Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume9 Chapter 7
Chapter 7: “A Normal High School Boy”. Black_or_White.
Kamijou Touma could not move.
He could not even stand up from the white bench.
He had nothing left to guide him.
Even if he could move his legs to walk and even if he had the strength to clench his right fist, what could he do? After seeing such a perfectly correct answer and after seeing such happiness, did he still have the courage to interfere and charge in toward someone else’s misfortune? It was true he may have resolved something. But there may have been another way. What if he could have travelled back in time and stopped those tragedies if he had only not been fooled back then and had known the answer from the beginning?
Anyone would have said that was nonsense, but Othinus had done it.
It may have been like seeing one’s opponent’s hand before playing one’s own and it may have exceeded what any human could do, but it was obvious whose answer had been more “correct”.
Evening had fallen.
The people gathered in the park had gradually left and Kamijou was soon left alone. Even so, everything he had seen there was burned into the insides of his eyelids.
What possible reason was there to destroy that?
Could he find a motive for fighting Othinus?
He wanted to return to his original world.
He wanted to return everything to normal.
He wanted to return to that normal everyday life he had believed would continue forever.
He wanted to take back the life of the boy named Kamijou Touma.
He was the only one that wanted that.
He had believed that doing so was in everyone’s best interest, but that had been meaningless.
If he had to weigh the wide world against himself, he had always known which one to prioritize.
Othinus referred to herself as a god, and she had produced a result that lived up to that arrogance.
If that god protected this world of peace, created the people’s smiles, and behaved impeccably, what title befitted the person who opposed her?
There was only one answer.
Kamijou covered his face with his hands as he sat in the bench.
“If anyone should be called evil, it’s me.”
He could no longer move.
He understood, so he could not move.
No matter what else he did, he would only trample on everyone else’s lives. The most he could do was feel he had saved them, but that self-satisfaction would destroy the balance of the world’s golden ratio. He could not do that. That was undeniable evil. If he saw someone else trying to do that very same thing, he would set everything aside and try to punch them. And there was no way of justifying treating himself as an exception.
It was over.
He had wondered what would happen if his heart broke during the many subsequent worlds.
This was probably the answer.
He would lose even the bare minimum of what it meant to be a living creature, he would be unable to move even a finger, and he would begin to rot while still alive.
Letting it end like that might also be evil. He could still do something for everyone. Othinus had said his mere existence would eventually cause destruction. It was possible she could simply create a new world, but there were some things that would still be destroyed: the smiles of Index, Misaka Mikoto, and everyone else he knew. And not just that. He also bore the futures of people he did not know. There was no greater happiness than this, so any change would have to be a negative. The role he had been given could do nothing but mess up a good thing.
If he had become a trigger for nothing but that, he should bring an end to it now.
That had to be the case.
After all, that was the undeniably “right” answer.
“I get it.”
“I get it, Othinus. I’ll go find somewhere to die.”
Slowly and silently, the boy stood up from the bench.
The motion resembled a balloon floating up into the evening sky after its string snapped. His small back seemed to melt into that orange world.
The countdown of his footsteps began.
How should he kill himself?
Kamijou vaguely pondered that question as he wandered aimlessly through the streets. The answer would change where he had to go. He had never given it thought before. Othinus’s comments had been right on the mark. He had become so used to experiencing such unreasonable misfortune for so long that no normal trouble would kill him. Whether he was aware of it or not, he would somehow avoid death.
If he chose his method poorly, he would survive.
And that would undoubtedly damage this world of peace and smiles.
In which case, he could not casually and impulsively decide his own fate. He had to think over it carefully.
He needed a method which left no room for survival.
Once he made the action, there had to be no way of turning back no matter how much pathetically he trembled and had second thoughts.
There had to be a clear point of no return.
He did not know when the destruction would occur, so he had to come to the right answer on the first try.
As he wandered on unsteady legs, he realized this place was modeled after Academy City. However, the cityscape was a bit different. Most likely, the things unneeded in a perfect world were gone and new things had taken their place. For example, the laboratories of the dark side that were disguised as private institutions.
The most noticeable change was the lack of walls around the city. If the disputes between the magic side and science side were completely resolved, they would be unnecessary.
As he wandered about, he glimpsed the faces of the people who had left the orange-dyed park. They were all returning to their own small worlds and grasping their own happiness.
He turned toward some loud voices and saw a four girl group sitting around a table through a large restaurant window.
“In the end, I think your short temper is due to those salmon bentos, Mugino. I don’t know if you would call it chemical substances or chemical seasonings, but you need to watch out for any strong flavor like that!!”
“What? Frenda, I don’t want to hear that from someone who eats canned foods year round.”
“Come to think of it, you two eat salmon and mackerel. Why are you so super focused on seafood? Try to make your characters more super distinct.”
“…You two get along surprisingly well.”
A few more people walked by in front of Kamijou. They passed through the restaurant’s glass door and headed toward the girl group’s table.
“Nyah, nyah! What’s that delicious-looking stuff you’re eating, onee-chan!? Is it a new dish? Are they having a canned food fair!?”
“Fremea, I think she brought that in without asking. Look, the waitress over there is stiffly looking this way with a bitter smile.”
“Hamazura, you need to apologize for being super late! Also…those two are Komaba and Hanzou, right? Why is efficiency super dropping now that we got more underlings!?”
“Tch. That’s because Hanzou said turning back there was a shortcut.”
“Don’t blame me! It was because Leader Komaba wouldn’t leave that vending machine! Y’know, the one with the roulette!!”
“In the end, I can’t help but ask why my little sister is so attached to that extreme macho man.”
Kamijou had no intention of entering the restaurant, but the smell of food stimulated his hunger.
It seemed he still felt hunger at a time like this. He felt disgust at his own despicableness.
He patted his pocket and found he had his cell phone and wallet.
After walking a while longer, he found a food truck stopped on the side of the road. It seemed to be selling hot dogs.
“L-look, Sister Lucia! The hot dogs there are 2000 yen each! They must taste heavenly!”
“That is both gluttony and greed!!!!! A nun must not eat something like that!! Lidvia, you say something, too!!”
“Unfortunately, it appears Sister Orsola has already started eating one.”
The price was ridiculous, but this would be his final meal. He did not hold back and bought one along with a cup of soda.
After he received his food, a boy and two girls with brown skin passed by.
“Etzali, what are we going to do now?”
