A new year has come, so why not start with a new season of ACIP? After finally planning out the rest of ACIP, it looks like this will be the second to the last season. There are too main opponent groups left for our heroes and I think two seasons will be enough. Now, it could go to three if something happens to my plans. Plans have changed in the past, so it is possible. But it definitely won't go beyond three more seasons. I have the ending in sight. Seeing the ending has also made me realize the mistakes I have made in adding certain characters. I had to change a bit of stuff. This was a good lesson for me about cluttering a story. The Longest Weekend Arc isn't starting yet. There's a tiny bit of set up first.
I also want to take a minute to thank everyone who has read this story up to this point. It has gone on for years and when I first started out, I was new. The writing wasn't great and some people would struggle through it. But that's part of experience. We get better. So thank you everyone who has been with this story since the beginning and I hope everyone else who has read this far is enjoying it too. Now, let's do a quick comment review before heading to the story.
Touma: I admit I don't do a great job with Index. This fic doesn't focus on her a lot. It takes time to get her character to develop, which I failed to do.
DivineDemonDragon: I had some friends reread ACIP and were like…. Shit. You totally foreshadowed Jason doing this. Cain has one main job left, so Eve couldn't let him remain dead.
Chris: Carissa and Misaki are fun to write interacting. Both have their own plans, but neither will back down to the other. Hah! You caught that line. Eve gives a lot of clues in ways that doesn't seem like she's saying anything. Last Order is like a year old and forcefully aged. She can be bratty because she doesn't understand the emotions. Lessar is the reason the Harem Plan can work obviously. She's willing to tell others about it. Itsuwa is the one I feel would be the hardest to join. She's too reserved to volunteer and her religion may prevent polygamy.
ReyKingKaiser: Heh. Aleister won't bother you if your plan works with his. It's once you hinder his plans then he goes after you.
Aminadab Brulle: Well, I haven't seen Madoka so it may be that. I had to show your little skit to everyone on discord and we got a kick out of it. Someone wanted that in the epilogue. Nah, Kyoka is Imouto's new name. No amount of walls will be enough. Nice… kind of I guess. She understands she can't defeat all of Eve's forces alone. We need more Junko for sure.
BlueJack22: He has Bayloupe.
Chris: Maybe. I have some ideas for changing up the infinite hells. It symbolizes the end game.
Guest: Lancelot is gone, Arthur is still alive, and Ricane is now under Noukan's care, if that's good or bad.
Thor x Kamisato fan: Hah, she might still be dead, but now her death can help the living. Cain is the father of all vampires. He's not going down easily. I'm terrible at writing Index, so she kind of got pushed to the side. Maybe I'll find a scene she can shine at. Just because you know someone is going to fuck you, doesn't mean you know how they will do it. Eve arc soon.
DN Works : Yep, she did say that. Cain now has an out, but at the same time, can countless years of anger be extinguished so easily? Revenge first, peace second? He was known to be quite angry, even attacking god's messengers.
Jujudude: Everyone understands that. Jason and Eve have similar goals, but they aren't friends. Lessar will. Index and Itsuwa may need some persuasion.
Slimeboi: I probably should have made him a little more angry. He was in public, but still. Something I could have done better for sure. He's not going to give up on her for sure. Othinus and Touma meeting is important, but it's going to change a bit because he's different than cannon. And no, trying to limit some of the latest stuff that just came out.
general ironox: She's not alive right now. More like a solid block of magical stone. That document is going to cause a lot of problems.
ultron emperor: Don't let SilverFang hear you. He hates when people ship them.
reality deviant: Just a fun game of hot potato.
vampireharry the 2: Hah, yeah those kind of things happen for sure.
Mr. X: 1) Maybe. It would just be a block of material in her shape. 2) She's free. No one found her. 3) Which woman? 4) Hmm, that's not a terrible idea… 5) That's good. He left and isn't on the discord anymore.
GunsAndMagic: Who said she didn't? As they pointed out, not everything is shared. Withholding information has been the downfall to the Kamijou Faction. Lessar is going to make great use of that packet. With Misaki's help, there's going to be a lot of fun.
Generation Zero: Some of them will realize it was so obvious, like Mugino and Accelerator. Though, I'm planning to have the magicians cause some internal strife. Just some side effects of Ruiko Saten accidently becoming famous. It's like any idol. People want to meet them and shake hands. Yes, it's creepy, but it happens. Obviously she's the reincarnation of a certain woman. Remember, Eve has Cain's heart and Stiyl mentioned a Vampire has such powerful regenerative abilities that their heart can still live after the body dies.
Exactly. Touma and the girls aren't as worldly about far reaching implications. They are confined into a city. Magicians are spread over the world. Many people would seek them out for power that can surpass a Saint. The Christian Church definitely would not appreciate it. Carissa knows a lot more than the others believe. She's going to do what needs to be done. Keeping Touma out of the loop is just personal feelings getting involved. Eve has to keep Cain alive for a specific reason, which we will find out this season. The climax is upon us. Orders have been changed do to planning purposes, but everything will be resolved soon.
Rajarshi Sarkar: Aleister is probably aware of Jason's plan by now, but as long as he's useful, Aleister will drain every resource from him. My beta reader gets mad whenever I joke about Accelerator x Shizuri.
ToumaharemendFTW: Hmm, it sounds like they could do that.
Wolf Strife: That sounds likely.
FrodoFighter: I know how much you love Jason. It hurt to grenade him last chapter. I was rather proud of that exchange. Ruiko saying Kazari being tired is a problem because of homework. It does sound like it's normal for Touma to have powerful people follow him around now, doesn't it? Current novels have a lot of power creep. Realistically, it's not supposed to be possible The AAA is an important tool in the arsenal of Academy City. Aww, you remembered about the Urn. Wonder if Can being alive has anything to do with that?
"Satenology, the church of flipping skirts and hitting things with baseball bats"
I would join this church. Pssh, the Geneva Convention? Why not just make war illegal? Accelerator could use his ability to not release into a girl I suppose. That would be weird and painful probably. All of the above. That pie chart was very detailed.
Game thrower: Hmm, would have to have them meet more. He only saw her in passing.
Disclaimer: Random people do not own Toaru Majutsu no Index or any of the characters. Reading this story may cause you to burst out in laughter or start yelling at fictional characters. This may cause nearby people to assume you have gone crazy. Please read responsibly.
"Sounds like the princess is in the right this time." Motoharu admitted, as he and Touma headed to school the next day while talking about the previous night's occurrence.
"What, by hiding this from us?" Touma asked incredulously.
"As she pointed out, what would you have done ahead of time?" Motoharu asked. "Even if she's working with us, it's not like the magic side fully trusts the science side. It's an alliance of necessity, not desire."
"I guess you have a point." Touma begrudgingly admitted, scratching his scalp. "Doesn't mean I like it. Things would be a lot easier if we trusted each other a little more than we do now."
"Lots of delusions right there ny-a." Motoharu laughed. "I hide a lot from you."
"Yeah, well, you're a bastard." That just got another laugh out of the blonde and Touma knew he wasn't going to win an argument about that. "I'm a little worried about Aogami."
"Oh, he's fine." Motoharu assured him. "Talked to him this morning and he said he has big news to share when we get to class." He paused. "Speaking of... How's living the dream of every guy our age feel?"
"Huh?" Touma blinked in confusion at the sudden topic change.
"You literally have a harem," Motoharu stated simply, sounding annoyed Touma needed that explanation. "Misaka-san, Shokuhou-san, and Saten-san, plus Lessar, Index, and every other girl who lives with you. They all share a piece of the Kami-yan cake."
"Woah, now!" Touma interjected. "Index is not part of this. In fact, when she found out about it she immediately bit my head."
"Not like that, asshole."
No matter how many times Touma repeated that word in his head, it still felt weird. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine this would happen. This was something that only happened in crappy manga or online stories written by adolescent teenagers. Not to mention all the girls around him were rather attractive in their own right. Misaki was a stunner, Mikoto was cute, and Ruiko just had that air about her that made you like her. It was also a miracle that their date went as well as it did, even with Eve being there. It was a good thing they bribed Lessar beforehand.
