Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume5 Chapter4
Chapter 4: Peace Seen From a Strange Form. Release_Monster.
Kamijou Touma heard the sound of something exploding.
His consciousness had been flickering in and out, but that noise acted as a lifeline allowing his consciousness to rapidly surface.
“Are you awake now?”
Thor was peering down at his face. He had coughed up blood the same as Kamijou, but his symptoms seemed to have been lighter than Kamijou’s.
They were still right next to the windowless building. The giant hole broken through the Calculate Fortress was still there. Their time limit had supposedly been 10 to 20 minutes, but Kamijou did not know how much time had passed.
He learned what had happened from Thor.
“The Four Wings unmanned attack helicopters were all brought down. Fräulein Kreutune destroyed them with the ease of a child plucking the wings off an insect out of curiosity. I’m guessing they haven’t sent anything else after us because their priorities have greatly changed.”
“…But what exactly happened?”
“I don’t know.”
Kamijou slowly sat up.
It had felt like something had happened within his body just before he had collapsed.
As if spitting out the words, Thor said, “We regained control of our bodies once I used a high voltage current to destroy the foreign substance in our bodies. It was something like an organ transplant rejection. It’s possible she stuck body tissue into our bodies that was too small to see with the naked eye.”
“How did she destroy the Calculate Fortress?”
“I haven’t exactly had a chance to carry out a thorough examination of the site. …But it may have been something similar. Basically, she carries out destruction by sending microscopic tissue into the target. If the target is an organism, it experiences rejection. If the target is inorganic, the tissue expands from within, tearing it apart. Something like how water pipes burst when the water freezes.”
“But I haven’t the slightest clue regarding the fundamental issue of what she is controlling.”
“Eh? But you said she was controlling body tissue, right? And doesn’t that explain how she doesn’t die no matter what? So couldn’t she just be an esper that can control her own body on a level beyond what a normal human can?”
“I doubt ‘not dying no matter what’ should be taken at face value. There has to be more to it. And if there is some other trick, I doubt it’s something so plain. In all likelihood Fräulein Kreutune’s true identity goes beyond simply not dying. I think there has to be some unthinkable law lying at the base of it all.”
That was Fräulein Kreutune.
Without any preparations or planning, she had broken through the armor of the impregnable windowless building, knocked out Kamijou Touma and the Lightning God Thor, and smashed the defensive weapons of Academy City.
“Are you wondering whether we even need to protect her?” asked Thor mockingly. “Do you not want to help someone unless they’re weak enough to make you want to protect them? Do you not want to help someone unless you’ve had their special past and situation explained to you? Do you not want to help someone unless they’re cute enough to empathize with? Do you not want to help someone unless you’ve talked with them and become friends? …Come on now, Kamijou-san. Is that the kind of person Kamijou Touma used to be?”
“You’re right,” spat out Kamijou while still feeling pain from the creaking of his ribs. “If that’s what decides whether I help someone or not, then I can’t just sit here worrying about it. I need to hurry up and befriend Fräulein Kreutune. And it doesn’t matter if she is willing to pay any attention to me.”
Kamijou had a lot to think about.
But his gaze was sucked toward the windowless building as if to cut off those thoughts.
More accurately, his eyes were drawn to the deep darkness lying within the large hole in the supposedly impregnable armor.
It tempted him.
Kamijou himself did not know what seemed to be inviting him in, but he could feel there was something in that hole.
“Don’t get greedy,” said Thor whose gaze was also turned toward the large hole. “That is clearly a detour. It leads away from the main path. I don’t know what lies within, but it is not something that will be truly exposed to the light of day simply by blowing a hole in the outer wall. This invitation is a bluff. If we carelessly step inside, we will be devoured.”
At that moment, two paths lay before Kamijou and Thor.
Would they head away from the windowless building and chase after Fräulein Kreutune?
Or would they head into the windowless building and search out a great mystery of Academy City and possibly of the entire world?
Fortunately (if you want to call it that), they already had a clear objective.
“Fräulein Kreutune is our top priority. Let’s head after her.”
“Good. That way you won’t end up like a damsel in distress from some old story.”
It was not simply because he had kept Kamijou from being swallowed up by the darkness that Thor seemed so relieved.
He was not sure if he himself could have resisted the temptation had he been alone.
Even though he was well aware setting foot inside would almost certainly lead to death or an even more tragic fate.
“Which way did Fräulein Kreutune go?” asked Kamijou.
“Probably in the direction those explosions are coming from.”
“Do you think Gremlin and Ollerus’s group have noticed?”
“They would have to be pretty damn stupid to not have noticed that something is happening.”
That meant there was one thing they had to do.
They had to secure Fräulein Kreutune as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Fräulein Kreutune watched a takoyaki stand while sitting with her arms around her knees.
Due to the preparations for the Ichihanaransai, the restaurants and cafes targeting students were lively even past the normal curfew. In addition to the normal restaurants, roadside stands had been set up that sold food at exorbitant prices. Basically, they were the type of shops that were characteristic of festivals.
As 80% of Academy City’s population was made up of students, the stand was being run by a part-time worker who appeared to be of high school age.
And that meant he was supposed to be helping his school prepare for the Ichihanaransai. As such, he did not want to be spotted by any of his classmates. People who did what he was doing during the Ichihanaransai were labeled “traitors”.
The way the boy used the sharp end of an awl-like tool to quickly rotate the round food on a metal sheet must have sharply stimulated Fräulein Kreutune’s curiosity. Her eyes had been glued to the stand for a while.
Meanwhile, the student working at the stand thought to himself.
(Come to think of it, I’ve never seen takoyaki with cream or chocolate inside. Is it just that no one wants a taiyaki-style revolution? …Wh-who is she?)
Takoyaki was a mysterious food that you thought you knew all there was to know about, but a closer inspection revealed a surprising number of mistakes in your preconceptions and assumptions. The student worker had long thought takoyaki was cooked using a single one of those awl-like tools (he did not know the proper term for it), but he had learned that two were used when he observed the kitchen of a chain store.
He had also confused normal takoyaki with the ones meant to be sold in a convenience store and therefore thought the insides were supposed to be fully cooked. That had very nearly led him to a major failure.
The student worker naturally found it odd how Fräulein Kreutune was staring at him, but he could not stop his work as the takoyaki on the metal plate were approaching completion. However, it may have had more to do with subconsciously trying to maintain his peace of mind by continuing with that familiar work.
(Wh-what? Is she hungry??? But I can’t just give her some.)
Handing out one or two would not be too much of an issue business-wise, but it would be a problem if others saw and started asking for some too.
But then the boy realized that his guess had been wrong.
Fräulein Kreutune’s hands began to move slightly as she sat crouched down on the ground. Eventually, the boy realized she was imitating the motion of his hands as he rotated the takoyaki. At first, the movements were clumsy, but they gradually grew more adept. She was not actually holding anything, but the gentle, curving motion of her pantomiming fingertips almost made it look like she was holding that special tool.
(Come to think of it, who is she? She’s dressed oddly… Isn’t she cold??? Was she being fitted for some kind of Ichihanaransai costume?)
“Hey!! You over there!!” shouted a deep male voice.
The student worker jumped, turned around, and jumped again. The man who had shouted was a fully equipped Anti-Skill member. And he was accompanied by 3 others. That group of 4 was enough to stop a convenience store robbery in ten or so seconds.
For an instant, the student wondered if his “betrayal” in working during the Ichihanaransai preparations was in violation of some law, but he soon realized he was mistaken. The group of four surrounded Fräulein Kreutune.
