Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume17 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Or Isolation Surpasses a Group – Engage_U.F.O.
It was midnight. The date had changed.
But in her burial clothes with bewitchingly exposed cleavage, Maya did not even think about moving away from the Sphere which was opened like a lotus flower. She continued her long-term information warfare with her two partners: the vegetable sticks and a high quality smoothie made from peaches, milk, 100% acacia honey, vanilla extract, and no artificial additives whatsoever.
Ghosts did not sleep.
Sleep was important for the organization of memories and crucial for maintenance of the brain, but that meant nothing to Maya who did not rely on a physical body. Or perhaps the vengeful spirits in most ghost stories were so fixated on a single thing because they could not carry out that maintenance.
She was in District 7’s college shelter named Academy.
She would do anything for Kamisato Kakeru. Even obey someone like Kihara Yuiitsu.
“Hm, hm, hm, hmmm.”
She hummed quietly while hunched forward. She pulled a piece of yellow paprika cut long and thin from the colorful sticks in the glass cup.
To chase down Kamijou Touma and Karasuma Fran, she was spreading largescale misinformation from her multiple regional stations to cause trouble across Academy City. Once those two were caught in the trouble, they were sure to use some kind of special methods to escape it and she only needed to reveal the traces of that. This kind of information warfare was her specialty, but while in contact with the Sphere, she developed an obsession that ignored efficiency and logic.
The seeds she sowed did not always bloom the way she wanted.
Rumors would change form bit by bit as they were spread from person to person. And once they passed a certain point, they would become something else entirely as if going through a mutation.
And since Maya had a specific objective, she did not want that kind of unordered and uncontrollable change. When the changes passed the acceptable range, she would inject new information to change it back and course correct. But that was not a total overwriting of the data. It was a lot like giving different types of food to an all-consuming amoeba to see which way it grew.
She felt like she was raising a child.
As a bodiless ghost, she may have been treating this like an alternative to that, but she did not delve that far into self-analysis. She was still a ghost. The memory of her death slept somewhere inside her and she knew she must not uncover that.
Currently, there were three major rumors swimming through the city-wide network created between the shelter Spheres.
First, the heat wave was caused by the powerful microwaves sent out by Karasuma Fran’s personal space station and that was deeply connected to the Elements that had attacked Academy City.
Second, the heat wave was caused by abnormal solar winds caused by a great distortion in solar activity. The drop from 55 degrees to below 0 would not end and an ice age would soon arrive.
And third, the heat wave and Elements never actually existed. They were all a largescale virtual reality project run by Academy City’s leaders.
“What have we here…?”
Maya focused on that last rumor as she shook her long black hair and toyed with the radish stick between her lips like it was a cigarette or a chocolate covered snack.
There were of course countless other smaller topics of discussion, but those would burst like soap bubbles all on their own. Only the virtual reality theory stuck around like a truly stubborn bubble.
It was not exactly large, but it would not pop and disappear on its own.
That ember had a disconcerting presence, like a cigarette butt thrown into a dry mountain forest during winter.
(A multi-station rival channel? Would that be Fran? But it’s strange she isn’t painting us as the villains…)
She pulled a carrot stick from the cup, pictured the rabbit-ear antennae girl in her mind, and bit through the carrot with her front teeth.
She kind of understood how this sort of rumor could spread so easily.
First, if everything was virtual reality, everyone could stop worrying about all of the previous damage. Instead of working toward recovery, they could just wake up to their normal lives, so it would be an attractive idea.
Second, the theory was helped by the fact that surviving during a heat wave and encountering Elements modeled after mimicry animals sounded like something from a video game.
And finally, Academy City had too many mysteries. No one knew if they had practical technology for virtual reality, but there was a general atmosphere that “this city could pull it off” or “I can totally see them trying that”. Also, most of the boys and girls had been helplessly hit by the disasters, so they would want a clear villain to blame. In other words, all responsibility was shifted onto the adults. They might want to shout that this was all due to some strange project and raise their fists to show they had not simply lost.
And what would the spread of this rumor actually accomplish?
Or more specifically, what was in it for Karasuma Fran?
“…Ohhh, I see.”
Needless to say, everyone would stop struggling if they truly believed this was all virtual. They would only need to wait until they woke up, so there would be no need to put themselves through any difficult experiences. They might starve to death in a week or two like that, but Useful Spider was moving around outside. Their 48 Hours to Restore Order project was underway. Nearly a full day had passed, so the crucial power, gas, and water infrastructure would be back up in about 24 more hours. The students could survive that long without eating or drinking.
This would stop the simultaneous riots triggered across the city by the baseless rumors.
If that was Fran’s top priority, then it was an effective one.
And “it’s all virtual” was a quite adaptable. Maya could come up with all sorts of clever stories, but they would all be swallowed up by a single phrase: “But it’s all virtual, right?” And since no one knew the true level of Academy City’s technology, it would be difficult to find evidence to dispute that assertion.
(The biggest flaw is how she’s relying on the strangers in Useful Spider to preserve everyone’s lives. Isn’t she afraid we’ll attack Useful Spider and slow down the recovery until that apathetic group starves?)
They could do that, but they did not need to. And in addition to the risk of starvation, it was possible the desperate people would begin an even greater riot once they were convinced this was a virtual world where they could do whatever they wanted. Whether Fran was behind the rumor or not, the virtual reality theory would not be easy to get rid of if it mutated in a negative direction. This could be a good opportunity to drive that group out wherever they were hiding.
(I don’t like leaving Salome and the others with that tyrant, so I should probably check on that before deciding.)
She could see the rumors she had created and spread and she could see another rumor that may or may not have been hostile. What kind of artistic transformation would occur when they were linked together? The girl in white burial clothes giggled and traced her slender fingertips across one petal of the Sphere’s lotus flower.
And as soon as she did, she heard a voice amplified by a loudspeaker even thought it was past midnight.
“This is Useful Spider. We are now entering Phase 3 of the 48 Hours to Restore Order. We will be collecting any weapons or dangerous objects that could impede the recovery. The threat of the Elements has passed. The aforementioned objects are bound to have a negative influence on your lives and property, so we are using our special authority to temporarily freeze your human rights to collect them.”
One of Maya’s eyebrows shot up, but she did not have time to turn around.
The chic college building made of heavy bricks was torn apart like it was made of thin Japanese paper.
At first, not even the ghost girl understood what had happened.
When she saw the destruction start at one edge and the materials fly up into the night sky, she finally thought of an iron sheet roof being destroyed by a typhoon or tornado.
“A gust…of wind…!?”
As soon as she found the answer, the girl in white burial clothing was blown several dozen meters into the sky. Maya called herself a ghost, but her existence was reliant on the physical objects known as Censers. Those crane fly shaped drones secretly emitted aromas and low-frequency waves too insignificant for a human’s five senses to detect. That would destabilize people’s minds and Maya generally appeared below them.
In other words, there was nothing she could do if the Censers themselves were thrown high into the air.
The ghost girl spun around and around and finally regained her balance at the height of a high-rise building’s rooftop. The will-o’-the-wisp-like phosphorescent drones could still fly. The triangular headdress with a cut that made it look like a heart had shifted out of place and the white burial clothing was falling off in places, so her alluring thighs and surprisingly large breasts were about to slip out. However, bugs and small fish caught in a tornado could apparently be thrown higher than Everest, so she may have been fortunate this was as much as had happened.
But she could not exactly rejoice.
“Oh, honestly. Where did my vegetable sticks and smoothie go!?”
With a dull sound, something large passed through Maya’s head from the side. The device had originally been a 2 meter sphere but had opened like a lotus flower to allow access to the controls. The Sphere had flown as high as she had. Since the Censers had finally stabilized, Maya reached out her translucent arm while floating in midair, but it was no use. Gravity pulled the precision device down toward the late night disaster scene.
Maya’s gaze followed it down and she spotted a strange device.
The Academy shelter was using a college building, but she saw something strange outside the campus. It was a giant cylinder 20-30 meters wide. The flat circular end was producing a grinding sound while rapidly rotating, so the girl in burial clothing initially though it was a large tunnel boring machine.
But it was not.
(A giant fan…? Is it used for wind tunnel experiments?)
Wind tunnels were the facilities used to test the air resistance of airplanes, high-speed trains, sports cars, and such before actually using them. The artificial wind created by a giant fan or vacuum pump would simulate the air resistance it would meet in use, but the latest generation could apparently simulate the gales(?) needed for the Mach 7 instantaneous wind speeds seen by supersonic fighters or ballistic missiles.
If that was used against a building, a house of straw and a house of brick would meet the same fate. The students of Academy were preparing their handmade defense weapons such as a giant slingshot made from bicycle tire tubes and a metal frame, but it was likely futile. They would have a hard time getting close with that giant fan in front of them and their projectile’s ballistic path would be far from stable. In fact, it was possible the wind could send the projectile right back toward the people who had fired it.
The ghost girl placed her hands on her hips and stared down at her crumbling kingdom as she hovered in the moonlight. She had only borrowed that key station after hijacking it, but this was still not fun to watch. She still had a few Spheres in stock since she had been using them as regional stations for her multi-stage attacks, but she doubted Useful Spider was attacking just the one place. If the same thing was happening across Academy City, she could lose all of her Spheres.
It was bad enough having the possibly hostile virtual reality theory growing ominously in the background, so she wanted to avoid being completely cut off from the network.
It did not matter how much the “enemy” knew when they took action.
What mattered was whether or not it would impede with the actions meant to help Kamisato Kakeru. It all came down to that for the girl who clung to the world of the living even after losing her body.
And as her eyes glared brightly from behind her disheveled black hair, the vengeful spirit spoke in a low voice.
“Do you have any idea who you’re picking a fight with, you fools?”
Kamijou Touma was also soaked with unpleasant sweat as he held Mikoto’s limp form in his arms and pressed his back against a building wall.
They had a chance at saving Kamisato Kakeru thanks to Mikoto’s sacrifice, but they could not leave her there unconscious. Even if it took a fair amount of time, they had decided to send Mikoto back to the frog doctor’s hospital before beginning the ceremony using the A.A.A. in the container yard.
As a high school boy, Kamijou did not normally think about it, but the lack of cars was a problem. They could not call an ambulance and they could not move any of the heavy industry containers.
But something else happened first.
It was just after he, Fran, and Luca had left the pyramids of metal containers in District 11.
The entire scene was swept away by a powerful gust of wind.
The target was a nearby shelter and not Kamijou’s group, but it was obvious what would happen if a stray blast hit them.
“Commencing nonlethal suppression. Please set down your weapons and surrender. The threat of the Elements has passed. Useful Spider shall protect your lives and property. There is no more need for you to arm yourselves with weapons and dangerous objects.”
“Nonlethal…? Did they just say nonlethal!? They’re using giant fans that could blow down reinforced concrete or a small building!!”
“Adult society is all about categorizing things,” said Fran. “A hunting slingshot is considered nonlethal and thus does not violate the Swords and Firearms Control Law. Even though it has the word ‘hunting’ written big on the label.”
They were pressed against the corner of a building and winds moving at who knew how many thousands of kph were flying along the road around that corner. Orange sparks flew from a large abandoned truck. Pirate Girl Luca gulped with her clothes stretched to the bursting point after growing to her adult size for more weight against the wind.
“It’s that white sand. The wind is carrying the remains of the Elements and that’s scraping at the metal like a file.”
“Not to mention the lighter cars on the side of the road are flying like leaves. It’s too dangerous to cross the street like this.”
After learning her lesson about getting sand in her clothes, Rabbit-Ear Antennae Fran had zipped her hoodie up all the way to the neck.
As ridiculously large as it was, it was still a fan, so Kamijou watched the timing as it turned back and forth and ran out across the street with Mikoto in his arms when the gust of wind was pointed the other way.
They had no detailed information on the shelter under attack, but they could tell it was as frenzied as a disturbed wasp’s nest despite the late hour. A lot of the students were armed with large water guns with pressurized pumps, but after that heat wave, Kamijou doubted they were armed with equipment that would waste water.
He then recalled how Fran and Luca had tried and spectacularly failed to wash off their bodies with sterilization ethanol.
“Are they combining water guns full of oil or alcohol with a Pyrokinesis esper? That’s pretty damn dangerous when we don’t have a ready supply of water!”
“Maybe their shelter’s name is just Esper.”
Whatever the case, they were outnumbered. Useful Spider used their powerful wind to tear apart the building. Wind and fire were a poor match. Using a flamethrower now could easily fill the air with heat and provide the wind with a temperature measuring in the hundreds or even thousands of degrees. Breathing in that deadly wind would blister the lungs.
Kamijou knew it was hopeless, but he performed a lariat on the neck of a boy who ran around a nearby corner with two water guns in hand. While the shocked shelter warrior struggled to breathe, Kamijou dragged him behind the building and yelled into his ear.
“It’s no use! Look, there are people sneaking around out back. Your ruler and his or her aides are escaping on their own! They’re sending the rest of you into an unwinnable battle to keep themselves safe!!”
