Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume15 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Peace, or a Trap Laid — Board_Game.
Kamijou Touma and Kamisato Kakeru tensely confronted each other.
It was the lunch break and they were speaking in the cafeteria filled with a variety of uniforms.
Why was there a variety of uniforms? There were the uniforms of the original high school, Kamijou’s school had poured in, Kamisato was wearing a blazer that did not go to this school, and boys and girls from the middle school were mixed in as well. The middle school always had a lunch supplied for them except on “bring-your-lunch days”, but those growing boys and girls were still running down to the cafeteria after finishing off that first lunch.
“Hey, rookie. Can’t you act a little more like a final boss?”
“I think you’re confused about something. We’re only the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere. It’s strange for people like us to be in this position in the first place.”
With miraculous synchronization, they had both selected their new school’s cheapest meal which was known as the Poor Meal.
In other words, the katsuobushi rice.
It did not come with soy sauce, so it really was just chilled stock rice on the verge of going bad with nearly powdered katsuobushi sprinkled on top from a clear package.
“You can’t do that. You can’t be copying me with the Poor Meal. The final boss needs to be looking down on me while chowing down on a steak. And this is the final stronghold for my finances, so if I have to fight you for it, I’ll have nothing at all left. Why did you have to copy me and take my food away?”
“This isn’t easy for me either. Academy City is an away game for me and I have to pay for more than just myself. There’s Ellen, Claire, Elza…and well, I have to look after all of them.”
Kamisato slowly sighed, but Kamijou hung his head for some reason.
His bangs covered his eyes, but a ferocious smile came to his lips.
“Finally, finally, finally!! Someone here finally complained about being so popular he’s surrounded by girls!! It finally happeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeened!!”
Kamijou very well may have put more into this yell than when they had nearly started a fight to the death after seeing each other at the stairs earlier.
“Ahh, ahh. You’re hopeless. Do you wish for a new world?”
“Oh, shut up! This new life was such a letdown! Everyone was such a good person that it was just plain boring! But this is more like it!! You need the one intolerable person to keep things interesting!! Placing some orange juice next to a cake will just kill the flavor, but you need that bitterness! Okay, now keep it coming! Give me a cool look and act like what you said was perfectly normal, Mr. Popular!!”
“Can we please just get down to business?”
With a serious look, Kamisato reached for the condiments supplied at the center of the table.
With soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, pepper, and mayonnaise, it was a fairly standard lineup.
“As it is, we’ll be eating hopelessly dry and flavorless katsuobushi rice. But this is where the fun begins. Now, what toppings will you use to dress up this cheap Poor Meal?”
“What? Can’t you just put the soy sauce on it?”
“Didn’t you just say you liked to keep things interesting? You can’t go wrong with soy sauce on katsuobushi rice, but it can never rise above average either. If I called it a seaweed-less seaweed meal, you’d feel pretty blue, wouldn’t you?”
School lunches were focused on cost effectiveness, so hoping for a surprising flavor and texture was pretty much a lost cause. Nevertheless, these two “normal high school boys” paddled off in their fruitless Age of Exploration.
First up: Kamisato Kakeru (beginner at being poor).
“I’ll start off with some pepper.”
“Isn’t that a little spicy!? You haven’t even decided if you’re making this sweet or salty!”
“Then I’ll settle on an overall direction with mayonnaise.”
“You’re escaping toward bitter!?”
When looking for a surprising flavor, mayonnaise was definitely the standard. As long as one liked mayonnaise, it could make most anything acceptable.
“And I’ll finish it off with a quick sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce for the flavoring of takoyaki or okonomiyaki or something like that. Fwa ha ha. This was a nice curve ball that flew in perfectly for a strike, if I do say so myself.”
But next up was Kamijou Touma (expert at being poor) who was on another level entirely.
“You have to start off with some pickled vegetables, right?”
“!? You have to? But…where did you get those from?”
“I got them from some students I’ve never met before. They come with the meals, but no one ever eats them.”
Kamijou covered his katsuobushi rice with the contents of small plates he had gathered from three or four people at some point and he mixed it all together with his chopsticks.
“Eating the rice like this would be a little salty, so you have to get some shredded cabbage from the people eating chicken cutlets over there.”
“Hey, you people aren’t eating the cabbage before the cutlets? You all need to focus on your health.”
“Then mix it all together for a weaker but crisper flavor and then finish it off by dripping on some mentsuyu borrowed from someone who ordered soba. It comes in a bottle, so there’s usually some left in the bottom after they transfer it over to the bowl.”
“Isn’t that cheating? We were competing using the options here.”
“No one ever said that. I don’t care what it takes as long as I can make the Poor Meal before my eyes look a little richer. Listen, rookie, your mistake was thinking you could find the best possible answer using the ingredients right in front of you. You need to take a wider view of the world! Hah hah!!”
Utterly unable to get along, the two glared at each other while devouring their Poor Meals.
For some reason, a small girl was sitting at the same table as Kamijou and Kamisato.
She looked to be about the same size as Komoe-sensei.
She had a large ribbon in her long black hair and she looked back and forth between Kamijou and Kamisato.
“U-um, are you two…getting along?”
“What is it, little girl? It might look like these Poor Meals are pretty tasty after desperately adding onto them like this, but they don’t taste good in the slightest and it actually adds in a ton of salt. My advice is to stay out of this game if you can. If you can eat a high society grilled fish meal every day, there’s no reason to start down this path of carnage.”
“Is it just me or did you just turn into a scoundrel?”
That was of course because he could not endure this any other way.
If he didn’t go overboard here, all of his effort on his Poor Meal would be for naught. There was simply no way a bamboo spear could defeat a tank.
And that aside…
“I don’t want my grated radish, so you can have it.”
“Oh, thanks, thanks.”
“Do you just put anything someone will lend you on there?”
“You get the fish off the bone really neatly. How elegant.”
Kamijou ignored the fidgeting little girl and spoke to Kamisato.
“Anyway, Kamisato, have you seen the person who reigns at the top of this school?”
“I’m pretty sure this school doesn’t have Four Magical Lords who rule over the cardinal directions or a Queen of the Underground Esper Fighting Tournament.”
“I’m talking about the student council president. She’s called the Jumpy Bunny. That glasses guy said she was there this morning, but I couldn’t figure out who she was. Not that I expect to need to know.”
Kamijou stirred up his Poor Mix that now had grated radish on the top.
“I only know she’s a girl because of what that glasses secretary said. You arrived here before I did, so have you seen her?”
“Well, yes, I have. I’ve helped out afterschool some.”
“Hold it, Mr. Popular. If you’re making frequent visits to the student council, you’re hardly normal or ordinary! But anyway, what’s she like? As the president, I’m betting she’s like the consummate upperclassman girl, so is she full of tolerance? Y’know, the kind of sexy girl who would fit right in as a dorm manager when she grows up!!”
“Ah, ah, ah.”
Kamisato pointed directly to the side.
He also looked over at the girl who could only be described as “palm sized” or “someone who removes fish bones really neatly”.
“She’s the preside-…”
“Like hell she is. I demand a do-over.”
As soon as the spiky-haired idiot said that, the girl next to him hopped up in her chair.
She trembled with tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry I don’t fit the part! But these things are generally decided in an election and someone nominated me half as a joke, so please don’t force your image of the position onto me!! Ah, ah, ah. M-Mie-chaaaaaaan!!”
The palm-sized girl shouted a name with X’s for eyes and a brown-haired middle school girl appeared from the crowd of high school and middle school students. This was the cafeteria, yet she held a wrapped lunchbox. She may have planned to trade food with a friend or acquaintance who got the school lunch. She was already in bourgeois territory.
“C’mon, what are you doing, Onee-cha-…”
The girl trailed off.
Her eyes widened in surprise as she stared at something: Kamijou Touma’s face.
Kamisato Kakeru scooted away a little in his chair.
“(Count me out. I don’t want to let my right hand mess with a girl here.)”
Kamijou ignored the muttering boy.
The middle school girl placed her hands on the small Jumpy Bunny’s shoulders from behind and hesitantly spoke to him.
“U-um, I’m Akikawa Mie. Do you…remember me?”
After retreating outside their personal space, Kamisato watched with interest to see what Kamijou, his “predecessor”, would do here.
The spiky-haired boy’s answer was simple.
“Ahh!?” shouted the supposed student council president. “Y-you can’t say that to M-Mie-chan! She’s at that adolescent age where she thinks she’s something special, so you need to treat her kindly even when she starts acting like everyone knows who she is!! That’s the standard!!”
“Yeah, but I’m not Index and I don’t have a perfect memory recording everyone I pass by on the street.”
“What a pain,” sighed Kamisato. “But you could at least play along, you know? When someone asks if you remember them, you can’t just say no. Are you the kind of person who ignores the looping dialogue and keeps choosing ‘No’ at the ‘Will you go defeat the Demon King?’ screen? Still, I guess this at least tells me you aren’t the stereotypical type that tries to get close to every girl he lays eyes on.”
“Um, aren’t you two doing more damage to her than me? It looks like she’s dehydrating down on the ground there. She’s drying up.”
Kamijou’s senses appeared to be in working order, yet Akikawa Mie really did seem to be growing gray and dried out.
“I just had a bunch of stuff thrown at me at once and it’s about as tangled up as power cables tend to get, but let’s go over this one thing at a time. Is that little thing really the student council president? And of the high school!? Ehh!?”
“Why do you sound so disappointed!? This isn’t about your school! And I was only nominated by someone else and everyone really only voted for me as a joke!!”
“Hmm. So it’s something like that legend about sending your little brother to give the idol agency your resume and he ends up becoming an idol? So you too have an extreme ‘characteristic’ that gives you your own ‘world’.”
Kamisato was muttering something, but Kamijou had more pressing issues.
Namely, his dreams!
“This is a problem!”
“A female student council president is supposed to be a trifecta of beautiful, a genius, and rich! And I don’t mean a girly kind of beautiful! I mean the consummate upperclassman type who’s a mature kind of sexy!! Now I know why I didn’t see you when I looked around. You were too small!! Why are you palm-sized!? I don’t get it!!”
“I-I already told you I’m not the president by choice… I was forced to do this…”
“Gasp!? …Wait! Do you maybe have a Metamorphosis power that gives you a dynamite body but only in dark pools during the full moon? It’s a bit of a curveball, but you can’t rule it out here in Academy City.”
“Sorry, but I only have Level 2 pyrokinesis. Sorry I can only create fire like normal…”
“O-oh, no. That’s so middle-of-the-road… Should I not have asked that? I mean, shouldn’t the president be either a Level 0 or a Level 5?”
“Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah!!”
Unable to take it any longer, teary-eyed Jumpy Bunny (nickname) clenched her fists and began lightly pummeling him.
That brought a question to mind: who was she anyway?
Akikawa Mie finally recovered from her gray dried-out state, so she unsteadily got up and whispered to the palm-sized student council president.
“C’mon, Onee-chan. You need to introduce yourself.”
“Oh. I’m Keshouin Asuka.”
“Well, at least your name’s big.”
“Um, uh, I was trying to contact the two rumored problem students who were considered most likely to cause trouble among the transfer students. So…are you two getting along?”
Kamijou and Kamisato both grimaced.
In this case, they did not care if they were seen as a problem student liable to cause trouble.
They pointed at each other with their mysterious right hands.
“Are you saying I’m the same as this ******* bastard!?”
“Are you saying I’m the same as this ******* bastard!?”
“Eek!! Ah, ah ,ah! Mie-chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!”
Not long after arriving at this school, both Kamijou Touma and Kamisato Kakeru earned the trophy of “Boy who Made the Student Council President Cry.”
He always got nervous in front of banks.
“Hamazura, what are you doing?”
“Well, I’m not wearing a knit hat and sunglasses, so I guess they won’t sound the alarm.”
It was well-known that a convenience store or bank would call the cops if you wore any kind of face-covering fashion. People had fallen victim to that with the black masks that were fashionable lately. But in his delinquent days, Hamazura Shiage had heard whispers of something else.
Namely, if a group with mohawks and shaved heads entered a store, the alarm could ring even if they were not covering their eyes or mouth.
Hamazura Shiage and Takitsubo Rikou were walking side by side.
“I hate this. It makes me as nervous as walking through the shoplifting prevention gate after buying an adult magazine. It’s not like I’ve done anything wrong.”
“Hamazura, a real gentleman wouldn’t mention that in front of a girl.”