One Anti-Skill member pulled out a radio and contacted someone.
“This is definitely her. We’re about to restrain her.”
The boy could tell something had been said on the other side of the radio, but he could not make out what.
“What? That isn’t in our jurisdiction. Why would we take her there? If you aren’t going to give us a reason, we aren’t going to do it! She already destroyed 4 unmanned attack helicopters. It would be safest to transport her the shortest distance possible!!”
“Wait. Please wait. Listen. Standard procedure is to take her to our branch office. Can you please just tell us why we can’t do that? If we don’t get an acceptable answer, we’re just going to follow standard procedure.”
Anti-Skill had an aura of intimidation that seemed like a super evolved version of the aura given off by a PE teacher, but that aura seemed to double while they were arguing amongst themselves.
The student worker began to tremble for no real reason, but Fräulein Kreutune did not look particularly concerned despite being the target of their hostility. She only tilted her head in puzzlement.
(…Wh-what? Is she an industrial spy disguised as a visiting diplomat or something?)
The Ichihanaransai was primarily an inward event for other students, but it was not unusual for high-ranking officials from important cooperative institutions to visit the city for the festival. And there were rumors of the occasional person disguising him- or herself as such an official, but…
Once the boy’s thoughts reached that point, he saw something he wished he had not.
Fräulein Kreutune had been imitating his motions as he cooked the takoyaki, but the movement of her hands had changed to something else. This was not simply because she was so bad at the takoyaki motions that it looked like something else. It was clearly a completely different type of motion.
The student worker looked over in the direction that Fräulein Kreutune was looking as she sat there with her knees up.
She was looking at the Anti-Skill members.
Due to some communications issue, those experts in firearms were arguing over the radio. Meanwhile, Fräulein Kreutune was absorbing some kind of information while watching them. And she displayed it with the movements of her hands.
It was just like with the takoyaki.
At first, the movements were clumsy.
But they increased in accuracy at a rate that accelerated as time went on.
“Anyway!! Unless you can give us a reasonable explanation or a legal foundation to do so, we are not following those instructions!! If you understand, then why don’t you send a legal expert to our branch office? How about a law school professor?”
The Anti-Skill members had not noticed the change in Fräulein Kreutune’s movements. And he had a feeling the small difference between noticing it and not noticing it would lead to a difference between life and death.
Due to how angry the Anti-Skill members were, the student worker hesitated for an instant over whether he should say something or not.
And that hesitation was all it took.
“Momozawa, handcuff the suspect. Yashiro, bring the truck around! We can just ignore that strange interruption. This is our—”
The Anti-Skill member trailed off.
Fräulein Kreutune had silently stood up.
The four of them were surrounding her, so they should have been able to grab her shoulder and pin her to the ground the instant she so much as twitched. And yet…
The one Anti-Skill member frantically let out a cry of warning, but the student worker thought something seemed off about it.
It sounded to him like someone desperately trying to argue how wonderful life is to someone who had already jumped off the platform and in front of an oncoming train.
In other words, it was an action taken much too late.
A dull noise rang out repeatedly due to the actions of that woman who had absorbed something violent from the scene before her.
To sum it up, she was lost.
Fremea Seivelun glanced around the nighttime scenery of Academy City. She remembered as far as walking off upon spotting the fruit marshmallow stand after leaving the dentist’s office, but that was it. The next thing she knew, Hamazura and Takitsubo were gone and the dentist’s office was nowhere to be found.
“Honestly. Getting lost at his age. In the first place, Hamazura should be ashamed! Nyahh!” announced Fremea while striking a daunting pose along a street lit up by decorative lights.
The one who was actually lost was not aware of her own situation.
Fremea Seivelun’s dorm was in District 13 which was where a lot of the elementary school students lived. She had no way of knowing this, but a member of the new Item was always camped out at the 24-hour café near her dorm to be on the lookout for an attack from the remnants of the Freshmen.
But she was currently in District 7.
She did not often travel between school districts, and when she did, she was usually being led through the crowds while holding Hamazura’s belt. She did not have enough information to get home on her own. The human homing instinct was amazingly good at guiding drunks home, but the initial settings required for that homing instinct to function had never been inputted into Fremea.
“In the first place, I am hungry…but I cannot just abandon Hamazura while he is lost. I need to carry out my role as the big sister and go find him!!”
As Fremea put all her energy into making that mistaken decision, she looked over at a map of District 7 posted nearby.
But that map was hardly going to tell her where Hamazura and Takitsubo were, plus she did not even know where she was herself. Nevertheless, she nodded twice as if it had told her all she needed to know.
And then she made another announcement.
“If I walk in a big circle around this area, I’m sure to run into Hamazura!!”
She seemed to think that was the fastest way to cover the wide area of District 7, but it was no better than when someone lost in the forest of Aokigahara thought it would be best to just head in one direction. If that was all it took, getting lost would not be such a big deal. Also, Fremea had not seen what the scale of that map was.
And so Fremea Seivelun the missile girl looked away from the map and took her first step.
And in that first step, she collided with someone.
“Wh-what? What? says Misaka as Misaka shouts in surprise. …Ah!? Misaka found a lost child!!”
“I-I am not a lost child!! Nyahh! I am the big sister!!”
The two girls received a great collection of scathing comments over the Misaka Network, an electromagnetic data network created from the identical brain wave amplitude of clones, but neither the girl aware of those comments or the one unaware of them paid them any heed.
The girl called Last Order looked up and down Fremea Seivelun and then puffed out her chest triumphantly despite the two being almost the exact same height.
“You leave Misaka no choice. As the adult, Misaka will help you, says Misaka as Misaka looks down on you to an excessive extent.”
“In the first place, I do not remember asking for help from someone who proudly puts her hands on her hips over being taller!! Don’t make fun of me!!”
“Misaka can tell you are a child from how you are trying to stand on your tiptoes. A true adult yearns for youth, says Misaka as Misaka acts like she knows what she is talking about.”
Fremea than stuck her index finger out towards Last Order and shouted out loud enough for everyone on the street to hear as if she was playing her greatest trump card.
“I wear a bra!!”
Last Order used her electrical powers to create a lightning effect behind her to complement her shock. Meanwhile, Fremea seemed to feel like she had lost for having to use her greatest trump card, so she desperately continued speaking.
“And I already choose my own bras!! I know the sexy underwear department like the back of my hand! In the first place, I am on a fundamentally different level from a child like you!!”
“M-Misaka can’t let you get away with that. That was a challenge to Misaka’s genetic characteristics!! says Misaka as Misaka reaches the verge of tears!!”
The original source of her genes, Misaka Mikoto, was in a rather pitiful state when it came to chest size, but her mother, Misaka Misuzu, excelled in that category. As such, Last Order had not been robbed of all hope.
“You’re just a kid!!”
“What was that, you child!? says Misa—”
“You are in luck, lost child. I will take you home!!”
“You’re the lost one, so that is Misaka’s line!! says Misaka as Misaka insists that you let her say it all the way through to the end!!”
The two girls got into a bit of fight and grabbed at each other’s hair, but then an advertisement for a local travel show played on the large screen of a blimp floating overhead in the night sky.
“An adult woman must not be at a loss regarding how to entertain an unexpected guest. This week on Informed Ladies, we are having a special on the hidden top-rate restaurants in Academy City that do not require a reservation! For details, tune in to the urban channel on your cable TV!!”
Fremea Seivelun and Last Order stared up into the night sky for a bit.
