Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume12 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: The Vanishing Girl's Legacy — Hard_MEMORY.
What did Kamijou Touma think of at that moment?
It may have been the Sisters, those mass-produced military clones of Academy City’s #3 Level 5. Those girls used their identical brainwaves and ability to control electricity in order to construct a unique living data network known as the Misaka Network. They used it to share their memories, techniques, and knowledge.
It may have been the rumors he had heard about Academy City’s #5. That monster was a single person, but she was said to read minds, speak telepathically, brainwash, hypnotize, and otherwise control just about every part of her opponents’ minds. In a way, she created a great number of puppets controlled by a single control tower.
It may have been the C Document that Terra of the Left of God’s Right Seat had tried to activate in Avignon, France to direct the world’s hatred toward Academy City.
It may have been the Leshy, a mind controlling spell used in Hawaii by Saronia A. Irivika so Gremlin could take administrative control of the United States.
It may have been Yakumi Hisako, a former member of Academy City’s board of directors. She had created the Agitate Halation project to mass produce inferior heroes around Fremea Seivelun.
Dozens of people in tailcoats surrounded him.
They were a mix of ages and genders, but it looked like they had forcibly matched their appearances as much as possible.
It was like some kind of synchronization or parallelism.
It spread from person to person, transforming them into weapons that produced only violence.
The hair across Kamijou’s body stood on end as he screamed. A moment later, “they” came.
They burst from the walls, floor, and ceiling.
The entire scenery grew distorted and undulated. Countless spears of countless sizes shot out and rushed toward him like a torrential downpour.
A simple calculation suggested there were one hundred Chambords for each St. Germain present.
This oddity of a spell allowed them to control diamonds, carbon, and thus this entire building.
There was no way Kamijou could negate every attack with just his right hand.
So the action he took was simple.
He kicked up the fire extinguisher sitting nearby and shoved it forward.
As soon as it came into contact with the spears, compressed gas exploded out. The fire extinguishing powder looked more pink than white as it covered everything. Visibility dropped to zero. The countless spears filled the entire space in a lattice pattern and cleanly sliced through the barrier of powder.
But Kamijou was already gone.
Only the fire extinguisher remained, torn to shreds and pinned in midair.
(I was right.)
The group of St. Germains seemed to have shifted their focus toward the destroyed door to the elevator shaft.
However, Kamijou had run through the smokescreen and passed right by them.
He ran, almost tripping, and fled to another area.
(If “all” St. Germain can do is control the Dianoid, there would be no point in him actually appearing in front of me. He could just turn the entire building into a bed of spikes like an iron maiden. He didn’t do that…no, he couldn’t do that, so there has to be a reason. He must only be able to use his carbon control magic based on the senses of the others synced with or parallel with him. It only seemed like there was nowhere to hide in here because there were that many St. Germains mixed in!)
He gulped and desperately told himself to calm down.
(I’m not up against an almighty Magic God here. He may look that way, but there’s a reason behind each individual action. There has to be a limit on those tunnels he opens in people’s body. If not, he would have removed my right arm or plucked out my heart right off the bat.)
And the same had to apply to his ability to synchronize with and infect people.
(I can figure this out.)
He clenched his right fist.
He still did not know what he should negate, but even so…
(They’re like walking weapons, but there has to be some kind of gear down at the bottom. If they’ve been synchronized or infected, it means these people are the city’s teachers and students. If I can remove that, they might return to normal!!)
All of the St. Germains turned their heads and faced him in unison.
Crouched low, he hurried onward.
The second wave of spears flew mercilessly toward him.
Once the countless St. Germains chased Kamijou into a different area, the elevator hall was left empty.
However, one of the square paper lanterns set up alongside the waterway was shaking.
A fifteen centimeter girl poked her head out from inside it.
It was Othinus.
(They have surprisingly unreliable senses. Is crystalizing them as St. Germain considered enough of a success, so each individual unit hasn’t been properly polished? Has he improved his ability to control diamonds and gained the ability to control carbon as a whole? If the world has only a single chance here, this is quite the troublesome foe.)
Othinus had not chosen to hide in the lamp herself. As soon as he had set up the fire extinguisher smokescreen, Kamijou had shoved her inside the light fixture and fled.
It had almost seemed like he had chosen a more noticeable action to draw their attention.
(If that was part of his “bad habit”, this would be the time to punch him, but…)
She guessed Kamijou was after information on St. Germain. After all, Othinus had been a true Magic God and yet even she deemed this opponent to be “troublesome”.
St. Germain had no central unit or terminal unit. They were all synchronized and they were all parallel. The nucleus of a crystal formed around the distribution of the high-concentration solution and the materials that attached around it were completely identical.
Diamonds were hard and breaking them did not change their structure.
Diamonds were said to be crystals made of pure carbon, but even the purest diamond was only 99.9% pure. Over twenty different types of impurities existed in that slight gap. And that less than 0.1% impurity would change the properties of the entire diamond. Everything from how hard it was to its electrical conductivity, coloration, and transparency were influenced by that. They were not the center or the nucleus, but those meaningless impurities were the controller that manipulated the entire crystal.
St. Germain had to have something similar.
He was a magician that controlled diamonds. He was a life form who could control even his own body as carbon-based organic matter. So if St. Germain was viewed as a single giant crystal created by synchronizing and parallelizing a group, he had to have something like a controller or settings file.
With that in mind, Kamijou would draw out St. Germain’s attacks on the vanguard while the analysts on the rear guard would reveal the structure and weaknesses of his spell. That was the correct way to go about this.
“But still,” muttered fifteen centimeter Othinus. “Through all of those hundreds of billions of phases, I missed the Misaka Network that manipulated the border between life and death. Does he also contain the possibility to always show up or appear anew in every world or phase I created?”
She looked to the floor and saw a few clumps of blood.
She doubted they belonged to Kamijou Touma.
(To him, using up personnel must be the same as using impurities to create gaps in the otherwise even crystalline structure. Maintaining his overall properties even when an individual is crushed would make him a first-class diamond. I’m sure he knew what would happen when he forced Academy City’s espers to use magic.)
Othinus was surprised to find that displeased her.
From an efficiency standpoint, St. Germain was right.
There was no reason to worry about their enemies in the science side’s Academy City.
All lives were not of equal value during battle.
Was it that pointy-haired boy’s influence that would not let her allow it?
“What a pain… I guess I was fundamentally broken, too.”
She shook her head and focused on analysis once more.
If she was going to search for the optimal answer…
(Come to think of it, we left the Index Librorum Prohibitorum behind. Well, if she had been here, Kamijou Touma might have chosen a different course of action.)
Her fifteen centimeter stature was not always a bad thing.
There were limits to what she could do, but St. Germain could only search for enemies by sealing off all routes that someone human-sized could pass through. At fifteen centimeters, she could take paths unavailable to others.
And that went beyond simply crawling below a vending machine and travelling through that slight gap. A cat could jump down from a height of two or three stories, but that was not just because of its body structure and athletic ability. Its light weight reduced the impact of landing, too.
“Now, my first priority is contacting the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Whether I manage that or not, I need to figure out where Kamijou Touma and St. Germain are, observe them, and find a way to break St. Germain’s crystalline structure.”
She sounded irritated, but she had summed up what she had to do.
Those were the necessary steps to achieve victory.
She was, after all, an individual who had become known as a god of war.
Then again, Kamijou could not continue dodging the St. Germains’ attacks forever.
Their magic surrounded him with a set of one hundred spears like an inside-out hedgehog, making it a simple yet effective countermeasure to Imagine Breaker. Not to mention that dozens of people were using that same magic at once and more St. Germains were mixed into the people not currently chasing him.
His odds of survival were rapidly declining.
This would not have been easy under normal circumstances, but this added further irregularities into the mix.
There were only so many ways he could block their sight. Also, this was only the preliminary encounter. The true battle began once Index or Othinus analyzed St. Germain and found a weakness.
All he could do was run around corner after corner, trying to escape from the St. Germains’ sight.
And he was so focused on the enemies behind him that he ran right into someone else turning the corner ahead.
The person pulled on his hand and dragged him behind the reception counter to what seemed to be a gym.
He could hear several sets of footsteps passing by the corridor beyond the counter.
The other person was practically embracing him, but once he pulled himself free and checked who it was, he found he recognized them.
“What? You’re that Aihana guy, right?”
“W-well, I suppose. You wouldn’t be wrong to call me Aihana Etsu.”
It was the boy with semi-long brown hair.
Kamijou gently sighed.
“Well, you saved me regardless. Listen, I’m heading back out when the time is right, but you stay here. If you are going to leave, wait a bit and go in the opposite direction. You haven’t been spotted yet, but if you are, they’ll fill you with holes. I’m not sure I can cover for you.”
“No,” cut in Aihana Etsu.
When he shook his head, a sweet aroma was shaken from his hair.
“I don’t know who they are, but I doubt it’s anything that simple. They knew we were here, but they overlooked us because they don’t want to get me caught up in this.”
“For some reason, this St. Germain guy is obsessed with me. He seems to have given me alone the ability to use the sealed elevators and doors. That’s how I got to the mid level. I figured out these St. Germain people were after you from the behind-the-scenes videos,” he explained. “They’re all dressed the same, so maybe they all think the same. That means having you head out isn’t the best plan here. I should go right into the middle of them. If I’m in the center of things, they’ll have a harder time fighting.”
That thought shocked Kamijou, but when he reflexively tried to argue, Aihana Etsu placed his index finger on his lips.
The sensation of the boy’s slender finger silenced him.
“Whatever his goal is, St. Germain won’t kill me right away. He’ll want to talk. That’s our chance. If I can loosen his lips and get some information out of him, we might find a way out of this. That would obviously be better than sitting around waiting to be killed and it’s something only I can do.”
The boy’s words were logical, but his face was deathly pale.
His shoulders were trembling and they looked so skinny they would break if someone grabbed them too roughly.
He had to be scared.
It was not clear what St. Germain wanted and he could change his mind at any time. The odds were good he would bare his fangs the instant it was revealed Aihana Etsu was hiding something. And if that happened, there was no escape.
If their positions had been reversed and Kamijou was asked to play that role, he honestly doubted he could have done it.
And if St. Germain had noticed what they were doing, Aihana Etsu’s suggestion was not even an undercover mission. St. Germain would already know he was letting Kamijou escape, so it would be more like taking or exchanging hostages.
Aihana Etsu spoke while looking up at Kamijou. He grabbed Kamijou’s coat at the chest and his self-made fear brought tears to the corners of his eyes.
“If I don’t make it back, can you do one thing for me? A girl named Frenda Seivelun has an apartment in the upper level of the Dianoid. There might be something there to tell me what happened to my missing friend. If I have that, I might find a clue to saving her. St. Germain said something ominous about the ‘last vestiges’ of her, but I don’t know if that’s true. If I can’t do it, please find it for me. If I know someone will, then I can go do this now.”
“Hey, stop. I don’t even know what kind of person you are. If you’re carrying something you can’t back down on, then that’s all the more reason why you can’t do something like this for me!”
“Don’t worry,” said Aihana Etsu.
He looked Kamijou right in the eye from close range.
And he spoke as if to convince himself.
He seemed to be forcibly overwriting the fear that was overflowing from his true self.
He looked to the person who would believe this was who he was.
“I’m Aihana Etsu.”
There was no time to stop him.
Aihana Etsu removed his hands from Kamijou Touma, ran out from behind the gym counter, and made his way out of the shop. He rushed out into the open where countless St. Germains lay in wait.
There was no point in running out after him.
In fact, beginning a sudden battle increased the risk of Aihana Etsu being hit by a stray attack.
Kamijou understood that.
He did, but…
He clenched his teeth, clenched his fist until it oozed blood, and yet had nothing he could do here.
He would not waste this opportunity.
Ensuring that was his only option here.
Once he moved out into the open, Aihana Etsu’s range of options narrowed significantly.
First of all, the countless St. Germains all focused on him. They may have already noticed him long ago, but things changed once they stopped acting and let each other know that they were aware of each other.
At this point, any attempt to run or hide increased the risk of his actions being viewed as hostile. And if he strayed out of line with only the name “Aihana Etsu” on his side, he had no way to avoid being skewered.
(The situation isn’t going to improve if I don’t do anything.)
His fear transformed into lightheadedness as he desperately tried to think.
(I don’t know why St. Germain is letting me go. He’s freely attacking all the other people trapped in the Dianoid and I can’t imagine why he would be treating me differently. I can’t just do what he says. I have to get off of the rails he’s set up for me!! If I don’t, I won’t be able to do what I came here to do!!)
Even if he was risking his life or sacrificing himself, he was still leaving the most important part to someone else.
He ignored the situation and had to suppress a smile at just how typical of him this was.
Kamijou Touma was a name he had heard while crying as he was punched and kicked in the back alleys. At the time, he had had nothing and had been feeling his way through the darkness and wandering around as if wearing a blindfold.
He had no connection to that person.
His only interaction with the boy was being given a bottle of water when the boy mistakenly thought he had heatstroke. It was far too cheap to leave his life with someone like that. He had done so anyway because even that tiny connection was more than he had with anyone else in the Dianoid.
He had received a bottle of water from St. Germain as well.
However, there was a slight difference between a monster attempting to curry his favor and Kamijou Touma who had wanted nothing in return.
His only choice was to bet on that.
This was just as supremely foolish as someone betting their lifesavings on their lucky color.
He knew that, but he still clung to that spider web.
And now a great number of tailcoats waited for him.
“Hi, hi! Should I still be calling you Aihana Etsu? I’m a little busy at the moment, but I can free up some time for you. How are things going with the Frenda Seivelun thing?”
Unlike before, it was not just a man. Age and gender did not matter. When alone, their costumes made them stand out, but when a group of them gathered, Aihana Etsu was the one who felt out of place.
“Didn’t I tell you to hurry if you wanted to know the truth? It’s interesting how it’s possible to actually be too kind, isn’t it? Or should I have escorted you to the upper level apartments?”
Aihana Etsu placed a hand on the center of his chest.
He switched to a new train of thought and focused on the thin student ID card.
He looked up with a challenge in his eyes.
“My problem can wait until later. More importantly, what about you?”
“For how confident you sound, it doesn’t seem like things are going all that well. Are you sure you can manage?”
A rusty smell wafted in from the surrounding group.
Some of them had bandages wrapped around themselves, but had they really been hit by their opponents?
“Oh, nothing to worry about. From now on, I will be more careful in my selection. You use diamond to cut diamond, but it seems I used them a little too roughly. I probably should have only used the teachers.”
Aihana Etsu had never heard of the side-effects of using magic and St. Germain provided no explanation.
“You did not waste your precious chance to approach Frenda Seivelun just to talk about this, did you?”
“Don’t worry. If you take out everyone in my way, I can take my time searching for that girl’s secret.”
“Ha ha! I suppose so. But ‘kind’ certainly is an apt description for you. For me, this is like having my reward paid in full up front.”
One of the St. Germains reached out an arm and suggested they find somewhere to talk.
Next, they all extended an arm like the wind blowing through a wheat field.
At the same time, Aihana Etsu recalled the words of his friend.
“In the end, you need to be careful when someone treats you like an old friend the first time you see them. The ones who can fake the expression aren’t too bad and the ones who only trick you with words are even better, but the ones who fake their own emotions are the truly dangerous ones. Those are the ones who have taken a step outside of what can be described in terms of good and evil.”
That friend’s cellphone had included the addresses of easily over one thousand people. She certainly knew more about people than he did.
“Nee hee hee. Not that I’m one to talk with how much I let others influence me.”
He let the St. Germains guide him through a dance hall of swirling death and violence.
He was led to an elevator that took him to the rooftop Japanese garden where he had spoken with St. Germain before.
A single St. Germain waited for him in the moonlight.
This one was far older than him. She appeared to be in college or a new teacher. The adult woman had white skin, blue eyes, and wavy blond hair that reached her waist.
There were many different types of tailcoats, but this woman’s one resembled the stage outfit of a woman illusionist. It was something like a jacket and bunny suit combination.
She wore a monocle that resembled a butterfly wing and her face looked somehow familiar.
She almost looked like Aihana Etsu’s friend if she had grown into a beautiful woman.
