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Part 1: Summer Break

"Want to go to the sea?" The one who had asked those words all of a sudden was Shizuku. "By the sea, you mean the beach?" Modern T !hone systems, as a standard, can take u! to "# calls simultaneously. $s Miyuki used that system to talk with Shizuku and %onoka and engage in idle chatter, Shizuku ga&e a brief affirmati&e 'yes'. That answer was a bit short, but e&en so it seemed to ring a bell with her friend since !rimary school, %onoka. "$h, could you mean?" "(es, that." But for Miyuki, who had only known them for around four months, this con&ersation was altogether on a different le&el. ")ould you mean...... what?" $t that, both %onoka and Shizuku realized that they had left Miyuki behind, albeit too late. They shared a glance. That being said, on Miyuki's dis!lay she could only see them looking aside. %onoka was then the first to direct her eyes back to Miyuki. "Well you see, Shizuku's family has a resort in *gasawara." "+h? Shizuku, your family owns a !ri&ate beach?" "(eah......" $t Miyuki's ,uestion. Shizuku answered briefly again, although this time with a slightly embarrassed e-!ression. .ecently, ha&ing a &illa in the uninhabited island of *gasawara had become fashionable among the rich, though this had been re!roached by ignorant critics misunderstanding intellectual e-!ression as 'arrogantly willful destruction of nature." These uninhabited islands where the resorts are were mostly once !o!ulated islands, but had been abandoned due to the rough conditions. $s these &illas were zero emission /energy sources came from sunlight, so if you include energetics they weren't truly zero emission but still0, they were not destructi&e to nature but rather unashamed &alid uses of

land. *f course, Miyuki wasn't blaming Shizuku/'s family0 for anything. 1t was 2ust that e&en among those households considered wealthy, only a handful !ossessed &illas with their own !ri&ate beach. That was !robably something Shizuku also understood, but e&en in the case of un2ustified criticism she would !robably retain a manner of general common sense and feel a subconscious degree of guilt. "My father said to '!lease in&ite your friends'. 1t seems he really wants to meet Miyuki and Tatsuya3san." $t Shizuku's words calibrated to change the mood /this being again something the one who had not known them &ery long didn't catch0, %onoka mumbled something. "So your father will be there as well this year......" %er e-!ression seemed to be recalling something, most likely memories of a !re&ious &acation she had been on with Shizuku's father. 4erha!s at the &ery &illa they were talking about. "5on't worry. %e'll only be around for a short while. 1t seems he has a !ile of work, and he'll !robably 2ust be able to s!are a few short hours." %onoka's somewhat a!!rehensi&e face softened in relief at Shizuku's words. Miyuki felt curiosity at 2ust what could ha&e ha!!ened, but she didn't lose sight of !riorities. "1 don't mind, but...... what time?" "1t hasn't been decided yet. We had been thinking whene&er it's con&enient for Tatsuya3san." $t Miyuki's e-!ression saying '1 need to ask *nii3sama', Shizuku understood !erfectly well her answer. 666 "......is what we were talking about." Tatsuya heard of the matter during breakfast the ne-t morning. $t first Tatsuya had considered asking 'did you guys talk about that all the way until midnight?', but of course what came out of his mouth was different altogether.

"The only ones attending will be Shizuku, %onoka, and oursel&es?" "Shizuku said she also wants to in&ite +rika, Mizuki, Sai2ou3kun, and (oshida3kun." $t that Miyuki hesitated slightly, "But they're not as familiar with them as us, so they wondered if we could be the ones to in&ite them." She !robably didn't want to say anything which would bring incon&enience to her brother. *f course, Miyuki didn't intend to make Tatsuya do anything and was going to contact them herself, but. "1 got it. Then, 1'll contact 7eo and Mikihiko. 8or dates, let's see......" )on&ersely, Tatsuya also didn't want to im!ose on his sister, resulting in a !re3established harmony. Taking a si! of coffee, Tatsuya went o&er the schedule in his head. "......1'm free ne-t week 8riday to Sunday. +&ery other day is !retty busy." Summer break for magic high schools runs until the end of $ugust. /8or most science and literary high schools it's mid $ugust, while for most 4+ and arts high schools it's mid Se!tember.0 Tatsuya's summer break last year and the year before last had been mostly taken u! by training with the 1nde!endent Magic3+,ui!!ed Battalion. /1n addition to that last year had been studying 9 namely, tutoring Miyuki.0 This year the first half had been taken u! by the :ine Schools )om!etition, so things were e-tra tight. 5e&elo!ments in&ol&ing the soon to be released ne-t month 'dedicated magic flight de&ice' were also in motion. This year as well, there was no 'break' in his summer break. "So that's ne-t 8riday to Sunday, three days and two nights. 1'll contact Shizuku." Which was why Miyuki was so fired u! about not missing this o!!ortunity. To her it was a little disa!!ointing that she wouldn't be s!ending time alone with 2ust her brother, but gi&ing him time to refresh

took !riority o&er any of her own desires. 666 1t seemed Shizuku really had been lea&ing o!en her !lans for Tatsuya, as she immediately nodded u!on recei&ing Miyuki's call. %onoka was contacted by Shizuku, +rika and Mizuki by Miyuki, 7eo and Mikihiko by Tatsuya, and whether the fact that e&eryone was free was a coincidence or not Tatsuya took with a grain of salt. $nd on the day of tra&el he had looked on in blank amazement. %e had been forced to accom!any the ladies out sho!!ing, a &ery attention grabbing e&ent in the swimsuit section of a large de!artment store; Tatsuya later relegated this memory to a distant drawer in the de!ths of his mind and welded it shut, hence there was no recollection of that !articular e&ent here. 8or some reason, the s!ecified meeting !lace was not the air!ort but the %ayama marina. "Wooow...... that sure is a nice boat." This time /unlike during the :ine Schools )om!etition0 +rika's short !ants weren't out of !lace, so she looked u! at the gleaming white hull e&en as she showed off her sleek sha!ely legs, her eyes shining. "5oesn't +rika's family ha&e a cruiser as well?" $s Shizuku ,uestioned her with a slightly embarrassed face /Tatsuya had become ,uite ade!t at reading her e-!ressions0, +rika shook her head with a wry smile. "We do ha&e a shi!, but it can't really can't be called a 'cruiser'...... %eck, 1 don't want to call it that. They normally turn the stabiliser off too, so it's the worst ride e&er." "......don't tell me, for training?" "(e!." "(ou guys really are ,uite thorough......" :e-t to Miyuki's murmur and amazed e-!ression, Mizuki was at a loss as to what kind of face to make, so she 2ust smiled ambiguously.

*n the other hand, "$ 8leming !ro!ulsion system is it...... there aren't any air ducts, so the !ower doesn't come from gas turbines. 1s it !owered by !hotocatalytic hydrogen !lants and fuel cells?" +ngrossed as he was in the boyish/?0 interest of mechanics, Tatsuya muttered to himself as he obser&ed the !ro!ulsion in detail. "There're also hydrogen storage tanks onboard 2ust in case." $n une-!ected answer came. /1t wasn't that the answer itself was une-!ected, but rather the fact that an answer came at all.0 7ooking u!, the 'ca!tain' of the shi! was there. With a <reek hat !ulled low o&er his face and dressed in a 2acket with decorati&e buttons, he was !olitely munching on a !i!e. %e sim!ly lacked that stout look slightly. *besity as a lifestyle disease had been eradicated =# years earlier thanks to drug treatment, but if cos!laying a ca!tain a bit more girth is desirable. $s Tatsuya thought so with a !uzzled face, the 'ca!tain' e-tended a handshake. By the way, the !i!e he held in his left hand really was a classic !i!e. 91f you looked closely enough, you'd see it was em!ty. "(ou're Shiba Tatsuya3kun aren't you? 1 am >itayama ?shio, Shizuku's father." %e wasn't ,uite able to contain his confusion at this franker than e-!ected !ersonality, but Tatsuya had far more social e-!erience than most high school students. .ather than succumbing to embarrassment, he returned the greeting flawlessly. "1t's good to meet you, 1 am Shiba Tatsuya. 1 ha&e heard much about you. $long with my sister, we are !leased to make your ac,uaintance." "1t's good to meet you too." Taking Shizuku's father's !roffered hand, Tatsuya s,ueezed lightly so as to not &iolate eti,uette, was his intention, but ?shio heartily grabbed Tatsuya's hand. %is gri! was une-!ectedly firm. Still, com!ared to >azama and (anagi his hands were more accustomed to desk work. What caught Tatsuya was not the force of his hand but the !ower in the gaze he directed at

him. Those hard3bitten eyes a!!raised you without making you feel uncomfortable, took the lead, stro&e with similar luminaries; the eyes of a leader. "......not 2ust a smart3ass good only for his brains. :ot 2ust a techie with su!erficial e-cellent techni,ues either. $!!earance truly seems su!erbly de!endable." %is murmur would normally be inaudible. $s e&en Tatsuya had to consciously concentrate, that &olume of &oice was more than ,uiet enough for consideration. But e&en if it had been uttered in a normal &olume, Tatsuya would not ha&e considered it discourteous. >itayama ?shio !ossessed the ma2esty to honestly a!!raise the &alue of the one in front of him. 9But. "(es, it seems Shizuku's eyes weren't mistaken. While my daughter, she really does ha&e it together." $t this sudden doting !arent remark, Tatsuya ostensibly ke!t his e-!ression neutral while sighing "so this is the great '>itayama ?shio' huh......" in his mind. When he had said that he had heard of him earlier, that had not been mere !oliteness. 1t's now normal to use a business name rather than your real name in the management of a com!any to !rotect your !ri&acy. %is own father does not use his name of 'Shiba Tatsurou' but rather the name 'Shiibara Tatsurou'@ in his ca!acity as head of de&elo!ment at 87T. %e had only heard from Shizuku that her father managed a business in !assing, but after being told his business name, he had been ,uite sur!rised that he was such a bigshot. %e had married late /marrying a magician had in&ol&ed numerous issues and although those were o&ercome, it had taken years0 so he really should ha&e been o&er A# or so, but this frank, or rather e-cessi&ely light air, didn't seem to make him any more than B#. "9MiyukiC" <i&ing notice with a glance, Tatsuya called his sister o&er. Miyuki came o&er at a trot, immediately assessed the situation, and

bowed gracefully to Shizuku's father. "4leased to meet you, 1 am Shiba Miyuki. Thank you so much for in&iting us o&er." "Thank you for your kind words, milady. 1 am >itayama ?shio. Such a lo&ely greeting from such a beautiful maiden is an unho!ed honour both for me and my shi!." $t his !lacing his hand on his chest and gi&ing a dee! bow, Miyuki also with a !layful smile curtsied in the Western manner. Being faced with a beauty of Miyuki's stature and bearing, it couldn't be hel!ed that e&en ?shio's 2aw slackened a bit. "$h, father. 1 don't think you said any such thing when you met me?" "5ad, it's undignified so !lease close your mouth." %owe&er, there was no way that would be tolerated. $t ?shio's ha!less a!!earance, a sudden barrage of words flew from two more ladies who came u!. ":o no, it's not like 1 was o!ening my mouth or anything......" 1f he had only been u! against his true daughter he might ha&e been able to make something u!, but also being faced with %onoka who he had lo&ed as another daughter since !rimary school, e&en this talented businessman floundered. /1ncidentally the reason %onoka had been so a!!rehensi&e at hearing that ?shio was coming might be due to him seeing her as his daughter, e&ery time they met he had !assed not inconsiderable amounts of !ocket money on to her.0 <esturing wildly at +rika and the others who were a!!roaching from a distance, he was ob&iously trying to distract the others from the to!ic at hand. "9*ohC (ou must be new friends of my daughter as well? Welcome. 4lease en2oy yoursel&es. ?nfortunately 1 ha&e to go now, but !lease feel free to rela- as if it were your own home." 1t was !robably out of his de!th dealing with his daughter unlike his business !artners. %is unrest could be discerned from his dis2ointed words. Watching him rush into a large car with indecent haste and lifting his

<reek hat in regret as he s!ed off, Tatsuya muttered '1 think he had at least wanted to sail with his daughter......' in a &oice no one could hear. :ote D Shiibara Tatsurou: as o!!osed to 666 1t was around E## km to the island archi!elago where the &illa was located. Tatsuya didn't ,uite understand what the fun of sailing rather than flying was /it's not unusual now to !ri&ately own T*7 !ro!eller aircraft, and in fact that would be chea!er than a 8leming !ro!elled cruiser0, and u!on asking 7eo and +rika, he was sim!ly told something like 'this is the most charming way to tra&el'. %e almost inad&ertently retort 'the !oint of the tri! is swimming, not tra&eling', but had settled for muttering 'these two really are a !erfect !air' under his breath. Well, e&eryone had come along, and no one should be seasick. Taking into account the tra&el time, they had gathered at F am early in the morning. 1n order to lea&e as ,uickly as !ossible, Tatsuya got on the shi!. The deck was e&en larger than it a!!eared from outside. There wasn't a !ool or theatre or any such e-tra&agant things /this was a 'cruiser' not a 'lu-ury liner' after all0, but e&en if eight !eo!le got out deck chairs and hung u! fishing rods, there would still be !lenty of s!ace to s!are. 9%owe&er, since the entire deck was co&ered by a trans!arent dome streamlined for air resistance, it would be im!ossible to actually hang out any lines. "But, when cruising at low s!eeds the sides are o!ened." The one who e-!lained that was the helmsman, as well as the one who had taken care of their belongings, the omni3housekee!er Ms. >urosawa. 8rom her a!!earance...... rather than housekee!er, it felt there should be a more a!!ro!riate word. She didn't seem any older than her mid =#s at most.

Though that being said she didn't gi&e off a soft image, as she seemed more the ty!e to come accom!anied by the 'sna!' S8G; still on the o!en sea under the blazing sun in mid summer, howe&er much e-cess rays the dome could be said to cut out, Tatsuya had to wonder if she wasn't hot in that dress. *r maybe that was 2ust him. 8irmly wra!!ed u! in a long slee&ed summer 2acket as he was, he !robably wasn't ,uite ,ualified to be thinking such things. The shi!'s design !laced the wheelhouse at the bow, the cabins beneath, and the trans!arent dome e-tending from the to! of the wheelhouse all the way to the back half which was the deck. $fter confirming all se&en !assengers were aboard >urosawa !roceeded straight to the wheelhouse, and soon the shi! had left the coast. 666 The weather was calm throughout, and although there were some rough !atches, thanks to the stabilisers and motion absor!tion systems no one on3board suffered motion sickness. $t length, the shi! e&entually made it to the &illa at :akodo2ima island. The atolls around the island had been de&astated by feral goats in the latter half of the last century. $fter that, efforts to restore an artificial reef were unsuccessful. 7ater, &illas were built and the red clay that had been dredged u! onto the coast used !ri&ate funds to create a !ier and sandy beach. This was what the 'intellectuals' had been decrying as 'destruction of nature'. %owe&er, at the time the islands had been inhabited, there had been no destruction and it had been the !eo!le who had cleared out the feral goats as well. 5id the destruction of nature occur because there were !eo!le, or did it occur only after they left? %e had been lost in such idle thoughts, but coming back to reality and in the face of the fact that he too had come to !lay at that &ery same sandy !ier, he had to admit he was in no !osition to criti,ue. $s could be inferred from his monologue, they had already arri&ed at the beach.

The sand was white and the sun dazzling. But the beach was e&en more dazzling than that. "Tatsuya3kuHn, wanna swim?H" "*nii3samaH, the water's cool and &ery niceH" $s +rika and Miyuki called out from the beach, Tatsuya, under the shade of a !arasol !ositioned into the beach, shook his hands with a &ague smile. 9Too dazzling. What was dazzling, by the way, were the swimsuit clad girls frolicking around on the beach. The first to catch one's eyes would !robably be +rika's flashy coloured one3!iece. 1t was a sim!le design with no frills which brought out and enhanced her slender !ro!ortions. :e-t to her, wa&ing her hands was Miyuki in a floral !rint one3!iece. %er femininity was increasing with each !assing day, and the bold !attern ser&ed to em!hasize her &ibrant fairy3like charm. The sur!rise was Mizuki. While her !olka3dot !atterned se!arate swimsuit wasn't as re&ealing as a bikini, the dee! cut at the chest area showed off her am!le assets, and it was im!ossible to link her to her usual docile image. 4erha!s because of her narrow shoulders and hi!s, the slender cur&e of her waist resulted in a !articular attracti&eness. 7ikewise in a se!arate swimsuit, %onoka had a !areo wra!!ed around one shoulder gi&ing off an asymmetric style of mature air. 1f not sim!ly considering size, but cur&es, this was !robably the best !ro!ortioned one out of them all. *n the other hand, Shizuku was in a girlish swimsuit laden with frills. +&en so, howe&er, she continued to wear her grown3u! detached e-!ression, the two combining to create a !er&erted mysterious charm. Staring at this sight made Tatsuya feel !eculiarly uncomfortable dee! inside, and he shifted his gaze. To the side, flashy wa&es of water rose. 7eo and Mikihiko were ha&ing a com!etition /swimming0.

$s Tatsuya watched 7eo seemed to be right in his element, while Mikihiko was des!erately trying to catch his stride. ......8or some ine-!licable reason it made him recall a sense of intimacy. 7ooking further into the distance, towards the horizon, he gradually let his consciousness drift away. 8or a while, he immersed himself in solitude. Then suddenly, he felt the !resence of !eo!le. <lancing at the bodies around him 9 Tatsuya com!limented himself for managing not to utter a sound. 8i&e !eo!le were bent o&er looking at his face. This would ha&e been !roblematic in a normal situation, ne&er mind in swimsuits. "Tatsuya3san, thinking?" Shizuku asked as she bent o&er him from the front at the waist, her hands on her la!. 7ooking from this angle, it a!!eared that Shizuku's body wasn't as childlike as he had imagined. *f course, that wasn't something he said aloud. Staring was ob&iously likewise out of the ,uestion. "*nii3sama, we finally came all this way to the sea, so won't you come swim?" "That's right. Iust cam!ing under the !arasol like this all day would be a waste." With Miyuki on the left and %onoka on the right, surrounding him in a similar !osture to Shizuku, there was no esca!e for his eyes where&er he looked. Behind Shizuku innocently waiting for his re!ly was Mizuki, and ne-t to her was +rika wearing that e&il grin of hers. 7ea&ing things like this would be &ery bad. With no clear reason why, Tatsuya se&erely felt so. "8air enough, 1 guess 1 will." <etting to his feet and brushing sand off his trunks, he casually remo&ed himself from the line of sight of those fi&e charming figures. Whilst kee!ing his eyes firmly down, he took off his yacht !arka. $s the !arka hit the sand, the mood &isibly changed.

*h cra!, Tatsuya thought, but it was already too late. "Tatsuya3kun, those are......" +rika couldn't hide the tension in her &oice. What those were soon became clear. :ot 2ust Tatsuya, but Mizuki, %onoka, and Shizuku all readily realised 2ust what +rika had been so ner&ously sur!rised about. The eyes of those maidens were glued to 'those' on his body. ?nderneath the !arka hid a body forged of steel. The thickness of the muscle wasn't anything sur!rising. 1t didn't e&en ,uite a!!roach the &olume of an adult's body. But e&en whilst boyish, the chest muscles and abdominals were hea&ily toned and firm, almost like a .enaissance scul!ture. There was one feature there that scul!tures lacked howe&er 9 criss3 crossing all o&er the skin were innumerable scars. Many were cuts. Iust as many were !unctures. There were some minor burn marks in !laces. *ddly enough there was no trace of fractures, but e&en accounting for that it was not a body raised in a usual way. Mere normal training could ne&er do this. :or could sim!ly training until your blood ran. *nly actually being cut, stabbed, and burned, until blood flowed as if under torture, or !erha!s the training itself was torture; could !roduce such a body. 4recisely because +rika understood, she didn't scream out loud. "Tatsuya3kun...... you, 2ust what......" "Sorry, it's not something !leasant to look at." .eturning an irrele&ant answer to that uns!oken ,uestion, Tatsuya a&erted his eyes from +rika and stretched out for his 2ust discarded !arka. But his hand couldn't reach it. That which he should ha&e dro!!ed in the sand a moment ago, was now firmly held tight against Miyuki's chest as she knelt at his feet.

$lthough his sister, he would not allow his hand to go near a lady's chest, so his left arm ended u! wandering aimlessly through the air. 8ortunately /?0, there was no need to worry about retracting it. Because the moment he rose, his left arm was en&elo!ed by Miyuki's right arm. "WahC" The one who had raised her &oice in sur!rise was Mizuki. 1n close contact, Miyuki's chest was !ressed against Tatsuya's arm with only a thin swimsuit between them. $t that howe&er, Miyuki showed not a hint of embarrassment. "*nii3sama, it's fine." Miyuki's face was faintly red, but it came not from any shame at clinging to him half naked, "1 know. That e&ery one of these scars, is !roof of the !ain *nii3sama went through to be stronger than anyone." But rather from looking dee! into his eyes at such close range. "So, 1 don't think *nii3sama's body is anything to be ashamed of." $t Miyuki's words, Tatsuya's e-!ression softened slightly. Then, he felt the im!act of something soft !ressing on his right arm. +rika ga&e a low whistle. 1t wasn't in ridicule, but rather in !raise. %e was !retty sure he already knew who it was, but nonetheless he turned his head to &erify the !resence wra!!ed around his right arm. $s e-!ected, it was %onoka. $lmost as if com!eting with Miyuki, she hugged Tatsuya's arm tight with both hands. ?nlike Miyuki, she was wearing a se!arate swimsuit, so Tatsuya's arm was touching her soft skin directly. Whether because of that, %onoka's face was three times as red as Miyuki's. "1, 1 don't mind eitherC" 5es!ite fumbling at the start, she began to talk ra!idly after that. 4robably as a matter of course, an act which would be natural for lo&ers being acted u!on on someone of the o!!osite se- and whilst in a swimsuit was far too bold. 1t would be e&en weirder if she wasn't this ner&ous. $lthough s!eaking of weird, what was weirder was %onoka's actions.

8or a teenage girl, no, e&en a woman rich in life e-!erience, the scars engra&ed all o&er Tatsuya's body should be something hard to face. 1f there were only a few small ones there might not be any !roblems, but those scars would normally be associated with e&ents of terror. Tatsuya could only su!!ose that remo&ing his !arka in front of those girls des!ite knowing that was a stu!id moment of carelessness, !erha!s caused by the blazing tro!ical sun, he thought bitterly. That aside +rika's reaction, while rare, was nonetheless understandable. $nd as far as he was concerned he had long ago gi&en u! trying to classify Miyuki's words and actions with anything that could be considered as 'normal'. But what was behind %onoka's actions was a mystery to him. 1t was almost as if9 "1t's almost like...... being caught between your sister and your girlfriend isn't it?" "%ey, shhC (ou can't say that Mizuki. Things had finally gotten interesting and all." Mizuki's words were likely not desultory, but rather sim!ly her honest thoughts. Tatsuya understood that !erfectly well, but he nonetheless wholeheartedly agreed with +rika's words 'you can't say that'. The second !art howe&er he couldn't agree with at all.

But in between the first and second half of that sentence, +rika's &oice notably changed. %er reser&ation disa!!eared. Mizuki's &oice was the same as usual throughout. With that e&il grin +rika backed away slightly from Tatsuya, who was futilely trying to deal with %onoka still wra!!ed firmly around his arm /he had long since sto!!ed caring about Miyuki0. "?h, sorry Tatsuya3kun. 1 showed a strange attitude." ":o, 1 don't mind. So +rika, !lease don't mind anything either." "+&en if you tell me not to...... ah, that's rightC" 1'&e 2ust thought of something good, her e-!ression said, as that smile lit u! her face once more. "1 will !ro!erly show my atonement as well." $s she said so she hooked the thumb of her right hand under the shoulder stra! of her swimsuit and with a wink, lifted it about the width of a finger. :e-t to +rika, Mizuki stiffened. With %onoka still ra!idly chattering away without lifting her head, and Miyuki looking u! at him with that !erfect smile, Tatsuya turned to alternati&ely look at the two girls still clinging to his arm. "7et's go swim." With the two of them still firmly attached to his arms, Tatsuya began to awkwardly !roceed towards the beach. +rika !uffed out her cheeks, while Mizuki smiled &acantly lost in her own world. 4assing those two and catching u! to Tatsuya's crowd, Shizuku nodded and sim!ly said 'well done' to the back of the girl on the right. 666 $ brilliant blue sky s!read out o&erhead before Tatsuya. 8loating on his back in the calm sea /only his almost submerged face rose o&er the surface of the water0, the only sensation was the la!!ing of the wa&es.

Iust a while earlier a water fight had ensued, with what could be called '2etstreams' flying e&erywhere /of course as if by magic, it was decided the enemy was Tatsuya0; howe&er, fi&e girls on one guy was too much of a mental strain e&en for him. 1f 7eo and Mikihiko had been around he might ha&e been able to hang on a little longer, but the two of them must ha&e been engaged in some serious long distance swimming as they were no longer in sight. When he had said '1'll be off for a bit' and turned his back to those fi&e, Miyuki's face seemed to be filled with frustration, but as e-!ected she understood well his uncomfortableness. :ow the ladies were !laying on a boat. The location was a beach close to where Tatsuya was drifting. >ee!ing a distance so as not to disturb him but within eye shot seemed to be a com!romise Miyuki, then the rest of the girls, had settled u!on. The ha!!y &oices of the girls carried o&er on the breeze to where he lay. Most of it was not con&ersation but sim!ly senseless shrieking, yet without e&en looking by analysing the !ushions they were emitting he could gras! what they were likely to be doing. %onoka and Shizuku were on the boat, Miyuki and +rika in the water around the sides, and Mizuki should be sitting about under a !arasol on the beach. While being rocked by those gentle wa&es, Tatsuya remembered something. %onoka had said she wasn't a &ery good swimmer. Though she was in a boat it wasn't !articularly big, nor was it !articularly stable, and he wondered if it was alright for her to come so far out. That ominous !remonition turned out to be right on the money. Whether the !ower of language or a flag as it's designated by &arious !eo!le, the idea was that unfortunate !ossibilities if !ut into words would transcend theory into reality. That doesn't sim!ly a!!ly to words uttered from the mouth, but thoughts formed in the mind as well. $ scream suddenly cut through the calm summer air. Tatsuya !ercei&ed the ca!sizing e&ent as information faster than the eye could see, and immediately rose onto the surface of the water and began s!rinting full throttle towards the boat. 1t was a mo&ement techni,ue he would normally ne&er use if others were around to see, but it sure was a heck of a lot faster than swimming. .unning u! ne-t to the ca!sized boat, Tatsuya in one ste! had continuously been 8lash )asting a surface tension am!lification magic

to achie&e an effect like a 'water s!ider'. Tatsuya di&ed feet3first into the water. 8ollowing Miyuki's gestures who had di&ed in earlier, Tatsuya hooked his hand around %onoka's waist. 1n an understandable state of !anic, %onoka was wildly flailing her limbs, kicking away e&en as Tatsuya brought her u! to the surface of the water. $bo&e him, +rika had !ushed Shizuku back onto the boat. +ither +rika or Shizuku had righted the o&erturned craft. Tatsuya decided to think about 2ust how they had managed that later, and took %onoka towards the boat. +&er since making it back onto the surface of the water she had calmed somewhat, but she was still in a relati&ely agitated state. 5es!erately and unreasonably resisting being led to the boat, she ke!t !leading '!lease wait a bitC' and '1 beg youC'. %owe&er, 2ust by being in the hot water of that summer sea would sa! her de!leted strength further. Because of her weakened state, it was necessary to ha&e her rest inside the boat. Tatsuya reluctantly shook his head, and forcibly lifted %onoka's body into the &essel. The momentum !ro!elled half of her body inside, and before she could rise she was restrained by Shizuku. Seeing her u! close from the front, Tatsuya suddenly realised why she had been so reluctant. The swimsuit %onoka had been wearing had !robably been designed with fashion foremost in mind, and swimming !racticality after. %er swimsuit was missing the to!. Tatsuya shut his eyes tightly, and wordlessly allowed the gra&ity from his lift to carry him back down beneath the wa&es. $ fresh scream rent the !eaceful air, as %onoka crouched down and co&ered her chest with both hands. 666 "%ic, hic, sniff......" "?h, uhmm, is there something...... %onoka3san, are you alright......?" ?!on reaching the beach she had broken down and began crying in earnest, and in confusion Mizuki who didn't know what had ha!!ened was trying to comfort her. The other three 9 Shizuku, +rika and Miyuki

stood around the two in ab2ect embarrassment. "%ic...... that's why, hic...... 1 told him...... sniff, to waaait......" *f course, the one who felt the most awkward was Tatsuya. Truth be told, he would ha&e wanted nothing more than to run away. %owe&er, this wasn't something he could 2ust hide from. "That, well...... Tatsuya3kun was 2ust trying to hel!......" +rika's words naturally had no effect. Miyuki wasn't able to find words for either !arty, not e&en Tatsuya. "%onoka, 1 uh...... 1'm sorry." Tatsuya himself had had no malicious intent, and although he held no accountability in that regard, he couldn't 2ust kee! an indifferent face. Thinking so Tatsuya bowed low, as Shizuku whis!ered something in %onoka's ear. "%onoka, you know that Tatsuya3san isn't to blame." $ ,uiet &oice only %onoka could hear. "%e ga&e you !lenty of time to fi- your clothing after." 5es!ite the small &olume, and des!ite the numerous contradictions, Shizuku's words seemed to ha&e a calming effect. "This wasn't e-actly according to !lan, but..." %owe&er, it also seemed something sus!icious had gotten mi-ed into those comforting words. "This is a good chance." That line was somewhat cons!iratorial. Shizuku had a few more ins!irational words with her, then %onoka finally looked u!. "Tatsuya3san...... are you really sorry?" "1 am being !erfectly sincere. 1 truly am &ery sorry." $s Tatsuya bowed again, %onoka muttered "Then......" "......2ust for today, listen to e&erything 1 say." ")ome again?" $t those totally une-!ected words, confusion settled on Tatsuya's face.

%onoka didn't fit the image of someone who would say something like that at all. :ot 2ust Tatsuya, but Miyuki and +rika wore similar e-!ressions. "1f you do, 1'll forgi&e you. 1s that ok......?" Tatsuya and Miyuki e-changed glances. Miyuki's crooked smile seemed to suggest 'it can't be hel!ed'. "......1f that's what you want." $lthough she had said 'whate&er she says', he knew she wasn't a girl who would make malicious re,uests like in the '>ing's game' that was !o!ular se&eral decades ago. $s he nodded yes, %onoka ha!!ily cried 'it's a !romiseC' with a broad smile. 666 By the time 7eo returned from his looo3o3ong /both in distance and duration0 swim, he was 2ust in time for tea on the balcony. )old drinks and colourful fruits were arrayed all o&er the table. The acting waiter >urosawa didn't wear a costume underneath her a!ron, but a light mini one3!iece. %er shoulders were bare, and her slender limbs !eeked out from behind the a!ron that was larger than the dress itself. The sheer se- a!!eal it e-uded would ha&e instantly attracted the eyes of any teenage male, but today there were four more !owerful swimsuits alongside her. Taking a ste! back and looking maturely, two were beauties and two had already sur!assed the le&el of the word beauty. 8or 7eo howe&er who distinctly felt 'food before romance' before these four swimsuit clad forms, not e&en >urosawa's 'adult a!!eal' was a match for him. But that didn't mean he was insensiti&e. .ecognising those four swimsuits, 7eo remarked 'oh?' as he looked around. "Where are...... Tatsuya and Mitsui?" "They're in, the boat, way o&er there." The answer came not from the table, but from behind. Tired all o&er and dri!!ing seawater, Mikihiko breathlessly answered as

he !ointed. Tatsuya and %onoka were heading out to sea in a retro rowboat. "......What the heck's going on?" "Stuff ha!!ened. (eah, stuff." $t 7eo's ,uestion, +rika answered toothily. .ather than curt, that e-!ression was almost a sulk, and as she turned away, 7eo, rather than being offended had his curiosity !i,ued further. Seeing Mikihiko watching the scene with interest, he also immediately looked o&er to sea. Wearing a straw hat, Tatsuya's e-!ression was hidden under its shade and indiscernible. %onoka held a !arasol and had her back turned to them, so her e-!ression likewise couldn't be seen. +&en so as the small boat receded from the shore, Mikihiko could feel the e-ceedingly !eaceful air they ga&e. "......That's ,uite the nice atmos!here isn't it?" "(ou two, hey," (ou morons, she left unsaid. +&en as +rika freaked out, a cold air cut through the room from the o!!osite seat. Sna! sna! sna!...... Mikihiko could hear these ominous sounds coming from the girl sitting ne-t to him, reminiscent of dee!est winter. "Mikihiko3kun, won't you ha&e a chilled orange?" Talking affably, Miyuki laughed as she !assed a far too cold orange to Mikihiko. With !erfect timing, >urosawa !assed him a s!oon. Mechanically, Mikihiko took the sorbet s!oon from her. Miyuki had another !iece of fruit in her hands. *nce again, that sna! sna! sna!...... sound could be heard, and immediately she was holding a raw mango sorbet. .emo&ing her frozen gaze from the fruit she had been staring at, she offered it to the !erson across from her with another bright smile.

"Sai2ou3kun, won't you ha&e one too?" "$h...... thanks......" 7eo decided that answer would be for the best. Miyuki directed her gaze back at the mountain of fruit before her, but !erha!s losing interest, glumly looked away. "Shizuku, 1'm sorry, but 1 feel a bit tired. )ould 1 rest somewhere for a while !lease?" "1t's fine, don't worry. >urosawa3san?" "*f course. Miyuki3o2ousama, right this way." 8ollowing >urosawa, Miyuki slid away into the &illa. )om!ared to Mizuki's cringing e-!ression, Shizuku's signature !okerface was a marked contrast. 666 5inner was a barbecue. +ight !eo!le gathered harmoniously around the console, with Miyuki !erha!s calming down after resting going back and forth between the table and the barbecue. Before going off to incessantly !ester Tatsuya, %onoka ha!!ily chatted away with +rika and Shizuku. 4erha!s because of the trauma incurred during teatime, Mizuki sat away from Miyuki and the others, engaging in con&ersation with Mikihiko. 7eo was wolfing food down with gusto. >urosawa was almost e-clusi&ely ser&ing him. *f course the grou!ings weren't e-clusi&e, with %onoka 2oining Miyuki's grou! sometimes, and Tatsuya getting into a foodfight with 7eo. But somehow 9 somehow com!ared to usual, there was an awkward air floating in between them. 666

1t was the calm before the storm. 1t's im!ossible to be sure of what will ha!!en, but something definitely was going to ha!!en 9 the one who broke that !osition and raised the curtain, was someone une-!ected. $s soon as the card game the fi&e girls had been !laying ended in Mizuki's defeat, Shizuku asked Miyuki "Will you come with me for a bit?" "......Sure." %er confusion lasted only for a second. $lmost immediately, Miyuki was smiling again. "......?m, are you guys going for a walk? 1'll come too." "(ou can't Mizuki. (ou ha&e to go through the !unishment game." $s Mizuki rose to follow after Miyuki, +rika grabbed her by the shirt and !ulled her back down. "+hhhC? 1 didn't hear anything about thatC" "The loser ob&iously has to go through a !unishment game. $nyway that being said, you two take care." Whether reading the air or not +rika subtly bound Mizuki, and !retending not to notice the tensions between them she wa&ed Miyuki and Shizuku off. The ones who sensed the tense atmos!here weren't 2ust the ladies. $fter finishing dinner 7eo grabbed the !udding and took off, !robably realising the situation and Mikihiko, who was unable to concentrate on his game of chess while shooting side glances at the girls, ")heckmate. "# more mo&es." "+hh, alreadyC?" )ried out at Tatsuya's ruthless sentence.

