"I can't accept this."
"You're still going on about that...?"
It was the day of the school entrance ceremony, but it was still early morning, two hours before the start of the ceremony.
The freshmen whose hearts were filled with anticipation at the future their new life would bring, along with their even more exultant parents, still numbered few and far between.
Standing before the auditorium where the entrance ceremony was going to take place, a man and woman pair, clad in brand new uniforms, was for some reason locked in a verbal disagreement.
They were both freshmen, yet their uniforms were strangely and distinctively different.
We are not talking about the difference between slacks and skirt, nor the difference between a man and woman's attire.
But rather, on the female student's chest was the eight-petaled flower design of the First High School's emblem.
That emblem was not present on the male student's blazer.
"Onii-sama, why are you a reserve? Didn't you top the entrance exams? Typically speaking, the one who should become the freshman class representative should be you, not me!"
"Putting aside the question of where you got hold of the entrance exam results... since this is a Magic High School, it's obvious that they'd place more emphasis on practical magic skills rather than on paper tests, right?
"Miyuki, you are well aware of the extent of my practical abilities, aren't you? I'm quite surprised that I even got accepted here as a Course 2 student."
It was a scene where the male student was trying to pacify the female student who had been lashing out angrily with her sharp tongue. From the fact that the female student had called the male student 'Onii-sama,' we can probably presume that they are siblings. It is also not unlikely that they are closely-related relatives.
If they are siblings...
Then they are siblings who don't resemble each other at all.
On one hand, anyone who sets eyes on the younger sister will no doubt be captivated by her; ten out of ten people, or even a hundred out of hundred people, will agree that she is a lovely, beautiful girl.
On the other hand, for the elder brother, other than his erect posture and piercing eyes, nothing in his ordinary appearance could be said to be attention-grabbing.
"How can you be so unsure of yourself?! Even when there's no one who's a match for you in studies and taijutsu! The truth is, even for magic—"
The younger sister reprimanded the elder brother for his weak proclamation, but...
As he called out her name in an exceptionally strong tone, Miyuki sobered up and shut her mouth.
"You understand right? Even if you say that, it can't be helped."
He put his hand on her lowered head and slowly stroked her glossy black hair, which had not a single kink in it. "Now, what should I do to fix her mood..." the young man who was the elder brother pondered with a miserable face.
"...I'm really happy you feel that way. I always feel that I'm being saved whenever you get angry in my place."
"I'm not lying."
"Liar. Onii-sama, you're always scolding me..."
"I'm not lying, I said. But, I too hold you in my thoughts the same way you do about me."
"Onii-sama... 'hold me in your thoughts,' you say..."
For some reason, the young woman blushed.
Even though the young man could feel that a seed of dissonance that he could not ignore had been sown, in order to resolve the most immediate problem, he shelved that doubt for now.
"Even if you back out of giving the orientation address, there is no way I'll be selected as a replacement. If you back out at this eleventh hour, you won't be able to avoid a blemish on your appraisal.
You do understand that, right? Miyuki, you are a smart girl."
"Besides, Miyuki, I'm looking forward to it.
"Show this useless big brother of yours the glorious moment of his cute little sister."
"Onii-sama is not a useless big brother!
...But, I understand. Please pardon me for being willful."
"There's nothing to apologize for. I've never thought of that as being willful."
"Well then, I'll be taking my leave.
...Please watch me, Onii-sama."
"Yeah, break a leg. I'll be looking forward to your performance."
"By all means, see you later." The young woman bowed and disappeared into the auditorium. After ascertaining that she had left, the young man breathed a sigh of relief.
(Well... what should I do now?)
The young man who had escorted his little sister, who had reluctantly become the freshman class representative, to school before the ceremony rehearsal started, was now at a loss as to how he should spend the remaining two hours before the start of the school ceremony.
◊ ◊ ◊
The main building, the practice building, and an experiment building made up three of the school buildings.
An auditorium/gymnasium whose internal layout can be altered via transformation machinery. A library with three levels above ground and two levels below. Two small gymnasiums. A preparation building equipped with a changing room, a shower room, an equipment-storage room, and club rooms. The canteen, the cafeteria, and the procurement department are in another building. And above all that, the construction of various large and small annexes make the design of First High School appear more like the campus of a suburban university than a typical high school.
