Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS1 Chapter8
The fourth and final Xiuhcoatl entered Liberal Arts City.
The attack range from orbit had a diameter of around 10 kilometers, so the antenna had to be deployed at the very center of the city in order to blow away the entire manmade island.
From within her Mixcoatl flying across the ocean, Xochitl watched the Xiuhcoatl fly off. She would soon head slowly away from Liberal Arts City. She had no intention of getting caught in the blast.
(I guess our objective is as good as complete.)
That facility had caused many tragedies by investigating and researching the techniques of Return of the Winged One. Xochitl had no strong feelings about it meeting its fate. She was not thinking about the success for her organization.
She was wondering what would become of all the tourists.
She thought for a bit, but then shook her head.
(I didn’t tell her everything, but I gave her the necessary hints.)
There was nothing more she could do.
She sighed once and then turned the Mixcoatl around so she could escape the attack range of their ultimate weapon.
Suddenly, Xochitl heard a tremendous roar. She looked over and saw a girl with six glowing wings charging from the ocean into Liberal Arts City as if she were chasing after the Xiuhcoatl.
The girl landed on the roof of a nearby building and seemed to lay down the girl she had been holding in her arms. Afterwards, she spread her six wings once more and charged after the Xiuhcoatl.
It was the girl Xochitl had thought she had stopped back over the ocean.
Xochitl did not know what the laws behind her power were, but the girl was a monster that had shot down three Xiuhcoatls with no real weapon. Xochitl gritted her teeth, hesitated, and then headed back into Liberal Arts City. There was a danger of getting caught up in her ally’s bombing, but she could not allow the final Xiuhcoatl to be shot down after coming that far.
The girl with the six wings seemed to have noticed Xochitl who was approaching at high speed along the waterways running through the city. As she chased after the Xiuhcoatl, the girl glanced over at Xochitl. She smiled while looking at her new enemy.
The girl seemed to have said something, but Xochitl couldn’t hear what it was.
However, she was able to see what was in the girl’s hand.
Something was placed atop the girl’s right thumb.
It was an arcade coin.
There were no longer any guards.
With the chaos continuing within Liberal Arts City, there was almost no security left at the entrance to the restricted area. Uiharu Kazari and Saten Ruiko left the unlocked door open as they returned to the sunny ocean city.
A crowd of people seemed to be following them.
They were the people who had been imprisoned within Liberal Arts City’s restricted area. The group of 20 or 30 people included men, women, adults, and children. They wanted to hurry, but their weary bodies did not allow them to run at full speed. According to Saten, they were the “criminals” that had caused some sort of trouble in the city, but…
Uiharu looked up at the blue sky.
“We should be fine now… We just need to head for one of the lifeboat docks. There will probably be officials there, but that’s the only way to escape!!”
A battle between multiple fighters and flying fish was continuing on the horizon visible from the beach. It was unclear when that battle would reach the island and it was possible a stray bullet or missile could suddenly come flying their way.
At any rate, they had to hurry.
The people had been in an area with contamination warning labels pasted all over the place, but they did not seem to be having any issues. It seemed Liberal Arts City was just planning for the worst possible situation because they did not understand what it was they were researching. Saten said that Olive had mentioned the contamination being an erroneous decision by management.
(The docks haven’t been taken out yet, have they? No, we need to hurry to a lifeboat!! With ships that big, they should easily be able to hold 20 or 30 extra people!!)
Saten was guiding the group of people by gesturing, but she suddenly froze. Uiharu looked over and noticed that a battle was occurring within the city, too.
The scenery was a mess. Buildings had collapsed and tilted and crushed rollercoaster tracks were blocking the path. A large Ferris wheel collapsed and crushed a few buildings as if it had been pushed by a giant.
Some people were fighting amongst that.
One of them seemed to be Misaka Mikoto. Uiharu did not know how, but she was flying around using six glowing wings. The other was one of the flying fish. One seemed to be trying to destroy a 100 meter aircraft and the other seemed to be trying to defend it.
“Xochitl…?” Saten muttered upon seeing that flying fish.
“No, don’t fight that person, Xochitl!!”
The next thing Uiharu knew, Saten was already running.
The girl was wearing only a swimsuit, but she was running toward that battlefield in which small missiles and Railgun blasts were flying back and forth. She was charging into a site of intense fighting where stray shots were destroying empty buildings or blowing away roads.
