Reclining the passenger side seat down to the limit, the man exhaled a sleeper’s breath.
The moment the numbers on the dashboard clock shifted from seventeen fifty-nine to eighteen, tho hamsters, one black and one white leapt out of his jacket pocket and scampered up his body. They trampled all over his face, hopping up and down in a berserk frenzy.
He grimaced, sluggishly opening his eyes.
“… You sure know how to wake someone up, Goma, Fuku.”
After muttering that to the two, he took one large stretch as he raised his body.
His age was somewhere around twenty. While his facial features could be described as gallant and orderly, his sparsely grown stubble of indolence and the mean look in his eyes redirected his impression in a negative direction. Had he taken to walking around dressed in bad taste, it would be easy to convince anyone that he was a Yakuza.
“See any nice dreams?”
This time, the voice came from the young man with long hair, spreading out a map in the driver’s seat. In contrast, he was a more delicately featured man who gave off a mild image. A hint of cynicism came off his intellectual eyes and patronizing voice.
“No, just the pits— what, we’re not there yet?”
“If you even attempted to help navigate me, we might have reached by now. However, you did choose to enjoy your afternoon nap all the way.”
“I suck at it, reading maps.”
“Then what say you to the option of switching drivers?”
“I don’t suck at driving, but I hate it. ‘n wait, you’re the one ‘oo said you’d drive, Nose.”
“It was my intent to swap somewhere along the way. I never imagined you would reach the land of dreams the moment the car started moving and refuse to come back.”
“You’ve got no foresight. Ya reap what ya sow.”
“… This is why you were taken off the scene, Juurou-san.”
“And look who’s in the same boat.”
“Please don’t group us together. It’s not like I was removed for negligence.”
After a single sigh, Nose returned his gaze to the map.
From here on would be a complicated divergence of mountain and farm roads. This led to an extraordinarily troublesome situation in plotting a route. To spell out the honest truth in layman’s terms, they were lost and at their wit’s end.
Had this been a city, perhaps they would be able to ask those passing by, but unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from reality. As they remained parked on the shoulder of the needlessly-wide roadway, not a single car overtook them, nor were there any traces of anyone walking down the elegant brick-lain walkway. When it came to what they could see, there was nothing but a full view of farmlands with mountains beyond.
“So you think we’ll even be able to reach destination point?”
Juurou’s question mixed with a yawn.
“Mnn, it’s past a station, right? Then as long as we run into some train tracks, we can probably…”
The moment Nose replied, the two hamsters playing on Juurou’s shoulders chirped out as they stood on their hind legs.
Juurou raised his head. From a little further down, he spotted the shadow of someone walking a dog.
“—My, you’ve caught us at quite an embarrassing time. For now, could you help us get to Morigaoka Station? Once we get there, I think we’ll be able to reach our destination on our own.”
Nose spoke sociably. It was at times like these that he proved more competent than his sinister-looking companion.
“Sure, your current location is around here. To get to the station, just go straight, make this turn and—”
Gesturing towards the map, the elderly man explained the route. Once he had said his piece, he turned a quizzical glance to Nose, who was busy nodding out his gratitude.
“But don’t tell me you two are vacationing to such a boring, remote little village?”
“Oh no, it’s work. We ended up getting transferred over here— rather than boring, isn’t it a wonderful place blessed by nature? Look, the sakura are soon to bloom, and I’m sure this path will become a breathtaking view.”
He said, pointing out the sakura trees lining the side of the walkway. The branches had already begun to sprout their buds. What a spectacle it would be, once they were in full bloom.
However, the old man frowned.
“They were just decked out to waste money. Nothing more. In the first place, bring a little beauty to these backwaters, and tell me who’s going to see it? This guy too—”
His eyes went to the large white dog lying down obediently by his feet. An akita, perhaps.
“Rather than these stone pavings, just how much happier would he be running around the field paths? Just because we got a subsidy, the village higherups are throwing money everywhere. Not my tastes.”
“I see, a subsidy, is it?”
“On the other side of the station, over in the mountain, they put up this magician, umm, something, something building…”
“A magician training academy?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. We accepted it a few years back, and ever since then, the government’s been sending in money at regular intervals. Well, unless they were baited with money, there’s no way anyone would take in those disasters waiting to happen.”
“Oh, do you hate magicians?”
“I’d have to say I do. They make my skin crawl, they’re scary. They’ve got some incomprehensible power they have just because they were born with it, right? That’s like ignoring personality and aptitude, and just handing out pistols by lottery.”
The old man answered with a frown.
After seeing off the man and dog who had resumed their walk, Nose made a butter smile.
