Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume3 Prologue
Prologue: Look What I Found Under This Big Rock – OP.“Hand_Cuffs”
She was dead. It was 3PM on December 25 and Shirai Kuroko, a 1st year middle school girl with chestnut twintails and wearing nothing but a purple negligee, lay collapsed and unmoving on her bed in a Tokiwadai Middle School student dorm. She was completely dead.
As dead as a jellyfish rotting on the beach.
“Onwee-shama…still hasn’t come home…”
Her roommate Misaka Mikoto had yet to return after vanishing on the night of the 24th. The girl had shirked her duties. The attractive Onee-sama was off enjoying herself elsewhere on Christmas and her cute underclassman had failed to board Noah’s Ark in time. She may have been sent to a deserted island all on her own. Shirai Kuroko had been tragically rejected. And it hurt all the more because she knew there was no ill will behind it.
(H-how could this happen? I had so much ready for today: snacks, a present, scented candles, health drinks, a nonconductive rubber jumpsuit and gloves, a translucent goo made from seaweed extract, silicon crystals, *****, and even ******. Eh heh geh heh heh. And now it’s all piled up in the corner like the cakes that haven’t sold by the 26th!!)
If god had heard her thoughts as they grew more and more despicable, she might have been physically stuck by lightning, but the fact remained that the giant carnivorous plant had failed to captured its prey.
She did not even have it in her to flail around in frustration. A monotone ringtone played from the phone she had left by her pillow, so she reached out with her face still down in the pillow and spoke in a deep, zombie-like voice.
“Uwehhhh? A joint manhunt with Anti-Skill???”
“They’re apparently planning a major arrest. And isn’t that kind of violence your favorite thing, Shirai-san? The adults are actually offering to let you run wild for once, so you should probably take them up on it.”
Judgment apparently had a lot of work piled up even on Christmas.
She briefly considered resorting to pretending she was in too much pain to get out of bed due to being on her purple period which would curse you unless you forgot it existed before you turned 20…but then she had a different idea.
(Isn’t Onee-sama liable to show up at the scene of some major incident?)
She leaped out of bed, fixed her mussed-up hair, and hurriedly responded.
“Understood, Uiharu!! I will be there right away! Where is ‘there’, by the way!?”
Tokiwadai forced impeccable behavior on its students, so the dorms were strictly locked down around Christmas, but work for Judgment was an exception. This was Shirai Kuroko’s first Tokiwadai Christmas, but she managed to strut right past the dorm manager and out the supposedly impregnable front entrance in her winter uniform and a very long scarf.
She let out a breath and vanished into thin air.
She was a Level 4 Teleporter.
She could only teleport things a distance of 81.5m at once and she could only teleport a weight of 130.74kg at once, but by repeatedly teleporting herself, she could move at speeds greater than a racecar. All while circumventing the restrictions of the asphalt roads.
The safety of District 7 could vary a lot depending on the area, but she made her way to one of the less safe areas. There was decidedly unartistic graffiti spray painted on the walls and presumably stolen and abandoned bicycles were lying all around. There were no Christmas decorations in evidence.
A habit instilled in her by her job(?) took over and she photographed the registration sticker on the underside of the bike seats.
“Is this the place?” she asked over the phone.
“An Anti-Skill truck should be parked nearby, so go find them. I’m busy with my own work, so I unfortunately won’t be able to join you. …Eh? Oh, what is it? Ehhh!? You want me to turn all this into an automated processing flowchart today!?”
After some sounds of a struggle, the call ended.
(I guess I have to do this.)
Being out and about gave her more of a chance to run across her beloved Onee-sama, Misaka Mikoto, than lying dead on her dorm room bed. Especially when there was trouble afoot. Her motivation was impure as could be, but she hoped they would forgive her if she could restore order to the city while she was at it.
She knocked on the door of a large steel truck that looked like a windowless bus and the door opened from the inside.
It was larger than a van, but it actually felt cramped on the inside. Both walls were crammed full of industrial computers and the excess space was piled high with boxes of weapons and ammo. There were no ordinary lights, so the glow of monitors and heat of machines filled the limited space. This was apparently a logistics vehicle that handled data control and materiel provision more than transporting people.
