Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume3 Chapter1
Chapter 1: Which Side Will Deliver a Preemptive Strike? First_Contact.
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Customs Gate – From security camera footage.)
Though it was neither the middle of the summer tourist season nor the middle of the winter tourist season, the area around the gate was packed with people. Since one of Hawaii’s main industries was tourism, holding that many people up for so long could easily be seen as a breakdown in the system.
The crowd was mostly made up of tourists, businessmen, transportation workers, and people with cards hanging from their necks that were here most likely to conduct research into volcanoes or tropical fish. However a few people in the crowd clearly did not fit into any of those categories.
For instance, there was a spiky-haired Asian.
And there was the #3 Level 5 walking beside him.
While the two could probably be classified as tourists, a boy and girl wandering through an international airport without a guide or parents was peculiar.
“…I guess Birdway and the others aren’t here yet. This is where we were supposed to meet up with them, though,” muttered the boy, Kamijou Touma.
For how little of the English language he knew, he seemed oddly used to being overseas. However, just a few minutes before while on the plane, he had been trembling in his seat. From what he muttered about things like parachutes and speeds of 7000 kph, he must have had some dreadful memories related to airplanes.
As for the girl, Misaka Mikoto…
“(…Wah wah wah!! I-I did spontaneously tell him that he wouldn't be alone this time, but I didn’t expect to end up overseas all of a sudden! The dorm supervisor and Kuroko aren’t watching. What do I do!? I doubt this is just a day trip; we’re probably going to be spending the night. What do I do, what do I do!?)”
The unparalleled “Onee-sama”—when viewed from the eyes of a middle school girl—was blushing and panicking, but Kamijou showed no sign of noticing as he sat on his suitcase and fanned himself with his hand.
The girl was so psyched that she could barely keep up with the present, so she was wholly incapable of asking herself questions about what they were doing there, and why they were meeting up with others who had flown in small groups on separate flights.
An electronic tone sounded from the announcement speakers set up in various places around the airport.
Kamijou Touma looked up, but he frowned upon hearing a woman’s voice speaking fluent English.
“…What is she saying?”
“I can’t believe you would cross the ocean without knowing that much. How did you manage to answer the questions of the officials at customs?” Mikoto muttered in disbelief, but she added more quietly to herself, “(…Does that mean he has no choice but to rely on my knowledge of English? Fwoh!? Has the time finally come for me to seize the initiative in our actions here!?)”
As she mumbled to herself, she started to tremble for some reason.
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Terminal Three – Café Simple Coconut – From the camera in a pet robot in the café.)
In the sort of airport café where four-fifths of the price was due to the location alone, Leivinia Birdway took a sip from a coffee cup and grimaced.
“…I expected this to be sweet, but not this much. It has enough calories to rival an energy drink for a marathon runner.”
“You should’ve been able to tell that from the way it looks. It’s pure white. And how about you read the name of the place aloud too,” spat out Accelerator, Academy City’s #1 Level 5.
Birdway started shoveling in some tapioca which had come with her drink and said, “What a gentle tone of voice.”
“You seem used to dealing with kids, but you don’t need to switch over to that mode with me.”
“If you’re going to act as my escort, it would help if you would treat me like a lady. Especially regarding my personal pride.”
“Tch,” Accelerator clicked his tongue and took a sip of weak coffee.
It seemed like he hadn't noticed how he was acting until she pointed it out.
He decided it would be best not to use his cell phone. He did not want anyone to know that he was contemplating whether he could contact “that brat” or not.
The enemy was already on the island.
It was possible their conversation was being monitored even now, and anything he let them know could possibly be used against him.
“So when are the others going to meet up with us?”
“I have no way of knowing when their flights arrived or how busy their gates are,” Birdway said simply as she battled with the contents of her cup that she was treating as a dessert. “Even if Aleister’s influence has weakened, it was difficult to get that many people out of Academy City. If you had all gotten on the same flight, we would have been tracked for sure. I had us split into small groups in order to eliminate the risk as much as possible. I bought our safety with money and time, so quit complaining.”
That must have been why the men wearing black that usually surrounded her were nowhere to be seen.
It seemed their absence did not bother Birdway too much.
“Now that Gremlin has confirmed Imagine Breaker's survival using Radiosonde Castle, they will be preparing themselves for interference from and coming up with countermeasures against that natural enemy of magic. They are sure to carry out something big here in Hawaii. We followed them here in order to stop them, but we are not the world police. We cannot slip past everything by using special rules, so we need to make the proper preparations before beginning the fight.”
“…Can’t you pull it off somehow with that magic of yours?”
“I probably could if it came to it, but it comes down to the dilemma of a phantom thief. Any method I use once will be analysed. If I have a different way of dealing with it, I don’t want to use any of my major techniques.”
“So it’s all for your convenience,” Accelerator muttered in annoyance. “You said Gremlin is hiding here in Hawaii, right?”
“Yes, in all likelihood.”
“But how are we supposed to find them? There are eight main islands, and if you count the small ones, there are around 130. There are over 1.4 million residents alone and adding in the temporary visitors gives you a total of over 3 million people. I doubt we’re gonna find these hidden people just by running around randomly.”
“I have an idea of how to deal with that.”
At the same time, Accelerator heard an electronic tone.
Birdway looked up toward the ceiling.
