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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei Vol 16 Chapter 1

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Chapter 1
The bell signifying the end of class rang.
Even though all the courses were now conducted online and there were
no teachers during the classes, there was no change in the feeling of
freedom that came at the end of school.
Especially now that the school was self-reigned.
It was to be expected. Today was the last day of the second semester,
Tuesday, December 25th, 2096 A.D.
Contrary to how it usually was, the class ended in the morning. There
was no closing ceremony in correspondence to this.
There was no end-of-the-year report, either. In fact, the performance of
each student was his or her own responsibility. The parents were only
involved when the student was in danger of not graduating.
Still, throughout the year, students were unable to access their own
personal evaluation due to the lack of general subject periodic tests.
Therefore, the scenes occurring now were divided between students who
were in a good mood and those with heavy shoulders.
The newly established Magic Engineering Class, Class 2-E, was no
exception to this; everyone was checking their results, both Tatsuya and
his classmates alike. Even though he did not need to worry about
practical grades ever since he entered the Magic Engineering Course, he
was still worried over whether or not he had enough credits to advance.
For the time being, he double-checked that he had received satisfactory
results. As Tatsuya stood up and saved his evaluation data onto his
portable terminal, he felt a stare from his side.
“Mizuki, do you need something?”
Mizuki answered Tatsuya’s question in an articulate manner, as if it was
something bad.
“No… It’s not important.”
She wanted to ask about his test results but stopped herself when she
realized that she would have to answer that question as well. Mizuki’s
results had exceeded the class average, yet, if she heard Tatsuya’s
results, she probably wouldn’t have the courage to disclose hers.
“Is that so? Well then, see you later.”
“Yes, see you later.”
They exchanged farewells before Tatsuya departed for the Student
Council Office while Mizuki went to the Art Room.
By 5:30 P.M., the sky had turned completely dark. After the Club
Activities and Student Council work, Tatsuya and his friends gathered at
Einebrise, a café located on the road heading towards the school. They
often frequented this place and were regarded as loyal customers.
“Well then, we’re late one day, but never mind, shout with me!”
Following Erika’s urging, they raised their voices in unison.
“Merry Christmas!”
This year, the Christmas party at Einebrise had been moved to at night
due to Tatsuya and his friends’ availability issues.
“Thanks for joining in! I would have preferred to do it during the day,
though.”
“We had no choice. Erika, don't you have Club Activities as well?”
Erika gave a wry smile in response to Miyuki’s words.
“Mine doesn’t require so much commitment though. But it's different for
Miyuki, right? Since you’re the Student Council President now.”
“I’m not the only one. Yoshida-kun’s the Disciplinary Committee
Chairman, and Shizuku as a member of the Disciplinary Committee also
needs to fulfill her responsibilities there, right?"
After being denied by Miyuki, Mikihiko laughed bashfully and Shizuku
answered ‘yup’ shortly.
“Right, Leo aside.”
“What do you mean by that!?”
“Honoka is in the Student Council, and Tatsuya-kun is the ‘Secretary
General’ after all.”
Paying no attention to Leo’s protest, Erika transferred her line of sight
subtly to Tatsuya.
“Isn’t this alright? Regardless of the fact that we’re a day late, we were
able to gather everyone by doing this.”
Tatsuya was subtly shifting the conversation with his answer, but Erika
didn’t notice it and gave a "Well, you’re right" response.
“After all, there were many of us that could not make it yesterday.”
By the way, yesterday, Shizuku was attending one of her father’s
company’s parties. Honoka was pulled into it because she was "just like
a daughter".
Mikihiko was dragged to a party held by his family that was open for the
apprentices. Since participating members were mostly female, Mikihiko
resisted with all his might, but he was forced by his brother to go to the
‘supervise’ party.
Erika herself was dragged at her family’s convenience to attend a party
against her will. In her case, she went to the Kanto Region’s police party 
along with her eldest brother, Toshikazu, instead of the Chiba Family’s
party. It was set that way due to her father, the Head of the Family,
needing to attend a party with influential politicians. Toshikazu was
reluctant to go, but he was defeated by his father’s order. Her role as a
companion for Toshikazu was due to him not having a spouse or fiancé.
Hence, Erika was angry and showered her eldest brother with sarcasm
throughout the party.
Those were the reasons the Christmas party was held today instead of
yesterday.
The participating members of this party were all from the second year:
Tatsuya, Miyuki, Erika, Leo, Mizuki, Mikihiko, Honoka and Shizuku.
Minami had been invited to Class 1-C’s Christmas party. They couldn’t
hold the party on Christmas Eve due to similar reasons. That party was
held at a famous restaurant and the food was delivered in several stages;
a much more grandiose party than that of Tatsuya’s group. Kasumi, who
was also in Class 1-C, had dragged Izumi along.
Given that both Kasumi and Izumi had to be on their best behaviours
yesterday at the Saegusa Family’s party, they were able to act more
freely today. This alleviated concerns that they were going to go too far,
so her classmates turned a blind eye to Izumi’s actions. There was some
speculation that this might be due to her being unable to attend the same
party as Miyuki.
That being said, Tatsuya’s group's party felt similar to a tea party with
classmates.
On the other hand, Minami’s group had a full-course dinner. Even the
cakes were sliced for each person, and the taste of the cuisine had been
arranged by taste-orientation instead of volume. Conversing was only
done during the time when one wasn't using their mouth to eat or
drink——was what Leo said, but there might be some objection to that 
statement as the conversation was going without interruption for about
an hour and a half until 7 P.M., before the meals were even served.
"This year has almost ended.”
 There was no mistake to the reason why Mizuki had heartily said such a
thing when it eventually came time for the party to start ending, though
silly discussions exchanged clamorously was a fun thing to do.
"It was a peaceful year, right?"
Erika replied in a cheerful voice, neglecting the sentimental atmosphere.
“I wonder... I think it was pretty hectic.”
Mikihiko answered reflexively with his true feelings.
“There was even some turmoil due to the vampires.”
“Like the Pixie Confession Incident.”
However, Honoka kept her silence without saying a word at Mikihiko’s
words; instead, it was Shizuku who came up with a sharp retort and
made everyone laugh.
“Shizuku, don’t say it!”
Even if she felt sorry for Honoka, in the end, she would say that it was
‘nicely played’.