They should have just done it better.
Touma, Mikoto, and Misaki convinced Lessar from telling anyone about their date until they were finished. To his surprise, she actually kept her word. The thing was, Bayloupe had mentioned to her team about Eve's appearance. Lessar had taken the fact Bayloupe and Accelerator returned that the date was over. She then immediately spilled the beans to Index, Itsuwa, Kyoka, and Leivinia. When Touma arrived back at the apartment, Lessar was going through how taking turns in this newfound harem system was possible.
He really wished she had waited a little longer so he could have been the one to break the news.
That led Index to latch onto his head harder than any time before and say something about disgracing the house of god. Leivinia made some snide comments while Kyoka looked confused and asked the amused Lessar for clarification. Itsuwa was the only one who tried to help him and to give him a chance to explain himself without a vice perpetually clamping down on his head. It took some time, much of which was spent calming Index every time she wanted to bite into him, but at least they were convinced it wasn't just Lessar playing another dirty trick on them.
Index still glared at him murderously. A dark aura constantly surrounded her as he talked.
"It's a lot tougher than you would think." Touma grumbled, returning to the present. "I had to explain how it formed and Itsuwa was really interested in making sure I wasn't being forced to participate."
"I wonder why?" Motoharu said in almost a singsong tune.
"Birdway scared me the most after Index," Touma continued. "The way she was looking at me, like I was a piece of meat. I couldn't tell if she was pissed or amused."
"Maybe both?" Motoharu shrugged, but he had a good idea of what was passing through the cabal leader's head. She was probably shocked that Touma actually went through with something without being kidnapped, and how she could exploit it for her gain.
"Kyoka kept asking me a bunch of questions about harems and polygamy." Touma added. "Questions that felt like she was looking it up as we talked."
"Hmm." Motoharu made a noncommittal noise.
"Though, I think everything got back to normal by the end of the night." Touma thought back at how they all slept in the same bed again. This wasn't something they were forced to do anymore. Index clutched him extra tightly, but other than that, it was just like the last few nights since he was given that apartment. "Haven't had time to discuss the new development with Mikoto and Misaki. Though, I'm more worried about how those two are being viewed for seeing someone like me."
"From the point of their classmates, probably as legends." Motoharu said. "Those ojou-sama types aren't very worldly. The very fact they are dating a guy is impressive enough."
"Well…" Touma rubbed the back of his head. "This situation is weird, but I think we might be able to work it out. I'm actually… happy to be with them." He grinned. "Maybe my luck is finally-… ah!"
Motoharu stuck out his leg and tripped him.
"You fucker!" Touma yelled as he jumped to his feet to chase blonde-haired backstabber all the way to school.
"That's what you get for bragging about your harem!" Motoharu called over his shoulder.
The two of them arrived at school earlier than planned, due to Touma chasing Motoharu the entire way there. By the time they entered the school grounds, Touma had cooled off and the two of them headed towards their class. To their surprise, a group of their classmates were standing outside, looking in at something. Accelerator was there too and looked a little disturbed himself. As Touma and Motoharu drew closer, they began to hear some of the muffled whispering from the gathered crowd.
"…disturbing. What could it be?"
"What's going on?" Touma asked Accelerator.
"The idiot is in there." He replied gruffly. "And he's off."
"Aogami, off?" Motoharu asked sarcastically, pushing through his classmates to take a peek inside. The sight itself made his sunglasses almost slip off his nose in mild surprise. "Wow, Kami-yan. You might want to check this out."
"What did that bastard do this time?" Touma muttered, peaking in.
He suddenly understood why everyone was concerned.
Pierce Aogami was sitting at his desk, books strewn atop it and was doing nothing except holding his folded hands on the books. This might be cause for concern on its own, because he was always doing something, like reading manga or searching up new fetishes to expand his ever growing library with. To make matters worse, Touma could swear he saw Pierce being illuminated by a holy light right above where he sat. Looking up, there wasn't anything noticeable, but he could swear there was something radiating purity on him. The expression on Motoharu's face told him he wasn't the only one imagining this purifying light. Gathering his courage, Touma entered the classroom and made his approach towards him; Motoharu and Accelerator following suit shortly thereafter.
"Hey, Aogami." Touma said, uncertainty in his tone.
"Hey yourself, Kami-yan." Pierce replied.
Okay, Touma thought. He's still using the nickname so he's probably not an imposter. The smile on his face unnerved him. It didn't seem to be hiding anything or hinting at his usual overzealous nature. It was an honest to goodness smile.
And he didn't trust it.
"So… umm." He continued. "What happened after you left yesterday with Eve?"
"She took me back to her place." Pierce said and lightly laughed. "I was finally able to ascend and become a man last night."
Deafening silence descended upon the classroom instantly.
And it seems like everyone outside the classroom could hear too.
All words and possible responses were pushed from Touma's mind instantly. It felt like his brain decided to just turn off to save itself the trouble of processing what he had just heard. Those were words no living being needed to hear, especially not from one Pierce Aogami. He blinked and allowed his brain to reboot. Sadly, every word Pierce had said remained imprinted into his brain.
"You… became a man." Touma choked out.
"Yep!" Pierce put his hands behind his head. "It was dark when we got back. She invited me inside and served me some tea." He grinned. "Turns out she's rich too. Even had her butler take me back to the dorm since it was almost midnight by the time we finished."
Everyone from the hallway was just staring at him. No one had noticed Seiri, who just showed up to witness what the commotion was about. She had frozen like the rest when she heard what they were talking about.
"Bullshit," Motoharu said. "You probably just played video games."
"He's trying to rile us up." Accelerator growled, taking his seat. "This loser couldn't get any girl to kiss him, much less jump him."
"Before today, I would be hurt by that," Pierce said, still smiling. "But it doesn't matter if you believe me or not. I'm a man now. Juvenile insults of your level won't affect me anymore."
Touma, Motoharu, and Accelerator blinked.
Eve couldn't have…
There was a lot of nausea.
None of them wanted to think about that as the rest of the class finally came in. The atmosphere was quiet, but not tense. Most of the people were curious as to what happened between Pierce and this mystery girl. As much as Touma didn't want to talk about Eve with others, he had to admit to them that Pierce had been on an actual date with a girl.
"So you all went on a group date," Seiri said, after hearing Touma explain things. "And Aogami actually went along? With a girl."
"Yep." Affirmed Motoharu. "Last we saw, he and the girl were leaving together and now he's trying to tell us he 'did it' with her."
Seiri's eyes narrowed slightly at Pierce.
"Least I didn't go on a date with my own sister." Pierce said simply. "I went and got a real date."
"Heh." Accelerator let out an unwilling chuckle at the comeback.
"Because no one can compare to the little sister type." Motoharu said. "The kind of young girl who wants to make her older brother happy, but constantly messes up and needs you to guide her through the process is the ultimate type."
"While little sisters are a popular and established type, they are hardly the ultimate ones," Pierce said. "In fact, they are so overused they're becoming generic! Nurses, cat girls, maids, hundreds of other types are better…."
Touma began to hear his friend's usual personality creeping back to a more normal level.
Normal being relative.
"…everything you just said can be applied to countless fetishes," Pierce continued. "Take cat girls for example. Their personality can be vastly different, from tsundere, to needy, to aloof, you name it. But once they trust you, cat girls want to make you happy, snuggling up with you and trying to help you out with the responsibilities you face. Even then, most of them don't know how to do things properly. Without being a younger sister, you can get all the same enjoyment out of hundred other tropes!"
"You take that back you bastard!" Motoharu roared. "The kind of innocence that your younger sister brings to the table is what compliments the desire to please, along with all the messing up! You're just trying to improve other groups by adding characteristics to them!"
"Hah!" Pierce said, standing. "You are getting rusty my dear friend. You've turned blind! Eve and I spent all night playing gal games and discussing all of this in detail! She's much more knowledgeable than you will ever hope to be!"
