— And so, with things like that happening along the way, the summer training camp began.
That morning, the main Strikers members and the reserves, about forty people, had gathered in the academy courtyard. It was a half-leisure camp this year, so most of them were in informal clothes and in a relaxed mood. Unfortunately, not everyone was there, there were several absentees.
On the other hand, Maya was not part of the Strikers, but was accompanying them. Training would be dangerous without her barrier, and they wouldn’t be able to put their full effort in. She wasn’t there to play, she was an indispensable resource.
The fact that there was no teacher leading this trip was either just like this academy, or it went to show how much Isurugi was trusted. They were going to use the principal’s Erratic Portal to teleport and get there easily, their destination was a small island on the side of the Yamaguchi prefecture that faced the Japanese Sea, there weren’t even a thousand people living there.
Immediately after leaving the portal, the rough, salty scent of the sea assaulted Moroha’s nose. The spray on the wind clung to his T-shirt. They had arrived atop a hill, in front of a holiday house and could see the entire island. It wasn’t too far from Honshu either, so they could see that too. The vast sea and their homeland stretched off into the horizon, like an optical illusion. Because they had arrived outside, they were able to see this. Moroha’s family was poor, and let alone a trip to the sea, it had been a while since he’d been on a trip at all, so his heart fluttered.
“First greet the managers and drop off your luggage. According to Kanzaki-kun, the place has been cleaned properly, but as thanks, we shall be cleaning the building and tending to the garden. However, Maya-kun, you and the first years will be going to the beach and setting up the barrier. Until everything is finished, I don’t mind people that have finished their jobs going to play.”
The captain’s instructions given, the members peacefully obeyed. Moroha, Satsuki, Shizuno and Maya changed into their swimwear and headed to the beach. Naturally, as it was a private beach, there was no one else there and it was huge.
Satsuki shouted in excitement as she caught sight of the shore.
“IIIII looooooovee theee seeeeaaa!!”
And charged as if she were a bull that someone had waved a red cloth in front of. She frolicked in the waves, had her top taken by the waves and got the sneezes, causing a ruckus on her own.
As she did this, clever Maya used her Dream Stone Hedron and set up a barrier around the area, now no matter how rough they got, there wouldn’t be any injuries.
They had been told to play until Isurugi and the others had finished with the cleaning. In athletic clubs, it was common for the menial jobs to be pushed onto the first years, but in the Strikers, it was sometimes the other way around. Isurugi’s character was built from a mass of a sense of responsibility and duty. So it would be a waste if they didn’t.
While looking for Satsuki’s stolen top, they all enjoyed themselves in the sea. Satsuki had been stopped when she tried to half skinny-dip and sent back to change.
“IIIII looooooovee theee seeeeaaa!!”
Before long, she came charging back, can’t she say anything else?
“How’s it looking, did you find it?”
She asked, out of breath, from the shore. They swam back to her.
“No, it’s kind of impossible…”
“The waves are high, they’re fast and rough. It could be anywhere by now.”
“It’s already far at sea, you know?”
Coming ashore, Moroha, Maya, and Shizuno answered in turn.
“Muuuu, I messed up, huh.”
Even as Satsuki screwed her face up, she seemed to give up.
“Hey…” Moroha asked back, pointing at her outfit, “why are you wearing another swimsuit?”
He’d expected her to come back in casual clothes.
“What do you mean why? I’m just wearing my new one.”
Satsuki answered blankly.
“How many did you bring?”
“Well, enough for one a day of course.”
She answered as if it was obvious. Was that normal for girls? Moroha looked back at Shizuno and Maya.
“I did bring another swimsuit.”
“One a day is too much.”
The two were in agreement.
“That’s a was-”
“It’s not a waste! Fashion is more important than anything to a girl! How happy are you that your sister wears such lovely swimsuits for you? Being able to enjoy yourself in different ways is good, isn’t it?”
Satsuki laughed brazenly, striking a pose like a model, showing off. The volume of ribbons on the top wonderfully supported the lack of such in her chest. The pareo was nice too, emphasising the beauty of her slender legs. The skimpy swimsuit she was wearing until earlier was nice in its own way, but he felt this one suited Satsuki and her coquettish nature better.
“Enjoy yourself in different ways, huh…”
As he stared in shock, Moroha couldn’t help but concede the point.
“Fwo~~~~~fwofwofwo,” talking her brother down, Satsuki laughed proudly, and that wasn’t all, “it’s fine for a child like Maaya, but don’t you think you’re throwing away too much of your womanliness, Urushibara?”
She took advantage of the turn of events and started needling her rival.
“Aren’t you just wasting far too much money?”
Shizuno responded cynically without meeting her eyes.
“I already said fashion isn’t a waste of money, didn’t I?”
“I was saying that it was a waste for the swimsuits you would be wearing, you know?”
“T-they’d be unused possessions!?”
“Indeed, truly pearls before swine, right?”
“At least say coins before cats! Swine aren’t cute.”