The young man looked left and right as he walked along a path paved with a layer of bricks, searching for a place to rest until it was time for him to enter the auditorium.
The ID card that would allow him to use the school facilities would only be given out after the school entrance ceremony ended.
In order to avoid a scene of chaos, the open cafe that was meant to serve visitors was also closed today.
After five minutes of walking around while referring to the campus map displayed on his mobile terminal, beyond a row of trees, which were positioned in such a way that they couldn't escape his field of vision, he spotted a bench in the courtyard.
It's a good thing that it's not raining, a frivolous thought entered his mind as he sat down on the three-person bench, opened his mobile terminal, and started accessing a book portal that he liked.
This courtyard seems to be a shortcut from the preparation building to the auditorium.
They were probably roped in by the management of the entrance ceremony to help out. That is, the current students (upperclassmen to the young man) who were passing by the young man a small distance away. All of them had the same eight-petaled flower emblem on the left side of their chests.
As they passed by, a trail of artless, ill-meaning words escaped around their backs.
—Isn't that kid a Weed?
—He's early... he sure is enthusiastic for a reserve.
—In the end, he's just a spare.
A conversation, which he didn't really want to hear, flowed into his ears.
The word, Weed, refers to a Course 2 student.
The students who have the emblem design of an eight-petaled flower on the left breast of their blazers are called "Blooms," while the Course 2 students who don't have that are likened to weeds that have no blooming flowers, and are sneered upon as "Weeds."
The quota for the freshmen in this school is two hundred.
Among them, one hundred of them entered this school as Course 2 students.
The First High School, which is affiliated with the National University of Magic, is an institution established under national policy for the purpose of nurturing Magic Technicians.
In exchange for a budget granted by the country, it has the obligation to produce definite results.
Every year, this school produces over a hundred graduates who either enter the University of Magic or enroll in a Magic Technical Institute of Specialized Higher Training.
While it's a pity, the fact is that magic education is a trial-and-error thing. Accidents, which go beyond the level of minor mishaps, can easily happen directly through magic slip-ups from practice training and experiments. Even while the students are aware of the dangers involved, one will bet one's future on one's own talent in magic and the possibility that exists in oneself, and walk the path to become a Magician.
When there are only a handful who possess such talent, and that talent is highly valued by society, few would throw it away, even more so for the young men and women who have yet to reach their individual maturities, rendering them unable to pursue a road outside of a 'brilliant future.' Another fact, as a consequence of such a belief system getting fixed inside of them, is that many children have been burdened with 'wounds' from that belief system.
Thanks to the accumulation of know-how, most accidents resulting in deaths or crippled bodies have been eradicated.
However, one's talent in magic can be easily impaired via a psychological element.
Every year, the number of students who have dropped out as a result of being unable to use magic due to the shock of an accident is by no means small.
The ones who fill the gap are the "Course 2 students."
Upon enrolling in a magic high school, they are allowed to participate in classes, use the facilities and access data, but they lack the most important component in their studies, they are not entitled to receive personal instruction in practical magic skills.
They can only learn on their own, and show results through their own efforts.
If they can't do that, they will have to graduate from a normal high school.
If one does not graduate from a magic high school, one cannot pursue studies in a university of magic.
Given that the number of people who can teach magic is very insufficient, it is unavoidable that the more talented ones be given priority. Right from the beginning, Course 2 students are accepted under the condition that no one will teach them.
Publicly, it is forbidden to call the Course 2 students "Weeds."
However, in part, one can almost say that this has become a well-known derogatory term for them, a term that is rooted even within the Course 2 students themselves. Even the Course 2 students have to recognize that they are no more than spares.
This was the same for the young man.
That was why there was no need for them to have purposely spoken that aloud for him to realize that. He had entered this school while being fully aware of that.
What an unnecessary favor from them, the young man thought as he turned his attention to the book portal that had loaded on his data terminal.
◊ ◊ ◊
On the open computer terminal, a clock was displayed.