“My little sister’s in the shelter. She has asthma and can’t run around much, but she has Level 3 Pyrokinesis, so she’s being used as the ignition for our fighting force! She can’t leave with everyone gathered around her like that!!”
“You’re kidding, right? You aren’t actually Tsuchimikado, are you?”
“Argh. If you really care about your family, then grab your sister’s hand and get the hell out of here. With the pillar of your resistance force gone, everyone with the water guns will be forced to retreat. Betray them all to save them all. If you don’t want to regret this, then get going! Hurry!!”
Kamijou slapped the boy’s back to send him off and then slowly exhaled with Mikoto still in his arms.
Then he spoke.
“Let’s gather the attention of those Spider bastards. Helping the shelter win is a lost cause, so let’s focus on giving them a clean loss so they can retreat. That’s how we can save their lives.”
“I get that, but what exactly do we do?” asked Adult Luca with her clothes stretched tight in places.
Kamijou pointed at her large breasts. No, he pointed at the leather belts emphasizing them like a waitress’s suspenders. Needless to say, he was focused on what the belts held: her pirate musket, the skull container of gunpowder, and the bullet case modeled after an arm bone.
“They’re hunting the weapons we have. Luca, you don’t actually have to fire the gun. Can you detonate the gunpowder to make it sound like gunfire? It can be something as primitive as a mosquito coil, but you should be able to delay the detonation to create a safe decoy.”
As she responded, the girl in a thick naval coat and bikini reached for the skull container on her belt. She hopped a bit to shake the container at her hip.
“Since the shelter is primarily using flamethrowers, there should be embers all over the place, right?”
They had a plan.
But then a roar much like a large sheet striking the air passed by overhead.
They looked up and saw multiple transport helicopters using thick wires to carry a giant cylindrical device that looked a lot like a tunnel boring machine.
“They’re headed elsewhere,” said Fran.
“Dammit,” cursed Kamijou. “District 11 is that way.”
And given Useful Spider’s current actions, a very troubling possibility came to mind. They were in the process of hunting down all weapons.
“This is bad. If we don’t do anything, they’ll confiscate and scrap the A.A.A.!!”
Frigid moonlight fell on one of many high-rise building rooftops.
Overhead, several transport helicopters used wires to carry a large fan known as the Breath of Blessing, but on that rooftop, a thin man in a shabby work uniform faced the ruler of the city.
“How do you do, Board Chairman?”
“Yes, yes. Don’t worry. I don’t mind at all if you don’t recognize me or remember my name. In fact, just being some faceless person helps me represent the will of all such invisible people.”
This was the pathetic man who had been lifted up as the ruler of Trial in a certain park but was ultimately nearly executed by the very people of that shelter. And that faceless person was hiding nothing. He was not sealing away his true power and he was not deceiving everyone with an act. That such a pathetic man could meet face-to-face with the head of Academy City held great meaning.
This was something Academy City’s #2 had once failed to accomplish, but this perfectly ordinary man had proved it was possible for anyone.
The “human” kept this target in a position where he could be killed at any moment.
“What do you want with this city?”
“Surely someone of your intelligence already knows.” The work uniform man made it sound simple. “I’m not a very useful pawn, so you can’t accomplish much of anything whether you kill me here or do anything else with me. Otherwise, you wouldn’t even be meeting me face-to-face like this. No, I was never thinking of anything as frightening as defying you.”
He was not like Group or Item where bizarre talents gathered. He was even lower than the Hound Dogs or Scavengers who reported directly to the Board of Directors. He was part of an organization that was often sent out to clean up after the Kihara family or someone else made a mess.
“But the thing about history is, none of that really matters. Seemingly trivial things can have surprisingly large effects. If it hadn’t been so hot or it hadn’t rained, they say Nobunaga would have lost his very first battle.”
When making water overflow from a cup, only a fool would turn the faucet on full blast. The clever person would wait until someone else had filled it with water until the surface tension was about to break and then they would put in a single drop themselves. Preparing the environment like that was the only way for an unimportant person to set history in motion.
To repeat, he was just one of the masses. He was a faceless person who no one would remember. Normally, he could never accomplish something that Academy City’s #2 monster had failed at.
Then who was it that had filled the cup full of water?
“This is catastrophe you brought on yourself,” announced the man. “The key to disaster prevention is prediction and avoidance, not recovery after the fact. In that way, your sin was negligence. Someone with your intelligence should have predicted this. Both the appearance of the Elements and the unnatural heat wave used to combat them.”
“You knew it was coming, but you overlooked it. All for your own goal. Then that is a sin. All I did was place a single drop in the cup you had filled to the brim.”
“I see. In other words…”
“Unlike you, I don’t stand out and I have no grand ambitions. If I had control of the recovery, I could probably build a system to my liking, but wanting that is only natural. Everyone wants a society in which they need not fear disaster. And to that end, I want to stand in front of the leader who stood idly by and let disaster strike. That’s all this is. And there’s no real need for an empty person like me to take that role.”
“Boring, isn’t it? But that pointless crap can become the crack that ultimately shatters grand ambitions. You should be more aware that it is the great men who build the world, but it is the normal people who gradually distort that world.”
Several more helicopters passed by overhead. Those crude hunks of metal would have been defeated in the blink of an eye if water, gas, and electricity still circulated through Academy City like blood, but now several of those devices were carried out to the city.
“Disasters are full of superstition and jinxes. When a powerful earthquake hits, people say the dolphins predicted it and it was the work of an earthquake weapon. When a hurricane hits land, people say it was redirected by a government bombing experiment and it was spreading chemtrail chemicals. Countless rumors will spread as if people want to dramatize the tragic situation.”
The Breath of Blessing devices had originally been designed to artificially alter the wind direction and redirect toxic smoke away from densely populated areas when a dangerous chemical fire began in an Academy City laboratory. But the current situation made it clear that nonlethal firefighting usage was only an excuse for the paperwork. And the process that led to that excessively powerful machine’s development was exactly what this faceless person had to fight.
“Disaster situations are extremely dangerous, so the people must be disarmed. …That is another superstition with no basis behind it, but no one can shake it. The thing is, Aleister, we are fighting people like you so we can let go of those things.”
He had likely said what he wanted to say.
At the very least, that “human” decided he had.
The frigid rooftop echoed with the sound of something wet being crushed.
Aleister did not even bother watching as the remains of a man slowly collapsed backwards without even uttering a scream. There was no more information there. It was impossible to tell with his head thoroughly crushed, but that faceless person had likely been smiling even as a corpse.
Adult Luca’s black powder had been even more effective than hoped, so Useful Spider’s attention had gathered elsewhere long enough for the shelter students to escape safely.
“Dammit, Luca! Did you really have to throw the ‘firecracker’ there!? They probably captured the ruler and his or her aides who had already escaped!!”
“I’d really prefer you called that a clever plan.”
For some reason, the hoodie bikini girl and the feathered pirate hat and eyepatch girl exchanged a high five. Kamijou really wished he could ask Kamisato how he had scolded these girls.
Several large fans had been carried to District 11 while they secretly assisted the Esper shelter, but there was nothing they could do about that. Even if they had stopped helping and focused on that, they could not have reached the airborne transport helicopters.
Kamijou did his best to find something to be positive about.
“Are they really going to check though the entire container yard?”
“What do you mean?”
He heard the quiet sound of scraping metal. With the wind attack finally over, Fran had unzipped her hoodie again. The bright skin from her flat chest to below her navel came into view. She did not seem aware of the youthful allure she was exuding, so she tilted her head with unreadable eyes.
“They keep talking about the 48 Hours to Restore Order. By the way, Fran, do you know what time it is now?”
“Just before 2 in the morning. A fair bit of time has passed.”
“If Useful Spider is serious about that, then they only have about a day left. Meanwhile, it would take months to check through everything in that distribution base’s container yard. They’ll run right through their limit if they perform a real search.”
“Then why did they send a unit to District 11…?”
“If they’re trying to confiscate weapons, they don’t actually have to inspect all the containers. They just have to seal off the entire container yard and keep everyone out. That would take far less time than checking through each and every one of those hundreds or thousands of containers.”
In that case, Kamijou and the girls’ efforts had not been in vain.
In fact, staying in District 11 with the A.A.A. might have left them surrounded by Useful Spider and unable to do anything.
Fran puffed out her soft-looking cheeks.
“But we need that hunk of junk to save Kamisato-chan.”
“I know that.”
They had avoided being surrounded, but now they could not reach the A.A.A. which was the key to rescuing Kamisato. They knew Useful Spider’s firepower all too well after supporting that shelter. They felt like they might be blasted out of the solar system if they faced those things head-on.
But Kamijou had an idea.
“Let’s make an attack of our own.”
“You mean carry a gun into a container yard full of soldiers?” asked Luca who was back to her normal size now that the threat was gone. “Are we supposed to pray for the cavalry to show up???”
Kamijou shook his head.
“No, not that. I don’t know where Useful Spider’s base is, but even they’ll have to call in their other pieces if their king is about to be taken. If we attack their headquarters, the forces out in District 11 will fall back. If we can make them panic like that, a hole should open in their defense of the container yard.
Fran and Luca exchange a glance.
And then they spoke with exasperation in their voices.
“Isn’t that the same thing as saying you’re afraid of the hornet in front of you so you’re going to go destroy the entire hive?”
“It looks like you’re avoiding them, but you’re not actually avoiding anything.”
Yes, no matter what, they could not avoid a fight with Useful Spider. It felt like the entire world was working against Kamisato’s return, but Kamijou and the girls could not back down. That boy had saved their lives and he had asked Kamijou to take care of the girls, so Kamijou could not let Kihara Yuiitsu manipulate them any longer.
But they also had to worry about Mikoto.
They traveled on foot to carry her from eastern District 11 to the hospital in District 7. On the way, they came across some of Useful Spider’s attempts to collect weapons. They would hear the rumbling of buildings being torn down and they would see transport helicopters fly by overhead.
“You can’t save them all.”
“I know that.”
“But you’re still going to try, aren’t you!? I can’t believe you!”
There was not much he could do, but he still called the cornered boys and girls into a back alley, passed them an L-shaped crowbar, told them to climb into a manhole, and otherwise helped them evacuate.
Several times, they saw fortresses crumbling from the winds of the giant fans.
Just like government officials using heavy equipment to tear down the people’s cheap barracks in the name of recovery, the sight demonstrated a disconnect between utility and happiness.
Once the wreckage was cleared and a clean street was built, there would be shiny new shops lined up on either side, but that would distract everyone from how many people had been huddled together and living there.
Kamijou felt more emptiness than he did simple anger.
The trip took about 3 hours. By the time they arrived at the hospital, the black of the heavens had grown into a purple and orange gradation.
It was just past 5 in the morning.
Mikoto was still fast asleep, so they left her with the frog-faced doctor. Only then did Kamijou breathe a sigh of relief. He may have had no real reason to relax as he watched Mikoto carted away on a stretcher, but getting her to a specialized medical facility still meant a lot.
He could only trust in that doctor for now.
He wanted to stay here until she woke up. He wanted do that to give himself a secure footing of true relief.
But he could not.
He could not waste the opportunity she had given him.
He took a deep breath and then let it out.
His mind continued to boil, but it was still manageable. He could keep going. He forced himself to think that and then focused on removing his gaze from the door to the treatment room.
There was something he had to do.
Luca was leaning against the wall and taking a quick nap with her small mouth hanging open and Fran was sitting in hospital hallway while peering at the small screen in her hand.
“This is a hospital. You’re not supposed to use communication equipment.”
She gave the smallest possible acknowledgment.
Since she kept tugging down the bottom of her hoodie while sitting on the bench, her legs may have been cold and she may not have gotten much sleep. He had heard that cooling off one’s legs would help you stay awake when you had to pull an all-nighter studying.
When Kamijou looked at the screen too, the hoodie bikini girl finally explained.
“I’m checking on the paths of all of the transport helicopters. It looks like most of the shelters were taken out, but the ones without any weapons or that handed them over at the first warning were left untouched.”
Come to think of it, the hospital was fine. That may have been a benefit of using the glass devices to divert the Elements with supersonic waves instead of fighting them.
“You can tell all that?”
“Don’t underestimate the grassroots reporting network set up between the neutral rulers. Haven’t you heard that civilian apps were capturing the supposedly secret routes of government planes?”
Fran may have known so much about this because there was another reporting network that took a step further and tracked UFOs. Kamijou did not expect much, but she was free to talk about her dreams while looking at the app.
The hoodie bikini girl manipulated the screen to draw a few straight lines on the map. She had likely gathered and visualized the helicopter sightings nervously sent in by the rulers of shelters across the city. It was a matter of life or death for them too, so they likely wanted as much information as possible about this new concern. There would be no hierarchy and everyone was actively uploading the information.
Not all of them were supporters of Fran who was essentially a wanted criminal. But since the hoodie bikini girl was borrowing other people’s Spheres, he doubted she was using her own name. But her presence as a key station was still slowly growing. Whether neutral or opposed, a lot of rulers would act if she needed it.
