Kneeling on the ground exhausted, Tomoe tried to catch her breath to no avail.
If not for her sheathed katana supporting her, she would have long fallen to the ground.
She wanted nothing more than to throw herself onto the ground and fall asleep, but alas, she couldn’t permit it.
“Tomoe!?” Ryou cried.
With raybeasts everywhere, rest wasn’t a luxury she could afford, but her body just wouldn’t listen.
She only had a Stamina with C+ rating, while Ryou had a Stamina with AA rating; hence, it should come as no surprise that she would run out of gas much sooner than he.
Things wouldn’t have turned out like this had she just used attack-class skills, but she just had to buff herself, then begin throwing the raybeasts one after another. With that there was no avoiding exhaustion.
In a sense, what she did was a lot more taxing than Ryou hammering the raybeasts up.
That’s why this result could only be a given.
“Damn it! Hey! Hurry up and get down alread— !?” Ryou said.
Only C Rank raybeasts, whose attacks couldn’t get past Tomoe’s barrier, surrounded her, so it was normally impossible for her to get hurt, but unfortunately there were too many of them.
With hundreds of raybeasts attacking, it was doubtful that her barrier would last forever.
Ryou ran off to save Tomoe, but while he was still figuring out how he should save her, a boy and a fox swept the attacking raybeasts in one fell swoop.
Lightning covered the area like a barrier and pierced the raybeasts all around, while the sword of the boy drew a spectacular stroke.
In the wake of that perfect combination, Ryou stood speechless.
And then as if to scold him for dozing off in the middle of a fight, lightning shot out of a palm toward Ryou to scorch the raybeast attacking him from behind.
“Don’t dawdle. It’s not break time just yet.”
“I-I know! Shut up!”
Ryou retorted as he sent a horse-faced bear flying.
He felt shame and regret for dozing off and forgetting that they were in the middle of a fight.
He didn’t say that out loud, but it was written all over his face.
Shinichi wryly smiled, then waved his hand in front of Tomoe.
“Hey, you awake?”
“Ah, haa, haa, ah, haa… No one, asked, for your, help…”
Amidst heavy breaths, she remained as stubborn as ever.
Shinichi was impressed, but at the same time, he regretted that she was so strong willed that she’d push herself this far.
He kept those remarks to himself, though. He had no intention of being lenient on her.
“You’ve reached your limit and that’s my judgment. Your unqualified opinion is irrelevant.”
Tomoe bit her lips at Shinichi’s scathing remarks.
Although she’d said her piece reflexively, it was true that she was the one who failed to manage her stamina; hence, she couldn’t rebut when he called her unqualified.
“She just got out of the hospital! Couldn’t you have just told her to cover me if you knew she’d reached her limit!?”
It was curious if Ryou was being considerate of her circumstance or sympathetic because she was his childhood friend and had a similar goal as him, but regardless, he couldn’t stand the way Shinichi talked to Tomoe even as he fought the raybeasts.
Alas, his words didn’t bother Shinichi the slightest, if anything…
“Oh? Those are big words coming from someone who couldn’t notice her condition despite being so close.”
It just made him retort sarcastically, causing Ryou to pause for a moment and react a moment slower to the raybeasts attacking.
“…But that’s not surprising. High status alone isn’t enough to be able to pay attention to someone else. Especially, in the battlefield.”
“What’s that supposed to mean!? Tsk!” Ryou asked.
“It means that someone who’s barely getting by should learn to take care of himself first. Even if someone struggling manages to lend a hand, it’s not a hand that a person can just easily take. It’s nice to be helped, but that kind of help is mentally taxing to the person being helped. Unfortunately, that’s not something you can understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself,” Shinichi wryly smiled.
There was something to ponder regarding Shinichi’s words, but more so than that, there was something that Ryou couldn’t agree with.
“You say a lot of difficult things, but in the end, the reason why you’re having us bat these raybeasts is because you’re too busy with your duties as an examiner, right!?”
Ryou had noticed that slight contradiction between Shinichi’s words and actions.
But actually, Shinichi could help even with his examiner duties. They weren’t that hard in the first place, and he was also being supported by Garesto’s technology.
Of course, normally such a thing bordered on impossibility.
“…Hmm? Your head works surprisingly well despite having your hands full, I see.” Shinichi nodded in admiration.
Ryou felt like he was being treated like a child, infuriating him, but unfortunately, the situation prevented him from throwing a tantrum.
Not having an exoskeleton and having to send the raybeasts flying without killing them was just too exhausting.
”Tch, aren’t you the one who has his hands full the most!?”
“It’s fine. As long as it’s me, it’s fine.”
“That’s too selfish!”
Ryou yelled, but his yells were just drowned out by the horde of raybeasts.
“I decided that unless I die I’m not pushing myself at all.”
Never before has a more convenient interpretation been uttered.
“Gotta hand it to you, though, you sure are lively. As for you, have you caught your breath yet?”
As Shinichi gauged the difference between a C+ stamina and AA stamina in his head, he looked down at the kneeling girl that was supporting herself with her katana.
“Yeah… Thanks to you!”
As she looked up to meet his gaze, her eyes seemed somewhat hostile.
She knew that Shinichi and Youko were defending her, so she took advantage of the brief reprieve to recover no matter how short she had.
Unfortunately, she was still so exhausted that unless she spurred herself on, she’d collapse.
But she didn’t want that, so she grit her teeth and endured.
“Ha ha, you really hate to lose, don’t you?”
Most people would probably find her attitude uncute or ungrateful, but Shinichi didn’t mind at all.
