Toaru Majutsu no Index:KuroyoruSS
Genesis Testament – A Certain Magical Index SS
You can find villains everywhere.
Take me for example.
Is that a surprise? But the thing about villains is, most of us absolutely adore showing off our villainy. Of course, we still have to hide our real name and appearance, but that’s why we’ll dress up in some silly costume and send out message cards or why we’ll upload videos of our crimes to video sites. To be blunt, it’s all meaningless. It doesn’t matter, but we still leave behind a signature. Even if it puts us at greater risk. That’s just how we are.
Do you get it now?
This toll-free call you answered is my version of that. I want to show off who I am. Just like the royal barber shouting about the donkey ears he saw. Yes! I am a hopeless villain!!
I am enough of a villain to take your life just like this.
A muffled explosion could be heard.
One of the people walking along the sidewalk had their head suddenly swing to the left. And then they fully collapsed to the side. The other people on the sidewalk had no idea what had happened. One of them stepped around the other pedestrian out of habit and then gave an annoyed look when that pedestrian still got in their way, but then they screamed and fell onto their butt.
Kuroyoru Umidori sensed some kind of commotion behind her, but she was not foolish enough to actually look back. The center of the blast would already have countless phone cameras aimed at it. No matter who had caused this trouble, being filmed nearby would only increase her own risk. The face, eyeballs, and fingerprints would be especially devastating, so she continued calmly walking away.
You could find villains everywhere.
Take this girl for example. She dressed in a black leather punk fashion at odds with her young appearance and she wore a white coat with just the hood over her head, allowing the rest to spread out behind her like a cape.
The Freshmen were gone, but she was too deeply dyed by the criminal underworld to escape so easily. Or to be blunt, life was easier when she kept one foot in that underworld than if she fully left them.
“There we go.”
She walked to the trunk room at a multi-tenant building near the train station. She tossed a shining silver attaché case into one room there and left with the room’s key in hand. She handed the key to a man in a suit who she passed by on the street. They never even glanced at each other. That completed her job.
But that alone would have been too boring, so she gently placed her hand on the back of a nearby drum-shaped security robot and sliced through it.
Her esper power was Bomber Lance.
She could emit masses of highly-compressed nitrogen from her palms to slice through reinforced concrete or solid metal like they were a liquid.
If an alarm went off for that man, thus demonstrating how hard the job had been, she would have an easier time when negotiating for a higher second half of her pay. Of course, she would have to make sure no one found out she had caused it.
(These handoffs are getting to be more of a pain. I guess it’s just gotten too risky to use the station trashcans or coin operated lockers.)
She honestly had no idea what she had been transporting. Besides, she was not even a specialized courier. If she was going to make a living with illicit activities, she had decided she would not specialize in any one field.
Fixed gears were always being worn down until they would eventually break, be removed, or have their client negotiate a better deal with someone else.
She would wander from field to field.
There was nothing she could do if her job was thrown out as outdated and obsolete, so she made sure to maintain her freedom by always fluidly moving from one position to another. And oddly enough, pursuing freedom also ensured her safety. The trick was to use freedom and safety to place a lid over the emotions like desire, impatience, and fear.
(I’m supposed to be a cyborg who can break past the limits on human growth, but my mind is awfully pathetic.)
She plopped down in a seat with that self-deprecating thought in her head. She sat at one of the tables lined up at an open café.
“Hi,” said the ill-behaved girl.
“What, were you bored or something?”
The boy with a piercing must not have been thinking about much of anything. He looked up from his phone to give her a puzzled look.
He was Hamazura Shiage.
That older boy had a well-built body, but she recalled seeing him constantly running around like a puppy. You sometimes ran across people like him who were friendly and considerate but still somehow ended up an outlaw.
The girl grinned.
“Just checking for anyone tailing me. Just in case, you know?”
“You seem super busy, so I’m leaving.”
He quickly started to get up from his seat, but Kuroyoru stepped on his foot below the table to pin him on the spot. All while smiling.
She tapped on the back of his phone.
“I see you’ve become one of those phone addicts.”
“Ow! Okay, okay, I’ll stay! I-I don’t know how long you’re supposed to wait on average, but I have found someone whose messages I get so impatient waiting for. And, hey, if what you’re doing under the table there is supposed to be a reward, you’ll have to be a lot gentler than that!!”
“If you say so.”
A muffled boom came from within the café and Hamazura glanced over at it before looking back her way, but she did not say anything about it.
