Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume6 Chapter5
Chapter 5: Surely Justice Can be Found Anywhere. Black_to_Light.
It was half an hour after midnight.
Mugino Shizuri stood in front of an apartment complex in District 7 that was meant to hold multiple tenants in each apartment.
One of her eyelids writhed eerily. An unbelievable sight spread before her on the dark road.
It was a single girl.
She had long fluffy blonde hair, white skin, blue eyes, and a short, slender build. She wore the same beret as always, the same stockings as always, and the same miniskirt as always.
She was Frenda Seivelun.
Mugino Shizuri had sliced that girl’s upper body from her lower body. She had once been a member of the dark side organization of Item along with Mugino. She had been in charge of causing explosions and producing firearms.
“Why do you look so shocked?”
The supposedly dead girl’s lips moved.
A sigh temporarily interrupted the familiar voice.
“Surely you know just how many oddities this city holds. So don’t you think it’s possible that replacements for lost organs could be obtained? Or that some inhuman tech could allow the reuse of a body that’s heart has already stopped beating?”
“In the end, that’s what happened. I sold myself to Academy City. So that I could survive. It may be a bit of an extreme phrasing, but this body is only a rental. I have to perform work for Academy City in order to keep using it. That is all I know. I can only assume it works to someone’s advantage for me to be standing before you now.”
“Why did you decide to take for granted how I would feel about what happened? I assume you have good enough instincts to sense this is not the proper mood for an emotional reunion. In the end, that’s just how it is. This seems like a good time for the city to use me as a trump card. I don’t know who it will benefit, but I am perfectly fine with applying pressure to the #4.”
She was grinning.
And as she did, Frenda slowly approached Mugino. She was holding something in her hand. It resembled the correction tape used for stationery. It was actually a type of explosive that could be used to slice through a wall or door to enter a building.
Of course, no explanation was necessary for what would happen if it was attached to a human and detonated.
“So what will you do? Will you try to kill me again?”
Her questions were like stabs of a knife.
She took one step…two steps…three steps.
Anyone who knew of the #4 Level 5 Meltdowner power Mugino Shizuri had would know just how much of a risk it was to directly approach her. And yet Frenda showed no hesitation or fear as she did so.
It was as if she knew from the beginning she would not be attacked.
“You can’t, can you? In the end, this is exactly what it said in the data I read. You certainly have grown soft while I was being metallically regenerated. In the past, you would have killed me without hesitation. The mere fact that I managed to approach these three steps shows your hesitation and fear.”
They were now 50 cm apart.
Frenda brought her face in closer so that their noses were almost touching. A grin split across Frenda’s face.
“But you have no problem with this, do you? In the end, you want me to kill you. Hah hahh. You’re thinking that it’s my turn to kill you since you killed me, aren’t you? Not that letting me kill you will make up for your crime. But that doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter to me if your intentions are misguided.”
Frenda slowly spoke her next words.
She was almost whispering.
It looked as if she was about to bite into the center of Mugino’s face
“You just need to die.”
With those words, she pressed her correction-tape-like device against Mugino’s stomach.
It was as if she was drawing a horizontal line of revenge.
She was trying to blow the upper body and the lower body apart.
But just before she could…
Without any change of expression, Mugino Shizuri unhesitatingly blew Frenda’s right arm to pieces.
She had created a beam of light.
That overwhelming light shot out with tremendous force and blew away the darkness of the night.
Technically, it was made up of electrons.
Her power allowed her to maintain the pure form of electrons without allowing them to become particles or waves. She created a Particle-Function Waveform High Speed Cannon that used that inviolability to forcefully rip apart or roast her target.
It was known as Meltdowner.
When directly faced with the power classified as Academy City’s #4, the correction-tape-like device and Frenda’s right arm were turned to ash. Frenda let out a scream and was knocked away in something like a tailspin.
That was wrong.
As the girl screamed and writhed on the ground, Mugino frowned slightly. It was similar to suddenly hearing a high-pitched electronic tone over a telephone call.
“Ahh…Ahh… I’ve gotten so used to it that I completely forgot about that possibility.”
The bright dots of light disappeared from her vision.
A sharp headache as though a needle and thread had been drawn from her right temple to her left temple caused Mugino to grimace.
“One of my eyes is a high performance artificial. You electromagnetically interfered with it to make me see something that isn’t actually there.”
“Hmm. I don’t see how you could interfere with my hearing, so are you using some stupid trick like a voice changer?”
She used a hand to cover the fake eye, but the illusion did not disappear. In fact, even when she closed both eyes, she could still distinctly see Frenda floating in the darkness.
Kinuhata Saiai of the dark side must have finally heard the commotion because she came running up.
The girl of around 12 frowned and said, “Um…Why are you super playing around with some middle-aged man?”
“Oh, is it some old man? My fake eye has been cracked, so I can’t tell. It seems he wanted me to see him as Frenda.”
“Well, I guess that makes sense. Frenda did dress in a way I bet older men would super like.”
“He must really need to get laid if he’s resorted to crossdressing.” Mugino sounded utterly annoyed. “But this is just pathetic. It lacks the ingenuity of the dark side. You could at least have been cruel enough to have some comrade of yours appear just when I thought I had won, right?”
As Frenda (?) held the new end of lost arm with the other hand, she began scooting backwards while in a sitting position. Mugino had no way of knowing if the attacker’s arm had really been destroyed or if the attacker was even truly in the same location as Frenda.
The attacker shouted out in a wavering voice with an unstable interval that was something like a mix between a lively girl’s voice and a middle-aged man’s voice.
“Bbahhbhah!! H-how? How, dammit!? The data said you had left the dark side… I-if you’re living a peaceful life, you c-c-can’t kill!!”
“Kinuhata, I’m not sure what this guy is trying to say. Could you translate for me?”
“Can’t help you. I super don’t understand loser talk.”
“Y-you reconciled…owww…you reconciled with Hamazura. Bhh…You reconciled with him…You decided to live a proper life and walk in the same world as him!! Then! Then…!!”
“Sigh…So that’s it.” Mugino scratched at her head in annoyance. “As long as I have Hamazura, this is fine.”
“I’ll get into trouble and into fights. There will even be deadly fights. But it will all work out in the end. No matter how many people I kill and how much I destroy, everything will be resolved in the end somehow and we can all be happy. All my past experiences have shown that to be true.”
The atmosphere and overall mood suddenly grew colder.
Some kind of strange rule that did not exist anywhere on the earth covered that area.
“That’s how it was during the fight between Item and School. That’s how it was when we fought underground in District 23. That’s how it was when we met during the fierce fighting of World War III. And so I know it will be fine as long as I have Hamazura. No matter what happens, he will forgive me in the end.”
Kinuhata quietly sighed from her position outside Mugino’s field of vision.
They had no idea who that attacker worked for, but he had misread the situation on a fundamental level.
Just because a happy ending had been reached did not mean all the death and violence had forever ended.
Depending on how the happy ending had been accepted, it could be dyed in grotesque and psychedelic colors.
One must not think of Mugino Shizuri’s sensibility as being of the same type as a normal person’s.
A monster was a monster.
Even if reconciliation had been achieved, it did not mean her basic nature had been changed to something clean and refreshing.
The #4 gave a thin, thin smile.
“And more importantly, Academy City is filled with oddities.”
“At least enough oddities to allow someone to live despite having an arm and an eye blown away, burns all over her body, and a portion of her organs boiled from the inside. So don’t worry. Four or five blasts from my Meltdowner is not enough to kill someone. As long as they are in this city, at least.”
The attacker disguised as Frenda was almost foaming at the mouth by the time he looked over at Kinuhata. A desperate plea for help could be seen in his eyes. But Kinuhata merely shrugged as if she had given up on something.
She gave the most help she could to the man.
“At least make sure he doesn’t super die.”
“That still leaves a lot I can do, unfortunately. Technological revolutions really do make you think, don’t they?”
A beam of light flashed.
It was followed by several more. They looked like camera flashes or nearby strikes of lightning.
After it was all over, they dragged the battered attacker (it is best not to give a detailed explanation of his state) to some strange research facility and left him there. On the way back, Mugino and Kinuhata spoke together casually.
“So who was he?”
“I get the feeling a super lot is going on in the city today.”
The two were in as excellent form as ever.
But since Hamazura would probably cry if he saw what happened, they decided to keep it a secret.
Something was odd.
By the time Yomikawa Aiho of Anti-Skill noticed the oddity, several hours had passed since midnight.
She parked the special vehicle lent to her on the side of the road and checked with her colleagues using the vehicle’s radio.
“Sumomo, Kurumi, Hakutou. …Have you noticed it yet?”
“Should we change our bandwidth to speak privately?”
“With how obvious it is, do you really think it could have slipped past us?”
The outer wall of the windowless building had been destroyed and they were tracking whoever had escaped. That was the emergency situation for which Anti-Skill had been deployed. For that purpose all information that could be found was being gathered from around the city and that mixture of both real and false information was being analyzed by the deskwork group.
“Information is suddenly disappearing at an almost amusing rate.”
“It feels like having a fish escape your hook. Or maybe like someone hiding underwater removed the hook.”
