As early as the second day of admission, there were some students who began to take action.
Tatsuya didn't know whether to think of it as too quick or just par for the course.
All he knew was that if it came to a confrontation or backing down, it would most likely be the former.
Both Erika and Leo were bright and optimistic, and Mizuki seemed shy yet carefree.
While fully aware of his own inclination towards cynicism and moodiness, Tatsuya considered himself fortunate that his first friends in high school were them.
However, most likely is not 100%.
There had remained about 10-20%.
It was nice they hadn't backed down servilely, but how would this turn out? Tatsuya was keenly contemplating the matter.
Miyuki was lightly grasping the hem of Tatsuya's uniform with her fingertips, and her face as she looked up at her brother was a mixture of anxiety and embarrassment.
"Don't apologize, Miyuki. You aren't at fault in the least."
In order to give strength to his sister, Tatsuya replied in a firm tone.
"Yes, but... will you stop them?"
"...That'd be counterproductive."
"...You're right. Still, putting Erika aside, for Mizuki to have that kind of personality was...unexpected."
Watching from a step back — or in other words, directly in front of the siblings, was a group of new students glaring at each other with a volatile atmosphere simmering between them. One group was comprised of some of Miyuki's classmates, and the other was, needless to say, Mizuki, Erika, and Leo.
The first act was in the dining hall during lunch.
The dining hall of the First high school was considerably larger than the cafeteria found in most other high schools, but as the new students were still rather unaware and unsure, this time of year was generally crowded.
However, as the four of them had left the visit of the specialist classes early and came to the dining hall, they had secured a four seat table without any trouble.
It was a four seat but due to the facing benches, they'd probably be able to squeeze three of the more slender girls on one side.
When they were about halfway through their meals (Leo had finished eating already), Miyuki had arrived surrounded by a group of male and female students, spotted Tatsuya, and rapidly made a beeline for him. The dispute started from there.
Miyuki had tried to eat together with Tatsuya. It wasn't that she was the type who would refuse to interact with her classmates, but simply that, for Miyuki, the top priority partner would always be Tatsuya.
Only one more person could fit at the table. Whether to choose her classmates or Tatsuya was a matter Miyuki didn't even consider.
However, Miyuki's classmates, especially the boys, were of course striving to sit with her.
They had started off pretending to be polite saying things like "it's pretty cramped" and "sorry to be a bother", but seeing Miyuki's unwavering determination, had gone on to say that it was unsuitable for a first course student to share a table with second course students considering the gap between them, and ended up telling Leo who had finished eating that he was to vacate his seat.
At this selfish display of supreme arrogance, both Erika and Leo were on the verge of exploding. Tatsuya finished his meal in a hurry, talked with Leo and the still-eating Mizuki and Erika, then stood up.
Miyuki had soundlessly apologized to Tatsuya and the others, before walking past the vacated seat to stand by her brother.
The second act had been the afternoon visit to a specialist class.
In the remote precision magic laboratory otherwise known as the 'shooting range', a practical class was being carried out by 3rd year class A.
It was the class of the Student President, Saegusa Mayumi.
The student council was not necessarily chosen by grades, but the president this term was a once in a decade prodigy in remote precision magic, and had brought countless trophies to the school.
That was something even the freshmen had heard.
They had also confirmed the rumor of her coquettish nature at the entrance ceremony.
There were many students packed around the range trying to get a look at her skill, but the number who could visit was limited. Due to that, among the numerous ostensible reservists for first course and second course students, Tatsuya and co. had grandly camped up at the front row.
Naturally, he had been unwilling to stand out.
Then during the third act, in progress this very moment, Mizuki caustically spat out.
"Won't you all stop being such poor losers? Miyuki-san has said she wishes to go with her brother. It's not the place of anyone of you to say otherwise is it?"
Her opponent was a student from class A. It was the guy they had seen in the dining hall during the break.
Concerning the circumstances, after school, Tatsuya had been waiting for Miyuki, whose accompanying classmates had started to accuse. By the way, those classmates were girls. Obviously there was also a flock of male students in the vicinity (of Miyuki) who had started silent at first, but that restraint had already been lost and all decency rapidly followed.
