Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume4 Chapter1
Chapter 1: The Full Population of Los Angeles is Missing – 26_the_West_Coast_Warfare.
The Skybus 550 belonged to the British government.
It had originally been a luxury passenger plane that seated 1200, but all of the ordinary seating had been removed and the layout was thoroughly customized to allow government VIPs to concentrate on their duties and online meetings. It truly was a flying castle. It was equipped with informational stealth protection that allowed it to disappear from ordinary air traffic control radars at the flip of a switch. At 6.5 billion euros, its price tag was even higher than a boomerang-shaped stealth bomber.
“Um,” said Kamijou Touma, standing awkwardly by the wall. He had expected the airplane to be lined with seats like a movie theater, so he was hesitant to approach the leather sofa surrounding a round table.
This was one of the conference rooms protected by thick soundproof glass. When he heard the 70-inch flatscreen monitor on the wall could send a nuclear launch order, he was even more hesitant to approach.
“The British royal family’s round table? What world have I stumbled into? The tiltrotor alone was enough for a journal entry and now this? Is our next fight an RTS where we fly around the globe ordering armies to fight?”
“If things were that dire, we would never let anyone as thickheaded as you near the queen’s seat.”
That irritated comment was accompanied by the scent of nicotine. They both came from a priest who stood two meters tall. But his long hair was dyed bright red, he had a barcode tattoo below his eye, and he held a cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
Stiyl Magnus ran an exasperated hand through his hair.
“You are no more than that girl’s chaperone. Not that anyone knows if the treaty between magic and science still means anything now that we have a new Archbishop and you have a new Board Chairman.”
“New leadership, huh?”
“Although it looks like your Chairman is already trying to commit social suicide.”
Cynicism was the default for Stiyl. It didn’t actually mean he hated anyone.
What mattered here was “that girl” he had mentioned.
“How are you going to use Index?”
“This is how she was always meant to be used. Leaving her with you was an aberration. But if you insist on tagging along, you can make yourself a disposable shield for her. We’re paying for the ticket, so you’d better work yourself to the bone to pay us back.”
The priest blew some cigarette smoke into the conference room surrounded by thick glass, seemingly turning it into a gas chamber.
“The full population of Los Angeles is missing.”
To Kamijou, that one statement felt like a thick stake to the heart. Magic could easily overturn the laws of physics that so solidly bound the ordinary world, but this was taking it a bit far.
“The city itself is fine. It’s the people living there who are missing.”
“Um…how many people is that?”
“It’s the second largest city in the US. The official population is around 15 million, I think. But add in the illegal immigrants, the homeless, and others the government can’t track and that number goes up to more than 20 million. You can also assume that temporary visitors like travelers adds another 10 million on top of that. After all, in the broadest sense, Los Angeles includes the movie town of Hollywood and the headquarters of the world’s most famous amusement park.”
And they were all gone.
Every single one of them. Without even a chance to scream or tell anyone anything.
Kamijou had been informed that Anna Sprengel had escaped from her Academy City holding cell after he thought he had defeated her. Her whereabouts were unknown, but the odds were very good that she was directly or indirectly behind this.
He had already seen her toying with people’s lives before.
He quietly held a hand to his chest.
Punching her out had not been the end of it. And just because she had been able to escape – due to no fault of his own – this had happened to the world. Then what could he possibly do about it?
“The Anglican Church and Academy City have convinced the US government to grant us permission to act, so a largescale joint operation is underway from the coast to LA. It’s called Operation Overlord Revenge. That’s why we actually noticed something was wrong.” Stiyl resumed his explanation. “The joint operation is meant as an attack on R&C Occultics’s HQ. Before, no one knew what country the giant IT company was base in, but we finally found a lead after checking through the records of some special Cayman Islands banks…or so we thought.”
“Then is it known the disappearance of LA was something magical?”
“The way we see it, R&C Occultics fought back against the joint magic and science force pushing in from the Pacific and that led to a mass disappearance of combatants and civilians alike.” Stiyl pressed his shortened cigarette into a glass ashtray. “What happened to LA’s people is unknown, but I say the most reasonable assumption is they’re dead. There are benefits to keeping them alive, though. Keeping survivors around makes an enemy more hesitant to bomb you with drones and hostages can be used as a bargaining chip.”
“You sound doubtful it’s either of those.”
It sounded reasonable enough to Kamijou, but Stiyl had an immediate answer.
“Previously, R&C Occultics preferred to spread chaos around the world by distributing detailed how-to guides for magical ceremonies. Their normal MO is to leave the actual attacking to a bunch of people they’ve never even met. By avoiding doing anything directly themselves, they can avoid any unwanted attention. …But they broke that rule here. That means the joint Anglican and Academy City force looked like an actual threat to them. R&C Occultics is taking this very seriously. They have to be to vanish 20 or 30 million people, don’t you think?”
“They felt their backs against the wall, so do you really think they would tie one hand behind their back by limiting themselves to nonlethal methods? I take the pessimistic view here. And even if they did carelessly slaughter all those people, the dead can still be used as hostages as long as no one can find the bodies. R&C Occultics has remained entirely silent this whole time, so either they’re focused on defending their HQ at all costs, or they’re gathering their things and skipping town.”
“Eh? They’d run away already?”
“In this modern age of loathsome science worship, even the Golden cabals keep their money in electronically locked safes.”
“Oh…ha ha ha ha.”
“During the Cold War, there was even a dictator that would eliminate his political rivals with Voodoo curses. But magicians are meant to be the outlaws hidden in the shadows. If R&C Occultics understands that, they won’t get overly fixated on a temporary victory here. Instead of trying to reign as a king, they’ll prefer to erase all trace of their name and appearance and vanish into the shadows.” Stiyl gave a disinterested click of his tongue. “Will they stay put and defend their HQ, or will they run off and ensure their safety? Their outlaw mentality will settle on those two options, but which way their scales will tilt is harder to say. But whatever their next objective, they don’t need living hostages to do it.”
“Quick question.” Kamijou Touma spoke softly but stared directly into Stiyl’s eyes. “What is our objective here?”
“The destruction of R&C Occultics. And to do that, we need the grimoire library’s help figuring out the trick behind the mass disappearance spell. Any hypothetical hostages are of secondary concern. Besides, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum works for the Anglican Church, so we don’t need her chaperone’s permission to use her.”
“But.” Stiyl sounded like he barely cared as he stuck a new cigarette in his mouth. “We also aren’t going to monitor every little thing an outsider like that does. You go do your own thing. As long as you’re harmlessly wasting your time on that ‘secondary concern’, we won’t interfere.”
Kamijou Touma couldn’t help but smile.
“Hey, make no mistake here. The odds are 99% that my pessimistic view is right. Again, R&C Occultics has no reason to spare them. They don’t even need them alive to use them as hostages.”
“Then I’ll work toward that remaining 1%. Since the rest of you can’t spare any time for it.”
The menacing priest pulled the still-unlit cigarette from his mouth and clicked his tongue.
Their quick-and-dirty strategy meeting was complete.
When Kamijou opened the transparent door and left the soundproofed conference room, his mind was shaken by the loud noise.
The government plane was fully equipped with everything necessary for a worker’s duties and online meetings, but it offered more than that. Since it would sometimes remain in the air for days on end thanks to midair refueling, it had lodging equipment like a shower, a bed, and a kitchen and it had entertainment equipment like a home theater, minigolf, and a bar.
Also, each of those things appeared to have been designed to match an individual’s personal interests. For example, the TV, stereo, and other electronics were all Japanese. Japan must have met the exacting demands of the kingdom of rock’s queen.
(I can hardly believe it. Does the queen use this like a personal car?)
The wall display – which was larger than a karaoke box’s enormous monitor – was playing a news program. It must have been a station for the Japanese people living in the broader Pacific region. Although they were repeating an older story since it was so late at night.
“Our next story comes from Academy City. They will soon be holding an unprecedented trial in which their Board Chairman – known only as Accelerator – is the defendant. His real name and age remain unknown thanks to Academy City’s Personal Information Cleaning System. According to one of our sources, a team of doctors attempted to delay the trial using juvenile law and a mental evaluation of the Chairman, but the Chairman himself refused the delay. This sets the stage for the trial to be held on schedule. The Chairman claims he participated – of his own free will – in a bizarre ‘experiment’ that required the killing of 20,000 human clones, so…”
Kamijou Touma briefly fell silent. He had seen the news story already, but he still came to a stop.
He looked away from the large screen to shake it out of his mind.
And even if that program was for Japanese people, was that really the headline story? There was nothing there about LA. They may have had trouble putting together a story when they were unsure if those 30 million people were actually missing or if it was a largescale prank. He had heard that the really bad stuff started spreading online before you could find it on TV.
Index was sitting at the bar counter like it was her home now.
But not because she needed to take shots of 80-proof liquor to keep her fingers from shaking.
“Oh, Touma!! Look, look!! The fish and chips here are to die for!!”
“I don’t trust your taste buds. You rate anything you eat 5 stars.”
Kamijou approached with a bitter smile. She had a talent for making people happy, which was very nun-like. If he let himself believe her praise, he would get a big head about his cooking.
Instead of a bartender, a black-haired ponytail woman stood behind the counter. She was Kanzaki Kaori. She worked with the Anglicans, but as her name suggested, she was Japanese. She wore a T-shirt with the bottom tied to show off her navel and special jeans with one of the legs cut off at the very top of the thigh. She also wore a denim jacket since it wasn’t summer, but she was still an 18-year-old showing off an awkward amount of skin. And the parts without skin showing still inspired similar feelings in him.
“Do you need something?”
