“Ahh, we’re finally back home.”
“Welcome back… I’m already exhausted…”
December 11, 5:30 AM.
It was early morning. The spiky-haired high school boy named Kamijou Touma was utterly exhausted after running around the city all night in full bad boy mode. And the white nun named Index had been left behind the entire time. The 15cm fairy named Othinus and her natural predator of a calico cat were also there, but none of them were aware what fate awaited them just 5 seconds after opening the door to the student dorm room.
“The freeze-dried stuff sure has come a long way, nyah. I wonder if they have risotto. (Munch munch)”
“This wonton soup is soaking into my stomach like something out of hell. (Slurrrp…)”
“Maybe there’s no point in asking professional idiots like you, but why do you have a lighter?”
There was something there.
The dorm room had been intruded upon by a nyah-nyah boy with blonde hair and sunglasses that did not suit him at all and a hoodie bikini rabbit-ear antennae girl with a badly broken heart that made speaking to her awkward. And they were eating something.
“What are you doing? Why are you eating my food, Tsuchimikado!? And Fran, too!? I have no idea when you two became friends and – oh, I can’t believe you! How can you just eat all of the human food I’d been looking forward to!?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t check inside the fridge or rice cooker if I were you. …It’ll remind you of the old term ‘mental BSOD’.”
“Are you serious!? Ahhh!! How could you? And this stuff too!? Ahhhh!!”
Kamijou Touma ignored the warning, opened one door to hell after another, and staggered backwards like he had taken a beating in a fighting game. The refrigerator and rice cooker gave off a rotting smell and they definitely looked like somewhere you would find a cursed item.
“The crunchy cat food’s bag must have been open because it’s all gone bad,” said Fran. “You’ll have to use what’s left of the canned stuff tonight.”
“Why is the cat the only one that gets better than normal food in this disaster? I refuse to accept that.”
Kamijou groaned his question, but the cat only mewed happily.
Academy City’s infrastructure had recovered after the major blow from the heat wave and the Elements, but there was only so much that people could do with their individual appliances still broken. For about a week, the electronics stores and online stores would be hit by a big pre-Christmas wave. …Since he lived in a dorm, he wondered if the school might help raise some money, but that would not work when they usually brought in their own appliances.
“You boiled water, so is the gas working?”
“Yeah, but the microwaves broke the ignition device, so you have to turn the knob and then get it started with some chopsticks lit with a lighter, nyah. Do it with the lighter directly and you’ll burn your fingers, so be careful.”
“Maybe there’s no point in asking professional idiots like you, but why do you have a lighter?”
Even so, that was fortunate.
It was super primitive and difficult to control, but they could get cold and hot water. That meant they could take a bath by filling the tub with cold water and then adjusting the temperature with the hot water from a kettle!!
“I can tell from the look on your face!! The thing you’ve been missing recently has gotta be girls taking baths!! Ah ha ha!!!! Eh heh heh!!!!!!”
“Don’t put words in my mouth, Tsuchimikado. And you’ve been missing throughout this entire heat wave and Elements mess, so what were you up to?”
The next thing Kamijou Touma knew, the nyah-nyah idiot’s nonsense had cooled the heroines’ eyes down to absolute zero. He had no idea why, but it seemed his title in life had just declined drastically.
The 15cm god on his shoulder made an extremely arrogant comment.
“Peep and I’ll kill you. And I mean that literally, not just as divine punishment.”
“You don’t even need a sink to bathe. All you need is a teacup, so you were taking baths like normal during the heat wave. You damn bath-lover.”
Whatever the case, it was best to let sleeping gods lie. She was only 15cm, but that was still 15cm. And she used a spear and bow instead of her bare hands. Think of dangerous animals like hornets, spiders, or scorpions and it was obvious that her size was plenty big to kill a human.
“(But if you insist, make sure you get permission first. It’s the sneaking around without telling me I don’t like.)”
“Hey, god, let’s not blush and whisper that extra part in my ear!!”
He had no idea if she was tempting him or refusing him, but he knew taking her seriously would only place him on the receiving end of violence. So as his understander’s words caused Kamijou to act suspiciously, Tsuchimikado finally answered the question.
“Well, if you must know what I was doing, I was looking after my stepsister Maika.”
“Mh… A surprisingly noble goal, good sir.”
It sounded simple enough, but surviving those few days had meant facing the heat wave, the Elements, and human rioters. Protecting a single girl throughout that hell would have been no easy task. Kamijou knew firsthand that the environment had been far too harsh for “normal” ideas like protecting one’s family to unconditionally apply. And yet this boy had kept true to his “normal”.
He continued speaking like a soldier home from the battlefield.
“…Heh. The thing about guys is, we’re willing to become a hero at any time for our little sisters.”
“And you are a pervert to the core, good sir.”
