Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume1 Chapter4

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Chapter 4: The Right to Become a Good Person and the Right to Reject It. Black.

Part 1

“They’re late…” muttered an annoyed Yomikawa Aiho in a room of her apartment that was too high-class for a teacher’s salary. “How long does it take to get groceries at a nearby supermarket?”

“There’s nothing wrong with messing around,” said Yoshikawa Kikyou, a former researcher who was sprawled out on a soft sofa watching a rerun of a drama. “They are kids after all.”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Mmhhh.”

Unlike the two languid adults, Last Order seemed quite upset. She was pacing back and forth between the window leading to the balcony and the TV.

“…Misaka has a bad feeling about this, says Misaka as Misaka thinks deeply about it.”

“?”

“The new Misaka is always getting in the way around here and who knows what she could be doing to him right now…Ah, could Misaka be having her scenes taken from her!? says Misaka as Misaka expresses her shock!!”

“Kikyou, what do you think of this?”

“You mustn’t underestimate the brain before the formation of the secondary sexual characteristics, Aiho. Broadness and discontinuity of thoughts aren’t the norm then.”

“But Misaka has no intention of inheriting those pitiful aspects from the original! says Misaka as Misaka quickly takes action!! Misaka is ready to find a solution at any time!!”

A metallic slam reached Yomikawa’s ears.

It took her a second to realize it was the sound of the door being opened and closed.

“…Huh?”

The small girl had disappeared.

When the two women headed to the entrance and saw that the small shoes were missing, they frantically began the search.

Part 2

“Odd.” Hanzou lowered his gaze to his cell phone in annoyance. “No matter how many times I try and how many different ways I try, I can’t contact Kuruwa.”

“Hey, does that mean…?”

“They know I ran off with Fremea. They may have picked up everyone that might help me.”

“We should try to find her.”

“How?” Hanzou responded. “We aren’t likely to find her if we just randomly run around. Also…we don’t even know if she’s still alive.”

“Then…!!” Hamazura said as if to interrupt him. “Then we should search for her now. Just because you can’t contact her doesn’t necessarily mean that Kuruwa-chan’s fate is sealed. This could be the critical moment. Maybe she’s too busy dealing with them to answer the phone. Whatever it is, we need to do something. If we don’t do anything, her odds of survival aren’t good.”

But how exactly were they supposed to find her?

Hamazura slowly paced around the private salon thinking.

“Do you have an idea where she would go? Like a store she often goes to.”

“If she really is in danger, she would avoid that kind of place.”

“There has to be something we can use to find her… GPS, security cameras, security robots, anything. Is there any kind of system we can use?”

“Kuruwa always walks around choosing routes that won’t be picked up by those kinds of things.”

“That’s it!” Hamazura spread a map out on the table. “Paths that aren’t picked up by anything are actually pretty rare. Especially with the security robots. Hanzou, draw some lines on the map with a marker. We’ll have much better odds if we search around certain lines rather than searching the entire city.”

“Even if there aren’t very many, it’s like the holes in a net. It won’t be that easy…”

“The security robots patrol according to a pattern. Depending on the times, the holes in the net are closed up. When I saw her before, Kuruwa-chan was in District 7. If we mark the safe paths in District 7 and the surrounding districts, we can then look at the security robot schedule to mark off the paths that were unusable at the time.”

“I get it. I get it,” said Hanzou as started drawing lines on the map.

Fremea looked at Hamazura and Hanzou with an anxious expression, but they didn’t have time to care for her then.

Hamazura looked down at the marked map.

“What do I need to do?”

“No.” Hanzou shook his head. “You stay here. Fremea’s safety comes first.”

“But you need help, right!?”

“We can’t leave her alone! And taking her out into danger along with us is out of the question!”

The two boys glared at each other for a bit, but Hamazura finally averted his gaze.

“Dammit,” he spat out and looked around the room. “…We can’t stay here for too much longer.”

“I’m leaving now. Take care of Fremea while I’m gone. This floor has three exits. Hamazura, if it comes to it, take her and run.”

“I will. I promise.” Hamazura nodded. “You make sure you bring Kuruwa-chan back with you, okay?”

They lightly hit their hands together and Hanzou left the private salon.

After the door closed, it felt like silence began oozing into the air.

It gave Hamazura a vision of them disappearing one by one.

Part 3

Kuroyoru Umidori was a girl that stood out quite a bit.

She was about twelve years old. Her black hair came down to about her shoulder-blades, but it was accented so that the hair near her ears was bleached blonde.

For clothing, she wore a white coat with only the hood over her head. Her arms were not in the sleeves. Below that…could perhaps be described as punk. Her small frame tightly fit inside clothing made of black leather and studs.

Her clothes looked more suited to someone on stage than someone walking around town.

The plastic dolphin doll under her arm went in a completely different vector than her odd outfit and it just felt out of place.

She didn’t sneak around.

She walked openly into the private salon building through the main entrance.

She got on the escalator to the second floor. She approached the reception counter that was much like the front desk at a hotel and asked the young man working there part-time a question.

“I’m looking for some people. Hamazura Shiage and Fremea Seivelun. I know they’re using this facility. I want to know what room of what floor they’re using.”

“Miss…”

At first, the young man put on a fake smile, but, once he saw that Kuroyoru’s expression wasn’t changing, he thought back to the manual for these kinds of situations.

“Our facility has a duty to protect the personal information of our customers. I’m very sorry, but I can’t reveal information regarding to the usage of the rooms.”

This was the very basic of the business especially because the private salons were secret hideouts used to be free of being observed by adults. If they gave away the information on what people were doing, it would defeat the entire purpose of going there.

However, Kuroyoru merely smiled.

“That’s fine. They probably rented it under a fake name, but I thought I’d ask just to be sure.”

“I-I see.”

The young man was conflicted over whether he should confirm or deny that possibility.

Then Kuroyoru continued.

“Whether the answer is here or not doesn’t change what I must do.”

“?”

The young man didn’t have time to express his question.

Directly afterwards, something shot directly by the side of his face at high speed and struck the wall behind him. It was an obsolete pay phone that had been set up in case of emergency.

It shot by at such high speed that the phone was smashed to pieces and a large dent a few centimeters in was made in the tough wall. That had been enough force to put a human’s life in danger had they been directly hit.

“Ee…”

The young man was confused, but he knew that the girl hadn’t thrown it.

The other customers didn’t panic. They couldn’t panic. The dangerous aura emitted by the girl and the unusual phenomenon had sealed their movements.

Something strange floated up behind the girl. It was a ring-shaped machine about seventy centimeters in diameter. Inside the ring was a propeller shaped similarly to a shampoo hat. It provided both lift and propulsion. A chainsaw-like blade was surrounding the outside of the ring.

Objects would get caught on the protruding parts of the blade and build up centrifugal force. Then the objects could be thrown with great destructive force if released with the proper timing.

As if to explain how it worked, the machine’s blade “grabbed” a metal trash can and began rotating it at high speed. In a few seconds, it was moving so fast it could only be seen as an afterimage.

However, the young man didn’t have time to scream.

From directly behind him, the horrible noise of gears meshing together could be heard. No, that wasn’t what it was. Technically, it was the sound of numerous chainsaw blades tearing through the wall.

Tearing.

It was more destruction than it was cutting.

“Wh-wha—!?”

He wasn’t even allowed to turn around.

Before he could, chainsaws came from a few different directions and stopped a few millimeters away from his neck.

Because he had four of those killer disks surrounding him and aiming for his neck, he couldn’t even carelessly collapse. He was a sneeze away from decapitation.

“Don’t kill him yet,” said Kuroyoru in a bored sounding voice.

It sounded more like she was talking to someone controlling the machines than to the machines themselves.

(Now then, I suppose I should make this as easy to understand as possible.)

Kuroyoru arbitrarily decided to kick a metal magazine rack about as tall as she was. The metal fixture came to pieces and she pulled a rod-like piece from the various parts. She lightly tapped it against one of the killer disks that were next to the young man’s neck.

“E-eeee!!”

A pathetic scream escaped his lips, but the killer disks didn’t move. They must have had some way of maintaining their position, because the chainsaws were as stable as one bolted to a stand. The rod-shaped metal part Kuroyoru held let off sparks and a slicing noise was heard as part of it was sliced cleanly off at a diagonal.

She stuck the end that was now pointed like a bamboo spear between his eyes.

“You seem to be mistaken, so I’ll correct you. This isn’t the kind of torture scene you’ve likely seen in movies or TV dramas. This isn’t a situation where I absolutely must get the information here by any means necessary.”

Sweat was pouring from the young man due to tension and fear. From up in the floor above, he could hear screams and trampling feet. Disturbances were occurring elsewhere, too. The killer disks could fly through the air and freely cut through the walls and windows, so they could directly enter the upper floors.

“Whether you talk or not, I can still get my answer.” Kuroyoru spoke calmly. “What’ll you do? Either way’s fine. Are you going to choose to die needlessly?”

Not only did he look up the room number, but he also lent her the employee master key.

With that so-so result, Kuroyoru tossed aside the metal rod and left the counter in a good mood. She took the plastic dolphin doll from under her arm and tossed it above her head. It must have had some Velcro on it or something, because it stuck to the coat on her back.

She spread out her now empty hands.

“Now then. I suppose it’s about time I really got down to business.”

With a slight noise, colorless and transparent spears shot out of her palms.

This was the weapon known as an esper power given only to the students in that city.

Part 4

Mugino Shizuri was stopped in the middle of the street.

It was partially due to having very few hints to help her with the Hamazura Search she had made a humiliating punishment game out of with the other members of Item.

However, there was a more immediate reason.

A girl around ten years old was grabbing at her coat.

The girl had short light brown hair.

She had a vigorous-looking face.

(…I feel like I’ve seen her before. Where was it? I think it was in some report…)

“What?”

“Stop that beeping, says Misaka as Misaka gives her request. It’s a faint signal to begin with, so that just makes it even harder to find, says Misaka as Misaka explains the situation.”

“…?”

Mugino’s eyebrows lowered in a puzzled expression.

It wasn’t because she didn’t understand what the girl was talking about.

(…How does she know about my artificial eye and artificial arm?)

“That beep beep beep beep! No more beep beep beep beep!”

Mugino was getting fed up with having her coat tugged on, so she switched off her artificial eye. Her field of vision narrowed a bit and she lost her depth perception, but it wasn’t enough to be an impediment in everyday life.

The mysterious mini-girl moved her head to the left and the right slowly as the ahoge on the top of her head swayed in the wind.

“Okay, Misaka has it, says Misaka as Misaka captures the location of her target. Really. Scanning for someone who doesn’t have a proper network account is hard, says Misaka as Misaka says something controller-like.”

(Does she have a search-type power like Takitsubo?)

NT Index v01 157.jpg

However, Mugino was not at such a dead end with the Hamazura Search that she would recruit the girl for help.

Instead…

“…That’s an amazing coat you have there. Woah, what’s this? It’s covered in thick fur.”

“Hee hee hee. It was made in the Elizalina Alliance of Independent Nations, says Misaka as Misaka boasts about her coat. But your coat looks pretty warm, too. That’s the type of super lightweight cold-resistant fiber that traps air in tiny tubes, isn’t it? says Misaka as Misaka acts like a know-it-all.”

Last Order had grabbed the edge of Mugino’s skirt along with the coat and she was swinging them up and down like flapping wings.

She then realized something.

“But your underwear looks chilly, says Misaka as Misaka expresses her surprise.”

“That’s because they’re see-through. Being in charge of the sexy side of things has its hardships.”

After that odd back and forth, the two parted ways.

They were both in search of someone.

Anyone who had known the #4 as she once was would have been astonished at this, but it was just yet another change in the personality of the person known as Mugino Shizuri.

Part 5

It had been a few minutes since Hanzou had left the room.

A type of discomfort was ever so slightly stabbing at Hamazura’s nerves. After thinking about it for a short bit, he realized it was due to a noise. The room was soundproofed pretty well, but he could hear what sounded like a number of people making a racket. And it wasn’t just from a single direction. It sounded like he was surrounded by the noise.

“Hamazura.”

“It’s fine,” he responded to Fremea’s uneasy voice.

He had no proof of that of course.

He grew very conscious of the presence of Takitsubo and the others’ numbers in his phone, but he stifled his desire to call for help.

He couldn’t get them wrapped up in a problem this big.

“Hanzou is out getting someone who will help us out. Once she’s here, the situation will turn around. So it’s fine.”

Surely Hanzou would find Kuruwa safe and sound and bring her back. She had plenty of hideouts Hamazura and Hanzou didn’t know about, so there was no reason to fear their pursuers. They didn’t know how to “win” in their situation and it wasn’t even clear what was required to “win”, but, whether they would just continue hiding or counterattack, having a safe place was a major step in the right direction. As such, they could change the situation for the better if they could only meet up with Kuruwa.

That was how Hamazura saw the situation, but a sudden noise tore at his ears.

A loud noise like giant gears tearing at the wall came from the other side of the private salon’s wall.

It didn’t sound like some kind of machine moving in the hallway.

The door itself was clearly vibrating.

“Wh-what!? What in the first place is going on…!?”

“Get back!!” Hamazura immediately yelled and moved in front of Fremea, but he couldn’t think of anything else to do.

He wasn’t even sure what was going on. However, the situation advanced regardless.

It advanced in a way that helped their opponent.

With a loud crashing noise, the door collapsed inwards.

It hadn’t been opened; it collapsed.

Hamazura realized the two hinges and the deadbolt near the knob had been sliced off once he saw the things that flew inside the room through the door.

A noise pounded the air that sounded like the sound of a bee’s wings amplified a couple thousand times.

And the grating noise of gears and chains was mixed in.

The sources of the noise were disks.

They had a radius of about seventy centimeters. The inside of their metal “border” contained two sets of propellers that looked like shampoo hats. These propellers provided lift and propulsion. The center axis of the propellers was completely hollow. A single stake may have gone through that portion of them when they were stored.

They were unmanned scouting devices that were either remotely or AI controlled.

If that was all, it wouldn’t have been so bad.

The problem was with the “border”.

The source of the noise of gears and chains was the chainsaw surrounding the circular border. The name of the machines printed on the top of their borders, Edge Bee, gave Hamazura a really bad feeling about how they could be used.

“Fuck!?”

Three of them flew into the room. Instead of continuing on like bullets, they stopped in midair and then slowly floated around surrounding Hamazura. The action was similar that of hornets capturing their prey.

Even in Academy City, a city flooded with cleaning robots and security robots, one didn’t often have a chance to see machines that dangerous.

There was really only one possibility that came to Hamazura’s mind.

“The pursuers…? But how did they find us?”

Then he realized it.

(Was it from Hanzou leaving to go find Kuruwa-chan? They took the images of Hanzou’s movements through the city from the security cameras and robots and traced where he came from!! That means the Kuruwa-chan thing was fake. They didn’t need to go to the risk of capturing her. They probably just blocked our transmissions!!)

Of course, doing that wasn’t exactly easy.

They had freely used the city’s video surveillance network and communications network and they had found the specific cell phone their targets were using and blocked only it. They were most likely using the unmanned scouting devices to cover for the areas the surveillance network didn’t.

Their pursuers had to be people who had the consent of those at the administrative level of the city and they could clearly use the facilities of that level of the city.

“I-in the first place, what are we going to do?”

“Run away, of course. We gain nothing by playing with toys this dangerous.”

These were killer weapons that could freely fly through the sky and use their chainsaws to cut right through doors and walls.

Hamazura wasn’t stupid enough to think he could destroy them in a fair fight.

Facing them would do nothing but get himself injured.

(…The exit.)

Hamazura looked around the area.

(…We have to get out of this room!!)

The private salon only had one door, but one of the Edge Bees was hovering near it, so they couldn’t approach it.

They might not be able to get past it when the machines attacked.

They may not be able to run away, much less win.

(These unmanned scouting devices use contra-rotating propellers to maintain their position and to provide both lift and propulsion. That means their weakness is…)

“Listen up, Fremea. When I give the sign, you run full speed for the exit.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry.”

Hamazura looked over at a floor lamp while keeping the movements of the Edge Bees in his peripheral vision. Their chainsaws continued to rotate making an ominous noise.

“I’ll draw them in. So you head straight out the exit once that disk leaves it. Understand?”

Fremea gave a slight nod.

Hamazura slowly approached the table and reached for a plastic glass.

“Now!!”

As he yelled, Hamazura threw the glass at the Edge Bee hovering near the exit. The glass struck the wall next to the Edge Bee, but the Edge Bee still reacted. All three of them immediately took action in what seemed like an overreaction.

They moved to slice Hamazura.

“Run!!”

“But…what in the first place is going to happen to you!?”

“Just go! I’ll make sure to catch up with you!!”

Hamazura grabbed the floor lamp with both hands and Fremea ran out the exit as if she had been pushed out by his yelling.

After ensuring she had made it out, he turned his gaze back to the approaching weapons. He threw the floor lamp at the Edge Bees as hard as he could.

This time, the object hit one of them, but that was all. As Hamazura had expected, it didn’t take the Edge Bee out. In fact, the lamp stuck to the chainsaw surrounding the machine.

“Wha—?”

Hamazura looked on in surprise as the lamp revolved at high speed. It was gaining centrifugal force. And then the blunt object was accurately fired back at him.

Its speed rivaled that of an arrow.

Hamazura twisted his body with all his might and just barely managed to avoid it. The lamp struck the wall and pierced into it like a spear.

(The way the blade is set can be changed to either grab or cut!!)

When he thought about it, he realized that the cuts to the door hadn’t been all that clean. It seemed less like the door had been cut by a normal saw that ripped with numerous sharp claws and more like it had been torn at by numerous fingers.

Hamazura grabbed a nearby ornamental parasol, but he didn’t carelessly throw it.

The three Edge Bees did not wait. They may have been intending to defeat Hamazura first because he was actually attacking, because the killer disks aimed for him and attacked.

Hamazura restrained his faltering heart and just barely managed to rush forward.

The Edge Bees moved much faster than he had imagined from when they were just hovering. It was nowhere near the speed of the lamp one had thrown, but it was faster than a rock thrown in a sling.

They were moving fast enough that he would probably need an ambulance if one hit him and that wasn’t even taking their special chainsaws into account. If one directly hit him, his flesh would be torn to pieces and the possibility that he would be chopped in two couldn’t be denied.

It was important how they had cut through the door when they entered.

The issue wasn’t with how clean a cut they had made.

The issue was that they had taken time to do it.

