Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume17 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Or Escape Provides a Counterattack – Social_Network_Slayer.
When they left the park, Kamijou took off the Bunny Grey costume. He was only allowed that getup in the park where the Kigurumi Rock Fes was being held. It would be too conspicuous elsewhere, making it entirely meaningless.
“Uuh… Bunny Grey is all limp…”
When Hoodie Bikini Fran saw the empty shell of the body and the disembodied head, she pouted her lips in an amusing way.
“What is that creepy cute thing with weird eyes anyway?”
“Ow! Don’t kick me!!”
“Bunny Grey is a mischievous alien who landed after mistaking Stonehenge for a landing sign crop circle left by one of their investigators. There he gets the help of Know-It-All John and Precocious Mary to discover the secrets of Loch Ness, get preserved in formaldehyde at the British Museum, and have other adventures.”
“Oh, yeah. There was a foreign CG cartoon about that, wasn’t there? The characters moved too smoothly, so people thought their expressions were actually creep-…gwah!?”
“Bunny Grey is not a mere work of fiction! He is a spectacle based in actual history! He is an honorary citizen of London, so there’s no doubting it!!”
“Hey…I think you were going for a punch to the solar plexus there, but you had your eyes squeezed shut and you need to accept that your fist landed a little lower than that…”
Kamijou borrowed a green down coat for staff members that was probably meant to be worn over a stage outfit to protect performers from the cold while not out on stage (why they would be needed at a kigurumi festival was a bit of a mystery, though), so he put it on over his swimsuit and completed his escape with Rabbit-Ear Antennae Fran. It almost reached his knees, so it made him feel like a Hollywood villain who liked lounging in a gown at a luxury hotel or like a flasher on the street corner.
“Let’s borrow some shoes while we’re at it. Here’s a pair for you, Fran.”
When they left the park and returned to the streets, they could see some people here and there. The heat wave and Elements were supposedly gone, so these may have been people heading into the dangerous “outside” to see if it was true.
It looked strange, but there were a lot of girls with a down jacket worn over their racing swimsuit like a life jacket or with a blanket wrapped around their bikini. The strange combination of winter clothing and swimsuits was something like a platypus that had stopped its evolution halfway through. They wanted to reach the next age, but they were afraid to abandon the previous age. That mindset was visible in their clothing.
Kamijou and Fran were wanted. Their hoodie + bikini and swim trunks + down coat did not stand out all that much, but someone might recognize them if they stayed in one place too long. They made sure to keep moving.
“That twelve o’clock meetup time is a long time from now.”
“Well, excuse me, but I bet they need to make their own preparations,” spat back Kamijou. “And there’s something we need to check on while we wait, right?”
“The SNS information warfare.”
“Hm, hm, hm, hmm…”
District 5 was a neighbor to District 7. It had more college students than middle or high school students and its largest shelter was named Academy. That shelter was located in a college building turned into a fortress by barricades. Various theories were pinned anonymously to the bulletin board in the center and the one chosen as the best would determine their use of water and other resources.
At first glance, it might sound free and equal, but it really came down to majority rule. Just like there was a trick to writing a postcard more likely to be chosen for a contest prize, the people who knew how to write in a pretentious way had an overwhelming advantage, so a few people were effectively winning every time, whether their theories were accurate or not.
That made it easy to hijack.
The truth of the heat wave. The high-power microwaves sent from Fran’s unregistered space station.
No theory could have been more sensational.
That shelter’s Sphere had become the former Kamisato Faction’s key station. How far they expanded their influence from there would determine how easily they could move through Academy City.
“Done. That should be a good enough multi-stage attack. I intentionally get them all emotional, fall silent so they’ll start arguing back about the wrong thing, and…got them! Argument won!! Gwa ha ha ha! It’s too late now to take back what you posted. And I’ve already predicted all the insults you can throw at me, so they don’t scare me!!”
The person playing with the master key to the shelter’s Sphere was Maya, the one known as a ghost girl. The tall girl with long black hair was hunched forward and wore pure white burial clothes, but she would occasionally fade in or out. She almost looked like an image projected in the fog, but that was not quite accurate.
Plasma, cognitive disorders, and magnetic abnormalities. There were a number of theories whispered about a scientific explanation of ghosts, but one of those was extremely low frequency waves outside of the audible range. When people were exposed for long periods of time to a stimulus they could not process with their five senses, they would be unable to relax and ultimately see or hear imaginary sights or sounds. Ghosts were often seen in abandoned houses or caves because they tended to have drafts and creaking floors.
Maya generally appeared below Censers, drones shaped like crane flies that emitted imperceptible low frequency waves and aromas. Those were the things flying around her while emitting pale phosphorescence like will-o’-the-wisps. In truth, Fran’s microwave attack had been a real danger for her. She might have been lost there if the shielding had been too weak.
In truth, Maya did not know what a ghost…no, what a soul really was.
She pictured it as something like a smell. If she could rub the smell of her life onto something else before it faded with time, she could live on. But if she could not produce the original smell, she would have to continue protecting this one. Once it disappeared, that was the end.
The girl felt she was not that different from the core in an Element’s chest. And she did not mind. As long as she could do something for Kamisato Kakeru, anyway.
“To think a ghost would be focused on stealth marketing online.”
That comment came from the overly-enthusiastic cosplayer girl named Olivia. She was currently dressed as the original Magical Powered Kanamin. She believed the original series was the best. As her outfit suggested, the girl with her short brown hair in twintails was the subculture type, so she got along fairly well with internet-obsessed Maya.
The gloomy tall girl shook her head which was adorned by a triangular headdress with a slight cut that made it look somewhat like a heart.
“What are you talking about? There are plenty of urban legends about ghosts who don’t realize they’re dead and continue trolling message boards. Haven’t you heard that people sensitive to spirits can tell which posts are made by ghosts?”
“No, I haven’t. And what does it even mean to be sensitive to spirits? I don’t know where this all got started, but it was clearly TV shows that spread it around. Just like Valentine’s Day was used by the chocolate companies, I bet its original meaning was entirely lost.”
The cosplay girl spun around her magic wand that looked too heavy to be plastic and she embraced Maya’s neck from behind. The ghost girl was translucent and fading in and out, but the way she was supported by imperceptible sound and smell gave her skin what seemed to be a tangible texture.
Maya continued checking over the Sphere that had been left for communication during a disaster. It was designed to send out preset messages at a specific time or at a set interval, but it was a convenient toy once she adjusted that a little.
A program that mechanically made posts while pretending to be a human being’s account was known as a bot.
“Won’t they notice what you’re doing?”
“Normally they would eventually notice it’s a posting pattern using a flowchart with some randomization thrown in, but not everyone can use the terminals equally right now. Each shelter has a single Sphere. When everyone has to view the information from the same angle, like a movie screen or roadside TV, it’s easier for them to slip into group psychology. An individual’s small doubts will be swept away by the whole.”
Olivia smelled cinnamon.
A cup of milk tea topped with white foam sat next to the ghost girl who had the cleavage of her large chest seductively exposed. She giggled while enjoying the powdered spice she sprinkled on top of the foam. Tea had become popular during the heat wave when they had needed to boil all of their precious drinking water, but this was overly decorated.
“And I can also make more obvious bots for the other side to make people hate them. It’s all in how you decide to play it. Yes, I could make it look like Fran sent them out to stir up the people while she flees.”
Maya grabbed a colorful vegetable stick she had gotten from somewhere and rested her head in the cosplay girl’s chest.
Olivia looked exasperated.
“Do you really have to eat when you don’t have a body?”
“What are you talking about? Even ghosts are given food offerings.”
“But only the vegetables with the dipping sauce shoved off to the side?”
“Please don’t joke about this. How am I supposed to eat that mass of artificial ingredients? I try to look after my nutritional balance, you know? Not everything is okay just because it’s a vegetable.”
Maya whistled as she touched the Sphere’s screen with her fingertips to make some minor adjustments.
“Let’s see. Will the little bots go along with what I said? I just hope I’ve made Fran into the villain while also letting people know that everyone is scared and they’re not the only ones that want to go nuts. This is only a temporary broadcast network using the shelter rulers who agree with me as regional stations, so I hope they fall behind me on this one.”
“Aren’t you getting a lot of posts arguing with you?”
“Of course. Now, is this coming from the sensible adults, or is it a panicked Fran or her friends trying to change the subject? Let’s try narrowing it down.”
“The way people say things online tends to be pretty identifiable. Attacks pretending to be from a corporate address while targeting a specific person aren’t that unusual these days and the patterns have been analyzed to the point of creating a system out of it.”
Without even turning around, Maya passed a white radish stick back over her shoulder, so the cosplay girl accepted it in her mouth and drove the conversation further.
“More importantly, where am I supposed to go and what am I supposed to destroy? That’s all I need to know.”
“Well, Fran’s group has probably noticed the Spheres by now and will start contacting them, so I might be able to detect her when she bites a little too hard at the bait I posted for her. But…”
“Olivia, have you already been dyed in Kihara Yuiitsu’s colors? Are you not questioning this anymore?”
The cosplay girl answered while embracing the ghost girl from behind and rubbing her own cheek against the realistic softness of Maya’s cheek.
“I want to focus on something and I don’t really care what. If I’m not doing something that seems useful, I think I’ll go crazy.”
“We can’t let Fran mess this up. Kamisato Kakeru’s fate is in our hands. I don’t know what that girl is trying to do, but the right hand ‘gate’ is connected to Kihara Yuiitsu. I don’t see how we can improve this situation without that.”
People who feared ghosts or curses would make sure their door was locked, sprinkle salt around, and paste charms around far more than necessary. It was all a defensive means of ensuring their peace of mind, but when someone had every wall entirely covered in charms, would people see that as someone protecting themselves from an oddity or would they see the action itself as the oddity? It was hard to say.
Maya also wanted to preserve the current situation, so she would fulfill the role given to her.
“Oh, found her☆”
“She must have gotten sick of all the misinformation because she argued back with information only she could know. I thought Fran would have more patience than that. If we check the Sphere that honest little girl was using, we might find some useful hints.”
It was just before noon and Hoodie Bikini Fran was viewing a card-sized screen connected to her backpack by a spiraling cord like that of a home phone, but then she slapped her own forehead.
“…Now I’ve done it.”
“Wait, what happened? Please tell me!!”
Kamijou grabbed her slender shoulders and shook her back and forth, but the rabbit-ear antennae girl refused to look him in the eye.
“I know two things. They already had a multi-stage scenario set up, so no matter how much I fight back, they’ll crush it all with their flowchart. And I’d rather not get into the details, but they identified me even though I was posting anonymously. This is really bad.”
“Umm, so you mean…since you weren’t directly using the Sphere…and since you were accessing it through your backpack’s equipment…”
“You don’t have to delay getting to the point.” Fran admitted her mistake and puffed out her cheeks. “It’s true they can’t locate us just by determining which Sphere I was using as a relay machine. Think of it like a key station and the mobile broadcast truck sent to the scene. We won’t be caught in a crossfire from 100 different warriors.”
“But…um…this is really hard to say, but if they physically destroy the Sphere that’s like the key station, then the broadcast truck’s signal can never get back into the network. And more importantly, they might analyze the data left in the Sphere’s temporary cache…So I think they’ll probably steal all the messages we’ve sent or received. I’m sorry!!”
“Wait, what was that you said really quiet and really fast just now? Say it properly this time!!”
The situation was a tricky one.
If the enemy knew the time and location of the meetup, the risk of an ambush increased dramatically. That would put them, as well as Index and Othinus, in danger.
But the designated time was coming up soon. It hurt being forced from the network after their key station Sphere was stolen, but there was a chance the enemy would not manage to extract the message in time. If they went straight to the designated location and found Index and Othinus, they might be able to leave before the former Kamisato Faction even showed up.
“I guess we’ll have to bet on that for now…”
“Now you owe me one.”
“You’ve barely done anything!!”
“How many times do you think I’ve pushed your unathletic ass onto or over something!? There was the subway platform and the ticket gate at least!!”
The great Fran actually blushed for once as she squeezed her eyes shut and swung her tool knife around wildly, so Kamijou had to seriously roll out of the way while all his hair bristled. He finally tried to hold her arms in place, but the giant backpack got in the way. After some more struggling, he swept her feet out from under her, climbed on top of her, and tried to pin her wrists to the ground, but the backpack got in the way again. She was a lot like someone lying on a balance ball. The arch of her back caused some trouble in how it pushed out her modest chest and thrust forward the base of her thighs protected by the bottom of her hoodie. Kamijou looked exactly like a trench coat pervert pushing a small girl down on a tiny table to have his way with her.
“Calm down, you delusional girl! Giving an idiot a blade is like poison for the brain! Find a better way to use your head!!”
“I’m not delusional! I really did have a chip implanted in my neck!!!!!!”
“Stop! This is no time to force your claim with a knife!!”
Trench Coat Pervert Kamijou Touma protected the peace by restraining the hoodie bikini girl instead of strapping her to a bed. She tried to struggle and throw off the pervert on top of her, but with her arms and legs restrained, she ended up just wiggling her stomach up and down in an alluring wave motion. But Fran either finally realized it was useless or noticed her bikini’s knots were truly at their limit because she stopped struggling.
The die had been cast.
The situation was underway, so they could not turn things back no matter how much they wanted to. They could only choose the best option still available to them.
Their Sphere had been stolen, but Fran’s backpack full of electronics would still be useful. That equipment included a digital clock as if it were a bonus prize.
It was almost twelve noon.
They would have to try meeting up with Index and Othinus in the District 7 station plaza.
“I’m starting to feel hungry.”
Those words alone may not have seemed out of the ordinary.
But everyone there froze in place.
The words of Tyrant held a lot of weight. They had no idea what kind of orders they would be given. Cultures around the world had legends of food made from brains and the girls could not disobey her if she started wondering what that tasted like.
She was Kihara Yuiitsu, master of the right hand.
But the woman with the qualities needed to possess World Rejecter looked entirely relaxed.
“There’s a shelter near here, isn’t there? And one of you controls it, right?”
That scratchy answer came from Salome who continued obeying without ever having her missing arm healed.
“That would be Charity where Siren is assisting Maya.”
“Eh heh. That name sounds interesting. Then let’s go get something there. If you want to eat with me, then follow this finger.”
Kihara Yuiitsu raised her sewn-on right hand’s index finger and spun it around as she readily walked out of the space below the Windowless Building.
Even the smallest bit of trouble out there, from an attack by thugs to choking on a rice cake, would mean losing that right hand’s power.
The raincoat mass murderer and the others quickly followed her out like servants and Cruel Queen Kihara Yuiitsu climbed the long slope.
“I feel like eating barbecue.”
“Lamb meat would be nice. It can taste a little odd, but that makes it surprising and interesting. But, but. There need to be plenty of vegetables on the skewers as well. Maybe an overall ratio of 6:4…no, 7:3.”
No one could give a proper response.
There’s no meat? Then can’t one of you lie down on the chopping block? They never knew when that lunatic would say something like that.
They walked through District 7 and to the nearby shelter which was located inside a resort hotel.
“It isn’t often they can focus on all three necessities: food, shelter, and clothing. You said it was called Charity?”
“Please, relax. So what kind of rules does this place use?”
“Um, I believe the amount of charity you give to others determines your influence.”
The raincoat girl’s usual energy was nowhere to be found. After she hesitantly and slowly answered, Yuiitsu laughed in her lab coat and bikini.
“I see. And that means receiving help from others reduces your status, so it comes down to keeping a low profile and avoiding other people’s kindness. Hmm, how twisted☆”
It was midday. A large industrial pot had apparently been brought from the kitchen and it had been used to cook over a fire out front. Two young men were carrying it and Yuiitsu tilted her head when she approached them.
“What a creamy smell. Is that a white stew?”
That casual comment sent a chill running through Salome’s entire body.
No, it was not the words. It was the glitter of curiosity in the woman’s eyes.
It happened suddenly.
Kihara Yuiitsu did not even hesitate to shove her right hand into the boiling pot, so Salome had to quickly stop her. World Rejecter was the fundamental gate needed to rescue Kamisato Kakeru, so they could not let it be boiled away here. And Yuiitsu of course knew that. Her eyes were narrowed in delight.
Rushing forward so quickly to stop her had backfired and the raincoat girl lost her balance. Her hips collided with the pot held by the shocked men and it fell to the ground with her.
The contents were dumped on the roundabout and on the mass murderer who rolled around as scorching pain pierced her entire body. Yuiitsu then stepped on the girl’s head while humming cheerfully. Pinned to the ground and unable to even struggle, the soaked girl clenched her teeth to swallow a scream.
“Hm, hm, hm, hmmm. Stay just like that. Yes, just a while longer like that.”
The shoe rubbed at her head in accordance with a mysterious sense of aesthetics, so the girl could not even raise her head. That was why Salome first sensed the disaster with her ears rather than eyes with her body and cheeks stained with the slimy liquid.
“Who even are they? Outsiders?”
“But the food! Why are they playing around with it!?”
The men, women, boys and girls of Charity noticed and approached the commotion, but the look in their eyes changed when they saw the raincoat girl lying in the pool of food splattered on the ground.
