Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume4 Sub.26
Kumokawa Maria slowly sat up while holding her head in one hand.
She was no longer in the underground passageway where she had passed out. She was on an examination table in what looked like a doctor's office. It must have been a facility related to Natural Selector.
"Oh, are you up?" asked a female voice.
Kumokawa Maria looked up to see a woman dressed in a showy dress standing surprisingly nearby. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin. She was good looking enough to become a model, but Kumokawa Maria could see exceptional muscle tone underneath her skin.
"…Where am I? And what happened?"
"I found you collapsed in a hellish passageway and carried you to this medical room. I don't know the details and I'm not sure anyone does."
"Who are you?"
Kumokawa heard a rustling sound from the corner of the room. A small girl was packing ice in a plastic bag. Next to her was a very strange large man. He was over two meters tall and he was decorated with various types of antennae.
"I am a Natural Selector contestant. I'm not a Kihara or from Gremlin; I only have a supporting role. By the way, that pretty young girl is Mistray Flakehelm and the street performer next to her is her father Osad Flakehelm. After I saved them, I couldn't bring myself to just abandon them, so I decided to play a more leading part."
"And so you rescued me as well. That really hurts my pride," said Kumokawa Maria self-deprecatingly. "There should have been a child-like older woman carrying a school bag in that passageway. Did you see her?"
"A child-like older woman? Is that some kind of riddle?" Saflee frowned. "No one else was there. But from the destruction left on the passageway, it looked like someone had chased after someone else. I gave priority to the injured person right in front of me, though."
Kumokawa Maria narrowed her eyes, but Saflee's next words were not what she had expected.
"Oh, but a child-like older woman, you say? That's a little hard to picture, but was the shorter one a friend of yours? Then you don't need to worry."
"From what I could see, the short one chased the tall one away."
Did that mean Oumi Shuri was still alive?
"You need to worry about yourself more than the winner. We need to figure out what we are going to do from now on."
Kumokawa Maria fell silent at that.
Oumi Shuri was continuing the fight for her own reasons.
Then what about Kumokawa herself?
What would she do now?
She had come to Baggage City in pursuit of Kihara Kagun. She had intended to head through a world that had strayed from the proper path in order to find out the truth about the death he had caused. However, when the darkness had opened its maw, it had been so deep and dark that Kumokawa Maria's common knowledge no longer got her anywhere. It was like being forced to take part in a board game without being taught the rules.
That was the world of the Kiharas.
Or perhaps it was the world that should be opposed with the Kiharas.
The girl named Mistray Flakehelm handed her the plastic bag filled with ice and Kumokawa Maria placed it against her forehead. The comfortable cold spread across the bruise, but she noticed something else. Something was wrong.
"You just realized how cold you are, didn't you? And that you can see your breath." Saflee Opendays gave a small smile. It looked as if she was forcing it. "Of the heating facilities that are Baggage City's lifelines, the garbage disposal facility and oil refinement plant have been destroyed. The Anti-Academy City Science Guardians are desperately defending the last source of heat, the thermal power station, but it's probably already too late. That much heat is not enough for all of Baggage City."
"Who did that…?"
"The Kiharas. We keep hearing that term over the radio we stole."
That name caused Kumokawa Maria's heart to jump.
But then she calmly thought about the crisis unfolding.
"Their higher ups will give themselves priority I'm sure. They won't care if everyone else freezes over. That is of course if those higher ups are even still alive," said Saflee.
A few percentage points of the soldiers were still active, but they were in a complete panic, so they would unlikely be much help. They were just barely managing to hide, so coming into contact with the soldiers also held the risk of drawing their real enemy to them. For that reason, they hesitated to call out to those soldiers.
"Freezes over, hm?"
It was below -20 degrees outside. Even if the buildings were protected by thick insulation, the inside of the buildings would be the same after half a day without heat. That would cause major damage to all those still alive in Baggage City.
"By the way, there is a surprisingly simple means of solving the heat problem."
"It's a method used in Nordic areas. The heat of all the people in busy stations is used to heat a different building. It's used for buildings in Arctic regions. Together, the residents of Baggage City and the spectators number in the millions. If they are all gathered in one of the domed facilities, their own heat could save their lives."