“I do not intend to support Erika, but this year, I’ve definitely been
caught up in less turmoil compared to last year. We didn’t get dragged
into an incident like what happened at Yokohama.”
“As if that kind of thing would happen every year.”
Tatsuya gave a short laugh and was unable to refute Leo.
“Well, that’s true.”
Laughter of approval went up from everyone, including Leo. 
“Tatsuya-san.”
At 7 P.M., immediately after their party was over——they did not linger
in the store——when everyone was outside of the shop, Tatsuya was
startled by Honoka’s voice.
“Are you going to Hatsumōde next year?”
Before Tatsuya turned his head, Honoka had invited him to the New
Year's visit to a Shinto shrine.
“Hmm… Hatsumōde.”
Honoka overreacted to Tatsuya’s words and started moving her hands in
a hurry.
“Oh, everyone! Let’s go with everyone. Shizuku will come with us, too,
and Erika can also come.”
Apparently, Honoka had done some preparation beforehand. The feeling
expressed was not just some random ad hoc thing, but that of
enthusiasm.
“I'm sorry."
That was why it pained Tatsuya for not being able to return that feeling.
“Miyuki and I have errands to do this upcoming New Year.”
Honoka was quite shocked; she hadn’t anticipated that he would reject
her invitation.
“Even though you invited...” “No, don’t mind it.”
But before Tatsuya had finished his apology, her pouting face had
changed to a smile and halted his words.
“It can’t be helped if you have an important errand.”
It couldn't be said that she was smiling naturally, but Honoka maintained
it to the end.
She couldn’t possibly waste the blatant concern that had been offered by
Tatsuya.
“Please invite me again in the future.”
Instead of apologizing, Tatsuya rephrased his sentence.
The exchange between Tatsuya and Honoka ended without any
awkwardness. But, next to Tatsuya, Miyuki slumped her head and wore
a darkened face.
“Miyuki, what’s wrong?”
When Shizuku noticed, she asked her in a worried voice. Miyuki’s face
was pale like that of a sick person.
"Are you not feeling well?”
Shizuku doubted the possibility of sudden illness.
“…No, I’m alright. Thank you.”
After she answered, Miyuki's face remained pale and the smile she
offered was also faint. That being said, this appearance suited Miyuki
perfectly well, although Shizuku as a friend couldn't bluntly tell her that.
However, Erika was not able to perceive the meaning of the dark
complexion on Miyuki’s face.
“It’s just not going to Hatsumōde; you don’t need to make a big deal out
of it. I never really worry about it, and you’d only miss it this year. As
Honoka said, Miyuki has an important errand, right? Then, contact us
once you’re done. Let’s meet up again somewhere.”
Erika was not a heartless girl. If she didn’t pacify Miyuki, Tatsuya
would——It was an action anyone could do. Putting that aside, Erika 
thought that Miyuki was acting somewhat strange, but she did indeed
lighten the burden in Miyuki’s heart.
“Yeah. I'll contact you when I’ve completed my errands.”
Miyuki showed a somewhat better smile as a response. Still, her face
remained pale.
◊ ◊ ◊
Miyuki’s anxiety was temporary, and her complexion had returned to
normal by the time she reached home.
Erika’s reasoning was correct. Miyuki did not weaken due to physical
stress. For Tatsuya, that was the most obvious thing in the world.
Miyuki had become pale due to mental shock. Over the past few days,
she had been worrying over the "New Year's Gathering", which had
resurfaced automatically at the keyword. In other words, regardless of
her own wishes, she had been subconsciously mulling over this
upcoming event. Tatsuya understood this well.
"Miyuki, why don’t you rest for a while in your room? You can prepare
the food later."
Regardless of the party snacks and desserts, Tatsuya decided that she
must have some rest first.
“Such a thing!”
Miyuki was about to raise her voice in rebuttal on reflex, but what came
out was "...Yes, I understand." She was well aware that her physical
condition was far from adequate to prepare the best service to her
brother and immediately switched responses.
"Are you sure you want to let me rest even for about an hour?" 
Still, Miyuki was not so naive as to think that Tatsuya’s kind words were
not empty, so she’d rather excuse herself now than fawn over it.
“Of course. It’s because I also want to rest first."
Tatsuya answered so with a laugh. “No... Miyuki, please rest in your
room until you feel better.” He changed his words immediately.
Miyuki retreated with “Yes, Onii-sama. I’ll do as you say.”
Miyuki lightly bowed. By being ordered ‘you are to rest’ rather than
‘you may rest’ her guilt was greatly reduced.
The second floor was cold due to the midwinter season. Even if modern
architecture made full use of heat insulation material, it was still difficult
to keep warm air in the room for more than 12 hours in late December.
In the first place, keeping the room warm upon returning could be done
using home automation. It was common technology nowadays.
But Miyuki did not use that function.
There was no need to do that.
When Miyuki opened the door, there was a warning sign that the room
was chilly.
With that, she re-adjusted the temperature of the room.
Miyuki did not require the help of a CAD for this degree of magic.
Miyuki entered her room, closed the door and turned on the heater. If the
task was to continuously heat the indoor air, air conditioning was more
suitable than magic.
She then took off her coat and uniform.
No matter how tired she was, she wouldn’t throw off her clothes
unkemptly over the chair. She hung them one by one starting from the
long coat, then her blazer, inner gown, and one piece dress. After that,
she started mulling over which clothes to wear that night. She chose an 
unusual house-wear; a long loose-fitted one piece dress, and looked at
her appearance in the mirror.
After she finished changing clothes, she sat at her desk and reached out
to an envelope from the letter rack.
Without even looking, she knew very well what was written inside. She
had already read it so many times, enough to memorize it. Troubled,
Miyuki spread out the letter from the envelope.
The letter was an invitation to participate in the succession procession of
the Yotsuba.
For the past two years, Miyuki had visited the Main House every New
Year's. However, she didn’t turn out for the meeting with the Branch
Families’ Heads. The first reason being she was ‘not invited’, so Miyuki,
fortunately, could avoid the match for the family head position with the
Branch Families. She couldn’t bear the irreverent words and deeds from
the Branch Families against Tatsuya.
