“Why, why didn’t I realize it! If this transient life where loneliness will kill you is ended by the angel that lives in that body―”
A flash of the flame blade, and I returned Rabbit Guild to dust.
In battle constantly for almost a month, I have cloaked myself in such cruelty that I no longer lend an ear to the words of my enemies even at their moment of death.
...If I don’t fight with that kind of hard-boiled setting in my head, the battle with the perverts will eat away at my mind.
And in accordance with my strategy of acting heroic so that the world’s pet treatment will not escalate any more, I clearly shout the name of my finishing move.
I still have no idea whether that will bear fruit or not, but the mob of reporters has been gradually getting quieter, and explanations of self-defense goods and strategies for dealing with an encounter with the Ultima Guil have begun to run on TV.
“But, man... The Ultima Guil gang just don’t get any better, do they?”
Grinding... might be a heartless word to use here, but that was how the fight was going.
Frankly, they’re weak.
As long as they don’t come at me from a blind spot like Fox Guildy and his doll fantasies, there hasn’t been a single close battle. In the end society has taken absolutely no substantial damage since the start of the war. The whole world is still at ease.
On a Sunday, early afternoon.
I’m outside of Japan, in the kind of mountain range that makes it hard to tell exactly where I am.
In hero stories, the enemies are concentrated near the area where the leading actor lives, but these guys are all over. They appear and disappear like ghosts. Many of them do arrive in Japan, maybe because we were there, but they can show up anywhere in the world.
That used to be my biggest worry. And a major part of what made it possible to cope with it was the teleporter installation that Twoearle had built in the underground base, and the portable transfer pens that she had given to both of us.
When we caught a signal from an Elemerian, we could get there immediately. Although it was a big help that none of them so far had appeared during class.
Today they were in the middle of a mountain range, so there weren’t even any rubberneckers. Life was easy.
Why did they appear in this deserted place?
“...His range couldn’t have gone as far as wild bunnies, could he?...”
Elemera Orb, Rabbit, recovered. As I took a breath of air, a message came from Aika who had been planning to come in late as backup.
“Are you all right? Is it over already?”
“Affirmative. Coming back now.”
I relaxed completely, and went into a huge stretch.
I happened to glance up at the sky and I saw something shining beside the sun.
A shiver went down my spine, and I was instantly rolling on the ground.
And then the surface of the earth exploded. Whatever it was had fallen with immense force.
“Ngh... wh, what is that!?”
I stared at the silhouette appearing from the cloud of dust.
“...My apologies. I didn’t expect that to be a surprise attack. I thought you would be able to handle such a thing easily...”
The voice was close to a whisper, but it was filled with overwhelming force like the whole land was roaring. What blew away the dust and appeared before me was an Elemerian with an unbelievable sense of presence.
I swallowed hard. You can see with a look... no, with him, even if you don’t look you can feel it.
This one’s different.
“My name is Drag Guildy! And in love for twintails, I flatter myself that if you lined up all the cosmos and all the world together, not a man would stand to my right!!”
“Shit, even though this guy is serious, he talks the exact same way as all the rest of them...!!”
The enormous monster’s shape called to mind the legendary dragon itself, and the fighting spirit he was gathering felt oppressive, even ominous. In just the few seconds I’d met him, I was beginning to feel like all the fighting so far had been thrown out and restarted from scratch.
“...That fool. Though I told him I would go...!!”
Drag Guildy was looking at the space where Rabbit Guildy had disappeared with sorrow in his eyes.
“My subordinates have merely been boring you. But there is no replacement for my precious brothers. So I will strike out at their foes! By relieving you of your Elemera!!”
“What do you mean foes, you just come and attack us!”
I drew the Blazer Blade again, and stood ready.
My twintails swayed in the air currents from the flame.
“All right! ...I’m coming!”
With speed I couldn’t even imagine from that tremendous frame, he closed the three-meter distance between us to zero in a flash.
The great sword swinging down. A squeal of metal that hurt my ears, and a shower of sparks falling.
I had barely managed to stop it, but a shock was running up my arm strong enough to make it numb. The attack had overcome the threshold of the Photon Absorber, the membrane of light.
It was the first time I had felt pain from an enemy attack while I was wearing the Tailgear.
“Not a single scratch in the blade, though you blocked with all your might... it’s so strong I can hardly imagine a human made it!! It reminds me of the only rival I’ve ever considered worthy...!!”
I swung the sword in a backhand slash as I was fixing my stance, and Drag Guildy made a leisurely block with the flat of his blade.
“Embarrassed at the praise, are you? Are you playing with me, little girl?”
(This guy is in another league...!!)
“In that case, I’ll speed up a little!!”
I thought for a second I was being cut by dozens of swords at once.
I hit his sword away, forgetting to breathe, at the mercy of his speed.
(! This, this swordsmanship...!!)
Following the line his sword was tracing in the air, I noticed something in the trails.
“Ohh! You can see it from just these few , can you!!”
