Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume14 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Freeloaders Tend to Grow in Number – Cannibalization.
Kamijou Touma and Kamisato Kakeru.
Imagine Breaker and World Rejecter.
They saw each other down the dark road and ran along the shortest path toward each other.
The first to swing his arm was Kamisato.
“Do you wish for a new world?”
They were still five meters apart, so Kamijou should have been out of the other boy’s range.
However, he felt a chill race through his entire body. As if flinching from a nearby lightning strike, he lowered his upper body on a baseless reflex.
That thoughtless reaction did not actually dodge anything.
But a moment later, a disturbing explosion sounded directly behind him as if space itself was being torn into and swallowed up.
Thick tension traced along his skin. The impatience felt like a weak electric shock. Mysterious beads of sweat instantly covered his entire forehead.
(Dammit, does he not have to actually touch his opponent!? What conditions does he need and what exactly can he erase? Regardless, his looks way more convenient than mine!!)
But that attack had not been targeting Kamijou.
If it had, it would have blown away his upper body.
(—————) He sensed something flinching back behind him, but he did not look back.
Something had been approaching there, but he did not have time to check.
He clenched his right fist again.
He ran toward Kamisato Kakeru to attack his target…which was something else approaching from behind the other boy.
It had all been planned out.
As soon as Kamisato’s silhouette casually swung his head to the side, Kamijou’s fist passed by while clenched as hard as a rock. At the same time, it crossed paths with the “something else” that had been attacking the back of Kamisato’s head.
They collided and it was negated.
Imagine Breaker worked perfectly, so whatever was attacking Kamisato must have used a supernatural power. Whether that was magic or an esper power was still a mystery, though.
Kamijou and Kamisato now stood back to back, but they both turned 180 degrees.
“Were you testing me to see if I would save you or not?”
“Well, if you hadn’t, all I needed to do was swing my arm.”
Violently bright headlights reached them from a different road once again. The flash briefly dazzled them and burned the scenery into their retinas like a photograph.
That was when they realized two different kinds of violence surrounded them.
One was pitch black. Even from close up, Kamijou could not tell what it was. It looked like an octopus floating in the deep sea, like a soft piece of fat cut away with a knife, or like a loose rubber film being melted from the inside. The more he stared at it, the more its meaning changed and the more confused he became. The surface was covered in ominous bubbles and some things that were not quite eyeballs and not quite suckers blinked with a damp yellow or green light that resembled glow-in-the-dark paint. It almost looked like the colors of a strange poisonous frog or lizard.
The other one was red. It seemed to have the texture of a deep pile carpet soaked with water and left to rot. Something like uneven teeth or tongues could be glimpsed deep in the thick carpet. Kamijou was filled with a sense of caution warning him not to look any deeper.
Neither one seemed to have a solid form and they surrounded the two boys from several meters away.
“At any rate, it looks like the main task will have to wait.”
Kamisato Kakeru sounded relatively apathetic.
“Just to be sure, these things aren’t with you, are they?”
“Does it look that way? And if it comes to that, you seem more suspect than me.”
“Yes, what are they doing? Have they started cannibalizing each other!?”
The red and black amorphous monsters were acting oddly. With the disturbing sound of sludge flowing into a drain, they began wrapping around and chewing on each other.
Othinus narrowed her eyes from Kamijou’s shoulder.
“This seems to be an accident for them too, but we can’t just watch. In fact, a wounded beast is even more dangerous. They’ll be fighting for their life, so the standard rules don’t apply. Their routine becomes harder to predict and they go all out, so there’s a larger risk of anything nearby getting caught in the middle.”
“What a pain. I wanted to have a nice chat, but it looks like escaping here has to come first.”
“Perhaps so,” spat out Kamijou.
On the one side was something with uneven teeth or tongues deep inside its rotten red carpet and on the other was something with black bubbles that resembled eyeballs or suckers. The two twisted around, sharpened, and split open their own bodies to send out something like sharp claws. Also giant maws lined with countless fangs opened all over them.
“Here they come!!” shouted Othinus.
Countless predatory tools that resembled spears and blades shot from the creatures surrounding them in a donut shape. Kamijou and Kamisato both gathered strength in their right fists to break through the maw of death.
Kamijou was entirely absorbed by his activity.
His Imagine Breaker was extraordinarily destructive to supernatural powers, but its effective range was limited to his right hand, which made it weak against multiple simultaneous attacks. St. Germain had given him trouble by taking advantage of that.
He only managed to escape being surrounded here due to Kamisato’s help.
He was honestly unsure what would have happened had he been alone.
“Pant, pant! Dammit!!”
He did not know how far he had to run before he could relax, so he just ran and ran. He clicked his tongue when he remembered he had left the supermarket bags behind.
Once he realized the ability to regret something like that meant he was subconsciously beginning to relax, he finally came to a stop.
Not even he was sure where he had ended up.
He was amazed that District 7 had a back alley like this.
He also realized Kamisato was gone.
He had been so focused on escaping that he had not been able to worry about the other’s safety.
“What was that? Kamisato, natural enemy of the Magic Gods, was bad enough, but now another problem has shown up. And in a group of two!”
“You sure are kind. Did you not consider the possibility that Kamisato set this up himself? He did seem to be testing what you would do.”
“Eh? But he said it wasn’t.”
“You really are stupid.” Othinus pinched his earlobe. “I don’t know what exactly World Rejecter does or what conditions are needed to use it, but it defeated Magic Gods by the dozen, didn’t it? Would he really run away when faced with just one or two attackers?”
“I’ll admit I don’t know whether they were working together or not, but he was definitely enjoying it. He was watching how you reacted with a serious look on his face. He was probably playing around and using a different form of communication for what couldn’t be said with words.”
As he listened to Othinus, Kamijou leaned his sweaty body against a nearby building wall to think.
“What even were those red and black attackers?”
“Who knows.” The eyepatch girl sounded entirely casual. “The red one had the scent of the Dark Continent, but the black one is a complete mystery. It may have been a conflict between magic and science.”
“What’s the Dark Continent? Some ancient civilization that sank into the ocean?”
“It means Africa. Expand your vocabulary.”
Then why couldn’t you just say Africa in the first place!? complained Kamijou in his heart.
“Othinus, you did some science-related stuff in addition to your Norse magic, right?”
“Yes, but that was mostly Bersi.”
“But even you couldn’t figure anything out about the black one?”
“I wouldn’t say that… It’s like it’s on the tip of my tongue, and that’s what makes it so strange. I’m the god that constructed every last part of this ‘original world’. Although that was a lot like watching an infinitely-expanding snow crystal growing from a calculated core, so I didn’t actually design every little thing…”
If asked whether Kamisato Kakeru or the black and red attackers were more powerful, Kamijou probably would have said Kamisato.
But based on what Othinus had just said, it may not have been that simple.
“Oh, no. Did Kamisato manage to get away safely?”
“I know I’m being naïve, being inconsistent, and getting my priorities backwards, but I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t check. It would be no laughing matter if I was saved while he was captured and devoured.”
“You’re aware how foolish it is, yet you’re still going back!? How am I supposed to control this idiot!?”
Despite Othinus’s fierce protests, Kamijou hesitantly retraced his steps to revisit the scene of the attack. He did not know where he was, but he remembered the different landmarks more than he had expected. Eventually, he found the familiar location.
“At the very least, it doesn’t look like he was eaten as a human sacrifice.”
He heard a rustling sound from the dimly lit road, so he quickly looked down.
“Hm? Hey, it’s my supermarket bags!!”
“Don’t tell me you’re retrieving them. It may be December, but the ice cream will have melted.”
“Othinus, the fact that they’re on the road isn’t what matters. It’s whether they have germs on them or-…”
He trailed off because the heavy bags moved unnaturally.
Then a large cat hopped out.
“Human, the ingredients list has grown while we were gone.”
“Enough with the black jokes, Miss God. And stop right there, stray cat! That’s our precious dinn-…”
He was cut off by further movement.
He heard some mewing from a nearby alleyway and a few kittens approached the large cat. Based on the fur color, they were a family.
This truly cornered Kamijou Touma.
“No fair!! No fair!! This is like seeing a puppy being swept away in the river or a cat separated from its owner by war! I can’t do anything about it now! All I can do is cry!!”
“It’s grabbing the bags and calmly leaving. It probably does this all the time. The damn creature really knows how to live in the city.”
“I know that! But knowing better doesn’t help when it comes to emotion!!”
Kamijou was helpless against this strange barrier.
He was overwhelmed by sorrow and stood stock still for a while.
But if the bags were there, it meant this was definitely where he and Kamisato had clashed. And thus where those red and black creatures and interfered.
The area was poorly lit, but as he stared into the darkness his eyes adjusted to the light and he noticed something else lying on the ground.
“That cat is lucky it didn’t try to take this with it too.”
It resembled a rotten red carpet. It had seemed to spread out like an infinite sea when it had attacked, but it had been cruelly torn apart and pieces of it were stuck to the asphalt and concrete walls. The way it continued wriggling even then was disturbing, but that was not the main point.
Kamisato had done this.
His World Rejecter was real.
Just like Kamijou’s Imagine Breaker, it most likely had some idiosyncratic and hard-to-use effect or conditions. After all, it had slaughtered Magic Gods by the dozen. Without something holding it back, the entire world – both science side and magic side – should have been slaughtered already.
But in the right environment, it was this incredibly destructive. Kamisato had claimed “escaping here has to come first”, but if he had been alone, he might have been able to slaughter both of the creatures.
He had been playing around.
Kamijou was unsure how to react to that fact.
He viewed the horrific scene before him once more…and he noticed something.
“Wait a second…”
He had spotted something else amid the remains of the rotten red carpet.
At first, it only looked like a dense object, but a closer looked revealed that a relatively large piece of the rotten carpet was covering something. He began to flip it over, but it reacted to his right hand and vanished, revealing what lay below.
He found an unconscious girl of about twelve.
“This is what that red thing was?”
She had white skin and shoulder-length blonde hair. She wore a white blouse, a short skirt, and black stockings for the chic and luxurious look of a grand piano. She seemed ill-protected against the December chill, but the rotten red carpet may have acted as a coat.
Kamijou had a lot to be surprised about, but the biggest shock was that he recognized her.
As Othinus placed a hand on her forehead and sighed, he muttered the girl’s name.
Meanwhile, Kamisato Kakeru gave a confused look of his own a short distance away.
He tried to crack his neck in the darkness, but it did not work. He tried a few more times, but he gave up because he felt like he was going to hurt the joint.
Instead, he spoke into his cellphone.
“I can’t believe this.”
“You getting caught in the middle of someone else’s problems is hardly new. This is sure to be related to a cute girl as always. I bet a naked girl is going to appear from the monster’s belly. I’d bet my virginity on it.”
The voice on the other end had a certain elegance to it. Although Kamisato had no idea if she was using a proper Kyoto dialect or not.
“Don’t bet that. Anyway, how long will your analysis take?”
“That depends on how accurate you want it.”
Kamisato sounded carefree, but he was surrounded by a horrific scene.
The ground and walls were covered in the remains of the attacker that looked like a deep sea octopus instead of a rotten red carpet. Those remains resembled black clumps of fat or a loose rubber film being melted from the inside.
He heard what sounded like a tabletop fan, but it was actually the spinning of a small motor.
He looked up and saw what appeared to be a toy in the night sky. The device looked like a crane fly made as a craft over summer break and it had a transparent case on its stomach. That case contained a sample of the black substance.
“Taking a peek at Academy City’s junk street proved useful. My container lab is doing better than it ever has. It’s pretty cool that the kind of electron microscopes we use ‘outside’ is small enough to fit in your palm here. It was as much of a shock as seeing my first mirrorless camera. Just leave this to your tracer and the earliest results will be in within the hour.”
Kamisato pictured the short girl who had glossy black hair that reached the ground, let her baggy lab coat drag behind her, and laughed while covering her mouth with the sleeve.
“But Academy City isn’t as different from the ‘outside’ as I’d heard,” said the girl. “I thought we would be stuck acting like the old lady who can’t figure out how to use the ticket machine.”
“Yeah. At first, I thought there were going to be cars driving through tubes, but it doesn’t seem that different. They even use the normal Japanese yen…or at least something that looks just like it.”
He watched the handmade drone fly away. That girl never went outside and had a bad habit of ordering everything over the internet and picking up anything else with her drone’s manipulator. The indoor girl was an incarnation of the magic that kept certain girls from gaining weight even though they mostly ate pizza and never went outside.
Also, she called herself a tracer.
Her specialty was using the same forensic and crime scene investigation skills as police to pursue and track down an individual from the microscopic trail they left. And the title was not wasted on her.
Even criminal organizations used people like that. Tracking down a target or traitor used to mean gathering witness information or using an information network (mostly made from loan shark client lists), but now they hired hackers to target the Juki Net and online shopping records, analyzed the many photographs and images on the internet in search of the face they wanted, or analyzed samples on the molecular level. These were of course all techniques invented by the police, but technology was just as effective no matter who was using it.
In other words, this girl could track someone down even if they were put into the witness protection program or treated as dead in official records, given cosmetic surgery, had their fingerprint changed, and even had all of their blood swapped out. It was much like hunting down a target in the jungle using the footprints and broken branches on the ground. She had the grim reaper known as data at her fingertips and it could be even more frightening than simple violence.
“Oh, since you had the UAV out, I wanted to have you do a scan to see if I’m being followed.”
“I’m trying to figure out what to do now. I could return to the container house or I could use a different safe house in case I’m being followed. I was hoping for some extra information to make up my mind.”
“Ah ha ha! Come on, this is Academy City. Their technology goes two or three steps further than anything we can even imagine. They say truth is stranger than fiction, but this goes beyond even that. They’re probably tracking you in some really nasty way, so completely losing them would be impossible. Besides, they’re scanning the entire city by satellite.”
“I’m sure even this phone call is being intercepted. Of course, you knew that but you’re confident you can shake them from your tail by force and escape.”
Currently, Kamisato Kakeru – or rather, the Kamisato Faction that had gathered around him – was opposing the Magic Gods. Academy City and the science side had no reason to complain about that. That said, he had entered the city without permission and he had enough power to slaughter Magic Gods by the dozen. The city’s ruler might not choose to ignore him, either because he would be profitable subject for research or because he was a frightening threat.
But what did that matter?
World Rejecter had enough power to deflect that conclusion.
It was the ultimate strike.
It was a truly definitive blow.
“Then I’ll go to the spare safe house and see how things go.”
“That sounds like a good idea. The other girls are going nuts after hearing you contacted the Imagine Breaker without bringing a bodyguard. Especially when you were attacked by some red and black things afterwards. That should scare you a lot more than Academy City or Kamijou Touma. You need to cool your head and think of a good way to placate some girls. Nya ha ha!”
“My head hurts… Anyway, the safe house is at-…”
“'Is that really something to say on a call that’s being intercepted? Don’t worry. I’m a tracer, remember? I’ll track you down even if you don’t tell me a thing. Bye bye☆”
She hung up.
A look of exhaustion briefly came over Kamisato Kakeru and he put his cellphone in his pocket.
Then he looked around the gruesome scene again.
The disturbing black substance was splattered everywhere, but one piece of what looked like bubbling fat was being pushed up by something below. He had no idea what kind of toxins it contained and, in the worst case, it could suddenly attack and began devouring him with its giant maw, but he did not hesitate to approach the creepily pulsating blackness.
“Do you wish for a new world?”
It sounded like some sort of password.
After a light movement of his right hand, the entire clump of black vanished and what slept below was revealed.
She appeared to be between ten and twelve. Her short blonde hair was pushed up with a hairband, leaving her forehead exposed. She wore a down jacket and jogging wear that was as skintight as a wetsuit. There was a slit below the arms, so it likely had temperature regulation for use in any season. The cordless headphones around her neck were most likely linked to the wearable smartwatch on her wrist. Based on her face and the brands of her clothing and accessories, she did not seem to be Japanese.
Kamisato Kakeru placed a hand on one hip and sighed.