"Hasn't Miyuki treated you guys well enough already? If she wanted to go with you, she would have said so. What right do you have to try and tear those two apart?"
The one who had lashed out first at the unreasonable behavior of the first course students was, surprisingly, Mizuki.
While maintaining her polite demeanor, she slammed into them mercilessly.
Even now as Mizuki argued against the first course student, her eloquence didn't give an inch.
Yes, everything had started out perfectly logically, but...
"I have to admit though, to say that they're trying to tear us apart..."
Tatsuya muttered under his breath. He distinctly felt that something was shifting rather decisively.
"Mi-Mizuki, aren't you misunderstanding something?"
Hearing her brother's murmurs, Miyuki for some reason asked in a hurry.
"Miyuki... you seem kinda rushed?"
"Eh? No, I'm no such thing?"
"And also kinda forceful?"
Initially glancing at the siblings with the too good relationship in confusion, their friends, full of compassion, began to heat up more and more.
"We've asked her!"
That was one of Miyuki's male classmates.
"That's right! We're sorry for Shiba-san, but we just want a little more time!"
That was one of Miyuki's female classmates.
At their selfishness, Leo gave a hearty laugh.
"Ha! That's just self-justification. Find a better time for it."
Erika also retorted with a smile and edged sarcasm.
"If you really had asked, maybe you would've had her consent from the start?
You've ignored Miyuki's intentions and didn't consult her or anything. There're rules for that. You're high school students already, don't you know anything?"
Erika's words and attitude, designed to purposely offend the other party, as expected, affected one male student in particular.
"Shut up! Another class, much less Weeds, has no right to interfere in matters concerning us Blooms!"
Due to its discriminatory nature, the use of the word 'Weed' is prohibited by school regulations. It is a rule still gradually being learned, but even so it's not exactly a word to be used in this context with so many people listening.
The one who reacted to this rant head-on was, whether to say unexpected or to be expected (probably 'to be expected' really), was again Mizuki.
"We are all the same freshmen. You guys are Blooms, but right now just how are you any better than us?"
It wasn't particularly loud, but Mizuki's voice rang out through the schoolyard.
Thing's are going to get pretty bad, Tatsuya thought, while sighing under his breath.
His murmur was drowned out by the angry howls of the first course students, and only Miyuki who was beside him heard.
"...If you want to know just how much better, I can show you."
Although Mizuki's claim was legitimate according to school regulations, at the same time, it was refuted by the school system.
"Hah, interesting! By all means, show us!"
At the first course student's threat, Leo responded aggressively. Having come to this, no outcome other than 'tit for tat' could be expected.
The right lay with Mizuki.
Because they understood that full well, those complacent with the current system, both staff and students alike, stood aside.
Though there had been a clear violation of the rules here, the vast majority would ignore their situation and pretend to have seen nothing.
Even if the violation was not only of the school rules, but the law itself.
"Then I will!"
The only ones allowed to carry a CAD in the school were senior members of the student council and certain committee members.
The use of magic off campus was tightly regulated by law.
However, the mere possession of CAD off campus was not restricted.
There would be no point.
CADs are currently indispensable tools for magicians, but they are not essential for the use of magic. Magic can be used even without a CAD. Therefore, the law does not restrict the mere possession of a CAD.
The procedure for students who possessed CADs was to leave them at the office before classes started, and to pick them up upon returning home.
So it was not surprising for students to have CADs on the way back from school.
"A specialized CAD?"
However, if they were directed at fellow students, then it would become a situation... no, an emergency.
Especially if the aimed CAD was an attack power emphasizing specialized type.
The two types of CAD are general and specialized. The general type placing a larger burden on the user but capable of a wide range of up to 99 activation sequences, while the specialized type is only able to contain up to nine activation sequences but possesses subsystems able to reduce the load on the user, making it possible to invoke magic faster.
By its nature, aggressive combat type magic sequences are generally stored in specialized CAD.
To the BGM of screaming onlookers, the 'muzzle' of that specialized CAD, shaped like a small handgun, was thrust at Leo.
That student wasn't just spouting lip service.
The finesse with which he drew his CAD, along with the speed with which he took aim, were the movements of someone accustomed to fights between magicians.
