Harutora joyfully sat in his tour bus seat.
It had already been a long time since he had last experienced such calm freedom. In particular, this was his first time since advancing to the second year. Harutora seemed to have finally reclaimed the good mood from when he had watched the blooming cherry blossoms while walking to the academy on the first day of the new term.
Peaceful days were so nice. Harutora carefully mused over that natural sentence, swaying along with the bus.
Harutora sat in an aisle seat, and Natsume sat in the window seat next to him. She was the same as Harutora, seeming to be enjoying the rare peace.
Her expression wasn't bad and her eyes were energetic and crystal clear. Her hair, tied up by a pink ribbon, had also regained its former color, and her cherry-colored lips carried a happy smile.
The two of them both wore a uniform that looked like imperial clothing - the school uniform of the Onmyou Academy. The classmates wearing the uniform in the other seats of the bus chatted noisily. This tour bus that the Onmyou Academy had rented was carrying the entire class.
As an Onmyouji cultivation institute, the Onmyou Academy didn't have activities like school trips. Harutora and the others' current destination was a joint practical skills training camp held with the second and third years.
"I didn't think the Onmyou Academy would also have camps."
"I completely forgot before. There weren't any in the first year."
"That's the best part! The 'first years' 'don't have any'!"
"Yeah. This is coursework 'unrelated to the first-years'!"
Harutora and Natsume looked at each other and smiled with pleasant moods.
In the Onmyou Academy, the first year focused on the classroom, and only the basics of practical skills would be explained. But it was the opposite from the second year onwards, as magical training became the focal point. This practical skills training camp was a common curriculum between the second and third years. It was held on the weekends with no regular schedule, and this time it was the turn of Harutora's class.
All of the students in the Onmyou Academy knew very well that the practical skills training beginning in the second year was quite demanding. Actually, the practical skills curriculum from April onwards would increase in difficulty as well as frequency. Of course, this was also quite a difficult training camp.
Even so, this still couldn't weaken Harutora and Natsume's excited moods.
"Wow, I'm looking forward to this camp."
"I'm really looking forward to this camp."
"Come to think of it, don't you feel very happy already?'
"Yeah. How should I describe it - a feeling of breaking away from normal life?"
"Right, that's it! Escaping 'bother'!"
"Should I call it excitement, or joy--?"
"It really is."
They were completely like elementary schoolers on an excursion. They didn't feel any tension at all about the tough training camp that was coming.
It was actually quite shameful for second-year students to feel extremely happy at the fact that the first-year students weren't here, but of course Harutora and Natsume didn't notice this point. No, even if they noticed, they didn't care. After all, they had frequently been 'called out' recently, even on Saturdays and Sundays, with no free time at all to be at ease. This training camp could be called the golden 'free' time. Harutora and Natsume showed naive, brilliant smiles in unprecedented harmony.
In the seat on the other side of the aisle, a girl with chestnut hair halfway tied up and a feisty personality happened to be looking at the two of them. She was the Onmyou Academy Principal's granddaughter, Kurahashi Kyouko. Kyouko tilted her knee sock-wearing legs, secretly peeking in the direction of Harutora and Natsume. In the end, she seemed to finally lose her patience.
She spoke to Momoe Tenma, who was sitting next to her:
"......What are those two doing?'
It seemed like Tenma had the same questions. A perplexed expression emerged on the face of this good-natured boy, and the eyes beneath his glasses constantly blinked.
"It's hard to understand. Maybe if it were only that idiot Harutora, but even Natsume's......"
"Yeah. The two of them haven't been in high spirits for a long time."
"Something good probably happened."
Kyouko and Tenma spoke in a voice that no one around them could hear, exchanging their doubts in a quiet whisper.
This was indeed the first time they were having class in a place outside the academy building, so naturally there was a new feeling. It was inevitable that they would look forward to a long road trip with their classmates and then living together for a night. Though Kyouko had originally only wanted to travel together with Natsume, she also believed that the training camp this time would be an extremely fun activity.
Even so, this training camp was a form of coursework, and since they wouldn't have time to relax, there wouldn't be any recreational activities. They would start the tough practical skills training as soon as they arrived, and they would return straight to Tokyo once it ended, that was it. Also, the weekend, which should have been time to relax anyway, had been forcefully occupied. In addition to Kyouko, most of the students in the class probably felt apathetic about this training camp.
But they were in far higher spirits than expected, and even making a clamor. It was very reasonable for Kyouko and Tenma to wonder.
"......It's very possible that when they were in the Tsuchimikado family, their regulations forbade travel or vacations."
"And so they're jumping for joy all of a sudden? No matter what, that kind of situation......"