“You’ve gotten off the point, quit it with the pointless arguing. We’re here after all.”
“I bought a beach ball, let’s play.”
At Moroha and Maya’s calming, the two of them turned their backs on each other and calmed down.
“They can’t help it, right?”
Moroha and Maya exchanged with a glance. Then ,the four of them gathered into a circle and played with the beach ball, kicking it between each other. It was a simple game, but with the summer, the sea and being under the blue sky, doing so in the open mood was oddly fun. None of them could help but be taken in.
Satsuki and Shizuno didn’t fight, and were in a daze, enjoying themselves. Watching them, Moroha started to smile.
And when he did, he noticed.
Playing the game in this open mood, in the summer, with the sea and blue sky, was awfully dangerous. More accurately, playing this game with girls in swimsuits was really bad. When they received the ball, they bounced with it. Their breasts that is. When they chased after the ball, they swayed with them. Their breasts that is.
Shizuno’s voluptuous chest was a given, but even Satsuki’s relatively small chest moved in response to vigorous movements, wobbling, bouncing, swaying, bending, dancing…
“You’ve suddenly gone red, Moroha, do you have a fever?”
Maya’s pure, angelic smile was dazzling.
“I-I’m okay. The sun’s just a little strong.”
Clumsily giving an excuse, Moroha looked away from Satsuki and Shizuno to cool down.
“That’s awful, Moroha! Why don’t you rest in the shade a bit?”
“The training camp has only just begun, you’re not allowed to push yourself, you know?”
Satsuki and Shizuno came around to look at his face, seeming worried.
“I’ll be fine, I’ll get used to it soon.”
After that, Moroha would move his head back and forth to avoid their gaze. But sensing the ball by its presence alone and receiving it properly was difficult work. The two of them saw his performance and relaxed, thinking he seemed fine and returned to the game.
Moroha kept playing, looking toward the day after.
As Moroha’s ‘odd mood’ lessened, the ball game heated up in equal measure. As time went on, the upper year students started appearing one by one. Groups of friends formed and enjoyed themselves swimming and playing in the sand.
Then, with Moroha’s group, “Heey, let me join in too!” Haruka waved at them and came dashing up.
Moroha straightened with a start. Another temptation! Such preparation was un-needed, Haruka was wearing a baggy T-shirt that covered to her thighs. She was probably wearing a swimsuit underneath, but… still hiding it even now, was there any limit to her stubbornness?
“If you’re going to dress like that, there wasn’t any point in buying it the other day, was there?”
Moroha quipped, receiving the ball.
“Why do you know she bought it the other day?”
The ball came to Satsuki and she jumped in. Noticing his slip, Moroha looked away.
“I would quite like to hear that too.”
His gaze found Shizuno, who was looking at him with a cool, penetrating gaze that seemed about to freeze him.
There was… no escape.
“I went to go buy mine and happened to bump into her, it’s not like we planned it.”
Moroha explained himself, cold sweat gathering on his brow. It wasn’t a lie, but it rang hollow, even to him. Just as he braced himself for retribution—
“We could have done thaaaaaat!?”
“I thought up so many pretences and yet… I hate that I couldn’t think of that.”
Satsuki and Shizuno both retreated into contemplation, so the conversation that had been diverted could work to its original topic.
“You bought it, so why not make up your mind? You can’t swim like that either, can you?”
Moroha passed the ball from Maya to Haruka.
“I-it’s fine… It’s my decision right. Anyway, quit staring.”
As she received the ball, she rubbed her thighs together bashfully.
“It’d be weird if I insisted she strip, hmm…” Thought Moroha, taking the return pass.
“Everyone freeze, this is a hold up.”
They heard a free, clear male’s voice. It was a third year that had sneaked up behind Haruka and was poking something into her back. It was out of Moroha’s sight, so he couldn’t tell what he was poking her with, but with that line, and that pose would definitely be used when threatening someone with a gun in dramas.
“W-w-what are you playing at, Taketsuru-senpai?”
Haruka protested in confusion and went to turn back to the man, but —
“If you turn this way, I’ll shoot.”
At the cold, hard sensations pressing into her, she let out a small scream and rigidly faced forwards.
“Now now, this is a hold up, you know, you lot?”
The man threatening them with a clear smile was called Taketsuru Uisuke, he was a member of the Strikers like Moroha and Haruka, a third year, C rank White Steel.
“Of course, I surrender.”
With his precious senior being suddenly taken hostage, Moroha raised his hands. Satsuki, Shizuno and Maya all did too. With no one to take the ball, it bounced off across the sand.
“Really, what kind of joke is thi—”
Even as Haruka put on a show of courage, her skin was a pallid white and she gingerly raised her hands.
“Fufufu, that’s right. That’s great, everyone looks so good, right?” Even with a wicked smile, Taketsuru seemed somehow calming. “What am I playing at? What kind of joke is it? I’ll tell you, doing this!”