“Saten-san!!” Uiharu yelled, but Saten only turned back once.
Uiharu thought she saw Saten mouth the words “I have to go”, but she was unable to hear the other girl’s words. Saten then once more started running toward the front line of the fight between Mikoto and the flying fish.
The fight between Mikoto and Xochitl continued.
However, Mikoto had a definite advantage given the situation. After all, Mixcoatls were meant to be used on the ocean. They could fly by temporarily increasing the output of their hovering, but that was not what they were made to do. They were not suited for defending a flying ship from an enemy that could fly freely through the sky.
Xochitl denied her own idea as her Mixcoatl jumped from one waterway to another running along parallel to it.
(It isn’t just this specific situation. She’s just too strong!!)
Even if she was flying through the sky using some kind of special power, that enemy was still a flesh and blood human.
Even so, she was fighting more than evenly with Xochitl who was piloting a weapon. She was firing something like lightning from her bangs, swinging around a giant sword made of iron sand from the beach, and even firing a tiny coin at three times the speed of sound.
She had plenty of different types of attacks and each one of them was quite strong. Also, she did not simply focus on attack. Merely getting out from in front of the girl was not enough. There had been plenty of opportunities for Xochitl to circle around behind her, but each time, the iron sand sword had bent like a whip and prevented Xochitl from hitting her with even a single attack.
As Xochitl moved from waterway to waterway, she used the hover function at full capacity to jump up a few dozen meters into the air.
At the same time, she fired multiple missiles.
Mikoto did not evade.
She charged straight toward Xochitl with much sharper angles and with a much more direct path than the missiles. The wings erupting from her back blew up the missiles that just barely passed by her without hitting.
Bluish-white sparks flew from the approaching girl’s bangs.
It was the omen of an incoming lightning-like strike.
Xochitl immediately fired new missiles, but her opponent was clearly faster.
However, she heard a dull clunk.
It had not yet reached the center of Liberal Arts City, but the final Xiuhcoatl was opening its umbrella wide. It was the giant parabolic antenna that had been made from the very best of Aztec astronomy. It seemed the ones operating it remotely had decided that it was better to get in a strike even if it would not take out the entire city than to have it shot down.
They intended to blow away half of Liberal Arts City along with Xochitl who was trying to protect the Xiuhcoatl.
(That’s none of my concern…!!)
Xochitl gritted her teeth and tried to focus on the enemy before her eyes.
However, that enemy did not.
Despite having been given an opportunity to shoot Xochitl down from the front, the girl’s focus had been turned solely to the Xiuhcoatl. Immediately afterwards, Xochitl’s Mixcoatl charged in toward Mikoto. The girl used her wings to try to evade to the side, but the tip of one of the Mixcoatl’s wings grazed her, throwing it into a tailspin. Something must have happened to the girl too because about half of her six wings disappeared and she started to fall as her speed fell.
Xochitl thought as she glanced over at the completely opened parabolic antenna.
Even if she tried to escape at full speed, it was too late.
(So this is the end.)
Xochitl gave up even on piloting her ship and closed both of her eyes.
She imagined the attack raining down from orbit, but…
“Oh, hell no!!”
Xochitl heard the girl’s voice.
She had thought the girl had been knocked from the sky, but when she opened her eyes in surprise, she saw her sticking her right hand out toward the Xiuhcoatl while still unable to properly control her position. She was more or less falling, but her aim was perfect.
A single coin lay on top of her thumb.
In flicking that coin lay the conviction of the one who did not give up to the end.
Xochitl grabbed the helm again to try to intercept the girl, but she did not make it. The gap between the one who had given up and the one who had not given up opened up greatly as the girl fired her final attack from her hand.
An explosive noise ripped through the air.
The coin was fired at three times the speed of sound and it became an orange line in an instant.
That attack directly hit the outer edge of the opened parabolic antenna. The destructive power concentrated on that one point spread to the entire craft all at once. Like a crease spreading along a piece of paper, a large crack spread across the circular parabolic antenna blowing away about a third of the whole.
The shock from that direct hit greatly changed the direction the antenna was facing.
Even so, it was not utterly blown to pieces.
The basic outline of the Xiuhcoatl remained floating in the air.
(What’s going to happen…?)