Everyone went quiet.
"Wait, hang on." Touma rubbed his head. "So when you said you became a man last night, you were just playing gal games with her?"
"Yeah, so?" Pierce shrugged. "She had a lot of amazing ones from overseas and an extensive H genre that I never dreamed could exist in this material world. Seems America has started to make their own under that new president guy."
Seiri made a fist and took a deep breath.
Accelerator expression was one of simple realization about why he hated these guys so much.
"Hah!" Motoharu countered. "You've gone soft. You used to understand these points of mine every time, but the second you get a girl fawning over you, everything you knew just slips out your ears. You've lost your touch, Fetish King!"
"Take that back, bastard!"
Wild punches flew as the two of them crossed blows.
Both of them were swiftly put down a moment later.
"This girl, he went with… Eve." Seiri said, dusting her hands off as she sat back down. "What was she like?" Her eyes traveled from Touma to Accelerator.
"She's a bitch," Accelerator spat out. "Probably has crabs and gave it to that idiot."
"Kamijou?" Seiri sighed.
"She's… unusual?" Touma said carefully. It was hard to describe Eve without saying something about her being an immortal magician wanting to kill a divine being. "She seems to be into fetishes as much as Aogami is. Though, she's more than happy to make fun of people too."
"Two faced?" Seiri asked and Touma nodded.
"To be fair, I haven't been in her presence for a long time." Touma added quickly. The last thing he wanted was for Seiri to start spying on Eve. "I think she's some rich girl with weird hobbies who he just happens to compliment well."
"Oh, well, he obviously thinks they are more." Seiri mumbled, looking at the two boys she knocked out.
"That's just him being stupid then." Accelerator huffed. "Just ignore his blabbing and they will break up soon enough."
"That's not fair." Seiri put her hands on her hips. "You shouldn't just dismiss relationships like that. Sure, Aogami can be a threat to public decency, but maybe that girl will be good for him."
The thought crossed through Touma and Accelerator's mind simultaneously.
"Accelerator has no right to judge!" Pierce gasped from the floor. "He brought two girls with him! Punish him instead!"
Seiri raised an eyebrow at Accelerator.
"Tsk." Accelerator clicked his tongue. "Promised someone they could go and it was a pain to blow them off. Least I wasn't the damn hero over there. He brought three."
"You guys always say Kamijou has a harem. Honestly, it's getting old hearing you tell him that and then having him deny it." Seiri paused and waited for Touma to do just that. "…Right Kamijou?"
"Well… about that…" Touma rubbed the back of his head. Silence descended upon the classroom again as every student who had arrived stared at his lack of denial. All pretense of pretending to be doing something forgotten. "You see… it's hard to explain…it's not really a harem…"
Seiri's mouth dropped.
All their classmate's mouths dropped.
Accelerator chuckled under his breath.
Touma flinched as the stunned audience finally found their voice.
"You're joking," Seiri said. It wasn't a question. "This is some stupid prank you guys are pulling on me." She cracked her knuckles, ready to bestow another round of beatings for this blatant lie.
"No!" Touma said, shaking his head. "I swear, it's legit. It's not like what those two are saying though." He pointed down the ground as Motoharu and Pierce, both of whom were slowly getting up. "I'm sort of… group dating with three girls right now?" He held his hands up as Seiri pulled back her first. "I swear it's consensual. They know about it. It was their idea!"
Her cold eyes seemed to drill into the depth of his soul.
She scared him more than any immortal magician, princess of England, and Level 5 Touma had ever encountered.
"Really?" Her stern and unmoving expression told Touma she didn't believe him at all. He fully understood the ridiculousness of hearing someone basically proclaiming they have a harem. So he couldn't blame the girl for being skeptical.
"Weirdly enough, it's true." The backstabbing blade backed his claim up, wrapping his arm around Touma's shoulder. "He finally accepted his place as being a harem lord."
"And this is exactly why I kept it quiet." Facepalmed the teen who found himself at the center of attention as usual.
"I… argh!" Seiri rubbed her temples. "I'm so irritated at you, but if it's consensual, I can't see a fault in it besides the utter stupidity." She calmed down and sighed. "Part of me knew this was going to happen. What with you being so indecisive."
"What?!" Touma shot back. "I'm not indecisive!"
"Sometimes." Motoharu complied with the girl's words.
"Unless it involves saving a girl." Pierce added with a snide smile.
"Indecisive bastard." Accelerator simply agreed.
"I hate you all." Touma growled at his so called 'friends.'
"Well, if it prevents you from blaming your misfortune for not completing your responsibilities, then it's probably a good thing." Seiri said. "I hope I can meet them at least once." It was obvious she was still skeptical about the situation and wanted to see the unfiltered truth for herself.
"You could always join." Pierce suggested with a raise of his pointer finger "He's already got one big titty girl, but yours are even bigg-…"
Seiri dropped kicked him across the room just before the morning bell rang.
From there class settled down for the most part, Pierce and Motoharu only receiving a few more bruises. Jason was the only one absent and Touma figured he probably had to make up for work he skipped out on to join them last night. If he was lucky, Jason would be finding a way to track Eve now that she revealed herself. Touma really hoped it was the latter. The entire conversation with Pierce had him concerned.
It seemed like in one night, Pierce had started to change.
Touma was worried Eve might be trying to turn Pierce against him. While he wasn't necessarily a powerhouse, Eve's plans usually didn't make much sense until they were almost complete. There had to be some benefit she got for going along with him. It infuriated him that she might be trying to use him as a pawn. Pierce was a pervert, self-proclaimed and proud of it too, but he was still a person and Touma's friend. If a girl was going to date him, she should be serious and not using it as a prank or to further her own goals.
Eve was really getting on his nerves.
Lost in his own thoughts, Touma didn't hear the door open and Komoe-sensei enter the room. She was carrying a packet of papers, but like usual, only the first couple rows could see them due to her height. The students who saw her grew quiet. The silence made its way back through the class until everyone had stopped talking. Touma finally noticed something was off and snapped back to reality. Komoe stepped up behind her desk and addressed the class.
"I have some bad news," Komoe said solemnly. "As you may have noticed, Jason Kagere is not here today. Due to certain circumstances, he will no longer be part of our class."
Touma blinked and looked at Accelerator. Out of everyone Accelerator got along with in the class, Jason and Seiri were the top two. Accelerator's eyes were narrowed and while he didn't look concerned, he seemed suspicious.
"Why not, sensei!" Seiri asked, raising her hand. Several of the other students whispered about what may have happened.
"Some of you may remember, but Kagere-kun was only here temporarily," Komoe explained. "As you know, he was a Level 4, but due to a transfer, he was placed in our class for the time being. The city wanted him to take part in a more advanced curriculum as part of his level." Several boos punctuated her words. "Don't be like that class. He didn't want to go. He was actually supposed to be with us for several more weeks. Things happen and we should be happy the city recognizes his hard work. Remember, if you work hard, any one of you can raise your level. "
"What about the Parameter List?" Someone asked, many joining their question.
"What do you mean?" Komoe asked.
"There's information on the internet about a list that tells us what our max potential is. Why would that list exist if anyone can be a level 5?"
Accelerator glanced over in the direction of the guy speaking, but remained silent. Few knew how he truly felt about his power. Most of the class shifted uncomfortably. Plenty of them had seen that very same article, and many hadn't been too pleased at the implications.
"That… I haven't heard of anything like that." Komoe admitted. "Are you sure the site is a reputable one? Plenty of rumors like that have been in circulation for years."
"They also had steps for figuring out what your max level can be," The guy continued. "It said I would only be able to reach level 1."
"Nonsense." Komoe said sternly, shaking a piece of chalk at him. "I have complete faith in all of you that if you work hard, you can reach the highest levels." Her voice was completely honest and devoid of any deceit. The class settled down almost instantly. "Sensei is always here if you want to talk, but I advise you to ignore those rumors. They come and go periodically. So don't feel disheartened my cute little students and keep working hard."