“Wait, wait, wait! This really isn’t something we should be discussing over the official bandwidth. You’re wondering who could pull off a trick like that, right?”
“Kurumi, you’re the one saying the most dangerous stuff. …But I do agree this reeks of someone inside the organization manipulating the information.”
Technically, the information had not been completely cut off. All of them were still being instructed to hunt down “someone”.
But to use the fishing metaphor, they were not getting a single “bite”.
“Can you find anything in the footage from the satellites and security robots?” asked Yomikawa.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Even in places where there should be someone there, they’ve disappeared like a zit on a pin-up idol’s face.”
“Then what about the search reports up to now?”
“Um, the server is having a really slow response time… Do you think this is a sign that someone is destroying files while disguising it as server trouble?”
Yomikawa clicked her tongue.
She then added, “Sumomo, Hakutou. Head as quickly as possible to the station. Secure the paper reports. If you can’t, then retrieve the temporary cache from the copier.”
“Understood, understood. But I get the feeling whoever is behind this has set it up so they’ll always be a step ahead of us.”
“Kurumi, you come with me. We’ll try to search out whoever tries to interfere with Sumomo and Hakutou’s actions.”
“Fine, but whoever it is is probably listening to our conversation right now.”
“Then let’s startle them by declaring war.”
While grinding the shift lever more than necessary, Yomikawa drove off in the special vehicle.
She doubted everything would go as planned.
But even with that honest prediction, she did not resign herself to the fangs of the one she pursued. Even if she was being driven to the side as a side character, she did not lose her right to sink her teeth into her prey’s side.
It was just before dawn.
A wet sound could be heard.
A white hand was pressed against a concrete wall. The slender arm stretching from it bent creepily as it forcefully held up a woman’s weight. The axis running along the center of her body wobbled back and forth and she looked like she could shrink down like a deflating balloon at any moment.
She was Fräulein Kreutune.
She supported her weight with a hand against a building wall and her other hand covered half of her face. Her eyes writhed around unnaturally and a powerful look of doubt could be seen on her face.
Her breath was hot.
The feeling of something catching in the back of her throat continued no matter what she did.
Every pipe in her body itched. She could not get rid of a strange feeling like all of her internal organs were filled with tiny spider webs.
Something was missing.
Fräulein Kreutune’s thought process did not work the same as a primate’s brain that produced complex feelings. Her mind was more like an insect’s that decided everything via yes or no questions. Was it hot or cold? Was it sweet or spicy? Was it damp or dry? When thousands or tens of thousands of those questions were piled on top of each other, it looked as if she was producing more complex thoughts.
It was no different from how a high-level conversation program was actually nothing but a long string of ones and zeros.
Like a long line of breaker switches being thrown at once, Fräulein Kreutune’s set of “simple decisions” piled up.
That giant collection of yes or no answers brought a single idea to her mind.
Something was missing.
A wet sound could be heard.
She was in a back alley where the wall and ground were dirtied by some strange liquid. The hand supporting her weight slipped and she collapsed to the ground. While lying face down with her oddly long silver hair spread out around her, those simple decisions continued.
The eye peering out from a gap in her hair spun around with tremendous speed.
Her breathing sounded like a broken flute.
“It doesn’t really matter that much I suppose, but what do you think about the fact that an 8 year old was able to sleep until dawn on a plaza bench just because she was tired!? This is one hell of a safe country!!”
“…Hamazura. If she often falls asleep early because she is too tired, does that mean her dental health is still in trouble?”
A boy and a girl entered the back alley with loud footsteps. …No, technically, there was a third person with them. A small girl was asleep on the back of the boy with the dyed hair.
Due to the lack of illumination, they did not notice Fräulein Kreutune collapsed in the back alley at first.
“Hm? What is that!? An especially motivated drunk?”
“I almost stepped on her.”
And that was why they approached her. Why they carelessly approached her.
As she lay face down on the ground with her hair sprawled out around her, her fingers writhed like insects legs. The lips hidden by her bangs trembled…melted…opened. Her mouth grew thinner and thinner, wider and wider. The white line of teeth within glittered like a saw.
It had of course not been reported to the general public, but the following report had been made to certain groups:
If Fräulein Kreutune feels it necessary, she will eat another’s brain to acquire its abilities.
Someone that could only be described as a monster or a beast slowly rose.
Her oddly warm breathing grew more quickly paced.
At this point, Hamazura finally frowned in confusion.
But it was too late.
Using an action that was more like sending her body weight tumbling forward than it was “walking”, Fräulein Kreutune decisively shortened the distance between herself and Hamazura. Then she made it to the distance that could only be called “zero”.
While pressing herself up against the concrete wall, she passed by Hamazura and the others.
Fräulein Kreutune left while making oddly wet sounding footsteps.
Hamazura turned around without thinking.
And then he realized he had no idea why he even turned around.
His forehead was covered in sweat. Even in the chilly early morning air, several beads of sweat could be seen. It was only once he had felt them flow down past his nose and to his chin that he noticed the change to his body.
His shoulders were trembling.
His knees felt like they would give way beneath him.
The central axis he needed to keep his balance had been horribly shaken.
For the dozen or so seconds it had taken for the woman to pass, his breathing had completely stopped.
He was in the same state as a human who had been thrown into a cage with a wild beast.
That question filled his mind.
He was partially asking about the identity of the woman who had been collapsed in the alley.
He was also asking about the words she had muttered with her oddly hot breath as she left.
The following words had slipped into Hamazura’s ears.
“…It isn’t her.”
“How horrible,” muttered the Saint named Silvia within a building at night.
The windows had been covered so the vast floor contained no illumination. She was a mysterious woman who was wearing a work apron, thick work clothes and pants, and industrial goggles on her forehead. However, her overall silhouette somehow looked like that of a maid.
She was in District 12, the district with many religious facilities.
The building itself was a standard high-rise building, but this vast floor contained no thresholds and small stones were placed underfoot. The majority of the floor had been turned into a wooden Buddhist temple. However, the entire building was not an exclusively Buddhist facility. A different floor contained a Shinto shrine with a giant torii at the entrance.
“This really is horrible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything try so hard yet miss so badly,” said Silvia in shock as she retrieved a long laundry rope using only snaps of the wrist.
“It is an unpleasant structure,” said Brunhild Eiktobel with a short sigh.
She wore a short dress with pants underneath and modern protectors covering her arms, legs, and chest. Her silhouette resembled armor and the addition of decorative feathers on her head made her reminiscent of the maidens of battle from Norse legend.
She was a Saint as well.
Just the two of them could, based on raw strength alone, smash a magical base that had been created by turning an entire city into a religious fortress.
“Even though this place was elaborately constructed down to the micron, it does not actually possess a single magical symbol. This is nothing more than a model based on the cycles and patterns needed to efficiently bring people in and take their money.”
“Yeah, but don’t you think this was eerily planned out?”
The action seemed ill suited to that darkness that was void of illumination.
“A clear line has been drawn in order to avoid having the territories of science and magic cross. Think of it like running barefoot across a minefield. …Wouldn’t it seem oddest to make it across without stepping on a single one?”
“Any sign of Marian Slingeneyer?”
“I think we all knew the answer to that from the moment we found no traps on our way in.”
Silvia and Brunhild Eiktobel both looked in the same direction.
Standing in that direction was a short blonde girl.
She was Leivinia Birdway.
She was the one who had acquired the information from the student handbook she had swiped from Kamijou Touma.
She was the boss of the Dawn-Colored Sunlight, a magic cabal that claimed to be one of the foremost cabals even in the great magic nation of England. The established theories regarding the difference between a Saint’s power and a normal person’s did not apply to her. Even if she could not stand up to them in a straight competition of strength, she possessed the knowledge and skill to construct an alternative route to their defeat.
Silvia casually spoke to that monster.
“Do you think we were tricked?”
“…Perhaps. The sole religious district in the city sounded promising, but wax food samples are not enough to fill your stomach. But that boy certainly has grown if he had it in him to be plotting something like this while all that was going on.”
“C’mon, don’t get so upset. After tricking him for your own purposes so much, is it really right to get mad when he returns the favor just once? But I do understand why you would be so panicked. This surprise attack has cost you the perfect timing to apologize.”
“I hope you’re prepared for a slap powerful enough to sink a warship.”
At any rate, the information in Kamijou Touma’s student handbook had been a miss.
They found no sign of Marian Slingeneyer or anyone else from Gremlin.
Brunhild Eiktobel calmly asked, “What should we do next?”
“We now have to question whether Kamijou Touma even has a connection with Marian Slingeneyer. …But he had to have a reason to make us think he did. That boy lied in order to distance us from something. What do you think it was?”
“…So we start with that line of reasoning, hm?”
“It had to be something we would have naturally come across had he not distanced us from it. If we continue along the established rails, we might find something interesting.”
It was 8 AM.
That was the exact time the free time of the Ichihanaransai began. It was the time most often used for open campuses and trial enrollments and was said to be directly linked to the number of students wishing to go to each school. It was an important time in which people made a start dash for the school in which they were interested.
Misaka Mikoto ran as quickly as she could.
She had fallen victim to a trick of fate. After using various methods to lose Shirai Kuroko who could teleport, she had thought she was perfectly safe to head to that idiot’s school. It had been the perfect setting to prevent anyone from teasing her and to avoid creating any unnecessary sparks, but her plan had come crumbling down due to a single coincidence.
