Mayumi is the first one to encourage her to take the offer.
“Rin-chan, isn’t it your dream to make magic an integral part of the economy?” is what she says.
Suzune glances at the screen in front of her. The virtually empty itinerary seems to say that her time here is complete.
And yet there’s still a part of her that is loathe to leave the Saegusa, especially after all they’ve done for her. Despite her family’s status- in spite of it- they offered her a position, and for the past year and a half Suzune has analyzed and advised the Saegusa on everything from politics to magic theory.
Mayumi insists on having a farewell dinner; Suzune insists on leaving quietly. In the end, they reach a compromise- a small dinner with the Saegusa children in attendance.
“Rin-chan, thank you for all of your help with my paper on the molecular theory of early counter-magics.,” Izusa Saegusa says. Mayumi’s habit of calling her Rin-chan has unfortunately spread to others in the household.
She tells Izusa that it’s not a problem, and Mayumi’s younger brother pours everyone more wine. He and Kasumi laughs wildly at something Mayumi says. Across the room, Mayumi’s eldest half brother swirls the red wine in his glass, a faint smile gracing his features. His eyes glint in the light. They are distant, calculating. To him, is her acceptance of the Juumonji family’s offer a betrayal?
At least the offer isn’t from the Yotsubas.
Suzune drains the last of her glass, Mayumi flashes her a brilliant smile, and Rin pushes such thoughts from her mind.
The vehicle Juumonji sent rolls to a stop, and she steps out with her luggage. She hadn’t bring much- a suitcase for clothes, a suitcase for important papers. Mari used to tease her for being so fastidiously old-fashioned and always having paper copies of everything.
Katsuto’s residency is not so much a house as it is a mansion, made even more impressive by its location in the heart of the city. A foot servant takes her things and shows her the way to her quarters.
The room is minimalistic, space efficient with a single bed, desk, and dresser. The walls are white, adorned by a single painting of the summer sky, and there is a vase of fresh white clovers on the dresser. It’s not warm enough to feel remotely like home, yet not bare enough to be impersonal.
She unpacks the first suitcase, meticulously sorting and storing her clothes. The suitcase of papers goes on the desk, and she makes a note to ask Juumonji for a filing cabinet.
The house is eerily quiet. Down the hall, she finds a room full of equipment and computers, complete with a blackboard. Everything is new- unscuffed, polished, the latest updates.
Impressive. Juumonji has somehow acquired a Tomamak magnetic fusion reactor core- those that still exist are nearly a century old, outpaced by newer models operating on different theorems. The use of magnetism to alter plasma and optimize fusion conditions would require a constant construction of magic sequences, but using gravity control and loop casting would negate that need and result in periodic fusion. To achieve continuous fusion, there would need to be a method of storing magic sequences. The memory of Tatsuya discussing that very subject resurfaces, and Suzunes wonders if he’s anywhere closer to the answer.
Of course he is
, she thinks. It’s Tatsuya, after all.
Katsuto arrives late in the evening.
He’s hardly changed from when she last saw him. Broad shoulders, solid build, wide nose and muscles like rock. The look in his eyes, if anything, is steelier than Suzune remembers, and she doesn’t doubt for a moment that he’s been through things that would make her blood run cold.
“Ichihara-san,” he says, bowing low. “It’s good to see you again,”
“Likewise,” she replies with a curtsy. “Thank you for the offer.” A beat. “You’re bleeding.”
He reaches up to touch the gash on his nose. “Ah. So I am. Please excuse me, Ichihara-san. I will join you for dinner shortly.” With a bow, he takes his leave, gone as quickly as he’d appeared.
She finds the dining room with almost no difficulty- the house is as simplistic as her room. Even the round table is simple and wooden with two chairs. Suzune takes a seat just as Juumonji enters the room. There’s a bandage on the bridge of his nose, its stark whiteness contrasting with his tanned skin.
“In truth, you surprised me, Ichihara,” Katsuto tells her as he pours them both a glass of wine. (Alcohol’s been flowing pretty liberally these past few days, she thinks dryly.) “I sent you that letter expecting you to stay with the Saegusa.”
The same foot servant that showed Suzune in brings them dinner while she ponders this remark.
“To be candid, I’m not entirely certain why I accepted,” she tells him. At the time, the Juumonji family had seemed to offer nothing more than the Saegusa.
Katsuto raises an eyebrow. “It isn’t like you to act without certainty.”
