- 2 -
ON THE SUBJECT OF A BORING HIGH SCHOOL LIFE
"Yes, Akagawa Katzumi here. Contrary to popular belief, I'm a normal person."
Tsunoi Azami had run up to my desk with those words. Words filled with hopeless naivety and unhinged innocence. Unlike my classmates, I wasn't one to be easily drawn in to her deception; but rejecting such a pretty girl would undoubtedly earn me the entire class's ire.
She was grinning from ear-to-ear. As I took a while to respond, she had cutely tilted her head to the side, as if confused by my lack of response. I'm sure she was doing her best to stand still, but she was gently swaying from side-to-side in spite of herself. She was sakura trees at the start of March, both a gentle "hello" and a harrowing reminder at the days to come.
Her brown hair fell about her shoulders indecisively, stuck in an eternal directional struggle. The answer it came to, naturally, was "curly".
"Good morning, Azami," I finally answered, partially returning the greeting and partially placating her interests.
She nodded, a gesture more out of confirmation than anything else. "I am noting that you are here, and I shall now move to the next person", it seemed to say. I didn't really mind; she played her persona how she saw fit. I did wish she would at least attempt to look interested—if you were going to assume the deredere archetype, you couldn't allow a fragment of your actual persona to leak through. Without careful consideration, you would only appear as someone attempting to reap the benefits of such a disguise; an otaku-leech.
Despite my mental protests, she scampered over to another scattered group of classmates without another glance toward me. With her demeanor, you might wrongly assume she was the class representative—and to a certain effect, she was. As Mitsukuni never showed up to class, the responsibility to conduct role fell onto her shoulders. Even then, she never complained, and it was likely she would perform it even without the encouragement. That was the reason Mitsukuni selected her, after all—she was the one person he could throw the task on that wouldn't complain.
In that sense, it almost made Mitsukuni appear the villain, but in truth, both of them benefited in this scenario. As the smartest human to ever walk the halls of the Phrontistery, I'm sure Mitsukuni realized this from day one.
That's just who Suguro Mitsukuni was.
The door slid open, and Azami immediately raised her hand.
"Everyone is here, Reina-sensei!"
Ever the attentive student, Azami announced the results of her role call without a moment's hesitation. Her current expression gave her an air of capriciousness. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that she was not only in a government-organized academy for the beyond talented, but also a member of the top class within its department.
Every class at the Phrontistery was divided into sections, from A to E, with each letter denoting the rank of "intelligence" that every student fell into, if such an arbitrary lettering system could even be used to define something as abstract as one's intellect. However, the Phrontistery managed to categorize individuals rather well, even taking into account non-school related abilities, such as my own.
Back to her role call, though, it was actually incorrect. There was actually one single person missing from the A-class. Suguro Mitsukuni. It was a rare event anyone skipped class at the Phrontistery, mostly because the payoff was scarcely worth it. Mitsukuni was the exception. In fact, the phrase "everyone is here" had become synonymous with "everyone except for Mitsukuni". As the current reigning prodigy of the Phrontistery, he was given a lot more leeway than the average student.
Miss Reina nodded, her brown ponytail swaying slightly as she strided over to the teaching podium.
"Thank you, Azami. You may take your seat."
Miss Reina opened the class with a few remarks about the Phrontistery's standards and operation. There were a few updates in the code of conduct, as well as some new additions planned for the school. I sighed internally (an audible sigh would have earned me Miss Reina's ire), resting my head against the cold wood of my desk. It was Monday, and I was still lamenting the end to my glory-filled weekend. As usual, I had spent most of my time off watching anime and snacking on various foods my father had brought back from his travels a month prior.
Eventually, the dredges of sleep began to catch up with me, and I felt my eyes drifting every closer to the sweet release of unconsciousness. Not really one to care for instruction, I had no reason to fight the urge, and quickly found myself in the realms of sleep.
While I'm unconscious, let me explain to you the Phrontistery's true purpose:
Yes, the Phrontistery's true purpose was to educate up-and-coming Mages. In short, it was a school revolving around the teaching of Imagics.
Concepts like magic weren't exactly withheld knowledge, contrary to what urban-fantasy novels might lead you to assume, but they certainly weren't public databases dedicated to the craft. Magecraft, the formal term, was scarcely studied within select universities in Japan. Its applications, though, were rather simplistic—the mundane "activation" spell was a good example of this. In short, the art of activation was a Mage's ability to turn fragments of thought into catalyst, which was primarily an on or off switch.