“Well it looks like we’re hated.”
“That’s nothing new… we’re behind schedule, hurry up.”
“Right on it.”
After one more review of the map, Nose pressed down on the accelerator.
＊ ＊ ＊
As a priest in service to god’s work, as a saint who performed miracles, as a feared and detested witch—those who held supernatural powers had existed in every era of human history. Their social standing had always remained uncertain due to the fact that there were no objective means to quantify their abilities.
However, the hypothesis proposed in the 20th century: ‘The Existence of Magic Conduits and their effect on Observable Reality’—Commonly referred to as Mana Theory brought a large revolution to that situation.
As a result of studying the changes in brain activity of humans who exercised supernatural powers in detail, it became clear that they all recognized the same ‘something’ whenever they made use of magic, leading some to believe they must be drawing power from whatever it was. The hypothesis was derived from that notion.
Under that basis, a great many experiments were repeated, proving magicians “perceive something that seems to be omnipresent,” “Put it together in a specific pattern,” “by drawing power from it,” “force reality to reflect their own cognition, twisting events to go as they desire” or something to that effect.
This ‘something’ was termed ‘magic conduits’; in cultural anthropology terms, it was given the name ‘mana’ to indicate it as a power of divinity, and by that, the precise definition of a magician became “A human who can perceive and freely manipulate the force of mana”.
In the modern day, a majority of the world’s countries had made it mandatory for a child to undergo a magic aptitude examination by the age of three. With the assistance of a magician, brain activity would be assessed to determine whether or not the child could perceive the flow and changes of mana.
Aptitude was found in approximately one in several thousand. Additionally, a large majority of them possessed, at most the ability to barely detect the existence of mana. Those with greater ability, meaning those who were judged to actually be capable of using magic would be reared from a young age as a valuable asset to the nation.
Japan was no exception, the handling of those with a magician’s disposition was determined by law. Those who displayed abilities over a specified level would progress to a designated training facility to equip themselves with the necessary techniques to use magic; and those who showed excellence, even among their peers were obligated state officials—Magister Marshals.
The teaching institution Juurou had been dispatched to as a teacher was one of those training facilities.
Morigaoka Primary Training Academy.
Those gathered were children ranging from six to twelve years of age. Their numbers fewer than forty. They were all potential Magister Marshals, and it was here they would learn subjects fitting of elementary school alongside the fundamentals of magic.
＊ ＊ ＊
Around when the clock pointed out nineteen, the party of two finally arrived at the school.
The car tucked into the parking lot, they were each shown their room in the staff lodging by a middle-aged security guard. As the students were eating at the dorm, and the principal alongside a majority of the faculty had packed up for the day, all meetings and introductions would have to wait another day.
After shoveling down the cold bento he had been provided for dinner, Juurou began arranging his personal belongings in the room he’d been given.
That being the case, all that required was to stuff his clothing into the dresser provided, and it wasn’t long before his hands were idle once more. Too early to go to bed. If he could take a smoke, he might be able to kill some time, but unfortunately, he hadn’t picked up the habit. The sister he’d once lived with had a light case of asthma, she was no good with smoke.
After a bit of thought, he decided to put his time to good use by confirming the campus.
It had been seven years prior that the mountains were cut open to construct Morigaoka Primary Training Academy, a facility that operated under a dormitory system.
Staff lodging, student dorms, school building, grounds, pool, gymnasium. While it was small in scale, its equipment configuration wasn’t much different from a normal school. More than that, quality-wise, it likely exceeded them.
One definitive factor that set it apart from other schools, however, was its security measures. The constant watchful eyes of surveillance cameras and security guards made it difficult both to infiltrate from the outside or escape from within.
This was grounded in the train of thought that magicians, and those with the making were national treasures, that measures had to be taken to preserve them. It had gone too far, it was practically a jail, or so, it couldn’t be said such criticism didn’t exist, yet with the antipathy and prejudice towards magic still firmly rooted, considering present climate where bullying and even terrorism targeted at magicians were often reported, the government saw it as an inevitable measure to preserve the safety of both the students and faculty.
In the dim lighting, Juurou slowly urged on his feet.
The need to ascertain his surrounding environment came as second nature to a Magister Marshal who had surmounted many a battlefield. Not that he thought anything would happen at school, but unless he took a look around, he could never settle down.
An eventless ten minutes and he had already finished surveying almost all of the premises, bringing him back full circle to the student dorms that stood next to staff lodging.
In the dorm that might be perceived as a quaint little mansion, at present, thirty-eight students were preparing to sleep. It was about time for them to have each finished their dinner and returned to their own room. From the next day onwards, he would have to look after these boys and girls.
