Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume19 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: That Person Cannot Forget the Kindness of Man – Gift_of_the_Hope.
Emergency System Scan…98, 99, 100%.
Error Report: Failed to recover data in damaged regions. (E#0153cd09)
Unresponsive clusters have been deemed physically damaged and have thus been frozen. Bypass routes for those clusters can be set and the registry can be rewritten to temporarily reroute the basic system files. Even with an optimistic estimate, performance is predicted to drop by at least 43%. The lower limit is unknown. And since the entire system is unstable, the number of background tasks will need to be reduced to limit the load and prevent a forced shutdown.
Safe mode construction complete.
Prioritizing response to the current situation and rebooting with unrecommended settings.
Hamazura Shiage awoke in the shredded late-night botanical garden.
How long had he been unconscious?
When he shook his head and tried to place a hand on his helmet, he finally realized something was wrong.
It was heavy.
He could feel the sensation of the grinding gears, like he was trying to move a powered-down robot arm by pushing and pulling on it. The lines of light running along the back of his hand and elsewhere were only flashing with an unreliable blue light.
“Aneri, what’s going on!? Dammit, I can’t figure this out if you don’t tell me!”
There was no response.
The icons that had always appeared in the corner of his vision were absent. He did at least have his normal vision, but he could see something like gray static run through it at times.
…Something may have broken.
Once he reached that obvious possibility, raw fear crawled along his spine. This was not over yet. Takitsubo may have safely escaped the botanical garden and met up with Mugino and Kinuhata. But the #1 and Wanted Criminal A. O. Francisca, who may not have shown every card in his deck, were both still on the game board. There were no absolutes on this battlefield. He could not just hand over the baton and go home.
(That’s right. What happened to him?)
He looked around the area, but the wanted criminal he had supposedly defeated was nowhere to be seen. No organism weapons were rushing toward him either.
On top of that, Accelerator had said something odd.
It may not have been Lilith alone at the center of this.
That concerned him, but not because he wanted to solve the riddle. If he did not know what they were after, it would be harder to predict their next move. He would lose his ability to judge where to raise the shield to safely contain the extraordinary destructive power of those monsters. At this point, hesitation would be deadly. If he paused for a moment and was suddenly stabbed in the side, there would be no recovering from it.
He had thought this incident would be over once he had protected Lilith to the end.
He had gotten Takitsubo, Mugino, and Kinuhata involved on that assumption.
…If that fell apart now, then he might have unwittingly dragged them into something truly dangerous.
If he was going to make up for that, what was his first step?
He had gotten on the wrong train at the station. He could not turn back time to return to the station. His mistake was set in stone, so he had to think about which station to get off at to best reach his original destination.
There was only one answer.
Whatever the case, the bicycle-based land delivery drone carrying Lilith was on its way to that District 7 hospital and Takitsubo would have sent Mugino and Kinuhata to guard it. Whether Lilith was at the center of this or not, it would be best to gather everyone and come up with a plan together.
He could no longer tell what the #1 and the wanted criminal were fighting over.
Or how he had gotten dragged into this incident himself.
So once more, he would reveal the full picture of this incident.
And to do that, he had to reach that large “transfer station” where so many rail lines gathered.
“I just have to get to that hospital…”
A cat-like “nyaohhhn” echoed through the night.
After finishing the battle and checking the surrounding environment, Accelerator looked up to see the black cat witch sitting on a branch of a roadside tree that was decorated with a string of LED lights and an outside speaker playing Christmas songs.
“I thought we had said goodbye already, but since we have found each other again, I can only assume we’re after the same thing. It would seem the person I am searching for will be found through that Processor Suit.”
With a line like that, you would never think she had walked behind a convenience store and stuck her head in a metal box not long before. Perhaps that was the same attitude as a cat that walked nobly along fences but captured mice and grasshoppers when out of sight.
But for Accelerator, this was a problem.
To be blunt, his conversation with Mina Mathers in the arcade had suggested she had no useful information. But if he treated her cruelly and upset her, she might follow him around and interfere with everything he tried to do. She was not a devastating opponent, but she would be a complete waste of time since she could predict and dodge all his attacks. That was not someone he wanted to deal with when his life was reliant on his choker’s battery.
But you must not forget.
The word “cooperation” was not in the Academy City #1’s vocabulary.
Speaking a few words was the most he would do.
“…Do whatever you want.”
“Then I shall.”
Showing no concern for her long skirt, Mina Mathers jumped down from the branch and landed next to the white monster.
“I have been thinking.”
“That Calculate Fortress defense was built to the same or greater standards as the Windowless Building, so which of Academy City’s functions was it meant to protect?”
“Only one thing comes to mind. I know it is an unexpected visual, but that would only make it safer. No one is stupid enough to label their important facilities as ‘important’ on a satellite map. A shape that gives no hint to its true function is a form of risk avoidance in and of itself.”
This was all old news for Accelerator.
Mina was confirming her speculation, but there was nothing new here for the #1.
So that monster asked just one thing.
“I have one thing I would like to confirm with you.” Mina stared at the white-haired and red-eyed monster from behind her veil. “Are you trying to retrieve it or destroy it?”
He clicked his tongue.
His answer here would determine Mina Mathers’s next action.
Accelerator could not afford to waste time with her, so he could not just ignore this.
“I don’t give a shit who’s standing at the top. I just want to bring back what the people I know think of as normal days.”
Mina softly bumped into the monster who used a modern design cane.
The black cat witch smiled brightly behind her veil.
“You’ve gone soft, Accelerator.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve just changed my target to the toughest one of all.”
“As long as you understand that. Because the destruction of civilization is no more than an odd job that a swarm of mosquitos or flies could manage.”
“…Do you want me to reflect you, you damn woman?”
“Oh, excuse me.” Mina Mathers took a step away. “Now, let us share our information. Social media, security cameras, video sharing sites, and such are set up to automatically delete any secret information, but the drive recorders in cars are still poorly managed because it took so long to achieve a common standard. The Processor Suit is on the move. It is on its way to a District 7 hospital that is well-known in matters like these.”
“Were you hoping I would feel indebted to you?”
“Well, that was not all I discovered, but the other thing is related to the person I am searching for and has nothing to do with you. However, there is one pile of old paper that should be a troublesome irregularity even for you. Yes, this is an abnormality that has gathered far more than I have. So be careful.”
