Toaru Majutsu no Index:GT Volume4 Chapter2
Chapter 2: Suspected and Alone – Los_Angeles.
By 7 in the morning, the yellow sun was rising, but it did nothing to change the minus-20 chill.
Did everything look so white due to the sand blown into the air by the wind? It also could have been diamond dust created by the moisture in the air freezing. The frost and ice kept everything frozen despite the sunshine.
“Uhh,” groaned a young and somehow fretful voice.
The girl of around 10 was clinging to Kamijou Touma’s hip from the side. Her eyes were shut in sleep.
She had long silver hair and brown skin.
She wore a thin white camisole that almost seemed to let her skin color show through, denim shorts that left her thighs fully bare, and knee socks. Over all that, she wore a thick leather flight jacket with an English logo on the back. Kamijou guessed it was the brand name: Space Engage.
Curious, he traced his Transla-Pen over the words and the machine gave him a translation.
“Blank character, enter into battle.”
“There’s no way that’s what it means. I swear this piece of junk is busted.”
The hair decorations on either side of her head were modeled after blue chrysanthemums. In Japan, chrysanthemums were associated with everything from tempura to funerals, but what did they mean in America?
Meanwhile, Index had her hands somewhat exasperatedly on her hips while she glared at the overly touchy little girl (and at Kamijou).
“Wait! I don’t even know why she’s doing this, okay? What are you saying I even did wrong here? Keep in mind that I can’t speak English.”
With the mystery girl sleeping like that, Kamijou could not leave the salty and greasy family restaurant that Americans called a diner. The most he could do was let her sleep in one of the booth seats with her arms around him from the side.
It terrified him to stay in one place like this.
But until they were certain the sand magician had located them, this would work for temporary safety.
It was like finding yourself stuck in some hidden corner while playing hide-and-seek or cops-and-robbers. Once you were there, you couldn’t bring yourself to leave. Kamijou’s weak heart was reluctant to leave the walls of this building. Since everyone had disappeared without the power going out, they could use the lights and heat without giving away their position. He started to wonder if they would actually be easier to find if they started wandering around outside and he started to fear even approaching the windows.
Meanwhile, Stiyl and Kanzaki had gone on a few scouting missions until dawn, using the Cheap Party diner as no more than a temporary base. They made it sound like no big deal, but they would have been at risk of being sniped by the sand magic every step of the way. Kamijou could never have done it. And searching the area around the diner had not turned up anything useful.
They had found no clues to the fate of the joint force or the current status of R&C Occultics.
Nor had they found any clues to the whereabouts of the 30 million residents of Los Angeles who had been in the wrong city at the wrong time.
Kamijou gently reached for the brown girl’s neck to check the inside of the thick jacket’s collar. He found a name stitched there: Helcalia Grocery.
“The name sounds Indian-British to me,” said Index from the same booth.
“But if she moved here from England, her nationality would be American…yawwwn,” replied 15cm Othinus, yawning from jetlag on the table.
Stiyl and Kanzaki were out of the diner for another search.
Kamijou was interested in something other than the girl’s country of origin.
When he pressed the button on the side of the smartwatch he had found in the Academy City base’s safe, the name Melzabeth Grocery appeared. Was that this girl’s older sister or mother? At the very least, it seemed unlikely a sister even younger than her could have been responsible for coming up with and hiding that message on the watch. It was unknown how many more secrets were hidden in the watch’s small scratches and smudges, but it had at least directed them to this girl.
What had that felt like?
While the fearsome “disappearance” was fast approaching, Melzabeth must have known she could not escape, but even as her teeth chattered and her hands trembled, she had worked to leave a message to some unknown person who might never even receive it.
(She was counting on someone like me to follow the message, so I have to make sure it counts.)
The girl’s regular breathing came to a stop.
She stirred and then rubbed her eyes with her small hands.
“Oh, she’s awake, Touma!”
Index’s bright-faced comment caused a change. A dramatic one. Helcalia Grocery scrambled behind Kamijou’s back to use him as a shield. The front of her flight jacket was open, so he could feel her warm body heat through her thin camisole.
On the table, Othinus put her hands on her hips.
“She does not like you.”
“That isn’t Index’s fault,” added Kamijou, sounding exasperated.
The blame lay squarely with that rotten priest from Necessarius. She was only 10, but he had still pulled out a rune card and wielded his flame sword the instant he saw her. All while saying any information related to her identity and the LA disappearances could be extracted from her corpse’s head.
There was no way she would know the whole picture here and anyone would be scared after being threatened with something that violated the laws of physics.
Kamijou Touma had intervened despite not understanding a word of the English argument that ensued, so now she saw him as her only ally. Hence why the girl of (presumably) 10(-ish) would not leave his side.
However, Stiyl Magnus had not simply been carelessly aggressive. The now-hated priest had calmly explained his actions afterwards.
“By having her reject me and open up to you, we can get a more accurate testimony out of her. And since you will share that with the team, it works out for me in the end. Rejoice – we finally found a way to make your womanizing tendencies useful.”
“No matter how you slice it, he’s still a scumbag for doing that.”
“I’m hungry. I want to eat vegetarian meat for breakfast.”
All of a sudden, she was talking to him.
The nightmarish flood of English rushed right at him. His score of 43 on his last English exam left him unequipped to tell if she was just speaking in an authentic accent or if she was still too sleepy to talk clearly. Surprised, he glanced over at Othinus to find her nodding off. The jetlagged god was still haughtily crossing her arms and legs even as she napped on the table.
This was a job for a modern convenience: the Transla-Pen. That device could translate back and forth without needing to sync with a phone, so even a boy who failed his English exam could communicate with a modern LA girl…right?
The mic was in the head of the pen, so he held it like was doing karaoke and awkwardly spoke into the still-unfamiliar item.
“Um, uh…can I ask you some questions? If you’re still not up to remembering it all, that’s fine too.”
But he had no way of knowing if it was translating his words correctly.
Especially when Helcalia responded by drowsily gnawing on his upper arm. Was she the type to start chewing on the elastic band of her sports cap when she was hungry?
“Eh? You’re really going to eat this? First thing in the morning!?”
“Soy is healthy food. Eating it is good.”
“Yeah, um, I get that you can make vegetarian meat out of soy, but you’re making that into a burger. Won’t that tern into a hellish mass of grain with essentially tofu between two buns?”
“I desire healthy.”
Her Japanese was weirdly awkward because he was only receiving the Transla-Pen’s translation. When she spoke with her long silver hair swaying behind her, it was all in fluent English. The clearance rack gadget from Academy City could only do so much. It even left some words entirely untranslated in its so-called translation.
(Well, I can understand her and that’s what counts.)
Index and Othinus had not accompanied him to the kitchen. One of them could do housework but didn’t and the other didn’t do housework because she couldn’t, but he was beginning to think he had spoiled both of his freeloaders too much. They would never learn if all they ever did was eat and sleep.
He was currently alone with Helcalia.
Everyone needed to eat to survive. And as long as they were hiding in the diner, Kamijou figured he might as well whip up a light breakfast from the ingredients that were going to go bad anyway. But his Japanese knowledge did not apply to an American kitchen. And not just because the tools were shaped differently and the temperature displays were all in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. First of all, the tomatoes and broccolis were so big they scared him a little. They looked like some kind of freak mutation, so he half expected them to bite his head and hijack his brain the instant he looked the other way.
He checked inside a silver fridge larger than any he had ever seen in Japan.
“It’s packed full. Are these leftovers from Christmas? Hey, Helcalia, give your thanks to the holiday season. I can make just about anything with all this.”
“Don’t like holiday season.”
“Eh? Why not?”
“My birthday is 28th. But no one comes to the party during winter break. Friends always mix it with Christmas.”
Was that what happened?
Even if the ingredients were for unsold party dishes, Kamijou appreciated the excess stock. He scraped some of the former chicken breasts from the grill with a metal spatula to secure some space for himself.
(I need to leave some money by the register for all the ingredients I use.)
He decided he didn’t need to share that overly strict thought with Helcalia. He had something else to say to her, who was clinging to his hip in her white camisole.
“Listen, Helcalia, healthy eating means a balanced diet. Escaping your dependence on meat and grease in the land of the Stars and Stripes is an impressive feat, but that doesn’t mean you can eat nothing but grains. Whether it’s trans fats or carbs, you Americans always take everything way too far.”
“Fuck. Not making sense.”
“My point is you need to find a way you can eat all the vegetables you don’t like. …And please tell me that ‘fuck’ was a mistranslation.”
The 10-year-old only gave him a blank stare.
Kamijou frowned down at the Transla-Pen. The truth remained a mystery. He could only understand one end of the conversion, so he had no idea how the machine was interpreting the English into Japanese and vice versa.
He ended up using the restaurant kitchen to cook a round pancake.
He was a poor student, so there was only so much he knew how to cook. He wanted credit for measuring out the flour and baking powder to make it from scratch instead of using a pre-made mix.
For vegetables, he knew a 10-year-old was not going to eat a salad even if he stir-fried it. He did not know Helcalia, so he had no way of knowing her dislikes. Small children could be cruel about these things. If he ended up serving her something she disliked, he just knew she would painstakingly separate it out and push it aside with her fork. So to make that impossible, he threw the veggies in the juicer and added mayo and cream to make them into a dip. That way she wouldn’t even think of it as vegetables. Kamijou had done it with sodas and shaved ice syrup, so he knew it was common for kids to choose something for its bright colors than for its actual flavor.
It wasn’t uncommon for people who rarely ate whole fruits to love jam. And people who chose cheeseburgers over plain hamburgers sometimes didn’t like solid chunks of cheese. It was all in how you perceived it. And when you made something yourself, you could adjust the salt and sugar content however you liked.
“Here, all done.”
He had no idea what she was talking about now, but her eyes were glued to the food on the plate and she gulped. Seeing the finished product had successfully stimulated her hunger.
“Index will eat it all if she shows up, so I’d eat that in a hurry if I were you.”
“What do you mean by index page? Maybe I should eat you tonight, kitty baby?”
Kamijou tilted his head, checked the Transla-Pen’s settings, and tried a soft reset. Meanwhile, the girl stood on an empty zucchini box as a stool, grabbed a plastic knife and fork, stood up on her tiptoes to reach the plate on the stainless steel countertop, and chowed down on the pancake. The reset meant he missed whatever she said before eating.
But it finished rebooting just in time to catch one word in particular.
“This thing isn’t bugging out anymore, is it? Well, she does look happy.”