“Now, it’s time to get to the main point, nyah. Listen carefully, Kami-yan.” Tsuchimikado munched on the emergency food meant for a day off of school during a typhoon or snowstorm. “There’s this guy called Board Chairman Aleister, right? Well, I kinda shot him in the head, so can you help me make a getaway?”
“That sure was a casual way of dropping that bombshell. So should I be calling Anti-Skill!?”
“…Even though he’s the kind of guy who can get right back up after taking a bullet to the head?” asked Fran.
“I don’t think his ability to survive it gives you free rein to shoot him all you want!”
“Now, now, Fran-chan. He didn’t see it himself, so you can’t expect him to understand that fear.”
Tsuchimikado sighed like Kamijou was the ignorant one. It did not come up much, but he discovered that it was rather irritating to have your common sense questioned by someone who had shot someone else in the head.
“Anyway, I had been doing some inconvenient dirty work for Aleister in exchange for him protecting Maika, but he screwed it up this time, nyah. He was never exactly trustworthy and his interests are a little out of whack with everyone else. …So if I didn’t give up on him here, I really could lose her.”
Meanwhile, Index’s eyes had grown wide as dinner plates as she held the cat.
“That’s right, nyah.”
“You don’t mean the Aleister Crowley, do you!?”
“It’s a pretty famous name, so did you think he was just borrowing it, nyah? …Sorry, but he’s the real deal. This is Edward Alexander himself. He survived his historical ending in 1947 and he lives on to this day.”
“Hm? Hmm??? I have no idea what you two are talking about, so could you start from the beginning?”
“You be quiet, Touma!!”
“Now another one of you is questioning my common sense!?”
“And even the supposedly clueless cat is looking down on me!?”
Pets were quite good at observing the behavior of their owner(?). As he tumbled down to the bottom of the family hierarchy, Kamijou was left tearful and confused.
“What, what? So are you saying we live in a world where you can shoot a Mr. Crowley of the Aleister family in the head no questions asked?”
“Really, human…? First of all, Aleister Crowley is not his real name, but more importantly, it’s a Western name. The first name is the given name and the last name is the family name. I’m fairly certain that’s common knowledge in this world.”
No matter how sad the contents of his head, his small understander was kind enough to not give up on him. That allowed him to close up his tear ducts while he curled up and trembled. He could not forget that there was such a thing as a soft barb in this mysterious world.
“But anyway, I picked a fight with the head of Academy City, so I can’t stay here. You know my position here, right? I’m a double spy for Academy City and the Anglican Church. So once that balance is broken, I’ll be known as an enemy. That’s fine and all, but I want to avoid having Maika used as bait for me, nyah.”
That meant he would be escaping with his stepsister Maika. That was apparently a rule he had placed on himself. And it was probably more important to him than the planet as a whole or the entire human race.
“Do you have anyone to rely on…?”
“A major one right here.”
For some reason Tsuchimikado pointed his spoon at Fran who was forming a united front with him.
“She too is a magic side spy sent to monitor Kamisato Kakeru for the Anglican Church. That means our situations are similar. Since she works directly for Archbishop Lola Stuart, Aleister has his eyes on her, so we’re escaping the city together. And that means we have more authority than a normal magician, nyah.”
“I’ve called an Anglican unit to the outer edge of Academy City, but they are no more than a retrieval unit and they lack the firepower needed to destroy the wall and get inside. But if we can manage to get out of the city…”
“They’re apparently magicians who specialize in concealment, so they can hide all trace of our escape. We won’t need to worry about anyone pursuing us.”
Leaving the city.
That sounded simple enough, but this was Academy City.
To prevent leaks of technology that could be used to develop next-generation weapons or esper powers, the entire city was surrounded by a thick wall and who was allowed in or out was greatly restricted. Breaking through that would be quite difficult. In all seriousness, they could get shot at with no warning whatsoever.
“Even if you are lucky enough to escape, will you be returning to England? Just like, um, Stiyl and Kanzaki?”
“C’mon, now. Even if I’m leaving enemy territory with the support of a standing member of the UN Security Council, I’ll still be on the run. Why would I give away the answer here, Kami-yan? And there are a lot of other options, like Canada or Australia. It can be easy to forget with the EU controlling the European economy, but the old British Commonwealth still exists.”
They were working on a scale where they had to take geographic history into account. Kamijou was not at all jealous and he in fact found it incredibly irritating as someone who did not want any problems to occur.
“But, well, I have no right to stop you.”
“If you did stop me, I’d just get killed.”
“…It’s gonna be lonely without anyone in the room next door.”
“This means you and Maika will be gone, won’t it? I know these are only temporary student dorms and we have to say goodbye eventually, but it’s a shock to have it thrust on me so suddenly like this.”
Tsuchimikado froze in place.
Kamijou had a bad feeling about this.
“Wait… Don’t tell me…”
“…That’s right. I still haven’t explained anything about quitting school and running away. Yeah, Maika doesn’t know anything about this.”