Most mages who went to university to study magecraft had an aptitude for this art, as there lied a direct correlation to the true principle, "Ordo", meaning Order. It was a concept that all humans naturally possessed within themselves.
The easiest way to think of it was considering the alchemical components of a human: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, among others. True principles, on the other hand, were the metaphysical elements that made up the world. The unseen, intangible elements. Magecraft, as a tool, gave humans the ability to modify the true principles, just as science gave us the ability to modify the elements.
This created a divide in the schools of "magic". Altering the physical world through conceptualized means, known as Psionics, and altering the metaphysical world via the true principles, known as Imagics.
This made Imagics, as a concept, a great deal more difficult to explain than Psionics. Imagic's base principles lied on a completely different system than reality. Psionics, meanwhile, was firmly grounded in science.
If you threw an object in Psionics, it would eventually fall to the ground due to gravity. All objects, no matter what elements it was made out of, followed this principle. Meanwhile, the true principles were more finicky. If an object was thrown in the realm of Imagics, whether or not it fell had a direct correlation to the true principles that encompassed it. After all, gravity itself was represented by a true principle, "Gravitas".
In summary, the world dictated Psionics, while Imagics dictated Imagics.
Despite all this, however, there was a harrowing truth. While I was indeed in the A-class, I, Akagawa Katzumi, was a serv.
Basically, I was an ordinary human.
You might ask how I was accepted into the A-class of the Phrontistery then, a school known for explicitly harboring future Mages. The answer was simple—I was training to combat Mages.
The class began to grow noisy, causing my fatigued body to immediately wake up. The only thing I valued more than sleep was food, which the sudden noise increase dictated it was time for. I suppose it was part of my "Intuition" skill, but I had developed the ability to automatically lurch myself awake whenever lunch began. It seemed much of the class had already started to leave the room, either to purchase a lunch or simply sit in the cafeteria. A handful remained in the class, of course, but unlike other Japanese high schools, the act was a bit rarer. Class was essentially a glorified torture room, where teachers taught principles that went far beyond "college level" and into the realm of implausibility.
I groaned as the smell of food entered my nostrils, not even bothering to reach for my wallet—I was fully aware just how broke I was. I would be going hungry for today.
Perhaps I shouldn't have bought that figurine.
Of course, my lamenting was more of a formality. I wholly accepted my purchase with glee, and naturally would never think of undoing my decision. Still, because of my brush with insomnia, I had neglected to make a lunch, so for that reason my stomach would remain empty.
At that moment, a few things happened.
First, Suguro Mitsukuni peeked into the room. My intuition activated, sensing something interesting occuring.
He smiled at me, and it seemed I was the only one who noticed his presence. He held a finger to his lips, with a playful expression that appeared to say "a secret between me and you".
With that, he left.
Almost as if in response to his leaving, Eleanor Weiss flipped a chair and sat directly in front of my desk. The noise in the classroom audibly dimmed.
"This is a new development…" A female voice whispered near the back of the class.
You're telling me.
Eleanor Weiss was not a normal girl. She would arrive to class late—inevitably because of a visit to the doctor's a day prior, or a morning day check-up. It was not uncommon for her to walk into class several hours after the second bell. It was such a common occurrence, in fact, that my fellow classmates would jest that the hospital was secretly her house, and she was simply using it as a convenient excuse to play absentee.
That wasn't the main reason the class had gone quiet though; no, the famed Eleanor Weiss was a unique spectacle in our class—a foreigner who had moved to Japan for unknown reasons. Her curly blonde hair was brought up into two defining twintails, and her general posture indicated some sort of refinement or class. However, there was no information to go on regarding Eleanor Weiss—she simply appeared in class one day with minimal introduction. Still, my classmates speculated, even without a foundation to base their claims on.
I may sound as if I'm uninterested in Eleanor Weiss's past, but I was honestly as intrigued, if not more so, than my classmates. No man in his right mind could deny Eleanor Weiss's beauty, and her allure was so enticing that a handful of people in Class 3A had already tried their hand at confessing. However, it was also true that their confession never left their lips.
Eleanor Weiss's gaze could freeze the polar ice caps right over again, and the wells of sadness beneath her jaded irises could haunt a ghost's dreams. Eleanor Weiss had no friends—the extent of her interactions had been to explain her absences, and our teacher had long since learned not to call on Eleanor Weiss to read portions of our textbooks or answer questions.
