"Sekimoto, what are you doing?"
The sudden query caused the invader to jump in fright and frantically whirl around.
(That's a wrap......)
Too bad the merry solo act ended so soon, Tatsuya thought to himself. Of course, the people in question, both the person being interrupted and the one providing the interruption — were entirely unaware of his terrible interest in entertainment.
"Chiyoda, why are you here?"
"Why? I came here because I received word from the security system that there was an error flag from the air conditioning system. Sekimoto, why are you here and what are you holding in your hand?"
"Impossible...... The alarm should have been disconnected......"
His panicky state, or maybe the presence of this unexpected surprise, caused Sekimoto to misspeak, prompting Kanon's eyes to go hard.
"Indeed. The alarm was sent manually and not automatically."
Pixie was the one who raised the alarm instead of Tatsuya.
The robot determined this was the proper action and followed through, which was another type of "automatic", but Kanon had no way of knowing. Compared to that—
"However, your earlier words can't simply be seen as words in the wind."
The most important thing was Sekimoto's accidental confession.
"What do you mean, the alarm should have been disconnected."
Criminals didn't always adopt logical paths of action. Still, there is a heightened degree of anxiety during the act itself, which was why they fell for traps that they would be able to avoid during normal circumstances. This was one of the key clues that enabled investigators to determine a suspect no matter how long ago the crime occurred. Currently, Sekimoto succumbed to the same cognitive trap that criminals often fell for.
"Sekimoto, remaining silent now is the same as admitting you did the deed."
Kanon's tone was fairly restrained, but she was clearly very sincere.
Kanon moved her left hand before her chest.
A running CAD was held in her hand.
It was already filled with psions to guarantee that the Activation Sequence would work.
This was not a contest, training session, or practical joke. This was a direct descendant of the Chiyoda Family from the Hundred Families preparing for live combat—
"Haha, Chiyoda, don't be ridiculous. I'm the criminal? Criminal for what?"
Sekimoto was trying to use false bravado to cover for himself, but this would only work when a large number of companions was with him and definitely not in a one-on-one confrontation.
"The criminal who tampered with the air conditioner by mixing in sleeping gas. In other words, the red-handed criminal engaged in industrial spying."
"How rude, Chiyoda! I was just making a backup because I was worried that we may lose data due to the system malfunction."
"Using hacking tools? That's frankly impossible. Isn't that right, Shiba-kun."
Sekimoto whirled around with shock to find Tatsuya smiling wryly with both eyes open.
Kanon had seen through Tatsuya's feigned sleep at a single glance.
"Impossible, the gas had no effect?"
"He's not a little cutie pie that can be undone by sleeping gas."
Tatsuya's wry smile deepened at Kanon's blatantly unfavorable tone.
"No way to deny that I'm not cute...... The rest is just as the Chief said. There is simply no way to directly prepare a backup for the device. Even if you tried, there would be no need."
The CAD plugged into the display device only recorded the Activation Sequence spreading out, and there was no way for an internal function to compile the Activation Sequence. Modification of Activation Sequences are often directly done on the computer, with a copy of contents included as well.
"Sekimoto, don't even try to think I'm that stupid. Even if my technical ability isn't all that great, I at least know that much."
Sekimoto clenched his teeth before Kanon's displeased glare.
He bore the appearance of a cornered rat that had been stripped of any excuse.
"Sekimoto Isao, remove your CAD and set it on the floor."
Kanon's tone changed.
She was now advising a criminal to surrender.
However, Sekimoto's response was,
The Activation Sequence spread out.
Sekimoto was a powerful member of the Public Moral Committee after joining in the second semester of Year 2.
There was no delay in his magic invocation, from reading the Activation Sequence to the construction of the Magic Sequence. His speed rivaled any representative from the Nine Schools Competition.
"......Cut the bull, Sekimoto-kun!"
Sekimoto's magic dissipated. He realized an instant later that was because of Kanon's oscillatory-type magic using the floorboards as a medium.
When invoking magic, there was absolutely no need to recite the name of the magic used.
At the same time, calling out the name of the target was also meaningless.
Combat involving modern magic was decided in an instant.
Kanon had prepared her CAD first.
Even performing as pointless a gesture like calling out Kanon's name, there was simply no way for Sekimoto to seize the initiative from Kanon.
After Kanon called out, reinforcements from the Public Moral Committee and Club Activities Group burst into the room and Sekimoto was brought to the Student Guidance Center (aka "Interrogation Room").
During this time, Tatsuya never made a move.
