Author Notes: I apologize for this chapter being a little late. It was my intention to publish this chapter in May, but there were some things I needed to take care of. One was working on the new Sword Art Online fanfiction story. With the work I managed to complete for that story, you can expect the first chapter to be published on July 8th, 2013. For that story, you can expect the first few chapters to be released bi-weekly throughout the remainder of the summer. I hope you will give that story a try when it is released next month.

Anyway, now that I have completed a sufficient amount of material for my new story it is time to refocus on "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories" and "Fairy Dance Alternate." You can expect both of these stories to receive a few updates throughout the remainder of 2013. In future chapters, you can expect a number of things to change, plots develop, and the introduction of a number of new characters. In fact, you will be seeing the introduction of a fairly major new character in this chapter.

This new character is someone that I have had in the planning stages for months. I basically knew almost everything about this character before I started writing him, including what his personality would be and a majority of his abilities. The main trouble I had with him was coming up with a decent name, but I found one that I was satisfied with. Hopefully, you will like this character as well as his name.

I hope you will enjoy reading this chapter and leave a review. I greatly appreciate the support. Additionally, I would like to hear your thoughts about this new character.

/

Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories

Side Story IV: The Devil's Reign Part III

Chapter Fourteen: Sting and Consequences

/

Domino Effect

Events can cause other events

How will it all end?

/

At this point it has been nearly three months since Touma began his reign as the 'Devil of Academy City.' During that time, he had personally defeated numerous criminals regardless of whether they were Espers or ordinary humans. Most of them would be given brutal beatings, and they would receive his trademark finisher of receiving bullet wounds to their legs. While Touma's treatment of these criminals could be considered extreme, they made the people who witnessed his actions both fear and appreciate him. Touma's actions were also what made the Devil of Academy City one of the greatest Urban Legends ever. Whether they hated or loved the Devil, people would keep talking about his exploits for years to come.

Unfortunately, despite these accomplishments and the fame the Devil received, it would be unrealistic to believe that all the criminals of Academy City would suddenly decide to give up their 'livelihoods' or their 'fun releases.' While some of the lesser criminals would decide not to take a chance, there were plenty of others who did not care about the possibility of facing the Devil. In fact, a number of them welcomed the opportunity to fight the Devil himself. Some of them believed an encounter would be a thrill that they could not turn down.

Additionally, it would also be unrealistic to believe that Touma was capable of handling all of these criminals himself. Touma may have had the determination to save as many people as possible, but he was not omnipotent. Even though Touma was now accepting help from his fellow Big Spider members whether it was to accompany him on his runs or even allowing another member temporarily to take his place to defeat certain criminals, it was impossible for Touma or the Big Spider to cover the entire city. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts there were crimes that would take place that none of them would be able to do anything about.

This crime in particular was happening miles away from where Touma and his fellow Big Spider members were. They were all making preparations for the upcoming sting operation, so they could take care of the 'Devil's Representatives.' Fortunately, for the victim, this was one crime that would be prevented by another individual that wished for justice.

However, it would be unfortunate for the perpetrators that the individual they were about to encounter had much more vicious ways of taking care of his opponents than the Devil. If they were given a choice, they would have wished to suffer gunshot wounds to their legs ten times over rather than to deal with this man. At least then they would have had a chance to live another day. With this man, the best they could hope for was an instant death otherwise he would ensure they suffered until they died.

/

Location: Alleyways approximately twenty miles away from Touma's current location

There was a pre-teen boy who was a few years younger than Touma. However, unlike Touma or a majority of Academy City's population, this boy was a foreigner who moved from Australia. While Academy City was open to foreigners and not strictly limited to the Japanese population, the number of foreigners who actually lived in Academy City whether they were students, scientists, or any other profession, were few and far between.

Even though Academy City was more of its own entity rather than being part of Japan, the fact a majority of the population was Japanese did cause there to be a high level of Japanese Nationalism in certain areas. While most citizens of Academy City were not openly hostile, it was not unusual for some citizens in Japan to openly discriminate against the foreign citizen. There were times when the foreign citizen would be ostracized from public areas, such as restaurants, but that was hardly the worst of it.

Unfortunately, due to the discrimination, a few of these foreigners were prone to be targeted for crimes. These criminals had a cruel way of making it clear that they were not welcoming to foreign residents on Japanese soil. These facts could be interpreted as some of the reasons why a fair number of these foreign residents were more susceptible to join organizations within the darkness of Academy City. At least the darkness of Academy City was less likely to discriminate as long as they had a use for the individual.

For the past few minutes, these criminals had been beating up the Australian pre-teen, and they suddenly stopped. It seemed as if they were starting to get a little bored with simply beating the kid up. They appeared as if they were ready to do something else. Since the kid had seen their faces, they had no intention of simply letting the kid walk away.

The leaded of the group pulled out a knife told the kid with a smug smile, "It is just a shame that you came here when you did. If you hadn't seen what you just saw, this wouldn't be happening."

With fear in his eyes the kid asked, "Why are you doing this? Is it because I'm not Japanese?"

The leader chuckled, "That wouldn't be the only reason, but I won't lie to you. That reason would be good enough for me." He then readied himself to kill the child before him. "You don't have to worry about it. Since we have already punished you enough, I plan on making this execution as painless for you as possible. My friends would not be offering you that luxury. That much I can . . ."

Before he could finish his sentence, a ray of light covered his entire head. When it vanished, the leader's head was gone and blood was spewing from his neck. The man was decapitated and no one realized it until his body hit the ground with a loud 'thud.' When they realized what had just happened, their eyes were wide open in horror as they saw the entire ground was covered in their leader's blood.

His subordinate's all gasped at their leader's sudden decapitation and cried out, "FUMISATO!" Of course their screams would not do their recently deceased leader any good. Not even the best doctor of Academy City would have been able to save him. After all, he was incapable of resurrecting the dead.

The three subordinates were frightened as they nervously looked all over to see who their leader's murderer was. However, all they could see were the shadows in the alleyway. All three of them had their backs to each other in order to ensure that no one would be able to take them from behind. However, despite their pathetic attempts to ensure they would not meet the same fate as their leader, it would be all for nothing in the end. They would be joining their leader soon enough.

One of the subordinates shouted out, "Come out you chicken! How dare you just shoot someone in the back of the head!"

Another of the subordinates shouted, "Yeah you damn coward! You should face your opponent if you are going to kill them."

The last of the subordinates stated, "I bet you wouldn't be able to handle all three of us at once if you decided to fight up front."

All of them had been talking a 'big game,' but they were all attempting to mask how frightened they were of their unknown assailant. After the last one spoke, there was a few minutes of silence before a voice suddenly responded. The voice casually stated, "So you want me to come face you all head on? I believe that can be arranged quite easily."

The three subordinates followed the source of the voice. They nervously turned to look in the direction of their leader's executioner. The source of the voice was still hiding in the shadows, but they saw from his silhouette that he was holding two guns. They could see that smoke was coming out of the weapon he was holding in his right hand which indicated that was the one that attacker used to kill their friend.

One of them said in a frightened voice, "Are you the Devil? I thought you didn't kill your targets."

The attacker spoke in a confident voice that was clearly male, "No I am not the Devil, but in a few minutes you are going to wish I was."

The attacker stepped out of the shadows, so they could see his appearance. The attacker wore a helmet over his head that completely covered his face and hair. His helmet had special lenses that allowed the attacker to see outside his helmet without the need of eye holes. While he was capable of seeing outside his helmet, no one was capable of seeing inside it. In addition to the helmet, the man was wearing full body armor from head to toe. With the body armor this man was wearing, it would be impossible for anyone to identify any physical features other than possibly guessing his height.

However, one distinctive feature about this man that anyone would notice was the two guns he carried around. However, the distinguishing feature was not that he had dual wielding guns, but it was the cable that was attached to them. There was a cable that directly attached from the bottom of both guns that seemed to connect to the armor of the man's arms. However, due to the man's body armor, you could not tell that the cable actually went deeper than connecting his armor to his weapons. In fact, the cable was directly connected to the man's veins.

The direct connection this cable had between the man's weapons and his arms gave him a stinging sensation from time to time. However, considering the fact this connection was what helped keep his powers under control, the man truly felt that the 'stinging sensation' was nothing compared to what would happen if they were not there at all. In fact, he considered the irritation a part of his due karma for what happened in his past. This man had secretly feared the day when karma would ask more out of him.

After looking over the man's appearance for a few seconds another one of his frightened soon to be victims asked, "Then who the hell are you?"

The man introduced himself in a dark and threatening voice, "My name is Jūhō, and I will be the last Esper you will see alive. This alleyway is going to be your grave." Despite wearing a helmet, there was a speaker that allowed his soon-to-be victims to clearly hear every word Jūhō spoke. Jūhō believed that his victims should be allowed to hear his every word, so they would know what their executioner sounded like before they died.

When Jūhō spoke those words, he was not being arrogant. He was stating a fact. Jūhō was the type of Esper who would never underestimate his opponent's abilities. In this case, Jūhō knew for a fact that these Espers would never stand a chance against him even if all of them tried attacking him at once. They would all suffer a miserable fate at his hand that day. In fact, they would wish they were quickly decapitated like their friend was moments ago rather than being able to live a few minutes longer because the agony they were about to experience would be unbearable.

One of the subordinates put up a brave façade and told Jūhō, "You really think you can take on all of us?"

Another one of the subordinates attempted to play along with the tough talk. "Yeah that's right. You should do the math. There are three of us and only one of you."

Jūhō of course was not intimidated by his enemies pathetic attempts to frighten him. He could see in their eyes how frightened they were. He responded, "It is amazing how people like you forget how little numbers can really mean in a place like this."

As soon as he said that, he pointed his weapon directly at them. "I have a new math problem for you. Do all of your powers together equal the strength of a Level Four?"

Jūhō's words caused all three of his soon-to-be victims to open their eyes wide in horror at what he was implying. "Do you mean that you are a Level Four?"

He responded in a casual voice, "Indeed I am."

One of his soon-to-be victims nervously asked, "Then what is a big shot like you doing in a place like this? Why kill us? After all, we are just little blimps on the radar in a place like Academy City."

"The simple answer would be that I'm being paid to do that. Although," Jūhō changed his tone from sounding casual and intimidating to being one that was becoming filled with disgust, "even if I wasn't hired to hunt you down, I would have gladly done this for free. Trash like you does not deserve to live in this world. Eliminating you from existence will be one of the highlights of my day. You may be little blimps on the radar, but you don't even deserve that much."

Jūhō then pulled the trigger and a blast of energy was shot out of his weapon. It was as fast as a bullet, but the damage that it was going to do would be of a wider range and more extensive. No one would want to be hit by something like that because it would be unlikely anyone would survive it.

/

Jūhō was a Level Four Esper, and his ability was known as 'Energy Body.' By utilizing an effective medium, such as the guns that were literally attached to his body, he was capable of absorbing energy from Esper abilities and certain natural energies, such as electric currents. However, there were limits to the amount of energy he could absorb and the sources he could absorb energy from. For example, he could not absorb energy from the earth itself. Although it was unknown if that could change if his powers were able to increase exponentially and they were at the equivalent of a Level Five. Since Jūhō was the most power Esper with this type of ability, the complete limits of this ability remained unknown.

His ability did not allow him to absorb energy from any Esper ability either. The Esper energies that Jūhō could absorb were usually of the projectile type, such as electrical blasts, fire type attacks, ice attacks, and so on. However, he would not be able to absorb energy from Esper abilities that were focused solely on the physical body, such as enhanced strength. Jūhō was incapable of absorbing regular type attacks, such as gun fire or missiles, but he was capable of absorbing the blasts that resulted from explosions regardless of what was the source.

In addition to absorbing energies, he was capable of using effective mediums to utilize the energies for attacks. Jūhō's guns allowed him to fire blasts of energy that came from either his own body or the energies that he had absorbed from others. He was also capable of using energy to form shields around his body. However, creating shields depleted his energy significantly after a short period of time which was why he preferred to rely on his full body armor. Additionally, even though the medium that Jūhō used were guns, he was capable of utilizing the energy to form various kinds of attacks. However, energy blasts are Jūhō's preferred choice of attack because he considered them to be easier to use, and they were generally more than effective.

While Jūhō prefered to use mediums when he was utilizing his powers, he was actually more than capable of using his powers without them. Unfortunately, shortly after he first became an Esper, he lost control of his ability and caused an incident. Jūhō suffered grave consequences due to his loss of control, and he was never the same since. Eventually, he discarded his original name and became Jūhō. After the incident, he received the trademark guns, and he rarely disconnected them from his arms. As long as he had the guns attached to his arms, his powers only activated when he wished them to.

/

It took less than two minutes for Jūhō to do as he promised. He had erased the three remaining Espers from the face of the Earth. What was left of their mutilated corpses laid at his feet, and the entire alleyway was completely covered in blood. However, despite the sight, Jūhō knew that the public would never have knowledge of this incident.

After Jūhō killed the final gang member, a device on his left arm activated that had several buttons on it, and it had the appearance of a communication device. Jūhō dialed a sequence of buttons on the device that acted as a communicator between him and his employer. When Jūhō received a reply from his employer he stated, "Professor the job has been completed. All four targets are dead."

The person on the other line said in a voice that would indicate he was a man of advanced age, "Excellent. You have done excellent work again Jūhō. The cleanup crews will arrive shortly to erase any sign of this incident."

Jūhō asked in a dry voice, "Business as usual?"

The Professor responded, "That's correct. We wouldn't want the wrong people to know about what you do. It would be a real shame to lose a valuable asset like yourself."

Jūhō responded in a somewhat sarcastic manner, "I would imagine so."

The Professor ignored Jūhō's sarcasm and asked, "Were there any witnesses?"

Jūhō responded in a serious voice, "Yes there is a young boy here, and I believe you know exactly what I intend to do with him."

The Professor answered, "I am aware of what you will do. As long as there is no one capable of recollecting the events that transpire, that is enough to satisfy me. Proceed with your normal routine and return to headquarters after everything is taken care of."

Jūhō stated in a firm voice, "Understood Professor."

After the communication was cut off, Jūhō then turned to the teenage boy who was still cowering in the corner. He could see the young teenage boy was frightened after witnessing Jūhō's brutal treatment of the criminals. It was an event like this that would leave someone traumatized. However, this boy would not need to worry about being traumatized by witnessing this event. Jūhō had a different idea in mind for this boy that would take care of the burden of those memories permanently.

He walked up to the boy and said in a regretful voice, "I am sorry you had to witness that. However, you do not have to worry about anything. It will be completely out of your mind soon enough."

Jūhō proceeded to grab the boy, and he hit the back of his neck which rendered the boy unconscious. It would be sometime before the boy would wake up. However, by the time that happened, the boy would have no recollection of what had happened in this area. Instead, his memories would be completely replaced by something else.

As soon as Jūhō made sure the teenager was unconscious, he called out, "Michiko it's time for you to play your role."

A young teenage girl, who was approximately fifteen years old, walked out from the shadows. Her hair was dark brown and worn in long pigtails that both reached down to her waist. Even though her eyes indicated she had witnessed or was responsible for many deaths in her lifetime, her beautiful princess-like face would indicate otherwise. This girl's name was Fukazawa Michiko, and she was Jūhō's self-proclaimed partner. He did not object to hearing her stating such things, but he did not readily agree to it either. The best way to describe Jūhō's stance on the situation was neutral.

Despite her lack of 'offensive abilities,' her physical capabilities and 'support techniques' made her a useful asset to Jūhō, and the organization he worked for. One of her support abilities included memory tampering. In a matter of minutes she had erased the memories of the incident from the teenage boy's mind and replaced them with something much happier. They were going to leave the boy in a nearby park to ensure that his new memories would seem 'consistent' and remain in his mind permanently.

/

Jūhō made it clear to the Professor from the start that he would not execute innocent civilians, and he would not allow his colleagues to murder innocent civilians for the sake of covering their tracks either. After Jūhō saved Michiko's life, he found out her capabilities, and he was most interested in learning more about her powers. She agreed to help him prevent needless causalities by using her powers to erase their memories, healing injuries, and making any other contributions she could. Michiko had more than earned her place in Jūhō's eye, and she had proven her usefulness to the other members of the group too.

While the Professor's character was far from being 'upstanding,' he was far more reasonable than the Kiharas were. He was willing to accept Jūhō's terms. After Michiko would erase the memories of any witnesses with believable fake memories, the Professor would leave the innocent civilians alone, and he would not attempt to eliminate them. As far as he was concerned, it would be a waste to do so at that point, and he was open to the possibility that not killing witnesses and finding alternative ways of taking care of the threat made it possible that there could be more possible assets he could use in the future. On more than one occasion that ironically ended up being the case.

There was one occasion where a witness by the name of Baba Yoshio was a witness to Jūhō killing certain targets. However, Michiko was able to erase Baba's memories of the incident. Less than six months later, Baba's abilities with hacking and robotics caught the Professor's interest, and he decided to recruit Baba into his organization. Baba had consistently been a valued asset to the Professor ever since. Although, working closely with the Professor had certain 'side effects' that no one could escape from, especially Baba Yoshio

After working for the Professor for only a few months Baba had changed significantly, and he was far from being that innocent civilian Jūhō and Michiko had originally spared. After someone became wrapped up into the 'darkness of Academy City,' it tended to change them. Jūhō knew that for a fact because after he entered the darkness he knew that he would never be the same again. However, he also knew that if he did not work for the Professor in the first place he would not be alive today.

For those who knew Jūhō's past, they would describe the circumstances he was in as a 'Catch-22.' Jūhō believed he made the best choice he could in those circumstances, and he did not regret his decision. To be more accurate, Jūhō believed that he could never regret it. At least now, he could be alive. Additionally, he both loved and hated the new role he was given because even though it involved dirtying his hands, he could ensure those that deserved to die would die and those that should live could live.

/

After Michiko was done replacing the civilian's memories and healing his injuries, several unknown men walked onto the scene. They were the 'cleanup crew' that would ensure that this altercation would never be in the public record. There would be no Anti-Skill reports or witness accounts. It would be as if it never happened. The Espers that Jūhō killed were already considered to be 'runaways,' and it was unlikely anyone would ever come looking for them. Chances were that they would be labeled as 'legally dead' relatively soon, so the possibility of them being killed by another Esper would not raise any eyebrows.