"I do not know."
Her Japanese was flawless, of course.
She wasn't dim—not in the slightest. The only reason I suspect our teacher never pressed her was because she herself was aware Eleanor Weiss more than knew the material. Her near top scores reflected that easily.
On the bright side, it seemed she had a very unbiased approach to reading. Quite often while our teacher droned over the fundamentals of various subjects, she would pull out a book to read. It was very random, but equally charming. I also felt rather accomplished: I had discovered something Eleanor Weiss enjoyed.
If this was a video game, I'm sure I would've gotten an "achievement unlocked" symbol somewhere.
As mentioned earlier, Eleanor Weiss was not dim, and her reading did wonders in exemplifying that. It was a misnomer to simply call her "not dim"—it was actually a disservice. She was nearly uncontested. At the end of every exam, if her name was not listed underneath the top ten names of the first years, the problem was not with Eleanor Weiss—it was with the test.
For all my floundering, as a student who found it difficult to pass any subject other than Japanese, it was rather disheartening. It appeared that despite my protest to the contrary, our brains had been wired differently at birth. You may think I was jealous, but you'd be wrong. I would not want to be Eleanor Weiss. Such a haunting existence would soon drive me insane; I preferred being a loner of my own volition, not due to extraneous circumstances.
As I stated earlier, Eleanor Weiss was nearly uncontested. In the intellectual department, Mitsukuni had her beat—not to belittle Eleanor Weiss's intelligence in the slightest; after all, from the perspective of us mere students, Eleanor Weiss and Suguro Mitsukuni's power struggle was a battle of the gods. It may have been possible to list the few similarities between Suguro Mitsukuni and Eleanor Weiss, but I assure you it would be a meaningless gesture. Even if I were to list his character traits in a symbolic way, it would do Suguro Mitsukuni no justice. If you haven't been in his presence, then there's no way for you to understand. Yes, it's the sort of thing that can't be conveyed with human language.
Of course, just by me saying that, you know I'm going to try.
Carefree to a fault, yet still somehow responsible. A fellow second-year, set somehow one that exuded the aura of an upperclassman. The class representative, something everyone immediately accepted without him even needing to run. Intellectual mastermind, one who had no contest in all of Japan—well, there was his rivalry with a student from another school, one which mostly taught Psionics, but that was another case entirely.
Most everyone, it seemed, had been Suguro Mitsukuni's classmate at one point, so him becoming class representative was not surprising. He just sort of assumed it, and everyone accepted it.
I must admit, I never exactly cataloged all my thoughts about the two legends of Class 3A until now. Eleanor Weiss and Suguro Mitsukuni, at this point, were simply not significant in my life. If I had to look back at my current ten years of school and point out every one of the thousand individuals whom I had shared the same space, yet were insignificant, I promise you the answer would be very despairing. I was not a person who influenced lives, nor a person who wanted to. In fact, if I had to submit one goal that embodied my entire life at the Phrontistery, it was the aversion toward friendship.
Eleanor Weiss frowned as she stared me down, and I felt myself growing rather awkward.
So she forgot my name.
I had to withhold the urge to slam my face into the desk.
"Katzumi, actually," I corrected her. She blinked in my direction.
Was I just completely ignored?
"...Have you noticed anything strange recently?"
"Missing memories, vague details...maybe the feeling that something isn't right?"
I shook my head, unable to understand anything that came out of her mouth. Missing memories? Where did all this come from? Is she perhaps...suffering through middle-school syndrome? The mere thought of that disturbed me, actually. I quickly discarded the thought from my head.
I stopped immediately.
"That sounded forced."
"'Weiss'," she repeated.
"Say it again."
"No no, wrong again. I don't like how that sounds."
"What exactly should I call you, then?"
"Call me Eleanor."
"—…Er, well…" I steeled myself against her gaze, "...Eleanor."
"Ah, you see, that was a lot better."
"S-So, what did you need?"
"What do I need? Oh, right."
She begun idly tapping her fingers on my desk.
"Well, I—...I seem to have forgotten."
That time, I actually did slam my head against the desk.
Eleanor Weiss and Suguro Mitsukuni.
Despite my past self's protests, these two people became infinitely important during the following events of our lives. Candidly speaking, however, I must apologize. For even if I were to explain every event from A to Z, omitting not a single facet, I suspect you all would still be unable to comprehend it—the content is just too shocking. So with that, we must start here, during the event that two of us in Class 2A knew would occur: Suguro Mitsukuni and Akagawa Katzumi.
