Toaru Majutsu no Index:Volume15 Chapter4
Chapter 4: The Paper-Thin Difference between Self Derision and Pride. Enemy_Level5.
In the end, he let a river wash the ashes away.
Hamazura Shiage just couldn’t throw them away in the automated kitchen waste device. He knew he had only satisfied himself in doing so and that it was polluting the environment, but he still resisted the idea of throwing what used to be a human in with the kitchen waste.
He had parted with Takitsubo and was now thinking to himself while absentmindedly walking along a path on the riverside.
(I wasn’t feeling for the person in the bag, I was just afraid that I could be next. I only did it because I didn’t want to be disposed of that way when I died.)
He withstood the urge to ask himself if he really had to go back to ITEM and started back in their direction.
That was when someone called out to him.
Hamazura ignored the person and started to continue on, but the person grabbed his shoulder from behind.
Before he could turn around, a blow hit him.
He received damage to the back of his head and fell to the dirty ground.
He heard a laugh and looked over. He saw 3 boys he had never seen before. One of them was holding a golf club. He had been the one who had hit Hamazura.
Eighty percent of Academy City’s population was made up of students. At certain times, the student dorms were almost completely empty. There were some armed groups of delinquents who worked as thieves and used those times to their advantage.
“I was right. I’ve seen this guy before. He’s from the District 7 Skill-Outs, right?”
“Weren’t they destroyed?”
“Who cares? We’re gonna kick his ass here.”
With that they all laughed. Hamazura had kicks fly at him from all directions before he could say anything. They all did nothing but laugh.
“You know what, Skill-Out? Until just a bit ago, we had a hard time living from day to day.”
“Your leader…Komaba, was it? He was a huge pain in the ass. He made it so we couldn’t do our job very well.”
“To make up for that, we’re gonna fuck your face up so much they’ll only be able to identify you as ‘Boy A’. Understand?”
Hamazura wanted to say that that wasn’t his fault, but a kick hit him the side. He had trouble breathing and couldn’t speak.
The unknown face within the sleeping bag came to his mind. He couldn’t get the scene of the guy being burnt in the electric furnace and the ash being swept away in the river out of his mind. The fact that he too could be utterly eliminated that way and the triviality of a Level 0’s life filled his head.
Then a metal pipe about the thickness of a thumb that was used for propane gas rolled along the dirty ground.
Hamazura Shiage did not hesitate.
He grabbed the L-shaped pipe and swung it forcefully to the side.
It hit the piece of shit with the golf club in the ankle and Hamazura felt the guys’ bone crack. The idiot fell to the ground screaming and Hamazura stood up covered in blood as if to replace him. He swung the pipe down again getting another blow in.
The other two delinquents yelled something, but Hamazura ignored them.
He swung the pipe down yet again on the collapsed guy and pleasant screams entered his ears.
One of the other boys pulled a hammer out of his bag upon hearing that.
Hamazura thought he might seriously be in trouble. The metal pipe was quite destructive, but it was still difficult to knock someone out with it in one blow. If this turned into a drawn-out fist fight, it was possible they would take each other out.
But he still didn’t feel like stopping his attacking hands.
The feeling of the synthetic fabric of the black sleeping bag felt surprisingly fresh on his palm.
“Over here, Hamazura!!”
At the same time as that shout, the boy holding the hammer’s neck was knocked to the side with a crack. Before Hamazura realized the boy had been hit with something like a brick, someone had grabbed his arm.
“Come on, you idiot! Let’s get the hell outta here!!”
Hamazura felt oddly lethargic as he ran away while being dragged by the arm.
After being escorted away for a bit, he finally realized who that voice belonged to.
It was a boy who had been a Skill-Out member along with him and had acted alongside him frequently. Hamazura thought about his former Skill-Out activities and concluded that Hanzou must have been thinking of stealing another ATM if he was wandering around this area.
Hanzou spoke in a completely shocked voice.
“You idiot! Did you completely forget the rules of the back alleys? If you get hung up on who wins and who loses, you end up dead. If you care about whether you live or die, you need to give up on always winning!”
The two boys looked behind to confirm that no one was pursuing them and stopped.
Hamazura looked at Hanzou’s face with a mystified expression on his own face.
“Why did you save me? I ruined Skill-Out and then ran out on the punishment.”
“That isn’t something for you to say,” responded Hanzou in an uninterested voice. “You need to realize that we don’t bear a grudge against you. We don’t think it was your fault. No matter who was the leader at that time, Skill-Out would have fallen.”
“It wasn’t a nice enough path to make me want to cling to the past. Well, I’ll admit it was pretty fun up through the part where I polished up the plan, you got us some assistance, and Komaba was leading the attack.”
“Yeah,” said Hamazura in an emotionless voice. “You’ve got a point. It was a shitty life, but it was fun.”
“…What are you going to do now?”
“I dunno. I get the feeling it’ll be pretty much the same no matter where I end up. Even if I went back to Skill-Out, it wouldn’t be like back then. I don’t think there’s any value in going back.”
Hamazura spat out those words and started to turn his back on Hanzou.
Hanzou took something out of this pocket and tossed it to Hamazura.
“Take it. From what happened back there, I’m guessing you don’t have much as far as weapons go.”
It was a small handgun that’s grip only made it halfway down his palm.
“…This is a lady’s gun.”
“Does it really matter? A weapon that’s a little hard to use is perfect. If it sits too comfortably in your hand, you’ll just shed unnecessary blood.”
Hamazura spun the gun around in his hand and put it away in his sleeve.
This time he left the alley without looking back at Hanzou.
His next job for ITEM was most likely waiting for him.
Hamazura Shiage returned to one of ITEM’s hideouts.
“You’re late, Hamazura,” said Mugino Shizuri in a carefree way.
They were in a section of a high-rise building in District 3. It was a facility full of indoor leisure items like a sports gym and a pool. The grade of the users was fairly high. To even enter the building, one needed a member ID and the rank of one’s ID needed to be checked to use certain specific facilities. Apparently, it was a major sign of status among the upper echelons of the city to be a member.
Hamazura and the others were in a VIP salon.
The individual rooms could be reserved on a yearly contract and only someone with a “Two Star” membership ranking or above could do so, so the room had a very upper class feel to it.
In the area that was called an individual room even though it was easily more spacious than a 3LDK, Mugino was sitting on a sofa.
Hamazura looked at who was gathered there and asked a puzzled question.
“Gone,” responded Mugino readily. “Dead or captured, I don’t know. And it doesn’t look like we’re going to have time to replace her, so ITEM will have to function with only three. Well, SCHOOL is down to three too, so it works out. It won’t be hard to take the fight back to them, because we have Takitsubo.”
Mugino had said three.
Hamazura frowned at not being counted, but bringing it up wouldn’t accomplish anything.
“Hamazura. You’re hurt,” said Takitsubo while looking at his face.
“It’s nothing,” he replied. “What are you going to do now? SCHOOL stole the Tweezers, right?”
“That’s right,” Mugino readily admitted. “That’s why it’s our turn to go on the attack. Takitsubo’s AIM Stalker can search for the location of any esper whose AIM diffusion field she has memorized. We fought them once in the particle engineering lab, so we can track them down. ITEM’s reason to exist is to stop the upper classes and the secret organizations from getting out of hand. Let’s do our job.”
