Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume2 Chapter1
Chapter 1: This is the Real Battle — Home_Ground_Hospital.
Kamijou Touma found himself lying in a bed.
It was already morning.
He also detected a strong disinfectant smell. Sadly, he found the scent very familiar. He was used to this sort of awakening.
He was in the hospital.
In fact, he was in the usual hospital where that frog-faced doctor worked.
He had checked his phone countless times, but the clock never turned back for him.
“December…25. I’m in the hospital on Christmas of all days.”
Complaining was not going to change that.
Dawn had arrived and his presence in the hospital meant he had survived.
This location carried that unbreakable guarantee of safety.
He understood that more than just intellectually – he knew it from experience.
And thinking back, his Christmas Eve had been pretty awful. His body below the covers was so wrapped in bandages that his movements were as stiff and awkward as an ancient civilization’s clay robot. He did not want to know how many injuries he had in all and he definitely did not want to see them. Counting just the ones he was aware of, he had been stabbed in the side with a knife, lacerated by metal and glass shards, blown away by a few blasts of next-generation magic, and punched square in the cheek by a rich, sexy, macho former rescue squad member.
And to top it all off…
He silently brought his fingers to his lips. The sensation still lingered there, so that must not have been a hallucination caused by the lightheadedness brought on by blood loss. He still was unsure what to think about it, though. He had a feeling he would get beaten up by Index, Orsola, and some others if he chalked it up to the outdated stereotype of Westerners being more open about kissing.
He had no idea what any of it had been about, but he did remember that name.
It had looked like a black pill now, but that would have originally been a magician.
(Then my first kiss tasted like St. Germain? Wait, what does that mean? That it tasted like some gross old man from the past? Oh, god why!? How am I even supposed to categorize this? Happy? Depressing? I can’t figure this one out!!)
Q. A mysterious and breathtakingly beautiful woman asks you to kiss her while she has some strange old man’s used sock rolled up and stuffed in her mouth. What do you do? Also, this is your very first kiss, so no matter the circumstances, the memory will stick with you for the rest of your life☆
Kamijou Touma found himself covered in an unpleasant sweat.
“Oh, no. I don’t think I can get the taste of my mouth!! No, why is the old man sock so powerful!?” Anyway.
He felt like bloody tears were about to flow from his eyes and his memories of those final moments were still unclear, but he did know he had vomited up a lot of blood. He was amazed he had not died of blood loss and it made him wonder just how many liters of blood he had flowing through his veins.
But he was fine. He had to be. His spirit was as strong as ever. He had not heard back about any tests run in the hospital, but he did not hurt anywhere and he could move everything just fine. Plus, he had not coughed up any more blood. The crisis was over. He could even poke at his abs without any pain whatsoever!!
But deficiencies hit you without mercy the instant you became aware of them.
He started feeling faint while still lying down in bed.
(Ah, ahhh…I-I need iron. I could devour some liver and spinach right now.)
That was not the request a teenage boy’s appetite would normally make on Christmas, but he knew his odds of getting it were low. After all, this was a hospital and they might not let him choose his food based on the severity of his injuries. Which day of the week was it? Once he recalled the answer, he realized he would be served a saltless rice porridge that felt tasted like microwaved glue and a disappointingly thin piece of grilled salmon that felt like it was made from plastic.
“Man, if only I’d been hospitalized on a Friday. Then I’d have gotten seafood curry.”
It saddened him to realize he had been in this hospital enough to know what food they served on what days.
“Heh heh heh. I appreciate the monologue, Kami-yan. Now I know exactly what you’re doing here.”
“Wait? Th-that voice!”
It came from beyond the curtain. This time, he was apparently in a large room containing multiple people divided by curtains instead of a private room.
And the curtain next to him was flung open from the other side.
“Mwa ha ha ha!! Join me in the depressing hospital Christmas life, my unpopular brother!!”
“I’m stuck being hospital pals with you!? How badly did you burn yourself with that microwaved boobs mousepad!?”
It was his classmate Aogami Pierce.
He had heard the boy had burned his hands after ignoring all of the usage warnings and throwing his boobs mousepad in the microwave on the 24th, but he had not expected to find him with bandages or casts covering his arms. Everything past his elbows looked like it could blast off like a rocket.
Also, snow was still falling outside.
It was indeed a white Christmas. But for these two boys, that only meant it was a little chillier by the window.
Robot Kamijou gave Rocket Aogami a look of pity.
“That looks pretty awful. I mean, you can’t do much of anything without using your fingers. What do you do about food?”
“Not to worry. There’s this old trick called floor humping. You lay down on your stomach like this and then rub your thing between your body and the floor like this.”
“Shut up! No! I was not asking about that!!”
“There are rumors saying getting used to this modifies your body to the point you can’t enjoy the real thing, but that’s just a superstition, so don’t worry about it.”
“Enough with the demonstration! The only thing I’m worried about right now is your sanity, inchworm boy!! It’s 7 in the morning and your bed is by the window! People outside can see you!!”
“Don’t you dare take this so lightly, Kami-yan!! Deprive a nerd of this high-level one-man mental activity, and what do they have left!!!???”
“This is not a topic that warrants manly shouting! I won’t ask you to stop being a nerd, but can’t you please be the kind of nerd who creates an innovative new type of OS or something!?”
“Tch. I’ve never been a fan of American-style moe, you know? Be honest, what do you think about how they keep turning American comic superheroes into girls? It’s official and not just fan stuff, so I’m really not sure what to think about it.”
“I’m the kind of nerd who never laughs at people’s efforts to create something new.”
“Don’t hide behind that idealistic hogwash. Oh, I get it. You’re scared, aren’t you!? I loathe all of you self-styled ‘influencers’ who use clickbaity headlines to gather enough attention to earn ad revenue off their half-assed weaksauce criticism! Ban them, ban them, ban every last one of them!!”
“Just so you know, your life is as good as over once even us nerdy outcasts find you unbearable to be around.”
“I’ll kill you!!”
“You’re on. It’s time you left this world, you freak!!”
Different sorts of nerds could never see eye to eye. That sad history of conflict played out again here as the world’s most meaningless battle began. Those two pill bugs simply could not remain rolled up below the same stone together in peace. However, one of them was a rocket boy with his hands covered up and the other was a clay robot with bandages around his entire body. Neither one could bend their joints very much, so despite announcing their intent to kill, their scuffle ended up more like a fight between old-fashioned tokusatsu kaiju. None of it looked very impressive.
In the mayhem, something slipped from Aogami Pierce’s pocket: a notebook-sized tablet.
“Time out, time out!! Wait, Kami-yan! That internet device is my one remaining lifeline!”
“Hey, Seri!! Gather up all the browser history, bookmarks, and videos saved to the device and the cloud and then post them all online!!”
“Stop!! Don’t give her that kind of crazily unspecific command!!!”
For better or for worse, modern voice commands checked for the user’s voiceprint, so Aogami Pierce escaped that one alive.
That awful friend got down on the floor and protectively held the device close like a child protecting a puppy from parents who refused to let him have a pet.
“Do you know how much effort I put into finding a wholly prepaid device? There’s no personal information on the device itself, so as long as I don’t use my own wireless LAN, no can ever link the things I search back to me!! Do you get it now, Kami-yan? What would you type into the search bar on a device like this!!!???”
“I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is a mirror of your own heart.”
“Female doctors? No. Nurses? No, that’s not quite what I want either. …Gasp!? That’s it! A dental hygienist!!”
Aogami Pierce forcibly pulled the curtain closed again.
Kamijou was left all alone on the other side, but then he realized the other boy was lying in his bed operating the device. Operating it via voice.
“Hey, Seri. Take me on a journey of freedom. Yes, yes, I accept, I accept!! Is there anything like this on the top video’s page?”
