“You have failed.”
Magic God Othinus’s voice slipped into Kamijou Touma’s ears.
Initially, he was unable to grasp the all too strange and hopeless situation.
“You have failed and this is the result. I am honestly not interested in what you will do now, but this is reality. It is boring and ultimately nothing leaves one’s expectations.”
Kamijou finally realized he was lying on his back.
Once he sprang to his feet, he was left speechless. Everything around him was odd. It was black. Nothing but black. The ground was perfectly flat. It was even more level and free of defect than the silicon wafer for a semiconductor. From where he stood to the horizon, the ground did not rise or fall by even a micron.
“What is this place?”
Nothing natural could be seen. Nothing unnatural could be seen.
Despite the previous use of the word, it was unclear whether the term “horizon” even applied. Both the ground and the sky were colored pure black, so it was impossible to distinguish between them.
He turned around a full 360 degrees, but the scenery did not change. He stopped at the spot he thought he had started at, but he was not even sure that was correct. With nothing to use as a landmark, he could not be sure.
He could, however, see a blonde-haired, green-eyed girl.
One of those eyes was covered with a leather eyepatch and she held a lance.
The uniform world of darkness emphasized her golden hair and white skin like the full moon.
A strange sense of reality gradually assaulted Kamijou’s heart.
He had never before felt such hostility and rejection toward a feeling of reality.
“What is this? I thought we were in Tokyo Bay. We were in Gremlin’s headquarters of Sargasso!!”
“What? Does this look like some other place to you?”
“Wait a second…”
The Magic God seemed oddly close.
Compared to when he had chased her to the other side of the world in Eastern Europe’s Baggage City, she seemed so much closer.
But she also seemed distant.
He had never been so far from understanding this eyepatch-wearing girl.
In that sense, she seemed further than the ends of the earth.
“This isn’t Sargasso. You carried me somewhere else while I was unconscious. That’s the truth of what happened! After all! Um… After all!! Anything else would be a major problem!!”
“Why do you think the world revolves around your convenience?”
“Then what happened to Sargasso!? What happened to Tokyo Bay!?”
“Does it look like any of it remains?”
“Then what happened to the people there!? What happened to Index!? Or Misaka!? Or Lessar and Birdway!? A-and not just them! What about all the people living in Tokyo!?”
“Do I look like someone who would care about that?”
His understanding of what lay before him crumbled.
He forgot how to produce anger or sorrow.
Such things had been so natural that he had never before thought about the process.
But his mind was in such disarray that he no longer understood how his own heart functioned.
“How long are you going to keep talking?”
“You’re lying!! You, um, used some kind of trick to make it look like that’s what happened!! That would be easier. Instead of destroying Tokyo Bay and killing all those people, it would be easier to bring me to some other place!! So…!!”
“It no longer matters how you perceive the situation. Who it was that disappeared is a trivial matter. The problem that lies before you is that only the two of us are here,” said Othinus disinterestedly. She sounded like someone who had downloaded an app to kill time late at night but found out it was even more boring than expected. “And you seem confused as to the scale we are talking about.”
“What? Are you saying there’s more?”
“Why are you talking about this on the tiny scale of Tokyo Bay? What I destroyed is not contained to just the small planet known as Earth.”
Kamijou Touma laughed.
He could not help but laugh. He completely gave up trying to grasp the situation. All of his emotions came to an end. He had no idea what emotion his expression was based in. It may have been the expression of a marionette after its strings had been cut. Even the expressionless look people considered neutral may have been partially regulated by the facial muscles controlled by that person’s will.
It did not matter.
He would gain nothing by speaking with Magic God Othinus any longer.
He could not have a proper conversation with her.
She was lying. She had to be lying. He could not bear to think about the alternative.
He simply had to check on the situation himself.
That would bring an end to this farce.
“Ha ha. If you want to see it that badly, go right ahead. But you do not have to see it. In fact, you might be happier if you don’t see it.”
Othinus’s mocking voice struck his back.
He had no intention of responding.
He began walking unsteadily through that uniformly black world. He was turning his back to someone as powerful as Othinus, but he was no longer able to feel any direct threat to his life.
“Index,” he muttered.
There were no hills, structures, or objects that could hide someone.
If someone was standing there, he would have seen them right away.
There were no mountains, no valleys, no oceans, no rivers, no sun, and no moon.