Juurou turned his back to the light in the windows, turning to return to the faculty lodging—only to furrow his brow. In the small thicket behind the dorm. He sensed a suspicious presence. Human footsteps, what’s more, they were walking with stealthy feet
Juurou eliminated the sound of his own steps, moving as if gliding along the ground. In the shadow of the dorm wall, he took one stop to peek at the small shadow. They were doing something, crouched on the ground. They hadn’t noticed his presence yet.
Juurou approached unnoticed—in complete silence, he pinned the shadow to the ground.
An inaudible scream. Alongside it, the cry of some animal along with the sounds of something scampering off.
Jurou hoisted up the suspicious individual. The moonlight revealed the expression of a girl frozen in surprise. She was quite likely around ten or eleven. Large eyes, black hair without any curling.
“… A brat from this school? What were you doing here?”
By the time he noticed she was too afraid to open her mouth, he heard a voice from behind mixed in with a strained laugh.
“Juurou-san, why don’t you start by releasing her?”
He silently loosened his hands. With uncertain stride, the young girl took two, three steps of distance. Nose sent her a warm smile.
“We’re sorry for surprising you. It looks like he misunderstood that some suspicious figure was infiltrating the school. It’s quite often that heartless people of all ages conduct harassment on the training academies, you see—My name is Nose Kazuki, and I’ve been newly appointed as a teacher of this establishment. He’s Shiiba Juurou. You’re a student of this school, aren’t you?”
What’s this? Juurou’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly. The expression of the girl who was supposed to have been frozen had renewed in no time at all. Not a lingering fragment of her prior fear, she answered in a calm face.
“Senior year, attendance number 12, Hinasaki Tsukiko.”
“What were you doing out here this time of night? Rules state you’re forbidden from going out past seventeen.”
“I felt an urge to take in a bit of outside air for a change of pace, so I went out for a walk. While I was aware of the rules, I didn’t think too much about them, and, well—I am ever so sorry.”
She lowered her head with a mature expression unbefitting her youthful face.
While Juurou closed in with a follow-up question, Nose lightly held up a hand to stop him.
“Well, so be it. Hinasaki-san, I won’t say anything about this time, so hurry up and go inside.”
“Yes. If you’ll pardon me.”
After an elegant bow, the young girl turned on her heels and walked off towards the student dorms.
“Her name was on the register. As I recall, she’s the class rep of senior year. I presume she’s been feeding a stray cat or something of the sort. Quite charming, really.”
Nose turned his eyes to his feet. A small plastic plate and some cat food had been left behind.
“But Juurou-san, how about you show some mercy to a kid? I can only hope she doesn’t develop a trauma of being assaulted by such a scary-faced man.”
“… No reason to be kind to someone acting suspiciously. The top priority is to secure them and take away their ability to resist. That’s common sense.”
“Oh my, what an earnest statement from a work-hater like you. How rare.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m a third-rate magician here, so I’ve got to get desperate when my own safety’s at risk. With you, even if an armed terrorist group launched an attack, it wouldn’t e’en be worth mentioning.”
“Yes, well. If it did come to that, it might actually be a splendid way to relieve this boredom.”
Nose gave a light laugh, and making his expression just a little more serious, he asked.
“So, how was it? You went and checked the security detail, didn’t you?”
“You can try hiding and slipping out all you want, but no matter what, you’ll be caught by someone or some camera. No noticeable holes. Albeit, I’m only evaluating their security level during normal times within the realm of common sense.”
“Hmm, doesn’t look like there’s much space for anything to happen. Well, that’s fine in and of itself. I would very much like to finish this punishment without incident and return to that workplace brimming with vitality.”
As Nose began prattling nostalgically, Juurou sent him a light shrug.
“You do your thing. My ideal’s a job where I c’n get a salary just by sleeping.”
Well’n, I’m getting back, he declared and yawned before turning his feet towards his own room.
“— We offer you a warm welcome. There aren’t many out there qualified to teach magic, and it’s a huge help you were able to come to our school. The teachers we have now can only teach some on the side, and we’ve barely been managing on that.”
Behind his words, headmaster Takadou’s face was complex. He hesitantly continued on.
“However—umm, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I’m honestly rather perplexed. For two First-Class Magister Marshals to suddenly be appointed, I’ve never experienced such a state of affairs…”
Takadou used a handkerchief to wipe away the sweat on his brow. He was a timid-looking small man past fifty.
He himself was no magician, just a standard civil servant. The very fact he was put in charge of a training academy meant he likely didn’t hold any strong prejudice against magicians, but perhaps he couldn’t help but feel anxious before two Magister Marshals.