"Maybe the two of them weren't able to participate in any excursions or trips before because they were sick or injured--"
"Even so, it's......"
Kyouko and Tenma brainstormed together.
They thought long and hard, but looked at Harutora and Natsume without coming up with anything:
"Ah, right. Harutora. Have some snacks."
"Hey, not bad. It's good."
They had even started eating snacks. How leisurely and comfortable.
"Ahaha. Natsume, you prepared too much."
"Harutora, you even brought playing cards."
"Hey, you have to bring playing cards to a camp."
"Then we can play old maid or sevens4 at night. I'm really looking forward to it!"
"Playing with small bets isn't bad either, the atmosphere gets intense!"
Unfortunately, only Harutora and Natsume were enthusiastic. Kyouko and Tenma awkwardly watched the two Tsuchimikados.
Just then, Harutora finally noticed the gazes of Kyouko and the others.
"Huh? What's up, Kyouko. Do you want some?"
"I didn't say that at all!"
"......Could it be that you don't like traditional snacks?"
"Ah, n-no, Natsume-kun! That's not it......!"
Kyouko didn't know how to respond to the master and servant pair who seemed to not understand the atmosphere. Tenma, who couldn't keep on watching, helped out.
"Well, Harutora-kun, Natsume-kun. This training camp is coursework for the moment. I don't think it's too good to play around and be noisy with that kind of attitude."
Though he was trying to kill their mood, Tenma spoke somewhat apologetically.
Even so, Harutora didn't seem to be affected.
He munched on a senbei while beaming. "Don't be that serious, Tenma. According to your words, aren't field trips and excursions part of school too?"
"B, But...... Isn't this sort of practical skills training camp very difficult? You might not be able to keep up with the curriculum if you take it too lightly......"
"You don't get it, Tenma. Isn't it useless to notice that kind of thing now? Also, it's better to enjoy it or be relaxed than it is to be nervous."
Harutora's words were probably correct, but it didn't seem very convincing when he munched loudly on a senbei while saying it - it might even make others reject that reasoning.
"Natsume-kun is a different matter, but you shouldn't be this easygoing."
Kyouko glared angrily at Harutora.
"Also, why are you like this? Why are you smiling so happily? Isn't it weird?"
"Huh? N, No...... We aren't smiling that much. It's very normal. Right, Natsume?"
"Yeah, there's nothing in particular...... Think about it, I always liked Onmyoudou, so I'm thinking about what kind of things we'll do during the training camp."
"Also, isn't travelling with only your own class something that makes you extremely happy? It's 'only' the students from your class!"
"Right! It's much easier to deepen feelings with each other than it usually is. 'With everyone from the class'!"
"......Though I would really welcome deepening our feelings for each other with Natsume-kun......"
He might be wrong, but it seemed that Kyouko showed a complex expression as she watched the jubilant Harutora and Natsume, and her words were also quiet and unclear. The face of Tenma next to her seemed like he also wanted to express something but didn't know how to say it.
"Ah, right. Hey, Harutora-kun. Speaking of classmates, where's Touji-kun? He's the only one who's going to meet up with us later, did something happen?"
Tenma seemed to have thought of this question.
Actually, Ato Touji wasn't on this bus. The homeroom teacher Ohtomo had explained beforehand that he was going to 'come a bit later', but hadn't specifically explained the situation.
Harutora laughed quietly.
"Actually, my dad's coming to Tokyo this weekend."
"Yes. My dad - he's Touji's primary physician...... The person responsible for the 'seal' on him. After the Nue incident, Touji went back to the country to receive my dad's treatment. Since Touji hadn't gotten checked up since then, and my dad happened to be in Tokyo, he's first going to receive treatment and then participate in the training camp."
After hearing Harutora's explanation, Tenma as well as Kyouko nodded with an appearance of comprehension.
Touji had been involved in a Tokyo spiritual disaster about two years ago. The phase three mobile 'Type-Ogre' spiritual disaster had left behind residue in his body. In General Onmyoudou, people who had become spiritual cores but who held on to their own consciousness were named 'living spirits'. Touji was one of these.
The 'Type-Ogre' spiritual disaster in Touji's body had been sealed by an Onmyou doctor, who also happened to be Harutora's father. The most important reason he had chosen to transfer into the Onmyou Academy to study with the goal of becoming an Onmyouji was because he hoped that he could seal and purify the demon hiding in his body by himself.
However, this March, he had changed his methods of dealing with the demon and had succeeded in purifying a Nue together with Harutora and Natsume. He hadn't sealed the demon. Rather, he had even used the demon's strength.