“This green stuff is good. What is it?”
Helcalia was happily dipping a sliced of pancake in a small bowl of dip, but he didn’t dare tell her it was made from bell peppers. He didn’t want to see the sour look on her face, so he opted to simply smile instead of answering.
She had orange juice to drink. She had pulled that out of the giant fridge on her own. Kamijou normally had miso soup and rice, so the sweet juice seemed like an odd choice, but he realized miso wouldn’t go well with a pancake anyway.
He thought to himself while watching her hold the cup in both hands and gulp down the juice.
(That juice is nice and cold, but the inside of the fridge is actually warmer than outside right now. Los Angeles really has become another world.)
“But stretching up and eating is new. Mama made all tables and shelves my height.”
“When using bottom shelf, mama crouches down and has difficulty. But always smiling.”
He had not been directly introduced or checked the paperwork, but he realized he had just more or less confirmed the identity of the other Grocery in LA.
That woman had disappeared.
And in those last moments, she had pushed aside the fear and resentment to mark out the location of her daughter and hope some unknown person would take care of her.
(So it was her mother.)
“I want to eat lots more.”
“Ha ha. Give me a moment to wash the kitchenware, okay?”
“I want to eat infinity more!!”
Some caution entered Kamijou’s smile. He was in high school, so could not let himself fall into grandpa mode just because a little girl was flattering him. Pancakes were pure carbs, so the only person with a hellish enough stomach to thoughtlessly eat a giant stack of them was Index. This girl had been indirectly left in his care, so he couldn’t let her fall into that pancake trap.
“Eh heh heh. I’ll add this blue next. Not blueberry?”
The girl on the empty zucchini box turned toward him, the fork in her mouth.
“If you’re feeling brave enough to tell me, I’d love to hear what happened here. As much as you know anyway. You weren’t in this diner by random chance, were you?”
The smartwatch had pointed to the diner’s address and he had found Helcalia in a locker here. That meant she had not fled here on a spur of the moment decision. She must have been told to wait here. Otherwise, Melzabeth wouldn’t have been able to leave behind that information before she disappeared.
What had Melzabeth hoped to do after regrouping with Helcalia?
For that matter, why had an LA resident like Melzabeth been in an Academy City base and how had she found an opportunity to leave her own watch in a safe that would have been strictly locked down?
The smartwatch was a crucial hint, but there were also so many questions surrounding how it got where it was. Since Melzabeth had disappeared, her daughter was the only hint remaining.
She might not have told her 10-year-old daughter everything. It was common to keep the hard truths from your own child during an emergency because you didn’t want to scare them.
But even a small piece of new information could mean a lot right now.
“What if I tell?”
“I’ll go save your mother who disappeared along with everyone else.”
He didn’t even need to think about that one.
He was worried the crappy Transla-Pen might not be translating what he wanted to say.
But Helcalia Grocery nodded.
Maybe it was the conviction she saw in his eyes more than his words.
She opened her small mouth.
She did not want to think about the missing 30 million and Kamijou’s group could never understand what it felt like. These were the words of someone who had seen it for herself.
“Mama was sneaking, but it’s not what it looks like. Mama’s phone…somewhere at the station…but…”
“She was with R&C, but not really. Mama worked with Academy City people.”
Kamijou Touma felt like he was a step away from making some major breakthrough, but then the diner’s back door burst open and the priest with long, dyed hair barged in.
“Stiyl? What are you doing?”
Kamijou realized Stiyl Magnus was out of breath.
Had he been in a fierce battle or had he been running for his life?
“Kanzaki Kaori has disappeared. R&C Occultics got her!!”
A bit earlier, Stiyl Magnus and Kanzaki Kaori were outside the diner and slowly advancing along a building wall. Stiyl toyed with the corner of a rune card and made sure he could set up a smokescreen or mirage at a moment’s notice.
They had searched outside a few times already. Not even expert magicians could take the minus-20 environment lightly. The natural plan was to designate a temporary base for themselves and gradually venture further from it, finding more safe zones.
“What a pain. And the heating is far from perfect,” grumbled Stiyl while lighting a new cigarette. His breath was visible, but not due to smoke. “It wasn’t the industrial-level heater that kept that diner safe. It was only that plus the heat from the kitchen that just barely kept it livable. An ordinary air conditioner or heater wouldn’t cut it, so we’re going to have a hard time finding more safe zones.”
“I imagine the walls and floor matter as much as the quality of the heating,” pointed out Kanzaki.
She looked calm, but she was actually focusing on the distant buildings, trying to locate any snipers.
The air sparkled with a somewhat yellowish light thanks to the early morning sun reflecting off something in the air. Was that diamond dust? You were only supposed to see that in the Arctic.
“LA is far enough south it wasn’t designed to handle a cold wave like this. I imagine the walls were built to efficiently release heat, so you can crank up the heat all you like, it all bleeds away through the walls and floor. It may be like trying to fill a water tank with a hole in the bottom.”
They needed safe zones where they could rest and be warm.
But that was only their secondary objective. Their primary objective was figuring out what had happened between the joint force and R&C Occultics and what had happened to the 30 million LA residents. They were investigating the cause to decide whether or not they could call in a second wave to attack the enemy HQ.
“We can already see it…”
“That is a mirage oasis. Seeing something does not mean you can actually reach it. We must determine the reason behind the disappearances first.”
It was not a yes or no question. If they couldn’t do it, they had to figure out why, overcome that reason, and make sure they could send back a ‘yes’ in their report. That was how professional magicians did things.
“Now, then,” sighed Stiyl. He was focused on an ordinary smartphone, not a strange spiritual item. Modern delivery drones did not require a specialized controller.
“Are you sure this will work?”
“Yes. It’s the best tool for the job.”
Stiyl Magnus specialized in rune magic. He would place laminated cards around the battlefield to construct a magical field that gave him the power to fight.
So from his perspective…
“We don’t know where the traps are on the way to the HQ building.” The cigarette waggled in the corner of his mouth. “So we only have to provoke them to draw out a reaction. And using an unmanned device is safest. Let’s hope Anna Sprengel is standing by the window on the top floor.”
The delivery drone they had captured never reached the HQ building.
It suddenly came apart in midair.
But that scattered the rune cards it carried inside.
Orange flames erupted out and gathered together.
But even that was torn apart.
“Something is interfering?”
“Stiyl, they’re coming. We need to get out of here.”
Kanzaki pushed on his back and Stiyl Magnus ran in a different direction from the Asian Saint. In a way, this was all according to plan. It was like letting an empty can drift in the ocean to blow up a sea mine. This attempt was the perfect hook for fishing out traps.
(Is plain sand enough to explain this magic? No, if that’s all, then what is this minus-20 cold wave covering all of LA?)
The sand magician had made their presence known, so they would be here before long. There was also a risk of this being some other magician left here to defend the HQ, but it didn’t hurt to be on the lookout for that sniping attack. Stiyl rushed along a building wall to move below a translucent arcade. The cover would not function as a shield, but he couldn’t be sniped if his opponent couldn’t see him. The arcade normally only blocked UV light, but it functioned like a normal roof with all the white frost covering it.
Needless to say, Los Angeles was a big place. They needed as much information as they could get if they were to search the city as efficiently as possible. That meant their best bet was hearing what that 10-year-old girl, the only survivor they had found so far, had to say. But Kanzaki and Stiyl had not done that. Why not?
“We need to distract the enemy from our biggest clue.”
At the very least, R&C Occultics had the sand magician.
He had already set things up so the girl would feel reliant on Kamijou, so there was little reason for the Necessarius fighters to remain in the diner. Kamijou Touma had a way of getting himself involved in other people’s business and Index’s perfect memory would remember even the smallest thing the girl said. With devious Othinus there as well, it was bound to work out.
The priest’s only job was keeping Helcalia safe. He didn’t have to make her like him.
This was the path he had chosen for himself.
Thus, Stiyl and Kanzaki had gone out to draw the attention of the enemy or enemies. That was primarily to protect Helcalia Grocery, their top source of information, but ideally they would also defeat and capture any magician that attacked them.
They were the bait meant to capture a major prize.
They could only make this choice because they were highly-skilled Necessarius magicians. Using an attack to determine the enemy’s location was especially effective against the trickier types who used curses or sniper attacks.
Kanzaki Kaori breathed a visible sigh while walking alongside a building wall on a different road from Stiyl.
The enemy was here. She had not forgotten what happened when they first clashed. The sand magic had attacked so fast it nearly looked like a beam of light and it had sliced right through entire buildings. And who was it they had directly attacked?
It was unknown how much R&C Occultics knew about them, but if their identities were known, then she would expect the enemy to initially target either her because she was a Saint or Index because she was a grimoire library. Stiyl’s rune magic was powerful, but it took some time to distribute enough cards to set it up and Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker could be forcibly neutralized by moving faster than an ordinary person’s kinetic vision could follow. So the enemy would first want to take out Kanzaki who could move that fast and faster and Index who could directly divulge the structure of their magic. The other two could be safely dealt with from a distance afterwards.
And as hard as it was to believe, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was having trouble analyzing the sand magic. If R&C Occultics was confident she couldn’t crack it, they would conclude Index was not a threat and leave her be for now.
That meant their top target was Saint Kanzaki Kaori.
The unseen enemy would target Kanzaki if she was walking around outside in the deserted city.
She never would have agreed to this otherwise.
Kanzaki Kaori refused to allow any lives to be lost among her enemies or her allies. No matter how tough she acted, she would never let Stiyl be the bait.
So she took a step away from the building wall.
She walked out into the center of a silent intersection.
She placed a hand on the hilt of Shichiten Shichitou at her hip and whispered.
“Come on out. Otherwise I will go to you. And I will break the sound barrier on the way.”
She was not speaking to herself. There was definitely someone out there listening.
Kamijou Touma gulped and could not find anything else to say.
It was hard enough getting those two words out. Stiyl Magnus was still trying to catch his breath and an ominous aura seemed to push out from his body.
“What happened to Kanzaki!?”
“You want to know what happened?” Stiyl pressed his back against the kitchen’s tiled wall. He forgot to even put a cigarette in his mouth as he forced a scratchy voice out through his heavy breathing. “It wasn’t just a fistfight. It had nothing to do with physical strength or the laws of physics. I was watching from a distance – I saw it for myself – but I didn’t have time to go save her!! Kanzaki Kaori and the enemy magician rapidly produced a few explosions, vanished behind the clouds of dust…and that was the end of it. The next thing I knew, they were both gone. Kanzaki Kaori disappeared! Like a mirage or something!!”
