Bonds are made through meetings
Class had already begun by the time Horinouchi returned to the classroom.
Pursuit of a servant was nothing more than determining its direction by confirming the trajectory of the ether produced as it moved. Shinto spells removed all that was unnecessary, so they made for highly accurate “pathfinding” spells.
Once it was found and captured, it would be brought back and she would begin her negotiation. But for now…
…I should put those thoughts on hold.
She faced forward.
She was inside a stepped classroom. Shihouin Academy’s general education division had around fifty students in each year.
They were few, but they were the elite. Most of them had unique traits, so classes had a tendency to focus on general knowledge and ethics.
This was the same. At the bottom of the stepped classroom, a teacher opened a spell circle in front of a large blackboard.
“Hexennacht. You will be the stars of that night and you third years need to be especially aware of that.”
She held up the spell circle which automatically typed out her words. It was a public spell of Shihouin Academy and many of the third years had activated their own because of its efficient ether consumption.
Horinouchi was different.
She opened a vermilion circular torii that caught the teacher’s words as she thought.
…What can I do to secure my place in Hexennacht?
Suddenly, the teacher pointed at the girl next to her.
“Yes, ma’am,” said the girl as she stood up.
She glanced over at Horinouchi and gave a gesture saying “leave it to me”. Most likely, the teacher had started to point at Horinouchi but hesitated.
It was Horinouchi’s fault for getting lost in thought.
She nodded back and the neighboring girl brought a hand to her chin in a dignified pose.
“Magical girl isn’t the right answer, is it? I did want to be one, though.”
“Unfortunately, so did I,” said the teacher. “I’m a magical woman now.”
Horinouchi wanted to believe the class’s silent lack of laughter was out of consideration.
“Anyway,” said the neighboring girl. “The technical classification is a spell attack soldier from the spell branch of the military.”
“Correct. And what demographic is it composed of?”
“One hundred percent female.”
“Correct,” said the teacher again.
She smiled and waved her hand up and down to tell the girl to sit.
The girl complied and the teacher walked across the podium.
She moved left and opened a spell circle in front of the blackboard. It displayed a graph with years running left to right and numbers of people running up and down. A red line drew a rectangle, but it radically declined partway through before gradually rising and finally gaining a sudden and rapid rise.
“This is an estimate of how many ‘witches’ were present in the world over time. They were known as shamans, medicine women, and fortunetellers in ancient times. In times of uncertainty, they were hunted as scapegoats and their numbers decreased. However, they made a comeback after the Reformation when Europe developed into a large-scale battlefield. In modern times, they began in Prussia and rose to the forefront. They were even the major fighters during World Wars One and Two. Why was that? …You there.”
A girl by the window immediately answered without standing.
“Active spells,” she said. “Both men and women can use spells, but women excel at active ones and men excel at passive ones and neither can outdo the other. So from a combat perspective, women are the attackers and men are the defenders.”
She continued quietly.
“But in modern times, we can mass-produce as many weapons and equipment as we need and servants have been developed to act as our familiars. This has led to an age where that sword and shield relationship is tilted overwhelmingly in the sword direction. Meanwhile, the shield side can gather as a group to set up barriers to protect cities and the like, so the battlefield has divided between the defended positions and the attackers who struggle over the lines between those positions. In other words, the witches have become the stars of battle.”
“Correct. This division was noticed long ago and the witch hunts were secretly fueled by fears that the existing patriarchal society would lose its power. In the end, the nations that sent their women to the front lines of the battlefield had a drastic reduction in population, so after the initial stages, most wars get bogged down in a struggle to find a way to send one’s defensive line of men into the enemy nation.”
The teacher was not done.
“But you all know why wars like that only ever exist for a short time, don’t you?”
“Hexennacht occurs once every ten years. And ever since the Middle Ages, mankind has worked to resist it.”
A servant was an artificial spirit.
Despite only just having gone outside for the first time, the dragon child knew the outside world.
It was fifteen centimeters tall. It could fly, but flying had brought pursuit earlier. Even if it was artificial, it inherited the instincts of the creature it was based on. It was certain that being pursued would lead to its demise, so it immediately chose to hide.
It was currently east of Heiwajima in Ota. It was behind a shopping district off the main road.
It had knowledge of the land, the time, and the language. It was aware it was meant to support someone, but it also knew it could not do so in this situation.
It was in danger.
It understood that too.
It could analyze its own abilities on the level of instinct. It had been created for Hexennacht with an absolute focus on ether extraction ability.