Xochitl quickly changed directions and worked to keep Mikoto in her sights while half of her focus was on the Xiuhcoatl.
(What’s going to happen…!?)
Did she want it to succeed and blow away Liberal Arts City as well as herself?
Or did she want it to fail and allow her to survive?
Xochitl was not sure which outcome she was wishing for as she watched to see which would actually occur.
And then a few seconds passed without anything happening.
That elapsed time sent a powerful tension through Xochitl’s body.
But nothing happened.
The Xiuhcoatl’s giant parabolic antenna started to fall as it was swept away by the impact of the damage done to it. The antenna may have acted as a parachute to a certain extent because its speed was surprisingly slow as it headed for the ground.
That may have been why Xochitl was able to notice it.
Xochitl saw Saten Ruiko standing utterly still at the spot the remains of the parabolic antenna were likely to land.
A strange feeling rose up from the depths of Xochitl’s stomach. It was an odd torrent that seemed to be a mix of different feelings like tension and anger. Xochitl did not know why the girl had come there, but she was standing there in a swimsuit like an idiot.
She was looking up, but not at the large construction falling toward her head.
She was looking up at Xochitl’s Mixcoatl.
Xochitl bit her own tongue.
She clenched the helm as if she were trying to crush it and immediately dropped down. She checked on how many missiles she had left. There was simply no way she could move Saten out of the way using that craft. If she was going to save the girl, she had no choice but to blow away the falling wreckage.
Even if the Xiuhcoatl was half-destroyed, it was still a symbol of their power.
Also, she had no way of knowing if it had lost all of its functionality…
Xochitl moved her lips.
Her trembling hands touched a button on the helm.
“Right now, it’s nothing but junk…!!”
As she yelled, she fired multiple missiles.
The missiles flew in arcs through the air and struck the large wreckage of the Xiuhcoatl. Multiple explosions occurred one after another. The giant wooden construction cracked, burst, broke, and was otherwise smashed to pieces. But it was not enough. Just destroying one portion of the wreckage left the large mass dozens of meters across still falling for Saten’s head.
And then, the girl that had been her enemy and who had lost most of her wings fired a coin at three times the speed of sound. With a tremendous roar, the side of the wreckage was greatly blown away. The craft had been split in two, but it had not been utterly smashed. However, the trajectory of the large mass had been skewed diagonally a bit. It was now heading on a line where it was hard to tell if it would hit Saten or not.
If it hit her, it would all be over.
Even if it did not hit her, the wood fragments that would be scattered around once it hit the ground might hit her.
Xochitl did not hesitate.
She lowered the Mixcoatl’s altitude even further. She headed down as if she were charging straight into the ground and then suddenly raised the Mixcoatl’s nose right in front of Saten Ruiko. She just barely got the belly of the craft to hover.
And then the Xiuhcoatl wreckage fell mercilessly down.
A great amount of sand was forced up into the air. Wooden fragments that were as sharp as a ferocious beast’s fangs scattered in every direction. However, Saten Ruiko did not receive a scratch.
The Mixcoatl stood between her and the Xiuhcoatl wreckage like a shield.
The rain of wooden fragments was like a rain of spears.
The wood was the kind that would be used in a house’s pillars and countless pieces stabbed into the side of the Mixcoatl.
Seeing that, Saten let out a scream.
“X-Xo-Xochitl!! Waaah, Xochitl!?”
The Mixcoatl remained motionless before the panicked girl.
Saten was unable to run over and she merely sank down to the ground. Just when tears were about to come flowing down from her eyes, the double canoe-like body shook slightly. It opened up as if the top half were sliding back.
“Dammit…” spat out the seemingly uninjured girl inside.
Even so, there were deep wrinkles on Xochitl’s face.
“I really am an idiot.”
Saten approached on wobbling legs and Xochitl pulled out her knife.
The strange blade was made of a mineral known as obsidian. While holding it out toward Saten to keep her from getting closer, Xochitl yelled out from the bottom of her gut.
“It may have been greatly damaged, but the bare minimum of functionality may have been recoverable!! It was worth at least trying to get the Xiuhcoatl running again!! Why did I do that to save someone like her!?”
At first, her words had seemed like she was just yelling at herself.
But then Saten realized something.
