Even though it was only just June, the weather had already flared up.
The concrete floor of the corridor from the school building to the first arena reflected the sunlight, the air above it shimmering as if it were wearing the heat.
Moroha was being beaten down by the heat as he walked along the path for the afternoon’s practical lessons.
He croaked as if he were a crushed toad.
“Geez! Don’t tell me even you’re slacking, Moroha.”
Satsuki scolded him, walking next to him in a dignified posture.
“It’s fine, class hasn’t started yet.”
Moderation was the important thing. Always being switched on would actually be bad for efficiency, or so was Moroha’s excuse.
“Lame! I want my Nii-sama to always be cool!”
She said, while using her hand to fan him.
“You beautiful person”
Thought Moroha as he basked in the cool breeze.
A pair of upperclassmen looked back at them and said.
“He’s that Ancient Dragon-”
“Yeah, they’re really intimate aren’t they?”
Maybe they were a couple, as they linked arms as if to compete with them.
“Uehehe, I guess we look like lovers.”
“You can be embarrassed, but quit it with the ‘Uehehe’.”
Moroha could only smile wryly.
Chatting like that, they stepped into the first arena.
Suddenly, a strong drowsiness assaulted them.
However, it was only for an instant, their drowsiness disappeared as if it were a lie.
All three of Akane Academy’s arenas were in a different dimension thanks to a special Ancestral Art.
Like a dream world.
However much things inside were destroyed, they’d eventually return to normal, and even if someone were seriously wounded, if they left they would be fine, like waking from a nightmare. Just who could use it and what kind of Ancestral Art it was was kept private, but Akane Academy was the only place in the world that had these ideal training grounds.
Their earlier sleepiness was due to crossing the boundary between the dimensions, a physiological phenomenon.
It felt unpleasant to begin with, but in the two months since enrolment, they had grown used to it.
“Now, it’s joint training today, so let’s get fired up!”
Satsuki declared energetically, and even Moroha straightened again thanks to the air conditioning.
There were already most of four classes’ worth of students inside.
But about half of them were upperclassmen that they’d not seen before .This was a joint class between the first and second years, so both years’ classes 1 and 2 were gathered in the arena.
There was another person that they didn’t normally see in practical lessons either.
In the stands encircling the arena, waving with a small hand was no one but Maya.
“Is it my imagination, or is she waving at us?”
Satsuki’s sharp eyes caught it, and Moroha was startled.
While he was thinking of how to answer, Shizuno appeared like a ghost behind them and tattled.
“She’s waving at Moroha. They got to know each other very well yesterday.”
“Don’t imply things like that… We just got acquainted normally, you know?”
Moroha was already used to Shizuno appearing out of nowhere, but his face stiffened.
“Anyway, wasn’t it you that said ‘it may not be a bad thing for her to catch your eye and you look after her’?”
“That’s true, but I didn’t expect her to be going ‘look at me, look at me’ did I? Did something happen between you right after yesterday?”
She was sharp…
At Shizuno’s continued prodding, Moroha stiffened further.
“You’ve got me as a little sister, don’t you!?”
Satsuki suddenly jumped in.
“Getting on well with that little angel like girl, are you saying I’m not enough?”
“Sorry. I really don’t get what you’re angry about…”
“Did you go out and get a little sister, like going out and getting a mistress!?”
“What kind of fetish am I supposed to have…?”
Moroha recoiled and lost his thoughts.
If she found out that Maya was his room-mate now, there would be bloodshed. Satsuki had that kind of menacing look.
The small mercy was that Satsuki wasn’t as perceptive as Shizuno.
She didn’t have an inkling that their conversation yesterday was about Maya.
“…Would this be included in stupid girls being cute?”
“I’ll forgive a hundred million affairs! I’m that tolerant! But no little sisters! I won’t accept any other little sister but me!”
“But affairs are fine…”
Shizuno interjected calmly from the side, but Satsuki was advancing on Moroha without even a glance to the side.
“Please, calm down Satsuki. Then think on your words and change them before you speak on reflex.”
“No, I won’t forgive this! It’s part of the dignity of my identity!”
Satsuki looked like she wouldn’t leave it, and Moroha was at a loss.
However, the heavens had not forsaken him.
“Right, everyone gather round.”
The chime for the start of class sounded, and the classes’ teacher’s ordered them to gather.
“Tch. A narrow escape, Moroha.”
Satsuki’s eyes were still narrowed, but thanks to her serious personality, she followed the order with a click of her tongue.
It really was a narrow escape. Moroha breathed in relief.
At the same time, he couldn’t help but turn a critical gaze and the little angel who was still waving innocently.
He was going to tell them about Maya being his room-mate, but it was a really delicate thing, so he had to choose the time carefully, it was a political problem he would have to take time to explain.
His head hurt.
As he was trudging to the gathered students, Shizuno spoke quietly, barely moving her mouth so only he could hear.
“I had something to investigate before I came here, so I was late. I happened to hear the boys talking about something, so I collected evidence.”
“Was it interesting?”
“Yes, very. Apparently you appeared in the canteen this morning with a blonde haired angel.”
Moroha sounded like he was about to cough blood.
“If you give me an honest explanation later, I won’t tell Ranjou-san for now.”
“…I swear, so give me a break.”
Shizuno’s mask-like expression made it so he couldn’t tell what she was thinking, so it was even more terrifying.
Moroha held his head as he joined the group in front of the teachers.
The four classes sat where they liked and paid attention to the teachers.
Moroha, Satsuki and Shizuno sat together and listened quietly.
“Today is mainly to teach all of the first years that for Saviour fights, ‘Offense is easy, defence is hard’.”
Leading the class was class 1-1’s teacher, Tanaka Tarou.
With black rimmed glasses and a side parting, he was a boring man in his forties.
It was odd for him to seem to disregard the other three teachers that had a dignity about them when his appearance didn’t stand out.