A girl had indeed appeared from within, but she was not naked. He felt that proved the world could be kind after all. He no longer had to worry about the virginity that the girl on the phone had bet.
(If possible, I want this girl to explain the situation as well. They’d probably claim my own testimony lacked objectivity and refuse to listen.)
In order to get their story straight ahead of time, he wanted to know about her.
He crouched down and checked through her pockets, but he found a card case instead of a wallet.
“A girl of around ten has multiple credit cards? And they’re all black cards?”
The lineup looked like something a casino magnate from Macau would have. She might have been the type who had never seen an actual coin in her life. All of the card companies were from outside Academy City and each card had the same name printed on it.
Kamisato traced his finger across it as he read the name aloud.
“Patricia Birdway? Is that it?”
The broken window had only been covered by a plastic sheet, so the dorm room was chilly. Pressure bore down on Kamijou Touma as he silently sat on the wooden flooring of that room.
The pressure came from Index, Othinus, and Nephthys.
After eating all the pet food, the calico cat alone was satisfied and it had completely melted while lying on its belly. For some reason, the cute cat was reminiscent of a hopeless old man after having far too much to drink. The pet was sleeping so defenselessly that there was no hope of it making a gallant entry to rescue its owner.
The discussion was focused on a single issue.
“Touma, what are we going to do about dinner?”
“No, not that!! I know I shouldn’t be restarting this argument, but isn’t there something more important here!? Besides, whose fault do you think it is there’s only miso and soy sauce in the fridge!?”
“Personally, I don’t see why you would even keep soy sauce in the fridge,” added Nephthys. “The Japanese put dashi and soy sauce in everything, so don’t you go through the bottles pretty fast? Do you even have to worry about oxidation?”
“Huh? No one else cares? We’re really focusing on this? O-okay, then!! You’re wrong! Soy sauce goes on hiyayakko too, so it tastes better when it’s chilled!! What kind of idiot would go to the trouble of chilling tofu and then adding room temperature soy sauce!? It makes no sense!!”
“More importantly, this girl.”
Othinus alone was taking things seriously.
Kamijou was on all fours and pounding at the floor in frustration, but the eyepatch girl ignored him and kept the conversation going.
“That idiot picked up another one. There were two attackers, a red one and a black one, and this is apparently one of them. It’s his usual sickness that makes him save anything he can call a ‘girl’. And that means we have a problem beyond Kamisato Kakeru. So what should we do?”
Index cutely vocalized her thinking.
They had a grimoire library with 103,000 grimoires memorized and two legit Magic Gods. If this had anything to do with magic, there would be no hiding it.
They poked at the fragments of the rotten red carpet reluctantly clinging to Birdway’s clothes as she lay on the floor.
“Nya-Nya Bulembu. That African Cinderella story had something like this. It’s the story of a princess forced to wear an ugly animal skin. Everyone found her repulsive because of it, but it actually kept the men from attacking her and a beautiful princess filled with a mystical power was raised within the skin.”
Kamijou quickly grew fed up with it.
“That sounds more like the Ugly Duckling than Cinderella. And it straight-up attacked us instead of acting as camouflage. Is that supposed to be how it keeps men from attacking her? What would make it take such a sharp turn towards offense!?”
That should have been a perfectly natural question, but all three girls(?) glared quite intensely at him. There was even a hint of scorn mixed in like they were looking at a dung beetle.
The small Othinus sighed.
“But its main focus was raising the princess inside it, not keeping the men away. And wasn’t it supposed to be green and covered in moss?”
“There might be something else,” said Index as she moved her fingers a short distance above Birdway’s slender form. “Based on the symbols…there’s more to this. Other African myths and legends have been broken down and implanted.”
“Why Africa?” bluntly asked Kamijou. “I don’t know all that much about magic, but isn’t Birdway from Europe? Doesn’t she specialize in Western magic that uses the alphabet?”
“Hmm, I see.”
Bandaged Nephthys seemed to have recovered a fair bit since she had first shown up, so she gave a bewitching smile while still sitting on the floor.
“This might be the usual pattern for Europeans.”
“It happens a lot.” Othinus sounded annoyed. “ ‘Modern Western Magic’ sounds like it’s European magic put together by Europeans using European cultures, but that isn’t quite accurate.”
Hadn’t Agnese once said that Western magic was essentially made up of tricks using Christianity and the cheating magicians made the serious worshippers look like fools? Hadn’t she said that was why she could not allow them to use magic?
However, this was how the Magic Gods saw things.
“They try really hard for a while. Yes, for a while.”
“But in the end, they realize there are wishes that they can’t grant with their own rules. So what are those Europeans to do? The answer is simple. They begin innocently believing that the equation lies hidden in some as yet unseen paradise.”
“Of course, it’s usually nonsense like trying to find some strange grand master in distant Tibet and gaining the key to the gates of heaven through his teachings. Sometimes they even mention Atlantis, Mu, or some other continent that sank long ago. Oh, right. I think there’s even one about receiving the knowledge and wisdom of god from the radio signals sent by the sun.”
Othinus laughed as she explained.
As those who really did know the greatest secrets of the magic world, humans who thought they could pray to god and unconditionally receive knowledge may have seemed hopelessly shallow. There may indeed have been some secret Tibetan techniques in Tibet, but they would not be the convenient vending machine of knowledge that Europeans imagined them to be.
“One example was influenced by the introduction of foreign cultures during the colonial period. That includes Central and South America, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and India, but the biggest influence of all came from the Dark Continent aka Africa. After all, it’s a large place with tons of different tribes, so it’s overflowing with countless legends. It’s a true melting pot. And from a European point of view, it’s right across the Mediterranean and thus requires much less preparation than South America or India. This thinking worked its way deep into even the Golden Dawn which was called the world’s largest magic cabal.”
“One of the biggest names alongside Yeats and Mathers was Crowley. The tarot he used was known as Thoth Tarot which used the name of an Egyptian god. And when explaining his ideology, he refers to the Aeons of Isis, Osiris, and Horus,” easily explained chocolate-colored Nephthys. “The standard Golden-style tarot told the story of the Son of God from his birth to his execution and his resurrection in order to draw on a portion of his power. The twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana from The Fool to The World are synchronized with the twenty-two paths connecting the Sephirot tree, so they are meant to acquire a technique of entering the realm of god with a human body. In other words, they’re all miracles that can be explained through Christianity.”
“But Thoth Tarot is a little different even though it’s based on the same tree.”
“It has a special sequence that starts at the birth of Christianity and follows it to its destruction – that is, the coming of Armageddon – and then to the ‘new Aeon’ that will arrive afterwards. The meaning of the Hanged Man is quite different and Judgment is replaced with The Aeon. In other words, you are not arriving at the realm of god, you are destroying the ‘closed ceiling’ that is god’s territory and then bringing humanity to the next stage above that. Of course, that probably seems dreadfully arrogant from the Vatican’s point of view.”
Index, who was (technically) an Anglican nun, looked like she was unsure what to say.
Nephthys seductively adjusted her legs and continued her lecture.
“Now according to Crowley, the Aeon of Isis is the time of primitive religions before the establishment of Christianity, the Aeon of Osiris is the time of stagnation while Christianity spreads, and the Aeon of Horus is the time when mankind achieves a true awakening through the destruction of Christianity. However, that was a rather extreme view even among the Golden cabal, so apparently not everyone in the cabal supported it.”
“So what does that mean?” Kamijou skipped the difficult parts and gave just his conclusion. “The European magicians try to work within their own culture for a while, but when they hit a dead end, they have a bad habit of changing their way of thinking and digging through information from around the world to resolve whatever contradiction they’re faced with?”
He vaguely pictured it as something like putting caviar or foie gras on top of a bowl of rice and claiming it was a new Japanese dish.
“And they even forget they asked for help afterwards. But that might just come naturally to the people who insist they were the ones to invent gunpowder and noodles. It makes me wonder if they ever get confused why it’s so difficult to eat food shaped that way by wrapping it around a fork instead of just slurping it up.”
“In that case…”
Kamijou looked back down at Birdway as she slept on the floor.
(That arrogant girl had incredible magic and a large organization at her disposal, but she still came across something that she didn’t think she could deal with?)
He shuddered all the more.
This no longer looked like a trivial interruption in the Kamisato Kakeru issue. The further they dug into this, the heavier it seemed to get.
“What exactly is it?”
He knew he was digressing from the main task that was Kamisato, but he still asked the question.
“What is Birdway dealing with?”
Index moved her fingers through the empty space slightly above Birdway’s sleeping body.
“Wheat…no, is this corn? Africa is pretty big and filled with different tribes, cultures, and legends, but this looks like bits and pieces were gathered from all over. Instead of a single system of mythology, it’s more like she was gathering legends to fill in what she was missing.”
“…Doll…fruit…ceremony abbreviation and cost reduction…sacrifice and destruction using a mechanical series of steps…an offering to a god…no, more like healing a sick patient by providing a corresponding part…the theory of predation…”
Index’s fingers came to a stop.
They were pointed right at the center of Birdway’s chest as the silver-haired nun said more.
But that was as far as she got.
Something grabbed her wrist as if to prevent her fingers from revealing more of the truth.
“Don’t touch me.”
It was Leivinia Birdway.
She did not get up and her face remained pale, but the corners of her lips still curved upward.
“An investigation isn’t needed to know that I have more than you.”
At first, Index was confused.
Next, she realized her fingers were pointing at the center of Birdway’s flat chest.
Finally, she looked down at her own habit-covered chest.
“You’re lying!! That has to be a lie!!”
“Give up. The system of this world is a cruel one.”
“I don’t want to hear that from a child who wouldn’t even know how to put on a bra!!”
“Whaaat!? What do bras have to do with anything!? Besides, the idea that having breasts and wearing a bra are one and the same is nothing but a fantasy of those with no cup size to speak of!!”
Nephthys sighed at the fruitless conflict.
For the record, the brown beauty was not wearing a bra yet she clearly did have a cup size to speak of.
The world was a confusing place.
First of all, the girl sent out the UAV that looked like a toy and like a crane fly.
After confirming the area was safe, she approached the building in her formal clothing and her baggy lab coat that dragged behind her. With her glossy black hair reaching her ankles and her large sleeves covering even her hands, the outfit was somewhat reminiscent of a ceremonial kimono.
However, she was lacking in the size needed to be called a charming beauty.
“Naitou, Joujima, Ganzan, Tsukuyomi…oh, here we go.”
The solid sound of leather shoes on the floor continued as she walked down the corridor of the rundown District 7 apartment building while checking the nameplates. When she reached one with a blank nameplate suggesting the resident had only just moved in, she violently knocked instead of ringing the bell.
Without waiting for an answer, she applied a few reagents to the keyhole and used some wires to unlock the door in less than ten seconds. She opened the door to find a hellish scene contained within a 4.5 tatami mat room without a bathroom.
“Grrrr!! Hiss hiss!!”
“Ow!! Ow ow ow ow ow ow!! Why is this girl acting like a wounded cat the second she wakes up!?”
In one corner, a blonde girl with her forehead showing had all her hair bristled as she scratched at the normal high school boy, Kamisato Kakeru. The window was broken and covered by a plastic sheet, but that was most likely unrelated to this.
The lab coat girl covered her mouth with a baggy sleeve and spoke with a faint smile in her voice.
“Come now. She woke up to find herself in an unfamiliar boy’s apartment. You’re clearly the one at fault here.”
“No good deed goes unpunished in this age of mistrust, huh!?”
“Now, now, young lady.”
The lab coat girl crouched down to get on eye level with Patricia Birdway whose caution was set to max and who had tears of anger in her eyes. The lab coat girl smiled while elegantly keeping her teeth hidden.
Then she dropped a tremendous bomb.
“I may not look it, but I specialize in unofficial forensic investigation. If you don’t trust Kamisato-han and you’re worried about your body, I can check to see if you’re pregnant. If you just squeeze your eyes shut and spread your legs, it’ll be over in no time.”
Patricia’s entire body shook.
The lab coat girl was still smiling. In fact, the perfect smile was frozen on her face. She was not joking or being unreasonable. She was being intentionally cruel to this girl who had harmed Kamisato, no matter how legitimate her reasons might have been.
The boy sighed, placed a hand on his neck, and swung his head a little to the side. He was trying to crack the joint, but it was not working.
“Yes, yes, hi, yes, hi! I’ll leave my harassment at that. Honestly, if Claire and Elza learned how ungrateful she was being, they would seriously tear her to pieces, you know? You ran off without your bodyguards and now you’re injured. What do you think is going to happen now, boss?”
“Oh, no… Maybe I should hide the injuries.”
“Well, it’s just a few welts from some scratches and she didn’t draw any blood. A thick application of foundation should be enough.”
That was when a strange aura of fear came from Patricia’s entire body while she trembled in the corner of the room. A sharp crack seemed to run through her soft cheek and something like an octopus tentacle filled with bubbling eyeballs or suckers showed itself. There were also glimpses of the colors of a strange poisonous frog or lizard.
It bent, twisted, and formed a single sharp spear before shooting out like a bullet.
Its target was Ellen. It shot a bit below her evenly-cut bangs – that is, the center of her face.
Kamisato reached his hand casually out from the side.
As soon as he grabbed it, a large chunk was torn from the spear and the bubbling mass frantically retreated back into Patricia’s body.
An unpleasant sound followed.
It came from below the small girl’s skin. Something as thick as a thumb seemed to slither from her cheek and down toward the neck holding her headphones.
The baggy lab coat girl reflexively tried to say something, but Kamisato Kakeru placed his index finger over her lips, then smiled toward Patricia in the corner.
“That…didn’t seem to be under your control.”
Patricia remained silent and a change came over her chest.
A pulsation was evident even through her puffy down jacket.
However, it clearly did not come from a human heart. Something else was wriggling at the center of her chest.
“To be honest, you’re free to tell us what’s going on or not. But if you don’t tell us, we’ll investigate it on our own. We will find the truth, but you can’t choose the extent of that truth.”
As Kamisato spoke, the pulsation grew smaller.
Or rather, it was hiding.
What had been gathered in one spot scattered in every direction to disperse and hide inside her body. Normally, she would not seem any different from a normal person.
“So you have the advantage here. If you tell us, you can choose the extent of the truth you want us to know.”
Patricia thought, opened her mouth, said nothing, hung her head, and shook her head.
Then she lifted her head once more.
“My response depends on what you’re apologizing for.”
Was it for injuring Kamisato and trying to harm the lab coat girl?
Or was it for brushing off his suggestion and rejecting his explanation?
But the girl had been apologizing for something else entirely.
“For my weak heart that’s telling me it will be crushed by the anxiety if I don’t tell you, even though I know telling you will drag you into this.”
Kamisato smiled and responded.
“Then you don’t need to apologize.”
“Not even I know what this is. As a guest researcher from the university, I took part in a study of the largescale changes in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean currents due to the changes in ice levels at the poles. While we were investigating the South Pole, we found a new kind of parasite. Our team called it Sample Shoggoth.”
“Shoggoth, hm?” Kamisato exhaled slowly. “I’d like to hear how you got from Antarctica to Academy City.”
“O-okay. It might not be all that important, though. While visiting different medical institutions to find a way to deal with this, I eventually found myself in Academy City. That’s all.”
“If you were undergoing treatment, why were you walking around outside?”
“While it’s a parasite, it doesn’t spread indiscriminately or anything. Oh, but I can’t guarantee it won’t cause you any problems.”
“Yes, it did just attack me.”
“I’m a victim!!”
The upset lab coat girl brought a finger to her lips again and Kamisato prompted Patricia to continue.
“Apparently, even Academy City’s technology has little chance of safely removing it. However, that’s not what I’m worried about. The problem is my sister.”
Kamisato placed a hand on his neck as he asked and Patricia nodded.
“The red one.”
That short answer held significant meaning.
“My sister seems to be searching for a way to save me with her own methods, but I can’t rely on that. I can never accept that method, so I can’t just sit around and wait. I need to stop her and have her give up on that method immediately.”
He did not understand, so he simply asked about it.
