Toaru Majutsu no Index:RailgunSS3 Chapter8
The Ainsel and Tam Lin, both Stativari which carried the title of world-famous violins, clashed using notes of destruction. The leaking chemical coolant made the large server room even chillier than necessary. Computers the size of refrigerators were lined up along the floor and they exploded one after another as “stray shots” hit them. The dry-ice-like fog was torn through and thick arcs of electricity colored the darkness like neon.
This time, Sakibasu Yuri’s performance was not enough to overpower her mother Ryouu.
No, something had stolen her mother’s body and that something was working to swallow up the girl as well.
Mikoto grabbed the black-twintailed girl around her slender hips and used magnetism to leap toward the ceiling. A storm of EM waves raged along the floor. When Mikoto saw gravity pulling on the upside-down girl’s skirt, she hastily changed how she was holding her.
During all this fighting, the wicked strings vibrated to spit out a voice rather than music.
“Gee kee, ah ha ha!! You play some nice violin, girly. I had assumed a mature woman was best when looking for the body most suited for playing me, but did I actually want the fingers of a refreshing unripe fruit gently wrapped around me instead!?”
“I refuse to touch a monster like you! Show him what we can do, Ainsel!!”
“Yeah, that’s the stuff. You really know how to stimulate the scab. It’s making me so damn jealous. You must know nothing is more exciting than taking what belongs to someone else, so I can only assume you’re asking for it by showing that off!!”
The positions of master and servant had been entirely reversed on the other side. Instead of adjusting the size of the instrument to what the performer could best play, the humans were lined up and compared to see whose arms, legs, and fingers were the perfect length to play a 60cm violin. This was a clear statement that a human life was a small price to pay for drawing out the music of a world-famous instrument.
The violin’s explosive notes targeted the ceiling, so Mikoto moved around while holding Sakibasu around the hips. She moved from the ceiling to the servers and then back to the floor.
“Kuroko, you take over! Help Sakibasu-san with your Teleportation!!”
Of course that bastard was going to aim for the moment of the switchover.
Mikoto launched a lightning spear as covering fire, but it was once again diverted away from the enemy.
“A gentle but world-wise wife is pretty great, but this opportunity doesn’t come along every day. Instead of tearing apart a man and woman to take her #1 spot, I actually have the chance to steal someone from another Stativarius!! Gee kee, ah ha ha ha!!”
“Kh!! Damn you!!!!!!”
“Lick those slender fingertips in preparation for me. Once I grant this old wife’s silly little wish, it’s your body I’ll claim next, girly. So you’ll need those fingers to play some beautiful music with me! And there’s no stopping until I’m satisfied!!”
They were both Stativari, but the attacks coming from Tam Lin had clearly surpassed anything possible using the wavelengths of a violin. It was like some other destructive force had been added on. This was something indescribably sinister, which came at the price of the owner’s destruction.
Shokuhou Misaki let out a white breath and gave an order.
Starting with an explosive step, the girl with gorgeous ringlet curls tore apart the dry-ice-like white fog and approached Sakibasu Ryouu. She circled around to the side of the mother and daughter who were clashing head-on.
“That ain’t gonna work!!”
It was the ringlet curls girl who was pushed back.
Even though her opponent had both hands full playing the violin.
A shadow extended from the feet of the beautiful mother in the black silk party dress and something like the upper body of a dark giant burst out.
“What is it now!?”
“I don’t think we have to time to let every little thing surprise us, Kuroko!!”
The thick arms reached out on either side of her body and the torso rose up behind her and leaned over her head. It was the fist of one of those pitch-black log-like arms that pushed back the ringlet curls girl who claimed she could bench press more than a ton.
What was more impressive here? The dark arms that could push back Rampage Dress, which strengthened the body by controlling it on the cellular level using the weak bioelectricity within?
Or was it the ringlet curls girl who could survive a blow from a dark arm more brutal than the heavy machinery used to demolish buildings?
“That isn’t metal or wood. It was similar to thick rubber, but subtly different. …Dead flesh. I think the closest comparison would be punching a giant tuna or hunk of frozen meat.”
“Risking yourself to test my strength? You’re a brave little thing, curly. But it seems to me you must have a death wish.”
They had to support the ringlet curls girl, but Mikoto’s attack would be too powerful.
“Kuroko, I’ll take care of Sakibasu-san, so you focus your attacks on that violin!!”
The usual metal darts skipped right past the thick dark arms and directly invaded the holy territory in which the party dress woman stood.
“I can’t hit it!! Why!?”
The 60cm violin skillfully dodged the teleportation attacks as the woman shook her head and shoulder with the rhythm she was playing herself. Those metal darts could tear through the walls of a nuclear shelter, but they were meaningless if they only hit empty air.