And what was it that happened to her?
When she had approached the main entrance of a certain high school for the trial enrollment, she had unexpectedly run into the young lady known as Academy City’s #5☆
“Why? Why did I have to run into that horrible #5 of all people!!!???”
The #5. That girl had the Mental Out ability which was the highest ranked mental power. She was a student at Tokiwadai Middle School just like Mikoto. The #5 who had created the largest clique in the school and the #3 who had no interest in cliques whatsoever were often compared and contrasted.
(It’s always mental attacks vs. physical attacks, clique vs. solitude, long hair vs. short hair, or large breasts vs. small breasts!! Everyone always says whatever they want and I just hate that kind of thinking! And it isn’t just that I take issue with that last one!!)
Naturally, the two of them did not get along.
Naturally, the two of them often got into disagreements.
This was someone with whom Mikoto would often butt heads with as they glared at each other, so she could guess just what that treacherous #5 would do if she found out Mikoto had been nervously heading for a trial enrollment in that high school.
“Waahhh!! She’s controlling all the people around here to chase after me!!”
With movements that gave a vaguely insect-like impression, men and women both old and young chased Mikoto around.
A middle-aged man with a combover who may have been an office worker or a high school teacher began speaking in a domineering fashion as if he was a digital voice recorder being played back.
“Heh heh heh heh heh heh. Misaka-san, you certainly have become a lot more ladylike since I saw you last. Did you perhaps have something bad to eat? After all, Misaka-san, I never thought I would see that look on your face. Hee hee.”
“I’ll kick your ass, you damn old man!!” she shouted despite knowing he was only a victim.
She wanted to capture Mikoto and tease her into submission, but she did not like taking action for herself.
The thought process truly did reek of the #5.
Mikoto did not have time to put up with the #5’s pranks and she would refuse even if she did have the time. As Mikoto approached an overpass, she unhesitatingly jumped over the handrail. As she did, she manipulated magnetism to support her body as if by an invisible rope and swung forcefully underneath the overpass.
It was similar to a shell being fired.
It could be seen as similar to the action of jumping from a swing multiplied by a hundred or more.
As Mikoto’s small body was “fired” from the overpass, she glided for about 200 meters without landing. At that point, she manipulated magnetism once more to lower her speed before landing. Her feet ultimately struck the lid of a metal dumpster.
A loud clang rang out.
“Not good, not good… I need to get out of here,” muttered Mikoto as she hopped down from the dumpster.
But then she frowned.
(…Huh? Why was that #5 even here in the first place???)
She had no answer to that question.
If she waited around too much, she would lose the distance she had gained with her acrobatics. She needed to get away while her pursuers had lost sight of her.
And after Misaka Mikoto left, a creaking noise as if from a badly-fit door could be heard.
It was coming from the lid to the metal dumpster she had landed on.
“…What was that?”
After opening the heavy lid, Kamijou Touma looked around in confusion. When he had left the hospital, he had been wearing a hospital gown, but now he wore a simple shirt and pants.
The costumes used for cafes or haunted houses were not necessarily made from scratch. Sometimes, shirts and pants from cheap clothing stores would be bought in bulk and then altered to create the costumes.
But not all of the attempts would go well. And so the dumpsters near schools were often overflowing with cheap clothes that had been unsuccessfully altered.
He wanted to pursue Fräulein Kreutune, but he could not let each and every Anti-Skill and Judgment member take note of him.
And so after changing from his hospital gown into the bare minimum of shirt and pants, Kamijou searched for Fräulein Kreutune or Thor while also taking a detour to any dumpster he spotted. He wanted to make his outfit out of “failures” that looked as normal as possible so that he would look less suspicious.
He had been in the middle of that when the Biri Biri meteor shower had suddenly rained down from above.
He had just opened the dumpster lid and peered inside, so if he had not immediately dived inside, he may have been sentenced to a guillotine penalty☆ that separated his upper body from his lower body.
“Come to think of it, I wonder what’s happened with Fräulein Kreutune. She would probably stand out a lot too.”
Kamijou arbitrarily grabbed a sports jacket and climbed out of the dumpster. He looked around and headed for a larger road as he put on the jacket.
(Ow…Dammit. Blood isn’t going to seep out and stain it, is it?)
By mere chance, he headed in the opposite direction of Mikoto.
Last Order refused to eat her breakfast.
“…Don’t pass everything off to me.”
Yoshikawa Kikyou and Accelerator were speaking within the apartment’s dining room. Even though the date had changed, the proper owner of the apartment, Yomikawa Aiho, had not returned. She may have been forced to spend all night on patrol thanks to the Ichihanaransai.
Last Order was pushing a plate with a fried egg on it towards Accelerator and a plate with plain toast on it towards Yoshikawa.
“Today is the Ichihanaransai!! announces Misaka as Misaka puts her hands on her hips!!”
“Just give it a rest and eat your damn breakfast.”
“Gyahh! A landslide of potato salad is being poured onto Misaka’s plate, says Misa-…!!”
“What does today being the Ichihanaransai have to do with breakfast? Now hurry up and finish your corn soup.”
Soprano screams continually sounded off within that mansion in the early morning.
Last Order had slightly teary eyes as she looked at the piles of food before her eyes.
“The Ichihanaransai is when they have cultural festivals at all the schools, right? says Misaka as Misaka asks for confirmation. Then Misaka wants to go around to all the food stands at the schools and try the trial enrollments, says Misaka as Misaka announces her plans for the day! And so Misaka needs to have an empty stomach, says Misaka as Mi-…”
“The Ichihanaransai, hm? Oh, Last Order. I thought I told you not to take apart your meat-stuffed bell peppers. As a penalty, you get this bell pepper hell.”
“Noo!! Why are you attacking Misaka with reverse starvation tactics even after she explained her reasoning!? says Misaka as Misaka complains about an extremely luxurious problem!!”
Accelerator let out a small sigh as he glanced over at the shouting Last Order.
He thought for a bit and then spoke to Yoshikawa.
“Let’s pile a whole bunch of them up and-…Hm? What is it?”
“Come to think of it, what do you plan to do about a school for this brat?”
“That’s a good question,” said Yoshikawa with a casual sigh. “You are just as much of a collection of top rank classified information as she is, but you still have a public identity. After all, you are registered as Academy City’s #1. On the other hand, Last Order is the type that does not even have an Academy City ID and does not officially exist. The production of human clones is banned by international law. …Her very existence would be a scandal for Academy City, so it would be difficult to get her into a school through the normal process.”
“But while Last Order is an individual, she is also a part of the ego of the Misaka Network as a whole. All the knowledge, skills, emotions gained from living in a group, and emotional stimuli that people normally learn in their school life can be gained by exchanging information over the network, so the situation may not be as serious as it seems at first glance.”
(You really are a researcher when it comes to that, aren’t you?)
Despite thinking that, Accelerator refrained from saying it.
Accelerator knew well what end was reached in the pursuit of efficiency and logic. He had been part of those “gifted programs” in which he sat in the only desk within a large classroom. In that world, the voices of the other children his age he could hear from the halls were treated as nothing but background noise. To put it kindly, he did not see that as a happy world.
Yoshikawa seemed to want to abandon the path of the researcher and head down the path of the educator, but she had also once said that she did not have the qualifications. And she was right in a way. She was unable to see the meaning behind supposedly pointless and unnecessary things, so even if she could teach her students to get perfect scores on their tests, it was possible she could not do anything beyond that.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” replied Accelerator. “I have nothing to say to you. I just hope you’re prepared to overcome that side of yourself.”
Yoshikawa looked confused, but Accelerator was not the type to give any more help than that.
Instead, he spoke to Last Order.
“Hurry up and eat. We’ll head out once you do.”
“Gnyaahhh! Misaka’s empty stomach strategy has failed already…hm? Head out? asks Misaka as Misaka tilts her head in confusion.”
“It’s nothing much. I need some winter boots. If there are any schools on the way to the store, I suppose we can stop by.”
Last Order and Yoshikawa both fell silent.
The silence lasted for about a second and a half.
It was of course Last Order that began moving first. She stretched her small body as much as she could to forcefully stand up.
“Misaka makes a dash for the door while reminding you that the early bird gets the worm! says Misa-…!!”
“Accelerator, please grab that child right this instant!!”
Yoshikawa and Accelerator hurriedly restrained Last Order before she could charge off onto the path of the lost child once more.
With the broken bone finally healed, the girl known as Misaka Worst had been able to say farewell to the annoying cast.
The sense of liberation it gave her was part of the reason that she had uncontrollably immersed herself in the nightlife. That girl with short brown hair who wore a pure white ao dai extracted the focused negative portions of the information network known as the Misaka Network created by linking the brains of almost 10,000 clones. Naturally, it meant that her negative side came out stronger.
“Kuro-nyaaaaannn. If you have nothing to do, you can play with Misaka.”
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!???” shouted Kuroyoru Umidori, a girl of about 12 with a mean look in her eyes.
As she had been walking across a pedestrian bridge covered in people, an arm had wrapped around her shoulders like she was the victim of a delinquent.
