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Chapter: 10


Volume 2, Chapter 10

This chapter is updated by Novels.pl

The day of the forum quickly arrived.

Half the school was congregated in the auditorium. "It's surprising how many students gathered today."

"I think unexpected would be a better way to describe it."

"There are a lot of idle students around campus... Looks like we should petition the school for a more rigorous curriculum."

"Stop it with the lame jokes, Ichihara..."

The order of speech was Miyuki, Tatsuya, Suzune, then Mari.

They were staring at the interior of the auditorium from the wings of the stage.

Hattori and two others stood near Mayumi.

On the opposite wing, there were four 3rd Year students under the watchful eyes of the Public Morals Committee.

There was no sign of Sayaka.

"So the core members of their mobile forces are elsewhere...?" Mari murmured as if speaking to herself.

However, that was only "as if", and she was obviously not speaking to herself.

"I agree."

Incidentally, Tatsuya was thinking the same thing, so his reply was made with that understanding.

He made a cursory examination of the grounds.

Ratio of Course 1 to Course 2 students was about fifty-fifty. Ignoring Suzune's sarcasm for a moment, there was a surprisingly large number of students, whether Course 1 or 2, who were deeply concerned about this issue.

Among them, about ten students who were members of the Alliance could be identified.

None of them appeared to be the ones who invaded the Public

Announcement Room.

"Even though we have no idea what they're planning... it's not like we can actually make a move on them."

That was obvious even without saying it aloud.

Usually, they were the ones who made the first move, while we could only react after discerning their objectives.

"Just focusing on defense might sound laid back..."

"Chief Watanabe, please don't presume that this will end in violence... It's starting."

Indignant, Mari looked like she was about to reply, but she directed her gaze towards the stage at Suzune's words.

Since it was a forum-style discussion, it was only natural that they began with the cause of the forum.

"President, I have a question regarding this season's budget allocation for club activities. According to our data, clubs that engage in magic competitions and have a higher percentage of Course 1 students receive significantly greater budgets than clubs directed towards non-magic competitions that have a higher percentage of Course 2 students. This is evidence of Course 1 students receiving blatant favoritism in extracurricular activities as well as classes! If the President truly wishes for equality amongst Course 1 and 2 students, I hope she can address this imbalance."

"The budget allocation for club activities is based on the number of registered club members as well as the group's accomplishments, which is decided in a meeting between all the club leaders. The generous allocations for clubs involved in magic competitions reflect their positive results in intramural competitions. I'm sure everyone here is also aware that clubs involved in non-magic competitions that have competed with distinction at the national level, such as legball and other clubs, have received similar allocations. The idea that clubs with more Course 1 students are favored is a simple misunderstanding."

Faced with the questions raised by the Alliance, Mayumi represented the Student Council's rebuttal, and things progressed in this manner.

That being said, the Alliance didn't make any concrete demands. The only item they insisted on was the "equal" allocation of the budget, but they made no move to propose any specific clubs in need of additional allocations.

Originally, their purpose was to incite and cajole Tatsuya into joining them.

"On every level, Course 2 students are treated worse than Course 1 students. The Student Council has tried to hide this!"

"While this criticism is frequently leveled at this office, realistically speaking, do you have any examples to support this? As I mentioned earlier, usage of facilities and the allocation of materials have been equally distributed throughout Classes A to H."

Even if one side's slogan was meant to whip the crowd into a frenzy, onstage their words were nothing more than unsubstantiated theories. When faced with Mayumi's counter charge that their argument was nothing more than empty words and unverified data, this groundless slogan quickly floundered.

The forum rapidly dissolved into a platform for Mayumi to deliver her speech.

"... I cannot deny that the idea of differential treatment that the Alliance refers to exists among our students. However, that is merely the solidification of a sense of superiority and inferiority. This is fundamentally different from the situation where the privileged, fearing the loss of their special rights, act in defense of these rights by instituting systemic segregation.

The terms Bloom and Weed are banned by the school, the Student Council, and the Public Morals Committee, but unfortunately, many students still continue using them daily.

However, the problem lies not just with Course 1 students calling themselves Blooms and derogatorily labeling Course 2 students as Weeds. The problem is also compounded when Course 2 students refer to themselves as Weeds, continuing the vicious cycle of self-depreciation and resigning themselves to the idea that this is inevitable. This lamentable culture truly exists here."

At this, several hissing sounds arose, but no one could truly repudiate those words.

With a bewitching, devilish smile, Mayumi silenced the hisses before adopting a more serious expression as she earnestly defended her position.

Before her, the Alliance's resistance quickly disintegrated. "This wall of consciousness is the true problem.

While the difference between Course 1 and 2 students is written into the school system, this only reflects the lack of educators at the national level, and thus was a temporary solution with this background in mind.

Should everyone receive a subpar education, or should half the students receive a full education?

This school adopted the latter method.

It is true that there is a difference in treatment here.

This is something that cannot be averted no matter what we do.

This is also a mandatory ruling forced onto the students if they choose to study here.

But other than this, there is no difference in the system.

This might come as a shock to some people, but Course 1 and 2 students enjoy the same curriculum.

While there is a difference in pacing, lectures and practical exercises are entirely the same."

It wasn't just Tatsuya, but even Miyuki was completely amazed by this revelation.

Tatsuya involuntarily let out an "Eh..." sound, while Miyuki silently offered her agreement.

Seeing this, Suzune's mouth twitched into a smile.

"For extracurricular activities, both the Club Management Group and the Student Council strive to equally assign the rights and access to the facilities.

It cannot be denied that there is a higher emphasis placed on clubs with greater membership. Yet, when taking into consideration that everyone should have an equal opportunity, we cannot ignore the fact that not all clubs are on equal footing. This is what we think.

This is definitely not the case where extracurricular activities relating to magic competitions receive higher priority.

Just now, the Alliance members pointed out that the magic competition clubs receive a considerable slice of the budget.

The result is exactly that, except that this allocation takes into account the successes garnered by these activities, as everyone saw on the display.

Other than the problem with teachers, the reason behind the separation of Course 1 and 2 students can be clearly explained.

I think everyone can understand any situation with a foundation firmly rooted in logic.

Although there are other reasons, as we all know, they are all caused by the wall of consciousness that arose between Course 1 and 2 students after the separation."

The hissing started again.

This time, it came in two varieties. At the hissing of the Alliance supporters, a noticeable "Alliance members, shut the hell up" aura was welling up near the place where Course 2 students were standing, a clear sign that the tide was turning.

"As this school's Student Council President, I am completely unsatisfied with this situation.

Towards this wall that at times incites our students to conflict, I wish to find a way to dispel it.

However, this does not imply that the only solution lies in changing the current system. Even if Course 2 students receive differential treatment, applying the same conditions to Course 1 students would solve nothing.

It doesn't matter if you are a Course 1 or 2 student, you are still a student of this school. For the students of this campus, the three years spent here are absolutely irreplaceable to them."

Applause greeted these words. There weren't enough people to use the term "thunderous applause" to describe the reception, but even then it wasn't as if the applause was scattered. Among the applauding students, there was no distinction between Course 1 and 2 students.

As the applause faded, tranquility returned to the auditorium. Irrespective if they were Course 1 or 2 students, whether they applauded or not, everyone breathlessly awaited Mayumi's next words as she seemed to tower above them on that podium.

The Alliance representative that took the stage with Mayumi could only look on filled with unease and envy.

"To eliminate the difference in the system, but without causing that difference to reverse in direction, I think we can all accept the above two points. This is an excellent opportunity and I would like everyone to listen to what I hope to achieve.

To tell the truth, the differential treatment between Course 1 and 2 students also lingers in the Student Council.

I am referring to the nomination of student council members other than the Student Council President.

Under the current system, aside from the President, only Course 1 students may join the Student Council.

This ruling can only be changed during the annual Student Council President election, when the Student Body Meeting takes place.

I will abolish this ruling when I formally step down as President during the meeting. This is the last service I can render as the President."

It was as if the entire audience let out a breath. The students completely forgot to hiss and were busy whispering to one another. Mayumi silently waited for the chatter to end on its own.

"... Only half of my term is over. Even if I wanted to make this an official promise, our hearts and minds cannot be gathered together with force, or it may be more appropriate to say that external force has no business altering them in the first place... Thus, the only thing I wish to do is try and improve the situation, even if only a little."

The auditorium burst into applause.

On some level, the atmosphere approached the reception that only idols could induce. Irrespective of whether they were Course 1 or 2 students, they were clearly supporting Mayumi, and not the Alliance.

What Mayumi spoke of was rising above prejudice.

The activities of the Alliance truly moved in the direction of abolishing inequality on the campus. Nonetheless, this reformation progressed in a fashion vastly different from their expectations.

Revolutionaries, in general, are not satisfied with merely achieving their goals.

They insist on obtaining their heart's desire by their own hands.