After an exchange of blows that lasted some ten or twenty seconds, Drag Guildy leaped backward to put distance between us in a way that didn’t well suit his huge body.
“Drag Guildy... That sword of yours is...”
“Yes, I wield...”
“Red! Are you okay!?”
I said I’d be fine by myself today, but when she got the signal from Twoearle it seems like she came in a hurry.
As TailBlue― ...as Aika swooped down from the sky with her twintails fluttering behind her―
““The Twintail Sword!!””
―Drag Guildy and I shouted those shocking words at the same time. Maybe that was why she pitched forward and looked as though she were about to screw up the landing.
“I see... We have a Souji-type today... seems dangerous...”
“Yeah, he’s a hard one!”
Just looking at Drag Guildy had thrown her off-balance.
So you can feel it on your skin too. His fearful power.
By the way, what’s a soujitype?
“TailRed. You terrifying young girl. My slashes with the swiftness of a god... you are the first one whose eyes ever saw through this speed!!”
“Don’t look down on me. Of course I’ll see it when you trace the shape of my heart out, no matter how fast you do it. Because I’ve lived my life drawing twintails in my heart!!”
“You might be my enemy, but that’s breathtaking! ...In that case, I’ll let you get a good, rich taste of it! Of this excellent blade I’ve honed to the end of all extremes!!”
There was enough power in the foot he slammed down to send the ground exploding into dust.
The slash that he fired out of that acceleration had the speed of God in it, just as he had boasted.
Forgetting myself in the fight, I brandished my sword.
Like the tracks of the glittering stars that form beautiful constellations in the night sky.
With spectacular beams of light, the flashes of Drag Guildy’s sword created the matchless constellation of The Twintails on earth.
I somehow managed to deal with the blade that filled my field of vision and put distance between us a second time.
The giant twisted his mouth into a nihilistic smile as he sent dust rising up from underfoot.
Drag Guildy raised the great sword onto his shoulder with its line of warped, crooked blades like the fangs of a dinosaur, and let out a hearty laugh.
For that solid body covered in strong muscle, just a laugh was enough to set the ground rocking.
“Spectacular twintails...! It’s a pity we had to meet as enemies, really!”
That’s my line.
A guy like that who could talk about twintails with a laugh like that from the heart ― I want to be friends with him too. How great would that be?
“In that tiny body you have the talent to catch every swing of my blade. Your swordplay is like a dance... and more than anything else, the twintails that dance through the air together with it! It’s been a very long time since Drag Guildy has fallen in love on the battlefield!!”
More than the fact that I was fighting on the same level as him, it seems like the twintails were the thing he was thinking and thinking and thinking about. This huge bastard who looked like a soldier with an amazing military record.
“Uumm, for some reason, the more I look, the more I... heh, they’re deep. Although they are loyal to the foundations, every time I fix my eyes on them they seem completely different from before... So this is what ultra-high grade twintails are.”
“What inspection standard is that!”
I wonder whether his aesthetic sense has been cultivated by his long history of battle. The deep scars carved wherever I look on his body speak more eloquently than a thousand words of the number of bloody fights he’s made it through alive.
“Do they bother you, these scars.”
“W, why would they.”
“Heh... With that rough language, you try to stretch toward adulthood. Dear little soldier.”
They say when you’re in love even pockmarks look like dimples, but... if you take anything and everything with a kind smile like this, it starts to feel like contempt.
“But look. Drag Guildy can boast that there are no scars on his back!”
“...Hmm, so you mean you’ve never turned your back on an enemy.”
You see that a lot.
“That is true also, of course... but for the sake of the sublime young girl I’ll meet someday who will wash my back for me, I am always guarding it!!”
“What have you been fighting for all this time!!”
“You should understand it already. I’m fighting to meet the one who will spend the rest of my life with me, the supreme young girl! And to hold her Elemera in my hands!!”
“Shit, what a guy.”
But the giant roaring haughtily with his feet planted wide apart did not have a single speck of hesitation in his clear eyes.
Though I understand it clearly now. Yeah, these guys are a different species.
Our definitions of love are totally different.
To spend your whole life with someone ― even those weighty words can be disposed of by a one-sided conquest, by stealing Elemera. They might have intelligence and be able to speak, but... they’re different from humanity.
When we were crossing swords I was more than half in doubt, but now I believe it.
I can’t imagine this guy’s Elemera can be anything other than...
“Blue. I know it. The secret of his strength.”
“Eh, uh, sorry, what?”
Even Aika seemed to be getting a little distracted in the presence of Drag Guildy and his overwhelming strength. She sort of looked half asleep, but I think it was my imagination.
“Drag Guildy, you...”
The strongest Elemera, even the core of the Tailgear. The Elemerians so far had all been searching for that, but in the end they had each shifted to their own personal Element.
He alone was different.
“You’re an Elemerian with the real, authentic Twintail Element, aren’t you...!”
“Aye. Our Twintail Elements are resonating with each other.”
“Resonating! Ridiculous, us two!!”
“...So in other words, “birds of a feather?” Give me a break...”
