Toaru Majutsu no Index:Virtual On Chapter4
The change was instantaneous.
Kamijou heard a sticky sound from below Temjin’s feet. Then the ground melted away like ice cream dropped onto the pavement on a hot day.
No, it was more than just the ground.
The wind turbines, the building walls, the roadside trees, and the rest of the scenery lost their color and shape like chocolate melted with a blowtorch. It all mixed together. The general silhouettes remained the same, but there was no guarantee that would last.
“Kssshhh!! …Ksshh… Touma-sama, the change seems to be starting from the bottom and working its way up. The taller buildings are showing no change, so I recommend using your repulsion to jump to a rooftop while making sure you don’t hit anything sticking out from the walls!”
“Lilina, you’re back?”
“Sob… It really scares me that my self-scan shows nothing out of the ordinary. That doesn’t mean I’m safe; it has to mean I just can’t locate the cause! I mean, there’s clearly some kind of error here!!”
Anything was fine as long as he had her support.
He used the turbo for a running start.
And then Temjin used the invisible repulsion to leap in a high arc like a long throw in baseball. He kicked off a few sticky walls along the way, made his way ever higher, and ultimately reached the top of a high-rise building.
As Lilina had said, the area near the roof was unchanged.
But the world below could not have been worse.
Everything was melting. It all mixed together while gradually changing shape. It felt like peering inside a giant creature’s stomach with an endoscope.
There was no way any Virtual-On matches could continue like this, but there were still lots of referee spheres floating here and there. However, not one of them was functioning properly. They were spinning erratically as they observed meaningless locations.
“Yes, what is it?”
“The Blue Stalker made it sound like Virtual-On was remade during the design stage to create the Second Plajiner. He said it was originally a tool of war but he distributed it here after remaking it into a Next Generation Game. That means there have to be traces of him at the most fundamental levels. Does that include you, Lilina?”
“A search does not turn up any information, but that may not be grounds for rejecting the idea,” replied Lilina. “I am a voice processing program meant to help make Virtual-On run more smoothly. Whether it is an enjoyable game or some strange plan I am helping ‘run more smoothly’, I cannot refuse. That is what it means to be a program. There appear to be similarities between Ririn and myself, so it is possible I am an emulation control program meant to control the Second Plajiner.”
“Will you delete me?”
Those words seemed to deny herself.
And Kamijou answered by shaking his head.
“No, let’s keep going like this.”
“Are you sure you want to entrust your fate to something created by the Blue Stalker?”
“How is the Virtuaroid itself any different? I’m not about to think I can survive in this melting city with just my right hand.” He took a slow breath. “So I’ll use whatever is available to me. And that includes you, Lilina.”
“Okay. Understood, Touma-sama.”
At that moment, the situation changed.
The building rooftop had seemed relatively safe, but now it wobbled. It was like being atop a stick standing up from the sand as it slowly toppled from having water poured on it.
He used the repulsion to leap as high as he could manage, but Virtuaroids were not made to fly indefinitely. This was no more than the extension of a jump.
And the surrounding buildings also collapsed one after another.
There was nowhere nearby to land. And with no footing, he could only slowly fall.
A gaping hole opened in the world.
It looked like a single point had opened up in the surface world that looked like black fuel oil, but then it expanded seemingly endlessly. It may have swallowed up the entire district.
There was nothing he could do.
The few remaining buildings fell into the expanding hole. He could not imagine how deep it was, but it was all too obvious that falling into it was the end.
“Rescanning the map. Touma-sama, there is a reading near the center of the hole. Is it…floating? Regardless, there is something like land there!”
“What the hell is that!? Should we really go toward it?!”
“Virtuaroids cannot fly. If you do not make up your mind soon, you will be stuck falling into that empty darkness!!”
She was right.
He had no other option.
Kamijou decided anything was better than falling into a hole that looked like it led to the depths of hell, so he focused on the turbo while altering Temjin’s actions. He fell toward the sole safe zone at the center of the massive hole.
Even when viewed from above, it was an odd place.
Something measuring several kilometers across floated at the center of 360 degrees of black waterfalls. No, floating was not quite accurate. Something like thick blood vessels colored a muddy pitch black extended horizontally and attached to the walls on the outer edge. Those blood vessels pulsated disconcertingly and seemed to be absorbing something.
“Warning: please keep an eye on your sense of perspective. Objects on too large a scale can affect your sense of distance.”
It was right in front of him, but he could not find any words with which to describe it.
It looked like a giant mass of metal. It was a cuboid measuring several kilometers across. It looked like a thick bomb shelter and like a spaceship meant to escape the solar system. But the most distinctive feature was the giant spherical bulge near the center that completely ruined the otherwise perfect silhouette.
Kamijou did not know what that was.
But his instincts told him it looked like a giant embedded eyeball that was staring at him.
He gulped as he saw something else.
At a point in his vision, an FCS cursor appeared at the top of the unknown structure.
Temjin had detected some kind of reading.
“There’s something there.”
“It is definitely an enemy unit reading, although an unclassifiable one. …It’s…not a Virtuaroid?”
“I really don’t want my navigator sounding so doubtful!”
“It’s making me question my purpose in life too. At the very least, I can’t find a corresponding unit in any of the data in my archive. But at the same time, a Virtuaroid is only supposed to be able to lock onto another Virtuaroid…”
“Has it been modified so much with the Material Analyze that it’s unrecognizable?”