Someone had disappeared after a battle. That meant they had either been defeated or they had left, but Kanzaki would have no reason not to return to the diner if she had won. It was not looking good.
And Stiyl had said she was “gone”. He had not seen her collapsed and bloody.
“Was she taken away?”
“If so, we can’t just ignore this! Let’s go call Index and Othinus too. LA is so big they might not have taken her straight to their HQ. We need to ask Helcalia what she knows, decode the smartwatch’s message, and figure out where the R&C Occultics magicians might gather!!”
“I doubt that would matter much.” The priest held a hand to his forehead. “If that was the same attack that caused 30 million people to vanish across LA, then Kanzaki might not have been taken hostage. It is possible they would keep her around to interrogate her for information, but they might have just killed her and hidden the corpse.”
“But there is one thing we know now!!!!!!”
When Kamijou tried to emotionally reject the idea, Stiyl roared back to shut him up.
Stiyl glared at the boy to keep him from making any rash decisions.
“We now know the R&C Occultics magician is not fighting alone.”
“It was…a group battle?”
“The weather is on their side.”
Kamijou’s guess was wrong, so Stiyl explained.
“And if you have some way of artificially adjusting the atmospheric pressure, you have free control over the weather and the wind direction. And that includes meteorological disasters! That sand magician was getting help from the company. It explains why that girl couldn’t fully explain what they were doing… They incorporated in some science to boost their spell’s power!!”
The sand laser tore through the air as it repeatedly flew straight toward Kanzaki. The sand magic compressed the sand and shot it out like an industrial cutter, but it failed to slice apart her flesh and blood.
She repeatedly zigged and zagged out of the way before it could.
A Saint could break the sound barrier in an instant.
“Are you trying to pin me here by forcing me to block your attacks?”
She even had time for a puzzled frown.
The R&C Occultics HQ was within view, so weren’t they afraid of a stray shot hitting them? Or were they getting desperate now that she had gotten so close?
It was safe to assume they knew Kanzaki was a Saint after their initial clash. Still, it made no sense for them to attack from head on like this. If they relied on long-distance sniping because they weren’t confident in their own skill, she would have expected them to stay out of reach and prepare an attack from a blind spot to catch her by surprise.
There was only one conclusion.
“(Cutting me with the sand laser isn’t their goal!?)”
Also, what was this sand magic? As the R&C Occultics name so clearly indicated, they were a Rosicrucian magic cabal. That meant their members’ spells came from the legend represented by the ruby rose and the golden cross.
Kanzaki could only think of a few Rose legends related to sand.
“Black, white, yellow, and red. It is a cycle of the four stages: death, bonding, fermentation, and rebirth.”
30 million people had disappeared in Los Angeles?
Why go to the effort of making them disappear instead of just leaving them alive or killing them?
“This is Citrinitas.”
It all clicked into place once she figured that out.
For example, the yellowish sunlight.
The sunrise came relatively late in LA, but that was not enough to explain this. It was unnaturally yellow. And Kanzaki was familiar with a certain natural phenomenon. More severe desert sandstorms could blot out the sun. When that happened, the brightness and color of the sky could change, making it look like evening.
For example, the sparkling she saw in the air when the sun shined on it.
Could that be fine sand, not the frozen moisture of diamond dust?
“This is the third stage in creating the miracle stone. There must be a spell that fills the compound with yellow sand and ‘ferments’ it just the right amount. R&C Occultics has not killed the people or hidden them. They were decomposed to change their shape. Instead of leaving them alive or killing them, you preserved them by converting them into formless nutrients that soaked into all this sand!! That is the truth behind the disappearances!!”
Anyone the sand fell on would be dissolved and made a part of the sand. The victims were neither alive nor dead. They were buried on the assumption that they would eventually be retrieved in some different form. Their flesh and blood were converted into simple nutrients and then absorbed into the soil to trap them. It was almost like a form of cold sleep.
That was why R&C Occultics needed no cages for survivors or dumping grounds for corpses.
That was why R&C Occultics had only been able to make the people disappear, whether it was necessary or not.
“Your long-distance pressurized sand attack and the water and ice you sent at us were not meant to cause direct bloodshed. It’s also why carrying the rune cards in the drone didn’t work. You win from the moment you can dump sand on your target’s head!! Isn’t that right!?””
She finally knew what would make her lose.
She just had to think of the sand like a powerful acid or magma. She doubted the LA residents had figured out the details of the spell, but the weatherstripping on the doors and windows had been a response to their fear of the sand, not to keep out the cold or violent attackers.
Once she knew how it worked, it could no longer control her. Kanzaki took a few steps back to accurately escape the curtain of fine sand that dropped toward her.
She could hear what may have been footsteps beyond the thin curtain. Visibility was poor, but someone was definitely there. She could sense a faint shadow and a barrier of pressure.
Her first impression was something entirely out of place. She initially saw it as someone going for a walk. The feminine silhouette she saw was holding a large dog on a leash and walking through the LA streets.
Next, she wondered if the dog was a well-trained military dog.
But that guess was not cautious enough.
It delayed the realization by two whole seconds.
“That’s a person?”
She was not focused on the figure standing straight and holding the leash.
She was focused on the large figure down on the frigid asphalt on all fours.
“Could that be the real magician!?”
That was when the figures moved.
It looked like a poorly-trained dog dragging along the poor woman who owned it. The figure in the collar forcibly dragged the figure holding the leash to continue the fight. With their wrist pulled hard by the leash, the “owner” recited an incantation that sounded more like a scream and something gathered deep in the throat of the “pet” as they opened their mouth wide.
Kanzaki only managed to dodge the head-on attack because she was a Saint. The sand laser tore through the air and then swung to one side and the other, slicing through the buildings lining the major thoroughfare.
Most notably, a 100m broadcast tower collapsed. It was not large enough to be a tourist attraction, so it may have only been a sub or support tower used to preserve the quality of the TV or radio signal within the high EM density of the big city.
When it crashed down, a great cloud of sand would billow up from the ground.
If she was caught in that, she was done for.
Conversely, if she avoided being caught in it, the spell could not affect her. There was no need to make this complicated. If she simply assumed that cloud could dissolve the human body, she could think of any number of countermeasures.
The answer was simple.
While the tower fell and came apart in midair, Kanzaki used her legs to leap straight up. She kicked off pieces of the collapsing tower and used that falling footing to climb ever higher.
That much mass would create a great cloud of dust when it collided with the ground. It would look like a massive cumulonimbus cloud at 0 above sea level. Normally, the sand would have covered the entire sky above the target and they could not have avoided being reduced to nutrients.
“I just have to climb higher than the cloud.”
A Saint could break the sound barrier in no time. The way she kicked off of midair steel beams and surviving building walls to jump to ever higher footing looked a lot like a rocket blasting off into space.
“If I climb higher than your cloud of dust, your spell loses all meaning!!”
She made it 300m above the ground.
That was higher than the falling tower. With a Saint’s leg strength, she could even make stepping stones out of the leaves and shopping bags blowing in the wind.
No matter how much sand flooded the surface, none of it could capture Kanzaki Kaori as she soared through the sky.
Or so she thought.
But she could not shake a sense of foreboding even after finding the answer.
If the spell really was that simple, why hadn’t the Grimoire Library Index been able to analyze it?
Then a massive shadow blotted out the sun.
Something new was slowly flying by even higher in the sky than her.
“R&C Occultics is involved in every form of online business,” said Stiyl. He was reviewing some basic facts while narrowing in on the crux of the matter. “The most prominent of those is online shopping. But they could not let the distribution centers and shipping routes reveal the location of their HQ, so they focused on unmanned distribution using drones.”
“What of it?”
“They have delivery drones all over the world. They could not build any obvious stationary bases on the ground, but they still needed some way of receiving and sending out products, recharging the drones, and performing maintenance on them. So that massive IT company built mobile bases that need not belong to any country in particular.”
Kamijou and the others in the diner had not known about this, but they could not ask any questions. Maybe they could sense the intensity of this priest who had seen one for himself.
“They use aerial spacecraft launch pads known as Logistic Hornets. Those mobile space development bases look like flying wings measuring 5000m across. They were originally developed as mother ships for the spacecraft meant to replace the old-fashioned rockets and space shuttles, but R&C Occultics has no interest in space travel. They have 12 of the things on standby in the skies around the world and they launch their spacecraft to carry cargo between them. Then the drones carry the actual deliveries to the individual addresses. The mother ships wait at an altitude of 30 thousand meters and they use their bulti-in mass drivers to launch the spacecraft into a ballistic orbit that lets them ignore air resistance. It takes them about 20 minutes to carry cargo containers to the opposite side of the planet.”
“When cargo on the ground is sent to the Logistic Hornets, they launch unmanned gliders from mobile launch vehicles. You know, like the ones that launch ballistic missiles. It keeps the cost of the launches down and sticking to mobile facilities allows them to avoid the concept of nationality for all twelve of the Logistic Hornets.”
“I said wait!! Logistic what!? How do you know what they’re called and how they work!? I’m not the only one feeling lost here, am I!? This is news to the rest of you too, right!?”
A pair of small shoulders jumped.
Helcalia could not understand Japanese, but that may have made the incomprehensible yelling all the more frightening. She would assume the situation was deteriorating.
“I picked these up after I was separated from Kanzaki.” Looking irritated, Stiyl tossed a thick stack of documents onto the countertop. “I found them in one of the abandoned Academy City bases. And rune magic lets you activate a carved rune’s effects by dyeing it and complete the ceremony by destroying it. When used correctly, it can dig up residual thoughts like a needle reading the groove in a record.”
So instead of reading the text on the documents, had he spied on the thoughts of the person who had written it?
The method could not be used in court, but in contexts where magic was accepted, it could provide a decent level of “proof”.
“Then those things are how R&C Occultics makes all its money? They’re part of the collection that Anna Sprengel will start a ridiculous war to keep whole?”
“If they can transport that much cargo, they must be able to manipulate the weather conditions too. Their spell included a scientific piece that the grimoire library wouldn’t cover,” said Stiyl. “Maybe they use liquid nitrogen and maybe they use the naphtha found in napalm, but if they can rapidly heat and cool the air at high altitude, they can change the density of the air. That lets them change the atmospheric pressure. And if you can do that, you can bend the wind to your will. Fighter crafts and missiles need to travel through the air, so they could never even get close to those Logistic Hornets. Combine that with the R&C Occultics magician using sand as a weapon and we have a serious threat on our hands!!”