The demon spoke with a childish smile on her face.
“Ohhh? It stank so bad I assumed it was a leftover failure. But, but. Seeing it soaking such a cute girl’s body is sure to bring a smile to your faces no matter how it tastes, right? Isn’t that how disgusting people like you work?”
“You can go straight to hellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!”
Yuiitsu whispered a suggestion to the brown girl under her foot.
“Now, Miss Guard Dog, are you ready? Puppy dog, if you don’t do everything you can to protect me here, World Rejecter might be torn right from my arm. You might lose the tiny thread you need to save your beloved Onii-chan.”
“Here, I’ll let go of your leash. 3, 2, 1, go!!”
After that joking countdown, the weight left Salome’s head in the pool of white stew.
The group all had handmade weapons probably meant for the Elements, but the raincoat girl still charged into the center of the group.
Countless hands surrounded the brave girl like a giant anemone. If even one of them grabbed the bottom of the raincoat that was fluttering up as the air caught it, she would be pulled down into the group. Yuiitsu held her sides and laughed on and on as she watched the brown girl fighting as if dancing through a hellish ocean.
The raincoat girl probably still trusted the other girls sharing these circumstances with her.
In fact, she may have even trusted her enemies of Kamijou Touma and Karasuma Fran.
“Oh, this is just wonderful.”
Siren, the girl who had taken the spot of ruler at this shelter, walked over to check out the commotion and went pale. Yuiitsu took a piece of bread from her that had the moisture removed by slicing it thinly and frying it. It was probably meant to be eaten with the white stew, but Yuiitsu tossed it directly into her mouth.
“Munch, munch. Half of Yuiitsu-chan’s orders are just meant to mess with you. For example, asking you to kill Kamijou Touma. But that means the other half are not just meant to mess with you. I hope you can keep this up and blossom into some beautiful flowers. Some venomously colorful flowers☆”
“Academy City is currently working through the 48 Hours to Restore Order. There is nothing to worry about. However, to ensure the process runs smoothly, please provide information on the following people: 1. Kamijou Touma. 2. Karasuma Fran. They were deeply involved in the so-called ‘heat wave’ that affected Academy City and was also connected to the Elements…”
A helicopter with several steel beams dangling from wires flew by overhead. As soon as Kamijou heard the announcement, he grabbed Fran’s hand and pressed against a nearby withering roadside tree that was half buried in white sand.
But he had not hidden because he was afraid of being spotted by Useful Spider.
He used the thick trunk rather than the overhead branches to hide and he groaned quietly with the small hoodie bikini girl in his arms.
“We’re 5 minutes early, but the Kamisato Faction is already here.”
He could not recognize and name all 100 of them, but he did recognize the bored-looking girl wandering around the wolf statue in the station plaza which was littered with piles of white sand. She had ankle-length black hair and dragged a lab coat behind her. In a way, that tracer and forensics girl was the most dangerous one. If Ellen spotted them here, they would be back to endlessly trying to lose her.
Fran whispered back while looking entirely unfazed in his arms.
“I see Ellen and Mary near the statue. They stand out, so you know who I’m talking about, right?”
“Yeah,” said Kamijou, sounding not at all pleased.
A sexy girl in a red dress and with splendid blonde ringlet curls was wandering around on all fours just like the wolf statue. She was a complete stranger, but he would have noticed her immediately even in a crowd of a million. She had just stuck her head in an abandoned kebab stand and the other girls had been forced to stop her. The meat had to have gone bad ages ago, but she did not seem to mind.
“Mary is a wolf girl. Not a literal half-wolf, but a girl who was raised by wolves. It’s a good thing we’re downwind. Being raised by wolves shouldn’t have increased her senses, muscles, or digestive system, but she ignores all logic as far as that’s concerned.”
“What? So if she bites you, she’ll break right through the bone?”
“That’s part of the problem.”
He had meant it as a joke, but she did not deny it. A chill ran down his spine.
“But the biggest threat from Mary is her sense of smell. A dog’s is said to be 6000 times more sensitive than a human’s, but hers is even more than that. If she catches our scent, this will become very, very troublesome. Depending on how the winds blow, we might be in trouble just staying here.”
“A forensics expert and now a police dog, huh?”
“We should count ourselves fortunate that Maya isn’t flying around in the sky. …That self-indulgent ghost is probably focused on trolling the message boards.”
Whatever the case, this left them with no way of approaching the plaza.
Then Fran started pointing around some more.
“Those are the only two in the center, but there are more on the outskirts: Luca the pirate and Olivia the cosplayer provide the most firepower. Then there’s Aileen who’s obsessed with ‘modern’ weapons, Sandy the microbe professor, Melon who specializes in assassination weapons, and Amy the predator queen. All of those are from the combat unit. Any one of them would be dangerous and there’s nothing we can do if they surround us.”
“Not one of those introductions sounded very reassuring,” groaned Kamijou.
(But if they sent in their best fighters, why isn’t Salome here? Is she being kept in reserve somewhere?)
Fran looked up at the spiky-haired boy who held her in his arms.
“What are you going to do?”
“We can’t fight our way through them. The safest thing would be to contact Index and Othinus before they enter the plaza if possible.”
But heaven was not going to give Kamijou Touma that kind of lucky break.
It was 2 minutes before the arranged time, but he already saw the white cloth with teacup-like golden embroidery. He just about clicked his tongue, but barely managed to restrain himself. The familiar nun was holding a calico cat in her arms, the Magic God was sitting on her shoulder like a dress-up doll, and they had just set foot inside the station plaza.
They were right on the opposite side of the wolf statue. He could not get her to stop or call quietly out to her now. The former Kamisato Faction would definitely notice.
He wanted to save Kamisato no matter what, so it would be truly painful to miss this chance to meet up with Index and Othinus.
But after pushing with her small hands to finally free herself from Kamijou’s chest, Fran crouched down and began scratching something out on the ground with a rock she found.
“What are you doing?”
“We can’t meet up with them like this. We need to designate a new place to meet up and then leave. We need a clever way of leaving a difficult code only that girl would understand.”
The hoodie bikini girl drew out a few concentric circles like an archery target and added a few vertical and horizontal lines along the edge of the circles. It may have been an alien language used by little greys, but Kamijou saw things differently.
“We came this far. Those Ellen and Mary girls found this place by pulling the data out of the Sphere we were using as a relay key station, so they’ll be watching Index from now on. She can’t escape them if they’re tailing her.”
“Then what do we do?”
Kamijou glanced to the center of the plaza from behind the roadside tree half buried in white sand. Index had arrived ahead of the designated time, so she was probably seriously worried about him. He slowly sighed and made up his mind as he watched her nervously looking around.
“Let’s give up on meeting up with them. Trying to force our way through will turn this plaza into hell on earth. Who knows where a stray bullet could end up.”
Needless to say, Kamijou and Fran wanted help. To rescue Kamisato from the new world he had been sent to, they wanted help from an expert with plenty of unique knowledge even for the magic side. If they could not recruit Index or Othinus for that role, what were they to do? Things would only get worse the longer they stayed on the run.
“Fran,” said Kamijou. “You’ve been with Kamisato all this time, so you have to know a lot about his friends.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“We can’t get close to the center, but we might be able to manage with someone on the outer edge.”
Kamijou cast the die while watching the deadly besiegement from the outside.
“We’ll take our expert from the Kamisato Faction. Fran, point out someone who knows a lot about the magic side.”
The station plaza was not an entirely open space. As previously stated, there were variously sized piles of white sand thought to be the remains of the Elements. The taller ones were twice Kamijou’s height, so it was possible to hide behind them. There were also trees, vending machines, and benches.
Even so, each step closer was no easy task. If anyone caught a glimpse of them, it would mean trouble with more than just that one person. She would raise her voice to call everyone over to surround Kamijou and Fran.
And that was why they chose this plan.
As Kamijou held his breath and crouched behind a pile of white sand, he watched the eyepatch pirate girl named Luca walk the same course a few times before he forcefully covered her mouth from behind.
He just had to make sure she could not call over the others after discovering him.
He wrapped his other arm around the girl’s slender body and dragged her back while unbalancing her body weight. The tall pile of sand created a blind spot that hid them from the plaza.
The girl wore a large pirate hat with a feather in it and a thick navy blue coat that a sailor would wear. Her curly blonde hair fell down to her shoulder blades and an eyepatch covered one of her blue eyes. The blue bikini below the coat was bright enough to nearly imbalance her overall impression.
Whether it was a strategic move or an act of instinctive fear, Luca used her covered mouth to bite at Kamijou’s hand. He could not hold on.
And as soon as his grip loosened, he lost sight of her.
No, she had suddenly shrunk in height. Bizarrely, the girl of about 15 aged down to about 10. That made it seem like she had crouched down to escape.
When the pirate girl tried to escape, he tackled her at the waist and dragged her down to the ground. As soon as his right hand touched her, her unnatural age returned to normal. Her clothing could not keep up with the sudden size changes, so her swimsuit and coat started to shift out of place. Even so, the girl twisted her body around to slip out from under Kamijou. She was as slippery as an eel or a wet bar of soap. She flipped up her coat, tried to roll out of the way, and glared up at him.
“Bhah!! How reckless do you have to be to charge right into our group when-…”
Then the white sandy girl noticed something. Her companions would come running if she called for them, but she trailed off. Kamijou Touma held a blade too large to call a knife. It was longer than two 30cm rulers. Needless to say, it was the cutlass the pirate girl had worn at her hip. Yes, Kamijou had not just been trying to stop her when he tackled her at the hip. He had been going for the buckle of the thick belt that held the sword.
The pirate also wore a large pirate-y musket on her back, but the gun required the powder and bullet to be loaded through the muzzle and was ill-suited for quick use. Plus, the long narrow ramrod used to load it was held in the same scabbard as the cutlass. There was nothing she could do with that taken from her.
Eyepatch Luca waited to see what would happen next with her back to the pile of white sand.
“That is enough talking out there. Get in here already.”
She heard a voice behind her and slender arms reached under her arms and around her body. Fran was the one grabbing her, but that meant she had to have been hiding behind Luca. And yet there had only been the wall of white sand there.
A boy with a sword stood in front of her and Fran held her from behind as if to smell her blonde hair. Luca could no longer resist physically or mentally, so she was easily dragged away.
Into a small igloo-like space presumably dug inside the pile of white sand.
“It’s a pretty good hiding place, isn’t it? When it’s all white, the distance and angles are hard to make out. Overseas they’ve apparently had fun making videos in salt lakes to mess with the sense of perspective. Plus, the fine white sand absorbs the particles that produce smells. It might be like activated charcoal. We noticed it while watching that Mary girl. We were hiding downwind and there was a kebab stand in the plaza, but we couldn’t smell the rotting meat at all. So you can’t rely on her nose right now.”
“But this…this is all a makeshift measure…”
“Yeah, it could all fall apart at any time, so don’t struggle, Luca. There’s no saving us if we’re buried alive under this.”
Their conversation could not be heard outside with these thick sand walls around them.
Kamijou actually thought the granules had to be quite heavy to not be blown away by the midwinter wind, so it would be stable. But he was not obligated to tell that to the pirate girl who could start struggling at any time.
Luca clenched her teeth and Fran moved away from her back.
Of course, Fran also made sure to confiscate the belt holding the pirate girl’s musket on her back. In addition to the gun itself, the skull-shaped container holding the black gunpowder was attached to that belt, so she could not use it like a firecracker.
Kamijou gave an exasperated look at the cutlass he held.
“H-hey, Fran. A sword and a gun? Are you sure she’s the right one? We need someone with magical knowledge rivalling Index’s. Are you sure we aren’t recruiting the wrong person?”
“This is the right person. Luca uses a special form of combat linked to the Voodoo found in the Caribbean where pirates once ruled. To perform a great variety of ceremonies on the limited space of a ship, she is a magician who follows Legba Atibon, the god of the gate who manages all ceremonies. Legba Atibon indirectly appears in all Voodoo ceremonies, so he does not just exist on a specific ceremonial day and he is defined as existing at all times. Luca has used this to achieve control of subjective time, allowing her to freely change the age of her external appearance and to prepare magic that would normally be a once-in-a-decade event in only a second.”
“Control of time…?”
“Not only can she approach Kamisato-chan as an older or younger sister, but when the rest of us are suffering from that time of month, this demon of a magician can skip right past it.”
“This conversation got vulgar fast!”
That would be why she had shrunk and grown when he tried to capture her.
But Kamijou had to frown.
Kamisato had said some confusing things when talking about World Rejecter. Instead of sending someone to an entirely different world, it sent them to another “world” in the same timeline or to the excess space in the same film.
Luca was caught in a space too small to stand up without hitting her head, her weapons had been taken from her, she was surrounded by enemies, and she believed struggling would get her buried alive. The pirate girl gave Kamijou an irritated look, but she seemed unable to come up with anything to do about it.
She calmly raised both hands.
“What do you want? I will protect Kamisato-kun. And to do that, I’m willing to endure the humiliation from Kihara Yuiitsu who possesses the right hand we need as a gate. Nothing you can say will shake my conviction!”
“Killing me won’t change the order to execute you. Surely you know that the line from Kihara Yuiitsu is one-way and she doesn’t listen to anything we say.”
“That’s not what we’re asking of you.” Kamijou hesitantly wielded the unfamiliar cutlass. “We’re going to save Kamisato Kakeru and we want your help to do it.”
“With you two?”
Instead of hesitating over an answer, Blue Bikini Luca looked more confused why they would be making the suggestion in the first place.
“Hah. With you two!? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m already saving Kamisato-kun just by obeying Kihara Yuiitsu no matter how difficult it might be. I’m protecting the right hand that might be able to call him back!!”
Kamijou saw this as the first “distortion”.
He looked over the eyepatch pirate girl’s shoulder and exchanged a glance with Fran who was toying with the unloaded musket. Fran gave a small nod, so he thought carefully about which of the words that came to mind he should use.
“…You seem to be mistaken about something.”
“Just doing what you’re doing won’t save Kamisato. Obeying Kihara Yuiitsu does not lead to saving him.”
“What would you know about-…!?”
“Did Kamisato ever say that!? Did he ever say he could use World Rejecter to save someone he had supposedly erased!? Didn’t he only ever talk about sending people away and never about bringing them back!?”
“So your very foundation is wrong. Protecting that right hand won’t lead to bringing him back. You have to start by accepting that, Luca, no matter how hard it is!!”
Even if she did, Luca might not help them.
So Kamijou looked to the second distortion. They all had to know something was wrong with continuing to obey Kihara Yuiitsu, so why did they continue doing so?
Kamijou gave the answer.
“If you just do what she says, things at least won’t get any worse.”
“Isn’t that what you were thinking, Luca? Or maybe you were thinking you could eventually search for a way to bring Kamisato back while Kihara Yuiitsu wasn’t looking. If so, you were wrong. When exactly would that ‘eventually’ be? You kept thinking that, but you haven’t even taken the first step. Pretending to think about something is the same as not thinking at all! You just decided that thoughtful pose looked cool!”
“Don’t be ridiculous! I really was working to help Kamisato-kun even as it wore me down and trampled on my pride…”
“How much something wears you down isn’t the same as achieving actual results.” Fran sounded exasperated behind the pirate girl. “And this too is a distortion. Human beings believe they are accomplishing something as long as they keep working at something. Think of a jigsaw puzzle, a puzzle ring, levelling up in a video game, or popping bubble wrap. Luca, has your effort really led to anything practical? Or was it more like a product of entertainment or a hobby?”
“Time is always marching forward. If you stand still, things are bound to deteriorate. Kihara Yuiitsu is building up her foundation. She might not yet know what strange powers and abilities those 100 girls have, but if she encourages you to report on each other’s weaknesses, she will quickly have that information. This is the only time to get out ahead of her, but all of you are wasting that chance! Do you really want to do that? Won’t you regret it once you’re driven into a dead end? Try thinking through this again!!”
The pirate girl was shaken.
Her one visible eye was clearly wavering.
It was true the former Kamisato Faction was powerful and – more importantly – strange. Back when they had acted as a group along with Kamisato Kakeru, they had seemed like a swarm of army ants that devoured even the rules of the world. But that was also their biggest bottleneck. What if they were cut away from the group or they lost Kamisato Kakeru as their central pillar? They no longer had their group psychology or leadership. They had achieved the perfect golden ratio before, so changing it in any way now was entirely unnecessary. Luca was surprisingly fragile now that she was caught in a changing situation.
“Even so,” said the eyepatch pirate girl. “That’s still no reason to trust you! You’re not Kamisato-kun. You haven’t done a damn thing to earn my trust! How can I know you’re telling the truth and why do I have to trust you right off the bat!?”
Kamijou saw this as the final distortion.
Kamijou Touma was not Kamisato Kakeru. And just like Fran, Luca would only act for Kamisato Kakeru’s benefit. No one else could take his place, so no amount of persuasion would convince her to act for someone else’s benefit.
Kamijou had known that, so he had more to say.
“Are you sure you aren’t making a fundamental misunderstanding?”
