Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume16 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Mutual Request for Assistance between Enemies – Double_Enemy.
This time. This time he truly did think he was dead.
In fact, he could think of no possible way he could have survived.
Still in his swim shorts, Kamijou woke up to his own coughing pounding at his eardrums. His vision and mind were muddy and he could not tell where he was lying. He desperately turned his head to gather as much visual information as possible, but that only threw the scene out of focus. The wild dance of light filled him with nausea similar to 3D motion sickness. However, that suffering told him he was still alive.
He seemed to lose his balance as he writhed around.
He fell off of whatever he had been lying on. He fell onto a cold floor from waist height. Then another question came to mind. The floor was cold. Was it not being heated by the scorching 55 degree air? No, by the microwaves pouring down from space, if Mikoto was right.
(This is different…)
His eyes finally managed to focus.
He focused on his racing heart and gulped.
(I really am walking on the borderline this time. The slightest thing could push me over the edge and I’d never come back. Was my heart really beating just now?)
The floor was made of cold tiles and he had been lying on a silver stainless steel platform. The room looked like an industrial kitchen, but it had no gas range and instead had several large refrigerators lined up by the wall. Lastly, he noticed the scent of blood and fat. The entire room gave off the stench of raw meat.
Kamijou was briefly reminded of a gloomy execution room from a horror movie, but that was inaccurate.
Those execution rooms were modeled after something and the thick knives and large refrigerators here were the original version of it.
(A meat…processing room?)
A few plastic bags had fallen to the floor. They all had the same logo on them: White Spring Shopping Center.
Kamijou never shopped there unless they were having an especially good sale, but it was a well-known mall in Academy City. It was a lot like a department store and supermarket had fused together, so one could buy anything from food to a wedding ring there.
Of course, Kamijou Touma had not come here on his own.
Something had happened since “then” and someone had carried him to the countertop in the meat processing room of a shopping mall. But who? He had no memories leading to this point. His memories stopped after arriving back at Tokiwadai Middle School. What had happened to Misaka Mikoto and…? There had been someone else there, but he could not remember their name or what they looked like. It was less like the drawer in his mind refused to open and more like his hand could not fit in the gap between the shelf and the wall.
Kamijou had fallen, rolled, groaned, and now tried to get his mind working.
But the answer was given to him.
“Hi, Kamijou Touma. I’m glad to see the love of your right hand is still leading you down an unfortunate path in life.”
He recognized the boy’s voice reaching him from overhead.
It was the boy with the other right hand, World Rejecter.
No, it was the boy whose right hand had been severed by someone and had been stripped of that “qualification”.
It was Kamisato Kakeru.
Unable to get up, Kamijou crawled away from the boy who was surprisingly close by.
Meanwhile, Kamisato Kakeru wore a swimsuit he may have acquired from this mall, but he was not sweating at all.
“Why? Because you were about to get taken out by that person and I had no choice but to lend a hand. Well, it was Salome and Fran who did all the work, so I’m not saying you need to thank me or anything.”
Kamisato had used the same phrase: that person.
“That person” was the one who had sacrificed the Crystal Tower to locate their enemy and then led the Elements to attack Tokiwadai Middle School, but this meant “that person” was not Kamisato Kakeru.
Kamijou Touma silently stared at Kamisato’s right hand like it disturbed him.
The boy’s right hand had been severed, but now he had a hand there like nothing had happened.
However, that hand did not contain World Rejecter. In fact, it was not even a boy’s hand. It had a gracefully femininity and slender fingers. Even the manicure mostly remained.
The kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere casually clenched and unclenched his right hand. That proved he could move the fingers himself. Conversely, a thick wire was roughly stitched around the wrist like the repairs to a stuffed animal.
“I needed something to cover up the wound until I got that goddamn toy back. I collected this so it could double as payback.”
Kamijou had thought he was fairly understanding of organ transplants. If that allowed someone to heal their otherwise incurable disease and walk freely below the sun once more, it was a good thing in his book.
But attaching a “stolen” organ was something else entirely. He could instinctually tell that was a hopeless act.
A certain boy and a certain woman.
Those two lunatics had swapped right hands and were now facing each other while holding up those hands like flags.
That woman had the World Rejecter which had exterminated Magic Gods by the dozen.
Kamisato had a screw loose.
Was it due to being freed from World Rejecter which had been such an infuriating symbol for him?
If this was what he became after that liberation, what exactly was his definition of “normal” or “average”?
“Kihara Yuiitsu,” spat out the boy with a woman’s right hand. “I don’t need to get World Rejecter back. After cutting it off, I don’t care if it gets smashed with a hammer. But I just can’t stand letting her have it.”
“Kihara…” repeated Kamijou.
He felt nauseous, as if an invisible hand were stirring up his brain.
“Kihara Yuiitsu. Yes…that’s right. ‘That person’ was her!!”
It was fragmentary, but his memories linked together.
After receiving a hint from someone, he and Mikoto had turned around. There they had seen a demon leading countless Elements. Just like Kamisato, that woman had swapped her right hand out for someone else’s.
The blank in his memories weighed heavily on him.
“What happened after that? Why am I here!? What happened to the girls who were with me!?”
“Don’t ask me everything at once. Let’s do this one at a time. And can you stand on your own? We let you sleep here since it’s the easiest place to shield, but I think I’m about to catch a cold. Can we move elsewhere?”
His movements were slow and awkward, but Kamijou somehow managed to get on his feet without a helping hand.
He cautiously followed Kamisato out the door and into a giant fresh foods store. The temperature rose significantly, but an icy chill flowed out from the vegetable shelves on the wall that apparently had power. These large stores generally had no windows, so they would grow pitch black even during midday if the power went out. Being able to see in here or in the meat processing room was proof enough that there was power, but Kamijou only now caught on.
In addition to vegetables, the shelves contained meat, fish, and packaged meals. There were no gaps from looting either. It all looked pristine, but Kamisato continued on and spoke without looking back.
“The shopping mall is the standard in zombie movies, but it isn’t actually all that great. There’s so much food that you can’t eat it all. I think the fresh foods are going to go bad soon. After that, the place will probably become a hotbed of disease.”
This place was different yet again from Kamijou’s school where everyone was curled up in the darkness or Tokiwadai where everyone had used their intelligence and skills to provide for the necessities. In this case, they had too much and did not know what to do with it all. They could not eat all the food and it would then rot. The source of their worries was entirely different.
“Well, the stockrooms are full of mineral water which can apparently last over a year at room temperature as long as the caps aren’t removed. Rely on that and the canned, bagged, and freeze-dried foods and we can stay holed up here for a while, but it will seem a lot less appealing once we have less fresh foods to eat.”
Bars of chocolate and boxes of candy were stuck in the gaps between a few vegetables. That was likely to keep them from melting in the heat.
“Although the temperature safety measure has become something of a problem. Due to the heat, even if there wasn't an issue it still determines that an anomaly is present and shuts off the gas. Thanks to that, we’ve had to eat a lot of our food rare. Calculations alone just aren’t enough. If you don’t learn on site, you’ll try to strike back and just get your hand bitten.”
“Ha ha! Sorry, I guess my right hand is only a loaner right now.”
“No, what did you mean? You tried to strike back and got your hand bitten!?”
Kamijou had thought “that person”, aka Kihara Yuiitsu, was behind all of this.
By driving people inside with the heat wave and sending the Elements into the dark cool places, she had filled all the gaps to ensure everyone in Academy City suffered. Then she had used the Crystal Tower to lure out the people and forces capable of resisting or fighting back. From there, she would send out a great force to crush them.
Wasn’t that the situation?
How did that mean Kamisato had gotten his hand bitten?
In that case…
“Oh, you might be misunderstanding something. I was thinking of talking about that after settling down somewhere, but whatever.”
Meanwhile, Kamisato Kakeru’s response was calm.
And it was the worst response possible.
“The heat wave and the Elements don’t have the same cause. Kihara Yuiitsu was the one sending out all the Elements, but she has nothing to do with the microwaves. The Elements grow a lot less active in an environment above 42 degrees Celsius. Ellen, our forensics expert, figured that one out, so there’s no doubting it.”
Kamijou had no idea what Kamisato meant.
And that was why he forgot to stop the other boy from saying more.
“We’re the ones suppressing their movements by covering the city in plenty of microwaves.”
“Oh, boss. Did that kid finally wake up?”
That rough girl’s voice came from the indoor food court. The wall was lined with restaurants serving crepes, chazuke, ramen, yakisoba, takoyaki, bowl dishes, burgers, and more, but none of them were actually in business at the moment. A girl with her hair cut into something like fox ears was using one of the kitchens to cook pancakes. She wore a white bikini. Kamijou could not see her whole body with the counter in the way, but she seemed to be wearing a red pareo around her waist. If the gas range was working, it must have run off of a propane tank instead of the city gas. …Although if they could gather the microwaves effectively, they probably would not need any other heat source, just like with a solar cooker.
Or perhaps they were generating power like that. The roof may have been a flower garden of homemade parabolic antennae.
“But anyway, can you do something about Claire? She’s really having a tough time with this heat wave. She’s turning brown all over. Do you think she’s shriveling up? Global warming sure is scary.”