Due to these circumstances, Jūhō knew full well that he would be getting away with murder, and he had no reason to fear any possible retribution for his deeds. However, Jūhō believed there was no way for someone to truly escape his karma. He was a firm believer that when you kill someone, his or her spirit would haunt you for the rest of your life. Jūhō knew if that was indeed the case, he had dozens upon dozens of spirits that would have grudges and wished for him to suffer nothing more than a painful death. Jūhō knew in his bones that a day like that would most likely happen as long as he lived in this life within the darkness.

Even though living in Academy City would tend to cause people not to think along those lines, he felt he believed that ever since he needed to connect those cables from his guns directly into his veins. There were times when he could swear he heard voices of the people he either killed by accident or for the sake of his duty, but he would keep his reactions to himself underneath his helmet. Most of the time, he had no difficulty drowning them out because he knew most of his victims deserved what they received. However, there were a few voices in particular he could never turn off because those were the voices he knew were right, and they had every reason to hate him.

Michiko walked up to Jūhō, and she noticed that he had a slight injury to his left arm. She said to him in a playfully sarcastic voice, "You must be slipping Jūhō to have allowed those losers to put a dent in your armor."

Jūhō was not offended by what Michiko stated and told her, "It was a lucky shot. A surprise attack I did not expect from them. However, like they say, 'surprise attacks only work once.' Even if they did a better job with their surprise attacks, it would not have been enough to kill me. You of all people should know that."

"Of course I do. If it weren't for your capabilities, I wouldn't be standing here. Regardless, I don't think we should leave that alone." She walked up next to him, and she put her hand on Jūhō's wound. Then she chanted, "I call upon the name, Chiryo-shi24. With this healing power please mend this man's injuries."

After Michiko chanted these words, a strange energy began to manifest itself on her hands. She then placed her hand right above his injury, and it healed instantly. It was as if nothing had touched Jūhō's skin. It did not matter how many times Jūhō witnessed this phenomenon. He always found himself amazed by the sight of it.

Jūhō replied in a grateful tone, "Thanks."

Michiko nodded and replied, "Don't mention it. It's probably one of the only things I am really good at anyway. At least, I can be of use to you."

Jūhō chuckled a little, "You shouldn't take yourself too lightly Michiko. Anyway, I have to say that it must be pretty convenient to be a Magician rather than an Esper isn't it? You can utilize multiple types of talents, and that makes you far more useful to anyone than I ever could be."

The remark Jūhō made referenced the fact that at this point in Academy City's history the ability for an Esper to 'dual wield' abilities was currently impossible. While it was possible for Espers to find multiple ways to utilize their abilities, it was still 'supposedly' not possible to wield multiple types of abilities at once. In Jūhō's case, his ability 'Energy Body' enabled him to absorb energies from Esper abilities and certain natural sources and emit them from his body.

His particular ability allowed him to use it to fight or defend himself through various methods. However, he would not be capable of a different type of ability, such as manipulating different elements of nature or teleportation. While he was skilled at utilizing his abilities, it did not mean he was fond of them. Until the day he had met Michiko, hardly a day went by when he did not wish he had a different ability. It was after he met her, that he was better able to accept what he had and tried making the best of it.

Michiko replied, "That can be true, but my abilities are more meant for support services. At my current level, I would not be too much help on the frontlines. Even if I were to learn offensive type abilities, I doubt that I would be able to stand a chance against you or the opponents that I have seen you fight against. Your powers are far too great." Michiko then confidently told Jūhō, "I bet you would be able to absorb energies from my attacks as well."

Jūhō was less confident in Michiko's theory. "I know I can absorb an attack formed from Esper abilities, but do you really think I could absorb energies from a magical type attack? You told me that if I were to perform magic, I would receive some kind of backlash that could seriously injure or possibly even kill me." Jūhō thought about his blood vessels blowing up due to the possible backlash he could face. If that were to happen, Jūhō had no clue how absorbing magic would affect his ability to control his own powers. He then stated in a somewhat nervous voice, "That's why you said me becoming an Esper/Magician hybrid would be impossible right? Couldn't absorbing a magical attack do the same thing?"

While Michiko could understand Jūhō's concern, she did not believe it could cause that kind of problem. "I don't think so. Absorbing the energy and actually performing the act to create the energy are two different things. You could always ask Ramiero sometime if you wish to experiment."

Jūhō was quick to blow off that suggestion. He did not hesitate to say, "I hope you're kidding about that suggestion. If I were to experiment with Ramiero I might as well cut off my own head if anything were to go wrong. That guy is powerful, bloodthirsty, and crazy just like most of the Level Fives. I might be able to take him, but there is no way I would take a chance of standing still to see if I can absorb one of his attacks. That would be suicide."

Michiko thought about it for a second before sheepishly agreeing that her idea was a stupid one. "I suppose that is true."

However, Jūhō was not done giving his reasons for why sparring with Ramiero would be a terrible idea. "If that wasn't enough, that guy kind of freaks me out. Need I remind you that he sometimes takes people's skin to literally copy their appearance. According to him, all he needs is a small tissue sample. Luckily for me, I have this helmet on. Otherwise, I would be afraid that he would disguise himself as you or someone to get at me."

Michiko was starting to get a little annoyed as she said, "Okay you made your point. Ramiero would be a bad sparring partner."

Jūhō then playfully stated, "Well I'm glad we are on the same page now."

Michiko decided it would be best to change the topic of their conversation. "Anyway, do you want to know what I find amazing?"

Jūhō asked in an interested voice, "What would that be?"

Michiko replied, "Personally, I find it amazing that you are able to understand the existence of magic so well. Whenever I have had explaining it to others, they get confused easily. Usually after a few additionally tries, I write it off as a lost cause, and I simply give up trying to explain anything to them."

"I will admit there was a time when I probably would have been no different." Jūhō then took a good look at the cable that connected his guns to his veins. Thoughts of his past went through his mind before he stated, "Although there have been plenty of things that have opened my eyes. Those events have caused me to become more willing to listen and understand. I wish to avoid any unnecessary problems, and one of the best ways to do that is to understand anything that might be useful or important. I would imagine comprehending the existence of an alternative method to gain supernatural powers would be something significant."

Michiko nodded as she said, "Very true. It is just unfortunate there are too few Espers of this city seem to be willing to go that far."

Jūhō responded, "The Professor seems willing to understand about such things."

Michiko responded in a dry voice, "Another true statement, but the Professor is a scientist not an Esper. Besides, we both know that his reasons for understanding are far less noble than yours. It sometimes makes me wonder why you are so devoted to him."

Jūhō sounded much more serious as he told Michiko, "I have already explained that to you. I owe him everything I have left."

Michiko responded in a serious voice of her own. "I understand that. I truly do. However, you have already devoted yourself to him for a number of years. You have put your live on the line for him numerous times already. With everything you have done for him, I am certain your debt to the Professor has been more than paid."

Jūhō was not convinced by Michiko's words. He responded, "Life debts are not so simply paid and erased. I know in retrospect that his reasons for helping me are far from selfless or noble but because I could be used. However, the fact remains that he helped me, and he gave me a purpose. He does not enslave me because he has given me the option to leave if I wish. I remain as his subordinate by choice. Similar to how you choose to remain by my side by choice."

Michiko stated in a more pleading voice, "I know, but one of these days, you are going to take on an assignment that even you will not be able to handle. I want you to get out of this life before that day happens."

Jūhō said to Michiko's concerns in a neutral voice, "When it comes to this life, a day like that is bound to happen sooner or later regardless of anything we do."

Before Michiko could respond to Jūhō, his communicator began ringing. This time the Professor was calling him. Jūhō knew that even though he had just completed an assignment, it was likely he was about to receive another one. When he finished talking to the Professor, he was surprised to hear what exactly he was assigned to do.

Jūhō asked in a questioning voice, "Are you sure about this sir? We don't usually try to associate with those people." After hearing the Professor's response, Jūhō responded in an accepting voice, "I understand. It makes sense when you put it like that. You can expect the job to be completed when they reach the position."

After Jūhō deactivated his communicator, he turned back to Michiko and told her in a somewhat regretful voice, "I'm sorry about this Michiko, but do you mind if we continue this conversation another time? I have business elsewhere."

Michiko was reluctant, but she could see that Jūhō's services were needed for something else. She asked, "Okay, but do you need my help for this."

Jūhō responded, "This is not the type of job that will require memory loss. I can guarantee that. In this case, people will be expecting that someone would want these people dead, so even if there are witnesses, it will not matter. This is a simple job that you do not have to worry about Michiko."

She reluctantly stated, "All right fine. I might as well take that kid with me and put him somewhere to wake up that will collaborate with the memories I gave him." Michiko picked up the young boy and left to place him in a nearby park, so there would be less of a chance for any inconsistency with his memories.

After Michiko left, Jūhō continued to watch the cleanup crew finish their job. While Jūhō was witnessing the 'cleanup' efforts of his latest endeavor, he decided it was time to savor his victory in his own way before leaving to go on his next assignment. He pulled out an apple from his pouch in his armor. Jūhō activated a function in his helmet that revealed the lower half of his face, so he would not need to take off his helmet in order to eat the apple.

Jūhō stated to himself, "I suppose this is the perfect break time snack between handling these types of assignments." After he was done eating, he then said, "Well I guess it is time to get back to 'business as usual.'" He closed the lower half of his helmet and prepped his guns before heading back to the field to kill his new victims.

/

Location: Big Spider Headquarters

Time: Earlier that week – Four days before the Sting Operation

For the past few days, Touma and other members of Big Spider were conducting business of their own. In fact at this particular moment, Touma was in the middle of conducting preparations of the Sting Operation to defeat the Devil's Representatives. According to the information that Tsuchimikado supplied Touma, their next target was the Underground Mall. Due to its massive size, it was definitely the perfect target for a gang of rouge Espers to attack if they wished to gain the spotlight.

The participants in this operation along with Touma would be Kurozuma Wataru, Konori Mii, Hashimoto Jiro, Tsukuda Kyuzo, and Akiyama Ichirou. Touma had discussed the details regarding the information that Tsuchimikado had given him in detail. Due to Ichirou's position in the Anti-Skill, it was not difficult for him to obtain the schematics of the underground mall, so they could plan their operation accordingly. It did not take long before they were able to formulate a plan.

According to Tsuchimikado's information, the Devil's Representatives would attack at approximately noon. Touma and Konori would be inside the mall keeping a low profile by acting like customers. They would both wear disguises that would alter their appearance, with Konori altering her appearance much more in comparison to Touma's for good reason.

Both Touma and Konori would enter the mall through different entrances. They would remain at opposite ends of the mall, and they would not come into direct contact with each other. However, if an emergency arose, they would be able to contact each other through their intercoms, but they stressed they could only use it if it was an emergency and not a moment before.

While Touma and Konori would be their eyes and ears on the inside, Wataru would remain outside the mall. Tsuchimikado'sinformation did not directly indicate if the attack would happen inside the Underground Mall or right outside it, so they decided it would be for the best of Wataru would keep watch on one of the main outside areas of the mall in case the attack was initiated on the outside instead. If Wataru needed help, Touma and Konori would be close enough to give him assistance and vice versa.

However, this operation was going to require more than simply fighting the Devil's Representatives. They needed to ensure that there would be no way for the Anti-Skill to use this incident to identify any of them. This is where Jiro and Kyuzo would come in. The two of them would enter the Underground Mall's security office to disable the security personnel and any possible Judgment members who would be there.

Since Jiro lacked any kind of fighting ability, Kyuzo would be the necessary muscle to pull off this job. Additionally, Kyuzo would stand guard to ensure none of the Devil's Representatives would be successful in attacking the security office. As soon as Jiro had his chance, he would disable the security cameras and prevent them from being able to record anything during the duration of an hour before the operation was set to begin until an hour after it was supposed to be over. With Jiro's expertise, it would be nearly impossible to restore any lost footage, and he would leave no evidence behind to indicate his involvement. Additionally, Jiro would have control over other devices, such as the shutter doors, so Touma and Konori would be able to escape without any issues.

The last piece of the plan would be Ichirou's role. Ichirou knew that while the Anti-Skill were not the most reliable in dealing with incidents because they would not always be 'informed,' he knew that this incident would be too public for anyone to ignore. If they did ignore what was about to happen or arrive too late, the city would 'lose face' if people spread rumors that their self-defense force was non-responsive. He decided it would be for the best to remain in the closest base to the mall. By staying behind, Ichirou would be in the best position to warn his fellow Big Spider members when to expect the Anti-Skill's arrival and what the best exits to use as an escape.

When they were going over the schematics for the Underground Mall that Tsuchimikado provided them, Ichirou was the first to notice something was off. He interrupted what Wataru was saying, "There has to be something wrong with this map."

Wataru was not offended by the interruption and asked, "What's wrong Ichirou?"

Ichirou explained in a calm voice, "Those schematics are different from the official schematics of the Underground Mall I 'borrowed' from the Anti-Skill office." He displayed it for the others to see.

Jiro was the first to state, "It would appear that someone added two new exits that lead quite a ways from the Underground Mall."

Ichirou added, "That's right. If the Anti-Skill were to set up a perimeter around the Underground Mall's entrances and exits, these new exits would make it possible for someone to literally sneak past them."

Konori stated in a deadpan voice, "How very convenient that the Anti-Skill apparently have no knowledge of these 'exits.'"

Ichirou replied in a voice filled with disgust, "There are a lot of things that have been convenient about the Anti-Skill not being available when they have been needed plenty of other times in the past. It doesn't matter whether it is something like not getting the call on time or having an insufficient amount of information. People always suffer in the end due to Anti-Skill's general inability to act. Obtaining vital piece of Intel such as this makes it clear that someone doesn't want us to complete our public service properly."

Touma asked in a curious tone, "Then you mean that the Devil's Representatives probably know the existence of these exits as well?"

Ichirou answered in a grim voice, "In all likelihood yes. I thought it was weird they would supposedly attack a place that could easily be surrounded without a way of getting out, but the fact there are these exits that the Anti-Skill have no knowledge tells me enough. It is likely that someone with influence really must be in league with this group."

Touma thought to himself bitterly, "If that is true, then maybe this could get me one step closer to the person who was responsible for the Child Error Incident. I will make sure to get at least one of those bastards to talk to me before I knock them out."

Konori stated in an analytical tone, "That would appear to be the case. It would be recommended that we attempt to interrogate at least one of these individuals to see if we can get any leads."

Wataru then added his own input. "Yes. Being able to force some information out of one of them would be a good idea." Wataru turned to Touma and stated, "I think you will know what to ask one of them right Devil?"

Touma nodded and replied, "Yes. I know exactly what needs to be done, and I will be looking forward to it."

Wataru stated, "This information your spy gave you does give us an advantage too. Instead of attempting to blend in with the crowd or trying to find a way to avoid the Anti-Skill, we can use those exits instead. All we will need is a little time to get to these exits after our tasks are over." Wataru then turned to Ichirou and asked, "Ichirou can you buy us some time for that?"

Ichirou replied, "When it comes down to it, I can buy you a few minutes. However, the most I can do is convince them to wait a few minutes for possible negotiations. After that time table runs out, there is nothing more I can really do."

Wataru was not surprised to hear that as he stated, "That will be enough. In any case, we have a few more details to iron out then."

About an hour later, after the final details were discussed, Wataru asked his subordinates in an authoritative voice, "Are we all clear what our roles will be?"

Everyone else in the room stated with a clear, "Yes."

Even though he was certain there was no need to ask this, Wataru asked his subordinates, "Are there any objections to the plan?"

The other members of the room replied in unison, "No."

Wataru then gave his final order for the night, "In that case, you are all dismissed. Be sure to get some rest and start making your own preparations because every second counts."

Everyone stated, "Yes sir." Then they all left to return to their own rooms to get some sleep and begin their own personal preparations for the operation ahead.

/

Location: Underground Mall – Security Office

Time: Day of the Sting Operation – 11:00 a.m.

The day started out like any other day for the security officers. At this time, it was only a handful of them in the office because it was supposed to be a relatively slow day. However, they were expecting a few members from Judgment to arrive later in the day to help with patrol and cleaning. These officers were more welcoming to Judgment members coming to the mall because Judgment members tended not look down on Espers who had weaker to no powers or humans who choose not to go through the 'Esper Curriculum.' Similar to Anti-Skill, Judgment wanted to keep the peace of Academy City.

Unlike the Anti-Skill, the participants in Judgment were students of Academy City rather than adults. Judgment's jurisdictions were more limited than the Anti-Skill, so if any Judgment members were to take unauthorized actions, they would need to fill out a lot of paperwork. In addition to handling duties, such as patrol, settling unauthorized fights, and occasionally arresting criminals, members of Judgment were also required to handle numerous secondary activities, such as cleaning and helping people find their lost items. While being a member of Judgment did not provide much of a reward, the fact the participants were helping Academy City did give the members a sense of pride, and most of them enjoyed being members.

Before the Judgment members were expected to arrive, one of security guards was becoming bored sitting at his desk. He told his partners in the room, "I'm going to start my patrol early today. See you later." None of them objected to what he said, and he left the office without any issues.

However, the security guard was not able to walk twenty feet away from the door, before he was struck by a wooden sword. With one hit, he was knocked unconscious. Before he fell to the ground, he was caught by Kyuzo and dragged away, so the security cameras would not see him. According to the schematics, if Kyuzo had let him keep walking, he would have been in range of the security camera, and he would not be able to stop him from entering the mall without alerting the other security personnel. Kyuzo knew that it would be for the best if they incapacitated all the security personnel they could.

Kyuzo said to his victim in an apologetic tone, "I apologize for this, but it will definitely be for the best if you don't wake up." After he took the guard's keys he then turned towards the office's door and began walking towards it.

While Kyuzo was taking care of the guard outside the office, one of the security guards who was watching the monitors stated, "Something about this is weird."

One of the other security guards asked, "What's weird?"

The first security guard explained, "Tabito left the office about a minute ago. I should have seen him appear on at least one of the security screens by now, but I haven't seen him at all. I wonder what's going on."