Hamazura looked over at Takitsubo.
As usual, the girl had her arms and legs sprawled out limply. Perhaps her insecure way of speaking was due to feeling the effects of others’ AIM diffusion fields all the time.
“Is searching for Dark Matter fine?”
“The second Level 5. He’s the bastard who leads SCHOOL.”
As Mugino answered Hamazura’s question, Takitsubo took out a small case with a white powder in it.
Kinuhata looked at the clear case oddly.
“You have it super hard, Takitsubo-san. You can’t even activate your power without Body Crystal.”
“It’s not so bad. This way actually seems normal to me,” said Takitsubo as she ever so slightly licked the white powder.
Light returned to her eyes.
As if this was her normal state, Takitsubo Rikou stood up and stretched her back.
“Beginning AIM diffusion field search. Ending pick up of approximate and similar AIM diffusion fields. The results for the single AIM diffusion field will be reported. 5 seconds remaining until end of search.”
She spoke like a machine.
And she came up with the correct response.
“Conclusion: Dark Matter is within this building.”
Before everyone there could react in astonishment, something happened.
The door to the private salon was kicked in from the other side.
A single man walked in.
Seeing him, Mugino Shizuri spoke in annoyance.
“I’d prefer it if you called me by my name. It’s Kakine Teitoku by the way.”
The man had odd “claws” made of machines on his hand.
“Cool, ain’t it? I came here to declare my victory.”
“Ha. You’re just the Spare Plan who wasn’t chosen by Aleister. Just a bit ago, you were running away all over the place, but now you’re this confident?”
“Oh, right. I forgot to thank you for what you did back in the particle engineering lab. Thanks to you, I lost one of the 4 proper members of SCHOOL.”
“Did you forget about the sniper we killed a few days ago? Did you replace him?”
The conversation between the two Level 5’s suddenly cut off.
The cause was Kinuhata Saiai. She lifted up a nearby table in one hand without even getting up out of the sofa. The girl who looked only 12 took the table that was covered in decorations making it have to weigh a few dozen kilos and threw it forcefully at Kakine Teitoku.
There was a loud crash.
The table smashed to pieces, but Kakine’s expression did not change.
“That hurt,” he said so naturally it made you think he might be telling the truth. “And it pissed me off. I’m smashing you to pieces first.”
As expected, Kinuhata did not accept that.
She ran to the wall and destroyed the salon wall with her small fist. She then grabbed Hamazura and Takitsubo’s hands, winked at Mugino, and leapt through the broken wall.
On the other side was a similarly constructed luxurious salon. There were people in it, but Kinuhata knocked them out with her fist. When they exited into the hallway, a man that looked like he was from SCHOOL’s subordinate organization was there, but she took him out with her fist, too.
Kinuhata Saiai did not have superhuman strength. Her power allowed her to freely control the nitrogen in the air. Her power was so exceedingly great that she could control compressed masses of nitrogen in order to lift up a car or even stop bullets. However, her effective range was very small. It only extended a few centimeters from her palm. This made it look like she was lifting things with her hand.
“Hamazura. Please go get us a car super fast,” said Kinuhata. “One of reasons SCHOOL is here is for Takitsubo. Since they knew where our hideout was, it’s super safe to assume they know all our other information. Most likely, they found out what a problem Takitsubo-san’s power would be for them and came here to take out our only way of tracking them.”
“Her searching power?” said Hamazura.
Just from how destructive they looked, he thought they would be more worried about Mugino or Kinuhata…
“Even if they don’t kill everyone in ITEM, our actions will be super restricted if they take Takitsubo-san out. Her presence or absence determines whether we are the chasers or the chased. If I were them, I would go for her first.”
“On the other hand, this means that as long as Takitsubo-san is fine, we can turn this around. So get her in a car and take her super far away from here. If you hide somewhere that isn’t one of ITEM’s hideouts, it’ll take them a while to find you.”
As Kinuhata spoke, she took a stun gun out of her pocket.
She put it in Takitsubo’s hand.
“The way you’re always staring off into space is super dangerous, so at least have this as a weapon. And with this, you won’t die if you accidentally set it off.”
They heard an explosion.
It came from the salon Mugino and Kakine were in.
“Please go. You need to super hurry,” Kinuhata said as she pushed Hamazura and Takitsubo from behind.
Before he could say anything, the small girl ran off towards the battlefield.
At the shock of an explosion, the entire building shook making it feel unreliable.
Kinuhata Saiai walked through the lobby of the indoor leisure facility as guests ran about in panic.
Some men from SCHOOL’s subordinate organization lay collapsed on the floor. Kinuhata had knocked them out. She walked over next to them and kicked away their handguns and rifles.
Suddenly, her face blurred to the side.
By the time she realized she had taken a bullet, a few more blasts hit her and her small frame was knocked to the ground. She let her body go along with the force of the blast and slid behind a nearby pillar.
(…A sniper. Where?)
She had been hit in her head, her chest, and the bottom of her gut. All of them were vital areas. If it hadn’t been for the shield her power gave her, she would definitely have died. As she lay on the floor, she held one of the crushed bullets in her palm.
(A steel bullet…Is it that magnetic sniper rifle? Given how crushed the bullet is and assuming its initial velocity was subsonic, the sniper must be at distance of 500 to 700.)
As she thought, Kinuhata reached a hand towards her pocket. What she held between her 5 fingers were metal rods about 30 cm long with masses of metal about the size of drink cans on the ends. They looked a little like maracas and little like hand grenades with old fashioned grips, but neither was the correct answer.
They were handheld anti-tank missile warheads.
The guests running around looked shocked and said something, but Kinuhata ignored them.
She pointed the various warheads held between her fingers away from her and grabbed the short strings on the back ends with her other hand. It was a similar gesture to using a party cracker and it was also similar to holding an arrow in a bow. She paused for a second and then jumped out from behind the pillar while looking at the scene beyond the broken window. When she did, she took a bullet right between the eyes, but she ignored it and readied her aim.
She pulled the strings without hesitating.
With the sound of air being released, the power of the compressed air took effect and the warheads flew from the handles. After advancing 10 meters, they ignited and quickly traveled the 500 meters while scattering flames about.
The multiple missiles hit the side of a building which exploded like crushed mille-feuille. The building must have been built to resist earthquakes, because it narrowly avoided completely collapsing.
“Ooh, nice. I guess that bastard Sunazara was blown to pieces along with the magnetic sniper rifle, huh? Well, he was brought in as a replacement on short notice, so I suppose I shouldn’t have expected too much of him.”
She heard a cheerful voice.
Kinuhata spun around just in time to see Dark Matter Kakine Teitoku walk out of the hallway.
“Ah, so you’re a remnant of the Dark May Project. What a pain. That was where they saw how Accelerator’s calculation pattern worked and tried to optimize specific espers’ Personal Realities, right?”
“And as a result, you got an automatic defense power. Although, it seems you were originally an atmosphere control type. It’s just like with Accelerator’s reflection, but your limit is automatically opening a defensive field around you with your power. Have you ever thought about how pathetic that is?”
“Not really,” quickly responded Kinuhata. “I’m super happy compared to test subjects from Produce. They had their brains chopped up like a Christmas cake in order to figure out where in their brains their Personal Realities lay.”