It twisted and coiled.
It looked like a single massive pillar. It sucked up the white sand covering the surface and swept it up to the stratosphere.
It was a tornado.
Even Kanzaki Kaori was slow to respond when faced with a true natural disaster. The Saint had jumped only 300m up, so she could not escape that pillar that rose tens of thousands of meters into the sky!!
It engulfed her.
She felt her mind fading and her body breaking apart, but she still clenched her teeth.
Several white smokescreens scattered in the frozen sky.
They looked like the midday fireworks seen at athletic festivals, but there were too many of them. Hundreds or even thousands of the white smokescreen fireworks filled the air above Kanzaki like a thick roof.
Had countless delivery drones been released into the sky, flown toward specific aerial coordinates on the guidance of a group control system that kept them from colliding with each other, and then swiftly self-destructed?
(Liquid nitrogen!! They’re cooling the air to control the atmosphere pressure. Does that mean the scientific machines are an amplifier used to endlessly boost the sand magic!?)
“This is…not good!”
She used her fingertips, which just barely still existed, to accurately control seven invisibly-thin wires.
She used Nanasen.
She could easily slice through the air to blow the sandstorm away in an instant, but that would not get rid of the fine grains already caught in her hair and inside her clothing.
It was too late for her.
So she left this in someone else’s hands.
The sun had already risen and swept away the shadows of the night, but Kanzaki’s eyes accurately located a single point of orange light.
That was a lit cigarette hidden in the city far below.
She could not waste this. She could move their game piece at least one more space along the board.
She needed to find something useful, no matter how small, so she tore apart the curtain blocking her partner’s vision, opening the way to the next hint. If she could see him on the surface, he could see her from there. The two of them had split up so if anything happened to one of them, the other could at least get the information back to the rest of the team.
Kanzaki clenched her teeth for placing this burden on Stiyl’s shoulders.
She was forcing him to do something she had failed at. Even though she knew receiving a hint by watching your partner’s sacrifice was more painful than any injury to yourself.
Kanzaki Kaori saw it even as she disappeared.
All while praying at least one other person would see this too.
She saw the HQ building’s defender. She could tell it was some kind of technology, but she was not sure of what kind.
Overall, it looked like a giant aircraft with V-shaped wings. It was several kilometers across, rivalling an entire town in size. The craft extended back from the V-shaped wings and ended in another triangular tail wing at the back, so even with a gap between the two sets of wings, the overall silhouette still looked like a single isosceles triangle.
But more than that…
It was hollow.
Kanzaki’s mind was drawn toward the gaping hole. The very center of the V-shape was entirely empty, even though this was an aircraft. Did the hole itself matter, or did the donut shape around the hole matter?
One of the massive flying object’s main wings had the words Logistic Hornet 06 written on it.
But that was not all.
The Saint read one more thing aloud even as her throat disappeared.
Kamijou saw the girl’s eyes widen.
He and Stiyl had been speaking in Japanese, but she must have recognized one of the terms they were using. The instant she heard the English term, a clear change came over her.
The phrase was Space Engage.
Kamijou recognized it too. He only had to look at the young girl’s back and see what words were printed on the flight jacket she wore over her camisole.
He had assumed that was a brand name, but it must have been the name of a company instead.
Kamijou immediately gave Stiyl a stiff smile.
“Y-you’re joking, right? You must have misread it.”
“I am serious and I know what I saw.”
He heard a crunch as Stiyl Magnus bit the filter of his cigarette.
The priest gave into his anger and raised his voice.
“Kanzaki did everything she could to ensure I received this information even as her body came apart around her!! She left this mission with me and I will do whatever it takes to complete it. There is an undeniable connection between the R&C Occultics magician and Space Engage’s new weapon. I will not budge on that. We must start from there if we are to find a solution.”
This was the only possible conclusion based on the “starting point” he had gained from his partner’s sacrifice, so he glared straight at Kamijou’s face.
“Why was Helcalia the sole survivor out of 30 million people? You expect me to believe R&C Occultics overlooked her just because she was hiding in a locker? Preposterous. We’ve searched all over and not found a single other exception in a washing machine, a car trunk, a basement, or anywhere else. Every last dog house and bird cage was cleaned out as much as everything else. It only makes sense if you assume she was spared because she’s family of one of the villains!!”
“Not true. Can’t be.”
When interpreted by the Transla-Pen, the girl’s response didn’t sound like much, but even Kamijou could tell she was distraught. He could not understand her untranslated English, but he could still hear the fear and anger in her trembling voice.
“Mama isn’t!! She promised to make it true before I become grownup. She was excited about making a wedding in space. So nothing to do with R&C Occultics!!”
“How about this?” Stiyl Magnus slowly exhaled and finally moved his trembling hand to pull out a new cigarette. “Do you know why this girl’s mother was at that Academy City base? Melzabeth Grocery was the president of a space start-up. She used to do experimental launches outside of LA and on the ocean, but not anymore.”
He lit the cigarette and filled his lungs with smoke, but that did not seem to make him feel any better.
“But Academy City didn’t ask for her cooperation because she knew so much about space.”
No, they wouldn’t, thought Kamijou. Academy City technology was 20-30 years ahead of the outside world, so they would never ask for someone outside the city for help when it came to technology.
But then why had they contacted Melzabeth Grocery?
“Her start up got off the ground with support from R&C Occultics and she was one of the company presidents in their crucial independent affiliates division. Academy City wanted her as an insider who knew the inner workings of that enigmatic IT company. …But seeing as the Logistic Hornet is assisting the Citrinitas magician, that was probably a bad idea. She was working with Anna and she was sent to Academy City as a double agent. She worked on the inside to sabotage Overlord Revenge!!”
Othinus had reached absolute zero on the diner table.
The 15cm god had woken up in a bad mood.
“So when the 10-year-old ran off in tears, she managed to slip past you? How slow are you?”
Kamijou wilted beneath the pressure of her straight back and crossed arms, so he could not even look her in the eye. Her anger was a calm thing, so it scared him in a different way from Index’s chomping jaws.
But it wasn’t his fault. It hadn’t been an issue of simple strength.
The girl who only came up to his hips had moved as unpredictably as a rubber ball bouncing around the room. He had lost track of her after she ducked below the counter. He did not even remember when she had managed to slam her shoulder against the back door and escape outside.
“Human, do you know what this means?”
“That you’ve finally run out of patience with me?”
“I will never give up on my understander no matter what happens, so stop cowering.” With that said, she switched over to an exasperated sigh. “Helcalia did not run away because of that immature smoker priest’s hateful words. If you already dislike someone, nothing they say will affect you all that much. Besides, you said you were speaking in Japanese.”
“Human. It was you gasping and not defending her mother that shocked her enough to run away. She saw you as the only person she could rely on and then you pushed her away. That’s a lot of pain to force onto a 10-year-old. You didn’t mean to? No, probably not. She’s a stranger you only just met, so you’re not obligated to do anything for her. You were well within your rights to abandon her…right?”
Kamijou Touma silently bit his lip.
Othinus softly uncrossed her arms.
“But if you still feel like cursing your own gutless behavior, then you’re not lost yet. You earned 0 points here, but there’s still time to make up for it. So before punching yourself in the face, figure out what you can do that will actually help Helcalia.”
Stiyl was examining the paper documents he had picked up and he made no attempt to approach the divine lecture. He was only interested in discovering what happened between the joint force and R&C Occultics, why the 30 million people disappeared, and if the threat still remained so they could pave a path to the HQ building.
Now that he knew Melzabeth Grocery was guilty, he had no need for her daughter Helcalia. No matter how unpredictable she was, it was odd for a professional magician to let a small child escape like Kamijou had.
“Well, if he isn’t interested in listening in, then this is your chance.”
“Hey, library. You sit at that table over there.”
“Mh! Why only me?”
“(Because with you as a shield, the smoker priest will be hesitant to interfere.)”
Index tilted her head, but she happily moved to the other table when the tiny god pointed out it was closer to the fountain drinks.
“Human, what are your plans now?” asked Othinus.
Kamijou blinked in confusion but then hesitantly spoke up.
“Well, if possible, I want to find Helcalia and tell her that her mother isn’t a bad person.”
“Not what I meant.” Othinus cut him off with an exasperated snort. “Searching out the truth is easy enough, but keep in mind that the 30 million people disappeared before you got involved. You can’t guarantee that there’s nothing to worry about when you didn’t witness those events yourself. Once you investigate, you might discover that Melzabeth Grocery really was one of the villains working with Anna Sprengel. That is a real possibility. In fact, it’s the boringly straightforward answer you’re more than likely to find.”
“So.” She paused for emphasis. “I’m asking what your plans are for every scenario, from best case to worst case. You can find an answer, but that doesn’t mean much. The truth could be exactly what you wanted to find, or it could be the exact opposite. But you can’t let fear of the past slow you down. What matters is the future you create from there. So what will you do? That is what I am asking, human.”
Kamijou Touma thought for a bit before answering.
“I want to catch up to Helcalia and tell her there’s nothing to worry about.”
“The odds of that being true are very nearly zero.”
“I’ll say it anyway.”
“The more you defend Melzabeth, the more foolish you will look down the line. This thoughtless empathy could mean never returning to Academy City again. You will lose everything that just flashed through your mind when I said that. Do you really understand that? It’s even possible the ‘good guys’ will destroy you along with R&C Occultics. They’ll see you as a villain defending one of the criminals, so they won’t even give you a chance to argue your case.”
“I don’t care if Melzabeth planned the whole damn thing herself!! If she did, then I just have to punch her as hard as I can to bring her back to her senses and then drag her back to apologize to her daughter. It’s 20 below out there, 30 million people have disappeared, and the magician who defeated a Saint like Kanzaki is out there. I have to go save her! I’m not giving up on her life because someone else is a villain. And Helcalia doesn’t have to give up on her own life over it either!!”
“I see.” Othinus breathed an utterly exasperated sigh. “Nothing I say can shake you from the path of salvation, can it?”
In the end, his answer must have satisfied her.
Because this time, she gave him a cruel grin.
“Then I’ll just have to guide you to victory.”
“I’m pissed too, you know? Listen, not even you can deny my feelings here. But if you’re going to do this, you can’t just lead Helcalia on with irresponsible, half-baked assurances. Your promise only means something if you thoroughly investigate Melzabeth until you’re certain whether or not she’s a villain. Saving someone is supposed to be a meaningful act, isn’t it?”
“Investigate her? But how?”
