Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume1 Chapter3
Chapter 3: A Slight Margin and an Omen That Connects to the Next. Girl.
Hanzou beckoned and a girl of around ten followed him.
They were headed for the entrance to an underground mall.
The difference between the delinquent boy and the doll-like girl was at the level of ordering coffee with sushi.
The girl, Fremea Seivelun, was dressed very peculiarly. Her clothes were mainly white and pink and they were very fluffy and full of frills and lace. Her lower half was very plain in comparison with only a miniskirt and thick, wine red tights. She looked like an idol, but not a real performer; she looked more like the kind of idol one would see in a video game.
She gave the impression that those clothes were what were forced upon her by those around her based on her appearance and not what she wanted to wear herself.
In other words, she had the features to match those clothes.
Her slender arms and legs, her fluffy blonde hair, her white skin, and her transparent blue eyes all added to the impression that she looked like a doll. Simply put, it felt like anything she wore would then become a popular thing to wear.
In peaceful times, these features would clearly have been positive traits.
But that was not so at that time.
When on the run, traits good or bad that made one stand out worked to one’s disadvantage.
Hanzou understood this.
Even for someone in the delinquent group of Skill-Out, he was especially skilled at blending in with others.
The reason he was taking someone who stood out as much as Fremea to the underground mall was clear.
It was because Fremea’s pursuers had found out where she was.
Originally, Hanzou had plenty of hideouts. You could even say that was his hobby. He would prepare hideouts in his spare time. From cardboard box houses to high-class apartments, he would prepare places to spend the night all over the city, he would search for internet cafes that were usually empty that he could use to gather information, he would hide cheap bikes and cars around, and he would prepare many different identities. The more he had of those things, the better. Having too few could be a problem, but having too many couldn’t. At least, that was what he had thought…
(I fucked up.)
That was Hanzou’s frank conclusion.
(They picked up on my periodic maintenance of the hideouts and tailed me from there. Dammit. That completely defeats the purpose of everything I had stored up!!)
Whether it was a high-class apartment or a cardboard box house, it would fall into disrepair if he left it alone for long periods of time. To keep that from happening, he would periodically visit them, but the pursuers had spotted him while he was doing so.
He didn’t know how much these pursuers had researched him, but it was best to think that he could no longer use any of his many hideouts.
As such, Hanzou and Fremea were not running for the underground mall in order to reach another hideout.
In fact, Hanzou had no clear destination in mind.
Hanzou had a cell phone in his hand, but he had altered the inner components quite a bit so that it could now also pick up electromagnetic waves other than the ones intended for phones.
For example, he could pick up the radio signals from Anti-Skill, the teachers who were trained to and went on patrol to protect the peace of the city.
(They’re checking down below so they can transport a major criminal. If we go in here, those people from the darkness behind us will have to fall back!!)
Hanzou may have been too naïve in his thinking.
If their pursuers had been delinquents, that method would have been enough to get rid of them.
And if he could cut off their route they were taking, their chances of losing them would have been fairly high.
The underground mall’s roof suddenly collapsed and their pursuer promptly came down through it.
They weren’t up against someone who paid Anti-Skill any heed.
A large cloud of dust flew into the air. The pursuer that had fallen down about three hundred meters from Hanzou did not have a human form.
(What is that…?)
The silhouette he could see through the dust looked like the top section of a large insect with the upper half of a human attached to the top. And it was huge. Its height alone brought it almost all the way up to the underground mall’s ceiling.
Its smooth movements brought the image of a living creature to Hanzou’s mind, but he realized what it was shortly thereafter.
It was a powered suit.
It had eight legs and no head. The lenses and sensors were put directly on the body. It looked like the waist portion could rotate 360 degrees. Hanzou had no idea how it was operated or how the movements of a human’s limbs were linked to its movements, but, since the suit was over five meters tall, the pilot was most likely in a space in the torso portion.
However, the suit’s most characteristic portion was its arms.
Its left and right arms were different sizes. The left arm was about twice the size of a human arm while the right arm was more than four times as large. Also, both of the arms were cylindrical below the elbow. Near the ends, separate wrists were attached like bayonets.
The left arm held a machine gun.
The right arm held…
“A smoothbore gun!?”
That was a type of gun used for the main guns of tanks.
As Hanzou yelled, a flash burst from the barrel.
He didn’t even have time to push Fremea out of the way.
The shell hit the wall a slight distance away from them and a shock wave exploded out. A split second later, the sound struck Hanzou’s ears. He had thought the shock wave had destroyed his sense of hearing, but an even greater noise attacked him even further.
However, he didn’t have time to complain about every little bit of pain.
His body was blown a few meters through the air before he finally hit the ground.
He then truly lost consciousness.
And three seconds later, he had regained consciousness.
The reason for this was clear.
(…Looks like the Shield AED that automatically applies an electric shock to my chest in response to the level of my brain waves actually helped me.)
Hanzou couldn’t get up due to a concussion and he looked around the area with dim eyes. A large number of students were running screaming for the exits. Their high-pitched voices and thundering footsteps sent pain pounding into Hanzou’s head.
Anti-Skill seemed completely dumbfounded for a few seconds, but they soon began moving. They fired their handguns at the eight-legged powered suit, but, once they realized their bullets were merely ricocheting off of the armor, they changed their tactic. They worked to keep the casualties as low as possible by quickly evacuating the students.
It was admirable that they were doing more than just getting taken out, but it was still too much to expect them to protect Hanzou and Fremea. The Anti-Skill group there could do nothing more than urge the people to evacuate, so they would be easily defeated if the eight-legged suit seriously attacked them.
(Where’s Fremea! Shit!!)
Crawling around on the ground, Hanzou continued to search for the girl.
The wall had been greatly destroyed and the shockwave had shattered the surrounding pillars and glass. He saw a small form lying amid the rubble.
It was her.
She was ten meters away.
He couldn’t tell if she was okay from where he was, but she at least seemed to be in one piece. They were in a much better situation than they could have been because the smoothbore gun had miraculously been unable to aim properly.
The sound of a few more blasts pounded Hanzou’s ears.