And then they looked back down to glare at each other and made an announcement with surprising synchronization.
“We’ll see who is more informed by heading around to the famous restaurants of Academy City!!”
“We’ll see who is more informed by heading around to the famous restaurants of Academy City!!”
Once the two girls’ thoughts jumped directly to that idea, Hamazura being lost and the green onion for flavor were completely gone from their minds!!
Sirens blared from every direction.
Red flashing lights colored the nighttime scenery, but not all the lights were the same. Most of them were from Anti-Skill vehicles, but fire trucks and ambulances were mixed in. The dark night sky behind them made it hard to tell, but quite a few helicopter ambulances were flying around as well.
But the students dealing with Ichihanaransai preparations were not concerned.
This may have specifically been because those preparations were outside of their normal everyday lives.
“What’s going on?”
“They sure are making a racket out there. Did someone bring alcohol onto school grounds or something?”
“That could explain Anti-Skill and an ambulance, but why would they send out a fire truck for that?”
“This is the Ichihanaransai, remember? The firefighters probably want to show off how useful they are. Y’know, burst into the schoolyard with a fire hose and put out a tempura oil fire or something.”
That of course was nonsense, but it was enough to satisfy the students. They seemed to mistakenly think not recognizing a threat was the same as avoiding the threat.
Students either continuing their work through the night or carrying food they had bought for their class were passing by a vending machine and bench that seemed to blend perfectly into the scenery.
But the issue was not the vending machine or the bench.
It was the brown-skinned girl with braided silver hair that was lying on the bench.
She was Marian Slingeneyer.
The drum can-shaped human called Mjölnir sat behind the bench. Both of them were official members of Gremlin, the organization that held enough power to shake the world.
“…Things sure have gotten noisy.”
Mjölnir audibly shook behind the bench. She looked somehow happy, but this was not because of the change to the situation. It was because Marian Slingeneyer had snapped out of her daze and begun to pay attention to her surroundings.
If one paid close attention to the direction the Anti-Skill vehicles were headed, a pattern emerged. If that information was more thoroughly analyzed, it was possible the center of the disturbance in the city could be determined. And it would also show this “center” was not fixed in one place. It was making irregular movements as if it was carelessly wandering around the city.
“Whaddya think we should do?”
The line was delivered with the indifference of someone trying to choose between a burger shop or a soba stand for dinner, but it held quite a bit of meaning when coming from Marian Slingeneyer.
If she acted, it would not end at just one or two deaths.
She was deciding whether the ground, the landscape, the city, the culture, and history itself would be destroyed or not.
She was deciding whether everything in the scenery around her would be transformed into something grotesque and psychedelic or not.
That was the kind of question it was.
Mjölnir noisily shook in response.
She was an exception even within Gremlin because she had actually asked to be optimized into that form, and so she was one of the few people who felt no desire to flee when she heard Marian Slingeneyer say that. Thor held a coordinating role as well as being in charge of direct combat, so their strategy meetings inevitably headed in a dangerous direction when he was gone.
Marian Slingeneyer was like a giant rock at the top of a steep slope.
If anyone gave that rock the slightest push, it would begin rolling. And once it gained momentum, no one could stop it.
Not even the rock itself would be able to stop it.
While still lying on the bench, Marian Slingeneyer stuck one hand into her overalls. She pulled out a saw made of gold. That tool was used in her alterations to the human body. It was mostly used for the destruction of the human body required for those alterations to take place. Simply put, it was a tool used to slice apart and remake people without killing them.
Due to the Ichihanaransai preparations none of the students gave Marian a second glance despite the fact that she was swinging around a blade.
She was still seen as a portion of the city’s peaceful scenery.
Just the slightest push to her back and she would recreate everything around her into red and black.
“…Nope, it’s still too much of a pain in the ass. I just can’t work up any motivation.”
The drum can clattered around as it shook, but Marian Slingeneyer went back to sleep out of spite.
Magicians would not act without an objective to drive them.
“Momozawa and Kakita’s teams were taken out? Those idiots!! Did they get greedy!? If they wouldn’t try to keep all the credit to themselves, this wouldn’t happen!!” shouted a woman into her radio.
She was Yomikawa Aiho of Anti-Skill.
She was located a bit away from the windowless building which stood in the center of District 7. A number of Anti-Skill vehicles were parked around her. Yomikawa and the others in Anti-Skill were supposed to be the ones to keep the peace and investigate crimes, but they were still not allowed to enter the blast site.
The scenery was divided up by blue plastic sheets.
If Yomikawa’s eyes and memory were not failing her, then she was certain she had seen a large hole in the windowless building’s wall before the sheets had covered it up. There had been a hole in the armor of that windowless building that was supposed to be indestructible even with the use of a nuclear weapon.
“The details of the suspect on the run are unknown, but she likely destroyed the Calculate Fortress from within and then destroyed an entire formation of unmanned attack helicopters sent out to deal with the emergency situation. We do not know whether this was done with some kind of weapon, some kind of esper power…or even with simple physical strength, so do not let your guard down. Assume the suspect’s attacks can penetrate our jackets. If we spot her, do not interfere on your own! Do you understand!?”
Kamijou Touma listened in from behind a nearby vending machine.
The commotion had grown too large.
Thor sighed as he hid nearby.
“They’re probably going to set up a checkpoint soon. And we don’t have time to deal with something like that.”
“Who did Gremlin send with you?”
“It doesn’t matter. They clearly haven’t made their move yet. If anyone from Gremlin had taken action, Academy City would have already been changed more than this. They might be checking to make sure this unexpected opportunity is not a trap.” Thor clicked his tongue. “Ollerus’s group must also be doing only as much as they can while lying low. Whichever side gets their hands on Fräulein Kreutune will mean a tragic end for her. We need to find her quickly.”
“…No.” Kamijou quietly denied that statement. “If your assumptions are correct, Gremlin and Ollerus’s group must be half in doubt about the information that Fräulein Kreutune has suddenly escaped. They have yet to make any direct contact with her. …We can still fool them. If we can send out some fake information making them think it’s a trap and that they should stay away, wouldn’t we be able to keep them away from Fräulein Kreutune?”
“I see. What exactly would we need to do?”
“If both of us just directly gave one of the groups that advice, they wouldn’t believe us. So we need to scatter some bait before they get accurate information on Fräulein Kreutune. We need to do something near them that makes them think it must be a trap.”
The first problem they had to solve was how to escape that Anti-Skill filled area.
Thor seemed to be growing impatient and Kamijou was afraid he would begin to act violently if they did not do something soon. That brought the danger of drawing the attention of Gremlin or Ollerus’s group if they detected it. If that happened, it was all over. If they were being monitored before they could set up any tricks, they could hardly set a trap.
Kamijou tapped Thor on the shoulder and pointed at something with his index finger.
“Let’s take the standard route.”
“A fire truck?”
“Those thick firefighter outfits will cover our face and our silhouettes. They won’t be able to tell who we are or how old we are. Let’s borrow two of those to make our escape.”
Last Order and Fremea Seivelun arrived at District 10.
It bordered District 7, so it was not difficult to reach, but the district was well known for having poor public order. There were stories of deliverymen going out of their way to avoid passing through the district on the way to their destination. That type of rumor remained even during peaceful times, so it was immediately obvious it was no place for two little girls during the night of Ichihanaransai preparations when everyone had thrown out any restraint.
If the situation was given the tagline “I will use any means necessary to save those two girls who have wandered into the dangerous District 10!!”, it would probably make a decent independent action film for a film studies group.