“Sa10> This is three Level 4s and two Level 5s from prestigious Tokiwadai Middle School, right? How can a single person fight evenly against all of them at once!?”
“GK> That’s just how dangerous they are, apparently! Agh, there’s nothing in the Bank related to violins or this situation… What theory is this technology based on!?”
Then they received their answer.
And just because a search produced no results did not necessarily mean it only relied on the mysterious occult.
When panicked and confused, the proper search terms could slip from your mind.
“It’s called an indefinite curve. Like pi, it’s an irregular waveform that has a clearly defined formula but that never arrives at the crucial answer. The wonders of music can control the human body, so what happens when I produce a random fluctuation that your minds can’t predict? You could link up all the world’s supercomputers and have them work at it for a 1000 years and never find an answer to this long-ass string of numbers, so how are the puny brains behind those cute little faces supposed to stand a chance? An attack that sweeps across a line or fills a plane would be one thing, but one that pierces a single point can never hit me.”
“Queen, please make contact!!”
“Will do. Fall back, Hokaze!!”
Mental Out was not just for use on enemies. It could also forcefully intervene in an ally’s thoughts, so the ringlet curls girl jumped back and away from the giant arms with movements she never could have pulled off with her own reaction speed.
Just like with empty cartridges, the enemy must not have wanted to step on one of the metal darts and lose balance.
The root cause of it all used those high-heeled feet to kick the fallen darts aside within the cold fog.
“I don’t like the way you’re fighting there. You’re holding back out of fear of killing this woman, aren’t you? But just so you know, this body is part of me now! There’s more to a Stativarius than the violin in the glass case!!”
“Dodge, Kuroko!! Don’t let the apparent distance trick you!!”
Just as Mikoto shouted that warning, one of the dark arms tore up a fridge-sized computer like it was a weed. And it threw the server. The fog that hung in the air like dry ice was entirely blown away. That weight and speed could crush the average car and the electricity it scattered in every direction could easily destroy a human body if it flew anywhere near them. Shocked Shirai vanished into thin air at about the same time the ringlet curls girl fell back further to reassess the appropriate distance from this enemy.
“What’s wrong!? I’ve gotta create a new family name for this careless wife. Aren’t you gonna help me give her a dramatic death!?”
If they stood in front, the violin would hit them.
If they circled around to either side or behind, the dark arms or the giant’s upper body would handle the offense and defense. A clean hit from either would be lethal. Plus, keeping their distance was not enough to ensure safety.
Shirai Kuroko clenched her teeth next to Misaka Mikoto while viewing that fearsome situation.
“To be honest, this is a formidable opponent!!”
“So what? How can we accept anything but a happy ending after coming this far!? Let’s smash that hunk of junk and take back Sakibasu-san’s mom as soon as possible!!”
Did you know the well-known Do Re Mi scale was “designed” using math? For example, if you call the base string Do and halve the length of the string, then you have moved up an octave. In other words, you have moved through the entire Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do scale to reach that next Do up. And if you shorten the base string by two-thirds, you end up with Sol. Knowing those two facts is enough to fill in the entire scale with halves and two-thirds. The idea dates back to Pythagoras.
And while the ancient alchemists played with glass test tubes in an attempt to separate the elements, it is said they used Pythagoras’s arrangement of the seven planetary symbols along the Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do scale to preserve their secret techniques in a form the ignorant would not recognize. It is fairly well-known that Heinrich Khunrath’s lab contained musical instruments right alongside the more traditional lab equipment like pots, stills, and bellows.
Playing music was enough for a special power to gather.
For that matter, the practitioner’s own body could be seen as an instrument as they send vibrations through it to recite incantations.
What did that mean?
“Hokaze-san, help me out!!”
“I will support you from behind, so go ahead!!”
An explosive boom erupted out.
That was the sound of a Railgun tearing across the large server room and mercilessly slamming against the thick outer wall of that panic room. The dry-ice-like fog was stirred up after a moment’s delay. According to Uiharu Kazari, the entire top floor was surrounded by thick walls made of special steel so not even a Railgun could destroy them. But that meant the Railgun blast shook the entire wall violently, creating a deep and violent boom similar to a large drum.
Mikoto had no intention of destroying that mother’s body in front of her daughter.
The global threat of Zero Day Link had long since been ended, so their current objective was rescuing Ryouu from that violin. And to be honest, Mikoto found herself much more motivated to fight toward that end.
“Sa10> Whoa!? What’s going on!? The display broke!!”
“GK> The sound must be so loud it overwhelmed the voice recognition and caused an error.”
Mikoto’s attack had not been meant to defeat their target.
“Tch. Even that loud boom wasn’t enough to stop the bizarre things that violin is causing!?”