“It might not work, but just like with the lottery, having as many options as possible raises the odds of a miracle happening, right? Although if you’re talking about having an amateur cut you open with a rusty scalpel and no anesthetic, then yeah, you should probably say no to that.”
“If only that was what it was.”
Patricia shook her head and Kamisato’s frown deepened.
“It’s something worse?”
“If she does use her method, there’s no guarantee it will save me from this. That’s a complete unknown.”
Patricia admitted that first.
And then she cut to the heart of the matter.
“But if she uses that method, there’s a risk of her dying. She knows that and is still offering herself up to me, but that’s exactly why I have to reject it.”
Birdway sat up and looked around the room.
“The window is broken here too? That would explain why it’s so cold.”
“The entire city’s like this thanks to the High Priest. At least be thankful there’s a plastic sheet covering it.”
“And why is the kotatsu over there? Isn’t that my seat?”
“It isn’t anyone’s seat. We just felt like using it today is all. …Hey, quite forcing your way in here! There isn’t enough room!!”
“You’re the one that stole my seat.”
She was pouting her lips for some reason, so she may have been picky about her position, just like a cat.
“Fine, I’ll explain everything from the beginning.”
After sitting right next to Kamijou, Birdway finally got down to business.
Her face looked pale, but having the others worry over her seemed to hurt her pride. She blocked Kamijou’s hand when he tried to support her back.
“But first, promise me something, Kamijou Touma. Do not touch me. There shouldn’t be an issue since you claim to have carried me here, but I want to be as cautious as I can. I don’t want one casual move from you ruining everything.”
“I’m telling you not to touch my chest.”
“Quick question, Birdway. What kind of person do you think I am?”
“You have to ask? I’m only so afraid because it’s you!!”
She looked at him like he was a wild animal, which depressed him a fair bit.
“Let me be blunt, this is a personal issue. It’s nothing for you all to get involved in and you don’t need to worry about it affecting the entire world. Just to be clear, this is about my life.”
“And I still want to know even after hearing that. Besides, you already said you would explain everything from the beginning.”
She clicked her tongue before continuing.
“It’s about my sister.”
“Patricia Birdway. Oh, right. I guess you wouldn’t be familiar with her. She was only involved in a fight between Anglican magicians that took place behind the scenes of an incident you and I dealt with together.”
She looked up to the ceiling as if thinking back to the past.
She may have been sorting between what she knew and what Kamijou most likely knew.
“She uses the Birdway name, but she is not a magician. While I have been exclusively focused on magic, she has a more scientific way of thinking. She is my little sister, which should give you a guess at her age, but she already has a PhD and works on university-run projects. She has also been sponsored by Academy City or its cooperative institutions to join labs and research ships as a guest researcher. She has more than twenty published papers and the media reacts entirely differently when a paper is announced with her name on it, so plenty of schools are looking for a chance to bring her in. To sum it up, she’s my wonderful little sister. I can only say this while she isn’t here, but she’s one of the few people I don’t mind having around.”
“Why am I picturing two sadistic little girls glaring down at me with identical smirks?”
“Her personality is the polar opposite of mine.”
“Wow, she must be an angel!! I’d actually be a little afraid to meet someone that perfect!!”
“I don’t like what you’re implying there.” Birdway sounded a little upset. “Of course, Patricia knows nothing of the cabal. To be exact, I’ve made sure of it. And her success isn’t because we’ve been putting in a good word for her. She knows I lead some kind of organization related to the Birdway family, but she isn’t actually aware that it’s a magic cabal. She probably thinks it’s a salon that dates back to the old noble days or something. It’s only just barely, but she still qualifies as a normal person.”
“What about it? What does that have to do with you wandering around Academy City as some kind of animal skin monster?”
“Animal sk-… Whatever. There was someone else there besides me, wasn’t there?”
“You mean Kamisato?”
Birdway sounded confused, so that must not have been the answer.
“You mean the black one, don’t you?” cut in Othinus.
“Wait… You mean there was a human inside that one too!?”
“That’s the problem.” Birdway sighed. “That was my sister Patricia. But needless to say, she wasn’t born like that. There was apparently some trouble on an Antarctic investigation. Some weird parasite got inside her and transformed her into that.”
“Are you serious?”
“Quite serious. I initially balled up the report and threw it at Mark’s head, but once I started taking it seriously, I realized how bad this is. I checked through each of the cards the cabal holds and eventually took a step into the realm of the Dark Continent. You understand what that means, don’t you? Even with my organization, there was nothing I could do.”
If someone claimed a fleet of UFOs was going to attack tomorrow, everyone would laugh it off.
But how was everyone supposed to react once readings actually filled the radars and the many shapes were spotted on the photos taken with telescopes?
The moment when the ridiculous became no laughing matter was when everything one knew crumbled away.
“Academy City was apparently backing the project, so she was first sent to ‘outside’ cooperative institutions and then to an Academy City medical facility. But you can see the results.
She escaped the bed she was restrained to and is on a rampage outside. Even the science side sees little chance of healing that illness.”
“So that means you’re trying to…?”
“Heal her using magic. Do you get a little of what’s going on now?”
He did a little, but the full outline of the situation had not quite come into focus.
“However, this is no easy task. That grimoire library will probably have revealed most of it already, but this cannibalization is a hybrid from the Dark Continent. As the leader of a Golden organization, I don’t want the men who rely on me seeing me like this. And when it has to do with something even more important than my own life, my reputation is at stake. Well, to be technical, the Dawn-Colored Sunlight isn’t a pure Golden cabal and it isn’t even a magic cabal in the truest sense of the term…but that means it isn’t as powerful as it once was and sometimes has issues at the extremities of the organization. At any rate, I didn’t want to spread unnecessary confusion during this difficult time, so I had no choice but to act alone.”
“Talking to an average high school boy about leading an organization isn’t going to help much. Sorry, but I’ve never even had a part-time job.”
“…You’re not the most considerate person, are you?”
“Anyway, what is that black thing? You said something about the Antarctic and a parasite, but does it spread from person to person?”
“I don’t know, but if it was highly contagious, I doubt Academy City would bring it inside the city…or at least I sincerely hope they wouldn’t. It apparently won’t leave my sister’s body now that she’s its host. Of course, it might seek out a new host if her vitals grew unstable.”
“Sounds more like a hairworm than influenza.”
“I don’t like the sound of either comparison,” spat out Birdway. “That thing has dissolved all of the fat in Patricia’s body and slips inside the empty space to maintain her human silhouette. It also handles the storage and distribution of nutrients that the fat would have. In other words, that thing holds my sister’s life in its hands. Try to extract it and it will go nuts and tear her body to shreds. And even if you did successfully suck it out, all that would remain is an empty skin-and-bones shell of my sister. She would die before she could recover her strength. In other words, she can’t be saved by normal means.”
“That’s just how parasites work. They latch onto their host and won’t let go. That thing is probably doing its best to survive in its own way. Anyway, everything I told you was in Mark’s report, but he couldn’t come up with an actual solution. That’s why I left the organization to act on my own.”
That meant Birdway had snuck into Academy City to do something about Patricia who could not be saved with surgery.
She had even left her subordinates and cast aside the Western magic she excelled at.
“Then what is your trump card?”
“My body. That’s why I told you not to touch me with Imagine Breaker.”
Birdway lightly tapped the center of her flat chest.
“This animal skin is based on the African legend of a princess. It’s a medium that fosters growth while providing defense and concealment so the beautiful princess could grow up without anyone getting in her way. I’ve been using it to grow a certain something.”
Birdway was of course not just wearing the animal skin for her health and beauty.
But then what was it for?
“That girl mentioned cannibalization, didn’t she?” A note of resignation entered Birdway’s voice. “A certain concept occasionally shows up in legends concerning food. If your eye is sick, eat an eye. If your arms or legs are lame, eat an arm or a leg. If your heart is bad, eat a heart. That way, you will regain a healthy body. Of course, another mammal like a pig or cow is often used, but it sometimes means eating body parts of another human.”
“Wait…you don’t mean…”
“I needed a way to save my sister.”
As she spoke, Birdway removed her large brooch and unbuttoned her blouse.
She was not wearing a bra, but a thin slip hung from shoulder straps and covered her from the chest to below the navel.
But that was not what caught Kamijou’s attention.
In addition to the two lovely mounds, there was something grotesque growing near the center of her flat chest.
It pulsated like a living creature, but it was clearly entirely separate from Birdway’s own pulse.
“I told you I have more than you, didn’t I?” Birdway gave a self-deprecating laugh. “I have created a new organ in my body that is meant to be eaten. If Patricia eats this once it’s fully grown, this will all be over.”
In the rundown apartment, Patricia placed a hand over the center of her chest.
The foreign object there was obvious even over her puffy down jacket.
The thing must have realized she was feeling for it because it changed shape to slip below her skin. It split apart and the protruding bump vanished. It was like a diving submarine or like an octopus monster shifting its volume from its fist-sized main body to its eight legs.
That was when the nearly broken doorbell rang.
Kamisato and Ellen seemed carefree.
“I wonder who that is.”
“Hard to tell when only knowing it’s one of your fans still leaves about one hundred different options. You should probably make a list of all the girl’s you’ve won. I could combine that with facial recognition software to make a Kamisato App that automatically gives you their name and profile.”
It sounded like a joke, but Kamisato only sighed.
Meanwhile, the front door opened from the outside and two girls walked in.
They were Elza and Claire.
They both belonged to the unofficial “Kamisato Faction”.
Elza had long brown hair that was wildly cut away and she had the overall atmosphere of a delinquent. Due to the way her hair was cut, she almost seemed to have fox ears on the sides of her head. She wore a white sweater and a red pleated skirt, but the skirt was extremely long, which made her look like an old school delinquent or a shrine maiden. The girl’s image hit both extremes and she held a large plastic bottle in her hands. The clear container had its label removed and it contained old discolored ten yen coins instead of a liquid. She also had a baby carrier attached by a belt which pushed up and accentuated her already large breasts, but their size apparently bothered her and she would get mad if someone mentioned it.
Claire wore thick glasses and had long black hair tied back. She wore a white apron-like dress that left her back bare and she was an obedient gardening club girl…or she should have been. She looked plain and inconspicuous, but that impression was entirely overturned by the giant tropical flowers blooming on either side of her head. It almost looked like her twintails had exploded. Even more colorful flower petals adorned her back.
As soon as the two opened the thin door without knocking, they looked around and started speaking.
“Hm, so is this our new hideout? This is awful. The previous clubroom we’d occupied was filled with plenty of convenient items. I doubt there’s a computer and microwave in here.”
“But Elza, you don’t see a 4.5 tatami room every day, so isn’t it kind of exciting? Like a poor but happy couple pressing their shoulders together for warmth and reconfirming their love for each other. Kyah☆”
“C’mon, Claire, that’s probably the same kind of excitement you get from a Columbian prison tour or a Thai military torture tour. You’re paying money to enjoy a lack of freedom.”
“Please don’t say that! The visuals of collars, handcuffs, and creaking ropes hanging from hooks are encroaching on my Showa song paradise!!”
“You’ve got a surprisingly detailed imagination. I bet this teacher’s pet is secretly quite the perv-…”
After the glasses girl gathered strength in her stocking-covered legs and hips to deliver a punch to the delinquent girl’s side, one of the girls doubled over. Even through the sweater, her large breasts jiggled a needless amount.
Claire ignored her choking companion and turned toward Kamisato.
“You told us a little over the phone, but what exactly is going on here?”
Patricia noticeably put her guard up in the corner of the room and short Ellen only shrugged while dragging her baggy lab coat behind her like a ceremonial kimono, so Kamisato had no choice but to answer.
He placed a hand on the side of his neck and shook his head to the side a little, but the joint would not crack.
“Try to contain your surprise when you hear this.”
“I was just being threatened a little bit. She said she has some horrible secret and I’ll get dragged into some awful incident if I get any more involved.”
The glasses and delinquent girls both rubbed their index finger against their temple and spoke up in harmony.
Ellen then chimed in with her ankle-length black hair swaying behind her.
“In other words, the setup is complete.”
“Y’know, did she really think a hot-blooded boy was going to back off when he heard that? Are you sure she isn’t sitting there waiting for the boss to jump at the opportunity?”
“She only draws Kamisato-san in because she isn’t aware what she’s doing. You know, just like always.”
There seemed to be some hidden meaning to that, but…
“Yeah, it was especially bad with you, Claire. You were outside and in public, but you were still nude when you turned that corner and ran right into the boss. Talk about cheating. Thinking back, you really were the queen of cheating.”
“I-I don’t want to hear that from you! Who meets a guy by suddenly falling from the sky in this day and age!? What dimension did you even come from!? And not only did you manage to land right on top of Kamisato-san’s face, but what happened to your panties!? Did you leave them in that other dimension!?”
“I did have something on! It was a large band-aid though!!”
“Come now. You need to thank Ellen-chan here for using my unofficial forensic investigation skills to solve that earthshattering incident. I bet that bastard never imagined those initial missing panties would end up being the key to ending it all. Nice job, me. And Kamisato-han was of course a real hero.”
They had moved their conversation along and left him behind, so Kamisato Kakeru lightly scratched at his head and tried making a rebuttal.
“I’m not doing any of this because I want to.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Don’t be silly.”
It took them less than half a second.
He himself was apparently not the one who decided who “Kamisato Kakeru” was.
Ellen waved her baggy lab coat sleeve as she said more.
“This might stray somewhat from the main task, but we all know Kamisato-han can’t ignore it. Even if we decided to ignore it, he’d run off to the other side of the world to save her on his own if he had to. So it would be best if we helped him out so he can finish it as quickly as possible and get back to the main task. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure is,” said Elza.
“I don’t mind,” agreed Claire. “Instead of attaching a bell to a cat’s collar and letting it wander around, we’re holding the dog’s leash and taking a walk with it, right? I’d feel more comfortable that way and I personally prefer it.”
“That taste. You really are a special kind of perv-…”
“Ei!! Ei ei!!”
The violent rush from the teacher’s pet silenced Elza’s diaphragm.
However, Kamisato was not the only one who had been left behind. As the older girls’ conversation continued without her, Patricia’s hands nervously wandered through the air.
Kamisato lightly shrugged as he too had been abandoned.
“Don’t worry about it. They’re always like this.”
Patricia tried to say something, but the others cut in first.
“The weirdest one of us all is trying to act normal.”
“And he has guts hitting on a girl right in front of us! Honestly, could this be following the standard script any closer!?”
“This is how Kamisato Kakeru gathered one hundred girls to construct his personal empire. Now, we need to organize things, so let’s make a list of what we need to do and sort it by priority.”
Ellen clapped her hands to gather attention.
The girl named Patricia had some sort of large problem and a few steps were needed to solve it. Kamisato Kakeru began thinking about the aspects of these girls that were just as unique as his own right hand, but…
“First, we need to take a bath, but this rundown apartment has a shared bathroom and no bath. I wonder how the other residents get by.”
It came so suddenly. Ellen’s thought seemed to fly in from the farthest reaches of the universe.
However, this was apparently not simply a case of her being out of her mind.
“Yeah, I asked around and there’s apparently a bathhouse around here that they usually use. That’s what this tiny teacher told me.”
“A bathhouse! Oh, that has a wonderfully retro ring to it!! It has so much more charm than some dull Western term like ‘hot spa’!! And it’s one of the checkpoints any couple in love simply has to try out at least once! Pant, pant. Huh? Why is everything getting so blurry? Pant, pant!!”
“Quit going into full bloom, you pervert. You’re steaming up your glasses with a self-powered thermal power plant.”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” cut in Kamisato.
He could not believe that no one was opposing the idea. That meant he had to do it himself.
And he still could not crack his neck.
“Why are we about to go take a bath all of a sudden?”
“Come now. Because we’re preparing for battle, of course.”
Ellen looked entirely nonchalant as she answered, so Kamisato covered his face with a hand. He could not tell how these girls’ minds were reaching this conclusion.
“Is this what I think it is? Is it some kind of code that seems entirely incomprehensible if you don’t have the kind of mind that can view the world exclusively in terms of ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, and ‘cute’?”