“We need your magic. No, we want any knowledge we can get – magic or science – to save Kamisato. That’s how ridiculously tough a problem World Rejecter is.”
“But…so what? Why does that mean I have to listen to you!?”
“Because we can’t do anything!”
Luca was taken aback by his overly blunt statement.
He seemed to be rejecting his overall premise, but he did not hesitate to continue.
“So we’ll do whatever we can to support you! We’ll lift you up and carry you within arm’s reach! But finishing it off is your job. Luca, use your magic to rescue your Kamisato!! Is that still not acceptable!?”
The pirate girl was dumbfounded.
No, her thoughts themselves had ground to a halt.
“If it isn’t, then that’s the end. We’re just assistants, so there’s nothing we can do without someone to lift up. Then we can’t save Kamisato! All because of your decision!!”
He knew that was a cheap way of putting it.
He also knew it was the kind of thing that boy would say as he worked to give everyone a push forward.
Then he spun the cutlass around in his hand. He gingerly grabbed the thick blade and held the hilt out toward the pirate girl.
“If that isn’t acceptable, then end it yourself. Cut us down and return to what you were doing, Luca!! If that’s really what you want and you’re really too afraid to leave the rails laid out by Kihara Yuiitsu, then tear up and throw away the ticket to freedom we’ve given you!!”
“That’s what you’ve been saying you want to do! Since you didn’t seem to see what it was you were choosing, I spelled it out for you, Luca. So what will you do? Take advantage of the possibility in front of you, or kill it? Choose with your actions!!!!”
Even after all this, Pirate Girl Luca did not move.
No, she could not move so easily. She felt the weight of this decision too clearly to call it a farce and reject the offer.
Kamijou could not wait around here forever. If the girls changed their patrol routes on a whim or if the winds changed enough for Mary to catch their scent, they would be detected or the igloo entrance would be found. Someone might notice Luca had been away from her post for a while. They had no guarantee that not a single decibel of their voices had escaped the sand. The risk of detection and death undoubtedly increased with each passing second.
But he waited.
He waited for the words of the girl he himself had cornered.
“…I loved the sea.”
Finally, those words escaped through the gap between her lips. They sounded unrelated to the current situation, but there had to be some connection in the pirate girl’s head.
“I’m not talking about the liquid that covers 70% of the earth’s surface and I don’t care about the liquid with 3% salt content. The cramped, boring, and stifling gray cities cut everyone off from each other. But I loved the sea which always leads to a new land, is connected to all parts of the world, and always has someone waiting for you beyond the horizon.”
Kamijou did not know who Luca had originally been or what her circumstances had been.
Kamisato had said they had all lived in a peaceful classroom while they each had their own world and worked toward their own dream, but it was possible they had had their normal problems in that normal place.
“He was the only one.” Luca’s voice trembled like she was confessing something. “I’m not talking about winning some prize or having some famous contest judge take a liking to it. He was the only one that looked at my canvas and said the ocean looked like a blue doorway. Only Kamisato-kun saw my soul inside the painting…”
The girl had one eye covered by an eyepatch. Had that been coincidental or intentional? Either way, it had to have been meaningful for an artist to damage her eye.
“Are you sure?”
The pirate girl…no, someone from that unique classroom finally asked a question.
“Are you sure I can really bring Kamisato-kun back? Can I really do it myself instead of following someone else’s orders?”
They had nothing to support an answer. Kamijou and Fran had been focusing on what they wanted to do, but they had no actual plan as to how.
But that did not stop Kamijou from answering.
“If that’s what you really want to do, then nothing can stop you.”
Luca forcefully grabbed the cutlass held out to her. She could have chosen to slice Kamijou’s head apart, but the boy did not even blink. Seeing that, she spun the blade around and spoke.
“My name is Toyama Luca. Nice to meet you.”
Instead of cutting someone, she sheathed the blade and held her empty hand out to shake the hand of her new comrade in arms.
“Take back your words and I’ll kill you. That’s my only condition.”
Kamijou was reluctant to leave.
But he could not stay in the District 7 station plaza for long. They were outnumbered and could not break through the enemy while protecting someone, so they had to leave without waiting for Index and Othinus. He had to trust that was the best way of protecting them.
“But I’m surprised,” said Luca.
Once it was discovered the eyepatch girl in a large pirate hat had vanished, a search of the area would begin regardless of whether she had left on her own or been attacked. Once a search began, there would be no escaping Forensics Girl Ellen who was known as a tracer, Wolf Girl Mary whose sense of smell was more than 6000 times that of a normal person, and the many other combat members.
But Luca was sitting on the ground with her arms around her knees and not moving.
They were safe inside an igloo dug inside one of the sand piles half burying the city.
“We can’t walk around outside carelessly, but we can use the white sand to make ourselves something akin to a cardboard box house?”
She stroked the skull container at her waist as she spoke. It had a striking design, but Kamijou had seen bottles shaped like that when passing by the alcohol corner in the supermarket.
“It looks like this is fooling Ellen’s tracing and Mary’s nose,” commented Fran.
“That’s because we sprinkled that white sand behind us as we fled.”
Kamijou and the two girls could not stay in one place for long, so this was an important discovery. Ellen and the others might notice the possibility of an igloo before long, but they had no hint. After leaving the one they had dragged Luca into in the station plaza, they had knocked it down so it collapsed. It would take the other girls longer to discover the truth from those remains.
“It’s 1:30 PM…”
Fran still kept her backpack on and checked the digital clock on her communications equipment.
“I’m starting to get a little hungry.”
The small, microplastic-like granules must have kept the air inside because the igloo was pleasantly warm.
“I’d like to get things moving too. Luca, we’re willing to try anything that might help save Kamisato. Tell us everything you know.”
“Just to be clear, if I had the knowledge and skills to do it myself, I wouldn’t have been sucking up to Kihara Yuiitsu like that in the first place. Please understand that this is a problem I can’t solve on my own.” The eyepatch pirate girl sighed. “Another world? A different world in the same timeline? Ignoring whether or not there’s actually a way to interfere with that, if you want to interfere with Point B from Point A, you have to focus on the concept of imitation. You can also call it Idol Worship.”
“I’ll explain. In the world of magic, objects with similar shapes will influence each other. For example, a doll can take on the injuries meant for a person.”
There was no guarantee they could follow her explanation.
Kamijou and Fran exchanged a glance while sitting down.
“Um, so…what? I feel like Agnese or Birdway might have explained this before, but maybe not… Anyway, is it like that thing where people hammer a nail into a doll late at night?”
“That harms the shrine’s holy tree, so you really shouldn’t do it,” piped in Fran.
“This is similar, but not quite the same. You’re talking about infection magic. It’s a type of curse that focuses on the target’s hair contained inside the straw doll. The person’s blood, fingernail, hair, or another part of their body is used to affect the whole. The straw doll itself is just a traditional method with no real origin behind it,” explained Pirate Hat Luca. “Not all of them apply, but a lot of the magic circles drawn on the ground are simplified versions of the sun or moon. Just like a constellation table, the original shape is entirely lost, but carving that into the ground is still thought to draw in the power of the heavenly body.”
Kamijou kind of got it, but kind of didn’t.
He tilted his head and asked a question.
“So what’s the problem here?”
“Oh, honestly.” Luca mussed up her bangs with a hand. “Whatever method we use to rescue Kamisato-kun, it’s going to start with using that imitative magic. After preparing something extremely similar in this world and that world, we can open a tunnel between the two points. If we’re going to rely on magical power, that’s the only way to do it.”
“But you understand that that’s easier said than done, right? We want to open the tunnel, but that means sending some kind of signpost into the other world. It’s like having our keys locked in the car.”
“But.” Hoodie Bikini Fran hung her head a little. “While it’s a one-way ticket, there is a way to send things from here to there.”
“You mean Kihara Yuiitsu’s right hand? How are we supposed to get close to that? There are more girls around her than in that plaza. Sneaking in, having her use World Rejecter on just the object we want, and escaping safely would be impossible.”
Kamijou thought as the two girls discussed the difficult problem on either side of him.
This world and that world.
The objects and people blown away by World Rejecter.
Imitation. Objects with similar shapes would influence each other.
“We might be able to do it. We might already have what we need without even getting Yuiitsu to lend us a hand.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just so you know, we can’t use infection magic between Kamisato-kun and his severed right hand. World Rejecter is too powerful to function as a catalyst. That would be like taking a metal pin surrounded by ultra-powerful electromagnets and trying to use a different magnet to create a compass out of it.”
“That’s not what I meant. I’m talking about the imitative magic, not the infection magic. The one where things with similar shapes influence each other.”
Fran and Luca looked puzzled and urged him to continue.
He did not care if this was not a perfect answer. It only had to inspire further discussion. That was all he was hoping for.
And so he threw it out there.
“The A.A.A. The ire between Kamisato and Yuiitsu began with a golden retriever wielding that weapon. If Kamisato defeated that dog, wouldn’t the A.A.A. have been sent to that that world?”
Kamijou knew very little about the A.A.A. He could not even say what it had originally been designed for. What was powering that thing that Mikoto had readily piloted during the heat wave, and how did it work? Could it even be fully explained with science alone?
But an A.A.A. had been used by a lot of people: Misaka Mikoto, Kihara Yuiitsu, and even Plant Girl Claire if a decoy counted. And he knew an original had to exist somewhere.
And its owner had been defeated by Kamisato Kakeru in his prime.
That original device had provided Misaka Mikoto with destructive inspiration when she found it and picked it up the other day.
“Let’s find Misaka,” suggested Kamijou.
If Mikoto had been able to use the original A.A.A. as-is, she would not have gotten the help of Tokiwadai Middle School to put together her own version of the weapon. The original she had based it on must have stopped functioning. But Kamijou’s group did not need the original A.A.A. to actually run. They only needed Devices A1 and A2 that had similar shapes and functions so they had a starting point for the imitative magic.
“She might have gathered up and stored the wreckage or spare parts of the original A.A.A. If we can borrow that, won’t we have the signpost for this side and that side?”
The hangar at Tokiwadai Middle School had been thoroughly destroyed by Kihara Yuiitsu. If the original had been kept there, they might be in trouble, but that was only if they wanted to use the A.A.A. as a weapon. Even if it had been reduced to scraps, they might manage as long as they could prove they were the same parts on a compositional and functional level.
But as an Academy City resident, Kamijou did not have a good sense of what magic allowed and what it did not.
It would be faster to let Pirate Girl Luca see it for herself.
They had no time to spare.
“Let’s stop by Tokiwadai Middle School for now.”
“Hm? But isn’t that where…?”
“Yeah. It was destroyed by the Elements under Yuiitsu’s control. Misaka and the others might not still be there, but we might find a clue as to where they’ve gone.”
Some skepticism was natural, but Fran and Luca readily agreed since this gave them an actual destination. The concepts being late or out past curfew did not exist at the moment. They were free to go wherever they wanted in Academy City, but that had left them with no clear destination. It may have been easier to have someone else set a goal for them.
They checked a roadside map to confirm where they were, where the School Garden was, and what route to take.
“An elevated route runs almost directly there, so it will be safest to walk under that,” said Fran.
“Maya the ghost might be watching from the sky, so we’re a little less likely to be found if we keep a roof over our heads.”
The long elevated route was likely for cars instead of trains and they walked below it using the nearly H-shaped reinforced concrete pillars as their guide. It must not have been a popular location because there were very few buildings. The long narrow space had been forcibly developed into a monthly parking lot and some empty space had been turned into materials yards or basketball courts. They saw the occasional small store, but those were all for used trading cards, damaged jeans, or the like, so it was a junky and chaotic space.
It was a very different experience from walking the ordinary path.
It was a unique type, but a disaster had befallen the city. It took a lot of time just traveling by foot to their destination.
Rabbit-Ear Antennae Fran spoke up while fidgeting near the round antenna on her butt.
“Even if we get this…A.A.A. was it? What are our odds of success?”
“Again, don’t place the entire burden on my shoulders. If I could deal with this on my own, I wouldn’t have done anything Kihara Yuiitsu said.”
Instead of Kamijou, it was Luca who answered while brushing off her swimsuit’s butt.
“Personally, I’m hoping for some kind of chemical reaction with Academy City’s bizarre technology. You’ve done a lot of disturbing research into time and space, right?”
Something must have bothered her because Fran bent her finger like a hook, stuck it inside the butt of her bikini, and adjusted it.
“Hmm. Trying to break the speed of light barrier is pretty romantic. I’m sick of hearing about people just trying to use a wormhole, though.”
Luca also tugged at her swimsuit. It was a lot like how infectious a cough could be at a school assembly.
“We don’t have to try for the farthest reaches of the universe. People can disappear right here on this blue planet. The question is whether or not we can expand that small, nearby seed to a universal scale.”
Then Kamijou-san, a tsukkomi for us all, exploded.
“What is with you two!? Quit messing with your butts! How am I supposed to relax!?”
The two girls turned back toward him and Fran pouted her small lips.
“We’re the ones that can’t relax.”
“You were the one that suggested hiding in that igloo made of white sand. Sit in there for a while and, um, you get the sand in your swimsuit.”
After putting it to words, the two of them seemed unable to stand it any longer. It may have been the difference between a vague sense of itchiness and finding the actual mosquito bite.
“I can’t keep going without getting this sand out. I won’t be able to give my peak performance.”
“We used hot water and soap like normal back in the mall with Kamisato-kun. What did your group do in that school?”
“We had the pool water, but we couldn’t waste it. The most we could do was wipe off the sweat with a damp towel and use some of the valuable mint stuff to fight the smell. I think we only had a bottle or two of water for that. But according to the chemistry club, there are only six or seven basic smells and mint is one of them, so it’s a lot like a primary color and can more easily override other smells. Although when we didn’t have any available, we would fish through the garbage cans for used coffee filters or teabags.”
He ended up answering without even thinking, but this was not the time for that kind of trivia.
“Hey, wait. Those Useful Spider people keep talking about the 48 Hours to Restore Order, but we don’t actually know how much of the infrastructure has recovered. Is there even any running water?”
They had just crossed a chain-link fence and entered a monthly parking lot. Luca tried turning a faucet located on the edge of the asphalt for cleaning. They heard scraping metal, but not a drop came out.
However, the two girls had not been expecting anything. They looked around and their eyes landed on a few parked vehicles.
“There’s a cleaning company truck.”
“Yes, let’s borrow some of their equipment.”
Kamijou did not have time to stop them.
An Element must have stepped on the truck because its chassis was bent and all of its windows were broken. Fran and Luca stuck their hand in, unlocked it from the inside, and began searching through it. Kamijou wondered if they were borrowing a towel, but…
“I wish that was enough to get this perverted sand out.”
“Oh, I found a roller for carpet. Won’t that work without water?”
“I’d also love to wash off this sticky sweat, but it looks like we won’t have any water.”
“There’s sterilization alcohol bottled up like vegetable oil. That won’t harm our skin, right?”
Kamijou could hear them rummaging through things. When he heard rustling cloth and realized they were getting down to “work”, he quickly turned the other way.
And the whole affair was reflected in the glass of the next vehicle over.
Unfortunately, the die had been cast. That may have a convenient phrase, but honestly confessing what had happened would only leave scars of sadness on everyone’s hearts.
“If I go like this…and this…okay! Got it off! That stubborn inner thigh demon came off so easily!!”
“Ow. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. The tape is caught. Ahh, the tape is caught on the hair!?”
“Won’t it lose its stickiness if you pour alcohol on it? Think of it like using oil to peel a sticker off the wall.”
Meanwhile, Kamijou Touma covered his face with his hands and sobbed. He had been too naïve and could only blame his own negligence for not stopping them sooner.
But covering his vision may have been a mistake.
Just as he blindly tried to lean against the sliding door behind him, he lost his support and fell backwards. The window had already been broken, but the girls had apparently left the bent door open.
The pointy-haired boy tumbled helplessly back into the cleaning truck. And there he saw…
“It’s. So. Hot…”
“Vahhh… Fraaaan, open the window more. I need some wind in here… You didn’t switch the heat wave back on, did you?”
“Gyaaaaah!! Put your swimsuits back on properly! Or at least use that coat to hide something. I can just about see some pretty serious areas there, Luca!!!”
His frantic cries did not seem to reach the girls’ ears. Their faces and the rest of their bodies had flushed a nice pink and their heads were wobbling left and right.
(If they’re that embarrassed, why did they do this!?)
That was his first thought, but that did not seem to be what was happening.
He sensed an odd aroma from the clear liquid dripping down their bodies, so he glanced toward the bottles lying on the floor.
They were for sterilizing alcohol.
They had 75% alcohol content and were a category-3 medical supply.
“That’s more than vodka!! Dump that over your heads and you’ll absorb it through your eyelids, nose, lips, and plenty of other parts of your body!”
“Eh heh. Hee hee hee.”
“Urp. Something’s coming back up…”
“Don’t get out of the truck! Not with your clothes all out of place, Luca!!”
“But it’s way too hot…”
“And is it just me or are those clothes a lot tighter now? What happened to your body!? It wasn’t like that before!!”
