Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume18 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: To Where Should You Flee? – Escape_to_Central.
As Misaka Mikoto walked around like a wandering traveler, a familiar person called out to her.
“Shokuhou? What are you doing here?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“…You look like the overly diligent girl who shows up to school after everyone forgot to tell her it was canceled due to a typhoon.”
“Cough, cough!! Where did you get that kind of imagination ability!? Th-that obviously isn’t what happened here!!”
“Quit grabbing at me. You’re way too close.”
The #3 averted her eyes in annoyance when the other girl got carried away and got so close their noses nearly touched.
Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki.
These were the two aces of prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School. They were the monsters who were two of Academy City’s seven Level 5s.
But there was no one here to give them envious looks.
Mikoto pushed lightly at the center of Shokuhou’s ample chest to shove away the great pressure of that girl’s body.
“…I see no one showed up,” muttered Mikoto.
They were the only 2 wearing the Tokiwadai uniform. There was no one else here. Academy City was back to normal, so they should have had classes. Given the state of the school building, they might have rented out space elsewhere. But no one had gathered anywhere. The school structure had collapsed.
The #5 childishly pouted her lips.
“Well, can you blame them after all that? If 1 or 2 of them stopped showing up, their dorm manger or a counselor would deal with it, but there’s nothing the adults can do when it’s all of them.”
The lonely queen seemed to be saying any girls who could continue on “like normal” were the extraordinary ones.
“I do understand how they feel.”
“I didn’t expect to hear that from you, Misaka-san.”
“Really?” Mikoto breathed a white sigh. “It wasn’t the shock of seeing their school destroyed. Nor was it the fear of having those rioters attack. …They’re afraid of their own power. And after learning how exactly to use that power to survive, they’re not sure they can just switch it off and return to their normal lives. So their gears have ground to a halt.”
Tokiwadai Middle School was a prestigious esper development school.
The young ladies registered there were Level 3 at the lowest and Level 5 at the highest.
Almost all of the students had a power that surpassed that of a blade or handgun if used properly, but something had become twisted.
“A lot of them weren’t really sure why they were training their powers.”
Shokuhou breathed a white breath, wrapped her own arms around herself, and rubbed her thighs together.
Why are you studying?
How many people could give a proper answer to that question? Because my parents told me to, because my teachers taught me to, because that’s how the world works. Those would be most people’s answers. Even the students with a clear vision of their future would only have something vague like “for the entrance exams” or “for my future”.
Only a small handful would have specific puzzle pieces in mind, such as “I need to learn how to use this equation so I can build a rocket”.
The young ladies of Tokiwadai Middle School were the same.
“Shirai-san and some others are running around looking after everyone, but the ones like that are rare indeed. Really, it’s a shame to just leave her with you, Misaka-san.”
“Leave her with me? You make it sound like she belongs to you.”
“She doesn’t belong to you either.”
All this time, those girls had developed their powers without a clear vision of how they would use them.
“Using your powers.”
As Mikoto brought her hands close and blew a white breath into them, Shokuhou moved in close for some reason. It was not worth fighting it, so the 2 of them continued breathing to warm their numb fingertips.
Shokuhou pressed her shoulder against Mikoto’s and gave off a sweet scent as she continued.
“…It’s all perfectly normal, but it’s a frightening normal. Their ability allowed them to easily survive during the scorching heat wave and the ferocious Elements, but now that they know they’re bringing that same ability into their peaceful everyday lives, they can’t help but feel afraid.”
Power and pleasure could be similar.
Once you got a taste, there was a risk of growing addicted.
It was true of drugs, it was true of cheat codes, it was true of gambling, and it was true of cheating on tests.
Once you knew you had a way of making it all easier, you could not do anything else. The powers that had let them survive so easily in that harsh environment would always be with them. Their lives would be much more convenient if they used them. But if you used the elevator instead of the stairs, your legs would grow weak. And if you relied on your smartphone’s kanji conversion, you would have difficulty writing or reading. Similarly, learning of an easier way would leave you unable to restrain yourself to the way you had lived before.
They could not forgive themselves for growing so hideously corrupted.
They were afraid of how useful their power would be in the world.
“Since you said you understand how they feel, can I assume you burned yourself out with your full combustion ability?”
“Personally, I don’t see how you can act like nothing happened. Since the shock didn’t impact you, just how much do you usually rely on your powers?”
“I don’t want to hear that from someone who goes all biri biri year-round. But it might have something to do with us being Level 5s.”
“Every Level 5 restrains their power,” said Shokuhou. “Well, maybe that’s going too far. But at our level, our status as human beings is inextricably attached to the strength of our power.”
When an athlete won an Olympic gold medal, they could no longer escape that sport no matter what kind of private life they lived. When a scientist won the Nobel Prize, they would end up relying on their field of study no matter what job they got. Those with superb results would be bound by those results. They were made painfully aware that they always had that ability with them and they would walk around with it as a constant companion. And at a level that produced no subjective symptoms.
Nevertheless, Misaka Mikoto had said she understood the feelings of the girls who were trying to separate themselves from their power.
“Couldn’t you use your power to act as a counselor for them? Your Mental Out works on anyone but me, right?”
“Maybe so. But I don’t think this is an abnormal mental state.”
“They are always carrying a power that can kill someone depending on how it’s used. And unlike a blade or gun, they can’t just put it down. Isn’t that something that should fill you with fear ability?”
“Well, I suppose so.”