However, Last Order and Fremea Seivelun shared a certain characteristic.
They were incredibly oblivious when it came to their own danger.
“Heh hehhn. That parking garage over there is Academy City’s famous Food Stand Spire! says Misaka as Misaka puffs out her chest triumphantly.”
“I-in the first place I knew that too!”
“Then do you know what the most popular restaurant in the Food Stand Spire is? says Misaka as Misaka insists on an answer.”
The simplest way of describing it was a parking garage filled with nothing but large vans and RVs. Seats and tables for customers were also set up, so the parking space was not full, but the one building still contained somewhere between 400 and 500 restaurants.
The parking garage was not airtight, but it still had an excessive number of vents and air ducts to allow the exhaust to escape. The building itself was lit by irregularly placed LED light bulbs and altogether gave off an aura of handmade junk.
The scene of all the stands lined up had no uniformity to it. It mainly gave a motley and dirty impression. Also, District 10 was well known for having the worst public order of any district. Dyed hair and shaved heads were the norm. The customers viewed scars and tattoos like normal people viewed glasses and contact lenses.
Simply put, it felt like it would be game over for Last Order and Fremea within 5 seconds of setting foot inside the building. But…
“Huh? What are some kids doing here?”
“Oh, c’mon, old man! You can’t put a place like this in a pamphlet! What if those harmless little girls end up getting mugged!?”
“You two over here! I’ll give you each a free boiled egg if you act as their bodyguards!!”
“It has to be a long way to their home, but at least keep an eye on them until they reach a large station.”
Surprisingly, most of the people seemed to be neither enemy nor ally.
It was thanks to the following ironclad rule of delinquents:
You have to be nice to cats abandoned in the rain and to little kids!!
“In the first place, the lineup of restaurants should change as we go up floors.”
“Yes, yes. The lower floors closest to the entrance draw the most customers and have the more popular junk food, and the higher floors draw fewer customers but make a living by catering to more specific tastes, says Misaka as Misaka explains the system.” Last Order raised her index finger. “But there is one restaurant that draws a lot of people despite being on those upper floors, says Misaka as Misaka gives an additional explanation.”
The parking garage had an elevator, but it did not have several of them like a department store or hotel. Since the customers were bound to get into fights if they had to wait in line for the elevator, it was banned from use. For that reason, the two girls followed the other customers’ lead and walked up several gentle slopes as they headed for the very top floor.
As they headed up, the food for sale no longer focused on appealing to everyone just as Last Order had explained. By the time they reached the top floor, restaurants like a coffee shop that’s owner wore a tailcoat and a Kaiseki stand run by a young woman in a kimono were not unusual. However, these shops were so incredibly cheap that it was hard to enjoy them without growing somewhat suspicious.
But Fremea Seivelun and Last Order were completely oblivious to this.
The two headed to the center of the top floor with Last Order primarily taking the lead.
There they found a certain stand.
The stand was made out of a small modified truck, but it did not have a kitchen space inside like all the other stands did. Some basic camping gear was spread out around the truck and the cooking was done in that open space. It was a popular restaurant, but it currently had plenty of empty seats due to lucky timing on the girls’ part.
The stand had only one cook, but he was accompanied by three girls who looked like they knew nothing of cooking or the service industry. After spending a month in District 10, it would be obvious they were hired to carry out dirty jobs in the name of being bodyguards.
But as previously stated, Last Order and Fremea Seivelun were oblivious.
One of those bodyguards had something in her mouth with a blinking bluish-white LED on the end. It looked like a nicotine free electronic cigarette, but it was actually something much more suspicious. The two small girls ignored the bodyguard as she put the item back in its case and they approached the lone cook. They pushed aside a few tables and chairs as they approached.
Last Order said, “Give me the usual! says Misaka as Misaka gets excited!!”
“…The usual? I’ve never seen you before. Also, you should try not to say that around this district. You’ll get caught up in some illicit transaction.”
The cook’s voice was low and flat so as not to show any emotion.
Fremea sat down in one of the camping chairs and looked around.
“In the first place, what kind of restaurant is this?”
“Nyahh. I don’t see any Chinese people here.”
“In this country, salt butter ramen and mild chili oil qualifies as Chinese cooking.”
Last Order also sat in a chair, but retained her know-it-all expression.
“Misaka knows that this restaurant has no menu, says Misaka as Misaka reveals a hidden truth. After all, this restaurant only serves one thing!! says Misaka as Misaka jabs out her finger to emphasize this information!!”
“Only one kind of food maybe,” muttered one of the bodyguards and one of the other girls stomped on her foot.
With expressionless eyes, the cook said, “Well, I’ll make anything so long as you pay.”
He then opened the lid of a silver stockpot and stuck a giant fork-like tool inside.
Fremea’s nose twitched and she frowned at the oddly sweet smell.
“…What do they sell here?”
“Giant pieces of meat, says Misaka as Misaka immediately replies.” Last Order puffed out her chest meaninglessly. “They have the ridiculously giant pieces of meat you only see in manga!! says Misaka as Misaka goes ahead and explains even though she has never seen it!!”
“I-in the first place you admitted you have never seen it!! Nyahh!! Nyahh!!”
And then exactly what Last Order had described appeared.
The plate was large enough for an entire family-size pizza but it had no side dishes on it. It contained nothing but a ridiculously huge chashu cutting horizontally across the giant plate. Its width was about a size larger than a store-bought jelly roll.
Last Order had the expression of someone whose improvised attempt at speaking a foreign language had actually gotten through overseas.
“See!? says Misaka as Misaka’s eyes sparkle!!”
“…In the first place, it looks like a chashu, but it has a somewhat sweet smell. Also, the outside seems crunchy. Is this the same thing you put on ramen?”
“Those are specifically made to go well with Japanese ramen. They are too greasy to eat plain,” replied the cook who was opening a sports newspaper now that his job was done.
Fremea looked puzzled.
“Th-then do you use a knife and fork…?”
“Tsk, tsk tsk, says Misaka as Misaka waves her index finger as an effective lead in.”
“In the first place, if you keep acting like a know-it-all I will dump chashu sauce all over your clothes.”
“Wait, wait!! Misaka will give you a proper explanation, so wait!! says Misaka as Misaka begs you to stop!!” Last Order frantically brought up her hands in a meaningless defense. “I said this is like the giant pieces of meat in manga, right? says Misaka as Misaka double checks. Do you ever see them elegantly using a knife and fork to eat their ridiculous pieces of meat!? says Misaka as Misaka asks you an important question!!”
“But then, in the first place how do you eat it?”
Last Order explained with her actions.
She grabbed both ends of the giant piece of meat with her hands and started chowing down on the middle portion.
The instant she did, time seemed to stop for Fremea Seivelun as her basic knowledge of the world crumbled around her.
And then she opened her mouth to speak as her instincts welled up within her.
“It’s just like in manga!! It’s manga meat!!”
“Didn’t I tell you? says Misaka as Misaka gives a triumphant look.”
“Nyah. I see. So this was mammoth meat…”
Despite being slightly mistaken, Fremea Seivelun began eating her own giant piece of meat.
Kamijou and Thor made it past the circle of Anti-Skill and to a high-class hotel. They removed the firefighter suits, dumped them in a metal dumpster near the delivery entrance of the hotel, and then left.
As they walked, Thor said, “The important factors here are Fräulein Kreutune, Gremlin, and Ollerus’s group. They are all hiding within Academy City, but we have no idea where any of them are.”