The eight-legged suit was firing to hold Anti-Skill in check.
With each shot, the no longer needed bottom disk of the shell was expelled and the smaller left arm would load a new shell. It seemed to be taking the shells from a backpack-like area on its back.
It wasn’t directly aiming for Anti-Skill; it was dropping the shells on the floor in front of them. Perhaps this was because the pilot had a conscience and only wanted to attack those he was after or perhaps targeting humans with anti-armor weapons was a pain, so he was just attacking with a shower of fragments.
Anti-Skill’s protective vests and other protectors guarded against the shower of fragments, but they didn’t do anything about the shock waves. The supposedly strong Anti-Skill members lost consciousness one by one almost as if they had been hit by a stun gun after pouring a bucket of salt water over their heads.
The right arm of the eight-legged powered suit expelled a metal disk from its elbow area along with some cinders. It was the bottom portion of the shell that was not needed now that the shell had been fired.
Fremea, who had been taken out by a shock wave, let out a groan in response to the loud noise. She had regained consciousness…or, more accurately, she had been forcefully shaken awake.
Strength finally returned to Hanzou’s arms and legs.
(Before hitting the target, the parts hit the walls or ceiling… Are the shells it’s using APFS…or whatever it’s called. The one that’s a bunch of letters from the alphabet. The type that uses a large amount of pressure to pierce armor instead of explosive powder. And this has a multilayer structure. After it pierces the armor, it sends shards and a shockwave inside.)
It was a shell that was not intended to be directly used on people. It was meant to be fired at a tank or other armored vehicle and kill the people inside. The destructive force of the shards and the shockwave was greatest in a sturdy closed box. That may have been why Hanzou and Fremea hadn’t been killed.
“…Fremea. Can you stand, Fremea!?”
The girl moved slightly but didn’t give a proper response. Hanzou ran over to her staying low to the ground.
The powered suit responded.
It used its eight legs to approach and mercilessly turned the gun on its right arm towards them.
Hanzou approached Fremea by sliding across the floor covered in fragments of building materials, grabbed her in his arms, and disappeared around a corner of a passageway.
The blast came.
The mass of death flew towards Hanzou faster than sound and it struck the wall between him and the powered suit.
But it did not end there.
The shock wave from the shell hitting one side of the wall passed right through the wall and scattered out in a radial pattern on the other side of the wall. The building itself shook like a giant speaker.
A tremendous blast reached Hanzou and Fremea’s ears.
They were knocked to the ground. The wall was unable to bear the vibration and small fragments a few millimeters across broke off and pierced Hanzou’s skin. He felt that the way he immediately held Fremea in close to protect her was in the top five plays of his life.
(An adhesive non-lethal air stun gun…!?)
Hanzou gave more priority to the question before his eyes than to the fact that he had survived.
(It changed what kind of shell it was firing? So it can change out between various types of shells!!)
Recent smoothbore guns could use shells and anti-aircraft missiles with the same gun, so it was possible that powered suit could use guided weapons.
(No, speaking of recent ones…)
Hanzou thought while he sluggishly stood up and checked to make sure Fremea was safe in his arms.
(An Academy City smoothbore gun can hit a target five thousand meters away with greater than 95% probability even while firing rapidly and moving. Just because we’re a small target is no reason that it shouldn’t be hitting us from this distance…)
Of course, the pursuer had no reason to hold back.
And there was no way that powered suit had worse specs than a normal tank.
There had to be something there.
There had to be a reason it had failed to kill two flesh-and-blood humans who were only three hundred meters away in an underground mall.
(…An underground mall…)
“So that’s it.”
Hanzou raised his head.
(It uses an electromagnetic signal for its precise aiming. That’s fine in an open battlefield, but it can’t compensate for an environment full of complex electromagnetic signals being reflected everywhere.)
In that regard, that model of powered suit would have trouble in urban warfare.
It had most likely been modified during World War III with the areas of little cover like the wide plains of Russia in mind and now that was working against it here.
If that was the case…
(If I had something I could use to purposefully reflect its signal or something that could send a powerful electromagnetic signal at its receiver, I could almost eliminate the threat of that gun.)
This was either a chance to turn things around or a chance to try for too much and make everything a lot worse.
Hearing the eight legs approaching, Hanzou decided to just get away from there for the time being. He didn’t know if he could lose that military suit even if he had a car, but he might be able to use its large size against it.
(Circling around brings in the possibility of getting shot by that machine gun on its left arm. That thing has to be adjusted to be used against human targets.)
Either way, he gained nothing by letting it get near him.
Passing through a narrow path would have been the standard strategy, but, as long as that smoothbore gun could force open the path, it could hardly be called absolutely safe.
Hanzou held Fremea in his arms and slowly stood up.
(If only there were a non-standard exit I could trick it into letting me near…)
Of course, a solution wasn’t just going to come out of nowhere. The various exits Hanzou had previously prepared in the underground mall came to his mind. He ended up choosing the option that would be most easily foreseen by his enemy but also required him to move his legs the least.
Strength suddenly left Hanzou’s knees.
He fell to his knees and wasn’t able to support Fremea’s small body. He somehow managed not to fall completely over, but he could no longer walk straight ahead much less escape the military powered suit.
The cause was simple.
The two blasts he and Fremea had received hadn’t been enough to kill them, but the two had still been damaged. The shockwaves had robbed Hanzou of strength from his very core and thrown his sense of balance out of whack.
When he tried to inhale, Hanzou realized that his jaw had frozen up.
(I didn’t even notice the damage to my own body? Talk about a yellow light.)
The stairway out of the underground mall a few meters in front of him seemed oddly far away.
He couldn’t get away.
He could only move about as fast as a caterpillar, so he simply couldn’t get away from the powered suit. Thinking of how it had attacked Anti-Skill so calmly, there was no chance of it giving up even if he managed to get to a public place.
This pursuer was determined to kill Fremea.
Hanzou heard the sound of the eight legs moving.
Crushing the fragments of building material underfoot, a gigantic figure appeared from around the corner. The way it moved in a human-like way as if it was staring at his face caused a chill to run down Hanzou’s back.