The lines on the map were clearly radiating from a single point.
That would be Useful Spider’s headquarters.
“District 21… That’s the mountainous region. There’s a dam and astronomical observatory there.”
“There is a largescale meteorological observatory as well. It has a Doppler radar dome on the top, so it must have thick electromagnetic shielding to protect the staff and equipment from its own powerful microwaves.”
“You mean the giant fans, transport helicopters, and their weapons were hidden there? That would explain why they weren’t destroyed by your heat wave.”
“If Useful Spider was originally established for disaster relief, it makes sense for them to belong to a meteorological observatory that can predict a coming disaster.”
That settled it.
If they attacked there, the excess forces guarding District 11’s container yard would fall back to the headquarters. That would be the shortest path to reaching the A.A.A.
“But, but. District 21 and District 11 are far apart,” pointed out Fran. “It will take hours to travel from the mountain to the container yard, so won’t the commotion have died down by the time we arrive?”
“We don’t have to do it in real time, right? We set off a ‘firecracker’ with a primitive time delay earlier, remember? Since we have Luca who can use gunpowder, let’s scare them with an even bigger explosion this time. If we set it up in the mountains, walk back toward the container yard, and then detonate it, we can sneak in while they’re out of District 11.”
“You can be really cruel.”
“I wonder why? Maybe it’s because of that movie I saw.”
Just like with the analysis of the A.A.A.’s magical symbols and creating the actual spatial distortion tunnel, Pirate Girl Luca was the key to all of this. They needed that girl who was currently napping with her back against the wall, her small mouth hanging open, and drool about to drip out.
Luca woke up at just past 6. She had not even gotten a full hour of sleep. And since they had spent almost a full day walking through the streets filled with rubble and white sand without any preparation, that was not very much.
The real reason she had woken up was the delicious smell wafting through the air.
“Yawwwn… Whaaat? I smell miso soup… But I always eat toast and salad in the morning.”
She must have been half asleep still because she muttered below her breath while rubbing her eye with one hand.
“Wait just a damn second.”
“Did you just open and close that black rose eyepatch? What, so it’s a fashion eyepatch? That doesn’t affect the path of an artist at all! If you don’t have the courage to truly live the one-eyed life, don’t wear an eyepatch in the first place!!”
“I’m really not sure what you’re so angry about…”
“A fashion eyepatch is as bad as culottes pretending to be a skirt!!”
With water hard to come by in Academy City, the hand wipes given out at convenience stores were surprisingly useful. They were wrapped in plastic bags, so their moisture had not been lost during the heat wave. Their disposable nature was a problem, but with enough of them, Kamijou managed to wash his face.
When they went to the cardboard house area out front to get some food, they found the high-class girls were conserving ingredients by eating simpler meals. The main dish was white rice with pork miso soup and the side dish was a few pickled vegetables.
“With this and the curry yesterday, they’re using a lot of vegetables. I wonder where they got them from.”
“Just like yesterday, I bet they used an esper to freeze them for storage.”
“Bfff! Cough, cough!! I forgot all the water here was girl juices!!!!!”
“It’s not like they’re gathering the moisture from the air around the girls or taking it directly from the girls’ bodies, so does that really matter?”
“Why are you more used to Academy City than I am…?”
Kamijou overcame the mental hurdle by interpreting it as “water retrieved with a special method”. If he thought of it like well water floating up with Psychokinesis instead of in a bucket, it was not a problem…he hoped.
After Luca finished mechanically moving her mouth, her mind seemed to finally shift into gear, so they began their strategy meeting.
They were attacking the Useful Spider headquarters in the mountains of District 21 to draw the excess forces away from the container yard in District 11. The two districts were far apart, so they would set up a time bomb to detonate by the time they were approaching District 11.
“A timed detonator is a lot like a wire trap in that you can’t predict who will notice it before it detonates, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
It was 7:30 AM before they left.
They had missed their chance at a nighttime or early morning attack, but they could not wait any longer. Since Useful Spider was fixated on the idea of the 48 Hours to Restore Order, it was unlikely they would search through all of the containers, but there was still a possibility they would suddenly inspect them.
Kamijou’s group needed to retrieve the contents as soon as possible.
“So we’re on foot again today.”
“Fran, how about we make him carry whichever one of us wins a game of rock-paper-scissors?”
“Deal. Let’s replay the game every wind turbine we pass.”
“Stop that! You don’t get to decide that without my input! And I’m definitely not carrying that rabbit alien when she’s wearing a giant backpack full of machinery!! What is with all that? Are you an old peddler woman!?”
“I can shrink my body to reduce the weight. What age do you want? 10? 5? How much can you carry?”
“That’s not the issue! And if I carry you, I’ll touch you with my right hand and you’ll return to normal!!”
They left while continuing to argue.
They still did not know if Mikoto would be okay, but they could not stay any longer.
Once they left the hospital grounds, they heard a high-pitched engine. It was lighter than a normal car and more like a scooter, a lawnmower, or a chainsaw. Kamijou’s shoulders naturally tensed. The only people with running engines in the powerless city were Useful Spider.
But that guess was wrong.
A few small vehicles passed them by. Instead of men in military-looking uniforms, they were carrying normal boys and girls wearing swimsuits and coats. The vehicles were not cars or motorcycles. They looked like toy carts with an engine attached.
A large helicopter circled overhead.
“To allow people and supplies to travel more smoothly, Useful Spider has begun a motor sharing service. This only applies to Academy City rules and to 50cc AT carts which are classified the same as mopeds, but if you are interested, feel free to visit one of the 152 cooperating gas stations.”
When Kamijou observed their surroundings again, he realized the sounds of engines had returned to the streets of rubble and white sand which had been deadly silent before. He could not completely celebrate this turn of events and it was quite dangerous with the traffic lights still out, but seeing the carts driving through a large intersection was an emotional experience even for a boy who never traveled by car.
In addition to the carts, there were a lot more people walking around than the day before. And they had not been driven out by rioting or suppression. Kamijou even exchanged a nod with an old man out walking his fat dog.
“The recovery is at least making progress.”
That should have been obvious, but this was no longer looking like the front for a wicked plot. He could not deny that it was probably a way increasing the entire organization’s reputation, but it did not seem like it directly benefited Useful Spider in any way.
Even so, he had to fight them.
Even if they were not trying to, he could not let them steal the original A.A.A. which was the key to rescuing Kamisato.
Still armed with her cutlass and musket, Luca made a suggestion with a mischievous look in her eye.
“I don’t like taking help from the enemy, but it wouldn’t make sense not to use it, right?”
“Let’s use one of those carts. I’m licensed for anything up to a mid-sized motorcycle.”
With that in mind, they visited a nearby gas station, crammed all three of them into a cart the size of a one-person sofa, and set off. That said, Kamijou and Fran were sticking outside of the cart while holding onto the roll bar passing over the driver’s seat.
“I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared!!”
“Don’t worry, I’m taking into account how wide this makes us. You won’t get your head taken off unless there’s a roadside tree with a weird branch or a bent signpost.”
“You’re going too fast!! Aren’t you driving at highway speeds here!?”
“We have three people and the engine is 50cc just like a moped, so there’s no way it can go that fast. It’s just low to the ground, so it feels faster. …Maybe I should lower my apparent age to lighten the load a little.”
However, they could not remain too optimistic because the recovery process was still underway in Academy City. There were piles of rubble and white sand all over the place, the sand blown thinly across the road could make it slippery, and the traffic lights were still out. And since they had three people crammed into a single-person cart, it was poorly balanced. Every intersection was a risk and the small tires often screeched and slipped at the curves.
“Sorry, but if I piss myself, it’ll get all over you in this position.”
“Do that and I really will throw you off!!”
Meanwhile, they left District 7 and approached the mountains of District 21.
“Huh? This isn’t the route I took when I came here before.”
“You expect me to know my way around Academy City? No matter where we enter the mountain, we’ll find the meteorological observatory if we get to the top, right?”
As they climbed the winding road up the mountain, their speed visibly dropped and the lawnmower-like engine screamed in protest, but it somehow managed to conquer the mountain.
“There we go.”
Luca stopped the cart at a midway station area that was likely a common point on the way to a number of landmarks: the dam, the astronomical observatory, the campground, etc. There were no other people traveling around here, so the area was deserted. The small shop and snack corner were untouched.
“If we’re going to attack, we can’t approach with this engine roaring, so we’ll have to go on foot from here.”
“Brr. The wind is pretty chilly…”
The hoodie bikini girl gave the takoyaki and yakisoba banners a bitter glare, but there was nothing they could do when the shop was not open.
“We just got some food.”
“It’s already 9. That wasn’t ‘just’.”
According to the map in the parking lot, the meteorological observatory was near the peak. Luca had prioritized safety, so they still had a ways to go.
“A pirate really shouldn’t have to hike through the mountains. Let’s hope that isn’t an ill omen.”
“Stop it, Fran,” said Kamijou. “Don’t pout your lips in my direction.”
“You’re only worn out because you’re carrying all that crap! Are you going to make me pay for your poor choices? Besides, what happened to that UFO balloon of yours!?”
“That is busy with something else right now. So carry me.”
But when Fran clung to him and he forcibly shook her off of him, she sat right smack in the middle of the road and refused to move, so he had no choice but to take emergency measures. With Fran on his back her swollen backpack on her back, they climbed the mountain path like a triple scoop of ice cream.
“Gh!? A-a girl isn’t supposed to be so heavy.”
“Nmh. So warm.”
“W-w-well, that’s good I guess.”
“But this sudden warmth is causing a stirring in my lower stomach…”
Carrying a swimsuit girl would normally bring to mind a number of thoughts, such as the chest on his back or the thighs and butt on his hands, but Kamijou was struggling too much to think about anything like that. He learned the hard way the lesson of the Konaki-jiji and the Onbu-obake: People could destroy themselves by acting on emotion and taking on someone else’s burden.
Simply walking up the asphalt road would leave them with nowhere to hide if a car drove down from the meteorological observatory, so they always paid attention to whether there was a convenient thicket around and worked to run through the dangerous areas. Even so, it took a lot longer than walking normally.
“Is that it…?” asked Kamijou.
It was 2 or 3 hours since they had abandoned the cart, so the sun had risen high into the sky.
“Looks like it.”
“Then I’m finally putting you down, Fran.”
In the distant green of the chilly conifer trees, they saw a giant sphere made from flat pentagons or hexagons like a soccer ball. It resembled the antenna on the rabbit-ear antennae girl’s butt. That would be the meteorological observatory. There were a few single-story buildings below it. They were made of whitish reinforced concrete and they would either be lodging facilities for staff or analysis facilities for the data gathered by the Doppler radar.
Pirate Girl Luca peered through a retro collapsible telescope.
“Yeah, they’re there all right. I see some dangerous people with their jackets swelling out unnaturally. We were right not to approach with the engine roaring.”
“But you saw what happened in the city last night. All of those helicopters and giant fans wouldn’t fit in those single-story buildings.”
“Then they must have something underground. That sounds like somewhere the Elements would have attacked, but this is a meteorological observatory complete with radar dome.”
He was not sure what Fran was trying to say. If he asked her, he expected her to demand he carry her some more in exchange, so he got straight to the point.
“Luca, we don’t have to wipe out Useful Spider. We only have to make them feel threatened enough to gather their other units back here. Do you see anywhere we can attack pretty easily?”
“Wait just a second… There are few storehouses and tanks on the outer edges. We might be able to reach those without going too far in. And it doesn’t look like there’s anyone there, so we wouldn’t have to worry about blowing someone up and leaving a bad taste in our mouths.”
“That settles it then.”
They could not exactly approach on the asphalt road, so they climbed up the slope which was reinforced with concrete to prevent falling rocks. Then they entered the forest and slowly approached the grounds of the observatory. It would normally have been impossible to sneak into a fortress protected by security cameras and patrolling guards.
But Luca had spotted a small building outside the fence.
The guards patrolled the fence line, so they only observed this area from there and would not walk out this far. The security cameras were positioned so high that the tree branches were in the way. And even right outside the fence, the forest was quite thick. Any wires or infrared beams would be constantly tripped by wild animals.
“Just to be sure, I sent that into the forest ahead of us, but it didn’t trigger any alarms and no one came to check on it.”
“Fran, what do you mean by ‘that’?”
When Kamijou asked his question, a round unidentified lifeform poked its head through the gaps in the trees. No, it was Fran’s UFO balloon.
“Is this what you said it was busy with earlier?”
“There was more to it than that,” answered Pirate Girl Luca.
She retrieved a glass cylinder the size of a relay baton that was taped to the side of the low-altitude balloon.
Kamijou caught on when he saw the black powder inside it.
“…So that’s your handmade bomb.”
“I’d be afraid what would happen in a surprise attack from Ellen and the others if I was carrying it with me. And Fran’s balloon won’t have machine trouble and crash like some cheap drone.”
There seemed to be a few spares just in case, but they left those on the balloon. The balloon would be spotted if it flew high into the sky, so they had Bunny Grey’s vehicle wait in the forest.