“…Even Gremlin? I thought they were your comrades.”
“If we had some way to always know where the others were, I wouldn’t have been able to go behind their backs like this, would I? If we need to meet up, I can contact them. But they would grow suspicious if I constantly asked to meet up with them for no reason.”
They walked down the sidewalk next to a major road to distance themselves from the commotion. As they did, they passed by several groups of students continuing Ichihanaransai preparations through the night. When he spotted Anti-Skill looking around from atop a pedestrian bridge, Kamijou’s spine stiffened, but he came back to his senses when Thor elbowed him in the side. Getting nervous would just draw their attention.
“What about you? Ollerus contacted you, right?”
“Yeah, but we didn’t exchange contact information or anything. I don’t know where he is. He didn’t even tell me how many people he brought with him. …If I suddenly told him to stop fighting Gremlin or that there was a trap set up around Fräulein Kreutune, he would never believe me. In fact, he would just grow suspicious of where I got the information from.”
“The trap has to be set with Gremlin. We know how to contact them and they trust you. If we can make them think Academy City’s elite and Ollerus’s group are both coming, I doubt they would approach Fräulein Kreutune until they had confirmation one way or the other.”
“Yes, yes,” said Thor, cutting Kamijou off. “But that leaves Ollerus’s group free. It’s true Gremlin’s goal will not be kind to Fräulein Kreutune, but just giving her to Ollerus will not solve this. She is a cornerstone of Gremlin and Othinus’s plan. Ollerus’s group could very well be thinking of throwing a wrench in that plan by killing the seemingly immortal Fräulein Kreutune.”
“If Gremlin falls for our trap, they will naturally raise their guard. …If Ollerus’s group notices that change, I would think they would send out a scout. That is where we can set up a second trap. I don’t know where they are in the city, but Ollerus’s group will definitely show up when they notice that change. We can make contact then.”
And if they could then give fake information to the scout acting for Ollerus’s group, the entire group would lose its ability to make a proper decision.
“So we make Gremlin think they are being attacked by both the science side and Ollerus’s group, and we make Ollerus’s group think they are being attacked by both Gremlin and the science side?”
And then once they put up their guards and stopped moving, Kamijou and Thor could secure Fräulein Kreutune and make her disappear. That was the only way to protect her.
Thor then said, “That’s quite the tightrope act. It will require bringing Gremlin and Ollerus’s group quite close together. If the trap doesn’t work, we could end up with a direct clash between them. And I would be surprised if Fräulein Kreutune did not end up at the center of that clash.”
“The tightrope act began the moment you people set foot in the city. …Hopefully, our trap can buy us a day or at least half a day. Saving Fräulein Kreutune takes priority, but we also have to make preparations for afterwards. If we don’t balance this mysterious schedule perfectly, it will all fail.”
Once they had filled their stomachs, Last Order and Fremea Seivelun left the Food Stand Spire parking garage.
And then they tilted their heads in puzzlement.
“…Which way is the station? says Misaka as Misaka tilts her head in puzzlement.”
“In the first place, don’t ask me. Nyahh, I thought you were informed.”
“Misaka is informed! Misaka was just quizzing you!! says Misaka as Misaka is forced to explain every little thing!!”
They both had cell phones given to them by their guardians, so they could determine their current location by using the map service, but people had a tendency of not thinking of services they rarely used when they truly needed them.
Despite the poor public order of District 10, road signs were quite abundant. This was because the land there was cheap and the facilities other districts wanted to keep away were concentrated there.
However, there was no guarantee that those signs would be accurate.
Signs were commonly bent, swapped out, and otherwise made so their arrows pointed in the wrong direction.
If you asked the residents of the district why they did this, they would simply say they had no real reason. It was the same reason that people broke school windows at night.
“In the first place, District 7 is to the north, so we are sure to make our way somewhere eventually if we keep walking in that direction.”
“Oh, nice idea!! says Misaka as Misaka’s eyes sparkle!!”
Those two idiots charged full speed ahead along that choice that was common among lost children.
But they ran into their first problem before making it 500 meters.
They arrived at a T-shaped intersection and could not head straight forward any longer.
“…What should we do? says Misaka as Misaka checks with you just to be sure.”
“Nyahh! When you don’t know, you should ask someone else!!”
Despite not knowing where she was, Fremea rocketed off in an even more random direction. Last Order followed after her and Fremea spoke to a tall woman for the much too arbitrary reason of “she seemed closest”.
“In the first place, which way is District 7!?”
The woman had long silver hair.
The woman had pure white skin.
The woman swayed back and forth to mimic Fremea’s motions.
The woman was being pursued by a large number of people.
The woman was known as Fräulein Kreutune.
Their plan was to set up a trap for both Gremlin and Ollerus’s group.
However, they needed to make some preparations first.
Kamijou Touma and Thor headed to a certain school. Due to the Ichihanaransai preparations, they were able to freely enter without having to worry about security despite it being late at night. And for the same reason, the area was overflowing with tools.
Normally, Kamijou would never have let anyone related to Gremlin into his school. Creating that point of contact was much too dangerous. But the situation required some sacrifice. He could think of no other way of getting what he needed.
“Huh? Kamijou-chan still has not come back?”
Just as Kamijou was about to pass through the school gate, he heard that voice and dashed behind a nearby tree.
Tsukuyomi Komoe, a female teacher with a height of 135 cm, and Fukiyose Seiri, the class Ichihanaransai committee member, were conversing within the school grounds.
“But according to Yomikawa-sensei, he only got caught up in a fight, so he has already been released from the Anti-Skill station.”
“He knows he’s supposed to be staying overnight working, but he used all the confusion to disappear! I really shouldn’t have expected anything out of him!!”
The area seemed soaked with so much oil a single spark would turn it into a sea of flames.
As sweat poured from his entire body, Kamijou was certain of one thing.
He would be in serious danger if he was caught here.
The mysterious schedule he had just barely managed to build up came crumbling down.
“(…Hey! Hey, Thor!! What are you just standing there for!? Get over here and hide!!)”
“Eh? Why? I don’t see any reason to hide.”
“(It was only because you suddenly picked that fight with me that Kamijou-san’s name has fallen so low in their eyes!!)”
Kamijou decided they could not get in through the front entrance, so he dragged Thor outside the school grounds even though the other boy did not understand why. While keeping a careful eye on his surroundings, Kamijou attempted to infiltrate the school building through the back faculty entrance.
It was commonly thought that schools were scary at night, but this school was anything but silent. The classroom and hallway lights were on and plenty of people were moving about. Each class was preparing its Ichihanaransai attraction, so they were creating various pieces of art out of plywood and the hallways were hard to walk down with all the objects filling them.
However, that mixed atmosphere was filled with the excitement unique to a coming event.
Thor seemed so excited Kamijou thought he was going to start humming.
“Nice, nice. Not bad at all. I wish I had brought some spray paint with me. I feel like putting some graffiti on the walls.”
“Don’t get in such a weird mood. More importantly, are you ready?”
“Well, the spiritual item was destroyed by your right hand once already. I repaired it with the materials I had on hand, but that will probably only get me one more use out of it. But I think that should be enough.”
“Good. …Hm? One more use???”
“What? Is that a problem?”
If that was what Thor said, it must have been true, but something about it did not sit well with Kamijou.
Then it hit him.
He remembered getting into an argument with someone who looked just like Misaka Mikoto near the windowless building. So who had that been?
“Where are the computers? This is an Academy City school, so you’ve gotta have a full complement of them, right?”