Unfortunately, the other security guards were more laid back about the possible implications and one of them responded, "Well he does know where all the security cameras are located. Maybe he is ducking into their blind spots and will ask us if he managed to avoid the cameras when he gets back."

The first guard did not really buy that story. "That might be it, but I don't know. Something about this seems off."

A few seconds later, they heard the door open. The security officer watching the monitors turned toward the opening door asked, "Did you forget something Ta…"

However, the security officer did not have a chance to finish his statement because he saw the person entering was not the person he thought he was speaking to. This security officer was the first one Kyuzo targeted because he was the first to see him. After Kyuzo knocked the first security guard unconscious, the other four security guards attempted to react to the intruder's presence, but they were too slow. Before any of them had a chance to act, Kyuzo attacked the remaining four security guards, and he had no problem knocking them all unconscious in ten seconds flat.

As they all lay unconscious at his feet, Kyuzo apologized, "Sorry, but I believe you have mistaken me for someone else."

Jiro walked into the room shortly after Kyuzo had knocked all the security guards out. He was carrying the security guard that Kyuzo had knocked unconscious earlier. When Jiro saw the sight of all the other security guards, he stated in an amazed voice, "I can see why they assigned you to be my bodyguard for this one."

Kyuzo stated in a firm voice, "The room is secure now. I would suggest you get started on what Wataru and the Devil instructed you to do."

Jiro replied in a somewhat nervous voice, "Right."

As Jiro was messing with the security systems, Kyuzo was busy tying up and gagging all the security officers. While Kyuzo was certain that they would not be waking up anytime soon, Kyuzo decided to lock them in a closet, so they would pose no threat to them. He was certain that someone would probably come here and free them eventually. Kyuzo tried to use these thoughts so he would not feel too bad for the security guards he rendered unconscious.

While Kyuzo was tying up the security officers, he tried to also justify what he was doing was the right thing. He told himself that he was probably doing them a favor by knocking them unconscious and locking them up, which was probably true. After all, if they attempted to fight the Devil's Representatives, there was a good chance they would have gotten themselves killed. Mercy was not one of their strong suits. It was unfortunate that there would be numerous other security personnel in the mall who would not be as fortunate as the ones Kyuzo was locking up in the closet.

After Jiro was set up on his side, he communicated to the others, "All right. Everything is ready. Is everyone in position?"

He heard a joint response, "Yes."

Jiro responded, "All right then. Good luck."

/

Less than an hour later, a gang that referred to themselves as the Devil's Representatives attacked the Underground Mall as Tsuchimikado'sinformation told them. This group in particular was composed of approximately twenty individuals who all wielded some kind of dangerous ability. They acted like regular civilians and then they began assaulting the civilians and established their 'superiority' with their abilities. Everyone who attempted to fight them was brutally beaten, and they rounded up numerous hostages. The hostages were brought to the food court, and they were kept under close watch. It was unknown what the Devil's Representatives intended to do with them, but Touma and Konori were not going to wait and find out.

Predictably the security guards and a few of the civilians attempted to resist against the Devil's Representatives, but they did not stand a chance. The ones that resisted were given a severe beating. However, the Devil's Representatives were given orders not to kill their potential hostages, but they were free to beat them within an inch of their lives. Seeing the Devil's Representatives make short work of anyone who fought back frightened them, and they complied with the gang's instructions.

Since Touma and Konori were prepared for this to happen, they managed to avoid being 'rounded' up with the other hostages. A few of the other civilians managed to escape as well, but Touma and Konori stayed behind, so they could save the others. After all, taking down the Devil's Representatives was the point of this mission in the first place. However, this was not going to be as easy as either of them were hoping it would be. While they did consider the possibility that those Espers would hide behind hostages, there were more Espers to deal with than they were expecting.

Touma would have tried doing something about the Devil's Representatives, but he was not fast enough. He could see that with the way the gang members rounded up hostages that they would be in danger if he took any rash actions. He knew the best way to take care of this would be to pick them off one by one. Luckily for him, he had the opportunity to do so because a number of them were patrolling the halls to round up any additional hostages and secure the perimeter.

As Touma was putting on his mask, he heard Konori speak to him on his intercom in a whispered voice that indicated her concern, "Kamijou-san are you okay?"

Touma casually responded to her question in a whispered voice of his own. "What kind of question is that Konori-chan? I take it that you're fine as well."

Throughout their entire conversation, both Konori and Touma would continue speaking in whispered voices while keeping their eyes open for any potential threats. The last thing either of them needed was to have their voices give away their positions or be caught by the enemy because they were not paying attention. If that were to happen, they knew that Wataru would kill them for being that careless.

Konori stated in a dry voice, "I guess asking you that wasn't really necessary after all. Anyway, on a more serious note, what are we going to do about those hostages?"

Touma replied in a voice that indicate what needed to be done was obvious. "Well you know me. My first priority is to save them of course, but we are going to need to take care of some of those other Espers before we can even think about doing anything about them. If we charge in, I would be senselessly putting their lives as well as my own in danger."

Konori was not surprised by what Touma said in the least. "I was hoping you were going to say something like that, but I can tell you are going to need help on this. There are a few Espers near me. I can take them down while you focus on the ones near you."

While Touma was becoming willing to accept help, he was still somewhat uncomfortable in this current situation. He asked in a voice that indicated his uncertainty, "Are you sure you are up for taking them down like this? I know you can take care of yourself Konori-chan, but the circumstances here are a little different than when we have been on patrol. The stakes might be a little higher than we thought."

Konori responded to Touma's concern with, "As long as I take them out before they have a chance to activate their abilities, I should be fine right?"

Hearing Konori state something so naïve caused Touma to state in a somewhat annoyed voice, "In most cases yes, but unlike some of the other Espers we have fought against, we don't know what their abilities are capable of. There could be Espers that might make it impossible for you to touch them. When you attempt to attack them, it might leave you open to a counter attack." Touma thought to himself, "I thought she was supposed to be the smarter more mature one. Is a role reversal happening here?"

While the Big Spider had yet to encounter an Esper of that caliber, Touma was correct that there were Espers out there that no ordinary person could touch. The strongest Esper of Academy City, Accelerator, had the ability, Vector Change, which could repel anyone's attack back at them. However, in addition to repelling attacks, if someone touched Accelerator's skin while his power was active, it could result in the person suffering major injuries that could take days or weeks to recover from. Luckily, none of the Espers in this group had an ability of that nature, so Konori and Touma would not have to worry about that potential problem during this particular trial.

Konori took a breath before telling Touma, "I know you have a good point about that. We don't know what Beta-Zero gave these Espers. Logically, it would make sense if you use your right hand to take down all these Espers and I simply provide support as planned."

Touma replied, "Something tells me you are going to give a me a 'but' in this case right?"

Konori answered, "You saw that coming. Anyway, there are a lot more of these guys than we were expecting and the odds of you getting overwhelmed are high if you make a mistake, so this is a risk I am going to have to take Kamijou-san. I can't just let you take all these Espers out on your own after all. What kind of teammate would I be if I let you do all the work in this situation?"

Touma sighed because he could see that Konori was dead set on taking on these Espers with him. Instead of telling her to just leave everything to him, Touma reluctantly told her, "Just be careful when you try fighting these Espers. You might only have a few seconds at most before they have a chance to counter attack anything you try to do."

Hearing Touma tell her this rather than an outright refusal caused Konori to smile despite their current circumstances. Konori responded, "That's not going to be a problem."

Touma thought to himself, "I thought Wataru was accusing me of being the reckless one. As it turns out, Konori-chan can be just as reckless as me in certain situations." Touma then thought of something else, "Or perhaps this is her own way to prevent me from becoming too reckless." Touma was brought back to reality when he heard an Esper near his location. "I guess that is something I will need to think about later."

Konori and Touma ended their 'intercom conversation' by wishing each other good luck and agreeing to meet at the food court after they took down all the Espers in their sections. They finished putting on their masks to finish their disguises. It was time for the hunt of the various Devil Representatives to begin.

/

While most of the Devil's Representatives would have run-ins with either Touma or Konori, there would be one 'representative' who would be encountering someone completely different. As soon as one of them turned the corner, he was immediately punched the in the stomach. For a few moments, it felt as if the fist was going to go right through his stomach and exit through his back. The pain this Esper was feeling in his abdomen was excruciating, and he felt the wind being knocked out of him.

Before he had a chance to recover, he received another powerful punch in the face. It was more than enough to knock the Esper unconscious before he had a chance to activate his power. The attacker was none other than Tsuchimikado. Similar to the Big Spider Tsuchimikado had his own reasons for targeting the Devil's Representatives. He decided that he would use the Underground Mall and the little war that was about to start between the Devil and this gang of Espers to his advantage.

As Tsuchimikado looked down at his fallen victim, he said to himself in a quiet, smug tone, "That was too easy. I was hoping this guy would put up more of a fight since he has Esper abilities. Although, I guess all that power just went to your head." He then thought to himself, "If that is the case, I bet these guys will be easy pickings for Kami-yan and his other Big Spider teammates."

Tsuchimikado knelt next to his fallen victim and took out a needle that he jabbed into his neck. With this needle he managed to collect a sample of the victim's DNA, which he carefully placed in a container he was carrying. Afterwards, Tsuchimikadotouched the victim's boot, and he placed some kind of small device on it. He thought to himself, "This should come in handy."

Before Tsuchimikado left the body alone, he said to himself, "I suppose for the time being it would be more interesting to wait and see what Kami-yan and his friends in the Big Spider are going to do about the rest of the these so-called Espers. Besides, it will make my own escape from this Underground Mall easier. I just hope you are not going to disappoint me Kami-yan."

The Esper that Tsuchimikado took care of would be the only freebie that he would give Touma and Konori. After that, he sat on the sidelines and waited for the rest of the event to unfold. He knew that the 'official news' Academy City would give would never give the whole truth. This would be his one and only chance to see how this would turn out. While Tsuchimikado would not be able to witness everything that happened, he would witness enough of the significant events to know what happened. Additionally, Tsuchimikado figured knowing the truth would give him some information that he could sell to a few 'interested' individuals later on.

/

While stealth was far from Touma's favorite activity, he did receive enough training in that area to pull it off. The skills he had were more than enough for him to sneak up on these so-call Devil Representatives and pick them off one-by-one. However, if Touma was in a position that he needed to sneak up on more trained individuals, such as skilled members of the Anti-Skill, the likelihood that he would be successful in pulling off successful sneak attacks would be significantly lower. It was just fortunate for both Touma and Konori that the Anti-Skill were not their opponents.

As Touma quietly opened, the door, he could see his first target. After he entered the hallway, he carefully closed the door behind him, so he could avoid that wretched 'squeaking' sound. Luckily, this target did not notice his existence, and Touma continued to make his way towards his target. When Touma was within range, he grabbed his opponent's neck with his right arm. Before his opponent knew it, he had him in the choker hold.

His opponent struggled against Touma and attempted to activate his powers, but Touma's right arm was in contact with him which made that impossible. The man attempted to call out for help, but due to the pressure Touma was putting on his neck, it was nearly impossible for him to even breathe. With how roughly, Touma was holding his enemy, he was in a position to either break his victim's neck or knock him unconscious. While Touma did feel a slight temptation to do the former, he had every intention of doing the latter.

Before Touma's victim lost consciousness, he attempted to scratch Touma's face in desperation. It was a good thing Touma was wearing his mask because it acted as protection against such an attack. A few moments later, the man finally gave up and lost consciousness. Touma dragged the man's body into a nearby janitor's closet, so his friends would not notice it too easily.

Touma thought, "That's one down." Before he finished that thought, he heard the footsteps of another approaching Esper, so he thought, "Looks like I'm about to get another one." Touma immediately hid behind the corner as one of the doors to the hallway opened.

This time instead of approaching the enemy, Touma waited for his enemy to come to him. In Touma's opinion, this was the more difficult thing to do because it was slightly harder to pull off. When you have to wait for the enemies to come to you, they need to move into the right place for you to launch the appropriate attack. If they move 'off course,' then it could lead to a few problems or at the very least you may need to wait longer before you get another opportunity. Luckily, for Touma this would not be one of the situations where he would need to worry about that since it was relatively narrow hallway, so there was not much room for his soon-to-be victim to change direction.

Touma waited until he was certain that his soon-to-be victim was close before striking. At the right moment, he tripped his opponent to the ground which caused him to fall face first. Before the Esper could register what had happened to him, his hair was roughly grabbed by Touma's right hand. Touma proceeded to slam the man's head into the floor which knocked him unconscious and gave him a broken, bloody nose.

After Touma dragged off this Esper to the same closet he placed the other Esper in, Touma thought, "It's too bad they all can't just come to me like this. That would make things much easier."

Before Touma left, he noticed that the two of them had communication devices. He thought to himself, "Well I can't say I wasn't expecting them to keep in contact with each other. However, something seems interesting about these devices." Touma took one of them for himself, so he could give it to Jiro later. Touma then proceeded to contact Konori to tell her that the Espers are carrying communication devices, and it will only be a matter of time before the others notice something is wrong. He then proceeded to leave the hallway and move onto the next room in hopes to find another target to take care of before they start to get wise.

/

As Konori promised Touma, she stayed behind to take down these Espers one by one. She may not have Touma's Imagine Breaker to disable their abilities, but her physical capabilities were enough for her to hold her own. In addition to her physical capabilities, she also had something else that she could use, but she did not wish to rely on it. When she joined the Big Spider, she believed she turned her back on the idea of Esper related studies. Instead, she wanted to rely on what her time in the Big Spider had taught her.

In one of the hallways, Konori carefully listened to the approaching Esper's footsteps. As he approached, she became increasingly tempted to use her other technique to scan the area. She thought, "Should I really use it? I haven't attempted to use it for months. Should I really try relying on it?" As she heard the footsteps draw closer she thought, "No. I don't need them. I have come too far to think about using them. I can do this without using it."

As soon as Konori was certain that her target was within striking distance, she revealed herself and grabbed the man by the collar. The man was so surprised that he did not have a chance to activate his powers before she grabbed him and threw him into the wall. Before the Esper had the chance to recover from that attack, Konori proceeded to hit him in the throat. Her target was stunned and temporarily lost his voice after receiving the hit. Konori did not give him a chance to recover and proceeded to knock him unconscious with a kick to the stomach followed by a punch to the face.

Similar to the ones that Touma knocked unconscious, Konori found a communication device on her victim's person. Konori thought to herself, "Well I can see these Espers have a little more common sense than some of the other ones that Touma has gone against. It looks like this will be more of a timed mission. I should tell Touma about this right away."

However, before Konori could inform Touma she received a transmission from him. Touma told her in an urgent voice, "Konori-chan. These Espers are carrying communication devices. It is likely that in a few minutes they will start to realize some of their friends are down for the count."

Konori responded, "I noticed.I was about to warn you about the same thing." As she was saying this, she decided to take the Esper's communicator in case it could come in handy in some way.

Touma replied, "I see. In that case, let's do this quick."

Konori stated in a determined voice, "You don't have to tell me twice."

After Touma's transmission was cutoff, Konori proceeded to place the Esper she knocked out in a hiding place. She then continued to make her way to the next room a kitchen and cafeteria for the employees that worked in the Underground Mall. Konori was fortunate that the two Espers who were there were more interested in raiding the fridge than paying attention to watching their backs. It was an easy task for her to sneak up on them.

While sneaking up on them was the easy part, knocking them both unconscious simultaneously might be difficult. If she failed to knock both of them out at once, the other might have enough time to activate their powers and kill her. Quite a few scenarios played in her head as she approached them, and they were not pretty. She thought to herself if she should consider a different action.

One possibility she considered was waiting for them to finish raiding the fridge and possibly go after them when they separated. However, if she waited too long, it was possible that they would notice a few of their allies have already been taken care of, and it will be even more difficult to take them down. She told herself that she needed to take care of this now. Even though this would be her first time attempting a 'double takedown,' she kept telling herself that she could do it.

When she was finally in striking distance, she did not waste a moment. She acted immediately and grabbed both of their heads. Before they had a chance to realize what was about to happen, she slammed the Espers' heads into each other. It was possible that Konori might have inadvertently cracked one of their heads because she heard something that sounded like a crack. However, she did not have the luxury of worrying about that. Although, she did quickly check their pulses. They were alive.

Before Konori could continue her hunt for more members of the Devil's Representatives, she received a transmission from Wataru. Wataru called Konori on a frequency that would only allow the two of them to hear their conversation and Touma would not be able to listen in. It was for the better that Touma could not hear what they were saying. Otherwise, it would have distracted him from taking down the enemy he was attempting to sneak up on.

The first thing Wataru said was, "Well I guess the information our freelance spy provided us was correct after all."

Konori responded, "That would appear to be the case. I consider that bit of information to be both fortunate and unfortunate."

Wataru stated in an uneasy voice, "I know what you mean. I hate the fact that those bastards would hold those people hostage, but at least we can take them down and make it clear the Devil and the so-called 'Devil's Representatives' are not affiliated with each other."

Konori responded in a deadpan voice, "I think we should stick more to the idea of saving people's lives Wataru. I would think that should be our priority."

Wataru replied, "Of course we should. I'm just saying that this will kill at least two birds with one stone."

Konori scratched her head as she stated, "I guess that is one way of putting it. However, I really need to get back to hunting down these Espers before they start to realize some of their men are down."

Wataru's eyes opened up wide and said, "I see. I guess I have some bad timing then. Do you and Touma need some help?"

Konori responded in a confident voice, "Not with this, but we may need some help with rescuing the hostages. You should focus on helping us find a way to flank the Espers that are holding them."

Wataru was pleased by his subordinate's confidence in the field. "I'll be sure to do that. Do you know where the hostages are?"

Konori thought about it for a moment and replied, "I believe the hostages are being held in the food court."

While Wataru believed his subordinate, he had to ask to be certain, "You know this for a fact?"

Konori answered as honestly as she could, "Not quite, but I saw the Espers taking hostages in that direction, and it is the best place to keep them. That's why I am assuming they are going to be there."

That was an answer Wataru could accept as he replied, "Very well. Good luck dealing with the remaining Espers."

