Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume2 Chapter3
Chapter 3: In the Void of Zero — Contact_6.
“Emergency arrival at Entrance 3!!”
“Another one? Our treatment rooms are full!”
The emergency entrance primarily used by ambulances was so tense it was easy to forget today was Christmas. These were not operating rooms. They were treatment rooms used for simple tests and first aid.
Everyone there had to wonder if the rusty stench was escaping the rooms.
They knew everyone who moved in and out of the room and the hallway were disinfected in a variety of ways, but the scent still seemed to linger in their minds. That was how bad the situation was.
An (intentionally) anxiety-inducing siren could be heard approaching. EMTs and doctors rushed this way and that. The people moving in and out were shuffled around like a deck of cards thrown all over the floor. The nurses and a private guard had to throw out a self-styled reporter who was trying to use the confusion to sneak some photos with a pen camera.
If a patient’s breathing or blood pressure fell too far in the treatment rooms, they were finally moved to an operating room. The long row of treatment rooms was meant to provide more minor care to avoid overburdening the limited number of operating rooms, but there was barely any difference between them anymore. If no operating room was available, a doctor would come to the treatment room and provide as much treatment as possible without violating regulations.
The term “field hospital” was on all their minds even though none of them had ever seen a real one.
“Really, what is going on today?” said the frog-faced doctor with a large mask covering half his face.
He could seem detached from the things going on around him, but no one knew how he really felt on the inside. His ability to maintain a stable condition at all times seemed to prove his talent.
They had no obvious external wounds.
At the very least, they had not been stabbed with a knife or hit by a car.
Yet they had undeniable internal damage.
Their blood vessels and nerves had ruptured.
The cause was unknown, but the number of victims continued to grow and it was nothing short of a miracle that none of them had died yet. The frog-faced doctor had initially suspected a toxin, bacteria, or radiation, but since he was here among them without any special protective equipment, they had obviously found no evidence of that sort of risk.
(But only specialists with the proper knowledge will be able to accept that conclusion. People will have seen all these patients taken to the hospital after they collapsed on the streets. I hope this doesn’t start any harmful rumors.)
A new nurse nervously held out a silver tray.
“Um, these are the patient’s possessions.”
Everyone here was merely medical staff and not Anti-Skill or Judgment, but when an injury suggested a crime or they found evidence of illegal drug usage, they were required to swiftly record and report it. That required them to know what their patients had on them. Especially when that patient was unconscious and they needed to identify them.
He noticed something curious along with the ordinary wallet and phone.
It was a coaster-like disk made of smooth plastic. It was divided into different colors with a few different symbols carved into it, so it probably had some kind of meaning.
“Was this made with a 3D printer?”
“We keep finding stuff like this,” said the nurse with an almost fearful tremor in her voice. “They all have these weird items like a small skull or cards with strange symbols on them! What is happening!?”
Mythology, the occult, the spiritual world.
If this had to do with those things, the frog-faced doctor wondered if something external to the students was causing their powers to go berserk, but that did not seem quite right to him. In that case, they should have been harmed differently depending on their powers: burns from a fire power, telekinetic wounds from a telekinesis power, and so on. It was hard to imagine that would lead to such uniform symptoms.
(When the cause is unknown, it is important to look back from the onset of symptoms and reassess each and every thing they did. Did they start something new recently, or did they finally do something they had been avoiding before? If they stop whatever that is and the symptoms go away, then you can be fairly certain that was the cause.)
But that method would only convince a special sort of person who could view other people as something to be observed.
A cheerful female voice was speaking from the flat-screen TV in the guard office located next to the ambulance entrance.
“Are you worried people are keeping secrets from you? Do you feel left out?”
Everyone was afraid.
And fear led people to try things they normally would not.
They might call those very things ridiculous in public, but once no one was looking, things changed.
“Well, worry no more! Normal methods might be powerless to help you, but real magic can fix it all in a jiffy. If there is anything you want to know, investigate, or divulge, then log onto R&C Occultics. Our large collection of fortunetelling methods will free you from those needless worries!!”
And none of them had any idea that eliminating their worries in that way would only make them the next victim.
The negative cycle would never end until the cause of the damage was known, but R&C Occultics were the ones in control of the knowledge and data needed to learn that.
Without that knowledge, it would never end.
Just like how IT companies and car manufacturers would show off their graphs explaining how self-driving cars dramatically reduced traditional traffic accidents, but they would fail to mention the increase in accidents caused by cyber attacks.
Or like how online stores would advertise how much more convenient they made everyone’s lives, but they would fail to mention how inconvenient it was once the local stores all went out of business and your city or town grew fully dependent on the online store.
Or like how global food companies would highlight how they did not use additives or agrochemicals, but they preferred not to explain how they ended up with fruits and vegetables that stayed fresh despite being almost disturbingly pure and free of additives.
Information sources would hold back any information detrimental to them.
All publicly available information was biased in some way.
That was one of the most basic facts of giant corporations.
“Ugh,” groaned Kamijou Touma.
It took him a second to remember where he was.
(Oh, right. I was thirsty, so I stepped out into the hall to get some water.)
He could not tell if he was in pain or not. He had lost all ability to judge his own pain.
He only had a general feeling of his entire body being swollen. He did not know what exactly that meant, but he knew there was something wrong with him.
He looked down at himself again. He was doubled over and leaning against the cold wall of the deserted hallway. He slowly tried to move away from the wall, but he could not manage it. He could not move, like the wall was sucking him in.
“You must be about at your limit.”
“I told you this before, but you might not remember due to the constant pain.”
A small form poked her head out of his pocket. It was the fifteen-centimetre god named Othinus. The girl with long, wavy blonde hair and an eyepatch climbed up to his shoulder.
“If this acute St. Germain really has been modified by the Rosicrucians as the legends say, then the technology here will have a very hard time fully healing you. After all, it is growing faster than Imagine Breaker can negate it. Human, if this continues, the microbes will infest your right hand as well. If you hope to escape death, you will need to speak with Anna Sprengel since she did this to you.”
Was that true?
Maybe it was.
But he had to ask about something else before continuing based on that assumption.
“That I need Anna Sprengel to fix this. Did you tell anyone other than me that?”
Othinus let out a short sigh, but she did not hesitate to answer.
“Based on the commotion I’ve seen outside, Anna appears to be approaching this hospital. Now, I never told them myself, but Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki learned of Anna’s necessity on their own. I saw no reason to stop them, though.”
A dull sound followed.
Kamijou Touma’s hand squeezed around Othinus, but she did not bat an eye.
“Will you be satisfied once you have crushed me?”
“Only one thing matters here. Anna Sprengel is powerful and you have zero chance of victory if you thoughtlessly confront her head on.” The coldhearted voice of the god of magic, war, and deception continued. “So it is necessary to send someone else against her first so she will reveal her trump cards before you face her. Would you want ordinary Anti-Skill or Judgment playing that role? They would be slaughtered gruesomely. To be honest, I don’t really expect those two to win. I don’t, but those two Level 5s are the only candidates I could think of who had any possibility of staying in the fight long enough before losing and still making it back alive. Of course, it’s all over if they screw it up, but they at least have a chance. Anyone else would have been killed for sure no matter how hard they tried. Again, for sure.”
“Othinus!!!!!!” he roared in anger.
Her logical series of words came to a halt there.
And after a bit…
“There was never any way to avoid damage altogether. This was the only option that left any possibility at all of everyone surviving.”
“This is my problem.”
“If you had simply gone to face her on your own, you would have been killed first and foremost. And then it would all have fallen apart. Even for those girls who are fighting now.”
The god glared up at Kamijou like a sulking child even as her entire torso was squeezed within his hand. It was the boy who had the wavering eyes of a lost child.
“I want you to save me, but not like this. I know I’ve fallen several steps behind. You said Imagine Breaker alone isn’t enough to keep up here, right? Well, it’s always been like that. I’ve always had to use every trick in the book to get by. So please. If someone has to die, then please build the plan around that person being me. Then I’d be on board one-hundred percent.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I don’t want to hate you.”
This time, the god fell silent.
She hung her head a little, hiding her face behind the brim of her witch’s hat.
And she spoke in a vanishingly quiet voice.
“(It was necessary, but even after all this, you still ‘don’t want to’, huh? It’s that soft side of yours that forces someone else to make the hard decisions, you know?)”
Before Kamijou could ask what she had said, she sank her teeth into his thumb and his grip on her relaxed.