(And this is only the backup. Does that mean they have more personnel deployed than would fit in one bus?)
She looked skeptical. Anti-Skill was the grownup organization that preserved order in Academy City. In terms of the world outside the city, they were similar to the police. She knew they were a highly organized group of volunteer teachers, but this appeared to be a largescale job even for them. Just think about it. How many police officers would be needed to chase down a single robber escaping through the streets? It would be unusual to find that not even 30 was enough.
“Excuse me, but you requested my presence here. I am Shirai Kuroko of Judgment. If this major arrest required calling me in, does it involve an esper?”
They were not as polite as a phone shop’s receptionist. First, her voice was absorbed by silence and a few sharp glances turned her way after a bit. “The customer is always right” did not apply with civil servants. Plus, Shirai was not actually a customer. Finally, a nearby woman, who appeared to be an operator, spoke up.
She curtly gestured further back in the truck with her chin.
“You’re working with him.”
That seemed awfully cold after Shirai had gone out of her way to name herself and express her enthusiasm for the job, but she accepted it since she had seen some girls in her class who tried and failed to play the tsundere like that. Then she looked over in the indicated direction.
She had no words. She thought she was going to collapse straight backwards.
Let us make one thing clear here.
It could be hard to tell at times(?), but Shirai Kuroko was a born-and-raised high-class girl who attended the prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School. She lived in a girl’s dorm where she would never so much as catch a whiff of a man in her everyday life. She did not suffer from androphobia, but if asked whether she could relax more in a group of boys or a group of girls, she would naturally choose the latter.
So for her, this assigned buddy came as a shock.
The middle-aged man resembled a matchstick.
He had a receding hairline.
He may have been an avid supporter of the national ID number system because he had a combover that looked an awful lot like a barcode.
He was skinny yet greasy.
He smelled like the inside of the kind of taxi you never wanted to get.
He had the classic combination of glasses and a combover.
But really, it all came down to that one word: he.
“Oh, hello. You are Shirai Kuroko, I take it? It is a pleasure to meet- wait, what is happening here!? A-are you awakening as a Level 5!?”
The middle-aged man in bulletproof gear approached her and then jumped in surprise.
But she was too distraught to notice.
“Why? What kind of terrible mistake could have led to this disaster!? I was supposed to be all alone with my beloved Onee-sama right now, so why am I here with some wrinkled man who looks like a Christmas present that has been sitting unopened for 20 years!!!???”
“I-I am not sure what that means, but you are aware that even an old man like me is a human being with rights, aren’t you?”
His polite request fell on deaf ears.
Or rather, he had uttered that forbidden phrase: old man. Ordinarily, hearing those hellish two words would have her readying a disinfectant spray packed full of silver ion. The surprise had been enough to make him sweaty and his sweat sent an indescribable stench wafting her way. Her face grew pale.
“W-we can continue this outside!!”
“Oh, ready to get to work already? You elite students are so responsible.”
This was not about that. She just did not want to inhale that stench that reminded her of the cheap fake leather seats in a taxi. But getting into an argument here would do nothing to help her. The real live combover glasses man scratched at his defenseless head in embarrassment, but then gasped and fixed his combover.
“I-I am Rakuoka Houfu.”
“Shirai Kuroko,” rapidly replied the twintails girl.
She kept more distance than necessary and sighed as she got down to business.
“So, Rakuoka-sensei. Who are we arresting?”
“To be clear, you can’t let anyone know about this. Because we live in an age where people will do just about anything to get material for an online video or social media post.”
“Just tell me.”
“Very well.” Rakuoka Houfu looked side to side like a timid animal and stepped in close to whisper in her ear. “It’s called Operation Handcuffs. We’re doing a sweep of the dark side.”
The dark side.
In Judgment, Shirai Kuroko would deal with trouble in Academy City and she would occasionally fight directly with criminals, but she had about as much solid evidence of the dark side’s existence as she did for urban legends like Hikiko-san or the Kunekune.
She had heard things and seen things that hinted at its possible existence.
But she had yet to experience anything that made her think she had actually been in contact with it.
(The dark side exists at a place even deeper than us.)