"Yes, sensei!" The class chanted back.
"Did Jason leave a letter or anything behind?" Touma raised his hand in question.
"Sadly, no." Komoe said. "I expect him to send one soon and I will pass it on to everyone. Even though his time with us was short, I hope you all enjoyed his company. Now, shall we get started-…?"
A loud explosion interrupted her.
"What was that?!" Someone yelled.
Everyone crowded around the window. Not far in the distance, an ominous thick black smoke was rising into the air.
"What happened?" Seiri asked as she looked to the window. "Isn't that an Anti-Skill building?"
"Accident?" Someone offered.
"No," Motoharu dismissed the words. "Look." He pointed into the distance. Several more pillars of smoke rose in the distance stretching across the visible horizon of buildings.
This was no accident.
"You seem to be in a better mood today, Onee-sama." Kuroko mentioned, skipping beside Mikoto as they walked to school.
"Why do you say that?" Mikoto asked a little surprised, turning to look at her.
"After your discussion with the princess, you were really down for a while." Kuroko reminded her.
That might have been a bit of an understatement about the true feelings washing over her when she came home.
Kuroko had been waiting in their room last night for Mikoto to get back. She was known for being out quite late and Kuroko half expected to receive a call asking for help to sneak in. To Kuroko's surprise, the Electromaster came back before curfew. However, one look was all it took to notice she was not at all happy. Kuroko was shocked to hear about what had transpired at Carissa's. Mikoto had been really depressed about the entire situation, not offering much of anything as she simply sat on her bed, thinking. So, Kuroko gently wrapped her arms around the saddened girl for a comforting embrace.
She stayed like this for a few minutes, reassuring the girl that everything was alright until Mikoto relaxed enough to actually try for some sleep.
"I realize now that, while she said it in the worst possible way, she actually had a point." Mikoto spoke slowly. "I'm worried about Kanzaki-san, but at the same time I know she wouldn't want me to be. If we spent every waking minute grieving for her life, we can't focus on our own. That would make everyone's sacrifice meaningless. We can be vigilant and at the same time appreciate what we have."
"That's very profound and mature," Kuroko gave an affirmative smile. "I actually thought about what you told me last night about what she said and I agree that she has a point. Eve wants us to stress out and make mistakes."
"Yeah, but there are too many things going on that we need to focus on," Mikoto continued. "School for one, our friends and family too, we can't just drop it all in pursuit of answers."
"So what are you doing after school today?" Kuroko asked curiously.
"Probably check with Touma if he told everyone else what happened," Mikoto mused and quickly continued before Kuroko could say anything. "After that, Saten and I are probably going to hang out while you and Uiharu-san are at work."
Kuroko smiled slightly as she noticed Mikoto had dropped Ruiko's honorifics.
"Yeah, Judgment seems kind of… dull, now that we have been involved in so much." Kuroko said. "I know we're helping other people and it's important. It's just that, in the grand scheme of things...well...sigh."
"The big picture is important," Mikoto said smiling. "But we have to remember it's made up of all the little pictures. Break things up into smaller, more manageable pieces and you'll be surprised at how much things change for the better." She patted Kuroko's back. "Especially with friends. We can do more together than what we can do individually."
Mikoto and Kuroko jumped as the sudden voice of Misaki appeared behind them. Next to her was her ever diligent friend Junko.
"Good morning, Misaka-san, Kuroko-san." Junko greeted the two.
"Good morning, Hokaze-san." They replied back.
"Sooooo," Misaki continued in a cheerful tone. "Was that your way of saying you love our time together?"
"Who are you again?" Mikoto asked with a smirk.
"Pretty sure I haven't used my powers on you today." Misaki reprimanded her. "If someone else did, they would have some explaining to do."
"Today?" Mikoto asked, raising an eyebrow.
"You know what I mean," Misaki said dismissively. "What I wanted to know is, skipping over last night, did you enjoy our date together?"
"…More than I thought I would," Mikoto admitted. "Even with some… unexpected guests."
"Focus on the positive," Misaki pushed. "I feel it worked out well and Saten-san seemed to have liked it too."
"It was… enjoyable." Mikoto replied. "I wish you would stop jumping out and surprising me though."
"Think of that as revenge for all those times you had groped my chest."
"That was one time!"
"I'm curious," Junko said to Kuroko, the two standing a relatively short distance away, watching Mikoto and Misaki tease each other. "How does one go about dating a boy with another girl?"
"Umm…?" Kuroko thought about it. "That's kind of hard to explain. There were special circumstances that led up to it. It doesn't usually work out so smoothly and to even try it takes a lot of planning and discussion. You can't really hide anything."
"Hmm." Junko hummed as she walked. "It would be nice to try dating sometime. I just don't know many gentlemen." She looked over at Kuroko. "Does your boyfriend know any single guys?"
Kuroko immediately thought of Pierce and Motoharu.
She shivered subtly. There was no way she was going to subject anyone to the psychological horror of trying to understand those idiotic brains.
"Sorry." She said instead. "His close friends are dating someone already." She pointed towards Mikoto and Misaki.
"It seems a polygamous relationship with a gentleman is a contagious occurrence." Junko said.
Kuroko quickly changed the topic of conversation to school. She liked her current relationship, but it was strange talking about it with Junko. It was a little embarrassing for some reason. Kuroko used to love bragging about her affection towards Mikoto, but doing it with a guy was different. Oh sure, if they were alone or with Kazari, that wasn't a problem. Maybe it was just knowing her classmates were mostly sheltered girls who wouldn't understand. Worse, they would over imagine and fabricate things.
Finally arriving at school, Kuroko had to separate from the group, as she was a year below the others. Junko had a different schedule and went on her own way, leaving Mikoto and Misaki alone. As the two of them headed toward their classroom, Misaki continued to eye Mikoto.
"What?" Mikoto finally asked, a little annoyed.
"Are you okay?"
Mikoto froze in her tracks. That was one of the last things she expected from Misaki. Turning, all she saw was concern on Misaki's face. It didn't look like she was teasing. The fact she wasn't saying anything else while Mikoto collected herself was a dead giveaway. It took a second before she responded to the question.
"W-what do you mean by that?"
"You were upset yesterday after our talk with Carissa," Misaki stated quietly. "I realized too late Touma wasn't the only one hurting. You just hid it better."
"I… had things I needed to work out," Mikoto replied. "I'm fine now. Talking with Kuroko helped a lot."
"I'm… sorry." Misaki said, though the word seemed almost forced. Mikoto gaped at her. It was weird to hear the girl apologize so seriously.
"For not noticing something I was hiding?"
"I pride myself at being able to read people, yet when it mattered, I missed it."
"Oh…" Lamely retorted the girl, a bit unsure on how to respond. "It's okay-…"
"No, it's not." Misaki promptly flicked brunette's nose.
"I know I've teased you so many times that we've lost count, but now that we are in a relationship things have changed." said the blonde seriously. "If something is bothering you, you can come to me."
"Will you come to me if things bother you?"
"Not so easy on the other foot, is it?" Remarked Mikoto, crossing her arms. She paused and let her expression soften. "...but thanks."
"Anytime," Misaki replied cheerfully. "Oh, this doesn't mean I'm going to stop teasing you. It's too much fun to give up."
"You're insufferable." Mikoto groaned as they headed toward class.
Class started off like normal. They greeted their teacher as she entered, had roll call, and began to work. Mikoto wasn't paying too much attention, preferring to stare out the window. Most of the stuff they covered in the first part of the lesson was some review and she knew it all already. Misaki was the same way, but unlike her she preferred to use her phone more to stay in contact with others. Mikoto didn't want to bother Kuroko or Touma, so she just daydreamed a bit.
Until a large explosion jolted her to her senses.
Out of reflex, she immediately stood up and looked around, making sure her classmates were safe.
"What was that?!" Someone cried.
"Students, remain calm!" Their teacher told them.