That meant…

(Whether they hit the wall or have something in their chainsaws, they don’t lose their balance in midair. They must use gyros, image analysis, ultrasonic waves, or something to help ensure their position.)

It was possible he wouldn’t even be able to take one out if he threw the parasol he was holding at them. And it was possible they would slightly evade it or even throw it back.

However…

As long as they had their contra-rotating propellers, they still had a weakness.

(No matter how high performance they are, they have to fall if the propellers stop moving!!)

“Hamazura! Watch out!!” yelled Fremea from the exit.

The Edge Bees simultaneously attacked Hamazura from three different directions

Just before one of the quickly rotating blades reached him, he ducked down.

That wasn’t enough to avoid the Edge Bee.

However, before they could correct their trajectories, he stuck the end of the parasol up the middle of the Edge Bees as if he was stabbing it.

He was attempting to obstruct the two propellers rotating in opposite directions.

The horrible noise of the parasol’s metal frame shattering could be heard. However, the Edge Bee wasn’t unharmed. Orange sparks shot out, the propellers broke, and, most importantly, it stopped moving. The sudden obstruction of movement had a negative effect on the motor and gears inside.

The Edge Bee flew to the floor without having its momentum stopped.

The machine bounced and struck one of the other Edge Bees coming in to attack Hamazura from a different direction. The propeller had stopped, but the chainsaw was still functioning. The two Edge Bees’ blades caught each other and the two machines flew into different corners of the room like billiards balls.

Hamazura used the opening this created to run towards the exit where Fremea waited.

The final remaining machine aimed for his back, but he stuck his foot under the door that was lying on the ground and forcefully kicked it up. He grabbed the side with both hands, turned around, and swung it full force.

He swung it down.

He wasn’t just trying to swat the machine down with brute strength.

As had been previously established, the Edge Bees used their contra-rotating propellers for lift and propulsion. That meant that they couldn’t fly if the artificial wind they blew down was obstructed.

This could be accomplished by blocking it with a giant board over the propellers.

After knocking the last one to the ground, Hamazura jumped up on the door covering the Edge Bee. He jumped up and down a couple of times using all of his weight to smash the collection of delicate machinery underneath.

Of course, military weapons were built to be tough, but, if the delicate propellers were bent even slightly, that was enough to deprive it of lift.

“Okay, now…”

“Hurry!! Hamazura, run!!”

He ran out of the room and met up with Fremea.

That was when the sound of a chainsaw came to his ears.

When he looked back in the room, he saw the first Edge Bee with the destroyed propellers getting up from the corner of the room it had been knocked to. The outer edge of the disk was pushed up against the floor and it was keeping its balance.

The Edge Bee then started rolling towards Hamazura using the chainsaw as a tire. It moved with tremendous speed.

(Shit!! What kind of position maintenance systems does that thing have?!)

Hamazura stepped back out of instinctual fear, but he hit the corridor wall. The impact on his back caused his feet to slip from the floor and he fell on his ass.

That was when yet another threat attacked.

The wall to his back was sliced diagonally.

A spear that appeared to be made of compressed air and was around three meters long appeared. It sliced through the wall and destroyed the advancing Edge Bee as well as the floor around it.

However, this did not make Hamazura happy.

That attack had only helped him because he had happened to fall on his ass. If he had still been standing, it definitely would have sliced right through his chest.

“Hamazura, no!! The wall is collapsing!!”

“Aaaahhhhh!?”

He hurriedly rolled to the side at about the same time as the wall collapsed into the corridor.

A single figure appeared on the other side of the dust.

The transparent spears in the figure’s hands blew the dust away.

“Tch. Silver Cross, make sure you match your actions to mine. That was an unnecessary cost.”

The figure was a girl of about twelve, but Hamazura felt a kind of slime within her at first glance. She had the atmosphere of someone used to killing and mayhem. She smelled of the darkness and didn’t try to hide it. She was a different type from Hamazura or Hanzou. She was an outstanding darkness.

Hamazura stood up breathing erratically.

The spears coming from her hands that allowed her to easily damage the walls or floor with a slight shake of her hand looked familiar to him.

“That power…”

“Oh. It’s Bomber Lance, a spear made of nitrogen. Does it look like the power of a friend of yours?” The girl smiled thinly as she swung the spear lightly and sliced the nearby wall further. “It’s more or less the same as an APFSDS, one of the types of shells Silver Cross’s Enemy Blaster uses with its smoothbore gun. It cuts objects using enormous pressure. There’s something to think about.”

The girl’s words lacked any tension or even hostility.

And yet her spears held overwhelming destructive force.

“Is this really any time to be focusing on me? There are still more than thirty of Silver Cross’s Edge Bees flying around. Or do you not mind if that brat is nothing but a hunk of meat next time you see her?”

“!? Fremea, escape through the north emergency staircase!!”

“…Hmm.”

The Bomber Lance girl turned her head halfheartedly and spotted the small blonde doll of a girl hiding behind a pillar.

“Thanks for telling me where she was. I had thought you two had split up once she had gotten out of the room.”

(…It’s just like when they purposefully let Hanzou go so they could find this place…!!)

“Just go, Fremea!!”

Hamazura put the fact that he was up against a twelve year old girl out of his mind.

He jumped straight up.

He grabbed onto the edge of the fire shutter as if he was going in for a slam dunk. He put all his weight onto the shutter to force it down.

It headed down for the girl’s head like a guillotine.

She looked up at him.

The metal shutter burst apart like a sponge packed full of gunpowder.

It was due to Bomber Lance.

Just by lifting her hand up, she had destroyed the thick blunt weapon. The spear itself didn’t directly hit him, but metal fragments flew off and struck Hamazura’s body knocking him back.

“Ghah!!”

(No good. This isn’t someone I can face without a proper weapon!!)

“Hamazura!!”

“Go, Fremea!! Hurry!!”

Fremea tried to run over to Hamazura, but her shoulders shrunk down at his shout. She hesitated in the middle of the corridor, but she finally turned her back to him and ran for the emergency staircase.

Seeing that, the Bomber Lance girl gave a concise comment.

“Silver Cross.”

“!!”

Hamazura immediately tried to jump at the girl, but she coldly swung her arm multiple times before he could.

With just that, the corridor’s floor was cut into a block and fell to the floor below. The opening prevented Hamazura from approaching like a cliff.

Doing that hadn’t been necessary.

With that much destructive force, the girl could kill Hamazura by directly aiming for him and then focus on finding Fremea.

She was clearly playing with him.

“I suppose I’ll chase after her for now. If I don’t find her, I’ll switch to a scream tactic. Watching you flounder sounds more fun than just killing you.”

“Dammit!!” Hamazura cursed and the girl turned her back on him.

He had to take a detour in order to meet up with Fremea and he needed a more powerful weapon in order to face the Edge Bees and the Bomber Lance girl.

Part 6

Every street of every district had blank spaces.

A powered suit was in a square area in the sea of buildings that was District 3. It was an area where a building had been demolished and nothing else had been built. Maintaining an old building cost money, but the owner must have wanted to keep just the land until the land’s value changed so he could make a profit off of it.

The powered suit Silver Cross was in this time had a giant sensor dome for a head, two arms, and two legs. Its appearance was rather subdued for his tastes.

However, there were twelve metal poles extending from its back. There were over ten Edge Bees stored on those poles. Ten of the machines fit on a single pole, so the suit would have been able to hold over a hundred of them in total. Over half of those were away from the suit.

The metal poles were both the Edge Bees’ hive and high precision antennas.

The powered suit was a reconnaissance suit that specialized in gathering information.

Even then, it was receiving video information from the many Edge Bees, intercepting the signals from cleaning robots and security robots, and cables stretching from within the armored suit were directly gathering information from the underground communications network.

His objective was clear.

“Now then. I think I’ve cut off all their escape routes.”

Of course, the plan had been to capture Fremea Seivelun inside the private salon, but he had deployed Edge Bees around the building and was acquiring information from nearby security cameras to defend against the small possibility that she would get away.

From the size of the building and the number of customers using it, he had expected to cause quite a panic, but he wasn’t about to miss his target’s face among all the people.

(Either Kuroyoru will catch her first or it’ll fall to me. Either way, this is the end for Fremea Seivelun.)

Because Hamazura Shiage was in the building, the possibility of Item showing up came to mind, but that would just mean it was time for his overwhelming but easy-to-understand “power”.

(Maybe I should switch from a reconnaissance suit like Bee Launcher into a battle suit.)

The owner of the powered suits didn’t get fixated on a single suit.

His motto was that not insisting on sticking with a single weapon and choosing the one that was most suitable for the situation was the most effective course of action. As such, he saw no meaning in arguing over what weapon was strongest and he didn’t blindly believe that a certain weapon could do anything.

(No, if the target moves during that time, I’ll lose sight of her. That would be getting my priorities backwards. If I did that…)

As he thought, the powered suit trembled slightly.

He had picked up on a threat via the great number of Edge Bees deployed out in the city using the reconnaissance suit. He noticed his thoughts accelerating. In other words, he was panicking and he couldn’t stop it.

(This is bad.)

This was someone who was completely unaffected by direct “power” and that was what he specialized in.

Normally, this would be something Kuroyoru Umidori would handle.

(Item is nothing compared to this. My methods are just too incompatible!!)

Part 7

Hamazura Shiage was running down the southern emergency staircase.

He was still split up from Fremea.

He needed a weapon to save her and the private salons were used by rich boys and girls in the upper echelons of society who lived in a different environment from him. As such, the building offered services that seemed a bit odd to him.

Like an indoor shooting range.

Of course, they didn’t have a collection of real handguns and hunting rifles there. However, they did have a variety of projectile weapons that didn’t violate Academy City regulations. They had crossbows, longbows, blowguns, and bolt action rifles that fired rubber bullets.

Hamazura looked at the sign on the wall and ran out of the emergency staircase and into the corridor of his target floor. Unlike the other floors, this one was not lined with evenly spaced doors like in a hotel or a karaoke box. The large floor was split by corridors in a cross shape making four large rooms. The four rooms contained a bowling alley, an indoor shooting range, and other such facilities.

However, Hamazura was not able to arrive at the shooting range so easily. An Edge Bee appeared in the corridor in front of him.

He just had to hurry up and get in the shooting range.

He just had to obtain a proper weapon and fight back.

But Hamazura’s mind had passed its limit.

A large shiver came over his entire body and he couldn’t stop trembling afterwards.

“Ahhh… Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!”

The disappearance of the immediate need to put up a strong face in having to protect Fremea who was weaker than him had helped him reach this point.

He felt a full-on fear of death. He saw an image of his flesh and bones being ripped and torn by the crude chainsaw. Hamazura lost strength in his limbs and his thoughts were thrown into chaos.

Despite what he had experienced, despite how clever he could be, and despite the fact that he had been on the front line during World War III, deep down he was still a high school student from Japan’s Academy City.

He wasn’t a professional soldier who had been trained to kill for years.

With no foundation to rely on, it would have been odd if he hadn’t felt fear with true danger staring him in the face.

(Why…?)

It was taking all of Hamazura’s strength just to remain standing.

(Why? Why does this shit always happen to me!? The war is over. These kinds of tools aren’t needed anymore!! What could possibly make someone aim one of these things at a flesh-and-blood human!?)

However, the Edge Bee did not wait.

It plunged straight towards Hamazura in order to slice his body in two.

Hamazura immediately grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher.

“Oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

He swung it horizontally.

The fire extinguisher struck the chainsaw and exploded. All the gas leaked out through a different spot than it was supposed to which caused the metal remains to shoot off like a rocket leaving white powder behind. It stuck into the ceiling.

However, the Edge Bee was knocked away.

It had struck the fire extinguisher while its chainsaw was still in “cut” mode and some of its own power may have sent it flying off. Its position maintaining system used image processing, so the powder from the fire extinguisher may have lowered its ability to determine which way was up.

The Edge Bee tried to regain control, but it struck the wall. More specifically, the pole of a decorative flag diagonally sticking out of the wall pierced through the shampoo hat-like contra-rotating propellers. The propeller blades it needed to move broke and a further cracking noise could be heard from within the machine. Hamazura looked at the Edge Bee hanging on the wall like a hat and gulped.

(I did it…?)

That was when the LED next to the Edge Bee’s camera changed color with a beep.

“Fuck!!”

Hamazura’s face paled. He opened the door to the shooting range and jumped in.

Immediately afterwards, there was an explosion.

The noise put great pressure on his eardrums. Also, it wasn’t just the blast that spread out. A sharp pain ran up Hamazura’s arm. Tearing through his sleeve and into his arm was the kind of fishing hook that was often used for lures. It was made of three J-shaped hooks.

There had been explosives and hundreds of fishing hooks inside the Edge Bee. It wasn’t unusual for nails or metal balls to be put inside to increase the damage done, but using fishing hooks was just cruel.

This was because fishing hooks had a reversed area at the end making them hard to remove. And with three hooks together, it couldn’t be taken out the other way either.

“~ ~ ~ !!”

Hamazura held a handkerchief in his mouth to make sure he didn’t bite his tongue and then forced out the hook while holding it between his thumb and forefinger. A pain that felt like the tip of the hook was tearing directly at his nerves ran up his entire arm and sweat covered his face.

(This isn’t normal…)

He wrapped the handkerchief around his wounded arm and unsteadily walked over to the shooting range’s counter. A great number of projectile weapons were set up behind it. Normally, an employee would be managing them, but there was no one at the counter due to the uproar.

(Their cruelty isn’t like the darkness I’ve seen before. They aren’t thinking about what will be advantageous to them and maintaining their power. They’re thinking about what will make us suffer and deploying everything they have…)

He climbed over the counter and looked at the lined up weapons.

He wanted to arm himself with as many weapons as he could, but all of them were over a meter long. Either a certain size was necessary to be powerful and yet not be against the regulations or large weapons were popular among the customers. Either way, he could only really carry around one of them.

He wanted the strongest on there, but he also wanted something an amateur like him could use.

After a short period of indecision he finally chose…

(…An electrically assisted blowgun.)

The blowgun was about 110 centimeters long and had been improved for sports use. It was made of the same type of plastic used in knives and airplanes.

Normally, a blowgun didn’t have enough power to injure or kill someone. It used an arrow that was no more than a needle and used the human lungs to propel that arrow. Certain tribes could capture large beasts with them, but that was due to poison on the arrows instead of the destructive power of the projectile itself.

However, this one was electrically assisted.

When someone blew into the pipe, sensors picked up on it and sent out a blast of compressed air created with a compressor. Forcing the human to blow into it when it could easily be left completely to the machine must have been a method to get around the Academy City regulations. The arrow was propelled by the breath amplified dozens of times, so it could pierce through a piece of plywood a couple of centimeters thick.

A laser pointer was used to help aim, so aiming was fairly easy.

Hamazura grabbed an entire box of the arrows that were stabilized with tails much like darts.

The weapon had not stopped his trembling.

His determination to carry the weapon had brought strength back to him.

(This doesn’t guarantee I can defeat those Edge Bees and I’m not even sure I can scratch that Bomber Lance esper with it. Even so, having it makes a big difference. At the very least, I can use it to allow Fremea to escape!!)

That was when he heard a clattering noise.

He immediately crouched behind the counter while he opened up an area about forty centimeters from the hole to blow in and put in an arrow. But then his hand stopped moving. The noise hadn’t been caused by an Edge Bee or an unknown esper.

It had been caused by a middle-aged man.

He was wearing a worn-out suit and his tie was crooked. Sweat caused by tension and fear was soaking his face and his dress shirt.

Hamazura stood up from behind the counter and spoke.

“…You don’t look like an employee. Are you a customer?”

Academy City was a special city with 80% of its residents being students, but that still meant that 20% of its residents were adults. Hamazura didn’t know whether an adult would want to rent a “secret hideout”, but there was no reason they couldn’t use the private salons.

Hamazura grabbed a longbow from behind the counter and threw it towards the middle-aged man.

“If you don’t want to die, you should get out of here. They can destroy doors and walls and they’re searching through every single room. They may not be after you, but you’ll still get attacked if you stay here. And those killer chainsaws seem to have explosives inside of them. You should get the hell out of here if you can.”

“…”

The man slowly reached his hand over to the longbow. It looked more like he was just picking up something that had been thrown in front of him than like he was prepared to fight. Frankly speaking, there was no independence in his action.

The man’s gaze slowly moved from the longbow to Hamazura.

“…Wh-what are you going to do?” the man asked.

“Run away, of course. This place isn’t right. There are killer chainsaws flying all over the place and some even more dangerous esper kid is swinging around spears that look like they can slice through steel. If I stay here, I’m sure to be killed, so I’m going to run away even if it’s pathetic.”

Hamazura pulled some arrows for the blowgun and stuck them behind his belt.

He was rushing and his hands were shaking, but he didn’t have time to allow himself to relax.

“But before I do, I have to rescue a girl called Fremea. I don’t think I can win in a fight against that monster, but I at least have to help that girl escape safely.”

“Why?” The man shook his head like a child. “With an uproar like this, Anti-Skill is sure to come. Even if they’re searching through every single room, this building must have hundreds of rooms! If we stay here, they’ll use up all their time. Someone will come to save us in that time!! Moving around isn’t going to save us; hiding here is!!”

“That may be true.”

That assumed Anti-Skill had the power to resolve the situation.

And it assumed the enemy wouldn’t use their dozens of flying cameras effectively.

And it assumed the enemy would respond to failure by letting them go home instead of with an explosion of anger.

“But it may not be true. And, as I said before, I have to let Fremea escape this building. She’s only around ten years old. She’ll clearly die more easily than us. There’s no guarantee she’ll have the support to live on. I can’t leave her alone. If I do, I’m letting death rush towards her. So I need to draw that death away from her as much as I can.”

“…Why…?” muttered the man again.

Hamazura wasn’t pressuring the man to help.

“Sorry. I’m not telling you to come along. It’s your life. You should decide what to do with it. But, if you decide to hide, you should find somewhere else. When I came here, I destroyed an Edge Bee. A replacement might come, so you need to at least go to a different room.”

“No. Not that.”

The man shook his head repeatedly.

Hamazura realized the man was shaking due to something more than just fear.

“How can you think about the things around you in a situation like this…?” The man was muttering, but then his voice grew louder. “I came here looking for my daughter who ran away from home. I don’t know the details, but she was trying to resolve a dangerous situation where she couldn’t rely on Anti-Skill or Judgment. She didn’t want to get the rest of the family wrapped up in it, so she was using a private salon as a secret hideout. I desperately searched to figure this much out. I was prepared to do anything. I worked so hard determined to bring my daughter back before she was caught up in trouble that she couldn’t come back from.”