“The carbon making up any diamond is nothing but carbon, but the impurities making up less than 0.1% create countless varieties of colored diamonds. What splits people’s personal preferences on diamonds are those miniscule imperfections. I thought you might grow to like me if I shined like this and I hoped that would help our conversation run more smoothly.”
The blonde St. Germain laughed casually.
That woman had to have had her own life, personality, respect, and happiness.
But just knowing this was unreasonable was not enough to break free of it.
This was not a situation in which the mask of “Aihana Etsu” was enough.
“Now, now, now. Where to begin? My mind is filled with things I would like to say, but where should I begin to confuse you the least? Oh, it has been so long. It has been far too long since I came across such a delightful proposition.”
“I want you to promise me just one thing first.”
“No need to limit yourself to just one. Make as many requests as you like.”
“You already know I didn’t approach you because I’m your friend, right?”
“Oh, you mean the person you desperately tried to let escape?”
“Hiding it won’t do any good. I’m here now, so don’t lay a finger on that boy. If you don’t promise me that, I refuse to speak with you.”
The blonde St. Germain readily agreed while sliding open a rectangular pill case she had pulled out at some point and dropping a black pill onto her soft palm.
“I would really rather not promise that, but for you I will do it. And why stop with him? As long as you keep speaking with me, I will promise not to do any harm to anyone inside the Dianoid.”
When he heard that, Aihana Etsu carelessly bared his true face before this obvious enemy.
He gave a sigh of relief.
A heated breath flowed white into the night wind.
St. Germain smiled quietly as she watched that expression that could only be described as inexperienced.
St. Germain was interested only in a single truth.
With anything else, she was willing to tell billions of lies with a smile on her lips.
He heard a tremendous explosion and felt the building shake, but that was not the most ominous thing Hamazura sensed while searching the Dianoid’s mid level in the Power Lifter. More than his sight and hearing, it was his sense of smell that got to him.
It smelled like fireworks and there was a hint of rust thrown in.
Aneri’s analysis said it was a nitrogen oxide reaction which pointed to a certain possibility.
(Don’t tell me there’s a bomb.)
The word naturally came to mind, but his brain did everything it could to reject the idea.
That could not be.
It just could not.
Then what was that strange smell? Where had the person named St. Germain gone after trapping so many people in the Dianoid? What had he done to Item who could possibly open up an elevator shaft or emergency staircase with the #4’s Meltdowner? How did all that lead to the same scent he had sensed on the burning snowy plains of Russia?
Despite using the Power Lifter, he was even more out of breath than when using his own two legs.
He could tell an unusual amount of sweat was flowing from his brow.
Aneri sent out a mental warning and suggested playing a video pattern file with a calming effect, but he did not have time to bother with any of that.
“What the hell is going on? Goddammit!!”
The closer he got to the scene, the more difficult it was to keep going. The reason for this was obvious: boys and girls were rushing toward him while screaming in terror or anger. They were not focused on him. They were simply trying to escape the scene of the blast as quickly as possible.
His desire to know what happened naturally sent him in the opposite direction, but he could not exactly use the Power Lifter’s strength to knock them out of the way.
His slowed pace and the sensation that the dangerous truth was slipping from his fingers was enough to wear on his nerves.
What had happened to the girls who had been waiting for him in the Dianoid?
Where was Mugino Shizuri? Where was Kinuhata Saiai?
And where was Takitsubo Rikou?
He just about cried out, but then he spotted something strange: he was not the only one working against the sudden crowd of people.
Far away, a boy’s eyes opened wide as if he had run into an invisible wall.
It was Kamijou Touma.
The boy looked at the confused crowd of people once more and then turned around.
A moment later, a flesh-colored hell opened up.
First, an undulation ran through the floor and walls.
Next, a large group of spears flew toward Kamijou Touma.
Finally, fist-sized tunnels opened in the bodies and faces of the boys and girls and the spears passed through them.
It was an inescapably evil scene.
No matter what the reason, he could not understand how a vision like that could be allowed.
Like an inside-out hedgehog, one hundred spears all rushed toward Kamijou Touma.
Without watching it through to the end, Hamazura Shiage took action while still screaming.
Aneri picked up on his intention and swiftly provided assistance.
The Power Lifter’s giant steel arm opened like an alligator mouth and grabbed several of the infinitely extending spears. He used all of his strength to crush them.
This created a spear-less gap in one direction of the spherical attack.
Kamijou ran in that direction to put some distance between himself and the other spears.
The countless spear tips came together like a complex iron maiden.
“Get out of here!!” shouted Hamazura. “Hurry!!”
This was no time to worry about regulations.
He grabbed the two joysticks and used the mechanical legs for a mighty leap. By landing on or grabbing pillars or objects sticking out from the wall, he passed over the crowd (that was riddled with tunnels) and landed next to the struggling Kamijou Touma.
That had not been Hamazura’s own skill.
Those acrobatics were thanks to the calculations performed by Aneri.
Sparks flew as the legs scraped across the carbon floor.
“I thought I’d settled things with you!!”
“You did! But do you really think they’re going to listen to what we have to say!?”
Kamijou pointed his thumb backwards.
Hamazura looked back and his eyes opened wide.
He saw a man in a tailcoat.
And the man was not alone. There were five or ten of them walking their way.
Just like a diamond, even heat seemed to spread between them in an instant, so they burned with a mad passion.
“You’re kidding!! You have got to be kidding!! And when I have so many other things to deal with!”
“It’s all over if you die! You’ve gotten caught up in this, so you should probably run away for now!”
“I still don’t know if my girlfriend’s safe!! It would tear my heart to pieces if I left her alone now!!”
“Damn. I see.”
Kamijou briefly squeezed his eyes shut and seemed to shake something off.
He turned around and faced the St. Germains before speaking.
“Then we’ll share the burden. You go do what you have to do and I’ll hold them off.”
“I’ll figure it out! You said you’d settled things with me, remember? Then it’s only natural for you to get the best spot!! So go!!”
It was Hamazura’s turn to rub his brow and shake his head.
It would be easy to abandon this boy.
If he ordered everything according to priority, there was no way this boy’s life would rank higher than Takitsubo.
But would Takitsubo and the others accept him if he made that choice?
Had he fallen in love with someone like that?
He spat out the curse from the very bottom of his heart.
The Power Lifter’s giant arms then grabbed the pointy-haired boy by the back of the neck.
“Ah! Wait! What are you-…!?”
There was no time to explain.
Still holding Kamijou, he had the Power Lifter’s leg bite into a thick pillar. The machine bounced around like a pinball. He would occasionally use the walls or even the ceiling as footing, occasionally grab objects on the wall, and crossed the entire floor by irregularly jumping around without ever touching the ground.
The countless St. Germains turned his way.
A moment later, countless spears extended from the floor and flew toward the Power Lifter like a group of surface-to-air missiles.
“Aneri, ballistic prediction!! And you can switch off the inertial Gs limiter!!”
He made his way to an area not yet infected by St. Germain.
He leaped to a theatre, jumped straight up, and tried to use the second or third story seats to reach another floor.
However, St. Germain was faster.
A few sets of eyes looked up at him from the bottom seats. The seats and walls twisted into countless spears and approached as another solid surface.
The open space of the theatre was working against him.
The Power Lifter was nimble, but it could not bounce around like a pinball without anything to use as footing. His movements grew simpler while in midair.
The enemy could perfectly aim for him and skewer him.
But just before that happened, a great roar filled the air.
Another machine came from the theatre’s third story seats. Like a shooting star, the other Power Lifter performed a flying kick and forcibly broke the approaching spears.
Even if it was not a military weapon, the Power Lifter was not the kind of heavy machinery that had spread to the general public quite yet.
There were only two of them in the Dianoid, so there could only be one person operating this other one.
He cried out without thinking, but his grasp of the situation could not keep up with the passage of time. After breaking the pursuing spears, Stephanie’s Power Lifter swung its arms and legs in midair to balance itself and fell to where the countless St. Germains waited.
Hamazura did not know if Mugino, Kinuhata, or Takitsubo were safe.
And now Stephanie had jumped into danger.
His steel hand grabbed the railing to the third story seats and he climbed up while taking a breath. After that, a groan escaped his mouth.
It quickly grew into a scream.
In that moment, Stephanie Gorgeouspalace had to have had a few different options.
She had spotted Hamazura Shiage on one of the flat-screen monitors.
He had run across…no, was running away from “something” using strange technology to skewer people.
As he flew through the air, countless spears had pursued him from behind.
She should have abandoned him.
She should have feigned ignorance and focused on her own safety.
But for some reason, she had suddenly remembered something.
She remembered a time before turning on Academy City because of Sunazara Chimitsu, her teacher as a soldier, and before leaving to see the world as a mercenary. It was a time when she was still in Academy City.
Back then, she had been a teacher.
She had been an Anti-Skill member who protected children’s lives.
(I don’t really have much choice, do I?)
Sparks flew and she tore into the floor as she landed before the enemy and smiled a bit.
(I’m the adult here! You fall into the category of children, too!!)
The violence reached her immediately afterwards.
All at once, hundreds of spears rushed in. She swung her steel arms about, but that was nowhere near enough for this. Her flying kick had broken them, so they were likely not much of a threat when hit anywhere except for the very tip. However, they provided a fearsome impact if the tip scored a direct hit.
She gave up on clearing them all away.
She tried to protect herself with the metal arms, but the countless spears smashed, tore, and broke the Power Lifter to pieces.
(If only I could have gotten that information to someone else.)
The steel-smashing fangs would reach her soft flesh in just a few seconds more, but Hamazura Shiage would be able to escape in that time.
That was enough for her to remember the slight smile on her sweat-covered face.
A brilliant beam of light shot in from the side and overturned the assumption of her death.
Every last spear was instantly vaporized.
A swirl of scorching heat melted the door leading to the theatre’s first story seats as well as the surrounding wall.
A crackling charge filled the air.
Time seemed to stop and extreme violence ruled the scene.
The owner of that violence stepped into the theatre.
It was Mugino Shizuri.
She was Meltdowner, Academy City’s #4 Level 5.
Her beautiful feminine bodyline was surrounded by countless spherical swirls of electrons that heated her surroundings to the limit.
“If you’re after that desperate bomber man, he’s over there. Make sure to clean up after him. He’s causing everyone trouble with the absolute mess he made of the place.”
The St. Germains all turned toward Mugino.
Their deadly sights were trained on her, but the #4 showed no sign of caring.
Not only that, but a girl in a knit dress and a girl in a pink track suit spoke up from behind her.
“Umm, just to be super sure you’re aware, these guys are a little strange for being our enemies. If you mercilessly genocide them, it might lead to some annoying attempts at revenge later. Being the target of some hackneyed sob story is the most dangerous part of working for the dark side.”
“Shut the hell up. It’s their fault for being controlled.”
“And Mugino,” added the track suit girl. “Can I make one request?”
“There’s an atrium there, right? Fire a shot straight up into it.”
Mugino sounded like she barely cared, but she still raised a palm and released a deadly beam of light up into the atrium.
“Now, time to get down to business.”
“Were you even listening!? If you super genocide what are technically innocent people, we’ll end up chased around by some righteous heroes or something!”
“Then let’s see who can take out more of them. If you can safely knock them all out with your Offense Armor, I won’t have to use my Meltdowner at all.”
“No fair! You’re just making it super easy for yourself!”
The St. Germains did not wait for the girls to finish yelling at each other.
They launched countless spears at the two of them as a surprise attack.
Mugino did not even have time to release Meltdowner.
“Are you serious?”
She sounded exasperated.
First, she lightly swung her head.
Next, her perfectly normal slender arm easily grabbed a spear thrust toward her face.
No, it was actually…
“I told you your bomber man failed, didn’t I? Kinuhata and I tore the bombs from him and threw them away. Thanks to that, no one died and you didn’t get what you wanted.”
With a dull crunch, she mercilessly crushed the carbon spear in her grasp. The smooth motion was accompanied by a quiet mechanical whirring.
It was a prosthetic hand.
During Mugino Shizuri’s many battles, she had traded an eye, an arm, and all her skin for artificial replacements.
Rather than viewing it negatively, she had modified her own body to match her belligerent tendencies.
“Don’t just assume a Level 5 is nothing but her power. I’ll kill you.”
With those words, the monsters named Mugino Shizuri and Kinuhata Saiai mercilessly charged into the group of St. Germains.
Among the third story seats, Kamijou cried out when he saw the thick beam of light pierce vertically through the Dianoid.
Aneri gave a high heat warning.
On the other hand, all of the tension bled away from Hamazura.
That was the signal.
It was an extremely unreasonable announcement saying that all of the danger would be swept away by brute force.
“Ha ha. That’s right. They aren’t the type to die so easily.”
“What do you mean?”
Hamazura heard something like a hiccough come from himself.
At the same time, some slight tears welled up in his eyes.
He both cried and smiled.
“Just talking to myself! It means they didn’t need reinforcements. Of course they didn’t. Why in the hell did a Level 0 think he needed to help two Level 4s and a Level 5? Ha ha ha ha ha!!”
Kamijou was utterly confused, but Hamazura had apparently settled something in his heart.
He now had the leeway to focus on Kamijou instead of his own issues.
He left the third story seats and found a corridor untouched by St. Germain’s “infection”.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I want to rescue the kid named Aihana Etsu. He ran right into the St. Germains – those people in tailcoats – to let me escape. Now it’s my turn to return the favor.”
Hamazura frowned and pictured the child of indeterminate gender who had been sneaking around the Dianoid’s parking lot.
“Is he the real deal? Are you sure he isn’t a fake just using the name?”
“It doesn’t matter. He risked himself to save my life, so he’s a true hero either way.”
Kamijou continued speaking.
“And I’m curious about St. Germain’s actions. He’s apparently obsessed with Aihana, but doesn’t that seem inconsistent with the other things he’s been doing?”
“What? Can you dumb it down a little?”
“If all he wants to do is contact Aihana, he wouldn’t need to try to kill us. In fact, he wouldn’t need to seal all the Dianoid’s exits or even do it today. He could have just waited in a dark alleyway and abducted Aihana.”
“Now that you mention it…”
“He didn’t take all these unrelated hostages just to speak with Aihana. But that raises some fundamental questions. Is St. Germain even interested in Aihana Etsu? Is that really his final objective?”
“Still, he’s using some of his resources to help Aihana. That would mean…”
“He might be using Aihana for some other goal. Or he’s pushing Aihana to do something for him.”
Kamijou chose his words carefully.
“That makes me curious about the last thing Aihana said. He said something’s hidden in the Dianoid that might help him save a missing friend of his. If he can’t, he wanted me to search for Frenda Seivelun’s secret in his place.”
“Frenda?” asked Hamazura without thinking.
Aneri automatically began a search for the name, but they either had no signal or the records on the dark side were sealed off because the window froze up.
However, the correct answer was in his head.
The girl’s fate flashed through the back of his mind. Her torso had been torn apart in a frenzy and her upper body had been dragged around while spilling its organs like a torn stuffed animal.
There was no saving that life.
“Did you just say Frenda!?”
“Yeah. Do you know her?”
Her fate was not an easy thing to explain, but Kamijou did not stick with the issue.
“If Aihana is manipulated into doing something, this Frenda girl’s secret is what we need to break him free. We can apparently find it if we search the apartments on the upper level, so we need to do that. I don’t know if Aihana is St. Germain’s goal or just something he’s doing for fun, but don’t you think we could catch St. Germain off guard if we did remove Aihana from his control?”
“That’s enough,” cut in Hamazura. “If Frenda’s a part of all this, then I’m in. That’s enough reason for me to see this through to the end.”
With the Power Lifter, travelling between floors was not difficult.
They only had to break through the elevator door and use the elevator shaft.
If they climbed that tunnel toward the heavens, they would reach the high-class apartments on the Dianoid’s upper level.
The truth they desired was there.
She had long wavy blonde hair and white skin.
The college-aged woman in a tailcoat sat on the teahouse storefront bench and Aihana Etsu sat next to her.
They were in the moonlit garden.
On the Dianoid’s roof, St. Germain took a black pill from her pill case and tossed it into her mouth.