"After the Nue incident ended, Touji received training while watching his condition. The treatment this time will depend on the results of the special training. The most effective method for Touji right now is to get it sealed."
"Th, Though I don't really understand, the seal's just being upgraded, right?"
"Actually, I'm not very sure either, but that's probably it, right? That guy's getting more and more reliable."
Harutora spoke casually and Kyouko replied without a care.
"I get what you mean...... But, is it alright? Isn't it a bit dangerous for him to be participating in the practical skills training camp right after large-scale adjustments?"
"He thinks that this is a 'godsend', to be able to test out his own skills earlier."
"......T, Touji-kun is really incredible."
"......He really has self-confidence, that's definitely something he would say."
Tenma was convinced, but Kyouko felt greatly astonished.
Kyouko was the eldest daughter of the famous Kurahashi family, and Tenma had also been born in one of the traditional families rife with Onmyouji, so they could understand the danger of 'living spirits' better than a normal academy student. In particular, Touji had once been consumed by the demon to a degree and had almost transformed into a demon.
Even so, Touji didn't flee, but still had the courage to actively face the demon. Kyouko and Tenma both secretly gave him the highest evaluation for that point.
But at the same time, they really couldn't suppress their 'anxiety'.
Dealing with a 'demon' - even if it was just residue, not the original - was usually the domain of professional Onmyouji. To try to control a demon - that sort of action wasn't only dangerous, it was also foolhardy. It was natural for an academy student to have such a reaction.
But, Kyouko and Tenma were currently already Onmyou Academy second-year students, and in the near future they would step into the world of professional Onmyouji. They were also improving themselves every day in order to step into the professional world. The difficulty Touji was trying to overcome might be an extremely special case, but Kyouko and Tenma couldn't take things lightly.
"......We can't keep messing around."
"......Th, That's right......"
They couldn't lose to their classmates. Kyouko murmured quietly, and Tenma also lightly nodded his head in unison to express his agreement.
On the other hand, Harutora didn't notice the psychological change in the two at all, leisurely handing out senbei.
"Anyway, that's what's going on. Since it's rare for us to come out like this, you all might as well eat Touji's share too."
"......Didn't I say I wouldn't eat them?"
"I heard that senbei are good for your aura."
"Don't make up whatever you want!"
"Sorry, Kurahashi-san, if I knew earlier I would have brought some snacks other than Japanese snacks......"
"That's not it! That's not what I meant, Natsume-kun, don't misunderstand......!"
"Tenma, do you want some? Here."
"H, Harutora-kun, I'm grateful, but no thanks......"
Harutora, Kyouko, and the others bickered back and forth. Because Touji, who was responsible for stopping them, wasn't here, it was noisier than usual.
"Quiet down." Just then, a lazy voice sounded. A man walked over from the front seats.
He wore a pair of aged glasses on his face and wore a rumpled suit. His right foot was a wooden fake leg like a medieval pirate's. He was Harutora and the others' homeroom teacher, Ohtomo Jin.
"You're too loud, don't forget that this camp is also class."
Kyouko's face reddened, and Harutora and the others also smiled awkwardly. Ohtomo looked at the students with a helpless face.
"You guys are really relaxed. I don't mean to frighten you, but you should know that the camp will be very tiring. It's good to be full of vigor, but I'm scared that your energy will start to deplete and you'll end up not being able to make it."
"Sensei, we're not relaxed, we're recuperating!"
"Whatever, being eloquent isn't a bad thing for a practitioner......"
Harutora acted dumb, eliciting a wry smile from Ohtomo. But Natsume regained her calmness, bowing to apologize out of trepidation. "We're very sorry. We were too loud. We'll eat a bit more quietly."
"......In the end you're still going to eat......"
"Huh? We can't eat snacks?"
"Uh, you don't need to be that surprised."
Natsume, who held a bag of senbei, was greatly shocked. Upon seeing her like that, the wry smile on his face deepened.
He reached his hand into the bag of senbei, taking a piece of senbei out of the speechless Natsume's hands.
"Anyway, it's no use to be anxious, it's better to relax when you can...... You should take advantage of the present to properly relax." Ohtomo glanced at Harutora and Natsume as he said this, walking back to his own seat while munching the senbei. Harutora, Natsume and others were confused and perplexed. For some reason, they even felt a trace of sympathy from Ohtomo's look.
"......What does that mean?"
"I don't understand either......"
Harutora and Natsume were a bit worried, taking another senbei each.
After the senbei, the bag of karinto had also been emptied when the tour bus reached its destination.
