Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume11 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Chance Meeting >> Audience Chamber — Duel_in_the_Mind.
Bees and ants.
They were both known as insects with a high level of society centered around a queen (although a lot of bees lived solitary lives), but the species were actually extremely closely related. By the technical definition, they both belonged to the Hymenoptera order.
But that did not mean they could coexist.
The fiercer bees or wasps would attack ants and the more clever species would even lay their eggs in the ants’ underground colony. Ants on the other hand would mercilessly swarm a bee that lost its strength and fell to the ground and they would carry its corpse back to their colony.
These two separated girls may have been similar.
The Five Over OS was made up of an artificial fat called Designers’ Gel. That wearable weapon resembled a giant cream-colored octopus and one of its tentacles was wrapped around Shokuhou Misaki’s body.
“Our relationship might be similar to Shirai Kuroko and Musujime Awaki’s,” said the girl named Mitsuari Ayu.
She gave a smile that did not at all match her appearance and she pulled out a palm-sized smartphone as if preparing for a card trick.
“It was not the Strobila or the Five Over OS that deflected your power. My power may be weaker than yours, but it is the same. All I did was use it to obstruct the interference you caused☆”
As she spoke, the number of smartphones grew.
It was reminiscent of all the remotes Shokuhou used.
“So that’s why you’ve directed all your hatred ability my way?”
Shokuhou groaned while held by the giant tentacle that looked like it could crush a small car like balling-up a tissue.
“Everything was chosen based on some file called the Parameter List and our futures were decided based on what the adults wanted, so you’re the victim and I’m the culprit?”
“What about it?”
Shokuhou wondered what she would have done if the situation had been reversed.
What if some stranger she had never even met had used her as a stepping stone and stolen every possibility from her?
What if her talent had been crushed?
What if she had never been allowed in Tokiwadai Middle School?
What if she had not been a Level 5?
After considering that, the girl named Shokuhou Misaki spoke.
“Are you an idiot? That’s nothing more than an excuse for falling to a life of crime.”
Mitsuari remained smiling.
And while smiling, a disturbing spasm came over her face at not quite her temple and not quite her cheek. It was as if small insects were running around below the skin.
Shokuhou ignored it and continued.
She found herself able to ignore it.
“Your success was stolen from you? You had talent, but you weren’t placed on the proper stage? You can find similar situations anywhere you look.”
“Do you think every country can provide their Olympic athletes the same funding and equipment? How many countries do you think want to go to space but can’t carry out realistic space development? It isn’t rare for competitions to be influenced by more than just one’s pure skill. Competing in the exact same environment and under the exact same conditions is something you only see in the lukewarm miniature gardens adults prepare for children. That only applies to school tests that have no bearing on your actual life.”
Her words stabbed out at the other girl.
Her words mocked this girl who had lost her way.
And those clear words continued.
“But it’s human nature that leads us to win regardless. If doing everything right isn’t enough to win, the winners will work two or even three times as hard. They’ll show off what they can do by with a method no one else had thought of. That’s what leads to the instant an athlete who trained by running through the wasteland defeats the elite athlete who trained in a cutting-edge gym. If you want to reach space, you make your way to a realistic launch pad even if it means leaving your home country. …When adults fight, it comes down to a conflict between adults with childlike looks in their eyes as they work to both stay true to the type of race their predecessors established and also to produce shocking results that completely overturn those expectations.”
So there was no reason to feel inferior.
There was a reason she had been chosen.
Mitsuari Ayu was no different from the people who shamelessly begged a lottery winner to treat them to something. Except she was not even an old acquaintance; she was someone Shokuhou had never even heard of before.
Shokuhou was not about to let someone like that take everything from her.
The loss of a single possibility had been enough to make Mitsuari rot and she now wanted to be a child with a mature look in her eyes, so she would never have been able to withstand the pressure of holding Academy City’s #5 ability.
“And I happen to know something else.”
Shokuhou continued to challenge the girl even as her stomach was squeezed to the limit.
“I know of an ‘older boy’ who stuck to his own path without rotting despite being a Level 0. On that day back then when he spoke with his back turned and protecting me, he clearly surpassed me and my all-too-pathetic Level 5 ability. Your actual skill doesn’t matter. Coolly calculating out all the numbers is pointless. No matter how many arguments you prepare, you have no choice but to accept defeat once he walks in from beyond the horizon. I am very familiar with a Level 0 like that☆”
What was it that kept Mitsuari from shining like that?