“I can only imagine this is a new unit built from scratch. Although I can’t classify it as a Virtuaroid if it doesn’t have a V-Disc to support its structure.”
“In that case…”
A name came to Kamijou’s mind.
As a more fundamental question, were there any survivors in Academy City besides Kamijou Touma and her?
With that in mind, he shouted the name.
“The Second Plajiner!?”
District 7 was now a giant hole.
A several-kilometer structure with black waterfalls all around looked like a spaceship or a coffin with a giant eyeball embedded in it.
That was the truly odd final piece of land.
Everything else in Academy City had melted away into an abdominal cavity as Temjin gently landed on that rectangular survival zone.
A single unit had its back to him.
It was bizarrely shaped.
All Virtuaroids had a few parts in common, but their overall silhouettes were all different. Some looked like weapons with thick armor covering them while others looked like girls thanks to their slender and streamlined silhouettes.
But even compared to all of that variety, this looked out of place.
For one, it had no real armor. It only had hands and ankles attached to arms and legs that looked like flat belts. The torso was only connected by what looked like a spine. The smooth rib-like armor and pelvis-like armor just barely gave it a feminine motif.
On top of that, it lacked the V-Converter containing a V-Disc that all units supposedly had.
It had nothing inside.
In that case, what was supporting it?
But that may have been what made it so abnormal.
This was something that had been unable to become a Virtuaroid despite being so very similar to one.
That structure should have been impossible, but perhaps that was why it was the appropriate ruler for phenomena that should have been impossible.
Or was that just more evidence that it was incomplete?
It was like an incomplete human. Had the pursuit of that image given her this form?
Once the city had fully melted together and she had her perfect physical form, would the Second Plajiner show off that beautiful form to the world?
To Kamijou, that was the final signal that everyone’s destruction was confirmed and they could never be returned to normal.
“Touma-sama, we are receiving a communication request from username-…”
“Go ahead and accept it.”
There were only 2 people in this world, so the boy did not need to wait.
A calm voice played as if the needle had been placed on the record.
“There’s nothing for you to apologize for.”
“But I did this to your world…”
“That isn’t your sin.”
The enemy he had to defeat stood before his eyes.
This being had been established by swallowing the land, buildings, equipment, people, and everything else. If he did not defeat her, then Index, Misaka Mikoto, Accelerator who had left this to him, and everyone else would never return.
He could not avoid fighting. He had to win this no matter what.
Kamijou decided that hating this girl was decisively wrong.
“You understand, don’t you?” she asked.
“The Blue Stalker no longer matters. I have already been placed on the rails to my completion. So I cannot end this battle even though I want to. And I won’t be completed without swallowing up everything, including you.”
“I know that. This is like a pupa deciding whether to emerge or to return to being a larva. This battle is forcing that decision onto you, isn’t it?”
The Temjin slowly raised his Blitz Saber close-range sword.
And he spoke.
He understood it all, and yet…
“Even if you’re an enemy of this world, you’re still a girl I know. Nothing will change who Furashina Ririn is.”
The transmission fell briefly silent.
The slight breath he heard might have been quiet laughter.
And a moment later, all of the referee spheres ceased moving randomly throughout the city and instead focused in on them.
The entire melted world – in other words, the Second Plajiner’s flesh and blood – bared its fangs against Kamijou Touma.
The final battle had begun.
There was no time limit, points counter, set number, or anything else.
“Uuh… All of the displays are messed up. This is no normal battle, Touma-sama.”
“One look at the city is enough to tell that.”
With the rules and world melted away, all that remained were Temjin and the Second Plajiner.
Thus, the only possible resolution was for one to destroy the other.
Would the pupa emerge and spread its wing, or would it revert to a larva?
The Second Plajiner only had a flat artificial skeleton and had no weapons whatsoever.
She simply pointed her palm Temjin’s way. And that palm glowed red.
Kamijou felt an invisible pressure, like he was being glared at.
That was all.
Or it should have been.
But a moment later, the entire scenery transformed as if drawn along with the outstretched hand.
The ground at his feet gained a giant spear-like point, swelled out, and tried to pierce Kamijou’s Temjin.
Something stabbed up through the ground he stood on. He immediately produced repulsion for a high-speed dash to dodge sideways with all his might. The air was torn apart, the heavens were pierced, and the forcibly compressed air scattered shockwaves every which way. That was all it took to nearly knock Temjin off balance.
Meanwhile, the Second Plajiner slowly pointed her red glowing hand his way.
No claw-like close-range swords jutted out from the fingers and no thick lasers were launched from the palm.
Based on how it seemed to work, it was more like…
“A bombing target designator!?”
How large was it really? The repeated attacks felt like a giant’s sword was stabbing up from the depths of the earth. Kamijou had his hands full dodging, but he still attempted to fire on the Second Plajiner from a distance. However…
(!? She’s gone!!)
“Touma-sama, up above!”
The slender unit had created a dragon-like swelling below her own feet to carry her up like a rocket. And she continued to aim her red glowing palm toward Kamijou. But she was not just targeting his Temjin directly. The melting walls around him would react and grow countless sharp and biological-looking horns or jaws.
An unpleasant sensation ran down his spine just before an overwhelming blast of light assaulted him from all directions.