Taketsuru placed both hands on Haruka’s, who still had her arms up, T-shirt…
And whipped it off in a single motion. It was baggy, so it came off all at once, Haruka’s body, wrapped in the blue bikini, was exposed to the sun.
Haruka frantically tried to hold her body, but it didn’t cover anything. Her toned arms, thighs and stomach held a wild beauty. They weren’t just thin like sticks, the supple and flexible muscles were starkly visible just by looking. Their dazzling beauty was accentuated by the vivid blue bikini. It didn’t have anything to do with the size of her chest, and it really did suit her.
“Give it back, give it back already. What are you thinking, Senpai!?”
Haruka snarled as she used her right hand to try and snatch the T-shirt, still covering her chest with her left.
“Hah ha! I just laid things bare for my cowardly junior. Well, you were the one laid bare I guess.”
Taketsuru counter attacked Haruka with the water pistol he was holding, it seemed that that was what he had pressed against her back.
“I don’t get what you meeeaan.”
Haruka was bewildered as water dripped from her nose from where she’d been shot, then off her chin .
“You tried so hard for a certain someone, go ahead and let him see.”
Haruka let out another strange sound and her entire body went red like a boiled octopus. Right to the tips of her fingers, you could tell because she was wearing a bikini.
“And so, I’ll be confiscating this. If you want it back, you’ll have to get that certain someone to praise you one hundred times.”
Still holding the T-shirt, Taketsuru let out a deep belly laugh and gallantly withdrew. Visible from afar, he handed the T-shirt and water pistol over to a girl wearing plain glasses.
“Man, he’s good at everything.”
Thought Moroha in admiration as he lowered his arms. Satsuki, Shizuno and Maya all did so too. Their gazes gathered on Haruka, who was still bright red and moving jerkily.
“I’m going to go for a quick swim!”
She ran off with the speed that earned her the title of fastest within the school and hid herself in the sea.
“It wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, it’s a waste, right?”
With a pained smile at her silly behaviour, Moroha sought the others’ opinions.
“But don’t you think that’s what makes her cute? She’s fierce.”
Shizuno gave her evaluation while seeming to drift.
“My muscles are all squidgy, I’m jealous of Haruka-oneechan. She was so pretty.”
Smiled Maya, while pinching at the fat on her stomach (though it was at the normal kind of level for children).
And then, Satsuki…
Was somewhat gloomy. Her eyes were suddenly cast in shadow as she glared at Moroha.
“W-what?” Asked Moroha, taken aback at her sudden change.
“Do you like Momo-senpai, Nii-sama?”
Satsuki threw a tremendous straight-ball.
“Why this again?”
“It’s a woman’s… no, a younger sister’s intuition.”
“Oh, I would also quite like to hear this.”
“I’m really curious too.”
Shizuno and Maya both snapped onto the question too, Shizuno with a sidelong glance, and Maya with excitement.
“You lot only get on at times like this…” Moroha was weary, but it didn’t seem like he’d be allowed to not answer, “Well yeah… but I don’t think it’s the kind of ‘like’ that you lot are thinking of.” Scratching his head, he spoke frankly. “Momo-senpai is a good person, and I think her earnestness towards getting strong is cool. And you know we’re deployed together when fighting against Metaphysicals?”
“That’s right, you’re the only one that can keep up with her speed, aren’t you?”
“So we’re always training together, and I think we’ve just ended up in sync over time.”
“As far as being in sync goes, don’t you think it’s her synchronising with you?”
“A-anyway, yeah, I get on well with Momo-senpai.”
‘Is that a good enough answer?’ he asked with his eyes.
“Well, that’s about it.”
Shizuno said, once again in a relaxed mood.
“Moroha and Haruka-oneechan both respect each other, they’re good partners.”
Maya understood what he was saying and smiled.
That was all sorted, or that’s what Moroha thought.
Only Satsuki was frowning and grinding her teeth. She still couldn’t calm down. What on Earth was wrong, did she still not understand?
Asked Moroha in puzzlement.
But no reply came from her. Something awful had happened.
Something that crushed the peaceful sea-side mood of everyone else playing around.
“What are you doing!? Relaxing has a limit!” Tokiko’s sharp reprimand echoed from behind. The mood dropped like a stone. Moroha and the other’s attention was taken too. “Every last one of you seems to be under the impression this is a outing or something, don’t you!?”
The demon vice-captain was for some reason in a unfashionable Burgundy tracksuit, frowning in anger as she strode across the beach. Stiffly adjusting the bridge of her glasses upon her nose, she glared at the members. She was in an awfully bad mood.
Struck by the anger coming off her in waves, everyone shuddered in terror. As Tokiko progressed, step by step down the beach, the members playing near her retreated as if they were like poles on a magnet repelling each other.
“You’re tense aren’t you, Kanzaki? What’s up?”
Taketsuru fearlessly asked her as she approached.
“Hmph. We came here to train, did we not? And yet you’re all running around playing like headless chickens!”