“I see,” said Kakine with no real interest.
Kinuhata cautiously watched the man in front of her and opened her mouth.
“What happened to Mugino?”
“Oh, nothing really,” was his short reply.
And with that Kinuhata knew. A Level 4 like her couldn’t stand up to someone who had dealt with the 4th most powerful Level 5 in Academy City so easily. When they had fought in the particle engineering laboratory, she had gotten a rough idea, but now she had proof.
“So where is AIM Stalker? That’s all I want to know. If you tell me where she is, I can just let you go.”
“Do you really think anyone would be stupid enough to go along with that?”
“Yes. There’s Frenda from ITEM for example.”
“I’m just letting you know that you have that option. And just so you know, you can’t defeat my Dark Matter with Level 4 Offense Armor. I’m not someone you can defeat with some ingenious plan or something.”
Kinuhata did not say anything.
Kakine spoke again to the girl who was silently staring at him.
“Where is AIM Stalker?”
“It seems I don’t have the right to refuse you…” said Kinuhata with a small smile on her face.
As she spoke, she grabbed a nearby bench and threw it.
An unidentifiable explosion appeared with Kakine at its center.
The bench was blown to pieces and even Kinuhata was blown away.
Her small body flew through the air 10 meters before landing. She broke through the thin wall and into some room.
Watching that, Kakine smiled thinly.
“So you weighed your pride against your death. That’s sentimental but not realistic.”
Kakine ordered a man from the subordinate organization to retrieve her.
“Retrieve her? …You mean she’s still alive?”
“That’s the kind of esper she is.”
Hamazura Shiage and Takitsubo Rikou ran down the elevator hall.
He pressed the switch on the wall and the light indicating that the elevator was stopped on the 48th floor quickly lowered to the 25th floor they were on. While it did, Hamazura took the unlocking tools from his pocket.
(…The parking lot is underground. Everyone around here will have fancy cars, but I don’t have the time to be indecisive. I’ll go for the car nearest to the elevator.)
The elevator stopped on the 25th floor.
With a light electronic tone, the automatic metal door opened to the left and the right.
“Ah, there they are.”
Hamazura heard a voice that crushed all his hope.
A certain man from SCHOOL was walking from the hallway. The second Level 5 who had defeated Mugino Shizuri slowly approached them with those odd claws on his hand.
“I was looking for you. I really was. You’re the search esper, right?”
As he spoke, the man took the thing he was dragging with his left hand and tossed it towards them. It flew a few meters through the air and landed at Hamazura’s feet. It was the person they had split up with just a bit ago, Kinuhata Saiai.
“She made the right decision. The core of ITEM isn’t the Level 5; it’s you. It’d be pretty bad if you got away now, y’know?”
The implication behind Kakine Teitoku’s words was that they couldn’t get away now that he was there.
Each step forward he took was a countdown towards the end of Hamazura and Takitsubo’s lives.
Hamazura thought of the handgun in his sleeve. He looked at the open elevator next to him and spoke to Takitsubo in as quiet a voice as he could.
“(…Get on the elevator and go down.)”
“(….Even if could I get away from SCHOOL here by abandoning you, ITEM would be destroyed! Fuck, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place!!)”
Kakine Teitoku stopped walking.
He was indecisive, but not over whether to let them go. They were already within the effective range of the Level 5’s attacks.
“Well, what are you going to do? How long is it going to take for you to say goodbye?”
Hamazura shoved Takitsubo’s small body into the elevator.
However, Takitsubo reached out for Hamazura.
They spun around, reversing positions almost as if in a ballroom dance, and Takitsubo pushed Hamazura into the elevator. Hamazura was confused by the sudden action and he fell down to the floor right on his ass.
Takitsubo’s hand was the only part of her in the elevator.
She hit the B1 button that would take the elevator to the underground parking lot.
“What the hell are you-…?”
“I’m sorry, Hamazura.”
Takitsubo looked at him from the other side of the closing door.
“I told everyone about what you said by the furnace. I don’t want you to become ash like that.”
There was a slight smile in her eyes.
“Don’t worry. I’m a Level 4 and you’re a Level 0. So I’ll protect you, Hamazura.”
Before he could say anything, the door completely closed and the high-speed elevator started moving down. Something horrible had happened, but his body felt oddly relaxed because he had escaped the danger to himself.
As he sat on the floor with his back to the wall, Hamazura stared up at the ceiling.
(But I thought espers didn’t care about the life of someone like me…) thought Hamazura as he felt the characteristic floating feeling that high-speed elevators gave.
He covered his face with a hand as he stared up at the ceiling.
(I thought we were like a bunch of disposable convenience store umbrellas. So if I died, I wouldn’t just be burnt to ash in a furnace and thrown away with the kitchen trash?)
“Damn it,” Hamazura muttered.
Most likely, he hadn’t been the only one that underwent a shock when he was burning that black sleeping bag in the electric furnace. The girl watching from behind had felt the same shock as he had. Perhaps Takitsubo Rikou had always tried to protect the Level 0’s or maybe the furnace incident had given her a change of heart.
Either way, there was only one thing that could be said.
Takitsubo Rikou had faced the man ranked 2nd in Academy City all on her own in order to save Hamazura, a Level 0.
“…Fuck that,” muttered Hamazura Shiage as he slowly stood up with a hand on the wall. “Fuck thaaaattt!!”
He slammed his palm onto the button on the wall to stop the elevator.
Hamazura gritted his teeth and took a long, deep breath.
Truthfully speaking, he had no real expectation of winning. That Kakine guy was a Level 5 and he wasn’t even the only enemy. At the very least, there were also a few men dressed all in black who looked like they were from the subordinate organization.
“Is there a place for Level 0’s? Of course there is! Is there a path for them other than preying on others? Of course there is!!”
The words of a Level 0 who was completely different from him who he had run into at the Dangai University database center naturally came to the surface of his mind.
“If you had only used the strength it took to form Skill-Out and used it to help those weaker than you, things would have changed for you!! If you had only used that strength you used to fight back against powerful espers to help those in need, the people of Academy City would have accepted you!!”
Hamazura Shiage pressed the button for the 25th floor where he had parted with Takitsubo and the elevator door closed.
“That’s exactly right, you piece of shit. ”
He cut off his own path of escape and returned the battlefield where a Level 5 awaited.
The elevator stopped on the 25th floor.
Hamazura exited through the automatic door that opened to the left and right and what he saw was the scene he had expected to see.
“Oh, you came back?”
The one who lightly said that was Kakine Teitoku, the Level 5 from SCHOOL.
Near him, Kinuhata Saiai lay on the ground looking exactly the way she had when he had left.
But now Takitsubo Rikou lay face down by the unscathed man’s feet so he couldn’t see her face. He couldn’t even tell if she was alive or dead.
Kakine continued to speak as he cracked his neck.
“Well, she did pretty well considering that she had no direct battle power. She must have used her search power to interfere with my AIM diffusion field and then ‘reversed the flow’ in an attempt to take control of my power. Really, if she grew some more she could even become the 8th.”
Every one of his comments of praise made it sound like he was mocking her.
Hamazura did not say anything in return. Instead, he took the handgun hidden in his sleeve and thrust it forward.