“Ask Tochtli. She’s the one that heard the commotion.”
“Wait. Don’t pass this off onto me. She’s practically your little sister and it isn’t easy calming her down once she starts pouting.”
As he sat on a guardrail and ate the food, he heard several voices from a nearby pedestrian bridge. First, he heard a gloomy teacher and a girl wearing a brightly-colored bee-like maid outfit. Neither of them noticed him.
“Sensei, what are we going to do now?”
“I hear an event is being held nearby. It appears to be a simple festival, but we should probably check it out.”
“Heh heh heh! Ha ha ha! So you mean this will be a festival date in yukatas? My Violence Donut is going to let out a roar!”
“You appear to have jumped ahead in the conversation like a scratched record, but try to calm down for now.”
Behind them were two girls with breasts larger than one would expect of students. They were glaring at each other so intensely it seemed sparks would fly.
They both had long hair. One had black hair that almost looked wet and the other had blonde hair that shined like honey, but they were both specialists at manipulating people’s minds.
“Don’t you think that was a bit much?”
“Oh, dear. I apologize, but I believe my comprehension ability is too poor to understand what you mean.”
“Oh, is that so? Is it that hard to comprehend that you shouldn’t recklessly use your Level 5 powers to cut in front of a line of elementary school children just to buy a hot dog!?”
“Ha ha ha. I told you I have poor comprehension ability☆”
Trying to kill himself with overconsumption of sugar and cholesterol would take too long.
After finishing his meal, Kamijou threw the containers in the trash and began walking through the orange city once more.
He passed by a woman in pajamas and a wheelchair and a girl with smartphones and other handheld devices hanging down from her neck.
“Oh, dear. As a Kihara, this peace is so boring.”
“Does it really matter? As long as we can play around with science, it doesn’t matter if it’s for good or evil. We might as well live in a way that fits this place. …That is what a Kihara would say.”
“Anyway, did you see that project summary? We have to research and develop new standards for garbage disposal. What a joke. That won’t even take three days to finish.”
In a way, he was eliminating his regrets.
The process was similar to having a large number of hairs tangled up in the water and cutting them away one by one with a pair of scissors. Bit by bit, his body grew lighter and the ritual would prevent any recoil-like reaction when he tried to cross the point of no return.
(If I wrote a will, I might be able to gather my thoughts better.)
But there was no point because there was no one to read it.
As he thought, he heard the distant noise of a beating drum.
A group passed him from behind.
“Thor!! Hurry up!!”
“Wait, Marian. It just started, so there’ll be tons of people. Being a bit late would be perfect.”
“By the way, I spotted Bersi. He was secretly with that ringlet curl maid again!!!!!”
“Oh, wow… Well, that’s Bersi’s decision. Besides, you should probably give some thought to Mjölnir shaking next to you there. I think she’s gonna explode out of jealousy before long.”
Kamijou smiled slightly as he watched their backs disappear ahead of him.
It seemed all conflict had truly come to an end.
As Othinus had newly built up the interpersonal relationships throughout the world, it seemed some strange new connections had been made, but the current form was likely happier than the original form.
This world was created with pleasant feelings taking precedence over slight out-of-place feelings.
The festival was not being held at a Shinto shrine. Instead, festival stands had been set up along a large river in District 7. Overall, it felt more like a fireworks festival than a religious festival. And in the end, that fit Academy City.
“Wow!! shouts Misaka as Misaka gives up on trying to process all the information in front of her and just expresses her joy!”
“If you abandon any attempt to understand, it will stop our processing ability as well, so please try harder, says Misaka as she feels dizzy.”
“What the hell am I doing here?”
“What’s wrong with getting a little excited? Saving every last one of the 20,000 plus Sisters deserves at least this much.”
“But it does cost a lot! Look behind you, #1. All those clones are staring restlessly at the food stands!! And Misaka Worst-chan, that mass of ill will and foundation of the Third Season project, is egging them on!!”
Kamijou instinctually tried to find the sources of these voices in the crowd, but he could not. Instead, he spotted a man and woman wearing lab coats. They had nametags clipped to their chests. The tags read Yoshikawa and Amai. They were watching on with smiles on their faces and Kamijou guessed they were researchers of some kind.
“Ow! Honestly, this is too many people. And where did my onee-sama get off to!?”
“Yeah, it’s going to be impossible to find her with all these people who look just like her.”
“Oh, Uiharu. I just remembered. Is it true Arisa-chan is coming here in secret today? Y’know, that ‘perfect mode’ created once the two became one.”
“I saw that doll-like child president wandering around earlier, so she is probably here somewhere.”
He continued walking.
As he listened to the voices, he walked slowly through the festival built alongside the river.
He grew more convinced that his coming action held meaning.
He understood the weight of their smiles and what it was they had gained. This was not simply a number on a document. He learned that it truly was “here”.
Kamijou Touma heard a certain girl’s voice.
A small figure ran toward him.
She was a nun in a white habit that had golden embroidery as if on a teacup.
He knew this girl by the name of Index.
“Stiyl, Kaori! It’s wrong to only let me choose three things in this food paradise!! I’m already starving!!”
Kamijou raised his head of his own free will.
He wanted to burn the scene before him into his mind.
As the silver-haired girl ran out of the crowd, she held a calico cat in her arms. She had already spotted who she was looking for, so there was no hesitation in her actions.
Without slowing for an instant, she ran right by Kamijou.
She had not been looking at him.
He heard voices behind him.
But the boy did not look back.
He had made up his mind now.
He felt as if he had seen what he truly needed to protect.
He began walking once more.
He followed the river downstream as he walked all alone through the lively festival. Beyond the cheerful voices and decorative lights, a large building towered above them.
That was his destination. He had to reach that roof.
It was not just the elevator or escalators within the building. The happy festival built along the river was also part of the stairway leading up onto the execution stage.
He walked slowly.
He entered the building.
He boarded the elevator and pressed the button for the roof.
As one would expect of Academy City, the elevator was silent yet quick, but it still took over a minute to arrive. He did not know the exact number of floors, but it had to be well over three hundred meters.
If he fell from the roof, there would be no kind way of describing what would happen to his human body.
Even if there were trees or a thick mat prepared by a rescue squad below, there would be no saving him.
And with a soft electronic tone, the elevator stopped.
The metal door automatically slid to the left and right.
“This should do it.”