“Feel free to make a mess of things as you see fit. I will be achieving my goal in the meantime.”
Sure enough, Accelerator had not obtained any new information.
It was all things he had known for a quite a while.
“I don’t know who this moron is, but I’ll show him whose territory he’s set foot in.”
To that being, the enhanced movements and program-controlled predictions supplied by the Processor Suit were not absolutely necessary.
To them, the Mimetic Predator organism weapons were no more than something that gave form to the inspiration they held in their hand.
Bizarre “sounds” that did not seem like they could possibly come from a human mouth escaped from behind the visor. Their body’s axis was shifted and the heights of their shoulders did not match, but that being’s limbs could still move. The light from the gaps in their armor flashed and switched between red and yellow, but that was fine as long as it did not stop altogether. They could continue their mission like this.
Al2O3. Guided by the red of a chemical formula, that being realized something and hid behind the pillar supporting a wind turbine.
This being had attacked and destroyed that Central Anti-Skill Station, but they held their breath and waited.
They waited for something to pass by without noticing them.
“Damn, were they over there!? I swear I caught a glimpse of them earlier!”
“Given the timing, you likely did. They are probably noticing we have noticed them about now. We should bring this to a direct confrontation soon.”
A silver-haired girl waved around a bundle of papers the size of yen notes. She used it like a compass, as if checking for something.
This being had expected to be discovered eventually.
But they had been delayed somewhat on the scene. They had apparently worked up some distrust by not making an appearance for a while. Returning like nothing had happened would be impossible now.
So they avoided regrouping with the others. They instead hid and waited for the others to pass by.
That being held their breath and maintained their silence.
Hamazura too hid behind cover while dragging along his heavy body that’s blue light flashed irregularly.
He had no idea how far the Processor Suit’s functionality had dropped, so he wanted to avoid leaping from building to building. If the drop in specs was uniform, he could figure something out, but he was afraid of it being more of a wave with peaks and valleys. He could not entrust his life to it until he had that figured out.
But at the same time, the ground was not as dangerous as it had looked. After the attack on District 7’s Central Anti-Skill Station, reinforcements had been called in from other districts, but with multiple chains of command and the general state of confusion, they seemed to be having difficulty working together. Thinking back, Hamazura realized no armed vehicles or helicopters rushed to the botanical garden.
Most likely, the city had yet to recover as well as it seemed.
Anti-Skill was busy regaining internal control so the entire organization did not fall apart, so they did not have time to pursue external threats like wanted criminals. Of course, that information would cause the public order to collapse, so they were doing their best to at least look like they were keeping an eye on everyone.
The Christmas songs on the streets had been quieted for the night and Hamazura watched inattentive red flashing lights drive from right to left before he stepped out from behind a vending machine. He was on his way to the hospital Lilith would have been carried to. On the way, he passed by a movie theater bearing a poster for a horror B-movie that would probably have Kinuhata drooling. The poster depicted a vampire older sister and zombie little sister grappling. That late show was probably targeted at people who were sick of the Christmas mood instead of people looking for a date movie. Hamazura figured it was like getting sick of New Year’s food over winter break and going out for gyoza or pasta instead.
On the way to his destination, he kept clenching and unclenching his fists and shifting between walking and running in an attempt to judge the state of the Processor Suit.
(What even is this Processor Suit in the first place?)
If Lilith was not the core of the issue, this was the only other possibility he could think of.
It enhanced his movements and it used partial vector control to absorb, disperse, and soften impacts. It also had Aneri inside it, but was that really enough to make such accurate movement predictions? …But despite all that, it was not necessarily meant for combat. What Hamazura was doing may have been like hitting someone with a fishing rod.
And there was one other important point.
(I was supposedly dumped out into the city as a decoy for A. O. Francisca, so would my Processor Suit even have its primary function installed?)
Normally, there would be no need to do that.
In fact, he had really only needed a helmet with the same design as the wanted criminal’s.
It was strange for his to be high-spec enough to carry Aneri. That was too much for a mere decoy. Or had the “real one” been mass-produced, so discarding a few of them was no big deal?
(I just hope it doesn’t turn out there’s some game master out there who’s making 50 or 100 people in Processor Suits fight each other.)
While thinking about all this, he had arrived near the hospital which was decorated with some Christmas lights.
Carelessly entering the hospital grounds was dangerous since they had a hotline to Anti-Skill, so he searched for a location that gave him a view of the whole building.
But that was why he noticed something was out of the ordinary.
It was not that the hospital had been destroyed in some kind attack or that lots of those organism weapons were clinging to the wall. His Processor Suit’s lights remained blue.
Several ambulances were stopped with their flashing lights off near the emergency patient entrance. No, it was more than that. There were an awful lot of personal cars in the parking lot for so late at night. They should only have been accepting emergency patients at this hour, but people were pounding on the glass door to the normal entrance.
(Are they overrun with patients?)
What that meant slowly sank into Hamazura’s mind.
Then what had happened to Lilith after she was delivered here? She had not been accompanied by a parent. She had not had anyone to speak for her, so in the worst case, couldn’t she have been abandoned out in the cold!?
“Are you goddamn kidding me!?”
He ignored the overall situation and started running toward the emergency patient entrance, but a slender leg stuck out from a shrubbery next to him.
The Processor Suit’s gaps belatedly turned yellow, but it was too late.
His legs were perfectly swept out from beneath him and someone dragged his fallen body into the bushes.
An exasperated voice reached his ears.
“Super what are you doing, Hamazura?”
“The combat species!? It’s that monster of a girl!”
“Hm? Did you just let slip something I super can’t overlook, you bastard!?”
It really had just slipped out, so he could not help it.
This was former Item’s smallest member: Kinuhata Saiai.
“Since you know it’s me behind the mask, I assume Takitsubo explained everything.”
“Yeah, but it was super hard deciphering what all her wordless gesturing meant.”
“That’s not her fault. Communicating with monsters can’t be easy. I mean, a combat species that communicates with its fists can’t comprehend anything too complicated.”
“Now I know I didn’t mishear that! It’s time to super do it!!”
“Can we at least not do it behind a bush in the middle of the night!!!???”
