Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume16 Prologue
Prologue: Holing Up at School, Starting with Swimsuits – Melt_the_Asphalt.
It was December 7 in Academy City’s District 7.
However, the digital temperature display on a building wall was stuck at 55 degrees Celsius. It was something like an empty cicada skin at this point, so who could say how much further the temperature had risen.
The intense heat wave made it feel like being trapped in a stone stove full of residual heat.
Kamijou Touma and his classmates had been thrown out into that scorching hell that was just about causing the asphalt roads to ooze.
They gasped for breath and wiped sweat from their brows, but they were not wearing their school uniforms. Any sticklers for the rules who had tried to do that had collapsed from heatstroke before the first day was over. All of the boys and girls were wearing their choice of swimsuit to avoid trapping in any heat.
They currently stood on the rooftop of one of the countless multi-tenant buildings lining the street.
They did not even think about casually walking along the ground.
Anyone who touched the ground would die.
“This is…no joke…dammit.”
A heavy sensation pressed down on their backs.
They were carrying fifty kilogram weights, which was like carrying a small girl around. Those weights were the mineral water left in a large drug store. All of the visible shelves had long since been wiped out, but in the back office, they had found a few Daruma doll-like plastic tanks for the water dispenser.
That might seem like more than enough water for a single person, but even a home bathtub could hold two hundred kilograms. This was far from enough to hydrate the entire school they were using for shelter. It was entirely inadequate, but they could not give up trying either.
Far below, the direct sunlight had heated the road like a stone stove and the wind turbines were sparking. There were a few cracks in the road and the fire hydrants had broken, but not even a single drop of water was flowing out anymore. The roadside trees had turned brown due to something other than the winter season.
It was all about the heat. That had ruined everything.
Whether it used gasoline or mercury, a car was useless if its battery did not work. Ditto for the new acrobikes. The unmanned devices like cleaning robots were also no help.
Fukiyose Seiri, a classmate with long black hair and an exposed forehead (and giant breasts) similarly wiped away sweat next to Kamijou. Even a well-regulated and excellent student like her had lost the second round of The North Wind and the Sun. She currently wore her own personal black bikini and she wore a wool scarf and gloves over that.
There was of course a reason for that strange combination.
While Kamijou and the other boys carried the incredibly heavy water, the girls had to work to secure a route for them.
“We’ll be using the ladder to reach the next building. We’ll reach a major road after that, so we’ll have to use a tightrope.”
“Not again. This is so dangerous.”
“Just so you know, they use ladders to cross crevasses on Everest.”
Even if these were short multi-tenant buildings, they were still four or five stories tall.
The class was spreading out a folding ladder and using that to cross between buildings. And that was while carrying fifty kilograms of water.
This was why Fukiyose and the other girls were wearing gloves and scarves. It was over 55 degrees Celsius. A comedian’s hot water bath was only in the realm of 50 degrees. And the metal parts were even worse after absorbing the heat. They could not touch them barehanded for extended periods, so they needed the kind of gloves used to hold pots. The scarves were used to carry the ladder over their shoulders. Most of them wore sandals with straps. Sneakers or boots would have been more convenient, but not when it was this hot. Poorly ventilated shoes would quickly fill with sweat and their feet would soon be moist with athlete’s foot.
In all honesty, Kamijou could not get used to crossing the “crevasses” no matter how many times he did it.
“Let’s get going,” said Fukiyose. “One at a time. And be careful.”
“…Dammit. If only we had a sturdier bridge.”
“If we choose the safest routes, we might run across an ambush of people after that water you’re carrying.”
Kamijou, who wore a swimsuit that looked like shorts, glared bitterly up at the sun which had become a deadly weapon.
The world had changed in just three days. A ridiculously unnatural heat wave had attacked Academy City and all of the electricity and plumbing had been knocked out almost too easily. The city had a set of values that generally made class divisions based on academic ability and income, but that had collapsed and something else had risen to take its place.
Simply put, water and shade.
At this point, people could easily start fighting over those things like they were stacks of cash or gold bars.
“We don’t know what’s happened to the other schools since the heat took out all the electronics and network lines, but we should count ourselves lucky that we haven’t dried up yet,” said Fukiyose.