“Hmph, insolent human. You can’t just touch a god’s body like that. Without asking permission first, I mean.”
She used that opening to slip from his hand and sat on his wrist with her thin legs crossed.
“I get your policy now, but that is no reason to abandon the information we have now. I will tell you what I have learned about Anna Sprengel. Let’s start with what you can do. However this plays out, it can’t end until you defeat her.”
He had already decided he was going to the battlefield himself.
This was his fight, so he was always the one who should have been in harm’s way.
“Wait. If Misaka and…who was the other one? Anyway, if those two are on the front line, then how have you been watching them fight? Did you exchange addresses so you can watch a live video sent from their phones or something???”
“A certain idiot I could mention is so poor I do not have a phone of my own. And it wouldn’t be very mobile for me anyway.”
He felt bad about that, but it did not answer his question. Othinus was a legitimate god, but she could not use magic on her own in her current state.
For some reason, she could not look him in the eye.
Just like a child afraid of being scolded. Or like a child being asked who had broken the window when they were hiding the fact that they had broken the bonsai too.
She whispered rapidly while dripping with sweat.
“(R&C Occultics already has everyone using all sorts of meaningless magic, so a professional god can easily alter their half-assed spells to secretly place a Huginn and Muninn effect on top. But I really probably shouldn’t tell him that. I definitely can’t let him know I spread around those surveillance spiritual items made from the raven’s feathers. I mean, the side effect for using magic is hitting them whether I alter their spell or not, so this isn’t doing any more damage, but I just know he’d still be mad.)”
This time, he moved his hand higher.
Kamijou Touma, the God Catcher, squeezed Othinus' head between his thumb and forefinger.
It was punishment time.
The fifteen-centimetre understander flailed wildly for a while from the pressure to her temples.
A hoarse sound reached Misaka Mikoto’s ears.
Even she was surprised a sound like that could come from her 14-year-old throat.
(I’m not dead?)
She could not seem to access her memories of what happened. It was a rare but irritating experience. It was like her body was sending out a powerful warning signal telling her that opening the lid of her memories would destroy her own ego.
What had happened?
(What did Anna do? And what happened afterwards?)
Her vision was unstable. Not knowing what had happened was causing a mild panic within her. There was something flashing in front of her eyes and she felt a dull pain throbbing in her temples, but nothing was actually flashing – her mind just could not process the scene before her. It was like having a piece of trick art shoved in front of her face without being told how to look at it.
She slowly tried to get up and finally realized something soft was surrounding her head.
It was Shokuhou Misaki.
The other girl was apparently seated on the ground and holding her to her chest.
Almost like she was comforting a small child.
“Are you alive there?”
Mikoto forced herself to shake her head to focus herself on reality.
“I can’t believe you came to before me.”
“And I never imagined I would have to look after you like this. But it’s not like I had a choice. I can’t save him without sending you after Anna, so I’m willing to do anything, even try out my nursing ability.”
They were in District 15.
Anna Sprengel was not here. She must have already gone on ahead.
A scorched smell reached Mikoto’s nose.
She also saw a metallic shine.
A crushed and bent mass of steel lay on the ground nearby, but it was not a 4-wheel vehicle or an airplane with a distinctive silhouette formed from the main wings and tail. She saw what looked like squid or octopus tentacles and a special paint oozing out onto the street. The technology was sticky and liquid, reminding her somewhat of a rotting corpse.
(What is that? Some kind of machine?)
“That is the Five Over OS, Model Case: Mental Out.”
The two girls were hiding behind what looked like a ruptured plastic ball with a diameter of several meters.
Mikoto was limp and sweating despite the cold and Shokuhou gently raised one hand for some reason.
Her fingertips moved as if she were controlling a marionette.
The gloves she wore must have been made to read her finger movements.
“Have you seen the mantis-like #3 version, Misaka-san? Well, this isn’t just the #5 version. It’s another version derived from it. To be clear, I picked this up from the dark side and it’s said to have enough academic value to rival me. I never imagined I would have to sacrifice it to save my life like this.”
They had to catch up to Anna who had gone on ahead.
Mikoto calmed her breathing and tried to pull her head away from that warmth that felt as inviting as a down blanket during the wintertime. But her actual body refused to leave that comfort. Her body more than her mind had been infected with a fear that she really would die if she kept doing this.
She exhaled and asked a question.
“What do we do?”
“What else can we do? We save him. Which means stealing some kind of method from the villain. And I’m willing to immaturely play as many trump cards as it takes to do that. So how about a second one!?”
With a dull thud, a metallic flash flew in from the side.
This one was a bizarre parasitic wasp the size of a car. Its two front legs wrapped around Shokuhou Misaki while she hid behind the scraps. Mikoto just watched it happen, but once she realized she was about to be left behind, she quickly clung to its reinforced glass abdomen. The strange machine slid across the ground while it rapidly vibrated its four thin wings to take flight while otherwise motionless.
This was not the further derivation.
It was the original Five Over, Model Case: Mental Out.
(Honestly, I thought this thing was destroyed back then, but then I look into it again and find there was a full set of spare parts out there. You can’t let your guard down for a second with this city!!)
The military weapon modeled after an ichneumon wasp flew up into the sky while making a rapid V-shape like a red pen marking a test.
The relative speed caused the snow to feel a lot more like a blizzard blowing right at them.
“Do you know where Anna went!?” frantically shouted Mikoto. “She’s following her phone’s navigation, so if we don’t stop her now, she’ll head straight to the hospital. And it takes less than half an hour to get there from here!!”
“You can handle that sort of mechanical search of the city, Misaka-san. Start hacking security cameras and phones to find her!!”
Then had Shokuhou taken flight just to feel like she was doing something? She could look cold and calculating, but this side of her reminded Mikoto of someone else. Mikoto pulled out her phone, but then she clicked her tongue. Finding Anna was not as easy as Shokuhou had made it sound, but…
“Some of the cameras have unnaturally repeating frames as if to hide someone?”
“Keep going east. She isn’t even trying to lose anyone tailing her, so she’s taking the direct route to the hospital!!”
Their flight sped up.
If they had not already known how far to go, they might have passed her right by.
Mikoto pulled out an arcade coin.
They were already in District 7.
If Anna really was headed where the girls thought she was, they did not have a moment to lose.
“Keep our attitude and speed steady! Let’s see how she likes an aerial bombing!!”
Then the giant wasp suddenly began to stall. The blowing blizzard created by relative speed changed direction. They dropped straight down like a marionette after its strings were cut. Mikoto’s eyes widened as she clung to the thing.
“What, did it malfunction!?”
“No, this was something else!”
The mechanical bug wings continued to vibrate so quickly they produced afterimages. There was no damage to the machine and its output remained optimal. Nevertheless, the cutting-edge military weapon lost its balance and dropped toward the ground.
Mikoto could see Anna Sprengel’s thin smile down below.
She was also holding her small palm straight up toward them.
That was all, but…
“Did she grab at the air and the atmospheric pressure itself!?”
Airplanes and helicopters could not fly just anywhere. They had a maximum altitude. Devices that flew by interacting with the air would lose their power to fly if the air was too thin.
A dull roar reached Mikoto’s ears shortly thereafter.
A localized whirlwind attacked the Academy City sky and the Christmas lights and trees were torn away and flung upwards as if on a space elevator. The Five Over was caught by it and could only fall now that it had lost its flyable environment.
They crash landed and the accumulating white snow burst into the air around them.
They had used two Five Over superweapons without doing any real damage to Anna at all. They were less than 200m from Anna, although they were separated by a few temporary warehouses (probably delivery drone bases) that looked like circus tents.
“Well, we’ll just have to make do,” muttered Mikoto while getting up from the ground.
In a dragged-out robot anime battle, the main characters would withdraw and try again the instant they ran across the slightest problem, but in reality, only the side with greater quality and quantity could escape enemy pursuit to leave the battlefield. If the weaker side carelessly turned their back, they would simply get shot down like this.
Would Anna Sprengel come to them?
Or would she ignore her surviving enemies and continue walking toward the hospital?
Misaka Mikoto exhaled and spoke.
“Shokuhou, hey, you with the excess fat.”
“What is it, you cut of bland lean meat?”
“I’m going to attack Anna again, so you use that opening to get away from here and return to the hospital.”
“Don’t you have that backwards? Placing me in front of the goal won’t accomplish anything. We already know Mental Out doesn’t work on Anna.”