Plus, this was no time to be fooling around with a short flat-chested girl with no Christmas spirit. He had to confirm what was going on in the hospital and if Lilith was all right.
The girl put him in a headlock of wrath and rubbed her fist against his temple, so Hamazura digitally enjoyed her armpit as he asked a question.
“So what happened? This isn’t because of the heat wave, is it!?”
“Ugh, explaining would be a pain… It’ll be super faster if you go see for yourself.”
“See, you are a monster that rejects human civilization. …Wait, where are you taking me?”
She grabbed his arm with her small hand and pulled him over to the back staff entrance. Setting foot in the hospital was not the best idea given their hotline to Anti-Skill, but Combat Species Kinuhata Saiai did not seem to care since she figured they could punch their way out if they ran into any trouble.
She took him to the pediatric department. They passed right by the reception desk which had a mailbox for Christmas cards to Santa and she instead guided him to an examination room.
A small Christmas tree for hospitalized children was set up.
Next to that, a sexy beauty with long, wavy chestnut hair and a coat leaned against the wall with her arms crossed.
That was Academy City’s #4, Meltdowner.
Aneri seemed to be malfunctioning because the entire Processor Suit was dyed bright red.
“So now it’s the combat species’ biggest monster of all.”
“…This is a hospital, so it wouldn’t be a big deal if I tore off 5 or 10 of your limbs, would it?”
“Have you gone so insane you don’t know how many arms and legs people have!? Even your starting number was above the limit and nothing about that made sense! Not to mention that tearing off just one of them would be a big deal!!”
Takitsubo Rikou, the bare-midriff miniskirt Santa with kneesocks, was sitting on a bench. Hamazura was glad to have a girl who could hold a conversation and actually had some Christmas spirit.
She pointed toward the examination room door that had a round wreath hanging on it.
“Lilith is in there. She’s being taken care of, so don’t worry.”
At the very least, they had avoided the worst-case scenario where no one took her in and she was left out in the cold. But it was too soon to be optimistic. Hadn’t Lilith been suffering from an unexplained fever?
“But what was wrong with Lilith?”
“That’s the thing…”
Takitsubo trailed off there.
And the inconsiderate combat species butted into the conversation.
“The medical computers have super stopped working, so they say they can’t get any of that specialized information they rely on.”
“What does that mean? Did some kind of virus lock them up???”
“It’s a more fundamental issue.” Mugino sighed while still leaning against the wall. “While it looks like most of the city’s functions have recovered, it seems access to the Bank, Academy City’s general database, still isn’t back up. That of course keeps the pharmacists from doing anything, but it’s also stopped most of the scans needing to be run and the surgeries that were scheduled.”
“Fortunately, a lot of the people being taken to the hospital don’t really have anything wrong with them. After fighting over a single cup of water during the heat wave, a lot of people apparently started super overeating now that they suddenly find themselves back to their normal lives.”
…That would be why the emergency patient entrance had been so busy.
“But even if they don’t have all that convenient data, the doctors are licensed professionals, aren’t they?” asked Hamazura.
“100 years ago, professional doctors would do an appendectomy without gloves or even sterilizing their tools with boiling water, but do you really think anyone wants to do that nowadays? If they go ahead with a medical procedure without access to those convenient services, they’re placing all the responsibility on their own shoulders. There are surprisingly few professionals who are willing to work outside the manual in order to save people.”
Of course, not all the doctors were like that. There had to be some medical workers who were rushing to help patients even in these circumstances. But there were far too few of those, so the tasks just kept piling up. The benefits of their work could not reach everyone.
And Lilith was apparently one of those stuck in the queue.
No one had done anything wrong here. It was just that reality was cruel and gave no thought to human circumstances.
“Then we need to recover access to that Bank,” said Hamazura. “This isn’t just an issue for this hospital. We can’t bypass the problem when all 23 Districts are jammed up.”
“But super how do we do that?”
At times like this, it was important to have people who would harshly shove the hurdles in his face instead of soothing him with emotional platitudes. If they all held back, they would be unable to even directly face the problem.
“Anyone can easily use the Bank. Every school and hospital relies on it. …But only over the internet. No one knows where it’s physically located. In fact, no one knows what color, shape, or size it is.”
“And even if we tracked it down to some nuclear shelter or strategic satellite, there would still be the technical issue. This isn’t like gathering individually-sold parts and constructing a motorcycle. Messing with this and getting nowhere fast will only shorten that baby’s life.”
But Hamazura stopped listening partway through.
No, he started making connections in his mind.
The usual chill remained on his spine.
How had he immediately realized that silent and invisible surprise attack at the phone booth was the #1’s vector control?
Was peeking at the engineer’s fingertips earlier in the day really enough to reproduce them at the supermarket ATM?
What had led him to immediately search out Lilith in the pitch-black Anti-Skill station?
How had he treated the injured Anti-Skill officer?
Why had he predicted that Lilith was at the center of it all?
There was plenty more than just that. Until now, he had thought he had made it this far with his own skill at using the Processor Suit and Aneri.
But what if that was not the case?
He had taken inspiration from the many options, chosen one of them, and taken action. But what if even that was no more than one of the Processor Suit’s functions?
What was it Hamazura Shiage had needed to make it this far?
He doubted the answer was solid armor or high mobility. Once he had a goal in mind, it was a straight line from there. He made more and more connections that led him to a single answer.
Everyone had used it but no one had known what its physical form was.
In that case, there was nothing sillier than letting his preconceived notions hold him back.
He had to assume it was not necessarily some massive underground facility or a server station that filled an entire skyscraper.
(I don’t know what the Processor Suit was developed for and it has enough spare data processing power to run Aneri at full specs.)
What if everything had been contained in the Processor Suit from the beginning?
What if the suit had not been performing data searches based on each new situation he found himself in?
The #1 had said Lilith was not the core of this incident.
Then what were they fighting over?
“Come to think of it, I never figured out what the original incident was about.”
“The attack on the general securities trading office! Why did A. O. Francisca attack that place wearing a helmet just like this one? That giant building’s high-speed server used for stock trading or crude oil trading may have been the previous generation. That could have been its disguise!!”
Hamazura moved the Processor Suit’s heavy right arm and touched the side of his head.
Mugino and Kinuhata were telling him Academy City’s medical facilities were cut off from the Bank.