“Looks like it’s starting.”
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Terminal Two – From the camera in an automatic guidance kiosk.)
Hamazura Shiage was standing before a large board within the airport.
To be precise, it was an electronic guidance board. Instead of just showing a map, it had a keyboard that allowed entry of one’s destination so it could display the way there. It also had a voice recognition function so that users could be connected to an operator, but that was no help for Hamazura because he could not speak English at all.
Not to mention that something else was further inhibiting his already regrettable level of knowledge.
It was a girl of about twelve that stood next to him.
She was Kuroyoru Umidori.
She was a cyborg girl who had been at the center of the Freshmen, an organization from the dark side of Academy City, and whose body itself was a mass of engineering secrets.
“…Why did I have to end up grouped with you of all people!? Wasn’t there some better combination that had a little less bad blood from the past, or at least someone I could overpower if it came to it!?”
“I’m the one that was fucking kidnapped, Haaamaaa-chaaaan!”
“Nooo!! Your speech pattern has changed by default!!”
“God dammit. First you say you can’t just leave me be in Academy City cause I’m likely to attack Fremea again, but you also couldn’t bring yourself to kill me. You were a little too optimistic to think you could solve that conundrum just by bringing me with you. You didn’t think about the fact that you’d then have to worry about the possibility of me ripping your fucking throat out at any time, did you!?”
“Normally, my biggest worry about a trip to Hawaii would've been what souvenir to get my lovely Takitsubo-chan!! I’d be wondering if she would think something like macadamia nuts is too clichéd, or if she would be glad I was sticking to the basics! So why is my life endangered before I’ve even left the airport!?”
And like that, Hamazura Shiage was already thrust into grave danger.
He had thought that Kuroyoru had not attacked him up to that point because she thought it would be easier to escape if she was outside of Japan first.
However, the deadly cyborg did not carry out a terrorist attack with her Bomber Lance.
Before she could, another figure approached from behind.
It was Misaka Worst.
The ao dai-wearing girl with a mischievous glint in her eyes and her dominant hand in a cast wrapped one arm around the cyborg’s neck.
“You can do whatever you want, but do you really think we would've put together this plan if we had no way of winning?”
“Gyah gyah gyah gyah gyah!?”
Kuroyoru suddenly started howling because Misaka Worst had used her ability to manipulate electricity on the cyborg control mechanisms.
The usually cool girl may have suddenly shouted “Trans☆form!!” and made a strange pose, but there were valid reasons for doing so. It was not a prank that would have helped a school counselor to earn his keep.
“Nyah nyah… gyah…”
“Ha ha ha. You should count yourself lucky that Misaka didn’t mess with the ones for your organs. Mechas like you just aren’t suited for facing electricity-type espers like Misaka. Did you not do your research beforehand, nyan?”
“D-damn those bastards on the board of directors…”
“Oh? Do you think the ban on cyborg development was lifted in order to back the Third Season project? It’s possible, but there’s no proof, so it’s really nothing but unjustified resentment. And really, this kind of security hole could probably be closed in two weeks or so if they actually bothered. Misaka had a selector put inside her, after all.”
However, no matter how easily-fillable a hole it was, it was still a major weakness until it was filled.
And Hawaii did not have anything like Academy City’s research facilities.
“I-I’m saved…” said Hamazura as he wiped sweat from his brow.
“Hmm? Misaka never said anything about being on your side, nyahh.”
“I was right! Someone made a serious error when they made these groups!!” shouted Hamazura, but the two girls soaked in darkness didn't appear to react.
Like a delinquent, Misaka Worst leaned up with overt familiarity against Kuroyoru as the other girl’s arms continued to convulse slightly. Misaka Worst then spoke to the cyborg with a stifling sense of superiority at having complete control over the situation.
“Y’know, how are we supposed to search for someone suspicious with so many tourists around? With so many unfamiliar outsiders all over the place, even asking around doesn’t sound like much help.”
“…What would you do if it was fucking up to you?”
“You just don’t have the right edge to your voice when you do it. Are you sure you had his thought patterns implanted?” Misaka Worst said as she cackled. “Anyway, it seems Gremlin is an ideological criminal group.”
“So they’re overly sensitive?”
“Yes, and that’s what Misaka would try to take advantage of if Misaka had to.”
As the two girls continued their conversation, they heard an electronic tone.
Afterwards, a woman’s voice gave an announcement in fluent English.
Hamazura looked up.
“Is there a lost child or something?”
“It’s something a hell of a lot more dangerous than that,” spat out Kuroyoru. “It’s begun.”
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Terminal Three – Cafe Simple Coconut – From the camera in a pet robot in the café.)
The first to notice the oddity was Accelerator, who put his coffee cup down on the table.
“So you’ve figured it out?” asked Birdway, while having not finished her sweet drink. “At first, it just sounds like an announcement telling you not to dirty your shoes on the newly waxed floors. But there is no reason to announce that over here, since the area they mentioned is 3 blocks away. That was an anti-terrorism warning. They want people to stay clear of that area, while also reducing secondary damages from a panic.”
“They couldn’t pull that off if some idiot was shooting up the place, so they must have found a conspicuous suitcase or something.”
“Yes, something like that.” Birdway sipped at her too-sweet drink. “But it was not necessarily Gremlin that left the suitcase there.”