The horns launched beams of light like lightning strikes and the jaws split open to spit out massive glowing projectiles. Kamijou used the blessings of Defection to make quick dashes in every direction to just barely dodge it all, but then the Second Plajiner herself made her move.
At the top of a smooth tower, she spun like a gymnast atop the protrusion she had used to fly so high.
As her heel moved around, the massive dragon swelling up from the ground began to rotate. It bent in an upside down U-shape, looking like a plesiosaur biting at prey on the land. The slender unit and the dragon became a giant hammer and approached like a meteor.
There was a deafening noise and a blinding light.
An overwhelming barrage of light destroyed everything in every direction.
He dodged. Really, he just kept moving.
He fired overhead in desperation, but the giant dragon prevented his shots from reaching her. He clicked his tongue and started making a high-speed dash that used his repulsion solely to flee.
The meteor fell shortly afterwards.
Still bent in an upside U-shape, the tower slammed into the ground along with the Second Plajiner.
And of course, it used tremendous destructive force to crush the bug crawling along the surface.
The spaceship split in two, cracks ran through the armor protecting the eyeball, and the entire structure sank down the height of a 3-story building.
For a brief moment, the spiky-haired boy named Kamijou Touma forgot where he was.
A dull pain throbbed deep in his head.
An alert stabbed into his mind more sharply than an alarm clock.
He was inside a cocoon-like spindle-shaped machine that did not feel all that large. It was strangely soft and seemed to suction itself to his back. His hands held a device only a little bigger than a box of chocolates. That device and its sticks and buttons for his thumbs were his only lifeline.
There was nothing inside the cocoon. Even without a seatbelt, his body was naturally fixed inside the seat and there were none of the monitors, buttons, and switches that would fill a fighter craft. Optional settings could alter the layout to one’s liking, but the small device in his hands was all he needed to control the machine.
But no one really knew if that lifeline was really there or not.
The device and even his own existence “inside” the machine were uncertain.
But he could touch it and it would respond accordingly, so there was no problem.
The world rapidly opened up around him.
He was not simply receiving information through a monitor. He sat inside the cocoon-like machine, yet he could clearly sense the heat of the air, a burning smell, and even some presences and killer intent that did not fall under any of his five senses.
He finally remembered.
He raised his heavy head and bit his rusty-tasting lips.
He outputted what he needed to do.
“Listen, Temjin,” he groaned. “You aren’t a tool of killing. I won’t let you be one.”
He touched the device in his hands once more. He stroked the top of the sticks with his thumbs and confirmed its solid presence with his entire hands. He entrusted everything to it.
And he spoke.
“So help me out here. Help me save that girl!!”
He opened his eyes.
He breathed life back into Temjin.
He had avoided a direct hit from the Second Plajiner’s meteor-like attack from above. But the shockwave it scattered in every direction had battered the unit.
But he was still moving.
He could still move.
Kamijou used the repulsion to jump up and escape the waterfall of rubble from the spaceship-like structure made of an unknown substance, but the Second Plajiner pointed her red glowing palm toward the pieces of rubble.
Several spears attacked the heavens.
They bent in midair to target Temjin like a giant’s fingers closing to crush him. Countless horns and jaws welled up and filled space with a storm of light meant to cut off the slight remaining avenues of escape.
“Kh!! And I bet a single hit would be enough to take out that flat and hollow body!!”
“Warning!! Incoming attacks from the north, west, south, east, northwest…wahhh!! Incoming attacks from every direction!!”
There was no point in paying any attention to the storm of warnings at this point.
He chose to charge toward the approaching dinosaur and avoided the barrage as if swimming through the light. At the last second, he planted his feet on the side of the tower-like thing and used further repulsion to leap from the slight contact point created by the soles of his feet. He jumped around like a pinball to dodge the attacks while moving straight toward the Second Plajiner.
He entered close range.
His weapon gauges swapped out.
After landing right in front of her, he tempted her to attack and then slid sideways. He swung his Blitz Saber around, but each time, something melted would spiral around the enemy unit and block his attack. The same thing occurred each time he attacked. More and more obstacles appeared to defend against Kamijou’s attacks.
And it went beyond that.
The spiraling substance swelled out like a balloon. No, it burst. A tremendous shock pushed Temjin’s giant body straight back. He nearly lost balance and stiffened slightly.
And the world itself moved to take advantage of that opening.
“Touma-sama!! There’s a warning from behind!!”
He practically fell over to dodge the drill-like attack from behind. Having lost its target, the dragon approached its supposed master: the Second Plajiner.
By then, Kamijou had already pushed his turbo to activate the repulsion for a high-speed dash.
With a high-pitched noise, the deadly dragon and the shield meant to block all close-range attacks both shattered. An unstoppable force had met an unmovable object and this was the simple answer to what happened when the strongest collided with the hardest.
So for just an instant, the dragon and the barrage of light were wrapped in emptiness.
This created a slight opening.
And as that self-destruction occurred, Temjin forced out his top speed even from his collapsed position. He raised his close-range sword again and this time arrived within the close-range barrier.
In that instant, Furashina Ririn smiled thinly while watching Temjin charge straight toward her.
In truth, she had never wanted to win. She had resisted it with all her might. More than just operate her portable device poorly, she had tried to throw it away again and again. That was how much she had tried to obstruct it from within and yet she still “automatically” produced such overwhelming results. The portable device was stuck to her hands and would not leave. Even her attempts at obstruction were incorporated into the fight and the optimal fighting style was built up around the commands she gave. Even if she stood still or jumped in the wrong direction, it would somehow all work together and find a way to produce massive damage. That was just how strange a unit the Second Plajiner was.