“Not a bad idea, but it isn’t the sound that reaches your ears that matters; it’s the sound that leaves me. The world doesn’t revolve around you, so why should I care how those wax-covered eardrums vibrate? Try to ignore the title of Stativarius with a little trick like that and you’ll just get yourself killed.”
Shirai Kuroko and Sakibasu Yuri grimaced at about the same time.
“I really do not think we can ever reach an understanding!!”
This was the exact opposite of what they had done during the elective exam. Was this a sign that even Stativarius Tam Lin was only a musical instrument – a tool used to produce sound? Could he not even imagine the ways beautiful music could move someone to emotion?
This was a selfish performance where only the produced sound mattered.
That was no different from a racket that kept the neighbors up at night.
How could that bring anyone happiness?
“Nothing’s more boring than seeing you repeat yourselves because you don’t know what to do,” said Tam Lin. “I’ll switch things up myself.”
The note that followed was not exactly loud, but it never seemed to end.
This was not a great mass of sound that hit you like an explosive boom or shockwave.
A moment later, the volume leaped up like a giant shark bursting from the water’s surface.
It was loud enough that Mikoto could not even hear her own shout.
But that was hardly surprising when this sound did not come from the violin’s strings. This was the noise of things burning. A tsunami of flames filled the space, swallowed up all the computers that had been knocked over, and pushed out toward Mikoto and the others!!
The amplitude of sound was not enough to explain this.
Gathering together nearby scrap metal to create a shield would have actually been more dangerous because it was all glowing red with heat. The radiant heat was so powerful it might have scorched her black.
The ringlet curls girl clung to her and asked for help, but Shokuhou Misaki pushed her TV remote back at her.
Yes, this heat was no illusion.
The heat from straight ahead brought a piercing pain and the rapid heating of the floors and walls caused them to “sweat” like the condensation on a glass.
Of course, they did not think vibrating the water molecules to heat it up like a microwave oven could produce explosive flames like these.
Plus, they had already seen a dark giant’s upper body leaning over the beautiful mother from behind. They had no way of explaining that either.
But they still could not hide their surprise.
Things had been overturned yet again.
This was a world of which Misaka Mikoto was unaware.
“Sound is only the foundation. Just as angry yelling on a snowy mountain can ultimately trigger an avalanche, the amplitude of my notes can summon the four elements of fire, water, wind, and earth in whatever balance I like. Have a taste of the true threat I pose!! Have a taste of Stativarius Tam Lin’s spell!!”
The unexpected occurrences slowed the girls’ reaction speed just a bit.
And like windshield wipers clearing away the raindrops, a great wall of flames swept out across the entire server room.
There was no escape.
The server room was on the 20th floor and there were no windows regardless. Breaking through the walls, ceiling, or floor would be difficult since they were all made of special steel so it functioned as a panic room. They could not reach the limited number of exits before the approaching wall of flames would roast them.
Even Level 5s were still human.
If they were swallowed up by hellfire with no advance preparation, they would die.
It should have ended right then and there.
“Queen, please make contact. Please eliminate the fear that is making me tremble.”
A high-pitched sound burst out and the approaching tsunami-like mass of flames was deflected right before Mikoto’s eyes.
Technically, that was not quite accurate.
The flames had not simply been blown away.
It was a giant mass of ice.
When Sakibasu Yuri played an especially loud note on her violin, countless pillars of ice burst from the floor as a thick barrier.
She was supposed to be the Ace of Tokiwadai.
She was supposed to be #3 in Academy City.
Yet the situation left her behind entirely. Mikoto did not understand any of what was happening around her.
The flames disappeared like some kind of magic trick and the chill of the chemical coolant crept back in from all directions as if as an afterthought. With a loud noise, the weeping floor and walls were rapidly covered by white frost.
“What in the world?”
“Stativarius Tam Lin. If you can do it, then I can do it with my Ainsel. …I am sick of special privileges and ‘keys’. No one needs to be ‘chosen’! I will drag you down into the depths here!!”
A change came over her music. The vibration of the strings followed a different set of rules from before. She pressed the bow against the taut strings with so much force it looked like she would snap them herself and the notes she released into the air followed rules different again from those of music.
A wind whipped up.
They could only see it thanks to the fog that resembled dry ice.
This ignored the most basic of rules that an esper could only use a single power.
Her short skirt fluttered dangerously and showed off her slender legs contained in black kneesocks while a great explosion of noise was released. That noise became a solid blow on the level of a wrecking ball, but Ryous deflected it with the violin. The powerful dark arms smashed the great mass and flames erupted out.
“You reached this level already?”
A voice spoke up in astonishment.
Not even Stativarius Tam Lin could believe it.