Well, it was possible that the chore had just been pushed off to the lowest ranked.
“The light techniques has a strong defensive skill called Sun, and the dark arts have Ether Barrier. However, they’re normally hard to use. On the other hand light technique’s Diamond Skin Link and the various Wards of the dark arts are easy to use, but lack in defensive power. It’s easy to use the attack skills of both and make them strong, harsh and pile them on, but they don’t even compare.”
It was strangely similar to Earth’s warfare.
Even though plate armour was made to protect against swords, it was powerless in front of a bullet. Tank armour’s evolution had all but stopped, yet the destructive power of missiles and cannons showed no signs of slowing progress.
It was relatively easy to make destructive energy, but the reverse was almost impossible.
“Further, Metaphysical’s attacks are stronger than ours. Using a defensive technique is a last resort, for when you want to reduce the damage by even a little. Rather, the most efficient technique is to counter their attacks with our own. This is somewhat troublesome for the Black Mages. A step one dark art, Flare will easily counter a chilling attack, but is bad against water. However, the step two Blaze is good against both chilling and water-“
“Yes, go ahead with your question, Ranjou-san.”
“”If it’s hard to guard, wouldn’t you be better off just dodging?”
Her diligence and desire to show off combining, Satsuki shot up.
“A good solution. There’s no mistaking that’s the best defensive technique. However, that’s hard for Black Mages and even for you White Irons, if it was a wide area fire breath attack for example, avoiding it is difficult, right?”
Tanaka gently rebuked her and she sat down in dejection.
The reason there was no mocking atmosphere was probably because many of the first years were also thinking the same thing, and the same had happened to the second years the previous year.
“Well, if the practical class was just a lecture it would be boring. Let’s have someone act as an example.”
Tanaka looked over the arrayed students.
At that moment, a high-handed male voice came from the stands.
“If you need an example, use Haimura-kun, Tanaka-sensei.”
That proclamation roused the students.
Moroha was taken aback too after being suddenly put forward and looked towards the voice.
A man he’d not seen before was sitting in the stands with his legs crossed self-importantly.
He looked sharp and capable, but also highly strung and skinny. He looked around twenty five.
He’d sat right by where Maya was and she’d fled the arena.
Shizuno gasped as she saw the man.
“So that’s him, Akane Academy’s chairman.”
As he gave him a fleeting appraisal.
“Sir Edward will be coming for an inspection soon. He’s expressed an interest regarding Haimura-kun. He may be inspecting us at any moment, so make Haimura-kun be the focus of class for a while.”
Seeming to not know the situation, he continued to instruct the teachers from the stands.
An arrogant, disagreeable man.
He gave the worst impression, Moroha could hardly believe he was Shizuno’s brother.
That came to mind before he wondered why he’d caught the English branch’s head’s eye.
“I thank you for the suggestion, but although you may be the chairman, I won’t have you interjecting about how the class is run. Leave that to those teaching it.”
Tanaka refused outright. He appeared inferior but didn’t hesitate at all against an influential person.
He suddenly moved and nonchalantly shielded Moroha’s back from the chairman’s gaze.
“You may have been entrusted with the academy’s administration, but this school, we teachers and most of all the students are not your personal property.”
“Hmph, preaching. Both you and the principal, why are saviours so impudent I wonder.”
“Likewise, please remember your own place, chairman.”
A scorching tension seemed to appear between Tanaka and the chairman.
The students looked at each other uneasily.
Somehow the mood had changed to something that didn’t belong in a class.
Reluctantly, after looking at his surroundings, Moroha spoke.
“Sensei, if it’s just being an example, I’ll do it.”
Easily raising his hand.
“Wah, that’s my Nii-sama, better and cooler than the second years.”
Satsuki was thoughtlessly happy.
On the other hand, Shizuno looked at him as if blaming him.
Moroha had an ulterior motive. Going along with the chairman’s intentions was unpleasant, but arguing over something so petty was a waste of time. They were in the middle of class and it would be a bother for everyone.
It felt awkward having Tanaka protect him for something so slight.
“If you’re willing to, then please.”
Moroha shook his head at an apologetic Tanaka.
He stood and sent a sharp glance at the satisfied chairman.
As he stood in front of everyone, the boys were churning with jealousy asking why it was always him, and the girls let out high pitched cheers.
Among those polarised reactions.
“Screw off, Haimura! I’m not letting you have all the limelight!”
One person spoke with a voice louder than the others, baring a sense of rivalry at Moroha.
“Right, Tana-T, you were going to call for me next.”
The second year student who had jauntily stood up suddenly struck a pose like a Nio statue.
That alone made the first years recoil and the second years smile bitterly.
Moroha shrugged his shoulders, but couldn’t hide his smile.
However he was interpreting the strange atmosphere, it was as if the boy was drunk on the jealous gazes.
His name was Mannendou Kamekichi.
“First years! Call me Kamii, with love and respect!”
As he proclaimed this, still in his original pose, many of the first years were resisting the urge to burst into laughter.
“It’s a bother, Mannendou-kun.”
Ignoring Kamekichi’s nonsense, Tanaka gave his honest opinion.
“I was going to use Anti-Magic Link so I was going to have Haimura-kun use a mild first step dark art.”
As if he were used to being ignored, he didn’t pay any notice to not being called by his nickname.
“Then, I can mildly attack Haimura, Tana-T. Brace yourself!”
However, he just arbitrarily took control of the class.
“Everyone’s heart will burn with my wonderful Flare.”
He struck another original pose with his legs apart, his crotch thrust forwards and his right hand put behind his back and then through his legs, beckoning.
A murmuring spread throughout the first years.
They weren’t quite wondering why an eccentric like him wasn’t picked out.
They were lamenting at the gods’ unfairness that he was a member of the glorious Strikers.
The C rank shining on Kamekichi’s nametag was no illusion.