Seeing Kanon's group leave, Tatsuya gave new orders to the waiting P94.
"Pixie, cancel Monitoring Mode, copy the visual and auditory recording starting from the moment the order was given into the memory cube and delete all files from the registry."
"Understood. Copying data files to memory cube...... Complete. ......Deleting records. Complete."
Pixie belonged to the Robotics Club, so Tatsuya didn't actually have that level of clearance. Still, since Tatsuya gave the order to make that recording, Tatsuya possessed the ownership power over the recorded files.
After placing the memory cube containing the evidence that even Kanon didn't know about into his shirt pocket, Tatsuya ordered the feminine robot to stand down again.
Visiting hours for the hospital affiliated with the national magic university lasted from noon until 7 in the evening. Right now, the hour was just past 4, hence no one thought it was strange that a young man in a business suit with a bouquet of flowers in his hand would appear in the hospital halls. Also, there wasn't a sense of wrongness with a man holding a bouquet, since the youth was clearly from a well-to-do family.
Still, his unique features should have been particularly memorable, but none of the other visitors or nurses paid him any heed. That certainly constituted an amazing situation.
Maybe because he was a frequent visitor or for some other reason, the young man was quite familiar with the hospital layout and didn't even hesitate before heading up the floors without even consulting the display board. After taking the elevator to the fourth floor, the young man came to a halt in the corridors.
In front of him, there was the figure of a bulky man which sparked the young man's recollection. This man, who was slightly older than him but still rated as a young man, was standing before the door leading to a certain hospital room.
Zhou once remarked to the young man's superior officer, Chen, that he would be visiting today. At the time, Chen didn't object to his visit to the young lady, nor did he make any comment.
So this was Chen's plan, Zhou could only rationalize it as such. Thus, someone being here to prevent his visit and even hamper his business was the real reason why Chen didn't object to his activities.
Not even hesitating for a second, the young Zhou pressed the alarm on the wall as if nothing had happened.
As the young man headed to the fourth floor from the third floor, a young couple came from the In Patient Wing. The man's name was Chiba Naotsugu and the woman was Watanabe Mari. The former was the second son of the Chiba Family bearing the proud title the Genius Swordsman while the latter was the former Public Moral Committee Chief from the magic university affiliated First High. The two of them were in the middle of a date.
In the eyes of her underclassmen, Mari was the heroic and valiant older sister, but before her lover she was a perfectly feminine, gentle young lady. Still, not only was this because she naturally wore an embarrassed expression while with her lover, there were a few apologetic traces in her expression as well.
"Well...... I'm sorry that I asked you to accompany me while you're so busy."
Mari's intent was to interrogate Hirakawa Chiaki under the pretext of visiting her at the hospital. At the end of the day, this was First High's issue, which was precisely the reason why Mari was "apologetic" to Naotsugu.
However, hearing Mari's words, Naotsugu wore a "Who do you take me for?" expression and lowered his head to look at Mari.
"What are you saying that for, I don't mind at all."
"But, don't you have to make preparations to ship out tomorrow?"
"While it is a naval exercise, this is primarily for the helmsmen and gunners. Our mission involves overseas training. There is some manual labor, but I'm already used to that."
Hearing Naotsugu's joking words, Mari's brows relaxed somewhat.
"Is it combined amphibious training at Guam?"
"Ah, yes. Our mission is slightly different than last time, this time it'll be a short training session lasting approximately 10 days. The burden isn't too heavy, so Mari, you don't have to worry about it so much."
Naotsugu smiled slightly after he answered Mari's question.
"......Is something still bothering you?"
Naotsugu saw a color of hesitation still remained in the smile Mari returned, thus he asked.
Mari's tone was slightly hesitant because she wasn't sure whether to bring this up.
On the other hand, Naotsugu's voice was filled with a "completely unexpected" bewilderment.
"......Nao was gone for a long time last time, and don't you usually train with Erika at home? Is it OK to ask you out today?"
At Mari's comment, a gloomy expression mixed with traces of anger floated across Naotsugu's face.
"Erika is currently training with one of her classmates as a sparring opponent. Apparently he's quite the interesting fellow, and Erika seems quite happy."
Mari's slightly concerned question brought about quite a strong answer.
"Hm, just a friend, I believe."
Mari didn't say anything. She just stared blankly at Naotsugu's face.
Somewhat uneasy, Naotsugu pretended to cough.
"Don't worry about Erika right now. The important thing is that I want to be with Mari. So Mari, you really don't have to worry so much."
