"… As long as the usual you returns from this, nothing else matters."
"I will come back."
"I will definitely come back."
"… I'll definitely apologize to you with my head bowed down in front of you."
To Aru Mahou Shoujotachi no Monogatari
The First Spell – Index Librorum Prohibitorum I
"Nn… ngh… fumyuuu—WAHHH!"
Uttering that nonsensical sound, Index Librorum Prohibitorum tumbled out of her bed and fell flat on her face. Fortunately for her, the bed was not too far elevated from the floor due to the small size of the dormitory room she was in; thus, her fall surprised rather than injured her. Even so, the fall was enough of a jolt to break her rest. She opened her eyes and, while rubbing the sleep from them, looked toward the window. Even through the nearly fully-closed blinds, she could see the early morning daylight peeking through.
With some effort, she pulled herself off the floor and peered at a small digital clock placed near the bedpost. It read 7:08 am. She began the usual ritual of morning preparations – showering, donning her golden-patterned white nun habit, brushing her teeth, washing her face, tending to her nearly waist-length hair, and the like. For someone like Index, even this routine exertion was enough to work up an appetite, so she next walked briskly to the kitchen. Here, she was not alone.
Hearing a pitiful mewling sound, she looked at her feet to see her pet calico cat, Sphinx, sitting rather pitifully near an empty dog bowl. Not thinking for even a second that the animal may have purposefully positioned itself in a calculated play on the owner's sympathies, Index forgot her own hunger long enough to pulled out a small can of cat food. She expended enough energy in working the pull-tab loose on the cat food can to increase her own appetite. When she finally did open the food can and empty its nondescript brown mushy contents onto the bowl, Sphinx turned up its tiny nose and, whiskers shaking to and fro, stared up at Index with an expression that could not be read as anything other than displeasure.
"It's not good to be picky," Index scolded her pet cat. "Good children eat their food in all thankfulness." Perhaps having understood her on some level, the cat then started nibbling into its food without further complaint.
Finding human fare was easier than it should have been; there was a perfectly serviceable pot full of seafood paella in the refrigerator, courtesy of the Tsuchimikado siblings next door. She hungrily pulled the pot out, said her customary "Itadakimasu," stabbed into the contents with her utensils, and shoved large portions into her mouth.
"Ah, Touma," she said while quickly wiping her mouth with a napkin. "Could you pass me the soy—"
Index stopped herself in mid-sentence. An awkward silence permeated the entirety of the apartment building, drowning out the background noises from the usual morning rush of the city outside. Even Sphinx quit eating and stared fixedly at her. She returned the cat's gaze with a frowning glare. For a soundless three-and-a-half seconds, she and it locked eyes, as if each of them dared the other party to say something, anything. Then the cat relented and, bowing its head down and slinking back as if in contrition, resumed eating. Index sighed and did the same; yet she was not in the mood to hurriedly devour the dish as usual. She took her time.
"Gochisousama," the white-skinned, silver-haired, green-eyed, British Index shouted in impeccable Tokyo-style Japanese. After cleaning up and leaving the cat in the kitchen, Index walked to the living room and remotely turned on the television.
"—in the process of cleaning up St. Peter's Basilica, which was destroyed by a terrorist attack shortly before the events of World War III—"
Index growled and changed the channel.
"—the latest statement from religious authorities concerning the strange floating fortress which crashed in the Arctic—"
An ugly frown creased her pretty, doll-like face as she quickly changed the channel.
"In other news, through a statement released by its Board of Directors, Academy City has announced its intention to cooperate fully with relief workers in distributing aid to those in the Russian countryside hardest hit by the war—"
Index changed the channel again… and again… and again… and again. The resolution of the global conflict between Academy City and Russia dominated the TV landscape. Even channels not devoted entirely to news kept their eyes on the events surrounding the war. Index, who had been used as a catalyst to begin the war in the first place, and who had lost someone in that war, did not want to hear any more. Eventually, she turned off the television.
She could find no common cause with or sympathy for Russia, which had been propelled into war by an ambitious ultraconservative Eastern Orthodox bishop in collusion with an extremist faction from the Roman Catholic Church. This faction had imprisoned her mind by use of a control artifact in order to forcibly access the vast library of magical information stored within and use it to destroy and remake the world in their image. Although they ultimately failed, due to the intervention of a certain Japanese boy, the war they caused had wrought irreparable harm upon the world. Christian magicians all over the world would face a dramatic upheaval in their core belief systems in the days to come.
The other side of the war was little better. Academy City, a network of schools and research institutes located within western Tokyo, Japan, was a city built on the basis of strict adherence to the scientific method. It forcefully denounced religious and occult thought as mere superstition, denying the very foundations upon which the occult was built. The victory it scored over the much larger and much more numerically powerful Russian army was an anti-miracle; it demonstrated the power of Academy City's "hard science" against the magic and divine forces backing their enemies. While the Anglican Church shocked the Christian orthodoxy by siding with Academy City against its fellow religionists in France, Spain, and Italy, who had backed Russia, the move was a calculated political ploy by a ruthless archbishop.
