Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume15 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Despair, or an Objective Revealed — Artificial_Disaster.
Akikawa Mie’s head was full of questions.
As usual, she had made a lunch for her old friend, the student council president, and the two of them had been eating their lunches on the rooftop. A suspicious person had jumped over from a nearby building, but that was not what had shocked her the most.
That part was fine.
That extremely small upperclassman always said something like that when she panicked.
“You don’t have to get involved in anything like this, Mie-chan! I-I need to demonstrate my dignity as the student council president…”
That part was fine too.
She always had a habit of acting brave and trying to look big (especially in front of younger people like Akikawa Mie).
“I-I’ll give you my octopus wiener, so please spare Mie-chan!!”
Akikawa Mie hung her head a little when she realized what had sounded off.
The president had not been the one to make that lunch. Akikawa Mie had made it for her. Although about half of it was handmade by her mother and the other half was almost all microwaved frozen food. The president had always been so afraid of food additives that Akikawa Mie had felt she was overthinking things, but that meant she took issue with cheap processed meats like those octopus wieners.
(Would she really say that?)
It went beyond liking and disliking.
Had she really been the type of person to give up on the lunch someone had made for her just because she felt a little threatened?
(Something about that feels…off. I’d expect her to say something like, “I won’t let you touch the lunch that Mie-chan made for me.”)
Akikawa Mie’s shoulders jumped a little.
She must have lost control of her own mental state if she reacted like that to the small president who was within a meter of her.
The president had to be fairly panicked too.
If her mind had gone blank, it was hardly surprising she would do something that did not seem to follow her normal thought patterns.
“Heh…heh heh. Things are getting pretty exciting around here, but it’s the student council’s job to handle problems like this! So don’t worry about this and go to your afternoon classes, Mie-chan.”
“Eh? Oh, sure.”
“I need to report this and share my information with everyone. If I act on my own and get attacked, no one will know what’s going on! Now, then, Mie-chan! Thanks for the lunch! Vavroom!!”
Akikawa Mie sighed as she watched the small president leave the rooftop while providing her own sound effect.
She gathered the two empty lunchboxes and thought about heading to her classroom, but…
The wind blew away the plastic cup used to hold the small serving of gratin. It flew over the fence, so there was nothing she could do. She followed it with her eyes and ended up looking into the schoolyard behind the school, but she soon returned to the lunchboxes. She closed the lids and placed them in their cloth wrappers.
(She didn’t mention her after-lunch tea, did she? But she always leaves a little in the water bottle.)
Akikawa Mie slowly stood up and glanced back behind the school again.
She could see the faculty parking lot and the trash dump shared by the middle and high school.
And the locked incinerator.
Mass Murderer Salome had half-threatened Kamijou by telling him to make sure his class and the other people he knew were acting normally.
He was now walking down the still unfamiliar hallway of this new school.
Lunch break was coming to a close, so the struggle over the best lunches would be over and everyone would be free. He would normally have found a relaxed mood in the classroom, but today seemed different. By the time he was anywhere near the classroom, he could already hear the lively chatter from within.
Aogami Pierce and some other boys had formed a circle, so he spoke to his friend.
“What is it, Aogami? I haven’t seen you all this excited since we were preparing for the Daihaseisai or the Ichihanaransai.”
“Oh, perfect timing, Kami-yan. I was just thinking about contacting you.”
“…By the way, how’d the roll call go?”
“Surprisingly well, actually. Everyone accepted it without a second thought.”
“Of course, that means no one noticed you were gone, even in this small classroom.”
“How can I feel so glad and sad at the same time!?”
A short distance away, Fukiyose Seiri, the classmate with her trademark long black hair and forehead (and giant breasts), brought a hand to her forehead and shook her head.
“This isn’t any time to worry about the girls, Kami-yan. We’re the only ones that can understand the value of this big event.”
“What is this about anyway?”
“It’s a secret.”
Aogami Pierce leaned forward with such delight that he clearly had no plans of keeping it a secret.
He continued with a smile.
“Did you know there’s an incinerator behind the school that no one uses anymore?”
“What? …No, wait. Don’t tell me…”
“Sounds like you’ve heard. That’s right! Sometimes the rash purchases of our youth only lead to disappointment yet have entered such a bizarre zone that just throwing them out would be too risky. So when we have an all-color magazine or when we have a life-size doll or extra-long pillow to be our late-night sparring partner, we can sneak in and burn them in the incinerator! I just wish they’d told us about this earlier. When in Rome do as the Romans do! We’re thinking of taking up the torch of this new world’s traditions and getting rid of some things we’d like to get rid of.”
Kamijou was in a crisis thanks to the Kamisato faction and the monster known as Mass Murderer Salome who was apparently Kamisato’s sister, but this peaceful place had remained entirely peaceful.
Hadn’t President Jumpy Bunny said that was a bad idea?
“Hold on. Won’t that lead to being charged with illegal entry and attempted arson? Won’t it leave some embarrassing and easily searchable official records that make one wonder how that could possible happen?”
“Man, this really was a blind spot for me.”
Aogami Pierce clasped his hands behind his head, leaned back in his chair, and spoke entirely casually.
“I’m glad that Kamisato Kakeru guy is a lot more mischievous than he looks.”
Kamijou Touma’s cheeks writhed oddly.
What was this?
Why had that boy’s name come up here? Why here in this everyday classroom that had nothing to do with conflicts between science and magic, the desires of the Magic Gods, or the two right hands?
“What is it, Kami-yan?”
“Wait! Are you saying Kamisato suggested this!?”
He raised his voice without thinking, so Aogami Pierce and the rest of the class looked at him funny.
He was being treated as the odd one out for sensing danger there.
(What does that mean? Is he plotting something connected to that relatively harmless-looking incinerator? Illegal entry and attempted arson. Is he trying to get my classmates to make a bad decision and ruin their reputation?)
