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 mater 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 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 girls 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.”