But this year, she received a personal invitation from Maya, no, she was
ordered to come. Moreover, Maya personally signed the letter. Even
though she was very reluctant, she couldn’t escape this time. Also, her
aunt made sure that the Branch Families ‘would stop’ their hostilities
towards Tatsuya. She was not sure how much she could restrain herself
which made Miyuki quite anxious.
However, it was but a trivial exit over this invisible problem she had.
Miyuki had a pretty strong conviction rather than a vague one as to why
her aunt had called her to this family meeting.
——My aunt is finally appointing the next Family Head.
——My aunt wants to nominate me as the next Head of the Family.
The current Miyuki had no desire whatsoever for that position. 
In the past, there were times when she wanted to become the Head. But
since that summer four years ago, that had never been her desire
anymore.
Originally, she felt that she ‘wanted to be the Head’; that feeling was not
only from the adults’ persuasion but from her pride as ‘one who is
worthy of becoming Family Head’ in her mind. No, that thought had not
changed up to now.
The Head of the Yotsuba Family is the most excellent; the strongest in
the Family. There were several candidates remaining for the position:
Shiba Miyuki, Kuroba Fumiya, Tsukuba Yuuka, and Shibata
Katsushige. And then, the strongest Magician of them all was Miyuki.
So she had the biggest chance to be appointed as the next Head.
As expected of the Head Butler, Hayama had asked Butler Hanabishi to
make all sorts of arrangements and adjustments in the facilities. Even
though he was not in the Main House, there was no one who was lightmouthed
among the Yotsuba’s employees. But, she still received much
flattery that she was the best candidate.
Miyuki also thought that she had the most excellent magic ability as the
candidate for the next Head. It was not only overconfidence but an
objective judgment. But to be able to get appointed due to this, as the
next Head of the Family itself, was evidence of the imprinted values of
the Yotsuba.
However, if someone asked her, "Do you want to become the Family
Head?" She would answer, "Not interested." If she had the choice, she
would have done so, since the work of the Head would curb her time
with her brother.
At the same time, to ‘refuse the status of Yotsuba Head’ was something
that was unthinkable for Miyuki. Even if there was no value for herself,
if she could improve the treatment given to her brother, she thought that
it was not that bad of an option. 
As the Head of the Family, she could at least eliminate the hatred
towards her brother from the employees. Even the Branch Families
could be asked to somehow respect him. Miyuki thought that if she did it
for her brother, she’d be able to bear the role.
To be appointed as the next Head, it was not the source of the anxiety.
The problem was the marriage partner that had always been associated
with the position of becoming the Head.
Magicians were encouraged to marry early. Unless under special
circumstances like her aunt, being single was not allowed. Even for
Magicians, there were fundamental human rights that were recognized,
and there should be no penalties for being single. However, to meet the
expectations of the magic community, marriage was inevitable.
Especially since the Yotsuba was one of the Ten Master Clans,
regardless of the aloof presence perceived by outsiders, she couldn’t
help but worry about the family's reputation among fellow Magicians.
In that sense, a higher responsibility fell onto the next Head to be
married to a member of the Ten Master Clans, as Maya was single. It
was not as if she would be forced to get married as soon as she was
named as the head, but a fiancé must be appointed.
——I will be married to a man other than my brother.
——To be someone else’s wife other than my brother’s.
For that matter itself, Miyuki had understood it simply. She couldn’t
possibly marry her own brother and as a Magician, her freedom to
choose her partner would be limited. She would need to marry a man
other than her brother; this was an inevitable situation for her.
Miyuki stood up and returned the envelope to the letterbox.
As she sat in front of the dressing table today, her heart spoke out to her
reflection in the mirror. 
(Yes, this is unavoidable. I can’t do anything about it.)
Her reflection in the mirror replied:
< is="" it?="" is="" that="" really="" the="" case?="" are="" you="" really="" pleased="" with="" this?="">
The voice given from her reflection was from her younger self.
(Yes, it is an undeniable fact that Onii-sama and I are real siblings. I
have accepted that fact.)
Miyuki was talking to the girl in the mirror, while trying to convince
herself.
< you’re="" lying!="" i="" would="" never="" agree="" to="" this!="">
The “Miyuki” within the mirror was a little bit younger than her, and a
little bit more honest than her.
(No matter how much you try to convince me, I won’t be convinced,
‘Miyuki’. Because Onii-sama and I are real siblings.)
< did="" you="" give="" up="" because="" you="" are="" siblings!?="">
(It doesn’t matter whether or not I give up. Siblings cannot marry each
other. I knew this from the beginning, and I never hoped to love Oniisama
as a woman. If I never hoped for it in the first place, there isn’t
anything to give up, right?)
< you’re="" lying!="" then,="" why="" is="" “miyuki”="" so="" against="" this="" unknown="">
who may not even exist? >
(Isn’t it a mother’s duty to be married and have children? I would only
be a burden to Onii-sama that way.)
< you="" can="" hire="" a="" babysitter.="" the="" head="" of="" the="" yotsuba="" will="" be="" busy="">
her work so there’s no way you can afford to spend your time with
children. >
Miyuki stared hard at her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t realize that
her arguments were shallow and easily thrown off. 
The girl in the mirror began to speak. Miyuki was provoked by her
inability to face her inner self.
< even="" if="" you="" are="" married="" to="" another="" man,="" onii-sama="" still="" has="">
roles. You don’t even need love in marrying “that man”, as long as you
fulfill your duty as a Magician. So long as you have children, nobody’s
going to say anything. “Miyuki”, what you really object to is not the
marriage itself. >
(Stop!)
Miyuki wanted to cover her ears.
< "miyuki”,="" what="" you="" really="" object="" to="" is...="">
(Stop!)
She wanted to turn away from the mirror.
< what="" you="" really="" object="" to="" is…="">
(Stop!)
No matter how hard she shook her head, she couldn’t stop the voice.
< to="" be="" anyone’s="" wife="" besides="" onii-sama's.="">
Yet, she couldn’t stand up against her own heart any longer.
< to="" be="" embraced="" by="" anyone="" besides="" onii-sama.="">
She saw a pair of distraught eyes in the mirror. She never wanted to have
these thoughts.
< unable="" to="" become="" onii-sama’s="" bride.="" unable="" to="" make="" love="" to="">
Unable to love Onii-sama as a woman! >
“Ah!”
She let out the grieving sound with trembling lips, and fell down from
the chair she’d been sitting on.
She was freed from her curse now that the mirror was out of sight.