“Hey, wait! Please wait!! You aren’t actually trying it here, are you? Yeah, there’s a curtain between us, but we’re still in the same room. Please don’t make me spend my Christmas like this!”
Aogami Pierce was not listening.
Kamijou’s voice did not reach him. That bastard was probably wearing wireless headphones or something.
Just then, Kamijou heard solid footsteps from the hallway. They sounded like someone wearing heels. It was still early in the morning, so he doubted visiting hours had started yet. That meant this was probably a nurse going around to the hospital rooms to take temperatures and serve breakfast.
Which meant they would be coming here.
And if he could hear their footsteps, they had to be extremely close.
“No, not like that. I don’t want anything dark, so no tearful faces please. I want the kind of young woman who will take good care of you, but not where you’re just a complete horndog only interested in your own pleasure. I want something more heartwarming, if you don’t mind.”
“Seri won’t know what to make of such a long command!! And why are you more polite with Seri than with me? But that aside, you’re in serious trouble here, Aogami Pierce!!”
It was too late.
The footsteps had arrived in front of their room. Their step was light enough that Kamijou assumed it was a woman.
Farewell, my friend. May you rest in peace!! prayed Kamijou Touma while squeezing his eyes shut.
“Good morning, Kamijou-san. No trouble ability with your condition, I hope? It’s time for breakfast☆”
This was odd.
She was dressed up like the nurses of this hospital.
As nice as her figure was, she was very clearly a middle school girl, so the outfit just looked wrong on her. And in a medical facility where cleanliness was king, it was odd for her long, honey-blonde hair to be left falling down her back like that.
And Kamijou was immediately disturbed by his analysis here.
Since when was he so perceptive?
(H-have I been in the hospital so much I’ve become an expert on nurses? I hadn’t noticed it before, but maybe I’m past the point of no return here.)
So who was this girl?
She spoke like they were friends, but he could not seem to remember her.
Yet he did not see how he could ever forget someone who looked like that.
The honey-blonde nurse(?) laughed.
“Yes, I know you don’t know who I am. My name is Shokuhou Misaki. Not that you’ll remember I told you that.”
What a strange name.
He felt like he would never forget a name like that once he heard it.
“See?” said the blonde girl while pointing at her large chest. A nameplate smaller than a stick of gum was clipped there, but the meaning of the characters written there seemed oddly reluctant to enter his brain. It was like how you could not make out any one face in particular when staring blankly at the audience in a packed stadium.
“So text doesn’t work either, does it?”
The honey-blonde girl let out a sigh.
She had the look of someone who had avoided getting her hopes up but still found the expected result painful.
“Well, the problem is in your brain, so I guess that makes sense. It would only be more confusing if there was some weird loophole like videos worked while photos didn’t.”
“I’m not sure what this is about, but sorry.”
“Your apologies hurt most of all,” she said rapidly under her breath.
She was still smiling, but she had apparently needed to let that comment out.
Kamijou only felt confused.
“So what brings you here, Miss Whoever?”
“I was thinking I would remove those bandages. You’re fed up with them already, aren’t you?”
“Eh, wait! I don’t want any treatment from a fake nurse!!”
“I checked inside a few people’s minds and it turns out they intentionally gave you an excessive amount of bandages to scare you. Because otherwise you’d run off and tear your half-healed wounds back open. Your injuries aren’t actually all that bad.”
So were these like the plastic trumpet thing placed around a cat or dog’s head to keep them from scratching at their ear? Kamijou could not believe it, but the honey-blonde girl removed his giant cocoon of bandages with surprising skill.
Once the seal had been removed, his body began to tremble.
“I-I can move. My clay robot limbs can move so smoothly!!”
“Your resilience is a constant reminder that the human body is a mysterious thing.” She sat her shapely butt down on the bed next to him. “I went to the trouble of using Mental Out, the strongest psychological power, to sneak into the hospital, so I wish you would show the appropriate appreciation ability. Also, I came here for revenge.”
“No need to get scared. It isn’t against you.”
She silently puffed out her cheeks from within. She looked like a sexy queen, but she was surprisingly childish deep down.
“(I can’t believe Misaka-san went as far as abandoning me and then forced him to have such a gloomy Christmas Eve. What was she thinking? And then she shows such a lapse of defensive ability she lets some mystery woman come along and steal his lips!? If you didn’t leave yourself so wide open, that kind of lazy long pass could never fly right past you like that!)”
“E-excuse me, but what exactly do you mean by revenge? If I’m being honest, it terrifies me to have someone mention revenge and immediately start muttering to herself with a shadow over her face. Wait, said you were some kind of powerful esper, didn’t you? You aren’t working for Neoka, are you!?”
“Oh, shut up!! Okay, I’ve had enough. That woman may have stolen your first kiss, but that just means I have to take all of your other ‘firsts’ myself!!!!!!”
“What kind of desperate move is that!? And does the entire world know what happened to me now!?”
“I reluctantly let Misaka-san have the 24th, but that means the 25th belongs to me!!”
Just then, the person hidden behind the curtain began to speak.
“Dammit, I can’t find a single dental hygienist video. God must be telling me now is not the time to remove my pants. The genre must be too niche at present, so I have no choice but to wait for it to flourish in the future.”
“Oh, no,” said Kamijou. “I don’t know where this is going, but you need to hide!!”
The girl let out a quiet shriek one second before the curtain was mercilessly thrown open.
“Huh? I could have sworn I heard a nurse in here, Kami-yan. When’s breakfast???”
“I sincerely hope you did stop before doing the deed, but I’m still not touching you until you’ve been sterilized with the hospital’s most harsh disinfectant spray.”
Kamijou Touma sounded casual, but he was keeping a secret from his friend.
He knew that fake nurse could not let anyone discover her here, so he had pulled her into the bed and hidden her below the covers.
“(Mgh, gh, um, excuse me, but what is happening here!?)”
“(Shut up. Do you want this to blow up into a huge deal!?)”
“(Well, um, none of that is actually a problem since I can use Mental Out to- ahhh!! Th-this is – oh, wow – a boy’s chest!? Ahh. Never mind, I don’t care anymore. I’ll just let this happen.)”
She was hard to make out, but the mystery nurse began muttering to herself and then stopped struggling like her battery had died. Much like someone who had succumbed to the temptation of a kotatsu.
Aogami Pierce tilted his head curiously.
“What are you doing, Kami-yan? And should you remove your bandages like that?”
“I-I’m playing a life simulation game. I just caught this cute thing, but she’s a little feisty and won’t obey my commands. It makes her hard to take care of.”
“Oh, so you’ve got a gadget too, huh? But it’s not light’s out anymore, so you don’t have to play it under the covers like that.”
“(Well excuse me for being feisty.)”
“(Ow, don’t pinch me there!)”
“(I won’t obey your commands, remember?)”
Kamijou was moving both his hands around below the covers quite a bit, but Aogami Pierce did not question it.
“Come to think of it, since you don’t have to register a phone number with those handheld game systems, I’ve heard you can modify them to make truly private searches just like a prepaid phone. But you can only use wireless LANs, not whatever-G.”
“Why bother telling me that?”
Kamijou also doubted that would work so well.
If everyone knew about a loophole, it was bound to be secretly filled in. Plus, Academy City was chock full of strange technology and espers. The defenders could use every trick in the book as well. He doubted a Level 0 could emerge victorious in that world.
But the oblivious boy sounded very proud of himself.
“Heh heh heh. I’ll teach you how to do it later on. It’s time you entered the adult world, Kami-yan. We’re not in our dorms, so we don’t need to follow the dorm rules. We might be trapped in this room, but the world is at our fingertips!!”
“(Hm? What is he talking about???)”
“(You’re better off not knowing. And I’m relieved to find this mysterious blonde gyaru is surprisingly pure.)”
“(Ow!? What is this strange new feeling!? Did you…bite my chest!?)”
