——The Second Witch Hunt War.
Although five years have passed ever since it has ended, it was still clearly unknown what was that war about. While it was true that witches have invaded, the borderline invasion could be called just a preliminary encounter and was reported to be an arbitrary action taken by the extremist "Pureblood Party".
The reason details of this war were obscured, was all because of the magical organism called Hyakki Yakou. It has come to light that the Inquisition was hiding it and its use in war has been highly criticized. Furthermore, Inquisition has decided to remain silent as to what Hyakki Yakou happened to it afterwards.
With the disappearance of the Chairman Ootori Sougetsu and the direct attack on the main branch by Hyakki Yakou, nearly all Inquisition's executives have been gone. Inquisition's functionality has become paralyzed for months, and with the reveal that an enormous country of witches existed within the Sanctuary, there was a considerable confusion born inside old Japan. People were frightened by witches' invasion and lived while carrying the wounds dealt to them by Hyakki Yakou.
The ones who rebuilt the Inquisition, was a group calling themselves "Heretic Alliance". After losing majority of their power, Inquisition was unable to refuse their cooperation.
Thanks to the efforts of the head of this organization composed of both Inquisitors and witches, Hoshijiro Nagaru, and EXE's captain Kurogane Hayato, it was possible to reconstruct the damaged areas and form an armistice treaty with the country of witches. Although it wasn't made public what were the circumstances behind it, but the treaty was signed as soon as possible.
Two years after the war, a genuine diplomacy exchange with the country of witches has begun.
The Heretic Alliance has finished its role and dismantled for the time being. Although just temporarily, Hoshijiro Nagaru has been appointed the chairman of the Inquisition. After revising multiple discriminatory laws towards witches, even now, together with the vice chairman Kurogane Hayato she worked hard on stabilizing.
And——the ones who knew the truth of that war were now...
"Ouka-chan... anpan again?"
Watching Ouka stuff her bag full of anpan, Yoshimizu Akira supported her chin with her hand on top of the register and smiled bitterly.
Peeking out from behind the paper back, Ouka nodded with "yeah".
"If you eat without thinking of nutrition balance you'll ruin your boooody."
Making a good-natured smile, Akira pressed on the register's button.
With the paper bag put aside for the moment, Ouka took out four bottles of milk and one iced coffee from the refrigerator next to the register and put them on top of the counter.
"It's all right. I'm taking supplements to cover the shortage of nutrients. Rather, if you take away anpan and milk from me, I'll probably get sick."
"Well, in any case, it's a great help for us."
Staring at Akira who proceeded with input on the register she wasn't used to and scratched her cheek at the same time, Ouka smiled gently.
"So? How's it going?"
"With the store? It's been just three months, we aren't on track yet."
"That too, but I meant your body. Anything changed?"
Asked by Ouka, Akira made a broad smile.
"Nope. I still need regular checkups, but thanks to Ikaruga-chan it's become pretty much the same as that of a human. There's no need to worry."
"...I see. That's good."
And, as if recalling something, Ouka raised her index finger.
"Speaking of which, your husband's been healthy?"
"He's in the back, want to meet him?"
Ouka thought about that suggestion, but ended up shaking her head with a "no".
"I can imagine him chasing me out with a sour look, so I'll pass."
"Ahaha, certainly. For some reason he can't bear seeing former 35th platoon's members at work, doesn't he〜."
"It can't be helped considering his personality. Still... I didn't think he would really end up becoming a baker."
"He himself thinks so too."
Seeing Akira make a wry smile, Ouka also made a similar one.
Even now after five years, Yoshimizu Akira's ponytail was unchanged. As always, she was a friendly and charming girl. The bakery's apron suited her very well.
Yoshimizu Akira has voluntarily withdrew from AntiMagic Academy after the war (with that said, the school hasn't resumed its activity until over a year later), and had married Kirigaya Kyouya.
Kyouya has been through a lot, but once he fulfilled his revenge he quit the school and separated from Nero. Once Kyouya has lost his desire for revenge he also lost the right to own Nero, also Nero had no merit in continuing contract with him either. Now, Nero was waiting for a new contractor while kept by the Inquisition. While that was supposed to be the case, she from time to time appeared inside the bakery.
The reason was Kyouya's current occupation.