I could hear an uneasy voice from behind me. It had a lot of worry, but I couldn’t hear any surprise.
The instant he looked at Blue, Drag Guildy twisted his mouth into a broad smile.
“From the first time I saw a picture, I thought you’d got caught in something, but... Now that I see you up close like this I am sure, o blue warrior. The warrior of that world suggested this to you, did she not?”
“Eh!? What are you talking about!?”
“From your reaction it seems that you don’t know yet. The only one who came to challenge us back then... that girl was wearing the same suit that you are. Haha, she had those vulgar breasts that don’t suit twintails, so even looking I can hardly imagine the two of you are related.”
“The same suit!?”
Twoearle had created the Tailgear to strike at the foes of her world, to oppose the Ultima Guil, she had said. Aika also stood frozen to the spot without replying, although something pretty rude had been said to her. She was feeling the same confusion.
“But it’s a good joke. This world has a warrior in the same suit. And so it will come to the same end.”
Drag Guildy quieted his thirst for blood and folded his arms, as he began to speak.
“I’m certain that that other twintail warrior... they called her TailBlue too, didn’t they? And she also boasted terrifying strength. She stood in the way of our invasion, and reigned over the world as its protector and Guardian.”
“Wait! So you’re saying that you fought with TailBlue before you destroyed that earlier world!?”
Drag Guildy nodded. He hardly seemed to have been speaking at random.
“Why did Twoearle... keep quiet about that...”
“No, I understand. She couldn’t win against the Ultima Guil, even with the Tailgear. She already knows how this war will end. If she told us, how could we keep fighting?”
Aika was hardly shaken at all. As though she had been resigned to this from the start.
“I knew she was hiding something from the very beginning. That was the reason I asked to be TailBlue, too. I thought for sure if you were alone, Souji, you would absolutely be tricked.”
I thought they were getting along like sisters, that they were just joking with each other. But Aika, you...
“She was strong. As strong as the two of you. But that was what killed her world in the end.”
Drag Guildy waved an exaggerated arm high in the air, and
“The beautiful fighter that drove away the invaders. Before she knew it, she was being raised up and praised by the world as a goddess. There was no one who was not charmed by her twintails! We never even dreamed of it, but the whole world began to support our cherished Twintail Element. What more ideal hunting ground could we have imagined!!”
Was this the unease that I’ve been feeling all this time?
The work of the Twintails has been spreading twintails through the whole world, and the number of girls wearing twintails in admiration of us has increased dramatically in less than a month. Like when, all at once, the girls of the world copy the hair and clothing of an idol with centripetal power.
I was celebrating twintails’ escape from the minority. But that―
“―You seem to sense it already. That’s right, you too will become the saviour of the world, and then, in the end, its destroyer!!”
“Could it be that all the enemies so far were weak because you...!”
“Heh... I don’t take any pleasure in throwing away the lives of my comrades for a trick. They’re my dear subordinates, my students. If they had managed to win, that would have been best of all.”
That wasn’t what happened. We continued winning every battle we fought.
“In the end, with their lives, my followers bought the label ‘the invincible Guardian’ for you. And I do not deny that I allowed it to happen. We soldiers have merely been entrusted with our orders. If we see a more efficient way, what can we do but take it?”
That’s right, this guy... come to think of it, wasn’t he the one who appeared in the proclamation of war, the boss! Their goal with that first broadcast to the world wasn’t fear. They were telling the world about the existence of TailRed. Absolutely, to plant in the minds of the people of the world the image of the heroine they had been waiting for!
A soldier fighting with the strongest Element, the Twintail Element... on the contrary, that was exactly what they wanted to see...!
“Souji. Twoearle’s been taking us for a ride. Even if she isn’t an accomplice of these guys, she’s probably trying to make other worlds meet the same fate as hers out of despair. She knew perfectly well if we fought the same way, the same thing would happen.”
Aika’s voice was filled with despair. No anger, not even sadness. Hollow resignation.
“Why... Why did you decide to explain this all to us?”
“TailRed, your Twintail Element is the real thing. I knew when we crossed our swords. That this little girl loves twintails from the bottom of her heart.”
“I would have preferred to fight without these tricks, if I could... This is the least I can do, an offering for the dead. So that you’ll understand it all after the world is destroyed, so that you won’t be lost in the dark.”
―I finally feel like the mist has cleared.
“Thank you, Drag Guildy.”
“I don’t need an offering, I’m not dead yet! I don’t have a single worry now.”
There was no reason to be uneasy, I’m glad.
“What are you talking about? You know that even fighting any more is pointless!?”
“It’s fine, it’s not pointless. They’re just planning to steal it all at once. The twintails that are starting to bloom in the world... they’re not just for show, they’re not just for now, they’re real.”
I was so scared.
That twintails had originally just been a minority. That they’d be picked up for a temporary boom and just as easily vanish. That they’d be trampled underfoot.