His consciousness, which had been immersed in reading, returned to reality.
There were another thirty minutes until the school entrance ceremony.
"Are you a new student? It's almost time for the ceremony."
Around the same time as he was about to stand up, having logged out of one of his favorite reading portals and closed his computer terminal, a voice came from above him.
The first thing that came into view was the skirt of a uniform. Following that, wrapping around a left arm was a wide bracelet.
Broader and thinner than a normal bracelet, it was the latest model of a CAD that was made with fashion in mind.
CAD (Casting Assistance Device) — spell support processor.
In this country, it is also known as a (Magic Operator).
Something that replaces tools such as spell chants, talismans, hand seals, magic circles, magic tomes, and other traditional methods of invoking magic, it is a tool of necessity for any modern Magic Technician.
These days, there is no research into using a single word, or a single phrase to invoke magic. When used in conjunction with talismans and magic circles and others, the shortest invocation will take around ten seconds, while the longer ones can take above a minute depending on the magic, and in place of that, the easy-to-use CAD can reduce that to under a second.
While it is possible for magic to be invoked without a CAD, the number of Magic Technicians who do not use CADs, which can rapidly accelerate the invocation of magic, equates to nil. Among those who have dedicated themselves to the specialization of one particular skill in bringing about supernatural phenomena with just their will alone, the so-called "Supernatural Power Users," the ones who seek the speed and stability that an activation system can bring and love using the CAD have become the mainstream crowd.
However, it does not mean that anyone who possesses a CAD can use magic.
The CAD only provides the activation sequence, and it is the ability of the Magic Technician himself that invokes the magic.
In other words, CADs are red herrings to those who can't use magic, and are only carried by those involved with magic.
And then, according to the young man's memory, the students who were allowed to constantly carry a CAD within the school compounds were either executive members of the student council or particular committee members.
"Thank you, I'll be on my way."
On the left breast of the other party, was of course the eight-petaled flower emblem.
The bulge from the chest that was pushing up the blazer did not stir any part of his consciousness.
He did not hide his left chest.
He did not perform such a cowardly act.
But, it didn't mean that there was no ill feeling of any sort.
He could not imagine himself getting actively involved with a high achiever who appeared to be a student council executive member.
"I'm impressed. A screen type?"
However, the other person seemed to think otherwise. While looking at the film screen of the mobile data terminal that the young man had folded in three folds with his hand, the person grinned, as if delighted at something.
At this juncture, the young man finally looked at the face of that person.
The face of that person was twenty centimeters lower than the height of the young man who had stood up from the bench.
The young man's height was a hundred and seventy-five centimeters, as such, even for a female, she was short.
She was just at the right height to ascertain that he was a Course 2 student with her line of sight.
But her gaze did not have the slightest hint of belittlement, and was filled with a pure, innocent wonder instead.
"Our school disallows the use of virtual display terminals. Despite this, it's regrettable that many students still use the virtual display type.
However, you are using the screen type even before enrolling into the school."
"The virtual type is not suitable for reading."
Anyone could tell that his terminal was a well-used one with one look, so she did not bother asking further.
The young man's reply that sounded like an excuse was a fruit of careful thought, since if he was excessively blunt, it would become more of a disadvantage to his younger sister than himself, as he was certain that his younger sister, who was the freshman representative, would probably be chosen by the student council.
Upon hearing that calculated response, the upperclassman became even more impressed.
"Instead of watching animation, you read huh? This is even rarer.
I also prefer book-based information to animation-based ones, so I'm kind of happy."
This is indeed an era where virtual content is preferred over text content, but book readers are not really that rare.
Somehow, it seemed like this upperclassman had an uncommonly sociable personality. Judging from her tone and speech, she appeared to be getting friendlier.
"Ahh, I beg your pardon. I'm the student council president of the First High School, Saegusa Mayumi. Written as 'seven grass,' read as Saegusa.
Nice to meet you."
Even though she added a wink at the end, there was not a hint of wonder in her tone. With a pretty girl's looks and together with a well-proportioned body despite her small frame, she radiated such an alluring atmosphere that it would not be surprising if newly matriculated male students misunderstood her intentions.
