Most of Kamijo Touma's life could be summed up by that one phrase. The number of situations in which it was appropriate for him seemed almost endless.
This particular misfortune was monetary in nature. Touma had just checked an ATM in the hopes that he still had some money left. Regrettably, it was not to be, and Touma would be stuck with only 200 yen for the remainder of the week. Considering the black hole named Index that lived with him, this amount of money would not last a day, let alone a week.
Dejected, Touma began the walk back home, counting the number of ways he could prepare ramen with the limited number of vegetables and seasonings he had left at home.
However, as he turned a corner, something bright and red caught his attention. Backtracking to take a look, the ordinary high school student tripped over a bump in the sidewalk and landed on his hindquarters.
"Again? And so soon after the last one, too! This Kamijo is beginning to think someone might really have it in for him!"
Nevertheless, when Touma stood back up he was greeted by a red and yellow poster illustrated with two espers throwing fireballs at each other.
"This Sunday, on Pay-Per-View," it said, "the event of the year will arrive as espers from all corners of Academy City fight for the title of 'Champion of Abilities' and the 200000 yen grand prize! Order now!"
"Huh. I wonder why anyone would go to so much trouble over something like that. It's obvious that a real 'Champion of Abilities' like a level 5 would never lower themselves to something like this, so what exactly is the-"
That was when the phrase "200000 yen grand prize" hit him like a lightning bolt (a feeling with which Touma was very familiar).
"A really dangerous esper wouldn't be caught dead in something like this. It'll probably just be level 2's and the like. And at the very least, none of them have ever had to fight against magicians or level 5's or anything like that. And to top it all off…"
Touma held up his right hand and made a fist as realization dawned on him.
"None of them have any idea what this right hand can do."
The boy's lips curled into a wry smile. Come Sunday, his money problems were (for a few weeks, at least) going to be over.
Less than 48 hours later, the big day had arrived. The event was taking place on a huge sumo wrestling ring that had been hastily erected inside the track of a high school Touma had never been to before. Because of this, Touma had gotten lost on the way and only barely arrived in time to sign up.
"So who are you supposed to be?" the bored-looking teacher in her early thirties asked.
"What do you mean who am I supposed to be?" Touma replied, not understanding the question.
"I mean, what's your fighting name that the announcer will use to introduce you. I assume you don't want to just be called 'The Mask', do you? We already have three of those already."
Since Touma was so often getting entangled in the conflicts that went on between the Science side and the Magic side, he didn't want to reveal himself and his power to the world. To avoid this, he had made a mask for himself out of leftover fabric from his home economics class that covered nearly his whole head.
"Oh, I see. No, of course I don't want to be called that."
"So, what will it be, then?"
Touma wracked his brain for an answer. What kind of name would describe him, and yet also be cool? He was running out of time. But no matter how hard he thought, all he could think of were the various fights that he had with espers and magicians this year, which were of no help in coming up with anything cool.
But then he realized; there was something cool in those memories. It was a pun on the kanji for Imagine Breaker, one that had become something of a catchphrase for him whenever it was time to get serious.
'I'll kill that illusion of yours!'
It was perfect.
"Call me the Illusion Killer."
"Yeah, whatever kid. Just sign these waivers and sit over there until they call you."
The next hour was torturous. In defiance of his expectations, there were few level 2's here, and they were all eliminated with ease. Most of the participants appeared to be level 3 or above. Thankfully, there was not a single level 5 in sight.
But even worse than the danger that lay before him, Touma was in agony from the utter cheesiness of the whole thing. It was being handled as if it were some kind of real-life professional wrestling tournament with superpowers.
And then it came time for his turn.
"Would Illusion Killer please come to the red line?"
Touma did as the loudspeaker commanded, and walked to his appointed place. Thirty feet in front of him stood a high school student who probably wasn't much older than Touma, yet looked like a full grown adult. His peroxide blonde Mohawk, nose piercing, and biker jacket all screamed "trouble". Worse yet, his muscles were easily twice the size of Touma's. If it were any other situation, Touma would have backed down from a fight with someone who looked so strong. But as afraid of this person as Touma was, he was even more afraid of what would happen if he was forced to go home and tell Index that he could only afford to feed her two bowls of ramen a day for the rest of the week.
"Wow, what a pipsqueak. Good thing you're wearing a mask; that way no one will ever have to know about the massive beating you're about to get!"
Touma clenched his fist.
"If that's what you think, then I'll kill that illusion of yours!"
The bell rang, signaling the start of the fight.