The bus had driven for two hours from inside Tokyo, carrying Harutora's class to a camp near Lake Yamanaka, one of the Fuji Five Lakes of the Yamanashi Prefecture.
The Lake Yamanaka area was a scenic summer resort as well as a famed attraction. At the same time, due to the penetration of aura flow from Mount Fuji, the area was also known for its special aura. Because of these relationships, this area had many magic-related facilities and was used as a 'training field' for first-class magic.
The area the Onmyou Academy had chosen to be the location of the camp was a shrine among these training fields - Zokusho Shrine.
This shrine was little-known. Guessing from the name, it might be a shrine related to the stars. The shrine was located on a precipitous hill, overlooked by Mount Fuji. Underneath could be seen Lake Yamanaka, and behind it was a vast forest. The shrine had been set in the middle ground in order to keep this natural beauty from being destroyed by humans.
The tour bus drove to the foot of the mountain, then all of the students climbed the long stone steps, carrying their own luggage.
They climbed up, short of breath and covered in sweat, and once they reached the top--
"Senpais, you're so slow~ When are you going to make me wait until?"
A small girl wearing a pure white uniform sat on the top of the stone steps, her back against an ancient stone torii. She jumped up gracefully, the golden-dyed hair tied up into twin tails jumping around on both sides of her small face.
She wore a sweet, blooming smile on her face. Kyouko, Tenma, and other students couldn't help but let out surprised cheers.
Harutora and Natsume's hands loosened, the luggage in their hands dropping heavily onto the ground.
Ohtomo looked at the students who were in a joyful clamor - deliberately ignoring the petrified and dumbfounded two Tsuchimikado - and coughed loudly.
"Ahem...... I 'forgot' to mention something. Dairenji Suzuka-kun will join our class and participate in this training camp. The first-year students basically don't have any practical skills curriculum, but she's a special student after all. Get along well with her, everyone."
There was a large auditorium inside Zokusho Shrine with rooms for doubles. The students who had come to the camp lived in this place.
The third-year students who were also participating in the training camp had come several days early. Though they also had a training camp, the third-years had to stay for four days and three nights as compared to the second-years, whose curriculum was two days and one night. The contents of their curriculum were also far more difficult than that of the second-years. The two classes would only have class together on the final day. As Harutora and the others arrived, the third-year students were carrying out 'mountain training', and hence he wasn't able to see them.
Once they reached the shrine, Harutora and the others put their luggage into the auditorium, then went to Ameba Shrine to pay their respects, immediately starting the training camp curriculum.
The first class was in the courtyard of the auditorium. The contents of the curriculum were to prepare lunch - curry.
"The ingredients and tools are all here. Since we've finally come to a place with such refreshing air, let's pretend we've come here to camp out."
Ohtomo announced seriously. Meat, vegetables, and commercially available curry blocks were placed on the tables that had been prepared outdoors beforehand.
Every single student was stunned and speechless, and he grinned again.
"You can't directly touch these ingredients and tools. It's not just the ingredients, you have to use a simple shikigami to do things like turning on the fire and putting things on plates. Understood? Remember, simple shikigami, alright? There's no time limit, but the next class starts in the afternoon, so you won't have much of a lunch break if you're late, you might even have to start class without having eaten lunch~"
Harutora and the others were divided into four or five person groups per table. Each group had a set of ingredients and tools, and each person was given a new charm and immediately started making curry.
Almost all the students were flustered for a while because things were so sudden. Maybe they had imagined the contents of the training camp curriculum beforehand, but for sure no one had expected them to be ordered to prepare lunch themselves.
Harutora was also troubled and didn't act immediately.
"......Make curry with a simple shikigami...... Tenma, have you done this?"
"I don't think there's anyone that's done this. However if it's shikigami that could act independently......"
"I recall that this is a commercially sold charm. Have we used it in practical skills classes?"
"Yeah, it's set with the most basic abilities."
Fortunately, Harutora was in the same group as Tenma. He looked around, seeing that Natsume, Kyouko, and Suzuka had all been separated into different groups. It seemed that Ohtomo had deliberately arranged them so that the groups' strengths weren't too different.
Harutora relaxed his breath for now since he had been put in a different group as Suzuka. Though, it was just a short relaxation.
"Uh, a simple shikigami...... In this instance, it's faster to manipulate it directly rather than ordering it beforehand right?"
"That's true, it's best to have the same sight and even touch when selecting ingredients. Ah, but I haven't tried sharing taste with a shikigami for taste-testing."
"The steps are to first wash the vegetables, cut them, cook them with the meat, then add water and simmer, and then finally put in the curry blocks......"