“What’s got you so quiet, boss?” asked Elza. “We ran right on over here as soon as we got inside Academy City. We weren’t hanging around setting up a hideout like you. Plus, we’re approaching the limits of what deodorant can accomplish. It’s like sports practice after PE. Listen, if we begin a new sweaty battle without a shower, it’s going to damage our pride as girls, which is more important than the world itself!!”
They forced their opinion on him.
They got by on momentum alone.
That was generally how Kamisato Kakeru’s everyday life went.
He shook his head in exasperation and started to join the girls, but something else stopped him. Yes, they had Patricia, an outsider, with them. She seemed unwilling to have Kamisato Kakeru, the final normal person, leave her.
“Wh-why are you all talking about taking a bath all of a sudden!? I don’t want to take one. This really isn’t the time for that!!”
“Ohhhh, right. Foreigners don’t have a bath culture like us. I hear a lot of them feel pretty turned off by the idea of an open-air hot spring.”
“…I really don’t think that’s the problem here.”
Kamisato gave a mild retort.
Patricia was clearly in the right on this one. She had been thrown into an entire group of strangers and, not ten minutes after meeting them, she was being asked to go take a bath with them. That thought process was completely broken.
Or it should have been.
Once again, it came down to the thought processes of a girl that a “normal high school boy” like Kamisato Kakeru found so incomprehensible.
“Well, we won’t force you to do anything.”
“But with your best interests in mind, I have to ask if you’re sure you want that. From what I’ve heard, some kind of goopy black octopus came out of you. This isn’t really an issue of individual taste. I’m just amazed you would show your face in front of a boy after that. And while I don’t know what that goopy thing was, what if it starts to smell after a while? Can you put up with that? Are you sure you want a boy to find out that kind of stuff comes from a girl’s body or that a girl is that kind of creature? If you say you don’t mind, then you can curl up in the corner and stay here, but I’d be about ready to bite my tongue at that point. And not just because it’s the boss I’m talking about. Isn’t it normally all over as soon as the general category of ‘boys’ finds out?”
In her jogging wear and down jacket, Patricia’s face blushed and then grew pale. Claire, the gardening club member in glasses, casually cut in. Because she was messing with the flowers on her head, her breasts were visible through the sides of her white dress.
“If that’s just the type of girl she is, then what does it matter? I know we’re not one to talk, but Kamisato-san is surrounded by girls and they all want to show off with something that no one else has. …Maybe she’s trying to be the smell-fetish girl. H-hm… Going that route certainly would be a courageous decision.”
“You’re really picking up on the worst side of Japanese culture to look at it like that. You truly are a hopeless perv-…”
With a solid sound, Elza was silenced (as her breasts jiggled), but Patricia had bigger things to worry about.
She did not want them to force that identity on her.
“N-no!! Don’t place me on those weird rails!!”
She desperately protested, but it was not enough to stop forensic lab coat girl Ellen.
“But if you keep this up, you’ll be there whether you like it or not. We’ll all be washing away our sweat in the bath while you’re here all alone and stinky. Oh, but Kamisato-han is nice, so he won’t let it show if it bothers him. He might even take pity on you and be extra nice. See, it doesn’t matter what you want. You have no say. It isn’t up to you. You’ll be placed on those rails Elza and Claire mentioned regardless. Do you understand now?”
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-why do I have to follow that kind of-…”
“But wouldn’t it be painful? Come now. I don’t know your exact age…”
Ellen gave a cruel smile and spoke her next words like she was stabbing a knife into the girl.
“But people look down on someone who can’t take a bath on their own by your age.”
Kamisato very nearly voiced his surprise.
He had a vivid vision of an invisible lever being thrown.
Blonde forehead girl Patricia shouted back on reflex.
“I can take a bath on my own!! A Japanese bathhouse isn’t a problem! D-don’t mock me like that!!!!”
Patricia pressed a fist against the center of the down jacket covering her flat chest.
That represented the disturbing pulsation that had been there not long before.
It had dived down through her entire body, but it would gather back in one spot and surface like an eight-legged monster from the dark sea.
Elza had not heard the details of the situation, but she seemed to have good instincts for this kind of thing.
“Is something the matter?”
“Eh? No, nothing. It…it doesn’t appear when I’m just sitting around…”
The delinquent girl with roughly cut hair scratched her head at Patricia’s hesitant answer.
She seemed to be a caring person because she pointed her thumb at Claire next to her.
“I don’t know what your problem is, but the world is a big place. You can even find glasses girls with tropical flowers growing from their heads smiling in the shopping district like it’s nothing. You’re free to believe whatever you want, even if that leads to some kind of complex, but try thinking through it again. Is that obstacle really insurmountable? And what would be the perfect time to overcome it?”
“Elza, you seem to think you’re being helpful, but can we speak out back later? And I don’t think a psychedelic girl who always carries around a bottle of coins like it’s her baby has any right to talk about what’s normal.”
“Oh? What’s that, Claire? Do you want me to bring out the herbicide or the lawnmower?”
The conversation jumped from place to place, moving the eye of the storm in the process. Patricia had been left behind once again, but that casual treatment may have been proof she was not being too much trouble.
At any rate, they all left the rundown apartment.
Kamisato had entered the city before the others, so he knew where the bathhouse was. He briefly considered intentionally taking a wrong turn to make a large circle back to the rundown apartment, but he could tell this was something of a life-or-death issue for Claire and Elza and he knew he would probably end up beaten to a pulp if he tried that. Obediently doing as asked seemed the best course of action.
As they walked along the nighttime street, he placed a hand on the side of his neck.
He was apparently trying to crack the joint, but it did not seem to be working.
When he noticed Patricia giving him a puzzled look, he smiled and explained.
“It has no real meaning.”
His voice sounded kind yet somehow hollow.
“I wanted some kind of continual obsession. It could have been spinning a pen, whistling, or anything else. I wanted some small spice to leave the category of dull and uninteresting, so I ended up with this habit.”
After a short while, a likely building came into view.
“There it is. See the chimney?”
“Hey, isn’t this supposed to be Academy City, the town of cutting-edge science? Isn’t the technology supposed to two or three decades ahead of things ‘outside’?”
“It must be a cutting-edge bathhouse with a cutting-edge boiler connected to that cutting-edge chimney. Now, let’s get inside. We’re not photographers in search of retro scenery.”
For some reason, Ellen grabbed Kamisato’s hand and began pulling him inside.
Confused, he came to a stop.
“Um, I arrived here a few days ago, so the situation isn’t the same for me. To be honest, I don’t really feel any need for a bath.”
“Sigh. Well, you don’t have to and I guess it’s allowable for a boy to be the one sweaty person in a group of girls. I suppose it makes you the wild type. Ah ha ha. That’s not you at all.”
Kamisato brought his nose to his upper arm.
While Ellen hid her smile behind her baggy lab coat sleeve, Elza spoke up in annoyance while holding her plastic bottle in both hands.
“I vote no to that. I don’t want to get anywhere near the guys on the baseball or judo team who claim it’s a virtue and a treasure of youth or whatever. I’m not going to flat out reject everything that sweats, but at least pay some attention to your surroundings.”
“You’re such a romantic, Elza. Or rather, you have high standards. Is your ideal guy the dashing prince on horseba-…”
“D-don’t be ridiculous!! I-I-I-I don’t dr-dr-dream about th-th-things like that, y-y-y-y-you moron!!”
“Elzaaa, I know you’re panicking, but if you beat that broken glasses girl with your bottle of coins any longer, I’m gonna have to break out my crime scene investigation toolset.”
The delinquent girl came back to her senses and finally let go of the glasses girl’s collar. Claire collapsed limply to the ground, her dress’s shoulder straps slipped down, and a few petals fell from the giant twintail-like flowers.
Staying outside was not going to help, so they entered the building.
The old lady at the attendant booth tilted her head at the extremely strange grouping of a boy and four girls, but she still invited them in as customers. They had been prepared for some kind of high-tech payment system, but they apparently only had to hand change to the old lady. For a high school boy like Kamisato, this actually felt stranger than something high-tech.
Kamisato alone made his way to the men’s bath.
“See you all later.”
“Oh, right. …Heh heh. But that ‘later’ might be a lot sooner than you think.”
A chill ran down his spine, but he decided to assume he was imagining things. The highly unique Kamisato Faction could be cruel in their words, but they were also quite caring. Ellen tended to take on the role of organizing things, so she held Patricia’s hand as she waved and started toward the women’s bath.
Inside the changing room, Kamisato found no other male customers. He did not hear any voices through the frosted glass divider either, so he may have been the only one there.
He bought shampoo and soap from a vending machine, removed his clothes, and entered the bath area. As he had expected, he was the only one in the large area, so he felt somehow lonely.
However, he was the kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere, so being alone did not mean he started jumping into or swimming through the tub.
He sat on the small bath chair and began diligently washing his body.
It was easy to lose track of time with the lively girls around, but when alone, he tended to get lost in thought.
For example, his thoughts turned to Kamijou Touma.
He had been interrupted by the incident involving those red and black creatures and the two girls, but he could not ignore that boy either. For his group, the Kamijou issue was the main task.
He looked down at his soapy right hand.
“Do you wish for a new world?”
As soon as he muttered those words, everything vanished.
He thought quietly while narrowing his eyes at the clean hand that appeared as the soap bubbles disappeared.
He would find the answer.
He would make sure of it.
He then looked at himself in the mirror on the wall and he sighed.
(That’s more skinny than normal. I might be in trouble if I don’t start working out a little.)
How exactly would he would be in trouble?
After some thought, he realized something unpleasant was rising in his chest.
I’m not doing any of this because I want to.
He said that so often that it was losing all meaning and becoming a catch phrase, but it nearly escaped his lips again.
“…Eh heh heh.”
“Oh, what’s with the serious look in front of the mirror? You’re quite the narcissist when you’re alone, Kamisato-san. …H-huh? I can’t see. Ahhh!! Why are my glasses fogging up now!? Don’t tell me it’s because I switched to my cheap spares after the lenses broke earlier!!!”
Kamisato turned toward the absurd voice. As a modern teenager, he was unfamiliar with the exact layout of a bathhouse, but it seemed the dividing wall between the men’s and women’s baths did not reach the ceiling, leaving a gap at the top. The pervert with fogged-up glasses was poking her head out from there.
Being a girl has its advantages, he thought with a distant look in his eyes.
If the roles were reversed, he would likely have had his head split open without a chance to explain himself.
He placed a hand on the side of his neck and asked a question.
“What are you doing?”
“Eh heh heh. I sent out some cable sensor roots, so I already know there aren’t any customers besides us. And even if someone else tries to approach, I set them to automatically intercept, so we’re safe. That means we don’t need to worry about the distinction between men’s and women’s baths. What I’m saying is, how about I wash your ba-…kyah!?”
Before she could finish speaking, the glasses girl was pulled back to the other side of the wall.
The sudden disappearance looked like someone had grabbed her leg.
Then Elza’s voice came from beyond the wall.
“Don’t worry, boss! I’ll protect your chastity! …Huh? Ellen’s missing. Did she slip away during the confusion!?”
“U-um, she went running out of the girl’s bath earlier without even putting on a towel.”
Just as a bad feeling came over Kamisato, the frosted glass door to the men’s bath slid open.
The girl stood boldly in the entrance.
She must have been loved by god because her long hair was plastered to her wet skin in a way that perfectly covered all the important bits. This was a new feeling. Could hair become clothing for mankind? A distant look filled Kamisato’s eyes as he recalled a saying as old as asking if a banana counted as a snack. He wanted to believe that thinking of that fruit after seeing this scene was not a metaphor for anything inappropriate.
Even now, Ellen hid her smile behind her hand in a misguided attempt at elegance.
“Hah hahhh!! Blame yourselves for not keeping up with me! Now, Kamisato-han, let us get to know each other a lot better!!”
“Damn her!! Now that she’s crossed that line, I’ll have to act as a human shield. I am the boss’s bodyguard, after all! I have no choice! That’s right, I have no choice!!”
“N-no fair!! I’m his bodyguard too, aren’t I!? So why was I the only one pulled away!?”
The situation was a complete mess.
Kamisato turned around and searched for an escape route, but the main entrance was blocked by Ellen while Elza and Claire were beginning to climb over the dividing wall like zombies.
He was completely cornered and Ellen slowly approached him with a smile on her face.
“You know what, Kamisato-han?”
“I think you should just place the blame on us and go along with this pink situation.”
What happened next will be described in a fairly abstract fashion.
—The Fisherman Shakes Off the Kraken’s Tentacles and Escapes by the Skin of His Teeth. (In the style of a Greek sculpture)
Left all alone, Patricia quickly washed herself, returned to the changing room, and put her clothes back on. Part of it was being culturally unaccustomed to letting others see her skin, but it also had to do with Sample Shoggoth living below her skin. It was being calm now, but whenever she saw her own white skin and the blood vessels showing through, she would remember that thing that was covered in indescribable objects reminiscent of eyeballs or suckers. She would remember the fist-sized mass and the branching tentacles.
She wanted to avoid looking at it even if that did not solve anything.
The smartwatch on her wrist displayed her heartrate and blood pressure. It had originally been a health management app, but anyone who did not know about her condition would assume it was broken and needed to be reinstalled.
With nothing to do, she stood in front of the fruit milk vending machine.
(Is it a mixture of milk and a few fruit juices? Come to think of it, Leivinia likes Cinderellas and Shirley Temples, doesn’t she?)
Her sister had bragged about them by calling them non-alcoholic cocktails, but they were really just mixed drinks. Seeing this reminded her of that sister.
The sentimental feeling caused her to reach out her hand, but it apparently did not take cards. She had plenty of black cards that could be used to pay tens or even hundreds of millions of yen, but she had no loose change.
A heavy depression filled her.
She saw no ill will in the conversations among the community built around Kamisato Kakeru.
They may have had their own kind of goodness and justice.
However, that did not mean it was directed toward her.
She quietly placed her fist at the center of the down jacket covering her flat chest.
There was sweat on her bare forehead.
She hated the mere fact that this action had become a habit.
It felt the same as when a parasite spread its territory by manipulating a snail into being eaten by a bird.
It was an unbelievable sight.
Medicine had always had a grotesque and repulsive side if one looked only at the actions and ignored the intentions. Anesthetizing a patient, cutting them open, cutting out an organ, and placing in a new one was a “good” action when one knew it was saving a life.
But when viewed directly, it was hardly surprising that Kamijou felt sick to his stomach.
“Oh, was a lady’s bare skin too much for you?”
Birdway smiled and buttoned up her blouse. Her expression looked strained and it was likely due to more than just passing out. For one thing, what if it had not been an attack by Kamisato Kakeru that had caused her to pass out?
“And while I’m talking about having her eat this organ, there’s more to it than that.”
She replaced the large brooch and put on a nonchalant look.
“Threads and sheets made from corn starch are used in medicine. When used to close or cover a wound, they attach to and fuse with the human body so they do not need to be later removed. I’m creating a new organ based on that material, so it really isn’t that different from some corn potage.”
“Also, African magic includes a way to escape a curse by making a doll of wheat to take your place as well as a way to curse someone to death by sacrificing a doll made of corn.”
Birdway nodded at Index’s explanation.
“The world is filled with stories of plants or grains arranged in human form to take someone’s place. In fact, dolls made of animal matter are a lot rarer and you can’t create a doll without adding some mystery into the mix. They act all high and might about their sacrificial ceremonies, but securing a full human body is a lot harder in this day and age. They’ve had to search out replacements, so they’ve developed methods of producing the same effect as the sacrifice by eating a doll made of wheat or corn. I’m using that for my own purposes.”
Doll-sized Othinus sighed.
“That would explain why the supposedly green animal skin is red. Are you trying to grow an apple in your chest?”
It was psychedelic and grotesque.
That optimal answer seemed to rob one’s willpower just by looking at it.
But at the same time, Birdway had done enough to keep Kamijou and the others from making any kind of complaint. If she created the organ and had Patricia eat it as planned, the entire problem would be solved.