666 7ea&ing the &illa, they turned left onto the beach. Shizuku walked on in silence, and Miyuki followed in silence.

They !roceeded in that way and when the lights of the &illa could no longer be seen, Shizuku turned around. %er normally e-!ressionless face was tense. Miyuki sim!ly smiled, but that e-!ression was an archaic smile* from which no emotions could be read. *(This is the type of smile on ancient Greek statues) "Sorry for making you accom!any me all this way." "1t's fine. 1s there something you wanted to talk about?" +&en at Miyuki's !rom!ting howe&er, she couldn't bring herself to immediately cut to the chase. $fter counting "# rounds of wa&es washing gently o&er the shore, Shizuku o!ened her mouth. "1 want to know." "$bout what?" "Iust how does Miyuki feel about Tatsuya3san?" $t Shizuku's ,uestion without any co&ering or roundabout a!!roach, without any e-!lanation or reason of intent, "1 lo&e him." Miyuki answered in a single word with absolute calm. "......1s that, as a man?" .ather, the one who seemed u!set was Shizuku. She kee!ing her cool was !robably 2ust another as!ect of her !ersonality. ":o." Miyuki's answer came without the slightest hesitation. %er e-!ression was serene. "1 lo&e and res!ect *nii3sama more than anyone. But, that's not as a woman. These feelings 1 ha&e for my brother are not romantic lo&e. There could ne&er be such a lo&e between him and 1." Meeting Shizuku's gaze, "1'm curious to know, why would you ask such a ,uestion of me?" She ga&e a sly grin.

"1t's fine. 1 ha&e no intention to interfere with %onoka whatsoe&er. ......Iust so you know, 1 will feel really 2ealous though? So rest assured, although 1 guess that's going to be difficult." $s Miyuki ga&e a light laugh, Shizuku's e-!ression seemed to be nearing tears. "......Why." "Why what?" "Why......do you try to detach yourself like that? 1 mean, when it's so e&ident that you lo&e Tatsuya3san so much." Miyuki took a ste! towards Shizuku. Shizuku &isibly stiffened, but, she didn't flinch. Miyuki walked !ast her in that way, until they were back to back. "......1t's difficult to e-!lain the relationshi! between us siblings to someone else. There are too many s!eculations intertwined. But the feelings 1 ha&e towards *nii3sama are not so sim!le as that." "......$re you really siblings?" $s Shizuku turned around, "(ou'&e asked a !retty well worn ,uestion." Miyuki answered with her back still turned. "......1'm sorry." ":o, 1'm not blaming you or anything." Shaking her head, Miyuki's smile was carefree. " ery well...... since you ha&e a friend who really is trying her hardest." "1...... also think of you as my friend." "1 know. Which is why you're so conflicted right? (ou're doing your best not to hurt either of us." $t Miyuki's gentle gaze, Shizuku abashedly looked away. "$s 1 was saying...... *nii3sama and 1 are true siblings. *r at least that's what it says on the records, and 5:$ tests ha&e always confirmed that relation." "But......"

"1 know what you want to say." $s Shizuku stammered, Miyuki nodded understandingly. "These feelings 1 ha&e for *nii3sama, e&en 1 know it transcends the realm of normal sibling bonds." Shizuku fell silent in embarrassment. "(ou know...... in truth, 1 had died three years ago." "%uh?" 1n light of this confession, not e&en she could su!!ress her &oice. "*r maybe it's better to say 1 should ha&e died? But at that time, 1 truly could feel my life fading from my body, so 1 su!!ose '1 really did die' isn't that inaccurate either." $s Miyuki s!oke her smile was so fleeting, and the line '1 really did die' deli&ered with such con&iction that Shizuku couldn't hel! but feel a shi&er run down her s!ine. "1t's because of *nii3sama that 1 can stand before you like this. Being able to cry, to laugh, to s!eak with you right here and now, is all thanks to him. 1 owe my life to him, and all 1 ha&e and all 1 am belong to him alone." "That's......" The ,uestion 'what does that mean?' remained uns!oken, and no answer to it came. "The feelings 1 ha&e for *nii3sama are not romantic lo&e." The answer she ga&e instead referred to the second ,uestion 'as a man?', and the con&iction in her &oice was no less than before. ".omantic lo&e, means you want something from that !erson doesn't it?" +&en if she could ha&e con&ersely asked Miyuki 'isn't lo&e wanting that !erson to be yours?', Shizuku didn't re!ly. She belie&ed it wasn't suitable, and besides, "But, there is nothing 1 want from *nii3sama. Because 1 ha&e already recei&ed me myself from him." She instincti&ely understood Miyuki wasn't searching for an answer.

"1 don't desire anything more from him. 1 won't e&en ask him to acce!t my feelings. 1n the end...... 1 guess, lo&e@ is the only word 1 could use to describe it." "......1 got it." $t Miyuki's confession, Shizuku could do nothing but raise the white flag. "Miyuki, you really are the real deal." "1 think it's a somewhat war!ed way of looking at things myself." $s Shizuku 2ust shook her head, Miyuki closed one eye and ga&e a mischie&ous smile. :otes D Love* ; The word she uses here is the catch3all word for lo&e , as o!!osed to s!ecifically romantic lo&e . Similar com!arison may be !hilia /kindred lo&e0 and eros /!assionate lo&e0. 666 Soon after Shizuku and Miyuki left, %onoka went to check herself in a mirror. When she left the room, she said she was 'going to !ick flowers'. While she looked herself o&er, she ran through the words Shizuku had said. '1'll take Miyuki outside, so you in&ite Tatsuya in the meanwhile'. She had immediately known what she meant. Shizuku understood %onoka's feelings !erfectly well without needing to consult her. Truthfully s!eaking, the ca!sizing incident earlier had also been something 'orchestrated' by Shizuku in an attem!t to bring %onoka and Tatsuya together. She had informed him earlier that %onoka was not a good swimmer, and her !lan had been that Tatsuya would sa&e her then %onoka could use that as a !rete-t to a!!roach and thank him. 1n case Tatsuya didn't make it in time, she also had a followu! !lan !re!ared. What had e&entuated was a com!lete accident, but as a result %onoka had been able to mono!olise Tatsuya for the day, so e&en as Shizuku felt guilty she was also rather ha!!y. :ow, Shizuku had set the stage for %onoka's confession. $!!rehensi&ely, %onoka a!!lied a light co&ering of !ale rouge.

Touching u! her hair and rechecking her attire, %onoka muttered 'alrightC' as she !syched herself u!. $ccording to !lan she was to lure Tatsuya away while Miyuki wasn't here, and %onoka !roceeded back in to the li&ing room. She wasn't e&en aware that her feet were trembling slightly. 666 Walking ne-t to Tatsuya and stealing a glance at his face e&ery now and then, %onoka was troubled as to when she should start talking. So far e&erything was going as en&isioned. When she had asked him 'would you come outside with me for a bit?' he had immediately re!lied yes, which !uzzled her somewhat. 1n a way, the far too smooth start had shaken her slightly. Tatsuya was silent. *ut from the &illa they had turned right, and as if to shelter %onoka from the wa&es Tatsuya had walked on the sea side throughout. Somehow, it felt to %onoka as if he had already guessed her intentions and was a&oiding reaching the conclusion. $ growing sense of crisis welled u! within her that if she didn't act herself, nothing would be resol&ed. "Tatsuya3san." $fter o!ening and closing her mouth countless times %onoka finally managed to let out a strained &oice, and Tatsuya sto!!ed and turned around. By now the lights of the &illa were out of &iew. *ther words which were e&en now being e-changed that same night were lost to the sound of surf and ne&er reached them. ?nder the endless starlit sky, accom!anied only by the murmur of the wa&es, %onoka stood looking at Tatsuya face to face. %owe&er, she couldn't !roceed. +&en as he encouraged her with his eyes, %onoka could only glance aside and start chattering. "1......"

$t times she would look u!, meeting his gaze as if trying to say something, then with a strained e-!ression stammer something out; this !rocess was re!eated numerous times. "(es, what is it?" Tatsuya encouraged her in a softer tone than usual, with softer words than usual. 4erha!s encouraged more by his &oice than his words, "1...... uhm, 1...... 1 like youC" These words that %onoka finally managed to s,ueeze out, after all her hesitation, may ha&e e&en managed to !enetrate through to the other side of the darkness. But %onoka didn't think about that at all. .ight now, to her, the two of them were the only ones in the whole world. "9So how does Tatsuya3san feel about me?" ?nable to look him in the eyes %onoka s,ueezed her eyes tightly shut, yet an answer didn't come. "......5id 1 cause you trouble?" <ingerly o!ening her eyes %onoka asked in a tearful &oice, but Tatsuya sim!ly shook his head with a smile. ":ot at all. 1 had a feeling you might say something like this. Though 1 only realised around afternoon today." $s they looked at each other, %onoka felt she could sense a dee! indescribable sadness in his eyes. 4re!aring herself for the sorrow that was sure to come, %onoka s,ueezed her hands tightly. But Tatsuya's res!onse, for better or for worse, was something une-!ected entirely. "......(ou know, %onoka, 1'm actually a human missing !art of his soul." "......eh?" "When 1 was a child, 1 was in&ol&ed in a magic accident of sorts...... some of my mental functions were erased." %onoka's face !aled &isibly. %er !allor was e&ident e&en in the dark

night. %er eyes were o!en wide, and only a 'no way......' leaked out as she co&ered her mouth with her hands. "$t that time, 1 guess, 1 lost all of what you could call feelings of lo&e. They weren't sealed, so they can't be released. They weren't broken, so they can't be fi-ed. That which is lost, cannot be reco&ered." Tatsuya s!oke casually as if it were someone else's affair. "1 can't feel lo&e. 1 can like someone, but 1 could ne&er fall in lo&e with them. 1n a way, only the knowledge remains. Searching my mind, 1 can tell a !art is missing." $s %onoka co&ered her mouth, she didn't utter anything like 'that's a lie' or '1 don't belie&e it'. She was literally shocked s!eechless. *nly Tatsuya's !rofession rang though her mind. "This may be an underhanded way of s!eaking, but, 1 do like you. %owe&er, that's only as a friend. :o matter how hard you try, 1 will ne&er be able to think of you as a s!ecial woman. That will definitely be something !ainful for you 9 something that will hurt you." Saying so, a !owerless smile drifted across his face. "Which is why 1 cannot answer your feelings." Tatsuya fell silent. %onoka likewise. *nly the sound of breaking wa&es filled the dark night. $s the tide gradually cre!t u! the shore, and at length, finally reached their feet, %onoka raised her head. "4lease don't be mad...... you know, 1 had thought, Tatsuya3san liked Miyuki. :ot as a sister, but as a woman." "......That'd be a misunderstanding." "(es, it seems so. Tatsuya3san is smart, so...... if you were lying, you'd definitely be able to come u! with something more credible. 1'&e ne&er heard of a magic ca!able of erasing !artial features of the mind, yet e&en so, 1 belie&e you. Still, that being said, it also means you'll ne&er be able to lo&e any other girl right?"

Somewhat !uzzled at this une-!ected turn of e&ents, Tatsuya answered 'well, yeah......' with a nod. "......1f so, then it's fine." "?"

"8rom now on always, Tatsuya3san will ne&er ha&e a lo&er right? 1f so, for me to like you, wouldn't turn into an illicit lo&e right?" "That's...... true, 1 su!!ose" "Then there's no !roblem. 8rom now on as well, 1'll continue to like youC ?m, until 1 can like someone else that isC" %er declaration was bright. "......1 don't mind." Tatsuya nodded with a wry smile. %e wasn't so dull as to not understand why %onoka had !ur!osely added 'until she likes someone else'. 666 The sun aggressi&ely asserted itself the ne-t day as well. The tem!erature was in e-cess of J#K) from the morning. 1n that sweaty weather, u!on the sandy beach9 $ fierce scorching battle was being waged. "*nii3sama, my back. Won't you hel! me with this sunscreen?" "Tatsuya3san, want some 2uice?" *r, "Shizuku is lending us her 2etski. Want a ride?" "$!!arently there's a nice di&e s!ot 2ust o&er there, want to go?" $nd so on, while the others around felt the o!!ressi&ely heated atmos!here. "Miyuki, you really were holding back yesterday, huh......" "%onoka3san, it seems a great weight has been lifted from you, huh......" $s +rika and Mizuki looked on in amazement, "......" Shizuku's face was troubled, "Well, it seems he really has it tough." 7eo's face was filled with com!assion,

"......(oshida3kun, what's the matter?" "+h, no, it's nothing." and Mikihiko was 9 no, well, for the sake of his honour it'd be best not to say. $nyway as their friends each had their own se!arate thoughts as they gazed their way, Tatsuya alternated between Miyuki and %onoka's re,uests, sighing at e&ery turn. When 2et skiing, he rode tandem with Miyuki in the !assenger seat /afterwards was %onoka0. Truth be told, %onoka was actually a fairly com!etent swimmer 9 yesterday she had !anicked for a different reason 9 as he went with her &ia motorboat to the di&e s!ot /Miyuki also came along0. $fter a!!lying sunscreen /or rather rea!!lying0, he had food !ushed into his mouth one after the other, like a goose being fed for foie gras /'ahhn's accom!anied and all0. Being caught in this !ressure hotter than the *gasawara air mass /lo&e !ressure?0, Tatsuya3san who was being constantly buffeted around in this burning atmos!here...... More than yesterday, more than e&er, looked forward to being able to rela- again.

Part 2: The Honor Student's Supplementary Lesson


(currently not translated)

Part 3: Amelia in Wonderland


(Currently not translated)

Part 4: riendship and the du!ious Loli"on


Third %igh School, which is affiliated with the :ational Magic ?ni&ersity, is located outside >anazawa )ity in the 1shikawa 4refecture. Because of the wide scale shift of district lines under the current district system, it is !ro!erly called the Lformer 1shikawa 4refecture,M but !eo!le, including the mass media, normally refer to former !refectures and their ca!itals by their old names. 4robably because of habit. 1t could be that L1shikawa 4refectureM is also used instead of LThe 5omain of >agaM or LThe )ountry of :otoM because LitNs what weNre used toM. 1tNs not really im!ortant. 1n the reference room of Third %igh School, which is located outside >anazawa )ity in the 1shikawa 4refecture, >ichi2ou2i Shinkurou sto!!ed working so diligently on his manuscri!t and did a gigantic stretch. %e might be on the brink of ruining it by trying to im!ro&e it, so he took off the headset for the brain wa&e assistant interface and once again made a big arch with his back. %eNd been working longer than heNd thought; it would !robably be best to make that !osture again. The sound of bones cracking back into !lace continued; the feel of small aches and !ains made >ichi2ou2i scowl. Since he was taking a break from writing for now, he turned his face away. There was no window in the reference room since it might !otentially be used to ins!ect the highly confidential documents, but, !erha!s for use of recharging, on the side of a wall in the small !ri&ate room was a dis!lay that !retended to be a window that switched between different landsca!es. The Olandsca!eN he could see from this !ri&ate room was of a gro&e of trees dee! in the mountains wa&ering in a gentle wind; >ichi2ou2i was fond of this scene. What heNd been working on was for the Thesis )om!etition held at the end of *ctober, the manuscri!t he would use for his !resentation for LThe :ational %igh School Magic Theory Thesis )om!etition s!onsored by the Ia!anese Magic $ssociationM. >ichi2ou2i was a

world renowned magic researcher as well a first year high school student, so heNd been chosen as a member of Third %igh SchoolNs re!resentati&es. %is !ersonal !re!arations had begun before summer &acation, but e&er since the :ine Schools )om!etition had ended, he had become o&erzealous about the writing of his manuscri!t 9 e&en he himself felt so. %e was also aware of the reason. 1t was the ri&alry he felt with that boy he met at the :ine Schools )om!etition, Shiba Tatsuya. ?ntil the :ine Schools )om!etition, >ichi2ou2i had ne&er felt that he was inferior to anyone around his own age in Magic Theory. 1n fact, he had almost no memories of e&er feeling ri&alry with anyone. $side from the !ractical side of Magic, the realm outside of magic theory, in terms of owners of brains e,ual to his own which disco&ered the L)ardinal )odeM, >ichi2ou2i !rided himself on being the only one in his age grou! whose brain was at this le&el not only within the country, but e&en if taking the &iew!oint of worldwide. $nd, he was not being conceited. 1n the world of the study of magic, there were currently new scientific findings being announced day by day, but scientific findings that e,ualed the L)ardinal )odeM were no more than once a year at the most. >ichi2ou2i ShinkurouNs achie&ement was that rare and &aluable. %owe&er, his &anity had been crushed a &ariety of times in the last :ine Schools )om!etition. $t least, >ichi2ou2i himself felt so. The theoretical is accom!anied by the !ractical, for the first time that had meaning. 1n the world of magic research, this was a widely su!!orted way of thinking; in this country es!ecially, the conce!t was common sense and a widely diffused !remise. >ichi2ou2i also considered that a natural idea. Magical theory in the end is something for the !ur!ose of using technical skills called magic; a theory that can not be !ut into !ractice is ridiculous. 1f the study of magic is to !romote learning, then sooner or later it might ad&ance to include the study of logical conce!ts to e-!lain reality that were !urely mental constructs. %owe&er, the modern study of

magic was not at that le&el. $nd, in regards to the way theory is useful for !ractice, the techni,ue demonstrated by that guy, 8irst %igh School 8irst (ear3 Shiba Tatsuya, had car&ed a sense of defeat into >ichi2ou2iNs heart. :ot 2ust knowledge, not 2ust techni,ue, but the !ower of the two unified to make him actually feel that the sum was greater than the !arts. That left >ichi2ou2i immensely aggra&ated. >nowledge and techni,ue were the cornerstones of his self3 confidence. %e who could ne&er win against LthemM in !ower was so useful to LthemM that he was an utter necessity, and another !erson could not out!erform him. Therefore, >ichi2ou2i !ledged to himself that he would redeem himself from his loss during the :ine Schools )om!etition at the Thesis )om!etition. %e considered &ictory o&er 8irst %igh School at the Thesis )om!etition to be the shortest route to regaining his self confidence, which he needed to do. 8or that reason, directly after the :ine Schools )om!etition was o&er, he s!ent almost e&ery day confined in this reference room working hard com!osing his !resentation s!eech. S!eaking of the aftermath of the :ine Schools )om!etition. 3331chi2ouNs state of mind seemed a little off333 That !hrase fell into >ichi2ou2iNs ears some days rarely, some days fre,uently. %e made no ob2ection to calling MasakiNs condition as off. >ichi2ou2i, himself, thought so. %e was also aware that it was not 2ust his imagination. $fter all, >ichi2ou2i knew the reason Masaki was LoffM. /P5es!ite that, there isnNt really anything 1 can do0 >ichi2ou2i !robably could not be attacked for not being a Ltrue friendM. $fter all, Masaki was afflicted with an disease that had from old been called La sickness no doctor can cureM and Lnot soothed by hot s!rings thera!yM. >ichi2ou2i acce!ted it. 1chi2ou Masaki was suffering from L7o&e SicknessM.

LShiba MiyukiM That was the name of the one Masaki had fallen for. 1t was inconcei&able that the ne-t head of that 1chi2ou clan could be tormented by lo&e troubles 9 but he was. Masaki with his brains, good looks and !edigree was the ty!e that did not ha&e to do anything to ha&e a !ack of girls after him; the reason for his torment was not anything like him being a neo!hyte, a com!lete !rude, or a se-ual de&iant or anything like that 9 there really was no reason for him not to confess his feelings and end his torment of unre,uited lo&e, >ichi2ou2i thought. +&en he, himself, couldnNt kee! his heart from beating faster when he recalled that girlNs image. The girl was that lo&ely. :ot like a flesh and blood !erson, if someone said she was the fantasy of a teenage boy transformed into a three dimensional image by su!er science, he could 2ust about belie&e it. +&en without relying on a !hoto, his brain could re&i&e her clear image; once or twice, he had gotten the feeling that she was some sort of dream or !roduct of some wild delusion. Since e&en he who had no feelings of affection toward her was in this state, Masaki who had fallen in lo&e with her !robably couldnNt hel! becoming more distracted than was usual for him. 1n his case, she was an unreachable goal ins!iring feelings of awe. Thanks to that /!robably0, the matter ended without inciting ho!eless feelings of unre,uited lo&e; howe&er, in MasakiNs case, in !art due to the !otential of actually getting her, the illness had become unnecessarily se&ere. The name of Shiba Miyuki had s!ecial meaning for >ichi2ou2i abo&e and beyond that of being the sub2ect of MasakiNs unre,uited lo&e. She was Shiba TatsuyaNs younger sister. The younger sister of the guy he held animosity for held his friendNs heart.

The inner workings >ichi2ou2iNs heart were more com!le- than he knew.
666

LIou2iM The Sun was almost com!letely !ast the western horizon with 2ust an edge was !assing through, when >ichi2ou2i turned around towards the &oice that had been aimed at his back 2ust as he was lea&ing school. LMasakiM +&en without turning around, he had recognized him by &oice alone. Before he could turn around, the owner of the name he s!oke caught u! to him mid3turn. L(ouNre already lea&ing, right? 1f thatNs so, letNs go together.M LSure, if Masaki doesnNt mind.M >ichi2ou2iNs remark was an abbre&iation for LitNs not going to be out of your awayM. $lmost e&ery day, >ichi2ou2i returned directly to the school dormitory. 1n contrast, Masaki made numerous detours hither and thither on his way home. These were not all recreational /though a lot of times when he was 2ust !laying around0, as the number of times that the eldest son of the 1chi2ou clan had to run around on family business were not few. L*h, today 1 donNt really ha&e anything s!ecial to do. P$lright. Iou2i, itNs been awhile so letNs &isit my house.M L%ey? WouldnNt there be a !roblem 2ust dro!!ing in without warning?M To his friendNs sudden suggestion, >ichi2ou2i !resented a common sense res!onse. %owe&er, Masaki lightly laughed it away. L5onNt say anything to im!ly that weNre not close. Besides if its

Iou2i, that family of mine will always gi&e a warm welcome.M L.eally? <ot it. 1Nll dro! in.M Masaki in&ited >ichi2ou2i, who li&ed alone, out of friendshi! without any guile. %owe&er, >ichi2ou2i had reasons that he could not freely acce!t the 1chi2ou familyNs good will. 8rom the start, he did not ha&e any reason to dislike &isiting MasakiNs family. Since Masaki was going straight home and he did not need to worry about interfering with any business he had on the way, >ichi2ou2i dis!layed no real hesitation when he nodded his acce!tance of MasakiNs in&itation.
666

MasakiNs house was a mere thirty minute walk from school. )ommuting to school did not take thirty minutes; walking took thirty minutes. :aturally, the fact that Third %igh School and the 1chi2ou mansion were within walking distance of each other was a sim!le coincidence. There was no background detail like the school being useful to the 1chi2ou clan or the !rinci!al working for them, no matter what was whis!ered in !laces. 1n the first !lace, Third %igh School, like the other magic high schools, was a national high school affiliated with the :ational Magic ?ni&ersity. 5eciding the !lacement of high schools was in the 2urisdiction of go&ernment offices; the Ten Master )lans were ostensibly !ri&ate citizens so affecting the !lanning was not within the 1chi2ou clanNs reach. 9The Ten Master )lans would also not use their influence in a matter like this. The thirty minute route took Masaki and >ichi2ou2i twenty3fi&e minutes without hurrying. With the seasonNs long day already !ast, the twilight sky was di!!ed in !ur!le for a while. Since >ichoi2ou2i thought that the members of the 1chi2ou family would not be home yet, he was a little sur!rised to be hailed as he !assed through the gate into the garden. L%ey, there? Shinkurou3kun, welcomeM

The cheerful &oice s!eaking to him had the high !itched so!rano of a child. L$kane3chan, hello, !ardon me.M The one who greeted >ichi2ou2i with a smile was MasakiNs younger sister, 1chi2ou $kane. $kane who was a si-th year elementary student, and Masaki also had a younger sister. >ichi2ou2i had not had many chances to talk to that sister who was a third year elementary student, but $kane had attached herself to him long ago, so whene&er he &isited the 1chi2ou residence, she would always !o! in to see him at least once whether she was there when he arri&ed or not. %e did not know how serious she was, but she had said L1 will become Shinkuro3kunNs bride somedayM. The first time he heard this statement, >ichi2ou2i was not all that old; by the third time, he was !uzzled. When she first !roclaimed her intentions to him two years before, $kane was still a fourth year elementary student at that time and all she was to him was MasakiNs younger sister who would grow to a &i&acious beauty in the future. >ichi2ou2i, himself, was a second year middle school student at the time; !ro!osals of marriage and the like did not seem all that real to him. *n the other hand, he did not hate $kane for any reason and since he felt indebted to the 1chi2ou family, he could not treat her coldly, so >ichi2ou2i at that time was at a com!lete loss on how to handle it. %e had not recei&ed such a clear Lconfession of lo&eM in about a year, but $kane had teetered on the edges in her words. >ichi2ou2i no longer felt bewildered about the situation, so she might ha&e gradually breached his defenses. >ichi2ou2i, himself, was unaware of this, howe&er. Well, since Masaki would not acce!t getting into any situation that made him look like he should recei&e the slur of lolicon /by that he meant Masaki wouldnNt acce!t anyone going after his sister while she was still a child0, e&en if the outer gate of the castle had been raised, it was u! to Masaki to decide when to raise the inner gate. 1t seemed like she was 2ust about to lea&e for !ractice, so he !arted

from $kane there. That being said, since >ichi2ou2i !robably wouldnNt lea&e until after he dined with them for su!!er, he would !robably meet her again later on. The master of the house, 1chi2ou <ouki 9 MasakiNs father, the head of the 1chi2ou )lan 9 had not yet returned home. 1n order to su!!ort their !osition as leaders in the magician community and their !ersonal military !otential, the Ten Master )lans and the additional eighteen families managed, and sometimes in&ested, the assets they had been endowed with to an e-tent that was not &ery well known. There were cases of some of them officially being at the Llocal bigwigM le&el while unofficially effecti&ely controlling an international cor!oration /one cor!oration owned another cor!oration which owned another cor!orationP0, but the 1chi2ou clanNs interests were not that wides!read. $n undersea mining com!any was the official 1chi2ou family business. 1f no irregular situation occurred, >ichi2ou2i knew <ouki would !robably return in time for the e&ening meal. *n the other hand, MasakiNs mother was a housewife, but she was absent as well. She was !robably out sho!!ing. This was an era where e&eryday items and food as well could be su!!lied by online sho!!ing, but women who wanted to look at the actual goods were numerous, es!ecially among the lady of the manor class. Since rather than taking what was bought when they went home, it was still deli&ered, >ichi2ou2i felt it wasnNt all that different from online sho!!ing, but that might be only be the male !oint of &iew. The 1chi2ou mansion is a grand residence roughly ten times the scale of an a&erage se!arated house residence, but did not em!loy a lot of li&e3in maids and other ty!e of ser&ants. When the clan gathered, or when it hosted guests related to the society of magicians or on similar occasions were dealt with by hiring !eo!le from friendly local .yokans and restaurants. The garden needed s!ecialized skills which were satisfied by !eriodically calling on a landsca!e gardener. 1n contrast to the families like the Saegusa and 1tsuwa, who were fellow Ten Master )lans and surrounded themsel&es with a large number of ser&ants, they o!erated under the !olicy of "if a

machine could do it, then a machine would do it" and e-tensi&ely used home automation. Today, there were no s!ecial guests e-!ected. Since there was no need to be !olite to anyone in the un!o!ulated hallway, the two male high school students went straight to MasakiNs room. MasakiNs room is, if you use traditional measurements, a si- tatami western style room which is not considered an es!ecially big room by con&entional wisdom. But, in accordance with the u!!er class modern architectural style, the bed, closet and other furnishings could be stored within the wall and accessed by a wall mural, guaranteeing that e&en a si- tatami room would ha&e !lenty of s!ace. )om!letely at home in his friendNs room, >ichi2ou2i stowed the bed away, drew out the counter stool style table from the o!!osing wall using the mural, and !ut his butt down on one of the chairs that came with the table. Masaki took two nice and cold glasses of blended tea from the small refrigerator within his room. *ne was !laced in front of >ichi2ou2i, the other remained in his hand as he sat down on the o!!osite side from >ichi2ou2i. LIou2i, what state is the manuscri!t in?M LThank you for your concern, Masaki. 1tNs all good.M >ichi2ou2i answered the seated MasakiNs in,uiry, modestly concealing the confidence in his smiling face. L%ow about you, Masaki? The gossi! 1N&e been hearing says that youN&e been doing some reckless things.M >ichi2ou2i had heard a large amount of hearsay about MasakiNs acti&ities after the :ine Schools )om!etition, es!ecially about MasakiNs e-tremely difficult training regimen. %e could understand MasakiNs moti&e. 7ike >ichi2ou2i, who felt defeated by Shiba Tatsuya in )$5 a!!lication and tuning, Masaki !robably felt bitter o&er the defeat in Monolith )ode and wanted !ayback. L1Nm not so bad. $nd 1Nm !robably not going to see immediate

results.M LThat might be true.M MasakiNs &oice was carefully casual as he res!onded to >ichi2ou2iNs ,uestion about his mental condition. %e was more &olatile than e-!ected, but he wasnNt feeling the gloomy im!lacability he had worried about. .elie&ed on that !oint, >ichi2ou2i agreed in a light tone. 666 1mmediately after the electronic !ing rang, Masaki let loose a groan from his core. LIou2iP itNs timeM LBut this is the last one? 1s using u! time in the middle stage, really okay?M >ichi2ou2i asked for confirmation o&er their monitors that were !laced back to back and Masaki ga&e a weak nod. Both screens sus!ended the real time battle simulation game. 1t looked like a still shot of a citysca!e where all time and mo&ement had frozen and Masaki switched the image to a birdNs eye &iew. 1n that way, he could see how much the monitor encroached on MasakiNs attention. >ichi2ou2i felt like smiling at this friendNs indomitable s!irit that was earnestly agonizing o&er this acti&ity, he consciously kee!ing his face loose and unsmiling. :aturally, this wasnNt necessary. Since clearly with his eyes so fi-ated on the monitor, Masaki did not ha&e any ability to !ay attention to anything else. Besides, although this game was for fun, it could not be looked at as a mere di&ersion. The scenarios in this simulation game had been created by the Magic ?ni&ersityNs Military .esearch de!artment; the algorithm had been u!graded by each di&ision of the defense forces, so its urban combat scenarios for magicians were so accurate that it could be used for !ractice simulations.