“How else?” Othinus snorted and pointed over at something. “With that watch you found.”
“Touma? Where are you?”
A carefree voice rang through the downtown diner.
It belonged to Index and her arms were crossed.
“Hmm…there’s no one here. Did they all leave?”
Stiyl Magnus sighed softly.
Kanzaki Kaori had been defeated, Helcalia Grocery had run away, and now Kamijou Touma and Othinus had left the diner.
More and more people were disappearing. It was now just him and that girl.
“Are there even any hints out there for them to find? They might be eating something tasty!”
The nun parted the decorative plant to peek behind the fountain drink machine. In isolation, it would have been a heartwarming scene.
But Index froze after peeking underneath one of the booth tables.
That was the one Helcalia had been sitting and napping at earlier.
A single memo had fallen there and Index read the text on it.
“I have a document on that.”
Index’s shoulders jumped.
The priest smiled bitterly because that was an understandable response without her old memories.
He waved the stack of documents he had found at the Academy City base.
“Project Code: Secret. It appears to be a prototype optical neurocomputer modeled after cranial nerve connections. With this, the machine can handle accepting orders in every language on the planet, analyzing and managing individualized advertisements, planning and executing sales, sales analysis, mapping the customer base, locating likely illegal accounts, and preventing mass buying and scalping. Basically, whoever controls it will constantly receive obscene amounts of money while just sitting around. Although it looks like the design is not quite as complicated as an actual human brain.”
“But what is it?”
“The drone management server that controls the 12 Logistic Hornets is currently in their HQ building. It’s an old-fashioned supercomputer that requires people to actually look after it. If we can destroy that stationary device, we can shut down their entire global distribution infrastructure.”
Intentionally building a weak point like that could be seen as an advantage since it gave them a way to manually shut it all down.
“But once they hook up Secret’s complex wiring, the computers within the 12 Logistic Hornets will take over while monitoring each other. That will allow those flying machines to manage themselves. Once that happens, taking out the HQ building will not stop it. The world will be surrounded by those meteorological disaster weapons. They would be able to target any part of the planet.”
Index only tilted her head.
The optical neurocomputers were already onboard the Logistic Hornets, but they were not yet running because the complex parallel wiring to connect the 256 processors was not yet hooked up. The optical neurocomputers used proprietary standards, so outside contractors could not perform the work. Even the employees from the start-up period had their doubts. They had never reached an answer, so they had apparently loaded all the equipment onboard and then left the wiring incomplete.
Even if they knew it was dangerous, an invention was still an invention. They had designed it, registered it, and actually built it to prove it was theirs. That sort of overeagerness was common with start-ups.
“They decided not to complete the wiring until 4/5 of the start-up employees agreed to it.”
“But none of that matters now. Melzabeth Grocery is the start-up’s president and she has the powerful support of R&C Occultics. Only those who agree with her remain. Those with more of a backbone have all left the company. No matter how complex the wiring, she just has to submit a detailed diagram. Then the Logistic Hornets will be unleashed on the world. That giant IT company will be able to manipulate everything from the economy to the weather of any country or region.”
The shape of the face, the type and colors of the band, and the various small scratches and smudges.
Kamijou had no idea how much information was still hidden there, but he had a bigger concern at the moment.
“How am I supposed to keep that sniper from getting me, dammit?”
“Stay close to the walls, but do not actually touch them. In this cold, your skin would get stuck and you would have to tear it away.”
They had something to do while Index kept Stiyl at the diner.
Kamijou had stepped out into the minus-20 weather. They were close to the R&C Occultics HQ and they knew there was a magician and giant weapons out there. He could not let his guard down for a second.
“That smartwatch cannot function on its own,” said Othinus on the shoulder of his cheap jacket. “Just like your Transla-Pen, or whatever it’s called, it must sync with a phone first.”
“There are a number of syncing methods, but that one uses short-range wireless that does not go through the phone towers. So with access to the phone lost, it sends out a signal to automatically search for it. That tends to drain the battery pretty fast.”
“Oh, so if I walk around with it, I might be able to locate the phone!? Like I’m searching for a transmitter!?”
“Currently, the only information we have on Melzabeth Grocery are those paper documents Stiyl Magnus brought back with him. If you want to argue with his conclusion, you need to find more information than him. If she did leave her phone out, it would be in a private space. You should find a more authentic view of her life than from those papers found in a military base.”
But that might not work out in Kamijou’s favor.
Like Othinus had said, this had all happened before Kamijou got involved. What if he found a strange lab, a bloody crime scene, stacks of dirty money, or a weapon far too powerful to be for self-defense? And Kamijou’s efforts would not influence that outcome. He was digging up what had already happened, so he might just find something that broke his heart.
He needed the courage to intrude on someone else’s life.
He could not let the worst-case scenario slow him down. He needed the true bravery to keep going even if that was what he found.
He glanced down at the watch’s small screen.
“Oh, it’s weak, but it has a bar now. Looks like you can also switch it to a numerical indicator…”
“Then we must be close. And I had guessed it wouldn’t be far from the base where she disappeared.”
“That tent base’s bathrooms, baths, and beds were not divided by sex. It’s a common social problem found in the military, like on submarines, but I doubt a civilian woman visiting the sweaty and tactless base would have felt comfortable spending the night there. And she had no commanding officer who could order her to do so. I don’t know if she was a benevolent cooperator or a double agent, but either way, it’s safe to assume she had a room for herself somewhere nearby.”
“Is that how it works?” wondered Kamijou while reaching out with the smartwatch in his hand and slowly spinning around. He found the direction where the reception improved slightly and walked in that direction. Little by little, the number of bars increased.
“Hm, about 500m to go.” Othinus sounded bored on his shoulder. “But the rest won’t be so easy.”
When they arrived at a building, he looked up to see a large tourist hotel.
“You’re kidding, right? It’s huge. H-how many windows is that? It’s gotta have hundreds of rooms.”
“You can ignore everything above the 7th floor.”
“The distance from the phone includes vertical distance. If it was too high up, it couldn’t pick up the phone’s signal from the ground.”
Kamijou still didn’t understand, so Othinus gave an exasperated snort.
“The signal got stronger as you approached the hotel, remember? That doesn’t just apply to the horizontal distance. Think of it as a diagonal line rising from the ground. That also explains why the bars recovered faster the closer you got.”
Once inside, they found the place deserted.
But a cheerful voice still spoke to them.
“Welcome. Estimating language based on clothing brand…is Japanese acceptable? Will you be checking in?”
“Popper-kun!? I hadn’t seen you in Japan for a while, so were you having a major debut across the Pacific!?”
“I could not understand your question. Please speak more clearly.”
The communication robot that moved around on boring tires was surprisingly brutal.
The first floor was the front desk and the second floor on up included a shopping mall, a casino, and restaurants. There was no sign of any guest rooms until the seventh floor. Kamijou sighed when he saw all the doors lining the long hallway there. At this point, he just had to try them each in turn. He held the smartwatch toward each of the shut doors that seemed to reject the current state of LA.
“Here we go – Room 0709. The signal is strongest here and I’ve even got a lock screen!!”
“No point in holding back now. Kick the door down.
That was not happening. Kamijou walked to the end of the hallway and searched near the employee elevator. He found an emergency master key alongside the AED in the employee space.
“Heh heh. This is how civilized people do things, Othinus-kun.”
“Breaking into someone’s room is illegal no matter how you do it.”
He really wished she had said that before he used the key to unlock the electronic and analog locks and opened the door. He could not undo it now, so he withered like dehydrated seaweed while walking into the room.
“Huh, what a dreary room. And the building looked so nice from the outside.”
“Because this is the bottommost floor of the hotel rooms and this is a single room at that. You can’t tell with the place deserted, but this floor would be the noisiest. The bars and restaurants below would be making a racket late into the night. And that part of the wall that sticks out must be hiding a drain pipe.” Othinus sighed on his shoulder. “But this is enough to get a decent image of the woman.”
Kamijou was confused as he walked further into the room.
He found a neatly-made bed and a suitcase in the corner of the room. The phone the smartwatch was syncing to was on the bedside table and plugged into the wall with its charger. He picked it up, but he doubted he could get past the lock screen.
“A Grapple MilliPhone. And a reduced-specs budget model at that. Open it up.”
The boy complained, but when he lifted up the phone, the tilt sensor reacted and the screen lit up. It was still password locked, but what he saw made him pause.
“A few notifications popped up.”
“There’s an upcoming item on her schedule: 28th – UST 5 AA Secret.”
“It could simply be United States something, or it could stand for something else entirely. We also don’t know how to divide it up. Is UST 5 AA all one term, or does AA Secret go together?”
The 28th. What had she had planned during this busy holiday season? Kamijou didn’t know all the Western holiday customs with Easter and whatever else, so he had a hard time even making a guess.
But if the phone was here, Melzabeth must have been out and about without her phone when the disappearance happened. Since it was plugged in, she may have forgotten to charge it up. Was she just a careless person? It was a silly fantasy, but it did make her feel more like a real person.
He found a few casual shirts and blouses in the closet.
“Nothing here either,” said Othinus about a drawer at the bottom of the closet. No, it had a number pad like a phone, so it was a safe for valuables. But it must have been unlocked because Kamijou could pull the thick drawer open with ease. There was of course nothing inside.
“Were you hoping to find something in there?”
“Something related to the Logistic Hornets, but I guess she wasn’t foolish enough to leave that in her room while she was out.”
Kamijou had not expected that answer. He had assumed Othinus would be after some occult secrets related to the sand magic or something.
She sighed and explained further for him.
“Those things are 5000m aerial fortresses. They’re more mysterious than most magic. Do you have any idea how many hurdles they had to clear to make that work? You can’t just scale up a paper airplane and expect it to fly just the same.”
“Is it really that amazing?”
“When I commanded Gremlin, we sent out Radiosonde Castle, but that was really just a giant balloon. Those things are much too big to work as actual airplanes that obtain lift from their wings, yet somehow they fly. …Melzabeth Grocery is undoubtedly a genius who has surpassed the known limits of aeronautics. Even off the top of my head, I can come up with more than three reasons that shouldn’t work. I can see why R&C Occultics wanted them so bad.”
Othinus then turned her attention to the room’s desk.
Kamijou opened the drawer to find the usual letter set and terms of service booklet, plus a few card-sized papers. He could understand the big “20% off” and he ran the Transla-Pen over the rest to find they were grocery store coupons. She must have collected them.
“I hope we can find some writing.”