Touma's opponent swung his open hand, as if he were throwing something. Despite the fact that there was nothing in his hand to throw, Touma instinctively stepped to the side anyway. This proved to be a good idea when a slightly blurry and greenish mass of air blew past Touma and crashed into one of the clear plastic safety barriers that had been erected around the large ring for just such an occasion. A couple of seconds later, the circular area where the ball had struck began to melt.
"Wow, look at that, Jim! It looks like he's creating and then throwing some sort of corrosive gas!"
"That's incredible, Kyo! Does Illusion Killer have anything that can match an ability like that?"
The crowd cheered, apparently liking the action. Touma found it a bit disturbing, however. Why would they cheer for a guy whose power could easily kill somebody?
The guy in the biker jacket grinned and attacked again, but this time Touma was ready. Standing his ground and sticking out his right hand, the ball of concentrated gas dissipated on contact with Touma's palm.
Instead of cheers, this time there were audible gasps. Touma's opponent smiled.
"You should've given up after seeing the first throw. Now you're gonna end up with third degree burns, at lea-hey, why isn't your skin burning?"
Touma smiled underneath his mask.
"Compared to what this hand has stopped before, a power like yours is nothing."
With that, Touma broke into a run. The guy in the biker jacket pulled back his hand to prepare another throw, but it was too late. Touma was already there, and all it took was a single punch to the jaw to send the confused fighter sprawling.
"I don't know how it happened, Jim, but it looks like Illusion Killer may have just won the match!"
Touma wasn't sure if it was because of the shock, or if his toughness was just for show, but whatever the reason, the guy in the biker jacket did not get up. Touma had won his first bout with a single punch.
" 'There's nothing on!' screams Misaka Misaka as she attempts to bother her guardian!"
This unusual speech pattern belonged to a little girl commonly known as Last Order. Like all children, she required entertainment almost constantly. Since there was little to be had in the hospital room she occupied with her guardian, she would have to make do with flipping through the channels on the television.
"Be quiet, brat," snapped an older boy lying on his side in the room's bed. "I'm trying to sleep."
" 'But Misaka Misaka is boooooored!' insists Misaka Misaka as she hopes for relief!"
"Then be bored quietly!"
For a few moments after that, the boy with the white hair is blessed with a semblance of quiet (save for the noise from the television).
" 'Wow!' Misaka Misaka lets out in surprise!"
"What is it now!" the boy yells as he sits straight up in bed.
" 'Look,' instructs Misaka Misaka as she points at the TV."
As the teenager's eyes move towards the set, he sees a masked boy who appears to be effortlessly erasing powers on contact. It is somehow eerily familiar.
"Nothing can stop my force chain!" the red-haired girl with the unusually large breasts in the BDSM-inspired outfit boasted as she swung the rainbow chain in a whip-like fashion. Touma casually reached out his right hand and caught it, causing it to shatter into a million pieces and vanish.
Her jaw dropped.
"You were saying?"
"That's…That's impossible! How can you do that?"
Touma took a step forward.
"Ok! Ok! I give up! I give up! Just don't hit me!" she pleaded, casting a glance over at the array of bruised and battered opponents Touma had faced up to that point.
"And Illusion Killer wins again, Jim!" the loudspeaker blared.
"You know what that means, Kyo! Illusion Killer will meet Bloody Marco in the finals!"
"But before that, let's get a few words from our finalists!"
Behind the clear plastic safety barriers, there was only one combatant left. He was tall, thin, and had much darker skin than anyone else around. He was probably from Central or South America. Touma couldn't hear what he was saying to the man with the microphones, but it looked like he was talking trash.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere a microphone appeared in front of Touma.
"So, Illusion Killer, you have come out of nowhere to reach the finals. We just interviewed Bloody Marco and he claims that when he's done with you, you'll never want to take care off that mask. What do you have to say to that?"
Touma said nothing, as he didn't want to reveal his identity by accident through his voice. So, instead, he smiled and held up his right fist, as if it was all the answer that was required.
"Yes, about that," the interviewer said. "Everyone from the combatants to the audience to even the staff have been speculating about you and your mysterious ability. We even have an esper researcher as a consultant, and she's absolutely puzzled by it. Tell me, what level are you?"
Touma held out his hand in the shape of a zero.
"Level…0?" the interviewer stammered.
"But…That's impossible! Level 0s are powerless. A power like yours should be level 4 at least!"
Touma shook his head and once again made the shape of a zero with his hand.
Not wanting to answer any more questions, Touma shooed away the interviewer and returned to his starting place in the ring.
"Well, there you have it, folks. Illusion Killer claims to be a level 0, though I'm not sure how."