Yet, on hearing her self-introduction, the young man seemed to frown involuntarily.
"A number... and to top it off, a 'Saegusa (Seven Grass)'."
A Magician's ability is greatly influenced by heredity.
A Magician's qualities are greatly related to his lineage.
And in this country, the houses that possess a superior blood lineage in magic carry a number in their family name by tradition.
Among the numbered Magician lineages that carry a superior hereditary factor, the Saegusa is one of the two houses deemed to be the most powerful in this country currently. That young woman who was the student council president of this school was probably of their direct descent. In other words, she was an elite among elites. It might even be apt to say that she was the exact opposite of him.
Holding back a bitter mutter, and somehow managing to bring out a courteous smile, the young man returned with his name.
"I'm, no, my name is Shiba Tatsuya."
"Shiba Tatsuya-kun... I see. You are that Shiba-kun huh..."
The eyes of the student council president went wide with surprise, after which, she nodded meaningfully.
Well, at any rate, while he was the elder brother of the freshman representative, the top entry student Shiba Miyuki, he was a dunce who flat-out couldn't use any magic. The 'that' was probably referring to that.
Thinking about that, Tatsuya politely kept quiet.
"Among the teachers, you have been quite a hot topic,"
Mayumi said with a cheerful smile, appearing unconcerned with Tatsuya's silence.
It was probably due to how rare it was to have a pair of siblings who were that much of a far cry from each other, thought Tatsuya.
However, no such incredulity nor negative emotion could be sensed from her. He could feel no sign of ridicule embedded in that smile.
He could only feel a friendly positivity emanating from Mayumi's smile.
"Out of a hundred marks, the average mark of all seven subjects in your entrance exam was ninety-six.
Especially outstanding were Magic Theory and Magic Engineering. Even though the average mark of those who passed was no more than seventy, you received a perfect grade without a hitch for both subjects that had essay-based questions.
It's an unheard of record high."
It wasn't his imagination at hearing those unreserved praises, thought Tatsuya. The reason was because,
"Those are merely paper test results. They are just data inside an information system."
In the appraisal of magic high school students, more emphasis was given to practical results, and not paper test results.
While a bitter civil smile surfaced on Tatsuya, he pointed to his own left chest.
It was not possible for the student council president to not understand.
However, Mayumi shook her head with a smile at Tatsuya's words.
Not vertically, but to the left and right.
"That kind of terrific score, at the very least, I won't be able to reproduce that, you know?
I may not look like it, but I'm really much stronger in theory-based subjects. If my entrance exam had the same questions, I definitely wouldn't be able to score such a high mark like you, Shiba-kun."
"It's about time... please excuse me."
Tatsuya took his leave from Mayumi, who seemed to have something more to say, and turned his back towards her without waiting for her reply.
Somewhere in his heart, he feared the smiling face of Mayumi, and at what might happen if he were to continue talking with her.
Even though he was not conscious of what he was afraid of.
◊ ◊ ◊
As a result of the conversation with the student council president, by the time Tatsuya entered the auditorium, more than half the seats were already filled up.
Since there was no seat designation, be it the first row, the last row, right at the center, or right at the edge, he was free to sit anywhere.
Even now, depending on the school, there are schools that follow the traditional style of arranging the seats by class that will be announced prior to the entrance ceremony, but as for this school, one can only ascertain one's class upon receiving one's ID card.
Therefore, the seats were not arranged in class order.
However, there was clearly an order to the distribution of seats for the freshmen.
The first half at the front would be taken up by the Blooms. The students who wore an eight-petaled flower emblem on their left breast. The freshmen who would be able to receive the full benefits of the curriculum of this school.
The second half at the back would be taken up by the Weeds. The students whose left breast was left blank. The freshmen who were only allowed to enroll in this school as reserves.
Even when they were the same freshmen, who were becoming the students of this school on the very same day, they were cleanly divided into a group with the emblem and a group without it.
And this was not something that was enforced.
(The people who were the most conscious of the discrimination accepted the discrimination, huh...)
It was certainly a kind of common sense in itself.