“They can’t exactly learn how to control themselves in real battles like you did, Misaka-san, but I think it is important for them to find a compromise with themselves now that they’ve felt this fear. If I used my power to numb their fear of these deadly weapons and sent them back to their school life, who knows what they could do with a smile on their face.”
“Did you just refer to me like I’m some kind of monster?”
“Firing a metal shell at 3 times the speed of sound without killing anyone requires more precise control ability than shaving off all your unwanted body hair by swinging a Japanese sword around. Although you might not understand that since you do it all on instinct.”
Misaka Mikoto sighed.
Her own heart must have been weakening. She found herself saying something she never would have normally.
“…Can I discuss something with you?”
“No, thank you. I’m afraid you’ll swing a spear at me, so let’s not.”
“It has to do with that idiot.”
“Why didn’t you say so sooner? You don’t even have to ask in that case.”
For some reason, Shokuhou leaned forward with incredible intensity.
Their lips were less than 5cm apart, so an outside observer would have seen it as an incredibly lily-scented scene between two high-class girls.
“What’s scaring me isn’t my #3 Level 5 power. It isn’t my Railgun.”
“Isn’t it cruel to discuss this with the #5?”
“I’m not trying to brag about my superior ranking.” Mikoto pressed her index finger against Shokuhou’s lips. “I’m talking about a ‘power’ other than my esper power.”
“Mhh. Misaka-san, can you stop squishing my lips?”
“I’m wondering what to do about the A.A.A.”
Maid Girl Tsuchimikado Maika casually opened her eyes, got up, and tilted her head. She had a short sword made of concentrated shadow piercing her flat chest, but she showed no sign of pain, suffering, or fear.
“So what is this thing? Are you sure it isn’t just a prank using trick art or a hologram?”
…Kamijou did not want a girl he knew to writhe in pain while holding her chest, but this was creepy in its own way. A lack of subjective symptoms could not be used as a parameter to decide if she was safe or at risk. It was a frightening comparison, but this reminded him of the occasional special report on TV about someone who returned to their normal life with a scalpel or forceps accidentally left in their body during surgery.
And they did not have time to sit around.
A heavy sound dropped down.
Kamijou frowned and they all turned their heads.
There was something on the roadside, even though there had been nothing there before. Kamijou could not initially identify the clearly out-of-place object that seemed separated from the background. It was a silver ring of unknown use. It had no writing or pattern, but it was Tsuchimikado who identified it, not the pointy-haired boy.
Yes, that was right. A handcuff. It had been hard to tell with just the one half, but now that he knew what it was, Kamijou relaxed. He was relieved to be able to describe the mysterious object in his own words and categorize it accordingly. He just had few opportunities to come into contact with that sinister tool.
But unsurprisingly, it did not end there.
As if to make up for the handcuff’s missing parts, a fingertip-sized chain shot out from one end of the silver ring. There was no space to contain a chain, but it kept extending endlessly like a tape measure. It writhed, wrapped around itself, and finally took a single form.
It almost looked like a human skeleton.
Then it absorbed and gathered something like sugar water that floated in the air and enveloped it like invisible flesh and blood.
The one ring acted like a skull and the 4 limbs were bent to hang its head and scrape its forehead against the ground.
Then the handcuff ring lifted from the ground and whatever-it-was stared at them with its 4 limbs planted firmly on the ground.
At this point, it was more beast than human.
And that brought a certain term to Index’s mind.
“Aleister Crowley’s magic name!?” roared Othinus from Kamijou’s shoulder.
That acted as the trigger.
While acting as the core of the invisible flesh and blood, the handcuff and chain emitted a strange rainbow-colored light. It was an otherworldly scene, like seeing someone in an LED suit dancing in the darkness. And it was also reminiscent of a hard ball being thrown underhand just off the ground.
At this point, they could not claim it had no hostile intent.
They had not just been coincidentally caught in a random attack.
Kamijou honestly obeyed the fear and loathing that spread from his heart to his entire body. He clenched his right fist and took a step forward. Rather than drawing out his courage, he swung his fist for the same pessimistic reason as someone grabbing for the remote to change the channel when a horror movie came on TV.
“!? Wait, human!!”
Othinus shouted from his shoulder again.
He jumped in surprise, but there was no stopping now. He understood he had stepped on some kind of landmine. After all, the Magic God who had crushed Imagine Breaker with Gungnir or her crossbow was frantically telling him to stop. Something awful was bound to happen. The fear and regret sneaking up his spine were enough to make him want to squeeze his eyes shut.
Then his fist collided with the chain skeleton.
Immediately afterwards, the clear flesh and blood and the rainbow-colored skeleton burst like a water balloon.
Because it had gone too well, Kamijou’s heart pounded irregularly in his chest. It was like being told that a ballpoint pen would give him a shock if he knocked on it, clenching his teeth as he tried it, and then finding that nothing happened. His mind was unsure how to process the phenomenon before his eyes.
But the magicians were still cautious.
“Don’t let your guard down,” said Fran. “Some kind of haze is enveloping you!!”
When Hoodie Bikini Fran pointed that out, Kamijou finally looked down at his own body.
She was right.
It was not quite static electricity, not quite an aurora, and not quite fog. It was like the shininess on the surface of a CD. Some kind of vague haze was seeping out of the air and vanishing as it thinly surrounded him. Kamijou may not have known much about magic, but the similar coloration to the strange handcuff chain told him this was bad news.
“B-but so what? It doesn’t matter if this light or haze or whatever surrounds me. It’s not like it hurts or-…”
His entire body froze before he could finish with “anything”.