"Well, let's leave that to the scientists to figure out, Kyo. For now, we've got a match to get started!"
"That's right, Jim. On the red line, we have Illusion Killer, the mysterious masked man who has rendered the powers of every enemy he meets useless."
"And now, approaching the blue line is Bloody Marco, a level 4 whose blood-based weaponry have dominated this competition."
"Two espers enter, but only one will leave with the title of 'Champion of Abilities'!"
Both Touma and his rival took a fighting stance.
"I know you're tough," Bloody Marco admitted, "So I'm not going to hold back. Up until now, I've avoided using sharp weapons. But against you, I'm going to pull out all the stops, because damnit, I could really use a new TV or three!"
Touma blinked. He was going to use the prize money for a television? No, multiple televisions? Not for food or a car or a vacation during the break, but televisions?
In his momentary confusion, Touma didn't run immediately towards his opponent. From Bloody Marco's palm a wound opened from which a spear of blood surged outwards, extending like a hydraulic piston.
"Once my blood touches yours, it'll be over!"
Despite Touma's lack of concentration, he reacted with his instinct, which was to twist his body sideways. The spear of blood passed within inches of his heart.
'Jeez, this guy's really trying to kill me!'
"Once again, Illusion Killer's incredible reflexes have saved him! But can he find a way to counter the incredible power of Bloody Marco?"
'You just used the word 'incredible' twice in two sentences!' Touma thought with exasperation. One would expect a commentator to have a larger vocabulary than that.
"I don't know, Jim, but I think we're going to find out soon!"
The line of blood retracted back into Bloody Marco's hand.
"You got nice moves, I'll give you that. But moves won't save you from an attack too big to dodge."
From the same wound on Bloody Marco's hand, a giant three-fingered claw of red grew. It was thin, but from finger to finger to finger was at least twice his height.
The claw came. But this time Touma was not distracted.
The right hand that destroys illusions met a right claw made of nothing but illusions and blood. It was obvious which one had the advantage.
A torrent of crimson splashed to the ground. Once the attack had been negated, the blood that had been used to forge it could no longer be controlled or forcibly reabsorbed.
Bloody Marco seemed to instantly know what this meant.
"It looks like I really can't pull any punches with you, kid. If this keeps up, I'll run out of blood. So I'll have to finish this in one strike."
"Bloody Marco's claw is history! The incredible Illusion Killer has done it again!"
"But wait, Jim! Don't count out Bloody Marco yet! Look!"
From the still-open wound of Bloody Marco emerged a form larger than any he had shown before. The uncertain mass soon coalesced into the shape of a giant blade, like a sword without a hilt.
The 20 meter blade came crashing down.
But for Touma, it might as well have been the size of a pencil.
The right hand that could negate even miracles intercepted the giant attack, and with a sound like shattering glass the ultimate attack of the tournament's strongest was reduced to a line of velvet paint on the ground pointing from Bloody Marco to the boy that had defeated him.
The fist that impacted the shocked level 4's face was a formality.
Bloody Marco flipped multiple times as he careened through the air, only stopping when he struck the plastic safety barriers.
"And it's over! Illusion Killer wins!"
"This mysterious masked man who appeared out of nowhere has handily defeated all comers without a scratch! He truly is a 'Champion of Abilities'!"
Touma proudly stepped out of the ring to much fanfare. Somehow, it felt good to have so many people cheering for him like that. Touma rarely had an audience for his life-threatening battles.
But as Touma stepped towards the commentators' desk to accept his prize, a single sound somehow pierced the cacophony of noise.
Touma would recognize that voice anywhere. Slowly, he craned his neck to the side, hoping he was mistaken. Unfortunately, his eyes were greeted his the sight of exactly the person he feared was there.
"Onee-sama, I'm finished with my shower," came a sultry voice from the bathroom. "Did you finally settle on something to watch? Flipping through channels like you were before is very unbecoming of a lady, you know."
Shirai Kuroko slowly slinked out of the bathroom, with a pink towel wrapped around her body.
"Perhaps you've chosen something romantic?" she suggested with hope, having neared her destination.
"Onee-sama, take me!" Kuroko screamed as she jumped out to where she believed her beloved roommate to be. Unfortunately, she discovered the hard way that the room was empty.
"Onee-sama, where have you gone?" she wondered aloud, as she rubbed her sore head and surveyed the room for a clue. Her Judgement-sharpened eyes fell on the television, on which was some kind of competitive event.
The person in the forefront was a boy in athletic clothing with a badly-made mask covering his head. But as the camera shifted to the left, another figure appeared. Kuroko gasped when she realized who it was.