After cleaning up the tragic contents of the refrigerator and rice cooker (the details would be horrific, so they will be omitted here), they got down to business.
“You were protecting Maika all throughout the heat wave, right? Why aren’t you with her?”
“Fran-chan is my only hope, so I was confronting Aleister to snatch her away. Stray bullets can be scary and there’s no way I could bring my cute stepsister to see something like that. Not my step-sister, nyahhh!!”
Kamijou Touma could not figure out why he would emphasize that part, but he changed into some clothes more suitable for the chilly December weather. Even if it was due to the heat wave, he had spent the last few days like Santa Claus surfing in Australia, so he was relieved to have the normalcy of Japan returning bit by bit.
“So where is Maika right now?”
“At an emergency food site in front of District 7 Station. She’s a trainee maid after all, nyah. She’s not the type to just eat cup noodles or freeze-dried food. Whatever the case, she can’t relax unless she gets her own ingredients and fills her fridge.”
“…Why do you know exactly what she’s doing when she isn’t here? Don’t tell me you’re constantly monitoring her via GPS!”
“Only the pessimistic third-rates rely on gadgets like that. …A pro big bro can read his stepsister’s current actions from his thorough knowledge of her behavior. (Grin).”
“My friends little sister is in serious trouble due to his crazy accurate stalker profiling!?”
“It’s all about building it up over time. The way of the big bro isn’t learned overnight, nyah. …And don’t turn my tremendous accomplishment into a light novel title.”
The fact that he never doubted that this was a brightly shining accomplishment was what made him a true pervert, but at this point, persuading him with words was a lost cause. Perverts were entirely unaware of the rose-colored glasses through which they viewed the world. Removing his rose-colored glasses would probably kill him. With that in mind, Kamijou Touma moved the conversation along.
“…It must be tough having to tag along with him, Fran.”
“I will never forget that look of pity you’re giving me.”
The hoodie bikini girl remained expressionless and pouted her lips, but she was still a hoodie bikini girl. …Kamijou had assumed the heat wave had inspired that clothing choice similar to The North Wind and the Sun, but perhaps she was the kind that forced herself to show some skin even during the winter.
“Well, I suppose I like it this way better than not. I’m definitely going to look, though.”
“Might I ask why you are looking down on me like that?”
“Heh heh heh. At this rate, she might end up the kind of person who can only relax at home after stripping off all her clothing.”
“You’re not much different, god.”
In fact, Niang-Niang and Nephthys had been much the same. If the Magic Gods at the top were like that, perhaps it was just that the magic side as a whole was strange. That might sound like an amusing adolescent delusion…but when he thought about it some more, Kanzaki the Saint showed a lot of skin with the cut-off parts of her clothing, English 2nd Princess Carissa had worn a wonderfully shoulders-baring princess dress, and Marian Slingeneyer, the Dvergr of Old Gremlin, had worn naked overalls… He did not want to think about it too much, but had he stumbled upon a truth of the world that said people approached nudity the stronger they became? And even if this was no more than a hopeless delusion coincidentally having some similarity with the truth, it was still a sad state of affairs for the magic side.
“…So was there some meaning to that Fallen Angel Erotic Maid? Like foreshadowing of an evolution to a second form?”
“What’s this all of a sudden? Are you that sexually frustrated?”
He received a most welcome and very blunt warning from a god, so he decided to leave it at that.
They had other things to focus on.
“Okay, let’s go pick up Maika,” said Tsuchimikado.
“Fine, but will anyone really interfere?”
“This is our one chance.”
“Why? We’re past the 48 Hours to Restore Order, so Anti-Skill and Judgment are back up and running. And while I prefer not to think about it, those who work in the shadows will be back too.”
Kamijou meant it as a casual question, but neither Tsuchimikado nor Fran answered. Instead, they exchanged a glance.
They seemed to have a secret plan that they could not share with the spiky-haired boy.
This was hardly Tsuchimikado’s first time keeping secrets about magic and Kamijou doubted he would hold back when it came to the stepsister he valued higher than his own life. Kamijou felt he could relax knowing that they had something concrete and were not just making a desperate attempt.
Kamijou, Index, Othinus, the cat, Tsuchimikado, and Fran all set out once more into Academy City while it was still too early for the morning rush hour. Their breath was white and they kept out the cold with fluffy coats and scarves. This was another part of their precious “normal”.
Unlike when everyone was afraid of the heat wave and Elements, people were walking below the chilly sky like normal, there was a clear division between the road and sidewalk, and cars were lined up on the road. Some buildings had thick cloths placed over them and some fallen wind turbines were being replaced with ones wrapped in plastic, but the kathunk kathunk of passing trains came from the elevated railways and airplanes drew contrails in the sky. The city was back. That should have been a good thing, but Kamijou actually felt somewhat uneasy that law and order had been restored.
When he saw Anti-Skill holding colorful signal sticks and blowing whistles to direct traffic where traffic lights or wind turbines were being replaced, he started sneaking around.
