Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume22R Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Reverse Position – Winged_Lizard.
It hurt like hell.
A straining pain erupted all across Kamijou Touma’s body, but he did not have time to scream like normal.
Even though there had been a soft lawn below instead of hard asphalt, there was still something wrong with being able to move so soon after having his back slammed into the ground after being tossed from a second-story window. He hated to admit it, but this had saved him here. It was a dark night and flickering lights very different from electric ones were aimed his way from all across the artificial woods. Those will-o’-the-wisp-like lights were probably lanterns using actual fire. He had no proof of it, but he felt like fire had a way of drawing out the hostility of a pursuer more than a normal flashlight. He did not know if these were knights, magicians, priests and nuns, or even maids and butlers, but none of the answers would be a reason to relax. His joints were as stubborn as if someone had poured glue into them, but he forced them to move as he got up and ran in the direction with the fewest lights.
He did not even make it three steps.
A carrot-like plant with a split end shot vertically up from the ground right next to him.
And his eyes met with the eyes of the creepy root.
“Knock it away, human!! If you are within range of its scream, the vibration will pass from your inner ear and rupture your heart!!”
He trusted the voice he heard and acted accordingly.
He swung his sky-blue arm around to strike the mystery plant that had shot up to face height and launched it into the distance just before a high-pitched noise erupted out like someone scratching at glass. Some crows and nightjars fell to the ground. Their nests in the trees must have been in range of the scream. This was more brutal than concussion grenades that were meant to rattle the brain.
But Kamijou trembled over something other than the plant’s power.
He feared the change to his own body that had allowed him to react in time.
He felt like he could deflect a bullet with a sword if he had a guide to follow.
Meanwhile, something circled above his head with a sound like sheets beating at the air. It was a bird of prey larger than those crows and nightjars. It was equipped with handmade reins made of cheap leather straps so a palm-sized fairy could ride it around.
The fairy’s name was Othinus.
“I never thought they would mass-produce mandrakes in a greenhouse to use them like anti-personnel mines just because they can’t extract the medicinal ingredient properly. But this is the home of anti-magician combat, so I guess they’re willing to use whatever works. They think about things fundamentally differently from your average magician.”
“Othinus, I screwed up. I couldn’t save anyone!”
“I can tell. And now is the time to withdraw. This is supposed to be the celebration of the war’s end, so I am not letting this turn out like the Kamisato panic all over again.”
The loud detonation of the “landmine” must have given away their position.
Staying put would be a bad idea.
Kamijou Touma clenched his teeth and ran across the lawn. Voices from behind demanded he stop and more lights shined on him. The ones who gave a warning were the ones who still had some sense leftover, but once they knew he was an enemy, they showed no mercy. Beams of magical light more frightening than a handgun or shotgun flew toward him.
He glanced down at his right hand and clicked his tongue.
He only saw a sky-blue light there.
“So you do understand.” Othinus sounded somewhat impressed as she freely controlled the bird of prey with a wingspan of two meters. “Human, you do not have Imagine Breaker at the moment. The danger of each and every piece of magic is much greater than before. Do not lose your life before reclaiming what was stolen. And I am not just talking about your right hand.”
“There are people who only you can save. For this one battle, there is meaning in being Kamijou Touma and not even Zeus or Odin would make an adequate replacement. So if you wish to sulk and claim you are unnecessary, do it later. Right now you need to focus only on surviving.”
At times like this, Othinus showed no mercy.
But that was what made her his understander who immediately told him how serious the problem was. She knew that comforting someone and not telling them about the wound in their back could lead to them dying from a wound they could have healed.
“From up here, I can see they have released some trained hounds in addition to those root landmines. Do not let them pick up your scent. As long as they cannot follow a direct trail, you can shake them. Do it!!”
Something swirled around.
Kamijou Touma’s sky-blue right arm broke apart and beat at the air like a bat’s wings. After opening like a great maw, that outer shell reminiscent of colorful fibers or muscles surrounded the high school boy once more.
It had a sky-blue surface and the lemon-yellow lines.
The winged lizard had crocodilian jaws, thin wings, and a thick tail.
Its colors were even more bright and toxic than a poison dart frog.
Or perhaps it was a dragon not found in any mythology.
“This is so damn scary!!”
“But you have to rely on it. I don’t know what fell away from Imagine Breaker and ruined the balance, but this is another form of your own power!”
His first order of business was losing the dogs. The only idea he could come up with was cutting across the central courtyard to the north so he could reach the Thames.
His footstep exploded out.
He was not walking or running. His body made more and more leaps along shallow parabolic arcs like a flat rock slipping along a river. A few mandrakes popped up from the ground along the way, but he was moving fast enough to pull away from them before they detonated in midair.
He left the artificial forest and made his way toward a city full of boxy buildings.
At this speed, the difference between land and water was not all that important.
Windsor Castle was a royal palace on the bank of the Thames. That representative river of England was fifty meters wide, making it wider than a school pool, but the sky-blue reptilian legs stepped directly on the water and jumped two or three times without sinking.
After reaching the other side, he grabbed the metal pole of road sign with one hand and partially tore into the concrete surface of the embankment with his claws to stop himself.
The sign bent diagonally.
Although the fact that he had not sliced right through it with his claws may have been a sign that he had tried to minimize the damage.
The sky-blue shell gathered around his right arm, spread out as thin wings like a falcon on the falconer’s wrist, and revealed the boy’s face once more.
But the look on his face was far from excitement at having acquired a new weapon.
He had the disgusted look of someone who had shoved their hand down their sink’s sticky drain.
Something about this bothered him.
It had taken him just a bit longer to “return” after relying on it this time. If that delay continued to grow the more he used it, what would eventually happen?
A symbol that crossed the simple divisions of good and evil.
(I need to get used to this and fast. If I don’t do something, I won’t be able to remove it.)
“Were its restraints removed, or did it start to rapidly grow after it broke?” His understander spoke from overhead. “Or is it like an atomic nucleus and losing a piece has caused it to rapidly react while breaking down? Is it like removing petals from a complete flower? We need to investigate this further.”
The wings of Othinus’s bird of prey audibly flapped as it landed on the badly bent sign.
“Not even you know what this is?”
“No. Although I do know Mathers intentionally destabilized the harmony found in a single element to use it as a powerful attack.”
At first glance, that might not seem like much of an admission.
But she had fully destroyed the world after Gungnir’s completion. And that was not a figure of speech or simply referring to the small planet known as Earth. She had really and truly done it.
“When I restored the world, I released a single formula and the world endlessly expanded from there. Just like a single speck of dust absorbs moisture to create a snow crystal. Not even I fully understand every last part of the crystal.”
Othinus herself appeared to have failed in her attempt to look good.
She seemed somewhat awkward, but it may have been because she was with her understander that the arrogant god admitted it instead of hiding it.
“This is not about the very edges of the crystal, by which I mean the farthest reaches of the universe no one has ever seen. I fully restored this world using the reference point of Imagine Breaker. Imagine Breaker is the core I allowed to carry the fate of the world, but this means there is some black box within it that not even I, Magic God Othinus, can explain.”
“Do you understand the gravity of the situation now? That means this is a function that did not exist at the point that I created Gungnir. Although I cannot say if it is a result of an expansion or a collapse.”
His palm was made of psychedelic colors now, but he could still feel a cold sweat there.
And that humanness only made it creepier.
He did not know if something had been added or if something was missing, but he did know that something was happening in some unseen part of his body. He himself felt no pain, but that did not make him feel much better. He felt the same unknown fear as someone who had a strange shape on their X-ray but was sent home by the doctor with a “take care” and no explanation.
He felt a chill because he had no way of reaching a conclusion about this.
He had too little information.
“(A dragon, sky-blue, lemon-yellow, a right arm. A guardian of treasure, the ruler of the depths, the devil, a symbol of what must be defeated, a house crest, separation, that which breaks the balance.)”
The small understander was muttering some things under her breath.
Othinus was probably using all the knowledge in her head to search for any kind of clue.
In that sense, it was a real shame that he did not have Index with him. That grimoire library had memorized 103,001 original grimoires.
Othinus sighed from atop the bird of prey perched on the twisted sign.
“At any rate, we lost their pursuit. That should mean safety for the time being. Now you won’t be thrown into the Tower of London and dissected to discover the nature of what is happening to you. But on the other hand, you are up against an impregnable royal palace filled with the fierce warriors who survived to the very end of that war. I am a war god who has overcome many different wars, but this does not look like it will be an enjoyable fight.”
“I know that. This is all about the rust expelled from my body: my right hand.”
Index and Misaka Mikoto.
There had also been someone whose face he could not recall and whose name he was pretty sure he did not know.
But he could vaguely see the tears spilling from the eyes of someone with honey-blonde hair.
“Something must be done.”
So much had been stolen from him, but he could still speak those words.
They were fierce, savage, and wild words that seemed to throw cold water on humanity’s bright possibilities, but his understander girl actually smiled and gave a satisfied snort.