“Yes, which is why you need to get that idiot out of there. If we called him up and told him, I just know he’d come here instead. We’re already in District 7 and this is only 20 minutes away from that hospital on foot, after all.” The rapid clip at which Mikoto spoke suggested even she was not fully convinced about her idea. “You might be hopeless in a direct physical fight, but you specialize in the more confusing worlds of influence and conspiracies, right? I don’t care how you do it, just spirit him away to somewhere Anna can’t reach him. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the vaccine or antidote from her. I swear it. So you get that idiot to evacuate. Take him outside Academy City if you have to.”
“Are you sure about this, Misaka-san?”
“Of course I’m not,” she spat back. Then she clarified. “But I know he would hate to see what happens if we don’t. If the peaceful hospital is attacked and all the doctors and patients are hurt while he watches on, he’ll blame himself for it. So you need to get him out of there before that happens.”
This was not a fight to win.
It was to avoid a bad aftertaste after they lost. Their best case scenario had already fallen that far.
They had to accept that Anna Sprengel was enough of a monster to change the modern era.
“Misaka-saaan.” Shokuhou Misaki sighed. “I won’t forget you for at least a week.”
“Oh? That’s longer than I expected. The world might be destroyed by then.”
They bumped fists and then got to work.
Misaka Mikoto moved toward a building wall while crouched low and Shokuhou Misaki instructed the ichneumon wasp combat machine to pick her up.
However, something had slipped both their minds.
Or maybe they had never had a chance to accurately assess their location after making an emergency landing due to the irregular stall. They deserved praise enough for making sure they did not crush any of the boys and girls who were visiting supermarkets and discount stores on Christmas to buy soba or a mochi maker for the New Year.
In other words, what would happen if they had happened to land on the direct line between Anna’s current position and the hospital?
A dazzling flash of light blasted right through the temporary warehouses in between.
They had been careless.
That 2-3m metal orb that could produce the world’s oldest whatever was enough of a threat, but Mikoto and Shokuhou had been attacked in another way afterwards. They had not given any thought to what that light had been. And in a clash between supernatural powers, leaving any gaps in your understanding was tantamount to suicide.
They were not given enough time to analyze what had happened. Just like the audience drawn in by the stage magician’s act, they could not make out the truth of what they were seeing despite seeing it directly.
Even seeing clearly grew difficult.
Shokuhou Misaki would have died if the ichneumon wasp Five Over had not left her control and automatically protected its user. It was bent, crushed, and pushed backwards while it counteracted the force. The thick shield very nearly flattened the human it was meant to protect. A torn-off shard of metal grazed the Queen’s cheek as she scooted back on her butt. A cut ran across her cheek like someone had slashed her with a blade.
The ichneumon wasp silhouette fell apart.
It could no longer fly and probably could not even walk.
But Shokuhou did not have time to worry about that. Things were even worse. If they were crushed here, their plan to “make the most of their loss” would fall apart too. She could see that solid pillar snapping before her eyes.
Since they were so near the hospital, an ambulance with siren blaring had to swerve out of the way of the “obstacle” collapsed on the side of the road.
In other words…
“Misaka…-saaan?” called Shokuhou from behind the crushed metal.
There was no response.
The other girl looked like a cat that was hit by a car. She was lying on her side and she did not even turn her head toward Shokuhou. The only movement was her short chestnut hair weakly fluttering in the chilly December wind. The white snow was falling on her and starting to accumulate so evenly and cruelly.
And Shokuhou also heard some quiet footsteps.
She was coming.
Still no response.
The girl who had sworn she would retrieve the vaccine or antidote now lay collapsed on the side of the road.
The disconcerting sirens clutched at Shokuhou’s heart.
“Hm, hm, hm hm.”
Someone was quietly humming in the hospital hallway.
Even though an ominous tremor had just reached the hospital itself.
A short girl had one arm in a cast and a square medical eyepatch over her right eye while she dragged along a metal stand carrying a clear IV bottle. That bob cut girl in pajamas must have been an inpatient because she was walking around in hospital slippers. But she bumped into a boy when she walked around the corner.
And with her forehead still pressed against Kamijou Touma’s chest, the girl known as Maidono Hoshimi spoke quietly to him.
“(Looks like you could use some help. I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but if you simply open the emergency exit, an alarm will go off at the nurse station. If you want to escape safely, you would do best to get some help from a professional.)”
They had injured each other during their intense Christmas Eve battle, but Maidono was clearly exaggerating her own injuries. He should probably be judged guilty for punching a girl at all, but he certainly did not remember breaking her arm or gouging out one of her eyes.
This was her form of flashy camouflage where she chose the most conspicuous costume for the circumstances to keep anyone from remembering what she herself actually looked like. That dark side pro had eliminated all notable details other than “hospital patient”.
For that matter, Maidono Hoshimi was a fake name and her real name was still unknown, but a criminal suspect like her should have been locked in a hospital room with bars on the windows. It was enough of an emergency that she was even walking around free like this.
“(I owe you one,)” whispered the bob cut girl. “(And I thought it would be best to repay you before my trial begins. I’m sure to be charged with tons of additional offenses anyway, so what’s one or two more crimes now, right? You have something you need to do, don’t you? I’ll help you escape.)”
Kamijou appreciated the offer.
The hospital was overrun with confusion due to the near constant influx of emergency patients. But even so, the doctors or nurses were sure to stop a patient in as bad shape as him if he tried to leave through the main entrance. They would physically restrain him and drag him back to his room. That was why he had decided to use the emergency exit, but Maidono said that route held risk too.
Kamijou Touma gently placed his hands on the pajama girl’s small shoulders.
And he slowly pushed her away from him.
“You don’t have to.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You were going to quit the dark side, weren’t you?” He crouched to her eye level. “This is like going on a diet. If you decide to stop doing something, you have to get in the habit of not doing it. If you switch back and forth all the time because ‘I have to this time’ or ‘this is an exception’, no one will believe you actually want to quit. That’s like a serial killer who keeps insisting they’ll stop tomorrow or next week while continuing to kill people.”
“Listen, this is your life.”
His mysterious bleeding was still happening.
He felt like he could cough up some blood at any moment if he let his guard down.
But he still refused to grab that outstretched hand.
“Use your power for yourself. You were sick of dirtying your hands for someone else, right? You can’t use chopsticks, but you decided to believe you can still live a normal life and start making progress again, right? Then you can’t do this. You can’t run to the dark side again, Maidono. Living an honest life isn’t easy. Life often isn’t fair and it’s full of disappointments, so if you know some secret tricks, it’s definitely easier to just use them. But you decided you weren’t doing that anymore, right? That was your decision. So live that life. It’s your life, so you need to put yourself first and do your best following the rules that everyone accepts.”
Her face twisted up.
Just like a child who had gotten separated from her mother at a large amusement park.
“For the first time.” Some time passed and she seemed to be holding her breath throughout. “For the first time, I found someone I actually wanted to serve. I thought I could go nuts just one more time before being thrown behind bars.”
“Like I said, life often isn’t fair and it’s full of disappointments. But that doesn’t mean anything is permissible. This is a good chance to learn how to show self-restraint.”
He smiled and wiped her tears away with his thumb.
He felt certain she would be fine now.
If Anna Sprengel was after him, he could not allow the hospital to be caught in the crossfire.
Just like Maidono had her life to live, Kamijou had his own way of living his life.
He squeezed the whistle he was wearing around his neck even though he could not remember where it came from.
“I’m on my way,” he said while pushing open the emergency exit with his shoulder.
An explosion sounded in the distance.
The fire alarm linked with the emergency exit began to ring and Kamijou Touma ran down the stairs while barely staying on his feet. He was still technically indoors, but the heating was less effective here. The ominous chill felt like the invisible presence of death sneaking in toward his heart.
If he was spotted from here on, he would be restrained.
They might be acting out of good will, but his presence at the hospital would draw Anna Sprengel to it. If that happened, all the emergency patients driven to the verge of death by R&C Occultics would really and truly be killed by Anna.
He had to avoid that at all costs.
But even his sense of pain was failing him, the deafening alarm messed with his senses, and the stairs never seemed to change no matter how many flights he descended. Before long, he was enveloped by a sensation like he was walking on fluffy clouds. The light seemed to blur and the sound grew distorted. He lost track of what floor he was on.
And amid it all, he heard a voice.
“Looks like you’re having some trouble.”
No one had been there a moment before.
He at least felt confident of that.