Of course, no words were exchanged.
The powered suit merely accurately aimed its left arm at Hanzou and Fremea.
Instead of the smoothbore gun on its right arm, it was using the machine gun on its left arm that was for use on human targets.
Honestly, there had been no need for him to stick with her this far.
She was the girl Komaba Ritoku had wanted to protect.
But that was nothing more than a sentimental reason. Nothing was forcing him to do this. According to his usual logic, he should abandon all conditions that lowered his odds of survival.
He knew it was useless against a machine gun with a caliber of at least 18mm, but Hanzou immediately threw himself over Fremea. Why had he done that? What was that supposed to accomplish? He didn’t have time to ask those questions.
Shortly thereafter the powered suit opened fire with its machine gun.
But it wasn’t aiming at Hanzou or Fremea.
With a crash, a four-door car slid down the stairway that led out of the underground mall.
A caliber of 18mm was larger than the bullets for large anti-armor rifles. Fifty rounds were fired in ten seconds, so there was no question about what became of the family-use four-door car.
By the time the car had gone down the stairs far enough for its front wheels to touch the floor, its hood was crushed, the engine was cracked, and the oil caught fire.
It exploded all at once.
The car didn’t make it far enough to reach Hanzou, much less the powered suit.
All that reached him was heat, smoke, and a gust of wind that he felt on his skin.
(What fucking idiot was that!? What kind of meddlesome suicide was that!?)
However, the car continued on as a mere metal frame. Its previous speed kept the now-tireless wheels spinning.
The eight-legged suit silently prepared its smoothbore gun.
Even if the car directly hit the suit with its current speed, the damage wouldn’t reach the person inside the suit. The pilot was being cautious on the off chance there were explosives in the car.
The suit fired unhesitatingly.
With a flash, the shell flew above Hanzou and Fremea’s heads and blew up the remains of the car yet again. The car was not going to move forward any further. The explosion held enough force to blow the remaining metal frame to pieces.
The explosion caused enough of a blast to send Hanzou rolling further as he lay on the floor.
The destruction was enough to make him want to cover his eyes.
He was afraid to imagine what had happened to the driver of the car.
In the burning remains of the car, he could see no human form in the area where the driver’s seat had been. At first he thought the person had merely been blown to pieces in the blast, but that wasn’t it.
(There was no one inside…?)
The flames started to burn even brighter and the hot air caressed Hanzou’s cheek. He instinctually turned his face away while lying on the ground.
That may have been the only reason he noticed it.
Hanzou just so happened to turn away from the exit and toward the powered suit.
And there he saw another form approaching behind the suit.
It was Hamazura Shiage.
The boy was carrying Anti-Skill equipment and sneaking toward the powered suit.
Normally, the eight-legged suit would gather information from all 360 degrees around it and know how many people were approaching and exactly where they were no matter how silently they moved. It would easily detect vehicles or people. After all, they were in an age where wirelessly-controlled vehicles packed with rockets that were only a few dozen centimeters big and attacked from within the grass were in use. The eight-legged suit was set up to accurately detect freely moving landmines the size of a large bento box, so no one would think an amateur high school student could approach it undetected.
However, there was one exception.
There was an instant where none of the sensors were working.
(The recoil and shockwave…just after firing the shell…!?)
That was what the empty car had been for.
It had created an opportunity for him to get close to the powered suit.
Also, in Hamazura’s hands was a piece of equipment he had most likely snatched from the Anti-Skill group that had been taken out in the underground mall.
It was called an HsLH-02.
It was a linear hammer used to destroy steel doors.
At first glance, it looked like a bazooka, but inside was a giant stake with a flat end. Hamazura swung it back like a pendulum once and struck the powered suit with the muzzle.
There was no need for a trigger.
The shock applied to the muzzle area struck the target with the giant twenty-kilogram-stake at subsonic speed.
A tremendous noise of metal striking metal rang out.
Hamazura had aimed for one of the eight legs. Specifically, the leg that had been lowering to the floor in order to support the weight of the suit as it moved. The horizontal blow essentially swept the suit’s leg out from under it causing it to lose its balance.
The right half of the suit sunk down, but it avoided falling over.
That was when the second strike came.
Hamazura’s linear hammer mercilessly struck the elbow area of the smoothbore gun that would normally have been too high to reach. A horrible noise that sounded like something inside the device had been twisted was heard and the giant gun wobbled like a fishing rod.
But that was all.
The gun didn’t break to pieces or bend.
Hanzou gritted his teeth. The linear hammer was made to smash, not to pierce. The end of the stake was flat so that it could apply force to an entire door and break it open.
That was good enough for breaking open a door, but it wasn’t a good way to pierce armor.
The powered suit turned its smoothbore gun towards Hamazura in order to fire back with much more force than had caused its right arm to wobble.
But then it stopped moving as if it had realized something.
Its right elbow.
The spot Hamazura had hit it with the linear hammer.
That was where the opening to load a new shell was supposed to be. It was normally protected by a sliding door, but that protective door had been slightly bent.
It may have only been slightly, but the bent door could no longer slide which meant it could no longer open. If the suit could not load a new shell, it could not fire its smoothbore gun. Even if there was still a shell remaining inside, the gun could blow apart if it wasn’t properly airtight.
The powered suit’s shoulders moved up and down irregularly.
Clear anger resided behind that motion.
But Hamazura did not remain quiet.
The suit aimed the machine gun on its left arm towards Hamazura at about the same time Hamazura threw a box-shaped ashtray he had in one hand into the air and hit the bottom with the linear hammer.
The ashtray was made fairly heavy to keep it from being stolen and it was crushed as it was fired at tremendous speed. It struck the powered suit on its left wrist and averted the aim of the machine gun.
The short burst of bullets destroyed a wall instead of destroying Hamazura.
In that space of time, Hamazura operated the linear hammer to bring the twenty-kilogram-stake back inside the muzzle. He then swung it in an upwards arc.
The electromagnetically powered uppercut struck the lower portion of the suit’s body where its sensors were located. Its fine-tuned and important radar receiver was crushed more than anything else.