She seemed to be saying she would have hit him had he still tried to act entirely selflessly and treat himself as unnecessary after everything that was done to him.
While watched over by the god of war, magic, and deception, Kamijou Touma – the kind of ordinary high school boy you can find anywhere – looked up to the moon and declared war.
Just like a sinister dragon raising its head and roaring into the heavens.
“And it has to be me that does it.”
The world’s smallest battle was beginning, so it was time to take back everything that had been stolen.
All sound had stopped.
Or had time itself ground to a halt?
The girl with her honey-blonde hair worn back in two stages had gone entirely pale.
The throbbing, splitting headache must have been the price to pay for pushing her power past its limits and losing control.
But Shokuhou Misaki’s reactions were dull.
As if the pain were the least of her worries.
Had she finally realized the gravity of what she had done? She did not seem to care about the sharp pain occasionally running through her hip now that she had nothing to support it. She did feel the pain, but the part of her mind that worked to avoid it had numbed over. Just like someone who had come to accept the abuse as just a part of life after suffering through it for so very long.
She held the cheap emergency whistle in her hand, but it did nothing to calm her heart.
A cat meowed up at the girl as she simply stood there.
Was he the only one who had escaped? But she was too overwhelmed to crouch down and look after him.
A cracking sound came from somewhere.
The boy in the unfamiliar tuxedo spoke bluntly.
Queen Regnant Elizard and Knight Leader.
Villian and the female knight.
Stiyl Magnus and Kanzaki Kaori.
Itsuwa and Tatemiya.
Even the maids and nuns.
That was a perfect but frozen world. In that sense, Shokuhou Misaki may have become a dictator who placed a solid lid over everyone’s heads.
On the other hand…
“I guess you can’t control just everything, huh? Looks like you only claimed control over about twenty percent.”
The pointy-haired boy looked around to inspect the frozen people while making sure not to touch them and he spoke in a purely impartial way.
“I’d been curious whether the science side or magic side was superior, but this makes sense. They refine their lifeforce into magic power. I don’t know how exactly it works, but it looks like magicians as a whole know how to handle problems affecting the mind. They must have some kind of auto-fuse that shuts down their mind as soon as something tries to take control.”
“Was it Niang-Niang who mentioned having a false funeral to fake her death and gain freedom? There might be some similar magic in the West.”
But that was no reason to relax.
Even the greatest warrior was done for if they were stabbed while unconscious. In that sense, Academy City’s #5 had accomplished something truly frightening.
“That would be easy enough to break with my right hand, but this thing isn’t great for precise control. This would all be a waste if I destroyed Mental Out’s effects along with the magical safety system. Worse, once I touch them, I can’t tell from looking at them whether they’re really still under your control or not. …So it would be best not to touch them.”
But as powerful as the #5 was, those words were enough for her tear glands to start to give up.
Once he decided to fight, it did not matter how bad the situation looked. He would gather up all the information he had and search for a loophole. His bright and approachable personality hid a clever side that was greater than Shokuhou Misaki’s and had no relation to surface-level academic achievement. He was such an oddly unreadable older boy.
Even during the greatest of risks, he had always turned a pure smile her way.
She thought back to those summer days.
She could not stop herself from seeing that same thing in the person here.
The cat at her feet was bristling all his fur.
There was a good reason for that when it came to Misaka Mikoto.
Her power caused her to constantly emit faint EM waves that the animal disliked.
What about in this boy’s case?
“Or would you prefer I called you Shokuhou-san? Ha ha. It’s wild how people grow up. You look older than me now.”
Shocking pink and emerald.
The boy in the unfamiliar tuxedo covered his face with a hand as if to see how it felt. Some kind of dry sound came from behind his hand on occasion.
“But, well, who would have thought that female knight’s high heels would do more damage than the monster? …Anyway, I just hope I haven’t broken open somewhere.”
For a brief moment, Shokuhou Misaki saw those unnatural colors dancing somewhere in her field of vision. Even though the only thing in front of her eyes was the pointy-haired boy’s face. It seemed to come from the corners of his eyes and the corners of his mouth.
But once she blinked her eyes, it was gone.
She just had to tell herself she had been imagining things.
“If you’re going to eat something, you should do it now. Oh, yeah. You won’t eat anything with artificial additives and preservatives, will you? But a dinner made for British royalty should all be health food of the highest quality, so even a hamburger and fries should have the proper care behind it. You liked that kind of thing, didn’t you?”
The girl’s teeth were chattering.
Some hair fell down onto her nape and an unnatural wrinkle formed in the dress prepared especially for this day, but she did not bother to fix either thing.
She thought to herself while growing unkempt.
This was nothing coming from the outside. She felt an overwhelming warmth pushing up from within her heart. But she could not let it carry her away. She had to resist it. Once she gave in, she knew she would fall and never recover.
“It’s hard to tell if the magicians will be any use at all. And to be honest, twenty percent isn’t enough. Which brings my attention to Misaka. She’s not a magician, after all. Damn, there’s that misfortune. If only there’d been more of a science side presence here… But, well, it would help a lot if we could get Tokiwadai’s #3 on our side, but can you really do that? There’s bound to be a gap between the #3 and the #5, but can you control her?”
“…I don’t know.”
Her small decorative hat – the false crown – swayed as she moved her head.
She shook it side to side.
Some more hair came undone and fell to her nape.
Accelerator, Kihara Noukan, Hamazura Shiage, and Takitsubo Rikou. Shokuhou had no way of knowing some of it, but was it fortunate or misfortunate that those other major science side members had not been here?
“To be honest, it probably depends on Misaka-san herself. If she is hopelessly disappointed in me, then the cracks of rejection ability will probably have grown quite large. In that case, she might be pretending to be controlled and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Using her as a foundation of our fighting force would probably be a bad idea, don’t you think?”
“Hopelessly disappointed in you?”
The pointy-haired boy tilted his head with an emerald light scattering from the corner of his eye.
“Why would she be?”
That girl who sought salvation had shoulders that seemed more delicate than glasswork, but they shook violently now.
She immediately held her hands in front of her large chest and trembled like a timid child who had been forced to play goalie in a sport they had barely played.
In truth, Shokuhou Misaki was human, so she had had a goal in mind. She wanted to believe she had not simply lost control and used her #5 Level 5 power at random.
As far as she knew, it did not work on that boy. Or more accurately, it could alter his mind, but the alterations would be removed as soon as he touched his head with his right hand.
What would happen if she pretended to do what that tuxedo and ascot tie boy said, pulled out her remote, and used her power on the boy himself? If he ended up standing there mindlessly, wouldn’t it prove he was some hideous monster with no connection to the events of that summer?
That had been her plan.
“Shokuhou, you made the right choice and drove away that grotesque monster. Misaka has no reason to be disappointed in you.”
She was shaken again.
Her Mental Out had not worked on this boy. Or rather, the attack had initially worked but had been negated by the power of his right hand. That was why he could walk around of his own free will.
And the other boy had fled without using his right hand.
In that case…
She had lost yet another reason to tear out the pillars supporting this impossible situation and let it crumble away. The explosive she hoped to use to break free of this fleeting dream had grown damp and useless.
Everyone wanted to dream.
No one wanted to wake from a pleasant dream.
Everyone had a reality in their heart that they wanted to be true and that belief would conveniently continue as long as they were not presented with incontrovertible proof to the contrary.
Shokuhou Misaki’s eyes would not stop wavering.
That may have been because she had crossed a point of no return.
…What did this boy have to have to be Kamijou Touma?
Was it the memories they could think back on together?
Or was the power in his right hand?
“That was one hell of a monster.”
The boy seemed to spit out the words.
And there was a brief flash of shocking pink at the corner of his mouth.
He ignored the growling of the cat and waved his right hand.
“I bet he was planning to ask you to help him, get you to use your power, and then go ‘sorry, don’t remember you’ and make a quick exit. Yet he has the nerve to act like he was there to ‘take back what’s his’? Don’t make me laugh. If he hadn’t shown up, nothing would have happened and we could have just enjoyed the party.”
“Pursing that outsider won’t get you anywhere. It won’t take you back to that summer. You can blow that silver emergency whistle, but he’ll only tilt his head. Because he doesn’t share those memories with you.”
The girl’s shoulders shook, but the pointy-haired boy only grabbed an olive from a large plate left in the party hall.
He spoke to her like he always had.
With the same voice and smile in those memories she never wanted to lose.
“I’m the only one who does.”
Windsor was on the outskirts of London, but it was not that big a town. It only had a population of about thirty thousand. This probably had not been the initial intention when the castle was built, but for the royal family who moved between Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the latter was a lot like a second home to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital during the weekends.
“Oh, dear. Windsor Castle was taken over? First the Queen Britannia and now this? I just hope our country’s crucial facilities haven’t gained a weird cuckoldry fetish.”
…And that naturally limited the places for people to gather.
It had already been a meeting place for emergencies.