Kamijou looked to the corner of the food court at which the girl pointed her spatula and saw a short girl in a baggy lab coat holding a toy watering can. She wore a frilly two-piece swimsuit below the lab coat and she was pouring water on a glasses girl lying wilted on the floor in a leaf swimsuit.
“F-fugyuhhh… More, more…”
“The others are checking through the home gardening section, so wait just a little longer. I think I saw a TV ad for something like an IV that automatically gives your houseplants water while you’re on vacation, but I don’t remember what it was called…”
In addition to those girls, Kamijou saw something like a giant jellyfish caught in a fishing net. It was a pair of translucent raincoats. The person collapsed on a food court table slowly sat up. It was a brown-skinned girl with her long silver hair gathered on either side of her head like ammonites.
She was Mass Murderer Salome.
She was also Kamisato Kakeru’s non-blood related sister.
She spoke sleepily to Kamijou like someone less than pleased to have been woken up.
“From the looks of you, I guess you remade your body well enough.”
Also, the mass murderer’s trademark raincoats were open on the front.
For some reason, she wore a white school swimsuit below.
“There’s something wrong when wearing a swimsuit is adding a layer.”
“Shut up. I have my reasons.”
“I mean, it’s a simplified combat body, so didn’t you say it doesn’t even have the parts worth hiding?”
“Hold it, mass murderer. What’s that suggestively long silence for? Eh? Wait. Don’t tell me that’s your serious-mode life-sized body! Does that mean…it has those parts? O-oh, dear! Salome-san, I may not be an expert on girl’s swimsuits, but they don’t come with a pair of internal breast pockets with buttons, do they? Then what is that pushing out from below…?”
“I said shut up!! And this is a school swimsuit, so why is it showing every little bump and indentation like this!? I thought I could trust Academy City technology!!”
The brown girl quickly lay back down on the table and mainly pressed the thin chest portion against the table in a desperate attempt to hide it from view.
The answer was of course to make it a product of dreams and romance, but Kamijou held his tongue. Nothing good could come of angering a mass murderer.
Since they had just exchanged such a meaningful conversation, Kamijou ended up sitting at the same table. Kamisato had been looking over at a more distant seat, but he gave up on that hope and joined them.
Then the brother spoke to his sister.
“It isn’t a problem with the material. Isn’t that swimsuit just too small? You’re barely squeezing inside that thing.”
“I-I can fit just fine. I’m not forcing it at all. A-are you saying my waist is in real trouble right now, you goddamn stupid Onii-chan!?”
“You’re a self-made cyborg, so you can’t gain or lose weight in the first place. You keep stretching and snapping the shoulder straps or stretching the fabric on your butt, but isn’t that because it’s too tight?”
“What part of your insensitivity do you think is normal, dammit!? And why are those the things you notice!?”
The mass murderer blushed and snapped back at him, but the plain-looking boy waved his hand dismissively to ignore the annoyance.
That part was normal enough, but the boy’s right hand was a woman’s severed hand sewed onto his wrist and he shared a table with a mass murderer. The gloomy power had gone beyond Shakespeare and entered the realm of Dostoyevsky. It all seemed to run into a fundamental question: what was a normal high school boy?
“Okay, can you tell me the most important thing now? What happened to the girls at Tokiwadai? Are they okay!?”
“I’m glad to hear you’re still marching down the harem road, but you’ll have to ask the ones who were actually there. Salome was part of that team.”
The brown girl had zoned out a bit in the heat, so her head wobbled a little as she spoke.
“We somehow managed to save the gallery there. Although it’d be better to say we missed our chance to take out Kihara Yuiitsu, don’tcha think? When you went to destroy the Crystal Tower, it was obvious she would make her move. We thought it would be easy to get an attack in while she was focused on Tokiwadai, but reality wasn’t so kind.”
“Wait a second…”
Kamijou gulped and stared at the siblings like he could not believe his eyes.
“You knew from the beginning? You knew Misaka and the others would be attacked by Kihara Yuiitsu, but you just let it happen!? What the hell is wrong with you!?”
That was not “saving” them.
If someone provided a gang of robbers with the GPS signal of a cash transportation truck and then dragged the driver out of the smoking truck, that did not count as “saving” them.
Kamijou recalled the girl whose leg had been caught below the steel beam of a toppled watchtower. Her leg had definitely been broken, but she had forced down the pain and tried to get the truth across to Kamijou and the others. To ensure there would be no more victims, she had left that information with them and then passed out. Kamijou felt like her effort, conviction, and earnestness had been rejected.
However, Kamisato was unfazed.
The mass murderer pouted her lips and looked away like a delinquent girl scolded by her parents.
“I’ll decide later whether or not to forgive you. And? How did that farce turn out? You didn’t wait around until someone had died, did you!?”
“D-don’t worry! I’m a mass murderer, so I would know a lot more about death than normal people like you, don’tcha think? Heh heh. When I kill, I make sure to take it seriously and enjoy it to the utmost. I wouldn’t half-ass it like breaking a yam while pulling it out of the ground.”
“Sorry! I’ll leave out the jokes, okay!?” She seemed to jump a few centimeters up from her chair. “B-but, but. It really was okay. Kihara Yuiitsu got away, but we smashed all of the Elements she brought with her. It was like she got caught in her own trap. She destroyed the hangar and they’ve lost the A.A.A. that she was so oddly fixated on, so she probably won’t approach Tokiwadai again, don’tcha think? …H-hey, you say something too, Onii-chan. This guy’s scaring me today!!”
The brown mass murderer waved her hands around and for some reason began tugging on Kamisato’s arm. Swimsuit Kamisato responded by exasperatedly bringing his (woman’s) hand to his hair.
“Why are you better at acting like her ‘Onii-chan’ than I am? Not even I can get Salome to be this obedient. Maybe you could get her to conquer her dislike of bell peppers.”
“Leave that nonsense until later. Salome, you have to know who Misaka Mikoto is. What happened to her? I won’t let you say you don’t know.”
“She was really snapping at me. I think she might be half the reason that Kihara Yuiitsu got away. But if she had it in her to launch a bombardment like that, she’s gotta be fine, don’tcha think?”
“Okay, okay!! I won’t say anything bad about those high-class girls!! They’re all fine! You’re scary when it comes to girls other than me. What are you, my brother!?”
The brown girl raised her hands with tears in her eyes.
When Kamijou heard that, the tension building in Kamijou’s gut finally relaxed somewhat.
They were alive.
He had not been taken here after being the only survivor dragged from a pile of rubble and corpses. Knowing that was a huge deal.
(But Kamisato’s group didn’t leave me at Tokiwadai. And Mikoto’s A.A.A. should still have been able to fly, but it doesn’t seem like she pursued them when they ran off with me.)
The level of damage was still an unknown. They at least had their lives, but Tokiwadai’s facilities and equipment may have been destroyed.
Now he was worried both about his own school and Tokiwadai. There was no real causal relationship, but he felt like a god of death or god of poverty. Everywhere he went ended up falling apart.
(No, that isn’t it… Everywhere must be near its limit and this is just what I’m seeing. There might be other schools and shelters falling apart right this instant.)
Salome awkwardly looked away and distracted herself by snapping her white school swimsuit’s shoulder straps with her thumbs. She was like a small child sulking because her parents would not forgive her no matter how much she apologized. …Kamijou was not aware of it, but did he really have that frightening a look on his face?
He slowly inhaled, exhaled, and started speaking again.
“How much time has passed? To be honest, we thought it would be over with the Crystal Tower. If the heat wave continues any longer, the isolated schools could fall apart.”
“It might be hard to tell without any windows, but it’s three in the morning. We took you in at about six in the evening, so it’s been nine hours. You haven’t been sleeping for days on end, so don’t worry.”
“Do you still not get it, birdbrain? I’m telling you to turn off the microwaves behind this heat wave you’ve caused…”
A silent change came over the atmosphere.
It was the surrounding girls and not Kamisato himself who reacted to Kamijou’s low voice. Several gazes turned his way like sharp blades, but he did not take his eyes off of his target. He stared down Kamisato Kakeru.
Kamisato had said it himself.
Kihara Yuiitsu was only behind the Elements and they were causing the heat wave.
That was an unforgivable statement even as a joke. Inside the dimly-lit and barricaded schools, it might have led to a public execution.
“I said I would explain everything, so could you not get all worked up on your own and direct nothing but anger my way?”
“You actually have a legitimate explanation for this, I hope.”
“Of course.” Kamisato shrugged. “First of all, this heat wave is caused by the microwaves my Fran is sending down on Academy City. She’s a self-proclaimed UFO girl. She has an implant in her head, she flies around on a giant balloon, she gathers wireless signals from around the world, and…well, she does a lot. With the feats she can pull off, you can think of it as sending up an entirely handmade space station.”
Kamijou looked down at the exhausted brown girl. Again with this. She was supposedly a handmade cyborg that had replaced her own body with an artificial one using her own techniques completely unconnected to Academy City.
“Wh-what? You’re not going to get anything out of me! I’m not very tasty!”