“St. Germain’s name became widely known during the 1600s. He was known as an alchemist who knew the art of immortality or a man from the future with a technique to travel through time. However, I have actually been active since around the year 500. Of course, I haven’t used a single individual from beginning to end. Instead, my primary meaning multiplies without end.”
“Why do you think that is?” asked St. Germain with a soft smile. “What do you think I have lived so long for?”
Aihana Etsu shook his head.
“How could I know that?”
“How honest of you. But there is no need to make this complicated. St. Germain is known as a mysterious individual who appears in the high societies of countless nations during countless time periods, but my goal is something you would find in a children’s picture book.”
At some point, the rectangular pill case had vanished from her hand
A closer inspection showed that was due to sleight of hand, not the supernatural.
“Aihana. How much do you know about the legend of King Arthur?”
“You know, the man who became king after pulling out the sword in the stone. Of course, most people only know the first part of the legend and know none of the details about what kind of life the man lived.”
At that point, Aihana Etsu finally recalled the sword named Excalibur.
Then again, he only knew of it as the name of a weapon in a 3D RPG he had played. He pointlessly remembered it had been the third strongest sword in the game and that it let you attack four times in a single turn.
“By the way, do you know who the strongest knight was in that long, long legend?”
“Eh? You mean it wasn’t the king?”
“No.” St. Germain shook her index finger. “In fact, the king himself was not all that strong. He was chosen by the sword, but he became King of Britain thanks to the knights surrounding him. The king is not necessarily the main character of every story.”
“It’s also technically incorrect to say the Knights of the Round Table were the ultimate team. That system was only introduced later and it did not include any of the old knights who had initially supported the king. So if you look through all of the legends, who is truly the strongest knight?”
She stopped her shaking finger and continued on.
“The answer is Galahad. He was the ultimate knight born to Lancelot and Elaine, Princess of the Holy Grail Castle. He was a pure knight who surpassed the king and improved upon Lancelot’s imperfections. King Arthur became King of Britain by drawing a sword, but Galahad is said to have possessed both a holy sword and a holy shield and to have finally acquired the Holy Grail with his purity and strength. …On the other hand, he was so perfect he lacked any humanity, so he was something like a combat machine.”
What did that have to do with anything?
Aihana Etsu was confused and it must have shown on his face because St. Germain smiled softly once more.
“Did it go in one ear and out the other since it’s outside your field of expertise? The king acquired a sword, but Galahad outdid him by acquiring both a sword and a shield. However, that raises a question. Wouldn’t the king have originally had two issues to deal with? Wouldn’t there have been a shield somewhere in the world powerful enough to act as Excalibur’s counterpart?”
If he had the title of “king”, King Arthur would have been on the upper levels of society.
And a lot of people would have wanted to get their hands on anything he had owned.
Information on the shield could easily have been hidden in those high society parties and gatherings.
Was that why St. Germain had blended in as a noble?
Aihana Etsu wondered that like he was thinking about a fairy tale, but…
“And have you heard another rumor, boy?”
“That king had a twin sister. Her name was Anne, Queen Anne. She never appears in the legends as a knight or as a princess and no one knows what happened to her. For that reason, she is treated like a false addition to the story. But what if it were true?”
Some strange kind of sweetness entered her smile.
“The legend ends when the king and his son Mordred kill each other. Some of his blood remained in distant relatives like Constantine, but the direct line ended there. …Yet Queen Anne’s presence would overturn that entirely. King Arthur’s blood may have been passed on.”
If that was true, it would indeed be a big deal.
It would breathe new life into an ancient legend.
“Did you actually believe me?”
The blonde St. Germain laughed.
“Queen Anne’s existence isn’t the issue. I searched and searched but never found anything. She was probably a fabrication after all. But what matters, Aihana, is that there is a loophole in the legend of the sword. There is still a possibility of a twin sister Anne and room for whispers of a shield to match the sword. The king and traitor were slain together and it ended there. Except it didn’t. It isn’t a dead end and it isn’t over. Yes, the shield is what I wanted. That and the person who was chosen by the shield. I wanted to meet the one who would travel the world with Excalibur’s counterpart in hand.”
St. Germain laughed again.
For that, she was willing to be called a liar behind her back. She was willing to be called a con man as she slipped into the money-obsessed high society. She was willing to do it all again and again. And she said it all with a reminiscent look on her face.
“B-but if that’s the case, why are you in Academy City? I don’t entirely understand, but shouldn’t you be searching in European countries like…um…England or France?”
“I did. I searched and searched and searched for about 1500 years without finding a thing. And then I realized something. I could not find it no matter how thoroughly I scoured the world, so I asked myself where I had yet to search.”
Aihana Etsu gulped as if swallowing some sweet honey.
“You don’t mean…”
“Academy City. A surprising blind spot, isn’t it? No place is more removed from magic and mystery. And yet in emergencies, this headquarters of the science side contacts the magic side via the Anglican Church. It is not a bad place to store a legend born in Britain. In fact, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum is apparently stored here, so I should have noticed the possibility of such an exception more quickly,” she said. “You asked why I am here. Well, I have a single reason.”
With a heavy thud, she pressed the bottom of a giant golden glowing shield into the gravel garden.
“This is the shield to match the sword. Out of respect to a certain fantasy, I call it Anne’s Shield. Even in our world, Queen Anne is an allusion to someone that does not exist, just like the mirage of a desert oasis. While it is paired with the sword, it would be wrong to call it the king’s shield seeing as he never touched it even once. And since it never appears in the legend, there is no mention or proof that anyone else owned it either. Since its owner is unknown, calling it Queen Anne’s Shield is perfect, is it not?”
Someone that does not exist.
The mirage of a desert oasis.
The blonde St. Germain claimed to have searched for this for many long years.
Her words were self-deprecating, but they also contained the joy of being freed from those bonds.
“The Dianoid is said to function as a giant vault to hide the various ‘secrets’ of the elites. Given the line drawn between the science side and magic side, wouldn’t this be the perfect place to hide something you did not want found?”
“Anne’s Shield was scheduled to be transported to the TV station in a disguised container, but now I have it. I swiped it while this city’s #4 was focused on my other selves.”
The blonde St. Germain smiled thinly in the moonlight.
Her first goal had been retrieving the shield, but that was not her only goal.
She had something else.
“In the end, I never managed to prove Queen Anne existed. Magic is both a field of knowledge and a set of techniques, but it seems Anne’s Shield has a safety lock based on blood and it will only activate for someone with matching genetic information. But that is an issue of probability that people often call coincidence. I only had to find someone whose genetic information was similar enough to the bloodline and bloodstains on the few items the king left behind. That was another way in which Academy City was an extremely efficient organization. For their powers development, each school stores DNA maps of its students. Once I had the data recoded from the items left by the king, it was all a search away. It was much like trying keys in a lock. Of course, that required finding someone able to do that and turning them into St. Germain.”
“How? I went through it, piece by piece, explaining it all.”
“But… Queen Anne? Excalibur’s counterpart? This is Academy City, the headquarters of the science world where psychic powers have been created with technology. This…this isn’t where you would find some historical figure from a thick book written on parchment.”
“Ha ha. That is only the side of Academy City you are familiar with.”
“Ladylee Tangleroad, Fräulein Kreutune, and Dragon. Even this city contains some beings that cannot be explained with the official version of science. You just haven’t been told about them. Or rather, a truly perfect version of science is that much harder to come by. Just as there is no such thing as a 100.0% pure diamond.”
“Eh? What? Wait…”
“I suppose throwing all that at you so quickly was too much. But is it that strange if you think about it rationally? Think of the British Halloween that occurred during the coup d’etat in England. That clash of modern weapons and countless legends is said to have been a fantastical bout of mass hysteria, but why was it Curtana that made its appearance there? Why was something as well-known as Excalibur nowhere to be seen? Doesn’t that feel like a puzzle piece was missing? To me, it seems natural to assume it was hidden away somewhere else.”
Aihana Etsu’s mind was approaching panic.
The words just kept coming so smoothly and readily that he could instinctually tell this woman was not just adlibbing. There was some logic below it all that he was unaware of. Just like with a book written in a foreign language, he felt his lack of understanding came from a flaw on his end.
In that case…
If St. German was correct, some child in Academy City had been born with the qualities needed to activate this legendary shield. And it was not due to bloodline; it was a complete coincidence.
Just how astronomical were the odds that this person had won against? It had not been determined before their birth and no one around them had arranged for it to happen. Acquiring the shield had truly been entirely up to luck and they had been selected out of the nearly infinite possible arrangements. This absurdly good luck was like randomly hitting keys when entering a password and getting into the highest level of security on the first try.
What kind of person were they?
For just a moment, Aihana Etsu truly wondered that.
He assumed they were entirely different from him, an awkward and useless Level 0 who could not even get into a building without using someone else’s ID card.
But then St. Germain pointed her raised index finger toward Aihana Etsu’s small nose.
“It is you I have yearned for, my beloved king of the shield.”
A loud clanking rang through the darkness.
Hamazura’s Power Lifter was climbing the vertical elevator shaft by brute force. The steel machine had enough strength to achieve the speeds of a small car.
Kamijou was clinging to the back engine unit, but…
“Oh? Ohhhhhh!! Wh-wh-wha-wha-what!? It’s shaking, it’s shaking, it’s shaking, what’s going on, it’s shaking!!”
“Aneri!! I know he attacked us out of the blue earlier, but he isn’t an enemy! Don’t shake him off!!”
After Hamazura’s shouted command, the Power Lifter finally stopped its unnatural shaking.
His situation prevented him from even wiping the sweat from his brow, so Kamijou got to the topic at hand with a tremble in his voice.
“T-to be honest, I’m most afraid of St. Germain making Aihana Etsu use magic.”
Hamazura’s question caused Aneri to start a search, but it had no internet connection and could only pull data from the temporary files left by previous searches. And the only data it found was from game walkthrough sites or videos of Hawaii and Denmark, so it was completely useless.
“Birdway explained it to you before, remember? I guess it would be easiest to think of it as a kind of supernatural power different from esper powers. But magic doesn’t rely on innate talent, so apparently even we could shoot fire or ice from our hands if we wanted to. …Well, I’m not sure about me. Imagine Breaker would probably mess with it.”
Kamijou said it all so readily, but it would be a huge deal if it was true.
Hamazura himself had seen magicians in Hawaii and during the entire Fräulein Kreutune affair, but having that possibility presented to him anew was enough to make him feel dizzy.
This was an opportunity to destroy the hierarchy set up by Academy City.
Level 0s could break free of that title.
The Parameter List would lose all meaning.
It would bring so many happy changes.
However, Kamijou was not done speaking.
And what he said next destroyed all that.
“It’s not all good, though. Especially for Academy City espers that use magic.”
His tone suggested he found this utterly despicable.
Hamazura frowned, so he gave the answer.
“It seems esper powers and magic come into conflict inside the body. When an esper uses magic, it causes an awful malfunction. It damages the body’s blood vessels and nerves. In the worst case, they just die.”
“Seriously. Of course, this is all known from failed experiments. It’s probably only useful as a way to bind a far-too-powerful magician.”
Kamijou sounded annoyed with the possibility that came to mind.
“So if St. Germain convinces Aihana to oppose us, it creates two dangers. The first is obviously the threat to our lives, but the second is that he’ll be forced to unwittingly play Russian roulette.”
The damage was not something that accumulated. The side effect of using magic simply caused damage in some random part of the body, so it was entirely possible the carotid artery would be taken out the very first time.
“This isn’t good,” muttered Hamazura while operating the Power Lifter. “This definitely isn’t good. It’s just cruel and I can’t stand that.”
“That’s why we’re going to do something about it.”
“And that’s why we need to find Frenda’s ‘real’ secret, hm?”
With a loud bang, Hamazura kicked through the wooden-looking elevator door and entered the elevator hall with Kamijou.
It was not an issue of a specific location or object.
As soon as they breathed in, they could tell they were horribly out of place here. It was like finding you had wandered into a silent art museum while playing loud music on a handheld music player.
They were in the upper level apartment area.
The rooms themselves were valuable enough without even thinking about what was inside.
And they apparently functioned as vaults to hide secrets instead of as a place to live, so VIPs with too much money would buy them for peace of mind.
Unlike normal dorms or apartments, the entrances were sliding double doors. At this height, a piano could not be brought in through the window using a crane, so the front entrance needed to be large enough for most anything. Of course, those doors would be made to prevent any kind of forced entry.
Aneri began a search to gather information on the entire high-class apartment area. Communications were very nearly cut off, but there may have been a local system accessible within the building.
Based on the gathered information, the place was just like the secret banks in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. As soon as the secret was out, it lost all value. If just one room was broken into, every client would begin to question the “peace of mind” that was the biggest selling point.
Despite knowing that, Hamazura readily spoke up.
“I’ll handle the lock.”
“I’m counting on you. But first we have to figure out which room belongs to that Frenda girl.”
He did not understand.
“Eh? What? Um, what???”
Thrown by the sudden announcement, Aihana Etsu blinked and the St. Germain in a bunny girl tailcoat made her next presentation.
Just like a knight before his king, she bent her knee and lowered her head.
All while holding the glittering golden Anne’s Shield.
“Ahh, do you understand, master of the shield to match the sword? You are a positive gap in the lattice. You bring about a unique change that I cannot as an orderly lattice of carbon. Do you have any idea how long I had dreamed of this before reaching this point?”
Her lowered head kept her expression hidden, but emotion escaped into her voice.
She was overwhelmed by emotion.
That was the only way to describe the passion in her voice.
“People can call me a mere illusionist if they wish. I do not mind if they spit on me and call me a con artist. But. The one thing I can never allow is for someone to deny everything I have believed in. Yes. I have finally been rewarded. I had my body torn apart as I swam through the sea of pretentious nobles who were filled with nothing but money and desire. But that near infinite effort and pain has finally borne fruit. Do you have any idea how this feels?”
The blonde St. Germain took Aihana Etsu’s hand. She pulled it toward her and attempted to place the back of the hand on her cheek.
She was such a great existence.
And yet this was much like petting a faithful hound’s head as a reward after capturing its prey.
However, Aihana refused.
He gathered his strength and pulled his hand back to himself.
“No, I don’t.”
He no longer had any resources left to use on his act.
He simply spoke the words that came to mind.
“You can’t expect me to believe that! And what about you? We only just met, so you don’t know what kind of person I am. How…how can you lower your head so easily? How can you hand your dream over to me!?”
“Why? Because standing above others is not what I desire after truly mastering magic.”
“The legend of that sword includes a man who mastered all sorts of magic, but he never thought of becoming king himself. He only supported the king’s rule,” said St. Germain with her head still respectfully lowered. “I am the same. I have mastered magic, but I have no intention of calling myself a god of magic. I required this skill to achieve my goal, but it would make no sense to lose myself in that power. Rather than be a magician or a Magic God, I only needed to become the unique being that is St. Germain. I wish to be a third category that can only be described with the term ‘St. Germain’, just as people do not refer to diamonds as charcoal. That is why I placed myself to the side of the legend’s peak. I wished to meet the true king who was worthy of my service. But when St. Germain came into being, that king no longer lived. And the value of the sword piercing the earth was not its sharp edge; it was its ability to select a ruler capable of resolving a great problem. The legend had come to an end and the king was dead, but as long as I had the sword, it was possible I could select a new king for each coming age. But the sword too had been lost. And so I searched. I searched and searched and searched. The scales of Anubis and the spear of the Valkyrie. There are plenty of legends concerning the judgment of people’s souls and the deeds they have committed, but the only legend that matched my goal was Anne’s Shield. And the answer that shield chose…was you.”
Aihana Etsu gasped.
“Bloodline is certainly important in the king’s legend, but it is not absolute. It may be due to an incidental similarity, but Anne’s Shield has chosen you, just as machine oil finds the diamond among the rocks. The miniscule odds of this meeting are a sign that the age itself desires the arrival of a new king.”
He placed a hand on his chest and thought about what he was being told.
And he spoke in a trembling voice as if hesitantly reaching toward the head of a new hound.
“Are you really…not planning anything else? Do you really only want to serve me?”