“(Goo goo ga ga☆)”
He had gone to the trouble of sheltering the honey-blonde girl, but now she was getting out of hand. At this rate, he was afraid she would rapidly evolve into a little tyrant. He just had to hope this was not a case where the evolved form was much more brutal.
“What’s the matter, Kami-yan? You have the look of a man awakening to a new fetish.”
Visiting hours were from 10 AM to 4 PM.
Visitors had to fill out the necessary fields on a form and then take it to the general building reception counter on the 1st floor.
Misaka Mikoto breathed a gentle sigh while returning the provided pen to its stand. This was not her first time visiting an injured person in the hospital, but she was still not used to this formality. Couldn’t they let you through after automatically receiving the required personal information from your phone like at a train station’s ticket gate?
(No. Do that and people like me could walk right through.)
Everything was being automated and digitized these days, but by including some outdated analog steps within the giant cogs of the machine, they could increase the overall security level. And in a workplace that dealt with people’s actual lives, the extra inefficiency was worth it.
On the other hand…
“This kind of relationship is a real pain to explain.”
Students made up 80% of Academy City’s population, so most people probably circled the school-related options like “friend”, “upperclassman”, or “underclassman”. The smaller option for “club member, classmate, etc.” was probably unique to this city. But there was a chance of someone questioning it if you were from a different school. Especially when you were in middle school and you were visiting someone in high school. But she could not select any of the other options to avoid such suspicions. Misaka Mikoto was of course not that spiky-haired boy’s sister or daughter, after all. So it was such a pain figuring out what to say.
There was one option that would let her sidestep all the trouble even with different schools and ages: boyfriend/girlfriend.
She froze in place while her mind flashed back to that moment indelibly burned into her mind’s eye – the moment when those lips touched.
(It doesn’t bother me.)
Now, did she realize she had a frown on her face right now?
(Kissing isn’t everything! I’ve given him a lap pillow before!!)
Then she gasped.
Her mind was headed in a strange direction, so she had to tap the brakes and calm down.
(Wait, wait, wait.)
Misaka Mikoto refused to admit defeat even as the young female receptionist in a red Santa-like outfit gave her a puzzled look.
(Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!! Why am I turning this into a competition!? There isn’t even a set goal here, so that would be like driving straight toward the cliff in a game of chicken. Why do I even have to take this all so seriously!? All I’m doing is circling an option on a form.)
She pressed down too hard while drawing the circle and the pen slipped. It scraped audibly across the paper and ended up as an oval that mostly circled “friend” but also grazed the “boyfriend/girlfriend” option.
She could not believe this was how she was spending her Christmas.
Was that supposed to be her way of calling herself more than a friend but less than a lover?
Meanwhile, the nun in a white habit who had arrived with her was hopping up and down in front of the reception lobby’s big Christmas tree.
“Short hair, can we go see Touma now? I’m worn out already.”
“Why do you know your way around the hospital so well? And why do you have that cat on your head!? Can you really bring it into a hospital!?”
“I’ve already decided what I’m going to tell Touma: He shouldn’t let people kiss him if it’s only going to make everything more complicated. Grr, grr.”
Mikoto bristled and yelled at her, but a nearby nurse simply smiled and waved while walking by. “Oh, back so soon?” she said as a friendly greeting. “The hospital isn’t a playground, okay?” The gentle nurse looked like an alluring housewife with a mole by her lips and she must have been from the pediatric department because she gave the nun a piece of candy.
This only inspired further questions for Mikoto.
“Why do the people here know you so well???”
“Without Touma around to cook for me, I’d starve to death. And that would be a real tragedy!!”
The doctors and nurses could not dress up in a seasonal costume since they had an actual uniform to wear, but the receptionist and other administrative workers had all changed into red clothing. This seemed to provide a glimpse of the standards and licenses that were generally invisible to ordinary people. All the decorations were in full-on Christmas mode as well. The Christmas tree in the reception lobby was the most obvious example, but Santas and reindeer cut out of colored paper were attached to the walls, the doors had round wreaths on them, and a small stuffed snowman sat on the reception counter.
The tree was tall enough you had to crane your neck up to see the top, but it was entirely made out of plastic children’s blocks.
The Christmas music playing at a gentle volume made it all feel like part of a department store during the Christmas season.
Of course, this was all done for the benefit of the hospitalized people. The hospital felt obligated to make sure the children in particular did not miss out on the seasonal events. Just think of it in terms of the biggest seasonal event of them all: what if it were announced that summer break was canceled for the year? So the hospital put a lot of effort into things like this.
In addition to the number displayed for people waiting to pay or for their prescription, there was a large flat-screen monitor that helped enhance the holy night mood.
“This year, we’ll be using the real occult to capture Santa Claus! This program is brought to you by R&C Occultics.”
It was so absurd Mikoto just about laughed out loud.
Yet it required a bit of effort to peel her eyes off of the screen.
The two girls then cut across the lobby to the elevator hall.
Index spoke in a singsong way while popping the strawberry milk candy in her mouth.
“Which room is Touma in?”
“#904. Ugh, that’s the closest room to the nurse station and the ICU. It can be hard to tell since he looks fine, but maybe his injuries are worse than I thought.”
He was being kept in the position where a doctor or nurse could come running at a moment’s notice. That might sound like getting the VIP treatment, but it was actually a “room of death” with a quick turnover rate because patients closest to death tended to be placed there.
“The room is also nowhere near the emergency exit, so I think I know what’s going on here,” added Mikoto.
They boarded the elevator and hit the 9 button.
This hospital was in a city of science, so they ignored the superstitions about the numbers 4 and 9 when it came to floor numbers.
“Hm? What’s wrong, short hair???”
“Nothing,” said Mikoto while shaking her head in that cramped box.
She could not really call it an ill omen when it had been right in front of her eyes all along. She had seen magic. And she had seen it before the rise of this strange new IT giant called R&C Occultics. But the answer right in front of her had not registered with her. Her eyes had skimmed right over it.
The elevator arrived at their destination floor and the door opened to either side.
Index tilted her head at a rustling sound.
“Short hair, why did you bring flowers?”
“That’s what you do when you visit someone in the hospital.”
“You can’t eat flowers, silly. I brought this – an apple cake!!”
“You just want to eat it yourself, don’t you?”
Mikoto sounded somewhat exasperated as she walked down the hallway. She had already checked where his room was, so she did not need to ask for directions at the nurse station.
“Hey, wait…………I told you………..!!”
She heard a familiar voice coming from elsewhere before arriving at the room in question. Puzzled, she glanced over to find an amenity room.
The word amenity technically referred to “pleasant” things, but that name did not do much to tell you what the room actually was. Was it maybe a room for light exercise for people confined to a bed during a long hospital stay?
“I’m telling you, this is weird!! I can do it on my own! I really can!!”
Whatever it was, he was apparently in there.
Sensing some kind of invisible pressure and feeling unidentified warning bells going off in her head, Mikoto felt a prickling feeling in her chest, but Index apparently felt none of that. With her cake box in hand, she flung open the metal sliding door without even knocking first.
“I’m here, Touma!! Can we eat this apple cake now!?”
As the door opened, they appeared before Misaka Mikoto’s eyes.
The pointy-haired boy was submerged in a giant nursing bath and four girls who looked just like her were approaching him from all sides.
Her mind went blank.
The concepts of time and space were cast out of her mind in that moment.
But no matter how hard the teenage girl tried to deny what was happening here, none of it would become any less real.
The large, round bath’s floor had steps along its round edge and there was a stainless steel railing to make it more accessible. What was she trying to say here? This was an ordinary bath, so it was not somewhat cloudy like a hot spring’s water. Everything below the surface was perfectly visible and unhidden!!