The signal from Wataru's transmission was cutoff, and Konori prepared herself for her next encounter. She would continue onward to take down a few more Espers with ease.

With how easy she was taking down these Espers, she could not help but wonder, "I saw how dangerous these Espers were when they were taking the hostages. I wonder why they can be taken down so easily now? Could it be that they have become so reliant on their new powers from Beta-Zero that they are more prone to surprise attacks?"

Konori decided it would be for the best not to voice out those thoughts at this time. She had more important things to accomplish. She figured that she could probably talk to Wataru about this after the mission was over.

/

While Touma and Konori were clearing the hallways, there were two members of the group that were making their way to the security office. The Big Spider members assumed that something along those lines would happen which was why Kyuzo was instructed to remain guarding the office while Jiro continued working on the Underground Mall's security systems. Given who Kyuzo was, he would prove to be a most valuable body guard.

Just like most members of the Skill-Out, Kyuzo did not have any kind of Esper abilities. However, similar to Wataru, Kyuzo had fighting abilities to more than make up for it. Due to the skills he acquired in his previous profession, he was more than capable of dealing with most kinds of Espers. While, in all likelihood, Kyuzo could have taken down the approaching Espers head on, he was instructed by Wataru to not engage the enemies directly. Instead, Kyuzo had to take on a more 'stealthy' approach. He was not thrilled about following those orders, but he obeyed just the same.

When the two Espers entered the security room, they saw Jiro working at the desk. One of them shouted out to Jiro, "Stop right there! Hands up where we can see them!" He activated a fire power with his hands. Jiro did not need any other motivation to comply as he held his hands up. The fire wielding Esper told his partner, "Search the area!"

The other Esper that was accompanying him said, "Okay." Jiro noticed that electrical sparks appeared to generate from his body which indicated he had abilities related to electricity.

While these two Espers did not introduce themselves, the name of the fire wielder was Nobu and the one with electrical powers was Manabura. These two Espers were members of Takaya's gang before they were all defeated by the Devil and received these Esper abilities from Beta Zero. After Takaya received the invitation to receive the Beta-Zero treatment, he brought his subordinates Nobu, Manabura, and Ryo along the way. For this crime, Takaya sent Nobu and Manabura to the security room while Ryo was one of the subordinates to stay behind to personally guard the hostages.

Jiro could see that the two Espers that were holding him hostage had fire and electrical abilities respectfully. He commented out loud, "So one of you had fire powers and another has electricity. I did not see that coming."

Nobu replied, "What? Were you expecting us to be fire and ice? That is such a cliché."

As Manabura was searching the security office, he was listening to what Jiro and Nobu said, and he gave his own sarcastic input. "Like fire and electricity is really that original either."

Nobu replied in an annoyed voice, "Shut up and keep looking!"

Jiro thought to himself, "They seem to get along as well as fire and ice that's for sure."

It did not take Manabura much longer before he found the security guards bound and gagged in the closet. He said in a sarcastic voice, "I guess you and the security guards here weren't exactly friends were you."

Despite being threatened by Nobu's fire abilities, Jiro calmly responded, "That would be one way of looking at it. However, I never got a chance to really speak with them. I have a feeling they would probably be decent guys if I tried to talk to them."

Nobu asked, "Are you in league with the 'Devil of Academy City'?"

Jiro did not hesitate to answer, "Your assumption would be correct. I have been providing support for the Devil while he has been taking down your 'co-workers' one-by-one."

Manubura suspiciously thought to himself, "He seems a little too cooperative."

However, Nobu broke Manubura's thought process as Nobu told him, "We have to tell Takaya that he can be expecting his long awaited rematch with the Devil. The time to put him in his place has finally come."

Manubura responded, "Yeah right. We should give him time . . ."

Jiro interrupted them both by telling them, "I don't think either of you will have a chance to contact your boss."

His comments were enough to get both Nobu and Manubura to face Jiro as a certain someone finally came out of his own hiding place. Kyuzo had hidden himself behind one of the desks. He knew that it would not have been a good hiding place if he was waiting them out. However, Kyuzo had a feeling they would find the security guards beforehand, and he would see the opening he needed to give them a surprise attack. Now that Kyuzo had seen his opening, he was going to take advantage of it.

Nobu asked in annoyed voice, "Why the hell not? What's stopping me?"

Jiro calmly stated, "Because I managed to distract you enough to waste enough time for that guy to take care of you both."

Before they had a chance to turn around, first Nobu and then Manubura were struck in the back of the head with Kyuzo's wooden sword. Within the space of five seconds, two more members of the Devil's Representatives were down for the count. Little did Takaya know that his men were dwindling.

Jiro said to Kyuzo in a congratulatory voice, "Nicely done Kyuzo."

On the other hand, Kyuzo was not as thrilled about what happened. "You might want to avoid telling people that I'm about to knock them out loud next time. I might not always be fast enough to take them down you know."

Jiro nonchalantly replied, "Those two were idiots. I knew that you could handle it."

Kyuzo responded in a sarcastic voice, "Thanks for the vote of confidence." He then stated in a more serious voice, "You still have some work to get done with. I suggest you get back to it. Our time window before the Anti-Skill come marching in here is getting smaller."

On that note, Jiro immediately returned to the computers and continued taking care of things on his end. Before he was done, there would be no evidence that the Anti-Skill could use to directly identify the Devil's true identity.

/

While Jiro was taking care of a few final details in the security office, Touma was in the middle of knocking out another one of the Devil's Representatives. He grabbed the head of another one of the gang members with his right hand and slammed the gang member's head against the wall. Touma made sure it was not enough to kill his victim, but he did make sure the blow would be sufficient to knock him unconscious.

After Touma had finished off this Esper, he called his teammates regarding the number of Espers they had taken down. The final count was that Touma had managed to take down a total of six, Konori had defeated six, Kyuzo had rounded up the two that were sent to the security room, and Touma found who was already knocked unconscious. They received a transmission from Ichirou that the number of Espers committing this attack should only be about twenty, so there should only be five left.

Konori asked in a suspicious voice, "How do they possibly know that? Were these guys stupid enough to give that information away?"

Ichirou replied, "The Anti-Skill received a text from someone who was able to send a message before they noticed."

Konori thought in a suspicious tone, "That sounds very convenient. I have a hard time believing one of the hostages would have been able to somehow count all of those gang members and send that information to the Anti-Skill."

Wataru's voice brought Konori out of her thoughts as he responded, "We can worry about those details later. For now, we should think there are five, but we cannot discount the possibility that the one who sent the message miscounted, so be prepared to possibly fight more than that."

Everyone seemed to be in agreement to that idea. Wataru then continued, "In a hostage situation, it would be recommended that there would be a sizeable force to remain behind to ensure that there would be no escapes. That would especially be true for the number of hostages they had taken. Most likely most of the other five if not all of them are guarding the hostages. It might be time for us to start taking a more direct action in handling finishing this problem."

Touma asked, "Do you have any suggestions Wataru?"

Wataru answered, "You could say that. You can definitely say that."

/

After Touma and Konori had cleared the hallways and Kyuzo had defended the security room, there were only five Espers left to fight. Unfortunately, they were all in the main area where they had rounded up a majority of the hostages. There would be no way for them to be taken on one by one without altering any of the others right away. However, by now they had already figured out something was wrong.

Ryo had finished speaking with the Anti-Skill, who had encircled all of the 'known' exits for the Underground Mall. He told his 'co-workers,' "The Anti-Skill should still be standing down for a little longer. They won't dare attack until they are certain that they can start taking action without endangering the lives of hostages."

However, one of Ryo's co-workers was not feeling nearly as confident as he was. He stated in a nervous voice, "That sounds good, but none of the other men have been responding to our messages for the past ten minutes. This must mean that they have been taken down by someone inside this mall. Did the Anti-Skill send someone?"

Ryo replied, "It is possible, but I have a feeling that something else might be happening. I think someone neither the Anti-Skill nor us invited has decided to join the show."

The Esper then asked, "Are you saying the 'Devil of Academy City' is here?"

Upon hearing the words, 'Devil of Academy City,' the hostages began to speak amongst themselves. A few of them were hopeful while some were more fearful. Either way, they could see that the situation they were in would soon come to an end.

Ryo shouted out loud, "QUIET!" He then pounded the floor with his foot that caused a hole in the ground. That was more than enough to cause the rest of the hostages to shrivel in fear. After he reaffirmed the group's control over the situation, Ryo then stated in a more tranquil voice, "We all expected that one of these days we would most likely be facing the 'Devil of Academy City.' It would appear that day has finally arrived. Takaya and I have been preparing for this day, and now we should be ready for the Devil's arrival."

No sooner had Ryo said that, he received a response, "I don't know what you have done to prepare for facing me, but I can promise you that it won't be enough." A new figure walked into the Food Court wearing a mask and dark clothing. Ryo recognized that attire belonging to the Devil of Academy City.

Ryo was visibly surprised at first, but his expression changed to being a more confident one. Unlike some of his 'co-workers,' he was looking forward to his encounter with the 'Devil.' The crowd was also whispering amongst themselves at the 'Devil's' arrival. Some were shocked that he truly existed while others were surprised at how greatly the rumors apparently exaggerated what his true appearance was.

The other four Espers gathered behind Ryo. While they could not claim to be looking forward to this encounter with the Devil as much as Ryo was, they did seem to think they could take on the Devil if they worked together. They gave up their last chance to surrender peacefully.

Ryo spoke in a smug voice, "I was hoping that I could pay you back for what you did to me back then Devil. I'm so happy that you decided to come see me yourself."

The Devil ignored what Ryo had said and remarked, "So there really are only five of you left."

Ryo confidently stated, "There may only be five of us left, but I'm sure that even you wouldn't stand a chance against all of us at once."

The Devil casually remarked, "That makes me wish that I thought about bringing some back up as well."

As if it was on cue, two of the other Espers were attacked from behind and knocked unconscious before they had a chance to react. It was Wataru and Konori pulling a surprise attack on two of the Devil's Representatives. When Konori told Wataru that she believed that the hostages were taken to the food court, Wataru managed to find a way to sneak into the food court, but he needed the Devil to create a distraction for it to work out.

While the three remaining Devil Representatives were distracted by Wataru and Konori's surprise attacks, the Devil ran up to attack the nearest one while stating, "Wait a minute, I did bring some back up." Before the remaining three knew what happened, the Devil managed to deck one of the remaining three that knocked him out instantly.

The only two left, including Ryo. Both Ryo and the Devil quickly engaged each other in battle. While the Devil and Ryo were engaged in the fight, Wataru decided to take on the only other remaining Esper. He stated out loud, "I haven't had enough chances to take you guys. I'll be sure to get what I can."

The Esper Wataru was engaging in combat with activated his power, and a strange aura began to form around his hands and feet. The name of the power Wataru's opponent activated was known as 'Aura Strength.' When Wataru managed to dodge a punch the Esper was able to break through solid concrete without difficulty. Wataru knew that if he was to be hit directly by any of these attacks, they would literally go right through him. Luckily for Wataru, his opponent was not a fast one.

Wataru kept dodging his opponent's attacks until he found the right opportunity. After dodging one particular attack, the Esper's stomach was wide open, and Wataru proceeded to give him several quick jabs before giving him the knockout punch. This was probably one of the easiest battles Wataru had ever won.

However, while Wataru's battle was easy, Touma was slightly less fortunate. Unlike Wataru's opponent, Ryo was slightly more competent at utilizing his powers and fighting techniques. Similar to the other Esper, while Ryo could easily break through concrete it was not because his limbs were given enhanced strength. It was because Ryo's ability was known as 'Earth Manipulation' which he was able to utilize in multiple ways.

Even though Ryo only had the power equivalent to that of a Level Two or Three, his power was still dangerous. When he kicks the ground, he could cause the surrounding area to be destroyed. Alternatively, he can manipulate the ground within a fifteen foot range of him. For example, while it takes some concentration and energy, he can use the ground to form weapons and attack his opponents.

After Ryo managed to dodge the Devil's punch, he decided to take things to the offensive. Ryo used his ability to have a spear shoot out from the ground which came close to impaling the Devil. He then followed up with using his powers to destroy the floor below the Devil's feet which he barely managed to dodge.

After seeing the Devil dodge his attacks rather than trying to use his right hand, Ryo came to the conclusion, "The Devil's right hand is definitely capable of blocking Esper abilities, but it can't stop the collateral damage that is caused by them. When I smashed the ground before, he couldn't stop the cracks from forming because his ability can't undo the damage that has already been done. Additionally, when I formed that spear before, he didn't attempt to destroy it even though it was created using my powers. Could it be that he can't destroy something that is made of regular material even if it was created using abilities or is it something even he is not sure of yet?"

However, Ryo knew that he did not have the luxury of waiting around to find out. The Devil managed to get close, and he came close to punching him out. As Ryo was dodging the Devil's attacks, he mocked the Devil by stating, "Ever since I gained this power, I have been waiting for this day. Now it is time for you to die."

Ryo then used his power to form another spear behind the Devil with the intention of impaling him through the back. However, before the spear could attack him, the Devil felt something foreboding behind him and ducked just in time before it would have killed him. Since the spear missed its target and Ryo was not in perfect control of his recently acquired ability, the spear was coming at him instead, and he barely managed to dodge it.

Before Ryo had a chance to attack the Devil again, his face became acquainted to the Devil's fist, which knocked him off his feet. The Devil then proceeded to punch Ryo in the face several more times before he finally lost consciousness. With that, all twenty members of the Devil's Representatives had been neutralized. The crisis was over.

For a moment, the Devil thought to himself, "What was that feeling I had before. It was as if I knew that Esper was about to stab me in the back with that spear. How could that be possible?" The Devil looked at his right hand and thought, "Does it have something to do with this? Is this somehow evolving? Or could it be something else?"

Wataru could see the Devil was in deep thought, but Wataru knew they were not in a position to be taking it easy since the Anti-Skill had the entire area surrounded. He brought the Devil out of his thoughts by remarking, "I thought you wanted to question at least one of these 'Espers,' so you could get some information."

The Devil replied, "Saving the civilians was a priority. Besides, we can carry one of these Espers out with us." The Devil then pointed to the one he had just defeated, "Even though he is dangerous, he appeared to be the leader, so it might be a good idea to bring him along if are going to be getting anything."

Wataru sighed, "You can never make things easy can you?"

The Devil replied, "Since when have I ever made things that easy?"

While the Devil and Wataru were having their little 'conversation,' Konori was attempting crowd control with the hostages. Despite her threatening appearance, the hostages seemed to understand they had nothing to do with their kidnappers. Everything seemed to be calming down, and they would soon be in the Anti-Skill's custody.

However, despite how smoothly things were going or rather because they were going smoothly, Konori was still having difficulty that their operation was truly over. She thought to herself, "I understand those Espers were still getting used to using their powers and we had the element of surprise, something still feels off. It feels like we are missing something."

No sooner had she thought that, she noticed one of the civilians was acting strangely. He appeared to be reaching for something. She thought to herself, "I don't like going through people's things without their permission, but this is too important."

Something about Konori's eyes seemed to change. From her perspective, everything had changed from the vision you would expect through a normal person's eyes to that of an x-ray scanner. She immediately saw the suspicious person had a concealed knife. Konori realized, "That man is one of the gang members."

Konori was correct in that assumption. This man's name was Takaya, and he was the true leader of the gang they had defeated. He was also the one to provide the Anti-Skill the information that there were 'twenty' gang members while hiding amongst the crowd of civilians in case anything went south.

Before the gang member had a chance to move, Konori shouted out, "Kami-Devil-san! That man has a knife!"

As soon as Konori gave her warning, Takaya activated his Esper abilities. Takaya was 'blessed' with the Esper ability known as 'Enhanced Speed,' which allowed him to run more than twice as fast as an average human being. By the time the Devil looked over his shoulder, his assailant was only a few feet away from him. In most cases, no one would be able to dodge what was about to happen. However, luckily for Kamijou Touma, he was not an ordinary person.

When Takaya attempted to stab the Devil, something in the Devil's head caused him to move his body on reflex. For a moment, it was as if The Devil knew exactly what he was supposed to do when he needed to. Everything that happened to the Devil in those moments was similar to a 'quick time event' that happens in video games sometimes when a character needs to perform certain actions quickly otherwise he or she will either be killed or seriously injured. In the Devil's case, when he obeyed what his head was telling him in those split seconds, and the knife missed his head by only an inch.

When the Devil dodged that attack, the shocked expression on Takaya's face was priceless. The Devil then proceeded to grab Takaya's arm with his right hand. As soon as his right hand grabbed Takay's arm, the trademark sound of shattering class could be heard, and Takaya could not activate his power to escape. Before Takaya could do anything else, the Devil proceeded to punch Takaya in the stomach, and he kicked Takaya to the ground. However, unlike the other representatives, the Devil did not knock Takaya unconscious because he wanted to interrogate him.

After witnessing what happened, Wataru stated, "Well at least we don't need to drag any of them along now."

The Devil ignored Wataru's comment and looked at Konori. He nodded his head in acknowledgement for her warning. He then proceeded to approach the gang member that was lying on the ground. When the Devil approached the gang member, and the Devil recognized him as Takaya, who was the same man who had two very unpleasant encounters with in the past. Needless to say, the Devil was not a happy person to be seeing this criminal's face outside of a jail cell. It was a good thing his mask prevented people from seeing his face.

In a blind rage, the Devil grabbed Takaya by the collar and shouted, "What the hell are you doing here? Why are you not in prison?"

Takaya remained silent. His face made it clear he was not going to willingly give up any information. However, the Devil did not mind getting a little rough even if there were plenty of innocent people that would be watching his actions. The only thing he said was, "If you don't want to see what happens next, I would advise you to turn around." A few people heeded his warning while others did not.

The Devil slammed Takaya to the ground on his stomach and picked up his knife. Takaya did not have the strength to resist as the Devil positioned his arms. The Devil then pierced both of Takay's hands with his own knife to pin them to the ground. This caused Takaya to scream in sheer pain. The Devil then put his foot on the knife and made sure the knife would remain planted in there until someone managed to pull it out. With every centimeter the Devil pushed the knife, it made Takaya scream louder. After the Devil had enough of Takaya's screaming, he proceeded to kick Takaya in the stomach to knock the wind right out of his lungs.