Tokiko spoke oppressively, like a drill Sergeant, glaring around her and making anyone in her gaze shudder. However, Taketsuru turned it aside like a breeze and remonstrated her with an easy tone.
“Well yeah, Isurugi said to play until everyone got here, of course we would be, right?”
“Silence! The captain’s too soft, I’ll never allow it as the vice-captain.”
“You go on about that, but weren’t you looking forward to playing and playing? Why the change of heart? Actually, what’s up with that lame tracksuit, what happened to your swimsuit?”
“…I was forbidden.” Answered Tokiko in a whisper. The impression she gave changed from her haughty pose with crossed arms to seeming like she was trying to hold back tears, “…I thought I’d show it to Moroha… I worked so hard to pick it… I was so excited to get it… but then, when the captain saw it… he said it was even more indecent than being naked and forbid it… as a punishment I’ve got to wear the tracksuit all day…” She finished with a sniffle.
“…In that case, Isurugi’s judgement was right.”
Taketsuru, with his easiness being his merit, hesitated to say as he looked at Tokiko in disappointment.
“So, Moroha, are you sad that you won’t get to see it?”
“Nah, I’ll honestly pass on a swimsuit that’s more indecent than being naked.”
Shizuno whispered into Moroha’s ear with small dimples on her face, and Moroha replied in a small voice.
Reproachful eyes surrounded Tokiko at a distance. She lost heart for a moment, but, suddenly, the light within her eyes was rekindled.
“And so! Because I, the vice-captain can’t play, you lot playing until you drop is unfair!” She spoke haughtily.
Grumbles of discontent started to rise from all over the place. Satsuki and Maya both had displeased expressions.
While this was happening, others arrived from the holiday home and complained that they weren’t still playing.
“You really are a demon…”
Taketsuru was disgusted, turning away gallantly as if he couldn’t be in her company any longer.
“Listen up, you’re not here to flirt, you’re here to train! The time for playing is over! Am I venting my anger? Hmph, I am indeed! What’s wrong with that? I’m the vice-captain you know.” With no one there to stop her, Tokiko ranted and raved, with the air of desperation. “Hah… I noticed something terrifying. The captain’s a hardheaded, stubborn boor that isn’t popular with women, so he’s jealous of mine and Moroha’s lovey-doviness, isn’t he!? Then he’s venting that, getting in our way!? Grrr, I won’t allow it! What an abuse of power!”
Her harsh words wouldn’t stop, they wouldn’t stop. People wiped sweat off their brows and swallowed spit as they gazed fearfully at Tokiko. But she herself didn’t notice the true meaning behind those gazes.
“If someone wants to educate him that ‘those that interfere in other people’s relationships should get eaten by Metaphysicals and die’ then I’ll allow it! No responsibility.” Her words escalated more and more.
Then, a large hand came from behind her! Then, with a strong enough grip to cause a disquieting creak to come from her skull, gripped her atop her head.
Tokiko let out a strange yell, perhaps in surprise, fear, or possibly both. Standing behind her was Isurugi Jin, the one she had been railing against.
Everyone looked in terror at the tall and slim figure of the captain as he stood in a quiet rage.
“C-c-c-c-captain!? That just now was, um—”
“I am awfully disappointed, vice captain.” Isurugi’s voice was heavy, with almost a physical weight. Tokiko suddenly withered. “The team needs to let off steam every so often, or they’ll just keep gathering resentment. It’s exactly as you proclaimed. It was correct to bring the training camp to the sea side, I’m glad even now.”
“I-is that right?”
“Indeed. The problem is that you have the most steam built up.”
“O-o-o-ow. Don’t squeeze any harder than that, m-m-m-m-my head’s going to break.”
“Let us discuss how you can avoid such difficulties as the team leader later, vice captain.”
“Got it. I’ve got it, so don’t squeeze any harder, something’s going to come out of my ears.”
Tokiko continued to struggle and resigned sighs came from around her at her ruined appearance. Moroha had a wry smile, and Satsuki was rolling around with laughter. Maya had covered her mouth and was hiding her giggles. Shizuno was just gazing listlessly at the clouds.
While still making Tokiko’s head creak, he spoke to the members as if nothing had happened.
“It seems you’re all assembled. Let’s begin today’s training then.”
He didn’t raise his voice hugely, but that dull voice carried well. Playtime really was over now. Unlike with Tokiko, everyone’s expressions tightened. Without him saying anything further, they gathered around him. Of course, Moroha and the others did so too.
Even if he was a hardheaded, stubborn boor, the captain was a tremendous leader.
To begin, Isurugi spoke.
“I think that this year’s training is softer than usual. However, too much stress isn’t the point of a training camp. So, ladies and gentlemen, I have one thing I would like you to promise me,” Moroha listened as he stretched. The people around him stirred noisily and looked at each other, “Each of you will decide upon your own subject, and work on that until the final day.”
A small commotion arose from the members and Moroha hummed in satisfaction.
