It’s warm and it feels good, so I don’t want to get up.
I don’t want to get up, so maybe if I just curl up a little more under the blankets, I can go back to sleep, because it feels wonderful—
“Hey! Are you going to sleep all day? We’re gonna be late, you know!”
A girl’s voice. It’s the most familiar voice in the world. …And she sounds angry.
No such luck, I guess. So I open my eyes.
…Standing next to my bed and glaring down at me is the girl I’ve lived with for the past two years, Rose R. Crawford.
She’s over a year younger than me, but she’s my tutor, and she came to live with me because our master assigned her to take care of me. Um, she’s sharp-tongued sometimes, she talks like a guy, and she acts like I can’t handle very much, but she’s very level-headed and I think she’s got it together a lot more than other girls her age.
…And, um, she’d definitely hit me if I said so, but maybe that’s the reason she’s not very girlish.
“It’s already six-thirty, you know! If you don’t get up we’re going to be late for school!”
“…Sorry, I’m sorry. But couldn’t you just let me sleep a little if it’s only six-thirty?”
Rose stands up taller and folds her arms.
Maybe it’s that she’s already wearing her new high school uniform, but she looks impressive and as I’m still sleepy, I feel bad, like I’ve just been mouthing off to my teacher.
…Gah, what am I thinking? That’s exactly what I just did—
“Sorry. I’m just still really tired, it’s hard for me to think too much. I’ll be more awake in a second.”
I sit up and rub my eyes.
Rose makes a face and then stares at me.
“Well, since you’ve apologized twice now, maybe I’ll forgive you if you don’t give any more excuses. Hurry up and get changed, and I’ll go make some breakfast.”
She turns so quickly that her skirt makes a swishing sound against the sheets of my bed, and crosses my room. She stops at the door and turns to look back at me, maybe to see if I’m really going to get up or not. It makes me smile. Rose has got her cute sides, after all, and she’s not just my tutor—she’s been a combination of best friend and substitute mother to me all this time.
…Hold on, she’s smirking.
Um, Rose. I was just complimenting you in my head, so could you please stop making scary faces at me…?
“It’s going to be today or tomorrow, after all. I want you nice and awake when I beat you for good—”
With a big smile on her face like she’s already won, Rose leaves and heads down the hall. …Her lively footsteps sound almost like she’s skipping, that’s how badly she wants this.
She’s my friend and I owe her a lot, but she has her scary sides too. It’s even just me that she bullies, which makes it a lot worse.
I go down the hall to use the bathroom and wash my face, and while I’m down there I change into my uniform.
…The girls’ uniforms at my high school are fashionable and austere-looking, with a tan blazer over a white blouse and a gray skirt. I think it’s the ribbons that really do it though, as they have a line of gold thread that gives an impression of quality. Even if a really plain girl were to wear our uniform, I’m sure she’d stand right out in a crowd because of the combination of colors. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.
Well, Rose likes the uniform even more than I do. When she got hers in the mail, she acted her age for once, dancing around and around and insisting that I take pictures when she first tried it on. She puts her uniform on really early in the morning too, when she could go around the house in her pajamas and not worry about it. I mean, what if she spilled something cooking? Wouldn’t she be sad?
…All that said, the guys’ uniform is rather plain and I’m not sure it suits me very well. The tan color looks dignified on dark-haired guys, but it makes the color of my hair look strange.
Maybe it’s just my vanity, but I don’t see how I’m going to impress anybody in my class if the uniform doesn’t look good on me.
I’ve never been on a date at my age, and even though Rose and I aren’t exactly normal, that makes me worry every now and then.
I straighten out my uniform and head into the kitchen and dining room, where I can hear the sound of something frying. I also smell sugar—oh, so that was what Rose meant by making toast.
I can see her in front of the stovetop. She’s smiling while she fries bread to make French toast, and her gestures are competent and assured.
Rose really has it together.
…I can cook easy things, and sometimes harder meals if I have instructions, but Rose is a pretty good cook. She likes making Western food, and knows how to make some Japanese and Chinese meals, too.
It’s a little strange to see her making French toast, though, because she complains that eating too much of it makes her fat.
She must be celebrating.