He saw Tsuchimikado Maika who merely looked puzzled.
She clearly had a weapon through her chest, but she felt no pain or suffering. A lack of subjective symptoms did not mean nothing was wrong.
Tsuchimikado sounded annoyed.
“You might not expect that from a Brit like Crowley, but as much as the Golden cabal likes to say it’s based in Kabbalah, its foundation of Hermeticism is actually a multinational mix of Egyptian and Greek mythology with names like Thoth and Mercury all over the place. On top of that, he made his own conversion chart to show how the Eastern I Ching worked using Western values. His journeys took him to Asia and there’s a story of him trying to change religions on the spot upon seeing a Kamakura-era Buddhist temple.”
“No, um, I was more asking what karma even is.”
“Karma as in karmic retribution. It’s the idea that your own actions invite the result you receive.” Othinus crossed her arms and sighed on his shoulder. “The simplest form of karma is the karma of killing. If you kill someone’s parent, the child will pursue you for revenge. That’s your karmic retribution. …And that’s what you’ve done here. By shattering and killing that rainbow chain with your right hand, you now bear that karma. This is not a good situation. He clearly sent that assassin to place this karma on you.”
Index put on a troubled expression and continued the explanation.
“According to Book 4 and Liber 777, the chain symbolic weapon is used to bind wandering thoughts. But unlike the fire wand or wind dagger, it isn’t a physical tool. It’s only a way for the spell user to gain subconscious control.”
“So what happens to me with this stuff around me…?”
“I don’t know. But the more it happens, the more powerful and thicker it will grow. You can punch through a single piece of paper with a fingertip, but enough layers of paper can stop a bullet.”
Kamijou pictured himself being forced to wear 10 or even 100 layers of clothing. Just how much weight and pain would they bring? It was possible he would be rendered immobile.
“But can’t I just destroy this rainbow karma stuff with my right hand?”
“Aleister has been raising Imagine Breaker in his city, so do you really think he wouldn’t have thought of that, human? You can kill the karma, but then you will bear the karma of killing karma. If you kill the child come to avenge their parent, you’ll only be attacked by their sibling.”
The more he killed, the more his karma would grow, so it would quickly snowball out of control. Did that mean it would be best to ignore it?
But something bothered him.
“Hold on. …If the penalty grows the more I kill…”
“Yeah.” Tsuchimikado cautiously looked around. “I doubt it’ll end with that one.”
They heard something fall to the ground.
They had no idea where it had come from, but a handcuff ring had fallen a short distance away, just like before.
No, that was not all.
Unlike before, there was something like a bicycle gear with it.
With a deafening metallic noise, a chain shot from the both heads and formed humanoid skeletons.
One was a chain meant to bind something to prevent movement.
The other was a chain meant to carry some kind of force to accelerate movement.
They were both chains, but their essences were different.
“Those symbolic weapons have no original role! View the gear as the sun and it symbolizes the male. View the handcuff as a ring and it symbolizes the female. That symmetry is being used to draw out a nonexistent element!”
“Oh, no! Is this the karma penalty? Did I bring this here!?”
Kamijou shuddered as the eerily-glowing skeletons formed, but Index shook her head while holding the calico cat in her arms.
“No, that wouldn’t explain why the first one appeared. The original cause has to have existed before you destroyed the rainbow chain monster!”
What was the first abnormal situation?
Kamijou Touma, Index, Othinus, Karasuma Fran, Tsuchimikado Motoharu, and even the cat focused on a single point.
Tsuchimikado Maika alone tilted her head as everyone looked her way.
The painless shadow sword still pierced the center of her chest.
Something invisible clung to the 2 chain skeletons like sugar water. It was flesh and blood. Assassins with fangs and claws were finally born.
Defeating them would not end this.
More and more would appear.
“Y-you’ve gotta be kidding me…”
They were karmic beasts.
Defeating one of them would surround you with a rainbow haze and no one could imagine what would happen once that grew to 10 or 100.
Win or lose, that flock of sin would place “something” on your back.
A clear threat arose within the abandoned territory just inside the wall where they could not ask anyone for help.
“Then what? Are these handcuffs and gears going to continue spawning endlessly as long as that’s in Maika’s chest!? That means we can’t lose them no matter where we go!!”
The rainbow chain skeletons and their transparent flesh and blood rushed in like a pack of hyenas mobbing some raw meat from every direction. Seeing hands, hand, hands, and more hands with sharp claws, Kamijou clenched his right fist despite knowing that was a bad idea.
Hoodie Bikini Fran immediately raised her voice. She had stopped being a UFO girl and was now an Anglican magician.
“Virgo. Heh, Heh, Vau, Yod. Guide the light of the 6th Sign that has already been lost due to precession, oh angel with an 8-letter divine name. Drive out the approaching calamity!!”
Yellowish-green light grew from her fingertips.
But before Kamijou could figure out what that meant, the bicycle gear chain moved forward. And just as the head gear turned…
Index shouted out and the light from the rabbit-ear antennae girl’s fingertips went haywire.
It first seemed to change to a bright red and then it exploded in her hands.
The girl groaned at her own explosion and the handcuff chain approached next. There was no other option, so Kamijou slammed his fist against the beast.
It noisily burst far too easily and the karma wrapped around his arm once more.
It grew thicker and more sinister.
Fran also grimaced while holding her hands.
“…Why did Aries, the 1st Sign, activate…?”