A cyborg was someone who had their body partially or wholly replaced with mechanical parts. In Academy City, it was specifically defined to refer to someone who had the necessary parts all contained within their body. Thus, optical fiber nerves would make you a cyborg, but heavy metal claws would not.
But Kuroyoru did not think her cyborgness made her a minority.
People who could never let go of their phone had already made an electronic device a part of themselves. For that matter, clothes and shoes were the same. Besides the embarrassment factor, trying to live your life entirely in the nude would get you frozen to death or dead of infectious disease pretty quick, even in a highly-developed metropolis.
People could not live without their tools.
And with each successive tool, the human mind and body further deteriorated.
It was no different from someone cutting away a healthy part of their body and replacing it with a high-quality device that would give them some new ability. In the modern age, people were slaves to their tools and anyone who could not use those tools was branded incompetent and eliminated. The people disgusted by cyborgs failed to realize they were much the same when viewed from the right angle. Just like so many people who supposedly abhor killing also support the death penalty.
Everyone hid their real face behind makeup and enlarged their eyes on the photos uploaded to social media. The human sense of self had already grown too bloated to fit within the single body people were born with, yet society still refused to accept plastic surgery for idols or liposuction.
What people did and what they said was diverging more and more.
If they wanted to force their ideals onto someone else, they at least needed to personally stop wearing makeup first.
Kuroyoru muttered that word in her head and leaned back in her chair. She rested her head on her arm as if pressing her fist into her soft-looking cheek.
The boy absentmindedly let his thoughts slip out while he stared at her.
“(Hmm, her cyborg body is so high quality you’d never know the difference. I bet we’ll be living in a golden age of boob mousepads once that tech becomes more common.)”
“That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see me? No one can accuse you of not being honest about your desires, I guess.”
She frowned over it, but she honestly did not really care.
She would find it plenty creepy if one of her arms was taken away from her and some strange guy was licking all over it. Especially if he was using the name Kuroyoru Umidori when referring to the arm. But on the other hand, she would not care at all if an identical component was treated in the same way and called Tanaka. That would be a stranger’s arm, not one of the ones meant to be inserted in her slots. Just like a clone created from her DNA would be a complete stranger. She had no interest in what anyone would do to them since they were not a part of her. That wicked girl did not have enough empathy to feel any pain in her chest when she saw a nail driven into a straw doll.
She was pretty sure that lack of empathy made her a bad person.
She could guess that a normal person might have felt some pain at how their clone was treated, but she did not feel that way herself.
“By the way, Hamazura, what did you order?”
“Vienna coffee and fish and chips.”
“You’re getting your European countries jumbled together there. Also, I doubt you’ll ever receive it. If you’re hungry, I recommend going elsewhere.”
“I’m willing to bet on it. Or do you want to sit here for three hours growing lonelier and hungrier?”
The previous muffled boom had come from within the café.
Since none of the customers had come running out, it must not have come from the dining area. So in either the kitchen or the office area, someone’s head had been blown up.
(People are far too fixated on keeping their original body parts.)
Instead of explaining any of this, Kuroyoru got up and left the café with Hamazura. To the strangers on the city street, they may have looked like a filthy band member and his little sister trying her best to keep up with him.
They had not arranged this or made any promises.
They were playing it by ear.
If you were not sensitive to a dangerous shift in the atmosphere, you could never survive in the city’s criminal underworld.
Academy City was a unique city where 80% of the population were students, but right now there was an unusual number of people out and about even for the daytime. A young man was asking office workers for donations and a childcare worker was pushing a wagon full of kindergartners. Since the man was out here now seeking donations for the development of medical equipment, this must have been a very busy time of day. Some students only cared about their class credits and attendance record, some would opt for remote learning even when they came all the way to Academy City where almost every student was forced to live in the dorms. Though they were all schools, it seems there were many varieties to them.
The piercing boy walked right past the sketchy donation box – he likely thought it was a scam rather than simply not being interested – and short Kuroyoru asked him a question.
“Hamazura, you’re not a bad person, are you?”
“I steal cars and carry a gun. That sounds pretty bad to me.”
He seemed unsure how to respond, but Kuroyoru was not convinced.
“Only because it’s necessary, right? If you ask me, it’s more accurate to say you have a way of attracting bad people. So when you check out your surroundings, it looks a lot like you’re standing in a pretty bad place. Just like everyone found at the scene of a crime looks dangerous. But despite standing at the center of it all, you’re surprisingly untainted yourself. It’s your surroundings that are corrupt. Be it Skill Out or Item.”