After all, soon it’ll be starting, the reason we were told to move to Fuyuki City in the first place—
When I sit down on my cushion at the table, Rose looks over at me and smiles.
…She really looks domestic, and I’m surprised.
With her shining black hair and green eyes, Rose has always been pretty, but today I think she’s actually really beautiful. Somehow, girls always look best when they’re doing something confidently.
Maybe it just makes me realize the gap between her, succeeding at everything she does, and myself. …Maybe it just means I’m a failure as a man. I’m her student and wouldn’t even count as a sempai, but it feels kind of bad that I can’t take the workload off my best friend even a little bit.
“Wow, you really did get up. I thought you were going to roll over and go back to sleep even though I picked on you, and then I’d have to go kick you out of bed even more.”
I sigh, because I might have considered it if I knew Rose wasn’t going to get mad.
“Wait, what would you have done with all that toast if I hadn’t gotten up?”
Rose makes a face like she’s laughing at me.
“I’d have eaten it all and gloated, of course.”
She puts the finished toast onto two plates, takes out a bottle of syrup, and uses the syrup to write our names across our toast.
…Hey, Rose. I thought you said you’d get fat if you ate too much of that. Is making fun of me that much more important to you? You’re really scary.
“Thank you for the food.”
The toast was really good, and I didn’t stop to say anything once I started eating it. Rose is giving me a good smile from across the table, because she knows I liked it.
…She’s much easier to be around when she’s happy.
I take all the plates and wash them, along with the frying pan, while Rose puts some leftovers from last night into bento boxes and checks both our school bags. Neither of us says much, because this has gotten to be a comfortable routine.
Before I know it, it’s 7:10.
Rose hands me my bag.
“We’re going to have to hurry if we don’t want to be late,” she says, and heads for the door. I follow her, and lock up.
Rose and I have this whole house to ourselves. It’s a first, and we had a lot of rules impressed on us, so together we make sure we follow them.
I mean, it would be a disgrace for both of us as well as our master and his organization if we didn’t take care of the house we were given.
To someone who’s just gotten here, Fuyuki City is a pretty normal-looking place.
It’s a city with two halves—the residential district called Miyama, which is the side of the town that we live on, and the part that looks more like a city, Shinto. A river splits the city into its two sides, and it’s connected by a big bridge.
I haven’t been to Shinto much except to do the kinds of shopping I can’t in Miyama and for part-time work. We also go there together to report to our master.
Our school is in Miyama, and across a big intersection from us, there’s also another subdivision. Ours has Western-style houses, and it’s got Japanese-style ones. Miyama also has a shopping district, like I said, and a Buddhist temple.
The weather is very mild here, meaning that there isn’t much snow in the winter, but summers are cool, too. The name of the city means “Winter Tree”, and I remember hearing someone say that it was named that because of the weather.
Well, I don’t know that much about it, since we only moved here two years ago.
If you want a lot of connections in the city, you have to go to the Fujimura family, but the Tohsaka family are actually the owners of the land.
Our master tried to contact the head of the family, but apparently she’s at graduate school at the Clock Tower, in London. When he finally got hold of her, she said that he should contact the deputy head instead.
The deputy head of the family isn’t even named Tohsaka anymore, and she lives in one of the Japanese houses.
I remember meeting her once when we first moved here, and even though I don’t remember her name, I do know that she was very kind and very powerful.
Things got settled very quickly after that, and so we got a nice place, one of the houses left empty because of the fifth one. It has a basement big enough for Rose to use as her “workshop”, and to help teach me.
We’ve gotten used to this kind of life after two years, and Fuyuki City feels like home.
Maybe it’s because this is the kind of life that we’ve made for ourselves, instead of having it made for us by the adults who have always ruled over us—
Because we hurried, Rose and I make it to school in plenty of time. We slow down after we get through the school gates.
I would have liked to use the track a little bit, but I might not be able to today because I did get up a bit late. It’s all right, though, since the day after tomorrow I should be able to, and tonight I have to cross town to work.
Rose impressed it into me that I need to keep my body fit if I want to be any good at what I do, so I try to run a few laps and do stretches most days.
It’s not like I really work out or that I have big muscles, but I’m not in any sports—I just need to be able to react to things quickly and not have trouble moving my body when I want to.