"Don't forget to cook rice. We have to wash the rice and then steam it with a cooker...... Ah, and we have to make the fire first. No, wait, we have to find firewood before we make the fire......"
It was close to eleven in the morning. There would be ample time if it were just simply cooking curry, but here there wasn't any spare time to dawdle. At the same time as they discussed, there were already many groups that had made simple shikigami and who were preparing to work.
"Okay, let's start moving. The person who's the worst at controlling simple shikigami in this group...... is probably me."
Harutora sized up Tenma and the other members of the group, unable to keep a wry smile from showing on his face. He relied on his own training to practice his charm skills and techniques, but even now he wasn't very practiced with simple shikigami control, especially instructing it with fine movements.
"Sorry, I'll take charge of making the fire. I'll leave the cooking to everyone else."
"Okay, let's split up and get going."
Upon seeing Tenma and the other members nod to express their agreement, Harutora quickly took his own charm.
He refined his aura, turning it into magical energy, then released the magical energy and infused it into the charm. The energy-infused charm gradually swelled according to the previously set magic, changing. The flat paper doll became a shadow puppet with thickness, which was the appearance set to the charm beforehand.
"Hey, Harutora-kun, isn't your shikigami a bit too big?"
"S, Sorry, but this size should be perfect for moving firewood. First is to bring firewood over...... Ah, no, we have to make a stone stove5 first out of rocks."
The simple shikigami of Tenma and the others organized the ingredients by the table. Harutora's giant shikigami searched for big rocks nearby, making a stone stove. Fortunately, there were cement bricks in the courtyard - maybe objects used in a stone stove during similar training. Harutora set them up, making a stone stove with only one opening. Then, he put the firewood inside it, crumpling the newspaper that had been prepared with the materials into a pile and putting it under the firewood.
Until now, everything had gone unexpectedly smoothly. "Ah! Damn, I crushed the lighter!" But, just as he planned on lighting the newspaper and making the fire, he crushed the lighter because he hadn't properly controlled the shikigami's strength.
"O, Ohtomo-sensei! Could I ask if you have any new lighters--"
"Harutora-kun, you have to rely on your own resources to make up for your own mistake."
"How do I make up for this......"
The possibilities Harutora could think of regarding methods for starting a fire only consisted of using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight, but of course, there couldn't be a magnifying glass here.
He had no options, so he could only take the firewood axe and sharpen the tip of one of the pieces of firewood into something like the point of a pencil.
The simple shikigami held the piece of firewood with both hands, rubbing the other firewood with it like a drill and trying to make a fire with friction by creating sparks.
Of course, succeeding in making a fire wasn't this easy.
"......Tch, no use, I can't make it......!"
"Harutora-kun, are you alright?"
"I'm not alright at all, do I really have no other ways......!"
Harutora frowned, continuing to desperately rub the firewood.
Just then, a quiet voice entered his ears.
"H-H-Harutora-sama, allow me to perform this task."
A girl's young voice sounded. The voice came from the defensive shikigami who was dematerialized and always by Harutora's side - Kon.
"Oh, it's Kon. Come to think of it, you can use fire."
"Yes, making fire is an easy task if I use my foxfire......!"
Though he couldn't see her figure, he could tell from Kon's tone that she was extremely motivated. Kon was a kitsune shikigami, and foxfire was one of her several techniques. Since she could use it without even materializing, no one would be the wiser if he stayed careful.
"But...... After all, this is a practical skills class, and sensei instructed us that we have to use simple shikigami. So I can't ask for your help or I'll be breaking the rules."
"H-H-However, why should this delay Harutora-sama's meal......!"
"Uh...... Then let's leave it until later. I'm grateful for your offer, though."
Harutora rejected his shikigami's goodwill, but he couldn't help but think that there were still Natsume's ningyouyaki left after all - finding himself a path of retreat.
But, Harutora wasn't actually the only student to encounter setbacks during the process of cooking.
"Hey! Why's this potato still have skin on it, go peel it cleanly!"
"There isn't even half of the potato left after you peeled it! Go tell your shikigami to be a little neater!"
"Hey hey, it's spilling! Don't pour the rice out with the water for washing it!"
"......I, I can't believe it, to think peeling onions could be this hard......!"
Every group was falling into a bitter struggle. Some people failed to hold things properly, dropping meat and vegetables onto the ground, and some people accidentally cut the shikigami's fingers while cutting vegetables. Some even cut apart the cutting board under the fingers, and other shikigami rushed into the ignited firewood. There were manifold reasons for failure, and simple shikigami turning back into charms could be seen everywhere.