Without the intention of openly going against the flow, Tatsuya chose at his own discretion an empty seat near the center of the back one-third rows of seats and sat down.
He turned his eyes to the clock on the wall.
Another twenty minutes more.
He couldn't access any site in that auditorium where electronic communication was restricted. The data saved in his terminal was also no longer new information to him, and more importantly, it was forbidden to open a terminal in this place.
Tatsuya tried thinking about his sister who should be doing her final rehearsal at this time... and shook his head.
That little sister wouldn't become flustered right before the main event.
In the end, Tatsuya, who did nothing, adjusted and sat himself upright on the hard seat and closed his eyes. Just as he was about to slip into a nap,
"Er, is the seat beside you occupied?"
A voice called out.
He opened his eyes, and just as he thought, the voice had been directed at him.
As expected from the voice, it was a female student.
Even though he was bewildered as to why she purposely chose to sit beside a random male student, despite the fact that there were still many empty seats, on top of the seats here being made large enough with comfort in mind, the other party was a young woman with a slender build (note that this is referring to the horizontal aspect), and thus, Tatsuya did not feel any unease with her sitting beside him. Rather, it was much more comfortable than if a grimy muscle block were to sit beside him.
Thinking about that, Tatsuya gave a polite nod.
Thank you, the young woman nodded as she took her seat.
Beside her, three other young women sat down one after another.
I see, Tatsuya acknowledged to himself.
It seemed like they were looking for a place that could accommodate all four of them sitting together.
They are probably friends, though it's quite rare to see four friends making it into a difficult school like this one and to be in Course 2 together on top of that, thought Tatsuya. It won't be strange even if one of them were a high achiever, he felt— but it didn't matter to him anyhow.
The voice called out to Tatsuya again, who had turned back to facing the front after having no further interest in the same year student beside him whom he had just met by chance.
What on earth does she want?
Clearly, she wasn't an acquaintance, nor did he bump her elbow or foot.
If Tatsuya were to say it himself, he was sitting with good posture.
He shouldn't have done anything that would warrant a complaint but—
"I'm Shibata Mizuki. Nice to meet you."
Unexpectedly, she introduced herself, in a seemingly timid tone, to Tatsuya who cocked his head. Even though it could be dangerous to judge someone by appearance, she didn't seem to be the type who was good at impressing others.
She probably forced herself to do it, judged Tatsuya. She might have done it with the thought that they would need to help one another since they were both disadvantaged Course 2 students.
"I'm Shiba Tatsuya. Nice to meet you too."
Upon returning a soft introduction as he thought about that, the eyes beyond those large lenses appeared relieved.
In this era, it was quite rare for girls to wear glasses.
Since the middle of the twenty-first century, as a consequence of vision correction procedures becoming widespread, the ailment known as myopia had become a thing of the past in this country.
Unless one was born with a hereditary form of vision abnormality at a serious level or such, one would not need any vision correction tool, and even in the event that one would need it, it was more common for people to affix ten-year long persistently worn contact lenses that were harmless to the body.
If she was wearing glasses despite this, it could be because it was her hobby, a fashion accessory, or due to—
(Over-sensitivity to spirit particle emission, huh...)
Just from a quick look, he could tell that there was no degree in the lenses. At the very least, he knew that they were not used for vision correction. From his impression of this young woman, rather than wearing them for fashion, it was more probable that she was wearing those glasses because of a particular need, Tatsuya naturally thought.
"Over-sensitivity to spirit particle emission" refers to a condition of the body where one can see spirit particle emission without conscious effort, and cannot shut it out with conscious effort, in other words, a type of disorder where complete cognizant control cannot be achieved. Thus, it was not really an illness, nor a handicap.
It was a disorder where one's senses were excessively sharp.
Pushion (Spirit Particles) and Psion (Thought Particles). Both were particles observed in "Para-Psychological Phenomena"—which included magic as well—comprised of non-physical entities that neither corresponded to Fermions, particles that make up the composition of matter, nor were they the same as Bosons, which bring about the interaction between matter. Psion were particle manifestations of intention and thought, while Pushion could be thought of as particle manifestations of the emotions brought about by intention and thought. (A pity that this was still at a hypothetical stage.)