That was the limit.
One of the eight legs swung upwards and struck the linear hammer from below. That was all it took to knock it from Hamazura’s grasp and have it stick in the ceiling. The powered suit used its electronic control to accurately control its stance and moved its useless right arm once more. The smoothbore gun may have been unusable, but it was still a giant hunk of composite armor that could be swung around with the might of a machine.
Hamazura’s body doubled over.
The attack had been more of a twisted lariat than a punch and Hamazura struck the ground multiple times before he stopped.
“Geh…bh….Run. Hanzou, we can get away now…!!”
Hamazura had been knocked over near Hanzou, but he still stood up, grabbed Hanzou’s arm because Hanzou was still sitting there, and started moving. Hanzou realized that Fremea was about to slip from his grasp.
“Damn it!! You’re getting away too!!”
They ran through the burning hot air without flinching as they passed by the destroyed car and headed for the staircase out.
The powered suit moved its left arm.
Its 18mm machine gun began firing.
However, it couldn’t use its electromagnetic signal to aim and the hot air from the burning car prevented it from using its infrared equipment. Its optical aiming that relied on visuals wouldn’t work either because of all the black smoke.
In the very end, they were mostly saved by luck.
Hamazura, Hanzou, and Fremea ran up the stairs and above ground.
The pilot checked how the eight-legged powered suit’s right arm was doing and then headed for the exit staircase in order to begin pursuit.
He then received a transmission.
“You’re done, Silver Cross.”
“Was that really enough?”
“You accomplished your objective.”
“Hey, hey. I thought only the two were necessary.” The pilot gave a doubtful expression to the words of the person on the other end of the transmission. “It was supposed to be Fremea Seivelun and Hamazura Shiage. The third isn’t needed. Letting an unneeded protector survive could lead to things getting off track again.”
“You did enough. I don’t think they’ll become separated again now.” The person on the other end of the transmission exhaled in what sounded like a scornful laugh. “Being the person who’s supposed to get taken out is tough, isn’t it?”
“You’ve got that right. I could have ended it all in one blow if I had used a canister shot.”
“Isn’t the model you’re using unfit for this kind of battle? It uses wide area electromagnetic signal targeting because they had the plains of Russia in mind, so its accuracy falls in the city. It must have been tough not to kill them with that much firepower.”
“Making an impact was important. This model, the Enemy Blaster, is perfect for that. And I’m the kind of man that knows how to do the right thing at the right time.” He gave up on restoring the powered suit’s right arm. “I’m heading back now, but how’s the other side of the issue going? If that side doesn’t move, this isn’t going to go anywhere.”
Hearing that, the pilot contacted the support personnel waiting above ground. He couldn’t exactly stride through the streets in that powered suit. He would use a special vehicle disguised as a large tourist bus in order to blend into the scenery of the city.
But when he did…
“Respond. What is it, Chameleon? Respond. …Damn it, what happened?”
“I told you not to worry. The other side has begun to move.” The person on the other end of the transmission sneered “Being the person who’s supposed to get taken out is tough, isn’t it?”
“What do you think?” muttered Misaka Worst.
About two hundred meters away, dark smoke was rising from the entrance to an underground mall as if the entrance were a chimney. However, she wasn’t looking at that clear sign of an incident; she was looking at the large bus right in front of her.
Technically, it was an undercover vehicle for the city’s dark side.
The vehicle had been taken care of in no time at all.
Accelerator and Misaka Worst looked at the now powerless vehicle.
At first glance, it looked like a tourist bus with dark sunlight protectors in the windows. However, the inside was mostly empty as if to transport tanks, and it had the engine and suspension needed to carry around that much weight.
A couple of men in work clothes were collapsed on the ground, and inside the vehicle were specialized tools, a few different types of shells, armor plates, large battery packs, and other similar things. It seemed the vehicle was meant to carry something large because various latches were installed on the floor, walls, and ceiling so that its contents would not topple over in transit.
From the look of those latches…
“A powered suit,” Accelerator said under his breath.
Of course, this was not an Anti-Skill powered suit. They would have no reason to hide theirs.
He looked at the men he had defeated and at the black smoke rising in the distance and clicked his tongue.
“…Looks like things are getting to be a problem again.”
He heard a groan.
One of the men collapsed inside the undercover vehicle had uttered it. This wasn’t because the man had exceptional strength; it was only because Accelerator and Misaka Worst had purposefully let him remain conscious.
“I thought the darkness had been demolished,” Accelerator addressed the man. “The hostages and negotiation materials that were tying down all the personnel were supposed to have been dealt with at the end of the war. I made sure of it. So who are you people?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
Strength left the man’s arms and legs after saying that. His eyes were still open, but he had clearly lost consciousness.
Misaka Worst cackled and then spoke.
“He has scars on his head. A chip must have cut off his consciousness. It’s an anti-torture method. If we forcefully ‘shook’ him, we could probably bring him back. What should we do?”
“Leave him be.”
“So it’s time for the permanent marker?”
It seemed Misaka Worst was ready to turn the unconscious man into a Hoichi the Earless covered in words that weren’t allowed on TV, but Accelerator ignored her.
He turned to the wall of the undercover vehicle.
A few maps were displayed there and some buildings and streets were marked with a highlighter. It seemed they had been investigating someone’s activities.
Accelerator tore off the maps and the photograph stuck to the wall next to them.
The photograph had been printed on expensive printing paper used for photographs and it showed a girl of about ten with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Her name was written in marker next to her face.
It was Fremea Seivelun.
Hamazura and the others had cut back and forth through narrow alleys again and again.
That had been a counter measure for the powered suit, but they had no real proof that the suit had stopped following them. They had only stopped because they didn’t have enough strength to run any further.
The three of them were breathing heavily.
Hanzou called his friend’s name in a low voice.
Hamazura gave a weary smile in response, but Hanzou grabbed his collar and pushed him against a wall.
“What the hell!? Why did you show up there, Hamazura!? Why did you get yourself involved in this!?”
Hanzou gritted his teeth.
He wasn’t mad at Hamazura.