The small building was made from concrete blocks and the door was kept shut with chains and a lock, but Fran’s tool knife came in handy there.
But Kamijou was dumbfounded when they opened the door.
“What the hell? It’s full of propane tanks. Did they build up some emergency reserves because the city gas pipes don’t reach up here!?”
“That’s perfect. This will make some nice big fireworks.”
Luca pulled a glass cylinder from her naval coat. It was the one she had retrieved from the balloon before. It was slightly longer and thicker than a relay baton and it was filled with black powder.
“How are you going to time the detonation?”
“If you don’t want any trouble getting into college or getting a job, you’re better off not knowing.”
The girl in a pirate hat and eyepatch stepped into the propane base. She crouched down near the large gray tanks like the ones seen behind a restaurant and she started doing something.
At any rate, this was one location.
They needed to put on an even bigger show if Useful Spider was to mistake it for an enemy attack and call all their units back here. Luckily, there were other small buildings and large tanks outside the fence, so they could circle the fence and set up bombs at the other spots.
But just as Kamijou was thinking that, something hit him from behind.
By the time he realized Fran’s small body had tackled him, he had rolled inside the propane base. The girl was unathletic and could not climb onto something higher than her waist, but the overstuffed backpack had given an odd weight to the blow.
The rabbit-ear antennae girl softly shut the door with her back to it. She seemed worried that the latch would make a noise.
“Things are oddly noisy outside. They clearly aren’t following the previous patrol pattern.”
“Eh? Are you sure they didn’t find your balloon in the forest?”
Luca had been crouching down and working with her back to them, but now she was trembling. When Kamijou had fallen, his cheek had hit something noticeably soft even through the naval coat. He was definitely keeping it a secret that it was her round butt, but that did not seem to be her problem.
“…I dropped it.”
“I dropped the bomb. Because you suddenly ran into me from behind.”
Perhaps to assist drainage, the floor was gently sloped in one direction and a gutter covered with steel grating ran along the wall.
It had fallen in there.
What had? Why, the relay baton full of black powder of course.
“I said shh!”
“Wh-wh-wh-what do I do, what do I do? I can’t get it. My hand doesn’t fit. I already broke the seal, so I can’t stop it. What do we do? We need to get out of here. I don’t want to be the idiot who’s blown to kingdom come by her own bomb…”
Kamijou was sandwiched between Luca’s butt in front of him and Fran’s chest on his back, but the hoodie bikini girl finally removed her marshmallow-soft hand from his mouth.
“Pwah. Calm down, Luca. We have to get from District 21 to District 11, so the limit has to be several hours. We just have to leave before then.”
“But things look pretty bad outside,” said Fran.
“Then get off of me, Fran. I’m beginning to think you’re more like a koala than a rabbit.”
They were still lying in a pile, but Kamijou crawled toward the metal door and cracked it open.
When he peeked out, he found Useful Spider was indeed acting oddly. There was no loud siren like for an air raid, but the area beyond the fence was as frenzied as a disturbed hornet’s nest. A lot of the men were reaching inside their swollen jackets and pulling out shiny black objects.
“What? They didn’t find us, did they?”
If so, the propane base would be surrounded or Useful Spider would abandon the building and blow it up with a single grenade like in an FPS. Kamijou had to wonder why disaster relief experts were equipped so heavily. Were they also tasked with fighting giant kaiju?
Whatever the case, there was one main point.
“They’ve upped their security and we don’t know their patrol pattern. If we carelessly head out now, we’ll be spotted right away,” tearfully explained Luca. “But the bomb I dropped in the grating will detonate in two and a half hours. …If we don’t figure something out before then, we might all become new stars twinkling in the night sky.”
A girl’s dry and scratchy voice trembled below the Windowless Building.
In the Tyrant’s kingdom, one could lose their head if the rustling of their clothes was deemed irritating. Several gazes pleaded her to stop, but Raincoat Salome stared up at Kihara Yuiitsu.
Just as an arm buried in snow for long periods would lose all feeling, the one-armed girl’s fear may have faded.
And Yuiitsu readily answered without seeming to give it much thought.
“This is an experiment.”
“Due to certain circumstances, I must become a unique Kihara that surpasses my teacher. But the problem is how exactly to determine I have surpassed him.”
She was not hoping the girl would understand.
She did not even bother explaining the most basic information.
“The simplest method would be with some monumental achievement, but then what project could no other Kihara hope to achieve? That would be annoyingly difficult.” She shrugged. “But then I found it.”
“All of you. You are constantly faced with my unreasonable orders, but you are finally starting to work toward avoiding that fear. Just like a cat that falls in the bath will start avoiding anywhere with water. You’ve noticed that the look on my face can free you from that labyrinth of fear, haven’t you? That can also be seen as transplanting Kihara-esque behavior patterns, can’t it? You hate me, fear me, and abhor me more than anyone, but you are gradually growing more like me. By contacting and coming to understand an abnormality like me, you grow to become something similar but not quite like me.”
It was a lot like a famous experiment in which people were divided into a group of guards and a group of prisoners.
When placed in a special environment, people would accept special roles.
The girls felt the fear and pressure of having something more important than their life taken from them if they disobeyed, and that was squeezing at their hearts more oppressively than prison walls.
“The thinly-spread thought patterns that become like my own in order to curry my favor will eventually spread to cover the entirety of Academy City. Just like you fear me specifically, the residents of Academy City will fear you as a group. They will fear the royal guards who have been influenced by the tyrant’s genes. They will fear someone other than me.”
It sounded like a nightmare.
That truth only contained fear and pain and would bring happiness to no one.
“As the process repeats, it will spread like the rings of a baumkuchen or a tree. From Academy City to Tokyo, from Tokyo to Kantou, from Kantou to the Japanese Archipelago, from Japan to…who knows where. The thought patterns of a Kihara will change form like an amoeba and will surely become something that will surprise even me. As word spreads from person to person, aspects will be lost or exaggerated again and again.”
“In the end, every last person on the planet will be remade into someone who fears the Kiharas but is a part of the Kiharas. You could say it is an experiment that goes beyond a society of mutual surveillance and forms a society of mutual crime. In that society, people will be comfortable dirtying their hands because they know their neighbors are all doing the same thing. The Kihara inside all of you will not be the same as the one inside me. This will endlessly create new Kiharas. Surely that qualifies as a great achievement no other Kihara has ever come close to matching. As long as we are defined as a family of bizarre scientists, no Kihara – not even sensei – can grow beyond being the minority.”
“More importantly, if the 6 or 7 billion people on the planet all become Kiharas, not even Aleister’s Archetype Controller can reach us. He has the power to divide portions of mankind and pit them against each other as he pleases, but when west and east, northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere, capitalists and socialists, and every other division have the common factor of being Kiharas, we’ll all be the same. It is a fear of Kihara that is not quite the same as being unique. It’s like being divided yet indivisible. It creates a world where abandoning the Kiharas means to destroy all of mankind. Then no matter how ugly and cruel our actions become, we will have become a bad majority that can never be removed. Yes, it’s perfect. Although between good and bad, it’s bad, and between like and dislike, it’s dislike☆”
The bomb was meant as a diversion. The explosion at Useful Spider’s headquarters was meant to not kill anyone yet convince them they were under attack and thus needed to call back their other units for defense. That included the ones guarding District 11’s container yard where the original A.A.A. slept. Kamijou’s group wanted to avoid wasting that.
They also very much wanted to avoid failing to disarm the bomb they set up themselves and being blown up without anyone ever knowing. That would bring into question why they were even there in the first place. Kamijou wanted to believe he had not been born to meet an end like that.
So they naturally wanted to escape outside as soon as possible, but…
“Dammit. It’s like a giant scramble crossing out there. What are they so afraid of?”
He did not know how many times this made it, but Kamijou clicked his tongue as he observed the scene outside through the cracked door.
Fran was looking at the small screen connected to her backpack by the curly cord of a home phone.
“It’s 2 PM… An hour has passed.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Can’t we turn their attention away from here?”
“You mean fire Luca’s musket, or throw her cutlass out there? Either way, their attention would turn toward where it came from, not where it hit. That would only make this worse.”
“What about your balloon? Didn’t it have spare bombs on it?”
“If I could do that, I already would have. These cheap concrete blocks were forcibly reinforced with a net of steel wires, so it’s deflecting the signal and I can’t contact the balloon.”
She must have felt responsible because Luca continued her attack on the gutter running along the wall of the propane base. She tried getting on all fours and sticking her hand through the metal grating and she tried lifting up the grating itself, but none of it was going well.
“Hey, Luca. You can change your apparent age by controlling your subjective age, right? Why not turn into a little kid for skinnier hands and fingers?”
“I already am, I already am. But that doesn’t seem to be the problem…”
Both girls got down on all fours and tried to get through the metal grating over the gutter. However, Luca had shrunk to age 10 with her clothes staying the same, so her naval coat and swimsuit were falling off in places, making it a dangerous view. It was strange how bright her skin looked.
The cylinder was right there, but none of them could touch it.
Fed up with it all, the hoodie bikini girl finally stood up.
“We have no choice…”
“That’s using old-fashioned black powder, right? Just like with fireworks, get it damp and it won’t work anymore. Our hands might not reach, but if we pee on it from above, we can kill it!”
“Wait, Fran! Let’s talk about your dignity as a girl before you resolutely squat down there!!”
“Not to mention that it’s covered in glass, so you can’t get it damp from the outside.”
“Kh. Can’t you stick your cutlass through the grating and break it?”
“A shock like that would set it off. It’s kind of a miracle it didn’t burst when I dropped it.”
“I swallowed my shame and resolved myself, so why did you have to make something so unnecessarily perfect, Luca!?”
For some reason, the black rose eyepatch pirate girl averted her gaze. She returned her physical age to normal and repeatedly poked her index fingers together in front of her growing chest. And then the honest idiot confessed.
“B-because you said I was the key to the plan. When you look at me with so much expectation in your eyes, of course I’m going to try extra hard…”
“God, why do you have to go the extra mile at the worst possible time!?”
Luca staggered like the UFO girl had stabbed her, so Kamijou supported her shoulders from behind without even thinking. If he had not, the trembling pirate girl might very well have started crying.
Meanwhile, time passed.
“Let’s make a decision,” began Kamijou. “We can’t get the bomb out of the gutter no matter how hard we try. Staying here will only get us blown up. Nothing we do will change that.”
“Uuh… Someone bury me in some damp dirt far away from anyone else.”
“Don’t get so down, Luca. You did a good job.”
“But if we go outside, Useful Spider will find us and turn us into Swiss cheese. And the more noticeable a diversion we try, the more attention we’ll draw to ourselves.”
“That’s only for visible trouble.”
Kamijou slowly exhaled and then pointed his thumb toward the gray tanks filling the small building.
“Those are full of propane. That’s heavier than air. Let’s move one near the door and send gas out through the crack. Once it’s flowed past the fence, we just need to throw out a spark. Luca.”
“It’s too soon to cry. We need one of your bullets. Fire one shot at the ground past the fence to create a spark and this will probably all work out. So wipe away the tears and snot and face forward.”
“Gas is invisible,” pointed out Fran. “We have no way of knowing how far it has spread. Depending on the terrain and wind direction, it could stay here without flowing toward the observatory, so we might just blow ourselves up.”
“Of course. But if we don’t do anything, there’s a 100% chance we’ll be blown up along with this building. Which do you want to bet on?”
They were quick to take action.
They freed one of the gray tanks held in place by thick chains and latches, they tilted it diagonally, and they rolled it toward the door along the edge of the cylinder’s bottom. It was about as tall as Fran. Since it was also a thick pressure-resistant container, it was even heavier than it looked.
After getting it near the door, they laid it fully on its side. To more efficiently move the heavy object, Luca had increased her physical age to give herself an adult body that left her clothes tight in places. She pointed the metal opening meant for a hose toward the cracked door and Kamijou slowly turned the valve.
They heard a sinister sound much like a hissing snake.
The invisible danger squeezed at their hearts with a different sort of pressure from an obvious knife or gun.
“D-do you smell a weird scent getting in here?”
“You’re imagining it.”
“Hmm. I can almost smell it…maybe.”
“Stop it, Fran. You’ll trick yourself through self-suggestion.”
If he was being honest, not even Kamijou knew how much gas they were supposed to send out. Too little and it would not work, but too much and it could be too powerful and kill some of the people running around beyond the fence. In fact, the explosion could even blow him and the girls away.
It was all guesswork.
Would someone’s palms be this sweaty if they were thrown into a self-serve gas station in a foreign country where they could not read any of the warnings?
They did not have time to run several smaller experiments to build up experience. With his fingers on the valve, Kamijou spoke to the rabbit-ear antennae girl, the only one who knew the time.
“Fran, how are we doing on time?”
“It’s been half an hour since last time.”
“You’re kidding. So we have less than an hour?”
Lamenting would not solve anything. And with nothing else to go on, he felt like that “one hour mark” was a sign. He turned the valve to cut off the flow of gas and they rolled the tank away from the door. It felt a lot lighter than when they had first struggled with it. He felt a chill run down his spine at the thought that they had overdone it, but there was no redoing it now.