“There always are those dumbasses who are friendly and considerate but still end up in the dark side. Generally, they couldn’t bring themselves to cut ties with someone and got dragged down with them. It’s like being a hoarder who can’t bring themselves to throw out any of their trash.”
Of course, all this talk about good and evil is probably thanks to those thought processes implanted in my mind, analyzed Kuroyoru.
She meant the Dark May Project.
To increase the effectiveness of their powers, a portion of Academy City’s #1’s thoughts were implanted in a number of espers’ minds. Kuroyoru Umidori was one of the successes.
She did not care at all about going somewhere fashionable when eating out. She had just finished a job, so she simply wanted somewhere she could sit down and fill her stomach. That was why she chose a burger chain.
“Hold on. If you say I attract bad people, does that mean you’re here walking with me because you’re—”
“Not a word more.”
She pouted her lips and hit him with a light kick.
Once inside, she sat down at a table in the back. He went to the counter to order some coffee and a light snack.
(Is coffee really the best choice to go with fries?)
She leaned back in her seat while wondering that, but then she heard a familiar ringtone.
When she pulled out her phone and pressed it to her ear, someone spoke without any introduction.
“You can find villains everywhere.”
“Take me for example.”
The voice was extremely artificial.
A voice over a phone was technically an electronically-created reproduction of the sound and not the original voice itself, but this was not even that. Someone was probably typing the words into a computer and letting the voice program automatically handle the intonation. Since it never began with a physical voice, no amount of analysis could ever produce a voiceprint.
(Truly we live in a world of technological marvels.)
Kuroyoru Umidori looked skeptical, but the harmless sound continued before she could say anything more.
“By the way, you should really avoid removing the phone from your ear. Once it moves more than ten centimeters away, it might just explode in a gruesome sort of way.”
“Am I using IR? Or maybe ultrasound? Perhaps I am detecting your breathing or your faint magnetic field. Modern phones have all sorts of devices built into them, you see. Paper instruction manuals aren’t really a thing anymore, so I bet a lot of people remain ignorant of some of their phone’s features from the moment they get it until they trade it in for a newer model. But my point here is simple: you can’t figure out what method I am using and then use it against me.”
Still seated, Kuroyoru glanced around. A part-timer was wiping down an empty table, a group of high school girls were talking loudly with the latest model of smartphone in hand, and an old lady was looking around in obvious confusion because she could not find the trashcan. There were a lot of people in here, but the person on the phone might not be any of them. It sounded a lot like they had warned her before she could remove the phone from her ear, but they might have been watching her through the security cameras or they might have been guessing without actually seeing any of it at all.
“What do you want?”
“Would it be most effective to say ‘nothing’? If I wanted to inspire fear, that is.”
(Hm, so they aren’t trying to lead me anywhere.)
Either way, Kuroyoru had not expected them to answer honestly. She had expected one of two responses from them: provide a fake motive, or provide no motive at all. Now she just had to figure out what they were trying to hide.
In Kuroyoru’s experience, the people who provided no answer tended to be the tougher opponents. Anyone who kept talking and talking would generally reveal the truth once they took a solid blow to the face. If that was enough to break through, then it was all just pretense.
(Not that I think this is a situation where solving the mystery is going to save my life.)
“But that doesn’t mean this is meaningless,” continued the voice. “Who I called doesn’t matter, but that I made the call does. Do you get the idea now? This began on a whim, but I can’t stop now that it’s started.”
“I want you to know what kind of person I am! Of course, I’m not about to ruin my life by revealing my name and identity. But it’s still important, don’t you think? And I don’t just mean you personally. I also want to show who I am to everyone else who will see you get blown away. Because revealing a secret to someone about to die isn’t a good way of getting the word around.”
“Hey, hey, hey.”
Kuroyoru Umidori smiled bitterly.
She remained leaned back in her seat with the phone still to her ear as she slowly cut in.
“You might think this puts you in control of the conversation, but you’ve already revealed your weakness.”