Kuroyoru was a Level 4 who could manipulate nitrogen and a portion of her body had been mechanized to make her a cyborg, but that mechanization had backfired since Misaka Worst could manipulate electricity. She was horribly incompatible with the other girl.
And on top of that, a ridiculous method involving attaching gum to the internal connection port in her arms left her temporarily unable to use her Bomber Lance.
In other words, she was an easy mark.
“What are you eating? Is that some taiyaki with cheese inside? Misaka went for the cotton candy, but that was a mistake. Misaka’s hand is all sticky now. The ones made by kids really are crudely made.”
“…Why are you speaking to me like we’re friends? What possible topic of conversation could we have in common, you idiot?”
“Eh? But, Kuro-nyan, both you and Misaka have no friends, right? So let’s get along together.”
“So we’re the pathetic girl group!? Don’t be ridiculous! Don’t you fucking dare put the central figure of the Freshmen in the same category as you!!”
“Instead of being so cold, how about we try for some additional communication to deepen our friendship? For example, Misaka thinks she’ll rub your head with her hand that’s sticky with cotton candy.”
“You monster! I don’t see anything but malice in you!”
Her nightly outings had likely been taking their toll because Misaka Worst yawned without covering her mouth with her arm still around Kuroyoru’s shoulders.
“While having fun around the city at night, Misaka has made some lame acquaintances to run errands and drive her around, but Misaka is not sure they really qualify as friends. So let’s gain some life experiences together.”
“You’re a military clone whose mere existence violates international law. Should you really be out in public like this?”
“How should Misaka know? It might be causing someone some problems, but that person isn’t Misaka.”
That was when another girl walked up along the pedestrian bridge.
The girl had short hair and wore the uniform of the prestigious powers development school known as Tokiwadai Middle School.
However, she was not the Original named Misaka Mikoto.
She was the military clone labeled Sister #10032 but more commonly known as Misaka Imouto.
For some reason she had removed one of her loafers and was holding it in one hand.
Kuroyoru spat out, “There, you have a friend.”
“Misaka hates, hates, hates clean and tidy people like her. Misaka only wants to speak to people with a nasty look in their eyes.”
“…Everything you say tells me that you have no intention of being my friend.”
Misaka Worst ignored Kuroyoru’s scornful glare and waved to Misaka Imouto with the cotton candy stick.
“Hey, what are you doing? It’s good to see you’re as eccentric as ever.”
“Misaka removed her shoes to rest her feet while taking a break on a bench and this black cat climbed inside one, reports Misaka.”
A closer look at Misaka Imouto’s student loafer showed that a black kitten had indeed occupied it like a hermit crab. Even when she turned the shoe upside down and lightly shook it, the cat did not come out. It must have been stretching out its legs and digging in with its claws.
The black cat usually acted very nervous, but it seemed very bold today for some reason. It seemed to be saying, “This is my house now! I will not let you evict me!”
With a puzzled look, Misaka Worst said, “Couldn’t you just drag it out with an iron claw?”
“Go to hell, loner, spits out Misaka in response to this black-hearted monster.”
Though, since they were both existences controlled by the single large will of the Misaka Network, that opinion had technically once existed within Misaka Imouto as well.
Ignoring that response, Misaka Worst said, “Three still isn’t enough. Is there no one else around here with nothing to do?”
She glanced around the area and spotted an incredibly disgusted expression.
The expression belonged to a girl named Kinuhata Saiai.
The expression was directed more at Kuroyoru Umidori than it was at Misaka Worst or Misaka Imouto.
“Oh? Ohh? Now who could that be? She certainly does have the same nasty look to her though. Nyahah.”
Those who worked in the underground of the city learned how to keep track of their surroundings on their own.
Since someone always glancing around would look suspicious, an expert would avoid doing so because being taken in for questioning or having one’s possessions searched would be a problem for them. And a human’s field of vision was wider than the average person thought. By learning how to use the entirety of one’s almost 160 degree field of vision and also using things like the body of a cell phone, show windows, drink bottles, and the side mirrors of parked cars, one could gather information from the entirety of their surroundings with a bare minimum of motions.
But anyone that understood those table manners could spot others who were using them.
Basically, you needed to keep an eye on anyone who had a slightly odd focal point to their eyes or who underreacted to a car honking or revving its engine in their blind spot.
Misaka Worst had been referring to that type of characteristic when she had referred to the “nasty look” in the eyes.
Incidentally, the normal Sisters tended to be negligent in that kind of effort since they could always gather information from the Misaka Network if something happened.
From the look in Kinuhata Saiai’s eyes, one would have thought she was looking at vomit on a subway platform.
“So are all the villains super creating their own faction?”
“Misaka likes how this is turning out. With dark people like you around, she could enjoy the Ichihanaransai honestly without holding back, nyan.”
Fremea Seivelun awoke while riding on Hamazura Shiage’s back.
“Mnyah…Ah!? Hamazura, where have you been all this time!! In the first place, we can’t have you getting lost like that, nyah nyah!!”
“Ow! Don’t pull on my hair! And an 8 year old who disappeared all night and went to sleep on a plaza bench has no room to lecture me!!”
Fremea had been sleeping in the plaza in front of a station in District 7 whereas her room was in a student dormitory in District 13. Normally, they would have used the train to cross district borders, but Hamazura and the others were still walking through District 7.
The girl walking next to Hamazura wearing a pink track suit, Takitsubo Rikou, let her gaze wander blankly around the area until it landed on an airship with a giant screen on it.
“...Hamazura, that says the trains still are not running.”
“So did some animal really get loose?”
It seemed some school had gathered different rare pets to create a simple zoo for the Ichihanaransai. However, some giant pet had gotten loose from its mobile cage on the station platform that morning and caused a panic when it got down onto the tracks.
“I had us following the tracks as we walked, but at this rate we’re going to reach District 13 before the trains are back up and running.”
“I haven’t seen any buses either.”
“I think they’ve intentionally reduced the number of buses running. That way people are more likely to stop by schools along the way.”
But then Fremea let out a strange voice from his back.
“Nyahh. In the first place, I’m hungry.”
“I’m sure your dorm manager is going to be mad, so shouldn’t you be more focused on coming up with an excuse? Then again, they’ll probably be mad at us too. They’ll probably be super mad at us.”
“I! Want!! Breakfast!!!”
“I-idiot!! Don’t pull at my hair like you’re pulling up weeds! A boy of my age shouldn’t have to worry about his scalp!!”
Hamazura was hoping to take off the edge of her hunger at some school’s Ichihanaransai food stall, but it seemed they were not quite open yet.
He felt like they were losing out, but they ended up heading to a gyudon restaurant that served breakfast meals.
“I want roast salmon! I want a roast salmon meal!! For toppings, I want grated yam, natto, seaweed salad, jumbo grated radish, a small bowl of pickled vegetables, mango, and pudding… Make it all extravagant, nyah nyah!”
“Fremea, you’re supposed to choose only one topping.”
Takitsubo quickly ordered a sukiyaki-style gyudon.
When Fremea saw the small bowl the worker brought out, her eyes opened wide.
“That’s tiny! What a pitiful woman! Nyahh!!”
“In the first place, the idea of girls not eating much is just an illusion! It’s obvious you’re putting up with an empty stomach to preserve your image! Nyah nyah!!”
“…Hamazura, I need to perform an iron claw on that brat, so scoot over.”
As Hamazura restrained the track-suit-wearing girl in the busy restaurant, Fremea gave a haughty snort and made a loud announcement.
“I want rice, miso soup, and salad. Make it a Jumbo 3! Nyah! Three!!”
And 7 minutes later, a pale-faced Fremea pushed three bowls the size of a watermelon sliced in half towards Hamazura. As she held her mouth as if she was about to explode, she managed to get out a small voice.
“…N-nyah. In the first place, the rest is up to you.”
“It looks to me like you did nothing more than scrape a bit off the surface of the bowls.”
In the end, Hamazura had no choice but to do battle with the ridiculous bowls Fremea had ordered.
But once they had all finished eating and were preparing to leave the gyudon restaurant, Fremea suddenly said, “Nyah!! In the first place, I’m hungry again. I’m starving!”
“…Hamazura, I am going to stuff red pickled ginger in that brat’s mouth, so scoot over.”
Hamazura once more had to restrain the track-suit-wearing girl. The three of them somehow managed to leave the gyudon restaurant.
It seemed the time had finally come for guests to be let into the schools so the flow of people had clearly changed from before. It seemed they had chosen the worst possible time for breakfast.
But Fremea did not care in the slightest about the changes to her surroundings.
“I’m tired now… Hamazura, in the first place, you need to carry me.”
“Takitsubo-san! Fremea is at a fickle age!! Actually, why are you even mad this time?”
Just as a confused look appeared on Hamazura’s face, his head was tugged back from Takitsubo like a cat. As Hamazura was knocked back, Fremea casually climbed up his back.
“Nyah. This is where I can be the most relaxed…”
“That is my spot!!”
“W-wait, Takitsubo!! Please tell me why you’re dragging that bus stop sign behind you in one hand!!”
Suddenly, Fremea’s small head shot up from where she was clinging to Hamazura’s back.
Her gaze accurately captured something she could not afford to overlook.