But that extraction was too powerful. In what seemed like a freak accident, the pathways had joined together and its output was far greater than estimated.
The temporary acclaim had quickly changed to disappointment.
It had been decided that no spell user could contain the amount of ether the dragon child extracted. There had apparently been negotiations with some skilled witches, but they all already had a similar existence.
It had been created by accident, so parts of it were uncontrollable.
They had taken data on it, so they could apparently reproduce something similar that they could control. In other words, it was not needed.
It understood the idea of self-destruction.
That was something all servants had an instinctive understanding of.
It was meant to support someone, so it would be eliminated if that was not possible. It did not resist or question that fact.
Thinking that was simply how things were, it sat still and the door opened.
It was opened by someone.
The dragon child did not know who, but someone had opened the door to this room inside of which it should have entered eternal sleep.
It then recalled something. When it had been revealed to be a failure, someone had placed it on their hand and said the following:
“Probably the only person who could become your master would be someone with an unbelievably large ether pool. Or…”
It did not know the rest, but it had an idea as the door opened.
…Search for someone like that?
It had heard no one like that existed, but the person who had put it on their hand had seemed disappointed. The ability to read emotion like that was another ability supplied on the instinct level.
So as it reached its front legs toward the door, it had another thought.
If it found someone like that, no one would have to be disappointed.
As a servant, gaining a master was the first and most meaningful thing it could do.
The door was opened. It led outside. It led to everything.
The dragon child had knowledge of the outside world. That knowledge had already been there at its birth. Why was that there? It could not use the knowledge if it slept.
So it moved outside. It could not let itself be caught. Being caught would lead to “disappointment”.
It heard a sudden voice from behind.
There had been nothing there before, but…
“So there is something like you here. How interesting.”
After the voice, the dragon child was suddenly lifted up from below its front legs.
The servant dragon child looked at the girl who had picked it up.
She wore a men’s suit yet she was not a man. But…
It could see the ether light surrounding her. In the darkness of this back alley, this may have been the first light that the servant saw.
Some kind of powerful divine protection or spell had washed over or passed through her, but…
Something was wrong.
What was “wrong”? Her power was.
Servants possessed a certain ability in their support role: to fully view someone’s power.
But what this dragon child sensed in the girl was not like any of the others it had seen.
Her ether pool was thin. She was a normal person with no training as a witch. Her ability was much lower than the average for a child. It might as well have been zero.
So this was the wrong person.
This person could not use spells and supporting her would put her in danger.
She would be unable to contain the overflowing ether which could even kill her.
So the dragon child shook its body to say it was too dangerous.
“Sorry. Do you want me to put you down?”
She readily lowered it to the ground.
She was kind.
It looked up in surprise for a number of reasons and saw her kneeling down.
“Wonderful. Just how rich is this world to produce such an unexpected being?”
“I am thankful for your existence.”
It did not understand. It was a “failure”, so why was it being thanked?
At any rate, what was it to do? It had struggled and been released, so how was it to react now that it had been thanked? It did not contain the proper knowledge to decide.
However, it heard something. It was an armored vehicle. Specifically, a Type 23 Six-Wheel APC from the UAHJ Shihouin Branch. Its anti-spell defenses were effective up to Rank 3, but its greatest ability was its transportation ability.
The front door opened and a young man in a suit hopped out. He opened an identification spell circle as he did.
“I am Amagi Koutarou, Division 2 Sub-Manager of the UAHJ Shihouin Branch. I want you to step away from that servant and give it to us! Do you understand!?”
While still crouched down, Kagami heard a group of footsteps lining up behind the man named Koutarou.
…Quite the show of force.
The “servant” was likely the dragon looking up at her. If it was a servant, what did it serve?
“Is there something wrong with this thing? It does not look dangerous to me.”
“Regulation of that unit failed. It cannot control its power and could even kill the user. It is in an extremely dangerous state and…”
…Oh, that kind of servant.
In other words, it was a familiar. Or perhaps it could be called a pressurizer.
She asked one thing.
“What happens after I hand it over to you?”
The bespectacled young man breathed in before finally giving a clear answer.
“It will of course be broken down in the regulatory facility as is the standard-…”
“It will not.”
Kagami ignored him and looked down.
The dragon child was looking up at her there.
“Go,” she told it. “Go and live. If you were born, then that is worth doing. And if you think you should release your power, then come to me. …I am the type that does not die easily.”