A baker. Although it was a splendid profession, previously, no one would imagine Kyouya becoming one. Apparently when he has finished his revenge, he has started looking for a new way of life together with Akira and they started talking about how he disguised as a baker together with the 35th platoon, amused, Akira suddenly proposed "let's open a bakery!".
Half-forcing Kyouya she made him get a cooking license and after three years of practicing, they managed to open a bakery.
And so, Kyouya who has once disguised as an old baker, has become a real baker. Since he was a serious person at the base he carried through with what he has decided on, but apparently he has been dominated quite a bit by his wife. Interested in seeing Kyouya in such state, Nero sometimes appeared inside the store.
Recalling Kyouya's appearance during their intrusion on the critical point, Ouka burst into laughter even now.
"...Whoops, not good. It's time, I need to hurry."
"Got work today as well? Sounds harsh."
"No, I have an errand before work today. We are celebrating a friend's school admission."
When Ouka said so, Akira recalled something and went "Ohh, right." then looked outside the window with a smile.
Cherry blossoms were in bloom. It was the fifth spring ever since that war.
"It's already spring〜."
"Yeah, time passes fast."
Ouka received the paper bag from Akira and passed money to her. Akira waved her hand and sent off Ouka with a smile.
"Thanks. Be careful on your way."
"Yeah. Greet your husband from me."
"I'll tell him to go meet you guys from time to time."
When Ouka opened the door, the bell sounded and cherry blossom's petals carried by wind grazed her skin.
Taking a look at her watch, she started to walk briskly.
Five years have passed. Ouka has graduated from AntiMagic Academy, was now an Inquisitor in "Dullahan" and has returned to The Zeroth Extermination Riot Police "EXE".
She was 21 this year. Speaking of what changed about her, it probably would be just her height. The fact she has grown very tall was one of her recent problems, but majority of them were caused by the fact she has become object of envy. Fortunately, her chest size hasn't changed that much.
Her hair has grown longer than it was before. Although she was scolded by her boss, Oonogi Kanata, telling her to cut it because they were in the way, but she couldn't get herself to cut them.
Ouka's clothes have changed from the academy's uniform to EXE's black uniform. Since she always wore a skirt at the academy it took her time to get used to new uniform's pants, but now she has grown more accustomed now to it than to her own clothes.
"Not good... I've ended up being late."
She climbed up the slope and approached cherry blossom trees leading to the top of the hill.
Although it was hated by the students who went to school by a bicycle, beyond this slope which was a well-known cherry blossom viewing spot by locals, there was the new AntiMagic Academy.
Still, while it was new, it had hardly changed from before. It was reconstructed in the very same way except for some inhumane facilities. Ever since the diplomatic exchange with the country of witches began, the laws against magic have relaxed and some people have started considering the phrase "antimagic" as a discriminatory term, therefore it wasn't used much.
However, to Ouka and the others "Inquisition's Training Facility" naming felt very stiff, so they used the name they were familiar with.
It has been a while since she has entered it from the front gate.
As she fell into slight nostalgia as she climbed up the slope,
"——You're having anpan again? Seriously, why aren't you fat yet?"
Hearing a voice come from the side of the avenue, Ouka furrowed her eyebrows and turned towards where the voice has come from.
"Heck, aren't you late? You seriously turn up late because you had to stop by bakery?"
A familiar hat and a scarf, determined expression and voice.
Nikaido Mari. An ex-member of the 35th platoon (provisional) who fought along their side, was waiting for Ouka while leaning her back on the cherry blossom tree.
Her appearance hasn't changed much either. She grew taller just slightly, but her clothing was unchanged. Even after turning 21 she maintained her mysterious fixation and continued wearing a hat and a muffler all year long. As expected, she stopped tying her hair into twintails at this age, but Ouka sourly reprimanded her every time they met, saying that her mini-skirt is tempting the students too much.
"I don't remember arranging to meet with you...!"
"It's not like I was waiting for yooou. You were late so Usagi-chan asked me to take a look what's going on."
Being told so, Ouka could not respond too strongly. Groaning, she honestly apologized "sorry, I'm late". Mari put her hand to her mouth and laughed, then rotating her index finger in a circle she walked up next to Ouka.
"Well〜 I don't mind forgiving you〜♪, Mari-chan-sensei famous for being gentle, pretty and beautiful〜♪. She bewitches the students with her adult charms〜♪."