“I can change what age I look liiike, so I thought it might do less damage if I was an adullllt…”
He recalled how she had grown younger and tried to escape him when he first tried to capture her.
Now he had two people to look after. Kamijou Touma earned the valuable trophy of helping a hopelessly drunk girl get her swimsuit back on (with a two-at-once bonus).
They were shamefully intoxicated, but they could not stay here for long.
“Anyway…let’s go. We can take our time if we have to, but we need to continue on to Tokiwadai Middle School.”
“I’m herhectly hine. Hy are hoo ho horried?”
“I’m not trusting you when ‘h’ is just about the only consonant you can get out.”
“Pii pyoro pyoro pii kyuru kyuru kyuru…”
“And you stop communicating with aliens like a fax machine, Fran!!”
With Fran on his right and Luca on his left, Kamijou Touma looked something like a grand prix winner with his arms around the waists of two swimsuit girls who were resting their heads on his shoulders, but they were really nothing but a burden. Survival was about more than deadly threats of tigers and bears. The scariest part was how unpredictable everything was.
“It’s 3 PM… Hic, it’s time for an afternoon snack.”
Even so, they planned to escape the monthly parking lot. Climbing the fence would be impossible at the moment, so they left through the official exit to avoid the fence.
He felt nice and warm due to the proximity of the girls whose body temperatures had risen by about 0.7 degrees, but then a thought came to mind.
(Will this really take us to Kamisato, dammit?)
And then it happened.
Something soft fell from the clear blue sky and toward the asphalt at their feet.
At first, Kamijou could not accurately comprehend what had happened before his eyes.
He wondered if he had been hit by some alcohol vapors in that truck, but that was not the case.
He looked into the blue sky instead of the ground, but that may have been a self-defense instinct shifting his focus away from the extreme abnormality.
Time stood still.
It was more than just 5 or 10 gazes that stared down at him from the elevated highway. He was pierced by “many” gazes.
He could only scream.
It was as if the rapid change from the midsummer weather had triggered large hail. Incredibly raw sounds of impact came from all around him.
He could not figure out what was actually happening.
People were falling.
It was a downpour of human beings.
His vision blurred as the truth dawned on him. The tears were accompanied by an intense desire to vomit.
He would have preferred to find he was trapped in a self-made nightmare world brought on by the powerful alcohol. A dream was only a patchwork scene created from his own memories, so it would not include anything incomprehensible.
He collapsed backwards with the accidentally intoxicated girls still in his arms. That sent them back below the elevated highway. Immediately afterwards, someone fell right on the spot they had been standing in. At this point, it was effectively a carpet bombing. The entire area felt dangerous, just like when an elevated window broke and glass poured down like rain.
Nevertheless, he could not ignore this. He did not know when someone else would fall down, but it was also possible someone could fall in the same spot like a second scoop of ice cream. He left Fran and Luca safely below the elevated highway, crawled forward, and reached his hand “outside”. He grabbed the arm of the person who had first fallen and dragged them below.
It was a small girl.
She was younger than Kamijou, so she may have been in middle school like Mikoto. She was fighting the cold with a blanket carelessly draped over her school swimsuit, so she looked something like a turtle that forgot to draw in its head. The long-haired girl appeared woozy, but she did not have any visible bone fractures or internal bleeding.
However, he was afraid to grab her shoulders and shake her.
He only shouted in her ear when trying to wake her.
“What happened!? What the hell happened!?”
The elevated highway was only about 10 meters tall. That was like jumping from a three-story school building. Since she had landed on asphalt, he was not sure if there was any hope of saving her or not.
“I’m…a backup dancer…”
She was trying to say something, but her context-less statement meant nothing to him.
Meanwhile, he heard a commotion up above. That told him what the people gathered on the elevated highway wanted to do.
“Hurry! Hurry up!!”
“Once you’re ready, get to the wires! Jump to the windows across the way!!”
“Grab the coats, the blankets, the sleeping bags, or whatever else! Retrieve everything inside!!”
When he looked below the hellish elevated highway again, he saw a large discount store alongside it. A shutter covered the entrance and the wall was somewhat buried in the white Element sand. To force their way inside, they seemed to have set up wires from the elevated highway to the higher windows, but…
(Why are they so intent on things that keep the cold out? If they’re cold, can’t they change from their swimsuits to their uniforms?)
But as Kamijou wondered that, an unexpected voice reached him.
“It’s not normal for that heat to drop below zero so fast! What we saw on the Sphere must be true. An ice age is coming soon!!”
“Hm, hm, hm, hmm.”
In the District 5 college shelter known as Academy, Ghost Girl Maya let will-o’-the-wisp-like phosphorescent drones fly around her while she hummed happily at how far her information had spread.
“The microwave-induced heat wave was actually caused by solar winds.”
Academy City was quite comfortable for her with the internet and phones out. Everyone was viewing the same information like they were watching roadside TVs, so group psychology would readily kick in. They were like heads of wheat blowing in the wind.
“Those abnormal solar winds should be seen as an anomaly in solar activity as a whole, so an ice age will occur at this rate. The 55 degree weather dropped below 0, but it won’t stop there. This time, it’ll fall more than 50 degrees in the negative direction. Good, this is working!”
The ghost girl hunched forward while the sound effects of the monitor’s virtual keyboard sounded loudly.
The former Kamisato Faction controlled more shelters than just Academy. The girl in burial clothes and a heart-shaped headdress hesitated over which colorful vegetable stick to pull from the glass cup in her hand and she contacted some other shelters through the Sphere which surrounded her with its control petals.
“Marine, Scala, Milcah. How are things looking on your end?”
“Great, great. Here at Health, more than half of everything is about invisible jinxes and the occult. Just like blood type fortunetelling, I’m just flavoring it a bit with science and numbers. That kind of rumor works really well here☆”
“There’s no real problem here in Prison, but isn’t this a weird rumor? We already revealed the microwaves came from Fran’s station, right? What good is sending out misinformation that it’s solar winds and a sign that solar activity is about to drop?”
“The people here at Journalism have started surreptitiously investigating it, so should I put a stop to that?”
Maya had control of the network, but she could only do so much with her one key station.
The other Spheres that assisted as regional stations were nearly irreplaceable.
(I guess it’s time to say goodbye to my makeshift bot army. Okay, let’s use these real accounts to drive up the hit counts!!)
“This will not be a problem. New theories do not replace the old ones; they line up alongside them. They’ll be suspicious of Fran while also fearing an ice age. Human beings see no contradiction in holding two conflicting fears. Just like they laugh off ghosts as unscientific yet can’t fully deny their existence.”
The ghost girl smiled thinly as she sent out instructions and used both hands to lift a cup of cocoa that gave off a slight smell of mint extract.
By switching to another screen and messing with the search mode a little, she could easily determine which of the scattered shelters were on her side. The ghost girl was mixing a password or code word into the instructions she sent to the shelter rulers who approved of the broadcast network based around her key station. By searching that phrase, she could graphically see her territory on the map.
“And people prefer sensational and shocking information more than accurate information. The 55 degree weather dropped right down below 0, but that isn’t it returning to normal. It’s going to drop even further. A lot of people had to have been vaguely worried about that. Not many people have accurate specs on Fran’s station, after all.”
The frequency of those code words showed how loyal they were.
The former Kamisato Faction would reply 100% of the time. If a shelter noncommittally did it about half the time, they were leaning toward her side. If they only did it infrequently, they were neutral. If they never did it at all, she viewed them as an enemy.
“Oh, I see. So if Fran’s group does want to get rid of this misinformation, they’ll have to reveal the data on her station. And that means confessing that she really was behind the heat wave.”
“That’s right,” confirmed Maya. “Neither confirming nor denying the misinformation will end the chaos. That’s what makes a multi-stage attack so great. People can handle information coming from one direction, but if they receive confirmations coming from multiple directions at once, they tend to give in right away. They might normally laugh off the concept of exorcism, but if they’re locked in a small room and told again and again that it’s the right thing to do, they can’t stop themselves from ganging up on the subject and beating them to death. Just by hearing different people agreeing with some amount of time between will trick them into thinking it’s been confirmed by multiple sources.”
Translucent Maya used the collar around her exposed cleavage to fan herself and then snapped her fingers.
“And Milcah. Your Journalism is run by a triumvirate, right? I’ll try applying external pressure to break that down, so brace for impact just to be safe.”
“That’s fine, but you can’t imbalance the leadership by focusing on any one of the three leaders.”
“Not if I do it that way, no. A and B would join together to shut down C’s opinion. …That’s why I’ll spread the information to the people instead of the rulers. If the people learn ‘what’s really going on’ after losing the right to decide anything for themselves, they’ll lose all control. Especially…yes. I can add in some half-truths about the Elements that attacked Journalism having been intentionally drawn in to leave you with fewer mouths to feed.”
“I prefer the term ‘beautiful ghost’. It looks nicer.”
“Well, we are acting as the pawns of brutal and monstrous Yuiitsu to hold onto the Kamisato Boy’s lifeline.”
Needless to say, Maya’s goal was not controlling the Sphere network, manipulating the people of Academy City from hiding, or using misinformation about an ice age to throw a bunch of people from elevated highways.
“Oh? District 7’s…Show Business is acting oddly. They’re using the elevated route. But I can’t use them to locate those two unless they spread out on the surface.”
She wanted to locate Kamijou Touma and Karasuma Fran.
She also wanted to discover what had happened to Toyama Luca who was missing.
It was all bait for that.
“I can’t rely on them.”
Maya whispered in a lovely voice that would send a shiver down the spine of all who heard it.
“So I’ll spread some embers from the key stations in all 23 Districts to the national network. Now, Fran. What will you do? If you use your specialty to cross this sea of chaos, word from witnesses will reach me in no time flat☆”
Given the pace at which people were falling, he could not save them all.
“What does that matter…?”
In fact, no amount of saving them would improve the Kamisato situation.
“What does that matter!!!???”
He knew all that, but Kamijou continued to pull more people – as many as he could – underneath the elevated highway. The most he could do was dig through a cleaning van, sprinkle sterilization alcohol on them, and use makeshift splints wrapped with duct tape to set their broken limbs.
But even as he did that, he learned something.
These people were from a shelter.
It was apparently known as Show Business.
They generally decided things by majority rule, but instead of one vote per person, people had as many votes as they had fans. To use a more formal term, it may have been similar to a representative democracy.
The first girl calling herself a backup dancer seemed to be connected to that. The number of votes someone had determined their class. Those included “regular”, “center”, and “national”, but Kamijou did not know how many there were in all. Still, “backup dancer” did not sound like a high level idol.
The system had likely formed because the original school had been focused on song and dance, but something else caught Kamijou’s attention.
“What’s this about an ice age!? Where did they get that information from!? Hey, Fran, can you figure anything out through the Sphere!?”
Fran was still woozy and her spine was somewhat limp. She sat right on the asphalt below the elevated highway and she tilted her head like a stuffed bear.
“About that Sphere…”
“It was cut off. Since Ellen and the others showed up at the meetup point, they almost certainly knew which Sphere I was using to relay the information, but I suspect they also physically severed the key station from the network.”
(Do they know where we are, so they’re trying to catch us in this riot? No, if they knew exactly where we were, they would just send their own girls in. That means we’re a stage ahead of that. Are they starting these riots all over, hoping we’ll give away our location!?)
The former Kamisato Faction was sending out deadly misinformation, but Kamijou’s group could not argue back. And if the enemy was spreading this disinformation from multiple regional stations connected to their key station, the chaos would not be contained to Show Business alone. If they did not get rid of the disinformation, the riots would spread throughout the city’s shelters. The fear of a fictional ice age would lead people to steal blankets, destroy clothing as they fought over it, and needlessly kill each other.
The Spheres were what mattered. They could not escape their helpless situation without access to a new data terminal.
Kamijou let out a long, quiet sigh.
And he spoke.
“Let’s overcome this. And then let’s steal Show Business’s Sphere to get a new key station. That’s the only way to extinguish this ice age misinformation as quickly as possible.”
“But what about the Sphere’s key?”
“Yeah, if it’s the same as Trial back at that park, their ruler will have it.”
Kamijou pointed up at the thick reinforced concrete of the elevated highway.
“If they’re inciting the others to action while waving a flag out front…then let’s grab them and steal it. Even if that means fighting the Show Business people who are only being manipulated. That’s the only way to save them all!”
The Sphere was a limited data tool. Assuming this ruler did not want to quit like the one at the park, they would probably want to actively use it. Popularity determined influence in Show Business, so it would be a valuable resource indeed. The ruler was unlikely to hand it over if they were asked.
But Kamijou still had to do it.
There were no perpetrators and victims in this riot. Entirely baseless information had worked its way across the entire city, everyone was risking their lives on something entirely meaningless, and Kamijou could only imagine Index, Mikoto, or the others diving from the elevated highway. He had to end this before that happened. He had to put an end to the nonsense that was infecting people’s brains and good sense like a computer virus.
But just as he thought that, something else arrived.
Civilization was still dead in these streets, but he heard metal treads tearing at the asphalt. The speakers were overhead this time and they produced a somehow cracked voice as if from a loudspeaker, but a calm feminine voice spoke all the same.
“This is Useful Spider. The 48 Hours to Restore Order are still underway. Everyone, please calm down and obey our officers’ instructions. There is no scientific basis for the idea that an ice age is coming. Please view the situation rationally and assist us as we work toward recovery.”
This was not something that could be stopped by a mere announcement.
And the people in the half-truck most likely knew that. They did not even wait for a response. Once they completed the announcement like it was a rite of passage, the device on the open bed of the truck rumbled as it began to rotate. It looked like a tow truck, but it was something else.
Kamijou simply watched it happen because it was such an unrealistic sight.
Then he heard another announcement.
“We have determined the normal manual is inadequate here, so we shall take emergency measures. On our special authority, the corresponding people’s human rights will be temporarily rescinded and we will work to secure them and transport them to the nearest hospital, but please understand that this is necessary to protect your lives and property as much as possible.”
With a tremendous noise, a torrent of extremely high pressure water attacked the elevated highway.
The term “high pressure water cannon” flashed through Kamijou’s mind.
There was nothing the Show Business people could do while making their deadly tightrope walk across the unstable wires.
A dull sound rang out when they were hit.
And then a great number of people flew off the opposite side of the wide elevated highway. They slammed into the wall of entirely unrelated buildings, fell down like a basketball being sucked into the hoop, and landed on the piles of white sand. And this was all on the opposite end of a three-lane elevated highway. Even with the sand to cushion their landing, the hit from the water alone had to have given them at least whiplash.
“What the hell is going on!?”
With everything going to hell in different ways all around him, Kamijou’s mind was nearly overwhelmed. And then he heard an overhead sound like cloth beating the air. It was a helicopter. He did not even want to imagine what would happen next.
“We are here to assist the emergency measures. Please get down on the ground to display your intent to surrender.”
Something heavy fell down, but this was different from the previous diving. It was like giant pieces of hail were falling on top of the elevated highway. A few of them missed and fell on the road next to it.
They were a bucket’s worth of water…or perhaps of gelatin.
But even that would provide a decent impact when dropped from a height that made a screw or nail a deadly weapon. The rioters who could be targeted from the ground were knocked down by the high pressure water and any who escaped to the center of the highway were knocked out by the water dropped by the helicopter. It was a human hunt with no hope of escape.
That was bad enough on its own, but Kamijou felt a great malice in the fact that they were using water as a weapon.
Water had been exchanged like currency just the day before, but these people had enough to waste it like this. This showed Useful Spider’s position of superiority as they controlled the infrastructure recovery.
Kamijou could not sit idly by any longer.
Useful Spider seemed to think this would end the chaos as quickly as possible, but they also did not care if they were throwing the boys and girls of Show Business off of the elevated highway. Letting them take charge would not improve the situation. Doing that would only be hitting the fast-forward button on the damage.
He called out to the girls, but they were still intoxicated by the alcohol and would be no help in a fight.
“Funii… If you’re going somewhere, you can take my UFO balloon.”
“I can? No, wait. Not when the former Kamisato Faction is probably monitoring this riot. Listen, don’t call in the balloon! It’ll give away our location!!”
Kamijou took off running without waiting for a response. The elevated highway was about 10 meters tall, so it would normally have been out of reach. But a metal ladder for inspections and maintenance climbed up the side of the reinforced concrete pillars located at even intervals. He grabbed the rarely used cold metal and climbed up.
Meanwhile, the screams and sounds of firing water continued. When he looked toward the noise, his eyes met those of someone falling upside down through the air. He climbed past the tragic scene and reached a metal door that reminded him of a square manhole. He pushed it up and arrived on the curb of the elevated highway.
It was hell on earth.
Only during a marathon would more than 100 boys and girls gather here. The wide three-lane road was packed full and they were mercilessly attacked by the high-pressure water from the side and the gelatin bombing from above. The helicopter had a synthetic fiber bag dangling down like a sandbag and, each time the helicopter turned, water would fall and people would collapse.
It went beyond a single victim. Each blast of the water cannon and the bombing caused a chain reaction that affected a great many. The damage spread as they toppled like dominos. Useful Spider was only thinking about resolving this as quickly as possible, so what happened to the people was a secondary concern.