It was a basic expectation for practitioners to be able to directly control simple shikigami and have their shikigami maintain materialization. Hence, if one didn't infuse all one's magical energy from the beginning, one had to continue constantly infusing the shikigami with magical energy instead. The latter required much more caution during fine control than the former. The magical energy couldn't break in the middle, and concentration couldn't waver.
"......Hey, Tenma, don't you think doing this kind of thing is actually pretty difficult?"
"Yeah...... As expected of the practical curriculum."
Tenma's face was ashen as he agreed with the opinion that Harutora casually put out. Thinking carefully, because he normally didn't cook much, this might not even get done well if he were doing it with his own hands. Now that it was being done by a simple shikigami, it couldn't possibly go smoothly.
"Come to think of it, I've only cooked curry while camping once."
That meant...... Harutora looked at the other groups - the condition of the groups that Natsume, Kyouko, and Suzuka were in. As he expected, all of the groups were flustered, and comparing them to Harutora's group was like the pot calling the kettle black. Every group had a simple shikigami whose movements were particularly nimble, far surpassing the other shikigami of the group - the exterior of Suzuka's shikigami had even been changed to match hers - but these shikigami didn't contribute a great deal.
For example, Natsume's shikigami moved extremely vigorously, as if it had its own vitality, but it was cutting the carrots into centimeter-wide units with the cooking knife in its hands. The shikigami's movements were very precise, but not only would lunchtime be over by the time she finished cutting all of the carrots so slowly, she might not even make dinnertime. On the other hand, Suzuka's shikigami moved so rapidly one might be able to see afterimages, but it wasn't distinguishable whether the things that came out were vegetables that had been cut or food scraps. Kyouko was undoubtedly the most reliable of the three, but she seemed to have burned up all of the kindling newspaper while trying to light the firewood and received a merciless rejection when she asked Ohtomo for more kindling.
"......Huh? Come to think of it, Tenma's actually the most reliable among us, right?"
Though he wasn't too nimble, Tenma's stats were well-rounded and he carried out the preparation work step by step. When the other members of the group slipped up, he would try to help out as much as possible, and he was actually very trustworthy.
But, this was just the preparation phase after all. If Harutora was unable to successfully start the fire, all the members of the group would be reduced to just eating the lettuce in the end.
"Move a little faster, you're pressed for time and the ingredients also have their limits~ If you fail a few more times, the food might all go bad~"
Ohtomo watched the condition of every group, smiling maliciously. At the same time, he didn't forget to tease them with a few words, telling everyone to put in more effort. "Damn." Harutora cursed himself, continued rubbing the firewood to make fire.
"What's wrong, Harutora-kun, that's quite a primitive method."
"Please give me a new lighter if you don't want to see this!"
"Tsk tsk tsk, firemaking was a sacred action in ancient times. It's very suitable as the starting point of this practical skills magic training."
"You definitely don't actually think that way, right? And what's up with the smirk on your face!"
Harutora complained angrily and Ohtomo laughed out loud while listening.
"Don't misunderstand me, Harutora-kun. I'm really very happy to see you continue to grow. At the start, you couldn't even control a vessel, but now you can already control the simple shikigami however you want. I'm really pleased as your homeroom teacher."
Harutora controlled the simple shikigami's movements while glaring resentfully at the homeroom teacher who put his hand on his chest with grand movements.
He got even angrier when he thought of how Ohtomo's lunch would be prepared separately, but he happened to want to talk to Ohtomo.
"......Hey, Ohtomo-sensei." He casually walked up to Ohtomo, speaking quietly with a sharp tone. "It's not convenient to ask this in front of everyone, but why is Suzuka participating in this camp? It couldn't be that she herself wanted to come, right?'
He lowered his voice, speaking quickly like a cannon. Ohtomo reacted by turning his head, looking indifferent.
"......Yeah, she herself wanted--"
"No way! Why would she say she wanted to participate in a camp!?"
"You're wrong there, she answered unexpectedly readily--"
"So sensei really did ask her to come!"
When Ohtomo saw Harutora show a sharp gaze, he called out "Harutora-kun" in a low tone, putting his hand on his shoulder like he wanted to placate his anger. Then, he said with a transparent tone: "Did Suzuka-kun herself tell you the reason she entered the Onmyou Academy?'
"Huh? Uh, yes......" Harutora stammered for a bit when Ohtomo confirmed this.
Suzuka had passed the difficult First-Class Onmyou Exam, becoming one of the National First-Class Onmyouji, known as the 'Twelve Divine Generals'. In terms of power, she was one of the most prominent Onmyouji in the nation. Never mind students, even a normal professional was unqualified to be compared to her.