“No, even if you understand the idea behind it, I doubt you could use a spell so quickly without any sheet music to follow. Did you receive inspiration from somewhere? What did you memorize to pull this off??? Or are you actually summoning Ainsel in real time and with a straight face!?”
“GK> Don’t ask me! What am I even supposed to search for this!?”
“I have not done anything special,” said Sakibasu Yuri. “Stativarius Ainsel has been with me from the beginning. I briefly misinterpreted our relationship and paid the price for that, but I will make no such mistake again. So I can say this with confidence! Ainsel!! Lend me your strength just this once so I can save my mother!!!!!”
It no longer mattered who was controlling who.
If Sakibasu Yuri and Ainsel were both working together to save that mother, then the phenomenon they produced would be the same in the end.
The violin girl gave a roar.
“Queen, contact! Please give me the courage to take just one more step forward!!”
So there was nothing to fear.
She could rely on Misaka Mikoto, Shokuhou Misaki, Shirai Kuroko, Hokaze Junko…and one more: Ainsel!!
“That huge body is in the way, so I will destroy that first!!!!!”
She released a sharp white breath of resolve, played a note with the bow, and sent out a tornado that grew crimson as it swallowed up the flames.
The powerful dark arms worked to push it back, but then a beam of light shot in even faster than the explosive boom of its firing. That was a Railgun. It tore through the air at three times the speed of sound, glowed orange thanks to the friction of the air, and tore off that entire right arm made of an unknown substance. And with its defenses drastically reduced, she could secure a line of fire on their main target. Needless to say, that was not Sakibasu Ryouu. It was the unforgivable violin that she held between her shoulder and chin.
Shirai Kuroko teleported over several metal darts, but the black party dress lady easily dodged them all with her rhythmic movements.
However, that was only meant to confirm something.
Sakibasu Yuri would not hesitate any longer.
“Indefinite curves, was it? If you think you can dodge my attack with such a cheap trick, then just try it.”
“Remember what I said? If you can do something, then so can I. As long as I play this Ainsel and give myself over to its music, I can achieve the same rhythm. And if I sync myself with you before using that thing you call a spell, I can attack you despite the randomized dodging!! I can defeat you!!”
A broken sound followed.
But this did not come from Sakibasu Yuri.
It came from Ryouu’s feet. While the enemy was wary of an attack from the front where a line of fire had been opened, the girl launched a surprise attack from below. Some kind of pattern made from blue circles and complex symbols appeared on the floor further down even than the black party dress’s skirt.
To use some older terminology, it almost looked like a magic circle. More and more of them appeared like bizarre reflection boards reacting to the violin.
Their element was water.
But the provided symbol was destruction.
So they produced giant shards of ice that jutted vertically up like smashed pieces of drift ice.
“Be skewered, Tam Liiiiin!!”
Just as she shouted with a white breath, all strength seemed to leave Sakibasu Yuri’s knees.
Mikoto and Shokuhou did not know what they were seeing here, but they shouted in alarm regardless.
A rusty smell burst in the black-twintailed girl’s nose. And it did not end there. All her body’s blood vessels throbbed disconcertingly and she sweated profusely despite how chilly the cooled server room was.
She had not hit her head anywhere, yet an unnatural trail of blood dripped down from her forehead.
He laughed while moving back outside the range of the patterns on the floor.
All while the movement indecently flipped the black silk party dress’s skirt around.
“Things are different between this gentle wife and her daughter! Did I forget to explain what happens when an esper takes a step into this world? Gee gee, bwa ha ha ha!!”
Most likely, this was some kind of malfunction. Two sets of rules were conflicting, like running a computer with more than one security software installed. If she continued using Ainsel’s “true power”, all her body’s blood vessels and nerves might be shredded, her bones shattered, and her organs ruptured.
“So I’ll play your game!! Once I’m done with this gentle wife, it’s your turn, girly! I’ll smash Ainsel while you watch and then I’ll take control!! Ah ha, ah ha ha!! Tell me whatever it is you lack and I’ll give it to you. It’s like losing a pet. An Almati or a Guarnari won’t cut it. Once your Stativarius partner has been destroyed, only another Stativarius can soothe the pain!!”
But had he forgotten?
Ainsel and Tam Lin were not the same. This violin was a partner she could rely on. She and the instrument already had an understanding, it would never hide information that would harm her.
It was her trust in that fact which allowed her to find the answer.
It was there inside her.
This was why the Stativarius Ainsel had chosen her as its owner and true performer.
A white breath slipped from the corners of her mouth as she whispered.
“Wait, what the hell are you doing!?”