She had been speaking in Japanese. When Xochitl had spoken with her comrade, she had spoken in some foreign language, but she had used Japanese, a language she was not accustomed to, when she had spoken just then.
“Oh, c’mon. You know why.”
Xochitl frantically turned in the direction of that voice.
Misaka Mikoto had landed at some point and was now looking Xochitl in the eye. She was not unscathed after having a few of her wings disappear causing her to stall in midair. Xochitl hesitated upon seeing the eyes of that girl with injuries in various places across her body.
“You had realized that this way of doing things was not right, hadn’t you?” Mikoto said cutting off Xochitl’s words. “That was why you told Saten-san about the lifeboats. No, it wasn’t just then. That was also why you saved her from the official that was trying to kill her. You risked your life for that even though it had nothing to do with your organization’s mission.”
“We know that the people of Liberal Arts City are rotten. Your comrades must have had fairly horrible things done to them. But we do not think your organization is absolutely in the right either for trying to purge everyone here. If you insist upon selfishly continuing to fight and killing all of the normal people trapped here, then I must fight you.”
With a hiss, the remaining wings on Mikoto’s back disappeared.
She was not unscathed.
Even so, Mikoto refused to fall back.
“I thought I could get through to you since you saved Saten-san. I thought you would agree that there is a way to solve this other than violence. …What will you do? Are you going to continue this ridiculous fight in front of the girl you saved?”
“Xochitl…” Saten slowly called out the brown girl’s name.
Xochitl did not respond.
She continued to hang her head down as she gripped the Mixcoatl’s helm and trembled. That directly displayed the state of Xochitl’s heart. She had to fight, but she did not want to. Finally, she yelled out a curse in a strange language and pounded the helm with her fists like she were breaking her own core.
Xochitl limply sank down into the Mixcoatl with its open top. She frowned up at the sunlight pouring down from above.
Saten Ruiko and Misaka Mikoto were talking about something nearby, but Xochitl was not listening. She merely thought about what had occurred there.
Liberal Arts City was likely done for.
The attacks over consecutive days had destroyed quite a few buildings. The ground had been torn up by many explosions and some areas were flooded with seawater from broken waterways.
The foundation of the manmade island had not been destroyed, but they would not be able to carry on as before after such a great disturbance. It was possible a few restricted areas were still functioning, but Xochitl alone could easily sneak in and destroy them given the current chaos. If she did, the fruits of their research would be utterly destroyed.
Wouldn’t that be fine?
That way, it would not be necessary to utterly destroy the manmade island getting all those normal people wrapped up in the process?
Xochitl gave a slight sigh.
She then heard some slight static.
She was receiving a message from a man from Return of the Winged One through the communications spiritual item installed in her Mixcoatl. The male voice coming through belonged to a superior of hers.
“Can you hear me, Xochitl? The mission priorities have changed.”
“They have hidden a few lifeboats around the city. They are quite large. They may be planning to use them to transport the samples they have cultivated.”
A chill ran across Xochitl’s entire body.
She had an idea what her comrades were planning to do.
“Where are you? We are going to open a small hole from 3.5 to 3.7. If we get through there, we can destroy Liberal Arts City’s eastern defensive line like a chain reaction. Once we shake off their fighters, we will head straight for the lifeboat docks. If you can move, then join in.”
Xochitl subconsciously leaned in toward the communications spiritual item. Saten and Mikoto looked toward her, but they seemed not to grasp the situation. It was probably due to the language she was using.
“The people aboard the lifeboats are the tourists and the workers who had nothing to do with the secret side of the city. Those lifeboats do not have the equipment needed to hold the samples!!”
“How can you know that for sure? Have you checked?”
“What you know is probably just from the blueprints. How can we trust something like that? How can you say for sure that the people who built such a ridiculous facility are not hiding anything aboard those lifeboats? Why do you think we destroyed the undersea linear motor train tunnel and the heliports first? …We will destroy what we must when we must.”
“But all the normal people in the city are gathering on them! Don’t you understand? Those boats are overflowing with people who know nothing of us and would have no idea how a Mixcoatl worked even if you showed it to them! You can’t just…!!”
“I do not care,” the man said cutting her off. “We are not fighting for something as trivial as that.”
The transmission immediately cut off to indicate his disappointment in her.
He was saying not to complain if she was not going to help.
He was saying to just let them do as they pleased.