“The computer lab would probably be fastest. I’m pretty sure they have an expensive business-class printer there.”
Kamijou doubted he would run into any problems as long as no one from his class spotted him, so he started hiding behind things less and less the further he got from his classroom. By the time he was in an area filled with classrooms for a different year, he did not even hide when a group of girls passed by.
“What was that? Why were those girls in track suits carrying bath buckets?”
“They were probably using a club shower room. Their hair was wet.”
“These peaceful places sure are nice. I wish I lived somewhere like this.”
“I’m supposed to live here! But people like you keep appearing and now I’m in danger of being held back a year!!”
The computer lab they arrived at was larger than a normal classroom and it had about 40 computers lined up within it. But most youths those days owned computers, so it was unclear just how necessary the funding spent on the computers was.
The door was unlocked and the lights had been left on.
It was probably open so students could print posters for the Ichihanaransai.
Household printers had grown more accurate, but they could still mostly only print on A4 sized paper. Machines that could print at the A2 poster size were hard to find.
“The lights are on…”
“But no one’s inside. This is our chance.”
Kamijou Touma and Thor snuck into the computer lab.
The first step in their plan was complete.
Marian Slingeneyer held a cell phone while leaning up against the giant black drum-shaped Mjölnir.
“Hmm. I’m finding all sorts of unconfirmed information regarding Fräulein Kreutune. I don’t know if my ‘modifications’ would work on her, so you do something about it, Thor. …I’m not sure if even my Mjölnir could win in a straight competition of firepower.”
The drum can clanked around in protest, but Marian paid it no heed.
The voice speaking over the phone did not seem particularly concerned.
“Like I said, I’ve already begun taking action. …But I think they will have noticed these changes in the city, too.”
“You mean Ollerus’s group?”
“Exactly. We’re going to need concentrated firepower to capture the target. I don’t want anyone interfering during that time. That’s why I say we crush anyone who might interfere ahead of time. We need to meet up.”
“Fine, fine,” muttered Marian halfheartedly before ending the call.
The way she moved through the city with the large drum can may have looked humorous. And in fact, she drew the attention of a large number of the students running around in preparation for the Ichihanaransai. The reason no one registered them as dangerous must have because of all the cleaning and security robots that travelled around the city.
None of those students realized the truth.
The brown girl they were casually walking past was an expert in human transformation and destruction. She could easily bring about a horrifying hell of flesh and blood.
“Thor said no preemptive attacks, but this would be the perfect time to make some preparations.”
Despite knowing quite well what using her power meant, Marian Slingeneyer’s tone was blunt. She was not one to hesitate when it came to destroying the peaceful scene before her eyes.
Thor had asked her to meet him in the plaza in front of the District 7 station.
That place was a landmark well known for receiving heavy pedestrian traffic even after the last train, but the population distribution was more scattered during the Ichihanaransai preparations. It did not look too congested at the moment.
“West entrance, west entrance…hm? This should be it. Now where is Thor…?”
Marian glanced around and pulled out her cell phone when she couldn’t find the person she was looking for.
But then she froze.
Mjölnir shook noisily because she did not know why Marian had suddenly stopped moving.
Marian Slingeneyer’s eyes were opened wide and staring at a bulletin board set up in front of the station. Due to the collection of cultural festivals known as the Ichihanaransai being so close, almost everything on it was advertisements for some sort of performance or another.
But something quite different was displayed prominently in the center.
It contained a large photo of a certain girl’s face.
And it had some additional information displayed in small writing below the photograph.
This dangerous suspect was witnessed in relation to the disturbance in Baggage City. She was last seen in the Bright Stare Hotel. Please report any information on her to Anti-Skill.
Marian Slingeneyer glanced around and then moved away from the bulletin board. Large plazas like that always had Anti-Skill stations built in, so she left the plaza while making sure not to look in the direction of the station.
She was not afraid of Anti-Skill.
The core of the problem lay elsewhere.
While accompanied by Mjölnir, Marian pulled out her cell phone once more. She called Thor.
“Thor, this is very bad! My information is being displayed around Academy City. If Ollerus’s group sees that, we can no longer use the hotel we’ve been using as a hideout!!”
“Academy City and Ollerus’s group. Crushing one or the other wouldn’t be a problem, but I’d rather not deal with both at the same time. …And Ollerus’s group might take advantage of the time we spend dealing with Academy City to reach the treasure before us.”
If Ollerus’s group had picked up on how important Fräulein Kreutune was, they might try to crush Gremlin and Othinus’s plan by killing that supposedly immortal woman.
And they had not found a replacement for her.
Letting Ollerus’s group reach her first would be incredibly dangerous.
“Fortunately, I have all my tools on me. We just need to move to a different hideout. We have no proof all this information flying around the city isn’t a trap. I want a new bed so I can take my time and analyze all this.”
“Understood. The two of you stand out too much. Make sure to keep a low profile so no one will report any information on you. Even if some drunks run into you, don’t start a fight.”
Marian Slingeneyer hung up and clicked her tongue.
She nearly threw the phone to the ground, but the clattering of the drum-shaped Mjölnir just barely managed to stop her.
“But how am I supposed to find a new bed? If they have wanted posters up, my picture will have been sent out to all the hotels. …I guess I should look for an abandoned building.”
Sitting in a department store café on one end of the station plaza, Thor hung up his phone.
“She’s begun to move.”
Thor and Kamijou Touma had led Marian Slingeneyer to the plaza in front of the District 7 station, but they had of course made some preparations beforehand.
They had created the wanted poster on the bulletin board.
Thor had disguised himself as Misaka Mikoto to approach Kamijou. He had used the same magic to take on Marian’s appearance. They had then taken a photo with a cell phone camera and printed out the poster using a computer in the school they had snuck into.
If one calmly analyzed the poster, it had a number of defects and mistakes, but Marian did not know the proper Academy City format so it was enough to make her sweat.
Kamijou sat in the opposite seat, watching the plaza through the glass. He pulled out his student handbook.
“Marian’s unnatural actions are sure to be noticed by Ollerus’s group. And they will send out a scout. This is the only time we can set the second trap.”
“Are you really going to do it?”
“Are you that worried about me going on my own?” Kamijou gave a light smile. “We need a trap to mislead Ollerus and the others in his group. Something to make sure they don’t cross paths with Gremlin. If you went with me, Ollerus and the others would use everything they had to defeat you. That would be getting our priorities backwards. Also,” he continued. “You’re the only one that can recover from Fräulein Kreutune’s attacks. If I take one of those attacks without you around, it’s all over right there. That means you have to be our final trump card. …Anyway, hand me that pen. It’s water-based, right?”
The pen had been left on the table in order to fill out the customer survey cards, but Kamijou used it to write something in his student handbook.
“If Marian is seriously on the run, she will use magic to keep any enemies away. That isn’t going to be some horrible magic using humans as materials like in Baggage City, is it?”
“If she was on the attack, probably. But when on the run, she doesn’t want to cause a commotion. Even someone as obsessed with transforming people as she is will be cautious here. The human body is not Marian Slingeneyer’s only specialty. It does get the most focus because of the impact it makes, though.”
“Do you have any guesses what she might do?”
“Norse mythology talks of decorations that make the wearer’s body invisible. Marian can likely use something like that as she can create the weapons of the gods,” said Thor. “And there is one common factor among all magic that makes the user invisible. The magician that uses it has no way to know if they have actually been rendered invisible or not. …Ever since she entered the plaza, I’ve been adding some ‘seasoning’ of my own to the landscape so it will fail. That means you won’t lose sight of her.”