LPWaiting in ambush there is !robably a little too e&il. $nd also, deliberately descending the ro!e without magic and the restPM MasakiNs grumbling might ha&e been a monologue. :e&ertheless, >ichi2ou2i soon res!onded to his remarks. L7ea&ing aside your !oint about the ambush, ha&enNt we seen the tactic of deliberately not using magic because it would draw the o!!onentNs attention recently, Masaki?M >ichi2ou2iNs tone had not changed from con&ersational, but MasakiNs res!onse was to sna! his eyes o!en and grind his back teeth with great &igor. LThat guyPM L(es. The tactic he used against Second %igh School in the :ewcomers Tournament of Monolith )ode.M Masaki used Lthat guyM and >ichi2ou2i used LheM for the same !erson, 8irst %igh School first year Shiba Tatsuya; between the two of them there was no need to &erify that they meant the same !erson. While agreeing to MasakiNs words, >ichi2ou2i o!ened u! the game menu screenshot and chose sa&e and close. $fter all, he knew MasakiNs mind was no longer on the game. $ !ause in,uiry a!!eared on MasakiNs monitor. Masaki chose LyesM and e-tinguished his monitor; like >ichi2ou2i, he shut his notebook style terminal and turned to face him again. The first to o!en his mouth was >ichi2ou2i. LMasaki, for better or worse 1 think you o&eruse *udou@.M
*The Royal Road or the Path of Kings. This can be interpreted as taking the shortest path to victory. i.e. aking preparations to ensure success! might makes right and the shortest distance bet"een t"o points

LThat touched a ner&e.M $t >ichi2ou2iNs !oint, Masaki made a !ained smile and shook his head. L1 donNt like saying these things, but for now 1 want you to listen.M

>ichi2ou2i face was slightly stiff as he s!oke, and the smile had disa!!eared from his li!s. L1 donNt intend to be closed3minded about this matter. What else?M L1 know, sorry.M 1nstead of doing what Masaki said, >ichi2ou2i used words to continue easing the tension. L*udou is not a bad thing, since *udou is the most !ractical and fastest !ath you can use to reach a destination. Besides, e&en if 1 tell you to use a lot of sur!rise mo&es and cle&er tricks, it wouldnNt really suit your !ersonality, Masaki.M L(eah, thatNs !robably true.M *nce again, MasakiNs face s!orted a !ained smile. This time >ichi2ou2i did not seem to take it as a rebuke and a tinge of laughter entered his &oice. L<ood. Since that is definitely true, Masaki.M While a smile was on his face, >ichi2ou2i narrowed his eyes e&en further. 1n a certain sense, it was a dazzling e-!ression. L5id you mean that as !raise?M %owe&er, Masaki res!onded in a tone that made a 2oke of it; !erha!s he didnNt notice or was !retending not to notice or !ossibly there was another e-!lanation. L.ela-, since itNs mostly a com!liment.M LMostly, eh.M $s if they had it !lanned for it to ha!!en, the two simultaneously started chuckling. L$fter all not only is it im!ossible for Masaki to use the same kind of tactics as he does, it is also !robably not necessary.M 1mmediately after the laughter disa!!eared, >ichi2ou2i returned to the to!ic with serious e-!ression on his face. L1 think what Masaki must learn is not how to use cle&er tricks but how to deal with cle&er tricks.M LP(ou donNt 2ust mean in simulation games by that, do you?M

>ichi2ou2i nodded &isibly to the uncertain tone and gaze. LTrue, 1Nm not 2ust talking about simulation games. 1 am going to s!eak !lainly.M $s he s!oke, >ichi2ou2i tem!orarily trimmed away any !lacating !hrases. L1f all we do is train in a reckless manner, ne-t yearNs :ine Schools )om!etition will !robably be the same kind of failure as this yearNs was.M There was a small silence until Masaki raised a ,uestion to be certain he understood the meaning beneath that remark. L$re you saying my way of doing things is wrong?M L1 did not say it was meaningless.M While >ichi2ou2iNs re!ly was indirect, there was no room for misunderstanding. L1f thatNs all you train, youNll need outside hel!. Training will become your flesh and blood.M But Masaki was not confused by the su!erficial encouragement. That he intuiti&ely understood what >ichi2ou2i wanted to say was e&ident by his ne-t words. LBut isnNt &ictory and defeat determined by strength alone.M +&en though he had antici!ated them, >ichi2ou2iNs words were a bitter !ill for Masaki to swallow. LMasaki. +&en now, 1 belie&e you are more !owerful than Shiba Tatsuya.M LBut, 1 lost.M MasakiNs tone was flat, as if he did not want to hear his own words. L1 know that. 1t wasnNt 2ust you, Masaki. 1, too, lost to the (oshida familyNs magician of $ncient Magic. 1n s!ite of the fact, 1 am the clear winner in terms of s!eed. We also lost as a team to 8irst %igh School. *ur o!!onentsN true !ower sur!assed our e-!ectations. That is certainly true, howe&erPM

*n the other hand, a hint of caution was dis!layed in >ichi2ou2iNs &oice as if he was furious thinking rechecking his conclusions as he s!oke them. L1 think where we ultimately failed was in the field of strategy. $dditionally, rather than being entra!!ed by our o!!onentsN !lan, my o!inion is we screwed u!.M With this statement of >ichi2ou2i, Masaki tilted his head with a doubtful look on his face. L1 donNt think there was anything wrong in Iou2iNs strategy, butPM MasakiNs words werenNt meant to comfort >ichi2ou2i, this was what he really thought. %owe&er, >ichi2ou2i shook his head at those words. L:o, my strategy was wrong. 7ooking back, 1 certainly sunk us with the !lan.M LP1 donNt really understand what you mean.M LTo be brief. 1 !robably shouldnNt ha&e Omeddled with the !lanN in that match. 1 shouldnNt ha&e concentrated on controlling our o!!onentsN actions; it would ha&e been better if we had ke!t to our usual way of fighting.M $s Masaki ,uestioned him with a look, >ichi2ou2i cut off his words, and read the fact that Masaki still wasnNt getting it from his face; while thinking Oit canNt be hel!edN, >ichi2ou2i continued e-!laining. L1t was not necessary for Masaki to get close to him in that match.M 1t canNt be hel!ed, he thought again, this is how 1 am useful to Masaki. >ichi2ou2i did not realize how much 2oy he felt o&er being able to com!ensate for MasakiNs weak s!ots. L1f we had ke!t to MasakiNs original style, long distance bombardment, we wouldnNt ha&e lost that ad&antage. Since the o!en field setting was without &egetation, it was not necessary to guard against attacks from blind s!ots. 1 was !robably concentrating on him too much.M Masaki did not say anything to console him and nodded as

>ichi2ou2i !laced the blame on himself. LThe cause of our defeat in that match was my mistakes in strategy. But, there is a !oint 1 also want Masaki to reflect on.M L?h3oh, this time itNs my turn, huh.M $s Masaki !ur!osely a!!eared taken aback, >ichi2ou2i re!lied with a broad and e&il grin. L(ou were following the !lan, but, Masaki, if you had been a little more wary of your o!!onentNs tricks, you couldN&e a&oided that last sound attack. Masaki, you chose to interce!t when he closed the ga! between the two of you for hand to hand combat, but there would ha&e been a different result if you had lea!ed back for a moment.M LThat really touched a ner&eP in short, Iou2i, youNre trying to tell me not to become a darede&il, to remember to hold the line?M They took !re&enti&e measures to kee! the mood of their after action re&iew from becoming too serious and to a certain e-tent they were successful. L$ little different. 1 think 1 said it before, but tricks donNt suit you, Masaki. $nd also, 1 donNt think you ha&e to learn trickery yourself; 1 think it would be better if you learn what to do if youN&e fallen for one of your o!!onentNs !loys.M LS!ecifically?M Masaki was neither de!ressed or rebellious o&er >ichi2ou2iNs harsh criticism and asked for a !ositi&e !lan of action to fi- his weaknesses. 8or a long time, this had been the way the !air o!erated. L1 think we need to work on situational 2udgmentD when to tem!orarily retreat to take a look at the situation, when to smash through to &ictory by sheer !ower, and when to !lay for time and consult those who are acting as your staff officers. 8or the rest, de&elo!ing the sensiti&ity to know something is going on.M Masaki mulled o&er the !ro!osal he recei&ed from >ichi2ou2i with a sour look. This face !robably indicated that he had been already aware of what he needed to do himself. >ichi2ou2i did not doubt that

the admonition of touching a ner&e indicated that Masaki was gi&ing his words his com!lete attention. LTherefore, instead of abusing our body, letNs forge our minds. :ot with games like this one 9 1 will seek a strategic simulation game that is closer to realistic war conditions for us.M L?rkPM Within the low moan of MasakiNs &oice, real actual gloom could be heard; without thinking, >ichi2ou2i burst out laughing. LSounds like youNre en2oying yourself, Shinkurou3kun. What are you talking about?M Iust as >ichi2ou2i was sniggering, $kane knocked and at once o!ened the door and entered the room. L$kaneP 1N&e always told you to wait until you get an answer before you o!en the door, right?M Masaki admonished his sister. L1snNt it okay since Shinkuro3kun is here? 1f the one :ii3san was holed u! with here was a girl then e&en 1 would ha&e restrained myself.M $kane, without a trace of demureness, a!!roached the table facing >ichi2ou2i and Masaki. L$kane, err.M LWhat. (ou donNt want anything to drink :ii3san?M MasakiNs !ained e-!ression changed to a sour one without him s!eaking and while >ichi2ou2i watched o&er the siblingsN warm /crude0 e-change, $kane set down two glasses of 1ced )offee and one glass of 1ced )ocoa. Masaki ,ueried about the e-tra glass without a word. $kane answer her brotherNs ,uestion with an im!ish look and discreetly sat down on the chair ne-t to >ichi2ou2i. 9While $kane had !lace the glasses on the table, >ichi2ou2i had tactfully mo&ed the things that they had been storing on the stool. $!!arently scenes

like this were a normal occurrence for this household. L%ey, Shinkurou3kun, why were you laughing? :ii3san do something ridiculous again?M While sitting on the stool, $kane turned her gaze and the rest of her towards >ichi2ou2i. L$kane, are those really the kind of words you should say to your own brotherPM To his little sister who was clearly ha&ing fun at his e-!ense, Masaki made an e-tremely earnest ob2ection 9 that is to say, he attacked her with com!laints, howe&er. L1 didnNt say it to :ii3san. 1 was addressing Shinkurou3kun.M .ecei&ing this truly im!ertinent answer, Masaki was too s!eechless to e&en make a fau- !as. 4ossibly satisfied for now by 2oking with >ichi2ou2i, $kane left the room after about fi&e minutes. The two high school boys e-changed a tired laugh o&er being toyed with by an elementary school girl. :o matter how young a LwomanM is, she still undoubtedly a LwomanM. LPSorry, sheNs troublesomeM L%ahahahaPM >ichi2ou2i re!lied with meaningless laughter to the a!ology s!oken by Masaki, who was so crestfallen that his shoulders droo!ed. L:o, umm, isnNt it good that sheNs s!irited?M >ichi2ou2i tried to come u! with something safe and comforting to say, but, L$s her elder brother, 1 wish she would e-ercise that s!irit more discreetly, but...M Masaki was not able to sto! whining. *n the contrary, his monologue of Lcom!ared to that guyNs sisterM, LWhy does that !erson ha&e to be that guyNs sisterM, L1Nm 2ealousM, L1tNs so unfairM

L5arn it, unforgi&ableCM and the like gradually escalated. Slowly, >ichi2ou2i realized that if he couldnNt detour him from this !ath, it would get really bad. L:ow, now. 1 think $kane3chan is fine.M %e said, but, LIou2i, youPM ?nfortunately, >ichi2ou2i had made a critical error in his !hrasing. L1f you go for that ty!e, 1Nm not going to say anything crude, butPM L+h?M .ecei&ing a look mi-ed with re&ulsion and wariness from Masaki, >ichi2ou2i at last realized his screw u!. L$t least wait til she graduates from elementary school before courting her, for my sake, !lease.M L?h, umm...M >ichi2ou2i intended to e-!lain that he was wrong. What he actually meant to say was L1 think $kane3chanNs !ersonality is fine the way it isM. L1 trust you, Iou2i. Say youNre not a lolicon, !lease.M %owe&er, for some reason not one word of LdenialM made its way out of his throat. Maybe he was unable to say a word that might be inter!reted as a re2ection of $kane; if Masaki took it that way he might not be able to continue his relationshi! with the 1chi2ou family due to the misunderstandingPunfortunately, those thoughts instantly struck >ichi2ou2i. Mending his friendshi! with Masaki was more im!ortant than correcting the misunderstanding. Subconsciously. %e wasnNt e&en aware of it, himself. L$bsolutelyC 1 am not a loliconCM 8or no reason he knew of, >ichi2ou2i once again failed to correct the mistake and he let the big mi-3u! remain out of his own will. %e did not ha&e any freedom to think about what kind of earth,uake

might come from the big fault line in his relationshi! with Masaki that the mi- u! created; >ichi2ou2i could do no more than endure MasakiNs cool stare. 9+&en if you called it an earth,uake, from the start this was nothing more than a !ri&ate matter. >ichi2ou2i did not e&en ha&e the freedom to do anything like wish for an unknown time in the future in which he could think. 8inally unable to endure any more, >ichi2ou2i changed the sub2ect in des!eration. L+nough about me, Masaki how about youC? %a&e you made a little !rogress with her?M 1tNs too late for regrets. Though, itNs normal for regret to come after. The moment after the words he s!oke to change the sub2ect left his mouth, >ichi2ou2i thought L$w, nutsPM with intense regret. L1f by her you mean Othat herN then no !rogress.M The frozen e-!ressionless look on his face was more stone mask than !oker face; in a &oice that matched the face, Masaki made answers like LnoneM and L1N&e gained nothingM. LPWhat?M $ &oice shouted sto! in his heart. That was the &oice of >ichi2ou2iNs common sense. But by the time his inhibitions returned, >ichi2ou2iNs tongue and li!s could not hel! forming ,uestions. L(ou canNt get in touch with her?M L1 didnNt ask for her contact information.M LWhyC? 5idnNt you dance with her, Masaki. She did not seem to dislike you.M L1 donNt think she hated me either. But, itNs ho!eless.M %e could hear the emotions Masaki was holding back in his &oice; e&en >ichi2ou2i felt so much !ressure he found it difficult to breathe. LBut, whyC?M LSheNs that guyNs sister. ?ntil 1 erase the stain of defeat, 1 feel unworthy to !ursue her.M >ichi2ou2i did not say that he thought the girl would not care about

that. %e thought it would be irres!onsible to say that without due consideration; e&en if that was the truth, it would be meaningless since it did not kee! it from bothering Masaki. %e did not feel like laughing it off as foolish stubbornness. Quite the contrary, he wouldnNt be Masaki if he did not get obstinate about this ty!e of thing, >ichi2ou2i thought. %is ne-t words gushed out easily from within him without hesitation or calculation. L1Nll hel! you, Masaki. :o, not hel! you. 7etNs wi!e out the stain of defeat together.M L$h. 1Nm counting on you.M ". MasakiNs father, <ouki, had a sudden dinner meeting with a client, so he would be coming home late today. :aturally, he cancelled dinner. 8i&e !eo!le gathered around the dining table for the 1chi2ou family e&ening mealD Masaki; Midori, his mother; $kane; MasakiNs e&en younger sister, .uri and >ichi2ou2i. Masaki sat across from >ichi2ou2i with .uri ne-t to him. >ichi2ou2i sat ne-t to $kane and Midori sat at the head of the table to watch o&er all of them. The mood of the e&ening meal was the usual one. $kane was gaily chatting to >ichi2ou2i; across from them, .uri was silently working her cho!sticks. Masaki was flicking his gaze back and forth between his sisters being a busybody and Midori was watching o&er her childrenNs actions with a bright smile. 1t had been three weeks since >ichi2ou2i had last !artook an e&ening meal with the 1chi2ou family. That being said, because ten of those days were the !eriod s!ent on the :ine Schools com!etition /the total days actually s!ent was two weeks0, it had not really been a long !eriod of time. LShinkurou3kun, itNs been a while since youN&e come to our house. %a&e you been busy?M :e&ertheless, it seemed like Midori &iewed it differently. LThatNs right. 1t would be better if he came o&er to !lay more often.M

$s e-!ected, $kane &oice her agreement. >ichi2ou2i did not commit the folly of ob2ecting. L(ou !robably 2ust want to !lay.M L*h, 2ealous :ii3san? 1tNs ok3ay, because 1 wonNt take Shinkurou3 kun away from :iisan.M L1d3i3ot. Iou2i and 1 donNt ha&e that kind of relationshi!.M 1n res!onse to MasakiNs negati&e statement, >ichi2ou2i started to raise his &oice without thinking but he restrained himself. LWho are you calling idiotC %um!h, you can only afford to act like that now. Since friendshi! is fleeting in the face of lo&e.M L7a, lo&eC? $kane, youNre way too !recocious for an elementary studentCM L5onNt mock elementary studentsC? What about you :iisan, youNre already a high school student and you donNt ha&e a girlfriendCM L$kane, there are things you shouldnNt sayPCM LBoth of you are too loud.M L.uriC? (ou donNt s!eak like that to your elder sisterCM LTut3tut, Masaki, $kane, .uri, all of you settle down. Why donNt we en2oy our food?M 4artici!ating in such an uninhibited con&ersation was not something >ichi2ou2i could do. %e took care not to let his en&y show and also made sure no one realized his smile was fake so that he could look at the ha!!y circle of the 1chi2ou family with what looked like a ha!!y face. 9Because she could see he was acting like an outsider, the ne-t words came from $kaneNs mouth. L1N&e got it, >ichi2ou2i should li&e here.M L*h, $kane. <reat idea.M >ichi2ou2i did not ha&e time to break in 9 the ne-t blow came from Midori. L(es, it isC This house has too many unused rooms. %ey, Shinkurou3kun, get out of the dorm and stay at our houseM

L:o, thereNs no way 1 could !ut myself in your debt so muchPM >ichi2ou2i wasnNt merely being !olite, these were his true feelings. :o, there was an unmistakable element of !oliteness, but he was not 2ust refusing for formNs sake 9 this was a genuine !olite refusal. LShinkurou3kun, wouldnNt it be better to say yes?M Since she was sincere, MidoriNs saying such a thing only made >ichi2ou2i more uncomfortable. 1t wasnNt that he hated the idea of li&ing with the 1chi2ou family, rather, it was because a !art of him found it enticing that he was confused o&er how to refuse.

1f Masaki hadnNt thrown him a lifeline, >ichi2ou2i might ha&e been o&erwhelmed by Midori. L>aa3sanP $kane, anyway. >aa3san canNt you sto! saying such things and making Iou2i uncomfortable. This matter was discussed enough two years ago, right?M .ight. The sub2ect of staying with the 1chi2ou family had also come u! two years ago. %e had refused it, himself, and chosen to continue li&ing in the dorms9thanks to MasakiNs assistance, he remembered that close call. L1Nm sorry, Midori3sanM Since it had been im!ressed on him in &arious ways that he should not call her anything like *ba3san, LMidori3sanM s!un easily out of >ichi2ou2iNs mouth without the additional honorific. L1 canNt become more indebted to you, it would be too !ainful, and it is often con&enient to be in a dorm that is attached to a laboratory.M The latter half of his statement was in no way a lie. Third %igh School was at the former site of the first laboratory of the >anazawa Magic .esearch 1nstitute, which is the research institute >ichi2ou2i was attached to and the !lace he also disco&ered the L)ardinal )odeM at. The dorm built at that site had facilities to conduct e-!eriments late at night and designed so that no one had to Lslee! in a huddle in the hallwayM to conduct research and %5 !anels with con&enient su!!lies for emergencies. But that was an add3on, an additional reason; the first !art, L1 canNt become more indebted to youM e-!ressed >ichi2ou2iNs true feelings. L.eally? Pif you change your mind, you can mo&e in at anytime. We would not think of it as any trouble at all.M Midori saw >ichi2ou2iNs attitude toward this matter as his usual stubbornness and did not !ersist in in&iting him further. $kane was a little unha!!y, but she sto!!ed with making a face; she might ha&e realized that twisting >ichi2ou2iNs arm any further would ruin his mood. While >ichi2ou2i was relie&ed that Midori and $kane had eased off,

he worried that he might ha&e caused his benefactors, the 1chi2ou2i family, to feel de!ressed. But although he was de!endent on the kindness of Midori, $kane and the others, there were some emotions within his heart that he could no nothing about. 9Three years !rior, acting in con2unction with the <reat $sian $llianceNs in&asion of *kinawa, the :ew So&iet ?nion in&aded Sado. +&en now, the :ew So&iet ?nion denied !artici!ating in the in&asion, howe&er, without a doubt those troo!s belonged to that nation. The in&ading troo!s were only a small detachment of the o&erall in&asion force. %owe&er, e&en so, that was enough military !ower to ,uash the 1sland of Sado. >ichi2ou2i, who was li&ing on Sado at the time, became a war or!han with the loss of his father and mother in that conflict. Both of >ichi2ou2iNs !arents had also been magic researchers. $t that time on Sado, there was a facility dedicated to e-!eriments to clarify the nature of !sions using below ground im!ressions; both >ichi2ou2iNs father and mother worked at that facility. 1t was said that the facility was the target of the :ew So&iet ?nionNs in&ading troo!s. The research facility bore the brunt of the in&ading armyNs sur!rise attack; o&er half of the em!loyees got caught in the battle between the in&aders and defenders and lost their li&es. $ mere single day of tragedy. *n that day, at "#$M, he recei&ed word that unidentified troo!s were in&ading in a sur!rise attack; >ichi2ou2i had been unable to contact his !arents, and he had been e&acuated to a shelter near his school under the guidance of the staff of his middle school. $lthough he !rayed for his !arentNs safety inside the shelter, >ichi2ou2i had already been mature enough to ha&e a realistic !remonition of disaster. %owe&er, >ichi2ou2i was still childish enough at the time to tremble, feeling !owerless, forgetting that he had magic of his own as a wea!on. The ones who rescued >ichi2ou2i, who had s,uatted in the shelter enduring the terror, were a heroic grou! of &olunteer soldiers

s!earheaded by the 1chi2ou clan9 That time was not the only time they sa&ed had him from terrifying !eril. MasakiNs father, <ouki, also !ulled some strings to allow him to intern at a magic theory research institute while he was still a mere first year middle school student. With both his !arents dying simultaneously and ha&ing no other relati&es, >ichi2ou2i, who would ha&e had to enter one of the infamous or!hanages for magicians, had a !lace to li&e and the means to !ay for his e-!enses thanks to the 1chi2ou clan. This was not 2ust a belief of >ichi2ou2i, this was an ob2ecti&e fact. Soon after entering the research institute, his uni,ue natural talents as a magic researcher blossomed and by his deed of disco&ering Lthe )ardinal )ode,M he had re!aid that fa&or 9 no, >ichi2ou2i would ne&er be able to forget that act of kindness. %e should ne&er consider himself finished with !aying that fa&or. >ichi2ou2i had decided in his heart to make re!aying the 1chi2ou clan for their su!!ort a mission he would s!end his whole life doing. 8or he, himself, to become a member of the 1chi2ou family, e&en as a sim!le lodger, was something too astounding for >ichi2ou2i to contem!late. ". With >ichi2ou2i em!loyed as her home tutor, who would come once a week, $kaneNs good humor was restored. The debits and credits of this transaction made a one sided minus on >ichi2ou2i side but he was not the least bit dissatisfied. 1nstead, ha&ing an e-cuse to &isit the family once a week made him unconsciously 2oyous. The meal ended, >ichi2ou2i went and collected his things from MasakiNs room and made bows in the 1chi2ou2i foyer. LThank you, for the delicious meal.M L:o3no, it was not all that great. 1 am sorry. 1t is gracious of you to say you liked it.M L5onNt be ridiculous. 1 like Midori3sanNs home cooking.M L*h, really, thank you.M

1t definitely took a while for Midori to release him from the demurring battle. L>aa3san, you need to get back soon. $renNt Midori and .uri waiting?M MasakiNs two younger sisters were in the midst of cleaning u! after the meal. >ichi2ou2i thought it would ha&e been alright to lea&e washing dishes and the rest to a %$. /%ome $utomation .obot0, but under MidoriNs !olicy of L1Nd be too embarrassed to let a daughter of mine lea&e the house to become a bride, if she canNt e&en do this muchM, the girls did a daily chore rotation of cooking, cleaning and laundry. L*h, thatNs true. Well. Shinkurou3kun, come o&er to !lay again.M L(es, 1 !romised $kane3chan 1Nd do that.M Since they could not see >ichi2ou2i to the front door, the sisters conducted their goodbye rituals in the dining room /dining hall suited the room better0. $kane had been tedious about reminding him about the matter of home tutoring until >ichi2ou2iNs words and the false gaiety of MidoriNs mood sent her into the kitchen. L1t was awful of me to force you to stay so late.M L5onNt worry about it. 1tNs summer &acation.M >ichi2ou2i laughed and shook his head at Masaki who was worn out by the thanking. L$t any rate, 1Nd ha&e been alone if 1Nd gone back to the dorm 9 it was fun.M L.eally, 1Nm relie&ed to hear you say that.M Masaki knew that e&en though it was summer &acation, >ichi2ou2i had his hands full with the re!orts for both the Thesis )om!etition and the research instituteNs re!orts and didnNt ha&e much free time. 5es!ite knowing that, Masaki had still in&ited >ichi2ou2i. $ctually, the statement of Oit was funN had eased MasakiNs mind greatly. L1Nll come again on Saturday.M LP1tNs okay to not worry about what $kane said.M

LThere no way 1 could !ossibly do that.M $s he watched his friendNs a!!arent ri&alry with his younger sister, a snigger nearly leaked out against his better 2udgment. L1 wonNt be 2ust coming to be $kane3chanNs home tutor, 1 ha&e to ser&e as your o!!onent for simulation games, Masaki.M MasakiNs li!s formed in to a LheyM syllable, as memories of the beginning and end of todayNs simulation game o&erwhelmed him. >ichi2ou2i knew that 2ust from watching him. Therefore, as itNs said, >ichi2ou2i didnNt do anything else to dri&e Masaki into a corner and they !roceeded in that fashion. L%ey, Iou2i, 1N&e been thinking a little.M :e&er the less, it was called to a halt from MasakiNs side. LWhatNs u!, something im!ortant?M L:o, not all that im!ortant matter, but...M While he introduced it like that, MasakiNs face did not ha&e any trace of le&ity in it. L)oncerning that con&ersation, the !roblem of situational 2udgment.M L%mm, that !roblem.M LWhether to ad&ance, to retreat, or to maintain the courseP the discussion was about instant decision making on a single combat le&el; 1 donNt see how strategic simulation games ha&e much to do with that.M LThatNs not true. 1tNs im!ortant to de&elo! whatNs called an eye for o!!ortunities, and s,uad combat and single combat are not all that different in the essentials.M L+&en if you say so, instant 2udgment is a refle-i&e and intuiti&e thing, right? 1n order to culti&ate a tactical eye for single combat, 1 still belie&e the best way is to !artake in a multitude of mock combatPM LMasakiP the loss in Monolith )ode to 8irst %igh School was somewhat due to the single combat tactics within the framework of

the o&erall strategy. 4olishing a s,uad le&el tactical eye is absolutely indis!ensable.M LBut for s,uad tactics, isnNt getting the o!inion of a com!etent staff officer more im!ortant?M L$hhP itNs true about staff officers, but...M Taking >ichi2ou2iNs hesitation as assent, Masaki mysteriously s!orted a bright, shiny s!arkling smile. LThen thereNs no !roblem. Because 1 ha&e Iou2i to be a com!etent staff officer for me.M This sur!rise attack inflicted great damage on >ichi2ou2i. To >ichi2ou2i, MasakiNs statement was an e-cessi&ely sweet blow. >ichi2ou2i needed tremendous strength of will to stiffen his face and kee! his smile from falling off. LP8lattery wonNt work, Masaki. Making decisions on the strategic ideas the staff officers offer is the duty of the general to whom they re!ort to.M Masaki's furious mutters as they !arted informed him that there was no way he was being flattered but >ichi2ou2i !i&oted and showed Masaki his back. The muscles in his face were 2ust about to reach their limit. 7uckily, Masaki had not been aware of the state he was in. 1f he had been aware of it then, he would not mistake it for anything but something awkward he hadnNt considered. /Masaki, for you 1 will become the greatest staff officer. 1 will always be only your staff officer. So become the greatest general for me.0 The ri&al, he had always been continually conscious since the :ine Schools )om!etition, and the fact that MasakiNs romantic interest was that !ersonNs younger sister as well, all disa!!eared from within his head. >ichi2ou2i 2ust felt ha!!y about being needed by Masaki whom he saw as his benefactor.

Part #: $emories o% Summer


[August 31st (1) 1t is the year =#EA $5, $ugust J"st. 8or the students of magic high schools, today is the last day of summer break. $s the ma2ority of science and literary high schools ha&e already begun the new school year, and arts and !hysical education high schools don't start until mid Se!tember, it's an about a&erage length. The :ine Schools )om!etition which ran from $ugust Jrd to the "=th has already finished, but there is no !articular break e-tension for the re!resentati&es. +&en in the ="st century long breaks had inherent !roblems /homework0 to go along with them, something often cried o&er during the last day of break33 this often as not being literal crying whilst looking o&er essay files com!rised solely of a bunch of titles, a cherished tradition across the nation. %owe&er, it has to be said that not all students are such slackers/?0. 7ike a certain !air of brother and sister enrolled in first year of the :ational Magic ?ni&ersity attached 8irst high school, the number of students who leisurely s!ent their last day of summer break rela-ing at home was not in the minority. "Miyuki, it's done." "Thank you &ery much, 1'm so sorry, *nii3sama. Bothering you with such a tri&ial matter......" "Making crushed ice isn't really anything troublesome." While !lacing the ice !ick onto the dining table, Tatsuya let out a chuckle at his sister's e-cessi&e manner of s!eaking. $t that, Miyuki ga&e a graceful smile. 1n her hands, black li,uid sloshed around within the heat resistance glass of the coffee ser&er. )offee !oured in a dark cascade o&er the chunks of clear ice Miyuki had used magic to create /by freezing from the bottom of the container u!wards, in such a way as to disru!t con&ection0, and Tatsuya had used an ice !ick to break into crushed ice /since if he had used his own magic, it would ha&e ended u! as fluffy sha&ed ice instead0. $ fragrant aroma filled the dining room.

To !re&ent the scent from s!reading any further Miyuki cast a !ocket of cold air o&er the large round cu!, and soon rose holding a tray with two !ortions of iced coffee. $t that casual use of a high le&el skill, Tatsuya narrowed his eyes. :oticing her brother's gaze Miyuki broke into an embarrassed grin, before airily turning her back. 1n the room on the first floor facing the garden33 it had originally been a guest room, but now with the bed remo&ed it had become a s!are room33 and lazing around the table, with the thrown o!en windows and curtains gi&ing the air of an o!en terrace in a resort, Tatsuya and Miyuki en2oyed coffee time. That being said Miyuki was bustling around ser&ing Tatsuya hand and foot, such that she didn't e&en ha&e time to warm her own chair, but as that was because Miyuki found doing so !leasurable, any third !erson ,uibbling o&er the scene would sim!ly be unseemly. $s if finally satisfied, Miyuki modestly took off her white frilly a!ron and sat down not o!!osite to Tatsuya from the round table, but ne-t to him. Beneath the a!ron, her flawless white arms showed under the wide shoulder stra!s of her translucent one !iece. Tatsuya felt the clear !olkadot summer dress was rather familiar. "5o you remember?" Sensiti&ely reading Tatsuya's look, Miyuki shyly asked him a ,uestion before he could o!en his mouth. "*f course. 1t suits you !erfectly." $t Tatsuya's utterly earnest com!liment, Miyuki began to blush. "Sheesh. *nii3sama, you're always like that." "1t's because 1 truly think so. 1 said it at the start right? Besides, 1 wouldn't gi&e you anything that didn't match you." $ccom!anied by a cool face, at Tatsuya's intense words, com!letely unsuitable for /in light of the general world &iew0 his sister, Miyuki's face turned com!letely crimson. "+h, uhm...... Thank you &ery much."

$s he caught a glim!se of Miyuki's face looking u! at him, both embarrassed yet ha!!y at the same time, she had a rather similar e-!ression when 1 first brought her that dress Tatsuya thought as he reli&ed the memories of that day. [August 1!th (1) $ugust "Bth. Two days after the close of the :ine Schools )om!etition. Tatsuya and Miyuki were going to the sho!!ing tower in the city centre. The two of them are high school students, and in the middle of their summer break. +&en for sho!!ing it would seem unlikely to need to go on a Sunday, but of course there was a reason. 8rom tomorrow the "Ath to the "Rth, Tatsuya has to attend meetings at 8our 7ea&es Technology /87T0 regarding commercialization of the flight de&ice. :e-t week from Tuesday to Thursday he has field e-ercises scheduled with the 1nde!endent Magic +,ui!!ed Battalion. Since his only free time is in the weekend, Tatsuya thought there was little !oint in taking a break. $s for what to do to fill in the time, Tatsuya decided to buy Miyuki a reward for her &ictory in the Mirage Bat e&ent. $t the word 'reward' instead of '!resent' Miyuki had sulked lightly for a while, but as this was ostensibly a !resent in all but name anyway she was now ha!!ily walking beside him in the best of s!irits. 1n any case, the subtle fact that Miyuki was not !leased with a sim!le gift, but more than ha!!y to recei&e a gift from Tatsuya was something lost u!on him. Miyuki's outfit today was a dark blouse with see3through slee&es, an ankle length white skirt, and sandals. *n her head was a wide3brimmed straw hat. 1t was a !ri&ate outing so he didn't mind all the e-!osed skin, but as usual, Miyuki's fashion was conser&ati&e com!ared to what she wore inside the house. *n the other hand Tatsuya wore a 2acket loosely o&er a T3shirt, with elastic synthetic !ants on the bottom. While the !ants looked tight, it was a summer fabric with e-cellent breathability and des!ite co&ering all the way to the ankles, he didn't seem hot at all. %owe&er, with the e-ce!tion that u! to his neck and wrists were co&ered he wasn't that different from his sister. $ woman's lo&e for sho!!ing has not changed e&en now, something

which could e&en be construed as common sense, and es!ecially among young ladies that lo&e is something which has not diminished as the last decade of the ="st century draws to a close. 1t is thought that the sho!!ing habits of these girls can be di&ided into three !atterns. 8irstly, those who buy their fa&orite things first. Secondly, those who buy their fa&orite things last. Thirdly, and !robably most commonly, those who while ha&ing a fa&orite !roceed to go here and there, back and forth all o&er the !lace. Miyuki belongs to the first category. When Tatsuya had asked her yesterday 'what do you want' Miyuki had hesitated only slightly before re!lying 'a summer one !iece dress', !robably as a result of the summer dress Mayumi had showed off on the bus back from the :ine Schools )om!etition. 1n a short while, Tatsuya !resumed they had arri&ed at their destination. This was because within the fashion bouti,ue Miyuki was currently !ulling him into, a wide array of similar dresses were !rominently being dis!layed. Miyuki's current outfit was a relati&ely trendy design, but it's fine for her to try new things now and again, Tatsuya thought as he glanced at the manne,uins in their skim!y summer dresses. 7ooking at the same thing as Tatsuya, Miyuki's e-!ression faltered. Well, not e-actly the same thing. What Miyuki had seen was the !rice tag attached to those summer dresses. "(ou don't ha&e to hold back, Miyuki. (ou know my income." $lthough it's called a !rice tag it's considerably different from the century before, being an $. dis!lay &irtual tag. 1n order to check the !rice it's necessary to use the information terminal e&eryone carries around and access the $. a!!, which is how Tatsuya knew what Miyuki had been looking at. Tatsuya too had engaged the $. a!! and checked the tag. The !rice marked did not de&iate from his e-!ectations. This was a sho! which had caught Miyuki's eye. There should be no budget stuff in it. What's more, Tatsuya's words to Miyuki weren't bra&ado. +-!ensi&e as they were, these were ready3to3wears designed for young teens. 8or haute couture, it's not e&en a &ery high !rice. $s a member of Taurus

Sil&er, this amount of money wasn't much to him at all. The act of dangling their !urse before someone would usually elicit an unfa&orable res!onse from most !eo!le, but Miyuki sim!ly brushed it aside. She !robably thought that refraining now would sim!ly be rude to her brother. $bandoning her hesitation, Miyuki began to look o&er the dresses on the manne,uins and hangers. %a&ing the !hysical articles in a store instead of sim!le J5 &ideo dis!lays marks this sho! as the real deal. 7ow !rice retailers, and e&en mid range stores, ha&e J5 dis!lays as the norm. Most of the time e&en fitting is done &ia com!osite &ideo. Being unable to ascertain the feel of the fabric is co&ered by a returns !olicy. Being able to try on the sam!le !roducts, like here, is !retty rare for a sho! nowadays. $fter looking around all four corners of the sho!, Miyuki called out to a clerk and !ointed to three dresses. $fter telling her she wanted to try them on, the clerk nodded with a grin. The reason it wasn't a mere business smile was !robably because they wanted to use Miyuki as 4. for the sho!, Tatsuya thought idly. 1t wasn't uncommon for Miyuki to cause such ulterior moti&es. 1t was also unacce!table. 8or e-am!le e&en if they wanted to make 2ust an area limited ad, he wouldn't let Miyuki model. The true reason was sim!ly that Tatsuya did not want to e-!ose Miyuki to countless dirty looks. But as e-!ected /relati&ely0 of such a high class establishment, the clerk wasn't rude enough to bring the matter u! all of a sudden. .ather she left for the stock room smiling all the while, returning swiftly with sam!les for fitting. $lthough they're sam!les there are mechanisms which automatically clean and sterilize the articles each time, so there was no hesitation in taking them. %olding the sam!les, Miyuki was guided by the clerk to the dressing rooms. Meanwhile, Tatsuya sat down on a bench inside the sho!. 1f something came u! the clerk would come calling, and e&en if not should something ha!!en to Miyuki he would know immediately. To kill time, he o!ened a !ublication website. %owe&er, he ne&er got the chance to !ick u! the strings of te-t dis!layed on the mobile terminal. The reason was the moment he o!ened the site the clerk from earlier was standing obli,uely before him, as if trying to read his e-!ression.