The mass murderer trembled with her hands on her head like a small cornered animal, so Kamijou sighed and looked back to Kamisato.
“So? Are you saying this Fran person can flip a switch and end this? Well, why don’t you do that!? Are you saying you aren’t aware what’s going on out in the city!?”
“I said Ellen found an effective countermeasure against the Elements, right? Let me ask you this instead: what do you think will happen if we switch it off?”
“What would happen…?”
Kamijou tilted his head.
What was this guy talking about? Ending their heat wave would free 2.3 million suffering people. The conflict over water and food would end. The threat of heatstroke and dehydration would be gone.
Not everyone could move around as actively as Kamijou and his school. Not everyone could find water and food. What was happening to the powerless elementary schools right now? They apparently had more supplies than the middle and high schools, but what if they felt too cornered to realize that?
But the mastermind did not hesitate to give the answer.
“All of Academy City would be overrun by Kihara Yuiitsu’s Elements. Do you really think those crude barricades can keep them out, birdbrain?”
Kamijou’s mind went blank.
Yes. That was right. It was true that made no sense. While Tokiwadai had methodically constructed a defense system, Kamijou’s school had only moved desks and chairs around to cover the obvious windows and doors. If the Elements had sniffed them out and made a real attack, even the three meter Class 1s could have easily broken through. The city would have been unrecognizable if the hundred meter Class 6s had been free to rampage.
But that had not happened.
For some reason, he and his classmates had survived.
Then he recalled that Elements preferred to hide in cool, dark places. He had assumed that was to attack the shelters while the heat wave drove the people into them, but what if different people were behind the heat wave and Elements? Then it could not be part of a unified plan. That would mean the Elements may have simply been hiding in those cool, dark places to escape the heat.
In other words, it was not a fatal blow, but the heat wave prevented the Elements from moving around too much.
Had the grim reaper of the heat wave been protecting them?
He shook his head. Simply considering that possibility felt like defiling something noble.
He could not believe it and he did not want to believe it.
“If Kihara Yuiitsu’s Elements had not been restricted by the heat wave, they would have had fifty or sixty times the momentum. Academy City would have fallen to them in less than half a day.”
So Kamisato was the one to provide the answers.
Kamijou was stuck in one spot, so the other boy walked ten or twenty steps ahead and spoke cruelly back to him. He turned all of Kamijou and his companions’ efforts into a farce.
“There is no mercy in this world. This is her game of tag…no, of hide-and-seek. I am of course her target, but if she can’t find me, she only has to make it easier to find me. For example, if her target is hiding in a crowd of people, she just has to clear away those people to accomplish her goal. What’s happening in the city? What happened to the children, the elderly, the pregnant women, and the sick? Of course we’re worried about that. We’re worried, but we still had to do this. If we hadn’t done anything, the Elements would have swarmed in and devoured them.”
Kamijou looked to Salome rather than Kamisato.
The former naked raincoat mass murderer and current white school swimsuit raincoat mass murderer (her description was quickly growing incomprehensible) only shrugged.
“My brother isn’t bluffing here, don’tcha think? As much as that pisses me off. But Kamijou-chan, your right hand might be the ultimate weapon against the Elements, but it isn’t good for fighting groups. If the Elements had swarmed all twenty-three districts at once…now, just how many people do you think you could have saved?”
“Kihara Yuiitsu…is supposedly from Academy City.”
Kamijou’s voice was trembling…no, he was having difficulty breathing, but he managed to force out the words.
“If she’s doing this for the benefit of the adults, would she really go that far? Could she? I mean, if it had all gone well, Academy City would have become a sea of blood and a pile of rubble!”
“Don’t ask me,” spat out Kamisato. “Besides, she’s the abnormal person who chopped off my right hand and attached it to herself. She’s willing to go that far for that awful World Rejecter. I don’t know how sturdy Academy City’s system is…but can they really control a monster like that? Your higher ups might be at their wit’s end now that she’s escaped her cage.”
Were things really that bad?
Was the situation really that out of control?
At first, Kamijou and his classmates had simply thought they needed to outlast it. By securing potable water and avoiding conflict with the others in the same shelter, they could pass the baton and let the adults deal with the rest.
But if Kamisato was right, things were very different.
The adults had failed to do anything. If Kamisato’s group had not made a counterattack at the very beginning, Academy City would have become a sea of blood and a pile of rubble. And no matter how long they waited, no one would reach out to save them. The adults were equally dried up and trembling in fear.
They would have to do it themselves.
That was the only way to end this.
That was why Kamisato had made that callous decision. And even after the warning she had given Kamisato before, Salome had chosen to finish off Kihara Yuiitsu as quickly as possible even if it meant some sacrifices. They knew this hell would never end unless someone worked to end it. If they switched off the microwaves, the Elements would swarm out. If they left them on, everyone would eventually collapse from the heat. They had to end this hell before either of those limits arrived.
Kamijou leaned his exhausted body back in the chair and looked up at the ceiling.
He felt dizzy. His assumptions and view of the world had been overturned and replaced again and again over the past few days, so he felt like his mind had been stirred up.
But he still squeezed out a voice.
“I wasn’t looking for an apology,” readily replied Kamisato. “We were lucky that the weakness Ellen discovered was high temperatures. This would have been far less pleasant had it been an acid mist or photochemical smog.”
As he spoke, Kamisato tossed a few photos on the table. Kamijou doubted they had been printed from digital camera data. They were likely from an instant camera that did not use any complex electronics.
They pictured some kind of underground space. It looked like a concrete tunnel lined with bare pillars. A track ran along the ground, so it may have been part of the subway tunnels.
The main subject was a three meter Class 1 Element. It resembled a stick-bug that mimicked a tree branch.
There were a few different photos of it.
Photographed along with it (usually while making a peace sign toward the camera) was Ellen with her long black hair and baggy lab coat.
In one, she was blasting it with a handmade flamethrower that resembled a large metal water gun. In one, she was throwing a weaker Molotov cocktail at it. In one, she was pouring an even weaker pot of boiling water on it. In one, she had it surrounded by several kerosene heaters.
Instead of quickly defeating the very first one, she had tested a number of methods, reduced the scale, and discovered the lowest cost needed to keep it from moving.
It was rational but frightening.
This was different from desperately punching an Element. The Tokiwadai girls had carted around the remains of defeated Elements, but this was a step further. It was as bizarre as plucking off a living insect’s legs and wings, one at a time.
“…By the way, when did you notice?”
“Before you did, at the very least.”
In all honestly, Kamijou still did not want to accept that the heat wave that was causing so many people so much suffering was actually protecting everyone’s lives. But this was no time to let that prejudice bind him. They did not have much time. No one had imagined this would continue beyond the Crystal Tower, so whether or not he wanted to accept it, he did not have time to argue the point. Every second and every moment counted, so if they did not resolve this as quickly as possible, the deadline would catch up to them. And that literal deadline would mean the deaths of 2.3 million people.
So accept it.
It might feel like a concrete block as it goes down, but swallow it and accept it.
There was no time to choke. Even spitting it out would be a waste of time.
Kamijou finally looked back down from the ceiling and spoke to the most powerful and most awful siblings.
“What do I need to do to save everyone?”
“This should go without saying, but the crux of the issue is Kihara Yuiitsu. However, the problem is that we don’t know where she’s hiding,” replied Kamisato. “So we set our sights on that conspicuous Crystal Tower. It was bait for a counterattack. That’s why it was using a flashing signal in the visible spectrum of light instead of using ultrasonic waves or electromagnetic waves. Anyone who took the bait would be marked by Kihara Yuiitsu. We waited a few days, but the only group that had enough power for an attack but didn’t suspect it was a trap was Tokiwadai Middle School…in other words, the prestigious school that took you in.”
“Don’t give me that look. They actually did quite well. If Tokiwadai hadn’t made their move, we wouldn’t have been able to locate Kihara Yuiitsu.” Kamisato Kakeru cut even deeper into the issue. “She got away, but just getting her to show up gives us some important clues. What direction did she come from, where did she appear, how long did it take to lose sight of her, which direction did she flee in, and what important facilities are located in that direction? …That will naturally narrow things down to a few candidates. More importantly, the Elements are like chess pieces to her. She’ll have surrounded herself in those pieces so she, the king, won’t be taken. We don’t need to stop thinking just because we’re up against a crazy woman. We just have to choose the most likely path. Kihara Yuiitsu will be hiding in the most comfortable location along that path.”
“And where is that? We don’t have time.”
“The strongest, sturdiest, surest, and safest spot,” said Kamisato in a singsong voice before giving the answer. “Academy City District 7’s Windowless Building. Directly below that seems most suspicious.”
The Windowless Building.
Directly below it would mean an underground space.
Kamijou had trouble imagining it. It was rumored that the Windowless Building could survive a nuclear blast and a hole had been opened in the wall when they had rescued the immortal girl named Fräulein Kreutune, but that had been an aboveground wall and it had not extended underground. And he doubted the same trick would work a second or third time.
“If that’s true, how do we get in? We might not even be able to get close.”
“That’s why we’re still stuck here, but Kihara Yuiitsu has been going in and out. And with all those giant Elements too. There must be a way. Well, unless it’s a completely sealed space and she’s using a teleportation esper.”