(This is ridiculous, dammit. I already have enough on my plate with Kamisato!!)
Kamijou had no guarantee of his own safety from this point on. Useful Spider would not see him as any different and Show Business might gang up on him if they noticed he was not one of them or that he was after their ruler. The bat who could not be of the beasts or of the birds had to crouch down and run across the battlefield full of icy spraying water.
He had no information on who exactly was the ruler here.
He started by running toward a girl in a figure skating outfit, perhaps both as a spectacle that would bring popularity and to keep out the cold.
Shockwaves burst nearby with more force than he would have thought possible for water. Each time, people toppled like dominos and were dragged to the wet asphalt. One boy was not allowed even that and flew high through the air like a three point shot. And as the swimsuit girls and boys gathered in the center to escape the water cannon, gelatin blunt weapons mercilessly poured down from overhead. Useful Spider were urging the students to surrender, but it did not look like the girls and boys had any fighting spirit left as they sat dazed on the road.
Everything about it was terrible.
And so Kamijou poured all his strength into taking even one more step forward. He had to erase the ice age misinformation and switch off this hellish scene as soon as possible.
“It’s just like the video on the Sphere!! The frogs and ladybugs that should be hibernating are out because they’re sensitive to changes in solar magnetism. This is a prophecy, a message. The abnormal weather isn’t over. It’s only just beginning!!”
The figure skater girl was shouting something with a plastic megaphone to her mouth.
“As you can see, the adults interfered the second we got here. What more proof do you need!? The talk of an ice age is true!! The temperature isn’t just dropping from 50 degrees to below 0. It’s continuing on down to 50 below!! Don’t let them take the blankets and sleeping bags! We found this oasis, not them!!”
(Is she stupid!? Of course animals are going to mistakenly end their hibernation when the temperature rises like that!! Besides, isn’t assuming strange animal behavior is a definite harbinger of disaster one step away from the occult!?)
No one would listen to him if he spoke aloud.
Kamijou ran with all his might and tackled the girl at her slender waist. A strange shriek escaped her throat and she fell onto the wet road. He climbed on top of her, placed his hands on her throat, and half-crushed her windpipe while shouting down at her.
“Are you the ruler!? Where’s the key to the Sphere!?”
He could tell from the look in her eyes that she was trying to say something with some rationality and calculation behind it, so he did not hesitate to press his body weight down on her. She must have had difficulty breathing now because her face turned blue and she shook her head below him.
“I’ll be asking yes or no questions. We don’t have time for you to answer anything more than that! Do you understand!? Answer me with a nod!!”
She finally nodded.
Kamijou took his body weight off of his arms and asked again.
“Are you the ruler?”
She shook her head.
“Then who is? You can just point!!”
There was unmistakable fear in the figure skater girl’s eyes. She slowly raised one hand and pointed her trembling finger in one direction. She would not have been calm enough to lie or put on an act.
“Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing!?”
A righteous-sounding voice questioned him from surprisingly close by, so Kamijou grabbed the girl’s collar and got up. He then swung the weakened girl horizontally to throw her at the righteous red ranger. While the boy was stopping the impact, Kamijou crouched down and ran forward to hide in the rioting crowd.
He moved in the direction that figure skater provocateur had pointed and he quickly spotted a likely suspect. Most of the boys and girls protected themselves with coats and blankets worn over their swimsuits, but one tall girl stood out in a naval coat with golden embroidery. She could be best described as a crossdressing beauty. Popularity was everything in Show Business, so that androgynous look must have helped her gather support from both the boys and girls.
She seemed to have noticed him. She took a few steps back, but she could not order the others to secure an escape route for her during this chaos. Kamijou decided to tackle her from low to the ground, just like the figure skater girl.
But just before he did, a powerful force grabbed his shoulder.
“I was asking…”
His forward momentum was negated and he was forcibly spun around to face that previous embodiment of righteousness. The boy did not hesitate to clench his fist.
“…what the hell you think you’re doing!!”
When the boy threw his punch, Kamijou collapsed backwards like a solid branch, but not because the blow had knocked him out.
He had intentionally fallen back to get low to the ground.
A moment later, a frightening blast of water was released diagonally upwards from the ground.
A strange shout of “bogyeh!!” came from the ranger’s mouth and his body bent backwards. And as Kamijou avoided getting knocked down with him, he saw the unfamiliar boy turn into a shooting star. He slammed into the wall of a building beyond the elevated highway and he fell down. It was unclear if he would survive the 10 meter fall.
(I couldn’t do anything, not even give a word of warning. Dammit!!)
Kamijou stayed low to the ground to avoid the continuing blasts of water, but that was when he made a mistake.
He was in Academy City.
He needed to be cautious of more than just Useful Spider’s next-generation weapons.
As Kamijou more or less crawled along, some kind of powerful blow hit him in the solar plexus.
By the time he realized he had been knocked upwards from below, he was already more than a meter into the air. He felt just like he had received a powerful body blow, so instead of feeling an urge to vomit, he had trouble breathing. He noticed the crossdressing beauty holding her palm out toward him with a frightened look in her eyes. Whether it was wind or a direct shockwave, she had hit him with some kind of esper power.
And the problem did not end there.
His body had floated up which removed him from his nearly crawling position, so he was exposed to the high-pressure water blast.
They did not even wait for him to have time to feel the fear.
The blast from below the elevated highway scored a direct hit on his defenseless body. He was knocked straight to the side. His hips slammed into the guard rail and then flew unnaturally upwards. But he may have been lucky his vector had shifted. Unlike the previous red ranger, he was not thrown off the other end of the elevated highway and landed just barely on the inner edge of the soundproofing wall.
Even so, he took great damage.
He could not get up properly. He did not even have the energy to writhe on the ground. It may not have felt quite like getting hit by a car, but it did feel like getting hit by a mid-sized motorcycle while crossing an intersection. He could have sworn the core of his body had been knocked out of place.
His vision was blurry as he lay face-up on the ground, but that upside-down vision showed the crossdressing beauty slowly backing away with her palm still held toward him. She was escaping. The ruler would escape. He knew that, but his body would not move and he doubted his body would last if she fired that esper power again. He doubted she could hold back when she was acting out of fear rather than anger.
(I can’t believe…this…)
He reached his unsteady right hand out toward her, but not because he was trying to use Imagine Breaker.
He was on the verge of passing out.
(If I can’t get the key and erase the misinformation from the key station…I can’t…stop any of this…)
Then the crossdressing beauty fired “something” to snap the last thread of his consciousness.
Or she meant to.
Just before she could, a sound like salt water poured onto a neon tube came from the helicopter circling above.
The phenomenon was accompanied by bluish-white electricity, but Kamijou did not immediately understand what had happened. However, the malfunctioning helicopter quickly searched for an emergency landing point as it unsteadily descended.
He did not even have time to feel surprise.
He next heard another loud sound from directly below and the half-truck equipped with a high-pressure water cannon fell silent. Only the residual sound of something bursting echoed around the area. Kamijou and the nearly suicidal Show Business rioters did not know what to do.
But then a hint of recognition finally reached Kamijou’s mind.
After muttering the word under his breath, he quickly rolled onto his stomach and pressed his right hand against the wet pavement.
A moment later, something frightening raced through the entire elevated highway. It ran across the water-soaked pavement and accurately knocked everyone there unconscious. It really was like invisible fingers had flicked off a switch on the back of their heads. With a dull sound, the boys and girls collapsed dangerously to the road. They could not resist in the slightest. The figure skater girl, the crossdressing beauty, and everyone else were dealt with in a single attack.
Kamijou felt his heart pounding in his chest.
Was he alone fine because he had pressed his right hand against the wet pavement just before the attack?
It had been electricity. And a high voltage current at that. Kamijou only knew of one person who could rival a lightning strike by reaching 1 billion volts. Not even the military clones based on her had that much power.
He had been unable to stop the unpleasant sweat even though he was soaking wet in the midwinter, but now he breathed a sigh of relief. Just like during the heat wave, she seemed to be saving him at every turn. And now he would not need to directly visit Tokiwadai Middle School. He felt like he had been holding a bowstring taut for a long time and that he had finally been blessed with the power gained by releasing it.
That was when he heard a quiet metallic sound.
No, if this really was Misaka Mikoto like he thought it was, then he may not have been able to hear it from atop the elevated highway.
It sounded like an arcade coin being flicked by a thumb.
But that made no sense. Misaka Mikoto would not need to use her signature move here. The helicopter and half truck were already destroyed and all the rioters on the highway had been knocked out. There should not have been anyone left to attack.
But then something strange happened before his eyes.
A blast from directly below broke a portion of the elevated highway like a chocolate bar.
He did not understand what had happened, but something even more incomprehensible happened regardless. More orange spears were sporadically launched at thrice the speed of sound. The highway crumbled as they pierced into it from below. The road was broken into blocks a few dozen meters long and the destruction was approaching Kamijou.
The person down below had to have noticed the survivors. Otherwise, she would not have bothered to send the high-voltage current along the wet road.
And yet she delivered a finishing blow.
At this rate, she would tear apart the elevated highway despite the unconscious boys and girls on it.
(What the hell is she doing…!?)
Kamijou grabbed the transparent soundproofing wall that had broken from the propagated shockwaves, forced strength into his battered body, and slowly stood up once more. The high-voltage current was coming from the ground, but he did not have time to slowly descend the maintenance and inspection ladder. He looked down through a gap in the broken soundproofing wall and saw a pile of white Element sand. He was dizzied by the height. He recalled the boys and girls whose broken limbs he had treated.
But he could not hesitate.
Just as the highway was going to truly collapse thanks to a blast from below, he exhaled and crossed that line. He leaned out through the gap in the soundproofing wall, onto the guardrail, and balanced onto his stomach to tilt like a seesaw and then out into the empty air.
Only after doing it did he realize he had screwed up.
The dive was bad enough already, but he had been stupid enough to add a spin into it.
His vision spun around and an impact ran through his back before he could brace himself. He seemed to have safely landed on the pile of white sand, but that was pure coincidence. The sand was heavy for how fine it was, so it held him in place quite well. Even so, he managed to slide down to the ground.
There he found a girl wrapped in violent electricity.
That brutal living gun turret wore a Tokiwadai Middle School racing swimsuit below a duffel coat that was likely school-issued as well.
Badly battered and covered in sand, Kamijou approached the girl on unsteady feet.
She did not even react.
“What the hell are you doing!? Hey, Misaka!!”
When he saw her slowly walk toward a surviving portion of the elevated highway with an arcade coin in hand and her arm raised diagonally upwards, Kamijou wrapped his arms around her to stop her. The orange beam was shifted off target, but it still tore through the broken edge of the elevated highway like it was made of styrofoam.
But not at that great power. At the fact that Misaka Mikoto did not even hesitate to pull out another coin even as he held her with all his strength to stop her. And her slender legs had not stopped walking.
“Wait…wait!! It’s over! You ended it!! What more do you hope to accomplish!?”
Kamijou did not know why Mikoto was here. At the very least, she had not come here because she had known he was here. She had had no way of knowing that. Then was she going around saving people at random with her great firepower like she had during the heat wave? Had she caught wind of the trouble? If so, something was odd. This was different from the reliable but unstable Mikoto who had used the A.A.A.
He sensed killer intent.
Yes. This may have been his first time seeing Misaka Mikoto wield her power for the clear intent of harming someone.
“…after you left?”
The girl’s lips moved a little as Kamijou held her and she buried her face in his chest. He did not sense any of the embarrassment or bashfulness of skin contact with the opposite sex. There was hopelessly cold and heavy anger and hatred in her voice.
“What do you think happened at Tokiwadai after you left?”
“We drove off that scientist named Kihara Yuiitsu. We defeated those Element things she brought in. But do you know what waited for us after we were worn down by all that? Completely normal people!! With the barricade broken, strangers flooded into the School Garden. And what do you think happened then!?”
He could not answer.
That would have been when he had been recovering in the mall Kamisato had taken him to. And he had thought resolving the heat wave and Elements problem would be the fastest way to help restore order and help everyone.
“They didn’t even glance our way when we were worn down and in need of help.”
But had he been wrong?
Had someone been seeking help from a different direction?
“They looked at the collapsed school building and called it a treasure trove!! They said they could make money off of the drugs and equipment at such a prestigious esper powers development institution. They laughed and said they were only taking what had been denied them when we locked them out and refused to help them!! They said this was their right and that we were getting our just deserts!!”
“I did help them. I revealed the existence of the A.A.A. I’d made for myself, I protected everyone in Tokiwadai, and I used what strength I had leftover patrolling outside the School Garden. I didn’t have to do that, but I still did it! But they said I was negligent. They said I didn’t do enough. And so they said they were making up for that… Why do I have to be criticized by people I’ve never even meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!!!!!”
Kamijou did not ask anything more.
He simply held the girl’s fragile body tightly in his arms once more.
“I can’t forgive them…”
Malicious words left her like she was squeezing water from a sponge. But Kamijou continued listening. He knew she needed to get this off her chest.
“But we don’t even remember who exactly they were. They abandoned us like stones on the side of the road and made their way to the collapsed school building. The only image burned into my mind is those cheerfully hopeful backs walking away from us…”
Most likely, it was not any one person’s actions that had driven Misaka Mikoto to despair.
When given 10, they demanded 100. When given 100, they demanded 1000. It was the group psychology that saw that as perfectly normal. They had been infected by the limitless desire of those who intentionally kept themselves in a lowly position.
She had said she did not remember who the target of her revenge was.
Even if the people behind the looting of Tokiwadai were captured and brought in front of Mikoto, Kamijou was confident she would probably just look confused. This was not that simple. Misaka Mikoto had been faced with the great malice of the extreme environment created by a disaster.
“It’ll be okay…” Kamijou finally spoke as he rubbed the far-too-small girl’s hair. “What you want to defeat might not have physical form, but I promise you we’ll defeat it. Hurting people won’t affect it, but there has to be a way to kill it. So don’t lose your way. It’ll be okay.”
“Really?” asked Mikoto with the wavering voice of a small child. “Is there really a way to defeat that monster?”
Once order was restored and once they could return to their normal lives again, that malice would have nowhere left. It would vanish from everyone’s hearts. That was when they could tear the formless monster to shreds. They could only trust in that as they continued fighting.
And the former Kamisato Faction centered on Ellen and Maya were using the Spheres to control that monster to a certain extent. And for nothing more than locating Kamijou and Fran and to send their own fighters after them.
Kamijou could not ignore this.
Kamisato Kakeru’s rescue, the girls under Kihara Yuiitsu’s command, and the malice covering the city. It all looked separate at first glance, but they were actually linked, even if unintentionally.
“Work with me, Misaka. I need your help.”
He had to fight.
He had to protect something important from this chain reaction of malice.
“I’ll return everything to normal. I swear it.”
They seemed to have taken a long detour.
When Kamijou checked with Fran, it was already 4 PM. The surrounding air had shifted from day to evening, so the biting cold seemed to have grown a level.
“Urp. Hey, Luca…? Why are you all sobered up so soon?”
“I can freely control my subjective age, so breaking down alcohol seems to be a simple task for me.”
The rabbit-ear antennae girl had yet to escape the unfortunate accident of getting drunk off of sterilization alcohol. She was as expressionless as ever, but she would occasionally press her fingers against her temple.
“Don’t walk so fast. Luca seems fine, but you’re going to leave Fran behind.”
“Why are you picking up random girls again!?”
In her duffel coat and racing swimsuit, Mikoto look back and snapped at him, but her thoughts were actually elsewhere.
(Ehhh? How am I supposed to look him in the eye after he said that and hugged me? What am I supposed to say? What kind of distance am I supposed to keep between us? What am I supposed to do about this!?)
She could tell without a mirror that her face was beet red, but she did not want him to know that redness came from anything other than anger. That left her with two avenues of escape: keep her back to the spiky-haired boy by walking out ahead of him or find a reason to act angry.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Do you really have to use the bathroom or someth- fweah!?”
This time, she did not need to put on an act.
She silenced him with a lightning spear to the torso.
Incidentally, it had not been difficult to borrow the Sphere’s key from Show Business’s ruler. The girl in boy’s clothing was lying unconscious on the wet elevated highway.
The Sphere would be back at their shelter, but that too was easy to find. They only had to shake the crossdressing beauty’s shoulders to wake her. They still did not know what kind of esper power she used, but that was not a problem when the first thing she saw upon waking was Misaka Mikoto standing over her while wrapped in electricity.
“Answer our questions.”
Those were the magic words. But after seeing the ruler hand over the stick-shaped device in a trembling hand, Kamijou did feel kind of bad about what they were doing here.
And when they arrived at Show Business’s shelter itself, they found a large boxy fitness gym. The boys and girls hoping to be the best singers or dancers seemed to treat it like an extracurricular cram school. Most of the members were gone due to the ice age misinformation, so it was only lightly guarded and approaching the Sphere was easy.
“So this will be our new key station…” Luca checked the label of a nearby brown bottle and tossed it to Fran. “It’s apparently a turmeric drink. How about you drink it before getting to work?”