“Luca. Count to 30 and then fire on the ground beyond the fence. The time gap should let the last bit of gas flow away from this building…I think. At the very least, it should be better than firing right away.”
“Will this really be okay…?”
“Either way, your musket is our only hope.”
“Yeah, you need to learn that flattering Luca like that is a bad idea,” complained the hoodie bikini girl.
But Kamijou ignored her and changed places with the pirate girl. Perhaps to endure the recoil, her clothes were tight once more.
“(…I get the feeling her swimsuit will burst apart from the recoil if she fires like that.)”
“You can’t hope for that to happen, Fran. We’re on the same side here.”
While standing in front of the cracked door, Luca grabbed the skull container attached to one of the belts she wore like a waitress’s suspenders. She shook it, and removed the cap with just her fingertips. The cap was like those for fabric softener and she used it to measure out enough gunpowder for one shot. She poured the black powder into the musket’s muzzle and compressed it with the thin stick held in the same scabbard as her cutlass.
She also slid a portion of the case shaped like an arm bone to pull out a round bullet like it was a mint tablet. She used the ramrod to push it down as well. From there, she held the gun just like in the movies. The highly varnished stock glistened with an amber light like an old violin as she pressed it against her shoulder, she pressed her cheek against the gun to peer through the sight, and she used her thumb to raise the flint hammer.
She focused on the imaginary line extending from the muzzle and whispered a warning in her college-aged body.
“You should cover your ears.”
Kamijou and Fran moved to obey in the small closed space, but something interrupted.
A large explosion knocked them over.
And that was no exaggeration.
While she stuck her gun out from the cracked door, Luca was struck by the metal door as it swung inwards and she was knocked backwards. Kamijou and Fran were not directly hit by the door, but the explosive noise entering through the doorway echoed off the concrete blocks again and again. The pressure was so great they nearly fainted.
As Fran tearfully curled up on the spot like a turtle, she shouted at the adult pirate girl whose clothes were coming off in places.
“No! The timing was off! That explosion wasn’t from the gas!”
The door had been torn from its hinges, so the scene outside was fully visible. The explosion had occurred at one of the single-story buildings further in, not on the ground just past the fence.
Luca lay sexily sprawled out on the ground after being hit by the blast and the musket in her hands was still loaded with the bullet and black powder.
Just as the pirate girl groaned and twisted her body, orange sparks burst from the muzzle with an earsplitting noise. The bullet bounced around the propane base like a pinball, but it was moving too fast to follow with the naked eye. This time, both Kamijou and Fran grabbed at the troublemaker of a pirate girl.
“Are you trying to kill us, you idiot!?”
“This is partly our fault for praising her too much,” said Fran. “A bit of contempt might be the better course of action with her.”
Meanwhile, more and more oddities arrived.
The unexplained explosions continued. A lot of the Useful Spider members were aiming upwards and firing their guns wildly. There was something in the sky, but Kamijou’s group could not tell what while indoors. And with someone else gathering so much attention, they no longer needed the propane.
Heading outside when the gunfire and explosions never seemed to end was more frightening than heading home from school in a downpour after lightning struck nearby. But this was their last train back. The situation was far from ideal, but they would not receive another chance.
The three of them made up their minds and headed outside while keeping low to the ground.
Something cut by overhead. They saw an unidentified flying object beyond the rustling tree branches.
The rabbit-ear antennae girl spoke another girl’s name.
“But why now?”
Kamijou did not know if it was true, but that girl claimed to be a ghost. She specialized in aerial surveillance and information warfare and she had caused them a lot of grief through the Spheres.
Had she identified Kamijou’s group or was she simply destroying all of the buildings?
They did not have long to think about it.
A large mass fell on the propane base they had been hiding in, so the many gas tanks and their bomb of love both contributed to a massive explosion.
Kamijou was literally thrown three meters when the blast hit his back.
They had been looking at it wrong.
Ellen, Maya, and the rest of the former Kamisato Faction had not put together a plan to specifically attack the meteorological observatory at the peak of that District 21 mountain.
They had simply attacked the individual Useful Spider bases around Academy City and pursued them into the mountain when they retreated.
For example, there was the girl cradling a bottle full of old 10 yen coins like it was a baby. She gave a report while smelling black smoke.
“I’m sure you’re piggybacking off of the nearby Spheres, but being able to use radios sure is convenient. This is Elza. I went too far and destroyed them, so we aren’t getting any hints from here. Sorry, but you’ll have to check with someone else.”
For example, there was a girl with countless thick squid or octopus tentacles covered in suckers growing from her back. Her bizarre beauty would drive anyone who saw her mad and she whispered her report.
“Milcah here. I have conquered the broadcast station in District 15. A few of the helicopters got away. You can use the direction in which they fled to work out the location of their headquarters.”
For example, there was a young wife in a swimsuit and apron. She shook the kind of shaker used by bartenders while her flushed face slowly swayed back and forth.
“This is Machina the Elemental Spirits Internal Summoner. I have conquered Bee Hoon Street in District 4. I brought down the giant fan before they could lift it up into the air. Hic. But I didn’t touch the unit that passed by overhead. It looked like they were flying west from District 11. …Myyyy circulation seems really good today. The salamander is running wild in my blood☆”
Fran had found the radiating pattern from the information uploaded through the Spheres, but these girls took a more direct route toward working out their enemy’s lair.
And they did not spend a long time preparing before making their attack. As the “modern” weapons obsessed girl (in other words, she was never too fixated on any one thing and continued updating her repertoire as time passed) Aileen moved the pieces on the game board, everything moved to match.
First, Ghost Girl Maya, whose existence was supported by the Censer drones, and Cosplay Girl Olivia, who flew through the sky on a magic wand equipped with a jet engine, bombed the headquarters as the first wave. Next, Killer Patissier Berry and Athlete Soldier Lemon arrived close enough on the ground to throw sugar javelins and hammer throw hammers along parabolic arcs that rained down on the headquarters. The explosions and shockwaves hid Mary’s wolf-like approach on all fours through the forest and Lime’s approach on a giant mechanical lizard. Before Useful Spider could fight back, they had trampled the fence around the observatory’s grounds and charged on in.
“Watch out for the Doppler radar. If they’ve cut the limiter and upped its output, it quickly becomes an anti-air electromagnetic weapon. It’s like a weaker version of Fran’s station, so focus on destroying it first.”
No one knew if this was really the right thing to do. For one thing, what qualified as “the right thing to do” in a military operation differed from country to country. This was a collection of obsessed girls who had essentially taken only the most attractive bits of each country’s standardized military. They were something like a theoretical “perfect fighter jet”, so it was uncertain if they would be of any practical use. The only reason it had not all fallen apart by this point was due to the great strength of the strange powers and abilities of the former Kamisato Faction’s 100 girls. Even if their commands did not quite match the situation before their eyes, they would each trample the enemy regardless.
Why had the former Kamisato Faction changed targets and started hunting down Useful Spider now?
“We want to use our information media to its fullest to hunt down Kamijou Touma, Karasuma Fran, and Toyama Luca who is something of a gray zone, but we can’t exactly do that with the shelter Sphere’s blown away,” whispered tall Maya as she circled through the sky along with her crane fly shaped drones. “Plus, we can’t rely on the Spheres when they were set up by Useful Spider to make the rulers feel like they had some power. I should have realized it sooner and cut it off at the source.”
Kihara Yuiitsu had not directly given them this target, but that no longer mattered.
Useful Spider was interfering with their search for Kamijou and thus threatened Kamisato, so they were an enemy. They needed to be eliminated.
At this height and speed, it was unlikely her voice could reach anyone. Even if she had a radio, her head was entirely exposed, so the blowing of the wind would get in the way.
But the unlikely happened. A late-night anime heroine was flying alongside her too close to even call it acrobatic. However, Maya was fairly certain the real heroine had not used a handmade jet engine.
The violently live action version of Magical Powered Kanamin spoke.
“Keep an eye on things down below. They’re going to recover from the shock soon, so it’s time for the boss round with some monstrous Academy City weapon they’ve been hiding underground.”
The ghost girl with bewitchingly exposed cleavage gave a derisive snort.
Without a physical body, she was not afraid of bullets. No one would feel any tension when playing a bullet hell game while using a cheat code to reduce their hitbox to zero pixels.
A dull explosion rose from the surface.
The dome-shaped radar facility had been successfully bombed. Now there was no risk of the will-o’-the-wisp-like drones being fried.
And so she uttered a single singsong word.
Kamijou had so much trouble breathing he could not even pass out.
He clung to a nearby tree trunk, wrinkled his brow, and forced his vision to recover as it flashed in and out like a dying fluorescent light. Pain passed from one temple to the other, but he could do nothing about it but clench his teeth.
When he somehow managed to gather strength in his legs and look around, he saw Pirate Girl Luca sprawled out on the ground and groaning. Due to the full backpack on her back, Fran had her butt sticking up toward heaven like someone who had been hit by a German suplex while upside down. She looked like the end result of a robot model designed with no thought given to the center of gravity.
“Hey, are you both alive…? I’m only borrowing you, so don’t die before I get you back to Kamisato. I don’t want to be indebted to him.”
That had a dramatic effect.
The name Kamisato was like brandy to someone lost in a snowy mountain, so the girls shook their woozy heads and forced their eyes open.
The explosions had not let up.
And the situation was no longer unilaterally moving in the former Kamisato Faction’s favor. Those giant fans that resembled tunnel boring machines had appeared and large helicopters with heavy machineguns sticking out of the side cargo doors were pursuing the ghost and cosplayer in the sky.
Fran was kicking her feet wildly while upside down, so Kamijou helped her up and spat out an irritated comment.
“I’m not sure which side are the true monsters. Anyway, let’s get out of here.”
Needless to say, their goal had been to get the Useful Spider unit in District 11 to fall back to the headquarters so they could get to the A.A.A. inside the container yard. There was no point in continuing the fight against Useful Spider here. And there was no guarantee that the former Kamisato Faction would not find them here.
They could not lose sight of the situation. Neither side winning here would bring back Kamisato Kakeru. If they poured their energy into the wrong thing, they would lose their chance at success.
“Fortunately, the former Kamisato Faction and Useful Spider are so busy fighting that they haven’t noticed us. And with this many explosions, the unit in District 11 is sure to be scrambled. Let’s get back to the cart and head to the container yard. And then…”
But Kamijou Touma should have known better than to say “fortunately”.
In case he had forgotten, misfortune was his constant companion.
Fran noticed something and looked to her feet. Kamijou and Luca followed her gaze.
Several strange cracks ran through the dirt.
After an explosion large enough to shake the entire observatory, the ground below their feet seemed to reach its limit. It crumbled away and they were swallowed up.
Yes, hadn’t Fran and Luca mentioned that Useful Spider may have been storing their next-generation weapons in an underground facility covered in thick electromagnetic shielding?
Tracer Ellen tilted her head while dragging her baggy lab coat behind her.
She crouched down and focused on the ground.
“What are you doing?” asked “modern” weapons obsessed Aileen. “Wasn’t most of your inspection kit destroyed by Fran’s heat wave?”
But Ellen’s curiosity did not wane.
“It is true I specialize in gas chromatography and carbon dating using cutting-edge equipment. I’m well aware that my forensics skills don’t work without the equipment.”
She formed Ls with the thumb and forefinger of both hands and created something like a picture frame to focus on the ordinary-looking ground.
“But did you know that human senses are a type of inspection equipment? It can be a perfumer’s nose or a convenience store bento researcher’s tongue. When you create a system using senses more delicate than any machine, it’s known as sensory analysis.”
“What about it?”
“And I’m not just talking about perfect pitch. My senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are all perfect sensory analysis devices that provide readings I can express numerically. Although if I don’t intentionally keep my mind in a lower gear, the world grows very boring very fast.”
Someone had pulled that girl up out of that gray bog. He had shown her a color that she could not express numerically with any of her senses. She believed that was the color of love.
She would do anything for him. She would eliminate even the smallest risk to him.
“Maya, Olivia, and the rest of aerial group. Our radios might be jammed before we have further orders for you and any gestured commands might be spied on. Follow the timetable we set up in advance.”
The hand in Ellen’s baggy sleeve held a radio they had stolen from their enemy.
She based this on her digitized senses as a tracer.
“Fran will be there. That threat to Kamisato-han spends all year staring at the stars and chasing unidentified flying objects. You should assume she will detect your radio waves and the slightest flash of light. Also…”
Her lips continued to whisper.
She was not done yet.
“Something seemed off when I spoke with Fran before. I tried to suppress my doubts because I thought we were friends, but there’s no more need for that. And now that I look back, there was a lot odd about her.”
“For example, why could I detect the scent of aldosterone and cortisol in her sweat when she would speak with Kamisato-han? Why was she releasing stress-related adrenocorticotropic hormone? There is a massive bombshell hiding there. I’m not going to hold back, Fran.”
Everything had been a complete mess.