In fact, he though she somewhat resembled himself with how awkward she was.
“Did you, say something!?’
Unfortunately, she took his smile for mockery and snapped back at him because it was the only way for her to defend herself.
“I said you’re a stubborn brat that hates to lose.”
“Why did you make it longer!?”
To her dismay, he was the sort to tease her despite knowing that.
Youko shook her head with a fed-up expression while deflecting the raybeasts with her three tails, but Ryou was just shocked.
“…I’m starting to think he was right to ignore everyone,” he muttered.
As someone who’s been on the receiving end of Tomoe’s belligerence ever since they were kids, Ryou thought it was ridiculous that Shinichi just kept pouring oil into the flames with that stupid grin of his.
When Ryou thought of how he acted like this to everyone in school, his face lost its color.
“Ahahaha, so you noticed.”
Tomoe wanted to jump at Shinichi, but the vertigo brought her to knees.
But she was so stubborn that she used her sheathed katana to keep herself from falling completely.
Unfortunately, as tough as her mind was, her body just couldn’t keep up anymore.
“I investigated you a little, and it turns out the reason behind your accident was also your lack of stamina,” Shinichi said monotonously.
She had tried to show off her power during a mock battle against a guard robot only to end up burning all of her stamina and be pinned under the broken guard robot.
With her mind and body exhausted, she could neither dodge nor protect herself completely with her barrier, resulting in a grave injury.
“You know what I’m trying to say, right?”
‘You’re an amateur who’s been making the same mistakes.’
No one actually said that, but it was something that she recognized herself, so it hurt even more.
Tomoe was the kind of person that learned better when she was left to criticize herself rather than be criticized externally.
As proof of that, although she was still holding her katana, her blue eyes were already looking down and her ponytail listlessly dangled on her chest.
“…I’m such a mean guy.” Shinichi muttered to himself with a bitter smile.
When the first thing that came to mind after seeing her so down was to consider pushing her even deeper into the mire instead of pitying her, even he couldn’t help but be disgusted at himself. He even considered playing with her by bringing things in the opposite direction.
“Sack, cat, princess, or zipper bag? Pick.”
“You have 5 seconds to pick. 5, 4, 3…”
“Huh, uh, princess!”
Suddenly, four options that didn’t make sense were shoved into Tomoe’s face, and in the middle of that unquestionable atmosphere, she hastily picked one of the options only to see Shinichi grin. At that she thought that she may have messed up, but by then it was already too late.
In the next moment, she felt herself being lifted off from the ground.
The lack of connection to the ground made her feel restless, but the firm strength that supported her put her at ease.
“Ah, ahhhh, you’re doing this again!?”
“You’re the one who asked for it. What are you complaining for? So selfish,” Shinichi sighed as he shook his head.
With the face of such a daring boy so close to her, Tomoe couldn’t help but turn beet red.
Once again, she was being carried like a princess.
“If I knew what you were asking, I would’ve picked— Huh, wait, they’re all the same!?”
Sack = be carried on the shoulders.
Cat = be carried by the scruff of the neck.
Zipper Bag = be carried under one’s arm.
When Tomoe realized what the other options entailed, she became speechless.
In the end, whichever she picked would’ve ended in her embarrassment.
“P-Please! At least change my choice into a cat or a sack!”
“I did think it was too uninspiring to just repeat yesterday, but since you’re requesting it, I’ll have to refuse.” Shinichi said.
She argued that it would’ve been more convenient that way anyway, but unfortunately for her, she was talking to Shinichi, and all her complaints fell on deaf ears.
Whether it was being carried like a cat or being carried under one’s arms, it was embarrassing either way, but it was still much better than being carried on the shoulders or like a princess.
“L-Let me down!!”
With their faces right in front of each other and the warmth of a boy covering her, Tomoe was unable to remain calm.
The gentle treatment she received from the princess carry only exacerbated her embarrassment.
Last night was an emergency, so she couldn’t think about it too much, but it was different this time.
When she thought of the same thing last night being done to her, she couldn’t help but blush an even deeper shade of red.
And because of some other reasons that couldn’t be said out loud, she found herself swinging her arms in vain.
In the first place, she was too exhausted, so any resistance she offered was worse than a baby’s.
“Sigh, you can’t even walk, what are you saying? I’ll leave the rest to you, Shinguuji. Let her rest for now.”
Tomoe kept on resisting as Shinichi carried her away, but Ryou just nodded and saw them off speechlessly.
His body still kept reacting to the raybeasts attacking him, but his mind was thoroughly dominated by the unbelievable sight he’d just witnessed.
“Was that girl really Tomoe?”
Flushing deep red while being carried by a boy of the same age. A young maiden that actually acted like a girl?
Precisely because Ryou had known her for a long time, he couldn’t keep himself from being shocked.
When Youko saw the way he was acting, she wore a stupid look that that seemed to say ‘Oho? Is this that?’
In her mind played the scene of a boy awakening to love as he witnessed his childhood friend being approached by another boy.
She looked expectantly at Ryou as he turned to the heavens and yelled with glee.
“Yes! If they get together, I can finally be free!”
Then the poor fox fell flat on her face.
Ryou and Tomoe may have been inseparable since they were kids, but theirs was not a desirable relationship.
She knew too much about his embarrassing stories as a little kid, and while they got along well as relatives and childhood friends, any thoughts of that turning a romantic direction was nil.
“Ah, sheesh! Why are all the women that flock to my master always so troublesome!?”
Those maids, that m*so princess, that fox-girl, that white-haired battle fanatic… All of them! Youko complained in the Falandia tongue, while conveniently leaving herself out.