That pride had been obvious from his tone of voice. It was the stereotypical way of speaking for someone who refused to listen. Xochitl wanted to stop it, but he held a higher position than her in Return of the Winged One. That mission was an official mission. If she forcibly stopped it, she would be the one that would get punished.
“Dammit!!” Xochitl spat out.
Saten looked worriedly over and asked what had happened.
Xochitl was reluctant to answer.
However, saying nothing would not resolve the situation.
Xochitl spoke in Japanese.
“The people from my organization will have breached the city defenses before long. They have decided that the city’s research data is being stored aboard the lifeboats about to leave, so they intend to sink them.”
Mikoto and Saten were both utterly shocked.
When Xochitl explained the details, it turned out that the Salmon Red lifeboat that would be targeted first due to their location and the location of the Mixcoatls would be the one Uiharu was aboard.
Mikoto grabbed Xochitl’s shoulders and yelled a question at her.
“They’re part of your organization, right!? Can’t you stop them!?”
“We may be part of the same organization, but they’re my superiors! If I could say anything that would stop them, I would have already done so!!” Xochitl must have been extremely irritated because she shook off Mikoto’s hands and yelled back at her. “They don’t really care whether the research data is really there or not. As long as they kill them, they’ll be satisfied. There’s no way to persuade them!!”
Saten frantically thought with her amateur mind.
“Wh-wh-what do we do!? …I know! Let’s tell the officials what’s going on and see if they can send a few fighters over to—”
“If they had the forces to spare, they would have already sent them out! Liberal Arts City is doing everything it can to hold the defensive line to the east. And even so, they said they were going to open a hole!!”
Saten looked over to Mikoto with a look in her eyes like she was relying on her, but Mikoto shook her head.
“I can’t. In order to make those wings, I used the water molecules floating in the air, but that has reached its limit. It was crucial that they were distributed with a certain proportion, but the molecules have gathered together with time making them nothing more than drops of water. Simply put, I can’t fly. And since Kuroko is down, we can’t use her teleportation either.”
“But that doesn’t mean I can’t use my power at all. I can at least wait for them on the beach, but…”
“Mixcoatl’s on the ocean can have a maximum speed that reaches Mach 2. Many of them will be charging in and if you miss even one, it will head straight for the lifeboats.” Xochitl ground her teeth as she spoke. “Of course, I still want your help. You have enough power to shoot down a Xiuhcoatl, so I know you’ll be helpful, but you aren’t enough. In addition to you waiting on the beach, the number of Mixcoatls needs to be lowered by someone over the ocean.”
“But…” Saten started to say. “We don’t have anyone who can do that. We don’t have a fighter and Shirai-san can’t help us. Uiharu and I don’t have any kind of amazing power like that either. Who is going to fight them on the ocea—?”
Saten trailed off.
She had noticed Xochitl climbing back into her half destroyed Mixcoatl.
“Wait!!” Saten yelled at Xochitl. “You and they are both in the same kind of flying fish, right!? You aren’t piloting some especially amazing one, right!? Then they’ll be completely outnumbered!!”
In fact, Xochitl’s Mixcoatl had been stabbed by quite a few thick wooden shards when protecting Saten. Saten had a terrible vision of what would happen if Xochitl took on multiple fully equipped Mixcoatls in that state, but she frantically pushed it away.
Mikoto looked over at Xochitl and asked a question.
“Couldn’t I ride in your Mixcoatl, too?”
“No,” was Xochitl’s immediate response. “I am not some close partner of yours. Some cooperative strategy requiring great coordination like that will not succeed between two people who quickly formed a team. We would both just trip up the other bringing it all crashing down. I’d rather fight on my own.”
That was likely not what she truly thought.
In reality, Xochitl did not want to get Mikoto any more wrapped up in her fight than she already was. She had not said that, but it was clear by looking at her.
Mikoto sighed slightly.
Getting into a fight over that would not help anything. Either way, Xochitl would be the only one operating the Mixcoatl. She doubted Xochitl would agree to it if she tried to force her.
“If it gets truly bad out there, head back within 50 meters of the shore. I can help you out with my Railgun.”
“Misaka-san!! Xochitl, too!?”
Saten frantically started to get mad at Mikoto. She must have thought Xochitl was truly going to leave at that rate.
Xochitl fell silent for a short time and then spoke to Mikoto while staring at the Mixcoatl’s helm.