“Give me a mizuwari, barkeep. …Sorry, that was a joke. It won’t happen again.”
Her glare shut him up real quick. He had no real interest in the drinks themselves, but all the colorful bottles lined up like that gave the place a real mature atmosphere. The English on the labels made it feel super fancy. …Of course, he may have been assuming it was cool because he didn’t understand it, like the people who listened to Western music without understanding the lyrics.
Kanzaki provided an explanation in an exasperated voice when she saw Kamijou’s eyes sparkling in ignorance.
“That’s Drambuie, absinthe, Spirytus, and Japanese awamori. There is also ancient Egyptian beer in the fridge. But don’t touch any of it. As you might imagine from such a bizarre lineup, I think Queen Elizard is sick of her own country’s scotch and sherry. My point is, it would be an international incident if you drank part of the queen’s personal collection.”
“Oh, right. You’re only 18, so you don’t drink eith- yikes.”
She glared at him again. He was afraid to find out what happened if he angered her a third time. If she was glaring at him like this when he still had extra lives to burn, he couldn’t even imagine what a true game over would be like. He doubted he would get any continues.
“When does this mission start? What I eat depends on that. I’ve got an unsophisticated palate, so my gut instinct is to go with a hamburger steak or omurice, but I’m also afraid of getting motion sickness while trapped up here above the clouds.”
His common way of thinking made Kanzaki laugh.
“We will arrive in Los Angeles at 3 AM on the 26th and the mission begins as soon as we arrive.”
“What? Um, but it was already 2 when we left Academy City. Did I just imagine eating a meal and getting some sleep on the way? And what about when it felt like I was sitting around for longer than the runtime of 5 movies? How fast is this super magic plane moving? Did we end up flying back in time!?”
“There is none of that fantasy magic at play here. It’s a much simpler and more convenient trick. Did you forget about the international date line running down the Pacific Ocean? Time appears to go back a day when flying east from Japan.”
The pointy-haired boy puzzled over that one. So it’s there and we fly through here, which means…what? After a bit, he gave up trying to figure it out. The world was too complicated for him.
“We’ve been on this plane a while, so how much longer do we have?”
“Less than an hour. I would recommend a light meal since you will be moving around a lot.”
“Hm,” he said, grabbing one of the fries from Index’s plate of fish and chips.
The next thing he knew, the fry had vanished from his hand, like some kind of trap had snapped shut. And Index was munching happily next to him.
It all happened so fast he did not have time for a cold sweat.
“Um, uh, Index-san? Did you just, um…”
“The fish and chips here to die for! …And this plate is mine.”
She was not going to give him a single bite.
He had been more bored than hungry, so he didn’t press the issue.
But, but, but…
“K-Kanzaki-san? Kanzaki-saaaan? Don’t give me that ‘you aren’t even going to try a bite’ look. Those sad puppy dog eyes are especially off limits! You might as well be threatening me! Because I sure as hell can’t touch anything on that plate! She’s liable to take off a finger, if not bite down to my wrist bone! Wait…you made this? Really? You didn’t just pop it in the microwave? It was made from scratch? Okay, fine, I’ll- oww!!!???”
He didn’t even get the whole sentence out. Whether you called it a reckless challenge or a youthful test of courage, the end result was the beartrap girl’s jaws snapping shut on his hand and him writhing in pain for a while.
“D-dammit. This is why I didn’t want to. Anyway, we’re on a special mission with a small team of elites, huh? Sounds like a movie.”
But the fate of the world came down to a skinny glutton of a nun instead of a former special forces macho man, so things were not looking good. It was the perfect setup for a tear-jerking tragedy, though.
“A spell was used to make an estimated 30 million people disappear, so overwhelming numbers are unlikely to work. Instead, a group too small for R&C Occultics to detect will sneak in close, investigate the disappearance spell, and destroy it. The bigger fighting force will be called in after that is done.”
“What is R&C Occultics so desperate to protect?”
He doubted they would throw some nuke-class magic out there just for a skyscraper of reinforced concrete. It didn’t fit the Anna Sprengel he had met. He had trouble imagining her even paying money to buy something.
Kanzaki had no solid answers there, but…
“R&C Occultics is not just a magic cabal. They have built up a giant IT company in line with the modern trends to disguise themselves.”
Search engines, online shopping, social media, and phone makers – every Japanese high schooler was aware how little people actually knew what was going on inside the companies involved in every part of their lives. And the stories about them tagging the entire world population to manage them or using AI speakers and personalized advertisements to create a new digital religion were, for the most part, nonsense.
“Instead of laughing off the extremely worldly powers of money and data, R&C Occultics has thoroughly researched them as their own trump cards. They are a magic cabal with a brand new set of values. It might not sound like much, but it is a major development. Normally, these cabals, cults, and other occult organizations will shun those worldly powers the more devoted they are.”
“Eh? But I thought those phony cults were all rolling in dough.”
“The phony ones don’t count as part of the magic side.”
“Then, um…what was I thinking about? Oh, right. What about Birdway’s Dawn-Colored Sunlight? That little girl has a real wealthy aura to her, don’t you think?”
“(That segue makes it sound like you’re calling the Dawn-Colored Sunlight a phony cult, but I guess I don’t need to defend one of the magic cabals we’re supposed to hunt down.)”
Kamijou frowned and Kanzaki sighed.
“It is true some of the more powerful cabals have plenty of funding, but that is dirty money. Think of them like a gang. They have money, but if their misdeeds come to light, that money is taken away. It’s all an illusion that can vanish at any moment. R&C Occultics, on the other hand, has earned their money above the board.”
Kanzaki quietly added that even accused witches had their assets seized.
She leaned against the fairly tall bar and Kamijou felt the need to look the other way.
She was confused, so she must not have noticed how her large chest was resting on the counter.
“Living simply is a virtue, but it doesn’t give you the power needed to defeat your enemies. But corrupting yourself and gathering dirty money will only destroy you in the end. So money is most effective as a weapon when earned honestly. R&C Occultics has a terribly realistic understanding of that.”
“So you’re saying they might actually be fighting for nothing more than money?”
“That isn’t quite the right nuance. They’re big enough to use money that way, so it isn’t just that they greedily want money. For Miss Sprengel, it might be like having pieces of her completed collection stolen from her.”
“She doesn’t want her stuff taken?”
“Doesn’t that monster seem like the type to shriek and throw a fit even after insisting something is only a game?”
She did indeed. He could easily imagine her throwing the gamepad across the room and cussing people out on an online game when someone else delivered the finishing blow on the boss or took her rare item.
She seemed weirdly fixated on minor details for a mysterious historical figure. She had an abnormal temper whenever even one little thing didn’t go her way. So to prevent that, she would immaturely use major spells against non-magician amateurs, trying to smash them to pieces. Even Kamijou had come to understand that individualism ran rampant on the magic side, but Anna was even more childish than Crowley and Mathers. Which was what made her actions so scarily hard to predict.
“Anna Sprengel probably did it on purpose.”
“Did what on purpose?”
“Getting captured and escaping was all part of her plan. It was a show of force for Academy City, demonstrating she could come and go as she pleased. She was telling them to give up trying to stop her.”
If so, was it possible Anna hadn’t been fighting seriously when Kamijou and St. Germain had been pouring everything they had into the battle? The difference in strength may have been so great that she had struggled to find a way to lose convincingly.
Kanzaki leaned on the counter and calmly continued her explanation. She smiled and watched Index happily scarfing down some bite-sized fried fish, but the words coming from her shapely lips were sharp.
“R&C Occultics can use every part of the online industry as a weapon – from individual mobile devices to the global infrastructure. Even if it requires buying out a company that specializes in whatever tech they need. They appear to be using online shopping as one primary pillar there. But that would be meaningless if the distribution centers and shipping routes could be used to locate their HQ. That is why they focused on drone deliveries.”
“Drone deliveries? So unmanned ones?”
“They can’t be captured and tortured for information, they can’t be bought or threatened, they do even the most dangerous work without complaint, and they won’t give in to intimidation. …Even I was once moved to emotion by a washing machine, so I know how impressive modern machines are.”
The drone launch pads and product warehouses were located all over the world. R&C Occultics logos and billboards were as common a sight as traffic lights and hot spring symbols. But the flying drones never traveled to and from the R&C Occultics HQ. If all of the simple warehouses could be abandoned at a moment’s notice, then no one could find the giant IT company’s HQ by chasing after the drones.
Kanzaki sighed softly and scratched her smooth cheek with her index finger.
“But that doesn’t mean they are without flaw. With fiber optic cables and high-speed satellite communication, it takes less than a tenth of a second to send data all the way around the world, but following the many paths taken by all that data ultimately led us to LA. This is the R&C Occultics HQ. It matches the financial data hidden at the Cayman Islands, so there’s no doubting it.”
Kamijou was surprised to hear a magic specialist had used such a digital method, but then he remembered that this was a joint unit that included Academy City. Both groups must have played to their strengths.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
They had needed to accept that old adage in order to corner R&C Occultics like this.
“I doubt they can so easily transport away their giant drone management servers since they cover a space larger than a basketball court. I won’t say it is impossible, but they would have to buy a lot of time to separate out those parallel processing units and load them on trucks and helicopters. And buying that time would require making themselves extremely visible.”
“They see their money and data as a trump card on the same level as their curses, talismans, summoning, potion mixing, and spiritual possessions.”
“You mean like that sword you wear at your hip?”
“Yes. So they will protect it. They will work just as hard to protect the lowly power of money as they would a spiritual item or temple. But if we can prevent them from escaping here, we can take it from them. We can forever remove their power to repeat this nonsense.”