Not becoming a Level 5?
That was not enough to deny someone their humanity.
Having her possibilities stolen by the adults?
If that was enough for her to give up, had she truly put in any effort in the first place?
Did that mean any crime of hers could be forgiven?
That was the same as treating all Level 3s and below like criminals.
“You are weak,” summed up Shokuhou Misaki. “From the moment you could only use your life as an excuse for committing crimes, you insulted that very life. You didn’t notice, you were afraid of noticing, and you went around destroying everything that could make you notice, but you have also crushed your ability to ever gather respect. Even if you managed to reach the position of Level 5.”
At that point, Mitsuari Ayu switched from listening to laughing.
And the crazed expression from before had changed.
“Heh heh heh. Heh heh heh heh. Heh heh heh heh hah hah. Ahh, ahh. It sounds like you met a lovely person, Miss Bee. Was this what you were hoping to say to get me to give up? ‘If you had met him, a different path might have opened for you’?”
It was a calculated expression.
It was not the expression of a girl going mad with rage after having her entire identity rejected.
There was something more there.
Did the core of Mitsuari Ayu lay elsewhere?
“But that won’t work here.”
The ant stood next to the bee and that other queen played her final card with a calm smile.
“After all, I too spoke with Kamijou-kun quite a bit.”
This time, Shokuhou’s mind truly, truly went blank. This blank was larger and deeper than when her own memories had been rejected or when she had learned her own Mental Out powers were the result of being chosen for the adults’ convenience.
“I told you, didn’t I?”
The smile vanished from Mitsuari’s face.
The smile vanished from the face of the girl who had continued to smile even as her very existence and the path she had taken were rejected.
“I’m taking revenge to take back what you stole from me. …How would you feel in my situation? What if someone you didn’t even know stole that person you were so proud of.”
“I was there back then too.”
She approached Shokuhou whose torso was still restrained. With a smartphone in each hand, she gently grabbed the sides of Shokuhou’s head.
The chill of the LCD screens tormented her mind.
And then the decisive words arrived.
“It may be a beautiful past for you, but I was not saved by Kamijou-kun. That is why I can say you stole everything from me. If it wasn’t for you, he would have made it in time.”
She brought her face so close that Shokuhou could not focus her eyes.
And a moment later, Shokuhou felt a strange sensation pass through her mind. It was like invisible wires running through her head had been gathered together and suddenly pulled out from her forehead.
While pressing their foreheads together and placing the smartphones on either side of Shokuhou’s head, the other girl spoke without even a hint of a smile.
“This is Mental Stinger. In my case, I set the target with cameras and my fingertips.”
“Ah…kh!? But with identical types of power, any interference can be deflected regardless of strength!”
“Only if we both reject it.”
With the strange sensation in the center, the outer edges of Shokuhou’s vision grew distorted.
Bright colors danced about.
“But what if I accept it all? What if I intentionally open a port and allow an exchange of identically-formatted packets?”
“This…isn’t your power.”
Shokuhou finally caught on.
“This is an ignition to make me lose control of my Mental Out!?”
“Well done. I can drag you into my head using your own power. Welcome to a life of despair and resignation. It’s time you experienced what I did when you stole everything from me.”
With those words, all of Shokuhou Misaki’s senses far exceeded the threshold of what could be described in terms of the real world.
A girl stood alone on the shore of a geothermal power station’s circular lake.
Her consciousness had been dragged into someone else’s mind. That was what she had been told anyway, but it may have been an image constructed around Mitsuari Ayu’s memories, much like a child listening to a picture book before going to sleep.
However, the feel of the place suddenly changed. The massive amount of water turned to bright green melon soda, the dark mountains turned to masses of cream, the thick trees became cookies shaped like playing cards, and even the round concrete structure holding the water was replaced by an overwhelming amount of chocolate.
It looked like a kingdom of sweets.
The bee and the ant were fighting over the sweet nectar that was their memories of this artificial lake. This may have been how “she” pictured this stage.
The oppressively sweet aroma surpassed hunger and stimulated one’s desire to vomit.
Both salt and sugar were necessary, but too much of either was harmful.
Had “her” memories reached that lethal dose?
The voice came from behind.
Shokuhou turned around and saw Mitsuari Ayu wearing a Tokiwadai Middle School uniform. She wore a summer uniform despite the season.