“I see,” muttered Kamijou as he wiped some water droplets from the outer edge of his iced coffee glass and rubbed them on a page of his student handbook. “Then I’ll be going. If I can’t meet back up with you, you go on ahead.”
Kamijou left the café and rode down the escalator. He exited the department store and looked around.
He spotted Marian Slingeneyer’s silver braided hair.
He took a deep breath and slowly began to follow her.
Naturally, he could not let Marian notice him. But Kamijou’s goal was not to tail Marian Slingeneyer. He actually wanted to spot someone else who was following her, so it was a rather complicated situation.
And so his main focus was not Marian; it was the area behind her.
Kamijou followed her out of the plaza, down a narrow path, and around turn after turn after turn. All the while, he kept his focus on the area around her.
If Marian’s pursuer was using some kind of magic to turn invisible or hide their presence, his attempts to find them with his five senses would be pointless, but…
(It would all be pointless if Marian Slingeneyer sensed some kind of magic power. I hope Ollerus’s group decided using magic was too dangerous.)
Marian must have been worried about being followed by Anti-Skill because she took a much more roundabout route than necessary.
After a few more unnecessary turns, Kamijou’s shoulders jumped.
Something did not seem quite right.
It was only after he turned the next corner that he realized it was the clear cover protecting the contents of a vending machine. He had seen something reflected in the cover.
Kamijou stopped pursuing Marian, cracked open the backdoor to a building, and slipped inside.
He silently closed the door and listened to the regular footsteps coming from outside.
With his back pressed up against the wall, Kamijou looked over at a nearby table. The stands and stages for the Ichihanaransai were made on the school grounds, but normal stores would also make special decorations for the occasion. That must have been why the table had a toolbox on it.
Kamijou grabbed a power drill that looked a bit like a handgun.
Meanwhile, the regular footsteps passed by the door and continued on to follow Marian.
Before the footsteps disappeared, Kamijou reached for the doorknob to the backdoor. He slowly turned the knob so as not to make any noise and opened the door ever so slightly.
He peered outside.
He saw a small back.
He saw some familiar blonde hair.
He saw someone who Thor had named as a member of Ollerus’s group.
Despite knowing it was a possibility, actually seeing her again brought a strange pressure to Kamijou’s chest.
The Hawaiian Islands. Baggage City.
She was another cause of those incidents even if not as direct a cause as Gremlin.
He could feel his consciousness grow oddly unsteady, but he could not stop there. If Marian Slingeneyer and Leivinia Birdway clashed, Kamijou’s plan to trick each group into distancing themselves from each other would fail.
Kamijou tightened his grip on the power drill.
He opened the building’s backdoor even further and stepped out into the narrow pathway outside.
He had already made up his mind.
And in a way, having it be her was better than the alternative.
District 7 is that way.
If you do not know the direction, look at the stars.
It is not too far to walk.
“O-ohhhh! I recognize this area, says Misaka as Misaka is utterly impressed. Misaka thinks we found the true queen of the informed, says Misaka as Misaka is surprised by this sudden intruder.”
Last Order looked around with her eyes wide when she made it back to District 7 based on Fräulein Kreutune’s directions.
Fremea Seivelun put her hands on her hips and said, “Nyahh. That’s the problem with lost children. In the first place, I would rather you did not cause me so much trouble.”
To the very end, she did not realize she had been lost.
The two girls had grabbed Fräulein Kreutune’s hands and dragged her along with them.
Last Order smacked Fräulein Kreutune on the back with her small palm.
“Misaka guesses she should thank you, says Misaka as Misaka looks down on you even while thanking you! By the way, what is your name?”
Without moving her neck, Fräulein Kreutune turned her gaze upwards with only her eyeballs. It looked less like she was trying to remember something and more like she was performing a mechanical search for a piece of information amongst a large amount of data.
“Fräulein Kreutune. That is my name.”
“Okay, now let’s exchange email addresses! says Misaka as Misaka continues on to the next mission!! Apparently, that’s a ceremony for making friends!!”
“Nyahh. In the first place, do you have a cell phone?”
Fräulein Kreutune’s eyeballs rolled around to a few different odd angles, but she did not seem to be able to find a satisfying answer.
And whether she found an answer or not did not matter to Last Order or Fremea.
“In the first place, I guess it can’t be helped. Nyahh! You can borrow this!”
Saying that, Fremea pulled a vaguely egg-shaped device from her pocket. One end of the device had a string and a round metal device like a keychain attached. It was a child’s security buzzer.
Hamazura and the others had given it her in case the Freshmen attacked. It was nothing special, so it would be useless against any kind of expert interference, so the new Item did not trust it much.
Fremea arrogantly entered explanation mode.
“This uses something called GPS, so if you pull the string, it sends your current location to the cell phone registered with it! If you take this and go like this and this, you’ll be okay! In the first place, you just have to pull on the string if you want to see us. We’ll come charging out to meet you!!”
Of course, if it used GPS, she should never have gotten lost in the first place, so it was immediately obvious Fremea did not really understand how it worked.
“Oh, oh. But this doesn’t let us contact her, says Misaka as Misaka gives her objection.”
“Heh heh heh. It can actually receive simple emails for no cost! In the first place, it can receive but not reply to emails of under 150 characters from only the registered cell phone, so it comes with a lot of annoying restrictions!!”
Fräulein Kreutune tilted her head in puzzlement as she stared at the security buzzer she had been handed.
While looking up at the woman’s face, Last Order said, “That concludes the ceremony, so now we’re friends, aren’t we!? says Misaka as Misaka checks to make sure!!”
“Nyahh. In the first place, I see no reason why we can’t be friends.”
Fräulein Kreutune tilted her head even further as she thought. Finally, her eyeballs rolled around one last time.
“Yes, understood. We are friends.”
“And so here I am.”
Leivinia Birdway seemed to be shrugging her shoulders with her arms held out horizontally more than it did she was holding her hands up.
She continued speaking without turning around.
“You’ve changed since I last saw you. Are you no longer using the power of your right hand? Well, I will admit a power drill would be more useful at certain times and in certain situations, but could you stop pressing the tip of the drill against the back of my head?”
“Don’t move,” said Kamijou in a quiet voice from behind her. He was painfully aware of the trigger-like switch under his finger. “I know you can freely use power ridiculous enough to let you control a magic cabal. There might not be anything I could do in a straight fight. But I have the advantage here. I’ll activate the drill before you can do anything.”
“Will you really?” Despite facing a fate much more gruesome than being shot with a bullet, Leivinia Birdway’s muscles were not even slightly tense. “Please don’t tell me you actually think you can kill me with something like that.”
Kamijou did not respond and turned his gaze beyond Birdway.
Marian Slingeneyer must not have noticed them because she disappeared around the next corner.
Birdway let out a dispirited sigh like a fisherman whose catch had escaped the hook.
“I never expected you to act on Gremlin’s behalf after everything that happened. Do you really understand what you are doing?”
“If you’re asking if what I am doing is right or not, I have no idea. But at the very least, I am trying to think things through for myself.”
“You do realize you might just have been tricked into thinking that is what you are doing, right?”
“You were the one that specialized in doing that.”
Leivinia Birdway breathing stopped for a quick moment.
Kamijou continued on regardless.
“I saw that hell in Baggage City. After seeing that, I can no longer innocently trust someone like you who used me despite knowing that would happen.”
“Do you mind if I give you my thoughts on that?”