A soft tone sounded and Kamijou looked up to the ceiling just as a gentle flight attendant made an announcement.
“We will soon arrive at Los Angeles International Airport. Please take your eats and fasten your seatbelts before we begin landing.”
“This is going to be a rough landing,” cautioned Kanzaki with a cool look. She made sure the bar’s bottles and glasses were held in place by their special stoppers and locked the glass doors that covered the shelves. “The flight control and other airport workers have vanished. The Skybus 550 is a large plane, so the cockpit is reliant on sensors to see below. This will be a late-night emergency landing with no guidance from the ground radars and guide lights. Even professional airborne troops could crash in those conditions. We need to pray to our god in heaven the belly of the plane isn’t torn open by the shock.”
After smoking three cigarettes and leaving the thick glass conference room, Stiyl Magnus icily commented on the scene before him.
“What do you think you are doing?”
Kamijou was in tears. He had pushed Index to the floor and laid protectively over her, but then nothing happened. They had a perfectly smooth landing. And the black ponytail woman only covered her mouth with a hand and laughed.
“I think it’s fun. It reminds me of our time with her, Stiyl.”
The British government’s plane had arrived safely at the Los Angeles airport.
But leaving the plane proved to be a challenge. Once they got the thick door open, the cold pierced right through Kamijou’s 1200-yen synthetic jacket. He also realized just how far up the door was from the asphalt without a stair car. They ended up pulling out something like an inflatable slide to get out.
Once Kamijou, Index, Stiyl, and Kanzaki had their feet on the ground, the next step was already underway.
The plane cut away the balloon slide(?), shut its airtight door, and slowly pulled away from the landing runway. Kamijou was nearly run over by the giant wheels and started to move out of the way, but Kanzaki grabbed his collar in a hand. He realized a moment later he had nearly run into the exhaust of the turbofan engine hanging from the main wing. The massive plane was turning around so it could move to the takeoff runway.
The boy shouted at the ponytail woman so the great din would not drown him out.
“What!? Why is the plane taking off!?”
“Everyone on the ground here disappeared, so it would be dangerous to leave the pilots and flight attendants here. They will fly outside of LA and wait out over the ocean so they can provide us a relatively quick escape if we need it. They can wait there indefinitely with the help of a refueling aircraft.”
He was also surprised to find such a large plane could turn without the assistance of a tow truck. Kanzaki said they had given it that ability so they could leave a foreign airport on their own if diplomatic negotiations went bad.
At any rate, it was now just the four of them in Los Angeles.
30 million people had disappeared in this city. The silence of the night actually felt painful. It was easy to forget this was a metropolis greater than Tokyo.
The police would not arrive if they called 110 or 911 or whatever else. None of the usual assumptions applied on this silent battlefield. The thought made Kamijou shudder. There was no one here to stop whatever might happen.
At the very least, this was not a natural phenomenon.
It was an abnormal situation caused by someone’s malicious action. And he had just flown in there.
He noticed something else once the airplane’s exhaust heat and noise were gone.
“Brr, it’s cold. I can see my breath.”
“Count yourself lucky a blizzard or whiteout isn’t reducing visibility. The city is apparently under an abnormal cold wave with temperatures 20 below freezing. You might just feel cold for now, but you need to worry about your fingertips and ears before long.”
How could that sexy woman say that when she was wearing a T-shirt that showed off her navel and jeans with one entire leg missing? She was the old-fashioned samurai type and she may have been that one kid in every class that always wore shorts in the winter. Or had she actually trained herself below a frigid waterfall, not noticing how see-through her wet clothing was?
Standing around on the runway was not going to accomplish anything.
“But what do we do now? Can you just walk out of an airport?”
“What, were you planning to steal one of the fuel trucks or tow trucks to smash through the fence? The terminal is made for people to pass through, so I would recommend using that, numbskull.”
The grumpy priest’s retort shut Kamijou up.
Speaking of the trucks, a nearby fuel truck was coated with white frost, like the inside of a freezer. Before even worrying about the engine oil and battery fluid, it was doubtful they could get the door open. Kamijou was afraid his hand would stick if he touched it. Stiyl’s fire magic might be able to defrost it, but Kamijou was afraid that would cause an explosion.
A high school boy like him also didn’t know much about cars, so he followed after the priest.
“What will we be checking first?” he asked.
“The R&C Occultics HQ takes precedence of course, but 30 million people wouldn’t have up and disappeared if it was safe to just walk straight there.”
They were on a path that must have been meant for the fuel trucks. Stiyl stepped on a “no open flames” warning painted on the asphalt and lit a new cigarette.
“So I want to start by investigating what happened here. How far can we safely go and what triggers the disappearances? I want to know all the rules regarding an approach to their HQ. If the people vanished against their will, there must be some records left at the police stations, in the hospitals, and at the field base for England and Academy City’s joint unit. If we can dig up their dying message, we should have a better chance at survival.”
Stiyl already viewed the people of LA as dead and gone. That may have been the most reasonable viewpoint since there was no reason to take an optimistic view of R&C Occultics CEO Anna Sprengel. …But at the same time, it felt like Stiyl was hoping Kamijou would be able to pull off an unexpected outcome outside of that more dire viewpoint.
“(Male tsunderes can be so hard to read.)”
Kamijou began some frantic whispering when he heard a girl’s voice from within his collar, but the 15cm god had no intention of remaining hidden. She squirmed on out of his jacket.
“(What, did you really think I would stay behind and watch over your dorm room? Hmph, the other girls around you don’t know how the game is played. You don’t wait to be given a role – you create a role for yourself.)”
Her confidence was fine and all, but did that stupid god know what a passport and immigration control were? But Kamijou was afraid to ask that out loud since he knew she would just insist that a god was unbound by human law.
“Huh?” said Kamijou once they arrived at the terminal building. “What is that? Packing tape?”
“It’s duct tape. I guess you don’t see it much in Japan.”
Thick, waterproof-looking tape had been applied to the glass double doors. A long vertical strip went right down the center to cover the gap there. No, there was more than that. A closer look showed the makeshift weather stripping running along the top and bottom and even along the hinges.
“Were they trying to keep something out?”
They peeled the sturdy tape away and Index easily opened the door. Yes, she only had to grab the knob and turn it. It was not locked and there was no makeshift barricade of tables or chairs pressed against it on the inside.
But that made the thorough tape job a mystery. It definitely wasn’t normal, but if they went to all that effort, why hadn’t they locked it the normal way?
Kamijou tilted his head but still stepped inside. The world seemed to change around him. He had not paid much attention to it outside, but the warm air forced an odd sense of relief into his heart. It was 3 AM, long after the last flight would leave. The lights were all out, but the heat was on. Was that for the late-night maintenance and janitorial workers?
They were using the terminal building to leave the airport. They could travel through the deserted facility however they liked without anyone yelling at them, but the path intended for this purpose had to be the easiest one.
An electronic alarm began to sound.
“Hyahhhhhhhh!? Wh-what, what, what!?”
“Ah ha ha! It’s okay, Index. It’s just a gate alarm. …Wait? A gate?”
Kamijou laughed, but then the smile froze on his face.
It was hard to tell with no one at the reception desk and the lights out, but what gate had they just walked through without permission? Stiyl and Kanzaki didn’t seem to care as they continued on ahead, but Kamijou rapidly grew nervous when he looked alternately between their leaving backs and the gate he had just passed.
“U-um, Othinus-san? Please tell me that doesn’t say what I think it does.”
“Try studying the language before traveling somewhere. That is the immigration control gate. Welcome, illegal immigrant, to the land of freedom where anything goes.”
“Oh, no, no, no, no!!”
“Give up. The three second rule only applies to food. Hurrying back through the gate doesn’t erase the crime you committed.”
There was nothing he could do. He was no better than the 15cm illegal immigrant god. He sobbed and pushed on Index’s back to catch up with the two combat magicians.
But something had already drawn the attention of those British magicians.
Kanzaki looked cautiously around the dark passageway.
“There are no rats or roaches either. It wasn’t just the humans who disappeared.”
Kamijou jumped. She was saying they weren’t here, but just hearing the name of those close neighbors made him think about them. He had no real basis for it, but he imagined American roaches were extra big and nasty. And resistant to bug spray too.
Meanwhile, Stiyl pressed his index finger against the window’s stainless steel frame.
He ran his finger along it just like a sister-in-law checking for filth.
“Man, they sure were persistent to get all 30 million people.”
Kamijou was out of his element, so he just said whatever came to his mind.
The number seemed too big to him. Or maybe it was the lack of corpses and bloodstains. Whatever the case, it didn’t feel real to him.
“I mean, not even LA’s government has an accurate population number with all the illegal immigrants and homeless people, right? And there must have been a ton of people none of that paperwork can track, like tourists, long-distance truckers, and American-style hitchhikers. Tracking down every single person no matter where they’re hiding in this giant city couldn’t be easy. Sounds like a lot of unnecessary work to me.”
In fact, why even be that thorough?
R&C Occultics had supposedly done something to strike back against the joint Anglican and Academy City force, but how did attacking Los Angeles as a whole help with that? It would make sense if all the people near the joint force had been caught in the blast, but would they really bother erasing every single person on the map like this? And if so, why? Eliminating the people at the very edge of the map would do nothing to damage the joint force approaching their HQ.
“Maybe they didn’t need to,” suggested Othinus.
Kamijou looked confused, so Index explained.