She saw a white-haired, red-eyed Level 5, a monster who used a cane and was known as Academy City’s #1.
She saw a genius scientist who had helped develop military human clones that violated international law.
But Fremea was focused the girl who appeared to be around 10 years old who was walking along between the other two.
She saw her. They saw each other.
They spotted each other’s faces, pointed across the street, and shouted out.
“It’s the kid!!”
“What was that, you child!? says Misaka as Misaka lets out a roar!!”
Kamijou Touma leaned up against a roadside tree, casually operated his cell phone, and sighed.
He had checked the regional message boards in hopes of finding some kind of information on sightings of Fräulein Kreutune since she was so strange looking, but he had found nothing.
Even though the festival had only just begun, the Ichihanaransai was a huge event. Even now, tons of photos and comments were being uploaded to the internet in rapid succession. The amount of information was likely greater than your average security camera network and it was being updated in real time, but he could find no sign of Fräulein Kreutune.
(The entire city is dyed in the colors of a cultural festival. Costumes and cosplay are pretty common. Could someone like Fräulein Kreutune just be buried under it all?)
Kamijou returned to the top page of the search engine and prepared to close the browser.
But his thumb froze in place before he did.
The top page was linked with a news site, so it had a few headlines listed. They were of course all related to the Ichihanaransai, so any normal incidents had completely disappeared.
But something bothered him.
Kamijou clicked the link labeled “see more news” below the headlines. In addition to the previous headlines, he was now shown every major piece of recent news.
He scrolled down to the bottom and started to catch glimpses of normal news unrelated to the Ichihanaransai such as a convenience store robbery and a case of tax evasion.
“There isn’t a thing related to Fräulein Kreutune?”
The windowless building’s armor had been destroyed and at least four unmanned attack helicopters had been shot down. That incident had to be more noteworthy than a simple convenience store robbery.
Not to mention all the refrigerated trucks Thor had blown up. Normally, that alone would have caused a huge uproar over a terrorist attack targeting Academy City’s head, the board chairman.
So what was going on?
Were they suppressing information on the event to prevent any unease and confusion that could delay the Ichihanaransai’s schedule?
Or was someone specifically suppressing all online information regarding Fräulein Kreutune specifically?
Since he had not found any information that could have been referring to Fräulein Kreutune in the comments on normal SNSs and message boards, perhaps it was not a case of no one commenting. It was possible all such comments were being blocked while disguising it as upload errors.
If that was the case…
(I might be able to use this to my advantage…)
Kamijou began operating his phone once more as he glanced through all the comments being made by normal students.
Today was the Ichihanaransai.
For better or for worse, small bits of news and trouble popped up with incredible frequency.
In other words, in a very broad and shallow meaning, there was no spot in which no news was occurring.
And yet there was a blank spot in which nothing was coming from.
Or rather, an unnatural spot had been created thanks to someone disguising it as an area where nothing was happening.
Kamijou closed his phone with a snap and removed his weight from the roadside tree.
He ran down the pathway that had flows of people heading here and there for the events created for the open campuses and trial enrollments.
But this was not something he was overjoyed about.
If he could do it, so could someone else.
He had to contact Fräulein Kreutune before Gremlin or Ollerus’s force found her using the same method.
“How about a maid sandwich? Does anyone want a maid sandwich made by a maid…or technically, a maid apprentice?”
The drawling voice of a girl sitting seiza-style on top of a drum-shaped cleaning robot rang out within the busy street.
She was Tsuchimikado Maika.
She had short hair and wore a maid uniform with a long skirt. Like a popcorn salesgirl in a baseball stadium, she held a large case packed with sandwich boxes supported by a wide belt that wrapped around her neck and shoulders.
Robot, maid, and part-time salesgirl. The different elements were horribly mixed together.
Kumokawa Maria, a classmate from Ryouran Maid School walking next to her, let out a shocked voice.
“C’mon, Tsuchimikado. Your design has no unity to it.”
“Someone with black hair in ringlet curls and a miniskirt maid uniform colored yellow and black like a bee has no right to say anything.”
“Having your pride hurt is a good thing. You will never strengthen yourself otherwise. …But it’s best not to go down that route with no set goal. If you do, you can damage yourself beyond recovery.”
“Come to think of it, don’t you have a quota to sell? Where are your maid sandwiches?”
“With products, the label is everything. Yakisoba inexpertly made on the day of a festival seems to taste better than that of a veteran who has been on the street for 30 years. You can say it is 100% organic, or a limited production, or available for a limited time only…there are plenty of methods. The more stickers you can add to it, the better you will do.”
“I attached a sticker of my face with the message ‘middle school girl maid looking for a future master☆’ and caused quite a commotion in just 10 minutes after I started. The teacher smacked me on the head as punishment, but I still managed to quickly free myself from my quota.”
“…I get the feeling you are the type that would feign food poisoning to get out of work.”
They had no idea what characters they were, but people in a bear and frog suit passed by.
During the large-scale cultural festival that was the Ichihanaransai, strange pieces of artwork could be seen walking around all over the city. Since they could be seen even out on the streets, one could only imagine what it was like at the actual schools.
Toy fish flew across the street without a propeller thanks to a balloon using a heating element and air. If one opened their cell phone, they would find AR signs all over the place.
And all of it was an attempt to draw in guests to one’s own school.
While the Ichihanaransai was a giant cultural festival, it was also a time for open campuses and trial enrollments. As those events were directly linked to the number of people who wished to go to each school, the teachers often allowed the students to push the boundaries.
“But it seems girls are better at drawing in guests than strange technology.”
“A maid does not need a sharp tongue like that.”
Suddenly, something passed by the two girls.
After a few seconds, the maid apprentices quickly turned around at the exact same moment.
They were looking at the last glimpse of blonde hair they could see in the crowd.
“…Did you see that?”
“Yes, the way she moved her body… She may have been trying to hide it with that work apron and goggles, but that was the real deal…”
“She looked like the British style to me. Is she one of those rumored to work directly for the Royal Family?”
“What is a monster like that doing in Academy City? Has the queen been invited here or something?”
They tilted their heads in puzzlement, but the real maid was nowhere to be seen.
And Silvia the Saint muttered to herself with a puzzled frown.
“What is with this country? Does the word ‘maid’ mean something completely different here?”
“Those were just costumes for the festival. Don’t think about it too much,” said Brunhild Eiktobel who had both the characteristics of a Saint and a Valkyrie.
Leivinia Birdway who was walking with them must have been in a bad mood because she had not said a word for a while now.
That was when an amateurish voice claiming to be from a private broadcaster came from the giant screen on an airship in the sky.
“Um, we are here at the beauty contest being held at Eiri Academy High School. To continue…Oh! Here we have something very unique! We have a girl in bikini armor!!”
“This is…um…I think it’s called a Norse mythology motif,” said a female voice likely belonging to the contestant. “I think they are called Valkyries, but I’ve only ever seen them in RPGs. To be honest, I don’t see how this armor provides any defense with my stomach exposed like this, but it’s all sorts of sexy. And as you can see, I’m very heavenly and divine.”
An ominous sound like an old car being crushed by a giant press could be heard.
It was the sound of a street sign pole being crushed in Brunhild Eiktobel’s right hand.
“Oh, what’s this? What the hell do they think they are doing!?”
“It’s just a festival costume,” responded Silvia with a grin, but the veins on Brunhild’s temple only popped out further.
“I get it worst when it comes to having that kind of image forced on me… In fact, there are even some in the magic world! There are self-proclaimed maidens of battle that dance around all year in a bikini like some kind of pervert!!”
“But I doubt the Valkyries would always be illustrated as beauties if no one had ever wanted them to be sexy. And they married warriors in legend. Not to mention serving alcohol and using their bewitching dance to heal the hearts of the dead warriors in-…Okay, okay. I won’t say anything more.”
Silvia raised her hands playfully when she was about to become the target in a game of human whack-a-mole using a road sign as the hammer.
At the same time, Tsuchimikado Motoharu slowly pulled his hand out of his pocket from where he stood at the end of a line for a popcorn stand a bit away.
He was a normal student of Academy City as well as a spy for both the magic side and science side, but the current situation was hopeless even if he used every weapon at his disposal.
(C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Don’t make me sweat like that.)
His machine pistol and magic origami were no more valuable than pieces of candy in that situation.
He let out a slow sigh and watched those monsters of the magic world continue away from his stepsister.
(Two Saints and the boss of one of Britain’s leading magic cabals. There’s no way I could defeat them in a straight fight.)
But he was the kind of boy who would still do all he could to let his little sister escape in that situation.
A wet sound could be heard.
There was a certain narrow area that seemed to be crushed between two buildings where not a single ray of light fell for even a single second during the day. In that area, someone was headed for the wide main road with a hand against the wall and their barefoot feet audibly crushing something underfoot.
A whistling sound of labored breathing could be heard.
She was Fräulein Kreutune.
She must have fallen over time and again while walking because her white dress-like outfit was covered in mud. Her hair was in complete disarray. Very, very small yet hot breaths leaked from her mouth.
An artificial electronic tone sounded from behind her.
It was the shutter sound effect of a cell phone. One of the students walking along had decided to snap a picture because of how odd she looked. But the student then frowned. The data had been damaged during the upload and by some miracle the original master data had been lost too.