So she smiled.
With this, it was finally over. She had been born for someone else’s purposes, she had grown by destroying what was already there, and she was meant to be taken away to bring new possibilities to some other world. But now she was being removed from those rails. She had agonized over this ever since her birth, but she was finally being saved from that.
So she smiled.
She did not have to grow. She was glad someone had stopped her. She was glad a being like her was being returned to oblivion instead of reaching true completion. She was truly, honestly, and utterly glad that everyone would be returned to their peaceful world without any sacrifices.
So she smiled.
He was strong.
Kamijou Touma was strong.
He was not like Academy City’s Level 5s who had simply implanted the special abilities they already had. Nor was he like the Blue Stalker who had mastered the art of Virtuaroid piloting as a severe and optimized tool of war.
His Temjin had nothing special.
He had only used the Material Analyze feature to incorporate the normal scenery of a normal park. But had he realized that by cutting out and gathering together the small world in which he lived, his own presence and essence could show through?
Didn’t Academy City use the term Personal Reality?
On one side was a city that had been dragged into Blue Stalker’s plan and reformed into the Second Plajiner. On the other side was a Virtuaroid that had taken the warm lives they led and made that a portion of its power. Looking at it that way, there was no way she could win. Furashina had forcibly usurped it and Kamijou had naturally made it his. The difference in power was clear.
Of course she could not win.
And she was glad she could not win.
So she smiled.
Time seemed to have stopped for her.
And as she viewed the death approaching her, she spoke to herself.
“I wanted someone to save me too.”
She knew she could not be allowed to live.
That was certain.
She did not belong and anything she did would destroy Academy City, so she could never have shared a smile with the people who lived there.
She had enjoyed watching the boys and girls playing with the Virtuaroids that were not weapons of war. She had wanted to join them. The more she remained conscious, the more Academy City would change and the more it would be remade into the Second Plajiner’s flesh and blood. So she should have remained unconscious as much as possible. But she had failed to do so. It was not the flashing beams of light or the rumbling din of combat that had roused her. It was the heat, joy, unity, and happiness of the people there that had thrown Furashina Ririn from the cradle of apathy.
That was over too.
This was the best possible path she could imagine.
With her defeat, the Second Plajiner’s refinement process would stop and Academy City would return to its original form.
No other path was better.
She could not hope for anything better.
She shut down the transmission so that final line would not reach him.
All alone, everything was swallowed up in that cramped space.
It happened a moment later.
Something unbelievable occurred before her eyes.
The apparent passage of time had also slowed to a crawl for Kamijou Touma in his Temjin.
He had worked the gears of his mind until he thought his head would fry, but he could not find a way to save Furashina Ririn. He did not know what to do. He was cut off at every turn.
He thought about it hard. He considered it deeply.
No matter what happened.
He did not want to choose a path that ended everything by bloodying this girl. He had to place the melting city, Index, Misaka Mikoto, and Accelerator on the scales and weigh them against sacrificing Furashina Ririn, but that only strengthened his resolve. There was no answer to be found and he was only postponing the problem in this extreme situation, but he ended up relying on that thought however he could.
That was not a happy ending.
He had to save every last person: Index and the others, Academy City, and Furashina Ririn too.
“I’m sorry, Temjin…”
With time seemingly stopped as he charged straight toward the briefly defenseless Second Plajiner, Kamijou Touma spoke.
A scream-like sound reached him from behind. Temjin’s V-Disc had to have heated to its limit. But that was not just because of Kamijou’s reckless actions to reach this point.
It was his right hand.
Just as Misaka Mikoto had placed her Railgun inside her Raiden and just as Accelerator had sealed the power of the strongest inside his Specineff, what if the unknown within Kamijou Touma were sent inside his Temjin?
His right hand had been powerless against the Apharmd and Grys-Vok weapons, but what if something changed here and it began to function?
Logical thought was useless here.
So the spiky-haired boy obeyed his instincts and roared.
“I want to save Furashina Ririn!! I want to reach out to the girl in front of me who’s curled up and can’t even ask for help! So please! Please!! You clench your teeth too, Temjin!!!!!!”
The portable device in his hand could not be operated by voice. His fingers on the buttons and sticks were the only options. The gauges and switches inside the cocoon-like cockpit were only for show. So did his shout mean anything at all?
It may not have.
But a moment later, the scream from the V-Disc died down. All of the noise grew gentle and even, like a record spinning atop a properly-made record player.
“Don’t worry,” said Lilina.
She spoke on behalf of something that had no voice of its own.
“Everyone has their own way of controlling a Virtuaroid. If this is your way and you define Temjin in that way with a specific goal in mind…then the Virtuaroid will surely do as you wish.”
Those words pushed on his back.
He felt like he had been saved by the support of someone without a voice.
Using the Material Analyze feature, Temjin had made the bugs, birds, and scenery around Kamijou into his power. That would mean this contained everything he believed to be “normal”. It was not a creepy exception or something coldhearted and special. It contained everything needed to naturally maintain Index, Misaka Mikoto, and so many other people’s smiles day by day.
This was not made to defeat.
It was wrong to use it to kill.