“I think she means they didn’t need to target everyone. That would also mean they didn’t have to load up the unconscious victims and carry them away. Hmm, for example, what if they used a spell that detonated a massive bomb in the center of LA and everyone hit by the invisible light it produced was eliminated? Then they wouldn’t have to search every nook and cranny, right? But it also prevents them from limiting the targets. Maybe everyone in LA was hit by whatever it was once it was activated.”
The cruelty was in the situation, not in Index herself. She had the knowledge of at least 103,001 grimoires stored in her head, so to her, drawing on this knowledge was no different from recalling how to use chopsticks.
“It’s also strange their spell made the 30 million people ‘disappear’ instead of just killing them.” Othinus gave an exasperated shrug from his shoulder. “To restate the obvious, Anna is an undeniably bad person. And if you’re enough of a scumbag to know how heavy a corpse is, you should know all too well how much trouble it is to make a human-sized hunk of flesh disappear.”
“Heh…heh heh heh heh.”
“What, is your poor little brain overloaded? Fine, I’ll put it in terms a good person can understand: try ordering 60-70kg of frozen beef online. On the bone. Then drag it into the bathroom and cover yourself up with gloves, goggles, a mask, a hat, and a raincoat and place some plastic sheets over the floor and walls. Then get to work with a knife, a saw, a hammer, a juicer, or whatever you want really. Break down all the flesh and bone, separate it out into bags, and then throw it out somewhere it won’t be found. And after all that’s done, fill a spray bottle with reagent and spray it all over the walls and floor. You can buy luminol for just over 10 thousand yen at the click of a button. …Once all that work is done, you’ll be sweaty and exhausted and the next day you’ll be a mess of pain in all those muscles you rarely use. And no matter how perfectly you think you’ve done, a single drop of blood you missed can be a critical mistake. Washing it away with the shower isn’t enough to hide it.”
The more Othinus explained, the less Kamijou understood.
“And we’re talking about 30 million people. Every last one of them is a real person, not an empty can or plastic bottle being recycled in the factory. Disposing of the bodies is hard enough, but holding them while alive is even worse. The work costs would be astronomical. Besides, where have the victims gone?”
“You mean, um, I guess…it isn’t easy to find a dumping ground or storage center no one can find?”
“There is that, but people were going to notice something was wrong no matter what, so why not just leave their defeated enemies where they lay? It’s such bizarrely wasted effort, like someone loudly kicking down the front door so they can sneak through the building. Whether you’re skipping town forever or leaving on an unannounced vacation, there’s no merit to disappearing overnight unless you make sure nothing else about the situation looks suspicious.”
Japan’s most famous domed stadium could hold around 50 thousand or maybe a little more. This would require 600 of those stadiums. And they would need a secret garden that no one could ever find in an age of readily-searchable maps and images. …Everything was bigger in the USA, from the tubes of toothpaste sold in the pharmacies to the Grand Canyon, but Kamijou doubted even they could supply a secret base like that.
Index raised a finger to explain.
“Thus, we can conclude they didn’t choose to do this; their magic forced it to happen this way. It can be easy to lose focus with something on this scale, but the situation is actually pretty simple. What we need to know now is the frequency.”
“Of those ‘bomb detonations’.” Othinus kept it short to keep him cautious. “If this is a once-a-millennium attack, there’s nothing to worry about. But if it happens at the top of every hour, we’re in a lot of trouble. We could be caught in the same attack if we wait around. Ever since they abandoned the locals and ‘courageously’ withdrew from Vietnam, the American military always makes sure to secure air superiority and a supply line before doing anything. Why is that? And why do they love to launch a heavy cyber attack to confuse the enemy’s defenses and launch hundreds cruise missiles from the sea before moving in? Because their past experiences have taught them that the result of a war is determined well before the boots are on the ground. When you have a hand you know can bring victory, the trick is to keep using the same tactics to wear down the enemy forces. So…”
Othinus paused there.
Was that because she could only speculate? Or was she unsure if she should tell him this?
So it was Index who ended up blurting it out like it was nothing.
“So was that initial attack really the end of it? If this is a long-term spell that activates weekly or monthly, then we just opened the oven door and shoved our heads inside.”
He had not thought much of it when going inside, but going back outside was more of a challenge.
They knew all those people had disappeared, but everything else about it was a mystery.
So they wanted to know the rules at play here: what was safe and what would get them attacked? Ideally, they would get that information before attacking the HQ building and without R&C Occultics noticing them.
“Yikes, it’s cold!!!???”
The chill seemed to squeeze at Kamijou’s skin – no, at his heart. Getting used to the heated building had been a bad idea. The cold pierced right through his thin synthetic jacket. He actually started stepping back into the building, so an annoyed Stiyl had to kick him back outside.
In the empty streets, Kamijou stood in the center of an intersection between 8-lane roads without even paying attention to the light’s color. He felt like he had stepped into another world.
“What’s wrong, Touma?” asked Index.
He could see his breaths and his ears hurt. The cold was so bad he was pretty sure a wet towel would freeze even as he swung it through the air, but there was more than just that. He had an awkward sense that he was spying on a place he was not meant to be.
The traffic light’s colors kept changing, but there were no other pedestrians or cars and the large screen on a building wall was loudly playing a cosmetic ad no one was around to see anymore. The headline news showed a familiar face. The bearded President was saying something into the mics surrounding him. With so much English all around him, Kamijou pulled out his Transla-Pen and let its mic pick up the English conversation.
“I am one. I think love is free and…”
Kamijou gave the pen a confused look.
“Huh? Do I have the settings on this thing right? Hey, Index, what is he actually saying?”
“Let’s see, ahem… ‘I am single. I think nothing should impede our freedom to love whoever we like and express that love however we like. So I will hold my head high while I say: goo goo gaga, mommy!!’ ”
A flame roared as it consumed oxygen. If Kamijou had not immediately held up is right hand, Stiyl’s flame sword would have reduced him to ashes.
“Why would you make that girl say things like that! You’re just asking to be killed now, aren’t you!?”
“Gah!? Bwah!! What is wrong with this country!? Is the entire place nothing but landmines!?
Anyway, that President clearly hadn’t changed. Was he afraid of anything? Kamijou was reluctant to ask because he was fairly certain the man would say he was scared of manju.
But that footage looked like it came from another world. Kamijou could not believe he was in the same country as that smile. He felt like the screen was being used to communicate between Earth and Mars.
The presence of electricity actually made it feel colder.
He might have been able to accept it easier in a complete blackout.
“At least there aren’t any fires,” said Kanzaki.
“Probably due to all the AI appliances and smart houses controlled through the internet,” replied Stiyl.
Those comments led Kamijou to belatedly wonder about the kitchens in all the homes where the people had vanished. With the fire fighters gone too, the smallest fire could engulf the metropolis in a great conflagration, but that had not happened. That was thanks to the machines automatically putting out the fires.
Kamijou was honestly impressed.
“Way to go, LA. Those aren’t even common in Academy City yet.”
“Hmph. Have you forgotten, human? Your Academy City is 20-30 years ahead of the outside world.”
“Those who stop to think things through before adopting a new technology can progress further, faster. A power system hooked up to the internet? An online home? The companies supplying those services aren’t going to tell you all the risks involved. Just look at computers and phones – electronics are riddled with vulnerabilities the manufacturers aren’t aware of. R&C Occultics’s IT team would be able to abuse those systems to set fire to any home they want or spy on you from the other side of the globe.”
“What, trying to win me over with your moe sleeves? Well, if you’re okay with giving the unseen online masses access to your gas line and front door lock, be my guest. If your luck holds out, you might just live comfortably like that. Me, though? I’m sick of relying on luck.”
Kamijou wasn’t sure if the magic girl’s paranoia was impressive or concerning.
At any rate, it was hard to believe the city really was abandoned. It reminded him of a ghost ship. If he peeked inside a nearby office, he was pretty sure he would find the coffee pot was still boiling and there might still be delivery drones flying around with packages.
“There it is again.”
Kamijou held his body for warmth and looked to the 1st-floor tenant of a nearby building. It was a burger chain that had restaurants in Japan too. He ignored all the slang-filled English, but the big picture in the window was enough to know they were advertising a triple burger with beef, pork, and chicken patties. Since he had not seen it in Academy City before, it may have been a regional thing, or it might end up in Japan eventually.
But his focus was primarily on the entrance. The glass door had makeshift weatherstripping applied with thick duct tape. That gave it a very unwelcoming feel, but the door itself was ordinary, non-bulletproof glass. He was sure he could break it just by grabbing a stone off the ground and throwing it. It reminded him of the similar mismatch he had noticed at the airport.
“What’s the point of this? Why bother with the weatherstripping when they could lower the metal shutter?”
“It may not be to keep people out, human. Academy City will have been distracted from monitoring their people here due to Handcuffs, so maybe someone desperate for victory ended up using a poison gas weapon in a foreign city.”
He was not sure what she meant by “Handcuffs”, but he could not focus on that right now.
The mention of poison gas made him look down at his shoulder where the god sat with legs crossed. She looked exasperated.
“It’s only a possibility. I have no particular reason to think it’s that. But it would explain why R&C Occultics hasn’t said anything and all the infected bodies have been removed. Remember, we don’t know for sure that massive IT company is behind the disappearances.”
Othinus was not serious about this…he hoped. If she actually suspected it, she would have warned him not to touch things.
Still, 30 million people were missing.
It was enough to inspire some absurd theories and a fair amount of fear.
“I-it’s too cold,” complained Index while shivering.
Come to think of it, did nuns wear different habits during the winter? Not to mention that hers was held together with safety pins, so it had to be drafty. And just like a cough at a student assembly could be contagious, her mention of the cold kept Kamijou from focusing on anything else. He shivered and asked a question of the entire team.