"D-Don't say such e-embarrassing things!"
The offensive and defensive roles quickly reversed. The one who usually retorted at others was often susceptible to the same tactics. Mari, who had relentlessly tried to throw Tatsuya off balance by joking him up until she resigned as Chair of the Public Moral Committee, was sunk by one earnest comment from Naotsugu.
Naotsugu was finally able to breathe a sigh a relief at disarming his lover's suspicions, but his relaxed nerves quickly tightened with anxiety.
That was because the alarm rang out.
Mari's expression tightened despite how she was wavering a moment ago and looked towards Naotsugu.
"That's no fire alarm, that's the riot alarm!"
The riot alarm was designed to prevent innocent bystanders from being dragged into criminal incidents, but also served as a signal that called for assistance in restoring order.
"It's on the fourth floor!"
Naotsugu looked at the monitor on the wall that displayed the alarm details.
"The fourth floor?"
"Is it the same floor that Mari's kouhai is in?"
Mari's solemn expression immediately conveyed to Naotsugu the severity of the situation.
Nodding her head, Mari didn't hesitate for a second after an incident broke out. In fact, it would be more appropriate to say that she was the one pulling Naotsugu up the stairs.
In the midst of the alarm, Lu Gonghu put his hands on the door handle leading to the sick room. He had already investigated the details of the room that his target was residing in. There was only one young girl inside. Lu Gonghu was confident that he could get rid of her before security showed up.
However, a shocked expression made its way across his face when he tried to pull the door handle only to find that the door was locked. According to his general knowledge, doors were usually opened during a fire alarm to help facilitate evacuation. Was there a malfunction in the lock? Lu considered this because he was unaware of the riot alarm.
There was a small time lag due to the cultural shock. Originally, Lu planned to destroy the lock and enter the room. Yet because of the alarm, he mistakenly believed that the lock would automatically disengage, hence his bewilderment when he found the door still locked. Although Lu immediately changed his mind and opted to destroy the lock, this sort of unexpected time loss was critical in his mission.
Just as he was about to twist the door handle open,
"Who are you!?"
Across from Lu's position, someone called out to him.
Thanks to the Chiba Family's special techniques, Naotsugu used personal acceleration magic to sprint to the fourth floor and ran across a young man several years older than himself trying to break the door lock.
On reflex, he called out "Who are you!?", but just as he vocalized this, his memory had already supplied the answer.
This man surrounded by a terrifying aura that raised every hair on one's back—
"The Devouring Tiger...... Lu Gonghu! Why are you here?!"
As a member of the Chiba Family who were the authorities in close-combat magic, Naotsugu was well aware of this man's name and facial features. He was one of the top ten close combat specialists across the globe and was a close-combat Magician who hailed from the Great Asian Alliance. Due to the similarity in age, the debate regarding which one was stronger between him and Naotsugu continued to rage, but the majority believed that the more brutal one — Lu Gonghu with his terrifying "name" that caused people to cower in fear, was stronger than Naotsugu.
"Ghost of the Phantom Blade - Chiba Naotsugu."
Facing this direction, a small sound passed across Lu Gonghu's lips. "Ghost of the Phantom Blade" was undoubtedly Naotsugu's original nickname.
The moment their eyes caught one another, a battle for supremacy began.
Naotsugu pulled out a 20 cm baton from his chest pocket. After pressing a button near one end, a 15 cm long blade slid out with a "clang".
On the other side, Lu Gonghu only had his bare hands, but he fearlessly charged towards where Naotsugu stood with the short sword in his hand.
When their distance shrank to the length of a long sword, Naotsugu's right hand scythed downwards.
The short sword was still out of range, but Lu Gonghu still raised his left hand over his head.
When the invisible line extending from the short sword intersected with the left hand, a furious "clang" rang out.
Weight-Type Magic "Pressure Slash". This was a magic that used the metal coil that extended from the tip of the rod to form a thin repulsion field that sliced through anything it touched.
This was why Naotsugu was waving around a short sword out of the weapon's range.
If Naotsugu's technique rated as astounding, then Lu Gonghu's ability to block an enemy blade with his bare hands was even more incredible.
Steel Qigong, so named by the users from Northern China that favored this technique, was developed from Qigong. Qigong was a physical ability rather than a magical one, but using Qigong to apply a layer of steel armor eventually became the magic now known as Steel Qigong. Lu Gonghu was the man responsible for bringing that to fruition.