The same thing had happened dozens of times already, but the student had no way of knowing it.
Fräulein Kreutune had no way of knowing it either.
And it did not matter if she did.
Her gaze was fixed on only one thing.
It was fixed on the main road that was filled with sunlight. Several people were standing on the sidewalk talking rather than following any of the flows of people. One was a white-haired, red-eyed Level 5 with a cane. One was an intellectual woman who would have looked good in a lab coat. One was a delinquent boy with his hair dyed brown. One was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl clinging to the delinquent boy’s back. One was a girl in a pink track suit.
But Fräulein Kreutune was not looking at them.
She was looking at the girl with them who had short brown hair and appeared to be around 10 years old.
“…you,” whispered Fräulein Kreutune.
She heard a clattering sound.
It was the sound of the student who had casually taken her picture dropping his cell phone from his trembling fingers.
He could hardly be blamed.
Very, very shallow yet hot breaths spilled from the edges of her lips.
And those edges silently melted like cheese. The mouth split wider and wider along her face.
It was as if she was preparing to swallow some large object.
“…Found you,” muttered a different figure from a building rooftop.
He was a slender boy wearing a high-class brand-name jacket. He was supposed to be pure Japanese, but his body was oddly white. Individual items such as his hair and clothes had a bit of coloration left, but this was nothing more than a gradation of color. There was no true distinction between his clothes and skin. The coloration had a conspicuous unnaturalness to it as if it was all added on top of a single item.
He was Kakine Teitoku.
He was Academy City’s #2 Level 5.
Thanks to an intense battle in the past and the horrible research performed afterwards, he had lost over half of his internal organs. But he had turned the situation around by using his Dark Matter ability to make up for all of his lost organs.
“Found you, found you, found you. So that’s Fräulein Kreutune.”
When he opened his mouth, a deep darkness could be seen that clashed with the pale coloration of the rest of his body.
An oozing dark coloration could be seen filling his eye sockets as well. Even though this added to the number of colors making up his body, it created a bizarre balance that exacerbated the empty instability of his appearance.
His fingers and nails were made of the same whiteness, so the extremities of his flesh were much too unnatural to be human. In one such hand, he held a cell phone.
Unlike Gremlin and Ollerus’s group, Kakine was pursuing Fräulein Kreutune as a member of the science side rather than the magic side. He was to quickly capture that which had been sealed in the windowless building and seal it back from whence it had come. And he was expected to do his very best to accomplish that task.
“That doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to do this the way I want to.”
“Yes, yes,” agreed someone on the other end of the phone.
She was a woman wearing a cheap suit and a lab coat. The woman claimed to be a Kihara and she replied in an incredibly carefree manner despite being well aware of the risks. Despite everything she knew, she showed no concern in her response.
“Do this however you like. And try to smash even the worst case hypotheses we Kiharas have come up with. That is what we hope for. …This destruction is sure to have wonderful meaning to science. I am sure of it.”
With that arbitrary response, Kakine Teitoku let go of the cell phone.
The delicate device was easily smashed when it struck the rooftop floor.
His gaze was not following his top priority target of Fräulein Kreutune.
He was looking at something else nearby.
He was looking at a certain person standing in the middle of the crowd. Kakine silently watched Academy City’s #1, that monster known as the strongest.
That strongest esper was the one who had once defeated Kakine Teitoku and smashed over half of his internal organs.
“…Let’s get this started.”
He snapped his fingers.
Something silently stood up from where it had been waiting nearby. There was one to the right. There was one to the left. And it did not end there. Figure after figure stood up. The building’s entire rooftop was filled in no time at all.
That was not all.
It did not end with that one building. It covered the entire area. Building rooftops all over the place were filled with figures.
They were all white.
They had the exact same coloration as Kakine Teitoku…or more specifically, as the Dark Matter he had used to replenish his lost flesh.
He cracked his neck.
As the #2 looked down at the peaceful world below, he muttered the same words once more.
“Let’s get this started.”
The gates of hell opened.
Amid all the many goals and objectives, the one that pulled the trigger was Fräulein Kreutune.
She brought her hands to the ground along with her feet and shot out of the back alley while running like a carnivorous beast. She weaved through the gaps between people in the crowd and sometimes even ducked between their legs as she accurately charged along the quickest path to Accelerator, Hamazura, and the rest.
He was in the way.
That was the only reason she slammed into Hamazura, causing him to double over. It had not been a punch or a kick; she had simply charged straight into him. The violent tackle form the side struck him at the middle of his body and sent him flying several meters through the air.
Fremea had still been on his back, so she appeared to remain motionless in midair for a moment like the top of a daruma otoshi game.
Fräulein Kreutune’s head turned. Her unnaturally split mouth and brightly glittering eyes turned straight towards the relatively low position of Last Order’s head.
Last Order let out a confused voice as she clung to Yoshikawa’s leg after the woman stepped forward to protect her. She recognized the face hidden by that long, long silver hair.
Fräulein Kreutune ignored Yoshikawa who stood between them and prepared to charge at Last Order like a spider attacking its prey, but then…
The sole of Accelerator's shoe sank mercilessly into her face.
One of his hands was at his neck where he had already flipped the switch for his choker-style electrode.
He had released his power.
“Fly,” was his one merciless word.
The #1 Level 5 could manipulate any and all vectors, and now he took action to send Fräulein Kreutune flying back with the same momentum with which she had been charging in their direction.
The human body was not a simple thing.
Just as many different changes could be seen when watching a rubber ball hit a wall in slow motion, extreme burden was put on the internal portions of the human body when it was forced into extreme movements. Burdens to the spine could be especially bad, and the question about this strike was whether the damage would stop at just a herniated disk or not.
But for Accelerator, this was being cautious. He was holding back.
If he manipulated the electric currents in the nerves or the flow of blood in the veins, he could cause a human being to literally explode from the inside.
Fräulein Kreutune’s back rotated three full times.
Her lower body stayed exactly where it was and her upper body alone spun around.
A horrible sound came from within her body, but not a single drop of blood was shed and her expression did not show an ounce of pain.
(…What? She forced her body to rotate in order to eliminate the backwards momentum!?)
Her body was still twisted around like a spring within her white dress.
And despite what had happened, Fräulein Kreutune did not so much as glance at Accelerator. That #1 monster was of no consequence to her.
Her eyes were focused solely on her target.
She kept her gaze on Last Order.
Her lips writhed. Words slipped out along with her hot breath.
And after forcefully turning aside Accelerator’s counterattack, Fräulein Kreutune continued along the shortest path to Last Order.
The look in Accelerator’s eyes changed.
This time, he did not hesitate.
He used everything that made him Academy City’s #1 in an attempt to completely kill this attacker in the slight bit of time he had left.
“Wait!! Don’t hurt Misaka’s friend!! says Misaka as Misaka shouts a warning!!”
He heard that girl’s voice.
This subconsciously dulled the #1’s movements.
His white fingertips just barely missed reaching Fräulein Kreutune.
And her mouth…
That mouth that was split oddly wide…
And the instant after that…
With the sound of a great blast, Fräulein Kreutune’s upper body was bent to the side in an L-shape.
With her waist at the center, Fräulein Kreutune’s body was bent forcefully to the right. Since her lower body still stood straight up from the ground as before, it was a truly strange sight.
Several events had gone by in quick succession.
It felt like time had stopped.
But finally everything began to move once more.
When the dumbfounded students in the area finally realized the blast had come from a shell fired along a path that made its way through the gaps between them, an explosive panic suddenly fell over the crowd. People let out meaningless screams and people fled every which way, paying no heed to whether they were on the road or the sidewalk. Car horns blared and, in some places, people fell like small lines of dominos.
Accelerator let another kick fly towards Fräulein Kreutune who was still bent. This time she was unable to turn aside the momentum. She bounced and rolled for several dozen meters while still in her jumbled up state.
And then Accelerator looked in the direction the shell had come from.
He had assumed something like a tank had fired it…but he was wrong.
It had come from a giant white rhinoceros beetle that was 15 meters long.
Its form was constructed solely out of the curves, both gentle and sharp, found in biology. Its surface was covered with the same smooth luster as a new car.
However, its eyes let out an eerie green light and the tip of its thick horn shook. The thick horn was hollow as if its core had been removed, so that was likely the barrel. Despite having fired a shell, nothing like smoke could be seen coming from the barrel, so it may have used some special means of firing.
It was an eerie shade of white.
It was a familiar shade of white.
The rhinoceros beetle’s armor opened up. Giant thin wings that had been folded up over its back spread out and began vibrating at high speed. Those vibrations produced something like a voice.
“Do you remember me?”
When Accelerator saw that bizarre material, saw the way the light and sound around it was bent along strange vectors, and most of all heard the voice produced by the vibration of the wings, he spoke as if spitting out the words.
“That’s a voice I didn’t even bother to remember.”
“Well, it doesn’t really matter.”
“I thought you were a fairy tale bastard before, but this is almost laughable.”
“I am aware of that.”
New screams filled the air.
Accelerator could see the students who had tried to flee down other roads to escape the main road returning to the main road as if they were being pushed aside. They were followed by several more beetles. They appeared from all over the place. The giant pure white rhinoceros beetles used their 6 legs to move out to the main road.