“They’re working in our heart to change the color scheme we picture in our head! The handcuff is stagnation and the gear is acceleration. From red to purple, the colors of light separated by the glass pillar are being flipped around!!”
A high school boy like Kamijou had no way of judging how dangerous this was, but it seemed to make people lose control of their magic.
And if magic was no use, they would have to rely on Kamijou even more.
With a thunk, a handcuff ring fell from empty air and produced a new rainbow chain.
There was no time to wait around.
But after being shaken so many times in a row, Kamijou’s attention had slipped.
He had not noticed that Tsuchimikado Motoharu, the blond sunglasses boy who had been standing right next to him, had disappeared.
A dreadful roar burst out.
A giant yellow crane truck slammed through the surrounding chains.
It weighed more than 10 tons.
The mass of steel plowed through with the full speed provided by its diesel engine, bowling all of the assassins out of the way.
And he was of course the one driving it.
“You say that, but there’s only the single box seat, Tsuchimikado!!”
Kamijou had no choice but to push on Maika and Fran’s butts to get them up on the side, grab Index’s hand and pull her up with him, and cling to the side like a rescue team on a firetruck. Without asking if they were ready, the unprecedented sunglasses brother worked the giant shift lever with a grinding sound and got the ultra-heavyweight monster going again.
He ran back over the rainbow chains that were squirming along the road and broke free of them with Kamijou and the others holding onto the crane truck.
Kamijou glanced back while an intense wind washed over his body.
“Dammit, they’re getting right back up!”
“I doubt there’s any simple way to kill them besides your Imagine Breaker, Kami-yan. For one thing, we’re talking about magic on Aleister’s level…but there’s also the fact that they’re so narrowly targeted, nyah.”
Tsuchimikado kept talking in the driver’s seat.
He sounded like he had expected something this bizarre.
“Either way, we have to get to the Windowless Building in District 7. So let’s just floor it!!”
The ultra-heavyweight crane truck could move pretty fast once it got up to speed. The handcuff and gear assassins were growing smaller as they pursued from behind. Kamijou and the others left the unmanned container yard wrapped in deathly silence and charged right into the urban region which was full of life.
But the crisis was not over.
“Wah!? What, what?”
The maid girl was at the center of it all, but Maika did not seem to sense the danger as she clung to the crane truck in confusion.
Orange sparks occasionally scattered from the road. Gears and handcuff rings were falling from nowhere and crashing into the asphalt. But they must not have been able to keep up with the speed because they were left in the dust before they could take actual form.
“What the hell!? Is there just an unlimited number of them!?”
“No, they aren’t physical objects in the first place,” explained Index. “Once one can’t follow us anymore, it loses its form to replenish the stock! The framework should just be the one pair of 2!”
But they could not let their guard down or relax.
Just because their speed was enough to lose the rainbow chains did not mean the enemy would go away. And if the stocked gear or handcuff would continue to appear somewhere around Maika, putting distance between them was meaningless. It was like gaining a lead in a relay race only to have the opponent’s next runner start running early.
Just letting them attack was out of the question, but carelessly defeating them came with a penalty. Plus, destroying them would only increase the stock. Flooring it and fleeing was the only option.
“There’s something odd about this,” said Othinus from Kamijou’s shoulder. “It’s definitely a nasty technique, but it isn’t very decisive. It’s almost like sending pursuers after us to place on some kind of preset rails. Like a hound chasing a wild rabbit.”
Kamijou was shocked.
“Are you suggesting this Aleister guy is luring us into the Windowless Building?”
“No, that would be meaningless. You might not be aware of it, but the Windowless Building is the center of the science side. It’s the core that he can’t allow to be taken. If he can determine a course for us and lure us there, he would only have to guide us into a dead-end alleyway and have us beaten up there.”
“This is how he does things,” cut in Tsuchimikado from the driver’s seat. “Victory and defeat, success and failure, acquisition and loss, glory and setbacks. They’re all the same thing to Aleister Crowley. No matter the result when you roll the die, his goal is achieved as long as he can guide that result in a single direction. That’s what he truly believes. A normal person would have given up after failing so spectacularly in summoning Coronzon, but it only got him more fired up.”
Kamijou sensed some kind of powerful current.
They were desperately struggling to climb up onto the bank, but the torrent of water had them in its grip and would not let go. The more they tried, the more it swept them downstream as if to mock them.
Tsuchimikado drove the crane truck through the city while running all the red lights and breaking through the railroad crossing bars that lowered and gave off a shrill noise.
No matter how much land it covered, it was still just one city.
It did not take long to reach District 7 from District 11.
The rabbit-ear antennae girl spoke up when she saw the former entrance.
“Kami-yan, where’s the entrance!?”
“I-it’s this rectangular opening in the road…oh, right! It’s near the withered tree over-…!!”
The nyah-nyah sunglasses boy did not wait for him to finish speaking. He pulled the hand brake, swung the giant truck around, and released what the crane was carrying: a gigantic wrecking ball.
The built-up centrifugal force was used to swing the extra-large morning star into the entrance to the underground area which was closed tight and disguised as asphalt. The destructive power was great enough for the 10-ton crane truck to rise up so only the wheels on one side touched the ground. It was unclear how many locks or deadbolts had kept it shut, but that blow created a nice rectangular opening.
Tsuchimikado somehow managed to get all the truck’s wheels back on the road and then drove right down the slope.
They could not forget that the gears and handcuff rings were continuing to be created around Maika as she clung to the crane truck. No amount of accelerating and fleeing would bring them safety.
The tires tore at the ground as the crane truck drove to the lowest level.