"1s something the matter?" %e would ha&e been content to wait until the other !arty began talking, but as he had assumed the !ose of one waiting for his !artner /well more !recisely, his com!anion0, it would be difficult for the clerk whose hos!itality manners had been so firmly ingrained to do so. Thinking that, Tatsuya had therefore decided to lead her on. "1 ha&e a little matter 1'd like to talk with you about......" "Should we mo&e somewhere else?" This is !robably something confidential, Tatsuya had thought, although going that far did seem a bit much. ":o, this will 2ust take a bit of time." $t Tatsuya's slight nod of acce!tance, the subtle tension in the clerk's face came away. "1f you don't mind, about the dress your com!anion is !urchasing." "We ha&en't decided if we're going to buy it yet, but go on." $t Tatsuya's curt interru!tion of her dialogue, the clerk ga&e a hasty nod. ")ertainlyC This is all considering if you would like to !urchase the goods from our sho!." "*f course, if my sister likes it then we'll buy it." "Thank you &ery muchC" Tatsuya wasn't really intentionally trying to harass the clerk. $s a matter of course he had all manner of comebacks !re!ared and ready, but at the clerk's o&erreaction it was Tatsuya who felt troubled. %e may ha&e had some more things to say, but at this !oint it didn't matter. "So, what is it you were saying?" The one who interru!ted had been Tatsuya, but now he gently urged her on. "*h, right." The clerk didn't show a single hint of discomfort. The results from the training bouti,ue em!loyees recei&e is formidable indeed. *r maybe she was sim!ly com!letely at a loss when it came to dealing with him. "1f the articles instore are to your fancy, would it be !ossible for the

clothing in ,uestion to be worn from the outset?" 1n any case, the fact the clerk came for "consultation" was somewhat strange at first glance. 1n itself, the contents of the re,uest weren't unusual. $ ready3to3wear, and easy to maintain slee&eless one !iece summer dress. Wearing that straight from the sho!, es!ecially considering the sho! has the articles !hysically in the stockroom, is not uncommon. What was strange was that the clerk had s!ecifically asked about it. "(ou want us to wear the dress from here around, is that what you mean?" %owe&er, Tatsuya didn't ask the reason. The clerk's, or rather the bouti,ue's intention was !retty clear. They !robably wanted Miyuki walking around in the clothing from this sho! as a kind of mo&ing ad&ert. "(es. 1n return, we will recalculate the !rice for you." The clerk also seemed to ha&e realized Tatsuya had deduced their !ur!ose. Quickly bringing in the matter of a discount, this woman had a formidable mercantile streak belying her youth. Tatsuya had no interest in the discount itself. %owe&er, he was concerned in another as!ect of the clerk's re,uest. "1s that it? Shoots are :<." /@:ot <ood0 "*f course. We will not engage in any acti&ity which may infringe on the customer's !ri&acy." ")ould you show us clothing instore besides the ones on dis!lay?" "With !leasure." :ot bad, Tatsuya thought. $fter the negotiations with the clerk were settled, a different clerk came o&er. 1t seemed Miyuki wanted him. Without a hint of irritation, he stood u!. This was to be e-!ected after all, and e&en if not there was nothing to resent. "*nii3sama, what do you think......?" The fitting room door was o!en. With a three way mirror in the background allowing &iewing of all sides /to !re&ent &oyeurism, no cameras were allowed inside0, Miyuki shyly asked his o!inion. She was

wearing a !ale grey toned 2um!er skirt. "1t suits you e-tremely well. Still, 1 think you can go with something a bit more dashing." The knee3length sim!le design greatly com!limented Miyuki's beauty, but it's a bit too drab, Tatsuya thought. "1s that so?... Then, !lease wait a bit." She nodded and closed the door. The faint sound of rustling clothes could be heard. The moments of silence were !robably her working on her hair and skirt. "Sorry for the wait. %ow about this?" Seeming far more embarrassed than shy this time, Miyuki solicited his o!inion whilst a&oiding making eye contact. 1t's !robably because it's so different from the clothes she normally wears outside that she's unnecessarily self conscious he thought. Miyuki's outfit this time was a checkered camisole one !iece. 8rom the neck to the shoulders was totally bare. The skirt also rose tantalizingly abo&e the knee in e-cess of fi&e centimeters, such that e&en innocents would be caught and enra!tured. "(eah, that's great. 1 can't take my eyes off you." "That's......" $t Tatsuya's straightforward o!inion Miyuki turned scarlet. That being said the considerably older clerk was blushing e&en more furiously, though whether it was at Miyuki's stunning figure or Tatsuya's far too honest words was unknown. "There was one more right? 5id it not interest you?" ":o...... Then, shall 1 show you that one as well?" The !rocess of changing clothes was re!eated. The summer dress this time was !retty much e-actly halfway between the first and the second in terms of e-!osure le&el. 1t was a silhouette which focused on the waist while em!hasizing the bust line and hi!s. "?m...... %ow is it.....?" 5es!ite ha&ing less e-!osure than the second dress, the se- a!!eal in this one here was to! notch. She must ha&e realized that while !utting it

on, which !robably accounted for the e-tent of her embarrassment. 1t was a design which would be awkward if there was insufficient &olume around the chest and hi!s, but it fitted her sur!risingly well. $s the one who saw her in her underclothes on a weekly basis during her )$5 ad2ustment Tatsuya should ha&e been !erfectly aware of his sister's growing body, but seeing it ob2ecti&ely like this really dro&e home the !oint that she was drawing closer to being an adult than he had e&er thought. 1t e-uded a totally different, !robably age s!ecific, unbalanced charm from the !re&ious camisole dress. "This is rather troubling. +&en 1 might lose my reasoning with this." "......" $t Tatsuya's una!ologetic com!liment, the color of Miyuki's face dee!ened e&en further, and she closed the door of the fitting room in silence. $fter that Miyuki's fitting /or in other words, fashion show0 continued. +ach and e&ery time Tatsuya !raised his sister straightforwardly as if unaware of what shame was, and for her !art Miyuki was e-ceedingly embarrassed each time /almost as if making u! for her brother0. Still she re,uested to be able to try on e&en more outfits, seeming to &alue her brother's !raise far more highly than the well3being of either her heart or facial blood &essels, so that was that. Miyuki had no modelling e-!erience. $lthough she had looks which would ha&e gi&en any international to! model a run for their money, she had no !rofessional modelling skill. She couldn't manage ra!id clothes changing or anything like that. 1n short when all's said, this re!eated fitting alone took a considerable amount of time. *f course when the fitting room door was shut it was im!ossible to !eek inside, but when Miyuki came out to show off a costume to Tatsuya, they were &isible from the store's e-hibition s!ace. *ccasionally Tatsuya would re,uest her to s!in around or strike a !ose, and a crowd began to form around the dressing room. Still, it's not like they senselessly crowded around gawking. Tatsuya would ne&er ha&e !ermitted that, and the clerks in all likelihood tactfully did their work before he had to make a mo&e. 1nstead, the youth were sim!ly glim!sed in the surroundings from a distance. Still howe&er much they shuffled around and !retended to look at the manne,uins,

they 2ust couldn't seem to a&ert their eyes. The word youth did not sim!ly im!ly young men. $lthough there were guys in their number, numerically s!eaking the girls were su!erior. Well, honestly s!eaking the &ery nature of the sho! meant that there was a high entry threshold for guys. 1n fact, the males were in the minority outnumbered three to one and com!rised mainly of college students with their girlfriends or those dressed as young businessmen; Tatsuya was !robably the only high school student on the !remises. $lthough there weren't many with the insight to see that he was actually a high school student anyway. *ne of the girls, or rather the girls in the grou! one by one would look at Miyuki with a mi-ture of admiration and en&y before ,uickly looking away. $t the sound of the dressing room door closing sighs of relief could be heard, then u!on the sound of it o!ening again as if charmed they'd hide then !eek out for a glim!se. *n that note, the female customers being escorted by a guy33 or rather being waited u!on33 ke!t a better state of mind. $s their boyfriends stared at Miyuki with worshi!ful eyes /showing there wasn't a single unconditional lo&er among them0 they either stam!ed them on the foot or nudged them in the ribs or the like. *n the one hand they would en&iously look u!on Tatsuya who was shamelessly and unhesitatingly hea!ing Miyuki with !raise, then unreasonably take their anger out on their ha!less lo&ers. 1n short, they restored their emotional balance by using the ne-t con&enient guy as a doormat. *f course, both Tatsuya and Miyuki were fully aware of all the attention they were getting. %e was mentally sorting out the harmful and harmless gazes, automatically categorizing them without e&en being aware and es!ecially !utting the non hostile intents out of mind, while she naturally filtered out all the looks33 she would ne&er e&en be able to walk down the street normally otherwise33 so it ne&er got to the e-tent they had to sus!end sho!!ing. :othing but words of a!!ro&al came out from Tatsuya's mouth, yet each time was different. Mono!olizing Tatsuya's com!lete attention Miyuki's feeling of ha!!iness was almost into-icating, such that she wasn't able to differentiate the subtle nuances in his words.

$s the number of tried on dresses !assed =#, Miyuki ended u! holding a !olka3dot dress that had been ke!t in the fitting room. 1t was a slee&eless, knee3length camisole summer dress. The wide shoulder stra!s were frilled with lace, and around the chest and hem of the skirt !lenty of lace was in abundance too. 1t combined a generous amount of e-!osure with an air of elegance, the iridescent i&ory !olka3dots lending a &ery age a!!ro!riate cuteness. "*nii3sama, 1 was thinking this one......?" "1 reckon that's the best as well. 1t really is cute." She had !icked this dress because it was the one that had been most !o!ular with her brother, but u!on hearing him saying 'cute' again, she made u! her mind in an instant. "Then...... )ould 1 get this !lease?" Miyuki didn't bother with hesitant language this late in the game. 1nstead, she ga&e a heartachingly beautiful smile33 with utmost sincerity, a look suitable for recei&ing a gift from her brother33 and asked his !ermission. "Sure." 8or his !art, Tatsuya didn't really ha&e a say in the matter33 he would ne&er ha&e been able to say 'no'. Being able to buy these things his sister liked was the most meaningful use of his income anyway, he had always thought. Whether he himself was aware of that thought was a moot !oint. $t Miyuki's lo&ely '!lease', the consciousness of the watching men seemed to freeze. $t the same time the women ga&e a collecti&e sigh of en&y at Tatsuya's natural generosity. "Then this dress and, along with dresses number two and se&enteen !lease. She'll be wearing this back, so could you !lease send my sister's current clothes back along with the other items?" ")ertainly. 4lease come back again anytime. Thank you for waiting." Then to these une-!ected 14 customers, the clerk ga&e a solemn nod. [August 31st (")

"Still, 1 ne&er thought we'd end u! buying three. +&en if the !rice was &ery reasonable." Miyuki must also ha&e been reminiscing about that time. She had a ha!!y grin on her face, as she s!oke to Tatsuya in a teasing tone. "1 would ha&e been more than ha!!y with 2ust this one. *nii3sama? 1s this what they call 'adult's sho!!ing'?" "1t would ha&e been a shame to let your =" tryouts go to waste. 1t was finally our long awaited summer &acation, but 1 was only able to take you out sho!!ing in the end. *r, was it unnecessary trouble for you?" ":ot at allC" Miyuki line was sim!ly teasingly accusing her brother of 's!lurging', yet at this frontal attack, she hastily raised the white flag. "That, 1...... Was &ery ha!!y." She had been taken down a !eg by Tatsuya, but Miyuki wasn't distressed at all. .ather she shyly looked u! at her brother's face, and as she did so, the distance between them diminished e&en more than earlier. "1t really was a long awaited o!!ortunity huh...... To be honest there were other things like yukata and &arious other summer acti&ities 1 would ha&e liked to leisurely do with you, but." Tatsuya's face, which had been smiling in satisfaction at Miyuki's good mood, suddenly clouded as he muttered in a bitter &oice. "......1t wasn't *nii3sama's fault." Miyuki's whis!er was tender as she took his hands from the table and gently wra!!ed them in her own. [August 1!th (") $lthough they had finished choosing clothes, there was still time to s!are before lunch. $s she was finally able to come out alone with Tatsuya, Miyuki didn't want to 2ust go home and let the occasion go to waste. 8ortunately, Tatsuya wasn't e-actly the indoors ty!e either. 1n addition, Tatsuya had come out today with family ser&ice /sister ser&ice0 in mind.

Without any !articular words between the two, they decided to hang out like this until e&ening. The building they were currently in s!ecialized in fashion for young women. They didn't carry 2ust clothes but also shoes, hats, accessories, &arious knick3knacks, swimsuits and yukatas according to season; this building had such goods for the entirety of it's "B floors. +&en the food stalls were snacks and sweet sho!s catering to young women. 1t was a rather formidable atmos!here for men, but another thing altogether for women and cou!les. +&en if his com!anion was his sister, no one would sus!ect a thing. 1n fact, without listening in to the con&ersation between them it would be nigh im!ossible to !ercei&e that they were siblings. *r rather, if one didn't !ick u! on Miyuki's utterance of '*nii3sama', e&en if they were close by they wouldn't be able to tell. With her arm ha!!ily entwined around Tatsuya's, Miyuki's nestled a!!earance no matter how you looked at it ga&e the !erfect im!ression of a girl in lo&e. Those with some bias may think they were an 'unbalanced cou!le'. That line of thought was !robably restricted only to the male !o!ulace, after which they would be accused by their accom!anying lady as 'ogling another woman' and a!!ro!riately chastised. Well, it was a kind of e-!ected harmony. $s !re&iously mentioned, this building was !retty much a women only store. 1t held nothing of interest in !articular33 the ma2ority of those with girlfriends or those they wanted to make girlfriends seemed only to be here to make their !artner ha!!y33 for men. $ man with thoughts like that, !utting their own en2oyment aside, could !robably s!end a considerable amount of time in here, but Tatsuya was not that ty!e to say the least. %owe&er as Tatsuya accom!anied Miyuki in her window sho!!ing, he dis!layed no sign of unwillingness whatsoe&er. $s Miyuki's eyes animatedly brightened or filled with frustration, Tatsuya's own eyes twinkled warmly. Whether inborn or ac,uired, im!rinted by others or nurtured by himself, the fact was as long as Miyuki was there it wouldn't matter if they were in the city or in the mountains; he would be the same. 1t was the one thing he truly wanted. $s long as she was beside him,

whate&er the conditions didn't matter; this was something anyone who knew his circumstances could understand full well. Both Miyuki and Tatsuya de!ended hea&ily u!on one another, but !erha!s more on Tatsuya's side than the other. Still if you actually asked them, they'd !robably 2ust re!ly 'it's none of your business /not your concern0' in unison. $ !unishment more !ainful than being kicked by a horse may also be forthcoming. That33 the harsh handling33 wouldn't really be due to the blunt ,uestion in !articular. 1t would also a!!ly to the rude intrusion. %a&ing an early lunch at a !asta house, the siblings glared coldly at the young man at the table ne-t to them. Tatsuya and Miyuki had entered that sho! by coincidence, or rather on a whim. When eating out, the two of them would rarely choose a !lace with such an unobstructed layout as this. They'd mainly go for !laces with !ri&ate rooms, or at least booths with !artitions between tables. 1f they didn't, they'd garner far too much unwelcome attention, most of it naturally on the !art of Miyuki. 5ue to the occasion today, they !robably decided that most of the customers would be women, and the men would most likely be accom!anied by women anyway, well, it ended u! being ,uite the !iece of wishful thinking. The moment Miyuki entered the sho!, followed by Tatsuya, the bustle inside was frozen in an instant. +&en the clerk33 unusually for such a casual establishment as this, a waiter not a waitress33 was !aralyzed breathless. +&en Tatsuya had not e-!ected such a hy!ersensiti&e reaction. %e had thought that a !lace which dealt with fashion on such a regular basis should ha&e at least some resistance to Miyuki's beauty, but actually, !recisely because this was a !lace which dealt with fashion there were !robably few o!!ortunities to see a true beauty of Miyuki's caliber. The waiter regained his senses 2ust as Tatsuya was on the &erge of turning right around and walking back out. %e !robably sensed Tatsuya's dismay and intent to lea&e, clearing his mind in the !rocess. Whether !rofessionalism as a waiter or a lack of subtlety, he certainly did at least

succeed in kee!ing two customers. +&en if they were !icky, in all likelihood they would meet a similar res!onse in any other establishment. So, Tatsuya ,uietly followed the waiter as he escorted them to an em!ty table. 8or her !art, Miyuki would normally shy away from such attention but bore it. $s long as Tatsuya was there, such things were tri&ial matters. The two seat table did not ha&e fi-ed sofas /at least a!!arently0, but rather wooden chairs. $fter re,uesting the waiter fetch some chairs for them, Tatsuya turned to Miyuki. $s he !ulled out the chair for her to sit, she looked back at him coyly and ga&e a curtsy. Seating himself in the chair o!!osite, Tatsuya glanced at the waiter. 1n haste, he brought o&er and offered them menus. .ecei&ing them in rela-ed manner, Tatsuya dismissed him. %is conduct was so full of dignity belying his age that the waiter didn't feel any discomfort from the brus,ue treatment. The gazes of the customers who had been staring at Miyuki were for a fraction of a second di&erted to Tatsuya. Most of them were female, but in their minds the sense of discomfort was re!laced by a sort of consent. $lthough they had earlier been silently belittling Miyuki in their minds, thinking things such as 'what an unbalanced !air' and 'her taste in men is terrible', all this changed to 'the !erfect cou!le' as they fully acce!ted their defeat. With the ri&alry discarded, the 2ealous looks changed to !raise. %owe&er the cou!les, es!ecially within the men, felt an an-ious !light similar to 2ealous sus!icion. 8ew of the 'boyfriends' were able to understand the look in their 'girlfriends' faces, but subconsciously an instincti&e !art of them understood that what had stolen their current girlfriend, or future girlfriend's eyes was not 2ust her haunting beauty, but the dee! lo&e between her and the boy sitting o!!osite her. $ new !layer came u!on the stage immediately after Tatsuya had finished !lacing orders for the two of them. She was a su!erb beauty. %er age was around =#. She was in the flower of her youth, her regal color and luster like an o&er!owering bou,uet of roses. Whate&er the time or !lace, hers was a beauty which would not fail to

catch attention. She herself understood that !erfectly well, and one who was fully showing off. %er !om!ous carriage howe&er did not elicit disagreeable reactions from those watching. 1n all likelihood she had !olished her image, as well as her consciousness of being seen. She carried it as if it were her career. Behind her, as if chamberlain to her em!ress, a !robably considerably older young man tagged along. She was !ossibly an entertainer33 that being an actress. 1n the year =#EA realistic J5)<s had !retty much com!letely re!laced the role of 'idols', but the role of 'actress' was still the realm of li&ing women. She had an aura which would be fearless e&en if introduced as a lead actress. 1t could only be guessed at why she would come into such a casual restaurant. Maybe it was 2ust on a whim, or she was looking o&er a location. The one thing that could be said for certain was if she set foot in this !lace filled with 'ordinary' !eo!le, she would ha&e certainly drawn the eyes of e&eryone instore. She herself had fully e-!ected that. 1t didn't stem from any &anity or self3esteem. 1t was sim!ly based on e-!erience re!eated dozens of times that it was almost a rule. $s if second nature to her already, she directed her charm and !re!ared to be stared at. %owe&er, her e-!ectations this time were off the mark. $s !er the golden rule 'no rule is without e-ce!tions', her string of e-!eriences, was met with an e-ce!tion. The clerk who greeted her showed a sense of sur!rise and admiration, but it was a far calmer reaction than she would ha&e thought. 8or a mere waiter to a!!ear before her and kee! his cool, in her e-!erience took considerable courage. %owe&er in the R#S full sho!, a small murmur buzzed in the &icinity of the two as intrigued eyes and heads turned towards them with sur!rise as men and women alike recognized her beauty, then as if losing interest immediately turned back to watch something inside the store. $!!earances aside, she was an actress. 8or the fi&e years since her debut, she had built u! a strong !osition as an entertainer. 1f one is

insensiti&e, they cannot sur&i&e in that industry. )< technology im!ro&es by the year, and glamour was no longer the absolute ad&antage it once was. 1t was not 2ust her beauty, but her e-traordinarily acute sensiti&ity and forceful acting beyond her years which had gained her stardom. %owe&er normal sensiti&ity, ne&er mind acute sensiti&ity would ha&e sufficed to reach the same conclusion. She realized that there was something in this sho! which was attracting more attention. To her this was not something interesting. .ather, you could say it was un!leasant. She couldn't hel! dreading to think 2ust what kind of !erson was here who would attract more attention than herself. %owe&er, her !ride as a star could not allow to let this incident wherein the !ublic sim!ly looked /or rather 'flicked a glance'0 at the two of them go. $s she was guided by the wait staff, she sim!ly tried to a&oid looking in the direction where all the other customers were staring. %owe&er, whether by chance or design, the table the two of them were led to was immediately diagonally across to the table which was drawing e&eryone's eye. Seating herself, she made herself steal a glance with forced casualness. $ young cou!le was sitting there. The boy who was facing her, while not bad looking, didn't seem like the ty!e which would magnetically attract the ladies. That being the case, the focus of attention of e&eryone had to be the girl whose back was to her. 33Though e&en as she thought, she !ut on a bra&e face. The fact she did so meant the girl was definitely not normal. 1n truth, she had known that the moment she caught a glim!se of her !rofile slightly. 4erha!s she was forced to understand e&en from behind. The fact that this girl was e-traordinary. 1t was a sensation she had ne&er felt before. 1n words, it would be something akin to des!erate 2ealousy. She didn't e-actly think of herself as someone chosen by the gods. The !osition she !roudly had now, without meditating o&er the !ro&idence of her being born with good looks, was attained through li&ing towards a more !olished a!!earance, studying beautification and greedily learning all she could about acting. But this girl was different. Whether she was lo&ed by <od or had made a deal with the 5e&il, it was e&ident she was s!ecial. She was in a dimension unreachable by mere effort.

She felt that was unreasonable. 8or her to enra!ture the attention of all without any effort, made her who had des!erately stro&e all her life feel like a fool. $ dee! desire to !ro&e again that stardom was not de!endent on born a!!earances swelled within her. She beckoned to the young man sitting o!!osite her, who leaned o&er, and whis!ered in his ear. While facing that beckoning beauty, the man's thoughts were on another woman. *r rather, another young lady. 5iagonally behind him, was seated a girl whose beauty the likes of which he had ne&er seen. 1t fully occu!ied his mind. To him, the beautiful woman was 2ust a commodity, an accessory. %e was the third generation !resident of a to! talent agency, was in control of many !o!ular actresses and countless more budding /unhatched0 ones. 1t was to him something only natural, without a hint of guilt. This woman before him was a star now, but back when she was 2ust a !retty face it was all because of his taking care of her from an early age that she had risen to her !osition, he thought. %e also did feel that such congratulatory thoughts were !retty 2ust really considering all the effort he had gone through, and he thought that it was not 2ust him but also her who agreed and was a!!ro!riately grateful. %e had brought her along to this folksy establishment because he wanted to show her off and see the en&y in e&eryone's faces. $n accessory is meaningless unless shown off. %e was aware that it was a rather !er&erse interest, but he decided that being a !rofessional !erforming artist was a !er&erse occu!ation from the beginning. To him who did not know the hardshi!s of the age of war, the entertainment winter his !redecessors had gone through, the chair of the !resident of !roduction was 2ust a means to ,uickly and easily satisfy his e!hemeral &anity. This woman who he had brought with him today was the accessory that most attracted his interest for now. She wasn't one of the to! earners for the office, but she was the best looking among them. :ow that she had 2oined the ranks of the to! actresses after a fashion, he could no longer !arade her around as much as when she was more anonymous but that sim!ly increased the sense of su!eriority he felt. 8rom the !ers!ecti&e of

most !eo!le the woman was the dominant one and the man 2ust an ad2unction, but that was !robably too much for the bullheaded man himself to realize. To him, the woman was like a large diamond !olished and cut by a craftsman. %e !urchased the roughs, then in the hands of a craftsman they were worked u!on. That was the work of !roduction, with the resulting gem being called an actress. To be sure she had earnestly worked hard to !olish herself, as an e-am!le e&en if a craftsman !rocessed his gems well without a fine band of gold around it wasn't on the le&el it could be sold. $t the first glance he immediately knew that the girl o&er there was not something money could buy. 1f the woman in front of him was a large diamond worth se&eral tens of million yen, then the girl was as the !riceless '<reat Star of $frica'; such was the difference between them. By ha!!y circumstance 2udging from his attitude the one she was with was 2ust a boy, and he felt the eager urge to add her to his collection as soon as !ossible. But he was accom!anied by an actress from the office today. 1n any other case, he would ha&e realized how bad the a!!earance of wanting to turn her into a money making machine would hurt his case, and recalculated accordingly. Which was why ha&ing the actress along and being able to say the woman before him wanted to scout the girl for a new mo&ie was a godsend. %e !retended to deliberate a while, then stood u! as if going along with the will of the selfish actress. The !re&iously cute gaze /in the dull childish way of thinking0 suddenly turned hostile. Tatsuya felt the change. %e had so far ignored it because they did not seem likely to cause Miyuki harm, but it had turned rather troublesome. $s he thought so, the source of the !roblem across from him /for Miyuki it was to the back diagonally0 stood u! from his table and walked o&er to them. Both Tatsuya and Miyuki directed an un!leasant look at the young man standing ne-t to their table. <lances were one thing, but it was no wonder they were uncomfortable with being stared at from !oint blank range by a stranger. "Sorry to disturb you."

%e had a rather blunt way of s!eaking. %e seemed to be hedging his words to some e-tent, but still came across as far too familiar. Tatsuya lost his intent to res!ond amiably to this man. Miyuki's eyes were !regnant with a frosty light, and naturally turned away from him. 5es!ite this a!!arently re2ecting attitude, the young man took out his cardcase and held out a business card to Miyuki with a fake smile. "This is who 1 am." 1nstead of a built3in chi!, it was an old fashioned card made from !a!er. There was no micro3!attern or anything !rinted, 2ust a character based truly classic chea! card. Miyuki reluctantly took it, then with a glance !assed it on with strain to Tatsuya. The surname and the name of his com!any were written with the same characters, and before his name the title 4resident was attached. Behind the com!any name was the word '!roductions'. 4robably to do with !rofessional entertainment Tatsuya thought. "(ou, got any interest in mo&ies?" Miyuki's eyes a&oided him. "1 ha&e a role that'd be 2ust right for youC" Miyuki's curt attitude should ha&e s!oken &olumes, but the man would not be discouraged. "%ey, won't you tell me your name?" $t that the young !resident brought his face so close that Miyuki cowered down. %e com!letely ignored the clear air of re2ection she was gi&ing off. Such thick ner&e and mental toughness was fitting for a salesman like him, and that unrelenting determination really was rather im!ressi&e. *f course, what would be remembered would be the far more o&er!owering discomfort, but still. 8inally, Miyuki turned her gaze on the man she had been a&oiding u! to now. That didn't mean her attitude had swayed one bit. Within her eyes was a frozen light. %er hard look seemed to accuse the

man for his lack of courtesy. Shown that face, the young man momentarily faltered but almost immediately righted himself, well almost. With an e&en falser smile than before, he actually reached out his hand to Miyuki. That was !robably due to his obstinacy as a man in !rofessional !erforming arts. To him, a !roduction !resident who considered beautiful women and girls as commodities, to seem to ha&e lost a mental battle with an amateur was !robably a blow to his !ride. 1n any case it was short3sighted beha&ior. $s a young man who had inherited status, he seemed to ha&e gained the bad habit of being unable to control his feelings when it came to !eo!le in weaker !ositions than him. Was he going for her hand, or her face? 1t didn't really matter, as there was no way Tatsuya would e&er allow such outrageous beha&ior. The young man's arm, as it reached for Miyuki, was suddenly firmly in the gras! of Tatsuya's hand before he knew it. "Wha33C" The man's selfish !rotest changed to a scream in the middle, before sto!!ing short. The !ain he was e-!eriencing was so intense it didn't e&en allow him to let out a sound. "7et's lea&e it at this." Tatsuya's words !robably didn't e&en reach the man's consciousness. %is fingers twisting the man's hand were also !ressing with se&ere strength and angle into !ressure !oints in the man's wrist, like the !oints in )hinese medicinal acu!uncture, such that the man's mind whited out from the !ain. $s Tatsuya released his hand the man staggered back two, three ste!s before colla!sing. Tatsuya's cold face as he looked o&er the youth was entirely de&oid of e-!ression. $ shi&er ran down the man's s!ine that ecli!sed e&en the !ain. 1f he had been laughed at, the !ride within him could ha&e been fanned to flame. +&en if it was something small and e!hemeral like a s!arkler. But Tatsuya's emotionless gaze, sim!ly telling him 'get out of my way', brooked no ho!e of resistance.

With his eyes locked on to Tatsuya's33 he couldn't look anywhere else33 the youth stood u! and hobbled away. Truth be told, to ha&e e-!erienced such crushing !ain and hesitate to e&en think about retaliation before retreating was a testament to the man's courage. 1t was not inconcei&able a weaker man may e&en ha&e had incontinence. %owe&er the woman accom!anying the man certainly didn't think so. $t the sound of a chair scra!ing the floor, the beauty haughtily and !roudly left the sho! with the echo of her heeled sandals resonating through the store. She didn't so much as glance at the man. 8inally, staff arri&ed. Two waiters a!!roached at a ,uick !ace, their footste!s worried. They didn't go to Tatsuya, but rather to the man. 4olitely, in such a low tone that only the listener could hear, the waiters had some words with the now red faced man. %is frenzied retorts, those which could be discerned from the loud ranting, seemed to com!rise senseless things like "2ust who do you think 1 amC?" and "don't think you can talk to me like thatC" among the !arts where he raised his &oice, but Tatsuya didn't gi&e it a second thought. $lthough nothing !hysical occurred after, with a waiter !ressing on him from both the left and right, after the mounting !sychological !ressure built u! and made the man lea&e the sho!, Tatsuya returned to his seat. $s he sat down, a man of around B# dressed in white chef clothes came to their table. 1ntroducing himself as both the chef and owner of the establishment, the man bowed dee!ly to both Tatsuya and Miyuki. "1 am &ery sorry for that uncomfortable e!isode 2ust now." ":o, we're the ones who caused a disturbance. We a!ologize for the incon&enience." $lthough still 2ust "F, Tatsuya had s!ent much time around adults. 1f the other !arty was ci&il, he would be able to res!ond with as much e,uanimity as any. The sho!kee!er's eyes thawed slightly towards Tatsuya's cool demeanor, !robably because he felt the calmness beyond his years. "5on't mind the commotion. The one at fault was the other !arty. (ou were 2ust in&ol&ed." +&en at the close of the ="st century, the bad habit of insisting that 'in a ,uarrel both !arties are to blame' remained ingrained into society, but

this sho!kee!er seemed to be the ty!e who did not agree with that !oor custom of dancing around accountability. "Thank you for that." Tatsuya a!!ro&ed of this attitude which could clearly distinguish between black and white. Without the need to !ut on any e-terior show, he returned the bow naturally. "The clerk was delayed and it ended u! causing such a !roblem for you two, but !lease feel free to continue your meal if you would like to do so. *f course, it'll be on the house." Before Tatsuya could ob2ect, the sho!kee!er went back to the kitchen. 5es!ite the casual a!!earance of the store, the food was of an e-tremely satisfactory le&el. Both the a!!etizer of sou! and the following mains !asta were as straight laced as the stubborn character of their chef, well worked together with no !retensions, and both Tatsuya and Miyuki en2oyed them immensely. $fter that was dessert. This was es!ecially enra!turing for Miyuki. 1t was a thin size four /"= cm diameter0 ice cake. The rich smell of &anilla wafted from the mutely colored to!!ing, and it was 2ust as authentic and un!retentious as the earlier courses. The not too hard, not too soft cool melt in your mouth te-ture was 2ust as good as the offerings from any more u!scale sho!s. What delighted Miyuki was not 2ust the taste howe&er. $mong the waiters the one slightly older, !resumably the senior, brought along the ice cake with two s!oons. The s!oons had an unnaturally long handle, and wouldn't ha&e been &ery !ractical for eating yourself with. 4lacing those items in the middle of the table, the waiter had s!oken to them in a soft &oice. "*ne for the lo&ely boyfriend to the beautiful girlfriend. *ne for the beautiful girlfriend to the lo&ely boyfriend. 8or the &ery com!atible two of you, en2oy this sweet moment." 5ue to the character of the !lace, those were !robably words s!ecifically scri!ted for such a situation as this. Still Miyuki ha!!ily acce!ted it, smiling giddily with her face dyed red, and held out the s!oon with a scoo! of ice cream in it to Tatsuya.