“It can’t be helped.”
She let her thoughts be sounded by her voice, and her conflicting
emotions converged.
“I’m Onii-sama’s sister. I’m his true sibling.”
The feelings that she could no longer keep within her heart started to
find its way out.
“It’s unforgivable to love my brother as a woman. The world will not
tolerate it. Even Onii-sama will think that it’s abnormal. He will
certainly think that it’s disgusting.”
All alone in her room, Miyuki gave in to all her emotions.
Nobody else could hear her saying those words.
There wasn’t a hint of a lie in those words.
“I don’t care what the world thinks. If they want to point their fingers at
my back, I’d take the fall. But if Onii-sama thought of me as
disgusting… I wouldn’t be able to stand it!”
She never thought that her feelings were so sinful.
The only one who could give forgiveness to her was not God.
“That’s why, it can’t be helped.”
Miyuki stopped her confession. Her feelings turned to words, then to
tears, and overflowed from her eyes. 
Chapter 2
Early in the morning on the first day of winter break, Tatsuya went to
the FLT Third Division.
Miyuki and Minami stayed at home. The FLT Third Division could be
said to be his home ground and he was always welcome there. Even
Tatsuya knew this. That day, he chose to go to the lab because the server
at home was slower. So, he spent his time at home carefully thinking
about the project.
He was scheduled to begin the new project from this day onwards.
Rather than the development of a new CAD, he was designing a largescale
system using Magic Engineering. The project implementation date
was yet to be known. In the first place, it was impossible to complete
such a large-scale project with only the work of FLT.
The project name was ‘ESCAPES’ (Extract both useful and harmful
Substances from the Coastal Area of the Pacific using Electricity
generated by the Stellar generator). It was a project to access substances
from the depths of the sea in the Pacific Ocean's coastal region by means
of a Stellar Furnace, but in a sense it was also a ‘means of escape’ or
‘free the substances’.
At the current stage, he still needed to wait to incorporate the design into
the system and create the plan proposal. Still, it was a huge step closer to
his goal.
He had this idea about three years ago in 2093, a year after the Okinawa
Incident in August. The Loop Cast System, Flight Magic as well as the
Stellar Furnace were developed for the heart of this system, and he
managed to gather the last piece the other day. Whether it was this
project or Tatsuya, both of them still had a long way to go. That aside,
given the significance of the project, it was unavoidable for him to be
fired up. 
However, his enthusiasm was suddenly washed over by cold water after
an hour of work.
“Sorry for bothering you, Young Master.”
Transmissions using quantum encryption were taboo. As Tatsuya was
viewing some highly confidential data, he received a call from a female
secretary from FLT's Third Division.
“What is it?”
He did not want to stop working, however, the reason must be quite
important if the secretary had knowingly disturbed him. Tatsuya stopped
typing to hit the intercom button to reply.
“Excuse me, Kuroba Mitsugu wishes to see you, Young Master. What
should I tell him?”
Tatsuya’s eyebrows rose unconsciously.
Mitsugu had not visited FLT before, as far as Tatsuya knew. As
Mitsugu’s work entailed the collection of intelligence for the Yotsuba,
he would have no reason to visit FLT, which was in the
commerce/financial division of the Yotsuba.
“I will see him. Please bring light snacks to the offline reception.”
He did not have enough information to guess the purpose of Mitsugu’s
visit. Tatsuya realized that at once.
He needed to make sure of what the purpose of this visit was. That was
his reason for asking the staff to guide Mitsugu to a room which was not
equipped with an online monitoring system.
Tatsuya made sure to lock the waiting room before greeting Mitsugu.
As he approached Mitsugu, Mitsugu did not seem to have any intention
of rising from the sofa. Instead, he noticed that Mitsugu was playing 
with his fingers anxiously and left his hat on the sofa which was a sign
of uneasiness ever since he went inside.
“Long time no see, Kuroba-san. The last time was during the summer
right?”
“Yeah.”
Mitsugu nodded his head impatiently. His behavior did not seem to be
affected only by the bitter memories of the deep wound inflicted by
Zhou Gongjin ‘last summer’. He seemed to be on edge even before
Tatsuya showed up.
“May I sit?”
Mitsugu nodded in silence, while Tatsuya took the seat opposite to him.
Tatsuya fixed his eyes straight at Mitsugu. There was a large age gap,
like that of a parent and child, between the two of them. However, it
didn’t make Tatsuya nervous at all. There was no hint of bravado in his
posture either.
Mitsugu distorted his lips in his upset. Even now, it seemed like he was
going to cluck his tongue.
However, Mitsugu did not look down on Tatsuya as a ‘mere escort’.
Tatsuya was regarded as a failure of the Yotsuba Family, despite being
the nephew of Yotsuba Maya, the current Family Head, and also the
brother of Miyuki, the candidate for the next Family Head, especially
among the non-combatant servants. As he ‘did not have the suitable
magic power, despite having a direct blood relation to the Yotsuba’, he
was ‘given the role of guardian to his sister out of pity’.
However, Mitsugu knew very well that Tatsuya wasn’t a ‘failure’.
Certainly, he could be counted as one based on the current Magicians'
standards, but he had a special power that was more than enough to
compensate for this flaw. Mitsugu understood this very well. 
The upsetness that Mitsugu showed to Tatsuya, was due to the fact that
Tatsuya saw him as an equal, despite Tatsuya’s age that was not so
different with that of his own son.
He couldn’t afford to be seen as such. Instead, the one with bravado and
trying to push himself unconsciously, perhaps, was Mitsugu himself.
“What business do you have with me?”
Tatsuya asked so when Mitsugu did not show any signs that he would
start talking. He did not say "I’m busy now", but the way he said it had
that nuance. Of course, this was on purpose.
Although this was a rude way to say something to someone, no, to a
senior, Mitsugu restrained himself. He figured that it was unbefitting of
him to be upset over such a trivial issue, given that he was the one who
paid a visit, hence, he kept it to himself.
“Do not come to the New Year’s Gathering.”
Without feeling the need to cover up the words that he had just said,
Mitsugu came only to say those words bluntly to Tatsuya.
“I never had any intention to come.”
“What…?”
However, Mitsugu probably never expected this kind of answer from
Tatsuya. The sulky face that had been directed to Tatsuya since he
entered the room suddenly faded from Mitsugu’s face. Currently, he was
wearing an unguarded surprised expression on his face.