But this went beyond that.
Half a day before, Kamijou himself might have thought he was being overly suspicious, but now Kamisato Kakeru had deceived him and seriously tried to kill him. This was no time to trust anything that boy said.
There was something there.
Just as he had pretended to be on Kamijou’s side to lure him out and gang up on him to kill him, there was something hidden in this unimportant-sounding turn of events.
An unpleasant sweat covered his brow, but Aogami Pierce and the other boys ignored him and continued their planning.
“The cameras and guards are set up more or less like this…”
“About the key to the incinerator’s padlock, they have denture paste at the drugstore out front, so couldn’t we create a mold with that and make a spare key?”
“Sneaking into the school at night is so exciting. It’s like another world, but it’s so close by.”
Kamijou could not believe it.
The plan itself may have been similar to gathering at night to set off some fireworks, but they were planning actual crimes: illegal entry and attempted arson. No, if any sparks flew over and set the school on fire, the “attempted” part would vanish. Normally, they might discuss this kind of thing as a hypothetical or “what if”, but they would never actually do it.
However, they had lost their self-control.
He had no real basis for it, but Kamijou felt he could not let them do this. He had a feeling this would end up going beyond simply burning some unwanted magazines in the incinerator.
“Hey,” he said. “I really think this is a bad idea!”
“Because if something goes wrong, no one’s going to help you out. If you’re caught, Anti-Skill will be after you. It wouldn’t be funny if you ended up suspended over something so stupid!!”
“And that’s why we’re planning it out so carefully. We won’t get caught, so it’ll all be fine.”
“That’s not the issue!”
“We’ve checked the security. The transformer is in an outside building, so we can switch it off before climbing the fence. And we can get past the padlock with a spare key. …See, nothing to worry about.”
Their plan was on the level of saying what they would do if terrorists attacked the school. They could picture it in their heads, but things were bound to go wrong once they actually tried it.
“Hold on. There’s no way you can make a spare key! And what do you mean switch off the transformer!? You’ll definitely set off some kind of alarm when you do that. This isn’t going to work!!”
He desperately tried to stop them, but it was useless.
Aogami Pierce and the others only tilted their heads at a deeper angle. Even the girls who were not directly involved looked over at him in annoyance.
Then someone in the group made a comment.
“Quit ruining our fun, you killjoy.”
Kamijou slowly – truly slowly – looked around the classroom.
Everything already looked the same as always. His usual classmates were chatting congenially and no one sent any definite looks of malice his way.
But someone had said it.
The deluge of voices lost all meaning. It simply surrounded him like a solid wall of noise.
He did not understand.
Unpleasant sweat pooled in his hands.
(Has the classroom…and have they…always been so distant?)
That was how they felt now.
And a moment later…
“Didn’t I tell you? This place smells just like the goddamn stupid Kamisato harem.”
Someone suddenly stepped rudely into the usual classroom.
It was a silver-haired girl with two raincoats worn directly over her bare skin that displayed the contrast of swimsuit tan lines. She had already re-set her hair, so it was curled around like disks or demon horns below the translucent hood. However she had done it, her torn-off arm was back to normal.
“He’s been busy in his short time here, don’tcha think? It’s like peering inside the mouth of a kid with a ton of cavities. It’s just creepy. Whether they can return to normal or not is honestly dependent on their pride.”
“H-hey, Kamijou? Is she a friend of-…”
A classmate hesitantly spoke up while looking at the true outsider that was Mass Murderer Salome, but he trailed off.
That was because Salome had grabbed his throat in a hand.
“Shut the hell up, you sugar-soaked bastard.”
“You let yourself be influenced so easily, threw out your ideas of good and evil, and abandoned all responsibility. You know who I hate most? The people who keep shouting ‘We won't ask for it. Until we win.’ to apply pressure to their neighbors, but suddenly claim they’d never wanted war in the first place the second the era changes. And that means you, you rotten sugar-soaked bastards. Do you really understand what it means to piss of a mass murderer like me?”
“Gbh… Th-that wasn’t…me…!”
“It wasn’t me. In other words, you know who said it and were laughing along. Pathetic. Why are you even alive? Can you tell me one thing? Kamisato Kakeru was the one that made you like this, but did he ever ask you to live?”
When he saw his classmate’s face turning red while dangling down from Salome’s arm, Kamijou frantically grabbed that arm.
The raincoat girl shrugged and readily let go, but she put on an evil smile as she did.
“How benevolent of you. …But make no mistake. No one’s going to thank you for this. Do you really think their sugar-soaked brains are capable of thought on that level?”
Facing an outsider like Salome was easier for him, so Kamijou did not look back. He knew very well that his usual sunny life would only bring him pain now.
He exhaled and spoke.
“Let’s head outside.”
“Fine with me. I only just made my new arm and I haven’t broken it in yet. If I keep seeing these creepy sugar-soaked bastards, I might just kill one of them.”
He stepped out into the hallway with the raincoat girl and then he shouted at her.
“Why do you love being alone that much, you crazy girl!?”
“Remember this: the first step towards crazy is to stop caring what other people think of you. That’s the kind of person I am.” Salome laughed. “Anyway, you must’ve noticed how they’ve changed. I was getting excited thinking we could block the entrances and exits with desks and chairs to hole up in the school against the goddamn stupid Kamisato harem, but it looks like it won’t be that simple.”
“That cursed brother has already sown the seeds. Setting up barricades now will only get us stabbed in the back from within. The Kamisato Faction was bad enough on its own, but who knows how far the sugar-soaked contamination has spread.”
“Kamisato predicted it would turn out like this?”