“Do you think there are schools that really did run out of water and dry up?”
“I don’t want to think about it. Anyway, I’ll be going across first.”
When crossing the crevasses, one would send the lighter people first to confirm the other side was safe. In this case, that was the girls who were not carrying water.
They crossed the ladder from building to building. It was less than five meters long, but balancing on two feet and walking across like with a normal bridge or tightrope would be a deadly mistake. They naturally got down on all fours and grabbed on with their hands and legs to slowly crawl across.
This was a serious situation with lives on the line, but Fukiyose ended up sticking up the soft butt contained inside her black bikini bottom. On top of that, the heat meant there was plenty of sweat dripping down her inner thighs, so it made for quite a juicy scene.
Aogami Pierce put on a serious expression as he carried another of the spare water dispenser bottles.
“I’m sorry, Kami-yan. I don’t think I can hide it while wearing a swimsuit.”
“Cough, cough! Bear with it, boy!! I doubt those girls would understand our struggle!!”
The two of them did their best to look away from the seduction before their eyes, but that brought the scorching surface into view.
The colorless shimmering of a mirage rose from the asphalt which was getting a little melty in the intense heat.
“Do you think there are even more of them now?”
“Who knows. I don’t feel like counting them.”
Kamijou sounded annoyed as he answered and he saw Fukiyose waving back at them after safely crossing over. After confirming the safety of the other side, the other girls began crossing the ladder one after another.
“We can’t use electricity, so fire’s really our only option.”
“But I really don’t want to start a fire right now. There’d be no way to put it out.”
“I’ve heard they used to throw sand on fires to put them out.”
There were in fact dark lines rising into the blue sky from different parts of the scorching city. They had no way of knowing if they were cooking fires, smoke signals to send an SOS, or signs of a collapsed community.
A Tokiwadai Middle School girl’s face flashed through the back of his mind.
Was she doing all right in this hell? While she was Academy City’s #3 Level 5, that did not seem like it meant much as far as direct physical strength, water, and stamina were concerned.
(I can still worry about others. Does that mean I’m still human?)
Kamijou shook his head in annoyance and focused on the reality before his eyes.
A triple digit number of students from the first year were out searching for water, but they had split up when choosing actual routes. Only a single class’s worth was here with him, but it was still enough to create a bottleneck when crossing a ladder one at a time.
Kamijou and Aogami Pierce both leaned forward onto the horizontal ladder and attempted to crawl across. As they crossed the scorching metal, Kamijou’s awful friend spoke to him.
“Okay, let’s do this just like all the other times. No holding a grudge if we fall.”
Given the unreliable creaking coming from the ladder and the weight of the water on their backs, they were in no mental state to be joking around, but their short experience at this had already taught them that a heavy silence would put an even greater pressure on their hearts.
They were four or five stories up.
Deadly asphalt awaited them below. If they fell, they would either die instantly or meet a much longer and much more painful fate.
(Don’t worry, don’t worry. They use this method on Everest and a mountain climber carries much more than fifty kilograms. So there’s nothing to worry about.)
The unstable creaking sound continued below him. He felt like each step was the same as snipping one of the colorful cords in a time bomb.
The sweat on his brow was an annoyance. The heat roasting his palms was a nuisance too.
Every drop of water was precious, but his hands and feet were soaked and he felt like he was going to slip off at any time.
The sweat got in his eyelids.
The scene around him blurred as if he was growing teary-eyed. But in this unstable situation, he could not wipe it away with the back of his hand. A vague emptiness filled his mind as he relied only on the sensation coming from his hands to slowly guide him across the five meters from hell.
“…jou, Kamijou! It’s okay now. You made it across!!”
Fukiyose shouted something into his ear, so he breathed out the excess of oxygen filling his lungs. He ignored the burning heat as he collapsed onto his side. He used his entire body to let in the stability of solid ground.
“Looks like we both survived again. Although this is something like playing Russian roulette.”
Aogami Pierce sat down and wiped the sweat from his brow.
As they waited for the rest to cross, Kamijou slowly got up and spoke to Black Bikini Fukiyose.