The soprano voice carried well. As a high-pitched child’s voice, it was hard to judge whether this was a boy or a girl. Or maybe it had been intentionally modified to that end. Kamijou of course did not recognize it. He looked up again, but he could not actually see someone leaning against the wall of the landing. He only saw a vague outline there.
The next thing he knew, all the deafening noise was gone.
The fire alarm and the ominous rumbling from outside had vanished.
Had those things stopped, or had his senses gone out? He had no idea. Here, he was surrounded by a silence so great it actually hurt his ears.
At the very least, this person did not seem intent on capturing him.
When he slipped past them and descended the next flight of stairs, he found the same figure waiting there.
This may not have been real.
He looked over at the floor number sign. He had it square in his field of vision, but the meaning of the number never actually reached his mind.
“Not wanting to involve Maidono Hoshimi makes sense, but that does not change the fact that there is no hope left for you if you continue on like this.”
Kamijou Touma placed his right hand on the side of his head.
The figure seemed to be laughing.
“Oh, I am not St. Germain.”
He descended another flight of stairs.
The figure was again waiting for him. He began to wonder if the stairway would continue forever and he could never escape the spiraling prison without the permission of this boy(?).
Kamijou finally came to a stop and asked a question.
“Who are you?”
“Sorry, I guess my appearance wouldn’t be much of an explanation, would it? You may have at least heard my name, but I shouldn’t just assume. I should probably introduce myself from the beginning.”
The light blurred even when he looked straight at the figure.
Even their outlines were unclear, like it was a scene filmed through an out-of-focus video camera.
But accepting this other person’s presence seemed to allow a more colorful alternate world to spread out around him. The walls and floor had been given calming colors for the benefit of the patients, but now they flashed with bright colors and the orderly stairs bent and undulated like smiling lips. There were no gaps below his feet. There could not be. This distorted view was only an illusion. But he still felt like he would forever vanish from the real world if he were to misstep and fall into those pitch-black gaps.
The dream refused to end.
Was it his thoughts rather than his senses that were going haywire?
“I am Aihana Etsu, the Level 5 known as Academy City’s #6.”
He felt a squeezing at his heart.
Was this really them, or was it someone else?
“Why are you here?”
“To do the usual. The usual for me, anyway.”
That answer seemed to prove their legitimacy.
The #1 Accelerator, the #3 Misaka Mikoto, and all the others known as Level 5s created a unique world all their own. It may have been in his imagination, but it felt that way to Kamijou. Clashing with them carried the same pressure as being taken inside an action movie or suspense movie.
“Now, what power would you like? I can give it to you. But I’m not too proud of that since I can’t say I actually ‘create’ the power.”
If he did not stay strong, he would be taken in by it.
He would stop to question his presence in the world of a war movie or suspense movie where people’s lives were used up as readily as tissues.
Aihana Etsu seemed to be smiling bitterly.
Kamijou could not actually see their face, but he could just tell from their aura.
“I cannot actually do all that much. The nature of my power means I cannot bring about justice on my own. So I am always thinking about who I can side with to ensure the good guys win. I lend out the name of Aihana Etsu as a part of that.”
“What…are you talking about?”
“You are not a good person,” they bluntly stated. “Which is why I avoided contacting before now, but it seems supporting you is the best choice available here. R&C Occultics, this mutation that has occurred within science, is rapidly tearing through the world centered around Academy City. It seems supporting you with my power is the only way of fighting it.”
This was Academy City’s #6.
Kamijou was being offered the power of one of the Level 5s officially recognized by the city.
“Now, picture the you that you wish to be. Picture your ideal self.”
A distortion ran through that blotted-out person’s voice.
In a way, this may have been the power most wanted in this era. The modern age prioritized time-saving and cost-effectiveness over all else, so no one had to go on a test of courage or go exploring through an old abandoned building for themselves. With a video site’s streaming service, everyone could safely experience the adventure someone else had posted. As long as the one person charged toward certain death with a camera in hand, millions more could safely share in the same thrill and catharsis. That was what the modern age demanded.
No effort was needed on your part.
You could ignore all the risks.
You just needed a service that immediately provided the end result.
“You can be that version of yourself. Now, I will lend you Aihana Etsu.”
“For example.” The person with the unseeable face pointed at the center of Kamijou Touma’s chest with their index finger. “Would you like to know what meaning that whistle holds? Are you at all interested in restoring your lost memories? You can do it, as long as you arrange the necessary conditions in this city.”
The #6 was smiling.
That much Kamijou could tell.
“I generally do not give this sort of hint because my suggestions will only narrow people’s imaginations. But, well, I do promise you this power is more convenient than that Rensa’s was. And you must feel lacking in more areas than that. You must have realized by now that your right hand alone is not enough to keep up here. You must know that rushing in as you are will only get you killed.”
Anyone could be instantly transformed into a protagonist, no annoying training or leveling up required.
Kamijou Touma held his breath and shook his head.
“I don’t want it.”
“This is none of your business.”
“This is my decision. What makes you think you have the right to refuse it?”
Kamijou just about smiled bitterly at that one.
This really was one of the chosen Level 5s. They were always so arrogant when they were doing the right thing. Just like the #3 had destroyed so many labs to protect her clones and just like the #1 had decided on his own to get rid of the dark side.
“Hey,” said Kamijou.
“You aren’t Maidono Hoshimi who was driven to the edge by someone else. You seem to be enjoying your life well enough, so maybe it’s wrong of me to worry about you getting caught up in my business,” spat out Kamijou with a look he had not shown to that uncertain girl. “But you’re starting to piss me off. I don’t like how you reject all my own possibilities by just saying from the start I can’t solve this on my own. It’s like you’re looking down on us all as no more than dolls you can play with. …You’re the perfect example of what a Level 5 shouldn’t be. And the fact that you honestly think you’re acting in our best interest makes it all the worse.”
“This is our issue. We’re not fighting for your amusement.”
This was the opposite.
It was the same thing he had said to Maidono Hoshimi, but viewed from the opposite direction.
He was providing an example of the anger you were supposed to feel when you learned your life was being used for someone else’s purposes. It was because Kamijou Touma felt this way that he had refused Maidono’s help. It was because he felt this way that he had decided to cut all ties with her despite knowing her help would be more and more convenient each time he used it.
“Stop setting up a camera, stepping in to help, and posting a nice edited version of the story to some video site to make you look like a success, you peeping tom. You’ll lend me Aihana Etsu? Don’t make me laugh. If you want to change the world, then put in the work yourself. What your power is doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a Level 0 or a Level-less teacher, everyone still does what they can to fight the cruelties they see in their life. Changing the world requires someone who isn’t afraid to get hurt, but that ain’t you.”
He was unsteady on his feet.
He would have fallen if someone pushed at him with their finger. In fact, he could barely stay standing without anything to prop him up. And even if he was in top form, clashing head-on with one of Academy City’s Level 5s would seem like suicide.
But he still said it.
Kamijou Touma made his point while holding out his right fist.
“And if you still don’t get it, then you’re just an obstacle to overcome. I will keep moving, Aihana Etsu, even if it means breaking through you.”
“You will die.”
“I know that,” mouthed Kamijou Touma.
For some reason, the #6’s voice had changed slightly here.
Almost like they were recalling a history of repeated failure.
“If you keep going like this, you will surely die. Whether you rush to the battlefield or you curl up here, you will not last long. No matter what you choose, the villain will have the last laugh. Your destruction has been predetermined here.”
He was afraid of dying. So terribly afraid.
He kept smiling so the others would not notice and he had avoided confiding in any of them, but those words he had revealed to the doctor were not a lie. It was him who had said he was scared.
This was a separate issue.
“I made a choice here I never should have made,” said the #6. “To be blunt, I should never have anything to do with a hypocrite like you who refuses to take a side, but I am here anyway because I have reason to believe I must act here even it means violating my principles. Yet you are insisting on remaining your usual self. You insist on walking your extremely contradictory path where you talk endlessly about the goodness of human nature yet cannot abandon the violence of your fist. You are like someone who refuses to evacuate as the lava of a volcanic eruption approaches their city at the foot of the mountain and instead stares at the clock, waiting to walk to school according to their usual schedule. And that is why you will die. You are simply repeating the same pattern over and over.”
“If you want to take control of my life, then clench your fist, Aihana Etsu. Your words won’t reach anyone if you refuse to take even a single step out of your safe zone.”
He heard a quiet tongue click.
The #6 must have realized neither side was budging here.
The genderless soprano voice suddenly dropped to something terrifyingly deep.