“I won’t bother to ask whether you can fight while protecting your allies. …I do not care about anyone but you. It doesn’t matter to me if anyone else is caught up in this or if they are blown to pieces.”
“…What a tedious bastard,” spat out Accelerator.
If the beetles opened fire with their shells from multiple directions at once, he would make sure to protect at least Last Order and Yoshikawa Kikyou. He could protect the other people there by removing himself from the location. He could also protect them from stray shots by controlling the entire “location” like a billiards board, but it was still best to keep them from getting involved in the first place.
And that meant it would be best to completely lose the other boy, drop Last Order and Yoshikawa off at some safe place, and then return alone to confront Kakine Teitoku.
With that plan in mind, Accelerator looked up toward a building rooftop, viewing it as a wall he needed to surmount.
“Did you really think that was all?”
Accelerator could see human figures standing on the edge of the building’s rooftop. There were enough of them to completely cover the edge. Completely identical figures covered almost all of the building rooftops along the road.
“So you decided to overwhelm me with numbers since you know you can’t defeat me in straight fight? With espers, quality matters more than quantity. As one of the Level 5s, I thought you would know that.”
“Did you really think that was all?”
The white rhinoceros beetle’s wings whispered the same words once more.
“Did you think I merely deployed tons of puppets made of Dark Matter? Did you think that was all the threat I could muster? C’mon now. The threat approaching before your eyes is known as the #2. Of course it isn’t going to end that easily.”
“You can’t mean…”
Those words were muttered by Yoshikawa, not Accelerator.
It may have been her experience as an Academy City researcher that allowed her to more keenly grasp the bizarreness of that possibility.
But the beetle continued speaking nonetheless.
It continued speaking the truth.
“I am able to reproduce my own organs. And the brain is no exception. And so it is not difficult to make an implementation for my Dark Matter ability. After all, the brain is nothing more than one of a human being’s internal organs.”
As if in response to his voice, giant wings appeared on the backs of the countless figures standing on the building rooftops.
“Although at this stage, it’s closer to creating some kind of cyborg than it is a Personal Reality. By producing ejection points for my power, they can all wield the power I distribute evenly. And even if the basic principle is different, I can still mass produce Dark Matter as a result. Then again, I’ll probably be able to construct full Personal Realities and make implementations of other people’s powers before long.”
The multiple rhinoceros beetles created a circle around Accelerator and began to slowly approach.
The countless white figures on the rooftops spread their wings wide in preparation to immediately crush Accelerator if he tried to take any kind of action.
“Now let’s begin the deadly battle. If this is enough to overwhelm you, then that’s that. If you are able to push back, I will have captured that many more varieties of possibility. Your strength will be directly used to level me up infinitely. …I look forward to finding out when the eternal chain of death will end.”
The #1 could destroy all.
The #2 could produce all.
Offense and defense.
That was the type of fight this was.
But Accelerator had an Achilles’ heel. To use his #1 esper power, he needed to use his choker-style electrode to receive calculation support from the Misaka Network. That choker-style electrode that connected them had a battery and that battery gave him a 30 minute time limit.
The biggest danger for him was wasted time.
This was a never-ending battle yet he could not afford to hold back.
That sort of situation could cost him his life.
“(Hey,)” Accelerator whispered to Yoshikawa Kikyou next to him. “(I’m going to destroy the ground with my foot. A subway tunnel runs underneath. The rest of you need to use the tunnel and the passageways for workers to escape.)”
“(What about you?)”
“(I’ll stay here to crush these eyesores.)”
He did not wait for a response.
With an explosive roar, the ground completely crumbled away within a 10 meter radius of Accelerator. Yoshikawa Kikyou, Last Order, Takitsubo Rikou, Fremea, and Hamazura Shiage were within that range and they fell down below.
Only Accelerator, the one who had caused it, shot straight up like a rocket.
Once he reached the exact same height as the nearest building rooftop, the #1 and the #2’s eyes met.
And then everything began to move.
“Do it,” said the #2.
In the next instant, the #2’s whiteness rushed in from all directions toward the #1’s whiteness.
Fremea let out a short scream as she rolled down into the subway tunnel.
Yoshikawa stood up and tapped on the hard floor with her foot.
“You can see the good side of that boy in how he makes sure we don’t sprain our ankles in the fall. If only he would let that side out more often.”
Meanwhile, Hamazura had not fared so well.
He had not been injured in the collapse the #1 had caused, but he had still been struck by Fräulein Kreutune earlier. He was still suffering from a dull pain like a hammer had been swung down on his ribs.
“Hamazura, are you okay?” asked Takitsubo.
“I-I couldn’t feel much worse…”
Fremea also looked over worriedly at Hamazura, but she then felt a tug on her clothes.
She looked over to find Last Order puffing out her cheeks.
“Hey, child, says Misaka as Misaka makes up her mind to speak with you.”
“Nyah, what is it, kid?”
When Fremea replied, Last Order switched over to whispering mode for some reason.
“That lady was the King of the Informed from yesterday, wasn’t she? says Misaka as Misaka checks to be sure.”
“I-in the first place, I don’t think someone as kind as her would hurt Hamazura!! …Huh? Nyah, nyah.”
“Attention everyone,” said Yoshikawa as she clapped her hands to gather attention. “That boy bought this time for us at his own risk. Whatever our individual issues may be, we need to escape from the #2.”
“No argument here,” replied Hamazura while noticing a distinct flavor of iron in his mouth. “That was the #1 and the #2. I can instinctually tell both of them are bad news. Whether they intend to or not, just being in the same place as them could get us smashed to pieces. It’s obvious what would happen if we tried to support him without any real plan.”
“So you’re saying you would go back if you could come up with a plan?” asked Yoshikawa for confirmation, but Hamazura irresponsibly averted his gaze. For someone he thought of as a stranger, that #1 always seemed to be involved in the major crossroads of his life. And it was happening again.
At any rate, they needed to escape.
After that, he would observe from afar in hopes of finding an opening in the #2’s defenses and provide support if he found anything.
With a general plan in mind, Hamazura and the others began walking through the dark tunnel.
But then they heard an odd buzzing noise coming from deep in the darkness. It sounded like the vibrations of some large device operating. But that was not what it was. Hamazura had seen what caused that noise not long before. It was coming from giant wings beating the air.
“The rhinoceros beetles!!”
As soon as Hamazura came to that realization, the vibrations of the air changed to a “voice” a human could understand as if a radio dial had been tuned to a proper station.
“Checking oral order. ‘Destroy any and all elements that obstruct our mission.’ …Beginning value conversion for shift to autonomous tactics order.”
Unlike before, the voice sounded like that of a recorded operator.
And it was not just a single voice.
“Compilation of autonomous tactics order complete.”
“Primary objective determined.”
“Checking effectiveness of eliminating the reason behind Fräulein Kreutune’s actions.”
“Battlefield determined, target action time determined, ideal ammunition expenditure determined. Preparations for attack on Last Order and surrounding people complete. Executing autonomous tactics order under additional rule requiring minimal damage to surrounding environment.”
Several green lights glittered in the darkness.
As they slowly approached, the silhouettes of several giant rhinoceros beetles grew visible. The giant cannons taking the form of thick horns made grinding noises as they readjusted their aim.
In that tunnel, the fragments and shock wave from the shells would likely kill all of them no matter who the beetles aimed at. And the beetles showed no sign of taking that into consideration.
The one who received the greatest shock was Fremea Seivelun.
She had once been targeted by an oddly-shaped powered suit operated by the Freshmen. That battle had also used a narrow tunnel as its stage.
An unpleasant sweat quickly covered her entire face.
Strength left her legs and half of her vision seemed to be covered by something like fuzzy static. Fremea was not even aware of the fact that her breathing had grown extremely erratic.
The five rhinoceros beetles continued their approach nevertheless.
Whether it was right or not, that group of weapons would use their cannons to blow away whatever target met the conditions they had been given. Even if Fremea and the others tried to turn tail and run, there was only so much human legs could do. No matter how much they struggled, they could not escape the beetles’ cannons. The first wave would blow them all to pieces, leaving behind a horrible scene in which no one would be able to tell which limbs belonged to which person.
That was what should have happened.
One of the rhinoceros beetles that had been moving as accurately as a machine let out a strange noise. It seemed some problem had arisen in the movements of the giant wings producing the artificial voice and that had caused an error in the voice conversion.
“What was that?” said Takitsubo Rikou as she blinked a few times.
No, it was not an issue with the hardware.
The source of the problem was in the software signal that produced the artificial voice.
“Rechecking oral order. ‘Destroy any and all elements that obstruct our mission.’ …Beginning value conversion while breaking order down word by word. Rechecking while searching for changes in meaning based on the word combination.”
The beetle’s cannon began to sway slightly, unrelated to its targeting information.
The movement resembled a human tilting its head in confusion.
“Focusing on term ‘mission’. Requesting help from all accompanying models. More information needed to set objective of autonomous strategy order.”
The five rhinoceros beetles all spread their wings at once.
They vibrated those wings at high speed to create human language.
Isn’t that obvious?
That was what the other beetles seemed to say in the readiness with which they replied to their malfunctioning friend.