But she could not give any clear definition of what the dark side was really supposed to be. It felt like a fictional thing spoken of only in rumors. Like a few separate incidents had appeared connected by coincidence, creating the illusion of something larger there. Yet it was all too ominous to just laugh it off in that way.
(That’s exactly the territory Onee-sama would get herself involved in. Yes!! That means I made the right choice!! I’m bound to find her if I run headlong toward the greatest threat!!)
“It does exist,” plainly stated Rakuoka Houfu. He must have wanted to keep this a secret because he ignored the distance she had put between them and invaded her personal space, but his words carried a magical power that kept her from minding too much. “You know how we got a new Board Chairman the other day? That upheaval has stirred things up. Like all the filth gathered at the bottom of the lake floating up to the surface.”
“Their veil of secrecy has fallen away. This is our one and only chance. We are making our move in all 23 districts at once and we even created a database of targets called Outrank!”
All of the fragmentary data that Anti-Skill and Judgment had gathered had apparently been combined with all the concealed data that the person at the top had just released. The idea was to use the combined data to make a sweep of all the major dark side members who had eluded their grasp for so long.
“If we don’t bring an end to the dark side now that they have been revealed to us, they will just do the same thing all over again. Once they dive back below the surface, they can resume dragging down and feasting on innocent people while remaining just out of our reach. We have to stop them while we can.”
“Who exactly are we talking about here?”
“It’s a long list. Logging on to Outrank would leave you speechless.” He gestured over with his chin. “Anyway, let’s go deal with our target. She’s in that abandoned building there. Her name is Aoumi Karei, but people call her the Pet Breeder. She supposedly specializes in training dangerous pets trained in secret to attack people while making it look like an accident. Depending on what her client asks for, she can threaten people, remove a beauty pageant contestant or an athlete from the competition, or even assassinate someone. It all depends on the severity of the injury or infectious disease she goes for.”
“Why hasn’t she been arrested before?”
“A few of the incidents were awfully suspicious for an accident, but none of them were ever treated as a crime. The fire ants or snapping turtle discovered near the scene were taken to an animal shelter and that was it.”
This one example was worse than she had expected. The very idea of a professional criminal seemed so bizarre to a Japanese middle schooler. Was that really viable? Especially in Academy City which was surrounded by thick walls and monitored by countless cameras?
(Their veil of secrecy has fallen away, has it?)
If they had been hidden, someone must have decided it was beneficial to keep them hidden. But how was that beneficial? The individual criminals were bad enough, but it sent a chill down her spine to think a system had been in place to hide such brutal crimes from society. Did that mean they could have fully “erased” her presence from this city if they had wanted to?
“Where is the rest of the team?”
“Trying to overpower Pet Breeder with numbers would work against us. I would prefer to defeat her with a precision strike. You never know when she will send hundreds of spiders or octopuses after us with the flick of a switch. Even if we block the doors and windows, the animals could always swarm through the ducts or drains. Trying to seal the building off would not be possible.”
“Just to be safe, we will have an insecticide team waiting out front. They will be using a pyrethroid that has very little effect on humans, so disseminating it in this urban environment shouldn’t be a problem. However, that means rats, crows, and other vertebrates can slip past our net, so it would be best if we are not noticed.”
“Hence bringing along the Teleporter?”
“The doors, windows, and even the indoor spaces might be covered in sensors, so we are counting on you. By the way, this is my first time teleporting, so how exactly do you take aim?”
The twintailed middle school girl gave the middle-aged man a look of utter disgust before placing a hand on his shoulder and using that physical contact to allow them both to vanish into thin air.
There was no sign of the Christmas spirit inside the abandoned building. There was no wallpaper or carpet, so it was all bare concrete. The windows had lost their glass, so they were forcibly covered up with blue tarps and packing tape, and boxy silhouettes were stacked up here and there. The largest ones looked like 2m cubes and they were filled with the bluish-white light of a tropical fish aquarium.
Shirai had assumed they were aquariums or cages, but she was wrong.
Those boxes had UV lights and hydroponic kits hooked up to the same power supply.
“Are those plant factories?” she asked.
“They are probably a type of biotope. Instead of giving them food at set times, she provides them an artificial environment that naturally contains their food. You could call her a deadly gardener, couldn’t you?”