“Don’t act all suspicious. You’ll only draw attention, nyah.”
“…I didn’t even do anything, so I don’t want you of all people telling me that.”
It was still too early for the morning rush hour, so the number of people was likely due to people’s broken refrigerators and rice makers. The 24-hour convenience stores and gyudon places were of course busy, but even the supermarkets and department stores that normally opened at 10 had their metal shutters up to welcome customers.
Drawn by the smell of food, the hoodie bikini girl turned her head.
“The distribution of goods seems to have returned to normal already.”
“All the ingredients and lifestyle items that should have entered the city were stopped at the cargo terminals outside the city, nyah. By opening the gates and letting it in, blood can fill the city’s arteries once more.”
“So it’s like relying on a blood transfusion until your own body can move properly?”
It might take time to replace the equipment needed to run the vegetable factories and clone meat buildings that supported Academy City’s kitchens, but they would not wither away in the meantime. Just as Kamijou had experienced in Othinus’s infinite hell, the city actually relied on a lot of food from outside.
They spotted people gathering around a shiny new ATM as a small crane removed it from a truck bed and lowered it in front of a store. They were clearly itching for the power and communication cables to be hooked up. They were regaining a life where money mattered, not water bottles or cold weather clothing.
“Hey, mister. Is this spot good?”
“Hamazura-kun, I am really grateful since we’re shorthanded at the moment, but why does a kid your age know how to operate a crane? Don’t you need national qualifications for that???”
“…It’s weird setting one of these up after using heavy machinery to steal so many of them.”
“Now I’m worried about your past!!”
With a glance over at a group wearing yellow hard hats, Kamijou’s group made their way to the station plaza where (the pro big bro was disturbingly certain that) Maika was.
The plaza had become something like a farmer’s market or a flea market. Agricultural plastic baskets were full of potatoes, radishes, and other food for sale.
“She probably came here to get some cheap ingredients but let her kindness get the better of her and started serving up her prized cooking for people. She’ll be working for free as a volunteer, nyah.”
“This pro big bro is seriously scary.”
“Is summing things up as a light novel title a new fad or something?”
Kamijou had made his assessment after spotting the maid girl busily working in front of a line of large pots for those who could not cook for themselves. The smell suggested it was the standard curry, but she had apparently supplied a wide variety, letting people choose freely between rice, udon, ramen, and deep-fried bread. Some of them had chicken soup prepared separately to thin out the thick curry. …Although the lack of naan gave it all a clearly Japanese flavor.
The maid girl’s face lit up as soon as she spotted them.
“Ohh! What is it, Aniki and friends?”
“Just so you know, I really don’t want anyone thinking I’m like him!!” protested Kamijou.
“…And I have most certainly never met you before, so why are you acting like we are old friends,” added Fran. “You are much too close.”
Like stepbrother, like stepsister. Maika had decided she could trust anyone that Tsuchimikado trusted. The fact that she did not even question the 15cm god meant she was either someone important or a freak.
“Oh, yeah. None of you can cook for yourselves, can you? Here to get something to eat?”
“Maybe from a maid’s perspective. But Index is transforming into a starving lion as we speak, so take care of that. Can you also get something the cat can eat?”
“Hmm, maybe some chicken boiled to get the fat off?”
Once Maika turned toward her cooler of ingredients to comply with his insolent request, Kamijou gently elbowed the legendary spy in the ribs.
“Hurry up and explain.”
“S-some things require just the right timing, nyah…”
The killer sunglasses boy who had once scaled a building wall to kill a Board of Directors VIP seemed flustered.
…Which was not too surprising since Maika clearly saw being a maid trainee as her purpose in life. Telling her to give up on that and flee Academy City was no easy task. But this was the cross that Tsuchimikado had chosen to bear. He could not rely on anyone else for this.
He gulped and faced the kitchen space.
“M-Maika-chaaan, we need to talk…”
He used history’s worst attempt at a sweet voice.
Guessing this might develop into a scene of sibling carnage, Kamijou used a paper plate of curry rice to guide Index away from the danger zone. But…
“Hm? Then I’ll have to go with you, Aniki.”
“That was fast!!”
“My home is wherever Aniki is. And I can learn to be a maid from daily life even if I’m not in Academy City.”
Come to think of it, there was no national qualification for maids, so there was no real reason to worry about her academic record. And if they went to England, she could find the royal maids known as Maids of Honor, so that might actually be a dream come true for someone in the world of maids(?).
But Kamijou tilted his head as if he had trouble accepting it.
“Odd. We’ve come all this way and nothing awful has happened to Tsuchimikado.”
“Kami-yan, you’re the worst, you know that?”
“Well, it can’t be helped, but won’t you miss your friends?”
“I will, but we’re connected by an electronic network these days. With SNSs and video chats, long distances don’t affect the bonds between people all that much. Even if I’m on the other side of the planet, I’ll probably still see them tweeting things every few minutes. All the groups will remain intact and they’ll still have that annoying habit of ignoring messages.”