The boy with hair dyed brown and a nose piercing walked through the glass automatic door as the pink track suit girl’s words stabbed into him.
It was early afternoon, so more people were gathered at the ATMs than the reception counter. Due to the time, there were far more university students than middle and high school students. Were they receiving an allowance or depositing money somewhere? He could not tell what they were doing as they curled up their back and hit the buttons.
The reception counter was almost deserted. An afternoon talk show was playing on a flat screen TV next to all the posters for things like ISAs.
“I’ll fill in the form, Hamazura, so you go get the paper with the reception number.”
He walked away from short black-haired Takitsubo Rikou and approached the machine next to the counter. He pulled out the small paper that stuck out like a lantern monster’s tongue and it looked like they only had to wait for three people.
(So today’s guest is Hitotsui Hajime. I guess they target the housewives at this time of day.)
He had no interest in the TV, but he could not change the channel either.
He sat on the sofa and reached for the magazine rack. An auto magazine with a cover story about a motor show caught his interest, so he flipped through it.
They were at the bank for a simple reason. Mugino Shizuri, Kinuhata Saiai, Takitsubo Rikou, and the late Frenda Seivelun had all distributed their reward money from the main Item bank account to their individual ones, but they were canceling their contract with that main one and money not needed for living expenses would periodically be deposited in Takitsubo’s personal account.
The processing done on the computer would be perfectly normal. It would be one task out of countless similar ones done every day in Japan and the entire world.
But it was a meaningful action.
Takitsubo was choosing to let go of the account that Item had used to receive payments for their dirty work. And by making periodic deposits, she was focusing on her future at least a little bit. Instead of grabbing at what money she could get in the moment, she was looking at the life made up by connecting those points into a line.
Those girls had a way of rising above the clouds if he let his guard down a little, so uncouth Hamazura had difficulty grasping what they were really after. But he was glad to have this slight sign, even if it was not as simple as a facial expression or actual words. His fingers felt light as he flipped through the magazine.
But then someone must have violently thrown themselves over onto the sofa. They sank deep down into the cushion right next to him.
He looked over, feeling a little pissed, and he saw something at about 120% on the danger meter.
It was a girl wearing translucent raincoats over her bare skin.
At first, all normal emotions were blasted from his mind.
His blank mind could not come up with a proper reaction to this incredibly absurd girl.
The girl had the waterproof hood over her head and swimsuit-like tan lines were visible through the raincoats, but she did not seem to care about the boy’s eyes on her. She tossed aside a heavy-looking sports bag and elegantly crossed her slender legs. She was barefoot, so he could see her toes clenching and unclenching.
She held something in her mouth which he initially thought was the kind of lollipop Fremea liked, but then he realized it glittered with a dull silver light.
She rose another notch on his mental danger meter.
It may have looked surreal at first and it may not have seemed nearly as bad as a brutal and “professional-looking” knife combined with brass knuckles, but that was wrong.
From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, kitchen tools were much more efficient blades.
There were all sorts of knives and police batons, but most of those found online or in shops were just for show. The knives were often little better than paper knives, the batons would often bend after two or three hits, and the stun guns would often fry their circuitry the instant they were switched on. So instead of a big combat knife that costs twenty or thirty thousand yen, a thousand yen kitchen knife from the supermarket could be far sharper. And if it was something mass-produced, it was harder to trace back to you. His knowledge from his delinquent days (if he could call it that), was telling him this girl knew what she was doing.
She placed a hand on the grip and pulled the round blade from her mouth.
She was carefree enough to hum, so she looked like a resident of some fantasy world.
“Hamazura Shiage. If Sunny and Rain’s information is accurate, I’ve gotta count you as a candidate.”
He did not care what this raincoat girl had to say.
This absurd person knew his name. That alone was a big deal.
She laughed with her skin color showing through.
“Well, that doesn’t matter. It’s none of your concern anyway, Hamazura-chan. So where are you headed today?”
She ignored the boy’s confusion and her amethyst eyes glittered with belligerence and curiosity.
“Are you still an errand boy for Item or whatever it’s called? It’s like being a celebrity’s tool. But Hamazura-chan, no matter how far you go, you’ll still be Hamazura Shiage. Even if you crush yourself down to a powder, you can’t become a part of Mugino Shizuri or Kinuhata Saiai. You haven’t built up anything in your own life. You’re more like the disposable engine that gets ejected from the rocket, don’tcha think? When the celebrity reaches the stars above, you’ll be tumbling back to earth as nothing more than Hamazura Shiage. Make no mistake there.”
Mugino Shizuri and Kinuhata Saiai.
The position and behavior of those within Item.
They had sealed their information off from the city’s dark side as best they could, but she brought it up so easily.
“And you can say the same thing on a larger scale, don’tcha think?”
“No matter how far you go, you’ll still be Hamazura Shiage. You can stick with Mugino Shizuri or Takitsubo Rikou and you can face the same way as Kamijou Touma and resolve incidents like that, but that doesn’t make you a force of good. You won’t become the world’s most powerful and you won’t make everyone accept you. From birth to death, humans only exist as individuals in an organization. You can’t ignore the whole to become a free individual and you can’t ignore the individual to become the powerful whole.”
“What…do you know?” Hamazura gulped. “Unofficial documents wouldn’t be enough for this. Mugino and Kinuhata, maybe. But just pursuing Item wouldn’t show you the line connecting me to Takitsubo. So…”
“Hm? Oh, this isn’t my information. It comes from Sunny and Rain, the Weather Girls.”
The raincoat placed her arms on the sofa back and enjoyment filled her voice.
“Now, I’ve gotta assume I can’t fool you by answering a question with a question. Plus, I’m betting you know I’m not just any old stranger. You’ve gotta be suspecting I’m someone far from friendly. So what’ll it be, Extra-chan who acts big but hasn’t left any footprints of his own? Now that I’m this close, there isn’t much left you can do, don’tcha think? One: play your role as a tool and buy time for Takitsubo Rikou to escape. Two: abandon your role and run as fast as you can to survive. Three: yes, you could collapse bloodily in front of Kamijou Touma and pass on some kind of dying message. Yeah, I think that about sums it up.”
He was a disposable tool to keep Item running smoothly.
He was someone who faced in the same direction as someone else to gain the same justification they had.
He was someone without a “self”.
“Surely you don’t think you can use this trouble to your advantage by protecting your girl and showing off how cool you are, normal person.”
Hamazura Shiage slowly exhaled.
He spoke to the alternate world located just thirty centimeters away.
“None of that matters.”
The raincoat girl looked at him in actual surprise.
If he had made a bluff to cut off their conversation, she would have mocked him. In fact, she might have even responded with direct violence.
“Back when I was a Skill Out leader, that probably would’ve really gotten to me. I really wanted some status for myself, I wanted everyone to think I was great, and I wanted their attention. I thought I couldn’t maintain my ‘self’ otherwise.”
But he had been wrong.
Hamazura Shiage spoke from the heart.
“But when you get down to it, your ‘self’ doesn’t matter. Those people who wander around seriously talking about trying to ‘find themselves’ are a bunch of morons. ‘Yourself’? What’s that worth? Ignore it and it’ll catch up to you on its own. People say they want to be something special, but I just want to ask them why they care.”
“I mean, being normal is a hell of a thing.” He breathed out. “Just walking along the normal rails like normal is pretty damn amazing. People get derailed by the smallest pushes from the side. After all the stupid crap I did out on the streets at night, I know that all too well. And Mugino and Takitsubo were lurking in the shadows beyond that, so they were even worse. I’m probably the worst kind of person for acting so smug after taking someone else’s lifestyle away from them, but I don’t want to turn out like that and, if they start heading back in that direction, I’ll do whatever it takes to stop them. Isn’t that really important?”
Hamazura Shiage was colorless.
No one would notice him if he was not standing next to someone with incredible individuality.
That was his starting point, but he did not end there.
“No matter how far I go, I’ll still be a Level 0. Nothing I can do will make me someone special,” he said. “But so what? If you don’t turn out special no matter what happens, you never stray from your path, and you can’t be shaken from your position as ‘normal’, doesn’t that make you more powerful than anyone?”
“Hmm. I see…”
The raincoat girl laughed.
It was a somewhat softer laugh than the earlier mocking laughter.
“You’ve got it worse than I thought. It sounds logical, but you’re really just completely dependent on them, don’tcha think?”
“Probably. …Ahh, ahh. Even I realized that partway through saying it all. I’m probably just like those corporate slaves who only have their company logo to cling to. And I’m not even suffering and trying to escape it. I’m actually glad I’m a corporate slave, so I’ve got a terminal case.”
Hamazura still did not try to make himself look good, so the girl slowly stood up with her translucent raincoats showing of her naked body and its tan lines.
The bottom of the double raincoats spread out like a jellyfish or clione floating in the ocean.
Hamazura gave her a puzzled look.
“What’s this? You’re not gonna do anything? I mean, I’d prefer not to have a fight to the death with a stranger here, but still.”
“I decided not to. I doubt I’d gain much from attacking you. You don’t fit my objective.”
She grabbed the cheap children’s pocket watch hanging from her neck.
She kissed it before continuing.
“But I’m not a kid running an errand, so I would like ‘something else’ instead.”
“A sign. You could call it a demonstration if you want. And a bank’s gotta be convenient as far as that’s concerned. Robbery, breaking into the vault, seducing some money out of them, exchanging counterfeit money, digging a tunnel in, and even hacking. The place is a symbol of security, so it’s gotta give you a name as a criminal if you can attack a bank and get out safely. Maybe it’s like a treacherous mountain that gives you plenty of prestige if you scale it.”
“Hey!” yelled a deep voice.
Had no one noticed before or had they ignored her because she was being so bold about it? With only raincoats over her tan-lined naked body, the girl could not have been more suspicious and the guards were finally reacting to her.
“Here we go.”
The girl looked around while lifting up the heavy sports bag that could have contained just about anything.
“Nonlethal? How boringly moral. If they put up a little bit more of a fight, I could enjoy this snack some more.”
She had no interest in the men armed with police batons and stun guns.
She was staring beyond the counter.
The giant round door there led to the vault.
“Yes, if I’m gonna destroy something, it’s gotta be that.”
Hamazura felt a strange tremor run down his spine.
At the same time, his mind searched for and pulled out some information to help protect him during this crisis. It was a lot like his life flashing before his eyes. He had a quick flashback of memories and knowledge.
It was from when Fremea Seivelun was being pursued by Kuroyoru Umidori and Silvercross Alpha of the Freshmen. To protect that young girl from the Five Over Model Case Railgun, hadn’t he taken her to a bank vault?
The lock, the rods, and the hinges.
She listed them off as if in praise, yet she ignored them all.
She stuck her tongue out again.
She licked along the edge of the pizza cutter’s round blade and guided it between her lips.
A breaking sound followed.
The catastrophe spoke in human words.
“External Offering. I offer a weapon up to Sea God Manannán to receive his blessing.”
Only the result will be provided here.
Ignoring both the door and the thick walls, the entire bank building tilted diagonally.
The first afternoon class was gym and today that meant a marathon.
The boys and girls of Kamijou’s class were driven out of the school.
“Pant, pant! This isn’t right! Why is our long-distance race or marathon or whatever turning into a scene from a winter poem? I mean, don’t even pro baseball players avoid training too hard in the winter because they’ll hurt themselves!?”
“You can talk that much while you run? Pant, pant. Are you actually pretty fit, Kami-yan?”
“Is that thanks to being chased through the streets at night by strange delinquents all the time!? That doesn’t make me at all happy!!”
Kamijou and Aogami Pierce were not the head of the pack; they were running more casually toward the tail end of the middle group. But they could keep running while yelling back and forth, so they had some decent stamina when compared to those in the back holding their sides after eating too splendid a lunch.
“Anyway, Kami-yan. Have you heard about the system this school uses? They have a tutoring system for the middle and high school.”
“I think Fukiyose mentioned that. Getting a tutor for free sounds convenient, but I’m betting it’s meant as a way to get more middle schoolers to stick around for high school. This’ll stop them from choosing some other school after they graduate middle school. In that way, it’s probably pretty restrictive.”
“When I heard about a system where upperclassmen give one-on-one lessons to their underclassmen, white lily flowers filled my mind. Does that mean I should go get an MRI done?”
“No, I’d recommend you get counselling or become a monk. And this isn’t limited to girls, so there’d be man-to-man tutoring too.”
“Gwah!? We’re not talking about the leftovers at the folk dance here! Why…? Why don’t they allow boy/girl crossovers instead!?”