Kamijou Touma, a bunny who could die from loneliness, and Othinus-chan, a Viking who could fix her mood by eating and sleeping (the same thought process as Index!), made their way to a restaurant open at night to hold a strategy meeting, but then he remembered his wallet only had a bit of Japanese change and a point card to somewhere or another.
The dejected Japanese boy had been spotted through the window by First Princess Riméa who had changed into a more comfortable outfit, so she stepped out of a pub full of noisy festivities to celebrate the end of the war.
“Well, I haven’t been informed of the details, but it sounds like you’ve been caught up in a lot of trouble.”
“That’s the story of my life, honestly.”
“So the boy I saw at Windsor Castle wasn’t you, hm? …That was a high-quality imitation since I managed to hold a conversation with him without noticing anything out of the ordinary.”
Was that how you would view it if you looked at it like AI research?
Riméa wore a leather jacket and tight pants. She would have looked at home riding around on a large motorcycle in the country of rock (except for her monocle), but then a bearded drag queen with his sequined dress half removed laughed and spoke to her in a falsetto voice.
“What’s this, what’s this!? Caught yourself a boytoy, have you!? But he looks like he’s still in his teens! Someone’s living on the dangerous side! Oh, I must hear all about it!”
“Shut up or I’ll kill you, you drunk☆”
The smile and statement were the polar opposite of the usual Riméa.
Kamijou had to suspect she was more relaxed in places like this.
He initially tried to hide his sky-blue arm inside his hoodie, but the people here did not seem to care. After all, they were all drunk from the celebration. There were a lot of youths swaying side to side with the British flag painted on their faces. It was a lot like after a victory in a major soccer tournament.
“What’s that thing? Bluh, blue? You’re Japanese, aren’t you? So why blue? Shouldn’t it be white and red? Hinomaruuu!”
“Ah, hey, wait, stop! Don’t just walk up to me and start speaking English! It’s scary!!”
“Oh, is that for your football team!? Is it geisha blue or something? Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
A red-faced middle-aged man started talking to him and laughing like crazy, so Riméa shoved him, sending him rolling across the floor.
The blue-armed idiot tilted his head at one word he had managed to pick up from that surprise practical English test.
“What was that about football?”
“He didn’t mean American football. That’s what we call soccer here.”
…That made him wonder why not just call it soccer if that was what they meant, but he decided it would be rude to ask any further questions. He was not sure how he would respond if a British person called out to him and asked why red was called “aka” in Japanese.
Riméa breathed a mature sigh.
“I don’t know what happened, but you’re lucky that arm wasn’t a bloody red or something. This way it looks incredibly fake.”
She also gave him a warning.
“And since I’m sure you won’t be drinking anything alcoholic, make sure you at least order something with a tomato or ginger base so it looks alcoholic. In this pub, sitting there weakly drinking a glass of orange juice or apple juice will get you stripped in no time. Arms of all genders will be reaching in toward you from every direction.”
“Are you serious?”
“And on a night of celebration like tonight, things get especially crazy. Unless you’re into perverted women who will gladly look after your every need, then I would recommend avoiding that.”
“I absolutely am not!! It’s comforting dorm managers for me!!”
At any rate, Riméa had apparently already downed several large drinks, but she was still sensible enough to not recommend the same thing to a high schooler. She pushed over a large plate full of junk food you would not find in Windsor Castle: thick slices of bacon, potato chips, popcorn, etc. But instead of opening a bag and dumping it on the plate, it was apparently all handmade by the pub. And potato chips that were literally fried by hand were not something you got to eat every day, so it was an interesting experience.
“Why do these use seaweed salt? We’re in England.”
“We have learned how to use seaweed salt and pollock roe from your great Eastern potato chip nation. Butter and soy sauce flavor was easy enough, but the dashi flavor is a lot harder to get right.” She reached for the mixed nuts on the plate. “So what brings you out here at this hour? Running into me was a coincidence, so did you have some other plans?”
“Um, we didn’t have specific destination in mind, although I would be lying if I said I didn’t want something to eat. I had plans to meet someone on this street.”
“Was it another Asian boy? Because there’s one getting stripped over there.”
He looked in the direction she pointed with her thumb and saw a pale Hamazura Shiage being thrown into the air by a bunch of drunk men and women after being stripped to his boxers. His girlfriend in a pink track suit and fluffy sweater was standing nearby with a blank look on her face, so it was all being seen by the #1 person he would not want to see it. A girl with short red hair and a fluffy white dress was also standing nearby, but instead of helping, she was holding her black box to her stomach and roaring with laughter.
The word #1 brought an ominous thought to Kamijou’s mind.
Even a stupid high school boy could figure this one out. He bet even his English teacher would have trouble making sense of the meaningless shouts and cries, but there was also a series of cracking and breaking noises coming from the door labelled with the word “toilet”.
A white monster pushed that door open and stepped out.
“You’re late. I ended up breaking through all the stall walls.”
“You’re such a badass, master. You’re like the underground emperor! No one is better suited for getting into fights in the bathroom.”
It was possible that translucent demon would praise him for any display that made him look strong because she folded her hands in front of a chest unusually large for her short height and an enraptured look filled her eyes. She literally had hearts in her eyes. There were probably a few reckless drunks lying collapsed in the bathroom. There was no restraining that strongest idiot when such a cute girl kept praising him based on her limited value system.
…No one seemed to care that a translucent girl was floating around, so they may have thought someone was taking advantage of the celebratory mood to film a hidden camera video. Some middle-aged men were swaying side to side while holding beer mugs far larger than any seen in Japan and otherwise making a scene behind Accelerator and the demon girl. They apparently assumed there was a camera filming those two and wanted to place themselves in that fictional frame. They might end up confused by their own memories when they woke up with a hangover the following morning, but they would probably just assume they had gotten so drunk they hallucinated it.
“Argh, get away from me you drunks!!”
Othinus was as cautious as a grumpy cat while sitting on Kamijou’s shoulder. Apparently some of the drunk “gentlemen” had mistaken her for something like a high-quality pet robot and were curious where the “Made in Japan” label was. If she was not careful, she could get stolen away like a pickpocketed wallet or a snatched purse.
Incidentally, Kamijou Touma was short a phone due to various circumstances, so he generally had no way of contacting people. Using an outdated payphone required local money. He had only managed to arrange a meeting here by tying letters to the legs of the birds of prey that Othinus captured. A communication method with no reliance on electricity was rare in the modern day. The recipients may have felt like they were being attacked from above, but that just meant it was a rare experience for them as well.
Was it because they were handmade or was it the British way?
The thick potato chips oozed grease when Kamijou bit into them and he sighed.
“Who’s that girl with you again? The same goes for Hamazura's side, I feel like there are a few new faces here.”
“I say you’ve got the most explaining to do.”
Accelerator clicked his tongue while plopping down in an empty chair.
His eyes were on that sky-blue right arm.
The #1 had already experienced the local cuisine, so he gave the large plate of snacks an irritated look and opted not to eat anything.
“Out with it, trash. Use your Level 0 brain for what little good it’s worth.”
“Shouldn’t someone save boxers boy from those drunks first?” asked Riméa. “I think his head is going to hit that ceiling fan if they keep tossing him up much longer.”
“If it bothers you that much, then go do it yourself,” replied the #1. “I’m not doing it.”
“Oh, is that so?”
She loudly clapped her hands as a signal to the elderly barkeeper who began handing out a round of Irish whiskey which was well known for being smooth but strong. This seemed to be taking a lesson from the sun in the North Wind and the Sun. As soon as the drunks drank the amber liquid that was reminiscent of cough syrup, they lost the energy to keep tossing the boy in the air and curled up on the floor.
Kamijou Touma, Accelerator, and Hamazura Shiage had gathered together.
With those three here, they also had the palm-sized fairy Othinus on Kamijou’s shoulder, the artificial demon Qliphah Puzzle 545 next to the strongest Level 5, the seventy-eight-card tarot set and Golden magician Dion Fortune rolling on the floor and pointing at boxers boy with tears in her eyes, and Aneri on the phone inside the pocket of the removed clothes. Kamijou Touma also guessed that pink track suit and fluffy sweater Takitsubo Rikou was not your average girl if she had survived this far. He realized nearly half of the people sharing this table with him were not strictly human, even though he had not been reincarnated into another world. The amount of variation was a little crazy.
(Although I can’t call anyone else a monster when I’m the one turning into a lizard.)
Actually getting something to eat must have given him a blood sugar spike and brought the exhaustion rushing in at him because Kamijou leaned back in his chair and sounded like he was lamenting his misfortune.
“This mess has two causes and I’m one of them.”
It may have been more accurate to say a portion of his ability was one of them.
They had seen a few cases of an ability itself gaining independent thought, such as the glasses girl named Kazakiri Hyouka or the #2 Kakine Teitoku.
“My right arm was blown away during the Queen Britannia incident, but everything since then has been weird as hell. I gained this strange sky-blue arm and some bastard who looks just like me is wandering around.”
“I want to curse myself for carelessly thanking him back at Windsor Castle. But what is that arm you have now? Did you call it sky-blue?”
Kamijou had no answer to Riméa’s question.