He was mad at himself for getting Hamazura involved.
He was thinking that speaking with Hamazura and going to the restaurant with him had all been a mistake.
“…You had gained what none of us in Skill-Out had been able to gain.” Hanzou had been restraining his voice to a certain extent, but he lost control and his voice exploded out. “You had a girl! You were thinking about what to do in the future! You were going ahead on an honest path!! You were studying to open a road service!! So why did you come here and come back into contact with the darkness!? You…you may have destroyed your own dream!! Do you understand that, Hamazura!?”
“…I don’t care…”
There was no clear determination in Hamazura’s eyes.
He just shook his head weakly.
“I didn’t want to get involved in this.”
He didn’t try to act tough.
This showed that the words tumbling from his mouth were how he truly felt.
“But I couldn’t abandon you.”
“When I heard you were in a bad situation and that Fremea Seivelun was involved too, Leader Komaba’s face came to mind and…and there are a lot of complicated issues with the family name Seivelun…”
That wasn’t the end of his thoughts, but Hamazura’s words cut off there.
He finally gave up on expressing his view nicely and repeated just the most important part.
“…I couldn’t abandon you.”
“Dammit,” spat out Hanzou and he let go of Hamazura’s collar.
His back still to the wall, Hamazura slid down and sat on the ground. He looked up at Hanzou’s face and asked a question.
“What are we going to do now?”
“It’s best to think that none of my hideouts can be used anymore. If I call Kuruwa, she can probably get us something, but we need somewhere safe to stay while we wait for her. …Hamazura, do you know somewhere we can hide out just for a short time?”
“You mean the kind of hideout that a delinquent might want…?”
As he spoke, Hamazura suddenly had an idea.
“Wait, I know.”
“Where?” Hanzou asked.
Hamazura Shiage had connections with one non-delinquent organization.
The group wasn’t working as Academy City’s pawns at the moment, but some of their old connections still existed.
One of the places Item had used as a hideout was…
“A private salon in District 3. It’s a bit expensive, but we can probably use it.”
Accelerator and Misaka Worst searched all through the undercover vehicle, but they didn’t find any more information. They found nothing on who owned the powered suit or what organization used that equipment.
The two of them exchanged words after leaving the vehicle.
Misaka Worst waved around the photo they had acquired within the bus.
“It looks like they were plotting to attack this brat. Well, that’s none of our business.”
(This girl is…)
Accelerator recognized the girl in the photo.
He had seen her in an image on the cell phone belonging to Komaba Ritoku, a man he had eliminated in the past as an enemy who was threatening the peace of the city.
Komaba had bared his fangs against Academy City in order to protect a large number of Level 0s from violence. There had been one person he had fought to the very end in order to protect.
“Why would they bring out a military powered suit in order to kill one little brat? Misaka knows the danger someone represents doesn’t always match how they look in this city of esper powers, but then there should have been a report on her power and how to deal with it in there. This just feels like she’s a Level 0 and they were just being extremely careful. …Hm? What is it #1?”
“You go home without me.”
Accelerator handed the shopping bags to Misaka Worst and looked at the maps covered in highlighted areas they had taken from the undercover vehicle.
“I’m going to go after her.”
Misaka Worst sighed in exasperation and shook her head.
She showed the #1 the photo of Fremea Seivelun.
“This girl that we assume to be a Level 0 isn’t Last Order.”
“So what?” Accelerator spat out. “It’s true I have no real reason to protect her, but that’s no reason to just let her die.”
“Change that look in your eyes, you pervert!! You’re just protecting her because she’s small!! And yet you broke Misaka’s arm with no problem!!”
“…The composition of the city’s darkness has changed in some way and I can’t figure out what’s going on. Also, I don’t like the sound of the Freshmen that piece of shit mentioned before. There’s a chance they’ll bare their fangs at us, so I need to look into it. Are you really the kind of idiot that needs every little thing explained to her?”
“Well, we at least know the darkness is large enough to bring out a powered suit. Misaka wonders why they’re targeting that Fremea brat.”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll find out when I look into this.”
Accelerator walked off with his modern cane.
Misaka Worst rearranged the contents of the shopping bags in order to make an empty one, walked up behind Accelerator, and put the bag over his head in order to restrain him.
“Sorry for turning you into a robber from the Showa era with panty hose on his head.”
Accelerator hit the switch on the choker-style electrode around his neck.
Throughout normal life, he didn’t have enough power to walk without a cane, but, when he hit that switch, he could use the strongest esper powers in Academy City.
He used the truly terrifying power of being able to manipulate the vectors of every kind of force to tear apart the plastic bag restraining his head from the inside.
“…Do you want to meet the same fate as that plastic bag?”
“Hehh. When you transcend good and evil, you can actually be pretty funny.”
“What do you want?”
“Do you have any reason to do this much?” asked Misaka Worst with a large grin on her face. “As I said before, Fremea Seivelun isn’t Last Order.”
“Are you a fucking moron?” spat out Accelerator. “My objective is to assess the level and target of the threat. I don’t give a fuck what happens to that brat. Of course, if it’s necessary in order to eliminate the threat, I’ll make some use of her.”
“Ha ha. How kind of you.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Ehh? Misaka would prefer it if everything got ten times worse. What would you do if Misaka said she was going to purposefully help out the enemy?”
“I’d give you a hundred spankings.”
For some reason, she responded to this by bringing a hand to her mouth and wiggling her hips back and forth.
“…And what if Misaka said she would be okay with that even if it was in public?”
Accelerator ignored her and began walking.
Accelerator went off to find a refrigerated coin locker to put the groceries in and Misaka Worst frantically ran after him.
Private salons were one aspect of the service industry characteristic of Academy City. Simply put, they were something like a fancy karaoke box. Customers could rent the rooms based on time and have fun or throw parties or do whatever else they wanted inside.
Eighty percent of Academy City’s residents were students and most of those lived in regulated student dorms. Being under the eye of adults during classes and after school could be stressful. Private salons were a bit like secret hideouts that could be bought.