But if these guys are doing it as a strategy, if this is what they wanted, then... even the girls who are just starting to wear twintails now. The people who have just begun to fall in love with twintails. Doesn’t that mean the unmistakable Twintail Element is shining in their hearts?
“If I just beat you here, today, then twintails will spread all over the world, there’s no downside! This is the greatest day of my life!”
Drag Guildy stepped backwards, shocked.
Aika’s shoulders shook, and finally―
She raised her voice and laughed.
“Yo―... you are the real thing! You’re not just a twintails idiot, you’re a real idiot!”
That’s what it looks like.
Because I’m an idiot, there is no limit to what I will believe. And because of that the Tailgear can create limitless strength out of the energy in my heart.
I feel power welling up inside me.
“TailRed... young girl, and your ultimate twintails. Now I admire you from the very bottom of my heart. Your steadfast will shakes still less with the end of all things before your very eyes. Your true beauty is so brilliant that I can hardly look straight at you anymore!”
I thrust the tip of the Blazer Blade at Drag Guildy and spoke, my chest puffed out with pride.
“The end of the world or whatever it is, we already have more than enough of these huge stories. I’m fighting for the thing I love!!”
“So you will hold to your convictions... to the bitter end!!”
“Yes. My twintails will be this world’s―”
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! That is enough, Drag Guildy!”
“Who the hell are yoooooooooooooooooooooooooooou!!”
It was mud splashed on my once-in-a-lifetime moment of greatness, or it was more like they threw a bomb at it. I screamed as hard as I could.
An unfitting laugh echoed through the mountain forest, many miles from human civilization.
Drag Guildy’s voice raised in anger.
“Who are you? Give your name!!”
Where he was looking―
On a conspicuous large tree, halfway up a sturdy wide branch, stood a lone girl.
“I am the one who has crossed between the worlds to take her revenge, Kamen Twintail!!”
At the strange form shining in the sunlight, me and Aika both burst out choking.
“You have finally shown yourself, Drag Guildy.... I was waiting for this moment.”
“Hrnnn, Kamen Twintail, you say!?”
Drag Guildy’s exaggerated surprise.
This guy gives you such a huge overreaction that it might have been worthwhile...
The person standing with arms folded atop the tree was highly suspicious, but Drag Guildy was deadly serious.
On the two sides of the full-face helmet, two wing parts unfolded in grand style.
Evidently those were ― twintails.
The problem was that the figure was wearing just the face mask, and below it was a white gown that left very little to the imagination ― in short, it was Twoearle herself.
I lost focus and the Blade vanished.
“But, I can’t feel any particular Elemera from you, despite your spirit.. you are hardly about to tell me that you’re here as reinforcement for the Twintails!”
“Reinforcement!? How foolish. Why would we need any more power for you! I cannot let you trick someone you cannot beat and corner them with clever words. That is all I have come for!”
“Whaat!? I can hardly let you get away with that!!”
“But... It looks as though you did not need my help, TailRed.”
Under the face mask, a laugh... and, I understood, a mocking smile at herself.
No, reinforcements would have been great. Just, your timing... the timing of your entrance, all right? Even Aika has been giving me the chance to finish my sentences.
If someone took a picture of my triumphant look from earlier, I’m going to stab myself.
Without worrying about my feelings or any other thing, Two... I mean, Kamen Twintail began solemnly to speak.
“What Drag Guildy says is true. In fact, I had already developed the Tailgear in the middle of their invasion, and I was wearing it myself to fight. You see, the Elemera conversion technology that the Tailgear is based on had been deliberately leaked by the Ultima Guil.”
She hadn’t imagined things would go that far ― Aika was rattled.
“Probably none of the Elemerians below management level know this, but... when they were searching for the girl with the ultimate twintails that day when Red first fought, they were not doing it to steal her Element. They wanted to find the person with the strongest Twintail Element, give her the art of Elemera conversion that was the model for the Tailgear, and set her up as their enemy. That is the same trick they used on my world. And... I... played my role perfectly.”
At those shocking words, me and Aika swallowed hard at the same time. That expressionless mask was the symbol of her sad laughter at herself. Although I think she goes a little bit too far in the direction of the clown.
“Even if you had never met me that day, sooner or later, at the hands of the Ultima Guil, you would have become some other warrior instead of TailRed.”
Is that what was happening. For these guys, the strongest Twintail Element wasn’t something to steal... it was just a seed, to bring up flowers blooming across the whole garden!
“That’s right! You... you once fought with us, locked in life-or-death struggle, the strongest twintail! So you crossed the worlds to find us! But, but why, that invincible Twintail Element that shone like it was about to burst, I can’t feel it from you at all now! And we never managed to steal it from you!!”
“I gave that to someone.”
Kamen Twintail turned to look at me, and smiled.
That smile under the cold mask was certainly aimed at me.
“Drag Guildy. I realized it as it was happening, back then. Why the were enemy so weak. Why they were putting so little effort into the theft of Elemera, when it should have been a life-or-death struggle. As the whole world was being dyed the colour of twintails, I had the same feelings that Red is having now.”