He spoke as if he were about to vomit up blood.

“But my real self was different. When I was faced with danger, it all broke away. I could only think about myself. After that, I can’t imagine that I could use this bow for my daughter’s sake! No matter what is in my hands, I can only imagine that I would think only of how I could use it to save myself!! …How can I become like you? It isn’t so simple. When my real self saw what was going on, I couldn’t think about anything around me!!”

That was an inevitable fear that came from life.

That was distorted thinking meant to avoid that fear.

That defeated man had tasted the depths of the earth with his heart’s tongue and he now sat there silently trembling.

“…What are you saying?”

But Hamazura Shiage’s face did not display an expression of contempt.

“You used your own power to get a wife, created a proper household, and frantically worked to protect all that. You had enough money for your daughter to use a private salon daily, because you worked for your family. You didn’t just get on the rails and amass it all solely because everyone around you was. When your daughter disappeared and your household seemed like it was falling apart, you acted to save your family even if it was breaking your own rules.”

Those were not words of comfort.

They were not soft words intended to not hurt.

“Everyone has things I don’t. No matter how much I struggle, I just can’t obtain them and yet I still have a final goal that I want to grab no matter what.”

Longing.

Because of his genuine longing, Hamazura bared his heart here.

“Be proud, hero. You are what I long to be.”

The middle-aged man looked down and remained silent for a short while.

He reflected on what Hamazura had said.

Finally, he stopped his body’s trembling. That once-defeated man raised his head and spoke.

“…I’ll go, too. Doing nothing isn’t going to help this situation.”

“Are you really okay with that?”

“Just like you have to let that Fremea girl get away, I have to save my daughter.”

“Do you know where your daughter is amid all this chaos?”

“She’s a lot like me. She most likely hasn’t moved around and I know what room she was in, so I’m going to head there.”

“I see,” muttered Hamazura.

He picked up the blowgun again.

“Then I’ll draw the attention of the Edge Bees as much as I can. If you know where you’re headed, it’s simple. You just run there.”

“Draw their attention…? Do you know what you’re saying!? Even with a weapon, you aren’t invincible. If a bunch of them fly at you at once…!!”

“It’s my fault,” Hamazura said cutting the man off. “This chaos, the swarm of Edge Bees, and the strange esper destroying walls are all here because of me. I’m not strong enough to resolve it all. I can only do so much. But let me do it. I can only do so much, but let me do what I can!!”

Hearing no restraining voice, Hamazura left the indoor shooting range and walked out into the corridor.

At the exact same time, the Bomber Lance girl destroyed a different wall and came through.

“Just meet up with Fremea already, so you lead me to her.”

“…!!”

“Or should we do the opposite? If I made you scream so loudly it could be heard throughout the building, would she come here or get scared and run away?”

There was no need to listen to her words.

He had a weapon now.

Hamazura held the blowgun up with both hands and centered the red dot from the laser pointer on the girl’s body. He then blew as hard as he could into it. The electronic compressor amplified the power of his breath dozens of times.

A thick noise rang out.

It wasn’t the sound of it being fired. Just like with bows, the sound of the blow landing was much louder than the sound of it being fired. However, it wasn’t the sound of the esper’s flesh being ripped either. Nor was it the sound of it being reflected with her power. The girl had twisted her body slightly and the dart-shaped arrow had hit the corridor wall behind her.

Her expression remained calm.

But Hamazura had learned something.

She had dodged the arrow instead of repelling it. That meant she had determined that she would have been damaged had it hit her. She had decided she couldn’t block it, so she had avoided it. That esper could only create spears of nitrogen. She couldn’t create an unbreakable wall in every direction around her.

In other words…

(I can win this if I hit her!!)

In order to fire a second shot, Hamazura opened an area forty centimeters from the hole to blow in and put in one of the arrows from his belt.

Then the Bomber Lance girl made her move.

She created spears from both hands and moved at high speed towards Hamazura while slicing up the walls on the left and right half for fun.

(Shit, can I shoot in time!?)

Before the girl could get to him, Hamazura finished reloading and closed the open part of the blowgun.

But by the time he had raised it up, the girl was in killing range.

She got rid of the spear coming from one hand and covered the end of the blowgun with the same hand.

“How about I blow through the wrong end?”

“!?”

Hamazura immediately let go of the blowgun and swung his head forcefully to the side.

Immediately afterwards, a spear of nitrogen appeared and pierced straight through the inside of the blowgun. Along with an explosive blast from the destroyed blowgun, the spear grazed Hamazura’s cheek. Sharp plastic fragments gave him light scratches.

The shock knocked him down.

On the ground, Hamazura pulled a dart-shaped arrow from his belt. He had intended on throwing it back at her, but the girl stepped on his arm before he could.

“Gah!?”

Her small foot came down on the area between his wrist and elbow, pinning it to the ground.

Then she held her palm down towards his chest. The very same palm that could create a deadly spear.

“Fremea Seivelun,” she said bluntly. “Should I try having you call her here with a scream as planned?”

But then…

“Kuroyoru.” The girl didn’t seem to have a cell phone, but a staticky voice came from her pocket. “We have a problem. Break off and get outside. I’ll take over inside the building.”

“Has Item come?”

“No. It’s much worse. My brute force will be no help in dealing with this problem. And dealing with him was supposed to be left to you.”

“I see.” The girl removed her foot from Hamazura’s arm. “Excellent timing. I was just getting into too good a tempo.”

“Gh…”

Hamazura put a hand on the wall and desperately tried to stand up so he could stop her.

However, the girl did something he hadn’t expected.

She sliced a nearby wall with a spear, walked through it, and then broke through a thick window with a tackle.

With the high-pitched noise of the window shattering, her small body was thrown out through the window. The floor they were on was quite high up.

However, she did not fall.

She spread her hands out horizontally and the spears of nitrogen coming from them held her in place. Her spears didn’t just have destructive power. She was manipulating the air currents with them to create swirling currents on her back.

“You mentioned Item.” Hamazura dragged his hurting body over and desperately questioned the girl who was stopped in midair. “Answer me. And not just about Fremea. Are you planning on doing something to them?”

“Don’t be in such a rush. Whether you want to or not, you’ll know soon enough.”

After saying that, the girl stopped emitting the spears and fell straight down with her back to the ground. Of course, she was intending on landing, not on crashing. She was most likely going to stop herself with the spears again near the ground.

“Dammit…”

Hamazura thought for a bit and then headed for the emergency staircase.

It seemed the Bomber Lance girl had temporarily withdrawn, but there were still tons of Edge Bees wandering around the building.

Part 8

Kuroyoru Umidori landed on the ground.

The uproar inside the private salon building had led to a lot of people pouring out of the building and a lot of onlookers gathering around the building, so there were quite a few people in the area.

As part of the dark side of the city, she was unconcerned with that uproar.

Her expression was calm. A student playing a game on his cell phone out of boredom would have had a more serious expression on his face.

“Tch. Silver Cross. You said they had problematic reinforcements, but where?”

She looked around, but didn’t see anyone like that.

The only people out of the ordinary she saw were some of her subordinates who caught sight of her and moved in tentatively to protect her.

Kuroyoru sat down in a seat at a nearby open café, set her plastic dolphin doll down in an empty seat at the round four-person table, and ordered what seemed to be the café’s recommended black tea.

She brought the teacup that was given to her to her lips.

(…I’m sure someone somewhere is at their wits’ end over this. Well, doing things in such a showy way is perfect for having the roots meet.)

Of course, the residents of the city saw the swarm of Edge Bees flying through the sky and the private salons being attacked. But no one actually did anything to stop the crime. Even if it seemed odd, they just couldn’t keep up with the ever changing situation.

They lived in a different world.

The darkness couldn’t function as the darkness if it wasn’t stronger than the surface.

(Now then, I have to make sure no reinforcements get in the way until Silver Cross’s Edge Bees corner Fremea Seivelun. I wish he would have at least told me where the bastard I most need to stop was.)

That was when she heard a footstep.

A wicked grin appeared on Kuroyoru Umidori’s lips.

She could smell it. This was the smell of someone who wasn’t on the level. This was the smell of someone who was trying to mix in with the people passing by and clearly failing. Simply put, this was the smell put off only by people who were soaked with darkness.

“Oh?” Kuroyoru said at about the same time as a piece of paper slipped onto the table.

A single photograph now accompanied the seemingly popular tea on the table.

The photograph was of Fremea Seivelun.

“…Apparently that report about you being here was accurate. You weren’t actually supposed to show up until a bit later,” Kuroyoru called out to the other side of the table with a grin on her face.

She was addressing a Level 5.

“Dammit, and the #4 would have been so much simpler.”

Yes.

It was the #1, Accelerator.


Accelerator had tossed the photo of Fremea onto the table and watched the girl’s reaction.

He had made it nearby from the marked map and by referencing some more information, but the biggest factor had been the explosion and the many unmanned reconnaissance devices. If he hadn’t been passing through that area, he probably would have headed for the building or the origin point of the unmanned reconnaissance devices.

It had been a coincidence that he had stopped and looked over at the open café.

The girl had been incredibly easy to spot.

All Accelerator had to do was notice the idiot who stank of darkness and was relaxing with a number of subordinates blending into the surrounding area.

“How about you take a seat?” asked the girl with a thin smile and a dangerous look in her eyes. “This is the café’s recommended tea. It’s called...nnn…I don’t remember. It was a pretty long name. Anyway, how about you try some? Although it isn’t very good.”

Accelerator sat in the seat opposite the girl and ordered a different type of tea from the recommended one.

It wasn’t any good either.

“…I guess there was no avoiding it.”

“That’s life for you.”

“And who are you?”

“Do you really think I’m going to introduce myself?”

“You’re Kuroyoru Umidori.”

“…Tch. You were just asking to verify it.”

She looked around and noticed two or three of her subordinates were missing. They weren’t important enough to her to remember their names or what they looked like, but it seemed they had been dragged off somewhere.

In their place, a woman wearing an ao dai and with a cast on one arm waved at her. There was nothing but scorn in the woman’s smile.

(An incredibly simple trick, but it’s admirable that they managed to pull it off without me noticing.)

Kuroyoru gave up and spoke.

“Correct. …Did you chop off a few fingers?”

“We threw him in an automated kitchen waste disposal device in an alley and asked whether he wanted to talk or be turned to fertilizer.”

“Eh? That’s all it took to get him to talk? I guess I need to cut off a few of his fingers then.”

“But it wasn’t enough,” Accelerator said as if he were cutting her off. “We didn’t get much information. Really all we got was your name, Silver Cross’s name, and the term ‘Freshmen’. …Oh, and given how much ridiculous pride he had in this Freshmen thing, it must be pretty important. He told us your names, but he wouldn’t say anything about that.”

“…Maybe I need to cut off his legs as well as all of his fingers,” was Kuroyoru’s disturbing comment as she puffed up her cheeks.

She used her hand to stroke the plastic dolphin doll in the seat next to her in what may have been a way of letting out some of her stress.

“So what are you doing here?”

“That’s my question,” spat out Accelerator. “The darkness should be gone. I eliminated it. I abolished the structure that bound the city’s dark organizations together. At the end of that annoying war, I made it happen. I had the people being used by the upper levels released. So why are people so obviously part of all that like you doing here?”

At the end of World War III, he had said this to a messenger of the upper levels:

"—Don’t send out any more orders to use that brat or the Sisters as shields. Freeze the Third Season project. Don’t play with their lives for your own purposes, be it about killing them or making more of them."

And:

"—Release everyone else in a similar situation to mine. I won’t let you use anyone or anything as a shield to force people to do your dirty work in the world of darkness. If I catch even one instance, I’ll bare my fangs towards you. I will brutally crush you as many times as it takes."

“True enough.” Kuroyoru brought her cup to her mouth and smelled the tea, smelled it again, smelled it yet again, and then looked puzzled at her inability to tell the difference from normal teas. “There was a notification. All the hostages and conditions functioning as chains were done away with. Maybe there were even some people that celebrated. Although the whole thing felt less like it was due to the higher ups being afraid of you and more like it was them rewarding you for carrying out your proper role in the war. I guess your achievements in the war made up for your debt.”

NT Index v01 199.jpg

“…”

“There was something I wanted to ask you if I ever met you. I had actually completely forgotten about it, but I remembered it when I saw your face. So I guess I’ll ask you now.”

Kuroyoru closed her eyes with her cup still in her hand.

Then she opened them.

And she spoke.

“…Do you really fucking think everyone in the world can just get along?”

Immediately afterwards, the table was sliced in half with an explosive noise.

Accelerator swung his head to the side slightly.

The cup near his mouth had been sliced in two just like the table and the liquid inside was flying through the air.

He was Academy City’s strongest esper, but he had a weakness in his inability to use his power if he didn’t hit the switch on the choker-style electrode on his neck.

So he dodged the first strike.

He didn’t need to for the second strike.

As he used his empty hand to hit the switch on his neck, the cheap-looking black tea hit his upper body and was repelled. There were no burns left on his skin. And Kuroyoru’s second attack met the same fate.

Namely, it was reflected.

Kuroyoru forcefully stood up knocking her chair backwards and twisted her entire body to the side just barely managing to avoid her own attack. The cup in her hand was sliced. Only the handle remained in her hand and she threw it to the ground. In its place, she grabbed the plastic dolphin doll.

With the tea, the table, and his opponent’s seat gone, Accelerator sat comfortably in the sole remaining chair.

“…That manner of speaking…No, that calculation pattern…”

“Oh, so you realized it? I suppose you would, wouldn’t you? It is a portion of your own pattern planted and strengthened, after all.”

“The Dark May Project.”

Accelerator gave a scornful laugh.

That was one of the inhuman projects that had been carried out in the dark portions of Academy City. They had analyzed the city’s strongest Level 5s thought patterns and forcibly inserted a portion of it into others. In exchange for a bit of stability in their personalities, those people had received a rapid increase in the strength of their powers.

“You’re just some little kid with a portion forcibly planted inside you and I’m the real deal. Are you really so god damn stupid you can’t figure out who’s stronger without actually going through with it?”

“Maybe I am, you fucking brat.”

“This is a trigger.” Accelerator tapped his chair’s armrest with his index finger. “If I stand up from here, you’re dead. Do you really want to make me stand up?”

“It’s true that I don’t have much of a chance in a straight-on fight. That’s why I was putting off dealing with you. However,” Kuroyoru added, “terms of victory here aren’t those of a straight-on fight.”

“…”

“Your power is great for destroying, but it’s not so great for protecting, right? It’s the same for me!!”

As she yelled, Kuroyoru horizontally swung the hand of the arm without a plastic dolphin doll under it.

She swung it towards the people watching the sudden turmoil from a distance.

She used the power that had sliced a table in half in the direction of flesh-and-blood humans.

At the same instant, Accelerator jumped up from his chair.

The attack was similar to wind.

Accelerator got in between Kuroyoru and the onlookers and immediately scattered the attack that was also much like a spear or an arrow.

“That was a trigger.” He struck her chest with his bullet-like words. “And you pulled it. Now accept your fate.”

Kuroyoru Umidori smiled.

Pieces of the tables and road surface she had blown away were flying through the air. She pointed towards a photograph floating amid it all that had been sliced in half.

“She’s here.”

“Who is?”

“Fremea Seivelun.”

Academy City’s strongest monster’s eyebrows twitched ever so slightly.

“Let’s have some fun, #1.”

“…”

“That brat is nearby. Let’s play a game. If I can chop off her head like in that photo, I win.”

And then…

Part 9

Hamazura Shiage ran out of the private salon building.

Things had been crazy inside the building. It had been a hell of multiple Edge Bees destroying and flying through windows and doors whenever he let his guard down, but he had still managed to make his way out.

As long as you didn’t falter at the sight of the chainsaws around the disks, there were a number of ways to deal with them. You could throw a spray can into the shampoo-hat like propellers, you could smash their camera lenses with a fire extinguisher, and you could stick a lit cigarette near their batteries and then hit them with a bottle of whiskey.

The Edge Bees could catch objects, accelerate them with centrifugal force, and throw them, but that could be dealt with by throwing things at them from angles the chainsaw couldn’t reach or using bottles that would break when “grabbed”.

He was lucky that they only self-destructed when they stopped functioning in any other way. If they detonated at any opportune time, Hamazura wouldn’t have been able to even approach them.

(Where’s Fremea!? Is she outside already? Or is she still inside!?)

Hamazura pushed through the onlookers who had gathered after hearing the uproar and searched around the area for the girl, but he then got an odd uncomfortable feeling.

Something was off.

It didn’t make sense.

It had been complete luck that he had been able to make his way through the large swarm of Edge Bees and outside. It wasn’t that he hadn’t wanted to make it outside. He had been fighting desperately hoping to do just that.

But…

He honestly felt that it had been too easy.

Even if he did have a motley collection of experiences, Hamazura was still just a delinquent boy. He couldn’t use the kind of special power that was needed to get through this kind of situation. These were killer weapons; they were specifically designed to kill people and getting killed was the obvious result of running into one. There was no way he should have gotten past them.

One or two could maybe fall under the category of a miracle.

But Hamazura had run into more than ten Edge Bees and there had to be a lot more of them spread out throughout the building.

How had he survived?

Was it just a coincidence?

Or had someone purposefully intervened to make it happen?

“Fremea!! Are you there!?”

But he didn’t have time to think too deeply about it.

He had only managed to escape from the swarm of Edge Bees. They hadn’t been destroyed. Not to mention that they were only unmanned reconnaissance devices. If his conjecture was correct, the true threat behind them was much worse than the esper girl or the powered suit he had seen before.

That was when Hamazura heard a familiar girls’ voice as he looked around the area.

“…In the first place…!! Over here, Hamazura…come…!!”

“Fremea!!”

He franticly turned around, but there were simply too many onlookers. It didn’t help that Fremea was fairly short. She may have been completely hidden behind all the people.

He couldn’t find her.

He couldn’t meet up with her.

His panic grew causing his ability to find someone amid all that confusion to fall.

And as he moved about in confusion, the next disaster came.

With a great noise, a giant powered suit appeared kicking a car away in the parking lot.

The suit looked very alien in the cityscape. That out-of-place feeling led to Hamazura picking up the same scent from it as the one in the underground mall despite him having no proof.

It had two arms and two legs.

Compared to the eight-legged one carrying a smoothbore gun, this one had a very subdued design, but it was still just too huge. A person’s arms and legs simply couldn’t be in the analogous parts of the suit. There had to be a space opened in the body. It had a number of narrow pillars on its back that held Edge Bees on them.