This setup had the danger of being about a step away from becoming a hotbed for sexual crimes, so it wasn’t something to be completely admired. However, the very act of selling an area of freedom was an effective symbol of the social psychology of Academy City.
The numbered rooms in a large building had become something to be sold.
Hamazura and the others had fled to a room in one of those large buildings.
Hamazura lowered his gaze to the screen of his cell phone.
He had the numbers of Takitsubo, Kinuhata, and Mugino programmed into it.
Those three would surely be more help against an unknown enemy than the collection of Level 0s they currently were.
Item of course did not know what was going on, but they were out searching for him in a game, so (despite having to redo their game), if he told them the “solution”, they would all gather.
(…I just can’t get them involved in this.)
He gritted his teeth and then turned off his phone.
Fremea Seivelun was Frenda’s sister, so it wasn’t as if this wasn’t any of Item’s business. Yet this had to do with the city’s darkness, and that changed things. Hamazura didn’t want to get them involved in order to protect himself.
Then Hanzou spoke to Hamazura ignorant of the issues he was thinking about.
“Hamazura, if you’re going to make a phone call, use a dummy SIM. I’ve got a few of them if you need one.”
“No, that’s fine.”
Hamazura shook his head.
He looked over at Fremea’s back as she operated the large TV with the remote control. He spoke to Hanzou in a low voice.
“What are we going to do? We know Fremea is being targeted by the dark side of the city, but why does she have to be attacked by such dangerous people?”
“I actually don’t know any of the details,” said Hanzou in a stiff voice. “It isn’t anything about her herself. The school’s System Scan has her as a Level 0, so she doesn’t have any huge value as far as a DNA map goes and I don’t think she’s had a chance to contact the real darkness out there. All I know is that she had a point of contact with me and Leader Komaba.”
“So I’m assuming it has something to do with Skill-Out or its former leader, Komaba Ritoku.”
“As you well know, that’s just a group of delinquents.”
Fremea was flipping through channels a bit away, but it didn’t look like she was finding a show that she liked. The talk shows were just going over serious news about most countries accepting Academy City even though its belligerent interactions had been one of the things that led to World War III. This was because Academy City had paid out large amounts of money to pay for reconstruction after the war.
“Is there something those at the very top of Academy City, the ones that hold the administrative power, want enough to take someone’s life to get?”
“As I’m sure you know, when Leader Komaba led Skill-Out, he had a large-scale plan in order to revolt against Academy City. I played a major role in creating the plan. Of course, it ended up failing.”
It seemed Fremea was not interested in a commentator going on about a conspiracy theory about Academy City altering the balance of power in how they regulated the balance of the funds they gave out. The conspiracy theory was quieted as she flipped through the channels.
“It’s possible Leader Komaba prepared a spare plan back then. One that dealt with a vulnerability in the city other than the one we were using.”
“Those at the top would want to deal with that, right? And Fremea was under Komaba’s care. They might be thinking that he gave her a hint just in case.”
“But the main plan was destroyed so easily. If this spare plan was so great, why didn’t he use it instead?”
“They don’t care about our plan. They just want to utterly destroy any vulnerability in the city.”
That was assuming it had to do with Komaba Ritoku.
However, Hamazura knew of another point of contact with Fremea Seivelun.
And the group Frenda was part of, Item.
That group contained a Level 4 effective at battle, one of the seven Level 5s, and a girl who was said to have the possibility of becoming the eighth. They were a skilled organization that had been prepared by the dark side of the city in order to eliminate the elements of unrest within the city.
Since Fremea was Frenda’s sister, it was possible this had to do with Item via Frenda.
(Frenda was a member of Item, but I didn’t know what they were doing 24/7. Could she have been working on some other project on the side?)
He didn’t have enough information.
Why was she being targeted? How large was the organization after her? How serious were they? If he knew what they were after, he might be able to put together a way to survive.
“…Fremea has no clue what it could be, but there’s no mistaking that the darkness even brought out a powered suit to target her. We have to look into this while staying on the run.”
“We’ll fight back once we’ve ensured her safety,” said Hanzou as he headed for the exit.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to contact Kuruwa. I wouldn’t exactly call this place safe. This will be our relay point. We’ll use Kuruwa’s network to find a safe hideout to move to.”
“Is it safe to contact her?”
“I already told you. I’m going to put a dummy SIM in my phone. Even if they’re monitoring my number, they won’t be able to trace my call to the antenna it’s using.”
Hanzou grabbed the doorknob as he spoke.
When he opened the door, he turned around.
“You really saved us back there. I’m not happy with what you did, but I’ll admit that much.”
Before Hamazura could respond, Hanzou had left the room.
Hamazura felt a little awkward and his gaze wandered around the room until his and Fremea’s eyes met.
This was the girl Komaba Ritoku had risked his life to protect.
She was also the little sister of Frenda, one of the main members of Item.
“Long time no see.”
When Komaba had still been alive, Hamazura and Hanzou had spoken with her. They hadn’t even known her name at the time.
“Do you remember me?”
“Yes. In the first place, you’re one of the people with Komaba-oniichan.”
Hamazura smiled slightly at how she remembered him.
He could no longer think of Komaba except in the past tense.
But he couldn’t let her know about the painful things that came with the passage of time.
“That’s right. I’m Hamazura Shiage. Nice to meet you again.”
“I’m Fremea. Fremea Seivelun.”
Hamazura felt as if he should have learned of her family name sooner, but he didn’t say anything about it.
“Things got a bit rough back there. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. My ears were hurting a bit ago, but in the first place I'm fine now. Nyah.”
(…Where in Japan did she learn “nyah”?)
He didn’t recall her saying that when he had spoken with her before.
That raised a question in his mind, but asking about it wouldn’t help anything there.
He was lucky enough she knew Japanese.
“In the first place, what are we going to do now?”
“Hanzou is calling a friend, so you don’t have to worry.”
“Where’s Komaba-oniichan?” Fremea looked up at him with her blue eyes. “I haven’t seen him in a while. He doesn’t answer his phone and I haven’t seen him on the roads I usually see him on. In the first place, do you know where he’s gone?”
Hamazura tried to keep his voice from catching in his throat.