“The subject can be anything, improving your strong points, lessening your weak points, or even studying new Ancestral Arts. I leave it to your ambition and audacity.”
It was complicated and yet said simply, seeming like simplicity itself but having hidden depths. Interesting. That was definitely like the captain, he was a steadfast man and had clearly thought about it in depth before.
“On this occasion, you can feel free to ask anyone to give you some instruction. Unfortunately, Sophia-kun isn’t here, but the full members all have their own specialities. Depending on your goal, it could make your learning easier.” At these words, quite a few people turned and nodded with ‘mmhmm’s at Moroha, he could somewhat feel their gazes gathering on him. “So then, I hope you shall all rise to the challenge.”
Isurugi’s speech ended, and they began to train under the orders of Tokiko, who had calmed. It wasn’t possible to win one-on-one with a Metaphysical, that was the reason they placed such emphasis on team work, and they spent about an hour doing the usual. Even as they went seriously about their training, all of their thoughts were focused on what their goal would be. And then, for the remaining hour, upon Isurugi’s command to each pursue their own training, they dispersed. People worked alone, made groups, disappeared off to somewhere, set up camp where they liked.
Around Moroha, only three were left, Satsuki, Shizuno and Maya. Tokiko looked like she would join them, but —
“I believe that I said we would be speaking later.”
She was immediately caught by the scruff of her neck by Isurugi and dragged away. She let out feeble cries of misery, but no one sympathised with her. Other older girls looked like they wanted to join them but ended up creating an atmosphere that held each other back, and no one approached. While that happened.
“Can we call Momo-senpai over?”
Satsuki suddenly proposed in a nervous voice.
Moroha had no objections, and she ran off to call her.
“—So that’s what she wanted to do then?”
Moroha was sat on the sand, watching Satsuki, who was full of fighting spirit.
“Ranjou-san really is a show off, making a commotion is her speciality.”
Shizuno was sitting right next to him, and had shuffled in close during the confusion. Her bare skin was against his, their upper arms were close together, startling him.
“Isn’t it fine to be lively?”
On the opposite side, Maya had imitated her, Shizuno’s bad influence on children was massive.
Satsuki stood over the three — no, there were also the other seniors watching them — and took an imposing stance, her chin jutting out, her eyes alight and with a fearless smile engraved upon her lips as she pointed straight at Haruka.
“I’ve decided! My goal will be to get faster than you, Momo-senpai!”
Satsuki, still a reserve, and only a first year at that, would surpass Haruka, a full member, and the fastest in the school at that. At that audacious proclamation, the observers erupted into applause. Even Isurugi clapped quietly, and Taketsuru, who was near them, whistled through his fingers and cheered.
“Ummm…” On the other hand, Haruka ducked her head at the challenge, the titleholder had shrank and was the exact opposite. “Won’t you choose another challenge?”
Momo asked, gazing at Satsuki with upturned eyes.
“Hmhmmm, could you be afraid of me, with my bright future, Momo-senpai?”
“It just feels sorta like bullying.”
The sound of something breaking within Satsuki reached Moroha, who covered his face in resignation.
“Fwo… fwo fwo, well, o-obviously, I’m not so cocky to think I’d win right away…. But isn’t saying it’s bullying a little too far, fwo… fwo fwo fwo… fwo…”
Satsuki tried and failed to laugh it off like a bad joke. Her temple was twitching.
“R-right, let’s compete then! An all out competition!”
Haruka noticed her slip and hurriedly tried to heal Satsuki’s self-respect, and energetically drew out a start line on the beach with her foot.
Satsuki had challenged Haruka to a footrace. It was a touch childish, but this was the easiest way to compare their speed.
Haruka stood at the start line. With her temple still twitching, Satsuki stood next to her.
“Let’s make that cliff the goal, first one to touch it wins.”
Haruka was coated in prana. It rose from her whole body like blue flames, swaying soundlessly. It was beautiful, an azure blue, like the sky, that seemed endless and perfectly clear.
“Okay. First I’ll fix that mistaken image you have of me.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“I don’t want an apology, I want respect! Let’s go, Momo-senpai.”
Satsuki was coated in prana too, and it too, was beautiful. It was a majestic, holy gold light. However, unlike Haruka, it wasn’t from her whole body. It was from both hands and both legs. And sometimes, it was just a sparking golden aura.
Both of them were ready. They both knew that if you couldn’t prepare yourself quickly for real battle, there was no point, so they didn’t take a crouching start for the race, they simply lowered themselves slightly and leaned forwards.
They gazed at their goal, about five or six hundred metres away.
The tension swelled. The spectators leaned forwards too.
“Give us the start signal, Nii-sama!”
“Eh, me? Then… readyyy, go.”
At Moroha’s lax signal, the two girls exploded into movement, scattering an explosion of sand behind them. They ran far faster than a normal person. It was one of the basic Light Techniques of Ancestral Arts, God Speed Link. However, their running techniques were like night and day. Satsuki was wild and uncoordinated, running fiercely through the sand, kicking up a storm of sand and giving a war cry.