And he(?) clenched his(?) fist.
“How stubborn can you be? If you want misfortunate that badly, then go ahead and die.”
After a dull thud, one of the two crumpled down and the other one slowly descended the stairs. The endlessly spiraling stairs were gone now. They arrived on the ground floor surprisingly quickly as they counted the flights they walked down.
The victor let out a breath and spoke all alone.
“See, Aihana Etsu? Was that so hard?”
The #6 had known no one would remain to stop Kamijou Touma if they lost here.
Yet they had still clenched their fist in order to “convince” him.
It had been a sort of ritual.
Fighting a battle they knew they would lose had been a ritual to allow Kamijou to continue onward. That elite ensconced in their safe zone had actually taken a single step outside of their usual way. It was Aihana who had said their #6 Level 5 power was not suited for direct combat.
Kamijou Touma could only smile as he stepped outside after rejecting someone else’s methods and trampling on their concern for him.
He felt the biting chill and the white curtain of snow blocked his view. The professional doctors with specialized knowledge had shaken their heads and said they could not support him in this outside field, but this was the freedom he had chosen for himself.
This was his life.
So now he had only one option left: to win.
Shokuhou Misaki grimaced while hiding behind cover.
She groaned and shook her long honey-blonde hair. She was leaning back against a concrete wall while seated on the ground. A child would have known the cold might freeze her skin to the wall, but she was too preoccupied to even consider that risk.
Misaka Mikoto had been taken out of the fight.
They had no direct fighter left. She knew they were out of options, but she could not ask for a do-over either.
She looked up while still leaning back against the wall. The wall appeared to belong to a department store. Instead of the fancy ones she would shop at, this one was directly connected to a largish subway station. You could maybe call it a vertical supermarket.
There was another wall here too.
She was hiding behind a partially scrapped superweapon.
The Five Over, Model Case: Mental Out had collapsed on its side. She was holding her breath and lost in thought while hidden behind that ichneumon wasp device. Sound, heat, and the color white all scared her at the moment. Because she did not understand how Anna worked. For example, who could say she could not detect carbon dioxide?
She had no plan.
She could see the hospital’s roof even from here. The pointy-haired boy, the clone girls undergoing treatment, and the many other patients and workers were there. Any option that allowed that monster to reach the hospital was out of the question.
Even if she was going to grab the antidote or vaccine, it had to be done safely.
And that safety included herself, Kamijou, and even all the other people out there. The Queen of Tokiwadai honestly was not that compassionate, but she was following that boy’s rules for today. It all had to follow that.
(It won’t take her even five minutes to reach the hospital on foot. Even if I manage to get him out of there now, she still might see us and chase after us. Not to mention our footprints in the snow.)
And on top of that, there was Anna Sprengel’s strength. She was hopelessly powerful. Shokuhou hated to admit it, but that was not someone she could outdo with her #5 Mental Out alone. She could not defeat her and she could not even escape from her.
That was set in stone.
No matter how much she prayed, she could not change it.
So she knew full well that if she was going to rejoin the fight, she needed someone or something else’s help.
The first thing that came to mind was the thing she was using as a shield.
(I never touched this thing before today, so it kind of scares me how readily it obeyed me. This suit doesn’t support you by messing with your head, does it?)
She held a remote in her dominate hand, but she moved her other hand’s fingers like she was operating an invisible marionette. Even she was confused by how smoothly her fingers moved independently of each other.
However, the weapon itself had been partially reduced to scrap.
It could not take flight at full speed with her in its grasp. At most, it could run along the ground while dragging its bent and smashed form around. That would be like asking to be shot by Anna.
She let out a heavy breath, pulled out her mirror, and used that to check on things outside of her cover.
Misaka Mikoto remained motionless.
She was still collapsed on the ground with the chilly wind whipping at her chestnut bangs and short skirt. Shokuhou could not see her face, so she could not actually tell if the girl was conscious or not.
They were only a few meters apart, but those few meters of unguarded space were a deadly barrier at the moment.
She would be killed the instant she stepped out.
A millimeter and a kilometer were no different. She had to assume she stood on a precipice and that taking one step out would mean being devoured by the great maw of death.
Mikoto had crossed to the other side.
No one living could reach her anymore.
(Argh, Misaka-san is the one that’s supposed to come bowing to me and ask to come under my umbrella. Then there wouldn’t be any risk for me! And if she was awake and capable of accepting the rule of her beautiful queen, I could ignore her solid defenses and control her. But she’ll reject my commands while unconscious!)
Shokuhou heard a quiet footstep.
She quickly pulled the mirror back before actually confirming what had caused it.
The enemy must have noticed her.
That was the master of the other side.
To a member of the living, that was the grim reaper who would drag them into the darkness.
In other words, that was Anna Sprengel. Shokuhou doubted she could escape detection just by holding her breath behind cover. Not to mention that Anna had only hunted down those who impeded her path to the hospital. Mikoto and Shokuhou had not been attacked because they were Level 5s. They had been attacked because they just so happened to be on the straight line path between Anna and the hospital.
Anna would keep going no matter who stood in her way.
She would crush and tear through everything that stood along that invisible path.
“There’s no time.”
It was already surprising Shokuhou was still alive at all. And if Anna was no longer interested in her, Anna would probably ignore her if she just left. But “probably” was not good enough right now. If Anna held a small hand out toward her back on a whim, that was the end right there.
She wanted something she could do.
Something that would distract Anna Sprengel enough to create an opening for her to escape.
Sending the half-scrapped Five Over would be the height of folly. Even if it barely provided any defense, she would still be throwing out her only shield. Not to mention its speed was severely restricted since it did not even have all of its legs left. Anna would be able to dodge it with a single casual step to the side, or she could blow it away with an attack of her own if she felt like it. …And if that attack tore through the machine, it would also hit Shokuhou behind it.
(That only leaves one option.)
The look in Shokuhou Misaki’s eyes grew colder.
It was now icier than the snow.
This was the face of the Queen of Tokiwadai’s largest clique. It was the look of the one who had torn down so many rivals and ruled a world of influence where pretty ideals were not enough.
Her rational mind provided a coldhearted answer.
(Using Misaka-san would be the easiest and most certain method.)
Anna was only interested in that pointy-haired high school boy.
She was not interested in Mikoto, but surely she would be somewhat cautious of that physical fighter ranked #3. She had already moved to defend herself and strike back against the girl, so whether or not Anna was aware of it, she had decided the #3 required more attention than the #5 whose power did not work at all.
The #5’s power to control minds did not work on the #3 who could control electricity.
It did not work, but Shokuhou knew Mikoto would react like she had a headache when rejecting the command.
Shokuhou spun the remote in her hand while still hidden behind cover.
(If I use my full power, won’t her body jerk even while unconscious?)
It was her ability to place this option on the table without hesitation that made her the Queen.
People’s ideas were not distinct points; they were a continuous stream. If you narrowed your options in advance based on taboos or what seemed sensible, you would cut off your access to further inspiration. The people who did things other people could not were generally a mess inside their heads. She had peeked inside a few monsters of that sort, so she understood that better than anyone.
(And once Anna looks over at Misaka-san on the ground, I’ll use the Five Over to escape. I don’t expect it to protect me, but I have a single chance to avoid her attack if its bent even slightly by all the metal and silicon inside this thing. That seems like the best I can do here.)
There were ways to use a lifeless machine even if its specs were lacking.
And even humans with lives of their own could be used to survive if you abandoned your morals.
She leaned back against the nearly-scrapped machine and looked up into the white sky as if trying to free herself from her human heart.
The Queen of Tokiwadai took a slow, deep breath.
A few dozen options danced in her head, but she could not find one with better odds of survival.
(I’m starting to feel silly trying so hard here. I don’t know how this enemy works, but she’s clearly cheating.)
Strength rapidly drained from her.
And despite relaxing, her body felt horribly heavy.
(Besides, why am I doing so much to support Misaka-san and why do I feel so guilty about considering this? Since when were we such good friends? She’s not even in my clique. I have no real obligation to look after her. If I turn tail and run, the hospital is right there. And if I can get him out of there, then the hospital won’t be attacked.)
If they did not acquire the vaccine, antidote, or whatever else, then running away would only mean waiting for Kamijou Touma to die.
And her own odds of success were extremely low.
They were low, but not nonexistent.
(I can probably only use the half-destroyed Five Over just one more time.)
The Queen of Tokiwadai’s cold side appeared on her face.