“Ew. That sounds bitter…and it is!! I shouldn’t have tried it!!”
The hoodie bikini girl stuck out her tongue and held the bottle as far away from her as she could, but Kamijou gave her a puzzled look.
“Is it that bad? It says ‘orange flavor’.”
“What part of that chemical flavor tastes anything like an orange!? How about you try it!?”
“Wah! Stop, you moron! Should a healthy person really be drinking this!?”
As Kamijou struggled, the racing swimsuit and duffel coat girl next to him could not seem to relax.
(Eh? Wait, but…if they do that, won’t it be an indirect kiss? Um…)
She sneezed and a lightning spear flew from her bangs. It was definitely an accident and certainly not a way of preventing an orally spread infection.
But when it was destroyed by the arm Kamijou had lifted overhead, the brown bottle also flew through the air.
The next thing any of them knew, the spiky-haired boy was covered in the color orange.
Mikoto began to tremble.
“That’s not just an indirect kiss… Is that indirectly licking all over his body!?”
“Misaka, is that anything to say in the same tone as someone discovering the entire mansion rotates!?”
Hoodie Bikini Fran inserted the ruler’s key into the 2 meter sphere that had opened like a lotus flower. That gave her authorization.
Incidentally, Mikoto did not really know who Fran or Luca were. She simply watched the two girls skeptically as they used some odd technical terms and skillfully operated the device.
“Come to think of it, can’t you directly control this thing with your powers, Misaka?”
“Hmm… The outer layer, sure.” Mikoto looked troubled. “But the inner core is a little strange. Is it quantum signals…? No, not quite. But it doesn’t seem to be a processor that uses normal electricity.”
“It is a light splitting processor that uses the Zeeman effect.”
“Fran, stop giving us that smug look and give us an actual explanation. We know you’re the smartest one even if you don’t shoehorn those complicated terms into the conversation.”
“Please stop mocking me. When light-emitting particles enter a magnetic field, their single wavelength will split into multiple ones. That is the Zeeman effect. And when waves collide, they will combine, so by bringing multiple lights together inside the tiny processor, their amplitudes can represent 0s and 1s for a non-electrical processor.”
“Again with the smug look.”
“…!! It’s a transition machine meant as a stepping stone toward a quantum computer that uses light separately as a wave and a particle! Just like the platypus and the coelacanth or a PDA and PHS, it’s a valuable material for achieving further evolution, but is destined to vanish once it loses that special environment!! The end!!!!!!”
Kamijou decided it was for the best not to ask why she knew so much about those signals and computers. She would probably say the messages that “they” send from space are strange and complex. Any further questions would be like asking a cinephile for a recommendation and having them go on all night about some strange poetic French movie.
“That should do it. …Relay processing complete. Now we can use my backpack as the field reporter broadcasting via the new key station.”
“So Fran. What’s the network like right now?”
The rabbit-ear antennae girl’s face clouded over when the feathered pirate hat and eyepatch girl asked that.
“Let’s just say it’s become a complete mess in the short time since I last saw it. They’re still saying the heat wave was caused by powerful microwaves, but now it’s split between the theory that it was Karasuma Fran’s space station and the theory that it’s a countdown to an ice age caused by abnormal solar winds. And both are clearly being backed by someone. I’m betting it’s that shut-in ghost Maya.”
“She’s doing both sides herself?”
“With just the one theory, it can be more obvious someone is guiding it, so she probably wanted a derivative rumor under her control as well. By preparing her own outlet for opposing opinions and guiding people’s dissatisfaction there, she won’t end up with an uncontrollable flame war on her hands. And it’s pretty obvious she’s designed them both so they’ll cause me trouble if they get popular. She’s set things up nicely for herself.”
Then someone poked at Kamijou’s side.
It was Misaka Mikoto.
“Hey. Hey, wait.”
“What is it?”
“Didn’t she just say something weird? She mentioned Karasuma Fran’s space station and something about ‘causing me trouble’. But, um, isn’t Fran her name…?”
“Oh,” groaned Kamijou.
They had come this far while he tried to figure out where to start, but he could not avoid this if he wanted to rescue Kamisato using the knowledge of Academy City’s science side in addition to the Voodoo time and space magic of the magic side pirate girl.
So he answered.
“You met that Salome girl, right? These two are Fran and Luca. They’re friends of Kamisato Kakeru’s just like Salome. We’re fighting most of their group right now…but it doesn’t change the fact that the heat wave they caused did a lot to protect Academy City from the ferocity of the Elemen-…”
Electricity split the air with a boom.
If Kamijou had not immediately grabbed Mikoto to stop her, the hoodie bikini girl would have become a scorched hunk of meat.
“Let go of me!! You idiot! How can you just accept this with a smile on your face!? They’re the ones that caused all of this…!!!!!”
“I had a feeling this would happen! But I still answered honestly!! And if all they’d done was throw Academy City into turmoil, I wouldn’t be helping them!! It’s complicated, but their heat wave weakened Kihara Yuiitsu’s Elements!!”
Mikoto finally tensed and stopped struggling when he mentioned that scientist’s name.
“Yes! The one who attacked your school!! I’ll explain everything, so just calm down!!”
Explaining was anything but easy.
For one thing, Mikoto had not seen or heard anything about who Kamisato Kakeru was, so getting her to understand the strange environment surrounding the boy would be a large hurdle.
The one piece of luck was that she had met Salome.
Introducing him as “Salome’s brother” seemed to help her accept how unreasonable it all was.
Even so, electricity would occasionally envelop her body like she was flipping the tea table, so Kamijou would have to wrap his arms around the racing swimsuit girl’s waist, knock her to the ground while she blushed, and finish his explanation of the most important aspects.
The heat wave and the Elements were separate.
The flood of Kihara Yuiitsu’s Elements was the real threat and Fran had been forced to respond with the microwaves from her space station to reduce the damage as much as possible.
Mikoto must not have been entirely convinced because she looked away and spoke in a low voice.
“Bugo. Bububuu. Buhee Bubuu.”
“I didn’t hit your face so much you have to talk like a pig!! B-besides, you’re being far too accepting of all this. When did you just stop caring!?”
Despite her life being at fairly serious risk here, Fran’s eyes were as emotionless as ever. It was Luca who had been focused on the cutlass at her waist, but she breathed a sigh of relief now.
“We have the Sphere now, but we have no idea when Ellen or Maya will attack. Also, I would like to be able to make multi-stage attacks by linking the key station with regional stations like they’re doing. If possible, I would like to control more than just the one Sphere.”
“I get that, but we can’t ignore the main Kamisato issue either. I don’t want to take the time to sneak into other shelters.”
“Of course not.”
The hoodie bikini girl pointed at Mikoto’s nose with the index finger sticking out of her baggy sleeve.
“So we’ll get just one more. Assuming you’re willing to introduce us to the shelter you’re staying at.”
With Misaka Mikoto guiding them, they felt much more relaxed in the dead streets that had seemed so dangerous before.
Even so, it was not easy traveling by foot when Academy City was buried in rubble and white sand. The sun had completely set by the time they arrived. When Kamijou asked the hoodie bikini girl, he learned it was already seven. It was truly nighttime.
And Kamijou was surprised to find the high class girls of Tokiwadai Middle School had moved to a familiar place.
“…A hospital? And the one I’m always staying at???”
“A lot of the girls could barely move after fighting Kihara Yuiitsu. After all that, they’re lucky to even be alive.”
And even though Kamijou and Fran were essentially wanted criminals, time passed in a much more relaxed fashion than they expected.
(What is going on…?)
Kamijou looked around. The high class girl’s school had had nearly 200 students, so they must not have all been able to use the hospital beds.
Quite a few objects were visible in the parking lot out front. They were handmade “houses” made from cardboard boxes and blue plastic sheets. Some of the plastic entrances pushed open as girls in racing swimsuits and duffel coats peered out and nodded their way.
The lack of concrete walls to keep out Elements did not really matter. An outdoor base was safe as long as the Elements could be diverted away. The park had shown Kamijou that.
But even so…
“High class girls in cardboard houses? That’s not right at all. Are you sure you can adapt to this?”
“Are you making fun of us?”
Mikoto sounded exasperated, but it was true there was some exhaustion on her face. She had likely been working all out from the beginning. And even though she was smiling on the surface, it was possible she was still feeling the malice that had been directed their way.
However, some of the girls seemed to be enjoying the new experience of this unfamiliar environment.
“The cardboard will collapse with nothing but tape holding it together. Oh, I know. How about we reinforce it with wire hangers?”
“Great idea, Kongou-san!”
“And while we’re at it, let’s strengthen it further with styrofoam!”
They seemed to be enjoying it like children building a secret base. A warm blanket and food always had a way of soothing people’s hearts. With the necessities fulfilled, they may have been trying to expel some of the stress built up in their chests. He just hoped they did not get sick of it as quickly as a cold bath after the sauna.
Fran covered her mouth in excitement after finding a cardboard house using a character picnic sheet as a door. Kamijou was fairly certain she would try to move in there permanently, so he grabbed her by the nape of the neck to stop her.
A delicious smell wafted their way and he spotted some girls in the parking lot stirring a large pot sitting atop a metal drum with wire mesh over the top. It likely had curry or something inside. They would not have had the dozens of spices available, so it smelled a lot like the standard roux Kamijou would buy at the supermarket.
Thanks to Mikoto’s influence they were given some on paper plates. There was nowhere to sit, so they stood around the fire as they ate.
The last thing Kamijou and Fran had eaten was the cold duck slices, chikuwa, and naruto they had borrowed from the subway station soba restaurant refrigerator. Eating something warm and flavorful was almost enough to move them to tears. In this moment, Kamijou Touma was truly alive.
Then an extremely young voice – around 7 years old – spoke up next to him.
“Onee-chan. Um… More!”
“Luca!! Why are you using that visual to take advantage of people’s good will!?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. More importantly…Onee-chan, more!”
But then something unexpected occurred.
Instead of just one or two, a whole crowd of girls in racing swimsuits and duffel coats surrounded the tiny pirate girl.
“My, who is this little girl?”
“Maybe she’s lost.”
“Well, we must look after her until she can get back home! Mhn!!”
“Eh? Wait! Wah, wah, wah, wah!? Wait, wait!!
The young voice was buried by the crowd and the hoodie bikini girl stared into the distance while chewing.
“Heh. In convents where no men are allowed, the nuns’ maternal sides can be so suppressed that they start having strange hallucinations, so they often use wooden baby dolls to rid them of some of those maternal urges. You didn’t know that, Luca?”
Kamijou had no idea why she was so familiar with those hallucinations, but since the rabbit-ear antennae girl specialized in UFOs and aliens, he decided it was best not to ask.
“Curry really uses a lot of water. Both for cooking it and for cooking the rice to go with it.”
“Assuming you just use tap water, yes,” said Mikoto. “But a lot of our girls can control water.”
“Huh? Why did you stop eating?”
What kind of juices was this curry cooked in!? wondered Kamijou, but he had already eaten it. He had been so moved emotionally that he only now noticed his plate was empty.
“Two meals in one day. Now that I think about it, I’m actually getting enough to eat.”
When he, the hoodie bikini girl, and the pirate hat girl entered the hospital through the outpatient entrance, he found more chaos. In addition to the hospital rooms and examination rooms, the waiting room benches and the wheeled stretchers all had people lying on them and materials were piled up all throughout the hallways. With the heat wave and Elements, the number of patients had far surpassed the hospital’s capacity. It was a miracle it was even still functioning as a hospital. In niche survival guides that gave a timetable from the beginning to the end of a fictional zombie outbreak, it was always the hospitals and police stations that were taken out first. Even if no one meant any harm, the sheer number of people could prevent them from functioning.
“Oh? And just when I thought you hadn’t been hospitalized in a while.”
A familiar frog-faced doctor walked out from the back. It was odd for a healthy high school boy to be familiar with a doctor like this, but that was just how often Kamijou had been saved by him.
But for now, the Sphere was what mattered.
“Doctor, I’ve heard this shelter is known as Hospital.”
“Hm? I never named it, so I’m not sure what to tell you. Maybe someone started calling it that, but I don’t know.”
“What about the Sphere?”
“Oh, that thing? I think it would be better to rely on a radio equipped with a hand-cranked generator.”
He did not seem very attached to it, but that was good news for Kamijou and the girls. Mikoto and the others here did not seem to know that Kamijou and Fran were being treated like wanted criminals, so the entire shelter probably did not rely on the Sphere much. After getting permission from the hospital’s central figure, they received the USB memory key from the frog-faced doctor.
The Sphere was sitting out in the courtyard.
It was not even indoors, so they could tell how little the people cared about it.
Luca assisted Fran as they accessed the information base that was opened like a lotus flower. Kamijou watched them and asked Mikoto something he was a little curious about.
“How did this hospital keep the Elements out?”
“I don’t know, but they said they used ultrasonic waves. There were a few long skinny things like glass wind chimes set up around the area, so maybe those were luring the Elements away.”
Kamisato Kakeru had revealed that the Elements had been using ultrasonic waves to pass data back to Kihara Yuiitsu through the microwaves. The frog-faced doctor had casually reached that level. It was possible he had captured and dissected a few Elements like Tokiwadai had.
Strange people were everywhere in this city.
That may not have been something to say when he regularly ate meals with a grimoire library and a true god, but Kamijou himself had nothing to brag about.
Then a light beep intruded on his thoughts.
“All done. Heh heh. Regional station acquired!”
Fran’s default expressionless look had started to grow smug recently. Was she letting her guard down around Kamijou, or did she want to appear superior to Mikoto? That was hard to say.
“Now I can use two Spheres at once. We can make our own multi-stage attacks, so there’s a lot more we can do in the online battle.”
“I don’t really get it, but…did you say her name was Maya? How many Spheres does she control?”
“I have no proof, but probably more than 15 at the least.”
“Bff!!” spat Kamijou even though he did not really get it. “That’s a hell of a lot more!”
“Let’s ignore the territory controlled by the regional network stations for the time being. If we’re just looking at the online arguments, the actual difference in numbers doesn’t matter too much. There are only three patterns for focusing on an argument: 1 person, 2 people, or 3+ people. Adding in a bunch more people is just a waste of effort, so we don’t need to worry about it.”
“But we only have up to the ‘2 people’ one while Maya can use the ‘3+ people’ one, right?”
“I never said we had an absolute advantage, did I?”
She may have only been saying they had a chance to argue back, which was better than nothing.
They still had to deal with Kamisato, but the problems seemed to be piling up. Kamijou slowly sighed and looked up into the chilly sky, but then he saw a small figure peering down at him from one of the windows. They noticed him and waved.
(That’s Patricia Birdway, right? She doesn’t leave much of an impression because she’s overshadowed by her sister…)
That girl had been infected with the Sample Shoggoth, joined Kamisato’s group, and ultimately had her life saved when the “pieces” of Magic God Nephthys filled the gaps in her body. Seeing her was like seeing a different side to Kamisato Kakeru who had caused so much trouble with his unpredictable actions.
Thinking back, Kamijou had to wonder if Kamisato Kakeru had already been prepared to kill himself to save someone else at that point.
If Kamijou had noticed it sooner, he could have predicted what happened below the Windowless Building and perhaps stopped it.
He nodded up at the girl and then opened his mouth.
“Fran, do you think you can deal with the ice age misinformation?”
“I can’t guarantee it. For one, if I do anything too conspicuous, Maya will detect the relay Sphere I’m using as a key station and have it physically destroyed. Instead of directly rejecting the idea, I’m busy investigating how the rumor is spreading and pretending to agree while remaking it into a different topic from the edges. In other words, it won’t have any immediate effects.”
“You can do that while we walk, right? Anyway, keep at it.”
That said, that route would not stop the riots from spreading.
That meant they had to stop it at the source. If they could prove Kamisato Kakeru could be saved without Kihara Yuiitsu’s World Rejecter, then Maya, Ellen, and the others would have no more reason to fight.
“Let’s get down to business,” began Kamijou. “Misaka. We need the A.A.A. to save Kamisato Kakeru and end all this trouble. And I don’t mean the machine you built; I mean the original it’s based on. Tell us where it is.”
It was already past 8 by the time they left the hospital.
And Misaka Mikoto led them to an unexpected place as their breath appeared white in the air.
“Right. It’s the easternmost district and it’s used as a distribution base for the land routes.”
Misaka Mikoto explained in her racing swimsuit and duffel coat while walking through the streets covered in piles of white sand.
“More than 90% of Academy City’s trash is recycled. Scrap metal is melted down, kitchen garbage is made into compost, etc. But there are some things that just can’t be recycled. Once it’s been reused so often it’s deteriorated, it’s compressed, packed in containers, and sent to the disposal facility for that area.”
“Then it’s in one of those waste containers?” asked Luca in her pirate hat and eyepatch.
“Right,” confirmed Mikoto. “By messing with the shipping schedule a little, one container is forever left in the pile of trash. That’s where I hid the sample parts to the original I found in the disguised armory that night we fought Kihara Yuiitsu.”