Ever since the former Kamisato Faction showed up, nothing they did felt like their own decision. They could only sit idly by while other people made their decisions for them.
Some things truly could not be helped.
Kamijou and the others had fallen into a space supported by countless steel beams like a school gym or an airport hangar. While lying on his back, Kamijou shuddered at the distance to the ceiling. He did not know what had cushioned his fall, but he was amazed he had survived.
After shaking his head and getting up, he saw a few metal objects crushed by rubble. Some were the half-trucks with mechanical legs and treads, some were short and stout transport helicopters, and others were the giant fans. Each of them was enough of a threat, but a veritable parade of them was lined up here. The original lights may have been insufficient because he could not see all the way to the back.
And this was no time to stare all the way back there.
Men in work uniforms were giving them surprised looks from quite close by. When they realized it was not just inorganic rubble that had fallen, they quickly reached into their coats, but…
“!! It’s gonna blow!!”
Kamijou raised his voice, placed his hands protectively over his head, and dove down onto the ground, so the men looked around in shock. The presence of the crushed and sparking helicopters increased the squeezing in their chests.
Then Luca ran out from behind a nearby pile of rubble. With the men focused elsewhere, she attacked them head-on with her cutlass and musket. She used them as blunt weapons instead of a blade and a gun. The sight was a sad history lesson in how, at close range, it was faster to just hit someone than to take the time to load the powder and bullet.
The first was caught completely off guard and knocked out in a single blow.
The rest drew long knives and attacked from multiple directions.
After her cheerful voice, the men were overcome with confusion.
They did not feel the flesh and blood they expected their knives to hit. In fact, their target had entirely vanished. But their confusion was natural. Luca could freely manipulate her subjective age, so she could change the apparent age of her body. She had instantly lowered her age from 15 to 10, so her limbs and body shrank and her enemy would need to adjust their aim.
After slipping below the storm of blades, the small body grew until the swimsuit nearly burst from within.
She used her long limbs and greater body weight to knock out the confused men with the back of her cutlass and the stock of her musket.
“Fear not. I used the back of my blade.”
“Luca, I hate to interrupt your triumphant pose there, but your swimsuit bottom is slipping down. Hurry up and pull it up.”
After eliminating the threat, Luca fixed her swimsuit, returned her body to normal, and spun the two long weapons around like she was juggling them.
“Nice job distracting them. You’d make a good pirate.”
“I don’t think that’s a compliment.”
Fran crouched down, took one of the unconscious men’s guns, and held it awkwardly, but Kamijou put a stop to that. People pulled the trigger easily enough in movies, but that clearly was not something he could leave with a girl who was shutting one eye and attempting to peer down the barrel. He was afraid she would accidentally shoot him in the back.
“Anyway, where’s the exit?”
They did not know where a stairway or elevator might be, the exit might have some kind of security lock, and it could have been blocked by the earlier collapse. They had no real reason to fight, so they wanted to leave as soon as possible, but the situation did not allow for it. Kamijou was always experiencing misfortune, but he was beginning to suspect Kamisato had something similar.
They did not know where someone could be hiding as they cut across a space as large as a schoolyard. They assumed an exit would be along the wall, so they moved to the wall and continued back from there.
It was generally the same as going on a rampage in a parking lot full of cars. They used the half-trucks and helicopters as shields, checked around and made sure no one dangerous was hiding behind cover, and then moved to the next shield.
Meanwhile, Kamijou and Luca heard a small sound as they moved out ahead. They looked back to find Rabbit-Ear Antennae Fran focused on her devices.
A voice came from the card-sized screen connected with a curling cord.
“Ksshhh! Fraaan, knowing you, you’ll definitely pick up this signal I’m sending out on a random band.”
The girl sounded confident that Kamijou’s group was in the same area. If that tracer had detected their footprints or caught their scent, it would be a major problem.
Based on everything that had happened via the Spheres, it was obvious what the point of this conversation was.
“(Fran, turn it off! We don’t gain anything from this and she’s trying to provoke us into revealing our location. She might even pick up on the sound of your radio playing her voice!)”
Kamijou had no idea how much it would help, but he naturally started whispering. But Fran did not respond. She was fully focused on the small screen.
“I was oddly curious why you alone would respond differently. Luca’s case isn’t as odd if I view you as the source and her as a secondary infection. When you get down to it, I think our singularity is you, Karasuma Fran.”
She did not want to know, but she felt the need to crush any hint of worry. It may have been the mindset that led people to type their own name into a search engine despite knowing it would lead to nothing good.
“Hey, Fran. Why weren’t you captured by Kihara Yuiitsu’s…no, Kamisato Kakeru’s curse? It wasn’t that someone talked you out of it. Your heart was never shaken in the first place. Once I started wondering about that, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Other things from the past started occurring to me.”
“We know you spend all year chasing after UFOs. Whether that’s true or not, you know more about astronomical bodies and electromagnetic waves than any of us. And the station you used to produce Academy City’s heat wave is real …But that is a piece of external equipment, so you haven’t really shown your own internal ‘power’, have you?”
No, it was not just the hoodie bikini rabbit-ear antennae girl.
Kamijou and Luca found themselves just as trapped by the sticky and invisible strings. Flipping over this card would accomplish nothing, it would only work against them, and it was a lot like digging up a landmine so it could blow up in their faces, but they could not stop the voice arriving over the device.
“Fraaan,” said the tracer. “You’re actually a magician, aren’t you? And since you’re oddly obsessed with a British mascot, you’re probably with someone from there. So wouldn’t it be reasonable to think you were only pretending to be a scientific UFO girl to monitor Kamisato Kakeru’s actions, if not actually guiding him here to Academy City?”
Those words were a heavy shock to the chest for Pirate Girl Luca as she listened in.
Someone to monitor and control Kamisato Kakeru’s actions.
But when she thought about it, it would be odd if no one had put together any kind of countermeasure against someone capable of slaughtering Magic Gods by the dozen. Kamisato himself claimed to be the kind of normal high school boy one could find anywhere, but the people around him would not have been able to see it that way.
And this raised a question about when Luca had been recruited here. Kamijou Touma would not have known who to pick from the former Kamisato Faction, so it would naturally have been Fran’s decision.
Then how had a UFO girl from the science side been able to choose someone as ideal for the job as Luca? How had she known so much about Luca’s magic?
Both questions could be answered if she was a magician too.
“UFOs,” muttered the pirate hat and eyepatch girl. “Mysterious lights in the night sky were originally researched as unlucky stars that were seen as ill omens. The idea that they are vehicles piloted by aliens developed and took over in just a few decades, but the same things have been viewed for millennia.”
“Fran, were you that kind of magician? Did you read the future from the stars, seal the twinkling light into talismans and amulets, and draw out that power when you saw fit? Are you from the Golden-style of magic that had its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century and has become a standard by this point!?”
The hoodie bikini rabbit-ear antennae girl did not respond.
There were things that caught Kamijou’s attention too. When they had run into the pirate girl in the plaza, the hoodie bikini girl had suggested drawing out a code that only Index and Othinus could understand and then retreating. But what kind of code could “only” Index and Othinus understand? She had drawn a few circles with horizontal and vertical lines along the edges. They had looked like crop circles, but there may have been another way to look at it.
Those had been ancient runes or magic circles.
And the antennae sticking out from her backpack like a sea urchin or a chestnut burr seemed painfully obvious now. They were almost like ugly thorns meant to protect the delicious contents from an external enemy.
Ellen’s words continued as if to tear into that soft flesh.
“In that case, we definitely can’t leave this to you. Fran, you understand, don’t you? If you were monitoring Kamisato-han’s actions and influencing his decisions, then it’s hard to say it was the natural course of events for him to arrive in Academy City and meet that cruel fate.”
“Fran, your betrayal killed Kamisato-han. The presence of an outsider like you shattered our age of happiness. I don’t know why you did what you did. It’s possible you didn’t intend to do any of it, but you brought destruction all the same. Whatever excuse you might make, you led Kamisato-han to take action on his fixation with the Magic Gods, you incited Sunny and Rain to action, you created the idea that Academy City was suspicious, and you led everything to this conclusion.”
“We can’t leave Kamisato-han’s fate with someone as risky as you. No matter what you might think yourself, you may have been set up to sever this last remaining thread of hope.”
She had been called a traitor, but she did not argue back.
She looked tiny. The way she peered at the screen in her hand looked like she was hanging her head and she showed no sign of life for several minutes. She was a withered tree. A standing husk. Luca was dumbfounded by the truly unexpected shock, but this girl’s downfall was a quiet one, like she was seeing the end she had known was coming someday.
Luca wondered what she would have done.
What if she had hidden something important from him and that came to light? Would she go on a desperate rampage? Would she make a desperate plea and try to repair the relationship? Would she give up all hope and take her own life? No, that was not it. She would not even find that negative sort of energy. She would surely stay standing, stop breathing, and simply cease to function as a living being.
So it could not have been Karasuma Fran who stood up to those one-sided and disastrous words.
“That’s enough, Fran.”
It was the spiky-haired outsider who interrupted.
The girls assumed he would meaninglessly tell her she did not need to listen to any more of those painful words and she should switch it off.
But that was not what he said.
“How long are you going to sit there sobbing? If there’s something you want to say, then say it. Don’t worry about whether they’ll locate us from the signal. I’ll make up for that. More importantly, do you not care that she can just say whatever she wants about you? Of course you care, right!?”
The withered tree in its hoodie and bikini looked unsure what he was telling her.
But the powerful light in the boy’s eyes made it clear he would keep talking until it got through to her.
“Don’t you have something to say!? If she’s saying that betraying people is always wrong and that you can’t trust someone who tries to be everyone’s friend, then you can argue back, can’t you!?”
“Think back, Fran! Think back on everything you’ve done!!”
“But…you don’t know the truth. I kept a smile on my face all this time just so I could report back to the Anglican Church about Kamisato-chan…”
“That’s not what I meant!! That’s not what I meant at all!!!!!” cut in the boy. “I’m not talking about what it says on paper or what your official duties were. It doesn’t matter how it started! What did you think when you actually met Kamisato and how did you feel when smiling with Ellen and Salome!? Wasn’t that the true Karasuma Fran that wasn’t forced onto you by anyone else? Then! Don’t just assume that your affiliation, your actions, and your secrets are who you really are!!”
He grabbed her slender shoulders, stared into her hollow eyes, and roared at her without giving up on her strength as a human being.
“From the very beginning to the very end, you were never thinking about anything but Kamisato Kakeru, right!? After risking your life for that so many times, just what part of Karasuma Fran has wavered and just who have you betrayed!? So tell her! Tell her you wanted to bring back Kamisato Kakeru more than anyone else in the world! Tell her you were prepared to fight all of your former friends on your own to do it! You have the right to say that after walking through the winter cold, getting hit by explosions, and yet clenching your teeth to make it this far, Fran!!!!!”
That was obvious.
It was not even worth discussing.
If Fran was truly nothing more than a spy sent in from an outside group and if she simply saw Kamisato Kakeru as a threat, why had she tried to bring him back after World Rejecter erased him? Shouldn’t she have rejoiced that someone so dangerous was gone? Or if she could not ignore the right hand that could slaughter Magic Gods by the dozen even after Kamisato himself was gone, shouldn’t she have joined Kihara Yuiitsu’s group when the owner of the right hand became the ruler of the girls? But she had not done that. No matter who owned the right hand, she had continued to pursue Kamisato Kakeru. She did not know if it was even possible, but she had still bet her life on that thin, thin thread. The Anglican Church would never have ordered her to do that.
Opposing the girls of the former Kamisato Faction meant to oppose Kihara Yuiitsu. It was unclear how much the Anglican Church knew about World Rejecter, but they must have felt threatened to send Fran in. But she had expressed her desire to face that frightening power by saving Kamisato and she had proven that intent through her actions.
Didn’t that settle it?
Whatever her official position or duties were, wasn’t it obvious who Karasuma Fran’s “true affiliation” was with deep inside her heart!?
“If you’re not going to say it, I will.”
Kamijou had made up his mind.
Even if their paths would not meet and even if he would never walk by that girl’s side, he could still fight for Karasuma Fran. He had found something worth that.
“If you’re fine with that, then stay silent. If you don’t want that, then you’d better speak up. The result will be the same either way. Now, it’s time for a real fight. I don’t care who we’re up against! You’ve decided to fight for Kamisato Kakeru and I’m with you!!”
The hoodie bikini girl did not move for a while.
No, she probably could not move.
There was no need to peek up at the face lowered toward the screen. The trembling in her shoulders faded and her groaning sobs were brought under control, so he only had to wait for her to speak for herself.
Finally, the girl raised her head.
And she spoke.
“Please don’t mock me. I am perfectly capable of deciding my own destiny.”
Her fingertips operated the screen, but Kamijou and Luca were taken aback.
She did not open a short-range line using the same radio signal Ellen had. She accessed the entire disaster information network that used the Spheres to cover a wide area.
She used the key station she had prepared for herself.