“Of course not. If he’d predicted my actions, he would’ve handled me a little better. He wouldn’t have even known I was coming to Academy City. Plus, he isn’t much for planning. That’s the problem with World Rejecter being so powerful. He can break through most things with brute force, so he doesn’t bother with the details.”
“In that case.” Kamijou slowly sighed. “Seeds he’d already sown for something else are blooming on their own now? Your rampage in Academy City, me working with him to lure you out, him deciding to kill me instead, and you getting in the way were all unexpected? Then what was his original plan?”
“Who knows. But his objective is always the same: revenge on the Magic Gods. More specifically, he was probably approaching you to get you to hand over Othinus, don’tcha think? Infecting the school might’ve been a way to bring down the Kamijou Faction and remove your defenses.”
“By having my friends sneak into the school at night and burn porn magazines and dolls in the unused incinerator?”
“I don’t know how to explain that either. But I do know he was going out of his way to destroy your circle of friends. There’s gotta be more to it than that. It might look like a silly event, but there’s gotta be something more there. …Hey, Kamijou-chan. Have you heard of the Election Game? It’s a minor board game from Germany.”
“Hm? Kamisato mentioned that. He said it was basically a complex version of sugoroku where you try to become president using ridiculous methods you never could in reality.”
“That bastard was selling off stories about his little sister?” Salome clicked her tongue. “So what method do you think he liked to use?”
“How would I know?”
“He didn’t attack the other player or their supporters, but that doesn’t mean he was a paragon of fair play either. If the enemy ended up in the category of victim, their solidarity would only grow, so he thought it was best not to rely on simple violence.”
The corners of Mass Murderer Salome’s mouth twisted into a smile with her eyes hidden by the waterproof hood.
“So he preferred to goad them into action. He would give his enemy’s supporters a push forward, have them commit a crime, and place them in the category of criminal. That would destroy the enemy faction’s solidarity. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Akikawa Mie could not focus on her afternoon classes.
She must have been pressing down too hard because she kept breaking her mechanical pencil lead. She could not remember how many times she had swapped out the lead. The flow of time seemed so, so, so, so slow, but not even half of the material on the blackboard had made it into her mind. She had written it all into her notes, but she could not understand it even when reading it in her own handwriting. It was so bad that she had to frown and wonder if class had always been like this.
Once school was over, everything was dyed in shades of orange.
She breathed a deep sigh and finally stood up from her desk.
“I guess I should head home.”
She was worried about the president who she normally made a lunch for and otherwise looked after, but she decided she may have been making too much of this. After all, they had been eating lunch on the rooftop when a naked raincoat girl had intruded and tossed aside the boy she was carrying over her shoulder, so of course the president had panicked. Even if she had been thinking clearly enough to know she had to tell the student council and the teachers about the intruder (which was the kind of student council work that Akikawa Mie would normally help with), she may have had too much on her mind to think about her normal lunch routine.
After entering the hallway, Akikawa Mie casually glanced out the window.
Lunch was long over, so the pile of trash bags in the garbage dump out back was reaching its peak. Needless to say, that was thanks to the trash from the bread, meals, and drinks bought at the school store. The trashcans were normally full by the end of lunch, so the trash was usually taken out to the trash dump then rather than waiting for the afterschool cleanup.
But none of that mattered.
She was interested in the silhouette of a small girl she saw in the trash dump.
It was most likely the student council president.
Akikawa Mie placed her hands on the windowsill, stared at the trash dump through the glass, and nodded. She put on her leather shoes at the shoe lockers and then circled around back.
The president with her long black hair and large ribbon quickly noticed her.
She wiped the sweat from her brow with the upper arm of her sweater since the thick plastic gloves did not reach there, and she gave a carefree smile.
“Oh, if it isn’t Mie-chan. What brings you here? Was it your day to take out the-…no, I guess not.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
Akikawa responded like normal.
“What are you doing here, Onee-chan?”
“Ah ha ha. I am the student council president, you know? Separating the trash can be pretty scary. Some kids throw out spray cans and broken utility knife blades, so a careless garbage man could get hurt.”
Akikawa Mie thought that was a wonderful way of thinking.
The TV news sometimes mentioned garbage men who had a finger blown off, so she though it was truly amazing that this girl was checking on the garbage every day to prevent those accidents.
“But Onee-chan, you weren’t separating the trash.”
“…What are you talking about?”
“You can see this area from the middle school hallway. I was watching for about half an hour, but you didn’t open a single trash bag.”
After seeing things momentarily stopped, Akikawa Mie had trusted in her sense that something was wrong.
And she had made her attack.
Half an hour was a lie. She had only watched for two minutes.
But the president took it at face value and a lag entered her smooth speech like the needle skipping on an old record.
“Oh, come on. Not even the student council president can check all this garbage by opening each and every bag. Most dangerous things like hairspray cans and utility knife blades are metal, right? That’s why I use a handheld metal detector to-…”
“Sure.” She did not let the girl finish. “But isn’t that useless? You said it yourself, Onee-chan, most dangerous things are metal.”
“What about it?”
“Most. That means you aren’t eliminating 100% of the danger. What about wooden skewers? Or anything plastic? Or a broken glass? Those can break through the bag and hurt the garbage man’s finger just as well. Why are you compromising there? If you were really using up your afterschool time out of concern for the garbage men, I think you would try to be as thorough as possible.”
“And if you are willing to let a garbage man get hurt due to your compromise, you wouldn’t even think about staying behind to work afterschool.”
In that case, why was the president here?
There were not too many benefits of visiting and hanging around the garbage dump. People normally did their best to stay away.
But wasn’t there another way of looking at it?
If everyone did their best to stay away, wouldn’t it be the best place to hide something?
And what if it was something that required stopping by periodically to check on it?
Akikawa Mie felt her heart pounding unbelievably hard.
It was even more out of control than during her adventure with the liquid diamond.