The dragon child hesitated before lowering its head. It may have been a nod or a bow, but it was a clever creature either way. It was wonderful.
But what was she to do now?
“Are you going to let it escape!?”
“What are you going to do?”
The men lined up in front of her. They wore helmets, ballistic armor that hid their bodies, and backpacks.
“It would be a lot of trouble if you got in our way.”
The young man frowned as he viewed her through a spell window. The glowing magic circle was a type of console and seemed to be a local technique.
“Where are you registered?”
“Oh? Do I have to be registered somewhere?”
“You can’t just throw out a custom dating back more than a century ago!”
He suddenly looked up into the sky and inhaled.
“It is unlikely, but it is possible you are also a troublesome existence. Are you aware of that?”
“I am, but I would rather not make that decision just yet,” said Kagami. “But you are in no position to answer that with a clear ‘yes’. And neither am I.”
“Then I apologize. …We will be acting at my discretion here.” He raised a hand. “I authorize the use of anti-witch equipment!”
The teacher raised her right hand, raised her fingers one by one, and then lowered them.
“Ten. Ten years.”
“We are approaching Hexennacht which occurs once every ten years. The spell attack soldiers are known as ‘witches’ and that name provides divine protection inherited from the past.”
The teacher smiled a little.
“I’m sorry to say it, but there is no equivalent term for males. But just as the military usually refers to theirs as a defensive occupation, their spells are mostly passive ones such as poison fighting or anti-spell. They can also act on their own during Hexennacht just like we can. …But their objective will be defense, so they end up staying behind. And we have had some success developing defensive spells by researching reactive defense using attack spells, so there is no need to bring them to the front lines at all.”
She reopened her closed hand and pointed at a girl by the hallway.
“However, there is one thing we must be careful about concerning the difference between the men and us. Do you know what that is?”
“Yes.” The girl stood up. “Should I show you?”
“No, this is just confirming what we all already know.”
“In that case…”
The girl’s shoulders relaxed and the slight tension left the other girls as well.
As that stiffness became relief, the girl spoke.
“The men can create self-defense divine protection on their own, but in exchange, there is one thing they can’t use.”
“Servants. A witch’s familiar. The very first servant ever created was ‘made for witches’ and all modern servants are its descendants, so only witches can use them. But the successful creation of pseudo-spirits allows the men to summon weapons.”
The teacher looked across the students.
They all gathered strength in their hands and reached for their necklaces or other decorations.
“Summon frames. Men can’t use servants or attack spells, so the most they can manage are Normal Devices. And when summoning them, they use a pseudo-servant known as a public servant.”
Kagami saw it happen.
On the top right side of the men’s backpacks, an upwards-facing launcher burst open and light shot out.
It was white light.
It was not a bullet, lightning, or even fire. It simply stopped in midair to protect each of them individually.
“Spirits? They look artificial, though.”
“This is one part of IAHJ’s male anti-witch equipment. It’s what you call defensive attack power.”
As the man spoke, the light vanished and appeared again. Once the light spirit on his shoulders trembled and scattered, it changed to a different form.
It was a weapon.
The light first formed an internal structure to secure its functionality. By the time Kagami recognized it as a “cannon”, it had already finished transforming and the bolts made of its own light fixed it all together.
The final form was over three meters long. It was a giant jitte cannon made of light.
“A weapon for subduing. Is that your defensive attack method?”
“They may be for men, but we have sixteen subduing Normal Devices here. A non-ranker will be injured. I personally hope you will run.”
“I must brazenly make my way to that school.”
“Are you a witch, too?”
“I do not know.”
But Kagami could say something else.
The technology she had just seen was very interesting. High-density ether was given individuality as a spirit and that was used to summon a weapon. Not only did that reduce the burden on the spell user, but it refined and settled the weapon’s functionality.
“I see. So…”
In her case…
“You do it like this?”
As she stood, she spread and swung her right arm.
She produced her version there.
Koutarou saw something unbelievable.
He was fifteen meters away and what he saw was far too strange for a back alley. After all, this girl…
“You summoned a Normal Device without a servant!?”
“Hm. …Is that what it is called? But…”
She was perfectly calm as she produced a spiral of ether around her hand. A weapon made of ether was produced there and she turned to face Koutarou.
“This is how you do it, right?”
He knew why the other men were gasping.
She was rapidly constructing a large white sword. However, the central structure was made first and stored away. It was wrapped with a forceful blade that made it more of a blunt weapon than a sword, but inside…