A closer look showed all sorts of animals moving around inside the boxes covered in thick acrylic.
Mosquitos, flies, fleas, ticks, and roaches.
Rats, crows, snakes, poison dart frogs, and bats.
Snapping turtles, piranhas, candirus, and black bass.
Each box had more than one species. Maybe species that would not eat each other were kept together and maybe predators and prey were grouped together to set up a food chain.
“I-if we mess this up, could we get bitten or stung by those?” asked the man. “Do they have serums at the hospital?”
“Don’t ask me. But this isn’t a club or committee activity. If it happens on the job, won’t you get treated at the hospital for free?”
“I can’t do that, Shirai-san! I’m a government worker! If I take unwanted leave and payment at the same time, everyone out there will start calling me a leech on the system.”
Then they heard a clunking sound from overhead.
Either he was a coward or a workaholic because he immediately stopped complaining.
At this point, neither of them spoke aloud to confirm anything with each other. They used hand signals to communicate and made their way to the emergency stairs.
Fortunately, they did not find any of the cameras or sensors they had been worried about. The owner of the place must not have seen any real division between rooms or floors because there were 2m acrylic boxes sitting on the stairway landing too.
Shirai stopped the man with a hand and then held her breath entirely.
Once up the stairs, she heard a voice speaking from the large floor with no inner walls.
Were there multiple people there?
She could not see inside from the stairs, so she gulped and silently set foot into that dreary space. Great tension wore on all of her nerves, but then she noticed something.
The overly enunciated female voice was accompanied by music and sound effects. When she peered out from behind a pillar, she saw a flat screen TV of more than 60 inches sitting in the middle of the large space. She could see the dark silhouette of someone seated in a chair thanks to the glow of the TV.
There was no one else around. The cheerful voice was coming from the TV.
Was this their living space? The lonely space surrounded by 2m boxes showed no division between work and home.
“After announcing his appointment as the new Board Chairman, he turned himself in at an Anti-Skill station, confessing to his crimes. This unprecedented situation sent shockwaves through Academy City’s general courthouse. He has apparently been indicted, but it is unknown if the trial will be held as scheduled. The 12 members of the Board have chosen to refrain from commenting on this unprecedented situation.”
“That was just awful of him, wasn’t it?”
Shirai’s breathing stopped for a reason other than intentionally holding it.
The woman seated in the chair facing the other way had noticed her.
“We only sank into the darkness because we were needed here, but one doctrine change and it’s into the garbage for us? No, forcibly removing these gears will only cause the entire system of Academy City to collapse.”
“Tch!! This is Judgment. Aoumi Karei, stay where you are!!”
The woman continued watching TV. She did not stand up or turn around.
All she did was shrug.
And a moment later, a torrent of green, brown, gray, and black rushed in toward Shirai Kuroko from the side.
She had no idea what had happened.
It was terrifying enough to realize these were all insects the size of her palm, but the number of them was even more terrifying. She had the breath knocked out of her like she had been struck by a heavy bowling ball and her thoughts scattered. She was knocked from behind the pillar and dragged along the concrete floor before she could make sense of her situation.
“Insects have trends too, you know?” bluntly whispered Pet Breeder while she continued watching TV. “Fire ants were in not too long ago, but that seems to have changed to locusts. Did you know an insect’s appearance can be changed by its environment? Once there are enough of them that they don’t need to hide from threats, they lose their camouflaging green and turn brown. And instead of calmly eating grass, they grow bold and start attacking other creatures by tackling them and biting at their flesh.”
“So by adjusting the density of their group, controlling their stress, directly injecting them with corazonin, or otherwise adjusting their environment, you can train them to do whatever you want. For example, you can rewrite their instincts so they will aggressively attack people.”
Still on the floor, Shirai Kuroko reached for her thigh. She wore a belt there that carried metal darts.
But as soon as she sent one out with her Teleportation, the figure seated in front of the TV collapsed like it was deflating. No, that figure was actually a swarm of dry brown rattlesnakes. There were hundreds of them…maybe thousands. The rattles on the many snakes’ tails had shaken to produce what sounded like a human voice.