A dazzling world opened up before him.
The sky was now closer to gold than orange and the wind refreshed his heart as much as a cup of water in the desert. He slowly crossed the roof to reach the edge. The area must not normally have been open to the public because it had no fence to prevent people from falling. Beyond the roof, the scenery was unobstructed. No world could have been happier. Every single light before his eyes seemed to praise youth and the festival music could just barely be heard up on the roof. He heard no harsh sirens of Anti-Skill or ambulances. He doubted they were needed anymore. That was why he heard none.
“This is the best possible spot to end my life, Othinus. I couldn’t make something like this on my own.”
He had desperately worked to resolve many different incidents in the past.
The Fuse Kazakiri incident on September 30.
The coup d’etat that covered all of Great Britain.
World War Three.
But what had happened afterwards?
He had not wanted to protect the world. He had not wanted to save something as exaggerated as “the human race”. But had the short history after those events really been what Kamijou Touma had wanted? Othinus was the leader of Gremlin. If she had not caused such violence, it may not have turned out that way. But at the same time, would everything have ended happily ever after if Gremlin and Othinus had not acted? Really? Even if they had not appeared on the stage, someone else might have appeared to ruin that world.
In a way, Gremlin and Othinus had brought an end to that series of events.
No matter how many problems there were with their methodology, he could see the results before his eyes. That “someone” who Kamijou feared would most likely not appear here. Othinus would not allow for the “imperfect fluctuations” of misfortune or tragedy that were needed for that “someone” to naturally appear.
Even if it was due to unilateral control brought about by self-righteousness and arrogance and even if that tidy and sensitive god was not actually thinking about the individual people, her actions still brought about true peace and happiness. Even if they were being manipulated, everyone had been equally given success. In that case, the people would not care how it had happened.
Everyone wanted to be happy.
Ultimately, every human was attempting to move in that one direction.
It was not the methodology or process they wanted.
They wanted what was left in the end. They wanted that high score.
For a while, Kamijou stared off into that gold-tinged world.
Oddly enough, the boy still felt a bit of hesitation and fear toward the simple act of “jumping” despite having coming so far. He had spent quite a bit of extra time on the rite of passage meant to numb his senses, but he had been unable to rid himself of all of it. It somehow made him feel very pathetic.
No one would gain anything by him fighting this.
His opposition was nothing more than an empty desire. There was no logic or reason behind it.
He felt as if his heart had been scraped away bit by bit and he was now viewing what remained at the very, very end. That was this desire. This despicable desire. He had said so much about rescuing people or saving the world, but this puny desire was what lay hidden in his bottommost depths. This was why the Magic God had seen right through him. It was only natural she was disappointed in him. It may not have simply been Othinus’s “attacks” that had left him with no place left. Why would anyone make a place for someone like this in the first place?
But that would end soon.
Kamijou slowly closed his eyes. The roof had no fence or railing. If he just stepped forward, it would all be over. He only had to imagine. There was a path before him. A path leading to that which should be in the form it should take. A single unnecessary piece had been mixed in with a giant puzzle and it could never be completed as is. So he would remove that piece. He would create a path and move that piece off the table. That was all he was doing. While thinking this, he accidentally smiled. Off the table. That seemed to be the answer. After forcibly rejecting his desires, all that remained was escape. As his heart trembled at the thought of annihilation, it seemed he was trying to move his heart “somewhere other than here”. And yet no such place existed. That meant it would disappear.
He took a step.
With his heart numbed over as if it had been dunked in icy water, he finally managed to step forward.
He took a second step.
He moved forward. He walked down the path. He walked toward the result everyone had to want.
He took a third step.
With each step, he grew more used to the bizarre action.
There was no fourth step to take. Even so, he did not open his eyes. He would follow the same action and move his foot forward again. This would end it. There would be no miracles or coincidences. There was no way he could “somehow or other” be saved. Othinus had rejected that sort of vague concept. And so he would die. He would disappear. He would be no more. This was not a sweet story of taking a journey to a better place. He would simply be annihilated.
And he began to fall.
Something happened just before he fell.
“Uraah /return!! I was trying to just sit by and watch, but give it a rest already, dammit /return!!!!!!”
Suddenly, a girl shouted at him angrily from behind.
Before Kamijou could do anything in his surprise, an intense impact struck his back. By the time he realized he had been hit by a dropkick and he opened his eyes, he had already flown forward and the gold-dyed cityscape spread out below him.
“H-huh /escape? Wait /return!! I was only trying to stop your suicide with a light tsukkomi, so why did I end up pulling the final trigger /escape!?”
The girl with the strange speech pattern seemed to be yelling out toward him.
He heard her while still flipped upside down.
Oddly enough, he was not dead despite falling from the high-rise building.
“What’s this /escape? Oh, you’re caught on the window washing gondola /return. Sigh, thank goodness /return. I thought it was all over before I even had a chance to begin /return.”
Someone was peering down at him from the edge of the roof.
She wore Tokiwadai Middle School’s summer uniform, had short brown hair, and had unrefined military goggles on her forehead.
She was not Misaka Mikoto.
“Wrong /return!!” The girl used her arms to form a large X mark. “You made this mistake back during that incident too /return. You directly met two of the Sisters /return. The one you saved was #10032 or Misaka Imouto /return. And the other… /return.”
His vision seemed to twist around.
Speaking that name and speaking with her caused him to realize anew just how great a deed Othinus had done.
“The Sister I just barely missed saving…”
“That’s right /return. But /backspace, I’m technically only borrowing her body, so you have no reason to blame yourself over this /return. Still /backspace, we all form a single large will together, so anything I say is the same as hearing it from her /return.”
“Wait a second. Do you mean…?”
That large number of military clones.
A single large will formed from all of them.
“This is the first time you’ve actually met me, but you’ve done a lot for my physical terminals /return.”
“She” bowed her head as she spoke.
“I am the large will created by the whole of the Misaka Network /return. Nice to meetcha☆ /return.”
“Like I said, it seems Othinus has free control over the life and death of humans, but I think she has two distinct pieces of software, one for the living and one for the dead /return. Like a god, I guess /escape? Like a heavenly world and a human world /escape? Like heaven and hell /escape? It might be based in a religious concept I don’t really understand /return.”