A large portion of magic is dependent on talent.
At the same time, that means lineage plays a vital role.
There are many first course students who enter school with excellent results not as a result of studying magic at school but because of parents, family business, possibly even gaining combat experience from there.
Even before Miyuki had finished her cry, Tatsuya's right hand stretched out.
There was no way he could reach, but he reached anyway. Was it meaningful, or was it just a meaningless reflexive action.
Whatever it was, in this case, nothing came of it.
That was because—
That scream came from the first course student aiming his CAD.
The handgun CAD had been knocked from his hand.
Before their eyes, casually swinging a baton that had suddenly appeared from somewhere, in a relaxed manner, Erika was smiling. There was no trembling or hastiness in that smile. Just by looking at that confident alertness, you could tell there was no such thing from the beginning. If the same situation had occurred 100 times, the first course student's CAD would have gone flying 100 times. That was a certainty.
"At this distance, the body moves faster."
"I agree, but you were planning on whacking my hand as well, weren't you?"
The one replying as Erika relaxed her guard and triumphantly explained was Leo, whose hands were frozen in the midst of a grab for the other's CAD.
"A~ra, I wouldn't do something like that."
"Don't laugh it off so unnaturally like that!"
As Erika put the back of the hand holding the baton to her mouth and gave off an 'ohohohoho', her deceptive laughter hiding her real intentions, Leo was nearing the end of his patience.
"I'm serious. Whether you were going to engage or not, I can tell from your stance.
You seem like an idiot, but your arm speaks otherwise,"
"...Are you making fun of me? You're making fun of me right to my face?"
"That's why I said you look like an idiot right?"
Forgetting the 'enemy' before them, as the two engaged in another comical confrontation, not only Miyuki and Tatsuya were taken aback but everyone else as well, but the one who recovered fastest was Miyuki's classmate who was facing them.
It wasn't the male student whose specialized CAD had been knocked away, it was the female student behind who was running her fingers across her bracelet shaped general CAD.
The inbuilt system started up, and began an activation sequence.
The activation sequence is a blueprint of magic, a program that directs the construction of a magic ritual.
After expansion, the expanded activation sequence is read by the magic processing area of the subconscious and variables such as coordinates, output, and duration are inputted, the result is inserted alongside the activation sequence and gives rise to the completed magic ritual.
This complete magic ritual is taken from the operations area of the subconscious and transferred to the lowest level of the conscious, the 'root', from the area between the conscious and the subconscious, the 'gate', whereupon it can be projected upon the outside world, as the magic ritual projects and targets 'information events' — in the study of modern magic, these are named 'Eidos' from Greek philosophy, and refers to the event where the information of the target is temporarily overwritten.
Information is associated with events.
If the information is rewritten, the event will be rewritten.
As the nature of phenomena is written in Psions, modifications to these will result in real world events being temporarily modified as well.
This is the magic system under the use of CAD.
The speed with which Psions are written is the processing power of magic, the scale to which they can be built is the capacity of magic, and the strength with which magic rituals can rewrite the Eidos is interference strength. Currently, these three comprehensively are called magic power.
Even the blueprint for the magic ritual, the activation sequence, is a type of Psion. However, the activation sequence alone cannot affect reality.
The Psions processed by the user would simply scramble then return.
Broadly speaking, this is the function of CADs, to take the Psions initially provided by the activation sequence, and form them into Psions the magician can use to rewrite phenomena: the magic ritual.
Specialized CAD are often shaped in the form of guns because using the auxiliary aiming systems incorporated in the area corresponding to the barrel, coordinate data is input at the moment the activation sequence is initiated, and in order to reduce the calculation load on the user, Psions aren't emitted from the muzzle.
From magician to CAD, then CAD back to magician.
If this flow of Psions is disrupted, then magic dependent on CADs will no longer work.
For example, if during calculation or expansion a load of Psions are fired from outside, the Psion pattern of the activation ritual will be scrambled, disallowing the building of an effective magic ritual and erasing the magic.
"Stop right there! Using attack magic on others for any reason other than self-defense is not just a violation of school rules, it's a criminal offense!"
The expanding activation sequence of the female student was shattered by a bullet of Psions.