“Just to be clear, I am not some fairy tale witch.”
The solid footsteps came from a different direction altogether, but Shirai could not even turn around while pinned to the floor.
“Ordinary science is enough to explain all this. If you try hard enough. Remember this because what you see here is the dark side. Sticking your head in our business will not end well for you if you are not prepared. Then again, this warning may have come too late for you.”
She would get away at this rate.
Pet Breeder had created a twisted world as a criminal, but she could probably obtain new materials almost anywhere. She could start her business back up even if she had to abandon this lab.
And that would lead to further victims.
He had so little presence both sides may have completely forgotten about him.
Someone suddenly screamed. It was the middle-aged man with glasses and a combover. His eyes were squeezed shut behind the lenses and his arms were thrust out in front as he charged in. He moved around Shirai Kuroko as the many locusts pinned her down and he continued toward Pet Breeder who was walking along the wall toward the floor’s exit.
She must have been caught off guard.
That was the first time Shirai Kuroko heard Aoumi Karei’s real voice.
She easily dodged the man, so he broke through the blue tarp and tumbled right out the window.
But she could not breathe a sigh of relief. She must have moved aside more forcefully than she meant to because her shoulder crashed into one of the plant factories covered in thick acrylic…no, that was a biotope containing an artificial atmosphere meant to grow animals.
Shirai did not know how it normally worked, but that thick acrylic must not have been all one piece. Maybe the dark side worked to cut costs as much as legal businesses. When the woman bumped into it, a tall piece about the size of a door came away and she fell inside. The glued-together panels had come apart.
Only then did Shirai get to see what Aoumi Karei looked like. Maybe she had a logical reason for her bizarre getup and maybe it was just her personal tastes, but she was a college-aged woman wearing highly revealing black bondage gear.
And Pet Breeder had just rolled into one of her own 2m enclosures.
It looked like an insect cage, but the bottom was filled with clear water.
The things wriggling at the bottom may have been electric eels.
She let out an indecipherable scream.
Shirai did not know how the process worked, but if those were her “products”, did this mean she was being attacked by the very creatures she had raised herself? Or were the electric eels not fully trained and still being prepared?
Shirai managed to push herself up from the floor to look, but the woman’s face was entirely buried by then. Electric shocks in the water were deadly enough, but it also looked like the eels were actually crawling inside her body through her burst and torn skin. Her arms and legs continued to convulse, but she was probably already dead.
The twintails girl Teleported a metal dart from the floor to pierce a water bottle dangling from the ceiling. That scattered a liquid darker than tea and the locusts fled from her in fear. As she had guessed, the bottles on the ceiling were “sprinklers” in case of emergency. She pierced several more of them to fill the entire floor with the repellent that the human nose could not detect.
Once she was up on her trembling legs, she approached the acrylic box.
That 2m zone’s barrier had been broken.
The electric eels made no attempt to escape through the broken wall. They were all focused on the inside of their habitat. But instead of not wanting to leave the water, it looked more like they were happily making a home for themselves inside the poor victim’s body.
It was a tragic result. Someone had died.
She could think those words, but her mind refused to make sense of them. Just like someone was telling her to “thoroughly chew her plastic before swallowing it”. It all felt so wrong as the thought rolled around in her skull. She stood there in a daze for a while. This had been an unfortunate accident, but it was too horrific for her to accept that they had responded appropriately. On the other hand, she could not blame the clumsy Anti-Skill officer either. Without his support, she might have been the one in that eel habitat.
This was the dark side. It was a hopeless world where doing your best still resulted in very dark results.
How much time had passed since her gruesome initiation into that world?
Finally, she managed to stagger over to the window. The torn blue tarp let in a sliver of sunlight.
She was surprised by what she found when she looked down.
Rakuoka Houfu had tumbled out after his momentum got the better of him, but there was construction scaffolding outside and he had managed to land on that. But he was terrified out of his mind, so he must have been sitting up there in that awkward pose for a while now. He smiled up at her with sweat soaking him.
He would not know how things had turned out inside the building.
“W-was I helpful?”
“Ask me that again after you write up a report and notify her next of kin.”
Meanwhile, a boy was holding his breath with his back against a concrete wall.