It was in that container yard where Kamijou had fought Gremlin’s Thor at the end of the Ichihanaransai. That honestly was not a pleasant memory.
They made a long trek across Academy City. Their destination was on the far end of the city, so when Kamijou asked Fran for the time, he found it had taken them more than three full hours. The date would be changing soon.
The streets looked strange with the streetlights and traffic lights dead.
They knew it was unlikely a car would drive by, but they still felt a slight squeezing at their hearts when they cut across a road while nearly blind.
When they arrived in District 11, they found an SF world where a one-room apartment had thoroughly grown in size. In the darkness, piles of standardized metal boxes created geometric silhouettes. Large gantry cranes would normally be endlessly unloading trucks, but that had all come to a stop. The perishables in the refrigerated containers may have been rotting.
Despite all the materials here, they saw no sign of anyone. Perhaps no one had been able to slip past the heat wave and the Elements to arrive at this isolated district.
“Where’s the container?”
“This way. If the microwaves wiped out the management data, I’ll have to alter the list again after all this is over…”
It was halfway up one of the pyramid-like piles of containers. Mikoto could use the reflection of her electromagnetic waves to scan the terrain and then use magnetism to easily climb the wall, but Kamijou and the others had a harder time of it. He pushed up on Fran’s butt, got down on all fours while Luca’s slender legs stood on his back, and then had the girls pull him up. It was a struggle, but they climbed on up.
“This is it.”
Mikoto arrived first and pointed at a container door with her thumb.
The door only had a padlock with a dial to lock it. That seemed strange for Mikoto who could open any lock with her power. All locks were made to be opened, so it may have been less about security and more about disguising it so it did not stand out.
She did not seem to check the numbers on the lock in the dark. Instead, she unlocked it by directly manipulating its internal parts with her magnetism. Then she placed her hands on the double doors.
Kamijou frowned when he peered inside the thick darkness that did not even allow the moonlight in. Fran held out a small monitor that was connected to her backpack with the kind of curled wires used by home phones. The backlight shined like a glowing lantern and they could finally see inside.
A sinister collection of machinery awaited them inside.
The metal container was too small for the large weapons to fit, so they had been dismantled quite a bit. Kamijou was not an expert in that field, so he could not even imagine what they would have looked like when intact.
Nevertheless, he immediately felt a chill in the pit of his stomach like he had seen a pool of blood. That may have been proof these were deadly weapons. He could feel an indescribable sense of revulsion squeezing at his heart.
But when Misaka Mikoto had seen this, she had apparently decided to use it. That was why she had retrieved it, kept it on hand, improved it, and remade it to her own liking. Kamijou felt a slight thorn there. It was a dangerous scent, like the enchanting pattern on a katana’s blade or the tempting aroma of an excellent weapon.
Kamijou, Aogami Pierce, and Fukiyose Seiri would have lost their lives to the Elements if not for Mikoto’s A.A.A. It was also their only clue to saving Kamisato. It was all working in their favor, but he could not simply rejoice at its presence.
“What is this…?”
The first one to set foot in the container was Luca, the magician knowledgeable in time and space. Fran also stepped in with the light source, but she mostly seemed to be pursuing her friend’s back.
“Isis, Osiris, and Horus… But this is far removed from Egyptian traditions. That which will not obey upon being summoned… Abrahadabra. The upside-down triangle made from the same letters…the curse-reversing charm… I see. The induction of the paranormal using adolescent minds and drugs was taken from the Temple of Thelema. But wait…that would mean…!?”
“Luca, Luca. Um? Are you channeling something?”
“Science and magic? Don’t make me laugh! If everything here is true, then there never were two different worlds. A single person’s wickedness was only making it look that way!! You can explain the world with a single unified theory!!”
She was clearly acting oddly. It was like a mania, a high, or a trance. As Luca trembled, was she even thinking for herself? Or was she being drawn in by some kind of external power? What could she see as she arched her back? Her body was moving so madly that Kamijou thought he could hear her heartbeat even as far away as he was.
Then Fran uttered a silly cry and lazily karate chopped the back of the pirate girl’s head.
Luca’s head shook even more than expected and then she came back to her senses. She looked puzzled and shook her head like a wet dog.
“Eh? Huh? What just-…? Why am I-…?”
“Luca. Can we use this or not?”
“O-oh. That’s right.”
After the confusion of someone who had just woken up, she began observing the machinery once more.
“This is even better than I expected. I just thought it would be something that existed ‘here’ with us and ‘there’ with Kamisato-kun, but it already has magical design and symbols worked in.”
The pirate girl answered Kamijou’s questioning voice with a shrug.
“I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s disguising itself as science, but the core is full-on magic. It’s like seeing Edison’s necromancy device. It looks like an energy transfer device that guides power in from a remote location. You know what we’re trying to do, right? Create a tunnel and drag Kamisato Kakeru back. …With this, it’s more than half finished already. The trick will be how to alter the energy line into something that transports matter.”
Now it was Kamijou and Mikoto’s turn to exchange a glance.
The #3 frowned and shook her head.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about! All I did was reproduce the black box portion without knowing what it is. And what do you mean by magic? You don’t just mean a method of meditation, do you???”
(This is bad… Then has Misaka been getting nosebleeds as the side effect of an esper using magic!?)
He had figured it out, but should he tell her? He would only worry her if he said, “I don’t know the details, but you have a disease. However, you won’t find a cure at any hospital.” And worrying her might even worsen her symptoms. He would need to discuss this with an expert like Index or Othinus.
He kept it in his heart, but they had to keep moving.
Pirate Girl Luca leaned toward Mikoto.
“Hey, hey! Can you start it up? Not the derivative one you apparently have, but this one right here!”
“W-well, yes. But it’s inefficient. This one hasn’t been tuned for me. It’s a lot like trying to dance ballet in someone else’s shoes.”
“That’s fine!! You’re doing something far more incredible than you know. Turn it on and breathe life into the system. That should provide us with a pretty major clue!!”
It was Kamijou that gulped, not Mikoto.
If the A.A.A.’s core was magical in nature and it placed a great burden on an esper like Mikoto, he could not have her use it again and again. She had been fine so far, but that may have been like unwittingly crossing a minefield. Just because she had not stepped on a mine yesterday was no guarantee that she would not do so today.
“Wait a second. You’re a magician, Luca, so can’t you do it yourself? Magic is your field.”
Yes, there would not be a problem if an actual magician touched the A.A.A. The side effects only applied to espers using magic.
But the pirate hat and eyepatch girl shook her head.
“I can’t touch this bizarre thing right away. It might even bite me.” She used a meaningful-sounding phrase to argue her case. “I want to investigate after someone who it’s already accepted triggers the ignition and gets the motor running. And we have someone who’s done just that. We can’t measure the risk here, so that’s far safer than trying it out and damaging the gate we’ve found.”
She most likely did not understand the risk.
Luca continued smiling as she answered.
But that dropped a heavy weight into Kamijou Touma’s stomach.
They could not advance without Misaka Mikoto activating the A.A.A. Without that they could not save Kamisato Kakeru, they could not free the girls trapped by Kihara Yuiitsu’s curse, and they could not rid Academy City of this chaos.
But now that he knew the danger…
“Hm? What’s with you?”
Mikoto herself peered up at him from below.
She looked entirely unconcerned. That was the look of a defenseless girl who did not at all understand the risk she bore. Kamijou told himself this was just one time. Those unnatural nosebleeds were certainly concerning, but she had not bled from all over her body and collapsed like Tsuchimikado Motoharu. Then wouldn’t she be fine this time too? It was only for a very short time, after all.
Meanwhile, Mikoto casually reached out toward the collection of junk. Was her magnetism pulling it in, or was it the opposite? Several pieces of scrap metal wriggled toward her palm in preparation to touch it.
And he finally squeeze his eyes shut, clenched his teeth, and yet could not make up his mind.
“No, wait, Misa-…!!!???”
She did not wait.
It happened a moment later.
Despite being the most powerful Electromaster, the girl’s entire body jerked like she had been struck by lightning.
From that instant on, Kamijou Touma’s sense of time may have been malfunctioning.
As time seemed to stretch out infinitely, he heard a watery sound from the depths of the darkness swept away by Fran’s backlight. Something was flowing from Misaka Mikoto’s mouth as her body arched backwards. Round drops glittered like jewels colored with a unique shade different from both red and black. There was only one answer, but Kamijou’s fruitlessly spinning mind could not come up with the word.
The girl’s eyes were opened wide.
But not from fear or pain. Why had this happened to her? Her eyes were filled with the confusion of being unable to answer that question.
Mikoto could not support herself with her back arched so sharply, so she slowly collapsed backwards. Kamijou finally reached his hands out.
But he could not reach her.
He could not reach her in time.
A heavy metallic thud rang through the container. Then time returned to normal. The girl lay on her back and her entire body writhed and convulsed. The blood droplets that had spilled from her mouth were pulled down by gravity and sprinkled across the floor. Many red flowers bloomed with a dirty splattering sound.
He yelled and frantically tried to pick her up in his arms, but Pirate Girl Luca cut in from the side and grabbed him to stop him. As she convulsed, Mikoto was desperately trying to move her right hand. No, she probably thought she was raising her hand and holding out her palm to stop him.
She was telling him not to touch her with his right hand.
Fran alone looked at everyone in turn like she felt left out.
“Why!? Didn’t this happen because the A.A.A. is an outside product and an esper just touched magic!? Then if I use my right hand…!!”
“This isn’t the A.A.A.!! She was hit by a carefully-aimed external curse. She was attacked!!”
Kamijou finally stopped struggling and repeated the word.
He did not know the detailed definition, but the old-fashioned word was clearly from outside the bounds of the science side.
“What do you mean a curse!?”
Someone had ankle-length silver hair and wore a thin green surgical gown.
That “human” looked like both a man and a woman, like both an adult and a child, and like both a saint and a sinner. He ever-so-slowly let out a sigh.
That “human” had waited and waited for this moment.
He had done so while Kihara Yuiitsu let the Elements run wild to track down Kamisato Kakeru, and he had done so while powerful microwaves had turned the city into a scorching 55 degree hell to fight those Elements. And he had even set aside the current problems to wait for this moment.
However it had happened, Kihara Yuiitsu had finished off Kamisato Kakeru.
That meant he had to deal with the other one himself for the realization of his plan.
That “human”, Aleister Crowley, had a few pieces of magic viewed as great achievements, but one of those was based on a magic phrase that may have been the most famous in the world.
The phrase was well known in the context of mocking those who believed in the occult, but very few people knew it was more often included in magic charms and magic circles than in spoken incantations.
Its effects could be described as a curse reversal.
When an enemy cast a curse, such as the Eye of Horus or an ankh, it would divert it or send it back toward that enemy, so it was widely known as a protective charm.
However, just as all techniques are neither good nor evil, it came down to how the magic was used.
Think of it like light.
If a light-reflecting mirror was curved, it could focus the light on a single point. Then the supposedly harmless sunlight could be used to start fires or even spark a wildfire that covered the entire landscape.
This was the curvature of a curse.
The concept had naturally arisen in all cultures, eastern or western. Someone might have a doll take their place, or someone might divert an enemy’s aim by escaping inside a magic circle drawn on the ground.
The curse itself might not be that rare.
There were curses that took undirected resentment or jealousy and used a spell to create an invisible arrowhead or bullet. Countless numbers of those were traveling all around the earth like the high speed connections of the internet.
The “human” did not even need to refine his own magic power.
He did not even need to reveal that he could use magic.
He only had to capture one of the invisible curses flying around like a wireless LAN signal, slightly twist it, and redirect it. Since he was using someone else’s curse, there was not even the slightest chance of the curse being traced back to him.
That “human” drew out an upside-down triangle with the same letters arranged in a regular fashion.
That magic circle had been widely known since ancient times, but he had found a new interpretation and successfully built it into his own magical system.
The true name he had given the curse-reversal circle said the following: I supply lightning for thy death.
It was a truly ironic phrase for the strongest of the Electromasters.
“This is similar…”
Pirate Girl Luca spoke while holding Kamijou back.
“The curse eating into her right now is structured very similarly to the A.A.A.! It must have been made by the same person. If I investigate this, I can find the answer. Comparing the two and searching out points in common might help me fully investigate the strange and complex A.A.A.!!”
“But…then what happens to Misaka!?”
There was no answer to that.
No, Luca shook her head while clinging to him.
Yes, that was right.
Luca and Fran’s top priority was Kamisato Kakeru. If they had to weigh that vanished boy against anything else, it was obvious which side would win out. So they had made their choice. Even if another girl had to fall.
“To hell with-…!!!!!!”
He decided to restart it all from the beginning. No matter how much of a detour it was, he could not let them use a sacrifice as a stepping stone.
But then Kamijou Touma saw something.
As Misaka Mikoto writhed on the floor, she gathered what little strength she had to control just her wildly flailing right hand. She held it out toward Kamijou and clearly showed him her palm.
Her bloody lips moved.
In fact, they even formed a definite smile as she whispered.
“You said you would defeat them. You said they were formless malice, but that they could still be defeated. Then keep going. Use me as a stepping stone and continue on. I’ll do anything if it’s for that!!”
“Keep your promise.” Mikoto’s voice was heavier than the blood she had coughed up. “I’m not the only one trapped by this. You freed me from it, but everyone else is still trapped! They might be smiling on the outside, but it’ll have taken root deep in their hearts!! So defeat them. Defeat them and prove it! Show those girls something that makes them glad they were here in Academy City!!”
Kamijou thought he could not do it.
Not that he could not step over her and continue on. He could not give into emotion by rejecting and wasting Mikoto’s efforts after she had clenched her teeth and worked so hard to help.
Not matter how long he tried, he could not swing down his trembling fist.
Mikoto smiled kindly up at him while collapsed on her back.
And with that smile on her face, she once more lost control of her body. She writhed irregularly and could not stop convulsing. What was happening beneath her skin? She tossed about like she had swallowed deadly poison.
“How long is it going to take, Luca…?”
“I’m doing it right now.”
“When can I save Misaka!? Answer me!!”
“I’m working as hard as I can!!”
The passage of time felt maddeningly slow.
He could not tell how much progress Luca had made as she shut her eyes and muttered below her breath. That made him all the more impatient. Mikoto’s writhing and convulsions had grown smaller, but he doubted that meant her condition had grown stable. It only looked like her life force was being sapped away.
How much time had passed?
How far had he worn down his back teeth as he clenched them?
Then Luca’s arms relaxed around him. He took that as permission, nearly collapsed onto the floor to approach Mikoto, and forcefully pressed his right palm against the stomach of her racing swimsuit.
There was no reaction.
He did not actually know if the external curse had ended.
And he had to have known how this would end if he let those girls make the decisions. He had known, but he had let it happen. It was the same as when Kamisato had disappeared. He had been pushed back by the claims that this was the best option and he had ultimately done nothing.
Kamijou groaned as he held that small and limp body in his arms.
No one had done anything wrong.
Everyone had made the best available choice, yet this had happened.
Between the Lines 2
The boy had noticed some surprising inconveniences after losing his right hand.
For example, he could not use chopsticks while holding the rice bowl. Not to mention using a knife and fork at the same time. He could stab or grab things with just his left hand, but he always dropped some of it.
(What am I supposed to do about my swimsuit’s string? I can untie it, but I doubt I can retie it with just one hand.)
“Nephthyyyys, should we burn this too?”
“I don’t see why not. We can interpret it as sending it back to heaven as an offering to the gods.”
He heard some shrill voices around him.
He was in the middle of a giant intersection with no people or cars to be seen. Curtains, a bed, scraps of cloth, and other things were piled up and burning as an impressive bonfire. The girl in the modified mini-China dress was hopping around as she pleased and the bandaged woman seemed unconcerned by how she was dressed, so it was hard to know where to look even for Kamisato who was always surrounded by girls. He kept seeing butts.
This place was cut off from the normal world, but destroying things was easy. Kamisato had initially paled when he thought it would influence things back in the original world, but the Magic Gods said that was not how it worked.
They could destroy things, but it would not affect anything “there”.
And at the end of the day, all traces of the damage would be repaired at precisely midnight. But instead of returning to how it was before the damage, the world was remade based on things “there”. Simply put, if they chopped down a roadside tree but it was replanted one spot over in “that world”, it would pop up in that next spot over once midnight arrived in “this world”.
Only those selfish Magic Gods would rejoice at being able to do whatever they wanted upon hearing that. If all traces would vanish, then they had a world where nothing they did would remain. This world did not allow for the accumulation that was the key to human progress. And since it was all based on “that world”, they would be able to see a desert forming or an ice age coming, but they could do nothing to stop it. They could only watch the ruin spread and be buried by it.
What happened to the nutrients from the sliced potatoes he was eating now? Did the update come at midnight because the repairs swept across the surface of the earth in accordance with its rotation? He had a never-ending stream of thoughts on the matter, but he did not need to rush. He had more time to think than he could ever ask for.
“This stuff is pretty good now that I’ve tried it. Chomp, chomp.”
“Oh, dear. And here I thought not even you people would eat a table, even if it has four legs.”