He’d worked hard to learn how to moon walk but it was futile and pointless. Moreover, he was demonstrating his special skill to everyone, but it wasn’t related to being a Saviour.
“That alright, Haimura!? Are you gonna run!? Are you scared of my dark arts, Haimura!?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.”
Moroha shrugged his shoulders and took it, pretending to not hear Satsuki protest from behind him.
“Moroha won’t run from the likes of you!”
“Are you sure, Haimura-kun? If you can’t completely reduce the heat, it will hurt.”
One of the teachers kindly advised him to not.
Well, for exactly that reason, Tanaka was saying to do it.
“If you don’t listen to him, he gets noisy.”
To Moroha, Kamekichi was one of only thirteen strikers, and someone he trained with daily. He was already used to his selfish behaviour.
He shook his head at an increasingly apologetic Tanaka.
Tanaka turned to the students.
“Yes, I should explain for the first year students, Anti-Magic Link is an application of the Diamond Skin Link light technique to resist mana and satana. Depending on the user’s prana, it doesn’t reduce the damage by much, I want you to learn it as something to instinctively use against unavoidable mana and satana attacks.”
In front of his important lecture, Kamekichi was moon walking backwards and forwards.
He didn’t understand the odd act, but it was still really annoying.
The dumbfounded students moved away from them and Moroha and Kamekichi faced each other.
“I’ve got something to say first, Moroha!”
Kamekichi took a pose facing away from him and bending over backwards.
“I hate you!”
“Yes, I know.”
“Frankly speaking, I’m the best Saviour in the second year. The absolute best. But last year, they didn’t call me a super rookie or anything, fuck!”
“You said so yesterday.”
“So I hate you! I’m jealous! Picking on you is my greatest reason to live! If it let me harass you, I’d even sell my soul to the devil!”
“You said that yesterday too. Hell, you’re at it every day, aren’t you bored of it?”
“I’m the one that’ll stand out the most in front of Sir Edward! Don’t expect me to go easy on you just because we’re comrades in the Strikers!”
“I thought you would and completely fell into your trap-“
As Moroha smiled wryly, Tanaka cut in.
“Ah, Mannendou-kun, we’re limited for time, so could you start now?”
“Very well! I’ll show you my light speed spelling. Everyone, watch and learn.”
Was the clink sound effect from by the students their imagination?
Moroha burst into laughter, but still composedly coated his body in white prana.
Invoking Anti-Magic Link, a technique none of the first years could do yet so naturally it was even an example to the second years.
Almost unintentionally showing a rank C’s true power.
Kamekichi raised his mana and his finger raced through the air, tracing ancient magic characters in the empty air.
Still with his back to Moroha, he hid the writing.
He traced a phrase, this completed the step one dark art, Flare.
However, he secretly added another line.
It became the step two art, Blaze, its power more than doubled.
He also mumbled the incantation in his mouth so Moroha couldn’t hear it.
Even though he was a show off and flamboyant, he was sly.
“Ah, no, Mannendou-kun. I told you a step one art.”
When Tanaka noticed, his dark art was already in action.
“He hi hi hi hi! Burn nicelllllly!”
He let the Blaze go over his shoulder and it burnt brightly as it assailed Moroha.
It fell on him like a pack of wild dogs, engulfing him in violently throbbing flames.
He might be an undisguised idiot, but his power’s the real thing!
The students held their breath and watched because of the force of the dark arts created flames.
The focus of their attention was Moroha, wrapped in scarlet flames… Ahh, what a scene! Thanks to Anti-Magic Link, Moroha was standing there coolly!!
“Yes, go ahead with your question, Ranjou-san.”
“You said Anti-Magic Link couldn’t completely defend, but Moroha looks like he had an easy win.”
“Indeed. It appears that Haimura-kun’s prana is much stronger than Mannendou-kun’s mana. It’s not particularly suitable for what I wanted to show you as an example.”
At being essentially called a small fry by Tanaka, Kamekichi was shocked.
He fell to his knees and held his head in sorrow.
Stifled chuckling came from the students.
“Oi, Haimura! Couldn’t you have burnt and suffered a little!?”
“My honour as an upperclassman is completely ruined!? The underclassmen’ll call me a tiny upperclassman! What colour is your blood!?”
Kamekichi shouted energetically, but his face was using all of its mimetic muscles as he prostrated himself, it was pitiful.
His miserable supplication made Moroha feel sorry.
“Wah, it’s hot. So hot, that’s Kamii-senpai alright. If it’s this hot again, what will I do this summer?”
“Gu ha ha ha ha! That’s right, cry! Suffer! Your suffering is like honey to me!”
Moroha’s acting pushed on his chest and he leapt into the air, his attitude doing a complete about-face.
He laughed triumphantly.
It was almost a comedy show, and the students were engulfed in laughter.
Mistaking it for praise, Kamekichi made an original hand sign (his thumb, middle and ring fingers extended) and the students finally couldn’t take it and rolled around clutching their stomachs.
Some people even laughed so much they couldn’t breath and the flames created by mana burnt out by themselves.
“By the way, Sensei. If we’re demonstrating techniques, I think it might be a good idea to show offsetting an attack with another.”
Moroha, who just an instant ago was supposed to be suffering, nonchalantly suggested that to Tanaka.
“That’s a bad expression!?”
Kamii-senpai’s hysteric voice wasn’t audible.
“Oh, that’s true. Then, Mannendou-kun please take up the challenge.”
Tanaka supported it.
Moroha would use an offensive dark art and Kamekichi would use a dark art to offset it.
“Geh! T-that’s not right, Tana-T. I used Flare first so Haimura-san should be gentle too, right! Gentle like one of those presenters on NHK, as an example to everyone-“
“Don’t be so cold, help your underclassmen, se-n-pa-i.”
“Shut up, Moroha! Who’d fall for that wheedling, idiot!”
“Ah, or could it be that you’re scared of me, an underclassman?”