And he recalled the #1’s words.
“So does this mean you’re the parent?”
What had that really meant?
If he was right…
Could it be?
“Aneri, can this Processor Suit use the internet? Switch to online mode!!”
He heard a monotone beep.
And he saw some text displayed at the bottom of his vision like a movie’s subtitles:
Error Report: Online access unavailable due to an address conflict. (E#03431d0f)
Only offline mode actions are currently available.
Accelerator was also beginning to figure out how it worked.
He was accustomed to his modern design cane, but it still shifted his body weight in a way that wore him out faster. He leaned against a convenient roadside tree as he thought.
(It makes sense. For maintenance and part replacement, they would want at least a full set of spare parts. So if you put them all together, you could make yourself a fully-functioning Processor Suit.)
He breathed out.
(The problem is how that second one is being used.)
That was when he noticed something.
Had she reacted to the outside world with such interest because she had all the answers she wanted or because she was stuck and wanted to head off in search of more information?
(That black cat woman named Mina disappeared at some point. Well, she just liked to mess with me and talk down to me. And I don’t recall placing a bell around her neck.)
The Bank had no set form.
It had successfully constructed an indestructible defense by having its parts constantly rearranged like a puzzle, having no set size or shape, and repeatedly changing location. So as time had passed, it had taken on the form of different systems: an underground nuclear shelter, a skyscraper, a satellite, an electronic information control system, etc. …Yes, to the point that the people using it over the network could never even imagine what form the hardware took.
That might sound like going overboard, but the similar-yet-different Tree Diagram had vanished one day. So it may have made sense to prepare as much insurance as possible.
And this time, it had just so happened to take a humanoid form.
That was the truth of the Processor Suit. It was not an access terminal. It was the massive database itself.
The complete recovery of the Processor Suit…no, of the Bank would mean breathing life back into the cold surveillance system setup by the upper, upper, upper levels of the city.
(Well, this was right after that heat wave. It was probably the perfect timing for a format change.)
The heat wave caused by a member of the Kamisato Faction had actually been powerful microwaves sent down from space. Since it had destroyed all electronics in the city, that attack had caused trouble for Accelerator as well, but it was possible to defend against it as long as you made the proper preparations such as sheltering deep underground or within a ship’s hull.
But very few coordinates would already have had that level of defenses.
If it was discovered the Bank was still functioning after that heat wave, people who disliked the presence of that general database would search through all of those possible locations. It had been time for a change. It had been the perfect timing to discard the old Bank and switch over to a new Bank out of the many candidate colors, shapes, and sizes.
…And since those conditions only applied to the “current generation”, they would have wanted to go in the complete opposite direction for the “next generation”, even if that meant choosing an extreme design that ignored all logic. Yes, they would have most wanted something that did not look at all like a largescale server system.
From there, it was easy to guess the rest.
Those who wanted to reboot the Bank vs. those who wanted to stop it. The participant who ruled over the master system vs. the participant who had to submit as the slave system. Organizations that wanted to profit vs. groups that feared harm. In the public and hidden sides of Academy City, many confrontations had developed over the whereabouts of the human-sized Processor Suit.
(It feels like one of them is the real one and the other was discarded as a diversion. But both of them have really been taking their time. And why are the two Processor Suits trying to destroy each other? I get why the one used as a diversion would be pursuing the real one, but why is the opposite case happening? If I had to guess…)
Accelerator had an idea in mind.
He then glanced down at his mobile device.
…The previous generation Bank would have had a completely different form. It should have already been disposed of, so an error message would have popped up if the next generation could not take over. It was possible they would even revert to the old version for the time being. But there was no sign of that happening. That meant the next generation was still functioning, just not fully connected.
“Tch… But I thought they were both destroyed back at that botanical garden. Damn those zombie machines. Did they patch together the torn wires to get them back up and running?”
Hamazura slapped his hands across his body.
Presumably because monsters like Mugino and Kinuhata were nearby, the Processor Suit’s gaps remained at their maximum alert of red. He could not find a port for a cable anywhere on the suit.
Aneri was no more than an engine.
Without the database to search, he could not make use of Aneri’s strong points. When Aneri had shown him how to do strange martial arts moves, found the secret map of the Anti-Skill station, and (on a smaller scale) shown him how to comfort a baby or make a crib, he had assumed the information came from the internet, but Aneri had just said the suit could not be put online.
Then where had all that data been hidden?
The answer was simple: the Processor Suit itself was an enormous database. That was why Aneri had been functioning at full ability in offline mode.
“Damn. If I’m right, then this should be the Bank… So there has to be something, right!? I don’t need a wireless signal or a connection to the network. Isn’t there some way to get the data out with just a cable!?”
Lilith was still suffering and she was not being examined or treated because the hospital’s medical equipment had lost their connection to the Bank. If he could get all this data out of the Processor Suit, he might be able to save that baby. And he might be able to breathe life back into all the stalled hospitals and allow them to accept all those patients in need!!
They had all the puzzle pieces, but they would not fit together.
They could not receive the benefit of what they had.
It felt like having the key and the treasure chest, but finding someone had poured glue into the keyhole.
“Why can’t I use online mode, Aneri? Answer me!?”
As soon as he asked, Hamazura’s right hand moved on its own. He was not holding any kind of writing implement. Like a child scribbling on the road with a rock, the special material fingertip rapidly scraped out a series of words on the hospital wall with movements like a printer head.
It said the following:
Two identical models. The same SIM.
Generalization necessary. Identical model must be slaved.
…It was finally all fitting together.
Hamazura felt like he could finally see why he had been attacked.
It went back to what Accelerator had said.
The “parent” he mentioned had meant the “parent device”.
If the general securities trading office in the first attack had contained the previous generation database, then Wanted Criminal A. O. Francisca would have acquired a lot of data and secret keys for his Processor Suit. He had likely intended to take over as the new Bank.
Hamazura had been placed in his suit as a decoy to lose pursuers like Accelerator.
But by gathering the spare parts, the mere diversion had ended up with a truly identical model. So the base program and settings profile had been identical. The two Processor Suits with duplicate personal information and ID numbers were interfering with each other, preventing either one from getting proper network authentication.
That was why the wanted criminal had returned to Hamazura.