Releasing a Psion bullet, while in itself the simplest form of magic, requires extremely precise control in order to destroy just the activation sequence and avoid any extraneous damage, and shows superb skill on the part of the user.
Upon recognizing the owner of that voice, the female student who was intent on attacking Erika and company became pale, and not as a result of the magic. She fell into another female student, and they collapsed.
The one who gave the warning, and had fired the Psion bullet, was the Student Council president, Saegusa Mayumi.
Her — as far as Tatsuya had seen — ever-smiling face, even now, did not have much severity in it.
However in the eyes of someone capable in magic, her small figure was wrapped in an aura of Psion light far beyond that of ordinary mages, giving her an inviolable air of dignity.
"You are students from 1A and 1E aren't you.
I will hear you out. Please come along."
A hard, even cold voice, came from the girl next to Mayumi. According to the introduction of the Student Council during the entrance ceremony she was the 3rd year Public Moral Chief, Watanabe Mari.
Mari's CAD held an already deployed and expanded activation sequence.
It was not difficult to imagine what any form of resistance here would lead to.
Leo, Mizuki, and Miyuki's classmates, without a word, stiffened up.
Moving not out of rebellion, stepping up next to his classmates frozen by the atmosphere, without a trace of haughtiness or pride, neither downcast nor timid, Tatsuya walked with an even measured gait, followed by Miyuki, to stand before Mari.
Mari cast a quizzical glance at these first years who had suddenly come striding up.
To Mari, these two had not seemed like involved parties.
Tatsuya took her gaze without flinching, and stopped a respectable distance from her.
"We're sorry, the prank went too far."
At those unexpected words, Mari's eyebrows arched up.
Morisaki's quick-draw is famed, so I asked him to give a demonstration for future reference, but it became too lifelike and got out of hand."
The student who had confronted Leo with his CAD opened his eyes wide with surprise.
While the other first years were at a loss for words, Mari glanced at the baton in Erika's hand, the pistol shaped device lying on the ground, then after giving the two students who had tried to illegally use their CADs a bloodcurdling look, turned back to Tatsuya with a cold smile.
"Then why did that girl from 1A try to use attack magic?"
"She was taken by surprise. Being able to start up activation processes as a conditioned reflex is truly worthy of a first course student."
His expression as he answered was deadpan, although his voice was somewhat shameless.
"Your friends were about to be attacked by magic, but you still insist it was a prank?"
"Even if you call it an attack, all she intended to fire was a flash of blinding magic. It wasn't on a level where it could have caused blindness or impairment."
Again, there was a collective intake of breath.
The sneer turned into admiration.
"Hoou... it seems you're somehow able to read the activation sequence before it's deployed."
The activation ritual is a large block of data for building a magic ritual.
Mages can intuitively guess what kind of effect the ritual would have.
By looking at how the magic ritual would interfere with the Eidos, and what parts wouldn't be affected, it's possible to read and attempt a guess at the effect the magic ritual would have.
However the activation sequence alone is simply a chunk of data, representing a massive amount of information, and even the magician deploying it can only dynamically interact with it in the subconscious.
Therefore, the act of reading the activation sequence requires the enumeration of endless strings of image data, then reproducing an image from those in your head.
Normally, such things cannot be done in the consciousness.
"I'm no good at practicals, but I'm confident in my analyses."
As if it was nothing, Tatsuya dismissed that insane skill with the one word, 'analyses'.
"...Your misinformation skills are also quite something."
Her look was something in between an appraisal and a glare.
The person who stepped up to protect her brother bearing the brunt of the investigation, Miyuki, came forward.
"As my brother said, this was all really just a misunderstanding.
We are very sorry for bothering you all, senpai."
Without the slightest deceit, she gave a deep bow, and as if the miasma was dispelled Mari looked away.
"Mari, it's fine already.
Tatsuya-kun, that really was just a demonstration right?"
When did she start calling him by name? Tatsuya thought, but he couldn't refuse the timely help from Mayumi.
As he nodded with the same deadpan expression he had used up to now, Mayumi gave a somewhat triumphant — it was like she was saying 'loan~' — looking smile.