At Takaya was recovering from the kick, the Devil bent over and spoke to Takaya in a threatening tone, "Do you enjoy this feeling? Do you like feeling weak and helpless while another person decides your fate as if he was a god?"

Takaya gave no response, but his facial features answered the question. The Devil responded, "I didn't think so. You should remember this Takaya because this is what all your victims felt."

Before the Devil could continue, he heard Wataru order, "I get where you are coming from, but you need to get that information out of him now. We are running out of time."

That was enough to get the Devil back on task. He told Takaya, "If you want me to stop, you need to tell me who administered 'Beta-Zero' to you." For a few moments Takaya continued to refuse saying anything. The Devil proceeded to put his foot on the knife again until Takaya begged for him to stop.

Takaya desperately begged, "OKAY! OKAY! I'LL TELL YOU! I'LL TELL YOU!"

The Devil responded in a dark tone, "It's about time you started to cooperate. Who gave you the Beta-Zero?"

Takaya answered, "They were a group of scientists."

The Devil asked in a demanding voice, "What were their names?"

Takaya was not as willing to release that information as he remained silent, "…"

The Devil then shouted, "TELL ME WHAT THEIR NAMES ARE!"

When Takaya saw the Devil was about to place his foot on the knife again, Takaya answered, "The ones in charge went by the name Kihara."

For a moment, the Devil appeared surprised to hear that name because it felt familiar to him somehow. "…Did you say Kihara?"

Takaya desperately responded, "Yes."

The Devil thought back for a few moments before he finally remembered where he had heard that name before. "Before the attack on the Child Error Facility, Yuudai told me the person in charge of the Child Error Facility went by the name of Kihara. If the scientists who went by the name Kihara are also responsible for experimenting on Child Errors and Level Zeroes, then they must be the ones responsible for the incident."

He demanded to know, "Where can I find them?"

Takaya replied, "I wouldn't know. I met them at different facilities throughout Academy City, but if it helps, they are the ones that supplied us with a number of belongings."

The Devil took Takaya's communicator off his body and asked, "Are you saying that the Kiharas supplied you with these communicators?"

Takaya responded, "Yes. They gave us those communicators. There really isn't that much information I can tell you other than they came to me to ask if I wanted to finally obtain powers that I could call my own."

While Takaya seemed to be telling the truth for the most part, the Devil had a feeling that Takaya was leaving some information out. Unfortunately, they were running out of time, and he knew that his earlier suggestion of carrying out one of the Devil's Representatives would probably be a dangerous idea. It did not seem worth it to the Devil to keep interrogating Takaya or take him with him for the sake of obtaining information that might not be worth it or would take too long to obtain. Instead he opted to make sure Takaya would not be in any position to continue harming other civilians again for a while even if he is somehow let out of prison again.

The Devil took out his gun and Takaya's eyes widened in horror because he knew what was coming next. The Devil told Takaya in a sinister voice, "If you ever are ever let out of prison and you cause trouble or if I find out you lied to me, I promise you that I cannot be held accountable for my next punishment. You understand." Takaya shook his head desperarately and the Devil responded, "That's a good boy. I hope we will never meet again," and he proceeded to shoot both of Takaya's legs.

Takaya's screams of pain echoed throughout the food court. A number of the hostages were horrified at the Devil's actions while a few did not seem to mind what he did. The Devil did not pay much mind to the hostages and simply said to his fellow Big Spider members that he learned what he needed to learn. The two other members nodded their heads.

Wataru contacted Ichirou and asked, "Ichirou can you give us an update?"

Ichirou quietly told Wataru, "The only update I can give you is that the Anti-Skill have long since arrived and have finished surrounding all the exits. I can only tell you that you are fortunate that the Underground Mall is a big place and there are one or two new exits that were made that my fellow Anti-Skills were not informed about. Now is your chance to make your get away."

Wataru replied into his intercom, "Thank you Ichirou." He then contacted Jiro on his intercom and told him, "Okay its time Jiro." No sooner had Wataru said that, the lights were out again. By the time the lights came back on, the Devil, Wataru, and Konori were gone. The Devil and Konori were going to head to one exit while Wataru would meet up with Jiro and Kyuzo at the other exit.

Thanks to Jiro's handiwork, there would be no security tapes about what happened that day. Everything that happened within the past few hours would be completely wiped away from the system's memory. Jiro then set it up so the power and the cameras would function properly again after they were gone. He hoped that it would send a signal to the Anti-Skill that they should head into the mall, which it did. However, the only ones left in the mall would be the unconscious 'Devil Representatives' and their newly freed hostages.

There would be no security footage or evidence that the Big Spider were involved in this incident. Additionally, no one would be able to prove that Jiro was the one that made that possible. The only evidence the Anti-Skill would have would be a bunch of witnesses who saw someone proclaiming himself to be the Devil along with two other similarly dressed individuals taking down the last few members of the Esper gang. However, since the authority figures would not want the Devil to receive acknowledgement, most of them would opt to ignore the witness accounts with the exception of a few.

/

Location: Alleyway – Designated Changing Area

After Touma and Konori made their escape, they headed straight for the designated changing area. It was just an ordinary restroom that was did not stand out. Other members of Big Spider had left Touma and Konori with clothing to change into after the Sting Operation was complete. The Big Spider members hid the clothes in the bathrooms two days earlier, and they remained there without anyone noticing.

The area this restroom was not heavy with surveillance, and it was not an active part of the city. Even if any of the security cameras did spot the Skill-Outs, they did not appear to be doing anything suspicious before they reached the bathroom to stash the clothing. As a result, no security guard would think there was anything worth checking. As with any customary security camera, the old security footage that would have recorded those Big Spider members was erased after a day.

Touma was the first of the two to finish changing, so he waited outside for Konori to finish. While Touma was waiting outside the restroom, he was being bothered by some strange fly. He said in annoyance, "Such misfortune! Go away!"

After Touma managed to successfully swat the fly away, Konori emerged from the restroom. She breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God I don't have to wear that corset anymore. That was torture."

Touma sheepishly apologized to his friend, "Sorry about that Konori-chan, but we couldn't have you stand out, so we needed to take as many measures as possible."

Konori was a little annoyed by this as she asked, "You think I would be identified based on my breast size?"

Touma did not notice Konori's annoyance and he explained, "Well that did sort of happen in an anime I watched one time."

Konori suddenly became more interested in hearing more about this anime rather than staying annoyed, "What anime are you talking about?"

Touma thought for a few moments and replied, "The name is kind of hard to pronounced, but it had all these catchy opening and closing theme songs. It was a really great show with a lot of memorable characters. I think a majority of the plot took place in Ikebukuro."

Konori asked in a curious voice, "How does that show compare to my situation?"

Touma scratched his cheek as he tried to remember a certain episode of the anime. "If I recall, I think a female main character was chased around by all these gang members because they identified her based on her short dark hair, her glasses, and her big breasts. If it weren't for a friendlier gang, she would have been in big trouble. I think she even had to wear a bunny mascot suit at one point. It was pretty funny."

"Oh I see." However, she realized something strange about what Touma said, "Wait a minute! That description sounds a lot like me."

"That's true. If I would have only given anyone a description like that, they probably wouldn't know if I was talking about you or her." If Touma would have ended with that, he would have been fine. However, Touma absentmindedly stated, "Although if she were real, her breasts would probably be bigger than yours."

Konori became pissed when she heard that and stated, "WHAT?!"

Touma finally realized he made a mistake and nervously responded, "Uh well. Of course she is supposed to be a high school student in the series, so I'm sure yours will be bigger than hers would be by the time you turn sixteen."

Konori only became more irritated, "Kamijou-san! You need to pick your next words carefully. Otherwise, they could be your last." While her lips were smiling, her eyes certainly were not. She was giving a not so subtle threat to the Devil of Academy City.

Even Touma could feel the danger he was in. He was walking on extremely thin ice. Touma proceeded to get on the ground, bowed his head, and stated in an apologetic voice, "I'm very sorry for my careless words. I will reflect upon my actions." Touma added a little more emphasis to his apology. "I am really sorry!"

Konori was somewhat amused by this, "I suppose I will forgive you this time, but I would advise you not to cross that line again."

Touma stated in an obedient, "Yes ma'am!"

The tense atmosphere had dissipated as quickly as it appeared. Touma knew that he needed to be more careful of such landmines in the future. However, there was one thing Touma waned to ask his friend before they went back to 'The Strange.' "All that aside, there is something important I need to be discuss with you."

Konori asked in a curious voice, "What is it?"

"You have Esper powers don't you." What Touma said was a statement rather than a question because he figured out the answer already. He just wanted to hear it from her.

Konori was completely speechless. She had been found out despite her best efforts to hide it. She had previously told Touma a few months ago that she hit a 'wall' in her Esper development. However, Touma like most of the other Big Spider members assumed she meant that she was unable to even gain an ability despite her best efforts. Hearing such stories was common to hear from the various Level Zeroes in Academy City.

Seeing that Konori was not responding, Touma then stated, "I noticed what you did back there Konori-chan."

Konori tried to deny it, "What do you mean? I didn't do anything." However, her denial was poorly executed. No one would fall for that.

Touma figured unless explained himself this would be going nowhere. "I noticed how you were able to warn me about the concealed weapon that man hid before he tried to attack me. You may have a watchful eye, but even for someone as good as you would probably have difficulty noticing someone hiding amongst the hostages pulling out a concealed weapon."

Konori stated in a nervous voice, "I don't know what you are talking about?"

Touma firmly told her, "There is no use denying the truth. At first, I was not really sure, but the look on your face is really starting to give it away."

Konori shakily replied, "But . . ."

Touma touched Konori's shoulder and assured her, "You don't have to worry about it. Ordinarily, I wouldn't care about any secrets you might be hiding. After all, I have my own fair share of secrets, but this seems a little too important to ignore. This time I need to know the truth."

Konori nervously asked, "The truth about what specifically?"

Touma stated, "You mentioned to me you hit a hurdle in your Esper development, but you didn't go into it further than that. Before you hit that hurdle, you were still able to develop an Esper ability weren't you."

The area was silent and Konori seemed incapable of giving an answer until Touma reassured her again, "You don't have to worry. Nothing you say will be heard by Wataru or any of the other members of Big Spider I promise."

Konori seemed to trust the sincerity in Touma's voice. She admitted, "Yes I have an Esper ability."

"I thought so." Touma scratched his head, "Do you mind telling me what it is?"

Konori sighed and she told Touma, "My power is called 'Clairvoyance,' and in the previous system check I participated in, I was a Level Two. It allows me to see through objects like one of those X-Ray scanners you see in airports. However, I felt like I hit a wall in my Esper training, and I have tried to avoid using my power ever since I joined Big Spider."

Touma asked in a curious voice, "If you don't really like using your power, why did you decide to use it today?"

Konori explained, "I thought a few things seemed strange about this incident, namely the person who was supposedly able to give the correct count of twenty individuals. I find it hard to believe that all twenty of them would have been in the same room as the hostages. If I was one of the hostages, I probably would have made a guess about the number of people holding me hostage."

Touma followed up with another question. "So you based your suspicions on how you think you would react?"

Konori backpedalled a little and tried to explain herself better. "That is partly the case. While I was suspicious about how the incident seemed to be 'resolved' relatively quickly, one of the hostages appeared to be acting a little suspicious. That's why I decided to scan his bag, and I found him pulling out that weapon."

Touma graciously stated, "Thank you for using your powers to warn me of the danger Konori-chan. That guy would have definitely got a shot at me if you didn't use your power. I am very grateful to you."

Konori asked in a voice that indicated her uncertainty. "You don't care that I have a power?"

Touma waved it off and told Konori, "Not in the least. However, I know others might not be as willing to accept you as I am, so I promise I won't tell anyone."

Konori replied, "Yes that is true. There is a lot of hatred for people with Esper abilities in Big Spider. Even I feel the same as them because most Level Twos are not really treated that much better than Level Ones or Level Zeroes."

Touma could not help but think back on the past as he replied, "Tell me about it. I can understand others might get jealous of your ability. When I lived in the Child Error facility, I met a few people who were great to be around, but they were envious of what other people in the City possessed. I didn't understand it at first, but I definitely feel like I am starting to understand now."

Konori had a feeling she did need to ask at this point, but she wanted to be certain. "So you trust me even though, I have been keeping this secret form you?"

Touma was not hurt by Konori's skepticism. He understood her position completely because he was in a position not too different from hers. "I find you more than trustworthy Konori-chan. I always believed you were a good person, and your actions today prove that. You used your power when you thought you had to, and you saved my life."

Konori scratched the back of her head. "Thanks. A part of me was worried that you would hate me because I had Esper abilities. After all, I can't imagine you have a high opinion of those who do have powers."

Touma took a deep breath and replied, "You probably would not be too wrong about that. There have been times I felt that way. However, despite everything I have gone through, I don't think Esper abilities are inherently good or bad. What makes them either one are the people who use them." Konori seemed pleasantly surprised to hear Touma say that. "We have seen plenty of Espers who abuse their abilities for their own gain or enjoyment. However, I know other Espers who are using their abilities for the good other others. I may not see them often, but I know there are plenty out there. You are an excellent example of those Espers, and you are not the first one to save my life through the use of Esper abilities either."

Konori decided not to ask any questions about that last part and merely replied with, "I see. That is good to hear you think that way."

Touma stated, "I'll be counting on you to use your power in the future too."

Konori asked, "In what way?"

Touma replied, "I'm not sure yet, but I'm sure you will find a way to use your power discretely when the time comes. It could prove to be invaluable in future operations."

Konori sheepishly responded, "I guess."

Touma told Konori in a confident voice, "In the future, I am going to trust my back to you. Will you trust your back to me?"

Konori smiled at Touma and said to him, "I always have and I always will. You can count on me."

Touma cheerfully stated, "That's good to know." He then held his hand out for Konori to shake so they could 'seal the deal.'

They shook hands and formed an unbreakable bond of trust that would continue to serve them well for the challenges that awaited them. The two of them left to return to the Big Spider's headquarters in 'The Strange.' While this story had ended, another was about to begin as a result, which would lead to plenty of other tales for the Devil in the near future.

/

After Touma and Konori left a strange electronic noise could be heard. It was coming from the fly that Touma swatted away earlier. Little did Touma know, it was a tiny machine that had been following him and Konori since they left the mall through one of the hidden exits. There were two of these machines positioned at both exits, and it followed both groups that emerged from them. It was this machine that would be able to unveil the identity of the 'Devil of Academy City.'

In an undisclosed location a fat teenage boy stated in a frustration, "Damn it. Does he realize how hard and expensive it was to make those machines? It's going to take me a week to fix that."

The fat teenager was known as, Baba Yoshio, from the underworld organization called MEMBER. He was their technology expert and preferred to have his machines do all the work rather than get his own hands dirty. Thanks to the information provided by Tsuchimikado, Baba knew he had to place his machines at the different exits to the underground mall if he was going to track the Devil's movements.

While his plan to follow the Devil succeeded, his fly was damaged when it got a close up on Touma's face. His machine was too badly damaged to provide additional audio or footage, so he was not able to get a visual on Konori's true appearance. "I wish I would have gotten a picture of what the girl looks like too. Damn it." After getting rid of his frustrations he said, "I guess I will just have to make do with what I have. Hopefully, that will be enough for the Professor."

The footage Baba presented was enough to meet the Professor's satisfaction. He thought to himself, "The time to give the Devil a more proper test of his abilities will be coming soon. I hope the results will not be disappointing."

/

Location: Underground Mall – Aftermath of the Incident

Yomikawa questioned a few civilians who witnessed what happened. They recounted most of the details that they could remember. They told her about how three similarly dressed individuals, two males and one female, had apparently neutralized all of the Espers. While Yomikawa was aware that the Devil apparently had a 'habit' of shooting his victims in the legs, she was a little surprised that he did it in front of the hostages. The more Yomikawa heard, the more she wished to get to the bottom of this. As she was taking their statements, she was accompanied by her fellow Anti-Skill Ichirou.

Yomikawa was an Anti-Skill that Ichirou knew that was worthy of the title of being an 'Anti-Skill' because he knew she was someone that wanted to fulfill their civil service duties. However, he knew that she was not someone that was as willing to go to the same lengths as him. The Devil had asked Ichirou to keep an eye on Yomikawa whenever he had a chance when they were in the field, and that is what he aimed to do.

Before she was done questioning the civilians she asked, "You mentioned that one of the other people who were dressed like him referred to the supposed Devil by a name. Do you remember the name the girl said?"

The civilian thought for a few moments before responding, "I think the girl said Kami, but she stopped herself midsentence. I think the name she was going to call him was longer than that, but she remembered she was not supposed to refer to him by that name."

Yomikawa thought, "That is not really a lot to go one in terms of the name, but it would be a good thing to note. It could help in eliminating the possible list of suspects later on."

Before Yomikawa could as another question, Ichirou decided to ask,"Do you remember any physical attributes about these individuals that you can give me about any of these individuals?"

The civilian thought about it as much as he could and responded, "They were all wearing masks, but I did see some of their hair, and I did notice a few other aspects I could identify."

As the civilian was giving the best description he could, Ichirou did the best he could not seem relived by what he was hearing. He thought to himself, "Well it would appear that the disguises that Konori, Wataru, and the Devil wore in tandem with their masks has helped prevent others from being able to notice their true physical characteristics besides their height.

/

After Yomikawa and Ichirou were done questioning the civilians, they decided to go pay the security guards a visit. The Anti-Skill found them all locked in the closet. They had recently regained consciousness, and they were ready to be questioned.

While they were walking to the security room Ichirou asked Yomikawa, "By the way, whose transporting those gang members we arrested earlier."

Yomikawa responded, "Gaku is transporting the prisoners. For some reason he seemed rather pretty eager to do it."

Ichirou gave his input, "I guess he must have wanted to make sure those gang members get what's coming to them as much as we do."

Yomikawa replied with a rather troubled voice, "That might be the case. However, there is one thing that I am not too sure about."

Ichirou asked, "What would that be?"

Yomikawa was a little hesitant to answer, but she told him, "A few of the people that were imprisoned are well known gang members that I have dealt with before. However, I know for a fact that none of them ever had any known Esper abilities before."