“You said we have to use a tightrope next, right?”
“Yes. I’m honestly afraid of an ambush since it’s a set route, but five meters is the most we can cross with the ladder. The tightropes are necessary to cross the major roads.”
Electronics were useless in this heat.
Fukiyose pulled out a paper emergency map with several lines drawn in using colorful marker. She folded it like someone reading a newspaper on the train and she read through it. The lines crossing roads from building to building were all “tightropes”.
“I thought some kunoichi manga said you couldn’t cross them like a bridge due to tension or something,” commented Aogami.
“What’s known as the world’s most dangerous route to school requires walking across a single wire for a kilometer or two. This is far better than that.”
After everyone had crossed, Fukiyose and the rest of the girls set to work retrieving the ladder. Kamijou’s group also stood up and began battling the heavy water once more.
They looked into the distance and saw something unusual in the otherwise familiar city.
There was something crossing between the buildings.
Some went from rooftop to rooftop, some went from window to window, and some connected emergency staircase landings.
They were all “tightropes”. In other words, they were wire slides. Wires of various thicknesses were strung between buildings. Attached to them were pulleys made by attaching a small roller skate or skateboard wheel to a somewhat bent version of the thick S-shaped hooks that held up large tools in a garage. By hanging down from the pulley, one could slide straight down across the wire. That said, they were handmade with no standard safety features, so there was no guarantee they were safe.
However, it was far preferable to the unstable ladder or a gamble of a pole vault. This was much like how the safe portion of the blowfish had been discovered. No one wanted to think about how many failures had led to the right answer.
There were also bricks and concrete blocks piled up on the roofs, but they were likely unrelated to the tightropes.
Thick wires extended from several stories of the building they were on, but the one headed toward their school looked really rundown. First of all, it was not made of metal. It had been tied together from synthetic fiber ropes and it had only been strung up using something like a hand-cranked winch. And even though the tightropes were one-way tickets due to the height difference, a way back had not been made. They could get to the other side, but they could not return. They would have to search for another route if it came to that.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait…”
“They just used a gas-powered launcher or something to fire the rope to the other side. Since they didn’t fire one back, they must have given up partway through.”
The tightropes were made out of necessity. Whatever school they were from, if whoever had done this had given up, it might mean something unexpected had happened to them.
Regardless, Kamijou’s class could not just wait around.
They could not take endless detours either. They wanted to get back to the safety of the school as soon as possible. Kamijou and everyone else there had to feel that way.
It was dangerous, but they had no other choice.
Unlike with the ladder, they did not have to go one at a time.
First, Kamijou attached a handmade pulley (made from a roller skate wheel and the kind of S-shaped hook that held up large tools in a garage) to the overhead wire and grabbed onto the handle with both hands. From there, he just had to use the strength of his grip to hang down from it. The height was frightening, but coming to a stop partway down was an even scarier thought. That was why he gave it a running start.
And before he crossed, Fukiyose passed her arms through the ladder to hold it in place as she used a pulley to skillfully board the tightrope.
These set routes were sturdier, but there was more chance of an ambush. It was safest to send multiple people across right away.
Or it should have been.
The tightrope suddenly shook and pointed straight down.
The synthetic fiber rope supporting the tightrope snapped.
Had the heat weakened it? Or had there been too much frictional heat even with the pulley?
There was nothing he could do. The S-shaped pulley was useless with his full weight bearing down on it, so he fell along the path of the snapped wire. He ran into Fukiyose who was also on the tightrope. Knowing it would burn his palm, he grabbed the wire and used his other hand to grab the black bikini girl’s hand before she was thrown off.
They swung like a giant pendulum rather than falling straight down.
But that was lucky because their momentum was transferred to the horizontal vector and they at least avoided dying on impact. Kamijou and Fukiyose fell and rolled along the scorching ground.
Fortunately, they were thrown onto a dried-out flower bed instead of the road. Thanks to that, they avoided having the asphalt tear at their exposed skin like a file.
Kamijou held Fukiyose in one arm and slapped her cheek.
“Hey, are you okay, Fukiyose!? We’re still alive!!”