(So I should leave Misaka-san here and escape for the time being. And when that sadist Anna Sprengel decides to attack Misaka-san while she’s defenseless, I can ram the Five Over into her, or…)
Trying to save Misaka Mikoto here would save no one.
That would only get them all killed.
But abandoning her might open the door for saving some people.
“At times like this…”
Shokuhou Misaki of course had lines she refused to cross.
For example, she would not eat a burger full of artificial ingredients even if she was stranded on a snowy mountain in the middle of winter. She had other rules like that that she held dear. But wasn’t she following his rules instead for today?
“Disappearing from his memories no matter what I do is annoying as can be, but it has its upside. No matter how this turns out, he won’t hold a grudge against me or criticize my actions.”
She heard another footstep on the snowy road.
There was no prideful demonstration and no merciful final warning. Anna Sprengel was like a freight train. She simply arrived and continued on her way. She would plow through whoever stood in her way without a second glance, even if they were the #3 or the #5.
She was close now.
If she moved any closer, the diversion plan would not work. Shokuhou needed to escape in a different direction from the diversion, so she could not have Anna close enough to kill them all with a single attack.
She could escape right now.
There was an alley between the department store and the next building. If she snuck in there while behind the Five Over, she could escape without Anna noticing.
This was the most logical answer.
Her voice had grown colder than a machine’s.
She held a remote in her right hand and she controlled the Five Over with her left hand. She held her one and only option in her head to intentionally drown out the noise there.
The word “responsibility” appeared in the back of her mind.
The Queen of Tokiwadai gulped and made up her mind.
“I won’t forget you for at least a week.”
An electrical sparking sound violently burst out.
Anna Sprengel’s eyes briefly strayed from her destination.
She sounded amused.
A moment later, the half-destroyed Five Over, Model Case: Mental Out charged straight at Miss Sprengel.
“Tch!! I can’t believe this!!” shouted Shokuhou Misaki as she more jumped than ran.
She heard a crash even worse than from a car accident, but that mass of several tons was meaningless against the small body of what looked like a ten-year-old.
Light erupted out and it was blown away like melted cheese in a single second.
Even with the support of the suit, there was simply not enough time to pick up Misaka Mikoto and princess carry her while jumping up onto a building rooftop.
Which was why she instead focused on the remote in her right hand.
She held it like a stake and slammed it against Misaka Mikoto’s right temple while the girl lay motionless on the ground with a thin layer of white snow accumulating on her.
“Wake up already!” she roared. “Misaka-saaan!!!!!!”
Shokuhou’s Mental Out would not reach the #3’s brain without Mikoto’s acceptance, but she knew it would give the girl a powerful headache.
What if she could shake Mikoto’s mind enough to wake her up?
She had no guarantee this would work.
It was no more than a poor gamble entirely based on speculation. No, it was wishful thinking she was clinging to in order to escape the other, crueler choice.
Someone groaned, but it was not Misaka Mikoto.
A dull impact had hit the #5 Queen in the side while she lay protectively over the other girl. The suit’s protection could hold back a handgun bullet, yet this knocked the breath out of her. Her vision flipped around and she could not prepare for her landing, so she ended up tumbling across the cold asphalt.
She had been kicked in the side.
It took her a few seconds to realize that simple fact. However it had happened, Anna Sprengel now stood right next to Mikoto. Shokuhou did not have time to check what had become of the Five Over. She had trouble breathing and started choking. She tried to move her arms and legs, but they only convulsed. Such a small body should not have been able to make an attack like that.
“Eastern martial arts are the best-known use of the lifeforce circulating through the body,” said Anna like this was some kind of joke. It had probably only looked like she was kicking a soccer ball. “But the Western Sephiroth also corresponds to the human body. It is possible to focus on the channels connecting the spheres to throw a punch or a kick that obstructs that flow of power. Hi-yah☆”
Shokuhou could not breathe. The blood vessels in her temples were throbbing, but that was not the actual problem. She could tell that some more important and unseen circulation had been obstructed.
Anna Sprengel lowered the small foot she had raised as if mimicking something.
She placed it on top of Misaka Mikoto’s right temple.
Shokuhou thought she heard a straining sound, but she knew she had to be imagining it. There was no way the straining of the skull could be heard from outside the body like this. And yet…
She had screwed up.
Her gamble had failed.
She had poured all her strength into Mental Out, yet failed to shake Misaka Mikoto awake.
Or had she?
A foot was pressing down on Misaka Mikoto’s head, but her eyelids cracked open. She could not do anything, but she did turn her eyes toward where Shokuhou Misaki lay collapsed on the ground too.
“Run… get out of here. Hurry.”
“You’re supposed to be the black-hearted Queen who runs off and gets that idiot out of the hospital, right? Then stop getting all hot-blooded. You need to abandon me here. Go and figure out a way to steal the vaccine or antidote by controlling a more useful esper than me. Weren't those the roles we agreed to here?”
The straining sound grew louder.
Mikoto grimaced like a metal spike was being driven into her temple, but she still yelled at the top of her lungs.
“So get up! Get up and get out of here, Shokuhou!!”
Hearing that really pissed Shokuhou off.
She was still trembling too much to stand up, but she clenched her teeth and adjusted her grip on her remote. She forcibly crawled the best she could with just her hands.
But not to run away.
She crawled toward Misaka Mikoto.
“I’m not… doing that, Misaka-saaan.”
It pissed her off that Mikoto did not understand something so simple. They never did seem able to see eye to eye, not even when they were saying much the same thing.
“Yes, I’m not obligated to save you. Yes, abandoning you and running away would probably be more efficient, more logical, and bring me more happiness.”
Anna did nothing.
But instead of giving them time to talk, she simply did not seem interested. And that was fine. Shokuhou did not need anyone’s permission to crawl along the ground and challenge this situation.
“But if I did that, it would make him sad.”
So she spat out the words.
It did not matter who was listening.
“It might be nice having another nuisance out of my hair and that might open up a happy future for me with him!! But it would make him sad if you had your head crushed here!! Yes, I hate this so much, but my own circumstances don’t matter right now. He might forget all about me and he might never be able to feel anger or hatred over me abandoning you! But I’ll still remember what I did!! And I’m sick of keeping secrets from him!!!!!!”
She crawled and crawled and crawled.
And she grabbed at Anna Sprengel’s leg. Anna had the small body of a ten-year-old, but she was as solid as a boring machine.
“Now, now,” said Anna. “This isn’t like you at all. Aren’t you supposed to be more like me?”
“I know that.” Snowy and muddy, Shokuhou smiled back at that scoffing voice. She spat out words full of self-contempt. “I know I’m a bad person. I know I break my own rules all the time to achieve my goals and then use my power to hide that I broke them. Again, I’ll break my own rules to achieve my goals.”
“So I’ll do anything for him.”
She managed to draw out just a bit of strength.
She found she could still move.
“And I will never do anything that makes him cry. He saved my life, so I will protect the world that lets him live with a smile on his face. That is my number one rule and it trumps issues of good and evil!!!!!!”
But the Queen of Tokiwadai did not think she could move Anna a single millimeter.
Instead, she moved her dominant hand to grab her remote and aim it at Misaka Mikoto’s head again.
“If you’re conscious, then let this through.” She clenched her teeth and raised her voice. “If you want to fight to save him, then lend me your strength!!!!!!”
No pain, regulated breathing, emergency consumption of the body’s water and fat reserves, elimination of the physical restrictions brought on by fear, cutting the muscles’ limiters, repeated experiences of success, expanded processing power for the senses, temporary memory enhancements and increased memory analysis.
The remote filled Misaka Mikoto’s brain with all the errors of brain science, like the enhanced strength, slow motion, out of body experiences, and life flashing before your eyes during a near-death experience.
Shokuhou did not command her to perform any specific actions.
Because Mikoto had the greater combat instincts.
Mikoto’s right hand jerked up to an unnatural extent. The sherbet-like snow clinging to her like a curse was shaken off. She seemed to be gently clenching her fist, but she was not preparing a punch. She had an arcade coin sitting on her thumbnail.
It was an uppercut-like attack aimed up at Anna’s jaw.
The point-blank Railgun crackled with electricity as it prepared to launch.
“Whoops,” said Anna quietly.
Shokuhou was lifted up as the small foot left Mikoto’s temple along with the honey-blonde girl’s upper body clinging to it.
This was working.
They had distracted Anna Sprengel. She had put her guard up even slightly. She might as well have been telling them this would be effective.