“No,” she concedes. “It isn’t.” Perhaps it should bother her more, but she is armed with Mayumi’s words of encouragement and her own intrigue about the Tomamak reactor.
She asks Katsuto how he managed to get his hands on one, and he laughs- if anything, her quest for knowledge has remained comfortingly predictable.
Since the Juumonji family has a congenial working relationship with Four Leaves technology, Suzune hauls the Tomamak model over to one of their labs. A-chan, who works as one of the engineering heads, helps her set up the equipment.
“Mr. Silver- er, Shiba-kun, has been working on something similar to this!” she says, eyes sparkling. “You should collaborate with him sometime.”
Just like old times . It’s been many years since their work together during the Thesis Competition, but she remembers Tatsuya’s intensity and level headedness with clarity. Suzune makes a mental note to compare results with the genius at the first opportunity.
She does tests and calculations using the Tomamak and the laboratory’s newer models, and collaborates with the engineering department on the sequence storage project. It’s not a bad day job, and after a few weeks Suzune falls into a comfortable routine: hypotheses, experiments, dinner with Katsuto on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Katsuto appears to be a creature of solitude. This premise is corroborated by the fact that the only other life forms in the mansion are herself, a single foot servant, and the white clovers in their vases.
However, on the whole, he is a person whose presence she finds incredibly agreeable. He’s reserved with his speech, indicating that he understands the gravity of it- he is, after all, head of one of the Ten Clans. Of course, this means any conversations between Juumonji and herself are rather measured, with both of them on the rather taciturn side, but Suzune doesn’t mind. In fact, she rather prefers it that way.
“Impressive,” mutters Katsuto. “If not entirely unexpected.”
“I hope you’re not calling me predictable,” Suzune replies in her deadpan way.
“Of course not,” he rumbles. “You’re anything but.”
She allows herself a wry smile before focusing her attention on the screen in front of her. “You do realize how limited this game is, Juumonji-san? It fails to account for economic and social factors that would affect a military campaign.”
“The game is almost fifty years old,” Katsuto replies. “Besides, there’s no need to be so critical just because I’ve gained China.”
The game might be half a century old, but the pair of them only started playing it together a couple weeks ago after dinners on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and recently Fridays. The game is lacking in certain areas, but still remains engaging thanks in part to Katsuto’s strategic skill. He’s bested her for the past two games, to Suzune’s great shame.
And he might just do it a third time. She frowns upon reexamining the board. He’s dangerously close to overtaking her holds in Southeast Asia. But it would be a tolerable loss if she can spearhead an attack on the USNA from Russia and Brazil. After a pause, she presses the button to adds troops to Vietnam.
“Hmph.” Katsuto adds another battalion of troops to his Chinese forces and attacks. She watches as his forces whittle hers down to near nothing. But the battle buys her time- she shuffles troops to Brazil then Russia and attacks.
“Ah, not a bad maneuver,” Juumonji says. “Except you forgot the Bahamas.”
She scowls as his troops from the gulf provide backup to the USNA. She tries pulling reinforcements from the Philippines, but Kasuto has taken over Southeast Asia and is in the process of overrunning the islands.
“Troops from Haiti would never be that well trained,” Suzune says as he slowly gains the edge in the battle. The corners of her opponent’s mouth quirk upwards, as if to say what can you do about it?
“A valiant attempt,” remarks Katsuto as their armies engage to the bitter end. “You’re much better at this than Mayumi. Tatsuya decimated her forces within six minutes.”
Suzune can’t help but smile at that mental picture, how flustered the girl must have been in contrast to her brother’s cool demeanor. “To be fair to Mayumi, I’m almost certain that Tatsuya-san could decimate any one of us at this game- though I’d expect you to last the longest, Juumonji-san.”
He laughs at that. It’s deep, soft. “I’m flattered, especially since Tatsuya-san
head and shoulders above the rest of us.” He nods, remembering something. “Oh, and Suzune- please call me Katsuto.”
“Do you not have competent bodyguards?” she asks, glancing at his sling. It’s not as bad as the time he was shot in the leg, but still.
“No, just particularly accomplished enemies,” he replies offhandedly. “It doesn’t hurt much. The painkillers you used must have been very effective.”
In actuality, Suzune had paralyzed his right arm, preventing his brain from registering any nerve signals, and given him placebo pills. But she wasn’t about to tell him that.
“Domestic or international enemies?” asks Suzune to divert the conversation, drawing a card from the stack between them.