The brakes screeched and they found the same vast space as before. This was Kihara Yuiitsu’s fortress where she had ruled over 100 girls with a single right hand.
It was strange.
This cave of ruin and disaster had transformed into a path of hope for them.
(Come to think of it, Yuiitsu just kind of disappeared, didn’t she? …Oh!?)
Kamijou was just about thrown from the truck and he looked up to see countless rocket boosters hanging down like stalactites. They were all damaged and a large wound had opened. That was their way into the impregnable Windowless Building.
Hoodie Bikini Fran looked at the hole overhead like she was staring up at the sun.
This opening had been given to them by Kamisato Kakeru who was no longer here. What feelings did this bring to the small girl who had brought her love to an end?
“We don’t have time!”
Tsuchimikado shouted that at them as he placed the crane truck’s support legs on the ground and extended the arm. Yes, once the truck stopped, they could not escape those 2 chain monsters that appeared around Maika no matter where they were. The pair that was catching up from behind would reach them. But the more they defeated, the more of that unknown karmic penalty Kamijou would bear.
That meant they had to keep moving.
“Are we really doing this…!?”
“You can’t tell me you’re afraid of heights after jumping from the dorm and skydiving from a plane, Kami-yan!!”
The diagonally extended crane arm was a modern day Jack and the Beanstalk. There were no railings or lifelines. One slip and they would tumble straight toward the solid ground.
Kamijou could only think of one way to force his thoughts in a positive direction:
Q1: Which is better, falling from a great height or being slowly tormented to death by those creepy rainbow chains?
“Oh, hell!! Those are some awful choices!!”
He knew what he had to do.
Tsuchimikado grabbed into the crane arm and took the lead. Just like a mountain climbing guide, he was showing the others how it was done. Next were Index, Maika, and Fran. Kamijou went last.
(Although I can’t exactly catch them if they tumble backwards…)
He had enough tact not to say that out loud.
As the hoodie bikini girl went ahead of him, the soccer ball antenna on her butt waved back and forth, but then she covered her little butt with one hand.
And he heard the cursed words.
“…What do you think you’re looking at, you perverted dung beetle low-angle peeping tom?”
“A swimsuit doesn’t count as underwear! And there’s nothing sexy about a girl who wears shorts in the middle of winter!!”
“Please do not criticize my fashion sense when you have no taste whatsoever!!”
The heavy handcuff ring and gear still fell around Maika as they climbed the crane arm, but it was a narrow crane. With nothing to grab onto, they simply vanished far below.
But there was no time to relax. The beasts with rainbow chain skeletons and transparent flesh and blood also began climbing the arm.
Kamijou kicked down the gear chain when it got close. He did not have to bear the mysterious karma as long as he did not use Imagine Breaker, but that meant he could not finish them off. Knocking them down from this height would not kill them.
But that did keep him too preoccupied to be bound by a fear of heights.
The next thing he knew, they had made it quite a ways up and they successfully climbed inside through a damaged booster.
But if there was a way in, their opponents could continue their pursuit.
“Outta the way, Kami-yan!!”
Tsuchimikado moved forward.
He ignored the way his blood vessels bulged out at his temple.
“Black of the Five Elements, remove the barrier like the surging of the water dragon. (Hey, delinquent. Wake the hell up and get to work.)”
As soon as he released a dragon made from a small piece of origami, the handcuff ring inside one of the beasts opened and closed.
They were changing the color of the magic so Tsuchimikado would lose control.
“Losing control was part of the plan!!”
He pushed it through regardless.
The giant water gun blast that grew in that space wrapped around Tsuchimikado’s surroundings and slammed into the end of the crane arm. The arm and the ultra-heavyweight crane truck were knocked onto their side. The beanstalk was felled and the ghouls clinging to it were knocked down with it.
“Aniki? What is it, Aniki!? You’re covered in blood!!”
Unable to answer Maika’s shocked words, Tsuchimikado doubled over and coughed up a lot of blood. His entire body was tormented by the side effects of being a magician who was also developed as an esper.
And there was no set value for how many times he could take this side effect.
He might be able to survive it 100 times, or he might die after the first time because it caused one of his heart’s blood vessels to burst. He was trapped by those unreasonable Russian roulette rules.
“They can’t follow us…” he said while wiping off his mouth. “Not unless they can grow wings like angels or demons…”
That was when they heard a dry clattering sound.
“But unless we solve Maika’s problem, those handcuff and gear rainbow chains will continue to appear. We need to keep moving. We’ll be trapped otherwise!!”
The Anti-Art Attachment.
Misaka Mikoto should have had nothing to do with that term. She had originally acquired it by pure happenstance. But the truth remained that she was growing dependent on it.
However, there was still a lot she did not know about it.
It had apparently been one of the reasons by Kihara Yuiitsu had brought an army of Elements to thoroughly destroy Tokiwadai Middle School. And it may have been her taking a step “deeper” into the A.A.A. that had highlighted her as a threat and led to something as strange as a curse targeting her.
“So I’m the same as those girls,” began Mikoto anew.
They were in a burger shop outside the School Garden. Instead of a chain with restaurants everywhere, it was a small shop at the top of a small multi-tenant building. The narrow stairs up to it made her question just who it was welcoming. In fact, it did not even have a sign out front. If she did not know better, she would have thought it was an office full of frightening-looking men.
Shokuhou Misaki had brushed back her honey-blonde hair and made the following smug announcement in front of the restaurant.