33after concluding this shameless !lay disguised as dessert, as !romised no s!ecific bill came, so Tatsuya instead of taking out his electronic wallet sim!ly re!eatedly !ressed a dis!osable money chi! into the waiter's hand before ,uickly lea&ing the sho!. 7unch had finished on an une-!ectedly interesting /and !ossibly 2ust a bit embarrassing0 note, but unfortunately life was not so kind as to end e&erything so cleanly. Before the siblings stood the young !resident of the !erforming arts com!any from the restaurant earlier. There was no sign of the woman. She had !robably left him and gone back. 1nstead, he was accom!anied by four in&ersely !ro!ortioned /that is to say !hysically o&erbearing but far inferior in looks0 men. "(ou caused me ,uite the bit of humiliation earlier." $lthough his &oice was le&el for the time being, not the outraged ranting of before, it was !ossible to catch 2ust a hint of crankiness in it. This guy really is going full throttle s!outing out all these cliched lines Tatsuya thought to himself, but he wasn't about to throw in the towel this late into the game. "1 belie&e 1 said so earlier. 7et's lea&e it at that." But as he had no intention of !ur!osely !icking a fight, he ke!t his words somewhat !eaceful. $t least he didn't say something like 'it's no sur!rise your com!anion ran from you considering your tiny mind', but he didn't hide the contem!t in his tone either. %e didn't intend to start a fight, but it almost seemed like he wouldn't mind welcoming one either. 1f that was the case, Tatsuya's words were su!er effecti&e. "......1f you want to !rostrate yourself and a!ologize, now's the time." "(ou're going to cause a scene right here?" %is words and attitude were fairly easy to gras!, but did he really intend to try something with so many !eo!le around? Tatsuya had said this out of concern for the man's social standing, but "Shut u!. Since when are real !eo!le subser&ient to you witches?" Those words were enough to clear Tatsuya's hesitation and restraint. %e shifted his body, com!letely hiding Miyuki from &iew. $ll traces of

e-!ression disa!!eared from his face, and his eyes narrowed. 4erha!s mistaking the change which had come o&er Tatsuya, the young man smiled. "1 had thought 1 remembered seeing you somewhere. We had met in the :ine Schools something hadn't we? 1 had thought 1'd found a huge gemstone, but it turned out to be 2ust a fake imitation." 4erha!s this man clea&ed to the hoa- that magicians were genetically modified and !roduced androids. $lthough their numbers were much reduced, Tatsuya knew through obser&ation and knowledge that some still stubbornly !ersisted, which was why he didn't recall a sense of sur!rise at his words. "That's a lie." The man's words were rather barefaced. "(ou'&e only 2ust met my sister today. +&en if you had caught a glim!se of her during the :ine Schools )om!etition, e&en through &ideo, there's no way a man of your ty!e could e&er ho!e to stand before her." $ wintry air began to !ermeate. 1t did not hold the chill of snow or ice, but cold hardness of a razor shar! steel blade "What the hell. (ou a siscon or something?" Subconsciously the man o!ened his mouth wide and laughed out loud. 33his face almost turned blue. %is &oice trembled. Tatsuya didn't bother to retort to that, but rather came right back with a line of his own. "1s that something you had to learn from your buddies o&er there?" The cowardly dog barks the loudest, and besides Tatsuya wasn't so delicate as to be !ro&oked by such words. Still, that didn't mean he had to be tolerant of such dogs. "1t'd be better for you to lea&e before you do something unfortunate in !ublic. *r should 1 say it again so you can understand better?" The one who had been insulted was not himself, but Miyuki. That was the sole reason Tatsuya had dis!ensed with all !eaceful intent. >ee!ing his eyes on the man, Tatsuya took a ste! forward. The man's entourage &isibly tensed. They didn't ha&e the same finesses or training

as !rofessional bodyguards, but they were e-!erienced in their own way. *n the le&el of street fighting anyway. (ou'd ne&er guess from their attire, but Tatsuya idly guessed that the four were !robably gangsters. The talk of there being good relations between !ro entertainment and the underworld were !robably not the whole truth, but at least not false either. "What the hell are you guys all scared forC They can't use magic in cities. 1t should be a !iece of cakeC" 1t seems the man had been com!letely taken in by the urban legends surrounding magicians. Magicians didn't use magic in cities because they were restricted by the law from e-ercising magic, not because they recei&ed remote mechanical signals or the like. 1n any case magic was only !rohibited if there was no legitimate reason and in the e&ent of accidents or disasters the use of magic to hel! is encouraged, and yet another e-ce!tion is the case of self defense. 1t seemed the henchmen were not so nai&e as to belie&e in the myths the !resident was s!outing. Sli!!ing a hand to their waists33 !robably a folding !ocket knife or something33 they studied Tatsuya's mo&ements with care. $fter two ste!s, Tatsuya sto!!ed and raised both his arms to shoulder height. 1t wasn't a holdu!. By fluttering and wa&ing his hands, he showed them that they were em!ty. $t that gesture, the gangsters felt they were being made fools of. They knew neither the sha!e nor utility of )$5s, but they did know that magicians used some sort of small de&ice to cast magic. They took Tatsuya's gesture, directed at them, as a declaration that he didn't need magic. They were correct. Tatsuya was !ro&oking them, as if saying '1 don't need magic to deal with the likes of you.' The effect was immediate. 8rom the start they were low ranking members, des!erate to !ro&e their worth. Being called by the young !resident, they had been sent out as the small fry. 5esire to a!!eal aside, they had a low boiling !oint anyway. 5rawing their kni&es, they lunged at Tatsuya in unison.

<angs nowadays train their members in grou! combat as the norm. 1n this age where both &igilantes and the general !ublic are well organised, grou!s which are said to be !rofessionals in &iolence could hardly get away without at least learning to fight as a team. Two wa&es of kni&es attacked from the left and the right. The screams of young women rent the air. Miyuki's &oice was not among them. Without a word, without so much as a flicker of emotion, she sim!ly looked on at her brother's back. %er trust in her brother's skills was absolute. :either was that trust betrayed. 8our !unches. *ne man, one blow. +ach fist struck a &ital area with unrelenting !recision, lea&ing the gangsters crawling about on the floor. Tatsuya resumed his ad&ance. 8or each ste! he took, the !resident took two ste!s back. Then he sto!!ed short. The moment he felt he had bum!ed into someone, he was seized by both arms and forced to kneel. 7ooking back in a hurry,he was greeted by the sight of uniformed !olice officers. There were eight in total. Two were o&er!owering the !resident, four secured the gangsters rolling around on the ground, while two more came to stand before Tatsuya. Miyuki walked to stand 2ust behind him. <lancing alternati&ely between the two, the !oliceman began an inarticulate deli&ery. "?mm, we want to hear your side of e&ents, so could you accom!any us to the station !lease?" Tatsuya couldn't say he was sur!rised at this attitude. +&en if you say it was self defense, they had engaged in &iolence in !ublic. 1t wouldn't ha&e been strange if they had actually been detained. 7ooking closely, the sha!e of a )$5 could be made out around the !oliceman's wrist. %e was e&idently a mage. 1f so, knowing both Tatsuya and Miyuki were also mages, it could only be wondered if he felt a sense of solidarity with them. Still, his shee!ish attitude was a little worrying. "?h, in addition......"

The !artner of the co! who had first s!oken began to say something, stammering out a !reface. *n his waist was a handgun sha!ed )$5. The officer !ut his hand behind his waist. Was he going for handcuffs? $t Miyuki's arched eyebrows, Tatsuya wordlessly gestured for !rudence. The officer's hand stretched out to the two of them. *r rather, to Miyuki. 1n his hand was, not his !olice notebook, but another !ri&ate notebook. "......(ou're Shiba Miyuki san right? (ou were in this year's :ine Schools )om!etition. 1'm an *B@ (#ld $oy) of 8irst %igh myself...... 1f you could, may 1 get your signature?" $nother !oliceman held out another rare classic for these days, a fountain !en. Tatsuya and Miyuki e-changed a glance, before Miyuki ga&e a sly smile at the two officers. [August 31st (3) "1 didn't think we'd see an *B in a !lace like that." .emembering the days e&ents, Miyuki couldn't hel! giggling. Tatsuya also struggled to rein in laughter, before leaking out a smile. "1t's not that sur!rising when you think about it. The only magic high school in >anto is 8irst %igh, so a mage who became an officer in Tokyo is most likely to ha&e graduated from there." "That's true. 1n any case, the reason we s!ent hardly any time at the station was because the guy was a huge Miyuki fan...... 1n other words it's all thanks to you. (ou were a great hel!." "(ou're welcome. Being able to be hel!ful to *nii3sama is more im!ortant than anything." "Still, for them to actually in&ite us out to tea was totally o&erwhelming. 1t was hard to refuse." "WellC? That was hardly Miyuki's fault" $t that the two of them looked at each other, and once again, e-changed smiles. Miyuki was sucking on a straw, and her glass was !retty much em!ty.

Tatsuya's cu! had likewise been reduced to 2ust ice. Seeing his sister remo&ed her mouth from the straw and looking towards him, Tatsuya rose from his seat. ":ow then, the bank's about to o!en, so let's head out." "$lright. 1'll clean u! the cu!s, so !lease wait there a bit *nii3sama." ":o, 1'll hel!." $s he said so, without waiting for a word of !rotest, he !lucked the tray right out of her hands. 1t looked rough, but actually the ice stirring in the glasses didn't e&en make a sound. With a rather !ee&ed e-!ression, Miyuki swiftly hid her true emotions as she followed Tatsuya into the kitchen. <oing to the bank is no longer for making de!osits. $s a result of the e&olution of !ersonal checks and the electronic wallet, money cards are wides!read and cash is now rarely used. :or do you go to make transfers. Both transactions and transfers are !retty much all recorded online, and using the bank in such situations is also limited to s!ecial cases. The reason Tatsuya was going was to u!date his 15 re,uired for such online ser&ices. There is no !eriodic determined time for which you ha&e to do so. (ou can continue using it from the date of issue without a single u!date if you wish. *nly the 15 is re,uired, not the u!date. ?!dating the 15 is a !art of security, and by !roceeding straight instore in !erson rather than authenticating the data online increases the security. Tatsuya u!dated his 15 e&ery three months. The a&erage renewal rate was twice a year, so four times would be classed as a higher fre,uency. 1t was not unusual for some more !aranoid users to u!date theirs on a weekly basis. 1n the cool store, Miyuki and Tatsuya stood !erfectly in line shoulder to shoulder and waited to be called u!. They didn't do so because they were cold, but rather they had walked that way from the station to the bank under the hot sun as well. The reason was because !eo!le had the fre,uent habit of hitting on Miyuki. :ot many guys, es!ecially of the same age, looking at Miyuki would dare to immediately try to make her accom!any them or go out

with them, but dealing with 2ust a single one would take a considerable amount of time. Therefore, they decided in ad&ance that whene&er walking through the city they would act as lo&ers. When Miyuki accom!anied Tatsuya outside, such as for sho!!ing or some!lace she wants to go or something she wants to watch, being able to stick to her brother like this was !robably 2ust as much a factor as anything else. )ase in !oint, e&en though there was nothing !articularly interesting about standing around in the bank lobby, Miyuki seemed as cheerful as e&er. 33her brother com!le- left no room for doubt. That aside, modern banks often do not store cash since their utility is so limited. 1n !lace of cash, money cards were used to shift around large amounts of money. The issuer is able to systematically !ut on hold transactions. ?nlike with checks there is nothing in circulation, the only one incon&enienced is the !arty in ,uestion. 8or that reason, the e-istence of the bank robber is becoming e&er more an endangered s!ecies. 33that should ha&e been the case. "This is !retty rare......" Tatsuya and Miyuki had 2ust come u!on a scene with that &ery same endangered s!ecies. 8our men had 2ust burst into the store brandishing shoddy remodeled handguns, threatening the bank clerks and customers. The ski masks they hid their faces behind in the midst of summer ga&e a rather retro feel. They wore grimy 2um!ers, as they swung a Boston bag onto the counter. Their style was so traditional that an onlooker might e&en be confused as to whether this was a bizarre attraction of some kind or something, but from the des!erate yelling they directed at the bank staff one could surmise that they might 2ust !ossibly might be the real thing. "*nii3sama, what should we do?" With eyebrows raised Miyuki looked u! at Tatsuya, and asked him in a business as usual tone. "1f you like, 1 can handle this."

%er usual feeling of not wanting to cause bother to Tatsuya came to the fore. ":o, there's no need for us to interfere." 7aughing, Tatsuya !ut his hands on Miyuki's shoulders. %e lightly !atted her. Miyuki ha!!ily buried her head in Tatsuya's chest. 8or the other customers who made an-ious e-!ressions and stiffened at this scenario, this 'could not care less' attitude was less than familiar. :eedless to say, these two who e-uded such a rela-ed mood in the turbulent atmos!here stood out !retty damn well. 1f you need an e-!lanation for the sake of Tatsuya's honor, he hadn't said there was no need to interfere 2ust so he could flirt around with his sister. Strictly s!eaking, his current actions were sim!ly to a!!ease her. Iust because bank robberies had become such rare crimes didn't mean banks didn't ha&e security systems in !lace to combat it. $ bank robbery would ne&er succeed with 2ust remodeled handguns anyway. The !roof of that was e&ident before them. $ !re&iously trans!arent shield had e-tended from the counter to the ceiling to !re&ent all access. Within that shield, another semi trans!arent shield descended from the ceiling to co&er the o!en window before the clerk. The Boston bag caught in that window was torn a!art. 1f the robber's arm had been there, it was !robable it would ha&e fractured seriously enough to e&en re,uire am!utation. *ne of the robbers fired a bullet at the shield. 1t didn't e&en faze the first layer. The clear outer shield a!!eared to be made of a material similar to high &iscosity li,uid. 1t !re&ented collateral damage. Seeing that, Tatsuya was im!ressed by the design. *ne of the robbers s!at then looked back into the lobby. 7ooking right at the man, Tatsuya a&erted his gaze. What the man's eyes settled u!on was Miyuki. Being suddenly stared at /she felt0, she hurriedly cast her face downwards. $ glim!se could be seen of the man's eyes from the ga!s in the mask. 4utting the fear and tension of the fleeing customers in the lobby aside, from the un!leasant smile he wore it seemed this man in !articular had a

short tem!er. $nyway, it was safe to say that Tatsuya and Miyuki had caught the man's attention. Tatsuya sensed his malice. %e wouldn't be much of a bodyguard otherwise. *f course, there was little chance of a robber looking at them with friendly eyes. %e could also !ercei&e the sadistic light that shone in his eyes. Miyuki also realized the robber was looking at her with such eyes. She huddled closer into Tatsuya's chest. 1t was the s!litting image of looking frightened in the face of the situation. Iudging from his smirk, the robber thought so too. But Tatsuya, who could feel Miyuki's body through her thin clothes, knew there was no tension in her. %is sister wasn't ner&ous in the least. 1f he could see her e-!ression, he wouldn't ha&e been sur!rised if she was trying to stifle laughter. Subconsciously, he hid his own wry smile under his signature !okerface. %e ho!ed it wasn't too unnatural, as he then made an an-ious e-!ression and held Miyuki's hand tightly. 1t wasn't something he normally did, but he was also !erfectly !roficient in drama if it came to it. The eyes of the four robbers con&erged on the two. 1t was im!ossible to see clearly under the masks, but it was easy to tell from their e-!osed eyes that they were grinning broadly. Miyuki and Tatsuya's acting must ha&e stimulated them ,uite well. Tatsuya went so far as to tremble a little. +&en he thought that was !robably a bit much, but the robbers seemed to drink it u!. Their attention had com!letely di&erted from the other customers in the lobby. $ security system that e&en took into account ricochets, should definitely e-tend beyond 2ust cutting off the counter from the lobby. The immediate focus of the robbers was the two of them. They com!letely failed to notice the beams forming abo&e them in a rectangular !attern. Before they knew it, the ceiling had been re!laced by stereosco!ic images. 8rom the girders, !eo!le dro!!ed in onto the heads of the robbers. The conditioned wiry guards o&er!owered the robbers in the blink of an eye. Tatsuya wasn't !articularly sur!rised at the scene. 8or someone able to sense others !resences, something such as a stereosco!ic screen was no shield whatsoe&er. $s he was waiting, he had always been aware that

there were guards ready for de!loyment o&erhead. The bank staff of course didn't know he was like that. Miyuki, still huddled in his chest, would by common sense be seen as crying in relief at the close of a tense situation. They thought Tatsuya's arms were hiding her face as he embraced her because of that. Truthfully, he had sim!ly read the mood and was trying to hide her smile from the somber staff and guards. With Miyuki's head still cradled in his arms, the bank manager came out to Tatsuya. $sking his name, he a!ologized !rofusely and offered him e-em!tion from fees for one year as com!ensation for the distress. ?nsure of how to look, Tatsuya maintained his !okerface33 at that, the bank manager's e-!ression &isibly tensed33 before acce!ting the offer. 1n the eyes of most !eo!le, that really was a relati&ely dangerous situation after all. $fter being told Tatsuya had come to u!date his 15, the manager called a subordinate to carry out the necessary !roceedings. Tatsuya gently released Miyuki, and she hid her face behind her long hair as she allowed herself to be guided by the shoulder. There was no chance of being s!ied u!on during the !rocess, as it was all carried out by a machine in a !ri&ate room. +ntering, away from the eyes and ears of others, the two of them finally dro!!ed the act and, facing each other, burst out laughing. This encounter with the bank robbers was the one unusual occurrence the two siblings e-!erienced that day. That incident the two went through on that last day of summer &acation, in the minds of the two, was organized along with the others into their 'memories of a certain summer'. Translator#s $otes and %e&erences
". =.

T 'reat Star o& A&rica: $>$ )ullinan diamond, the largest diamond e&er found. T ():*ld boy

Part &: Presidential 'le"tions ( The )ueen


Cha*ter 1
L1tNs already the month that we ha&e to resignPM The atmos!here of the Student )ouncil room, initially swollen with talk of the summer &acations, subtly changed when MayumiNs !ronouncement was made. ?ntil that time, the usual mi- of males and females who shared lunch in the Student )ouncil were going on about their first day back or their e-!eriences o&er the summer. )om!ared to their usual daring con&ersation which contained !hrases such as Lremaining chaste before marriageM and Lthe age of free se-M, what they did during the summer !aled as a to!ic. $lthough the reasons not to ha&e se- before marriage were usually something like Ldo not gi&e into a sweet talking manM, the conclusion might be the same, as before the Lfree se- eraM the consciousness behind it differs greatly. 1n the end, 2ust because se-ually e-!erienced women arenNt !enalized by society doesnNt mean Ldoing itM is nothing to a woman. They donNt want to be talked about as cock teasers or bragged about in locker rooms. 1n conclusion, the young ladies who congregated in the Student )ouncil room were not going to treat themsel&es as chea! merchandise, e&en though they were girls who !ossessed a large number of contrace!ti&e o!tions. 4regnancy could no longer occur from accidents or crimes. Be that as it may, Lforcibly took off my 2acketM, Lstrongly !ressed me to the bedM, Lcaressed the na!e of my neck with his breathM and like !hrases continually let loose before his eyes was enough to make a healthy young man ill at ease. To say nothing of the same man ha&ing to endure lines like L1 wanted a little better moodM, L1 wanted to be able to wear whiteM and others !roclaimed around him with com!lete naturalness. This could be ha!!ening because he was no longer being treated as a male, or e&en that they forgot he was there; howe&er, from the beginning, they had shamelessly talked like this in the !resence of a member of the o!!osite se-. 8or a while now, Tatsuya had been fleeing

from this kind of talk by concentrating his eyes and consciousness on a magic book /the 4ublic Moral room had a sur!risingly good collection0. Whate&er twist the con&ersation took he could tune it out. :e&ertheless, !ossibly because he was e-!ecting it, this change of con&ersation !enetrated his consciousness. L:ow that you mention it, the Student )ouncil 4resident election is this month.M L(es, the election is at the end of the month, but we need to set u! the format from ne-t week on. We ha&e to announce the candidates and do all the other stuff that needs to be done.M This affirmati&e answer to TatsuyaNs ,uestion was !ut forth by Suzune. But, was this com!letely !oised sen!ai who con&ersed on to!ics forbidden to !eo!le under eighteen, much less under fifteen, under Lwe're all girls hereM without e&en a snicker? Tatsuya entertained doubt, but ne&ertheless, the content of his ne-t ,uestion was different. LWhat is the format?M 'Were there any materials?' was the gist of the ,uestion, but Suzune correctly understood TatsuyaNs !oint. L1f there is more than one candidate, an election is held. That being said, because the students who can become 4resident are limited, itNs fought out within the family after all.M LWithin the family?M L8or the !ast fi&e years, the Student )ouncil 4resident has held the !ost of to! student to enter uni&ersity.M :ow that she mentioned it, he has some memory of hearing that the first day he was called to this room. LTo summarize, the Student )ouncil 4resident is decided without being elected.M L1t is not limited to that method. 1tNs been that way for the !ast fi&e years; si- years before that it was different. 1tNs 2ust that thereNs ne&er been a case of a student becoming Student )ouncil 4resident without becoming a member of the Student )ouncil first, and this time as well because e&en if an election is held, it should be a one on one battle between %attori3kun and :aka2ou3san. WhatNs !robably going to ha!!en

is, things will be talked out before the election and will be down to one candidate.M "1 see; if thatNs the case it is certainly 'within the family'." Tatsuya gras!ed the conce!t. The one who didnNt gras! the conce!t was the one who was being mentioned as a candidate. L1tNs im!ossible for me to become Student )ouncil 4residentC We donNt need a discussion; 1 donNt intend on becoming a candidate.M Tatsuya certainly gras!ed that you couldnNt hold the !ost of Student )ouncil 4resident with teary eyes, howe&er, L5o you mean that si- years !rior someone other than the to! student held the !ost of Student )ouncil 4resident?M LSo %anzou3kun will be the ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident.M 1mmersed in their talk, the 4ublic Moral chief and the student body !resident didnNt seem to !ay attention to what was going on around them. Whate&er their !ersonal o!inions, !olicy3wise $zusa was closest to them. So while they could certainly understand why she would want to throw away the !ost of !residentP /P She doesnNt seem to want to do itP0 1f there are no other candidates aside from $zusa, it would be im!erati&e to !ersuade her, but with %attori also a candidate, that wouldnNt be the most !ro!er way to go about it, Tatsuya thought. LSo :aka2ou3sen!ai was last year's to! student.M %owe&er, MiyukiNs thinking seemed to be going on a different angle than TatsuyaNs. She seemed to be aiming at different as!ects, but Tatsuya thought he could see what his sister was u! to. $s Miyuki was !ointing out and Tatsuya was aware of himself, L%attori was also one of last yearNs to! students.M LThatNs right; there wasnNt much difference between the all3around scores, right?M

Mayumi nodded an acknowledgement to Miyuki and directed her ,uestion to $zusa, but Suzune was the one who re!lied. L8or theory, the order for the to! s!ots were 1sori3kun, followed by :aka2ou3san and %attori in third !lace. 1n the !ractical, %attori3kun took the To! !lace o&er :aka2ou3san by a narrow margin. The all3around to! student was also %attori3kun followed by :aka2ou3san by a narrow margin." 4utting all this u!on the schoolNs bulletin board in a big dis!lay each semester as an incenti&e to study is really meaningless, Tatsuya thought. "1 might be called the rotten a!!le that s!oils the barrelP but from the start, most serious students canNt cross swords with the Student )ouncil 4resident and the chiefP" at least, that was Tatsuya's assessment of Suzune. LSo in !ractical skills, :aka2ou3sen!ai was higher than )hiyoda3 sen!ai?M Miyuki had already understood this !oint, but while attending the :ine Schools )om!etition, becoming familiar with this !erson had created a different im!ression. LThatNs because that girl >anon is too slo!!y.M LShe has a ma2estic ,uality to her at least?M $t MariNs blunt o!inion, Mayumi agreed with a forced smile. LTo the contrary; itNs 2ust the slender $3chan looks to be unsuited for s!orts com!etitions.M L:onetheless, :aka2ou is going to be an athlete in the coming year, right?M $lthough she had been listening to Mayumi as if she wasnNt being discussed, when MariNs dro!!ed bombshell, $zusaNs body begun to shake in res!onse. LP 1 may ha&e introduced the to!icP but this is ne-t year, :aka2ou? ThereNs no !oint in getting all scared about it right now.M LThP thatNs right. :e-t yearP ne-t year, aside from )hiyoda3san, thereNs Shiba3san, >itayama3san, Mitsui3san and others; we ha&e !lenty of !ros!ecti&e athletesPM $s $zusa forced herself to re!ly with a !eculiarly weird &oice,

MayumiNs face took on a trium!hant look. LWell, there are a lot of great !ros!ects among this year's freshman girlsP the third years canNt 2ust !ush the burden u!on their underclassmen.M L:o, such a thing, !lacing a burden, 1 2ust meant the right !erson for the right 2ob, that isPM 1f that was the case, it was certainly logical; gazing at her with his half closed eyes and hard to refute, the Student )ouncil 4resident had it tough Tatsuya realized. 666 When he ste!!ed into the 4ublic Moral room after si- weeks away, it was une-!ectedly crowded. L1 didnNt get any notice of a meeting?M Tatsuya in,uired of Mari who was, for some reason, standing at the entrance; she nodded with the dignity of her office. LThatNs correct, 1 donNt ha&e any memory of sending out a notice.M LSo this is a ceremony in honor of the first day of the new semester?M LThe inaugural ceremony takes !lace only once a year.M LThis isnNt some kind of s!ecial membershi! meeting?" LWell, nowM ?!on MariNs re!ly, Tatsuya made a light bow and turned to retrie&e his !ersonal recorder from his locker with a brisk !ace 9 but he didnNt get three ste!s before he sto!!ed. 7ooking behind him, he found standing at e-actly the same distance as before 9 to be clear, shadowing him e-actly 9 Mari, gazing back at him. LP1s there something?M L1tNs not work. But that doesnNt change the fact that there is a big e&ent for the 4ublic Moral )ommittee.M L$hhPM

$t TatsuyaNs cautious res!onse, Mari ado!ted an Loh, wellM e-!ression. LP1tNs best to go to the heart of the matter directly with this kind of thing.M L1N&e glanced through the im!ortant news.M LWhat 1Nm talking about is a com!letely inter3committee kind of thing.M She was glancing around while she was talking with a Lis there anything that needs to be taken care ofPM kind of feeling that Tatsuya !ercei&ed. 1n the end, the one to gi&e in was Mari. LThere is no term of office for the 4ublic Moral members." L1 know. $lthough you select a re!lacement, there is no need to resign; it all seems a little strange.M LWe tend to cling to this delicious !osition. +&ery graduating class selects their re!lacements, but ,uite a few of us remain in !osition until graduation.M She ga&e a subtle shrug of her shoulders as she s!oke. 4erha!s she was thinking of the s!ecial !ri&ileges of the 4ublic Moral )ommittee with an Loh, wellM thought floating in her mind. LTo tell the truth, one of the third years resigned at the end of last semester. Today, the re!lacement is coming.M Tatsuya raised his eyebrows in sus!icion at MariNs words. LThis is a welcome !arty?M LBy no means; weNre not that cohesi&e an organization. (ou understand that by now, right?M )ertainly, the 4ublic Moral )ommittee was an organization more suited for words like Ldi&isionM and LantagonismM rather than unity. Because he understood that, the whole thing ga&e Tatsuya an an-ious mood. <i&en those facts, what was this crowd doing here? L1tNs 2ust that itNs unusual to ha&e a girl chosen as a member, so e&erybody who was free came to take a look at her.M 1 got it, Tatsuya thought. The members ha&e not gathered out of comradery but rather curiosity. %owe&er, for that reason9 L1tNs about time to choose a chief.M

$t TatsuyaNs !oint, an ill3humored e-!ression silently came o&er MariNs face. $!!arently there were many things on her mind and she didnNt want to trouble her kouhai, so she was choosing her words in order to gloss o&er things. LPWell, in my case itNs !art of my 2ob. 1tNs only right that 1 greet the new member. By the way, could 1 trouble you to look after things for a while?M LP(ou mean me?M TatsuyaNs re,uest for clarification was only natural. To entrust all the organizational details and the orientation of a new member to the guy at the absolute bottom rung of the ladder was ,uestionable. L1 mean you.M :e&ertheless, MariNs e-!ression was "##S !ercent earnest. L1 donNt know anything about the !erson who is 2oining us. 1 am sym!athetic to herP but e&en so, 1 donNt think you can lea&e all this work to a freshman.M L:onetheless, you are the only one in the 4ublic Moral )ommittee who can do it.M Since this !oint was certainly true with regards to the 4ublic Moral )ommittee, TatsuyaNs defeat was decided. The new member was e-actly who Tatsuya thought it would be. L7etNs get this o&er with a ,uick face3to3face meetingP >anon, for today, work with Tatsuya3kun and gras! all you need to for !atrolling.M %e didnNt think a face3to3face meeting with someone as well known as >anon was necessary, but Mari said this after introducing >anon to members scattered around the room and deli&ering the res!onsibility to Tatsuya as !romised. $s usual, Tatsuya had no &eto rights. :ot 2ust him, this instruction was only gi&en after all the other members had left, so >anon was limited to a choice of Tatsuya or Mari. L%uh9? Mari3san is not going to instruct me?M 8or >anon, Mari was ob&iously the better choice. To indicate this right in front of Tatsuya was certainly a rude gesture, but Tatsuya could com!rehend her dissatisfaction &ery well. :ot only to not be instructed

by Mari, to not e&en be instructed by another second year like herself and to ha&e an underclassman act as a sen!ai was not going to be fun for >anon. Mari wanted him to take the role of her coach, but dee! in his heart, Tatsuya was rooting for >anon to make more of an argument. L1 canNt be your guide, because the underhanded guys see my silhouette and ,uietly sneak away. The !oint of this is that Tatsuya3kun is number one in incident encounters among committee members. $s a result, he is number one in number of a!!rehensions, too.M L*h, if thatNs the case, 1 see.M ?nfortunately, >anon ,uickly and easily understood. $nyway, Tatsuya was left with a feeling that he should be ,uestioning MariNs remarks with the Las a result,M but he soon resigned himself to the situation. The end of this fruitless task was in sight. L:o one assigns !atrol routes. We donNt need to go o&er e&ery area within the school. My and other committee members' !atrol routes do not kee! to a routine, but the ma2ority of the members seem to !atrol a set !ath.M ?n!leasant as it was, a 2ob is a 2ob. Walking side by side, Tatsuya addressed a serious lecture to >anon as they went. %owe&er, L%mmP. Shiba3kun is highly ada!ti&e.M >anonNs com!limentary outburst and his e-!lanations had no logical connection. LBut 2ust after you started school, you began to !atrol the school alone, right. $nd e&en 1N&e heard &arious stories of your legendary new student week actions.M LWell, a lot ha!!ened back thenPM %e felt that her awe was mis!laced but he was reluctant to be disagreeable. 9Suddenly being thrown into solo !atrol o!erations was the norm. >anonNs treatment was e-tremely !rotecti&e; s!eaking these &arious truths, howe&er, would !lease neither one of them. Tatsuya continued his lecture instead of disagreeing. L1n my case, 1 !lace im!ortance on &isiting the !ractice rooms. This is because if you look at old !atrol logs, there are &ery few !roblem causing incidents in the classrooms.M LThatNs because the classrooms are monitored. 8or romantic ty!e

&ulgarities, itNs a mood killer; e&en if you want to do it, you canNt.M L.omance?PM 1n general, he had some interest in reading fiction, but any curiosity he had in erotica and how he should res!ond if a !erson confesses their lo&e had been sealed. L(ou donNt go to the gym or the grounds? 5oesnNt more trouble ha!!en there than in the !ractice rooms?M L+-ce!t for s!ecial circumstances like the new student in&itation !eriod, those areas as a general rule are under the 2urisdiction of the clubs. *f course, if thereNs a momentary outbreak of hostilities between indi&idual factions, it becomes the 4ublic Moral )ommittee's time to inter&ene.M >anon broke her ties to the clubs when she 2oined the 4ublic Moral )ommittee, but since she herself had been a member of the track and field club /her s!ecialty had been hurdles0, there was no way she wasnNt aware of the clubs' self3go&erning !ri&ileges. L:o one will mind if we 2ust go and take a look around, right? Trotting o&er once trouble has arisen means it's too late to inter&ene.M +&en so, suggesting that kind of actionP this sounded like she was brimming with the desire to e-!and her territory by raising ha&oc, Tatsuya thought. 666 1n accordance with >anonNs strong re,uest, the dayNs !atrol took the all im!ortant tour of the gymnasium. /Tatsuya was seriously troubled o&er the necessity of accom!anying her.0 1n relation to the school grounds, it was the second building if you came from the entrance. By sheer coincidence, today was the >en2utsu clubNs !ractice day. LPThe older Shiba. ThatNs a different girl than the one you usually bring when you watch us.M L4lease donNt talk like 1Nm a !layboy.M Whether he was serious or 2oking was hard to tell from the tone of his

&oice 9 but Tatsuya thought he felt the 2est was at least !artly serious 9 the one who had come to talk to him was >irihara. L.eally, >irihara3kun. 1snNt saying stuff like that rude to )hiyoda3san? Because )hiyoda3san is serious about 1sori3kun.M LPWell, if thatNs the way it is, itNs okay.M The one whose outburst eased >anonNs discomfort and made Tatsuya breathe a dee! sigh of relief was Sayaka. The reason Sayaka of the >endo )lub was !artici!ating in the >en2utsu clubNs !ractice wasnNt so that they could use the club hour to date. Since the s!ring incident, the s!orts clubs who used magic and the s!orts who didnNt felt they had to increase o!!ortunities for mutual interaction between themsel&es. +s!ecially with the clubs that were basically the same, s!orts clubs whose only difference was the rule about whether magic could be used or not in com!etition had taken it u!on themsel&es to bridge the ga! by undertaking !ositi&e actions; thus, the current trend was born. The >endo club and the >en2utsu club !ioneered the trend. Sayaka and >irihara were the first to use that e-cuse 9 that is, they were the first !artici!ants to take !art in a mutual e-change !rogram. 9Therefore, this means these two are not !racticing together 2ust because they like each other. +nough gossi!. Tatsuya, des!ite SayakaNs su!!ort/?0, was still getting the stink eye from >irihara, so he e-!lained the situation. L)hief Watanabe ordered us to go together.M $lthough what he said was true, it would ha&e been better to act as if he didnNt need to e-cuse his beha&ior. olunteering information like this made it seem like he was using his 2ob to co&er u! immoral beha&ior. L+h, then that rumor was true.M >irihara not only une-!ectedly readily belie&ed him, but made a meaningful comment. L$ rumor?M L*h, Shiba3kun doesnNt know?M

LThe rumor about )hiyoda becoming the ne-t 4ublic Moral )hief and )hief Watanabe making the rounds to get it a!!ro&ed. 8rankly, donNt you think that girl ha&ing to make the rounds to get it a!!ro&ed is such a tiresome thing for her to do?M Tatsuya realized the OrumorN Sayaka and >irihara were announcing tag3 team fashion was com!letely true, but in the face of this s!ectacle, he chose silence. L1tNs 2ust like they said it was. 1tNs )hiyoda, so they'&e got to make an e-ce!tion. Because Watanabe3sen!ai really likes )hiyoda. 1n order to be able to a!!oint )hiyoda3san, who has no e-!erience, as her successor, she has to make a lot of effort.M +&en though Tatsuya didnNt say anything, they didnNt sto! adding to the hea!. L%mm, that girl not only looks like a Takarazuka@, but she thinks like one, too, eh? Well if )hiyoda becomes chief sheNll certainly make ,uite a !icture.M *( % famous all female acting troupe "here "omen play all the roles even the male ones in love scenes). The <irls *!era, since the beginning of the modern era, could be called a traditional theatrical entertainment, so Tatsuya didnNt feel that Othinks like a TakarazukaN was a !articularly dishonorable a!!raisal, but it seemed that >anonNs sensibilities reached a different conclusion. L*h, youNre treating not 2ust me but Mari3san as lesbiansP >irihara3 kun, arenNt you &ery bra&e.M LWait a minuteCM Behind >anonNs back, as if someone was !ainting $cala@, an aura of fire rose u!. /To be accurate, it was an e-!losion of &iolently charged !sion !articles.0 *(% fierce guardian deity in $uddhism portrayed "ith an aura of fire) L1 ne&er said lesbianCM 5es!ite the fact that in terms of sim!le !ower, >anon was rumored to be number one among the second years, and the fact that she also had great rage on her side, >irihara wa&ed his head and fist e-citedly. L:o !roblem.M $t the &iolently strong >anonNs !ronouncement, Tatsuya breathed a dee! sigh.