For an instant, Accelerator thought she was suggesting that it might be some other terror group, but he immediately corrected himself.
There was another possibility as to what she meant.
“I’ll ask again: so you’ve figured it out?”
“Since finding Gremlin amid all these people would be difficult, you set something up on our end!?”
“It’s merely a matter of efficiency.” Birdway was still completely relaxed. “If we do nothing, Gremlin will do something. That will cause a great number of people to suffer. As such, we need to draw them out beforehand. Whether they use methods that your common sense will help you comprehend or not, Gremlin is an ideological terror group. That means…”
“They can be overly sensitive when it comes to their ideology,” finished Accelerator as he became profoundly aware of the electrode on his neck.
The men in black suits must have been the ones who had actually set up the suitcase.
“If that’s what they’re like, we can really get to them. If they know someone else is going to use their name in a copycat attack, they’ll try to stop it even if it puts them at the disadvantage…”
“Gremlin is going to do something here in Hawaii,” Birdway said with a grin. “But that doesn’t mean we have to wait for them to attack first, does it?”
The current commotion had a high probability of drawing out someone from Gremlin.
If they could capture that person, they had a chance of finding Gremlin’s hideout or learning of their plan.
It was true that, as a mere “matter of efficiency” as Birdway had put it, that was the best method.
“I have one question.”
“And what would that be?”
“What is inside the suitcase you’re using as a dummy?”
Birdway shrugged and said, “Reality always works best. If the police aren’t panicking, Gremlin might get suspicious before they interfere.”
Accelerator felt that he had truly grown, since he did not break the table in half.
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Central Lobby – From security camera footage.)
Kamijou and Mikoto had looked for souvenirs in the duty-free shops before even taking a step outside the airport, but Kamijou suddenly made a strange sound and ran off after reading an email on his cell phone. He must not have known the dangers that a major gun-toting country could hold.
“Gyaaaaaaahhh!? Th-this goes well beyond misfortune!!”
“Wait, wait! Are you really going to cut across here!? The announcement about the waxing was a hidden anti-terrorism warning!!”
“I just got an email saying Birdway set up a bomb!!”
Of course, no one would go out of their way to approach an area being odorously waxed by a lawnmower-like device. If one thought about it calmly, it was strange how airport workers were watching alertly from the outer edge of the area being waxed, but the people who had believed the announcement did not seem to sense any danger.
The warning signs and the foul odor were enough for most of the people to naturally distance themselves from the area.
Meanwhile, Kamijou unhesitatingly charged straight into the area covered in half-dried wax.
Mikoto grimaced at the smell and looked down at the clothes she was wearing, but continued on after seeming to have given up on something.
The workers on the outer edge of the area frantically tried to stop them, but the two ignored their shouts.
As he ran on ahead, the boy said, “Honestly, I can’t tell who the real terrorists are here. …Am I supposed to stop Gremlin or do something about this suitcase?”
“Is that the suitcase you mean?”
A number of men were surrounding a large suitcase. They seemed to be airport security, so the police must not have arrived yet.
Instead of heading straight for the suitcase, Kamijou hid behind a nearby pillar.
Mikoto followed him.
“Is Gremlin the group behind all this? Do you think they’re mixed in with those men?”
“…I’m not so immersed in that side of things to know if someone’s a magician just by looking at them.”
Kamijou glanced around and spotted Hamazura and Misaka Worst peering from behind a corner about 70 meters away.
He took that to mean Accelerator was probably close by as well.
Kamijou pulled out his cell phone and moved his thumb across its keys.
“Who are you calling?”
After the phone rang a few times, she answered.
“I’ve found the suitcase you set up. There are some people who look like airport security around it. Do you really think Gremlin will show up?”
“They already have.”
Kamijou frowned and Birdway continued.
“They’re having unexpected troubles on their end, too. They’re trying to make it past the guards using a makeshift spell, but analysing and dispelling it is easy enough.”
“…Are they altering their appearance? Is someone from Gremlin mixed in with those workers…?”
He heard a sound over the phone, as if she had clapped her hands together.
Immediately afterwards, Kamijou felt a chill as around 20 figures appeared out of thin air.
They were all Western men. They wore the formal dress clothes of Birdway’s subordinates.
“We are not the main dish,” said the man in the center, Mark Space, before he pointed toward an area with nothing in it.
“She is the one you need to focus on.”
Nothing had been there just a moment before, and there was nothing there to hide behind, and yet a girl now stood there.
She had blonde hair and white skin. The lines of her body were slender and beautiful, and she had a well-featured face. She looked less like a natural person and more like an ideal girl from a picture book. If you were to describe her, she looked like a princess, though it was mainly her clothing that accomplished that impression.
She wore an odd dress that seemed to be made of countless thin membranes placed one on top of another. The lines of her body were clearly visible through it.
The one aspect of her that did not look straight out of a fairy tale was the figure-correcting underwear binding her entire body, like a diving suit that lay at the core of her elegant dress. It was a type of modern corset that wouldn't be surprising to see on an infomercial.
She was a magician from Gremlin.
This was no longer conjecture or a story heard from someone else. For the first time, Kamijou saw the true enemy before his eyes.
What he felt was not an obvious sense of intimidation.
If he had to put a name to it, it would be a sense of something foreign.