“It is because they do not see what I gain that people fail to understand me and view me as a con artist. That fact has allowed me to find the king and it is the single trump card that could overpower even those Magic Gods. I overpower magicians and spurn the Magic Gods as they urge me to join their ranks. I remain the truly stable crystal that is St. Germain. They arrogantly call themselves Magic Gods, but they are nothing more than counselors without a king. They are a foolish group that has yet to realize that true power cannot be obtained as an individual. On the other hand, I have obtained you as a nucleus. Ahh, if Othinus had only come to understand Kamijou Touma before losing her power, she might have walked a different path.”
“My king, if I am not mistaken, that look on your face says you do not believe you have any power or that anyone would serve you.”
Still kneeling, St. Germain continued talking as if to unravel the mystery one piece at a time.
“But if you think about it, that is only natural. England left a rare form of magical talent in Academy City. It would have been a waste to destroy that talent by rudely developing esper powers over it. Simply put, you were given placebos identical to the proper Curriculum. That is why you have no power. They had no choice but to label you a Level 0. It was all so your true ability could emerge at this moment.”
Each individual piece of information linked together.
That shield had seemed as distant as the other side of the planet or even Pluto, but it was gradually falling within reach. It all began to feel strangely real as if there was no other way to explain the many failures and humiliations of his life.
“You are the positive gap and it all lies within your grasp.”
The blonde St. Germain intently raised her head and gave her king a suggestion.
“I will grant you any magic you wish. It can be the other Magic Gods, the unreasonable rules of this world, or anything else you find even the slightest bit unpleasant. You need only point it out to me and I promise I will immediately obliterate that obstacle.”
What if his position as a Level 0 had meaning?
What if he had a special talent that anyone would be envious of and what if he had a bright and shining stardom that would guide him the rest of the way?
That would bring such happiness to his life.
It would give such meaning to everything leading up to this.
“Aihana Etsu” was not a strong person. In all his humiliating days of being branded powerless, could he truly say he had never looked up to the stories of the Ugly Duckling or Cinderella? Could he truly say he had never wished he would not share the fate of the Little Match Girl?
Aihana Etsu shook his head, sending a sweet aroma scattering from his semi-long hair.
He had no intention of touching the golden shield held before him.
“That isn’t what I want.”
“It’s true I’m small. It’s true I’ve always regretfully wished I had some convenient hidden talent or true power no one had ever noticed. It’s true I couldn’t even get in here without faking my identity. But this isn’t it.”
He tried to pull away from St. Germain.
“There’s something wrong if I have to hurt people to prove my power. That isn’t what I want to do. Isn’t power meant to protect? It may be wrong for me to talk about this since I don’t have any power, but even without any power, I’ve managed to come this far without hurting anyone.”
“Is that so?”
“So I can’t do this. If that power requires hurting people, then I can’t accept it.”
“Even so, let me ask once more: Are you sure?”
She spoke with a sincere voice, yet it sounded like the whispers of a demon.
“Have you forgotten that I told you to search for the last vestiges of Frenda Seivelun?”
“Not her possessions, but the last vestiges of her. Surely you are not so foolish that you do not realize the alternate wording changes the meaning, just like with diamond and charcoal.”
St. Germain activated her ultimate weapon, the ability to flatter others.
“And there is always a reason behind people’s deaths. Once you run across that reason, will you truly be able to say you have no use for a power that hurts others?”
Countless double sliding doors lined the hall and the same scene filled several floors, so it seemed impossible to find Frenda Seivelun’s hideout without any kind of hint.
“It doesn’t look like the room numbers are arranged in any kind of order. Did they let the client choose whatever number they wanted?”
However, they received some unexpected help.
Hamazura Shiage spoke up from his Power Lifter.
“Between 0 and 9, she preferred 9.”
“Between 1 and 8, 1. Between 2 and 7, 7. Between 3 and 6, 6. Between 4 and 5…”
Aneri seemed to be using its learning function to analyze the pattern, but it required some input from the pilot.
Finally, Hamazura raised his head and gestured Kamijou forward.
“This way, probably. C’mon.”
The two of them walked down the hallway. The distance between doors suggested each room was given quite a bit of space, but there were still a lot of them. Even so, Hamazura took an almost direct path to their destination.
Confused, Kamijou asked about it.
“You know that much about her?”
“We didn’t know each other for long, but she had a bad habit of using the same password for everything because she hated remembering different ones for everything. That restricted Mugino and Kinuhata quite a lot too. Okay, this is the place.”
They stood in front of one of the sliding doors.
It appeared to be made of wood, but it was of course a carbon material. It would probably survive having a car crash into it.
But once Hamazura climbed down from the Power Lifter, he traced his fingers over the surface of the door.
The two-ton piece of heavy machinery entered autonomous standby mode and observed the lock’s structure over the boy’s shoulder.
“So it’s a Method Pin Type 29? They claim it’s theoretically impossible to illegally copy the key, but I should be able to manage with this.”
“How are you going to open it?”
“Think about it in reverse. The key can’t be copied and the lock can’t be drilled, picked, or melted. …So what if the owner loses their key? Will the room never be opened again? If the self locking door trapped a baby inside, that would lead to a death.”
“Naturally, the lock maker doesn’t want to be responsible for the actions of a stupid customer, so they always hide an emergency way to unlock it or to remove and swap out the lock. They don’t tell the customers that, of course. It entirely defeats the purpose of the lock.”
Kamijou watched Hamazura work but had no idea what he was doing. However he did it, Hamazura quickly removed the entire lock, pressed on a latch inside, and unlocked the door. The door was made so a grand piano or home theater system could be brought in, so the entire Power Lifter could fit into the entranceway.
Once they opened the double sliding doors, they found a large space.
However, it was more than just one room.
“It’s an apartment, but this looks like an inn’s entranceway,” commented Kamijou. “Wow, there’s even stairs.”
“This thing’s just like a villa that costs hundreds of millions of yen, right? Anyway, this is Frenda’s hideout. Takitsubo’s one thing, but I’m curious what she was hiding even from Mugino and Kinuhata.”
“Whatever’s hiding in here, we just have to pray it isn’t an explosives plant. Knowing Frenda, there might be a self-destruct device set up to destroy the evidence.”
The apartment showed no sign of having been lived in, but that was not just because its owner had been gone for a long time.
While it had been an apartment, it had not been made to live in. It was more like an extremely high-class closet. Or maybe a vault to store anything one wanted to ensure was kept safe.
Kamijou and Hamazura could not say for sure without doing a thorough search, but this floor alone seemed to have well over five rooms. How much more would they find if they climbed the stairs to another floor?
“Listen. Be careful when you step on the floorboards, don’t carelessly open the sliding screens, don’t touch any switches, don’t mess with any weird devices you find, don’t get caught by any tripwires or infrared beams, watch out for ultrasonic waves and microwaves, and be very careful of anything that looks like a vegetable or potted plant. Just like a top-class pastry chef can recreate any kind of sweet, she might have camouflaged the materials she used.”
“What’s left that I can do?”
Whatever they said, their only option was to check all of the sliding screens.
They started with the screen straight ahead in the large hall of an entranceway.
“Normally, this would lead to the living room.”
“With a place this size, it could easily be a game room or projection room. But this is a giant storeroom, so it won’t have any kind of normal use. I just hope we don’t find a ton of fuel-air bombs in there.”
“Just out of curiosity, who exactly was this Frenda?”
“The only thing worth knowing is that she was Fremea’s older sister.”
After an overly thorough examination of the area around the screen, Hamazura grabbed the knob with the Power Lifter’s large steel hand.
Threat Level: Undetermined.
Aneri’s warning meant they could find just about anything on the other side.
“Listen. Go any further and it’s at your own risk. If things look dangerous, get to the ground. If you only take action once the bomb has already detonated, it’s too late.”
Frenda had hidden something even from the rest of Item.
Aihana Etsu had desired whatever it was so he could pursue his missing friend.
Hamazura thought for just a moment, but then he moved the mechanical hand on the knob.
And he slid it to the side.
“To be honest.”
The female St. Germain wore a stage magician’s outfit that resembled a bunny suit and jacket and she kneeled in the moonlit garden.
“I have not dug that deeply into the issue surrounding Frenda Seivelun. I am an outsider, after all.”
Aihana Etsu slowly looked back at St. Germain’s face.
A few strands of hair had blown in the night wind and caught between her lips.
The woman with white skin and long, wavy blonde hair laughed.
“Still, I know as much as I do because of the Dianoid. This is a giant storehouse that Academy City’s VIPs pay good money to hide their secrets in. No place could be more useful for learning the secrets of others.”
“Did you see her room?”
“No.” St. Germain shook her head. “The Dianoid stores more than physical collections. It also contains carbon-based and organic-based DNA computers. Simply put, it has also taken over management of digital possessions. I can directly manipulate those, so I could not help but make use of it.”
“Then it was in there?”
“It was.” St. Germain pulled a pill from her pill case. “But it was more trouble than I would have liked since I had to access the DNA computer directly. Even if the machine itself is carbon based, it still uses fiber optic cables. I can control the machine, but I cannot touch the cables. That means I cannot use the extensive security camera network. Such a shame.”
“That doesn’t matter,” cut in Aihana Etsu.
He no longer observed her expression or feared the changes in her waves of emotion, but was that because the submissiveness of this powerful monster was producing a change inside him?
Or were his brakes no longer functioning now that his goal had been placed right before his eyes?
A somehow dangerous relaxation came over him. He moved his darkened eyes and half-opened lips as he continued.
“You said before that her room contains the ‘last vestiges’ of her. How much do you know? What did you learn in the Dianoid?”
“Do you want to know, my king?”
“Even if it will cause you to regret every last one of your decisions?”
“Answer me, St. Germain!!”
The blonde woman snapped her fingers.
Another of those playing the role of St. Germain held a notebook-sized tablet toward Aihana Etsu.
Without even thinking, he took it and listened to the St. Germain who resembled a grown Frenda.
“Now see for yourself, king of the shield. This is the regret you have chosen.”
Whether he heard those words or not, he definitely saw what that screen displayed.
In an instant, his mind was filled by several images.
An overpass with a subway track running below.
A boy and a girl speaking together.
The object that girl dragged in one hand like a burst stuffed animal.
A familiar friend.
Red and black.
Far too much missing.
Torn-apart and disturbing colors.
Long, wavy blonde hair and white skin had lost all life and looked more like dried papier-mâché, empty eyes reflected nothing, the color red trailed down from the corner of the mouth, the long body was missing everything from the lower torso and below, something soft and colorful dangled stickily down from the violently torn edge, the path along which it had been roughly dragged was obvious thanks to the grotesque clumps that had fallen to the-
The next thing he knew, Aihana Etsu was screaming uncontrollably.
He had not heard anything from his friend for quite a while. She had seemed to live in a different world from him and this worst case scenario had crossed his mind, but he had come this far in order to prove it wrong. If he could clear away all of the gathering darkness and let the light in, he had hoped to eliminate his fears. He had thought the usual scenery would return and he could smile with his friend once more.
What was this?
This went beyond a stabbing, a strangling, or a bullet to the head.
His tear glands let loose.
All that remained after screaming was a despondency much like deterioration and an absolutely empty mind. His limbs hung limply and his eyes stayed open like a broken doll. His resolve and determination had been crushed. His torrent of emotions had nowhere else to go, so they took the form of tears.
This was awful.
It was horrible.
It was too much.
There may have been no fundamental difference in people’s deaths. Whether the corpse was perfectly preserved or torn to pieces, they were still just as dead. But then what was this he saw on the screen? Just what kind of sins did one have to bear to deserve a death like that? Her body had been torn in two, dragged along the ground, and shown off like a present.
He had always thought it was over once someone died.
That was why he had refused to accept this death and taken a step into the city’s darkness.
But he had been wrong.
There was more after their death.
Would they have a proper burial to preserve their dignity or would they be dug up and crushed underfoot?
“Have you heard of this, my king?”
St. Germain gave a ripple-like laugh and spoke further.
“A new type of bomb lies hidden in the Dianoid.”
“And surely you had at least somewhat suspected that Frenda Seivelun had strayed from the proper path.”
“Are you saying that’s what she left behind?”
“That is hard for me to say.”
At that point, a rumble reached them and the entire rooftop shook violently.
Aihana Etsu looked overhead without thinking and St. Germain whispered to him.
“I suppose that would be Mugino Shizuri.”
“The girl in that footage. She is currently taking out St. Germains just like me.”
A strange trembling and numb sensation reached the tips of Aihana Etsu’s fingers.
That was the person who had done “this”.
And it was not just isolated to the past. The monster was producing violence even now.
“Make no mistake, my king. Mugino Shizuri is not what matters here.”
“She doesn’t matter?”
He was left speechless.
After all, she had done “this”. If not for her, that would never have happened to his friend.
But St. Germain explained.
“As a hypothetical example, what if a deadly fight broke out over a single scrap of bread in a war-torn nation? Whose responsibility is that? The rules of the world had been distorted, so shouldn’t the crimes of those directly involved only be weighed after the distorted system was judged?”
“That story was a tragedy,” said St. Germain. “But the saddest part of all is that the story did not have all the necessary elements. If a single gear had been in its proper place, that horrific event never would have happened.”
“What are you talking about!?” shrilly shouted Aihana Etsu. “What else is there!?”
St. Germain answered her king.
“Kamijou Touma was not present in that story.”
At first, that comment may have seemed nonsensical.
But when it was someone with true strength, that changed entirely.
“That is all it was. That alone turned everything around by 180 degrees. So there is no real meaning in taking your complaints to Mugino Shizuri, Kakine Teitoku, or anyone else directly involved. Not to start with anyway. First, you judge the system, remove the filter that system placed on the situation, and then weigh the crimes of those involved. If you still find excess fat, then you can scrape it away until everything has been settled. I am not trying to protect Mugino Shizuri. But if crimes are not judged properly, you cannot take pride in your revenge.”
It did not feel real to Aihana Etsu. He had occasionally heard the name Kamijou Touma while wandering the back alleys, but this was far too extreme and he could not decide how much of it he could believe.
And so he asked.
“If Kamijou Touma had made it there, what would have happened to my friend?”
It may have been a meaningless question.
What good were hypotheticals about the past?
“He would of course have saved someone with that fist of his. He may have the body of a fragile human child, but at this very moment, he is gaining the upper hand against a higher being such as myself.”
She made it sound obvious.
She made it sound like having her plans ruined had been part of her plan.
She made it sound like one needed to allow for that much when dealing with him.
It was possible that pointy-haired boy had walked a path like that.
(Why didn’t anyone make it in time?)
Judge the system.
Do not hate the madness; expose the conditions that had led to it.
(It didn’t matter who, so why wasn’t there a single person there to hear her scream?)
A grinding came from Aihana Etsu’s mouth as he clenched his back teeth.
He could tell something in his heart was turning in a strange direction.
“What will you do?”
St. Germain held the golden shield once more.
“Mugino Shizuri is undoubtedly more evil than good. If you kill her, you could call your revenge a success. …But is that enough? Making a judgment without bringing all the evil to light is no more than canceling out the crime. Killing two people and killing two hundred people receive the exact same death penalty, but you would never accept it if a killer of two hundred was executed for just two of those deaths, would you?”
“And as things are, what Frenda Seivelun left behind will eventually be brought to light. If it is misused, it will posthumously sully her name.”
The golden shield reflected the moonlight.
As she kneeled, the look in St. Germain’s eyes spoke clearly to Aihana Etsu.
What one could not do and what one did not do were entirely different.
And the power that divided the two categories sat before his eyes.
“Fine then,” he muttered.
His small hand reached for the golden shield.
“I’ll clear everything up. And to do that, I can wait to deal with a definite answer like Mugino Shizuri. Kamijou Touma comes first. How much was he involved and how much was he unable to be involved? I’ll figure all of that out.”
“That is fine. If such a thing as heaven exists, I am sure your friend is smiling down on you.”
He did not speak the rest aloud, but he continued in his head.
(If Kamijou Touma’s presence could have changed her fate and I can say that the very act of not showing up in time was a crime…)
He felt the heavy shield in his hand.
(Then I’m guilty of the exact same crime. Once this is all over, I need to judge myself as well.)
“What can Anne’s Shield do?”
“The shield itself is not important. What matters is you know that it has chosen you. Just as the fact that the sword was pulled from the stone is seen as much more important than its sharp edge.”
“I don’t want to make a name for myself. I want something I can use right away.”