Despite being the one to set him up in the first place.
More accurately, A. O. Francisca would have been out of options if Anti-Skill removed Hamazura’s Processor Suit, left it under top level security, and preserved it as evidence. So he had needed to stop Hamazura’s suit from functioning even if it required a rather forceful method.
He had either needed to fully destroy the processor core or slave the device – that is, change the Processor Suit’s internal settings so it offered up all privileges and could be remotely controlled at all times.
(How did Aneri get in this Processor Suit? It’s offline and I don’t see any kind of communication port… Did they get in through an exposed connection while A. O. Francisca was assembling the spare parts?)
But in that case…
Just then, a powerful tremor shook the entire hospital. It was like a repeat of the Central Anti-Skill Station and the botanical garden, so it had to be him. To Hamazura Shiage, it felt as familiar as having an old friend ring the doorbell for a visit.
“No, this is fine.” Hamazura cut off Takitsubo. “In fact, this is perfect. I was the disposable decoy and he was the main one. And since I haven’t seen anyone else in a Processor Suit, this ends once I defeat him. As long as I can get this suit online, we can save Lilith…no, save everyone trying to rely on a hospital in this city. It’s at least worth trying!!”
In truth, Hamazura Shiage did not care all that much whether he won or lost. Whoever won, the Bank could be switched to online mode, the hospitals could resume normal functions, and Lilith could be saved. If he was certain of the wanted criminal’s cooperation, throwing the fight would not be a problem at all.
But the problem was whether he could trust A. O. Francisca whose face he had never seen. Until now, that masked man had tried to kill him without any warning at all and he had mercilessly used his jellyfish spears to pierce the blanket disguised as Lilith. If his plan was to increase the Bank’s value by keeping it to himself and then selling it outside of Academy City, then it would all fall apart. It was possible the hospitals would not return to normal and Lilith would not be saved.
So Hamazura had to be certain.
He would defeat the wanted criminal and make his Processor Suit the one and only Bank.
If he was missing some working parts, he could tear them off of A. O. Francisca’s suit.
“Mugino, Kinuhata. You two take care of Lilith. This guy uses a Processor Suit just like mine along with a bunch of organism weapons. Either one has to be defeated before it makes contact. The organism weapons are bad enough that they can tear into this special material at a touch. A flesh-and-blood human would be killed instantly, so don’t let them anywhere near Takitsubo or Lilith. …And Mugino. Whenever you fire Meltdowner, make sure you aim out a window. Knowing you, you would start firing everywhere and vaporize other patients and doctors. Make sure no one else is in the way.”
“What will you do, Hamazura?”
“I’m going to directly attack him.”
With that said, Hamazura left the others and walked down the late night hospital’s hall.
He knew this would not be that simple. Even at full strength, he had needed to catch A. O. Francisca off guard to break down the pre-existing harmony and not even the greatest attack he could muster had fully stopped him. And this time, Hamazura’s Processor Suit had taken a lot of damage from Accelerator’s attack, so he could no longer draw out the same specs as before.
It did not matter if it was a cheap trick. He had to come up with some kind of plan to win.
Instead of an operating room or nurse station, he made his way to a rehabilitation room that would be closed and deserted at this hour. The suit’s weird malfunction had continued throughout, so its gaps only returned from red to yellow after he had moved away from Mugino and the others. He had chosen the rehabilitation room because it seemed like the dumbbells, barbells, and other training equipment would provide more accessible destructive power than fancy medical equipment.
But once he stepped inside, something caught his attention.
A fairly expensive racing cycle sat by the wall, perhaps as a part of the interior decoration.
“…I think I’ll be borrowing that.”
Even that dumb delinquent had enough skill to mess with a bicycle in a garage.
With the Processor Suit having issues, he could not remain entirely reliant on Aneri. It was time to support himself. He only had to think back to what he had done in his Skill-Out days.
The enemy had already infiltrated the hospital.
He would not have a long time to set anything up.
He would be lucky if he had 10 minutes.
After grabbing the lightweight and high-quality bicycle made of aluminum, he disassembled the frame to acquire a few of the pipes. Those would form the main body. He pulled the rubber tube from a tire and used it as a bowstring. The chain, gears, and pedals were made into a crank. The seat was a shoulder support, the break lever was a trigger, and the handles were the fore grip and rear grip.
In no time, the silhouette had been transformed and he now had a giant crossbow about as long as he was tall.
(It’s not really a good thing that these skills haven’t gotten rusty.)
And since it was the strengthened rubber bowstring that stretched instead of the aluminum bow itself, it may have technically been a monstrous slingshot.
He would need to use the gears and chain to crank back the thick rubber bowstring, but that would increase the destructive power. This had enough power to easily fire a brick or a bowling ball, so simply using a sharp metal arrow would waste that advantage. And when his opponent had special armor that mechanically softened any blow, he would only get himself killed if he focused entirely on the surface damage.
“A flail…no, would it be a blackjack in this case?”
He fished through the trashcan in the corner and found a few 500mL bottles, probably for some kind of sports drink. By filling them with gravel, they would make a decent weapon. He cut open a hanging sandbag to get the sand out and filled each one to a different heavy weight. He then packed them in a nylon knapsack and carried it over his shoulder.
That was known as a blackjack.
Originally made by stuffing a soft leather sack full of sand or small metal balls, a blackjack was a handmade weapon meant to efficiently supply a shock to the inside of the body. They did damage in a different way from a normal hammer or bat. He did not know how effective this would be against someone with electric potential elastic tape and motors, but if they worked well, they might be able to get the impact through the special material.
Even if a normal punch would be negated, he figured an oddly-shaped impact had a chance of causing an error.
If he was only after destructive power, he could have increased his options with Molotov cocktails or acid rounds, but this was a hospital. He did not want to rely on fire, gas, or any other firepower that he could not control.
(That just leaves aiming…)
Here, adding a primitive iron sight would take too much time. So he took a shortcut by swiping a penlight laser pointer from a nearby whiteboard and taping it on.
He had no time. With the completed weapon, Hamazura turned the crank on the seat and walked toward the rehabilitation room’s exit. He wanted to test it first. He aimed the crossbow at a Christmas tree but then stopped. He changed his mind and aimed at the training machine next to it instead.