The mental shock of falling must have blanked out her mind because Fukiyose groaned in confusion as he held her.
And this was no time to be breathing a sigh of relief.
They were on the ground.
Anyone who fell would die.
Aogami Pierce placed his hands around his mouth like a megaphone and shouted down from the rooftop.
“Hurry up and get outta there, Kami-yan!! An Element is coming!!”
Something cast a giant shadow on Kamijou.
He looked back to find it was very close, less than two meters away.
The bizarre-shaped creature was made of translucent crystal and stood easily three meters tall. It resembled a giant mantis and had just raised its front leg like a large scythe.
There had been no sign of the thing just a moment ago.
And due to their translucent bodily structure, the Elements tended to take the shape of plants or animals that used some form of mimicry.
In this case, it was a Class 1 Flower Mantis.
He immediately shoved away the girl in his arms.
The force of the push sent him in the opposite direction just as the dreadful strike swung down at them. The dried flower bed the dazed boy and girl had occupied was mercilessly sliced in two as the translucent scythe stabbed as deep as the concrete foundation.
Something like a red will-o’-the-wisp burned in the center of its transparent chest.
(A fire Element. That’s standard but dangerous!!)
The other scythe came with a color.
It glowed with the orange of a blast furnace.
With the low roar of a fire consuming oxygen, cruel flames wrapped around the attack. Fire with the stickiness of heavy oil burst out in a half circle.
Without Imagine Breaker in his right hand, he would have been turned to ashes.
He held his right hand forward on reflex and the entire twenty meter blast of fire shattered into nothingness. Just the residual heat scorching his cheeks was enough to squeeze at his heart.
He had just about died.
No, he had just about been intentionally killed.
A moment later…
Aogami Pierce shouted down from above. No, he did more than just shout. With heavy sounds of impact, he and the others threw concrete blocks and bricks down on the Element.
“There’s an ‘elevator’ on a building wall a hundred meters west of here! We’ll buy you some time, so take Fukiyose and get back up here!!”
Kamijou looked over and did indeed see a single rope hanging along a building wall. The bottom was tied into a noose-like loop. By placing one’s foot in that and grabbing the rope, someone at the top could drop a drum of sand to pull them up using the pulley at the top.
The Elements could climb stairs, but they seemed unable to use ladders or ropes. Similarly, they could destroy doors and windows, but they were not intelligent enough to pry open locks or turn knobs.
That meant they could be somewhat avoided by escaping to elevated places or hiding behind bomb-resistant doors.
He looked back again.
Black Bikini Fukiyose was lying defenselessly beyond the three meter Flower Mantis. Simply sharing the same space as an Element numbed his mind with a premonition of death. Could he get past the Flower Mantis, reach her, and then escape to the distant “elevator”?
Getting taken out from behind was the most likely outcome.
And it would be even worse if it happened to a familiar classmate.
“Aogami!! Keep throwing the bricks!!”
“Wait, wait, wait! Don’t even think about taking on an Element, Kami-yan! There’ll be no end to them, dammit!!”
Kamijou was not thinking about wiping them out or mopping them up.
This Flower Mantis Element had a core of fire inside it.
If he could at least eliminate that, he could safely reach the elevator with Fukiyose. He could avoid having to lose anyone. And he had already proven that Imagine Breaker worked on the Element’s flames.
Plus, if he could just touch it with his right hand, he could one-shot the Element itself.
But its movements were too deadly, so he could easily be torn to pieces the instant he tried to face it one-on-one.
A few times already, they had needed to save students who had fallen down. The others had thrown stones to buy time while Kamijou challenged and defeated the smaller Elements.
That should still work with this Class 1 that stood three meters tall.
To keep the fear from pinning his feet to the ground, Kamijou roared at the top of his lungs like hammer throwers did to release the limiters in their brains. He ran toward the translucent Flower Mantis. He did not care how pathetic it made him look. As long as he could touch it somewhere, the Element would stop, as if its battery had died.
That was when the Flower Mantis’s surface shimmered like a mirage.
No, that was not what happened. The scenery would shimmer when an Element was moving while blending into the background. They were translucent to begin with and they specialized in mimicry.