“Probably because they’re worried about the exact scenario in your head.”
But how would that really turn out?
Sure, receiving one-on-one lessons from a perfectly beautiful and kind dorm manager type with breasts about to burst from her top, a glimpse of a garter belt at her thighs, and whose usual elitism was balanced out by some airheadedness would be paradise, but what about the reality that did not allow for those sorts of dreams?
Kamijou and Aogami Pierce went straight home without any club activities, so would an upperclassman who mercilessly violated their private study time really be that welcome a presence?
“Well, I think it’s about time for a serious spurt. I’m going on ahead!”
“Eh? What’s got you so hot-blooded all of a sudden, Aogami!?”
“Don’t be silly, Kami-yan. We’re with the girls for gym today, and you know what a girl’s marathon means, right? Lots of bouncing and jiggling!!”
“Y’know, I bet you could save a galaxy or two if you directed that power of yours in a worthwhile direction.”
“In this world, defeating the Great Demon King and saving every galaxy in the universe won’t even get you a single kiss as a reward. But I’ve realized something: You can’t see bouncing and jiggling when following from behind! It’s meaningless if you’re not looking at it from up ahead!! Thus I must stand at the very top! To lay eyes on all the bouncing and jiggling!!!!!”
With intense footsteps, Aogami Pierce’s back grew smaller up ahead. He was running like a sprinter even though this was a marathon, but his sense of pain had likely been numbed by all the dopamine and endorphins his brain was pumping out. He would probably pass out from oxygen deprivation before he reached the top, so Kamijou made a mental note to not step on him.
(Come to think of it, what ever happened to Tsuchimikado? I forgot to ask Kamisato about that.)
“Oh, the Othinus Hell. Something else I forgot about.”
“Thanks for the kind greeting. I made sure to stay quiet in your pocket, if you didn’t notice.”
“Wait…no…no! Where were you while I was changing, Othinus? Don’t tell me you saw everything…!!”
“~ ~ ~ ~!! That was your fault for forgetting about me and changing without warning! Do you have any idea how I felt with nowhere to run!?”
Their rank did not matter as long as they finished the marathon by the end of class, so Kamijou stopped by the side of the course to focus on his conversation with Othinus.
“That was peaceful. You contacted Kamisato Kakeru, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. If he’d noticed you in my pocket there, the world might’ve been destroyed a little.”
He belatedly realized how dangerous the cafeteria scene had been.
“But do you really think Kamisato set all this up? Was he waiting for me and did he have anything to do with the selection of a new school for us? But it was the High Priest who destroyed our school and there would have been a large random aspect to the replacement school chosen by Komoe-sensei and the other teachers. Not to mention that he wouldn’t have expected the conclusion of our run-in last night. If he thought that would happen, wouldn’t he have come up with a different attack plan?”
“Yes. If he could think this far ahead, he could have laid in wait a little better and he would have set up a situation where he wouldn’t have lost.”
Othinus readily admitted it while sitting on his shoulder.
“But that doesn’t matter if he’s just really good at adlibbing. If this was just a stroke of good luck for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses it to its fullest and comes to tear down your stronghold. And luckily for him, you’re sharing a school life now, so he can attack whenever he wants.”
“You saw his methods last night. To be blunt, he’s more like me than you. Do you remember Magic God Othinus who ruled Gremlin? I gathered both science and magic, toyed with enemy and ally alike, and treated the entire world as expendable to fulfill my objective. Kamisato Kakeru has no sanctuaries. You might want to say that’s impossible, but you can’t say things like that here. Remember that a god once razed the entire world and tore out its softer parts all to break you and you alone.”
“It’s that bad…?”
“It is,” she insisted. “Whether it was intentional or not, we both gained a unique power that created a distortion and then tried to revert that to the way it was. I know what that’s like. To people like him, the world before his eyes looks shallow, so he has no interest in any sacrifices or damage done to his surroundings. He feels like he’s living on a movie or drama set, so he feels no guilt. He will not hesitate to destroy anything within reach if it will accomplish his goal. If he needs to cause a citywide power outage to pry open a vault, he’ll ignore the newborns in the hospital and the oxygen machines in the assisted living homes as he flips the switch.”
Kamijou slowly breathed out.
“I don’t think he would go that far.”
“Oh? Can you tell me what you do think?”
“If he really felt nothing, I don’t get why he would work to save the Birdway sisters.”
“Like I said, he sees it like a movie or drama.” Othinus sounded exasperated. “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. …Even so, you don’t want to see a tragedy. If he can change it, he will. But that’s all. If your score goes up or your remaining lives go down in a video game, it isn’t going to affect your real life. But when you see those numbers on the screen, the blood rushes to your head, doesn’t it? So be careful. His empathy and passion are light. He might sob with a handkerchief in hand at one point and then flip the switch for his own objective later on. Just like an entertainer that looks so surprised during each and every cup noodles ad. You need to assume yesterday’s understanding won’t necessarily be reflected in today’s behavior.”
Kamijou Touma did not know Kamisato Kakeru that well either.
He was not an expert profiler, so he could not determine the truth and depth of everything someone said.
He found himself unable to agree with Othinus so easily. Kamisato was definitely an enemy. He was a danger who would not hesitate to destroy Kamijou Touma’s right arm and mercilessly kill Othinus as the last remaining Magic God.
But could he deny the part of that boy that had worked to save the Birdway sisters?
Kamisato may have been misguided in his anger concerning the girls he wanted to protect, but wasn’t that a line he wouldn’t stray from unless he found something truly deserving of it?
Othinus gave an exasperated sigh on Kamijou’s shoulder.
“Don’t tell me you’re letting Kamisato get to you.”
“You have to be kidding me… As you can see from the unique fighting force surrounding him, Kamisato Kakeru is quite adept at controlling people’s hearts. And I bet it’s more than him being a good talker. Heh. The kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere, is it? He claims to be a representative of the common folk and he makes himself look weak to garner empathy, but this goes beyond that. Call it an aura or charisma if you like, but he has the look of someone with that invisible characteristic.”
“Kamisato Kakeru isn’t as simple as he looks. If you’re a natural diamond that has miraculously struck a nice balance, then he’s an artificial diamond that reproduces that in a lab. They both shine just as bright, but let it charm you and you’ll be swallowed up.”
Kamijou gulped…and then looked puzzled.
“Wait, Othinus. That doesn’t add up.”
“Well, if he’s an artificial diamond and I’m a natural diamond, that would mean I have something just like he does. And you’re not talking about a special right hand that draws people to you. Do you really think a normal high school boy like me has that kind of aura or charisma or whatever?”
“Okay, okay. I get it. You really are oblivious, aren’t you?”
Just as Kamijou tilted his head, a girl spoke to him from behind.
“What is it, Kamijou? Are you feeling ill since we just had lun-…oh.”
It was Fukiyose Seiri in her short-sleeve gym outfit.
That black-haired forehead classmate gave him a lukewarm look when she saw Othinus on his shoulder.
“Kamijou, that is a characteristic of yours, not a flaw. But can you please think more carefully about when you bring it out?”
“Okay, I’m just gonna say it now! Othinus is not a doll dressed in a risqué outfit. Come here and touch her. Then you’ll see.”
“I can understand liking to look at dolls, but touching them is going a little far… And isn’t forcing a girl to do that a form of sexual harassment?”
“Human. Do you really think a god will let someone other than her Understander touch her?”
“And after demanding I do it, you reject me using ventriloquism? You’re too far gone for me to interfere. And your cute doll calls herself a god? How am I supposed to approach a classmate like this?”
“Help me, god!! I’m about to be placed in some strange category!!”
Kamijou was nearly in tears, but despite claiming to be his Understander, Othinus stubbornly refused to leave his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Fukiyose seemed to realize pushing this was not going to help, so she changed the subject.
“By the way, Kamijou, do you know anything about the transfer student?”
“What? Aren’t there a whole bunch of us?”
“We’re only borrowing the building, so we’re technically not transfer students.” Fukiyose calmed her breathing. “What was his name? Kamisato Kakeru I think. You know him, don’t you? I heard some of your conversation in the cafeteria.”
“Well,” he stalled.
Hearing a classmate speak Kamisato’s name caused his heart to jump more than he had expected. That name felt like it belonged in the realm where terms like “magic” and “Magic God” were normal.
“But from what I heard, it didn’t seem like a very cheerful conversation. He seems like he would just get buried without the term ‘transfer student’ helping him out. I kind of feel bad with all of us pushing him out of the way.”
“He doesn’t like to stand out, so I bet he’s actually thankful.”
“I hope so.”
She may have been worried about that.
She was a considerate classmate.
But if Kamijou did not get back to the marathon soon, he might not be able to finish by the end of class. He leisurely ran along the designated course with Fukiyose.
“Y’know, I would have thought you were used to jogging, Fukiyose. But since you were slower than me, are you actually below average?”
“This is to maintain my health. I’m not about to stress my body in a mad dash for the best time. I care more about maintaining my pace than getting a decent rank.”
He realized she was not breathing heavily and her muscles did not look tensed. He guessed she could compete for a top spot if she took this seriously.
And when she noticed him watching her from the side, she gave him a suspicious look.
“Why are you staring at me?”
This was not entirely his own fault. Or he wanted to believe it was not.
This misfortune had come from his surroundings.
One: Fukiyose Seiri mentioning that he was “staring” directed his attention to what lay before his eyes.
Two: Before running off earlier, Aogami Pierce had repeated a certain phrase in his mad ravings: bouncing and jiggling.
His classmate’s expression transformed from suspicious to blank and she asked a wooden question.
“Are they that fascinating?”
Kamijou Touma gave an honest answer.
A truly honest headbutt reached him a moment later.
The color orange was thick.
It was afterschool and, since it was December, the sun set early. Students were pouring out of the school building for club activities, committee activities, or to have fun outside of school. The entire scene was dyed in the orange of sunset.
Kamijou Touma was not a part of a club or committee and had nowhere else to go, so he was walking through the school’s campus.
He held a large bag of burnable trash and another of non-burnable trash.
(Um, I just have to take it here, right?)
There was a trash dump near the back gate for faculty. He had been told where it was, but he was still a little nervous walking there for the first time. Fortunately this was not a special class or anything, so he had no time limit.
Since no one was there, Othinus poked her head out of his pocket.
“If you have a problem with this, ask yourself why that might be. And at least don’t hold the bag of burnable trash on my side. It reeks of kitchen waste! What is in this container? Yakisoba? Fried chicken!?”
Othinus complained as she climbed his arm to his shoulder. His shoulder moved up and down a fair bit given her size and her balance was poor, but she seemed to have decided that was her spot.
“There wasn’t anything like you were saying. Kamisato didn’t show any sign of attacking me.”
“I have no obligation to tell you this, but things are seriously wrong from the moment that Kamisato Kakeru is living a normal life in a city as strictly managed as this.” Othinus sounded exasperated. “It may be hard for you to grasp since you’ve lived here for so long, but that would put a large burden on him on the technological, informational, and monetary fronts. And that’s even if the Board of Directors decided to overlook him. That means he must have some reason for being here. He couldn’t do this just because he didn’t feel like leaving quite yet.”
“Is that really-…?”
Kamijou trailed off and quickly rewrapped his scarf.
He wrapped it around Othinus to hide her inside. He thought he heard something like a “Bgh!?”, but he had a more pressing issue.
Simply put, there was already someone at the trash dump.
The space was shared by the middle and high school, so there were some impressive piles of garbage bags. The space was the size of two classrooms, but the bags were piled up higher than a human being in some places. Someone could easily get buried if there was an earthquake.
Due to the drink packages and sweet bread wrappers from the school store, the entire place was surrounded by a sweet aroma.
The person he had seen was in the valley created between two mountains of trash.
She wore her uniform and had plastic gloves on her hands.
It was the student council president with long hair, a large ribbon, and the same small size as Komoe-sensei.
“Hi, hi. How are you…liking our school? Some spaces are shared between the middle and high schools, so it can be more confusing than a normal school and you might get lost.”
“Not to worry. The facilities are actually better than our old school.”
She must have been relieved to hear that.
“You told me your name, didn’t you? What was it again?”
“Were you…tasked with cleaning up today?”
“Oh, right. It was Jumpy Bunny.”
“Just so you know, that’s slang or a type of unofficial- ow! I bit my tongue… A-anyway, that isn’t the kind of nickname you should use in front of me!!”
She seemed to defy gravity when worked up over something because she started hopping up into the air.