This conclusion, rather than just being unsatisfactory to the Alliance members, would be more troublesome for those that manipulated the situation from the shadows.

—Moreover, the one inciting Sayaka's group from behind the scenes never planned on stopping here.

◊ ◊ ◊

Abruptly, a loud blast rattled the windows of the auditorium, shaking the applauding students from their reverie.

The mobilized members of the Public Morals Committee sprang into action.

Normally, they never expected their training to actually bear fruit. On orders from their Chief, they swiftly apprehended the Alliance members that were tagged ahead of time.

The window shattered as a spindle-shaped object came hurtling in.

As soon as the grenade hit the ground, it began spewing out white smoke. Before the white smoke could fully spread out, the grenade was quickly rewound like someone hitting the rewind button on a video cassette player, and quickly disappeared back out the window.

Tatsuya let out an appreciative gaze, while Hattori jerked his head away in displeasure.

Seeing this, Mayumi started chuckling to one side. Mari pointed one arm towards the entrance.

Several invaders wearing gas masks swarmed in, but due to their difference in level, they were quickly subdued.

The anticipated surprise attack was quelled according to plan, though no one expected them to use something as over-the-top as explosives and chemical weapons.

Thus, the situation was completely brought under control without throwing the auditorium into panic.

"I'm going to take a look at the Practical Skills Building."

"Onii-sama, I'm going with you!"

"Be careful!"

After Mari finished speaking, the siblings headed towards the area where the sound of the blast originated.

◊ ◊ ◊

Due to the need for constant magic supervision, magic schools usually had Magicians staffed as teachers at all times.

First High, being the authority in magic schools, boasted a teaching staff composed of first class Magicians.

The school alone had the strength to repel the military might of a small nation.

Of course, even though there was a conscious understanding that possible attackers did exist, this was still beyond their expectation.

A complete lack of danger was the real cause behind the relaxing of the guard.

The place to come under attack by the invaders was the Practical Skills Building, as could be seen from its blackened walls and cracked windows. Tatsuya could also hear further blasts, like the sound of small explosives being set off. Facing the flammable liquid that was still burning as it clung stubbornly to the walls, two teachers were engaged in firefighting activities.

"What the hell is going on?"

The prowling boy responsible for protecting the teachers shouted out as he caught sight of Tatsuya.

Miyuki's fingers began dancing in a beautiful fashion.

She single-handedly operated the CAD shaped like a portable terminal.

Instantaneously, the Psion Information Aide spread out, completed the design, and activated.

The flash was the magical light that could only be seen by "magisters" like Magicians and Magic Engineers.

The three men surrounding Leo were immediately blown away. The three of them were wearing electric technician uniforms and were obviously not students nor staff.

It was as if they had stepped on a landmine, but Leo who had been in the center of it was left unscathed.

This sort of pinpoint selectivity was one of the biggest advantages of magic.

"Terrorists have invaded the campus."

While Miyuki conversed with the teachers about the situation, Tatsuya quickly cut to the chase and stated the pertinent details to Leo.

"That's pretty damn serious, huh."

Leo consented to the situation just like that — his agreement was because he understood that this was a chance to join in the subjugation.

Right now, the most important matter was the presence of enemies who had to be eliminated.

"Leo, your Houki! ... Or rather, reinforcements have arrived I guess."

At that moment, Erika appeared on the other side, from the direction of the office. Recognizing the forms of Tatsuya and co, she stopped hurrying.

"No worries. You got here in plenty of time."

"There's plenty to worry about. Like not getting killed and dying."

"What the hell!

... No, now isn't the time for that. Gimme my CAD. Crap, don't just throw it!"

CAD is a type of precision equipment, but would retain its utility even in the midst of complex situations such as these.

There would be no problem even if dropped onto a soft surface like tennis courts. Erika threw the CAD with this in mind, so she naturally ignored Leo's objection. —Even if there was some sort of damage, it was likely that Erika would ignore that too.

"Did Tatsuya do this? Or was it Miyuki?"

Erika spoke succinctly as her merciless gaze swept over the moaning invaders who were crawling away slowly.

"It was Miyuki. I couldn't have applied it that well."

"It was me. There is no need for Onii-sama to concern himself with such small fry."

Tatsuya and Miyuki beside him spoke up at the same time.

"OK, OK, what an envious sibling relationship... Is it really alright to send those guys flying without so much as a warning?"

"There's no need to hold back if they aren't students."

Tatsuya calmly replied with a comment that subtly changed the direction of the conversation. Hearing this, Erika laughed.

"Aha, and I thought high school would be a boring place."

"Scary. So this is what a bloodthirsty woman looks like."

"Shut up."

Erika raised her right hand halfway, but self-consciously pulled back from stabbing forward with the special police baton.

"Speaking of which, what are the two of you doing at the Practical Skills Building at this hour?"

Unless they were staying after school for additional practice, students usually would not return to the Practical Skills Building after class.

This wasn't a teasing retaliation, but an innocent question instead. "Eh? No, that, well, how do I put it?"

"Eh, uh, well, that, what was it again?"

That being said, for the two of them to falter this badly was quite the unexpected turnout.

"... What are you two doing together?" A serious question.

However, no one knew Tatsuya quite as well as Miyuki. As soon as Miyuki saw her elder brother's serious expression that carefully masked an evil smirk, she quickly figured it out.

"The two of us alone?"

Erika's voice could not conceal her astonishment. "That's a misunderstanding!"

It would not be an exaggeration to describe Leo's response as a roar.

"I just came for more practice in practical skills! This woman came afterwards!"

"When I came to practice, this brazen fellow was already there."

"What do you mean brazen!"

"Ah, I understand. I got it. I won't take it the wrong way."

At this point, there was no longer any profit in this matter, but Tatsuya was thoroughly satisfied with the reactions elicited from the two of them.

Tatsuya quickly curtailed that thought. "Have you found any other trespassers?"

"The teachers are guarding the other side. No wonder they're teachers, seeing as all the trespassers have already been apprehended."

Tatsuya solemnly watched Erika as he said this. Erika pretended as if the earlier interruption hadn't occurred as she replied back in a heavy tone that was neither solemn nor joking.

Leo was able to switch gears fairly quickly as well.

"I know coming from me it's a little sketchy, but those guys were only third-rate Magicians at best. I've just never trained in 3 on 1 magics."

Leo tried to downplay what happened, but handling three opponents at the same time was no mean feat.

The competency of Tatsuya's peers had surpassed his original expectations. "Erika, any problems near the Office Buildings?"

At Miyuki's question, Erika nodded.

"They looked like they were prepared a long time ago. By the time I got there, the teachers had already subdued the attackers. Probably because all the expensive equipment is over there."

The majority of the valuables were kept in the offices for safekeeping, so it was fairly obvious to see why it would be a tempting target.

That being said, the Practical Skills Building only contained outdated CADs.

If anything significant should be pointed out for the sake of argumentation, it would be that the heat-resistant, earthquake-proof, and shock-resistant building was only blackened slightly after taking direct hits from grenades. Even if the building was damaged, it would only result in delaying classes by about one month.

In other words, in order to completely sabotage the school and prevent the facilities from operating, the logical course of action would be to disable vital equipment that were difficult to replace on a short notice, as well as specimens and research data...

"... The labs and library!"

"So, the attack over here is a diversion? But the scale is far greater than we imagined. Unless the secret meetings to organize the protests during the forum was in itself the diversion."

Regarding Miyuki's questions, Tatsuya shook his head.

"No, I think they're all real. Someone may be using the Alliance for their own purposes."

How pitiful, Tatsuya thought but he kept that to himself. If they were accused of this without being given any chance to defend themselves, it would probably be gravely insulting to the ones who truly wanted to change the system for the better.

"Let's table this for now. So, what should we do next?" There were 3 choices.

Their first option would be to split their forces. Alternately, they could all head for the Science Building. Or, head for the library.

"Their target is the library."

This newly acquired intelligence decided their strategy. "Ono-sensei?"

She was wearing a pair of low-heeled boots with a long pair of jeans, with a gleaming sweater tucked inside her jacket.

Today's wardrobe, a getup that emphasized mobility, was quite different from the one she wore several days before.

The luster denoted that the fabric was probably a fiber strengthened with bulletproof and anti-blade qualities.

Her expression was tense and nervous, giving off an air as if she wasn't entirely herself.

"The enemy's main force has already penetrated the library. Mibu-san is also in there."

Three gazes focused on Tatsuya.

However, Tatsuya's eyes were fixed on Haruka. Less than a second passed before he spoke.

"I'll explain everything after this is all over, is that acceptable?"

"Rejected. Despite me saying that, since I know you're going in there anyway, may I ask you a favor instead?"

"What is it?"

Although Haruka had a hesitant expression, she wasn't stumbling over her words, nor doing anything else that wasted valuable time.