The training machine used pulleys and weights to build up one’s pecs and he aimed the laser pointer’s red dot right at the center.
With a loud noise, the “soft blunt weapon” created from a plastic bottle accurately struck the machine. He had no complaints about the accuracy or power. When it hit, the bottle burst and scattered sand everywhere, but the stainless steel frame of the training machine was transformed into a mangled mess. With his test firing complete, Hamazura finally set off toward his deadly battle.
And as he prepared the second shot, something became quite clear.
(No matter how hard I try, it takes 10 seconds to reload. Damn, I could’ve done so much better with the suit’s electric assistance.)
In such a short-term showdown, he did not have to worry about the rubber giving out. Before coming across the enemy, he cranked back the bowstring and aimed straight ahead while walking down the dark hallway. He had no idea what the other patients and doctors would do, so he had to make sure he did not accidentally fire on one of them if they walked around a corner.
(Where is he? Where’s he coming from? Using the elevator late at night would stand out too much. So will he use the emergency stairs?)
Ten minutes had passed since the initial clash and the wanted criminal would have been free to move around the entire time. There were no shouts or screams echoing through the hallway. Hamazura hoped that meant he was not indiscriminately killing people, but it also meant he had escaped from the public eye after making such a commotion and was walking around without anyone noticing.
(The ducts? The garbage chute? No, maybe he could use the elevator like that? If he climbed up the shaft without calling for the elevator itself, the lights wouldn’t activate.)
While considering all those possibilities, he made his way toward the emergency stairs.
But then the gaps in the Processor Suit’s armor were dyed an eerie red.
However, this was not because Mugino or Kinuhata were near.
A creepy form was clinging to the outside of the window right next to him.
He swung the giant crossbow around at almost the exact same moment as the identical Processor Suit smashed the window with a helmet headbutt and jumped inside.
The enemy had apparently not had time to work alongside a Mimetic Predator this time.
It was A. O. Francisca. He too must have seen the other Processor Suit as his primary enemy because his suit’s accent lights glowed a sinister red.
Hamazura yanked back on the trigger made from a brake lever, but A. O. Francisca grabbed the crossbow and pushed it straight up. The plastic bottle bullet was fired in the wrong direction and broke through a ceiling panel, allowing colorful cables to hang down.
But the fact remained that the wanted criminal’s eyes had been drawn to the unexpected element of the crossbow. The combat patterns had to have shifted from the pre-established harmony that they could not settle things in an unarmed brawl.
Using a weapon was not the only way it could be useful.
Hamazura did not insist on holding onto his handmade crossbow and readily let it go. It was useless without a round loaded anyway, so it was not a problem if it was stolen. And by letting go just as his opponent tugged on it, he could knock the other suit off balance.
When A. O. Francisca staggered, Hamazura showed no mercy.
He removed the nylon knapsack he wore over his shoulder. It was filled with those plastic bottles, so it could be seen as a giant blackjack. By grabbing the shoulder strap and swinging it around, he swung the weight of all that sand toward the wanted criminal’s helmet.
A. O. Francisca seemed to give up on dodging and focused on defense.
He used both arms to raise the crossbow so the knapsack hit it. This was not enough for a critical blow, but that was not a problem for Hamazura.
The plastic bottle bullets were filled with fine sand.
When the knapsack burst, that sand poured down on the wanted criminal’s visor. No matter how many high-quality lenses and sensors he had, their sensitivity would drop if the surface was coated with something. There were gaps in the armor and joints, so it could even gunk things up inside. This could help widen the gap between the specs of the identical suits. Once those values were separated far enough, it was game over, so it was like a countdown to death.
And all of his actions acted as a hint.
(He immediately covered his face. That of course might be a normal habit like when someone playing with VR goggles waves their hands around, but if not, there might be something there. I don’t know if it’s the sensors or the processor core, but there must be something in the Processor Suit he has to protect!!)
After shifting his timing with a shout, Hamazura once more raised his clenched fist and aimed for the top of A. O. Francisca’s head.
Just then, his opponent reached out a hand. He pressed the little finger side of his fist against the center of Hamazura’s chest like he was pressing down a stamp. It was not at all a powerful blow. It seemed more like pushing shut a door.
And yet Hamazura’s body was knocked backwards.
He tried and failed to hold his ground. Only then did he realize something had gone wrong with his footwork. While he was so focused on the wanted criminal’s head, that opponent had lightly kicked Hamazura’s ankle from an outside angle so his foot slipped.
Hamazura had been standing with his feet spread apart, but now his heels were pushed right together.
It did not matter who supplied the greater head-on blow. With his legs closed, even a small push on his body would knock him over.
Hamazura’s entire body was covered by that special material, so a fall onto his back would not do much damage.
But A. O. Francisca held the bent and misshapen crossbow.
He swung it down like a pickaxe and the tip of the aluminum frame dropped toward the center of Hamazura’s chest.
This full-strength attack used the great height difference between them.
The impact was powerful enough for the crossbow to break into pieces. The floor Hamazura was lying on had several cracks run through it before it collapsed and they both fell to the next floor down.
He was supposedly protected by the Processor Suit, but Hamazura’s lungs cried out in protest and he had trouble breathing.
Countless warning windows appeared and his vision grew gray and staticky.
He had failed to get up off his back even after falling a floor and the wanted criminal was leaning down on him. The helmeted man held something in his hands. It was the bicycle handle used for the fore grip of the smashed crossbow.
Since it had broken, the edge of the metal pipe was quite sharp.
Still in the mounted position, he aimed for the visor of Hamazura’s defenseless face.
It was like driving in a metal stake.
The first blow did not pierce the helmet, but not even Aneri could fully negate the impact. Hamazura’s skull strained and filled with intense pain like someone had placed their palm over his face and pressed down with all their weight.
A. O. Francisca must have felt more confident because the gaps in his Processor Suit lowered from red to yellow.
And he did not just make the one attack.
If his opponent would not stop resisting, he would keep swinging down that sharp pipe until the boy stopped moving.
“Bghah!! Gh, ewhah!?”