That meant this shimmering was not caused by the Flower Mantis launching an attack.
It came from something in front of it.
There was another one!?
As she sat on the scorching asphalt, Fukiyose gave a panicked and wide-eyed shout.
But it was too late.
Kamijou Touma had set his sights on the Flower Mantis and rushed forward, so he could not change direction now.
It was a Class 2. At twice the size of the Flower Mantis, the six meter Element had a diamond shaped shell and giant pincers. It was modeled after a hishigani crab.
And this Element did not hold back on using its greatest weapon.
It was more like a body blow than a blade.
The tip of its giant pincer slammed into the center of Kamijou Touma’s gut.
There was nothing he could do.
He coughed up blood instead of air.
He felt the liquid rising deep in his throat as he was thrown backwards with twice his forward momentum. He could not sense the fall and the impact of collision. His limbs and even his eyeballs were convulsing and he had no idea where he was or even which way was up. His back felt wet, but was that due to the water dispenser tank breaking from the impact or was it simply his own blood?
The rest came in bits and pieces.
His mind was filled with the stench and taste of blood, Fukiyose Seiri’s scream, a downpour of flash grenades and smokescreens made from bottles as they were thrown down from the rooftop, a voice calling his name while slapping his cheeks over and over, the sensation of being dragged, and the floating sensation of the pulley elevator.
“Kamijou! Snap out of it, Kamijou!!”
He had been carried to some rooftop or another.
Fukiyose Seiri seemed to be the one calling his name. That knowledge was enough for him to smile a little even as his body’s convulsions continued.
Thank goodness, he thought.
He was relieved to know her scream had not been due to the Element getting her too.
He was glad for that good news at least.
“Wait, don’t get that satisfied look on your face. We’re not even close to being done here yet!! This isn’t over! Stay focused, Kamijou!! You have to!!”
It was not quite accurate to say her voice was growing more distant.
It would be more accurate to say the mass of sound was striking his eardrums, but its meaning was not reaching his brain. It was like a classmate’s words vanishing into the general chatter of the class as a whole.
After that, Kamijou realized something.
So that’s it, he thought as a possibility occurred to him.
Could this be outside the real timeline?
Is my life flashing before my eyes? Am I lying in bed and desperately thinking back over my most recent memories?
Between the Lines 1
Hamazura Shiage had been heading out early in the morning of late. Even he had trouble believing it was to go jogging. But this was not an admirable attempt to regain as much of his health as he could after wearing it down with alcohol and cigarettes. And it certainly had nothing at all to do with Takitsubo Rikou, his girlfriend in a pink track suit, flatly telling him he was starting to get a gut.
He had washed his hands of Skill Out, but he still had not the slightest idea what to do with the time that had freed up. This may have been something meant to fill that gap inside him. And he was fully aware that someone on the straight and narrow would say he should go to school if he had really had a change of heart.
For better or for worse, he had built up his leg muscles and his stamina…or he felt like he had.
Out of the twenty-three districts, District 7 had the greatest area. If he could stick to his own pace, he could run a full circuit of that district without taking a break.
…Or he should have been able to.
“Dammit…what is with this heat?”
He did not even make it five hundred meters. His feet slowed to a stop and he felt woozy. Was this heatstroke or sleep deprivation? He had been woken in the middle of the night by a weird explosion in the area. But when he leaned against a nearby building wall, his entire body was assaulted by the heat and pain of a frying pan, so he quickly pulled back.
He glanced down at his cellphone, but the display was all weird and would not respond.
He had left before seven and it was early December. He should have been able to see his breath and there should have been ice needles in the sidewalk flower beds, but there was no sign of that. In fact, he was pretty sure this heat would cause an Okinawan mangrove to shrivel up.
He bowed to the old man he had come to recognize during this new morning ritual. The man should have been walking his dog, but the heat had put a stop to that. The dog was sitting on a bus stop bench. It may have been too hot for the dog to sit or lie on the asphalt.
“What is with this weather? Have you heard anything, Hamazura-kun? Kids these days are looking everything up on the internet, right?”
Hamazura felt like the idea that you could learn or do anything on the internet was a deception promoted by the people who adjusted what information was available at what time, but there was no point in explaining that.