"I would like to make a request as Counselor Ono Haruka. Please give Mibu-san a chance. Since last year began, she has been burdened by the dissonance that comes from her status as a valued kendo athlete versus the value assigned to Course 2 students. Even though she's asked to see me several times... I was incapable of offering her comfort. In the end, that created the opportunity for those guys to get to her."

"Do not spoil her."

Haruka's request probably came from her sense of professional duty. However, Tatsuya ruthlessly rejected this request.

"Come, Miyuki."

"Yes."

"Wait, Tatsuya."

Following that, toward his friends who did not have the heart to refuse her, Tatsuya offered this honest warning.

"Being overly sentimental will only bring harm to yourself." Time was of the essence, so he couldn't elaborate.

Tatsuya delivered this ominous warning as he walked ahead, his back to his friends.

◊ ◊ ◊

In front of the library, small knots of people were still fighting.

Beside CADs, the aggressors also carried daggers and other projectile weaponry. While there was a small group of students mixed in, the majority were from the outside — in other words, invaders.

The 3rd Year students that anchored the defensive line didn't have CADs, but possessed an overwhelming advantage in Magic Power.

Even without CADs, they could still use magic and handheld weapons to deny the enemy. With this level of skill, no wonder they were the young birds that aimed to become Magicians. (It might be more appropriate to call them young tigers than birds.) Seeing this, Leo was the first to charge in. "Panzer!"

With a roar, he plunged into the melee. There was a reason behind that roar.

"I guess it takes a rare specimen to differentiate between sounds..."

"Onii-sama, just then, did his magic design and spread occur at the same time?"

"Hm, they spread out gradually in succession. That is a technique that was popular 10 years ago."

"That guy, even his magic is old school..."

Erika snarled furtively, pretending to be ignorant of the fact that her Engravement Magic was also a type of magic prevalent in the past. Thankfully, Leo didn't catch these words while he was locked in combat.

Using a hefty, bracer-shaped CAD worn on his forearm, he blocked the incoming staff and retaliated with his own attack.

Originally, a defensive type CAD would have no need to expose any movable parts or sensors on the outside, hence the voice recognition system.

That being said...

"Considering how he uses it, it's a miracle that it's still in one piece!"

"The CAD itself must have been enhanced with Fortify Magic.

Fortify Magic stabilizes the relative coordinates of molecules within a narrow area.

No matter how powerful the force, so long as the relative coordinates are spot on and the outer shell isn't broken, there's no chance of the CAD breaking."

"Something that can hold together no matter how violent you are. That type of magic suits him perfectly."

Completely ignoring Erika and company standing off to the side as well as their comments or insults, Leo recklessly charged into battle as if he was venting all of his frustration.

His hands, wrapped in a pair of black gloves, shattered stone, rubble, and ice alike, while staves forged of metal and carbon-based resin crumpled before him.

Occasionally, contact with a concealed stun baton would emit a small shower of sparks.

Daggers that couldn't be avoided and darts fired from spring mechanisms cunningly worn in the sleeves all bounced off Leo's white and green school uniform.

"So he's hardened every inch of clothing on him. It's as if he's striding around in a full suit of armor."

This was not an exaggeration for magic that one excelled in.

Leo's Fortify Magic simultaneously executed the Activation Sequence as well as the design and invocation stages of the Magic Sequence and spread out in succession while maintaining a constant state of magic renewal.

Even with weapons, it was extremely unlikely that these invading terrorists, who were barely a step above complete amateurs in terms of skill, would have any way of penetrating that armor.

To top it all off, those fists that would normally be restricted by the limits of the human body were instead strengthened by Speed and Movement Magics, creating a truly terrifying force of sheer destruction.

He would easily be accepted as an effective fighting force, even on the front lines of the military, if it was for this type of close quarters combat where the usage of firearms was restricted.

"Leo, we're going on ahead!"

"I got it!'

Tatsuya left this location in Leo's hands.

◊ ◊ ◊

Silence greeted them in the library interior.

If Haruka was correct, this wasn't because the attackers had been repulsed, but because the defenders were subdued.

Aside from the regular employees, there were also security personnel posted at the library, but they had probably all been eliminated by now.

Based on this alone, the skill level of the main force must have been substantially higher.

Tatsuya temporarily hid himself in the vestibule, reached out with his searching range and scanned for life signs.

There were no indications of any life signs.

Modern magic is capable of interfering with natural phenomena and its accompanying signals, which includes the existence of the phenomena and the eidos.

All users of modern magic could access the information dimension — the information medium of the universe, the platform that linked all eidos, as defined in the Greek philosophical concept of "information" — in order to identify other eidos.

That being said, very few people could clearly identify and differentiate them.

What radically separated Tatsuya from ordinary magic users was his incredible aptitude in sensory ability, to the point that he could identify each and every eidos encompassed in the information dimension.

"There are four in the Special Browsing Room on the second floor, two at the foot of the stairs, and two at the top..."

"Nice. With Tatsuya-kun here, all ambushes become meaningless. In live combat, this is definitely an incredible advantage."

"What are they doing in the Special Browsing Room?"

"This is too quiet for their purpose to be destruction. They're probably trying to steal the classified research materials held by the magic universities. If they are in the Special Browsing Room, they can easily access the unpublished materials that are inaccessible in ordinary browsing areas."

Hearing Tatsuya's explanation to Miyuki's question, Erika's expression turned glum.

"Erika, your expression seems to say that this isn't what you were expecting."

Hearing Miyuki's question, Erika shrugged her shoulders in an exaggerated manner.

"That's because~, this is a high school revolt, a veritable youth revolution. But now you're telling me that the truth of the matter is something as boring as stealing research data... Don't destroy my beautiful dream with such an unpleasant truth! That's how I feel. What do you think?"

"Don't ask me. By the way, your dream was biased in the first place."

"Didn't you just answer me?"

Ugh, Tatsuya couldn't deny that. Miyuki hurriedly interjected.

"Come on, let's hurry to the Special Browsing Room. I'll handle the ambushers."

"No, leave that mission to~ me."

Erika sang out that she would deal with the situation, then charged out of cover before anyone could reply.

Silently, she glided over to the foot of the stairs.

The retractable police baton with an embedded CAD was already fully extended.

The ambushers ended up being ambushed.

The second that the police baton struck the enemy, Erika had already passed them.

She felled two opponents instantly.

In complete contrast to Leo's brutal approach to combat, she finessed the battle.

The sound of their allies hitting the ground finally alerted the guards on top of the stairs that they were under attack.

One of them charged straight down, while the other started an Activation Sequence.

However, just as the Psions started flashing, the Activation Sequence shattered.

The Magician gaped as his magic was denied.

The stiffness in his body was very unnatural, and after a second of watching, he lost his balance and toppled down the stairs.

"Ah..."

"Don't worry."

Hearing his sister's cute voice, Tatsuya replied as he returned the pistol- shaped CAD to its holder.

Humanoids often make minute adjustments to their center of balance in order to stand upright.

Everything was within reason up to this point. Miyuki was probably caught off guard by the person rolling down the stairs.

Well, it looked like his collarbone wasn't fractured, so all he'd get out of that would be a concussion and several broken ribs. That was what he meant by "don't worry".

On the other side, the attacker was equipped with a bona fide short-sword rather than a dagger as he charged towards Erika.

This seemed familiar.

It was just like Sayaka's opponent during the kendo demonstration. A green and white ribbon was tied onto the right wrist that stretched forward to deny Erika. It appeared that the kendo club was the first to be corrupted.

"Tch. Tatsuya-kun, we have to hold back against the students, don't we?" Her voice shook a little since she was asking in the heat of combat.

Given the differences in height and wrist strength, this could heavily influence a deadlocked situation.

"There's no need to force yourself to be merciful."

At the same time that he said this, Tatsuya stepped forward, "Ha! I don't need your help!"

Erika stopped him.

"I can easily handle this kind of opponent when I'm serious." She temporarily raised the pressure, then quickly slid to one side.

Having switched places with her off-balanced opponent, Erika hurriedly urged Tatsuya onwards.

"Leave this place to me!"

"Got it!"

The boy was wary of being assaulted from both sides, so he dropped to a half crouch.

However, in the eyes of Tatsuya and Miyuki, this student had already ceased to exist.

Tatsuya forcefully launched off the ground.

Miyuki lightly stepped off the floor. Tatsuya leapt onto the walls, While Miyuki flew into the air.

Both of them quickly landed on the second floor. "Whew~"

Erika whistled in admiration and the Alliance student gaped in shock as Tatsuya and Miyuki charged towards the Special Browsing Room.

◊ ◊ ◊

Sayaka's mind was a blur as she watched what was going on in front of her.

In front of the only terminal that could access the highest level of research

—restricted research — in this country, her companions — members of "Blanche" — were currently hacking into the system.