“I have no intention of attending the New Year’s Gathering. The order
from Toushu-sama was only given to Miyuki.”
Tatsuya called Maya ‘Toushu-sama’ instead of ‘Oba-ue’. Implicitly, he
was trying to say that Miyuki’s attendance was ordered by the Head of
the Family; it was not to be countered by the unreasonable request of
Mitsugu. 
“How quibbling…!”
Mitsugu clucked his tongue. It seemed like he chose to abandon his
effort to cover up his frustration, once his real face was revealed.
“Then, I want you to persuade your sister not to come to the New Year’s
Gathering.”
However, he said this with less intensity. Mitsugu probably realized that
he wouldn’t win against Tatsuya and his tone was also somewhat
tempered.
It didn’t mean that Tatsuya was going to accept the request, regardless of
the politeness with which it was delivered.
“Why don’t you say it directly to her?”
Even Mitsugu himself knew that he was bound to be rejected. However,
Tatsuya brought the conversation to a slightly different direction than
what he was expecting.
“She wouldn’t do so even if I told her to. That’s why I’m asking you to.”
“I was not referring to Miyuki. Why didn’t you directly request Toushusama
herself to retract the attendance order?”
Mitsugu was speechless for a moment.
“….I don’t need you to tell me that. I have discussed with Maya-san
about her decision possibly being premature.”
“Then, there is no meaning for Miyuki and I to be absent from the New
Year’s Gathering. Even if we decline, there is no way Toushu-sama
would tolerate it.”
Perhaps, Mitsugu was considering Tatsuya’s words and fell into silence.
Tatsuya smirked wickedly, yet meaningfully.
“I can understand that it’s still premature for Fumiya as he still needs a
few more experiences to make a male Family Head.”
“That’s an unjust suspicion!”
Mitsugu replied with a strong voice. He lifted his right hand from his
armrest, albeit squeezing it tightly in the middle and stopped; he was
restraining himself from hitting the table reflexively.
“Originally, I was reluctant to make Fumiya the Head of the Yotsuba
Family. His personality is too kind to lead the Yotsuba Clan. I think that
in terms of Magic Power, Miyuki is suitable to be the next Family
Head.”
Tatsuya could not suppress his surprise when he heard Mitsugu’s
rebuttal. Tatsuya always thought that Mitsugu wanted Fumiya to be the
Head of the Yotsuba Family.
“Then, why do you think it is still premature?”
However, Tatsuya chose to keep his misunderstanding to himself for
now. It was more important to stick with his priority to figure out
Mitsugu’s intention.
Mitsugu was hesitant to answer and swallowed his breath. He returned
to face Tatsuya with a defiant attitude.
"At the New Year’s Gathering, we will be deciding the next Family
Head. Maya-san wishes for Miyuki's appointment.”
“I see.”
Although he said it this way, he had already foreseen this.
“However, I believe we need to postpone Miyuki’s nomination as the
next Family Head to take care of a more important thing. It’s not only
me. Shiiba, Mashiba, Shibata and Shizuku, also have the same idea.”
“So it’s the consensual decision of the Heads of the Branch Families,
with the exception of Mugura and Tsukuba. Then, what is the important
issue?”
“It’s about what we are going to do with you.”
Mitsugu grinned. It was a dark smile, one that harbored a dark feeling.
“In about two years, the 'Sakura Series' modified body, Sakurai Minami,
will have sufficient enough power as a Yotsuba Guardian. That girl is
particularly excellent even when compared to other modified bodies
made by the Yotsuba. When that happens, your duty as a Guardian will
become obsolete.”
Unlike his usual self, there was a hint that Mitsugu was intoxicated with
his own words.
“Don’t worry. We’ll let you graduate from Magic University. You can
contribute to Yotsuba’s financial activities as ‘Taurus Silver’ afterwards.
There’s no need for you to continue your work in the JSDF either. We’ll
release you from your secret military duty.”
Mitsugu’s eyes were still enveloped in darkness, he lifted the edge of his
lips further.
“Ah, that’s right. You will replace your father's position in FLT.
Although your existence will never be published as the president, you
will still be the largest shareholder.”
“I have no interest in such things.”
Tatsuya cut off Mitsugu’s words with a bored voice.
“The things that you’ve said just now are not to be decided at Kurobasan’s
discretion.”
Tatsuya implicitly said that Maya was the one to decide those.
“Such a verbal agreement can be interpreted as an intention to revolt.”
“….No, I have no such intention.”
The wicked smile disappeared from Mitsugu’s face as if the demon who
had possessed him had left. 
Perhaps, he realized that he was not acting like himself, Mitsugu’s head
was facing down again in silence.
“Kuroba-san, the one who ordered Miyuki’s attendance for the New
Year’s Gathering is Toushu-sama, Oba-ue. Miyuki and I can’t just be
absent on our own discretion. You should understand that much right?”
“Even so.”
While keeping his eyes on the table at the reception room, Mitsugu said
so in a low voice.
“I don’t wish to make Fumiya and Ayako sad.”
Tatsuya narrowed his eyes sharply.
“Are you sure?”
Mitsugu raised his face, and stared straight at Tatsuya.
“I have said to you that I don’t wish to make them sad. I won’t do
anything.”
“So you will wait and see from the sidelines?”
“I’m neutral. Although sentimentally speaking, I am your enemy, but I
won’t do anything for the sake of my children.”
Mitsugu erased the remaining traces of hostility and declared so.
Tatsuya perceived that as a fact.
“Why do you wish to separate Miyuki and I? You didn’t answer this
despite giving me that other explanation.”
Mitsugu rose.
“I’ll answer you if you arrive at the Main House on time.”
Mitsugu looked down at Tatsuya while saying so in place of a farewell. 
◊ ◊ ◊
On the first day of the winter holiday, Miyuki was spending her time
doing her homework when an unexpected visitor arrived sometime after
she had eaten lunch.
“Miyuki-san, long time no see. You look very well.”
“Yuuka-san also hasn’t changed. Please take a seat.”
The visitor who sat opposite to Miyuki in the living room was Tsukuba
Yuuka. She was the eldest daughter of the Tsukuba Family, a Branch
Family of the Yotsuba Family. She was also one of the candidates to be
the next Family Head.