Hamazura Shiage may have actually been unlucky that he was not killed instantly. The cartilage of his nose was transformed, the blood flowed back into his eyes, and he could not even wipe off his stinging eyelids with the helmet in the way. The red light covering his Processor Suit flickered on and off like a dying neon light. The way a rusty smell and flavor spread from his nose to his throat and then seemed to fill his entire body was like torture. It was more than just the pain. The face he was so familiar with was being gradually destroyed. It was like a demonic act that brought an overwhelming avalanche of disgust and fear.
The Processor Suits were causing a conflict on the network, so there was a rite of passage they had to undergo before they could function as the Bank. Was the enemy simply trying to destroy Hamazura, or was he trying to get him to surrender from a fear and humiliation greater than death?
It may have been divine punishment.
For believing he could play a role on this stage that was simply out of his league.
For trying to snatch the glory of victory when Aneri and the Processor Suit had done all the work.
…But when Wanted Criminal A. O. Francisca stuck the sharp end of the metal pipe into the armor gap below the jaw and tried to pry the helmet open, Hamazura grabbed his wrist.
He had not given up yet.
He would not let this end here.
Letting go of the cliff’s edge would be easy, but he could not fly under his own power if he did. Lilith had been stuffed inside an abandoned car in a back alley despite doing nothing wrong, and she was now suffering from a fever without even being properly examined. He had decided he would show her the kindness of this world and that he would not let this day end on such an awful note. So what did this pain matter? Was this fear even relevant? Was any of this enough of a reason to give up on the objective he had chosen for himself without being told to by anyone?
“I will…bring back the Bank…”
This wanted criminal did not matter.
The one who needed to hear those words was Hamazura himself since he was on the verge of breaking.
“There’s no room for you in my story. Don’t butt in just because you have some special tool. You’re just some crazy bastard that’s only thinking about fighting and winning, so let’s not act like you matter.”
There was no response.
He heard a dull straining sound as A. O. Francisca pushed down with his full body weight despite the hands holding his wrist. The electric potential elastic tape was screaming in protest. The metal pipe with the sharp end was gradually sinking down toward the throat of Hamazura’s Processor Suit.
And just as Hamazura Shiage gulped, he heard a voice.
“Proxy Message: Ahh, ahh. I was hoping I could be pampered a while longer…but it looks like it’s finally time to switch modes.”
Something unbelievable happened.
But in truth, the Processor Suit’s accent lights changed from red to yellow.
With an explosive sound, the wanted criminal was blasted off of Hamazura.
Hamazura had seen a leg.
It was not covered in a special material, but it could not be human skin either. It was a slender lady’s leg made of smooth wood. Perhaps to prioritize the beautiful appearance, it had no ball joints, and yet it moved as smoothly as some kind of liquid.
This was impossible…or it should have been. What looked like a humanoid Processor Suit was actually a defense system built to protect the Bank, Academy City’s general database. It would not have been knocked that cleanly away even if an armored truck crashed into it at full speed. Nevertheless…
Confused, Hamazura turned his staticky vision around without getting up. He saw someone surprisingly nearby.
It was a small baby wrapped in a blanket. But she could not have opened the examination room on her own.
There was also a stroller made of smooth wood.
A lady in a dress was holding the handle and rocking it back and forth, but she too was made of soft wood. The design of it all was clearly in the Western style, but the smoothly shaved-down wood was a lot like a wooden statue modeled after an Eastern Tennyo. That gave it all a weird mixture of Japanese and Western. And around them was a spiral of what looked like building blocks shaped like cylinders or triangular prisms. From there, it was like a three-dimensional puzzle. By combining them and driving in a wedge, they could become a smooth rocking horse or a giant rattle.
All of it was both weapon and shield. Was the wood texture cleverly hiding joints? Or was it wrong to view it as a wood texture at all? He could not find an answer even with the lenses and sensors of the Processor Suit…no, of the Bank.
The baby was simply surrounded and encompassed by countless wooden statues and woodcrafts.
When the baby tooted on a plastic trumpet toy in the center of that bizarre scene, the wooden lady spoke while gently rocking the stroller.
“Proxy Message: You did quite well as a babysitter, delinquent. I will praise you for that. Your skills were awkward in a number of places, but it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?”
He did not know what this meant.
The crib, the wet nurse, and the three-dimensional puzzle of toys. Had all this woodwork come from the baby in the center?
“Proxy Message: Yes, that’s right. I am really and truly the real one.”
Were they linked in some way, or was the wooden lady speaking on her own?
Regardless, the baby in the stroller raised her arms as the wooden lady spoke.
“Proxy Message: Well, if you want to precise, my name is Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith, but that’s just too long! And pretentious!! …There are parents in every age that want to give their kids ridiculous names, but they really need to think about how the one stuck with the name will feel.”
A bizarre form lurked in the darkness.
It was the wanted criminal. It was A. O. Francisca. He could still move. The gaps of his Processor Suit’s armor oozed a red light like boiling magma.
But Lilith continued speaking without fully settling the situation.
Surrounded by so much woodwork, the baby spoke.
“Proxy Message: Now, then. I have ‘returned’. No matter whose doing this was, this is my life. So even if it means violating the very world’s decision, I will overturn that shitty ending and reach for an unquestionably happy ending. And one more thing…”
That girl turned her red and yellow trumpet toy away from Hamazura.
And she aimed it straight toward the other deadly mass contained in an identical Processor Suit.
“You need to put in some work too, dad!! Unless you want the babysitter to take all the best scenes for himself!!”
Hamazura heard what sounded like a liquid bursting. And it did not stop at just once. Drops were hitting the outside of the hospital window. It was a freezing December night. The wanted criminal’s attention was drawn by that noise.
And that was a mistake.
He definitely saw something there.
Far in the distance, a small and soaked figure was straddling an old broom. And that being that should not have existed in a city of science was gently holding her right hand out toward the wanted criminal with her fingers forming a handgun gesture.
With that being’s magic, anyone who saw that action would be hit with exactly the destructive power they imaged it would have. It all came from the target’s own brain, so physical distance would not cause a drop in accuracy.
A moment later, something flashed in the dark sky.
The slaughtering beam struck A. O. Francisca and then pierced straight through the hospital.
Between the Lines 3
“…What did you do?”
In the middle of their battle, Coronzon did not hesitate to ask that question via Lola Stuart’s body.
And her voice quickly rose to a roar.
“What did you do to this world I finally managed to fill with dispersion and separation!? Aiwaaaaass!!”