Kamijou ignored Othinus as she squirmed inside his scarf and gave a curious look to the girl’s plastic gloves.
“Why are you here, president?”
“You’re not even trying to learn my name, are you!? M-M-…”
The Jumpy Bunny seemed to call for that middle school girl when she grew too emotional because she began operating her cellphone with the plastic gloves still on. The response came with incredible speed. Even the predictive shortcuts did not explain that speed, so the conversation was probably being held with only symbols and emoticons.
And the president grew petrified as soon as she opened the email.
Worried about the unmoving palm-sized girl, Kamijou hesitantly peered over her shoulder at the phone.
“Mi-ke> You’re running to me too easily, Onee-chan. (-_-+) Am I your servant? （／ロ°）／～E *crashing tea table*”
“I really don’t think this is worth sobbing like a pig and crying over, president. You said at lunch that she’s an adolescent, right?”
“Fghfh. I’m going to ask Mie-chan to hang out with me to make up for this, so you be quiet. And this definitely isn’t me going into beggar mode with a middle schooler because I’m afraid she’ll run out of patience with me.”
When he placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, her sobs gradually quieted down. And while the spiky-haired boy was acting like he knew what he was talking about, he too fell into the adolescent category.
At any rate, it seemed that shared troubles helped bring people together.
The Jumpy Bunny spoke while sniffling and rubbing her red nose.
“Sniff… A-anyway, um, this is part of my usual student council duties. …It’s one of our odd jobs.”
“Separating the trash.” She pointed here and there. “It’s generally divided between a burnable pile and a non-burnable pile, but some people dump aluminum foil and other things in because separating it out is too much work.”
Kamijou looked over at the trash bags, but he did not notice any real problems from what he could see through the translucent bags.
“Well, Academy City’s garbage processing facilities do a lot of recycling too. They of course compost the kitchen waste and recycle old paper, metal, and plastic, but they also do urban mining…that is, recycling the micro-sized rare earths inside electronic circuits. They use air, magnetism, static electricity, and centrifugal separation. …But I’d still like to prevent anyone from throwing away a broken utility knife blade or a hairspray can.”
“Ugh. People are that careless?”
It was easy enough for the person throwing it away, but in some cases, it could blow off a finger of the garbage man who came to collect it. After all, to increase efficiency as much as possible, the trash bags were crushed with a powerful press inside the garbage truck.
“Um, uh, there are over five hundred people here if you count both the middle and high school. And it might help that it can’t be traced back to them like it can with household trash. It was suggested we write the class numbers on the bags, but for some reason there was a lot of opposition and it was denied…”
Kamijou followed the Jumpy Bunny’s pointed instructions to casually toss his two bags into the appropriate piles.
“This space is for both the middle and high school, right? I don’t see why the high school student council president would have to go this far.”
“The middle school is really just ‘attached’ to the high school, so all of the responsibility falls on the high school. Also…”
The plastic gloved president slowly exhaled.
“Even if I don’t have to do it, um, the danger will be overlooked if no one does it. And that means someone has to do it.”
Kamijou looked around the area now that he had finished his job.
It was the size of two classrooms and the piles were taller than he was in places.
“Do you want some help?”
“Ah hah hah. It’s a hundred years too early for that. Plus, I’ll be done for the day once I check the ones you just brought.”
He looked at the extraordinary piles of trash once more.
She had already checked through all that on her own?
“I’m growing every day.”
“Um… Sorry, but where?”
“Could you not leer all over my body like that? Especially when we just met today!!”
The Jumpy Bunny crossed her arms to protect her unimpressive chest and shrunk down with tears in her eyes.
“I did think about opening them all by hand at first, but, um, I pretty quickly realized that wouldn’t work.”
“Yeah, I would think so.”
But she apparently did things differently now.
As for how…
“The really dangerous things like utility knife blades and spray cans are generally made of metal, right? So I ordered a cheap metal detector. That gives me a general idea of where they are just by bringing the device in close.”
“N-not that that actually separates it all perfectly! But as I said, Academy City does some really good recycling, bordering on urban mining, so it’s all about give and take. And if you give me an impressed look like that, I can’t help but agree with you!!”
“Oh, so you weren’t using some kind of rare power…”
“Why do you keep taking jabs at me today!? Did I do something to you!?”
“Gyaaaah!! Don’t grab at me with those dirty plastic gloves!! Is this a new kind of biochemical terrorism!?”
She let go of Kamijou’s collar.
“Anyway, if you have no more business here, there’s no reason for you to stick around. Um, do you have any club activities after this? Or do you work?”
“I just head on home.”
“I see,” was all the president said.
For better or for worse, she did not seem interested. She was wasting her afterschool time on her most troublesome duty, but she apparently had no prejudice against people who simply went home.
“Then let’s head on home.”
“Huh? What about the student council?”
“Um, there are busy days and there are days with nothing at all. The awful part is that we can’t choose which days are which.”
The Jumpy Bunny laughed weakly and removed her plastic gloves.
That ceremony seemed to say her work for the day was complete.
With nothing to do, Kamijou noticed something almost buried in the trash.
It was a rusted metal box about the size of two vaulting boxes side by side and it had a smokestack attached.
“There’s still an incinerator here in this day and age?”
“The bottom was apparently attached to the concrete ground, so removing it would have cost a ton of money.”
There was a metal door on the top of the box, but it was locked shut with thick chains and a padlock. So was the small window on the bottom for letting ashes out.
“If no one’s using it, why bother locking it up?”
The president blushed and fidgeted for some reason. She also tapped her index fingers together in front of her (small, or rather, flat) chest.
Kamijou’s expression vanished at this unexpected response.
Was there really any kind of “pink” element to what they were talking about?
“Are you saying this had to do with some bondage-obsessed person who goes around putting chains on everything or someone who loves sealing off enclosed spaces so no one can get in or out? Or maybe someone who wants to run a death game in the future?”
“Aren’t you letting your imagination run a little too wild!?”
“Then what is it?”
She started fidgeting again.
And then she answered him as if making a confession.
“Well… If the incinerator is left open, um, it seems students will sneak things into it at night and burn them. …For example, um, an inappropriate magazine they worked up their courage to take to the register but were disappointed by and don’t know what to do with. Or a life-size doll or body pillow cover they got carried away and ordered online late at night.”
Kamijou felt a bolt of lightning run through his mind.
The struggling inside his scarf refused to stay quiet.
“(Don’t tell me that sounded like a good idea to you.)”
“O-of course not. I can’t believe you would think that.”
“Um, y-you can’t do that! It ends up causing a bunch of smoke, so you can’t do it secretly, and the sparks and smoke might even set off the school’s fire alarm! You’ll end up in tears as you’re charged with illegal entry and attempted arson. Even if you didn’t mean it, if people catch sight of a realistic doll’s burnt face or arm, it can cause a panic and get you charged forcible obstruction of business too! You’ll only be left with some baffling official records of the incident!!”
“I promise you I didn’t think it was a good idea!!”
It seemed to be more out of habit than to make sure it was locked, but the minimum president shook the padlock connected to the chains.
“No problem today either. Okay, let’s get home.”
Kamijou and the Jumpy Bunny left the trash dump.
Another day of hard work was complete.
After parting ways with the Jumpy Bunny at the school gate, Kamijou had a special mission.
“It’s finally time to visit the supermarket. Let’s do this! Let’s buy a full week’s worth of food!!”
“There’s something wrong with you when you have to announce that with so much conviction.”
The evening colors quickly became those of night.
Kamijou walked along the unfamiliar path home with Othinus on his shoulder. Their breath appeared white in the air.
“By the way, human. What do you think that starving nun is doing right now? You only had enough food in the dorm to make breakfast, right?”
“You didn’t know? Her perfect memory has memorized Maid-in-Training Maika’s route, so she can find food just by wandering around town if she has to.”
“And people don’t find that suspicious?”
“Speaking of Maika, what ever happened to Tsuchimikado? He wasn’t at school today and I was only vaguely told that the Kamisato Faction beat him up.”
They arrived at a certain street as they spoke.
“Wait, this is the shopping district’s main street. Isn’t everything here pretty expensive?”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Everyone thinks so, so the stores end up with a lot of unsold stuff. But at the same time, it would hurt their brand name if they advertised the leftovers, so not many people learn about the sales on stuff that’s about to go bad and needs to be thrown out. This is the perfect time to go for a high-quality supermarket filled with imported food that’s usually ridiculously expensive!!”
“Hold on. It’s about to go bad? But didn’t you say this is for a whole week?”
“Othinus, I have a word of advice for a god like you.”
Othinus looked puzzled and Kamijou put on a gentle smile.
“Humans are pretty hard to kill.”
“You’re sorely mistaken if you think everyone’s as tough as you!!”
Each of Academy City’s districts was unique in its own way, but District 7 was fairly average or normal, for better or for worse. Kamijou and Othinus passed by restaurants such as family restaurants and hamburger shops, entertainment facilities like karaoke and arcades, and fashionable stores selling clothes or musical instruments. It all looked expensive, none of it looked like it would provide more than average satisfaction, and it was all chain stores, so it was kind of sad. The target demographic must have been students on the way back from school because boys and girls wearing a variety of uniforms were walking around.
“What is it, human?”
“I spotted some familiar faces. Um, it’s four-eyes, the Jumpy Bunny, and the less memorable student council members. Oh, and what’s-her-name from the middle school.”
“Are you sure you actually know these people!?”
If they saw Othinus on his shoulder (and thought she was a doll), they would start treating him in an unpleasantly warm way, so he quickly rewrapped his scarf and trapped Othinus in the wool hurricane.
“(You-…! This is super itchy, so don’t wrap it so tightly around me!)”
“We don’t have much choice. And shut up, god.”
After whispering back to her, he narrowed his eyes.
“Kamisato’s with them. I don’t want him to know you’re here.”
Even Othinus quieted down at that.
“(Can’t you just leave without saying anything?)”
“I’ve already stepped on the landmine. The only reason it hasn’t blown up yet is that I haven’t lifted my foot. One way to give the police probable cause to question you is to suddenly turn back for no apparent reason. In other words, I want to avoid standing out and causing unnecessary trouble. The best option is to follow the crowd on through.”
The student council and Kamisato were gathered around a crane game near the entrance of an arcade.
Kamijou’s Imagine Breaker could not defeat Kamisato’s World Rejecter.
That had been proven the previous night.
And there was unconfirmed information saying some other “thing” would burst out if Kamisato destroyed Kamijou’s right arm. That scared Kamijou because he did not know the exact conditions for it.
The cheerful voices around him transformed into unintelligible static.
What if “that” burst out inside this crowd?
He was scared, but not because he could imagine it.
He was scared because he could not imagine it.
The boy in glasses caught sight of him.
The Jumpy Bunny and student council president named…what was it again? Anyway, she had her hands pressed against the crane game’s glass, so the boy waved in her stead.
“It’s Problem Student #2.”
“You’re pretty awful yourself. And does that mean Kamisato’s #1 and I’m #2!?”
Kamijou shouted back without thinking, but Kamisato only shrugged and smiled thinly when he noticed.
“Well, I did arrive before you did.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
At any rate, Kamijou approached the crane game.
Modern Middle School Girl Akikawa Mie was half hiding behind the palm-sized Jumpy Bunny. She poked out from behind that living hedge to maintain her defenses while facing Kamijou.
“U-um, uh… Thanks for before…”
“In fact, who even are you?”
“M-Mie-chan? Please don’t lean on me after drying out like that!”
They seemed to be killing time there, but since Kamijou did not see any prizes, he guessed they were doing nothing but losing. He had no idea how much money they had spent on it, but he had difficulty judging how much the ugly stuffed dolls in the glass case were worth. Kamijou Touma was on a quest for food, so that wasted money sent a shiver down his spine.
He guessed it was all due to the minimum student council president who had steam rising from the top of her head.
“U-uuuhhhh…. Almost there…almost there. Focus! You need to pour your willpower into this! Okay, let’s do it!!”
“You’re skipping past technique to focus on your mental state? And isn’t the crane game more about how loose the springs in the arm are? In fact, it’s about as cruel a business model as the settings at a pachinko-…”
He stopped when the glasses boy covered his mouth with a hand.
The glasses boy also placed an index finger in front of his own lips.
He was saying to stay quiet because this was amusing.
The brown-haired middle school girl was sticking her arms past the Jumpy Bunny, so Akikawa Mie was the one operating the buttons because the president had too much steam coming from her head. Kamijou started to suspect her student council work also came down to wishing, just like someone praying that the food they were cooking would taste good.