“Domestic, most likely. No outsiders would care so much about this issue.”
“Are you safe here? This mansion isn’t exactly the most well fortified, outside of the magical traps you’ve set up.”
“I’ve set up guards around the premises,” says Katsuto. “For appearances, mainly. I doubt they’ll try to attack again so soon.” There’s a lull in the conversation, punctuated only by the whisper of Katsuto cards as he places down a pair of queens, draws from the stack, and reorders his hand. Suzune grimaces- she’s going to have to take a large gamble this round.
“Even with a broken arm, I can more than adequately defend myself,” he remarks in what she thinks is an attempt at reassurance. “And from what Saegusa-san has told me, you’re more than capable of holding your own.”
“Oh? What did she tell you?” Suzune doesn’t have to activate her magic to know that Katsuto’s expression will reveal nothing. He has an excellent poker face.
“Something about a hostage situation. Though at the time she was a little drunk and made you out to be like a superhero from one of those old cartoons.” He plays his cards- a pair of aces. Her move.
“Mayumi was never too good at holding her alcohol.” Suzune ignores the race of her heartbeat - does he know, about her and her disgraced family?- and throws down her pair of twos and smirks. “I win.”
“Tch.” He throws down what remains of his hand- miscellaneous garbage. “How are you so good at this?”
“My mother taught me her tricks,” answers Suzune, reshuffling the cards. “It’s not like you’re a bad player.”
“You beat me the last eight rounds we played.”
Normally, she wouldn’t divulge this kind of information, but she does feel a little bad for not letting him win at least one round. (Plus, he’s the one who pays her). “You’re just not used to the other player being so patient, so you play your hand too fast. That’s all there is to it.” The cards are neatly tucked away into their box.
“I see,” mutters Katsuto. “So did your mother teach you how to analyze people as well?”
Her body betrays her- she feels herself stiffen. “No. She died when I was young.” She doesn’t want his pity- instead, she gets his empathy.
“My own mother just passed away last year. I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been to have lost your mother so long ago.”
Seeing his melancholy smile, she reaches out to place her hand atop his large, calloused one. “I didn’t know- I’m sorry you lost her.”
“It’s no fault of yours, Suzune. I’d gotten used to the idea, anyways.”
“Was she in a coma?”
Katsuto eyes widen. “How did you know?”
“You’ve been the head of the Juumonji since high school and- well, it was just a guess.”
From the hallway, the sound of footsteps reaches them. Suzune withdraws her hand from his and lets it fall into her lap. Such a sight would undoubtedly be interpreted as an intimate moment by the servant, which could lead to more rumors, and... Well, when all was said and done- it was best not to exacerbate the situation. There were already plenty of whispers, what with the head of the Juumonji Clan allowing an unmarried female magician to stay with him.
The servant steps in to deliver a bottle of wine, which she readily accepts.
“What were they like- your parents?” Suzune asks him once the servant is out of earshot. From the cabinet, she fetches a pair of wine glasses. The two of them are creatures of logic, not emotion, and assistance will be much needed.
“Getting drunk for this one, are we?” Katsuto asks wryly. He doesn’t have to say exactly what he means- she knows by now that it’s his way of saying thank you.
It’s Tatsuya who ultimately solves the question of nuclear energy and magic. Somehow, she’s not surprised.
Five minutes is all it takes him to understand the fundamental problem in their months of hypothesis and experimentation. A problem with the molecular bonding of the replica, that’s all it is. Within moments he’s programmed a stable, functioning version, and two days later they’ve constructed a working replica that can store magical sequences.
Tatsuya graces them with his presence, and even though Mr. Taurus insists that Shiba-kun be the first one to store a magical spell, he declines the offer.
“I’ve only come in at the last moment, Ushiyama-san. It would be better if the honor were conferred on someone far more deserving.”
“Ah, well then. Ichihara-san, would you accept the honor? Since you joined the project on behalf of the Juumonji family, the project has made leaps and strides to get to this point.”
After a moment of consideration, she accepts. It is her life’s work sitting before her, and she would be a fool to refuse. As she steps forward and activates her CAD, a hush falls over the room. This could be the future of magic.
Suzune casts the spell, and the generator comes to life.
For a moment, they are all stunned. Then comes the champagne and shouts of triumph. This is the future they’ve all dreamed of- the future she’s strived for all her life, and it’s reality.
“Congratulations,” Katsuto tells her upon her arrival home.
She finds it means a lot, coming from him.