Haruka was beautiful, she ran smoothly, not kicking up the sand, and not making a sound. And, she was far faster. From the instant they started, she had been steadily pulling away from Satsuki. Ten seconds probably hadn’t even passed, she had covered the distance to the goal in the blink of an eye, lightly touching it. She wasn’t out of breath at all.
Thunderous applause came from the spectators once more, and Taketsuru whistled again. After several seconds, Satsuki reached the goal too. Rather than a touch she was closer to hitting the cliff and then shouted.
“I diiid it!”
Throwing her hands skyward and jumping.
Her cries reached Moroha and the others, who were seated near the start. What was she so happy about after a resounding defeat? Moroha, Shizuno, Maya and the spectators were all baffled. Haruka was speaking to her in shock, so Moroha used Divine Sound Link to make his hearing better and caught her voice.
“Say, Satsuki… what are you so happy?”
“’Cause I wasn’t too different from you, was I?”
Haruka’s eyes widened in shock. Moroha’s did too.
“Not too… you were clearly seconds slower, weren’t you?”
“Eh, it’s just seconds, right?”
At Haruka’s retort, Satsuki stared blankly. Of course, in terms of the absolute value, it may not seem like that big a difference, but it didn’t bear thinking about in relative terms. If Haruka had taken nine seconds to reach the goal, and Satsuki was three seconds slower Satsuki’s speed wouldn’t have been even 70% of Haruka’s. In reality, Haruka hadn’t taken nine seconds, and Satsuki was more than three seconds slower. In comparison, she would be a tortoise, that’s right, a tortoise. She couldn’t understand that.
She was a hard worker, and should be good at maths, but she was an example of how not being able to put it into practice made it worthless. Moroha was saddened.
“Umm, you see…” Haruka tried to explain, but she just ended up gesturing and not being able to say anything. She understood through experience, but couldn’t suddenly give the explanation, it seemed Haruka was bad at mathematics. “It doesn’t matter, anyway, it’s my win.”
Ah, she gave up.
“Then let’s go again! I’m sure I can give you a better match next time.”
“Sure sure, I’ll play along with you…”
“Let’s use the start line from earlier as the goal!”
Satsuki triumphantly drew out another start line in the sand and turned around, preparing. Haruka gave her a reproachful gaze, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“It seems like they’re fighting somewhat, what’s wrong?”
Shizuno whispered into Moroha’s ear.
“Who knows, anyway, looks like they’re going again.”
Moroha protected his ‘sister’s’ honour.
In the end, Satsuki didn’t win even once.
Running with roars of energy saw her left in the dust…
Running with angry growls left her even further in the dust…
Running with tears in her eyes left her further still in the dust…
The more she challenged Haruka, the more effort she put in, the more the gap widened. As Haruka had feared, it seemed to become like bullying.
Even so, Satsuki didn’t give in, and Haruka didn’t take it easy in the slightest either. It was probably painful for her to keep running, and keep losing, it was clear that she couldn’t win, even trying her best. Their virtue, their motivation, left a deep impression on the spectators, that could barely be seen. Taketsuru applauded each time they passed the goal, he was a good man. Moroha didn’t look away either, he watched over Satsuki’s efforts.
“She really doesn’t know her own limits… she doesn’t even know the basics yet.”
Still attached to Moroha, Shizuno sighed in pity.
“Saying she’d get faster than Haruka-oneechan of all people, that’s way too careless.”
Cuddled up to him still, Maya gave a pitying sigh. Satsuki was being pitied by a ten year old…
“But really, why is she so desperate to win over Momo-senpai…?”
There were plenty of other things she could choose as an objective, so Moroha was puzzled. Could it be connected to her descending into silent thought after his answer about whether he liked Haruka? In that case, he didn’t really get the reason.
Moroha grumbled and scratched his head, speaking without taking his eyes of Satsuki, who was even now running with all her willpower.
“It’s just Momo-senpai is a speed-type, Satsuki’s a power and tough tanky type so she’s at the disadvantage.”
“Oi oi, that’s the first time I’ve heard Ranjou’s a tanky-type.” Nearby, Taketsuru’s sharp ears picked up his grumbling and his eyebrows raised in deep interest. “Everyone knows that Momochi’s a speed-type, but how do you know Ranjou’s type, she’s still developing? Is it because you’re going out?”
“We’re not going out.”
“Ranjou-san and Moroha are not going out.”
“Why are you answering too, Urushibara, hahahaha.” Even wry smiles from him were bright and clear, “Then, why?”
“Can’t you tell from the colour of her prana?”
“Not at all.” Taketsuru answered with a cool pose and a shrug. “I guess it really is different being an S rank.”
“Oh? But Moroha had a similar conversation with Sir Edward.”
“Yeah, he didn’t know either, he’d never heard of it.”