“Then are we waiting around until we have the answer? Time is on her side. Wait it out and we’ll be the ones to dry up!”
“I know that of course. And Kihara Yuiitsu must know it’s her greatest advantage.” Kamisato sighed. “Luckily, she hasn’t grown too full of herself yet. That means she’s still watching to see what others do. Otherwise she wouldn’t have set up the Crystal Tower trap and watched to see who would show up. Despite her great advantage, she can’t forget the possibility of defeat…no, fear. She isn’t conceited. Even if she suddenly earned ten billion yen, she’s the kind of person who would continue buying the same tamago-kake gohan she always had. In a way, that’s frightening, but it gives us an opening.”
“If we don’t know how to open the door, we just have to get her to open it for us. The fear of death and the possibility of defeat. We just need ‘something’ that hints at those things and she won’t be able to stay put. …And if she’s going to flee, she needs to open the door from the inside, right? We’re leaving in less than an hour. I don’t want to wait around for someone else to solve this, so you get ready too.”
They planned to leave at four in the morning.
That was before dawn and the darkness-loving Elements would be more active, but they needed to get started as early as possible and their target was Kihara Yuiitsu rather than the Elements. They did not know if she had a standard cycle of sleeping at night and waking up in the morning, but an early morning attack was apparently the standard(?) for an attack.
That meant they had a bit of time to kill. Kamijou could not decide whether he wanted to catch a quick nap or loosen up his body with some stretches.
“Now that I look at it, there really are a lot of them,” said Swim Trunks Kamijou in the large shopping mall.
He could hear shrill voices speaking here and here.
“Ehh? Didn’t Luca just go to take out the trash?”
“Again! That wasn’t trash; it was an old magazine issue which is a valuable resource!!”
“Maya, what is it you’re so obsessed with even after dying and turning into a ghost? A manga one-shot?”
“One of the joys in life is mocking the old failure of a self-proclaimed fashion leader who so confidently announced a completely bogus diet!! The online articles were erased almost immediately, so this paper medium is a valuable resource. So Luca!! What did you do with my treasure! Don’t rob me of the smug joy of thinking, ‘Heh heh heh. It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable you try to act because I know the truth!!’ ”
There were no customers and no employees, yet the mall did not seem at all empty. It was the middle of the night, yet the stillness of sleep had not settled in. There was a total of about one hundred girls. Tokiwadai Middle School had had around two hundred people, so about half a school was following that boy. This was not the same as the number next to a SNS comments section. When that many people gathered in one place, they created a significant pressure.
This was Kamisato Kakeru’s world.
These were the bright colors he had seen.
The shopping mall’s food shops, boutiques, CD shops, and everything else had become a children’s playground. Several girls were riding a push-wagon meant to transport materials, others were sitting on the stopped escalator’s railing and sliding down on their butts, and more had dragged a kiddie pool out into the walkway. Kamijou felt like he had wandered into an American comedy film.
In the middle of the walkway, he suddenly looked up at the ceiling.
“Oh, a spot cooler.”
A thick duct-like pipe branched off and opened up toward him. Instead of cooling the entire room, the device blew cool air on just the one spot. They were common in mines, in factories, and more recently in ramen shop kitchens.
The heat wave was supposedly caused by microwaves, so such a device would be possible if a few conditions were met. Either way, he had felt like he was practically swimming through a hellish heat approaching 60 degrees, so he had trouble leaving this manmade chilly wind.
He heard a voice of protest from the side.
He looked over and saw a small bob-cut girl sitting with her small butt in a plastic kiddy pool and her arms and legs sticking out of the pool. The front of her pink hoodie was unzipped and she wore a bikini below. The rabbit design on the left breast maintained its shape perfectly due to the depressing lack of volume below. Sitting outside the pool was a gray backpack stuffed full of something and with strange antennae sticking out from it.
Her hooded head had rabbit-ear antennae on it and she seemed to have been enjoying the spot cooler before he arrived.
He quickly moved out of the way.
“As long as you understand.”
She still puffed out her soft-looking cheeks, but the rabbit-ear antennae girl scooted her butt forward, leaned back, and placed her head in the water. She blew bubbles with her mouth, so it looked like a small child playing with a straw in a glass of soda.
Kamijou sighed and started to leave…but then he noticed something.
A full backpack had been placed outside the kiddy pool to keep it from getting wet.
He had noticed the small nametag on its side.
He could not quite tell if it was a family name or a personal name because it was nothing more than a few round hiragana characters.
However, they said “Fran”.
“Are you the Fran that Kamisato was talking about? You’re the one with the station sending out all the microwaves causing the heat wave!?”
The pink hoodie and bikini girl did not give a clear yes or no.
In fact, she started fidgeting with the carrot-shaped stoppers on the end of the hoodie’s strings, blushed a little, and looked away while apparently focused on something else entirely.
“O-oh, dear. Kamisato-chan was talking about me? Does he think what I’m doing here is important? Heh heh heh.”
“I wasn’t talking about that and I don’t care about your creepy feelings for each other! Please don’t tell me you were fidgeting like this when that bastard Kamisato asked you to cause this whole mess!”
She did not respond.
She blew more bubbles in the water like a kid playing with her soda through a straw.
He felt like getting a straight answer out of her would be frightening enough.
That bastard may seriously have triggered the end of the world and he did it by asking a girl for a favor.
Meanwhile, the small rabbit-ear antennae girl scooted her butt again to lift her mouth back above the water. She also kicked her bare feet that stuck out of the pool.
“What do you want?”
Come to think of it, what was I planning to do after confirming it was her? he asked himself. For better or for worse, it had felt like running across someone famous, so he had asked without thinking.
This rabbit-ear antenna girl was definitely the one behind the heat wave causing Index and Fukiyose so much suffering, but according to Kamisato, Academy City would be overrun by countless Elements without Fran’s wide-range microwave attack holding them back.
The Elements had caused Kamijou plenty of trouble.
And he understood that it was not a lack of preparation keeping him from defeating them. He did not know if he could win without the heat wave even if he had all the time in the world to prepare beforehand. And he could not singlehandedly deal with multiple simultaneous tragedies occurring around the city. No matter how hard he struggled, there was a limit to what a single body could do.
He felt she had saved his life.
But he also found himself unable to unconditionally thank her.
It was a complex feeling. It felt like running across an organ dealer. There were definitely lives they had saved, but when you took a step back, the evil side of it all stood out more.
Either Fran had not liked the look in Kamijou’s eyes or she had simply grown sick of waiting because she scooted her butt to lean her head back against the plastic pool once more. Then she blew more bubbles.
The rabbit-ear antennae girl spoke in a sulky voice.
“I don’t care. The only things that matters is that Kamisato-chan understands.”
Were those words another symbol of Kamisato Kakeru’s world?
Even with a hundred people gathered around him, the interpersonal relationships were simple. The girls were not all interconnected in a complex spider web. All the lines connected straight to Kamisato in the center and all other connections were shallow. It may have been simpler to call it a gathering of strangers who had a friend in common.
“But since she felt the need to say it…”
“She must still be a coward who’s worried what the others think-…cold! Don’t splash me with your feet! And does constant exposure to that spot cooler really get the water this cold, you damn bourgeoisie!?”
Cold water was the greatest treasure at the moment, but he discovered it was toxic to a body so accustomed to the boiling heat. While it was only an unconfirmed urban legend, Kamijou had heard that someone could die of shock if you shoved ice cream onto their bare chest while they were blindfolded. The odd beating of his heart convinced him that the urban legend may not have been entirely wrong.
The spiky-haired boy tried to escape, but then his foot slid to the side.
And of course, this was not due to being well-versed in kendo foot-sliding techniques.
He had slipped on the water Fran was splashing at him.
His field of vision spun around.
By the time he realized what was happening, it was too late to stop it.
Kamijou Touma dove face-first into the kiddie pool.
And that sent him right into the small rabbit-ear antennae girl who was nearly sprawled out in the pool.
Rust-proofing spray, a sock stuffed with pachinko balls, a disaster strobe light, a crowbar, a utility knife, instant glue, plastic sheets, synthetic fiber rope, and canned food.
“You sure are packing a lot.”
Kamijou Touma spoke to Kamisato who was filling a large tote bag with products from the shelves. Kamisato replied with a skeptical look.
“What about you? Are you heading out there entirely unarmed?”
“I’m afraid I’d stab myself in the leg or something if I brought a weird weapon with me.”
“Is that so? Well, you don’t have as strict a category of allies like I do. You even throw your enemies into that category, so I suppose anything that can do real damage would only be in the way for you.”
With that simple comment, Kamisato lifted the tote bag in one hand. Just watching was enough to tell how heavy it was.
“Are you sure you should be holding that?”
“Yeah. The stitches may not be pretty, but Claire always does her job. It’s attached pretty well.”
Kamisato lightly twisted the wrist that held the tote bag.
“And even if the hand does fall off, it isn’t mine. Kihara Yuiitsu stole my World Rejecter and is using it for herself, so I might as well make her pay a rental fee.”
That right hand was forcibly stitched on like a small child trying to repair the burst belly of their stuffed animal.