He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.
He managed to put on a smile.
But her blue eyes saw through him better than a lie detector.
“He isn’t a very smart person. I know it isn’t right for someone like me to say that, but he really isn’t. So he’s been stuck in supplementary lessons at school. If he doesn’t do that, he’ll end being held back. Can you keep that a secret for a while?”
“…Yeah,” Fremea said with a slight nod.
Her voice sank, but it was only at the level of someone breaking their promise about coming to play on a day off.
“In the first place, I understand.”
Fremea plopped down on the sofa that was much too big for her.
“My stomach almost growled, but then it didn’t.”
She leaned back in the sofa and put her small hands on her stomach.
“…Do you want something to eat?”
Fremea gave a small nod in response.
Just like in a karaoke box, the private salon let you order food over an inner line. There was also a large refrigerator in the spacious room.
Hamazura didn’t know what kind of food Fremea liked, so he decided to order various things over the inner line. While Hamazura was talking into the phone on the wall, Hanzou returned.
“Kuruwa will be here before long. …What are you doing, Hamazura?”
“Ordering some food.”
“We just ate.”
“It’s for Fremea.”
“Oh, well order some satsuma age while you’re at it.”
It took about ten minutes for the food to get there.
Instead of main dishes, it was mostly side dishes such as French fries and vegetable sticks.
“…The satsuma age just doesn’t fit in with the rest.”
“Shut up. I’m going to eat them all myself, so it doesn’t matter.”
Hamazura and Hanzou moved some food from the large plates onto their smaller plates, but Fremea was acting oddly.
She put some kanitama on her small plate, but, when she noticed the green-colored bean-like objects that were in it, she passed her small plate to Hamazura.
“Green peas,” she said.
“W-what? Why are you passing me a bunch of peas?”
Fremea was precisely removing the green peas and giving them to Hamazura.
“I see. So you don’t like green peas,” responded Hamazura.
“But you’re too old for that. You need to know that the world isn’t always so kind. Have your green peas back.”
“Fgyaaaaaaaahh!?” screamed Fremea now that she had a mountain of peas twice the size it was before.
After that, Hamazura got in a fight with Hanzou when Hanzou put salt directly on the large plate of fries and there was a dispute over whether the vegetable sticks should have mayonnaise or dressing on them, but the dark atmosphere was mostly swept away. They had just been attacked by that eight-legged powered suit, but it didn’t look like Fremea was in any kind of emotional shock.
It was possible that the feelings just hadn’t caught up with her yet.
Meanwhile, there were other people who found Hamazura and the others’ actions to be odd.
Mugino Shizuri and the rest of Item.
They had split up to search around the city for Hamazura, but they had each caught scent of the familiar smell of the darkness.
Take Mugino for example.
She was leaning up against a wall in order to gather information.
More precisely, she was connected to the building’s security cameras with a long, thin cable stretching from the fake eye built into her eyepatch. Of course, she had no interest in the building itself; the camera was just a gateway. Through it she entered the security company’s network and went through the footage archives to see if Hamazura was in them.
Her flesh-and-blood brain was directly connected to the mechanical eye, but there was additional meaning there.
It meant she could directly receive information from the machine.
Of course, it had to be translated into information a human could detect, so it wasn’t perfect and she mostly relied on images through the fake eye’s system. However, she could do things that were impossible with a normal interface.
While an image search was being carried out at high speed behind her forehead, Mugino used her spare hand to operate her cell phone.
It was in “Chat Mode” where it could communicate on multiple lines at once.
“A powered suit went nuts in an underground mall in District 7. In a few hours, the higher ups will probably have revised the footage and debunked the rumors so that it ‘didn’t happen’.”
“I found that super fast by intercepting Anti-Skill radio. Originally, a boy and a girl were being targeted. Later, another boy super joined in. The three of them super got away from the powered suit and ran off above ground. Did the cameras get any of their faces?”
“The first two weren’t him. The guy who came later is…I can’t tell. The smoke gathered around the ceiling, so I can only tell there was someone there.”
“But,” Mugino added, “I think the original boy is someone Hamazura would talk with. And the girl looks somehow familiar…”
“Oh, so you even super looked into all the people Hamazura knew? Yanderes can be super scary.”
“…Kinuhata, I can see the things around you. Could you grab that thick thing over there and shove it up your ass?”
“I’m super not interested in size and thickness, so no thank you. Anyway, let’s continue the super Hamazura Search. Hee hee hee. Let’s see what finds the super right answer faster: security cameras or radio information.”
“Ahn? At this rate, won’t Takitsubo be the punishment bunny?”
When Mugino asked that frank question, the rabbit girl Takitsubo Rikou spoke up for the first time in the conversation with a trembling voice.
“…A signal is coming from north-north-east… I sense that Hamazura is flirting with another girl…!!”
“Mugino, I’m most afraid of that super vague medium. We need to go all out so that we don’t end up being a super unsightly bunny in front of that idiot.”
“Kuruwa sure is taking her time,” said Hanzou as he leaned back in the private salon’s sofa.
Hamazura and Fremea were checking out what was inside the spacious room. There were card games and board games on some shelves and a video game system was installed next to the large TV. It seemed the TV could also be used to browse the internet.
It also had a satellite connection, so there were more than three hundred channels to choose from. This meant that it would take a long time to find something to watch even if there was something you wanted to watch on. Fremea had given up on finding something to watch and the TV was left on news about the end of World War III. It was something about the weapons not needed now that the war was over being transported to Districts 2 and 23.
Hamazura quickly gave up on the TV, sat down on the sofa, and started looking through the road service reference book, but then someone grabbed the edge of his clothes. He looked up and saw Fremea looking bored.
At her request, he started looking for a multiplayer game.
Because of the type of facility they were in, there were a lot of party games that could be played with a lot of people.
It might have been imprudent to turn towards hobbies and time-killing devices at a time like that, but it might have been a defensive reaction of their minds. If they sat still and went crazy, they would have lost everything. They would win by safely returning to their everyday lives. That eight-legged thing wasn’t a part of their fates.