%is right hand made a swift light thrust. L%uhhCM With an out of !itch screech, the &iolent dance of !sion !articles subsided. LWh3What did you do?M 8rom her !osition sunken down on the floor, the red3faced >anon was using both of her scalding eyes to glare at Tatsuya, the cause of her minor indignity. LPThat was more effecti&e than e-!ected. Truthfully, 1 thought he was !utting me on about O!leasure !ointsN, but...M 1t was (akumoNs deceitful Tenketsu2utsu (Probably blind spot techni&ue). 7ocated on the back are some Ls!ots that cause !leasant feelingsM9he was 2ust taught them this morning. %e used a thrust with his inde- finger on one after he watched >anon get increasingly red faced. $s she listened to his monologue, he modified his facial e-!ression. L)hiyoda3sen!ai, what would ha!!en if 4ublic Moral members went around starting their own !ersonal brawl?M L$ahP but he...M LThere is no 'but he'. *kay, after the occurrence of se-ual harassment, itNs best to ha&e the 5isci!linary )ommittee conduct a trial. $s a general rule, the testimony of a 4ublic Moral )ommittee member can be considered inde!endent e&idence.M L*i?M 1n the confusion brought on by the swift change in the status ,uo, >irihara ke!t out of it; nonetheless Tatsuya and >anon didnNt take their eyes off of each other. L* > $ (? Will you !lease restrain yourself from acting like a !ot boiling o&er.M LP?nderstoodM The sulky faced >anon was too busy a&erting her eyes to be aware of SayakaNs mutter of LP doesn't what you 2ust did count as se-ual harassment, too?M L:ow that you mention it, isn't the Student )ouncil election coming u!

real soon?M $t last, the chaotic situation had subsided. 1n order to mo&e from the talk of the 4ublic Moral succession, Sayaka had brought u! this to!ic for the second time today /at least for Tatsuya0. To kee! any club members from !utting fuel on the fire, Sayaka hos!itably introduced the !erfect water cooler gossi! to!ic. L$t the end of the month, right. (eah, 1Nd call that real soon.M >irihara res!onded to SayakaNs ,uestion. L1N&e heard itNs going to be a one3on3one match between %attori3kun and :aka2ou3san.M 4aying no attention to the difference between first and second course, >anon ,uickly 2oined her fellow second yearsN con&ersation. L:o!e, %attori isnNt doing it.M 8or Tatsuya the dU2V &u con&ersation had been broken u! by the re&elation of a new fact. L*h, really?M 1t looked like >iriharaNs words were a sur!rise to >anon. L(e!, that %attori is going to succeed the chief of )lub Management. 1 heard it from him myself that he wasnNt going to take !art in the election.M L%mmm, %attori3kunP howe&er itNs !ro!er. )lub Management canNt be done by anybody without brute strength.M >anon acce!ted >iriharaNs answer with a !ro!er nod. %e could see what they were saying. The )lub Management <rou! certainly had a more &iolent image than the Student )ouncil, Tatsuya thought. +&en under normal circumstances, scouting for club members, taking s!ace for club acti&ities and the like caused many ine&itable dis!utes. Thanks to >atsutoNs glare, great big riots hadnNt ha!!ened, but an ordinary !erson couldnNt do the same thing. %owe&er 9 Tatsuya thought, This meant that of the strongest candidates for Student )ouncil 4resident, both would not take !art in the election. Iust who is going to be the ne-t Student )ouncil 4residentP

666 $fter the !atrol was o&er, homeward bound. Miyuki had 2ust finished with the Student )ouncil. 7eo, +rika, Mizuki, %onoka, and Shizuku were done with club acti&ities. Mikihiko was done with his inde!endent training in the !ractice room. 1t had been a while since Tatsuya could mingle with his usual circle. They crowded around a table in a coffee sho! that was on the way to the station. $nd in nearly no time the to!ic became the u!coming election. L%mmmP to tell the truth, a little unreliable.M 7eo ga&e a cold a!!raisal of $zusa. LBut her true abilities tower o&er others.M L1 belie&e itNs better to ha&e a gentle !erson as Student )ouncil 4resident.M Shizuku and Mizuki seemed to be members of the Su!!ort $zusa !arty. L$nyway, the !ossibility of %attori3sen!ai has com!letely disa!!eared, right?M This was a re!eated in,uiry of +rika. L$ah, it seems like he himself has told others about it so there doesnNt seem to be a way to be mistaken about it. +&en the Student )ouncil 4resident canNt steal the !erson who is the ne-t successor to the )lub Management <rou! 7eader.M Tatsuya re!lied with an affirmati&e. LThatNs trueP 1 donNt belie&e e&en those !eo!le could stand against chief Iuumon2i.M )ountless nods of yes, yes came from +rikaNs side. LTherefore, after all, :aka2ou3sen!ai is the only !ossible !erson who can become a candidate.M

Mizuki returned to the to!ic of the ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident. LBut, she herself has said she doesnNt want to do it, right? *kay, Miyuki, become a candidateCM LWait, +rika, what nonsense are you s!outing?M MiyukiNs eyes widened in res!onse to +rikaNs sur!rising remark. But, une-!ectedly, it seemed that +rika was really taken with her own suggestion. L1tNs not like thereNs any regulation !rohibiting first years from becoming Student )ouncil 4resident, right? 1n the recent :ine Schools )om!etition, Miyuki not only took !art in the :ewcomers 1cicle Break, but battled against second and third years in Mirage Bat and won. 1 think your true !ower and !o!ularity make you !erfect.M L5onNt say such nonsense. 1n general, a high school studentNs Otrue !owerN cannot only be measured by magic !ower?M L1f itNs scholarshi!, we ha&e Tatsuya here. *nce you become Student )ouncil 4resident, you can a!!oint anyone as staff.M Mizuki entered su!!ort for +rikaNs !osition in Miyuki and +rikaNs back and forth con&ersation. L(eah, thatNs right. 4resident Saegusa was getting rid of the first course only limit.M L+&en MizukiPM 1t was a su!erficially chiding remark, but a wa&er could be felt in MiyukiNs &oice. L(eah, yeah. ThatNs right, if you were !resident, you could head hunt Tatsuya3kun from the 4ublic Moral )ommitteeP .M $t +rikaNs Me!histo!heles@3like /a young girl &ersion0 whis!er, Miyuki &isibly trembled. *(The tempter demon from 'aust) L)on&ersely, wouldnNt it be okay if Tatsuya became Student council !resident?M L*h, that sounds interesting.M $s childhood friends, they didnNt com!ete with each other, but this time Mikihiko blew +rikaNs outrageous idea out of the water with one of his own.

While 7eo gazed around blankly at these e&il !lots, Tatsuya asserted, LThatNs 1m!ossible.M L)ertainly, if it was Miyuki there might be enough su!!ort for the idea to make it ha!!en, but 1 could not collect enough ballots.M %owe&er, Shizuku had a different o!inion. LBut, Tatsuya3san, you took a ma2or role in the :ine Schools )om!etition,M L:o, ShizukuP 1 was !art of the backstage crew for the &ictory and only com!eted in one e&ent. 1tNs said that the work of those who work behind the scenes can not be com!rehended if youNre &iewing the front.M *nce again, Tatsuya denied the !ossibility of being elected, but %onoka raised her &oice in a fer&ent rebuttal. LStill, if Tatsuya3san was e&er !laced on the ballot, 1 would absolutely &ote for himCM LMe too *nii3sama. 1f *nii3sama e&er ran for office, 1 would cam!aign for you by distributing leaflets or anything else you wanted me to do.M Surrounded on both sides by Miyuki and %onoka, who were subtly com!eting o&er who was more enthusiastic, Tatsuya realized he had a slight headache.

Cha*ter "
*ne week had !assed since the start of the new semester. $t last it was time to officially announce the Student )ouncil 4resident election, e&en among those who were not really in&ol&ed /es!ecially students in classes + to %0. "Who will be a candidate?M, "Who has influence?", and similar to!ics could be heard. $s classmates e-changed morning greetings, Tatsuya, who was going to his assigned terminal, heard the &oice of the !re&iously arri&ed Mikihiko call out LMorning, TatsuyaM. LMorning. Mikihiko, youNre always early.M L%a ha, youNre right. Because 1N&e recently been gi&en more $sa no <ongyou to do, 1 really wanted to take on things a little more slowly,

butP tradition.M The word, <ongyou, originally indicated Buddhist religious ser&ices. But, !robably due to the influence of the Shinto3Buddhist amalgamation, e&en !eo!le like Mikihiko, who came from a long line of Shintoists, used the word O<ongyouN. 1n short, L$sa no <ongyouM was early morning religious rites. That the !hrase Lbeen gi&en moreM !ro!erly meant L1 can !artici!ate againM, Tatsuya gras!ed from the crumbs of information he got when talking to both Mikihiko himself and +rika. %is friend was not only steadily regaining his !ower, but increasing his !ower as well. %e was ha!!y for him, but he was also en&ious. 4re&iously, Mari had tossed around a 2oke about him transferring into course one, but Tatsuya thought Mikihiko might really become the first !erson to transfer from course two into course one. LBy the way Tatsuya, 1 ha&e to ask you about something you might think is weird, butPM LSomething weird?M This blunt but muttered in,uiry seemed to be coming from out of left field. %is first res!onse was to tell him to !roceed. $fter all, the two of them were fellow students, but he withheld comment and slowed to kee! in ste! with him. L1 donNt think this is &ery weird, but Tatsuya, is it really true that youNre a candidate for Student )ouncil 4resident?M LPWhat did you say?M There was no way Tatsuya was not listening to what Mikihiko said. Tatsuya res!onded this way because his astonishment was so great. L:o, well, 1Nm asking because there this rumor that OTatsuya is a candidate for Student )ouncil 4residentN going around.M L.umorP?M L1 didnNt do itCM Tatsuya didnNt consider himself es!ecially good at reading !eo!le, but Mikihiko !roclaimed innocence with e&ery e-cited gesture. L(esterday, after school in the !ractice room, Tsuzura3sensei ,uestioned me. O1s it really true that Shiba Tatsuya is a candidate for Student )ouncil 4resident?N is what he said.M

1nstructor Tsuzura's s!ecialty was magic geometry, and he was also well &ersed in magic engineering; currently he was teaching the second years. %is !rinci!al occu!ation was a uni&ersity !rofessor. 1n the academic world, he was known as an e-cellent young researcher. 1t was also !roclaimed that he would soon recei&e the office of associate !rofessor. %owe&er, not only his way of thinking9but also his s!eech and conduct were a little too loose and inde!endent. 8or disci!linary reasons, he was transferred to a high school associated with his uni&ersity. :onethelessP he himself said he wasnNt bothered by it; L1 can do inde!endent research,M the troublesome fellow re2oiced. Maybe because he had that kind of tem!erament, he was one of the teachers who made a s!ecial effort to look after the second course students. %e didnNt e&en limit himself to his assigned year. Tatsuya had also been called o&er for a chat countless times. LThis tall tale is being s!read by themP?M L*h, so it is a tall tale? 1 thought it strange since you said you had no interest in being a candidate the other day.M Tatsuya had a flabbergasted e-!ression as he nodded to the de2ected looking Mikihiko. L1 donNt think 1 could get any &otes if 1 was a candidate, and as 1 said before 1 donNt intend to run. %ow did this rumor get s!read among the teachers?M L5onNt knowPM Mikihiko couldnNt !ossibly know what was going on in the staff room. $s e-!ected, all he could do was tilt his head at him. +&en Tatsuya did not ask in the e-!ectation of an answer; he asked it as a way of grumbling. L1tNs not 2ust the teachers.M %owe&er, contrary to his e-!ectations, testimony that !ointed in an un!leasant direction was e-tracted from a nearby listener. L5uring club acti&ities, 1 heard bits and !ieces of the sen!ais gossi!ing about it. Sur!risingly, e&erybody seemed rece!ti&e to the idea.M $fter 7eo, who sat in front of him, said that, +rika, who was half sitting, half leaning on MizukiNs desk, also sang the same tune.

L*h, now that you mention it, 1 o&erheard somebody talking about it yesterday. 1t was something about a first year who was a member of the 4ublic Moral )ommittee taking !art in the u!coming Student )ouncil election. :ow that 1N&e considered it, thatNs got to be about Tatsuya3kun, right?M .ight? Tatsuya didnNt want to nod his agreement with what she said, but after synthesizing MikihikoNs intelligence re!ort as well as 7eoNs and +rikaNs, no other conclusion could !ossibly be made. LMe, tooPM *h no, not Mizuki as well. Tatsuya wanted take co&er under his desk. L1 ha&e a fleeting memory of something like that being said when 1 was in the )ounseling room, yesterday.M %owe&er, u!on hearing the identity of whom she heard the rumor from, a Lwith !ositi&ity, anything can be dealt withM kind of feeling was born. $ctually, it was the feeling of knowing that he was going to interrogate %aruka. 1 think there remain some ob2ections o&er whether it was really okay to call something like that L!ositi&ityM. 666 The one who would !rotest the most about referring to TatsuyaNs o!erational !lan as L!ositi&ityM would !robably be %aruka. L1tNs still in the middle of first !eriodCM 1n a manner unbecoming of a counselor, %aruka scowled a grimace at Tatsuya, who was &isiting the )ounseling room. $!!arently, the sneaky way he got the :o %ead 5ragon intelligence /C?0 had left her feeling abused. 91f you &iewed it the way Tatsuya did, it was not like there was a contract that !laced restraints on how he could use the bought information. LThe assigned work for first !eriod is com!leted.M :aturally, Tatsuya felt no mental distress at being hated by %aruka. They shared the same secrets with each other, but not ,uite, because the cards Tatsuya held were the stronger of the two.

LPQuite the high achie&er, arenNt you.M L$ low achie&er. 1 barely made it in with all the red marks on my !ractical e-ams.M LPSomehow, when you say that, 1 canNt hear any sarcasm.M 9Between the two of them, they shared what might be called an intimacy that didnNt re,uire !olite niceties. LThatNs because itNs true. Well, more im!ortantly, thereNs something worrying me. 1 would like to consult you about it.M When Tatsuya made this con&ersational gambit, %arukaNs eyes widened and she straightened her !osture automatically. L4lease feel free to consult me about anything.M She was e-tremely conscious of her !rofessional duties, but her ,uick switch made him feel slightly uneasy about his ability to !ass his classes. Well, it was about time she learned that Othe worryN he had brought to the counselor was outside her official s!here. LMy worry, youNd call it, is the Student )ouncil election at the end of the month.M LThey certainly made a mess of recruiting candidates this time. So thatNs it? %as your younger sister been re,uested to run for Student )ouncil 4resident?M L*h yes, 1Nm certainly worried about that. %owe&er, what 1 wanted to consult you about today concerns a different OrumorN.M L.umor?M L(es, the rumor about me becoming a candidate thatNs started floating around the staff room; you wouldnNt ha!!en to know anything about that?M $s Tatsuya broached the sub2ect he stood face to face with %aruka and looked directly into her eyes, for an instant and really for an instant only an Ooh, noN look showed on her face. L(ou talked to Shibata3san about this yesterday. 1 would like the details fully e-!lained to me.M But no matter how short the instant was, any change of e-!ression that occurred under the steady gaze of his eyes would not be missed. There

was no way that Tatsuya could ha&e failed to notice it. L1 thought it is unthinkable, but, could *no3sensei ha&e scattered this rumor that couldnNt ha&e ha!!ened around on her own initiati&e?M %arukaNs facial muscles rela-ed and contracted in a dizzying fashion. +&entually, her e-!ression settled into her normal amiable smile. L(es, indeed that would be OunthinkableN. There is no way 1 would do such an irres!onsible thing.M There was no trace of strain in her li!s. %er facial control skills seemed to ha&e made remarkable !rogress. LP%ow on earth did this tall tale start circulating?M LWhatP so it is a tall tale. Well, thatNs the way it isP Shiba3kunNs not the ty!e to take the center stage; youNre more the '!ull strings behind the curtain' ty!e.M L1 will not deny it.M Their eyes met, and the two of them e-changed e&il grins. 4erha!s this could be the influence of their shared master. :e&ertheless, a degree of commonality wasnNt reason enough to collude with each other. L:ow then, how on earth did this tall tale about me becoming a candidate for Student )ouncil 4resident start circulating?M LSorry, 1 donNt really know a lot about that?M L.eally, the !art you do know is sufficient.M LPM Tatsuya looked e-tremely at ease as he waited for %arukaNs answer. 4laying dumb would gain her nothing, %aruka realized. To begin with there wasnNt any reason to be silent about what she herself heard. LP1Nm not really sure who said what, butP is it alright to act as if it was one of those &erbal message ty!e games? O7ooks like %attori3kun wonNt run.N O7ooks like :aka2ou3san wonNt run.N O1t seems so troublesome to ha&e to search for a !residential candidate.N O%ey, wouldnNt Shiba3san make an amusing one?NPsomehow turned into

O7ooks like Shiba3san will run.N OShiba3kun will run.N O+h, Shiba3kun?N O(eah, the 4ublic Moral )ommitteeNs.N O*h, the one who took !art in the newcomersN tournament?N O%mm, wouldnNt that be interesting?N in no time.M $fter listening to %aruka, Tatsuya was so e-hausted that he felt like he could fall off his chair. LP%ow could the teachers belie&e such a half3baked rumor?M Well, rumors are naturally irres!onsible and half3baked things. %is fellow first years and the u!!erclassmen seem to ha&e fished it out from the water cooler talk, so e&en if Tatsuya wanted to track the rumor !iece by !iece, there is no way to track down the !ieces. But, su!erior !eo!le like Tsuzura9at least theyNre intellectually su!erior 9!eo!le serious enough to become !rofessor, the staff shouldnNt be as easy to fool. Tatsuya wasnNt ,uite ready to throw away the !ossibility that someone might be intentionally mani!ulating the rumor mill. LThere are more serious !eo!le among the students than among the teachers. The details of what ha!!ened in $!ril were ke!t from the students, but since the staff knows the factsPM LPThe Blanche incident?M LThatNs right. There are many teachers who rate Shiba3kun ,uite highly for being central to getting that matter settled.M ?nfortunately, he hadnNt foreseen this. That that matter would stand out so muchP Tatsuya thought he wasnNt self aware enough. LThey donNt know the e-act details because Iuumon2i3kun ke!t a lid on those, but they do know that you dro&e the terrorists off with your own !ower, and that !oint causes them to regard you ,uite highly. Because they want the Student )ouncil 4resident of a magic high school to be e-tremely !owerful, ,uite a lot of the teachers think it would be amusing to ha&e a first year !resident if he !ossessed that kind of su!reme !ower.M PThis is getting to be really bad, Tatsuya thought. With %arukaOs words ringing through his head, Tatsuya considered how to handle the matter.

9Before e-iting the counseling room, he made certain that he had not made any in,uiries into the methods she used to ac,uire information. 666 %owe&er, there were a limited number of methods that could be used to s,uash a baseless rumor. 8urthermore none of them were a&ailable to him. Therefore he had to destroy the base that the rumors were s!ringing from; you could call the results of meeting with %aruka ,uite effecti&e. Thinking like that might comfort himself, but the weight of his burdens had not lessened. $ class of =A !eo!le was not a lot of !eo!le. (ou could gras! who was doing what with one glance. 1n addition to him, there were only four !eo!le not chit3chatting before instruction started, so twenty !eo!le were. %e didnNt like it, but he could tell that not one of those twenty wasnNt whis!ering the gossi! about him. The fragmentary con&ersations he could o&erhear all used words like O2ust like 1 thoughtN, O4residentN and O+lectionN. 1t was well beyond being merely uncomfortable. LTatsuya, !lease. May 1 ha&e a moment of your time?M Mayumi made her .oyal +ntrance /though that is a rather grand descri!tion to a!!ly to an u!!erclassman, these days0 into the first yearNs classroom, sto!!ed directly in front of the desk he was sitting at, and with what could only be called cuteness/C0, clas!ed both hands together and blurted out those words. Behind her back, Suzune looked at the scene with a disgusted look on her face. Tatsuya made a fleeting glance at the digital clock running at the corner of his dis!lay. 8i&e minutes remained of the break between first and second !eriod. 1f they were thinking of returning to the third year classroom, that left only a minute to talk. L1f we say itNs for official Student )ouncil business, none of us recei&e red marks.M

Mayumi, with her clas!ed hands, answered the uns!oken ,uestion she read in TatsuyaNs eyes. Still, the location of those hands was subtly lower. 1t was a bad omen; she might change her hands into full on !rayer mode and imitate a L irgin MaryM statue. Both hands together, tearful eyes; if any one could !ull off a stunt like that, it was Mayumi. Second !eriod followed first !eriod and classroom instruction took !lace &ia com!uter terminal. $bout twenty to thirty minutes !assed by without more trouble landing on Tatsuya. Tatsuya stood u! from his seat and, under the gazes of his friends, lightly bowed towards Mayumi. $s if he were e-changing !laces with Mayumi, he stood in front of his desk and held out his own 15 card so the Student )ouncil !ermit could be entered. 666 %e was escorted to the Student )ouncil room. Tatsuya understood why they came and got him now when they knew he was !robably going to s!end his lunch hour there with them. LSorry for interru!ting your class, but we only ha&e one more day.M ?!on being offered an a!ology by Suzune, Tatsuya shook his head and said L:o, 1 donNt mind.M LThank you, 1 am relie&ed that you say so.M 4hew. Taking an e-aggerated breath, Mayumi broached the main to!ic. LTo be frank, this concerns the u!coming electionPM 1t met his e-!ectations, e-actly. Tatsuya had already decided on his re!ly. L1 think itNs too soon for Miyuki.M LMiyuki3sanP %ow did you know?M To wide3eyed Mayumi who was ob&iously thinking L1t canNt be, a mind reading techni,ueL, Tatsuya ga&e a reluctant smile and e-!lained the

trick. L(ou didnNt wait for the noon break and deliberately came for me during class; therefore, you !robably wanted to consult me at a time when Miyuki wouldnNt be there. $lso, when you consider the time constraints, 1 understood that we would be discussing making Miyuki a candidate for Student )ouncil 4resident.M Tatsuya wasnNt making these comments to make a show of his deducti&e skills. Mayumi alone he could !robably handle; with Suzune acting as her tag team !artner, howe&er, he was afraid that they could !ersuade him if he didnNt disru!t their strategy at the outset. %is !reem!ti&e strike had hit his target, 2ust now. Before his o!!onents9es!ecially Suzune9could regrou!, Tatsuya had to seize the u!!er hand to make &ictory ine&itable. LThere is nothing official that bars a first year from becoming Student )ouncil 4resident, right. %owe&er, it is too soon for Miyuki. She is not yet able to act as head of this organization.M LPWhen she was in middle school, she didnNt undertake a similar duty to Student )ouncil 4resident?M L1 sto!!ed her.M SuzuneNs ,uestion recei&ed an immediate negati&e re!ly. LWhen 1 look at her, all 1 see is le&el headednessPM LMiyuki is still a child. 1 might be o&er !rotecti&e, but she still canNt com!letely control herself. $t least, wait until she can kee! her magic from running wild.M 1n answer to MayumiNs in,uiry, words of rebuttal seemed to fall to the floor. Mayumi and Suzune both had faces that looked full of words they wished to s!eak9mainly, about being Lo&er !rotecti&eM. There is no Lmight beM about it9it is a LfactM that you are9howe&er, a tendency to let magic to run wild could not be o&erlooked in a Student )ouncil 4resident. They could not refute that !oint. L9But, weNre stum!ed. Tomorrow, the !ublic announcement of the election will be made, but we donNt ha&e any candidates.M

L1 thought the deadline to announce candidates was one week.M To TatsuyaNs im!lied O5onNt we ha&e a week to find a candidate?N, Mayumi shook her head with a dark look on her face. L:arrowing down the choices for the ne-t student body !resident is the Student )ouncilNs duty. *therwise, we get o&erwhelmed by a flood of candidates.M LP1snNt ha&ing a lot of different candidates running for office considered more res!ectable?M L+&en com!ared to an eru!tion of fights with magic? With e&eryone battling it out to see who will become Student )ouncil 4resident?M )ertainly, if that ha!!ened, the turmoil would be e&en greater than that of the new student in&itation week. LPWouldnNt whate&er ha!!enedPin&ol&e only the students who wanted to become Student )ouncil 4resident?M %owe&er, if it was 2ust o&er who would become Student )ouncil 4resident, they could guard against the u!roar. LTatsuya3kun, you are being naW&e.M Mayumi crushed TatsuyaNs theory in one blow. LThe Student )ouncil of this school has tremendous !ri&ileges, and e&en after graduation are a!!raised as being elite. $ctually, four years ago, the Student )ouncil at the time ad&ocated a L5emocratic 8ree +lectionM. *n that occasion, the number of seriously wounded !eo!le went into the double digits. The L5emocratic 8ree +lectionM signs were taken down, and the Student )ouncil 4resident strongly recommended the &ice !resident become the ne-t !resident to get the situation finally under control, according to our records.M TatsuyaNs doubts were &an,uished by SuzuneNs astonishingly &iolent tale. LP1s this a school or a third world country?M $ groan leaked out of Tatsuya. L$ great talent for magic can destroy the bonds of self3restraint. %igh school students arenNt adults after all.M Mayumi was once again before his eyes, entreating him with her hands.

L)anNt you see? Tatsuya3kun might only be able to see her as a mere child, but Miyuki3san would surely be fine. $s they say, the !erson rises to the !osition.M 1t has come to this, Tatsuya thought. 1 can still make a show of stringently clinging to the im!ression that 1 belie&e a first year shouldnNt become Student )ouncil 4resident. So then9 L%ow about we !ut Miyuki aside for the moment, and think about the matter of :aka2ou3sen!aiNs refusal of candidacy? Both in terms of !ro!er order and actual ability, isnNt :aka2ou3sen!ai the most suitable !erson to become the ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident?M $s Tatsuya made his !oint, MayumiNs face turned grim and she sunk into silence. LPThat is certainly true, butPM Suzune, too, had no words to refute that argument. (es, this was so ob&ious to all of them that no one had to say anything. 1f $zusa hadnNt so selfishly backed out, Tatsuya wouldnNt ha&e to debate this issue; that was so clear that no e-!lanation was needed. :onetheless, TatsuyaNs ne-t comment was une-!ected by both Mayumi and Suzune. L91f you like, 1 can go and try to !ersuade :aka2ou3sen!ai?M L+h?P Tatsuya3kun will try to !ersuade $3chan for us?M L(es.M 8or Mayumi, this was all so une-!ected that she was unsure what face to make for a while, but as the meaning of TatsuyaNs word slowly started to sink in, she unconsciously seized his hand in a tight gri!. L(ouNll really do it? (ou couldnNt !ossibly failC (ou absolutely must do itC *f course, 1 can rely on you, Tatsuya3kunCM TatsuyaNs seized hand seemed as if it was about to buzz, so enthusiastically did Mayumi shake it u! and down. <lancing at each other's faces, Suzune and Tatsuya flashed wry smiles.

666 $t lunchtime that day, !erha!s because she had an instinct as keen as a small animal for sensing danger, $zusa did not come to the Student )ouncil room. $t this rate, she might find a way to a&oid me after school as well for some reason, thought Tatsuya, so 2ust after the end of fifth !eriod, he marched into $zusaNs classroom. /Magic %igh school finished at J !m in the afternoon; fifth !eriod finished at = !m in the afternoon.0 %e s!ied on the state of affairs inside the classroom from the doorway. $zusa was hurriedly making !re!arations to lea&e. She was !robably trying to engineer an esca!e before she was caught, but she was tri!!ed u! by the fact that a student as serious as herself would ne&er lea&e her terminal before instruction was o&er. ?nlike Tatsuya, who wasnNt !igeonholed by rules9he !robably wouldnNt hesitate to soil his hands with a serious crime9dragging his sister along, he ste!!ed into the classroom of )lass $ second year. %e recei&ed some Owho does this guy think he isN stares, !rimarily directed to him from the male students, but as e-!ected, there was no one with the ty!e of childish mentality that insisted on attacking an underclassman for daring to enter their domain. 9The gazes of the female students were different; they e&aluated him the same way they e&aluated designer goods. The !ressure of their gazes was strong, but none of them looked like they were going to bother to confront him, it seemed. Tatsuya shamelessly ignored both forms of stares and went directly to $zusaNs seat. $zusa was aware of his a!!roach midway. %owe&er, the inter&al she s!ent !ondering Ohow can 1 flee without looking strangeN meant that he was able to arri&e before her eyes. With a hesitant but forced smile, $zusa stood u!. She had fiercely gras!ed her schoolbag, but her legs wouldnNt mo&e. There was a J# cm difference height wise between Tatsuya and $zusa. :ormally, this was not an intimidating ad&antage in confrontations; sitting or standing, this didnNt seem like much of a difference, but somehow he managed to take a !osition where he a!!eared to be looking down at her.

$n o&erly bright smile floating across his face, TatsuyaNs eyes bore into $zusaNs eyes and wouldnNt let them esca!e. L:aka2ou3sen!ai.M There was nothing outstanding about any of the features of TatsuyaNs face and body, nor did he !ossess the ty!e of beautiful &oice that !eo!le lo&ed to listen to, but !erha!s thanks to the effect combat training had on his throat and lungs, his &oice had a dee! !enetrating ,uality when he s!oke. $ young girl might find that his &oice radiated a OsomberN or OmatureN feeling. L1 would like to talk to you for a moment.M So a timid, young girl might find his &oice radiating an o&erwhelming !ressure. LWell, 1, today is a littlePM L1t wonNt take all that much time.M With that he cut off all esca!e routes to $zusa, who was still trying to find a way to flee. By strengthening his tone slightly, Tatsuya had added weight to his words. .ightly or wrongly, $zusaNs eyes were held with inconcei&able force. *n the other hand, if any of $zusaNs classmates looked at the two of them /es!ecially the girl students0, all they would see was two !eo!le staring into each otherNs eyes while whis!ering. The fragmentary con&ersations that could be o&erheard, remarks like Lsur!risingly forcefulM, Lso fierceM, and Lthat might be niceM were !aired with glances that hit with regularity. $s the gazes directed at her brother consciously or unconsciously took on an air of flirtation, MiyukiNs mood swiftly !lummeted. $nd so from behind TatsuyaNs back9in short from Miyuki9the Laura of an angry womanM radiated and added to the incredible !ressure felt by $zusa. L8i&e minutes would be enough.M LPWell, if it is really only fi&e minutes.M $zusa trailing behind Tatsuya was the result of what could be called gi&ing into !ressure tactics as o!!osed to being caught by a trite sales !itch.

%er hands were bound by neither handcuffs nor ro!e, but somehow, no matter how you looked at it, she was the &ery image of a L!er!etrator being escorted by the !oliceM. 666 LTo be brief.M Taking a corner seat in a cafU, Tatsuya sat down and began to talk. L:aka2ou3sen!ai. 4lease be a candidate for Student )ouncil 4resident.M LIust like 1 thought, this sub2ectP did the Student )ouncil 4resident ask you to !ersuade me?M L(es.M *riginally it was not Lthe !ersuasion of $zusaM but rather Lthe !ersuasion of MiyukiM who was standing behind him that was re,uested, but Tatsuya was not breathing a word about that. LP1t's im!ossible for me to do it. Such an im!ortant 2ob, 1 could ne&er fulfill the duties of Student )ouncil !resident.M $zusaNs attitude was more obstinate than !redicted. $nd 2ust now, she looked as if she would burst into tears. 1f he dro&e her into a corner, she really might break down crying. :o, there was no LmightM, the !ossibility was high. %owe&er, if he was going to gi&e u! 2ust like that, he would ne&er ha&e undertaken !ersuading her in the first !lace. L%attori3sen!ai will become the )lub Management <rou! 7eader ne-t season, so he canNt be a candidate in the Student )ouncil 4resident election. 1f :aka2ou3sen!ai doesnNt become a candidate, the election will not be under the control of the Student )ouncil.M LWouldnNt that be all right? There are a lot of !eo!le more suited to be Student )ouncil 4resident than me.M $s he recei&ed $zusaNs aggressi&e answer, Tatsuya made a dee! sigh. LPM LPM

The silence didnNt last ten seconds before $zusa begun to show signs of discomfort by fidgeting. She cast a fleeting glance at Tatsuya, who showed no res!onse. :e-t she cast a fleeting glance in MiyukiNs direction. Miyuki wore the hard to read $rchaic Smile on her face and watched $zusa intently. The smile ga&e off the illusion that you were being tra!!ed by it. $zusa &iolently a&erted her face. Towards Tatsuya. $nd so, their gazes aligned !erfectly. $zusa stiffened with a look of LeekM written u!on her face. Tatsuya sighed once again. LWould it really be all right? 9+&en if the tragedy of four years ago was re!eated?M Tragedy somehow seems so melodramatic, thought Miyuki who was listening nearby; Tatsuya himself felt the word was melodramatic. :onetheless, if you looked at $zusa, you could see her initially shocked face grow !aler. L$t that time, there were o&er ten seriously in2ured !eo!le. 1 think that :aka2ou3sen!ai is more familiar with the recorded details than 1 am.M 4itifully, $zusaNs li!s almost im!erce!tibly trembled with unrest. %owe&er, Tatsuya, LWe should also ha&e !ictorial records of that time? Serious wounds caused by magicP..1f !ossible 1Nd rather not look at something like that.M $nd so he struck a final blow. The Student )ouncil secretaryNs main duty was to manage the Student )ouncilNs records. There would be a lot of records for an incident of such !ro!ortions, and in order to !ro!erly manage those records she would not only ha&e to touch them but e-amine them too. $s !redicted, not only her li!s but her entire body was trembling. L1snNt history su!!osed to re!eat itselfPM LWhPwhat should 1 doPM ?nto $zusa who wore a cornered e-!ression, Miyuki, who had maintained her silence e&er since arri&ing at the cafU, answered with a

gentle smile. L1f :aka2ou3sen!ai becomes a candidate for Student )ouncil 4resident, that state of affairs can be a&oided. 1tNs all right. Sen!ai will surely do well.M $zusaNs &ision wobbled &iolently. The brother threatens, and the sister offers a hel!ing hand. Truly s!lendid teamwork. L*h, that reminds mePM The seriousness he had maintained until then dissol&ed9or a!!eared to anyway. 1ndeed, his face said L1 2ust rememberedM and Tatsuya brought out the ne-t LcarrotM. L1 ha!!ened to ha&e come into !ossession of the 87T flying de&ice and monitor that go on sale ne-t weekPM ?!on hearing those words, $zusaNs eyes shined with s!arkles. %er !ale face took on a healthy glow and she leaned forward across the table. LPBy that, could you !ossibly mean the Sil&er Model flying magic s!ecialized )$5? They only announced the disco&ery of flying magic in Iuly. To !ut in !ractice effecti&ely, it would take the absolutely newest Sil&er ModelC?M $s Tatsuya nodded, $zusa looked at him as if she wanted to eat him. %er eyes stated L1 want it, 1 want it, 1 want it, 1 want it, 1 want it, 1 want itPM LWell the monitor is a stock item, but they are not for sale goods that ha&e been marred by a serial number.M $zusaNs throat mo&ed as she gul!ed. %er eyes were hazy as if she had a fe&er. L:e&ertheless, !erformance3wise theyNre no different than the for sale model. 1 thought they would make a fine gift to celebrate your instatement as Student )ouncil 4resident.M L.eallyC?M $zusa raised her &oice and made a gleeful cry.

%er chair fell o&er with a loud sound, but $zusa !aid absolutely no attention to the stares she was recei&ing. 1t was more like there was no s!ace in her mind that could !ay attention.