Half a year ago, they were introduced by Tsukasa, the ace of the men's kendo team. For some reason, Tsukasa did not bring Sayaka to Egalite, to which he was affiliated, but to Blanche instead.

Originally, Sayaka had no intention of bringing their activities outside of campus, nor did she have any wish to participate in any lawbreaking activity. The only reason she saw them was out of consideration for Tsukasa, who often took care of her. Tsukasa's older brother, who was the head of Blanche's Japan branch, told her many things, such as how the differences on campus caused by magical talent could not be resolved. Despite knowing this, Sayaka's foremost worry remained how Course 2 students were treated differently on campus.

In truth, Sayaka really wanted to attend the forum. Not only did she want to attend, but she also dreamt of expressing her opinions. It was only because she was familiar with the details of this mission that she allowed Tsukasa to persuade her otherwise.

What the heck was she doing? -- Sayaka thought. Taking the keys without permission, being the accomplice to a break-in... Was this really what she should be doing?

Her thoughts were headed in an uncomfortable direction. Realizing this,

Sayaka quickly gathered herself back onto the mission in front of her.

However, our goal is to abolish the differential treatment brought on by magic, so why do we need the most cutting edge magical research?

Tsukasa's older brother said that publicizing the research results was the first step to abolishment.

(That being said, wouldn't it be meaningless to publicize magic theories to people who can't use magic...?)

The questions that were chasing each other around in her mind once more came to the forefront.

For people who couldn't use magic, magic theory had no point whatsoever.

On some level, magic theory was grounded in scientific theory, thus separating it from other mind-based disciplines like theology.

If people who wanted the most advanced magic research data truly did exist, wouldn't they be the ones who could use magic...?

(No, research data that can benefit people who can't use magic must exist, and it is hidden here...)

This was the reason she must follow. This reason allowed her to continue on the path she was currently on.

However, no matter how many times she repeated it in her heart, she still couldn't fully accept those words.

"... Okay, it's open." Someone chattered softly.

He hurriedly brought out a Solid Cube used for storage.

Her companions — Sayaka detected a strong sense of "desire" imprinted on their faces, causing her to avert her eyes.

Towards the door.

So, she was the first one to notice. "The door!"

Hearing her outburst, the other members turned to look.

Before their very eyes, the square doors broke apart and collapsed into the room.

"Impossible!"

The dismayed gasps that they let out were, based on the situation at hand, actually quite conservative.

Objects that have been fortified have eidos that are much harder to manipulate. Even dual reinforced doors that could withstand a krak missile could be destroyed by magic.

However, to accomplish that it usually required a complicated Magic Sequence that repeatedly used Mass and Vibrate Magics to dissolve the door. No one could accept that a dual reinforced armor door could be silently destroyed like this.

The men froze at this sight that so thoroughly impugned their general understanding of the world. At this moment, the recording Solid Cube shattered in their hands.

Immediately afterwards, the hacking terminal dissolved as if caught in a time warp that swiftly returned it into its component parts.

Following that, the signal from the Device also halted, rendering the Browsing Room into a dormant state.

"I suppose it's more appropriate to refer to you as industrial spies? Your plans end here."

A familiar figure casually declared this as he strode forward with pistol- shaped Specialized CAD in his right hand that flashed silver with every step.

Behind him, a slim figure gracefully followed him with a terminal-shaped CAD held in one hand.

Neither sibling allowed a trace of excitement to grace their features, causing them to forget that they were in the middle of a crime scene.

"Shiba-kun..."

Sayaka softly whispered while someone raised a right hand.

It wasn't a gesture of surrender. It was a male companion pointing a gun at her kohai.

This man wasn't a student from First High. He wasn't a student at all.

He was someone who came along on behalf of Tsukasa's older brother their leader.

This companion who had been specifically recommended by their leader was obviously intent on committing murder. Sayaka let out a soundless scream of terror.

She wanted to stop this, but was unable to cry out. Her hands were frozen.

She was going to become an accomplice to murder; Sayaka was so terrified that she shrugged into a ball.

However, the bullets that could easily take life were not spat out of the barrel.

His right hand tightly gripped the pistol, no, the pistol was stuck to his hand.

The man's right hand was covered in purple swelling.

"Please desist from any more foolish actions. For me to be merciful towards those that intend Onii-sama any harm, I don't think I can do that."

Her voice was deathly quiet, and equally solemn. It was like she was a completely different person.

She gave off an aura of invincibility, as if any act to defy her would be fruitless.

Just hearing her voice caused resistance to crumble.

This time, it was Tatsuya's cruel words that drifted into the ears of a terrified Sayaka.

"This is reality. Mibu-senpai."

"Eh...?"

"A world where everyone can be treated equally is inherently impossible. If there were truly an equal world that completely discounted talent and adaptability, then everyone should receive an equally cold reception from the world.

In truth, Mibu-senpai already knows this, right?

No one is capable of treating everyone equally. That only exists in carefully crafted lies in order to mislead others."

Sayaka's originally despairing visage tightened.

In the blank eyes of her kohai standing before her, she could detect a tiny trace of --

"Mibu-senpai, you were only being used so they could steal the unpublished research data stored by the magic universities. This is the truth behind your lofty ideals." -- Pity?

"Why? Why did it turn out like this?"

The moment she realized this, the complex emotions within Sayaka burst forth.

"Is it wrong to eliminate the differences? Is it wrong to dream of equality?

The differences truly exist here!

This can't just be my misunderstanding. I truly was despised.

I was exposed before their scornful stares. And I heard all their stupid names for me.

To remove all of these, is there something wrong with that? Aren't you the same?

They compared you against your sister's superlative talents too. You have also gone through that degradation.

You have also been labeled an idiotic fool!" Sayaka's screams seemed to spring forth from within. From within the well of her soul.

Yet, none of these piteous cries reached Tatsuya. His heart did not resonate with those words. That was because to Tatsuya, "these things" were simply acceptable aspects of reality.

So Tatsuya merely understood the literal "meaning" behind her words as well as the "phenomenon" she was screaming about. Here was a young lady in despair. That was the only thing he took away.

The pity that Sayaka thought she saw in his eyes, were merely the delusions brought upon her by her extreme wretchedness.

Sayaka's screams did not reach the young man's heart — but passed into the heart of the young woman standing next to him.

"I will never despise Onii-sama." She calmly said.

However, this voice contained enough emotion to quell Sayaka's screams

— an emotion of raw fury, hidden beneath the layers of calm.

"Even if every other human being insults, slanders, despises my brother, the love and respect I bear for Onii-sama will never change."

"... You..."

Sayaka was unable to speak.

Before Miyuki's proud declaration, Sayaka was not only struck speechless, but rendered unable to think as well.

"The love and respect I bear do not come from the strength of one's magic. In the eyes of the world, my magic is many times greater than Onii-sama's.

Even then, these things will not influence the love and respect I bear towards Onii-sama in the slightest.

Before my feelings towards Onii-sama, all of these things become trivial and meaningless.

That is because I know that this only constitutes a small part of Onii- sama."

"..."

"Anyone can insult Onii-sama?

To me, this is truly insufferable effrontery.

It is true that there are ignorant fools that vilify Onii-sama.

But at the same time, when compared with the number of such trash, there are just as many, no, many more people who acknowledge Onii-sama's transcendent talents.

Mibu-senpai, you are truly a pitiful person."

"What did you say?"

Her volume rose slightly.

But it was a lifeless voice. It was a voice devoid of both feelings and thoughts.

"Aren't there people that acknowledge you? Is magic the only way people see you?

No, that's impossible.

I know of at least one person who doesn't do this. Do you know who that is?"

"..."

"Onii-sama has acknowledged you. Your swordsmanship, your beauty."

"... These are only appearances."

"Exactly, these are just appearances.

But, isn't this a part of senpai as well, senpai's charisma and sense of individuality?"

"..."

"Of course, appearances are only natural.

Including the two meetings at the cafe and the time in front of the Public Announcement Room, this is the fourth time you've spoken with Onii- sama.

You've only met him four times, how much did you expect him to understand?"

"That..."

"In the end, more so than anyone else, you were the one who saw yourself being treated differently.

More than anyone else, you were also the one who viewed yourself as an inferior student and derogatorily used the term 'Weed' towards yourself."

Her words were undeniable.

No urge to repudiate this argument emerged.

This reprimand struck Sayaka like a terrible blow, causing her mind to go blank.

Just as her mind ground to a halt,

Just as she was about to abandon the will to go on,

This soulless shell allowed the devil's soft hiss to worm in.

No, in this case, it was more like the puppeteer's light whispers. "Mibu, use the ring!"

It came from a cowardly man cowering shamelessly behind a 16 year old girl.

This man suddenly shouted out.

Accompanying this scream, his wrist also swung downwards. A small spark ignited, along with dense white smoke.

At the same time, there were several piercing sounds that could not be heard.

It was the background noise from the Psions.