After the repulsion field blade was blocked by the barrier surrounding the body, Naotsugu's right hand continued to swing downwards. Once the magic was nullified, Pressure Slash became just an empty swing of the short sword, but Naotsugu managed to turn the downward swing into an upward slash when the blade reached waist height.
In order to defend against the attack, Lu Gonghu applied Steel Qigong on his right hand and blocked towards the right side of his hip. However, his right hand didn't encounter any resistance as the repulsion field blade disappeared half way.
It wasn't anything particularly special to halt an invoked magic before the spell reaches completion. In conflicts between magic combatants, in comparison to rejecting interference strength, using replicated magic on the Eidos to render previous magic impotent was absolutely integral to cooperative use of magic.
However, the difficulty was entirely different when suddenly applying another spell when invoking the previous one. If the Eidos is not altered in the beginning and just the Magic Sequence is utilized, once the Magic Sequence passes the gate — the connecting gate between the human mental landscape and the information dimension that resides between the lowest layer of consciousness and the top layer of subconsciousness — the Magic Sequence would dissipate into nothing. There would be no way to misdirect one's opponent without any traces of magic invocation. In order to consciously halt magic in the middle, one needed to actually project a Magic Sequence the same way magic is invoked, then canceling the invocation before it finishes. Thus, switching consciousness and focus in an instant was absolutely integral.
Lu's body was already ready to receive the incoming slash, but because the repulsion field blade suddenly disappeared he was off balance as his body tilted towards the right. Naotsugu seized this opportunity to once again deploy "Pressure Slash". The invisible blade slashed down towards the right side of Lu's neck.
Another "clang" sound went off, but there was no blood. At the last second, Lu used the Metal Bridge technique to drastically lean backwards and take this opportunity to twist his body to meet Naotsugu's blow. Using his falling back as a fulcrum, he whirled and sent a flying kick at Naotsugu. Naotsugu was forced to leap back and Lu Gonghu took this opportunity to reset his balance.
There was no way their contest could start over from the beginning. During that exchange, it was obvious that Naotsugu could have clinched the advantage if he was able to take advantage of the timing. Naturally, Lu Gonghu wasn't foolish enough to let his opponent dictate the pacing. After righting himself, he reached out with his right wrist and took large steps forward.
Naotsugu swung his short sword at Lu's outstretched right wrist, but the 15 cm long blade was rejected by the spiraling forces swirling around the wrist. This was also a move from traditional Chinese martial arts, a magic technique that used the entire nervous system to create a spiraling force at the point of impact that served as both offense and defense called "Coiled Silk Force".
Naotsugu's body shook like a leaf caught in the river current after he sustained the force from the coiled nerves. In order to avoid Lu's advance, Naotsugu was forced to leap backwards.
Naotsugu's massive retreat caused Lu's furiously advancing fingertips to miss their mark. However, Lu didn't give Naotsugu any opportunity to reset his posture. Fist, palm, bear claw, the blows came flying forward intermixed with attacks with the elbow, shoulder, and even a tackle as a furious tide of attacks pressed Naotsugu relentlessly and completely denied him any opportunity to use Pressure Slash. Naotsugu was forced to retreat each time, but even so, none of Lu's attacks managed to land on Naotsugu's body. Although there was no trace of any emotion save for fighting intent on Lu's face, internally he was starting to fret a little. He raised his attack speed, but at the same time, the offensive output of each of his blows shrank.
Finally, Naotsugu's back was against a wall and he had nowhere left to run. Lu's fists swung forward like a windmill. However, his right haymaker was blocked by Naotsugu's right hand in the form of a karate chop. The short sword that was originally held in Naotsugu's right hand had vanished. For the first time, turmoil warred across Lu's face.
After nullifying the attack from Lu's right hand, Naotsugu managed to divert Lu's attack strength. Off balance, Lu's body tilted forward. Meanwhile, the short sword originally in Naotsugu's right hand materialized in his left hand.
Naotsugu's sword wasn't aimed at Lu's exposed back of the head, but slashed towards the side of his waist. Tilting forward, Lu's body was perfectly in line to receive the blade coming for his abdomen. Even at this disadvantage, Lu still tried his utmost to twist and avoid the blade going into his vitals. The short sword swept across Lu's side and left a deep cut.
Inverted, Lu sent his feet kicking towards Naotsugu's head. Naotsugu took one step back to avoid the blow. Following that Lu's body flipped sideways instead of forward and his feet were pressed against the wall rather than the floor. In the next instant, he kicked off the wall and pounced ferociously towards Naotsugu.