Normally, it was Psion that was used in magic, and in the technology systems of modern magic, emphasis was placed on the control of Psion. Magicians first started from learning how to manipulate Psion.
People who suffered from "over-sensitivity to spirit particle emission," a hereditary disorder, showed symptoms of being oversensitive to spirit particle emission— non-physical light generated depending on the activity of Pushion.
Those who were visually exposed to spirit particle emission would have their emotional state affected. Consequently, Pushion were hypothesized to be particles formed by emotions, and as a result, a person suffering from "over-sensitivity to spirit particle emission" tended to be susceptible to the breakdown of his or her mental stability.
Fundamentally, to prevent that required control over Pushion sensitivity, and those who were unable to do so would require a technological aid. One of these aids were glasses made from a special kind of lenses known as "Aura Cut Coating Lenses."
In reality, to Magicians, "over-sensitivity to spirit particle emission" was not that rare of a condition. Since a Magician's sensitivity to Pushion and sensitivity to Psion were more or less directly proportional, the number of Magicians who consciously manipulated Psion and were troubled by being oversensitive to the radiation of spirit particles fell on the higher side. One could even say that it was something that could not be helped.
However, it would indeed be rare to see a person who had it as a disorder such that he or she needed to constantly block the spirit particle emission with glasses. It would not be much of a concern if it was because of a lesser manipulative ability, but, if it was due to an extremely superior sensitivity, then it would be bad news for Tatsuya. (Though it would be the opposite for the person in question.)
Tatsuya had a secret.
It was a secret that could not be uncovered from his outward appearance alone, and as such, not of concern, but, if she did have those special eyes that would allow her to sense Pushion and Psion as if they were completely visible to her, his secret might be discovered by random chance.
—He would have to be much more alert and act cautiously whenever she was around.
"I'm Chiba Erika. Nice to meet you, Shiba-kun."
"Nice to meet you too."
The voice of the young woman sitting beside Mizuki cut off Tatsuya's thoughts.
But that was a welcome interruption.
Tatsuya's look had unconsciously turned into a stare, and Mizuki's bashfulness was pretty much approaching its limit, but it had gone unnoticed by Tatsuya.
"But, can I say that this is an interesting coincidence?"
Different from her friend, Erika appeared to be an extrovert and of an unreserved type.
Her short, bright hair and her distinct facial features amplified the impression of her being a lively girl.
"Well, you know, we are Shiba, Shibata, and Chiba right? Don't they rhyme somehow? Though they are a little different."
He could understand what she meant by that.
(But still, Chiba huh... another numbered one? I didn't know that the Chiba House had a daughter by the name of "Erika," but it's possible that she's of collateral descent...)
As he thought about that,
a somewhat out-of-place laugh escaped from him, but it was not to the extent that it drew cold looks from those around him.
After the remaining two students on the other side of Erika had finished introducing themselves, Tatsuya felt like satisfying his trivial curiosity.
"Were the four of you from the same middle school?"
Erika's reply was an unexpected one.
"Nope, all of us just met for the first time."
Tatsuya's surprised look might have been a strange one, for Erika started giggling as she explained.
"I didn't know where this place was and I was staring at the information board. That's when Mizuki called out to me."
That's strange, thought Tatsuya. The data for the school entrance ceremony included the location of the venue, and had been sent to all the new students. By using the LPS (Local Positioning System), a standard feature in a mobile terminal, even if a new student didn't read the information board, or remember any of the information, one shouldn't lose one's way.
"The three of us didn't bring our data terminals."
"Well, the virtual-screen models are banned and I had the school entrance guide stored in mine."
"We managed to luck into this school after all. It wouldn't make sense to get marked off right at the school entrance ceremony."
"I forgot mine actually."
"So that's the reason for you, huh..."
He really couldn't accept it. It's your own school entrance ceremony; at least verify the location of the venue before coming, he thought honestly to himself, but didn't say a word.
There was no need to stir up any meaningless trouble— thinking about that, Tatsuya restrained himself.