“(She’s always like this. Akikawa-san stops by to help afterschool and she honestly checks through about 80% of the paperwork, stamps them, and gives the go sign.)”
“So someone really has usurped the student council! Aogami, our delusions weren’t so crazy after all!!”
“(Yes, but we really just do odd jobs, so being usurped honestly just takes a load off our shoulders. But while Akikawa-san does everything perfectly, she doesn’t realize how much she’s actually helping out. It seems the president that represents the school needs to be rather unique…both physically and mentally.)”
One of them was treated like an idol-style one-day police chief with no experience but lots of charisma. The other was treated like the police bureaucrat that could reliably handle all the paperwork.
“I can’t tell if they’re loved or being mocked…”
“What!? Wh-wh-who are you saying is currently doing something that deserves being mocked!? Well excuse me for being the president yet just barely having average grades!!”
“Ehhh!? You’re the president, but you don’t get perfect scores!?”
“Um, but, Onee-chan, it’s just like you to not go for all 0s either.”
“Bfh! Wahhh!! You’re obviously just trying to make me feel better, Mie-chan! I’m surrounded!”
“Hm, so you’re not all that exciting in either direction. You’re just normal.”
Then someone clicked their tongue.
It was Kamisato Kakeru who loved being normal.
“That’s how the real world works. Being right in the middle is perfect. It makes you a proper human being.”
“Problem Student #1-kun, you’re not really helping my case!!”
“Sorry, but you can’t look for reality in someone like a student council president. They should only be an ideal that has nothing to do with my life.”
“And #2-kun is crushing my basic human rights to prioritize his own dreams!?”
Kamijou ignored her complaints and looked over to the crane game.
“What’s even in this thing? It looks like a bunch of round and heavy stuffed dolls. Wow are they ever ugly.”
The glasses boy answered.
“They’re all reproductions of old mascots.”
“That car with a human face is a leftover from a motor show, that round one is the mascot for a lunar development forum half a year ago, and that twisted giraffe-like one is Mast-kun, official mascot two world cups ago.”
“Wait, you mean none of these things are in season!? I can already see the warehouses filling up!!”
Whatever their original price was, their current value had to be lower than 0 and they would almost have to pay someone to take them away. So why were they making an attack on this lineup that seemed to be rebelling against capitalism?”
The Jumpy Bunny, who was neither a genius nor a failure, bit her lip.
“I promised Mie-chan.”
Kamijou tilted his head, so the modern middle school girl smiled bitterly.
“Half a year ago, we promised to go to that lunar development forum together. We weren’t interested in the academics of it, though. Um, we were really just excited because a major actor was there to promote a movie set on a space station. But, well, you know how people can get too excited the night before and end up with a fever?”
The glasses boy gave some supplementary information.
“Our tutoring system lets a high school student provide one-on-one lessons for a middle school student to help them advance to the high school. That’s where the connection between the president and Akikawa-san came from.”
“Hm. So the president wants to get that stuffed doll for the girl who got a fever back then?”
“N-no… I was the one that got the fever…”
“You little brat!!”
Kamijou’s lack of mercy brought the president about 80% of the way to tears.
“M-Mie-chan could’ve gone on her own, but she insisted on looking after me since I had a fever. So she wasted her chance…”
“I didn’t really mind, though,” said Akikawa while nearly embracing the girl from behind.
“Sorry to interrupt your emotional scene, but…hey, four-eyes. You said the high school helps the middle school with a tutoring system, right?”
“Since the two schools are combined, it’s really just a system to keep the middle school students from being taken away by other high schools. …And the president isn’t much help as a tutor, so she really only ends up having Akikawa-san look after her. She even has a lunch made for her every day, so the idiot can’t even feed herself without help from a middle schooler.”
“Eeek!!” shrieked the Jumpy Bunny, but Kamijou already had a hand on his head.
That minimum president was gathering popularity by creating an odd desire to protect her. He could only assume she won the student council election with nothing but pity votes.
“So you just really want to get that lunar development forum mascot?”
“U-um, getting that now isn’t really going to change anything, but since I saw it here, I would feel kind of guilty if I just ignored it.”
“(If it isn’t valuable or anything, couldn’t she get one really cheap at a used goods store?)”
That fundamental question was silenced by a chop to the neck by the glasses boy.
He seemed to be prioritizing his enjoyment of this.
The palm-sized president breathed from her nose.
“Okay, here goes! Let’s do this! Mie-chan, you help me. We can see the one direction from here, so Problem Students #1 and #2, you two watch the case from the sides! We need to get this exactly right!!”
“No matter how many people you have watching from the same side, they’ll still see the same thing.”
Kamijou’s objection was rejected.
He had no choice but to join Kamisato to view the crane game case from the side as instructed by the president who had Akikawa’s hands on the controls.
“(Hey, four-eyes, the president isn’t actually doing anything!)”
“(This is really the state of the student council in a nutshell. But it’s amusing, so just roll with it.)”
Othinus was still inside Kamijou’s scarf, which put her less than ten centimeters from Kamisato. That dire situation seemed to double Kamijou’s heartrate, but then his shoulder bumped lightly into Kamisato’s.
“Unfortunately, my body doesn’t regrow and heal itself as conveniently as your right arm. I have a ton of bandages under my clothes right now. And on top of the injuries you gave me, I had to fight some stray dog.”
“So you’re asking me to apologize? You chopped off my arm, remember?”
For some reason, that made Kamisato laugh.
“I’m relieved, harem boy. If you were such an indiscriminate philanthropist that you would even whisper sweet things to me, I would have given up on trying to speak with you. Y’know something like ‘I didn’t really want to fight you, you know? (smile)’ ”
“Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what the target of your hatred even is.”
“Also.” Kamisato ignored his comment. “If this thing can erase you, then you must have conflicting desires. Y’know, like complaining that you want to return home from the alternate world you’ve found yourself in but also enjoying the harem you’re building up.”
“Please don’t use alternate worlds in your examples! Not everyone’s going to understand that!!”
“Really? As you can see, I’m the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere, so a trip overseas actually feels more out of reach to me. Manga and video games feel a lot closer to home than desperately mastering a foreign language and heading to the airport with a passport and plane ticket in hand.”
“To be honest, I thought you didn’t have any hobbies.”
“Can you really call that a hobby? I like them, but I don’t know all that much about them. That’s always how it is with me. I might say my hobby is watching movies, but I can’t list off a bunch of French films no one’s ever heard of. I listen to music, but I’ve never been to a concert. It really is all things like that.”
“You really are stupid. You don’t have to earn a gold medal in something before you can call it a hobby.”
“What’s the point of something you aren’t willing to spend that much time on?”
The boys held their discussion while watching the toy-like crane.
Kamijou wondered if the root of Kamisato Kakeru’s “distortion” came from how clean he liked everything. It was not that strange a desire and Kamijou felt there were a few similar people even in his own class.
“I have nothing and I don’t want anything I can call myself best in the world at. But I do wish I had some major achievement that was noticeable even from an objective standpoint. In that way, I think Akikawa Mie-san is truly amazing. As a middle schooler, she’s taken control of the high school student council just by helping out a little. When she takes it that far, you have to call it a form of individuality. Just bringing it up in conversation can fill in the gaps. It destroys the awkward elevator silence. I have nothing like that. No matter how far I follow the things I like, it’s all so light.”
He refused to rely on cheap tricks even if he knew he could not reach #1, but he also could not forgive himself for not reaching #1 when playing fair. Kamijou had no idea where or who this “#1” was, but Kamisato had built up that monster in his head and was burning with a desire to challenge it.
He wanted to reach #1 fair and square, so being pushed up in the ranks by a stroke of good luck would not make him happy. It only felt awkward.
That was why he sought a proper reason and justification for any good fortune he ran across.
And if he could not find that, he would reject it as not his to take.
He knew nothing was free, so he assumed that what he was given had been stolen somewhere along the line.
In his case, he had concentrated that into his relationships.
He would not allow others to spoil him.
He would say it was unnatural and wrong.
“Living like that has got to be exhausting.”
“Sorry, but I can’t read minds.”
Kamisato Kakeru made that sound like a form of evil, but Kamijou was not so sure. You might wish you had gone for ramen while eating katsudon, but not many people would immediately push the katsudon aside and start making ramen. It might be the next day or the day after that, but they would eat ramen eventually. But for the time being, they would focus on the katsudon in front of them. …What was wrong with that?
Kamisato would not allow that second desire. He would only allow himself to continue down the direct path to the dream in his mind. He would not allow himself the mental weakness that prepared a backup in case it failed. He would not allow himself to hold the possibility of failure in a corner of his mind. He would never allow himself to utter the phrase “realistic compromise”.
That seemed like another sign of Kamisato’s need for everything to be clean.
He claimed to be the kind of normal high school boy found anywhere and he was exactly right.
He was not driven by an incomprehensible end-times philosophy based on a strange myth or legend. His thoughts were normal ones that a few people in any given class would have.
However, he had World Rejecter, the unique right hand which had defeated Magic Gods by the dozen and even destroyed Kamijou’s Imagine Breaker in a direct clash.
That was what had made the result look so strange, just like giving a small child the launch codes for a nuclear missile.
“Ideal Sender, hm?”
“What about it?”
“That really is perfect for you,” spat out Kamijou.
His reflection in the crane game’s glass contained a smile that was anything but friendly.
“If someone is thinking of a realistic compromise, you send them to the far reaches of the ideal. You hide it behind some confusing stuff about a new world, but that’s really what you’re doing. Not everyone that vanishes wanted an ideal world. The one who wants the ideal more than anyone else is you, the one wielding that right hand. Whether it’s you or someone else, you just can’t allow someone to let go of the ideal as reality crushes them. So you want to give them a push forward with that right hand of yours.”
In that way, he was a hero.
Of course people would gather around him.
Especially those with extreme individuality who already had someone they wanted to be or a direction they wanted to head in.
Everyone wanted someone to accept their dream and give them a push in that direction.
“Nephthys said there was probably a reason World Rejecter ended up in your right hand, just like there was a reason Imagine Breaker ended up in my right hand. …It’s true that right hand wouldn’t suit me. It’s really convenient, but it wouldn’t fit me. The word ‘save’ might be too presumptuous, but my idea of ‘saving’ people and your idea of ‘saving’ people are two different things.”
Someone might want to correct the world, bring back someone who died, become the very best, or never again see a tragedy like the one they had seen. Their ideal was not wrong, but Kamijou had seen several magicians and espers who had grown so focused on that one thing that they spread quite a bit of damage which completely defeated their original purpose. When Kamijou fought, he shattered that solidified “ideal” and tried to look at it from a different angle.
He destroyed illusions.
No matter how many words one used, that was the essence of Kamijou Touma.
What would Kamisato Kakeru have done if he had been there then?
He would have given them a push forward.
He would not have hesitated to give them that push toward the cliff waiting beyond their ideal.
“Do you really understand?”
Kamisato’s tone underwent a change.
Even if he had started as a normal high school boy, this was the voice of someone who did not know where he was ultimately headed.
“It was a perfectly normal school in a perfectly normal city. Ellen, Claire, Elza, and all the rest lived as they wished, no one stood at the center, and they paved their separate ways toward their own dreams. But then along came this right hand. It was just like iron sand gathering around a magnet. They all went crazy, they broke, and they were twisted. They became ‘special’ and can only see anything in that one direction. There’s no freedom in such an obvious form of ‘special’. It’s as shallow as an alternate world RPG with four battle command options and a linear story. More times than I’d like, I’ve seen that ‘special’ thing taken from them, leaving them with nothing at all. Do you really think you can see what lies at the bottom of my heart?”
A wrong decision might have led to a wrong conclusion. Kamijou was not a Magic God that could create a world from scratch and discussing the “what ifs” of history was silly, but he might have been able to judge what would have best if he compared reality to those “what ifs”.
Still, he had a feeling that giving a push to those backs would not lead to smiles.
Not even for the one whose ideal had been made a reality thanks to that thorough support.
“It’s okay to waver.”
So Kamijou no longer hesitated.
There was nothing to be afraid of.
“You can have a hundred or even a thousand conflicting desires, swap them out whenever it’s convenient, and say the exact opposite of what you said five seconds ago. All of that’s okay as long as everyone’s smiling in the end. If you can reach that conclusion, then throwing out your principles and morals is perfectly fine. I’d be much happier as that kind of clown than as some great hero who adheres to his principles all alone and can’t smile with anyone.”