“Mayumi? What are you doing here?” Suzune asks in bewilderment.
“Oh- didn’t Juumonji-kun tell you we were coming over?”
It’s then that she spies Tatsuya standing behind Mayumi, as stone-faced as she remembers. Suzune keeps her own features neutral at this revelation- though if she’s to be honest, the signs of such a development have been present as far back as high school.
“Ichihara-san,” he says with a small bow. “We’ve come to congratulate you on your success.”
“Without your input it would’ve been all for naught,” she replies, smiling.
“It was my pleasure,” He bows his head, and she glimpses the ghost of a smile gracing his features. “But I only leant a bit of assistance at the end. You shouldn’t undervalue the efforts of the rest of the team, yourself included.
Before she has time to respond, the doorbell rings, and Suzune answers it again (the servant’s probably in the kitchen), this time met with a grinning Mari Watanabe, Chiba fiancee in tow.
“Hey, Suzune!” Mari says. “Always knew you and Tatsuya would figure it out one day.”
“Thanks,” she replies. “It’s good to see that you’re the same as always, Mari. Hello, Naotsugu-san.”
As she leads them into the foyer, a sleek sports car pulls up into the driveway, and out steps the Crimson Prince himself, with Yotsuba Miyuki resting a delicate hand on the crook of his arm. Suzune is practically about to have an aneurysm. She hopes Katsuto knows what he’s doing, inviting members from three of the Ten Master Clans, as well as Chiba and Watanabe.
“Onii-sama!” Miyuki calls, her face lighting up at the sight of Tatsuya.
“Hello Miyuki,” he replies with a fond smile. It feels like high school all over again, minus the incestuous overtones…
“My apologies for keeping you all waiting,” Katsuto says, stepping into the room. “There were some family issues I had to deal with- you know how it is.” (Of course they do- their entire lives are one family issue to the next.)
“Of course, Katsuto-san,” replies Mayumi. “Thank you for offering to host.”
“Consider it as my thanks to the rest of you,” Katsuto says with a small smile. “Tonight, we celebrate.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Mari declares, taking a glass of wine from the servant’s tray. “Changing the role of magic in society deserves a few drinks, at the very least.”
With that, the alcohol begins to flow liberally, and dishes are brought out periodically. Ichijou stands stiffly in the corner, with Miyuki trying to coax him into socializing. The ice is only broken when Tatsuya is beckoned over and begins to converse with his potential future brother-in-law. Mayumi appears to be teasing Mari about something, if Naotsugu’s blush is anything to judge by.
“I take it this is why you told me to dress up?” Suzune asks Katsuto. “You could have at least given me a warning.”
“Hm? I’ve never thought of you as particularly anxious person in social settings, Suzune,” muses Katsuto, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s not that. Surely you haven’t forgotten that time Mayumi drank a little too much?” she deadpans.
“Ah, yes. Perhaps I should tell Murakami-san to stop bringing out so much wine.”
“Juumonji-san!” Mayumi calls, capering over. “Do you still have that world domination game?”
“Oh, Risk?” Katsuto pulls over a tablet. “Yes, it’s right here, Mayumi-san. Why? Were you thinking of rechallenging Shiba in a match to the death?”
“Tatsuya!” He turns and bows at her beckoning.
“It would be an honor. I also wouldn’t mind testing my skill against that of Ichijou-san.”
So somehow, the dinner turns into a spectacle centered on that damned war game. It’s a little painful, really, to see Tatsuya’s nearly foolproof methodology and preparations to annihilate Mayumi’s forces. Suzune attempts to give her friend a few pointers (that way, she’ll at least last ten minutes), but the former chairwoman has almost reached her alcohol tolerance threshold and is having none of it.
“Rin-chan, I assure you that I will hold my own against Tatsuya-kun.”
With a sigh of resignation, Suzune leans back, exchanging a glance with Katsuto, who shrugs almost imperceptibly to say you tried. Ah well, at least Mari won’t remember this tomorrow. Probably. Hopefully. Suzune hopes Naotsugu is successful in prying that glass from her- it wouldn’t do to have the her die of alcohol poisoning.
In the span of six minutes, Tatsuya’s devastation of Mayumi’s forces is evident. His face is stoically blank, except for his eyes, which glint with mirth. For some reason- perhaps it’s that glass of wine- Suzune feels compelled to speak.
“It appears your bewitching face didn’t detract from Tatsuya’s strategic brilliance, chairwoman.”