This was the problem with kids these days.
Kamijou was not that familiar with it all, so physical distance – especially between countries – still felt a lot like “goodbye” to him.
But it seemed Maika herself was not too broken up about it.
“Tsuchimikado, will she really be able to communicate like that if you’re on the run? I mean, won’t they be able to trace the signal or something?”
“She obviously can’t while we’re on the run, but things change once we’ve escaped.”
“Once the political refugee process is complete, the science side can’t touch us, so it won’t matter if we announce our location to the world, nyah.”
…That meant they would not have to spend the rest of their lives cowering in fear inside some ruins outside of civilization. It was more like they had to visit a British embassy or consulate to get their paperwork in order and obtain a new life.
Kamijou could feel the tragic coloring of the term “refugee” fading away. What Tsuchimikado was doing was psychedelic, but he was taking his sister’s lifestyle into account.
“(Looking at it that way, I’m a little worried about what will happen to those of us who helped them escape but are remaining in Academy City.)”
Kamijou thought he heard Othinus muttering something from his shoulder.
“Anyway, now that we have that straightened out, we need to hurry. Aleister’s the guy at the top of the city, right? Who knows when he might interfere. Let’s get you two to safety.”
When Misaka Mikoto left through the automatic door, no one said “thank you” or “come again”.
Hospitals were strange. They were clearly a business that required customers to stay open, and yet they did not want any customers showing up.
Why had she been in that District 7 hospital?
She had contacted and activated the original A.A.A. hidden in a District 11 container yard. No, it was because of the invisible…curse? that had hit her afterwards. She remembered the pirate-like girl using some kind of archaic and occult language.
She would have been treated after being taken to the hospital, but she honestly did not remember any of it and she felt just fine. She had no difficulty moving and she felt no lingering pain.
But that was no guarantee she was safe.
What she had felt back then had not been a normal injury where an external stimulus harmed her skin. She had felt the damage resonate directly in the core of her being. And damage to the internal organs tended not to have any subjective symptoms. Oftentimes, it was too late once you started feeling pain.
Could a normal hospital even determine the cause of that? Just as a special disease might be overlooked by normal examination equipment, wasn’t it possible the thing that had attacked her then had come from a black box or blind spot of the world?
“…What a pain.”
She shook her head without thinking.
No one knew what had happened to her. Thus, no one could decide if there was still anything wrong with her. …But if she let that scare her, she would be no different from someone who visited hospital after hospital and finally ended up spending all sorts of money on a self-styled exorcist in a rundown shack somewhere. Just like with zero-day vulnerabilities, a scan result of 0 did not mean you were safe, but doubting everything would only end up restricting her for no reason.
(Now, what to do?)
The commotion caused by the heat wave and Elements was over and Academy City should be back up and running. That meant school. But she had only just left the hospital. No one would blame her if she went back to the dorm and climbed in bed.
But for some reason, she did not do so.
Her feet naturally took her to Tokiwadai Middle School in the School Garden.
Her breath was appropriately white for the early winter morning and she looked up at the front gate.
And at what lay beyond.
The white school building that had been the symbol of Tokiwadai Middle School had been destroyed in the fierce attack by the Elements. And rioters from outside had gone around looting all the furnishings and esper development equipment.
But time passed quickly.
She heard cranes, trucks, and other heavy equipment moving around. And the pile of rubble that had once been a school was already more than halfway back to being a school. With regular whistling sounds, the blocks and modules that made up the school were lowered in place by thick cables. They must have updated the method of construction again because the pieces were built up like a child’s plastic building blocks and attached together with latches and filler material to construct the building with far greater speed and efficiency than normal reinforced concrete.
Even if it looked like a grand piece of art, this city was still made from the best of technology. Allowing anyone to do what normally required experts with decades of experience may have been the proof that this was advanced technology.
Why had she come here?
What had she wanted to do at Tokiwadai?
The girl was lost in thought as she watched what looked like a fast-forward construction scene in a construction company’s commercial, but then a sweet voice slipped into her ear.
“Ohh? Misaka-san? You have more studious ability than I would have guessed.”
They were making a great escape from Academy City.
…However, that did not mean they had to jump onto the roof of a speeding train, cling to a plane’s wheel just before takeoff to slip inside, or dig a tunnel with a spoon. They walked like normal, waited at the bus stop like normal, and rode to District 11 like normal. It was not quite rush hour, so there were still plenty of empty seats.
“Quit looking around like that, Kami-yan. There aren’t any bullets hidden in here.”
“A-are you sure?”
It had been such a peaceful day that it was actually worrying Kamijou.
Since Maika would occasionally use her cellphone to snap a photo of the scenery out the bus window, he could guess that she was more reluctant to leave than she had let on.