"What on Earth do you think you're doing here?" Misaka Mikoto screeched.
"Um…What?" Touma said, doing as best he could to feign ignorance. "Have we met before?"
"What? Of course we have! How could you not…No! You know good and well who I am, and you won't throw me off that easily!" Her momentary confusion and shock gave way to even more rage than before. The strategy was backfiring.
Still, Touma had to try to keep it up, or there was a good chance he wouldn't get out of this alive. "Eh, I think you have me mistaken for someone else. Someone much less fortunate."
"What's going on over there, Kyo? Who's that?"
"Don't you recognize her? That's the Railgun, one of Academy City's seven level 5 espers! And she seems to be having some kind of heated discussion with Illusion Killer!"
"Could they know each other?"
"That's it!" Mikoto yelled. "If you think you can get out of explaining this by playing dumb, I'll force you to be honest!"
Bright blue bolts of electricity crackled around her body and left her outstretched hand. Through a combination of instinct and practice, Touma put out his right hand in time to negate the attack.
As the dust cleared, there was silence. Then, the sound of roaring applause filled the stadium. But Touma was in no mood for this.
"Would you stop doing that?" He yelled. "One of these days, I'm gonna be too slow to block it, and then what? Huh?"
"Shut up! That already happened once before, and you survived just fine, right?"
"It's the principle of the thing! How would you like it if I fought back someday? And who are you to come here demanding information, anyway? I don't have to explain myself to you!"
"Well, I guess they do know each other, Jim."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say this looked like a lovers' quarrel of some kind."
Both Touma and Mikoto stopped dead in their tracks and looked over at the commentators.
"You two stay out of this!" they screamed in unison.
Suddenly, the not-a-lovers'-quarrel was interrupted by the sound of an empty set of bleachers crumbling. Behind them was a boy whose gaze could frighten even monsters.
"Th…That's Accelerator! The number one esper in Academy City!"
"I've finally found you!" Accelerator screeched. "You remember me, don't you? Well, this time, I'll crush you like a bug!"
"Hold on, this time?" one of the announcers cried out in surprise. "Does that mean the rumors of his defeat are true?"
"I may have promised that brat I wouldn't kill you, but I never said anything about injuring you!" Accelerator continued as he stepped closer and closer.
Touma quickly looked from Mikoto to Accelerator, and then from Accelerator to the audience.
His shoulders slumped as he realized what he would have to do.
"Such misfortune!" Touma cried out as he turned and ran, with Accelerator in hot pursuit.
"Hey! If you hurt him, I swear I'll-!" Mikoto screamed as she followed.
"Wait, where are they going, Jim?"
"I don't know, Kyo, but I think this is going to have to be the end of our tournament. But never fear, for next year's will almost certainly have even more incredible ability users! Will Illusion Killer return to defend his title? Only time will tell, so count the days on your calendar until next year's 'Champion of Abilities' tournament!"
Back at the hospital room, a little girl was laughing at the entertaining event she had orchestrated. That is, until the three participants left the view of the cameras.
" 'Uh oh', Misaka Misaka notes as she realizes she has lost control of the situation!"
Not wanting this episode to end in injury, she temporarily severs Accelerator's connection to the Misaka network, hopefully giving the unfortunate boy time to escape.
However, there was now a new problem.
" 'Misaka Misaka is bored again!' Misaka Misaka cries in exasperation!"
Hours later, the ordinary high school student with the power to destroy illusions tiredly dragged his feet up the stairs leading up to his dorm (the elevator was, of course, out of order). Accelerator seemed to give up the chase early for some reason, but Misaka continued to follow him for almost an hour. But now he was home, and all of that was behind him.
"Touma, you're home!" Index greeted as he opened the door. "Wait, why do look so tired?"
"It's a long story, Index."
"Oh, then you can tell me over dinner! What are we having? I'm getting tired of ramen, so it had better be something new."
And then the horrible truth struck Touma. He had never gotten a chance to pick up his winnings. And he had worn a mask, so there was no way for them to have known who he was, or even where they could send the money to.
He had gone through all of that trouble for nothing.
"We are having something besides ramen, right? We've had that for every meal for the past three days, Touma!"
He slowly lifted his face and gathered his courage for the inevitable.
"Yes, Touma?" Index asked as she slowly closed in on Touma like a cornered animal.
"Um…This time we'll have carrots with it, too…"
"…Is that so, Touma?" Index replied as she slowly bared her fangs.
The last thing to escape from Touma's lips was the phrase that so perfectly described his life.