"You're as annoying as ever. Even after becoming a teacher you didn't change. Still flat as ever."
"I-I'm not flat!! You too have completely none of EXE's dignity and still look like a student!"
"Unlike you I properly grew since then! I grew taller!"
"Are you a kid?! You've just gotten old! It's matter of time until those boobs of yours start sagging!"
"I-I'm not old! They aren't sagging and my skin is bursting with youth!"
"I'm also full of youth! And I'm not sagging!"
"That's because you have nothing to sag to start with!"
Fighting as usual, the two stomped lively as they walked up the slope, their shoulders bumping against one another. Since it was the time to go to school, students looked at the two and commented "Mari-chan-sensei is quarreling with the person from EXE again" while laughing.
Because witch admission system has been introduced in the earnest, Mari was currently acting as a teacher of magic. After the law was revised, witches were allowed admission and currently, the number of witches among students has passed over two hundred. Mari has ended up taking care of all of them.
At first, the witches felt a little ashamed inside the school, but thanks to Mari they were accepted to a fairly good extent by normal students.
Thanks to her appearance and personality, splendid clumsiness and strong sense of justice, Mari was very popular among students and was affectionately nicknamed "Mari-chan-sensei".
She often bragged about that, but from Ouka's perspective it seemed like she was being made fun of with that nickname.
Of course, even after the law has been revised she was not permitted to remove the magic power controlling collar, Gleipnir. Even now Mari had a collar on her neck. However, by Mari's own suggestion, Gleipnirs were no longer unrefined metal collars but ones with cute decorations and allowing to breathe the user well. Gleipnirs were no longer treated as symbols of discrimination as they used to.
In the past five years, the era has changed drastically.
Before Ouka and Mari entered the school, they first entered the basement in the back of Inquisition's headquarters.
Unlike in the past, it wasn't dim or eerie, but this place was the underground the witch isolation district that was called a forbidden area and the innermost prison.
Currently the witches' accommodation facilities were smaller than before and thanks to diplomatic exchange with the country of witches, Gleipnir's performance has increased. As a result, Iron Maidens were no longer used.
Instead, Inquisition used the extra space remaining for something else.
Those few who knew of the inner workings of the Inquisition, called it "Hyakki Yakou building".
The elevator's chime sounded, signaling that Ouka and Mari arrived at the deepest part.
This was the experiment control room. In the space spreading behind glass wall, there was something like a huge blast furnace in the center.
There, was a single woman typing on a three-dimensional keyboard.
It was a woman in a white suit. She was crossing her legs as she typed on the keyboard, picked up a mint candy lying on top of the table and threw it inside her mouth.
Her black hair was trimmed into a bob cut and her legs crossed on top of a chair. There was a mole underneath her eye and beside her lips.
The woman raised a hand when she noticed Ouka and Mari.
"——So you're here, spinster duo."
""You're no better!""
Hearing Suginami Ikaruga greet them in the usual manner, the two simultaneously retorted.
"If you're going to say that, that applies to all of ex-Small Fry Platoon's members! Heck, we're still 21! Full of youth!"
"I'm not a spinster! I'm just waiting to be chosen!"
"You'll miss your chance to marry if you wait for that good-for-nothing. Your twenties will be gone before you notice, so you better hurry and search for new love."
Hearing Ikaruga's calm argument the two growled in frustration.
Staring as she stretched grandly and yawned, Ouka took a look around the control room.
"I heard that we're gathering here first... but it's just us three, isn't it?"
"It's because you were late. I'm having Usagi help me out with my work so she'll be back soon. Also, that guy went to catch my kid first."
Hearing that, Ouka furrowed her eyebrows.
"The official procedures are complete, but she's still reluctant to enroll...?"
"Well, "I don't need to go to school"〜 she said and wouldn't listen to me. She ran away somewhere when I wasn't looking today."
Troubling, isn't it. Ikaruga said and sighed. Ouka took out anpan and ice coffee she bought at the bakery and placed them in front of Ikaruga.
Ikaruga put the cold coffee against her forehead and took anpan in her hand.
"Thanks for refreshments, it's a great help since I haven't eaten since yesterday."
"You sound busy... as expected of chief administrator. It must be hard to respond to all the requests from above."