“So what should we check first? You mentioned wanting to check the police and hospital records, right?”
“Our first stop is right over there.”
Stiyl pointed with his lit cigarette even though they were in a no-smoking area. Was that because the city was empty, or did he simply not care?
There was a decent-sized space in between two skyscrapers. It must have been a basketball court to begin with.
But it was now filled with thick, moss green tents. And instead of small triangular camping tents, these were garage-like tunnel tents.
“Overlord Revenge was meant to land on the West Coast and attack the R&C Occultics HQ building in downtown LA. It was meant to be a rapid strike.” Stiyl blew out some cigarette smoke. “But LA had become unfamiliar territory for the Anglicans and Academy City. The largest city on the West Coast had been transformed into a Rosicrucian hideout without the US government even noticing. So they must have set up some field bases on their way to attack the HQ building. They needed to claim some territory for themselves or else they could be trapped between the building’s defenders and another unit attacking from behind.”
Kamijou breathed a sigh of relief. He had already set off the alarm in the airport, but trespassing on ordinary private property felt like an even worse violation.
They would be treasure hunting without permission regardless, but he was more comfortable with some tents set up outside than breaking into those weather-stripped LA buildings. He had to preserve that feeling. These houses and buildings were abandoned, but they were not ancient ruins abandoned centuries ago. He could not just waltz on in and help himself to whatever was inside.
“I hope this is safe. I wouldn’t want that unmanned machinegun to start swiveling toward us.”
Othinus’s whispered remark made Kamijou cower down. That squat three-legged thing could move on its own?
But Index walked right on in before he could stop her.
“Now, then,” said Stiyl on his way to one of the thick tents.
Kanzaki was a little more considerate because she looked back just once to give him a warning.
“You can search around if you like, but do not touch any of the firearms or explosives. I know you can’t read the English labels, but be on the lookout for the words ‘danger’, ‘caution’, and ‘warning’.”
“It’s a military base,” said Othinus. “You might as well tell him not to touch anything.”
Kanzaki set off to quickly search the base, her long ponytail swishing behind her, and Othinus breathed an exasperated sigh. Kamijou and Index exchanged a glance.
“What should we do?”
“The key to survival is securing food, Touma.”
Index was her normal self, at least. Left to her own devices, she would probably consume every last one of the base’s rations – or whatever they called their portable food – so he decided to accompany her and restrain her when necessary. After all, he was officially Grimoire Library Index Librorum Prohibitorum’s “chaperone”.
“This place is incredible… What are those things?”
“Grr! They look like mechs. Does that mean they only keep gasoline as food?”
Kamijou groaned when he took a peek inside one of the tents that reminded him of a garage or a tunnel.
He was finally seeing Japanese again, but that only made him feel even more lost.
This was supposed to be an Academy City field base, but it looked more like one of the high-tech car factories he had seen videos of. There was a large work table that moved up and down with a jack and countless robot arms surrounded it. Looking up, he even saw metal rails and cranes for carrying machinery around. It looked more like a dentist’s office for large machines than a place for living soldiers.
Yet the ground crunched an awful lot below his feet. Anywhere that worked with semiconductors needed to be even more sterile and dust-free than an operating room for humans, but maybe that wasn’t possible with a field base. Maybe they had to be prepared to deal with this level of filth.
Even inside the tent, a few metal containers were stacked up. They were far from organized, so it looked a lot like someone who had yet to finish unpacking after moving to a new home.
“Danger, caution, warning…”
“Those ones have all three,” pointed out Othinus.
Kamijou scrambled back, but that was when he noticed the stickers labelling the metal doors.
Five Over – Model Case: Railgun.
Five Over – Model Case: Meltdowner.
“Wait, wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…”
He pulled out his Transla-Pen, but only let it wander aimlessly through the air.
He did not want to trace those letters and confirm they said what he thought they said. The labels were enough of a shock, but the careless way the containers were piled up was even more frightening.
And there was more.
One of the metal boxes was given a special spot in the very back. It had a much more sinister label attached diagonally across its door.
It almost looked like a cursed charm.
Five Over OS – Model Case: Accelerator.
“U-um, Othinus-san? My, uh, English must be worse than I thought. Eh heh heh. Because this can’t possibly say what I think it does…can it?”
“Use your Transla-Pen.”
“No, no, no! If I do that, it’ll appear to me in undeniable Japanese and I could never accept it! I’m too scared!!”
He had no desire to check inside the container. He could only pray nothing like this had been set loose in the abandoned city.
“Anyway.” Othinus sighed from his shoulder. “Academy City’s technology is 20-30 years ahead of the outside world, remember?”
“That means the militaries out here are going to trend toward mechanized and unmanned warfare in the future. These have been upgraded since we last saw them, so they can switch between manned and unmanned. Hybrid weapons like that may become the mainstream, but it’s so boring and uninspired. These only lead to unfeeling wars ruled by efficiency and calculations. …And it raises a concerning possibility.”
“R&C Occultics is a massive IT company known the world over. And they’re an ultra-corrupt company that tears down the world’s barriers to use magic alongside science. I have my doubts Academy City could really take the initiative while using only science. Hey, you there.”
“Yes?” asked Index, turning toward them.
Othinus haughtily crossed her arms and pointed at a random device with her chin.
“What would you do if I asked you to break through that computer’s firewall?”
“Um…what’s a firewall?”
“Basically, it’s a form of numerical code.”
“Then I would check the stars and pray to god!”
Kamijou was speechless.
But not because it was absurd.
“Do you remember now?” asked Othinus, smiling.
Kamijou gulped and hesitantly turned toward Index.
“On the 24th… Didn’t you break through a phone’s password lock faster than Misaka or the Sisters could with their electricity powers?”
“That was just rearranging the numbers with a random number table, right? Those codes are used in the magic world too. It’s rare for a grimoire to be directly readable, for example.”
“She can do that without any magic power of her own,” said Othinus. “Then what could someone do with actual magic? They can break passwords by looking to the stars and mess with the contents of quantum encryption by praying to god. Now, how is a science-only group supposed to defend against an attack like that?”
Kamijou was speechless again. In modern battles, people were not immediately sent to the truly dangerous places. Satellites and drones would be used to get footage that would be carefully examined. This situation was far from ordinary, but why hadn’t they done that here? Yes, the magic side was leading the recovery, but they also couldn’t trust those electronics. Not when it required an electronic warfare battle with an international IT company that had more than just science at its disposal.
“But this is only one possibility with no real proof yet. It’s just an idea I had, so you don’t need to take it too seriously. But if it does turn out to be true, it is possible that Academy City’s own weapons were hijacked and used against them. Combine that with my previous poison gas theory and you have a decent explanation for these mysterious disappearances.”
They were surrounded by computers, but Kamijou had no idea how to check for hacking or viruses. He briefly thought of the #3 electric girl back in that Japanese hospital, but that wasn’t much help when she wasn’t here.
“Look, I found some hamburger steak!!” rejoiced Index. “But it’s frozen solid. I can’t eat it like this.”
“Wait, that’s not meant to be frozen. Is it so cold the boil-in-a-bag stuff has frozen solid?”
Kamijou had no obligation to help with Stiyl’s work, but he was worried about the people who had lived in this cold, empty city.
He wasn’t looking for a program or a script. He wandered around looking for something that an ordinary person could recognize as a clue. Eventually, he discovered a box smaller than a dryer in one corner of the garage-like tent. It was a safe. Carelessly, there was some thick paper caught in the door, preventing it from locking. That actually creeped him out because it suggested how chaotic things had been here.
“What is that?” asked a voice from atop his head.
The half-open door did not reveal stacks of cash or gold bars within the thick safe. It only contained a watch. But not even a Swiss one with gems covering the face. It was made of glass and plastic and the band was colorful rubber. It was weirdly digital and honestly looked pretty cheap. He pulled it out and tilted his head at what he found.
He was fairly certain this accessory was meant to sync with a phone to monitor the wearer’s health and simplify operation of the phone. As a poor student who was more worried about getting enough to eat than going on a diet, he had little need for that sort of luxury gadget, but he had a different reason for questioning its presence here.
“This model…doesn’t work without a phone, right? It’s useless without syncing, so why would it be in the safe without the phone?”
“Trust your instincts, human. This is the same as the missing 30 million. If something strange has happened, there must be a strange reason behind it. …There is more to this watch. Storing it in the safe on its own must be a message from whoever put it there. They were saying the watch is important on its own.”
He pressed the button on the side that was made to look like a watch’s crown, but it displayed a connection error instead of a lock screen. Was that what it did without the phone nearby? It couldn’t do anything without a phone, just like wireless headphones couldn’t play music on their own. However, a name, presumably of the user, was displayed across the entire face of the watch.
Index moved her cheek right up next to his to get a look and read off the name.
“Hey, over here!!”
Kamijou’s thoughts were cut off by a shout from outside.
They left the tent to find Stiyl holding a thick stack of papers.
The priest blew out some smoke in annoyance.
“We can’t trust the reports they left. It looks like they were too confused to make proper records, so we won’t find any further answers in their data.”
“There are unmanned weapons all over the place, so what about their camera footage?”
“Do you know how to get past the authorization screen to view the data? It uses analog involuntary muscle fiber movement identification. That means it reads the unconscious trembling of your fingertips, which comes straight from the cerebellum.”
Kamijou winced. He briefly thought of what Index had said a bit ago, but knowing how to decode grimoires did not give you free rein over computers. If it did, they would have had her manipulating computers on the level of Misaka Mikoto by now. In a way, Stiyl and Kanzaki knew Index’s specs better than Kamijou, so they would rely on her abilities when they were useful. That was the entire reason she had been taken from Academy City, after all.