“You hadn’t even noticed? You’re the one that set this all up. And the person who sets up the rules is the one who’s at a disadvantage if those rules are broken. So the way to strike back at the mastermind is always right there staring you in the face. If they’ve kidnapped someone and are demanding ransom money, you go out and spend a bunch of money. If you receive a letter predicting a closed-room murder in a mysterious mansion, you have everyone take a trip somewhere else. Then their plan falls apart. You find yourself trapped in a giant underground space where they’re holding a death game? Then how about you dig a hole back up the surface? Why go along with their crap? Do you think there are any rules governing real fights to the death?”
In other words, Kuroyoru already knew what this unseen shit would hate the most.
The correct answer here was to immediately toss her phone to the side.
A dry bang slammed into Kuroyoru’s eardrums.
As threatened, the mobile device blew up as soon as it moved ten centimeters away from her face. For a normal person, the shockwave alone would have not just ruptured their eardrum but shattered their skull.
(The lithium ion battery, huh? Well, that might be enough to kill your average person.)
But that meant nothing to Kuroyoru Umidori.
Her cheek had been split open and the fingertips used to throw the phone were twisted at an unnatural angle, but those were all replaceable parts.
(So people are dying completely at random. You’re as good as dead from the moment you receive the call, so it doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or an amateur.)
She had no interest in the other guests or the employees who turned her way in surprise and froze up.
Hamazura rushed over and began shouting some meaningless nonsense.
“Whoa, what the hell!? Did you have a defective part or something?”
“You could say that,” groaned Kuroyoru, slipping her right hand into the coat she normally just wore with the hood.
Her parts were not banned by international law like clones were, but it was still best not to let anyone’s phone cameras see the metal frame and exposed wiring of the broken fingertips. Unlike over-the-top movie villains, real villains did not like being noticed. Just like gangs hid their entire organization and politicians created a softened image they could show off with a nondescript smile.
Is that really a word you should use with a cyborg? thought Kuroyoru Umidori with a bitter smile.
Then again, she felt it was a good description of herself as a person, so she was not sure how to respond.
The hints were already out there.
Normally, you would need to solve the whole puzzle using those hints, but the wicked girl decided to intentionally leave things hanging this time.
It was now late at night.
During the day, she had never told anything to Hamazura Shiage despite his obvious confusion. She herself had said he was not a bad person. He was simply surrounded by them, so there was no need to let him see the rest.
The previous burger shop was already closed and its lights shut off, but she sensed someone skulking within.
(The cameras are down. And it was done so the security company can’t tell they’re down. At this point, they might as well be announcing their presence. A criminal shouldn’t be leaving their business card at the scene of the crime.)
She had planned to force open the door if necessary, but the entrance was already unlocked.
A dry rupturing sound erupted nearby.
A figure working at something while curled up below a table had turned around and thrown something at Kuroyoru, so she had hit it with a horizontal swing of her hand.
Specifically, she had hit it with the blade of pressurized gas extending from her palm.
That was Bomber Lance.
Her cyborg parts were only for decoration. She had swapped out more than half her body for nothing more than boosting her power above 100% capacity.
The smartphone bomb was more crushed than sliced.
“Criminals in it for fun love their souvenirs,” said Kuroyoru with a grin.
The restaurant was filthy. Cleaning robots wandered around every last part of Academy City, so all the general floor cleaning must have been left to the machines. The hired part-timers had left after only cleaning the tables, counters, and other areas the drum-shaped robots could not reach.
Which made this possible.
“You go running to the scene of the explosion afterwards and gather up the flesh and blood splattered between the sofa cushions and below the table. Do you preserve them in formaldehyde? Or do you seal them in clear plastic to make a keychain out of them? Either option isn’t going to do much for preserving cyborg parts, though.”
Weirdos like this were particularly common in Academy City.
It was generally understood here that a single drop of blood or single hair could be used to analyze a skilled esper’s DNA map, so some people would develop into twisted and abnormal sort of collectors.
Kuroyoru honestly could not care less.
How had she known this person was in it for the fun? What proof had she had this was not a professional pretending to be that way?
What a stupid question. A real pro wouldn’t choose such an unprofitable and risky method. Only amateurs could remain smiling even though the killings were not worth the risk involved. Professionals killed as part of their job, so they could easily do the financial math in their head to know. However, that did not mean this opponent was weak. In fact, amateur obsessions could be entirely uncompromising, so getting caught up in one could be a real pain.
But even if it was by pure chance or random, now that this person had chosen Kuroyoru as a target, she had to crush them. When they were in it for the fun, they tended to get obsessed with any target they failed to kill and she did not want to have someone constantly seeking revenge with the unique persistence of someone with way too much time on their hands. Especially when she was a villain with a lot she needed to keep hidden.