It was just as Birdway had said in the beginning.
She was not going to ask for any help and she would move her game pieces around to resolve this personal problem on her own.
The small girl placed a hand on her throat.
“All this talking is making my throat hurt. Something sweet would be perfect. …Could you bring me a Shirley Temple? Hey, Mar-…!!”
She started calling someone out of habit, but she caught herself.
Kamijou, Index, Othinus, and Nephthys looked on in confusion as she cleared her throat.
Her face was a little red as she changed her target.
“Kamijou Touma, this is your home, so you have a duty to entertain your guests. You can find the instructions with a simple internet search for ‘Shirley Temple’, so don’t worry. A child could make one, so you have two minutes.”
“Oh, dear. It would seem spoiled little Birdway isn’t aware of the situation here. This room is currently only stocked with tap water, miso, and soy sauce! If you’re fine with some cold miso soup with no dashi, I could whip that up for you!!”
“This is even worse than I thought! This is unsuitable for human life!!”
“I completely agree, but let me add one more thing. If you hadn’t interrupted with your fight, the ingredients for our hotpot might not have gone to waste!!!!!”
This was only a petty but noisy argument, but Birdway was still the intimidating leader of the Dawn-Colored Sunlight, Europe’s largest Golden-style magic cabal. So if Kamijou Touma could drag that leader down to being a mere twelve-year-old girl, did he play the role of a joker?
Small Othinus sighed again and brown Nephthys shrugged.
“Since that solves your personal issue, can we get back to the Kamisato Kakeru issue?”
“I wish we could,” replied the fifteen centimeter Magic God with her arms crossed.
“The problem is Patricia,” explained Birdway with an irritated click of the tongue.
“Didn’t I tell you she doesn’t know about magic? Even if I know this is the perfect answer using everything the magic side has to offer, I can’t tell her that. And even if I could, I wouldn’t recommend it. It would drag her to our side more than necessary.”
Any supernatural phenomena would need to be explained scientifically.
No matter how distorted it might be, she did not want to show the world of magic to her sister.
“I see. Patricia doesn’t know how the magic works or how it would fix this, so from her point of view…’”
“How is she supposed to understand the logic of this cannibalization? Of course she’s going to think her sister is growing some strange tumor inside her body and then trying to force it into her mouth. Anyone would be horrified and I can’t figure out a way to convince her.”
Also, that black thing wanted Patricia’s body, so it would go on a rampage if anything tried to drive it out. That was what had led to the “sibling quarrel” Kamijou and Kamisato had been caught in the middle of. Not everything was going to go as planned.
“I’m calling this organ a fruit. Partly because I’m giving it nutrients so it will grow like a fruit, but also because it isn’t made for long-term storage. Once it finishes growing, it will rot and wither. Even if we cut it out and place in the fridge. If it’s wasted, there is no second chance. I need to make sure it grows, make sure I harvest it, and make sure it gets into my sister’s mouth. That’s the real problem here.”
“There’s one other thing I’m quite curious about and I would appreciate it if you answered me.” Birdway raised a finger. “Where did Patricia end up while I was unconscious?”
Kamijou looked over at Othinus who only shrugged.
“At the very least, she wasn’t at the scene of the battle…”
When she heard his answer, Birdway gave the look of someone suffering from a cavity in their back tooth.
“If she’s wandering around alone, that isn’t much of a problem.”
Next, it all gathered together on a single point.
“But if that Kamisato person collected her, this could be trouble. I don’t remember much, but there was one other person there and his right arm seemed to be as much of a joker as yours.”
“So Kamisato-han, do you prefer big or little boobs?”
Elsewhere in Academy City, someone else gave a completely different sort of serious expression.
After overcoming quite a lot, Kamisato had just finished the bath time that Claire and the others had insisted on.
He placed a hand on the side of his neck while speaking to a girl dragging a baggy lab coat behind her.
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re talking about what happened in the bath just now, boss! You had the most unconcerned look in your eyes as you swept the fogged-up glasses girl’s legs out from under her, sent her sliding along the wet floor to score a strike on Ellen, and finished it all off by grabbing my shoulders and throwing me!! How could you stay that calm? What do we have to do to get you all flustered and embarrassed!?”
“That’s right. You had such a varied paradise laid out before you, so shouldn’t one of us have gotten right in your strike zone?”
“Hmm?” said Kamisato as he tilted his head.
His neck would not crack.
He felt he needed to give some kind of answer, so he did.
“What does size matter as long as it fits with the rest of you?”
“Wah!! I don’t think this is a case of being too embarrassed to answer properly!! I really think he just doesn’t care!”
“You’ve gotta love someone who can speak excitedly about anything. I really do respect that. That’s what it means to be passionate.”
“Listen, boss, let’s start by discussing our base definitions. We can’t make these grow or shrink based on whether they ‘fit the rest of us’!!”
“What could be more important!?” lamented the glasses and delinquent girls, but Kamisato continued on regardless.
“I went along with your demand, so can we get down to business now?”
Yes, Kamisato had a lot to deal with.
Patricia’s incident needed attention and so did that of the other right hand user.
He was prepared to flip the switch and get to work, but…
“You’re right,” said Ellen. “How about we get something to eat?”
One hand was not going to cut it any longer, so he covered his face with both hands and curled up on the nighttime road.
He truly could not understand how these girls thought.
Long-haired baggy lab coat forensics girl Ellen tilted her head despite having been the cause.
“Huh? Did I say something that weird?”
“No, not really. …Oh, no. Is he feeling dizzy?”
“How could someone think of getting right to work when they just arrived in a new town and haven’t even tried to local food? Besides, we need to plan out what we’re going to do. Do you expect us to chat out here in the freezing December air? C’mon, we just took a bath.”
The only sensible one remaining, ten-year-old Patricia, only gently patted his shoulder.
Tears did not suit Kamisato Kakeru, so he gathered his strength and got back in the fight.
“What is this? Patricia’s incident is already straying from the main task, so when did this subquest get started? What’s next, defeating the Four Heavenly Kings who guard the barriers of the different continents and then gathering the seven crystals? Well, that’s easy. We just need to save up a hundred thousand platinum, buy our own ship, set sail for the small island at the end of the world, climb to the top of the universe tree, and ask the goddess there what to do.”
“I don’t know what’s got you so worked up, but seriously thinking about being reincarnated in another world is a serious warning sign. If something’s bothering you, you can always tell us.”
A distant look filled the normal high school boy’s eyes.
For some reason, he recalled a passage from a book about raising cats.
Give up on the idea of getting them to do anything or stop doing anything. Either learn to enjoy watching them do whatever they want, or do something to draw their attention away from whatever you don’t want them to do.
That thought caused something to escape him.
He placed a hand on the side of his neck and words flowed from his mouth like they were his very soul.
“There might not be anything I can do…”
A hand patted his shoulder several times.
It was Patricia.
“You can’t go crazy here. If you break, who will be there to give the sensible opinion? To be blunt, I’ve had enough of it myself.”
She was exactly right.
A normal high school boy could not just silently accept this absurdity.
He did not need to actually win the argument. He only had to keep the retorts coming.
He mustered up some courage and tried speaking again.
“I doubt this will help, but I’ll repeat myself. Kamisato Kakeru doesn’t know when to give up, so I’ll say it as many times as it takes. There’s a girl here who holds some great secret and is caught in the middle of some kind of incident. Let’s go. Let’s save her. Why can’t you get that into your heads? The quickest route is right in front of us, so I can’t imagine why we would choose to take a detour.”
But he did not get through to the girls.
Delinquent girl Elza shrugged with her wildly cut brown hair looking a bit like fox ears.
“You say that, but this is how the world works. When you reach a new land, you start with the local cuisine. How are you supposed to stay motivated without that?”
“And I can’t understand how someone could choose not to take a bath when there’s one right in front of them.”
They seemed to be operating under a different set of rules.
While boys handled everything in the “coolest” way, girls handled everything in the “cutest” way, so there was a fundamental discrepancy in their thought processes. Since he did not know their rules, it all had a lazy, shallow, bland, and unprincipled scent to it, but it was apparently an important part of their ignition process.
“Is this the monstrous product of the Yutori Education?”
“Hey, you’re our age, so don’t act like it doesn’t apply to you.”
“What years does that cover anyway? I feel like the answer has as wide a scope as the four thousand years of Chinese history.”
Realizing that persuading them with logic would be impossible, Kamisato gave up the fight. It was not that they had no logic to their argument; his logic and their logic were simply too incompatible. He decided that going with the flow would be faster than trying to install his own logic in each of them.
“So what do you want to eat?”
“Ehhhh!? That’s your territory since you arrived here ahead of us, boss!! Isn’t there…y’know, something good? An Academy City specialty or something that would give us a day’s worth of material for a blog!?”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking for… As you can see, Academy City is nothing but metal and concrete.”
“Now, now. You need to actually look, boss. That kind of thing doesn’t matter when it comes to regional specialties! Hakata has tonkotsu, Osaka has takoyaki, and Nagoya has…what does it have? Was it miso cutlets or Ogura toast? Regardless, it’s got something! You have to have seen it already, but you just ignored it!! C’mon, dig through your memories!!”
“Sorry, but this city has everything from the salt butter ramen of the north to the soki soba of the south.”
“Thaaaat’s borrrring!! Having everything is the same as having nothing of your own! It’s like the souvenir shops in Tokyo or Osaka train stations!!”
“How about you apologize to the station attendants?”
As Elza scratched at her head with both hands (which needlessly jiggled her breasts), gardening club member and glasses girl Claire tilted her head.
“Is there really nothing here? It’s all like a national convenience store chain?”
“You can apparently get dishes from over 190 different countries in District 4, but I haven’t heard anything about an Academy City original. They have normal fried eggs and toast for breakfast.”
“Although I think the meat is all cloned and the vegetables are all automatically grown in agriculture buildings. Not counting what some of the rich eat.”
Elza perked back up.
“I don’t think you know how important what you just said was!! That’s it, boss! That sounds as crazy as a burger made from a million worms! You couldn’t experience that in any other city!!”
“You’d eat a worm burger if it was local specialty, Elza?”
Ellen sounded surprised, but the delinquent girl did not seem to get the point.
“Eh? Why not? If you go to China, you’ve gotta try the scorpion skewer. If you go to Australia, you’ve gotta see what the moth larva ice cream tastes like. And if you go to Mexico, you’ve gotta order the cactus steak. Why would you go to a Japanese restaurant after traveling to the other side of the world?”
With that, their dinner plans settled on the incredibly vague plan of “anything’s fine”.
Even buying a convenience store meal or going to a family restaurant would be enough to see what cloned meat tasted like, but…
“Wouldn’t a supermarket still be open this late?
“Oh, nice choice. If the other option is a premade meal heated in the microwave and cooked a little in a frying pan, we should probably get Master Chef Elza to cook us up something good.”
“S-stop that!! I-I’m not all that good at cooking! I only do it if I absolutely have to!!”
Elza blushed while holding the bottle of coins between her arms. She apparently had trouble with anything that did not fit her delinquent image.
Kamisato finally recalled that the pointy-haired boy had been carrying some plastic bags.
“Claire, Elza, you’re exhausted from all this bickering, aren’t you? We don’t have to go all out today, so why not just go to some random gyudon shop and-…”
His collar was grabbed at Mach speed.
By who? By Ellen, Claire, and Elza at the same time.
The glasses girl in the shoulder-exposing dress spoke up with a smile.
“Some lovely high school girls are talking about home cooking in front of a boy. You can’t compare that to ‘some random’ gyudon shop. Do you understand? Try to realize what’s going on here, got it?☆”
Their aura had completely changed.
Kamisato Kakeru was hit by “Intimidate” and cannot move!!
Meanwhile, the girls quickly let go of his collar.
“Okay, let’s find a supermarket to search for some ingredients. Elza will take the main role and I’ll take the support role. Does that sound good?”
“D-don’t just decide what I’ll be doing!! But if you insist, I guess I’ve got no choice!!”
“Ehh? Wait, wait. Then what am I supposed to do?”
“Ellen, you’re in charge of switching on the rice maker. That’s an incredibly important job.”
With that, they entered a nearby supermarket.
The sales were all over and only the wilting leftovers remained in the fresh food section, so Ellen and Elza spoke back and forth as they looked around.
“So are we making Japanese, Western, or Chinese food?”
“I’m thinking we should make whatever we can make with this sad lineup that looks like an oil crisis just hit. Dammit, the place is about to close, but someone with some decent housewife skills bought up all the relatively decent stuff. And that rundown apartment’s gas range was pretty small, so I doubt it has much firepower. We need something easy to make, with a flavor we won’t get tired of, but that has at least a little surprise to it… A meat and vegetable combo would be good. …Maybe stuffed cabbage or stuffed bell pepper.”
That was when a groan reached them.
They turned around and found Patricia in her skintight jogging wear and down jacket. She was still keeping her silence despite supposedly being a part of the group.
She must have realized her mistake when they all turned her way, so she looked away and blushed a little.
“Oh, what’s the matter? Do you not like bell peppers?”
“Th-that isn’t it! I’m definitely not a picky eater at my age!!”
Even adults were picky eaters, but Patricia apparently saw things differently. She may have been a bit of a perfectionist when it came to the idea of being “grown up”.
“Don’t worry. Leave it to our Master Chef Elza and the battle with your pickiness will be blasted beyond the horizon by a single beam blast.”
“H-hey! How many times do I have to tell you I don’t like housework!! And doesn’t that make me sound kind of dangerous or massive!?”
“Which side are you going for, Elza? You don’t want to seem like a maiden but you don’t want to seem like a macho either, so I can’t tell what you want to be.”
The conversation log began scrolling downward again, so blonde forehead girl Patricia cut in before some weird assumptions were made about her.
“I said that isn’t it!! I’m not a picky eater!!”
“Oh? Then I can just use a raw bell pepper. Maybe I’ll wash one up and shove the whole thing in the middle of a salad.”
“Or if you want something healthy, I could throw five or ten of them in a blender to make a bell pepper smoothie. 100% pure vegetable juice! It might taste bad, but don’t worry!!”
Elza took pity on the tearfully trembling girl, so she let out a gentle sigh.
“Listen, little girl, I’m going to make a prediction. You’re going to overcome one of your dislikes today. I’ll make sure of it. I’ll rewrite your definition of bell peppers.”
“Wh-why are you trying to sound so cool? Besides, I’m not a picky-…”
Patricia began waving her arms, but then she realized something.
At some point, she had joined their conversation.
She was no longer just watching the conversation log scroll by; her own name was included.
She had been the one to speak those lines, but she still tilted her head.
Not even she knew how to define this.
Leivinia Birdway stood out on the dorm room’s balcony.
The dorm buildings were gathered together like bookcases in a library or shoe lockers at a school and she stared at the moon in the sliver of the night sky visible between those buildings.
The blue sheet was pulled back and Kamijou stepped out.
He wrapped his arms around himself to fight the cold and let out a white breath.
“What are you doing, Birdway?”
“Can’t I at least enjoy the moonlight in peace?”
“I get that you’re sulking over the lack of a hotpot, but come on in. Watching you is enough to make me feel like I’m freezing.”
“You really are-…! No, never mind. Complaining isn’t going to change anything about you.”
At any rate, Kamijou and Birdway returned to the room. It was still cold thanks to the broken window, but it was better than the exposed balcony.
Inside the room, bandage-covered Nephthys still had her sensual chocolate-colored body sprawled out on the ground as she crawled over and messed with the TV remote. Index and Othinus were watching in silence.
However, Kamijou called out to stop her.
“Wait, Nephthys! The variety shows on weekday nights are always…!”
“…food reports, cooking contest quizzes, and other shows meant to draw the attention of housewives!!”
It was too late.
The flat screen was filled with an entire chicken. And it was fried. It was completely fried. The golden breading produced crunching and sizzling sounds as small drops of oil burst out, steam gently rose against the black background, and the camera slowly rotated around it.