“Did you forget, garbage dump? I borrowed the body of Aleister’s wife Rose to give them the Book of the Law in 1904. Although he seems to have interpreted that year as when he gave the Last Judgment which brought an end to the Aeon ruled by Christianity.”
“What does that-…? Wait, you don’t mean…?”
“And his first daughter, Lilith, was born in that same year: 1904. So when I descended into Rose’s body, she already had a new life inside her. So the alibi works. In Africa, I entered in Rose’s body and existed at the same time, coordinates, and womb as Lilith. Can you really say I did not have even a moment’s opportunity to mess with that life and being?”
What was a soul? The ignorant and puny humans had yet to settle on a definition, but they were always in contact with a fraction of it.
Yes, all magic was used by converting their life force into magic power.
“Lilith was doomed to die,” protested Coronzon. “She could not possibly have escaped her destiny to die just a few years after birth.”
“But if you could predict that from the beginning, the rest was easy. There are a variety of definitions of life and the soul, but there have been examples in the surface world. For example, Goryou Maya, the ghost girl of the Kamisato Faction. She replaced the outline of life with a scent and used that to both understand and control that outline. Her method was truly fascinating. Of course, the Russian Orthodox Church views all such examples as errors.”
And it need not be anything so out there. One’s life force could be controlled through meditation or special breathing methods and it could be converted into easier-to-use magic power by circulating it through the blood vessels and nerves.
So if knowledge beyond human understanding was used to go the other way and produce a life force from magic power, it would theoretically be possible to create an uncertain life force. Just like park fountains always produced water art with the same design. Light sparked from Aiwass’s palm. That was empty buffer material. Had it originally been a candlestick? A tree? It had to contain everything that composed a certain individual.
“Before she was born, I read in Lilith’s structure and took her to the safety of another phase. Lilith would die soon after birth. That was determined before she was even born. But so what? They must have been satisfied with that sad fate because no one mentioned what happened after that death. Do you understand now? Whether or not her death was avoidable wasn’t really a problem. It was the sad fate of the world to mistakenly assume that it ends with death. It was simple: I just had to add on more after her death. With the Little Match Girl and the A Dog of Flanders, everyone just gives up on them by assuming it’s over once they meet their unfortunate demise. They simply had no one show up and say they would save them even if it meant overturning that rule of the world and adding on more after their death. This was all forced onto her in the first place, so no one can tell me this wasn’t what she wanted.”
“Of course, it would all be for naught if Lilith died in the intense cold, so I prepared her a thick metal womb. …But that seems to have only brought more danger. So I was relieved when she received that Caesarian section.”
“Don’t screw with me. Act smug all you like, but there’s no way to prove that’s really Lilith.”
“Your sour grapes argument is as empty as some old fish bones. It was a sure thing once I had received her essence directly from Rose, but, well, finding the answer only after plenty of pointless detours is exactly the kind of thing he would do. Would you call it transferring over the original, or making a copy like with a fax? Heh heh. But at the very least, it was Aleister’s job to clench his teeth and struggle while trusting enough in the slightest shimmer of hope to continue onward. This is nothing for you to worry about. And no matter how difficult the journey appears, he will never stop. After all, that is how he has made it this far.”
Aiwass spoke of his good deed with a smile of pure malice.
Yes, all of this was merely meant to smear mud on that demon’s face.
“You intend to use your A. O. Francisca avatar to gain control of the Bank and thus all of Academy City’s technology. That way Great Demon Coronzon can achieve checkmate on the planet even if you were launched into space on this Windowless Building. Now, can the people remaining in Academy City stop you?”
The Holy Guardian Angel whispered in a singsong voice.
And his lips twisted evilly.
“I am glad I managed to distract you so well. Although it is true the Bank was not the only distraction. Mina and I both acted as decoys as well. But perhaps that was a little too complicated for a fly-infested sink tidy.”
This was the “normal” that Aiwass spoke of.
These were the colors seen by a being that provided knowledge in order to transform human history.
“That said, an exposed life force is unstable. After all, pure power will scatter in search of stability. If I had simply returned what I had protected, it would not have lasted long. That might have made for an emotional story and an interesting one to watch, but it is a far cry from salvation.”
Even now, on the distant planet’s surface, baby Lilith had come down with a mysterious fever and had created a wooden wet nurse and stroller in something like a smooth three-dimensional puzzle…and she did it with her mere thoughts instead of relying on a spell process or quantum mechanics. Nothing about her could be explained within the limits of a normal body.
Plus, she was a truly innocent being who had only just been born from her mother’s womb. Since she had also passed through a Holy Guardian Angel and been permeated by various powers, the power hidden within her was unfathomable.
The topic of spiritual rank was relevant here.
Her rank was different from that of an adult who was covered in sin and had lost their divinity.
Without even referencing the Adam Kadmon, it was possible to say she held endless possibilities within her.
“I made sure Aleister Crowley had to walk a long and thorny path before he could summon me and create a vessel of flesh for Lilith. Stem cells have their good and bad sides.”
“How much do you know…?”
“I doubt Lilith alone means all that much. At least not enough for you to directly intervene. Then was she the ignition for something? For Aleister? Or for Kamijou Touma? That does sound like the kind of subject they would like!!”
Aiwass laughed quietly.
The Holy Guardian Angel did not dignify the shouting demon with a response.
Now was the time for blessings.
“Aleister Crowley, my contractor. No matter what kind of human you are, you must never stop working toward being happy.”
He made a proclamation.
He seemed to be viewing the end of a great current that flowed from the Battle of Blythe Road – that showdown between history’s greatest magicians – to today.
“You did well to clench your teeth and continue walking down that thorny path. The angel bearing the number 93 shall give you a reward equal to the blood, sweat, and tears you shed in that lonely darkness. The laws of the world are of no consequence and the rules set by the existing gods can eat shit. Now, lift your head, face forward, stand tall, and accept it. Accept the blessing you have drawn to yourself with your own unending effort!!”
Do not be fooled by the demon’s temptation.
A miracle cannot be brought about by readily abandoning all effort.
It is only found at the very end of a path paved with unwavering conviction. A transcendent being will only reach out their hand toward those who have continually challenged their hardships so relentlessly that their shed blood has paved a path through the world.