None of them was wearing a single shred of clothing. There was nothing but bright skin to be seen with no more than white soap bubbles to cover it up. A shell bikini or even simple bandages would have provided more of a defense.
Misaka Mikoto went red in the face.
“B-b-b-bubbles!? Are you insane!?”
“Not to worry. These bubbles provide the perfect defense in a system Misaka calls ‘wet underwear’, says Misaka #10032 to put your mind at ease while she puts her hands on her hips and pushes out her chest.”
“Please don’t call it that!! People will definitely get the wrong idea!!”
At any rate, the room was full of soft skin and bubbles.
The mysterious Four Generals (who looked identical and all had lightning powers) kept blank expressions while void of both clothing and bath towels.
“Do you itch anywhere? asks Misaka #10032 as she uses a professional-sounding question to take the initiative while showing off her heart necklace to remind you of our time together.”
“Now that you are in the hospital, you are on Misaka’s home turf, says Misaka #10039 to show her motivation while placing a dollop of white bubbles on the tip of her nose to show off her cute side.”
“Misaka is actually covering her important bits with bandages to fit the hospital theme, but now she is too bubbly to see them, says Misaka #13570 while working to stimulate your imagination.”
“Misaka is unsure what any of this has to do with Christmas, says Misaka #19095 while honestly finding this ‘says Misaka’ thing a real pain and hoping we can just abandon it.”
A strange babbling voice could be heard at the center of it all.
Kamijou Touma, demon lord of love and desire, was apparently in no state to actually enjoy the soft skin surrounding him. After all, he was covered in various injuries and the bathwater was painfully soaking every last one of them. Those clones were apparently unaware that people hoping to commit suicide by slitting their wrists would soak the wound in water to keep it from closing up.
Also, Mikoto realized she had something more important to do than get zappy.
She immediately covered Index’s eyes with her hand. But not because she wanted to snap a photo in the style of a sexy selfie.
(She’s going to realize there’s clone tech at work here!!! They’re even calling themselves Misaka #Whatever! I might be able to explain away one of them as a sister, but that doesn’t work when there’s this many of them and they all look identical!!)
“Ahh!! Forget you saw anything here!! There was nothing at all in here!! Okay, okay!?”
“Wow, there really was nothing in there.”
“Grr, grr!! Why wasn’t there anything like a sponge, body soap, a washbasin, or a shampoo hat in there!? And there were four of them, so why weren’t any of them using shampoo? His hair will be all stiff. Also, that girl called 10032 should take that necklace off when she’s in the bath because silver rusts surprisingly easily! But don’t worry! I can teach you a trick from my spiritual item maintenance knowledge! If it gets too discolored, you can polish it right up with some lemon juice!!”
“I said forget what you saw, not remember it in excessive detail!! Look, you can have a gummi if you promise to forget everything you saw here! It’s cyanogenic glycoside flavor!!”
“Yum. I’ll take whatever you give me, but I can’t forget something once I see it. Munch, munch.”
Those poison gummies had been a brief hit after non-fruit juice technology was used to create 100% safe reproductions of famous poison flavors. Not that anyone (well, anyone still alive) could actually prove that they really did taste like cyanide, wolfsbane, or tetrodotoxin.
The food had temporarily pacified the white beast, but things here were not over yet.
“I don’t want you doing stuff like this when you look just like me!!”
“Which do you like more: this squishy softness, this smooth slickness, or this jiggly plumpness? asks Misaka #10032 as she zooms into the lead and opens a wide gap between herself and the competition. While also opening up her body.”
“I! Said! Stop!!”
Then Mikoto spotted two colors not found on those Four Generals.
She saw honey-blonde hair and a pink nurse uniform in one corner of the large room.
“My, my, my, my. You can’t help but tease him can you, you naughty girls?”
“You were here too, Shokuhou!? Don’t just stand there! Use your Mental Out to get those four to stop!!”
“Oh, come on. They’re being selfish, but it would be cruel to stop them now that they’ve found something they want to do. Even if I am less than pleased they stole him away just when I thought I could have him to myself☆”
“Don’t you get hearts in your eyes, you old hag! And why are you acting like the overly indulgent parent here???”
“Don’t you dare call me a hag, you meathead gorilla with no maternal side whatsoever!!”
Shokuhou Misaki threw a plastic washbasin, but it flew more than 90 degrees off course and crashed right into Kamijou Touma’s head. How was that even possible? Misaka Mikoto had a succinct explanation for the mysterious phenomenon.
“I see you’re as unathletic as ever.”
“I am not!! I, uh, totally meant to do that!!”
That would suggest Shokuhou Misaki did want to lash out at that moron on a deep, subconscious level. Misaka Mikoto understood the feeling, so she sent some sparks flying from her body.
“And don’t think you’re getting off the hook just because so much happened at once. I’m keeping track of it all just fine.”
“Wait, this wasn’t my fault!” protested the boy. “That expressionless group grabbed me from my bed, carried me down the hallway, and chucked me in here! Also, baths and lightning are a bad combination, if you weren’t aware!! You might as well be throwing a hairdryer into the bath with me!!”
Shokuhou Misaki beckoned the four girls over and they left the nursing bath in perfect unison.
The honey-blonde girl must have indeed carried some darkness deep down because she made no attempt to defend the pointy-haired boy.
“I believe violence is your domain, Misaka-san.”
“Wait, I don’t want to be known for that!!!!!”
Just as she tensed up too much over that comment, the bath turned into a scene from a suspense drama.
“So.” Kamijou Touma was wearing pajamas now and he still had Index’s jaws latched onto the back of his head. “What’s going on here? Is everyone in the world trying to kill me now???”
They were in the restaurant at the entrance of the hospital.
The swarm of clones was apparently satisfied, so they had returned to the research sector where normal patients were not allowed. Although he still had to keep his guard up since they could reappear at any moment.
“Touma, I brought this apple cake, so let’s eat it!”
“And where did you find the money for that!? I bet you used the funding I had hidden away to cover the end-of-year period where we can’t use the ATMs. Index, did you find that envelope I had taped to the back of the washing machine!? Was all the bleeding and electricity not enough!? Is the world intent on killing me through indirect financial routes as well!?”
Kamijou Touma would probably be restricted to hospital food during his stay here, but there were loopholes. Visitors could bring him food and he could visit this restaurant to speak with visitors.
Of course, the hospital would discover he had been sneaking food as soon as they ran any tests, but since he was here for cuts and contusions, not an internal illness, he did not really have to worry about the dietary restrictions all that much. And he was a growing high school boy, so he wanted to eat meat, meat, carbs, meat, salt, fat, and meat. He was not going to spend his Christmas with only slimy porridge to eat.
He grabbed the menu from the round table.
“Th-the prices will be reasonable since this is a hospital, right?”
“What, are you short on money? Since it’s an emergency, I could always lend you some.”
“I am not turning into a high schooler who owes money to a middle schooler!! It’s not happening! I’d be trading my dignity for money!”
“Are you trying to piss us off?” asked both middle school girls while pinching his cheeks.
Kamijou Touma was intent on having a feast since it was Christmas, so he ordered the fried chicken meal. Mikoto and Shokuhou could not see the connection between his intentions and his actions at first, but it eventually dawned on them as their imagination slowly caught up. Imagination speed had a way of slowing for the generations that could look anything up on their phones at any time.
“The fried chicken meal…is your idea of a feast???” The nearly-dumbfounded honey-blonde girl finally asked. “U-umm. I don’t mean to pry, but surely you aren’t thinking that qualifies as that one standard item of the Christmas meal, are you?”
“No, it’s not meant to be the turkey. They have a special Christmas fried chicken sale at the convenience stores, right? And if I want some fried chicken, this is my only option! Everything else would be too expensive!!”
“I, but, wait, really?”
