Standing atop a branch, Juurou spat a large breath.
Distance to the ground: around a three-meter span. With the overgrown tree’s leaves standing in the way, it was evidentially impossible to confirm his form from the ground.
The difference in power was overwhelming. He wouldn’t stand a chance clashing head-on. It was for that reason he hid and lurked, vying for a sneak attack. It may have been underhanded, however—
“… I have to win at all costs, no matter the means.”
Juurou let out a slight voice to erase his own uncertainties. Right, if he didn’t defeat her here, he had no future ahead. He carefully set up a plan, layering simulation after simulation inside of his head.
Just as he was about to take another deep breath— Juurou’s body froze up.
The first thing to enter his eyes was the pale radiance let off by an elegant geometric formation. It was impossible for an ordinary person to see them, the expression of a supernatural law. Those magic circuits that brought to mind a large-flowering rose made Juurou fear he might raise his voice in admiration from the treetop.
A perfectly configured, high-quality Barrier. An unseen shield that isolated one from any and all sorts of physical obstruction. What’s more, she wielded it so easily, practically as naturally as tracing a sigh.
— Don’t let it jilt you. Calm down.
Juurou told himself. He had known her abilities from the very start.
Ichika leisurely tread between the trees. Without any attempts to conceal the magic she exuded, her unguarded appearance came from her absolute confidence she could instantly deny any attack no matter what direction or blind spot it came from. When their aptitudes as magicians were compared, Juurou and Ichika had as much a gap between them as the heavens and the earth.
However, perhaps it was that very reason that birthed negligence within her. If there was any weakness to aim for, it was that one single point.
Another three seconds.
Another two seconds.
Ichika passed directly beneath him—In that instant, Juurou made his assault from above.
Activate Dispell. The Barrier deployed in a spherical formation was nullified.
The crumbling magic circuits let off a sapphire glimmer as they dispersed away.
He landed right behind her. Ichika opened her eyes in surprise.
When she was within arm’s reach, what stood there was no longer a genius magician; nothing more than a dainty human female.
Ichika restored her Barrier in an attempt to repel the enemy who had suddenly appeared. Yet at the very last second, Juurou’s hand had captured her collar.
Confident of his victory, the very moment he had pinned her to the ground.
An intense impact to the temporal region. The scenery before him flickered.
Without any time to understand what had happened, Juurou’s consciousness sunk into the darkness.
“— Are you awake?”
A blue sky spread across his full field of vision. Before his eyes came Ichika’s worried face.
Aah, I was defeated, he recalled.
Yet this strangely soft sensation on the back of his head—there, Juurou sprung to his feet.
“Ah, you’re better off sleeping a while longer.”
“… Don’t do something so embarrassing.”
“Who cares? No one’s watching.”
Still sitting with her legs to her side, Ichika gave a warm smile. As if to mourn their parting, she stroked her thighs that had rested his head up to a moment ago.
“Been a while since we did this, right? Not since you were this small.”
“Oh, then is my lap pillow not good enough for you?”
With a giggle, Ichika stood. Her long hair fluffily swayed.
“So are you really alright? It doesn’t hurt?”
“Yeah… That last one was a Magic Bullet… right?”
Ichika nodded. A shameful feeling spread across Juurou’s chest.
She must have held back as much as she possibly could; at most, a light numbness remained where the magic had struck him directly on the temple. Not too little, not too much, just enough power to knock him out without any lingering effects. Meaning he had failed to draw out half, no, not even one-tenth of her will to put up a real fight.
“I lost, did I?”
Without answering in words, Ichika’s slightly troubled smile replaced an affirmative.
“U-um, right, but, you did surprise me a bit. I really didn’t think you would use a Dispell there. See, it’s only because I can Multicast, I made it in time to counteract. If that wasn’t the case, it would have been pretty close.”
To launch two or more magic circuits simultaneously was referred to as Multicasting. It was a special form of genius, and even taking the world as a whole into consideration, it was only possible for a small handful. Evidently, it was also the reason Ichika was called a genius. Back there, she had performed the restoration of her Barrier and a Magic Bullet offense at the same time. A normal magician would have had their hands full with one or the other.
Juurou shook his head to the side.
“No matter what I do, I can’t get it to combat-ready level. You know that, right?”
Dispell— destroying an opponent’s magic circuits to render their magic ineffective. But This was an exceedingly hard-to-use technique.
First off, while using Dispell, it was impossible to activate one’s own magic circuits. This was simply because, excluding exceptions like Ichika, it was impossible to exercise more one form of spellcraft at a single time. To add to that, it was a high difficulty technique itself. Out of the countless forms of magic circuitry, he would have to instantaneously identify it and accurately strike at its weak point.
This time around, Juurou had foreseen that Ichika would only be using the most basic fundamentals of magic. She wasn’t the sort of person to show of her power with overblown spells or to hurt anyone unnecessarily. Especially when she was pit against someone who fell overwhelmingly short. It was for that reason he was able to narrow the target of his Dispell to Barriers alone and have it ready and prepared.