They were too slow by just an instant.
Shokuhou’s vision blurred as she dropped straight down. It took her a second to realize what had happened.
In a truly merciless act, Anna had dropped her lifted foot down to crush Mikoto’s raised right hand.
She robbed the girl’s arm of all strength and pinned her wrist to the cold ground. The arcade coin bounced off the asphalt with a solid clink.
It was not enough.
Their feelings were not enough to reject the very real threat before them.
A dull straining sound came from the right wrist below Anna’s foot.
“You strayed.” Anna spoke like she was watching some fools struggling with all their might to survive in a blizzard but actually only wandering around in circles. “Be it chess or horse-racing, the most important thing when it comes to winning a game is to stick with a single strategy. You will only lose focus if you change strategies whenever you start to lose. That will not lead to an unexpected come-from-behind win. It will only accelerate your very predictable path toward failure.”
“You… wouldn’t understand,” said Shokuhou Misaki like she was uttering a curse.
She was more caught on that young leg than clinging to it anymore. Like a dry leaf caught on your coat or skirt on a winter day.
But she still got the words out.
“I’ve been consistent from the beginning. But you wouldn’t be able to see it since you always put yourself first.”
“Oh, I’m so jealous. Is that how an immature teenager sees the world?”
A dull thud followed.
That foot looked like it belonged to a small child, yet Shokuhou flew through the air when kicked like a soccer ball. If not for the special suit, her organs or spine might have ruptured or broken. The honey-blonde girl rolled along the ground and then gasped for a reason other than the pain or lack of oxygen.
The goal was right there.
They had arrived at a certain hospital’s main gate.
“Zero minutes to your destination.”
The phone in Anna’s hand mechanically and mercilessly ended its countdown.
The little girl laughed.
“You still have delusions about the importance of bonds with others, don’t you? I have long since grown cold about such things.”
That was effectively her final warning.
The hands of the clock would not stop. They had failed to draw Anna’s interest. She was going to continue walking according to schedule while crushing and killing everything that stood in her way. The railways crossing gate had lowered, so everyone knew what would happen to anyone dumb enough to not get off the tracks.
They had challenged the freight train with no more than fragile human bodies.
This was the result.
Who was the first to notice something was not right?
Was it Shokuhou Misaki, Misaka Mikoto… or Anna Sprengel?
The predicted blow never arrived.
The girl who looked no more than ten had looked to the side with her small leg still raised.
But that was not how it was supposed to work.
Anna Sprengel was following her schedule. Everything in the way would die. There was probably only one person who could draw her interest enough to change that.
But that person was the last one they wanted to be here.
The girls had worn down their lives as they continued to fight to avoid exactly that.
That whistle had been a meaningless present, but the #5 had given it to him to say it was her turn to save him. Even if she was the only one that still remembered what had happened the first time around. Even so, she had wanted to do what he had risked his life to do.
Loneliness could kill.
But you could still be saved if someone reached out their hand.
She had thought today was the day when she would repay him for teaching her that.
She heard that voice.
He was in such bad shape that he should not have still been standing.
He probably could not even remember that he had forgotten who the honey-blonde girl was.
Nevertheless, here he was.
As if to say he would always be the one to come to her rescue.
“Let go of that girl, Anna Sprengel.”
Shokuhou Misaki turned her head while barely able to move.
And she saw something beyond the silent snow.
What she saw there seemed to reject everything they had done.
She should have been angry.
She should have gone red in the face, shouted until her throat tore, and thrashed her limbs about. What had they sacrificed so much for if it was just going to end like this? What was the point of their shed blood, their pain, and their fear? They still had not stolen the vaccine or antidote from Anna. If they passed the baton to him now, she knew they would never acquire any means of saving that boy. Because he would never put himself first even for a second and he would only focus on saving the two girls. But doing that would mean all their previous efforts had been for nothing!
Academy City’s #5 Level 5 did not feel any anger. The Queen of Tokiwadai was not at all bothered by her wasted effort.
As no more than an ordinary girl, she must have accepted it somewhere in her heart.
(Why do I actually feel happy everything fell apart like this!? I’m so stupid!!)
There was no logic to it, but Kamijou Touma was standing there.
Anna Sprengel tilted her head again.
She gently brushed the snow off her foot. She was not interested in any of that, so she stepped forward to leave it behind.
She walked toward the pointy-haired high school boy named Kamijou Touma.
She made an attack.
With that one word, she showed the rules of the battle had changed from when she was playing with the #3 and #5. A translucent figure now stood next to the little girl. It was a bizarre angel with swan wings and a falcon head.
Miss Sprengel kept her eyes directed dead ahead.
Her gaze was fixated on a certain person. The Golden cabal had once sent a great many letters from England to distant Germany in search of her. Without knowing how frightening her gaze really was.
She placed a hand on a hip that had yet to develop any curves and she laughed.
“So what do you hope to accomplish here? The St. Germain I gave you should have begun to dissolve your ego by now.”
Kamijou Touma did not respond.
He simply clenched his right fist with his body still tilted to the side.
Anna let out a disappointed sigh.
(I wanted to return you to what you were before Aleister got his hands on you.)
There was no anger in her eyes.
There was nothing there.
She had the look of someone who had lost all interest in another person.
(And once you were worn down to the extreme, I wanted to see what part of you is bound to that supernatural power. I am tired of explanations. Q&A sessions are entirely meaningless. The exchange of words only distorts the truth and spreads valueless corrupted information. So I wanted to master this on my own. I wanted to see how much someone could understand when they came in contact with the supernatural with zero prior knowledge.)
“But after turning you into a mass of pain and robbing you of your ego to the point you can’t chain your memories together coherently, all that remains is a machine that goes around saving people? I already saw that performance around two thousand years ago.”
This was the result of optimizing him.
It was the result, but was it the answer?
Anna Sprengel shook her head.
She did not take another step.
She could not maintain her interest. She simply snapped her small fingers.
Her target was Kamijou Touma, but she did not show any concern for anything around him. The look on her face said she did not care in the slightest if this also blew away the hospital behind him.
“It is time to die, you weak soul at the mercy of your own power. Failing to draw my interest counts as an even zero, so that I can forgive. But disappointing me earns a negative score. That warrants death.”
The Holy Guardian Angel roared.
The distance between them did not matter. If he closed those arms equipped with sharp talons, Kamijou Touma’s body would be squashed beyond recognition. And even if he deflected that with his right hand’s power, he was done for once the larger angel wings attacked. The larger and smaller pairs of scissors closed in on him like an invisible field of death. Imagine Breaker was useful, but it could not handle multiple simultaneous attacks.
Both of Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass’s attacks were deflected.
The snow flew through the air.
As did the angel’s feathers.
The Anna Sprengel wrinkled her brow in confusion. It was not much, but the situation had moved beyond her expectations. The giant freight train should have crushed everything in its path, but it had begun to derail.
Imagine Breaker alone was not enough to handle multiple simultaneous attacks.
He could have blocked either the talons or the wings, but then the other one should have reached him and torn through him.
(What was that? Did he use Imagine Breaker to redirect the destroyed magic into the other one, like sending the sword’s broken blade against the spear’s tip? No, this was something else.)
“Don’t tell me.”
The great maw and the angel wings had been deflected at the exact same moment.
A dark red line dripped from the corner of his mouth.
He had already been ignoring his bleeding, but the cause of the bleeding was what mattered here.
What if Kamijou Touma was focused on all the pieces on the game board here?
By looking at how he had gotten here, the identity of the dual attacks became obvious. When making an enemy of this boy, the greatest threat was not his right hand’s power or his inspired fighting technique that seemed too great for a simple high school boy.
Anna Sprengel had “optimized” that boy by stripping away everything he had been given so she could see what remained.
And his essence had revealed itself here.
In this case, it explained the dual attacks.
“Did you use magic!? By making an ally of the St. Germain I implanted in you!?”
In truth, Kamijou Touma could only see about half of the scene before him.
That had been the case even while on the way here.
He had descended the hospital’s emergency stairs and entered the courtyard.
There he had lost his balance and collapsed.
His trembling fingers had grabbed at the whistle that slid across the snow.
He could not remember when he had gotten it. He could not even remember if he picked it out or if someone had given it to him. But when he squeezed it in his hand, he felt strength filling the very core of his body for some reason. That warm driving force helped him fight the chilly winter air.
Even though his Imagine Breaker was supposed to negate all supernatural powers, whether they were good or evil.