It was before I knew her, but Rose says that she took years of gymnastics lessons when she was little, and now she just has to maintain her body. I believe her, because she has just the right kind of body for that kind of thing.
Um, from what I can tell, anyway.
Anyhow, we both go up the stairs, and when Rose heads down the hall towards her classroom, I go up one more flight of stairs and head for room 2-B.
There are already some students around, working on homework or studying.
The girl who’s waving in my direction, slouching with her feet up on her desk as though she doesn’t realize she’s wearing a skirt, is Serene.
She acts like a guy and doesn’t like being called by her last name. Because she’s more like a delinquent than anything else, she won’t ever get me to call her with “-chan” or “-san”, and I’d laugh at her if she tried.
She’s just not ladylike enough.
“Well, you’re in class early.” She crosses her legs and leers at me like she knows something that I don’t.
I’m not in a mood to be picked on twice this morning, so I just nod to her and go sit down.
From the other side of the room, a blond girl with a blue ribbon waves to me with a bright smile.
“Don’t forget we have a meeting today, Ein!”
“I won’t forget.”
This is Mimee Madder Browden, the president of the school club that Rose and I belong to.
Unlike that poor specimen over in the other corner, Mimee-san is a proper upperclassman to her fellow club members who is cheerful, energetic, and gets good grades.
She likes to look after the younger girls, too, and her habit of reading lots of manga means that she has a lot of admirers among the guys in our class, even though I don’t think she knows that.
I look through my things and take a peek at my lunch to pass the time. …Rose has packed everything perfectly, and she’s also given me some fresh rice balls that are covered in some kind of purple seasoning.
…Well, knowing her, they’ll taste just fine.
The first homeroom bell rings, and our teacher walks into the room, so I put my things under my desk and pay attention—
The bell rings, and students start to trickle out of the classroom, all talking cheerfully to each other. I check to make sure I have everything, and hang back for a little while.
A hand taps me on the shoulder, and I look up to see that Mimee-san has come over to stand by my desk.
“We’d better get going.”
I nod and follow her.
We leave the classroom and go down the stairs to Rose’s classroom, 1-A.
Most of the other students are already leaving the school, and almost all of our club members are already here.
…This is an unusual student organization that was only established in the past few years, and it’s difficult to get into.
Well, our supervisor tries to make sure it sounds as boring as possible, so that only people like us will be interested in joining.
If any normal kids tried to get in, that would be a problem.
So we’re the Occultism Club, and if anyone asks, we’re interested in learning the history of magic. We all memorize at least a little of the most boring facts we can find about European earth-based religion, or “paganism”, to parrot at non-qualified hopefuls so that we can scare them off.
I do feel a little bit bad for them, but—
Including myself, this club has six members, and only we and our teacher know that this is a kind of study group for “magi”—
Fuyuki is a city that has attracted a great deal of magi.
By magi, obviously I mean those who are able to use magic.
To someone who’s never heard of magic, it’s difficult to explain—it’s nothing like pulling rabbits out of hats or pointing a wand at something, saying “abracadabra”, and getting anything at all you want.
Actually, most magic nowadays accomplishes things that modern technology can.
“Magic is moving towards the past, while technology is moving towards the future.
They’ll wind up in the same place at the end, as they’re both heading towards the zero point—”
This is something that a famous sorcerer once said.
I don’t really understand it, but I guess that’s the case.
Anyhow, magic is like a shortcut to accomplish things that would ordinarily be done with a lot of work, using only one’s willpower and the energy of the world.
The only true goal of magic is to reach Akasha, the Origin of all things. Hence, to study magic is to abandon common sense and embrace the death that is always standing right beside you—
I should also explain that there are three types of people who use magic.
Magi are the kind that are trying to reach the Origin, and are usually long-standing families or clans that pass down their knowledge from generation to generation through a transplantable glyph called a Magic Crest. They are different from humans, because they concentrate their ability to use magic in order to produce Magic Circuits, which are the paths that magic travels through a human body. They also obey the Magic Association, which is a kind of organization that tries to keep the existence of magic hidden whatever the cost.
Most people who use magic are magi.
Then there are sorcerers, whose magic can produce miracles that are impossible by ordinary means. They’re the kind of people who can do the kind of magic that kids’ books talk about.