No, but this is Twoearle. She’s smart. She wouldn’t have stopped at this vague uneasiness, I’m sure she would have figured it out. And then...
“So I am sure... I could have stopped. I should have done something, anything, I should have tried to behave myself badly so that the world would lose its interest in twintails.”
My chest began to hurt as if Twoearle’s heart from back then had crossed space and time somehow to beat together with my own.
I could predict what she was going to say next. I prepared myself and bit my lip.
“But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t cut down the helpless buds of the Twintail Element that were growing in the world. The cute little girls that looked up to me and wore their hair in twintails, I was scared they would go back to their original hairstyles...”
I feel like a word I can’t ignore hit my earlobe just now, but neither me nor Aika can cut through this atmosphere. For now, I’ll go back to the serious expression I had a few seconds ago.
“Drag Guildy’s sword cut through that crack in my heart, and I lost. As I was hiding myself in my base and refining my plans, I let the invasion continue―and the Twintail Element vanished from the world. A world where none could ever love twintails again, a gray colored world...”
The boss who had sealed that doom listened in silence. As if he were accepting his crime.
“In a world where every kind of Element had been hunted to extinction, a world without ambition... I alone possessed the Twintail Element, and the Little Girl Element. When I flipped up the skirts of little girls as they were walking along the street, I didn’t even really get scolded ― a cold, heartless world.”
“Not a single person could wear twintails, that... that’s hell!”
I was making fists so tight that my fingernails were cutting into my palms. I understood the pain of Twoearle’s heart being gouged out as if it had happened to me. I’m sure Aika also felt the same way ― her eyes widened and she opened her mouth to speak.
“And so I decided on revenge. And starting from the Tailgear and the fighting data, I analyzed all of the technology I had been given down to the fundamental level. Using the hollowness that I felt when I snuck up on little girls from behind and squeezed their tiny breasts but didn’t even get a reaction as my fuel, I perfected Imagine Chaff... and with help from cheerful, healthy little girls, I analysed the techniques of their interdimensional spaceships.”
“That’s terrible! That’s so terrible!!”
Aika twisted back as if she were finally about to grab her head and collapse at the shocking secret that Twoearle had just revealed.
I think so too. I feel exactly the same way!!
By terrible, you mean the Ultima Guil, right? Not the person on top of the tree?
“And then, to put that part of my life behind me, I built one more Tailgear, using my Twintail Element as the core. That... Sou... TailRed, that one is yours.”
“My Tailgear is... So you gave away your own Twintail Element, Twoearle!?”
I stared at my hands without thinking. She gave up her own ability to love twintails. A decision that must have hurt more than gouging out her own intestines.
“And afterward, I gave the Tailgear I could no longer wear to the TailBlue that is here now. That is everything. I am sorry to have spoken in a way that made you suspicious of me.”
“...Wow. This used to be Twoearle’s, huh... So that’s why the chest is like that... Wow...”
Aika laughed, looking down at her chest. She laughed, but there was no light in her eyes.
“So you were tenacious, were you... TailBlue of old... no, Kamen Twintail! It looks as though we were the ones who were tricked this time! I took your deep love for twintails too lightly!!”
Yes, you did.
Easily able to steal it and even cultivate it for food, you underestimated the strength of the human heart. You couldn’t have imagined that Twoearle would do what she did.
You might have been born from people’s hearts, but at some point you forgot what they are really like.
“...I’m sorry for suspecting you. So the reason you made TailRed a little girl was so that she wouldn’t just spread the Twintail Element... so that the Little Girl Element would be in there too?”
“I apologize for repeating myself, but the reason TailRed turns into a little girl is absolutely just my preference. Because it is me who made it, you see... I lost my Twintail Element, and so the remaining Little Girl Element is even stronger, ehehehe―”
A crack echoed that pierced my eardrums, and the big tree swayed.
With a single kick from TailBlue, the tree that Kamen Twintail was standing on had been broken into two neat pieces down to the root.
She had been standing with her arms folded fearlessly, so Kamen Twintail wasn’t able to fall safely as she dropped, and she was hit and crushed by the collapsing tree.
“Ugugugu, t... this savage! Give it back! Give me back my Tailgeaaaar!!”
“Heh... But you can’t wear it any more, can you? I’ll make good, practical use of it...”
Because there weren’t any cameras on us right now, I guess. Even though TailBlue was making an evil face that would have ended her life as an idol.
“Fine allies you have there―TailRed.”
Why were the corners of Drag Guildy’s eyes glistening faintly with light? What part of this fight between two women filled with darkness pulled on the heartstrings of this long-serving soldier?
“―Yeah. I’d never give them up.”
But then I think maybe it wasn’t that different from the feeling that was blazing now in my heart.
For the first time in my life, I feel gratitude that my dad, and then my mom, passed down this chuuni flame to me through the umbilical cord.
“Kamen Twintail! Even without exhausting eloquence, I understand. No matter how overwhelmed they might be, these bastards’ twintails don’t lose even a little of their light. I don’t think this tedious talk could have gotten me anywhere from the start!!”