The professional high-class girl waved her hands in a fluster and her thoughts seemed to have ground to a halt. She must have been hoping very dearly that she had misinterpreted what he had said, but her attempt to clear up the misunderstanding had instead planted her foot on the landmine.
Mikoto, a high-class girl who contradictorily had a better understanding of the commoner life, joined the conversation with exasperation in her voice.
“This is Japanese-style, so it’s not even on the bone. Christmas fried chicken is normally the Western-style, you know?”
“Don’t be absurd!! I couldn’t eat that kind right now if I had it! Besides, there’s no way I can afford anything as fancy as meat on the bone!!!!!!”
When he was that upfront about it, even Mikoto could only stammer without finding the words.
A high schooler was simply too much for middle schoolers to handle.
As mentioned earlier, hospitals paid careful attention to seasonal events. The menu had a lot of special Christmas items available, but Kamijou Touma’s mind had apparently skipped right past them. He seemed physically unable to see any single item on the menu that cost more than 1000 yen.
Index alone remained cheerful.
“All that matters is that it’s edible!! Because you need food to stay alive!!”
“Exactly right, Index. Someone has taught you well.”
“So I want the extra-large three-meat grill combo that comes with ginger pork, fried shrimp, and a hamburger steak!!”
“Why do they even offer something so unhealthy at a hospital? And you are stuck with that apple cake you bought with our precious money. That thing has to have enough sugar to keep you alive if you got lost on a snowy mountain.”
The other two girls could only sigh as they watched Kamijou and Index divide up their prizes on small paper plates to share.
They exchanged a glance and then silently communicated by reading each other’s lips.
“(Looks like there aren’t any lasting effects.)”
“(I could have sworn that black pill was meant as an attack on him, though. What purpose ability did it even have?)”
Just as they arrived at that conclusion, some sticky red blood dripped from Kamijou Touma’s nose.
Two small triangles appeared.
They were created by the mouths of the two Level 5 girls.
A voice seemed to crawl up from the pit of hell.
“Hold it. Are you putting mayo on your chicken, Mr. High Calorie?”
“Eh? What else would you put on it? Please don’t say something like ‘matcha salt’! And you’re gonna act like you’re better than me for it when all you’re doing is adding a pinch of some fancy salt to your food!!”
Kamijou Touma took offense, but that was not the real reason Mikoto had spoken up.
“I don’t really care about your topping choice – and I prefer lemon juice, for the record. Now, what was going through your head just now? Were you thinking about that kiss? That romantic smooch you had on Christmas Eve!?”
“And why didn’t you tell me were okay with some random person walking up and kissing you!?” cut in Shokuhou. “Argh, I could have been the mysterious and sexy stranger who swept you off your feet on Christmas Eve!”
Shokuhou Misaki pouted her lips.
She was not in a special hospital room or examining room. In fact, she was out in a perfectly ordinary hallway. The people walking down the hall passed by without even focusing on that blonde girl in a nurse uniform.
She was not at all concerned about being discovered as an intruder.
There was only one thing on her mind: regret. She hated that some strange woman had appeared out of nowhere and stolen what could have been her own special memory for that holy night, but what did that really matter? That woman may have stolen a small lead, but Shokuhou was not so pure that she would give up over that.
(What I have to do now could not be more obvious: I have to steal him back. Heh heh heh. Now, what costume would be best?)
“Hm, hm. Hm, hm, hm, hm.”
She was actually humming when she came to a stop in a small waiting room in the hallway. A few vending machines and a sofa were tucked over out of the way, but there was no wall or other partition dividing it off from the hallway. She was still in full view of all the nurses and patients walking by. It was not meant to hide anything, so it was not built to do so.
And yet the honey-blonde girl suddenly unbuttoned her nurse uniform and opened up the front, revealing her soft skin in broad daylight. Something jiggled in the process.
She did not care about all the eyes around her.
Or rather, none of them were looking at her. Because she had manipulated them so they would not.
(Locker rooms tend to be physically locked, so I can’t get inside. And each department has its own keys, so finding a nurse with the key I need can be a real pain.)
“Now, what should I go with next? Wait, why am I even asking? How can I choose anything but Santa today?”
“Hey,” someone called out to her.
Shokuhou Misaki was the type to change her underwear to match her overall outfit, so she was currently 100% naked and holding her new costume up in both hands. She looked over in slight surprise to find Academy City’s ill-mannered #3 glaring at her.
“What in the world are you doing? How long have you been an exhibitionist?”
“Just changing clothes real quick☆”
Tokiwadai’s Queen belatedly recalled that the #3 could deflect her Mental Out when that girl did not “allow it in”.
“But I do understand the concept is probably new to you, Misaka-san. You can change out of your uniform during winter break, just FYI.”
“Shut up. I was asking what you’re hoping to accomplish by dressing up like that.”
“Because I want to make the most of my Christmas. In ways beyond your wildest fantasies, Misaka-san.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought you would say. That idiot is in the hospital, so you need to let him rest!! If you mess with him now, his wounds could reopen!”
“And that’s what I thought you would say☆ By the way, here’s what I had in mind for keeping you from interfering.”
Mikoto’s eardrums were assaulted by an ear-splitting scream, like someone had stumbled across a murder scene.
A real nurse in the hallway was looking their way with her face bright red and a hand over her mouth. Her eyes were as wide as dinner plates and she must have been too panicked to even find the words to express herself.
The nurse appeared to be new to the job and she had the look of someone with a baseball-sized lump of air caught in her throat.
“See, Shokuhou? Someone finally noticed your perverted-”
“What are you doing walking around without any clothes on!? I don’t know what led you to do this, but get over here right now! Yes, you! The short-haired girl!”
“What?” said Mikoto with her eyes wide.
But the pajama girl with a bob cut, the female doctor, and the other people in the hall had in fact come to a stop with blushes on their faces while they glanced over at Misaka Mikoto, not at Shokuhou Misaki.
The grinning Queen spun a TV remote around with all her bright skin still on display.
“W-wait, don’t tell me…”
“I’m the one wearing clothes while you’re the one who stripped down in public, Misaka-san☆”
That was how the scene looked to all those people.
A trick like this was a piece of cake for the #5.
“Of course, they’re only seeing what I imagine that would look like, so it’s not like they’re really seeing you naked. It’s like having your head edited onto a nude photo, so why even worry about it?”
“~ ~ ~ ~ ~!!!???”
“I even gave you a small boost in the chest department, so you should thank me really.”
“Go to hell!!”
Mikoto was not under physical attack, but she had hit her limit as a girl. She could not bear to have those people looking at her any longer.
With her face beet red, she opened the window, stepped up onto the windowsill, and shouted back at Shokuhou.
“Don’t think you’ve won yet, you moron!! You’ve altered what they can see, but the mechanical security cameras all have footage of you naked now!!”
“Oh, dear. I should probably take care of that later.”
Shokuhou spun her remote around and did not sound at all worried.
Erasing that footage would be a piece of cake for the #5.
Kamijou enjoyed some lively company as much as anyone, but his visitors today were taking it a bit far.
“I definitely didn’t expect them to wield the cutlery against me,” he complained while trudging down the hallway, wet-haired and alone.
It was still before noon, but he was on his way back to his hospital room. The girls were not with him because he needed his visitors to be outside to give him an excuse to leave his room again. It could be easy to forget, but he had been hospitalized and he was supposed to stay in his bed as much as possible except for the rehabilitation and exercise routines prepared by the doctors. However, that left him terribly bored. Especially for a teenage boy overflowing with adolescent energy!!
However, he had needed to grab something back in his room.
“Shoes, shoes, where are my shoes? I can’t head outside in my slippers.”
This happened a lot during a hospital stay.
His joints were aching after staying in bed for so long, so he wanted to go on a stroll through the courtyard. And if there was a soccer ball out there, he could probably chase it around all day long.
He poked his head inside the room and found Aogami Pierce had slipped from his bed.