The quality of the skin was clearly different, it was slender, and a bright manicure covered the nails.
“…I met a talking dog.”
Kamijou did not know what to make of that sudden comment.
Kamisato did not seem to really care if Kamijou understood. Speaking the words was all that mattered to him.
“It was after our previous fight. This weird dog was surrounded by a bunch of weapons called the A.A.A.…I think it stood for the Anti Art Attachment. I beat him up of course, but he would have killed me otherwise. That’s probably what caused this. Everyone has their own values and that changes what they weigh against the world on the scales. But I have no obligation to play along. If she’s going to place the world on one side of the scales, then I’ll do the same.”
“Hey.” Kamijou asked a sudden question. “What do you plan to do after you settle things with Kihara Yuiitsu? …Um, about that right hand, I mean.”
Before, he had loathed the World Rejecter. He might want to prevent Kihara Yuiitsu from misusing it, but then what? Would he reattach his right hand and keep that great power with him, or would he continue living with Kihara Yuiitsu’s right hand?
“Let me ask you something instead. You’ve lived with a special right hand longer than I have. …So do you know where that right hand came from and where it will go next?”
“…Where it will go next?”
“To be blunt, I have no more interest in World Rejecter. If it disappears with Kihara Yuiitsu when she dies, that’s fine by me.”
That normal high school boy uttered a dangerous word.
Or perhaps it was normal for a teenage boy to talk about death and killing. Perhaps Kamijou was the odd one out for feeling the proper weight behind the words.
“But apparently these things move from person to person and object to object. In that case, eliminating Kihara Yuiitsu won’t end this. As you know, World Rejecter’s power is great enough to call evil. I can’t create a situation where it could pass on to anyone in the world. Nothing good would come of having it fall in the hands of someone even crazier than Kihara Yuiitsu and it would cause plenty of damage in the hands of some thoughtless idiot who just used it whenever he felt like it. Yes,” he muttered. “Just like when I used it.”
Kamijou could find nothing to say for a while.
The next in line. After he died. …He had honestly never really thought about it before. Although that may have been normal for a teenage boy. But it was definitely an issue he could not afford to ignore. His Imagine Breaker was not as directly destructive as Kamisato’s World Rejecter, but it could still be used to greatly influence both the science side and the magic side. It could destroy some hidden seal somewhere or something like that. It may have “only” caused as much damage as it did because it had ended up with a Japanese high school boy. But what if its next owner was a wicked person with a devilish intellect? Had he ever really thought about whether or not he would be responsible in some way for whatever might happen?
“I want to erase that power,” clearly stated Kamisato Kakeru. “I thought you might know something helpful, but that look on your face says otherwise. In that case, I guess I’ll be stuck traveling the world with that right hand for the time being.”
“Of course, that’s only if I’m not blown away the instant I touch that right hand now that I’ve strayed from my wholehearted focus on revenge. …I hope this attempt to fully reject the power given to me by those Magic Gods counts as focusing on my revenge, but I can’t peer into my own heart.”
Kamijou was not sure what to think.
Kamisato Kakeru seemed unemotional, but it was more that he did not convey his emotions much because he was not the type to let them show in his voice. But was he really still entirely focused on taking revenge on the Magic Gods? If Kamijou showed him 15cm Othinus, would the boy want to crush her in his fist? Kamijou could not say yes or no with any confidence.
And Kamisato did not seem to want a clear answer from someone else.
“It’s time. Let’s get started.”
Kamisato held the heavy-looking tote bag at his side and walked down the mall walkway with Kamijou.
“I’d always thought it was that right hand causing so many people to gather around me.”
“But that wasn’t it. I finally understood once I lost it. Those girls proved you right. Losing that special right hand didn’t destroy my world.”
“I’m grateful. Although I’m not sure whether this happened too soon or too late.”
They set out at dawn.
A small girl wearing a white bikini below a pink hoodie (which could likely function as a sleeping bag) stood on the roof of the parking garage located directly above the shopping mall. She grabbed a giant UFO-like balloon, shook the rabbit-ear antennae on her hood, and pushed off the ground with her toes so her small butt and the round pod attached to it floated up into the air.
Her voice from the heavens could apparently reach Kamisato even through the powerful microwaves.
“Let’s stick to the plan,” he said.
“Right. Stick to the plan.”
Kamijou watched the rabbit-ear antennae bob-cut girl float past in her hoodie, bikini, and backpack filed with antennae. Then he looked back to the ground. They were outside the shopping mall and a few dozen…no, around a hundred girls were gathered around Kamisato.
“Fran will observe from above,” began Kamisato. “We need to rattle Kihara Yuiitsu as much as we can. We need to make her think she can’t just keep hiding safely in her shelter as planned. So let’s make as much of a show as possible.”
“There’s nothing we can do if she gets away.”
“I know that. We can’t let her use time as a weapon any longer.”
They began their march in the burning light of dawn.
The Windowless Building was in southern District 7, just like Kamijou’s school and dorm. He recognized the streets along the way. With the hundred members of the Kamisato Faction filling the sidewalk and road alike, he felt like he had wandered into another world. The mismatch between the scenery and the people made Kamijou feel dizzy.
They saw no sign of Elements walking around.
They did not even see any three meter Class 1s, so it almost felt like the Crystal Tower had ended everything.
When Kamijou heard some movement and looked over, he saw a middle school boy and girl hesitantly peeking out from an alley. The ground should have meant instant death with the Elements around, so the pair had likely come out to see why there was no sign of those monsters.
Peace seemed to have returned, but nothing was really over.
Kihara Yuiitsu could send out a swarm of Elements at any time. If she chose someone as a target, they would be overrun even in a school or shelter. Not even the high level espers of Tokiwadai and the School Garden had been able to fight it.
Kamijou could not let her do that again.
That meant he could not allow everything to return to normal. They had to prevent Kihara Yuiitsu from having her fun. They had to make sure she panicked and dug her own grave. Kamijou could not even imagine it after being manipulated so much himself, but that result was within reach now.
Kamisato Kakeru had lost World Rejecter, but he still had one hundred jokers.
“This is as good a place as any to start.”
Kamijou frowned at Kamisato’s whispered words.
The boy’s hand suddenly moved.
It was Kihara Yuiitsu’s slender hand forcibly sewn onto his right wrist. He quickly swung it horizontally and then he held a glittering object smaller than a grain of rice between the index and middle fingers.
“Should I praise her attention to detail or should I just call it a cheap trick?”
Kamijou doubted his eyes.
It was not that he did not know what it was. His doubt came from knowing exactly what it was.
Yes, he knew what Kamisato held between his…or rather, Yuiitsu’s fingertips.
“How did Kihara Yuiitsu get information on the outside world while hiding underground in the dark? At the very least, she needed to observe the Crystal Tower to know who reached it. That was a bit of a mystery. Fran’s powerful microwaves would easily destroy any normal electronics and act as powerful jamming for any wireless signals. A shielded room would help, but it would still be hard to communicate with the outside world.”
“And it wouldn’t make sense for her to be walking freely around the city herself. She’s the king in chess. She might be convenient, but she can’t make an attack on the enemy pieces on her own. If she could, she wouldn’t need her safe underground hideout in the first place. Plus, her eyes and ears can’t cover all of Academy City.”
“So these acted as her eyes and ears…?”
Kamijou gulped as he looked back at what Kamisato had caught.
The rice-sized object had small wings and six legs.
“It’s the smallest type of Element. Using your numbering system, maybe we should call it Class 0.”
“Those things are crawling all over the city…?”
“They might have been on the inside of all the chairs and desks you thought were keeping you so safe.”
“But it’s strange. Even if these grains of rice are gathering data through their five senses, how are they getting it back to Kihara Yuiitsu? Fran’s microwaves would render any wireless signal unreadable.”
Kamisato sounded both delighted and cruel.
“Do they simply return home after gathering a set amount of data? Or do they dance or touch each other with their feelers like ants or bees to relay the information back like a game of telephone?”
After a quiet sound, Kamisato let go to reveal a small, sharp stinger jutting out from the back of the rice grain, but he did not seem to care. He flicked the rice grain away, reached out his hand again, and grabbed a different one.
This time, he grabbed the wings from the back and made sure it could not prick him with the stinger.
“Or…no, do they speak with the wings themselves like a cicada? If so, the transmission medium must be ultrasonic waves. …That wouldn’t be disturbed by the microwaves, but it wouldn’t travel very far.”
Kamisato stared at the rice grain struggling between his fingers and then he looked around to his surroundings.
His eyes stopped on a position slightly above the ground. A three-bladed wind turbine was located not far away. There was “something” at the very top, but anyone not looking for it would have easily overlooked it. It was something like a translucent icicle as long as two pens. It resembled a miniature Crystal Tower and it also resembled the cellphone relay antennae seen around the city.
“You’re not wrong,” replied Kamisato when Kamijou mentioned his impression of it. “The rice grains hiding everywhere gather the surrounding information and then oscillate to transmit it with ultrasonic waves inaudible to human ears. The base station for an entire area likely picks up those signals and sends all that back to the big boss. In that case, we need to take a look at the base of the antenna. If they have a countermeasure against the microwaves and it isn’t ultrasonic waves…well, my money’s on a wire. By building an underground wired network of Element nerves, they can guide all that information right back to Yuiitsu’s hideout. And there might even be some holes in the walls or a more fragile area due to erosion from the nerve-…”
He trailed off before he could finish.