“Not every restaurant in the School Garden is all that good. A lot of them will dump in preservatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners, beef tallow, or lard and hope you don’t notice. Not letting the appearance fool you and locating the places that serve real food is how you prove your worth as a person.”
“Yes, yes. You’re so wonderful for knowing about a good hole-in-the-wall place. Wonderful, wonderful.”
“Why are you acting cute all of a sudden? Do you mentally regress when someone looks down on you or something?”
But back to the present.
It was like a scene from TV where what looks like a perfectly normal apartment room turns out to be a fancy French restaurant that rejects first-time customers. Mikoto had no choice but to rub the other girl’s head, which caused the queen to puff out her cheeks like rice cakes. But that aside…
The flavor must have been linked to happy memories for her because Shokuhou Misaki childishly bit into the extra-large burger with a smile. Mikoto continued the discussion from the seat diagonally across the table.
“When a power falls in your lap out of the blue and forces you to be aware of its presence, it tends to throw you for a loop. But to be honest, I’m pretty clearly a few laps behind in some invisible world. And I can’t climb up onto the stage without the strange power of the A.A.A.”
The burger was too big to eat all at once, so the #5 set it back down on the tray, stuck out her little tongue to lick the grease from her lips, used her straw to take a sip of a soda made from spring water, reached for the fries, and spoke with exasperation in her voice.
“So where’s the core of this problem ability? Ohh, I’m just so frightening now that I’ve gained this incredible power! …Are you just losing yourself in that feeling???”
“…In a way, I have to thank you, Shokuhou. You’re probably the only person in Tokiwadai who will speak with me so frankly.”
“I mean…” Shokuhou held a fry out toward Mikoto’s mouth. “Weigh the 2 options: gain this power, or don’t gain it. Is there any way the latter option would be of any use?”
“…Y-you actually ate it. That’s honestly something of a letdown.”
“With someone as black-hearted as you eating them so readily, it’s obvious they aren’t harmful.”
But she did not seem to notice the waitress pouring chilled water from a pitcher at another table who began blushing as the water overflowed the glass.
“To get back on topic, if there is a price for using the A.A.A., you’ve already paid it and the risk won’t just go away if you stop using it now, right? And that’s true whether it’s something physical or some kind of, um…curse?”
“Uh, but isn’t it a little much to keep using it like crazy on that reasoning? Just because you swallowed one anti-drowsiness pill doesn’t mean it’s okay to chug the whole bottle after learning what they are.”
“That’s not what I meant. Normal hospitals aren’t going to tell you anything with the A.A.A.’s side effects or the curse’s lingering effects, right? Then isn’t the only way to rest easy to analyze the A.A.A. yourself? With a suspicious tablet or supplement, you could send a sample to the appropriate agency, but since there’s no one like that in this case, won’t you just have to do it yourself?”
“…Well, yes, I suppose.”
Mikoto pouted her lips like a child and Shokuhou breathed a heavy sigh when she saw it from the diagonal seat.
She leaned back in her chair and reached out her long legs to mess with Mikoto’s feet below the table.
“This tends to be how it works when someone asks for advice, doesn’t it? You already have the answer half-formed in your mind, but you’re afraid of placing all the responsibility on your own shoulders, so you push it onto someone else’s back to distribute the burden. It’s nothing but a disaster for those of us who kindly listen to your worries. I mean, we have to bear a portion of the responsibility for something we’re not even doing.”
“Honestly, what a waste of time. If you weren’t like that, Misaka-san, I could drag out what you really thought at the touch of a remote button and this would all be over. Why do I have to be the #5 while you’re the #3?”
“Then why did you decide to hear me out?”
“Why else? How is this connected to that pointy-haired boy?”
The Windowless Building.
Kamijou’s group had come to that giant space in order to find a way to get rid of the shadow sword stabbing into Maika’s chest since neither Index nor Othinus knew what to do about it. They had to infiltrate Aleister Crowley’s fortress, find some documents related to the spell he had created, and use that to calculate out some new magic that would neutralize or eliminate it.
(But I can’t believe the person at the top of Academy City, headquarters of the science side, was a magician…)
Kamijou gave a belatedly gulp at the twisted structure of the world.
The Windowless Building’s internal structure was far from normal.
Its length and width were fine. It was about the size of a school gym. If there were no internal walls, that size was nothing out of the ordinary.
The problem was the height.
Kamijou could not see the top.
No matter how high he looked, nothing like a ceiling was in evidence. It was all wrapped in darkness. He doubted this was possible even if the entire building was one giant open space. It almost looked like a pit or vertical tunnel that was connected to outer space or another dimension. The scale was one only found in mountain climbing.
“We already knew the Windowless Building was a giant rocket,” whispered Othinus from his shoulder. “It should have lost its ability to escape the planet with the rocket boosters gone, but did it go beyond that? The internal space is being extended to connect to the destination coordinates. That’s what created this strange spatial structure that surpasses Euclid.”
“This isn’t the Sephiroth or the Qliphoth… It’s almost like a unique third tree built up from scratch…”
Kamijou had no idea what they were talking about, but the rainbow chain beasts were still being created from the gears and handcuffs around Maika. Defeating them without thinking was dangerous and they could not come to a stop, so the group had to continue up.
“There are some stairs over there!”
That was all Kamijou shouted before leading the way. The stairs spiraled around the inside of the building’s outer wall. In addition to the stairs were an escalator and even a small open elevator like the kind used at construction sites or in mines. He smacked indoorsy Fran on the head when she reached for the elevator button. They did not have time to wait, so he led the way to the stairs.