She was 22 years old. She was a former vice president of First High's
Student Council, currently in her fourth year at the Magic University.
She had black hair at shoulder length with a 6:4 fringe ratio and styled in
a way that revealed the piercings in her right ear. With perfect make up,
she appeared to be a refined female college student.
The relationship between Miyuki and Yuuka, if summarized in a single
word, was neutral. Alternatively, mutual non-intervention. She was not
competitive like Ayako, or intimate like Fumiya, neither was she as
hostile as Katsushige, the other Family Head candidate, the Shibata
Family’s eldest son. Therefore, it was quite surprising that she paid a
visit this way. It was much more likely for Katsushige to come and
declare war in this situation.
Nevertheless, Yuuka was not hostile toward Miyuki. They were of equal
standing in being candidates to be the next Head of the Yotsuba Family.
It was a given to let her in if she was coming to pay a visit, unless she
came at an unearthly hour.
“It’s been about a year, since the last time we met at last New Year's
Gathering.”
“Yes, you’re right.”
“Even if we both live in Tokyo, the opportunity to see each other is
unexpectedly scarce.”
“Tokyo is huge after all.”
“You’re right. It certainly feels so in times like these. Miyuki-san,
you’re a sophomore in First High, right? Are you the Student Council
President?”
“Yes, you’re well informed.”
“It is my alma mater after all. You have had quite a loud achievement,
haven’t you?”
“I know it’s not favorable to attract so much attention at this stage, but I
think it’s rude to hold back toward my opponents… Yuuka-san, you’ll
be graduating soon right?”
“Yes. Although, I will be continuing into graduate school.”
“You will not directly proceed to help the Main House?”
“Seems like they want me to increase my value a little bit. At this late
hour.”
While she neutrally answered Miyuki, Minami brought out the tea.
Although she was trying to be as natural as possible with her words, it
was actually quite awkward. The phrase Yuuka used earlier, 'loud
achievements', actually carried a deeper meaning which was ‘is it alright
to be so conspicuous’ while Miyuki answered by explicitly saying ‘I
know, but it’s rude to hold back my power’ in return. By answering so,
she was criticizing Yuuka, who was hiding her power during her high
school days. 
After which, Miyuki asked if it was alright for her not to help the Main
House, although her real question was ‘is it alright to leak out the
Yotsuba's secret technology to the university?’.
Regardless of her capability in engaging such a nasty tactic, it didn’t fit
Miyuki’s taste. She was actually thankful for the arrival of tea at the
right time to bring back the focus of the conversation.
“Then, Yuuka-san, what business do you have with me today?”
Miyuki and Yuuka brought back their cups to the saucers at the same
time, and Miyuki asked her about the main issue. 

At Miyuki’s straightforward question, Yuuka stopped beating around the
bush.
“Why don’t we go together to the Main House for the upcoming New
Year’s Gathering?”
“…Is that, an invitation to go to the Main House from Tokyo together?”
“Yes. Since I have a car, we can ride together.”
“Is it alright for me to hear your reason?”
Miyuki couldn’t hide the wariness that had been welling up in her mind.
It was unavoidable. After all, Yuuka was one of her rivals as a candidate
for the next Family Head position. They had minimal exchanges even if
she was a relative, so she was not so different as a stranger is in
everyday life; she knew nothing about her besides her face.
Although her approach in this negotiation was rather immature, Yuuka
paid no care about it. Yuuka, unlike most others, did not overestimate
Miyuki’s halo effect. Even if Miyuki had both good looks and magic
power, she was still a 16-year-old girl, a girl who was younger than
Yuuka by 6 years. Yuuka clearly understood this.
“Reason, huh. Do I need to say it?”
Yuuka tried to avoid the topic by sweetly looking up at Miyuki. Miyuki
responded with a cold look to that act of hers.
“I understand.”
Yuuka didn’t seem to seriously cheat her way out so she dropped her
playful attitude immediately.
“My foremost reason is because my escort is gone.”
“No longer around? Yuuka-san’s Guardian is——”
Yuuka closed her eyes and shook her head several times to stop Miyuki
from getting up from the sofa. 
“She is no longer around. That is to say that she died before my very
eyes.”
Miyuki covered her mouth only for a short time, before blinking again.
Miyuki was ashamed of her own ignorance. It was a given to understand
that ‘no longer around’ was hinting at ‘has been killed’ if she had
thought harder.
Although Yuuka was already an adult, she was a Magician of the
Yotsuba. With her versatility with magic, it was rare for her to receive
dangerous work requests, but it was not impossible. In other words, the
possibility of her Guardian getting killed in a mission was not zero.
Moreover, she was a rare magician with a high aptitude in Outer
Systematic Mental Interference Magic. There were also those who
targeted her for her genetic qualities, knowing her magic beforehand.
“My… Condolences.”
Miyuki respectfully bowed, to which Yuuka shook her head from left to
right for.
“Such an expression is not suitable. Her work was to risk her life to
protect me, and she was fulfilling her responsibility. She has no need to
worry anymore about being my substitute. If the other world is real, she
must be breathing in relief that she no longer has a need to be ordered
around at the mercy of a pampered girl.”
Yuuka’s excessively honest comments were making Miyuki
uncomfortable.
“Even though it’s the job of a Guardian, to make fun of someone who
protected you with her own life… I wonder if that’s appropriate?”
Yuuka was shocked and blinked her eyes countless times.
“It’s because Miyuki-san’s Guardian is your own older brother. I’m
sorry for inciting an unpleasant feeling.”
On the surface, Yuuka honestly bowed. However, her words seemed to
hint at other feelings, so Miyuki did not really receive the supposedly
honest apology from Yuuka.
“It is not unique to my brother and I. Putting aside the fact that Fumiyakun
does not have a Guardian, Katsushige-san does properly treasure
Kotona-san, right?”
Tsutsumi Kotona was Shibata Katsushige’s Guardian, and it was an
indisputable fact that Katsushige was taking care of Kotona. However,
that case was an inappropriate example. Contrary to Miyuki’s intention
to encourage Yuuka to reflect, it made her laugh calmly instead.
“Well, Katsushige-san and Kotona-san are like 'that' after all.”
Miyuki turned her stare aside in disappointment at Yuuka who continued
to laugh and giggle. She couldn’t deny the blunder that she’d just made.