“I don’t know what to do with myself when time just passes and nothing happens…”
“Everything’s too much of spectacle with you, Touma. This is how things are supposed to work. You need to fix your internal clock.”
Index was exactly right. He was a little concerned that he could no longer sit still in a classroom desk for a full class period.
Time passed slowly in the bus, but they finally entered District 11 and got off just as rush hour was starting. The bus heading back toward the center of Academy City was like a battlefield. Kamijou generally walked to school, rain or shine, but he could tell now just how hard it could be to take a bus or train to school.
District 11 had also been an important location when rescuing Kamisato.
“I had pictured this district as nothing but piles of containers, but looking at it now, there are a surprising number of people living here.”
“It’s primarily used as a land route distribution base, so you weren’t wrong. But the rent here is super cheap. Although it’s a bit of a food desert with no convenience stores or supermarkets, so I can’t recommend it, nyah.”
Half of the products that entered Academy City passed through here, but the people living here could not touch it. Academy City’s trains ended service early, so relying on online stores was probably the only option for living here.
“…Wait, do we have school today? If so, my attendance is in trouble!!”
“Are you still worried about that, Kami-yan? I’m sure you’re already getting held back.”
“Still, sure, already!? Don’t give up on me with that triple punch!! Being held back is an incredibly heavy blow for a high schooler!”
Everyone’s life was different. There were plenty of reasons to repeat a year, including fighting a serious illness or spending your time working to support your family. But not having a reason like that and having everyone in his class calling him “senpai” for no better reason than “he’s dumb” was not the ideal school life Kamijou Touma had in mind. Yes, there was no real logic to his expectations. It was on the same level as his desire to have experienced romance and lost his virginity by 20, or to have that happen with a pretty young woman who lives in the neighborhood. But he wanted to view his journey to adulthood from an adolescent perspective. This was a part of his life he had to protect at all costs!
“I’m clinging to this no matter what, dammit.”
“It’s no use…”
“Mutter, mutter. A young dorm manager. Mutter, mutter. Needs help hooking up her TV and DVR.”
“Now what are you channeling, Kami-yan?”
The connections between thoughts were supposed to be how the human brain outdid a supercomputer, but that could lead to tragic results if used incorrectly. And this was a stereotypical example of exactly that.
Othinus bit the spiky-haired boy’s earlobe from his shoulder.
“Hey, human. Wake up already. Gnaw, gnaw.”
“Ah!? Wh-what was I doing just now…?”
“You were in quite the insane trance. You might have some talent in Seidr.”
“U-um, uh…oh, right. Tsuchimikado, reaching the edge of the city is all well and good, but what do we do now? I doubt they’ll let you through the gate without authorization.”
Kamijou looked up at a wall more than twice his height. Since Tsuchimikado had chosen this spot in particular, the Anglican recovery team would be waiting on the other side.
But this was not the goal. Even if it was only a few meters, this was the hard part. They could not walk through the wall like ghosts, so they would need a way past it.
Tsuchimikado had an answer:
“We just have to climb over.”
“I have a feeling it’ll be harder than that.”
After all, it was guarded by people allowed to fire at will to prevent technology leaks. It had to be protected by sensors and cameras. When you could be shot to death if spotted, very few people would attempt that deadly bouldering.
But Tsuchimikado readily continued.
“Kami-yan. The thick wall surrounding Academy City and its underground structure also function as a largescale particle accelerator. And it of course functions in the billions of eVs. A single electrical short involves enough energy to vaporize a sports stadium in a flash of light, nyah.”
“And it is a facility meant to slam atoms or protons together at more than 99% the speed of light to observe what happens when they break apart, so if the tunnel shielding breaks when it’s in use, all sorts of neutrons will get out,” added Fran. “Although that thick lead shielding might have protected the equipment from the heat wave.”
“This is sounding more dangerous by the second, but I guess that just means this city is as insane as ever.”
“Just because it’s 200m belowground doesn’t mean it’s safe, nyah. And that means it’ll have strict safety features,” explained Tsuchimikado. “The circular wall is covered in cameras and sensors, but there’s a hierarchy of precedence within the entire wall facility. Protecting the accelerator takes top priority and the rest comes later. …So if the accelerator’s internal stability is damaged, all resources will be used to help that recover. Meanwhile, the security meant to prevent intruders or escapees will drop considerably. So much so that it might just be possible to negate it entirely, nyah.”
With that, Tsuchimikado pulled out some dangerous-looking items and began assembling them.
“That means this is a job for a big drill and some aqua regia, nyah. Let’s have some fun punching a hole in the wall and ground and shorting out the wires!”
“Bff!? You were carrying that with you on the bus!? Isn’t that the stuff they use to dissolve corpses in mafia movies!?”
This was a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid which was seen in the world of entertainment just as often as hydrofluoric acid. Unlike simple sulfuric acid, it could cruelly dissolve pure gold and platinum with no difficulty, so it was known for being able to dissolve a corpse without even leaving a pacemaker’s circuit board behind. …Which made it very dangerous to carry around because there was nothing to be done if the container was accidentally broken.