The internal structure did not follow any kind of logic.
The structure only continued up and up and up. There seemed to be a lot of paths where the landing branched off both up and down, but it all led in the same direction in the end. It felt like being set on a single predetermined path.
“You often hear about escaping upwards being a bad idea in fires, right!? It feels like we’re running into a dead end here!”
“Then do you want to stop here and get caught in the flames!? Just hurry!!”
They seemed to be safely escaping, but Kamijou could not rid himself of an unpleasant feeling like they were growing more and more tangled in a spider’s web. He sensed an indescribable dead-end like he would draw the short straw whether he won or lost the game of rock-paper-scissors.
His initial feelings about all this were still with him.
It was that danger without subjective symptoms seen in Maika from the moment the condensed shadow sword had stabbed through her chest.
He should have been glad she was not in pain, but the lack of pain made it feel like they were being mocked.
(Damn, it feels like nothing we’re doing is having any effect. I can’t tell if we’re headed in the right direction or not!!)
But even if they were only running up some stairs or a stopped escalator, the exhaustion was incredible when there was no goal in sight. It felt like a combination of mountain climbing and a marathon. To escape the rainbow chain beasts with gear or handcuff heads, they were running full speed without thinking of pacing themselves, so their bodies were naturally growing unsteady.
Kamijou found himself reaching for the railing of the large spiral staircase.
Then something strange happened.
With no prior warning, the metal railing broke off like it was made of sugar.
He had tried to say “hey” because doubt and irritation arrived before fear. But there was no changing it now that it had happened. His hand swam through empty air in search of something to grab onto, but he could not make the necessary correction after fully placing his body weight on the railing.
He tumbled out past the railing.
The violent gravity produced by the planet became deadly hairs that tangled all around Kamijou Touma’s body.
It was a world of fog.
Hadn’t he just taken a dive into the void along with the broken railing? This was another unreasonable turn of events, but relief filled his body when he felt solid ground supporting his feet. He felt some faint unease at how empty it all seemed, like he was trying to fill his stomach with a feast visible through VR goggles, but…it still went a long way to restrain the pressure on his heart.
Kamijou moved each limb in turn to confirm that nothing was broken.
“Where am I…? Othinus? Huh? Othinus?”
He realized the Magic God was gone from his shoulder.
Had she been thrown off when he made the dive? If not… He tried to think of other options, but found nothing. Then again, he had no idea how to explain his current situation, so of course he could not come up with any theories.
He heard what sounded like a bug zapper flashing on and off.
And then he heard a graceful female voice through the fog.
Before he could ask, he sensed a presence.
But it was not the women he had heard through the fog. Several mocking children’s voices reached him from a different direction.
They were energetic, but they were not at all bright or cheerful.
In fact, this was the torrent of negativity unique to childhood that hid the kind of sadism that would tear off an insect’s legs one at a time.
That was all he sensed at first and it felt like an invisible wall pressing in on him.
And at that point, he finally realized the language was distanced from him. The previous woman and these children seemed to be speaking English, and yet he could understand them just fine. It might be a clichéd explanation, but the meaning behind the words played over them like a second sound channel.
“Teacher, he sleeps with his hands under the blanket!”
“He’s touched in the head! It’s because he doesn’t believe in god!!”
“Edward, come here. Apologize for making everyone uneasy!!”
(…? What is this???)
It sounded like they were ganging up on and criticizing someone, but Kamijou did not understand what it was about. If they were making it up, surely they could have come up with a better story than that. It did not even make sense to stretch the truth for this.
But the several silhouettes visible through the fog did not doubt they stood on the side of justice. They were only thinking of dragging someone down from the stage and making that person bow down to them.
This was majority rule.
It was a small miniature garden where that decision was all that mattered.
No matter how unreasonable it was, that cage of rules would reject you if you did not work to fit in.
The sticky atmosphere was like a soaked blanket.
“Just how foolish are they…?” whispered a voice.
Someone already stood by Kamijou’s side. It was a skinny boy with silver hair. He was much smaller than Kamijou. His juvenile face showed only bitterness and frustration. He did not seem able to see Kamijou. Kamijou was apparently only the audience.
The fog whirled around.
A male and a female silhouette with adult heights were shouting something beyond the fog.
“Why do you refuse to listen to us!?”
“We thought sending you to a strict boarding school would help you understand the teachings of god!!”
“Edward, oh, Edward! Just how stupid are you!?”
…For some reason.
He had nothing to base this on, but Kamijou thought he could see what was going on here. Those adults must have been the ones who were meant to protect the silver-haired boy. But they had been so focused on ensuring he acted “proper” that they grew lax in that duty. They had fully believed that letting a strict school take care of him would place a strict spirit in him.
The boy spoke.
“Even those who believe in god and proclaim themselves to be righteous can act so disgracefully?”
Could they hear him or not?
Something was thrown into the fog. It was a porcelain flower pot full of water.
It was going to hit the silver-haired boy in the face.
So Kamijou instinctually reached out and caught it. He felt the heavy impact in his wrist. He gasped at the dull pain. He still did not understand what all this was, but he knew he could not let his guard down. If someone wielded a knife in this fog, it could kill him.
And the silver-haired boy did not even glance in his direction.
This was like a movie, so no one could even perceive Kamijou’s presence.
“Then reading through the bible must not lead to the truth. When you cast aside your own thoughts and blindly believe the teachings of those who came before you, you only gain that disgraceful behavior.”