The “president” was not interested in the garbage dump. The garbage would make for poor camouflage since the garbage men would take it all away by the following day.
But there was something else there.
Something else stood out besides the large piles of trash. It was no longer used. It was a box of rusted metal. It was wrapped with thick chains and locked with a plain padlock.
“…What is it?”
“What is inside the inciner-…”
In that instant, Akikawa Mie did not just feel a chill run down her spine. She felt an impact that seemed to tear her spine right out.
The “president” had not actually done anything.
She had simply smiled in the setting sun.
And yet sweat was pouring down Akikawa Mie’s body. She suddenly realized they were alone in the deserted garbage dump. That meant no one was watching.
The “president” had mentioned the possibility of dangerous things mixed in with the trash. But what if they had been placed their intentionally rather than on accident? What if some bags full of blades or explosives were mixed in “just in case”? In fact, no obvious weapons were needed. The trash was piled up higher than they were tall. If the piles collapsed, she could be buried alive. And if that happened, who would suspect foul play? The “president” only needed to cover her face with her hands and tell everyone what had happened. She only had to say a student was playing in the garbage dump despite all the warnings not to and an unfortunate accident had occurred.
That was all she had to do.
That was all she would have to do.
The pressure of the “president’s” smile approached.
Akikawa Mie subconsciously took a step back from that smile.
“The incinerator is ‘dangerous’, so no touching it, okay? Even if it’s chained up and padlocked, you can still pull it open a few centimeters, which is enough room to get your finger caught. And with all that rust, there’s a danger of tetanus.”
It likely was a perfect smile.
Under normal circumstances, anyone would have been fooled by it.
Akikawa Mie even wondered if she was being too suspicious and overthinking this.
But then she gulped.
Who was it that had called sunset the “magic hour” in cinematography? Akikawa Mie had no way of knowing since she had little knowledge about film, but she still received the benefit if its effects.
The setting sun provided a unique shade of lighting and cast a deep, deep shadow over the features of that face.
That may have been why she sensed something tremendously wrong, like there was something tugging in on that skin from below the carefree smile.
An “ah” escaped her throat.
It was not even a voice.
“Miiie-chan, can you promise me?”
There was nothing she could do.
Once her fear reached its limit, Akikawa Mie’s rational mind burst. She turned around and began running. She tried to get as far away as possible from that garbage dump, that incinerator, and that figure she had “seen” in that familiar person.
She could not stand it.
She could not stand it, she could not stand it, she could not stand it!!
She could not stand her helplessness. She could not stand her inability to tear away the chains and padlock on that incinerator. She could not stand that her intent on investigating that rusted box had been broken just from someone staring at her.
(Who is that?)
Once she asked the question in her heart, further questions erupted out.
Someone was pretending to be the president. Someone had slipped into the school. Then where was the real one? Where was the cute small animal of a president who feared food additives but also feared food poisoning?
A vision rapidly grew inside her head.
It was of the chained and locked incinerator that could contain anything.
(Who is that!?)
An innocent voice seemed to slam into her back.
“Mie-chaaaan, I’m looking forward to my lunch tomorrow.”
Something sparked inside her mind.
She ran and ran and ran and ran and ran and ran and ran and ran.
The next thing she knew, she had left the school grounds and was gasping for breath as she leaned up against a wind turbine.
The contents of her stomach almost joined the heavy breaths leaving her mouth, but she desperately held back the urge to vomit while painfully aware of her unpleasantly sweat-soaked body.
Meanwhile, she muttered to herself.
She moved her lips and released the words into the world instead of keeping them locked in her heart.
“Who is that?”
She had to reveal that source of it all.
She had to retrieve her normal life.
But as a normal middle school girl, she was aware just how normal she was. If she stood up to such a great distortion on her own, she knew all too well she would only become the next poor victim.
What did helping the student council matter?
What good was an adventure with a liquid diamond worth six trillion yen?
Her past activities may have been enough to erase the awkward silence in an elevator, but they were not a weapon that could help her escape this crisis. She had nothing with a hidden abnormal side to it.
But then who did?
Was there anyone nearby who would listen to her and who she could rely on?
The classmates and friends inside her cellphone’s address book were not going to help. What about Anti-Skill or Judgment? They were too normal. In fact, she could not imagine how she could explain the problem in her mind such that they could understand. What about the student council? She respected them, but they did not seem like the type to leave the usual rails, run through the night, and fight the darkness.
In the end, only two candidates came to mind.
Akikawa Mie herself could not explain how she had settled on them.
But she had seen something different in them. They seemed like they were moving freely in a place removed from the usual rails.
If she was going to trust her instincts, then there were two people she could discuss this with.
It had to be either Kamijou Touma or Kamisato Kakeru.
The night wore on.
“This is bad. What’s bad, you ask? I haven’t made Index and Othinus any dinner. Well, I did learn my lesson after last time and had a few cup noodles ready, but I’m a little afraid Othinus will fall into the container.”
Aogami Pierce and Kamijou’s other classmates were acting based on knowledge provided by Kamisato Kakeru. They were going to sneak into the school late at night and use an unused incinerator to burn up pinup magazines, life-size dolls, and body pillow covers.
And of course, Kamijou seriously doubted Kamisato would have them do that on a whim. It may have looked like a silly little event, but what if there was some hidden malice behind it? Salome, Kamisato’s sister, had warned him about that, so he was keeping an eye on the school that night.
“Why do I have to freeze my butt off in the bushes by the school gate waiting for a bunch of guys!? Isn’t there another way? I mean, there’s a family restaurant and café not far from here!”
“Yeah, but I’m only wearing these raincoats. Even if my battle mode lacks that sort of thing, I’d still get reported to the authorities the instant I stepped in the door, don’tcha think?”
“If you know it’s a problem, then wear some clothes!!”