They were attempting to stop magic from invoking by using Cast Jamming - Sorcery Disruptor.

In the smoke, three separate sets of footsteps could be heard. Tatsuya reached out twice.

And struck twice with the palm of his hand into the smoke. With his eyes completely closed.

There were two meaty sounds of impact, along with the sounds of two bodies hitting the floor.

"Miyuki, stop!"

When Tatsuya gave out this order.

The Magic Sequence Miyuki designed swiftly morphed into another object.

It gathered the white smoke together like a tornado.

The dust clouds were compressed to the size of ping pong balls, then fell to the ground locked inside triangular ice blocks that materialized out of thin air.

Now that vision was no longer obstructed, the room revealed three men lying on the ground.

One of them was rolling around on the ground, trying to fight back the hideous pain of frostbite.

Two others bore bruises on their faces and lay there unconscious. "Onii-sama, it is alright to let Mibu-senpai go?"

Miyuki wondered aloud.

She had no doubts regarding whether Tatsuya had any ulterior motives.

In Miyuki's mind, there was little chance for Tatsuya to develop any relationship with women that surpassed sibling banter.

Miyuki also clearly understood that Tatsuya was not the type to bring personal feelings into the mix.

"I don't doubt your skills, but there is always the possibility of a mishap when vision is obstructed.

I don't want you to run that risk, so let Erika handle Mibu-senpai."

The fastest point of egress from here would inevitably lead directly to Erika on the first floor. Given Sayaka's current state, she was in no condition to seek alternate routes.

"I don't think Erika has any vested interest in this..."

"Perhaps, if her opponent were anyone other than Mibu-senpai."

Miyuki didn't really comprehend what it meant to fixate on your opponent.

For her, combat was something to be avoided initially, but if pressed, victory overrode all other concerns.

It didn't matter who her opponent was.

For her opponent's identity, a simple label of "enemy" was sufficient, anything else became meaningless.

That being said, from a purely intellectual perspective, she acknowledged that there were people out there who placed special meaning on who their opponents were.

"Is that so? If it's Erika, then there should be no problems."

So let's leave Sayaka to Erika, Miyuki thought as she moved forward to help her elder brother bind the thieves in a way usually reserved for terrorists.

◊ ◊ ◊

Sayaka was now entirely relying on her subconscious for movement. The Antinite ring was her trump card when the time came to escape.

Having gone through the education for "Magisters", she knew the nature and limits of Cast Jamming.

No, in regards to the knowledge surrounding this ring, Sayaka knew more about it than your average Magician.

This ring did not possess the power to strike down other Magicians.

It only had the power to interfere with magic through Cast Jamming. Aside from providing a method for avoiding magic attacks, there was no other purpose.

You cannot defeat that 1st Year student.

At that time, I witnessed glorious techniques that I'd never seen before.

When their leader gave her this ring, he repeatedly cautioned her with the above warning.

This ring is used solely for running away.

The deeply imprinted scene in her brain and the echoes of those powerful words reverberated in her ears, prompting her limbs to keep moving.

There were no footsteps behind her. No one was following her.

In her heart, she understood that her companions had been taken down.

However, her paralyzed mind would not allow her to make the conscious decision to go back and help them.

Her mind consumed by the failure of their plan and the subsequent urge to flee the campus to their temporary base, Sayaka fled through the corridors and headed straight down the stairs.

At that moment, her feet came to a dead stop. "Senpai, it's a pleasure to meet you!"

A young woman — probably a 1st Year student, given that she called her "senpai" — was smiling before her with both hands held behind her back.

"... Who are you?"

Her wariness forced out a sound.

However, that 1st Year student's cheery expression didn't dim in the slightest.

"1st Year, Class E, Chiba Erika.

I want to confirm something just in case. You are Mibu Sayaka-senpai, who took silver in last year's National Middle School Women's Kendo Competition, correct?"

The words struck Sayaka like an invisible blow.

The darkest corners of her consciousness and the deepest depths of her heart stung as if struck with a shinai.

"... And what of it?"

Suppressing the sudden pain, Sayaka replied back. "It's nothing, nothing at all.

I just wanted to be sure."

Erika kept her hands behind her back.

However, there were no weak points anywhere on her body.

Her slim figure was incapable of blocking the corridor entirely, but there were no detectable "gaps" for a person to pass through anywhere.

And on top of that... Were the hands hidden behind her back empty? Is she really not holding anything?

"... Suddenly showing up here. You aren't planning to let me pass." There was no sign of pursuit to her rear.

Be that as it may, given the man in question, concealing his presence was probably a piece of cake.

Sayaka reined in her anxious emotions and strove to speak in an even manner.

She knew that her chances of breaking through unharmed were zero from the beginning.

"Where are you going?"

"That's none of your business."

"You don't want to answer... is that right?"

"Yes."

"Negotiation breakdown." Erika happily declared.

Although the words seemed a little farfetched, but Sayaka knew very well that she never planned on letting her go in the first place.

Sayaka quickly glanced left and right. Unfortunately, she didn't have a weapon on hand.

While she was equipped with a CAD, she would have to yield her Cast Jamming in order to use magic.

A silvery gray rod appeared in the corner of her vision.

It was a stun baton that belonged to one of Sayaka's companions.

The baton was a little shorter than what she was accustomed to, but it would serve as a suitable replacement for her usual weapon.

Sayaka slowly lowered her center of gravity. She concentrated all her strength into her feet. And abruptly sprang away.

After grabbing the stun baton on the ground, Sayaka fell into a crouch to greet the other woman.

On the other hand, Erika just stood there gaping at Sayaka's antics.

"There's no need to be in such a hurry, I was going to give you time to locate a weapon..."

Sayaka flushed.

This wasn't a solo performance! In an effort to hide the awkwardness and embarrassment brought on by her actions, Sayaka glared at Erika and shouted,

"Get away from there! Otherwise you're going to get hurt!"

"Self defense established! Well, I never intended to use that excuse anyways,"

Erika said in a very excited tone as she brought her hands from behind her to the front.

Her right hand held a retractable police baton, while the left carried an actual short-sword.

Following that, she casually tossed the weapon in her left hand to one side. "Shall we begin, senpai?"

Erika raised her right arm.

Sayaka also took a combat stance. Her weapon was pointed directly at her opponent, her right hand placed above her left.

On one side, Sayaka with the central two-handed style. On the other, Erika in a half curved stance with the one-handed style.

The match started in a flash.

Contact was made between the blades, but their swings emitted no sounds. The instant she saw movement, Erika swung her baton at Sayaka's neck. Sayaka furiously raised her arm.

She dashed backwards, reflexively adopting a defensive posture as she was barely able to take this blow. At the same time, her opponent had already looped to her rear.

To parry the next blow, Sayaka instinctively raised her baton.

The shock of the blow reverberated down the stun baton into her hand. Sayaka was more than ready to close into melee range but her opponent had already retreated out of range.

"Personal Speed Magic...?" Sayaka softly murmured. Erika did not reply.

"... Just like Watanabe-senpai?"

However, her next words stopped Erika cold.

Although it was only a momentary hesitation, that was sufficient to shift the momentum.

Erika, who once again advanced, was forced to stop by the piercing noise that filled the corridor.

This was Psion noise, noise that normal ears could not hear.

Seeing Erika's face contort in discomfort, Sayaka immediately charged. She would not give her opponent an instant to catch her breath.

Face, face, forearm, abdomen, diagonal slash, uppercut, face, reverse diagonal slash...

This series of sword strikes was obviously not developed solely for kendo training, as it included several techniques from ancient kendo styles.

Her attack was as swift as fire.

Just as the proverb Fūrinkazan dictated, her attack was as fierce as flame. At some point, the Psion noise disappeared.

The reason behind this was obvious.

In order to activate Cast Jamming, a constant influx of Psions into the Antinite was required.

If the influx of Psions stopped, the noise would stop as well. The noise that originally filled the room gradually died away.

Because Sayaka had thrown everything she had into her blows, maintaining Cast Jamming was frankly impossible.

So long as one was capable of using magic, no matter how fierce or powerful the attack was, nothing could match the speed of magic.

While she clearly knew this, Erika didn't plan on using magic. She probably didn't have the time to design a Magic Sequence.

Erika was a Course 2 student that didn't excel in compiling technical skills.

Even so, Erika's CAD was a specialized model that was fortified for high speed combat and possessed a form that Erika was well accustomed to.

In addition, her Engravement Magic was a type that could still channel Psions even under the effects of Cast Jamming.

If she could create enough separation, then she would be able to use magic attacks.

However, Erika didn't try to break away, nor did she press forward.

In direct opposition to the high praise of the fierce flame, Sayaka's attack could only be described as fairly clumsy.

On the other hand, Erika was using precise and fluid motions to defuse each of her opponent's attacks.

Her eyes betrayed no trace of agitation. Her breath remained perfectly even.