The figure curled up in the shadows spoke with a girl’s voice. The voice was a lot gentler than the artificial one over the phone, but Kuroyoru could also sense a sticky obsession in it.
She was a fair bit older than Kuroyoru.
She gave off a dangerous sort of allure, like a simple touch from her would destroy you. The best comparison may have been to an unbelievably beautiful stalker.
“I wanted to enjoy everything.”
“Nabbing people’s DNA maps from their gore won’t let you use their esper powers.”
In the criminal underworld, talk was a diversion. It was like someone in the stands shining a laser pointer in a boxer’s eye before they made a jab. There was no need to go along with and accept the pace they were setting up, so even though the other girl was still talking, Kuroyoru drew a handgun and fired several times into her at close range.
She did not expect this to kill her.
(Yeah, she’s bound to have more than just those phone bombs.)
The best way to get someone to reveal their hand was to hit them with obvious firepower from head on. Kuroyoru had already used her Bomber Lance, so she wanted as much info as she could get before the actual battle began.
The earsplitting gunshots were accompanied by the raw sound of hot bullets tearing through flesh.
The other girl did not dodge the bullets or deflect them with a thick barrier.
But taking five .45-caliber bullets from head on did nothing to stop the girl.
“Good and evil! I wanted to enjoy them both!!”
Kuroyoru heard some mechanical sounds, but not from the girl.
Several machines were gathered around the girl. The tubes sticking into her body were blood transfusions and IVs and the things audibly swooshing through the air seemed to be the staples used to close up wounds.
Kuroyoru thought of life as an activity.
Whether your body was biological or mechanical, you still lived as long as that body remained active.
As an extreme example, a human could live on with a ruptured heart as long as something else circulated their blood in its place. The blood pressure, oxygen level, and pain signals were what mattered, so as long as they were maintained, the person could forget all about death and continue on without issue.
In Kuroyoru’s case, all the necessary machines were contained within her body, but this girl was different. The parts that would not fit had to be dragged along with her. Each of those machines was the size of the minifridges found in hotels and hospitals. They had small wheels attached so they could roll along with her.
In other words…
“An incarnation of life support devices, huh?”
“This would have been perfect if I were just a good person with no real desires.”
Taking a closer look in the dim light showed the girl was wearing a thin surgical gown with a cardigan worn over her shoulders. Something like a tagged loop glittered at her unusually skinny ankle. She looked like she had escaped from a hospital or lab.
Her long black hair was tied back with a ribbon or something.
She was older than Kuroyoru, but still only around high school age. That meant she would also be some kind of esper. No minors in this city were truly ordinary.
The tag at her ankle said her name was Hikarizawa Megumi.
Kuroyoru doubted that was actually her real name, but it was hard to tell. This was a criminal who chose people on a whim, blew them up remotely, and later showed up to gather up pieces of their flesh and bones. She might not be operating entirely on logic.
She showed no sign of pain even after being shot five times, but that would be because the devices around her were pumping her full of something. It was the same idea as a mosquito or leech preventing its target from feeling any pain while it injured them and sucked their blood. They excreted some kind of anesthetic.
“But this makes it so hard to act like an ugly villain. You can’t be both at the same time. Mastering one or the other is doable, but try to go for both and the quality of both drops. Any villainy will bring down the pyramid of good I’ve built up.”
“Well, we do live in a world that tends to place everyone into one of two groups: people who have never even once broken the rules, and those who have.”
“Right, right? But in truth, everyone wants to treat themselves to a little evil every once in a while. You only live once, so it would be a waste to not enjoy everything this open world game of life has to offer, right?”
The girl with 5 bullet holes held her trembling shoulders and cackled like a madwoman.
Several mechanical noises soon followed.
“So!! So I had to think up a way to do it!!”
She had not touched anything yet, but Kuroyoru’s left arm moved unnaturally and the handgun swelled out from within. Kuroyoru tried to immediately throw the gun away, but her fingers would not function properly. The delay allowed the swelling gun to rupture. The gunpowder must have been triggered. The blast split open her cheek.
(EM!? How powerful a signal is that medical equipment spewing!? I guess this could be an application of a CT or MRI!!)
The silver contents of her left hand were exposed and her fingers were twisted beyond usability. She was a cyborg with more than half her body replaced with industrial machinery, so she had always had a weakness against electrical powers.