Outside the window, smoke was coming up from the School Garden. Not just on the outside gates leading into the schools, but several clouds were coming from locations just outside of the school, even within Tokiwadai. Mikoto's eyes widened and she glanced over at Misaki. From her expression, she didn't see this coming either. Just as she was about to rush out of the classroom to help, the intercom to the classrooms came on.
"Attention students!" The principle's voice rang out. "Please remain calm and stay inside. All members of Judgment are to report for duty. Anti-Skill officers are heading to the scene so please cooperate with them fully."
Already? Mikoto thought to herself. Did they know this was going to happen?
Across the town, Ruiko was discussing what was happening with her classmates. Kazari had left, being part of Judgment she got called up, but most of her class was still there. All they had seen and heard were a couple explosions nearby. It was thanks to their cellphones that they knew this was happening all around the city. Messages were being sent at record speed among friends and social circles. No one seemed to have any clue why this was happening, only that countless hidden bombs had been detonated.
So far, no one heard of any casualties, but that didn't mean the city wasn't covering anything up.
"Any other news?" Ruiko asked her classmates.
"Nothing yet." A girl answered.
Classes were pretty much canceled and only a few teachers remained to keep order. Many of them were part of Anti-Skill. All the students not affiliated with Judgement were kept in the schools for their own protection. They were told to study, do homework, that kind of thing, but of course they didn't. Everyone was too worried about what was happening. Rumors of terrorists infiltrating Academy City were the most prevalent rumor going around. Ruiko heard from Mikoto and Touma their schools were on lockdown too, but not much else.
Guess I'll just be waiting for more news, like usual. Ruiko thought dishearteningly. Hope everyone stays okay and they find out who did this.
The morning passed slowly, even with all the excitement. Everyone was waiting for news. The teachers wouldn't tell them anything, for obvious reasons. Everyone tried to pass time on their phones, talking with friends, or just playing cards.
What happened next was something no one expected.
"Attention students of Academy City!"
Everyone jumped as announcements flooded through the speakers. A mysterious male voice spoke.
"We are Skill-Out, the ones who placed the explosives throughout the city and those who hold the trigger for the rest!"
The classroom went silent, except for a few hushed whispers making sure they heard everything.
"Academy City has lied to us! We were told that anyone who worked hard could progress in the Ability Development Program! This was a lie! The Parameter List that was recently taken from the city proves it. That list is created when an ability is released. The city can tell if we have potential to reach Level 5 or if we are forever labeled as inferior. Don't take our word for it. You will all be receiving instructions on how to read the Parameter List."
Ruiko's phone beeped and she looked down at it in shock.
"We of Skill-Out have had enough! The difference in treatment has always been apparent between the high and low levels, but now we know we can never catch up. This no longer is just about level 0s vs higher levels. This affects all students besides the chosen ones. Skill-Out is accepting all people who want to protest this criminal treatment of-…"
The announcement was abruptly cut off and was followed by static.
The silence in the class lengthened as everyone looked at each other.
"This can't be real, right?" Someone finally said. "This is just that gang lying to increase recruitment, right?" The boy looked around as if someone was going to jump out and yell surprise. "Come on, anyone?"
"I'm checking my level!" A girl said, immediately opening the attachment.
The class quickly descended into panic as everyone began to compare the instructions to the Parameter List. Ruiko couldn't resist either, but she didn't check herself. The first thing she did was check the ones she could verify and hoped her friends could forgive her. It took a bit to figure out how to read the list, even using the instructions provided, but she quickly saw that Mikoto and Misaki were indeed in the range of level five. Mikoto was slightly higher and that must have been why they were numbered by ranking. Knowing what Accelerator would say if he found out she looked at his information, she shivered and verified he too was in that range. Of course, he was much higher.
Worried about what she would find, she started moving down the list. Kuroko's name stood out and Ruiko quickly calculated she would remain a level 4. Moving down, she found Kazari, who would eventually hit level 2 in a couple years before plateauing. Several of her classmates were listed at their current level or would go up slightly. None of them would get anywhere near level 5, not even level 4. Slowly, she moved to her name and calculated her max potential.
Ruiko stopped and frowned.
That's not right, she thought. I'm level 2 thanks to Kagere's experiments. Did I calculate it wrong? She did it again and got the same answer. It is wrong! This isn't set in stone. I should tell the others. Before she got a chance, several people started yelling.
"This is bullshit! I'm never going to get past level 2."
"Level 2, I'm going to be stuck at 1!"
"The city has some explaining to do!"
"W-wait!" Ruiko tried to say, but the class was already beginning to riot.
One of the teachers on duty came in and tried to restore order. Ruiko slumped back, as the other students began to shout at the teacher they once respected. She couldn't get a word in and someone actually kicked over a desk. All the frustration that Ruiko knew many of her classmates had always felt, were bubbling to the surface. It was like they now had proof it wasn't their fault that their levels haven't been rising.
Regardless if it was wrong or right. The newfound information spurred many of them on.
And for the life of her, Ruiko wasn't sure what to do.
Touma, Accelerator, and Motoharu were sitting on the roof of their school during lunch. Classes had been canceled all day for them, as over half their teachers were part of Anti-Skill and had to investigate the explosions. For the most part, the students had been quiet.
Until the announcement.
Accelerator was a prime target for their aggression and the reason he had gone up to the roof was to avoid people shouting at him, throwing things, and in one instance someone actually tried to attack him. Motoharu and Pierce had been the ones to stop the kid. Things were not looking good. Touma had never seen their school this riled up. Seiri actually kept their class in line, but she couldn't do so for the dozens of other ones. At the very least, most of their class actually didn't seem to blame Accelerator.
Thus, Touma and Motoharu followed Accelerator to get some peace.
"No more explosions," Motoharu said. "Looks like they either all went off or Anti-Skill took care of them."
"What the hell is going on," Touma asked, hoping to find some glimmer of understanding in this mess. "First the explosions, then the announcement? Did something happen with Skill-Out to make them so aggressive?"
"Change in leadership." Accelerator spat out. "The old ones must have gotten ousted and the new ones want to send a message that they aren't to be messed with."
"Sounds likely," Motoharu agreed. "What's the word, Kami-yan?"
"Misaki and Ruiko haven't seen any explosions since this morning," Touma reported. "Haven't heard from Mikoto, but Misaki said she's in the school. No word from Jason either. He just had to leave today of all days."
"Hah!" Accelerator gave a bark-like laugh. "Do you really believe he just happened to be out today?"
"Huh?" Touma asked.
"Remember, he works for the city," Motoharu reminded him. "Sounds like they knew something was going to happen and pulled him out of school for it."
"Idiot." Accelerator muttered.
"There's been a lot going on!" Touma protested. "I'm not sure I'm relieved or not that this isn't Eve's doing."
"Maybe it is?" Motoharu shrugged when Touma and Accelerator looked at him. "Not saying it is, but she might have a reason for causing chaos. Though, she shouldn't know a lot about Skill-Out. I doubt she knows a lot about the Parameter List either. That was something you can bet the city did not want to get out."
Accelerator remained quiet. He didn't care about the list once he knew what it was. The problem was other people did. Naturally, they would despise him even more than they used to because they now believed he was born with power. In some ways, that was true, but the power was a curse too that only people in his shoes would know about.
Touma was also silent because of the list. He didn't even bother to look at it. If it was true, it would show him with no potential to go above level 0 because of his hand. Unless there was false information for Kami. Since none of his classmates mentioned it, that didn't seem likely. No, the reason he was silent was because he was worried for someone else.
He knew she worked hard to reach level 5. Because of this list, all the work she put in might be diminished, not just in everyone else's eyes, but her own too. When she didn't respond, that was the thing that worried him the most. The chaos the list caused seemed like something Eve would do, but at the same time, wasn't something she would know a lot about.
…Unless that spy was privy to it.
Touma felt a headache coming on. Everything seemed to be plans within plans. Now he understood why the others said it was possible Eve was trying to throw them all off balance by going with Pierce. He wasn't good at these kinds of situations. It wasn't like he was a master tactician. He was just a normal high school boy. If he couldn't charge in and face the enemy, there wasn't much he could do.