The first one to start breathing raggedly was actually Sayaka, who had expended all her energy on the attack.

The momentum reversed in an instant.

The attacker and defender roles were swapped.

Erika sidestepped her opponent's final blow, then immediately retaliated against Sayaka's motionless stun baton.

The stun baton, which was by design more fragile than bokkens or staves, snapped upon impact to its base. "..."

Sayaka stared weakly at the police baton pointed at her. Her eyes still burned with her fighting spirit.

"Please pick it up."

Erika said without moving her weapon. "..."

Unable to comprehend her words, Sayaka made no response.

"Pick up the short-sword on the ground and show me your true strength. I will shatter the feminine illusion that binds you."

Sayaka ignored the police baton before her eyes and bent her knees.

She picked up the short-sword that Erika discarded, then once again fell into a stance.

Afterwards, Sayaka remembered something, fell out of her stance and put her left hand atop her right.

She removed the flashing bronze ring on her right hand. And threw it to the floor.

"I don't need to rely on that.

I will use my own strength to break your technique." Sayaka removed her uniform jacket.

At First High, female students wore sleeveless gowns beneath their uniform jackets.

Sayaka's arms were exposed from the shoulder down, which guaranteed her complete freedom of movement.

Sayaka turned the edge of the blade skywards.

Slashing with the back of the blade was a method that completely disregarded the structural properties of the weapon, and only served to increase the risk of the blade breaking.

Even with this disadvantage, Sayaka was unwilling to allow her hesitation towards murder to dull the speed of the blade's tip, hence she assumed this position.

"I understand."

They stood in the ready position facing one another.

"Your techniques seem to come from the same style as Watanabe-senpai."

"Do not speak of my blade in the same sentence as that woman's sword. We are on completely different levels."

Each side exchanged one sentence, heralding the start of the verbal spar. Thereafter, silence dominated the scene.

Silence turned into anxiety, and anxiety turned to urgency.

Just as the urgency reached a crescendo, Erika's figure vanished. The exchange was over in an instant.

The crisp sound of metallic contact rang out.

It was practically impossible for the naked eye to discern, but Sayaka truly managed to defend herself against one of Erika's magically accelerated attacks.

She managed to hold off the "longsword's" first attack. The short-sword slid from Sayaka's nerveless hands. Subsequently, Sayaka pressed her right arm and fell to one knee. "My apologies, senpai.

That's probably a fracture."

"... The bone cracked.

It's fine. I don't think you were holding back."

"Yes, senpai, you can hold your head up high.

That's because you forced a woman of the Chiba Family to go all out."

"I see... So, you're a member of the Chiba family."

"That's the truth of the matter.

By the way, Watanabe Mari is a disciple of our family as well. I was the one who oversaw her certification.

In terms of pure swordsmanship, I am the superior one." Hearing this, Sayaka finally smiled.

It was a brief, carefree smile. "Is that so...?

I say, although the loser has no right to ask for a boon, could you call a stretcher for me?

I feel like, my consciousness, is fading, ah..." Sayaka crumpled to the ground.

Erika carefully scooped her up.

She softly whispered into the ears of the unconscious Sayaka. "Don't worry, senpai.

Because your gentle kohai will take senpai away from here."

◊ ◊ ◊

"So, you want me to carry Mibu-senpai out of here?"

Regarding Tatsuya's natural question, Erika nodded her head as if she couldn't care less.

"It's okay, she's not that heavy."

"No, that's not the issue."

"Now you can legitimately hug a cute girl to yourself, so why don't you just happily accept already?"

"I have no interest in being happy about such a trivial matter... No, that's still not the issue."

"... You know, I just had an inkling about this. Is Tatsuya-kun uninterested in women?

Like, do you swing in that direction?"

"What do you mean by that direction?"

"Gay!"

"Don't be ridiculous!

That's why I said this isn't the issue. We can easily call for a stretcher, so why must I be the one to carry her?"

Miyuki laughed merrily at this scene.

Tatsuya was simultaneously dealing with his mounting exhaustion while trying to decipher Erika's logic at the same time. —At this point, he had already half-given up on the inside.

"It would obviously make Mibu-senpai very happy!" At some point, Tatsuya stopped replying.

While he still felt that the proposal was illogical, he was also resigned to the fact that using logic to convince Erika was going to be an extremely challenging task.

The conversation had reached its conclusion, so to speak. "Isn't this wonderful, Onii-sama?

Although her injury isn't dire, it is true that the earlier she can be treated the better.

I think that the most efficient method would probably be for Onii-sama to carry her.

At any rate, there's no use trying to explain it further. Your opponent is Erika, after all."

"Wait, Miyuki, what's that supposed to mean?"

"Yeah, that's true. Oh, well."

"Wait, Tatsuya-kun, what the heck is this, hitting people when they're down?

Don't you guys think that going two on one is a little treacherous?"

"Ara, I'm obviously Erika's ally here!"

"Lies! Blatant lies!"

When faced with Erika's shouting, Miyuki merely smiled pleasantly in acceptance. With this conversation as the BGM, Tatsuya carefully picked up Sayaka.

This action wasn't an abrupt one, nor did he waver when doing so.

It was more like he had no idea where to place his strength to perform this action.

"Hm, just as expected, Tatsuya-kun is quite capable."

For some reason, Erika expressed this opinion as she nodded several times. Since responding to her words would only waste more time, Tatsuya decided to start walking.

Sayaka's unconscious face looked like she was in a deep slumber.

◊ ◊ ◊

After learning of the capture of the library infiltrators through the screen of his portable terminal, Tsukasa of the Men's Kendo Division knew that he had to link up with his older brother, the current head of Blanche's Japan branch, and seek further instructions. This had to be accomplished in the shortest time frame possible.

While technically his older brother, he was only a stepbrother from his father's second marriage at the end of the day. However, Tsukasa always trusted his older brother as if they were directly related by blood. There was no sense of awkwardness between the two of them after the marriage initially, so how did they get to this point? He just couldn't recall how.

Whenever he thought of this mystery, it was immediately buried beneath other thoughts. The moment Tsukasa thought of this, he shook his head, because now wasn't the time to consider it. It was too dangerous to use the wireless network for contact. He wasn't worried about being overheard; he just didn't want to use such a normal method of communication, but this was a critical situation. Any inbound message, whether wired or wireless, ran the risk of being intercepted, so thinking like this was only natural.

Tsukasa wasn't expecting any problems by leaving campus. Even though this was a critical situation, it was not war time nor was it a period of civil war. There was no way a gunfight would break out on campus. Although people unaffiliated with clubs had to undergo strenuous examination, this generally did not affect students.

Tsukasa made his decision based on this assumption, but unfortunately for him, fate had other ideas.

"If it isn't Tsukasa from the kendo club. Are you headed home?"

Just as Tsukasa was about to waltz out the main gate, someone called out to him from behind.

It wasn't a friend. He did not know that voice.

When he turned around, what stood before him was a swarthy individual of medium height who could be comfortably described as boorish. Like Tsukasa, he was a large, robust 3rd Year student. He wore the emblem of the Public Morals Committee on his wrist.

"Tatsumi... Uh, aren't club activities canceled because of the riots? That's why I decided to head home!"

Faltering due to poor acting would be troublesome. Consciously ordering his body to cooperate, Tsukasa replied back in an even tone.

"Is that so? Well, that's okay. Club activities are probably canceled all around campus."

"Ah, that's it. So--"

Goodbye. The word was on the tip of his tongue, but Tsukasa never got the chance to say it.

"Wait a second. There's something I wanted to ask you." His heart raced.

"Ask me?"

Barely managing to contain his wavering, Tsukasa managed to fake an astonished expression.

"Yeah, I need to ask you specifically, Tsukasa."

Tatsumi's voice seemed to fan the flames of Tsukasa's agitation. Tsukasa felt as if that tone knew everything he was up to.

"My Chief has an amazing special technique."

All of a sudden, the conversation changed entirely — at least that's what it sounded like — but the same sense of wariness from the beginning did not diminish in the slightest.

"By manipulating the air currents and adding some enhancements, we can create truth serums without resorting to illegal drugs."

A scream was about to force its way out of his throat, but Tsukasa fought it down.

However, he was only wasting his time.

"You don't have to fake any ambivalence, Tsukasa. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?

We already have proof, evidence that you ordered them to do these things." Tsukasa didn't reply.

While he was a Course 2 student weak in technical skills, thanks to his extensive training in kendo he had plenty of confidence in his own Speed Magics. Both of them looked fairly swarthy and Tatsumi was one of the few 3rd Year students capable of putting out some speed, but Tsukasa was confident he had the edge in a pure footrace.

All of this was in Tsukasa's calculations, but his plans were dashed before they came to fruition.

"Tsukasa-senpai! Please come with us for a moment!"