Kamisato started to say something, but the words never came.
The palm-sized student council president known as the Jumpy Bunny raised her voice instead.
“Here we go, here we go, here we go!! It’s finally here! This is the best match and the best position!”
“Yes, yes. Now quit jumping around, Onee-chan.”
“It’s perfect side-to-side, so now we just have to move it back!! We’re counting on you, so watch carefully!!”
The crane moved at a standard speed within the giant glass case. Kamijou and Kamisato ended their conversation and watched the arm’s movement.
“Keep going. Keep going. Keep going some more!”
“There are two of those round things, one on the front pile and one in the back valley. Which one are we after? Well, I guess the one on the pile would be easier.”
“What are you talking about? The one in the back has the top loop of string sticking out nicely. The round body is too big, so we can’t get it without the arm grabbing that loop.”
“Eh? Eh? Who am I supposed to listen to!?”
“You idiot!! You’re going to pass them both by!!”
“You idiot!! You’re going to pass them both by!!”
The Jumpy Bunny hopped up with a loud cry and she bumped into Akikawa Mie who was reaching her hands in from behind. Her hands left the large buttons and the crane took its final position at not quite the pile and not quite the valley.
The light electronic jingle sounded almost melancholy. Kamijou and Kamisato felt like they were watching a car driving off a cliff as the arm slowly lowered toward another prize altogether.
The glasses boy gave his assessment with a cheerful smile.
“Oh, that’s Soapy Sukebe-Isu-chan, mascot of Japan’s Proud Sex Industry Exhibition. I think the most recent one was at the end of October.”
“What was Japan doing while some of us were facing World War Three!?”
The Jumpy Bunny looked confused and Akikawa Mie blushed bright red. Now, which of those reactions was more worthy of comment?
“That’s strange. Weren’t we in a serious bind since the superpower of Russia had declared war on us? …And the event itself is just awful! Was this really a character people wanted walking around there!?”
“Well, I suppose this isn’t something you can give a middle school girl to apologize for getting a fever. …Her disappointment would quickly change to worry.”
The crane arm grabbed the stuffed doll as if stabbing it in the eye. And for some reason, the arm seemed to have excessive power this time. Some other stuffed doll was caught on the first one, but the crane forcibly pulled them both up.
The tearful president pressed both hands against the glass.
“Ah, ahhh, ahhhhhh…”
“Oh, that one caught on it that looks like a dried-up banana is Sticky Higozuiki-chan.”
“Why do you know so much about this, four-eyes?”
That sexual harassment doll seemed to have formed the foundation below the other prizes, so pulling it out seemed to have caused the ground to shift. A nearby pile wobbled and finally collapsed.
And that included the round target at the top.
A ton of stuffed dolls poured toward the hole like a landslide and Kamisato Kakeru gave a horribly bitter smile.
“I just saw a miracle occur, so why don’t I feel even remotely jealous?”
“Maybe because these are all trash if you don’t have any emotional attachment?”
Besides, with Kamijou Touma’s misfortune, he would never encounter a miracle that included getting a bunch of stuffed dolls that anyone would actually want. If a miracle had occurred, there had to be some reason why it was a problem.
The Jumpy Bunny with long black hair and large ribbon picked up the round stuffed doll and held it toward heaven with a beaming smile.
“Yes!! We got Lunar Zit-kun!!”
“Its name is an insult!?”
“Here you go, Mie-chan! Now I’ve preserved my dignity as an upperclassman. Heh heh!!”
“Ah…ah ha ha. Thanks… (What am I supposed to do with this?)”
The modern middle school girl seemed to be practicing how to use her facial muscles.
Kamisato pointed something out with flat emotions that strayed from the others’ excitement.
“So what do we do about the other prizes? It doesn’t look like the president plans to take them with her.”
Everyone but the president (who looked like she was seeing heaven) exchanged a glance in the real world.
And that included Akikawa Mie who had already had one forced onto her.
They glanced over at the malicious prizes still sitting in the prize slot by the dozen.
The negative aura was quite impressive.
None of them had that kind of esper power, but a black and purple haze seemed to appear.
If they were suspected of a crime and their home had to be searched, this bizarre collection would be shown on a talk show as an example of a modern disease. And after that, proving their innocence would be difficult indeed. Who could say how often those things would be brought up in the dramatic trial.
The glasses boy cleared his throat.
“To make this fair, let’s play rock-paper-…”
“Please no!! I already know I’ll lose and end up with every last one of them! You understand, don’t you? That wouldn’t be fair at all. Kamisato, you can vouch for me, can’t you!? You know how karma treats you when you have a special right hand like this! You have World Rejecter, so you don’t want this to come down to a game of chance, do you!?”
“Well.” Kamisato gave a heavy sigh while clenching and unclenching his hand. “The only thing I can think of is inexplicably having every girl around me obsessing over me. I’ll agree it’s a frightening side effect.”
“Okay, that’s it, Mr. Popular. Fists! We’re settling this with our fists!!”
It was the middle of the night.
Kamijou Touma was trudging back to his dorm with an armful of stuffed trash.
But at the same time, Misaka Mikoto, ace of prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School, was walking slowly along a river a short distance from District 7’s shopping district.
She had no real destination in mind.
Tokiwadai was strict about its dorm rules, so being out at night was risking a lot for little in return.
She could have easily gotten lost in thought inside her dorm room, but she had still decided to sneak out past the strict guard there and walk through the city at night. She may have wanted a different environment or to place herself in an abnormal and irrational position.
Why went without saying.
Even now, Academy City was recovering as a city and people would be filling the shopping district. But the scars had not been entirely erased. “Under construction” signs and yellow tape blocked some areas off and a lot of places had yet to replace their broken windows.
Misaka Mikoto knew what had caused this.
The Magic God known as the High Priest.
And the boy who had challenged that monster head-on.
“He’s so far away!!!!!”
A white breath entered the biting night air.
Simply put, she had been stewing. She was afraid that boy would leave her behind and she wanted to pursue him if she could. But how could she? She was one of Academy City’s seven Level 5s. She was the #3 Railgun. That undoubtedly made her a rare person, but that also meant that she had nowhere else to go and that she could not turn back.
That immense and stable power was the worst possible restraint.
She had nothing that especially stuck out.
(So what am I supposed to do now?)
Even if she mastered Academy City’s Curriculum, she doubted the #3 Railgun could defeat the #1 Accelerator. That had been proven by cold calculations, so there was no doubting it.
Then should she give up on anything related to her esper power? Was there something else she could reach for? But even if she started on something new, she could not see herself climbing the invisible staircase to the next stage.
Yes, there was a next stage.
The High Priest and that boy stood on it, so she knew it was there.
But she could not picture herself on it.
She was only a step away from being the strongest.
She was the #3.
As someone who had approached the final stage of comparative power, she understood.
It was just like the final stage of a chess or shogi game. Unlike when the pieces were first lined up, the spaces she could move to were limited. There was no freedom and only a few cramped routes remained.
And she doubted any of those would take her to that stage.
Unpleasant ideas spiraled through her mind.
She felt like a bowling ball was weighing on her stomach.
(Could it be…?)
In other words…
(Did I develop in the wrong direction…?)
The cold wind dropped further in temperature and stole away her body heat.
The lost time would not come back. Once the game piece had been sent out, it could not be brought back. She was dizzied by the shocking fact that it was her partial success that had told her this optimum path did not lead to the answer. Where had she taken the wrong fork in the road? Would she have to move further and further back and finally restart her life from the very beginning if she wanted to reach this goal? That vision filled her mind.
She did not know.
Even if she knew her current path did not lead to the goal, she did not know what it was she had to redo and what it was she had to obtain if she was to stand on the same stage as that boy. She could not tell. She knew she had done something wrong, but she could not reflect on or regret her mistake. And all the while, time moved on. She knew her train was not travelling to her destination, but she did not know where to switch to another train. She felt impatience filling her chest.
And to make matters worse…
Misaka Mikoto clenched her teeth.
(He isn’t necessarily going to stay on that same stage forever.)
Her goal was not arriving at that stage. It was the person there. Returning to the train metaphor, they had no set meeting point and he was constantly on the move. She knew the name of the last station he had been seen at, but she did not know what line led to that station. Plus, he was wandering through that giant and complex station and could board some other train at any time.
He would move further and further away if she did nothing.
He would freely board whatever other train he wanted and continue his journey to some utterly unknown place.
After following the river for a while, Mikoto walked toward a large bridge crossing it.
She looked over the railing at the dark water and stared at the cold moon floating in it.
(At the very least, there is a line that leads there. He isn’t in Ryugu-jo or Kaguya-hime’s palace. He climbed to that stage himself, so there has to be a line leading there. The answer has to be right in front of my eyes. But how do I see it? How can I change my viewpoint?)
It was probably something like Columbus’ egg.
It only looked complex to her because she did not know how to view the trick art.
The world was always there before her eyes.
No one had maliciously locked it up with a key.
She heard the city at night, felt the biting chill of the wind, and saw the moon floating in the water’s surface.
She had left her usual room and its usual warmth because she had hoped this new stimulus would pry open that door. She had hoped it would be just like getting stuck on a crossword puzzle and having the answer come to her as she took a light jog.
But it had not.
This stimulus was insufficient.
It was not enough to change the colors of the trick art that was the world.
(It isn’t that we live in different worlds.)
She thought to herself as she rested her elbow on the railing and her cheek in her hand.
She felt like a profiler analyzing a target’s mental state from their actions and statistical data.
(He’s looking at Academy City and District 7 just like me…but what colors does he see this city in?)
Suddenly, a new stimulus cut off her vainly circling thoughts.
It was a footstep that felt like the ripples of a pebble disturbing the moon in the water’s surface.
She turned toward that solid sound and then she saw it.
She did not recognize the barefoot girl.
Her silver hair glittered at certain angles like a CD and it was rolled up on either side of her head like disks or demon horns. She had a small and slender body. Most noticeable of all, she wore translucent raincoats directly over her bare skin, creating a bizarre outfit that only seemed practical if she was worried about getting a victim’s blood on her in a dark bathroom. She held a heavy sports bag by a shoulder strap, but Mikoto seriously doubted it contained baseball bats or lacrosse sticks. Even if it did contain sports equipment, Mikoto doubted it would be used in the intended fashion.
Despite the cold, the girl seemed to be eating a vanilla popsicle.
No. Mikoto had no way of knowing, but that was actually a bleached leather paddle meant for striking people. That tool of torture was easier to use than a whip which required snapping, and it could apply deep and definite damage.
“Lick, lick. Hmm, leather doesn’t taste very good. Or maybe the problem’s the oil rubbed onto it for maintenance.”
Sounding displeased, the double raincoat girl removed the paddle from her mouth. She then easily tore it in two like a rejected contract.
Mikoto did not know the details, but whatever that had been, she knew it was not normal to tear apart that thick a piece of leather with one’s bare hands. It had to be even harder than tearing the phonebook in two.
The danger of the city’s night had just risen.
Mikoto felt her pulse in both her heart and the blood vessels of her neck as a prickling pain covered all of her skin. She had no idea who this was, but she was already receiving danger signals.
This girl gave off the image of a ferocious beast.
She approached one step at a time and would charge at Mikoto if provoked.
Mikoto was an ace known as the #3 Railgun of Academy City’s seven Level 5s.
But this sense of danger overturned even that assumption.
The girl with a waterproof hood over her head placed the words on her tongue as if reading them off a document.
This “thing” knew her name.
That fact alone seemed to scorch Mikoto’s nerves.
“Misaka Mikoto. Yes, this has gotta work well. Hamazura Shiage didn’t really seem like a good match. While he’s worked alongside Kamijou Touma, he’s essentially part of a different circle. I tried it since I’d run across someone connected to Kamijou Touma, but he wasn’t quite what I was looking for. It would be hard to say attacking him would do any damage to the Kamijou Faction. …But most of all, his response was pretty amusing.”
The raincoat girl’s shoulders shook with laughter.
The shaking produced a metallic rattling from the sports bag.
“But I won’t have that problem with you, Misaka Mikoto. You’ve gotta be about as deep in the Kamijou Faction as it gets. If I’m gonna crush someone, it would be you, don’tcha think? Relationships aren’t neatly divided out like a honeycomb. They’re like a twisted house of cards. Pull out a single card, and it’ll all start to collapse.”
The vague pressure and tension had a definite directionality to it.
But not because this girl knew her personal information or was announcing intent to harm her.