“Hmpf- I don’t know how he does it! Did you rig the game, Tatsuya?” She’s pouting.
“Mayumi, you should admit your fair defeat- so that I can partake of you now,” murmurs Tatsuya. In her peripheral vision, Ichijou does a double take- obviously unacquainted with the man’s… unusual brand of humor. On the other side of the room, Katsuto is laughing silently, broad shoulders shaking.
But for a moment, Suzune thinks she sees Miyuki’s eyes flash darkly- an internal alarm goes off at this. She’d thought that was over, but perhaps old habits died hard in this case.
“Mayumi, perhaps we should take a stroll outside,” suggests Suzune, standing and gesturing towards the door.
“I suppose a breath of fresh air wouldn’t hurt,” the petite woman muses. “Ichijou-san, why don’t you take my place and show Tatsuya his?”
The Crimson Prince bows. “I’ll try my hardest, Saegusa-san.”
Suzune leads the former Student President outside to the gardens; the night sky glimmers with stars, and magical lamps light the pathways.
“Ah, Rin-chan, it’s good to see you after all this time. Though I suppose you don’t miss me much, what with Katsuto around. I’ll admit, the thought never did cross my mind until you accepted his-”
“Mayumi, I believe the alcohol has addled your judgment. Katsuto and I have no romantic relations,” she states plainly.
“You just called him Katsuto instead of Juumonji-san, and you live with him. Even Tatsuya-kun and I don’t live together,” singsongs Mayumi.
“Because I work for Katsuto- ah, Juumonji-san. It’s not as if I have untoward designs.”
“Maybe- but how do you know these arrangements aren’t part of an elaborate plan to draw forth your long suppressed emotions in his favor? Juumonji is craftier than you know, Rin-chan!”
“I think I can judge how crafty he is, Mayumi- I’ve played Risk with the man. I’m telling you- there’s nothing.”
“We’ll see…” Mayumi says, eyes sparkling with starlight. As they head back towards the house, Suzune makes a note to tell Juumonji to cut back on his wine supplies.
It’s late and the mansion’s atmosphere is that peculiar type of emptiness, the result of stillness after so much animated camaraderie. Juumonji walks back into the living room, seats himself across from Suzune and hands her a glass of water.
Mayumi’s words echo strangely in her mind (it’s definitely the alcohol) and she finds herself studying Katsuto. His mouth is set in a characteristic frown, but she will say that he looks good in suits. Behind him, a spider scuttles down the wall. It only takes her a moment to paralyze it- that sort of thing is quicker with a smaller target. It would probably take her at least five minutes to immobilize Katsuto.
“I wanted to ask you something,” says Katsuto, clearing his throat. She raises an eyebrow.
“Now that you’ve solved the puzzle of the nuclear fission reactor, would you consider being my political analyst and advisor?”
It catches her by surprise, she must admit- mainly because it makes little sense. “My primary fields of study are economics and power engineering. I doubt I’d be of much help in politics.”
“I find it difficult to believe that you’ve never been interested in politics, Suzune.” He’s still frowning and stone-faced. “You’re a critical thinker and good at reading situations and acting accordingly.”
The staples of a shrewd politician, she thinks wryly. Except- “I’m not much of an orator, Juumonji-san.”
“You did well at the Thesis Competitions- but as an advisor, there’d be little need for public speaking.” Katsuto rises. “It’s just a proposal, not an ultimatum. There’s no need to rush making a decision.”
She nods. “Of course. I’ll let you know when I do. Good night, Katsuto.”
Juumonji Katsuto isn’t wrong. There was a time when Suzune was deeply into politics- but that was long ago.
She looks down at her hands. Maybe she does need a break.
“Computer, pull up results for the history of the Juumonji family.
It’s nothing she hasn’t seen before- genealogy, basic magical skills, heavy military involvement. He’s the latest in a long line of powerful magicians, as dictated by generations of careful breeding, research, and training. There’s no doubt in her mind that Katsuto wants to diversify his clan’s prospects beyond that of military strength, especially with the inevitable prospect of magic’s economic uses.
Suzune pauses. “Pull up the Ichihana files.”
A family cast out because of their abilities. An ability suppressed and kept secret. With barely any effort, Suzune can feel the blood coursing through her veins and the signals flashing between her neurons.
In the end, it doesn’t take her long to make a decision.
“Computer, call Juumonji Katsuto.”
“Of course, stored and loopcasted spells can undeniably be utilized in a military fashion,” Suzune remarks. “And considering your family’s history, it would be a good idea to pioneer new machinery and weapons that use relics as the operating system.”