Drag Guildy readied his great sword.
“But no matter how bright they may shine, there remains the unconquerable darkness!!”
Moke―――――――――, echoed voices like the rumble of the earth.
Enough Ultiroids to blanket the horizon appeared behind Drag Guildy and lined up in formation.
A army appropriate for an invasion of Earth.
If people saw this scene, I don’t think that easygoing reporting and so on could possibly continue.
I’d be willing to bet they chose this willderness spot as their starting point to gradually build fear.
“It will be the same as before! Let one become two, it changes nothing! It will only shorten the time until twintails rule the world!”
“Two...? You’re wrong there, Drag Guildy.”
I pulled up the fallen tree and took Kamen Twintail’s hand.
“Twintails can only be twintails once they have the head that holds them up...”
With Twoearle in the middle between us, three lined up together―
“The three of us are the Twintails!!”
Now more than ever, we were the true Twintails.
“Aah, what a gallant and dashing young girl... the drool won’t stop... uwehehehe”
“Yeah, rii, ight... The three of... yeah, the Twintails... sigh~”
The spirit of the Tail on the left was remarkably low. In addition the girl who represented the head was dribbling water with amazing force from a hole in the mask, but I’m sure those were tears. ...I’m sure, those were tears.
<<There are nine hundred and eighty-seven Ultiroids here. If we run into even a tiny bit of trouble, those that are left over will invade in an instant. You cannot concentrate on Drag Guildy alone!>>
Having fled to a safe location, Twoearle... excuse me, Kamen Twintail, sent us a transmission.
“Aika. I’ll take Drag Guildy myself. Can I leave the small fry left over to you?”
“In that case I think I've got a much easier job, but... is that all right?”
“It’s not easier at all!”
The number of Ultiroids makes my head swim just to hear it. And there’s no reason why they can’t have even more reinforcements. She has to defeat them without leaving a single one behind, without letting a single one run away, and without having much time. I think her responsibility might be heavier than mine ― I only have to concentrate on one person.
“I trust you. I leave it to you, Aika.”
“That’s my line. After all this buildup, if we lose they’re going to laugh at us on the net.”
“I don’t want that. I guess I better not lose, then.”
Taking the moment our two fists met as her cue, TailBlue charged at the Ultiroids behind.
Drag Guildy did not try to hit that unprotected back, but let her pass by with his arms still folded.
“...Ho, so you intend to take up the gauntlet alone. Brave of you.”
With a quick attack, I made it inside of Drag Guildy’s range.
A height difference like that between an adult and a baby. But although I had to do it looking up, his gaze and mine blended furiously together, neither one giving way.
“You guys can’t survive unless you take in Elemera, I’m told. But can’t we compromise? You could see what happens if you negotiate instead of stealing everything you get your hands on, or try to come up with some alternative, or something.”
“I say not which one is the higher. But discussion is ultimately impossible for you and I, chained together as predator and prey. We are a different form of life from you people.”
He hasn’t said much, but those heavy words have told me exactly how they live.
And I think he’s saying, don’t hold back in the fight.
But I’ve been resigned to that for a long time. Even if it is a joke of an existence, life is life.
As this war turns into something like a job, maybe meeting this strong enemy is a lesson for me.
Even if they are evil, even if they are perverts, even if they are beings of mental energy opposed to all reason on this planet.
Take the weight of their lives in your own two hands.
I burst open the feelings I’d burned into my heart, and with them the right-hand ribbon. Waves of heat converged on the palm of my hand, and drawing a spiral, took the shape of a sword. Once more I took a hard grip on the sword of flame, the Blazer Blade.
Drag Guildy also held his rough sword ready.
Our right feet hit the ground and sent it exploding into the air at the same time. The cobblestone paving of the mountain road broke apart and danced.
With all our strength, we ran head-on at each other.
The heavy sword that felt like a wall lunged several times in quick succession. I somehow managed to stop it with spirit alone. I handled all the strikes that were sent out without a pause like bolts of lightning, and seizing an instant of opening, sent a single blow with all my strength at the man standing so huge in front of me that I had to almost look straight up at him.
Each time I stopped the sword I drove it away, and he retreated as his heels gouged the earth.
“Your beauty and your strength have grown far beyond what they were earlier! It’s like you’re a completely different person!!”
“Of course... I have real spirit now!!”
I dodged him with the recoil from the hit, and cut around behind.
Drag Guildy was too slow to react as I slashed at his back.
“Ngh... A, a wound on my back...!!”
“You wanted me to scrub your back, right! I did it just the way you asked!!”
“I see. A point to you, then!!”
Without faltering at all, Drag Guildy reopened the attack.
“So this is your true strength!”
The Tailgear is driven by the strength of the heart. Now that I know it’s not just my own desire to protect twintails, that I’ve been entrusted with Twoearle’s heart too, my Elemera is blazing up stronger than it ever has before!
“In that case, I must put my own life on the line as well!!”