"Yeah, well. On top of that I'm a single mother with an adolescent daughter, y'know? Of course I have it hard."
"...Shouldn't you better marry someone already?"
"Unfortunately〜, I'm unexpectedly devoted."
She separated the coffee from her forehead and opening the pulltab, she took a sip of the bitter liquid.
Mari took a look around the control room and sat down on the chair next to Ikaruga.
"How about you employ someone already? It must he hard to take care of that girl all alone."
"No. We can't trust anyone. Even if I'm allowed to, he won't allow anyone else touch her. Of course, she herself won't allow it either."
"A-an ultimate siscon-brocon pair, huh?"
"It's good that Hoshijiro and Kurogane Hayato are suppressing the higher-ups, but since I said I'll do it, I have no choice but to carry through with it. Although, it would help me lots if you could spare some time and help me out, y'know?"
"Ahh, well, keep up the good work♪."
Kyaha☆, added Mari and saluted, making Ikaruga kick her chair lightly.
That moment, the elevator's chime sounded in the control room.
When everyone's gaze turned towards the elevator, from inside of it,
"Ah, you are finally here! You are late, LATE!"
Huffing in anger all of a sudden, Saionji Usagi appeared in front of everyone.
Her semi-long wavy hair has turned into long wavy hair. Her height hasn't increased at all. She was wearing a black EXE uniform, same as Ouka. Her impressive, huge boobs were still going strong. They used to be smaller than Ikaruga's, but they grew even more and now she had the biggest boobs in the ex-Small Fry Platoon. Since she has been over twenty years old they thought her boobs won't get any bigger, so it honestly suspicious.
Thanks to Usagi's skill in sniping she joined EXE this month and has become Ouka's co-worker. Although she was still part of the reserve, but her ability to pierce through a single point defense was unusual even among members of EXE. With her achievements during the war, she has been scouted by the current EXE captain, Oonogi Kanata, for her skill.
Ouka stroked her own head with one hand and bowed slightly.
"Sorry. I simply overslept."
Hearing Ouka's reason for being late, Usagi was unable to maintain her anger.
"W-woah? That, that's rare. So even you oversleep sometimes? When I am late to work it is you who usually is angry."
"Mm... well, it's cause I'm sortie every day. Although restoration progresses, because of it the movement against the old order has grow more intense. You will be sortied soon too, Saionji."
After Ouka apologized and explained the circumstances, Usagi learned of what's ahead of her and started to tense up. Although she overcame her stage fright over a series of battles and become a top-level sniper, Usagi hadn't been in actual battle ever since war ended so it had returned slightly.
Well, despite that Usagi will probably manage once it gets to battle.
"Speaking of which, where's Kiseki? Wasn't she with Saionji?"
"? She was. After all, we got on the elevator togeth——"
The elevator's chime rang. Once again everyone looked at the elevator. The door opened and from inside, appeared Kusanagi Kiseki, wearing AntiMagic Academy's uniform.
Squirming embarrasedly she walked towards them.
Everyone except for Ikaruga greeted Kiseki while astonished.
"Why are you appearing late despite coming together with me?"
"U-um... uh... W-when Usagi-san... left I pressed... button to open... you see. I tried to, but..."
Seeing Kiseki curl up, Usagi's closed her eyes contently.
"...You pressed the button to close. Then when you tried to open it in a hurry, you pressed the button that took the elevator to another floor."
It must have been a bull's-eye as Kiseki drooped her shoulders dejected.
Usagi pat her shoulder to cheer her up. While Kiseki tried to desperately hide her face behind her bangs, Ikaruga stared at her coldly.
Ikaruga frankly said the truth to Kiseki.
"Y-you're horrible, Ikaruga-oneesama...! You don't have to... say it so clearly... and why isn't it at least "klutz" but "cluts"... uuuuhh..."
"Clearly or not, how many times have you done that already? It's about time you memorized this facility's structure. Don't make trouble by breaking through the security and coming out again. Why do you think did I make you wear AntiMagic Academy's uniform? It's so that you aren't suspicious when you end up clutsing outside, got it?"
"No buts. Memorize it if you want to continue living like this."
Kiseki obediently accepted Ikaruga's sermon and drooped her shoulders. Ouka and Mari made same complacent expressions as Usagi previously had as they enjoyed Kiseki's klutziness.