A giant Element had appeared to block their path.
At around one hundred meters, it was a Class 6.
It placed its large body before them like a translucent wall and it had a plesiosaur-like silhouette. Kamijou lacked the knowledge to tell him what this was.
“What!? They can be dinosaurs too!?”
“Of course not. This is a Eupithecia, a type of inchworm from Hawaii. In other words, it’s a moth larva. They’re originally less than five centimeters, but I think I read it takes them less than 0.1 seconds to extend what you saw as a ‘neck’ to catch their prey. Let its size fool you and you’ll have your head taken off by that killer crane.”
“You’re kidding. I went to Hawaii, but…oh, hell. All I can remember is that crazy bearded president!”
In addition to the long “neck”, a will-o’-the-wisp flickered in the body left almost forgotten on the ground. It was red, so this was a Fire Element.
At that size, it could turn the ground into utter pandemonium just by breathing fire from overhead. It would perhaps be something like a fire engine spraying gasoline instead of water.
But Kamisato was unfazed.
The kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere even sighed.
“No matter how big you make it, did you really think you could win by repeating yourself?”
That was all.
He did not even snap his fingers.
Several explosions of noise sounded as if the air had burst around Kamijou. By the time he realized it was the sound of the surrounding girls kicking off the ground, the fierce and unilateral attack had begun.
Misaka Mikoto had used altitude and distance to fire down on the enemy from the safety of the sky like a bomber or a gunship, but the girls of the Kamisato Faction were the exact opposite.
They were more like attack fighters approaching the enemy aircraft. No, they may have been more like missiles tearing through the sky after being released from the fighter’s main wings. They had overwhelming speed and mobility. One was a bikini girl in a pirate hat. One was a girl in a suit of armor who wielded several swords, spears, and axes. One was a mass murderer in a white school swimsuit and double raincoats. They kicked off the ground, jumped over guardrails, and even used building walls and wind turbine pillars for footing as they charged toward the plesiosaur-like monster with sharp curveball-like movements.
Of course, the enemy fought back.
Its claws and beak gave a roar as it scattered flames as sticky as heavy oil.
But none of it hit. Instead of keeping their distance or flying into the sky, the girls moved as close to the monster as they could, prevented it from moving, and cut off the carnivorous inchworm’s view to create blind spots. The girls sometimes slipped between its legs, circled behind it, ran up on top of it, and passed blade after blade through it.
To a hundred meter Element, a blade wielded by a human was nothing more than a toothpick.
But definite cracks formed. And they spread and grew.
By some twist of physics, the giant form fell apart even though they used no poison, electric currents, or bloodsucking. They used brute strength to defeat a monster over fifty times their size. It seemed to entirely ignore the rules of nature.
As the translucent remains audibly crumbled and the background shimmered from the remaining flames, only the many girls remained standing.
They tugged at the butts of their swimsuits or snapped the shoulder straps with their fingers. The gap between that very human behavior and the gruesome result made Kamijou feel faint.
“Each and every one of them has a world of her own. Kihara Yuiitsu, no matter how many tricks you have up your sleeve, they will not lose until you have played every last one of your cards, including yourself.”
It was simply overwhelming.
It was almost too perfect.
And a moment later, several dozen similarly-sized Elements appeared around Salome and the others.
They were made of translucent materials and excelled at mimicry.
At one hundred meters, they rose up above the buildings.
How had they been moving around Academy City? And could Kihara Yuiitsu really make surprise attacks without anyone noticing if she was accompanied by monsters this large? The answer to those questions was quite simple.
The plesiosaur-like carnivorous inchworms had been here from the beginning.
They blended into the background until Yuiitsu gave her orders.
Not long after the heat wave and swarm of Elements had begun, Kamijou’s school had decided the ground was dangerous. That was why they had moved between buildings using the metal wires and searched Academy City along those limited routes.
But what if?
What if these had been standing right next to them as they viewed Academy City from the building rooftops? What if these had been staring at them while they were well within range of the monsters’ claws and fangs? Wasn’t it possible they had been crawling between these things’ legs while thinking they were safely on those wires? To create new “paths” to expand their range of travel, they had tossed metal wires between buildings. What if the weight tied to the end of the wire had unnaturally bounced off something in midair? Simply imagining it sent a chill down his spine.
At any rate, those monsters had now appeared to surround Salome and the others.
They had lured the girls in and cut off their escape route and supply line to isolate them. Only now would they attack all at once to kill the girls.
Kamijou could sense the wicked intentions of whoever was commanding them.
Kamijou tried to cry out, but it was already over.
“Again. Did you really think this would be enough to hold us back?”
Kamisato Kakeru spoke.
He was their king. He had no special power in his right hand and a single hit would take him out, but he actually stepped forward himself. It looked like he planned to break through the circle of 100 meter kaiju-like Elements to rescue the girls from their plight.
“Kh…You goddamn stupid Onii-chan…!!”
Salome shouted back at him, while ignoring the threat to her own life, but Kamisato ignored her.
He spoke with a calm look on his face.
“Make sure you don’t get caught in the middle of this.”
He was a normal high school boy who could not use esper powers or magic.
The action he took was simple. He stuck his hand in the heavy tote bag he held, pulled out a large metal can, and tossed it onto the scorching asphalt.
Yes, he threw it at the feet of a monster that rivaled the high-rise buildings in height.
Just before it stepped on the metal can like an ant, Kamijou spotted the label.
The effects were immediate.
One of the Elements that seemed as immovable as mountains spun quickly around as if it had slipped on ice. Due to its unique plesiosaur-like body, its center of gravity was located quite high up.
The Element whipped up a violent wind as it collapsed with enough force to knock over a few nearby buildings.
An incredible amount of dust and chunks of concrete larger than buses rained down, so Kamijou made a frantic escape.
“No matter how large they are, they still aren’t immune to the laws of physics. In fact, the heavier they are, the easier it is for their own weight to get the better of them.”
Kamisato did not even flinch.
“Basically, they become entirely useless if they so much as slip on a banana peel. I’ve heard America is developing a special gel grenade. By firing it below the target’s feet and making the ground slippery, they can completely neutralize infantry and tanks. They’re cheaper than stun grenades and they can safely rescue a hostage without doing damage to their eyes or ears.”
The fallen Element tried to get back up, but Kamisato did not give it the chance.
He pulled something like synthetic rope from his tote bag. Cans of food were tied to the ends, presumably as weights. He spun it around at a decent length like a morning star and then threw it toward the fallen Element’s neck.
Then he threw the other end at a standing Element’s leg.
The rope caught on the hundred meter carnivorous inchworm, but the rope did not provide much resistance and the giant monster swung its leg.
With an unpleasant sound, the fallen kaiju-sized Element had its head torn right off.
“Even if it’s too big a job for us, we can always get some help from the Elements themselves,” spat out Kamisato. “And they’re big. They’re more than fifty times our size. A rope as thick as our thumb will be as thin and sturdy as piano wire to them. As long as we pay attention to how we apply the force…well, you saw it. We can cut down the Elements.”
Finally, the bizarrely-shaped monsters looked elsewhere.
Their focus shifted from the girls to the boy who presented an even greater danger.
The earth shook as the hundred meter Elements approached.
A swarm of three meter Class 1s shaped like extremely flat bugs slipped between their legs to attack. They were attacking in waves of differing sizes.
“Bark mantises, hm?”
But Kamisato Kakeru remained unfazed.
He pulled several plastic sheets from his tote bag, applied plenty of instant glue to the surface, and tossed them into the air. The plastic sheets spun like frisbees to fly high and far. They were aimed toward the giant wings of a clearwing moth Element.
Butterfly and moth wings created unique whirling air currents and were known to create lift on the level of an airplane or helicopter but scaled down for their size.
Those wings had been honed by natural selection into the optimal form that did not allow the slightest error.
And that was why attaching the many plastic sheets created random bumps that slightly disturbed the flow of air along the wings. No, it “peeled away” the airflow, so the miraculous lift could not be maintained.
The Element stalled, entered a tailspin, and fell.
It fell right on top of the many bark mantises approaching Kamisato Kakeru like they were swarming a piece of candy.
High-pitched sounds of shattering crystal blended together. The vortex of noise sounded like a giant chandelier falling.
“Everyone thinks about it.”
Kamisato Kakeru spoke without any change to his expression.
He placed his feet on the hill of clear rubble lying bent and broken after falling to the ground.
He chose to walk toward the hundred meter Elements.
“What if armed terrorists attacked my school? What if a small child holding a piggy bank came crying to me, asking me to clear his framed father’s name? What if I began a final SNS war at the request of an idol threatened with being kicked out of the group if she did not win first place in the next electronic popularity poll? You decide what you would want to do and how you would do it. …It isn’t that unusual. Any normal high school boy will think about it at least once.”
He stuck his hand into the tote bag.