He was Hamazura Shiage.
“Are you kidding me?”
Pet Breeder had not been a good person. She had taken on all sorts of illegal jobs, but Hamazura knew the assassinations were only a possibility she hinted at and were something she rarely actually did.
Aoumi Karei had loved to use grotesque bugs and dangerous animals, but she had actually been a cost cutter.
It was expensive dealing with the people who unwittingly set foot in the dark side’s territory and caused some trouble there. So they would place a grotesque “false bottom” at a shallow part of the dark side that would convince those people that there was nothing deeper than that. That required an obvious form of fear as well as some kind of remote control ability since Aoumi would want to send the people back to the sunlit world without having seen her face. Hence the Pet Breeder identity. She wore that risqué bondage outfit for its sturdiness and to protect herself from stains and small eggs. Just like one theory claimed the thong had its roots in a method of keeping dangerous creatures out of the body. As bizarre as she might seem, it all made sense if you bothered to speak with her and hear her out.
He would never have gotten anywhere near her otherwise.
Since she dealt with so many animals, Hamazura had used her to obtain bC-96/R, the crucial medicine his girlfriend Takitsubo Rikou needed.
That girl had once taken Body Crystal, a drug created by concentrating and crystallizing a component directly extracted from the body of an esper who had lost control of their power. She had yet to fully recover from the effects of that drug. The drug was only meant to boost the power of the rare esper who was compatible by sending their power out of control, but it came with brutal side effects and was really more of a poison than anything.
They needed someone’s help to get that poison out of her system.
“The temperature and humidity should be fine if you keep it in the fridge, but watch out for electricity leakage. Electrolysis can easily break down the medicine’s components.”
He recalled how that woman had explained it to him in her best imitation of a doctor, but he would never hear that voice again.
She had been a part of Academy City’s dark side.
A lot of different people were a part of it, including Kinuhata Saiai who he had been with just a bit ago and his girlfriend Takitsubo Rikou who was waiting for him at their apartment. Of course ordinary families and social media refused to see any exceptions in the darkness, but he knew better after being a part of it himself. The dark side was divided into multiple levels and there were brighter places in the shallower levels. Aoumi Karei had belonged to one of those, just like Kinuhata and Takitsubo.
That was the only place they could survive.
They lived in the dark side, but they still had a line they did not let themselves cross.
(Aoumi was only trying to warn them. Those rattlesnakes look scary, but their fangs had been removed. And the locusts were meant as a nonlethal choice compared to the mosquitos or flies that carry dangerous infectious diseases. I don’t know if that was Anti-Skill or Judgment, but if they had flinched back in fear, she could have escaped safely. I mean, if she was actually trying to kill them, she would have released one of the hyenas, crocodiles, or other killing vectors she keeps on the upper floor.)
The twintails girl being attacked by the locusts may have overlooked it since she was too close to the action, but the delinquent boy had noticed something from his more distant and objective position.
(That was no accident. He did it on purpose.)
He had failed to spot how exactly the man had done it, but he could make a pretty good guess.
(Why didn’t her electric eel repellent work? He must have secretly neutralized her safety before shoving her into the biotope! That really wasn’t an accident. That was all planned out from the beginning and he was only pretending to be so weak!!)
That was a murder that left no evidence. It would be recorded as an accident mid-arrest and the direct cause of death had been the deadly animals the suspect had illegally developed. It would all be written off as her just deserts. By Anti-Skill and by the Judgment girl. Just like police around the world would work extra hard when it came to tracking down a cop killer, but the inspectors always made overly forgiving rulings during an internal investigation of one of their own.
Did the man have a habit of doing this?
It had looked an awful lot like he knew exactly how to behave on the scene, exactly what the inspectors would be looking for when they made their ruling, and exactly how to write up a report so nothing stood out as unusual. With all of those factors lined up, Hamazura had to suspect he had discovered a dark bingo.
Only the flat screen TV of more than 60 inches remained undisturbed.
He could hear the female announcer of an afternoon talk show.
“The new Board Chairman appears to have greatly changed the environment in Academy City. Every field is intently focused on how much corruption can be removed by this scandal. As frightening as these discoveries are, let’s hope this can drag it all out into the sunlight.”