“Setting tracking element and designating myself as the scan target. Beginning scan of body circulation!! Locate everything running wild within my blood vessels, nerves, tendons, marrow, lymph nodes, and muscle fibers!! …The problem is the malfunctions occurring within my body, right? Then all I need to do is locate each and every one of those issues and use my power to smooth it all over. I refuse to be nothing more than some sheltered girl. I walked through the city myself, I pursued this case with Misaka-san’s group, and I fought alongside my Queen! I have changed!! And the path I have walked has given me the opportunity to face what my own power is!!”
The girl said this was not just her own power.
She had only reached this point thanks to the support of Misaka Mikoto, Shirai Kuroko, Uiharu Kazari, Saten Ruiko, Shokuhou Misaki, Hokaze Junko, and many more.
“So I will no longer fear Ainsel. Give me your full power! I will not claim to be your partner only when things are going well! I will accept even the pain you bring me!! …Now, let us share the good times and the bad. So do not cower in fear like a small child! Give this your all, Ainsel!!!!!”
More and more distorted notes shook the air.
They came from the floor covered by white fog.
Those intricately detailed patterns covered the entire surface except where her allies like Mikoto were standing. The patterns seemed to resonate with her music. And of course, those were all landmine points from which shards of ice resembling split drift ice would burst. As large as the server room was, there was no avoiding a direct hit with the floor so thoroughly covered.
“Am I really losing?”
Tam Lin sounded confused and was not even sure how to move the violin bow to control the flames against this.
He could use fire, water, wind, and earth and he could even use ice just like her, but that malicious being could do nothing against this.
An instrument was not whole on its own.
No matter how superb it was, a tool alone was only a decoration.
It needed a performer.
Only with a true partner could it draw out its abilities as a world-famous instrument.
As long as that girl was acting out of benevolence and not out of self-interest, everything on the field – both enemy and ally – would work to her benefit.
Even the choice of a server room with special walls for the final stage had ended up preventing Tam Lin from escaping.
“I am not some bizarre Academy City technology, nor am I one of your garbage esper powers that simply rewrite the concepts of Thelema using arbitrary new terminology like Personal Reality… I am a crystallization of the Rosicrucian age that predates even the Golden cabal. I am one of the autonomous parasitic spiritual items that were the envy of all. Even a lower-end estimate gives me 300 years of experience in this field, yet some little girl is going to outdo me!!!???”
“Farewell, Tam Lin.”
The trigger took the form of a musical note.
Sakibasu Yuri mercilessly moved the bow.
There were no extra malfunctions or side effects here. That girl had achieved a perfect harmony as she released that final attack.
“I do not care about your history and listing it off changes nothing!! …You chose the wrong opponent here. Messing with us, was your biggest mistake!!!!!”
The many shards of ice that burst from the floor acted as heavy weapons that pierced and destroyed the giant’s upper body leaning over her mother’s back.
“That wasn’t enough!?” shouted Shirai Kuroko.
The powerful dark arms were stabbed through, but that acted as a cushioning layer that distorted the ice’s path just enough to miss the violin.
“I will not…let this end here!! As long as the violin itself survives, I – Stativarius Tam Lin – will never diiiiiiiie!!”
However, the metallic sound of a flicked coin rang through the air.
“This is our fight.”
Misaka Mikoto, Academy City’s #3 and the Ace of Tokiwadai, took aim.
This was much like shooting an apple off of someone’s head, but the path had been cleared. The dark giant had its hands full dealing with Sakibasu, so she did not have to worry about it interfering.
None of it had been wasted.
Without Sakibasu Yuri’s efforts, Misaka Mikoto could not have arrived at this final moment.
“So no matter who delivers the finishing blow, this was our victory!!”
All sound was blown away.
This time, the violin controlling that mother was accurately shot through.
In that final moment, Misaka Mikoto forgot all about the air chilled to a midwinter temperature by the chemical coolant. Her eyes were focused not on Sakibasu Ryouu in that black party dress or on Stativarius Tam Lin that was controlling her. She was focused on Sakibasu Yuri who stood alongside her in harm’s way.
Something erupted from the girl’s shoulder blades.
This was not a dark giant like the one that had leaned over Ryouu’s back.
Really, it may just have been an optical illusion caused by the chemical coolant floating around.
They were pure white.
Something like soft white wings floated behind her.
And a halo glowed above her head.
It made her look like…
The demonic violin was smashed to pieces.
Time seemed to stop.
The amber-colored splinters fell to the floor with an oddly loud noise.
All strength left the black party dress mother’s body and she started to collapse forward.
All of a sudden, Sakibasu Yuri was running forward.
There was no longer a halo above her head or white wings behind her. She ran forward while some glowing particles scattered around her as the last vestiges of those things. She caught her beautiful mother whose face was about to smash against the floor. She wrapped her arms around the woman with the violin and bow still in her hands.
She made it in time.