The onlookers stared blankly at it.

They knew that Academy City could create things like that suit, but they didn’t often have a chance to see one with their own eyes.

On the other hand, the powered suit did not hesitate.

It did not care that there were witnesses.

The giant suit headed straight for its target paying the onlookers no heed.

In other words, it headed to crush Fremea Seivelun.

“…!!!???”

A number of screams, both male and female, rang out.

Ignoring the panicked people attempting to escape, the suit headed straight on.

Hamazura couldn’t move.

For one, he still didn’t know exactly where Fremea was. But the bigger factor was that, unlike with the Edge Bees, the overwhelming and chilling negative feelings that came over him penetrated his skin and caused it to tighten up so he couldn’t move.

This was the killer intent of a living being.

A mere machine could not emit this.

While Hamazura was completely frozen up, the powered suit knocked a car in the parking lot into the air. It made three flips in midair before heading back towards the ground.

Hamazura looked in horror at the spot it was headed for.

Fremea Seivelun was there.

She must have been knocked down while the other onlookers tried to escape. She was collapsed face down on the road. Near her was an abandoned stroller. Either the parent had panicked and ran off or the stroller had been separated from the parent in the confusion. In the stroller was a baby young enough that it was difficult to tell if it was a boy or a girl.

Hamazura finally managed to free his legs from the fear. He started running in Fremea’s direction.

But it was too late.

He yelled at her to run.

Fremea looked back and forth between the car approaching from above and the stroller.

That slight hesitation brought her tiny odds of survival straight down to zero.

The car fell.

The baby in the stroller must not have understood the situation. It stretched its innocent little hands up towards the side mirror that was reflecting sunlight as the car spun through the air.

Immediately afterwards, a sound of destruction could be heard.

Momentum, heat, electricity. The sound was caused by the boy who could control all these vectors, Accelerator, when he knocked the car horizontally with a flying kick.

Accelerator had shot over at tremendous speed, but he remained stationary in the air for a short second. Meanwhile, the car that had received all the energy from his movement was knocked away accurately in a direction with no onlookers. Like in billiards, the momentum had been transferred.

Accelerator almost floated down and landed lightly near Fremea.

The loud noise must have finally caused the baby to think it was in danger, because it started crying loudly. Accelerator did not turn towards it.

The powered suit.

Kuroyoru Umidori.

Keeping an eye on the locations of the direct threats, Accelerator spoke.

He spoke the words as if they were words of praise and they were directed towards Fremea who had been unable to run away in the very end.

(…This is supposed to be that damn Level 0’s role, not mine.)

What the monster said could be applied both to himself and the girl.

“You’re just not fit to be a hero, you fucking brat.”


In that instant, Hamazura Shiage was bewildered.

Why had Academy City’s strongest Level 5 shown up there?

Level 0s like Hamazura and Fremea were practically the polar opposite of the Level 5s who reigned from the very top of the esper development program. Hamazura knew it was ridiculous, but he didn’t think a Level 5 would save a Level 0 in that city without a really good reason. He didn’t feel that they had enough “value” to do so otherwise.

Of course, he was thankful Fremea had been saved.

The problem Hamazura had now was that the situation had passed the point where a Level 0 could get through it by coming up with a great idea.

He had met Accelerator in the areas of fiercest fighting during World War III like Russia and the Elizalina Alliance of Independent Nations. Accelerator was a person who could overpower the latest weapons of both the Russian army and Academy City barehanded. It would be immensely reassuring to have his help.

However, Hamazura remembered something unpleasant.

It was the same as when he had “luckily” escaped the swarm of Edge Bees.

(…Can I use him?)

The #1 had protected Takitsubo from terrorists in the past, but Hamazura had a bad impression of him for a different reason.

But he wasn’t in a position where he could be picky.

(…Anything’s fine as long it gets us out of this situation. He’s the horrible person who killed Leader Komaba, but that in itself is a reason for him to fight for Fremea!!)


In that instant, the powered suit received a delighted transmission from a comrade.

“Here we go! Here we gooooo!! Silver Cross!! The connection has been made. Just one more push and the line will be set!!”

“It’s possible they’ve figured out what we’re after.”

“They can’t do anything about it even if they have. That’s what the half-dead Fremea Seivelun is for! After coming this far, the flow can’t be changed. They can’t stop it!! If we use her, it’ll be set. This is checkmate, Silver Cross!!”

The sound of someone clicking their tongue resounded throughout the inside of the powered suit.

He was the kind of man that knew how to do the right thing at the right time.

“God damn it. This model isn’t suited for battle!!” he cursed and the powered suit moved forward.

The guard rail and fire hydrant in the way were knocked away as if by construction equipment.


At that same time, Kuroyoru was at a distance watching Silver Cross’s giant powered suit attack.

It may have been a custom suit, but it couldn’t defeat Academy City’s #1.

(…That won’t be a problem.)

The loud noise of metal being smashed could be heard.

The powered suit had moved to pick Fremea up off the ground with its steel fingers that were tougher than heavy machinery and Accelerator had used his power to completely bend them.

The shock of the attack crept up like roots and the broken arm tore off, cracks ran across the outer shell, and great damage was done to the machinery required for the powered suit to move.

Normally, it would have been over there.

But this was different.

(…Wins and losses here aren’t determined by strength alone!!)

Silver Cross Alpha was “wearing” the thick powered suit.

That meant…

Suddenly, the front of the powered suit opened up even as the suit was being destroyed.

This allowed Silver Cross to get out.

However, it wasn’t a flesh-and-blood human who came out.

It was an exceedingly small powered suit constructed from rounded armadillo-like armor.

It must have used some kind of equipment or sensors to carry out its attitude control. The armadillo kept its momentum from leaving the giant suit and rotated in midair.

It passed over Fremea upside down.

No, the armadillo actually grabbed her by the back of the neck with one hand.

Kuroyoru yelled forcefully into her radio.

“Silver Cross!! Run off with her! That’ll end this!!”

Accelerator had thought it was over when he had destroyed the larger suit, so he was a little late in reacting.

The next move came.

Along with some screams, the crowd of people in the area split to the left and the right.

A powered suit had a giant propeller on its back and it slid through the gap in the crowd. It was a model meant to travel at high speeds and it could “slide” with its four legs at 800 kph. The end of its legs could emit a liquid known as Slip Oil that let it travel smoothly, but the highly volatile Slip Oil did not leave any hint that allowed it to be tracked.

Its movements were very monotonous, but this meant Silver Cross could have this personal suit move automatically based on a program.

A thick hatch opened on the front.

Silver Cross half-rotated once more while still holding Fremea and went inside the four-legged model.

The bank vault like hatch closed.

The transfer was complete.

He was a man that knew how to do the right thing at the right time.

In other words, he had looked at the situation and used the model that allowed him to get away as quickly as possible.

The propeller on the back increased speed.

It created an explosive wind.

The powered suit began accelerating all at once before Accelerator had a chance to grab the armor.

His hand met only air.

By that point, the suit was already cutting through the streets like a bullet.

Kuroyoru Umidori hid her presence and mixed in with the crowd.

“We win,” she said into her transmitter.

All that was left was the crying of the baby in the stroller.

That voice was provoked by a human’s primitive emotions, but it did not reach the darkness.

Part 10

He didn’t have time.

After seeing what happened from start to finish, Hamazura Shiage grabbed a broken metal pipe—most likely a piece of the destroyed powered suit—for self-defense and ran towards Accelerator.

He would use anything he could to increase his power.

Unlike with Takitsubo, Mugino, or Kinuhata, he had no reason to not want to get that #1 wrapped up in this.

Now that Fremea Seivelun had been captured, he couldn’t put it off any longer.

Accelerator had killed Komaba, the person who wanted to protect her.

That gave him a reason why he had to protect Fremea.


Kuroyoru Umidori snickered as she walked through the crowd of people.

(Fremea Seivelun has no use herself. She’s just a Level 0. Normally, there would have been no reason to get her involved in this city’s darkness.)


“#1!!” Hamazura yelled, but Accelerator did not turn around.

Hamazura didn’t know what it was that made Accelerator more of a monster than Mugino, but he held up the broken metal pipe regardless.

“We don’t have time. Work with me. We should be able to find her much faster if we work together than if we work separately. If you have even the slightest desire to save that girl, then work with me!! If you don’t know who she is, I’ll tell you. Once you know, you’ll know you need to help her. She’s…”

“…”

Accelerator lightly waved his hand.

The second his hand touched the metal pipe in Hamazura’s hand, the situation reversed.

With a dull noise, not only did the metal pipe fly from his hand, his body was slammed to the ground. Accelerator hit the switch at his neck and bent over towards Hamazura’s collapsed body.

He was leaning over in order to completely incapacitate him.

At the very least, he was going to dislocate both of Hamazura’s arms so he couldn’t fight at all.

There was no rule saying the enemy of your enemy was your friend.

In fact, they both had completely different mental driving forces making them save people and continue to act.


Kuroyoru rechecked the progress of the plan while the white coat held on only by its hood swayed back and forth.

(…Those personal connections are what are important. Fremea has a connection with Accelerator because he killed Komaba Ritoku and she has a connection with Hamazura and Mugino of Item through Frenda Seivelun.)


(…I underestimated him…)

Hamazura gritted his teeth while lying collapsed on the ground.

Accelerator’s hand reached out for his neck.

If Accelerator constricted Hamazura’s carotid artery, he would lose consciousness right away. Hamazura couldn’t imagine how much worse the situation would get if he lost that much time now that Fremea had been taken away.

He had to turn the situation around somehow.

(…I just need something. Anything. It just has to get him away from me…!!)

He felt around blindly with his hands and felt something hard in his right hand. It was a handgun that had fallen to the ground. It had mostly likely been dropped by an Anti-Skill member during everything that had been going on.

But that wasn’t enough.

This was a monster that had destroyed a giant powered suit with one hand. Hamazura doubted firing a 9mm bullet straight on was going to do anything.


Kuroyoru took out her handheld device and checked on the disorderly exchange between the higher ups.

(That’s right. Hamazura Shiage and Accelerator. It’s important that those two points connect creating a thick line.)


Suddenly, Hamazura felt a change in Accelerator’s gaze. He wasn’t looking at Hamazura anymore. No matter how unimportant he was, he doubted Accelerator would normally move his attention away from the person he was in the middle of taking out.

Still lying on the ground, Hamazura looked over at the target of Accelerator’s gaze.

It was someone in the crowd.

It was a small girl.

Hamazura didn’t know, but the girl was called Last Order.

(…Can I use this…?)

He felt the weight of the handgun in his hand once more.

The #1 was truly a monster.

But the ability to protect oneself and the ability to protect others were two different things.

If that girl was someone he knew, it was possible Hamazura could use her as a hostage.

Even amid the crowd of onlookers, Hamazura had a clear shot at the girl. She was about twelve meters away. If he carefully aimed, he could definitely hit her. By threatening her, he could negotiate with that monster.

(…What should I do?)

There was no way he could deal with that monster using normal methods.

And every second counted if he was going to save Fremea.

(…What should I do?)

Hamazura’s right arm twitched.

But before he could make any definite movements, Accelerator counterattacked.

With a dull noise, a dull shock ran across Hamazura’s arm from the wrist to the elbow.

Accelerator was crushing the bones of Hamazura’s right arm under all of his weight.


Kuroyoru was satisfied because it seemed the higher ups were feeling just as much danger as the scenario had predicted.

(Well, of course they are. At the end of World War III, both Hamazura and Accelerator negotiated with the upper levels of Academy City. They’ve gotten pretty indecisive about that. Even though he’s such a danger and even though he’s such an eyesore, they can’t interfere because of the negotiations.)


“Gah….!?”

After confirming that the handgun had left Hamazura’s fingers, Accelerator reached a hand up to the electrode’s switch.

“…The second I hit this switch, all the blood in your body will reverse its flow and you’ll die,” Accelerator informed him in a coldhearted voice. “But answer me one thing first.”

“What?”

“Why did you hesitate? You had enough time to aim for that brat and fire. …Although, you may not have hit her.”

Of course, if that had happened, he would have mercilessly killed Hamazura. Whether Hamazura had hit or not, Hamazura would have been a dead man the instant his finger had tightened on the trigger.

Hamazura didn’t even look over at the gun that was now out of his reach.

He stared Accelerator straight in the eyes.

“…I had no reason.”

“What?”

“I only have business with you. That girl isn’t involved. I had no reason to get her involved.”

“And how am I involved in this situation?”

“Komaba Ritoku.”

Accelerator’s eyebrows moved slightly when he heard that name.

Hamazura continued speaking regardless.

“What that man you killed wanted to protect down to the very, very end was Fremea. …You should know why Leader Komaba was fighting Academy City’s darkness. That’s why you once fought for a Level 0 you had no connection to. But that isn’t enough. If you truly understand what Leader Komaba’s dying wish was, then you have a reason why you must save Fremea.”


An email arrived on Kuroyoru’s handheld device.

The same email had most likely arrived at Silver Cross’s powered suit.

(That’s why we’re overthrowing this stable state things are in.)


“Tch,” Accelerator clicked his tongue.

He removed his weight from Hamazura, stood up, and muttered something.

He wasn’t talking to someone from the past.

He was talking to the person who had come up with the strategy he was now caught in.

“…Not just my own judgment, but Komaba’s dying wish? Fuck, so that’s the trick.”


Kuroyoru looked over the characters on the screen.

They spelled out the decision made by the higher ups.

(Hamazura Shiage and Accelerator. When they were acting separately with their own factions, Academy City could simply go along with their negotiations. That’s why they let the two of them go even if it was temporary. But what if those rebels joined forces? What if they become a single rebel faction? The higher ups would no longer be able to just let their negotiations stand. There would be too much risk for them to sleep soundly at night without utterly taking out those rebels. Those two would no longer be just observed; they would be killed.)


“What…?”

Hamazura looked puzzled, but Accelerator didn’t give a proper response.

They couldn’t stop the flow of events.

At that point, they had no choice but to act exactly as Kuroyoru Umidori and the rest of the Freshmen wanted.


They had permission to attack.

She had held some slight doubts about the process, but the current threat level was clear.

Accelerator, Hamazura Shiage, and the people, funds, and emergency stores they both had were to be quickly demolished.

Permission to use deadly force if necessary had been given.

That simple order had been exactly what Kuroyoru had wanted from the higher ups.

(Hamazura’s an idiot, but I’m sure Accelerator has figured it out by now. Right!? But you can’t stop it now!! It doesn’t matter if you know. Whether it’s a trap or not, Fremea is going to be killed before your eyes!! You have no choice but to come running. And that’s exactly why it’ll piss you off so much, you overly optimistic Graduates!!)

“Heh heh. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”

Kuroyoru burst out laughing completely forgetting that she was mixed in with the crowd.

The people around her focused on her wondering what was going on.

“This is a greeting from the Freshmen,” Kuroyoru Umidori muttered under her breath ignoring the people around her. “Make this enjoyable, Graduates.”


And so Accelerator used his cell phone to send an email to Misaka Worst. The email said that he knew what the enemy was after and that it was possible the enemy would even target Yomikawa and Yoshikawa and so she should take Last Order back to the apartment and protect all of the “good people”.

He muttered something after seeing the words saying the email had been sent.

“…Fine, I’ll play along. Destroying things straight on was that bastard’s way of doing things, wasn’t it?”

Part 11

Hamazura wondered how many cars this made it he had stolen.

He had left the area in front of the private salon building and had just unlocked a two-door sports car that was parked in a parking garage. There was a bit of a trick to starting the engine, but he was well versed in that kind of skill.

“Get in!!” Hamazura called from within the car and Accelerator climbed into the passenger seat in an annoyed fashion.

They quickly drove off in the car.

“…So the attackers weren’t after Fremea. They were trying to get us to join together in order to increase the danger we presented to the upper levels of the city,” muttered Hamazura as he recalled the truth that the #1 had told him as he stole the car.

Accelerator practically spat out his following words.

“They were trying to stir up the upper levels of the city. This incident isn’t something the higher ups wanted. This is being carried out by the battle-crazy bastards who returned to the darkness even when given a chance to escape it.”

“There’s something wrong with them… I can’t feel any kind of a sense of comfort from them.”

“The problem isn’t how fucked up they are. It’s highly likely that they’re including people other than us in this single rebel faction. In other words, once the higher ups recognize that our line has been formed, they might attack an apartment belonging to someone I know. Of course, they would also attack the people you know.”

“…Are Takitsubo, Mugino, and Kinuhata being dragged back into this again?”

“This is all-out war. We can’t compromise. Since we don’t know how far this will spread outside of us, we have to completely obliterate them before the damage spreads.”

Hamazura took out his cell phone as he drove down the zigzagging slopes without slowing down at all.

If his expectation was correct, Hanzou and Kuruwa would be fine.

Before the Edge Bee attack when they had lost contact with Kuruwa, the line hadn’t been formed yet, so, at the very least, they wouldn’t have the foundation ready to kill her.

The ones the enemies would go straight for were Hamazura and Accelerator.

Their enemies.

The Freshmen.

“Hanzou, where are you!?” he said quickly once the phone connected.

The sports car had made it out of the parking garage.

“I managed to find Kuruwa somehow or other. But it’s odd. Kuruwa wasn’t captured or even attacked. She just had her service cut off by the phone company. Hey, Hamazura, what’s—?”

“Fremea was captured.”

Because they had no time, Hamazura ignored Hanzou’s question.

For the moment, he drove off in the direction the four-legged powered suit had gone, but he didn’t have any clue if he was on the right track.

“She was taken to the east of the private salon in District 3! But I don’t know specifically where. Hanzou, where are you now? Can you cut ahead of them!?”

“What did they look like?”

“It was that bastard in the powered suit. This one has four legs and a giant propeller on the back. But I really doubt he would go all the way to his hideout in that thing. He must have a trailer or some large vehicle to store it in.”

“So a large specialized vehicle instead of a normal car. …We might still be able to track them down.”

“What?”

“There are plenty of ways.”


The second he had heard that Fremea had been captured, Hanzou had breathed a heavy breath. This was because he had realized why Kuruwa’s phone had been stopped.

Kuruwa was sobbing into her hands over having been used by the enemies.

“H-how could I, a ninja descendent, have been tricked into informing the enemy of a small girl's location…?”

“This is a world of fool or be fooled, so the odds of a real ninja being fooled are about 50/50, really.”

“No!! A ninja is supposed to…y’know, be a master of splendid intellectual tricks! A ninja group needs to be an elite group that can trick an evil prefectural governor guarded by ronin and bodyguards at every turn!!”