As he walked and walked and walked and walked and walked, he found nothing but the same level ground. He called out several names, but they disappeared into the darkness as if being swallowed up.
They were not there.
They were not anywhere.
The truth picked up by his senses was all too clear, but it took his mind a long, long time to understand it. He refused to accept that truth, so he rejected the idea with all his might.
There had to be something somewhere.
There might be a valley somewhere in that world of uniform black. They might all be hiding there and he simply could not see it from such a distance. Surely that was the case. It had to be the case. While keeping that thought in mind, Kamijou Touma accepted his baseless speculation as fact and continued walking.
Time had passed. By the time Kamijou realized that, he could not remember how long he had been walking. There was no sun or moon to judge time by. There were not even stars. He was surrounded by a pitch black dome. He may have only been walking for half an hour or so, but he might have been walking for three days and three nights.
Whatever the case, that was when his mind reached some kind of critical juncture. One could say the thin thread of his tension had snapped.
There was no one there.
There was no one anywhere.
He could not find a single person.
And where was he?
Sargasso could not possibly be this large. Walking in a single direction should have brought him to the ocean eventually, but nothing changed no matter how far he walked. The ocean had vanished. It was like a passage from a picture book meant to provide children with an odd philosophical feeling. Had he really wandered into such an absurd and surreal world?
Or had the world been changed to take this form?
Where am I?
For the first time, Kamijou Touma properly asked that question.
And once he did, it was all over. A great pressure squeezed at his heart from every direction. He stood on a black plain that did not change in height by even a micron. The sky was equally black and provided no landmark to follow. There was nothing he could use to judge where it was he stood. He might have been walking in an accurate line like a machine or he might have been circling around in a narrow area. He had no way of proving it one way or the other. He could feel that which supported his feet and his mind crumbling underneath him.
He was alone.
He was all alone in this vast world with nothing in it.
His mental state was similar to someone exploring some ancient ruins and finding their thread leading to the exit had snapped.
Strength left his legs.
He collapsed to the ground and curled up in the fetal position.
He screamed as loudly as he could.
In a world this distorted, the concept of being lost or not knowing how to return may not have applied. The scenery may have looked exactly the same no matter what coordinates he stood at. Even so, he was afraid. He was unbearably afraid. He was afraid of being unable to return to a location that remained only in his head. He was afraid of having no way to meet the people he had previously spoken with like it was nothing. He had never known this kind of fear existed. He had never thought about the possibility of experiencing this kind of fear.
He had thought about the possibility of dying someday.
But this was different.
It was the polar opposite.
This was the fear of him alone living on.
This was the fear of everything but him disappearing.
He had not built up a resistance to this kind of fear. It was wrong to have ever done so. This was something that should never have happened. Among all the different possibilities, this was the absolute worst. Kamijou Touma was thrown into this situation that should never be experienced even once.
By the time he reached the question of what to do, his thoughts ground to a halt.
This world had nothing to indicate what to do.
He could circle in all 360 degrees and find nothing in this world.
Say the main character of an RPG is standing in a field. He can walk to the north, south, east, or west. He walks for an hour or even a day, but does not find any villages or towns. He does not find anyone. Whether he continues on or turns back, the same field continues on and on forever. …What was someone supposed to do in that situation? Could anyone really consider continuing on and going along with the wishes of whoever had created the hopeless situation?
That was why Kamijou’s heart ached for some kind of indicator.
It could be a small village, a bridge over a river, or a conveniently placed sign.
He just wanted some kind of landmark.
“…There is one,” he muttered.
He straightened out from the fetal position and unsteadily stood back up.
It appeared in his mind once more.
The option he had completely rejected appeared in his mind once more.
A single foreign element shined like the full moon in that dark world.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
“There’s still Othinus, the source of all this.”
He may have been approaching the heart of the issue.
Or he may have been trying to escape the reality he faced.
Either way, Kamijou Touma began to walk once more. He walked back the way he had come so he could meet with Magic God Othinus once more.
Once his stalled mind began to move, question after question came to him.
Each and every one of them weighed hopelessly heavily on his mind, but he could not advance if he ignored them.
And more importantly, all of the answers connected back to that Magic God.
With nothing to use as a landmark, he was not confident he was headed in the right direction. Nor did he know how far he had to walk.
Even so, he continued on.
“Oh?” said Othinus casually.
The tip of her lance was stabbed into the black ground and she was leaning against the handle. She continued speaking lazily.