With this Virtuaroid…
With this Temjin, he could look at it another way.
He was certain of it.
So he looked straight ahead.
He stared at his enemy. No, at the person he had to save.
He saw a girl there who he would not let anyone refer to as the Second Plajiner.
He did not need a weapon.
The power to kill her would be of no use to him.
He threw aside the Blitz Saber to make himself as light as possible and moved right up to her as quickly as possible.
Temjin clenched his giant fist.
And a moment later, time sped back up.
The sound of impact seemed to reverberate endlessly outwards.
In the instant of impact, Kamijou viewed it like a clump of snow exploding.
The Second Plajiner and Kamijou’s Temjin were both blasted from the point of impact. The power to destroy supernatural powers and nothing else was propagated from his arm, to his torso, and to every other part of his body. The Virtuaroid crumbled like a shattered ice sculpture.
The same was true of the V-Converter on Temjin’s back. No, of the V-Disc contained inside.
The motor deck cover fell away.
The contents burst out in a twisted form.
As the disc crumbled, flew through the air, and tried to stop spinning, Kamijou Touma’s body slipped out from its surface like a magic trick or like a fairy rising from a spring.
He had not known he could eject like this.
He more or less understood that something…no, someone had helped him. They left everything with him as if saying “go”, “it isn’t over yet”, “don’t swallow the saliva you spat from your mouth”, or “prove your words were more than just for show”.
He thanked them.
And he then looked forward.
He faced the contradictory unit that had shed as much weight as possible and carried no V-Disc. It was clearly not thick enough to hold someone inside, but its ribs pulled back and the small upper body of a familiar form was ejected.
It was Furashina Ririn.
Kamijou reached out his hand without thinking. What good would that do? Would Imagine Breaker not affect her? Even if he did drag her out of the unit, what would happen to the melted Academy City or Index and the others?
He knew nothing.
He found no answers.
But this was a different issue. There was a girl in front of him who wished for death, had decided that was the best possible answer, had given up on tears and asking for help, and was biting her lip while curled up all alone. He believed that was enough of a reason to reach out his hand. He might have no idea what would happen to the world or the others, but he would figure that out after saving the person in front of him. It seemed foolish to abandon someone he could save now because he was worried about what might happen in the distant future. If they had to choose between regaining their everyday life through a sacrifice and regaining their everyday life while rejecting someone’s sacrifice, everyone would prefer the latter. So while it might be somewhat more difficult and it might require a detour, he was willing to accept that.
Some might call it selfish and some might say he was defining people’s feelings for his own purposes.
But he still believed in this.
Kamijou believed in the human heart, in good will, and in justice.
He did not need a second’s hesitation before choosing to grab Furashina Ririn’s hand and to fully pull her from the crumbling Second Plajiner unit.
He held her slender body tightly in his arms.
The Second Plajiner completely shattered and crumbled. What would have happened to her if he had taken even a little longer to pull her out? He could not imagine the answer, but that did not matter.
What mattered was the girl in front of him now.
He knew she had not really wanted to do this, but the role of the world’s destroyer had been forced onto her by someone else.
That was enough for him.
The words naturally left him.
“It’s going to be okay.”
He had lost his unit and been thrown out into space, but he still said it.
He did not know what would happen in the future and he did not know how to solve this, but he said it regardless.
“None of this Tangram and Plajiner stuff matters. If you think anything else is going to be taken from you, I’ll destroy every last one of those illusions. So you don’t need to worry about anything else.”
Furashina Ririn said nothing.
He could not see her expression as he held her in his arms.
But she wrapped her slender arms around his back. Her small hands clutched his clothing.
That was enough. That was more than enough to tell him what she thought.
It happened before gravity could pull them down once more and before they could be slammed into the ground.
The sole remaining surface looked like a giant spaceship and like a structure to contain an eerie eyeball, but it began to squirm. Something moved, shaking the air to produce noise.
No, to produce a voice.
“It’s going to be okay? Hardly. You don’t need to worry? Think again.”
He recognized the voice.
He had never met them directly, but he had heard it from the cockpit.
“The Blue Stalker!?”
“Didn’t I tell you it doesn’t matter if I lose once as long as I ultimately gain the Second Plajiner and return to the other world? The Second Plajiner has consumed Academy City as an alternate form of L’Ln Plajiner and it has crystallized. Now Code Phoenix enters its final stage. I will contact the Tangram that links all parallel worlds and return to my world of true Virtuaroids. Harvest has arrived, so it’s time I reaped the true key of Plajiner.”
That slender girl had not been the Second Plajiner.
That skinny unit had not been the Second Plajiner.
“Under the current rules, the destruction of both sides results in a draw which means a loss for both sides.”
It had all been the core needed for the crystallization that focused the giant structure of Academy City on a single point. That may have been why that unit had lacked a V-Disc. Furashina Ririn herself had been the core which had accumulated a vast amount of information, so the term “Second Plajiner” referred to the entirety of the vast melted location.
So there was no need to wait until they landed.
The entire scenery grew distorted as thousands and tens of thousands of giant, pitch-black arms burst out and swallowed up Kamijou and Furashina.
Imagine Breaker and the boy’s silly promise were utterly useless in the face of such overwhelming quantity.
What time was it, what was this place, and how much distance was there?
Kamijou Touma did not know.