“Ninja was already an outdated occupation by the time the prefectural governors came into power during the Edo period,” responded Hanzou.

He brought his hand behind his back and pulled a thirty-centimeter-squared piece of thick paper out from a gap in his jacket. It was waterproofed like the spoons that came with one-hundred yen yogurts and it had lines on it to show where to fold.

He folded the thick paper and it became a rather tricky-looking paper airplane.

In a couple of places, he stuck on a couple of motors about the size of the nail on his pinky, added on some small flaps and a rudder, and taped on a camera and transceiver to the bottom.

It was an MAV, a micro air vehicle.

“There really is no place for a ninja now that you can make one of these things with objects bought at a discount shop,” Hanzou exaggerated in self derision and tossed the MAV into the air with just his right arm.

The remotely-controlled ninja of justice flew through the air to save Fremea.


“Hamazura. I’ve sent a flying radio-controlled camera your way. I’m sending the footage live to your phone. There shouldn’t be too many vehicles large enough to carry the powered suit and it should be fairly visible from above.”

“A toy plane, huh?”

Hamazura was holding the steering wheel and he set his phone to speaker phone and threw it to Accelerator. He was still pressing the gas pedal down as far as it would go, so it wasn’t the time to be driving with only one hand.

“How fast can the camera plane go?”

“150 kph. If they’re tuned like an F1 racer they could lose me, but I’m not restricted by the roads. I can send it on a straight course regardless of the terrain.”

“Found it,” muttered Accelerator as he stared at the screen of the cell phone in his lap. “It’s five kilometers ahead. The powered suit is racing along next to a giant dump truck. The truck is empty. It looks like it’s full of iron ore, but that’s fake. It most likely has a large maintenance area inside. There’s a tunnel ahead of them. It looks like it’s going to enter the truck on the go.”

Hanzou gave a puzzled silence in response to the new voice that suddenly cut in, but he started speaking again shortly thereafter. He must have realized that it wasn’t the time to ask.

“That isn’t good. The MAV observes from the sky and the signal is meant for a toy, so it won’t reach that far. You need to catch up to them soon. Everything is lost if they get away.”

Hamazura briefly looked over at Accelerator.

“…I know it’s not my place to ask since I got you wrapped up in this, but is that kid okay?”

“Who are you talking about? It feels like I’ve been dealing with no one but brats lately.”

“Umm…” Hamazura pictured the girl he had seen at the scene before in his head and tried and describe her. “She looked about ten, had short brown hair, and looked completely thoughtless…or maybe even a little stupid-lookin-ghwhf!?”

Hamazura suddenly uttered a weird noise because Accelerator had grabbed his nose and slightly twisted it.

“…You don’t need to worry about that brat. I had someone else with me back there.”

“U-um, sir? Don’t you realize I’m trying to drive here?”

Accelerator clicked his tongue and let go.

“A tunnel, huh?”

“You have the strongest power in Academy City, right? Won’t this be easy for you to take care of?”

“…”

Accelerator didn’t want to reveal unnecessary information, but he decided Hamazura most likely already knew since his leader, Komaba, had fought knowing his weakness. He pointed at his choker-style electrode.

“If I wanted to, I could chase after a fighter jet, but there’s a danger that damage to the signal could cause me to lose control of my power. I don’t like the idea of that tunnel. The greater the power I try to use, the greater the reaction if I lose control.”

(…I caught a glimpse of what he could do in Russia, but just how far does his power go?)

He was a person that shoved Mugino Shizuri to fourth place. He had to have some kind of crazy power.

“So you’re saying we can’t rely on your power?”

“…I just said I didn’t like it.”

“Same thing.” The tires squealed as Hamazura merged into a large bypass. “We’ll just have to catch up to them with this!!”

With a further squeal of rubber, the sports car accelerated. As the car cut between the family cars crawling along at the legal speed limit and cut further and further ahead, they saw their targets.

They saw the giant dump truck and the four-legged power suit.

“They’re going in the tunnel,” announced Accelerator as their targets slid into a large cave made of reinforced concrete.

With a lag of a few seconds, Hamazura and Accelerator followed them.

Their vision was filled with orange lights.

Accelerator trembled slightly in the passenger seat. He seemed to be enduring something. Hamazura started to look over at him, but Accelerator stopped the trembling with a hand.

“…It may be empty inside, but that truck is still ten times heavier than us.”

“Yeah, if we hit it head on, we’d just get blown away.”

“Do you know how to stop it?”

“Yes, although it isn’t really something worthy of praise.”

The back of the dump truck opened before their eyes. It wasn’t that its cargo of ore opened or that the giant container on the back did. A crack appeared across the entire thing at a ridiculous point and it opened up from there. It looked something like a trompe l’oeil.

The dump truck and the powered suit matched their speeds and the loading process began.

When one of the suit’s four legs was placed on the inside of the dump truck, Hamazura moved forward with the sports car.

It was true that a mere two-door would do nothing if it slammed into a dump truck ten times its weight. It would literally just be repelled and the car would be done for.

However…

No matter how large the dump truck was, it still only had four points of contact with the ground, gained its power from the wheels rotating at high speed, and, most importantly, was moving forward. This of course meant that not every direction you applied force from would have the same result. For example, the dump truck was a weapon of steel moving at 200 kph, but the four-legged powered suit had matched its speed and succeeded in softly laying a leg on the truck.

Question time: What change would the two-door car cause if it rubbed up against the dump truck from the diagonal back corner?

The squeal of the tires rang out.

The dump truck had been moving with as much stability as a roller coaster that was supported by rails, but it suddenly stuck out of its lane by quite a bit.

Hamazura had not struck the truck with pure force.

Instead, he had matched its speed as much as he could, slowly gotten right up next to the truck’s metal body, and then “pushed” it.

This was the kind of driving trick Anti-Skill used to forcibly stop out-of-control vehicles.

The reason Hamazura knew how to do this was simple.

“That Anti-Skill woman with the jersey and the giant tits used to do this to me all the time!!”

He didn’t need a huge amount of power.

The dump truck provided that for him. Just by slightly shaking the flow of that power, it would lose control on its own.

If this were in the middle of the city, there would be the possibility of secondary damages, but there were only thick concrete walls on either side in the tunnel.

Sparks flew.

The dump truck had lost control and was scraping up against the wall. The powered suit was only just getting inside the truck and it had to go back out on the road due to the shaking.

“This is our chance!!”

The giant powered suit was running alongside them so close it felt like they could touch it if they reached out the window.

“Look inside the glove compartment, #1!! If you find something to write with in with the maps, break the marker in half and break open the ink!! If you can cover its lens, it won’t be able to run anymore!!”

“…It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”

Accelerator pointed and Hamazura couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked that way again.

The driver of the dump truck that had been scraping up against the wall had turned the steering wheel as hard as he could as if fighting back in the truck’s death throes.

A wall of steel approached them.

Knowing that the car would lose balance, Hamazura slammed on the brakes. The giant mass crossed right in front of them and their bumper was torn off, but the car itself survived. Hamazura and Accelerator had just barely survived.

But their car was not the only thing that had lost its balance. Having suddenly swung its giant mass around, the dump truck was now completely out of control.

The truck was now moving diagonally in the straight tunnel.

Even from outside it was clear that the driver attempted to correct the truck’s trajectory by frantically turning the steering wheel as if he were trying to drive in a giant S shape.

However, its front wheels were already in the air.

The giant truck completely collapsed onto its side in the tunnel. Even though Hamazura immediately slammed on the brakes, it was clear which of the two vehicles was decelerating faster. The two-door car’s wheels were still spinning and the dump truck was scraping up against the wall and the ground.

They were going to hit it.

Hamazura turned the steering wheel planning on hitting the truck with their side. He naturally chose to have the passenger side hit the truck and Accelerator put his hand to the electrode’s switch preparing to shove the vector’s to Hamazura’s side even if that brought the danger of losing control.

“Tch!! You fucker. Did you factor me into your decision!?”

“What? That four-legged power suit will be stopped by this as much as we—!!”

Hamazura trailed off and swallowed his words.

There was a space between the collapsed dump truck and the ceiling.

A normal vehicle had no way of getting through that area, but the four-legged power suit jumped through it like the truck was a hurdle.

“You’re kidding…” muttered Hamazura dumbfounded.

The dump truck and the two-door car collided. Their speeds had been matched to a certain extent due to the brakes, but the shock had not been brought down to zero. Even though it was the side of the car that struck the truck, the steering wheel exploded and the airbag shot out. That completely cut off Hamazura’s vision and the movement of his hands.

The two vehicles continued to slide.

They slid out of the tunnel.

After continuing on for a few dozen more meters, they finally came to a stop. The air started leaving the airbag and Hamazura struck it with his fist to speed up the process. He then yelled to Accelerator.

“Go after him, #1!!”

“…”

“We’re out of the tunnel. Your signal’s fine now, so nothing can stop you now!!”

The passenger side door was crushed up against the dump truck, so it couldn’t open properly, but that didn’t stop that monster.

He touched the switch on his neck.

A loud impact could be heard.

Academy City’s #1 tore off the entire roof and chased after the fleeing powered suit.

Part 12

“Yes, yes. That’s correct. It seems there was an accident near the exit of the tunnel. Hah? Yes, yes, it’s fine. Nothing really happened here. We’re just stuck in the tunnel. We can’t go forward or backwards.”

A middle aged maintenance worker was talking into his cell phone while he leaned up against the side of a large trailer and scowled at the orange lights and the smell of exhaust.

A small embroidery on his chest gave his name as Jousawa Michihiko.

The trailer behind him was not a giant container. It was made only of the metal framework, so the cargo could be seen from outside the box-shaped frame.

“I think it’s going to take some time to get the cargo in. Well, it’s a three-lane road, so bikes have been driving on between the other cars. If I only had permission to take it out directly…I can’t? Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

He was definitely going to be late due to the traffic congestion, but Jousawa didn’t seem that irritated by it.

In fact, he almost seemed to welcome the delay.

He hung up the phone and grabbed the radio hooked at his waist.

He was contacting the driver of the large trailer.

“I’ve informed them of the delay. They just said they want us to change the transportation route a bit.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t matter that much to them,” spat out the driver. “This’ll never be used again. Actually, I guess it was never used in the first place. It’ll be sealed up completely airtight and then given eternal sleep in some warehouse. Later it might be taken out for some derivative research, disassembled, studied, and then put back to eternal sleep. It’s like an insect specimen. There’s no real reason to rush this. They’d just laugh it off even if we were late by half a year.”

Listening to the driver, Jousawa looked at the contents of the trailer he had been riding on previously.

A vehicle was thoroughly bound with a number of metal fixtures and reinforced rubber belts.

“Isn’t it a good thing it didn’t have to be used?” he said.

“Well, it’s a good thing it didn’t have to be used in the war.”

It was the HsSSV-01 Dragon Rider.

It was the ultimate monster of a military bike that had been scheduled to be brought into World War III.

As the war had ended sooner than expected, that new model had lost its chance to be used in combat.

It had been all over the news that the weapons that were no longer to be used in the war were being transferred to large warehouses in Districts 2 and 23.

“But surely there was some other way it could have been used,” added the driver. “The Dragon Rider was originally supposed to be Anti-Skill’s new patrol bike, after all. Instead, it was confiscated for use in World War III, spent the entire time of the war being remodeled, and now it’s going for eternal sleep within a warehouse without ever having been used. I’m sure you people didn’t develop it for this to happen.”

Those two had no way of knowing, but Silver Cross’s collection was a crystallization of the technology of the city’s dark side while the Dragon Rider was created by the city’s surface for an ally of justice to use.

“Bikes are a different genre, but does it make you mad as a driver?”

“How do you feel as one of the people that created it?”

Its top speed was 1050 kph.

The large bike within the box-shaped frame trailer had a jet engine put in as if it were sticking straight through the body of the bike, linear engines installed inside the wheels that were completely protected by circular armor, wing-like arms stretching back from the left and right of the front wheel area, and boosters that both gave auxiliary power and forced steering.

“Well…”

It also had gyros for stability, completely electronically controlled anti-shock suspension, and wings on the back to keep the machine on the ground aerodynamically. All of these devices were needed to ensure the machine moved along the ground properly when driving at full speed.

“As you said, I didn’t really want this to be used in war.”

Its specs had been solidified with the idea of being able to freely fly across the wastelands of Russia at over 1000 kph and to climb cliffs with a slope of 70 degrees at over 300 kph. The biggest problem in its development had been how to keep the monster on the ground when it would fly off into the air if you didn’t do anything to stop it.

“I don’t care how. I just want it to be useful to someone at least once.”

The driver briefly remained silent after hearing that.

He finally asked the maintenance worker another question.

“Did they tell you why they want us to change our transportation route?”

“Don’t change the subject. I know you’re mad.”

“I bet the darkness has made another move. The same darkness that is taking this and not letting anyone use it even once.”

“They said some kid’s been abducted.”

“Hah. They tell us that and yet tell us to keep the road free for them.”

Jousawa had heard some of it from his talk on the phone, but the driver must have been contacted by an official over the vehicle’s radio.

“Complaining about it won’t solve anything,” responded Jousawa with a bit of self derision. “I’m in charge of the weapon’s maintenance and you’re the driver in charge of transporting it. We’re the ones that fortify Dragon Rider’s place. We can’t hope for the position of the hero who gallantly appears riding it.”

That was when Jousawa heard a clunk. It sounded like something had struck the outside of the trailer. When he went to check, he saw a person. A boy who looked like he was in high school was propping himself up on the metal frame.

Jousawa assumed he must have either been in the accident that was holding up traffic or he was feeling unwell from being stuck in the tunnel for so long.

He was wrong.

The boy was actually climbing up the frame. He then suddenly spoke.

“Ooh, this is nice. Let me borrow it.”

“Hah?”

“That bike.”

“Hey, hey,” Jousawa muttered under his breath.

The high school boy knelt down next to Dragon Rider while it was strapped to the metal frame with numerous reinforced rubber belts. It looked like he was trying to find the bike’s keyhole.

Jousawa had been a bit on guard, but he relaxed when he saw that amateurish action.

“Give it up. You can’t start something like that just by sticking some wires in.”

“Oh, I got it. I got it.”

“Hey!! What are you, part of a security team!?”

“I’m studying to work in road service.”

“This is well beyond that level!!”

To prevent electronic hacking, it used an extremely elaborate analog lock. However, it wasn’t something that high school kid should have been able to deal with.

The boy straddled the Dragon Rider while it was still strapped in by the reinforced rubber.

“Like I said before, I’m going to be borrowing this bike. I’d rather not explain the details, but I can assure you that you will be helping save someone’s life if you help me here.”

“Are you delivering a pregnant women who’s about to give birth to the hospital?”

Jousawa had said that as a joke, but the response he got was completely serious.

“…It’s more serious than that.”

“I see.” Jousawa pointed towards the reinforced rubber. “But those restraints and bolts holding the Dragon Rider in can’t be removed with your bare hands. You need special equipment and at least two large adults to do it. And a student like you wouldn’t know how to use the equipment even if I gave it to you.”

“…”

The boy grabbed a reinforced rubber belt, started to say something, stopped speaking, looked troubled, and then finally started speaking.

“…Did you see the four-legged powered suit that was running through this tunnel a bit ago?”

“No. This bypass tunnel is three kilometers long. How would I see something that was ahead of me in the tunnel?”

“That suit abducted a little girl.”

Jousawa’s eyebrows twitched when he heard that.

He had heard why the transportation route had been changed.

“She’s about ten years old. She was abducted as a warning. They’re going to kill her in as cruel a way as possible in order to stir up our anger. Enough that we join together. The reason they didn’t kill her back there was most likely to give us the disgrace of having had her completely slip through our fingers. They’re going to take their time in killing her now.”

“What?”

But he hadn’t heard that much.

Jousawa hadn’t been informed that the girl was going to be killed.

“Maybe they’ll send her back to us stuffed into a plastic bag later or maybe they’ll send us a live broadcast. I don’t know exactly how they’ll do it. I don’t want to think about it. So I need to chase after them again before we’ve completely lost them.”

Jousawa heard a bit of static coming from his radio.

It was the emergency confirmation sign. If he didn’t respond to it, it would be deemed that something was wrong and the driver would take action. And the driver was carrying a sawed-off shotgun in order to protect the military secrets.

“Wait.”

However, Jousawa purposefully pressed further when the situation would have resolved itself with his silence.

No response came from the radio.

The high school boy turned around.

“What?”

“Tell me that girl’s name.”

“Why?”

“Just do it!! That will solve everything!!”

“It’s Fremea! Fremea Seivelun!! She’s about ten years old, has fluffy blonde hair, and blue eyes! Is that enough? Do you want more!? Should I also tell you that she’s extremely interested in games full of blood spurting everywhere and she hates green peas!?” The boy was yelling in confusion. “Please. I need to borrow this to save her!! I know you may not be able to follow this crazy story, but she really is going to be killed if I don’t do anything!! That girl who was smiling just a bit ago will go cold and never open her eyes again…!!”

But Jousawa smiled.

Information from the darkness wasn’t an easy thing to get. And this boy knew Fremea Seivelun’s name and a bunch of other information on her that wasn’t in the documents and that made it sound like he actually knew her.

He was truly a part of this.

Unlike the maintenance worker or the driver who just worked on the outside, this boy could avoid a tragedy with the Dragon Rider.

Thinking about it that way, Jousawa made his decision.

“Wait. You can’t get on it like that.”

“You don’t think I’m about to go through all the official paperwork, do you?”

“It’s something simpler than that. You can’t control that dark horse on your own.”

“…I don’t have time to get pro sports training right now.”

“That’s not what I mean. Even the top ten legendary road racers wouldn’t be able to have the grip or endurance to drive that.” Jousawa pointed towards another machine lying in a corner of the trailer.

“It has to be used along with that special powered suit.”


The HsSSV-01 was developed as a new model of powered suit.

Its design did away with the requirement of looking like a human body.

In other words, it wasn’t a bike created for powered suits to ride; it was a powered suit that included a bike.

It was intended to maintain overwhelming mobility in all weather and in all environments and to suppress enemy forces with swift deployment.

It was meant to drive at over 1000 kph in wastelands, not just on a finely maintained circuit. It could drive up thirty-meter cliffs at a slope of seventy degrees in what seemed like off road bike acrobatics and could clear twenty-meter-wide rivers.