"It is not prohibited for students to teach each other, but in terms of exercising magic, you are prohibited from executing it.
This is taught in the first semester in the classroom.
In terms of self studying the exercise of magic, it's probably best to refrain."
Returning to her grave look after Mayumi finished her inspirational speech, Mari also gave a word on the matter.
"...Since the President has said so, I will refrain this time. I don't want there to be a second time."
Without looking like bitter enemies, together they straightened and gave a bow. Mari turned around.
But after one step, she stopped and asked a question with her back to them.
As her head turned, Tatsuya's appearance was reflected in her long narrow eyes.
"First year class E, Shiba Tatsuya."
"I'll remember that."
Holding back his tongue just before he almost instinctively let slip a 'no problem', Tatsuya swallowed a sigh.
◊ ◊ ◊
"...Don't think I owe you anything."
After the officials had gone out of sight, the one who had acted first, in other words the first course student whom Tatsuya had protected, glared at Tatsuya and said as much in the same thorny voice.
Tatsuya's expression had a rather 'ah man' look to it.
All his friends had a face similar to his.
Relieved that this normally needlessly excited character wouldn't play up here at least, Tatsuya returned the gaze of the course A student who suddenly grew a spine.
"I don't think that at all, so don't worry.
What got you off wasn't my glib tongue but rather Miyuki's sincerity."
"I came along because even though Onii-sama is good at talking people down, he has problems convincing them."
His artificial look of reproach faded, replaced by a wry smile.
"...My name is Morisaki Shun. As you thought, I am of the Morisaki house."
Seeing the warm banter between the siblings, his hostility faded somewhat, and he gave his name.
"I'm just saying it's not really that much of a big deal.
I've seen plenty of practical examples in visual materials."
"Ah, now that you mention it, I think I've seen them before too."
"You only just remembered it now didn't you. As I thought, Tatsuya's on a different level to you."
"How patronizing. An idiot who tried to grab a Houki in the midst of activation has no business talking about levels."
"Ah? Who're you calling an idiot, idiot?"
"Uhm... that really is dangerous. Psions produced by another magician's activation ritual would cause a rejection by your own subconscious..."
"What she said. Got it?"
"Erika-chan too all right? Don't use your hands directly, you'd receive the interference 1000 fold."
"It's fine. This is shielded."
As the talk between his friends, meaningful in its own way, finally shifted back in their direction, Tatsuya and Morisaki shared a glance without moving.
"I still don't acknowledge you, Shiba Tatsuya. Shiba-san's place should be with us."
On that note without waiting for Tatsuya's reply, Morisaki left. He probably said it precisely because it was a line that didn't bear an answer, something his opponent was fully aware of.
"Suddenly calling me by my full name huh."
As Tatsuya muttered to himself at a volume just loud enough to hear, Morisaki gave an involuntary shudder. His obstinacy was unlikely to stop there. However, it seemed likely his pride was a part of his nature.
Beside him, hearing his murmur, Miyuki seemed disquieted. She had always been worried that her brother's knack for making enemies was a disadvantage for him.
But more than that, she had had enough of Morisaki's prejudices.
"Onii-sama, shall we head back?"
"Yeah, you're right. Leo, Chiba-san, Shibata-san, let's go."
Sharing a feeling of mental fatigue, the two of them nodded at the others, and began to leave.
As if to cut them off, to make things worse, a pair of class A girls stood in their way, but their body language clearly indicated they didn't intend to do any more today.
Exchanging looks with Miyuki, the moment dragged on.
Understanding her brother's intent, Miyuki was about to bid them farewell, but then the other opened her mouth.
"I'm Mitsui Honoka. I'm sorry for saying all those things earlier."
She suddenly bowed, fully honest, and Tatsuya was rather embarrassed.
This girl, who earlier wasn't hiding her elitism to say the least, seemed to have gone about a complete turnaround.
"Thank you for protecting me. Morisaki-kun waved it off, but it's thanks to Onii-san that it didn't become a huge issue."
"...It was nothing. Although, please stop with the Onii-san. We're same year students."
"I understand. Then, what should I call you..."
A fierce conviction blazed in her eyes.
It'd be nice if this didn't become troublesome, he thought, as he took care to reply in a manner that didn't come out displeased.