“I died here. I stuffed lots and lots of large rocks in my clothes, stood on this concrete shore, and jumped into the lake with my hands together like diving into a pool. And I sank. This happened a mere three days before you thoughtlessly tried to destroy your own memories.”
This revelation came suddenly, but Shokuhou did not laugh it off.
Her own memories refused to let her reject this.
On the night when she had met “him” at this lake, she had sprawled out on the ground and pressed her remote against her temple like committing suicide with a handgun. But that scene was now repainted in entirely different colors.
“Wait a second. You mean…the reason he was at that power station so late was…”
She had found it odd.
Meeting him around town by chance was possible.
But District 21 was a long way from District 7 where they lived and most of it was deep in the mountains. Ground Geo was at the peak of a mountain, so he would not simply have been there for a late night walk.
So why had Kamijou Touma been there?
Why had he been able to meet her there?
“He did not make it in time.”
“And to lament that fact, he visited the site of the suicide?”
She recalled what Kumokawa Seria had said.
Shokuhou and Kumokawa had both spent time with Kamijou at the same time in the past, but the only connection between the two girls was that common acquaintance. Neither had set foot in the other’s private business.
Kumokawa did not know about Shokuhou’s incident.
Shokuhou did not know about Kumokawa’s incident.
What if another individual had also spent that time with him and dealt with another incident besides theirs?
“I don’t really care about you or anything, but he isn’t strong enough to handle someone’s death. So don’t go off and die. If you do die, I’ll give you the proper decorations, so make sure you contact me.”
What if those abusive words of Kumokawa’s had held an entirely different meaning?
“And when he arrived, he saw another girl in the same Tokiwadai uniform as the one he had not arrived in time for. He didn’t know what she was trying to do, but he saw a younger girl who was obviously wallowing in despair. He could not help but call out to her. He did not want a repeat of his previous failure.”
Shokuhou remembered the boy she had spent time with when she would occasionally see him around Academy City after that incident at the lake.
She had decided not to peek at his memories.
But what had been her subconscious reason for that decision? Had she not wanted to find any boring reasons or motives behind that small miracle? Had she wanted it to remain pure coincidence?
Kamijou Touma may have been worried about her.
And he may have been comparing her to someone else.
“So why do you think he didn’t arrive in time for me?”
“He has no esper power, he has no superhuman strength, and he isn’t particularly smart. …But for some reason, his drive has saved so many more people than anyone else. I agree with that. But then, why did that miracle not occur in my case?”
“That twisted result would not happen for no reason.”
With those words, the kingdom of sweets crumbled.
The entire melon soda lake flickered like a giant screen and it displayed the kind of intersection found anywhere in Academy City.
An intense tremor filled Shokuhou’s mind.
She recognized it.
That was the intersection at which she had run into Kamijou Touma like a false start. They had simply collided, barely even exchanged words, and then went on their ways. That initial meeting had seemed like some kind of mistake.
But something must have happened then.
Something an outsider like her would not have noticed, but something those involved could not overlook.
“He accidentally gave me something of his,” she muttered in a daze. “There was a cheap cellphone I didn’t recognize mixed in with the things he handed me.”
Mitsuari Ayu agreed with a difficult to describe expression.
It looked angry and on the verge of tears yet also relieved at finally conveying the truth.
“That was why he did not arrive in the very, very end. A simple lack of communication caused that perfectly reachable salvation to slip from his fingers.”
And then Mitsuari had jumped into the lake.
“I was not the only one suffering due to the Parameter List,” she said as if to remind Shokuhou of something that had already ended. “You stood at the center of your own incident, didn’t you? Deadlock. Those poor students who held an unreasonable hatred of the Level 5s and believed your AIM Diffusion Field was the reason for their lack of growth.”
“But that was not the true reason. They may have hated the right person, but killing you would not have put their lives back on track. Just like me, they were fruits cut from the branch thanks to that Parameter List the adults had created.”
When placed in a true dilemma, people had two options: external destruction or internal destruction.
They could blame their failure on society and their surroundings and begin stabbing or shooting random strangers in the name of revenge.
Or they could place full responsibility for their failure on themselves and desire to be “anywhere else” even if it meant taking their own life.
The attackers of Deadlock had made one decision.
The girl named Mitsuari Ayu had made the other.
In that case, Shokuhou Misaki’s bright memories were repainted in entirely different colors.