“How can you enjoy a taste of villainy while maintaining the foundation you’ve built up as a generally good person!? It was so infuriating having all these things I wanted to do that were off limits to me! But thinking through it all was a ton of fun. Creativity is such a gift, don’t you think? A helicopter can take you to the summit in just 10 minutes, but you still want to climb the mountain yourself, right!?”
Several more pieces of medical equipment began to move.
Most any tool used to save people could also kill people if misused. If the wrong blood type was given to someone in a transfusion, it could act as a fatal poison. A surgical stapler used to sew someone up could also be used as a gruesome projectile.
“So you decided to become an anonymous bomber?”
“No tactile feedback from the killing blow is a real shame, but better safe than sorry, right? And it’s not like I get no feedback at all. I can sense their emotions even over the phone. Their confusion, their panic, their terror!! And if I combine that digital sense with the tangible pieces of them they leave behind, I have all the pieces I need to feel the real thing. I can enjoy the life of an ugly and feared villain while remaining a pure and boring good person!!”
Firing bullets into Hikarizawa Megumi, even into her brain or heart, would not kill her.
When the machines used to maintain a life bared their fangs, they became weapons capable of slicing up and destroying the human body.
She was hard enough to kill she seemed like some absurd fantasy about the undead and she also wielded the cruelty of an execution device. On top of that, she also used bombs made from ordinary mobile devices.
Kuroyoru Umidori thought on all that and summed it up as best she could.
“What, is that all?”
She wrote her enemy off so readily the girl in the surgical gown and cardigan actually stared blankly at her when she heard it.
“You don’t have some special power and you aren’t using some kinda bizarre weapon I’ve never heard of. A life support system that leaves you as close to immortal as humanly possible? Shiokishi from the previous generation already tried that in the form of a whole damn powered suit. That just means you made artificial organs that are too big to fit inside you. You’re two whole generations out of date compared to a cyborg made with more compact tech.”
“I was really hoping you were at least using the abnormal criminal behavior as a cover for stealing DNA maps or to stir up social unrest so you could stimulate the esper population in a way that created the kind of AIM Diffusion Field aggregation you wanted. But what’s this? It’s so straightforward and pathetic I’m kinda impressed. With this little thought behind it, I might as well have been attacked by a stray dog or something.”
“Then what do you have?”
Hikarizawa was honestly asking.
Her curiosity won out over feeling insulted at being called out as small time.
“What do I have?” Kuroyoru tapped her temple with the index finger of her unharmed right hand. “I had a portion of that goddamn #1’s thoughts implanted in me. It increases the effectiveness of my power, but it also means that shithead’s shittiest parts come shitting out of me at times.”
“Fascinating!!” The smile on Hikarizawa’s face had no place in a kill-or-be-killed confrontation. “So you’re saying you had his evil deeds themselves implanted in you? You could build up both good and evil that way!! I wouldn’t even have to dirty my own hands to earn evil EXP. If I could directly claim a villain’s actions, I could skip all the intermediary steps and claim the end result for myself!!”
With metallic sounds, saws, drills, pliers, lasers, and other medical tools used to work on bone emerged from their boxes. It looked like a swarm of giant shrimps and crabs at this point. The girl’s eyes sparkled as she planned to pry open Kuroyoru’s artificial skull to extract the collection of live brain cells within and research the method used.
Kuroyoru breathed an exasperated sigh.
“Believe me, you don’t want this.”
“I want to say that too.”
They both sent out an attack.
The one that ended up sliced in two was the box-like medical machinery. But losing one or two of those was no problem for that girl. Another one fell from above to immediately replace what was lost.
Kuroyoru looked up to see machinery dangling from the entire ceiling like grapes at a vineyard.
Machines lacked the presence of something alive, so she had entirely overlooked this.
A moment later, all of the machinery dropped from the ceiling to bury her small body.
Is this all I can do? wondered Kuroyoru Umidori.
She was a Level 4 esper who used her cyborg body to push past the limits of her power.
But that was all she had.
Her power was on the rarer side, but it was not unique to her. And cyborgs were mass-produced machinery. She had gotten her priorities backwards, so continuing along this path would never give her the unique individuality she had sought as one of the Freshmen.
She could not find the uniqueness that she had felt in the #1, who was the base of her combat thoughts, or that she had felt in a few others she had met in her days of combat. But now that she had chopped up her body and made herself into a cyborg, she could no longer shift to a different path. Not even if she wanted to.