◊ ◊ ◊
Miyuki's orientation address was outstanding as expected.
Tatsuya never had the slightest thought that his little sister would fumble at something like this.
Even though she was fired up and included a number of pretty dangerous phrases like "everyone alike," "as a single body," "aside from magic" or "in an integrated manner," she managed to set them up properly and they didn't sound thorny at all.
Her openness, innocence, and modesty, coupled with her lovely, beautiful appearance, had captured the hearts of not just the guys, the freshmen, but the upperclassmen as well.
Miyuki would probably be surrounded by commotion from tomorrow onward.
That was not an unusual thing.
Using the society's standards, one could call Tatsuya a siscon from the way he pampered her. He wanted to commend her immediately, but unfortunately, what followed immediately after the ceremony was the issuing of the ID cards.
Since the individual cards were not made beforehand, the arrangement was to have each and every person go to a certain place to personally have their data written into the cards meant for use within the school premises, so whichever counter they went to, the procedure could be completed, but here, a wall naturally appeared in Tatsuya's heart.
Miyuki probably, undoubtedly, skipped this step; as the freshman representative, she had probably already been conferred with this card.
And right now, in the midst of the visitors and student crowd.
"Shiba-kun, which class are you in?"
Erika, with a face that could not hide her excitement, asked Tatsuya, who was the last in line among the group (in other words, he was practicing the 'ladies first' rule).
On hearing Tatsuya's reply,
"Yay! We are in the same class."
Erika hopped up and down happily. She seemed to be overdoing it but,
"I am in the same class as well."
With just the accompanying action missing, Mizuki also had a similar face, so this might be a natural reaction for freshmen.
"I'm in class F."
"I'm in class G."
Even so, it was not like the reactions of the remaining two were cold and unfeeling. After all, they were in high spirits about enrolling into a high school.
This school has eight year one classes, and each class has twenty-five students.
In this respect, they were equal.
In the first place, the Weeds who were not expected to bloom into flowers were placed in classes E to H, and the Blooms who were expected to bloom into large flowers were never mixed among them.
The two girls who were assigned to different classes naturally went along their way. It seemed like the two of them were headed towards their homerooms. Even though classes A-D and classes E-H were located on different levels, it did not appear that their enthusiasm was any the less for that.
It was not like all the Course 2 students would stick around together in one group.
There were also a number of them who would straighten their backs, and be proud about getting accepted into a reputable school.
Since this school was also ranked among the top in the country in areas not pertaining to magic.
The two of them probably went off to search for new friends among those whom they would spend the rest of the year with.
"What shall we do? Shall we go take a look at our homeroom as well?"
Erika asked as she looked up at the face of Tatsuya. While Mizuki didn't ask, she was also probably looking up at Tatsuya.
Save for a few schools who were continuing the old traditions, these days, high schools did not employ the system of having homeroom teachers.
Administrative circulars did not need to be handed out one by one, and besides, there was not that much extra budget to waste on such human resources, so the circulars were distributed through the terminals that were connected throughout the entire school.
A system of having one terminal for school use assigned to each individual had already been in existence decades ago.
Except for individual instruction or practical lessons, almost everything was done using the data terminals.
If more care were needed, counselors who held expertise in multiple disciplines would be assigned by the school.
So, the reason homerooms were needed was for the convenience of practical and experimental lessons. When practical and experimental lessons ended within time, so as not to have a time surplus, they needed somewhere to hold a certain number of people. (Notwithstanding, detention was a daily affair.)
Besides, with the personal terminal system, it also made some things very convenient.
No matter what background people came from, once the time they spent in the same room lengthened, they would mingle with one another naturally.
By dispensing with the homeroom teacher system, the bonds between classmates tend to strengthen.
At any rate, if one wanted to make new friends, going to the homeroom was the fastest route for that. But, Tatsuya shook his head at Erika's invitation.
"Sorry. I'm meeting up with my little sister."
There were no lessons nor further things to be communicated to them for today.
Tatsuya had an agreement with Miyuki to go back together immediately after the procedures were done.
"Heehh... if it's Shiba-kun's little sister, then she must be really cute right?"