“The Christmas season is here, so the sales of chicken are on the rise! Yes, we’re here at Maruichi, known for frying up an entire chicken in the fiercely fought food wars of District 15. You might think Christmas means turkey, but chicken and other birds are gaining ground and the rush of preorders has forced them to build up some emergency lines.”
The first to burst into tears was Index.
She held a hand to her mouth, collapsed to the side, and began wailing.
“Index, I know how you feel, but let’s try to maintain our ability to communicate!!”
As Kamijou tried to calm the girl, fifteen centimeter Othinus pressed her index finger against her temple.
“So this is what the Japanese idiom ‘poison for the eyes’ refers to. I thought you needed the thought-process of Japan’s culture of shame to understand it, but now I understand all too well.”
“Yes. As a god, receiving insufficient offerings is not exactly fun.”
“C’mon, can’t we start seriously worrying about dinner now?” asked Kamijou. “I know Birdway is in a lot of trouble, but doesn’t that mean we need to be able to bring our A game!? …Ah.”
Meanwhile Birdway gave an exasperated sigh.
“The amateur high school boy is one thing, but the rest of you are a grimoire library or a Magic God that was willing to kill herself for her ceremony. I’m pretty sure you can control your autonomic nerves and thus control your digestive system.”
“What? Why do you look so lost in thought?”
Birdway looked to Kamijou in confusion as he silently looked down.
More specifically, he looked down at the hand on his pants pocket.
“This is…bad. I was hoping to save us, but I might have just thrown new fuel on the fire. However, even if it might help us get through this, keeping quiet isn’t my style.”
“Get to the point.”
“What if… Hypothetically now, Birdway.”
Kamijou Touma began speaking in a heavy, heavy voice as he slowly slid a hand into his pocket.
“What if the vacuum sealed fish sausage I got while trading with my classmates at an early lunch just so happened to still be right here in-…”
He was not allowed to finish.
The girls rushed forward to devour Kamijou Touma’s sausage.
Now, it’s time to eat!!
But to make a long story short, Elza felt utterly disgraced after all her boasting.
After putting on the apron with practiced ease (while not wanting anyone to notice how practiced it was), the large breasted (she also did not want anyone to notice how large they were) delinquent girl had yet to complete a single dish in the rundown apartment’s kitchen.
“Who keeps sneaking ‘secret ingredients’ in the second I turn my baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!?”
As Demon Lord Elza’s eyes glowed red and her fox ear hair bristled, the first to avert her gaze was baggy lab coat forensics girl Ellen. Sweat poured down her face as she spoke up in a trembling voice.
“I-I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Liar!! Who else could it be!? Look, this thing coming out of the stuffed cabbage pot deserves a mosaic over it! What kind of chemical flavoring did you add to make that happen!? Is it some new weapon meant for the roaches that have grown resistant in the city!?”
“Come now. That isn’t what this is at all! I thought through it all logically, put together the chemical formulas, and mixed it all up according to the equations, so it has to taste good!!”
“Don’t bring hexagonal chemical formulas into the kitcheeeeeeeeeeen!! We’re not trying to make mustard gas in this poooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot!!”
Glasses girl Claire was collapsed by the wall in the cramped room. One shoulder strap of her apron-like white dress had slipped down and the giant tropical flowers growing from her head seemed to have wilted.
“Ah, it feels like I just had harsh undiluted American weed killer dumped over my head… How about we go somewhere else while we let the place air out? Leaving without locking up is dangerous, but the window was broken in the first place.”
“If a burglar sticks his hand in the pot, we might get a reward for public service. Talk about easy.”
“Are you even listening!? Just like with quantum theory, the idea is already complete. It’s just that the experiment to reproduce it inside the device happened to fail this time! It isn’t that I have no sense of taste!!”
“You need to rethink your idea from the second you started bringing up quantum theory where the result changes based on whether it’s being observed or not!!”
And so they made an emergency evacuation.
The residents of the rundown apartment were drawn out by the sudden stench, so Kamisato Kakeru bowed down and explained the situation. Among them, an extremely short female teacher smiled bitterly and helped out, so they avoided making the news and ending up as a trending topic on websites.
Once he was finally freed from his apology press conference, Kamisato Kakeru breathed a heavy sigh.
“To sum up, this will all be over if we leave the room for about two hours. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have to eat out tonight.”
“That teacher sure was amazing. The instant she saw Ellen’s cooking, she began searching for its weakness and sealed it off with that stuff that solidifies tempura oil. I could tell she wasn’t your average person as soon as she faced that mosaic-deserving mass without running away.”
“Huh? Does this mean I’m going to be teased about this for two or three days straight?”
“More importantly, where should we go? There are a lot of options for eating out.”
They began thinking, but the first to hesitantly raise her hand and open her mouth was Patricia.
“I’m fine with anything, but I would like to try Japanese ramen. The last time I was here I didn’t really have time.”
Kamisato thought to himself that “Japanese ramen” had an interesting ring to it. That may have been how Westerners saw it. He remembered seeing an online news article about ramen encroaching on the territory of the previous Three Sacred Treasures that were sushi, tempura, and sukiyaki. Of course, anything in Japan was thoroughly localized for Japanese people, so there were all sorts of options that had never existed originally, much like eating pickled vegetables with curry rice. Regardless, it was an odd turn of a phrase in a number of ways.
And at the same time…
(Will the girl way of thinking allow ramen at night?)
Kamisato had no issue with heading out to a ramen place, but would Ellen and Claire be willing? He was honestly quite worried about that. He could imagine them saying they would only drink weird-colored mail-order smoothies after eight at night.
“Hm, not a bad idea.”
“Yes, I think it takes our situation into account quite well.”
Kamisato’s head filled with question marks, so he tried asking about it.
“Um, are you sure? Ramen is nothing but carbohydrates and the soup is full of oil. I mean, from the perspective of girls who never take down the ‘dieting’ sign year-round…”
“It’s fine right now.”
Elza puffed out her large chest as she readily answered.
She waved a hand and pointed toward him.
“After all, you’re with us right now.”
Kamisato left with the others, even though he still did not understand the situation.
With five people in all, they were too much of a crowd for a street cart, so they decided to visit a ramen shop a bit off the main road where they would not be seen from outside. It was even tucked away enough that it had not been caught in the midair breakup of the comet that day, so its windows were actually intact. The heated air inside felt like a true luxury.
There was no android waitress to see them to their seats and no holographic images of the food floating in midair. It was a perfectly normal ramen shop.
Once they settled down at their table, Elza toyed with her fox ear hair while answering the question that had been on Kamisato’s mind.
“A lot of girls like ramen, but when it’s just us…well, that information hasn’t spread very far and it isn’t very well known. …Simply put, it’s hard for a group of girls to go to a stubborn old man’s ramen shop.”
“But this time, we’ve got you with us, boss. As a boy, you can shield us while we try out some places we wouldn’t normally be able to try. We can visit the restaurants we were interested in but seemed to have too high a barrier.”
Kamisato guessed it was the opposite of a stern middle-aged man asking a girl to go with him because he could not exactly go out and eat a parfait on his own.
A cheap fifteen inch TV was placed in the perfect spot to claim “the customers are only catching glimpses of the owner’s TV and thus it isn’t an in-restaurant broadcast”. It was apparently tuned to an extra-long two hour drama. A college boy with no real interests or skills was (for some reason) being served by several rather high-spec girls and he was using their powers like seven tools to defeat a crooked job-hunting official in a revenge story. The protagonist was played by Hitotsui Hajime. Given the crazy setting and pop culture jokes, it was probably an adaptation of a manga that was being used to raise the popularity of some of the actors.
Kamisato Kakeru narrowed his eyes a little and sighed.
“Everyone loves those simplistic things, don’t they?”
“I don’t want to hear that from you.”
“I don’t want to hear that from you.”
“I don’t want to hear that from you.”
He sighed again at the united retort.
However, that peaceful time did not last long.
Ellen and Claire’s argument over the menu soon spread to everyone else.
“What are you doing?”
“You want to know what she said? She said she was going to order salt ramen for all of us! Is she crazy!? I will only accept seafood soy sauce ramen!!”
“Ehhh? Salt ramen is obviously the ticket to happiness. Claire, I’m pretty sure you’re ruining your life with that terrible choice.”
“Ellen you asshole!! Let’s take this outside!!”
As a Westerner, Patricia spat out the ice water in her mouth.
While patting Patricia’s back to help stop her choking, Kamisato scolded the glasses girl and told her not to shout English swearwords in a restaurant.
Then he spoke to someone else.
Specifically, the delinquent girl who was resting her elbows and large breasts on the table.
“What about you, Elza?”
“Ehh? Arguing over what kind of ramen is best is like a religious debate. You’re never going to get an answer. But as a personal opinion, I’d definitely go with miso ramen.”
“Pft. Are you stupid?”
“Pft. Are you stupid?”
When Ellen and Claire spat out their comment in perfect stereo, Elza joined the scuffle. Meanwhile, Kamisato stared at the menu with a bitter look on his face. There was ample variety, which actually gave no sense of focus. This was clearly not a restaurant that had worked twenty years to perfect its soup. There was soup curry ramen and tomato cheese ramen on the list, so he could feel a history of wandering indecisiveness oozing from the menu.
He handed the menu over to Patricia and waited for a while.
Once he decided it was time, he spoke up.
“Okay, let’s place our orders. Everyone just say what you want.”
A male waiter with a bandanna around his head walked over and an avalanche of voices immediately followed.
“Salt! I want salt!!”
“Soy sauce please! And with seafood!!”
“One miso ramen. Hold the pork, but add in a bunch of green onions instead.”
“Oh, then I’ll have the tonkotsu.”
“Oh, then I’ll have the tonkotsu.”
Kamisato looked over at Patricia in confusion and found her just as surprised.
It looked like those two were the only ones whose tastes matched.
However, that was not the end of the conversation.
Claire and Elza started making a racket in order to recover.
“My tastes…aren’t the same as Kamisato-san’s!? I-I can’t have that. The foundation of keeping a boyfriend or girlfriend is conquering their stomach. A difference in food preference doesn’t look like much at first, but you can’t ignore it since it builds up turn by turn like poison damage. B-but I can still recover. This wasn’t anything as critical as a blood type horoscope! Right, Kamisato-san!?”
“C’mon, blood type horoscopes have no basis in fact whatsoever. And dividing the six or seven billion people on this planet into four categories sounds even more dangerous than discriminating based on race. But anyway, I’ve still got a chance here! We may have ordered different flavors, but that means we can try each other’s dish, give each other bites, and mix some together on the plate!!”
“Okay, okay. I’ll take control of that. Kamisato-han’s plate is under my management. If you want to flirt with him, then take a number. You’ll need my permission first.”
“Damn you, Ellen!!”
“Oh, is it time for a girl’s battle below the table while we smile at Kamisato-san above the table? Wait, who just stomped on my toes!? Elza, you son of a bitch, you betrayed me already!? Go kiss the devil’s ass, you witch!!”
“Calm down, Claire. Why don’t you cool down with some ice water?”
“Thank-…Ah, that was a close one! That’s the jar of garlic, Ellen!”
“Peh heh heh. Maybe I should have dumped it over your head to make sure those flowers got some.”
As she watched the girls arguing, Patricia felt like something was not quite right.
It was a sort of unease like they were freaking out over a supposed photo of a ghost but had not compared notes on where in the photo the ghost was.
She took a mental step back and observed the commotion at the table again.
She finally caught on.
Kamisato Kakeru was smiling happily while surrounded by all those girls.
But to Patricia’s eyes, his smile looked somehow twisted in pain.
That golden retriever was a man who understood romance.
As such, Kihara Noukan’s actions could not always be explained using logic and efficiency.
His walk through the nighttime streets and to a convenience store near a certain elementary school may have been one such example.
The convenience store’s windows were broken and covered with blue plastic sheets, but that was not because of any kind of harassment. The midair explosion of the Arrowhead Comet had shattered most of the glass throughout Academy City.
(Perhaps I should have used a smarter method.)
A slightly bitter feeling rose within him, but the middle-aged store manager, who was sweeping up leaves near the entrance, immediately grinned when he saw the large dog with no owner.
“Oh, sensei, out of cigars?”
“Yes, the Cuban ones I have you order for me.”
“You go through them fast. Are you sure you aren’t smoking too much?”
“We don’t have any standard values for dogs. No one has bothered to take any statistics.”
“Based on body size, I would assume you could handle less than a human.”
Speaking with a dog was an odd thing to do, but the convenience store manager did not seem to mind.
“Has anything odd happened around here?”
“No, not really. I haven’t seen any kids using their clothes to hide more of their skin than necessary, kids who have been ignoring a cavity for too long, or kids who have been wearing the same clothes for over a week without washing them. The kids are sharing some shocking rumors, but innocent malice is impossible to avoid with kids that age. And they didn’t seem to be attacking anyone in particular, so it isn’t a problem.”
This had not originally been the golden retriever’s habit.
It was a different Kihara who had built up a network of adults who could pick up on the SOS signals in casual conversations of children where they gathered to enjoy their allowance: convenience stores, department stores, discount stores, etc.
That Kihara was Kihara Kagun.
Known as the “worst” Kihara, he had gotten involved in the realm of human lives and souls.
He ranked at the top of even the Kiharas when it came to the number of people he had killed, but his ultimate record dropped back to zero because he had resuscitated them all with 100% accuracy.
Even if he had worked in a different field, he had found an answer that Noukan had not, seen something there, and sealed it all away.
What he had done afterwards was unknown, but he had ultimately become a teacher at that elementary school.
Whatever had led up to that, Noukan doubted it could be explained using logic and efficiency.
He too had been a rare Kihara who knew of sentimentality.
“You’ve changed too, sensei.”
“Yes. How should I put it? You’re mellower.”
“Those who understand romance are blessed with opportunities to learn what is hidden in others’ hearts. And that affects both sides of the equation. But to be honest, I wish I could have known him better.”
“Kihara-sensei was an amazing person.”
“Yes, he was.”
If a dog could have formed expressions, the golden retriever would surely have been smiling.
It would have been a happy yet somehow sad smile.
“Amazing” was a clichéd word, but Kihara Noukan knew it contained infinite space between the lines. And the convenience store manager was also quite something to have readily agreed to help a certain teacher protect the children despite knowing that teacher was a Kihara.
It did not matter if he could fight or not.
His true strength lay somewhere else.
“But he was also a difficult person to be around,” said Noukan. “There were always children running around him and they would always interrupt our conversations. They would step on my tail, pull on my ears and tongue, or even try to ride me. One in particular, a Kumokawa…yes, Kumokawa Maria-kun was something like my arch-nemesis. Just thinking back to those times is enough for my tail to tuck between my hind legs.”
“You say that, but you never uttered a peep as you put up with them tugging on your fur or rubbing your belly.”
“They were far too reckless. If I were not a gentleman, I might have bitten them.”
That Kumokawa Maria was no longer in elementary school.
In fact, she had apparently grown up enough to watch over Kihara Kagun’s final moments and continue moving forward.
For that reason, this nighttime walk was meaningless.
The golden retriever continued with his task even after all of the humans had left the stage.
But the fact remained that he could not bring it to an end.
“I’ll be going now.”
“I see. …Hey, sensei?”
Just as the large dog started to leave with a small package on his back, the store manager called out to him. The golden retriever looked back and spoke with his artificial voice.
“What is it?”
“I’m sure you have your own path to walk down, but make no mistake. Your framework of being a Kihara or whatever else isn’t what truly matters. What matters is what’s in your heart. That passionate current that tells you what you want to do will never lie to you.”
“And Kagun-sensei has already shown us just how great a power it can give us. Isn’t that right, sensei? He cast aside being a Kihara, protected the smiles of so many children, and apparently even settled his grudge with Kihara Byouri in Baggage City. That’s what matters, not what you’re born as or what group you belong to. So, sensei, you don’t have to act so tough.”
The dog made no rebuttal.
He accepted what the manager said as meaningful.
He was a man who understood romance and the original seven had given a mere dog that sensibility.