This ferocious beast was acting on her knowledge of the name Kamijou Touma.
“Now. What should I call myself?”
A white breath escaped the raincoat girl’s lovely lips as she honestly pondered that question.
“Should I simply go with Salome? Or should I say I’m the Mass Murderer that the mass media refuses to cover? No, I think I know what would be most effective. After all, I’m picking a fight with the Kamijou Faction right now.”
Mikoto looked confused as those lovely lips split apart.
They bent maddeningly and maliciously.
The raincoat girl grabbed the cheap toy pocket watch hanging from her neck by a thick thread and she lightly kissed it.
“Yes. You can call me Kamisato Kakeru’s little sister. Oh, but we’re not blood-related.”
All sound seemed to vanish.
All color seemed to burst.
As soon as Mikoto realized Salome was running straight toward her like a bullet, the danger signal grew explosively in her mind. She released bluish-white sparks from her bangs almost on reflex. The way the approaching raincoat girl stuck out her small tongue and licked her lips stabbed into Mikoto’s mind to an odd extent.
An explosive sound followed.
It felt like it lasted just an instant. It also felt like a simple flash of light. A one billion volt Lightning Spear had burst from her bangs, but it did not hit Salome. It only scorched the air and there was no longer anyone there.
Mikoto emitted electromagnetic waves from her body and used them like radar, so she was able to follow the other girl’s movement.
However, she had trouble believing the answer that gave her.
Salome had not run past her.
Nor had she jumped over her.
The only word she could think to describe it was “dancing”. Salome was dancing, just like the legend from which she took her extremely ominous name. And that gave a hint as to what desire was contained within the action.
She would seduce the king and decapitate a holy man.
It was truly a dance of death.
(What…is that? Can human joints really move like that!?)
The voice was distorted.
She moved so quickly a burnt smell from the torn pavement reached Mikoto after the fact.
The sound had come from…behind her!?
Mikoto did not turn around.
It was lucky her opponent had a toy pocket watch hanging from her neck. That strengthened Mikoto’s radar sense. She considered magnetically pulling it straight up to hang the girl, but…
Don’t touch me, stranger. Do you want me to vivisect you?
That thought reached her via pressure rather than via a voice.
A chill seemed to flash freeze her entire spine.
She was honestly glad she was not facing her opponent at the moment.
Before her body tensed up, she simply manipulated magnetism. She gathered iron sand from her surroundings and vibrated it at high speed to create an Iron Sand Sword that could instantly slice through a wind turbine. She then launched it directly behind her.
While it was essentially a sword, the blade’s length and shape could change like a whip.
Its incredible cutting power could slice through anything in a single blow. She saw no way this cruel attack could be successfully blocked or avoided if her opponent was seeing it for the first time.
And yet, a dry bursting sound rang out as Misaka Mikoto’s Iron Sand Sword was mercilessly destroyed.
The reliable sensation of that weapon…no, that lifeline had vanished.
The #3’s thoughts were briefly swallowed up by a void.
This was different from the #1’s reflection. The Iron Sand Sword had shattered. It was destroyed. It was negated.
She only knew one person who could do this.
Or so she had thought.
There were no more strategies or tactics. Mikoto’s mind remained blank as she turned around to find an answer to her question. She found Salome’s evilly smiling eyes at extreme close range.
The raincoat-wearing mass murderer was smiling.
The bottom of her double raincoat spread out like a dancer’s veil.
She spoke the words as if rolling a piece of candy around in her mouth.
A moment later, violent attacks crossed paths between them.
One was a Lightning Spear fired from Misaka Mikoto’s bangs.
The other was Salome’s casually swung right hand. It swung diagonally upwards with the fingers gently bent. It should have not quite reached Mikoto’s body, but the chilly night air split apart, the asphalt was torn into at her feet, and the railing was sliced in two with a burst of orange sparks. Mikoto had quickly leaned her upper body backwards, but all of the buttons burst from her coat and a few strands of her bangs were cut away.
Tension scorched her nerves.
But not because this was a mysterious invisible attack. She had recognized it.
She knew the answer.
“An Iron Sand…Sword!?”
Mikoto manipulated magnetism as she moved back to put some distance between them. A bicycle floated up from the cold river, a wind turbine was pulled out at the base, and a second Iron Sand Sword gathered around her right hand.
She launched them all at once.
As soon as she detected the invisible attack that produced familiar results, the rusty bicycle was annihilated in midair.
Next it was the supporting column of the wind turbine.
Finally, the pure Iron Sand Sword was destroyed again.
Each time Salome swung her arm and the slash with a mysterious reach rushed out, the attack was different. Its weight changed, is sharpness increased, and it evolved into an even more violent storm.
“Your attack isn’t just destruction or negation.”
Mikoto doubted this was simply an esper power.
But then what was it?
“Do you absorb it and then gain its traits and destructive power!?”
“Is it really that shocking?”
Salome clenched and unclenched her right hand while tilting her head.
“I’m using a Celtic system, but you can find things like this all over the world. By destroying a specific weapon, jewel, or animal’s flesh and abandoning it at a designated place, it acts as a sacrifice and prayer for victory. The idea of a living sacrifice stands out a lot and can seem to exist in a vacuum, but that’s only the extreme version after it all escalated. The original and proper form of a sacrifice is to use an object, a dance, or some other kind of offering that doesn’t require taking a life.”
Her mind gave up on parsing that as language.
No, she could not let herself be trapped by her own thoughts.
She could not stop here. She had to keep going.
This was scorching her mind, but it had to be some kind of starting point.
This would help her change the angle at which she viewed the trick art that was the world.
“So I can absorb anything I can destroy with my own hands.”
An explosion stabbed across the bridge.
The raincoat girl with the tan lines of a school swimsuit on her bare skin took only a half step to the side.
“But if it’s too powerful for me to destroy or it doesn’t function as a weapon, then I can’t absorb it as a means of attack.”
A high-pitched sound filled the air.
Misaka Mikoto had flicked an arcade coin up with her thumb.
Salome’s evil expression remained intact.
It was not that she did not know what was coming. She knew and she was waiting for it.
At three times the speed of sound, an orange beam roasted the air as it shot forward.
The air was whipped up.
A violent shockwave surrounded them.
The asphalt was ripped from the road.
Unscathed, Mass Murderer Salome laughed with her lightly clenched right hand swept out horizontally.
It had severed the orange trail.
Misaka Mikoto’s signature Railgun was nowhere to be seen.
“Something I can’t destroy barehanded doesn’t normally apply for my External Offering, but now that I’ve built up this much of a ‘chain’, pretty much anything goes, don’tcha think?”
“And now I’ve consumed the #3’s Railgun and offered it up. Its destructive power is now mine. Now. A question. Iron Sand Sword, bicycle, telephone pole, rubble, and a Railgun to finish it off. Now that it’s snowballed up so much, just how flashy an attack will this be? The answer is coming up after these messages.”
“Why the hell are you laughing?”
What look did she have on her face right now?
This was even more incredible than that boy. But at the very least, she did not feel despair. Her signature Railgun had not reached her opponent. She should have been panicking, but the shock was surprisingly small. The Magic God known as the High Priest had done the same thing, but that was not enough to explain the lack of shock.
Then what was it?
Mikoto asked herself that, but she did not want to find the answer.
She was pretty sure she would hate herself if she did.
“So it really is out there. I was having trouble finding the stimulus I needed to gain a different view of the trick art known as the world, but here it is just waltzing up to me.”
Were her eyes filled with the shadows of a hopelessly dark new moon?
Or were her eyes filled with the light of a hopelessly bright full moon?
She did not want to know.
She did not want to know.
She did not want to know.
“I hate dealing with stuff like this. You’ve gotta be completely insane.”
“More. Give me more. This has to be taking me in the right direction. I can’t understand you at all as I am, so if I can overcome you, I can find the next stage I’m looking for!!”
“But I guess I was right to start this here. I’m crazy enough that people call me a mass murderer behind my back, but you’re gonna take it even further than me if you keep going in this direction.”
Mikoto ignored her.
She greedily licked her lips and pulled out another arcade coin. Taking a direct hit would mean instant death and she could even absorb and accumulate the full power of Academy City’s #3, so Mikoto was no match for Mass Murderer Salome. After all, Mikoto could only use “up to” her full power whereas Salome could add more on top of that. The difference was simply insurmountable.
It was kill or be killed.
Those two extremes were the only options and odds were good Mikoto would be the one to die.
But she would do it.
No matter how biased toward her personal viewpoint it was, Mikoto had a reason to defeat Salome.
She would defeat her and ask her how to properly view the trick art that was the world.
She would ask her for the foothold she needed to climb onto the same stage as that boy.
She would make those things hers!!
“Daaaaaahhh!! Stop that, stop that. Why would you create a super opponent that can keep up with your mass murderer side!? Are you seriously trying to bring about the end of the world here!?”
Just before she could, someone interfered.
Flying was not quite the right word. The glasses girl seemed to drop down from the night sky, but she had probably launched herself up by wrapping ivy around the bridge’s railing from below.
Her black hair was tied back in twintails and she wore a white dress that looked chilly in midwinter. She would have looked plain, but the giant tropical flowers on either side of her head changed that impression entirely.
She stood next to Misaka Mikoto.
Mikoto could tell she was an esper, even if not one made in Academy City. She would not provide the foothold Mikoto needed to solve the trick art she wanted to process and understand.
“And you stop giving Salome all that unnecessary fuel! Salome is a mass murderer who gains power indefinitely as long as her chain continues. Under the right conditions, she seriously could walk right in and singlehandedly destroy the White House. Priority one when trying to defeat her is to break her chain. It doesn’t take that much thought to figure that out, does it!?”
The raincoat girl scratched her head through her waterproof hood and shook the rattling sports bag.
“Hmm. Claire, you’re being a little hard on her, don’tcha think? She doesn’t know that my External Offering reverts to neutral if I don’t give it another weapon within three minutes.”
“Shut up, Mass Murderer.”
Mikoto’s temperature finally dropped below the boiling point.
At the same time, she realized something. If those two were telling the truth, then that sports bag had to contain “emergency rations”. Salome could destroy one of its contents if the chain was about to break in order to absorb the new weapon and keep things going for another three minutes.
Claire was exactly right.
When someone set a snowball rolling, the fear began once it reached a certain size. And then even the person who had started it would be crushed if it rolled over them. Plus, Academy City had crammed research institutions and next generation law enforcement weapons into its limited space, so it was just about the worst environment to challenge this girl.
“Kamisato-san has his own plans. Observing his school life should be enough to tell you he doesn’t need any direct killing done right now.”
“Oh? I was wondering what this was about, but you’re putting my brother first, are you? Still, would that coward really agree to harming his little sister?”
“Unfortunately for you, I’m willing to eliminate Kamisato-san’s relatives as long as it’s for his sake in the end.”
The girl named Claire clapped her hands together in front of her chest.
A bewitching light glowed through her glasses and she spoke in a low voice.
“Don’t get carried away, little girl. You’re just a remora that gains her status by clinging to his brand, so don’t think the protection of being his sister will protect you forever. If you think you can trick me into thinking you alone are special, you’re dead wrong.”
“Oh, dear. Why is everyone around my brother like this? Well, the only difference is that one of us knows we’re crazy and the other doesn’t, so arguing over who’s superior is just plain silly.”
The raincoat girl sighed.
“Also, do you honestly think I’ll let you stall for three minutes? Don’t underestimate me, you little weed. You’re at the bottom of the food chain. Blades and weapons are symbols of civilization, so get lost unless you want to get reaped by human hands.”
The silence lasted a few seconds.
After a dull sound, the two of them vanished from the bridge.
Mikoto immediately looked to the side, but she could only see a slight disturbance in the moon floating on the dark water’s surface. Not even an electromagnetic scan told her what those two were doing, but it seemed they were fighting on top of the water, not in it.
The reading grew more distant.
Misaka Mikoto was dumbfounded for a bit, but then a gust of chilly wind struck her heated body.
That was when her thoughts finally caught up to reality.
What had she been trying to do?
What would have happened if that plant girl named Claire had not shown up?
Would she have been unable to find a solution and simply been smashed by Salome?
She held her mouth.
She curled up on the spot.
She just barely suppressed the rising urge to vomit, but she could not suppress the tears. She sobbed again and again as her entire back shook.
“I hate dealing with stuff like this. You’ve gotta be completely insane.”
That had been an ominous prophecy.
It would have been simple to write it off as some crazy girl’s nonsense.