“Can I ask you to do something?”
“Please knock that idiot out with your electricity.”
Saten started to say something, but Mikoto lightly placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder.
It was a completely casual action like tapping on someone’s shoulder to get them to turn around.
However, immediately afterwards, the sound of sparks rang out. Mikoto had sent out a carefully regulated high voltage current that would leave no lasting effects on the human body. Having received that current, Saten collapsed to the ground.
Mikoto and Xochitl looked sadly down at Saten’s face.
It was probably just a coincidence, but Saten’s arms were stretched out in front of her like she was trying to grab something.
Xochitl took her eyes off of Saten like she was turning around and then spoke.
“…Are you really okay with doing this?”
“Do you need to be knocked out, too?”
“…I’m not just talking about the difference in firepower. You’re about to fight your own comrades.”
“Don’t make me say the same thing twice.”
Hearing Xochitl’s short but resolute comment, Mikoto sighed.
She had actually been thinking of knocking Xochitl unconscious, but she couldn’t stand up to that. Xochitl operated the upper cover of the Mixcoatl sealing up the battered craft before heading over to a nearby waterway.
“I’ll go on ahead. I can’t guarantee that I’ll intercept all of them. I have no real reason to trust you, but I will admit that you showed skill in shooting down our ultimate weapon.”
Mikoto did not even have time to complain.
With a roar, the Mixcoatl shot along the waterway at tremendous speed. Xochitl’s craft disappeared from view in no time at all as it headed from the waterway and onto the ocean.
Mikoto turned back just once toward Saten’s collapsed form.
However, Mikoto could not stay where she was.
To set up her own defensive line and to create a roof with which to protect Xochitl in the very end, Mikoto ran toward the shore.
Xochitl headed east from the beach at high speed in her battered Mixcoatl. She knew she was about to clash with her former comrades of Return of the Winged One, but her heart was not in conflict.
She had not decided Return of the Winged One was her enemy.
Her intention to stay with Return of the Winged One until she died had not changed.
However, that was the very reason she opposed them there.
Because she intended to stay with them to her death, she was taking her own selfish act there.
If she ended up being punished according to the rules of the organization as a result, she was fine with that.
If Return of the Winged One was going to ignore their own rules and give in to their anger to simply go on an irrational rampage, she needed to disappoint them.
(I’ve gotten rather arrogant to think I alone can bring the organization back on track…)
Just as Xochitl gave a small smile, she realized a single Mixcoatl was approaching her. Tension ran through her, but then she realized it was not an enemy. It was her comrade, Tochtli.
“What are you here for?”
“I’m sneaking in ahead through the hole in the enemy’s defensive line as ordered by our intolerable superiors. But I don’t like it any more than you do.”
Tochtli’s Mixcoatl passed by Xochitl’s before making a U-turn to match Xochitl’s direction. She then lined up parallel to Xochitl.
“Aren’t you pointed the wrong way?”
“No, this is the path I’m taking.”
A slight laugh could be heard via Tochtli’s communications spiritual item.
To say that, she must have made up her mind, too.
“Since I have the misfortune of being your friend, I’ll stick with you on this one.”
“Really, it seems you can find idiots everywhere.”
Two explosive noises split across the ocean.
The Mixcoatls with all those bastards on them could be glimpsed on the horizon.
Xochitl released the safety on the missiles as the others seemed surprised at her and Tochtli’s sudden action.
“…I see. Then I have no reason to hold back!!”
“Of course not. I’m going all out, too!!”
The final battle began.
Multiple Mixcoatls crossed paths and explosions continued to ring out.
When Saten awoke from her short unconsciousness, she could only look out to sea, but Misaka Mikoto did not have to fight a Mixcoatl even once as she stood waiting on the beach. Xochitl had said she could not guarantee that she could intercept them all, but in the end, she had not allowed a single one through.
After the battle, Xochitl had headed beyond the horizon along with the companion she had been fighting alongside.
The administration of Liberal Arts City had collapsed.
Apparently, the official announcement said that the city had been attacked by special guerillas that mainly fought using cheap old-style fighters. The general public was told that the guerilla base had been assaulted by special forces, but Saten felt that was likely a lie. She felt even the part about there being a guerilla base was a lie.