The pointy-haired boy tilted his head.
“Then what next? The police? The hospital?”
“There is more we can do. Although it might seem primitive to an Academy City student like you.”
With that, Kanzaki sprinkled some kind of liquid at her feet.
Kamijou waited a bit, but…
Nothing happened. The liquid froze, but that was hardly a surprise when it was 20 below freezing. However, this was apparently how it was supposed to work.
“That was tannin,” explained Kanzaki.
“You can find it in tea. And did you know it reacts strongly to iron and can cause black discolorations? That is one reason teacups are usually porcelain.”
What was her point?
Kamijou had gotten in the habit of asking questions instead of thinking for himself, but then it hit him.
“Iron as in…blood?”
“The joint Anglican and Academy City force was attacked by R&C Occultics and then 30 million people disappeared from LA.”
This was probably a spell that used tea, not just tannin itself.
“But as you can see, there is no trace of bloodshed inside one of the bases that had to be their primary targets,” smoothly explained Kanzaki. “This could be a major hint toward figuring out what happened.”
This meant R&C Occultics did not slaughter the Academy City personnel with blades and guns and then drag away their corpses. But then what did happen?
Had they been attacked in a bloodless fashion?
Had the Academy City people been taken elsewhere before they were dealt with?
Or had Academy City caused the disappearances, so none of their own people were harmed?
“All this digital nonsense isn’t how we magicians do things.” Stiyl’s cigarette wiggled up and down in the corner of his mouth. “We can get better information using a spell to draw out residual thoughts. So back away. I’ll be getting the grimoire library’s help for this magic, so I don’t want your right hand getting in the way.”
“Yeah, yeah. I want you to get this done with as soon as possible too. Index, you be a good girl, okay? …Um, Kanzaki?”
Kanzaki Kaori did not respond.
Her eyes were fixated on a point in the distance.
Puzzled and sensing tension in the air, Kamijou followed her gaze to see one of the skyscrapers jutting into the night sky. It was located past the buildings surrounded the basketball court, so Kanzaki was staring through the gap between some of the buildings.
But now was not the time to be impressed with her observational skills.
There was something there.
The clean, straight lines of the artificial structure were somewhat disturbed by a small black dot. Was that a human figure!?
“Here it comes,” whispered Kanzaki Kaori.
Just then, Kamijou saw something flash.
A bluish-white blade of light stretched out endlessly to slice through the Los Angeles night.
But that was only an illusion.
“I-it’s sand!! They sent out a bunch of pressurized sand, like an industrial cutter!!”
It was over by the time he had identified it as sand. It rushed in so fast he could have mistaken it for an attack made of light. It was too late to act by the time he had noticed it and shouted about it.
“Hm.” Kanzaki Kaori did not even draw her nearly-2m sword. “This magic is not known to the Anglican Church, so this must be an R&C Occultics defender. But a cutting attack would splatter blood everywhere, so it doesn’t fit with 30 million people vanishing without a trace.”
The sand magic approached with enough force to slice through a tanker, but it scattered when it hit the scabbard she removed from her belt and held up horizontally.
Several lines of bluish-white light raced through the space around her a short moment later. They were the glint of seven wires. Kamijou did not know how to use magic and he could no longer borrow St. Germain’s power, but the light filling the space around him reminded him of a string figure. Whatever it was, he figured it was necessary for her spell.
She was a Saint.
Those extraordinary magicians could draw on a fraction of the Son of God’s power because their physical characteristics so closely matched his.
But a direct hit was not the only threat, so Kamijou spoke up in a panic.
“I-it isn’t over yet.”
Kanzaki had blocked the sand magic – the cutter? – launched straight at them from the skyscraper rooftop, but the large shopping mall and parking garage in between had been fully sliced through.
“It’s coming here! Kanzaki, now isn’t the time to stand around and think!!”
Had the direction of the collapse been part of the enemy’s plan?
Worse, the mall appeared to have included a large gym. The indoor pool kept warm with a heater or a boiler caused a large white explosion like a massive water balloon had burst, scattering the water across the minus-20 world.
It slammed into the ground and froze over while approaching with who-knows-how-many tons of weight behind it.
“Run to a nearby building,” spat Stiyl with a click of his tongue.
Kamijou was confused, but the priest did not bother with him.
Instead, he grabbed Index by the collar and left.
“A tent isn’t enough to stop this. You’ll be engulfed and frozen like a mammoth!”
Kanzaki could not bring herself to abandon anyone, so she explained while falling back. That just left Kamijou. He had to get running if he was going to catch up. Stiyl had already sliced through the basketball court fence with a flame sword and left with Index struggling in his other arm.
“Kanzaki, use the surface area!!”
“I can try, but I can’t guarantee it will freeze!”
The magicians shouted to each other and then the thin wires sliced and diced the wall of water, making it bubble. But it only lasted a moment. The small blocks of water crashed back together to create a single torrent once more.
They were in no position to worry about this being private property.
Kamijou and the others ran into the first floor of a building – a shop full of fancy-looking Grapple phones.
(There aren’t any stairs!? But we don’t have time for an elevator!!)
The massive gray sherbet created from all the concrete dust, glass shards, and sand was drawing close. Stiyl started to attach some rune cards to the windows, but he gave up and ducked behind cover. Kamijou didn’t know how the magic worked, but Stiyl must have decided he didn’t have enough time.
Kamijou grabbed Index who was standing nearby and dove behind a showcase lined with MilliPhones.
He heard an explosive rumble.
The walls shook.
All of the windows were audibly broken by something like sharp ice spears and the sofas and magazine racks by the windows were knocked over.
Kamijou was actually thankful of the minus-20 weather for saving them.
There were 100m between her and the broken indoor pool. If the water had not fully cooled and frozen in that space, they would have been forced to go for a hellish ice water swim that might have stopped their hearts.
He held Index close and trembled in fear while desperately searching for some silver lining here. Without one, he feared his spirit would break.
(C’mon, R&C Occultics! Grapple’s a fellow IT company! Can’t you get along with!?)
“It seems slicing the water to increase the surface area sped up the freezing process enough to help. The more surface area, the more of it is in direct contact with the cold air.”
“You mean that wasn’t a coincidence? Yeah, I guess it would be weird for me to get lucky, huh?”
They had survived for now, but the tension remained. That had only been a secondary effect. The unseen magician could do the same thing as many times as they liked and that initial long-distance sniper attack would be deadly for anyone who couldn’t break the sound barrier and knock a bullet from the air like Kanzaki could. Kamijou’s Imagine Breaker could negate any and all magic, but that meant nothing if he could not react in time.
The shopping mall and parking garage had been fully sliced through, so building walls would not shield them. Not even all the water in a pool had fully absorbed the damage. Walls were only good for hiding them from view and that might not work if they didn’t know where the sniper was located. The fear of exactly that led Kamijou to shout.
“Oh, right! Where is that bastard!? Did you see where they went!?”
“They appear to have left,” calmly stated Kanzaki Kaori.
They could be sniped at any moment if they were seen, but she had still been monitoring that person’s movements. She really was extraordinary in a multitude of ways.
But the other professional magician was focused on something else.
Stiyl Magnus asked about something other than the mysterious attacker.
“How did you know?”
“That magic attack broke the sound barrier, so how did you recognize it as sand at first glance? You shouldn’t have noticed until its speed dropped after Kanzaki repelled it.”
He had admittedly cheated on that one.
“I found this.”
Kamijou showed off the smartwatch. It was a support device meant to sync with a phone, so he could only check the time and his blood pressure with it right now.
He flipped it over and ran his Transla-Pen over the underside. When the mic at the top picked up a foreign language or the pen tip traced out a foreign text, it would translate it into Japanese.
And when he traced it along the scratches on the underside of the watch, it produced an artificial voice.
“This smartwatch was separated from the main phone and stored in a safe on that base.”
Kamijou pushed the button on the side to show the connection error that appeared instead of a lock screen and to show the name he assumed belonged to the owner: Melzabeth Grocery.
“With the face, the frame, the band, the fastener, the colors, the small scratches, and the various smudges, I just know there has to be more to this watch.”
To reiterate, building walls would not shield them. Once the magician knew where they were, the sand magic would break through the wall, so they could not stay in the phone shop forever. When located, the standard solution was to move. Kanzaki said the magician had already left, but it paid to be careful. Kamijou’s group left through the back entrance, crossed the narrow back alley, and entered the adjacent building.
Even moving 1m would help as long as they were not seen.
That was why a smokescreen could protect you despite not physically blocking anything. Even flimsy walls had their uses.
“Index, what was that sand magic? Knowing its weaknesses would be great.”
Kamijou did a double take.
She didn’t have a clear answer.
“I think it was mostly that, but on the other hand…I can’t explain it all with the Rose.”
“You’re kidding, right? Are you saying they’re using something you can’t figure out even with the knowledge of 103,001 grimoires, or however many it is now?”
The process they needed to survive this was crumbling around them.
They had escaped into a watch shop. The watches all looked really fancy, but this close to the airport, it may have been a duty-free shop.
Kamijou glanced down at the smartwatch he had found.
Once he started thinking that way, everything felt like it held special meaning.
Why was the face square? Why was the customizable band colored red and black? What about the fingerprint smudge on the upper left of the glass? Then there were the many small scratches on the underside and the band. He flipped it every which way hoping something would come into focus like a piece of trick art.
“I guess it won’t come to me that easily,” he semi-casually muttered.