Even though Ichirou already knew that was the case, he did a convincing job pretending to be surprised. "Are you sure about that?"

Yomikawa believed Ichirou's act as she told him, "Yes. I find that to be disturbing."

Ichirou thought to himself, "I don't think it would be any trouble to the Big Spider if the Anti-Skill were to 'officially' learn about 'Beta-Zero's' existence." Ichirou decided to tell Yomikawa, "Maybe this means we should have all of them go through a DNA examination after they arrive at the hospitals."

Yomikawa replied, "I was actually planning on doing something along those lines."

Ichirou smiled a little as he stated, "I guess great minds think alike."

Yomikawa remarked, "So it would seem." As they continued walking, she decided it would be best to ask Ichirou with a concerned voice, "How has your eye been healing Ichirou?"

Ichirou was surprised by Yomikawa's question. There were times when he almost forgot that he was wearing an eye patch on his left eye as he had become so used to wearing it. He told his colleague, "It will be fine Yomikawa-san. However, it will still take a number of months before I can really see out of it again. Until that happens, I will be sticking to the eye patch. Thanks for your concern."

Yomikawa merely replied, "Just making sure a colleague is okay."

Ichirou stated in a gracious tone, "I appreciate it though."

/

Shortly after they arrived at the security office, Yomikawa began questioning one of the security guard, "So there are no records regarding what just happened here?"

The security guard shamefully admitted, "I was knocked unconscious, so I missed what happened. As you can see here, it would appear that all of the video cameras were disabled during the time of the incident, and any footage prior to and shortly after the incident was deleted. There are no finger prints, so we have no way of identifying who was messing around with the system while my fellow workers and I were unconscious."

Yomikawa replied, "I see. In that case, do you know anything about the man how knocked you unconscious?"

The security guard answered, "I barely got a good look at him. After he entered the room, he attacked me almost instantly. However, I think he had a long scar on the left side of his face and silver hair, but that is all I can remember."

Yomikawa was pleased that she might actually have a useful lead as she stated, "That might prove to be helpful. Do you think if I were to show pictures of potential suspects that fit that description, would you be able to identify him?"

The security guard stated in an uncertain voice, "Maybe. I'm not really sure."

"Something tells me that I will probably have my work cut out for me based on that response." Yomikawa began was wracking her braining trying to come up with something that she could ask that might be helpful. The only thing she could come up with was a generic question. "About the security systems being disabled, do you have anything else that you could tell us about that?"

"Well the mall's security system he is extremely advanced." The security guard explained, "For someone to be able to shut it down and reboot it according to his or her commands would require great skills."

The man's answer did help provide a little bit of a clue in Yomikawa's investigation. She asked the security officer a few more questions before ending her interrogation for the time being. Afterwards, she decided to speak to Ichirou in private and told him, "This Devil must have ties with some interesting individuals."

Ichirou asked in a suspicious tone, "What kind of 'interesting individuals are we talking about here?"

Yomikawa told him a in a whispering voice, "We are talking about the type of interesting people that are capable of shutting a security system like that and reboot it without leaving a trace. I am talking about someone who might be an engineer or was able to get his hands on the schematics to similar types of programs."

Even though, Ichirou had always been able to keep the truth to himself ever since he joined Big Spider, his eyes would have betrayed him if Yomikawa would have been in a position to see them. For once Ichirou was glad that his left eye had an eye patch. From the angle he was standing, Yomikawa would only be able to see the left side of his face, and she could not see the visible reaction of his right eye. If Yomikawa did see, she may have become suspicious of him.

Ichirou tried to calm himself down by thinking, "It sounds like even though Jiro covered his tracks, he might have done that a little too well. That alone might be enough to make Yomikawa-san suspicious of someone with his capabilities. However, even if she learns about him and suspects his involvement, she will still lack evidence and the means to find him. Either way, it would be smart for me to inform Wataru of this when I have the chance."

Before Ichirou could think of something to say, he was interrupted by a call he received on his Anti-Skill communicator. Yomikawa received a call on hers as well. When the two of them responded to their calls, the two of them heard some relatively upsetting news. Based on their facial expression, they both found the news to be quite disturbing.

/

All twenty-one of the Devil Representatives were restrained by the Anti-Skill before they regained consciousness, and they were brought to the Anti-Skill's transport bus. On the transport bus, each one of the Devil's Representatives were held up in a different 'compartment.' In these compartments, the Espers were incapable of talking to each other or using their abilities. There would be no escape for any of them.

Similar to the other victims of the Devil, most of them would be receiving medical treatment before being sent to the appropriate detention facilities. That was the official plan anyway. Unfortunately for them, they would not be reaching any detention facility. Not before receiving a rather unwanted visit from a certain individual.

While the Devil's Representatives were loaded onto the transport bus, an Anti-Skill with long orange hair entered the bus with them as well. After the bus was a distance away from the mall, she approached the 'compartment' that contained Takaya. Before she had a chance to take off her helmet, Takaya knew exactly who this person was. He asked in an impatient voice, "What are you doing here Therestina?"

She replied in a kind voice that most people would believe was sincere. "Well I heard that your confrontation with the Devil didn't go so well despite the powers you had. I was worried about your injuries."

Takaya angrily replied, "You can cut the bull crap Therestina. I know you just want to know whether or not I told the Devil anything thing."

"Oh. I'm glad you know me so well." Suddenly there was shift in Therestina's facial expression and her eyes changed from being something that appeared kind and sincere to something that could be described as demonic and psychotic. She was the embodiment of someone who was 'two faced.' Her voice also changed from sounding sweet to poisonous. "Then I will cut to the chase. What did you tell the Devil about me?"

Takaya was somewhat frightened of this woman, but he did his best not to give her the satisfaction of seeing it as he put up a strong front. "I didn't tell him anything about you specifically. Other than the fact, I was given these powers by a group of scientists."

Therestina replied in a 'skeptical' voice, "Is that so?"

Takaya stuck to his story. "That's right. He has no idea who you are. The Devil stated he was running out of time before he shot me. He knew the Anti-Skills would be arriving soon, and it would have been difficult to carry me or any of the others for questioning and escape."

Therestina seemed to believe what he was telling her, "Then you have my thanks for being such a good boy."

Takaya asked her in a hopeful voice, "Are you saying that you plan on freeing us?"

Therestina replied with a smile that was not a smile anyone would want to see. It belonged to that of a serial killer who was getting high off killing his victims. She stated, "Not quite, but I do not plan on letting you go to prison."

Takaya nervously asked, "What is that supposed to mean?"

Therestina casually told Takaya, "I'm saying this is the end of the road for you."

Takaya was becoming more horrified by the moment, "You can't mean . . . you're not saying."

Therestina interrupted Takaya with, "Before you go, I just wanted to thank you and your friends for being such good test subjects. However, I no longer have use for you."

Takaya replied with a mixture of anger and fright, "You're just going to murder us all then?!"

Therestina answered, "I wouldn't really call it murder. After all, you test subjects were almost out of time anyway. It was only a matter of a week or so at most before you would end up dead on the streets anyway." Takaya was completely confused by what Therestina was saying as she pulled out her device. "Regardless it is no longer necessary to keep any of you alive, so the time to end it has come."

As Therestina was about to press the button, Takaya pleaded with Therestina, "Please don't do it!" However, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

After she pressed the button, it would be best not to describe what happened next. While it could not be heard outside of the transport vehicle, the inside was filled with anguished cries of pain. Within a few minutes, Therestina was smiling at the sight of twenty-one fresh corpses. Their bodies were shriveled up with blood pouring out of their eyes, ears, and mouths.

She was filled with pride as she thought, "Seeing the results of my work is always entertaining to watch. I can't wait to see what will happen with the next batch."

The driver of the bus pulled his window and asked, "Are you done back there yet?" The bus driver was an Anti-Skill by the name of Hayashi Gaku.

Therestina replied in a 'joyful' voice, "Yes I am. Everything went quite well. I don't think we will need to worry about this unneeded loose end anymore."

"That is good to hear." Gaku was clearly nervous talking to this person. He tried to keep it to himself, but it was difficult to do so with someone like Therestina behind him. Gaku asked her, "So what now?"

Therestina gave her instruction to her accomplice, "Now you are going to stop this transport, so I can get off. Then you will continue driving until a mutual friend of ours attacks this bus that will 'kill' all the prisoners and leave you as a sole survivor. That way the evidence will be destroyed and your reputation will not be sullied."

Gaku graciously told her, "Thank you Therestina-san."

Therestina replied in a casual manner, "Well they say you should treat your assets well."

"I appreciate that." He then nervously asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Therestina asked Gaku in an inquisitive voice, "You mentioned to me the other day that you believe the Devil has recruited an Anti-Skill correct?"

Gaku responded in a nervous but certain voice, "Yes. I'm sure of it."

Therestina proceeded to give Gaku some rather stern orders. "I want you to keep an ear out for any possible leads and see if you can identify him or her."

Gaku asked, "What would you have me do if I succeeded in finding out the identity?"

Therestina replied in a voice that revealed more of her sadistic side, "I'm sure I will think of something. Although you can be sure it will be most unpleasant."

Afterwards, Therestina proceeded to leave the Anti-Skill prison transport bus. As planned, there was a most 'unfortunate incident' that claimed the 'lives' of the Devil's Representatives. The attack proceeded to destroy any traces of their very existences. The only one who was left 'alive' after this attack was a shaken Hayashi Gaku.

/

Shortly after Therestina's departure, the bus arrived at the designated location where the back of the bus that contained all the 'prisoners' was attacked by a powerful 'ray of light.' It seemed like a 'ray of light,' but it was really an energy beam. The destructive force of this energy beam was enough to completely obliterate the area that the bodies for the Devil's Representatives were on, and there was little trace of their bodies after several more energy beams were fired.

The culprit who was firing these energy blasts was none other than Jūhō, who was affiliated with the underground group Member. Jūhō was given specific instructions to not get the bus driver killed and only attack the back area where the criminals were being transported. He did as he was told, and he made sure that the bus driver would be the only survivor of this attack. Even if Jūhō was not given that instruction, he would not have killed the bus driver anyway because as far as Jūhō knew, the bus driver was nothing more than a simple Anti-Skill who was doing his job. Jūhō was not aware that the bus driver was in fact anything but an honest Anti-Skill

After Jūhō had completed his job, he was filled with pride as he thought to himself, "Another batch of despicable scum has been sent to hell."

Little did Jūhō know that the criminals he sent to hell were already dead, and all he was doing was wiping out the evidence of Beta-Zero. He had been given this job earlier by the Professor, and he was surprised that the Professor was telling him to complete a job for Kiharas. However, even though Jūhō knew that Professor did not particularly like the Kiharas, the Professor was more than willing to accept their money because there were people within Academy City's walls that he hated even more. Jūhō knew the individuals that the Professor wished to crush, and if accepting this job could help give the Professor the means to crush his enemies, he would fulfill the job for his employer's sake.

/

Therestina witnessed the Jūhō's little show from a distance. She believed that it was quite a spectacle. As she was witnessing this, she smugly thought, "The Professor's prized lackey certainly can come in handy for a job such as this. Even if people are able to identify him, it will still take a long time for anyone to ever find out there was a connection that ties me to this."

After witnessing the incident, Therestina was not sure what was more entertaining. Was it seeing most evidence being conveniently destroyed while the rest of it can simply be 'cleaned up' or the fact that she would be able to start the process all over again when the time was right? She really could not answer that question.

As she was witnessing the destruction, she thought to herself, "According to the reports, they only found eighteen communicators on those useless idiots. I suppose that means a few of them were confiscated by the Devil and his friends." She scratched her chin as she thought, "I wonder if they will attempt to use them to find out where they were made. If that was the case, it might be possible for the Devil to make some progress in finding me."

Therestina was somewhat nervous about the possibility of the Devil finding her. The recent incident proved that the Big Spider was not the two-bit organization she always considered it to be, so the possibility of the Devil eventually learning who she was seemed plausible. She knew that if the Devil was able to find her, he would do everything in his power to make sure she paid for the role she played in ruining his life. Ordinarily, she would use some of the means at her disposal to eliminate the problem or at the very least toy with him before killing him. However, Therestina was instructed that she could not do anything directly to kill the Devil, but that did give her an 'alternative' idea that did not violate any promises.

She thought to herself, "I suppose it is time for me to do some 'indirect' recruiting. I'm sure Grandfather won't mind. After all, he enjoys the idea of the Devil being tested, and if I'm successful that will be a test that I'm sure he will greatly enjoy. If the Devil fails the test, he will be dead. Either way, there will be no consequences for me."

Therestina could not help but smugly smile and laugh to herself. At this point, she was nearly untouchable, and she was going to ensure that she remained that way.

/

Little did Therestina know that everything that happened was recorded by a certain freelance spy who went by the name Tsuchimikado Monoharu. When he knocked one of the Espers out earlier, not only did he acquire the blood sample that was requested of him, but he placed a tracking/recording device on the Esper. He heard everything that Theristina said to Takaya and the others.

Tsuchimikadothought to himself in disgust, "That is one cold-hearted bitch. She must be the true 'devil incarnate.' I wonder what will happen if she and the Devil ever have a chance to meet in person. Something tells me that Kami-yan would want to give her more punishment than any of the other victims he sent to the hospital."

He held the recording in his hand uncertain of what he should do with it. Normally, he would find a way to sell it, but this bit of information felt like it could be useful for something a little more important. Instead of making a decision right away, Tsuchimikado decided to place it in his pocket for the time being. He could come up with an idea for it at a later time.

Tsuchimikado also thought to himself, "I feel pretty tempted to give this to Kami-yan. This woman is one piece of scum that Academy City can definitely do without, and I'm sure there are plenty of Kiharas who can easily take her place. Unfortunately, there are rules I need to abide by for the time being. In the meantime, I will hold onto this recording until I can start bending the rules a little. After all, if I don't start finding ways to bend them, I will remain in this position for the rest of my life, and I will never win this game."

/

Location: Family Restaurant

While various students of Academy City, along with a fair number of adults, were enjoying their meals in peace, there was one scientist with messy brown hair and dark rings under her eyes who appeared to be waiting for someone as she ate her food. A few minutes later Tsuchimikado Monoharu arrived. He immediately took the seat across from her, so they could take care of business.

Tsuchimikado asked his client in a playful voice, "Did I make you wait too long Harumi Kiyama?"

The person that he referred to as Harumi Kiyama ignored his question and asked, "Did you acquire the blood sample I requested?"

Tsuchimikado took out the container and told her, "It was a piece of cake to obtain it. I should thank the Devil for helping make things easy for me."

As soon as the woman opened the container to verify its contents she stated, "As promised, your account will be given the other half of the payment I promised." She took out her phone after hitting a few buttons she said, "The money has been transferred. It is in the account you designated."

Tsuchimikado took out his own phone and confirmed, "Everything has been accounted for. It's been a pleasure doing business for you."

Harumi responded, "The pleasure has been all mine. This blood sample will allow me to find out what allows an Esper to be able to gain abilities he or she does not wield."

Tsuchimikado hesitated for a moment before telling her, "If you are going to study that blood as thoroughly as I think you are, you should keep an eye out for another answer as well."

Harumi eyed Tsuchimikado curiously as she asked, "Did you learn something of interest during your mission?"

Tsuchimikado was still hesitant to explain, but he ultimately decided to tell her, "In a manner of speaking, I did. I have a feeling you will probably find out the reason why it is apparently lethal to anyone who is injected with Beta-Zero."

Harumi was surprised to hear this part. "Lethal?"

Tsuchimikado explained, "I slipped a device on one that I took the blood sample from. You may have heard on the news reports that they all died when their transport van was destroyed, but they were dead before that happened. The explosion was not meant to erase all the evidence."

That part did not surprise Harumi at all since she had seen what the darkness of Academy City was capable of in the past. It had cost her something most dear to her. She replied in a voice that bordered between apathetic and emotionless. "I see. If that is the case, I'm surprised you did not charge me more money for this information. Is there a catch to you giving me this information?"

Tsuchimikado was unfazed by this question since his profession caused his clients to become understandably skeptical of his truthiness. "Not this time. The money you paid me was more than substantial, so I decided to give you a little extra as a parting gift." Tsuchimikado proceeded to get up, and he told her, "If you have any other tasks for me, you know how to contact me. Just be ready to provide the agreed amount of payment, and there will be no issues."

Harumi told Tsuchimikado, "I'll be sure to keep that in mind. You can expect to receive a call from me relatively soon, and money will not be a problem."

Tsuchimikado gave a smirk as he replied, "I didn't think so." He proceeded to leave the restaurant. As he was leaving he thought to himself, "Perhaps this is one way to start bending the rules a little."

The woman thought to herself, "In that case, I will need to find some alternative methods too after I find the key in this sample. I'm sure this blood sample can provide me a foundation. After that, I'm sure I will know what I will need to do next. I'm going to need to if I'm ever going to save them."

Her thoughts were interrupted when one of the waitresses accidently knocked her drink and stained her clothing. The waitress immediately apologized, "I'm so sorry about that ma'am."

Harumi lazily accepted the apology and replied, "It's not a problem. I was feeling too hot anyway." She proceeded to unbutton her shirt.

Upon seeing this, the waitress said, "Uh ma'am. What are you doing?"

She did not need to receive an answer to that question because Harumi was taking off her shirt. Needless to say, she received quite a few interested glances as the waitress attempted to convince her not to strip in public. For as brilliant as this scientist was, she was not one that had a lot of common sense.

/

Location – Office of Therestina 'Kihara' Lifeline

In the aftermath of the Devil and the Big Spider defeating the mercenaries claiming to the 'Devil's Representatives,' Therestina was having a meeting with an unknown woman. The woman had asked for an immediate audience with Therestina, and Therestina was more than flexible to make room in her schedule. After all, the woman that Therestina was meeting was an 'influential' member within the darkness of Academy City. She went by the name of Tachibana Fuyu. This individual was one Academy City's twelve Board of Directors, and she was the backer for the Level Five known as Mugino Shizuri.