"Tatsuya is fine."
And so, um..."
"...What is it?"
At the rapid eye contact, Miyuki stood before Honoka.
"...Is it alright to go together with you to the station?"
Nervously, but with a determined conviction hidden in her face, Honoka asked to accompany them.
With a sense of surprise not so much at Honoka's words but the unexpectedness of the whole thing, Erika and Mizuki shared a look.
Though even then those two, plus Leo and of course the siblings Miyuki and Tatsuya, had no reason to refuse, and indeed didn't refuse.
◊ ◊ ◊
There was a delicate air on the way back to the station.
The members were Tatsuya, Mizuki, Erika, and Leo from class E, along with Miyuki, Honoka, and Kitayama Shizuku from class A, the girl who had caught Honoka during Mayumi's appearance earlier.
Next to Tatsuya was Miyuki, then for some strange reason, on the other side was Honoka.
"...Then, the one who assists with Miyuki-san's adjustments is Tatsuya-san?"
"Yes. I feel most at ease when entrusting things to Onii-sama."
In response to Honoka's question, Miyuki answered proudly.
"I just do a bit of arranging. Miyuki has amazing processing ability, so there's not much maintenance required on the part of the CAD."
"Even so, if you only have the knowledge to simply understand the device OS you can't do much."
Peering out from beside Miyuki was Mizuki, who joined in the conversation. Judging from Tatsuya's light smile as he replied, it wasn't really effective.
"I don't have the skill to access the CAD core systems. That's too much."
"Tatsuya-kun, could you also look over my CAD?"
Looking back, Leo and Erika.
The reason Erika changed her way of referring to Tatsuya from 'Shiba-kun' to 'Tatsuya-kun' was because Mitsui-san called him that so it's fine, she had unilaterally declared. In exchange, you can just call me Erika as well, she had imposed conditionally.
Naturally, Mizuki also insisted on the trade, and everything became official pretty fast.
"Impossible. I have no faith in my ability to handle such a specialized CAD."
"Ah ha, you really are quite something, Tatsuya-kun."
It was hard to tell if Tatsuya was being serious or just humble, but Erika's reaction was simple praise.
"You realized this was my CAD."
At Tatsuya's question, Erika laughed merrily while twirling the retracted baton by the strap attached to the handle.
However, there was a glint in her eye that went beyond a simple smile.
"Eh? That baton's a device?"
Sure enough, as if right on cue, Mizuki's eyes went round with surprise, and Erika just gave two quick nods in satisfaction.
"Thank you for your normal reaction, Mizuki.
If everyone had already noticed, I would've face-planted."
Listening to that exchange, Leo inquired further.
"...Where is the system built in? From the feeling earlier, it's not totally hollow is it?"
"No luck. Apart from the handle it's totally hollow. It increases strength by using the technique of carving seals into it. Reinforcement magic is your field isn't it?"
"...The technique takes a geometric pattern and engraves it into a sensitive alloy, which activates by injecting Psions, right?
If you do that, wouldn't it bleed a considerable amount of Psions? You'd run out of gas pretty often wouldn't you?
Carved seals are pretty inefficient in the first place, so I thought it's not a technique used very often nowadays."
At Leo's points, Erika's eyes widened a little in both surprise and admiration.
"Ooh, your field indeed.
But there's one more thing.
Strengthening is only needed during expansion and the moment of impact. If I limit Psion emission to those moments, I don't waste too much.
It's the same principle as the helm splitter. ...eh, what happened guys?"
As a blend of admiration and shock filled the air, Erika asked that question,
"Erika... I'm pretty sure something like helm splitter was classified as a secret or mystery technique.
That's far more amazing than merely emitting large amounts of Psion."
Miyuki answered on behalf of everyone.
It was pointed out rather casually.
Judging by Erika's expression, she was startled.
"Both Tatsuya-kun and Miyuki-san are amazing, but Erika-chan is also amazing...
Are normal people rare at our high school?"
"I don't think there are any normal people in a magic high school."
At Mizuki's natural remark, Kitayama Shizuku, silent until now, dropped a supremely precise retort, and the core of the matter disappeared in various ways.