He had an unpleasant feeling that something there should not have existed. He felt somewhat anxious, as if overlooking her now would bring great disaster later. Fear and concern were part of a life form’s reaction to danger, but what he was experiencing felt purer than that. Instead of the powerful emotion of fear causing him confusion, the raw feeling of danger forcibly honed his thoughts.
The knowledge that she was a member of the organization that had unhesitatingly tried to drop Radiosonde Castle on Academy City gave rise to a sense of rational hatred within him.
“(…Did Birdway forcibly dispel all invisibility spells in the area or something?)”
The area of effect had likely been the entire central lobby.
That was why the men in black suits, who had set up the suitcase, had appeared along with the magician from Gremlin.
The Gremlin magician looked down at her hands and feet as if to check whether she could be seen by others.
However, she did not seem panicked at all.
“Old lady of the pumpkin carriage,” she said in French, as if singing. Her pure voice sounded like that of a fairy tale princess. “Please give me the test of the glass slippers. Please give me the strict and cruel test of the glass slippers that dropped my selfish and dishonest mother and sisters to the bottom of the pit of despair.”
Immediately afterwards, a supernatural phenomenon occurred.
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport – From the security camera in a vending machine.)
Hamazura’s eyes opened wide as he peered around the corner.
The first thing he noticed was an unpleasant noise, like cracks running through glass.
“What’s with them…?” asked Kuroyoru in a wondering tone, while being held by the nape of the neck by an electricity-type esper who was looking for an opening.
It had happened just after the twenty or so men in black suits had charged at the girl in the dress while ignoring the airport workers, who were overcome with surprise at their sudden appearance.
Every single one of the men tripped and fell to the floor that was wet with wax. It was as if they had run across an invisible wire or some other kind of trap.
That was how it appeared to be, but that was not what had truly occurred.
Hamazura heard a few groans, and then the men let out even greater cries of pain. They were all grabbing at their leather shoes. To be specific, they were holding the end of their shoes with both hands.
It was as if every single one had suddenly had all of their toes snapped.
It was as if everyone’s feet had been broken within the range of some invisible explosion emitted from the girl in the dress.
Hamazura let out a voice of confusion.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Shh. She’s muttering something in French.”
The girl in the dress standing alone in the center of all the collapsed men was indeed muttering something.
“…Old lady of the pumpkin carriage. Please lend your power to pitiful Cendrillon. Give me the test of the glass slippers once more. Do so until all the arrogantly deceitful challengers hang their heads in shame.”
“Cinderella, hm? Is she a self suggestion-type Gemstone?”
Misaka Worst rationalized what she was seeing like that, but Hamazura felt something was off.
He did not detect the distinct scent of Academy City’s espers, and yet what he was seeing seemed to be following set rules.
That girl was a magician.
She was from Gremlin.
The girl who had named herself Cendrillon wielded the laws of a different world.
She was one of the those who had sent out Radiosonde Castle for their own personal objective.
Hamazura’s breath caught in his throat.
“What should we do?” Misaka Worst asked bluntly.
“I don’t know what she’s using, so I can’t tell where the safe zone is. Without knowing that, I wouldn’t suggest approaching her. …It would be best to find a way to attack her without approaching.”
“Misaka can think of someone that isn’t safe to attack even from a distance…”
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport – From a joke pen camera dropped by its owner in the process of evacuating.)
Accelerator was holding onto an area of metal framework near the ceiling in the central lobby.
He was inspecting the situation.
“(...Can she target everyone standing on the same floor as her? No, that Level 0 and the #3 hiding behind the pillar over there weren’t affected. It must simply be the distance from her.)”
If you displayed their locations on a two dimensional map of the floor, Accelerator was closer to Cendrillon than Kamijou and Mikoto, but the central lobby was tall. It reached up to a height of about three stories, so he was farther away from her in three dimensional space.
With just one piece of magic, Cendrillon had sent an attack out in every direction which had immediately turned the situation in her favor.
All of the men in black suits were holding their feet and writhing about.
Accelerator could not see what had actually happened to them, but Cendrillon herself opened her mouth and explained.
She was speaking toward Kamijou, but the boy did not seem to understand her as she was speaking French.
“This spell allows only my foot size, 22.5 cm. If your feet are smaller, the areas between the bones are forcibly widened and if your feet are larger, your toes are severed.”
A vivid image of what had happened to the men entered Accelerator’s mind.
“However, that was only a warning. That one only dislocated the toes. The real thing is next. So what will you do? Will you leave Gremlin alone, or must I take some collateral that is a little more certain?”
Kamijou’s face finally paled once the #3 translated for him.
The “collateral” she referred to was likely the toes of everyone who opposed Gremlin.
“(…The main question is on what conditions the glass slippers activate.)”
Accelerator tried to come up with some means of fighting back.
“(If there’s something that moves along the floor and explosively spreads out, I just have to destroy that. But I’m up against a magician here. If it’s something like a cursed straw doll and it simply attacks anywhere there are feet while ignoring the concepts of distance and vectors, I could be in trouble.)”
Not too long before, he would have mocked that kind of thinking. But now, it was no laughing matter.
There was no guarantee that his vector transformation that altered definite values would work on that mysterious attack.
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport 3rd Runway – From a wild bird surveillance camera for bird strike prevention.)