“Oh, you aren’t done?” came a sudden voice.
A girl in a showy dress came walking from around a corner behind Kakine.
(It’s that crane woman!!)
For a second, Hamazura couldn’t decide who to aim the gun at. But…
“You should stop that.”
With those words, Hamazura Shiage couldn’t move his body.
“It was necessary to kill you before, but now that we have the Tweezers, there’s no need to kill someone from their subordinate organization.”
It wasn’t that his body had become paralyzed for some reason. There was no problem with his body physically. It was just that a “sense” that he couldn’t shoot even if he wanted to grew up unnaturally within him.
It was the same way he wouldn’t be able to crush a napping cat under his foot.
It was the same way he wouldn’t be able to kill a sick kid and steal everything the kid had.
It was the same way he wouldn’t be able to turn his gun on Takitsubo Rikou.
“From the look on your face, you must be fairly kind on the inside. I should have just used my power from the get-go.”
A broad smile appeared on the girl in the dress’s face.
“My Measure Heart can freely regulate the distance between people’s hearts. What do you think will happen if I set it to the distance of the various people you know?”
(What is this? An application of Telepathy!?)
“How about you stop. Currently I’m at a distance of 20. In other words, I’m keeping it at the same heart distance as ‘Hamazura Shiage – Takitsubo Rikou’. You can’t shoot me the same way you wouldn’t be able to shoot Takitsubo. If you were willing to come back for her, you would never hurt her, right?”
His hand holding the gun was shaking.
He couldn’t shoot. He knew Takitsubo and the girl in the dress were two different people, but he just couldn’t do it.
That was when Kakine spoiled her fun by breaking in.
“How boring. You make it seem like we’re the bad guys here.”
“A guy and a girl protecting each other like this is such a moving story. It’s such a rare sight that it makes me not want to destroy it.”
“Yes, it is unfortunate that the girl is going to die on her own regardless of what we do.”
Hamazura gave a start upon hearing those words.
“What…? What the hell did you just say!?”
Kakine kicked the clear case that had fallen next to Takitsubo over to Hamazura.
“It’s this Body Crystal. Did you know she was using it?”
“She was…using it to activate her power…”
“Strictly speaking, it intentionally causes a rejection that causes an esper’s power to go out of control. If you want to get into the details, it was used to induce an explosion of an esper’s power in experiments to analyze how out-of-control powers work. Most of the time, it’s just a bad thing, but in rare cases the out-of-control state is actually quite useful. She must have been one of those kinds of espers.”
Kakine was explaining it all in a voice that showed how tedious he found it.
“In the state she’s in, she won’t last long. If she never used her power again, she’d be fine, but she’ll be destroyed if she uses it one or two more times.”
Destroyed. Hamazura’s face stiffened at that disturbing word. Kakine ignored him and continued.
“We don’t even need to finish her off. If she doesn’t have her search power, I don’t care if she dies or not.”
“Just so you know, she collapsed on her own,” said the girl in the dress. “It’s because she forced herself to keep using Body Crystal in order to fight us in this building. If we had seriously attacked her, there wouldn’t have been even a scrap of flesh left.”
Hamazura stared at them without moving much, but he still managed to ignore the two members of SCHOOL and press the elevator button.
“Now then, what to do?” asked Kakine simply as Hamazura waited for the elevator. “Should I kill her or let her go?”
“We can just leave her alone, right? A member of ITEM on the verge of destruction can’t stop us.”
Hamazura ground his teeth when the girl in the dress said “on the verge of destruction”, but he still couldn’t pull the trigger. He was completely trapped by her Measure Heart power.
“But it would be easier to kill her.”
“That search esper used your AIM to mess up your Personal Reality, right? Shouldn’t you check on that? Your power going out of control would be much more dangerous than a half-defeated member of ITEM. And I’d rather not die from an ally who went out of control.”
Kakine Teitoku cracked his neck in dislike of being ordered around.
Kakine did not have a gun because of how much confidence he had in his power. But if his powers did go out of control, he would be the first person to get caught up in it.
“Fine, let’s leave. Checking is easy enough, but we don’t have the equipment here.”
With perfect timing, the elevator arrived.
“Damn it!!” yelled Hamazura as he used his thumb to bring down the handgun’s hammer.
But the girl in the dress’s expression did not change.
“I’m currently at distance 20. It’s the same heart distance as “Hamazura Shiage – Takitsubo Rikou”. But I can lessen that distance.”
“You don’t want your true feelings to be painted over with lies, do you? You should share the joy of living on with that dying girl.”
The two got on the stopped elevator and the automatic door closed.
Hamazura looked down at the case of Body Crystal at his feet and at Takitsubo Rikou who still wasn’t moving. He then slowly sat down.
(After using her power one or two more times, Takitsubo will be destroyed…)
An idiot delinquent like Hamazura did not know specifically what that “destruction” entailed. But he could guess it was nothing good.
(What do I do?)
Hamazura stared at Takitsubo’s face. Her body did not even twitch. She showed no sign of waking. She must have been going through a lot because she was covered in an unpleasant sweat.
Takitsubo Rikou had fought Kakine to the point that this happened to her.
Most likely she did it in order to save Hamazura Shiage.
And she had used something called Body Crystal to do it.
Hamazura gritted his teeth silently.
He wasn’t prepared for this and he had nothing so refined as determination. Even so, he had obtained something that gave him the motivating force to move his arms and legs.
He couldn’t return Takitsubo Rikou to ITEM. That organization was made so it could easily replace a member if one disappeared. Even in her precarious state, Takitsubo would most likely be made to use her power.
Hamazura put the ladies’ hand gun back in his sleeve with a shaking hand. He took the magazine out and checked how many shots he had. Maybe it was because the clip had been made to be short, but he didn’t have many. No, even if he had thousands upon thousands of bullets, it probably wouldn’t be enough to get through this. The dark side of Academy City would pursue Takitsubo and even ITEM would become an enemy. Could he fight them?
“God fucking damn it!!”
Even so, he had to do it.
If Takitsubo continued to use her power, it would truly be over.
That was when Kinuhata who was collapsed next to Takitsubo looked over at him without moving a finger. It seemed she had figured out what was going on from Hamazura’s impatient demeanor.
“…Well, that’s the right answer. Take Takitsubo-san and disappear.”
“I didn’t say it for thanks. I was speaking ill of you. We don’t need super useless people like you and Takitsubo-san in ITEM so I’m telling you to get out of our way.”
As she spoke, there was a slight smile on Kinuhata’s lips.
She wasn’t unscathed. There was blood spilling from her mouth. And yet she smiled while watching Hamazura act on Takitsubo’s behalf.
“Is there any last thing I can do for you?”
“…Hmm. Use Code 52 to contact the subordinate organization and call in the information suppression team and an ambulance. As you can see, I super can’t move.”
“Will do,” said Hamazura.
It was painful leaving Kinuhata like that, but he had to take Takitsubo and flee.
(Anyway, as long as she doesn’t use her power, it’ll be fine. She’ll have to retire from ITEM, but that’s better than being destroyed.)
As Hamazura thought, his cell phone suddenly began ringing.
It was from Mugino Shizuri.
“Haaamazuraaa. Is Takitsubo Rikou there?”
“…Are you okay!? You fought Kakine, right? What happ-…!?”