“Anyway, without having Onii-sama and I together with you, you can
arrange an escort immediately right? Unlike us, Yuuka-san, you have the
Tsukuba Family with you after all.”
Yuuka stopped laughing, she saw the glance from Miyuki.
“Well, that’s true.”
Yuuka sat upright towards her.
“It’s hard to find someone who’s on par with your brother… Moreover,
it’s not bad for Miyuki-san, too, right? It’s impossible to take a taxi all
the way to the Main House after all, and Tatsuya-san only has a license
for a motorbike right?”
Indeed, she couldn’t exactly tell a taxi driver to drive all the way to the
Yotsuba Family's House which was not located on the map, and it was
impossible for a motorbike to bring too many things.
However, that was never a problem from the beginning. 
“As long as I contact them beforehand, I can request for a car to pick us
up at the station. I have done so since last year, and I will be doing so
this year as well.”
Miyuki was the niece of the current Family Head, regardless of her
position in being a next Family Head candidate. It was a given that she
was treated as a VIP to the extent of picking her up from the station.
“Yuuka-san as well, didn’t you do the same until last year?”
Car driving had reached the level of semi-auto drive. Even without the
support of the transport system, the burden of driving was already much
lesser than in the past.
Even so, the fatigue brought on by driving was not completely
eliminated. It took only two hours to travel from Tokyo to the Main
House, but it was much easier to take a ride to the nearest station and
have people to pick them up from there. There was no need to
specifically drive on her own.
“I don’t mind that either. However, it’s best if you don’t do that.”
“Why is that so? There hasn’t been any inconvenience until now.”
“Until last time, that is. However, it’s better to stop that for now. I can’t
say the reason though.”
Can’t say the reason, which meant that it was not only her ungrounded
concern, but rather Yuuka had very clear grounds for her reasoning.
“Yuuka-san, is there something that you know?”
“I can’t say that.”
“…Why, can’t I do so even if it’s the same as last year? What kind of
merit will I get in going together with Yuuka-san?”
“I can’t say that either.”
Miyuki stared deeply at her, but Yuuka was warding it off with innocent
eyes.
“…I see.”
The one who broke the stance was Miyuki.
It wasn’t due to her weakness. Miyuki simply did not have any means to
make Yuuka talk.
Even if she used magic.
Yotsuba Magicians were categorized into two, those who specialized in
Mental Interference Magic and those that possessed a unique, powerful
magic. Miyuki specialized in an extremely powerful and unique Mental
Interference Magic, hence, she possessed both traits. On the other hand,
Yuuka was only a typical Mental Interference Magician.
Regardless of their capabilities in defeating an opponent, Yuuka was
more versatile in techniques used to force others to confess secrets. At
the very least, she was not using any violence on the surface but a way
to extract information without force.
“Regarding your offer, I will answer you after consulting with my
brother.”
“Really? Then, I’m expecting a good answer from the both of you.”
Yuuka stood up from the sofa.
She said to Minami ‘the tea was delicious’ when the entrance was
opened, and left with a rough greeting of ‘see you’ to Miyuki who was
sending her out from the Shiba’s home.
◊ ◊ ◊
“Yuuka-san... Such a thing.”
When Tatsuya reached home, he heard of Yuuka’s visit and offer from
Miyuki and he stopped to think for a while. Of course, he was unable to
draw any conclusion from Yuuka’s, no, the Tsukuba Family’s intention
only from that much exchange of words. However, after hearing
Yuuka’s offer and Mitsugu’s unreasonable request, he couldn’t help but
think that these two occurrences were unmistakably related with one
another.
“She did not try to give a vague reason, but told you that she ‘can’t’ say
it?”
“Yes. It seems like she was hiding something that she knew about.”
In other words, something was going to happen. It was not only at the
level of conjecture, but determined information. And that something was
going to happen during the New Year’s Gathering, no, along the way to
the Main House from here.
There was a possibility that Yuuka’s remarks were made in order to
cause paranoia for Tatsuya and Miyuki, which would discourage them
from going to the New Year’s Gathering. However, when taking into
consideration Mitsugu’s intimidation (that there’d be attempts of attack
against us) into account, the possibility seemed to elevate.
(Where will they attack? More importantly, who’s the target? Miyuki?
Or is it me?)
If it were Tatsuya, it would not be uncommon. Whenever he did any
secret missions, he was always careful not to let others know about his
identity. There shouldn’t even be any witnesses. However, if he let
someone slip away by mistake, and the organization where that person
came from swore to take revenge regardless of the risk, it wouldn’t be
strange to have one or two enemies like that.
However, if it were a temporary retaliation of an illegal organization, he
had no idea as to why they’d choose this kind of timing. 
If they chose an out-of-sight place, the result would be the exact
opposite for a magician opponent. Besides, the attack could let him turn
the tables with ‘self-defense’ as an excuse, so this method had a high
risk.
On the other hand, if the target were Miyuki, the mastermind could be
narrowed down to nearly a single cause: the succession to be the
Yotsuba Family Head. Tatsuya thought that it did not hold any worth to
beat other families just to get the status of Family Head. If Miyuki
wished to decline, Tatsuya wouldn’t even mind. From his point of view,
the other candidates seemed to be reluctant as well. The eager ones were
the adults.
Still, there wasn’t anything that would need drastic action to suit the
adult’s convenience. The route from the station to the Main House was
also home ground for the Branch Families of the Yotsuba. It was a
perfect venue for cover-ups or assault-and-feign-innocence.
If the target were Miyuki, it would be better to accept Yuuka’s offer.
There was a possibility that the assailant would retreat if they knew that
Yuuka was with them, and he would be getting help from the Tsukuba
Family if they were actually attacked.
On the contrary, if Tatsuya was the target, they would likely be forced
into a disadvantage if Yuuka was with them. It would cause him to
suffer more serious collateral damage if he was to accept Yuuka’s
proposal.
Nevertheless, they might be forced to make a certain concession if he
were to accept Yuuka’s proposal. Yuuka might be forced to do it by the
assailant’s instruction. Yet, the collateral damage received by Yuuka
will remain to be a debt to both Tatsuya and Miyuki. In the end, the one
who would gain the most would be Yuuka. Even if she felt no benefit
with possessing the next Family Head position, it was a disadvantage for
them to be indebted to another party who might become the next head. 