So why start here? You might be asking.
Because I want to utter a meaningless monologue about the start of my relationship with my girlfriend, Eleanor Weiss, and my close friend, Suguro Mitsukuni.
Is that so wrong?
For certain, it's worthless.
If I look at it from the perspective of Alice Nir, a girl I would meet nearly a month later; a girl who endowed herself with the blessing of fortitude, and spared not a moment's sacrifice to herself, there is no doubt that my revival of "the good old days" will appear as a sterile, backwards-leaping act. Something shallow and deserving of mockery, but not scorn. I believe that as well—people should face forward, if not positively, then at least actively.
"Move forward, even if it's lacking".
Unfortunately, these are not my values. Not the values of the inept Akagawa Katzumi. Such a pseudo-human, who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street, does not deserve to be put in the category of that delicate girl.
"Eleanor Weiss?" Mitsukuni asked, tilting his head to the side, "What about Eleanor Weiss?"
Mitsukuni tapped his fingers against my desk, not unlike Eleanor Weiss. His eyes seemed lost in a fog all of his own.
"You know, it's rare for you to approach me, Katzumi."
"It's rare for me to approach anyone."
I leaned forward.
"Well, when you see 'Eleanor Weiss', don't you think she could be a royal or something?"
"Isn't that an eponym?"
"No. I mean, I was more interested in her first name."
"Ah. Isn't that from the Old French form of the Occitan name Aliénor?"
"Wow, so it's true."
"You're a treasure trove of useless information."
Mitsukuni narrowed his eyes at me, but instead of pressing further, he instead said: "I'm surprised. You're taking interest in other people."
"You act like you've been watching whether I've been taking interest in others or not."
I never stood out in class—I never had any intention in doing so. Whenever social interaction was directed my way, I took my laughs and left as soon as possible. Despite that, though, it seemed Suguro Mitsukuni had become interested in me. Since that day we first met, Mitsukuni had forced me into the position of "assistant class representative". When I informed him Azami had already taken that position, he instead corrected his statement:
"From henceforth, you are now assistant-assistant class representative."
So, with my heinously long title set in stone, I ended up spending a lot of time after school filing away papers and notices for Reina-sensei, including today. Although in all honesty, Mitsukuni had no need for me. His intelligence shined through even in the mundane, and he organized every sheet and report quicker than my mind could even comprehend. Instead, my only job was to paperclip together larger reports so they could be more easily pulled.
"I don't think it's that strange—I have friends."
"You more-or-less have acquaintances, Katzumi."
"What's the difference?"
Mitsukuni sighed, pushing a stack of papers to the side. "So it comes down to this, huh?"
"What do you mean?"
Mitsukuni leaned in closer, "It should be noted her names means 'knows'. Wise, clever, experienced. She's been 'alive' more than you and I have been 'alive'."
"I don't really believe in names having meaning..."
"But you asked about her first name earlier, right?"
"Then allow me to continue."
I sighed and waved for him to move on with it.
If Suguro Mitsukuni believed in something, it was probably true.
He smiled. "'Eleanor', meaning 'shining'. You can't deny she's bright, both intellectually and in demeanor. Demeanor derives its meaning from Eleanor, slightly. '-eanor'."
"What does that mean?"
"She's shining cleverly. It checks out, as she doesn't shine in our normal way of thinking. No, she's hiding, and by doing that, she's shining." Mitsukuni grinned.
I was starting to think he was messing with me.
In any case, I truly did want more information about Eleanor Weiss, so I approached from a different angle.
"Have you been missing your memories recently, Mitsukuni?"
"How do you reckon?" He said, lapsing into a strange accent. It caused me to hesitate, and I had to choke back a surprised sound.
I continued as if nothing strange happened, "I mean, like what you did yesterday, or what you ate this morning."
"I can't say I have. Why?"
"You seem to be 'just curious' about a lot of things today, Katzumi."
"What does that mean?"
"Everything and nothing, simultaneously." He grinned.
I stifled, Mitsukuni's intense gaze causing me to shift in my seat.
"Are you trying to get at something, Mitsukuni?"
"Potentially, although it's not mine to—…"
Mitsukuni stopped talking, his voice faltering for a moment.
He looked at me seriously—a different Mitsukuni from the one I normally knew.
"Let's talk, Katzumi."