Taketsuru’s cheery laugh was just at how interesting he was. Moroha couldn’t do anything other than scratch his head. Being able to read various things from the colour of prana was common knowledge to Flaga, but it had never once been understood. He felt uneasy under the beaming smile that said he didn’t do anything by halves.
“I’m not an S rank though.”
Focusing on something not quite relevant, he tried to evade it.
“Yeah, I’ve heard, I’ve heard. It was put on hold. I heard Ranjou’s crying and happiness about it.”
The day before yesterday, Moroha had wanted to put Satsuki, Shizuno and Maya at ease, and yesterday, Satsuki had made a massive noise about it, so everyone knew about it. He didn’t really mind, but thought he should be careful of Satsuki’s loose-tongued nature.
“Well, I understand Ranjou-san’s feelings you know? I’m relieved that you were released too.”
Shizuno gave some rare support to Satsuki.
“I was really scared that you’d get awful demands from the Japanese branch too.”
Maya celebrated with an angelic smile.
“I’m a little sad, I was looking forward to how much you’d do.”
“I said, I’m not that impressive a guy.” Moroha shrugged at Taketsuru, who seemed deeply regretful. “It’s a load off my shoulders, so I’m relieved.”
“However… it’s on hold, so you can’t let your guard down yet.”
The slightest melancholy leaked through onto Shizuno’s mask-like face.
“When will it be decided?”
“There’s a meeting of the Six Heads this week, they’ll talk about it there.”
Moroha gave a half-hearted answer to Taketsuru’s question.
“Heh, while you’re at the training camp?”
Taketsuru was showing he was paying attention, but it was just like parroting someone else, so he didn’t mean anything offensive by it. Moroha wondered about those schedules overlapping too, but thought it was unrelated.
“A Six Head meeting… That’s amazing, the Six Heads meeting for you.”
Moroha frantically tried to escape the ‘you don’t do anything by halves’ rays coming from Taketsuru.
“The Six Heads are Edward and such, the top of each country’s organisation, right? They should meet fairly often then, yeah? It’s more like an extra topic, isn’t it?”
“It’s definitely just for you. I don’t even remember them meeting in more than a year.”
“They should just do their jobs…”
Hearing Shizuno’s remark, Moroha was discouraged.
“It’s only natural, their job isn’t talking, it’s fighting.”
“…They’re all monstrously strong, aren’t they?”
At Maya’s admonishment, he reluctantly agreed. He’d fought against one of them, Edward, the English Branch’s leader. It was a struggle of life or death that’d make him yell ‘You think I’d do that again!?’.
If the others were as strong as that walking natural disaster… They really couldn’t be called anything other than an outrageous group.
“I don’t really know much about them in the first place.”
“They’re so unreachable, they’re barely covered in classes, right?”
“You don’t care about the gossip about the White Knight Agency, so you’d hear even less.”
Shizuno and Maya assented.
“What’re they like I wonder?”
Moroha was curious about them for the first time. If they’d gotten off their backsides to discuss Moroha alone, that would have been unthinkable. What kind of people were they? How would they talk? And would Moroha’s rank be decided?
Depending on the situation, his way of life could be swayed by their whims, couldn’t it?
“It’s sorta disgusting…”
Scratching his head, Moroha listened to Shizuno, Maya, and Taketsuru who were explaining to him, what the Six Heads had done, and how they were formed. That history was still recent.
It was only known to a limited number of people:
Six years ago, in the northern part of England, a mysterious monster had appeared in the small port of Sunderland. The first of the creatures that would later become known as Metaphysicals. The monster had rampaged like it owned the place, destroyed half the city, and caused a huge number of casualties.
But complete destruction, complete annihilation was avoided. A single hero had appeared before the rampaging beast, and stood in its way. That person was clad in a purple light, enveloped in silver armour and fought by swinging an unusually large sword.
At the end of near an hour of fierce fighting, the monster finally lay in defeat.
His name was Edward Lampard. He was a youth that had awoken to not only the memories of his past life, but the power of a White Steel, he had thought it strange and lived his life while hiding it. However, suddenly, he’d encountered an incident when he went to watch a football match.
“I just thought so many more people would die if I didn’t do anything, so I made up my mind I had to.”
And with that, he had released the power he had hidden and resolved to fight against the monster.
The English government was behind and upon gathering the information, things began to look a lot more serious. Edward was invited as a material witness as the one to resolve it, and the meeting had continued into the long term.
In that time, Japan, France, China, Russia, and America all bore witness to the monsters one after another.
The American army responded rapidly and tried to shoot them down, but it had laid waste to the strongest armour on earth with a single blow. In their place, the ones to defeat them were holders of strange powers like Edward. Not from now but from many millennia ago. Not of Earth but of worlds millions of light years away. Those who reincarnated holding their memories of fighting as heroes, that later came to be known as Saviours.
There was one person for each country, six in total.