“But I’m a single organic system created from 20,000 units, y’know /escape? Or if you want to get technical, 20,001 units /return. There’s also that Third Season, but that’s not my territory /return. She’s more like someone that’s hacked in, so I don’t really accept her /return. Anyway, the network forming me contains information from both the Misakas who are currently still alive and the Misakas that are currently dead /return. In other words, I’m alive while dead and dead while alive /return.”
“If you look at the entire system of 20,000, about half of the cluster has been taken out, but don’t think of it like an apple sliced in half /return. It’s more complex than that and it’s all mixed together like Schrödinger's cat /return. I know it’s more romantic to think the moon doesn’t exist anywhere when no one can see it, but I’m in a strange state that no normal human can reach even when having a near death experience /return.”
“That means you can’t call me part of the living or the dead /return. And Othinus only has software to handle those two cases, so I slipped through the cracks and she can’t manipulate me /return. Unfortunately, I can’t be certain about any of this because it’s related to technology from outside Academy City /return.”
“Hey, are you even listening /escape? Please don’t tell me you think you’ll be praised as a good listener if you just sit there silently /return. Cause it has the opposite effect /return. You need to try to drag the conversation out of me /return! Excuse me, sensei /escape? This guy’s silence is too much for me /return.”
The girl borrowing #10031’s body had been talking on and on and on.
It was as if she were releasing pent up resentment after keeping her silence until now.
This kind of machinegun conversation was usually only seen when meeting a seldom-seen relative on a holiday.
The two of them were sitting on the bed and floor of a white room with only the furniture that came with the room.
It was Kamijou Touma’s student dorm.
Or rather, the empty room that should have been his student dorm.
“This shining sky that’s all about appearances isn’t like you /return. I’ll take you somewhere much more Kamijou Touma-like /return.”
After that comment, the girl known as the Will had led him here.
It was nothing but an empty white room.
That rectangular space symbolized Kamijou’s current state.
That bleak empty space contained not even the slightest scent of Index or the calico cat who had lived with him.
The golden light entering through the window formed shadows and complete darkness would fall before long.
“If I had to guess…” Kamijou finally spoke. “I’d say the software that manipulates the living and dead is based on the Einherjar spell. The spell was only able to move dead bodies without them rotting, but she must have updated it to its perfect form with the lance or something.”
“Nnn, are you talking about the world known as magic /escape? I’m not too good with the occult /return. Well, even I’m still human, so I don’t really understand things like ghosts /return. …By the way, this isn’t an English textbook, so could you stop only responding to direct questions /escape? You’re talking to a girl here /return. Do you really get that /escape!?”
These two foreign elements existed within the perfect world the Magic God had created.
There was no way Othinus’s calculations had accounted for this.
But Kamijou could not simply rejoice.
He was unable to decide on his own whether he should or not.
“…Why are you here?”
“You were being really spineless, so I came to punch you /return. Back when that Lightning God Thor guy came by, he really pissed me off and I wanted to challenge him to a lightning competition /return. But now I kind of understand how he felt /return. There are times when you just feel like punching someone☆ /return.”
Despite the outrageous comment, she had a giant smile on her face.
Plus, she had already kicked him once which had almost killed him.
After coming this far, Kamijou wanted to avoid another fight like his one with Thor.
(And looking back on it, what was the deal with that fight? Did he just want to fight? If so, I want to go punch him for letting his obsession with fighting get in the way of what mattered.)
At that point, Kamijou came to a realization.
Worrying over that sort of thing no longer mattered.
The boy known as Thor had found happiness in this world. Digging up the past would help no one. In fact, the boy might not even remember it.
This was a world of all sorts of happiness.
And it rejected everything Kamijou Touma had done.
“So what will you do now /escape?”
He was blocked at every turn.
The stage had already been perfectly set.
Anyone could have seen that, but the Will of the Misaka Network asked that question almost nonchalantly.
Kamijou could not figure out what she meant.
“Let’s try this again /return.”
She spoke as if repeating a shopping list to a child who had lost the original list.
“Now that you know this is a perfect world of nothing but happiness, what will you do /escape?”
“To be blunt, are you sure you did a proper job of searching for a way out of this /escape? Are you sure there is not a single contradiction in this ideal world Othinus has created /escape? I wouldn’t be so sure /return. An amateur high school boy like you struggled the best an amateur high school boy could and managed to survive this far /return. If you put your mind to it, you could manage something /return. In fact, my very presence here is something /return.”
“Wait a minute!! Why would I try to turn this around? I’m not talking about whether I can do something. Turning this situation around won’t accomplish anything. If it will only cause everything to collapse, why do I have to fight!?”
“Hmm, I think you should only talk about whether you can do something or not when it leads you to a more positive line of thinking /return.”
The Will borrowing #10031’s body tilted her head disinterestedly.
Her concept of life and death may have been a bit off.
“And did you really not realize this would eventually happen as soon as Othinus gained god-like powers /escape?”
“Dictators are still human /return. If they can do whatever they want, they will make their own ‘home’ as pleasant as possible /return. And that’s what she did /return. Simply put, that’s what happened here /return. She removed any tragedy from her surroundings, removed all conflict, removed all failure, and removed all objections /return. …However /backspace, is there perhaps a kindness that had to be completely eliminated in this world of happiness /escape?”
“I understand,” muttered Kamijou. “After seeing the battles in Hawaii, Baggage City, and Tokyo, I understand that Othinus isn’t the type to worry about the people around her. She didn’t create this new world out of concern for them. She didn’t do away with tragedy because it was making people sad. …It was an eyesore, so she corrected all of humanity’s problems as if burying the tragedy out of sight. I understand that much.”
“But that still saved everyone! She even saved people I couldn’t save!! This world has no blood, tears, death, crime, debt, or broken hearts. After seeing all that, can I really say it’s right to return everything to normal? That would be evil. It would be right but evil! I would be robbing all of those smiling people of their smiles and lives just to take back my own place in the world!!”
“Perhaps /return.” The girl known as the Will did not try to avoid the issue by using ideals. “But /backspace, can I ask you something /escape?”
“Were you ever fighting because it was the right thing to do /escape? Were you ever punching people because they were evil /escape?”
Kamijou hesitated to answer.
And the Will smiled.
“Of course not /return. You could’ve done that, but you didn’t /return. You never used that card when it would have helped, so it makes no sense to let it crush you under its weight the instant it becomes a problem /return. If those were the rules you were playing by, you don’t need to suddenly change the rules now /return. Whether something is good or evil means nothing when it comes to what you will entrust your life to /return.”