The pair of outstretched hands were like the claws of a tiger, its strength in no way inferior to a feral beast and capable of shredding flesh and bone alike.
An overpowering sense of danger prompted Naotsugu to flee in spite of his terrible posture. Lu kept his leaping posture as he brushed past Naotsugu and landed two meters away. Landing with both hands on the ground, he quickly turned around and pounced on Naotsugu again. Despite Lu Gonghu's injury, the ferocity and pressure of his attack seemed to be even stronger than prior to his injury. This time, it was Naotsugu's turn to fret.
After the fourth charge, Lu Gonghu's attack was interrupted by an attack from the flank. On reflex, he took evasive action.
Two burning blades came rushing towards Lu. Its true form was tightly compressed air caused by high temperature differences. Lu saw the opening between the two blades and dodged between them. Yet immediately afterward, the concentrated compressed air exploded in fury, striking Lu's body from both sides with their combined explosion.
Lu grunted in pain and sprang towards the stairs at one end of the corridor. Naotsugu hurried in pursuit, but Lu's figure had disappeared in the blink of an eye.
"Mari...... Thanks for the assistance."
It was Mari's magic that enabled Naotsugu to escape from harm, but this was not a premeditated attack. After seeing Naotsugu locked in combat with Lu, Mari immediately joined in the attack. The reason why Mari finally interposed in the conflict was because until now, the battle between Naotsugu and Lu was too intense and close to risk launching her attack.
"Nao...... You're hurt......!?"
Although Naotsugu's words were meant to comfort Mari as she came rushing forward — plainly, Mari didn't even hear him — because her astonishment suffused her face. Before her eyes, Natosugu's right hand was flushed into an angry red.
The outcome of Naotsugu and Lu's battle could be deciphered from the pain each side suffered. When deflecting Lu's attack, Naotsugu's right hand also suffered considerable damage. Flank versus right hand, from a long term perspective Naotsugu had the upper hand, but if the battle was to be decided quickly, then Naotsugu would undoubtedly fall after losing his primary hand.
"Don't worry, although I need to see a specialized doctor in the beginning, I can handle the rest. Fortunately, we're currently in a hospital."
"But you ship out tomorrow......"
"That's OK. My superiors would understand. After all, this is a work related injury."
Naotsugu's tone was no different than normal, which allowed Mari to gradually relax. However, after shaking off her turmoil, her brain sprouted another question.
"That man...... Who was he? To be able to match Nao in close quarters."
Naotsugu hesitated briefly, but still answered the question.
"That guy is called Lu Gonghu. A Magician from the Great Asian Alliance's Special Ops."
"Lu Gonghu...... So that's him......"
Mari was long aware of Lu Gonghu's name that was just as famous as Naotsugu's own.
Naotsugu suddenly grabbed Mari's shoulders and turned her to face himself.
"Nao, why are you doing this all of a sudden?"
Shame faced, Mari turned aside.
Nevertheless, after hearing Naotsugu call out her name again in a decisively odd tone, Mari turned back around.
"I must leave tomorrow. During this time, I am very worried since I won't be by your side......"
"I understand, Nao. Then, is there anything you need to tell me?"
"Lu Gonghu saw your face before disappearing. He will definitely see you as an enemy."
Mari nodded at Naotsugu's words. Her eyes didn't contain a hint of fear, which only deepened Naotsugu's concern.
"That man is a barbaric Magician bearing the name "Devouring Tiger". You saw his power today. During this time, please don't be by yourself."
Mari's felt that Naotsugu's words were an exaggeration, but she swallowed those words at the serious glint in Naotsugu's eyes.
Lu Gonghu, who had been forced to retreat from his duel with Naotsugu at Mari's interference, was currently sitting in the passenger seat of the luxury car that Zhou was driving.
"My apologies if I stole your thunder there."
After leaving the gates of the hospital, Zhou struck up a conversation from the driver's seat.
Lu said nothing as he kept his eyes forward.
Zhou kept going despite seeing that Lu's attitude wasn't very welcoming.
"Speaking of which, I am quite surprised that Master Lu was injured."
Even though he was aware that the topic at hand was discussing his own mishap, Lu didn't bat an eyelid.
"Did you use Earth Mover?"
The question he opened his mouth to ask was regarding the ability Zhou used to facilitate his escape.
"Surely you jest. Compared to Master Chen, my level is merely cheap parlor tricks and definitely unworthy of any notice."
And so, Zhou smiled without a care as he responded to Lu's accusation that he was hiding something up his sleeve.