The machine’s power reinforced one’s physical strength and had thorough electronic control to maintain balance, so it was possible to let go with one hand to use a Gatling gun or smoothbore gun even at high speed. If it had actually made it to the war front, it might have completely changed the history of war.

“Not bad, right?” Jousawa called out to Hamazura Shiage who was “changing” behind a wooden box in a corner of the trailer that was fixed to the floor. “The powered suit gives you the strength, endurance, and oxygen intake you need to operate the Dragon Rider. That suit itself is no monster. It’s more or less human-shaped so your center of gravity won’t shift and it doesn’t have much weight of its own. Well, you can always put module armor on for various uses.”

Hamazura opened and closed his hands to check it out.

The entire thing was exceedingly small. Unlike the models that looked like thicker versions of Western armor, this one was more like a riding suit with a full face helmet attached. It was gray with black protectors attached where needed.

The suit wasn’t that much bigger than a human, so Hamazura’s body stretched throughout the entire suit including the ends of the arms and legs.

“…It feels weird because it fits almost too perfectly.”

Hamazura’s voice was muffled because the helmet entirely covered his head.

There were no transparent portions on the helmet. Vision and all other information was acquired with electronic devices and displayed on the inside.

Even so, it didn’t feel odd and he almost felt like he was seeing everything with his own eyes.

It almost made him afraid he would never be able to use his normal vision again if he used it for too long.

“You’re going to be driving at high subsonic speeds on obstacle covered terrain. The speed will feel many times greater than in a fighter jet, so you wouldn’t be able to control it without equipment like that.”

“…Seriously?”

“Don’t worry. Theoretically, you should be fine even if you bring out its top speed.”

The driver who had been watching that exchange finally spoke.

“Is this really okay?”

“You helped release the Dragon Rider from its restraints, didn’t you?”

“Aren’t you just getting carried away on the idea of saving this girl?”

“A written apology and a bit of docked pay is well worth saving someone’s life.”

“…”

Jousawa ignored the driver’s silence and turned back to Hamazura who was now straddling the Dragon Rider.

“Promise me.”

“I’ll try to bring it back undamaged, but it may be difficult to keep it completely unscathed.”

“Use its specs to their fullest. If you end up scrapping it, that’s fine. Also, let’s see…” Jousawa’s expression suddenly turned serious and the atmosphere cooled as if his previous appearance had been a lie. “Make sure you save that girl.”

“…Oh, I will.”

NT Index v01 252-253.jpg

The Dragon Rider carefully moved down the ramp from the trailer to the tunnel road.

It sped up from there.

With a loud roar, the Dragon Rider began speeding between the cars stopped throughout the tunnel.

Jousawa laughed as he watched the flame of the jet engine roar away.

He hadn’t cared how.

He just wanted it to be useful to someone at least once.

“…Granny. Our cute grandkid is finally off saving someone.”

“The result will give this meaning. Just going off to try to save someone isn’t enough.”

Part 13

To be completely honest, Hamazura Shiage wasn’t able to control the Dragon Rider how he had expected.

In fact, his vision became distorted the second the bike accelerated.

“Gah….!?”

He couldn’t tell what was going on ahead of him or behind him. He was going so fast that he couldn’t keep up with the processing of the visual information. By the time he had figured that out, the tunnel’s smooth wall was approaching from the side.

“Fuck this. There’s no way in hell I can control this thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnngggggggg!!”

His vision darkened.

All sound disappeared.

His throat went completely dry.

But…

“Huh?”

Hamazura was in complete disorder, but he hadn’t crashed yet.

His body, his arms, and his fingers were moving on their own.

(…What…?)

Instead of feeling relieved that he wasn’t going to die, Hamazura felt an indescribable uneasiness creep down his back.

(…This is just going too smoothly. I don’t even know that much about bikes. Is something controlling my movements from outside…!?)

The powered suit Hamazura was wearing used motors and chemical springs to enhance the person’s movements.

Normally, it would move in response to Hamazura’s will, but it could of course do the opposite.

In other words, the powered suit was guiding him by supporting his movements.

This led to the body of Hamazura Shiage moving in top form.

At first glance it looked convenient, but…

(Ohhhh!? Th-this is like driving a bike in a ninin-baori!! How the hell am I supposed to relax!?)

His body and mind were separated.

The discord caused by other movements taking precedence over the movements he wanted to make brought fear.

It could be mistaken for doing something amazing, but it made him feel like he was trapped in his own body.

“Shit!! This feels wrong. First the weapons in Russia and now this! Why am I always surrounded by these crazy machines!?”

Jousawa had said the bike forcibly inserted “artificial feelings”.

The Dragon Rider didn’t need to be operated in any complicated way.

The basics of controlling it were closer to that of a scooter than of a bike. Hamazura just had to move his fingers within the handlebars that were completely covered in armor. There was no concept of gears or a clutch. It only had a throttle and a brake. In other words, it could only be accelerated and decelerated. Both could be controlled from both grips on the handlebars, so controlling it one handed was no problem. The bike had a jet engine, auxiliary boosters, and linear engines, but these various driving forces were controlled automatically to achieve the speed required.

However, even all that wasn’t enough for someone to perfectly control it the first time they grabbed the handlebars.

There was no way it was that much of a monster.

The Dragon Rider had a jet engine piercing through its main body and the front was pointed to reduce friction from the air. It was a large and heavy bike, so driving it should have been fairly difficult.

And weaving between cars in a traffic jam would send the difficulty level soaring up. Getting a bike that big through the cars would have been difficult even for a driving instructor.

And yet the Dragon Rider was slipping between the stopped cars. When Hamazura looked down at the displayed speed, he choked. He had already exceeded 400 kph. For a normal car, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the meter had shaken off at that speed.

Of course, Hamazura was not that skilled.

It may have been impossible even for a professional stunt driver to carry out such delicate maneuvers.

(...Come to think of it, a powered suit is a tool to reinforce human capabilities from outside.)

Powered suits weren’t just machines used to increase the strength of one’s arms and legs.

That suit was made in Academy City.

It did help him externally with the motors and chemical springs, but the odds were it didn’t end there.

Normally, he would have been in a complete panic at that speed.

He would have been too afraid to think at all. He wouldn’t have been able to think about what to do next.

That wasn’t happening. Hamazura found it to be a bit disturbing, but he was giving the powered suit orders and the machine was calculating what the rider wanted and what would best carry that out. Hamazura was simply too calm for all that was going on.

Most likely, the suit was helping him out internally, too.

The suit had ways of connecting the human to the machine by applying electrical stimuli and distributing the temperature of the brain.

There was also the hectically changing information coming from his five senses. His vision was especially badly blurred. Everything looked like an aggregation of curves that looked like the laser beams from a shooting game.

Even so, Hamazura was obtaining information from it.

He wasn’t seeing it in slow motion; he was getting information from the flowing lines. He wasn’t seeing single objects frozen in place either. He actually felt like he was the resident of a world where things were always flowing by.

His cognizance had changed.

Perhaps it could be said to be similar to language. An alphabet looked like nothing but weird designs to those who didn’t know it, but those who did know it naturally picked up meaning from it.

His senses were being modified inside and out.

His thoughts may have been moving even faster than when he was sitting at a desk studying.

He was a a single centimeter error away from crashing, but he was still able to perform those bike acrobatics.

The Dragon Rider left the tunnel.

Hamazura opened up the throttle all the way.

Immediately afterwards, he felt a shock.

The arms for the auxiliary boosters that had been folded up on either side of the front wheel opened up. The noise increased exponentially and a shock wave was formed as the energy created by the internal-combustion engine threw him further forward.

This was the bike’s true form.

The speedometer jumped up to the 900 kph line.

At this speed, a flesh-and-blood human would have been unable to breathe in oxygen or even open his eyes and it wouldn’t have been unusual to be burned by the frictional heat. This was a world where one would strike an object 250 meters ahead after a single second. The cars around him had to have been moving fairly quickly, but they didn’t even look like they were standing still. It looked like they were flying towards him.

He forcibly carried on by using the corrections provided by the powered suit.

Even then, a fear great enough to interfere with the movements of his mind or body did not well up within him.

Just like the machine he was riding, his thoughts moved only forward.

He knew exactly where every little pebble and empty can on the road was and avoided them with the least possible movement.

He ignored several traffic lights and just cut through the intersection as the Dragon Rider continued on.

However…

He had a sense of the outer motors and chemical springs correcting his body’s movements and he could tell the suit was interfering with him on the inside, too.

It was helping him out, but it felt like his awareness of where the center of his being was would be destroyed if he used the bike for a long period of time.

(…My phone.)

He was wearing a military vest over the powered suit that could have various objects put it in it. His cell phone was inside it.

He started to consider whether it was okay for him to let go with one hand in his condition.

(…If I don’t get a look at the data from Hanzou’s MAV, I won’t know where my target is.)

Before he could even complain in his heart, something changed.

At the edge of the images that constituted Hamazura’s vision, a small window appeared. Needless to say, it contained the data from Hamazura’s cell phone.

(How is it forwarding the data!? I didn’t do anything!!)

Academy City-made military weapons were as abnormal as ever. From what had just happened, Hamazura decided that conspiracy theories about machines spying on your mind may not be something to laugh at anymore.

The distant view given by the cell phone data had pretty much lost sight of the target. Something indistinct was moving deep in the image, but the shapes of the moving object was indistinguishable. It looked like it would be easier to look for a nearby building or billboard to use as a landmark.

(It looks like Hanzou’s MAV isn’t going to be much more use…)

It had gotten too far away.

If he let the enemy do what they wanted much longer, there would truly be no way to guarantee Fremea’s life.

(No.)

“Wait,” Hamazura mumbled.

He looked up while racing along at high speed. The sky filled his vision. In the jumbled cityscape, it was difficult to spot things two hundred meters ahead, but the sky was different. There were no objects to obstruct his view and nothing was hidden behind the horizon, so he could even spot things that were a great distance away.

Even if he couldn’t spot the four-legged powered suit that had abducted Fremea, he would be able to find it if he could spot something that was chasing after the suit.

Of course, he couldn’t exactly spot an MAV that could be as far as ten kilometers away. Even with the powered suit reinforcing his senses, searching for an MAV the size of a paper airplane was no small feat.

But Hamazura was following something else.

Academy City’s strongest Level 5 could chase after a fighter jet if he wanted to.

Part 14

Silver Cross Alpha was on the run.

The plan was supposed to have been complete.

The targets, Hamazura Shiage and Accelerator, had joined together to protect Fremea Seivelun. Now that they had become a force that the upper levels of the city couldn’t ignore, Silver Cross’s objective was mostly complete. All that was left was to kill Fremea in such a way that the force that couldn’t be ignored would bare their fangs in revenge against the dark side and upper levels of Academy City.

It didn’t matter whether they would truly oppose the city.

It was like attaching a detonation fuse into a large pile of gunpowder. Whether anyone truly wanted to detonate it or not, it had to be defused. As such, the Graduates would have to be exterminated.

That was how it was supposed to go.

So why could he still not get to a safe area?

The four-legged powered suit did not have a human form. As such, the lenses that acted as eyes were not installed only on the front.

One of the lenses on that model had spotted his pursuer.

#1.

Academy City’s strongest.

It was a white figure called Accelerator.

(This isn’t normal.)

Silver Cross’s breath caught in his throat from shock when he looked at the speedometer.

750 kph.

He was near the limit for vehicles that raced along the ground.

And yet that monster was still right behind him.

(He’s at the level of an airplane.)

“That monster!! I knew he was a monster, but I never thought he was enough to rival the Highway Cheetah!!”

Silver Cross was looking up.

Twenty meters up.

His pursuer had four whirlwinds on his back and was literally slicing through the air after Silver Cross.

“Silver Cross.”

“I can’t do it. I can’t lose him even with the speed of the Highway Cheetah. A couple of undercover vehicles come to mind, but I can only use them once I’ve lost my pursuer, so they’re useless now!!”

His powered suit was not a car. By folding up and unfolding its legs to match the ground, it could race across areas with large ups and downs and even down extremely narrow passageways.

And yet he still couldn’t get away.

His opponent was the size of a human after all. Even if his four-legged powered suit could slip into various gaps, it was hard to find a place that the suit could go but the human couldn’t.

“If she gets taken back now, this was all for naught. Should I dispose of her now?”

“Don’t assume you’re going to lose. You can’t be losing your way.”

Kuroyoru’s voice so calm it sounded like she didn’t care about the situation. That may have been the case.

“Accelerator has great power, but why didn’t he go all out from the very beginning? When he first came after the vehicle disguised as a dump truck, he rode in Hamazura’s stolen car. Think about it, Silver Cross. In a situation like this, he wouldn’t have done that without a reason.”

“…I see.” Within the thick powered suit, Silver Cross sat within the smaller armadillo-like model and chuckled. “Signal interference…the tunnel!!”

Now that he had figured it out, the rest was easy.

Silver Cross moved over to the subway line running alongside the road. In order to reduce the noise, it was an area one step lower than the rest of the area sort of like a river made of concrete.

Of course, further along was the complex group of tunnels for the various lines. The layout of the tunnels was reminiscent of a spider web.

The suit’s lens caught Accelerator’s lips moving in a curse.

Shortly thereafter, the sky was covered by thick concrete.

He had entered the tunnel.

Of course, just a tunnel wasn’t enough to completely seal Accelerator’s movements. If so, he would have been assassinated long ago. The interference was only something that may happen. That meant his power could end up being weakened by some unknown amount.

However, if he lost control of his power even for a few seconds while surrounded by concrete and chasing after someone at over 700 kph, he would be dead. Scraping up against the wall would be enough to turn him to mincemeat.

He couldn’t continue the chase.

If he was willing to destroy and rip off the top of the tunnel that was also part of the city, he could continue, but he most likely wouldn’t do that. If he was a complete villain, he might have done so, but sadly the #1 was no longer that far down that path.

Simply put, he wouldn’t sacrifice others to carry out his own goals.

Even when refusing to do so put the life of the person he was protecting at risk.

“Kuroyoru. I’ve managed to escape. This tunnel is shared by a number of lines. A great number of routes connect here to save time on construction. They won’t be able to track my escape path from the air now.”

“The #1’s power is maintained by the battery of the electrode around his neck. We don’t know the exact time limit, but I doubt he’ll keep using it at full power when he has no clear objective. He’s sure to turn it off at least for now. Get some distance between the two of you while he’s stuck there. …There’s also the matter of ‘them’. We can’t be delayed at this stage.”

“Understood. Now that I’ve lost him, everything can go ahead as pla—”

Silver Cross trailed off.

It was odd.

He felt something overpowering from behind him.

The tunnel was dark. Unlike a tunnel for cars, light wasn’t needed for trains to avoid a sudden curve because they had set tracks. The evenly spaced fluorescent lights were of little use and a seemingly impenetrable darkness stretched before him and behind him.

However, this didn’t matter to the four-legged powered suit. Its numerous lenses allowed it pick up information even in that almost complete darkness.

Silver Cross’s face stiffened when he looked at the window displaying the revised footage.

“What…?”

It wasn’t Accelerator.

A giant mysterious bike was approaching from behind. As if the bike were saying it had caught sight of Silver Cross’s lenses, a number of boosters lit up.

With a roar, the darkness was wiped away.

Other than Accelerator, there was only one person who could possibly be chasing after Silver Cross to protect Fremea Seivelun.

“It couldn’t be…!!”

Part 15

A great roar surrounded Hamazura’s body.

The subway tunnel had only just barely been made so the construction workers could walk through it. Efficiently constructing the track had been the priority, so the ground was covered in bumpy concrete tiles.

Normally, driving through there at a few hundred kph would have been suicide.

But that didn’t matter.

Hamazura twisted the throttle lever releasing all three means of propulsion without hesitation.

(I can do this…The Dragon Rider simply has more speed!!)

The problem was how to stop that thickly armored powered suit and rescue Fremea from it once he had caught up. Somehow breaking the propeller blades might work, but…

“If you’re short on firepower use the auxiliary boosters,” said the voice of the trailer’s maintenance worker. “If things are looking bad, there’s a mechanism to eject some of the fuel in order to reduce the damage. If you do it right, you create a 3500 degree explosion. However, you can only use it once on either side.”

“Wait. I don’t know how to do anything special like that…”

“You do. While you’re linked with the powered suit’s information controller, you can borrow the needed knowledge and skills.”

He shivered.

Before he knew it, Hamazura had learned how to do an emergency eject of the rocket fuel. It was less like he had memorized a thick book and more like he had learned how to ride a bicycle. In other words, the slow accumulation of “experiences” one gained after having practiced again and again had been overwritten into him in a concentrated manner.

He felt that life would be much easier if school lessons and studying road service skills were that easy. But it also scared him. He had no idea what could have been added to his head without him knowing. He decided that learning things on his own was best.

(I don’t have time to think about this too much now.)

Hamazura consciously pushed away his questions and focused on the target ahead of him.

(I have a method to save Fremea. That’s enough!!)

The auxiliary boosters were a type of arm and could change their angle depending on the situation. However, they were still primarily used to point back and provide propulsion and moving around parallel to the sides of the bike was as far as they went. They couldn’t point forwards.

Which meant…

(I have to at least get next to him in order to get him wrapped up in the explosion!!)

That was when a change occurred with the movements of the four-legged powered suit running ahead of him.

The back right leg suddenly moved as if it were kicking up like a horse.

Some lighting equipment had fallen to the ground and the suit was firing the remains back at Hamazura at high speed.

“…!!”

It was a hunk of metal with a weight of about three kilograms. He didn’t know how durable Dragon Rider was, but he couldn’t let any unnecessary loads destroy its balance.

He steered out of the way of the remains of the lighting equipment and between the pillars on the side of the track putting some horizontal distance between them. Dragon Rider was faster in pure speed. If there were no obstacles, getting alongside the powered suit would be simple.

But then Hamazura noticed something unusual.

Directly in front of him, a bright light came from the darkness.

(A subway train…!?)

A chill ran down Hamazura’s spine.

A huge mass sped towards the Dragon Rider.

As the huge mass passed through the tunnel, it caused a great wind, a loud roar, and a violent vibration. The train operator must have seen him a moment before. The train braked and a horrible noise rang out as the metal wheels scraped along the rails, but it was too late. With a shower of sparks, the train slid another three hundred meters.

The four-legged powered suit calmly passed by to the side.

Perhaps because the powered suit was not a normal vehicle, it almost looked like joy over its pursuer being eliminated was radiating from the suit.

But then Silver Cross saw the large bike on the other side of the train through one of the gaps between cars.

It was the HsSSV-01 Dragon Rider.