He pulled out a new weapon.
“But I just so happened to have the power to grab ahold of those dreams.”
A plesiosaur-like Element roared overhead.
A red light filled its chest. It raised its translucent head. It had a Fire core. If it breathed fire, everyone here would be blown away like fluff.
“So I was afraid. Not of my right hand’s power, but of those girls’ smiles. Of that group that would agree to whatever I said. I thought the day would come when my power wasn’t enough to stop them and the responsibility still fell on me.”
But Kamisato remained unfazed.
He crossed the hill of rubble to face that powerful enemy on his own two feet.
“But I won’t run away any longer.”
He did not hide behind the girls.
He stood as a shield to protect them.
“Prepare yourself, one-hit wonder. I’ll show you the freedom of a normal high school boy.”
It was overwhelming.
Kamijou completely forgot to join in.
Just before the carnivorous inchworm Element poured all of its power into its plesiosaur-like mouth, Kamisato threw the clear bottle he held.
It shattered when it hit the leg the giant monster had just placed on the ground.
As soon as the thick liquid poured out, Kamijou saw white chemical smoke and heard a sound like bacon in a frying pan.
“No matter how bizarre they look they still have organic carbon-based bodies just like us. That means they’ll corrode like normal from hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid. The mall had plenty of industrial cleaners. I just had to boil them down to concentrate them.”
The damage was only 1/100 or even 1/200 of the monster’s giant body, but that foot had been supporting a body as tall as a high-rise building. It was a lot like a pin heel breaking without warning.
It was only the slightest fragment of damage, but the kaiju-like body lost its balance and collapsed, bringing down some nearby buildings with it.
“Salome, Luca. Finish it off.”
“…Oh. Sure thing, goddamn stupid Onii-chan!!”
“Oh, no! Oh, no! If I don’t stay focused, I’ll end up sitting here watching in awed admiration! Shudder!!”
The mass murderer and pirate girl came back to their senses and swarmed the collapsed Class 6 Element.
Kamijou was taken aback too.
Had Kamisato been able to do all this when they had first met? He had fought Kamisato during the attack on his dorm that night, but the boy had been an amateur fighter then. Meanwhile, a Class 6 was a powerful enough enemy to defeat a group of Tokiwadai girls. And yet he had defeated them so easily?
“Anyone can do it in their mind.”
Kamisato pulled an L-shaped crowbar from the tote bag.
“The question is whether or not they can give it physical form. I was blessed with the chance to do that.”
Kamijou gulped as he spoke.
“This is the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere?”
Kamisato rested the crowbar on his shoulder and looked back for a casual reply.
Afterwards, Kamisato Kakeru and the surrounding girls crushed every last one of the Elements and continued forward.
One was a ghost girl, one was a cosplay girl, and one was a trombone girl.
They took an entirely different approach from the pirate girl and armor girl who moved in for close-quarters combat.
They wore down the giant Elements with an overwhelming long-distance barrage.
The result reached Kamijou’s eyes, but his brain rejected it. After all, wasn’t this something the Tokiwadai girls had been unable to do? It would have taken sacrifices to overwhelm the giant Water lizard with its ultra-high pressure water cutter. Wasn’t that why Kamijou had gone out as bait?
The scene before his eyes and the girls surrounding him…were superior to the entirety of Tokiwadai’s elite firepower group?
“These Element things are known as reduced life forms. We mostly know how they work after ‘opening up’ a few of them and checking inside.” Kamisato spoke calmly, but that was what made it sound so full of contempt. “Over long periods of time, the remains of animals and plants turn into petroleum. So would it be possible to reverse the process and differentiate petroleum into any animal or plant? Maybe you could call it a heretical science that does the exact opposite of stem cells. But no matter how much kinetic energy their giant bodies give them, they’re only borrowing it all from existing plants and animals. The movable direction of their joints and the extension of their muscles all follow set rules. Once you know the trick, it isn’t that difficult to read their movable range and locate the safe zones.”
“That only leaves the fire, water, wind, and earth cores. Since they’re relying on a magical element at the most basic level, the reduced life form method must have only been able to create the outward forms. Kihara Yuiitsu must not have reached the level of creating a soul or a life. But it really comes down to a simple combination. I bet she wishes she could have disguised the color of the light. It’s like needlessly pointing out in advance you’re planning to hit a homerun each time. When they’re making that large, obvious swing, it’s really easy to slip a curveball past them.”
They were a hybrid of magic and science.
Tokiwadai Middle School had been collecting the remains of destroyed Elements, but they had not discovered this much. And Index had not mentioned the Elements cores despite her perfect memory of 103,000 grimoires.
Where did Kamisato Kakeru stand?
What could he see with his “normal sensibilities” supported by those many girls?
He had claimed anyone could do this in their head.
Would “the kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere” really undergo such an extensive transformation just by gaining the specific techniques and a basis to support them…or as he had put it, “the power to grab ahold of those dreams”?
He could move his body exactly as he wanted.
That might sound like something anyone could do, but Kamijou knew from his many experiences just how difficult that was when one’s life was on the line. Kamisato’s ability was not reduced in that way. He could always freely choose from the greatest range of possibilities and act on them.
That may have made him even stranger than the many different girls surrounding him.
“To be honest, this is the scene I was afraid of.”
The boy himself spoke quietly while viewing the series of wild flashes of light.
“I was afraid these commonplace girls would decisively stray from the commonplace path. I was afraid someone as bland as me didn’t belong in the lead and that it was all my right hand acting as a crown. I was afraid that losing my right hand would cause this scene to shift to someone else like the joker in a game of old maid. I was always so very afraid of that.”
“But once I actually lost it, I understood.”
Kamisato did not stop.
He walked step by step down the path cleared by the girls.
“Even without my special right hand, the world continued on just fine. Those girls weren’t following me because of the right hand. They chose to of their own free will. That’s all this is.”
The extraordinary Elements that had to be Kihara Yuiitsu’s prized weapons were defeated one after another.
Kamijou and the others were already quite near the Windowless Building.
But this time, arriving there did not end it. They had to make Kihara Yuiitsu panic so she would open the secret entrance from the inside. And they could not exactly march around and around the stationary building.
“Do you really think Kihara Yuiitsu will come out?”
“She will.” Kamisato did not hesitate to reply. “The trick when making a bluff is a lack of information, not an excess. Just like showing someone a series of film frames will make stopped images appear to be moving, human beings fill in the gaps with their own mind. We don’t need to build up every inch of the stage. As long as we gather the necessary factors as unconnected dots, she’ll draw her own line between them and imagine the worst.”
“One.” Kamisato raised one of his borrowed women’s fingers. “We intervened in the incident at Tokiwadai Middle School. We saw what Kihara Yuiitsu was especially focused on destroying. It may have looked like a symbol of violence if you weren’t paying attention, but that thoroughness was a sign of fear. We just had to pick up on that.”
The answer was the star player in the Element battles even among the powerful espers of Tokiwadai.
Misaka Mikoto’s hangar.
And what had been built in there?
“Two. Kihara Yuiitsu escaped us, but we picked up something else at Tokiwadai Middle School. That would be you, Kamijou Touma. …It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you actually have. She just has to think you’ve taken the baton from Tokiwadai.”
It may have been like the defection of an engineer.
The engineer’s actual skill did not matter. The fact that someone from a secret research lab was in another country’s hands was a major diplomatic card. The other country could claim they were building new weapons with the information. The first country might be skeptical, but proving it to be a bluff would be quite difficult.
“And three. I’d rather not say it, but the Kamisato Faction is a collection of heretics. Fran has a power generation station capable of scattering microwaves all across Academy City and Salome completed her cyborg surgery on her own. We’re another black box to her. Could it be? What if? We just have to inspire those whispers of doubt.”
In other words…
“The A.A.A. If that demon rises into the dawn sky, I doubt even Kihara Yuiitsu will be able to keep her cool.”
Something passed by overhead.
Special armor covered the arms and legs and countless cannons of various sizes grew from the back. The steel-winged silhouette tore through the sky with the two boosters around the waist. Upon seeing it, Kamijou spoke without thinking. He may have taken the optimistic view of “at least she’s all right”.
“What is that? Is it Misaka?”
But he was wrong.
That girl was…
“Claire…? The plant girl!?”
“All of her body’s cells have changed to something almost identical to plant cells. And by bonding with them, she can absorb metal or anything else to mass-produce plant chainsaws or homing missiles or whatever else.”
“You don’t mean…?”
She could absorb metal.
And hadn’t Kamisato mentioned the Tokiwadai hangar earlier?
Could it be? What if?
Could Claire have consumed whatever had been dug up from the rubble!?
“As I said, we just have to make her think that. We know she’s obsessed with the A.A.A., perhaps because it’s related to that talking dog, so I asked Claire to create a misunderstanding.”
“Not even Claire could do this well overnight. We could only line up the remains of the hangar’s spare parts to get an idea of the overall design and general silhouette. She can only fly by volatilizing and detonating plant ethanol and the weapons on her back are like bamboo or reeds. They don’t move at all. The silhouette looks right in the dim light of early dawn, but Kihara Yuiitsu would probably notice something was wrong right away if it were midday. …Not to mention that the real one isn’t really a scientific weapon. It’s more of a catalyst for something.”