The gray runways spread out like packing tape placed over a lawn. A girl of about twelve walked along one of the countless asphalt lines cutting across. That was, of course, an area where normal people were not allowed.
She was speaking with someone over her cell phone.
“Right, right. Well, that won’t work. You just pretend you didn’t understand her French and try to stall for time. That was all those idiots were there for anyway. I never expected them to win. Just put on an act so it looks like you and that middle school girl who’s translating are too worked up for her to get her meaning across. …I am a bit disappointed that they were taken out in a single strike though.”
As she spoke, the girl headed for one end of the runway.
She was not headed for a large passenger plane.
“I already told you, it won’t work. …What? Hamazura and the others have started firing at her with a compressed gas gun they made from a fire extinguisher? That won’t work either. She’ll probably just avoid the shots with monstrous speed. She's transformed the story of Cinderella into an attack spell by overwriting religious motifs into it. In the fairy tale, an amateur girl was given the dancing skills required to win the admiration of a prince who was used to balls. She’d probably casually avoid a cluster bomb if you dropped it near her.”
It had looked like an easily walkable distance from within the terminal, but Birdway was realizing that the scale of the runway was much greater when you were actually walking across it.
She was getting sick of walking.
“It was probably originally created as a countermeasure for your Imagine Breaker. Foot crushing and high speed battling… it’s almost too obvious. They confirmed your survival the other day using Radiosonde Castle, so Gremlin now sees you as their natural enemy. Your right fist is a powerful trump card, but it’s pointless if you can’t hit them. Having enough speed to dodge a bullet is a so-so countermeasure.”
Birdway finally stopped walking.
“That’s right, so buy some time. Don’t think you can defeat her. If you charge in, she’ll counter you. She’ll either take your toes or shatter your cheekbone with a straight right that has all her weight behind it. I doubt you want to experience either one.”
Birdway looked up at what was stopped at one end of the airport.
What she saw was…
“I started this game, and I have an idea as to how I’m going to end it.”
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Central Lobby – From surveillance camera footage.)
Low sounds like the beating of a drum intermittently reached Kamijou’s ears.
Shots were being fired at approximately five to ten second intervals.
The noises were coming from Hamazura and the others, who were around the corner of a passageway. They were firing an improvised gas gun at Cendrillon. To create the gas gun, they had tied four large fire extinguishers together in a bundle and attached a steel pipe to the end of the four hoses. Inside the pipe, they put corks with nails sticking through them. Those projectiles were sent slicing through the air at 230 kph, so a direct hit could drive the end of the nail into an arm or leg bone and shatter the bone like glass. They were using the weapon like a disposable bazooka.
“I thank you, old lady.”
Cendrillon’s pure singing voice continued on.
Not a single shot hit her.
“I thank you for this lovely dance with the prince. I thank you for the glittering dress and glass slippers. These lovely clothes have turned this timid girl into an elegant and perfect princess for a night.”
The sound of her high heels on the floor was like a sewing machine.
Her eyes met Kamijou’s.
However, that was not all she was doing. Cendrillon was approaching Kamijou in great flowing motions as she avoided the projectiles.
The situation had changed.
During the discussion, the situation had become one where he could no longer attempt to buy time.
He immediately held up his right fist, but he simply did not have enough time.
Her slender arms wrapped around Kamijou’s right arm and she stuck one high heel between his legs. Kamijou reflexively moved in order to avoid great pain. His body spun around as if he were the lead in a ballroom dance.
In so doing, he moved himself in between Cendrillon and Hamazura.
“Old lady of the pumpkin carriage.”
Cendrillon thrust one arm under Kamijou’s arm and held her open palm out toward Hamazura who had frozen in shock.
“Please send the carriage quickly. Send it before I wake… before I wake from this one-night dream. Please send the pumpkin carriage.”
A shockwave roared across the room.
It was as if an invisible vehicle had driven through. Sensing danger from the line of destruction that ran across the floor, Hamazura and the others frantically headed back around the corner. The instant they did, the wall next to the corner was smashed to pieces.
From her position near Cendrillon, sparks flew from Mikoto’s bangs.
However, Cendrillon tightened her grip on Kamijou’s arm, swung him around, and used him as a shield once more. Mikoto’s natural ability was sealed by that shield.
“Old lady of the pumpkin carriage.”
She swept Kamijou’s legs out from under him and he fell to the ground, taking Mikoto with him.
Cendrillon’s lovely singing voice was the only thing left resounding through the central lobby as she leaned over.
She was preparing her foot-crushing attack.
She was going to create a new explosion using magic.
“Please give me the glass slippers. The distance is 500. The number of people is unlimited. Please give me the strict and cruel test of the glass slippers that leaves all the dishonest liars hanging their heads.”
“That same spell…!?”
As Kamijou lay on his back, he saw Accelerator holding onto a metal framework near the ceiling.
“(…She’s noticed he’s hiding there!! That’s why she set it to such a wide range…!)”
There was no guarantee that Accelerator’s reflection would work against her.
It was an unknown number.
And Kamijou’s own situation was hopeless as he had no obvious defense other than his right hand.
They had been naïve.
Kamijou and his group had not been the only ones trying to draw out the enemy. Cendrillon had noticed the trap and had charged straight into it in order to eliminate all of the dangerous elements at once.