He could not perceive his own body, much less anyone else. He had his five senses but not his body. Not even the translucent body seen in out-of-body experiences in movies and dramas. He felt helpless, like he was a worthless speck of light in an inconceivably vast world.
No, that was not it.
The helplessness and loneliness may have come from the lack of warmth in his arms from the girl he was supposedly holding.
He had no idea what was going on, but Kamijou still looked around.
As soon as he shifted his focus to the outside world, the scene changed.
It was like the entire universe had opened up.
The distinction between front and back, left and right, and even up and down had little meaning in this infinitely expanding space. Points of light flashed here and there in the dark space. He could not tell if they were expressing a will like his own or if they indicated stars or worlds.
But there was something with an overwhelming presence in the center of the space.
It looked like the ultimate manmade object and also like a biological eyeball.
Kamijou was reminded of the spaceship-like structure from when he had fought the Second Plajiner unit.
Had that been modeled after this?
Had the Blue Stalker designed the stage that way because of his desire for this?
And another thought occurred to him.
He had no real basis for it, though.
(That is not of our world. It shouldn’t be there.)
No, that was not quite accurate.
It was everywhere and crossed between every world, but that was why it could not be allowed to remain in a single world and be monopolized by that world. So as the puny resident of a single world, Kamijou felt a pain as he viewed it. It felt like an invisible “heart” or “soul” within him was being worn away.
This was the ruler and gatekeeper that connected every parallel world.
Only one possibility came to mind.
As soon as he said that, something flashed.
They were two small lights. They were much like Kamijou now and he could tell they were racing toward the giant eyeball. No, one of them was caught by the other, held in the other’s grasp, and being dragged around. It was all in order to forcibly approach and contact the Tangram.
They had no faces and no bodies.
But he still immediately identified them.
(The Blue Stalker and…)
There was no need to hesitate. He had no reason to just watch.
He would save her.
With that purpose in mind, his point of light also raced toward the Tangram at dizzying speed. He began a headlong charge to take Furashina Ririn back from the Blue Stalker.
The Tangram grew to fill his vision, but the distance between them never seemed to shrink. It was simply too big. It felt like chasing after the sun.
And his attempts to catch up to the Blue Stalker were not going well either. The closer he got, the greater the ferocious headwind that obstructed his progress.
The point of light spoke mockingly ahead of him.
“It’s useless. The Tangram is the highest being that binds all dimensions together, but it also chooses who can contact it. Those who are rejected are repelled and vanish into one of the infinite parallel worlds. And they are swapped out by someone from that world. You are not qualified. As far as I know, only the Plajiner girl has ever accomplished that.”
“And I have acquired the Plajiner girl. In my own way. By sacrificing a world and using the singularity of technological development known as Academy City, I have duplicated the master key! So the Tangram will accept me. My primary objective is returning home, but if I have a means of doing so in a comfortable manner, I must make use of it. I will use that gate to return to my original world where Virtuaroids are weapons of war. Once there, I will bring freedom to the world by letting the two Plajiners meet and lock up. There is no good or evil here, boy. Only the acknowledgment of correct or incorrect!!”
Kamijou did not care.
He did not care about that.
The Tangram, Plajiner, parallel worlds, and the master key did not matter to him. To Kamijou Touma, the one and only absolute rule was the presence of a girl who was not even allowed to shed tears.
After all, she had conveyed her will in the very, very end.
After being dragged from the Second Plajiner, Furashina Ririn had wrapped her arms around Kamijou’s back as he held her. She had clutched his clothes in her small hands.
That was enough for him.
Even if she had not spoken to him or written him a letter, Furashina Ririn had already confessed her feelings.
She did not want this.
She had not accepted it.
She wanted to live.
She wanted someone to save her.
So the real Virtual-On did not matter. The power balance of that world could eat shit. By destroying everything, bringing it to failure, ruining it all, picking a fight, and selfishly and willfully refusing to hold back, Kamijou Touma was only trying to say one thing.
He would keep his promise.
He would save her.
But reality was cruel.
The headwind crossed a certain line. Kamijou could not continue forward and was held in place. And before long, he was pushed backwards. The Blue Stalker continued toward the Tangram while holding onto Furashina Ririn. If they made contact and were sent to a parallel world, they would be out of Kamijou’s reach. He knew that, but he could do no more than watch. In fact, Kamijou Touma’s puny existence felt like it was being blown away like a dandelion.
The Tangram was rejecting him.
And just before that happened…
“Honestly, why are you getting so thoughtlessly worked up on your own there? Well, that might be part of your charm, Touma-sama.”
Something supported the boy from behind, even as his existence was nearly blown away.
There were no physical bodies in this world, so he could only see a point of light. Still, he instinctually realized who it was.
“Hi, Touma-sama. It’s your lovely partner, Lilina-chan.”
Why was she here?
How could she resist the Tangram’s frightening power of rejection that forced all things into random parallel worlds?
“Given my appearance, there’s a good possibility I’m an external emulation control program for the Second Plajiner based on Furashina Ririn.” Lilina sounded exasperated. “The Tangram only accepts the original L’Ln Plajiner or a copy as its master key, right? Then wouldn’t I have a small right to control since I was modeled after her in a different way?”
“Well, it’s probably more accurate to say the Blue Stalker made me as insurance in case the Furashina Ririn plan failed, but he was a real fool to prepare multiple access points. Did he not know that more openings makes it easier for a cyber attack to get in?”