To think that this girl——was the SS-class designated dangerous Hyakki Yakou who had destroyed the entirety of capital and was responsible for countless people gone missing. They couldn't believe it as they watched her now.
However, it was the truth. Kiseki right here, was THAT Kiseki.
Nothing changed about her.
She has still remained as Hyakki Yakou.
"Wellll, don't be so hard on her〜. You know well that Kiseki-chan didn't meant to do anything bad."
"M-Mari-san... y-you really... are so kind..."
As Mari backed Kiseki up, Kiseki joined her hands in front of her with a sparkle in her eyes. Beside them, Ikaruga crossed her legs and crunched the mint candy inside her mouth.
"She'll just get conceited if you spoil her. I know this girl's real nature best of all."
"! Uuu, Ikaruga-oneesamaaa〜〜."
This time Kiseki turned towards Ikaruga with tears in her eyes. Her expressions changed really quickly. In the past it was impossible to imagine this from Kiseki, Ouka thought and smiled wryly.
Ever since Kiseki shared "feelings" together with them, Kiseki opened her heart to the platoon members alone. She has become cheerful and less shy than before.
Although she was able to act freely as long as she didn't leave outside, it wasn't because she was no longer Hyakki Yakou. Even now the demon curse remained in her body and when it exceeded the allowable amount, Hyakki Yakou overflowed from inside her.
However, currently Kiseki was able to control Hyakki Yakou to a certain extent. Hyakki Yakou was a "power" fulfilling her wishes. It was because she wished for destruction that Hyakki Yakou was eating the world. Hyakki Yakou was a mirror reflecting her soul. That's why as long as she doesn't desire destruction from her heart, Hyakki Yakou will not try to destroy the world.
Currently, Ikaruga has become responsible for all research on Hyakki Yakou. She was given this position because she was the one to propose a "way to control Hyakki Yakou" to Hoshijiro Nagaru and Kurogane Hayato.
Her proposal was very much like that of a mad scientist and eccentric.
『"Put an explosive Gleipnir on Takeru's neck and make it so that if Hyakki Yakou takes somebody's life it automatically explodes."』
She had made this proposal very seriously. It took advantage of the fact that Hyakki Yakou would not act as long as Kiseki did not desire something.
Takeru dying alone was the worst possible ending for Kiseki. That's why it made sense. That is why she would wish from the bottom of her heart "not to kill anyone".
That experiment has been going on well so far, but not all of the new Inquisition's executives were convinced of it. It was too dangerous.
What overruled the executives' concerns, was what Hayato said.
『"If we don't accept this proposal, Hyakki Yakou will end up destroying humanity. It's something we humanity, cannot control."』
And he was absolutely right. He explained that quarantine, torture, and pulling her away from her brother was a suicidal act.
It was because Ootori Sougetsu sought destruction that he took traditional measures.
No matter how dreadful Hyakki Yakou was, that would only lead to destruction.
『"Treat this proposal as negotiations for peace between humanity and Hyakki Yakou."』
In this manner, the vice-chairman of the current Inquisition board, Kurogane Hayato had forcibly convinced the executives.
Like that, Ikaruga conducted research on Kiseki while she voluntarily released Hyakki Yakou in regular manner. The blast furnace was used to eliminate the excess to a permissible level. Even now, Ikaruga focused on studying Hyakki Yakou and had subordinates in both inner and outer world gathering information about the "demon curse".
Of course, Ikaruga also thought that continuing this forever was dangerous. The ultimate goal of her work was erasing the Hyakki Yakou from inside Kiseki's body.
This was something only Ikaruga could do. Fortunately, Kiseki idolized Ikaruga.
When Hyakki Yakou went out of control and they shared feelings, Kiseki was struck by Ikaruga's words and heart completely devoid of lies. After Ikaruga has been made in charge of her the time they spent together increased and Kiseki started to adore Ikaruga to the point of calling her "Ikaruga-oneesama".
Seeing this, Ouka, Mari, Usagi, not even her own brother could hide surprise.
"You have no right to call me your sister. It'll be a whole nother story if you agree on me having Kusanagi, though."
"——Ah, no, you can't."
The way she seemed to be crying one moment, in order to completely deny Ikaruga's words with a wide smile was a proof that Kiseki hardly changed.