“What’s wrong, Aogami? You’ve been acting weird today.”
“Eh heh heh. I don’t know where you got off to, Kami-yan, but you should count your blessings. This lovey-dovey couple has been flirting on and on and on in here. The barrier surrounding their world of happiness just about crushed me to death.”
Kamijou could not have been happier he had been in the restaurant for that.
“Why do people care so much about pressing their lips together?” said Aogami Pierce with a shadow over his face. “Who wants to see someone’s gross mouth the moment they wake up? Us non-kissers are the smart ones! Right, Kami-yan!?”
“Wait, what’s with the creepy silence? Why must you pique my curiosity like this???”
However, Kamijou Touma’s silence was not because he had remembered his kiss with that sexy woman on Christmas Eve.
Nor was he battling the harsh truth that his first kiss had tasted like St. Germain.
A honey-blonde miniskirt Santa girl was nestled up against his chest.
“(Hiii, Kamijou-san. You were taking a while, so I decided to come check up on you.)”
“Wait, eh, what!?”
“(Well, I’m sure you’ve already forgotten what happened just 10 minutes ago, but now that Misaka-san, that nun, and all the other annoyances are out of the way, I was hoping to take another stab at visiting you☆)”
And she was nestled up against his chest in such a way that her large chest, which felt very different from his own chest, was pressed against him. He was utterly flabbergasted. Had that kiss destroyed the world’s inhibitions or something!?
Kamijou was trying to figure out how to react to this sudden intruder, but Aogami Pierce only gave him a puzzled look.
Yes, he was looking at Kamijou, not at the younger (yet very curvy) Santa who clearly did not belong.
“Why are you freaking out all on your own over there? Gasp!? K-Kami-yan, do you have an imaginary girlfriend now!? You’re entering the world of Advanced Moe now!”
“What, no! Can you not see…!?”
Kamijou trailed off.
How would it benefit him in any way to let his friend know there was an unbelievably sexy girl here?
The honey-blonde girl laughed.
“(Yes, yes. There’s no need to let anyone else know about this. Now, Kamijou-saaan, you wouldn’t want your Christmas to be boring, would you? Let’s make this the truly unforgettable day it deserves to be.)”
“(Did you use some kind of esper power?)”
“(It’s called Mental Out. Can you actually remember my esper name? Not that that would be much solace.)”
A hint of loneliness entered her voice there.
It really did look like Aogami Pierce could not see her. But if the light was being physically bent to make her invisible, Kamijou would not be seeing her either. That meant she must have been affecting the other boy’s mind somehow.
“(Why are you dressed like that???)”
“(Because it’s Christmas☆ But since you didn’t ask why I had changed into this, I guess your memories really do vanish the instant I leave your sight.)”
“(That has nothing to do with Mental Out, to be clear. …But it’s okay if you don’t know who I am. Whether or not you remember it, the fact will remain that you had a very enjoyable Christmas. So let’s share some intimate loving, shall we?☆)”
That was apparently what she had planned.
He was very glad his blood pressure and heartrate were not being monitored. Even he could tell they had reached a point that the nurses would be rushing in. What was with this excessively mature and curvy middle schooler!?
Meanwhile, Aogami Pierce was muttering something more to himself than anything.
“Christmas is just another day. There’s nothing special about it. Some red jerk in a flying sleigh doesn’t have the stealth capability to slip past airport radar!! Heh…heh hee hee! Miniskirt Santas are just a fantasy!! I’m not crying!!”
“How long are you gonna live in a fantasy world, Kami-yan? It’s time to face the facts! Busty blonde miniskirt Santas (who are somehow actually younger than you) aren’t real!! They’re as fake as Bigfoot!!”
Aogami Pierce apparently had no idea who was currently nestled up against Kamijou, running her gloved index finger along his chest, and giggling in a bewitching way. She then pulled a wrapped box smaller than a phone from a location he would have been hesitant to describe.
“(Here, this can mark the start of our day of fun.)”
“(It honestly irritates me to no end that you forget me every single time, so I want to leave you with something more concrete. So here.)”
The box felt faintly warm.
Maybe Santa only visited the pure-hearted children.
Wondering what was inside, he removed the thin wrapping paper. Aogami Pierce looked over like Kamijou had just performed some kind of magic trick. But his fingers were not back at 100% dexterity yet, so he ended up tearing the wrapping paper more than he meant to.
Had he noticed the deeply kind way the honey-blonde girl was watching his childlike behavior?
He stared at the contents of the box in confusion.
“(It’s a whistle. Not that I expect you to understand its significance.)”
The silver-haired girl in a white nun’s habit smelled faintly of soap, perhaps because the hem of her habit had soaked up a bit of the bathwater spilled on the tile floor during her visit to the amenity room.
She would look conspicuous most anywhere in this city of science. Especially in a hospital packed full of the latest tech. But this was the one place no one would question Index even if she had snuck in for no real reason.
It was a chapel.
Since it was located in the basement area below the hospital, it felt as chilly as the midwinter air, but Index felt like the chill helped highlight the worldly thoughts in her head.
The image in her mind’s eye was from Christmas Eve.
Lips had contacted lips before her eyes.
With her perfect memory, she could never escape a memory she would prefer to forget.
In truth, she wanted to at least pout her lips over it.
(It doesn’t bother me.)
A voice rudely interrupted her while she folded her hands in front of her chest in prayer.
It came from the 15cm god named Othinus who sat on her shoulder.
But not because she found the chapel awkward as a non-Christian god.
“Should you really be in here? Isn’t this room for terminal patients?”
For the most part, Academy City was a high-tech city where atheistic science worship prevailed and the stained glass in here was almost certainly lit up by LEDs on the other side, but freedom of worship was still guaranteed. A patient was free to find comfort however they liked in their final moments. Of course, instead of having an actual priest visit, they were more likely to get a teacher who specialized in that academic subject.
Index kept her hands folded in prayer.
She was not ashamed and in fact gave Othinus an earnest answer.
“And that’s why I’m praying for Touma here.”
Othinus did not ask anything more.
She knew that boy was forcing himself to smile. He was a worrier and made himself a part of other people’s business, which often resulted in him being injured. He felt other people’s pain more than anyone and he would not hesitate to rush toward certain death to alleviate that pain.
On the other hand, Kamijou Touma was not at all accustomed to having other people worry for him. It actually left him flustered when it happened. The more they worried for him and cared for him, the greater the burden he would feel. As his understander, that irritated Othinus to no end. That idiot did not know how to let other people take care of him when he had a cold.
Othinus pompously crossed her legs on the silver-haired girl’s shoulder but then jumped at the growl coming from the calico cat on Index’s head.
“So you’ve noticed?” she finally asked.
“About St. Germain? Based on what I know, that probably won’t go away on its own.”
“There’s no probably about it.”
Othinus kept her arms crossed and breathed a snort from her shapely nose.
That girl was a library who had memorized at least 103,001 grimoires, so it was laughable for her to act uncertain about something magical. Turning a blind eye to an inconvenient truth would only allow things to get worse.
So Othinus would nip that meaningless wishful thinking in the bud.
Her coldhearted response here was meant to keep herself moving in the right direction as much as anything.
If the only way to retrieve that boy’s soul was to descend into the depths of hell, then what could they do but throw open hell’s gates?
“It will not go away on its own. No matter what.”
Misaka Mikoto knew now was not the time for running away via window.
The clone girls were still sneaking around and they were sure to attack that hospital room again if not stopped. And once she noticed that, she had no choice but to drag them back to the hospital’s research area.
Those identical girls stared back at her with a complete lack of expression.
“But Misaka was hoping to enjoy her Christmas, says Misaka #10032 in a dejected way.”
“Ugh…n-no, you can’t fool me! What does being naked in the bath have to do with Christmas!?”