“Oh, shut up. It’s time for our counterattack on SCHOOL. We need to use Takitsubo’s power to track them. If she’s there, bring her here. She’ll give us an answer even if it kills her.”
Hamazura left the building while carrying Takitsubo on his back while she was as motionless as a corpse. He wasn’t following Mugino Shizuri’s instructions to force her to use her power. He was doing the opposite. He was trying to get as far away as he could in order to keep Takitsubo away from ITEM.
He was on top of a short bridge. There was a train track below it, not a river. It was one of the places where the underground line briefly came above ground. On the other side of the bridge was a sports car.
“I don’t really know what’s going on, but I’m going to be taking that girl?”
The one speaking was Yomikawa Aiho of Anti-Skill who had gotten out of the car and had her hands on her hips in shock.
The routes Hamazura or Takitsubo would use to escape and the places they would hide were the same as ITEM’s, so Mugino would find them easily. He decided that meant he just had to hand her over to someone with completely different “routes”.
“Hamazura, you know what my job is, right? I’m in Anti-Skill. Do you really think I’m going to let you run off after handing me an unconscious girl in this obviously suspicious situation?
“…Shut up,” said Hamazura as he gritted his teeth.
Yomikawa frowned at the impatient tone to his voice that was unusual for him.
“I’ll explain it all to you later. I’ll show up wherever you want me to! Just take her somewhere safe as quickly as you can!! She isn’t in a good state. She’s been using something called Body Crystal. I don’t understand it at all, but apparently she could be destroyed at any time!!”
“Body Crystal…? Wait, Hamazura. Did you just say Body Crystal!?”
Yomikawa’s expression completely changed after hearing that term, but Hamazura didn’t explain further.
It was hardly the time.
Suddenly, a voice came from behind him.
He spun around and saw Mugino Shizuri standing blood-covered on the other side of the bridge. Some of it was her blood, but some was from someone else. He recognized the thing that she was dragging in her right hand that looked a bit like an old rag.
Technically, it was only her upper half.
Wherever it had gone, her bottom half was gone and something dark red was dripping from the cross-section.
“That’s right. It seems she was afraid of SCHOOL so she betrayed ITEM and then hid. So I had to do a little purging. …What are you doing? You don’t need any purging, do you?”
Mugino let go and Frenda fell to the ground.
She didn’t even look towards Frenda.
Basically, that was all Frenda was – all a comrade was – to Mugino.
Hamazura’s face stiffened upon seeing what, unlike Takitsubo, was clearly a corpse. Even so, he did not hesitate. He gave the girl on his back to Yomikawa and spoke quietly.
“Hamazura. As I said, I’m in Anti-Skill. I can’t have a child shielding me h-...”
“Go!!” yelled Hamazura cutting her off. “I know you can’t ignore a murder case, but she’s well beyond that level! I can’t get into the details, but Frenda was fairly skilled herself. That woman is someone who could kill her in one blow! That’s why I’m telling you to take Takitsubo and go!!”
After saying that, Hamazura looked at the unconscious Takitsubo with an expression that looked like it was about to collapse.
“Please… I don’t want her to die. I could never make up my mind, but I finally know that that’s what I want to do. So please go. I can’t protect her alone. Without your help, I’ll lose everything here!!”
“Do you really think you can do anything on your own!? She’s a Level 5. She’s the terrible monster who’s ranked 4th in Academy City! I’ll buy you some time, so please take Takitsubo and get out of here!!”
He yelled to the point that he thought his throat would be torn to pieces. Yomikawa had her breath taken away at how desperate he was. She hesitated, but she finally nodded as if the light in Hamazura’s eyes was compelling her.
“Once I get that girl to a safe place, I’ll come back with a fully armed Anti-Skill team. So don’t die until I’m back.”
“…Sure,” Hamazura responded.
Yomikawa shook off her hesitation, got in the driver’s seat, and stepped on the gas. Her sports car drove off at high speed with Takitsubo on board.
Hamazura heard a whistle.
He turned to look and saw Level 5 Mugino Shizuri approaching as she crossed the small bridge.
“A battle with your life on the line. A numbing feeling, isn’t it, Hamazura?”
“I…” he started to say.
As she approached, Mugino casually swung her hand to the side. It hit Hamazura and he flew to the side and the metal guardrail sunk into his gut with a dull noise. The great shock gave him the urge to vomit. It felt like strength was going to leave his arms and legs and he lay sprawled over the railing like a futon hung out to dry. He could see the railroad running below the bridge.
“Quiet. I didn’t ask your opinion.”
Ignoring Hamazura’s groans, Mugino made it completely across the bridge.
That hadn’t been her Level 5 power. It was just the strength of her arm. She had purposefully used her physical strength so that it wasn’t something that could be explained as being the difference between a Level 5 and a Level 0.
Mugino still hadn’t given up. Even if it destroyed Takitsubo, she was going to find out where SCHOOL was.
“Ha ha,” laughed Hamazura as he lay sprawled out on the railing. “Should you really be finishing me off right now?”
Mugino looked over at him with just her eyes in an irritated way.
Then her eyes widened.
In Hamazura Shiage’s hand was the case of Body Crystal that Takitsubo Rikou used.
“She needs this to use AIM Stalker, right?”
“You bastard, that’s…!!”
As obvious rage entered Mugino’s eyes, Hamazura jumped over the metal railing and off of the bridge.
A train was passing by underneath at that exact moment.
Hamazura’s body struck the roof of the train. He had imagined the roof as being flat, but it actually had quite a few ups and downs from the air conditioners installed on it. His body rolled around when he landed, his skin was torn like it was being scraped off with a file, and he almost fell off because he couldn’t rid his body of momentum. Even so, he finally managed to brace himself and stop.
Sprawled out on top of the train, Hamazura smiled.
(I managed to get through it. Without this Body Crystal, Takitsubo can‘t use her power. She doesn’t have to be forced to fight now. As long as I can keep this from Mugino…)
That was when the train suddenly stopped.
Hamazura’s body slid across the roof. He managed to stop himself and then looked around in surprise. He saw Mugino standing a good way back on the track. She must have jumped from the bridge just as he had. Her hand was stuck deep in the ground. The power cables for Academy City railroads ran through the ground. Mugino had used her power to sever the power cable in order to stop the train.
From a few hundred meters away, Mugino Shizuri said something.
Hamazura couldn’t hear her voice, but he understood it from the movements of her mouth.
I – am – going – to – fucking – kill – you.
From atop the train, Hamazura took in what Mugino had said.
The Level 5 who had forcibly stopped the train smiled so it looked like her face was split in two.
All of the hair on Hamazura’s body stood on end. He hurriedly got down from the roof of the train and ran across the gravel. He was surrounded on the left and right by concrete walls making the area almost like an artificial river, but he found a set of metal stairs partway along. He ran up those stairs and into the above ground road.
He turned around.
Mugino was climbing the stairs a bit away. She was 20 or 30 meters away and staring at him through the crowd of people. She had already singled out Hamazura Shiage as her prey.
(Shit!! I can’t get away by mixing in with the crowd!!)
He cut through the large crowd of people out on their day off and continued to run. But he soon reached his limit. He looked around and headed for one of the nearby buildings. He slammed open the door with a tackle, not even bothering to check if it was locked or not, and tumbled inside.