As usual, her love for her brother was strong. Even though she was told by him that he wants her by his side as a little sister, and was rejected as a romantic partner, Kiseki did not give up.
As she spend her days together with her brother, she said this.
『"Kiseki is thinking... that as long as there is love, the fact Onii-chan is onii-chan doesn't matter."』
...And remained as always. It could be said she's turned worse since she's turned honest.
Also——for some reason, Ouka was hated by Kiseki same as before.
Actually... we were supposed to have made up though. I thought she accepted me.
Squinting, Ouka watched as Kiseki spoke to Mari and Usagi yet wouldn't even greet her, and was a little hurt.
Kiseki had a sense of guilt after the people whom she killed as Hyakki Yakou. She seemed to act thoughtless, but it wasn't like she felt nothing. Possibly, she discussed these things with her brother and showed him weakness.
In any case, whether Kiseki had a sense of guilt or not, she did wish to live.
Ouka thought it was something to rejoice about. The fact that Kiseki talked with her comrades normally, made Ouka happy.
And the fact that the man who bet his own life on making this situation possible was able to make his dream come true, was what made her more happy than anything.
While Ouka stared at the four talk, including Kiseki, a call had come to Ikaruga's mobile phone. Interrupting the conversation she put it against her ear.
After exchanging two, three words, Ikaruga ended the call.
"He says he found her. It's time to go. I'm uneasy with just him being there."
Ikaruga stood up from the chair and stretched.
Ouka too, stood up along with a small sigh.
A hefty amount of time has passed. Just as Ikaruga said, it felt uneasy to leave everything to him.
Also, they wanted to send her off together.
"Well then, let's go."
Today was the admission ceremony for AntiMagic Academy.
He walked down a nostalgic corridor.
It was a wooden old school building. It's been years since he last was here.
"It's been three years since graduation, after all..."
While recalling that time——Kusanagi Takeru made a nostalgic smile.
A lot happened back in this place, really. It was too harsh to be called bitterness of youth, but it was still important place to Takeru.
AntiMagic Academy's test platoon building. It was built in the same place as the one in previous school building and the same situation was reproduced on purpose.
It was an old-fashioned building made of wood. Every time he walked, the floorings sounded.
Takeru loved this sound.
"This place is great after all..."
Squinting, Takeru recalled the atmosphere from back then. That's when he was suddenly kicked in the shin.
As he screamed, he could tell that the culprit who kicked him has started running away.
Takeru activated Soumatou and catching the culprit by her collar he raised her up.
The culprit caught by the neck wasn't tall so her legs didn't reach the floor and she flailing them in the air.
"L-let go! Kana... Kana is not going there!!"
It was a blue-haired girl with long ears.
Her name was Kanaria. She was wearing AntiMagic Academy's uniform and was an actual half-wood elf. Starting from this year she entered AntiMagic Academy and would spend her daily life at this shitty school.
Kusanagi Takeru who was now 21, smiled bitterly while holding her collar.
"You promised, right? If you want me to teach you the secret art you have to go to school."
"Kana didn't promise anything! Kana doesn't need to study! She has knowledge in her head!"
"Heck, you're single digit of age, dammit. Kids gotta go to school."
As Takeru made a bitter smile, Kanaria hanging like a cat glared at him.
"Then why, why does it have to be AntiMagic Academy?!"
"That's because this is the only school so far that would accept an elf. I'm also doubtful of your admission here, but well, as far as your body goes I guess you are of about high school age."
"Give up. Admittance papers are were submitted. You're already a student here."
He tried to calm her down and as a result, Kanaria gave up and relaxed her body.
While thinking she really was like a cat, he hit Kanaria's back prompting her to walk down the corridor.
"Well. I'm not one to talk, but you've quite the communication disorder. Though it's not like don't understand you're anxious."
"Kana isn't anxious or anything..."
"In Magic Academy you didn't have friends either, right?"
"It's a good opportunity, go deepen bonds with others. This school is perfect for that kind of thing."
No matter how much he emphasized on the school's good points, Kanaria continued to look aside.
Takeru exhaled and turned around the corner of the corridor.
When he did, he found it.
Takeru raised his voice. Standing in front of the door were Ouka, Usagi, Mari and Ikaruga. All four of them seemed to have been waiting for Kanaria and Takeru to come.