But they’re very rare, and there are only five sorcerers known. They can do ridiculous things with magic, things the rest of us would never dream of, and they’re all very famous and very revered, like Kaleidoscope Zelretch and Aozaki Aoko.
The third kind of people who use magic are magic users. They usually stick to using the magic in their own bodies rather than the kind in the air, and because of that they are often much weaker than magi. Some don’t even have proper Magic Circuits, and use their nerves to channel magic instead.
Because everyone has some kind of magic that’s suited to them, they can still use magic, but without a Magic Crest it’s much more dangerous. Plus, if they aren’t approved by the magi whose lands they live on and if they don’t adhere to the laws of the Magic Association, they’re branded as heretics and hunted down.
Fuyuki is a city owned by a family of magi—the Tohsaka family.
Another family of magi called the Matou lived here too, until their Magic Circuits died out. And other groups and families of magi have often come through these lands in the past.
Therefore, it’s not unusual for there to be so many magi, even though Fuyuki is filled with mundane people who know nothing about the existence of magic.
The advisor of our club is Cierra-sensei, a magus who has been living here for several years and asked the Tohsaka head for permission to help young magi study.
For herself, she says that she’s studying abroad to get more experience as a magus. Rose says that Cierra-sensei is talented, and might be pretty good as a researcher once she gets it together.
I think that’s a little cruel, because Cierra-sensei is very good at teaching the basics and at helping people.
Mimee-san is from a small magus family, and her Magic Crest is about five generations old. This means that her magic is nowhere near as powerful as that of the Tohsaka family, or even as powerful as Cierra-sensei’s, but she’s also very talented.
The other members of our club are Aura-san, Fia-san, and Pamela-chan, who are all in Rose’s class. Aura-san and Fia-san are from old families, and Pamela-chan is from a new family but has an unusually large number of Magic Circuits.
Rose is probably the most skilled member, though. She won’t even tell me how old her Magic Crest is, but she has twenty-five Magic Circuits and she’s years ahead of everyone else.
…That’s probably why our master chose her as my tutor. She can do things that even Cierra-sensei can’t.
As for me, well—
I’m not of much use to anyone in this club, who Cierra-sensei helps with things like Magic Crest integration, meditating techniques, using their Magic Circuit switch, and learning to transfer energy.
Because I’m no magus, just a magic user who’s no good at manipulating energy at all when transforming energy is the root of a magus’ power.
I only have a handful of Magic Circuits, and the only kind of magic I’m anywhere near good at is projection.
And I even fail at projection nine out of ten times.
I can do very basic strengthening, too—if I’m very lucky.
The most I usually do when I try is inflame my Magic Circuits and wind up weak and sluggish for a few hours until they heal.
So the only reason I’m a part of this club is to keep Rose company, and be around people who know about magic the same way I do—
The club lasts for an hour, and the sky is already reddish-orange when we leave, waving goodbye to everyone else.
Rose gives me a strange look when I turn towards the road I always take to the bridge, but then stops and shakes her head.
“Yeah, you have work tonight, don’t you?”
“Only a little bit. Our boss just wants us to clear up and do some shelving, and then I can come home. We shouldn’t have any work to do until next month, actually, so we’re getting a bonus.”
Rose nods with approval. Our master makes sure that we have a small allowance enough to pay for the house and any living expenses—Rose keeps the papers, because they just confuse me—but both of us take some part-time work here and there just in case.
And besides, I do have plans for tonight’s money.
Rose and I part under the skies that are turned brilliant colors by the sunset, and she tells me to make sure that I come straight home and don’t run around after dark.
Um, but Rose, that’s the kind of thing I should say to you.
You’re the girl here.
Work is over now, and I stop by the bookstore on my way back.
I got 10,000 yen as a bonus, and a lot of that is going to get put into our savings, but—
It’s pretty easy to find what I want, and the clerk isn’t surprised. She asks me if I’m sure I don’t want the book wrapped, which is embarrassing, but I think it’s a good sign.
Anyway, once I have it in a bag and have got my change, I hurry back across the bridge. From here, it’s faster to go through the park if I want to get to the crosswalk that leads back home. The sun is almost down, and if it’s really dark by the time I get back, Rose is going to get mad again.