"Can we just… not discuss Eve right now?" Touma sighed, sitting down. "I'm getting tired of her."
"Join the club." Accelerator mumbled.
"We can talk about other girls." Motoharu suggested. "Aogami can argue with you about which types are better than a dorm manager ny-a."
"There's nothing-…" Touma started to say, when his phone went off. Looking down, he noticed it wasn't a number he was used to. "Hello?" He answered.
"Boss!" Shiage's voice came through loud and clear. "I got big news about what's been happening."
His voice echoed on the roof, causing Motoharu and Accelerator to look up.
"Go on." Touma said, ready for the worst.
"It started last night after we split up…"
Late last night after leaving the group date and splitting up with Rikou, Shiage found himself standing outside a large dingy building in District 10. It looked like someone had abandoned it or it may have been a long term storage facility that no one remembered existed.
"I guess this is the place." Shiage muttered, slowly approaching the shady construct.
This meeting was supposed to be something super secretive so security was obviously a high priority. It was away from prying eyes and there were several men guarding the only visible entrance. The warehouse didn't seem to have windows and Shiage had no idea what was inside. It didn't help it was dark and most of the streetlights were out. As he approached, the guards eyed him wearily and then brought up a scanner over his eyes. A bright green flash blinded him for a second.
"Fuck!" He yelled and rubbed his sore eyes. "That hurt!"
"Security precaution." The guy said, unbothered. He looked at something on his scanner. "You're clear. Go on ahead."
"Thanks." Shiage muttered. "Jerks." He spat underneath his breath.
Turns out there was a lot more activity inside the building.
There were a lot of people with black vests and face masks keeping people in line. Shiage was immediately ushered into the line without being given any explanation. People were talking in hushed whispers, but some words stood out and were the obvious topic of conversation.
The Parameter List.
Shiage knew this was the topic of the meeting. He had been warned ahead of time. The rumors online weren't new. Those kinds of things appeared from time to time, usually when Skill-Out needed more recruits. This time, it was different. It wasn't just Skill-Out, but normal students who were told about the list. Not only level 0s, but level 1s and 2s were brought in too. That was what caused Shiage to come. Something huge was about to shake the foundation of Academy City.
He couldn't miss this.
Minutes passed and the line had barely moved.
His feet were impatient and he tapped a finger against his arm while he waited. The line still refused to move quickly. He felt like Shizuri when there was a waiting period at her favorite restaurant. Only he didn't have the ability to blast through them.
"What the hell is taking so long," Shiage grumbled loudly. "We gonna get moving or what?"
One of the security personnel approached him.
"Please be patient," the guy told Shiage. "We have to make sure no one is smuggling in weapons or cameras. Your phone will be confiscated and returned upon your departure."
"Secret stuff, huh?" Shiage asked. The guy didn't reply and only glared under his sunglasses. "Fine, don't answer me, dick."
Finally, after what felt like forever, Shiage reached the end of the line. He was patted down, scanned through metal detectors, and sprayed with something he couldn't identify, but it smelled horrible, like old gym socks. He was then issued into a back room, where elevator doors stood closed. No wonder it was taking so long. There was an underground base for the meeting. When did Skill-Out get these kinds of resources?
Lost in his own thoughts, he didn't notice the other person in the back room.
"I'm surprised Komaba's lackey decided to come."
Shiage jumped and looked around.
"What do you know?" He growled angrily in question, turning to see who addressed him.
It was a girl.
Not one he could recall ever meeting though. She was a slender, dark-haired girl who had one eye covered by her long cascading hair. She wore large black boots, with denim overalls tucked into them and hooking over her shoulders. A cropped, black tank top went beneath the straps, barely covering her exposed sides that peeked through the large bomber jacket she had on.
"I know quite a bit more than you expect, but not enough to say I know everything," the girl replied. "So, even after leaving, you heard the news and came running back?"
She spoke to him casually, and a bit too personally for his liking but he paid it no heed as they continued to converse. Her refined accent and playful tone was a little disconcerting.
"I heard things have changed."
"Isn't that part of life?" The girl giggled. "Sorry, I don't mean to be so coy. There's just a lot going on. I'm sure you understand. A level 0, giving up being Komaba's lackey for another?"
Shiage flinched. Technically her words were rather vague, as many members of Skill-Out knew he had left. At the same time though, they didn't know he was working for ITEM. This could be a trick by the girl to get more information and Shiage didn't want to give anything away. Shizuri would kill him if someone learned ITEM's secrets.
"Who are you?" He asked instead. The girl raised an eyebrow with a thin smile forming on her lips. "What do you want with me?" She shrugged. "Not like I'm getting anything from you, am I?"
"Now you get it."
Shiage growled and decided to try ignoring her.
Try being the keyword.
"I bet it's strange being a dark horse," The girl continued conversationally. "Not wanting to take sides, but stuck guarding labs, fighting off people who your superiors hate, all while balancing getting a girlfriend."
Shiage rounded on her and was about to demand to know how she learned all this, when two other people entered the room from where he came from. At this point, they lost all sense of privacy. He turned away again, but he kept glancing at the girl. She was humming to herself and if she caught him watching her, she would wink at him with a light-hearted wave. Shiage was feeling confused and somewhat worried. Any other time he would think a girl acting like that would like him, but the questions implied something more sinister.
After a group of eight people were in the room, the door to the elevator opened and they were ushered inside. Shiage was squashed against the back and somehow, the girl was near the front ready to be the first one off. He didn't even see how she navigated the crowd. To pass the time, he counted the floors and quickly discovered something. They had already gone down over twenty stories. There was no way there was something this deep below the warehouse.
What was going on?
To his relief, the elevator finally stopped and they could get out. Shiage could finally breathe again, as the cramped space along with whatever old sneaker spray they got hit with did not mix well. The doors opened and they filed out into a pure white hallway. Shiage couldn't help thinking of those B-Rated Sci-Fi movies where the people were walking into some futuristic lab of a secret space station. Being acquaintances with Saiai tended to expand your movie knowledge.
The doors at the end of the hallway opened up automatically and Shiage froze.
Thousands of students of all ages were in a giant room. There weren't any seats and they either stood up or sprawled out on the floor as they waited. Groups had formed and Shiage recognized a few of them, though the faces he knew were few and far between. Because Anti-Skill and Judgment would root out Skill-Out factions, the gangs changed pretty constantly. If one fell apart, others would absorb the leftover members. If one group got too big, it would split into two or more as people fought for power. That was one of the issues Skill-Out had. While they all wanted to group up for protection against higher level ability users and the city, there was an official hierarchy.
Strangely, there were a lot of people who looked out of place. Normal students who were all gathered in the back, looking nervous. It seems the information Shiage was told was accurate. The organizer of this meeting was reaching out to all low levels. At least enough that the information would be passed around. There was no way they could reach even half of the student population in a few days. He was probably one of the last ones to get the message.
"What's going on?" Shiage asked, after making his way inside.
"Seems like the organizer isn't here yet," a boy around his age answered. "People are getting restless."
"I take it you're here about the rumors?" A girl asked Shiage.
"Yeah," Shiage said, rubbing the back of his head. "Pretty much. Though…" He looked around. "I'm kind of regretting it."
"Yeah, I thought this would be more official…" The girl agreed, trailing off.
One of the guys nearby laughed.
"You think the city would organize this meet-up about the possibility of the Parameter List being real?"
"I suppose not."
Shiage took the opportunity to listen to the other students talking. They didn't have the knowledge he did and a lot of them had slightly different variations. The city had tried to play off the Parameter list, but the students in the city weren't complete idiots. Most of them may not know the true terror of the dark side of Academy City, but they could tell the information the list contained was something important and was meant to be confidential. The rumor that it contained the data of what level people could reach was spreading faster than the city could squash it. Shiage just figured he could hide within the other students. The last thing he wanted to do was meet more people who knew him like that weird girl.