Drag Guildy jammed his sword standing in the ground, crossed both arms, and began to take deep breaths over and over again.
“He’s creating delusions, like Fox Guildy...!?”
“Fox Guildy, eh... That guy’s vast power of imagination, I have to admit it’s greater than mine.”
A mysterious light began to shine in Drag Guildy’s two eyes, and the fighting spirit surrounding his whole body began gradually to gather to the left and right of his head.
“But depending on dolls is a weakness! To embody your love in your own body ― that is the flowering of a warrior!!”
His fighting aura flowed in the shape of twintails from his head, fluttering softly in the wind. It had the radiance of the Elemera Orbs, the light of his life itself.
Numberless rays of light became two bunches, and lit up the great figure I was staring up at with color.
“Drag Guildy――in twintails!?”
“This is my final state of battle... the Twintail Dragon Wing Formation, Twintail Wingbeat!! I’ve released my Twintail Element to its utmost limit. In this shape I will seek and kill!!”
Seeing this I don’t have the slightest particle of discomfort or doubt about whether a man can wear twintails. The casual defiance of throwing away your shy heart draws a clear line in the sand, a magnificent way to be.
He seems different now... That confidence of his, where is it coming from...!?
“That’s right. It is not only the love of twintails that is permitted to young men. To wear twintails themselves―that is the duty of those who possess the Twintail Element!!”
I... was told I had the greatest Twintail Element under this star. I was told it was an element that didn’t by nature bud strongly in men. And then I put on the Tailgear, and became a twintail myself.
But have I ever felt any pride in that? Haven’t I been ashamed of it?
We have the same Twintail Element, but there’s such a difference in what we are ready to do. It might not be prudent right now, but I have so much respect for him I wouldn’t hesitate to bow.
“I am coming, TailRed!!”
Drag Guildy’s attacks were getting faster by leaps and bounds. The strikes coming from that huge, nonstandard sword were turning the earth inside out like aerial bombing.
I let the flame blade accelerate again too. At this speed, the flashes of the swords seemed to materialize and hang suspended in the air.
“I can’t believe an enemy made such a deep impression on me! I have to thank you again, I think!!”
“My feelings aside, I should be the one thanking you. When I saw your light, I threw away the mantle of general. I’m back in the days of my reckless love for twintails, as an undecorated soldier!”
The flashes of our swords surpassed even time, in perfect reply.
High heat was stirred by the high speed. The ground was starting to melt with us as the centre.
“But... if you love twintails this much, you should also understand how sad it is to have them stolen, shouldn’t you?!”
“I’ve long since gotten used to your hate! That is the fate of those who live on the hearts of men!”
Then now more than ever, I will strike at the foes of the world that you have stained!!
A single blow of faith. I pushed Drag Guildy back with our swords still pressed together, and struck him away toward the great tree.
“Unbelievable... Having come this far, your light is brighter than ever... Are your twintails bottomless!?”
Although space has no end, it’s considered as high as you can get, but it’s a paradox ― even the universe has not yet finished growing.
The heart is the universe.
It has no shape, so it has no end. It grows with no limit.
“Yeah, it looks like that’s right... My twintails are... infinite!!”
Like little sprays of water, gravel and broken rock whirled in the air in the form of magma.
The two sets of twintails shook out of order, danced, and crossed together.
In the centre of hell where the atmosphere itself was slowly disappearing, attack and defense continued with no end.
In the shape of twintails, the rock was scored, and the earth and sand were blasted away.
At some point the tracks of our strikes had completed a ground drawing of twintails.
The unpleasant smell of the scorched and melted ground, and the ultra-high temperatures that were calling every living thing to its end. Already the mountain forest and the path that led to it had lost their original shape, and the world that surrounded us was as red hot as a blast furnace.
“Haah, haah, haah.”
Yeah, this is the limit of my strength. I slide down onto my knees.
“A pity. How close you came... You certainly possess dreadful power. Far stronger than that girl once was. But I suppose it’s because you haven’t gotten any real fighting experience from the weak opponents who’ve been throwing themselves against you so rashly... the difference in our years has decided the battle!!”
“You’re not done yet...”
The attacks had long since lost their brilliance. All my slashes had been taken by the rough blade and swallowed up in its body.
“A wonderful, brave fight it was! The strongest enemy of my career... and the greatest love of my life!!”
The Blazer Blade was hit and sent flying. It drew a parabola as the flame that wrapped it was scattering, with the noise as it cut through the air. The blade hit without strength and stuck standing in the ground.
Maybe this purity that didn’t even take a pause for regret was part of the aesthetics of war that he had been telling me about before the fight.
Drag Guildy swung his sword down toward the crown of my head―!!
―――This is what I’ve been waiting for!
I made an Aura Pillar open to hold myself.
However, the Aura Pillar was designed as a support technique for confinement. It has no defense power against attacks from outside.
It just barely managed to knock away Drag Guildy’s sword, but the Aura Pillar couldn’t absorb all of that single blow either and broke and dispersed quietly into the air. He quickly fixed his posture and came once again for the finishing blow.