That seemed to be how it would end, but…
“You’re still in the central lobby, right?” asked Birdway’s voice.
Kamijou looked around for the source of the voice and spotted his cell phone lying on the ground nearby.
“Stay away! You need to fall back and wait for another opportunity to-!!”
“That’s all I need to know,” she said, cutting him off.
Immediately afterwards, the window covering one wall shattered.
The window was over three stories tall and over 300 meters across, but the entire area of reinforced glass shattered all at once.
The cause was clear.
A giant tanker truck filled with fifty tons of airplane fuel had smashed through the window and into the central lobby at full speed.
Birdway was aboard it.
However, she was not in the driver’s seat. She was standing on its roof in a daunting pose.
Birdway must have been using some kind of spell because not a single shard of the glass she had shattered touched her.
Still sitting atop Kamijou and Mikoto, Cendrillon cocked her head to the side and stiffened.
Birdway ignored her and spoke into her cell phone.
“Hold down her legs.”
Kamijou stretched out his arm like a drowning man reaching for something to grab onto.
In doing so, he managed to slow Cendrillon’s movements by a few seconds.
That was more than enough to decide things.
It was a direct hit.
A great roar soared right past Kamijou’s face as he lay on his back. The ground clearance for large American vehicles like that was quite high, so Kamijou and Mikoto managed to remain below the vehicle while Cendrillon who was sitting atop them was hit by the front of the truck.
Cendrillon tried to shout something, but the tanker truck moving at nearly 200 kph did not give her the opportunity.
The truck continued on and slammed into the wall of the central lobby.
The record for the loudest noise in the battle was broken again and again. This new sound deafened Kamijou’s ears. A large crack ran through the wall, fragments flew through the air, and something like dust billowed up. The driver’s compartment of the tanker truck was crushed in like an empty can.
Given the state of the truck, Birdway should not have gotten off lightly from her position on its roof, but for some reason she was perfectly fine. She landed lightly on the floor of the central lobby.
“There,” said the young girl as she played with her hair. “Honestly, I can’t believe all of you let yourselves collapse all over the place so easily. It was a little tricky working the wheels through the gaps between you.”
“Y-you monster…” said Kamijou in a trembling voice as he sat up.
Cendrillon’s spell must have been forcibly dispelled because the men ceased groaning and shouting.
“I thought we needed that Cendrillon girl to find Gremlin’s hideout and learn about their plan!? Wasn’t that a little much!? This is well beyond needing to call an ambulance!”
“Not necessarily,” said Birdway as she lightly waved her right hand. At some point a wand had appeared there. “See? It looks like we can’t deal with Gremlin using ordinary means.”
Kamijou was about to let out a puzzled voice, but then he heard a creaking noise.
It sounded like a metal sheet being bent. The noise was joined by other similar noises and they grew slowly but surely louder and more frequent.
Between the tanker truck’s smashed driver’s compartment and the smashed wall, something was moving and breaking the metal panels in a way that made them seem weaker than paper.
It was a finger.
A slender, feminine finger was sticking out.
The sight was similar to someone sticking their hand in the closing door of a train or elevator and forcing it back open.
“Of course. Cinderella was a flawless princess in front of the prince. A mistake would be unthinkable. All the external factors are readjusted so that it remains that way. I guess that convenient ‘winner’s aura’ is the ball. It seems something that is nothing more than a large mass will not be enough to put an end to her aspirations.”
A clear gap appeared between the tanker truck and the wall.
Eyes covered in blood peered from within.
“However,” said Birdway as she spun her wand around in front of her. “Cinderella’s dress has a limit to its functionality. Specifically, a time limit of midnight. The changing of the date has meaning, but if you take it to refer to the ending of a one-night dream, there is a simpler symbol that can be used. Namely…”
As Birdway spoke, she stopped spinning her wand around.
It was pointing toward the tanker truck.
At some point, a gold pocket watch with a narrow chain had been coiled around the wand.
Where its hands pointed does not need to be said.
However, it further reinforced the symbol and role she was using.
Immediately afterwards, the fifty tons of airplane fuel ignited and intense heat and light filled the central lobby.
While it was better than having it sprayed into the air and vaporized, airplane fuel still had very different characteristics to gasoline.
Kamijou immediately grabbed Mikoto and hid behind the nearby pillar.
Mikoto blushed, but she still managed to hold out her right hand and used magnetism to create a wall of steel objects that protected the dumbfounded airport workers. The men in black suits knew much better than Kamijou and the others just what kind of person Birdway was, so they had already fled the area at full speed.
Kamijou did not have time to check what Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage did.
The fuel exploded and all his senses were blotted out.
Even as an intense flash of light filled the entire central lobby, Kamijou had no idea if he was doing all he could to protect himself.
His vision did not start returning until about thirty seconds later.
It took him another ten seconds before he realized that proved that he was still alive.
He saw flames.
He also saw a girl spinning a wand in one hand while standing amid a sea of unnatural flames that were more white than crimson.
She stuck her other hand into the remains of the tanker truck and pulled something out.
That something was Cendrillon’s battered form. Birdway was holding her by her blonde hair. Parts of her dress had melted and she had burns on her skin, but it was still strange for her to be in one piece after being that close to an explosion like that.
Leivinia Birdway stood alone amid the flames, holding her target by the hair.