In the moment her own magic was erased, Ichika would be surprised, she’d likely stop moving. If he could lock her in place, approach, and swiftly bring the battle to close combat, he could win.
This was a tactic he could only use on his sister, a target he knew well, but… it did appear he had made light of the speed at which she shifted gears and her multicasting.
“B-but you know, Juurou-kun—”
“I don’t need the meaningless consolation.”
Barrier and Magic Bullet: the very first steps on the road of magic, what’s more, she had used them held back to the very limit. Considering the difference in talent and ability, it may be possible to say he put up a good fight, but in the end, it looked like that was around where his own limits lay.
“I-I’m sorry… so, umm, are you satisfied yet? With the… you know?”
Ichika found it quite hard to ask.
“… Yeah, it was a promise, after all.”
On Juurou’s answer, she breathed out a deep breath.
“That’s good. Then— you’ll have to give up on that path.”
In the modern era, it had been determined that those with talent in magic would be placed under government jurisdiction to commute to a specialized vocational school. Those who showed their prodigiousness even among their peers were then forever under the nation’s patronage, given opportunities to operate in all sorts of sectors. Those magicians who had been appointed to public office were what they referred to as Magister Marshals.
Ichika held the qualifications of the highest rank among them, a Special Class Magister Marshal, she was a first-rate magician affiliated with the Ministry’s Special Countermeasure Division.
Juurou had vowed himself to the same path; after completing the middle school curriculum, he aspired to continue his education at the magician rearing institution. Yet Ichika, his legal guardian had stated she was “Worried about Juurou-kun aiming to be a Magister Marshal as weak as he is,” putting up a strong opposition.
Magicians had the power to accomplish what was impossible for any ordinary person. The more they honed that ability, the more often they would be dispatched to difficult and dangerous locales. Those who made it to Marshal status were commonly called ‘Last-ditch weapons,’ sent to deal with calamities and crimes far beyond the hands of other departments. Fitting of that role, they were an organization compromised of only the especially skilled magicians.
She quite likely knew the realities of a magician better than anyone. Instead of aiming to be some Magister Marshal, it was his four-year-older sister’s view that he should advance to a standard higher education, a normal high school, normal college and live a normal life.
Numerous discussions had finally led them to common ground: if Juurou could show enough ability to satisfy her, he could do what he wanted.
They would hold a mock battle one on one, the winner being decided by who was the first to be rendered powerless.
– And as a result, Juurou had tasted a defeat so complete there was no room for debate.
“… Yeah, I’ll give up.”
Upon hearing his reply, Ichika took a sigh of relief before an apologetic expression floated over her face.
“Look— you see, it’s not that I wanted to get in your way. But Magister Marshal isn’t a particularity enjoyable job or anything. You got your aptitude ranked at D, right? Then you have no obligation to work as a magician; if you go to a normal high school, and find a normal job—I’m quite certain you’ll find more happiness leading that life.”
“I’ve heard that already. Many times. Sis, you have no right to decide my happiness… but I did promise, and I’ll honor my word.”
When he spoke as if to thrust her away, Ichika muttered another sorrowful sorry.
A complicated feeling mixed out of guilt and anger welled within him. Juurou turned and started walking to shake it off.
He was well aware his own aptitude was below average. It wasn’t as if he ever imagined he would surpass his sister who—at not even twenty years of age—was already considered one of the highest ranking in terms of abilities and was called a genius.
(— Why do I got to be so pathetic?)
He knew Ichika was speaking out of good intentions. But that was precisely why he couldn’t sort out how he felt. While he had never said it aloud, he looked up to that genius from the depths of his heard. He longed for the day she would recognize him, and to that end, he had never been sparing with effort.
His return was the branding of powerless.
For Ichika herself to be the one shoving that reality in his face was so irritating and sad he couldn’t get over it.
“Ah, hey, do you want to stop somewhere for lunch on the way back?”
Ichika said, hurriedly lining up beside Juurou.
“… I’m not in the mood.”
“Oh, don’t say that. I’d be quite happy if you’d tag along—I won’t be able to get any rest for a while after.”
Juurou furrowed his brow, turning his eyes to his sister.
“Yeah… overseas this time. I know it’s sudden, but I’ll be headed off tomorrow. I’ll probably be gone for a few months at least. I’m counting on you to look after Goma-chan and Fuku-chan.”
“You’ll die from overexertion. Take some vacation.”
“Orders are orders, there’s too much work and not enough magicians—you see? Magister Marshal isn’t something you should set out to be.”
Ichika said in jest.
She doesn’t get it, Juurou thought as he felt a faint pain in his chest. What he had set out for wasn’t some station like Magister Marshal. It had always been her back.
“Now what do you want to eat? Your sis will treat you to anything. Ah, but you have to start eating right, and eat all of your vegetables, okay? I’m always worried about what you’re eating when I’m away.”
Not knowing her little brother’s mind, Ichika made a smile without a care in the world.
— That was the final day spent between brother and sister.
The news of her death reached Juurou two months after that.