“It feels as though there are infinite possibilities,” Katsuto says. “Though the first that comes to my mind is storing Phalanx as a defensive measure on tanks and aircraft.”
The car pulls onto an empty stretch of road. Behind them, the setting sun paints downtown Osaka a brilliant red, skyscrapers glinting as they reflect the dying light. The conference today could’ve gone better, she supposed, but there was nothing they could do now. Of course, Suzune had known that the thought of magicians becoming a keystone in the economy would frighten people and cause hostility, but premonition didn’t mean it was any less draining.
“My apologies for rambling so long,” he murmurs. “It was a long day.”
She waves her hand nonchalantly. His ramblings, far and few in between, don’t bother her- quite the opposite. The car continues on in near silence, save for the hum of the motor.
“Get down!” Katsuto roars, reaching out to her. A wall of green magic springs to life, and the car flips.
The seatbelt catches her, but she’s still thrown backwards and slams her head against the seat. The barrier before her shudders as spells explode against it
“Tch,” mutters Katsuto. “Are you alright?”
“Yes.” The car’s flipped on its side and on fire, but she manages to untangle herself from the seatbelt and follow Katsuto out of the vehicle. Behind them, the car explodes, and burning shrapnel rains down around them.
“Get ready!” Katsuto yells. She braces herself- the phalanx materializes beneath her and she is jolted high into the air.
She activates her CAD as spells fly past her head. They’re coming from the shoulder of the road, but no one’s there. Thermal Camouflage? She fires a few shots that way, and the trajectories of the spells change as their casters scatter.
“If only we could see them,” growls Katsuto.
Suzune reached out with her magic. Nervous signals… a faint heartbeat…
“There.” She points her CAD and fires.
The ground explodes with the force of her shot and there is a spray of blood. One down. The rest of the assailants cease fire momentarily, and she takes advantage of their hesitancy and locates the others.
“There are two clustered a meter left of the burning wreckage, one on the shoulder of the road, and a group concealed within that wooded area,” she tells Katsuto. He nods.
She fires several low grade shots at those lining the road, while Katsuto shoots blindly at the attackers by the flaming car. They return the fire as they scatter again, finally realizing that they can’t hide. There’s no time to paralyze all of them- but one is all they need.
“Look out!” The spell hits Suzune dead on as she shoves Katsuto aside, and she falls.
This isn’t how she envisioned dying, and it’s kind of pathetic really but-
She lands on a Phalanx spell. Juumonji jumps down next to her.
I’m okay, she tries to say, but they hit her with a paralyzing spell, the bastards. She has to shift her focus from immobilizing their attackers to working countermagic for the spell. It’s regrettable, but they’ll have to retreat- Katsuto can’t sense their enemies and she can’t tell him.
Katsuto wildly fires spells as he lowers them to the street. In one fluid motion, he slings her over his shoulders and casts a phalanx around him.
“It’s Juumonji. I’m going to need a transport. We’re under attack.” He keys in the location and hangs up. “Talk to me, Suzune.”
I can’t, you idiot. She glares at him. Does he really not know what a paralyzing spell looks like? Tch . Attacks continue to pummel the iridescent spell barrier, but Katsuto is unflinching.
The spell fights against her own magic, trying to shut down her neurons. As if such a weak spell could overpower me. Just a few more seconds, and-
“You can put me down, thank you.” As much as Suzune appreciated the sentiment, she isn’t fond of being handled like a sack of potatoes.
Behind them, an entourage of vehicles pulls up, carrying a group of magicians that cover for the two of them.
“Capture one of them alive!” Katsuto orders. “Where are they, Suzune?”
“They’ve fanned out- trying to surround us. Two to your immediate right!”
He blasts them to pieces.
“Cover me for two minutes,” she orders the magicians. The sensation of thousands of signals, jumping across neuron bridges, muscles tense with anticipation and retaliation- she pours her energy into stopping it all.
The signals slow, gradually, until finally- nothing. All at once, there is nothing.
“Stop!” she calls out. “I’ve incapacitated them.”
“Are you sure, Ichihara-san?” one of the magicians asks.
“They’re paralyzed.” As she says it, their opponents’ bodies ripple into visibility as the camouflaging spells fall away.
“What do you want us to do with them, Juumonji-san?” one of the men asks.
“Take them to the complex in downtown Osaka, for now. See if you can get anything out of them one they come to- we’ll be there soon enough.”