The gods who hated causing change were entirely carefree. If they were tasked with stacking rocks for eternity in the Sai no Kawara, it would likely be the tormenting demons meant to obstruct their work that begged for it to end.
“Made up your mind?” asked Magic God Niang-Niang.
“It’s not like I have a choice when I can’t return ‘there’.”
“Oh? So you’re gonna die?”
She made it sound so trivial. She handled life and death matters like she was talking to a villager in an RPG.
Despite wearing a miniskirt, pale Niang-Niang stood on one leg, bent backwards, and stretched her other leg toward heaven like she was copying a ballet pose. This dangerously emphasized her chest and slender legs. Gods were magnanimous, so after blowing off some steam, she did not particularly care if someone was an enemy or ally.
“Is returning to the original world really that hard?”
“Come to think of it, you summoned Nuada’s left arm from empty air. I don’t remember us giving it that ability, but maybe you could pull it off if you had World Rejecter itself.”
Kamisato sighed and spun the fork in his left hand.
The goddesses noticed the number of forks had grown to two or three at some point.
“For gods, you’re not very observant. Just because someone has a paranormal power that surpasses human understanding doesn’t mean everything they do uses it.”
“Oh, so it was a bluff?”
“I was in it for revenge, so I was afraid killing you instantly would leave me unsatisfied. I studied and worked hard so I could savor it for as long as possible. And as a normal high school boy, I was also interested in a way to hide a weapon just in case.”
He of course kept it a secret that he had thought it would look cool pulling a knife or gun from his sleeve like an assassin in a movie. The kind of person who spent time in class thinking what he would do if terrorists attacked his school would often fantasize about such things. Whether or not that person would actually walk down to the library and check out the magic tricks book recommended by literary and gardening girl Claire was another matter.
But Niang-Niang was not normal or in high school, so she went beyond hiding something up her sleeve and had instead replaced all ten of her fingers with Pao-Pei. She hid her mouth with her baggy sleeve and smiled.
“I do know how you feel. We Magic Gods are a lot like that. When you get down to it, legends are more about style than function, right? If they would just get the help of the gods right away, they wouldn’t have any trouble at all, but they go out of their way to overcome it all with their own power.”
“Please don’t act like I’m anything like you.”
“Then one more thing.”
Niang-Niang gave a smile of clear malice as she bent her lithe body. It was unclear how she was supporting her weight, but she formed a perfect bridge without placing her hands on the ground and she looked at him with her upside-down head.
“Did you think your story was over now?”
“You’re really not much fun, so we’ll help you return to your original world. Are you saying you don’t care if that succeeds or fails? Was your story over once your valiant decision got you sent here, so nothing you do here matters?”
He had no obligation to respond, but his expression was enough of an answer.
He did not bite. He did not look at the Magic God’s face, choose his words, and try to determine the truth of what she was saying. He should have been panicking, flustered, and an embarrassment. Even if this was salt sent by his enemy, he should have been hesitantly reaching his tongue toward it despite the possibility of poison.
But he did not.
He chose not to.
“Even when people die, they leave something behind.” Niang-Niang spoke in a know-it-all tone. “A forgotten god like me might have no connections left, but you’re far too fresh in that way. The world is too fresh to you. So things might be taking a biiiiit of a turn for the worse back in ‘that world’.”
“…What are you trying to say?”
“Let’s put it like this.”
The Shijie Xian smirked as her bridge pose showed off her alluring curves through the opening in the dress’s chest, the slits at the hips, and across the rest of her body.
She was someone who had taken her own life to strip away the impurity of a worldly life and become a Xian.
Such beings were proper Xians, but they were also sometimes feared as vampiric monsters.
Or perhaps the beauty of her body was like food made to look and taste just like human flesh or a ghost painting made with real blood. It may have had that forbidden fascination that told you that you must not look at it or do it, but the twisted curiosity led you to cross the final line regardless.
“You might think you haven’t left anything at all behind, but things back there might be a complete mess. The High Priest looked like an old man, but he was the young one among us. Nephthys and I spent about 4000 years until we achieved the title of a forgotten god that won’t make any waves. We lived through the Four Great Civilizations to accomplish it. But you haven’t even lived for two decades, so I seriously doubt you could leave the world without causing any trouble for anyone.”
“What are you saying…?”
There was a clear implication there. No, given who she was, perhaps it should be called a divine message.
And if what he had done had influenced those girls in some way, he could not just ignore this.
But before he could ask for details, something else happened.
It started with long silver hair and brown skin. Magic God Nephthys’s bandage-wrapped body was a little too alluringly fascinating to call healthy and she spoke with some slight caution on her voice.
“What is it?”
“Here they come.”
Those two were true Magic Gods. So who in this isolated timeline could concern them?
Kamisato thought for a moment and could only come up with one answer.
The world shook. It was a one-armed man with tattoos covering his bare upper body.
He was Magic God Nuada.
He was the king of gods spoken of in Celtic tradition.
He had been driven from his throne after losing his arm, but with the help of the god of healing, he had made a comeback.
And after that success, he had severed his own arm as a test of courage. He had then crawled back up from that to overcome the trial toward becoming king of all things.
“Shall we begin?”
“Why are you bothering to speak in Japanese, Nuada-chaaan? …Are you trying to scare Kamisato Kakeru???”
“I would like to begin the 2nd round.”
He did not bat an eye at her cheap provocation.
The atmosphere around the mini-China dress Xian also changed. By not smiling, Nuada had abandoned the final line. He had sent off the last train himself.
There was no getting off now.
“But why would you do that?”
“The die is cast.”
He spoke only that one phrase.
He did bother commenting on what the result would mean. He made it sound like he would be tearing off someone’s limbs and dragging out their entrails just because that was on the schedule for the day.
“Gods are so impatient,” said Niang-Niang.
“Are we? I’d say we’re still rational enough since we at least make sure to construct a reason for our actions.”
When he heard that answer, Kamisato looked around.
There were more.
They were on the building rooftops, underneath the cars, and blending into the shadows in the alleys. He was only a human with his right hand lost, but he could still sense the multiple gazes focused on them from all directions.
It was true a lot of the Magic Gods probably wanted to take their time to slowly crush Kamisato Kakeru’s body. Niang-Niang had said none of them held a grudge, but that was only her opinion. Based on what had happened, there could easily be some gods who wanted revenge…no, who wanted to punish the insolent human.
“Then why did you wait until now to cast the die?” asked an exasperated Nephthys.
“If I had to say…” The god of war twisted his lips as he brought the concept of cruelty into this world. “Because we cannot take anything from him unless we give it to him first. We poked at him a little earlier, but he didn’t really react. Niang-Niang, Nephthys. In that sense, you two did quite well. This is really where goddesses shine. Now the leather sack appears to be filled with something worth striking and crushing.”
Niang-Niang sighed as she looked to Nephthys instead of Nuada and the other Magic Gods.
“What should we do?”
“Well, I’m the goddess associated with the crying woman who weeps at funerals. It does kiiiind of piss me off to trample on an action where death is at stake.”
“No, no. I’m not talking about anything on that level.”
“Perhaps not. Or…”
As Nuada frowned at them, the two goddesses pressed their palms against the other’s, pressed their cheeks together, smiled, and spoke in unison.
“Nothing excites a god more than holding a fragile human’s destiny in your hands☆”
“Nothing excites a god more than holding a fragile human’s destiny in your hands☆”
A massive explosion followed.
And before the shockwave and expanding dust could reach Kamisato, Bandaged Nephthys wrapped her arms around him and jumped backwards. Niang-Niang smiled as she also jumped back with the bottom of her mini-China dress rising dangerously high.
“Ha ha haaa!! If it’s started, then we’ll just have to go for it! You clench your teeth too, Kamisato Kakeru!”
“Eh? Eh? Wha-…?”
“Here they come!! The true Magic Gods are coming for you!!”
Just as she proclaimed her delight in this endless hell of combat in an empty world, something sliced through the dust.
A colossal cube flew out. It was too wide for the empty road, so the surrounding buildings were crushed at the base while it rolled along. Kamisato just barely managed to link it to something said before.
“The die…is cast…?”
The modified mini-China dress Shijie Xian responded by grabbing the skin near her left wrist with her right fingers.
No, that was a string. And when she yanked it back, an engine-like rumbling came from her body.
A total of five rapidly spinning chainsaws stuck out of her baggy sleeve. Those weapons were far too deadly to think of as extensions to her fingernails and she used them to mercilessly slice through the giant die trying to crush Kamisato as it landed on the road.
And a moment later…
An unnatural voice came from Kamisato’s throat as Nephthys held him.
The cube had come apart, but not just due to Niang-Niang’s power. A mass great enough to knock over buildings had been sliced apart and now it collapsed into an avalanche of pieces only a few millimeters across. But he could not relax. Of course he could not. He had seen what it really was approaching him: bugs.
The maggot-like white bugs had no fangs or legs.
Had billions or even trillions of them formed that giant die that toyed with human life?
“Nee hee hee!!”
Niang-Niang was not concerned. Just as fire seemed to surround her chainsaws, she swept them forward, burned the air, and swept everything away with explosive flames. That one swing of her arm destroyed the entire landscape like the aftermath of a wildfire.
The sea of bugs was forcibly burned away by the immense flames.
“The Darbh-Daol. Are those the bugs that snuck into the gap between the silver arm and the shoulder wound to sap his life force!?”
“Those bugs insolently feasted on divine flesh. My scales are not kind enough to forgive that. If they do not work off what they ate, it would violate equivalent exchange.”
Metal fingertips could be heard snapping.
“Now give up. You cannot escape this place. A filthy criminal like you should know that better than anyone. No matter what might be happening ‘over there’, there is nothing you can do. …Well, I suppose the new owner of the right hand might send a few of the girls here.”
A faint scorching feeling on the nape of the neck stimulated Kamisato’s soul.
Then the dust was broken again as a disk larger than a stadium rotated while launching vertically toward the heavens. This may have been a coin toss, but if gravity pulled that back down to earth from more than 1000 meters up, an entire district might become a crater. And he heard multiple sounds up above. This was the same threat as an MIRV that broke apart in midair to drop a multitude of warheads.
But Niang-Niang smiled fiercely as ruin approached from overhead.
“Now this is getting fun…”
A strange sound came from her as her mini-China dress flipped up and dangerously exposed her bare legs.
Swords, spears, and axes jutted out from her other baggy sleeve like writing implements from the top of a pen holder.
“We can go all out without having to worry about the world!! In this isolated world, we don’t have to worry about affecting anyone else!! It’s just so much fun!! Drool!!”
The explosive flames of her burning chainsaws and the slicing of her countless traditional weapons filled the sky in the blink of an eye. The downpour of asteroid-like coins was not allowed to land. They lost their shape, scattered as countless bugs, and had that true form easily burned away.
Meanwhile, Kamisato heard what sounded like trees rustling in a gust of wind. These appeared to be cards made from a great quantity of bugs. One after another, giant guillotines capable of slicing right through a building appeared in the dust.
Niang-Niang pouted her lips and gave her opinion.
“Damn him. He always goes out of his way to use tools not found in his legends. He really is trying to kill you like it’s a gambling game. Although that means surviving it all could be seen as a product of amazing luck.”
“I thought god didn’t play dice.”
“Who was it that said that? Wasn’t it some scientist? Having them say things like that is really just an annoyance for us gods,” calmly commented Nephthys as she carried Kamisato. “More is coming.”
“Yeah, I know!!”
Niang-Niang sounded delighted, but Kamisato was shocked.
Beyond the many buildings, he saw something at the end of his view of the world. It was the color white. The entire surface was filled with pure white from right to left. It was like a sandstorm swallowing up the entire city, but that was not it. This was much smoother and a far less bearable poison for a human. The scent set off prickling warning signs across his skin.
“Would this be Proserpina? When she was taken away to the underworld, wasn’t her mother, the flower goddess, absolutely pissed? I believe she cursed the world so spring would never come until she retrieved her daughter.”
“As a form of divine punishment, it’s a similar idea to this country’s Amaterasu.”
“So what is it?” asked Kamisato.
The weapon-covered mini-China dress girl shrugged as she ran.
“It’s the divine punishment that covers the sun and fills the entire world with -60 degree snow and ice. I guess you could call it a planetary-scale artificial ice age spell.”
They had almost casually reached the level of wiping out all human life.
Kamisato had been apathetically letting it all happen, but even he felt a tightening in his chest now.
“What are we supposed to do?”
“Why do you think we’re running around right now?”
The girl was so carefree she sounded on the verge of whistling, but if the white darkness threatening to cover every inch of Academy City was the same as the soot and smoke of all-out nuclear war, then nowhere on the planet would be safe. The Magic Gods could maybe survive the frigid temperatures that had killed off the dinosaurs, but the human body was unfortunately not as sturdy.
But the Magic Gods were thinking on a different scale altogether.
Mini-China Dress Niang-Niang elaborated with annoyance in her voice.
“Kamisato-chan. Do you remember why exactly you came ‘here’?”
“Well…I had to protect everyone from Kihara Yuiitsu’s ‘insurance’, so I erased the rocket boosters that-…”
He trailed off while Nephthys carried him.
He had a bad feeling about this.
“You don’t mean…”
“Neeephthyyys. Help me out here.”
“Fine, then. I will give you a yawn’s worth of tears.”
Then he received the worst possible confirmation of his fears.
He saw the Windowless Building. He had no idea how it worked, but the two Magic Gods casually stepped onto the side of the building and stood horizontally with no concern for gravity.
“Oh, but didn’t this boy destroy the boosters?”
“We just need something to take their place, right?”
The contents of Niang-Niang’s baggy sleeves exploded. She fired flames with tremendous force and they pushed at the Windowless Building until it broke the bonds of gravity. It floated. It flew.
The ground below was consumed by the giant cards that toyed with death and the white darkness of an ice age, but the three of them had already been freed from the planet that was filled with ruin in all 360 degrees.
Kamisato instinctively clung to Nephthys with his left hand, but…
“Ahn. Oh, dear. Is that any way to treat a god?”
“It’s not just my fault that those bandages are coming off here and there.”
He had no idea what Mach number their speed had reached. Nor did he know the temperature or atmospheric pressure. The Magic Gods seemed to be taking care of all those details. Kamisato clung to the side of the giant rocket that continued to fight earth’s gravity. He could breathe, he could open his eyes, the air friction did not burn him away, and the massive inertial Gs did not crush his body. He only felt like he was riding a bicycle.
“Funnily enough, we might not have been able to support you like this if you still had World Rejecter,” said Bandaged Nephthys as she held her silver hair against the wind. “A loss is not always a step backwards. It was losing his arm that gave Nuada a dramatic and tumultuous life that ultimately led to gaining new power.”
Kamisato tried to say something, but then Niang-Niang excitedly interrupted.
“Wow, wow! Nephthys, look straight up!! Ah ha ha!! There’s a gigantic idiot up there!!”
Kamisato looked doubtfully out ahead of the rocket. He realized they would be thrown out into space once they left the atmosphere.
He saw a twinkling star.
No, he had been naïve.
A battle with the Magic Gods was not going to give him even a second of safety.
A spear of light dropped from heaven and toward earth.
It passed right by the rocket as it tried to leave the planet. The Windowless Building could survive a nuclear weapon, but it may have been blown to pieces had it been hit.
“We can’t relax yet, Niang-Niang. That was a test firing to get a baseline. Once the margin of error calculations are done, the next one is coming.”
“Don’t worrrrry☆ Let this god handle it.”
With explosive flames erupting from her baggy sleeves, the mini-China dress girl swung the boosters around as casually as a cheerleader’s pompoms.
The rocket’s trajectory wriggled like a living creature. There was more twinkling in the heavens and more and more pillars of light dropped down to earth, but not one of them hit. They were all just barely avoided.
Nephthys sighed and asked a question.
“Who do you think it is taking a pleasure flight up in orbit?”
“A sun god, the creator of fire, the god who has enough power to create the world but uses it all to mercilessly spread death, and the god who wants nothing more than to make a human sacrifice out of Kamisato Kakeru! Ah ha ha! Of course it’s Tezcatlipoca!!”
“…Tch. Forced sacrifices just don’t sit well with me.”
“Yeah, I guess you would feel that way as a collection of those urged on by a silent pressure to be buried in the pharaoh’s grave. As a heretical Xian who voluntarily took her own life, I’m pretty neutral when it comes to human death.”
Niang-Niang laughed as the bottom of her mini-China dress floated up in the weightlessness.
When Kamisato glanced back down, his throat grew dry.
The blue planet was already frozen pure white with no distinction between land and sea. And as the heavenly spears fell, they created dome-shaped explosions. Based on the scale, those blasts had to be swallowing up not just Academy City but the entire country. He was watching the very geography of the planet changing. If this was not a timeline isolated by World Rejecter, these attacks would have wiped out the human race several times over.
No, that was wrong.
If the entire “world” was their stage in the truest sense of the word, then perhaps it was lucky that the damage from a clash between gods was limited to a single planet.
Kamisato Kakeru was dazed by the unimaginable scale of the battle.
“…What are we supposed to do about this?”
“What do you think we’re in such a rush to do?☆”