Her mother had done a lot wrong, she had troubled a great many people, and she may have threatened quite a few lives.
Sakibasu Yuri knew she had made it this time.
“It’s okay now. There is bound to be a lot of criticism. And I think I deserve to share it with you since I failed to notice your pain and stop you before all this happened. Maybe I am naïve for thinking this and maybe I will cry, be overwhelmed, and despair at my life after I see what sharing this with you means.”
That woman had experienced malice and pain born from being handed more money than she ever imagined.
The mother and daughter were sure to face the kind of focused criticism that the ordinary person would never experience. They were a criminal and her family. They were the fallen wealthy. Complete strangers might take everything from them, leave them with nothing, and openly mock them. She could not remain at Tokiwadai or even in Academy City. And the future she could easily imagine would likely only be the beginning of the pain.
“I will say it again: it’s okay. I now have the strength to stand on my own two feet. That is thanks to everyone who stood up for my sake and thanks to Ainsel who chose to fight alongside me. So there is nothing to worry about. No matter how overwhelmed and broken I feel, that will not be the end for me. I will stand back up and face forward with pride every single time. I will not let this end he way you feared it would, mother.”
Sakibasu Yuri squeezed her arms around her mother’s back as she spoke.
“So I will say it as many times as it takes to put your mind at ease: it’s okay. I promise. You do not need to worry yourself sick over me, mother. I am no longer a child who needs protecting.”
After watching the events through to the end, Misaka Mikoto sighed and slipped out of the server room so the mother and daughter would not notice.
She knew her underclassman Shirai Kuroko would follow, but she was a little surprised to find Shokuhou Misaki and Hokaze Junko do the same.
“Huh? I didn’t realize you could be so considerate of other’s feelings.”
“How rude. I am not that coldhearted☆ Unlike you, who gave up on trying because you thought anything you did would ruin this perfect ending.”
“Hm? Is this flippant blonde girl picking a fight with my Onee-…?”
“Wait a second, Kuroko. Shokuhou, are you saying you still plan on doing something here?”
“Did you forget? Sakibasu belongs to my clique. I am only lending her to you. For now.”
Shokuhou swept back her honey-blonde hair and breathed an exasperated sigh.
And without a sound, her expression grew more intense.
“Are you kidding me? I chose to take her in and she is one of my favorites, so I will be the one to decide what happens to her. And my clique will never discriminate against someone who had the courage to do what is right and stick with it to the end. She might be overwhelmed by emotion and talking about whether or not she will give up, but I am the one who decides what happens here.”
Mikoto started to say something, but the ringlet curls girl lowered her head to ask her to stop.
That girl was smiling bitterly, but she also seemed to be enjoying this.
She seemed to be saying it was because of things like this that she could swear loyalty to that girl without reservation.
“She thinks this is a family burden shared between mother and daughter? Do not make me laugh. Do you really think the bonds of my clique are too weak for something like this? We will of course accept this family problem ability as well… So make all the preparations for that, Hokaze. You have 24 hours to write up a report on all possible threats to our clique and prepare to fight back. I do not care if we are talking about online or real life or about adults or children. Whatever world it might happen in, I will not let anyone harm or laugh at one of my favorites. No matter what.”
“Yes, Queen. I will be quick but thorough.”
Mikoto and Shirai finally exchanged a glance and sighed.
The Ace of Tokiwadai looked to the Queen and asked a question.
“Is there anything we can do?”
“You handle everything her Queen cannot. I will always protect her, so you include her in your fun like usual. That is the best way to protect the human heart… and if I tried to care for her personally, it would only make her nervous.”
It felt like no one could stop it now.
Sakibasu Yuri had shown the way, but it was those two extraordinary girls who would ensure it happened no matter what.
This was their way of saying they would not let this end as coldly as Sakibasu Yuri feared.
“She thinks she can do everything right, correctly, and decently, yet still lose everything? Not a chance.”
Shokuhou had learned something in the past.
If you lived long enough, you might eventually become aware of some invisible gears and rails. Those things carried a great power capable of easily crushing and shredding an individual’s feelings and efforts.
But back when she was all alone, that Queen had seen something else happen.
A single fist had smashed all of that.
She had been taught that it was okay to boldly stand up to unforgivable cruelty.
“Who can complain if we utterly destroy those illusions that rob people of their happiness?”
This was a world very different from the one in which those middle school girls lived.
However, it was not a fantasy world of swords and sorcery.
It was a messy izakaya.
The interior decoration was all meant to be somewhat reminiscent of a street stall: curtains used as dividers, bare lightbulbs, and even works of art modeled after grills and small generators.
A dorm manager in a suit and glasses looked to a table in the back and waved when she spotted a familiar face.