Minutes passed and people were getting impatient.
"Okay!" A big guy in one of the larger gang groups finally had enough. He stood up and addressed the room. "Enough is enough. Who's the asshole who set this meeting up and decided not to show?!"
No one spoke up.
"When I find out who stood us up, I'll kill them!" Many of the regular students squirmed nervously at this.
"Easy pal, not all of us have girl problems."
The silence lengthened as some braze soul on the other side of the room shouted back.
Then laughter echoed around the hall.
"Who said that?!" The first guy thundered. "I'll kill you too!"
"Shut up, bastard!" Someone else yelled. "We're all sick of waiting too!"
Chaos, boredom, and restlessness were slowly descending among the gangs. He knew it would only be a matter of time before people came to blows. Shiage backed up with the other students who were not part of Skill-Out. The reason why they were all frisked for weapons on the way in now made perfect sense. And now he was feeling more than a bit stupid for even coming out to this meeting.
Until he saw that girl from before stepping towards the center of the room.
She was nonchalantly stacking a few crates on-top of one another, taking her time and not the least bit concerned about the fight about to break out. Soon, she climbed up the boxes until she was standing high enough for everyone to see her. Almost no one noticed, as a couple groups had just broken out into fist fights. Shiage wasn't worried about them. Those things happened in Skill-Out all the time. No, it was the fact she was smiling as she took out a remote from her pocket and pressed the button.
Immediately, Shiage was overcome with a headache, nausea, and dizziness.
He was one of the lucky ones.
Cries of pain were heard all over as several people began to collapse, mostly those around him. They only lasted a few seconds before all the symptoms vanished and the cries stopped. People were getting to their feet and the girl coughed into a microphone before speaking.
"I'm glad to see so many people were able to join us," the girl announced, her voice echoing throughout the large area cramped with student bodies. "Of course, we understood a lot of you are muscle bound baboons, so we took some precautions to make sure everyone here doesn't cause too much trouble while we discuss what Academy City has done." She gestured to the ceiling where a lot of loudspeakers were set up, ignoring some people yelling profanities at what she did. "We have taken Capacity Down and modified it to even work on level 0s, not that it will be as effective, but you all have AIM fields so it should be enough to keep you all on a leash. Now, while the city may consider you all useless, we don't. We know all of you work hard and are not responsible for the pain that fell on you."
The room grew quiet.
First of all, many of the older gangs knew only a handful of large players who had managed to steal Capacity Down. It was a nonlethal weapon used by Anti-Skill to stop rampaging ability users. It used sonic waves to disrupt the ability user's brain to prevent them from using their abilities. Since this group the girl was a part of not only managed to steal the technology, they improved it to affect those with almost no powers. This alone was enough for most of the gangs to pay attention. Then there was the fact she started off saying their position wasn't their fault. Most people with power were always quick to blame those without it.
The rest just didn't want to be hit by the attack again.
"I do apologize for the sudden and rude revelation of our technology," the girl continued to speak. Her tone was playful, but had an adult vibe to it. "Most of you are probably wondering who this cute girl talking to us like children is, so let me introduce myself." She put a hand on her chest. "My name is Eris, and I work for the organizer who reached out to all you poor souls."
Shiage was a little confused at where this was going. Her subtle, insulting words were just pissing off a lot of people.
"All we ask of you is to listen and play nice while gathered here," the chipper girl continued. "The sooner you let me speak, the sooner we can finish."
"Why should we?!" Some gruff thug yelled out.
"Excellent question." Eris told him and pressed the button on her remote once again. There were cries of pain as Capacity Down triggered. The sound stopped when she pressed a different button. "Again, I do apologize, but this was faster than trying to explain with words to some of you simpletons. I will take questions at the end. Right now, I only want to inform all of you of what we discovered."
Most of the crowd looked uncomfortable with how easy she pressed that button.
"Let's see, where do I start?" Eris pressed a finger to her cheek. "Ah, yes. A quick question for all of you in the audience. Have any of you ever been discriminated against because of your level?"
No one raised their hand. Most looked confused at her sudden question.
"Has a higher level ability user ever bullied you?" Eris continued. "Can they use their powers freely on you without repercussions by the law? Does your school have substandard equipment compared to those that nurture higher levels? Do your complaints go unheard? Are you forced to keep your head down for your own protection?"
Shiage could only watch as nearly everyone in the hall was now focused on her. Eris had a way with her words and tone that just drew you in. Even he paid close attention.
"You are not alone!" Eris announced and made a hand gesture slowly over them all. "Time and time again, the city discriminates against us because of our level. They deem us inferior and less beneficial to their research, so they ignore us. Higher levels, say those of 3 and up, provide them more information, so they are treated as valuables. They are the jewels and we are simply shiny rocks."
There was a lot of booing and shouting.
Shiage wasn't convinced. This was a simple propaganda speech. As a former member of Skill-Out, this was a common tactic to get new members. While a lot of the information was true, most people would ignore it. They tended to make it worse than it seemed. The only ones who really got away with everything were the level 5s. Eris waited for everyone to calm down. Hurrying up the process as she spun the remote in her hands menacingly. It was obvious most of the Skill-Out members heard this before and the level 1s and 2s weren't impressed.
"The possibility of everyone reaching level 5… is a sham."
But that short statement quickly garnered everyone's attention.
"We have been told constantly that those who work hard can grow!" Eris continued loudly. "However, many of you are hard workers, are you not?" There was a lot of muttered agreement and nodding. "Then why are you still level 0's? Why are some people stuck at level 1 for years and others get to level 4 in mere months? There are holes in what the city tells us. When we point those flaws out, you know what happens?"
She stomped her foot on the crate underneath her.
"We are told that we are just jealous! That we are blaming others for our own powerlessness! That if we worked harder we could improve too!" Eris took a deep breath and composed herself. Shiage was pretty sure she was acting, but the effect had the desired effect. Everyone in the hall was captivated. Shiage felt his attention focusing on her too, like it was being drawn by some unknown force, yet he steeled his rationale and made sure not to get too caught up in this mysterious girl's speech. "Higher levels who have power look down at us, tell us the same thing 'You are weak and jealous'. Many of us believed it and worked hard to prove them wrong, to show some kind of result, just to get nowhere! Now we know why!"
The wall behind her lit up and the Parameter List that had been released to the city appeared.
"The city knows what level we can reach the moment our ability is activated!"
Silence descended over the entire hall.
Even Shiage froze.
"I see that got your attention." Eris stated with a small smile.
Angry shouts began to rise from the crowd, starting a tsunami of voices that made it impossible to hear anything. Eris frowned and pressed the remote in her hand again. Cries of pain echoed across the hall and Shiage felt the familiar headache, nausea, and dizziness. People finally quieted down after she turned off Capacity Down.
"We must retain order while I explain the situation," Eris told them all seriously. "Skill-Out… You are those that the city deemed inferior due to a single list." She gestured to the screen behind her. "This single list, created the moment our ability is awakened, tells the city everything. All the information they need to understand what level we can reach and how many resources that can afford to put into us." She looked around. "Some of you may be able to reach higher levels, but the city decided it was cheaper for them to focus on others, leaving you behind."
Everyone was latching on to her every word.
"Hard work can only do so much," Eris continued. "We need support, resources, someone who cares about those not born with silver spoons in their mouth."
People were cheering for this girl. The same girl who kept hitting them with Capacity Down. Shiage even felt like joining in. A lot of what she was saying was what he had thought during his time in Skill-Out. He kept quiet though, and grimaced at the noise.
"It's about time we get some respect!"
"I knew the city was holding us back!"
"Down with those assholes!"
Some of the people near Shiage were agreeing. They weren't Skill-Out, but normal students who were low levels themselves.
"I expect some of you to not believe me," Eris told them. "And that's understandable. This information was kept under lock and key for years. Now, we finally have it. I'll give you a rundown on how to read the list. Thanks to our benefactors, this information will be sent out to all students of Academy City tomorrow. You are all getting a preview."