“If you’re ever tired of your role as a Kihara, you can come to my place. You might think I’m talking big for a convenience store’s hired manager, but I’m always living right alongside everyone’s lives. Kagun-sensei was the same. Everyone has worries and there’s nothing shameful about admitting it. People aren’t made well enough to come up with the perfect answer the first time around. I doubt you’re an exception, sensei, so there’s no need for you to insist on continuing to be a ‘sensei’. If it gets too painful, you can always set down that burden at least for a while.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
After giving his respectful thanks, the golden retriever left the convenience store.
He looked up into the night sky.
With all the lights of the city, there were almost no stars visible in that dark canopy. Only the round moon shined there.
To repeat, he was a man who understood romance.
And so he spat out the next words based on that sensibility, not based on logic or efficiency.
“What an unpleasant light. It feels like an ill omen.”
After taking a bath and eating dinner, it had grown quite late.
If this were an RPG, this was when they had walked from one end of the world to another, found a continent they could not reach, acquired a ship, switched to an airship, defeated the Four Heavenly Kings, flown to the alternate world, gathered the seven crystals, and broken the barrier around the demon king’s castle.
So what were they to do now?
As soon as they returned to the rundown apartment (after checking to make sure it was safe), fox ear delinquent girl Elza spoke up.
“Ahh, I’m exhausted. We should probably get to sleep for tonight, don’t you think?”
In that instant, the tiny person inside Kamisato Kakeru’s head peeled away all of its skin and transformed into a muscular demon.
He completely forgot to place a hand on the side of his neck and his tone dropped a pitch.
“Oh, no. Kamisato-san just entered a wonderful but embarrassing punishment mode. What landmine did you step on, Elza? But I can’t help but feel jeal- bgyah!? Kamisa- wait, don’t pluck those! Please don’t pull out my head flowers!!”
After her unwanted interruption, Claire was left with tears in her eyes. She did not seem to realize that raising her arms to protect her head left her underarms and chest entirely defenseless thanks to her dress.
Kamisato got back on topic.
“I have one question here. What magical space is this? Have we been thrown into the kind of space-time that girls use to always be starting their diet ‘tomorrow’?”
But Elza was unfazed.
“Who cares? Kamijou Touma isn’t about to run away from Academy City and disappear in the next few days. And as for Patricia? Her problem isn’t going to cause the world to explode if it isn’t resolved before midnight, right? If we can do it tomorrow, then let’s put it off. After warming myself in the bath and filling my stomach, I’ve been feeling pretty sleepy.”
That “who cares” was the problem.
That crude dismissal was common among girls these days.
Kamisato’s mouth flapped opened and closed as he turned to Ellen and Claire. He used silent eye contact to search for a reliable comrade to help him out, but…
“Th-that’s right. I’m feeling tired too. The weariness is really hitting me now. …Although I think that might have more to do with you plucking out my flowers just now.”
“Either way, we’re mostly waiting for the results of the analysis running in my container lab. Plus, I’m really not the type for direct combat, so go off and do that on your own if you want. I’ll take care of things here.”
Majority rule could be a frightening thing.
No matter how wrong the answer was, it ended up looking like the standard way of the world. And with those girls holding three of the votes, Kamisato and Patricia had no chance.
“Okay, let’s take turns brushing our teeth and then lay out the futons. The window’s broken, so be careful not to catch cold. …Oh, no!? What are we supposed to do! How do we lay out five futons in a 4.5 tatami room!?”
“Yeah, there isn’t room for one of them.”
“Someone’s obviously going to have to sleep in someone else’s futon.”
They tried a variety of layouts, but eventually ended up laying four futons along the outer edges like a windmill or shuriken.
This of course did not leave enough room for the fifth one, but…
“Did you know that the 4.5 tatami room has its origins in Ginkaku-ji’s tea room? It wasn’t originally a room for poor people. Instead, it was for the rich who enjoyed condensing all of their luxury into a small space.”
“But by arranging the four tatami mats like a shuriken, the half tatami space in the middle was used to place the tea set. That way everyone could sit around the room and enjoy the tea.”
“I already knew that.”
Kamisato still looked pale as he stopped them.
“But why am I in the center space? All I can do there is curl up in the fetal position.”
“Um, isn’t that because you lost the game of rock-paper-scissors?”
He could hardly argue against that, so covering his face in his hands and sobbing was his only option.
Baggy lab coat girl Ellen covered her mouth with a sleeve and laughed.
“Heh heh heh. If it’s too cramped for you, feel free to join me in my futon. I always have space for you in there!!”
“Stop being so blunt. The boss doesn’t know how to react.”
“Oh, and if Elza tosses and turns too much, come take refuge in my futon. If you don’t have a shelter prepared, you’ll be in trouble.”
“I-I do not toss and turn that much!!”
Elza blushed and argued back, but no one was listening. The disinterested mood hanging in the room was enough to know who was telling the truth.
Before long, it was time for lights out.
Patricia’s situation had not changed and he had yet to contact Kamijou Touma again. He had plenty of problems, but there was little he could do when the girls refused to move. For the time being, he went along with it all.
And after about an hour, a small form got up in the dark room.
It was Patricia who had not gotten a wink of sleep.
In her short time with them, she had started conversing with them a little and she had learned something.
They were not especially bad people.
That did not mean they would not fight with someone, but she at least knew they had not initially approached her in order to harm her. They had their own objective and her problem did not fit into that objective, but they had gone out of their way to interfere in her issues. In other words, they were kind people.
(That won’t make it in time.)
Elza had claimed Patricia’s problem would not cause the world to explode if it was not resolved before midnight, but it might as well have meant that for Patricia.
She could not afford any lost time. A human life was all or nothing. If she was the slightest bit too late – an hour, a minute, or even a second – she would lose everything.
And once that happened, the world might as well have exploded as far as she was concerned.
This was the pillar that supported her life and she could not allow it to be broken.
She would not insist that someone help her. She had started this on her own to protect her own life.
So she slowly and silently got up and tiptoed through the dark room while being careful not to step on the boy and girls tangled up on the floor.
She put on her shoes and faced the locked front door.
For some reason, she looked back just once.
Had she gained something from her interaction with them that made her hesitant to leave?
She decided the answer was yes.
It had all been too sudden and they had lacked delicacy and words and actions, but they were not bad people. She had shared a bath with those girls and she had been able to eat at a ramen shop she would have had difficulty visiting otherwise. Once she removed her initial caution, they were all valuable memories that she would never have experienced in England.
She had not accepted them, she had shaken them off, and she had ignored how they worried for her regardless of their own interests and how they had welcomed her in with good will. But she had done so because of her own selfishness.
She could not trust them.
They had tried to help her relax and to get closer to her, but she had ignored their efforts, justified her actions with her lack of trust, and taken advantage of her weakness by playing the victim and gaining an unlimited forgiveness for her actions.
She was aware of that, but she still shook herself free of it and slowly unlocked the front door.
She then slipped outside into that lonely world.
She left the rundown apartment and entered the nighttime city. Even with that strange black bubbling thing inside her, she thought of who mattered most to her and who she wanted to protect no matter what. That other girl had currently turned into a different monster based on a set of rules Patricia did not understand.
She did not know where that other girl was.
Nor did she know how to draw her out.
Patricia had been the one on the run because she had wanted to stay as far away from what her sister believed to be a disturbing solution to the problem.
But during their clash today, she had realized something.
Simply running away would not end this. She would be too late.
Her sister’s limit was much closer than she had thought. If she ran away, her sister would not give up and remove that thing. She did not know what kind of heretical science paper her sister had found that in, but that tumor-like thing would press on her sister’s organs within a day’s time and possibly even kill her. She had not performed an accurate ultrasound echo, but the rate of growth visible from the outside was enough to know it was straining her sister’s skeleton.
So she had to find her. She had to take action. There were probably only a few hours left until the tumor’s growth overwhelmed her sister’s skeleton and “the world exploded”.
She spoke the name aloud without realizing it.
She had no clues. She did not even have the first hint to take the proper steps toward approaching the answer. Still, she looked all around her as if searching through the grass.
She searched with her feet.
She seemed to be searching for a ring thrown into the dark sea.
This was a never-ending open world.
No linear path was prepared for her, she could take as many shortcuts as she wanted, she could wander as much as she wanted, and infinite possibilities were contained within. If she made the wrong kind of effort or chose the wrong initial direction, even continuing for one million years would not produce any results.
There was nothing she could do.
And as clever as she was, the worst possible prediction began to appear somewhere in her heart. She became aware of it, grew to hate it, sealed it away, and resumed moving her feet while clinging to the temporary hope inside her.
Before long, a dull throbbing pain filled the soles of her feet.
Her breathing grew shallow and her chest felt tight.
Impatience and pain spiraled through her head.
Her smartwatch began emitting a warning color.
That health management app monitored her heartrate and blood pressure, but they had been a complete mess already.
However, a wicked side of her whispered in a corner of her heart. Part of her was rejoicing as the number of hurdles grew. Haven’t you done enough? it asked. You did your best and you let everyone in the city see how hard you worked despite how powerless you are. So give up. You left some scars and marks behind, so just give up. Do that and you can enter that sweet position of the “poor little girl” who wanted to protect something precious, did her very best, yet couldn’t quite manage it. You’ll get a special position as the person everyone unconditionally gives treats to, pities, and always gives top priority to.
That was the joy of being weak.
It was the special privilege of the weakest.
She shook her head, faced forward again, and continued walking to every place she could think of.
As her weariness grew, as her pain grew, and as she continued to not find her sister in place after place, that part of herself began whispering again. It asked her if she truly, truly intended to save her sister. Was any of this effort real? Or was she simply making a show of trying to save her so that others would praise her for being so heroic?
She clenched her teeth, let out a rough breath, and leaned against the pillar of a wind turbine.
Her legs were exhausted and she had trouble walking, not to mention running.
And yet, she still had not searched even a quarter of District 7. That was hardly surprising once she thought about it. Academy City had 2.3 million residents and that number only increased when adding in travelers and business visitors. How far was a one-girl search even going to get her? That was not even enough to find a cellphone dropped in a small shopping district.
You knew that from the beginning, didn’t you?
Wearing yourself out, hanging your head, and clenching your teeth while leaning against that pillar is all a part of the lovely show you’re putting on, isn’t it?
You don’t really care about your sister, do you?
You’re afraid of being seen as the wrongdoer who abandoned her sister, so you want to be seen as the victim who was crushed by remorse.
“No! No!! Nooooo!!!!!!”
Patricia collapsed to the base of the pillar while facing the weakness in her own heart. Had she truly run out of strength or was she putting on a heroic show now that she had decided she could give up? Not even she knew anymore.
There was nothing she could do.
She could only win the participation award or the effort award now.
Besides, what could she even do if she was miraculously reunited with her sister?
Did she have a way to remove that “bomb” in her sister’s chest?
She could not even stand up, so she sobbed in a ball on the ground.
If she had been a little dumber, she might have continued her useless effort without any of these idle thoughts and she might have been satisfied with that.
If she had been a little smarter, she might have immediately located her sister and extracted that “bomb” in a way no one else in the world had ever considered.
But she did not have what it took.
“What, are you not going to struggle any longer?”
Still on the ground, Patricia looked up toward that voice.
Someone had arrived to make up for what she lacked.
He was the kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere.
He was someone so bland he seemed to blend into the background.
He was Kamisato Kakeru.
“How long…have you been here?”
“How long indeed.”
“How much…do you know?”
“How much indeed.”
Had it all been playing out according to his wishes? Had their trip to the bath and to get something to eat been a plan to incite Patricia to movement with the time limit approaching? Had forcing five futons into a 4.5 tatami room been a way to make sure a member of his group would notice if she did take action? And had he continued observing her after setting things up so she would reveal the truth of her problem that she was not telling them?
Or had he truly not given it any thought? Had the trip to the bath and to get something to eat simply been inconsiderate actions? Had forcing five futons into a 4.5 tatami room been a pure coincidence and was he only a pathetic boy who was completely whipped by the girls around him? Had his appearance here been yet another coincidence with no real meaning behind it?
It could have been either and it did not really matter which it was.
What mattered was the fact that Kamisato Kakeru was here.
“Didn’t I tell you that we would investigate if you didn’t tell us? If you had told us, you could have chosen the extent of the truth and only told us what we needed to know, but when it comes to us investigating, you can’t choose the truth we learn. So we saw it. You have a tendency to passively go along with anything, but we saw the impatience that made you leave those preset rails and take action.”
“What are you going to do? Continue like this? You have two simple commands: tell us or have us investigate. Ellen has a personal lab and her analysis of that black thing that came from you is already underway. I’m sure a few more truths will present themselves in the short time until that’s complete. Are you sure you want that? As I said, when we investigate, you can’t choose the extent of the truth we learn. If you hide this, something more than what you fear will show up. Are you sure you want that?”
Patricia thought about what he meant.
And she was indeed clever.
“No, I suppose not. I haven’t been doing this long, but I hear that a lot.”
“That doesn’t really give me an option. Whether I say yes or no doesn’t matter. Once you say you’ll save me, you saving me is the only option left. I’m stuck on those rails no matter how much I complain that you’re meddling or that I don’t want your help.”
He was not the kind of person that started worrying after he said he would save someone.
By the time he said he would save someone, he had already set everything up. Even if she tried to run away, grew defiant, pushed him away, or whatever else, he had sealed off all options except for sitting idly by as he saved her.
Even if she refused to explain her situation or ran off into the night, he was sure to reach her regardless. He would approach the core of the issue via a different route than her and step nonchalantly onto the final stage.
And the normal high school boy who made that sound like a forgone conclusion said more.
“But is that a problem?”
He gave no excuses when it came to saving people.
If he did provide any alternative explanations for what he was doing, they were sure to be lies.
And when it came to saving people, any amount of greed was permissible. No matter how unfair, despicable, or cheap his methods were, it was all forgiven by the final result.
Forgiven by who?
That went without saying.
He would proudly say that he forgave himself.
“I have this thing in my body.”
Still sitting on the ground, Patricia spoke up in resignation.
Inside her young yet well-formed face, something seemed to wriggle and tug at the soft skin of her cheek. It was surfacing from its dive. It looked like a slithering snake or a mollusk tentacle. It was covered in tons of bubbling protrusions that resembled eyeballs or suckers glowing like wet glow-in-the-dark paint. It permeated her neck, her collarbone, and within her clothing.
Even through her thick down jacket, an ominous pulsation was visible at the center of her flat chest.
“It’s a parasite from the Antarctic. It’s an unknown type that dissolves the fat of the human body and slips inside that empty space. It’s not very contagious, but it’s extremely lethal. If it were forcibly removed, I would definitely die.”
“My sister is trying to do something about this. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a repellent or something to transplant. I don’t know how it works or even if it would really work, but I can’t rely on my sister’s method.”
“Because you would die if it failed?”
Patricia shook her head.
“Because even if it worked perfectly, my sister would die as soon as the method was complete. I mentioned a risk before, but…the odds of her death are 100%. It’s certain.”
“She holds a bomb in her chest. It’s like a tumor…but not really. From what I’ve seen with long-distance ultrasound scans, its rate of growth is highly abnormal. At this rate, it will place pressure on her heart and lungs…no, it could even cause her to burst open. The limit is…probably before tomorrow morning. And she doesn’t seem to care.”
“I see.” Kamisato placed a hand on his chin. “So saving you means your sister’s death, but saving your sister leaves no way to heal you.”
“You believe me?”
“It honestly doesn’t matter if what you just told me is true or not. Either way, we will eventually learn the truth and arrive at the conclusion whether you like it or not. So you don’t need to convince me. I’ll step onto your rails for now.”
He sounded incredibly careless.
He was completely ignoring her feelings, but that was the reverse-side of an unconditional trust that would force no responsibility onto her if he failed. It was to remove the possibility of him saying, “It was because you lied and kept things from me that I didn’t make it in time at the very end. You essentially killed her.”
“What matters is what you want to do based on that scenario. You want to save you sister. Since you’re searching randomly around here, I assume she’s somewhere in Academy City. So. What would you do if you did happen across her? How would you save her?”