That boy had seen the “other side” of the people praised as saints and treated like the perfect role models.
His heart must have been a dark mass of solidified doubt and scorn.
The silver-haired boy spoke with a voice that seemed to burn with a dark flame.
“Then I will find the truth. I will reclaim the former path that was lost in their foolish blind belief.”
Just as something like sparks seemed to flash before Kamijou’s eyes, the fog and the silver-haired boy vanished.
In fact, Kamijou Touma had never fallen in the first place. He felt the solid sensation of the metal railing in his hand and it supported his weight.
He was back on the stairs. The same stairs as before.
“What is it, Touma? You zoned out there for a second.”
“If we don’t get going, the rainbow chains will catch up!”
He was urged on by Index and Fran, but Kamijou’s head was full of questions. He instinctually reached for his right shoulder to confirm the presence of the 15cm fairy there. He stroked the top of her small head through her hat.
“Stop it, human. Don’t play with me in front of so many people. There is a time and a place for this kind of thing!!”
He could feel her there.
Othinus really was there.
So…what did that mean? What was the meaning of the vision he had seen while Othinus was not on his shoulder???
But despite the questions filling his mind, he did not have time to figure any of it out.
Just as the girls had warned him, Maika – or rather, the painless short sword piercing her chest – had the power to produce those gear and handcuff monsters. If they stayed in one place for too long, they would be trapped between the pair of beasts.
On a landing where the stairs, escalator, and elevator complexly intertwined, several of those bloody monsters appeared. The way forward and back were both blocked, so they had to break through.
Tsuchimikado immediately pulled out a few pieces of origami.
“Tch! Kami-yan, you look after Maika!! As long as you don’t use Imagine Breaker, we don’t have to think about the karma!!”
“Wait, Tsuchimikado! You still have the damage from before. And Index, you support Fran. She’s a magician, so she should be able to make use of your knowledge!!”
It was frightening having the beasts attack in a group, but each individual one was not that powerful. So Kamijou’s judgment was not all that wrong.
That was only if their assumptions were correct.
(Were there three of them before?)
One of the chain beasts suddenly burst from within. Just because the background was visible through them did not mean there was nothing inside. The light had been bent to hide a “human” with waist-length silver hair and a green surgical gown. He looked like both a man and a woman, like both an adult and a child, and like both a saint and a sinner. At close range, he gently held his right hand out toward them. 32, 30, 10. As if he were striking the flint in a lighter, small numbers scattered from his hand.
His fingers took a familiar form.
He clenched a fist and then stuck out his thumb and forefinger.
In other words…
Just as Kamijou thought that, the world was filled with horrific destructive power.
The handcuff chain beast in the way was torn to pieces and blown away as “something” flew toward them. Whatever-it-was flew far too fast for the human eye to follow. Just like wheat swaying as the invisible wind blew through, its presence was only just barely apparent thanks to the destroyed beast.
“Ooooowahhhhhhh!!!???” roared Tsuchimikado.
There may have been no logical reason and it may have only been a ritual to tear apart the chains of fear binding his legs.
Tsuchimikado Motoharu took a step forward, brought his hands together in front of his chest, and held up an origami phoenix.
The invisible “something” was deflected by an invisible barrier.
He had truly bet his life on that resistance.
But it did not end there. Hadn’t Tsuchimikado himself said that Aleister Crowley was not picky about victory or defeat, success or failure, acquisition or loss, and glory or setbacks? That no matter the result, he could guide it all in a single direction?
Deflecting the attack caused it to burst and scatter in every direction.
And it evenly assaulted Kamijou’s group who should have been protected.
As his entire body was pummeled, the pointy-haired boy’s rattled head lost all sense of direction. He could not tell what had happened to the girls standing right next to him. In fact, he could not even feel the ground. Kamijou was in an extreme predicament, but he felt something oddly familiar.
It was the same as before.
He was falling.
Kamijou Touma fell without end.
Between the Lines 1
The propaganda and negative campaigns from the Christian church died out due to the rampant criticism calling the witch hunts immoral and inhumane. And to replace that, they were instead attacked by the third-rate newspapers with no morals or compliance rules that were starting to make an appearance at the time.
All sorts of things were written about them: that they still boiled babies in pots for their experiments, that they held obscene ceremonies with men and women all mixed together, etc. (Ironically, the attempts to discover the truth about them actually hid the truth of what magicians were.) So from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, true magicians began drawing out definite rules for their research and experiments.
You must not use any living creature as an ingredient for an experiment.
Simply put, magic circles using animal or human blood and potions using fat or internal organs were banned. Some might find this odd. Aren’t frogs, newts, pigeons, and bats the standard ingredients for “wicked witches” to put in their cauldrons in children’s books?
Were the actual magicians actually perfectly pure and nothing like the image of them someone had invented? Or had such things grown so common that everyone would have done them if they had not made some civilized rules? Everyone can come to their own conclusions on that question.
And just because they had rules did not mean those acts themselves went away. There were some who would break the rules to reach their goal.
And that leads us to a certain “human”.
On a trip to Africa, that magician used the blood of 3 pigeons to draw a magic circle in an attempt to pass from one sephirah to another. To pass through the abyss between them, he wished to become one with the abyss so he would not take any spiritual damage as he accomplished his goal.
How did that turn out?
Whether it succeeded or failed, human society came into contact with a certain name at that time.
That demon is designated with 8 letters, beginning with C.
That being was not contained by the existing Qliphoth and even broke the controlling chains of the man with a bestial magic name.