Escorted by two magicians, she and Katsuto head to the hotel. She doesn’t know quite how to explain this one to him.
“They were after you,” muses Katsuto.
“Of course,” she replies. “Non-lethal, incapacitating spells; my knowledge of storing magical sequences.” It was only a matter of time before someone out there went after her.
Katsuto nods; his eyes express relief at her safety.
He doesn’t ask about how she brought down their attackers; somehow, Suzune finds herself grateful and disappointed all at once.
The assailants are from the Great Asian Alliance, and no one is surprised. Ever since Scorched Halloween, things have been rocky between the two countries. Katsuto is silently, hulkingly furious.
“Your boyfriend is terrifying when he’s angry,” Mayumi tells her after one of the countless forums they have to attend. After so many years of friendship, Suzune knows it’s pointless to correct her. Still...
“You ought to refrain from such fantastical labels. If the wrong person were to overhear, Katsuto’s marriage prospects would inevitably become less varied.”
“Exactly. Is there anything wrong with helping out a friend?” asks Mayumi with a (not-so-innocent) giggle.
“Your definition of help is drastically different from mine.”
“Your definition of ‘romantic relationship’ is drastically different from mine.”
Suzune raises an eyebrow.
“The two of you drink wine together on a daily basis, talk about science and geopolitics all the time, and play cards and wargames in his living room. The only other people that can keep up with your science talk-” Mayumi counts them off on her fingers. “-are Cardinal George, Kei, and Tatsuya. And there aren’t many people who can drink with Katsuto without developing cirrhosis.”
“I fail to see how a lack of cirrhosis equates to a romantic relationship.”
Mayumi waves a hand. “Leave the details to me. Also, what do you think about Tatsuya and I getting married?”
“Congratulations, your days of pregnancy scares are over.”
One thing leads to another, and before Suzune knows it everyone is engaged; Mayumi and Tatsuya are planning their wedding, Naotsugu proposes to Mari- she even runs into Cardinal George during his date with that Ichijou girl at the coffee shop. The sudden increase in romantic interaction among her peers brings a troubling point to the forefront of Suzune’s mind.
She broaches the subject with Katsuto one evening after going over his will- it seems a good opportunity as any.
“The next family heir is your distant Australian cousin who has only a rudimentary grasp of Japanese politics. Does this indicate that you plan on locating a suitable spouse soon?” she asks.
“I suppose,” answers Katsuto with a nonchalant shrug. “I’ve been on a few outings, but there’s been nothing concrete.”
“If you wait too long, your child’s risk of having genetic disorders will rise drastically, you know.”
“I’m open to suggestions,” he says evenly.
An evil voice that sounds exactly like Mayumi’s whispers Rin-chan, this is your chance to finally make a move! With practiced ease, Suzune quashes the thought.
“I suppose you added a wife husbandry clause to my contract while I wasn’t looking,” she remarks dryly. “Well, I’ll humor you anyways- she would have to have genes compatible with yours and powerful magical skills to pass along. While a background with a powerful family is preferable, someone outside of the Ten Master Clans would be ideal. We don’t want a Japanese House of Habsburg.”
With Mayumi and Tatsuya tying the knot between the Saegusa and Yotsuba, and the potential linkage between Ichijou Masaki and Yotsuba Miyuki, they had to bring in some fresh blood before the situation became… messy, to say the least.
“A wise observation,” Katsuto remarks evenly.
Suzune pulls up the national database of registered magicians and filters results to suitably aged women with a family history of powerful, consistently inherited magic.
“Is this legal, Rin-chan?” asks Katsuto in his rumbling voice, peering over her shoulder.
“You’re the head of the third most powerful family in Japan. Who’s going to stop you? Now, we should narrow down the candidate pool even further- you like dark hair and extremely explosive magic, right?”
“I suppose- though I am rather partial to subtle spellweaving. You admire what you desire, they say.” He squints at the grainy image. “Somehow I feel as though online dating would be more morally upright.”
“Humor me. As your advisor, I’m looking out for your bloodline’s future.”
And so he humors her for a couple hours- somewhere in there the cornerstone of their relationship, fine wine, appears- and the experience gradually devolves into a semi-serious debate on genetics and what Katsuto’s dream magician girl would be like.
“Dark hair, intelligent and analytical, subtle spellcasting, a ‘full figure.’ I’m not going to ask for specifics on that last point.” Suzune pours herself another glass. “At this point, we’ll have to delve into the Great Asian Alliance’s archives.”