Hamazura had stuck the bike in the tiny space between the subway train and the wall. He raced along at high speed just barely managing not to hit the wall.

As said before, the Dragon Rider was faster in pure speed than the four-legged powered suit.

Now that the obstacle was gone and his opponent had let down his guard, there was no reason he couldn’t catch up.

“Tch…!!”

Silver Cross decided to slam into the Dragon Rider himself.

In other words, he would use the difference in weight to knock his pursuer to the side.

But Hamazura was faster.

There was a difference between someone who immediately reacted and someone who was already prepared.

The auxiliary booster arm moved to the side and a large amount of rocket fuel was ejected. When it dispersed in a great wind, it scattered out a bit from the booster and created orange sparks.

There was less than a tenth of second between the ejection and the ignition.

The fuel exploded.

All sound was drowned out and a shock wave exploded out in what seemed like a transparent wall.

The left auxiliary booster got wrapped up the explosion it had caused and was torn from the Dragon Rider. The large bike that perfectly maintained its balance using electronic controls slid to the side oddly.

The four-legged powered suit didn’t get off easily.

It had been showered in the rocket fuel before the explosion. The explosion didn’t manage to destroy the propeller blades, but the large suit was knocked a few meters to the side and it struck the tunnel wall. Orange sparks were created as the suit attempted to continue to run forward.

But something was wrong.

The damage from the extremely high heat and the shock wave had been too much to ignore. The two right legs weren’t moving properly. They could still glide properly, but they had lost the function to alleviate the shocks by conforming to the land. If it continued to run like that, the great shocks would cause the internal workings of the suit to break.

“I see.”

An unfamiliar man’s voice suddenly reached Hamazura’s ears.

It was a transmission.

“I was wondering how you managed to chase after me, but it seems the answer was simple. That isn’t a bike made for powered suits to ride. The bike is part of the powered suit. That is one idea of how to overcome the joints in the human body. …I never thought I would come across model from the same series.”

That must have been why they were able to communicate.

As he controlled the large bike, Hamazura quietly but clearly spoke.

“You’re going to give Fremea back.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then I’ll create another explosion.”

Dragon Rider had lost one of its auxiliary boosters and some of its balance, but the four-legged powered suit had even more damage and had lost some speed. The suit could no longer get away.

In response, Silver Cross gave a slight smile.

“I have the hostage with me. Do you not realize that I hold your victory in my hands?”

“You can’t do anything to her,” Hamazura plainly denied him. “That isn’t an automobile or a tank; it’s a powered suit. I don’t know how everything is divided up, but every movement of your arms and legs is directly linked to the powered suit’s movements. If you make any unnecessary movements in there, it will have an outward effect. If you really wanted to hurt Fremea, you would have to stop the powered suit and get out. In fact, you must have taken away her consciousness so her movements don’t have an outward effect. Am I wrong?”

The theory itself was Hamazura’s, but the foundation of knowledge supporting it came from elsewhere.

He didn’t even have time to consciously think about what he wanted to do. A deeper portion of his mind was read and the machine searched for the information in an offline database and put the needed knowledge in his brain.

How smoothly this process went and how much confidence in the accuracy of the information he had made him shiver, but he was in no position to worry about that.

“True,” briefly responded Silver Cross.

Even so, Hamazura didn’t think Silver Cross was just going to hand over Fremea. He had to have something else up his sleeve. Hamazura focused in all directions. He didn’t know how it worked internally, but the machine was most likely revising and amplifying this.

“It’s true that this isn’t a good situation. I’m at the disadvantage here. As such, I suppose I will ensure my own safety even if it requires changing my plans a little. …Because of ‘them’, I can’t allow myself, one of the Freshmen, to be lost. Simply put, I am going to flee no matter what it takes. Luckily, this Life Armor gives me the durability to do just that.”

Immediately afterwards, the front hatch of the four-legged suit opened and the small, armadillo-like suit came out.

Fremea was still inside the four-legged suit.

And the suit was still moving along at over 500 kph.

“You…bastard!!” Hamazura yelled, but the armadillo had already curled up into a ball and moved in the opposite direction while it absorbed the shock.

The thick front hatch on the four-legged suit closed again.

Without a pilot, the suit was sure to end up in a fatal accident eventually.

“Is this any time to be focusing on me? Out of respect for her determination, I removed the impromptu ‘chip’. But the Highway Cheetah doesn’t have two arms and two legs. She won’t be able to properly control it.”

Basically, he had awakened her so she would panic. He sounded like he was sneering in his transmission.

“I don’t like letting go of the line binding you and Accelerator, but having her die here will ‘settle’ that. The order is a bit different from the plan, but this will still lead to the upper levels of the city treating you Graduates as a target.”

“Fuck!!”

Focusing on the armadillo wasn’t going to help.

He had to get the four-legged suit’s front hatch open and save Fremea as quickly as possible.

He didn’t know how the maintenance worker was monitoring him, but the worker spoke to him again.

“Your suit’s arms are just made to control the bike. They aren’t strong enough to force open the hatch.”

“Then what am I supposed to do!? Are you saying I just watch!?”

“Scrape it off.”

The maintenance worker’s response was brief but precise.

Even more so than the computer that supplied knowledge and experience to Hamazura.

“The four-legged suit is being pressed up against the wall, right? Push it diagonally so that the edge of the hatch contacts the wall and keep it like that. If it looks like it’s going to leave the wall, just kick it back or something. Even if the bolts holding the hatch on are made of tungsten alloy, the hatch should be scraped off after about seven kilometers of that.”

“…!!”

Hamazura readjusted the Dragon Rider’s throttle to match the suit’s speed and followed the instructions. Without Silver Cross at the controls and with the suit’s sliding characteristic, turning it diagonally was simple. It continued forward even in that state.

The four-legged suit had been contacting the wall that whole time and it was both making a horrible scraping noise and creating a large band of orange sparks. However, its legs that maintained its balance were acting oddly. They began to move up and down unnaturally.

(I guess it can’t deal with the unevenness of the ground anymore.)

The powered suit shook greatly.

With no pilot, that slight movement was enough to make the suit begin to leave the wall.

Still straddling the Dragon Rider, Hamazura used one leg to forcefully kick the body of the suit. The push from the bottom of his foot moved the giant suit back to the tunnel wall.

The tremendous scraping noise continued.

(It’s working.)

He had no proof, but Hamazura was sure. It may have been due to knowledge he was being given from outside.

The bolts holding the hatch closed would scrape off soon. Then he could rescue Fremea from within.

But then something unexpected happened.

One of the legs that had gotten caught in the explosion from the auxiliary booster suddenly sank down. It was reminiscent of a shoulder dislocating. The large explosion and the vibrations caused by the continued contact with the wall had greatly damaged the machinery within.

Its balance suffered greatly.

Hamazura couldn’t support it on his own.

In order to avoid being taken down with it, he temporarily moved the Dragon Rider away. The joints for the front and back right legs broke and began dragging across the ground. The suit continued on creating tons of sparks along the ground and the ends of the legs stopped making contact with the ground.

If that slowed the suit down, it was a good thing.

Since the ends of the legs weren’t contacting the ground, it would decelerate to a certain extent. Even if the suit didn’t come to a complete stop, Fremea would be safe if it slowed down enough that it could safely run into a wall.

But then…

(You’ve gotta be kidding me….!!)

As Hamazura watched, the tough hatch began shaking unnaturally. The vibrations had scraped away the armor and it was clear the thick bolts were about to break.

The hatch was going to open and Fremea Seivelun would be thrown out.

The suit had finally started to decelerate, but it was still going somewhere between 300 and 400 kph.

If a flesh-and-blood human fell out of there, they would be pulverized like a shredded radish.

“Fuck that!!” yelled Hamazura as he opened up Dragon Rider’s throttle again.

His only option to save Fremea was to get on the four-legged suit himself.

He brought the bike right up the front right leg of the shaking suit. He grabbed the leg’s armor with his hand and slowly stood up from his seat.

If he moved over to the suit, he would lose the bike.

He hesitated for an instant, but soon made up his mind.

He grabbed the leg with both hands and moved his legs from the bike to the suit as it continued on at high speed.

Having lost its driver, the bike fell to its side and got caught between the ground and the back right leg of the suit. A tremendous amount of orange sparks flew out.

Hamazura moved across the armor on the front right leg.

He was moving towards the front of the suit.

He was moving towards the one place where the four legs connected.

(Please make it in time…)

Hamazura forcefully grabbed the handle on the hatch.

Normally, he would have had no chance of opening it.

However, the thick bolts holding it shut were about to break.

“Open, damn you!!”

He used all the strength of the suit he was wearing and he heard something break within the four-legged suit.

The front hatch opened wide.

If he hadn’t done anything, Fremea would have fallen out and onto the ground.

But Hamazura was waiting in front of the hatch and caught her small body in one arm.

They had only been separated for about half an hour, but he felt relief strong enough to take the strength from his entire body at their reunion.

“…!? Wh-what!? In the first place what is—!?”

Fremea couldn’t see his face, so she must have thought he was someone suspicious.

(…Well, at least I kept her from falling to the ground. Now I just have to hold on until the suit stops.)

That was when a new problem occurred.

The engine that moved the propeller that provided the four-legged suit’s speed started spewing black smoke.

It was probably due to the explosion or the vibrations afterwards.

It was also possible it was a self-destruct function.

Either way, he couldn’t wait around for the suit to slow down now that it might blow up.

“God damn it…”

However, the suit was still moving at 300 or 400 kph.

The Dragon Rider suit might have been able to withstand it, but Fremea wouldn’t make it. If he fell to the ground with her, he would pulverize her.

“What the hell am I supposed to do!?”

Part 16

Accelerator had landed at the entrance to the subway tunnel.

Just a few minutes before, his feet hadn’t been touching the ground. He had created four whirlwinds on his back and been using their power to fly with tremendous speed.

However, he couldn’t use that power inside the tunnel because of its strong electromagnetic interference.

He had only lost a few minutes, but that had to be a pretty major loss given the speed of the powered suit he was after.

(He has to exit the tunnel somewhere, but there are too many options. A lot of subway lines use this tunnel, so he could move to almost any part of the city through there.)

Accelerator could “fly” along the shortest course ignoring speed and road layout, so he had the option of randomly going to each of the possible exits, but that would eat up his battery. His power would be his greatest trump card when it came down to rescuing Fremea Seivelun. He couldn’t deny that using it all up on the problem currently before his eyes could lead to worsening the situation down the road.

He thought for a bit and then pulled out his cell phone.

He called Misaka Worst.

“How’s that brat doing?”

“Misaka supposes that is the first thing her father would ask, isn’t it? We’ve made it back to the apartment. We’re being questioned by Yomikawa, the landlady.”

Yomikawa was part of Anti-Skill and she was the type of person that would act beyond what the manual said. She may have caught a glimpse of the problem on her own despite the darkness attempting to control the information.

“Have you seen any sign of the Freshmen?”

“Two groups of four. But they didn’t feel like the main force. They were most likely just lookouts. Perhaps they were planning on abducting their targets for some psychological warfare in case you worked a little too hard and got in the way of their plan. But Misaka already took them out.”

“Set up sensors and cameras around the area and prepare a number of escape routes, but don’t let on that anything’s wrong. If you try to move to a hideout unprepared, they’ll target you en route and you can’t let Yomikawa catch on. If those two groups are still alive, threaten them with a knife. Make sure they keep reporting that nothing’s wrong at their designated intervals.”

“Is that all? Misaka has already done all that. She tied them up in a sheltered area with their radios and remote traps next to their mouths. Misaka may not look it, but she’s the type who finishes her summer homework early.”

Accelerator ignored her joke.

“…While somehow not letting Yomikawa or the others pick up on what’s going on, I need you to get all the information you can on the third shared subway tunnel. The powered suit that abducted that brat called Fremea Seivelun is running through there and I want to know what exit he’s going to come out of.”

“Somehow, huh? How far can Misaka go? Is punching them out an option?”

“…”

“Hey, don’t get all silent on Misaka. Fine, fine, Misaka gets it. She’ll hide it with peaceful means.” Misaka Worst’s voice was devoid of tension and it made one imagine that she had a smile in her eyes. “But is which exit he’s going to come out of really enough? You know full well that the darkness we’re from is merciless. It’s possible he’ll give it all a bloody end while he’s still in the tunnel.”

“No one can deal with 100% of the possibilities. In fact, the odds I would fail if I just blindly charged into the tunnel are quite high. Also, a different powered suit on a bike went into the tunnel after I got there. If it’s who I think it is, the bastard won’t give him a chance to touch Fremea.”

“Oh, you’re relying on someone else? How rare.” Misaka Worst’s words were filled with sarcasm. “But then wouldn’t it be faster to directly ask the guy in the tunnel what’s going on?”

“Do you really think we exchanged numbers?”

“Don’t we just have to get his number some other way then?”

“Don’t focus on that. It’s possible the signal won’t reach him in the tunnel. It’s better to have multiple sources of information.”

“You’re free to order Misaka around, but surely you’ll be working on gathering information too, right?”

The strained atmosphere continued until he hung up.

Fighting wasn’t simply rampaging around.

Getting a grasp of the state of things was part of the fight.

Part 17

As Silver Cross Alpha headed into the depths of the tunnel’s darkness while wearing the powered suit with the armadillo-like armor, he heard an explosion.

He chuckled and exited to the surface through one of the exits for construction workers instead of one of the subway stations.

Obviously, his suit had been a military secret. There were measures to take once it was severely damaged and about to fall into the hands of the enemy. The important bits of machinery and circuits were dissolved with a strong acid and then the suit was detonated by igniting its fuel.

A screen in the armadillo suit displayed the level of damage to the four-legged suit.

It wasn’t to the extent of that large bike with its jet engine and rocket boosters, but Silver Cross’s four-legged suit didn’t use normal gasoline. And its fuel had been completely ignited.

The suit most likely no longer had its original form.

It wouldn’t have very many properly functioning circuits left and the icons for ways to dispose of them to keep them from being captured were lined up on his screen.

(It’s over.)

Silver Cross’s genuine feelings leaked out.

(The only question is whether Hamazura Shiage died along with Fremea Seivelun or not. Even if they both died, Accelerator can still easily be made a big enough threat to require immediate action. If we just stir up Mugino or Kinuhata of Item and have them contact Accelerator, it should work.)

Silver Cross started to open a communications line connected to Kuroyoru Umidori in order to report what had happened.

Before he could, he froze.

He had seen something.

He saw it remotely through one of the camera lenses on the four-legged powered suit that wasn’t functioning properly anymore.

A figure was standing in the blaze.

That figure was holding a small girl in his arms.

“Hamazura Shiage…!!”

Silver Cross hadn’t realized something.

Hamazura had stood on the Dragon Rider bike that had been caught between the four-legged suit’s broken back right leg and the ground. He then used all his strength to lift up the broken leg a few centimeters and had partly surfed on the bike as it separated from the four-legged suit.

But Silver Cross couldn’t believe it.

(How? How did he survive? And that’s Fremea Seivelun. Unlike Hamazura, she didn’t have the benefit of any armor!!)

He wanted to get more details on the figure standing in the flames and the four-legged suit wasn’t any help, so he directly connected his armadillo-like suit with a cable to the subway’s security network so he could use the security cameras.

That backfired on him.

“You’re there, aren’t you?”

A voice stabbed into him.

A gaze turned in his direction.

The image on the monitor and the voice coming from the speakers accurately pierced straight through Silver Cross.

(Did he compute it from the communications equipment in both the powered suits? No, that isn’t it. This is…!!)

A cable was stretching from Hamazura’s arm as he stared directly at the lens of the security camera Silver Cross was using.

He had stood in front of the security camera for show and spread out his electronic “net” and then waited for Silver Cross to make his move.

Of course, this was beyond the level of a mere delinquent.

But Silver Cross knew that the missing knowledge and skills would be forcibly reinforced giving the boy the proper level of experience.

He brought his hand to the spinal area of the armadillo.

(…He’s getting mind support from the powered suit just like me!!)

It was all temporary. Once he left the powered suit, he would lose it all. But as long as he continued to wear the suit, that knowledge and those skills were his to use as he pleased.

The figure in the flames moved.

Another person appeared who must have entered the tunnel either through a subway station or through a construction entrance like the one Silver Cross had exited through. It wasn’t Accelerator. It appeared to be the delinquent that had been used to track down Hamazura and Fremea when they were hiding in the private salon.

Hamazura handed Fremea to the boy.

She was alive and, if she was handed over, Silver Cross and Kuroyoru’s plan would end a failure.

But he didn’t have time to worry about that.

He had something else to think about that took priority.

He had to survive.

When had he ended up in a situation where he had to seriously consider that?

“…I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do.”

With those words, the security camera was destroyed and the image was replaced with static.

At the same time, the voice transmission cut off.

In that instant, the positions of chased and chaser were reversed.

Part 18

Takitsubo Rikou, a girl wearing a pink jersey, was standing blankly in front of a roadside vending machine.

She wasn’t just holding a normal drink can in her hand. She had the authorized iced tea of a famous tea shop. At least it claimed to be. It had a lot of milk, sugar, and honey put in by default, so the flavor had been lost. Its sweetness was on the level of strawberry milk.

(…My feet hurt. I’m tired of walking.)

Takitsubo was there for a very simple reason.

The three members of Item were still on the Hamazura Search that they had made the humiliating bunny bet on, but, unlike Mugino and Kinuhata, Takitsubo had no real basis with which to search for Hamazura. And since she had the ability to sense others’ AIM diffusion fields, she gave her “intuition” a lot more importance than she herself thought.

To fully use her power, she had to use the Body Crystal powder that had powerful side effects, but she could still vaguely sense the weak power that espers subconsciously emitted even without it. However, since it was just a vague sense, she couldn’t tell what kind of power it was, who was using it, or where they were. It really wasn’t that useful.

As such, the “invisible power” that was backing her up, the thing that her actions were based on in the end, was really just vague and uncertain “intuition”.

Since she had managed to make it through Academy City’s darkness safely with that intuition, it might have been something worth researching.

“Nn…”

Takitsubo looked vacantly up into the air.

(A signal is coming from the north east…That way, I think.)

Then her cell phone started ringing.

While she walked along the street, she took her phone out of her pocket with her small hand.

It was from Kinuhata Saiai.

“Yahoh. Have you super found Hamazura yet?”

“Nnn.”

“Mugino ran into a problem with controlling the security company and getting video data got super hard for her, so I guess I’m going to be super first.”

“Kinuhata, do you know where Hamazura is?”