“Heh heh. I would like to leave that for a surprise once you use it, but I suppose I will give a general explanation. But understand that this is not the shield’s power. This is your power; Anne’s Shield merely prepared it inside of you.”
St. Germain spoke as if revealing a prized secret.
“King Arthur’s sword was a symbol of the active and positive side of ruling a kingdom through dominance and territorial expansion. As its counterpart, what would Anne’s Shield symbolize? The passive and negative side of ruling a kingdom.”
“Be more specific.”
“It can shoot down anything. This ultimate defensive spiritual item uses a minimum of light to tear into anything you hold it towards. It would create…yes, you could call it a straw-sized hole.”
“The ultimate? Really?”
“The materials do not matter and it has the ability to pierce through as many as two million knights at once. It is a horizontal downpour of death. Doesn’t that seem like enough to exceed the limits of Imagine Breaker and tear him to pieces?”
Hamazura Shiage and Kamijou Touma found an unexpected sight beyond the sliding screen.
It was not a new type of bomb or an explosives plant.
Kamijou looked around the tatami mat living room that looked large enough for a home economics classroom.
It did not look lived in either. In fact, the furnishings were not numerous enough or positioned right for that.
Instead, the entire room was filled with boxes.
Some were as small as bento boxes and others were bigger than refrigerators.
The multicolored wrapping and ribbons reminded Hamazura of something.
“Christmas? No, this is…”
“Looks like birthday presents. And there’s a calendar over here.”
Kamijou pointed at the calendar thumbtacked to the wall. It contained pictures of sea creatures and was marked with a highlighter.
But not just one or two days.
In fact, more days had marks than did not.
Out of the corner of his eye, Hamazura saw Aneri recording the names written on the boxes and building up a database.
“Come to think of it, Frenda was the most well-connected member of Item. I think she said something about knowing thousands of people if you included everyone from the darkness and not.”
“Then this is…?”
“Are they all birthday presents? This looks like when a company prepares year-end gifts for everyone.”
Kamijou flipped through the calendar while listening to Hamazura’s almost shocked voice.
The calendar had not been updated for a few months now, but all of the birthdays had been written in ahead of time. He stopped after flipping through a few months.
That was today’s date. The name written there was nothing like “Aihana Etsu”, but he recognized the face on the small photo sticker placed there.
“(I can see why she didn’t want Mugino or Kinuhata to see this.)”
Hamazura muttered to himself while looking around the room again.
Aneri’s scan picked up a few familiar names on the many boxes.
There were no traps, no weapons, and no ulterior motives.
This was Frenda’s most defenseless side.
This would have been where she sealed her softest side that was different from the side she showed in the normal world and the one she showed in the underground world. Here, she did not have to behave just right as Fremea’s sister or polish her deadly skills for underground work. This was her tiny shelter.
Everyone had multiple sides.
They were all real and none of them were faked.
If one were to judge Frenda Seivelun’s humanity based on every part of her, she would likely be judged an evil girl.
There was no excuse for everything she had blown up and all the lives she had taken.
When she won, she did not give the slightest thought to the feelings of those she had taken away. And if she was about to lose, she would suddenly start talking at length about the sanctity of life. When she killed, she enjoyed it. When she was going to be killed, she would sell out her teammates and desperately beg for her life. She was that kind of selfish and convenient girl.
That fact did not wholly invalidate what they had found here.
A few remote controls were lined up on the edge of the table. What they belonged to was written on the color tape attached: TV, air conditioner, digital recorder, projector, curtains, etc. When Hamazura picked one up and hit the power button, the lines of a spreadsheet program appeared on the one wall left clear of presents. It was apparently a list of what she had discovered the different people wanted.
“Jaka-jaka-jan. …No, that’s not right. Jaka-jaka-jaka-jan! Is that it?”
The digital recorder contained a few videos Frenda had recorded of herself dancing.
Hamazura assumed she was practicing for some kind of entertainment at a birthday party, but…
“Jaka jaka jahn jan. There! In the end, it has to be that one. …Heh heh heh. Mugino’s gonna be so surprised.”
Hamazura watched that carefree smile.
She clearly did not have a single clue what was going to happen to her.
He quietly used the digital recorder’s remote to switch off the footage.
Deep in his heart, he told himself he could never let Mugino see that.
Kamijou finally looked away from the calendar.
“Aihana said we would find the reason Frenda Seivelun disappeared here, but should we just assume he was wrong about that?”
“Yeah. I doubt she left anything like that here,” spat out Hamazura before adding something else. “But it wasn’t entirely meaningless.”
That was when they noticed something flashing behind a pile of presents.
It was attached to the wall. Kamijou noticed it first and Hamazura noticed him turn toward it. They checked and found a flat-panel touchscreen and an attached phone receiver.
They initially thought it was an intercom, but it was not.
“What is this?”
The screen displayed a floorplan of the apartment and the main entrance was flashing red.
“Oh, I get it. It’s a security alert because I forced open the front door.”
Hamazura leaned forward from the Power Lifter and touched the screen.
“Hm? What the hell!?”
He may have used it wrong because the displayed floorplan flew from the screen.
And it instead displayed more than just the one apartment.
The entire Dianoid was shown in wireframe. Dozens or even hundreds of photograph thumbnails popped up here and there. They showed footage from near the building’s many entrances, inside the lower level shops, in front of the elevators and escalators, and inside the mid level TV station.
Kamijou spoke aloud the impression it gave him.
“But why? This clearly goes beyond her room.”
“Maybe it’s a special privilege for the VIPs. To sell peace of mind, they handed over the other customers’ privacy.”
Aneri was not attached by any cables, but observations of the screen were enough to make some detailed predictions about how to operate the device.
This time, Hamazura controlled it like he wanted.
He checked the login history and found nothing except once right after the lease was signed. Frenda had likely noticed the device while checking through the apartment’s security and never touched it since. That meant she had not had it installed and it had come with the apartment.
During her underground jobs, she might have gladly used it. The more information she had, the more advantageous her position. And she had not been the type to worry about the privacy of others.
But her time in here had been different.
There had been no light or dark and no acting or truth. She had simply put together kind plans to give birthday presents to everyone she knew, so anything that might remind her of the rotten truth was only in the way.
Annoyed, Hamazura removed his finger from the screen, but Kamijou reached in from the side.
He touched one of the countless thumbnails.
“Wait a second. Look here.”
He interrupted Hamazura and expanded the security camera window.
It displayed a moonlit garden on the roof.
A boy stood surrounded by dozens of men in tailcoats.
He was speaking with a blonde woman wearing what looked like a bunny suit and jacket combination.
“That’s Aihana Etsu. Good, he’s still okay.”
“That’s him? He doesn’t look like the #6 to me. Not that a Level 0 is one to talk.”
Unlike normal video footage, security cameras did not provide sound.
Fortunately, Aneri displayed intermittent pieces of text at the bottom of the screen like movie subtitles.
“Come with me, my king of the shield.”
“How can you do so much? I’ve only ever heard of Kamijou Touma in rumors, but you know what his true power is, don’t you?”
“Didn’t I tell you? I have been searching for the king I can truly serve. And he is an excellent opponent to test the king’s power on. It is normal to take revenge and reclaim your rightful place.”
“Is this…really revenge?”
“If he had arrived in time, Frenda Seivelun would not have died. Isn’t that true? It may sound like a wild leap in logic, but anyone who knows him would certainly agree.”
“The term Magic God may not mean much to you, but I assume you have at least heard the news and seen the videos from the incident in Denmark. That was a war waged against a single Magic God who had earned the entire world’s hatred. Even when faced with the deadly desires of six billion people, Kamijou Touma protected that Magic God to the very end. If he could do that, why did he have so much trouble against an element or two of Academy City’s darkness?”
“I went out of the way to break into the TV station and steal the container, so use that shield as much as you want.”
So Kamijou could hear, Hamazura read aloud the information Aneri gave him.
They only received bits and pieces of the conversation, so it was nearly impossible to accurately understand it all.
But they could make some guesses based on the ominous terms that got through.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” muttered Hamazura Shiage.
His confusion soon lifted his voice to a shout.
“We did transport a container to TV Orbit, but that wasn’t a shield. That container was for a show using cutting-edge technology to see just how accurately an antique German grandfather clock can keep time!!”
Kamijou narrowed his eyes.
Someone was lying. Was it the person who had made the order with Hamazura or was it St. Germain who insisted he had acquired the shield from that container?
Hamazura looked utterly confused.
“And what’s this about King Arthur? Isn’t that the king who shows up in RPGs?”
“That just shows how well-known he is. On the magic side, he might have been a real magician or Saint,” spat out Kamijou. “But Aihana’s from the science side, so would a name like that really be enough to convince him to act?”
“I kind of understand.” Hamazura thought for a moment. “Academy City is all about science, but the morning news still does the horoscope. It isn’t about logic. Everyone watches it even though they know it’s meaningless. If you only believe in Academy City’s rules, a Level 0 is a Level 0. The laws of physics seem pretty cruel when you’re weak. So you’d panic if you found out there was an entirely different set of rules out there, wouldn’t you?”
“If there’s a loophole, everyone wants to use it. Saying you have hidden talent or haven’t gotten serious yet are worn-out clichés for a reason. And with some great historical figure or famous weapon, it’s all prepared in advance, so gaining that for yourself would be like a dream come true. It would be like finding out you’re a blood relative of one of the seven Level 5s and have powerful genetic information hidden inside you.”
Hamazura had tried to give a calm answer, but he could tell the anger that had long burned deep in his gut was welling up as he spoke.
Cinderella and the Ugly Duckling may have been nothing but convenient fairy tales.
The heroes in children’s picture books did not put in any work themselves. They had special talent from the beginning and they only had to let some special person guide them the rest of the way. In a way, they could be called lazy. And perhaps the people who looked up to those fairy tales could be called the same.
But people only did that because they had no other option.
If they could change themselves with enough effort or if their efforts ever led to any noticeable results, no one would have had such a hard time of it. They were kept ignorant of the Parameter List and their growth rate was managed for the convenience of the adults, but they still tried to pursue their dreams.
Talent that not even the owner was aware of may have been an illusion brought on by a weak heart.
Aihana Etsu may not have been a strong person for letting that get the better of him.
Who had the right to mock him for it?
“What is St. Germain trying to have him do? I do know your name, Kamijou Touma, showed up in the conversation.”
“That’s it right there.” Kamijou narrowed his eyes slightly. “It’s the idea that it might have worked out if I had gotten there in time. Not that I’m that great a person. I’ve only achieved what I have by using every trick in the book and receiving the support of everyone around me.”
“At the very least, I bet that’s the way Aihana Etsu sees it. Frenda Seivelun, was it? He thinks she died because I didn’t notice in that final moment.”
“What the hell is that!?”
Hamazura shouted in utter confusion.
If that argument was valid, it would mean Kamijou Touma was responsible the lives of all six or seven billion people on the planet. If even one of those lives were to slip from his grasp, the blame would lie on him.
That was a job for god.
“That’s complete bull. You didn’t even know Frenda, right!? In that case, there’s no way she would have expected for you to come save her on the verge of death. Aihana and St. Germain aren’t speaking for her at all!!”
“No, they aren’t, but that’s not the real issue here.”
Kamijou spoke calmly and thought of the many magicians and espers he had clashed with in the past.
“People out for revenge aren’t looking at reality. It’s pretty common for them to pretend they’re acting on behalf of the dead while actually being manipulated by what they themselves think. So Aihana Etsu’s hypothetical doesn’t need to be consistent.”
Hamazura’s words caught in his throat, so he slowly took a breath and started again.
“It’s true that incident was horrific. Everyone went insane, the normal safe zones were violated, and the ideals the adults love to talk about so much didn’t apply in the slightest. Frenda died and a lot of other people died. The most I could do was bring it all to an end and I can’t proudly say I actually ‘resolved’ anything.”
“But we were all putting our lives on the line there! Everyone involved was a horrible person, but we kept pushing onward through the blood in the hopes of survival!! So what is this about Kamijou Touma’s presence? To hell with that! That spits in the face of all our efforts there. It shoves us to the sidelines and says it’s all decided by Kamijou Touma alone, no matter how much work we put in!!”
“I know that.” Kamijou shook his head. “The world doesn’t revolve around me. It’s ridiculous to think I’m looking down on people when I rescue them. I’m just fighting for my own selfish desires and creating the future I want to see. I’m not doing anything grand enough that you could claim I’m stealing other people’s achievements.”
But some people did not realize that.
Without relying on that illusion, some people could not accept the fact that they had lost someone.
It was no different from Cinderella or the Ugly Duckling.
It was an illusion created by a weak heart, but who had the right to look down on them and mock them for it?
“So…what? What is St. Germain trying to have Aihana do to you?”
“Probably not just kill me. If so, St. Germain could just do it himself. He can attack from every direction which is perfect for getting around my right hand, so there’s no reason to add in an uncertain element like a complete stranger.”
“It’s the opposite,” spat out Kamijou in annoyance. “Remember the side effects when an esper uses magic? I don’t know what exactly that shield does, but I doubt it would be all that useful against me. St. Germain wants to pit Aihana Etsu against me and then have Aihana die. He wants me to bear the sin of murder. That’s his goal here.”
“That I don’t know. …Maybe he wants to defile the ‘weak illusion’ we talked about before.”
There was no consistency to St. Germain’s actions.
Despite supposedly being obsessed with Aihana Etsu, he had sealed the Dianoid and tried to kill Kamijou and the others. None of that was necessary if he only wanted access to Aihana Etsu.
But a change of viewpoint cleared that up.
Aihana Etsu was not at the center. He was only a part of the whole. St. Germain was using Aihana Etsu to either kill Kamijou or make him suffer. A battle against St. Germain might be difficult, but if he caused the death of Aihana Etsu who had only been deceived, things changed.
Say someone desperately fought off a man-eating tiger that attacked them. Now say they crushed a sleeping kitten underfoot. In both scenarios, they were taking a single life, but the thorn in their heart would be vastly different.
Perhaps it would even be enough to greatly change Kamijou Touma himself.
That pointy-haired boy had occasionally heard people allude to the “nature of Kamijou Touma”. He was not aware of it, but perhaps there was something special others had seen inside him. He may have found a hint there if he could speak with Ollerus or Othinus, but he could not.
And of course, a sickening heat roiled inside Kamijou.
“To hell with this. You don’t just get to decide that Aihana Etsu is weak. That bastard St. Germain is making up his own standards and shoving Aihana into the expendable category!!”
“Wait just a second. Don’t tell me you’re thinking of going and saving Aihana Etsu. The details might be twisted beyond recognition, but he’s still trying to kill you!”
“So what? Didn’t I tell you I’m not looking down on people when I rescue them and I’m just fighting to create the future I want to see? So it doesn’t matter if he hates me or isn’t asking for help! I’ll drag him out of this by force if I have to!!”
Hamazura Shiage brought a hand to his forehead inside the Power Lifter.
He now understood where the other boy got the weak illusion that led him to save anyone and everyone.
(He claims to be selfish through and through, but when that selfish desire is to protect everyone’s smiles, it makes you just like a legit hero.)
And he decided going along with this was not that bad an idea.
“So what exactly are you going to do? Even if you want to go save him, he’s surrounded by St. Germain, he has a weapon with a deadly side effect, and who knows if we’ll have the time to convince him he’s wrong.”
“We just have to get rid of what’s motivating him.”
Kamijou must have been thinking even as he answered because he spoke quickly.
“To make sure he doesn’t get hit by the side effect of magic, we need to launch a surprise attack or something to get the shield away from him.”
“And after that?”
“Wait a second. Don’t tell me!”
“Even if it’s a farce and completely misplaced, Aihana Etsu is being motivated by revenge. If we fulfill that desire, he’ll stop, so there’s no reason to overthink this. He just has to hit me until he’s satisfied. With, um…oh, right. With Mitsuari Ayu it was the same…I think.”
“But then what about you!?”
“I’m not just gonna sit there and let him kill me. It’s not like I want to die. So don’t worry. I’m fairly confident in my ability to take a punch.”
Kamijou smiled thinly.