L(es, :aka2ou3sen!ai has looked after Miyuki so much. 1f you are inaugurated as the new Student )ouncil 4resident, 1 was thinking of gi&ing them to you as a gift to honor the occasionPM L1Nll do itC 1 wonNt lose to anyoneC 1Nll absolutely win the !residential electionCM <laring at the illusion of an unseen o!!onent, $zusa made !owerful declarations. 1n the first !lace, due to the lack of candidates, she herself had been sub2ected to a round of OcarrotN and OstickN !ersuasion. 1n this kind of situation, a &ote of confidence was not needed and the fact that she had !re&iously refused the 2ob, all had been totally e2ected from $zusaNs consciousness. 1n front of $zusa who was tra!!ed in a maniac state, Tatsuya and Miyuki stealthily nodded to each other.

Cha*ter 3
1t is already the final week of Se!tember. The days when the lingering summer heat was intense were many but the days when a remarkably autumn3like wind could be felt were increasing. L$s 1 was saying, shouldnNt the ambiance of the school be more enthusiastic? What do you think?M L$bout what?M Tatsuya glanced back at Mayumi who tilted her head in in,uiry with a slight narrowing of his eyes. LThe !residential election.M 8inally, the Student Body <eneral Meeting would be held tomorrow, and with it, the Student )ouncil 4residential +lection. 8or Mayumi, today was the last day she would !ass in this room as Student )ouncil 4resident; in s!ite of this, she did not a!!ear to feel

sentimental about it. +&en so, the com!etition for the office of ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident did not a!!ear to include either a fiery debate or a !o!ularity contest. LPWell, itNs a high school Student )ouncil 4residential election, isnNt it? 1t might not be something to get fired u! aboutPM %e didn't bother to look back; at most, it was an honorary !osition that added !oints to someoneNs student record. 1t wasn't something to get e-cited about, right? $side from what he said, he knew there were other reasons not to get e-cited about it. $ &ote of confidence for the one and only candidate did not seem all that e-citing. 8urthermore, the !ossibility of not getting a!!ro&ed was zero. The reason for all this wasnNt because the office of Student )ouncil 4resident didnNt ha&e enough glamour to turn someoneNs eyes green with en&y. 1f you looked at it from the !ers!ecti&e of the general !ublic, the !resident of a magic high schoolNs Student )ouncil was no more than the head of a high school organization. The !ower and influence the office bestowed was close to nothing; it was merely honorary. *n that !oint, it wasnNt much different from being !art of the Student )ouncil of a science high school or an arts high school. %owe&er, the le&el of O%onorN differed. 1tNs only natural; if you think about it a little, youNll understand. 1t is because magic high schools9a high school associated with a national magic uni&ersity9number only nine in the entire country. The number of national high schools is not limited to nine schools, but the high schools where you can recei&e higher education in magic number only nine. +&en if the number was increased, there would be no way to secure the !ro!er number of teachers. +ach year, only nine !eo!le e-!erience what itNs like to be the magician

res!ected as the one who holds the office of Student )ouncil 4resident of a magic high school. That title, limited to those on the !ath to becoming an elite magician9it is no e-aggeration to call, being gi&en such a title, a life changing e&ent. While unofficial, it can be called an honor com!arable to recei&ing a third class medal. *f course, to be one of the !eo!le who stand at the !innacle in the world of magicians, you must be rated first or second class; there are no e-ce!tions. But, at the high school le&el, to be able to !rocure this life honor, it is !ro!er and a!!ro!riate to say it can turn oneNs eyes green with en&y9yes, ,uite a!!ro!riate. The fact is, there werenNt only a few students that might !ossibly desire the office of Student )ouncil 4resident, but rather ,uite a lot. So, why was there only one single candidate? That was, naturally, the !ower of human agencies being !ut in motion. Tatsuya 2ust now, /with a glance0 rested his eyes on the current Student )ouncil 4resident whose guiltless face was tilting u! at him in in,uiry. What the heck kind of face would she make if some kind of o!!osition went around O!ro!agandizingN that the election should not take !lace? 4robably, making this kind of enticing smile. +nough of that; the imagination clearly !roduces some scary scenarios. L%mm, unfortunately, this time there is only $3chanP but in general, before the &ote of confidence, a O&ote for meN s!eech is made to the audience. 5o you think that will be enough to fire e&eryone u!, tomorrow?M With only one candidate, calling it a O&ote for meN s!eech wasnNt ,uite correct, but Tatsuya wasnNt in the habit of making digs like that. %is gaze drifted to a corner of the room. 1t was well into the noon hour. $zusaNs earnest face was !eering at a document and a soft &oice was making mumbling sounds. She wasnNt using a handheld terminal dis!lay; she was making a !oint to read from actual !a!er documents. She certainly looked like she had the !ro!er fighting s!irit of a candidate.

By the way, the LrewardM of the flying de&ice had already been gi&en when she acce!ted her nomination. $ girl like her wasnNt drawn by the !romise of rewards; rewards gi&en in ad&ance !ut her under more !ressure, as a result of lingering tension. $nd so, as he intended, $zusa had become a !risoner of a strange sense of obligation. +&en though she didnNt ha&e an o!!osing candidate, she was whi!!ing herself with L1N&e got to win, 1N&e got to winM. 4robably, e&en after the s!eech was o&er, this tension would kee! her will firm. There wasnNt anything to worry about on this side of things. L:o matter what you think, the main !roblem is the Student Body <eneral Meeting, right?M There was no way she could hear his thoughts, but Suzune had gi&en &oice to the &ery issue he had been on the &erge of considering. Suzune had been gazing at her deskto! terminal dis!lay for some time now /it seemed like she was ski!!ing lunch today0. %er eyes were going u! and down, !robably scrolling o&er a te-t while reading, !ossibly reading it o&er and o&er, checking e&erything. LThe s!ecial meeting in the s!ring cut down a degree of grandstanding. We donNt want another mess like that, right now.M Mari !ointed that out as she closed her bento bo-. L1 certainly ha&e no intention of causing a mess like that.M Mayumi answered as she, too, cleaned u!. L1 am a bit worried by the !ossibility of &iolence breaking out, but thatNs !robably an irrational worry.M $s e&eryone !re!ared their tea, Miyuki said that with a smiling face and an air of making a 2oke. $t this time, L$ sur!rise attack? Well, the students at our school should know better than to attack a girl like her.M Mari entered into the !ause. L*h my, how rude. Taking on a girl, donNt you think thatNs 2ust awful.M $ smile that said clearly 'that was a 2oke' was !ainted on MayumiNs face and could be seen by Tatsuya when she threw out her remark. There

were no o!!onents who would dare challenge her in a battle of magic, at least no one !owerful enough to do so would make a cowardly sneak attack. Mayumi held this con&iction, firmly. L1 seeP 1 donNt think taking !recautions would be e-cessi&e.M %owe&er, TatsuyaNs re!ly went in a slightly strange direction she was not e-!ecting. L?h?M LBecause the !resident is a girl, moreo&er a beautiful girl.M L.e3.eally?M Mayumi rebuffed the remark wearing the com!osure of an older !erson, but it could not be said she did &ery smoothly, as her eyes showed e-citement. *n the other hand, Miyuki had a !etulant face that said why did my brother blurt out something like that, and a!!eared to be e-amining him closely for other signs of infidelity. LWhat do you mean? Why did you say something like that so suddenly?M Miyuki wasnNt the only one who sus!ected him of infidelity. The one who tackled her sus!icions head on was Mari. LSuddenly? $ !ortion of the students are trying to rally a!!ro&al to demolish the !residentNs !lan. 1 thought we were discussing threats that could disturb the status ,uo?M L$ rumor of something like that has reached my ears as wellPM Mari re!lied in a way that seemed somewhat confused. 8rom Tatsuya's !ers!ecti&e, the o!!osition grou! was skillfully maneu&ering. %e 2udged the intelligence re!orts with a greater degree of accuracy than Mari, because indi&idual committee members did not normally do intelligence gathering. L8or the o!!osition grou!, the only days left to strike are today and tomorrow. 4residentP it would be better if you ne&er let yourself be alone today.M L%a3ha, Tatsuya3kun. $renNt you being a little melodramatic?M Mayumi took TatsuyaNs outburst as a 2oke and dismissed it with a laugh.

But that did not go o&er well. L%a&e you gotten hold of some intelP?M With a knitted forehead Mari ,uestioned Tatsuya who wasnNt acting like he was 2oking with Mayumi. L?nfortunately, no. 1f 1 had gotten a hold of something 1 would feel more secure.M L(ouNre not thinking about it too much, are you?M L%a3ha, maybe 1 am?M When Suzune !ointed out it could be 2ust ner&es, Tatsuya lightly laughed in agreement. :onetheless, that was merely a !retense, that was clear to anyone with eyes. 666 LTatsuya3kun.M *nly a little time remained of the noon break. Mari, who had 2ust left the Student )ouncil room and was in a nearby corridor, called out in order to sto! Tatsuya, who was on his way back to his classroom. Tatsuya and Miyuki simultaneously turned around; for some reason Mari wore a slightly bitter smile. The general !ublic might think of them as Oclose siblingsN, but that was because they were not always ignoring these little actions. L5o you need something?M Tatsuya nodded to Mari to continue, in order to ,uickly dis!ose of the matter. LThereNs a matter 1 wish to ha&e a short discussion with you about. )ould you come to head,uarters?M When she said Ohead,uartersN, he didnNt ha&e to ask of what; she meant the 4ublic Moral )ommittee head,uarters. L.ight now?M L1t wonNt take much time. *h, yes. 1f !ossible, could Shiba also be

!resent?M Tatsuya and Miyuki's faces, struck by sur!rise, looked at each other. This was the first time in their memory that Mari had said to Miyuki anything like Oneed you to do somethingN or Osomething to discussN. LMiyuki, are you okay time wise?M L(es. Since fourth !eriod is free, thereNs no !roblem if 1Nm a little late.M 8ree was an abbre&iation for Ofree sub2ectN. Science, language, and the like or magic other than actual !ractice could be studied by terminals for indi&idual study. 1t was about the same as self study, so being a little late was certainly no !roblem. L1s it alright with *nii3sama?M Tatsuya on the other hand, had a small test on !ractical skill that was called Oability measurementN. 1n the first course, an instructor used an instrument to !rocess measurement /naturally, ad&ice was also gi&en0, but in the second course, students indi&idually, at their own con&enience, used an instrument to !rocess measurement; as long as it was sometime during the !eriod he made the re,uisite score, it would be counted as a !assing grade. L91tNs okay.M %e nodded to Miyuki and directed an agreement to Mari; Mari said OsorryN, out!aced the two of them and ad&anced on foot to the stairs. $s they went to their committeeNs head,uarters, they did not use the shortcut that !assed by the Student )ouncil room. )om!ared to half a year before, she was like a different !erson; it certainly seemed like a different room after all the cleaning and organizing heNd done. By the recei&er set that wasnNt there half a year before, Mari and the siblings sat down facing across from each other. /By the way, the recei&er set, as he had found out through cross3 e-amination, had been mo&ed to a storehouse because the room had been filled with so much stuff. 1t had been returned to its original s!ot so that they could monitor information fre,uencies.0 L9*kay, now, since itNs you two siblings, !erha!s you ha&e some idea of what this is about.M

$t the em!hasis made by Mari with her !reface, Tatsuya thought L%uh?M $ subtle tension was radiating from her. ?nthinkable; MiyukiNs here so it canNt be that kind of reason. They came face to face in the Student )ouncil room regularly. (ou couldnNt call the o!!ortunities for them to ha&e words nil; there was no reason for an u!!erclassman like Mari to feel tense at this !oint in their relationshi!. LPWhat 1 want to discuss, itNs Mayumi. The truth is, 1, too, am gri!!ed by an-iety from what Tatsuya !ointed out earlier.M LThe matter of those who o!!ose the !lan to abolish the rule about Student )ouncil members ha&ing to be chosen from )ourse *ne students?M Mari didnNt notice due to her tension, but Tatsuya indicated his understanding. LThatNs rightP 1, too, think that there are too many !eo!le in the o!!osition !arty. $t the s!ring assembly, 1 did not feel that kind of mood from the !eo!le o!!osed when the announcement was made, but 1 belie&e 1 can remember that the !eo!le who made emotionally o!!osing outbursts wereP more than a few. Since youNre both first years, you may not think about this kind of thing, but you canNt conduct a sabotage o!eration !eacefully. $fter all, wonNt somebody who runs around using &iolence always !o! out? That is what is called sufficient warning.M LMost likely.M The one who thought that was Tatsuya, who was without hesitation or hatred and swiftly directed towards the gloomy faced Mari. LMayumi9!robably because she is an o2ou3sama, is unfamiliar with this kind of OmaliceN. That girl !robably cannot understand the feeling that is said to make a cornered animal attack.M %mmm, Tatsuya agreed that it was a suicidal weakness. Mari didnNt a!!ear to be the bashful ty!e. Seen from the sidelines, it was abundantly clear that these twoNs !layful badgering was !roof of how well they got along; from TatsuyaNs !ers!ecti&e, Mari worrying about Mayumi was Outterly naturalN. %owe&er, Mari did not seem to think so.

LWhat you said 2ust thenP Mayumi seems to ha&e not taken it too seriously. Because Mayumi has the s!ecial skill OMulti Sco!eN, that girl can guard her !erimeter and nobody can take her by sur!rise, but since that ability is not a !assi&e acti&ation !erce!tion ability, when she doesnNt feel the need for &igilance, itNs like a toy tra!!ed in its !ackaging.M LP%mm.M Well, isnNt it about time Mari tells us what she wants us to do, Tatsuya thought. L+h9 then, Psorry. 1'm chattering without getting to the !ointPM <ood, Tatsuya didnNt ha&e to say it aloud; Mari was returning to the main issue on her own. L$nd so. 1 want you two toP if you could, lea&e school with Mayumi today for me?M L9(ou mean see the !resident home?M L(ou donNt ha&e to go as far as her home9no, 1Nd be grateful if you would go that far. 1 think 1 donNt ha&e to worry about her inside school grounds. 1n the classrooms, sheNs surrounded by a crowd of grou!ies; in the Student )ouncil room, thereNs 1chihara and %attori. The time 1Nm most worried about is when she lea&es school. She wonNt, for whate&er the reason, let her grou!ies a!!roach her outside of school.M L1snNt that because she is a direct descendant of the Ten Master )lans?M Mari made a face that said Ountil now, 1N&e ne&er considered thatN when Tatsuya made his absent3minded assertion. LP1tNs like that?M L+h? 1Nm not a member of the Ten Master )lans; that was but a sim!le guess.M L(ou might be right on the markP $nyway, Mayumi generally lea&es school alone. +&en if someone made it look accidental, it would be easier than within school. 1f it wasnNt this !oint in time, 1Nd be talking to %attori, but after heNs done with the Student )ouncil, it seems that he goes o&er to the )lub Management <rou!Ns area to make &arious !re!arationsP ?nder the circumstances, Tatsuya3kun, 1Nd like to rely on you. Since you !ossess the strongest anti3magic O<ram 5emolitionN, no

matter what sneak attack they contri&e, it will be okay, right?M Tatsuya was gri!!ed by a single doubt; howe&er, he couldn't s!eak the words. Because, faster than he could o!en his mouth, Miyuki answered MariNs ,uestion. L4lease lea&e it to us. 1f itNs my brother, there will be no sli!3u!s.M MariNs last utterance had not been a ,uestion as a formality, howe&er. 1n actuality, it was a !ro&ocation, or !erha!s an incitement. The words oddly stirred u! Miyuki9they were for the !ur!ose of inciting her to burst into the !ause and kee! mean3s!irited TatsuyaNs ,uestions like OWhy should 1, myself, ha&e to accom!any her away from school?N from being s!oken. 1nstead, Tatsuya was looking at Mari who had a smirking e&il grin. LWh3What? 1s there something you want to say?M L:o, not !articularly.M L%ow mean s!irited. 1f that girl got in2ured now, &arious things would worsen. 1n s!ite of understanding how !recarious things areP itNs not as if 1Nm !articularly worried about that girl.M $s he watched Mari make e-cuses with all her might, Tatsuya thought Oso is this what is called a tsundere@?N 9 he wasnNt ,uite certain.
*(omeone "ho acts cold to people they like

666 L9Thanks for your hard work. With this, all the !re!arations for tomorrow should be com!lete?M 1n res!onse to MayumiNs closing !leasantries, L(es, the documents are all in order.M By $zusa. LThe !resident has also com!leted her check.M %attori affirmed in a calm tone. %owe&er %attori did not sim!ly make an answer to the ,uestion; his words were a!ologetic and contrite as he continued.

LP4resident, this is actually !ainful for you?M L(es, %anzou3kun, thank you for your work. 1Nm already finished here, so donNt worry.M $fter this, he had the formal in&estiture o&er at the )lub Management <rou!. That was something Mayumi understood as well. L+-cuse me, 4residentPM L1 said itNs okay. 1f $3chan is ready too, !lease lea&e.M With great !ain, %attori regretfully gathered his things hurriedly, made a ra!id L!ardon meM as a goodbye to $zusa, !ut the Student )ouncil behind him and went towards the !re!aration building. L1tNs time for you to lea&e too, Miyuki.M 1n a similar tone, Mayumi directed her comment at Miyuki, who for some reason hadnNt e&en got u! from her seat, although both second years had gone home /to be correct, $zusa was the only one who had gone home0. L1f it is alright, 1 wish to wait here for a little longer.M %owe&er, what was sent back as an answer was rather unusual from Miyuki. LTatsuya3kun?M L(eah. Seems like heNs somewhere a !hone signal canNt reach, since 1 canNt contact him.M LSomewhere a !hone signal canNt reachPM L)ouldnNt it be the basement archi&es?M Suzune whis!ered into the ear of Mayumi, who had tilted her head ,uestioningly /although 1 called it that, the &olume was such that it reached all the way o&er to Miyuki0. Mayumi assented with an Luh, huhM look. LThat !ri&acy barrierP is sometimes thick, since you certainly canNt contact himP alright.M L1Nm going to tidy u! a bit more and then lea&e. *h, .in3chan, go home already. (ou ha&e an errand you canNt get out of today, right?M LP(eah. 1Nm sorry, 4resident.M

L1tNs okay. 1Nll let you off today, so work hard tomorrow.M Mayumi has no inkling, huh; there was no trace of doubt in her re!ly. She e&en let loose a light laugh. Suzune bowed without a word. The Student )ouncil room was down to the two of them; Mayumi and Miyuki turned to their desks in silence. $fter a short !eriod, at what Mayumi felt was 2ust about the right length, the authorized !erson /in short, !eo!le whose student 15s were registered with the roomNs &erification system0 arri&al notice bee! rang. Miyuki arose and aimed her eye at the door. LSorry 1 made you wait.M MiyukiNs antici!ation was not in &ain; Tatsuya entered the room. L:o, you ha&enNt done anything like that.M $s she watched Miyuki 2oyfully headed towards him with small, ,uick ste!s, Mayumi let loose a slightly sur!rised laugh. L1Nm used to it already butP you two are really close.M L*h, 4resident. (ouNre by yourself?" L$bandoned shi!P but thatNs okay. (es, the only ones left today are Miyuki and 1.M Since he was also used to Mayumi, her im!udence didnNt throw TatsuyaNs !ace off. 1t was her usual light3hearted re!artee. LShall we hel! you?M L%ow unusual.M %owe&er, her ne-t words seemed to show actual genuine sur!rise. L1 wonder if snow might fall@, too.M
*)(no" might fall) * +n this region at this season! this is the near e&uivalent of saying pigs might fly.

L1tNs im!ossible for me, butP my sister would ha&e no difficulty. Miyuki, the !resident a!!ears to desire snow.M L$cknowledged. Well then, how much shall 1 make, *nii3sama?M L7etNs seeP if you !ile it u! to "# centimeters, shouldnNt that be enough?M LWaitC St3sto!C 1tNs okay if snow doesnNt fallCM

$t first she thought it was a 2oke so she had left it alone, but their e-!ressions were far too serious. S!urred by a worry called LitNs a "#,### to " that theyNll actually do it but, what if they doM, Mayumi frantically halted things. L<ood griefP 5onNt tell 2okes with a straight face.M LWasnNt it only natural that it was a 2oke?M To Tatsuya, who wasnNt offering either a sweet smile or a broad grin as &erification, Mayumi directed a look filled with defenselessness /trust0 with all her might. %owe&er, she saw a com!lete lack of effect and sim!ly shrugged her shoulders to say Loh, wellM. She, too, seemed e-tremely used to TatsuyaNs ways. 9They were on e,ual footing. L7etNs sto! kidding around.M Mayumi watched him with a !enetrating look, but Tatsuya naturally ignored it. L1tNs going to get dark before long, but if thereNs any remaining work, weNll hel! you.M The calendar had already !assed the fall e,uino-. L1tNs going to get dark before longM was no e-aggeration in any way. 8or now /?0 she would take TatsuyaNs altruistic words at face &alue /maybe she LmisunderstoodM him0; MayumiNs face rela-ed. L?mP 1Nd better go home, too. Thank you for your concern.M L*h, is that so?M LThen 4resident, why donNt we go to the station together?M Thinking that Tatsuya would be readily shot down, this time Miyuki made an attem!t. While she was thinking that this was also an unusual occurrence, MayumiNs face s!ontaneously broke out in a smile. LWhy donNt we all work together?M LSince itNs already so late, 1 know it will take some time to get the documents from OundergroundN, so the first thing to do is to go now, so they can finish it for us before they go home.M LP:ow that you mention it, what were you searching for in the

archi&es?M L1 was searching for ancient te-ts related to Othe !hiloso!herNs stone, because the significant te-ts ha&enNt been transcribed into the database.M LP$n e-tremely crack!ot, no, s!ecialized research sub2ect.M L1 think it could be a tool to com!ensate lack of ability.M L1s, is thatP?M Without thinking, he shocked Mayumi with his genuine moti&e. LP?h, how can a magician who can use O<ram 5emolitionN say such a thing? +&en if that was the only magic you could use, youNd still be in high demand by !olice and defense force from here and there.M :e&ertheless her face ra!idly swelled with disa!!ointment. Tatsuya was well aware that Mayumi thought he held a war!ed o!inion of his own magic talents. :one the less, the tenor of his thoughts were slightly different from the common Ofeelings of the reser&esN; Othe reser&e studentsN were only fed u! about the social system !lacing limits on their o!!ortunities because they were reser&es that he well knew. %e had unconsciously forgotten that if he said anything that sounded a little self !itying, Mayumi, who somehow always had the u!!er hand with him, would get angry. %e might not attain high rank as international standards determined magicians rank, but if you considered !ublic /occu!ational0 re,uirements, talented !eo!le like him who held the technical skill to e-cel in a s!ecialized field were in great demand. L%ey, Tatsuya3kun, 1 think you shouldnNt em!hasize yourself that you are a Oreser&e studentN so much. Because you are sim!ly being melodramatic, youNll be remembered for your achie&ementsP 1f you continue in that &ein, youNll be the en&y of both the first course and second course students.M L1 do not intend to em!hasize that !oint.M 8or Tatsuya, when he named himself Oreser&e studentN, he truly did it with neither the intention of satisfying masochistic tendencies, nor to be melodramatic. Iust now, he had been asked /indirectly0 for the reason he was in&estigating this sub2ect and he only answered that ,uestion. M:aturally, he did not lie in order to conceal his true intentions; the real

reason he was in&estigating matters related to Othe !hiloso!herNs stoneN was to com!ensate lack of ability to do certain things regarding his goal to build a O<ra&ity )ontrol3Ty!e Magic Thermonuclear 8usion .eactorN. 1n any case, Tatsuya had no intention of em!hasizing to himself that he was 2ust a Oreser&e studentN. %owe&er, LP:e&er mind, 1Nll try not to.M 1n the end, he answered thus. 1t wasnNt like Tatsuya couldnNt understand that Mayumi was worrying about him. 666 The three of them, Mayumi and the siblings, walked the straight !ath from the school entrance to the station they usually took with +rika, 7eo, and the rest of their friends. Miyuki was a little ner&ous; well, that was understandable. +&en Mayumi might feel she had to be !leasant out of ner&ousness. %er bag was held in both hands in front of her body. The manner in which she walked in silence with her eyes concealing her feelings had a grace that caused one to wonder L8rom which high class family did this o2ou3sama hail from?M M1n actuality, Mayumi was an o2ou3sama. Tatsuya himself didn't ha&e any to!ic he cared to s!onsor for con&ersation. OThe art of small talkN was one he was es!ecially unskilled at. $dditionally, he was now on alert for attacks from the o!!osition grou!. 8or that reason, the three of them hardly made any con&ersation as about X# !ercent of the distance to the station e&a!orated. LP%ey, Tatsuya3kun.M LWhat is it?M Because of those circumstances, when Mayumi une-!ectedly s!oke, Tatsuya was !ractically ready for anything. L1snNt it true that the two of you waited for me so we could lea&e together?M

%owe&er, e&en though he was !re!ared, he was sur!rised by her comment. When Tatsuya did not immediately res!ond with a re!ly, Mayumi continued on as if she had recei&ed a one syllable re!ly. LMari said something, didnNt she? Something like since the o!!osition grou! may attack, walk me to my house.M LP(ou know her well, 4resident.M The one who answered truthfully was not Tatsuya, it was Miyuki. MayumiNs insight had led her to make a guess that shot through the dece!tion right to the truth; at least, Miyuki could &erbally inter&ene so Tatsuya wouldnNt ha&e to e-!lain why /?0 Ohe confessedN. L1tNs okay.M Mayumi smiled slightly as she turned to Miyuki. L1 wonNt tell Mari that 1 wormed the truth out of you two.M Miyuki nodded out of embarrassment u!on ha&ing her intentions being com!letely and readily laid bare. LBut, why did you s!eak of it?M *n the other hand, Tatsuya did not show any s!ecial discomfort on his face, nor did he s!eak with any trace of what could be called defiance; he merely asked with a !uzzled look. LTo get you to understand that you didnNt need to walk me all the way home. *h, donNt misunderstand me. 1Nm not annoyed or anything like that.M Tatsuya mutely bowed his head and signaled her to continue. L5idnNt Mari say something like 1 generally take the !ath to and from school without !recautions? But, 1 donNt lea&e with e&erybody else as a !recaution, so if something ha!!ens, nobody else will get caught u! in it.M LBy thatP you donNt mean only at times like this?M L(es, 1 may be only calling myself this, but because 1 am an Oo2ou3 samaN, 1 am often targeted by !eo!le with monetary or !olitical goals and stuff like that.M She said the word o2ou3sama without any traces of !ride in the tone of

her &oice, only self3de!reciation colored her tone. LBecause the Saegusa family is a noble clan that, since the formation of the ten master clans system, has ne&er fallen from the ranks, not e&en once.M Tatsuya s!oke with OthereNs nothing that can be done about itN im!licit in his words; Mayumi made a !ained smile. LPWell, thatNs how it is. Because 1N&e been trained to ne&er slack off on taking !recautions, 1 am always !re!ared so that 1 can in&oke my magic.M She raised her left hand. The slee&e sli!!ed down to re&eal her )$5; it was not in rest mode, it was in standby mode. LBesides, 1 also ha&e a bodyguard.M L?h, really?M Miyuki franticly looked around, but she could not find a trace of anybody who looked like a bodyguard. LP%eNs waiting at the station.M Mayumi subtly halted the search. L$s you might surmise, it is embarrassing to walk the road to school accom!anied by a bodyguard.M +&en if she did say it herself, it did not change the fact that it was embarrassing. L*h, so thatNs why she said something like O(ou donNt ha&e to see her to her houseNP Since once you got to the station, the bodyguard would be waiting.M ?!on hearing this, TatsuyaNs face showed he finally understood. LThatNs right.M %owe&er, now that that was e-!lained, something new !ricked his curiosity. LBut, why ha&e you e-!lained this to us?M %e knew it was a !ointless ,uestion, but Tatsuya couldnNt dam!en his curiosity. 1f what she 2ust said was true /although it seemed there was no reason to lie0, Mari was also aware of this !ri&ate !ersonal information.

L(e3esP maybe 1 2ust wanted to walk home with Tatsuya3kun and Miyuki3san?M %owe&er, looking on the bashful face of Mayumi as she answered, Tatsuya felt a !remonition of Outter failurePN LMe, too?M Miyuki didnNt feel the same !remonition as her brother, so Mayumi sent a /elder sister0 smile in the direction of her tilted head. L(es. 7ast autumn, 1 became Student )ouncil 4resident; the first half year has been fulfilling in itself, but this !ast half year, for me, has been a really fulfilling !eriod." $nd then she switched her gaze to Tatsuya. L$nd that has surely been thanks to you two.M LP1 think you are o&errating us, butPM $s Tatsuya refuted her claim e-!ressionlessly, Mayumi laughed and giggled wholeheartedly. L1N&e only recently come to understand this, butP Tatsuya3kun, you are a modest !erson.M Watching Tatsuya become so lost on how to res!ond that his face hardened into a noh mask, Mayumi let out a stream of Oinsu!!ressibleN high !itched giggles. L1s this how you act your age? Sometimes, 1 feel like 1Nm actually dealing with a ten year old?M With the e-ce!tion of Mayumi, TatsuyaNs ac,uaintances, who occasionally cast doubt about his actual age, all estimated higher; the only thing he could do was sink into silence with an astonished look on his face. MayumiNs &ision blurred with LtearsM she laughed so much, she wi!ed her eyes with her fingers and directed a cheerful face to the siblings. LP$3chan and %anzou3kun are &ery good kids, but you two siblings are surely the most memorable of all my wonderful high school kouhai.M %er face lit u! with an e-traordinary bright smile, Miyuki was also struck s!eechless. 1n a com!letely different manner than her brother, whose ears were

burning. 666 The Shiba house, since their father stayed at their ste!3motherNs !lace, was actually the house of the two siblings, Tatsuya and Miyuki; for a !ri&ate residence, it was on the large side. 1t was not as !alatial as the >itayama house or the Saegusa house /Tatsuya and Miyuki had not actually seen either of those0; com!ared to those, it was only on the le&el of a !ri&ate residence. $lthough, you couldnNt ,uite call it a mere !ri&ate residence. Buried underneath, there was a magic engineering research facility that was as high tech as a uni&ersity research lab. /8or some reason or other, itNs a!!earance was somewhat secret hideout3ish, but it was sim!ly a basement that has the same floor s!ace as the floor abo&e it remodeled into a laboratory.0 The Tatsuya who came out of that basement laboratory into the li&ing room abo&e it had an unusually tired a!!earance; his body sank dee! into the sofa. %e used his thumb and middle finger to strongly massage his tem!le; he rotated his head once, twice. 1n that state, he looked at the ceiling and !ut his thoughts in order. %is mind was boiling with idle thoughts about his memories of the e&ents that took !lace at dusk, today. %e was thinking about the bodyguard he was introduced to when he took Mayumi to the station. MayumiNs guard was une-!ectedly male. Tatsuya had belie&ed that a guard for a girl around MayumiNs age would undoubtedly be female; to be truthful, he was !retty sur!rised. The man was an older gentleman well into his fifties; there might not be any hint of indecency, butP The im!ression the middle aged man ga&e off was not that of a bodyguard, but rather of a butler, and more like a grandfather than a butler. %owe&er, his s!ine was as straight as a !in, his body was thin but

firm; that he was definitely on Oacti&e dutyN was clearly understood from one glance. %e did not carry himself in any s!ecial stance but there was a !olished !oliteness to him; he had e-!erience of military ser&ice, moreo&er it was a long ser&ice in &arious areas. The fact that he was used to wearing a uniform see!ed through his stance. This sort of body wasnNt unusual; the !ast century had seen many wars, es!ecially as the end of the ="st century, so &eterans of military ser&ice were so common that if foolish !eo!le tried to maintain a ci&ilization without them, it would be a shamble. 8ormer military !ersonnel, who are also magicians using the mi-ture of their e-!eriences and technical skills to get a !lace with a res!ectable family as bodyguards, was also common; the !oint that was troubling had nothing to do with that. The !oint that was weighing on TatsuyaNs mind was the bodyguardNs name; to be e-act, his family name. L*nii3sama, youNre not aslee! yet?M %e turned his eyes in the direction the &oice came from; Miyuki was standing in the doorway of li&ing room wearing !ink !a2amas. LMiyuki, what about you; why are you still awake? TomorrowP no, itNs !robably already today. (ou ha&e to be a s!eaker at the meeting, right?M Miyuki ser&ed as the !rogram director in todayNs cam!aign s!eech !ortion of the assembly. +ach year, this was the 2ob gi&en to the first yearsN re!resentati&e on the Student )ouncil. LMy throat was a little dryPM The scolding of Ogo to bed earlyN was unsaid but still felt by Miyuki. $s she made her e-cuse timidly, she could feel Tatsuya rolling his eyes. L1f thatNs so, it canNt be hel!ed.M $lways inclined to s!oil his sister rotten, Tatsuya agreed with an ironic sounding laugh. Iust now, her face shining with sweat, Miyuki came to TatsuyaNs side with a s!eed that was close to s!rinting. To the ,uestion in his sister's eyes, her brother answered 'yes' with his eyes. Miyuki, with a ha!!y smile, sat down ne-t to Tatsuya. Slowly, the season was turning and the nights were getting colder, but

MiyukiNs !a2amas were made for summer. 1t had short slee&es and the !ants were Y length; the cloth was lightweight and the lines of her body could be dimly !ercei&ed through it. 1t wasnNt the kind of thing a girl should wear late at night alone with a man, but Tatsuya didnNt dare say anything. 9The words to s!eak, he himself silenced; he got the feeling that if he said anything, heNd be digging his own gra&e. LWhat were you thinking about?M 5id she know what Tatsuya was thinking or didnNt she? Miyuki brought her !layful face near his as she asked. %e was aware that it was a bit unsuitable to discuss such a hea&y to!ic to someone wearing such an innocent face; none the less, due to his e-treme tiredness, Tatsuya 2ust answered truthfully. LWellPPabout Saegusa3sen!aiNs bodyguard; it has been nagging at me?M 8aster than Tatsuya could think Law, nutsM, MiyukiNs smile left her face in a flash. L$bout :akura3sanNs name?M Mayumi had introduced the older gentleman as :akura Saburou. LThe matter nagging at *nii3sama, could it beP the +-tra?M She could read him so well that she could see the single word he was thinking about; Tatsuya released a !ainful smile. 1f Miyuki hadnNt been thinking about that !ossibility, she wouldnNt ha&e been able to read him so well. %owe&er, more than being aware of it, Tatsuya thought she !robably also felt the significance he !laced on the matter. L1 thought it unthinkable, butP one of the ten master clans em!loying a guard for the sake of a child of the family who is not the heir. 1f theyNre not able to gi&e them assumed family names the way we do, then 1 think they wonNt be able to get rid of them as O+-trasN.M L1 donNt think any of the other family aside from the (otsuba clan has its members li&e under aliases, butPM LWe donNt know that. The other families donNt know (otsuba customs and were the same. The other nine families, the eighteen additional families, that is =X families in all that (otsuba is unable to know the family traditions of.M

LButP the degree of difference from *ba3ue@, Saegusa, which is weighed down with all that !restige, is willing to em!loy an O+-traN in such an confidential !osition as a guard to the eldest daughter of the main family?M
*,-tremely polite form of %unt.