Now, the boy who had saved her was gone, having disappeared in the wreckage of the floating fortress where the final battle had taken place. By choosing to remain at his home in Academy City over the objections of the Anglicans, in the hope that he would return, she had placed herself into a tenuous situation. She, a magician, was in enemy territory, buried within a sea of more than two million people who might well turn against her.
And this time, Kamijou Touma would not be there to leap to her aid.
"Touma…" she said softly, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "You said you would definitely come back…"
Before Index could shed any tears, a steady series of popping noises rang across her ears. These were faint enough that she could tell they originated from outside, yet sharp enough that they stood out from the ordinary noises of the city. These sounds steadily increased in frequency and intensity, increasing Index's anxiety. After six of these sounded off, Index had become fairly certain that something was amiss. After stuffing Sphinx into her nun habit for its own safety so that only its head poked out, she cautiously tiptoed to the apartment balcony, where she guessed that the abrupt sounds originated.
She had made it just past the balcony's sliding door and outside just in time to witness an explosion of light, sound, metal, and fire some four yards above her eye level.
With a surprised yelp, Index lost her balance and tumbled backwards through the still-open door and back inside, flinging her cat away from her in the process. After conquering the ringing in her ears, she turned her eyes upwards to take a better look at what was happening. But what caught her attention would not be above the balcony and in the air, but on the balcony railing itself.
Draped across the balcony railing lay a creature, the likes of which Index had never seen before. At first glance, she detected a vaguely feline base, but from then on out the creature was clearly, unmistakably fantastical. On the base of its back, standing out easily from its snow-white pelt, was a deep red marking in the shape of an imperfect ellipsis. Near this was a bushy tail whose volume and length nearly matched that of the rest of its body. Protruding from its catlike ears were two droopy, fleshy structures whose tips fanned out into three perfectly symmetrical, white-to-pink-gradient tips per "earlobe". At each tip, a red dot would mark the transition from white to pink. Even more strangely, at the midpoint between each of its two ears and its corresponding tips floated a ring of pure gold.
"Eh?" Index asked unintelligently, when faced with this strange creature who defied easy identity. "Eh? EHHHHHH?"
As if in response to Index's voice, the creature, the base of whose body had been draped across the balcony like a discarded toy, began to move. It slowly lifted its head up, and when Index looked into its eyes, she saw two shining red orbs, the likes of which could not possibly have been on any natural creature, staring back at her. In disbelief, Index drew back slowly.
Maybe I should let this little one seek happiness in a faraway place… she initially thought. She had begun to suspect that this creature was a magical tool or familiar of some sort… or if not strictly magical, then otherwise some runaway experiment of Academy City. It could even have been some state-of-the-art Academy City child's plaything that had been thrown aside after it had seen its usage. The black marks scattered around its otherwise pristine white fur would attest to that. Whatever the case, she felt that more trouble would come her way if she inquired further. So with that in mind, she made up her mind to slowly back away…
"A sister? How unexpected, to see a Christian sister dressed in full habit in this far Eastern country." Index clearly heard a light, nigh-childish voice in her head. She glanced around her surroundings rather exaggeratedly before fixating her gaze back at the creature.
"Was that you? That was you, wasn't it?" Index asked aloud. "You can communicate with me with… um… telepathy, was the term the scientists used?"
"Ah, so you can hear me, Sister-san. I thought that I was merely talking to myself." The concise and pointed response assured Index that the creature was the one from which the voice originated, although she did not see its mouth move at all. "How fortunate for you. That must mean you have the potential to become a wonderful Puella Magi. Coming to this city may not be as fruitless as I originally thought."
"A 'magical girl'?" Index translated, her previous worry replaced with the first smile she has had her on face all day. "You mean, like Magical Powered Kanamin?"
"If that is what you wish," the creature responded as it hopped off the balcony in a most feline fashion. "I am a messenger from the Heavens who answers the desires of the faithful. No matter how impossible the wish, I can grant it."
"And you've come to grant my wish?" Index skeptically asked the creature. "For what reason?"
"Actually," it answered back, "I did not specifically come to seek you out, at least not this time. I landed here by chance after we were attacked."
"You were attacked?" Even as Index asked that question, she took a second glance at the creature's injuries. She then silently cursed herself for her momentary inattentiveness, which was unforgivable as a representative of her faith to a foreign land. "Just wait there a bit. You're injured, aren't you? This Index will fix you up."