“But that reasoning will only save me.”
“Don’t lie /backspace.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the Will lightly rebutted Kamijou’s spat out comment.
And she continued before he even had time to be taken aback.
“You’ve already caught on, haven’t you /escape? Othinus cheated in one very boring way /return. And I’m not talking about leaving you alone unsaved /return. She made one extremely simple change to all of those who she has set up to look saved /return.”
“If you were too stupid to realize this, I doubt you would’ve lived this long /return. Subconsciously, you started hoping that Othinus is right /return. That’s why you’re doing your best to avoid looking at a certain point that you had to have already noticed /return. …I won’t tell you the answer /return. After all, I’ve already given it to you without saying a word /return.”
There was indeed a tiny aspect of that scene in the sunny park that had felt wrong.
But what did that matter?
This result existed in reality, so that aspect did not change the score.
“There is a meaning to it /return,” said the Will quietly as she sat on the simple bed. “Even if it doesn’t change the result before your eyes, its presence or absence completely changes the situation, so it does have meaning /return. To put it another way, why are you hesitating to say it /escape? If Othinus has truly created a perfect and ideal world, nothing you say should create any cracks in it /return.”
“Like I said, you really do understand /return. If you put it to words, it will create a crack /return. And you’re afraid that small crack will cause this seemingly perfect world to come crumbling down /return. But /backspace, that very unease proves it /return. This is not an ideal world /return. It’s just that this one trick meant to make it look that way is preventing you from judging it properly /return.”
“That isn’t true.”
Index had been smiling.
Stiyl and Kanzaki had not lost her.
The Sisters had been smiling.
Misaka Mikoto and Accelerator had been washed of the sins they bore.
Ellis had been smiling.
Sherry Cromwell had never held hatred toward science.
Oriana Thomson, Vento of the Front, God’s Right Seat, Kumokawa Maria, and people Kamijou Touma did not even know had been saved from the incidents, debts, and broken hearts that would have plagued them.
The source of it all may have been twisted.
Someone who had seen both the before and after may have found it strange.
But their smiles could not be said to be false.
Kamijou doubted he could create happiness greater than that.
That scene was not something that a mere high school boy could selfishly destroy.
“That isn’t true. Othinus accomplished it perfectly. This isn’t some strange illusion. We aren’t satisfied with seeing something that isn’t actually there. She truly did save everyone. She did what I could not.”
“Then prove it /return,” readily said the Will. “If this is truly a perfect world and nothing anyone does can cause a single crack in it, then prove it /return.”
Hearing her words, Kamijou slowly shut his eyes while sitting on the dorm room floor.
And he covered his face with his hands.
It was evening.
It was the short span of time when day turned to night. In the society of children, it symbolized saying goodbye. And in that orange-colored world, Kamijou Touma slowly breathed in.
And he spoke.
“They don’t remember the original world.”
It was a simple issue.
A very, very simple issue.
Index, Stiyl, Kanzaki, Mikoto, Accelerator, the Sisters, Sherry, Ellis, Agnese, Oriana, Vento, and everyone else had accepted the current scene as normal.
Normally, they would have been deeply moved by the scene.
They might very well have embraced with tears and snot covering their faces.
And yet they had acted like they knew nothing other than this.
They had not known how precious and irreplaceably valuable the things they were experiencing were.
“What does that matter?” asked Kamijou Touma. “No matter what they think, they really were saved. That doesn’t fall under the category of being tricked. Having their memories or not changes nothing.”
“What are you talking about /escape? It changes everything /return,” said the Will in exasperation. “Then what about everything up until now /escape? You weren’t risking your life for anything obvious like money or power, right /escape? Occasionally, you even turned your back on those things as you fought for something more formless /return. So it makes no sense to change the rules here /return. If you’re suffering under a handicap, then play by the rules you used before /return.”
“Othinus was afraid /return.” She readily spoke of what was going on in the heart of the Magic God who had truly become invincible. “But not that people would find it strange that dead people were standing before them /return. After all, that wouldn’t really matter to them /return. Having someone you care about alive is better than having them dead /return. They might question it, but they wouldn’t reject it /return. It’s the same thing you did /return. If an unreasonable situation is working in your favor, you tend to think it’s okay to accept it /return. Until it shows its negative side, that is /return.”
“There’s one major negative side here /return.”
As she spoke the Will of the Misaka Network pointed at a certain boy’s face.
Yes. Kamijou Touma’s face.
“If everyone remembered the original world, everyone who was saved here would be unable to accept losing you /return. That is what Othinus feared /return. It isn’t just a positive /return. Once they knew about this obvious negative side, some of them might reject this perfect world /return. It was that thought that led Othinus to cheat in such a boring way /return. I’m pretty confident that’s what happened /return.”
For an instant, the boy had trouble determining the meaning of what he had just been told.
The girl smiled when she saw his face.
She seemed to find it funny that he could not understand something so simple.
“You seem to be thinking about protecting everyone’s smiles by casting aside your place in this world /return.”
“But there are quite a few people who would not like it if they lost you /return. To be honest, I’m one of them /return. Then again, the ones who haven’t even realized it might have the most charm /return.”
She was not simply being idealistic.
Othinus and Gremlin had always kept that in mind while making their strategies.
At Hawaii, Baggage City, and Tokyo, they had drawn out the dark sides of people’s hearts, torn apart the trust between supposed allies, and distributed what people had to gain so that people could not use the power they actually had.
They had never ignored the slight strengths that people held.
Whether it was a bloody race for rescue gear and boats on a sinking ship, a deadly fight over the last remaining food in a snowed-in mountain cabin, or any of the other tragedies so commonly seen in dramas and movies, nothing that complicated would actually happen during such extreme situations in reality.
Kamijou and the others had proven that.
The end of World War Three proved it most of all.
No matter how hopeless the situation, people could get along.
“Just imagine /return,” she said. “Let’s say all of the conditions are met and all of the people who have been lost can be brought back, but you will be lost in exchange /return. Nothing says everyone would readily accept those terms /return. Some people would probably carefully weigh the two options and worry their way through the decision /return. Some people would probably reject the salvation hanging before their eyes /return. Othinus feared that /return. She was absolutely terrified of everyone gathering together to save you, so she hid that fact /return. By hiding that possibility and your situation from them, she made sure they would not think beyond the happiness they have /return. To be blunt, that wasn’t fair /return. She cheated /return.”