Though she had the identity of a special student, she had entered the cultivation facility for Onmyouji - the Onmyou Academy - to study, but actually she had other reasons. Since she had led to the incident last year, her punishment was to enter the Onmyou Academy.
"The main reason Suzuka-kun led to that kind of incident was because her personality hasn't matured. Entering the Onmyou Academy to study is to help her develop as a person and for her to receive so-called moral education. Do you understand?"
"That...... The Onmyou Academy shouldn't have many techniques to teach her......"
"Well, then what's the fastest and most effective form of moral education? Of course, that's establishing good and healthy interpersonal relationships. In other words, I believe the most suitable method is for her to make friends--"
"Uh, hold on, if you want her to make friends, wouldn't it be fine to find students of the same age? That's a true natural, healthy interpersonal relationship, right? Why...... What reason is there to deliberately make her join the second-year camp!"
Harutora brought up a reasonable question. Ohtomo narrowed his eyes upon hearing that, staring at Harutora with a cold gaze, and called out majestically: "......Harutora-kun."
"You...... I heard that you and Suzuka-kun were 'intimate friends', you know."
The simple shikigami that Harutora controlled tumbled violently to the ground.
The firewood fell to the ground and the stone stove he had managed to build was destroyed. Tenma and the others were taken aback, turning to look at him, but unfortunately he didn't have the energy to pay attention right now.
"Th, That's not true, where did you hear that?"
"......You don't need to glare at me, it's already spread that Suzuka-kun calls you 'darling'--"
"That's a huge misunderstanding! That's because...... I was forced."
"Didn't you call her Suzuka directly just now--"
"That was because she would gone off again if I didn't call her that! She's always picking on me, so I have to!"
"Oh my, how intimate--"
"Yeah, but, Suzuka-kun needs friends, and I asked you to look after her. Whatever the result, I definitely won't spread any rumors--"
"I said, it's not like that! I have my own difficulties!"
"Oh, difficulties, huh?"
"......Hey, Harutora-kun, I don't want to act as if I know everything, but a man can't be so timid--"
"What is that supposed to mean!"
Harutora was flustered and his face red. The members of his group as well as other students looked over curiously, wanting to know what had happened. Harutora didn't notice their gazes, as it already took all of his energy to untangle his homeroom teacher's confusion.
To tell the truth, Ohtomo didn't truly suspect the relationship between the two, he just wanted to tease Harutora a bit. "Alright, alright." He laughed and let go of Harutora's shoulder, saying a couple carefree words.
"I won't ask what your difficulties are, but right now, you're undoubtedly the person Suzuka-kun is the closest to - and that group of yours. Thinking carefully, only you know what happened with Suzuka-kun, so it's natural that things developed like this. That's why it was the correct choice to ask her to participate in this camp."
Ohtomo spoke self-confidently, but Harutora pouted angrily upon hearing that.
"Of course, I hope that she can get along better and better with the students in her own class along with you guys, but that kind of thing isn't urgent, and I still have to rely on your help for her interpersonal relationships for now."
Ohtomo whispered into Harutora's ear and finally grinned.
"Here." Then, he passed a magic charm to the displeased Harutora.
"I'll give you a little push so that you guys will be able to eat lunch."
"......A fire charm?"
Ohtomo had passed over a fire-element charm of the five elements. Harutora looked at the magical charm and looked at Ohtomo, not understanding the point of this charm.
"You want me to make fire with this charm? But weren't the rules that we were supposed to use simple shikigami......" Saying this much, Harutora gasped, finally noticing Ohtomo's meaning.
The corners of Ohtomo's mouth curved slightly.
Harutora hastily stacked up the stone stove again, putting the firewood in and then giving the fire-element charm to the shikigami.
He had never tried this before, but he was quite confident in his charm-using ability after his long period of training himself on his own after school.
He focused his mind, strengthening his link with the simple shikigami and providing more magical energy, then let the magical energy flow into the simple shikigami's charm.
He instructed the shikigami to throw the fire charm at the firewood. The charm immediately ignited, swirling with flame. The fire formed by magic complied with the intent of its practitioner, wrapping around the piled-up firewood like a flaming snake. Harutora - and the simple shikigami - couldn't help but clench his fist and cheer.
"Yes! Perfect - Ah, no way - Damn, it seems like the fire's too strong!"
"Yeah, that's just like you, Harutora-kun. The strength of the fire's quite shocking, half of the firewood turned to charcoal in an instant...... Actually it burned to ash......"
"Nooo! I have to disperse the fire quickly - Ouch! The sensory link still hasn't been disrupted?"