A somber but powerful voice rang out. To be precise, the owner of this voice was standing directly in his path.

"Sawaki... Why the hell are you two here?"

Tsukasa hoarsely shouted. When the riots broke out, both of them should have been at the library. Why the heck were two members of the active combat division stationed all the way out here? It was only natural for Tsukasa to wonder about that.

"You haven't noticed yet? Our job is solely to keep an eye on you today, with some support from long range Sensory System personnel. We would've wasted our time if you didn't cave in the end, but we finally figured out your escape route."

As Tatsumi was happily explaining behind him, Tsukasa made the conscious decision to forcibly break through here.

The breakthrough would have to occur in Sawaki's direction. In this situation, returning to campus was suicide.

That being said, even though Sawaki was a 2nd Year student, he specialized in a form of magic close combat called Magic Martial Arts. Unarmed, Tsukasa had no chance — in a straight up fight, that is.

Tsukasa removed the scarf tied around his right arm.

Inside, there was a bronze colored bracelet. The Antinite Bracelet. He activated Cast Jamming.

Tsukasa knew that by spreading the Cast Jamming waves, he was alerting their allies to his location. However, this wasn't the time to worry about that. The most important thing was to break out of the current trap and establish a link with his older brother — this powerful thought dominated Tsukasa's actions.

Tsukasa charged towards Sawaki, who furrowed his brows. At the end of the day, Magic Martial Arts was a technique that used magic to reinforce the physical body, to enable the usage of powerful combat abilities. In a scenario where no magic was used, Sawaki should have no chance of overcoming a kendoist such as himself, even if he was unarmed, without the aid of magic. With this in mind, Tsukasa struck out at Sawaki.

Sawaki easily dodged his chop.

His flank suffered a furious blow. Sawaki's elbow dug deeply into Tsukasa's abdomen.

"Tsukasa, you moron, I don't think you understand."

As Tsukasa collapsed to the ground, Tatsumi said this in a sympathetic manner.

"Sawaki is a tough opponent even without magic. There are a lot of people who misunderstand me, though those guys are incapable of doing anything without magic, and are unable to move freely without an unnecessary thing like magic."

Moaning in pain, Tsukasa couldn't reply. Sawaki silently bound Tsukasa securely.

◊ ◊ ◊

In the Nurse's Room, they were listening to Sayaka's side of the story.

Her right arm needed treatment, so it was best not to upset her too much. While the school doctor forbade this, it was currently Sayaka who wanted to tell her story.

Mayumi, Mari, and Katsuto were all gathered to hear this. The mastermind Tsukasa Kinoe had been captured, and the riot had been suppressed on the surface, but the exact details behind the attack were still unknown. The off- campus invaders that had been captured had already been handed over to the police by the faculty, and thanks to the efforts of the School Council, Club Activities Group and Public Morals Committee, no students were affected.

Currently, Tsukasa was in no condition to be interrogated. Taking this into consideration, Sayaka's confession became the only source of information, so it wasn't odd for Mayumi and the others to be present.

The tale began when Sayaka was first introduced to her other companions.

Last year, shortly after Sayaka entered the school, she struck up a conversation with Tsukasa. At that time, there were a lot of sympathizers in the kendo club. It wasn't just the kendo club, but students were also forming magic training clubs with similar philosophies. It came as a huge shock to discover that the time and scale of the operations far exceeded

Mayumi and co.'s expectations. The one who took it hardest was probably Mari. Mayumi, Mari, and Katsuto were all struck differently by this revelation in the beginning.

"I'm sorry, I never imagined this could happen, but..." Erika stared intently at the blinking Mari.

However, Mari had no time to care about this gaze. "Mibu, is what you said true?"

Hearing Mari's faltering question, Sayaka lowered her head for less than a second.

Raising her head, Sayaka nodded calmly, and replied in the same calm manner.

"Now that I think about it, I might have been too proud of being called 'kendo belle' in middle school.

Therefore, shortly after I came to school, I saw Watanabe-sempai's incredible magic swordsmanship during the club recruitment week. I petitioned for personal lessons from you, but was coldly rebuffed, and that one cut really deep...

I couldn't be your opponent probably because I was a Course 2 student. Once I thought of this, I lost all my motivation."

"Wait... Just a second.

Last year's recruitment week, when I went overboard during the kenjutsu lessons?

I remember that incident.

I didn't forget that you petitioned to be my opponent. But, I don't recall harshly rejecting you?"

"It's common for people to have difficulty understanding the feelings of the rejected."

Erika reprimanded Mari in an ironic tone, who stood there with a solemn expression and head lowered.

"Erika, be quiet for a bit."

But she was stopped by Tatsuya.

"What? Is Tatsuya-kun on Watanabe-senpai's side as well?"

"I just want you to finish listening to her. You can chew people out or debate about this after you hear everything."

Hearing this rebuke, Erika revealed a displeased expression, but quieted down regardless.

After a short period of silence, Sayaka painfully continued.

"Senpai, you said that I couldn't be your opponent, so I shouldn't waste my time and go seek someone who could match me... To hear this from my respected senpai just after coming to school..."

"Wait... No, wait a minute.

That's a misunderstanding, Mibu."

"Eh?"

"It's true that I said that.

—I'm sorry, but my swordsmanship can't compete against yours, so it's a waste of your time. So that's why you should go search for a worthy opponent for yourself — that's all.

Wasn't that how it was?"

"Eh, that... Then, if that's the case..."

"In other words, this is why I said 'I can't be your opponent'. It's because you are much stronger than me in swordsmanship." Sayaka wore a slack-jawed expression as Mayumi turned to ask Mari. "Just a moment, Mari.

You mean that you turned down Mibu's request because she was much stronger than you, did I get that right?"

"That's exactly it.

While it is true that I have the edge after you add magic into it...

The techniques that I've learned are all meant to be used in conjunction with magic. I underwent physical and weapons training in order to better grasp how to use my magic more effectively.

There's no way I could be able to stand up to Mibu in terms of pure swordsmanship."

"So... It was my misunderstanding... all along...?" An awkward silence flooded the Nurse's Office. "I feel like such an idiot...

I selfishly misunderstood senpai's intentions... put myself down..." Only Sayaka's whimpers prodded the silence.

"I don't think it's a waste."

Until Tatsuya shattered it with his words. "... Shiba-kun?"

Sayaka lifted her head and gazed directly at Tatsuya, who continued to speak in a vague tone.

"That was what Erika said after seeing senpai's techniques.

To the best of Erika's knowledge, you were vastly stronger than the 'kendo belle' that took silver in the middle school competition.

It might be sad that your new found strength came from resentment and hate.

But, it is without question that Mibu-senpai's swordsmanship improved through your own dedication and diligence.

You were not consumed by hatred, nor were you overwhelmed by despair as you spent the last year training yourself to the next level. So I don't think it was wasted."

"..."

"There are many junctures in growing stronger. There are a myriad reasons behind hard work.

You only truly waste your time if you deny the hours, hard work, and results that came from what you've done, isn't that right?"

"Shiba-kun..."

Tears welled up her eyes as Sayaka looked upwards at Tatsuya. However, this time, she smiled.

"Shiba-kun, I have a request."

"What is it?"

"Can you come a little closer?"

"Is this enough?"

"A little more."

"Ha."

The atmosphere changed; the once tense atmosphere became fluid. However,

"Then, please." It quickly,

"Just stand there and don't move." Turned back into a nervous atmosphere.

Sayaka tightly gripped Tatsuya's clothes, and buried her face into Tatsuya's chest.

"Wah, wah..."

The sniffling quickly turned into full blown sobbing.

Pressed into Tatsuya's chest, Sayaka was bawling her eyes out.

Everyone looked at one another in dismay as Tatsuya wordlessly held her slim shoulders. Seeing this, Miyuki lowered her head.

After finally settling down, Sayaka started explaining what she knew about Blanche, the organization that backed the alliance.

"Just as you foresaw, Onii-sama."

"It was so accurate that it got boring."

"That's just how reality is, Chief. However, the real problem comes next."

Tatsuya spoke as if he had already charted out the next course of action. "... Tatsuya-kun, are you planning to fight them?"

"That's an incorrect way to put it. I'm not going to fight them, I am going to annihilate them."

Hearing Mayumi's trepidation, Tatsuya bluntly replied back with the most incentive method possible.

"That's dangerous! You've already gone above and beyond the call of duty for students."

The first one to object was Mari.

Even within the confines of the campus, Mari was someone who was constantly doing firefighting, so her sense of danger was particularly sharp, which was only natural given the circumstances.

"I object as well. You should leave off-campus cases to the police." Mayumi solemnly shook her head.

However,

"Is this before or after we release the details surrounding Mibu-senpai's attempted robbery and hand her over to the family court's jurisdiction?"

At Tatsuya's words, Mayumi froze and was unable to utter another word. "I see. So you don't want the police to intervene.