Just because people stood in an extreme situation did not mean they could make an extreme decision.
When presented with the unconditional return of the lost lives, anyone would praise Othinus.
But what if a clear sacrifice was needed in exchange?
What if they were told to exile the boy named Kamijou Touma or tear him limb from limb?
Would they accept that fact and live in their world of happiness? Could they move on to their days of happiness as if nothing had happened and with no sorrow at all?
“They would have broken /return.” The Will spoke as if she could see into people’s hearts. “If they knew their current happiness was created by killing and burying an innocent boy, their hearts would break /return. Of course they would /return. It was because you could not allow that sort of thing to happen that you stood up to countless unreasonable situations regardless of good or evil /return. This is something you were never able to accept, so are you really willing to happily force it onto someone else /escape? That doesn’t make sense /return.”
Kamijou Touma did not know how much weight his own existence held in other people’s hearts.
After seeing everyone smiling happily in a world without him, he had honestly assumed it must not have held much weight at all.
No matter how far he went, he was nothing more than a normal high school boy.
There were six billion people in the world, so he had felt there had to be tons of people who could do what he could and tons of people who could do even better things.
“That doesn’t matter /return.” The Will’s muttered words seemed to cut off his thoughts. “It may have been something simple that anyone could do /return. It may have been a coincidence that you were the one that came across it and anyone else might have made the same choice if they had been there /return. If A and B were swapped out and someone else had saved them, they might have ended up surrounding someone else /return.”
She spoke of a truly trivial fact that meant nothing to the world as a whole.
“But at that time and in that place, the one who recklessly ran in and saved them was you /return. Even if anyone could have done it, it was you that actually did it. And everyone is thankful /return.”
Kamijou Touma could not move.
And the Will slowly continued.
“You would be saved /return. Getting your just deserts doesn’t have to be a negative thing /return. The path you have walked so far would save you /return. Everyone might worry over the issue, cry their eyes out, and occasionally get into fights over their precious people, but they would definitely save you in the end /return. …After all, they’re not bad people /return. Even if they got a little twisted and went a bit nuts in the past, they weren’t too insane for you to find a foothold toward reaching an understanding /return. So in the very, very end, everyone would rush to you /return. If they knew you were about to be crushed by all the smiles in the world, they would cast it all aside and join you /return. They would do exactly what you have done all this time /return.”
“And so Othinus took away that option /return. She changed the settings so you could not receive your just deserts /return. That’s not right /return. It doesn’t make sense /return. If it’s okay to just change what people think, then she could have just made everyone happy with a world full of corpses instead of bringing those people back to life /return. That’s how low a level she’s cheating on /return.”
He did not reject the Will’s words.
He listened to them and thought them over.
“That just makes it even worse…”
“If this was a truly perfect world that can’t be cracked no matter what, it might be okay to try to do something. After all, I’d know it would fail. But if there is a contradiction in this perfect world and there is a foothold toward breaking through, I definitely can’t go along with that! After all, they might reject all this. They might reject this happiness that they could normally never get back again! I can’t make them do that!!”
“Hm,” muttered the Will as she kicked her feet back and forth while sitting on the bed. “Maybe you’re getting stubborn because this has to do with people’s lives /return.”
“So let’s think about this more simply /return. Let’s set aside all that confusing stuff like the morality and mystery surroundings human life /return.”
She then moved in close to Kamijou as he sat on the floor.
She approached so close that their lips were just about to touch.
And she spoke as if challenging him.
“Does it really not bother you that Othinus just appeared out of nowhere and stole everything you had built up /escape?”
It was a simple question.
A very simple question.
And that was why it stabbed into Kamijou’s exposed heart without anything to soften the blow.
He remained silent for a while.
The sun had completely set and stars twinkled in the sky.
It was not that time had sped up.
That was just how long he froze up.
Kamijou Touma slowly moved his trembling lips.
Tears spilled from his frozen tear glands.
And he spoke.
“It bothers me.”
“Of course it bothers me. Of course it bothers me!! What was I doing all that time? I didn’t want some huge sum of money and I didn’t want to make my own kingdom with a ridiculous amount of power. I just wanted to wake up in my dorm, make food for Index, go to school, and hang out with my friends after school. I just wanted that normal life back. So why do I have to be treated like an absolute evil!? That’s ridiculous. Othinus saved every last one of the six billion people on earth to make me suffer. There’s something seriously wrong with her sense of scale! Why the hell do I have to go through all this? What was I calling misfortune!? I had always managed to slip past all that and used every trick I had to reach a compromise. I had managed to strike a nice balance! But she destroyed it all. Of course it bothers me! Even if it’s meaningless and no one else cares who it is as long as they’re saved, it still bothers me!! I coughed up blood and shed tears to somehow make my way along that path, but Othinus easily did it like it was just a game! She stole everything from me!! She stole everything I had – even the path I walked down – and she did it so skillfully that I feel stupid complaining about it!! What the hell was that? If she could do that, why didn’t she save everyone in the first place!? If that was an option, why didn’t she use it more seriously!? And I doubt it will even last that long. Once Othinus gets bored, she’ll just destroy this world too. If you can easily create something, you have no problem with destroying it. But I can’t create anything better than this. It doesn’t matter what complaints I make when she can give everyone a smile with a wave of that lance. And this isn’t someone else deciding that it doesn’t matter. It’s me! Me!! She showed me it doesn’t matter if I oppose her!! It’s all a deception created to corner me, but it doesn’t matter to me if it’s all fake!! It’s almost like a game to her, but the smiles she’s given Index and the others are something I could never give them even after a century of hard work. I couldn’t do it without inventing a time machine, but she did it without even trying. Am I supposed to stand up to that!? Why did someone like her have to appear in front of me!? If she was going to do this, couldn’t she do it on the other side of the planet? No, why couldn’t she create this paradise on the moon or Mars and be happy there!? She could leave all the people here alone and create a new human race on a desert planet she made livable!! …I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to oppose a monster like that. I was never fighting because I wanted to. It’s just that I always saw someone holding back tears in some horribly painful situation. Even if they cried and cried, no one would have complained, but they put up with it anyway. …And I couldn’t allow it to go on. I clenched my fist like an idiot, charged in, and somehow resolved the incident. I didn’t do it to be thanked. I didn’t do it because I wanted anything in return. But overcoming those things increased