“But that’s another reason why we need to take away his shield at the very beginning. …And my not wanting to die and the mix of feelings filling Aihana are two different issues. I doubt he’ll stop just because I tell him I don’t want to die. I don’t know how the incident in Denmark looked to him or anything, but I need to pay him back for the false hope I gave him.”
Those were frightening words.
That thought process was somehow different from the hero Hamazura had thought he was a moment before.
Hamazura recalled the fairy tale of The Happy Prince he had heard as a child. A statue of a prince was decorated in gold and jewels and, with the help of a passing bird, it had shared the pieces of its body with the poor people of the city. Kamijou Touma claimed to be selfishly doing whatever it was he wanted, but his logic had a tendency to treat only himself as a pawn to be used.
How many veils would one have to remove before finding the true selfishness below?
Or in some twisted way, was this Kamijou Touma’s version of selfishness?
“Listen. Once Aihana Etsu fulfills his desire for revenge, he won’t have any reason to fight. And once St. Germain’s plan falls apart, he’ll attack from every side. …I’ll be relying on your Power Lifter. Make sure you at least get Aihana out of there.”
Hamazura was unable to immediately reply.
A new red dot appeared at the base of the wireframe representation of the building.
It was the same type of warning that had flashed when they had broken into Frenda’s room. It indicated something was wrong, so something had to be happening there.
Kamijou reached his index finger toward the flat-panel touchscreen.
And when he touched the flashing dot, the screen displayed…
Perhaps due to the difference in air pressure when the door slid open, a dully violent gust of wind washed over the St. Germains as they walked into the Dianoid’s basement.
This group had not gone with Aihana Etsu and they had a clear goal.
“Academy City’s ideas are always so shocking. I have my own ideas on the control of carbon, but this is a gene I lack.”
They were all St. Germain and they would all think the same thing when they saw this, but it was part of his personality to speak it aloud in a theatrical manner.
Some were old, some were young, some were men, and some were women.
A middle-aged male St. Germain spoke for all of them.
“The Dianoid. Yes, the Dianoid. This setup certainly is grand enough to warrant such a name.”
The panel at his feet was as clear as glass.
As the Dianoid was entirely made of carbon materials, it likely had properties similar to diamond.
What lay at his feet was the secret hidden in District 15’s greatest landmark.
At the base of the Dianoid, the 120 thousand ton building floated ten centimeters off the surface of the earth.
One way to protect buildings from earthquakes was to float them a few centimeters off the ground with the power of air. That would protect them from the tremors.
But that only applied to normal houses.
It was impossible to lift up a seventy story building and keep it standing without it losing balance.
Normally, that is.
“A graviton-style artificial gravity control device, hm?” St. Germain smiled. “Diamonds are slowly formed when carbon molecules are compressed deep underground. To put it another way, artificial diamonds require mankind to reproduce that extreme high pressure environment. …But on this level, it goes beyond a mere laboratory. This can probably produce diamonds like candy in a factory.”
This secret usage of the Dianoid could do more than reliably mass-produce artificial diamonds.
“A black hole bomb…well, maybe not that much. A dwarf star bomb is probably the most they can manage.”
Rumors filled the underside of the city that a new type of bomb was hidden in the Dianoid. Anyone who was familiar with the name Frenda Seivelun had assumed that secret was related to her, but…
“You could say it is like compressing the earth and the moon down to the size of a fist. Matter produces heat when compressed, so I suppose this would create temperatures in the range of ten to twenty thousand degrees. That should be enough to take care of even Imagine Breaker.”
St. Germain had no grudge against the individual named Kamijou Touma.
In fact, he had no real interest in him.
From the very beginning, he had not been looking at either Aihana Etsu or Kamijou Touma.
“Are you watching, Magic Gods?”
He was neither a magician nor a Magic God. He alone formed an entirely new category.
And he seemed to be challenging someone.
“The sword once chose who would be king and I acquired Aihana Etsu with the shield, but you will acquire no one. Your precious toy will die here. So what will you do as Magic Gods? Is this any time to be mocking Aleister without a care in the world?”
At that moment, a soft chime sounded to say the elevator had arrived.
All of the St. Germains turned toward it.
When they saw the boy who stepped out, their expressions softened.
They looked to their small king holding the golden shield.
“Hi, my king. I was waiting for you.”
Aihana Etsu’s eyes looked somehow dark and sluggish.
He looked more like roughly worn down metal than a carefully sharpened blade.
With his expression still rough, the boy slowly opened his lips.
And he spoke.
“Where is this?”
“The final stage.”
The blonde St. Germain standing next to him took over.
“No matter what anyone says, that rescue-obsessed idiot will notice the change and come running. You need only wait here, king. Frenda’s legacy will invite in her enemy.”
“That simplicity is what makes the world so baffling. It makes it all the more strange that he did not show up in time for Frenda Seivelun.”
Aihana Etsu took a deep breath while he listened.
Why had Kamijou Touma not arrived in time for Frenda Seivelun?
If possible, he wanted to ask that.
But he also needed to ask himself the same thing.
(Why didn’t I arrive in time?)
Kinuhata Saiai confronted twenty St. Germains.
Altogether, her opponents could wield two thousand spears at once and they attacked unendingly from every direction around her.
That said, her expression was not grim.
Her Offense Armor surrounded her with a barrier of compressed nitrogen several centimeters thick. At full power, it provided enough defensive power to deflect a sniper bullet. Used offensively, she could lift up a car in one hand.
So even if she was receiving two thousand attacks at once, they could not break her Offense Armor as long as each individual one’s destructive power was below a certain level.
She knew what she had to worry about.
(Receiving super damage at the same spot over and over again. Even if it’s only a few centimeters, I need to super shift the spot being hit or they might break through.)
Because she could survive those attacks, she had quickly managed to learn how St. Germain attacked.
(I thought that ability to open holes in people’s flesh was super dangerous, but…)
She focused on the spears deflected by her Offense Armor.
Before long, something came into view.
(Basically, thin hair-like points extend fifty to one hundred centimeters from what looks like the tip of the spears. And anything they super touch has a tunnel opened for the actual spear to pass through. That’s all it is.)
A rumbling burst out.
Even against twenty St. Germains, she had no real reason to stay on the defensive. She could stop the spears, so she could also approach and hit them with her nitrogen fist.
Fortunately, she was able to knock out the people who had been transformed into St. Germain. If they had continued to get back up, she would have had to break their arms and legs or even kill them.
Also, another hand reached in to grab and crush the countless spears shooting toward Kinuhata like bullets.
That hand belonged to Mugino Shizuri.
She had a simple means of defense. Her mechanical eye would track the spears’ movements and her weaponized prosthetic hand would swing up with superhuman speed. With a sound like a sewing machine, she grabbed and broke each and every approaching spear.
It was simple to describe, but it made for a threatening visual when done fast enough and often enough to form afterimages.
The sewing machine roared on and the crumbling spears seemed to form a solid wall in front of them.
“Tch. What a pain in the ass. Can’t we cut down their numbers a little?”
“Watch your language. And don’t forget that the people on the front lines here might be from the super ‘innocent’ side of things.”
“But if they are…”
“Yeah, I’ll admit there are some things that super don’t add up about all this.”
As a user of nitrogen, it quickly came to her what St. Germain used: the element of carbon. All they were actually doing was transforming the Dianoid’s walls and floor into projectile-like spears and launching them.
That would be more than enough of a threat to a normal person, but it seemed lacking and too superficial.
If they truly could directly manipulate carbon, they should have had a much wider array of attack methods.
“Did they forget to train each individual unit because they saw them as super expendable?”
“Winning isn’t their objective, but what are they buying time for? Damn, this pisses me off!!”
As the girls wore down their numbers, the downpour of attacks suddenly stopped.
The St. Germains were gone.
“We only took out about half of them, right?”
“Looks like the rest of them fell super back.”
Bloody boys and girls were collapsed on the floor, but not due to anything Mugino or Kinuhata had done. If those girls had tried to harm them, they would have had a hard time not turning them into mincemeat.
The blood looked like it was coming from internal wounds more than from external ones.
“So did we only take out the defective ones? To hell with them. They know how to take advantage of us.”
Mugino had mentioned the possibility of them buying time for something, so had they finished their preparations for whatever it was?
“Ah,” said Takitsubo Rikou.
As her eyes had wandered aimlessly, they had spotted one of the decorative flat-screen monitors.
It displayed a diagram of the Dianoid.
There was a red dot at the very bottom level and specialized shorthand symbols provided some kind of additional information. A normal student would have had no idea what it meant, but Mugino and Kinuhata wrinkled their brows in annoyance when they saw the string of letters.
“What do you think?”
“A graviton-style base isolation structure? Seriously? If someone misused that, they could compress the entire planet to the size of a fist.”
More importantly, it was obvious why someone would have purposefully let this information get out.
“Come and get me if you can, hm?”
“I super don’t know if this is intended for us, but I can’t think of any reason why we can’t crash the party.”
The bottom level of the Dianoid was taken up by the base isolation structure using a graviton-style artificial gravity control device. The floor resembled thick glass and it floated a few centimeters off the ground.
Aihana Etsu leaned his small back against one of the pillars placed evenly along the large flat surface.
No, it was someone who was only using that name.
A former king had vanished and been forgotten, but Anne’s test remained as it had not been destroyed or lost in the legend. This boy was the one who had overcome that test.
The bearer of the golden shield spoke to the female St. Germain standing next to him.
“Weren’t you disappointed when you learned the answer you had been searching so long for was a liar who had to fake his identity to not be turned away at the entrance?”
“Hah! Gaps and impurities cause a diamond to shine all the brighter. Do you really think I would be disappointed in the one and only answer after spreading constant deceit for thousands of years? This just means that the truth I spent so much time searching for truly does exist. How could that be a bad thing?”
“I’m not like you. You had real power, so don’t you regret this?”
“If I had truly gone along with what the ostentatious nobles said, not even the contents of a treasure island would be enough and I see no meaning in going along with them. More importantly, if anyone wishes to speak, they can speak. That suits those people who use their own filter to only see the reality they wish to see, no matter how much evidence is piled up before them. Heh heh. But those are exactly the ones who beg for the art of immortality or time travel once they age and stand on the verge of death.”
“More importantly, have you forgotten, my king of the shield? Your value – your positive gap – is something at the level of once every two thousand years. To hide it, you were sent to Academy City where your talent would never be used and your Curriculum was handled with placebos and the kind of acting you would find at a school play.”
The user of the shield still did not understand.
St. Germain repeated again and again that he had been chosen by Anne’s Shield and that the shield’s power was his power.
Anne’s Shield could shoot down everything. No matter who he raised it against, a tiny power was guaranteed to tear through them.
This symbol of defensive force could put holes in two million foreheads in an instant.
Aihana Etsu stared into the distance while dragging around the shield of unknown material.
He looked to the stairs, the ducts, the maintenance ladders, and the elevator.
There were several entrances to the lowest level.
As he imagined who would be arriving through them, negative emotions swirled inside him.
“I see there is no need to say it all. Your job is to target Kamijou Touma. That is your greatest desire and Frenda’s final request. I will eliminate all unnecessary obstacles along the way, so you take the path of the king.”
For just an instant, the familiar face of his friend appeared in the back of his mind.
He felt like she was saying something, but her voice no longer came to him.
He tried reading her lips but could not convert it into words.
He sealed it all away and faced forward.
He then slammed the bottom of the golden shield into the floor.
A girl in a pink track suit, Takitsubo Rikou, turned her back on the intense fighting and crouched down.
However, she was not trembling in fear after losing her will to fight.
She picked up a small object she had found running along the floor.
“What is this?”
“Whoa!? I was found…and caught!? Kh. Release me, human!!”
Takitsubo tilted her head with a fifteen centimeter doll(?) in her hands. It was wearing something like a Halloween costume cut down to the bare minimums and it may have been given gyroscopes and an autonomous control program because it moved around quite nimbly.
Meanwhile, Stephanie had left her destroyed Power Lifter and she looked back and forth at both the intense battle and Takitsubo. Time seemed to run at different speeds between those two fields.
“Oh, honestly! What is going on!? But since they’ve drawn the focus towards themselves, we need to go hide. We aren’t any help in a fight, so staying here only restricts their freedom.”
Several metallic sounds accompanied Stephanie’s voice.
Takitsubo turned toward the blonde woman while still holding the struggling doll(?).
“What are you doing?”
“Putting together a PDW. I’m dismantling some Power Lifter components and putting them back together here. Owning a completed gun is illegal, but only having the different parts is rumored to be more of a gray zone. Not that it’s actually that simple!”
Even though she called it a PDW, it did not actually fire bullets using gunpowder. It apparently used pressurized gas to fire mock bullets made of tungsten steel. However, it still had enough firepower to fill a flesh-and-blood body with holes when fired from within twenty or thirty meters.
(It seems wrong that a toy is more complex than an actual gun.)
Suddenly, the doll(?) that Takitsubo held made its move.
It bit her finger, slipped away when she flinched, and landed on the floor. It then ran down the corridor and around a corner.
The track suit girl began to pursue and Stephanie decided this was better than forcibly guiding the girl to cover.
But Takitsubo lost sight of the doll(?) after turning the corner.
Nothing was moving in the polished corridor that looked like it was made of wood.
She tilted her head with a blank look in her eyes.
The girl did not notice the small duct cover sitting open near the floor on the wall.
Fifteen centimeter Othinus did not even have to duck as she ran full speed through the unlit tunnel of the duct.
(Honestly, this is no time to be doing this.)
She still had not managed to meet up with Kamijou Touma after he drew multiple St. Germains away from her. And now the various flat-screen monitors hinted at a gravity bomb on the lowest level. Given the situation, it was safe to assume this was the work of St. Germain and not some newcomer. She did not know how the situation had taken this turn, but it was clearly meant to lure Kamijou in.
(I can find him on the lowest level. Still, that isn’t enough. St. Germain is a special kind of magician and not a Magic God. He’s a synchronized and parallelized crystal. As a parallel processing network that doesn’t rely on brainwaves, he can expand into anyone else regardless of their individual genetic code. I need to contact that grimoire library and work to explain his magic. The properties of a 99.9% pure diamond are determined by the less than 0.1% of impurities. For him, that would be a controller or settings file. We need to find that.)
While rationally putting together a plan, she jumped into a pit inside the duct.
Climbing up or down was not easy with her small body, but giving into gravity and sliding down was not difficult at all.
Given the condition when they had parted, Index would be in the shopping area of the lower level.
(But the question is what floor of the lower level she’s on. There are at least twenty floors there. I just hope she has enough sense to stay put and wait for us where we left her.)
But as Othinus slid down to the lower level, a giant form shot out from the side where the duct had intersected with another duct.
She cried out, but the beast showed no mercy.
After a deafening crash and a mewing roar, Othinus was carried out of the duct like a stolen fish.
She groaned and hung limply in the bright light.
“Y-you again? I can’t stand this. …D-do – cough – d-do cats have no reverence for gods?”
“Bad Sphinx!! If you chew her up, I’ll be mad at you!”
A white nun shouted from nearby, but the cat ignored Index and happily presented the “prize” at her feet.
“P-pant, pant… M-more importantly, we need to get to the Dianoid’s lowest level. Now that St. Germain is luring him in, Kamijou Touma is almost guaranteed to go there. His fist may be strong, but that will lead to death if we don’t understand his opponent. It would be best if we could determine how St. Germain’s non-brainwave thought network works. All I know is it’s based on a crystalline structure that grows by repeatedly synchronizing and parallelizing.”
Kamijou and Hamazura faced the intercom-like device on the wall of Frenda’s secret base.
The alert about the lowest level had been special information for the upper level apartments, but…
“I hope that was enough to inform the others.”
“It’ll get through to anyone who understands that strange alphabet abbreviation, so that’s at least Takitsubo and Mugino.”
“I have my doubts about Index, but Othinus should manage.”
“But,” muttered Hamazura from the Power Lifter. “The gravity bomb data was sent to all the upper level apartments, right? Shouldn’t that have caused a panic earlier than this?”
“These are almost all used as storehouses for the rich. There probably wasn’t a single actual ‘resident’ here.”
Kamijou took a step away from the flat-panel screen.
“We did what we could, so let’s get going.”
“But a gravity bomb is way too far outside my area of expertise! I wouldn’t even know where to begin!”