“And here I thought you had broken and collapsed to die out in the middle of nowhere.”
Kamijou did not respond.
Just like her, he said only what he wanted to say.
“There was nothing here.”
“I told you that at the beginning.”
“But this isn’t the end.”
Magic God Othinus straightened up from the lance sticking vertically up from the ground.
Her one eye narrowed slightly, but Kamijou continued.
“There has to be some way of returning this world to normal. There has to be a way of meeting the people who have disappeared!!”
“Are we back to your special brand of optimism? I was wondering how you managed to overcome seeing the end of the world, but it looks like you simply deluded yourself.” Othinus shrugged. “Listen. The world has ended. It does not matter how. It is gone. Your right hand can negate magical flames and you might be able to protect yourself from them, but can it revert something that has been burned to ashes? This is no different. The world has ended, so there is nothing you can do.”
“Really?” asked Kamijou. “According to Ollerus, Imagine Breaker was created from the selfish hopes of all magicians. He said it is a reference point and restoration point they can use if they have twisted the world to the point that they don’t know how to fix it.”
“And that is exactly what has happened here.”
He formed a fist and held out his right hand.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking and I may not even be able to understand it, but none of that matters. …I will crush all that here. I will find a way to revert everything you threw out of order. I have the tool needed to do it.”
“Fine then,” said Othinus simply and quickly. “To be honest, I had thought you would be the final barrier. Specifically, your right hand and wrist. Imagine Breaker takes on different forms depending on the era and location. You are literally trash, but killing you and having it reside somewhere else could be a problem.”
“And so.” Othinus paused for a beat before continuing. “Rather than smashing every last bit of you to pieces, it would be better to break you mentally. I will use you as a cage to trap Imagine Breaker. That power of yours will be completely useless.”
“Bring it on. Either way, we’re the only ones here. Even if I’m at a disadvantage and even if this is reckless, I can’t rely on anyone or anything else right now.”
“Me? Fight you?” She frowned and even tilted her head. “It may be hard to believe, but I am a god. Do you really think the great Othinus would bother to fight a puny human?”
She grabbed the handle of the lance she had previously been leaning up against.
She pulled the tip out of the black ground.
“A Magic God does not need to do anything directly to crush a single kid. Have you forgotten? A Magic God is one who can manipulate anything in the world using magic. Everything is under my control. Any annoying bit of work can be left to my pawns.”
The spear gave off light in that world filled with nothing but darkness.
This was a clear change.
Or perhaps it was a sign of creation.
“What are you doing?”
“I already told you. I am breaking you mentally.”
Magic God Othinus’s tone was perfectly casual.
She looked at him as if watching a death row inmate being carried along the conveyer belt of a fully automated execution device.
“I will take that which you wanted to protect, the places you wanted to return to, the faces you wanted to see once more, and everything else. I will fundamentally overturn them and destroy your recognition of them. I will show you the insignificance of everything you have gained in your fifteen or so years of life.”
As soon as she finished speaking, the entire world was dyed white.
It was not that his vision was being filled with bright light. He was not being blinded. The empty world of darkness was now shining. It was changing. Starting from the lance, everything was obeying the Magic God’s will.
Something was happening.
Small scratches had been made in that empty place.
Straight scratches had been made with someone’s fingernail.
Did they count the passage of time or the number of times someone had passed by there? The person could no longer remember.
But that number that slowly grew provided a slight sense of accomplishment.
It had no meaning, but it provided support.
One time the person passed by that place, the scratches had disappeared.
Thinking they were in the wrong place, the person had walked around that world of uniform black, but they had not found the scratches.
The person had wanted something definite.
They had wanted something unchanging to support them.
Even if it was completely natural, they knew this was a difficult wish to grant. People aged and things broke. Food rotted and metal rusted. Towns changed and cultures were twisted. Not even nations and civilizations stayed the same forever. Even if they were not in this black world, finding something that truly did not change would have been extremely difficult.
Even so, they wished for it.
They wished for it specifically because everything had come to an end.
There was a lot to do. Where had the missing people gone? Could replacements be made for the lost buildings? Could food and water be found in this urgent situation?
There may have been no direct link between those objectives and something that did not change.
But the presence or absence of such a thing would make all the difference.
It would be different from a collection of tiny scratches that could disappear at any time.
There was something in that world of black that would count.
Having something definite like that would have meaning.