“…Damn it. What is this place?”
It wasn’t a normal business building. There were plants slightly taller than Hamazura growing all over the floor. Above his head, wires were laid out entwined with the branches. They were grape vines. Looking to the ground, he could see hydroponic containers lined up. The bluish purple illumination must have been from UV lights to promote photosynthesis.
(So this is an automatic refining plant for biological ethanol fuel…)
The development of biological ethanol fuel was being done as an alternative to gasoline. Normally sugarcane or corn was used, but, since something with a low alcohol purity rate like grapes was being used, this must be a high grade product that stressed the brand. Apparently, the celebs in District 3 wanted to even have a distinction between the fuel they put in their cars and the fuel normal people put in their cars. It was like they were letting their cars drink wine.
“What a nice place.”
Hamazura’s entire body stiffened when he heard that voice come from behind him.
“You’ve got taste to choose a deserted facility, Hamazura. It’s best to die alone.”
Before he could turn around, an impact hit his back.
With a loud disconcerting noise, Hamazura’s body flew a few meters before it landed. A large number of the hydroponic containers were knocked over, many grape plants were broken, and Hamazura’s body rolled even farther.
In that one attack, a pain so intense he thought he was going to die attacked his entire body.
It was actually surprising that he didn’t suffer any broken bones.
Hamazura left the large area as if he were dragging his hurting body. There was a staircase, so he headed up it. He found a large group of silver machinery that was twice his height lined up and they were connected vertically and horizontally by metal pipes. It was like the beer breweries you sometimes saw in commercials. In actuality, the grapes were fermented to bring out the alcohol, so the equipment worked in a similar way. There also had to be equipment to create a high concentration of alcohol to turn it into car fuel.
Compared to before, there were a lot of blind spots.
(Even if she is a Level 5, she isn’t invincible.)
Hamazura passed through a gap in the complicated arrangements of pipes and leaned his back up against a piece of machinery about the size of a small room. As he did, he hurriedly tried to come up with anything that gave him an advantage.
(When we were attacked by the mobile crane near the particle engineering lab, she didn’t try to destroy the wrecking ball with her power. And with the train just now she went for the power cables buried in the ground instead of the fast-moving train itself.)
Hamazura gritted his teeth at the pain all over his body and noticed a means of getting out of this situation.
(Most likely, Mugino Shizuri’s power takes a certain amount of time to aim in exchange for how powerful it is. In other words, she’s weak to surprise attacks. She can’t deal with a sudden attack from someone.)
That wasn’t because Mugino hadn’t trained her power enough, but rather it was a flaw created from it being too powerful. If she wasn’t extremely careful in using her power in only a specified area, she could end up getting caught up in the blast.
But he didn’t really care about the reason behind it as long as it was a demerit for her.
In an area with lots of cover, Hamazura Shiage had a slight chance of victory.
With that one word, Hamazura’s body was covered in a sense of danger.
He ignored his theory and got down on the ground and at the same time “that” came.
A rain of beams flew by.
With the woman known as Mugino Shizuri at the center, lines of bright, unhealthy-looking light shot out in all directions. They weren’t special electron beams shot out with the force of a lightning strike. Just like light, electrons have the properties of both particles and waves, but Mugino had the power to forcibly control electrons that remained in that “ambiguous” state.
When electrons that were fixed in that ambiguous state struck an object, they couldn’t decide whether to react as a particle or as a wave, so they would “stop” there. Normally, electrons had a mass that was incredibly close to zero, but that “stopping” created a false wall that caused a dreadful amount of destructive force to be strike the target at the speed with which it hit that wall.
That was Meltdowner.
The technical classification was Particle Waveform High-Speed Cannon.
Unlike the #3 Railgun, she was a Level 5 who manipulated electrons without using waves or particles.
Each one of the beams tore through the metal like it was paper, melted the thick walls, and tinted everything orange. The heat must have reached the refined alcohol, because small explosions occurred all over the place. Hamazura had somehow managed to avoid being directly hit, but a metal fragment the size of a guitar pick was stuck in his left shoulder. And it wasn’t just that one. There were 4 or 5 of them stuck there.
Holding his bloody shoulder, Hamazura unintentionally yelled out.
Since the areas for cover were in her way, Mugino was just going to destroy them all. Once she had leveled everything to rubble, Hamazura would have to face Mugino in a hopeless situation.
“The machinery here is like that thing in the goldfish scooping games at festivals. Umm…I forget what it’s called. Anyway, it won’t cut it as cover against my Meltdowner.”
Number 4 in Academy City.
The group of machinery that had been covering the floor just a bit before had been reduced to rubble in just one attack. Every kind of cover had been crushed and even the outer wall had been greatly damaged. Mugino stood in the center of the destruction that could easily bring the entire building down as a smile slowly, slowly spread across her face.
“Those fucking scientists said that my survival instinct keeps me from putting out any more force than that, but apparently it was originally enough to kill Railgun instantly. Well, I can’t complain too much, since they say that the recoil would blow my body to pieces if I actually did it.”
Fear spread through Hamazura Shiage’s body.
The Level 5 monster quietly approached him.
An overwhelming amount of destruction had been fired by Mugino Shizuri’s Meltdowner.
Hamazura turned his back to the wreckage and ran frantically trying to get as much distance between himself and her as he could.
He ran to a different floor of the botanical ethanol fuel plant and Mugino called out to him.
“Hamazuraaa. Quit getting in my way and hand over the Body Crystal and Takitsubo. I won’t be satisfied until I’ve killed everyone in SCHOOL.”
While still fleeing, Hamazura rejected Mugino’s words.
“No. I won’t let Takitsubo use Body Crystal any more. She’s at her limit.”
“So what? If Takitsubo breaks down, we can just replace her with some other esper. She’s the only one that can search for an AIM diffusion field, but another kind of esper would be fine, too. As long as I find out where those SCHOOL fuckers are, there’s no problem.”
Hamazura made it to the floor where the remnants of the grapes that had all the alcohol squeezed out of them were collected, but Mugino’s Meltdowner turned it all to rubble in seconds.
Hamazura spoke while hiding behind a mountain of metal that was tinged with heat.
“Sorry, but I’m not going to go along with what you want.”
“You can’t defeat that Kakine guy. With the battle in the particle engineering lab and this last one, you’ve run away from him twice now.”
After saying that, he almost thought he heard the sound of Mugino gritting her teeth.
Even so, he continued.
“After meeting him myself, I can tell. This isn’t an issue of #4 vs. #2. Most likely, you’re losing to Kakine Teitoku in a different way. What good will finding out where he is do?”
It was true that SCHOOL was made up of horrible people, but they still had enough humanity to let those of lower rank go. Even when Takitsubo used up all her strength before their very eyes, they didn’t finish her off.
He didn’t think that someone like Mugino Shizuri, who bared her fangs towards her own comrades just because she didn’t like something, was “stronger” than Kakine and the rest of SCHOOL. No matter how overwhelming her power seemed, that impression was not shaken from him.
“This isn’t an issue of winning or losing. If you fought risking your life and won, all you would get would be personal satisfaction. I can’t let Takitsubo go along with that. I won’t let you end her life for something so pointless!”