His right hand was moving around while separated from his body.
The boy could not even imagine what was happening to him.
“At the very least, I don’t have Imagine Breaker. Maybe this sky-blue thing is the remaining dregs and most of it went to that guy. There’s nothing left that makes me special.”
Sharp anger filled Accelerator’s eyes.
But Kamijou failed to notice and took a deep breath.
“If you don’t believe me, how about we try it out? Um, anyone got an obvious supernatural power we can use? Anything works. …Oh, how about that weird demon floating over there.”
“What!? Who are you calling weird, you 360-degree spike head?”
“Watch this. I couldn’t do this if I had Imagine Breaker.”
The pointy-haired boy was lost in thought as he reached his right arm out in that direction.
He moved his sky-blue arm toward her translucent shoulder.
But he should have considered what that ‘hwuh’ meant.
He heard a weird squishing noise.
The demon’s sneeze had shifted where she was floating.
So his palm ran straight into the center of Qliphah Puzzle 545’s imbalanced chest.
The newspaper-dress girl screamed and the white demon wordlessly moved his hand in a slapping motion, no, a clawing motion that tore into the air.
Kamijou Touma had nothing to negate this now, so he and his chair were blasted more than five meters back.
“What the hell? That actually hit you?”
The one who hit him was actually trembling.
Normally, Kamijou Touma might have had all his bones shattered as soon as he hit the floor, but he instead found himself caught hanging upside down from an artificial Christmas tree.
“D-dyoo you get it now? There’sh shomething wrong with my right hand.”
Palm-sized fairy Othinus (who had skillfully kept her position atop the boy’s body like a clown balancing on a ball) spoke up in extreme exasperation.
“I’m not sure you can say anything about misfortune after surviving an attack like that.”
“Ah! Does not having Imagine Breaker mean no more misfortune!?”
Kamijou’s face lit up when he belatedly realized this one.
So it was not all bad.
He had a feeling he was focusing too much on the positives, but…
“O-oh, no,” said the translucent demon. “If they keep the conversation going, I’ll lose my chance to protest what happened.”
No one could blame her for growing tearful.
Now that he was released from the bonds of misfortune, Kamijou Touma was at full power. The world’s morals were entering unpredictable territory with that wild beast unleashed.
“You’re the first princess, aren’t you!? Then say something! This is a test of your country’s morals!!”
“Stop giving out spoilers, you slutty demon.”
Riméa was only an ordinary woman right now, so she responded in an incredibly low voice.
And boxers boy gave a belated reaction.
“Nwah? First pri—eh? For real? That gloomy one!?”
“Shut up! Don’t call me gloomy!!”
The monocle lady had quickly found herself under fire, but fortunately, the surrounding drunks must not have heard any of it. Besides, the partyers in this pub already included plenty of self-proclaimed Bunny Grays and Atlanteans, so a princess might not have been all that impressive.
At any rate.
“Imagine Breaker doesn’t work. That much I know,” said Kamijou as he dragged his chair back over to the table.
Today’s lucky bastard got away without taking any real criticism.
This left the fundamental question of what that sky-blue arm was, but they did not know if something had been accumulated or if something had been removed. They could not find the answer if they did not know the details or process behind the change.
“Instead of trusting one or the other, everyone in Windsor Castle seemed more like they were skeptical of the situation as a whole. That probably means that not all of them are enemies, but there was one troublesome person. Um…?”
“Shokuhou. Shokuhou Misaki.”
After a slight, unnatural pause, small Othinus got fed up with waiting and supplied the answer from his shoulder.
The #1 grimaced at that.
“A Level 5? That’s one of the others in that silly category I belong to, isn’t it?”
“Right. Right, that was it… Mental Out. The strongest psychological power. She’s taken the other me’s side, so it’s impossible to imagine what the overall breakdown looks like. All the magicians in Windsor Castle might be under her control and she might even turn the normal people of this town into soldiers.”
Even the cheerful drunks in this pub could become enemies at some point.
That would make it difficult to win this in the usual way of putting together a logical explanation to convince the majority of people. Shokuhou Misaki. That… girl? She was a girl, right? At any rate, that esper he had trouble picturing in his head could alter the entire atmosphere of this place.
“I haven’t seen him yet, but what does that bad guy want?” asked the boxers boy. “What’s he trying to do?”
That was a simple but important question.
He had memories that Kamijou Touma did not.
Why was that?
And what did he hope to accomplish with those memories?
(Is there a way of figuring out the outlines of the missing memories, like viewing a silhouette or the hole for the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle? Or does this have nothing to do with my brain and he was watching everything I did from inside me?)
Kamijou thought for a bit before speaking again.
“He is my past.”
“Your past?” asked Takitsubo Rikou with a blank stare and a tilt of her head.
That single word cut right to the core of who someone was and acted as a guide to those who heard it.
But Kamijou had difficulty explaining this.
He did not know how.
But at the very least, this other boy had claimed Kamijou Touma’s missing past.
“A forgotten past is a really heavy thing because it points to things I’ve done that I’m completely ignorant of. And it feels like I’m being criticized about every little thing. Like I’m just an illusion because I lack that solid foundation.”
But whatever that Kamijou Touma said may not have mattered all that much.
He was afraid of hearing those same things from someone else.
Like from a girl with a link to that missing past.
“I feel like old friends and people with a connection to my past will see him as more meaningful and valuable than me. …I thought I had finally gotten past all that by being honest about it, but even if they claim to forgive me, how can I never know if that’s what they really and truly think deep down? It scares me to think I’m disappointing people I care for.”
That other boy could probably trace his finger along the data of the past and spread his ring of allies as wide as he liked. He could act like Kamijou Touma and steal away the people and things Kamijou had built up.
That was how much weight the past and memories carried.
If he was asked to objectively prove his claim, Kamijou would always come out on the losing end.
“Hm,” someone cut in. “You sound at your wit’s end, so I guess I’ll help you work through all this data. But only if you come crying to the Great Fortune and bow down to me!!”
That offerer of advice kept a flat perspective instead of treating it like a heavy or light thing.
That magician may have been more like a professional fortuneteller in that sense.
Although she was munching on some onion rings at the moment.
“I am Golden Magician Dion Fortune of Love and Beauty, so I will be looking at this from that perspective. What I’m going to say will be focused on the magical side of things, but the actual core of this issue might not actually be on that side. Do not forget that science might use different words for all this.”
She was a girl with short red hair and a white dress.
Kamijou only remembered her from the clash at the shopping center, so it seemed weird to him that he was getting advice from her.
Anyway, the girl proudly puffed out her chest as she got started.
Index, Birdway, Othinus, and Aleister had all been the same. Liking to teach people may have been a standard magician trait.
“Tarot cards are most famous as fortunetelling tools, but they are also a grimoire and a deck of cards that reveals the heart of the spell user.”
“A grimoire? Like Index’s?”
Dion Fortune responded to Kamijou’s question with an index finger on her slender chin.
“Hmm, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum? I was told about that idea…”
“It was actually used, which is why our country overwhelms all others in the field of anti-magician combat. But, well, that international standing will probably suffer now that it turns out Lola was Coronzon.”
Fortune had not seen that girl for herself, but she had to accept it when First Princess Riméa spoke up.
The redhead took a somewhat exasperated sip of ginger ale and grimaced, so the dry flavor must not have been to her liking.
“You must have lived a pretty crazy life to talk about something like that as if it’s normal. …But to get back on topic, every individual’s tarot has its own unique flavor. For example, this glorious being seated before you is the grimoire colored by Fortune’s individual traits! So whether we are talking about tarot or horoscopes, it is not all that unusual to draw out a diagram of yourself and to examine your fortune. Or it isn’t in our field anyway.”
Hamazura finally let out a groan.
He may have had trouble with studying whether it was magic or science.
Had he already forgotten the slap he received from Birdway?
“Hey, what does any of that have to do with the problem the boss here is facing?”
“Pipe down and listen, you impatient boy. If I was my mistress, you would have gotten scratched for that one. Whatever form it takes, if you have a human blueprint covering all of their individual traits and fill it with some form of power, it will behave like a human. My beautiful body beautiful proves that quite beautifully, don’t you think?”
“Hm… Human, you should have figured this out from the fact that her examples were tarot and horoscopes, but this does not require a big diagram drawn out on paper.”
Othinus re-crossed her legs on his shoulder and gave some advice.
That was when the pink track suit and fluffy sweater girl suddenly opened her mouth.
“I’m pretty sure Anna Sprengel said the crystal ball she gave me didn’t need autonomous thoughts.”
That was a curious statement.
Was the slightly strained atmosphere the result of something like fury erupting from Hamazura Shiage?
At any rate, the girl had mentioned Anna Sprengel. Kamijou had heard that name in relation to the Battle of Blythe Road, but hadn’t she been an illusion created by Westcott?
He was curious, but Dion Fortune did not say anything about it despite knowing the most about the Golden cabal.