Similar to a majority of the Board of Directors, Fuyu had darker ambitions that she wished to fulfill, and she would be happy to do anything necessary to fulfill them. As far as she was concerned, she already made a deal with an almost literal Devil to reach this point. Fuyu figured that making anymore 'deals' would not have any lasting effects on her. This was one of the characteristics that Therestina liked about this woman because they both wished to obtain the ideal result regardless of the cost.

At the beginning of their meeting, Fuyu commented, "It would appear that your 'mercenary group,' was defeated by the Devil and his Skill-Out lackeys."

Therestina casually responded, "That is of little consequence to me. They were merely guinea pigs for further experiments, and their time was drawing to an end anyway. Being disposed of by that brat only sped up the process of their deaths."

Fuyu responded, "It has also come to my attention that the Devil is far from being the only one that has had his fair share of dealings with your Beta-Zero test subjects."

While Therestina was neither upset nor surprised, she asked, "How exactly did this come to your attention in the first place?"

Fuyu chuckled a little and replied, "You should probably know there are a fair number of people who are aware of the truth behind the Child Error facility incident. I am also aware there are a few Child Errors who were trained by one of your former scientists, Narukami Souji, who you allowed to be killed during that incident. Their powers enabled them to escape from that massacre, and I hear that they have been causing a few nuisances for you lately."

Hearing that did agitate Therestina to an extent, but she was able to mask her distaste. She replied, "They have not done anything too major. They have had a few skirmishes with our Beta-Zero test subjects but nothing more. All of them will eventually be squatted away like the insects they are."

Fuyu skeptically asked, "Is that so?"

Therestina stated with confidence in her voice, "Quite. Their efforts will appear meager in the end once we have disposed of them. They will be joining their fellow Child Errors soon enough."

Fuyu still seemed skeptical, but she decided to change the subject, "In any case, there is something I would wish to speak to you. It is about the real reason why I have asked to arrange this meeting."

Therestina merely responded, "I'm listening."

Fuyu's voice became much more serious as she stated, "Due to the Devil's recent victory over your mercenary group, he has managed to prove himself to be quite the spectacle. Numerous witnesses are spreading the word of his exploits and the popularity of his urban legend is skyrocketing. While it is clear the Anti-Skill would wish to arrest him, a rather large portion of the population in Academy City would not want that to happen. However, most importantly, I believe that his victory presents an opportunity that I have been hoping for."

What Fuyu had said piqued Therestina's interest as she inquired further, "An opportunity you say? Would it have anything to do with your Level Five Mugino Shizuri?" Therestina thought to herself, "It looks like I will not need to conduct any of the 'indirect' recruiting myself. They came to me instead."

Fuyu responded with a smile, "Correct. I have been hoping the Level Five I sponsor would finally join this team I have been attempting to form. It has been rather difficult to create the team in the first place, but I finally found suitable members. I believe having those three as her teammates would make her a more efficient and manageable asset. It's just unfortunate that she can be so needlessly stubborn sometimes. She will need a little extra motivation to start seeing things from my perspective."

Therestina put her right hand to her chin and asked in an interested voice, "Are you telling me that you're hoping she will lose, so she will start to do things your way?"

Fuyu grinned as she responded, "I never said anything like that at all. However, Mugino has told me she wishes to face a challenge, and since she is currently the third most powerful Esper in Academy City, finding an appropriate challenge has been difficult."

Therestina remarked, "According to one my contacts, it might not be too long until your Level Five is downgraded from her position as the 'third' greatest Level Five."

Fuya nodded, "Indeed those sources may very well be true. However, that is not the issue at this point. Even when this new Esper makes an appearance, Mugino will still want more potential challenges, and she sees the Devil as one of them. I am aware that Mugino has been paying close attention to the rumors surrounding the Devil, and she has been more than interested in putting them to the test. I have a feeling she will be most pleased if she knows she will have a one-on-one battle with the Devil himself."

Therestina stated, "Although you can't deny if she were to be defeated in one-on-one combat, it could present you with an ideal opportunity to begin this team you want her to become a part of correct?"

Fuyu then casually responded, "I think it would be reasonable to assume if Mugino were to lose, she would be more open to the idea of willingly becoming a member. Not to mention having her and those other three would make them easier to control if they are constantly together rather than being separate. Their usefulness to us would increase tenfold. Additionally, Mugino would probably be willing to accept my certain accessories, such as these cards, I would be willing to provide her in exchange for her loyalty and willingness."

The cards that Fuyu held in her hand were known as 'silicon cards.' This would come in handy for Mugino because while Mugino is capable of firing up to four blasts at once, her ability can only be used on one target at a time. However, if Mugino were to use these cards, it would allow her to disperse her individual laser blasts into multiple attacks allowing for a wider range of destruction. Up until now, Mugino refused to accept anything from this woman in order to not feel indebted to her. However, if Mugino were to begin feeling her limitations, she may feel more inclined to begin accepting 'assistance.'

Therestina then stated in a voice that had a slight hint of venom, "I like the way you think. In that case, be sure to tell her to go all out and killing the Devil will not be a problem."

While Fuyu appreciated Theristina's cooperation, her willingness to let the Devil die caught her off guard. She said in a surprised voice, "I thought the Devil was supposed to become an important test subject."

Therestina justified it, "A test subject like him would be pointless if the most powerful Espers go easy on him. If he wins because his opponents fight him half-assed, it will not matter at all. As far as I would be concerned, he would be better off dead."

That was reasoning that Fuyu did not have any arguments against as she stated, "In that case, I will be happy to oblige."

Therestina held out her hand, "Hopefully, the final results will be favorable for the both of us."

Fuyu accepted Therestina's gesture and shook her hand, "Indeed."

The deal between the mad scientist and one of the Board of Directors had been finalized. It was a deal that would have long reaching consequences, and it would shape the futures of many. Not everyone would benefit from the final result. The Darkness of Academy City's grip would only become stronger overtime.

/

Location: MEMBER Headquarters – Lounge Area

Even an underground organization that operated in the darkness of Academy City needed to have a 'lounge area' for its subordinates. It would be difficult to keep some of the members motivated if they did not have a place for its members to relax. Additionally, having such areas allowed for teammates to converse with each other. The two current occupants in the lounge area were Jūhō and Michiko. As promised, the two of them were going to continue the conversation they had earlier in the alleyway. However, there was something Jūhō wanted to ask Michiko first.

Jūhō asked, "Before we continue where we left off the other day Michiko, I have something I wish to ask you about."

Michiko voice indicated that she did not seem to mind Jūhō asking her about another topic as she responded, "What is it?"

Jūhō was rather curious about this topic, "I remember you mentioning to me that you were once a part of another group before I found you and recruited you to MEMBER. Could you tell me more about it?"

Michiko was surprised at the question. Her look of surprise quickly changed to an uneasy face. Apparently, the very thought of her old group gave her a bad feeling in her stomach. She asked, "Why are you so curious about that?"

While Jūhō could see she was uneasy, he decided to explain why he was interested. "It has been something I have been thinking about for a while now. However, I wasn't certain if you would be comfortable with answering until after sometime had passed. Since it has been nearly a year since you joined MEMBER, I was thinking that perhaps it would be okay to ask you about it."

Michiko inwardly blushed at Jūhō's words as she replied, "Well that was considerate of you. You really didn't have to worry about it that much. Its true I would have felt uncomfortable at first, but you didn't need to wait a year before asking me."

Jūhō replied, "In any case, do you mind telling me some information about them? Before I met you, I thought the only real things I needed to know was life within the darkness of Academy City. However, everything you have told me has shown me that there is much more hidden out there. I can't help but wonder how a group in this 'magic world' of yours is. I remember you mentioning their name was Amakusa right?"

Michiko smiled a little at the fact Jūhō remembered something that she mentioned to him offhandedly a while back. "I see you have a good memory. That was the short version of what our organization is called. The longer version is Amakusa-Style Remix of Church."

After hearing the full name, Jūhō stated, "That's a pretty weird name."

Michiko replied in a deadpan voice, "You don't think MEMBER is a weird name?"

Jūhō shrugged, "Touche."

Michiko continued her story, "Anyway, the name didn't seem like a weird name to me at the time. However, when I think about from an outside perspective, they probably could have thought of a better name. The organization was a Christian sect based in Japan. All of the members including myself have abilities in both magic and fighting. Everyone had their own trademark weapons. As you can see, the weapon I choose was the Yari."

A Yari is a type of Japanese spear that somewhat resembles a trident with one long middle blade and two small blades protruding on the side. Similar to most Amakusa members, Michiko made sure that her spear could be disassembled into multiple pieces which made it easier for her to transport. She usually carried it in a blue bag that she normally had on her person at almost all times. To Michiko, her weapon was her life, but she now saw someone that was more precious to her than her life.

Jūhō commented, "I have seen the way you use that thing. Your organization must have put you through some training."

Michiko casually stated, "They did. We had training regiments to keep on a daily basis. I memorized them all, so I don't have any problem maintaining that even though I long since left the Amasuka."

Even though she could not see it underneath his helmet and mask, Jūhō's face indicated he wanted to know more. He asked in a curious tone, "Do you ever miss the group and the friends you left behind?"

Michiko was silent for a few moments before finally stating, "There are times when I do, but whenever I think about my organization, I just can't help but feel frustrated by them and the organization as a whole."

Jūhō asked, "What do you mean?"

Michiko answered, "Our former leader went by the name, Kanzaki Kaori, who was blessed with the abilities of a Saint."

Jūhō said in a confused voice, "A Saint?" Even though he knew what 'Saints' were supposed to be, but he had a feeling it this was not what he was thinking. "I have a feeling you are not talking about the traditional kind of Saint."

Michiko shook her head, "No I'm not. A Saint is an individual that is blessed with a stigma, and granted extraordinary powers from birth. There are apparently less than twenty in the world."

Jūhō asked in a voice that indicated he was intrigued, "They are born with great powers?"

Michiko nodded, "That is correct."

Jūhō asked in a curious voice, "So they are something like the magic world equivalent to Gemstones?"

Gemstones are Espers who did not require the artificial method, such as Academy City's Power Curriculum Program, to obtain their abilities. They were born with their abilities, and they emit large amounts of "An Involuntary Movements" from their bodies. Apparently, they are approximately fifty of them throughout the world. One of the Gemstones is Sogiita Gunha, who is also one of Academy City's Level Fives.

Michiko answered Jūhō's question with, "You could think of them as something like that. However, it comes to my understanding that not all of the Gemstones are consistently powerful."

Jūhō responded, "That would be the case. Other than Sogiita Gunha, who is one of Academy City's Level Fives, I have not heard of any other Gemstones that come close to his power."

Michiko explained, "Well in the case of the Saints, they are consistently powerful individuals that you do not want to trifle with. I saw Kaori singlehandedly slay monsters when she was fifteen years old that had slain a number of magicians who were grown men over twice her age. Now that she is sixteen, I have no doubt that her powers are even greater now."

After putting two and two together, Jūhō asked, "Was it this Kaori that caused the frustration you feel towards your former people?"

Michiko's voice became bitter as she told him her story, "Yes she was. Over a year ago, she left us behind because she declared that we were not strong enough. I will admit that I would probably never come close to measuring up to her even if I were to practice magic for twenty years. However, I still found her actions despicable. She was our leader, but she so readily decided to abandon us. The other members of our group may have been more understanding and forgiving, but I just can't accept it at all. That's why I broke off all ties with them and never looked back."

Jūhō remarked, "It must have been tough for you to do that."

Michiko did not seem as bothered by it as Jūhō thought she would be. "It was at first, but I considered it as something like 'taking off a band-aid.' The fact I did it quickly made everything easier. Sure one of the younger girls tried to convince me to stay, but I told her my mind was made up. Afterwards, I just kept going from place to place using my powers to heal people when necessary. It's just unfortunate that my ability to heal people without the need for physical medical supplies is what led to my kidnapping and you finding me."

Jūhō shrugged as he humbly told her, "You can thank the Professor for informing me. While I would have wanted to save someone who was being held captive, I never would have been able to find the facility you were contained in without their technology and feedback."

Michiko replied, "While I am grateful to the Professor for the role he played, you are the one that saved my life. I will always appreciate it that."

After Michiko said that, a few moments of silence went by between the two of them. Out of nowhere, Jūhō asked Michiko, "Do you feel satisfied with working with MEMBER?"

Michiko asked in a surprised voice, "What do you mean?"

Jūhō explained in a serious manner, "I am not going to deny it. We are using your powers for our own purposes too. We might not be going in the same direction as what that facility was going to do to you, but we are still using you. Are you really fine with that?"

Michiko nodded, "Yes I am. I am grateful to be of use to someone. I'm also glad that as long as I am capable of using these abilities, I don't have to worry about being abandoned by my leader or by you."

Jūhō stated in a somewhat ominous voice, "If that is the case, you should consider yourself grateful that of all the scientists that you could have had an encounter with, it was the Professor, who you met with rather than the Kihara's."

Michiko asked, "Who are the Kiharas?"

It was Jūhō's turn to explain something to Michiko, and he was a little happy that the ball was in his court now. "They are a family of scientists that are responsible for a number of behind the scenes experimentations that happen throughout Academy City. They are valued greatly due to their intellect and the contributions they have made in advancing Academy City. Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a number of character flaws that run throughout that family."

Michiko asked in a confused voice, "Character flaws? What character flaws could those be?"

Jūhō further explained, "Apparently, for the sake of obtaining an 'ideal result' from their experiments and research, they are willing to pay any price. It does not matter who they hurt in the process. From my understanding, they have even experiment on their own family members in the hopes of making progress. The information I have is only second-hand, so I am not sure of it myself, but the things they have supposedly done make anything the Professor has done seem kind and merciful by comparison."

Michiko inquired, "So you work for the Professor because you consider him a lesser of two evils?"

Jūhō responded, "That would be one reason, but despite that, I still did a job for the Kihara's a few days ago."

Michiko was surprised by what Jūhō had said because that seemed to contradict everything he told her. "Why would you do that?"

Jūhō casually replied, "The Professor told me that they were going to provide us with more than adequate compensation. When it comes to this world, you should not always turn down business opportunities unless you are absolutely certain. According to the Professor, there are other threats in Academy City that are a much higher priority than the Kiharas and at the very least we can conduct business with them that can further our position to take down those great enemies."

Michiko seemed to understand the reasoning. "I see. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised there are lot of threats that would live in Academy City after everything I have seen."

Jūhō then told her, "It would be for the best to remember that. Otherwise, you may get yourself killed if you are not careful. Anyway, while working for the Professor is certainly one of the lesser evils, I do have my other reasons to work with him."

Michiko decided to inquire further, "What other reasons could they be?"

Jūhō told her, "Well it is kind of a long story."

"I don't mind. I would be happy to listen." Jūhō could see in Michiko's eyes that she was sincere with her words.

After taking a breath, Jūhō decided to begin his story, "Okay then. It started a few years ago after I . . ." However, Jūhō was interrupted by the loudspeaker.

The voice of their leader, the Professor stated, "Sorry to interrupt your little conversation, but I have a new assignment for the two of you. I need you to report to me immediately."

Michiko stated in frustration, "I swear. Everything we are about to talk about something important, we are always getting interrupted aren't we." She then stated, "Don't think I'm going to forget what you were about to tell me. You are going to continue the story after we get back."

Jūhō assured her, "I wouldn't dream about backing down now."

As the Professor saw that Jūhō was approaching his office through his security cameras, he could not help but think to himself, "This assignment will be the most important one I will ever assign you Jūhō. I certainly hope you will be up to the task. It will be utterly disappointing if you were to fail."

/

Location: Several miles away from the Big Spider Headquarters

A week had passed since Touma and his friends put an end to the Devi's Representatives. He gave the communications devices to Jiro to see if he could learn anything about them to find out who could have made them. While detective type work was not exactly Jiro's specialty, his engineering skills could prove useful in figuring out who might have been the supplier. While he was doing that Touma decided it would be for the best to continue going on his 'runs.' After all, doing something like that was better than waiting around.

For this particular run, Touma decided to bring along Kyuzo after Wataru had encouraged him to do so. Despite Kyuzo's personality being more of a loner than he was or usually having a stoic demeanor, Kyuzo proved to be a cooperative teammate. According to Jiro, Kyuzo was capable of showing emotion, but the usual one that he displayed would be annoyance if any.

As Kyuzo and Touma were walking back to the Big Spider headquarters, Touma decided to break the uncomfortable silence. "Hey Kyuzo, Wataru has told me that the two of us have quite a bit incommon."

Kyuzo responded, "How so?"

Touma explained, "Until recently, I did not really interact with any of the other members of Big Spider, and I kept to myself. The only people that I spoke to were on a regular basis Wataru, Konori, or Komaba. I also heard that both Komaba and Wataru are the ones that recruited you to Big Spider just like with me."

Kyuzo did not have much of a reaction beyond stating, "I see. I suppose we do have a few things in common. However, the circumstances of our recruitment were rather different."

Touma did not respond to that. He remained silent as Kyuzo provided some information on his past. "Before I met Wataru, I once did some work that I was not particularly proud of. When I finally had enough, I made a break for it. However, in that line of work, you don't just hand in a resignation. When I was making my escape, I received a scar on my cheek." Kyuzo pointed at the long scar on the left side of his face. "I should consider myself lucky for that wound because it is a proud reminder of the fact I decided to become my own man. The other wounds on my body are nothing more than reminders of the man I used to be or rather the monster I used to be."

Touma thought to himself, "That explains why he generally isn't the type of person to talk about things. I can hardly imagine what he must have gone through."

As Touma and Kyuzo were walking back to 'The Strange' a figure appeared in front of them wearing full body armor. He stated, "I think you are going a little far by calling the work that you used to do as 'monstrous.' After all, there are worse forms of employment out there."

While Touma's eyes widened at the sudden appearance of this new individual, Kyuzo did not seem surprised to see this person in the least. It was as if he expected to meet this individual. He responded in a voice that had no indication of fear, "Did the Professor tell you to collect my head Jūhō?"

Jūhō responded, "Don't worry. I'm not here for you. I will admit that fighting you would probably be more entertaining than any of that trash I have had to fight recently, but that would mean I have to kill you. Killing you is something I would rather not do. Besides, the Professor has long since lost interest in the idea of eliminating you Kyuzo. As far as he is concerned, you are more valuable alive on the outside because you are still capable of damaging his competition even without him giving the directions."