But Lilina shouldn’t have been able to do anything alone.
Furashina Ririn was the complete master key and Lilina was only a partial one.
To put it another way, Furashina Ririn was the completed jigsaw puzzle and Lilina was just one piece.
That would be why the Blue Stalker had given Furashina Ririn top priority.
“Who ever said I’m the only Lilina?”
He had not expected that.
And the next thing he knew, they were not the only points of light.
“Whether legal or Defected, every device had the Lilina support AI preinstalled. They all grasped their player’s traits and grew into different Lilinas as they conversed with their player. And unfortunately for him, the Blue Stalker had all of us absorbed and stored within the Second Plajiner. That means we were dragged in here.”
There were more than just 1 or 2 of them.
In fact, there were more than just 10 or 20.
Kamijou suddenly found a full starry sky twinkling behind him.
“Now, Touma-sama. Give me your orders as always,” said Lilina. “Everyone is wishing for it. We don’t matter. Who could possibly bear to watch as Furashina Ririn is forced into such an unfair situation, mocked and manipulated by the Blue Stalker, and transformed into the villain’s master key? So we’re all waiting for your words as the final survivor who can save her. We want you to say that the rules of the true Virtual-On don’t matter and you can throw out any concern for the power balance in the true Academy City. We want you to say that one rule remains even if you get rid of all that and view the world as a blank slate. We want you to say that there is always one kind, unwritten rule that no one can violate, even if it seems overly convenient. We want you to say you believe that. So say that to the world. No, say it to that damn eyeball that links every world together! Say it to that piece of junk called the Tangram that thinks it makes all the rules! Show it you have the absolute words needed to reach it!! Touma-sama!!”
He accepted it.
He took it in.
He grasped it.
He had no body in this world and thus could not form a fist, but the boy named Kamijou Touma still clenched something.
“I don’t care how powerful a being the Tangram is, I don’t care if the Blue Stalker is protected by its absolute power, and I don’t care how hopeless Furashina Ririn’s situation might be.”
And he finally said it.
He was picking a fight with something.
“I will save her despite all that. Yes, I will save her!! Because she let me know she doesn’t want to die! Because she was glad, because she wrapped her arms around my back, and because she grabbed at my clothes!! Because she wished to live longer and she prayed to be happier. So I’ll give her what she wanted, no matter how high the hurdle in the way! No matter how difficult it might be!! Because it’s worth going through all that!!!!!”
He psyched everything up.
Kamijou Touma was no longer alone. He shook the hearts of all of the beings twinkling in that starry sky.
“So lend me your power!! I will make your dreams come true. You want to know someone will reach out their hand if a girl can’t even cry. You want to know that exceedingly convenient rule exists. Well, I’ll prove that it does!! And I’ll destroy anyone who gets in the way of that! They might say we can’t protect anyone, we can’t save anyone, and we can’t make anyone happy! But I’ll destroy every last one of those illusions!! I’ll show you that here! So, Lilina!! Each and every one you!! Lend me every last drop of your powerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!”
He let out a crazed roar, but everyone began moving calmly.
The immense number of lights, the countless Lilinas, all pushed on his back.
From there, it was like he was equipped with a rocket engine.
He was in hot pursuit.
It did not matter how far ahead the Blue Stalker and Furashina Ririn had gotten. With the support of as many Lilinas as there were stars in the sky, Kamijou Touma approached in the blink of an eye.
But as he got closer, the headwind from the Tangram grew.
The Blue Stalker sounded concerned, but he still mocked Kamijou.
“It’s no use. I have the full master key. That patchwork emulation might fool the Tangram to an extent, but only so far. You will be rejected by the Tangram in the end. It is only a matter of sooner or later.”
With another 10,000 kilometers, he might have been able to kick the Blue Stalker’s ass.
With another 5000 kilometers, he might have been able to grab Furashina Ririn.
But they were too close to the Tangram.
The Blue Stalker and Furashina Ririn would reach the giant eyeball before he fully caught up. Once that happened, they would leap to another world and Kamijou and the Lilinas would be unable to interfere. He would be unable to save the girl known as Furashina Ririn.
He charged onward with all his might.
He had no arms or legs in this world, but he still stretched his mental fingertips toward the girl’s point of light.
But he did not reach her.
He did not make it in time.
The true rules that treated Virtuaroids as weapons of war were far heavier and absolute than the boy’s pathetic cry. So it was a matter of correct or incorrect, not good or evil, and the Blue Stalker was prioritized. He would be accepted by the Tangram, he would contact it, he would freely cross between parallel worlds, and he would be given the power to rearrange history.
But it was no use.
The ending was approaching fast.
In the end, this would establish a rule saying that there are girls in the world that cannot be saved.
But just before that happened, something far too large moved its gaze.
The one caught off guard first was the Blue Stalker.
At the same time, there was a torrent of tremendous power. It was the ferocious headwind of the Tangram’s power of rejection. The Blue Stalker had held a position of absolute safety, but now he came to a stop. He was held back. Even though he held Furashina Ririn, the master key known as the Second Plajiner.
“What!? Why am I being rejected!? I was scattered among countless parallel worlds and rejected by you, but I finally, finally had the answer! This was the greatest possible Code Phoenix, so why is it unraveling in the final stage!?”
Kamijou also sensed the change as he pursued from behind.