“I can’t do that thanks to this body.”
“And based on the way you talk about it, I’m guessing you really do have a spare body besides that battle one. Is it for your Onii-chan?”
“Ahem. Quit being so nosy. That’s none of your business, don’tcha think?”
After that, Salome reached into the nearby shadows as if pulling out a souvenir.
“More importantly, we’ve got a problem.”
At some point, Salome had grabbed an unfamiliar middle school girl by the back of the neck. The girl looked nervous and quite blue.
“Wait a second! Who is that girl!?”
“Akikawa! Akikawa Mie!! You still haven’t learned my name!?”
“And why do you have Whatever-Her-Name-Is with you!? Don’t just kidnap people like you’re grabbing the finished version of the dish at the end of a cooking show!!”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m keeping her safe. She seems to have some business with the school and she was hiding in the bushes just like us.”
Kamijou looked back at the girl who was still in her uniform.
She almost – almost! – looked familiar.
“M-my name is…Akikawa Mie… D-do you really…really, really not remember me?”
The modern middle school girl furiously scratched at her head.
She must have realized she would make no progress if she stuck with her pride because she gave an explanation while seeming to bite through each individual word.
“Um! Is the, uh, old priest who saved me during the liquid diamond stuff doing well? I need to thank him!!”
Salome gave him an annoyed look, but Kamijou could only tilt his head. He puzzled over her question since he was pretty sure he did not know any priests.
“No, wait. Do you mean…the High Priest!? What the hell did he do while here in Academy City!? Isn’t he a priest? So why was he was he hitting on a middle school girl? Don’t tell me he was driving around in an Italian car with a bunch of gold necklaces on!! Wasn’t he supposed to be a Magic God who had mastered his field!?”
“Heh. Eh heh heh.”
“And even more baffling is why this modern middle school girl seems completely fine with it. ….How does a mummy priest end up so popular!? Are we entering the age of temple girls and Buddhist fangirls!?”
“I’m glad you’re here…. I couldn’t seem to find anyone to talk to about Onee-chan. To be honest, I was hoping to meet with Kamisato-san instead of you.”
“Sorry, but your counseling session will have to wait.” Raincoat Salome’s quiet voice urged them to silence. “Something’s started. I can see a few flashlight beams moving around. And that’s gotta be someone other than Anti-Skill. They’re wandering around instead of following a set patrol route.”
“So it’s them…”
Unsure what was going on, Akikawa Mie tilted her head.
And why had that girl been here all alone this late anyway?
“U-um, I thought Onee-chan…no, the high school student council president might not find me this late. That wouldn’t work if she monitors it at night too, though.”
Kamijou was confused by the mention of the Jumpy Bunny, but then Akikawa Mie asked a question of her own.
“Um, why are you two here?”
“It’s awful. My goddamn stupid brother got this guy’s classmates to sneak into the school at night to burn their porn magazines and stoic training dolls in the unused incinerator. That’s illegal entry and attempted arson on its own, but there’s gotta be more to it than that. It all smells really fishy to me, but we’re still not sure what exactly-…”
They heard the sound of several small twigs snapping.
Akikawa Mie had been so shocked she fell backwards and landed on her butt within the bushes.
She raised her voice while looking like someone floating with her butt sticking inside an inner tube.
“W-wait a second! The incinerator!? Is that true!?”
“What if it is?”
Mass Murderer Salome sounded puzzled and Akikawa Mie’s lips started trembling.
“But…hold on. If that’s true…but…you’re kidding…”
“Again, what about it?”
“The Onee-chan walking around at school today isn’t the real one. Someone else has taken her place! And the real one might be trapped inside that incinerator!!”
Kamijou and Salome exchanged a glance.
They wanted to write this off as a joke or a delusion, but they could not stop a chill from running down their spines.
“Hey, Kamijou-chan. You’ve been at this school a bit. Have you met this student council president? Do you think this might be accurate?”
“I have one question. Akikawa Mie…-chan was it? You make the president’s lunches, right?”
“Oh, y-yes… I thought how she handled the lunch was a little odd too.”
“Sorry, but that’s not what I’m getting at.” Kamijou cut her off. “What about other meals? Breakfast for example. Do you make anything for her then?”
“Um…” Akikawa Mie looked troubled. “She doesn’t even eat breakfast. I keep telling her that’s unhealthy, but she won’t listen.”
That confirmed it.
Kamijou mussed up his bangs with a hand.
“I met that president this morning at the garbage dump. But she had a banana gelatin drink. She said she could drink it without getting her hands dirty.”
“I’ll tell you as many times as it takes, Onee-chan doesn’t eat breakfast.”
“In that case…” started Salome.
“That food wasn’t for her,” continued Kamijou. “Akikawa? If what you’re saying is true, then it was food for whatever she’s keeping in the incinerator.”
Replacing someone like that was no easy feat. The odds were good one of the girls from the Kamisato Faction had a hand in it.
And Kamisato, their leader, was manipulating Kamijou’s classmates into lighting that incinerator.
According to Salome, his sister, he had a certain way of playing the Election Game.
He would goad his enemy’s candidate into committing a crime and use the weight of that crime to tear apart their solidarity.
“If the real one really is inside the incinerator, do you think Aogami Pierce and the others could light it without noticing? Once they remove the padlock and chains and open it up, they’ll find a girl inside there. Surely they’d notice that! Right!?”
“I’m not so sure. The inside of a closed space like that has gotta be pitch black in this darkness. And would they really go to the trouble of shining their flashlights inside an incinerator that hasn’t been used? They’ll just dump all their magazines and pillow covers in, toss in some lit paper or something, and close it up, don’tcha think? And if this rumored president has her arms, legs, and mouth bound with duct tape, she won’t even be able to make any noise. And if she’s unconscious thanks to malnutrition and dehydration, they won’t have any kind of hint. …More importantly, why would anyone think there’s a living person inside an incinerator that’s been locked up for what has to be over a decade now? With that presumption of safety in place, they’ll have no reason to check at all.”