“No, Aihana Etsu is our top priority. That hasn’t changed.”
“Wait a second.”
Hamazura frowned and asked the question on his mind.
“The Dianoid’s foundation floats a few centimeters off the ground for base isolation, right? And those St. Germain people have taken control of the artificial gravity control device that makes it possible. Can’t that crush the earth to the size of a fist if it goes out of control!? Then it’s obvious what they’re really after here! Aihana Etsu was just a decoy!!”
“Are you sure?” asked Kamijou. “He made for a lousy one if that was the intent. If it wasn’t for him, we would never have visited this room. Without him, there’s no way we would’ve seen the security alert sent to the high-class apartments. That’s completely backwards. If the black hole bomb or white dwarf bomb or whatever was St. Germain’s real goal, he never would have left this alert here for us to see. And he would have made sure we never came into contact with Aihana.”
“Wait, wait, wait.”
Hamazura cut off Kamijou and gently spread his steel hands, as if creating a wall with his gesture.
“That doesn’t add up. If he was really after Aihana, St. Germain still would never have let us in here. If all he wanted to do was convince Aihana to act, it would’ve been best to keep Frenda’s secret a mystery and use the suspicion to fill Aihana with desire for revenge. Since St. Germain didn’t stop us from seeing this, it means he isn’t after Aihana or the bomb.”
“That’s right.” Unbelievably, Kamijou immediately agreed. “It’s finally coming together. St. Germain’s objective isn’t Aihana Etsu or the gravity bomb. He’s looking at something else entirely.”
“Thinking back, his very first attack was strange. He was after Aihana? He was after the shield? That’s why he stopped attacking me and focused on those things? Yeah, right. If he could have killed me at any time, he could have just finished me off and then focused on Aihana. But he didn’t. There was something else there that forced him to leave. Then again, I bet even that’s only a side issue for him.”
“There’s still more!? Like what!?”
“You don’t want to know.” Kamijou moved the conversation along. “At any rate, we need to stop St. Germain as soon as possible! And for that, we have to start with Aihana Etsu. From the outside, it’s impossible to tell if St. Germain has a leader or a hierarchy, but based on what’s happened, he’s been concentrating himself around Aihana. If we’re going to find out more about St. Germain, the unit closest to Aihana would be best!!”
Hamazura tried to think through it all, but his understanding was reaching its saturation point.
Regardless, Kamijou did not stop.
That may have had something to do with how often he had dealt with magic in the past.
“Listen, the St. Germains have shown no sign of communicating by phone or radio. We’ve seen dozens, but there may be over a hundred in the building and their minds are all linked. My guess is they’re using some kind of telepathy magic. I don’t know if it’s complex enough to create one large will, but if so, this system is even more convenient than the Misaka Network since it isn’t bound by brainwaves!!”
“Wait, wait, wait!! I know you’ve seen a lot, but please keep it at a level I can understand!!”
“It means it doesn’t matter what St. Germain we attack!” shouted back Kamijou. “They’re all the center and they’re all the terminals. It sounds like an infinitely reproducing system with an endless supply of replacements, but it probably isn’t. You could say they’re all computers. No matter where a virus enters the network, all of the computers will be infected! We can’t let ourselves be distracted by their numbers. We have to focus as much as we can on just one of them!!”
“A virus? Can you be more specific!?”
“I may sound like I know what I’m talking about, but I’m an amateur too,” admitted Kamijou without letting it bother him.
He no longer insisted on fighting alone. He would use everything available to him.
That was the path he chose.
“But I know a nun who knows a ton about interfering with magicians like this. If we add some knowledge on Magic Gods into the mix, it’ll be perfect. …Yes. That’s right. Original grimoires infect people’s brains. She has 103,000 grimoires in her head, so she might be able put together a specialized method of dealing with that kind of thing!!”
“You’re not making any sense again. But anyway, Aihana Etsu and St. Germain are waiting on the lowest level, right? That’s all I need to know right now!”
“Right.” Kamijou slowly breathed out and spoke. “I’ll do something about Aihana Etsu. And once I do, the St. Germains are sure to focus on me. I said to grab Aihana with that Power Lifter when he comes back to his senses, but scratch that. I’ll take care of that too, so you deal with the gravity bomb instead. You’re good with machines, right? Unfortunately, I’m a complete amateur with that. If I had that job, I’d definitely get us all blown up.”
“Are you still saying that? There’s no point in going along with Aihana Etsu’s revenge.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have time to explain everything to him. But no matter the situation, we can’t just let him die. And is this any time to be worrying about me? You’re going to have to prepare yourself for the worst too.”
At first, Kamijou did not know why Hamazura was apologizing.
But a moment later, the Power Lifter’s giant palm approached and shoved the boy backwards.
Kamijou’s back struck the tatatami mats and knocked the breath out of him, but he soon realized he had more to worry about.
Hamazura had already stepped outside of the large living room.
The room’s sliding screen forcefully shut, but it was not a normal one made of Japanese paper and a wooden frame. Its cutting-edge carbon materials could easily stop a handgun bullet.
“What the hell are you doing, Hamazura!?”
He quickly got up and grabbed the screen, but it would not budge. It seemed to have been jammed shut in some way. He rethought his strategy and kicked it with the bottom of his foot, but it was no use.
He heard a muffled voice on the other side.
“Aihana Etsu’s revenge just doesn’t make sense. I don’t care if it’s part of your strategy; it’s wrong for you to be attacked for that.”
“What!? Don’t you know this isn’t the time for this!?”
“But it is,” said Hamazura. “Ha ha. Oh, I get it. I guess you wouldn’t know since you weren’t there then.”
“Do you know the name of the guy who was there when Frenda Seivelun died?”
It couldn’t be.
A very bad feeling entered the back of Kamijou Touma’s mind.
Hamazura Shiage gave the answer regardless.
“It was me. Frenda died because I didn’t get there in time.”
“Dammit,” spat out Kamijou.
His own plan was wrapping the noose around someone else’s neck.
He finally grasped the situation.
“So if we’re going to divide up the work here, it makes more sense for me to deal with Aihana Etsu’s revenge.”
“I’ll draw the attention of Aihana and St. Germain, so you do something about the gravity bomb. If you can’t do it yourself, just get help from someone who knows about that kind of thing. Make sure you do something about it, okay?”
“Wait!! I didn’t put together that plan to have you do this!!”
The voice beyond the screen grew quieter.
No, more distant.
“Then this is a good chance for you to see how it feels for the one being protected.”
That was all.
The sound completely vanished.
Hamazura Shiage had taken the Power Lifter out of the high-class apartment. He was on his way to Aihana Etsu who had a magic shield and the countless St. Germains who served him.
Left alone, Kamijou yelled and kicked the carbon screen a few more times, but it showed no sign of breaking.
He then searched around the room again.
His eyes stopped on one point.
What he saw would not help him escape the room, but he hesitantly reached for the object placed within a pile of birthday presents.
He may have made a fundamental misunderstanding.
There may have been a way to settle things with Aihana Etsu without sitting there and taking the boy’s punches.
And if so…
“I can’t let you do this.”
Kamijou made his way to the kitchen connected to the living room and his eyes stopped on the kind of cart used to carry food in large mansions. He placed a few heavy items on it and tied them on with power cables to increase the cart’s weight.
“Letting Aihana die is out of the question, but it’s meaningless if you die instead, Hamazura!”
He returned to the living room.
He set his aim on the carbon screen, took a ten step running start and crashed the cart into the screen.
The screen was knocked backwards as if by a battering ram.
He continued out of the room and into the long hallway.
Hamazura was already nowhere to be seen.
He quickly ran to the elevator hall. As before, just one of the elevator doors was broken.
Aihana Etsu and St. Germain were on the lowest level. They were all the way at the bottom. Unless he had a very strange way of thinking, Hamazura would have gone straight down there with the Power Lifter.
Kamijou peered into the abyss.
He could not see the bottom of the dark elevator shaft, so it looked like a gaping maw.
Even with steel arms, there was no guaranteeing one’s survival.
Doing it with flesh-and-blood limbs was even worse, so…
(This is going to be risky.)
Kamijou gulped and quickly removed his jacket. He wrapped it around his hand like when training a police dog and grabbed the wire that was slippery with machine oil.
He ignored his animal instincts and jumped out into the elevator shaft.
Mugino Shizuri’s Meltdowner beam burned away the door from the stairs.
The #4 girl then spoke to Takitsubo and Kinuhata.
“The hell is that? Is that donut near the ceiling the gravity device?”
“If Frenda secretly messed with it, it could easily be a gravity bomb. What do you super think?”
“Nothing would surprise me with her. She was the type to wash the blood from her hands and head right into a fancy shop with a smile on her face. Talking about good and evil is pointless with her.”
Takitsubo Rikou asked a question while her gaze wandered.
“What should we do?”
“It’s that obvious?” readily replied Mugino. “Let’s deal with this and get back home.”
Guided by fifteen centimeter Othinus, Index held the calico cat and crawled through a narrow duct.
The two girls opened the duct cover and looked to the many St. Germains and the boy at the center.
Specifically, they looked to the golden shield in his small hands.
“Hey, can you tell what that is?”
“Queen Anne’s Shield. A legend to match the one of acquiring the sword.”
“But it isn’t supposed to exist. That king didn’t have a twin sister.”
To begin with, the legend of the sword had been created when a man who was both a knight and an author gathered various stories of knights scattered across Western Europe and arranged them into a single story. That created a fair number of discrepancies in the same legend and some information had been shoved aside in the process of arranging it all into the one story.
Queen Anne’s existence was nothing more than one of those neglected pieces of information.
There was no evidence of someone like that existing.
In fact, if one investigated the driving force behind the telling of the story, it was nothing more than what would be the most exciting. During the legend of the king, he was said to have let go of Excalibur and used a different sword instead, but Queen Anne’s existence was even stranger than that. Searching through the old texts and parting the underbrush would show that her name does appear, but some researchers said her name was “An” instead of “Anne”. And in Old English, “an” was used in place of “if”, so it was even said to be an allusion or joking reference to “the story of that which does not exist” which had been taken seriously when the stories were compiled and then transformed into an actual name.
A counterpart to the sword had now appeared as possible proof of her existence, but Index gave a calm answer.
“I think this is a ‘logical reversal’.”
There were some things that anyone could picture in their minds and that they would recognize if someone showed it to them, yet a careful examination would show that there was no clear legend or myth behind it.
For example, a continent that sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.
For example, a magical sword that was used against the shogunate.
For example, the red thread connecting the pinkies of lovers.
I read it in that book. I heard it from that person. There were apparent sources, but a more thorough inspection would run into a dead end. Perhaps they had no objective proof in the form of records because it was spread orally, perhaps there had been records on stone slates or frescos that were lost as time passed, and perhaps the author’s personal opinions had slipped in during the process of compiling the records.
And as the legends spread from person to person, gaining credibility as it did so, they would create something with a rich history and yet which never actually existed.
They would grow into something like heaven or hell that no one had ever seen and yet everyone had a common image of.
One of those logical reversals was Queen Anne’s Shield.
Index and Othinus had never seen it since it was a nonexistent legend, but they were able to decide this was it at a glance.
“It’s easy to give a physical history to something with a great presence. You just have to create the evidence yourself. It’s just like drawing a new treasure map on top of ancient parchment to gain sponsors to dig for buried treasure.”
“So the shield was made by St. Germain? That does sound like something a liar would do.”
“But even if it’s a fake, magic is still magic. If an Academy City esper uses that…”
“The side effects will tear his body to pieces. If that’s part of St. Germain’s plan against Kamijou Touma, it’s obvious what he wants. He’s trying to rip apart Kamijou Touma’s heart using the death of a failed opponent.”
Aihana Etsu slowly narrowed his eyes and dragged the golden shield.
In his memories, “someone” was smiling.
Even after his friend’s death, he had relied on her words to make it this far, but he could no longer see the details.
Bit by bit, the vision in his head was destroyed like a photo in the flames.
The knowledge of Frenda Seivelun’s death had likely done more than confirm her death.
In that instant, Aihana Etsu’s heart had died as well.
With only his physical body left, he no longer trembled in pain or fear.
He did not care if he was going to die here.
If he did survive, he would continue fighting until he finally died.
The elevator door was loudly broken down by a great force.
The person who stepped out was not Kamijou Touma. It was someone Aihana Etsu had never expected. In fact, he did not even know who it was. He had technically seen the boy in the Dianoid’s parking garage, but he had already forgotten that.
And so he let out a low voice.
“You aren’t the one I called for.”
“Even if I’m the one who let Frenda Seivelun die?”
A creaking sound came from the golden shield’s handle as he squeezed it.
Hamazura remained aboard the Power Lifter and he slammed its steel fists together.
“I know the general situation, but it makes no sense for you to attack Kamijou Touma. If you want to take revenge for Frenda, there’s someone a lot more suitable.”
“Who were you to her?”
“Item,” concisely answered Hamazura. “It was a very small framework. I may have only been the underling there, but I was still a part of Item. It was my job to support her, so it’s my job to stop anyone from dying in her name.”
Instead of Aihana Etsu, it was the St. Germains who reacted.
But before the countless Chambord spears could show themselves, Aihana Etsu spoke.
“You don’t have to, St. Germain.”
“But, my king.”
“This is my job. If what he’s saying is true, then it matters that I do the fighting.”
The corners of Hamazura’s mouth relaxed a bit when he heard that.
Aihana Etsu and Kamijou Touma would not clash. The scenario St. Germain wanted would not come to pass and it was obvious St. Germain was panicking a little.
(But this might not satisfy him. Just like serving ramen to someone craving gyudon, he might still feel hungry afterwards.)
He remembered the time just after the charismatic Skill Out leader Komaba Ritoku had died. To protect themselves, they had taken on some dirtier jobs and tried to kill an innocent adult.
He had not used any of his imagination and simply swung around murderous tools like some kind of monkey.
(But this will teach you how bad violence feels. You’ll learn that tingling in your fingertips after you stab someone or split their head open. You can only wield that weapon so innocently because you don’t know how disgusting a thing it is. So I’ll teach you that.)
There were people who grew bolder when they held a deadly weapon. Some would grow intoxicated on the destructive power and destroy themselves.
But Hamazura doubted Aihana Etsu was that kind of person.
He gave the reason in his heart.
(When you learned of Frenda Seivelun’s death, you learned just how unreasonable death is.)
Aihana Etsu would apparently be injured all over if he used the shield, but Hamazura was not going to look after him that much. They were both risking death here and Hamazura Shiage was not as benevolent as Kamijou Touma.
“C’mon then.” He raised the Power Lifter’s arms in a martial arts stance. “I’m sick of people like Silver Cross and Kuroyoru digging back up this same crap over and over again! When someone tried to take revenge on you in the Edo period, it was apparently not considered a crime if you killed them. You have one chance. That’s as much as I’m willing to give you!! So let’s do this, Aihana Etsu!!”
Just once, Aihana Etsu struck the transparent floor with the bottom of the golden shield.
“Then I’ll kill you first. Afterwards, I’ll kill Kamijou Touma too. And once all of the insane filters have been removed, I’ll search out and kill all of the perpetrators and criminals. I’ll do what that girl can’t anymore.”
Aihana Etsu felt something stabbing into his own heart with each word he spoke. Each time, the crumbling remains of his memories would break away a little more.
Revenge was not an act of harming your opponent.
He belatedly realized it was an act of dirtying your own hands, showing contempt for yourself, and killing yourself.
But even as he realized that, he could no longer stop.
After all, what else was he supposed to do?
The friend he had been searching for was long dead, there was no way of saving her, and the crybaby’s convenient dream of never giving up on his precious friend had been smashed into a million pieces.
So what was he supposed to do?
His dream was gone, his hope was destroyed, and his ideals were lost.
Should he curl up and give up like a crybaby once more? Should he shout that there was nothing he could do and decide the realistic, efficient, and logical thing to do was to not lift a finger and to hit the reset button? Should he throw Frenda Seivelun’s existence into the trash and continue on towards tomorrow?
He could not bear to do that.
He did not want to abandon his friend. He did not care if he was being stubborn or patronizing. He wanted to continue trying to do something for her. It did not matter if this was not realistic, efficient, or logical. He did not want to throw her into the trash and he did not want to forget her and move on.