He once more managed to get on his feet while clinging to a streetlight.
His feet slipped on the snow, but he managed to start walking again.
Nothing entering his eyes or ears managed to reach his mind. His body was nothing more than pain and feverish heat. He could not shake the feeling that he had swollen to twice his usual size.
And that may have been why he had focused his mind inwards.
“Maybe this is all you are now. You lost your body, took the form of microbes, and can only do anything by disguising yourself as an elixir of life to get into people’s mouths. You may be more of a phenomenon than a person now.”
It was only a whisper, but he did call out to someone.
He was the only one there. No nurses or guards had come running to search for the runaway when the fire alarm went off. But that did not mean no one was listening.
He could tell.
There was a listener waiting inside him.
“But you’re a magician too, aren’t you?”
Yes, Kamijou Touma had been fighting this whole time.
But not against the pain of his wounds. He had been holding this conversation his entire time in the hospital.
All so he could open the door for someone who had been suffering for far longer.
He had refused Maidono Hoshimi. He had punched Aihana Etsu.
Because this was our problem and he could not let an outsider get involved.
He had not been speaking to a mere prop. There was another actor on the stage who would share his fate.
Someone who could clear a path for themselves through fighting.
“You’re a magician who carved a magic name into your heart and started down that path for your own reasons, right? Then what was it you wanted to do way back then? I’ll help you, St. Germain. Let’s end this silly game of pretend. If there’s something you want to do, then I’ll lend you my body.”
St. Germain had indeed destroyed his body from within as a part of Anna’s plan. That was an undeniable fact.
Had that been the result of St. Germain’s malice or ill intentions? Had he demonstrated any sort of dark emotions? The answer was no. Anna Sprengel had meant him harm, but none of St. Germain’s human will could be found there.
What if he caused harm just by existing there and that magician had not meant to do any of this?
Was St. Germain really an enemy who had to be opposed?
Kamijou could not answer that question.
So all he had to do was ask.
The response did not come as a physical voice created from a vibration of the air.
The acute St. Germain had infected his entire body, so he must have reached the boy’s nerves or brain cells.
However it worked, a clear will existed there.
A will with entirely different beliefs than Kamijou Touma – a will that had been suppressed until now – spoke in his mind.
Anguish, resignation, failure.
It was a clearly human will that oozed with all of those things.
“I wanted to give people dreams. I did not want great riches or fame as a magician. I simply wanted to appear in a town and surprise everyone with a fun little show – that was all. I hoped someone would pursue those techniques that began from lies and eventually accomplish something far greater than their wildest dreams.”
That must have never come to pass.
No one had tried to do it themselves. They had simply relied on St. Germain who provided them with everything.
They took the easy route.
The self-indulgent route.
The magician who claimed to be well-versed in techniques of creating gold, diamonds, and the elixir of life soon found himself surrounded by the nastiest sorts of nobles and the wealthy. He had been pushed into the center of the social scene and had been unable to back out. And once he was no longer able to deceive those greedy people who were only interested in riches and fame, they demanded he be judged and he was forced to abandon his physical body.
But even that magician had a starting point.
He was not just a tool. He had been a living human being.
Kamijou Touma did not hesitate to focus on that central point. And he used a power that was frightening indeed when used against you.
The boy spoke the words that got down to his very essence.
“Then do it, St. Germain.”
Was he an enemy or an ally?
Was he the time limit that threatened the boy’s life?
But what did any of that matter?
Those were only the rules of the game Anna Sprengel had forced onto them both. Obeying those rules would only please Anna. Kamijou Touma had never drawn such a boring line between the two of them.
He was afraid of dying eventually. He was terrified. But there had to be something he could do while still alive. Something only Kamijou Touma could do.
When the entire world had given up on someone, they became “evil”.
A former god had told him that and he agreed with her.
But to put it another way, you just needed one person who would not give up on them no matter how unfortunate their nature was.
You just needed one person who did not give up on speaking with them.
Then surely they could be saved.
No, they could be.
“You wanted to use your magic to give people dreams, right? You wanted to master magic so you could dry the tears of children, put smiles on the squabbling adults’ faces, and loosen the mindsets of the elderly who had grown too set in their ways, right? Then the time is now. There isn’t a single reason to hesitate because this is your life. If you want to call yourself a magician, then don’t look away from your goal. I’ll give you my body to use, so go out there and master the path you chose for yourself, St. Germain!!”
A dull straining sound came from within his body.
He could not tell if it was his blood vessels, nerves, muscles, organs, or bones being destroyed.
An esper’s body would not last if St. Germain used magic through it and St. Germain would be gradually worn down as long as Imagine Breaker existed in that body.
They could not have been less compatible.
They never should have been working together.
Kamijou Touma still did not hesitate to say it.
“Tell me what it is you want to do.”
“I’ll make it happen with my body, so now’s not the time to get shy!! You’re still clinging to this world even after being reduced to that form, so you must have some regret you can’t bring yourself to forget. So out with it! Tell me what it is so I can make it happen!!”
“I want to protect people’s dreams. Tears of failure and resignation have no place in this world!!”
There was a definite explosion.
It was the light of possibility created by a certain magician.
It was the power to protect everyone’s dreams.
A boy’s right fist shattered the invisible maw while the magic light launched from his bloody left hand deflected the angel wings.
Enemy or ally?
What a silly question. That division meant nothing to Kamijou Touma.
This was not Imagine Breaker and it was not his combat experience built up from a sharp intuition and countless battles fought.
It was the power to break down barriers and work together.
It was the power to keep trying with no fear of failure no matter how many times your outstretched hand was brushed aside or how many nasty looks you earned.
This was the essence that remained when all else was stripped away from him and it was the special trait to be feared by all who would oppose him.
Between the Lines 3
The Count of St. Germain is one of the most mysterious figures even on the magic side.
His first officially confirmed sighting was in Paris’s high society during the 1750s. It was said he could fluently speak many languages, he exuded a mysterious charm, and he was a master conversationalist who could skillfully bring himself closer to someone the very first time they met. The division between science and magic was less clearly defined back then, so intellectuals were educated in all forms of the occult and methods of manipulating chemicals and diamonds were especially popular.
After some complicated turns of events, the official records say he died of illness and was buried in Germany in 1784, but self-proclaimed St. Germains were occasionally sighted after that.
That, combined with the legend that he never consumed anything other than the pills and oatmeal he made himself, led the nobles and wealthy of the time to spread rumors that he was a magician who had successfully manufactured the elixir of life.
Due to his manipulation of diamonds and his title of count, some confused him with Cagliostro who was involved in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace that also involved Marie Antoinette, which could explain the older tales of his death and annihilation. But that mystery man continued to be witnessed even at the end of the 20th century, in the age of ubiquitous color TVs. And whether it was a hoax or not, a self-proclaimed St. Germain (not just someone playing the role for a show) once appeared on a color TV broadcast. Although, the Anglican Church and Academy City made no move to stop that broadcast, so that may be all you need to know about its legitimacy.
He has been linked to the old Rosicrucian magic cabal to give him some occult legitimacy.
However, his name is never seen in the legends of CRC or his followers, so it can be assumed he joined the cabal in a later age.
In truth, he broke down his own physical body to become a colony of microbes.
They are generally kept dehydrated to preserve them for longer, but once a host swallows the black pill and their saliva and other bodily fluids activate the microbes, the microbes will swiftly hijack the host’s body and begin to function as St. Germain. Thus, when looking at history as a whole, he looks like an immortal figure who pops up here and there in different eras.
He excels at manipulating carbon and thus diamonds.
Several St. Germains were seen together within the Dianoid building, an Academy City landmark.
When Magician Anna Sprengel saw the current St. Germain, she said his purity had fallen.
He holds the lowest rank.
There is no evidence he has ever contacted the No. 1 Temple in Germany.
But if you will permit some speculation, his desire to provide dreams to the people has some overlap with the Rosicrucian plan to eliminate the world’s diseases by optimizing imperfect human society with intellectuals used as a medicine that spreads education, so it may be worth seeing if he has reached an understanding with that cabal.
St. Germain’s objectives are a mystery and it is often said he possesses a megalomania that leads him to throw the political and financial worlds into disarray with the scams and pranks he claims are meant to support his diamond research.
But since he is a magician, something must have caused him to despair in the world or in the divine gears that hold it together, leading him down the path of magic where he could access miraculous tricks all on his own.
There are no records of what that was.
Because he decided it was better that way and sealed away those records himself.