“What do you mean, Othinus? Do you want me to run a pencil over the notebook or memo pad to see what was written on the previous page?”
“That would require her to be as careless as letting her bag’s strap pull up her skirt, revealing her underwear. She’s an adult, so I would like to believe she’s better than that.” Othinus snorted. “But, human, did you know some traces can be found on the top of the desk? For example, if you cover the front of a loose leaf paper with writing and then flip it over to write on the back, the writing on the front will be faintly transferred onto the desk. Just like with the carbon paper used for delivery receipts.”
“I’m saying we might just see her underwear after all.”
Kamijou switched on the desk lamp and lowered it until it was just above the desk’s surface…and there it was. It wasn’t much, but he could just barely make out some traces of English writing. But instead of the excitement of finding a new hint, he mostly felt bad, like he was going through someone’s trash.
The stalker god crawled along the desk, pressing her cheek against the surface to get a closer look (and sticking her butt up in the air).
“Silicon dioxide. But you don’t often see a distillation method with this level of purity. It’s far purer than the average fiber optic cable. 99.9998% or higher is really only useful for an ultra-fast neurocomputer that uses optical signals.”
“Um, Miss God? Should I just go take a nap while you finish this up yourself?”
“Stupidity is no excuse to slack off. Figure it out yourself.”
Kamijou picked up the landline to check for further details, but based on the Transla-Pen’s translation of the list the automated voice rattled off, Melzabeth had not ordered any room service. When it started listing off how many pairs of underwear she had sent to be laundered, he frantically hung up.
Unsurprisingly, the bathroom was small. The complimentary soap and shampoo had been used just a bit. The dryer did not look like something she had brought with her. It must have come with the room and its plastic body had faded with age.
The god, who was once more using his shoulder as a chair, crossed her arms and leaned against the side of his face.
“Have you noticed?” she asked.
The suitcase was locked, but they didn’t need to break it open.
“Hey, Othinus. She didn’t expect anyone to see this room, did she?”
“I can’t imagine why she would set up such a meaningless trap, so we should assume this is an honest look at her.”
Kamijou took a deep breath and worked to calm his heart. He may have grown biased at some point. He wanted to return to Helcalia with some good news and he may have let that influence how he interpreted what he saw.
But Othinus was not so easily influenced and she agreed with him.
“That is almost certainly the case,” she said.
“Remember, she’s supposed to be the immoral success story who handed her distribution network over to a major corporation without even considering how they would use it, grew filthy rich in the process, and has found success thanks to thorough support from R&C Occultics. View this room through that lens and none of it makes sense, does it?”
“I see,” repeated Kamijou Touma under his breath.
Almost like he was savoring the words.
“Let’s go find Helcalia,” he finally said. “I can’t leave this undone. I said I would tell her there was nothing to worry about no matter what truth we found and now we’ve found that truth. I won’t reject the answer I found. It’s 20 below outside and the cause of the disappearances is still out there. We can’t leave her out there forever.”
The attack on Los Angeles had been a truly awful thing.
Even ignoring the 30 million disappearances, Helcalia could not have been having a good day. The largescale battle started by Academy City and the Anglicans might have been enough of a disaster, but like salt in the wound, things had gotten worse.
Her mother had disappeared.
And she had been told her mother was not worth saving.
She had trembled all alone in a cramped locker and, when help finally came, they pushed her away as well.
It was all garbage. Ever last bit of it.
“It’s about time we fought back, don’t you think, Helcalia?”
Helcalia had of course not told him where she was going. Nor did he know how to contact her.
So Kamijou Touma could only run around the frozen city hoping to find her. This close to the HQ building, he had to assume every step he took was putting his life at risk.
(Dammit, since they have those big Logistic Whatevers, should I assume the enemy is a large group? Please don’t give me the misfortune to run into one of them now.)
Fortunately, he was looking for a 10-year-old. She could not drive a car or a motorcycle. The busses and trains were not running and a bicycle would be too dangerous with all the sand and the slippery frozen roads.
A small child could only make it so far from the diner on foot.
“Hey, human. What makes you think she’s here?”
“28th – UST 5 AA Secret.”
“It was on the phone we found in the hotel, remember? We already know Melzabeth abbreviated ‘downtown’ as DT, so it must be a habit of hers. That isn’t the acronym of some new weapon. It’s a place: Union Station!!”
According to Othinus, Union Station was a downtown landmark located near Little Tokyo. He still didn’t know what the 28th and 5 AA parts meant, but he guessed it may have been a secondary rendezvous point if the diner didn’t work out.
(But wait. Wasn’t the 28th…?)
“There she is!!”
The pointy-haired boy spotted the small girl on the empty station platform. Helcalia had to know no trains would be coming, so why was she here?
But at the very least, she was not on the top of a skyscraper or in a frigid frozen river.
And she had not been found and captured by R&C Occultics either.
So his immediate reaction was a relieved “thank goodness”.
He was out of breath, but the chilly air brought a dull pain to his chest.
In a world too cold for blood and tears, he pulled out his Transla-Pen and spoke gently to the girl.
“There is someone other than us out here. That sand is dangerous. Let’s go back, Helcalia. It’s safest if we stick together.”
But she did not respond to that.
She said something else entirely, as if cutting him off.
Her voice was a low, unsteady groan.
But when she looked up, it exploded into a tearful yell.
The Transla-Pen went wild.
“Mama really was a bad guy!! Tricked everyone, kept secrets from me, did bad things in secret. Mama made Los Angeles like this! It was all, all, all, all her fault!!!!!!”
She was only 10.
Her adorable face was wrinkled like a balled-up tissue. Her demonic expression was so distorted it was a miracle she didn’t have blood seeping from between her clenched teeth.
“Secret, Logistic Hornets, R&C Occultics!! I knew. I saw her sneaking around in secret! But the flying demons aren’t complete yet. If mama hands over something and the wiring is wired, then everything is all over!!”
Her words were like a curse against her own mother.
Her face had the horrifying look of someone who was ready to give up on the entire world.
Kamijou Touma sent his gentle words through the Transla-Pen. He didn’t care how silly the translation ended up as long as the feelings behind them got through.
“Do you really think your mom was a bad person? Do you think she was the kind of person who would eagerly join with R&C Occultics, do all this to the city, and defeat Kanzaki just a bit ago?”
“But it’s all shown right here! So much evidence I don’t want to see!!!!!”
Maybe Helcalia didn’t know what an Oni was, but that was the word that came to Kamijou’s mind when the 10-year-old glared back at him.
“Mama lied, tricked, kept secrets, hid things, and did bad!! What can I think!? It’s all true, isn’t it!? And I trusted. Thought I could trust family. But…!!”
But that was exactly why Kamijou could not let her menacing appearance get to him. Hating her, rejecting her, and denying her would not bring them any closer to a solution here!!
He had to consider why she was giving him that look and saying these things.
She had to be worried.
She had to be afraid.
Betrayal was a scary thing. And she was afraid of having the critical information forced on her by someone else, so she at least wanted to deliver the finishing blow herself. She was trying to protect her own gentle heart that way. But she was not actually protecting anything. She was only looking away from what she really wanted and running headlong toward misfortune.
Mama made all tables and shelves my height.
He had to trust her feelings. He had to look to what had made her smile so proudly.
Even if she was so shaken she was close to destroying those feelings herself, he had to stick with it.
So he had to say this.
“Your mom didn’t choose to do this with a smile.”
The girl’s eyes widened more than he would have thought possible.
But she still bit her lip to hold back her excitement, like she was afraid of reaching for this new hope too readily.
“Your mom wasn’t a double agent for R&C Occultics.”
Give some real hope to this lonely and battered girl!!
“So, Helcalia, let’s start with what matters: Melzabeth Grocery is not one of the bad guys!!!!!”
He faced her.
Their gazes collided.
Kamijou Touma and Helcalia Grocery.
Imagine Breaker was useless here. No clenched fists were needed.
He would retrieve her smile, pat her head, and tell her not to worry.
He would make sure of it.
He swore to himself that was what his right hand was really for.
The girl sniffled, but still threw that word back at him.
The verbal battle had begun.
“That big Space Engage plane is really flying! Mama gave them amazing thing, knowing it would cause troubles. She gave R&C Occultics a killing weapon!!”
“The Logistic Hornets weren’t originally designed as weapons. You said it yourself, Helcalia. You said she was excited about holding a wedding in space. She was never making a tool for killing!!”
“But she still gave it!!”
“Who ever said she was happy about it?” He could only answer with such confidence because of the information he had found himself. “Her hotel was as plain as could be!! She chose the cheapest and least comfortable room, she didn’t order room service, and the clothes in the closet were all cheap. She even just used the complimentary soap and shampoo! If she had chosen to work with that giant IT company and clung to the title of president for her own success, she would be throwing money around. But it looked more like she was actively rejecting luxury. Like the money forced onto her by R&C Occultics was filthy in her eyes!!”
“Her phone was a Grapple MilliPhone. And an inconvenient budget model at that. You can see how strange that is, can’t you? Why wasn’t she using an R&C Occultics product? Why did she go out of her way to use a rival’s phone? Doesn’t it sound like she didn’t trust R&C Occultics!?”
He couldn’t be sure all of this would get through to a 10-year-old. He was only in high school himself, so it was possible even he didn’t fully understand the influence and benefits of the Logistic Hornets.
But that wasn’t what mattered.
He needed to save Helcalia and that required him to be earnest. He needed to show her everything he had, without holding any of it back.
He had to keep moving, even if it was cruel and confusing.
It was Helcalia who would break it all down and accept it at her own speed. It was not his place to set an upper limit for her.
So he spoke from her eye level.
“What did she gain by placing the entire start-up under their control and what would she have lost if she refused? She wanted the Logistic Hornets to remain in some form. That’s why she agreed to R&C Occultics’s deal! It wasn’t for money. Don’t you think it was to keep her promise with you, her daughter!?”
She had promised to hold her daughter’s wedding in space.
How serious had she been when she first said it? It may have been little more than a joke. But once she got to work, the technology started to come together, and she was so close to actually pulling it off, she had grown attached to the idea. She hadn’t wanted to throw it all away.
She must have regretted her decision.
She must have agonized over it afterwards, wondering if she had really done the right thing.
They knew she had in fact been frequenting that Academy City base. She had been working to reject the fortune R&C Occultics was offering her and instead assist in bringing them down.
Kamijou had no idea what happened in between.
But she had come to her senses in the end.
At that point, there was almost no chance of her being a double agent.