They approached the two.
"Cheers for good work, Takeru. Didn't she ran around quite a bit?"
"She even went as far as to use Soumatou and run away to the top of a mountain."
Ouka smiled wryly and called "c'mon" towards Kanaria who kept sulking.
"You'll be all right, Kana-chan〜. Even Ouka managed to make comrades, it'll be easy peasy for you."
When Mari said that, Ouka mercilessly delivered a chop to her head. They came to encourage Kanaria and celebrate her admission, but ended up fighting right away.
"Kana-san's physical abilities are top-notch, so as long as she doesn't pick fights with others she will surely be accepted by everyone."
Usagi pat Kanaria's back twice.
Encouraged by Usagi, Kanaria lowered her eyebrows feeling a little uneasy.
Ikaruga placed a hand on her shoulder.
"It's all right. Go. Waiting in there are your comrades."
Like a gentle mother, she pushed Kanaria's back, speaking with a soft voice.
Timidly, Kanaria started walking towards the platoon's room.
Anxiously, displeased she stood in front of the door and looked at the plate.
『First Year, 35th Test Platoon』
That's what was written on the plate.
Called by name, she turned around.
Takeru raised one hand and smiled gently.
"Do your best. I know you can do it."
She slowly opened the door and fluorescent light has started leaking out from the inside.
Takeru and others watched Kanaria's back as she entered the room completely.
And when the door closed, everyone sighed with relief.
"Good grief... will she be okay?"
"W-who knows? Honestly... I have no idea."
"H-hmm... but, we were all right, so surely..."
"If she's to cry, she should leave it until she's back home. "Kana had enough!" she'll say. Well, that's also what's cute about her."
The five remained there for a moment and watched the platoon's door.
"...How nostalgic. Everything started inside there."
Everyone nodded in response to Takeru's words.
Then suddenly, Takeru looked at himself reflected in the corridor's window.
Compared to the past, he grew taller and his body build improved. His hair too, was slightly longer.
He wasn't wearing a green uniform, but EXE's black one. The emblem at his chest wasn't that of a test platoon. Back then he was a captain, but now Takeru was a vice-captain. Apparently becoming a vice-captain at age of 21 was something to be proud of. With that said, despite being a vice-captain, since he was related to Kiseki his position was extremely special and he rarely headed out into battle. The ones who took command were mainly Kanata and the other vice-captain, Ouka. His current trouble was that his body has been growing dull, all the desk work was harsh on him. In many ways he's been having a hard time.
Looking at it from that perspective... he thought that might have become an adult, but he hasn't changed that much.
Once again he looked at the platoon room's door.
A lot of various things happened.
Painful things, sad things, fun things, and happy things.
All of it was jammed inside that room.
The memories of his comrades along with pain were packed inside there.
In the past, that place was irreplaceable to Takeru.
Now it has been handed down to the next generation. Although it felt lonely, he didn't think of returning back to those days. It was because of them of that time, that they of now were themselves.
Takeru and others now had a new place they belonged to. Their comrades also had their place they belonged to even though they walked separate paths, but Takeru and others remained here.
It was different from the one they had in the past, but this was their new place they belonged to.
"Now, it's about time we go. There's work again in the afternoon."
"Same here〜. Oh right, you guys, it's been a while so go eat lunch in the school cafeteria. There's a new menu and it's quite popular, too."
"Heeh, Western food? Or Japanese?"
"I want to go back and sleep... well, I'll accompany you."
While chatting, the four started walking down the corridor, heading for the school cafeteria.
Takeru stared at the platoon's room for a little longer, but eventually looked away from the door and towards the other four members.
——I'm always by your side.
Feeling like he heard a voice, Takeru turned around with strong momentum.
There was no one there.
Beyond the platoon room's door, he could only hear the loud voices of new small fry platoon's members.
Takeru exhaled lightly and... extended his hand towards the sword at his waist.
He touched the handle.
His azure-colored partner was together with him even now.
——I'll be always, forever by your side.
Takeru smiled and stroked the sword with affection.
"...Yeah, I know... Lapis."
He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.
Takeru was now happy. And the one who attained him this happiness, was his precious partner.
He raised his head and turned around on his heel to chase after his comrades.
His precious place he belonged to, was always by his comrades' side.