“Fu fu, come at me with a Flare or a Blaze!”
Kamii-senpai, a man among men among men.
Getting permission, Moroha spun a dark art with a mischievous face.
There exists purgatory in the underworld, and fields of fire in the corporeal world.
Fire discriminates not against good nor evil nor chaos as it burns and purifies all with a ferocious mercy.
All people die and return to dust, now, let the rites of cremation begin.
Moroha chanted Incinerate, its strength was on par with the third year students, the attack that knocked out Isurugi’s younger brother in one shot.
“A step three has got to be against the rules, Haimuraaaa!”
Kamekichi couldn’t spell as fast or as accurately and had tears and snot running down his face.
“Eh, you’re pretending to have poor writing, thank you for your kindness.”
“’m sorry! I apologise, so please fo’give mee!”
Kamii-senpai prostrated himself enough to refresh Moroha as he begged forgiveness.
The loudest laugh of the day reached the arena’s ceiling.
Moroha laughed without care as he cancelled the Incinerate right on the verge of completion.
“Ahh, that was fun, that was fun.”
He returned next to Satsuki and Shizuno to grand applause.
“Serves him right! He was always looking at Moroha as a rival, that’s what you get.”
Satsuki glared down her nose at Kamekichi, who, as his name being written with the character for turtle would suggest, was curled up and shaking.
“Hm? I don’t hate Kamii-senpai you know?”
Because he was an amusing person.
“I can’t believe it! What’s good about an annoyance like him?”
Satsuki and Shizuno looked like it was completely unexpected.
Moroha put his hand to his mouth and thought. He’d say Kamii-senpai was someone who had a lot of male friends, but was received badly by girls. Maybe there was a gulf deeper than the Mariana Trench between ‘A guy that guys liked’ and ‘A guy that girls liked’.
“Actually, Kamii-senpai’s pretty great.”
Moroha glanced at Kamekichi.
He was still shaking and cowering, arguing with his friends.
“Gya ha ha ha ha, you’re so lame Kamii.”
“Shut up. You try going against Haimura then. He’s way too scary.”
“Then don’t pick fights, so lame.”
Seeing this, all the students smiled brightly.
No one was paying attention to the chairman looking let down in the stands.
Thanks to Kamii-senpai being the life of the room, the glass went peacefully.
Moroha had dared to join with Kamii-senpai’s spirits and his little skit was effective. To borrow Satsuki’s phrase, “That’s what you get, chairman.”
He glanced at the chairman’s highly strung, unhappy expression before turning back to class.
“So, first and second years pair up. First years, use whatever attack you want and second years devote yourself to defence. Take advantage of working with a more skilled partner, first years, learn what it feels like to attack. Second years, you should be able to handle a first year’s attack.”
Precisely because attacking was easy and defending was hard, even though they were in different years, there was a struggle to win between them. That was the aim of today’s joint training.
Moroha waved to Satsuki and Shizuno and searched for an upperclassman to pair with.
The chairman’s reproachful gaze bore into him through all of this, but he didn’t pay it any mind.
The practical class finished ‘without incident’ and as Moroha left the changing rooms after changing back into his school uniform, he found his path blocked by the chairman.
“That wasn’t particularly admirable in class earlier. If you’re a saviour, you should hold your head high and take your training more seriously. That kind of laughable performance in front of Sir Edward will be an issue, you know?”
What’s me, he started lecturing as soon as he saw Moroha.
Moroha had had a feeling that this would happen.
“I’m not that great a person, so I’ve nothing to really hold my head high over.”
He answered curtly, scratching his head.
It was a rebellious attitude, even if he was a big shot, Moroha didn’t have any courtesy or anything for a disagreeable person like him.
He was sure the chairman would find fault with that impudence too, but.
“Ah, excuse me. I didn’t come here to lecture you.”
He calmly gave an apology that seemed completely insincere and continued.
“I wanted to invite you to my home. Do you have time today?”
“Me? This is sudden.”
“I told Shizuno to before, but she hasn’t invited you at all. Well, she always was a late bloomer, it’s how her mother raised her.”
There was room for argument calling Shizuno a late bloomer, but Moroha dared to raise an objection.
“I’m honoured to be invited, but I have Home Room and after school training after this.”
“I obtained permission from Tanaka-sensei and Isurugi-kun.”
In that case, Moroha had no objections.
He also had his promise to give Shizuno ‘an honest explanation later’.
And above all, he was extremely curious what kind of place Shizuno’s house was.
“I promised to go back with someone, mind if I mail them that I won’t be?”
“Of course not. There’s a car waiting over there, you can do it inside.”
Following behind a swaggering chairman, Moroha headed to the teachers’ exclusive car park.
A limousine was literally waiting for the two of them with the engine on.
He sat in the back seats in the wake of the chairman.
The seat perfectly cushioned and supported Moroha’s body and felt as if it didn’t even exist as the car glided away. Whether it was due to the quality of the car, or the skill of the driver, the acceleration was unnoticeable.
“I thought Shizuno’s family was kind rich, but…”
A luxury car, with a chauffeur was proof they were the real thing.
Moroha’s ‘waste alert’ began sounding and shaking in the red zone.
Incoherent thoughts like ‘Wouldn’t a normal car be fine?’ or ‘I’ll just walk, it’s good for my health.’ or ‘Did you have to use a chauffeur?’ or ‘But you should encourage employment.’ or ‘Then is a luxury car good for your image?’ swirled around his head.
Moroha fell into a panic at the difference between him and a real rich person.
“Don’t you need to send a message?”
“Ah, yes. I apologise for my destitution.”
Moroha returned to his senses at the chairman’s words and took out his phone, not noticing his puzzlement.
Tell Maya he’d be late, and done.
“Haimura-kun, are you close with many people?”
As Moroha was looking at his phone, the chairman spoke.