She had to know better than anyone that her accumulated influence would act as a weapon now.
“If I’m going to confess, I’m not going to half-ass it. It won’t reach him and he definitely won’t hear it, but I have to try my best to get this out to Kamisato-chan.”
Fran smiled a little.
She had recovered enough to smile with her own strength.
“So let’s make a show out of it.”
The confession would be meaningless to the people not privy to the internal situation. But the small, small key station still sent a message out to the entire network so that it could never be taken back.
“My name is Karasuma Fran.”
Most of the people would have been confused by that.
She was not a resident of Academy City and a search through the database would not find any records on her.
“The heat wave that crippled Academy City was entirely my responsibility. I caused all of you so very, very much trouble. The hot environment weakened the Elements and restricted them enough to avoid truly catastrophic damage, but that does not excuse my actions. I must be punished.”
Even though no one told them to, large crowds gathered in front of the Spheres that were opened like lotus flowers. They seemed drawn in to the planetarium-like dome and could not leave the footage played there.
“Even so, please wait just a while longer.”
It happened in the park where order was slowly returning even without a ruler.
“Please allow me just one more selfish act.”
It happened in the Show Business shelter she had once opposed.
“I am in love with someone.”
It happened in the overcrowded Hospital.
No matter how many complicated equations went into developing an advertisement, a few words from a complete amateur could fill the world instead.
Perhaps that was the power of the truth. This had a different attraction than the eerie one of Ellen’s words.
“I was told he would never return. I was told he had gone somewhere so far away that I could never reach him no matter how hard I tried. But I still want to save him. I want to do whatever it takes.”
They all thought about this girl they had never met.
“I know my feelings of love will never be fulfilled. Even if I do save him, I have carried a sin from the beginning and I can never claim that happiness for myself. But that’s fine. I just want to see his smile one more time.”
No, perhaps it was best to say they were charmed by her.
“Once this is over, I will accept any punishment.”
So no one stopped the girl from speaking.
None of the shelter rulers interfered to the very end.
All of the Spheres agreed to act as her broadcast network. They all became regional stations for her key station.
And she spoke the final words.
She reached her conclusion.
“Please allow me this once-in-a-lifetime confession, so I can bring this love to an end.”
Fran cut the connection to the Sphere.
Kamijou slowly exhaled and spoke.
“…You’re okay with that?”
“You’re okay with that conclusion, Fran? Don’t give me that! Like hell you are!!”
“If we’re talking about what’s right or wrong and kind or cruel, then it might be easier to go along with what you’re saying.” The girl gently narrowed her eyes and did not hesitate to respond. “But this is between one boy and one girl. No one in the world can answer for me better than I can.”
He could not exactly argue with that.
He had protected the world from Fiamma of the Right of God’s Right Seat when he had set the Star of Bethlehem in motion. He had spent a nearly infinite amount of time repeatedly challenging a true Magic God and ultimately returned to his original world. But Kamijou had no confidence when it came to his experience in matters of romance. This was a fight where what was right and what was kind were not enough to advance, and that was just too difficult.
As a pure member of the former Kamisato Faction, Pirate Girl Luca had to have been trying to judge what distance to keep from this, but she spoke to the hoodie bikini magician.
“…If you need to cry, I’ll lend you my chest.”
“I’ll take you up on that later, believe me. But I have something else to do now.”
She stuck her index finger from her baggy sleeve and silently pointed toward heaven.
And then Karasuma Fran awoke.
“Let’s blow away all of these nuisances and leave this place.”
In the sky, Ghost Girl Maya covered her face with her hands with her tall body wrapped in burial clothing.
She had heard most of what had happened in the network of Spheres. But due to Useful Spider’s attack, she had lost the Sphere she had directly controlled as a key station. She had only heard reports from the girls who had been sent elsewhere to assist her.
Yes, she had only been away for a short while.
She should have been able to graphically display her influence by linking to a search service that checked for the passwords and codes mixed into the messages. But it was gone. It was all dead. No, the entirety of Academy City had been dyed in another color altogether.
All Maya had left were the Spheres directly under the former Kamisato Faction’s control. Those dots were more like a stain on the otherwise pure map.
“The Spheres are so busy talking about Karasuma Fran that all the other rumors have been drowned out! ‘Do what you like.’, ‘Well, I can’t say no to a girl in love. Not to a girl in love!’, and ‘Let’s go drinking once it’s over!’ That’s all the shelter rulers who control the Spheres are saying!! What do we do? How do we turn this back around!?”
“No, our stuff has already grown ‘outdated’. If we start forcing things back onto those old topics, they’ll only grow suspicious. We can’t stop the flow of information and we have to avoid standing out as much as a record scratch!!”
“What do we do? What do we do, Maya!?”
The words “shut up” nearly escaped through her clenched teeth.
It was over.
The bubble had popped.
The rumors she had nurtured and raised like the child she could never have had been destroyed so easily in the short time she had been absent.
Her outline flickered unnaturally while they were supported by the will-o’-the-wisp-like Censers.
But she may have made a fundamental misunderstanding. This was a battle where the lives of the girls surrounding Kamisato Kakeru were at stake. So she had no time to lament the loss of her child. She should not have assumed that nothing Fran could do could reach her.
It started with a shining star in the heavens.
No, it was not actually a star.
It was a piece of fan art titled the Bunny Grey Messenger.
Needless to say, Karasuma Fran had created it. It was a high power microwave galactic communication station meant to speak to some unseen individual for 100 years.
Ghost Girl Maya with her long, swaying black hair had no physical body.
She only seemed to exist by using the Censers’ low-frequency waves and faint aromas to destabilize the mental states of any surrounding life forms.
But what if the Censers themselves were destroyed?
Immediately after that cry, a 360 meter hammer swung down toward Academy City and accurately landed on the meteorological observatory on a District 21 mountain peak. And everything in between was brought down with it.
The sweet dreams were no longer necessary.
Fran had stared into the starry sky and floated through the emptiness for so long, but now she placed her feet on the ground and cast off her identity as a UFO girl.
Between the Lines 3
They spent a long time circling the earth.
Breaking free of the atmosphere using the Windowless Building had been easy enough, but matching their trajectory and speed to Magic God Tezcatlipoca for a rendezvous had been difficult. That had forced Kamisato into a trip around the planet in satellite orbit.
The earth had become a white planet where massive numbers of white bugs whirled about instead of clouds. Kamisato had initially thought it was a typhoon or something, but he had belatedly realized it was a colossal roulette wheel. This may have been Nuada’s latest obsession.
Kamisato knew everything would return to normal at the end of the day, but it was still a sight void of all hope. If this was what he had seen, what would the Soviet cosmonaut have said?
“Oh, there he is, there he is☆ Tezcatlipoca is way too relaxed.”
Niang-Niang licked her lips, placed her hands on her hips, and pushed out her flat chest. She did not seem to care that the weightlessness was causing the bottom of her mini-China dress to rise quite a bit.
They were truly in outer space, but none of the things in the textbooks seemed to apply. Kamisato did not need a spacesuit, the words of the god next to him reached his ears like normal, and no concern was given to the heat and radiation that was no longer being blocked by the earth’s atmosphere. The Magic Gods were insane in everything they did.
“But…Tezcatlipoca? What does defeating just one of them matter when the earth is like that?”
“We just have to start by repairing the global environment. The earth has quite a few problems right now, but the biggest would be Proserpina’s artificial ice age. Spring will never come as long as she keeps at it, so we need to do something about that first.”
“Like what exactly?”
“Okay, time for a hint. Tezcatlipoca is the god of a certain mythology that fought Quetzalcoatl for the throne of the gods and lost. …Although that big man you see floating over there is the Tezcatlipoca created to combat the Spanish guy who was mistaken for the original Quetzalcoatl.”
“Niang-Niang, you’re getting off track.”
“Oh, my bad. I don’t know if it’s due to that or just how he originally was, but he’s known as a god of death that has enough power to create the world but instead uses it all to slaughter mankind. Buuuut. Being a death god isn’t his only symbol. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it myself earlier, so do you remember what it is?”
“Right. Even if the earth has been covered in darkness, we have a spare sun right here! So it’s simple!! Let’s send a new light down toward that planet that’s closed in darkness and lost all hope!! Tezcatlipoca-chaaaaaan!!!!!!”
Kamisato heard someone gasp.
Niang-Niang showed no mercy against the muscular man floating quite nearby. The man also had a strange prosthetic leg with a large circular mirror embedded in it.
She slapped him.
She remade her arm into a giant hammer and knocked that god straight down toward the surface of the earth.
A shooting star fell.
It fell somewhere on the earth and caused an explosion far larger than the previous ones. Instead of just one point, it was more like the entire planet emitted light like a giant lightbulb. Kamisato almost thought the planet was going to set on fire and be reborn as a star.
Niang-Niang placed her hands on her hips and grinned despite the weightless bottom of her dress.
“Yeah! Now the light of hope fills the world anew!!”
“I thought I was defying some malicious schemers, but was I just lashing out at some thoughtless idiots?”
“Oh, are you finally getting over your issues?” asked Nephthys. “Give the boy a round of applause.”
“We can celebrate after getting the planet back. Begin reentry!!”
After seeing the blue planet showing itself through the fusion of extreme cold and extreme heat, Niang-Niang reignited her hand boosters. She adjusted the angle of the rocket to fly back toward the atmosphere.
“How many more times do you plan on destroying the earth?”
“As many times as it takes. Or we’ll keep doing it forever. We’ve been holding back for so long out of concern for everyone around us, you see. I doubt a century or even a millennium is going to be enough to work through all that pent up frustration. Now that something’s set us off like this, we’ve got a never-ending war of endless explosions on our hands!”
“Oh, but we don’t mind. This is an endless world of eternal war and a world where we can go all out. In a way, that’s one form of paradise. For more information, you should probably just study up on Norse Mythology, but…oh, yeah. That eyepatch-wearing thief is living as a fairy in ‘that world’, isn’t she?”
They did not have time to chat any longer.
Nephthys gently leaned up against Kamisato and her bandages came apart. No, they rewrapped themselves with Kamisato inside. They protected a god’s body from internal and external deterioration and decay.
They landed a moment later.
The hit from the largest and fastest rocket tore apart and blew away the remains of Academy City. Kamisato’s spine froze over when he realized the same thing was theoretically possible in “that world”.
“Now, now, now.”
With her feet finally back on the ground, Niang-Niang produced a creaking metal sound from her baggy sleeves.
How many Magic Gods were visible nearby?
“Chiiimeeeraaa. Now there’s an annoying one.”
Kamisato strained his eyes to see through the smoky scenery.
Then his vision exploded with psychedelic colors.
He covered his face and screamed before the goddesses gave him a belated warning.
“Oh, a human like you should avoid looking right at her. It’s just like looking at the sun though a normal telescope and your very soul will burn away if you have poor morals.”
“Honestly. That’s supposed to be too beautiful to bear? I just don’t understand humans.”
Nephthys sounded as exasperated as a woman whose boyfriend started ogling another woman while they were on a date, but Kamisato was in no state to respond.
“Gh, bweh, boehh…”
“Are you trying to ask what that is? It’s Chimera.”
“There’s a limit to the beauty you can produce by polishing the human body, so that narcissistic and self-destructive pervert started taking in elements and structures from other creatures. Even if it’s a reaction like the renaissance was to formal religious art, it’s still frightening. Oh, and hearing her voice or smelling her scent could drive you mad, so be careful.”
Some things were unavoidable even after being warned.
Beyond his darkening vision, he heard an unstable and high-pitched sound like metal scraping together.
“Giin giin, gwan gwan, giin, gwin gwiin, giin giin, gwin, gwan, giin!!”
“Yes, yes. We can chat later! I know you might want to show off ever last inch of your naked body since you finally have someone to ‘appreciate’ it, but if you make Kamisato-chan go along with your perverted exhibitionism, he’ll drown in his own brain juices!!”
Kamisato could feel tears pouring down his cheeks and his head was full of questions. Had that been a voice he had heard? Could the other Magic Gods hear it like normal? But when he tried to process it in his own mind, he was overcome by nausea like an extreme case of motion sickness. It was a dangerous sort of nausea, like he had been punched in the back of the head instead of just in the gut.
“Hey, Nephthys. The human’s vision has been cut off as you can see, so it would be nice if you could let loose and really ‘cry’.”
“I don’t think so. I’m not in the mood thanks to that pervert.”
“But your legend about crying at a god’s funeral means you can interfere with the other Magic Gods’ emotions and focus! There are tears of joy, tears of anger, tears of sorrow, and tears of awe! You can do whatever you want, so just jam them!!”
“If you want me to cry, then you had better have a good emotional story ready.”
“You always cry like a waterfall from cheap stories about things like kittens lost on a battlefield!!”
Kamisato could not see much of anything, but he started running when a slender feminine hand pulled on his. Once the psychedelic world faded and the normal world returned, he realized they were in a dark underground tunnel. Everything outside had been blown away, but the underground areas seemed to have survived.
He heard Niang-Niang’s joking voice.