The monster that appeared in Japan was erased by a purifying light, the one in America was riddled with holes like cheese and lay down in death, the one in France was half burnt black and half frozen, the one in Russia was struck by hundreds of lightning bolts that rained incessantly from the skies, and no one knows what became of the monster that appeared in China.
Following their appearances, those countries: England, America, France, Russia, China, and Japan suffered harm from them over and over.
Each time, Edward and the others would rush forth and protect their homeland.
Unbelievably oddly, the monsters never appeared in any other countries, but the countries involved were concerned with their response. They had Edward and the others now, so they could deal with it, but what if the worst were to happen? Or if their appearance became a permanent thing? What if they kept appearing when the six were old?
There was but a single solution.
They searched for other potential reincarnators, gathered them, created an organisation, an agency to combat the monsters. At their governments requests, Edward and the other five met together. This was actually the first Six Head Conference.
Searching for reincarnators was first thought to be absurd, but Suruga Andou, who would later become the head of the Japanese branch, had a series of concrete ideas that were implemented by their governments, giving tangible results. Whilst they found barely anyone who had awoken to their power, they found many with memories of their previous lives, upon being taught by Edward and the others, they too awoke to their powers. Thus, the unofficial organisation, the White Knight Agency, was formed directly underneath the UN.
Though it was said to be directly under the UN, the reality was that each nation formed their own organisation that was recorded as a distant federation in the monolith. With the six governments putting their expectations on Edward and the other five, this was the path of least resistance. Edward and the others, now known as ‘the First Six’ became the heads of each organisation. What’s more, even taking into account all of the reincarnators, now known as Saviours, those six were far beyond average in strength and were thrown into relief.
‘The First Six’ were revered and came to be called the ‘Six Heads’.
Each of them were as kings, reigning over the organisations they had made.
After summing up the main points, the three stopped speaking. Shizuno in particular knew some exclusive information thanks to her brother being part of the management of the Japanese branch, even Maya and Taketsuru had listening with thoughtful noises. Maya in particular had been in a daze, captivated by her words as she held Moroha’s arm like a pillow, wrapping both of her arms and legs around him.
Moroha’s feelings were sharp, her holding his arm aside, what about her feet? Was her having his arm between her legs safe? And Maya was lightly dressed in a swimsuit, it might be what a child did, but Moroha couldn’t even move his arm like this.
“Just what is this supposed to be, Maaya-kun?”
He cleared his throat and suggested she let go. She was startled when she realised her carelessness and giggled. It had the cuteness of an angel but—
“Look, look, I’m like a koala.”
It suddenly turned into that of a fallen angel and she started to grip all the tighter.
“Enough already, get off.”
Moroha scolded her with a serious face, and she let go with a mischievously stuck out tongue.
In any case — once they were finished, Moroha had this to say.
“Edward sounds really cool, but…”
He wasn’t really satisfied. To him, that branch chief was someone who walked wearing trouble as clothes.
Using his hidden power and saving the town wasn’t something he’d do, he would want to avoid showing anyone. He might have been called a monster after, and he could imagine how much trouble it would cause, he couldn’t help but praise his resolve. He wasn’t fully satisfied though.
“I think he is cool, I look up to him as a man.”
Taketsuru hmmed with a stylish motion as he folded his arms.
“If you thought you were about to be killed by him as he just hummed, I think you’d change your mind.”
“Hahaha, scary, huh?” Taketsuru laughed off Moroha, who now had his eyes half closed, “But you know, Haimura, that’s why I wanted to see what’d happen when you become an S rank.”
As if to defend himself, Taketsuru brought that back up.
“What’s with that again? Lay off already, would you?”
Moroha couldn’t say anything strongly against his senior, and scratched his head. Taketsuru didn’t let it rest however.
“I’m sure you’ll become a good Saviour. Not just in strength, but you’ll become a man worthy of an S rank, like Sir was when he saved Sunderland so coolly.”
His fervent speech continued, it wasn’t just invigorating, it held a fervour at its core.
“You’re overestimating me.”
“I’m not, I saw it.”
At his question, Taketsuru grinned. Like an innocent boy, his teeth gleaming white and looking like he was truly enjoying himself. And then, he answered.
“When that nine headed hydra showed up, you stood against that scary scary Isurugi and declared ‘I’ll go alone’.” His laughter showed how exhilarating he found it. “I knew it then, that you were a big-shot, the real thing.”
So saying, he clapped Moroha on the shoulder, and gallantly left. Peaking at him from afar, he was with a senior girl with plain glasses.
Moroha couldn’t speak. From his left and right came.
“You look like you just swallowed a lemon.”
He was being teased by the dimples on Shizuno’s cheeks, Maya’s angelic smile, and them poking his eyebrows.
“He’s really good with his words. He’s really popular with both the guys and the girls. I’ve got to be careful.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“We agree with Taketsuru-oniisan.”
Shizuno and Maya both grabbed onto his arms.
In lieu of scratching his head, Moroha’s frown just grew all the more pronounced.