“I’m not sure if it counts as many, but to a certain extent.”
With Satsuki and Shizuno’s faces first coming to mind, Moroha answered.
The chairman faced forwards and seemed to fall into thought.
He seemed somewhat dissatisfied.
“Is there something wrong with me having many friends?”
“Shizuno hasn’t been able to make many friends, but she has someone to entrust her heart to in you. Precisely because it’s a rarity I wanted you to be closest to her, as a brother.”
“Closest, you say…”
Just from his words, you might think he worried too much over his sister, a charming selfishness.
However, hidden in the depths of his heart, Moroha had a suspicious feeling.
It didn’t sound like it was grounded on love of his sister at all to Moroha.
“I treasure her.”
Moroha answered bluntly.
“Even if I didn’t tell anyone, you’d have some kind of plan, right.”
He added mentally.
Even so, the chairman relaxed, and still facing forwards, leant back into his seat.
There was no other topic, no other conversation, but even still, the car reached Shizuno’s house ‘without incident’.
Shizuno had no interest in a boring after-school training without Moroha or anything.
She received a message from her brother saying ‘As soon as home room is over, hurry home.’ And was on the road home.
Satsuki would surely be noisy and ask why she was skipping if she saw her, so she was being sneaky.
At Akane Academy, all students lived in dorms, so the students going home split into two paths.
The one leading to the boys’ dorms, and the one leading to the girls’ dorms, but Shizuno pretended to not see them and walked.
Because, by the orders of her family, Shizuno didn’t live in the dorms and commuted from her brother’s house.
It was a mansion that her brother, the first chairman, had built atop a small hill.
It was a quiet place, isolated from the noise of the city.
So the wide, beautiful garden somehow seemed to not breathe, and the luxurious western house looked like a grave.
Opening the double doors and stepping into the entrance hall, a member of the staff was waiting.
“Haimura-sama is waiting in the dining room. The master says that you should also quickly change and join them, Shizuno-sama.”
She wasn’t surprised Moroha had came.
Missing after school training wasn’t like him, and there was her brother’s message.
It was easy to connect them.
Shizuno briefly went to her room, shed her school clothes and stood thinking in front of her wardrobe.
She’d actually never shown Moroha her own clothes.
She didn’t actually own a single piece of cheap clothing, and she worried that he’d condemn it as a waste if he found out.
While worrying about things a little different from a normal maiden’s worries was completely lost on what to wear in front of the man she liked. She fiddled with a stray strand of hair as she thought.
In the end, she chose the cheapest clothes.
“I wonder if this could be called appealing to his tastes…?”
If she could, she wanted to show him her prettiest clothes. But she was scared and lost her nerve.
It was a plain black silk dress. The skirt of it was arrayed with frills that negated the middle-aged woman impression it gave. Looking at everything in front of the mirror, it was definitely lacking, but needs must when the devil drives.
She looked good to begin with, so she actually wore it well, but Shizuno was a girl in puberty, so she didn’t have that much confidence in herself as she headed to the dining room while letting out a sigh.
It was a small room for close family.
Moroha and her brother sat opposite each other at the four seated table.
“Y-yo, Shizuno, we were waiting for you.”
Said Moroha timidly. It had a hint of him saying that it felt like an eternity waiting for her to come and save him.
He was tense and nervous.
Even Shizuno hadn’t been able to predict it and she blinked several times.
Sitting stiffly in the chair, Moroha was wearing a tuxedo.
His hair was carefully combed down too, he seemed much manlier.
She was entranced for a short while.
“Is this your plan, Nii-san?”
“Tatemura did it.”
He casually named the butler.
“In other words, yes it was.”
It was a roundabout play on words, but Shizuno felt no irritation. Thanks to it, she was given a feast for the eyes.
“You can laugh if you want to, you… know?”
But, being coerced into formalwear he wasn’t used to wearing, Moroha felt it was beyond his means, so took the initiative and gave a self-mocking smile.
“It suits you. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Moroha.”
“Don’ say that so seriously.”
Shizuno only had her normal mask-like expression, but Moroha overreacted.
Whether it was his natural personality, even if Shizuno teased him (sexually) he annoyingly didn’t get too flustered, for him to be this panicked was a fresh experience.
“I’m sorry I’m having fun on my own, Ranjou-san.”
Shizuno apologised mentally. Just apologising didn’t really do much though.
As she had her fill of Moroha’s manly formalwear and his juxtaposed huddled posture.
“That suits you too, Shizuno. It’s the first time I’ve seen you in your own clothes too.”
He launched a counterattack.
What a hateful man!
Even though he was surely full of nerves, he praised her as if it were a matter of course.
“That’s true. Thank you.”
Shizuno moved to the seat diagonally from Moroha with her composed, mask-like face and pulled the seat out next to her brother.
She misjudged her strength and the chair legs clattered across the floor.
“You’re unusually careless, aren’t you?”
Her brother found fault in that.
Perhaps even she were nervous, but even Shizuno couldn’t say.
Shizuno’s arrival, strangely put Moroha at ease.
“As thanks for always taking care of my sister, eat as much as you wish.”
“Thank you for the food.”
As the chairman said so, Moroha conscientiously put his hands together and picked up the knife and fork.
His parents had run a restaurant before they died, though it may have been small, so table manners had been drilled into him to a certain extent. He never had an inkling that a day they would be useful would come.
“It’s specially prepared for you, so I’ll be happy for you to eat your fill.”
However, the table was overflowing with such an amount of food that he was lost.
“We’re eating all this?”
However much Moroha was still growing, exercised his body every day and ate a lot, three people couldn’t eat this much.
“You can leave what you can’t eat.”
The chairman smiled as if he had just heard an amusing joke.
A vein pulsed on Moroha’s temple.
“What will you do with the leftovers? Will the staff eat it?”
“No, that would be an insult to their work.”
“Ah, that’s true. Sorry for my insensitivity.”