“The objective of the current mission is to defeat Fräulein Kreutune and eliminate the objective behind her actions.”
“The objective of the current mission is to eliminate anyone who would obstruct the battle between Academy City’s #1 and #2.”
“The objective of the current mission is to secure the battlefield.”
“The objective of the current mission is to eliminate the recent continuing threat to Academy City by defeating all dangerous elements.”
“The objective of the current mission is to protect the residents of Academy City from all currently anticipated dangerous elements.”
The rhinoceros beetles stopped moving for a moment.
But they took action shortly thereafter.
The five rhinoceros beetles all rotated at once with enough force to send orange sparks flying from the concrete ground. Then, with their cannon barrels pressed against each other at close range, they unhesitatingly began firing.
“Oh?” A woman in a cheap suit and lab coat let out a puzzled voice as she monitored the situation on a laptop. “Ahh, ahh, ahh… I guess their interpretations while converting the oral command were all different.”
After all, the official reason for Kakine Teitoku’s release was so that he could protect the peace of Academy City. If one took that at face value, it was not too surprising if the #2 himself was set as an obstruction to that objective.
“Shit. Is this a form of narrowing down ideas? When you go on a diet or go shopping, you plan it out by bouncing different ideas off each other to strengthen your imagination. And to increase your odds of success. This isn’t enough to say that thing is opposing Kakine Teitoku. But this could still be bad.”
But at the same time, the reflection of her face in the laptop’s screen showed no sign of distress.
Her expression was one of pure enjoyment.
“…This is not good at all.”
An odd creaking noise came from Fräulein Kreutune where she lay collapsed on the road. Her upper body had been rotated around three full times and then it had been bent over in an L shape thanks to a shell from the side.
Her body was gradually returning to normal.
She looked like a doll made of rubber or plastic that had been balled up in someone’s hand and then let go.
“…! Found you!!” came a sudden voice.
It came from a boy with spiky hair.
As her body’s natural power slowly spun her around, Fräulein Kreutune stared at the spiky-haired boy.
That was all it took.
All of the oxygen in the boy’s lungs left his mouth and all strength left his body.
He was unable to stop the forward momentum he had built up while running, so the spiky-haired boy slid towards Fräulein Kreutune as he collapsed.
His lips moved.
“…Stop…idiot… This…no time to…doing this…!!”
A tinge of puzzlement entered Fräulein Kreutune’s gaze.
As her body rotated further, she was no longer able to keep the spiky-haired boy in view. That must have irritated her because she forced her upper body around to its normal orientation.
“…Hurry and…run away…”
“…The ones…after you…will be here soon…”
“…And could you do something about this…!?” shouted Kamijou as he swung his arm blindly.
The fingers of that hand touched a car battery that had fallen out of a car that had been knocked on its side. To be more specific, he touched the battery’s terminals.
An ominous sparking noise exploded out.
Kamijou’s body bent back unnaturally and he convulsed for a few seconds.
But this also eliminated whatever it was that was eating into him from within his body. The day before, Thor had told him a high voltage electric current had destroyed the small particles that caused it.
Suddenly, the spiky-haired boy’s eyes opened wide as if he had forgotten how to use the oxygen that filled his lungs. On top of that, the way he had fallen had increased the oozing pain in his side to a much more intense pain. He was unable to stand up, so he simply stared up into the blue sky.
“Dammit…The ones causing a commotion up above have gone off somewhere too. I wanted to help out if I could.”
Fräulein Kreutune looked straight up.
Only the normal scenery was left; the strange #1 and #2 were nowhere to be seen.
“Anyway, let’s get out of here. Gremlin, Ollerus…and I guess Academy City, too? Anyway, there are a ton of people after you. If you stay here where a big commotion occurred, they’ll find you in no time.”
She was still staring up into the blue sky.
As she had been trapped in the windowless building for so very, very long, that must have been a bizarre and strange sight…but that was not the reason.
For one thing, Fräulein Kreutune did not possess a system for creating proper emotions. She simply needed time to think.
Finally, she spoke.
“I cannot go.”
“Why not? Even if you have some goal of your own, you need to hide at least for now. Do you have any idea how problematic a place this is for you to be?”
“This is not on…that level.”
Fräulein Kreutune sat up as she continued to speak.
The motion was stiff and awkward.
It was as if she was resisting something.
It was as if she would charge off somewhere if she relaxed even for a second.
“My thoughts… My decisions… This is not…on that level.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Function,” she said calmly. Or perhaps she would have let out a meaningless scream that drowned out all else if she did not forcibly slow her speech down like that. “I have gained that…function. It is the…same as how you breathe…or blink. I will…eat that girl’s…brain. I have gained a function…that means I must eat it…”
Kamijou heard an odd sound.
It was coming from her body.
She was trembling.
Hamazura Shiage used both hands to cover his ears with all his strength.
Even so, the roar within the tunnel was enough to feel like it was tearing apart his eardrums. The sound of the shells would have been loud enough at the best of times, but the close quarters and enclosed environment of the tunnel made it much worse. Given the circumstances, he counted himself lucky that none of his organs were injured.
“What the hell, what the hell, what the hell, what the hell!? If they were gonna start fighting each other, couldn’t they have done it before approaching us!? What are they trying to do!?”
“Nyah… I feel dizzy…”
The five rhinoceros beetles were not firing at Hamazura and the others.
Hamazura was not sure if those monsters were living creatures or just weapons, but they had pressed their cannon barrels against each other as if creating a ring and then unhesitatingly begun firing repeatedly at each other at point blank range.
While holding her own ears just like Hamazura was, Yoshikawa Kikyou grimaced and said, “It looks like their friend/foe identification and destruction priority order have been thrown out of order thanks to a difference in interpretation over their orders. But how?”
The explosive noises continued.
One of the white rhinoceros beetles that must have weighed several tons was torn from the ground and blown in a large parabolic arc. It flipped upside down so the area of armor meant to store its wings was pressed up against the concrete and subway track.
“Hamazura, move back,” said Takitsubo.
Immediately after he was pulled backwards by a surprisingly strong tug on his clothes, the upside-down beetle slid into the spot he had been standing in.
Either their “opinions” had coincided or they were simply going to destroy the enemy they could because the other four beetles all aimed at the single upside-down beetle.
As the rhinoceros beetle’s six legs wriggled around, it forcibly vibrated the wings trapped between itself and the ground to create an artificial voice that could reach Hamazura and the others who were nearby.
“…What was I trying to do?” it asked.
“How the hell should I know!? Don’t come on out here if you’re just going to get confused!!”
“I suppose so. I agree that this is something I should decide for myself.”
While still on its back, the beetle beat its thin wings against the ground to rotate around. Using that method, it accurately aimed its thick horn. Its target was Last Order who stood behind Hamazura.
Fremea immediately moved forward to cover Last Order who was clinging to Yoshikawa’s leg.
The shell never came.
While still on its back, the rhinoceros beetle vibrated its thin wings to create a voice once more.
“Activating order wizard. Validity of oral order ‘destroy any and all elements that obstruct our mission’ in question. No threat detected in designated individuals. Continuation risks leading to destruction of entire order list.”
“Wh-what? What do you mean by that?”
“I am saying I will save you in order to protect my order list from a fatal contradiction.”
The other four beetles took action.
Without producing any flames or smoke, shells bigger around than an arm were fired from the tip of the barrel that looked like a thick horn.
Immediately afterwards, the beetle that had been lying upside down near Hamazura and the others twisted itself around and fired from that position. One of the pillars supporting the subway tunnel was smashed to pieces and a shower of fragments fell in the path of the shells fired by the other four beetles, altering their trajectory.
At the same time, the one rhinoceros beetle used the recoil of firing that shell to leap over Hamazura and the others’ heads, rotate halfway in midair, and land with its six legs clawing at the concrete ground.
“Protecting system and setting up new position from a different angle. Checking to confirm no contradictions were produced by battling fellow beetles.” Its giant thin wings vibrated, producing an artificial voice. “Rhinoceros Beetle 05 will now protect you in order to optimize the oral order from Kakine Teitoku.”
With a sound like a cathode ray tube, the color of Rhinoceros Beetle 05’s eyes changed from green to red.
It changed from a symbol of safety to the representative color of warnings.
It may have been nothing more than a bug created when it converted the oral order given by a human into a numerical order script.
It may have been a conversion error wanted by neither Kakine Teitoku nor the woman known as a Kihara.
Even if it came from a mistake, some form of “direction” had appeared within Rhinoceros Beetle 05.
Between the Lines 4
A lot has been said about the woman known as Fräulein Kreutune, but who knows if any of it is true or not.
It may be true. It may not.
After all, the source of this information is documents from hundreds of years ago.
History can become twisted by the simplest of things.
But at the same time, things that were thought to be nonsense for the longest time can be found to have a scientific basis hundreds of years later.
What is true?
What is false?
Are the things thought to be true actually false?
Are the things thought to be false actually true?
The woman known as Fräulein Kreutune definitely did exist.
And her abnormality has been demonstrated.
So what deserves the most attention? If all of the documents on her and all the data and values obtained about her are compared, which parts will stand out as odd?
This is the turning point.
The monster’s mouth has only just opened.