“But mama didn’t. 30 million are gone, but I still see glimpses of mama around the city!! Mama was spared because she works with R&C Occultics. She made all this terribleness!!”
“In the world of magic, there are plenty of ways to make people do things against their will,” said Othinus from Kamijou’s shoulder. “For example, the St. Germain pill. Have someone swallow that spiritual item and it will directly infect their body and create a fictional personality inside them. It isn’t unusual when the Rosy Cross is involved and R&C Occultics CEO Anna Sprengel even infected my understander here that way.”
“Never heard of that unheard-of disease. It might not have been used on mama!!”
“Then let’s talk about something with more evidence to back it up, Helcalia,” said Kamijou with a gentle sigh.
There was a much more reliable way of controlling people than with something like St. Germain. It wasn’t something too high-level for Helcalia to understand and it wasn’t speculative since Kamijou had already seen it in effect here in Los Angeles.
“Melzabeth has regretted what she did ever since doing it, so what vulnerability do you think they used to get her to obey?”
“I don’t know. Vulnerability is dirty word. Only applies to dirty grownups with skeletons in their closet.”
“How do you think R&C Occultics found out about it? The answer was right in front of them the whole time. If they knew they could use the Logistic Hornets, they must have thoroughly investigated all of their specs. And that must have shown them the ‘vulnerability’ that led Melzabeth to make her reluctant decision.”
“What are you-!?”
Helcalia shouted back on reflex, but then she gasped.
It must have come to her.
She trembled and stared blankly into the air while weakly shaking her head.
“No. Can’t be. Not true.”
“She promised to hold her daughter’s wedding in space.”
Even the Space Engage name itself pointed to that.
Perhaps Melzabeth Grocery had been unfamiliar with human cruelty. Leaving your innermost desire out in the open like that was far too careless. It introduced the risk of having that desire used as a vulnerability. Because when someone was gasping for breath in the middle of the vast desert and they asked for a cup of water, the other person would only sneer and jack up the price.
In other words…
“Who was that promise meant for? Nothing could be more obvious: you. And when the villains who control the world threatened her 10-year-old daughter, what could she do but obey!? Maybe you didn’t know you had been taken hostage, but R&C Occultics would have always had someone close by so they could attack you at any moment. And Melzabeth wanted to escape that situation so badly she went to Academy City, even if it felt like grasping at straws! Why do you think you were the only survivor when 30 million people disappeared in LA? Were you just lucky? Did she use that opportunity to pull a fast one on R&C Occultics? No, whatever agreement she had with them required them to spare her daughter’s life!!”
But in the end, Melzabeth had betrayed R&C Occultics.
She had tried to do the right thing even if it meant betrayal.
She had broken her promise. Once she had disappeared, there was no real reason for R&C Occultics to keep the hostage alive. They could have slaughtered her along with everyone else.
But CEO Anna Sprengel had not done that. Why?
Knowing Anna Sprengel, it was because she thought that way would be more cruel and more entertaining. She had derived great pleasure from trampling on the dignity and pride of a mother who had tried to do the right thing.
With Kamijou Touma and St. Germain, she had enjoyed the worst of aristocratic games where she had forced that magician to infect the boy’s body against either of their wills. And she had enjoyed watching that nightmarish Christmas like she was observing bugs in a cage.
So what would she do here?
Would she let Melzabeth go after she betrayed her? Would she be satisfied simply dissolving her nutrients into the sand like with the other 30 million?
Would she crush the woman between her back teeth when she still had the tiny treasure that was Helcalia that she could use for further entertainment?
Not a chance. That woman in particular would never do that.
“She would force Melzabeth Grocery to do bad things.”
Or if not that, she would try to defile the one thing Melzabeth lived for.
“Melzabeth wanted to protect her daughter more than anything, so Anna would set things up so that daughter hated her. And in the end, she would force her to kill her own daughter. That’s the kind of cruelty I would expect if Anna Sprengel was out for revenge. So if you and your mother end up attacking each other and hurting each other, you’re playing right into her hands!! …Listen carefully, Helcalia, to make sure you don’t regret this!! It might look like Melzabeth is trying to do something terrible, but you lose from the moment you doubt her, hate her, give up on her, and stop seeing her as your mother!! The rest of us can’t truly save Melzabeth Grocery here! The only person in the world who can do that is you, her daughter!!!!!!”
He threw the answer at her.
Othinus had warned him over and over that if he faced the darkness to save Melzabeth and Helcalia, he might find an even worse answer hidden there.
And what had he said?
No matter what answer he found, he still wanted to tell Helcalia there was nothing to worry about.
So he would see this through to the end to save this lonely girl.
“I won’t be tricked. Not again.”
Helcalia sniffled and shouted with all her strength, like she was trying to reject all of it.
She rejected it over and over again.
“Mama lied. Mama didn’t tell me! Nothing anyone says can change it! She had to have some guilty secret. Otherwise she wouldn’t keep secret! It’s proof that she did bad thing!!”
But she was wrong.
Kamijou Touma knew it.
“There was Secret, the key to making the flying demons complete. The wires diagram for connecting the optical neuro machine thing! She was going to give to R&C!! So I have to stop her, reveal the bad things, and save everyone in LA. I have to fight mama!!!!!!”
Helcalia was so adamant on asserting malice on her mother’s part because she was afraid. She was terrified of letting herself trust again and then feeling the pain of betrayal by her own mother all over again. She had decided that abandoning all hope now would be less painful. So she distanced herself from the answer she actually wanted to shout louder than anyone else.
So he had to destroy that.
Until nothing remained.
He would bring back a world where this girl could insist that her mother was not a villain. That was enough of a reason for Kamijou Touma to direct his fist toward something that had grown larger than any one country.
“Of course she had a secret. But that doesn’t mean she’s a villain.”
“So you admit mama had secrets.”
“So what if she did?”
Melzabeth Grocery had been hiding something from her daughter.
What was it? And why? The answer was obvious. He already had everything he needed to answer those questions. He had found this answer on his own, so now he only had to present it with confidence.
So he revealed the answer to this final secret.
“Two days from now…”
She may have realized something when he said that.
Her tearful eyes widened in surprise as he threw the decisive truth at her.
“Isn’t that your birthday, Helcalia?”
He would tear down that wall of suspicion.
It wasn’t meant to come between a mother and her daughter.
Union Station’s interior looked like a fashionable shopping mall. It had a vast ceiling, long escalators, and spiral staircases. If it was full of people, Kamijou might have felt like he had wandered into the world of a movie.
It turned out coin-operated lockers were not very common in America.
Instead, they had something like a hotel cloakroom to store luggage. There would ordinarily be an employee at the counter, but not right now.
Kamijou climbed over and checked inside.
He already knew what to check for: 28th – UST 5 AA Secret. He checked the labels on the steel racks and saw the luggage was organized by three alphanumeric characters.
“This is it.”
He pulled out 5AA and brought it to the counter. The girl’s face crumpled as soon as she saw it. Melzabeth had left it here because she could not have her family running across it at home.
So what was it?
Who said it had to be something she felt guilty about?
It was a small box in pretty wrapping paper.
She had made sure to have a separate present for the girl who hated having her birthday combined with Christmas.
A card was held below the crisscrossing ribbon and Kamijou could read the handwritten message without needing the Transla-Pen: Happy birthday, Helcalia.
This was not vague circumstantial evidence.
It was unique material evidence of happiness.
Helcalia curled up, clutched the box to her chest, and bawled her eyes out.
It had nothing to do with a new weapon or super technology.
It was the same gentle secret found in any family.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! For doubting, for not trusting! Mama!! Ahh, why couldn’t I!? Why!? It was so obvious!! I should have known!!!!!!”
The Transla-Pen’s output was a mess, but it may have been the girl’s actual words that were a mess.
“Listen, Helcalia.” Kamijou kneeled down to her eye level. “People lie and they keep things to themselves. I doubt there’s a single person out there that doesn’t. And you don’t become a perfect person once you grow up and reach a certain age. But,” he added to begin a verbal counterattack. “Your mom isn’t the kind of person who keeps secrets that would hurt people or trap them.
“That much I know to be true. I tracked down this answer, so I won’t let anyone say it isn’t true.”
She could not get any more words out.
He had found an awful answer. A notorious IT company had cruelly used the misunderstandings between a mother and daughter until a third party was forced to reveal the secret Melzabeth Grocery had wanted to keep hidden. Her daughter Helcalia had seen the present before her birthday.
By revealing this without giving up, he had the opportunity to take this to the next step. He had just barely avoided the worst possible option where they denied someone’s good nature and sent them to the depths of hell just because they seemed suspicious and untrustworthy. Shining a light in the darkness had revealed something unpleasant, but because he had leaned forward and stretched out his hand despite the damage it caused, he had acquired this final opportunity.
He could still save Melzabeth Grocery.
That mother had been caught between good and evil, but in the very end, she had chosen to protect her daughter. She had worried for so long that she had done the wrong thing. Kamijou had made it this far, so as long as he kept going, he knew he would be able to grab that drowning hand.
That was a power found in anyone’s right hand.
“There you are.”
Then he heard an unexpected voice.
That was all it took for young Helcalia to faint, like something had forced her consciousness away.
Kamijou supported her small body and laid her down on the floor before turning around to find Stiyl Magnus in the station. Had he performed a magic search, or had he simply heard Helcalia crying in the empty city?
Stiyl would still think Melzabeth was a villain.
He only believed the things he had seen for himself.
“This is an emergency and even a Saint like Kanzaki has disappeared, so I think we need to be very cautious with Helcalia Grocery as a daughter of one of the villains. Hand her over. This is too much for you to handle.”
The pointy-haired boy bluntly refused, gently placed the wrapped present on the unconscious girl’s stomach, and moved himself between her and Stiyl.
Stiyl Magnus wielded magic.
It was powerful, but Imagine Breaker was effective against the occult.
With his right fist, he could save this girl who had nowhere else to turn. And he was willing to fight a wielder of the supernatural to do that.
“Helcalia, I promise you I will save your mom no matter what. I will eliminate all suspicion surrounding her and bring back the life you two once had.”
She could not hear him since she was unconscious, but Kamijou strongly believed the words were still meaningful.
“So let me be clear: you have nothing to worry about.”
The rune magician’s only response was an exasperated and smoky sigh.
That was all it took to switch him on.
“Do you understand…”
Laminated cards flew like confetti. The rune cards pasted themselves along the walls and floor, fully covering up the original colors.
“…the situation here?”