“Hey, you all right? Don’t worry too much about popping a boner at that art-obsessed god’s sculpture. I’ll keep that one a secret.”
“That was such a terrible thing to say that it dragged me right back into reality. …With that and Tezcatlipoca, just how many suns do you have?”
“What are you talking about? If that obscene night flower was held up in the middle of the solar system, the world would be pitch black.”
The goddesses really did make him frown.
Seeing the beautiful bodies of those “proper goddesses” may have brought his standards of beauty back to normal. Niang-Niang and Nephthys were both Magic Gods overflowing with the scent of death, but they were far better than that Chimera. That had completely left the category of “human”.
What had it looked like to their eyes? Kamisato’s entire body was pierced by the mixture of fear and curiosity brought by contact with the forbidden, but they did not have time for him to get an answer.
Something was watching them from the darkness down the half-crumbled tunnel.
“If it’s not one of them, it’s another.”
Niang-Niang’s skirt floated up as she kicked something away in annoyance.
It had likely fallen down when the surface had collapsed. Kamisato recognized the junk.
“That’s that golden retriever’s…A.A.A. was it called?”
“Oh? The thing that killed High Priest and Zombie?”
Nephthys sounded curious with her bandages having come loose a bit and she glanced over at the mini-China dress girl, but that pale girl shrugged and shook her head.
“You want me to copy that thing? Wouldn’t work. A Magic God’s death can’t be accepted inside a Magic God’s body.”
“What even is that thing anyway?”
That secret of Academy City had completely killed two Magic Gods without World Rejecter. Since Kamijou Touma’s hand had not killed or eliminated Magic God Othinus, it was a true exception on the level of Kamisato himself.
“I doubt you would understand.”
“Then don’t bother.”
“The real issue is that the A.A.A. itself is pretty much meaningless.”
He had said not to bother, but she explained anyway.
She tried to act all impressive, but she may have been prone to loneliness.
“Human, have you ever played shooting games.”
“I’m more surprised that a 4000-year-old Chinese god is familiar with them.”
“In those, you generally have infinite ammo and can just keep shooting forever. It only really works in games, but how do you think you would go about forcing that onto reality?”
“The A.A.A. is the answer. That golden retriever named Kihara Noukan was the player controlling the ship, but the bullets weren’t contained in the machine. They were transferred in from a remote location to always keep the spare ammo at max. You can think of it like that.”
“So it’s like a warp device?”
“I’m not sure I would call it that. Let’s say you use solar power or heavy hydrogen to create electricity in satellite orbit and send it down to earth in the form of microwaves or a laser. Would you call that energy transfer a warp?”
Either way, this changed who was in control. Kihara Noukan was still extraordinary for heading out to the scene, accurately avoiding the downpour of fireworks-like blasts from a bullet hell game, and fighting the boss all the while, but it was someone else who had been supplying him his firepower from behind the scenes. In a way, one could say it was that person who had killed High Priest and Zombie.
“Well, when you’ve been closed up in your shell and deceiving the world while trying to take revenge against the Magic Gods, I guess it’s a sensible evolution. Although it’s a twisted one like the small crabs that get inside of clams.”
He did not understand at all, but she seemed satisfied with the explanation.
Niang-Niang spun around to face him.
“Trying to grab something in your own hand instead of having someone give it to you is just that difficult. Especially for a normal person who’s met nothing but setbacks like him.”
“Have you recovered enough to give threatening looks? Oops.”
The lighthearted mini-China dress girl stopped speaking, but not because she had been overwhelmed by the pressure from Kamisato.
Whatever was in the darkness of the tunnel had finally attacked.
Niang-Niang pulled countless blades from her baggy sleeves and swung them randomly…or so it seemed. But a moment alter, countless sparks flew through the dimly lit space like a swarm of locusts had charged right into a bug zapper. Kamisato could not even see what it was she had intercepted.
He only heard a scraping sound.
Nephthys’s chest bandages had been torn, so the brown Magic God held her arm horizontally across her chest.
“Sorry, sorry.” She did not seem to care much. “So this time it’s the Forgotten God. It’s kind of sad. Lovecraft used him as reference material, but the fiction and nonfiction got mixed together so badly his original form was completely forgotten! Didn’t people also decide there was a connection to Crowley, so they stopped all research into this Magic God’s historicity? First that narcissistic pervert and now you. Is everyone here an exhibitionist that just wants to show off to someone!?”
“Niang-Niang, I don’t think you have any right to say that after all the effort you’re putting into this in front of this boy.”
It was not that Kamisato could not see it due to a lack of light or due to great speed. He could not comprehend it no matter how much he stared at it. Once again, the human and the Magic Gods were likely perceiving it differently.
“Niang-Niang,” warned Nephthys.
“Yeah, I know. The others are starting to gather. We’re surrounded and all on our own. Plus, this is a world of never-ending battle between gods, so it’s not like a human will last long anyway.”
“We have no real way of saving you, so you’ll just have to pray you’re pulled out of here by someone in ‘that world’.”
Niang-Niang used one hand to shoot down some things flying their way and she cheerfully looked back toward Kamisato.
“By the way, human. I’d like to ask something while I still can.”
She really did make it sound casual.
And she spoke in the middle of a battle a human could not even perceive.
“In the end, how was the right hand we made?”
Not long before, he might have felt that question was worthy of death. In fact, he would not have hesitated to blow her away even if she begged for her life through trembling lips.
But he slowly sighed.
And he answered.
“Did you give no thought to how much confusion it would cause me?”
“Yeah…sorry about that. But we didn’t actually realize our desires were leaking out. We had no way of stopping it.”
“Also, it’s rare for that kind of power to dwell in a human,” explained Nephthys. “It usually ends up in an object like a demon-slaying sword or a holy mirror. Who would have thought it would choose such a short-lived creature?”
Niang-Niang gently narrowed her eyes within repeated and intense sounds of clashing metal.
Her smile was no longer a mocking sneer.
“It’s true we were selfish, but I also think this happened because it was meant to. World Rejecter is only compatible with someone that meets the conditions that match it. So there was no possibility of Kamijou Touma acquiring World Rejecter. You already knew that, right?”
“Yeah. …I’m not sure if that’s a compliment, though.”
“It is.” She answered immediately. “There must have been times when you wanted to cheer everyone on and times when you could not allow a dream to be lost as it was crushed by reality.”
“But we think the desires that leaked away from us must have sought out someone who met those conditions. Just like Kamijou Touma, there was a reason you were chosen.”
“So it caught us completely by surprise when you suddenly attacked us. Of course, we’re celebrating that now since it brought us to this place where we won’t cause anyone any trouble. But even if that power had escaped from us, we never thought it would create enough of a grudge for someone to kill us,” said Niang-Niang. “Hey, human. There’s one phrase you really like to use: the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere.”
It can’t be, thought Kamisato as alarm bells went off in his heart.
“But you knew better than anyone that ‘the kind of normal high school boy you can find anywhere’ is something you can’t actually find anywhere, didn’t you?”
Time came to a stop.
Or was it Kamisato’s thoughts that came to a stop?
“I mean, your life was full of jealousy of others and, in your eyes, everyone else had something you didn’t.”
Something heavy seemed to stir up the air with a low rumbling.
Niang-Niang pulled two hands’ full of weapons from her baggy sleeves. But even so, her slender body bent backwards with a deafening sound of collision. Kamisato could not see what had happened. No, he could not comprehend it. At the very least, he could tell this was different from the previous projectiles. The Forgotten God itself had likely charged in from further down the tunnel.
He finally saw something.
It looked nothing like beautiful Niang-Niang and Nephthys. But what even was it? It was extremely simplified yet incredibly eerie like a stick figure drawn by a small child awkwardly holding a black crayon.
But Niang-Niang continued in a singsong tone.
“But in that case, did other people really see you as someone who had nothing at all?”
“Niang-Niang, that’s just cruel. It’s like the smell of his own body. He probably isn’t even aware of it.”
More rumbling sounds continued and something slowly rose to the surface of Kamisato’s mind.
For example, Imagine Breaker resided in another boy’s right hand, but its presence could not be proven without a supernatural power to negate. If Kamijou Touma had never moved to Academy City and lived in a perfectly normal city, he would have lived out his entire life without knowing he had that power.
“Did it never cross your mind?”
This was the same.
Kamisato Kakeru had something. Something valuable enough to attract World Rejecter. But it was highly unique and only showed itself during highly irregular situations.
“What if terrorists attacked your school? What if you ran across a cute girl being harassed by delinquents in a back alley? What would you do then? But you’re about the only one that can pull it off after only putting that much thought into it. Not many people can draw out accurate blueprints at that point.”
That was why the power had chosen him.
It had seen the world he lived in as the best place to allow what he had already had to shine, so it had decided World Rejecter would be most useful there.
“How did you like it?”
Niang-Niang seemed to be honestly asking.
And as she did so, she spread out countless blades like fans to block the crayon’s attack with a round shield.
“The thing about us is…well, we’re gods. We’re the ones that give, so it’s hard for us to know what it feels like for the chosen ones like you. But we were a little worried that the gift born from us was too much for you to handle.”
Kamisato fell silent for a while.
Finally, he spoke in the empty world.
“…That wasn’t what I wanted.”
“Even if I wanted something special, I only wanted something that let me brag a bit at school. I might have said it’s meaningless if you don’t win the gold medal, but anything would have been fine as long as it was enough of a conversation starter to fill in the silence at the karaoke box.”
He could not hide anything in front of these gods.
So there was no real reason to open his mouth.
But he still said it.
He could not stop now.
“So why did it have to be a talent that only shines when you’re fighting a real god? Why did it have to be something that only shows itself after things have gotten that bloody!? I mean…that’s useless!! I can’t share that with anyone! Who cares about winning the gold medal or being one-of-a-kind!? No matter how great an accomplishment it is, it’s meaningless if you can’t tell anyone about it!!”
The difference between a hero and a combat addict was paper thin.
In fact, it may have been the era that decided a combat addict was a hero that was craziest of all.
“I didn’t want that!! Killing the Magic Gods didn’t even feel real! So I tilted my head and kept trying until it did!! Every time Ellen, Claire, and the others praised me for it, it felt less and less like what I really wanted to do. It really hurt when my sister Salome pointed at me and accused me! I wanted to shout back and ask her why she was standing on Kamijou Touma’s side!!”
He did not care how pitiful and pathetic he looked.
Sometimes facing that side of oneself held great meaning.
“That wasn’t what I wanted Elza, Maya, and the rest to be smiling about. Couldn’t it have just been about how good I was at making character bentos or how good I was at karaoke? When it comes to helping girls, couldn’t it have just been helping them with their homework or struggling to discover their secret hobby? Why do several metal drums full of spilt blood have to come into the picture there? Someone like me can’t shine in a place like that!!”
Niang-Niang deflected something to the side.
As soon as her hands were free, the little devil placed them on her hips and winked.
“If you’re bothered by that, then you’re still not a hero. That at least you don’t have to worry about.”
“It’s no different!! I can’t control myself! I’m not like Mass Murderer Salome who intentionally maintained her position as a criminal!! I never felt any guilt and I just kept swinging my arm all I wanted. It didn’t matter if there was a special power in my right hand or not. I mean, I…!!”
He clenched his teeth and confessed the one thing he should have avoided.
“I killed all of you Magic Gods without feeling even a twinge of guilt!!”
“Yeah,” said a voice.
Niang-Niang nodded in a somehow satisfied way with her hands still on her hips.
“Well, hearing that makes it sound like it was worth being killed by you.”
“From now on, your life still isn’t going to shine. In fact, if you want to shine, the world has to end up like this.”
Niang-Niang once more pulled a ton of swords and spears from her baggy sleeves. Without even looking back, she slashed behind herself countless times to intercept something that produced orange sparks.
“So what will you do? Stay in this bizarre world with the gods and continue to shine, or return to the human world and be forever buried?”
He had no words.
But he knew his own answer all too well.
So as the Magic Gods waited within the unreliable storm of slashes, the words escaped him.
“I know it’ll end up being an empty life where all I do is envy others.”
It was a hopeless complaint.
“I’m sure I’ll keep living without understanding why it is everyone around me is so kind to me.”
It was an almost servile self-rejection.
But he made a change there.
He seemed to be defying something.
“I want to keep trying. No matter how many times it takes, I want to work toward shining in that normal world!!”
The Magic God whistled.
He only had two options, but he had grasped for a nonexistent third option.
A great roar burst out.
The mini-China dress goddess swung her arm wide to knock the crayon man away just as the ceiling crumbled and other Magic Gods looked down at them.
She had heard some hopelessly pathetic words.
But Niang-Niang and Nephthys both looked amused as they viewed the result. The mini-China dress girl slapped her own butt and the brown woman retightened the bandages wrapped around her body. And then the goddesses proclaimed.
“You really are an imperfect human. But now that we’ve taken what you really think to heart…”
“Yes. Now I can truly ‘cry’.”
- "Baumkuchen" is a layered cake which looks like tree rings. The name is German and it translates to "tree cake". Wikipedia article.