“The information we found says Christmas has more bare skin than most any other time of year. Just think of the miniskirt Santas or the girls wearing only a ribbon or some whipped cream, says-”
“Where in the world did you find that picture of Christmas? Don’t believe everything you see online and do something Christmasy!!”
Misaka Mikoto thought she was going to overheat.
She sighed after pushing away the identical girls.
As usual, she seemed to lose control of her life while around that boy. Her image of herself as the Ace of Tokiwadai always seemed to crumble away. She never knew how to deal with it, but it was not what she would call unpleasant either.
(There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him beyond the obvious injuries. That Anna Sprengel person sure seemed confident, but was her plan a dud?)
That was not impossible.
Misaka Mikoto had some of the best grades at the prestigious esper development school of Tokiwadai Middle School, but not even she had managed to analyze what exactly Kamijou Touma’s power was.
She just knew it was capable of negating Academy City’s #3 power.
In fact, it seemed to carry some greater mystery and it was the greatest black box of anything she had come across to date.
That meant it was even greater than the #1’s blatant sort of “strongest” power.
If he had something so powerful hidden within him, maybe it was not all that surprising that Anna Sprengel’s plans and predictions had fallen apart.
That was Misaka Mikoto’s conclusion.
But her thoughts were interrupted by the racket of some small wheels turning.
Several doctors and nurses were pushing an emergency patient to the operating room on a stretcher.
“Clear the way!! Please clear the way!!”
“Blood pressure is dropping. Check the Bank for their blood type and allergies!! Oh, no. They’ve gone into shock. For now, we need to get some saline in them to keep their blood pressure from falling any further!! We need to at least know their blood type ASAP! Hurry!!”
It was a like a storm blowing in.
Had there been an accident? Or was it an attack? It was Christmas, but trouble happened year round. With the snow and the events, the roads had to be packed with traffic, so the ambulances probably had a hard time getting around. Based on what the doctors were saying, this was a pretty bad case too.
(That can’t be fun.)
With that silent comment, Mikoto decided to return to Kamijou’s hospital room. Seeing that had helped cool her carefree anger and put her in a serious state of mind.
She rode the elevator to the 9th floor and walked down the hallway.
On the way, she spotted a blonde girl pressed against the wall. She must have stripped down and changed somewhere again because she was in her school uniform now.
Also, that was not the wall she was pressed against. It was an examining room door.
“Shh,” shushed the blonde girl with a finger to her lips.
Leave it to the strongest psychological esper to not respect other people’s privacy. Mikoto considered blasting her away with a lightning spear, but things changed on her way to grab the other girl by the collar.
She caught sight of a pointy-haired boy through the cracked door.
He was speaking with the frog-faced doctor.
“The tests have told me most everything I need to know.”
Her heart leaped into her throat.
She realized she was no better than Shokuhou when she did not raise her voice and chase the other girl away.
If she stayed here, she could learn about the boy’s test results. She knew it was wrong, but her curiosity won out.
She wanted to rid herself of her lingering concern.
She clenched her teeth because she felt like this was no different from when she had been causing trouble night after night over those clone girls.
Oblivious to her presence, the conversation in the examination room continued.
“You said you saw a pill, yes? Whatever it is, I believe it will be difficult for your right hand’s power to negate.”
“Let me rephrase that. Your right hand is destroying it, but it is multiplying inside your body at an even faster rate. It’s much like a situation where the body can’t heal itself fast enough.”
If Index had been here, she might have been reminded of the Innocentius spell.
But Shokuhou Misaki and Misaka Mikoto were the ones hearing it.
They were unfamiliar with the rules of magic.
“You said you had been bleeding, yes? Was it a nosebleed?” asked the frog-faced doctor to be sure.
He sounded serious. At the very least, it did not sound like this was a case of a teenage boy getting a nosebleed due to arousal.
“There are cases where someone can burst their capillaries through extreme mental focus, but we need to take a more pessimistic view here. More and more of your body is being infected as we speak. I do not know of a vaccine or antidote for this and I doubt a stomach pump or dialysis can forcibly eliminate it.”
“Your Imagine Breaker is successfully slowing the advance of this disease that science alone cannot explain, but it is not working quickly enough to fully eliminate it. The microbes are even now gradually spreading through your body, so they will destroy all your body tissue at an accelerated rate if nothing is done to stop them. I do not know how long you have. This looks similar to deadly bacteria, but I believe it is different on a fundamental level.”
The boy’s voice was barely audible.
Mikoto could not see his face from her position, but his voice was that of a lost child who felt left behind.
“Then what am I supposed to do?”
“It would probably be fastest to speak with whoever caused this. I have never seen a microbe like this before, but since it is being used as a weapon, they must have some way of preventing it from infecting and killing them, right? So they almost certainly have some way of stopping or fighting it.”
“Do you have any idea at all how much time I have?”
“Two days at the most, but it’s frankly a miracle you’re still up and moving now. I do hate how I feel like I am pushing a child toward danger, though.”
“So…I’m going to die if this continues?”
“You are a minor, so I am not allowed to answer that question. Unless you have your parents sign a consent form.”
A monotone electronic beeping sounded.
The frog-faced doctor pulled an outdated mobile device from his pocket, but it was part of the unique communication infrastructure that was still in use at certain workplaces. Hospitals were one such workplace.
“Hm, we are receiving an awful lot of emergency patients today.”
“Oh, don’t worry about them, Kamijou-kun. Their symptoms are different than yours. Fortunately, we have yet to see those microbes spread from person to person. Much like yeast cells and rice koji, they only infect you if you directly ingest something containing them. …Then again, you could say this has the same cause.”
The frog-faced doctor seemed to have stood from his seat.
The emergency patients were a major problem, but he must have also decided there was no more advice he could provide here.
“R&C Occultics, I mean. I hear a lot of the children have been babbling about what seems like nonsense. It makes you wonder what kind of non-scientific hocus pocus they have been dabbling in.”
The boy was not his usual self.
He looked so tiny while seated with his back to the door.
His head was hanging as he quietly muttered something.
However, this was the normal reaction.
He had been given a strange pill, he had coughed up blood and collapsed, and he had been taken the hospital. How could he be his usual self after that? He would understand better than anyone that now was not the time for smiling.
Don’t listen, thought Mikoto with a grimace.
She knew she had to avoid listening to this. She realized now he had been forcing a smile because he did not want anyone to see him like this. And by eavesdropping, she was rudely trampling on those efforts.
Yet she could not make herself leave.
So she heard it.
She heard the difference.
She realized just how hard he had been working to stay so cheerful in order to avoid worrying the others.
The Kamijou Touma curled up his back and spoke his honest thoughts in a vanishingly quiet voice.
Those two simple words seemed to shatter her world.
“I know you are. Everyone is at times like this.”
There was only one exit.
But when the frog-faced doctor opened the door to go see to the new emergency patient, there was no one there.
The two girls were hiding behind a nearby corner in the hallway and exchanging a glance.
The air seemed on fire around them.
“Misaka-san, you heard that, didn’t you?”
She just about clicked her tongue.
She wanted to punch herself in the face more than provide such obvious confirmation.
And since Mikoto only clenched her teeth, Shokuhou kept talking.
“I’m sure you’ll be heading out to search for Anna Sprengel now that you know what’s going on, so how about we make this easier for both of us? If we work together, we can use both people and machines to search more easily. We will find her no matter where in the city she is hiding. Right?”
Anna Sprengel had already explained how they could give up. If they could not do anything on their own, they only had to contact R&C Occultics.
But then what would happen?
They had no bargaining chip of their own to use in exchange for receiving Anna’s help when they gave up. Anna was sure to mock them if they gave up without any kind of plan whatsoever. At this rate, Anna would call their bluff and it was that boy who would suffer for it.
So they had to defeat Anna and directly steal whatever antidote or vaccine she had.