“Hamazura, in the first place I want to play that.”
Fremea stretched out her hands, but she couldn’t reach her target which was on the top shelf.
The shelf had video games lined up on it.
“No. Not something that's in the first place as boring as that.”
“To the right. To the right. Farther right. No left. In the first place, there.”
Hamazura moved his finger along the shelf as he listened to Fremea, but then he felt something heavy on his back. Fremea was using him in place of a ladder to get her small frame up to the shelf.
“This,” she said as she pulled a game from the shelf.
“I want to play Blood & Destroy.”
“What kind of title is that? That just makes it sound like it’s full of horrible things! Look, the screenshots on the back of the package are almost all blood red!!”
It looked like a shooting game where a grim-faced guy shot lots of zombies. It practically screamed “For the foreign market!!” When he carefully read the instructions, it seemed the protagonists were the ones doing the chomping. The tagline was “Let’s drive back the allies of justice!!”
Hamazura carefully chose his words.
“L-look, doesn’t this one with the fluffy pets look fun?”
“Blood & Destroy.”
“What about A Stroll with the Mermaid Princess?”
“Blood & Destroy.”
“The Meadows of-”
“I want to play it!!”
Fremea held the blood-red package in her hands, hid her mouth behind it, and stared up at him.
Hamazura paused for a second.
“…I’m not going to let you, but can I take a picture of that?”
The two of them got all worked up and Hanzou stood up from the sofa.
“…Kuruwa is taking too long. I’m going to try to contact her again.”
While Fremea looked over at the cell phone screen, Hamazura gestured to Hanzou with his fingers.
The gesture was saying that they couldn’t stay there much longer.
“I know that,” muttered Hanzou in what was almost a sigh. “I know that.”
A certain gigantic dump truck’s driver’s seat was higher than the second floor of a building.
The back was the size of a pool and seemed to be full of black stones, but that was just a disguise. The outside of the inner domed space was made to look that way.
On the inside it was a maintenance area.
A maintenance area for a powered suit.
The sound of chemical springs creaking could be heard.
Those springs were inside the powered suit and it normally creaked like that whenever it did anything. It was sort of like the rustling of clothing, but there was a rumor that it had an effect on the minds of people who weren’t used to hearing it if they heard it for long periods of time.
“I’m ready, but isn’t this a tad indirect?”
“At this rate, there are too many lines. It would be best if we cut down a few more branches.”
“Kuroyoru, does that mean…?”
“Yes, I’ll be heading out.”
“If we’re limiting the lines, wouldn’t it be better if you started with crushing Item?”
“Crushing things one by one in order is the fastest way. Also, you failed last time. Having the direction the branches are growing in change would be a problem.”
“I thought you had urged for retreat regarding that.”
“Even without, it’ll be fine. Things weren’t exactly perfect from the get-go.”
“Don’t forget the purpose of pruning.”
“I know. The foundation of pruning is to choose the thickest, strongest branch. In that way, that branch is the thickest and yet easiest to handle.”
“So you’re saying bloodshed and danger will become water that makes the branches grow.”
“Let’s recheck our plans. I’ll be heading for Hamazura Shiage. You support me with the ‘bees’. We can leave Accelerator alone for now. The fewer risks the better. The other side has begun moving. Once the moat is filled, it’ll all naturally connect like a magnet.”
“Is this really okay? It would be safer to take out Item first with a surprise attack. Once Hamazura gets involved due to the attack on Fremea Seivelun, it’s likely they’ll show up.”
“I don’t mind if that happens. It saves me the effort of finding them.”
“Silver Cross, are you worried about Mugino Shizuri? Or is it Kinuhata Saiai?”
“It’s the Dark May Project.”
“Hmph. Kinuhata? Don’t worry. You’re getting worried over nothing.”
In what seemed like the person on the other end of the transmission’s habit, she responded with a bit of scorn mixed in.
“After all, I was above her in attack power from the very start of that project.” The girl spoke quickly. “And now I’ve gone beyond the frame of a mere esper.”
“Is that so?”
“Aren’t you being a little more subdued than before? Even if you’re just my support, you haven’t used a two-legged one in a while.”
“Like I said before: I’m the kind of man that knows how to do the right thing at the right time.”
The powered suit responded with the creaking of its chemical springs.
“I got results, didn’t I? This is the same. It isn’t about which one’s the best. There are times to use Enemy Blaster and there are times to use Bee Launcher.”
“So we’ll go ahead as planned?”
“Fremea Seivelun it is.”
The person on the other end of the transmission gave praise with words of scorn.
“That brat really is quite useful.”
Between the Lines 3
The reason Level 0s started being attacked was Skill-Out.
It was them who first started attacking espers.
That said, they didn’t actually get into fist fights. It was more like slight arguments. However, as Skill-Out grew larger, the delinquent side grew stronger.
But the revenge for that did not stop with just Skill-Out. If a Level 0 was walking around the city and the espers didn’t like it, that Level 0 would end up being the target. The brunt of the damage did not fall on the armed groups of Skill-Out. It fell on the truly innocent Level 0s.
It went from elementary school students to college students. There was no discrimination in the targets. And the attacks were gruesome. The violence spread in no time.
A call for “Just Revenge” was given online and it gathered half-serious responses. As the situation escalated, a large number of powerful espers announced they were taking part in it. It no longer had anything to do with the original people. It was just a desire to act violently and hit people free of risk and free of guilt. It was a means of relieving stress. Just for that, a large number of people began being attacked out of nowhere.
And amid it all, there was one post on a BBS.
“I found an idiot school. All the students are Level 0. It’s because of schools like that that everything is getting so violent. We need to bring a hammer to this incarnation of evil. I need people to help me take out the trash.”
The indicated school was the kind of elementary school you could find anywhere.
The students that attended the school had no connection to Skill-Out.
But that kind of logic didn’t get through to the attackers. All of them just couldn’t get over the fact that they had been made a fool of by Level 0s once. By that point, the attackers themselves didn’t even really know who it was they were attacking.
Komaba Ritoku did not like conflict.
For that very reason…
He decided that they had to take responsibility with their own hands.