Kamijou had not had much contact with her, but Fortune had apparently been in Hamazura and Takitsubo’s group at the end of that war. They might have already exchanged all that information on the Queen Britannia before it sank.
At any rate, Fortune reached her slender fingers toward the mixed nuts on the large plate.
“Your right arm must carry a secret of that sort. But is it the blueprint, or the power source? Since we don’t know if it can regenerate or not, taking a single bad hit could kill you, so rashly cutting it off to check inside is probably not the best idea. Then again, the multiple regenerations of your right hand in the past might be related to this secret.”
“Regenerations of my arm, huh?”
Kamijou looked down at his body.
That right arm was a bizarre thing of sky-blue and lemon-yellow at the moment.
Meanwhile, Fortune provided no excessive support and casually licked the salt from her fingers. She retained the flat attitude of someone simply giving impartial advice.
“What’s happening here might be related to all that. For one thing, a severed arm reattaching is in no way normal. Let’s hope you’re not in a state like a deck of tarot cards gathered randomly after being scattered across the floor.”
“So the order would be all jumbled up? Reminds me of #0 The Fool.”
Qliphah Puzzle 545 spoke up (while being very cautious of the boob grabber seated at the same table), but Academy City’s #1 said nothing.
As always, his stance was to not worry about a problem until he could actually find an answer.
Fortune nodded at the comment from the translucent demon with a similar but different structure to herself.
“That’s true. The topic of tarot usually goes back to Waite, but that one annoying card still gets argued about a lot. I think it was Gébelin who put it at the very start before Waite did. Levi put it between #20 and #21 and Westcott gave it the final #22 position. Depending on the theory followed, the Fool can go anywhere between The Magician and The World in the Major Arcana and even at the very, very end after the Minor Arcana as well. It’s the wandering #0 and it almost seems like it’s traveling the world. No one can say where it should go. A-and to be clear, this isn’t just me being inexperienced. Not even Crowley knew when making his Thoth Tarot!!”
Dion Fortune was saying this and she was apparently made from tarot.
The person who widened her eye at this was Othinus, the understander who was always supporting Kamijou in the field of magic.
“Traveling…? Hold on, is that what you’re talking about!?”
“Ahem. Imagine Breaker itself apparently moves between people and things from one era to the next. It seems to have stuck with you pretty persistently, but it always could have moved elsewhere once your right hand was destroyed, right? Right now, both versions of you have a body and an ability. This is not about morality or superiority. You both view the other as a hopeless fool and feel you must immediately take back what they have. And in the end, that includes their very existence. Couldn’t you think about it like that?”
“But the power to negate supernatural things went to him.”
His tone dropped a little. That monster saw him as the fool. From this Kamijou’s perspective, the other one had picked a fight with him and then stolen everything from him, but he may have been thinking back to see if he could think of anything he might have done to the other one.
“(Honestly, the very fact that he’s suddenly standing on equal footing with you is illegitimate. It might look fair, but it isn’t at all.)”
Dion Fortune shrugged her shoulders in exasperation at how unreliable that boy was even though this was his life they were talking about.
“From the look of things, that ability really was completely taken away, but who can really say if what he has is the complete and whole Imagine Breaker? He might be missing something just like your sky-blue arm is. Although he might not even be aware of it. And that pink light you saw flashing from him certainly isn’t normal, is it? At the very least, I’ve never heard anything about that from the things I’ve read related to Blythe Road where the exorcism spiritual item was kept.”
“Both of us are… the wandering #0…”
Kamijou looked down at his right arm.
He looked at that bizarre arm colored in sky-blue and lemon-yellow.
“Then what about that weird lizard… or dragon? Whether or not it’s missing anything, is the sky-blue or the shocking pink the right color for it!?”
Dion Fortune held out a hand to stop him.
She was telling him to stop leaning forward over the table.
“You are more than welcome to bow before the beauty, wisdom, and discernment of the Great Fortune, but this is all just a theory. Imagine Breaker was the greatest secret of the Golden building at Blythe Road and I am far from confident that I read everything accurately. And even if I did, everything I am saying is biased toward the magic side of things. Think of this as no more than something to consider. You might find an entirely different aspect to this if you view it from the opposite side.” Dion Fortune winked with the black box in her lap. “But whatever the case, you need to settle this, don’t you? I don’t think this is about who is right and who is wrong… In fact, who at this table has lived this long doing only what is right? I know I haven’t.”
“Out with it already. What is it you want to do?” spat out Accelerator. “You lost your footprints? You’re being attacked for it? Who the hell cares, trash? I mean, I’m not some stalker, so I haven’t memorized every step you’ve taken in the past. I never knew any of that crap about you. So what does it matter if it’s gone? How does that affect you while you’re talking to us right here and now?”
“To be clear, I’ve never told you anything either. I’ve never told you what school I go to or what my job is. Hell, you don’t even know my real name, do you? That’s all the truth is worth. We live in an insane age where anyone can hide their name and appearance online and build up a relationship to the point of marriage, so worrying about the path you’ve taken since birth is pretty damn old-fashioned.”
“I know it’s weird for me to ask this, but why do you any of you believe me? I don’t have Imagine Breaker and I can’t explain my own past. There’s even something blatantly wrong with my body. No one would think this is normal.”
“Why should I care?”
Kamijou chose his words carefully, but Hamazura Shiage responded readily.
“It’s all about who you empathize with first. If I’d met the other you first, I might’ve sided with him. But that doesn’t just apply to you two.”
The #1 looked kind of pissed off, so that may have been Hamazura Shiage’s personal opinion and not the general opinion of everyone at the table.
“Have you forgotten? I sided with Great Demon Coronzon to achieve my own goal. And you were fighting to protect Aleister. If someone saw that without everything that led up to it, they’d probably think we’d gone insane. …But we had our reasons and we risked our lives for them. Isn’t that how deciding to fight works? You don’t need a good argument or universal acceptance. You’re always making excuses while you fight.” Boxers boy’s expression was 100% serious while he pressed his shoulder against the pink track suit and fluffy sweater girl’s shoulder. “Besides, who even is Kamijou Touma? Boss, I’ve been to your dorm once, but that’s really all I know about your life. Yet we had a serious fistfight, we’ve relied on each other, we’ve fought some more… and here we are facing each other again. That’s all you need for some relationships, right?”
There had never been a current carrying him where he went.
There had never been a connection in advance.
Kamijou Touma would find a girl in need, start gathering information, and then fight the villain at the center of it all. Academy City’s #1 and this Skill-Out boy may have been included in that list of villains. And while it looked like a single connected line to him, what did it look like to them?
A pointy-haired boy had suddenly arrived on the scene and stolen the show.
That was all it had been for them and the earth kept spinning just fine.
The people around him did not care all that much about his starting point.
“Are you sure…?”
There was a period of time he had lost and one he had created anew.
It was all about him, so it may have been wrong to rank one over the other.
“I can never remember what happened. I can never judge how valuable any of it was. When you look at the whole path I’ve walked since birth, the part I know is only the very end. I mean, it’s not even half a year.”
“Foolish human,” muttered the understander on his shoulder. “What meaning is there in fearing what you do not know and denying the things you do know? This is your life. What could possibly take higher priority than living it the way you want?”
Then came the finishing blow.
It came from the two who truly had no connection to him.
“Good evening, I am Qliphah Puzzle 545, an artificial demon created by Coronzon. This isn’t the same thing as the philosophical death that a certain top-ranked group likes to put into practice, but this is my first time meeting you, so I don’t know anything about you from even a second before we met here. …Isn’t that all there is to it?”
“Inputting memories as data will not fundamentally change a human. I can guarantee that as someone created as a defense system just like she was. I was created to be Fortune, so giving me Crowley’s memories would not make me act like that pervert. It isn’t memories or the lack thereof that changes people. That change comes from faith and love.”
Surprisingly, it may have been the words of these complete strangers that cut straight to the core of the issue. What looked like the biggest of problems to him was no big deal to the people around him.
Kamijou Touma relaxed his shoulders.
Thinking this way may have been ungrateful. He may have been badly hurting someone he could not even remember.
The solution to that was not found in the past. Because he could not rewind time and redo things. Even if it would hurt people, bring them to tears, and fill them with despair, this boy had to face forward.
He had to look to the future.
He had to find those flaws and apologize.
“I will put myself first. And I mean this me right here.”
He had his answer.
It might have been a simple answer anyone could have reached, but it still carried the great power to break the chains binding his soul.
And once he had decided on a direction, he was quick to action.
He really was.
Whether his opponent had been the strongest individual or a monster as a group, he had torn through them. No matter what it took. That was the kind of person he was.
“Come to think of it, he hasn’t done anything all that tricky. Even Othinus tried damaging me by messing with my relationships with other people. Kamisato tried it too. I don’t know what this guy is, but it must have taken him this long to make his move because he couldn’t choose when to come out.”
That meant this opponent was different from Great Demon Coronzon or Human Aleister Crowley.
He had no master plan or strategy.
He had found himself out in the world, so he had to make do with what he could do now.
If that was the extent of this guy’s planning, how could Kamijou let him take everything from him?