“That settles the opening battle,” she said, sounding bored.
(November 10th – Oahu – From an ATM security camera.)
As smoke rose from the airport, Hamazura Shiage caught his breath while leaning up against the pole of a road sign out front. He had fled from the airport. Luckily, the explosion had led to around 20,000 passengers and workers evacuating outside, so no one found him suspicious. He may have been saved by the image people had of the Japanese being so peaceful that they did not know how to do deal with danger when they came across it.
The men in black suits he saw here and there must have been the subordinates of the girl who had caused the explosion.
They too were splitting up and escaping, but unlike Hamazura, they were unbelievably skilled at intentionally mixing in with the crowds even in a situation like that.
“Shit, shit!! I thought we were fighting terrorists here, not becoming them! Some people probably got caught up in that!! And the suitcase was blown up in it too, wasn’t it!?”
“You certainly are quick to give your unofficial report of what happened. Anyway, I sense a darkness in that girl that’s different from my own,” said Kuroyoru Umidori as she turned back to face the airport. “How far do you intend to run?”
“Only as far as the cops won’t find suspicious,” said Hamazura as he breathed heavily. “We’ve only just made it past the first barrier. Gremlin hasn’t even made their real move yet, and we certainly don’t want any difficulties with the cops before we’ve stopped them. In fact, they’re the ones that the cops should be after.”
“I see you make excuses to yourself as excessively as you reward yourself.”
Hamazura ignored Kuroyoru’s scorn and wiped sweat from his face.
“Anyway, Birdway will call us once she gets some information out of that Cendrillon girl. It would be best if we hid somewhere until then.”
“Oh, is that so? By the way…”
“…I haven’t seen Misaka Worst for a while now. If she got separated from us in the confusion, then this just got quite interesting, don’t you think? Especially in regards to my glorious return.”
Just after Hamazura let out that girly scream while in a Munch-esque pose, someone speaking Japanese chimed in from the side.
“…Why are you two messing around out here?”
It was the spiky-haired Kamijou Touma.
(November 10th – Oahu – From a tourist’s cell phone camera.)
“Why did things end up like this…?” muttered Misaka Mikoto as she brushed up her bangs.
Standing next to her was Misaka Worst, an ao dai-wearing girl who had almost the exact same face and build as Mikoto except for the mischievous look in her eyes (and her breast size).
They had both gotten separated from their groups in the confusion and had run into each other while trying to find the others.
“Misaka is fresh from the Third Season project, so she doesn’t know very many people. When she’s not with him, about ninety percent of her desire to fight disappears.”
“Don’t look at Misaka like that. The project was frozen anyway. All as a secret to you, onee-tama.”
“It basically comes down to the fact that there are a surprising number of heroes scattered around this world,” muttered Misaka Worst. “Anyway, #3, are you sure you should be doing that during such an urgent time?”
“What are you trying to say?”
Mikoto had called up a map on her cell phone in order to think up a way to regroup with the other members, but…
“That sure is a lot of unrelated locations you have marked on your cell phone map there. What’s this? You have the head store of Cupid Arrow marked?”
Mikoto turned her cell phone off as quickly as humanly possible, but Misaka Worst’s grinning did not stop.
“Isn’t that a store well known for its wedding rings? Although Misaka had heard they had recently started expanding the breadth of their operations because business was poor…”
“…For someone born so recently, you sure are knowledgeable about this.”
“You can quickly find almost any information you want on the internet. But Misaka thought they had an external detective agency perform a background check on the customer before they would make an engagement ring or wedding ring for them. Misaka doesn’t think they would accept an order from a middle school girl.”
“Which means… heh heh… it must be that new service of theirs…ha ha… Those tag rings for lovers in a less serious relationship… hee hee…”
“Daahhhh!! Fine, you’re right! When I heard we were going to Hawaii, I just thought I could stop by and buy Cupid Arrow tag rings when I had some time!! Is that so wrong!?”
“…Those rings are made of titanium. They’re cheap but don’t you think they’re a little unrefined?”
“Titanium can be colored using electrolysis when it’s in a solution. If two rings are manufactured with the same equipment, the pattern of the coloration comes out so the two rings connect. …It’s unscientifically seen as a charm to prevent the other from cheating on you.”
“So you were going to color them using a combination of the store’s equipment and your own biri biri-ness? …Sorry, but that’s the same as putting one of your own hairs in a guy’s Valentine’s chocolate. The girl’s the only one who finds it romantic.”
“Not to mention that the two of you aren’t even going out yet. Do you have any idea how a guy must feel if the girl gives him a ring? He’d probably also want to know how you know his ring size.”
Mikoto stiffened and Misaka Worst sighed.
The girl who was less than a year old felt sorry for Mikoto and decided to stop poking fun at her over that.
“Well, enough with the Cupid Arrow tag rings. More importantly, Misaka knew that you didn’t look any different from the clones of the old project, but…”
“What’s the point of an original if she loses to the clone in so many ways?”
“…Are you talking about breast size…?”
Sparks flew from the fourteen-year-old’s bangs as she cocked her head to the side slightly.
Paying the sparks no heed, Misaka Worst said, “Oh, Misaka never said that. Maybe she was talking about number of appearances.”
“Now you’ve said it!!”