And that's why this is something you can't ignore. In order to prevent future repetitions from occurring. Is that right, Shiba?"

Katsuto's burning gaze caught Tatsuya's eyes.

"Your opponents are terrorists. If you let down your guard, you will die.

It doesn't matter if it's me, Mayumi or Watanabe, we will not let students from this campus run that risk."

"Of course."

Despite that, Tatsuya did not cower before that gaze, and immediately replied.

"From the beginning, I never planned to request assistance from the Public Morals Committee or the Club Activities Group."

"... You plan on going alone?"

"That was the plan."

"I'm going with you."

Hearing his sister's immediate answer, Tatsuya revealed a bitter smile. "Me too."

"And me."

Erika and Leo both stepped forward, expressing their intent to join the battle.

"Shiba-kun, if you're doing this on my behalf, I beg you to reconsider. Just as the President said, please leave this to the police.

I'll be alright. I will just be punished for what I've done.

Compared to that, if Shiba-kun got hurt because of me, I wouldn't be able to take it."

Sayaka hurriedly tried to stop him, but Tatsuya's expression was not very welcoming.

"This isn't for Mibu-senpai."

These cold words stopped Sayaka short, causing her to lower her head.

"As someone whose personal life has been imperiled by terrorists, I too have a stake in this.

I will exterminate any and all sources of harm directed towards Miyuki and myself. This is the highest priority for me."

Was he intentionally shouldering all the responsibility in order to lighten Sayaka's sense of guilt? — It seemed unlikely, given his current expression. Lacking Miyuki's insight on her brother's thoughts, Leo, Erika, Mayumi and Mari concluded that Tatsuya was speaking earnestly from the heart.

His piercing, chilly gaze alone was enough to convince them of that.

There was no anger, no aroused fighting spirit, just calmly stating his intent to annihilate the terrorists. Before Tatsuya's confidence — or maybe determination — even Katsuto could say nothing more.

"However, Onii-sama, how do we completely exterminate Blanche root and branch?

They should have already evacuated from the temporary base that Mibu- senpai spoke of, so I don't think there will be many clues left behind."

Only Miyuki was able to converse with her brother normally. "That's true, Tsukasa-senpai would likely say the same thing.

Rather than saying no clues were left behind, it would be more appropriate to say that we never had any clues in the first place."

"Then, what should we do?"

Although there were no clues to be had, Miyuki continued to question her brother without a trace of dismay on her features.

"In order to understand the unknown, the only thing that needs to be done is to ask someone who is familiar with the subject."

"... Someone familiar with the subject?"

"Do you have an idea, Tatsuya?"

Tatsuya did not reply to Erika and Leo's questions. He merely opened the doors leading to the exit.

"Ono-sensei?"

Mayumi smiled in a bemused manner at the sight of Haruka in a pantsuit.

"... I can't believe I was naive enough to try and conceal my presence against Yakumo-sensei's favorite student..."

She forced a smile as she said this in an uncaring tone. Her target was obviously Tatsuya.

An apathetic Tatsuya responded in a slightly surprised voice. "You never intended to conceal your presence in the first place.

Thanks to all the untruths you've spoken, I can't tell whether you're telling the truth anymore."

"I will take that into account."

Tatsuya made a welcoming motion to usher her inside, while Haruka slowly paced towards the bedside.

She bent down and matched gazes with Sayaka, who was sitting on the bed.

"You look like you're okay..."

"Ono-sensei..."

"I'm sorry I wasn't able to offer any assistance."

Sayaka shook her head as Ono-sensei placed a hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. After a short time, she directed her gaze to the bedside.

"Haruka-chan, do you know where Blanche is currently located?"

Who are you talking to? -- Ono-sensei decided to forgo her normal playacting.

"Haruka-chan?"

"Ah? Tatsuya, didn't you know?"

The question itself was obvious, but now that he was on the receiving end, Tatsuya was hesitant on how to field it.

"Our classmates refer to sensei as such. Haruka-chan also says she doesn't mind."

"It's not everyone, only a portion of the boys. Tatsuya-kun, you've been tricked."

"Ah..."

This unexpected drama quickly defused the tense atmosphere in the room.

That being said, rather than mishandling the situation and causing tensions to rise, this was probably the better alternative, Tatsuya thought to himself. At any rate, this was an explanation he could somewhat accept.

"—Then, Ono-sensei."

"You can call me Haruka-chan if you like."

He couldn't believe that he was in such a predicament because of this woman's playacting. The only thing Tatsuya could do was rein in his annoyance.

"—Ono-sensei, given the situation, you can drop the act."

"No sense of sentimentality whatsoever."

"..."

"... Cough."

The opaque gaze directed at Tatsuya was quite clumsy no matter how you sliced it, but after that coughing sound — an overly exaggerated coughing sound — Haruka changed her posture.

"Someone get a map. It's much faster this way." Tatsuya silently pulled out an information terminal. He opened the screen and set it to map mode.

Haruka also pulled out a terminal — much more graceful and suave than Tatsuya's motion — and set it to directional transmission.

After receiving the signal, a flashing light appeared on the map. "... That's literally right under our noses!"

"... Are they mocking us?"

The reason behind Leo and Erika's outrage lay in the fact that the enemy's lair could be reached by foot within an hour.

The image was magnified before switching over to a more detailed layout.

The location was the hills outside of the city proper, near the abandoned factories for the chemical dye industry.

"... been confirmed that the factory was the hideout of the Eco-Terrorists, which was abandoned when they fled."

Tatsuya was reading the additional notes.

"They returned to this location without being detected by law enforcement officials."

"So they're the same group?"

Although phrased as a question, given the looks on Mari and Mayumi's faces, their inner thoughts were hardly a secret.

"Were toxic materials transported to this location during this time period?"

"Hm, according to our investigation, there are no BC (biochemical) weapons on site."

Hearing Katsuto's comment, Haruka nodded.

"We should have no problems with transportation."

"Have they detected our magic?"

"Even if they did detect us, they wouldn't change their plans anyways. They're probably dug in and waiting for us to show up."

Tatsuya referred to himself as "someone who was involved" not because all the victims were students affiliated with First High. The terrorists aimed to seize unpublished magic research and techniques. With that in mind, his own personal technique may also be targeted by the terrorists. Tatsuya inferred that Tsukasa Kinoe ambushed him in the first place to ascertain how effective his technique was.

"Full frontal assault?"

"That would probably be the tactic the enemy least expects."

Tatsuya didn't need to say anything. The moment Miyuki announced such a warlike declaration, the two of them had already devised their strategy.

Katsuto agreed on this point.

"Yes, that is an acceptable tactic. Let me get the car ready."

"Eh? Juumonji-kun is going as well?"

Mayumi's question was probably mirrored in Tatsuya's thoughts.

Katsuto definitely didn't seem like the type who would bar his subordinates from fighting, only to charge off to the front line on his own.

"This is the duty of the Juumonji family who bear the name of the Ten

Master Clans.

But before that, I am still a student of First High, so there's no way I could watch this pass by without lifting a finger.

I cannot leave this in the hands of the underclassmen alone."

"... Then me too."

"Saegusa, you can't go."

"Mayumi, the situation would be problematic if the Student Council President wasn't available."

"... I understand."

It took the two of them combined to barely persuade Mayumi to reluctantly accept their proposal.

"Then, if that is the case, Mari, you can't go either. There may be remnants still lurking on campus. As the Public Morals Committee Chief, leaving your post at this critical juncture would also cause difficulties."

Now it was Mari's turn to grudgingly accept that condition.

Completely ignoring the two women who were glaring (?) at one another, Katsuto turned his gaze on Tatsuya.

"Shiba, are you leaving immediately? If we wait any longer, we may be forced to fight in the darkness."

"This won't take too long. The battle will be over by dusk."

"Is that so?"

Katsuto probably saw something in Tatsuya's adamant attitude.

Thus, he didn't say anything further. He left the Nurse's Office after mentioning that he'd get the car.

"The President and Club Activities Group Leader are both members of the Ten Master Clans, this I know... So what's Haruka-chan's background?"

"We can talk about that later. Let's move."

Leo's overly impetuous question was casually brushed aside by Tatsuya.

Immediately following Tatsuya and Miyuki, Leo and Erika left the Nurse's Office.

A large all-terrain vehicle was parked outside the school dormitories.

An additional member occupied the passenger seat in the front row. "Yo, Shiba."

"Kirihara-senpai."

"You don't seem very surprised."

"... No, I'm actually quite surprised."

The primary source of shock came from his greeting, though it must be owed that the flower dangling from his lips helped.

"Hey bro, I'm coming too."

"Do as you wish."

Tatsuya was completely unable to comprehend the state of mind necessary for Kirihara to utter those words.

Regardless, daylight was burning.

And so, Tatsuya got into the all-terrain vehicle, with his sister and friends closely behind.

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