Kamijou cursed and stood from behind the bushes.
He had no more reason to hide. Setting off an alarm would actually be a good thing now. He climbed over the fence and ran across the school grounds. Salome and Akikawa Mie followed.
This was odd.
Kamisato Kakeru was completely over the line this time.
He would go this far to tear apart the friendly group known as the Kamijou Faction? He would really have Aogami Pierce and Kamijou’s other classmates unwittingly commit murder, place the blame of that crime on them, and use the weight of the crime to crush Kamijou’s circle of friends? This did not seem like the same person who had worked to save the Birdway Sisters, even if it had been in a twisted fashion. Besides, President Jumpy Bunny had nothing to do with Kamijou. They belonged to different schools and they had been complete strangers until the day before.
Yet he did not even hesitate to have someone burn her alive?
“What the hell are you thinking, you dumbass!!!!!?”
This truly was the end.
Even if they were being manipulated by someone, these classmates’ previous life would never return if they set someone ablaze with smiles on their faces. This would place things on a decisively different set of rails and smash Kamijou Touma’s familiar world to pieces.
“I was hoping you could give him a nice punch before it came to this.” Salome sounded like she was cursing him. “That stupid harem boy! Did he completely lose his morals because everyone agrees with everything he says!? A world without anyone to say ‘no’ is a world without any chance to correct your actions! Why couldn’t you figure that out, you pampered goddamn stupid Onii-chan!?”
They cut across the dark schoolyard in a full speed dash toward the back of the school. They needed to reach that garbage dump…no, the rusted incinerator. They could hear something heavy rattling in the darkness.
It was the chains keeping the incinerator closed.
They were already being removed.
Then they heard a quiet sound that was likely a lighter lighting.
The familiar grinning faces of his classmates floated in the darkness as if they were lit by candles during a ritual of some mysterious cult.
One of them was Aogami Pierce.
“Sure thing. External Offering.”
It did not take long after that.
The naked raincoat girl moved forward. The bottom of her double raincoats swayed like a jellyfish and then she jumped forward as if propelled by a rocket engine. She had gathered all of the weapons in the school: utility knives, kitchen knives, saws, branch cutter, and lawnmower. She had destroyed them with her own hands, consumed them, and offered them up to something in order to gain overwhelming power.
She did not target the individual classmates.
She went for the source of it all: the rusted box of the incinerator.
As soon as she made her jump, a tremendous sound burst out. It sounded far too raw to be the slicing of metal. Then a diagonal split appeared. Unable to bear the weight of the smokestack extending straight up, it opened up like a treasure chest or jewelry box and finally crumbled.
Everyone was taken by surprise.
After many long years without being used, the incinerator no longer smelled of ashes.
There was nothing there.
Not President Jumpy Bunny and not even a scrap of paper.
Time seemed to stop.
It was more than just Kamijou Touma. Salome and Akikawa Mie also stared inside the diagonally sliced incinerator with looks of absolute confusion.
“Was she…moved somewhere else afterwards?” muttered Akikawa Mie.
But Salome rejected the idea.
“No, it’s not that. If so, there’d be some trace, like a human scent. If our guess was correct, then your president would’ve been inside that cramped space for days on end, right? It would have to smell like sweat at least, don’tcha think?”
“Then…” Akikawa Mie looked confused. “What was all this? Was I wrong? Was Onee-chan really herself? Did her face only look so twisted in the setting sun because of my odd preconception?”
For the moment, they had kept the real president from being burned alive.
That was something at least.
Someone spoke up.
Kamijou Touma did not turn around.
That low, low voice was truly the tone of someone looking down on someone else.
“What is the matter with you people? Taking it this far is honestly kind of disturbing.”
Kamijou found he could not speak.
He forcibly broke free of the curse and moved his body. He finally turned around with all his might, but he only saw blank faces. They were splitting up into small groups. Their event had been ruined, so they felt nothing but disappointment.
Finally, Kamijou remembered something.
(It can’t be…)
He remembered what Salome had said.
Kamisato Kakeru excelled at goading his enemy candidate into committing a crime and using the weight of that crime to tear apart their solidarity.
(It can’t be!!)
He called toward that boy’s back.
His friend stopped and slowly looked back.
“It’s okay, Kami-yan.”
There was no anger or disappointment on his face. He remained a friend.
“Even if things get a little awkward, I’ll stick with you until things cool down.”
There was pity.
This was not a conversation between people who stood on equal footing. Aogami pierce knew that Kamijou Touma had “messed up”. And with that in mind, he was reaching a hand out to Kamijou as if stepping down into loneliness from his position in the great heights.
Oh, how kind.
Oh, how cruel.
There was no one left.
There was no one left around Kamijou Touma.
The spiky-haired boy simply stood there on his lonesome at the school late at night.
Kamisato Kakeru’s circle had closed.
And it had smashed Kamijou Touma’s to pieces.
No matter how cruel Kamisato Kakeru was, he should have realized that boy would not have a completely unrelated person burned alive. Kamisato had worked so hard for the Birdway Sisters, so he would never use that sort of method. And if he had seen that, he should have suspected another trap beyond it.
Kamijou did not know how long he had been standing there.
He did not even know if Salome and Akikawa Mie had said anything to him or simply waited in silence.
Finally, a new footstep shook his mind back into focus.
He slowly turned his head and saw “the kind of normal high school boy one can find anywhere” entering through the school’s back gate.
He was accompanied by black-haired Ellen in her lab coat and brown-haired Fox Girl Elza.
He spoke to Kamijou just like always.