On hearing Erika's thoughtful and questioning murmur, Tatsuya was troubled as to how he should answer her.
If it's his little sister, then she must be cute. What could that mean? thought Tatsuya. He felt that he couldn't quite connect the cause and effect well.
Fortunately, he didn't really need to force himself to answer that.
"Could your little sister be... the representative of the freshmen, Shiba Miyuki-san?"
Since Mizuki had asked a more basic question.
This time around, there was no need for him to hesitate. A nod from Tatsuya was enough to confirm the answer to that question.
"Eh? Really? Then, are you twins?"
The question from Erika was a natural one. To Tatsuya, it was a question that he had heard since young.
"I have often been asked that but we are not twins. I was born in April while she was born in March. If I were born one month earlier or she were born one month later, then we wouldn't be in the same school year."
"Hmm... I guess that really makes things complicated huh?"
With a little sister who was a high achiever in the same school year, it was bound to be complicated, but Erika did not ask that with any bad intent. Tatsuya smiled and let the question slide.
"That aside, it's surprising that you can tell. Shiba is not that rare a family name after all."
On hearing Tatsuya's reply, the two young ladies smiled faintly.
"No no, it's pretty rare."
However, the way she said it gave off a considerably different feel. In contrast to Erika's smile, which was mixed with a sense of wryness,
"Your features look alike..."
Mizuki's reserved smile appeared to lack confidence.
"Do we look alike, I wonder?"
Tatsuya's head did not turn at Mizuki's words. In the same manner as Erika's words just now, as if his highlighting tone had taken root, Mizuki's words felt unreal to him.
Rather, he couldn't believe them.
Even if one didn't actively look for the good points in Miyuki, she was a rare beauty. Even if you took away all her superfluous talents, just by being there, she would not be able to help but gather attention— A born idol. No, a star.
Looking at his little sister, he could understand that the idiom, "God does not give two gifts," was but an unpleasant lie.
Conversely, was he himself perhaps above the norm, or above average? Tatsuya evaluated himself.
During middle school, to an onlooker, while love letters (to Tatsuya, they appeared as fan letters) were shoved at his little sister, Tatsuya had never once received such a thing.
Even if it were only partially, they should still inherit the same genes, but even Tatsuya had doubted not just once or twice whether they were blood-related or not.
"If you put it that way... uhn, you do look alike. Shiba-kun is quite the hunk as well. It just kind of feels like your features can't be any more similar than that."
Just as Erika replied to Tatsuya's query, Mizuki also nodded in agreement.
"'Hunk' you said, which obsolete word from which era is that... and doesn't that mean if you take away my face, there's no resemblance between us right?"
Feeling-wise, Erika's words might be a little difficult to understand, but it seemed like it was not just their faces that looked alike. After Tatsuya had interpreted this as such, he made a dull jab at her.
"That's not it. Hmm, how should I put it..."
It seemed like Erika couldn't quite express it well either.
If not for Mizuki's lifeline, she would probably still be fumbling for a while.
"It's your aura. Your dignified features look alike. As expected of siblings."
"That's right! Aura, it's your aura."
Slapping her own thigh, Erika gave a strong nod as well.
This time, it was Tatsuya's turn to smile wryly.
"Chiba-san... aren't you someone who gets carried away easily?"
Carried away? You're so cruel, she started protesting but he let it slide. From her tone, it was not like Erika was really flaring up at his comment.
"That aside, Shibata-san, it's amazing for you to be able to tell by our auras... Your eyes must be really good."
But it was Erika who jumped at his words with a deep implication woven into them.
"Eh? Mizuki is wearing glasses you know?"
"I don't mean that. Besides, Shibata-san's glasses have no degree in them right?"
Huh? Erika peered into Mizuki's glasses with a bewildered face.
On the other side of those lenses, Mizuki's eyes widened and hardened.
Was she surprised at being seen through, or was she chagrined at a secret of hers being discovered? Whichever it was, it seemed to Tatsuya that it was something of no consequence to her.
As to why she had made such a face, he had no chance to inquire about it.
The time was just up. And it was probably for the best for now.