When I head to the park…
…there are two little girls sitting on the swings that I’ve never seen before.
…Well, it’s wrong to call them little girls. They’re small, but they’re probably around middle school age; their size just fooled me a bit from far away.
One has red hair, and the other’s hair is pink. They’re both wearing white dresses and what look like they could be blue raincoats, even though it’s not supposed to rain tonight, and they’re holding hands, swinging in silence.
I kind of want to tell them to get home and that it’s not good to be out late at night, but it’s none of my business and I don’t want to bother them, so I just keep heading down the sidewalk.
There’s a pattering of little footsteps and then the two of them are standing in front of me.
…Um, a little too closely.
Both of them are staring up at me with smiles. They almost reach up to my shoulders even though I’m not very tall.
“Is it going to be you, Onii-chan?” asks the closer one, the one with pink hair.
“There are still four seats open, so will you be in one, Onii-chan?” asks the other one, a little more politely.
…They could be sisters, as they’re acting very alike, and they look almost the same.
Except for the color of their eyes and hair.
But I don’t really know what they’re talking about, and I tell them so.
And now they turn to each other.
“Um—are you really sure it’s him?”
“I’m sure I’m sure! Um. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet?”
They turn up to me again, wide-eyed.
“But it shouldn’t take too much longer, should it? Maybe a day or two.”
“That’s what Master says.”
“Yeah, and Master should know.”
They turn to me and bow.
…Um, I’m not sure whether to say that they’re really cute or just weird.
“So maybe we’ll see you again soon, Onii-chan!”
“Good night, Onii-chan.” She tugs on the other’s sleeve, and the two girls vanish into the night.
From the park, it’s about ten minutes before I make it home.
“Yeah, you’re back. Ugh, what took you?” Rose’s voice sounds like it’s coming from the living room.
I take my shoes off, and head into my room to change out of my uniform. Since it’s so late, I just put on a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt that needs washing. Straightening my clothes, I head back down the hall and into the living room.
Rose is sitting on a cushion at the kotatsu, watching the news. She has a scary kind of glare on her face, too.
“…They’re getting impatient.”
She doesn’t seem worried at all as she turns back towards me with a “Nevermind”. But she does make an incredible scowl at me as though she’s getting ready to tear strips out of me for coming back even a little later than she wanted.
“I’m getting started on dinner in just a second, okay? I stopped to pick something up for you, so don’t be mad.”
I offer her the paper bag from the bookstore, and Rose turns the TV off and comes to pick it up. The dangerous expression is gone, and I sigh with relief. Inwardly. It’d be even more dangerous to let her see.
When Rose has the bag, I head towards the kitchen and pick up the apron from the peg on the wall. Um, I think we have enough ground beef in the freezer to make some thin hamburger patties, and that shouldn’t take too long to make. Jeez, I really am late coming home. At least it’s not bad enough that we have to make instant food like freeze-dried noodles or kimchi.
I’m already bordering on being a failure as a man. I don’t want to actually become one.
“Hey Ein, this is…!”
Rose, whose hobby is books, has discovered the novel I bought at the bookstore.
Lately, whenever we passed by there on our way to or from a part-time job, she’d spend a second or two giving it looks of longing through the window.
I think it’s part of a series of murder mysteries she’s been reading, that examine the closed-room types of crime.
…You wouldn’t believe it by looking at her, but Rose eats these kinds of books up. And not just murder mysteries, but any kind of book.
When Rose is acting as a magus, a magus is all she is. It’s like she turns off everything that’s human about her. Having taken lessons from her for a while, it’s almost easy to forget that she has a side to her like this.
…She’s already sitting down and starting to read.
“I’ll tell you when dinner’s ready, okay?”
It looks like today I’ve done a good deed.
Rose’s smiling face is enough to make me forget about all my worries for a while. And if I’m not worrying, I’ll be able to cook better. That should make her happy, too.
Dinner went without any problems, and I completed today’s homework on our lunch break. Rose says she has preparations to make, so I go run the bath. Once I’m clean, I put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket and head back to my room.
It’s hard to believe that this might actually be the last normal day that Ein and Rose live in this house—
With a troubling thought like that, I close my eyes and go to sleep.