At his motioning, she slides the tablet over to him. His eyebrows furrow, as always when he’s intent on Hm. solving something. There’s something endearing about his hulking figure hunched before the small device.
Katsuto clears his throat and proceeds to read off the computer screen. “One result found-” Somewhere, off in Belize or wherever she went for her honeymoon, Mayumi is laughing. Suddenly, Suzune wishes she didn’t have such a high alcohol tolerance.
“Unsurprisingly, it’s you,” murmurs Katsuto, turning the screen towards her. His eyes search hers as she glances at her pensive, pixelated face.
Reaching over, he depowers the tablet and pours himself another glass of wine. “It’s not like you to avoid the subject- Suzune, if you view me as merely an employer, I’ll take no offense.”
“It’s not that,” she says with a sigh. “I’m fond of you, Katsuto. Your presence is... calming- steadying.”
“And I feel the same,” muses Katsuto. “You mean a lot to me, Rin-chan. And if this feeling is mutual, I don’t see a reason not to further our relationship. You may not be from the hundred families, but you’re a powerful mage in your own right.”
“The fact that my family isn’t part of the hundred is the problem,” she says evenly. “I find it hard to believe you never researched my background, Katsuto.”
“That would be because I have looked into your background.” At this revelation, Suzune starts. “The Ichihara- formerly known as the Ichihana. I researched it after the incident with the Great Asian Alliance assailants.”
“Then that makes this all the easier,” Suzune says curtly. “There’s a high probability my paralysis magics will be passed onto our potential offspring.”
“Which means you’ve considered this before.”
“...That’s beside the point.” Besides, it had been during a conversation with Mayumi… the thought could hardly be counted.
“There are times we ought to live with our hearts. And as much as I care about my family’s future, I can’t see that future without you.”
“Are you entirely sober, Katsuto?”
“Ichihana-san, I could drink you under the table.”
“True. It’s hard to find good drinking partners nowadays.”
“I’m asking you to be my lifelong drinking partner,” he says with a rare smile.
She feels it, the terror palpable in the thudding of her heart. Her nerves are all in a jumble, neurotransmitters firing like New Year’s fireworks. In the back of her mind, her father’s voice- keep it a secret, expelled for this, don’t want you to suffer-
Rin clears her throat.
“I could live happily with you as my lifelong drinking partner.”
“I knew it was a good idea for you to accept Katsuto’s offer,” Mayumi teases.
“Which one?” Suzune deadpans, but she’s grateful for her friend’s support- without it, the political deluge and criticism would have been tenfold.
“Regardless of which offer it was, I’m sure Juumonji-san appreciates it,” remarks Tatsuya with a smirk that is borderline deadly. It would appear that somewhere along the course of married life, Mayumi’s habits had somewhat influenced Tatsuya’s.
Katsuto places a hand on Suzune’s shoulder, and asks with an entirely straight face- “Mayumi-san, Tatsuya-san- I’ve been meaning to ask the two of you a pressing question. In your opinion, does the thrill of semi-public sexual intercourse counterbalance the potential ramifications of discovery?”
“Kyaa-” Mayumi chokes on her pasta. Tatsuya’s face remains stoic.
“The potential ramifications are often what increase the thrill- or so I’m told,” Tatsuya comments.
“Not that we’ve ever done anything of that sort!” stutters Mayumi after she’s safely swallowed the pasta.
“Mm. Tatsuya- you’re not having an affair, are you?” asks Suzune, sipping her wine a tad smugly. “Because I could’ve sworn I heard a woman moaning your name in the water closet the other day.”
This time Mayumi chokes on her bread.
“I wouldn’t be adverse to trying it sometime, Rin,” Katsuto says in an inflectionless voice.
“Mm. As long as the water closet isn’t already occupied.”
Tatsuya has to rub poor Mayumi’s back for a good three minutes.
“Despite the experience, I still fail to understand how everyone derives a thrill from potential discovery,” remarks Suzune.
“I have a feeling others are less thorough than you and more impromptu,” Katsuto rumbles. “But I admire you for it.”
He means to say love she knows, but the word is still strange on his tongue and in her mind. It’s a slow and gradual process, often careful to the point of meticulous- but Katsuto doesn’t complain. She appreciates that about him.
“I’m in the mood for a glass of Bernkastel,” she says. Because in the end, there are two important components to their relationship: supporting one another and good wine.