“Ha. Ha ha!!”
Hearing the answer Hamazura Shiage had come to, Mugino laughed scornfully.
Hamazura ran from cover to cover putting some distance between them as Mugino slowly pursued him.
“How did she draw you in, Hamazura? Did you fall for her cute face? Or was it because she spoke kindly to a Level 0 like you?”
Hamazura did not respond and Mugino’s smile grew stronger.
“How stupid. Do you really think everyone who speaks kindly to you is a good person and everyone who speaks harshly to you is a bad person!? You make it sound like you stand at the very center of the world!!”
“…I know that,” said Hamazura.
He didn’t deny it.
If Takitsubo Rikou hadn’t spoken kindly to him, he doubted his heart would have led him to do what he did.
“But she said she didn’t want a selfish bastard like me to die. She’s the kind of person who says things like that! Someone like her needs to be happy. It isn’t people like you or me that should stand above everyone else. If we don’t create a society where the kind idiots stand at the top guiding everyone else, this shitty world will never get any better!!”
No response came.
A white beam so bright it made him think it was a nuclear explosion blew straight through the mountain of metal Hamazura was hiding behind. He was knocked back by the gust of wind created and he sensed a presence standing right behind him.
Before he could turn around, he sensed something odd about his right ear.
Mugino Shizuri had stuck a screwdriver in his ear.
“It seems you’ve got a screw that’s just a liiiitle loose in your head.”
The tip of the screwdriver slowly moved further into his ear.
“Want me to tighten it for you?”
He couldn’t move. If he moved his head even slightly, the inside of his ear would be damaged and bloody. While holding the screwdriver in place, Mugino put her empty left hand in front of Hamazura palm up. She was telling him to hand over the Body Crystal.
Hamazura put his hand in his pocket.
The clear case of Body Crystal was there.
(God damn it…)
Gritting his teeth and closing his eyes, Hamazura Shiage prepared himself.
He ignored the screwdriver and forcefully spun around.
Hamazura ignored the screwdriver in his ear and forcefully spun around.
Unsurprisingly, Mugino seemed a bit shocked.
The screwdriver carved into the inside of his ear. An extremely intense pain exploded in his head and the sound from his right ear became muffled as if he had an earplug in it. On top of that, half of his vision became slightly tinged red for some reason.
Ignoring it all, Hamazura pulled the case of Body Crystal from his pocket.
It was a small rectangular case much like a mechanical pencil lead case.
Gripping it tightly, he used the corner of the case to cut at Mugino’s nearby face.
Mugino’s right eye was crushed at once much like a pirate captain’s.
She held her red, wet face with both hands and tottered backwards.
Seeing that, Hamazura gave a silent smile.
“A Level 0 ear for a Level 5 eye, huh? …That’s a pretty good deal, dontcha think?”
With those words, Mugino’s face was dyed with rage.
A bright flash swelled up.
Mugino Shizuri’s left arm was blown away from the wrist to the elbow as if it had melted. The bright light it caused was aimed for Hamazura Shiage’s face. She shot Meltdowner ignoring any kind of detailed aiming.
Hamazura swung his head to the side right before it hit.
It was only pure chance that he had managed to avoid that overwhelming attack.
Mugino stretched out her bloody right arm, shoved down Hamazura who had already lost his balance, and climbed on top of him. The Body Crystal case slipped from Hamazura’s hand and clattered as it slid across the ground, but Mugino wasn’t paying any attention to it anymore.
She stared at Hamazura’s face with her remaining left eye and yelled in a voice filled with rage.
“That has nothing to do with this!! That has nothing to fucking do with thiiiiiisssss!! An ear!? An eye!? You can tear off my arms and legs and crush my organs, but you can’t change the difference between our strengths! I’m a Level 5! I’m #4! I’m Meltdowner! Don’t get so pleased with yourself, you motherfucker! I can kill a Level 0 like you 100 times without moving a fingeeeerrrrr!!”
Foam sprayed from her mouth and Mugino grabbed Hamazura by the neck with her right hand. If she activated her power now, Hamazura’s head would certainly be annihilated.
Hamazura Shiage smiled as his neck was being held like a drink can.
He relaxed as if he had given up on something.
“…Y’know, I’m not an idiot. I knew it would end up like this.” Hamazura said while listening to Mugino’s erratic breathing. “You’re the kind of person that can’t stand it when you can’t complete a video game without 100% accuracy. If you fuck up even slightly, you fly into a rage and won’t accept it even if you complete the game.”
“When someone like that fucks up even slightly, they find another goal in order to write it off. When you aren’t able to get 100% accuracy, you instead go for a high score and are satisfied with that. …There was no reason to get so obsessed with a Level 0 like me. You could have used the Level 5 power you’re so proud of to pick me off at a distance.
“In other words,” Hamazura smiled as he spoke, “that ridiculous obsession with victory left a decisive opening for me.”
A metallic noise rang out.
It was the sound of the ladies handgun flying out of Hamazura Shiage’s sleeve as he stretched out his arm.
Before Mugino could say anything, Hamazura pulled the trigger.
Bang bang bang!! With that dry sound, multiple holes opened up in her upper body. Hamazura continued pulling the trigger until he was out of bullets and even continued moving his index finger for a bit once the clip was empty.
Mugino looked down at her bloody body in shock.
Before long, she wobbled to the side, collapsed, and stopped moving.
“That was too easy, Level 5,” said Hamazura while got up as if he were dragging his battered body.
He picked up the case of Body Crystal that had fallen to the floor and put it back in his pocket.
If Hamazura Shiage had initially pulled out the handgun, he wouldn’t have won. She would have used her power to easily defend against it. That was why it had been necessary for him to wait until the very last second to do so. He hadn’t even taken out the gun when she stuck the screwdriver in his ear because he was getting her to lower her guard by making her think he didn’t have any proper weapons.
Previously, the leader of Skill-Out, Komaba Ritoku, had gotten a step away from taking the life of Academy City’s strongest Level 5 by sealing his power. Hamazura had done the same thing.
He stuck his pinky finger into his injured right ear.
His ear drum didn’t seem to be damaged. He pulled out a clump of blood plugging the ear and his hearing improved a little.
“…Damn, that really was a good deal,” he said in shock and started to leave.
A shock ran down Hamazura’s back when he heard that voice ring out from the depths of hell.
He slowly turned around and…
The woman with dark red holes all over her body, her left arm up to her left elbow gone, and her right eye crushed forcefully stood up. An overly unhealthy-looking white light was gathering around her right hand. She was most likely looping the particle waveform high-speed cannon in her hand. One hit by that attack would definitely blow Hamazura away.
There were no bullets left in the ladies handgun in his right hand.
That was why Hamazura didn’t rely on the gun.
Throwing away the gun, he unhesitatingly ran towards Mugino.
Their arms crossed.
If he had hesitated even slightly, it would have created an opening.
If there had been the slightest opening, death would have come through it.
But Hamazura Shiage was resolute. He merely forcefully came in, clenched his fist like stone, focused on the face of the enemy he needed to defeat, and attacked with his strongest strike.
A tremendous noise rang out.
Strength left Mugino Shizuri’s body and she collapsed to the ground. The ominous white light in her hand disappeared into the air as if it had dissolved. There was no more sense of danger.