Simply put, she was stuck.
Continuing on made no sense when you were stuck, so if someone was telling her to end this defective life of hers, it might be best to do just that.
She had one more trick up her sleeve.
(If I would just do what people say, I never would’ve become such a villain.)
She did have one more way to fight back.
With a flash of light, it all fell apart.
The pile of machinery burying Kuroyoru Umidori was blown away in an instant, but she had not used her Bomber Lance. The wreckage had obviously been exposed to fiery heat and it was left twisted, bent, and broken. Shards had stabbed into the ceiling overhead and they did not fall back down.
“What… was that?”
“That’s the thing.”
Her surviving right arm had fallen apart as well, but it did not look like she had detonated an explosive gripped in that hand. The type of destruction was wrong for that.
She had switched off the arm, yet the pain remained for some reason.
Almost like a punishment for violating a taboo found somewhere other than the designs for that arm component.
“I could tell you, but you still wouldn’t really get what happens to a scientific esper when they try to use occult magic.”
She had experienced this before.
She would likely have suffered a fatal wound were she not a cyborg.
And she also knew the supernatural phenomenon that had shredded her arm would only bring harm to everyone else out there. Most anyone would be happier not knowing about it, but this girl in the surgical gown was one of the few exceptions. Kuroyoru knew all too well it would burrow into the girl’s heart as an unbearable temptation.
Hikarizawa had said she wanted to enjoy “everything” because you only live once.
She had wanted to experience evil as the opposite of good, so what would happen if she learned that magic existed as the opposite of science?
The machinery that had just barely survived the scorching flames let out high-pitched warning tones.
That was meant to be life support system, so the girl’s brain must have been awash with chemicals that would only shorten her own life.
Kuroyoru Umidori spoke in a truly disinterested tone.
All while knowing this was the most effective attack here.
“Believe me, you don’t want this.”
“I want to say that too.”
Hikarizawa Megumi immediately took action.
Her obsession with enjoying the world was legit. She gathered data from her various attached devices to extract the footage of Kuroyoru’s finger movements from her peripheral vision and to work out the spell Kuroyoru must have uttered based on the vibrations that had reached her eardrums. Once she was done, she was ready to make her own attempt at real magic.
She spread her arms and laughed joyously at the top of her lungs.
She had found a new world – something she had not even known existed. She looked like someone who had finally found the sunlight of an exit after being buried alive in a cave.
“Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
Kuroyoru tried to cover her face with a hand, but both of her arms had been destroyed.
She had no choice but to witness it directly.
Academy City’s espers could not use magic. That had to be an absolute rule.
Blood burst from the girl wearing a surgical gown and cardigan and then the life support equipment was blown away as well.
Hikarizawa fell over, leaving a crescent moon trail of blood in the air behind her and she continued to convulse on the floor. She was awfully energetic for having lost her entire life support system.
The musty old mysticism must have decided those masses of silicon and rare earths counted as parts of her body.
The partially-broken cyborg sighed and pondered the rules of the world.
“It’s so benevolent I think I’m gonna cry.”
The TV news and newspapers had nothing to say about it.
Even the online news sites were only talking about how aquarium-born otters could not break open shells.
The following day, Kuroyoru discovered the ham, eggs, and toast morning combo at a café was not great, but the café’s owner was fairly old and had a habit of staying stocked up with plenty of newspapers and magazines in their original paper format.
The crime had been by a single person with no real objective in mind, so it should not have really helped or hurt anyone if word got out. Yet Academy City’s leaders had decided to cover up the conclusion of Hikarizawa Megumi’s case.
Was that to protect Academy City’s brand image as a place where parents could feel comfortable sending their kids?
Or was it because of the involvement of something from beyond science?
Kuroyoru fell silent at the answer her intuition gave her. Or maybe that the #1’s thought patterns gave her.
There was more to Academy City than met the eye.
So it was highly unlikely that the world outside the city was a peaceful place with no secrets to be found.
It was all too complicated to discuss in black-and-white terms of good and evil.
“Why the hell are you reading a paper newspaper in this day and age?”
Hamazura Shiage gave her a puzzled look, so she rolled up the newspaper and thwacked him on the face with it.
The drive to learn tended to be a self-destructive one.
In a way, it was the people who clung to their ignorance who remained happy. It was almost comical.
And this girl was having a hard time deciding which kind of person she wanted to be.