Of course, that story did not match with all the information from the witnesses, but that seemed to have been explained away as being a type of mass hysteria similar to UFO sightings.
While they left on one of the Salmon Red lifeboats, the film director named Beverly seemed to be thinking about a lot of things, but in the end she said she had decided to go with a romance movie. Apparently, she was going to leave Hollywood and go work in Europe.
The large scale field trip had been forced to end earlier than scheduled, so Saten and the others were aboard the plane home. The blue Pacific Ocean could be seen out the window. Saten could see a single spot on the ocean that almost looked like a stain. Was that the manmade island of Liberal Arts City that was being demolished with the help of Academy City?
According to Mikoto, Academy City had funded the demolition of Liberal Arts City so that they could ensure that the fruits of the city’s research were disposed of.
However, Saten did not particularly care about that. Normally, she should have been overjoyed that the thing forcing Xochitl and her comrades into that needless battle was being destroyed. However, Saten had no interest in the fighting itself. She could not innocently rejoice while she did not know where Xochitl had gone. What was she doing now that she had bared her fangs toward her own organization?
“Xochitl…” Saten muttered while staring out the window.
Why had she asked Mikoto to knock her out at the very end like that? Had she decided that it was not even worth listening to the words of an amateur who would be no help in a battle? Did Xochitl really feel that her words held so little value?
When she asked Mikoto about it, it was probably mostly just an outburst of anger. The girl sitting next to her was the one who had actually knocked her out after all.
But Mikoto just shook her head upon hearing what Saten had asked.
“That girl did listen to what you said, Saten-san.”
“But she didn’t even let me finish speaking. She asked you to forcibly stop me from speaking, Misaka-san.”
“It isn’t that simple. Xochitl could not allow herself to listen to any more of what you said. Your words were making her conflicted about whether she should actually go fight or not. She was actually really happy about what you said.”
After hearing that, Saten remained silent for a bit.
Mikoto had not actually been told that by Xochitl and it was possible it was just a lie to make Saten feel better, but Saten felt it was the truth. Most likely, Mikoto felt a different kind of bond with Xochitl from what Saten felt. That was why Mikoto knew things Saten did not and did not know the things that only Saten knew.
“By the way, what were you going to say if I hadn’t knocked you out?”
Saten responded honestly to Mikoto’s question.
As soon as she did, Mikoto started laughing uproariously for some reason.
“Wait, why are you laughing?”
“Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry! But Saten-san…I think Xochitl was right. If she had heard you say that, not even I would’ve complained if she stopped right there.”
“…Is it really that weird a thing to say?”
Saten puffed out her cheeks and looked away from Mikoto who continued to laugh.
She looked out the window again and said once more what she had wanted to say back then, but this time only inside her own head.
At an unknown time in an unknown place, two girls walked along a long passageway filled with a moderate amount of light. Their hands were bound in front of them by handcuffs that looked like planks of wood with holes in them.
The two girls said a few things to each other quietly as they walked along next to each other. It seemed to be a light joke because one of the girls’ shoulders shook in laughter, but the other girl gave no reaction.
Finally, they stopped.
They had not come out into some especially large area nor had they stopped before a large door. To someone looking on, it would have seemed like they had simply stopped at a point partway down the long, long passageway. However, that point held great meaning to the girls…no, to the organization the girls belonged to.
A voice resounded from somewhere.
It was a strange voice that seemed to reverberate and seemed to have no source.
“Do you mind if we begin?”
Despite having asked, no time was given for the girls to respond.
The walls on the right and left of the passageway moved outward. The area that had seemed a mere passageway turned into a large space. The walls did not move at a uniform rate. The distance they moved back seemed to be regulated in stages and the area opened up like it was a giant stairway.
An endless stone stairway opened up on either side.
It was a bit reminiscent of a university lecture hall.
Finally, a group of figures appeared at the top of the “staircase”. Men and women both young and old were dressed in distinctive tribal outfits. Each one of them continued on to their determined spots and slowly sat down.
The two girls stood up straight once more.
One of them muttered something and the other one sighed out of exasperation.
“You two certainly are calm.”
The two girls did not respond to that voice.
The two old friends merely exchanged the following words.
“Now then, I wonder what kind of punishment we’re going to get, Xochitl.”
“Tochtli, I know this is all ridiculous, but at least try to look like you’re taking it seriously.”