"That sounds like it would only work for so long, but I guess it would help us endure," muttered Kumokawa Maria.
But there was a problem.
"But the ones who created this battlefield wouldn't allow it. If all those people gathered in one place, wouldn't they attack them?"
"Yes. And not for any tactical or logical reason. They would probably just blow them all away for fun," agreed Saflee. "So that method will be of no use as a means of passing time without having to fight the major bosses. In fact, it can only be used to buy time for rescue to come after we have already defeated all of those major bosses."
"Our time limit is about half a day. We must defeat all the major bosses rampaging through Baggage City in that time. If we do not, millions of people will become frozen food. Do you understand the situation?"
"It sounds to me like this solves nothing."
"Just by having this half a day for pure fighting is quite lucky. Normally, we would end up frozen whether we won or lost."
Kihara and Gremlin. They had no idea if they could defeat even one of them, and they had to defeat all of them. Those conditions simply sounded insane. However, the only other option was to have everyone in Baggage City freeze to death by normal means.
Kumokawa Maria let out a small sigh and said, "So we have to do it even if it's impossible. It looks like the time has come to test the strength of my pride that just keeps getting damaged."
"Yes, yes. By the way, I thought you might be the type to know how to use her fists, but do you think you can be of any help?"
"Either way, I'm headed to same direction you are."
Kumokawa Maria nodded in response to Saflee's question.
She would pursue Kihara Kagun. After experiencing that hell, she was even more determined than ever to do so. He had not stepped into that hell without knowing what it was as Kumokawa Maria had. Kihara Kagun had clearly known exactly what he was getting himself into.
What exactly had happened? And how had it led to this hell? Until she knew that, Kumokawa Maria would not back down.
Meanwhile, Saflee gave voice to her current goal.
"Our first target is someone named Kihara Enshuu."
"Yes. Apparently, a different Kihara brought in some kind of mold used for combat and this Kihara Enshuu is trying to use it. By causing artificial changes to it, she is increasing its infectiousness and toxicity and then will spread it as a biological weapon."
"And get herself wrapped up in it too?"
"I know. I really don't want to know her reason."
Artificially altering microbes.
The term sounded like something out of a movie, but it was really not that difficult a thing to do. Everyone was familiar with the changes the influenza virus went through every year.
Microscopic life forms underwent changes to their genetic structure due to external causes relatively easily.
However, making changes to the parts you wanted in order to produce the effects you wanted was decidedly more difficult.
Kumokawa Maria brought her hand to her jaw and said, "But mold is a living thing. It needs heat to remain active. It seems like bringing down the temperature to make us suffer would run counter to this."
"She is killing anyone she can by dropping the temperature. She will only spread the mold once the heat has gone back up enough for it to be active. That way, she can kill as many people as possible. Mold in the bath can be quite persistent. The same goes for athlete's foot. It stops being active in a difficult environment, but that does not kill it. After hibernating for a long period of time, it can reactivate once the environment is more favorable."
"But Baggage City doesn't have any specialized microbe research facilities. At least none it advertised. Unless some new conspiracy shows itself, I would assume she is going to misuse a civilian facility."
"That's exactly right. It seems Kihara Enshuu is headed for the plant factory. Y'know, those container shaped things. It's a new type of field that grows vegetables by using light with a special wavelength to induce photosynthesis, conditions the air to keep the temperature right, and soaks the roots in nutrients. Using it, you can pick the crops about thirty times in a year."
"I see," muttered Kumokawa Maria in annoyance. "So does it use ultraviolet light in place of the sun? That's the same reason the genetic information of the influenza virus is damaged every year."
"Could this be bad?"
"Very bad," she replied simply. "By the way, if you don't even have that kind of fundamental knowledge on the subject, how could you tell what Kihara Enshuu is planning? You don't seem to have what it takes to build up to that conclusion."
"Oh, to be honest, I was given this advice by someone else."
"A man wearing a helmet and a coat."
This time, Kumokawa Maria completely froze.
"Was it Kagun-san? Well, I doubt he told you his name."