“What’s more, you’re both part of the Ministry’s—”
“Yes, the special countermeasures division. This time is just a temporary transfer, and we shall only be serving as substitute lecturers.”
Nose said softly.
Those who could use magic— Magister Marshals were precious existences, usually with only a few member distributed to each administrative agency. However, the special countermeasures division— excluding deskwork positions— was compromised entirely of magicians. They were all elites among elites, humans gathered to solve brutal incidents beyond the hands of the police or the average magician, serious calamities, or at times cases of high importance requiring the utmost confidentiality. Their capabilities that lent to the authority they held to practically intervene in anything had them seen as the government’s greatest heretics, the station frowned on the most.
After looking at the smiling Nise, and a look at Juurou who appeared bored out of his mind as he fiddled with his hamsters, half-opened his mouth before changing his mind.
“— Yes, it’s nothing to worry yourself over. Headmaster Takadou.”
It was Nose who emitted words in his place.
“You’ve already heard our circumstances, haven’t you? This is simply a form of disciplinary action.”
The incident in question had transpired two months prior.
The location of the hideout for a terrorist group raising the anti-magic flag had been uncovered; immediate action was being taken to round them up, and Juurou and Nose were to take part, assisting the police in the arrest.
This was not an isolated incident, it was quite often that the special countermeasures division worked in coordination with the police, but in most cases, their role would be raid support. They were a sort of insurance. Unless the million to one chance didn’t come around, they wouldn’t do anything greater than necessary to destroy the polices’ reputation.
However, that time happened to be that million to one chance. One of the terrorists got through the police’s encirclement and took flight. Carrying a firearm and explosive, no less.
Juurou who had devoted himself to a nap in the rear was splendidly late to action. Nose who gave pursuit violently slaughtered the terrorist with his magic. Under the public eye, to make matters worse.
While it was a better resolution than letting them get away, it was also a clear case of mismanagement. The bureau’s director Fuchigami put them under house arrest, with a temporary transfer order once that was over.
“Well, I’m sure he’s telling us to get away from work for a while to reflect. I must apologize in that you pulled the short straw, Headmaster Takadou.”
“N-n-not at all, the short straw? That’s, not…”
“Of course, we both intend to properly perform our duties in our job here. We might cause you some trouble, being thrown into an unfamiliar workplace, but please endeavor to lead and encourage us.”
Nose vibrantly spat out admirable lines. And yet, Juurou knew all too well he wasn’t who he seemed. The man was an excellent Magister Marshal, devoted to his work. That devotion would occasionally go too far, causing problems through the excessive use of magic.
— No, it was quite likely not his work he was so devoted to. He was just faithful to his own destructive instincts.
With the terrorist the other day, Nose should have been able to subdue him without killing. But he killed. With means so cruel the body didn’t maintain its initial form.
It wasn’t that his rationality was so unhinged he would indiscriminately exhibit murderous tendencies. However, given the opportunity, he wouldn’t hesitate to do it. To Juurou who showed lethargy when it came to any and everything, he stood in a sense, on the opposite side of the spectrum.
“Alongside my associate Shiiba, I will work to my utmost, it is a pleasure to work with you.”
Takadou nodded two times, then three, as if to force himself to accept it. Picking up the receiver of the closed-network phone line, he gave a few short orders before turning back to the two.
“The teacher in charge of magic’s prepared a space for you. I just called him over, so let him talk you through the rest.”
“— Language, and arrhythmic, those studies handled by teachers from the outside. Our job is mainly to guide them in magic and life choices.”
A boy who identified himself as Kagami Yuuhei walked ahead of Juurou and Nose. Average height, average build, a sociable smile never extinguishing from his face. According to his self-introduction, he was a seventeen-year-old third-class magister marshal. To be appointed to civil service at his age meant he must be at least moderately gifted.
“As things stand, I teach the junior class ranging from six to nine, while another teacher handles the senior class of ten to twelve. – Ah, it’s over here, the staff room.”
The room they were led to gave off the feeling of the office of a small company. A window on the back wall. A file cabinet beside it. Four desks in the center of the room. Two were new, one was cluttered, the last was properly organized without the slightest misstep.
“Feel free to use an open desk. There aren’t any real limits on bringing in personal belongings, but if possible, you’re better off keeping it on the moderate side. We’ve got someone who’s strict on that.”
And Yuuhei made a worry-free smile.
“But still, it’s a huge help you were able to come. It was real harsh for just two of us, see. The little ones are all overflowing with energy, so looking after them all day really runs you ragged.”