the number of people around me. I began to think those connections with people had some kind of meaning!! And this is where it got me. I had everything taken from me. As you said, someone might rush over for my sake if they knew. They might cast everything aside and join me even if it meant making an enemy of this entire world run by Othinus. But! That doesn’t matter!! It never mattered. That tiny illusion is not worth abandoning this miraculous situation where lost lives have returned. I wanted to have fun with everyone some more. I never bothered to realize how comfortable my position was. If nothing had happened yet and Othinus suggested bringing back all those lost lives, I would probably have rejected it based on some random ideal or another. I would say their deaths had meaning or that you can’t toy with people’s lives so easily! But she’s already done it. To ‘return things to normal’ now would be no different from killing those unknowing and smiling people with my own hand!! No matter how many excuses you make, that fact does not change. A decision that I make would kill every last one of them!! There’s…there’s nothing I can do. What good is it to take away this world without crime, debt, or broken hearts!? Even if I defeated Othinus, returned everything to normal, and justly slaughtered everyone who shouldn’t be alive, would I really return to the world I picture in my head? How would I ever face the people who are living their normal lives, ignorant of what had happened? Could I really just smile? Could I really smile like an ignorant fool when I really knew the truth!! Like hell I could!! Nothing would remain for me either way. Whether I defeat Othinus or not and whether I live or die, I can’t return to ‘normal’!! No matter what happens and no matter how this ends, there is no way for me to succeed. Even if I don’t ‘fail’ in whatever I choose to do, I will still have complaints and it will all fall apart in the end. In that case, there’s no reason to fight!! Why should I destroy this miraculous situation!? If every path leads to destruction, why not just accept Othinus’s victory? Why not let the number of people saved decide it!? Who saved more people, me or Othinus? The answer is obviously Othinus!! I knew from the beginning I couldn’t hold a candle to what she did!! What else can I do? After…after everything she’s done, there’s nowhere left for me to go!!!!!!”
The Will of the Misaka Network listened quietly while sitting on the bed in the dark dorm room.
She silently accepted the many words that gushed from Kamijou Touma’s heart.
It was certainly not a beautiful thing.
It was certainly an ugly thing.
“To be honest, I’m a bit relieved /return,” she said. “If you had still responded like a perfect saint after everything I said to you, there would have been nothing more I could do /return. I would have decided I had been wrong about how humans work and I would have given up /return.”
“Then what are you telling me to do?” spat out Kamijou. “The situation isn’t going to change no matter how much I shout or rage. I can’t outdo Othinus. If I destroyed everything here and returned to the original world like nothing had happened, the weight of my sin would crush my heart. There’s no point in doing that.”
“Probably /return,” readily admitted the girl known as the Will. “After all, this was done by a god /return. As a resident of the science side, I don’t entirely understand, but she has probably entered a territory beyond my own /return. My processing power is nothing to laugh at, but I doubt we could come up with a better answer even if we had a nice brainstorming session here /return.”
Kamijou began to protest, but the Will cut him off.
She said it so readily and simply.
“Let’s move back a step /return.”
Her tone made it clear she had wanted to say this from the beginning, but Kamijou had been unable to keep up.
A slight look of irritation showed she had been waiting to arrive at this point.
“Why do you feel the need to unconditionally place yourself below everyone else /escape?”
He did not know what she meant.
As he stared blankly at her, she rubbed her index finger against her own temple with a twisting motion.
“There’s nothing wrong with deciding for yourself who to prioritize /return.”
She readily rejected everything up to that point.
“There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing yourself just this once /return.”
The Will who had seen death more than anyone else spoke.
“If you think you should rescue everyone equally and you think you should hold out your hand toward anyone holding back tears as they suffer through an unreasonable situation, you should save yourself as well as others /return. There is not a single thing wrong with that /return. Call it conceited or whatever you like, but that isn’t something you can easily weigh and pass judgment on /return.”
“That is how you have always lived /return. That plan to create a Level 6 by killing 20,000 clones could have been justified when faced as an issue of good or evil /return. But /backspace, you would never have allowed someone to simply weigh the numbers against each other /return. And you must know of some actions that were not justified in the grand scheme which still saved a few lives and hearts /return. That isn’t the issue /return.”
“Yes,” said Kamijou Touma.
It was not that he had accepted the Will’s opinion.
He was afraid to accept it.
If he did, he would be letting go of the miraculous situation here.
“But if I returned to the normal world like that, I would be destroyed. As I continually forced a smile in front of everyone who knew nothing, I would eventually be unable to stand it anymore.”
Once again, the Will did not deny it.
And she continued.
“But that just means you don’t have to hide it /return. Who says returning to the original world means you have to hide the fact that you didn’t save everyone /escape? That’s just you not wanting to disappoint them /return. Isn’t that right /escape?”
Hearing that, Kamijou smiled a bit.
He felt as if the issues at hand were gradually coming into view.
“They’d kill me.”
“Then apologize /return. Tell them everything and apologize /return,” she said casually. “That’s what you’ve done all this time, isn’t it /escape? When great tragedy built hatred in your powerful enemies’ hearts, you solved it all, one by one /return. This is no different /return. You brought an end to an entire war like that, so you can return everything to normal no matter how bad it gets /return. In fact, doing it that way would be a lot more like you /return. It’s much more like you than putting on a fake smile because you’re afraid of angering them and ultimately wearing yourself down on the inside /return.”
Kamijou sat motionlessly on the floor for a while.
In this world, everything and everyone but him had been saved.
But needless to say, it was a world that would bare its fangs toward him.
“Is that really okay?” he finally asked.
The girl known as the Will was listening.
“Can I really oppose this dazzling world for nothing more than that?”
“You can /return,” she immediately replied with a smile. “If there truly is no way to return to the original world where you praised your youth, then why not destroy it all and build those relations back up from the beginning /escape? Relationships do not always improve /return. Sometimes they decline /return. But /backspace, it still counts as a victory if it all works out in the end /return. Let’s keep it at that /return.”
The Will of the Misaka Network sounded carefree as she spoke.
“Also /return.” She paused for a moment. “I was the one that urged you on, so I’ll stick with you if they get mad at you /return. Even if they treat you like an evil demon king, we can start out as just the two of us /return. And then you can work to gradually reclaim your shattered circle of friends /return. It won’t be easy, it will leave scars on the most sensitive part of a person, and it will directly affect the survival of people around the world /return. But /backspace, it will all work out in the end /return. I’ll stick with you until it does☆ /return.”