“Are you going to say that was meant to keep the damage to a minimum?” Kamijou could feel his hand holding the drill start to tremble unnaturally and he desperately tried to keep it under control. “You may have a point. Someone like you can probably carry out complex calculations that a simple high school boy like me can’t. You can probably come to the optimum answer in the shortest amount of time. Maybe all that chaos would have spread thinly out throughout the entire world leading to an even more horrible future if it had not been focused within Baggage City. That was your answer, wasn’t it?”
“But,” continued Kamijou, speaking over whatever Birdway was trying to say. “After seeing that, I just can’t bring myself to say it was the best answer. Kihara Kagun died. That fact brought a girl to tears! …If that happened because something went wrong, then that’s one thing. But that wasn’t the case for you!! I don’t know what you gained from causing all that to happen, but you still brought about Baggage City for your own ends. That fact does not change!!”
Kamijou started to say “How am I…” but he could feel his lips trembling.
He was shaken.
Why was that?
Was he unable to control his own anger? Was the pain of having Birdway betray him coming back to him? Or did he still want Birdway to deny it all and say it had all been some kind of mistake? Was he so shaken because he was not receiving those words he had secretly been hoping for?
Kamijou forced out the words while still not understanding his own mental state.
“…How am I supposed to unconditionally trust someone who did that!?”
Leivinia Birdway remained motionless for a bit.
Since she had her back to him, Kamijou could not see her expression.
Some time passed.
Finally, Birdway let out a small sigh and slowly spoke.
“Well, I knew this was a possibility.”
“Just double checking my priorities. And now let me say something else: Move that pathetic toy out of the way. Especially if this is not a friendly visit. I am not benevolent enough to do nothing when a stranger does something like this to me.”
Leivinia Birdway’s tone of voice seemed to completely change like a switch had been flipped.
Kamijou Touma had never heard this tone of voice from her before.
It was cold.
It sounded like death itself.
“Let me be blunt. Are you aware you have created a situation here where you have no grounds for complaint if I kill you? You have personally thrown away the card that allows you to make an emotional plea for your life.”
A conflict seemed unavoidable.
And Birdway would likely make use of something she had never shown Kamijou before.
Despite appearing to have an overwhelming upper hand in the situation, Kamijou felt his right hand stiffen unnaturally as it held the power drill. He felt as if anxiety and fear were letting out toxic components into his brain which were destroying the basic structure of his right hand.
That situation was only destroyed thanks to a shout from a third party.
“Hey! What are you doing there!?”
A powerful light washed over them and Kamijou turned in its direction without thinking. Several members of Anti-Skill were running his way. And they had no ability to immediately see through the supernatural aspects of the situation, be they psychic or magical in nature.
What it looked like to them was:
Person A was holding a dangerous weapon to Person B’s back.
“Not good. Move your hand out of—!!”
Birdway reacted first.
But Anti-Skill took action before she could finish speaking.
Several gunshots rang out and Kamijou Touma felt intense pain explosively expand through his body.
It felt like a scorching object was ripping through him.
All strength left his right hand and the power drill fell to the ground. Even while he still did not understand why he had lost strength in his arm, he could feel that lack of strength spreading throughout his entire body.
He could not even work up the strength to look down at his own body.
And in the next moment, Kamijou collapsed down to the asphalt. His consciousness lost its continuity and he could only catch intermittent bits of what was going on around him.
He heard adult voices yelling in the distance.
“You…idiot!! Why did you…have live ammunition loaded!?”
Kamijou felt like something important was flowing out of the holes in his body like air leaking from a balloon. An uncomfortable slimy feeling covered his upper body.
He heard Birdway speaking.
“Shut…up!! …Just call…an ambulance! I…can perform first…aid. Like hell…I can trust…you!”
His vision flickered in and out.
He began to have difficulty remembering the context of his situation.
First aid had been mentioned, but all Kamijou could tell was that he was rolled onto his back. He had a feeling someone was doing something to the center of his torso, but he could not imagine what they were doing or what it had to do with healing him.
He noticed something odd during the course of the first aid.
He heard a sound like paper scraping against paper.
When Leivinia Birdway heard the siren of the ambulance, she stopped her bloody hands. All she had been able to do as first aid was hold a handkerchief to the wound.
The ambulance could not enter the narrow alley, so it stopped at the road outside. A number of EMTs approached, pushing a stretcher.
Birdway shouted at them.
“The bullet struck his right flank, but it came out the other side! There is no sign it injured an artery or any organs!! But some fragments of the bullet might still be inside. Don’t just trust the bullet is out. Make sure to do a proper examination!!”
“Understood. Leave the rest to us!!”
“Just do your job. That should save him.”
Anti-Skill started to call out to Birdway to ask about the situation. …But they froze in place when she threw a glare as sharp as a knife in their direction. If they had actually rudely called out to her, they might have been smashed to pieces by her.
Since she had used her handkerchief for first aid, she had nothing to wipe the red blood from her hands.
Birdway grimaced and started to leave. Only then did she pull something out of her skirt pocket.
It was Kamijou Touma’s student handbook.
Birdway called someone using her cell phone, narrowed her eyes, and said, “Yes, yes. That’s right. I met some interference but from an unexpected source. Gremlin has won over Kamijou Touma.”
She flipped through the student handbook with her bloody hands.
Birdway had not performed first aid for a purely sentimental reason. Since she had been thrown off the trail of the only person who they could get any kind of hint from, she had wanted a new source of information. She had also had that logical reason.
Kamijou Touma had been defeated, but she knew who was behind his actions.
With that fact in mind, Birdway continued speaking
“Kamijou Touma is working with…Marian Slingeneyer. He has her contact information written in his handbook. I can’t read the numbers though because sweat or something has made the ink run. At any rate, it seems Gremlin’s base is in District 12. If we want to crush them in a surprise attack, this would be the perfect chance to concentrate our forces.”
After the EMTs placed him on the stretcher, Kamijou’s dim vision caught sight of Birdway calling someone.
(…She fell for it.)
Kamijou did not have enough of a connection with Ollerus’s group to contact one of them. And even if he had suddenly come to them with some useful information, they would have been suspicious.
That was why he had abandoned the idea of telling them directly.
He had written false information in his student handbook, made the ink of the water-based pen run, and then intentionally lost.
They would not have believed him if he had told them directly.
He had made it so they would steal the information from his pocket.
By making them think it was information he wanted to protect, they would believe it to be true.
However, he had not expected it to be Birdway he had to deal with and he had certainly not expected Anti-Skill to intervene and put him on the brink of death.
(Now Birdway mistakenly thinks I have a connection with Marian. The fact that we met before in Baggage City helps make that more believable. If Birdway reports this to the rest of Ollerus’s group, they will likely all head to District 12 where they won’t find anything.)
They had sent Gremlin and Ollerus’s group in opposite directions.
It was unclear how much time that would buy them.
But for the moment at least, they had avoided an all-out war with Fräulein Kreutune in the center.
(Please, Thor. Fräulein Kreutune is on the loose. If she goes on a rampage, it will only draw Gremlin and Ollerus’s group to her again.)
“Gh…bh!? Cough cough!!”
“Calm down! Hey, have you accessed the Bank yet!? If we don’t know his blood type, we can’t begin the transfusion. Saline can only go so far!!”
After being placed within the ambulance, the back door slammed shut, cutting off his vision of what was happening.
At almost the exact same time, Kamijou’s consciousness cut out.
A shrill siren had to be blaring above him, but he was not even aware of that.