“Oh? Are you sure you do?” scoffed Othinus from Kamijou’s shoulder. “With that Amakusa Saint gone, the magic side seems pretty short on good will in this city. Now, you might have no reason not to kill Kamijou Touma, but are you prepared for the grimoire library to know what you did? She has a perfect memory, if you recall. Make one little mistake and she will never forget it.”
The priest laughed bitterly at himself.
“True, she’d probably hold a grudge if I killed you with my runes.”
It took less than a second.
It happened so smoothly Kamijou actually missed the moment it happened.
Bang!! Bang bang bang!!
“So I had an idea.”
The sweet cigarette smoke was joined by a different smokey scent.
It smelled a lot like fireworks.
The obvious cards had been a bluff to distract from what Stiyl Magnus held in his right hand.
“If I used this thing I found in the Academy City base, no one would ever suspect it was me even if they did find your corpse. They would assume someone on the science side did it, don’t you think?”
(Oh…right. That sand magician is still out there. So it doesn’t make sense for Stiyl of all people to leave Index all alone. The only reason he would do that is to avoid having her perfect memory remember something unpleasant. So he was planning to kill me from the moment he left the diner.)
“A dro- bwah!? Agh…you…cough! Used a drone!?”
“Such a tragic accident. One of these hybrid weapons – did they call them Five Overs – went berserk in unmanned mode.”
Kamijou could not get any more words out.
Instead, he tumbled down the escalator.
Kamijou fell down three floors’ worth of Union Station’s escalators.
He coughed violently.
Something was caught in his chest, which kept him from coughing up a clump of blood.
His legs were involuntarily trembling where they were stretched out on the floor.
But that did not last long.
His mind was dragged toward the pit of death.
But he clenched his teeth and dragged himself back to the real world.
He forced himself to cough.
Red liquid spewed from his mouth, but he was still alive.
His face was turning blue from asphyxiation, but he still worked to crawl along the ground. He focused on leaving the bottom of the escalator to hide himself.
What would screaming accomplish?
How would writhing in pain help anyone’s future?
His time was better spent moving as much as he could. He had to leave Union Station and find the next opportunity.
Melzabeth Grocery was not a villain and he had decided he would save her.
Othinus sighed half in concern and half in exasperation while holding onto his collar.
“Really, human? What did you set up this time?”
“With all those papers…in the diner – cough – I figured it couldn’t hurt to swipe some and stuff them under my clothes like they were old magazines.”
He had taken multiple shots to the chest.
But had that really been a Five Over – that is, a powered suit? The #4 had a much more bizarre silhouette than the mantis-like #3. It had looked something like a giant, transparent jellyfish. Did it accelerate electrons within its dome-shaped body and launch them from the tentacles spread out all around it? That made sense in unmanned mode, but Kamijou could not imagine how someone could wear it.
“It honestly scares me how accustomed you are to misfortune,” said Othinus. “Was that a spare one they hadn’t locked down yet? And when did you suspect this might happen? I didn’t see any hints myself.”
“When Kanzaki disappeared… Stiyl isn’t exactly the friendly type, so I couldn’t imagine us continuing to work together with her gone. That’s how it’s always worked between us. Plus…we’re in the world’s biggest gun country. Bh, I knew there would be bullets flying once I got into a fight in America. Ugh, cough! I-I never imagined I’d be shot by Japanese bullets after traveling all the way here, though.”
Still, it could have been worse.
The Five Over was a hybrid weapon that could be manned or remote-controlled. This one was apparently modeled after the #4, so he would have been vaporized if Stiyl had used its electron beam instead of the optional machinegun. Of course, that had not been a kindness on Stiyl’s part. He had probably only wanted the corpse’s wounds to be more obviously “scientific” in nature from Index’s perspective.
And the #4 had an especially ill-defined position among the Level 5s.
“It doesn’t use the wave or the particle – it uses the midpoint between them. I bet that tech came from quantum computers, not particle accelerators. I never thought they’d be buildings machines that operate by intentionally not observing.”
“I’m saying we were lucky that idiot brought the #4. If it was the #3 instead, I would have been obliterated by the Gatling guns in its arms.”
“Yes, what luck.”
Did Othinus click her tongue because of Stiyl’s cold calculation, or because Kamijou breathed a sigh of relief and honestly considered himself lucky after a supposed ally shot him several times in the chest?
“Hmph. Is that bastard not following up on the attack because he isn’t used to operating a drone?” asked Othinus. “Academy City has those drum-shaped things crawling through all of its alleys, so why even bother with manual control? Switch it to auto and the AI can control hundreds of units at once.”
“He’ll figure out the controls soon enough. He’s familiar enough with machines – cough – to make his rune cards with a printer.”
The copies of the #3 and the #4 were not their only enemy here. Kamijou Touma remembered another label he had seen on the metal containers in that tent base near the airport: Five Over OS – Model Case: Accelerator.
He had no idea what that new weapon could do, but it could attack at any moment. If he did not cover his tracks and find somewhere safe to hide, he would lose the chance to even fight back.
And then he couldn’t save the mother, the daughter, or anyone else.
Helcalia Grocery had fallen into Stiyl’s hands.
In that case, maybe it was lucky Index was still with the priest. Like Othinus said, Stiyl could not do anything too cruel in front of Index. That went beyond logic or personal interest. It was more like his own personal faith.
So Index would have to protect the daughter.
But that wasn’t enough. Protecting just one of them would not truly save the mother and the child.
The mother was Kamijou’s job.
“Heh. This is perfect. Now that he’s killed me, we might as well go into hiding, Othinus. If this lets us hide from Anna and Stiyl while we search out Melzabeth Grocery, it actually works in our favor.”
“Save the smug grins until you’re strong enough to stand up again. It’s 20 below, so if your cheek freezes to the chilled floor, you won’t be able to pull it away again. Do you have something in mind that’s worth the effort?”
He had only been brought along as Index’s “chaperone”.
And since he was no longer following Stiyl’s plan, Stiyl had decided he was only in the way. Kamijou himself had no real reason to work for the Anglicans here.
“My job here isn’t to give up on someone’s life and throw them into the pit of misfortune just because.”
He spoke clearly.
He slowly but surely got his trembling legs moving and stood back up.
And in one more sliver of luck, he still had Melzabeth’s smartwatch and phone. He wished he also had Helcalia as an information source, but he still had some hints to go on.
He could still do this.
The trail had not gone cold, so he only had to keep moving.
“I made a promise to Helcalia who keeps crying even though she didn’t do anything wrong. I promised I would save Melzabeth, so my complaints and frustrations don’t matter. Stiyl can wait until later. There’s just one thing I have to do right now. Whether Melzabeth is a perpetrator, a victim, or buried in the sand, I need to grab her by the collar, drag her back to her daughter, and have her apologize for worrying the girl so much. That’s the one thing I have to do no matter what. …Am I wrong about any of that, Othinus?”
Othinus smiled in amusement on his shoulder.
Whether they were a good or bad person, he would not hesitate to pick a fight with the entire world if he thought someone was worth saving.
That god understood exactly who Kamijou Touma was, so she toyed with her witch’s hat and spoke.
“I am the god of magic, deception, and war, so use my power to its fullest. Swindlers are experts at detecting other swindlers. So leave all the boring magical details to me while you view the world through the familiar lens of science. If you’re going to teach R&C Occultics a lesson for distorting the world for fun while pretending to be all benevolent, then you have my full support.”
“Hold on. Our only goal here is that mother and daughter.”
“Fine, fine. You decide how to use my war powers, human.”
They both took a deep breath and then spoke in unison while stepping into the merciless cold outside of Union Station.
“The counterattack begins now. Let’s destroy every last one of those illusions!!”
He had to trust that there was still some small goodness left in this world.
He had to refuse to let anyone be thrown into the depths of the darkness and stand up back up once more.
Between the Lines 2
Melzabeth Grocery is the Culprit Theory
Proposer: Stiyl Magnus
A theory based on the paper documents left in the Academy City base and the residual thoughts extracted from them using rune magic. Melzabeth was president of a space start-up, but she brought the results of her research to R&C Occultics and used the Logistic Hornet aerial spacecraft launch pads and their artificial weather manipulation to amplify the sand magician’s power. Melzabeth held onto her position as Space Engage’s president in R&C Occultics’s independent affiliates division and was sent to the Academy City base as a double agent.
According to this theory, she led Operation Overlord Revenge to failure by providing incorrect guidance and she played an active role in Kanzaki’s defeat.
△ Kamijou Touma and Othinus have mostly disproved this theory, but they still lack any truly conclusive evidence. Their investigation is still underway.
Melzabeth Grocery is a Villain Theory
Proposer: Helcalia Grocery
A theory suggesting Melzabeth was so blinded with greed she gave her distribution network to R&C Occultics despite knowing the trouble it would cause. As more and more of the start-up’s workers left, Melzabeth and the others unprincipled ones snatched up as much dirty money as they could to live the good life. The disappearance of LA’s people was Melzabeth’s doing and she happily did it to protect R&C Occultics and thus her own interests.
Helcalia insists she must be a bad person because she had hidden some technology known as “Secret” from her own daughter.
X Kamijou Touma and Othinus have fully disproven this theory. Melzabeth did not enjoy her reward from R&C Occultics. And the secret she was keeping was something else.
Melzabeth Grocery is a Good Person Theory
Proposer: Kamijou Touma and Othinus
A theory suggesting Melzabeth was forced against her will to bring her start-up to the giant IT company because they had taken her daughter hostage, but she was wracked with guilt and distanced herself from all that dirty money. Based on her hotel room and smartphone, she did not trust that immoral company, did not enjoy the rewards they gave her, and chose to live more simply.
This would suggest she ultimately disobeyed R&C Occultics’s threatening demands and assisted the joint force instead, but there are concerns she was remotely controlled by some other means and was made to perpetrate a series of misdeeds against her will.
The true enemy is R&C Occultics and CEO Anna Sprengel and it is possible they were trying to pit the mother and daughter against each other in order to get back at the traitor by making her destroy what she cared about most. There is reason to think that cruel plan is meant to end with the mother being made to directly kill her daughter who was spared from the disappearance of the 30 million.
Kamijou Touma has said that both Helcalia and Melzabeth must be rescued.
While Melzabeth had been hiding something from her daughter, she was only preparing a birthday present. Clear material evidence proved that her suspicious behavior had no connection to the incident.
Kamijou Touma proved to the girl that everyone lies and hides things, but Melzabeth Grocery was not the kind of person to keep secrets that hurt or trapped people.
No matter what.