He could not see into the future.
No one could say what would happen.
Choosing to be destroyed here was likely the most overwhelmingly right decision in the history of the world, and Kamijou Touma was an absolute evil for fighting against it for his own hopes and desires that he refused to abandon.
“I want to…”
As he hung his head down, a quiet voice escaped Kamijou Touma’s lips.
This time, the boy truly let out all his pent-up tears as the words spilled out.
“It may be conceited and it may not make anyone else happy, but I want to go back…”
Some might have called it evil.
But these were the tiny feelings of a normal high school boy. They were horribly wretched, pathetic, and worthless, but this was the true voice of his exposed heart.
The girl narrowed her eyes slightly.
He simply could not abandon that desire.
Even though he knew it would bring misfortune to others, he could not let go.
And the girl did not think it was a bad thing. In fact, if he had easily given up based on documents filled with systematic measurements, she would have been angry.
She had actually been sulking up until now.
It was a very human thing to do.
“That settles it /return.”
The Will shrugged and gave her conclusion.
She was as carefree as someone suggesting to stop somewhere on the way home from school.
“Go surprise that true god who got a bit carried away with her perfect victory /return.”
Kamijou Touma slowly stood up.
His eyes focused on a single point: the dorm room door.
What he had to do had not changed. He had always passed through that door when charging out into the wide world.
“It’s time to bring this to an end. It’s time to fight a god.”
The simple sound of the door opening and closing seemed to continue on forever.
The Will of the Misaka Network had watched that boy’s back as he left.
She was now all alone in that empty white room.
In that dark rectangular space, something like white glowing flower petals floated through the air.
“Honestly, you don’t make this easy /return,” she muttered.
Her short hair glowed white as if coming apart at the ends.
Her body was a borrowed one. It belonged to #10031.
Something invisible scattered as if peeling away from that physical body.
The Will had actually had a much faster way of motivating that boy to fight.
She was a thought entity created in part from what was learned in the deaths of over half the 20,000 clones.
By saving all of the clones, Othinus had greatly twisted the Will’s form.
As things were, her very existence would not be erased, but she would change into “something else” as if the data were being overwritten.
And so she had only needed to say one thing.
Please save me before this world crushes me.
(But it would have been all over if I had said that /return.)
That would likely have been enough for the boy to tightly clench his right fist. No matter how many enemies it would have made, he would have willingly accepted the burden of all those sins to save the Will.
Also, she was an existence created by gathering the consciousnesses and egos of more than 20,000 Sisters. She had recorded their state of mind in their final moments and perhaps even for a few seconds after their deaths. In other words, the idea that “only the dead could truly understand the feelings of the dead” did not apply to her. The Will could have lessened the burden on Kamijou Touma’s heart by drawing on the feelings of the Sisters and telling him what they had been thinking.
On top of that, the Will’s data included a few recordings of the words and actions of people he knew well. She was a collection of espers who could manipulate electricity, so she could have burned the voices of the people in the former world into a cell phone’s memory or a hard disk. That might have been enough to stimulate his emotions. What was real and what was false had long since been overturned. If he grew angry that the “voices” he was hearing were being treated as false, he would have easily regained his strength to fight.
But she refused to use those methods here.
She had hidden those cards.
Something resembling white flower petals peeled away from the borrowed body and scattered through the dark room.
(If he had to rely on me here, that boy would certainly crumble eventually /return. He needs to stand firm here, so I can’t spoil him now /return.)
Before long, the Will would be blotted out.
In a way, it felt much more repulsive than simply dying.
As one who had indirectly experienced death over ten thousand times, she really could make that judgment.
“Now, what should I do /escape?” said the Will bluntly.
She was temporarily saying goodbye to this world.
She had to decide on her final words.
“I won’t say I’ll see you in the next world /return.”
She smiled a bit.
“See you in the original world, Kamijou-chan /return.”
She had wavy blonde hair and white skin. A large black leather eyepatch covered half her face, so only one green eye was visible. Witch-like designs had been added into her outfit in places, so her silhouette showed a pointed hat and cape.
She was Magic God Othinus.
She stood in the schoolyard of a high school in District 7. It was a symbol of a certain boy’s everyday life. It was no exaggeration to say this world had been created solely to crush Kamijou Touma from the inside, so it was an important point. It was a pole of that world with more value than both the north and south poles.
She had of course noticed the presence of someone who should not be there.
“I went out of my way to provide you with a ‘last meal’ before your execution, so what is with that look?” she spat out. She spoke with a clear irritation in her voice. “You have mistaken your position here and lost your way when you should have died. Everything is already settled. Are you not even a little ashamed that you are still breathing?”
She glanced over at another form standing in the center of the schoolyard.
Someone was approaching this important point.
A single boy was entering this symbol of an everyday life he needed to protect.
Othinus spoke quietly as she glanced over at him.
“So what has gotten into you now?”
“Something you wouldn’t know about.”
That was all it took.
Magic God Othinus had already seen through it all, so she did not refer back to this world where Index, Misaka Mikoto, and the others had gained their smiles. She did not try to use them as hostages so he would back off.
Instead, she waved her slender arm horizontally.
At some point, a large lance had appeared in that hand.
It was Gungnir.
It was the symbol required to control her massive power as a Magic God.
“I am sick of trying to crush an idiot with the world.”
She narrowed her one eye.
“If you will not break, then I will kill you. I may achieve more stable control if I transfer Imagine Breaker to a more fragile container and break that.”
Between the Lines 6
The conclusion had been reached.
There were no more words to be spoken.
They had no interest in the shifting worlds and they had found no value in a peace that held no justice.
They would accept the sin of turning their back on it.
At that time, two singularities existed there.
They were close yet distant. It was only natural that they would never come to an understanding.
Nothing would remain after victory.
Even if they won, the world they longed for would not arrive.
Nevertheless, they could not stop from fighting. They were not fighting in order to gain something.
Their honor and pride were on the line. For both of them, that was enough.
What would be gained through victory and what would be lost through defeat?
What would be lost through victory and what would be gained through defeat?
Did they understand the conditions?
Did they comprehend the threat before their eyes?
The battle began.
No excuses were necessary. They would fully enjoy this battle of individuals for individuals and by individuals.