“I don’t know what happened in my past.”
This was not about good or evil.
This was about that boy’s pride. He did not care if he was ultimately judged evil.
The tone of his voice made that clear enough.
“Maybe I did something worthy of criticism, but it isn’t some phantom from the past who gets to criticize me. If I need to be punched, there’s someone else who should do it. I’m not letting him claim to be my replacement and have his way with my life.”
And it was the very people who could criticize him who had become victims here.
Index and Misaka Mikoto.
And that honey-blonde girl who he was pretty sure had been there but whose name and appearance he could not recall.
“To hell with him.”
Kamijou Touma did not fight the urge bubbling up within his chest.
It was pathetic.
It was ugly.
But he had already learned that this was human nature. There had been plenty of global crises after World War III: Othinus, the many Magic Gods, Kamisato Kakeru, and Aleister and Coronzon. He had risked his life against them and he was not about to let anyone say he had not gained anything from that.
It could look old fashioned, but he had found people he wanted to take back no matter what.
He had found them in the short time he could remember.
“To hell with him!! Maybe he’s some incredible key to the mysteries of this world and maybe he’s some pillar at the deepest parts of the person named Kamijou Touma, but I don’t give a crap! None of that matters to the me sitting right here!! I don’t need a good reason! The second I see his face, I’m punching it into a bloody pulp! I’m not fighting over some yes or no answer. I don’t care if I’m wrong!! I’ll fight for the people who trusted in me and got me this far!! And I’m willing to put my life on the line to do it!!!!!”
“Keh,” spat Accelerator while rudely placing his feet up on the same table as the food and drinks. “Do you ever shut up? If you knew the answer already, then what was the point of all this talking? You didn’t need all of us here.”
“Ohh? As your biggest fan, master, I’m pretty sure I see a happy smile in the corner of your eye th—gyobfhhhh!? No, master, not my tail! Don’t squeeze it so harrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd!?”
Accelerator ignored the newspaper demon who was thrashing about in the air like a helium balloon on a very windy day.
“You just had to list out the necessary information. This might be happening on the other side of the globe, but I get the feeling Academy City could be dragged into it if this isn’t resolved soon.”
“You’re worried about Academy City as a whole?” asked Kamijou. “That seems weird from you.”
“…Don’t act like you understand me”
“There it is again, master! I can tell just how happy you ar—bwahh! Not the bottom of my foot!”
That one was her fault for floating around barefoot.
Kamijou ignored the person receiving a foot massage(?) and asked a question.
But not of Accelerator. Of the other boy here.
“What about you? Do you have any reason to support me in this issue?”
“It’s a simple issue of give and take,” said Hamazura. “I’m gonna get that guy there to promise he’ll protect our everyday life.”
Kamijou frowned at that because Hamazura was pointing at the white calamity known as Accelerator.
Did he mean Accelerator would protect them as Academy City’s #1 Level 5, or in some other way?
Hamazura Shiage must have already figured it out for himself and he was not interested in discussing it too much because he changed the subject.
“But why did that other you show up now?”
“His appearance itself was an irregularity, so I’m guessing my right hand was at its limit or something.”
Kamijou’s answer only made Hamazura tilt his head more.
“I know I asked this before, but what’s he trying to accomplishing by pretending to be you? Is there any reason why he has to play at being Kamijou Touma? People can always hide when they have some kind of special power. I mean, she’s that gloomy princess and he’s Academy City’s—”
Accelerator lightly stomped down one of the feet that had been resting on the table.
He was apparently telling Hamazura to shut up.
So Hamazura continued in a somewhat lower tone.
“So why should that other you even bother fighting? If he disguised himself and ran away, couldn’t he have gotten to the other side of the globe and created his own little world there?”
The idea that running away was a win may have come form the values instilled in Hamazura during his time in Skill-Out.
No two people were the same.
By using that psychological blind spot, he never would have had to worry about pursuit once he had successfully escaped. He might seem to have the upper hand after taking over Windsor Castle, but he was also taking on a great risk by the mere fact that he had created a clash between two identical people.
If he had done nothing at all, he would have been just fine.
The fairy on Kamijou’s shoulder commented on that.
“This may actually be a way of shaking pursuit. Even if no one else in the world knew he existed, there was always a possibility that my human understander would remember what happened to his right hand. It is not that hard to imagine he wanted to rid himself of that worry before running off and creating his own harem on some tropical island.”
Hamazura did not seem entirely convinced, but Othinus was not interested in absolute agreement.
Perhaps one understander was enough for her.
“All we have are guesses with no objective evidence to back it up, so we need to consider any and all possibilities. He might have mechanically decided on a list of things he must destroy and is simply going down that list or he might be driven by a bizarre desire no normal person could ever think of. All we know is that his actions will only harm this human here and that harm will spread across the entire world if nothing is done. Just like taking too much medicine is a good way to poison yourself.”
Then Riméa sighed.
She judged this incident from a different viewpoint than the others.
“Well, if you have decided on a plan, then we should act sooner rather than later. Delaying will do nothing to improve our situation.”
“Is there something really dangerous hidden inside… um, Windsor Castle, was it?”
That question came from Hamazura (who had actually performed the incredible feat of reconstructing Dion Fortune from scratch) and the first princess responded in her comfortable clothing that blended into the Windsor night.
“My mother was in the castle, wasn’t she? …In that case, the things inside Windsor Castle are not the real issue.”
“I always did think that right hand could do some horrific things if used wrong… Like in the deluge, purification means destruction. Especially when you are trying to clear away a clog and open a path toward your own goal. It was probably only your conscience getting in the way that prevented you from considering it before.”
Queen Regnant Elizard silently laughed at herself when she belatedly realized that groan came from her. She could never let the British people hear that.
What had happened since she lost consciousness?
Before she could even start thinking about it, a silver flash cut by from right to left in front of her.
It was the flat-tipped ceremonial sword named Curtana Second.
A pointy-haired boy was crouched in front of her with it casually held in his left hand.
A pink light scattered from the corner of his mouth and he spoke with a hint of a bitter smile in his voice.
“I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided that releasing all of you would be such a waste, so I’m gonna make use of you. Although I was worried my right hand would destroy Shokuhou’s Mental Out along with your mental auto-fuse.”
“Do you have any idea what you have done?”
The only one capable of moving freely was the calico cat.
Unfortunately, he was not quite enough to call a queen’s bodyguard.
“You make it sound like I’m the villain here. He was the one that smashed through the window to enter this off-limits castle.”
The boy’s words were technically accurate.
Elizard might have believed him if she were reading a report about something that happened on the other side of the planet. His words were accurate, but they were spoken in bad faith. She could detect that sort of underhanded scent here.
This was a detour he would not have had to make if he had truly done nothing wrong.
They appeared to be in a room other than the dance hall. The villain boy wearing an unfamiliar tuxedo and ascot tie had defeated Elizard and now he was trying to make use of her authority.
“What is happening here?” groaned the queen.
“Nothing really. Kamijou Touma has been here all along. And isn’t it about time you repaid me for everything I’ve done?”
“You don’t want to ruin the party, do you? So I’m asking you to help me out. We need to kill that son of a bitch who caused this tragedy.”
There was a loud popping sound.
She had fired a beam of magic without Curtana, but it had not reached the pointy-haired boy.
However, she could see something like cracks running through the fingers of his outstretched right hand. Bizarre colors showed through the gaps.
Those lines were colored a shocking pink and emerald not found in nature.
The cracks seemed to writhe before silently vanishing before her eyes.
“You really wanna keep doing this?”
“I mean, do you really think you can make your whole body glow and trigger a big explosion faster than my fingers can reach Curtana Second?”
Elizard stopped moving there, as if she had gasped.
He was holding the sword in his non-dominant left hand because he knew what would happen otherwise.
“I got quite a welcome in the Tower of London, you know? Although to be honest, given the chaos at the time, it’s possible word of it never reached you.”
Shokuhou Misaki’s Mental Out was not the only threat.
In fact, it may have been better if she was only being mechanically controlled by that girl’s power.
Neon light seeped from the corner of the pointy-haired boy’s mouth as he continued.
“But things seemed similar enough in Edinburgh Castle and the Queen Britannia, so I can make some decent guesses about Windsor Castle. There’s something hidden here that’s necessary to protect the UK as a whole, isn’t there?”
“You really think you can understand it? That would require having infiltrated London for a full decade.”
“Oh, I don’t care about all the finicky details.”
The boy held out his right palm to keep the queen from saying more.
That was not the main point here.
“I just need to know that it’s here and that my right hand can destroy it. After all, this is the private residential area I normally wouldn’t be allowed in. I bet I can find all sorts of valuable things if I take a look around.”
“Hold on,” said Elizard, but he was not listening.
He turned his back on the queen regnant and casually walked toward the fireplace on the wall. Specifically, he was approaching the trinkets sitting on the mantelpiece above it.
“I don’t need to worry about what color it is, what shape it has, how it’s used, or what its effects are.”