“By all day, do you mean you also look after the dorm, Kagami-kun?”
“Yes, in regards to regular life, I’m pretty much the sole person in charge of both the senior and junior class.”
While he did have a room in the staff lodgings, more often than not, he found himself sleeping at the student dorms.
Of course, despite all his complaints, his expression seemed thoroughly pleased, and it was clear he had an attachment to both his job and the kids. How simple-minded, Juurou held a cynical impression.
“And where might the other teacher be? I’d like to offer my greetings.”
“In the middle of class. She should be getting back around now. While she’s a little scary, she’s a pretty person.”
The end of Yuuhei’s words overlapped with the opening of a door. A young woman walked into the room.
“Ah, Shino-sensei, you’re back. The new hires are here.”
“Mind your tone. And cease with the Shino-sensei. When you refer to me, use my last name.”
A suit without any decoration and shortish hair. A tad smaller built than Yuuhei, and baby-faced. Perhaps the lack of humanity she gave off came from the meager changes in her expression, affording her a somewhat cold impression. Although the arrangement of her face was, in and of itself, somewhat cute, and seemed like they’d suit a smile well enough.
She turned towards the other two.
“I’ve heard the story. I am the senior instructor, Izumoi Shino. I’m in charge of the senior class. My specialty is medical science.”
Juurou had heard the name before. Only in her early twenties, she was a Special Class Magister Marshal, a prominent figure in the field of magic applied to treatment.
In magic casting, an individual’s recognition was indispensable. Meaning, how one wants to change what form of matter, what phenomenon to cause from what state, it was necessary to have a clear and precise awareness of it all.
Using magic for medical purposes was no exception; what wounds to close, what blood vessels to stop, how bones and nerves were joined, there was a need to have a complete understanding. It could never become as simple as casting a full recovery spell in a game.
While a magician, Shino was also an excellent physician. She got her medical license in her teens, got her doctorate, and henceforth continued to engage in medical care.
For the stated reason of including talent in the societal system as quickly as possible, the option of so-called skipping grades was often applied to those aiming to be Magister Marshals. It wasn’t rare for someone to set out early to perform service. However, regardless of that, her pure achievements were astounding.
“For the sake of my research and practice, I have kept a seat at the university hospital. I can never dawdle here for too long, but it is a pleasure to work with you.”
“Well, she says senior instructor, but up to now, it’s only been the two of us. It’s gonna get lively, now that we’ve got four—oh, sorry.”
With a silent glance silencing Yuuhei, she continued her address.
“I’ll introduce you to the students over lunch break. You’ll start holding class tomorrow. Influencing the futures of these children is an indispensable duty, so do make sure not to go at it with haphazard feelings. I hope you understand.”
Without giving off any undulation of emotion, and yet, her tone managed to carry a high pressure. Well this one’s a piece of work, Juurou thought.
Nose responded amicably.
“Yes, of course—ah, I’ve yet to introduce myself. My name is Nose Kazuki. It is a pleasure to work with you.”
After a light nod, Shino turned her gaze to Juurou by the wall. Seeing his apathetic expression, and the two hamsters running up and down his sleeves, her brow furrowed ever-so-slightly.
“… And what about you?”
“Err, my colleague Shiiba, and his traveling hamsters.”
“Does his mouth not function?”
“No, that is definitely not the case. He is just a tad lacking in cooperativeness.”
“Shiiba-sensei, for now, please don’t bring any unnecessary animals into school. And please introduce yourself in your own words. It’s only good manners.”
The word unnecessary strongly stimulated his antipathy. Juurou lightly clicked his tongue and gave his introduction as short and to the point as possible.
“… Is that all? Are you even serious about this?”
“What’s knowin’ any more gonna do for you? ‘s long as you know my name, ‘s there anything else you need?”
Ignoring Shino’s grim expression and turning on his heels, Juurou left the room.
Nose hurriedly gave chase.
“… I see you’re in a bad mood, Juurou-san. They looked quite troubled, the both of them.”
“They piss me off. That lady, and that non-stop talking brat. They’re a type I can’t get along with physiologically.”
Strict people like Shino. Overly sociable people like Yuuhei. To Juurou who hated interacting with people full stop, he could already foresee them becoming insufferable existences.
“I do doubt there are many people out there who someone as obstinate as yourself would actually get along with.”
“And so what? My job ain’t to get along with anyone. I’ll take proper charge of my class. When ya get back, go tell them that.”
There was nothing to be done, Nose shrugged his shoulders to say as he was left by the wayside. Juurou hastened his feet. Good grief, this workplace doesn’t suit me at all, he thought.