Harutora frantically had his shikigami pick up the firewood, then screamed again and hastily let go. Ohtomo couldn't stop laughing as he watched. Kyouko, who was having the same trouble with lighting the fire, seemed to make something out of this, quickly taking similar methods as Harutora - though suitably regulating the fire's strength - and making a fire on the firewood.
On the cooking side, there were groups who had already finished preparing the ingredients and had begun to cook. They put oil into a flat-bottomed pot, then put it on their stone stove, stirring meat and vegetables inside and giving off the sound of cooking food. There were also groups who were using rice cookers to steam rice in addition to those who were preparing the curry.
Tenma confirmed the preparation of their group.
"Harutora-kun! We're almost ready!"
"Okay, I'm also adjusting the strength of the fire in the stone stove. Our group can start cooking!"
The simmering meat and vegetables gave off a delicious smell, stimulating the appetite and motivation of the students.
Not long afterwards, the smell turned into the smell of curry freely floating in the vast courtyard of the auditorium.
"......Yeah, it's not so bad that it's impossible to swallow, but you can't call this good......"
"This is already very good. This charred rice is indeed crunchy, but...... It counts as a different style."
Harutora and Tenma exchanged wry smiles as they scooped curry from aluminum dishes with spoons.
Actually, the curry that Harutora's group had made didn't count as a success. Because the fire had been too strong, the curry and rice had gotten a bit burned, though this could be regarded as delicious based on the taste itself. Moreover, when enjoying curry outdoors with friends on a clear day while they could simultaneously gaze at Mount Fuji and the beautiful Lake Yamanaka, they couldn't possibly consider it bad. The other groups' students also criticized the curry they had made while eating with beaming smiles.
"But, I never thought that simple shikigami could be used to make food too."
"That's right. Simple shikigami are usually disposable and they're almost all used for simple actions."
Simple shikigami - more accurately, simple manmade shikigami. They were the basic shikigami used in General Onmyoudou, shikigami whose distinguishing feature was being quickly constructible to fulfill a necessity. Just as Tenma had said, the strongest feature of these shikigami was that they were usable to quickly deal with sudden situations.
On the other hand, since the creation method was simple even for a normal person and they were very easy to make according to one's own demands, the high adaptability aspect of simple shikigami could be considered a big advantage. Though their energy for movement came from and relied upon the practitioner's magical energy and they weren't suitable for moving over long periods of time, this wasn't much of a big problem if preparations were made beforehand. Simple shikigami could have various uses according to the practitioner's ingenuity and strength.
"The steps for 'making curry' like everyone did this time are complicated, which isn't suitable for the use of simple shikigami. But, I noticed after actually controlling them that it's actually not impossible. If you think a little, simple shikigami can do a lot of fine work. It's very profound."
Tenma brought up an opinion that was something like a prodigy would say. Harutora ate his curry while nodding to express his agreement.
Harutora had a defensive shikigami, Kon. Kon belonged to the class of shikigami that had their own autonomous personality, and the practitioner Harutora didn't have to control her directly. Of course, he didn't share senses with her either. Though he had practiced techniques for controlling shikigami during practical classes, this was his first time truly 'applying' a simple shikigami.
"Though it was very difficult, Natsume-kun, Kurahashi-san and Dairenji-san really are incredible. Though they're not very good at cooking, their control of shikigami is simply unmatched." Tenma looked at the three, his tone full of admiration. "Especially Natsume-kun. It's like the shikigami is a part of him."
"Yeah, his shikigami burned itself while cooking and started jumping around. Nothing happened to him, but the shikigami caused quite a big disturbance."
"That means that his mind was completely focused on the simple shikigami. It's actually a very amazing thing."
"It's because he had harsh training from his father ever since he was young."
"But normally someone wouldn't get special training like that unless he had talent to begin with."
Tenma seemed to feel deep admiration. Harutora was about to reply carelessly, but......
"......Part of him......" Harutora murmured, frowning and straightening himself unconsciously. "Hey, Tenma? Controlling from a long distance - and while transferring the practitioner's personality in the shikigami, is that kind of manipulation very difficult?"
"Huh? O, Of course it's not very easy......." Tenma was taken aback upon hearing Harutora's sudden question. "But...... If the magic was set up beforehand, it would just be up to the practitioner's own magical energy afterwards. The degree of 'transferring personality' also affects the difficulty level."
"You can't feel anything strange with ordinary touch, and after materializing, you can't even see any flaw in its external appearance. It was created with extreme detail so that never mind a normal person, even professional Onmyouji couldn't easily see through it."
"You mean that that shikigami could even fool the eyes of professional Onmyouji? That's really incredible. It means that the practitioner controlling the shikigami was probably at a professional le