“I have the layout memorized. I’ll start working in the cameras’ blind spot, drill diagonally down from the base of the wall while making sure to avoid the network of sensor wires running through the wall, and then pour the aqua regia inside, nyah. It doesn’t actually have to get deep underground. It just has to fry the power cable connecting the wall and underground.”
“Fine, fine. Just get to it on your own, oh great teacher.”
This was just cheating. Kamijou made his sulky comment while staring at Tsuchimikado like he was watching a movie he thought was a thriller but ended up revealing the killer to be a chupacabra. What had this perfectionist wanted from him? It made no sense, but it seemed that Tsuchimikado and Fran saw some special meaning in simply having the pointy-haired boy involved. So they only wanted him to earn a participation trophy and were not expecting him to actually do anything. Kamijou started wishing they had just sent him a congratulatory message instead of having him tag along.
A sound much like grinding stone continued for a while.
Without much trouble, Tsuchimikado drilled a hole larger than a fist and poured the cruel chemical inside.
The completely normal and brisk early morning came to an extremely noisy halt. The sound was deep enough that Kamijou could not believe that much electricity had been in use up until now.
“There’s more than one power cable, so it’ll be back up and running in 4 minutes and 50 seconds. That’s about the length of a longish song, but it won’t be easy climbing up and over in that time. Go!!”
With that yelled word, Tsuchimikado grabbed a rope-like string of LED Christmas lights strung up nearby and tossed it to the top of the wall. He could climb a tall building on his own, so this would mostly be for Maika and Fran. A “ladies first” mentality apparently manifested inside him only when it came to his little sister.
That said, it was just the one rope, not a rope ladder with rungs. Climbing the wall with that would be hard work.
Tsuchimikado seemed confident in himself because he took up the position at the bottom.
“First, we’ll push up Maika since she’ll probably take the longest. Then Fran-chan. Whoever’s at the top can help pull up the next person. That should speed things up.”
“Understood,” said Kamijou. “I’ll help push you up from below.”
A thick wall was a lot like the Great Wall of China, so once you were at the top, there was no danger of falling off. There was plenty of space to brace yourself as you pulled up a heavy person.
Meanwhile, Maika seemed worried about her long maid’s skirt.
“I am dressed like this, you know?”
“Just get going. I’ll wear a blindfold if that would help.”
“Hey, human. You might think you’re letting out your gentlemanly side, but wearing a blindfold while letting a maid step on you only makes you look like a high-level pervert.”
Thanks to the helpful divine message, they just went for it.
Kamijou and Tsuchimikado worked together to grab Maika’s legs and lift her up. Even if it was a tall wall, it was only about twice their height, so they barely needed the Christmas light rope. The maid trainee grabbed the edge of the wall with both hands and managed to pull herself up with some struggling.
Maika then leaned down from the wall and reached out her hand.
“Hey, Kamijou Touma. Once we get to…well, I don’t actually know where we’re going, but I’ll contact you, so make sure you accept my friend request.”
“I don’t really do SNS stuff much…”
“Then this is your chance to get started.”
They would not be able to see Maika or Tsuchimikado after they crossed this wall, but that did not mean they would lose all contact. So Kamijou nodded. Seeing that, the maid trainee smiled a little.
It happened immediately afterwards.
They did not have time to give Fran a turn.
First, a low, sinister sound exploded, but Kamijou had no idea what had caused this blatant phenomenon.
Kamijou Touma saw a great change there.
Something like a black shadow rose straight up from the thick wall surrounding Academy City.
That was a sign of an evil will that refused to let anyone escape.
And it had swallowed up the small girl who had climbed on top of the wall.
Tsuchimikado cried her name because that dark shadow contained some kind of power. The small girl’s mass floated unsteadily in the air. It almost looked like a rod had thrust forcefully up at her. Before she could even scream, she lost balance and fell where Tsuchimikado just barely managed to catch her.
Something was not right.
Kamijou Touma could see something that clearly should not have been there.
Maika lay limp in her brother’s arms, but that made no sense. She had not slammed into the ground, so she should not have taken any real damage.
But the reason for her lifeless limbs was obvious.
The strange black shadow had condensed into a short sword that pierced the center of her flat chest. She was not bleeding, but it stabbed through her maid uniform and her flesh. The tip even jutted out from her back.
This was clearly not possible under the normal laws of physics.
This was an attack from an unseen pursuer using some kind of supernatural power.
“Outta the way, Tsuchimikado. My right hand will take care of this.”
“No, wait! Don’t, human!!”
Just as Kamijou took a step forward, he was stopped by Othinus, his understander who was closer to him than anyone.
“This Board Chairman has kept you in his city all this time, so do you really think he would use the supernatural without understanding how Imagine Breaker works!? This curse was built to be broken!!”