Hamazura picked up the ladies handgun he had thrown aside and looked down at Mugino as he pulled his phone from his pocket. He called Yomikawa’s number. He had it because she had given it to him saying something about giving him guidance if he ever needed someone to talk with.
“It’s Hamazura. The Anti-Skill backup isn’t needed anymore.”
He walked through the destroyed floor and towards the exit as he spoke.
“That’s right. It’s all over.”
Hamazura left the botanical ethanol fuel plant in District 3. A few members of ITEM’s subordinate organization were waiting outside to destroy the evidence, but no one tried to stop him. To them, he was the person who had just defeated Academy City’s #4 Level 5. They weren’t about to carelessly stop him.
A figure standing a ways from the building called out to him.
A delinquent from District 7 had no ties to the celeb-filled District 3. Hamazura doubted he was there by chance. He must have been monitoring the radio channels.
“I heard, Hamazura.”
“About what? And how much of it?”
“That you defeated a Level 5 all on your own.”
Hamazura was surprised at how excellent Hanzou’s source of information was, but he said something else as if it had just come to mind.
“It came in handy.”
“The ladies handgun. If you hadn’t given it to me, I would’ve died.”
“Ha. You’re quite a monster yourself to have defeated a Level 5 with something like that.”
Hanzou took out two cigarettes and handed one to Hamazura as he spoke.
“See? It was a good present. With an accomplishment like that, no one’s going to reject you now. Although I don’t think there were many people that actually hated you in the first place.”
“Come on back, Hamazura. There are people waiting for you.”
“Sorry.” Hamazura lit his cigarette and smiled slightly. “I have something I have to do.”
“Tch. Makes me jealous.”
Hanzou said that, but he didn’t press Hamazura any further. Hamazura had faced a monster like Mugino Shizuri on his own. Hanzou could sense a change to Hamazura’s mental state due to it.
“Well, whatever. I’ll be consolidating Skill-Out for now.”
“But don’t forget. I’ll be keeping your seat open. Once you’re done with what you have to do, come on back.”
The two spoke, smiled, lightly tapped their fists together and parted ways.
Between the lines 4
After holing up in a hotel room for about an hour, the girl in the dress returned to one of SCHOOL’s hideouts. Kakine Teitoku, the Level 5, was there.
“Oh, where have you been?”
“Just gathering some spending money. Scientists are as horrible as ever. They make sure to calculate out just the basic rate; they don’t give you a tip at all.”
“Hmm. An hour isn’t very long.”
“It’s not like I’m doing anything to be guilty over. We were in a hotel room, but we just talked a bit while flipping through a magazine.”
“…You don’t do anything sexual?”
“No. I don’t need to. I suppose it’s mostly a case by case kind of thing, but my customers aren’t after that kind of thing. Do you know why rich guys go to stores and give women money? It isn’t to satisfy their sexual desire. They want to make relationships with other people outside of work on their own.”
“I really don’t understand that world,” said Kakine.
The girl in the dress spoke half in disbelief.
“You know about workaholics, right? Those people love to work so much that they can’t help themselves and they end up destroying their family. For people like that, a relationship they can make using money feels like a form of salvation. Money is the result of work. By buying friends and love with money, they’re satisfied because they think they have made relationships with their own abilities and that they aren’t completely incompatible with society. I take money and give them some relief about that complex of theirs.”
“I see,” replied Kakine in a voice completely void if interest.
Hearing that, the girl in the dress lost her urge to explain.
“Oh, that’s right. Apparently, ITEM who was pursuing us has been taken out. There was some infighting which led to #4 Mugino Shizuri going down. Now the organization is finished.”
“What? Infighting? So Mugino did manage to get away from my attack… But who took Mugino out? Frenda took our deal and fled, I defeated Kinuhata Saiai, and Takitsubo Rikou doesn’t have any direct battle ability…”
Kakine trailed off.
“It couldn’t be…”
“Yes. If it couldn’t have been any of the main members, it had to have been someone from the subordinate organization.”
The Level 0 who had come back to the elevator hall to protect Takitsubo Rikou came to both their minds. Kakine whistled in praise of Hamazura Shiage.
The girl in the dress stared at Kakine.
“How’s the analysis with the Tweezers going?”
Kakine Teitoku had a metal glove on his right hand that had clear claws on the index finger and the middle finger. The naked eye couldn’t tell this, but inside the claws were masses of silicon that had been collected from the air. Of course, these so-called masses were only 70 nanometers across and an electron microscope was needed to confirm they were there.
“There was something that had always bothered me,” muttered Kakine as he clacked the claws together. “That bastard Aleister always knew a little too much about our actions. It was too much for it to just be surveillance from the security cameras, the security robots, and the satellite. It was always a mystery how he gathered his information.”
“The answer is nothing special. He spread about ten million invisible machines throughout the city to do it. It’s not surprising he knows every little thing with this.”
He was talking about Underline.
They had a spherical body with three wire-shaped cilia on the left and three on the right. Instead of walking on the ground, they floated through the air.
Those miniscule machines used the convection of the air to generate their own power, gathered data indefinitely, used a quantum signal they produced transmitted over a direct electron beam to pass information between them, and created a type of network. Underline was the sole direct line of information into the windowless building so those tiny bodies had to hold information from the darkest depths of the city that would shake the world if it got out.
“Even knowing of Underline’s existence, finding microscopic machines isn’t easy, and, even if you do capture some, there’s no way to get the information out. You have to open up a nano-sized device and attach a cord to it. Not to mention that apparently carelessly ‘observing’ the quantum signal inside it will cause the information to change.”
That was why the Tweezers were necessary.
No matter how small the nanodevices were, an item developed to grab elementary particles would have no problem. With it, getting the information out of Underline was quite possible.
The girl in the dress spoke while looking at Kakine.
“What about the result of the analysis?”
“It was exactly as expected,” responded Kakine. “No good. It’s true that there is a lot of data in Underline, but I don’t think this is enough to compete with Aleister with equal footing. We have to give another push to add to this data.”
“So you’re really going to do it?”
“…Yes. I will kill Academy City’s #1. It’s the only way. Being the Spare Plan just isn’t enough if I want the negotiations with Aleister to go well. I have to become the central and irreplaceable Main Plan.”
“I see,” responded the girl in the dress with no real emotion. “Do whatever you want, but I’m not taking any part with a battle against Accelerator.”
“My Measure Heart regulates the distance between people’s hearts. So if I take the distance of the person Accelerator is closest to, I may be able to make him hesitate in attacking.”
“But not everyone reacts to feeling like the person closest to them is enemy by stopping their attack. Some people go into a frenzy and come in with an even harsher attack because they feel that person has betrayed them. …Can we trust Accelerator to not do that? Sorry, but I get the feeling he would attack me no matter where I set the distance to. He’s too muddy to read.”
“Hmm,” responded Kakine uninterestedly.
There was no disappointment in his voice. He must not have expected the girl in the dress to be much help in the battle anyway.
The girl in the dress looked at the claws on Kakine’s right hand.
“If you have the result, tell me. I want to know when we can directly negotiate with Aleister.”
“Sure thing,” said Kakine and the girl in the dress left SCHOOL’s hideout.
Kakine Teitoku stared down at the Tweezers and calmly smiled.
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