That dorm manager had very little romantic experience and was never sure how to act around the opposite sex, but that was not the case with this man.
If anything, he was more like an apprentice or a younger brother.
He was not a target of those other things, so she could relax more.
“Hi, Maeda. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Since our Anti-Skill competency test, right? I never expected you to contact me.”
“The way you two failed to complete the test because you kicked all of the instructors’ asses without breaking a sweat is still famous, you know? Yomikawa managed to get a passing score by bowing and apologizing, but you were so disappointed by them you just gave up on joining Anti-Skill.”
“I am a specialized defender, even if no one believes me for some reason. It is not in my nature to run all over the city like a takeout delivery boy with a bicycle and smartphone. I can’t get invested in my work that way. This is lesson I learned through experience, but I don’t feel like protecting a place if I do not eat and sleep there.”
While he waited for her to arrive, Maeda must have been worrying about how he would broach the topic, so he sounded relieved she had brought it up herself.
He asked a question of the dorm manager who grimaced at the appetizer she was served without asking (some mystery dish of chopped cabbage and an unidentifiable salty sauce) but still ordered a shochu sour.
“How are things at your dorm?”
“Ugh, this really is just cabbage… We are talking about a girl’s dorm of the Tokiwadai Middle School. Do you really think I am going to tell anything to an outsider—and a man at that—like you?”
“I’m glad to see you still have your pride.”
You only had to look at the flat screen TV in a corner of the izakaya or the 1seg app on the smartphones of the couple enjoying some kind of discussion at another table. Turn on any TV and you would find nothing but discussion of how that incident had ended. The internet was bound to be even worse. Sakibasu Ryouu, the community called Blue Blood she had created, and their misuses of Zero Day Link. It was certainly a big deal, but discussion of it was fast wearing out its welcome. For one thing, the press still had not figured out how exactly the incident was resolved, so they were focusing on the “keys” and Blue Blood’s misdeeds to hide their own failure there.
It was shocking and provocative.
So the press left the truth in the dust as they pursued that instead.
Maeda glanced over at the screen and took a drink of his cold sake before opening his mouth.
He needed to be drunk for this.
“Sakibasu Yuri was innocent. She even helped solve the case. A lot of the details about that are still unknown, but she was the one who arrived at an Anti-Skill station with her unconscious mother, Ryouu.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Isn’t this just too much? Why does she have to put up with this just because she’s a blood relative? What century do people think this is? Besides, punishment is a job for the justice system, so you don’t get to hand it out based on a personal grudges or emotions. That’s been banned since the time of the ancient Romans, for crying out loud! Judgment and punishment must be managed by those with the proper qualifications. And with extreme caution even then.”
Officially, in public, and on the surface, everyone said the same thing. Everyone knew you were not supposed to do that. But how did it really work? They might go online and spread personal information and half-truths along with a photo, they might figure out where the person lived and throw rocks at or spray paint their house, and they might follow them around town recording them on their phone.
Anti-Skill work had a way of disillusioning one about so many aspects of the world, but it was that kind of “misguided justice” that depressed him the most. Victims and assailants would have their own feelings and circumstances, but not so with that kind of person.
They did it for fun, to cheer themselves up, for the praise, to stand out, because they were driven by some kind of complex, or even just because they were bored.
…He felt a duty to risk his life to protect people because of all the good people out there, so when he saw the malice inside those very people and realized his own actions could easily give them an excuse to act on that malice, he started feeling stupid for risking his life for anything at all.
But the bespectacled dorm manager smiled and helped herself to one of the grilled chicken skewers Maeda had ordered before she arrived.
“Do you really think anyone would be stupid enough to throw a rock at the window of the dorm I manage? You know perfectly well what will happen if they do… Oh, so this is a chicken place. I was wondering why you were drinking something cold. This isn’t bad.”
“I see… Yeah, if you spray painted the entrance of that place, you probably would end up having to pay a small fortune in damages.”
“Tokiwadai is well-equipped with buses. And unlike a certain Railgun or Teleporter I could mention, Sakibasu is very well-behaved. If she does not make any odd detours and uses the buses to travel between the dorm and school, there will be no unwanted physical contact with anyone at all.”
But modern society’s problems were not restricted to that.
The dorm manager audibly gulped down her shochu sour that was given its sour flavor with shikuwasha juice.
“I can’t say anything about the internet. To be honest, that is outside my control. But the right to be forgotten has received a lot of discussion lately and her school rather than her dorm will request the deletion of any truly ‘dangerous information’. And those requests will have the kind of backing that can, in all seriousness, reduce a massive IT company’s stock to worthless scraps if they refuse. Have you forgotten? The girls of our school have more money than they know what to do with. To the point that brats of only 12 or 13 can buy a Stativarius with a price tag of over a hundred million. More than that, Tokiwadai is a prestigious esper development school... and exclusive schools like that tend to be merciless when it comes to issues related to their own profit and privilege. Any information still out there is likely misinformation that has been deemed harmless. Simply put, do not worry about it. Those bored commenters will move on to something else soon enough.”