“What does that mean!? Can we save Maika or not!?”
“Touma, this is like a jigsaw puzzle made from glasswork.”
Index was calmly observing Maika’s body.
The grimoire library was analyzing the curse.
…Did that mean this was magic and not an esper power?
“If it shatters, the shards will scatter everywhere. They’ll tear Maika’s body apart from within. Touching it with your right hand will only make things worse.”
“Dammit, they can do that!?”
The attack was like a trick painting. It was unlike anything he had come across before. It did not constantly recover like Stiyl’s Innocentius and it was not so powerful it was merely deflected like Magic God Othinus’s Gungnir. Instead of using brute force, it was a gloomy trap built using limited resources.
The impression given by magic could change greatly depending on who was using it.
That and the fact that the attacker had not shown themselves did not sit well with Kamijou.
And it reminded him of something.
Specifically, the term “curse” did.
Misaka Mikoto had been taken out while they worked to rescue Kamisato. When she had been targeted while breathing life into the original A.A.A., hadn’t the attacker similarly used a curse without ever showing themselves?
(Is this bastard the one that did that? Because my right hand prevented him from completely taking out Mikoto, he’s updated his method…!?)
If that nightmarish thought was accurate, then Kamijou was partly to blame for throwing Maika into this great vortex of abnormality.
“Index, do you understand how exactly this works? What about you, Othinus? If my Imagine Breaker won’t work, how are we supposed to get this out of her? Fran, Tsuchimikado. Doesn’t anyone know!?”
That may have been a meaningless question, like a family member pleading with a doctor before surgery. Repeating the question may not have increased Maika’s odds of survival.
If anyone knew the answer, they would not have remained silent.
Index had perfectly memorized 103,000 grimoires, Othinus was the sole surviving Magic God, Tsuchimikado was a double spy between magic and science, and Fran had been secretly tasked with monitoring Kamisato Kakeru. The question was right in front of them, but not even the combination of those heretical minds could find the answer.
This was Academy City’s Board Chairman.
This was the barrier known as Aleister Crowley.
Tsuchimikado finally spoke.
“I want to make a change of plans, but that’s probably going to make this as big a fight as possible. Will you still hear me out?”
“Don’t beat around the bush. Just tell me you want me to help out with your selfish desire.”
With his stepsister in his arms, the brother smiled a little at his classmate’s immediate answer.
He had a complex position as a double spy, but he could speak honestly here even if Academy City was enemy territory. However, the pointy-haired boy probably did not realize just how grateful Tsuchimikado was for that.
The sunglasses boy just blurted it out, like a load had been lifted from his shoulders.
“If this curse came directly from Aleister, we should be able to find out how to remove it if we go to him. Magic is a technique made to be used by human hands after all. But that means facing the very person we were trying to escape. It’s like running right into the tiger’s den where an extra-large man-eating tiger awaits.”
“The Windowless Building. We enter his fortress.”
That idea flipped their plans on their head.
Instead of escaping outside the city, they would be breaking into the enemy’s lair. They would be running, racing, and charging right into the center of the world to protect a precious life.
But Kamijou did not hesitate.
He too smiled.
“Sounds great. That’s more my style.”
“Just to be clear, we’re talking about an indestructible fortress that can withstand a nuke.”
“But nothing’s absolute. I’ve seen that indestructibility broken twice already. Once with Thunder God Thor and once with Kihara Yuiitsu.”
He only had to share what information he had from those experiences.
And a look at Fran’s face showed she too understood as someone who had experienced the latter example.
“There’s a giant underground space below the building. Kamisato Kakeru used World Rejecter to save us and that destroyed the rocket boosters on the bottom of the Windowless Building. …That means there’s a big hole there right now. That building’s not exactly impregnable right now; we can climb right on in.”
…Of course, the odds of Aleister being unaware of the hole in his royal palace were nearly nonexistent. So the odds were astronomical that there would be some kind of trap or ambush prepared for them inside.
But it was true that they had no other option.
While waiting around, the promised 4 minutes and 50 seconds passed. And even if they did try to climb the wall again, that curse would probably attack them again. Either way, they would have to eliminate the “human” reigning at the top of Academy City if they were to escape safely.
So Kamijou and Tsuchimikado did not hesitate.
Neither good nor evil would help them here. Since the “human” who built the city had written the rulebook, they may indeed have been deserving of punishment for trying to escape. But they trusted their own personal opinion over the even rulebook adored by 6 or 7 billion people.
They would protect that single precious life.
Even if the rules gathered in a book somewhere said it was wrong, they had no reason whatsoever to feel ashamed. This was an act that did not require them to ask anyone’s permission. The heat wave and Elements had left and the 48 Hours to Restore Order had passed. Normalcy had returned. So they would obey that normalcy and act accordingly.
With that in their hearts, the two boys spoke in unison as they made a declaration to the entire world.
“Let’s tear it all down.”
“Let’s tear it all down.”