"I'm fine. I was just knocked around a bit." Although Index had heard the creature's words clearly, she consciously chose to disregard them and ran the distance from the balcony to the restroom in such a timely manner as would have made Kamijou reassess her athletic capabilities. When she had returned with a clean mini-towel in hand, she saw that Sphinx had woken up and walked outside the balcony, and that it was currently in a staring contest with the white creature. Sphinx's body was arched back, its tail pointed upward, its fur stood on end, and it was snarling even as it fixed its gaze on their guest.
In contrast, the other creature was as still as a pond as its beady red eyes returned the stare, with the only movement coming from the back-and-forth swishing of its bushy tail.
"SPHINX!" Index shouted; in response, the cat merely backed away slowly while keeping its labored stare fixed on the intruder.
"It seems as if this one dislikes me," the white creature responded.
"Sphinx," Index picked up the cat and stuffed it back into her habit. "You're being rude to our guest. What has gotten into you?" With that done, she picked up the white creature and began the process of slowly rubbing away the black marks on its pelt. "I haven't introduced myself. I am Index Librorum Prohibitorum. You can just call me Index for short."
" 'Index Librorum Prohibitorum'? That is in Latin, isn't it? Naturally, it would bring to mind a mountain of questions concerning why an obviously foreign young girl named after the Catholic Church's List of Forbidden Books is living in the heart of Japan," it responded as it was being tended to, "but you probably have your own circumstances. It wouldn't be my place to pry. As for me, my name is Kyuubey."
"Kyuubey?" Index asked, with one hand attending to Kyuubey while the other was thumping the still-restless Sphinx on the head. "That's no less strange a name than Index Librorum Prohibitorum. So, what are you anyway?" she asked Kyuubey. "Since you know about the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, you must be a creature of magic. Who's your master? What magic organization are you from? You're not here on a mission to attack Academy City, are you? … Sphinx, quit squirming!"
"We are here looking for something… or probably someone," Kyuubey responded. "I'm not too sure of the details, but if it's that person, then it is best that you not be—"
An ear-piercing cacophony of glass shattering brought the conversation to an abrupt halt.
When Index turned around, a cloud of dust, debris, and glass shards assaulted her senses. She huddled around Sphinx and Kyuubey and closed her eyes to shield them from the explosion. Upon reopening them, Index spotted through the haze of the dust cloud the outlines of two slim, humanoid figures. Once the dust cloud subsided, Index ran to investigate the one closest to her – and gasped in shock and some horror at what she saw.
Collapsed atop a heap of glass and what was once a section of the apartment wall, a girl lay motionless and on her side. A small pool of blood surrounded the girl's legs, and she wore an expression indicative of prolonged pain on her face. Index, for her part, could instantly recognize who the injured girl was. The long, brown hair tied into twin tails… the petite, lithe figure… the telltale brown jumper shirt and checkered skirt of the elite school she attended… and the green armband further distinguishing her as a member of Academy City's volunteer law enforcement unit, "Judgment".
"Shirai… Kuroko?" Although Index had known this girl only as a passing acquaintance, Shirai's distinctive look and Index's innate ability of perfect memory retention allowed for easy identification. As Index was examining Shirai's condition, Kyuubey leaped from her hand and calmly walked toward the site of the incident. Through a freshly-made hole where the front window was, Index could see the form of another girl.
Unlike with Shirai Kuroko, Index had never seen either this other girl or any identifiers within her clothing before. This other girl wore her jet-black hair long and unbound, allowing it to reach down to her waist and flap freely in the wind. At the base of her head, she wore a pink headband. Her eyes boasted a deep, mesmerizing shade of violet. For clothing, she wore a two-piece shirt-and-skirt combination held together at the nape of her neck with a bow, which, along with the color of the skirt, matched well with the color of her eyes. Beneath the skirt was a black pair of pantyhose with an argyle pattern at the sides of the legs. On her left arm rested a grey artifact which resembled a shield, except that the center of it and two nodes on each side were hollowed out.
All in all, Index thought for a second that this girl, who looked no older than middle school aged, reminded her of Magical Powered Kanamin. The outfit was certainly stylized. However, there was nothing magical about the shiny, metallic device that she carried in her right hand, with the deadly end pointed in Index's and Shirai's direction.
It was a gun.
Index, who was technophobic and in general technology-illiterate to a fault due to her upbringing in a society which disdained and belittled the usage of modern technology (including guns), could not tell how powerful it was, who made it, how many bullets it contained, or the like. She could, however, make a very educated guess that it was she who, with that gun in her hand, opened the ugly wound at the base of Shirai Kuroko's right leg.
"WHO ARE YOU?" Index shouted to the intruder.
"That was the last of them," the girl with the gun responded, withdrawing her firearm and running her free hand through the length of her hair in a manner that seemed contemptuously callous to Index. "We've wasted enough time as it is. We're leaving, Kyuubey."