Then what does happen with the leftovers?
“Of course, it will all be thrown away.”
The vein pulsed twice.
There wasn’t any food in this world that could be wasted – just as Moroha was on the verge of anger, Shizuno interjected.
“Relax. We’ll put the leftovers in boxes and you can take it back. I’m sure everyone in the dorms will be glad, right?”
That was Shizuno-san! She understood how things worked!
Everyone would definitely be happy – as Moroha was on the verge of smiling, the chairman sneered.
“Don’t be foolish. We won’t make Haimura-kun do something so degrading.”
The vein pulsed three times.
If he hadn’t been older, and Moroha wasn’t there by his invitation, he’d have suggested they take it outside.
In that tense atmosphere, Shizuno sent the chairman a look as if to say “Onii-san, be quiet and leave this to me.”
He merely nodded placidly, saying it was a good suggestion.
It was obvious even to Moroha, and he could infer Shizuno’s desire to have it end properly, so calmed.
“Now, that pasta is best when it’s hot, so go ahead and eat.”
At Shizuno’s recommendation, the waiter to the side apportioned it to small plates.
He quickly began to eat.
It was pescatore – tomato pasta with seafood. It was made with fresh tomatoes rather than canned ones thanks to the unusually dry rainy season. They had a vivid, refreshing flavour, stiffened by the broken anchovies. It wasn’t just a salty taste, it had the depth of salt water. The mismatched flavours of the tomato and seafood were perfectly harmonised. There was tender, half raw, semi-transparent squid, splendid Manila clams that could be mistaken for common orient clams, and what of the glossy black-shelled mussels? They could only be thought of as enchanting, you could tell their freshness at a glance. The pasta was boiled to perfection. The elliptical pasta was linguine, as he bit through it he felt his teeth sink into it. The texture supported and enhanced the flavour of the sauce and seafood. Moroha indulged himself in them.
He’d feel guilty having extravagant food and didn’t have the disposition to distinguish the flavours, but today was fine. At any rate, it was already out, so if he didn’t eat and enjoy himself, that would be all the more a waste. So he unhesitatingly ate with relish.
Starting from Shizuno’s recommendation, he ate plates one after another.
The day had been long and tiring, and he was hungry, so being able to satisfy himself with just delicious food was great fortune!
Unfortunately, he’d now had his fill of such extravagance that he had never had before.
“That was delicious.”
Moroha conscientiously put his hands together.
He’d ate and ate, eight people’s worth.
If he had this feeling of satisfaction engraved on his heart, he could fight on just dry crackers for the next year.
“If you wish, you may come over again whenever you wish.”
“Eh, I’d feel a little guilty doing that.”
“I said so earlier, but Shizuno has no friends, so I’d like you to get on well. I’m sure Shizuno would be happy for you to come as well, correct?”
The chairman turned the conversation towards her, and after a brief pause, she spoke.
“Yes, that’s right.”
She nodded with her mask-like expression, but that pause felt like it showed everything.
That she was happy he came, but there were circumstances that meant she wished he wouldn’t.
Moroha raised his alert level with a hum. That strange feeling in the car that the chairman wanted them to become close was no illusion.
The chairman smiled a business-like smile.
The waiters promptly swept away the leftovers and prepared the after meal coffee.
Because he was waiting for the end.
“I have something I’d like to talk to you about, if you’re agreeable, Haimura Moroha-kun?”
“And there it is.”
Finally the chairman broke the ice.
So because they’d thoroughly fed him, he’d listen to them.
Moroha mentally fastened his collar.
“I’m sure you know that all Saviours are divided by rank within the White Knight Order, correct? Then, perhaps you know that it is no exaggeration to say that the rank is a sign of an actual higher position?”
“More or less.”
Moroha half-heartedly answered the chairman’s vague conversation starter.
“It’s because it’s still a new organisation where position is based off merit. On the contrary, an incompetent person with connections or vested interests can’t attain an unfair position. Even the rank acknowledgement is strictly performed.”
The majority of the school were rank D, with the meaning of ‘Disciple’.
Upon formal entry to the White Knight Order, or when the entry was approved, they’d become rank C, or ‘Common’.
This was also one of the requirements to enter the Strikers, and Moroha fell under this.
Saviours that excelled after coming to maturity would be rank B, or ‘Breaker’.
All the teachers at Akane Academy were this rank.
As proof of reaching a peerless height, there was rank A, or ‘Ace’.
The principal and Isurugi Jin fell under this rank. The fact that both of them, two of very few rank A Saviours within Japan were currently attached to the Academy showed how highly the Japanese branch valued it.
“And above that, is rank S, or ‘Special’.”
There were only six in the world, genuine Messiahs.
Phenomena in human form.
“Haimura-kun, do you know the one, simple condition to become a rank S?”
“No, I don’t.”
Moroha shook his head.
He remembered hearing about the existence of rank S a while ago. But the topic of ‘S’ didn’t come up in class or anything. It was something above the clouds. A rank that seemed like it didn’t even exist.
What would the condition be to reach that far to the heavens?
Somewhat hesitantly, Shizuno told him.
“To defeat a metaphysical that would be unbeatable one-on-one on their own-”
The chairman nodded and threw out his arm proudly.
“In other words, you!”
He loudly proclaimed.
Moroha didn’t say anything for a while, merely sharpening his eyes, remaining on guard.
Shizuno gave him a look saying that was the right decision.
Then faced the chairman in Moroha’s place.
“I don’t quite understand what you’re saying? Just when did Moroha defeat a Metaphysical alone?”
Objecting with a voice full of strain.
“Soon after entering school. Did he not gloriously slaughter that nine-headed hydra?”
The chairman spoke nonchalantly.
“The one that Moroha, Ranjou-san and I defeated together?”
Shizuno nonchalantly corrected him.
“Was there some kind of misunderstanding? Or was the principal’s report mistaken?”