“Let’s reject it.”
After thinking things through for a long while, Tatsuya stated his
conclusion. Within his mind, a voice kept telling him that it was alright
to accept Yuuka’s offer. His intuition also whispered the same.
However, the benefits were too uncertain, and he judged that the
disadvantages were greater if he were to accept Yuuka’s offer.
“Understood. Then, I’ll contact Yuuka-san.”
She didn’t use the telephone with the large display in the living room, so
she probably intended to contact Yuuka from a smaller display terminal
in her room. Miyuki bowed to her brother and went up to the second
floor.
◊ ◊ ◊
“I’m sorry, even though you offered us…”
“I feel disappointed, but don’t mind it. It was a sudden request after all.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“It’s alright. However, if you encounter anything, don’t hold back to
contact me.”
“Yes, thank you very much.”
“Then, I’ll wait for your further contact.”
After putting back the video phone on the table, Yuuka laid her back on
the large sofa in her living room. She even extended her feet in
relaxation. It was a little disgraceful kind of conduct for a young lady,
but she was currently living in the apartment alone. There were neither
servants nor her mother to preach to her about manners here. 
Before she reached 20, her mother and housekeepers alternately came,
but all of them stopped coming as soon as she had turned 20. In Yuuka’s
consciousness, she was enjoying 20 years’ worth of freedom for the past
two years. Since her housemate who didn’t really talk much was gone,
she had the whole place as her private space. She was thinking that a
free, unrestrained life was good.
While she was still relaxing, she mulled over Miyuki’s response to her
offer.
It was within her calculations that Miyuki would reject the offer. Rather,
it would have been a surprise for Miyuki to accept her offer, given the
limited information that Yuuka gave. There was a possibility that
Miyuki thought that she would request the next Family Head position
from Miyuki.
Anyways, Yuuka was not particularly interested in gaining the status of
becoming the Yotsuba Family Head.
In the first place no matter how many candidates were selected, there
was no meaning besides adjusting the appearance. Furthermore, if they
were to comply with the Yotsuba’s rules faithfully, Shiba Miyuki would
be fully determined as the next Family Head. Currently, there was no
better magician than Miyuki in the Yotsuba. Even when compared to the
current Family Head, Maya, Miyuki was still better as a magician. At the
very least, the Tsukuba Family knew this fact.
Yuuka, no, the Tsukuba Family, had decided two years ago that they
would support Miyuki as the next Family Head. Since then, Yuuka was
released from the monitoring and fuss, as it was assumed that she would
not to be the next Family Head of the Yotsuba. Though, they didn’t give
up the candidacy in order to use it to maintain sway as with the other
Branch Families.
“Moreover, Miyuki-san has that ‘Onii-sama’, too.”
Yuuka knew what happened last year on the 31st of October at the
Tsushima Base and the southern tip of Korean Peninsula. She also knew
of what happened in Okinawa, back in August from four years ago.
“I’m not even sure I can win against Miyuki-san alone, much less when
she has such a powerful human weapon as her ally.”
Yuuka had no drinking habit. This time, however, she thought that it
would be better if she drank some.
She recalled the instance when she gave in to her mood and ended up
having a hangover (fortunately the drugs developed for hangovers were
able to immediately take effect), even before she brought the cup to her
mouth.
“Even so… To have Tatsuya-san to serve her, that is just crazy. Even
though there is no guarantee that he would keep quiet forever.”
Instead of a glass of wine, she poured out a bright red brewed rose hip
tea to a glass tea cup, for the sake of their similar appearances, and drank
the tea before her in one go.
“Shibata Oji-sama, Kuroba Oji-sama, and Shizuka Oji-sama, too, why
do they have such enmity towards Tatsuya-san? I thought that Tatsuyasan
is an important force for the Yotsuba though…”
She tilted the glass tea cup slightly, and Yuuka frowned a little. On top
of the high temperature, the color emphasized that it was too darkly
brewed.
“No, it’s not only the Oji-sama’s… Even the Main House’s staff also
treat Tatsuya like a failure. The servants treat him so rudely, what the
hell is the meaning behind all that?”
Yuuka took a sip of the rose hip tea. She was probably used to the sour
taste, as she did not make a frown on her face this time. 
“Okaa-sama also never told me why Tatsuya-san receives such
treatment… I wonder if there is such a deep-rooted karma to this
extent?”
Yuuka placed the tea cup with half of its contents on the table. She went
to the bathroom right behind her, while a HAR manipulator came down
from the ceiling to send the cup to the kitchen.
If Miyuki were to be the next Family Head in this upcoming New Year’s
Gathering, the reason behind Tatsuya’s unnatural diminishing treatment
might also be revealed. Yuuka thought so, voicelessly.
◊ ◊ ◊
After her call with Yuuka, Miyuki made a call to the Main House,
asking to be picked up at the station on the 29th of December. Actually,
if she was ordered to attend the New Year’s Gathering, as long as she
could arrive by the 31st, everything would be alright even if she took into
account the time needed for preparation. The main reason why she asked
to be picked up on the 29th was unmistakably due to taking into account
the possibility of any disturbances that could occur.
The one who received the call was the butler, Obara, a former traffic riot
police, who was the person in-charge of transportation arrangements.
After the call with Obara, it was decided that they would be picked up at
the station at 1 P.M. This plan was to be kept confidential otherwise.
When Miyuki arrived safely, the information would be communicated to
all of the employees working in the Main House.
◊ ◊ ◊
Shibata Katsushige had just joined the Ministry of Defense this year as
an Office Worker. Although there was no forced attendance, and the
general public holidays were regularly available, there was no lengthy
winter break like he was used to having as a student. Today, he had just
gotten back from his newcomer job——also referred to as
miscellaneous——to his apartment.
As if waiting for this timing, his phone rang and the screen displayed an
incoming call.
“Katsushige-san, let me.”
“No, it’s fine.”
Kotona welcomed him home at the entrance but she was restrained and
ordered to return to the living room so Katsushige operated the wallattached
type terminal.
“Tou-san… is there something?”
The person who appeared on the display was his father whom he had
just met with three days ago, the Head of the Shibata Family, one of
Yotsuba Family’s Branch Families.
“Katsushige, you’ve reached home?”
“Yes, I’ve just arrived.”
“I see. Well,

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