That was their best bet.
Mikoto made herself take a deep breath.
And she asked a question.
“Where should we start?”
“With every single idea you have in mind. I’ll do the same.”
The two girls stepped out into the biting cold of the outdoors.
That boy had already taken a beating in order to crush Academy City’s dark side, so now it was their turn.
The 24th was over and they would make sure the 25th was different. It was time that boy was saved by someone else for a change.
Between the Lines 1
R&C Occultics was an enormous IT company that had appeared online out of the blue.
It was a monstrous site that gathered people from all around the world, but it also provided all sorts of magical secrets that were meant to remain hidden.
“A plan to divulge modern Western magic? Is this supposed to be the return of Israel Regardie? Utter nonsense.”
The time difference with Japan was about 9 hours.
The excitement from the countdown had finally worn off and the raucous partying had settled down to normal levels.
The darkness of the night was burning orange.
The damp wind blowing in from the Thames was scattered, leaving only hot and dry air reminiscent of a kiln to sizzle at the skin.
With a height of two meters, long hair dyed red, a barcode tattoo under the eye, and a cigarette in the mouth, Stiyl Magnus did not at all look like a holy man, but he was in fact an Anglican priest. However, he belonged to a secret part of the church: the 0th Parish known as Necessarius.
His job was to combat magicians.
The magical crime scene this time was in the City of London. And of all locations, a toxic magical flower blossomed in the center of the high-tech London Stock Exchange where deals were made at the rapid rate of 10,000 per second.
The roar of oxygen being consumed by a fire echoed through the polished financial district. The starlight and even the bright decorations and fireworks paled in comparison.
But this fire was not Stiyl’s doing.
It had been there when he got here. Some amateur had learned the spell while searching online late at night and tried to do something ill-advised with it, but he had accidentally set himself on fire instead. The intensity of the flames made it obvious at a glance he was not going to make it.
The tall priest grimaced.
With an intricate plan, you had a chance of secretly nipping it in the bud by preventing the carefully laid out dominoes from falling, but there was nothing you could do with a lone wolf who screwed it up all on their own. Screams and shouts echoed through the night and small bottles of beer were scattered across the otherwise pristine sidewalk outside of a fancy little pub’s takeout window.
There were an awful lot of people around for past midnight in the financial district. That it was early morning on Christmas probably didn’t help. A lot of couples had gathered to watch the colorful fireworks being shot off across the river.
And so they had all seen it.
Seen the mystical, the supernatural, the terror.
(I can’t possibly clean up after all this. Is their plan to cause small incidents all over the world to overload Necessarius’s ability to handle it all!?)
After all, there were 7 billion suspects.
Their traditional method was to find everyone who posed a large, medium, or even small threat and “deal with” them, but that would not work here. Just like an elite group of special forces could not suppress a riot large enough to shake the entire nation.
The best Stiyl could do for the moment was scatter around his laminated cards and construct a people-clearing spell that would prevent the chaos from spreading any further, but then someone called out to him.
It was a young voice.
The girl could not have been more than 12.
But the priest did not let his guard down. Especially when he turned toward the voice and found no one there. Just like a sniper, this person had found a position where she could observe him without him observing her. And on such a ridiculous level that she could talk without giving away her position.
“Since you Anglicans seem to think you’re cops, how do you plan to deal with this one? That guy on fire there is named George Close. Based on what our Dawn-Colored Sunlight has turned up, he appears to be enormous piece of trash who was so blinded by greed he rewrote the documents to get R&C Occultics listed here in the City. Without him, a paper company controlled by a sketchy cyber cult without a known headquarters could never have made it onto the London Stock Exchange!”
Stiyl loudly clicked his tongue while working to lock down all the information here.
He was not naïve enough to think the enemy of his enemy was his friend.
This required the utmost caution.
(This must be Leivinia Birdway, the boss of the largest surviving Golden magic cabal. Never thought I’d see the day I was receiving tips from the top of our wanted list.)
“God, this isn’t worth the pay at all! I’m sending the Dawn-Colored Sunlight a request for extra pay later on!” shouted another voice. “This at least deserves a Christmas bonus and hazard pay!!”
“Try getting the job done before you try to discuss your pay, subcontractor. The contract says you don’t get the second half of your payment if you screw this up.”
“I have a name, you know!? It’s Lessar of New Light! And we’ve met, so you should know that!”
“If you want me to remember your name, then show me some results here and now.”
There were apparently more people stuck out here working too.
Stiyl and Necessarius had already learned that George Close had been buried in debt despite looking like an intellectual working in a brokerage firm. And he was currently on fire because he had tried to use that magical fire to eliminate all the data pointing to his corruption.
“Did you plan it all out so your cooperators would self-destruct, Anna Sprengel?”
“I imagine her (so-called) cooperators in New York and Frankfurt aren’t doing too hot right now either. This is going to make it hard to track down which server that monstrous site is located on. You need to be ready. If we can’t cut this off at the source, we’re going to see more cases like this.”
Something fell from high in the sky.
A golden glitter bounced at Stiyl’s feet. He knew he would only see the night sky if he looked up. It was unclear where this had fallen from, but a more devout person might have viewed it as the return of St. Nicholas’s miracle.
“I know you Anglicans are incompetent, but I can’t have you getting stuck here. So here’s a farewell gift. That’s the money Anna seems to have been spreading around to construct her formless company. She was making deals in old rubies and pure gold metalwork.”
“So the inheritance of the Rosicrucians?”
“They have treasure buried all across the globe. This is barely scratching the surface. Let’s say you can create an unlimited supply of gold bars in a flask or beaker. You’d only cause the gold market to collapse, and the world economy with it, before the year was out.”
The girl had a jocular tone to her voice, but Stiyl had no doubt in his mind that there was no smile on her unseen face.
(Antiques. If she’s moving large sums around without the use of bank accounts or electronic transfers, the science side might not be able to fully track the flow of money. Damn, how does Academy City hope to track down and crush their headquarters!? Do they even see this for the threat it is!?)
Meanwhile, ordinary people were contacting magic.
They could do so from PCs, phones, tablets, handheld game systems, car navigation systems, mobile watches, smart TVs, intercoms, home theater systems, humanoid guide robots, pedometers, emergency buzzers, the monitors at passenger plane and bullet train seats, handheld translation devices, and any number of IoT appliances including ovens, fridges, rice cookers, induction cooktops, washing machines, juicers, and dryers.
In other words, from anywhere in the world.
But just handing people magic out of the blue would not necessary fulfill everyone’s wishes and bring them happiness. Guns were powerful and you might be able to strong-arm your way through most any problem with one, but without an understanding of how dangerous they were or how to use them, you could easily just shoot yourself in the head instead. Like someone leaving a round in the chamber and not applying the safety while they walked around with the gun holstered, or like someone carelessly looking down the barrel after it failed to fire.
And magic was an invisible power, so its danger was harder to see, making that requisite initial step much easier to miss. Professional magicians would do that by deciding on a magic name, completing an initiation ritual, and gaining the proper state of mind by artificially experiencing the judgment they would face after death.
But what would happen with someone who did not go through that?
What if they reached for magic as no more than a convenient tool? Stiyl was reminded of dirty salesman tactics where they talked up all the advantages of a risky investment to convince an elderly person to use their life savings on it.
(It’s causing so much chaos out here.)
Stiyl knew who their enemy was.
And he continued his thoughts while making sure none of it showed on his face.
(But things must be so much worse in Academy City. They have to contend with their special rule against espers using magic. Because when they do use magic, it causes their blood vessels and nerves to burst.)
Needless to say, magic was risky.
But at the same time, it was the final trump card people would reach for when the world had abandoned them. No matter how reckless an act that was or how hopeless a dream they carried in their heart.
It was not meant to be spread around for the purpose of trapping people like this.