There wasn't anything to do while she explained the information on the list. A lot of people had their phones out and were doing the calculations for themselves as Eris went through it. This was when Shiage really began to believe this wasn't mere propaganda. The information she was explaining seemed legit and way more specific than a lie could. Shiage was used to people lying to him. Everyone around him did that constantly, except his boss, Kamijou, but he was a special exception.
"I'm only going to be a level 1!" Someone shouted. "Bullshit!"
"Level 1?! I'm never getting above 0!"
"What the hell is this!?"
"Hah, I'll hit level 2 in 5 years."
People began to shout, gangs began to fight for what pride they harbored after reading their respective potential, and the entire area fell into disarray. No one was paying attention to Eris right now. No one except Shiage, and as he stared at the girl, what he saw made him shiver.
Her sinister smile sent chills down his spine. It betrayed any semblance of sincerity her words held and disappeared as quickly as it came. If the memory of that smile didn't cause him to fear that girl as much as he now did, he might have even believed he imagined it. Any possibility this girl was normal was now thrown out the window.
"The higher ups in Academy City are a pitiful bunch," Eris said, after giving them all another dose of Capacity Down to quiet them down. "They only care for themselves and nothing else. They wanted quick results at low cost for their own fame. The level 5s were handpicked by the Board Chairman and were showered with funds and research we would never be able to harness. Their care allowed them to progress. If we had that kind of support, we could have stood up on that stage of seven as well."
"Yeah!" The crowd chanted.
"So, what to do now?" Eris asked them all rhetorically. "I say we take away what's most precious to those shitty rulers we call the directors. Shut down their manufacturing plants, weapon development factories, personal homes, safe funds, maybe even the schools where they nurture these high level cattle." She smiled and spread her arms out to them all. "They will learn we are people too and there is only so much we can take. They will be aware their toys can be tampered with and taken away in a blink of an eye should they choose to continue to step on us. We have begun setting up the stage for tomorrow, but we need more help."
She pointed to a few guys in front.
"People like you! Someone who understands they are not to be blamed for their powerlessness, but merely a victim of circumstances. We will change those circumstances and allow all of you to grow."
The guys cheered and the support was contagious.
"If you want any further proof, remember the time when the medicine that was rumored to raise your level was leaked into the city?" Eris asked.
"Yeah, but it killed people!" Someone called out.
"It did," Eris agreed sadly. "That was the city's plan." Silence fell over everyone again. "They needed to experiment with it, so they used us desperate students as guinea pigs. Those that died to the untested drug were examined so they could perfect it. It's now complete. Some people have received it and we stole a couple doses ourselves."
"We want to pass what drugs we have to all of you!"
The effect was immediate.
People were shouting, cheering, wanting more information. She let this go on, basking in the attention. Capacity Down was only activated when people rushed her position.
"We need help," Eris admitted. "While we want to help all the low levels in the city, our numbers are few. In order to fight back, we need people. People who are willing to fight with us. I'm not going to lie. It will be dangerous. The city will try to silence us. They will send their attack dogs, high level ability users, and more. We have technology and the drugs necessary, but lack the man power. Those that join us, I promise you will help us create a new world in this city. One for all people, not just the chosen ones!"
"How can we trust you?!" A lone voice rang out. Everyone turned to see a girl standing there. She was shaking under the condition, but she kept her gaze focused on Eris. "I'm a level 1, barely. How do we know you won't use us like the city does?"
"Because I'm one of you," Eris said. "I have no ability. The city doesn't notice me. I've been bullied by those with power. But, don't take my words for it. I can show you why I want to fight against the top." She turned around and removed her bomber jacket. Then she raised the back of her tank top to reveal her skin to the crowd.
What was left of the skin.
There were gasps and hushed whispers as everyone saw the blacked charcoal that was her back. She lowered her tank top and covered herself with the jacket.
"I had simply turned down a level 4 over a year ago and he did not take it well," Eris said. "He burned my back slowly and methodically as punishment. The city did nothing…" Her voice quivered slightly, eyes threatening to spill tears she barely held back. "All that was done was to transfer him to another school, but he's still around. Still around to mock me for screaming so pitifully by his feet. "
Angry shouts, mostly from guys, erupted from the crowd.
"If you are willing to risk yourself, like I am, for the good of all the people stomped by the heel of this unjust city, please step through the doors here." She gestured to the wall to her back right. The doors slid open. "Those of you who do not, which I understand completely, may leave the way you came."
Shiage, throughout all of this, just got a larger and larger sinking feeling. Foreboding of some kind.
He did not like the fact so many people were rushing forward to join. The feeling completely enveloped his being once he walked past the girl, who turned and offered him another wink, her sharp tongue sticking out mockingly.. As if saying: '...it's all just a lie though~.' The satisfied grin on her face was enough proof that the entire point of this meeting was to get Skill-Out on her side.
She had succeeded with little trouble.
"So the explosions are really the doing of Skill-Out?' Touma asked.
"Yeah," Shiage confirmed, sounding exhausted as he sighed into the receiver. "They mainly targeted Anti-Skill bases and city warehouses. Most schools received warnings and calls for assistance. Saying they can get anyone anywhere."
"Shit," Touma groaned. "Thanks for letting me know, Hamazura. I'm worried it might have been Eve's doing."
"Yeah, I figured you might. Mugino thought the same and then got pissed off when I said who was behind it." Shiage paused. "Then she got even more pissed off a minute later for some reason and yelled out something about the girl, Eris. Have you guys met her?"
"Not that I know of." Touma replied. "Keep us updated if you find anything else."
He hung up and Touma plopped down on the roof.
"Is it bad I'm relieved it's not Eve this time?" Touma asked, his arm over his eyes.
"Bitch can't be everywhere," Accelerator growled. "Skill-Out still exists for whatever shit reason they tell themselves. The city also sucks and does whatever they want."
"And I wouldn't be too sure of that, Kami-yan." Motoharu added. His sunglasses hiding the dark grimace underneath.
Touma sat up immediately and stared at Motoharu. Accelerator's expression darkened as his eyes darted toward the blonde delinquent too.
"What?" They said in unison.
"Eris…" Motoharu sighed. "She's the Greek goddess of strife and discord."
Silence fell over the roof.
"You're saying she's a-…" Touma finally started to say.
"Hold on." Motoharu held up a hand. "Plenty of magicians take the names of gods for ritual purposes. Don't jump to conclusions."
"Who is this bitch then?" Accelerator asked.
"She's a minor deity in Greek mythology," Motoharu explained. "But she's well known for starting the Trojan War. She wasn't invited to a wedding while other goddesses were, so she decided to cause problems between them by making a golden apple inscribed with the words 'To The Fairest One'. The goddesses started quarreling over who the apple should be given to, so the big king of Greek gods, Zeus, appointed Paris, Prince of Troy, as the person to decide. The goddesses offered Paris various gifts, but he eventually picked Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, who promised him the most beautiful woman in the world; Helen. She was married already and a war started."
Touma and Accelerator stared at him.
"What?" Motoharu asked. "When you told us about what Eve said about Greek mythology, I started refreshing my knowledge ny-a."
"Wasn't there an apple involved with Eve and Adam too?" Touma asked.
"Yep. Some argue it wasn't an apple though. Could be a grape or another fruit."
Accelerator face palmed and felt a headache coming on.
Feel free to leave a review, comment, suggestions, or ideas, I love reading them. If you have a question you wish I ask and would like a quick answer, feel free to message me directly. I try to respond to those within a day or two. Comments, I tend to respond to in the next chapter. All mistakes are SilverFang's fault.
UrsaMJR:"This is a message from his newest slave labourer: I'm currently locked up in a sweatshop with SilverFang. Send pellets, he's dying of starvation, and I myself am having a hard time trying to resist eating him."
SF88: For the record, I taste terrible. Oh, and fuck you Dark.
DB: For reference, these two have been trying to get to me to drop this story, but I'm hoping to finish it before they convince me.