The Tangram was an incomprehensible being that looked biological yet also dull and bland. But it had changed. Its appearance remained the same, but he could sense something oozing out from within.
It was almost like someone had accessed a previously automated robot and was now controlling it remotely.
But who could do that?
This being existed across every dimension and parallel world, reigned as the gatekeeper and ruler, and would eternally exile those it rejected to a random world. Who was the one and only person with the authorization to fully access the Tangram despite the risk?
“It can’t be…” muttered the Lilina right by his side.
Kamijou could also only think of one possibility.
“Is that the true L’Ln Plajiner!?”
He did not know what intention she had for this.
He did not know what she would benefit from this.
He did not know what emotions led her to do this.
But in the end, that absolute being had made her judgment against the wicked man who had destroyed an entire world in his greed, pursued a girl, and remade her into a copy of a girl who held a godlike position.
And she had judged him “incorrect”.
Thus the rejection began.
“T-to hell with this. The power to gain it all was right there. I had the master key in hand. I had Plajiner right here. And yet…and…and…byaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
He came to a complete stop.
In another few seconds, he would be exiled to a parallel world like a dried leaf blown from the branch by a gust of wind.
The judgment had already been made.
The Tangram had chosen exile.
There was no escaping it. Struggling would not overturn it. It was only a matter of sooner or later. The Blue Stalker would be sent to a random parallel world and would likely never appear before Kamijou and the others again.
Kamijou could just let it happen.
That would solve everything.
He knew that, but a thought flashed through his mind.
(Can I really do that?)
This man had made so many people suffer.
He had manipulated that one girl so very much.
He was the source of it all.
Kamijou had never managed to punch him even once. So could he really just watch as a third party interrupted and passed judgment?
Furashina Ririn had never shed any obvious tears.
But who was it that had stolen even that from her?
This was a strange rule set in place by some strange person.
Could he just leave it to that?
Was that his only option?
The next thing he knew, he was speaking.
And it quickly rose to an obvious shout.
“I can’t just let this happen. I’m sick of just letting some big shot have their way! Blue Stalker, whether I’m going to forgive you or whatever else, I won’t be satisfied until I’ve gotten one good punch in on you!! So give it back!! Give back my conclusioooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon!!”
He did not have a fist or even a physical body.
He had no idea if Imagine Breaker even worked here.
But Kamijou Touma was here.
That fact could not be denied.
So as a point of light, he charged forward at top speed. He shot toward the Blue Stalker who was pushed back by the Tangram’s power of rejection but just barely managed to hang on like a spiteful serpent.
Kamijou did not know what would happen.
He simply collided with the man.
Kamijou Touma broke through the center of the Blue Stalker’s point of light, causing it to burst into a million pieces.
There was not even a scream.
The tiny particles were swept away somewhere. They showed no sign of resistance.
Kamijou could not even imagine what kind of parallel world they would end up in or what form they would take there.
But he instinctually understood that the Blue Stalker there would be nothing like the one he knew.
He had finally gotten an attack in.
He had not left the conclusion to someone else.
He had settled things with someone who had harmed his precious friends and he now bore a certain sin in exchange.
A single point of light remained afterwards. It was that lone girl.
Kamijou Touma slammed on the brakes to stop alongside her and spoke to Furashina Ririn.
His words were brief but powerful.
“But I finally caught up.”
There was no response.
He concluded she was filled with something that could not be expressed with simple words.
And the change did not stop there.
Now that he had finally reached Furashina Ririn, Kamijou realized that something like an impossibly thin layer of filth was peeling away from what had looked like a point of light.
“The mechanism set up by the Blue Stalker is being removed,” said Lilina.
“Hm? You mean…?”
“I can’t believe it. The Blue Stalker’s mechanism was definitely wicked, but Furashina Ririn could not have existed without it. It was keeping the world in a ridiculous state where a girl with no physical form was given physical form. With the mechanism gone, Furashina Ririn should naturally disappear. But she’s not!? This is logically impossible, but something is forcibly establishing that logic!! It’s almost like some new rules were prepared to secure her safety!!”
It was cheating.
It was absolute.
It was salvation.
This was the judgment of the one who was meant to control the Tangram. Since her role had been taken from her, she was playfully helping out elsewhere. It was a chaotic mixture of solemnity and charm, of strictness and fun. This was different from the gods of legend who each fulfilled a single role. This was not on a level where she might lose believers if she allowed an exceptional action. This being reigned supreme in a dimension different from the puny boy who had only been able to yell and reach out his hand and who had been able to promise but not guarantee.
She had been saved.
She had saved her.
Kamijou Touma had to accept that he had only been able to fight and had thus failed.
He looked to the Tangram and tried to yell something, but he could not.
He was hit by an absolute headwind far more powerful than the one that had hit the Blue Stalker. The overwhelming torrent prevented him from clenching his teeth or holding his position. And unlike the one that had exiled the Blue Stalker, he sensed precise directionality in this current.
It wordlessly told him to return to his world.
And just before he was blown away, Kamijou saw it.
It was often said that eyes can say as much as the mouth.
When he saw the strange emblem carved into the Tangram’s surface, he felt like the meaning contained there had changed ever so slightly.
And they were blown away.
Kamijou Touma and Furashina Ririn were swept back to their home.
The one causing this was using the action to say she wished for Furashina Ririn to belong to that world.