Kyuzo asked in an impatient tone, "Then what are you here for? Do you want to reminisce about the past? Do you want me to remind you what your real name is?"

Jūhō sarcastically responded, "As interested as I would be in that, I am here for Kamijou Touma." He turned to Touma and asked, "Would you rather me refer to you by your name or your title, 'Devil of Academy City?'"

While Touma's eyes opened up wide with a mixture of surprise and terror, Kyuzo did not bat and eyelash at the fact Jūhō somehow knew the truth. After being in the darkness of Academy City for so long, he knew that there was always a way for those that resided within it to know the truth of Academy City and not what the Board of Directors wants the public to believe.

The Jūhō stated, "You are the 'Devil of Academy City' correct?" He may have phrased it as a question, but he said it more like a statement.

Touma asked in a demanding voice, "How the hell do you know that?"

Jūhō casually explained, "You should understand where you operate. When you involve yourself in this area of Academy City, it is difficult to keep anything a secret. There are always ways for things to get out."

Touma stated, "I am. I take it that you have business with me."

Jūhō replied in a polite manner, "Indeed I do, but allow me to introduce myself first. My name is Jūhō, and I have been hired by my organization to fight you in a one-on-one fight. There are no specifications regarding the venue of our fight, but I would prefer it if we settle this in a separate area. We are in an area were there would be substantial collateral damage if we were to fight in this vicinity. I would suggest we settle this confrontation in a separate area away from possible unnecessary casualties."

Touma was surprised to actually see someone challenge him but actually show some concern for the innocent civilians. Despite how clearly threatening this opponent was to his life, Touma could tell this enemy was not nearly as evil as a number of other criminals he had encountered over the past three months.

This caused Touma to ask in a suspicious tone, "Then what do you have in mind?"

"I'm not going to make any recommendations. I have a feeling that despite any recommendation I could make, you would assume that I would have set up an elaborate trap. To prove that is not the case, you may select the area of your choosing. You can bring Kyuzo with you if you like as a spectator. After all, I know for a fact that he is agile enough to avoid getting injured should things go too far."

Kyuzo remained quiet as Touma asked, "So how do you two know each other?"

After a few moments, Kyuzo responded, "Let's just say if there is such a thing as fate, it certainly likes to toy with our lives greatly."

Jūhō replied, "That would be putting it lightly."

Kyuzo stated, "Jūhō appearance may not strike much confidence in his character, but I can assure you that he will not attempt to gain victory over you through underhanded methods. If he claims that he will fight you in single combat without using traps then he is serious. Unless they are a Level Five, he does not require the use of traps to obtain his victories."

After listening to that intently, Touma replied, "I see. Well it's good to know you think so highly of him." Even though Touma was not in a position to refuse, he accepted Jūhō's challenge and decided the battlefield.

/

Location: School District 17 – Railway Cargo Area

Academy City's School District 17 is an area at the very edge of Academy City that is essentially its industrial district. There are very few civilians that can be found in this area which made it the perfect location for Jūhō and Touma to settle this fight. This may be one of the first fights that would happen in this location, but it would not be the last time this place would be used as a battlefield. Several years from that point, a battle would take place in this area that would determine the fate of thousands of innocent people. The significance of this place would never be forgotten to Touma because he would return here over three years later for another major battle that would be the fight of his life.

After they arrived, Kyuzo stated that he would observe from a vantage point, but he would not step in to interfere with the battle unless Jūhō truly did something that would be 'out of character' for him. According to Kyuzo, Touma did not have to worry about Jūhō doing anything underhanded. However, we warned Touma to be careful of Jūhō's weapons because he utilizes them to use his powers, and when they are used together, they are capable of extremely destructive power. He told Touma that his right hand might not be enough to win this fight, and Touma had a feeling he would have to agree.

When Touma and Jūhō were about to begin, Touma had a feeling this would be his last opportunity to learn this piece of information. Touma asked in a voice mixed with curiosity and skepticism, "Before we begin, do you mind telling me why you were so concerned about the possibility of endangering civilian lives? A number of times I fought opponents before, they would attack innocent people just to lure me out."

Upon hearing that, Jūhō thought to himself, "I suppose I should not be surprised to hear him say that considering all the trash I have put away." Jūhō decided to answer Touma's question before their fight began. He stated, "I consider such tactics cowardly beyond all measure. If you truly wish to make your opponent fight and have him fight at the best of his or her abilities, you do it in an area they can go all out without endangering those that should not be involved. I prefer to avoid dirtying my hands more than they need to be."

Touma was honestly surprised to hear someone from the 'darkness of Academy City' to sound even remotely noble. "Well I will admit that is a new one, but I do appreciate it. Fighting you will be a breath of fresh air for me."

Jūhō appeared to share the sentiment as he stated, "From what I can tell, it will be the same for me. I almost find it to be a shame that I should engage you in a fight, but I have my orders. Besides, you have piqued my interest. A part of me thinks I am going to enjoy fighting you for what it is worth."

Touma used his left hand to crack the knuckles in his right hand. He stated to his opponent, "I see. Well I guess that means I have to give it my all then."

"That would be my preference. I prefer to kill my enemies when they give it their all." Jūhō prepared his weapons and stated, "The pleasantries are over, and we have moved to a more appropriate venue for this fight to take place in. I think it is time for us to begin."

Touma was willing to get this show on the road. "Yes lets."

Jūhō made the first move by pointing his gun at Touma, and pulling the trigger. A blast of energy formed from his weapon and headed straight for Touma at high speed. He immediately fired several other subsequent blasts at Touma. Each of these blasts were deadly, and if they were to touch anything but Touma's right arm, they would cause him potentially fatal injuries.

However, despite how fast the blasts were coming, Touma's body was able to move instinctively move in order to block and negate each of those blasts with his Imagine Breaker without failure. It was difficult for Touma to describe, but he has always had an easy time when it came to using his Imagine Breaker to block incoming Esper attacks. It was as if he could see the attacks coming before they happen. This usually allowed him to either block the attacks with his Imagine Breaker or avoid them.

When Jūhō witnessed Touma block and negate all of his attacks, he was neither angry nor frustrated. In fact, he seemed to welcome the idea that Touma was capable of blocking his abilities. It was a challenge he was hoping to face. If those attacks would have been enough to kill the Devil he would have been disappointed.

As he saw Touma block his attacks Jūhō could not help but wonder, "It is interesting how he is able to dodge and block my attacks given their speed. It is almost as if something is telling him what to do and how to do it." Jūhō continued to fire more blasts simulanteously, and not one of them managed to do Touma any harm. Jūhō thought to himself, "My scanner does not indicate he is wearing any kind of wire. Perhaps this is all connected to the ability he has. I suppose I will have to find out for myself."

Jūhō said in an amused tone, "Well this is certainly going to an interesting battle isn't it? You have managed to last a lot longer than about sixty percent of my opponents have, and I'm fairly certain this will keep going at this rate. I should consider myself fortunate that I have other methods of attack that go beyond simply firing blasts directly at you."

Touma asked in an in a tone that had a mixture of interest and nervousness, "What do you mean by that?"

Jūhō smiled underneath his mask and stated, "I will let my powers speak for themselves. Be sure to pay attention." Jūhō pointed his right gun into the sky. "These maybe guns, but that doesn't mean they always have to act like them." His weapon appeared to charge for a few moments before firing a blast into the sky. In a matter of seconds, Touma was about to learn firsthand what else Jūhō's powers were capable of. It would not be pleasant.

/

Omake:

Mikoto: Well it would appear that we have ourselves a cliffhanger ending.

Touma: Don't all the chapters of this story technically end on a cliffhanger?

Mikoto: I guess you could think like that, but I mean this one is the first chapter where we are truly left hanging on what will actually happen next within the story until the next chapter. After all, every fight that happens in this story usually gets resolved within the chapter it starts. The same goes for Fairy Dance Alternate.

Touma: That is true. I guess there is a first time for everything. Although, I suppose we are going to need to get used to it.

Mikoto: Do you mean having chapters end with a cliffhanger fight will be a new element from now on?

Touma: Yes. The author plans on having quite a few chapters have these types of endings in the future. It might be for the best in some ways. It could help give the author more of a building block to begin work on the following chapter. After all, while the author does enjoy writing these stories, they do take a lot of effort and time, which is why the author always asks for feedback/reviews from the readers to make it seem more worth it. Anyway, by giving a foundation for the subsequent chapter, it can help ease the process of writing the next chapter somewhat but it can still be cumbersome.

Mikoto: I see. Well that does make a lot of sense. I suppose the author does need to use discretion regarding how much content a chapter should contain.

Touma: Not just that. Usually the author has some kind of goal in mind of what the chapter should attempt to accomplish, such as what characters should interact with each other, who should do what, what events need to be setup & foreshadowed, among other things. That is part of the reason why some chapters are much longer than others.

Mikoto: That also makes sense as well. I suppose I don't really fit into a lot of those plans do I.

Touma: Unfortunately, that was the case for a number of these chapters and storylines. It would be unwise to just make sloppy attempts to fit a character in if he or she doesn't work for the storyline solely because fans want a character appear. That would just be bad writing.

Mikoto: Yeah I understand.

Touma: Although, it is okay to try and fit a character in if it can convincingly aid the plot advancement, show a different side to the storyline, or give the readers a breath of fresh air from certain plotlines before continuing onward. The author has used you in cases like that before, and I'm sure you know the author plans on that being the case in the future as well.

Mikoto: I guess. I suppose it has worked out in ways, such as showing the difference between my life and your life. However, the how situation still frustrates me. After all, I am sure the author could find a way to fit me into this story arc beyond my appearance in Chapter Twelve. I am grateful for the screen time I have received, but I still find it frustrating I haven't had any appearances over the past two chapters outside of these omakes, especially since I was voted as the most interesting 'Esper of Interest.' Do you have any clue when I will be appearing next?

Touma: (Touma sighs before stating) You obviously didn't get the memo did you Biri-Biri?

Mikoto: What memo?

Touma: The memo that informed you on your upcoming appearance in the next chapter.

Mikoto: What?! I'm going to be in the next chapter?!

Touma: It won't just be the next chapter you will be appearing in. You should be getting scenes in the next two or three chapters based on the author's current plans.

Mikoto: (Mikoto is getting excited) Are you kidding me?! I'm finally going to be getting a decent amount of screen time now outside of these omakes!?

Touma: Well the author did credit you as being a reoccurring character in this story arc. You wouldn't really be a reoccurring character if you only appeared in one chapter would you?

Mikoto: I guess not. Well it is great to hear that I will be making those appearances.

Touma: I am sure the readers will be looking forward to your future appearances as well.

Mikoto: That they will be. After all, I am one of the most popular characters in the franchise, which is why I have my own spin-off series. (Mikoto faces the audience and says) Hey readers you better be ready for my appearance in the next chapter! I will be seeing you soon!

Touma: We will be seeing another plot line begin moving in another area separate from the Big Spider! Be prepared!

Mikoto & Touma: (Speaking in unison) See you next time!

/

Author Notes: As of this chapter, the Side Stories now has as many chapters as the original Main Story received prior to going on its indefinite and most likely permanent hiatus. I would like to confirm right now that you will not have to worry about that happening with this story. The next chapter and a few subsequent chapters are currently being worked on. There will be times when this story will go on hiatus, but I will always come back to it at some point. I hope you will continue to show your support for this story by providing reviews and help keep me motivated.

As promised in the omake, Misaka Mikoto will be making her return in the next chapter, and she will be appearing in a few subsequent chapters as well. We have been seeing how Touma's life has been in the Big Spider, and we have seen other plotlines open up within the 'Darkness of Academy City.' It is time we see more of what it happening on the other end of Academy City's spectrum even if it is only at certain points. There will be times when Academy City's two spectrums shall intersect, and we will see how well they mesh together.

It is time for the moment of truth regarding your thoughts on the new characters Jūhō and Michiko, but I especially want to know what your opinion is of Jūhō. Of all the original characters I have developed for this story, he was a character that I had the easiest time developing. In a manner of days, I had already decided a number of his personality traits, his Esper abilities, his past, and a number the roles he would play in the story.

One of the last things I decided on was what his name would be. Early on during the planning stages for his character, I decided that I would be referring to him by a code name because he would have discarded his original name similar to how Accelerator does not go by his original name or how Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist discarded his name. I decided that Jūhō would be his code name due to it being the Japanese word for 'guns.'

When I was developing Jūhō, I wanted to portray him as being a darker version of Touma. Similar to Touma he wants to eliminate evil people, but he is willing to go much further. From what you saw in his debut scene, he will not kill innocent people, but he will hurt them if it is necessary. You can sort of say this is someone that Touma could have become if the wrong people had taken him in after the Child Error facility was attacked. Additionally, Jūhō is fully aware that the leader of MEMBER, also known as the Professor, is far from being an outstanding citizen. However, despite knowing the evil the Professor is capable of, Jūhō will not kill the Professor due to his loyalty to the man, which will be explained later on.

While I was developing his powers, I was partly inspired by seeing Stark from the anime/manga series Bleach. I considered Stark to be one of the coolest/best 'villain' characters in Bleach, and I really liked his dual wielding guns. It was then I decided that I wanted Jūhō to utilize two guns, and you can picture his weapons as having a similar appearance to Stark's. Shortly afterwards, I came up with the idea of having the guns literally be attached to his veins through cables so he would be able to properly control his ability. He is capable of using his ability without the cables or the guns, but he feels that if he does not have either one, it will cause another unfortunate incident similar to what he had already experienced in his past. I plan on revealing more details of his past later on. I hope you will be looking forward to learning more about Jūhō.

I would also like to hear your thoughts on the other new character Michiko. While I was developing Jūhō, I decided this would be the time to introduce a Magician for the first time in the story, and I would have her be connected to Jūhō. As we know in Volume 15 of the original Light Novels and the Railgun version of the Daihasei Festival Arc, the Professor is aware of the magic world. I decided that in this universe he would have been made aware of the magic world through both Michiko and Ramiero.

When I was producing Michiko's character, I felt like she needed to have a 'magician name.' After I did some research on Japanese terminology on the internet, I found out that the word 'chiryo-shi' means healer. While she is capable of other types of magic, healing and affecting other people's memories are her specialty. Jūhō's helmet is able to prevent her from being able to affect his memories similar how it was established in the Railgun manga that the scientists created helmets to prevent Misaki from taking control of their minds. As I hinted in this chapter, Jūhō's helmet would prevent Ramiero from being able to disguise himself as someone else. His helmet has a sensor that will render any kind of shape shifting ability moot.

In regards to Michiko's ability to affect memories, she cannot affect the memories of people with certain Esper abilities. For example, similar to Misaki is in capable of controlling or reading Mikoto's mind due to her electric capabilities, the same can be said for Michiko's abilities too. However, even if Michiko had the opportunity to mess around with Jūhō's memories, she would never do that because of her own loyalty and affection for him. However, due to Jūhō's helmet, she has never been able to see his face beyond occasionally seeing the lower half.

While I am looking forward to providing more screen time and development to Jūhō and Michiko, I plan on doing everything I can to avoid them becoming 'creator's pets.' While I will admit that Jūhō is probably my favorite original character since Ai and Yuudai, I do not plan on giving him an absurd amount of screen time in comparison to others. Jūhō and Michiko are only going to be reoccurring characters and will only appear in certain chapters. As far as I am concerned, the screen time I will be giving them will be reasonable, and almost any scene they have is something I had planned in advanced for the sake of progressing the storyline.

I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter. I would appreciate it if you would write a review. I would especially like to hear your thoughts on Michiko and Jūhō. See you next time. Hopefully, the gap between this chapter and the next will not be as long.

/

Fanfiction Promotions

Story: Untitled Sword Art Online Project

The first chapter for my new Sword Art Online Fanfiction project will be released out on July 8th, 2013. You can expect new chapters to be released almost on a bi-weekly basis for at least the first five chapters. I hope you will give it a try and enjoy it.

I currently plan on this being a rather long story, and I have made numerous plans for different story arcs and subplots. Depending on the reception of the story, you can expect there to be plenty more chapters beyond the first five.

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Story: Fairy Dance Alternate

The story is still currently on hiatus, but I have been making plans to continue writing the story later this summer. Hopefully, you will see a new chapter sometime in August. In the meantime, for those of you who have not read the story yet, be sure to give it a try.

On another note, I am hoping that there might be someone who would be willing to provide a TVTropes page for Fairy Dance Alternate as well. Would anyone be interested?

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Story: Into the Fog

By: EnchantedSlytherin

Summary: Reiko Narukami had always wished that she could be 'normal,' but she knew it was a wish that could not be granted. With her move to Inaba, Reiko's life has become far less normal by adding the urgency to solve kidnapping and under cases to her list. This is a retelling based on Persona 4 Golden/The Animation with a female protagonist.

Series – Persona
Pairing: Reiko "Rei" Narukami and Rise Kujikawa

As stated in the summary, "Into The Fog" is a retelling based on a mixture of Persona 4 Golden and anime adaptation with a female protagonist, Reiko "Rei" Narukami, rather than the canon male protagonist, Yu Narukami. This story will also contain a number of altered and original scenes. A fair share of character interactions and scenes are and will be altered due to the protagonist's gender. For example, Nanako, the protagonist's young cousin, is more receptive and comfortable interacting with a female cousin, and they develop a sisterly relationship much faster.

There will also be a few original plotlines and story arcs to go along with the story as well. One of the most notable ones will involve the protagonist, Rei, realizing she 'swings' the other way and trying to find out if she can be accepted by others over the course of the story. EnchantedSlytherin plans on that to be one of the more emotional plotlines of "Into the Fog."

Similar to the video game and anime, there will be a number of side/supporting characters outside the Investigation Team. There will be a mixture of both canon and original characters throughout the story. A few characters that originally only had a handful of scenes in the story or were mentioned but not seen, such as the protagonist's parents, will have a more significant role in the plotline.

It is a story I would recommend. EnchantedSlytherin's writing continues to improve with each chapter, and there is definitely a lot of potential with this story and the portrayal of the characters both canon and original.