Since the watch’s owner had not used a paper report or digital data, they must not have wanted just anyone to read the watch’s message. This Melzabeth person had clearly left a secret message in a form that could not be discovered through ordinary means. Since they had wanted to hide it, would they have made sure it wasn’t that easy to solve? Was there any point in trying to figure it out?
But Index saw things differently.
“The message might actually be really simple – you just can’t see it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“That’s always how it is when you hide the recipe for the Philosopher’s Stone in a painting or hide a secret in a portrait of Shakespeare. It doesn’t look complicated because of some difficult code being used. It’s hard to solve because it uses symbols only the person who made it understands, like the sun representing gold or a pelican representing the red stone. Once you know what to look for, it’s obvious. That’s how messages usually work.”
He heard a sigh from his shoulder before Othinus joined the conversation.
“Human, you’re looking at a dying message someone made and hid in a hurry. Do you really think they had enough time and were in any mental state to prepare a complicated random number table or equation and then compile a coded message based on it?”
Now that she mentioned it…
And the god of magic, deception, and war was not done with her explanation.
“On top of that, a dying message is a failure if it even looks like a complex message. All the murderer has to do is eliminate everything that looks like writing or a code, whether they can actually decode it or not. Any mysterious code or text that gathers attention at a crime scene is entirely meaningless from the moment it gathers that attention. So if someone is in real trouble, they won’t leave such a conspicuous and complex message.”
So they would be limited to simple messages that blended into the background.
Making a complexly coded message was not the point. The point was for anyone who didn’t realize it was a message to walk right past, thinking it was no more than some meaningless scratches and smudges. That way the villain would not erase them to cover their tracks.
What did the colors and shapes mean?
What about the number of scratches and the location of the smudges?
Trying to work out some clever answer would only confuse him for no good reason. While looking at it more simply, his honest instincts brought his attention to one point in particular.
He pointed at the watch band.
Index took a look from the side.
“Hm, you mean the scratches? Those might be a D and a T.”
“There is that, but I meant this.”
He wanted to draw their attention to one of the evenly-spaced holes used to adjust the size of the thick rubber band.
“Just this one is stretched a little. Were they wearing it too tight? That might make sense with a belt after gaining some weight, but you would never force a watch on too tight, would you? I’m guessing they stuck the fastener through the hole and intentionally stretched the band side to side to stretch the hole.”
“There are 8 holes in all and, starting from the outside, the third hole is stretched,” noted Index.
“Remember, the message will be simple,” reminded Othinus, to keep the magicians from using Gematria or Notarikon to find meaning in the mysterious numbers. “Take it all at face value. They might just be numbers. For example, 2-1-5. Or the reverse.”
“But what do those numbers refer to?”
Othinus shrugged. She didn’t have all the answers.
Kamijou initially thought they might be the passcode to unlock the smartwatch’s lock screen, but then he remembered it was only an accessory meant to connect wirelessly to a phone.
“2-1-5…” repeated Stiyl.
“512 sounds like some kind of machine,” said Kanzaki.
Those two puzzled over it, but never seemed to find an answer. It was a tricky problem because there was no specified goal, such as reducing it to zero or converting it into a word.
They had no other options with the city so empty, so Kamijou held a hand to his chin at one corner of the countless road intersections.
“It has to be something anyone could think up if they knew the answer and something you could come up with on the fly. It has to be a clear and simple message.”
Index clapped her hands together.
“If they didn’t have time to think about it, then maybe we’ll see something if we’re forced to think fast. Okay, Touma. Three, two, one, go!!”
His head shot up. He had no actual proof, but this was all he could come up with when pushed to give an answer on the count of three. And after seeing 30 million people disappearing in real time and being helplessly caught in the middle of it, Melzabeth Grocery would have had even less time. Hurrying worked to simplify the answer you gave.
“Wh-what do the scratches on the band mean!? Are they really a D and a T?”
“Downtown?” innocently suggested Index.
Then Kamijou Touma blurted out the first idea that came to his mind.
The band had 8 holes in all and the 3rd from the outside was unnaturally stretched, hinting at the numbers 2, 1, and 5.
Only one thing popped into his mind on such short notice.
“Could this be an address located downtown?”
They were hesitant at first.
They had discovered something, so now they needed to leave the watch shop and travel outside.
Kamijou silently took a look out through the door, finding it was still dark. The city’s power was still on, so he could see all the lights looking so much like stars in the night sky. Which was more frightening – complete darkness or partial darkness? The distant lights would cover up any suspicious figures creeping up on them, but Kamijou’s group could not carelessly step out into the streetlights.
“A-are you sure this is a good idea?”
“You discovered it, remember?”
Kanzaki had said the sand magic sniper was gone, so she was more relaxed than the others. Othinus haughtily crossed her arms on Kamijou’s shoulder.
“Make sure to walk along the wall. You’re harder to find there than in the middle of the road.”
“D-doesn’t that depend on their angle?”
“There is no perfect protection against a surprise attack, so the idea is to always have a few doors or windows in mind you can escape into at a moment’s notice. And hold onto anything you have that can act as a smokescreen. That will prevent an attack from a distance. A camera flash or a car’s headlights can work there.”
“Remember we’re on the lookout for a sniper,” said Stiyl. “Electric cars aren’t as silent as people think and a gasoline or diesel vehicle would be so loud you might as well be announcing your presence.”
When Stiyl took the first step outside, Kamijou remembered that flame magician could create smoke and mirages. There were still a lot of unknowns, like if he was faster than the sand magic or if the sand magician even relied on sight, but at least they would not be suicidally defenseless.
Assuming Kamijou did not accidentally destroy the protective magic with Imagine Breaker, of course.
“Please spare me that misfortune. Are you absolutely sure this is a good idea?”
Having to rely on Stiyl for survival was worrying in and of itself, but he had no other ideas.
They hesitantly walked through LA in search of the discovery he had made.
Once he took a look around the deserted city once more, he noticed a lot of disturbing things.
A military helicopter was crashed into the center of a skyscraper. Tanks and armored trucks had plunged into a frozen river running through a concrete waterway situated lower than the road level. None of it looked like ordinary accidents, so some kind of unrecorded battle must have been fought with R&C Occultics.
“Maybe it was for the sand,” said Kamijou while walking through the frigid city.
“What do you mean, Touma?” asked Index.
“The weatherstripping. What if it was to keep the sand out, not for poison gas or whatever?”
He had no answer for Index’s innocent question.
But the sand was the only real threat he had seen so far. And it was some kind of magic not even Index could fully explain. It was unclear if every single LA citizen would have reached the right answer and acted accordingly after seeing that strange phenomenon. They may have simply decided the sand was dangerous and fled indoors to avoid it.
Stiyl butted in there.
His head was raised and his eyes focused on the distant buildings in order to locate the sand magic sniper, but even Kamijou could tell it was more to distract him from his nerves than because he actually expected to find the magician.
“Assumptions are dangerous. The enemy may have more than just sand magic. R&C Occultics is an enormous organization and they might have assigned more than one magician to guarding their HQ building.”
That was true. There had to be more to this they had not yet seen.
The duct tape weatherstripping had failed. At the very least, the people of LA must have read something wrong since they had all disappeared.
“More than that, it’s 20 below out here and it’s a few kilometers from the airport to downtown. Move around too much and we’ll wear ourselves out to dangerous levels. Are you sure this is worth checking out?”
“Stiyl, we would freeze to death just the same sitting around without any clues,” said Kanzaki. “Finding somewhere new to check is a good sign.”
“Fine, this way,” gestured Stiyl.
“The subway stairs?”
“I can’t think of a better defense against a sniper on the rooftops,” bluntly stated Stiyl. “And besides the temperature, we know something in this city caused 30 million people to disappear. Nothing about this makes sense. The things we can see aren’t what we need to fear most. Moving in secret would be best. If we have to walk for a while, isn’t it safer to do so underground?”
They descended the stairs and found no one in the station.
“It’s…surprisingly warm in here.”
Kamijou looked around curiously. He had always thought things were colder underground, but the biting cold vanished once they were inside the station. Kanzaki laughed.
“It’s the same as well water. Air and water will retain some heat without anything external affecting it. Whether you find it to be warm or cool depends on the environment you have been in.”
“Also, make sure to focus on your ears. I think even a magic novice like you can detect this one. It is faint, but can’t you hear it?”
“The station’s central heating is running.”
“Goddammit! That’s not mystical at all!!”
Kamijou greatly regretted feeling moved by what she said. Othinus breathed an exasperated sigh from his shoulder and Stiyl clicked his tongue in irritation.
Just then, a loud electronic buzzer sounded.
Index jumped like a surprised cat. The ticket gate still had power, so it tried to block their way forward. They had already done this at the airport, but it was no less shocking this time. Index looked extremely nervous, so Kamijou soothingly rubbed her back before they all jumped the ticket gate together. It saddened him how much easier it came this second time.
They did not wait for a train at the platform.
When they pried open the platform door and climbed down onto the tracks, Kamijou felt a squeezing at stomach.
The tunnel had power, so the fluorescent lights on the wall were on. But that was not enough to sweep away the darkness. The further they moved from the platform, the less they felt of the station’s central heating. A deadly chill once more creeped out from the thick concrete.
Graceful Kanzaki moved up alongside Kamijou and provided a warning.
“The subway might be deserted, but it still has power. Be careful.”
“You can’t trick me again. I know the trains can’t run with no one here.”
“Watch out, human!!!!!”
A blast of wind filled the tunnel.
He reflexively tried to push Index out of the way, but his body refused to move.
“Kenaz,” said a singsong voice.
Laminated rune cards spread out like confetti.
“Algiz and Teiwaz. Blameless assassin, remove yourself from our path.”