She recalled their conversation at that artificial lake.
“You’re the guy who ran into me at the intersection with toast in his mouth.”
“I did not have toast in my mouth. Come to think of it, that means you’re the one that brought my phone to Anti-Skill. Thanks for that.”
What had Kamijou Touma really thought back then?
When he said that, he had to have known that the disappearance of that cellphone had prevented him from protecting a life.
Whether by coincidence or not, she had been the root cause of his failure to save a girl. So what feelings had filled his heart when he had seen her blindly wishing for her own destruction at the scene of that very suicide?
He should have shouted at her.
She could not have complained if he had punched her.
So why had he hidden it? Why had he hidden it and worried for her instead?
Just how endlessly good-natured was he?
“I wanted to be saved,” said Mitsuari.
She directly stated her own desire.
“Taking my own life may sound irresponsible and selfish, but even so, I really did want to be saved.”
It was unclear just how serious Mitsuari had been about committing suicide.
Had she truly intended to die or had she wanted to go through the actions so someone would worry about her?
She had waited for her own personal hero, but Kamijou Touma had not shown up.
He had not come.
And so that lonely girl, that life left behind by the world, had felt throwing herself to the depths of that dark water was her only choice.
Mitsuari had said she was taking revenge on Shokuhou for taking everything from her.
According to her, Shokuhou had twisted her entire life even though they had never met and had avoided contact because she would have killed Shokuhou the second she saw her.
It all finally clicked in place.
They had shared the same time in the past, but they also had no real connection.
Even so, every last thing had been related to Shokuhou: the Parameter List that had led to her suicide, the cellphone that had been the final trigger, and even that spot next to Kamijou Touma after her suicide.
What if their situations had been reversed?
Shokuhou might have been able to handle the Parameter List issue.
But what about causing him to lose his phone?
What if the girl who had unknowingly given that final shove was then happily walking by that boy’s side?
(I probably couldn’t have forgiven her. Whatever else may have happened, that alone would be unforgivable.)
As Mitsuari was now attacking her as a real threat, her suicide must have ended in failure. And once she had woken, she would have learned everything. That was what had broken her. That was why she had sunken into the deepest darkness of Academy City and gathered enough power to reach the Strobila and Five Over OS.
“Answer me one thing honestly, queen ant.”
“Just one, Miss Bee?”
“Why did you wear the Five Over OS? The unit made from Designers’ Gel can move on its own, can’t it? Then you wouldn’t need to swell up to that three hundred kilo body.”
“It’s easier to see people for who they are when they look down on you, so I intentionally ruined my looks to-…”
“No, not that.”
Shokuhou cut her off.
The bee and ant were similar.
She had asked the question after already realizing the answer.
And Mitsuari must have realized that because she spoke in resignation.
“I couldn’t exactly let myself be seen like this.”
She was covered in the filth of pitch-black hatred.
And the cracks in that hatred allowed a glimpse of the girl who had to have exited back then.
“I said I wanted to help people. I really did say that during that same time you spent with him. And yet…this was the only path available for me. I could never let him know that the Mitsuari Ayu he knew still lives as the utterly-changed ruins of that person.”
Shokuhou heard those words.
She confirmed her own thoughts.
She had grasped the core of this girl.
And now she could not abandon her.
Shokuhou Misaki had finally found just one thing that allowed her to think that.
She switched to a new train of thought.
A clear difference appeared in the colors filling her vision.
This changed nothing of what Mitsuari had done. She was a criminal who had immersed herself in Academy City’s dark side, altered all sorts of documents, attacked Shokuhou using men disguised as Emergency Aid, used the Strobila and Five Over OS to have her destroy her own memories or personality, and was even now trying to take her life.
But even so, something changed inside Shokuhou.
It may have been the same for that boy. She had been the root cause of that girl’s suicide, she had been the one to give the final shove, and she had even defiled the site of that suicide, but he may have found something inside that thoughtless girl.
It only had to be one thing.
Just the one thing that made you not want to kill them.
“Hey, Mitsuari Ayu.”
“It may be too late and nothing I do now may have any ability to actually change things.”
Shokuhou Misaki made an announcement as if challenging the other girl.
“But I’m still going to save you♪ Because I know that’s what he would do.”
He had saved her like that.
She stood here today because of his decision.
And so no matter how pathetic, ridiculous, or meaningless to others it might be, she refused to reject that salvation.
No matter what.