“You have to have had an image in your mind, no matter how absurd it might have been. Otherwise, you would not have ‘given up’ on us. There had to have been a set of scales in your mind when you left the room. You were weighing A against B, obeying us against acting on your own. You were thinking about which would be more effective.”
“Removing the bomb in your sister’s chest is your top priority, even if that leaves you with no way to survive,” declared Kamisato Kakeru. “But you don’t actually have a way of doing that. Not many people have the skills to surgically remove something. And it would probably be difficult if you relied on that Antarctic thing inside you. That wasn’t what you were relying on. So what means of saving your sister were you thinking of besides removing the bomb in her chest?”
Patricia did not answer.
If she did not tell him, he would investigate on his own. And when he did that, she could not decide what truth he found.
It was just as he had said.
“The answer is simple. You were trying to remove the motivation behind your sister’s actions. The quickest method would be to eliminate yourself so she no longer had any reason to hold that bomb inside her. You intended to sacrifice yourself from the beginning. And even if you have no means of removing that bomb, the sister who placed it inside herself most likely does. So you were trying to throw your own life away to get your sister to act. Would that be checkmate?”
“That would explain your previous actions. It would explain why you looked somewhat heroic and yet seemed to be enjoying the pain of harming yourself. You were working up the resolve to take your own life or perhaps losing yourself in the role to weaken the realistic fear. You weren’t trying to find your sister. You were showing yourself that you’re a small person who could never find her no matter how hard you tried. You were holding a dark smile at the fact that you didn’t even deserve to live and it was all a way to prepare to take that final step. Your time limit was not about when you had to find and rescue your sister. It was when you had to prepare yourself to die.”
Patricia bit her lip and sobbed.
Think of it from her perspective. This was why she had gone along with the Kamisato Faction’s carefree trips to the bath and ramen shop. She had wanted to live it up and make some nice memories in preparation for the very, very end. Because she had no future, she had joined those strangers without thinking of the consequences. That was why she had stuck with them to the very end. Whether she had wanted it or not, she had decided that lively atmosphere would be her “final day”.
Changing the initial assumptions could shine a completely different light on things. No matter how cruel the truth might be, it could not remain hidden once it was investigated and discovered. It would all be revealed.
“But you couldn’t do it, could you?” Kamisato let out a quiet breath. “No matter how much you set the mood and no matter how romantic, sentimental, and heroic you made yourself feel, you couldn’t choose to throw away your own life, could you?”
Let your sister live.
Throw away your life for your family’s sake.
Even the most noble of reasons did not mean one would be able to go through with it. And Patricia had been unable to do so. Would she hang herself, slit her wrists, or jump in front of a train? Only she knew what end she had pictured in her mind, but she had been unable to do whatever it was.
And that had made her feel all the more pathetic.
Her sister was risking her life to save her family. She was constantly fighting the fear of growing a tumor(?) inside her at such an abnormal rate that it was sure to burst out from within. But Patricia had been unable to respond in kind. She was taking a shortcut that would take her life instantly, yet she still could not keep her hands from trembling.
“Hey, can you tell me one thing? How do you define salvation?”
“I have a power known as World Rejecter.”
As he spoke, Kamisato Kakeru casually closed the loosely opened fingers of his right hand.
And a moment later, the wind turbine Patricia was leaning against was “devoured” from partway up.
She had no idea what had just happened.
She was so confused that she did not even feel fear as the remnants collapsed in another direction.
She felt something intense prickling on her skin.
Kamisato continued speaking without a change of expression.
“You can see how powerful it is. Although the conditions it needs can be a little tricky. But as long as those conditions are met, I can erase anything from this world, even a Magic God. …It technically isn’t killing them, but the result is pretty much the same. If separating two people so they can never see each other again is what you would call death, then World Rejecter brings death to all things.”
“I can guarantee you it brings no pain. I’ve never tried it on myself, but based on those who have been kept alive for a bit, hope for a new world fills their heart. It can’t fail. As long as the conditions are met, it can erase even the sun or a black hole in a single blow. And it does not leave a gruesome corpse. No one will have to discover you. And while I can’t tell you what lies on ‘the other side’, I can at least tell you there’s something there. Death does not take away everything and erase every last trace of you.”
“So, what will you do?”
Kamisato Kakeru waved his right hand in front of the girl.
Patricia’s eyes were glued to it like it was a hypnotist’s pendulum.
“It only takes an instant. It truly is the ideal tool for suicide. I’ve erased plenty of things, so I would know. As long as you meet the conditions, I cannot fail. So I want to know your definition. What is salvation to you? If it is liberation from the weakness that prevents you from taking the final step even though suicide would save your sister, then I present to you the most efficient method. I will erase your existence in a single blow and rob your sister of her motivation to carry that bomb. So what will you do? Is this salvation to you?”
Kamisato Kakeru continued waving his right hand as he took a step toward the girl sitting carelessly on the ground.
With incredible pressure, that all-erasing right hand slowly arrived over Patricia’s head. It blocked her view of the open starry sky. She could do nothing as she looked up at it. If he moved his hand even slightly, she would be torn from this world just like the wind turbine.
“Do you wish for a new world?”
This was right.
It was the best method of protecting someone important to her.
She would feel no pain or suffering. It would all be over in an instant.
If she accepted this wonderful method, he truly would be her savior.
Patricia suddenly found herself speaking.
Her weak self was making another appearance. Someone else was going to see it. The intense shame and disgust scorched her body, but she could not stop the words from escaping.
“I don’t want that. I don’t want to die here!! I don’t care if it’s selfish or useless. But this is just taking the easy way out! I’m dying so I don’t have to see what comes next! That wouldn’t save my sister. I couldn’t be proud of that decision!!”
At the very, very last second, Kamisato Kakeru heard those words.
He heard the words of this desperate girl who no longer cared what anyone thought and had tears and snot dripping down her face.
“I have to save my sister. I can’t let her plan continue because the tumor inside her will kill her, but if I die first to rob her of her motivation, she’ll have to live with the label of someone who abandoned her family! Neither of those options will save her!! Neither of us can die!! No matter how much I have to struggle, no matter how pathetic it might be, and no matter how cheap it has to be!! If I don’t find a third option, I can’t save her!!”
She was still sitting down and her legs were too weak to support her, but she still looked up into the absolute power of Kamisato Kakeru’s eyes and raised her voice.
“So!! I don’t need your salvation. I don’t need an easy way out and I don’t want a new world! I won’t throw anything away and I’ll continue to struggle in this world. If my sister is going to throw everything away for me, then I’ll find an option that doesn’t require that!! It doesn’t matter what options I have now! If I don’t have one, I just have to make a new one! I’ll create one!! And to do that, I don’t need a power to help me run away and avert my gaze from the harsh reality! I need a power to break through it all and continue forward! I need a power to oppose it head-on!!!!!”
He heard her.
Her words reached him.
He accepted the cries of her soul.
And once he did, he simply placed his right hand on top of her head.
There was no pain.
There was no fear.
But why would there be? He had touched her with the right hand holding the great power known as World Rejecter, but her body remained intact.
“My power requires certain conditions to activate,” he explained with a gentle smile. “The biggest one seems to be conflicting desires. For example, saying you want to escape your closed environment yet not wanting to give up your life surrounded by girls, fearing your weapon yet delighting in how different it is from those around you, or whispering that you want to live happily with your girlfriend yet not wanting to destroy your harem. It also works on anything created by people like that. People with those conflicting desires want to cling to this world yet also wish for its destruction, so I guess it’s easier to find a starting point with them. …On the other hand, it seems to have difficulty with people who have a single goal in mind and never waver. No matter what I do, the exiling power doesn’t work on them.”
Clever Patricia gradually realized what that meant.
The readings on her smartwatch shot up.
It seemed to have captured a kind pulse.
But at the same time, Kamisato Kakeru continued giving his answers. It did not matter whether she told him or not or whether she told the truth or not. He would continue toward the conclusion on his own, just like he had said.
“This right hand did nothing to you because you have the strength to see a single path to follow in this shitty world, Patricia. I admire that strength. I honestly think it’s amazing. …You did well. You overcame the negative ideas held by humanity.”
He kindly rubbed her head.
When he removed his hand, she wished he would have kept it there a while longer.
But this too was a necessary ritual.
As he continued, he held his right hand out toward the small girl.
He directly faced her as someone he considered an equal or even greater.
“So I want to shake hands with you, who can hold this hand. And could I maybe help with the work you need to do? I won’t be saving you. I will simply be a part of your legend.”
Shaking hands was a simple action anyone could do.
But at the same time, it was the ultimate signal only allowed of the truly worthy who had overcome the conditions for World Rejecter’s activation by finding a single path after overcoming the conflicting desires that did not let one simply say yes or no.
Patricia hesitantly reached out her hand.
Kamisato simply waited.
Finally, the young girl grabbed the hilt of that ultimate weapon.
“I know I shouldn’t be saying this after setting you in this direction, but this won’t be easy.”
“I want to save my sister no matter what it takes. I want to repay her for not hesitating to throw away her life for me. Even if I don’t know how to solve this and even if it means cutting my own lifeline, I want to live a life I’m proud of to the very, very last moment!!”
“Even if you follow that path to the end, you will not find peace.”
“That’s why I want your help. I have no idea how to remove that bomb from my sister’s chest, so I want to use everything available to me. It doesn’t matter if you can actually do anything. Please join me to help me…no, to help my sister!!”
“If that is enough. If you will maintain that superior heart that holds to a single path no matter how much it is shaken and no matter how many easier desires are laid out before it.”
Kamisato Kakeru smiled as he took the girl’s hand.
His grip was truly strong.
“I respect you and I won’t hold back when it comes to helping someone I respect. I will use everything I have and fight the entire world for you.”
Several girls were gathered on a rooftop a short distance away.
They were Ellen, Claire, and Elza.
“See? I told you it would turn out this way.”
“Well, this is how it always goes. To be honest, I personally resent it a fair bit, but if we told him to stop, he wouldn’t listen and he’d just run off on his own.”
“It looks like the others are here too. They’re busy finding positions on all the rooftops around here.”
While holding her plastic bottle full of ten yen coins like a baby, the delinquent girl with fox ear hair glanced over at the other buildings.
There were several…no, a great number of them.
The countless presences filled the darkness with an intimidating pressure.
“So the Kamisato Faction has gathered, has it?”
They were not aware of it because this was normal to them, but all of them contained a powerful light that was, in a way, greater than that inside a Magic God.
They claimed they wanted to protect the world and they did not hesitate to cause destruction toward that unwavering end. They did not contain the kind of conflicting desire that led one to create another option because Imagine Breaker’s possessor seemed uncertain.
“Umm, I’m more about logistical support and tend to stay behind, but both of you are his direct bodyguards, right? Kamisato-han looks ready to rush onto the front line without a thought to his original objective, so what are you two going to do?”
When the girl with long black hair and a baggy lab coat dangling behind her asked that exasperated question, the glasses and delinquent girls both shrugged.
“We’ll just do what we always do.”
“That’s right. We’ll destroy anything that gets in the way. Won’t that be enough?”
Today’s Hotpot Party, Ingredients List 3
Soy sauce. Miso.
Chicken breast, daikon, bok choy, cabbage, bean sprouts, shirataki, tofu.
Bouillon, salt, sugar, pepper, champon noodles
Bargain vanilla ice cream, canned yellow peaches, canned pineapple, canned mandarin oranges. (For dessert)
Cannibalization Fruit (Made by Leivinia Birdway, rare item)
Index: “Who did this? How did this happen!?”
Kamijou Touma: “This is insane!! What kind of hotpot is this supposed to be!?”
Birdway: “Don’t freak out. It’s just an offal hotpot. Besides, didn’t I tell you it’s made from corn? It doesn’t matter as far as the magic is concerned, but I had a fake one grown on the outside to test the shape and composition. Now, how should we cook it so a picky eater like Patricia will eat it?”
Nephthys: “A fist-sized mass floating in the middle of a giant pot? I just don’t get Japanese food.”
Between the Lines 2
A kingdom fell and its culture vanished, but its rituals remained.
Because it was not protected by the world at large, its interpretations grew more secret, grew more focused, and generally escalated.
For example, during an extreme drought when a single cup of water was impossible to find.
For example, during a plague when the value of human life became as flimsy as paper.
For example, when all of the stored grains were devoured by a swarm of insects in a single night.
Or when fear permeated someone and they wanted a way to ensure they would never feel that way again.
Looking through the legends of the world’s religions and mythologies would reveal plenty of cruel stories. People were decapitated, had their hearts removed, were burned at the stake, etc. etc. Even the very foundation of the world’s largest religion was an execution. Then came the initial period of persecution and later the witch hunts in the middle ages. But even looking past those, there were stories of a nun gouging out her own eyes or people gathering the brains of a saint after his head was split open.
Simply viewing the actions was not enough to judge the essence of the matter.
There were reasons and thoughts that led to those results.
But among the extremely focused rituals, that kind of essence tended to be lost. They grew more sensational and grotesque as people saw special meaning in doing something no one else was doing.
Somewhere sometime, a man was weeping.
It had been an experiment to prove the existence of heaven. Egyptian mythology was a religion that believed in being reborn, resurrected, and reincarnated. Mummies were made to preserve the physical body for when the dead’s soul would return from its temporary time in the underworld.
That meant one could manage their body and soul.
One faction decided to prove it. A young maiden was given a sheltered upbringing in a clean environment to maintain her purity until a certain age. She was to be killed based on a certain ritual, have all of her organs save her heart removed and stored in containers, be filled with sawdust to maintain her shape, and be wrapped in linen soaked in medicines. To ensure she was not assaulted in the afterlife, her crotch would be sewed shut. In Egyptian mythology, one’s heart was removed and weighed to judge whether they were good or evil, but this experiment was using that heart like a signal to see where “a certain something” went after it left the body.
Would the gods detect their wicked thoughts and close the gates of heaven?
Or would the gates of heaven be opened because the sacrificed maiden herself was free of sin?
The girl was known as the genealogy of sinners.
By the faction’s values, she was a sinner, so it may have been only natural for her to offer up her life.
The girl herself wished for that.
She believed a burden would be lowered from her shoulders on that day.
She had no complaints.
That tragedy alone may have spread through them all.
“Maybe no one will stop it. Maybe no one questions it anymore. Maybe most of the world isn’t even aware of this misfortune and maybe no one would care what’s happening on the other side of the planet even if they did.”
The man who was collapsed on the ground spoke under his breath as if cursing something or clinging to something.
He knew that girl would smile at and greet anyone, would smile as she ate any food without being picky, and would respect anyone who knew what she did not. He knew she was a human being who could laugh and cry, and not just an entry in some paperwork.
Although that may have only been due to the twisted purity inputted into her by the project.
However, did those behind this project really understand?
Did they know she had taken a step beyond that?
Did they know about the small flower she grew behind the building?
There alone, she would be honest to her preferences. She would pout her lips depending on how the flower was blooming and she would uproot the surrounding plants if necessary.
That was a sign of something not in the prepared plan.
It was evidence that she was no longer the doll she was made to be and was constructing her own identity.
And yet he had no choice but to trample it underfoot.
“I should have been able to say this is wrong! So won’t someone please weep with me? Won’t someone stand with me as I lament how wrong this is!?”
The “work” would soon begin.
The girl’s entire body would be altered by a mechanical process.
The journey would begin.
Just as so many magicians had hit a roadblock here in the past, this would most likely fail to control or measure the soul itself and it would simply waste a life.
But just before it began….
“Yes, your voice has reached me.”
Something was there.
Even the man who saw the miracle could not determine when the miracle had begun. He simply saw a brown goddess wrapped in bandages standing before him and he saw the tears welling up in her eyes.
“I am Nephthys,” she said. “I am a goddess who objects to the legends of death that are treated as necessary sacrifices in our mythology. So let us weep, no matter how pitiful it might be. Let us accuse all that claims perfection yet could not reject death.”
A moment later, a shrill cry caused all matter to vibrate so intensely that the entire faction was instantly turned to ash.