Thousands – no, tens of thousands – of cards covered the entire surface of the walls.
Then a swish of the tall priest’s arm eradicated every shadow in the tunnel. The yellow inspection car racing toward them hopped straight up, scraped against the ceiling, and soared over their heads.
Stiyl did not even bother listening to all the crashing of bending metal behind them. He extinguished his flame sword and then lit a new cigarette using one of the embers remaining at his fingertip.
Kamijou could not keep up with it all.
He was answered with utter contempt.
“I was not saving you.”
It pained him so much that he could not say anything when Stiyl clicked his tongue and kept moving down the tunnel.
Othinus provided a somewhat exasperated explanation from his shoulder.
“When control from the engineer’s seat and central control are both interrupted, the trains switch to an automated emergency mode. The ordinary trains leave the main tracks to wait at the switchyard or wherever else and a battery-powered inspection car is sent out for emergency maintenance and inspection of the tracks, the power lines, and the communication lines. And they will keep doing so until the source of the problem is discovered. If the machine can’t find the answer, it will keep looping forever.”
“What’s this, human? Did you freeze up because you aren’t sure whether or not to cry? You’re surprisingly weak-hearted.”
The enclosed space, the tension, and the low temperature messed with his sense of how far they had walked, but it had to have been more than for a picnic in the park.
“End of the line.”
“Already?” asked Kamijou.
The tall priest held his cigarette between his fingers and pointed straight ahead with it. The movement sent some air into it, so the orange light grew brighter, faintly illuminating their surroundings.
Dead ahead, the entire tunnel was blocked up by a plug of cracked sand. It almost looked like a thick wall of salt. Had it poured in from the station’s stairs or the platform?
“There should be an emergency exit. Search the walls.”
Kanzaki was right. A metal door led to some stairs that spiraled up to the surface. Once outside, the piercing chill felt like it had leveled up twice.
They were on the surface again.
Fear of that sand magic clutched at Kamijou’s heart once more.
Now was not the time to view the frigid city night that resembled the stars in the winter sky. He mentally went over the checklist from before: have several possible escape routes in mind and have a smokescreen ready, even if it was just a nearby fire extinguisher. Then he pulled on Index’s hand to walk alongside a nearby building wall.
“Where are we?”
“It’s a major road in between a college and a museum, so this must be Exposition Boulevard,” said Othinus. “That means we didn’t make it to Union Station… Still, we’re almost to downtown, so we just have to continue north.”
Kamijou looked in the opposite direction.
“A college and a museum, you say?”
“Those are large public institutions, yes, but given how empty the airport was, there is no chance we would find survivors gathered in either one of them. Seeing the space shuttle in the museum will have to wait until later. Focus on that smartwatch for now. You were the one that suspected it hinted at a downtown address.”
Different parts of Los Angeles apparently looked very different from each other. Compared to the area around the airport, this area had a lot of smaller buildings crammed in closer together. Unfortunately, they were all shops with a strangely fancy aura, so a grounded high school boy like Kamijou was reluctant to approach them. He got the feeling they would sell things like a slim and fashionable space suit designed for an idol to wear on stage. Covered with embroidered patches, of course.
“I did not expect to get this close before determining the risk,” said Stiyl.
“That’s R&C Occultics HQ.”
Kamijou gasped when Stiyl used his cigarette to point at a group of buildings towering up in the distance. One was taller than the rest. Its lights were still on, just like the others, but were there actually still people in that one? Or had all its ordinary employees been vanished along with everyone else?
“Do you think Anna is in there?”
“Beats me. We can see the building, but we can’t approach it yet. Until we know exactly what caused and triggered the disappearances, we need to assume its surrounded by an invisible minefield.”
Did that address really exist here? Kamijou thought he might faint if it turned out to be the HQ building’s address.
He was nervous and skeptical of his own conclusion. He wanted to avoid doing anything conspicuous while this close to the HQ building. When they finally found the address indicated by the watch, they doubted the building held any grand secrets or was strictly guarded. Of all things, it was a restaurant that looked like it served junk food. But it appeared to be a privately run establishment, not a chain.
It was something of a letdown after arriving so close to the HQ, so Kamijou tilted his head.
“Is this a family restaurant?”
“They generally call them diners here,” smoothly replied Kanzaki with a small smile. “All the primary colors might make it look silly to our Japanese eyes, but the fading of the paint suggests it has been in business for a very long time. Downtown is prime real estate in LA. To survive so long in the harsh competition here, it must be well-established and beloved.”
It must have stayed open late into the night because the door was unlocked. Inside the restaurant called Cheap Party, they found the bright lights, gentle music, and heater were all still on. That actually made the place more disturbing.
But once they stepped inside, the warmth felt like a gift from god.
After experiencing that blessed warmth, Kamijou started to wonder if the duct tape weather stripping had been to keep out the cold.
But Othinus made a more concerning comment from the shoulder of his cheap jacket.
“Solid tape weatherstripping with a boiler for heat? Almost makes you think the entire population of LA was trying to kill themselves with carbon monoxide poisoning.”
The heat made the place feel heavenly, but that comment made him imagine he was feeling dizzy. But if he opened a window to vent the place out, he would only be letting the hellish minus-20 weather back in.
The pointy-haired boy groaned when he saw the large example pictures of the food options lined up above the counter. All of this was privately run? That suggested Americans would buy thick burgers and greasy carbonara as casually as you might buy okowa or dango at a shopping district. That explained why the floor was weirdly sticky with sand and grease.
But more than any of that, Kamijou turned his attention to the kitchen at the back of the empty restaurant.
“All the switches are still on. Thank goodness there wasn’t a fire.”
They did not see any suspicious figures in masks and sunglasses or any ultimate beam weapons shining a bright silver, so they split up and started to search the back of the place. Kamijou nervously switched off the kitchen’s gas burners and hot plates. What he guessed had once been chicken breasts were lined up on the grill like gyoza, but they had been burned worse than the aftermath of even the most inexperienced newlywed wife’s first attempt at cooking. They were nothing but charcoal – no, they were more like a black and crumbling stain stuck to the grill. Perhaps it had been premature to say there hadn’t been a fire. Had there actually been pillars of fire rising nearly to the ceiling that had since burned themselves out? And the sprinkler system’s water pipes must have frozen solid because nothing looked wet.
“AI appliances and smart houses, my ass. That’s the last time I trust a magician about tech. This wasn’t safe at all.”
“With a city this big, some buildings might have caught fire and we just haven’t noticed,” said Othinus.
That actually made Kamijou glad the people had entirely disappeared. At least they wouldn’t be caught in the flames and smoke. Assuming, of course, that the disappearance itself didn’t kill them.
Kamijou realized that the lack of bodies and blood stains was making it hard to believe they were dead.
But since the grill had been left on, someone must have been here originally. Then where had they gone? Who had done it? Why? And how?
Walking along the sandy floor and breathing in the warm air told him nothing. He was truly confused now, but while he searched around, he heard an unexpected noise.
It came from one of the metal lockers in the locker room at the back of the restaurant.
He stopped in front of the door.
The thin door did not look locked, so he reached out and hesitantly opened it.
“There really is something.”
Until this very moment, he had not been too confident that the holes on the watch band actually meant anything, so he sounded somewhat dazed by the discovery.
“There really was a secret.”
He found a girl of about 10 curled up with tears in her eyes.
She had silver hair and brown skin. The secret indicated by the watch turned out to be the sole survivor of the disappearances.
Between the Lines 1
R&C Occultics Magic Attack Theory
A theory suggesting the disappearance of 30 million in Los Angeles was a largescale magic attack by R&C Occultics.
A magician was discovered using sand for long-distance attacks. The magic had the power to slice through reinforced concrete.
But not even Grimoire Library Index was able to fully analyze the magic being used.
Academy City Poison Gas Attack Theory
A theory suggesting the LA disappearances were to hide all traces of Academy City attacking the city with an unknown chemical weapon in their haste to show results. The theory assumes all corpses have already been collected, R&C Occultics was already destroyed, and Academy City has safely left the infected area.
R&C Occultics Drone Weapon Hijacking Theory
A theory suggesting Academy City’s unmanned weapons and military datalink were hijacked by R&C Occultics and the joint unit was wiped out by Academy City’s drone weapons. This theory would imply R&C Occultics has survived.
This theory can coexist with the aforementioned poison gas attack theory.
Anti-Sand Weatherstripping Theory
Proposer: Kamijou Touma
A theory suggesting the duct tape weatherstripping on the doors and windows was used to oppose the sand magic.
A non-Anglican (and thus presumably R&C Occultics) magician attacked Kamijou’s group with a largescale sand spell. The attack was powerful enough to slice through buildings and a pool, but Kanzaki proved there were no bloodstains in the Academy City base using a tannin-based spell.
Multiple R&C Occultics Magicians Theory
Proposer: Stiyl Magnus
A theory suggesting R&C Occultics has more than just the sand magician working to protect their HQ building and something other than the sand magic was used to disappear the 30 million. But Stiyl has found no way of concluding how many there are or what kind of spells they use.
Anti-Cold Weatherstripping Theory
Proposer: Kamijou Touma
A theory suggesting the door and window weatherstripping is to keep the minus-20 weather out of the heated buildings.
This theory says nothing about the missing LA residents.
Los Angeles Mass Suicide Theory
Derived from the aforementioned Anti-Cold Weatherstripping Theory. A theory suggesting the LA residents sealed up the buildings to keep out the cold and keep in the warmth, inadvertently killing themselves with carbon monoxide poisoning.
This theory explains the deaths of the LA citizens, but not the disappearance of their bodies.