“Hi, Kamijou Touma. You look a lot more worn out than when I saw you last.”
“You son of a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!!”
The one to act first was in fact Salome and not Kamijou whose spring was in need of winding.
That girl insisted she would always stand on his side and anything she did was for his sake, but she was the first to charge in.
No, that may have been precisely why she did it.
Kamisato did not even raise his right hand.
Elza held out her plastic bottle that was made a blunt weapon by the old copper coins filling it. With a tremendous noise, it stopped Salome’s right hand.
After approaching right in front of her brother, the sister glared at the intruding girl and gave a roar.
“Do you want to set the snowball rolling that badly? Then how about I turn you to mincemeat first!?”
“Feel free. But don’t forget the basics: treat the ten yen coin used in Kokkuri-san carelessly and…you’ll – be – cursed.”
Salome did not bother struggling.
She was close enough to tear out his windpipe with her teeth, so she did not even need her arm. The raincoat girl glared at the calm-faced high school boy.
“To be honest, you’ve really pissed me off this time. I might be the kind of crazy person that loves being called a mass murderer, but not even I can approve of this one. How did you end up like this? You’re supposed to be the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere! That’s why a crazy person like me looked up to you!! Tell me who told you it was okay to stray from the proper path like this!! You piece of shit!!!!!”
“Salome, I’m well aware your brain doesn’t work right, so can you shift down a few gears and help me understand what the problem is?”
“I’m saying I’m ready to just kill you here and be done with all this!! I’m saying that and I’m just a despicable crazy person who can’t even kill anyone cleanly!!”
“What a pain… I guess you never were going to get along with Kamijou Touma. Oh, right. There’s someone else here. Yes, you.”
“Could you tell me why my sister is so mad? I honestly can’t think of anything.”
Akikawa Mie should have been an outsider.
She should have known nothing about the antagonism between Kamijou Touma and Kamisato Kakeru.
But that comment seemed to rub her the wrong way and she too spoke up as if to challenge him.
“What you did was the absolute worst.”
“Perhaps so. Perhaps not.”
“So…whatever happened to Onee-chan…to the high school student council president!? Did you take her somewhere other than the incinerator or were you only focused on making us think she’d been kidnapped!? Who is the Onee-chan in this school right now!? Is she the real one or a fake!?”
“Hm? Hold on a second.”
Kamisato Kakeru frowned for the first time since he arrived.
“What is this about the high school student council president? It’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
This time Kamijou Touma truly gave up on understanding. He was floating in an entirely blank world.
“Yeah, right.” Salome was of course the one to speak instead. “Don’t play dumb. You used an indirect method to break Kamijou Touma’s core! You made it look like that president was trapped inside the incinerator and like his classmates were going to light it without knowing, so he had to stop them from becoming murderers. …You made Kamijou Touma look like a fool in front of all of them!! You stole his position in the school, you goddamn stupid brother!! Do you not even respect him as your proper enemy!?”
Kamisato Kakeru took a step back for the first time since he arrived.
He held his palms out to get them to calm down.
“I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t do anything to the president. Proving it would be a lot like the Devil’s Proof, but I swear it’s true.”
“Then why? Why did you have Kamijou-san’s classmates use the incinerator so late at night? You had to have had a reason!”
“I wanted them to see our battle.” Kamisato readily gave the answer. “World Rejecter and Imagine Breaker. If they clash, I’ll win, but then something entirely unknown will burst from his severed arm. I wanted the people who know him well to see that. I thought one of them might know something about it, so I thought I might find a clue to the answer if I carefully observed their expressions and reactions.”
Salome and Akikawa Mie may not have understood, but Kamijou did.
Yes. Kamisato’s intent was to defeat Kamijou. And the fastest way to do that would be to find a way to finish him off using World Rejecter rather than coming up with some roundabout plan.
It was true Kamijou’s classmates might distance themselves from him after witnessing the secret of his arm, but it at least made more sense than the truly hopeless conclusion that had actually happened.
Or it seemed that way at least.
“How can we believe that?” muttered Akikawa Mie. “Then…then what was that Onee-chan? Was I really just mistaken? No, I refuse to believe that. It doesn’t make sense that she so forcefully tried to keep me from looking inside the empty incinerator!”
“That’s it.” Kamisato snapped his fingers. “At the very least, I didn’t touch the president. But it looks like you’re suspicious of her actions and appearance. And that made you suspect some kind of high-level replacement.”
“Yes. And in that case…”
“I will unconditionally accept everything you’re telling me as true, so I want you to unconditionally accept what I’m telling you as true. We won’t get anywhere otherwise.”
Kamisato Kakeru slowly exhaled.
“If the president really has been replaced by someone else and if neither of us knows who it could be…”
He listed off the premises.
Now that they thought about it, something about this had become twisted at some point.
Kamisato then asked the fundamental question.
“Then who exactly is pretending to be the president?”
There was an answer to his question.
It came as a sound.
It was a juicy sound like fruit being sliced.
Even Kamisato Kakeru gasped.
It was right next to him.
It was close enough to cut him off from Ellen and Elza.
A small form stood there.
Whoever it was had long black hair and a large ribbon. It was the Jumpy Bunny.
Or someone pretending to be her.
It happened so suddenly. Far too suddenly. Rather than approaching at high speed, it felt more like she had oozed up out of the landscape. Yes, just like a flounder beginning to move from the sandy ocean floor.
Kamisato Kakeru immediately moved back, but was that a good decision or not?
He should have thought more about the sound that had answered him before.
A moment later, it had been taken.
His right hand had been severed at the wrist and the president’s doppelganger held it in her hands. That was World Rejecter.
It was the powerful and horrible right hand that had slain Magic Gods by the dozen.
And it had been taken so easily.