Then she pressed the advantage further.
The chairman relaxedly shook his head.
“I haven’t misunderstood. I too heard that it was defeated by three people in reality.”
“Then, all Haimura-kun has to do is follow along with the lie that he defeated it alone.”
The chairman made an astounding suggestion with a nonchalant face.
“There were only three people there, right? So if you and Ranjou-san get your stories straight, it’s the perfect crime, no? That alone will make Haimura-kun number 2 in Japan.”
He was instigating Moroha to do something astounding.
“That’s what you were scheming, Nii-san!”
Her voice was rarely, ever so rarely rough.
Forgoing her calm, so stood up.
“Scheming is bad for my reputation. With a slight lie, Haimura-kun will attain a position within the heavens, and acquire the influence of a new rank S within the Japanese branch, isn’t it wonderful? Haimura-kun won’t have to worry about anything. I’ll become his guardian and deal with all the trifling matters.”
“And you’ll borrow the authority that comes with his new rank…”
Still with his nonchalant face, the chairman made no move to deny it.
Finally, as if entreating him, Shizuno spoke.
“Don’t be absurd, Nii-san. If Moroha becomes a rank S, he’ll be sent to battlefield after battlefield.”
“Of course. All the Order’s expectations and pressure is on the rank S Saviours.”
“And what will happen to Moroha…”
“He’ll earn merits of war doing so, a fine deal is it not.”
“However good Moroha is, that won’t end safely! And other than that-”
Shizuno argued vehemently.
But the chairman smoothly raised a hand, stopping her.
“That’s enough. It’s the family’s decision.”
As if sealing any further objections, he rebuked her with a cold expression.
Perhaps due to Moroha’s presence, only his tone was gentle.
Shizuno shut her mouth, and couldn’t complain any more, as if she had a spell put on her.
Her complexion was almost that of a lifeless doll as she dejectedly sat down.
The chairman nodded in satisfaction and once again faced Moroha.
“So that’s how it is, Haimura-kun, by just going along with a single lie, you can become a rank S.”
Moroha looked at his cold smile, and his near unsmiling eyes and casually scratched his head.
It was somewhat unfair to Shizuno as she earnestly exhausted her words, but he’d actually found it strange.
They’re really lied in the report to the principal that the Metaphysical that Moroha defeated alone was defeated by the three of them. And yet now the chairman was inciting him to ‘lie’ and say he defeated it alone.
He felt like bursting into laughter at the irony.
“I’m sorry, I’m not inclined to lie.”
Moroha bluntly answered that he didn’t do it alone.
With a deadly serious face.
“You… you can become number two in Japan you know? Don’t you want that?”
The chairman asked, deeply surprised.
“I’m not that great a person.”
He didn’t want status or influence beyond his means, and he didn’t at all want to go along with what seemed to reek of letting the chairman use that status and influence.
Shizuno, while she couldn’t react much under her brother’s supervision, breathed a sigh of relief.
“I can’t believe it…”
The chairman looked at him as if he were a rare animal, and as if he thought something like ‘No, he surely just doesn’t truly understand how wonderful it would be.’ He slowly shook his head and stood.
“I apologise, but I still have duties to attend to so I must leave you here. Listen, Shizuno, make sure to thoroughly explain to Haimura-kun the advantages of becoming a rank S.”
They had hoped the chairman had given up, but he was stubborn until the end.
“I understand, Nii-san.”
Completely concealing her inner emotions, with her mask-like expression.
From a type of mutual trust, Moroha could tell that Shizuno was only pretending to accept on the surface.
However, it fooled the chairman.
“I get the idea I know why Shizuno’s so good at hiding her expression…”
Having such a high-handed, oppressive senior in your family with probably train that.
It wasn’t fortunate at all for Shizuno though.
Moroha sympathised mentally and the chairman left behind a few words.
“Tomorrow is a holiday, so please stay the night. I’ve informed the staff.”
“No, there’s someone waiting for me to return, so I can’t really.”
If Maya hadn’t been there, he would have been glad to though.
“Waiting for you? At the dorms?”
He found it strange, but Moroha didn’t feel the need to mention Maya’s name.
Shizuno was curious too, but to avoid misunderstanding, and because the explanation was serious, he wanted to postpone it.
“Then, at least relax for a while.”
Moroha smiled and thanked the chairman.
He’d wanted to be alone with Shizuno.
So he’d take full advantage of those words.
He was invited to Shizuno’s room, it was a somewhat chilly scene.
It was spacious, and filled with expensive furniture and things, and there was no sense of lacking.
But, that was all. The room didn’t offer a single insight into what kind of person the occupant was.
Moroha was a little shocked, and Shizuno noticed this.
“It’s because I didn’t choose or buy a single thing here. Besides, those of the Urushibara family aren’t permitted their own interests.”
Shizuno explained, her voice sounding somewhat lonely.
He understood, it was because there weren’t any personal things that it felt chilly.
Moroha didn’t have many personal things because he was poor, but Shizuno’s room was only filled with things, so it couldn’t help but feel lonely.
“But now, I have an interest in sleeping.”
Shizuno caressed the support of her four poster bed.
That was true, even in class, if there was a chance, she’d doze off.
“Neither my family or my brother can interfere then; and my dreams are filled with happiness.”
She was sorrowfully saying that watching memories of her past life was better than the waking world.
“Ah, of course, it’s different when I’m with you, you know? I’ve never dozed off in front of you, have I?”
“You’ve pretended to sleep and teased me too many times to count though.”
Even Moroha’s annoyed words dulled.
“It’s getting depressing, so let’s go out into the night air.”
Shizuno stepped onto the balcony and beckoned.
Moroha stood next to her and looked at the night skyline from the second floor.
It was isolated from the lights of the town, so the deathly quiet mountain vista was easily visible.
The mansion Shizuno lived in was atop that small mountain.
“It seems like a stiff family.”