L4erha!s because it is the !restigious Saegusa, they might be showing off that they donNt !ractice discrimination for the !restige it gi&es them.M L1 seeP that is certainly another way of thinking about itPM Suu2iochi9+-tra numbers, referred to by the abbre&iation. +-tra; magicians or their descendants that ha&e been stri!!ed of their family OnumberN. The reasons for stri!!ing off their number could be from such causes asD the crime of treason, the crime of failure to !erform an im!ortant duty, and Oincom!etenceN. When Magicians became a symbol of military !ower, magicians were gi&en numbers as a Oa mark of their successN, but those who did not achie&e results worthy of Oa mark of their successN were branded as failures due to their lack; they were e-tras. :owadays, the name of L+-traM, itself, is officially !rohibited from being used. 1n the community of magicians, discriminating against someone for being an O+-traN is a gra&e illegal act. %owe&er, like discrimination against course = students at magic high schools, this has not been e-terminated and is still being !racticed. 1t has e&en worsened and is in the !rocess of becoming a se&ere !roblem; this in&isible glass ceiling of discrimination against O+-trasN still !ersists. 1n TatsuyaNs generation, there might be many !eo!le unaware that their family name indicated that they were descended from an O+-traN, because their !arents hid it from them. 1t was that dee!ly rooted !re2udice would cause them to be regarded as OfailureN and Odefecti&e merchandiseN, and that would be inserted into their consciousness as magicians. Therefore, if :akura was a descendant of a stri!!ed family named :anakura@, then for what !ur!ose did it ser&e the Saegusa family head to em!loy him as a bodyguard for his daughter, this was what was weighing on TatsuyaNs mind. *.ana means (even

666 $ little while beforeP The time is when only three hours remain before the date changes, in a magnificent bath house set nearby the main residence of the Saegusa family, which can be described as a Oa grand mansionN. :othing about it does not fit that image without e-aggeration, but far from the !rying eyes of !assersby, Mayumi was comfortably submerged in the magnificent bath tub full of hot water, lightly sighing as she e-amined her own body critically. 9%er !ro!ortions werenNt that bad, e&en if that was only her own o!inion. 9%er height, well after all, she did sto! growing in her third year of middle school, but her little sisters also had !etite bodies; there was nothing to be done but resign herself to her genetic heritage. $ sha3bum sound arose; Mayumi stretched her arms and legs out of the hot water. 9She was often told at bouti,ues and beauty salons that her limbs were ,uite long for someone as small in stature as she. $rms and legs were returned to the bath; her hand brushed her breast gently. 9%er chest was also called large in !ro!ortion to height; no matter what ty!e of clothes she wore, there was ne&er tightness at the waist. 9She was ,uite se-y, e&en if that was only her own o!inion. 9But when she faced O%erN, no matter how well she thought of herself, her confidence in herself wa&ered. 1n her own mind, she always referred to the girl by the !ronoun O%er or SheN; in the realm of her unconscious mind, the !ro!er noun of OShiba MiyukiN transformed. 9?ntil she met %er, she had ne&er seen a girl so beautiful. 9+&en %er arms and legs; so slim, so slender, so fine without looking unhealthy. 9%er waist, too, rested on that fine edge; %er chest and breast areas

were full of feminine cur&es. 9Most of all, the number of !erfectly symmetrical features was o&erwhelming. 1n the first !lace, e&en though internal organs in general are arranged symmetrically, no matter how !erfectly symmetrical a !ersonNs body is, her a!!earance will not likewise be symmetrical. +&en so, com!ared to non3magicians, the number of magicians with highly symmetrical bodies is higher. $side from !ersonal a!!earance, there is an easily seen tendency for !eo!le who ha&e a strong dis!osition for magic to ha&e a highly symmetrical bone structure; Mayumi was well aware of this knowledge. 98or that reason, there are times when Mayumi doubts that She was a flesh and blood !erson. 9*r e&en see %er as a girl like herself. 9Mayumi belie&ed that the boy who was %er elder brother was unfortunately unable to see any other girl as anything but a !oor co!y of %er. 9%er elder brother. Mayumi, once again, sighed without realizing it. 9%e was to the !oint that it made Mayumi doubt that they were actually related by blood, ordinary in his e-terior. 9There was nothing !articularly wrong with him. 9%owe&er, he was at the most, only Oso3soN. Mayumi submerged herself in the bathtub u! to her nose. The water started foaming as her breath turned into bubbles. 5id the air in the bubbles come from sighing or breathing, e&en Mayumi didnNt know. 9:e&ertheless, his interior was far from ordinary. 9.ather than calling it su!erior, non3standard fit better. 9Through lots of time and labor, scholars around the world took their accumulated knowledge, bundled it u!, and constructed the current rating system for magicians. 9%is e-istence ,uestioned the &alidity of that system. 9+&en by rounding u!, he was only )3rank by international standards.

91n s!ite of that, all the actual results that she and others had seen for themsel&es e-ceeded those of an $3rank magician. She lifted her face out of the bath, took a dee! breath. She e-haled twice, thrice; Mayumi lightly laughed. 9The Staff .oom should be racking their brains. 9What, with a system that stood for decades was being fundamentally challenged, and the !lan to create both a OMagicN and OMagic +ngineering 5e!artmentN as well, the status ,uo of the staff room was being hea&ily shaken. Mayumi ga&e a wry smile as she shook her head from side to side. 9:e&ertheless, his e-istence was im!ossible. 91f only his intelligence and knowledge were su!erior, he wouldnNt be able to cause this much confusion. 9$ first year high school student ca!able of using a high le&el anti3 magic which had almost no !ractitioners. 9$fter being hit with magic that should cause critical wounds to his body, he calmly resumed fighting. 9The smashing of the terrorist grou!, she had heard was actually done by his !ower alone. 9%is ability to use magic and his ability to fight with magic were too une&en. 9:o, e&en if only his knowledge were considered, it could be argued that some alterations to the curriculum should be made? The hot water was warm enough. 1n s!ite of that, MayumiNs body shi&ered as if from cold. While she knew the chill she felt wasnNt radiating from her skin, Mayumi submerged her body dee!ly in the bathtub. 9Today, when she introduced him to :akura, she didnNt tell him, but it was a ty!e of test.

9$ test to see if he realized what the name L:a3>u3.aM meant. 9$t the time she s!oke the name, :akura, for one moment9and really it was only for one brief moment9turmoil ran through his eyes; it was only due to focusing her com!lete and total !owers of obser&ation on him that allowed her to not miss it. 9%e was aware of the meaning of L:a3>u3.aM. 9*nly !eo!le like Iuumon2i and herself, who were well &ersed in the LdarknessM of modern magic, would know the meaning. 9$n ordinary magician, he was not. 9$ magician from some negligible family, he was not. 9MShi3BaM Tatsuya. Shi, a !ronunciation of the kan2i that meant chief; Ba, a !ronunciation of the kan2i that meant lea&es. Shi, a syllable that could also mean four; Ba, lea&es. (otsu, a !ronunciation of the kan2i that meant four; Ba, lea&es. (otsuba. 9)ould it be, could he also be, could he !ossibly be an L+-traM. %er brain on fire, Mayumi considered it.

Cha*ter !
Since morning, the school grounds had been co&ered by a buoyant atmos!here. Today, no classes would be held in the afternoon; the Student Body <eneral Meeting, the )am!aign S!eeches, and the election were being held instead. 1n modern high schools, where indi&idual classes almost ne&er congregated, this was a &ery big e&ent. :ot only that, in this Student Body <eneral Meeting, a !ro!osal to make a ma2or alteration to the system of student go&ernment was su!!osed to be made. $s a matter of fact, since before summer &acation, a conflict between the !ro!onent grou! and the o!!osition grou! had been brewing under the surface of school life.

Whether it was due to the current !resident Saegusa MayumiNs !o!ularity, the difficulty of !ublicly o!!osing the !ro!osal, or the influence of the actions of the Second )ourse team in the Monolith )ode e&ent at the newcomers tournament, in terms of numbers, the !ro!onent grou! was o&erwhelming. %owe&er, in res!onse to that, the o!!osition grou! had grown more obstinate. 4eo!le who e-amined the current state of affairs felt that there was a &iolent undertone; this made the mood of the school rife with unrest. 666 L+&eryone here? This is the final check for station de!loyment.M $fter morning classes finished, all the members of the 4ublic Moral )ommittee assembled at committee head,uarters. Since they worked in shifts and most of them o!erated solo, ha&ing all the committee members together was rare. The Student Body <eneral Meeting was one of the few times all members would be out in force. L1n general, the committee will be stationed inside of the lecture hall. *utside the lecture hall, the automated sur&eillance cameras will be used. We are here to hel! the student go&ernment.M The entire force of the 4ublic Moral )ommittee was nine !eo!le. Since this was all that was a&ailable to !olice the AF# members of the student body accumulated in the meeting room, they didnNt ha&e any guards to s!are for handling the e-terior. Still, e&en if they did ha&e enough !eo!le, dealing with &illainous intruders wasnNt !art of their 2ob. L)hiyoda and 1 are at the main entrance; at the side entrance, Tatsumi and MorisakiPM While listening to MariNs directions, Tatsuya thought sheOs Lunusually intenseM. 1nstead of using feminine s!eech, sheNs sounding ,uite boyish. Well, for the 4ublic Moral )ommittee, this was a rare o!!ortunity to assemble. LSawaki is on the u!!er !art of the !latform, Shiba is on the lower !art; thatNs all.M Mari barked out the membersN names and !osts in order to confirm them.

%is own station was the stage wing. 1n case the official on stage was attacked, or as it was called, Lgot 2um!edM, he and Sawaki were the so3called last line of defenseP but Tatsuya didnNt really ha&e to worry about that. $fter yesterdayNs walk with Mayumi, he understood. :o student at 8irst %igh School would be reckless enough to harm Mayumi. What he meant was that it was reckless to try to harm Mayumi at 8irst %igh School, and e&ery male u!!erclassman would make sure e&eryone knew itP L+&eryone, ,uickly man your !ost. Shiba, stay for a bit.M When it was 2ust the two of them, Mari re&erted to her usual way of s!eaking. LMake it ,uick; Tatsuya3kun, how did it go yesterday?M %e didnNt need to ask her to e-!lain what she was asking about. L$ttacked, three times.M MariNs face ,uickly froze. L1 was.M %owe&er, as she heard his following words, her e-!ression only showed L%uh?M L:o, it seems 1N&e been gazing at the !resident a little too warmly.M LP5onNt worry about the time; 2ust gi&e me an e-!lanation?M LTo be brief, they seemed to be members of her fan club.M $s she heard Tatsuya's calm words of e-!lanation, her face changed to com!rehension. L1n short, mis!laced 2ealousy.M L(ou would think it would be ob&ious that it was not that kind of situation since Miyuki was with us.M .emembering yesterdayNs e&ents, /an emotional0 wa&e of fatigue rolled o&er him. $t least, thatNs the way it felt to Tatsuya. LWell, only acti&ate your )$5s; donNt !ut the thought of doing something more tangible out of your head, but if you do something stu!id, you will incur more than 2ust the !residentNs wrath.M L<ot itPM

L1n that condition, if we are caught in a crossfire, we might be unable to interfereP Because if the !resident recei&es a single blow, 1 see a !roblems occurring if we try to gang u! on someone.M +&en fanatics didnNt want to die in &ain. Suicide bombers carried out their !lans in order to take their enemies /and their allies0 with them. Sni!ers did not !lan to strike from !laces they could be s!otted, or at !laces that were known to be !rotected by bullet!roof glass. The two of them felt stu!id for worrying o&er nothing, and shared relie&ed smiles. P$fter all that, TatsuyaNs enthusiasm for his work a!!roached zero le&el. With the belief that he had been taking things so seriously that he had been seeing shadows, he took his !lace9standing at the side of the stage beside the stairs for the main e&ent. When he thought about it, it was ob&ious that it was only a matter of a high school go&ernment election. +&en if the !restige of LStudent )ouncil 4residentM had any real meaning, the titles of O&ice !residentN, OsecretaryN and the like carried no real meaning after graduation. 1n the 8irst %igh SchoolNs system, if the Student )ouncil 4resident willed it, there could be two &ice !residents or four secretaries; )ourse = students not being !art of the Student )ouncil wasn't a matter of honor, it was only a matter of !ride. $nd when it came down to it, it was a !retty !etty form of !ride. /%is &iew of the matter had been negati&ely influenced by Lthe outside worldMP0 8or the sake of ideals, for the sake of money, for the sake of honor, for the sake of !rideP in the world Tatsuya was dee!ly immersed in, it was com!arati&ely easy to e-change human life for these things; he had taken things too seriously when they were discussing and e&aluating the danger and had forgotten the difference in the LStageM before his eyes. %e felt he had been &iewing things in a way unrelated to reality, 2ust as if he had been watching a mo&ie. LP8or the abo&e reason, 1 !ro!ose to dissol&e the limitation concerning who can become a member of the Student )ouncil.M

$s MayumiNs e-!lanation of the legislation finished, a hand was suddenly raised from the third yearsN row. Tatsuya had no recollection of this 8irst )ourse female student /in short, she had not !artici!ated in the :ine Schools )om!etition; she didnNt ha&e enough !ower to be chosen as a member of the team0 who stood at the ,uestionerOs !odium. Because modern !arabolic micro!hones ha&e the !otential to !ick u! e&eryday con&ersation from A# meters away, it wasnOt going a little o&erboard to install a ,uestionerOs !odium. That small instrument and the big instrument that worked with it were going to gradually take away Tatsuya's sense of how the world should work. LPThis !ublic !ositionP sound argumentPM The words of the ,uestioner, a !art of the so3called o!!osition !arty, were intermittently failing to reach his ear. :aturally, he wasnNt wearing ear!lugs; he unconsciously filtered the s!eech to only allow words that might induce trouble to enter his consciousness. LThe real issue is whether there is a need to change the system? 1n short, are there any )ourse Two students suitable to be !art of the Student )ouncil?M Tatsuya scowled at the ,uestions with clear aims. /There was nothing in the ,uestions themsel&es that would make a s!eaker feel that they had to conceal their face from outsiders.0 1t was a !iece of undisguised good luck. Tatsuya thought that Mayumi answered the ,uestions seriously; he didnNt know what she was thinking or if she was thinking but she answered them. LToday, 1 will resign from the !ost of Student )ouncil 4resident. $ccordingly, 1 cannot a!!oint new !eo!le to the Student )ouncil and so 1 ha&enNt thought about who could be a!!ointed.M L%owe&er, you can !ressure the ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident into a!!ointing the )ourse Two student of your own choice?M /Lyour own choiceM was usedP0 Tatsuya felt the e-!ression was e-tremely suggesti&e.

L1 am not thinking of becoming a hidden em!ress.M She ga&e a slight high !itched giggle as she made her minor 2est. LThe right of a!!ointing the ne-t Student )ouncilNs members is one of the !owers of the ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident. 1 ha&e no intention of countermanding any of the ne-t Student )ouncil 4residentNs authority.M L(ou mean the ne-t Student )ouncil 4resident who you wish to surround with )ourse Two students; you mean you ha&enNt !ut forth this change in our system at this time with that intention?M $ stir aroused in the lecture hall at the !oison laced words. 1t seemed that Tatsuya wasnNt the only one thinking L%ey, nowCM LQuiet, !lease.M The icy &oice that called out the order was from Miyuki who was hel!ing to kee! the !rogram on track. Since 4resident Mayumi, as the !erson who raised the issue, was standing in order to handle ,uestions, %attori was momentarily in charge of kee!ing things mo&ing and Miyuki was em!loyed as his assistant. /By the way, officially, the s!eaker could not take a break for food or drink during the Student Body <eneral $ssembly.0 LPThe answer to that ,uestion is OnoO. The reason 1 am ad&ocating the !ro!osal at this time is because this is the only chance to do so. Because 1 consider it to be the res!onsibility of the Student )ouncil 4resident to ensure that any enmity among their >ouhai is fully doused and will not eru!t into flames.M 5ee! in TatsuyaNs heart, a sense of wonder emerged. :o matter what, this noble face ne&er seems to be seen outside of an arena like this one. LThe truth of the matter is that the inability of )ourse Two students to become officers of the Student )ouncil is not a source of antagonism.M *n the other hand, the ,uestioner9whose name was $sano9Tatsuya thought, was becoming more intractable. L1t is not a matter of whether or not there is a candidate, $sano3san. The system re&eals the way an organization thinks. The system does not allow )ourse Two students to become officers of the Student )ouncil; it says that it doesnNt matter how much !ower an indi&idual )ourse Two student has, that indi&idual cannot become an officer of the Student

)ouncil. This can be inter!reted as a declaration from the Student )ouncil that it belie&es )ourse Two students are not worthy of the !ri&ilege of becoming officers of the Student )ouncil. That is being mistaken for elitism.M She had !ut a lot of effort into making that !resentation, Tatsuya thought, as the 4resident was wra!!ed in a!!lause. 1t wasnNt entirely coming from the rows of )ourse Two students. LThis is a subterfuge.M :o matter how thickheaded a !erson was, they would not be able to kee! themsel&es unaware that the atmos!here that coated the lecture hall was against them. 1n the midst of this, she was still at; 1 su!!ose itNs unsur!rising that $sanoNs words ha&e started ha&ing a hysterical edge to them. L1snNt it because you, 4resident, ha&e a )ourse Two student you want to !lace on the Student )ouncil, that you want the ,ualification annulledC 1snNt your true moti&e to gi&e someone !referential treatmentCM There was a feeling of des!eration to the &oices that cried LThatNs rightM s!oradically, but they were immediately drowned by a storm of booing. The storm thrust large wa&es of discontent against the ,uestionerNs !odium. L4resident SaegusaC 1snNt your true intent to !ut that first year student on the Student )ouncil?M The finger of the hysterically wailing $sano !ointed at Tatsuya. L1 know itNs true. (ou e&en went as far as the station with him on your way home, yesterdayCM This was !robably ho!elessness, an outburst of des!air. $sanoNs face crum!led. :e&ertheless, those words une-!ectedly showed a ma2or result. The storm of booing instantly abated. The eyes of the entire student !o!ulation were going back and forth between Mayumi and Tatsuya. When he saw MayumiNs face coloring faintly with red, Tatsuya thought LThat face is only going to make this mess biggerCM But under the

circumstances where he was unwillingly being ke!t under constant obser&ation, there was no way he could make that kind of condemnation. The im!asse was broken when cold words were tossed from the stage. LThat is all you want to say?M Without anyone noticing, /!robably 2ust now0 Miyuki had stood. $ cold haughty glare was !iercing the u!!erclassmanNs face. +&en from the back of the stage, no, it was more like it was due to the fact that it was coming from the stage de!ths; her e-!ression was clearly !ossessed a ,ueen3like dignity that was merely checking for a short answer; the li!s of the gossi!3mongering u!!erclassman were sewn shut by it. /MagicP wasnNt in&oked0 The &ery first thing Tatsuya did was check and see if Miyuki had lost control of her magic. This !ressure wasnNt magic. Without in&oking any magic, Miyuki was radiating the freezing chill that robbed a body of its ability to mo&e freely as in the de!ths of the worst of winter; e&en Tatsuya felt it. L1 2udge that the outburst 2ust now was an attem!t to cloud the issue by &icious !ersonal slander. Therefore, in accordance with my authority as an aide to the !erson in charge of kee!ing these !roceedings on track, 1 order you to lea&e; if you ha&e an ob2ection to this, then you must !ro&ide a foundation for your allegation that 4resident Saegusa holds s!ecial feelings for a !articular (ear *ne student.M LThat isPM :aturally, $sano faltered. 8rom the beginning, Mayumi ha&ing s!ecial feelings for Tatsuya came from the realm of s!eculation; that that was the moti&e for the current !ro!osal was mere slander. +&en $sano, herself, was aware of this. MiyukiNs eyes were coldly fi-ated on the !aralyzed $sano. There was no magic in those eyes, they were only able to contain disdain, it seemed as if that stare was able to freeze an ad&ersaryNs heart.

$nd it really !aralyzed the agitator who was in&ol&ing her older brother in slander, so her ad&ersary was in a condition where she couldnNt mo&e e&en a finger. 1t wasnNt authority, rank, social classP or e-!erience in society; those things could not really belong to a high school student. This was really a situation where the word L5ignityM can be used; it sounded so glorious. L91 am making a correction. There is no need for you to lea&e. To be correct, !lease discontinue your ,uestioning of this matter and return to your seat, $sano3sen!ai.M The one who at last mo&ed to take control was the !erson in charge of !roceedings, %attori. L$t lastMP well in short, he too had been o&erwhelmed by the !ressure Miyuki was still e-uding. Miyuki bowed elegantly and returned to her chair; $sano was in no condition to gi&e e&en a single word in re!ly and awkwardly returned to her seat. 1n the end, the o!!osition grou!Ns hindrance had finished with a misfire. $fterwards, a carefree mood that wouldnNt e&en !ermit heckling !ermeated the lecture hall, gradually /or !ossibly anticlimactically0, !eo!le &oted electronically and the annulment of the eligibility re,uirement for Student )ouncil officers was a!!ro&ed by a ma2ority. $nd it was finally time for $zusaNs cam!aign s!eech. Since there was only a single candidate, it was more like a declaration of the candidateNs con&ictions s!eech, but a formal, no, a &ote of confidence would be held /moreo&er the ballots would be actual !a!er ballots as o!!osed to electronic &oting0. %er face mi-ed with enthusiasm and tension, $zusa a!!roached the !odium. $s she made her ,uick bow, a!!lause broke out. %ere and there, whistles and cheers blended together, but they soon sto!!ed as $zusa begun her s!eech. Tatsuya and Miyuki were unable to understand since they !aid little attention to the entertainment industry, but the cute and feminine ty!e of song and dance girl who !erformed on stage had wides!read fan a!!eal among males. Tatsuya was still unaware of why, but without regard to her e-cellent grades in theory and !ractical skills, without bragging e&en a little, the

modest and friendly $zusa whose face and figure were also modest and friendly throughout the school had a re!utation as Lan easily befriended idolM, similar but slightly different than MayumiNs. Sur!risingly /but !utting it this way might be unfair to $zusa0, she !resented her L!oliticsM and L!oliciesM elo,uently. The fundamentals had been inherited from the current Student )ouncilNs &iews; he was able to see a strong high school student3ish inclination toward idealism, but generally she leaned to the conser&ati&e end. 9*ccasionally, she would strangely !e!!er her s!eech with cheers like L<o for itM and L(ou can do it;M well, we all !robably ha&e eccentricities. The storm broke out when she referred to the officers of the ne-t Student )ouncil. L91 will defer that decision until the day to make the a!!ointments; 1 intend to a!!oint highly ca!able !eo!le without regard to whether they are )ourse *ne or )ourse Two students.M LThat )ourse Two studentH?M L$zusa3chan likes the young and untamed ty!eHM The comments were truly only low le&el 2eers. 8rom the beginning, they were only a &ulgar way for the re!ressed o!!osition grou! to s!ew out their unabated and still smoldering dissatisfaction. 4ossibly, they subconsciously calculated that a counterattack against $zusa was more likely to be ignored. But, their calculations were incredibly off. )ertainly, $zusa said nothing about the insults directed at her. LWho said that 2ust nowCM L8or making fun of :aka2ou3san that wayCM L1f you ha&e something to say do it in front of usCM L<et the cowardsCM P?nder the circumstances, she didnNt ha&e time to say anything when the big u!roar began. 1n the middle of the gathering, s,uabbling blossomed. The 2eering o!!osition grou! and $zusaNs nearby fans became in&ol&ed in a scuffle. L4lease ,uiet downC .eturn to your seatsCM LSilence !leaseCM

LSettle down, e&eryoneCM Miyuki, %attori, and Mayumi raised their &oices multi!le times, but the enraged students werenNt able to hear them. The area where the scuffling was going on was gradually increasing. The 2eers, too, were gradually becoming less endurable. $bsolutely no skills were being used; the clum! looked like s,uabbling children, but 2ust !lunging in would only result in being caught in the game of oshikuraman2uuZ"J[. 1t would be easy if you didnNt ha&e to care about in2uring anyone; howe&erP while the difficulties of controlling the situation were making his head ache, Tatsuya made eye contact with Sawaki and Tatsumi and decided to !re!are to make the !lunge. But, the decision was too late. They were making insinuations about Tatsuya and $zusaNs relationshi!; the moment an e-ceedingly &ulgar 2eer emitted from the mouth of one of the o!!osition grou!, a girlNs shrill &oice took command of the disturbance. L)alm downCM She wasnNt screeching but there had been an illusion of loudness to the &oice. The &oice was not loud but, the strength of the &oice made an im!act on the minds of those engaged in the fracas. .efle-i&ely, the students eyes turned, the ne-t instant their eyes refle-i&ely closed, while blinking their eyes they once again begun to raise them toward the stage. *n stage, a blizzard of 4sion light was running wild. iolent rage was infringing on the world. Modern magic was changing the world by !ro2ecting a false &ision through an information body. 1t wasnNt !ossible for magic to be in&oked without an intention to guide its form. 5es!ite that, the chaos caused by wildly running emotions could enact that chaos on the world.

Such was the strength of the inter&ention !ower to negate common knowledge. 1n this situation, no one could tell when the lecture hall was going to be smashed by ice. Mayumi, %attori, Suzune, and $zusa simultaneously e-tended hands holding out )$5s u!on the Queen of that World of 1ce9Miyuki9to bring her under control. 9:e&ertheless, the magic battle between fellow members of the Student )ouncil in that terrible situation was fortuitously a&oided at the last second. 1nstantaneously, the back of a male student standing u!on the stage obscured the girlNs !assion from the studentNs field of &ision. The boy's hands were !laced on both of the girlNs shoulders and the world that had been engulfed in the girlNs !ower and re!ainted looked as if it was being re!ressed. What the two !eo!le said to each other or whether they con&ersed with their eyes alone without words could not be understood from off the stage. :onetheless, from the time the boy released the girl from his hands until they left the stage the gazes of the entire student body, 8irst (ears, Second (ears, and Third (ears locked /?0 on the two of them as if they were nailed there. 666 $fterwards, it was as if cold water had been thrown o&er e&eryone and order was com!letely restored to the gathering. +&en the 2eerers were &iewed like they were 2ust rude !eo!le emboldened by a concert3like atmos!here. The cam!aign s!eech !ortion solemnly disintegrated, and the students lined u! to cast their ballots like tame shee!. The ballots results would be !osted the ne-t morning after Third (ears under the !ay of the Student )ouncil had finished their count.

Those results9 L)ongratulations $3chan.M L:aka2ou, congratulations.M L)ongratulations, :aka2ou3san.M 9+&en without hearing the &oices congratulating her first thing in the morning, $zusa was elected Student )ouncil 4resident. LPShiba3san, 1 think itNs better if you donNt !ay it any attention, since the ballot doesnNt affect anything.M LToo bad, Tatsuya3kun.M While listening to the sym!athetic &oice of Suzune and, unable to kee! from showing how amusing she found it, &oice of Mari, the siblings with matching !ained faces read the &ote tabulation re!ort. 1n total, there were AAB ballots. The number of legitimate &otes was "XJ ballots. The tabulation of the ballots contentsP LPThese are the results.M LShibaD ==#, :aka2ouD "XJ, Tatsuya3kunD "F"PM LPWait a minute. The ballots of the large number of !eo!le who miswrote the name shouldnNt be recognized in the countPM While crying out '1 want to !retend this doesnNt e-ist' without words, Miyuki calmly made an ob2ection. LWhy are OThe QueenN, O%er Ma2esty, the QueenN and OThe Snow QueenN all being counted as &otes for me?M Miyuki cried this out in a tearful &oice. LBecause on other ballots OQueen MiyukiN, O%er Ma2esty, Queen Shiba MiyukiN, OSnow Queen MiyukiN and the like were writtenP there was no other way to inter!ret them.M 7istening to the a!ologetic &oice of Suzune soothe her, there was no way Miyuki couldnNt understand. LWhat do they mean by that? 5o they think 1 ha&e some sort of !er&erted inclinations?M @/Such as Queen in SM LP:o, 1 belie&e that they definitely donNt mean anything like that. $fter

seeing you look like that, 1 donNt belie&e anyone would ha&e the ner&ePM $s if she had lost an inner battle, her body actually slum!ed as Mari contradicted her in a confused manner. L%ey, am 1 that a!!alling? 1s my demeanor really that intolerable?M MiyukiNs tone had changed into a genuine wail. LPMiyuki3san, calm down. $fter all, no one thinks that.M Mayumi was trying with all her might to make her &oice sound soothing so that she could somehow calm MiyukiNs mood, but it had almost no effect. L7end me the ballotsC 1Nll find whoe&er wrote themCM LThatNs absurdP in the first !lace, how would you do that?M Somebody murmured this ob&ious flaw in her !lan, but in this case, it was utterly futile. Miyuki turned her entire body towards Tatsuya, her eyes clouded all at once. L*nii3samaPM With a needy look in her eyes, 2ust as Miyuki was about to release her tears and snuggle against him, Tatsuya tem!orarily shel&ed his own disturbance. L5o not ask for the im!ossible, Miyuki. Since this is a secret ballot, in&estigating who &oted for who is a serious &iolation of the rules.M %e !atted her head without any trace of embarrassment and admonished her as if she were a small child. LButP butPM :ot ha&ing a clue of what else to do, Tatsuya gently embraced his little sister who was sobbing her eyes out. L1tNs okay.M %is mouth neared the &icinity of his sisterNs ear L$fter all, you are not a Queen.M $nd with a dee!ly gentle &oice, L:o matter how anyone else &iews you, to me you are a cute !rincess.M

Tatsuya made that &ow. L*nii3samaPM The sound of crying gradually ended, simultaneously it looked as if the anger and frustration were also ending, and as !otential $rmageddon was soothed away, e&eryone rela-ed their tense !osture. :e&ertheless, they were soon in an entirely different kind of awkward situation. $lthough she sto!!ed crying, Miyuki showed no sign of lea&ing TatsuyaNs arms. .ather, her head and cheek were shockingly !ressed against TatsuyaNs chest; the aura around them was so sweet that they were all suffering from heartburn. 666 8or the noon recess that day, the siblings, Tatsuya and Miyuki, did not show their faces in the Student )ouncil room. :ot only did Miyuki cry in front of her sen!ai, she let herself be seen being embraced and comforted, so it was only natural that she was too embarrassed to come; as the seemly unembarrassed Tatsuya had already informed them so, Mayumi and the rest were unworried. $zusa was being honored with a celebration by her fellow second years so her seat was em!ty. Suzune as usual didnNt come unless she had something to do, so she didnNt a!!ear. $nd today, unusually, >atsuto came to the Student )ouncil room. L%ere it is.M When the meal came to an end, Mayumi took out tea for >atsuto. >atsuto made a silent toast and raised his teacu! to his mouth. LSo, why are you here today, Iuumon2i?" $lthough they were both guests, Mari9maybe because she couldnNt hold back any more9beha&ed as if they were in her own head,uarters

and ,uestioned him; >atsuto ga&e a Lno reasonM ty!e of answer. L4erha!s, because today is for Saegusa her true retirement day. This is the last time 1 can come to see her in Student )ouncil 4resident mode.M L1 see, you came to thank Mayumi for her ser&ice or something.M L*h, Iuumon2i3kun, thank you,M L$h, you're welcome.M While smiling smugly, the two of them coordinated an attack /a &erbal assault?0 which >atsuto solemnly rebuffed. LPSo thatNs it. 1 thought Tatsuya3kun resembled someone; he res!onds to these things 2ust like Iuumon2i3kun.M LShiba?M 'WeNre alike?' >atsuto asked with a glance; Mari shrugged. +&en though su!erficially their res!onse was similar, Mari belie&ed that TatsuyaNs were intentional and >atsutoNs were s!ontaneous, so her assessment was that their taciturnity was the only similarity. LS!eaking of Shiba, how do you think it went yesterdayPM 4erha!s she belie&ed that she couldnNt throw him off through body language alone, Mari attem!ted to make a swift change of to!ic. L1t was okayP But there was no need for us to worry.M %owe&er, maybe because the to!ic on both of their minds, both Mayumi and >atsuto lea!ed o&er MariNs choice and directed the con&ersation to the to!ic of their choice. L1 was too low to be able to really see what was going on, but did Shiba restrain his sister, 2ust like it seemed to me?M L(es. %er out!ouring of !ower and his su!!ression ability were unbelie&able.M 1t was 2ust the way >atsuto said it was. The truth of what was going on couldnNt be discerned by those facing the stage; only those like Mayumi who were on the stage were able to clearly see what ha!!ened. 4ossibly, it was a !ractical a!!lication of L<ram 5emolitionM. $ structure of 4sions instantly dis!layed9without ha&ing to work it into an information body with +idos, 4sions themsel&es were the !roduct of molded +-ternal Systematic Magic9in the form of an aura. $ large

amount of 4sions wra!!ed around her running wild in a chaotic manner; that o&erwhelming !ower was com!ressed and !oured back into MiyukiNs body. 4sions were not something e-uded from someoneNs body, but the body was the medium used for +mission or $bsor!tion. The acti&ation se,uence formation used by )$5s was an e-am!le of similar modeling. Tatsuya had taken the 4sions Miyuki had scattered around and, without any coo!eration from her, !oured them back LinsideM. L1t doesnNt matter how good someone is at +-ternal Systematic Magic, it doesnNt matter if they are blood relations, can someone really mani!ulate someone elseNs 4sions that easily? $t that time they were com!letely out of MiyukiNs own control; thatNs another matter for consideration, butPM These were a list of MayumiNs concerns. LWasnNt that one of his ancient magic techni,ues? 1 think that there is an O$rt of the SageN that is e-cellent for controlling 4sionsPM Mari !ut forth her guesswork as an answer; howe&er, L:o, no matter how well an ancient magic techni,ue is mastered, it takes time to !ut it in motion. The $rt of the Sage youNre talking about is an e-tremely time consuming system of magic.M >atsuto indirectly refuted MariNs guess with a Lthat doesnNt e-!lain e&erythingM ty!e of answer. L+&en looking at his sisterNs !ower, as 1 e-!ected, 1 think their genetic makeu! cannot be ignoredPM LBut he himself denied Othat he was a member of the ten master clansN right?M $nd this time, Mari !resented the counter argument to >atsutoNs logic. L$h. %e didnNt seem to be lying.M $s they ran into that dead end, Mari and >atsuto tilted their heads. LP7etNs sto! already. This con&ersation. 1t is not good to in,uire about bloodlines.M Mayumi suddenly !ro!osed a halt. Mari and >atsuto, both felt MayumiNs sudden change in attitude was unnatural; howe&er, for magicians, in,uiring about bloodlines was

certainly a minor crime, so they were unable to e-!ress their ob2ections. *f course, Mayumi did not di&ulge to the two of them what she was secretly thinking. %er own belief was that if Tatsuya was an Le-traM, then that in,uiry was forbidden. 9$nd this is how Tatsuya and Mayumi, both without e&er cons!iring, together became co3cons!irators in order to kee! TatsuyaNs background concealed.

A&ter+ord

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