In my right hand, appearing from the vanishing flame, I held the Blazer Blade.
“What!? A second sword!?”
“I’m not just in twintails for looks!”
I aimed at the tip of the shoulder of the shaken Drag Duildy, and with all my strength, I hit him with my trump card, the second sword.
Although he was staggering, Drag Guildy was again raising his sword.
The Blazer Blade changed shape against Drag Guildy’s shoulder, and shot out flame into the air.
The flame sword dropped downward in a diagonal slash. The serpent of fire that was burning the great dragon made me think of a prominence of the sun. And with light that did not compare badly even in the slightest with a sun fallen to earth, brilliant, radiant, fluttering twintails.
“――――――Lovely... This must be the hair of the gods... The hairstyle of heaven...”
In the eyes of that soldier who had crossed many worlds in his long history, the sight that made the scales balance even when his life was on the other pan was―was it a hairstyle?
Drag Guildy's strength was finally exhausted, and he sank to the ground on his knees.
“U, ku... was the first sword a trap from the start...?”
“No, I thought of this on the spot... I’ve never tried it before. I can’t do this fiddling little strategy stuff, but, you know―I’m protecting two people, I have to have two swords, don’t I?”
Back when Twoearle was explaining the Force Rivon to me, she reminded me that it’s not there to grant wishes. But when I really needed something, it gave it to me.
“M, magnificent...!! Magnificent, TailRed!!”
“...You mean my twintails?”
Drag Guildy grinned fatalistically.
“No argument there! Waa―hhahhahhahhahhahha!!”
As his roaring laugh rose into the sky, electricity began to spark from his body.
“Defeated by a beautiful little girl... hmm, I don’t think this is so much different from spending our lives together!!”
“Optimistic to the end, aren’t you...”
I didn’t say I’m a man! ― or anything so unromantic. He was my enemy, and an irredeemable villain with crimes piled up to the sky, but there was a little part of him I just couldn’t hate.
I think I could have said it to any of the soldiers I had fought before, but...
“Let’s meet again... in the next world.”
“As long as you still love twintails... maybe that will happen.”
As I turned my back in goodbye, Drag Guildy rose in a huge explosion, and scattered.
The power drained from my whole body, and I began to collapse spread-eagled on the ground.
I was completely exhausted. The transformation cancelled on its own, without my will involved.
Melted earth and smoldering flames were waiting to catch me where I fell. This is dangerous, hey. I realized it, but I couldn’t stop myself from lying down.
White smoke wrapped the ground as far as I could see, and the red heat began gradually to settle. Maybe because of some special chemical she was using, the fire died strangely fast.
Kamen Twintail walked toward me, lending one of her shoulders to Aika, whose transformation had cancelled like mine. In her right hand, she was holding some kind of spray, probably the thing she had used to put out the fire.
With a terrible scene like this, even if people realize there’s been a fight they shouldn’t get close for a while longer. I didn’t think the masquerade had been broken.
“Aika, are you all right?”
“I, I’m alive. ...I overdid it a little.”
Aika struggled to talk, with a voice like she had just woken up.
“Ah, you are so tired that you cannot move, Aika-san. Then let us take the opportunity to roll you on the ground and draw graffiti on your breasts.”
“Normally you draw on someone’s forehead...?”
“...Are you trying to say it’s as flat as my forehead, you―――――――!!”
“Why, you are already full of energy~~~~~~! Then please help me put out the fires―!!”
“I can blow out the flame of your life if you want!!”
Even right after such a terrible fight, this made me feel like we’d gone back to our usual lives. When I saw the two of them arguing together, somehow I was so relieved I was close to tears.
“But, Souji, using the Aura Pillar for defense, that was a really good idea!”
“...One time you used it on Twoearle, right? It sent me flying with incredible force then, so... since you were going as easy as you could on her back then, I thought maybe it might work.”
“So when I put my life at risk, you caught the thread you needed to win the fight! That is great!!”
“Why don’t you let me repeat the lesson...!?”
“We are fine! Why not try it on yourself, Aika-san!!”
At the start she was reluctant to hand over the bracelet, but when I see them getting along so well like this, I feel like there was no one more qualified to be TailBlue’s successor.
“You guys are really energetic, I still can’t move a muscle...”
In my field of vision, Twoearle’s evil smile became a closeup.
“Please leave it to me! At times like these, direct skin-to-skin warmth will do wonders to recover your sexu... er, your muscle strength!”
Taking off her white coat and throwing it aside, and also throwing Aika aside, Twoearle jumped into the air with all her strength. My field of vision was still very fuzzy from fatigue, and it might have been my imagination, but I thought that the amount of flesh-colored surface area was increasing in the middle of the jump...
“Don’t take everything but your mask off, that’s scary!!”
Clonk, a clear sound, and pwuff, a suspicious sound, in unison.
Noisy everyday life, with no powerful emotion or excitement.
We had kept it safe with our own hands, this irreplaceable time.