“Kihara Yuiitsu doesn’t know that.”
“No, she’ll have calculated that we’re most likely bluffing. But she won’t be able to fully accept her own calculations. Could it be? What if? Maybe the Kamisato Faction really did gather the wreckage from the destroyed hangar, kidnap someone who knew all about it, and asked him how to put it together. Her game of tag or hide-and-seek didn’t require a detour to Tokiwadai, but she did it anyway. However, she failed to finish off Misaka Mikoto and she was driven off by people who aren’t even part of Academy City or the science side. If we vanished and spread the ‘completed product’ around the outside world, who knows how far crude imitations of the A.A.A. would spread. …Kihara Yuiitsu strayed from her primary objective to pursue the A.A.A. This is lure fishing, so we don’t need the real thing. Send a fake flitting past their eyes, and even a big fish will take the bait.”
“Come on out, Kihara Yuiitsu. Staying put or running off were your only options, but I’ll give you an unexpected third option. This is your first and last chance. This isn’t the time to calculate out the risks. If you don’t fight now, you’ll miss your chance.”
A heavy metallic noise reverberated across Academy City.
Something rose from the ground like smoke or steam. It came from more than one place. There was a single spot at the same distance from all four cardinal directions of the Windowless Building. The roads were cut apart and perfectly square holes over ten meters across opened up.
“Now, let’s go.”
Scammers pretending to be a relative would employ a great number of excuses: they were in a traffic accident, they knocked up a girl they barely knew, they embezzled money at work, etc. The stories tended to sound flimsy and unrealistic after the fact, but that worked best for the scammers.
Their performance was not looking for reality. If it was somewhat realistic, people would calmly analyze whether or not it could have actually happened. It was best to present them with a situation they could not judge with their own experiences, leaving their mind entirely empty. The scammers did not care one whit if the victim realized something was wrong only after transferring the money.
That was what Kamisato Kakeru had done to Kihara Yuiitsu.
After placing her in a dead end of “yes or no”, he had presented her with a brand-new third option.
Kamijou had done it plenty of times himself.
But Kamisato was using it in an entirely different way. Kamijou had given cornered magicians or espers an alternate route and a way to survive, but Kamisato was cutting off his opponent’s escape and crushing the other options so that he could trick them into choosing the wrong thing.
This boy was different in every way.
Being able to draw out everything in one’s mind would not necessarily lead to positive results. Kamisato may have been building something up, but Kamijou could not tell at all what it was. But that may have been why Kamisato had been the one chosen.
He was the kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere.
He was “someone” who had supposedly come back to his senses after losing his special right hand.
At that point, Kamijou Touma recalled something. He remembered the other thing Kamisato Kakeru had built his identity around.
(Taking revenge on the Magic Gods.)
Kamijou gulped. Not everyone swore revenge when a tragedy occurred before their eyes. Some lamented and harmed themselves, some desperately built up a new life to forget all about it, some lost all will to begin anything new and grew powerless, and some filled with charity to ensure the same tragedy never happened again. And they all developed from there in their own unique ways.
That meant Kamisato Kakeru had some kind of aptitude.
An aptitude for being a normal high school boy and yet not hesitating to pull the proper card from the many in his deck.
At the same time, swearing revenge was not that unusual.
If tragedy befell a class, about one of them might do so.
But not many could maintain that spirit of revenge to the point of carrying it out. Some failed to complete the preparations, some could not abandon their current life, some were overcome by guilt, and some grew so reliant on their desire for revenge that they could not afford to actually complete it and bring it to an end.
Kamisato Kakeru had cleared both hurdles.
People were not defined by their special right hands. They were defined by their actions. If Kamijou was right about that, it meant Kamisato Kakeru had chosen for himself to exterminate so many Magic Gods without hesitation.
He may not have had time to feel any guilt due to how absurdly powerful those enemies were. He may have challenged the Magic Gods with everything at his disposal because he felt reckless and horribly outmatched.
But what if he had known in advance he would settle it all in a single strike? What if he had known a light swing of his arm would erase those Magic Gods without a trace? Could Kamijou have used such a power? The very first time, he may not have known how it worked and been able to do it. But could he have cornered and defeated the second and third Magic Gods? Wouldn’t he have felt intense guilt once the title of “absolute” was removed from those great enemies?
“…Are you okay?”
Not even Kamijou knew what he meant by that.
Kamisato Kakeru replied with a smile.
He looked and sounded just like the kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere.
“I wish I knew the answer to that myself.”
Between the Lines 4
People have always said they have trouble knowing what I’m thinking.
That was fine with me. Or rather, they may have been right. I’m not at all confident I was thinking anything original enough and world-changing enough to be worth telling anyone about.
You can’t think about anything too amazing while staring out the window during class.
It was only ever things like what to get for lunch, when I needed to start studying for the exams coming up, or how my sister Salome wanted a new food processer even though she’s a terrible cook (and hates more than anyone to be told so).
Dreams of the future?
I don’t think I ever really thought about it. Instead of planning where I would go, I just wanted the status quo to continue forever.
The Magic Gods destroyed that.
They gave someone as hopelessly normal as me a strange right hand for their own convenience.
…But was that really true? It may not have been the right hand that caused so many people to gather around me. A certain boy insisted as much and the girls themselves proved it. They stuck with me even after I pathetically lost my right hand.
Ha ha. Maybe I’ve started to waver.
If I got World Rejecter back now, I might be erased by my own power.
That said, I can’t ignore that right hand.
I don’t want it. But I know better than anyone how powerful it is…or I think I do. And I bet Kihara Yuiitsu will use it even more readily than me. After all, she’s crazy enough to release a swarm of Elements on the city just to get back at me. She didn’t enter enemy territory and make a mess of things there. She attacked the very city she had lived and smiled in and she showed no concern for the 2.3 million other people living there. I made an enemy of all the Magic Gods just to get my normal life back and not even I can understand what she’s thinking. If she’s willing to cause that kind of damage at home, how far would she go elsewhere? I could only ever think about terrorists attacking my school or a giant meteor hitting and destroying civilization, so this is too much for my imagination. Kihara Yuiitsu.
The starting point for her has to be that talking dog.
The A.A.A. That tool was entirely unnecessary for finding and killing me, but she was so obsessed with it that she strayed from the optimal path to destroy it. And the A.A.A. originally belonged to that strangely mature golden retriever.
He was just one of the enemies I had to defeat and he wasn’t even one of the Magic Gods. He was an unnecessary hurdle that Academy City placed in my path.
But Kihara Yuiitsu must have seen things differently. He must have been everything to her, to the point that his death set her world boiling.
The value of things differs from person to person.
I know that quite well.
So I believe I have an obligation to play along with Kihara Yuiitsu’s revenge. I took what mattered most to her for my own convenience.
But, well, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to go all out. Just letting someone kill me isn’t my style. Revenge is illogical under the current laws. Yuiitsu and I hold the vengeance mentality that grew in people’s hearts before modern law was established.
In an older time, there were a few rules to govern revenge. First, killing someone for justified revenge was not considered a crime. Second, only taking revenge personally would reclaim the deceased’s honor. And third, if the target of revenge killed the vengeance-seeker in defense, it would not be considered a crime.
If revenge was simply considered the killer’s just deserts, that system would not have been established. The vengeance-seeker would only have needed to corner and kill the killer. However, the killer was given a way out. And I don’t think that was just the privileged class creating the rules to protect themselves.
It wouldn’t be exciting otherwise.
Revenge is different from a normal death sentence. Fighting with all your might felt like a real accomplishment and cleared away your grudge. It was like the difference between chopping a dead fish into sashimi and chopping a living fish into ikezukuri.
In that case, I had to play along.
…To be honest, I was close to losing my “reason” for revenge. I had twisted those girls, so I had wanted to return them to their original classroom scenes. But if it was not the special right hand that twisted them, it was possible it may not have been dependent on my presence at all.
Ellen, Claire, Elsa, and all the other girls. I honestly enjoy how they adore me and I can actually admit that now, but they can get by on their own now. Even my sister Salome seems to have mellowed some since meeting Kamijou Touma. She may grow out of being a mass murderer before long.
I want to be with them.
I want to stay by their sides forever.
But if my presence is holding them back, I’m prepared to walk a different path. My top priority isn’t my own happiness. Just like a rocket that’s cut away partway up to space, I’m fine with only being someone who gives them a push forward.
So let’s end this.
I won’t make them drag me around. I will swallow this vengeance on my own. I was the only one that dealt with that talking dog. I didn’t ask those girls for help. I will take responsibility. So whatever form it might take, I will sever the harmful bonds connecting me to those unrelated girls.
These are my just deserts, so I won’t hesitate to play along with your madness, Kihara Yuiitsu. Throw your grudge at me with everything you’ve got.
I might die here.
But even if you end up losing your life in my attempt to give you the best and most exciting revenge possible, no hard feelings, okay?
Now, let us sing the praises of life.
Have you finished sharpening the blade of revenge, fellow vengeance-seeker? The blade to cut you down in self-defense is right here.