His phone vibrated. It did not ring since it was on silent, but the quiet sound of the motor was bad enough for his heart. He thought it was taking years off his life.
“Hanzou> Hamazura, where are you right now? The head of a rival team was taken out and the panic has spread to us. We can’t tell who’s targeting us like this!”
“Kuruwa> That team did work courier jobs for the dark side, but we do not know where the line is drawn on this. Sir Hamazura, we will be going into hiding. I apologize, but we have no time!”
The tense social media messages were from the awful friends of his delinquent days.
But the voice on the TV grew much more cheerful.
“Next up is the best Christmas special you’ll see today! Puppies and kittens dressed up as cute Santas! And maybe even some more unusual pets too!? Please enjoy the top 100 popular videos.”
It was unnatural.
Almost like they were intentionally distracting from the ominous events.
And Hamazura still sensed a presence on the same floor as him. He could not let himself be found, so he stepped away from the concrete wall and walked to the stairs while making sure not to make a noise.
The hard and cold stairs were going to make a noise no matter how careful he was and he could not stop himself anymore anyway. He rushed down the stairs in a way that not even he was sure qualified as running or jumping down.
But on his way to the front entrance, he stopped and pressed against the wall.
He heard sirens, so he hurried around to the back entrance instead.
It would not open. He grabbed the lock between his fingers and turned it, but the rusted metal door would not budge. Had years of rust filled in the gap, had the building settled wrong, or had some abandoned materials or boxes been piled up on the other side of the door? He did not know what had caused it and he could not just sit around thinking about it.
“Are you sure you heard something?”
“Y-yes. There was definitely a sound. One of Pet Breeder’s animals might have escaped, which would be a major problem.”
He felt a squeezing at his heart. The voices from upstairs sounded skeptical, but they had definitely heard him. He could tell they were approaching.
He had tears in his eyes as he continued trying the door to no avail.
His mind told him he needed to give up and find another exit, but he could not escape the sweet temptation of “what if it opens this time?” This was as foolish as endlessly dropping the bucket into an empty well in the middle of the desert, but he was too panicked to go searching beyond the horizon for water that might not exist.
They were coming.
The door would not open.
They were almost here.
It was no use. He had nowhere to run.
His teeth chattered and he felt trapped, so he reached into his pocket, pulled something out, and raised his voice with that hard sensation in his hand.
“Open this door, Coin of Nicholas!!”
The result surprised even him.
The door opened silently and smoothly. He had been leaning his full weight against it, so he tumbled out. His entire body ached. He had wanted it to open so badly, but once it did, it brought further trouble. He must have dropped the object when he fell because he no longer felt it in his hand. He moved his head while lying on the snow-wet ground.
He saw a golden glitter there. It was a little larger than a 500 yen coin. It bore an image of a bearded old man in profile, but he was not sure who it was. He did know his was not Japanese money, though.
The gold coin had a somewhat dull color, but it shined bright at a point on the edge. That shining point was slowly spreading clockwise from the top of the coin. Almost like a donut-shaped pie graph or a fuse.
That was the Coin of Nicholas.
It was a spiritual item that ignored all probability and statistics to give the designated phenomenon a 100% success rate.
“I heard something this time too.”
“B-be careful. Pet Breeder has more weapons than just the animals themselves. They also carry infectious disease!!”
“Could you try saying that without holding a middle school girl in front of you as a shield!!”
He could not stick around for long. He picked up the Coin of Nicholas and got his aching body on its feet. Then he ran full speed away.
This was Operation Handcuffs, a citywide sweep of the dark side.
(Are you kidding me?)
He thought of the many people he knew who could not live in ordinary society.
And his girlfriend Takitsubo Rikou.
If this really was happening all over Academy City, then nowhere was safe anymore.
A genocide had begun. Even if the records would never call it that.
“Are you kidding me!? I’m not getting caught in the middle of this, goddammit!!”
He could not stay in Academy City.
Academy City was surrounded by impregnable walls to prevent their advanced technology from leaking out, but if there was no safety to be found inside the city, he had no choice but to escape outside it.
Along with the person he never wanted to lose.
He had just the one gold coin in hand as the worst possible Christmas began.