“I haven’t heard anything. Did they say anything in the newspapers?”
“Hah hah. Why do young people think everyone past a certain age reads every last article on the newspaper?”
Hamazura just about snapped back that the old man had just made the exact same kind of assumption.
“Anyway, maybe I should cut today’s walk short.”
“This girl may be a dog, but she’s so fat. Of course, that’s because I give her so many treats. Carrying her back isn’t going to be easy. But I can’t have her walk on the asphalt like this. What to do?”
“Why not use the underground tunnels?”
Hamazura answered the confused voice by pointing his thumb toward some nearby stairs heading down.
“They connect the subway stations with the department stores, so they can take you pretty far. Of course, you have to plan out your course and navigate something like a labyrinth if you want to reach the exact exit you want.”
“Hm. I didn’t know that.”
The old man turned his head while sitting on the bus stop bench, but then his gaze came to a stop. He froze up when his eyes reached a certain point.
Curious, Hamazura looked back too.
A group of office workers in business suits ran up the stairs. There were a lot of them. The morning rush hour should not have begun quite yet, so this group was oddly large.
(Will I have to push my way through crowds like that when I grow up?)
That was still how Hamazura viewed the scene.
But that view would change three seconds later.
It began with the handkerchiefs. Due to the heat, a lot of the office workers were holding handkerchiefs. They were pressing them to their faces and the backs of their hands.
At first, he thought they were wiping away sweat.
But then what was that red color seeping out from the cloth?
“Gyah! Wah, wah!!”
“Gau, gau!! Chatter, chatter, chatter!!”
In all likelihood that was not actually what they were shouting, but that was all he could hear with so many yelling voices blending together.
“This isn’t good, Hamazura-kun.”
Hamazura suddenly found the old man had stood up from the bench. He was holding the dog in his arms despite his earlier complaint about the weight.
“I-is someone attacking them? Things are so dangerous these days.”
When were “these days”? The old man used the same line people had been using for half a century at this point.
And his assumption was wrong.
Hamazura’s ears…no, brain gradually managed to process the shouts and screams. They were converted into comprehensible words.
“Gyah! What!? Wah! A bug…!?”
“Gaaah!! Stay…back! Gyaaaaaah!!”
Had it really been a problem with the sound itself or had his mind simply refused to accept the answer?
“What…is that…huge bug!?”
“It’s…coming this way! It’s chasing us!!”
He had a feeling that was what they were actually saying.
But now that he had the answer, he had to accept it.
“M-monster! Dammit, run away! Everyone run away! You’ll be killed!!”
The crowd split to the left and right as it tried to run up the stairs from underground. No, it was knocked to the left and right. Something unseen and nearly invisible used its great mass to charge through. A portion of the scenery immediately shimmered like a mirage. Something like a giant mantis seemed to appear out of thin air.
It was more than three meters tall and made of a crystal-like translucent substance.
The upside-down triangle of its head rapidly turned and it focused on a single point with the emotionless eyes of an insect.
It focused on Hamazura and the old man a short distance away.
“Wh-what the hell is that!?”
As Hamazura started to step back, he ran into something.
It was another one.
As soon as he screamed and dove to the ground with all his might, a gust of wind swept by. His balls shriveled up when he belatedly realized that was the swinging of a scythe larger than a Japanese sword. Shit. This is even worse than running into a crocodile or a bear, he thought, with no clue if that nature knowledge was accurate or not. This was no time to worry about the frying pan heat of the asphalt. He continued rolling to get as far away as possible.
The old man’s pathetic voice reached his ears. Concerned, he looked over from the ground and saw the old man being pulled away by a ferocious force. …But instead of the mysterious crystal mantis, it was the dog’s leash tugging him away.
“I get the feeling that old man’s gonna survive another hundred years.”
With that comment, Hamazura hopped up from the ground.
He ran as fast as his feet would take him in an attempt to get as far away as possible from the crystal mantises and flood of officer workers.
He heard strange heavy footsteps behind him, but he did not have time to look back.
“Why!? Why do they always have to come after meeeee!!!???”