“Then what about inside Tokiwadai?” cut in Maeda.
This must have been bothering him all this time. He must not have had the best manners because he stabbed the end of his chopsticks into his fried chicken.
“Like you said, we’re talking about a prestigious school and they’ll want to protect their image. You act like the power of their money will work to protect Sakibasu, but is that really how it will play out? Couldn’t they instead use their money against her in order to protect themselves?”
“C’mon, don’t fall silent on me. One of the good people out there—and a minor girl at that—saved us all and protected this city even though it meant fighting her own mother. She even saved my life and I doubt I was the only one. So I’m not sitting by and letting her get expelled over this! I’m not as hasty as Inoue, but who knows what’ll happen if I grow any more disillusioned in my job with Anti-Skill!!”
“Let us discuss the teachers first.”
The bespectacled dorm manager sounded a little exasperated.
He was the scary gym teacher, so nothing he did would lead to the students liking him. He had gotten the short end of the stick like that, yet he still had to ask this question? The dorm manager was not really one to speak since she too was feared by the students, but she knew Maeda must have been doing his best to fulfill his duties as a teacher.
“Prestigious or not, it is a private school. Given all the high-level equipment needed for the esper development program, it cannot survive on nothing but the subsidies from Academy City as a whole. If students do not continue to enroll year after year, it will go out of business. That means keeping a student with a controversial past is nothing but a risk. There have indeed been some opinions given on this matter. Some teachers are wondering why Sakibasu Yuri has not already been expelled.”
“Don’t give me that look. It is all nonsense with no actual authority behind it. For one thing, it was the mother and not the child who committed the crimes. But it is not just children who get upset when their opinion is ignored. So once that silly minority learned that their idea of ‘justice’ could not control the faculty room, they said this was a problem for the school as a whole and should be put to a vote. They wanted to go through the student council, announce the issue to the entire Tokiwadai student body, and propose a solution to the issue. Then everyone would vote on whether to expel Sakibasu Yuri or let her stay.”
“That’s practically the stereotype of vigilante justice!! She must feel like she’s sitting on a bed of thorns with that being discussed! Teenage children value their pride more than money, so a fall like this could even lead to suicide! Innocent or guilty, the suspicions alone have to be tearing her heart to pieces. How can grown adults do something so irresponsible!?”
“Settle down, officer. Like I said, those bored people will move on to something else soon enough. And it isn’t like I am talking about her homeroom teacher here.”
The dorm manager waved a hand dismissively.
Why was he so clueless?
Just as Maeda had joined Anti-Skill, she did her best to fulfill her duties as a dorm manager. Sakibasu Yuri lived in her dorm, so she was one of the children she had to protect. No matter what kind of person their parents or guardians were, she would not compromise when it came to the children placed in her care. Would she really be sitting here so calmly if she knew one of those children had been placed in such a cruel situation?
“Had you not heard that Sakibasu Yuri is part of the clique created by Shokuhou Misaki?”
“That is Tokiwadai’s largest clique… Issues of good or evil are meaningless against the power of numbers if you try to hold a vote against a group like that. The result of such a vote could not be more obvious, so Sakibasu Yuri will not be expelled no matter what. That silly faction of teachers had to give up on their idea, wrap it in thick chains, add a padlock, and throw the key into the sea.”
Anyone who knew what to look for would have noticed just how irregular Sakibasu Yuri was.
She crossed between two of the world’s systems.
She was a high-level esper on the science side, but she could also use extremely high-level spells without any side effects.
In a way, that made her even more unusual than Fuse Kazakiri.
There was also Meigo Arisa, but that may have been a sign of just how many mysteries remained regarding music.
Normally, the entire Board of Directors may have worked to eliminate her. No, the larger categories that defined the two halves of the world may have done so.
But that girl’s legend did not end there.
It would never end in such an ordinary way.
The orange light of the sun filled Tokiwadai Middle School’s courtyard afterschool. Some music gathered some listeners despite not trying to draw attention to itself. The song was Air on the G String, which a certain girl loved to play. She was likely practicing it for her own enjoyment instead of performing for others.
Once she finished playing, Misaka Mikoto called out to her.
When the girl noticed, she turned around, causing her black twintails with curly ends to sway.
She bowed and smiled.
And she opened her mouth to speak.
Someone had once said that girl had it.
As long as she was acting out of benevolence and not out of self-interest, everything on the field – both enemy and ally – would work to her benefit.