But it echoed in her ears nonetheless.
It echoed there and would not go away.
“I’m crazy enough that people call me a mass murderer behind my back, but you’re gonna take it even further than me if you keep going in this direction.”
She curled up and curled up and curled up.
She trembled and trembled and trembled.
The unstable girl finally tried to swallow it all down.
Just as she prepared to stand up on her unsteady legs, a question slipped into her brain based on the information planted there by the mass murderer.
——Then what are you going to do?
——Can you really remain normal? Can you just really remain where you are?
The biting chill of the wind struck the girl.
Her shaking finally stopped.
Misaka Mikoto slowly but surely stood up.
She stood up.
Between the Lines 2
“Well, this is it…”
It was more than four times larger than a school gym.
A woman in a cheap suit and lab coat sighed as she looked around the vast space.
She was Kihara Yuiitsu.
The countless halogen lights hanging down from the tall, tall ceiling swept away all of the night’s darkness. But while the space was filled with light even more dazzling than midday, it was lacking in heating equipment and the biting December chill mercilessly permeated it.
Her breath was white even indoors, but Yuiitsu seemed to be enjoying herself. This actually seemed to give an edge to the speed of her thoughts.
The large space looked like a plane crash investigation.
Bent and mangled metal parts were methodically lined up with alphanumeric plates set up next to them. And those parts belonged to military weapons that would never find their way into civilian hands: excitation rods for laser emission, large missile containers, bunker-busting drills, sprayers for flame throwers or liquid nitrogen, various types of armor and rocket boosters, etc.
Altogether, they were the Anti-Art Attachment.
Not even Kihara Yuiitsu could fully grasp that far-too-unique weapon system and it belonged to someone who was no longer with her.
“Is this what you want to know about, Yuiitsu-chan?”
The small girl next to her, Kihara Enshuu, tilted her head.
She was an expert at emulating the other Kiharas using the screens of smartphones, handheld devices, and handheld game consoles. It was possible she could approach a Kihara Noukan that Kihara Yuiitsu was unfamiliar with.
“I still can’t believe that he was taken out, but the facts are the facts. And I will take appropriate revenge on the bastard that did that to him. That’s a given. …But if they could defeat him, then their power must be complete overkill. If I try to figure this out after running across them, I’ll be taken out in a single blow, unfortunately.”
Kihara Yuiitsu was a researcher through and through, so she did not believe in praying to god or karma. What had happened back then? She would dredge up every last piece of information and have a plan to defeat her enemy before actually confronting them.
She had two hints.
First, the Anti-Art Attachment had bizarre scars that did not look like anything from this world.
And second, the Anti-Art Attachment itself.
Know your enemy and know yourself and you need not fear even a hundred battles. Only investigating one side would not make for a proper analysis. She had to know the details of everything related to that battle, so she had to rudely tear away the mysterious veil surrounding her former teacher.
“Um, Yuiitsu-chan? Did you not find anything on Noukan-chan’s storage or cloud? Are you relying on me because it was too complexly encrypted?”
For some reason, the woman in cheap suit and lab coat hesitated a moment and awkwardly scratched at her cheek.
“I did get into it, but all I found was a virtual Doberman figurine, a collection of a Great Pyrenees links, a digital handshake ticket for a District 15 Tosa idol, and data for a St. Bernard body pillow that could be ordered with a single click. Yeah, so I thought digging any deeper would be a violation of romance…”
The two of them weaved between the piles of wreckage and finally arrived at the center of the vast space.
That area alone was empty.
Or perhaps it was the spot where the golden retriever should have been.
“Okay, are you ready to get started?”
Kihara Enshuu seemed unusually hesitant.
The cheap suit and lab coat woman frowned and the small girl continued.
“You won’t get mad, Yuiitsu-chan?”
“Why would I?”
“Well, you’ve had a really scary look on your face for a while now.”
Yuiitsu relaxed her shoulders.
Or she thought she did.
“Not to worry. I’m just a little irritated that this person in front of me might know a side of that teacher I wasn’t aware of. But that’s just the skill you have, so you haven’t done anything wrong. Right?”
Enshuu tilted her head because she apparently could not understand that human subtlety.
At any rate, she had permission, so she grabbed one of the many devices dangling from her neck. A complex waveform appeared on the small screen.
She muttered something of unclear meaning.
“I understand. Noukan-chan would do this…”
As Kihara Enshuu stared at the screen with her pupils dilated, irregular convulsions ran through her entire body. Yuiitsu gently supported the small girl’s back as she jerked about.
In a seemingly kind yet actually forceful action, she whispered sweetly into Enshuu’s ear.
“What do you see?”
She bit the girl’s earlobe and gently stroked her back. A mother rubbed her baby’s back to stimulate the parasympathetic nerves and physically provide calming signals. But Yuiitsu had a different intent. Her fingers dug in to carve out signals of displeasure that mercilessly prevented Enshuu from departing for a world of trance-like dreams.
With nowhere to escape to, Enshuu’s mind raged within her small body, her shoulders and hips jerked around a few more times, and then she finally focused on reality again.
She spoke with weak and feverish breaths.
“I…don’t understand it.”
“But I know a familiar sensation. This is the same feeling…as when I tried to dive inside Kagun-chan…”
“Oh, I see.”
Yuiitsu grinned and let go of Enshuu’s back.
Kihara Kagun, aka Bersi.
He was a heretic among heretics who had reached for techniques beyond science despite being a Kihara. Yuiitsu had some fragmentary information about his self-destructive strategy taken against Kihara Byouri at the end of the Eastern European Baggage City affair.
Kihara Yuiitsu herself had been the one to draw up the blueprints for handling the commotion in Baggage City, so the Board of Directors could not restrict her access to information on what had happened there.
With all strength gone from her body and no more support from the fellow Kihara, the girl crumpled weakly to the floor.
She looked up at Yuiitsu with damp eyes and still managed to force out some words.
“But this is different again from Kagun-chan. It isn’t that there are unreadable corrupted files ‘inside’ Noukan-chan. It’s more like there’s a link there and carelessly accessing it will send you somewhere else entirely. The source of what made Noukan-chan special must have been ‘outside’ of him…”
(That explains it.)
Yuiitsu smiled warmly, but her brain worked coldly.
(That’s why Kihara Enshuu was isolated in that juvenile hall even though she didn’t really need punishment. Someone…someone on the same level as sensei was afraid of having this decoded.)
Kihara Enshuu was not an expert at trickery, but it still had to have been incredibly difficult to get her to hole up deep inside that prison like it was a luxury hotel while thinking it was her own idea. Whoever this was had pulled it off splendidly. It had been enough to completely overturn her murderous schedule and the joy of being needed by those around her.
Yuiitsu’s list of candidates was quite short.
And just one person on that list had any real connection with the Kihara brand.
(The Archetype Controller. So it’s that Board Chairman.)
Breathing heavily and face flushed, Enshuu forced her voice from her throat.
“Was I useful, Yuiitsu-chan? Did this…really help…?”
“Yes, so don’t worry.”
(I just wanted confirmation from someone else that a normal Kihara can’t analyze this.)
She supported the back of the small girl on the floor, gently held her in her arms, and whispered in the ear of this fellow Kihara who had beads of sweat running down her forehead.
She whispered sweetly, kindly, and compassionately.
“Hey, Enshuu-chan? If you’re that worried, you can always emulate me…emulate Kihara Yuiitsu.”
“Yes, yes. I understand. Yuiitsu Onee-chan would do-…!?”
Enshuu could not finish.
This time, her head dropped as if the thin thread supporting it had snapped. When she saw the girl completely lose consciousness, Kihara Yuiitsu carelessly let go like a child tossing aside a doll she was tired of playing with.
Yuiitsu’s expression remained unchanged.
(Oh, dear. Does this mean I have one foot planted on “the other side”, just like him?)
“Now, then,” she said quietly.
She left the giant indoor space to gather her thoughts. She did not hesitate to turn her back on the empty spot her beloved golden retriever, Kihara Noukan, had filled.
Some attachment remained. She had regrets.
But she saw no reason to drag them along with her. He had said so when he had left.
She no longer had to be his student. She was to surpass him and become something unique that no one else could.
She stepped outside.
She reached into her lab coat pocket and pulled out a thin rectangular case. It contained a row of quality cigars. She bit off the tip with her front teeth and placed it between her lips, but she did not light it. Still, that was enough to fill her nose with a pleasantly sweet aroma.
It was December.
She stood outside a papermaking factory late at night. Technically, it was a large box simply registered that way on paper. Kihara Noukan had had replacement weaponry for his Anti-Art Attachment in all twenty three districts and this was one of those storage facilities.
She leaned against the wall and shook the thick cigar in the corner of her mouth as she looked up into the night sky.
(This just about confirms what that power he relied on was.)
The problem had looked unprovable when viewing the numbers, but she had simply lacked the information needed to find the answer and had not even noticed that she was making leaps of logic. That had produced the error.
She only had to analyze it all one thing at a time.
It did not matter how precipitous a problem looked. The answer was always right in front of everyone’s eyes; it was just that the people of that era could not see it. Universal gravitation had existed in the BCE days. The theory of relativity had formed the instant the universe came into existence. But the people of the time had not seen it because they thought the world was supported by an elephant or turtle or they thought the universe revolved around the earth.
This was not a paradox that only existed in theory or in a play on words.
These things existed as actual phenomena, so no one could keep those theories and laws to themselves.
Technology and knowledge were equal to all.
(In that case, what was the attack method, effect, conditions, and range of Kamisato Kakeru who slaughtered sensei’s “power”? Could I determine that by comparing it to the behavior patterns of Niang-Niang and Nephthys that he warned me about using the term “Magic God”?)
A sound reached Yuiitsu’s ears as she immersed herself in thought.
She turned her head and saw a small girl giving her a frightened look from behind the fork lift and wooden boxes used to camouflage the facility. The girl held a leash as if for a pet, but she did not have a normal dog at her feet. Perhaps due to dorm restrictions, a small pet robot was wagging its tail there.
“U-um… Miss. You have a white coat on, so are you from the health department?”
The girl hesitantly spoke to her.
It really was something she should not have done.
“Where is…the gold doggy?”
Kihara Yuiitsu smiled cheerfully.
A moment later, bluish-white sparks exploded in the city night.
The girl swayed to the side and collapsed onto the asphalt ground. Yuiitsu pulled a device resembling a stun gun from her lab coat pocket, but it was not actually a stun gun. It used amplification circuits to send out a high power pulse that destroyed electronic circuits and unlocked doors, but she had further modified it to work on people.
Simply put, it could erase the short-term memories of anyone within ten meters.
The electric signals stored in the cerebral nerves were destroyed and rendered unreadable.
In a way, it was the nastiest nonlethal weapon.
“Just like a chop to the neck or a punch to the stomach, not actually damaging the brain isn’t easy.”
Rather than the collapsed girl, Kihara Yuiitsu approached the pet robot that lacked the ability to sense the danger. She picked it up, inserted a cable, and read its internal memory. It did not seem to be the type that wirelessly recorded things to the cloud. Not that she had been very worried since she would have received advance warning if it had been sending out electromagnetic waves or an infrared signal.
After modifying a few of the image records, Kihara Yuiitsu slowly exhaled.
She set down the pet robot after switching it off.
Killing any witnesses, regardless of age or sex, would be faster. It reduced the risk of the memories or records being repaired. More importantly, it was much more Kihara-like.
But she did not do that.
She clicked her tongue, pulled out her cellphone, and called someone.
“Yes, yes. Case C has occurred, so take response #4. I already took out their ‘eyes’, so you have to deal with that. Prioritize removing everything from the site and erasing all traces within twenty minutes. I’ll leave the next candidate site to you, but return to normal duties within three hours and don’t forget to set up an above average level of security. And don’t make a big commotion. That would gather attention and have the opposite effect.”
There was no such thing as perfect security.
So instead of gathering attention by building the thickest barrier possible, she focused on blending into the background so no one would target her in the first place.
And of course, her surprised subordinates asked why.
Not that they would expect this to overturn her decision.
Kihara Yuiitsu did not give it much serious thought.
She simply looked down at the girl and pet robot that lay on the asphalt like they were dead. She was probably thinking about that girl whose dorm did not allow her to have a pet and the golden retriever who had given that normal person a small taste of her dream.
Then the Kihara answered with the unlit cigar in her mouth.
She did not hesitate.
“Because that is the essence of romance, I suppose.”
- The kanji for World Rejecter.