So kill your heart.
Scrape off all the excess fat and leave only the bones.
Become a machine made to take revenge.
“I’ll start with you,” he said with the golden shield at the ready.
He felt his body temperature gradually lowering as he continued speaking.
“You can tell me what you had to do with her death while I crush you.”
Their gazes met.
It no longer mattered that this was not Kamijou Touma or Mugino Shizuri.
He had not overcome his shortcomings.
In the end, he was still Aihana Etsu. He was still a pathetic person who could not stand tall without relying on a fake ID.
This was just the opposite extreme.
He had taken on too many negative feelings and his emotions had numbed over.
And he did not care if that was the case.
He only cared about fighting back.
Activating the shield and killing Hamazura Shiage would be worth 100 points. But even if the shield refused to activate, he could still knock him down with his own hands and choke the life out of him. What did it matter if his own arm was broken or eyes were crushed in the process? In the worst case, he would not be able to do anything and only add to the pile of corpses. As long as he could avoid that, nothing else mattered.
Revenge was an act of tearing at your own flesh, not your enemy’s.
It was an act of killing yourself through your enemy.
Aihana Etsu felt like he was gradually seeing the truth of his own being.
(I guess nothing St. Germain said really mattered. It doesn’t matter if this shield is real or if I’m special.)
He could feel his scattered thoughts gathering on a single point.
They were turning toward a clear goal that was also a dead-end.
(Maybe I just couldn’t bear to live in a world without my friend.)
So he had wanted to leave.
He had wanted to vanish to some other place like cutting the string to a balloon.
(But I’ll leave my mark somehow or other.)
He tore through the wind with his shoulder, walked on his own two feet, and directly approached Hamazura Shiage.
He intentionally moved within range of the Power Lifter.
(I have to do at least one thing for her!! I have to do at least one thing she wanted!! And I’ll carve the proof into this guy’s body!!)
This was the preliminary battle. And it was also the lighting of a fuse that could not be stopped once it began.
His eyes coldly reflected the light like glass and he prepared to pull that final trigger.
But something happened just before he did.
Kamijou Touma climbed through the elevator shaft’s broken door and approached one of the lowest level’s evenly spaced pillars.
Aihana Etsu stood in front of Hamazura Shiage’s Power Lifter, he held a huge golden shield, and many St. Germains waited behind him.
Was there no stopping him now?
Was there no way of stopping his desire for revenge without bloodshed?
Kamijou reached a silent conclusion.
(He’ll stop. If he’s truly doing this for his friend, he’ll stop.)
Kamijou held a single trump card in his hand.
If Aihana Etsu came back to his senses, it would bring an end to St. Germain’s puppet show. The St. Germains would certainly try to dispose of the boy once their plan fell apart and Kamijou doubted he could endure their attacks from all directions with only Imagine Breaker.
(So I need you.)
Kamijou stared at Hamazura’s back from behind the pillar.
(Don’t die yet. I need you so we can all return from this with smiles on our faces!!)
While checking on the focus of their gazes, he moved from pillar to pillar.
Little by little, he approached the center of the disturbance. There were more than fifty St. Germains here, but they only had their human senses at their disposal. They did not have eyes on the backs of their heads and they could not scan the entire area with microwaves or ultrasonic waves.
All of the St. Germains were watching Aihana Etsu’s movements, so they would not spot Kamijou as long as he did not draw any attention to himself.
(I know someone who truly gave himself over to revenge, Aihana Etsu.)
He had met that person in snowy Baggage City. He had gone by two names: Kihara Kagun and Bersi. He had swallowed up both enemy and ally and he had left this earth after perfectly carrying out his revenge.
If someone had asked him if he had been happy with the result, he would have definitely said he was satisfied.
But Kamijou would have given a different answer if asked if he approved of what had happened.
It did not matter if that had been the most correct decision in the world.
It did not matter if everyone involved had accepted it or if digging it back up now was unnecessary.
Despite all that, he knew he could not walk that same path.
If he saw someone falling in that direction, he would not push them on their way. He would grab their hand.
(I won’t let you end up like that.)
He snuck within a few meters of the surrounding St. Germains and thought quietly.
He had a reason to make this approach despite the risk to himself.
(A desire for revenge is best removed before it has a chance to settle in. It’s most frightening when it surpasses emotions and becomes normal. After it shifts to a quieter burn, they can never relax without that desire.)
He checked what he held in his hand.
It may have had no meaning to the other six or seven billion people, but it was probably the final key to this situation.
(So I won’t let you end up like that.)
He clenched his teeth and continued along a path that bordered death.
(I won’t let you use revenge as an excuse. You don’t have to want my help and I know this is just me being selfish, but I still won’t let you degrade what you care about most by using it as a blood-soaked indulgence!! So remember, Aihana Etsu. Remember the very first feelings you held in your heart before ever using that name!!)
And then Kamijou Touma took the final action.
Something slid along the floor.
The surrounding St. Germains noticed, but Aihana Etsu held out his hand and stopped them before the sharp Chambords could tear it to pieces.
The boy had seen it.
It could not have cost more than three thousand yen, but to him, it was something he could not overlook even if he had to weigh it against the entire blue planet.
It was a ten centimeter box wrapped in pale green paper and red ribbon.
The ribbon crossed on the top to hold a card in place. It must have had a cheap electronic music player inside because it played a dull birthday melody.
It was probably part of a message service.
And the voice of the sender accompanied the melody.
It was a certain girl’s voice.
“Happy birthday to you!! Hey, hey, hey. In the end, it’s a surprise present for you, Kanou-chan!!”
Aihana Etsu…no, the boy who had only been using that name felt something in the back of his mind.
The unrecognizable remnants of something like a burnt photo were restored all at once.
There may have been no real meaning in it.
It did not change the fact that the girl was already dead, it overturned none of his assumptions, and immersing himself in old memories may have been no different from writhing in bed with an imaginary partner.
“Nee hee hee. You’re the type who forgets his own birthday, aren’t you? But! Don’t underestimate Miss Frenda’s communication skills! I researched what you wanted long ago! Now, now. Open the box and tremble at how scarily on target I was. Gah hah hah!!”
Aihana Etsu had decided revenge was an act of scraping away the excess fat from yourself rather than an act of harming your enemy.
That “excess fat” would become a weight that trapped more and more people in the desire for revenge.
The boy seemed to be dragged back to being human instead of a revenge-taking machine.
A warmth he thought he had already lost forced the gears in his mind to reverse. The gears were destroyed one by one and it all fell apart.
A memory returned to him.
He recalled someone from a time before he had used the name of Academy City’s #6.
“In the end, you insult yourself and call yourself a crybaby, but it’s not going to end that way. I’m not some kind of benevolent person, you know? I’m not trying to get along with all six billion people out there. You’re one of the friends I, the great Frenda, chose and approved of! I think that’s something you can be proud of!!”
Aihana Etsu stopped moving.
Something was directly driven into the small boy’s heart.
This was not like St. Germain who spoke about the world while pretending he knew what he was talking about.
This was the real thing.
These were the words of the friend he had pursued for so long.
“Your tears are like a safety lock from your common sense. They’ll make sure you don’t stray from the proper path no matter how unreasonable the obstacle. That’s something I don’t have, so I respect you for having something I could never reach! There are so, so, so many people that will end up doing awful things so easily, but your strength will never allow that. So be proud. In the end, you can be proud of having the strength to cry and forgive anything!!”
A heavy sound shook the room as the golden shield slipped from the boy’s hands and fell to the floor.
He no longer needed Anne’s Shield.
He did not need to rely on a legend to stand on his own two feet.
He used his freed hands to cover his face.
“I remember now, St. Germain.”
He was not one of the Academy City’s Level 5s.
He was not someone who created a great legend just like the person who had once been chosen by a sword.
But what did that matter?
This boy had been born into this world as his own person. He could not pretend to be anyone else and he was an irreplaceable gear to this world, no matter how small and insignificant it might be. Someone had smiled his way and celebrated him. In so doing, she had proven his existence.
This was a single trait.
It was not some cheap way out. Unlike the first prize earned by following a legend or some other path someone had created to the mountaintop, he had to pave the way forward on his own. Mastering a trait of one’s own was a much more difficult and challenging task than reaching some ready-made peak.
“I remember my name, St. Germain. My name is Kanou Shinka.”
Even so, the devil on his shoulder continued to whisper in his ear.
But he did not care if he was called pathetic, pitiful, unsightly, or embarrassing.
He would part ways with the easily followed path and make his own way out in to the world.
He would not use St. Germain’s temptation as an excuse. He would not use Frenda Seivelun’s death as an indulgence. He would not rely on the reputation of the mysterious #6 or nonexistent Queen Anne.
He would stand with his own strength.
He would use his own mind to remember what it was he had truly wanted to do.
At the very least, that had not been to fabricate feelings for his silenced friend and throw fresh fuel on the fire of selfish revenge.
Frenda Seivelun had kept “something” hidden and she would not have wanted to invite this boy onto that bloody path from which one could never return. She may have put on an act in the hopes that he would remain in the realm of the sun and she may have thought of him as someone strong enough to cry and forgive anything.
If so, what path should he take?
What should he do as a resident of that sunny realm?
“So St. Germain, I can see my true enemy now. This wasn’t for anyone else or because of anyone else. It was me!! I was the one that used her death and trampled her underfoot! I used her as a tool of killing!! And I won’t accept you!!”
St. Germain reacted swiftly.
With an explosive sound, Chambords forcefully skewered the birthday present from below.
The wrapping and ribbons were torn and the box itself was ripped to shreds.
But the boy’s expression remained unchanged and he raised his small hand.
A cheap pocket watch fell into it.
He wrapped his hand around the silver device and grabbed the fluttering card between his index and middle fingers.
Happy birthday, Kanou Shinka.
A girl who was no longer among the living had given him this celebration of life and acknowledgment of his existence. He held that proof up like a blade as he spoke.
“You’re welcome, Frenda.”
He shed his old skin and shattered the mask of “Aihana Etsu”.
The boy became a man.
He was Kanou Shinka and no one else.
He would not waste this celebrated life and name. To struggle against the world, he faced his true enemy.
In that moment, Kamijou Touma smiled while still crouching.
In that moment, Hamazura Shiage sighed from his Power Lifter.
The two of them were thinking the same thing.
“Guess I’ve got no choice.”
“Guess I’ve got no choice.”
They were not old friends.
They were just one of the six billion that filled the earth.
But they knew one thing: It would be a great shame if Aihana Etsu died.
And he was no longer Aihana Etsu. He was a man who had overcome his bonds and now used the name Kanou Shinka.
He had found value in stepping into that deadly place, so he did not hesitate to rush into the crowd of St. Germains.
That was when something happened.
It was just as St. Germain began to use his countless Chambord spears to dispose of Kanou Shinka now that the puppet show was over.
Kamijou and Hamazura cut in and used Imagine Breaker and the Power Lifter’s arms to break through the downpour of spears. Kamijou grabbed Kanou Shinka through a slight gap, pulled him in, and then pushed him forward.
A moment later, a brilliant beam of light surged in.
It was the #4’s Meltdowner.
But once he noticed it was targeting something other than the Chambords, Hamazura’s eyes opened wide.
“Dammit, Mugino!! Why are you trying to kill Kanou!?”
“Eh? But his determination and change of heart has nothing to do with me. He looked like he was on the enemy’s side, so I can’t see any reason to go easy on him.”
“This has lots to do with you!! This has more to do with you than anyone else!! I may not be one to talk, but you’re the one that caused all this mess in the first plaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!!”
He shouted at the top of his lungs, but Mugino only sighed.
As someone who worked underground jobs, she dryly cut through it all. If she could not tell if someone was an enemy or an ally and if they registered as yellow instead of a clear green or red, she would incapacitate them. It could be a reading beyond a wall, a hypnotized innocent, or someone convinced by a third party to take revenge. If they were not a clear ally, a certain type of professional would view them as a target for destruction.
Mugino Shizuri produced a new ball of light from thin air and faced St. Germain.
“You’re still as red as can be though, aren’t you, you piece of shit?”
There was movement elsewhere as well.
“Oh, honestly. Does everyone have to head out into the open!?”
It was Index, the nun in a white habit with gold embroidery, and Stephanie, the woman with short blonde hair who was acting as the nun’s bodyguard with a PDW.
Index also had fifteen centimeter Othinus on her shoulder and Takitsubo Rikou, the girl in a pink track suit, stood behind Stephanie.
Kamijou Touma said nothing and Hamazura Shiage did not cut in.
Everything the boy needed to do came from his own heart, so they left it up to him.
Kanou Shinka stood up once more and made an announcement while flanked by the two heroes.
“I’m taking it back, St. Germain.”
He faced a monster whose very existence had become a sort of legend.
He opposed it as a single being and a single hero.
“I’ll be taking back every last piece of my friend’s pride that you trampled underfoot!!”
Between the Lines 3
That golden retriever had an armory in each of the twenty-three districts.
Kihara Noukan walked to District 23.
He arrived at an aircraft maintenance bay far larger than a school gym. The entrance looked more like a moving wall than a door as it slowly opened to the left and right. The lights inside came on automatically.
It was filled with several ejection containers and large trucks to tow them.
This was a walk-in closet to Noukan. He could choose the appropriate clothes for the occasion and head out to the dinner party with the optimum outfit. And he would use bullets instead of manners, shells instead of etiquette, laser beams instead of affection, liquid nitrogen instead of hospitality, and killer microwaves instead of respect.
The golden retriever’s goal was to destroy an irregular element inside an otherwise stable world that followed the laws of physics.
And his greatest hypothetical enemy was…
“So the Magic Gods have made their move.”
That said, he had no real grudge against magicians or the Magic Gods that were their ultimate form. Nor did he have any kind of heroic story in which they had taken something precious from him.
But he knew the people who had transformed him from a normal dog into what he was now. They were the ones who could be called the original Kiharas.
Not even one hundred years had passed since the category of Kiharas had taken clear form. A similar concept had likely been spread around like the roots of grass, but only recently had it been gathered together to form the Kiharas.
Even the creation of Academy City was the work of that “human” when he had used the confusion of reconstruction after an old war to arrive here, so it was not hard to imagine the concept of the Kiharas had also been created quite recently.
The original seven had been mere humans who both laughed and cried like normal people.
It had not been known what a Kihara was at the time and that had caused more suffering for them than anyone else. Even as they despaired at how completely insane and mad they had become, they had been unable to stop themselves from continuing down the path of science. That was the type of people they had been.
The one who had provided the golden retriever with his intelligence had always patted the dog’s head while apologizing in human language.
As normal people, their reason had caused them to suffer, but as researchers, the reports of successful experiments had brought them joy. Their faces had always contained a complex mixture of emotions.
“If everything in the world can be explained with scientific formulae, then the world will contain nothing but resignation and despair. Doing that would be much like summoning Laplace’s theoretical demon.”
That was true, but had the hand rubbing his head contained a softness not found in a completed Kihara?
“But at the same time, it will mean the arrival of a kind world in which the unreasonable side of the world will eternally lose all opportunity to kill people. Now, which view is correct?”
Those original members were gone now.
They had used themselves to define what a Kihara was, summed it up in a way that anyone could understand, and then left the world behind. Even as they grew madder by the day, they had constantly fought the unreasonable side of the world using human intellect. That had led to the completed Kiharas of today.
That was why Kihara Noukan had no particular grudge against the magic side.
That was why the golden retriever had no interest in the solid yet kind world that the original members had hoped for.
Scientific knowledge may not have been able to prove the existence of heaven.
The laws of physics may not have been able to measure the weight of the soul.
But the large dog still spoke.
“Even if you have left this world, the Kiharas you left behind are still here.”
The golden retriever gave an instruction in his head and the countless trucks loaded with ejection containers all gave the initial roars of ignition. A storm of headlights filled the entire scene.
A mass of metal sat there.
The collection of armor known as the Anti-Art Attachment followed Kihara Noukan’s movements as he turned around.
He stared into the infinite darkness outside and carried countless lights with him as he spoke in his heart.
Focus on nothing but being a Kihara.
With that wish, he began to work for the people who had transformed a dog into a true being with a heart of his own.