“Well, yeah.” The voice coming from the phone dropped a tone. “But I spotted someone super annoying nearby.”

Part 19

Incidentally, Silver Cross Alpha’s face had been burned as a punishment in the past.

He had experienced firsthand how useless the nonsense about what is inside a person being important was.

Ever since it had happened, he had spent his life attempting to regain his face. As he completed various “jobs”, various bits of Academy City technology had been used to repair his face bit by bit as if it were a lump of clay having details added. It was like a horrible game of fukuwarai[1].

But he realized something when he had finally regained his former graceful face.

Even though so much money and technology had been used to perfectly bring back his face, the disgrace he felt when his face had been burnt away continued to warp his looks into something unsightly.

Consequently, Silver Cross fundamentally had no sense of aesthetics towards his own body.

His habit of switching between numerous powered suits was largely due to the fact that he had arranged his mind so he held no attachment to his outer appearance, his features, or his form.

To control a four-legged powered suit, he had to become a four-legged animal.

To control an eight-legged powered suit, he had to become an eight-legged animal.

Even if some of the controls were left to a program leaving simplified controls for him to use, in the end, that was what was required to truly control a powered suit. In fact, getting used to everything going smoothly due to the program made the problem worse.

Obviously, the behavior required to control an eight-legged form with a two-legged form were of no use when walking with your own two legs. If he got used to the method for eight-legged walking, he would forget how to walk with two legs and his commands would be thrown into confusion.

And that’s just talking about the legs.

It should be clear how severe the problem would be once it spread to the entire body.

What is the true form of my body? How do I move it?

Everyone knew those things and had no problem with the answers and Silver Cross could analyze those things in his mind each time. He overcame the reason that power suits beyond the shape of a human hadn’t become mass produced.

That man who had abandoned his own body had a sudden thought.

He was watching the man who stood up amid the burning flames holding Fremea Seivelun.

He was looking at that scene and the spot the man stood in.

He thought that he might not ever be able to stand in a place like that no matter what model of powered suit he used.


Chasing him was simple.

Hamazura had lost the Dragon Rider bike, but it was still much easier to move in the powered suit than with nothing. He was running through the subway tunnel. He couldn’t avoid the loss in stamina caused by moving his own limbs, but he was glad that he could move faster than the speed limit on those two legs.

Searching for him was simple.

He had used the powered suit’s data to spread out an electronic “net” and Silver Cross had gotten caught in it. He wasn’t far away. With his machine-assisted legs, Hamazura could catch up to him very soon.

Reading his movements was simple.

Silver Cross had two options at that point.

First, he could run away as quickly as he could, meet up with his comrades, and change into a more powerful suit. But he wouldn’t choose that. The biggest weak point of a powered suit was in the instant of changing from one to another. Since he didn’t know when Hamazura would catch up to him, Hamazura doubted he would make contact with one of his mobile “bases”.

Therefore, Silver Cross would choose the other option.

He would give up on changing to a better suit and attempt to capture Fremea Seivelun as quickly as he could using his current armadillo-like suit. It was a self-evident truth that Fremea’s life could be used to keep Hamazura and Accelerator in check. And, using the security camera, Silver Cross had seen Hamazura in the powered suit hand Fremea over to Hanzou who didn’t have a suit. He also knew that Hamazura had split up from Hanzou and Fremea in order to chase after Silver Cross who was far away.

Silver Cross was sure to think this was his last chance.

If he could sneak past Hamazura, attack the defenseless Hanzou, and abduct Fremea, he could still turn the situation around.

Because of this, getting a surprise attack on him was simple.

Silver Cross was certain to use the tunnel again in order to get Fremea back as quickly as possible. And since he wanted to sneak past Hamazura, he wouldn’t use the shortest path.

He needed a path that was a detour but still allowed him to get Fremea back as quickly as possible.

He would be second.

Once Hamazura had worked all that out, he just had to wait for Silver Cross to arrive in his armadillo-like suit.

With a crash, Hamazura jumped from cover and struck the back of the armadillo with a flying kick.

The armadillo was knocked to the ground and bounced five or six times. The model finally stopped when it struck the gently curving wall and then slowly stood up.

He had succeeded in his surprise attack, but Hamazura still felt impatient.

(…I used the best timing and hit him with all my weight when he was off guard and he can still move. He really is tough.)

The armadillo had unhesitatingly jumped out of the four-legged suit that was running at over 500 kph and it still kept its normal specs. It must have been guaranteed to protect the life of its controller. It didn’t seem like it was just that its armor was tough. It may have also had some kind of electronic control mechanism that let it escape the shock.

Hamazura was wearing the control suit for Dragon Rider, a crystallization of “official” technology that had originally been created as a large Anti-Skill patrol bike.

Silver Cross was wearing a part of his collection that was a crystallization of the technology of the dark side of the city.

They each had to defeat the other, and they stared each other down.

The control suit and the armadillo suit did not exchange words.

The first step was taken before they could.

Their fists crossed.

A loud creaking noise rang out.

It wasn’t the sound of a flesh-and-blood body being hit. But it wasn’t simply the sound of the powered suits’ armor striking each other.

Hamazura’s right fist had parried Silver Cross’s fist.

He had struck Silver Cross’s lower arm from the outside to forcibly alter the trajectory of his fist.

Hamazura threw a punch with his left fist in response.

It was an uppercut.

The armadillo purposefully moved its shoulder towards the fist in order to keep the damage as low as possible.

Of course, these weren’t Hamazura Shiage’s techniques.

Nor were they Silver Cross’s.

The computers inside the powered suits were searching for knowledge and skills and reinforcing the two of them. They were using that to its fullest in this exchange of punches that were stronger than a standard shotgun. They were predicting their opponent’s moves, calculating the trajectories of their fists, parrying, and then beginning their own attack. And this process was being carried out at a speed of three times a second.

The motors and chemical springs were correcting their fists’ momentum vectors to create destructive forces on the level of a gun.

As Silver Cross was controlling a weapon in the shape of a human instead of a machine that reinforced human actions, he could most likely produce the most destructive force.

The noises of strong blows and sparks flying continued on and on.

(…Just plowing our tough armor into each other isn’t going to do anything. Both these suits were created to be indestructible. A frontal attack is just a waste of time.)

Hamazura was thinking while he controlled the suit that was amplifying his fist to the point that it could plow right through a car door.

(But these aren’t tanks or armored cars. They’re just powered suits that match the movements of the body within and amplify the momentum. That’s a weakness I can use to stop his movements.)

In other words, he had to stop the soft human inside not the tough powered suit on the outside.

Hamazura didn’t bother to avoid the armadillo suit’s fists while it was focusing on his face most likely in an attempt to destroy the sensors there. Hamazura restrained Silver Cross’s arm by wrapping his two arms around it.

The arm of a powered suit was different from the arm of a mere machine. A human arm was inside the powered suit arm.

That meant if one used his weight to break the arm at the shoulder and elbow, the human arm within would break, too.

Of course, Hamazura wasn’t versed in joint locks.

He didn’t know how to break someone’s joint when they were still standing and on their guard.

It was all due to the machine’s reinforcement.

It felt like pushing a rail car and looking down the rail.

His limbs moved quickly and he broke his opponent’s arm more calmly than he normally would have been in that situation.

“Gaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!”

“Judo and wrestling sure are scary, huh? I wouldn’t want to deal with them in a street fight with no referee!!”

A powered suit was made up of machines and could alter the degree of freedom its joints had. It may not even break if it was bent completely backwards.

But the human arm inside was different.

And since the powered suit operated by matching the movements of the human, an injury to the human greatly decreased the types of orders that could be given to it.

(I don’t need to break both of his arms and both of his legs. If I can just break one leg, he won’t be able to move anymore…!!)

That was when he heard an odd noise.

The right arm of the armadillo suit that Hamazura had supposedly broken began to shake unnaturally.

It was as if it was changing modes of some kind.

“Don’t underestimate meeeeeeeeee!”

“!?”

Silver Cross used the power of his left hand to tear off the portion below the elbow of the broken right arm that Hamazura was still grabbing.

Hamazura lost his balance and Silver Cross delivered a strong kick to his gut.

Hamazura’s back struck the concrete wall and thin cracks raced along the wall.

“Gah!?”

Then came a second hit.

And a third.

“…!!!!!!”

Even while wearing a powered suit, it was enough to knock the wind out of him. As he was struggling to breathe, he let go of the armadillo suit’s right arm.

That wasn’t normal.

Of course, an attack like that would damage Hamazura, but the pain of having one’s arm ripped off should have been greater. It wouldn’t have been surprising if someone bit their tongue in shock when it happened.

Hamazura looked straight ahead with his dim vision and saw something unusual regarding the armadillo suit.

Its armor was crumbling away as if it were mud.

“…You were wrong if you thought you could stop a powered suit by breaking its ‘contents’.”

Some kind of viscous black oil and something like a belt-shaped piece of rubber stretched out and began wrapping around the arm that had fallen to the ground. Then the supposedly severed arm was forcibly reattached from the outside. It looked more like a black arm with a captivating unevenness to it than it did armor.

(…It’s just like a crab’s shell. He used the shell to connect the torn off arm…!)

As the armor left his face, Silver Cross’s voice became clearer.

His voice was as beautiful as a bell.

“Once a powered suit goes past a certain point, it essentially becomes the same as a cyborg. It’s just the difference between being reinforced from without or from within.”

With a water-like sound, Silver Cross’s “shell” transformed. Inside was a young man with long hair and a graceful face. The “shell” changed so that it looked like he was wearing a dirty cape.

He didn’t look at all like the robot surrounded by thick armor that had been there before.

Half of Silver Cross’s body was covered in the artificial muscles that forcibly reinforced him from without, but they looked like a half complete design.

The writhing fibers of the chemical springs were directly visible.

On that somehow captivating unevenness, the model name, Emergency, was displayed in red letters.

“Therefore, destroying the body inside is pointless. It can still be reinforced by the shell. If you destroy the bones and muscles of my arms and legs, destroy my blood vessels so I lose blood, or even damage or stop my internal organs, the suit can bypass all of that and allow me to continue to fight. Even…”

A noise that sounded like creaking gears could be heard and a number of long and thin but warped arms with pointed ends shot out of the part of his right side of his body that was covered by the cape.

“My brain.”

A chill ran down Hamazura’s spine.

His knowledge and skills were being supplemented by the computer.

“…This power was supposed to be for using against ‘them’, so of course it isn’t going to be something normal”

Hamazura didn’t know how much damage the suit could bypass, but the fight had clearly gone beyond the point of a battle between two flesh-and-blood humans. The battle could no longer be settled by putting a bullet between his opponent’s eyes.

“Realize that and then we can enjoy this. I’ll show you just how repulsive it is to go beyond being human.”


In actuality, Silver Cross’s tactic had begun before he had changed the suit’s silhouette, before the armadillo-like suit’s right arm had been torn off, and even before the fistfight on the level of shotgun blasts had begun.

It had started the instant he had been hit by the surprise flying kick.

It came down to a difference in experience. Silver Cross Alpha had been using all sorts of powered suits for a long period of time, so he knew what was important in a powered suit battle and he knew what to do to defeat an enemy when they showed up.

He knew the most important thing.

It wasn’t the armor or exterior joints and it wasn’t the battery or the motors either. There was something that had to be grasped first before those surface things.

(The reinforcing and supplementing of knowledge and skills by the computer.)

No matter how strong the punch, it was meaningless if it didn’t hit. No matter how solid the armor, it was meaningless if an attack could get through a gap.

(Neither of us are experts in battle or in martial arts. The readjusted thoughts calculate the most effective attack pattern based on your level of experience. …So if you can figure out what the reinforcement script is, you can pull of a cross counter with 100% accuracy.)

For that reason, Silver Cross had put the camera mode to high speed and started analyzing from the second the battle began. He was fighting Hamazura and having the computer work at the same time.

And he had gotten an answer.

The infinite possibilities had been narrowed down to finite options.

Obviously, Hamazura Shiage had an almost infinite number of attack patterns he could freely use. But he only had five patterns for a first move. Silver Cross was preemptively crushing the explosively spreading possibilities that were held in 0.1 seconds. If he created a situation where he could pull off a cross counter for every single first move, his victory would be assured. That was why he had changed his suit’s silhouette. The seven warped arms with pointed ends were prepared to pierce through a gap in Hamazura’s armor at the armpit and into his lungs and heart and to also destroy the computer on his back. The arms were prepared to do this for every move Hamazura could take.

Hamazura did not realize this.

That was why he took the last step forward to attack Silver Cross.

He had no idea that act would lead to his chest being pierced.

(…So he’s going for the barrier of pursuing destructive power.)

Hamazura was in a cage called possibility.

His future was a dead end.

(Come face your prepared death, Level 0!!)

A dull noise rang out.

It was the dull noise of a human body being destroyed through the gaps in the joints of a powered suit.

In that instant, the seven pointed arms had accurately captured all five possible first moves. They were to intercept every single one of Hamazura’s possible actions, pierce his heart, and destroy the computer controlling his powered suit so it couldn’t bypass his heart.

And yet Hamazura slipped past them.

The seven arms missed.

Hamazura sent his fist at Silver Cross Alpha with tremendous force in an attack that wasn’t any of the preset five first moves.

(Wha—?)

Silver Cross’s breath caught, but then he realized what had happened.

(He turned off the computer reinforcement at the last second to go beyond its breadth of options.)

“…!?”

He immediately swung the seven arms in, but it was too late.

Those weapons had been deployed so that they could apply their maximum destruction within the range he had set. They weren’t going to intercept Hamazura successfully now that he had left that range.

The pointed ends lightly tore at Hamazura’s suit.

But that was all they did.

They didn’t stop him from moving and the fist that could plow straight through a car door slammed into Silver Cross.

Hamazura rotated the strike to the side and hit Silver Cross’s torso.

It hit the battery and the computer.

A grating noise was heard and all of Silver Cross’s movable parts stopped. His state-of-the-art weapon had become nothing more than expensive shackles.

“…So you…” Silver Cross couldn’t move his arms and legs and he was stuck bent over forward. He could only just barely move his mouth. “…read that I was reading your attack pattern…”

“What the hell are you talking about?” spat out Hamazura in response. He still truly didn’t know what Silver Cross had been trying to do. “I just realized that this was something I had to do on my own.”

Part 20

Silver Cross Alpha had been defeated.

He seemed to still be conscious, but his control computer had been destroyed, so all of his joints had frozen up and he couldn’t even take off the suit himself. He was trapped inside the partially collapsed suit.

Hamazura checked to make sure of that and then leaned his back up against the tunnel wall. He gave a sigh of relief.

The last half hour had been intense.

A horrible sweat caused by the danger he had been in was still coming from his entire body.

“Hamazura!!” Hanzou came running over from farther down the dark tunnel. “Are you okay?”

“Somehow or other…” As he spoke, Hamazura opened and closed the powered suit’s hands. “But this suit is shot. It can’t amplify the momentum of my actions anymore and its thought reinforcement is based on having that power. If I tried to follow what it told me to do, I would just end up destroying my bones. …It’s really just a riding suit now.”

He was just glad that it hadn’t frozen up like Silver Cross’s suit had. And it was still tougher than normal clothes even if it couldn’t amplify the momentum of his actions.

He took off the helmet and breathed the air directly before asking a question.

“Where’s Fremea?”

“Nearby. It seems she mistook you for a transforming superhero.”

“Hey, if I could get away with anything just by having my face hidden, I’d give it a try.”

They heard a creaking noise and turned their eyes towards the darkness.

Deep in the dark subway tunnel, they heard a slight noise. It wasn’t a natural noise. It sounded something like the creaking of a thick spring.

Hamazura put his helmet back on and switched it to night vision mode. He stopped breathing once he did.

“…Oh, fuck…”

“What is it, Hamazura? What can you see?”

Masses of metal.

Crawling legs.

Cold lenses.

“Powered suits.”

“Didn’t you just defeat the powered suit guy!?”

“This isn’t just two or three. There are more than ten of the damn things. It wasn’t just Silver Cross!!”

“So that’s it…” muttered Silver Cross while he was still frozen in place inside the broken suit. His voice was tinged with self derision. “That girl is sending my collection out of my hangar without my permission.”

Looking at the threat, Hamazura took a step back and Hanzou moved even further back pushed by an imagined fear of what he couldn’t see. Then the two started running. The relief and sense of release from before was gone.

“Let’s meet up with Fremea! You said she was nearby, right!?”

“I left her with Kuruwa. She has a hideout nearby, so let’s head there! But we can’t deal with a bunch of powered suits like that. What are we going to do, Hamazura!?”

“That should be obvious…”

He couldn’t use his suit anymore.

The enemy kept sending in more and more forces making their strength seem infinite.

The end was nowhere in sight.

How far did they have to run? Could they continue to run? Was running even the right thing to do?

Hamazura was being chased again, but he stared ahead and gave his answer.

“We have to forestall them in order to save Fremea!!”

Between the Lines 4

They would temporarily paralyze the city’s communications so reports couldn’t be sent to Anti-Skill or Judgment and then attack as a group to incapacitate the targets on a list of dangerous espers.

The plan was moving ahead nicely. Skill-Out was made up of a number of groups, but they had been contacted and each one had approved of the plan.

People, money, materials. Komaba and the boys and girls around him could tell they had gathered enough of those things to carry out the plan and they rejoiced.

But, at the same time, Komaba Ritoku had a thought: It won’t be that easy.

Even if they surrounded the powerful espers with large numbers, it didn’t guarantee that they could defeat them. And defeating them once didn’t guarantee that they would be incapacitated. Most importantly, they were causing the battle between Level 0s and espers to spread even further. Also, the higher ups of Academy City were powerful enough to keep the city running and they would probably take actions to obstruct Komaba and the others’ plan.

Another step was needed.

He needed to create a situation where the attacks on Level 0s would stop whether the plan succeeded or failed and no matter what other result it brought.

But he couldn’t come up with such a step.

While he was trying to do so, it all began.

The higher ups of Academy City had sent the worst possible assassin to stop Skill-Out’s plan. He was known as Accelerator. He was Academy City’s strongest Level 5. He was fighting to protect the city from a completely different angle than Komaba.

After seeing him and fighting with him, Komaba Ritoku finally smiled slightly in his heart.

He had found that last step.

He had found the final piece needed to solve the problem of the Level 0s being attacked whether the plan succeeded or failed.

I win.

That was the last thing he muttered in his heart towards Academy City when the battle ended.

He was thankful that he had been fortunate enough to come across someone he could entrust his feelings to.


Notes

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