(November 10th – Oahu – New Honolulu International Airport Terminal Three Storage Area – From security camera footage.)
“So you’re the only one that didn’t run away,” Birdway said bluntly.
Accelerator clicked his tongue.
She gave a light jab with her foot to what was lying on the ground in front of her.
It was Cendrillon.
The semi-transparent dress that could be seen as her symbol had been taken from her. She was now in only her underwear. While that sounded erotic, in Cendrillon’s case, it was the figure-correcting underwear that looked like a diving suit. The synthetic fiber covered her from her collarbones down to her knees, so she could likely have walked straight past a policeman without suspicion if she was holding a surfboard.
“Was that for revenge?” Accelerator asked.
“Stripping someone of the same sex is no fun,” Birdway replied. “She created a single piece of magic by combining her own body and that dress. Instead of just holding a wand or something, she was using her own body as a portion of a spiritual item. In other words, she cannot use that spell once her clothes are removed. What I don’t know is if she just wanted to be that soaked in magic or if she wanted an obvious safety feature out of fear of the latent potential of her own spell. Now then…”
Cendrillon already had a few injuries. They were not due to torture. They were burns she had received in the airplane fuel explosion.
Accelerator narrowed his eyes slightly.
“Do you think she’ll talk?”
“Why else would I go through all the trouble of getting her to talk?” replied Birdway as she placed a number of charms made of parchment on Cendrillon’s face.
Either due to the damage from the burns or due to having been turned back into “a mere girl” from losing her dress, Cendrillon was clearly unable to resist. She merely writhed weakly on the ground.
“Deny,” Birdway said with a grin. “No matter what you try to deny, I can read it from here. So you only need to resist my questions with all your might.”
If the girl responded truthfully, that was that and if she desperately tried to resist, that would act as a sign.
The only possible escape would have been complete apathy, but it was difficult to give absolutely no reaction while being questioned when the state of your mind mattered as well. And when violence was involved, it became all the more difficult. Reacting defensively to avoid pain was only natural and humans received much more information from others’ words than they realize.
Cendrillon slowly shook her head.
Birdway ignored her and asked, “Where are your comrades?”
Cendrillon seemed to be trying to keep the muscles in her face from moving, but her cheek started twitching slightly.
“What is your goal?”
One of the charms started glowing.
Birdway had intentionally driven Cendrillon to resist and the location of that barrier over her heart could be used to expose the location of what she was trying to protect.
She had no way to resist it.
This was not a puzzle or video game that was made so that it could be won. The player’s skill did not matter when she was trapped within a professional’s net that had no escape.
“The calculations are going well. In another 30 seconds, I’ll have some good news for you,” said Birdway lightly.
“Oh, oh. Cendrillon-chan, you certainly were utterly and obviously defeated.”
A new voice came from Cendrillon’s own mouth.
Immediately afterwards, Birdway mercilessly jammed the end of her wand into Cendrillon’s mouth. The unpleasant noise of her front teeth breaking could be heard and dark red blood spilled from her open lips. Despite this, Cendrillon was smiling….or rather, made to smile.
“There’s no point in trying to subdue her. After all, I don’t mind if you break all her limbs. I can control her like a marionette, so I can force her past her—ha ha—human limits.”
The sound of something cracking could be heard.
It was the sound of Cendrillon biting through Birdway’s spiritual item. However, her front teeth had already broken. Doing that with nothing more than the pure strength of one’s jaw would be bad enough, but she was doing it with only partial fragments of her broken teeth remaining. The pain must have been unimaginable.
Accelerator flipped the switch on his choker and kicked rubble at her at blinding speed. She easily avoided the projectiles and jumped over five meters back. Only then did she speak to the one who was controlling her.
“…I was waiting for you.”
“Yes, yes. From the lack of your dress, I take it your fairy tale spell was destroyed. I will be activating my spell through you, so it would be a lot of help if you would use the magical release key to temporarily give me complete control of your body.”
“Tch!!” Birdway clicked her tongue and spun around the remains of her wand. At some point, it turned into a small cup.
However, Cendrillon chanted some kind of spell before Birdway could activate an attack spell.
“…Total control on Red 25…”
“There we go. The result is Black 11. Authorization complete.”
A dry sound burst from within Cendrillon’s body. The color of her eyes clearly changed. Traces of someone other than herself could be seen there.
“Okay, Cendrillon-chan. Time to truly protect Gremlin’s information.”
She then pulled a sharp piece of the wand from her mouth and forcefully stabbed the end into her own temple.
“Eh…?” said a voice.
The voice came from Cendrillon’s mouth.
With a shocked look on her face, she collapsed to the side. Her reaction was simply too little. She did not brace herself at all as she landed. Her arms, legs, and hair were sprawled out and her red blood spread out in a pool.
That was all.
No more words came from her mouth. Not from Cendrillon and not from the person controlling her.
“Damn. I doubt that made it through her skull, but a fragment of bone must have stabbed into her brain. It must have caused a subarachnoid hemorrhage. I see. This will indeed make getting information more difficult.”
“Don’t look at me like that. I’m merciful enough to call an ambulance for her.”
“What do we do now? I thought she was our last hope.”
“Oh, we still caught a fish,” said Birdway, sounding bored and looking around. “Gremlin contacted us to silence her. Now we just have to reel them in.”