Moroha gave his frank impressions.
If he spoke on it too much, he’d grow melancholy, so he kept it short.
“But, school is fun, you know?”
Shizuno looked steadily at Moroha.
Enough to make him awkward. For some time.
He didn’t speak a single word asking why.
He had no choice but to look away to the quiet mountain scene while scratching his head again.
The scenery from here wasn’t particularly pleasant, but the night breeze was comforting.
Because it was on top of a mountain, it wasn’t hot or humid, and it cooled their bodies that were still flush with food.
This alone was a relief.
Shizuno laid her hands on the railing and spoke, looking towards the boys’ dorms.
Moroha looked that way too in the same position and waited for her to talk.
She softly opened her mouth.
“Would you explain what happened yesterday with Maya?”
Moroha looked like he’d slip from the railing.
“I won’t let you leave until you do, you know?”
“I’m not going to hide it. I’m just thinking how to explain it so you don’t misunderstand.”
“Why don’t you just tell me exactly as it is, from start to finish?”
Small dimples appeared at the sides of her mouth.
“I’m a quiet girl unlike Ranjou-san, so I won’t suddenly get angry while you’re explaining.”
Without a doubt, if it had been Satsuki, there would have been bloodshed, so Moroha was amused.
Shizuno would listen properly, with that belief, Moroha explained in minute detail, without hiding anything how Maya came to be his room-mate.
With appropriate sounds of agreement, Shizuno listened until he was finished.
“Well, I thought it was something like that.”
Then, she just shrugged her shoulders, and, with no cries of ‘lolicon!’ looked at him with eyes that seemed to see through everything.
“But I’m happy to hear it honestly from you.”
She said gently.
Moroha was relieved.
“You always seem to be trying to keep Satsuki away from me, so I was sure you’d be annoyed at Maaya.”
“It’s true that I can’t help but enjoy teasing Ranjou-san, but trying to keep her away is a misunderstanding, you know? If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to play with her, would I?”
She softly extended a hand and kept drawing a spiral on Moroha’s chest.
“If I was irritated every time you were kind to another girl, I wouldn’t be able to be with you.”
She murmured in a somewhat reproachful voice.
“R-really? It’d be nice is Satsuki understood that though, ha ha ha.”
Shizuno had suddenly brought about an alluring mood, Moroha tried to distract her with a dry laugh as he floundered.
“Yet she says things like ‘you can’t have any other sister than me!’ She really doesn’t get it, ha ha ha.”
“Oh? I think Satsuki-san knows you very well too.”
“Eh, how so?”
“She said she’d allow affairs. If she got angry at each one, she wouldn’t be able to be with you, would she?”
“I-I don’t get that either. Besides, there shouldn’t be an affair between siblings anyway.”
“Well, say as you like.”
Shizuno shrugged her shoulders in exasperation.
“In any case, it’s fine for you to be affectionate with Maya-san. Anyway, even if I said not to, you wouldn’t listen, that’s your personality.”
“Just how much have you seen through me?”
Moroha hid his embarrassment with complaints.
“I wonder… If, for example, you came across a poor, young slave girl one day-”
“Wait. Where are there going to be slaves nowadays?”
This was a country without a caste system.
“I said it was an example, didn’t I? You surely wouldn’t just leave that girl. You’d free her, and take in that girl with no relatives, and properly raise her until she’s a lady. Absolutely. In a previous life, in this life, you’re that kind of person.”
As if it weren’t even an example, Shizuno blandly went through this incoherent rambling.
A spark bloomed in Moroha’s head.
As Shizuno continued speaking, the spark grew gradually bigger and bigger.
Moroha’s head ached, he staggered and held his forehead.
“I know that well.”
As Shizuno seemed to finish, a crack appeared within a wall in the depths of his mind.
The spark suddenly sparked bigger.
And then, he heard voices, two.
“Don’t you have a duty of tying me down?”
“You are free. In this world, there exists no chain that can bind a person to another.”
A female and male voice. The first was the woman, the second the man.
It sounded like a serious conversation, like sweet whispers between lovers, they were maddeningly familiar voices.
Though he thought he heard them clearly, it felt like they were slipping between his fingers, and soon only a vague sensation remained. Only the familiarity remained.
However much he tried to gather it, it was impossible…
He staggered and leant against the balcony.
“What’s wrong all of a sudden?”
Shizuno’s voice after stopping her example was mixed with worry for Moroha.
“Shizuno… are you really not the Witch of the Underworld?”
In place of an answer, Moroha asked a question.
“Who knows? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Shizuno answered with a mask-like expression, not clearly playing dumb.
“More importantly, it’s cold.”
It certainly was cold. But was it Moroha’s imagination that she was bluntly changing the subject?
“Hey, it’s cold.”
Shizuno once again extended a hand and caressed Moroha’s chest.
“Shall we head inside?”
“No. It’s depressing, I want to feel the night air.”
Before Moroha could ask what they would do, she firmly attached her body to his.
A pleasant, indescribable scent rose from her hair.
Moroha scratched his head briefly but said.
“Is this just warming you?”
He prepared himself and held her in his arms.
“Are you happy?”
Shizuno held herself still closer.
With her younger sister like openness, Satsuki often embraced him.
Shizuno was a sexual harassment demon, but he unexpectedly couldn’t remember embracing her many times.
Embracing her glamourous body, her softness pervaded his senses.
Shizuno’s temperature had dropped and she was cold, so it made him want to warm her up and care for her. Despite that, embracing her tighter, he could gently feel the warmth hidden within her.
It was a mood that made it seem certain at least a kiss would be exchanged, however, just from warming each other, Moroha was amazingly satisfied.
Shizuno may not have been though.
Even if they were to live alone, in a castle of ice within an intense cold, if he had held Shizuno like this every day, he felt like he could have lived with hope.
For some reason, suddenly, that feeling came strongly to mind.