“Ah, ahhh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
Kamisato Kakeru screamed as rolled around with blood splattering from his wrist, but the small president was calm enough to lick off the blood that reached her cheek. She was not holding any kind of blade, but she had easily sliced through even the bone of Kamisato’s right wrist.
Akikawa Mie shrieked more than screamed and collapsed backwards.
“Heh heh heh hehhhh.”
The girl snapped her fingers.
The area around her right wrist seemed to shine like a glowing bracelet and then her own hand was severed. She seemed to have used some kind of wire, but the details were unclear. And despite losing her own hand, this unknown person maintained her joyous smile.
“Kamisato Kakeru’s right hand was the biggest bottleneck.”
Starting with the sliced wrist, the girl’s silhouette peeled away, grew distorted, and fell apart. The figure standing there was no longer a girl in a school uniform.
“But if I was to take revenge, I wanted this right hand more than anything.”
Instead, it was a woman in a lab coat and cheap suit.
Some kind of thin, thin thread shot from within her lab coat and forcibly attached Kamisato Kakeru’s severed hand to her newly vacated wrist. The writhing thread moved on its own like a parasite. It was a rough action like sewing up the torn belly of a stuffed animal, but it must have used some kind of special technique because the woman immediately clenched and unclenched the hand.
“Heh heh heh! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Stitching by Sample Shoggoth confirmed. Beginning experiment of recognition control using the attenuated St. Germain virus. This will rewrite my brain as the owner of this right hand…as he owner of World Rejecter!! Yes, yes. Stealing your enemy’s power and growing truly unstoppable is the epitome of romance! Isn’t it, Sensei!!!???”
Kamijou Touma could not keep up.
He was just about ready to give up, so he simply asked.
“Who are you?”
“I am Kihara Yuiitsu.”
There could not have been a logical reason to honestly answer him.
Especially as the person making an illegal attack.
Nevertheless, the woman in a lab coat and cheap suit did not hesitate to answer.
“I am the one who seeks romance on a level no one else can ever reach. You really just directly asked who I am? Pfh! Heh heh! Ah ha ha!! And why am I honestly answering you!? Romance, yes, this can only be romance!! And even if my real target is Kamisato Kakeru, you don’t mind if I go on a bit of a detour, do you?”
The air began to move.
Ellen, Elza, and Salome were all on Kamisato’s side. They were not about to sit idly by after his right hand had been severed and stolen and the person who had done it claimed they were going to use World Rejecter’s power on him.
“Sensei would never say this. He would insist on not involving unrelated people in his revenge.”
She knew that.
She knew that, and yet she continued.
“But being just like him would be too boring. I need to become something unique. So let’s try doing the opposite! Let’s choose the path Sensei never would have! Just killing the bastard who stole everything from me wouldn’t be enough. I need to steal everything I can from him, kill everything of his I can, and take away everything he holds dear! Now, that…that would be the perfect time to deliver the finishing blow!!!!!”
Between the Lines 4
The Five Over OS – Model Case Mental Out is based on the personal conflict between Shokuhou Misaki and Mitsuari Ayu. Obtained a sample of its real-time military camouflage technology and magnetically controlled monitor.
A very close approach will be needed to determine the traits of Kamisato Kakeru’s World Rejecter.
This will be used to take the place of an arbitrary person at his school and perfectly take on their appearance.
Obtained a sample of the St. Germain virus used during the occupation of the high-rise building centered on Kanou Shinka. Successfully cultivated the pill-shaped sample in a Petri dish and attenuated it.
Even if I successfully sever Kamisato Kakeru’s right hand, the power inside might reject me. I must rearrange my own brain to trick its recognition. I will use the traits of the St. Germain virus for that overwriting.
Obtained a sample of the Sample Shoggoth that acted as the bottleneck in the clash between Kamijou and Kamisato concerning the Birdway Sisters. It is actually a variety of Academy City’s #2, Dark Matter, but it ignores that esper’s will and can be controlled by a third party. I will use it for the surgical requirements of severing and sewing on the hand while connecting all of the blood vessels and nerves.
Using the above methods, she planned her revenge by stealing the right hand that made Kamisato Kakeru unique and wielding it as her own.
She had also picked up on Kamisato Kakeru’s interpersonal relationships.
She of course wanted to physically approach him to gather information on World Rejecter. But infiltrating what was known as the Kamisato Faction was deemed too dangerous. Their unique sense of solidarity could not be obtained overnight.
Reports said he was making frequent visits to the student council.
If they had not been dyed in the colors of the Kamisato Faction, that would be the best place to interfere.
She did not need to hold back, so she targeted the president at the very top.
After acquiring the requisite personal information, she targeted Keshouin Asuka.
She wanted to avoid anyone noticing the switch while she was in contact with Kamisato Kakeru, so she had the real one stay at some far removed place. Until, that is, she had gathered the necessary data and everything was ready to make her attack.
“Eeeeeeeeeeeeek! I didn’t like the sound of something turning up on this unplanned health inspection, but what do you mean I have a max rare SSR-level parasite that only one in seventy million people get?”
As a decoy, she gathered attention on the incinerator that was no longer in use.
If her cover was about to be blown before she had achieved her goal, she would shift suspicion there to buy time to either continue or retreat. It was like a lizard’s tail. If anyone grew dangerous, she would make them suspect the incinerator as a test to see just how close to the truth they were concerning Keshouin Asuka.
“B-but they apparently give you a huge monetary reward if you volunteer for the clinical trial of their new drug. Once this is over, I can buy Mie-chan a birthday present. Y-yeah! I need to do my best!! I need to show my dignity as an u-u-upperclassman!!”
It would have been easier just to kill the girl.
That would eliminate all risk of having her cover blown.
But she did not.
Between good and evil it was evil, but between like and dislike it was like.
Those words came to her even without Kihara Enshuu’s emulation.