He was going to touch them.
He was going to trace his fingers across the staff, crystal ball, vase, and painting on the mantelpiece.
And he still lazily held Curtana Second in his other hand.
“I mean, they’ll all be destroyed the instant my right hand touches them, right? And their destruction would be a major blow to the UK as a whole, wouldn’t it?”
“Wait. I get it, so wait!!”
“It’s a little late now, but what was that thing?”
“Maybe I need to destroy a few more to show you I’m serious. Keep in mind there’s no repairing them.”
“Kh. Those are spiritual items used to protect the divers retrieving our country’s equipment from the sunken Queen Britannia. Specifically, artificially-adjusted divine punishment will befall anyone who touches royal treasures without permission, so these are intervening in the security to deactivate that function! If that function resumes working normally, the magicians on the scene will all die of heart failure!!”
The explanation she hurriedly rattled off established their positions here.
They had just overcome a large war.
There was no archbishop to lead the Anglicans, so that faction was effectively nonfunctioning at the moment. The chain of command for anti-magician combat was in complete disarray.
So what would happen if these foundations of national defense were destroyed?
There would be a great many people who saw it as an opportunity. This was a large country that had earned many grudges both domestic and foreign. Very few individuals and organizations could actually make use of that opportunity, but once those initial few got the ball rolling, the festivities would come to an abrupt end and they would be back to a chaos similar to the Crowley’s Hazards.
There was little risk of that chaotic destruction posing any danger to Elizard or her daughters.
It was the ordinary citizens who were vulnerable to the kind of opportunistic attacks this would lead to. And Elizard could not assign a bodyguard in black to each and every one of them 24/7.
She could only clench her teeth.
Nations had to be supported. Peace would not last forever all on its own.
The boy made a blunt suggestion when he returned to Elizard.
“Well, you get the idea. So give me a helping hand this time. I want to defeat that monster. It’ll be the reverse of how you used me to overcome your national crisis. …Shokuhou’s power can only control about twenty percent of the people here, so I want something done with the other eighty percent. Your job is to convince those British-born magicians once their auto-fuse cuts out, Elizard.”
“Are you threatening me? The queen regnant!?”
“I’ve always been no more than a weak human. Kamijou Touma is the kind of ordinary high school boy you can find anywhere, so I’ve always had to take inspiration from those proper heroes we call espers and magicians and fake my way through it all. I don’t think I’ve ever had a fight I could’ve smoothly resolved all on my own.”
Kamijou Touma – or this boy who looked just like him – did not bat an eye.
This was a side of him that occasionally showed itself.
It was the opposite of intense emotion or spiteful persistence that led one to keep getting back up no matter how many times they were knocked down. When standing on the brink of death, he would calmly analyze his opponent’s attack and come up with a move that threaded the needle to victory. That cold core had definitely been a part of him.
Of course, it was a last-ditch choice only made when truly pushed to the edge.
But what if he learned to consciously wield it?
An emerald line flashed in the corner of this boy’s eye for just a moment.
“So I’ll use everything at my disposal. Back then, when I had to help the injured Index, I didn’t hesitate to rely on the ignorant Komoe-sensei. Elizard, surely you understand since you’ve used so many people to protect your country. I’m not some perfect person who can solve everything on my own.”
“I wasn’t using them—”
“Don’t give me that crap. What did the British coup d’état have to do with my life? You stole Index away for your own purposes and dragged me into it when I had no idea what was going on. And if I’d died, I bet you wouldn’t have done anything more than shed some crocodile tears for the cameras. And it’s not like you gave me anything after I survived either. You’d set everything up so you wouldn’t lose anything no matter what happened. Am I wrong?”
Despite his sharp words, the boy did not seem to carry any powerful hatred over this.
In fact, he seemed to be using it to his advantage.
As if to say it was the only way to live with his misfortune.
“All I’ve got is power as an individual, so how did I end up in a position where I could influence a huge conflict like British Halloween or World War III? I find the weaknesses in people and my influence spreads from there like falling dominos. In the end, that’s all Kamijou Touma ever does. Whether you consider that a good thing or not comes down to whether it helps you or not. I bet my enemies see me as some hypocrite who preaches at you while using the dirtiest methods available.”
There was a dull thud.
It was the sound of the pointy-haired boy tossing Curtana Second to Elizard’s feet without hesitation. He spoke with a shocking-pink light scattering from the corner of his mouth.
“Either way, I can’t do anything with that spiritual item, so I’ll give it to you. Let me make this very clear, Elizard. If you want to protect your people, then work for me. Use your authority and whatever else to control all the magicians in this castle as my pawns. Unlike that other guy, I know everything. I’ve even got your Achilles’ heel in my head here.”
It was all to support her country.
To protect everyone.
“This will not last, boy.”
“Ha ha. So the friendship ends once I work against your precious country’s interests, does it? I risked my life fighting for you, but none of it’s worth risking your own life, huh? It was the same when I was fleeing with Othinus in Denmark. You didn’t say a word until you thought I could win. Eternal friendship sure is a fleeting thing.”
When Elizard spat out her words, the pointy-haired boy only gave her a cynical smile.
But the queen’s hand reached for Curtana Second’s hilt on the floor and, more importantly, she was speaking in Japanese. That seemed to establish the pecking order here.
“Even if you win this battle, you will not win the future you want. From now on, you are an enemy of the UK as a whole. And that is true whether you are Kamijou Touma or something else.”
“You’re going to retaliate? But how?”
He only laughed.
He snorted with laughter while an emerald glow leaked from the corner of his eye.
“There’s only one name and face this time. Just this once, your enemy and your ally are Kamijou Touma. So if I play my cards right, I can shove all the blame on that son of a bitch and claim the future I want. That’s the whole point of this fight, after all.”
Shokuhou Misaki was too kind.
Because she had given up once her powers failed to control them.
That may have been the logic that developed inside someone blessed with a great ability. But the pointy-haired boy did not have that luxury. If he did not find some way to make it all work out, his doom was assured.
Strength and weakness were not just about measuring a simple power level.
He thought it also had to do with how many continue tickets you were given to use when you screwed up.
A Level 0 had no chance of getting ahead.
He did not have incredible athletic ability, a great academic mind, or artistic talent.
He had not been blessed with wealth or an influential family.
He knew all too well that, when someone like that made a single mistake, they were not given a second chance.
A weak person like him had developed a unique sort of strength that allowed him to dig his heels in even when he was at a disadvantage. Someone like a queen would never understand that persistent strength.
“…Where are you going?”
“I’ve got the general path laid out, so now it’s time to untangle some of the hairier problems.”
The boy thought of some of the fighters here.
Once Stiyl Magnus and Kanzaki Kaori knew that staying with Kamijou Touma would work against Index, they were sure to agree to fight.
Once Kanzaki Kaori agreed, Tatemiya and Itsuwa of the Amakusa would be dragged along with her or at least shaken.
Orsola, Agnese, and the other former Roman Catholics would be unable to keep their hearts in balance if the new home they thought they had finally reclaimed might be taken from them again.
It all came down to this.
Once Queen Regnant Elizard grabbed Curtana Second against her own will, the dominos would begin to fall in every direction around her.
Yes, she herself had said that nations had to be supported.
And that how you position just one of the supports could lead it to collapse.
In their experience, this had all started with the Crowley’s Hazards, but they were at least vaguely aware that Lola Stuart had caused it as much as Aleister if you looked back to the source. And the problem had spread to the entire world. As the top of the royal family, Elizard knew quite well that “it was all the Great Demon’s doing” and “we didn’t know anything about it” would not be accepted as valid excuses.
They were in a similar position to the Roman Catholic Church after Fiamma of the Right manipulated them.
That Church had managed to neatly avoid taking the blame, but if they had failed to properly clean up during the aftermath, all their nations and organizations around the world would have had all assets stripped of them.
There was no point in winning the war if your country collapsed afterwards.
What about the Amakusa Church, the former Agnese Forces, and even the ordinary citizens who knew nothing of magic?
She had to protect all the people relying on British land even if it meant dirtying her hands. She had chosen that as her absolute duty as the one who supported this nation.
The demon before her was well aware of all that, but he still cut in.
“Itsuwa, Orsola, and…yeah, it’s a shame Lessar and Oriana weren’t here. Regardless, it might be fun to try going at it from a different angle than the benefit to their organization. People get overwhelmed when their processing power is pushed too far and then they do things they never would have imagined otherwise.”
That boy had boldly added people to the circle around him and built up a great web of people. That had sometimes meant intruding on their twisted hearts to stop them from losing control. And now this person was trampling all over those truly precious treasures.
He could transform that violation into the worst kind of rusty blade.
Instead of cutting, it caused rot.
“You know all about that, don’t you? I learned a lot from the way you threw me into that coup d’état and world war for your own purposes. …Oh, right. I had a question for you as Villian’s mother. Is she quick to fall in love? If you send her into a panic by setting up conditions A, B, and C, will she forget all about the person she originally had feelings for and fall for you instead?”
“Don’t you dare!!”
She roared at him, but the tuxedo boy only waved his right hand and turned around.
He had not been serious about that. The Third Princess always prioritized people’s feelings and had trouble making pragmatic decisions, so she would not be easy to ensnare by any normal means. …Although it might be interesting to see what she did if she was told Acqua was about to be executed in the Tower of London.
He had been exposed to so much malice, so he felt he knew quite well how to wield it himself.
He knew what he could say to hurt people. Because people had so often manipulated him, used him as a shield, and hurled malice at him.
He had wanted to see how sturdy Elizard’s “shackles” were.
He would use everything at his disposal.
To put it another way, he would not let anyone else use him.
Even if he did lose control of Academy City’s #5, Shokuhou Misaki, that would not be the end of his story.
A slight shocking-pink light spilled from the corner of his mouth.
And he spoke to no one.
“This was all unnecessary, Elizard. If you had only let Mental Out control you, you might never have been driven to the edge like this.”
That Windsor Castle dance hall was in ruins.
Shokuhou Misaki had curled her back to hold her knees between her arms while sitting on the carpeted floor.
The slight squeaking sound may have been her back of her hips rubbing against the floor.
A few locks of unkempt hair had fallen onto her milky-white nape and there were large wrinkles covering her all-silk dress that was based on a bunny suit design. Decadence. She had the strange allure of a ruined temple or a crumbling goddess statue.
Her power was so complete and perfect that it had stagnated.
She was the dictator needing to be overthrown.
That pose was far from comfortable due to the aching hip she had earned in the war, but it also looked like she was seeking out the pain.
She started to squeeze the cheap emergency whistle…and she realized she had started to hesitate to make even that simple action.
But not because her fingers were trembling.
Because she knew she was no longer worthy.
The box-shaped A.A.A. left by Mikoto was rubbing up against her like a pet dog, but she could not bring herself to sit on it for some relief.
It was said guilt could be a trigger for habitual wrist cutting.
It came from a desire to hurt yourself to escape the fear of your crimes because you were afraid someone else would punish you for them.
Even though doing so did nothing to change the reality of the situation.
That girl had fallen to a very dark place where she sought out pain and welcomed filth.
Even though she knew there would be no response.
Her voice was unnaturally hoarse and her eyes were red from rubbing them over and over. She sniffled while speaking to someone within a meter of her in that room.
The honey-blonde girl was curled up right in front of a nun with long silver hair swept back behind her. That slender girl wore a storybook princess’s dress that was colored white with reddish-purple lines. That girl had likely spent time with him that Shokuhou Misaki knew nothing about. And that girl held the position that she might have had if things had not gone wrong.
The small cat meowed in a loving but also lonely way.
The silver-haired girl did not respond with her head stuck at a tilted angle.
“I envy you. I really, really do.”
If you wished to argue her case, you could point out that it was wrong to expect Shokuhou Misaki to have judged the situation properly. After all, this war had been her very first full-scale anti-magician battle. Kamijou Touma had been the same once. After driving back that mysterious figure named Stiyl Magnus and carrying the injured Index through Academy City’s night without any clue what to do, had he really been as calm as he was known for being in those extreme situations? For example, had he maybe gotten his ignorant and small teacher involved? When someone was under even more stress than they were aware of and it led them to make a mistaken choice they never normally would have, it would be cruel to demand they take personal responsibility for it.
It could be easy to forget when you were so familiar with the strange beings known as Academy City espers, but on a fundamental level, human beings had a way of losing their cool when they first encountered the supernatural.
It could take the form of mania or depression.
In Kamijou Touma’s case, it had just so happened to pay off. In Shokuhou Misaki’s, it had led to a terrible mistake.
But whether they barged into Komoe-sensei’s apartment with an injured person or ruined a national (albeit private) party, their actions had both been triggered by very similar explosions of unexpected emotion.
Shokuhou Misaki had been working with Misaka Mikoto by sharing the A.A.A.
But she had really been chasing after that boy.
She had made it this far because he was here.
He had been the light of land she could just barely make out while out on the stormy seas of her very first magical conflict in which she had felt entirely surrounded. So what if she was suddenly told that lighthouse might be fake?
Was it really right to come to a stop and let the waves drag her below the surface?
Was it really so wrong to approach that light, whatever it might be, to find out if there really was land there?
Sky-blue and lemon-yellow.
She had told herself those colors could not be him.
All while turning a blind eye to the shocking pink and emerald flashing before her eyes.
In the end, that was the sort of pressure surrounding the honey-blonde girl.
It just so happened that her power was too strong.
Her voice was hoarse.
She was wrapped in an alluringly-bright, enamel-like fabric, but her eyes and nose were as red as a small child’s.
“Why did I have to ruin everything?”
She had been terrified of him forgetting her.
She had known it would happen eventually, but that tiny miracle had continued nonetheless.
That party had clearly been an unnatural thing from the very beginning, but she had been afraid that pointing it out would cause that happy dream to pop like an overinflated balloon.
Was she aware that this agony was the same thing that boy had experienced when faced with that silver-haired girl who was forced to have her memories artificially erased every year?
Most likely, no one would blame her.
Even that other boy, who had been defenestrated after she treated him like a monster, would not say anything to spit on that honey-blonde girl.
That was exactly the point.
It was all so complete and perfect that it had stagnated and she could no longer move.
The girl who sought pain could only bury her face in her knees, sniffle like a lost child, and speak to herself.
“I’m so stupid.”
There was no answer.
Because she had made it that way.
That was why she was the queen and that was why she was alone.
Just like always.
Only the small cat remained and placed his front paw on her foot.
That’s enough of a reason, don’t you think?
Who needs all that big talk about the magic side and science side?
It was high time someone saved that princess who had fallen to the depths of the earth.
And this time, do it right.
Between the Lines 3
Windsor Castle’s restroom had a large mirror behind the sink.
The pointy-haired boy in an unfamiliar tuxedo and ascot tie groaned quietly in pain.
The face reflected in the mirror was not looking good.
He had not taken any obvious physical damage after the sky-blue and lemon-yellow winged lizard tackled him on the second-story balcony.
So this was not from that.
No matter how many times he washed his face with cold water, the heat burning below one layer of skin refused to go away. And he could tell all his body’s senses were gradually dulling.
A sound like thin ice cracking rang through the restroom.
That was an accurate comparison. A few straight cracks were indeed running through his smooth skin around his right hand.
The lines of color showing through those cracks was shocking pink.
Was this the opposite of the external shell worn by the attacker? They were unnaturally bright for anything born in nature, but they had too vivid a shine to be called a weapon or equipment.
There was more than one pattern.
The tuxedo boy whispered into the mirror.
Cracks ran through the back of his hand and a pink glow rose to the surface.
“The female knight.”
Just as the cat scratches vanished, more cracks appeared around the bridge of his nose.
“Kanzaki Kaori’s slap, the A.A.A. chair Shokuhou was using, and Elizard’s spell.”
This was a history of his wounds.
The boy grinned as they each appeared in turn.
“But, well, I’ve come this far and I still haven’t taken a single attack from him. Ironic, isn’t it?”
There was of course no one to answer him.
He was the only person here. The psychedelic cracks on his fingertips silently withdrew.
He was all alone.
He held everything in his hand, but he had no one to listen.
The shocking-pink and emerald cracks tried to rise to the surface with their cracking sounds acting like the ticking of a clock, but he forced them back down. He was still fine. He did not have to worry about it breaking through.
They were not mirror images of each other.
His opponent was sky-blue and lemon-yellow while he was pink and emerald, but anyone familiar with color theory would know those were not opposites of each other.
And that was fine.
He was not seeking an understander as a partner. He was interested in the opposite. He was approaching the perfection of an individuality that could never get along with anyone else.
That was the ruler of the depths and the guardian of treasure. It was a strange symbol that crossed the boundary between good and evil by signifying the devil and yet symbolizing houses and organizations.
There was a porcelain vase on one corner of the sink. It had a rose decoration on the side. That was a symbol and sign that had worked its way so far into the world that it was found everywhere with no connection to any cabal or force.
It had a few different goals, but one of them was as follows:
…They act based on ethics, standards, and justice. But they understand that the previous generation’s rules to judge human good and evil are not necessarily correct. So if they found those rules to be inadequate, they must overturn all laws and treaties to mend justice’s wounds.
Or so it was said.
(I’m here because of a wish, hm?)
It was an absurd idea.
And it had nothing to do with the tuxedo boy washing his face in front of the mirror.
“Surely you don’t think there’s nothing more to that than a colorful shell for you to control, Kamijou Touma.”
People could not necessarily see every part of themselves. Even in the field of magic, people were warned that they had to follow certain steps to achieve a proper understanding or else they would lose control and do things they never imagined when they attempted to follow the Sephiroth to purify their soul.
Did he know about that or not?
Either way, that boy thought quietly to himself.
Question that which already exists. And if you find something inadequate, mend justice’s wounds by your own hand.
Humans and abilities.
Now, let us swap out the positions of actor and observer.